strange, bizarre and kooky holidays in February

Ice Cream for Breakfast Day

ice cream for breakfast dayToday is Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, a holiday invented in 1966 by a mother desperate to amuse her children while they were snowed in during a blizzard in Rochester, NY. Unsurprisingly, it was a hit. Since then, its popularity has grown exponentially, circling the globe.

As Florence Rappaport explained to the Washington Post in 2004, “It was cold and snowy and the kids were complaining that it was too cold to do anything. So I just said, ‘Let’s have ice cream for breakfast.'” The next year, they reminded her of the day and the tradition was born.

When her kids grew up, they continued to celebrate with parties at college and word of the holiday spread. Later, their children carried the message while traveling the world. Since then, Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day has been observed in Canada, Peru, Switzerland and Costa Rica.

In 2009, it was featured in the Chinese edition of Cosmopolitan magazine. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on it, first in Hebrew in 2013, then in English in 2014. No matter where it occurs, the holiday’s rules are simple.

  1. Eat ice cream
  2. For breakfast
  3. On the first Saturday in February

If you still need inspiration, consider this quote from playwright Thornton Wilder:

My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate.

What are you waiting for? Grab a spoon and eat ice cream for breakfast! (Have we mentioned that it’s always breakfast-time somewhere and even McDonald’s serves breakfast all day? Breakfast is whenever you decide it is!)

Happy Ice Cream for Breakfast Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

February 4 is Liberace Day

Today is Liberace Day. It commemorates the death of Władziu Valentino Liberace (May 16, 1919 – February 4, 1987), the American pianist, singer and entertainer known as Mr. Showmanship.

He had begun playing piano at four years old and by the age of thirty became the highest-paid entertainer in the world, touring internationally, releasing albums, appearing in movies and on television and doing lucrative product endorsements.liberace dayLiberace won two Emmy Awards, earned six gold albums and received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He released an autobiography and set box-office records at Radio City Music Hall for 56 shows he performed only a few months before his death. His stage costumes, pianos, cars and homes were flashy paeans to excess. “Too much of a good thing is wonderful” became his motto.

His flamboyance fueled gossip and speculation about his sexual orientation. Liberace publicly denied his homosexuality, giving interviews about his ideal woman and appearing with Maureen O’Hara, Mae West, Judy Garland and others to give the impression of romantic involvement. Betty White spoke in 2011 about being set up by his manager to attend premieres as Liberace’s date, knowing full well that he was gay.

liberace dayThe women acted as “beards,” helping to conceal the performer’s homosexuality. It was a necessity in those days to avoid scandal. Until very recently, it was unheard of to “come out” without risking the destruction of one’s career. A leading man would lose his female fanbase, be branded a pervert and never work again.

Liberace appeared to be an easy target. But when gossip rag Confidential and newspaper Daily Mirror ran hateful articles about Liberace’s relationships with men, he sued them and won. Although he was fighting to stay closeted, he was also fighting for everyone’s dignity and right to privacy. He may not have known it, but he was battling against the expressions of homophobia considered acceptable in the press and life in general.liberace day

Rumors circulated for years that he had HIV. After his death on February 4, 1987, his physician claimed he had died of heart failure due to degenerative brain disease.  Two days later, the request for a routine burial permit was rejected by the Riverside County coroner’s office, and his body was ordered to be delivered for an autopsy.

According to California law, anyone suspected to have died of a contagious disease should be autopsied. Had this law been followed rigorously, the coroner would have been working non-stop dissecting anyone who’d died with the sniffles. How Władziu Valentino Liberace presented a public health hazard at that point is unclear. He’d already been embalmed.

Tests concluded that Liberace had died of cytomegalovirus pneumonia due to AIDS. His depressed immune system couldn’t fight the illness. Was the autopsy necessary? Was it done for spite, to tarnish the reputation of a dead man? Was it done because of the fear of AIDS, or prejudice against gay men? Was it done to right the wrong of a physician falsifying a death certificate? Or all of the above?liberace day

In reaction to media frenzy, the American Medical Association called for the confidentiality of all patient records. In any case, Liberace the man was beyond humiliation at that point. His body was returned to Forest Lawn Cemetery, where he was buried beside his parents. He bequeathed the bulk of his estate to the Liberace Foundation, which preserves a collection of his costumes and provides scholarships for students of the creative and performing arts.

Many of us got our first glimpse of fabulosity when we watched him as kids, before we knew what “gay” was. He was a talented and funny showman, completely at home in rhinestones and sequins, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself at all times. If you’ve never seen him play, check out his reinterpretation of Mack the Knife and check out this short compilation from Time:

Happy Liberace Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

February 3 is the Day the Music Died

On February 3, 1959, musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed when their plane crashed in an Iowa cornfield. The tragic accident became known as “The Day the Music Died,” after a lyric in singer-songwriter Don McLean‘s 1971 anthem American Pie.

the day the music died

Richardson, Holly and Valens

At the time, they were on their way to a gig in Moorland, MN, a stop on their “Winter Dance Party” tour of the Midwest. Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, and Dion DiMucci were on the way there on a school bus.

The tour began in Milwaukee, WI, on January 23, 1959. The first tour bus they rented was unequipped for the freezing winter weather. Due to the long distances between venues, everyone was stuck on the bus for many hours at a time.

The heater on the bus broke down. Drummer Carl Bunch suffered frostbite on his feet and was hospitalized in Ironwood, MI. The tour bus was replaced with a school bus and Bunch was left behind. Holly, Valens, and DiMucci took turns playing drums for each other at the performances in Green Bay, WI, and Clear Lake, IA.

By the time they reached Clear Lake on the evening of February 2, Holly was frustrated and decided to charter a plane to take him to Fargo, ND, after the show. The bus could then pick him up for the performance in nearby Moorhead, MN, sparing him hours of misery and allowing him to get some rest.

The four-seat Beechcraft 35 Bonanza Holly chartered was not named American Pie as many surmised from McLean’s song. It was known only by its registration number, N3794N. Except for a change in DiMuccio’s recollection timed to his book release more than 50 years later, the other survivors have always agreed on how the two remaining passengers ended up on that fateful flight.

The seats were meant for Holly’s bandmates Jennings and Allsup.  Along with Carl Bunch, they had formed a group after Holly left his band The Crickets. Holly felt responsible for convincing them to come on this miserable trip. Valens asked Allsup for his seat on the plane. He initially refused before agreeing to a coin toss to determine who would fly and who would take the dreaded bus. Valens won. Richardson had the flu so Jennings gave up his seat.

In Waylon: An Autobiography, Jennings related the conversation that would haunt him for the rest of his life. When Holly learned he wouldn’t be coming along on the flight,  he jokingly said, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up.” Jennings replied, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”

day the music died

The cause of the crash has been under investigation on and off ever since. It was initially blamed on the poor judgment of the 21-year-old pilot, who was not yet qualified to fly using instrumentation in conditions of poor visibility. But it was also found that warnings about worsening weather weren’t relayed to the pilot before he took off in light snow.

In early 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was petitioned to reopen the case and look for evidence of mechanical failure as well as proof that the pilot had made a heroic attempt to land. (The latter is unlikely as the plane hit nose down at 170 miles per hour.) In May 2015, the NTSB announced it will not reopen the case.

It’s a somber occasion to remember the death of these rock and roll legends but also an opportunity to celebrate the music they brought into the world. Listen to some of their hits today. It’s one way to keep the music alive.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

February 2 is Sled Dog Day

Today is Sled Dog Day which recognizes the heroism of 20 men and 150 dogs who raced to save the town of Nome, Alaska from an epidemic. In January of 1925, children began to fall ill, gasping for breath. At least four died. Diphtheria is a highly contagious respiratory disease, often lethal without treatment. It’s curable, but the nearest supply of antitoxin serum was in Anchorage, 1,000 miles away.

On January 25th the town’s only doctor, Dr. Welch, arranged for the serum to be transported by train to Nenana, the end of the line, still almost 700 miles away. Experienced dogsledders, called mushers, decided to run their teams in relays to deliver the 20-pound batch of serum, wrapped in fur, to Nome.sled dog day

The serum arrived in Nenana on the evening of January 27th. Musher “Wild Bill” Shannon tied the package to his sled and set off on the first 52-mile leg of a 674-mile journey that became known as the “Great Race of Mercy.” Wind chill reached -60° Fahrenheit.

The teams averaged six miles per hour and covered about 30 miles of ground apiece, but when Leonhard Seppala, a famous musher at the time, received the serum on January 31st in Shaktoolik, he covered 91 miles with lead dog Togo. He then handed it off to Charlie Olson, who traveled 25 miles before giving it to Gunnar Kaasen for what was supposed to be the second-to-last leg of the relay.

sled dog day

Kaasen and Balto

Kaasen ran straight into a blizzard, the snow sometimes so intense it caused a white-out in which he couldn’t see any of his 13-dog team. He trusted his lead dog, Balto, who relied on scent to guide them. At one point the sled flipped, pitching the serum into a snowbank and sending Kaasen scrambling to find it.

He arrived in Port Safety in the early morning hours of February 2nd, but when the next team was not ready to leave, he pressed on to Nome himself. At 5:30 AM, Balto led the way into Nome to deliver the serum, frozen solid, to Dr. Welch. The doctor thawed the antitoxin, then injected the townspeople. Three weeks later, he lifted the quarantine.

sled dog day

Balto and team in Nome after delivering vaccine

The relay had taken five-and-a-half days, cutting the previous record by almost half. Many mushers had suffered frostbite and four of the dogs died from exposure.

The story got international attention and Balto became a superstar. Within weeks, he was contracted to star in a short Hollywood film entitled Balto’s Race to Nome. After traveling to Seattle, Washington and shooting on Mt. Rainier, Kaasen, his wife, Balto and the rest of the team embarked on a nine-month vaudeville tour of the country. They arrived in December of 1925 to witness the unveiling of a bronze likeness of Balto in New York City’s Central Park.

Statue of Balto in New York's Central Park (Credit: Getty Images)

The statue is located on the main path leading north from the Tisch Children’s Zoo. In front of it, a slate plaque depicts Balto’s sled team, and bears the following inscription:

Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles
over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana
to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925.

Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence

Although Seppala also toured the country and appeared with Togo in an advertising campaign for Lucky Strike cigarettes, he felt cheated by the attention lavished on Kaasen and Balto. He had raised Balto and considered him genetically inferior, with a boxy build; he’d neutered him as a puppy to ensure his line would not continue.

sled dog day

Seppala and Togo

A quote from biography Seppala: Alaskan Dog Driver reads, “The chief thing which disturbed me was that Togo’s records were given to Balto, a scrub dog who was pushed into the limelight and made immortal. It was almost more than I could bear when the ‘newspaper’ dog Balto received a statue for his ‘glorious achievements.'”

The timing and circumstances surrounding what happened next is unclear. Both men worked for Pioneer Mining and Ditch Company near Nome. Kaasen was recalled by the company, most likely at his superior Seppala’s behest. Some accounts say Seppala’s friend, mountaineer Roald Amundsen confronted Kaasen in Chicago, Illinois, a stop on the vaudeville tour he’d been forced to resume due to financial difficulties, and told him to return home immediately. With Kaasen in Alaska, there would be nothing to divert attention from a ceremony Seppala had planned in which Amundsen would award a gold medal to Togo.

No matter how it came to pass, Kaasen found himself financially unable to secure passage for the dogs and with no time to raise funds. He had no choice but to leave them with the tour’s promoter, who had no use for 13 dogs and sold them at a stop in Los Angeles, California to a “museum” where they were tied up in a small dark room, neglected and sometimes abused. For a dime, people could peek in the room’s one small window and see the hero dogs that had saved a town.

This went on for several months until businessman George Kimble, visiting from Cleveland, Ohio, saw an advertisement for the attraction and went to have a look. Incensed at their deplorable condition, fearing that they would soon pine away and die, he approached the owner who offered to sell them to him for $2,000.

Mr. Kimble worked together with a Cleveland newspaper, The Plain Dealer, to get the word out. Children and adults all over the country donated and in only ten days, Kimble was able to rescue the dogs and bring them to Cleveland. (At this point, only seven dogs remained. It’s unknown what happened to the other six.) On March 19, 1927, Balto and his teammates received a hero’s welcome in a triumphant parade. The dogs were then taken to the Brookside Zoo and lived the rest of their lives in comfort.

After Balto died in 1933, his remains were mounted by a taxidermist and donated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. In 1998, the Alaska legislature passed HJR 62- the ‘Bring Back Balto’ resolution. The museum refused to return Balto but in October of that year, they loaned him for five months to the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, which drew record crowds.

sled dog day

Sunlight has faded Balto’s coat from black to brown.

After Togo’s death in 1929, Seppala had him custom mounted and displayed at Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. (His skeleton is still there.) In 1964, the stuffed dog was transferred to a museum in Vermont.

During all the years he was displayed, Togo was not enclosed. His coat had begun to bald where he was petted. His significance forgotten, Togo was put into storage in 1979. A carpenter who happened to have a background in racing sled dogs discovered him in 1983 atop an old refrigerator.

The sled run of 1925 became international news again. The museum was pressured by legislators, dog clubs, and museums to do something, whether it was to try to repair the taxidermy, bury him where he had died or, as a letter-writing campaign begun by Alaskan schoolchildren urged, return him to the place of his greatest triumph. sled dog day

Today he is on display in a glass case at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

Raise a glass to Balto and Togo and all the dogs that save lives or just make our lives better. Hear, hear and have a happy Sled Dog Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays