Wednesday, June 06, 2007

This Day in History

There's something captivating about stories that begin with words like "100 Years ago today...", or even "Four score and seven years ago..." It makes me want to read more -- and sometimes even gets me to think about things that happened a while ago, seemed important at the time but maybe have faded into the mystery of history. Over the years I have made many efforts to stand on the very spot where big things happened, and if I could get there on the anniversary of the actual day, so much the better.

I've been trying to decide whether the "This Day in History..." approach offers anything more than an easy way to draw readers into a story, but even if that's all it does -- well, that works for me. So here goes -- a rundown of road trip themes and story ideas I am grabbing and tying together under this not-so-original, calendrical rubric.

I got started on this a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed that the same date, May 23rd, is the anniversary of two significant but (as far as I can tell..) completely unconnected events. The first event occured back in 1934, and offers a compelling mix of pop culture and criminality: the day that Depression-era bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde met their makers in a hail of bullets, on a lonely road outside Gibsland, Louisiana. Most attractively remembered in the 1960s Hollywood movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the infamous pair have inspired a small museum and an annual festival which includes a full range of all-American evnts: a Lions Club pancake breakfast, a parade with live bands, and theatrically noisy displays of firepower and automatic weapons.

The other key event on that May 23rd date took place a few years earlier, in the very different world of "Roaring Twenties": Charles Lindbergh and his 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, from Long Island to Paris. The "road trip" interest here is a bit more of a stretch, however. Lindbergh's childhood home in Minnesota is a fascinating stop along a lovely section of the Great River Road, but what I like about his story comes just before his famous achievement. Before he flew across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis, he trained by flying cross-country around the USA -- finding his way by reading from a Rand McNally road atlas, spread out on his lap. Oh, those were the days...

(** NB: Once I'd posted this, I checked my facts and realize that Lindbergh's 33-hour, 3,500-mile flight landed on May 21st, not the 23rd... so much for my theme!)

Continuing with the theme nonetheless, the day I'm finally posting this (June 6th), is of course, the anniversary of a later French Connected event: "D-Day", the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy in 1944, which lead within a year to the end of World War II.

For car culture fans, June 6th may mean something else as well: the date (in 1933) when the very first "drive-in" movie theater opened, outside Camden, New Jersey.

A few more dates to mark on your road trip calendar:

June 19th -- also known as "Juneteenth", and "Emancipation Day", this marks the day after the end of the Civil War when black slaves in Galveston, Texas were given their freedom. It's now a state holiday in Texas, with celebratory events held there and elsewhere around the country.

June 19 is also the original date of Father's Day, a holiday first celebrated in Spokane Washington in 1910, and made "official" in 1972 by President Richard Nixon.


June 21st: Summer officially begins today, so celebrate the solstice with a trip to the car fiend's totem, Carhenge, an unforgettable recreation of that ancient astronomical observatory at Stonehenge, using junky old 1950s and 1960s American cars instead of stones. It's fun, and free, and located in lovely corner of northwestern Nebraska.

Finally, there's June 27th, the day when (way back in 1985...) the magical old Mother Road, Route 66, was officially bypassed by the anodyne Interstate Highway System. The last stretch of Route 66 to survive was through Williams Arizona, which has become something of a hub of the Route 66 historic preservation movement.

Tell me about your favorite "Days in History", and I'll do my best to blog all about them.

Happy Trails!


Anonymous kenny scott said...

Thanks for the important date info. I would like to make a tradition of going to a drive in movie every June 6th. Also, my birthday is june 19th and I never knew about juneteenth. Thanks for letting me know. Very cool!

9:12 PM  

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