weird and wacky holidays happening in November

November 4 is Use Your Common Sense Day

use common sense dayUse Your Common Sense Day celebrates the birthday of Will Rogers, who once remarked, “Common sense ain’t common.” He was a witty self-made gentleman whose homespun wisdom still resonates today. He was born William Penn Adair Rogers on November 4, 1879, in Oolagah, Cherokee Nation, now known as Oklahoma.

His official website lists him as an actor, author, humorist and pundit. He was also a genuine cowboy. If Nature combined Mark Twain and Ben Franklin with a liberal dose of Groucho Marx, then taught him how to rope a steer, the result could only be Will Rogers.

He quit school in 1902 and traveled the world with circuses and “wild west” shows, doing rope tricks. He graduated to vaudeville and the Ziegfeld Follies, becoming known for his sense of humor as much as his lasso skills. He married Betty Blake on November 25, 1908, and they had four children. Rogers went on to star in fifty silent films and twenty-one “talkies.” He also wrote 4,000 syndicated newspaper columns and was a favored guest on radio shows.

In 1926, Rogers returned from a trip to Europe, noting advances in commercial aviation there that sharply contrasted with the United State’s almost non-existent facilities. He took every opportunity to point out the safety, speed and convenience of air travel and helped sway public opinion.

In 1935, aviator Wiley Post decided to survey a possible mail-and-passenger air route from Washington State to Russia. Rogers visited Post often at the Burbank, CA airport where he was outfitting his plane with floats to land on the lakes of Alaska and Siberia. He asked Post to fly him through Alaska in search of new material for his newspaper column.

Post and Rogers left Seattle in early August, making several stops in Alaska. While Post piloted the aircraft, Rogers wrote his columns on his typewriter. On August 15, they left Fairbanks for Point Barrow. They were a few miles away when they lost their bearings and landed in a lagoon to ask directions. On takeoff, the engine failed at low altitude and plunged back into the lagoon, killing both men.

The nation mourned the loss of Will Rogers. He was only 55 years old.  Eighty years later, he is still quoted. Volumes of his essays and quips still appear in bookstores. There are thirteen public schools in Oklahoma named after him as is the Will Rogers World Airport. But it is the story of how a statue of Rogers came to be placed in the United States Capitol that we feel sums him up best.

Not long before his death, Oklahoma leaders asked Rogers to represent the state as one of two statues in the National Statuary Hall housed in the United States Capitol. He agreed on one condition: that the statue must be placed facing the House Chamber so he could “keep an eye on Congress.”

Unveiled on June 6, 1939, almost four years after his death, the statue of Rogers is the only one that faces the floor entrance of the House of Representatives Chamber. According to guides at the Capitol, each President rubs the left shoe of the statue for good luck before entering the House Chamber to give the State of the Union address.

That may be bunk, as he liked to say—he even ran for president on an Anti-Bunk platform. (Rallying cry:  “Our support will have to come from those who want nothing and have the assurance of getting it.”) Scoff all you want but take a closer look at his shoes. They’re shiny: buffed by the hands of many a legislator. That’s no bunk.

use common sense day

Will Rogers’ most famous quote is probably this: “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Here are a few more of our favorites.

use your common sense rogers politicsuse common sense day rogers judgmentuse common sense day rogers laughsuse common sense day rogers shut upuse common sense day rogers diplomacyuse common sense day rogers 3 kinds

We can almost hear him chuckling now.

Happy Use Your Common Sense Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

November 3 is National Sandwich Day

Today is National Sandwich Day. On November 3, 1762, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, invented the—you guessed it!—sandwich. But why, where, how and who?National Sandwich Day Earl

Why?

He was hungry. That’s just about the only subject upon which everyone agrees.

Where?

He was either working long hours at his desk or playing poker in a gambling hall.

How?

He ordered a servant to fetch him salted meat between two slices of bread so he could continue working (or gambling) without smearing grease on his papers (or cards).

A version of events that spread the gambling rumor was reported by P.J. Grosley in his travelogue Tour to London:

A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a bit of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London: it was called by the name of the minister who invented it.

N.A.M. Rodger dismissed this account in his biography The Insatiable Earl:

The alternative explanation is that he invented it to sustain himself at his desk, which seems plausible since we have ample evidence of the long hours he worked from an early start, in an age when dinner was the only substantial meal of the day, and the fashionable hour to dine was four o’clock.

Who?

Thankfully, the 1st Earl changed his mind about taking the title of Earl of Portsmouth and decided to honor the town of Sandwich instead, possibly because the fleet he commanded was tied there in 1660. Ordering a Portsmouth would be tricky to pronounce correctly, depending on which side of the Pond you’re on.

His great-great-great grandson John, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, probably got the idea for his creation on a trip to the Mediterranean, where Turkish and Greek platters of dips, meats and cheese were served with layers of bread. The first known use of the word “sandwich” in its current context is attributed to historian Edward Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, who wrote in a journal entry dated November 24, 1762:

That respectable body, of which I have the honour of being a member, affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty, perhaps, of the first men in the kingdom, in point of fashion and fortune, supping at little tables covered with a napkin, in the middle of a coffee-room, upon a bit of cold meat, or a sandwich, and drinking a glass of punch.

By 1773, the word “sandwich” had been used in a cookbook for the first time and would forever be associated with Montagu.

Of course, he didn’t invent the sandwich. Rabbi Hillel the Elder is said to have begun, in the 1st Century B.C., the Passover tradition of placing lamb, nuts and herbs between two pieces of unleavened bread in the 1st Century BC. In the Middle Ages, thick slices of stale bread were used as plates for cooked meats and vegetables. The Dutch have a long tradition of serving bread & butter with meat, fish or other fillings and toppings.

But the name stuck so that’s what we call it and it is, for most of us, the only reason we know anything about John Montagu. Though he must have been a big hit with bakers, he was branded as immoral and incompetent by many of his contemporaries. Recently, some historians have suggested that previous accounts have relied too heavily on sources from his political enemies.

Lord Sandwich was also haunted by his troubled personal history. His wife Dorothy became increasingly mentally ill during their marriage. They separated and she went on to live with her elder sister, continuing to deteriorate until she was declared insane and committed.

Montagu took a mistress, singer Martha Ray—reputed to be the inspiration for “My Fair Lady”— and lived with her and their children openly. Divorce was not an option, let alone living in sin. His reputation was irreparably damaged.  It ended in tragedy when she was shot to death by a clergyman who was later rumored to be her lover, although there was no evidence of anything more than a crush on his part.

There’s also the fact that he was First Admiral of the Navy during the American Revolutionary War. That didn’t go so well for the British Empire, as you may recall.

Clearly, there is too much meat in this story to fit between two slices of bread, metaphorically speaking. You can learn much more at PBS.orgEncyclopaedia BritannicaMontague Millenium, Open Sandwich and Your Dictionary,

Happy National Sandwich Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

November 2 is Plan Your Epitaph Day

Depending on how you view it, a tombstone is your last chance to say goodbye, crack a joke, be profound or otherwise make cemetery visitors imagine you were cool and wish they’d known you before they move on to visit their Nana’s weed-covered grave.

Plan Your Epitaph Day was created by Lance Hardie in 1995 to coincide with Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), a Mexican holiday that honors the souls of departed loved ones. Hardie’s goal is simple: to make sure that we take control of our epitaphs, those few all-important words that will tell those who see them what we’d like them to think about who we used to be.

Playing with the idea of death is encouraged at this time of year. We dress up for Halloween and laugh, perhaps a bit timorously, at shadows. It’s also a time for reflection and mental housekeeping, as we’ve seen with holidays recently profiled here: such as Create a Great Funeral Day, Visit a Cemetery Day, even National Magic Day with its tribute to the death of Harry Houdini.

Let’s take a look at a couple of epitaphs quoted by Hardie.

W.C. Fields

Sadly we must begin by debunking a favorite of ours: W.C. Fields did not have this on his gravestone:

“Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia.”

Fields was no fan of  Philadelphia, famously calling it “a cemetery with lights.” When he was invited to contribute his own epitaph for the June 1925 issue of Vanity Fair, it was no surprise that Philly rated a mention. Since then, different permutations of the pithy comment coalesced into a myth regarding his gravestone.

Sadly, Fields didn’t use his headstone to take one last jab for posterity. (Perhaps he worried the joke would not stay fresh through the ages or didn’t care since he wouldn’t be around to witness it?) Instead, it reads “W.C. Fields 1880 – 1946”.

plan your epitaph day wc fields

William Shakespeare

Hardie also cites Shakespeare’s epitaph. This one does exist in Collegiate Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England. The gravestone is badly eroded and reads:

plan your epitaph day

 

GOOD FREND FOR JESUS SAKE FORBEARE

TO DIGG THE DUST ENCLOASED HEARE

BLESE BE THE MAN THAT SPARES THES STONES

AND CURST BE HE THAT MOVES MY BONES

 

Shakespeare didn’t leave a spooky epitaph to be studied and interpreted in perpetuity. He left instructions. In his day, it was accepted practice to dig up bones from the church’s graveyard and tombs, moving them to make room for more burials. They were placed in a charnel house and subsequently burned.

(Some claim this was called the “bonefire of the vanities.” Although that would be a heck of an origin story for the title of Tom Wolfe’s book, we could find no proof of it.)

Shakespeare knew and disdained Holy Trinity’s practice of recycling graves. He may have also meant to dissuade the government from moving his bones to Westminster Abbey. Thus far, his wishes have been honored.

What Now?

If the thought of penning your life’s final caption fills you with existential dread, Mr. Hardie is here to help. He will write it for you but won’t tell you how much it will cost you, just that it will be expensive.

He does make a couple of exceptions. If you are a death row inmate or a member of the U.S. military about to report to a war zone, he will write your epitaph for free. (You will need to provide proof of your orders, of course. Presumably, if you’re on death row, he can Google you.)

Let us take a moment to point out that many who die in prison have no means to pay for their funerals and end up in a prison graveyard like Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Texas, the largest in the country.

They lie beneath markers that bear only name, inmate number and date of death.  Notorious killers are routinely identified by inmate number alone, to discourage visitation and vandalism. Not much need for epitaphs there, free or otherwise.

But enough of that. Let’s get back the fun stuff. Far be it from us to bring down the mood of such a happy occasion like planning our last words with some factual bummers. You’ll find funny epitaphs aplenty at MTWorld.

Here at Worldwide Weird Holidays, we like to imagine the impact this would have in any cemetery at dusk:

plan your epitaph day tombstone

 Feel free to use it: no charge. It’s our gift to you.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

November 1 is National Author’s Day

National Authors' DayToday is National Author’s Day. In 1928, teacher Nellie Verne Burt McPherson suggested the creation of a holiday dedicated to American authors at a meeting of the Bement Illinois Women’s Club.

McPherson was inspired by an experience she’d had more than a decade earlier while lying in a hospital recuperating from an illness. She’d written a fan letter to Irving Bacheller after reading his story, Eben Holden’s Last Day A’Fishin.

She was thrilled when the author responded by sending her an autographed copy of another one of his stories. She remembered his kindness when she pioneered the observance.

As president of the club, she submitted her idea to the General Federation of Women’s Club. It was celebrated unofficially for many years. In 1949, the United States Department of Commerce made it an official holiday, but it remained largely unknown for almost 20 years.

After McPherson’s death in 1968, her granddaughter Sue Cole began to promote the celebration of National Author’s Day. She urged readers to write to American authors to “brighten up the sometimes lonely business of being a writer.” Other ways to celebrate include re-reading a classic, picking up a current title or writing reviews for your favorite books and authors on Goodreads or Amazon.

Happy National Author’s Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays