Subject: February 2, 1887: First Groundhog Day
On this day in 1887, Groundhog Day, featuring a rodent meteorologist, is celebrated for the first time at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring.
Groundhog Day has its roots in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day, when clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on this concept by selecting an animal--the hedgehog--as a means of predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs, which were plentiful in the Keystone State.
Groundhogs, also called woodchucks and whose scientific name is Marmota monax, typically weigh 12 to 15 pounds and live six to eight years. They eat vegetables and fruits, whistle when they're frightened or looking for a mate and can climb trees and swim. They go into hibernation in the late fall; during this time, their body temperatures drop significantly, their heartbeats slow from 80 to five beats per minute and they can lose 30 percent of their body fat. In February, male groundhogs emerge from their burrows to look for a mate (not to predict the weather) before going underground again. They come out of hibernation for good in March.
In 1887, a newspaper editor belonging to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America's only true weather-forecasting groundhog. The line of groundhogs that have since been known as Phil might be America's most famous groundhogs, but other towns across North America now have their own weather-predicting rodents, from Birmingham Bill to Staten Island Chuck to Shubenacadie Sam in Canada.
In 1993, the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray popularized the usage of "groundhog day" to mean something that is repeated over and over. Today, tens of thousands of people converge on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney each February 2 to witness Phil's prediction. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club hosts a three-day celebration featuring entertainment and activities.
Subject: February 3, 2005: Gonzales becomes first Hispanic U.S. attorney general
On February 3, 2005, Alberto Gonzales won Senate confirmation as the nation's first Hispanic attorney general despite protests over his record on torture.
The Senate approved his nomination on a largely party-line vote of 60-36, reflecting a split between Republicans and Democrats over whether the administration's counterterrorism policies had led to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere. Shortly after the Senate vote, Vice President Dick Cheney swore in Gonzales as attorney general in a small ceremony in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. President Bush, who was traveling, called to congratulate him.
Gonzales was born in 1955 in San Antonio, Texas, the son of migrant workers and grew up in a small, crowded home in Houston without hot water or a telephone. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1973 after graduating high school. Following a few years of service, Gonzales attended the U.S. Air Force Academy.
After leaving the military, Gonzales attended Rice University and Harvard Law School before Bush, then governor of Texas, picked him in 1995 to serve as his general counsel in Austin and in 2001 brought him to Washington as his White House counsel. In this new role, Gonzales championed an extension of the USA Patriot Act.
After Gonzales became attorney general, he faced scrutiny regarding some of his actions, most notably the firing of several U.S. attorneys and his defense of Bush’s domestic eavesdropping program. The firings became the subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007. Concerns about the veracity of some of his statements as well as his general competency also began to surface.
Democrats began calling for his resignation and for more investigations, but President Bush defended his appointee, saying that Gonzales was "an honest, honorable man in whom I have confidence," according to an Associated Press report from April.
A few months later, however, Gonzales decided to step down.
On August 27, he gave a brief statement announcing his resignation (effective September 17), stating that "It has been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of Justice." He gave no explanation for his departure. In his resignation letter, Gonzales simply said that ". . . this is the right time for my family and I to begin a new chapter in our lives."
Gonzales and his wife Rebecca have three sons.
Subject: February 4, 1974: Patty Hearst kidnapped
On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, the 19-year-old daughter of newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst, is kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, by two black men and a white woman, all three of whom are armed. Her fiance, Stephen Weed, was beaten and tied up along with a neighbor who tried to help. Witnesses reported seeing a struggling Hearst being carried away blindfolded, and she was put in the trunk of a car. Neighbors who came out into the street were forced to take cover after the kidnappers fired their guns to cover their escape.
Three days later, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a small U.S. leftist group, announced in a letter to a Berkeley radio station that it was holding Hearst as a "prisoner of war." Four days later, the SLA demanded that the Hearst family give $70 in foodstuffs to every needy person from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. This done, said the SLA, negotiation would begin for the return of Patricia Hearst. Randolph Hearst hesitantly gave away some $2 million worth of food. The SLA then called this inadequate and asked for $6 million more. The Hearst Corporation said it would donate the additional sum if the girl was released unharmed.
In April, however, the situation changed dramatically when a surveillance camera took a photo of Hearst participating in an armed robbery of a San Francisco bank, and she was also spotted during a robbery of a Los Angeles store. She later declared, in a tape sent to the authorities, that she had joined the SLA of her own free will.
On May 17, Los Angeles police raided the SLA's secret headquarters, killing six of the group's nine known members. Among the dead was the SLA's leader, Donald DeFreeze, an African American ex-convict who called himself General Field Marshal Cinque. Patty Hearst and two other SLA members wanted for the April bank robbery were not on the premises.
Finally, on September 18, 1975, after crisscrossing the country with her captors--or conspirators--for more than a year, Hearst, or "Tania" as she called herself, was captured in a San Francisco apartment and arrested for armed robbery. Despite her claim that she had been brainwashed by the SLA, she was convicted on March 20, 1976, and sentenced to seven years in prison. She served 21 months before her sentence was commuted by President Carter. After leaving prison, she returned to a more routine existence and later married her bodyguard. She was pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001.
Let's go rob a bank.
Subject: February 5, 1994: Beckwith convicted of killing Medgar Evers
On this day in 1994, white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith is convicted in the murder of African-American civil rights leader Medgar Evers, over 30 years after the crime occurred. Evers was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson, Mississippi, home on June 12, 1963, while his wife, Myrlie, and the couple's three small children were inside.
Medgar Wiley Evers was born July 2, 1925, near Decatur, Mississippi, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After fighting for his country, he returned home to experience discrimination in the racially divided South, with its separate public facilities and services for blacks and whites. Evers graduated from Alcorn College in 1952 and began organizing local chapters of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). In 1954, after being rejected for admission to then-segregated University of Mississippi Law School, he became part of an NAACP campaign to desegregate the school. Later that year, Evers was named the NAACP's first field secretary in Mississippi. He moved with his family to Jackson and worked to dismantle segregation, leading peaceful rallies, economic boycotts and voter registration drives around the state. In 1962, he helped James Meredith become the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi, a watershed event in the civil rights movement. As a result of his work, Evers received numerous threats and several attempts were made on his life before he was murdered in 1963 at the age of 37.
Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and Ku Klux Klan member widely believed to be the killer, was prosecuted for murder in 1964. However, two all-white (and all-male) juries deadlocked and refused to convict him. A second trial held in the same year resulted in a hung jury. The matter was dropped when it appeared that a conviction would be impossible. Myrlie Evers, who later became the first woman to chair the NAACP, refused to give up, pressing authorities to re-open the case. In 1989, documents came to light showing that jurors in the case were illegally screened.
Prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter worked with Myrlie Evers to force another prosecution of Beckwith. After four years of legal maneuvering, they were finally successful. At the third trial they produced a riflescope from the murder weapon with Beckwith's fingerprints, as well as new witnesses who testified that Beckwith had bragged about committing the crime. Justice was finally achieved when Beckwith was convicted and given a life sentence by a racially diverse jury in 1994. He died in prison in 2001 at the age of 80.
Subject: February 6, 1952: Elizabeth becomes queen
On this day in 1952, after a long illness, King George VI of Great Britain and Northern Ireland dies in his sleep at the royal estate at Sandringham. Princess Elizabeth, the oldest of the king's two daughters and next in line to succeed him, was in Kenya at the time of her father's death; she was crowned Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953, at age 27.
King George VI, the second son of King George V, ascended to the throne in 1936 after his older brother, King Edward VIII, voluntarily abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. During World War II, George worked to rally the spirits of the British people by touring war zones, making a series of morale-boosting radio broadcasts (for which he overcame a speech impediment) and shunning the safety of the countryside to remain with his wife in bomb-damaged Buckingham Palace. The king's health deteriorated in 1949, but he continued to perform state duties until his death in 1952.
Queen Elizabeth, born on April 21, 1926, and known to her family as Lilibet, was groomed as a girl to succeed her father. She married a distant cousin, Philip Mountbatten, on November 20, 1947, at London's Westminster Abbey. The first of Elizabeth's four children, Prince Charles, was born in 1948.
From the start of her reign, Elizabeth understood the value of public relations and allowed her 1953 coronation to be televised, despite objections from Prime Minister Winston Churchill and others who felt it would cheapen the ceremony. Elizabeth, the 40th British monarch since William the Conqueror, has worked hard at her royal duties and become a popular figure around the world. In 2003, she celebrated 50 years on the throne, only the fifth British monarch to do so.
The queen's reign, however, has not been without controversy. She was seen as cold and out-of-touch following the 1996 divorce of her son, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana, and again after Diana's 1997 death in a car crash. Additionally, the role in modern times of the monarchy, which is largely ceremonial, has come into question as British taxpayers have complained about covering the royal family's travel expenses and palace upkeep. Still, the royals are effective world ambassadors for Britain and a huge tourism draw. Today, the queen, an avid horsewoman and Corgi dog lover, is one of the world's wealthiest women, with extensive real-estate holdings and art and jewelry collections.
Subject: February 7, 1964: Beatles arrive in New York
On February 7, 1964, Pan Am Yankee Clipper flight 101 from London Heathrow lands at New York's Kennedy Airport--and "Beatlemania" arrives. It was the first visit to the United States by the Beatles, a British rock-and-roll quartet that had just scored its first No. 1 U.S. hit six days before with "I Want to Hold Your Hand." At Kennedy, the "Fab Four"--dressed in mod suits and sporting their trademark pudding bowl haircuts--were greeted by 3,000 screaming fans who caused a near riot when the boys stepped off their plane and onto American soil.
Two days later, Paul McCartney, age 21, Ringo Starr, 23, John Lennon, 23, and George Harrison, 20, made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, a popular television variety show. Although it was difficult to hear the performance over the screams of teenage girls in the studio audience, an estimated 73 million U.S. television viewers, or about 40 percent of the U.S. population, tuned in to watch. Sullivan immediately booked the Beatles for two more appearances that month. The group made their first public concert appearance in the United States on February 11 at the Coliseum in Washington, D.C., and 20,000 fans attended. The next day, they gave two back-to-back performances at New York's Carnegie Hall, and police were forced to close off the streets around the venerable music hall because of fan hysteria. On February 22, the Beatles returned to England.
The Beatles' first American tour left a major imprint in the nation's cultural memory. With American youth poised to break away from the culturally rigid landscape of the 1950s, the Beatles, with their exuberant music and good-natured rebellion, were the perfect catalyst for the shift. Their singles and albums sold millions of records, and at one point in April 1964 all five best-selling U.S. singles were Beatles songs. By the time the Beatles first feature-film, A Hard Day's Night, was released in August, Beatlemania was epidemic the world over. Later that month, the four boys from Liverpool returned to the United States for their second tour and played to sold-out arenas across the country.
Later, the Beatles gave up touring to concentrate on their innovative studio recordings, such as 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, a psychedelic concept album that is regarded as a masterpiece of popular music. The Beatles' music remained relevant to youth throughout the great cultural shifts of the 1960s, and critics of all ages acknowledged the songwriting genius of the Lennon-McCartney team. In 1970, the Beatles disbanded, leaving a legacy of 18 albums and 30 Top 10 U.S. singles.
During the next decade, all four Beatles pursued solo careers, with varying success. Lennon, the most outspoken and controversial Beatle, was shot to death by a deranged fan outside his New York apartment building in 1980. McCartney was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997 for his contribution to British culture. In November 2001, George Harrison succumbed to cancer.
Subject: February 8, 1943: Americans secure Guadalcanal
On this day in 1943, Japanese troops evacuate Guadalcanal, leaving the island in Allied possession after a prolonged campaign. The American victory paved the way for other Allied wins in the Solomon Islands.
Guadalcanal is the largest of the Solomons, a group of 992 islands and atolls, 347 of which are inhabited, in the South Pacific Ocean. The Solomons, which are located northeast of Australia and have 87 indigenous languages, were discovered in 1568 by the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendana de Neyra (1541-95). In 1893, the British annexed Guadalcanal, along with the other central and southern Solomons. The Germans took control of the northern Solomons in 1885, but transferred these islands, except for Bougainville and Buka (which eventually went to the Australians) to the British in 1900.
The Japanese invaded the Solomons in 1942 during World War II and began building a strategic airfield on Guadalcanal. On August 7 of that year, U.S. Marines landed on the island, signaling the Allies' first major offensive against Japanese-held positions in the Pacific. The Japanese responded quickly with sea and air attacks. A series of bloody battles ensued in the debilitating tropical heat as Marines sparred with Japanese troops on land, while in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, the U.S. Navy fought six major engagements with the Japanese between August 24 and November 30. In mid-November 1942, the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, died together when the Japanese sunk their ship, the USS Juneau.
Both sides suffered heavy losses of men, warships and planes in the battle for Guadalcanal. An estimated 1,600 U.S. troops were killed, over 4,000 were wounded and several thousand more died from disease. The Japanese lost 24,000 soldiers. On December 31, 1942, Emperor Hirohito told Japanese troops they could withdraw from the area; the Americans secured Guadalcanal about five weeks later.
The Solomons gained their independence from Britain in 1978. In the late 1990s, fighting broke out between rival ethnic groups on Guadalcanal and continued until an Australian-led international peacekeeping mission restored order in 2003. Today, with a population of over half a million people, the Solomons are known as a scuba diver and fisherman's paradise.
Subject: February 9, 1971: Satchel Paige nominated to Baseball Hall of Fame
On this day in 1971, pitcher Leroy "Satchel" Paige becomes the first Negro League veteran to be nominated for the Baseball Hall of Fame. In August of that year, Paige, a pitching legend known for his fastball, showmanship and the longevity of his playing career, which spanned five decades, was inducted. Joe DiMaggio once called Paige "the best and fastest pitcher I've ever faced."
Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama, most likely on July 7, 1906, although the exact date remains a mystery. He earned his nickname, Satchel, as a boy when he earned money carrying passengers' bags at train stations. Baseball was segregated when Paige started playing baseball professionally in the 1920s, so he spent most of his career pitching for Negro League teams around the United States. During the winter season, he pitched for teams in the Caribbean and Central and South America. As a barnstorming player who traveled thousands of miles each season and played for whichever team met his asking price, he pitched an estimated 2,500 games, had 300 shut-outs and 55 no-hitters. In one month in 1935, he reportedly pitched 29 consecutive games.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier and became the first African American to play in the Major Leagues when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. The following year, Paige also entered the majors, signing with the Cleveland Indians and becoming, at age 42, baseball's oldest rookie. He helped the Indians win the pennant that year and later played for the St. Louis Browns and Kansas City A's.
Paige retired from the majors in 1953, but returned in 1965 to pitch three innings for the Kansas City A's. He was 59 at the time, making him the oldest person ever to play in the Major Leagues. In addition to being famous for his talent and longevity, Paige was also well-known for his sense of humor and colorful observations on life, including: "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you" and "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
He died June 8, 1982, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Subject: February 10, 1996: Kasparov loses chess game to computer
On this day in 1996, after three hours, world chess champion Gary Kasparov loses the first game of a six-game match against Deep Blue, an IBM computer capable of evaluating 200 million moves per second. Man was ultimately victorious over machine, however, as Kasparov bested Deep Blue in the match with three wins and two ties and took home the $400,000 prize. An estimated 6 million people worldwide followed the action on the Internet.
Kasparov had previously defeated Deep Thought, the prototype for Deep Blue developed by IBM researchers in 1989, but he and other chess grandmasters had, on occasion, lost to computers in games that lasted an hour or less. The February 1996 contest was significant in that it represented the first time a human and a computer had duked it out in a regulation, six-game match, in which each player had two hours to make 40 moves, two hours to finish the next 20 moves and then another 60 minutes to wrap up the game.
Kasparov, who was born in 1963 in Baku, Azerbaijan, became the Soviet Union's junior chess champion at age 13 and in 1985, at age 22, the youngest world champ ever when he beat legendary Soviet player Anatoly Karpov. Considered by many to be the greatest chess player in the history of the game, Kasparov was known for his swashbuckling style of play and his ability to switch tactics mid-game.
In 1997, a rematch took place between Kasparov and an enhanced Deep Blue. Kasparov won the first game, the computer the second, with the next three games a draw. On May 11, 1997, Deep Blue came out on top with a surprising sixth game win--and the $700,000 match prize.
In 2003, Kasparov battled another computer program, "Deep Junior." The match ended in a tie. Kasparov retired from professional chess in 2005.
Subject: OpenDaylight: Open-source SDN is growing fast
Subject: February 11, 1990: Nelson Mandela released from prison
Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, is released from prison after 27 years on February 11, 1990.
In 1944, Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black political organization in South Africa, where he became a leader of Johannesburg's youth wing of the ANC. In 1952, he became deputy national president of the ANC, advocating nonviolent resistance to apartheid--South Africa's institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation. However, after the massacre of peaceful black demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, Nelson helped organize a paramilitary branch of the ANC to engage in guerrilla warfare against the white minority government.
In 1961, he was arrested for treason, and although acquitted he was arrested again in 1962 for illegally leaving the country. Convicted and sentenced to five years at Robben Island Prison, he was put on trial again in 1964 on charges of sabotage. In June 1964, he was convicted along with several other ANC leaders and sentenced to life in prison.
Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail at the brutal Robben Island Prison. Confined to a small cell without a bed or plumbing, he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He could write and receive a letter once every six months, and once a year he was allowed to meet with a visitor for 30 minutes. However, Mandela's resolve remained unbroken, and while remaining the symbolic leader of the anti-apartheid movement, he led a movement of civil disobedience at the prison that coerced South African officials into drastically improving conditions on Robben Island. He was later moved to another location, where he lived under house arrest.
In 1989, F.W. de Klerk became South African president and set about dismantling apartheid. De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, suspended executions, and in February 1990 ordered the release of Nelson Mandela.
Mandela subsequently led the ANC in its negotiations with the minority government for an end to apartheid and the establishment of a multiracial government. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One year later, the ANC won an electoral majority in the country's first free elections, and Mandela was elected South Africa's president.
Mandela retired from politics in 1999, but remained a global advocate for peace and social justice until his death in December 2013.
Subject: February 12, 2002: Milosevic goes on trial for war crimes
On this day in 2002, former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic goes on trial at The Hague, Netherlands, on charges of genocide and war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. Milosevic served as his own attorney for much of the prolonged trial, which ended without a verdict when the so-called "Butcher of the Balkans" was found dead at age 64 from an apparent heart attack in his prison cell on March 11, 2006.
Yugoslavia, consisting of Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, became a federal republic, headed by Communist leader Marshal Tito, on January 31, 1946. Tito died in May 1980 and Yugoslavia, along with communism, crumbled over the next decade.
Milosevic, born August 20, 1941, joined the Communist Party at age 18; he became president of Serbia in 1989. On June 25, 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia and Milosevic sent tanks to the Slovenian border, sparking a brief war that ended in Slovenia's secession. In Croatia, fighting broke out between Croats and ethnic Serbs and Serbia sent weapons and medical supplies to the Serbian rebels in Croatia. Croatian forces clashed with the Serb-led Yugoslav army troops and their Serb supporters. An estimated 10,000 people were killed and hundreds of Croatian towns were destroyed before a U.N. cease-fire was established in January 1992. In March, Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence, and Milosevic funded the subsequent Bosnian Serb rebellion, starting a war that killed an estimated 200,000 people, before a U.S.-brokered peace agreement was reached at Dayton, Ohio, in 1995.
In Kosovo, a formerly autonomous province of Serbia, liberation forces clashed with Serbs and the Yugoslav army was sent in. Amidst reports that Milosevic had launched an ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, NATO forces launched air strikes against Yugoslavia in 1999.
Ineligible to run for a third term as Serbian president, Milosevic had made himself president of Yugoslavia in 1997. After losing the presidential election in September 2000, he refused to accept defeat until mass protests forced him to resign the following month. He was charged with corruption and abuse of power and finally surrendered to Serbian authorities on April 1, 2001, after a 26-hour standoff. That June, he was extradited to the Netherlands and indicted by a United Nations war crimes tribunal. Milosevic died in his cell of a heart attack before his trial could be completed.
In February 2003, Serbia and Montenegro became a commonwealth and officially dropped the name Yugoslavia. In June 2006, the two countries declared their independence from each other.
Subject: February 13, 1633: Galileo in Rome for Inquisition
On this day in 1633, Italian philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy for advocating Copernican theory, which holds that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Galileo officially faced the Roman Inquisition in April of that same year and agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Put under house arrest indefinitely by Pope Urban VIII, Galileo spent the rest of his days at his villa in Arcetri, near Florence, before dying on January 8, 1642.
Galileo, the son of a musician, was born February 15, 1564, in Pisa, Italy. He entered the University of Pisa planning to study medicine, but shifted his focus to philosophy and mathematics. In 1589, he became a professor at Pisa for several years, during which time he demonstrated that the speed of a falling object is not proportional to its weight, as Aristotle had believed. According to some reports, Galileo conducted his research by dropping objects of different weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. From 1592 to 1630, Galileo was a math professor at the University of Padua, where he developed a telescope that enabled him to observe lunar mountains and craters, the four largest satellites of Jupiter and the phases of Jupiter. He also discovered that the Milky Way was made up of stars. Following the publication of his research in 1610, Galileo gained acclaim and was appointed court mathematician at Florence.
Galileo's research led him to become an advocate of the work of the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1573). However, the Copernican theory of a sun-centered solar system conflicted with the teachings of the powerful Roman Catholic Church, which essentially ruled Italy at the time. Church teachings contended that Earth, not the sun, was at the center of the universe. In 1633, Galileo was brought before the Roman Inquisition, a judicial system established by the papacy in 1542 to regulate church doctrine. This included the banning of books that conflicted with church teachings. The Roman Inquisition had its roots in the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, the purpose of which was to seek out and prosecute heretics, considered enemies of the state.
Today, Galileo is recognized for making important contributions to the study of motion and astronomy. His work influenced later scientists such as the English mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, who developed the law of universal gravitation. In 1992, the Vatican formally acknowledged its mistake in condemning Galileo.
Subject: February 14, 0278: St. Valentine beheaded
On February 14 around the year 278 A.D., Valentine, a holy priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed.
Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.
To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.
When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270.
Legend also has it that while in jail, St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it "From Your Valentine."
For his great service, Valentine was named a saint after his death.
In truth, the exact origins and identity of St. Valentine are unclear. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of 14 February." One was a priest in Rome, the second one was a bishop of Interamna (now Terni, Italy) and the third St. Valentine was a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.
Legends vary on how the martyr's name became connected with romance. The date of his death may have become mingled with the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love. On these occasions, the names of young women were placed in a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius decided to put an end to the Feast of Lupercalia, and he declared that February 14 be celebrated as St Valentine's Day.
Gradually, February 14 became a date for exchanging love messages, poems and simple gifts such as flowers.
Subject: February 15, 1898: The Maine explodes
A massive explosion of unknown origin sinks the battleship USS Maine in Cuba's Havana harbor, killing 260 of the fewer than 400 American crew members aboard.
One of the first American battleships, the Maine weighed more than 6,000 tons and was built at a cost of more than $2 million. Ostensibly on a friendly visit, the Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect the interests of Americans there after a rebellion against Spanish rule broke out in Havana in January.
An official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry ruled in March that the ship was blown up by a mine, without directly placing the blame on Spain. Much of Congress and a majority of the American public expressed little doubt that Spain was responsible and called for a declaration of war.
Subsequent diplomatic failures to resolve the Maine matter, coupled with United States indignation over Spain's brutal suppression of the Cuban rebellion and continued losses to American investment, led to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898.
Within three months, the United States had decisively defeated Spanish forces on land and sea, and in August an armistice halted the fighting. On December 12, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed between the United States and Spain, officially ending the Spanish-American War and granting the United States its first overseas empire with the ceding of such former Spanish possessions as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.
In 1976, a team of American naval investigators concluded that the Maine explosion was likely caused by a fire that ignited its ammunition stocks, not by a Spanish mine or act of sabotage.
Subject: February 16, 1923: Archaeologist opens tomb of King Tut
On this day in 1923, in Thebes, Egypt, English archaeologist Howard Carter enters the sealed burial chamber of the ancient Egyptian ruler King Tutankhamen.
Because the ancient Egyptians saw their pharaohs as gods, they carefully preserved their bodies after death, burying them in elaborate tombs containing rich treasures to accompany the rulers into the afterlife. In the 19th century, archeologists from all over the world flocked to Egypt, where they uncovered a number of these tombs. Many had long ago been broken into by robbers and stripped of their riches.
When Carter arrived in Egypt in 1891, he became convinced there was at least one undiscovered tomb--that of the little known Tutankhamen, or King Tut, who lived around 1400 B.C. and died when he was still a teenager. Backed by a rich Brit, Lord Carnarvon, Carter searched for five years without success. In early 1922, Lord Carnarvon wanted to call off the search, but Carter convinced him to hold on one more year.
In November 1922, the wait paid off, when Carter's team found steps hidden in the debris near the entrance of another tomb. The steps led to an ancient sealed doorway bearing the name Tutankhamen. When Carter and Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb's interior chambers on November 26, they were thrilled to find it virtually intact, with its treasures untouched after more than 3,000 years. The men began exploring the four rooms of the tomb, and on February 16, 1923, under the watchful eyes of a number of important officials, Carter opened the door to the last chamber.
Inside lay a sarcophagus with three coffins nested inside one another. The last coffin, made of solid gold, contained the mummified body of King Tut. Among the riches found in the tomb--golden shrines, jewelry, statues, a chariot, weapons, clothing--the perfectly preserved mummy was the most valuable, as it was the first one ever to be discovered. Despite rumors that a curse would befall anyone who disturbed the tomb, its treasures were carefully catalogued, removed and included in a famous traveling exhibition called the "Treasures of Tutankhamen." The exhibition's permanent home is the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Subject: February 17, 1904: Madame Butterfly premieres
On this day in 1904, Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly premieres at the La Scala theatre in Milan, Italy.
The young Puccini decided to dedicate his life to opera after seeing a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida in 1876. In his later life, he would write some of the best-loved operas of all time: La Boheme (1896), Tosca (1900), Madame Butterfly (1904) and Turandot (left unfinished when he died in 1906). Not one of these, however, was an immediate success when it opened. La Boheme, the now-classic story of a group of poor artists living in a Paris garret, earned mixed reviews, while Tosca was downright panned by critics.
While supervising a production of Tosca in London, Puccini saw the play Madame Butterfly, written by David Belasco and based on a story by John Luther Long. Taken with the strong female character at its center, he began working on an operatic version of the play, with an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Written over the course of two years--including an eight-month break when Puccini was badly injured in a car accident--the opera made its debut in Milan in February 1904.
Set in Nagasaki, Japan, Madame Butterfly told the story of an American sailor, B.F. Pinkerton, who marries and abandons a young Japanese geisha, Cio-Cio-San, or Madame Butterfly. In addition to the rich, colorful orchestration and powerful arias that Puccini was known for, the opera reflected his common theme of living and dying for love. This theme often played out in the lives of his heroines--women like Cio-Cio-San, who live for the sake of their lovers and are eventually destroyed by the pain inflicted by that love. Perhaps because of the opera's foreign setting or perhaps because it was too similar to Puccini's earlier works, the audience at the premiere reacted badly to Madame Butterfly, hissing and yelling at the stage. Puccini withdrew it after one performance. He worked quickly to revise the work, splitting the 90-minute-long second act into two parts and changing other minor aspects. Four months later, the revamped Madame Butterfly went onstage at the Teatro Grande in Brescia. This time, the public greeted the opera with tumultuous applause and repeated encores, and Puccini was called before the curtain 10 times. Madame Butterfly went on to huge international success, moving to New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1907.
Subject: February 18, 1885: Twain publishes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
On this day in 1885, Mark Twain publishes his famous--and famously controversial--novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Twain (the pen name of Samuel Clemens) first introduced Huck Finn as the best friend of Tom Sawyer, hero of his tremendously successful novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). Though Twain saw Huck's story as a kind of sequel to his earlier book, the new novel was far more serious, focusing on the institution of slavery and other aspects of life in the antebellum South.
At the book's heart is the journey of Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, down the Mississippi River on a raft. Jim runs away because he is about to be sold and separated from his wife and children, and Huck goes with him to help him get to Ohio and freedom. Huck narrates the story in his distinctive voice, offering colorful descriptions of the people and places they encounter along the way. The most striking part of the book is its satirical look at racism, religion and other social attitudes of the time. While Jim is strong, brave, generous and wise, many of the white characters are portrayed as violent, stupid or simply selfish, and the naive Huck ends up questioning the hypocritical, unjust nature of society in general.
Even in 1885, two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn landed with a splash. A month after its publication, a Concord, Massachusetts, library banned the book, calling its subject matter "tawdry" and its narrative voice "coarse" and "ignorant." Other libraries followed suit, beginning a controversy that continued long after Twain's death in 1910. In the 1950s, the book came under fire from African-American groups for being racist in its portrayal of black characters, despite the fact that it was seen by many as a strong criticism of racism and slavery. As recently as 1998, an Arizona parent sued her school district, claiming that making Twain's novel required high school reading made already existing racial tensions even worse.
Aside from its controversial nature and its continuing popularity with young readers, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been hailed by many serious literary critics as a masterpiece. No less a judge than Ernest Hemingway famously declared that the book marked the beginning of American literature: "There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since."
Subject: February 19, 1847: Donner Party rescued
On this day in 1847, the first rescuers reach surviving members of the Donner Party, a group of California-bound emigrants stranded by snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
In the summer of 1846, in the midst of a Western-bound fever sweeping the United States, 89 people--including 31 members of the Donner and Reed families--set out in a wagon train from Springfield, Illinois. After arriving at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, the emigrants decided to avoid the usual route and try a new trail recently blazed by California promoter Lansford Hastings, the so-called "Hastings Cutoff." After electing George Donner as their captain, the party departed Fort Bridger in mid-July. The shortcut was nothing of the sort: It set the Donner Party back nearly three weeks and cost them much-needed supplies. After suffering great hardships in the Wasatch Mountains, the Great Salt Lake Desert and along the Humboldt River, they finally reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains in early October. Despite the lateness of the season, the emigrants continued to press on, and on October 28 they camped at Truckee Lake, located in the high mountains 21 kilometers northwest of Lake Tahoe. Overnight, an early winter storm blanketed the ground with snow, blocking the mountain pass and trapping the Donner Party.
Most of the group stayed near the lake--now known as Donner Lake--while the Donner family and others made camp six miles away at Alder Creek. Building makeshift tents out of their wagons and killing their oxen for food, they hoped for a thaw that never came. Fifteen of the stronger emigrants, later known as the Forlorn Hope, set out west on snowshoes for Sutter's Fort near San Francisco on December 16. Three weeks later, after harsh weather and lack of supplies killed several of the expedition and forced the others to resort to cannibalism, seven survivors reached a Native American village.
News of the stranded Donner Party traveled fast to Sutter's Fort, and a rescue party set out on January 31. Arriving at Donner Lake 20 days later, they found the camp completely snowbound and the surviving emigrants delirious with relief at their arrival. Rescuers fed the starving group as well as they could and then began evacuating them. Three more rescue parties arrived to help, but the return to Sutter's Fort proved equally harrowing, and the last survivors didn't reach safety until late April. Of the 89 original members of the Donner Party, only 45 reached California.