strange, bizarre and kooky holidays in January

January 17 is Palomares Hydrogen Bomb Accident Day

Palomares Hydrogen Bomb Accident Day

January 17, 2016, marked the fiftieth anniversary of the worst nuclear accident you’ve probably never heard of, which took place over and on Palomares, Spain, and its 2,000 inhabitants. Its effects are still being discovered and its dangers are evolving as plutonium, with a half-life of 24,000 years, continues to contaminate the town and its people, plants and animals.

On January 17, 1966, the Cold War was in full swing and the US Air Force was on continuous airborne alert, flying routes across the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea to points along the border of the Soviet Union. The lengthy flights required two mid-air refuelings.

palomares hydrogen bomb accident day

A B-52 carrying four hydrogen bombs collided with its refueling plane, killing seven airmen and dropping its bombs. Conventional explosives in two detonated on impact, scattering radioactive plutonium over the farming town of Palomares.

Luckily—luck being a relative thing—the warheads were unarmed, preventing thermonuclear explosions, each of which would have been 73 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.

The story most of the world heard was that one bomb had fallen and was eventually retrieved intact from the water eighty days later. The search for that bomb overshadowed the calamitous radioactive fallout that resulted. No one was evacuated from the village.

palomares hydrogen bomb accident day

U.S. Ambassador Angier Duke told the press, “This area has gone through no public health hazard of any kind, and no trace whatsoever of radioactivity has ever been found.” On March 8, he (and tourism minister Manuel Fraga) took a much-publicized swim at a local beach to prove the water was safe. “If this is radioactivity,” he told reporters, “I love it!”

palomares hydrogen bomb accident day

For three months, U.S. personnel and Spanish Civil Guards worked to decontaminate the area. Radioactive topsoil covering 5.4 acres was shoveled into thousands of barrels and shipped to the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina for processing. Land with lower surface contamination levels, totaling 42 acres, was plowed under to a depth of 12 inches.

palomares hydrogen bomb accident day

palomares hydrogen bomb accident day

Buildings were pressure-washed; those that still registered significant radiation were painted to cover the plutonium. Chipping, scraping, or sanding to repaint would, of course, reintroduce it into the atmosphere to be inhaled, ingested and absorbed.

Palomares was known for its delicious raf tomatoes. In 1966, all of them were burned (an action that dispersed more plutonium). After the cleanup, the next several crops failed but farmers persevered. They continue to grow them today, resentful that they have to sell them under a false name because of safety concerns about local produce.

palomares hydrogen bomb accident day

It has never been officially acknowledged that the humans who grew those tomatoes should be worried about their own exposure to radiation. In 1971, Wright Langham, a scientist at Los Alamos Laboratories, visited Palomares to assess the monitoring program put in place post-cleanup.

He found that only 100 villagers had undergone lung and urine testing; 29 tested positive, but that number was deemed “statistically insignificant.” None of the participants were allowed access to their medical records until 1985, after the town’s mayor successfully agitated to have them released.

In 2006, radiation levels detected in snails and other wildlife indicated the presence of dangerous amounts of radioactive material underground. In April 2008, two trenches containing debris and contaminated earth were discovered near the crash sites. American troops dug them in 1966, most likely in a last-minute effort to complete the cleanup before the mission ended. The U.S. government denied any wrongdoing.

Even when the U.S. began making payments to Spain shortly after the accident to help monitor the aftermath, it took no responsibility for loss of life or livelihood, let alone poisoning the land. When the agreement lapsed in 2009, their payments stopped. A new deal between the two countries seemed unlikely.

That, at least, has changed. On October 19,  2015, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Spanish Foreign Minister José García-Margallo y Marfil  signed a “statement of intent.” (full text here)

The United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain (hereinafter collectively the “Participants”) intend to cooperate in a program to further remediate the site of a radioactive accident near Palomares, Spain, and with that aim they intend to negotiate as soon as possible an agreement to establish the necessary activities, roles and responsibilities of each Participant in that remediation and disposal project.

When? Soon. Until then, here’s a fence to keep everyone safe. Happy 50th anniversary, Palomares Hydrogen Bomb Accident Day!

palomares hydrogen bomb accident day


On June 20, 2016, the New York Times ran an article about the American servicemen ordered to do cleanup at the site with no protective gear. After fifty years, government records have been declassified, showing systemic negligence toward the servicemen put in harm’s way.

When urine tests taken during the cleanup showed alarmingly high concentrations of plutonium, the Air Force threw out the results as “clearly unrealistic.” Although its own report recommended it, there was no effort to do follow-up tests and the Air Force has kept the radiation tests out of the men’s files.

The Department of Veterans Affairs relies on the Air Force’s records, which maintain that there was no harmful radiation in Palomares. The result? Veterans suffering multiple forms of cancer due to plutonium contamination are unable to receive full health care coverage; their claims are denied again and again.

Ronald R. Howell, 71, told the New York Times, “First they denied I was even there, then they denied there was any radiation.” Regarding a recent brain tumor removal, he said, “I submit a claim, and they deny. I submit appeal, and they deny. Now I’m all out of appeals. Pretty soon, we’ll all be dead and they will have succeeded at covering the whole thing up.”

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays


January 16 is National Nothing Day

national nothing dayToday is National Nothing Day, created by journalist Harold Pullman Coffin and celebrated every year on January 16th since 1973.

Its purpose is “to provide Americans with one national day when they can just sit without celebrating, observing or honoring anything.”

In 1983, a law was passed declaring the third Monday of January to be Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Once every several years, the two holidays intersect, effectively nullifying Nothing Day—2012, 2017, 2024, 2034, etc. We think Coffin would appreciate the irony if he’d lived to see it. He died September 26, 1981, at the age of 76.

Feel free to honor or ignore this un-holiday any way you choose. You could take a nap, although we hope you’ll wait until you’ve finished reading this post. Lie back and (don’t) think of National Nothing Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

January 15 is National Hat Day

national hat day

Today is National Hat Day, celebrating headgear in all its crowning glory. Hats have a long, rich history and are worn for warmth, status, religious and ceremonial reasons, or fashion.

A tomb painting in Thebes, Egypt, dating back to around 3200 BC shows a man wearing a conical hat. Many well-to-do Egyptians shaved their heads and wore headdresses to stay cool in the desert heat. Ancient Greeks wore petasos, the first known hat with a brim.

In 1950, a mummified corpse was discovered in Tollund, Denmark. It’s estimated that the man died around 400 BC; he was so well-preserved by the peat bog in which he was interred that he was still wearing a pointed cap made of sheepskin and wool.

national hat day

In 1215, Pope Innocent III ruled that Jews and Muslims must wear distinctive dress because Christians might not recognize them and accidentally have sex with them. Required attire included pointed conical hats and badges to be worn on clothing, often yellow. By 1500, the practice had disappeared. The yellow badge was later reintroduced by the Nazis.

In the Middle Ages, hats for women ranged from simple scarves to elaborate truncated, cone-shaped hennins. Women began to wear structured hats similar to those of male courtiers in the late 16th century.

The term “milliner” refers to Milan, Italy, a city renowned for everything from ribbons, lace, and bonnets to straw works and home goods.  It is derived from late Middle English (originally in the sense “native of Milan,” later “a vendor of fancy goods from Milan”): from Milan + -er.  It has come to refer exclusively to the design and manufacture of hats.

In the first half of the 19th century, women wore bonnets of increasing size, trimmed with feathers, ribbons, flowers, and other decorations. By the dawn of the 20th century, many other styles had been introduced, among them wide-brimmed and flat-crowned hats, flower pot and toque styles. By the mid-1920s, women began to cut their hair short and chose close-fitting hats that hugged the head much like a helmet.

Since then, hats have gone through phases of popularity. Elaborate hats, or “fascinators,” are popular at royal weddings and horse races. Big hats were a hit in the 1980s. The pork pie, fedora and trilby have claimed a spot atop many a hipster’s head. Some of today’s eccentric creations can be classified as wearable art.

national hat day

Bonus fact: In the 18th and 19th centuries in England, mercury was used in the manufacture of felt, a standard material used in hats. Workers in hat factories were regularly exposed to trace amounts of the metal. Because our bodies can’t eliminate or excrete the toxin, mercury accumulates in our tissues over time.

Repeated exposure leads to mercury poisoning, which causes dementia. It happened with enough regularity to those in the hat business that “mad as a hatter” became a popular expression when referring to someone acting (or being) insane.

Don’t worry. Mercury was phased out long ago; hats are perfectly safe. (Unless they cover your eyes while driving: common sense warning.) Don the jaunty chapeau of your choice and have a happy National Hat Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

January 14 is Caesarean Section Day

caesarean section dayToday is Caesarean Section Day. (Cesarean is a popular alternate spelling.) It commemorates the first recorded successful caesarean delivery in the U.S. On January 14, 1794, Dr. Jesse Bennett performed the operation on his wife, in his home, with no antiseptics or medical equipment.

Dr. Bennett, 24, did not intend to deliver his own baby. He engaged Dr. A. Humphrey to assist his wife Elizabeth through labor. Humphrey declared it impossible for the baby to be born naturally, after an unsuccessful attempt at delivery with forceps. He refused to assist in a caesarean operation, certain it would prove fatal to mother and baby.

Humphrey’s opinion had merit. At that point in history, statistics in the U.K. and Ireland showed that mothers had only a 15% chance of survival from the surgery.

Elizabeth was sure she would die but hoped the baby could be saved. Her husband made the difficult decision to operate. She was placed on a table and given a large dose of laudanum to make her sleepy. Her sister, Nancy Hawkins, sat by her side holding a tallow candle for light, and two African-American servants to hold her down.

Dr. Bennett performed the operation, removed the baby and stitched the wound with linen thread, which they used in the house to sew heavy clothing. Much to everyone’s surprise, both mother and baby, daughter Maria, survived. Elizabeth lived another thirty-six years. Maria died at the age of seventy-six.

Bennett felt no doctor would believe such an operation could be performed, without proper equipment, in a home in the backwoods of Virginia. He was sure he’d be branded a liar, so he didn’t submit it to a medical society for publication.

Thirty-three years later, in 1827, Dr. John Lambert, an Ohio physician, performed a caesarean delivery with modern equipment. Medical journals at the time reported it as the first caesarean operation in the U.S. Some medical societies still give Dr. Lambert credit.

After Dr. Bennett’s death in 1842, Dr. A.L. Knight, who’d grown up a neighbor of the Bennetts and heard them tell the story, decided to set history straight. He tracked down witnesses Nancy Hawkins and a servant present that evening to confirm the events, then wrote The Life and Times of Dr. Jesse Bennett, M.D., which was published in The Southern Historical Magazine in 1892.

Of course, neither Bennett nor Lambert originated the surgery; it’s been performed for millennia. The term “caesarean” has long been believed to refer to the birth of Julius Caesar, who ascended to the dictatorship of Rome before being assassinated on the steps of the Senate in 46 B.C.

That assumption is likely due to author Pliny the Elder’s referral to one Julius Caesar–ancestor of the ruler–as ab utero caeso (cut from the womb). That explained, he wrote, the cognomen, or descriptive name, “Caesar” which was then carried by his descendants, also called Julius Caesar.

The Roman Lex Caesarea (imperial law), in place roughly 600 years before Caesar’s birth, required a baby to be removed from a mother who had died in childbirth. Burying a pregnant woman was taboo.  The procedure was performed on a living woman only when she had reached her tenth month of pregnancy and wouldn’t live through delivery. There is no classical source of the period that records any woman surviving the surgery.

By all indications, future emperor Julius Caesar’s mother Aurelia lived, which would indicate a natural birthing process. Even the Oxford English Dictionary perpetuates this confusion, defining caesarean birth as “the delivery of a child by cutting through the walls of the abdomen when delivery cannot take place in the natural way, as was done in the case of Julius Caesar.” It’s understandable to assume that it refers to the Caesar we know, rather than a Caesar we don’t.

From ancient history to modern times, caesarean section deliveries have been fraught with danger. These days, we may take this surgical procedure’s safety for granted but it hasn’t always been so. Today, we say thank you to reluctant pioneer Dr. Jesse Bennett and physicians everywhere.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays