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November 2 is Plan Your Epitaph Day

Depending on how you view it, a tombstone is your last chance to say goodbye, crack a joke, be profound or otherwise make cemetery visitors imagine you were cool and wish they’d known you before they move on to visit their Nana’s weed-covered grave.

Plan Your Epitaph Day was created by Lance Hardie in 1995 to coincide with Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), a Mexican holiday that honors the souls of departed loved ones. Hardie’s goal is simple: to make sure that we take control of our epitaphs, those few all-important words that will tell those who see them what we’d like them to think about who we used to be.

Playing with the idea of death is encouraged at this time of year. We dress up for Halloween and laugh, perhaps a bit timorously, at shadows. It’s also a time for reflection and mental housekeeping, as we’ve seen with holidays recently profiled here: such as Create a Great Funeral Day, Visit a Cemetery Day, even National Magic Day with its tribute to the death of Harry Houdini.

Let’s take a look at a couple of epitaphs quoted by Hardie.

W.C. Fields

Sadly we must begin by debunking a favorite of ours: W.C. Fields did not have this on his gravestone:

“Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia.”

Fields was no fan of  Philadelphia, famously calling it “a cemetery with lights.” When he was invited to contribute his own epitaph for the June 1925 issue of Vanity Fair, it was no surprise that Philly rated a mention. Since then, different permutations of the pithy comment coalesced into a myth regarding his gravestone.

Sadly, Fields didn’t use his headstone to take one last jab for posterity. (Perhaps he worried the joke would not stay fresh through the ages or didn’t care since he wouldn’t be around to witness it?) Instead, it reads “W.C. Fields 1880 – 1946”.

plan your epitaph day wc fields

William Shakespeare

Hardie also cites Shakespeare’s epitaph. This one does exist in Collegiate Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England. The gravestone is badly eroded and reads:

plan your epitaph day

 

GOOD FREND FOR JESUS SAKE FORBEARE

TO DIGG THE DUST ENCLOASED HEARE

BLESE BE THE MAN THAT SPARES THES STONES

AND CURST BE HE THAT MOVES MY BONES

 

Shakespeare didn’t leave a spooky epitaph to be studied and interpreted in perpetuity. He left instructions. In his day, it was accepted practice to dig up bones from the church’s graveyard and tombs, moving them to make room for more burials. They were placed in a charnel house and subsequently burned.

(Some claim this was called the “bonefire of the vanities.” Although that would be a heck of an origin story for the title of Tom Wolfe’s book, we could find no proof of it.)

Shakespeare knew and disdained Holy Trinity’s practice of recycling graves. He may have also meant to dissuade the government from moving his bones to Westminster Abbey. Thus far, his wishes have been honored.

What Now?

If the thought of penning your life’s final caption fills you with existential dread, Mr. Hardie is here to help. He will write it for you but won’t tell you how much it will cost you, just that it will be expensive.

He does make a couple of exceptions. If you are a death row inmate or a member of the U.S. military about to report to a war zone, he will write your epitaph for free. (You will need to provide proof of your orders, of course. Presumably, if you’re on death row, he can Google you.)

Let us take a moment to point out that many who die in prison have no means to pay for their funerals and end up in a prison graveyard like Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Texas, the largest in the country.

They lie beneath markers that bear only name, inmate number and date of death.  Notorious killers are routinely identified by inmate number alone, to discourage visitation and vandalism. Not much need for epitaphs there, free or otherwise.

But enough of that. Let’s get back the fun stuff. Far be it from us to bring down the mood of such a happy occasion like planning our last words with some factual bummers. You’ll find funny epitaphs aplenty at MTWorld.

Here at Worldwide Weird Holidays, we like to imagine the impact this would have in any cemetery at dusk:

plan your epitaph day tombstone

 Feel free to use it: no charge. It’s our gift to you.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

November 1 is National Author’s Day

National Authors' DayToday is National Author’s Day. In 1928, teacher Nellie Verne Burt McPherson suggested the creation of a holiday dedicated to American authors at a meeting of the Bement Illinois Women’s Club.

McPherson was inspired by an experience she’d had more than a decade earlier while lying in a hospital recuperating from an illness. She’d written a fan letter to Irving Bacheller after reading his story, Eben Holden’s Last Day A’Fishin.

She was thrilled when the author responded by sending her an autographed copy of another one of his stories. She remembered his kindness when she pioneered the observance.

As president of the club, she submitted her idea to the General Federation of Women’s Club. It was celebrated unofficially for many years. In 1949, the United States Department of Commerce made it an official holiday, but it remained largely unknown for almost 20 years.

After McPherson’s death in 1968, her granddaughter Sue Cole began to promote the celebration of National Author’s Day. She urged readers to write to American authors to “brighten up the sometimes lonely business of being a writer.” Other ways to celebrate include re-reading a classic, picking up a current title or writing reviews for your favorite books and authors on Goodreads or Amazon.  

Happy National Author’s Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

October 27 is Sylvia Plath Day

Is it possible to wish someone a Happy Sylvia Plath Day? How can anyone celebrate the birthday of a woman who killed herself? Is this a joke? Is it sponsored by some brand of oven cleaner? We found evidence that this holiday exists:

From the Sylvia Plath Forum:

To all avowed Sylvia Plath supporters and admirers:

I am with the Sylvia Plath day organizing committee. Let me explain: over 1,000 people signed a petition just recently in the city of Northampton, Ma to have a Sylvia Plath Day. The Mayor, consumed by the irresistible force of Plath petition signers/supporters then declared October 27, 2001 Sylvia Plath Day. As you know, Sylvia Plath attended Smith College in Northampton. We are planning a big celebration of the life and legacy of Sylvia Plath on October 27 of this year. We can use your help!

Michael
Northampton, Ma, USA
Friday, April 27, 2001

Unfortunately, we could find no Northampton public records to confirm the mayor was indeed “consumed by the irresistible force.” But if we still pore over her work and the minutia of her life over fifty years after her death, does it matter if it’s official or not?

sylvia plath day

Published under a pseudonym

Of course, we remember Sylvia Plath because she wrote The Bell Jar, required reading for many in high school. And, like it or not, we remember her because she committed suicide. We study her poetry and prose, trying to divine what fueled her despair, what caused her to take her own life. Plath wrote this in her journal a few months before her death:

I feel outcast on a cold star, unable to feel anything but an awful helpless numbness. I look down into the warm, earthy world. Into a nest of lovers’ beds, baby cribs, meal tables, all the solid commerce of life in this earth, and feel apart, enclosed in a wall of glass.

Plath wrote poetry in a confessional style, revealing intimate details about herself. She was driven, publishing her first poem when she was eight. She was the first poet awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. She also wrote fifty short stories and one novel, The Bell Jar.

In February of 1963, her depression overcame her. For weeks, her doctor had tried to secure a bed for her in a psychiatric hospital. She sealed her children in their room upstairs, then sealed herself in the kitchen, put her head in the oven and turned on the gas. She was thirty years old.

On Sylvia Plath Day, instead of fetishizing her death or lamenting the loss of all she might have written, we can celebrate her life by learning about her, reading her work and being happy for what she shared with us in her short yet brilliant life.

It’s a day we should also acknowledge the brutal power of mental illness to damage and destroy lives.

Learn more at:
Neurotic Poets
BenGuinter.com
This Day in History
Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers: 2011, Univ. of Massachusetts Press

If you are thinking about suicide, read this first.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website and toll-free telephone number: 1 (800) 273-8255

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

October 16 is Dictionary Day

dictionary day

An immense effect may be produced by small powers wisely and steadily directed.
Noah Webster, 1821

Dictionary Day was founded to celebrate the life of Noah Webster, born on October 16, 1758. Why would anyone spend twenty-seven years of his life working in solitude to produce an American dictionary?

Webster sought to create a unifying, distinctly American standard for the spelling, usage, and pronunciation of words. He felt British spelling was unnecessarily complicated and changed words such as colour to color, plough to plow, musick to music.

In the process, Webster learned more than twenty languages, which allowed him to thoroughly examine each word’s origin and definition. This research significantly contributed to the fields of philology and lexicography.

By the time he finished in 1825 at the age of 66, Noah Webster had penned 70,000 words. Of those, 12,000 had never been included in any dictionary. (Among them: skunk, chowder, squash, and hickory.) American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828.

Critics disparaged Webster’s changes and additions, particularly his inclusion of non-literary scientific and artistic terminology, as presumptuous and detrimental to the purity of the English language. Despite such pronouncements, Noah Webster has become known as the father of the American dictionary.

You might be asking yourself right now, “What’s so weird about this holiday?” Nothing, except that few people other than English teachers and rabid word nerds know about it. This was a man of astounding tenacity who helped determine the very language we speak and the words you’re reading right now.

We just blew your mind.

More words:
TEDtalk: Erin McKean redefines the dictionary
Dictionary Day and the Quest for Words – visualthesaurus.com

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays