When John Adams Predicted the Wrong Independence Day

John Adams: National Archive/Newsmakers/Hulton Archive. Background: iStock/Getty Images Plus/smartstock.
John Adams: National Archive/Newsmakers/Hulton Archive. Background: iStock/Getty Images Plus/smartstock.

When John Adams penned a letter to future First Lady Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, he guessed how future generations of Americans would celebrate Independence Day with remarkable accuracy: "solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."

The only problem? Adams predicted the wrong date. He wrote to Abigail that "the second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America."

The future president's plans for big Second of July bashes sank into obscurity, but Adams might have been onto something—when Americans party like it's 1776 on the Fourth, we're actually celebrating independence two days late. Or maybe even a month too early: The first signature on the document didn't occur until August 2. (Thomas McKean, a delegate who at one point served as the President of the Continental Congress, is thought to be the last, signing the document as late as 1781.)

Adams wrote his letter on July 3, 1776, the day after the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain. But the Continental Congress labored over revisions to Thomas Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration until the document was edited, approved, and ratified by the Continental Congress on the Fourth. On the Second, only the first paragraph was ready for print.

Congress issued the initial printing of the Declaration on the night of July 4, 1776, printed on about 200 broadsides. John Dunlap, an Irish immigrant, spent much of that night setting the type, correcting it, and printing the sheets. "We were all in haste," Adams said about the printing—punctuation varied from broadside to broadside, and some copies were folded before the ink dried properly.

The broadsides, dated July 4, 1776, were distributed to the soon-to-be states over the course of the two following days, widely publicizing the Fourth as the day the United States claimed independence. George Washington was one of the first to celebrate the Fourth in 1778, ordering an artillery salute from his soldiers and issuing his troops a double ration of rum (though probably not in that order).

It wasn't until 1870 that Congress declared the Fourth of July an unpaid holiday for federal employees. As Congress often does, they changed their mind in 1938, switching the Fourth to a paid federal holiday. As for Adams, he wouldn't live to see the Fourth as an official holiday: He died on July 4, 1826, two days after he thought (and hoped) Americans would ring in independence celebrations.

This story was updated in 2019.

Aaugh! 10 Facts About It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Lee Mendelson hadn’t planned on a career in animation. But when television sponsors saw the filmmaker’s documentary about cartoonist Charles Schulz, they asked if the two could team up to produce a Christmas special based on Schulz’s Peanuts strip. The result, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was seen by roughly half of all households watching television during its premiere on CBS on December 9, 1965.

Mendelson went on to produce other Peanuts primetime specials, but 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown remains one of the most endearing. As you prepare annual sympathy for poor ol' Chuck (“I got a rock”), check out some facts about naked composers, vomiting voice actors, and CBS’s bizarre ultimatum.

1. The future of animated Peanuts specials depended on It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.


Warner Home Video

Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez had very high aspirations for A Charlie Brown Christmas. When they screened it prior to its premiere, however, they felt it didn’t live up to its potential—and CBS agreed. The network said it was the last Peanuts special they would buy. But after it delivered huge ratings, CBS executives changed their minds and asked for more. When the two delivered another hit—the baseball-themed Charlie Brown All-Stars—they thought they had earned the network’s confidence.

Instead, CBS told them they needed a special that could run every year, like A Charlie Brown Christmas. If Mendelson couldn’t provide it, they told him they might not pick up an option for a fourth show. Despite Schulz and his collaborators being annoyed by the network's abrasive attitude, they hammered out a story with a seasonal clothesline that could be rerun in perpetuity.

2. The voice of Violet puked after every recording session.

It’s standard practice these days to use adult actors to mimic juvenile cartoon characters: adults are (presumably) better able to take direction and deliver a performance in line with the director’s wishes. But for many Peanuts specials, children were used to voice Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and the rest. Anne Altieri, who portrayed both Violet and Frieda, was so nervous to be part of the show that she threw up every time she was done with a recording session.

3. It was the first time Lucy snatched the football from Charlie Brown.

In animated form, anyway. When Schulz, Mendelson, and Melendez were brainstorming scene ideas for the special, talk turned to the fact that Lucy’s habit of pulling the football away from Charlie Brown had never been seen in animation. They also decided it would be a good time to introduce Snoopy’s World War I Flying Ace. The joke had appeared in the strip, but Mendelson thought it would work even better in motion. He was right: the sequence with Snoopy in a doghouse dogfight is one of the most memorable in the Peanuts animated canon.

4. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is secretly about Santa.

The Great Pumpkin saga was adapted from Schulz’s newspaper strip, where he had conceived it as a metaphor for some of the hope (and disappointment) associated with Saint Nick. Schulz disliked the idea kids heard of a jolly fat man who delivered presents all over the world when he knew many families could only afford one or two gifts for the holidays. “The Great Pumpkin is really kind of a satire on Santa Claus,” he told Mendelson. “When [he] doesn’t come, Linus is crushed.”

5. The music composer was found naked by cops.


Warner Home Video

The jazzy scores of the early Peanuts specials were the work of composer Vince Guaraldi. When he was busy putting together “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” for the show, he decided to break for a shower. When he came out, he thought he heard noises outside and went to investigate, naked, and locked himself out in the process. Keyless, Guaraldi tried climbing a ladder to a second-floor window when cops spotted him. “Don’t shoot,” he said. “I’m the Great Pumpkin.” Police, who were many months away from getting the joke, let him back inside.

6. A loose tooth almost ruined It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Kathy Steinberg was only 4 years old when she portrayed Sally for the first time in A Charlie Brown Christmas: her big break came when Mendelson, her neighbor, started work on the specials. While Steinberg had some limitations—like being too young to know how to read a script—things were going well until producers realized she was on the verge of losing a tooth. Fearing a lisp would ruin the voiceover work, they rushed to get her lines done. The day after finishing, the tooth fell out.

7. Kids sent Charlie Brown candy for years.

One of the most poignant moments of any Peanuts cartoon comes when downtrodden Charlie Brown opens his Halloween goodie sack and discovers he’s been given rocks instead of candy. According to Schulz, this so angered viewers that for years his California office was inundated with sacks of treats addressed to the character.

8. The original airings of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown were slightly different.

Production costs for the early Charlie Brown specials were subsidized by television sponsors Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison snack cakes: the brands appear at the beginning and end of the broadcast. The Coke “bug” appeared for several years before getting phased out.

9. CBS got a little salty about losing the rights to the special.

After spending decades at CBS, the rights to three holiday Peanuts installments went up for grabs in 2000. Though CBS could make the first offer, it was ABC who made the winning bid. Privately, CBS executives were not at all pleased about the business decision to take the football away. “It's a shame that a few more dollars meant more to them than years of tradition and loyalty," one network employee anonymously told Variety.

10. Some scholars thought the Great Pumpkin was real.


Warner Home Video

A real myth, at any rate. Talking to the Schenectady Gazette in 1968, Schulz said that since the special began airing two years earlier, he had received a number of letters from academics wondering where the Great Pumpkin story had originated. “A number of professional scholars have written me about the origination of the legend,” he said. “They insist it must be based on something.” Schulz suggested they broach the topic with Linus instead.

This article originally ran in 2015.

Why Do We Wear Costumes on Halloween?

nito100/iStock via Getty Images
nito100/iStock via Getty Images

There’s no one explanation for how Halloween costumes originated. Much like the holiday itself, the practice of dressing up is the result of a hodgepodge of traditions from around the world.

Many historians suspect that the tradition has some basis in the Celtic festival of Samhain (also called Calan Gaeaf in Wales). Celebrated between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, Samhain marks the official start of winter—known to the Celts as the “dark season.” During Samhain, “the world of the gods was believed to be made visible to humankind,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

That wasn’t a comfort to the ancient Celts, who believed their deities were prone to playing tricks on human worshippers. Many festival participants disguised themselves as animals or beasts, hoping to hide from malevolent spirits who might bring them misfortune.

Move forward a few centuries and the modern-day practice of dressing up and trick-or-treating has its roots in the European custom of “mumming and guising.” Mummers would dress up in costumes, often woven from straw, and perform plays and songs for neighbors in exchange for food. Scottish and Irish immigrants brought that tradition to North America, where it later morphed into what we now know as trick-or-treating.

Halloween costumes didn’t experience their true heyday until the mid-1900s, though. For that, you can thank New York City entrepreneurs Ben and Nat Cooper, who started a company producing pop culture-themed costumes at a low cost. Ben Cooper, Inc., found a niche in helping kids become the characters they admired from television and comic books, often purchasing merchandising rights before said characters ever became popular. Due in no small part to the Cooper family’s innovation, Halloween costumes became an accessible and even necessary part of holiday festivities.

Today, Halloween costumes are big business. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend about $3.2 billion on costumes this year (of that, about half a billion will go to costuming pets). You have to wonder what the ancient Celts would have thought about today’s Halloween costumes.

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

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