weird and wacky holidays happening in April

April 19 is Bicycle Day

Today is Bicycle Day, a holiday originated in 1985 by Northern Illinois University professor Thomas Roberts to commemorate the first LSD trip, taken on April 19, 1943.

bicycle day

Albert Hofmann

Chemist Albert Hofmann synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on November 16, 1938, at the Sandoz laboratory in Basel, Switzerland, while experimenting with ergot fungus to find medicinal treatments for circulatory and respiratory depression.

When animal testing showed no effects other than restlessness, research was discontinued and the substance destroyed. Hofmann still believed it was an important discovery. Almost five years later, he decided to take another look. While synthesizing it, he began to experience strange sensations.

Later, Hofmann reported the incident to his supervisor:

Last Friday, April 16, 1943, I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.

Hofmann believed the LSD had caused the experience after he had accidentally absorbed a small amount through his fingers. To test his theory, he waited until the next working day, Monday, April 19, 1943, and purposely swallowed 250 micrograms, the amount he incorrectly estimated as the minimum dose required to have any effect. (It’s actually 20 micrograms.)

Here are his lab notes from April 19th:

4/19/43 16:20: 0.5 cc of Vi promil aqueous solution of diethylamide tartrate orally = 0.25 mg tartrate. Taken diluted with about 10 cc water. Tasteless.

17:00: Beginning dizziness, feeling of anxiety, visual distortions, symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh.

At that point, Hofmann lost his ability to write. In his autobiography, LSD: My Problem Child, he described the struggle to speak intelligibly when asking his assistant to escort him home. Due to wartime restrictions on the use of motor vehicles, they had to make the journey on a bicycle. He wrote of the ride:

On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms. Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had travelled very rapidly.

At home, Hofmann’s condition rapidly worsened as he experienced anxiety, feared he was going mad and became convinced the LSD had poisoned him. He had moments of clarity, telling his assistant to call a doctor and ask a neighbor for milk, which he believed might work as an antidote.

When his neighbor arrived, he barely recognized her, seeing instead a malevolent witch wearing a lurid mask. He drank two liters of the milk she brought. By the time the doctor showed up, Hofmann felt the worst had passed but was still unable to speak. His heart rate and blood pressure were normal. He had no physical symptoms other than extremely dilated pupils.

Reassured that he wasn’t dying, Hofmann’s fear gradually gave way to a sense of wellbeing.

Now, little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux.

After six hours of brutal highs and lows, the effects subsided. Hofmann awoke the next morning feeling physically tired but mentally refreshed and happy, experiencing heightened senses of taste and sight that lasted throughout the day.

His experiment showed that LSD could evoke profound psychoactive effects at very low doses. Sandoz named the new drug Delysid and began sending samples to psychiatric researchers.  Due to the intensity of focus and introspection it caused, Hofmann couldn’t imagine that anyone would use it recreationally. (Much to his chagrin, proponents like Timothy Leary proved him wrong about that.)

In 1953, The CIA began to investigate its possible use in mind control through its now notorious Project MKUltra. The program’s charter was to find drugs that could induce confessions or wipe an enemy’s mind clean so it could be reprogrammed.

LSD was administered to mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts and prostitutes. Other experiments involved employees, college students and military personnel, many of whom were provided with little to no information about the nature of the tests.

The CIA conducted 149 separate mind-control experiments; up to 25 of those used unwitting subjects. This violated the Nuremberg Code, enacted after World War II to punish Nazi doctors who experimented on concentration camp prisoners.

In 1973, the CIA shuttered MKUltra and ordered all records destroyed. First-hand testimony, court transcripts and the few surviving government documents show that at least one test subject died. (Frank Olson, an army scientist, committed suicide one week after his drink was mistakenly spiked with the drug.) Many others suffered psychological damage or insanity as a result of the project.

By the end of the 1970s, Sandoz discontinued manufacture of the drug that had once shown such promise. Hofmann’s ride was largely forgotten until Professor Roberts resurrected it in 1985 as “Bicycle Day.” Since 1985, it has been celebrated on April 19th, the anniversary of the first intentional LSD trip.

Have a safe and happy Bicycle Day!

P.S.: If you truly want to have your mind blown, scroll to Chapter 7, page 319 of Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments: Final Report – October 1995 to read about “Non-therapeutic research on children,” which entailed feeding radioactive substances to disabled kids.

The craziest thing we encountered while researching this holiday was Human Drug Testing by the CIA, 1977: Hearing before U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Human Resources. The entire text is fascinating but skip to page 183 to read Dr. Sidney Gottlieb try to evade Senator Ted Kennedy’s questions about Operation Midnight Climax, in which agents hired prostitutes to work in rooms they outfitted with full surveillance. They could then dose the johns and/or prostitutes and observe their behavior.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays


April 18 is Champions’ Day

In 1936, Michigan governor Frank Fitzgerald and Detroit mayor Frank Couzens declared April 18th would henceforth be known as Champions’ Day, to honor an outstanding sports season.

The Lions wonchampions' day their first NFL championship, the Tigers won their first World Series and the Red Wings won their first NHL championship. In addition, Detroit’s own Joe Louis dominated boxing and several Olympic athletes including gold medalist Richard Degener hailed from the city.

Six hundred fans paid $3 per ticket to attend the banquet at the Detroit Masonic Temple. Players from every team sport spoke at the dinner, which was broadcast live on the WXYZ-AM radio station. Joe Louis attended but didn’t speak. Many in the media nicknamed Detroit the “City of Champions.”

Three months later, on July 16, 1936, a plaque with the signatures of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and every state governor was presented to the city.

The wooden plaque had five figures carved across the bottom. In the original plan, the images were to depict a boxer, a power boat racer, a baseball player, football kicker and hockey player.

On June 19, 1936, less than a month before the presentation, Joe Louis suffered the first defeat of his career to Max Schmeling. As a result, the boxer carved onto the plaque was replaced with a diver. Twenty-four wins mattered less than one loss.

champions' day

Could this be one of the reasons Champions’ Day quickly disappeared? After a few losses, did it become an unwelcome reminder of what had been? According to sports historian Charles Avison, World War II was a major factor in the day being forgotten.

In 2014, sports fan Will McDowell happened upon the story of Champions’ Day while doing research for an app he was designing. He has revived the celebration with help from the Detroit Drunken Historical Society.

Champions’ Day festivities begin with an event at the Detroit Historical Museum, where the 1936 plaque is on display. Charles Avison will speak and the museum staff will show memorabilia from its archives that are not exhibited to the public. Discussion will continue at a local bar. Tipplers and teetotalers are welcome.

Thank you, Will McDowell, for bringing this holiday back to life. (Any chance we could Scotch-tape a certain prize fighter’s image on the bottom of that plaque?) Happy Champions’ Day, everybody!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays


April 16 is National Stress Awareness Day

national stress awareness dayToday is National Stress Awareness Day. It was created in 1992 by Dr. Morton Orman of the Health Resource Network, a nonprofit health education organization.

We’re all aware of stress. Many of us are steeped in it right now. Acute stress can be a positive thing, allowing us to react to upsetting or dangerous situations. But when our lives are filled with seemingly endless problems and anxieties, stress becomes chronic, putting us on constant high alert and exhausting our bodies and minds over time.

Sometimes the most stressful—and inadvertently hilarious—advice doctors, friends and strangers can give is that we must reduce stress. Life is undeniably chaotic. If you can drop everything and move to Bora Bora, by all means, do that.

The rest of us can breathe deeply, look at the sky, take a walk, eat a cookie, hug somebody, draw a bubble bath, watch YouTube clips of kittens. It may not be a permanent fix, but we know what calms us down and makes us happy in the moment.

By the way, if you prefer kale to cookies, be our guest. One thing we don’t recommend right now is picking up a book on stress relief. Maybe tomorrow. Today, have a happy National Stress Awareness Day. Unless you don’t feel like it. No pressure.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

April 15 is McDonald’s Day

Today is McDonald’s Day. It commemorates the day in 1955 when Ray Kroc put his stamp on a fast-food chain and made it into one of the most successful franchises on Earth.

In 1940, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald opened a barbeque joint in San Bernadino, CA. Eight years later, they introduced the “Speedee Service System,” which used assembly-line principles to deliver customer orders as quickly as possible.

They placed restaurants along major roadways so travelers would be able to make quick stops, knowing the burgers would taste the same at every location. The melding of “fast food” with “comfort food” proved enormously popular.

By 1955, the brothers had eight locations and claimed to have sold more than 15 million hamburgers. (McDonald’s signs with tote boards stopped adding after reaching 99 billion in 1993 because there were only two spaces for numbers.)

Kroc opened his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois, using the ad below. The first day’s sales totaled $366.12.

mcdonald's day


Kroc wanted to aggressively expand the chain across the U.S. The brothers had more modest plans for their family business. He forced them out, buying the franchise for $2.7 million in 1961.

The McDonald’s lost the right to use their own name, even on their original burger stand, and left the business soon afterward. Kroc went on to make scads of money and was notorious for his tight-fisted micromanagement.

A recent biopic starring Michael Keaton let its title, The Founder, hint at the irony of Kroc’s role as usurper even as it soft-pedaled his story, perhaps in deference to the famously litigious corporation.

Like the Steve Jobs of fast food, Ray Kroc’s dickish ways still haunt us from beyond the grave. Remember how you used to be able to reach into the bag and find napkins and condiments, even a little extra of whatever that corn syrup/sludge McNugget dipping sauce is?

Now you have to go begging like Oliver Twist: “Please, sir, may I have a packet of ketchup?” Thank Kroc and his imitators for that. God forbid they lose a tiny bit of their 5,000% markup on soda. (We don’t know if that number is right but it feels true.)

So, if you choose to eat at McDonald’s today, raise a burger to Speedee, the cute mascot Kroc replaced with a creepy clown in 1967, and thank (or curse) the brothers who started it all. And ask for an extra packet of ketchup, just because.

Happy McDonald’s Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays