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8 Strange Facts about The 4th of July
How will you celebrate Independence Day this year? If you’re American, chances are you’ll join family and friends for a backyard barbecue and a firework display. But how much do you really know about this annual summer celebration?
I do a lot of newspaper research for the books I write. Not only is it a great way to separate Urban Legends from actual facts, but it helps me understand the mindset of different eras. However, every time I dig into a newspaper archive for something specific, I end up learning completely different things along the way. That’s how I discovered this batch of Independence Day factoids. I hope you enjoy them!
1. July 4th was nearly a different day!
Independence Day was nearly celebrated on a different day! America’s Independence Day is so intertwined with its date that many people simply call the holiday “the 4th of July.”
In grade school, we’re taught that the Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776, but that’s only partly true. Many signers waited until August 2, 1776 to add their names.
Other people felt that July 2, 1776 was a more appropriate celebration date, since that is when the American Colonies formally separated from Great Britain. President John Adams was in the “July 2” camp. He even predicted that, “the 2nd day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha in the history of America.” [more info here]
Adams felt so strongly about this that he refused to participate in Independence Day celebrations held on July 4th. If you wanted to party with him, you had better make it July 2nd!
In the end, July 4th won out. Even though it wasn’t officially declared a federal holiday until 1870, people began celebrating Independence Day on July 4 as early as 1777.
2. Three US presidents died on July 4th.
Here’s a weird fact: Three US presidents died on July 4th. Two of these presidents even died the same year.
Not only were those two men presidents, but they were signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they both died on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of America’s independence!
The two men were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Although Jefferson died earlier in the day, President Adams did not know this. His final words were, “Jefferson still survives.” [Here’s a fascinating article on this coincidence.]
Who was the third US president to die on July 4th? James Monroe, yet another Founding Father. Monroe died on July 4, 1831, thus becoming the third President in a row who died on the holiday. (And don’t I sound fancy using the word “thus”?!)
3. This US president was Born on the 4th of July:
One US president has the perfect patriotic birthdate: Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, was born on July 4, 1872, and, so far, is the only U.S. President to have been born on Independence Day, although it’s interesting to note that President Obama’s daughter, Malia, was born on July 4th.
4. Patriotic Lockjaw was a Big Problem!
What does Lockjaw have to do with the 4th of July? When you think of Independence Day, you probably think of parties, fireworks, and parades. But how about lockjaw?
In the 1800’s fireworks became a popular way to celebrate the 4th of July. With little regulation, these fireworks were often quite dangerous. Each year, people would have all sorts of mishaps – everything from serious burns and housefires, to blowing off a finger or two. Worse of all was the possibility of tetanus.
Tetanus occurs when anaerobic bacteria infects a wound. The disease leads to painful muscle constriction, and since it often strikes the neck area, it’s also called “lockjaw.” Untreated, lockjaw can lead to an agonizing death, and as the 1912 newspaper clipping above suggests, children were, “easy meat for Mr. Tetanus.”
Tetanus-causing bacteria dies quickly when exposed to air, so your average cut or scrape will not lead to trouble. The reason fireworks caused so many cases of tetanus is that the explosions propel bacteria deep into wounds. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, tetanus cases were so common after the 4th of July that people called it “patriotic lockjaw.”
In the 1900s, newspaper campaigns helped spread public awareness of the tetanus threat from fireworks. Eventually, a tetanus antitoxin was invented, and a tetanus vaccine was developed. There are just as many tetanus-causing microbes around as ever, but thanks to what has now become a routine childhood vaccine, “patriotic lockjaw” is a thing of the past.
By the way, a tetanus booster shot is recommended every 10 years. I recently had mine. How about you?
5. Hot dogs weren’t always in vogue
Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest has been a 4th of July tradition since 1916, and for many Americans, hot dogs and Independence Day go hand-in-hand. According to Consumption Stats, Americans put away 150 million hot dogs while celebrating 4th of July!
In America’s early days, people celebrated the 4th of July with different fare entirely. For instance, John Adams and his wife, Abigail, sat down for a celebratory meal of turtle soup, New England poached salmon with egg sauce, green peas and boiled new potatoes in jackets. They followed the meal with Indian pudding and Apple Pandowdy.
6. Other countries celebrate independence on July 4th
July 4 was originally chosen by the Philippines to mark the day they ceased being a US Territory and gained independence. Filipinos even called it Independence Day up until 1962. Now it’s called Republic Day.
In Rwanda, July 4 is an official holiday known as Liberation Day. This day commemorates the end of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, and the date was chosen as an homage to the U.S. government for helping them gain freedom.
7. Where can you find the biggest July 4th celebrations outside of the USA?
There is even another country that actively celebrates America’s Independence Day. This country is said to have the biggest July 4th celebration outside of the USA. Any guesses?
After immigrating from Denmark to pursue the American Dream, a group of Danes purchased a plot of land back home. They donated this 200-acre tract to the Danish government with the stipulation that it be used to celebrate American holidays. Since 1912, an annual 4th of July festival has taken place here and it’s still going strong.
The festival, called Rebildfest, takes its name from the nearby town of Rebild. Each year, thousands of Danes and Danish-Americans gather for this 4-day event. The celebration is a mish-mash of Danish and American tradition. From schnapps, hot dogs, and pickled herring to Danish folks songs and American flags, Rebildfest is a wonderful celebration of both nations and a great reminder of America’s cultural melting pot.
Wouldn’t it be fun to celebrate Independence Day in Denmark? I’d be curious to see how Americana has seeped into Danish culture. Not far from Rebild, for instance, there’s a Highway 66 restaurant as well as a cafe called Central Perk inspired by the TV show Friends.
8. Which Texas library displays the Declaration of Independence?
In 1776, 200 copies of the original Declaration of Independence were printed. Only 26 copies remain, and most of them are located on the east coast of the United States. However, there is one copy of this historic document west of the Mississippi.
After moving to Texas, I was excited to discover that the Dallas Public Library has this rare copy of the Declaration of Independence on display! (They also have a rare copy of Shakespeare’s “First Folio.”)
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