Here we are, the day after Independence Day. So what to write? Our interest in the Fourth of July ended with last night’s fireworks display. Nobody enjoys reading about the Big Day on the Day After the Big Day. Ever read an article about the true meaning of Christmas on December 26th? No, and you never will.
But I have to write about something. July 5th happens to be my father’s birthday (happy birthday, dad!) which got me wondering: what else happened on this date?
So I rummaged around in History, and you’ll be surprised by the treasure trove of fun, quirky, and downright strange oddities I turned up. Let’s hop into the Wayback Machine and stroll through some famous July 5ths.
The American Revolution had been underway for nearly 90 days when the Continental Congress decided it would (in John Lennon’s words) “give peace a chance.” This Petition told Britain that despite the recent fighting, the 13 Colonies were still loyal to King George III (Honest! Scout’s honor!) and wanted to work things out so we could remain part of the Mother Country. Britain responded with a Proclamation of Rebellion. And that was that.
The next time London heard from this side of the pond was 364 days later, when Congress passed a little thing called the Declaration of Independence.
David Glasgow Farragut had, by the summer of 1864, been in the U.S. Navy forever, starting with the War of 1812 at age 12. When the Civil War rolled around, he helped capture New Orleans for the Union, and later ran his gunboats down the Mississippi River amid a furious bombardment from Vicksburg’s cannons.
His next assignment: closing the Confederate port at Mobile, Alabama. On August 5, 1864, Farragut ordered his fleet of 18 warships to charge into Mobile Bay. It was heavily defended by dozens of “torpedoes.” (Not the kind we know today that are fired from submarines; these were floating tethered naval mines.) The USS Tecumseh hit one and sank, causing the other ships to pull back in caution.
Farragut could tell something was wrong, but couldn’t see what had happened. So he climbed up his flagship, the USS Hartford, and lashed himself to the rigging (an extremely dangerous thing to do because he was totally exposed to enemy fire). He shouted to the captain of a nearby ship: “What’s the trouble?” “Torpedoes,” was the reply. Then Farragut shouted the words that made him a legend: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” And so the Yankee ships rushed back into the fight … and to victory.
A grateful Congress made him a full admiral in 1866, the first American to ever hold that rank. He remained on active duty for the rest of his life, an honor given to only six other U.S. Naval officers.
Sure, France had the famous Bonaparte. Think Napoleon. You know, hand tucked in his vest, Josephine, Waterloo. The whole megillah.
Napoleon’s brother married a rich American woman from Maryland named Elizabeth Patterson. It turned out there was bad blood between the French Emperor and his new sister-in-law, and he refused to let her set foot in any territory controlled by French forces (which was most of Europe). So she gave birth to a son in London, had her marriage annulled and returned to America with the baby, where she proceeded to act like a royal snob and shock Baltimore society by wearing racy clothes.
The child, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte was, by all accounts a decent fellow. His own son Charles Bonaparte went on to serve in Teddy Roosevelt’s cabinet, first as Secretary of the Navy and later as Attorney General, where he created the Bureau of Investigation, which J. Edgar Hoover later turned into the Federal Bureau of Investigation … the FBI.
Just think, today’s G-Men owe their jobs to an American Bonaparte, Napoleon’s great-nephew, born on this date.
1810 – P. T. Barnum is born
Showman extraordinaire, if ever there was one. Barnum knew the public hungered to be entertained, amused, even hoodwinked by a hoax … and they were willing to pay for the privilege. His first scheme: in 1835 he met an elderly African-American woman named Joice Heth, and exhibited her as George Washington’s 161 year-old childhood nurse. She told stories about “little George” and sang a hymn to spectators, while Barnum hauled in $1,700 a week in ticket sales, the equivalent of $15,000 today. When she died the next year (at the real age of about 75, by the way), Barnum still made money, charging 50 cents a head to witness her autopsy. Incredibly, 1,500 folks paid for a peek.
He went on to open the wildly popular Barum’s Museum in New York City, home of General Tom Thumb and the fabled Feejee Mermaid (another hoax). When Barnum had trouble getting visitors to leave in order to make room for more paying customers, he posted a sign on the wall saying “This way to the Egress.” Only when they were outside did folks realize egress meant “exit,” and laughed at being duped.
And that’s the interesting thing about P.T. Barnum. Unlike most hoaxers and hucksters, there was no malicious intent in his heart. People knew he was pulling a fast one on them, and they liked being in on the joke. (By the way, Barnum did not say the famous line that’s widely, and wrongly, attributed to him: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The best evidence suggests it originated with the man behind the notorious Cardiff Giant hoax, which the paying public did not find amusing.)
Anyway, when Barnum realized he could make even more money by taking his oddities on the road, he founded Barnum’s Circus. It’s still around. You may have seen a performance under its current name, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus … The Greatest Show on Earth.
And a great showman born on the 5th of July started it.
1904 – Milburn Stone is born
And right there, in the heart of Dodge City’s action, was the lovably gruff Doc Adams, played by the equally lovably gruff Milburn Stone. Both the character and the actor had an endearing soft and warm side to their personalities, too.
Baby Boomers will recall the best part of the show was watching Doc being pestered by the illiterate hillbilly deputy Festus Haggen. Festus got under Doc’s skin without even trying; yet they were also bickering best friends.
1915 – Liberty Bell leaves Philly for the final time
So for the next 30 years, it was sent off around the country for display at whatever patriotic gathering or major fair requested it.
Turned out that wasn’t such a good idea. All that movement caused its iconic crack to widen and grow. Experts warned if they kept hauling it around that way, the old bell would eventually split in two.
On July 5, 1915 (exactly 100 years ago today), the Liberty Bell was loaded onto a railroad flatcar and sent west to the big Panama–Pacific International Exposition in California. It was the last time the bell ever left Philly, where it has remained safe and sound for the last century.
1937 – Spam goes on sale
People love lifting their nose whenever the name is said. And yet Hormel currently sells Spam Classic (original), Spam Hot & Spicy (Tabasco flavor), Jalapeño Spam, Spam with Black Pepper, Spam Low Sodium, Spam Lite, Spam Oven Roasted Turkey, Spam Hickory Smoked, Spam Spread (“If you’re a spreader, not a slicer … just like Spam Classic, but in a spreadable form”), Spam Bacon, Spam Cheese, Spam Garlic, Spam Teriyaki, Spam Chorizo, Spam Macadamia Nuts, Spam Turkey, Spam Tocino, and Spam Portuguese Sausage. That’s 18-count-’em-18 varieties.
Love it or hate it, folks sure eat a lot of it … and it first went on sale on this date in 1937.
1946 – The Bikini goes on sale
The bikini’s inventor, Parisian designer Louis Reard, named the swimsuit after Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, where weapons tests were then conducted, because he said when it was first shown in public it “exploded like the atomic bomb.”
Today, 69 years later, bikini sales are stronger than ever. (And for the record, this website hopes they will still be going strong 69 years from now, too.)
1954 – Elvis Presley records his first hit record
Monday, July 5, 1954. A 19 year-old truck driver takes his guitar and walks into the Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee with two musician buddies. It wasn’t his first session; he had earlier cut two demos. Amateur recordings, really.
This day was different. He was serious. He sang I Love You Because, Harbor Lights, and Blue Moon of Kentucky. All nice, but nothing special, either. The little group took a break and, as one member later remembered, the truck driver began “acting the fool” with an old blues song. He was singing it bright and fast, not bluesy at all. The other two musicians joined in.
Producer Sam Phillips liked what he heard. He got them to start over and taped it. Phillips knew he was on to something. The record quickly became a hit. It wasn’t the first rock and roll song, but it was early enough to count as among the first batch. The song was That’s Alright (Mama). And the singer was, well, you know…
So there you have it.
On top of all that, July 5th is also celebrated around the world as Arbor Day (New Zealand); Constitution Day (Armenia), and is Independence Day in three different countries – Algeria from France in 1962; Cape Verde from Portugal in 1975; and Venezuela from Spain in 1811.
Finally, as if all that isn’t reason enough to party, this is Tynwald Day on the Isle of Man. To answer your next question … I don’t have the faintest idea.
Happy Tynwald Day, everybody!
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