So, it’s a pleasant Fourth of July afternoon in 1949 in the iconic Midwestern town of Hudson, Ohio — home of the American Fireworks Co. — and the community is having a picnic.
Marjorie Danforth, nine months pregnant, sits down beside two other women on a bench. They chat. They gossip. They smile. Then the other two women stand up at the exact same time, causing Marjorie’s side of the bench to drop like a see-saw, and the pregnant woman is unceremoniously deposited on the ground. Literally topples over like a cartoon. And, inevitably, goes into labor. Hours later a baby boy named Fred arrives — a young lad cantilevered from womb to world on the Fourth of July.
Like most people born on the Fourth of July, Fred recalls presuming as a little boy that the spectacular pyrotechnics he saw in the sky were for his benefit. Then, when he understood they had absolutely nothing to do with him, he felt that his own personal thunder had been commandeered. “Wait a minute,” he recalls thinking, “It’s my day!” Moreover, because of the local presence of the American Fireworks Co., Hudson, Ohio, really did have spectacular, big-city-quality peonies, willows and palms.
Later Fred would found Danforth Pewter in Vermont with his wife, Judi. He doesn’t see a conscious connection between the company’s popular star and twilight patterns — a bright yellow star with a fireworks tail against a nighttime blue sky — on some of their pewter barrettes and cheese knives and the traditional Fourth of July festivities, but art has to come from somewhere. You just never know.
And there is something a little magical about being born on the Fourth of July. American president and Vermont native son Calvin Coolidge was born on the day. Three American Presidents died on the anniversary: James Monroe in 1831 and John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826. (Yes, they died on the same day. Sort of like Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. It was a bonanza for the 1826 issue of People magazine.)
Fred Herbolzheimer and Janet Rood of Shelburne, husband and wife, were also born on the Fourth of July. Their tale has a special penumbra of enchantment about it. They were born in 1921, Fred at 10 a.m. and Janet at 10 p.m. And they were born right next door to each other in Wakefield, Mass., and some days would even share a baby carriage. Janet’s father died when she was 10 months old, however, and so she would be raised in Vermont and it would be years before she and Fred would find each other again. They wouldn’t wed until 2000, after decades of marriage to other people.
But just like Fred Danforth, she and her husband grew up believing the fireworks were for them. “My grandfather would take me to L.P. Woods, a sporting goods store in Burlington where Fremeau Jewelers is now, and he would give me a paper bag and tell me to pick out whatever fireworks I wanted,” she remembers.
And yet once she was grown, Janet began to savor the notion that the celebration wasn’t necessarily about her. Fred Danforth expressed a similar sentiment: “I am constantly surrounded by large numbers of people on the day and I am not the center of attention — and I am very comfortable with that.”
Moreover, there is at least one other benefit to being born on July Fourth. “I’ve never had to work on my birthday,” observed Sherry Morrison, who was born on the holiday in 1975. “It leads me to believe that everyone should have their birthdays off — and be paid!”
Sure, some babies arrive more dramatically than others, but it seems to me that any baby born on the 4th arrives with a bang. Happy birthday to everyone who is celebrating this weekend.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on July 5, 2009.)