Editor’s Note: We might think the current election cycle to be more boisterous or even outrageous than possibly anything ever before, but it is quite likely that in its day there we others equally like it in their own time and place. Following are excepts from an article “Torchlight Parades,” written by Jean McDaniel, former volunteer and overseer of the Robbins Hunter Museum in the 1980’s.
“The excitement and fervor of political campaigns were for many years enhanced by the torchlight parade. Newark, being the countryseat, was the scene of many such parades – especially during the presidential campaign of 1840.
Let’s go back in American’s history to the campaign that set the tone for all other presidential campaigns to follow. It was a hoopla, hurrah and circus type campaign that had its beginning when the National Whig Convention met at Harrisburg, PA, and unanimously nominated Ohioan General William Henry Harrison and his running mate, John Tyler of Virginia. Immediately, the most remarkable campaign in the history of our state and nation began. Although not many Ohioans cared, they soon learned that the incumbent president, Martin Van Buren was running against Harrison…”
“Newark was the scene of much county hoopla during this exciting campaign. A torchlight parade scenario probably went like this: Licking County men would gather on the appointed evening on North 2nd St. where the Auditorium Theatre now stands, some on foot, others on horseback. Organizers would hand out torches if men had not brought their own. The torches would be wooden poles on wooden replicas of long guns – all with some type of oil lamp swiveled on the end. Most men wore oilcloth capes to keep their suits clean. Those who could afford a Beaver top hat would often belt an oil lamp around the crown. They then could handle their horse with more control.”
“…the common man marched, watching where they stepped with small boys and yapping dogs bringing up the rear. In 1840, a Fife and Drum Corps would lead – in later years this evolved into the Buckeye Band. Campaign songs would be sung loudly and just as loud would be the chanted slogans for Harrison and Tyler.”
“The night would be dark, only the lamplight from stores, homes and the massed paraders. Crowds would line the courthouse square and the streets, porches would be full and windows open. The populace would sing and chant along with the men parading…if the weather was good and men could leave their farms, a torchlight parade would have attracted many hundreds.”
“All in all, torchlight parades in Newark were rip roaring events in which men and boys shouted themselves hoarse, women and girls cheered and waved their handkerchiefs, horses whinnied, drums beat and fifes shrilled. From a distance you could see the torchlight and hear the singing or chanting and as the parade passed you could almost be a part of it. When it passed, even the dust and horse manure could not dispel the excitement felt by all, a grand occasion for a rather quiet town only 38 years old.”