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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

Independence Park’s Annual Fourth Of July Parade Goes Way Back

For more than a century, the Irving Park community has celebrated the Fourth of July at Independence Park.

People march in last year's Independence Park 4th of July parade.
Image courtesy Independence Park Advisory Council.
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IRVING PARK — Independence Park will host its annual Fourth of July parade this Wednesday, and unlike fireworks in Winnemac Park and other more recent traditions, it goes way back. 

“It’s a family-friendly neighborhood event that has been going on for many, many years,” said Anna Faford, president of the Independence Park Advisory Council. “Over the years it’s turned into a parade for the neighborhood where I would say everyone comes, decorates their bikes, strollers, even themselves and then parades around the park.”

Fred Busse was mayor of Chicago in the early 20th Century and in 1907 the residents of Irving Park successfully petitioned him to create a park in their neighborhood. 

“Beginning in 1903, residents of the Irving Park community had begun a long tradition of celebrating Independence Day on this site, which explains the derivation of the park’s name,” according to a registration form for the National Register of Historic Places.

“I think we typically have around 500 people that show up for the parade. It starts over at the corner of Irving and Hamlin and everyone starts moving around 10 a.m.,” said Faford. “Everyone follows behind the Boy Scouts and fire truck engine 69, which starts its sirens when the parade begins.”

The parade follows the park’s parameter and ends near the field house.

“The firemen typically stop, if they have the time, and let kids check the fire truck out,” said . “Let them climb through it and answer questions, things like that.”

Faford said the park’s advisory council will also be passing out freeze pops to all the kids and adults.

“Hardly anybody actually just watches the parade, but everybody is in it,” Faford said. “Then we follow it up by raising the flag, singing the national anthem and then playing some fun games in the field.”

After the parade families can participate in a potato sack race and the annual egg toss at the park’s south field. The other races typically held after the parade are going to be skipped this year due to the main field currently being overhauled.

While information about the very first time Independence Park celebrated the 4th of July may be lost to history, a description of the 1914 parade can be found in a Chicago Daily Tribune article from July 3, 1914. That year the park hosted “a parade of the children of the district and the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, an athletic meet, and a series of addresses and songs” that was followed by a fireworks display in the evening.

Independence Park, circa 1933. Image courtesy the Greater Independence Park Neighborhood Association.

A brief look at Independence Park’s 115 year history includes some interesting, and sometimes tragic, connections to the rest of Chicago.

For instance, in 1914 the park district built its field house from a design by Hatzfeld and Knox—the same architectural firm that designed the Myrtle Masonic Temple which is now Eris Brewery & Cider House.

And in 1920 the Independence Park Bungalow was built from a design by Benedict J. Bruns, who was one of the architects that designed a large percentage of the homes in historic Rogers Park Manor area. The fieldhouse and bungalow are both built in the Spanish revival style with with some Prairie style influences—and still feature their original ceramic tile roofs.

Additionally, the bungalow was originally used as a single family home by produce wholesaler John Luttrell Coppersmith. He moved to the North Side after the brutal 1915 murder of his wife and infant son by a delivery man named William Russell Pethick while they were in their South Side home. Pethick’s lawyer during the criminal trial was Clarence Darrow, a leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union at the time. Darrow later made headlines by representing Leopold and Loeb during their criminal trial. In 1936, the park district purchased the bungalow and incorporated it into the park’s infrastructure.

And during the Great Depression President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave the the park federal Works Progress Administration funds. This money, among other things, allowed the park to commission Max Robert Decker, a professional artist who had attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, to create a patriotically-themed painting for field house’s auditorium.

Decker’s painting, titled “May the Spirit of 1776 Live on,” was completed in 1937 and can still be found in the field house. It depicts an allegorical Lady Liberty standing in front of an early American flag that only has stars for the original 13 American colonies, a cannon and a Revolutionary War soldier laying flat on his back.

“May the Spirit of 1776 Live On” by Max Robert Decker. Image courtesy the Chicago Park District.

“The parade is one of the longest-standing traditions, I believe, that happens at the park. And I would say the best part of the parade, for me, is that the entire neighborhood comes out,” Faford said. “Different neighborhood groups all come out before and after the parade and are handing out lemonade, or cookies or water. We just all come together to celebrate at the park.”