Some notable events about July 4th – and notable sounds – that we’ve forgotten over the course of 245 years…but not forgotten by Press Pros. Enjoy today’s read, and your Fourth of July weekend!
As we rightly celebrate the freedom of our nation on this 4th of July, it’s also poignant to consider what age and the passage of time in 250 years (since 1776) has led many of us to forget about people and events that have coincided with our ‘national’ day. And it is our ‘national’ day…when we reflect upon the American Revolution, the Civil War, the World Wars, and every ancillary event associated with freedom and the American standard of life. And yet, in the midst of pageantry…we forget.
Many notable deaths have come on the fourth of July. Let me share.
At the head of my list is that of Thomas Jefferson, our third president, who died on this date in 1826. He was 83 at the time.
Another president…John Adams, the second president of the United States, passed on that very same day in 1826 – the same day as Jefferson. Adams was 91.
Not to be outdone, James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States, also died on the 4th in 1831. Monroe, who had his own doctrine, by the way, was 74 years old.
You know that I’m a baseball ‘savant’, and there have been some notable baseball deaths on the 4th – at least notable to me. Few, if any, remember that former Milwaukee Brave, Philadelphia Phillie and Los Angeles Dodger outfielder Wes Covington died on this day in 2011. Covington, for his career, only hit .279 in ten years. However, he was known for being one of the nicest guys in baseball…and for having one of the most distinctive looking autographs. Wes Covington signature on a baseball was simply a work of art.
And while he didn’t die on the 4th of July, it was on July 4th, 1939, when Yankee great Lou Gehrig, suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig Disease), announced his retirement from baseball in front of a packed, tearful house at Yankee Stadium. In front of that weeping throng, Gehrig called himself, “the luckiest man in the world.”
Patriotic music has always been symbolic with the fourth, highlighted by John Phillip Sousa’s iconic march, The Stars and Stripes Forever, which in 1987 Congress proclaimed to be the “official” march of the United States.
However, for many years there was confusion over the “official” designation, as many recognized a different march, The National Emblem March, as the song that America marched to. And Sousa himself, who was irascibly loyal to his own works, would admit that E. E. Begley’s National Emblem (composed in 1902) was one of his favorite tunes, and that he had always enjoyed its soaring patriotic strains. Conductor Frederick Fennell, of the famous Eastman Wind Ensemble, once called the piece “as perfect a march as a march can be”, a real foot-tapper. You can listen to it by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.
And just twelve years after Begley wrote National Emblem, England’s Kenneth Alford would pen The Colonel Bogey March, which debuted on July 4th, 1914, and 43 years later would become the recognizable theme to the film Bridge Over River Kwai.
The pop music genre has had its moments around the 4th, and in the summer of 1966 the iconic Beach Boys’ hit, Sloop John B, became the most-listened song on radio across the world. An enduring melody with the familiar, incomparable Beach Boy harmonies, it stands to this day as one of Al Jardine and Brian Wilson’s (above) most popular tunes.
Of military significance, on this date in 1963 Robert E. Lee withdrew his army from the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania after three days of bloody fighting that left 54,580 casualties. The battle climaxed on the third day with the heroic charge of General George Pickett on the afternoon of July 3, in 90-degree heat. The next day, the 4th of July, Lee began his retreat back to Virginia with miles of wagons hauling the wounded in a torrential rain storm.
And on that same day, a thousand miles away in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Confederacy surrendered the city and General John Pemberton’s 30,000 man army to Ulysses S. Grant. So disgraced were the people of Mississippi over the surrender that it would be 75 years – not until 1938 – before people in Vicksburg would again celebrate the 4th of July. In fact, a friend from Mississippi recalls that as late as 1966 people in Vicksburg refused to raise the American flag or stage parades in honor of the nation’s birthday. “I was in the sixth grade,” he recalls. “My grandparents lit candles in remembrance of the survivors of the Union seige.”
Finally, while the American flag has always been a symbol of this national holiday, it wasn’t until July 4th, 1960, until the 50th star, symbolizing the state of Hawaii, would be added.
So enjoy the day, some bar-b-que, some baseball, and by all means reflect on the history and the music that makes this date so special to us all. From the staff of Press Pros…have a wonderful (and safe) Fourth of July!