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Barbara Schmidt

Mark Twain's Fourth of July Speech
in Keokuk, Iowa
July 3, 1886

In the summer of July 1886, Samuel Clemens and his family attended a family reunion with his brother Orion Clemens and his mother Jane in Keokuk, Iowa. Keokuk is located about 45 miles north of Clemens's boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri. While in Keokuk, Clemens was called upon to participate in the local Independence Day celebration with was held on Saturday, July 3. The following report of the festivities appeared in the local newspaper.


Wednesday, July 7, 1886

How the Day was Celebrated in Keokuk Saturday.
A Large Display of Bunting All Over the City.
An Industrial Parade on Main Street in the Forenoon.
The Exercises at Rand Park in the Afternoon.
Good Music, Able Addresses and Orations.
A Pyrotechnic Display at Rand Park Closes the Day.

Keokuk celebrated the Fourth of July this year on Saturday [July 3], and the occasion was taken advantage of by our home people. The day opened bright and clear, and continued so throughout the day, although the temperature was not as it generally is. Early I the day people began coming in from the neighborhood. Reception committee met the visitors on their arrival at the stations. The public buildings and business houses were decorated, as were quite a number of private residences. Red, white and blue bunting, bearing the inscription "1776 Welcome. 1886" hung across Main street, at Fifth and Seventh, while the street was a mass of flags and bunting along the entire length. The day was


By the ringing of bells and firing of a salute of thirteen guns at sunrise.


The industrial parade formed on Second and Main streets and a few minutes after 11 o'clock moved out Main to Fourteenth and t hence back to Second under direction of W. S. Sample, chief marshal, and Dr. J. C. Hughes, and Chas. F. Riffley, aides.

The procession was witnessed by several thousand of our people. T he shoe department of the Enterprise was represented by the old woman who lived in the shoe, whose numerous progeny appeared from all sides of an enormous shoe. On Fred. Dorr's float were a number of boys and girls eating ice cream.

A display of Japanese day fireworks at Sixth and Main streets wound up the programme for the morning.


Several thousand people visited our beautiful Rand park during the day. The park was never so attractive as it is now, and the animals and birds have all comfortable quarters. Mark Twain was undoubtedly one of the attractions at the park, ranking well up with the bear. He was attired in an entire suite of white duck, with tall white hat, and on his appearance a murmur of "There he is," passed through the crowd, and people edged up to gt a closer view of the great humorist.

The exercises at the grand stand at the park opened promptly at 2 o'clock with a selection by the Second Regiment band entitled "Robin Adair," with variations, and with cornet solo by Prof. Gus Wittich. Hon. Gibson Browne, president of the day, then called the meeting to order and prayer was offered by Rev. R. C. McIlwain, rector of St. John's Episcopal church. This was followed by music by the Second Regiment band-an overture, "Rivals"--followed by the reading of the Declaration of Independence by Orion Clemens, Esq. The Keokuk Military band then rendered an overture entitled "Brilliant," with saxophone solo by Prof. John Kindig.

Hon. Thomas Hedge, Jr., of Burlington, the orator of the day was then introduced by Mr. Browne and spoke for thirty minutes, delivering one of the best addresses that has been given here on a pubic occasion. At the close he was heartily applauded.

Samuel L. Clemens was then introduced and his appearance was the signal for applause. His remarks were in substance as follows:

"Ladies and gentlemen: I little thought that when the boys woke me with their noise this morning that I should be called upon to add to their noise. But I promise not to keep you long. You have heard all there is to hear on the subject, the evidence is all in and all I have to do is to sum up the evidence and deliver the verdict. You have heard the declaration of independence with its majestic ending, which is worthy to live forever, which has been hurled at the bones of a fossilized monarch, old King George the III, who has been dead these many years, and which will continue to be hurled at him annually as long as this republic lives. You have heard the history of the nation from the first to the last--from the beginning of the revolutionary was, past the days of its great general, Grant, told in eloquent language by the orator of the day. All I have to do is to add the verdict, which is all that can be added, and that is, 'It is a successful day.' I thank the officers of the day that I am enabled to once more stand face to face with the citizens that I met thirty years ago, when I was a citizen of Iowa, and also those of a later generation. In the address to-day, I have not heard much mention made of the progress of these last few years--of the telegraph, telephone, phonograph, and other great inventions. A poet has said, 'Better fifty years of England than all the cycles of Cathay,' but I say 'Better this decade than the 900 years of Methuselah.' There is more done in one year now than Methuselah ever saw in all his life. He was probably asleep all those 900 years. When I was here thirty years ago there were 3,000 people here and they drank 3,000 barrels of whisky a day, and they drank it in public then. I know that the man who makes the last speech on an occasion like this has the best of the other speakers, as he has the last word to say, which falls like a balm on the audience--though this audience has not been bored to-day--and though I can't say that last word, I will do the next best thing I can, and that is to sit down."

Mr. Clemens's remarks were frequently interrupted by laughter at his inimitable manner and the drollery of his utterance, and he closed amid laughter and applause.

The Keokuk Military band then gave a serenade, "Pleasant dreams," after which the audience was dismissed with the benediction by Rev. T. H. Cleland, pastor of the First Westminster Presbyterian church.


At the conclusion of the exercise at the park, many people returned to Main street, where the climbing of the greased pole, wheelbarrow and sack races and lap race took place, and where some paper balloons were sent up.

The day's entertainment closed with a pyrotechnic display at Rand park at night, which was witnessed by a large concourse of people.


Recommended reference:

Fanning's book
Mark Twain and Orion Clemens available from amazon.com

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