HISTORY OF MEMORIAL DAY: WHY WE FIGHT
The world is different from what it was two decades ago as we celebrate Memorial Day. We have troops in countries that we didn’t have then, and after 9/11, we now remember why we fight. The History Channel often re-runs the HBO series Band of Brothers, the T.V. adaptation of the Stephen Ambrose book about a company of soldiers from the landing at Normandy through the end of World War II in Europe.
Band of Brothers and Why We Fight
During WWII, my father crossed paths with Company E, mentioned in “Band of Brothers,” while liberating the Dachau Concentration Camp.
My father’s story was originally told in part on HBO’s website during the 2001 premiere (via Internet Archive) regarding the episode entitled “Why We Fight” on the liberation of Dachau and its many sub-camps.
HISTORY OF MEMORIAL DAY: BOALSBURG, PA
The city of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, an American village on the National Historic Register, claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, as do at least 24 other towns in America. I first visited this hamlet near State College, home of Penn State University, decades ago. Boalsburg’s claim goes back to a practice at the end of the Civil War. The town does have a local museum and a history that stretches back over two centuries. The 19th-century feel of the village persists. A Memorial Day Festival is held there every year.
Memorial Day Custom
Its claim is stated on a large sign near the center of town:
An American village on the National Register
BIRTHPLACE OF MEMORIAL DAY
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.
HISTORY OF MEMORIAL DAY: WHICH WAR?
Memorial Day was not universally recognized as a shared American Holiday until after World War I. But that’s not how it started in the United States.
When did it begin?
Civil War and Memorial Day
Following the American Civil War or the “War Between the States,” as it was known in the South, various locations began decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags, as I’ve written previously. This started in the mid to late 1860s across the country, as almost every community had been touched by loss from the country-wide conflagration. Over 600,000 men and women had died, more than any war that Americans were involved in, including the combined losses suffered in WWI and WWII — because we were both sides of the Civil War.
HISTORY OF THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
This week we celebrate the 84th anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. On May 27, 1937, the bridge opened to traffic after taking over five years to build. I remember asking my father when I was young:
“Why isn’t the Golden Gate Bridge golden?”
He didn’t have an answer other than his observation that it was expensive to paint.
Color of Golden Gate Bridge
What he didn’t know is that the steel for the bridge, which came from Bethlehem Steel foundries in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, originally came coated with a red led primer. Color studies by consulting architect Irving Morrow arrived upon what’s now become known as Golden Gate Bridge International Orange, a unique “red terra cotta” version of the International Orange standard. But there were other competitors, as pictured above. “Warm grey” was a distant second choice. If you like the color, you can obtain it from Sherwin Williams, the supplier as “Firewood” (color code SW 6328).
HISTORY OF TOWEL DAY
May 25 celebrates Towel Day as a day to honor Douglas Adams, the author of the five (or six) book trilogy Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Created in May of 2001 to mark the passing of English science fiction humor author Douglas Adams, the day is set aside for fans of his writings to carry a towel throughout the day in honor of the author.
Why a towel? Stay tuned
Although it occurs on the same day as the anniversary of the premier of the first Star Wars movie, and the original radio version of tHGttG came out the year after Star Wars, Star Wars did not inspire The Hitchhiker’s Gude to the Galaxy.
I had the pleasure of meeting Douglas Adams about twenty-five years ago when he spoke at a special Sun Microsystems event. I recall noting that he talked at 19,200 baud (fast in those days), meaning he spoke the English language more quickly than any other person I had heard before. Erudite, clever, and mind-stretching — his talk was much like his writings, at times laugh-out-loud funny. He has appeared on Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV show and wrote a skit for the album of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He had also written for the TV show Doctor Who.
HISTORY OF STAR WARS
The original Star Wars movie premiered on May 25, 1977.
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
in Berkeley, in November 1976, I picked up a new science fiction novel called “Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker” by George Lucas. I did not know at the time that it was ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster, a popular sci-fi writer.
The following May, the movie initially debuted in only 40 theaters around the country, with little of the advanced fanfare we are used to today. But word of mouth spread fast, and when I heard it was showing at the Coronet Theater in San Francisco, I went the first week it was out with my buddies. The line to get in stretched around the block, even during that first week.
When I first saw the Imperial Star Destroyer come across the screen after the title scroll, I yelled out, “I’m impressed!”
A reporter stopped me for a radio interview on my way out of the theater. “Did you think it was fun?” As I began to explain its relative place among Science Fiction novels and films, he interrupted again and asked,
“But was it fun?”
“Yes, it was fun,”
I said, but it was so much more. I would return several times to see it again. Star Wars ran there at the Coronet for 29 weeks. The new Star Wars movies now open in over 10,000 theaters in the US. How times have changed.
HISTORY OF THE WHO’s TOMMY
Fifty-three years ago today, on May 23, 1969, the British rock group The Who released the double-album rock opera, Tommy. Commercially the record went Gold in the UK and Double Platinum in the US.
Several of the songs were released as singles that charted in the Top 20 in both the UK and US. Its success signified a breakthrough for the band and elevated The Who to a world-class touring and studio band. The album has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, representing about a fifth of their total records sold.
The rock opera tells the disturbing story about an apparently “deaf, dumb, and blind boy” who following a childhood trauma becomes the Pinball Wizard. Despite several attempts to cure him, he has a spiritual awakening and becomes a sensational religious leader. “Tommy” is a common English name as well as a nickname for British soldiers during World War I.
The late 1960s was a time of spiritual enlightenment and revival. In addition to the counterculture rock and hippie scene at that time — especially in New York’s Greenwich Village, San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury, and Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue — we saw the rise of the Jesus Movement with its attendant Jesus Music, as well as the secular rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.
Peter Townsend, the lead guitarist, and writer of Tommy claims that the rock opera came out of his exposure in 1968 to Indian spiritual leader Meher Baba. The 1971 song “Baba O’Riley” was named in part after the leader. Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was also inspired by a popular quote from Baba. (more…)
HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH
If you’re reading this article to learn the history of Friday the 13th, you’re in luck.
Or perhaps bad luck.
No one knows, with any certainty, when it began or why it’s to be feared. However, there are lots of entertaining speculative theories about the topic.
What is the Fear of Friday the 13th?
- Paraskevidekatriaphobia — is the name of the superstition. The word is constructed from the Greek words Paraskeví (Παρασκευή) meaning “Friday”, and dekatreís (δεκατρείς) meaning “thirteen.”
- Friggatriskaidekaphobia — is the fear of Friday the 13th. The word is made of both Norse and Greek roots: Frigg or Frigga, the name of the wife of the Norse god Odin. Friday gets its name from Frigg. Triskadeka is “thirteen” in Greek (literally: “three” “and” “ten”), and phobia means “fear.”
The person who initially was most active in opposing the celebration of Mother’s Day is the very person who started this holiday in the US.
How did that happen?
Anna Jarvis’ mother died in 1905, and in her honor, Anna held a memorial in 1908 in Grafton, West Virginia. She continued to campaign for national recognition of this day for all mothers through the assistance of John Wanamaker and the efforts of Bethany Temple Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The first state to recognize Mother’s Day was her own West Virginia in 1910. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the “second Sunday in May” as Mother’s Day in 1914.
The spelling was significant: Anna Jarvis did not spell it “Mothers’ Day” because she intended, as she said, it should “be singular possessive, for each family to honor its mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers of the world.” Nevertheless, in more modern times, both “Mothers’ Day” and “Mother’s Day” appear as names for this holiday.
HISTORY OF VE-DAY
Seventy-seven years ago today, World War II ended in Europe with the acceptance by the Allies of unconditional surrender from Germany on VE-Day.
Or did it?
May 7, 1945, VE-Day
Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in his Berlin bunker a week earlier on April 30, 1945, as I describe in my article on the liberation of Dachau.
At 2:41 AM on May 7, Allied General Dwight Eisenhower received the unconditional surrender of German General Alfred Jodi at Reims, France in a red brick building at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). It stipulated that hostilities were to cease at 11:01 PM the next day on May 8, 1945.
Reims is an old city with a history stretching back over two millennia and was an important eastern France city during the Roman Empire. Its Cathedral is renowned as the traditional site of the coronation of French kings going back to 496. Today, it is the gateway to the Champagne region. Along with nearby Épernay, it features many of the largest champagne houses. Years ago, I took a high-speed train ride from Paris 80 miles away to tour the Roman-built champaign caves of Reims.
HISTORY OF CINCO DE MAYO
Cinco de Mayo is frequently regarded as the Mexican equivalent of the United States 4th of July. This is incorrect: it is the equivalent of the “5th of May” in the Spanish language.
Another misconception is that this has something to do with Mayonnaise. That too is a bum spread, as the condiment had its origin with the French, who will come into our story later.
Nor does it have to do with County Mayo in Ireland, though we’ll make sure the Irish get into this story at some point. Instead, the “Battle of Cinco de Mayo,” or specifically the Battle of Puebla, occurred on May 5, 1862.
Background of Cinco de Mayo
President Benito Juarez, who had been Zapotec Indian Minister of Justice in Juan Alvarez‘s cabinet in the 1850s, entered Mexico City on January 11, 1861, and promptly expelled the Spanish minister, the papal legate and members of the episcopate.
Additionally, he took steps to enforce the decrees of 1859, dis-endowing and disestablishing the church. He could not have known then that “antidisestablishmentarianism” would become the longest word in the English dictionary almost a century later.
Although Juarez was recognized by the United States and had received both moral and military aid from the US, there were over $80,000,000 in debts at that time to Europe alone. The Mexican Congress, on July 17, 1861, decreed the suspension for two years of interest payments on the external national debt, and three months later, a convention occurred between Great Britain, France, and Spain calling for joint intervention in Mexico.
HISTORY OF MAY THE FOURTH
May 4th or May the Fourth is a geek holiday that has gained popularity in recent years due to a popular film franchise.
But where did it begin?
History of May the Fourth
“May the Fourth” is taken from the benediction “May the Force be with you” made famous in the Star Wars film series. This pun intended holiday seems to have first been celebrated in the Toronto Underground Cinema in 2011. However, the use of this phrase predates this, going back to the day in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister was elected. The Conservative party, upon the occasion of her officially becoming Prime Minister on May 4th, took out a half-page newspaper ad in the London Evening News that said:
“May the Fourth be with you, Maggie. Congratulations.”