Monday, February 3, 2014

Holidays and Observances for February 3rd 2014

Elmo's Birthday


Elmo is a Muppet character on the children's television show Sesame Street. He is a furry red monster with a falsetto voice, who hosts the last full fifteen minute segment on Sesame Street, Elmo's World, which is aimed at toddlers. He was most often puppeteered by Kevin Clash, until Clash's resignation in late 2012 and has recently been performed by Ryan Dillon.

Elmo is self-described as three-and-a-half years old and his three-and-a-half years birthday is always on February 3, making his actual birthday August 3. Elmo characteristically avoids pronouns, referring to himself in the third person (e.g. "Elmo has a question" rather than, "I have a question"). Sesame Street staff writer Nancy Sans once described Elmo's origins: "There was this extra red puppet lying around and the cast would pick him up sometimes and try to create a personality, but nothing seemed to materialize."

The puppet was performed by Caroll Spinney and Jerry Nelson in the background of episodes from early 1970s, Brian Muehl from 1979 to 1981, and Richard Hunt from 1981 to 1984. Sans continues that "...one day in 1984, Kevin Clash, a talented puppeteer, raised him up and brought energy and life into Elmo and from that day forward we would all write for Elmo. Kevin's performance inspired the writers to develop Elmo's character". John Tartaglia, Matt Vogel, and Jim Martin have all been secondary performers for the character, providing movement for Elmo's arms and legs, particularly in green-screen shots.

Four Chaplains Memorial Day


The Four Chaplains, also sometimes referred to as the "Immortal Chaplains," were four United States Army chaplains who gave their lives to save other civilian and military personnel during the sinking of the troop ship USAT Dorchester on February 3, 1943, during World War II. They helped other soldiers board lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. The chaplains joined arms, said prayers, and sang hymns as they went down with the ship.

In 1988, February 3 was established by a unanimous act of Congress as an annual "Four Chaplains Day." Some state or city officials commemorate the day with official proclamations, sometimes including the order that flags fly at half-mast in memory of the fallen chaplains. In some cases, official proclamations establish observances at other times: for example, North Dakota legislation requests that the Governor issue an annual proclamation establishing the first Sunday in February as "Four Chaplains Sunday."

Dorchester left New York on January 23, 1943, en route to Greenland, carrying the four chaplains and approximately 900 others, as part of a convoy of three ships (SG-19 convoy). Most of the military personnel were not told the ship's ultimate destination. The convoy was escorted by Coast Guard Cutters Tampa, Escanaba, and Comanche.

Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Escanaba rescues Dorchester survivors.
The ship's captain, Hans J. Danielsen, had been alerted that Coast Guard sonar had detected a submarine. Because German U-boats were monitoring sea lanes and had attacked and sunk ships earlier during the war, Captain Danielsen had the ship's crew on a state of high alert even before he received that information, ordering the men to sleep in their clothing and keep their life jackets on. "Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship's hold disregarded the order because of the engine's heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were uncomfortable."

During the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., the vessel was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223 off Newfoundland in the North Atlantic.

The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester's electrical system, leaving the ship dark. Panic set in among the men on board, many of them trapped below decks. The chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation of the ship, and helped guide wounded men to safety. As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out before each man had one. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.

National Carrot Cake Day


Bugs Bunny would go nuts for this - February 3 is National Carrot Cake Day!

Carrot cake may be one of our favorite ways to simultaneously cure sugar cravings and have a healthy (and unnoticeable) serving of vegetables.

During medieval times, carrots were used to sweeten cakes and desserts because actual sweeteners were rare and outrageously expensive. Carrots are second only to the sugar beet on the sweet vegetable scale, so our ancestors knew what they were doing.

After World War II, an excess of canned carrots hit the shelves. They weren't selling well until the companies asked bakers to create appealing uses for the carrots, and carrot cake as we know it today was born.

The actual dessert didn't gain widespread popularity until the 1960s when it hit restaurants and cafeterias in the U.S. in a way that only vintage fad desserts can. Except this fad stuck around, and it remains a favorite today.

Finely chopped or shredded carrots are added to a spice cake-like batter, and they soften up as the cake bakes. The cake ends up with a nice, soft texture and the carrots only enhance the flavor, rather than tasting like rabbit food.

Whether you bake it as a loaf, sheet cake, layer cake or cupcake, cream cheese icing is always the favorable way to top it off. After all, a glob of powdered sugar and cream cheese mixed together helps the carrot cake go down.

National Cordova Ice Worm Day


In 1898 a young man named E.J. "Stroller" White was struggling to make it as a journalist in Dawson, Alaska. He got a job with the Klondike Nugget on the condition that he increase sales. Luck was with him, because a huge storm soon hit the area, and in the wake of the storm White excitedly announced that a new creature had been discovered: ice worms. 

The ice worms that White described were quite bizarre. Being cold-loving creatures, the extreme chill of the recent storm had apparently caused them to crawl out of their holes in a nearby glacier in order to "bask in the unusual frigidity in such numbers that their chirping was seriously interfering with the slumbers of Dawson's inhabitants."

The worms soon became the talk of the town and sales of the Klondike Nugget soared as White continued to write about them. People went out on expeditions to find them, carefully listening for their characteristic chirping. And bartenders in town began serving a drink called 'Ice Worm Cocktails.' These were prepared by pulling a long skinny worm out of a piece of ice and dropping it into a customer's drink. Of course, some skeptics suggested that the bartenders were actually pulling pieces of spaghetti out of blocks of ice, and in a few cases this allegation may have been correct, since many bartenders were known to pass off fake ice worms on ignorant out-of-towners who didn't know what the real thing looked like. 

As the years passed and the ice worms retreated back into their home inside the glacier, the tiny creatures became something of a legend, often depicted on local postcards. For this reason, many suspected that the worms belonged more to the realm of fantasy than reality. But the existence of ice worms is definitely pure fact. If you doubt this, then just check out this press release from the Jason Project about current scientific research into ice worms. But it should be noted that the ice worms described by White are a rather distant cousin to the ice worms investigated by the Jason Project.

Every year the town of Cordova, Alaska celebrates the ice worm with a winter carnival that is held during the last week of January or the first week of February. The festival includes the election of an ice worm king and queen. 

The Day the Music Died



The Day the Music Died, so dubbed by a lyric in the Don McLean song "American Pie," is a reference to the deaths of rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 3, 1959. Pilot Roger Peterson was also killed.

After terminating his partnership with The Crickets, Buddy Holly assembled a new band consisting of Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, and Carl Bunch, to play on the '"Winter Dance Party" tour. The tour also featured rising artist Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, who were promoting their own recordings as well. The tour was to cover 24 Midwestern cities in three weeks.

The distance between venues and the conditions prevalent aboard the poorly equipped tour buses adversely affected the performers. Cases of flu spread among the band members, and Holly's drummer was hospitalized due to frostbite. Frustrated by the conditions, Holly decided to charter a plane when they stopped for their performance in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, to reach their next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota. Carroll Anderson, owner of the Surf Ballroom, chartered the plane from the Dwyer Flying Service. Richardson, who was affected by the flu, swapped places with Waylon Jennings, taking the latter's place on the plane, while Tommy Allsup lost his place to Ritchie Valens on a coin toss. Dion DiMucci (of Dion and the Belmonts fame) decided not to board the plane for the $36 fee.

The investigation of the incident determined that soon after take off, a combination of poor weather conditions and pilot error caused spatial disorientation that made pilot Roger Peterson lose control of the plane. Hubert Dwyer, owner of the flight service company, could not establish radio contact and reported the aircraft missing the next morning. He took off in his own Cessna 180 and spotted the wreckage less than six miles (9.7 km) northwest of the airport in a cornfield. He notified the authorities who dispatched Deputy Bill McGill, who drove to the wreck site and found the bodies of the passengers and pilot. They were later identified by Carroll Anderson.