Geek Trivia: Two Fourths for the price of one

What country somehow managed to observe two Fourths of July in the same calendar year -- a timekeeping feat unmatched by any other nation in recorded history, including the July 4th obsessed United States?

Contrary to the prevailing impression put forth by American media conglomerates, the fourth day of July isn't just the anniversary of 13 former British colonies telling King George III of England to go suck eggs by virtue of their Declaration of Independence. Lots of other things have happened on that day of the year.

To start, July 4th has auspicious literary credentials beyond the aforementioned Declaration. On that date in 1845, Henry David Thoreau began his two-year stint of ascetic living on the banks of Walden Pond, during which he wrote one of the most influential transcendentalist texts ever put to paper, Walden. Ten years later, the first edition of Walt Whitman's seminal poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, was first published. Stepping outside the confines of the United States, on July 4, 1862, an Englishman by the name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson began to tell a fantastical story to one Alice Liddell, aged 10, whilst on a rowing trip. Three years later, on July 4, 1865, a revised version of that tale was published by Dodgson under the pen name Lewis Carroll. He called the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Scientifically, July 4th can lay claim to even more prominence. Light from one of the most powerful supernovae ever observed by human civilization reached Earth on July 4, 1054, when Chinese astronomers saw the formation of the Crab Nebula. The fourth day of July is also the date that Leo Szilard patented the process of a nuclear fission chain reaction (1934); it's the date the NASA Pathfinder probe and its robot rover, Sojourner, touched down on the surface of Mars (1997); and it's the date the Deep Impact collider intercepted comet Tempel 1 (2005).

Even in American political history, there are numerous events besides the Declaration that can lay claim to July 4, though -- to be fair -- many of them were planned to be concurrent with Independence Day for symbolic purposes. That said, births and deaths are by and large unplanned, and four U.S. Presidents died or were born on July 4th. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson famously died the same day on July 4, 1826, and James Monroe followed suit in 1831. Four decades later, future President Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872.

Perhaps most tellingly, despite our obsession with the Fourth of July, the United States falls short in one unassailable measure of devotion to this date: We've never had more than one July 4th in a given year, whereas another country can claim otherwise.


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