Happy Fourth, in a Town Named Freedom

As the nation celebrates Independence Day, we check in with places named Freedom. There are at least 15 Freedom towns, villages and boroughs from Maine to California. Some are too small to host their own Fourth of July celebrations, but each seems to have somebody willing to reflect on the meaning of the holiday.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

From Maine to California, there are at least 15 places in the US named Freedom. Some are too small to host their own Fourth of July celebrations, but each seems to have somebody willing to reflect on the meaning of the holiday.

At least that's what NPR's Howard Berkes found when he phoned some Freedom towns.

HOWARD BERKES reporting:

Peg Scully is an artist in Freedom, New Hampshire, a town of about 1,400 that traces its name to an act of rebellion.

Ms. PEG SCULLY (Resident of Freedom, New Hampshire): It was granted a separation from the town of Effingham in 1831. I guess there was some kind of conflict, and it must have been a religious conflict that caused the rift.

BERKES: So the name of the town does tie to the notion of freedom?

Ms. SCULLY: Right. It's freedom from, you know, freedom from Effingham.

BERKES: Freedom, New Hampshire, attracts a lot of summer people who like the surrounding mountains and lakes and it's a good place to spend the Fourth of July, says painter Peg Scully, because the town and the holiday evoke -

Ms. SCULLY: Freedom from the city, freedom from some responsibilities of, you know, if you're a summer person, you come up here to get away from things. Freedom from winter. It's really the beginning of summer.

BERKES: But the Fourth of July celebrations are personal. Freedom saves the parades and town suppers for its own birthday. They go all out on the Fourth in Freedom, Oklahoma. The farmers, ranchers and oil-field workers there head to the rodeo grounds tonight for an ice cream social, turtle races, an egg toss and what bank teller Sue Reed calls a ski race.

Ms. REED (Resident of Freedom, Oklahoma): That's snow skis that they've fixed so that three people are on the skis, racing across the rodeo grounds, which is fresh dirt, so that's, it's pretty hard.

BERKES: The Oklahoma Freedom has only about 250 people. Sue Reed calls it a small but proud and patriotic town, where people know what they're celebrating on the Fourth of July.

Ms. REED: Well I always think of the freedom that our soldiers fight for and definitely our freedom of religion, to do it the way we want to. If we want to say a prayer before something begins, a celebration or something, you know, it's not unusual for that to take place in Freedom.

BERKES: California may have the biggest Freedom, 6,000 people in an unincorporated suburb in Santa Cruz County. Its most famous resident may be a pig, the mascot for radio station KPIG, or K-pig, where Laura Hopper is the program director.

Ms. LAURA HOPPER (KPIG, Freedom, California): Drive down Freedom Boulevard in Freedom, California, and you'll see a sign that says, Entering Freedom. You'll drive a few blocks further and there's a sign that says, Leaving Freedom, and for a brief moment, you actually were free. You must have a sense of euphoria driving through Freedom and then all too soon, you're leaving freedom again.

BERKES: Laura Hopper touts KPIG as an expression of freedom, of free-form, progressive radio, a dying breed, she says. But she has mixed feelings about the holiday and its meaning.

Ms. HOPPER: Here I am all excited to go light off my fireworks and have a barbecue and all of a sudden you start to think about what's happened in this country and it's a sobering thought. Our beliefs are all fractured. We have no tolerance for one another. The whole nation's really divided, left and right, up and down, inside and outside, and I'm sure my views are not tolerated and I find myself as intolerant of other views as people are intolerant of me.

BERKES: There's no hesitation, though, in what may be the oldest Freedom, in Maine. It has had that name close to 200 years. Retired chicken farmer Elbert Hoovard, Sr.(ph) is quick to attach significance to the name and the holiday.

Mr. ELBERT HOOVARD, SR. (Resident of Freedom, Maine): I personally think of the soldiers, what they're doing, because they're so important to our lives and, well, they're very special because there are so many dying and hopefully it'll all come out right in the end. Those are my thoughts.

BERKES: Elbert Hoovard used to watch fireworks outside Freedom, Maine, on the Fourth of July.

Mr. HOOVARD: But my age, I'm 82 and I have to get home and get to sleep before that.

BERKES: And how's that for the holiday? The freedom to sleep while the rest of the country celebrates.

Howard Berkes, NPR News.

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