Rain began at mid-morning and cleared by mid-afternoon. While the rain put a damper on picnicking, the Monett Lions sold out of 1,400 chicken halves barbecued for the annual feast.
In recent years the Lions have sold out of their chicken early and this year boosted the quantity. People came and stood in line with umbrellas to buy their holiday dinner.
By the time the midway opened at 3 p.m., the sky had cleared. The Med Flight helicopter was not able to take a break during the appointed hour to drop by for public tours, but otherwise the planned activities got underway as expected. Vendors with craft items, dinner menus and desserts, as well as activities gave visitors a reason to stop.
New this year was bingo, hosted by Tyson Foods during the afternoon at the City Park Casino. Jim Haston, chairman of the July 4 event for the Monett Chamber of Commerce, said up to 50 people were in the casino all the time for the games and air conditioning. Tyson also provided gifts for the winners.
Moving into the evening, crowds began to pick up. a steady stream of young people lined up at the Monett Area YMCA's inflatables for games, bouncing and a chance to challenge gravity. Pony rides and train rides were also available for the children.
Also new this year was a pizza eating contest, courtesy of Mazzio's Pizza. A line-up of brave contestants had a chance to eat two pizzas in five minutes. The winner, Anthony Privett, of Monett, came to within three pieces of finishing the first pizza.
Privett said his secret of success was "Take your time, pace yourself, and take big bites but don't stuff your face."
Taking second place was Trey Treadwell, of Washburn. Bert Carnes, of Monett, took third.
Opening the live entertainment was the traditional bluegrass band, Ripplin' Creek. Recorded music took over the next hour, offered by B Sharp Entertainment, when the second band did not come.
One of the high points of the evening was the "Monett's Got Talent" contest, a first for the festival. Seventeen acts signed up and ran over the hour alloted for the show. Several acts were not judged due to the inappropriateness of the material.
Winners in the youth division were Taylor Stewart in first, Chrissy Steward in second and Joby Young in third. In the adult division, Leon Lowe took home first place honors. Nathan Mays was second and Angela Bennett was third.
"I was pleasantly pleased with the talent contest," Haston said. "The pizza eating contest was great fun. If we can expand on that in future years, we'll be on the right track."
The drawing for cash put $55 into the pocket of Kelli Kuhl, of Springfield, who was in town with her daughter visiting family and taking in the fireworks.
Thanks to the sound system from B Sharp, the patriotic address by historian, publisher and retired state senator Emory Melton was heard over a broader portion of the field. Sarah Hohensee followed by singing the National Anthem. Around 9:15 p.m. the fireworks show from A.M. Pyrotechnics lit up the sky for 20 minutes, eliciting many "ooohs" and applause from the crowd.
"The fireworks were pretty spectacular again this year," Haston said. "It's primarily the Monett businesses who donate that keep the show alive."
The crowd inside the park was smaller than in recent years. Police Lieutenant Greg Brandsma noted the parking area on the west side of the main field was not as packed as usual. Monett Police had five officers in the park and found proceedings on the ground fairly easygoing. Officers answering calls around town responded to several incidents in contrast.
"People behaved well at the park. There were no incidents," Haston said. "We appreciate the city, the park staff, the vendors and the YMCA for their help. Suzy McElmurry and Sarah Hohensee from the Chamber put in a lot of hours to make the event successful."
Ideas are welcome on how to make the celebration better next year. Haston said he will continue as July 4 chairman for another year. He would appreciate hearing feedback on the event and welcome volunteers willing to help with various projects.
Emory Melton's July 4 speech
By MURRAY BISHOFF
The creation of the United States and the role of John Adams in the Continental Congress provided the core of historian Emory Melton's patriotic address for Monett's July 4 celebration on Saturday.
Melton took his listeners back to January of 1776, when Adams and his neighbor, a shoe-maker, rode horses from Massachusetts to Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress was to convene its second session. The trip took two weeks, with a foot of snow on the ground in 20-degree temperatures. A renowned attorney, Adams traveled with no trappings of prominence, Melton said, and yet Adams "would prove to be one of the most----if not the most----valuable member of the Congress."
Upon arriving, Adams settled into a boarding house, expecting a stay of several months. He wrote to his wife, Abigail, that his top priorities were to furnish munitions for the troops, secure allies for the American cause, a get a "declaration in independency" passed.
For all practical purposes, Melton said, the war had already started. The battle of Bunker Hill had been six months earlier. The British had 100 war vessels in the New York hard and would send 300 more. In December 1775 the British Parliament had declared the American colonies in rebellion, qualifying the acts of the Continental Congress as traitorous.
Even under such conditions, passing a declaration declaring independence was not easy. Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia, introduced such a resolution in February, 1776. "Acrimonious debate" erupted when the resolution came up for debate on June 6, Melton said. John Dickinson, a Quaker delegate heading the Pennsylvania delegation, wanted to put off the move, saying, "Considering the storm we are about to enter, the colonies are on a skiff made of paper."
Writing again to his wife, Adams counted a third of the delegates favored war against Britain, a third were loyal to the crown and a third did not care either way. Adams felt having unanimity of opinion was critical. Unlike many politicians then and now, Melton said, Adams sat through every session of the Continental Congress, engaging in the debate. Melton called Adams "cantankerous, strong-willed and very stubborn."
The idea of a declaration was debated at length for nine hours on July 1. It was a steamy hot day, Melton said, after a morning storm, with the delegates packed in a tight room. A vote was delayed until the next day, to not make such an important decision from fatigue.
Having asked their home assemblies for guidance, delegates from 12 colonies voted in favor on July 2, including Pennsylvania. John Dickinson, who favored more diplomacy, did not vote. Melton said Dickinson, though a pacifist, would later lead a battalion of troops during the war.
On July 3 the work began to write a declaration, the final draft coming from Thomas Jefferson. Melton called Jefferson a literary genius as well as an attorney, but noted the driving force pushing the declaration had instead been Adams. Melton read key passages from the declaration, noting that the statement that governments derive their authority from the people would become the basis for the U.S. Constitution.
The declaration itself was adopted on July 4. It had been the vote of July 2, Adams wrote to his wife, that should be remembered as the great day, when opinions came together and the country was essentially born. It was a day to be marked with displays of light, Adams wrote, and so it has been, even though the great day was set a little later, Melton said.
Delegates put their names on the declaration from August 2, 1776, into the following January, Melton said. One of those signatories was the elderly Stephen Hopkins, a Rhode Island Quaker. Melton said Hopkins looked at his small, spidery signature and commented, "My hand trembles, but my heart does not."
Emerging from the Continental Congress, Benjamin Franklin was reportedly asked by a woman in the street what kind of government he and the delegates had given the people.
"A republic, if you can keep it," Franklin said, according to Melton.
Franklin and others had been pivotal figures at the convention, Melton said, but it was Adams who herded through the Declaration of Independence.
"We owe a lot to John Adams," Melton concluded.