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Fourth of July in days gone by


Be it Butter & Egg Days or Veterans Day, Petaluma loves a good community celebration — and the Fourth of July is no exception.

While a Fourth of July community event has been held at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds for the past few years, longtime residents may recall when the July 4th festivities and fireworks were held in Lucchesi Park, Kenilworth Junior High and at McNear Park.

Kathy (Barboni) Madden grew up in Petaluma and recalls that in 1955 a crowd of 4,000 people crammed into McNear Park for a 10-hour festival that included everything from baseball to barbecues, to model planes, fireworks and a talent show, in which she participated with a dance and baton twirling routine.

"I was with Mackay's Dance Studio, and in those days studios were asked to bring dancers to perform at different functions," said Madden. "I took hula, tap, and baton twirling."

Madden was 13 years old when she performed a tap dance routine and baton twirling for the talent show at the McNear Park Fourth of July event. The Argus-Courier snapped a photo of Madden during the baton twirling performance, which made it into the paper on July 5, 1955. She still has the newspaper clipping.

"I think I won second place for my performance," said Madden. "The photo was taken during my baton twirling routine."

According to the 1955 article in the Argus, the Fourth of July festival attracted the biggest crowds the event had seen up to that point.

"It was a lot of fun and there was a huge crowd there that day," Madden recalled. "Just like now at the fairgrounds, there was a lot of activities going on. Then they had the fireworks in the evening. I remember it was a fun day."

While the location of the community celebration has changed over the years, what has stayed the same is Petaluma's love of coming together to honor the birth of the nation.

This year's Fourth of July celebration in Petaluma begins with the traditional bell ringing ceremony on the steps of the Petaluma Museum. The ceremony starts at 10:30 a.m., with the bell ringing beginning at 11 a.m.

The Independence Day bell-ringing got its start in the early days of the United States to commemorate country's birth. The tradition was revived in 1963 when a national campaign attracted the attention of Congress, which approved the Let Freedom Ring National Bell Ringing Ceremony Act. The act encouraged the ringing of bells across the country 13 times, honoring the first 13 colonies, at the same time (11 a.m. in Petaluma).

Wanting to participate in the ceremony, then Mayor Helen Putnam had the historic Korbel Bell, which was in her garage, mounted on a small A-frame and attached a rope. Petaluma's first bell-ringing ceremony was held July 4, 1963.

That tradition continues today, with local residents invited to come for the ceremony, and stay to ring the bell and enjoy refreshments. The event is free. Cookies and lemonade will be served in the museum garden. The museum is located at 20 Fourth St. For more information, visit www.petalumamuseum.com or call 778-4398.

Petaluma's Fourth of July celebration, "PTown4th," kicks of at 3 p.m. at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, 175 Fairgrounds Drive.

The community event features games, live music and fireworks once the sun goes down. Those attending may bring chairs, blankets, backpacks and food. There will also be food and drink vendors.

Items not allowed include personal fireworks, any kind of cooking equipment (barbecue grills) and glass containers of any kind.

Games, prizes and children's activities begin at 3 p.m. The live music will start at 5 p.m. with local bands, including the Bluerock Country Club. The fireworks display will begin around 9:20 p.m.

Admission is $2 adults, $1 for kids 10 and under, and free for kids 3 and under. For information, visit the PTown4th page on Facebook.

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at yovanna.bieber ich@arguscourier.com)