We don’t know if there was military music for these soldiers as they marched down the dirt road that was First Street, unpaved until the 1920s, in this 1917 Independence Day parade, but it would have been most appropriate! Passing beneath the 48 “star spangled banner” is a group of Spanish American War veterans—the flag with the Maltese cross is their symbol. Walking behind them in civilian clothes are veterans from previous military engagements, which group could also have contained some surviving Civil War veterans.
As the United States officially entered the war against Germany on April 6, 1917, it is likely that bystanders would also be cheering enlisted men who would be departing the U.S. to join their World War I comrades in Europe, under General Pershing, the following year. What a singularly unique historic moment is expressed in this black and white image: the three deep bays of the Palace Hotel, draped in dramatic bunting, offering some shadow to those lucky enough to have claimed a place to stand or sit.
No doubt folks came out early in order to nab these desirable places in the shade as they still do, almost 100 years later. The Palace Hotel, also known as the Gise Hotel, no longer exists. It burned down in 1932, along with the rest of the wooden buildings on the block that runs from the current site of the Benicia Herald to the corner of East H Street. Happily, the many telephone poles and myriad utility lines, which then occupied so much space, have also disappeared, along with parking on the street during holiday festivities.
Focusing on the ladies for a moment, I notice that all of them appear to be in white dresses. Just a summertime preference, or was it a mark of respect for our troops? We are still puzzling over the storefront banner with a crest-like motif situated mid-street, mid-photo, and welcome any information readers can supply. Although all of today’s parade entries hold our admiring attention, this archival document is an important reminder that the freedom this holiday celebrates has been purchased by our fighting men and women, many of whom never returned to march in another parade. The liberty bell still rings and we still have the privilege and pleasure of participating in this very “Norman Rockwell” bit of Americana that also represents the best of Benicia.