By Rich Tarrant
The accompanying photographs are those of an early 20th century parade in good ol’ Vermilion. I believe this one occurred around 1906. While I am unable to be 100% certain it appears that the procession was on Ohio Street just east of Vermilion’s St. Mary’s Catholic church.
Among the many interesting things about the photographs (at least to me) is the fact that in the yesteryear the carriage drivers sat on the right side of their vehicles. Evidently this was to accommodate drivers who were all “presumed” to be right-handed. This allowed them an ability to use the buggy whip without zapping the person in the seat next to them with it when it was applied. The brakes were also located on the right side that allowed a driver to use their “stronger” (i.e. their right) arm when it was applied.
Now all of that certainly makes good sense when it comes to horse-drawn vehicles, but did you know that before the launch of the Ford Motor Company’s Model T in 1908, virtually every car in the United States also had the steering wheel on the right side? Ford, it is said, made the change to the left side of their cars to make it easier for people entering the vehicle on the passenger side avoid oncoming traffic. Again, that makes a good deal of sense. [Additionally, it also makes for a good trivia question.] But back to the picture:
The street, as one can see, wasn’t much to brag about. Can you imagine what it was like during inclement weather? Those who know the street also know there was / is a small creek running through the ravine between South and Ohio streets. If one looks closely at this photo there appears to be some rather muddy wagon ruts at the bottom.
Fortunately, there were some nice walks along the street that were no doubt of great benefit to pedestrians during those years. They are not, however, the stone walks that were later installed around town. They were wood sidewalks. The walk at the lower portion of the street (on the left) spanning the aforementioned creek bed is very much like a small suspension bridge. For whatever reason it looks like a lot of people enjoyed standing on it to watch the parade pass. Also note the street lamp at the top of the hill on the left. It was an oil lamp that required daily lighting and snuffing out by the town lamplighter.
The four carriages likely carried town VIP’s – the Mayor and Councilmen. I guess one might equate them with convertibles carrying politicians / celebrities as seen in many current day processions. The identities of the groups marching are initially a bit less discernible, but the lower photo of the parade participants actually sheds a bit more light on their identities, as well as what the occasion might have been. It is likely that the marchers were groups of volunteer firemen from various communities around the area. “Way back when” Vermilion, as well as other towns, used to sponsor Firemen’s Conventions. This appears to have been a parade of area firefighters along with their hometown marching bands.
I am somewhat bemused by the lone lady standing in the shade of a tree on the left in both photos. She seems a tad over dressed for the event passing along the boulevard before her. You may have noticed that there are no women in the cavalcade. Their absence says a good deal. It would be thirteen years before the passage of the 19th Amendment to our Constitution. Moreover, it would be a long, long time before anyone would see a lady dressed in jeans and a t-shirt in public. Time most certainly and very happily marched on…
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant is Curator of the Vermilion History Museum and a son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: email@example.com