- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2008

James Heintze, a historian from Clarksburg and former librarian at American University in the District, can tick off many colorful accounts of how the United States has celebrated the Fourth of July over the years - including a 1911 event in Indianapolis in which two trains intentionally collided at full speed after their conductors bailed out at the last minute.

Mr. Heintze has chronicled just about everything about commemorating the birth of the United States. His 360-page book, “The Fourth of July Encyclopedia,” was published last year, and he is now researching a book about Fourth-related music. The gray-haired, bespectacled academic also has a Web site on the Fourth, making him a resource for TV shows, politicians, re-enactors and even high-school students writing term papers.

Mr. Heintze, 65, has dedicated more than a dozen years to researching the history of this single day - a passion that began with his interest in Independence Day music. He found himself spending long days reading microfilms of articles and rare documents, at times taking verbal notes on a voice recorder in libraries that prohibited pencils and pens.

“What’s fascinating about it is the hunt for treasure … finding bits of American heritage,” he said.

In the study of his Clarksburg home, Mr. Heintze displays an original 1866 “Red, White and Blue Songster” pamphlet with Fourth lyrics. His otherwise calm monotone voice gains gusto as he reads aloud excerpts from his research on lively parades.

Mr. Heintze found that the festive spirit goes way back. On Independence Day in 1778, in New Brunswick, N.J., Gen. George Washington gave his army a double allowance of rum and issued an artillery salute. In 1808, the people in Richmond decided that only U.S.-made liquor could be consumed on the Fourth. At a clam bake held in 1840 in Providence, R.I., 220 bushels of clams were eaten.

It was not uncommon for couples to get married on Independence Day. In his database of Fourth-themed popular postcards from the early 20th century, a woman hugs a firework with these words printed on the rocket: “I will go off with you on the 4th.”

Mr. Heintze notes that events on the Fourth have been tied to social and political movements. In 1827, for example, New York emancipated its slaves on the holiday. And in 1867, the Friends of Universal Suffrage met in South Salem, Mass. Among those who attended was Susan B. Anthony, who fought for women’s voting rights.

Mr. Heintze’s family has tolerated and even supported his obsession with all things Fourth. “You don’t see him for days,” said his wife, Yolanda, a fifth-grade U.S. history teacher who often infuses his research into her lessons. “He disappears. It’s hard to find him. He forgets about sleeping, eating, everything. … He just gets excited.”

To celebrate this year’s Fourth, Mr. Heintze planned an Independence Day concert at his home. He has played the piano since age 4 and intends to play songs from composers whose patriotic tunes are no longer as well known, such as “Rail Road March For the Fourth of July,” an 1828 composition by Christopher Meineke.

He traditionally visits the National Archives and watches the Fourth of July parade in the District’s downtown. This year, he also has plans to head to Richmond to hear more Fourth musical performances.

“It’s a day of continued reflection,” he said. “It’s emotional and it’s a day where I renew what I believe in.”

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