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More Than One Reason to Celebrate the 4th
By Steve Wintermute
Originally published in the Kingsport Times News July 4, 1998

With a single exception, birthdays and events that have occurred on December 25th tend to get lost and forgotten amid all the holiday hoopla. A similar fate befalls birthdays and events that fall on the Fourth of July.

Last Saturday nearly every American celebrated (in almost as many different ways as there are Americans) just one birthday‑that of the United States‑and just one event‑the approval of our “Declaration of Independence.” But just the approval, not, as almost everyone believes, the signing. The first signature, John Hancock’s immortal scrawl, was not affixed to that hallowed document until almost a month later, on August 2, and the last, Delaware’s Thomas McKean, not until 1781.

However, those of us in the know took a few moments to also fete the anniversaries of other memorable birthdays and events. For instance, all die-hard baseball fans are aware that on July 4, 1939, the immortal Lou Gehrig, ill with the disease later named for him, retired from baseball in a touching ceremony at Yankee Stadium, where some 60,000 fans of “The Iron Man” came out to bid him goodbye. They also know George Steinbrenner was born on that date in 1930.


Some other notable people share George’s natal day, if not his year. I am sure their admirers know this and partied appropriately. For the rest of you, here are a few of the many: Nathaniel Hawthorne, author, 1804; Stephen Foster, composer, 1826; Calvin (Silent Cal) Coolidge, U. S. President, 1872; George M. Cohan, entertainer, 1878; Louis B. Mayer, motion-picture executive, 1885; Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, musician, 1900; Mitch Miller, sing-along leader, 1911: Esther Pauline Friedman and Pauline Esther Friedman (better known as Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren), advice columnists, 1918; Neil Simon, playwright, 1927; Al Davis, NFL team owner, 1929; Michael Milken, creator of junk bonds, 1946, and Geraldo Rivera, television personality, 1953.


Several other noteworthy events important in our history occurred on the 4th of July: US Military Academy officially opened 1802; “America” first sung publicly 1832 (Note of interest. Dr. Samuel Francis Smith wrote the words. However, he borrowed the tune from a German songbook. Unknown to Dr. Smith at the time, the melody is the same as the British national anthem); Henry David Thoreau moved into his shack on Walden Pond, 1845; “Leaves of Grass”, written by poet Walt Whitman, published 1855; “America the Beautiful”, originally a poem written by Katherine Lee Bates, first published 1895; 1st public exhibition of electric light, 1876; Booker T. Washington established Tuskegee Institute 1881; 1st organized rodeo competition held 1888; 1st World War II American bombing mission over enemy-occupied Europe, 1942, and the Independence National Historical Park was established in Philadelphia, 1956.


July fourth is also the anniversary of the two most famous deaths in American history. John Adams (who defended British soldiers indicted for murder after the Boston Massacre) and Thomas Jefferson were the second and third U. S. presidents and political foes. They died in 1826 (the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence) within hours of each other.


Whose birthday do I celebrate on the Fourth besides America’s? Between fireworks displays and patriotic concerts, I observe a minute of silence to honor my personal hero and a great American, that prolific inventor of ingeniously absurd and elaborately involved contraptions to accomplish simple tasks‑Rube Goldberg, born July 4, 1883.

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