Celebrating our nation's Independence Day has fallen into a routine. We fire up the barbecue, head out to our hometown parade, invite friends and family over, then swat mosquitoes while watching a fireworks display, either an official conflagration or an illegal one in the cul-de-sac.
If we stop to think about what the day actually means -- the first struggling steps toward democracy -- it's probably because someone turned on "Jeopardy!" So, let's spend a few minutes today remembering July 4, 1776, and some of the hits and misses that came after.
What's that date again?
Even if you weren't good at history, you were feeling pretty certain about that July 4 date as the day the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and we took those first steps away from England. Except we didn't.
The declaration was drafted and debated July 1, 1776; the following day, 12 of the 13 colonies voted in favor of the motion for independence. After two more days of debate over the official language, and a lot of revisions by Thomas Jefferson, Congress adopted the declaration, and that's where the July Fourth date comes from.
Only two people signed July 4; most of the delegates didn't sign the document until Aug. 2, and several signed even later. Two of the delegates -- John Dickinson and Robert R. Livingston -- never got around to putting pen to parchment at all. Talk about missed opportunities.
True or false? Rebild, a village 155 miles northwest of Copenhagen, Denmark, celebrates the Fourth of July with picnics, square dances and fireworks.
True. The land that is now Rebild National Park was purchased by Americans of Danish descent and donated to the people of Denmark, asking only that July Fourth be celebrated there every year.
Oh, say can you see
We all know the stirring words to the national anthem, right? OK, we know the beginning and something about the rocket's red glare, and sort of hum until we join in on the dramatic ending.
But do you know the other verses? Francis Scott Key wasn't just twiddling his thumbs out there on the Chesapeake Bay, you know. He wrote four verses in all. Try singing this one.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And The Star-Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
That doesn't sound right
True or false? From 1870 to 1938, federal employees were allowed to take Independence Day off, but they didn't get paid.
True. Congress declared July Fourth a national holiday in 1870, but lawmakers didn't make it a paid federal holiday for another 68 years.
Showing our colors
In 1976, patriotic fervor struck our nation as we celebrated the 200th anniversary of our country. This led to bursts of creativity that presented themselves in rather odd ways, most notably in patriotic plugs. Fire plugs, that is.
Despite laws that forbade it, cities around the country formed committees to paint hydrants in red, white and blue. Some families, caught up in bicentennial fever, impulsively took it upon themselves to decorate the ones in their neighborhoods. The result was a splendid rainbow of patriot hues that included Uncle Sam, George Washington, Revolutionary soldiers and more than one star-spangled Mickey Mouse.
The happy hydrants endured in some communities long after the celebrations faded, but those in the Bay Area that had withstood the elements, not to mention the suburban dogs, disappeared in the wake of the devastating 1991 Oakland hills fire.
After it was learned that fire crews from outside the state had been hampered in their efforts to fight the fires because the state lacked a uniform hydrant painting code, officials adopted a new policy that required all the hydrants be painted in white reflective paint and their tops painted light blue, green, orange or red to denote the capacity.
Hurrah for the red, white and blue
True or false? When adopting the national flag, Congress ordered that the colors should signify white for purity and innocence, red for hardiness and valor, and blue for vigilance, perseverance and justice.
False. There is no federal law, resolution or executive order that offers insight as to what the colors mean. The description we have comes from Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, who explained the red, white and blue color choices of Great Seal of the United States. But it's good enough for us. Historians believe the colors originally were chosen as a symbolic remake of the Union Jack.
What's wrong with this picture?
At times, in our desire to show the love of our country, we go a little off center and get some important facts wrong. Take, for example, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus' recent Rolling Stone cover, where the star of the HBO series "Veep" appears nude, save careful placement of the U.S. Constitution emblazoned on her back. Boldly above Dreyfus' derrière, John Hancock's impressive signature gleams. Just one problem. Hancock didn't sign the U.S. Constitution. He was one of 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. But that's OK, because in "National Treasure," the Nicolas Cage movie about a clue hidden on the back of the Declaration and the search for a massive hidden treasure, Cage's character says 55 men signed the declaration. Maybe Hancock's signature document hops.
Is it a map?
True or false: There is something on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
True, but it's not a treasure map. "Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776" is written upside-down on the back, across the bottom. No one knows who wrote it, but historians surmise that it was carried from town to town rolled up during the Revolutionary War, and someone added the label to identify it. The thought of someone scribbling on it sort of takes your breath away, doesn't it?