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Looking back to celebrate an Old-Time Fourth of July

Amanda Butcher
Teen author Amanda Butcher can't seem to stop surpassing what is expected of a young woman of only 14 years of age. The East Longmeadow High School student turned a homework assignment into a published book and in between her schoolwork and social commitments, hits the book signing circuit like a pro.

Most recently the gifted youngster corralled a book signing hosted by the East Longmeadow Historical Society into a periodic historical writing gig with Reminder Publications.

"Someone in New Hampshire was writing a book on parades and she wanted to do something on the East Longmeadow one and the historical commission had someone who used to write articles for the newspaper and they wanted me to take their place," Butcher said. "They were getting a bunch of stuff for her to use for her book and I was helping them and I sort of got into the parades and I wanted to write an article about it."

What Butcher created was a fantasy piece where she travels from 2008 to 1915, experiencing the history of the parade at each stage.

Since she is so drawn to the past and has hundreds of artifacts and vintage photographs at her disposal thanks to her ongoing work with the historical commission, Butcher will write pieces on East Longmeadow's rich history from time to time, and share them with The Reminder readers.

In honor of the Fourth of July, we have included Butcher's "Old-Time Fourth" fantasy piece. The title of Butcher's column and its introductory piece will appear in a future edition.

"Old-Time Fourth"

"You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4.with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism."

-- Erma Bombeck

Sitting at the East Longmeadow Fourth of July Parade last year, I heard a voice from beside me say, "This is so much bigger than it was in 1915."

I jumped and saw an old woman staring wistfully at the Springfield Carnival Caribbean Dancers who flounced by in their beautiful, colorful costumes. She was wearing a long out of date skirt and blouse and a hairstyle you would only see in the early 1900s. Wondering why she was in such costume, I asked, "How do you know about the parade in 1915?"

She sighed heavily. "I caught my death not long ago and am fortunate to be able to go to the past and see any East Longmeadow Fourth of July parade. I simply love the parades! Would you like to come with me to the past to see some? I could show you my favorites."

A ghost was asking me if I wanted to see the parades of the past. This was a chance of a lifetime! So, of course, I agreed to accompany her, and the woman, who seemed much more substantial than I thought a ghost would be, took me by the arm. The scenery blurred, and suddenly it was dark. As my eyes adjusted to the night, the woman whispered, "'Be it known that on Friday night, July 3, 1914, the placid citizens of East Longmeadow were startled out of their usual phlegmatic calm by the outburst of the spirit of the Old-Time Fourth.'"

My ears were almost immediately treated to a din of cowbells, horns, and boisterous shouting. I heard explosions and more shouting. Laughter closely followed. A huge fire flared up yards away from a shed, and I noticed people running from the flame. I looked at the ghost bewilderedly. Her eyes sparkled as she explained, "East Longmeadow ignored Springfield's banishment of an Old-Time Fourth with the usual explosions and fireworks." She shook her head. "Kids," she muttered, just loud enough for me to hear. "Let's go."

The night blurred and the shouting subsided. I was dazzled by the sudden daylight. People were scattered down the street, cheering in an almost refined manner. The sound of horses' hooves clattered on the street. I saw numerous signs that read, "OUR TOWN: 21 YEARS OLD. July 1, 1915." A sign on a horse-drawn wooden box said, "Washings done, 50 cents." Another horse drawn carriage came by. The woman told me, "That's the winning float." It wasn't really a float at least to our current standards. It was a big wagon with festively decorated wheels that was pulled by horses. The horses had flags on their bridles, and the "float" had red, white and blue cloth adorning the sides. Before my eyes had their fill staring at the floats of 92 years ago, the woman brought me to another time.

Read the conclusion of "Old-Time Fourth" in next week's edition of The Reminder.