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The Salt River Excursion
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor

Thanksgiving Day and the Election 100 Years Ago

The 1916 "Salt River Excursion" started at the Pennsburg Square where marchers, led by the Germania Band, trekked to Red Hill. Picking up participants all along the route of travel though Red Hill and Pennsburg, thousands of viewers lined the sidewalks to watch the parade. 

                The election of a president and the celebration of Thanksgiving were far different in the Upper Perkiomen Valley 100 years ago.

                The United States, still officially neutral in 1917, was on the brink of entering World War I.  Democrat incumbent President Woodrow Wilson had just defeated Republican candidate Supreme Court Justice Charles Hughes by almost 600,000 votes in the popular vote and by a 277-254 margin in electoral votes.

                World War I was raging in Europe at this time, and many in the United States assumed that all German-Americans were loyal to Germany and the Kaiser.

                People with German-sounding last names were persecuted. German-owned businesses faced boycotts. In towns founded by German immigrants, German street names were changed.

                High schools dropped German classes, and schools in majority German areas were required to teach only in English.  Some states passed laws to prohibit speaking any language other than English in public.

                History shows that Woodrow Wilson's administration was directly responsible for this anti-German-American hysteria, particularly through propaganda posters encouraging Americans to dehumanize the enemy and think of Germans as less than human.

                But here in the Upper Perkiomen Valley – a community heavy with Pennsylvania-Dietsche descendants of German immigrants, invited to live in the Commonwealth by William Penn himself – Wilson was celebrated.

                On Thanksgiving Day 1916, the Woodrow Wilson Club of Red Hill held a spectacular parade through the boroughs of Pennsburg and Red Hill. According to a report in the Town and Country "thousands" of people lined up to watch the procession.

                The Democrats of both boroughs hailed the parade as a way to send the Republicans "Up the Salt River."  No fights, altercations or counter-demonstrations were reported.  In fact, everybody had a great time.

                The Salt River was a semi-mythical waterway whose treacherous shoals were synonymous with the ruination of great leaders and their parties.

                The parade started at the "Square" in Pennsburg where local officials were led by the Germania Band of Hillegass.  Costumed marchers and floats filled in along the parade route.  When the parade hit Red Hill, borough officials there and members of the Woodrow Wilson Club of Red Hill joined in and were led by the Red Hill Band.

                One float was intended to represent the non-successful Hughes' proposed cabinet.  However, each of the characters on the float was masquerading as former president Theodore Roosevelt who ran as a very unsuccessful Progressive Party candidate.

                Costumed characters depicting Hughes and his vice-presidential candidate Charles Fairbanks were pulled along in a "Salt River" boat by several men.

                In a nod to Wilson's alleged affairs with women, girls of the Red Hill School dressed up in "night dresses" and were stationed on another float.

                Even a Republican farmer and his family rode in their horse-drawn wagon, loaded with lots of food, tools, chickens, geese and pigs to show he was "bound up the Salt River for a long siege."

                The parade traveled south on Main Street then east on Sixth Street to the Railroad Station where it turned around and headed back to Pennsburg.

                It was all in good fun and friendly rivalries among the local people.

                And, don't feel offended about President Wilson's displeasure towards German-Americans before the war.  After all, he did appoint General John J. Pershing as the supreme commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in France.

                Pershing came from a family that changed its name from the German Pfoershin.





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