Yankee Doodle Dandy – Part III – By Zoltan James

This is the final in Z.J.’s three-part story. Please share your comments.

He looked off into the distance. “I gotta admit that at first I thought it was all a bunch of hooey over nothing. I thought maybe I was being made fool of, you know, the sketchy town idiot. Hell, who can take a guy serious when he parades up Main Street wearing a tri-cornered hat with a feather in it? Then, one day, some of the fellows over at Legion Hall reminded me of how at least three of our native sons from Billerica died in Nam. That give me a cause to pause, I’ll tell you—-give me a whole different outlook. Not for nothing. Anyway, I fought off my ego and now I do it–and proudly–to honor my relatives, and all our sons and daughters who’ve fought for the good old U.S. of A.”

I drove back to Boston and caught the last flight of the day back to New York. I had decided that Thomas was no crank. He was just an honest American thrust into a role he hadn’t planned on–and accepted what was thrown at him, just like the millions of average Joes over the centuries who sacrificed at a terrible cost with their lives so you and I can have the freedom to be creative, make our own decisions, worship where and how we want, invest in our futures, build businesses, start over as immigrants, vote, complain, speak our minds, and breathe the sweet air of liberty–even while parading around in silly tri-cornered hats.

My macaroni lunch with Thomas Ditson and hearing of his acceptance to be the Grand Marshall Yankee Doodle, reminded me of the historic letter John Adams wrote to his wife after the Declaration of Independence was declared. He said, “I am apt to believe that this day will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”

Now whenever I hear the song “Yankee Doodle” or “Yankee Doodle Dandy” I ponder the freedoms we enjoy. Freedoms purchased in blood. And I get goosebumps.

By the way, my story got published under the headline: “Keep it Up Yankee Doodle.”

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 Author’s Note: The names used here are from real people.

 According to several historical sources, the song Yankee Doodle was originally sung by British military officers to mock the disheveled and seemingly disorganized colonial “Yankees” with whom they served in the French and Indian War. The tune is believed to be from the nursery rhyme Lucy Locket.

One version of the lyrics is attributed to Doctor Richard Shuckburgh, a British army surgeon. According to one story, Shuckburgh wrote the song after seeing the appearance of Colonial troops under Colonel Thomas Fitch, V, son of Connecticut Governor Thomas Fitch.

Ephraim Williams was a Colonel in the Massachusetts militia and died in the Battle of Lake George. He left his land and property to the founding of a school in Western Massachusetts, now known as Williams College.

Some reports claim the British often marched to a version of the song believed to be about a man named Thomas Ditson, of Billerica, Massachusetts. Ditson was tarred and feathered for attempting to buy a musket in Boston in March 1775, although he later fought at Concord. For this reason, the town of Billerica claims to be the “home” of Yankee Doodle, and claims that during and after the Revolutionary War Americans embraced the song and made it their own, turning it back on those who had used it to mock them.

The lyrics: “put a feather in his cap and called it macaroni,” was a reference to the Macaroni wig which was in extreme fashion in the 1770s in England. It became contemporary pejorative slang for foppishness. The “Macaronis,” young men who wore fashion to the extreme, were deemed effeminate, and pre-dated the term “dandies.” Thus, the British were insinuating that the colonists were not very masculine. Apparently when Shuckburgh saw colonists wearing feathers in their hats, used the lyrics to make fun of them as though a feather was an insufficient mark of macaroni.

The name, Uncle Sam, is linked to Samuel Wilson, a successful entrepreneur and meat packer from Troy, New York. He supplied beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. Wilson stamped the barrels with “U.S.” for United States, but soldiers referred to the provisions as “Uncle Sam’s.” A local newspaper ran the story and that’s how Uncle Sam became the official nickname for our federal government.

In September 1961, the U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam.” Wilson died at 88 in 1854, and was buried in Troy’s Oakwood Cemetery.  The town calls itself “The Home of Uncle Sam.”

“The Yankee Doodle Boy,” also known as “(I’m a) Yankee Doodle Dandy” is from the Broadway musical Little Johnny Jones written by George M. Cohan. The play opened at the Liberty Theater on November 7, 1904.

The play follows a fictional American jockey, Johnny Jones (based on the real life jockey Tod Sloan), who rides a horse named Yankee Doodle in the English Derby. Cohan incorporated snippets of several traditional American songs into these lyrics, as he often did with all his music.

Actor James Cagney performed the song in the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy, in which he played Cohan. In 2004, the American Film Institute recognized this version of “Yankee Doodle Boy” on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list placing it ahead of “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain and behind “Summer Nights” from Grease.

The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Cagney) in a Leading Role, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording. It was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture and Best Writing, Original Story.

In 1993, Yankee Doodle Dandy was preserved in the U. S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

In 1986, Yankee Doodle Dandy was the first computer-colorized film released by media mogul Ted Turner.