With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

It’s the Anniversary of Everything!

By any measure, the summer of ’69 was, as the kids say today, “a lot.” 

June had the Stonewall riots, a landmark moment in the modern gay rights movement. July, the moon landing. August, the grisly Manson murders, followed by the endless mud of Woodstock. 

These events have been fodder for countless songs, movies, university courses, history books and romance novels. And now, in 2019, they have begot another special summer: of 50th-anniversary celebrations that are public, elaborate and full of nostalgia. Millions of people from around the world are joining in, along with sneaker designers, toothbrush companies, hotels, museums and news organizations.

Far be it for us to deflate the spirits of those, say, dancing in constellation-printed rompers and drinking Budweiser at the Space Center Houston a couple of weeks ago. But then to happen upon less momentous commemorations, like a copy of People magazine celebrating the 30th anniversary of the movie “When Harry Met Sally” at the corner newsstand, is to wonder: Just what is the point of marking them? Is doing so essential somehow for society’s psychological well-being, an attempt to collectivize experience increasingly diffused by the distractions of the internet? Or just more chances for corporations to sell us stuff?

Also, what’s with the nice round numbers (or, more specifically, multiples of five)? “We need to point out the strangeness of it, the peculiarness of it, the fact that no one voices dissent in any media forum, to say ‘We are overdoing this’ or ‘Let’s talk about something else this weekend,’” said William Johnston, a history professoremeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the author of the 1991 book “Celebrations: The Cult of Anniversaries in Europe and the United States Today.” “Something gets wiped out because it’s not an even number. Hitler’s assassination attempt, it was 51 years ago, so we won’t pay attention to it.”

Many people seem to enjoy celebrating significant anniversaries of cultural occasions almost as much as those of their own marriages. 

Nineteen percent more people visited Space Center Houston in the first week of July than the same week last year, according to the organization.

Five million people (more than half of the New York City’s entire population) attended the Stonewall 50 celebrations that culminated the last week in June; 200,000 of them, about 130,000 more than last year, walked in the official parade, wearing rainbow outfits and Lady Liberty costumes, according to Chris Frederick, the executive director of NYC Pride.

Read entire article at New York Times