Hey, weren’t they the good old days? Remember? Red, white and blue mugs from your gas station, ponderous pronouncements by politicians (“ . . . and in this, our bicentennial year, let us bathe in the waters of continued promise . . . ”) and big TV events of the sort that bring tears to the eyes of devoted Cronkite watchers. Those TV spectacles were great. How about those fireworks? CBS blew up an island in New York harbor for the patriotic entertainment of throbbing millions. Oh yeah. The Bicentennial. I loved it. Always a dull moment. The longest year in our nation’s proud history. At least it seemed that way.

Well, now half the surviving Republicans are behind bars for their own protection as an endangered species (by enactment of the National Scenic Parasites Act, passed by the Democratic congress as part of the massive package of goodhearted bicentennial legislation that slipped unnoticed into federal statutes early that year); and now Jimmy Codda and the Democrats are doing their best to bore us all into soft puddles of apathy.

So before we melt away, it might be good to remember that although our republic was born 200 years ago last year, it was still hacking away at the umbilical cord 200 years ago this year, and several years passed back then before Mom discovered she couldn’t stuff the baby back where it came from.

This is all in service of an excuse to reissue a bunch of bicentennial humor that ran on WDBS from the fall of ’75 to July 4, 1976. There were well over a hundred different “bicentennial minutes,” and what follows was excerpted from the worst of them.

 

Hello, I’m Doctor Dave. Two hundred years ago today, Benjamin Franklin was hard at work on one of his many forgotten inventions, the radio. Of course, he didn’t call it that, he called it an air harp, and here’s what he wrote about it: “Presently I am attempting to devise means whereby my wife’s cowlike vocalisms might be made audible in my workshop. I have devised an apparatus which causes her fair voice to join my company whilst her body and the foul odors and appearances which accompany it remain elsewhere.” For a transmitter Franklin hooked a xylophone by a hose to a wood stove, and for a receiver downstairs he strapped together a bellows and a large duck. The whole mess was to be powered by lightning, with electricity stored in the original Franklin battery, which was a clothes hamper filled with layers of sawdust and liver. As an invention, the air harp was a disaster. The first time lightning struck, the stove blew up, the battery caught fire, Mrs. Franklin lost all her hair, and the duck died. Franklin later gave up on the project because from that time on his wife spoke only four-letter words. I’m Doctor Dave and that’s the way it was.

* * *

Hello, I’m Doctor Dave. Two hundred years ago today, the Reverend Cletus Harkins founded the Columbia Baptist Church of the Destruction Normal School, which eventually became the University of Northern South Carolina. Of course, Reverend Harkins isn’t remembered for this achievement much, even at the University of Northern South Carolina. But he is still remembered in his home town of Tuberhaven, South Carolina for his contributions to boastful local folklore. Stories about Harkins abound, but this much we know to be true: he was born in 1751 to a wealthy plantation family in Screaming Shoals, Georgia. His parents gave up on him after two years and traded him to a northbound trucker for some farm equipment. He was stolen by some slaves who mistook him for a ham and abandoned him on the steps of a Western Auto Store in Tuberhaven. The storekeeper immediately put the boy to work changing tires for a penny a week. By the time Harkins reached his teens, he saw money in religion and travelled the region stealing from churches. Founding the Destructionist Church and Normal School was his last known achievement. He died one year later when he sneezed backwards and choked on his nose. I’m Doctor Dave and that’s the way it was.

***

Hello, I’m Doctor Dave. You know, two hundred years ago, there was no such thing as inapropalinenondesoxyhydride, and consequently, nobody died because some greedy industry stuck it in the instant soup to keep the weevils down. Heck, no. Back in the old days, they went ahead and ate the weevils. They didn’t care. They ate anything. Dirt, rocks, squirrels, cats . . . anything that would fit in one of those big colonial pots. They did know how to deal with yeast byproducts, though.

They’d brew anything. They had a basic after-dinner liqueur, called swine wine, which was really a toejam, raisin and cider mixture that only smelled like a sty. It really tasted just fine, so we’re told. Luckily, none survives to this day. Later, in the mid 1800’s, after we forgave the Germans for letting their mercenaries side with the British in the revolution, we finally allowed a few of the Scheizsdurfers and Schlitzmachers and Badweisers to come over and teach our Irish how to make beer. Only weeks before he died of a thought attack, General Ulysses Grant pronounced the newly marketed Hundsbrau beer the best tasting urine he ever drank. What’s funny is that he meant it. I’m Doctor Dave and that’s the way it was.

***

Hello, I’m Doctor Dave. Two hundred years ago today, there were some pretty blasphemous religions at large in America, such as Deism and Transcendentalism. Deism held that there was only one deity, but nobody could find It, or Him, or Her or Whatever, because nobody knew what He or She or It looked like . . . or smelled like . . . or sounded like . . . or . . . , well, you get the picture. But every Deist was sure of the Deity’s existence because it helped explain things that could not otherwise be explained without resorting to confusing language. Transcendentalism held the contrary belief that the deity could be found if one knew where It was hiding. They didn’t give away the secret of the deity’s location, but explained instead that one could discover the hiding place if one followed the yellow brick road of one’s subconscious down the river of blissful transcendence to a statue at an intersection, followed by two left turns, a right at the first light after the the interstate and down Union Boulevard to an old warehouse. But that’s all they’d give away. Of course, they’re all dead now, or so it seems, so we’ll probably never know. I’m Doctor Dave and that’s the way it was.

***

Hello, I’m Doctor Dave, with another look at great failures in American history. Let’s go back almost a hundred years to a forgotten moment in heavier-than-air thought. Back to when the infamous Wrong Brothers tested their first airplane design on the Dung Dunes of Kitty Buzzard, North Carolina. The twin Wrong Brothers, Orvil and Anvil, started as tricycle manufacturers back in Brown Springs, Ohio. The Wrong Brothers had totally opposite ideas on everything which voided every compromise they made. The original Wrong plane was the crowning and final example. Orvil thought the engine should be gas-powered and point towards the front of the plane. Anvil thought the engine should be yeast-powered and point toward the back. Then one fateful day in March of 1878 Orvil and Anvil mounted their airplane with engines pointed in opposing directions and fired the thing up. The aircraft promptly tore in two. Orvil rode the gas-powered half for 200 yards into the ocean, where he drowned. Anvil flew the world’s first yeast-engine half-airplane for 200 yards into the bay, where he drowned. Today they are still equally dead and equally forgotten. Well, I’m Doctor Dave and that’s the way it was.

***

Hello, I’m Doctor Dave. Two hundred years ago today, the Spanish owned rights to over half the North American continent. This was of course known to both sides in the Revolution, but it was usually forgotten because nobody bothered to write it down. It does seem strange that with a war going on neither side sought the assistance of the Spanish. Well, there was some consultation, but nothing made sense because neither side in any negotiations spoke the same language. The British didn’t want to break an honored tradition by even talking with a Spaniard, while the Colonials took three years before they found someone who could act as an interpreter. The man they found was Ralph Domingues Del Provo Van Der Oblongato, otherwise known as Fast Tony Avocado, a notorious pirate, and a man of imprecise loyalties. The Americans met with the Spanish at sea and Fast Tony acted as a courier between ships, bringing messages and payments back and forth. The negotiations ground to a halt, however, because, although messages got through, the payments did not. By the time this was discovered, Fast Tony was long gone. The Americans went home disappointed and the Spanish returned to hunting gold and ruining Indian civilizations. I’m Doctor Dave, and that’s the way it was.

* * *

Hello, I’m Doctor Dave. Two hundred years ago today, Abraham Crockafletcher was a third deputy assistant delegate to the Continental Congress. Crockafletcher never did anything official at the convention, but he took copious notes on the Founding Father’s personal habits and entered these observations in his diary. Here are some excerpts: “George Washington is a striking man given to elegant posturing at every occasion. Whenever he spots an artist at work, he arranges himself in the most flattering way possible. Benjamin Franklin is an endlessly playful elf, always ready to deflate his associates’ vanities, as when he hit John Hancock’s fingers with a mallet and stole George Washington’s dentures only to set them afire on the podium when everyone gathered for an afternoon session. Hancock has his problems, too; he always talks through his nose. Franklin says that it would be easier for Hancock to talk through his nose if there was a tongue in there.” Well, I’m Doctor Dave and that’s the way it was.

* * *

Hello, I’m Doctor Dave with another Bicentennial look at great failures in American History. This time we go back seventy five years to examine a forgotten frog farmer and his forgotten invention. The farmer was Donald Schwebel, and his frog farm was the largest in Rangoon County, Maryland. Schwebel always liked to tinker with machinery, and was fascinated with how the human body worked. He removed and replaced his left leg many times — an achievement that still baffles scientists. Schwebel’s main ambition, though, was to invent the first automobile. At the 1874 New York Car Show, the Schwebel entry was a modest four-wheel cow. It had two horns, interior lights and a cud-powered heater. His big breakthrough, though, was the Schwebel external combustion engine. This contraption required three chickens and several handguns to operate. But it would do zero to sixty in about six seconds and turned a quarter mile in fifteen seconds flat. The second time Schwebel demonstrated this incredible machine, he was gored to death by an earlier model. He proved a prophet, however, and a good loser. His dying words were the now famous, “There’s a Ford in your future.” I’m Doctor Dave and that’s the way it was.

* * *

Hello, I’m Doctor Dave. Two hundred years ago today, as we know, people didn’t live very long. The life expectancy was something like twelve years. Old age started at adolescence and everybody knew that old codgers like Washington and Franklin had pacts with the Devil or something. Well, for many years the high mortality rate of those times was thought to be due to poor medical practice and incomprehensible diseases. This was true up to a point. The only cure for anything was making victims bleed till they turned green. Every symptom was seen as an incurable act of God. Only recently, however, has the real cause of shortened life expectancy been found. Doctor Oscar Richfello of the South Jersey Wesleyan Academy School of Medicine and Biblical Studies has revealed that colonial Americans spent too much time outdoors, causing what he calls green lung. The only cure for green lung, he says, is staying indoors, away from growing vegetation. Green lung all but vanished, he concludes, when the Industrial Revolution put people back indoors, where they belong. Well, I’m Doctor Dave and that’s the way it was.

***

Hello, I’m Doctor Dave. Two hundred years ago today, Hadley McFarthing was still a simple rock farmer in rural Thataway Township, Delaware, one of many ordinary people, living ordinary lives, in service to neither the crown nor the growing insurrectionist government in Philadelphia. But as Revolutionary conflict grew, many regular folks like the McFarthing family were forced to broach vague opinions in the fervent hope of avoiding consequences. Sooner or later, though, circumstances forced clear decisions, and in McFarthing’s case, an ingenious solution. One day in January, 1776, a small platoon of revolutionary irregulars stopped by the McFarthing farm en route to the New England conflicts. They were a rowdy bunch who demanded food, drink and horses. Old man McFarthing simply talked nonsense. “Barfwater?” he said, pointing to the sky. “Got ye a shuntspenny? Oim out of cards.” As for the horses, he said “Oil give ye three Blarneyboosh trees and me idiot son, Mary, if y’l give me yer clothes.” With that, all 29 McFarthing children assaulted the platoon, stripped the men naked and chased them into the woods. Later, when accused by the local paper of siding with the British, McFarthing replied, “Hell, No. Oi cud use a few red jackets to coat me yaks with.” I’m Doctor Dave, and that’s the way it was.

***

Hello, I’m Doctor Dave. Two hundred years ago today, the First Continental Congress was still in the process of convening in Philadelphia. Getting representatives together from all thirteen colonies, however, proved a rather difficult task. The representative from Georgia, Billy-Ralph Hawkins, was the last to arrive. The wealthy contractor and brick manufacturer didn’t know what Philadelphia was, and after he found out, he couldn’t pronounce it. He thought it was the name of a flower and that Pennsylvania was an appliance manufacturer. He did have one enduring legacy, though. At one point in the conference he said that if Pennsylvania wasn’t a great name for a household convenience, it would make a grand name for a railroad. I’m Doctor Dave and that’s the way it was.