weird and wacky holidays happening in April

April 13 is Scrabble Day

Today is Scrabble Day. It celebrates the birth in 1899 of Alfred Mosher Butts, inventor of the game the world knows as Scrabble.

scrabble day

Butts lost his job in the early 1930s; there wasn’t much call for an architect during the Great Depression. He worked to develop a board game that would emulate games of chance with its random choice of letters while testing the skill of its players with its elements of anagrams and crossword puzzles.

He called the game Lexiko and attempted to find a buyer, but was rejected by every company he visited. He later changed the name to Criss Cross Words and tried again but still had no luck. It seemed the game would remain a pastime for Butts, his wife—who he admitted was a better player than he—and their friends.

In 1948, he sold the rights to friend James Brunot in exchange for a small royalty on each set sold. Brunot made a couple of minor changes, tweaking the design and simplifying the rules. He renamed it Scrabble, trademarked it and set up a factory in an old schoolhouse.

He lost money until 1952 when, according to legend, a Macy’s executive played the game while on vacation and decided to sell it in the department store. Soon the orders grew too large for Brunot to fill and he sold the game to Selchow & Righter, a company that had passed on it years earlier.

Butts continued to receive royalties of about three cents per set for many years, telling a reporter, “One-third went to taxes. I gave one-third away, and the other third enabled me to have an enjoyable life.” He died on April 4, 1993, at the age of 93.

Happy Scrabble Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays


April 11 is International Louie Louie Day

Today is International Louie Louie Day and celebrates the birthday in 1935 of Richard Berry, the composer and singer of one of the most-recorded songs of all time.

Berry took inspiration from the rhythm of  “El Loco Cha Cha” when writing his tune. He and his band, Richard Berry and the Pharoahs recorded “Louie Louie” in April 1957 as a calypso doo-wop B-side to “You Are My Sunshine.”

international louie louie dayThe Kingsmen recorded the version most of us know in 1963. Singer Jack Ely’s unintelligible shouting—crappy microphones and Ely’s braces certainly didn’t help—led many to suspect the lyrics had been altered and must be “dirty.” Imaginations ran wild; teenagers invented ever more titillating interpretations.

It was rumored the record had “off-color lyrics which could be detected when the 45 r.p.m. platter was played at 33⅓ r.p.m.” Attorney General Robert Kennedy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover received letters from anxious parents. One mother wrote that it didn’t matter what the words were if they were intended to sound obscene.

An investigation was launched in February 1964. Agents played the song for several months before finally giving up and filing the following report, available thanks to the Freedom of Information Act:

Investigations of the record were started by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Post Office and Justice Departments after complaints were received from about a half dozen persons, including Indiana governor Matthew E. Welsh.

All three governmental agencies dropped their investigations because they were unable to determine what the lyrics of the song were even after listening to the records at speeds ranging from 16 rpm to 78 rpm.

Oddly enough, all those ears missed the only actual obscenity. It occurs at about 54 seconds in when Lynn Easton drops a drumstick and yells, “F**k!”

In 2015, VH1 chose its top 11 covers of “Louie Louie,” and gathered the videos, including ones by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Iggy Pop. John Belushi’s performance in National Lampoon’s Animal House cemented the song’s status as a frat party anthem.

Happy International Louie Louie Day!


Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

April 10 is International Safety Pin Day

Today is International Safety Pin Day. On April 10, 1849, Walter Hunt received a patent for his invention of the safety pin.

international safety pin day

Walter Hunt (July 29, 1796 – June 8, 1859) was born in Martinsburg, NY, and earned a degree in masonry.

He worked as a farmer in Lowville, NY, and designed more efficient machinery for local mills that were struggling financially and in danger of having to lay off employees.

His received his first patent, for a flax spinner, in 1826. He moved to New York City soon after to work as a mechanic.

He was a prolific inventor but received little recognition or money. He sold his patents to pay debts.

According to legend, Hunt invented the safety pin because he owed a friend $15.00.  If so, his friend must have been very patient. The process of applying for and receiving a patent doesn’t happen overnight.

Hunt’s “dress pin” was designed to spring open and had a clasp covering the point to prevent the injuries that straight pins caused. For this reason, it became known as the safety pin.

Some accounts state that Hunt sought out a businessman named Richardson, who paid Hunt $100.00, with the stipulation that Hunt would apply for the patent and then turn it over to him. Others insist he sold the patent for $400.00 to a company called W.R. Grace.

No matter the origin story, it’s certain that the safety pin made someone millions of dollars and that someone was not Walter Hunt.

Hunt invented many other things, including a fountain pen, knife sharpener, ice boat, nail-making machine, repeating rifle, paper shirt collar and foot-operated streetcar bell. One design he didn’t patent was his sewing machine. Despite years of effort, he was unable to prove the invention was his.

Hunt continued to invent until his death of pneumonia at the age of 62. Although he never became wealthy, he was well-respected in his time. The New York Tribune’s obituary read:

For more than forty years, he has been known as an experiment in the arts. Whether in mechanical movements, chemistry, electricity or metallic compositions, he was always at home: and, probably in all, he has tried more experiments than any other inventor.

Have a happy International Safety Pin Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays


April 9 is Jenkins’ Ear Day

Today is Jenkins’ Ear Day, also known as Jenkins’s Ear Day. It commemorates an event that took place on April 9, 1731, and remains one of the strangest rationalizations for war in human history.

jenkins' ear dayIt’s difficult to find any time in the early 18th century when England and Spain weren’t at odds or war. At various points, diplomats were given the miserable task of trying to impose order. The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 was one such attempt, signed as the War of Spanish Succession begun in 1700 wound down.

The agreement awarded England an exclusive 30-year contract to supply an unlimited number of slaves to the Spanish colonies. Although it allowed only 500 tons of goods per year, many traders, now able to weigh anchor for “legitimate” business purposes, used the opportunity to smuggle goods into and out of the Spanish colonies.

Skirmishes over trade and ongoing disputes about the contested land between the British colony of Georgia and Spanish-ruled Florida culminated in one of many Anglo-Spanish wars. Most historians agree it ran from 1727 to 1729; some say it began in 1726. With the level of hostility between the two nations, it was hard to tell when the war started.

In 1729, the Treaty of Seville was signed. One of its provisos gave the Spanish the right to board and search English vessels and to seize any contraband they found. It’s not surprising that mutual distrust and enmity resulted in the detainment and delay of many ships, regardless of suspicious activity. Captains began to report harrowing tales of abuse and theft of legal cargo.

One such incident occurred on April 9, 1731, when the crew of a Spanish sloop from Havana, Cuba, boarded the British ship Rebecca and claimed to have found contraband. Not much is known about Captain Robert Jenkins. In some accounts, he is described as a master mariner; in others, he is called a notorious smuggler.

Jenkins may or may not have been lashed to his ship’s mast and tortured by Spanish captain Juan de Leon Fandino. Someone drew his cutlass and sliced off Jenkins’ left ear. According to Jenkins’ account, the blade was not entirely successful in removing the ear. Another Spanish sailor then grabbed it, tore it off and handed it to Jenkins, who was told to present it to his king with the message that Fandino would do the same to him.

We can’t be sure of the details as we don’t know if anyone on the Rebecca spoke Spanish or Fandino’s crew, English. We assume it would have been hard for Jenkins to hear, what with only having the one ear and that most likely being filled with the sounds of his own screaming.

In any case, his traumatic auriculectomy didn’t garner much concern in Parliament, possibly because it was in no hurry to start a fresh war. Perhaps it wasn’t considered too upsetting because the cropping of ears (and noses) was a common punishment dating back to the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi in 1754 BC.

One case worth mentioning took place in 1538 when Englishman Thomas Barrie was pilloried in the Newbury town square. To intensify his humiliation, his ears were nailed to the pillory on either side of the head hole. At the end of the day, he was released by having his ears cut off. He later died of shock.

What was Barrie’s crime? He spread rumors that Henry VIII had died. This displeased the king, who was very much alive and not amused. Barrie was the proto-Twitter troll. Imagine if this punishment were still in use today. There would be a lot of people cupping their hands to their heads, saying, “What? What?”

Back to our story. In 1738, politicians sought to gain support for a new war. Victory was expected to provide new business opportunities in Spanish America in part by forcing Spain to honor (and renew) the slave trade treaty which would expire in a few years. They needed to drum up outrage to generate nationalistic fervor.

Jenkins was called to testify before the House of Commons. Apparently, he was still attached to his ear, although it was no longer attached to his body. Afterward, some stories claimed he took it from his pocket where it was wrapped in cotton wool. Others insisted he had pickled and stored it in a jar, which he held aloft so that every member of the august assemblage might be afforded an unimpeded view.

A flaw in this version of events is that parliamentary records, normally exhaustive, show only that he was called to appear on two separate occasions. Surely a man brandishing an ear would have been noticed. Even without the visual aid, his visit would almost certainly have been documented, especially when it was to be used for political purposes.

It’s more likely that he was at sea. He was a ship’s captain, after all. If he returned after the war began in 1739, he wouldn’t have been amazed, as some histories suggest, to find the conflict was named after his ear. It didn’t become known as the War of Jenkins’s Ear until Thomas Carlyle coined the term in 1858, 110 years after it concluded.

Have a happy Jenkins’ Ear Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays