strange, bizarre and kooky holidays in January

January 29 is Curmudgeons Day

Today is Curmudgeons Day, which celebrates the birth, in 1880, of comedian, writer, drinker and self-professed curmudgeon W.C. Fields.

curmudgeons dayWilliam Claude Dukenfield grew up in Philadelphia, PA, a city that later became the butt of many of his jokes. While this is true, many other aspects of his origin story are difficult to substantiate.

He adopted the name W.C. Fields as a vaudevillian in 1898 and took delight in recounting a tragic personal history. Fields allegedly ran away from home after his alcoholic father beat him over the head with a shovel, ending up sleeping in a hole in the ground, stealing food and clothing to survive, and was often caught and thrown in jail.

At thirteen, he supposedly got a job as a juggler on a pier in Atlantic City, NJ. When business was slow, he would feign drowning at the behest of his employers, who believed the fake rescue they then staged would draw in customers.

Like the best lies, his story had elements of truth. He did sometimes run away from his short-tempered father, but only as far as his grandmother’s house. He was developing a juggling act. But at age seventeen, he was living at home and performing it at church and local theaters.

In actuality, Fields did begin his career in vaudeville and took his stage name in 1898. (He specialized in pretending he’d lost the items he was juggling.) But his family supported him and saw him off on his first tour.

By the early 1900s, he was a headliner in the U.S. and Europe and was often referred to as the world’s best juggler. He toured Australia and South Africa in 1903. By 1904, Fields had become so successful that he bought his father a summer home and enabled him to retire. That’s a heck of a way to repay the man who hit your head with a shovel.

He performed at Buckingham Palace and took the stage at the Folies Bergère when Charlie Chaplin was on the docket. Fields wrote and starred in his first film, Pool Sharks, in 1915. He appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies from 1915 through 1921.

In 1923, he made his Broadway debut in the musical “Poppy,” then reprised the role two years later in D.W. Griffith’s screen adaptation renamed Sally of the Sawdust. By 1944, Fields had made 41 films, including The Bank Dick, My Little Chickadee and Tillie and Gus.

Fields was a staunch advocate of drink and had one in his hand much of the time. (A favorite line: “I certainly do not drink all the time. I have to sleep, you know.”) It should come as no surprise that wear-and-tear on his body caused by alcohol finally did him in.

In the early months of 1945, Fields was admitted to Las Encinas Sanatorium in Pasadena, CA. He never left, dying of a gastric hemorrhage almost two years later, on December 25, 1946—the holiday that Fields, an atheist, said he most despised.

He might have gotten a kick out of the fact that he has a medical condition named after him. Rhinophyma, a form of rosacea that causes the nasal tip to redden and become bulbous, is sometimes referred to as “W.C. Fields syndrome” or “whiskey nose.”

He would certainly be a fan of Curmudgeons Day. He said so many curmudgeonly things in his life, movie scripts, and in ad libs during filming that a Google search for “W.C. Fields quotes” returned 633,000 results. We recommend you make a snack before you dive in. You’re going to be online for a while. Here are a few to whet your appetite:

“Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.”

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then give up. No use being a damned fool about it.”

“I am free of all prejudices. I hate everyone equally.”

“Children should neither be seen nor heard from, ever again.”

“I never vote for anyone. I always vote against.”

“I do if they’re properly cooked.” — (when asked if he liked children)

One frustrating element of Curmudgeons Day is its stubborn resistance to punctuation. Should we read it as a mere grammatical error? Is it written this way by a curmudgeon to irritate other curmudgeons (and the odd English major?) We’ll let you decide.

Happy Curmudgeons Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

January 28 is National Kazoo Day

Today is National Kazoo Day when kazoo players celebrate the long history of the instrument in America.

national kazoo dayNo one knows the exact date of the kazoo’s invention. A popular story holds that it was designed in the 1840s by an African-American man named Alabama Vest.

German clockmaker Thaddeus Von Clegg constructed a prototype which Vest introduced at the 1852 Georgia State Fair as the “Down-South Submarine.”

The closest we can get to verifying that account is to confirm that a state fair did occur in Macon, Georgia in 1852.

The modern metal kazoo was patented by George D. Smith of Buffalo, New York, on May 27, 1902.

We don’t know why it wasn’t mass-produced until a dozen years later. The factory, which became known as the Original Kazoo Company, now operates a museum open to kazoo fans who are willing to make the pilgrimage to Eden, New York.

Down south? The Kazoo Museum in Beaufort, South Carolina, opened in 2007, has a “collection of nearly two-hundred unique kazoo-related items.” It’s located in a kazoo factory on 12 John Galt Road, an address sure to delight Ayn Rand fans.

Budding kazooists should keep in mind that the kazoo is a membranophone, which modifies the player’s voice via a vibrating membrane. Players must hum, not blow, into the kazoo, varying pitch and volume to produce different sounds.

Because no adnational kazoo dayvanced musical training is required, a player has the potential to become a virtuoso almost immediately. That fact may also be what keeps the kazoo from getting the respect it deserves.

Kazoo lovers across America are trying to change that with the Keep America Humming Campaign to Make the Kazoo the National Instrument. Campaign founder Barbara Stewart says:

“We have a national bird, a national song, and a national debt. Why not kazoo as a national instrument?” Why not?

Happy National Kazoo Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

American Fancy Rat and Mouse Show 2017 Canceled

american fancy rat and mouse showThe 2017 American Fancy Rat and Mouse Show scheduled on January 28th has been canceled due to an outbreak of Seoul virus infection, a member of the Hantavirus family of rodent-borne illness, in the Midwest.

In December 2016, two people operating a breeding facility in Wisconsin became infected. Six employees at two Illinois-based ratteries tested positive for Seoul virus. All have since recovered.

Follow-up investigations indicate that potentially infected rodents may have been distributed or received in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Utah.

Seoul virus is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids from infected rodents. It causes a milder illness than other Hantaviruses. It cannot spread from person to person or be transmitted to or from other types of pets. For more information from the CDC, click here.


The show’s sponsor, the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association (AFRMA), was founded in 1983 to promote breeding and exhibition of fancy rats and mice, to educate the public about their positive attributes as intelligent, affectionate pets, and provide information on their proper care.

AFRMA urges all breeders to maintain a closed policy until the CDC has concluded its testing and the outbreak has been contained. We hope it will be rescheduled soon! For fun, lighthearted information on AFRMA and the show, check out Worldwide Weird Holidays’ 2016 post.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays



January 27 is Thomas Crapper Day

thomas crapper dayToday is Thomas Crapper Day and commemorates the death, in 1910, of the man widely believed to have invented the flush toilet. Although that is, as they say, crap, Crapper was a shrewd marketer, leveraging his status as plumber to the British royal family to popularize indoor plumbing. He owned the first showroom of bathroom facilities and publicized the toilet at a time when no one spoke of such “necessities.”

Crapper is one small part of the largely untold history of the device that transformed the world. Humans have been building indoor plumbing for millennia. Excavations have shown evidence of flushing toilets dating back as far as 2600 B.C., during the mature Harappan phase of the Indus Valley Civilization.

John Harrington (also spelled Harington) invented a version in 1596 with a cord that, when pulled, would allow a rush of water from the “water closet,” flushing away waste. He installed one at his home and also built one for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I. He called it the Ajax as a play on”jakes,” a slang term for toilet in use at the time. He may be the reason we sometimes call it a “john.”

An author, Harrington wrote “A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax.” Superficially, its subject was his invention; in truth, it was a thinly-veiled allegory about political stercus (manure) poisoning the state. The book got him banished from court for a time, and the queen referred to him as her saucy godson.

(Side note: A scent called Stercus was introduced at Smell Festival 2014 in Bologna, Italy. The perfumer named his brand Orto Parisi to honor his grandfather, who fertilized his garden with his own excrement. The bottle was displayed on a slab of dried, pressed manure inside a golden frame. Order here if you dare.)

thomas crapper day

Yup, that’s a tray made of poop.

Fellow Brits refined Harrington’s design. Alexander Cumming invented the S-trap in 1775, which used a sliding valve called a “stink trap” to seal the bowl’s outlet and prevent sewer stench from entering the home. It is still in use today. Two years later, Samuel Prosser patented the “plunger closet,” which featured a separate flush tank.

After noticing that toilets he installed in London tended to freeze in winter, Joseph Bramah replaced the sliding valve with a hinged flap and also developed a float valve system for the flush tank. Many sources state that a coworker named Mr. Allen devised the apparatus. But Bramah received the patent in 1778 and, as a result, we can’t even find Allen’s first name in historical records. In 1852, George Jennings patented his own improvements and later constructed London’s first public toilets.

At last, we’re back to where we started. When did Thomas Crapper receive patent #4990, prominently featured in his advertisements? He didn’t. Albert Giblin was awarded patent #4990 for his “Improvements to Flushing Cisterns” in 1898. (Many sites mistakenly report the year as 1819. We have located the original patent and drawings.)

thomas crapper day

Adam Hart-Davis of Exnet used the British Library to painstakingly track down all patents awarded to Thomas Crapper. According to him, “Mr. Crapper took out exactly six, starting in 1881 (#1628) to do with ventilating house drains, and ending in 1893 (#11604) for a mechanism to flush a lavatory by means of a foot lever. None of his patents was #4990. None of his patents was for a valveless water-waste preventer (WWP).”

It’s possible that Giblin, of whom little else can be learned, sold his patent to Mr. Crapper. What we can state with certainty is that Thomas Crapper and Company, claiming to be “The Original Patentees and Manufacturers of Bathroom Appliances,” is still in business today.

The company website tells the story of Crapper’s design of the first automatic flush toilet with a springloaded seat that would fly up, pulling rods which would trigger the flushing action. Unfortunately, with time and use, the rubber buffers attached to the seat’s underside began to break down and become sticky.

“This caused the seat to remain down, attached to the loo pan for a few seconds as the user got to his feet. Seconds later the seat, under stress from the powerful springs, would free itself and sweep violently upwards – striking the unfortunate Victorian on the bare bottom!”

It became known as the “Bottom Slapper” and was not a commercial success. (One could say it was a hit and then it wasn’t.) We trust that the royal family, who contracted Crapper to install plumbing fixtures at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, were never subjected to that indignity.

thomas crapper day

Manhole covers bearing the company name have become minor tourist destinations. One in particular outside Westminster Abbey, another site supplied by Crapper, has become a popular spot to take brass rubbings. Some of the enthusiasm for this activity may be due to the misconception that the term “crap” as slang for human waste originated with Thomas Crapper. In fact, it predated him by hundreds of years.

He may have been indirectly responsible for the American habit of calling a toilet “the crapper.” Every time U.S. soldiers stationed in Britain during World War I used a bathroom, they saw “CRAPPER” in the porcelain of the toilet and sink. The association between “crap,” “Crapper,” and the act of crapping in a Crapper was so irresistibly hilarious that they brought it home with them, and their descendants continue to use it every day—-in word and deed.

thomas crapper day

If this holiday, focused as it is on a distasteful bodily function, seems undeserving of your attention, ask yourself this question: If you could only choose one, which could you live without? Your toilet or your iPhone?

Take that, Apple.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays