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Star Wars, Willie Mays and Other Memorial Day Trivia

Curious? Tips & Trivia

For most, Memorial Day weekend is the official start of summer.  For many, the mere thought of the holiday brings a happy thought of a long weekend to relax.  For a few, it also means time to reflect on family members who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country.  Memorial Day has many meanings for many people.  However, Memorial Day has some interesting trivia associated with it.  Odd happenings from history, entertainment and sports.

  •  First, a little history.  Memorial Day used to have a different name.  It was actually called Decoration Day, so named because families would use the day to tend to the burial plots of loved ones, decorating them with flowers and flags to honor their military service.  Decoration Day was begun after the Civil War, but in 1967, a law was passed to change the name to Memorial Day.
  • The holiday has had a significant influence on pop culture in America.  In terms of movie releases, Memorial Day weekend has always provided box office dollars to Hollywood.  This tradition goes back to 1977 when Star Wars was first released.  George Lucas used this date to release two more of his films, Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, both of which were huge hits with Memorial Day moviegoers.  
  • In addition to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, another series that took advantage of the holiday weekend was the Mission Impossible series.  The first and second installments in the series, both starring Tom Cruise, did so well with this holiday release date that it secured a long run for the popular series.
  • Over the years, many movies have gotten the Memorial Day bump.  Of all the movies released over Memorial Day weekend, the one that had the most success was Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which grossed nearly a hundred and forty million dollars over the long weekend.  X-Men:  The Last Stand and Fast and Furious 6 rank just below Pirates.
  • In addition to the movie industry, sports has also taken center stage during Memorial Day.  One of the most prestigious car racing events, the Indianapolis 500, is always held on Memorial Day.  It’s a tradition that dates back 1909 and has always used the holiday to draw race fans to the event. 
  • Another interesting sports trivia fact involves baseball legend Willie Mays.  One of baseball’s all-time great homerun hitters (sixth all-time), Mays actually hit his first major league homerun on Memorial Day weekend.  It came off of Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn and the Boston Braves in 1951.
  • Basketball fans in San Antonio, Texas may remember the “Memorial Day Miracle.”  That was when the San Antonio Spurs’ Sean Elliot sank a game winning shot in the 1999 NBA Finals against the Portland Trailblazers.  Unbeknownst to Elliot, he played the game with a serious kidney condition and would later require surgery.  The team would go on to lay claim to the NBA title, thanks in no small part to Elliot’s miracle shot on Memorial Day. 
  • In terms of musical concerts, the US Festival has to lay claim as one of Memorial Day’s more memorable weekends.  Held in 1983, it was funded by Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple) in an attempt to use technology and music as a way to promote a community mindset for those in attendance.  Wozniak paid out of pocket for the facility where bands like U2, INXS, The Police and others performed over three days.  While 670,000 people came, Wozniak still lost twelve million dollars funding the event.

While the concept of Memorial Day was born after the Civil War, pop culture and sports have used the long weekend to carve out a host of interesting historical tidbits.  Looking back, it is apparent that America has found many ways to occupy themselves over a weekend dedicated to remembering those individuals who sacrifice.  Sacrifices that allow us to enjoy movies, music and sports as part of our American way of life.   

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