The Tiny Town That’s Home to America’s Oldest July 4th Celebration

On the surface, Bristol, Rhode Island is a typical coastal New England town. Situated at the end of a peninsula near the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border, Bristol covers only about 10 square miles, and its population is fewer than 25,000. Many of its main landmarks are historic, including a 19th-century lighthouse and the Blithewold Mansion, a gigantic home with beautiful botanical gardens that was built in 1895. It’s also home to Roger Williams University, named for the founder of the state. But Bristol’s biggest claim to fame isn’t a physical landmark.

Bristol’s annual Fourth of July celebration, which takes over the town for the three weeks leading up to Independence Day, is the oldest shindig of its kind in America. (It even predates the Fourth of July being named a national holiday, which didn’t happen until 1870.)

The very first event took place in 1785, and was a decidedly subdued affair. According to town historian Richard V. Simpson, fewer than two dozen people attended a service with prayers, speeches, and singing at the town’s Congregational Church. Today, things have definitely changed. The celebration begins on Flag Day with a ceremony that includes the introduction of Miss and Little Miss Fourth of July (yes, that’s a thing; the winners are chosen in May) and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Over the next few weeks, there are dozens of quirky small-town events—think orange crate derbies, vintage baseball games, drum and bugle corps performances, and even a carnival—as well as a big fireworks display on July 3.

But Bristol’s patriotism really shines on July 4, when a parade travels two-and-a-half miles through the town. Though the parade hasn’t been without its problems—in 2009, a group called the Rhode Island Tea Party Association was barred from participating—it’s generally a charming affair, with floats, town dignitaries, and a Chief Marshal promenading along the waterfront.

“The celebrations began with less than 20 people and a simple procession in 1785,” Bristol Fourth of July General Committee member Ray Lavey told Mental Floss. “It’s wonderful to see the passion, excitement, and growth for Bristol’s Independence Day year after year.”

While it’s not a regular magnet for celebrities like the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular (which didn’t get its start until 1976), Bristol has hosted a few well-known names: Natalie Cole attended the parade one year, as did Ray Bolger, the actor who played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Occasionally, a rep from one of New England’s sports teams—the New England Patriots or the Boston Bruins—will show up. No sign of Touchdown Tom Brady yet, but hey, you never know.

A version of this article appeared in 2015.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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Meet Ian Brackenbury Channell—the Official City Wizard of Christchurch, New Zealand

In Christchurch, New Zealand, wizards ride buses, not brooms.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, wizards ride buses, not brooms.

Gandalf and Saruman aren't the only wizards New Zealand can claim. The city of Christchurch has employed its own official wizard for more than 20 years, and as CNN Travel reports, he's preparing to pass off his staff to a wizarding apprentice.

Ian Brackenbury Channell has been dressing up as a wizard for decades. Though originally from the UK, his career in academia brought him to the Universities of New South Wales and Melbourne in Australia. He assumed his magical role, simply titled "The Wizard," at both institutions. Responses to the character varied, but he finally found a permanent home for the act in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Brackenbury Channell had been living in Christchurch for 24 years when the city offered him an official wizarding contract in 1998. His new role would require him to "provide acts of wizardry and other wizard-like-services as part of promotional work for the city of Christchurch." Every year since, The Wizard has collected an annual salary of 16,000 New Zealand dollars, or $10,400 USD, from the government.

At age 87, Brackenbury Channell is spending less time in the spotlight and looking for an aspiring wizard to take over the job. Musician Ari Freeman, 39, threw his pointed hat in the ring several years ago when he introduced himself as a young wizard. He's been training as his apprentice ever since.

Freeman already sports a long beard that would make Merlin proud, but the role of official wizard goes beyond looking the part. Other duties include promoting local events, welcoming foreign dignitaries, and rambling in Cathedral Square. The Christchurch City Council for "wizardry," which manages the position, hasn't stated whether it plans to extend the contract to Freeman.

[h/t CNN Travel]