When Dawn had a worldwide number-1 hit with Tie a Yellow Ribbon in 1973, people always assumed the ribbon was a reminder of an absent loved one, either in the military or in jail, who would be welcomed home on their return.
200 years earlier the yellow ribbon was mistakenly thought to be worn by women in their hair to signify their devotion to a husband or sweetheart serving in the U.S. Cavalry.
Both assumptions are terribly wrong.
In fact, the song memorializes the first-ever pair of sunglasses worn on the North American continent in New Haven, Connecticut.
In 1776, Founding Father John Adams was en-route to Annapolis, Maryland for a meeting that would determine the very fate of the soon-to-be United States. However, on the eve of his departure he had a blazing row with his wife, Abigail, at their Quincy, Massachusetts home. His teenage bride flew into a temper and smashed their only bone china plate. It shattered into a proverbial thousand pieces.
One lodged in Adams right eye.
His wife calmed down immediately, realizing the severity of the situation. Together they removed the shard and bathed the eye of the future president.
The following morning Adams set off for the south on his trusted speed, Mandela (after whom the South African freedom fighter was named). The horse galloped at tremendous pace along the shore of the Block Island Sound.
By midday the pair had reached the Old Lyme – Old Saybrooke crossing. Adams removed his hat and took a swig from his waterskin. As he looked up the sun broke through the clouds for the first time that fateful July day and a piercing pain seemed to crush Adams’ eye.
The pain was like nothing he’d ever experienced, even the “eternal damnation” he’d written about years before.
In vain he sought protection for his eye, resorting to plucking some leaves from a nearby tree.
On he rode through the afternoon and through the pain until a miracle occurred.
Towards the time that most better-off New England families were settling down to afternoon tea, Adams arrived in New Haven. He sought out a local apothecary to find a soothing balm. Raymond Ban treated Adams gently and helped relieve much of the pain with a mix of pressed elderflowers and ethanol.
“I do have something else you should try,” Ban said, according to Adams autobiography. “Something I recently invented. And you would be the first to try this remedy.”
With that he led Adams to his courtyard where an ancient oak tree sparkled magically. On closer inspection, Adams was amazed to see dozens of pairs of spectacles but all of them with dark glass rather than the standard reading lenses of the time.
He donned a pair – with metallic yellow frames. Looked directly into the sun, smiled a broad grin, paid Raymond Ban a fair price and set off for Annapolis a new man.
To this very day you can visit Raymond Ban’s store and courtyard and buy some of his patented Ray-Bans at considerable cost. It makes a great day out to New Haven, Connecticut. You can also rent horses at Nelson’s in Boston and follow Adams journey to Annapolis – though these days it’s not quite so easy to follow the coast as he did – especially around La Guardia Airport, New York.