July 08, 2021

#ThrowbackThursday – 8 July

There are just some events in history that seem to resonate more than others. Perhaps it is due to their long-term effects, which continue to be felt long after the causes are over. Other times, it comes down to either their uniqueness (sometimes bordering on strangeness), or the fact that we have certain memories – good or bad – attached to them.

8 July played host to such events, five of which shall be looked at right now:

1497 – The Voyage of Vasco da Gama

Five hundred and twenty-four years ago, an expedition led by an explorer named Vasco da Gama set off from Portugal. For four months, his fleet sailed across the Atlantic Ocean until they finally reached what is now called St Helena Bay, South Africa,

After replenishing their stores, Da Gama’s expedition continued on their course, rounding the treacherous Cape of Good Hope, the Natal coast and Mozambique. Finally, they reached Calicut in India, anchoring on the Malabar Coast on 20 May 1498.

The expedition not only made da Gama the first European to ever sail around Africa en-route to Asia, but it also helped establish maritime trading between the two continents, subsequently turning Portugal into a world power rivalling that of Spain.

1835 – The Last Ring of Liberty

8 July 1776, marks the day that the Liberty Bell rang to celebrate the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Exactly 59 years later, it pealed for the last time during a more sombre occasion.

Per reports, the large metal bell suffered a crack on its front. It supposedly formed as the bell rang during the funeral of Chief Justice John Marshall. Although newspapers who covered the funeral did not mention the ringing – if indeed there was any ringing – the Liberty Bell certainly couldn’t ring anymore.

This was not the first time that the bell cracked: it was damaged when its ring was tested shortly after its completion in 1752. It had to be melted down and recast by local metalworkers.

Despite efforts to repair the damage brought on by the second crack in 1846, it cracked even more. So, the Liberty Bell was officially removed from service. Today, it serves as a symbol of freedom and independence, and millions of people visit it annually at the Liberty Bell Centre in Philadelphia.

1913 – The Rise of the Erector Set

It was during a train trip from New Haven to New York City in 1911 that a young inventor/businessman was inspired to create one of the most popular toys of all time.

While on the train, Alfred C. Gilbert happened to see workmen positioning and riveting steel beams on a section of train-track. Two years later, he was issued a patent for “Toy Construction-Blocks”, which contained the following description:

“This invention relates to an improvement in toy construction blocks, the object being to provide blocks by which toy structures of various kinds may be erected, the blocks simulating what is known as steel construction.”

Under the name “Erector / Structural Steel and Electro-Mechanical Builder” – or simply “Erector Set” – the toy was soon introduced and sold to the public at Toy Fair New York. Because of its educational and modelling capabilities, as well as its ability to provide fun and entertainment, the toy proved popular with children … and is still selling today!

1947 – UFO or UF-No?

For over 70 years, the Roswell Incident has mystified UFO buffs, conspiracy theorists and pop culture enthusiasts alike. And it all started when the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) of New Mexico released a press statement about it on 8 July 1947.

A day after strange flying debris was found outside the town of Roswell, the media published the RAAF’s statement, which read: “The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Maj. Jesse A. Marcel of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office.”

It continued: “Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.”

Although this addressed this seemingly mundane issue (with a follow-up identifying the debris as a crashed weather balloon), the incident became a hot topic three decades later: theorists and supposed witnesses came forward, claiming that it was a cover-up for a legitimate spacecraft crash-landing.

As a result, innumerable arguments for and against the existence of aliens sprung up. Whether or not the debate will ever end is up for the stars to decide.

1996 – “Wannabe” Zigazig-ahs to the Top

It was the song that sparked the Girl Power movement in the mainstream media, and it turns 25 today!

Yes, “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls – arguably Britain’s most famous girl group, if not the world’s – made its debut in the United Kingdom. It was written by the group itself in collaboration with producers Matt Rowe and Richard Stannard; the writing session itself reportedly only took 30 minutes.

The dance-pop tune – which showcased the girls’ vocals and distinct personalities, emphasised the importance of female friendship, and featured the ever-legendary “zigazig-ah” hook – catapulted the group into superstardom. “Spice Mania” ran wild, and fans worldwide were out in droves to buy the group’s merchandise and albums.

Although it received mixed reviews, “Wannabe” won for Best Single at the 1997 BRIT Awards. The song is now considered a modern pop classic, and is often ranked high in music-related lists.

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