The Tiny Town That’s Home to America’s Oldest July 4th Celebration

On the surface, Bristol, Rhode Island is a typical coastal New England town. Situated at the end of a peninsula near the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border, Bristol covers only about 10 square miles, and its population is fewer than 25,000. Many of its main landmarks are historic, including a 19th-century lighthouse and the Blithewold Mansion, a gigantic home with beautiful botanical gardens that was built in 1895. It’s also home to Roger Williams University, named for the founder of the state. But Bristol’s biggest claim to fame isn’t a physical landmark.

Bristol’s annual Fourth of July celebration, which takes over the town for the three weeks leading up to Independence Day, is the oldest shindig of its kind in America. (It even predates the Fourth of July being named a national holiday, which didn’t happen until 1870.)

The very first event took place in 1785, and was a decidedly subdued affair. According to town historian Richard V. Simpson, fewer than two dozen people attended a service with prayers, speeches, and singing at the town’s Congregational Church. Today, things have definitely changed. The celebration begins on Flag Day with a ceremony that includes the introduction of Miss and Little Miss Fourth of July (yes, that’s a thing; the winners are chosen in May) and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Over the next few weeks, there are dozens of quirky small-town events—think orange crate derbies, vintage baseball games, drum and bugle corps performances, and even a carnival—as well as a big fireworks display on July 3.

But Bristol’s patriotism really shines on July 4, when a parade travels two-and-a-half miles through the town. Though the parade hasn’t been without its problems—in 2009, a group called the Rhode Island Tea Party Association was barred from participating—it’s generally a charming affair, with floats, town dignitaries, and a Chief Marshal promenading along the waterfront.

“The celebrations began with less than 20 people and a simple procession in 1785,” Bristol Fourth of July General Committee member Ray Lavey told Mental Floss. “It’s wonderful to see the passion, excitement, and growth for Bristol’s Independence Day year after year.”

While it’s not a regular magnet for celebrities like the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular (which didn’t get its start until 1976), Bristol has hosted a few well-known names: Natalie Cole attended the parade one year, as did Ray Bolger, the actor who played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Occasionally, a rep from one of New England’s sports teams—the New England Patriots or the Boston Bruins—will show up. No sign of Touchdown Tom Brady yet, but hey, you never know.

A version of this article appeared in 2015.

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

iStock
iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

7 International Names for American Products

Maksym Kozlenko, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Maksym Kozlenko, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

While available around the world, American products aren't always called by their red-white-and-blue names. Companies have to adapt to various languages and cultures, and what works stateside doesn't always translate. Here are seven American goods with unfamiliar international names.

1. Hungry Jack's (Burger King in Australia)

A Hungry Jack's drive thru sign
A Hungry Jacks sign in Bathurst, New South Wales

In 1971, Jack Cowin bought the Australian franchise for Burger King from Pillsbury Company (which owned the chain at the time). But because the name was already registered in Australia, he used the name Hungry Jack—originally an American pancake mix—instead. In 1999, Burger King began opening restaurants under its own name in Australia, but they combined with Hungry Jack's in 2003.

2. Doritos Cool American (Doritos Cool Ranch in Europe)

Cool American Doritos on a shelf
Cool American Doritos in Iceland
Funky Tee, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Cool Ranch is one of the most popular Doritos flavors in the United States. However, in many parts of Europe, the flavor is known as Cool American because Europeans often call Ranch sauce "American" sauce. Very cool, indeed.

3. Coca-Cola Light (Diet Coke in Europe)

Diet Coke is called "Coca-Cola Light" throughout Europe. The soft drink is exactly the same as its American counterpart, but the word light is associated more with lower-calorie items in Europe than diet.

4. TK Maxx (TJ Maxx in Ireland)

A TK Maxx in London
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for TK Maxx

The American department store TJ Maxx is known as TK Maxx in Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom as well as in Australia and parts of Europe. Its parent company, TJX Companies, re-named it so Irish and British customers wouldn't confuse the store with the established retailer TJ Hughes, which is quite popular in the UK.

5. Kraft Dinner (Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in Canada)

Boxes of Kraft Dinner wrapped in plastic
Alan Levine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Canada, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is known as Kraft Dinner or simply KD. Kraft introduced the product as Kraft Dinner in both Canada and the United States in 1937. However, in the late '50s, Kraft added the words macaroni & cheese to its packaging of Kraft Dinner when the term gained more prominence. It wasn't until the '70s that Kraft Canada started using bilingual labeling (French and English) on all of its packaging. As a result, Canadian Kraft products included the words Kraft Dinner in a bigger and bolder font on one side of the box with Díner Kraft on the other side. The words macaroni & cheese were in a smaller font, so Canadians adopted it as merely Kraft Dinner. (Americans can buy a box of the Canadian version for themselves on Amazon.)

6. Meister Proper (Mr. Clean in Germany)

Bottles of Meister Proper on store shelves
Alf van Beem, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
 

Procter & Gamble’s Mr. Clean is a global product, so its name has been translated into various languages, including Maestro Limpio in Mexico, Monsieur Propre in France, and Meister Proper in Germany. It’s the same product—with the same sailor mascot—as you can find in the United States.

7. Walkers Potato Crisps (Lay's Potato Chips in the UK)

Walkers potato chips on a shelf
Ben Babcock, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Founded in 1948, Walkers quickly became the United Kingdom’s leading potato crisps snack food company. However, Pepsi acquired Walkers and re-branded it with the Lay’s logo and products in 1989. The snack food is exactly the same, but PepsiCo decided to keep the Walkers name to ensure customer brand loyalty in the United Kingdom. Walkers also has more exotic flavors than its American counterpart, including American Cheeseburger, Lamb & Mint, and South African Sweet Chutney. Adventurous Americans can get some of them, including Prawn Cocktail, Tomato Ketchup, and Worcester Sauce as well as a variety of different meat flavors on Amazon.

A version of this article first ran in 2016.

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