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260: This Week: 1776, Lawrence of Arabia, Project Blue Book

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in 1776, Lawrence of Arabia, and Project Blue Book.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

July 3, 1776. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A piece of paper reading July 2 is torn off to reveal the new date underneath. July 3.

We’re inside a large room with tall ceilings. And we’re not alone; there are a number of well-dressed men sitting at desks scattered throughout the room.

David Ford’s version of John Hancock bangs a gavel on his desk and stands up. He addresses the room, asking if there are any objections to the declaration as it stands now. William Daniels’ character, John Adams, stands up and says he has one. He points out that the correct word is “unalienable” and not “inalienable.”

Ken Howard’s version of Thomas Jefferson replies by saying that, no, “inalienable” is the correct word. Adams disagrees. The men in the room murmur. Calling the room to order by banging the gavel again, Hancock asks if Jefferson will yield to Mr. Adams’ request. Jefferson refuses.

After a moment, Adams withdraws his objection and sits back down.

Then, John Hancock puts a large piece of paper on the desk. The camera cuts to a closeup as we see him signing his name beneath all the writing. Someone comments how large his signature is and Hancock replies it’s so “Fat George” in London can read it without his glasses. Everyone laughs at this.

Hancock tells everyone to step up. “Don’t miss your chance to commit treason,” he says.

Just then, a messenger enters the room and hands a piece of paper off. Standing in front of everyone, it’s read aloud. The message is a report. It says the eve of battle is near. It also says the forces consist entirely of Haslet’s Delaware Militia and Smallwood’s Marylanders—5,000 troops to stand against 25,000 of the enemy.

The laughing from just a moment ago turns to a somber note as everyone realizes this is serious. The report continues to say the enemy is in plain sight beyond the river. We do not know how this will end, but there will be brave men lost before it does. The report is signed, “G. Washington.”

As the reading of the report is finished, William Duell’s version of Andrew McNair gets up from his chair. He steps up to the piece of paper that reads July 3. Tearing off the top piece, now it is July 4.

Hancock instructs McNair to ring the bell.

This is how the movie simply called 1776 tells the story of an event that happened this week in history when the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776.

The true story? Well, it’s not really what we see in the movie. But that’s not too surprising because even though it’s not so obvious from the segment we’re talking about today, the movie 1776 is a musical interpretation of the events.

With that said, though, it is true that John Hancock was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. And his signature was the largest and horizontally centered on the Declaration—that’s why the saying of leaving one’s “John Hancock” is a term people use for signing a document today.

The other people in the movie are based on real people in history, too. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the custodian in Continental Congress, Andrew McNair, was known as the official ringer of the Liberty Bell.

Although the movie’s timeline is simplifying things quite a bit, too.

What really happened on July 4th, 1776 was that after the final wording was approved on the Fourth, a handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence was sent to a nearby print shop owned by a man named John Dunlap. That night, Dunlap got to work on printing a couple hundred copies of it for distribution.

On July 6th, the first newspaper printed a copy of the Declaration.

And while it is likely that Andrew McNair was the one to ring the Liberty Bell to announce independence, that didn’t happen until July 8th. They had delayed it by four days to allow for printing the document for the first public readings of the document. That reading happened on July 8th.

From there, the word started to spread like wildfire. On July 9th, John Hancock sent a copy to George Washington who read it to his troops in New York City. Crowds of people started to tear down statues and anything representing British or royal authority.

As a quick side note, the movie’s joke about “Fat George” isn’t referencing George Washington—you probably already guessed that. It’s referring to King George III, who was the monarch on the British throne at the time.

While British officials sent copies back to Great Britain, it wasn’t until mid-August that the Declaration was printed in British newspapers.

 If you want to see this week in history as it’s shown in the movie, check out the 1972 film called 1776. Andrew McNair tearing off the paper to mention it’s July 3rd started at about two hours, 39 minutes into the movie while July 4th starts a little later at two hours, 43 minutes and 38 seconds.

And as a little bit of extra trivia knowledge for you to share with your friends and family this July 4th, it was actually 20 years later that Independence Day was celebrated for the first time: July 4th, 1796.

And in a bizarre twist of fate, it was exactly 50 years after America’s birthday that two of the Founding Fathers mentioned in this segment died when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both passed away on July 4th, 1826. They died within five hours of each other. Exactly five years after that, another Founding Father died when James Monroe passed away on July 4th, 1831.

Jefferson, Adams, and Monroe were not only Founding Fathers but they were the second, third, and fifth President of the United States, respectively.


July 6, 1917. Aqaba, Jordan.

A bell rings. Not the Liberty Bell like our last segment, but this bell is alerting everyone to the attack.

The lookout ringing the bell is in a square-shaped defensive position lined with sandbags. On the sandy desert below, we can see rows of white tents. Tiny people in the distance are moving around the tents, mostly running in the opposite direction as the oncoming attackers.

From an angle behind the lookout, we can see the attackers charging in the distance. After he’s done ringing the bell, the lookout raises his rifle and shoots.

The camera cuts to a closer shot on the attackers. They’re all riding on either horses or camels, huge plumes of sand getting kicked up by what must be hundreds of horses charging the enemy ahead. One of the soldiers gets hit, presumably by the lookout’s shot. But it doesn’t slow anyone down as they gallop ahead.

All the men on horseback start ululating as they charge forward. Some of them are on camels, and the camera focuses on one of the men wearing all white as he urges his camel onward. The camera cuts to a further away shot and we can see the attackers on horses and camels rushing the encampment. They reach the white tents to be greeted by the sound of gunshots. Some of them fall, but others continue forward with the attack.

Defenders are cut down and before long, it seems obvious the attackers have the upper hand. The cinematic music swells as we see the attackers rushing beyond the tents to the city beyond—pushing the defenders back toward the water just past the city.

This scene comes from the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia and it’s showing an event that happened this week in history on July 6th, 1917, when Arab forces led by Sherif Nasir and Auda abu Tayi along with the British officer T.E. Lawrence defeated the Ottoman Empire at the important coastal city of Aqaba.

For a little more historical context, this whole conflict was part of the Middle Eastern theater of World War I, and the British were assisting the Arabs revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

This specific battle is referred to as the Battle of Aqaba, and in the movie, we see it being almost as if the attackers overrun the defenders. There seems to be hardly any slowing them down, and for the most part that’s true.

There were about 5,000 men in the Arab force that attacked about 1,100 defenders. The attack mostly came from the desert, although the British Navy assisted as well. Coming from the desert was a complete surprise to the Turks, though, because they assumed no one could make the 600-mile desert journey.

But, that’s exactly what they did.

And the result was a lopsided victory for the Arabs, with only two Arabs killed while the defending Turks suffered about 300 casualties.

As T.E. Lawrence wrote in his book:

The Arabs needed Akaba: firstly, to extend their front, which was their tactical principle; and, secondly, to link up with the British.

Or, in other words, because Aqaba was a port city, it allowed the British Royal Navy to help supply them from the water.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, check out 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia and the day of the battle starts at about an hour and 47 minutes into the movie. And if you want to dig deeper into the true story, we covered that back on episode #49 of Based on a True Story.


July 7, 1947. New Mexico.

A line of military vehicles are driving along a dirt road. It seems to be a mixture of larger transport trucks and some smaller Jeeps. The terrain around the dirt road is desolate with little more than rocks, sagebrush, and dirt.

One of the men in one of the Jeeps points ahead, “There it is!”

We can catch a glimpse of some smoke rising up from something ahead.

In the next shot, it’s a little easier to see what’s happening. There’s a depression in the terrain. Along the ridge, men in military uniforms walk up to look at the smoke billowing out from below. Not everyone is in military uniforms, though, a couple of the men are in plainclothes.

Now we can see what’s causing the fire. A huge pile of tires are burning. Orange flames and black smoke are flying into the sky.

One of the military men, who seems to be an officer, barks out orders to other soldiers to put the fire out. There’s a flag in the middle of the flames.

“Get that flag out of there!” the officer yells.

As the soldiers spring to action, one of the plainclothes men wearing a white hat notices one of the soldiers carrying a box. The soldier says it’s locked. It’s a little easier to identify the men now, and the man in a white hat is Aidan Gillen’s character, Dr. J. Allen Hynek. He turns to the other plainclothes man, Michael Malarkey’s character, Captain Michael Quinn, and asks him when the original crash was reported to the press.

Quinn says it was July 8th, 1947. Hynek uses that code to unlock the combination lock on the box. It works. Inside is a single piece of paper. Quinn reads it:

“In 1947, alien spacecraft crashed in this desert. Before you stands the man who covered it all up, General Harding. Tomorrow at 9 am I will show the world proof of what really happened in Roswell, New Mexico.”

Okay, so there’s a few things to separate here with the true story.

For one, this scene comes from the History Channel’s TV series called Project Blue Book and it’s not showing something that happened in 1947. The reason for that is because the TV series is set much later, so this is a fictional scene to try and backtrack and talk about one of the world’s most popular conspiracy theories: The UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico.

That really did happen this week in history on July 7th, 1947.

At least, that’s what many people believe.

Did it really happen?

Well, if we could say without a shadow of a doubt then it wouldn’t really be a conspiracy theory, would it? But, regardless of whether or not you believe the Roswell crash was a real event, no one can deny that the story of July 7th in Roswell has had an impact on countless people around the world.

As the story goes, a rancher named W.W. Brazel, who goes by the nickname “Mac”, found some debris scattered in a field. That happened in June of 1947. But his ranch didn’t have a phone or a radio, so he didn’t think much of it until he was driving to town on July 5th. There, he heard stories of flying disks being seen. For example, a pilot named Kenneth Arnold had seen what the press quickly referred to as flying saucers on June 24th, 1947. Just the day before, on July 4th, United Airlines Flight #105 also talked about seeing some flying disks.

Countless other copycat sightings started popping up fast as word spread about the flying disks.

So, hearing some of these stories, Brazel was reminded of the debris he saw in the field. So, a couple of days later, on July 7th, he took the debris into the sheriff’s office in Roswell. The sheriff called the Roswell Army Air Field nearby, and one of the officers, a man named Major Jesse Marcel, went out to the field with Brazel where he found the debris. Marcel didn’t take the debris right to the airfield. Instead, he simply took it home for the night and delivered it the next morning when he went to work.

The next day, on July 8th, the public information officer at Roswell Army Air Field released a statement that a “flying disk” had been recovered from a ranch near Roswell. It hit the papers and news reports soon after. The Roswell Daily Record newspaper ran a story on July 8th, 1947 with the headline: “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region.”

RAAF standing for Roswell Army Air Field.

Now, I’ll play a clip from a radio broadcast on July 8th, 1947 that talks about the flying disk at Roswell. But before I play it, just so you know there are some other new items mentioned as well. I thought about cutting that out, but I decided to leave it unedited so you can hear the report as it was broadcast.

So, here it is:

Note: This transcript is automatically generated.

On July 8, 1947, the Army Air Forcs has announced that a flying disk has been found and is now in the possession of the Army. Army officers say the missile found sometime last week has been inspected at Roswell, New Mexico, and sent to right field, Ohio, for further inspection. Russia has demanded U.N. action to get all foreign military personnel out of Greece. Southern Cross collaborators have not yet reached agreement with John Lewis, but the rest of the soft coal industry has resumed production. The House of Representatives has passed the tax reduction bill by more than the two thirds, which would be required to override a veto. Headline of this new special report and set of views in a moment. The American Broadcasting Company had a period in session for that headline edition received a grant from all over the world forever. The day’s headlines were made headline figures and brings you accurate, timely reports on the news behind both headlines, plus informative and personal interviews with the men and women who made the headlines today. Today’s edition presents a roundup of the latest developments in the finding of a flying and eye witness report of the day’s significant actions at the UN Security Council. Ohio Congressman Thomas Duncan commenting on today’s House action on tax legislation. A special report on the status of so-called negotiations and the details of today’s All-Star Baseball game, reportedly because they ended up with history in the making. Stay tuned to headline Now is telegraphed late this afternoon, a bulletin from New Mexico suggested that the widely publicized mystery of the flying saucers may soon be solved. Army Air Force officers reported that one of the flames had been found and inspected sometime last week. Our correspondents in Los Angeles and Chicago have been in contact with Army officials endeavoring to obtain all possible late information. Joe Wilson reports to us now from Chicago that he may be getting to the bottom of all this talk about the so-called flying saucers. As a matter of fact, the 509th Atomic Bomb Group headquarters at Roswell, New Mexico. Reports that it has received one of the deaths which landed on a ranch outside Roswell. This landed at a ranch at Corona, New Mexico, and the rancher turned it over to the Air Force. Roger W w Rozelle was the man who discovered this office. William Blanford of the Roswell Air Base refuses to get details of what the plane this looked like in Fort Worth, Texas, where the object was first sent. Brigadier General Roger Ramey says that it is being shipped by air to the ADF Research Center at Wright Field, Ohio, moments ago. I talked to officials at Right Field and they declared that they expect the so-called flame supper to be delivered there, but that it hasn’t arrived as yet. In the meantime, General Ramey describes the object as being a flimsy construction, almost like a bus. So he says that it was so bad, but he was unable to determine whether it had a disc form, and it does not indicate its size. Rainey says that so far as can be determined, no one saw the object in the air, and he described it as being made of some sort of tin foil. Other Army officials say that further information indicates that the object had a diameter of about 20 to 25 feet and that nothing in the operation section indicated any capacity for speed and that there was no evidence of a power plant. This also appeared to flimsy the carrier man. Now back to photograph in New York. There was important activity within the U.N. Security Council today.

The next day, the Army said it wasn’t a flying disk at all. As the story goes, Major Marcel reported to the commanding officer at RAAF, Colonel William Blanchard. Colonel Blanchard, in turn, reported to General Roger Ramey at the Fort Worth Army Air Field in Texas. General Ramey ordered them to fly the debris to him, so Major Marcel did that. As soon as Marcel arrived, he showed the debris to General Ramey who recognized it as pieces of a high-altitude weather balloon.

So, the story of the flying disk was retracted and, for the most part, forgotten. That changed in the 1970s when Major Marcel was interviewed by a man named Stanton Friedman. In that interview, Marcel said the story of the weather balloon was a cover-up and the debris he saw was extraterrestrial. In 1991, a retired USAF General named Thomas DuBose who was one of the men posing for press photographs of the debris in 1947 also said Marcel was correct in saying the weather balloon story was a cover-up.

And so, the story has been talked about ever since.

If you want to watch the way story is shown on screen, check out the History Channel’s TV series called Project Blue Book. Because of the timeline of the series, it doesn’t really show the event itself but the first two episodes of the second season are dedicated to it. And if you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, so to speak, I spoke with a ufologist about Project Blue Book back on episode #168, and I also spoke to the Creator and Show Runner behind the series on episode #194 of Based on a True Story.



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