Celebrating The Fourth With “The Spirit of ’76” (1905)

Happy Independence Day, U.S. readers! Before heading to the BBQ, park, parade or lake (here in Minnesota no Fourth is complete without heading to one of our 10,000 lakes), how about taking in a teeny patriotic short courtesy of the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company? Accompanied by Ben Model, no less! Back in 1905 it would’ve been played in a Mutoscope machine–silently– and here it is today, playing on our phones and laptops at a moment’s notice:

So teeny–so patriotic! And familiar, no? Ben wrote about this short (which was made available courtesy of the Library of Congress’s Paper Print Collection) on his blog a few years ago. He wrote that while he usually doesn’t use familiar songs while accompanying silent films, in this case, “the songs ‘Yankee Doodle’ and ‘The Girl I Left Behind’–heard here–are practically synonymous with the image of these three musicians.” (Here’s the link to his post: https://www.silentfilmmusic.com/spirit-of-76/.)

The iconic image of these musicians came from the 1876 painting The Spirit of ’76 by Archibald Willard. It was exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and chromolithographs of it became very popular. Eventually it was even taken on tour.

The elderly patriot in the middle was apparently modeled after Willard’s father, and was also inspired by his grandfather, who had been a part of the Revolution. So there’s some layers to it, you might say.

And of course it’s been parodied ever since. There’s literally so many examples that your head could explode, but here’s a Mickey Mouse comic book cover:

The Simpsons, because of course they did this at some point:

And here’s a particularly random one: photographer John Swope, Henry Fonda and James Stewart dressed as the Marx Brothers dressed as the Willard musicians. This was dreamed up for a “Spirit of ’76” themed birthday party Marion Davies threw for William Randolph Hearst in 1937. Alrighty then!

So Happy Fourth readers, have a fine day and make some of your own patriotic memories!