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July 3, 2003

Many Fourth of July celebrations have come and gone since the first white settlers occupied Noble county and the rest of the Cherokee Outlet in 1893. After all, those pioneers came from backgrounds that stressed freedom and democracy, family relationships and cherished other values, and virtually all of them were proud of the traditions that saw them flocking to this area in search of plots of land for farming, ranching, businesses and professions. They were very much like the brave band that took this raw country to war with the world's most powerful entity, the British Empire, in search of liberty and freedom. The original Fourth of July in 1776 is what they celebrated in 1893, even as today, when we are, or should be, contemplating the conditions that produced the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War and ultimately created the United States of America. That same daring spirit was still abroad in this land in 1893, and we can see positive signs of it in this new century.

Perry folks have had many kinds of Fourth of July celebrations through the years, many of them featuring homemade entertainment expressed in a variety of ways. Several years ago, when fireworks were legally sold inside the Perry city limits and they could be fired anywhere, you could hear them from dawn to well past sundown. Many minor traditions sprang up, like the annual torpedo wars between drug stores and other fireworks distributors around the square. These usually were held toward store closing time on the Fourth, when unsold "torpedoes" were offered at bargain prices (a few pennies for each) to avoid the necessity of storing them for another year. No major wounds or other mishaps were ever recorded as a result of those battles, but some youngsters learned that you should not hold firecrackers of any kind in your hand once the fuse has been lit.

A familiar photo has been around for many years, at least since the horse and buggy days, showing workmen at the Malzahn Brothers Blacksmith Shop, near the southeast corner of the square, where the Heritage Center is now located, having fun with explosives and an anvil. Different versions have been told about the event, but we have the word of no less an authority than Ed Malzahn, president and CEO of the Charles Machine Works, Inc., successor to the blacksmith shop, about what really was going on many years ago when the picture was snapped by an unknown photographer.

Ed says: "Shooting the anvil is the name given to that prank. We now have a room in the Heritage Center, and it is respectfully named 'the Anvil Room,' where a real anvil is on display along with an enlarged photo of the 'shooting.' The room today is a conference room where groups of different sizes can meet. 'Shooting the anvil,' or 'blowing the anvil,' in front of the blacksmith shop on a holiday like the Fourth of July or the 16th celebration was a sometimes dangerous but exciting event. One anvil was laid on the street face down and the cavity in its base filled with black powder. Another anvil was placed right side up on the base of the first one so that the cavities of the two coincided. A fuse was then placed between the two and lit, sometimes with a hot iron bar. Expectant boys and men stood at a distance and watched with eager anticipation as a small cloud of smoke indicated the progress of the fire through the fuse. Suddenly there was a roar, a flash of orange flame, and a cloud of white odoriferous smoke. Ringing merrily, the upper anvil was thrown into the air. The whole exciting business was repeated as long as the supply of black powder lasted. The object of this pastime was to see how high an anvil could be launched without injuring any onlookers. This early photo shows a group watching one of those exhibitions in 1910."

And a happy, safe Fourth of July to each of you.

Shooting The ANVIL were these folks in early-day Perry.