Ah, what can one say about Hornikabrinka? Apparently, almost nothing. If you search for the word in The Idaho Statesman digital archives, you get several hits that talk about the 1913 revival of Hornikabrinka, which was to be held in conjunction with the semicentennial of the State of Idaho and the creation of Fort Boise that September. They were looking for “old-timers” who might be convinced to “reenact the stunts they used to do during the old time affairs.” What those stunts were is anyone’s guess.
There was a little spate of interest in Hornikabrinka in 1968 when a reader asked the Action Post columnist at the Statesman about it. They provided an answer that, though sketchy, set me on the right track. The columnist spelled it Hornikibrinki. The spelling of the event also included Horniki Brinki and Hornika Brinka in some references.
Speculation about exactly what it was, what it meant, and how it started seemed to be part of the fun. A headline from the August 1913 Idaho Statesman read “Hornika Brinika—What’s His Batting Average?” The reporter had walked around town asking people what the word or words meant to them. “Is it a drink, a germ, or a disease?”
During the 1913 celebration, it was billed as a revival of the tradition from around the founding of Boise. George Washington Stilts, a well-known practical joker in town during those earliest days, seemed to be one of the ringleaders of those celebrations. Which were exactly what?
Think Mardis Gras.
The September 27 Idaho Statesman had a full page about the festivities, headlined, “FROLIC OF THE FUNMAKERS—Mask Parade and Street Dance a Wild Revel of Pleasure.” The article began, “Herniki Briniki—symbol for expression of a wild, care free, abandoned, and yet not unduly boisterous variety of mirth that only that phrase will describe…” It continued “Fully 500 maskers took part in the parade, and such costumes! From the beautiful to the ridiculous, with the emphasis on the latter, they ranged, in a kaleidoscopic and seemingly endless variety.”
Then, showing the cultural sensitivity of the times it went on, “Every character commonly portrayed on the stage, from the pawnshop Jew and the plantation darkey, the heathen Chinee (sic) was there in half a dozen places.”
“At Sixth and Main streets a stop was made, and with the devil’s blacksmith shop as a backdrop and the red lights from The Statesman office lighting up the scene, the maskers staged the devil’s ball to the tune of that popular rag in a manner that would have set a grove of weeping willows to laughter.”
Now, there’s a metaphor you don’t often see.
When the parade was done, a dance commenced in front of the statehouse. “The capitol steps were black with humanity, and no space from which one could obtain a view of the dance space was vacant.”
All in all, good, clean fun. So, Boise kind of owns the name, however you spell it. It sounds way more entertaining than any parade I’ve ever seen in town. Someone should claim the name—however you want to spell it—and fest away.
A rare pin from the Semicentennial Boise Hornikibrinika celebration.