What you should know about July 29, 1881

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It was in the fall of 1953 that the idea first crossed my mind, and I said to myself, ''There! When the time comes I can have some fun with that!'' Off and on I would think about it, and decide what was the best way to handle it, and then the crucial date for action came and went and I had forgotten! The date on which I should have brought my wonderful plans to fruition was July 29, 1981 -- coming up to a year ago. Too late.

July 29, 1981, was the centennial of July 19, 1881. Hold up handsies now, everybody who knows -- what happened on July 29, 1881?

Just as I surmised. Nobody is going to recall July 29, 1881, for anything special, yet more people have seen that date written down and publicized than have ever seen a spellout for St. Paddy's Day, Orangeman's Day, and Victoria Day combined.

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What, let's ponder, would be the three best-known dates of all time? The ones that, when mentioned, the most people would know about? Probably we should rule out the year one. ''I ain't had a decent dish of finnan haddie since the year one.'' Seem's-if everything happened in the year one. But after that, what would you say is the best-known date?

Maybe 1066? July Fourth? Did you know there are two Kosciusco Days? Off Boylston Street, in Boston, stands a statue (what else would a statue do?) of the Polish general, and on a certain day every year some Polish people come and lay a wreath and do a ceremony. But on quite another day, the Lithuanians come, and they lay a wreath and do a ceremony, and they claim Kosciusco wasn't Polish at all. So that rules Kosciusco Day out. Seems to me I've heard that Simon Bolivar and Garibaldi also have more than one settled day. How about the Ides of March? Everybody knows what happened on the Ides of March. (Answer: Maine was admitted to the Union in 1820.)

Patriot's Day should have passing attention as a holiday oddity. That's the 19th of April, but is observed only in Massachusetts and Maine. In Massachusetts , in the Boston area, there is much reenactment of Paul Revere's ride, and the inaugural battle of Concord and Lexington. (Our Readers Write editor will now receive 13,000 letters from Lexington, insisting that it was the battle of Lexington and Concord.) Paul Revere, traditionally impersonated by a drill sergeant from the Ancient and Honorable Order of Hibernian Horse Marines, rides from Charlestown to alert the Middlesex militia, and often his horse takes fright and runs away at Medford Square. It's a big day in Boston, with the running of the Marathon and a morning baseball game for the Red Sox. In Maine, the occasion calls for planting a row of green peas, which will be ready to pick on the Fourth of July.

I had hoped to promote some sort of a Patriot's Day program for July 29, 1981 , observing the centennial explained above. I like the idea of having somebody on a horse. I like, too, the verve and momentum of the start of the Marathon, with 7,000-8,000 eager athletes bringing the news of victory. Something big, because on July 29, 1881, was born the whole concept of gracious living in a clean environment, neat and tidy, everything comfortable to the eye. Here in Maine, we have just now come to a fulfillment of that ambitious beginning - the cutoff date for highway billboards. 'Twas over a century in the coming - plus almost a year, perhaps because I forgot. Take 'em down, the law says, and people of sensitive stripe may well wonder why they were ever put up.

Perhaps I've tipped my hand. Can anybody remember now why July 29, 1881, should be celebrated?

Those who haven't happened to have visited France would know the answer only by chance, and probably not at all. All those who have visited France and can't answer should sit on the stool in the corner. They've seen -- seen it time and time again, and came away without remembering. It stares at you from every barrier, fence, vacant wall, empty building, and post. It announces itself interminably, lettered on everything by the same stencil, as repetitious as an evening whippoorwill, as insistent as a drum beat. Now, altogether -- we remember! I'm sorry I forgot and we didn't observe the Centennial: Defense d'afficher Loi du 29 juillet 1881

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