'Middle Anthracite Metropolis:' That was Shamokin's billing at 50th anniversary in 1914
SHAMOKIN - "MIDDLE ANTHRACITE METROPOLIS."
That was the title of the souvenir booklet that the borough of Shamokin published for its semicentennial in 1914.
Metropolis - a very large city that is a hub of culture for an entire region. The borough of Shamokin did not become a third-class city until 1950, but in a strong sense, the people who inhabited this small town back then truly believed they were just that - a metropolis.
The Shamokin of 100 years ago was quite a different place than the one we have inherited. Politically, Shamokin was still a borough; however, at a population of more than 25,000 souls, it was three times larger than it presently is as a third-class city. If a person from today could travel back in time and view Shamokin as it was 100 years ago, the
words that may come to their mind are "activity," "progress," "forward-thinking."
The number of automobiles that drove through town were few, though growing. The streets were still a hard-packed dirt, which was easier for the horses to travel on and easier for the "sanitation engineers" - the street sweepers of the time - to clean up after with their rakes. If you had to travel to a "far-away" city like Sunbury, you rode a train, and if you wanted to go clear across town you could hop on a trolley car, whose tracks once criss-crossed Shamokin. Nevertheless, in those days you really did not have to travel too far to get your basic goods since there seemed to be a "mom and pop" store in every neighborhood (and one or more "watering holes" to boot).
For the people back in those days, belonging to a certain section of town, such as "The Bloody Fifth," or living on a particular street, was perhaps more important than just saying they were "from Shamokin." And woe to those who didn't belong to certain neighborhoods who happened to venture there if they didn't belong (i.e., "The Bloody Fifth")!
A time traveler who visited Shamokin back then would mostly be amazed at amount of activity that filled the small, but growing, town. Everywhere on that June week in 1914 the women would be dressed in their white shirtwaists and dark hobble skirts, perhaps carrying a parasol to keep the sun off of their skin, and men with their shirts and ties, older ones wearing a homburg on their heads while the younger, a straw boater, a hat as ubiquitous then as a baseball cap is today. People going here and there on foot to the thriving downtown on Independence Street, or perhaps to just as important streets such as Market, Sunbury or Shamokin. A person from today's Shamokin would be amazed at the jobs available - coal mines, mills, factories, shops, offices, etcetera, etcetera... Business was booming and good, indeed.
Back in those days, there wasn't the need to look back at Shamokin's past with a sigh and long for the time when Shamokin was "important." In the days at the very start of World War I, Shamokin was important. Yes, there were those "old timers" who would sigh for Shamokin's "recent" past when things were quite a bit simpler, less congested, and as a community, much closer. But for the most part, no, it was the future which held promise. And this feeling of promise was made manifest during the celebration the "metropolis" held in 1914, with red, white and blue bunting on houses and buildings fluttering in the wind wherever you looked, long-winded orators giving speeches, music from a great variety of bands, civic, scholastic and ethnic, that once existed in the borough, and one or more parades for each day of that celebratory week.
The list of names in the souvenir booklet that were involved in creating that long-ago week of celebration is rather staggering, looking more like screen credits from an epic movie than just a simple committee of several members who had a good idea for a parade or two. Oddly enough for this day and age, back then, it seemed as though everyone in town wanted to get in on the act.
The week of celebration began Sunday, June 28, 1914, with the day aptly titled "Religious Day." There weren't any parades on that day, but it was noted that special services were to be held in all churches. As an interesting historical note, that very day in far-away Sarajevo, Bosnia, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated, which precipitated World War I.
Monday, June 29, was dubbed "Forefather's Day," a day filled with commemorative speeches concerning Shamokin, reenactments of Indian civilization in the Shamokin area and other incidents in colonial times, and parades on the principle streets of the city. Some of the surviving photographs of that time show automobiles decorated with flowers. This was due to the floral automobile parade that was held at 9 a.m. that morning.
Tuesday, June 30, was "Industrial Day." The day's events were filled with speeches by various leaders of business and unions, chief of which was the United Mine Workers of America. A grandstand was set up on Market and Arch streets where the addresses were made, followed by an open air concert by the 240 voices included in the Shamokin Philharmonic Choral Society.
Wednesday, July 1, was "School Day," which held reunions of alumni associations from Shamokin, Coal Township and St. Edward's schools, along with alumni of both Shamokin Business and Bliss Business colleges. The main event of that particular day of celebration was the laying of the cornerstone of the former Shamokin High School building on Arch and Eighth streets at 2 p.m., now known as the CareerLink building, that currently houses Luzerne County Community College's Shamokin campus.
Thursday, July 2, was "Firemen's Day." This day was noted for the large parade of firemen and apparatus from Shamokin and surrounding areas.
Friday, July 3, was declared "Young America Day." This day, like the others, started at 9 a.m. and consisted of school children parading in various uniforms and costumes, both historical and ethnic. The capstone on this day was the large parade that was broken into four division - pioneer, colonial, Founding Fathers and modern. This parade alone consisted of approximately 5,000 children.
Saturday, July 4, was declared "Old Glory Day," and was begun with a reading of the Declaration of Independence by the Honorable Fred B. Moser. The day contained parades by the various fraternal lodges, societies, unions, clubs and civic organizations, along with the grand Fourth of July parade. The week of celebration was brought to a close with an impressive fireworks display. Shamokin's 50th celebration - the parades, the pageants, the bands and the orators - have all marched off into history.
(A special thanks to the Shamokin-Coal Township Public Library for their assistance with this article.)