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Independence Day, Then and Now: How to Party like it’s 1776

July 3, 2012 in American History, History, Independence Day, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Travel, New Orleans, Philadelphia Travel

On the eve of the first Independence Day, John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival… 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.”

The following day, July 4th 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and, while it did not become a federal holiday until 1941, the 4th of July has been celebrated consistently for over two hundred years with “pomp and parade” that would do our second president proud.  Looking to partake in the festivities?  If you are not afraid of enthusiastic crowds and a little holiday traffic, there are quite a few large scale celebrations happening “from sea to shining sea.”

In 1776, the earliest celebrations took the form of public readings of the Declaration of Independence.  The first took place on July 8th 1776 in Philadelphia and copies of the document were also sent on horseback to the remaining states, where public readings occurred in each as they were received.  Many cities, including Philadelphia, will present reenactments of these public readings in homage.  If you are in the Philadelphia area on July 8th, commemorate the anniversary and lend an ear alongside park rangers in period costumes who will be handing out free copies of the illustrious document.

History buffs will especially enjoy celebrating Independence Day in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the United States, where America’s forefathers originally put their John Hancock to the document, birthing the nation and the idiom.  Philadelphia is also where the spirited celebration of the 4th of July began to resemble the festivities we know today.  In 1777,  the one year anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was marked with the first organized and extensively planned celebrations of the day, which included the first authorized fireworks display, setting the stage for future generations.  236 years later, fireworks will once again illuminate the sky during Philadelphia’s annual Wawa Welcome America Festival, which also includes concerts and a parade, as well as many other family friendly activities.

Also a popular choice for 4th of July revelry and, not-so-coincidentally, another hotbed of Revolutionary history, is Boston. The first town to designate the 4th of July a holiday in 1783, it remains one of the premier destinations for Independence Day celebration, so well known in fact that the website for the festivities is July4th.org.  The annual fireworks display over the Charles River features a performance from the renowned Boston Pops Orchestra.  Coinciding with the 4th of July events is OpSail, which will bring the Tall Ships back to Boston in celebration of the USS Constitution, which is berthed in Charlestown.  Take a tour of the vessels and watch as the USS Constitution makes its annual turnaround from the Charlestown Navy Yard through Boston Harbor. While a much loved Boston institution, this is done for more than show.  In order for the ship to maintain active in the US Navy, law requires the ship to travel one nautical mile per year.  This annual tradition maintains Old Ironsides’ title as the oldest active warship in the Navy.

Those on the west coast, fear not, celebrations will be happening across the country.  If you are in the vicinity, head to San Diego for a pyrotechnic display proclaimed “the greatest fireworks show in the west.”  With five barge locations, the 12th annual “Big Bay Boom” will be bigger than ever. With 500,000 revelers in attendance last year, that is saying something.

Looking to celebrate down south? New Orleans has always known how to throw a party, and with 2012 commemorating the bicentennial of Louisiana’s statehood, the celebration will be doubly enthusiastic.  NOLA’s festive “Go 4th on the River” celebration will feature a fireworks display from dueling barges over the Mississippi River.  For the whole experience, watch from a riverboat such as the Creole Queen, which offers evening cruises that boast prime viewing locations for the fireworks show.

So next week, before you light the BBQ and crane your neck upwards at a beautiful pyrotechnic display, crack open a Sam Adams lager and toast to its namesake and the rest of our founding fathers.  Happy 236th Birthday America!

The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival

February 16, 2012 in American literature, Literary Festivals, New Orleans, Southern Writers, Tennessee Williams

Self-Portrait by Tennessee Williams

While many are drawn to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, there’s another late Winter festival worth its weight in gold. After all the beads have been tossed and the confetti has been swept away, it’s time for literary travelers from around the world to take over the resplendent city.  March 21st marks the start of the five day Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival.  The Festival started in 1987 to celebrate the city’s immense literary culture.

According to the press release, “The five-day fête honors the legendary Tennessee Williams, his works, and literary life in the adopted city he called his ‘spiritual home’ and features two days of master classes; a roster of lively discussions among distinguished panelists; celebrity interviews; theater, food and music events; a scholars’ conference; a poetry slam, writing marathon and breakfast book club; French Quarter literary walking tours; a book fair; short fiction, poetry and one-act play competitions; and special evening events and parties.”  With so many events to choose from, five days doesn’t seem like nearly enough time to experience the festival as well as get a taste of all the city has to offer.  In order to squeeze the most into your experience there are a few easy ways to multi-task.

Since no literary trip to New Orleans would be complete without a walking tour of the multitude of literary landmarks that cover the city, make sure to get your fill with Heritage Literary Tours.  Led throughout the year by retired University of New Orleans Literature professor Dr. Kenneth Holditch, as part of the Festival he will be offering a tour that focuses on landmarks relating to Tennessee Williams in particular.

As for accommodations, there is no shortage of literary culture at the historic Hotel Monteleone, which is offering a limited number of rooms at a discounted rate for attendees of the festival. The 125 year old hotel is a literary landmark in and of itself, as it was once frequented by Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Williams himself, as well as being featured in the writing of Ernest Hemingway in “The Night Before Battle.”  Suites at the hotel now bear the names of Welty, Williams, Faulkner and Hemingway.  The Hotel Monteleone also offers a Literary History Walking Tour, which spotlights the hotel’s place as a literary landmark.  Led by local historian Glenn De Villier, the tour begins and ends in the hotel’s Carousel Bar, which was a favorite of Williams’ and immortalized in the works of Williams, Hemingway and Welty.

In lieu of souvenirs, do a little shopping while experiencing further literary heritage by visiting Faulkner House Books, located at the site of Faulkner’s 1925 residence, where he wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay.  This new and used book store specializes in Faulkner, Williams, and Southern Literature with an emphasis on New Orleans and Louisiana. Faulkner House is a national literary landmark, and for book lovers and history aficionados, not to be missed.

Williams once said, “if I can be said to have a home, it is New Orleans, which has provided me with more material than any other part of the country.” So, take a page from the literary sentinel and find inspiration in the sites and sounds of the city of New Orleans.  Whether traveling to New Orleans for the Festival, or just to experience the city’s rich culture, there is no time like the present to book your trip. 

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