October 31 is National Magic Day

Everybody knows today is Halloween. But it’s also National Magic Day, when members of the Society of American Magicians (SAM) and many other groups celebrate with free magic performances for kids, the ill, elderly and shut-ins.

Why is this holiday celebrated today? In 1938, a Chicago member of SAM proposed a holiday to honor Harry Houdini. October 31st was declared National Magic Day in memory of the day Houdini died.

national magic day houdini in chains

Houdini set the standard for a type of performance known as Escape Or DieThere are at least three possible ways for a magician to risk his life in the event of failure.  These are death by drowning, as in the water escapes Houdini pioneered; death by suffocation, as in escapes from airtight enclosures such as coffins; and death by falling (also originated by Houdini), in a straitjacket escape while hanging from high above the earth, where falling meant certain death.

In 1915, at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, Houdini was chained in a locked box weighted down with 500 pounds of iron and dropped into the bay. He escaped. To celebrate the fair’s centennial, the Palace of Fine Arts, the only building that remains from the exposition, has constructed an “escape room” which challenges all who enter to escape within 80 minutes.

On September 30, 1926, in Worcester, MA, he performed the first public test of an airtight coffin, seeking to prove there were no secret tubes siphoning air to him or other trickery. The Daily Telegram reported that Houdini would be sealed for one hour “in the coffin in which he will be buried when he dies.”

national magic day houdini coffin test

The test went off without a hitch. What no one knew then was that it would become Houdini’s casket only one month later, after his death on Halloween 1926.

Houdini wasn’t killed by a feat gone wrong; he died of diffuse peritonitis due to acute appendicitis, widely believed to have been caused by a punch to his abdomen on the morning of October 22, 1926. A young man who may have been a college student, an amateur boxer or both decided to test Houdini’s boast that he could withstand any blow. The magician later claimed he was injured only because he wasn’t given time to prepare by tensing his abdominal muscles.

Research shows it’s unlikely that a punch could directly rupture an appendix, even one that’s already inflamed. In any case, Houdini mistakenly assumed the pain he suffered afterward was due only to the punch, leading him to refuse medical treatment for what could have been a routine case of appendicitis.

Instead, he continued to perform for two more days until, overwhelmed by pain, he agreed to be hospitalized. The surgeon who removed his appendix found it had burst, spreading peritonitis throughout Houdini’s body. The odds were against him in the days before antibiotics, but he held on and endured another surgery, seeming to rally before finally slipping away on October 31st at the age of 52.

Ten years later, his wife Bess held what she called The Final Houdini Séance on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel. Supposedly, she had a compact with her late husband to contact her within ten years. There’s nothing to substantiate that. It appears that Bess wanted the subject of communicating with Harry to be closed. After her husband did not reappear,  she wrote:

Since the failure of the ten-year test, it is my opinion that all concerned have struck a mighty worldwide blow at superstition.

There is a recording of the séance or, more likely, a theatrical reading of the transcript which was released as an album. On it, Bess says, “It is finished.”

She couldn’t have been more wrong. The “final” séance spawned dozens of Halloween Houdini séances that continue to this day. Some bill themselves as “official.” As Houdini himself would tell you, that’s impossible. One thing’s for sure: If séances work, then Mr. Houdini’s phone is ringing off the hook right about now.

*****

P.S. Houdini was well known for his hostility to the Spiritualism movement so popular in his day and attempted to discredit so-called mediums at every turn. (He had tried to contact his dead brother and father as a young man and was embittered by the experience.)

So it seems a bit odd that he befriended Arthur Conan Doyle, who was a fervent believer in psychic phenomena. Each sought to convert the other until Doyle’s wife Jean offered to contact Houdini’s mother shortly after her death.

He agreed, wanting to believe it was possible.  During the séance, Jean went into a trance while holding a pencil and jotted a message from Houdini’s mother through a method known as “automatic writing.” Houdini took the note, saying nothing about the fact that his mother had never learned to read or write and, in any case, spoke no English.

He went public soon after, saying that he didn’t believe the Doyles were being intentionally deceitful. They were simply gullible. Doyle responded by saying the language of the spirit is universal. Their friendship never recovered.

Read more about Houdini’s amazing exploits. Honor his skepticism of mediums and con artists, while experiencing the childlike wonder of a magic show. Have a happy National Magic Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

October 30 is Create a Great Funeral Day

“Funerals are the party no one wants to plan.”create a great funeral tombstone

So says Gail Rubin, a death services planner, radio host and leader of the Albuquerque chapter of Death Café. She’s been called the Doyenne of Death and liked it so much, she trademarked it. She runs a site called A Good Goodbye – Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die.

It’s appropriate, she says, that Create a Great Funeral Day comes right before Halloween and the Day of the Dead. “Before ghosts can go a-haunting and spirits of the deceased can be celebrated, someone’s gotta die.”

Countless movies and television shows have poked fun at the stress of eulogizing a complete stranger, but how much do we know about our loved ones? Enough to plan the party after they’re gone?

Create a Great Funeral Day

This holiday was originated by Stephanie West Allen in 2000 after her mother-in-law died, leaving no instructions for her funeral. Watching her husband struggle to create a meaningful service inspired Allen to write Creating Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service: A Workbook to encourage people to pre-plan their funerals and spare their families that stress.

This book is invaluable in addressing the amount of work involved in organizing a funeral. Many people are unaware of the processes required, including collection, transfer, preparation, choice of cremation or burial, plot, niche or home storage and which type of urn goes with your decor.

Go Wish (just not for more time)

Another, more playful planning tool is Go Wish, a card game developed as a fun way to start a conversation and clarify the end-of-life wishes of the targeted family member. If a relative shows up with this card game, he might know more than you do about your latest MRI results. And he might have his eye on your collection of mint-condition Life magazines.

create a great funeral day go wish

The Go Wish game is a set of 36 cards and can be played by several people or in “solitaire” mode, which just sounds like the saddest thing ever.  Each card has a short statement that the individual (let’s just call him the goner) will rank in order of priority of what’s most important to him in his last weeks or months of life.  He can then explain to a possibly imaginary friend or family member why he sorted it the way he did.

The game’s maker, Coda Alliance, has tested the game in hospitals, nursing homes, community meetings and elsewhere. A researcher stated, “In one large group, where I emphasized that we did need to collect the packs for re-use, there was nonetheless a 30% attrition rate – a testament to this being a desirable commodity.”  Or maybe nursing homes are a breeding ground for degenerate thieves.

Boomers are Doing it for Themselves

While Create a Great Funeral Day was not a big hit when it began, Allen says attitudes are changing, her book is getting less resistance and its readership is growing. Why? “The boomers are doing it. The boomers are the do-it-yourselfers, they had their own way of doing anything, they did their own weddings, they’re going to do their own funerals, and that’s just now starting, so they’re going to have a huge impact.”

Boomers: Is the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA) pandering to you when its site sports a YouTube link to Blue Öyster Cult’s 1976 song, Don’t Fear the Reaper? Per ICCFA, the song’s message is that love endures beyond the grave despite the best efforts of the Grim Reaper, a personification of death from European folklore.  We thought it was just about getting stoned.

Pressing the Flesh

It isn’t surprising to learn that 38% of so-called Millennials and 32% of Gen-Xers have tattoos. But you may not have realized that increasing numbers of older people are getting inked, too. A Pew Research study determined that roughly 15% of Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) have at least one tattoo.

So what happens to that tattoo when you die? Good news: you don’t have to take it with you! When you join the National Association for the Preservation of Skin Art (NAPSA), you’ll have peace of mind knowing your tattoo will be harvested from your body within sixty hours of your death and treated with a proprietary blend of chemicals which halts decomposition.

create a great funeral day tattoo

Yes, this is a real tattoo – frame not included.

According to NAPSA, this preservation process permanently alters the human canvas, or “raw art.” Then the finished piece, which is technically no longer skin and therefore not creepy at all, will be shipped to your lucky loved one. They won’t frame it for you, though. Good luck getting that mounted at your local frame shop.

If you’d like someone special to leave his or her tats to you after passing but don’t know how to broach the subject of postmortem hide removal, say it with a NAPSA gift certificate. No faces or genitalia, though. They have standards.

Get Started!

Don’t wait another day to create a great funeral for yourself. Remember, if you build it, they will come. (Have we mentioned paid mourners? Can’t hurt!) Now get out there and have fun!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

October 29 is National Cat Day (and International Internet Day)

Today is International Internet National Cat Day

National Cat Day Hell Yeah Kyrie because I said so!

Hell, yeah, it’s National Cat Day! Sure, it’s International Internet Day, too. On October 29, 1969, a few months after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, the first message was sent across the Internet. The system crashed after the first two letters of the word “login” were shared, but that was enough to make history and change the world forever.

Approximately forty percent of the world’s population has an Internet connection today, up from less than half a percent in 1993, the year when a Web browser named Mosaic was introduced. Its development was funded through a U.S. government initiative championed by Al Gore. Yes, that Al Gore and no, he never said he invented the Internet.

In December 1999, there were 16 million Internet users. By the end of 2005, that number had topped 1 billion. In March 2011, it had grown to 2 billion; in June 2014, 3 billion. Three years later, in June 2017, the total stood at 3.885 billion.

So why are we looking at a cat right now? Because, in a cruel twist of fate, these brilliant innovators unwittingly created the medium that the furry monsters would eventually conquer. To be fair, Thomas Edison did get the ball rolling in 1894 with the first known cat video. 

First domesticated in the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent 12,000 years ago, cats have been waiting to pounce on humanity ever since. With the rise of agrarian societies, cats became indispensable for keeping grain stores rodent-free.  Today, cats can be found in 34% of American households, making them the most popular house pet in the United States.

And so they bide their time, transmitting coded missives uploaded by their hapless documentarians.  It’s been estimated that over two million cat videos have been uploaded to YouTube, with a total of almost 25 billion views. (Those statistics are from 2014, the most recent we could find. Who knows how many there are now?) The Internet Cat Video Festival toured the world from 2013 through 2016 but its creator, the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis, MN, has discontinued it to focus its funding efforts elsewhere.

Perhaps that’s because there’s no need to leave home to experience the stupefying, hypnotic power of our cuddly overlords. Need proof? Just watch the following video.

If we’ve whetted your appetite, here is another one. And another. Okay, one more and that’s all, we promise.

Just be sure to close your windows and doors so these adorable demons cannot get in and gnaw on your soft parts as you doze contentedly, lulled into a helpless state by a seemingly meaningless parade of cat hijinks.

If they learn how to open a can, none of us stand a chance.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

October 28 is National Chocolate Day

Today is National Chocolate Day. There are thirty “national” chocolate-themed holidays celebrated every year in the United States: dark, bittersweet, milk, white, cream-filled, to name a few, with Chocolate Covered Anything Day taking care of whatever else may have been lost in the shuffle.

While it’s unclear if these holidays originated with a candy manufacturer, it can’t be denied that chocolate is big business. According to statistics published by Forbes.com, Americans consume about 9.5 pounds of chocolate per person each year. (Switzerland leads the world, averaging 19.8 pounds!)

In the early 1900s, Milton Hershey and Frank Mars battled each other for the hearts and taste buds of the American public. They could never have imagined the influence the industry would have today. The National Confectioners Association (NCA) has its own Political Action Committee (PAC) called CandyPAC.

According to CandyPAC, it uses donations to support political campaigns based on:
national chocolate day candypac image

  • The candidate’s position on specific business and policy issues that have an impact on our industry.
  • The candidate’s overall support for the confectionery industry.
  • The candidate’s leadership and membership on key committees with jurisdiction over issues affecting the candy industry.
  • The candidate’s character, integrity and leadership abilities.
  • The candidates position on general business issues.

The annual NCA-sponsored Sweets & Snacks Expo takes place in a different city each May and features “more than three and a half acres of candy and snack items in one place!”

But there’s no need to wait that long to celebrate the chocolate business if you have an invitation and a valid passport. October 28th is the first day of Le Salon du Chocolat in Paris, a five-day event at which hundreds of international chocolatiers, pastry chefs and confectioners invite participants to taste their most indulgent creations.

national chocolate day fashion show

Still think all conferences are boring? This one includes the Chocolate Fashion Show. Check out this clip from 2016:

So basically this is an orgy for the sweet tooth that the most decadent Roman emperor would approve. While we’d like to condemn this sensory overload on moral grounds, we’d also like to know how we can snag a ticket for next year.

Happy National Chocolate Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays