It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Lord of the Rings
July 19 has a reputation as an adventurous day, maybe even an infamous one. Samuel Colt, Edgar Degas, Max Fleischer, Joseph Smith, and Lizzie Borden, among others, share my birthday. (I missed sharing Alexander the Great’s by minutes.) Lady Jane Grey lost a crown, and the first Mary Tudor gained one. Sarah Good and other members of the Salem Village community were executed for witchcraft in Massachusetts. Some of my ancestors, the Haudenosaunee, signed over the rights to most of their hunting lands in the Treaty of Nanfan. On other ancestral lands a century and a half later, a major women’s rights convention was held at Seneca Falls, New York.
Doc Holliday became a murderer on July 19. France and Prussia started a war. The Taiping Rebellion ended on July 19. A huge meteor tried, and failed, to destroy Holbrook, Arizona. The World War II “V for Victory” hand sign was taken up by Churchill in England, despite his secretaries being worried it’d be mistaken for another, less polite gesture. July 19 is the birthday of the British National Intelligence Corps; the ill-advised Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy of the US Department of Defense; and the 1980 Summer Olympics, an event a number of countries boycotted because they had issues with a questionable, endless war in a place called Afghanistan.
I was born at 13 minutes to midnight on a particularly busy July 19, the 200th day of 1969. My parents passed the time while I was being born watching a hospital room television, alternating between live news coverage of Apollo 11 having entered the moon’s orbit and preparing to land, and a movie about the life of Harry Houdini.
As a child, I cycled through the usual dreams that your family gives you. My July 19 imagination was fueled by an Eagle landing and a daring escape artist. I wanted to be an explorer, and I wanted to be a magician.
Somehow, I managed to end up doing a little bit of both along the way.