Although Midsummer Day occurs near the summer solstice, or what we think of as the beginning of summer, to the farmer it is the midpoint of the growing season, halfway between planting and harvesting, and an occasion for celebration. Although it's also the feast day of St. John the Baptist, it features pagan traditions such as bonfires, fire walking, and a carnival atmosphere, all of which took place on Midsummer Eve. Certainly, it's a night of magic and soothsaying as well, for as Washington Irving said, this is a time "when it is well known all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad." After Midsummer Day, the days shorten. In Lithuanian tradition, the dew on Midsummer Day was said to make young girls beautiful and old people look younger. It was also thought that walking barefoot in the dew would keep one's skin from getting chapped. It was customary to honor all men named John on this day by fixing wreaths of oak leaves around their doors. This is usually done in secret, and John must guess who did it or catch the person in the act, in which case he must give the person a treat.
1314: Battle of Bannockburn--Scottish forces led by Robert the Bruce beat Edward II of England. Scotland regained its independence
1497: John Cabot landed on North American soil
1509: Henry VIII crowned King of England
Died 1519: Lucrezia Borgia (Duchess of Ferrara)
Born 1842: Ambrose Bierce (writer)
1880: Canada's national anthem, "O Canada," was first performed, at a banquet in Quebec City, Quebec. The original lyrics were in French. English versions didn't appear until the early 1900s.
Born 1895: Jack Dempsey (boxer)
Died 1908: Grover Cleveland (22nd & 24th U.S. president)
Died 1909: Sarah Orne Jewett (writer)
Born 1942: Mick Fleetwood (musician)
Born 1986: Solange Knowles (actress & singer)
Died 1987: Jackie Gleason (actor & comedian)
Died 1995: Esther Rome (author)
Died 1997: Brian Keith (actor)
1999: The guitar Eric Clapton used to record the song, "Layla," sold at auction for $497,500
Died 2000: David Tomlinson (actor)
Died 2003: Richard Pough (founder of the Nature Conservancy. Pough wrote a series of Audubon guides on birds. He was also one of the first to warn of the dangers of DDT and helped to get a law banning the sale of wild-bird feathers.)
2004: Eric Clapton's favorite guitar fetched $959,500 at auction, easily eclipsing the record set by the sale of another guitar by the legendary rock musician on this day in 1999
2010: John Isner of the U.S. defeated Nicolas Mahut of France at Wimbledon in the longest tennis match to date (11 hours and 5 minutes)
2013: Rusty, a red panda, was found exploring a nearby neighborhood after he had disappeared from the The Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., overnight.
Died 2014: Eli Wallach (actor)