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The Glorious 4th

Might as well admit it, I’m a sucker for the Glorious 4th. My affinity for the national holiday probably goes back to family gatherings on the farm where food miraculously materialized around a bonfire and nobody ever successfully totaled up how many cousins there were sitting on the hayracks and throwing fireworks.

There were always some of the older ones who had smuggled in some illegal explosives capable of doing serious damage, but the other miracle of the holiday was that no one ever suffered notable harm. Well, there was that one year when a little patch of wheat went up in flames, but it wasn’t very good wheat anyway.

As a historian I can provide the rationale for all this foolishness in the famous letter that John Adams wrote to Abigail on 2 July 1776, wherein he predicted, “I am apt to believe that [this day] will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

Adams’s prophecy proved wrong only in that it was the 4th of July, not the 2nd, that took hold as the day of observance — commencing in 1777 in Philadelphia, where a daylong slate of events concluded, as reported in the press, with “a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.”

So I try to do my part, and our resident beagle doesn’t seem to mind so much anymore; it’s possible she, like I, is getting a little deaf. She will be given the cylinder from the ice cream freezer to lick out, and if we’re lucky, she’ll go in too deep and get it stuck on her head.

The earliest record I have found of an organized Glorious 4th in present-day North Dakota is the press report of the 4th of July, 1875, posted from Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, by a correspondent who called himself “Woodhawk.” The name indicates he was a civilian participant in festivities at the fort; a woodhawk was a chap who cut and stacked firewood alongside the Missouri River to sell to passing steamboats.

Woodhawk and his family were invited to the fort by the cadre of noncommissioned officers who took charge of the holiday. He says he “did not expect so much elegance and refinement, dashed with genuine hospitality on the frontier.”

“Officers, non-commissioned officers and citizens with their wives and sweethearts composed the happy throng” invited to a patriotic gala — enlisted men, evidently not. It took place in a newly appointed hall in the hospital building, festooned with garlands of evergreen and oak. Music was provided by the 7th Cavalry Band. The proceedings were policed for “inebriates,” we are assured, “but no one ever indulged to excess, and so the harmony of the hour was not disturbed” — although Woodhawk commends the cocktails served, which featured “lemonade and other delectable compounds.”

At this writing the specific program of activities for this year’s Glorious 4th at our Willow Creek residence is indefinite, but in addition to fireworks, there will be homemade ice cream. There has to be, ice cream made by my mother’s recipe from the farm. Only I won’t have to run the separator, nor turn a crank on the freezer.

I would give you the recipe, but my friends in extension get upset when I post a recipe using raw eggs. It also involves sugar, cream, milk, and vanilla, and I’ll take mine as a sundae topped with chokecherry cordial, which ought to kill anything suspect in the eggs.

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