It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door…You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.
Bilbo Baggins, in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
July 19 is 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 birthdays with Alexander the Great by minutes. Lady Jane Grey lost a crown and Mary Tudor gained one. Sarah Good and other Salem, Massachusetts residents were executed for witchcraft. Some of my Haudenosaunee ancestors signed over the rights to most of our lands in the Treaty of Nanfan. In Seneca Falls, New York, on other ancestral lands a century and a half later, a women’s rights convention took place.
Doc Holliday murdered someone on July 19. France and Prussia started a war. Another 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 appeared in England, despite concerns about similarity to another far less polite gesture. July 19 marked the beginning of the British National Intelligence Corps; the ill-advised US Department of Defense’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy; and the 1980 Summer Olympics, an event boycotted to protest a questionable endless war in a place called Afghanistan.
I entered the world at 13 minutes to midnight on a particularly busy July 19, the 200th day of 1969. My parents passed time in the delivery room watching television, and alternated between news coverage of Apollo 11’s lunar orbit and a documentary about Harry Houdini. My childhood dreams sprung from an Eagle landing and a daring magician, skeptic, and escape artist. For a long time, I was sure I wanted to be an explorer, and I wanted to be a magician. Somehow, I managed a little bit of both.