One of the manias dearest to Americans consists in meeting in groups and founding societies apropos of everything and apropos of nothing. Any pretext is good, and associations abound in the United States. It would take a whole volume to enumerate all of them. Among the most important are the temperance societies, the Masonic societies, that of the “old fellows” (les vieux garçons),12 that of the fat men, that of the thin men, the Grand Army of the Republic, etc., etc. J'en passe et des meilleures.13
All that is needed is the mayor’s permission for an association which is to have some kind of a parade to fill the streets and spread triumphantly through the whole city. The parading organization has complete freedom and consideration; omnibuses, streetcars, private carriages, pedestrians, all traffic must stop as it goes by. To cut through a parade is a reprehensible act. I have been present at the parades of some organizations, and I could see that banners, decorations, ribbons of every color, scarves of every shade, and plumes played a great part. The Americans love those things, and since the government has not yet founded any order of merit, they remedy this situation by decorating themselves. I was told that certain regiments during the Civil War had created decorations which they then granted one to another.
American organizations, which parade on every possible occasion, think it is important to their dignity to make a noise in the world, and most of them have military bands and music—but what music!
In Philadelphia I saw one of these societies parading. Flags, banners, costumes, floats, all organized like the march in a musical comedy with astonishing wealth of decoration, sometimes very tasteful. In each military band which accompanied the different groups of the parade, there were about a dozen musicians, mangling cornets and trombones, marching in single file in two rows widely separated. The band leader was in the middle, playing the clarinet, behind him came the triangle, the snare drum, and the bass drum. Imagine what strange harmony the combination of these fifteen musicians produced. What I liked best was to see the bass drummer pounding his instrument as hard as he could, and at the same time trying to hold it in a horizontal position so that everyone could see the advertisement of a drug store lettered in fine black characters on the donkey’s skin.