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Tragedy follows Hannibal’s 1902 July 4th celebration

Illustration shows Uncle Sam, holding a firecracker, trying to reassure a concerned-looking female figure with wings and wearing a gown labeled "Peace" that all the noise she hears is for the celebration of the Fourth of July. Celebrating with Uncle Sam are several figures labeled "Alaska, New York, Texas, Mass., Hawaii, Porto Rico, North, South"; one disgruntled figure labeled "Philippine" is climbing over a wall, also an African American is sitting near Uncle Sam. Some are lighting strings of firecrackers, "Texas" is shooting guns, and "Mass." is firing a cannon in the direction of the wall "Philippine" is climbing over. The U.S. Capitol building is in the background and a dove with olive branch hovers over the figure of “Peace". From the Library of Congress prints and photographs division. Original publication, Puck magazine, July 2, 1902.


Thousands gravitated toward Hannibal in 1902, for the long-planned and well-executed celebration of this nation’s birthday. Passenger trains added extra cars to accommodate the travelers from as far away as Chillicothe in the west, and Pike and Adams counties in Illinois, to the east. Both excursion steamboats plying their trade of the Mississippi River - the S.J. and the Flying Eagle - were filled to capacity, docking on the shoreline to allow revelers from Quincy and beyond to partake in the festivities.

On tap was a scheduled parachute drop, a balloon ascension, a baseball game at Athletic Park featuring gifted collegiate athletes from Hannibal, Quincy and beyond, and a parade led by the First Regiment Band of Hannibal. Gathered in significant numbers were members of the Modern Woodmen fraternal organization and the Foresters, credited with attracting up to 10,000 people to Hannibal for the day.

Events included military re-enactments staged by U.S. Naval and Army reserves from Quincy, a log-rolling contest, bicycle and wheelbarrow races, orators in Central Park, cannon salutes and the grand finale, at dusk, a fireworks display launched from a barge moored in the river.

Expected over the course of the day were typical street fights fueled by free-flowing liquor on the steamboats and in the local taverns, but all in all, there was peace among the masses.

It was warm and dusty in Hannibal on the Fourth of July - a Friday as the calendar fell. The dust was kicked up along the many Hannibal streets as yet to be paved, including Market Street to the west, which would be paved with brick later in the year; and North Fourth Street, which wouldn’t be guttered and surfaced with Tarvia until 1916.

Carriage builders, blacksmiths and even tailor shops closed their doors in observance of this national holiday. Farmers abandoned their plows in the fields, instead driving their teams and their children east to Hannibal, along Market Street, the Palmyra Road, or maybe through Frytown along the Paris Road. Illinois carriages crossed the river at the location of the Hannibal’s lone bridge across the Mississippi, which served the dual purpose in transporting trains and horse-drawn vehicles.

Friends gather

Two friends and former Hill Street neighbors, George Scher and R.J. Moser, gathered on July 4, 1902, for a day of fraternizing and to celebrate the nation’s birthday. Each, in his own way, was suffering from a personal loss.

Six months prior to their reunion, George Scher, a merchant tailor doing business at 104 Market St., lost his wife, Anna, as the result of a hemorrhage related to an ectopic pregnancy. Their two sons, Johnie, born circa 1886, and Artie, born circa 1893, subsequently went to St. Louis to live with their aunt.

R.J. Moser, who had honed the craft of carriage making since he was 23 years of age, had an unfortunate accident while working for the Hannibal Carriage Works, and lost two fingers on his left hand. He gained a small settlement from the company, then moved, with his wife Effie, to Quincy to work for Hynes Carriage Company.

While both suffered, there was more tragedy ahead.

The Hannibal Courier’s July 5, 1902, description of the friends’ outing was reprinted by the Macon Republican the following week.

“Mr. and Mrs. Moser came to Hannibal yesterday morning on a visit. They visited the family of L.W. Garner on the West Side in the forenoon and went from there to the Scher home. They were out on the river in the afternoon, and after taking supper with Mr. Scher went out again after supper. Mr. Scher owned (a) skiff and was frequently on the river.”

But the evening July 4, 1902, was not a typical time for an outing on the river. Two steamboats were moored at the riverfront, loaded with passengers who were drinking and gambling while awaiting the scheduled fireworks exhibit. In addition the shore was lined with individuals anticipating the light show, and the river itself was crowded with vessels preparing to participate in a boat parade.

Scher and his guests boarded the skiff at the Hill Street landing.

The newspaper further described the scene:

“They were out on the river a short distance in the rear of the wheel of the steamer J.S., which had been moored at the wharf awaiting the beginning of the fireworks. There were two other skiffs in the same locality, but they dropped further down the river out of harm’s war. Mr. Moser was sitting in the bow of the skiff, Mr. Scher was rowing and Mrs. Moser was in the stern. Mr. Moser thinks that Mr. Scher did not notice that the J.S. had left the wharf, and Mr. Moser did not know of the danger until he heard Mrs. Moser scream. As he looked up he saw the wheel of the steamer strike his wife.”

The three were catapulted into the river; only one surfaced: R.J. Moser.

It would be two days before the bodies of George Scher and Effie Moser would be found floating in the river some miles south of Hannibal.


George and Anna Julia Guetterman Scher are buried together at Green Mount Catholic Cemetery, Belleville, St. Clair County, Ill.

Richard Jacob Moser appears to have remained single for the remainder of his life. He died in 1937, and is buried beside his wife at Oaklawn Cemetery, Wabash, Ind.


Mr. Moser’s career as a carriage maker took him to:

1880: Atchison, Kansas

1891: Lincoln, Nebraska

1900: Macon, Missouri

1901: Hannibal, Missouri

1902: Quincy, Illinois

1912: Billings, Montana

1920: Detroit, Michigan (factory)

Note: The description for R.J. Moser’s worth ethic, Quincy Daily Herald, July 5, 1902.

Note: Members of the First Regiment Band of Hannibal, in February 1901, were: J.A. Lambert, J. Wantling, Fred Miller, Chas. Wilcox, Frank Hoshlog, Charles Wilder, Ben Atkinson, C. Leonard, Arthur Wright, Will Compton, James Cole, Alfred Call, Joe Velie, Fred Lindstrum and Archie Leonard. Source: Mexico Weekly Ledger, Feb. 14, 1901.

Note: The Hannibal ball team defeated the Quincy team at Hannibal by a score of 2 to 1. The Hannibal team was managed by H.E. Stein and Robert J. Smiley, a traveling salesman for the H-D Cigar Co.

Note: Tarvia is a brand of road surfacing material made with asphalt.

Note: The steamer Flying Eagle hit the Hannibal railroad bridge in June 1903, Four died in this accident.

George Scher advertised his tailoring business in the 1897 Hannibal city directory, accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site.

The First Regiment Band led the 1902 Fourth of July parade in Hannibal, Mo. The band is pictured in 1898. Photo contributed by Linda Ham Thompson.

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” and “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’” 47 stories of the Market Street Wedge and on west to Lindell Avenue. Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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