Monday, July 25, 2011

Sparklers on the Fourth: Upon Further Review...

The human memory is a fascinating and flawed thing. It's pretty common knowledge that eyewitness testimony is generally considered to be unreliable. In fact, there have been cases thrown out because it had been determined that prosecutors (or defenders) had planted false memories into the heads of people testifying. I think that the major problem is that the human brain (which is vastly underused according to most research) simply can not reliably recall every detail about everything that a person experiences. Instead it sometimes seems to take little fragments of memories and tries to piece together a "memory" which is probably more fabricated than based in reality. A memory we would swear is real could in fact be made up of fragments of actual (possibly unrelated) memories, stories about the past we've heard, and a bit of pure fiction created by our active imaginations all mixed together. Since it's in our heads we don't see any reason to doubt the memories that we have--sometimes even in the light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Our brains seem to have an ability to use something like persistence of vision (which allows us to watch different frames of a film and fill in the blanks between them to make it seem that we are watching seamless movement) to make random bits of memories easier to use and relate to.

I've seen this happen myself on a message board I frequent that is dedicated to the old Creature Double Feature show on Boston's WLVI Channel 56. People will swear that they remember seeing a certain movie on the show even though that movie isn't on a list of the movies that aired on Creature Double Feature. It's pretty understandable, and has happened to me too. A lot of great movies were aired on all the Boston area TV stations during the time Creature Double Feature was on. Combine a hazy memory of watching one of these movies with the fond recollection of sitting in front of the TV on Saturday afternoons to watch Creature Double Feature and you have a hybrid memory of watching that movie on CDF--even though you never did!

I recently wrote about a very old memory of mine from the time of America's Bicentennial celebration in 1976 (see Sparklers on the Fourth of July!). I had a very limited recollection of being in my hometown watching a huge parade held in honor of the Bicentennial. I had taken my memory "fragment", figured out approximately when it must have been from and decided that it had to have been from 1976. I was pretty happy with solving an old mystery, and the blog even generated a couple of comments from people who also remembered that very same parade. Those comments were really a great affirmation that I had done something right. However...

I decided to look at some microfilm from the local newspaper to find some stories and photos of the Bicentennial parade to see if I could jog any additional memories of the event. I spent several hours over a few visits to the library and managed to come up empty. All the towns around my hometown (Uxbridge, MA) had various parades, carnivals and fireworks displays, which were all listed in the newspaper. After the Fourth of July these events were all subsequently reported on. But nothing at all seemed to be written about the huge parade in Uxbridge. Uxbridge is a small town, but I couldn't believe that nothing at all would be mentioned about the parade. Finally I found a big article about "The First Annual Firemen's Muster" in Uxbridge, which was an early part of Uxbridge's big 250th anniversary celebration, which would take place the following year (1977). According to the article, the muster "marked the beginning of a year long celebration of Uxbridge's 250th birthday. 'Incorporation Day' is June 27, 1977". (Worcester Telegram, Monday, June 28, 1976; page 9E)

Armed with this clue I decided to look at the newspapers from late-June 1977. It turned out that Uxbridge did indeed have a big parade around the Fourth of July (like I thought), but it was in 1977 instead of 1976! Skipping a parade in 1976 is pretty understandable considering that they knew they had something big to celebrate the following year. They probably just let the other towns in the area take care of all the Bicentennial celebrations so the 250th Anniversary Committee could concentrate on their big plans for 1977.

My first indication that I was looking in the right area was when I found this photo from the Friday, June 24 Telegram (page 15E). I couldn't get a great scan of it, but the caption says: "UXBRIDGE-The town is making some last-minute repairs along the Bicentennial parade route. The celebration is planned for the weekend. Francis Roy of the Highway Department used gasoline in a wheel barrow to burn tar from tools." Note that the paper erroneously referred to the it as being a "Bicentennial" parade rather than a 250th anniversary parade. That's understandable, considering that it was only a year removed from the country's big Bicentennial celebration in 1976.

Worcester Telegram: Friday, June 24, 1977; page 15E

Saturday's Telegram provided a complete listing of all the 250th anniversary activities and events. The parade was scheduled for 2:00 on Sunday, and it was listed as being a "six-division parade, expected to include about two dozen floats". Sure sounds like the one I was thinking about...

Worcester Telegram: Saturday, June 25, 1977; page 8

Sunday's Telegram (the day of the parade itself) reported on the full day of activities from Saturday's Heritage Day in Uxbridge:

Worcester Telegram: Sunday, June 26, 1977; front page

Worcester Telegram: Sunday, June 26, 1977; page 20A

And, finally--after all this searching--the Monday, June 27, 1977 Telegram had coverage of the Uxbridge 250th anniversary parade. All signs point to the fact that this was indeed the event that I was remembering which I mistakenly thought had happened in 1976 in the previous blog.

Worcester Telegram: Monday, June 27, 1977; front page

Note that in the above photo caption there is a very important clue. Both of the people who commented on my previous blog (about my memory being of the 1976 Bicentennial parade) recalled rain that day during the parade. This photo, titled "A Change In Weather" mentions the fact that the rain came halfway through the parade. Here's more coverage:

Worcester Telegram: Monday, June 27, 1977; page 3S

Worcester Telegram: Monday, June 27, 1977; page3E

While this all of this amply covers the parade and festivities of Uxbridge's 250th anniversary celebration, there were a couple more interesting things I found. The parade took place on Sunday, the 26th. The actual anniversary occurred on Monday, the 27th. To commemorate the date, and to close out the celebration, a time capsule was buried on the Town Common.

Worcester Telegram: Tuesday, June 28, 1977; front page

Although I never realized this event happened one day after the parade, I was very glad to learn this fact--as I also have a pretty strong memory of standing on the Common on that day as the time capsule was dedicated and buried. I couldn't actually see anything because of the crowds, but do remember thinking that it was a momentous occasion. It seemed incredible to me that the capsule would be buried for fifty years--FIFTY YEARS! Of course, fifty years is actually a pretty short period for a time capsule to be buried. But to my seven-year-old mind fifty years practically seemed like an eternity. It was hard to conceive that I might be around to actually see the capsule dug up and opened. Heck, it was going to be opened in 2027--I had seen movies that took place in the 2000s, but couldn't imagine that era actually arriving in reality. Well, of course were now in 2011. the time capsule has already been buried (and forgotten about by many I'm sure) for 34 years. It only has 16 more years left before its scheduled excavation date. I'll be 58 when it's dug up. That little seven-year-old boy on the common couldn't envision himself being fifty-eight years old, but this forty-one-year-old doesn't find it nearly as unbelievable.

Here is the marker for the 250th Anniversary time capsule as it appeared on the Uxbridge Common in December 2010

Life went on after the 250th celebration of course. On that same Monday the time capsule was buried--the actual date of the anniversary--there was a regularly scheduled town meeting. I certainly wouldn't have been interested in hearing about this as a kid, but it seems worth at least mentioning here as the very last "event" of the town's anniversary commemoration:

Worcester Telegram: Tuesday, June 28, 1977; page 3S

In closing, I'd like to apologize for any confusion my original blog might have caused because of its inaccuracies. Another funny thing about the human brain is that we have a tendency to believe what we read. This can be especially dangerous with the internet, where we read things every day without having any real way of knowing if it's accurate (Wikipedia is a good example of a great resource whose "facts" have to be taken with a grain of salt). There's no real "rules" when it comes to blogs, but I always try to be as accurate as possible when I write something here. There may never be more than a handful of people who will read it, but I just don't want to mislead any of those who do happen by.

See you in 2027!


  1. True enough, good research. But I wonder about the vividness of a image or memory one contains for years. Certainly no date remained within my mind, yet the blog brought up the 'big parade' of which there was only one. And all be it, my strongest memory was that of the rain. This begs the question of why the rain was such a trigger for memory, (and your account is correct) on dates. Guess it wasn't as important to remember when as it was just to remember.

  2. That's probably very true. Unfortunately I have something in me (OCD?) that makes me want to know as much about some of these past events as I possibly can. While much of it is probably kind of pointless, it IS kind of fun doing the research--especially when I actually do find something!

  3. Once more - thanks for the memories, Glen! I'm glad someone is keeping track. :) ~ Dyan