Monday, June 17, 2013

On a Day Like Today

So, at the time of this writing, it is the 236th anniversary of that June day in 1777 (and the 66th anniversary of Flag Day, 1947: my folks met on a blind date - and should have kept on walking? I don't know, but sometimes I wonder...),when the gents at the Congress, in their smelly duds made of natural fibers, agreed – felicitous notion! – upon a new design for a flag. Yes, they'd keep the 13 stripes. But by now, it clearly did not do to have the standards of England and Scotland crisscrossing that blue field up in the corner. No, there must be 13 stars as well, a "new Constellation."   After all: thirteen States = one independent nation. That was the theory, and one that was in serious jeopardy. Even then, a flashy British general and sometime playwright, John Burgoyne, was up in Canada, fixing to raise the curtain on a pretty substantial invasion. And Ben Franklin was in Paris, in the last glittering and glorious, fetid, filthy, unjust decades of l'Ancien Régime, trying to wangle help from the French for the Americans' desperate enterprise. Which they, the people, got after word spread that General Burgoyne's play had flopped in the fall of '77 at Saratoga, NY. 
"Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne

But if you're reading this, dear Lover of Factual Information, you probably already know this and plenty more bits of so-called "trivia."  How easy it is to dismiss a brief record of a time/space intersection as a mere "factoid." Each of which representing critical, complex moments in our all-too-human saga. It was on a mid-June day, maybe like today, when Sir Francis Drake [probably every bit as grubby as his crew]  sailed along the coast of northern California in 1579. When the ballsy [can I say that? probably not]  privateer claimed the land thereabouts for England and "Good [Spiteful, Determined] Queen Bess" and called it [never mind the resourceful hunters who already lived there] New Albion.  

It was June 17, 1882 when Igor Stravinsky came into the world. ('Twas May 26, 1913, by the by, when Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky rocked and shocked Paris with the premiere of  Le Sacre du Printemps, the Rite of Spring?) And today marks 74 years since the last time French officials held a public execution by guillotine. Ever so much more humane than an axe, non?  (Thereafter these ultimate pains-in-the-neck were private.) Who was the man of the hour on that almost-summer day in Paris of 1939? Who took Parisians' minds off their war-worries?  A 31-year-old career criminal, Eugen Weidmann.  
The Battle of Bunker [Breed's] Hill, imagined by the great Howard Pyle

Just 106 years after Weidmann got it in the neck – two centuries + 38 years ago today – some 1,500 exhausted, filthy, cranky-but-determined colonial soldiers did battle north of Boston. All the day before and late into the night they'd been marching then digging,  piling up rocks and dirt, and building fortifications on Breed's hill (where most of the hot fighting would happen). Now,off to the south, a not-quite-8-year-old  held his mother's hand as they watched the flames, after the British put torches to Charlestown. 71 years later, old John Quince Adams remembered how he "saw with my own eyes those fires, and heard Britannia's thunders in the Battle of Bunker's hill and witnessed the tears of my mother and mingled them with my own..."

  Around 2,500 British soldiers, sweltering in their red wool coats, confronted some 1,500 'patriots.'  After all of the drumming, shooting, cannon thunder, shouts and screams, the 'redcoats' could claim a victory, but more than a thousand were hurt or killed. On a day like today, but decidedly not.

   Now I'd be remiss and will have been a twit if I did not mention a book or two. Or more.
   George vs. George: The American Revolution As Seen from Both Sides, written AND illustrated by brilliant Rosalyn Schanzer. 
  George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War, by clever Thomas B. Allen. 
   King George: What Was His Problem? The Whole Hilarious Story of the American Revolution, by that smartypants Steve Sheinkin (illus. by Tim Robinson).
  Fight For Freedom: The American Revolutionary War, by Benson Bobrick
  The Revolutionary John Adams, George Washington, that I wrote and illustrated. Young John Quincy, too, but it's out of print, the world being rotten and unjust. 
  Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, vols. I & II, M.T. Anderson
  George Washington's Army and Me, written and illus. by Michael Dooling.



Jim Murphy said...

Happy June 17th, Cheryl. Enjoyed your post and learning some of the amazing things that happened on this day in the past. Please excuse this following moment of crankiness, but I think Johnny Tremain needs to be phased out of circulation for a number of reasons. Now Esther Forbes's Paul Revere and the World He lived In is absolutely brilliant and still a great read. I hope I'm forgiven.

Cheryl Harness said...

now that's weirdly chastening, Jim Murphy, because even as I was typing, I was thinking Johnny T's adventures might well be distressingly passé and less than accurate, then 'naaah, it's a CLASSIC, by Esther Forbes, for crying out loud –who wrote that swell book about P. Revere's Boston, w/ that fabulous MAP on the endpapers - How bad could it be? and went on typing.
Happy June 17 right back atcha!

Jim Murphy said...

But am I forgiven?