Taste of Freedom: Independence Day - #111

BURT WOLF: Most of our holidays and celebrations were developed to mark the cycles of nature and they have taken place in traditional forms for centuries.

They bind the past to the present and predict the future. They are a basic part of every society that has ever existed.

But when these ceremonies arrived in America, they started to change. No longer controlled by convention these ancient celebrations began to evolve. They had gotten their first Taste of Freedom and they would never be the same.


BURT WOLF: Every year on the Fourth of July the United States of America celebrates Independence Day. Communities from coast to coast commemorate the day in 1776 when the Continental Congress proclaimed America’s freedom from British rule.

Virtually every community in the country has some kind of celebration, but there is no city in the United States that has a closer association with the birth of our nation’s freedom than Boston, Massachusetts. It was the colonists of Boston and the surrounding towns who began America’s War of Independence. Independence Day in Boston starts with the raising our nation’s flag and saluting our troops—both past and present.

The British even sent a contingent from her Majesty’s ship The Scott to join the march and show there are no hard feelings.

The troops march down to the Old Granary Burial Grounds and place wreaths on the gravesites of three men who signed the Declaration of Independence —   

John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Robert Paine. Then the company proceeds to the Old State House where the Commanding Captain reads the Declaration of Independence to the citizens assembled below.

CAPTAIN GEORGE M. MORRISON ON CAMERA: We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

BURT WOLF: After the colonists won the Revolutionary War and felt somewhat secure that there actually might be a United States of America, they made the Fourth of July an official holiday. But amazing as it may seem, Congress did not declare it a federal holiday until 1941.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It’s not that the Federal Government was so busy they didn’t have time to declare the Fourth of July a federal holiday. It’s the fact that when they declare any day a federal holiday, millions of people who work for the government get the full day off at full pay. The Federal Government wanted to wave the flag—they just didn’t want to pay for it.

LEN TRAVERS ON CAMERA: The earliest celebrations were almost like pick up games.  In Boston for instance there was a mock battle that was held on Boston Common.  There were fireworks that evening that were put on by the local militia company.  So there was a kind of parade.  There was some impromptu feasting.  And these elements of course, have remained with us right to the present day.


BURT WOLF (AS UNCLE SAM) ON CAMERAEvery year on Independence Day somebody feels the need to get dressed up as Uncle Sam. It all goes back to the 1700s when a guy by the name of Samuel Wilson started supplying meat to our newly formed U.S. Army. He used to stamp his crates “U.S.” and somebody who worked for him or worked for the Federal Government decided that “U.S.” stood for “Uncle Sam”.  And since then it has become a symbol of our federal government. 

LEN TRAVERS ON CAMERA: The origins of Uncle Sam probably go back to the image of a character known as Brother Jonathan.  You find him personalized as early as the American Revolution, but certainly by the War of 1812.  Brother Jonathan is the concoction of mostly British cartoonists who are looking for a way to symbolize America. And as time went on, and the United States began to mature, you notice that Brother Jonathan starts to mature as well, at least in his age.  He's still held up as this rather kind of ruffian looking fellow.  It's not until the 1830s, 1840s I think that the image of Uncle Sam turns that image into a somewhat more favorable for Americans.

BURT WOLF: The image of Uncle Sam that we are familiar with was created by a political cartoonist who lived in New York City during the mid-1800s. His name was Thomas Nast and not only did he give us our red, white and blue-suited icon of America, he was also responsible for our bearded Santa Claus, Santa’s home in the North Pole, the elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party and the donkey as the symbol of the Democrats. He gained most of his fame during the years that he worked for Harper’s Weekly Magazine and he’s often thought of as America’s first great cartoonist.

LEN TRAVERS: The political image of Uncle Sam has changed pretty often with the times.  In wartime for instance American recruitment posters and political cartoons will often depict him as a viral 50 year old rolling up his sleeves preparing for battle.  Venerable but still very tough.  However if people want to take sport with the American Nation United States Government in an embarrassing situation, it's very easy to make a rather goofy looking Uncle Sam as well.  He has been made a rather corpulent fellow in the 1890s and the early 1900s to signify for instance what was happening to America at the time becoming wealthier and more complacent.

BURT WOLF: The most recognizable image of Uncle Sam however is in the character of America’s parental authority on a World War I recruiting poster by James Montgomery Flagg with the caption “I WANT YOU FOR THE U.S. ARMY!”


BURT WOLF: Traditionally our Fourth of July celebration is divided into two parts. Part one takes place during the day. It’s made up of rather orderly activities—parades, picnics, patriotic speeches and trooping of the colors. The second half takes place at night and is usually marked by fireworks, bonfires, loud music and the over consumption of fermented and distilled beverages. 

The daytime festivities usually start with a parade that shows off whatever people want to show off. After all what’s the point of being free and independent if you can’t show off your stuff. This parade is taking place in Gloucester, Massachusetts and what they want to show off is their Horribles. In Gloucester, a Horrible is a costume or skit made by anyone for the purpose of having fun.

Actually, the original idea behind a parade was to show off your military stuff. The word ‘parade” comes from an old Spanish word that means “the stopping point” and it describes the time when a foreign army occupied a town. The soldiers would march through the streets with their weapons on display in order to show their strength to the locals. The military aspects of our Fourth of July parades remind Americans that it was the Revolutionary War that won our nation’s independence.  

LEN TRAVERS: Probably the most recognizable symbol of Independence Day is the American Flag.  The red represented the blood shed in the Revolution to bring this new nation into being.  The red from the white indicated separation from the mother country.  The blue field was the color of the celestial of the heavens.  And each of the stars of course was to represent one of the States of the Union.  The original plan was to keep the flag that way with its thirteen stars, no matter how big the Union got.  But by the time of the War of 1812, they realized that the idea of adding Stars to the flag helped to confirm the idea of an ever-expandable Federal Republic. 


BURT WOLF: Another daytime element in our Fourth of July celebration involves playing or watching a baseball game—which usually starts with the playing of our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

During World War I, President Wilson declared “The Star Spangled Banner” our unofficial national anthem. It was a time of intense public patriotism and the song was played on many public occasions. Harry Frazee, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, brought in a band and started playing the song at the start of each game, and during the 1930s it became our official national anthem. Every baseball club in the country started playing our song.

It’s not quite the same as singing the national anthem but eating a hot dog at a baseball game represents a certain level of patriotic behavior, and in fact it was at a baseball game that the simple frankfurter became the hot dog.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In 1901, The San Francisco Giants were the New York Giants and they played in Manhattan. It was a particularly cold April and the ice cream vendors were not doing particularly well with their ice cream, so they began to sell a hot German sausage. The shape of the sausage reminded people of the dachshund dog and so they were called “dachshund sausages”. One day a cartoonist for a New York newspaper saw them, liked them, and drew a cartoon which showed a dachshund dog in a roll in his newspaper. He wasn’t quite sure how to spell “dachshund” and so he labeled it “hot dog”. And that is how the hot dog got its name. Eventually, the hot dog escaped from the ballpark and became a basic part of the American barbeque, especially on the Fourth of July.  Who wants a hotdog? 

BURT WOLF: For many people, however, a hot dog without mustard is considered “nude”. And even on the Fourth of July with all its emphasis on freedom, public nudity is unacceptable. People have been making mustard for over 5,000 years and its history in North America goes back at least to the early 1700s, when Spanish priests began settling along the coast of California. As they traveled north they would indicate their path by planting mustard seeds—the bright yellow flowers that came up marked the trail for other missionaries that followed.

The mustard seed itself is tasteless and odorless, but when its mixed with a liquid the intense flavors that we associate with mustard are released. And when mustard is slathered onto a hot dog your taste buds end up playing the Star Spangled Banner for your mouth. 

Like most of our gatherings and celebrations, barbeques illustrate our desire to bring together the opposites in our lives. We like the idea of leaving the structured environment of our homes and cooking outdoors.  The barbeque allows us to feel free and adventurous while at the same time maintaining a nice, safe structure in which we feel secure.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Barbeques are traditional for the Fourth of July but because the Fourth of July celebration is all about independence and freedom so are picnics. Because picnics are about independence and freedom from the traditional dining room.

BURT WOLF: But it’s not total freedom. Though you may not see it during the picnic a great deal of work and organization goes in to its preparation. Ed Gannon is the Executive Chef at The Four Seasons Hotel in Boston and for years he has been preparing picnics for his guests.

The main course for today’s picnic is Cobb salad made with New England lobster, roasted corn and herb dressing.  He starts with a reduction of shallots, tarragon, champagne vinegar and white wine which he blends with a little buttermilk.  Mayonnaise and sour cream are whisked in. Fresh chervil and tarragon are chopped and added.  A little pepper and salt.  And that’s the dressing. 

ED GANNON ON CAMERA: Right on.  It’s good.  It’s important in the Cobb Salad is that everything is chopped somewhat small so it can all be mixed together and that’s going to enable you to get what we call “The Perfect Bite.”

BURT WOLF: The salad consists of lettuce, chopped egg yolks, chopped egg whites, sliced onion, corn, chopped tomato, pieces of lobster, bacon bits, chopped avocado, scallions and sprigs of dill.  Finally, the whole lobster claws. 

Along with the salad, Ed made marinated asparagus with roasted shallots and truffle oil and marinated olives.

Directly in front of The Four Seasons Hotel is Boston’s public garden. It opened in 1837 and was the first public garden in our country—24 acres of green in the middle of downtown - a perfect spot for a picnic.

We think we are escaping to a more natural state, but in fact we are very careful when we select a site for a picnic. We like the sense of being in the wild but we want control of what’s going on. Nobody goes into a jungle for a picnic. We do not enjoy a meal if there are real dangers nearby.

What we’re really doing is exchanging the discomfort of a more structured indoor dining area for the discomfort of spiky grass, pointed stones, flying insects and unpredictable weather.

And even if we get out into a natural setting, the first thing we do is mark off our territory with a cloth and add insult to injury by holding down the edges with boundary stones. We draw an imaginary line in the grass and announce, “nature stops here”.  Sometimes we keep nature at an even greater distance by setting up a table and chairs. We like being close to the earth, but not too close.


BURT WOLF: Ice Cream is also an essential part of Independence Day and we have been making it in America since the early 1700’s. Our first ice cream parlor opened in 1776, which just happens to be the year the colonies declared independence.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Mere coincidence - I don’t think so. Whenever I eat ice cream I have a great sense of freedom, independence, power. I think our early Colonial ice cream parlors were a hot bed of political descent. But most important they were safe.  The British troops never never thought to look in ice cream parlors for revolutionaries.  

BURT WOLF: And the place to celebrate the coolness of independence in Boston is Emack & Bolio’s.

BOB ROOK ON CAMERAWell back in 1975 I was a music attorney representing a bunch of rock groups.  And Boston closed down really early, closed down at twelve o’clock. And after a gig we had no place to go to mellow out.  So I opened a little ice cream shop where we made our own ice cream.  And we’d come down after the gigs and we’d hang out and make ice cream, eat ice cream, play a little guitar and have a good time.  After a couple months of laying out money for rent and electric and all of that.  It dawned on me – as brilliant as I am – that maybe I should sell this ice cream.

We try to make new flavors all the time and come up with really outrageous combinations.  And most of the time it’s ok.  Sometimes you hit big, and sometimes you fail miserably.  And I’ve failed miserably on a few occasions.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERAA great story: weird, exciting and different. That was my dating pattern for years. And I would fail miserably.

BOB ROOK ON CAMERASo the first thing I want you to try is this Twisted DEE-light.  Cause it’s really great.  It’s chocolate ice cream, fudge chunks, and chocolate chips.  Devised by my friend Dee Snider from Twisted Sister – check it out.

BOB ROOK ON CAMERAHere’s Deep Purple.  Named after my buddy Glenn Hughes from Deep Purple.

BURT WOLF: Now how come it comes in a cup?

BOB ROOK ON CAMERAWell, that’s cause we’re trying to get the name Emack & Bolio’s on TV.

BURT WOLF: Oh okay.

BOB ROOK: So that’s an all-fruit sorbet.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERAThe man was a record promoter; of course he’d want the label out front.

BOB ROOK: Rock and Roll Baby.  Everybody got ice cream?


BURT WOLF: These days, Boston’s Fourth of July celebration is probably the top Independence Day extravaganza in the nation. And the man primarily responsible for it is David Mugar. 

DAVID MUGAR ON CAMERAThe Fourth of July in Boston started by Arthur Fiedler in 1929.  They were the first free outdoor symphony concerts in the history of the world, and they were of moderate popularity, and sort of declining in popularity, to where Fiedler was conducting only the July Fourth concert every year, and maybe three or four thousand people would show up. I said "Look, if you'll play the 1812 Overture at the next July Fourth concert when you're conducting, I'll try to find some howitzers, some live church bells and fireworks, but I don't know how to conduct music, so you're going to have to help me," and he said "Don't worry about it, just let all hell break loose at the end of the piece."  And so that's what we did the first year, not knowing what would happen.  Fifty thousand people showed up.

I funded the event personally for the first 27 years, and the number got to be an astronomical number, into the millions of dollars, because of all the logistics required to care for the public safety of the people, so I sought out corporate funding, which has become so popular in society now also in recent years, and we approached Fidelity Investments, and God love them, they stepped right up to the plate.

The event's free.  I've never allowed a V.I.P. section down front.  The poorest little family from anywhere in this country can travel to Boston, and if they're first in line, in the front row down front.

BURT WOLF: When citizens of the newly formed United States of America celebrated the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, fireworks were used to mark the event and ever since fireworks have been part of the Fourth of July.

Fireworks rely on gunpowder. Gunpowder was invented in Asia about a thousand years ago and in the beginning it was used only for fireworks. The sound of the exploding powder was so loud that people were convinced it would drive off evil spirits. Fireworks became part of any event that needed a celebration—births, weddings, coronations, the beginning of a New Year, my cousin Dudley picking up a check —all fitting occasions for fireworks. We even had fireworks at George Washington’s inauguration. 

Boston’s fireworks are launched from three barges anchored in the Charles River. The barges are twice the length of a football field. Eric Tucker is the brains behind the pyrotechnics.

ERIC TUCKER ON CAMERAThis shell is a brocade waterfall.  It'll generally be everybody's favorite shell.  It comes out and it breaks and it pours like a pitcher in gold and just sort of falls like a cascade. It’s absolutely gorgeous.  In a standard shell you have a lift charge, which is a black-powder lift charge, and you've got an electronic igniter, which is a very small pyrotechnic charge on the end of a nichrome wire.  We apply power to it, in our case 24 volts, and it'll go "snap" and make some heat.  That heat sets off the black powder, which does two things: it pushes it out of the mortar, throws it up in the air, and the heat from that is then transferred through it to a pyrotechnic timer, which is a small tube filled with pressed black powder and a few other things, which burns at a very precise level.  As the shells flying through the air, this burns up and hits another break charge, which then cracks the shell open and the heat from that break charge then ignites stars, which are round pellets or comets are pressed, which are inside this.  Those fly out from there on fire and that's the effect you see. 

Once the music is set, that's what drives 100 percent of the choreography.  Nothing on this barge happens without a musical reason.  If you watch it without the music, it would certainly be an interesting show.  It's certainly big enough.  But with the music it has soul.

BURT WOLF: In 1776, Thomas Paine, writing about the crisis in America at the time of the Declaration of Independence said that “these are the times that try men’s souls and the price of freedom is high.” And that’s as true today as it was over 200 years ago.

The price of freedom is still high but worth paying.

Happy Birthday America. For Taste of Freedom, I’m Burt Wolf.