History Articles

History of Memorial Day

May 25, 2005 / 0 Comments
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MEMORIAL DAY

The city of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, an American village on the National Historic Register, claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, as does some 24 other towns in America. But Boalsburg’s claim goes back to a practice at the end of the Civil War. It does have an local museum, and a history that stretches back over two centuries. It’s claim is supported by pointing out, on a large sign near the center of town that:

“The custom of decorating soldiers’ graves was begun here in October, 1864, by Emma Hunter, Sophie Keller, and Elizabeth Myers. Named for David Boal who settled here in 1798. Village laid out in 1808. Boalsburg Tavern built in 1819. Post Office established 1820. First church erected 1827. Home community of three United States ambassadors.”


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

History of April Fools’ Day

March 30, 2005 / 0 Comments
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APRIL FOOLS’ DAY

April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day, is the name given to the custom of playing practical jokes on friends on that day, or sending them on fools errands. The origin of this custom has been much disputed; it is in some way a relic of those once universal festivities held at the vernal equinox, which, beginning on the old New Year’s day, March 25, ended on April 1.

Though April 1 appears to have been anciently observed in Great Britain as a general festival, it was apparently not until the beginning of the 18th century that the making of April fools was a common custom. In Scotland the custom was known as “hunting the gowk”, i.e., the cuckoo, and April fools were “April gowks”, the cuckoo being there, as it is in most lands, a term of derision. In France the person befooled is known as poisson d’avril.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood hysterian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

History of Good Friday

March 25, 2005 / 0 Comments
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GOOD FRIDAY

Following Pilate’s sentence, Jesus was led away to be crucified. Crucifixion was a form of torture and execution practiced by many of the ancient societies, including Persia, Carthage, India, Scythia, Assyria, and Germanic tribes. The Phoenicians were probably the first to use a transverse cross beam rather than just an upright stake in the ground. From the Phoenicians the Romans adopted this practice as the primary means of execution of rebellious slaves and provincials who were not Roman citizens. During the Jewish revolt in A.D. 66 for example, the Romans crucified 3,600 Jews, many of them of the
aristocracy.

The victim was first scourged with a ‘flagellum’ to weaken them before he was hung on the cross. Near the top of the cross was affixed the ‘titulus’ or inscription identifying the criminal and the cause of his execution. Above Jesus’ cross in Greek, Hebrew (Aramaic), and Latin were printed the words “Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews”. The Latin acronym INRI comes from this; “Iesus Nazarethis Rex Iudaeorum”. By the way, Jesus’ middle name was not “H”, as in “Jesus H. Christ”. Rather it comes from a misunderstanding of the letters “IHS”. This is an abbreviation of Jesus in Greek, “IHSOUS”, and should properly be written with a line above the ‘h’ signifying an abbreviation. Death by crucifixion was painful and protracted. It seldom occurred before thirty-six hours, sometimes took as long as nine days, and resulted from hunger and traumatic exposure. If it was decided to hasten the death of the victim, his legs were smashed with a heavy club or hammer. However, Jesus died within just a few hours. The New Testament, rather than dwelling on this painful death, simply recounts that “they crucified him”.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory