John’s Believe It Or Not… July 8th

In 1892 – Start of two-day fire that destroys most of St. John’s in Newfoundland. In 1951 Paris celebrates the 2000th birthday. In 1776 Liberty Bell tolls to announce Declaration of Independence. In 1853 Commodore Perry sails into Tokyo Bay. In 1972 “Lean On Me” begins its first stay at #1.

John Fioravanti is standing in front of the blackboard in his classroom.

Yay! It’s Saturday! Did you know…

* 1892 – Start of two-day fire that destroys most of St. John’s in Newfoundland. (At about 4:45 in the afternoon in Timothy O’Brien’s stable at Freshwater Road at the top of Carter’s Hill in St. John’s, one Thomas Fitzpatrick stumbles and drops his pipe, lighting some hay; the stable is soon alight, starting a terrible two-day fire that will destroy the east end of the city, including much of its major commercial area; the fire is fanned by a hard wind from the west, which blows sparks onto neighboring shingle roofs, tinder dry after a month of no rain; work was being done on the water mains, and water pressure was not fully restored until late the next day; over 10,000 were left homeless as almost 60% of the city is destroyed.

An hour into the blaze, the people of St. John’s realized that the fire could not be contained in the area of O’Brien’s farm. Because locals believed stone walls would withstand the flames, residents moved valuables into numerous stone buildings in the city. One of the most common refuge areas was the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The nave and transepts of the church were filled with valuable property belonging to numerous families including that of the Anglican bishop of the day, Llewelyn Jones. Unfortunately, the cathedral also fell victim to the ravenous fire.)

Water Street Stores in Ruins, 1892
Water Street Stores in Ruins, 1892 (Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage)

* 1951 Paris celebrates the 2000th birthday. (On this day in 1951, Paris, the capital city of France, celebrates turning 2,000 years old. In fact, a few more candles would’ve technically been required on the birthday cake, as the City of Lights was most likely founded around 250 B.C.

The history of Paris can be traced back to a Gallic tribe known as the Parisii, who sometime around 250 B.C. settled an island (known today as Ile de la Cite) in the Seine River, which runs through present-day Paris. By 52 B.C., Julius Caesar and the Romans had taken over the area, which eventually became Christianized and known as Lutetia, Latin for “midwater dwelling.” The settlement later spread to both the left and right banks of the Seine and the name Lutetia was replaced with “Paris.” In 987 A.D., Paris became the capital of France. As the city grew, the Left Bank earned a reputation as the intellectual district while the Right Bank became known for business.

During the French Renaissance period, from the late 15th century to the early 17th century, Paris became a center of art, architecture, and science. In the mid-1800s, Napoleon III hired civic planner Georges-Eugene Hausmann to modernize Paris. Hausmann’s designs gave the citywide, tree-lined boulevards, large public parks, a new sewer system and other public works projects. The city continued to develop as an important hub for the arts and culture. In the 1860s, an artistic movement known as French Impression emerged, featuring the work of a group of Paris-based artists that included Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Today, Paris is home to some 2 million residents, with an additional 10 million people living in the surrounding metropolitan area. The city retains its reputation as a center for food, fashion, commerce, and culture. Paris also continues to be one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, renowned for such sights as the Eiffel Tower (built in 1889 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution), the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysees, Notre Dame Cathedral (built in 1163), Luxembourg Gardens and the Louvre Museum, home to Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Mona Lisa.”)

The city of Paris, France celebrates its 2,000th birthday
The city of Paris, France celebrates its 2,000th birthday (History Things)

* 1776 Liberty Bell tolls to announce Declaration of Independence. (On this day in 1776, a 2,000-pound copper-and-tin bell now known as the “Liberty Bell” rings out from the tower of the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, summoning citizens to the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Four days earlier, the historic document had been adopted by delegates to the Continental Congress, but the bell did not ring to announce the issuing of the document until the Declaration of Independence returned from the printer on July 8.

In 1751, to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of Pennsylvania’s original constitution, the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly ordered the bell to be constructed. After being cracked during a test, and then recast twice, the bell was hung from the State House steeple in June 1753. Rung to call the Pennsylvania Assembly together and to summon people for special announcements and events, it was also rung on important occasions, such as King George III’s 1761 ascension to the British throne and, in 1765, to call the people together to discuss Parliament’s controversial Stamp Act. With the outbreak of the American Revolution in April 1775, the bell was rung to announce the battles of Lexington and Concord. Its most famous tolling, however, was on July 8, 1776, when it summoned Philadelphia citizens for the first reading of the Declaration of Independence.

As the British advanced toward Philadelphia in the fall of 1777, the bell was removed from the city and hidden in Allentown to save it from being melted down by the British and used to make cannons. After the British defeat in 1781, the bell was returned to Philadelphia, which served as the nation’s capital from 1790 to 1800. In addition to marking important events, the bell tolled annually to celebrate George Washington’s birthday on February 22 and the Fourth of July. The name “Liberty Bell” was first coined in an 1839 poem in an abolitionist pamphlet.

The question of when the Liberty Bell acquired its famous fracture has been the subject of a good deal of historical debate. In the most commonly accepted account, the bell suffered a major break while tolling for the funeral of the chief justice of the United States, John Marshall, in 1835, and in 1846 the crack expanded to its present size while in use to mark Washington’s birthday. After that date, it was regarded as unsuitable for ringing, but it was still ceremoniously tapped on occasion to commemorate important events. On June 6, 1944, when Allied forces invaded France, the sound of the bell’s dulled ring was broadcast by radio across the United States.

In 1976, the Liberty Bell was moved to a new pavilion about 100 yards from Independence Hall in preparation for America’s bicentennial celebrations. It remains there today and is visited by more than 1 million people each year.)

Color photo of the Liberty Bell shown from the side, with the brown wooden yoke resting on two steel supports.
Color photo of the Liberty Bell shown from the side, with the brown wooden yoke resting on two steel supports. (

* 1853 Commodore Perry sails into Tokyo Bay. (Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, representing the U.S. government, sails into Tokyo Bay, Japan, with a squadron of four vessels. For a time, Japanese officials refused to speak with Perry, but under threat of attack by the superior American ships, they accepted letters from President Millard Fillmore, making the United States the first Western nation to establish relations with Japan since it had been declared closed to foreigners two centuries before. Only the Dutch and the Chinese were allowed to continue trade with Japan after 1639, but this trade was restricted and confined to the island of Dejima at Nagasaki.

After giving Japan time to consider the establishment of external relations, Commodore Perry returned to Tokyo with nine ships in March 1854. On March 31, he signed the Treaty of Kanagawa with the Japanese government, opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American trade and permitting the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Japan. In April 1860, the first Japanese diplomats to visit a foreign power in over 200 years reached Washington, D.C., and remained in the U.S. capital for several weeks, discussing the expansion of trade with the United States. Treaties with other Western powers followed soon after, contributing to the collapse of the shogunate and ultimately the modernization of Japan.)

American and Japanese officials held celebrations for the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Amity in 1854, including a banquet on Commodore Perry’s flagship, The Powhatan- the US Navy’s largest ship
American and Japanese officials held celebrations for the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Amity in 1854, including a banquet on Commodore Perry’s flagship, The Powhatan- the US Navy’s largest ship (

* 1972 “Lean On Me” begins its first stay at #1. (Bill Withers stepped into a recording studio for the very first time at the age of 32, and two years later, he’d written and recorded one of the most beloved pop songs of the modern era: “Lean On Me,” which began its first stay at #1 on the pop charts on this day in 1972.

Bill Withers was born in 1938 in the coal-mining company town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, where he left school at age 13 to help support his family following the death of his father. The Navy took Withers out into the wider world at the age of 17, and he settled in California following his discharge nine years later. At age 29, he set his mind to pursue a career in music, but he hedged his bets with full-time factory jobs in various Southern California defense plants. It took three years for anyone to show an interest in him, but in 1970, Sussex Records signed Bill Withers and paired him with producer Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MG’s fame. While Withers continued to work in an aircraft factory assembling toilet seats, his 1971 debut album, Just As I Am, became a major critical success, yielding the Grammy Award-winning hit single “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the minor R&B classic “Grandma’s Hands.”

Withers was still a full-time factory worker when he wrote the song whose success would finally convince him to give up his day job. “For a long time I didn’t really accept my new career,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1975. “It was like I was on vacation from the factory and at some point, I would have to take my tool box and go back to work.” Withers’ “Lean On Me” became a simultaneous #1 hit on the Billboard pop and R&B charts on this day in 1972, and it returned to the #1 spot on the pop charts in March 1987 in a hip-hop inflected remake by Club Nouveau. It has also been covered by artists as diverse as Michael Bolton (1994), Anne Murray (1999) and Limp Bizkit (2005).)

1972: "Lean On Me" by Bill Withers took over at the top of the R&B chart.
1972: “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers took over at the top of the R&B chart. (

Today’s Sources:

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* This Day In History – What Happened Today


Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

24 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… July 8th”

  1. Another fascinating step back in time, John. The St. John’s fire was devastating for the city. There’s been a few since, but not on that level.
    Lean on Me is one of my favourites tunes. Thanks for this treat! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I imagine the devastation in St. John was somewhat similar to the horror of Fort Mac last year. Now the people of B.C. are under siege with dozens of fires all over the province. Glad you liked that piece on Lean On Me, Natalie! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahhhh Lean on Me was a song I learned as part of the chorus at school (they let anyone in who wanted to be part of the chorus, by the way, and I was tone deaf – still am!). Bill Withers song keeps on being great, doesn’t it? It sounds like the Liberty Bell has a bit of controversy in terms of when that crack first appeared. Sounds like a big oops moment 😉 Happy weekend, John!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that song too, Christy! I sang in church for several years – Anne played the organ and I led the singing from the choir loft. I got a thrill when I saw the Liberty Bell when visiting Philadelphia about 15 years ago. The Americans do a much better job of preserving their history than we do here in Canada. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Christy! Hugs!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s wonderful about you and Anne being involved in music at the church, John! You have such a wonderful family spirit and that’s just one of the things I adore about you. Great that you saw the bell in person! Awww 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, and that tour was balanced by visiting the Gettysburg Battlefield – lots of horrors that happened there. One of the most significant battlefields in Canadian History is The Plains of Abraham – the scene of the British victory at Quebec City that ended French holdings in North America. Today this battlefield as one or two markers and is part of a beautiful park. I was moved to tears when I saw that this piece of military history was not preserved. Sigh.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That’s sad that the military history was not preserved as it was such a momentous moment in time! Another thing that fell through the cracks.. but at least you taught about the important events in your classroom. Still, I can understand why you cried. It’s frustrating!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. It was especially exasperating after my visits to Gettysburg. As you walk through the battlefield and read all of the signs and other information, you get a pretty clear idea about what happened. The place looks like the battle was fought a year ago! The Americans to a far better job of preserving their historic sites than we do – because it is important to them.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Sighing with you now! I didn’t know there was such a disparity in preserving historic sites between Canada and the US. But Canadian history IS important. Hopefully more people will realize this!!

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Yes, Christy, History is very important. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education in Ontario doesn’t agree. High school students have to take just one History course. They may select more as options. I don’t know about the other provinces.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Well my eyes are opened for sure. I don’t know about here in BC (I’ve been out of high school for a long time). I hope you write a related post soon as it’s a topic you are passionate about (and rightly so).

                    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bill Withers is one of my favorite singers, so I am delighted you featured him today. Grandma’s Hands always make me tear, and Ain’t no Sunshine has a way of reaching deep into the soul. Thank you for this musical adventure.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I appreciate the history lesson on Paris. I spent some time there in the early 1990s and loved every minute of it, with the exception of a few interactions with rude and sometimes hostile Parisians (it’s no myth). People were much friendlier in the south of France, but a visit to Paris should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s a unique place.

    Recommendation: try an herb-roasted chicken, frites (i.e. fries), and garden salad meal at one of the many cafes along the Champs-Élysées (with a glass of white wine, of course). The dish was superbly elegant in its simplicity and preparation. I’ve never tasted chicken so yummy, and the fries far surpassed anything I ever had in America or anywhere else. Those Frenchies sure can cook!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Enjoyed the story of the Liberty Bell. Amazed at the St. John’s fire. A visit to Paris leaves little doubt the city is over 2000 years old. There is history in each ally. Nice job, John. Always liked “Lean on Me.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I still remember the day I visited Philadelphia, saw the Liberty Bell and stepped inside the building where the Declaration of Independence was signed. I love the way you guys preserve your historical sites. I’m sure Paris would blow my mind. Thanks for your thoughts, John!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am slightly embarrassed to say that I have not heard of Lean on Me. The fire must have devastated that community particularly with the Church burning with so many people’s possessions in it. I am very scared of fire. We had a very bad fire in Knysna, South Africa recently and it has caused R millions of damage.

    Liked by 1 person

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