Thursday, June 30, 2011

Independence Day

Dressed in layers of ruffled-neck shirts, vests, and cut-away coats and legs in silk stockings, in the heat of the summer of 1776, fifty-six men representing thirteen American colonies sat in Philadelphia behind closed doors debating the nature of their relationship with Great Britain. On the day British soldiers landed on Staten Island, July 2, this assembly of men voted to “dissolve the connection with Great Britain,” and thus committed treason.*

Levying of war against “our lord and king in his realm” was a treasonable offense in 1776. Conviction required two witnesses. Among the penalty options, if convicted, included quartering, cutting off of the head, and hanging. Until this step the American patriots only disagreed with Parliament, not with King George III. Thus, Benjamin Franklin who supposedly quipped “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we hang separately,” the act was not without serious consequences.
On the other hand, John Adams writing to his wife, Abigail, said that the July 2nd declaration “will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival….It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this times forward forever more.”

On a pleasant, cool day, July 4th, without much fanfare the Continental Congress again meeting behind closed doors voted on the wording of “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America." This document, mainly written by Thomas Jefferson, set forth the reasons that impelled the colonies to separate. The case for this action was that the equality of men gave them certain unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Twenty-seven abuses of these rights by Great Britain were enumerated. Among the abuses specified were the “quartering of large bodies of armed troops” and “imposing taxes without consent.” John Hancock signed the document.

The first authorized printing of the Declaration of Independence appeared in Philadelphia on July 6. As the document reached the colonies there was ringing of bells and bonfires and other celebrations. While the Congress was now charting the course for a new country and its war with Great Britain, the delegates signed the document on August 6.

The 1776 celebrations of independence, which was not unlike the previous celebrations for the King’s birthday, now included the mock funeral for King George III. In 1781, Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4 an official holiday. After the second defeat of Great Britain in the War of 1812, patriotic celebrations on July 4th spread across the country. Thereafter, ground breaking events such as the opening of the Erie Canal and of the B&O Railroad were planned to coincide with this celebration. Not surprising, African-Americans did not/could not participate in the celebrations even though many of their leaders encouraged supporting the ideals of the Declaration. In 1870, Congress made the date a federal holiday. John Adams’ prediction of the celebratory activities came true. The most common symbol of the holiday is the American flag and the anthem it inspired.

In Harrisonburg, July 4, 2011, a ten-year tradition of celebration will include a parade, food booths, family-fun activities, and, of course, fireworks. The celebration begins at noon in front of the Court House with the reading of the Declaration of Independence and ends with nighttime fireworks.

*The New York Delegation abstained on this vote.  Several delegates who opposed separation absented themselves during the voting so their colony would vote in favor of the action.

David McCullough.     John Adams.  Simon and Schuster.  2001.
                                   1776.  Simon and Schuster.  2005.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The word solstice derives from the Latin “sol” for sun and “stice” which means to stop. Summer Solstice occurs at the mid-point of summer, or mid-summer (May 1st – Aug. 1st).

A major celestial event, summer solstice has been celebrated for millenniums. Stonehenge was built around 3100 BC and reflects the summer solstice from its center. The Druids termed the day, “the wedding of heaven and earth,” which is the reason weddings are still so popular in June. A June wedding is supposed to be a lucky wedding. The ancient Chinese used the day to celebrate the earth, femininity, yin, and the Chinese Goddess of Light, “Li.” Native Americans celebrate the connection of the heavens and the earth with dance and fasting.
After the spread of Christianity, in Sweden the day became known as St. John’s Day, June 24th, to honor St. John the Baptist instead of the pagan gods.

Needless to say, the day should be celebrated with flowers, especially white elder blossoms and any yellow flowers, plus feasting, bon fires, dancing, sun rise gatherings, the drinking of mead and other forms of merriment.

Don’t forget to leave an offering for the faeries!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Father's Day

On December 6, 1907, the town of Monongah, West Virginia, was devastated by a mine explosion that killed 362 men and boys[1] thus leaving behind 250 widows and more than 1,000 grieving children. This event prompted Mrs. Grace Golden Clayton to implore her pastor to dedicate a Sunday church service to honor and remember all fathers. On July 5, 1908, the Reverend Robert Thomas Webb of Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in Fairmont, West Virginia held the first Father’s Day observance in the United States. Mrs. Clayton and the people of Fairmont are not credited with the founding of Father’s Day as they never followed through with a proclamation establishing the annual observance of the day.[2]

While listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909 Sonora Louise Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, conceived the idea of a similar celebration to honor fathers. She specifically wanted to honor her own father, William Smart, a widowed Civil War veteran who raised six children on his own. The Spokane Ministerial Association and the local Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) supported Dodd and her efforts to establish a day to celebrate fathers. On June 19, 1910 Father’s Day was celebrated in Spokane, Washington.

Throughout the years various United States Presidents offered their support for a Father’s day celebration. In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day. A permanent national observance of Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June was established by President Richard Nixon in 1972.

[1] United States Department of Labor. Mining Disasters – an Exhibition.
[2] Meighen, D. D., Reverend. Father’s Day.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Enthusiasm for Early Automobiles in the Valley

About noon on Monday, June 13, the rally teams of the The Great Race of 2011 will circle Court Square, park at the Turner Pavilion, and luncheon at The Smokin’ Pig. Car enthusiasts and the curious will watch about 100 vintage autos. Harrisonburg is the second leg of the 1,000 mile, seven day (June 11 -17) race between Chattanooga, TN and Bennington, VT. The Great Race is a controlled speed and endurance race that is “a test of a driver/navigator team’s ability to follow precise instructions and the car’s (and team’s) ability to endure a cross-country trip...GPSs, computers, and cell phones are not permitted and odometers are taped over." Many entrants make great sacrifices of time and money to participate. In addition to caring for a vintage car, individual participants pay an entry fee of $3000; corporations pay $3,500. In 2011, cars built in 1969 or earlier are eligible to participate.

The race is a revival of one organized in 1983 for pre-WWII cars. That race motored from LA to Indianapolis, IN and arrived for Indy Week. This year is not the first time participants stopped in Harrisonburg on the rally route. In 2005, a festive atmosphere around Court Square included country singers who welcomed drivers for the first overnight stay in the two week race between Washington, DC and Tacoma, WA. The local Valley Cruisers and the Antique Automobile Club of America were among the many who welcomed the racers. The rally prize committee awarded the Friendly City the second best overnight stop, missing out on the $10,000 awarded the first best stop. The race organizers awarded a total of $270,000 in prizes.

About 120 years ago, between the Gilded Age and WWI, Americans rapidly embraced the automobile for convenience and for racing. In 1895, on Thanksgiving Day, Frank Duryea covered 54 miles in 10 hours, 23 minutes and won the first automobile race. Horatio Jackson made the first cross country auto trip in 1903, without seeing a gas station, which did not open until 1907 in St. Louis. The first coast-to-coast road, the Lincoln Highway, was not completed until 1927

Enthusiasm in the Valley for the automobile was evident from the early days of the industry. J.L. Baugher, a local grocer, brought the first car to Harrisonburg in 1902. Ten years later historian John W. Wayland in his 1912 Historic Harrisonburg reported 40 automobiles in the Valley. An old-auto lovers from the Harrisonburg area organized in 1966.

Evans and Cline in Weyers Cave advertised “exclusive agency” in the surrounding counties for the Metz Runabout. The 1911 Metz was priced at $485, got 20 to 30 miles per gallon, and had a speed of 2 to 40 miles per hour. The car was made in Waltham, MA and like many other automobile manufacturers had branched into automobiles from bicycle manufacturing. Some automobile firms then expanded into manufacturing motorcycles and aviation. Today, depending on the condition and quality of restoration, the antique 1911 Metz Runabout would cost between $5,000 and $35,000

J. J. Hawes of Harrisonburg offered the Rambler, a brand name used by the Thomas B. Jeffrey Company of
Chicago. Local advertising focused on engineering details, such as an offset crank shaft. The Rambler price was not advertised, but other sources quoted the Rambler price as about twice that of the Metz. The mileage was comparable. Long-ago these cars passed into the antique category, though the Rambler name was carried on by successor companies into the later 1960s. The dealerships, Evans and Cline and the J.J. Hawes, have also passed from the local business scene. Another noteworthy dealership was the Rockingham Motor Company. This dealership opened in 1923 and was one of the first Ford dealerships in Virginia. Its former showroom at Liberty and West Market Streets won the 2004 award for restoration and repurposing of the Art Deco building. The firm had moved from this site in 1964.

The oldest car participating in the 2011 Great Race is the 100 year old 1911 Velie manufactured in Moline, IL. One 1911 ad bragged that it was “the raciest, snappiest, get there runabout on the road.” The car was advertised in the John Deere catalogue. The $2,000 car reached a top speed of 65 miles per hour. The Velie race-type roadster participated in the first 500 Brickyard race, finishing out of the money in 17th (out of 40) place. At the time the Velie Company, which also made touring cars, was considered leader in quality and low price automobiles. For additional information and the latest 2011 race event details contact Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance.


John W. Wayland. Historic Harrisonburg 1912.
The Daily News. April 1 and May 23, 1911.
Daily News-Record. June 24, 2005; June 27, 2005; August 12, 2005; February 25, 2005; January 29, 1996