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Today is the birthday of Amelia Bloomer, who significantly impacted the future of fashion for all women. Born in 1818 in upstate New York, Bloomer championed the idea of pants for women.  While she did not create the style, which was derived from images of the garb of middle eastern women, she was such a virulent advocate that the fashion itself came to be known as “Bloomers”.


Unfortunately, Amelia was unable to stand the ridicule, and returned to wearing dresses once the crinoline was introduced. For those of you who are not historically fashion-savvy, the crinoline is a stiff petticoat that allows the skirt of a dress to stand out away from the body.  It was the forerunner of the hoop-skirt, and just another tool to help women hide their true shape from men.  Clearly, if men ever got a glimpse of a woman’s true shape in the 1800s, they’d have all turned into raging satyrs.  Or possibly not.  Everyone was obviously very nervous about sex in the 19th century.

While Mrs. Bloomer rejected the comfort of pants for a stiff skirt that challenged mobility , her original passion for pants spurred into existence the Rational Dress Society of 1881.  This London-based organization argued for attire for women that did not deform the body, as whalebone corsets did, and that did not require women to wear up to 14 pounds of undergarments to ensure that their figures were decently disguised.

As a positive aside, the elimination of voluminous skirtage no doubt saved countless lives – each year, scores of women burned to death when their garments went up in flames from passing too near fireplaces and candles.

The Rational Dress Society encouraged women to wear no more than 7 pounds of petticoats – a step in the right direction.  The concept of comfortable clothing for women took a long time to mature, but it eventually did, as we can see by some of our fashions today.  Though I might argue that some of today’s fashions are a step backwards – skirts that are too short and tops that are too tight don’t make a woman comfortable, even though they may be fashionable.  As I’ve discussed before, we seem to be slaves to fashion. (Men are as well – it’s just less obvious.)  Fashion designer Corinne Grassini has branded her clothing line the Society for Rational Dress, and while her fashions look loose and unrestrictive, the hemlines are still impractical.

Vincent Price, horror movie icon from the 1940s through the 1970s, was born today in 1911.  I was in college (for freshman year) with his grandson, who looked just like him.  I loved Vincent Price’s movies – they were scary but so corny that they weren’t scary. My favorite was The Pit and the Pendulum.  Price and Poe seemed to have an affinity for each other.

Today in 1895, Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for sodomy.  Wilde was a fascinating and controversial character.  His wit and his focus on beauty and pleasure above all things characterized a life that was full of struggle and selfishness.  While married with two children, he had several socially prominent male lovers, one of whom was the son of the Marquess of Queensbury, who set the standard of rules of conduct for boxing matches for years to come.  The Marquess, in a note left for Wilde in his club, implied that Wilde was gay.  Wilde, given his blase nature, would probably have let this pass, but he was also one who could be easily influenced by his friends.  In this case, his friends encouraged him to bring a suit for libel against the Marquess, which he did.  The Marquess, with unlimited funds and resources at his disposal, proved, in his own defense, that his claim was not libelous, but was, in fact, true.  And so Wilde’s suit was dismissed and he found himself charged with sodomy.

Two trials later, he was convicted and sentenced to two years hard labor.  Wilde was an aesthete and totally unaccustomed to work, hardship or discomfort, and did not do well in prison.  Upon his release, he retreated to Paris.  His wife, who refused to speak to him or allow him to see his children, did provide him with a meager allowance, but he considered himself penniless.  He wrote De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol in his three years in Paris, and died in L’Hotel d’Alsace on November 30, 1900 of cerebral meningitis.  (Of L’Hotel, he remarked shortly before his death, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go.”)  He is now buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, in a tomb marked by a modernist angel complete with silver genitalia, the original marble genitalia having been stolen by parties unknown.

On this day in 1937, 200,000 people crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on foot and roller-skate, as part of its inaugural day festivities.  The suspension bridge, painted “international orange” for increased visibility in foggy San Francisco Bay, has 80,000 miles of wire in its cables, and connects San Francisco with Marin County.  It’s the most popular place in the world to commit suicide; only 26 people are known to have survived the 245 foot drop into the Bay.  Among the successful jumpers was the husband of a college acquaintance of mine. He was a nice guy who couldn’t stand the idea of their divorce.  Very sad.

And finally, today is Cellophane Tape Day.  So go ahead, try to find a roll of tape in your house.  I’m sure you’re familiar with this mysterious phenomenon – you need tape, you go to look for it – everywhere – and can’t find it, so you go to the drugstore and buy three rolls of tape, come home, find the roll you couldn’t find before you went to the store, use it, and promptly lose the three new rolls you’ve just bought.  It’s like some kind of spiritual planned obsolescence for tape.

Thus endeth the history lesson.  Hope you feel slightly enlightened.

Got your coffee or Big Gulp?  Got your beignet or apple fritter?  It’s a long one today…

Happy May Day!  (Mayday! Mayday!)

Or, if you are in Hawaii, Happy Lei Day!  Yes, today is Hawaii’s 82nd year of celebrating Lei Day.  On this day in 1785, King Kamehameha I (whose real name, you probably didn’t know, was Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kaui Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea) defeated political rival Kalanikupule to formally create the Kingdom of Hawaii. 

I am assuming that marking today as Lei Day is related to this fact, although, as the idea for the holiday was originated by newspaperman Don Blanding to celebrate island culture, it may only fall on this date because, after all, it rhymes with May Day.  The day even has its own song, written by Red and Ruth Hawk (I know, yes, really, “Red” Hawk), entitled “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” (catchy, huh?).  While the song is now performed as a Hawaiian hula, it was originally composed as a fox trot.  Somehow the image of women and men foxtrotting in grass skirts is rather incongruous. 

Our friend Andrew used to live in Hawaii, and he would always bring me back beautiful tuberose leis when he returned.  I, most unfortunately, have never been to Hawaii.  Just one of many omissions that I have yet to repair.

Today in 1751, the first cricket match was played in America.  It may also have been the last, for all I know.  Understanding this game is on my list of things to do before I die, albeit low on the priority totem pole. 

Have you ever tried to figure it out?  Or have it explained to you?  I have.  About six years ago, an English friend sent me an email attempting an explanation.  Here’s a short verbatim (including CAPS) excerpt:

THE ‘CRICKET PITCH’ IS THE TWENTY TWO YARD STRIP IN THE APPROXIMATE CENTRE OF THE GROUND OR PLAYING AREA; A ROUGH CIRCLE OR OVAL, BUT NEVER A SQUARE.  THE TERM CRICKET SQUARE IS USED TO DELINEATE THE AREA WITHIN THE CIRCLE OR OVAL THAT THE ACTUAL PITCH, OR ‘WICKET’ CAN BE PLACED, AS OPPOSED TO THE OUTFIELD (BEING THE REST OF THE GROUND). THE EXACT PLACEMENT IS DECIDED BEFORE THE START OF THE MATCH BY THE BY THE HOME TEAM’S ‘GROUNDSMAN’; A PERMANENT EMPLOYEE/ NOMINEE  CHARGED WITH CARE OF THE GROUND.  IT CANNOT BE ALTERED DURING THE COURSE OF THE MATCH, EVEN THOSE LASTING FOUR OR FIVE DAYS, HOWEVER MUCH IT DETERIORATES, AS THE STATE OF THE PITCH AT ANY TIME AFFECTS THE BOUNCE OF THE BALL AND IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN THE BOWLING STRATEGY ADOPTED BY THE FIELDING TEAM (FAST, SPIN OR SLOW BOWLER ETC.).

The entire explanation was only a brief summary, and it was 4 PAGES LONG.  I don’t believe there is enough ALCOHOL IN THE WORLD to make this sport logical.

Today in 1759, Josiah Wedgwood opened the Wedgwood pottery company in Great Britain.  (Note that, contrary to what your fingers find logical in typing, there is no “e” in Wedgwood.)  Wedgwood, who was related to Charles Darwin, was ahead of his time as far as industrialists were concerned, so much so that he built an entire village on an estate called Etruria to comfortably house himself, his workers and his state-of-the-art factory. 

His jasper ware, originally in Poland Blue, but later in shades of green and pale yellow, with themes based on greek mythology, was a favorite of Queen Charlotte, Queen Elizabeth II, and, most importantly, my mother.  She had a few treasured pieces of genuine Wedgwood, and taught me how to recognize imposters just by touch.  It’s lovely stuff.

Today in 1851, Queen Victoria opened the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Continents.  Held for 5 1/2 months in an amazing temporary structure in London’s Hyde Park, this was the original World’s Fair.  That structure, called the Crystal Palace or the Great Shalimer, was a magnificent construction of glass, similar to a greenhouse. 

I wish I could have seen it.  It had the dubious distinction of  housing the very first pay toilets!  Of the 13,000 exhibits, some of the most noteworthy were a voting machine;

a very early model of the fax machine;

the Ko-hi-noor Diamond (which was the largest known in the world at the time);

and – my personal favorite – the Tempest Prognosticator – a barometer that used leeches as part of its measuring system. 

Eww.

Today in 1869, the Folies Bergeres opened in Paris. 

Located at 32 rue Richer, Folies Bergeres was the first music hall in Paris, and its concept of exotic women in revealing costumes has been flatteringly imitated around the world for decades.  Many a less-than-mainstream performer launched her career on the stage here, most notably American expatriate Josephine Baker, who rocked the world with her risqué “banana dance” in 1926. 

The painter Manet captured a slice of the Folies Bergeres in his canvas aptly titled “A Bar at the Folies-Bergeres” in 1882, which has been subject to much analysis and interpretation from art critics over the last century.  By the way, it was Manet’s birthday yesterday.

Please note the mysterious green shoes on the mysterious cankles in the upper left hand corner.

Today in 1930, planet Pluto was officially named.  And I refuse to buy into the whole “dwarf planet” crap. 

The little planet of rock and ice with the eccentric orbit was good enough to be one of the cornerstones of “My Very Elegant Mother Just Sat Upon Nine Porcupines.”  It should not be demoted – or underestimated.  Like Southerners who continue in their hearts to fight the Civil War, it’s just biding its time.  Kelsea is a huge Pluto fan, and sports several T-shirts and posters calling for justice for her buddy.

Today in 1991, Oakland A’s Rickey Henderson stole his 939th base, breaking the all-time base-stealing record.  Now, I am not a baseball fan.  So why is this historical?  Because my Mother and I both thought that Rickey Henderson had the nicest ass in baseball. Ever.  I recall my Dad sending me a newspaper clipping of RH in mid-swing that provided an excellent view.  He attached a note saying that my Mom had asked him to send this along, but he had no idea why.  I don’t believe either of us ever enlightened him.

Yes, on this May Day (or thrimilce, as the Anglo-Saxons called it), you can see we have much to celebrate.  So do so in one of a myriad of traditional ways:

Gather oodles of flowers – in other words, go “a-Maying”.  (I remember my friend Martha and I did this when we were 17 – we filled her father’s old Cadillac convertible to bursting with blooms.  We put the top down and waved and blew kisses to everyone.  Then we had a wreck.  But just a tiny wreck.  Boy, was her Dad mad.)

Festoon your cow with floral garlands and dance around her.  A maypole may be substituted for the cow, if needed.

Wash your face in the early morning dew.

Throw eggshells at disagreeable strangers.  (You can thank Germany for this one.)

Mark small cakes (a.k.a. bannocks) with a cross and roll them down a hill.

Bring beer, vodka and food to the graves of your loved ones.

Sacrifice a reindeer to the goddess Rauni.

Lay some eggs beside a stream for the woodland elves to use in making cakes.

Carefully make a bonfire, and even more carefully, jump through it.

If you happen to be a chimney sweep, wear gold paper on your clothes and line your face with pink paint and white chalk.

That should keep you busy.

Thus endeth the history lesson.  Hope you feel slightly enlightened.

Pencils ready, class?  OK, let’s get started.

It’s the birthday of the match. 

On this day in 1827, English chemist John Walker sold the first friction match.  Fire-makers in various forms had been around for centuries, but this was the first to be successfully commercially produced.  However, it smelled like fireworks and had an unfortunate and unpredictable tendency to shoot sparks a great distance upon lighting.  In fact, the sulphuric scent was part of the reason that matches were called “Lucifers”, a name that persists in some countries.

Four years later, a Frenchman named Charles Sauria added white phosphorus to the matchhead to improve quality and reduce the smell.  But with one drawback down, another was added.  White phosphorus was exceptionally toxic, and resulted in the workers who were exposed to it daily in the match factories falling victim to phossy jaw, a horrible, disfiguring  condition that caused the jawbone to abscess and to glow a greenish-white in the dark.  Left untreated, phossy jaw caused brain damage, organ failure, and death.

The use of white phosphorus in matches was not completely banned until 1906, but activists started protesting it most vigorously in 1888, when the London Match Girls strike occurred. 

1400 women and girls employed at disgracefully low wages in an incredibly toxic match factory run by Bryant & May refused to work until conditions improved.  Activist and theosophist Annie Besant aided the women in appealing their cause. 

The group generated widespread public support and became unionized, settling the strike with many of their terms met.

I too am one of the masses who enjoyed collecting matchbooks over the years since I left home.  While it’s one of those things I’m learning to let go of (and it helps that restaurants and bars don’t often provide branded matchbooks these days), it is pleasant to take a walk down memory lane once in a while when I look through the matchbook basket.

Today in 1906, Mount Vesuvius erupted, the only volcano to erupt on the European mainland in the last 100 years.  Having erupted in A.D. 79, destroying Pompeii and leaving one of the world’s most vivid living cemetaries, the 1906 eruption killed over 100 people and decimated several cities in the province of Naples.

According to some historians, today is the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion and death, although honestly, no one can say for sure.  They just didn’t keep those kind of records.  Well, if they did, they’re lost now.  Funny how the talk is all about Jesus’ birthday and the day of resurrection, but not about the day he actually died.

Today in 1949, South Pacific opened at New York City’s Majestic Theater.  Starring (originally) Mary Martin (who also played Peter Pan on Broadway) and Ezio Pinza, the musical ran for 1,928 performances. 

South Pacific inspired many of us to dream of a tropical paradise thousands of miles away… palm-fringed islands of white sand, surrounded by turquoise lagoons….sigh….wait, where was I?  Apparently, not where I want to be.

On this date in 1926, Benito Mussolini received a small portion of his just desserts – a feisty 50-year old Irishwoman named Violet Gibson shot him in the nose. 

He didn’t die.  She spent the rest of her life in a British mental institution.  One of life’s little ironies.

Today is also the birthday of LSD,  first concocted on this day by Albert Hoffman (not to be confused with ’60s radical Abbie Hoffman)  in a Swiss Lab. 

He first discovered its psychedelic powers when he accidentally absorbed it through his fingers – that must have been a real shock.  But three days later, he deliberately ingested the substance and rode his bicycle home.  Quite the trip.  In fact, the first LSD trip is now known as “Bicycle Day”.  Hoffman never thought the drug would be used recreationally, but did believe that it had some therapeutic efficacy.  Little did he know. 

In China, today is the Festival of Pure Brightness, the day to go visit your ancestors’ tombs, sweep them out and tidy them up.  It is then customary to leave offerings, including cold food and flowers, and burn incense and paper money (hopefully fake paper money) as sacrifices to those who have passed.

It’s also No Housework Day (something that I personally have no problem with whatsoever), but this might be a conflict of interest for Chinese tomb-sweepers.

Today in 1923, Dr. K. Winfield Ney performed the first brain tumor operation under local anesthesia.  The anesthesia was cocaine on the patient’s scalp.  I’ve always thought this was an exceptional bizarre concept; any brain surgery seems unbelievable, but the idea of being awake and chatty for an operation on the most important part of your body just freaks me out.  I wonder if that first patient was exceptionally chatty due to the cocaine?  Although I don’t suppose it’s absorbed through the scalp.  Anyway, I’ve always had a morbid fascination with those films of brain surgery where, when the surgeon pokes Spot A, the patient says, “I smell moose droppings!” and when the surgeon pokes Spot B, the patient says “I hear the William Tell Overture!”.

We celebrate two human birthdays today:

Will Kellogg (1860-1951), developer of Kellogg’s cereal flakes and bookkeeper at his brother’s Battle Creek Sanitarium.  He looks like a bookkeeper, doesn’t he?

The Sanitarium, which was THE hot spot for the rich and famous to come and subject themselves to enemas, mechanotherapy, physiologic tonics and nuts (seemingly of all sorts). 

With a staff of over 800, I doubt anyone had to lift a finger for themselves, but the Depression depressed the sanitarium, and it eventually became a U.S. Army Hospital.  Luckily, the Kelloggs were able to fall back into their bowls of flakes.  Better flakes in bowls than flakes in hot tubs, I suppose.

Jackie Chan (1954 – currently alive), cutie-pie and martial artist/stuntman extraordinaire. 

He holds the Guinness World Record for Most Stunts Performed By A Living Actor, and, not surprisingly, his heroes are Bruce Lee, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton, who also performed their own stunts. 

He holds himself up as a role model for children by the characters he portrays in his films, and has broken almost every bone (although not arms and legs), and some of them more than once.

And today, we mourn the loss of the following larger-than-life figures:

Dick Turpin, romantic English highwayman, was hanged on this date in 1739. 

Highway robbery got its name from rogues such as Turpin, who, after trying to follow a straight and narrow course under an assumed name, was unmasked and arrested (and subsequently hanged) as a horse thief.  His body was stolen by grave robbers (a.k.a. body snatchers, a.k.a. Resurrectionists) but they were caught red-handed with the corpse and it was returned to its final resting place.

Growing up, one of my favorite poems was Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”.  It’s actually one of Kelsea’s favorites now, and she’s not a big poetry fan.  There’s no evidence that Noyes based the poem on the tale of Dick Turpin.  However, Dick Turpin’s horse was named Black Bess, and in the poem, the Highwayman falls in love with the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, Bess.  Coincidence?  I think not.

If you’re not up for reading, Loreena McKennitt did a lovely musical rendition of this epic piece. 

The great showman, P.T. Barnum passed into the great beyond today in 1891 at the age of 81. 

(Barnum is the larger one in the above picture.)  An entrepreneurial egomaniac and consummate showman, Barnum made millions by promoting hoaxes and human oddities.  He established “The Greatest Show on Earth”, which was originally known as P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome (and which included a freak show), and was the first to buy his own train, which he used to transport the show across the yet-to-be-paved county.

And in 1977, we said Sayonara to  Tomoyuki Tanaka, Japanese film producer and father of Godzilla.

What red-blooded American child of my general age didn’t root for Godzilla as he terrorized cities and ate trains?

And, oh, the sequels, the spin-offs, the battles, the little tiny singing Asian girls who lived in a flower from Godzilla vs. Mothra!  I think that was my favorite.

And finally, today is International Beaver Day.  This date was chosen for the honor because it is the birthday of the late Dorothy Richards of Little Falls, New York, who studied beavers for 50 years.

And to help you celebrate, here are some little-known facts about beavers.

In the 18th Century, Canadians used silver trading tokens in the shape of a beaver – it was valued at 10 beaver pelts.

In April of 1999, beavers were responsible for the untimely deaths of eight of the famous flowering cherry trees of Washington, D.C., in an event that was known as “Beavergate”.  In a sting that was followed intently by dozens of Washingtonians, three beavers were snared in the Tidal Basin by trusty Park Services employees, and peace once again reigned in the our nation’s capitol.

The slap of a beaver’s tail in the water can be heard up to half a mile away.

Beavers have three eyelids, and the third is transparent so that the critter’s eyes are protected underwater – this curious feature is called a nictitating membrane.  (Note that the photo below does not show a beaver – honestly, I have no idea what animal this is.  Nor am I sure that I want to know.)

Beavers mate for life.  Isn’t that sweet?

The world’s largest beaver statue is located in Beaverlodge, Alberta, Canada.  It’s 15 feet tall, 18 feet long and poses the beaver atop a 20 foot long log. 

Drop in for a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.

OK, pencils down!  Thus endeth the history lesson.  Hope you feel slightly enlightened.

Happy Birthday (or Tillykke med fodselsdagen in Danish) to Lady Chablis (aka Benjamin Edward Knox) transvestite entertainer extraordinaire and wonderful character in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil!  The Lady still performs in her home venue, Club One, in Savannah, Georgia.  I’d love to see her someday.

We mark three passings today:

Ole Kirk Christiansen (1891-1958), the founder of Legos (from the Danish “leg godt” which means “play well”).  My daughter owes countless hours of entertainment to this Danish carpenter, as do I from my own childhood.

Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960), director of the American Museum of Natural History, was, according to some sources, the real-life inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones.  He taught himself taxidermy (ew) when he was young, and used the money he earned from this art to put himself through college.  He discovered an untold quantity of fossils and dinosaur eggs worldwide, and was born to be an explorer.  Douglas Preston, one of my favorite authors and former employee of the Museum, best described him in this quote: “Roy Chapman Andrews: famous explorer, dinosaur hunter, exemplar of Anglo-Saxon virtues, crack shot, fighter of Mongolian brigands, the man who created the metaphor of ‘Outer Mongolia’ as denoting any exceedingly remote place.”

Painter Benjamin West (1738-1820), considered to be the father of American painting.  He learned to make paints from the Indians near his Pennsylvania home, using river clay and bear grease.  His style was sweeping and rich, what he called “epic representation”.

Today marks the start of the Great Blizzard of 1888, in which 50 inches of snow fell in the Northeastern U.S., and 45 mph sustained winds resulted in drifts of up to 50 feet.  This amazing Nor’easter, also known as the Great White Hurricane, paralyzed the region for a week, shutting down railroads, scuttling 200 ships and killing 400 people.  The storm was responsible for the birth of both the subway system and the relocation of telephone and telegraph wires to underground infrastructures.  I know the region has had it rough this year, but thank heaven it wasn’t like that storm.

It’s possible that today in 1818, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was first published.  I say “possible”, because some sources say it was published on January 1, 1818.  At any rate, Shelley was only 20 when the sensational novel was published, so major kudos to her, although it was published anonymously. 

The tale was sparked when Shelley (then Mary Wollestonecraft Godwin) and her young friends were hanging out at Villa Diodati in Lake Geneva, Switzerland, during a cold and rainy summer.  As 18-year olds will, they talked of many things philosophical, including reanimation, and issued each other a challenge: that each write a tale of the supernatural.  And so, Frankenstein’s monster – who, if you notice, was never given a name – was born.

Today is Worship Your Tools Day, and I’m not going to say it’s just a man’s holiday.  So go on out to the shed and get on your knees.  That really sounds wrong, doesn’t it?

According to Shakespeare (who should know), today is Romeo and Juliet’s Wedding Day (1302).  We all know how THAT turned out.  (If not, please pick up the Cliff Notes version – remember those lifesaving yellow and black little books that helped us through college?)  Being newly divorced is very hard, but the whole R & J thing, which can be summarized as “She’s dead!  I’m going to kill myself!  Gaaacckkk… (pregnant pause….) He’s dead!  I’m going to kill myself!  Gaaacckkk….” is probably worse than divorce. 

The city of Verona has made a mint off the tale, and now you can get married on “Juliet’s Balcony” on the second floor of the Casa di Giulietta for 1000 Euros.  Disregard the fact that a) the Capulets were a fictional family and b) the romance epitomizes a tragic love story.  Go ahead, tie the knot there.  I dare you.

Today in 1897, a meteorite burst over New Martinsville, West Virginia, sending fragments through walls, knocking one man unconscious, and nearly decapitating one unfortunate horse.  That must have been something to see. 

It’s the 6th anniversary of the Madrid Train Bombings, instigated by al-Qaeda exactly 911 days after the 9/11 attacks.  What a senseless, brutal tragedy.  The stories and images broke my heart, and I will light a candle today in honor of those touched by this event.  Please join me in this remembrance.

Thus endeth the history lesson.  Hope you feel slightly enlightened.

I’ve been neglecting your history lessons, haven’t I?  Well, I’m feeling better enough to compile one for today, and it’s been a busy day in history, so prepare yourself…

Today is the 3rd International Day of Awesomeness!  A grassroots holiday to be sure, it is the day to celebrate your own awesomeness, because, yes, we are ALL awesome.  And while you’re at it, share the awesomeness — celebrate the awesomeness of your friends and co-workers!  Why?  Because YOU CAN!

It’s also “Learn What Your Name Means” Day.  Here’s the meaning of mine:

 

I think that’s rather nice.  In one of the weird and rare coincidences that happens in life, I was once walking on the weedy edge of a parking lot on Tybee Island, Georgia, talking to Kelsea on the cellphone, when I looked down and saw something dully shiny in the dry grass.  Being magpie-like, I picked it up.  It was a small brass plaque, with my name on it, and the words “…means beloved.”  Seriously, what are the odds? 

It’s the 124th anniversary of the first telephone call from Alexander Graham Bell to Mr. Watson.  He’d received his patent three days earlier.  I doubt he’d ever imagined what he started.  Below, I provide you with a brief photo history of the telephone. 

Young people today (god, I sound old) can’t imagine not having a cell phone.  In my childhood, we had one phone, in the kitchen.  It didn’t go anywhere.  You couldn’t have any privacy (my parents eventually put another line upstairs in their bedroom).  When we went out of town, we couldn’t be reached.  There was no voice mail, no answering machine, no 24-hour access.  If you wanted to make a phone call from the house at the beach, you walked to the phone booth by Mr. Godwin’s store.  How times have changed.  Do you think we’re missing some past serenity here?  How could it be that we and our work have all gotten so important that we can’t be off the grid for a day or two, much less a week or two?  I suspect it’s all an illusion.

It’s the anniversary of the Courrieres Mine Disaster in France, the worst mine disaster ever in Europe, killing 1099 people.  It was believed to have been caused by a coal dust explosion, contributed to by miners using open flame lamps.  The Davy Lamp, which provided a closed flame, was available, but was far too expensive for most miners, who were required to supply their own lamps, including candles from the company store at top price.  A group of 13 survivors were found within the 70 miles of impacted tunnels 20 days after the explosion – a singular miracle amid this tragedy.

Dog spectacles were patented in England today in 1975.  I can’t see that the English made much progress with this initiative – the Swiss were working towards this goal in 1939:

 

And now an American company called Doggles (www.doggles.com) seems to have cornered the market.  (The image below does not depict Doggles, just a really cute dog wearing goggles.)

On March 10, 1535, the Bishop of Panama, Tomas de Berlanga, his ship drifting and becalmed, accidentally discovered the Galapagos Islands.  Fresh water, which he and his crew desperately needed, was in scant supply on the island, and he reported back to the King of Spain that the islands were “worthless”.  This was, no doubt, the best thing that could have happened to the Galapagos.  In the centuries that have followed, the Galapagos have served many short-lived purposes: pirate hideout, operating base for whalers, botanists’ wonderland, sugar care plantation site, military installation, and finally, and most importantly, now a National Park of Ecuador.  Only 5 of the 18 islands are inhabited, and tourism, which is theoretically closely controlled, is the main source of revenue.  It’s a dream of mine to go, take a long sailing and diving tour, swim with the sea lions and admire the tortoises.

This was to have been the first graduation day for what is now New Mexico State University in 1893.  Unfortunately, the sole member of its graduating class, Sam Steel, was murdered the night before.   His murder was never solved.  The name of the I-10 Frontage Road in Las Cruces has been changed to Sam Steel Road in his honor.

Today, we say ” Halala ngosuku lokuzalwa” (which is “Happy Birthday” in Zulu) to:

Toshitsugu Takamatsu (1889-1972), recognized as the last practicing ninja. 

How cool is that?  Born to a family with samurai lineage, at the tender age of 13, he singlehandedly defended himself against an attack from a gang that numbered 60.  (He was unjustly arrested for it, too.)  When he was past 80, a Japanese karate teacher publicly called him “an old has-been”.  Takamatsu took this as a challange and called upon the instructor to retract his statement within three days or meet him to fight – a fight, Takamatsu said, in which he would, with his hands tied behind his back, kill the instructor.  The instructor retracted his statement.  Takamatsu went by many interesting nicknames in his long life, including Pure Water, Winged Lord, Cry-Baby, Little Goblin, Mongolian Tiger, Demon Horns, Running in the Sky Old Man, and Noodles. 

Chuck Norris.

What can you say about Chuck Norris that wouldn’t force him to kill you?  I don’t know, but I will provide you with this most entertaining link – www.chucknorrisfacts.com.

And I wish that Chuck and Takamatsu would make an appearance at the party for our next birthday boy…

Osama bin Laden.

Evil incarnate.  Enough said.

Lastly, today we acknowledge the loss of one formidable religious personage:

Agnes Blannbekin (died 1315), a mystic with some pretty strange “visions” (now, no one get offended here, I’m only the messenger).  Among her most “obscene” visions was her claim to have felt the foreskin of Jesus in her mouth.  Her visions seemed to be much more physical than most mystics experienced, and were often described as orgastic.  But she was a true believer, joining a convent at 16 and remaining in orders for her entire life, doing much good work with the urban poor of the time.  One original copy of her controversial revelations still exists in an Austrian convent.

 Thus endeth the history lesson.  Hope you feel slightly enlightened.

On this day in 1847, the first group of rescuers reached the Donner Party.

Heavens, what a horrible trip these poor people had.  As you may know, the Donner Party is famous for having had to resort to cannibalism to survive when their overland journey from Illinois to California was stalled by deep snow in the Sierra Nevadas.  To me, one of the most unfortunate parts of this tale of woe is that, when the first rescue party arrived, while 14 of the emigrants had died, there had been no cannibalism.  However, in the week-long interval between the arrival of the first and the second relief parties, the survivors had begun to eat their dead.  Desperate times, desperate measures.  It’s not impossible to imagine. 

Today is the day that 30,000 United States Marines (boo-rah!) landed on Iwo Jima in 1945.  The image of the American Flag being raised by six soldiers was taken on the 5th day of the 35-day long battle by photographer Joe Rosenthal, and was the first photo to win a Pulitzer prize in the same year it was published.  Three of the six men in the photograph were killed in action during the conflict, which was ultimately a victory for the Allied Forces.

It’s the birthday of Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, born in 1876.   Bohemian, with a rare ability to capture essence rather than appearance, Brancusi was a shepherd-turned-sculptor who excelled in carvings in wood, stone and bronze. 

He also made most of his own furniture and doorways, so he was clearly handy to have around the home.  A spiritual man, he nevertheless had a strong appreciation for wine, women and smokes. In the last 19 years of his career, Brancusi only made 15 sculptures, and in an interview towards the end of his life, was said to have been puttering around his studio, “communing with the silent host of fish, birds, heads and endless columns he’d created.” 

He’s known for having created the most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction ($37.2 million).  Sorry to be a modern art ignoramus, but I have to ask why this piece sold for that much.

Brancusi’s grave is in Montparnasse in Paris, which ironically has several sculptures that he crafted as gravestones for others.  His grave is remarkably unadorned, and for a reason that I can’t identify, he appears to have been buried with abstract husband-and-wife painters Alexandre Istrati and Natalia Dumitresco.

Today is British actress Merle Oberon’s birthday (1911-1979).  Beautiful yes, but honestly, I never thought much of her acting skills.  She’s always seemed so wooden and as if she were overacting.  She was the mixed race child of a British subject and a Ceylonese/Maori Eurasian woman, though it is unclear if her mother was actually her mother or, in reality, her grandmother.  After a car crash in 1937 resulted in severe facial trauma, she was somewhat obsessed with film and lighting techniques that would minimize the appearance of her scars onscreen.  She died from a stroke at the age of 68 and is now a resident of the famous Forest Lawn Cemetary.  (I had a friend who urinated on graves there by accident once in the dark.)

Today in 1963, Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking feminist book “The Feminine Mystique” was published.

I waited on Betty Friedan back in 1981 when I worked at a clothing store in Harvard Square called Serendipity.  I recall sneaking peeks at her as I ran her credit card through the machine.  I have to say, and I truly, truly, mean no disrespect by saying this, that she was one of the ugliest women that I have ever seen.  Though I did compliment her on her book.  Even though I never read it. 

It’s Chocolate Mint Day.  If you’ve never grown it in your garden, I’d encourage you to do so.  It really does smell just like chocolate when you rub its little leaves.

And lastly, it’s the 12th anniversary of the death of Grandpa Jones.  Known as Grandpa due to his extreme grumpiness when he arrived for early-morning radio shows, he was a remarkable clawhammer banjo player and a longtime cast member of “Hee Haw”, which will, no doubt, only be familiar to Southerners of a certain age.

When I was 15, I was forced to participate in a “talent” show at Theosophy Camp in Hot Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, where I was staying with my grandmother one summer, and the skit in which I had to perform was a recreation of the singing washboard women from Hee-Haw.  Oh, dear.  I’ll leave the whole damn thing to your imagination.

Thus endeth the history lesson.  Hope you feel slightly enlightened.

Today, we mourn the loss of Ray Kroc, who died 15 years ago.  Don’t know who Ray Kroc is?  I’ll give you a hint….

Yes, the Golden Arches met the Pearly Gates on this day in 1984.  I hope Ray brought St. Peter lunch.  But it bears repeating that Ray Kroc was NOT the founder of McDonald’s.  That honor goes to Dick and Mac McDonald (a.k.a., Richard and Maurice), who conceived of and opened the first McDonald’s in San Bernadino, California, in 1948.  Ray was a franchisee with many McNuggets of marketing genius to his credit.

It is the first anniversary of the death of Ricardo Montalban, of “Welcome to Fantasy Island!” and “soft corinthan leather” fame. (And he is frequently misquoted as saying “fine corinthian leather”.)  A Roman Catholic married to the same woman for 63 years (virtually unheard of, particularly in Hollywood), he made over 50 movies and has two listings in “Lash! The Hundred Great Scenes of Men Being Whipped In the Movies” (and no, I haven’t read it – this is pure research.)  I can tell you that he was some kind of amazing gentleman hottie as Chu Chu Rodriguez in the 1952 film “My Man and I.”

Finally, today is the 128th anniversary of the death of Greyfriars Bobby.  A Skye Terrier who belonged to night watchman John Gray, Bobby spent his last 14 years after Gray died sitting on his master’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Scotland, leaving only for food.  Edinburgh is set to mark this anniversary with Greyfriars Bobby Day.  Bobby has his own shop (and blog!) here.  Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.

Perhaps it’s a day to feed a dog a hamburger on an island somewhere.

Thus endth the history lesson.  Hope you feel somewhat enlightened.

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