Fireworks burst over Juneau on July 4, 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Fireworks burst over Juneau on July 4, 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Juneau’s July 4 celebrates what is good about America

Growing up in Juneau, and later when raising our own children, our family attended countless Fourth of July parades, patriotic celebrations, and picnics. The holiday also continues to be a popular time for family and class reunions.

On the Fourth it’s exciting to see the floats, some often funky, but always entertaining and patriotically themed. Parades are a kaleidoscope of colors and sounds. Filipino and Native dancers often march along with political candidates of every persuasion vying for votes.

It is gratifying to see the pride in our country and share the good will with everyone.

Independence Day commemorates the Declaration of Independence, which was ratified by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, establishing the United States of America. No longer under the British monarchy of George III, our original 13 colonies were now united, free, and independent states. The U.S. Congress made July 4 a national holiday in 1870. Before Juneau was even incorporated as a city in 1900, it joined other communities across America in celebrating the Fourth of July.

One of the most unique aspects of Juneau’s celebration is its fireworks display at the end of July 3. Legend has it that this tradition dates back to when the Treadwell Mine on Douglas Island was operating. Since the mine only shut down on Christmas and the Fourth of July, in order to allow miners a chance to enjoy the fireworks, the show was moved to a day earlier than most other celebrations in the U.S.

In the early mining days, celebrations occurred on each side of Gastineau Channel, when Douglas and Juneau were distinct cities. Festivities were varied and included many of the activities we enjoy today. Newspapers of the day published extensive schedules of events, and reported even the most minute details on attendance, contest winners and sports scores:

• Douglas Island News — July 11, 1900

“A Glorious Fourth, Douglas Excels All Other Celebrations. Fine Weather. The Prize Winners” was the headline in the weekly edition of the Douglas Island News following the Fourth of July, 1900.

The article included these descriptions: “About 3 o’clock on the morning of the nation’s birthday the little cannon which belongs to the Douglas City belched forth in mighty tones…at an early hour crowds of people in holiday attire thronged the streets. The men from the mines were out among the first…at 11, the tug-of-war teams began to gather and from that time until six o’clock the sports held the attention of everybody…the grand ball in the evening was the crowning feature of the day’s entertainment…the armory hall was beautifully decorated with boughs and bunting, flags and Japanese lanterns.”

• Alaska Daily Empire — July 3, 1913

“Douglas, July 3 – The Fourth of July program will begin at Treadwell tonight at 7 o’clock with the rock drilling contest…prizes will be $120 for the double-hand test and $60 for the single.” (Note: $120 in 1913 would be equivalent to about $3,500 today).

• Alaska Daily Empire — July 5, 1913

“The celebration of Independence Day in Juneau yesterday was marked by the attendance of enormous crowds…attendance at the baseball park was between three and four thousand…ferry service was overtaxed despite the fact three boats were on the run.”

In Juneau, activities and observances have grown even larger with the addition of June 14 Flag Day decoration contests in Douglas and Juneau Gold Rush Days, an event that commemorates Juneau’s mining and logging history.

Fourth of July celebrations are an opportunity to appreciate the freedoms that Americans enjoy and express our gratitude to America’s Founding Fathers. America is not perfect, but it is always striving to correct its past mistakes in order to deliver on its promise of equal rights and opportunity for all. In spite of our nation’s challenges, millions of people around the world still want to come to America.

Perhaps now, more than ever, we can use the occasion of the Fourth of July as a time to reflect on America’s true gift — our commonality as Americans and Alaskans living in freedom.

By doing so, our Fourth of July will remain a special Juneau tradition.

• After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for KeyBank in Alaska, Win Gruening became a regular Opinion Page columnist for the Juneau Empire. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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