(RNN) – There are only a few events of historical note where I remember where I was when they happened.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the death of Osama bin Laden immediately come to mind. The rest are from the sports world – Mark McGwire hitting his 62nd home run in 1998 (I'll talk about that in September) and McGwire admitting he used steroids. But I recall another event just as clearly – where I was when I heard Dale Earnhardt died Feb. 18, 2001.
I consider myself a casual observer of NASCAR. By that I mean I don't love/hate any driver and if I know a race is getting close to ending, I'll watch the last few laps. I will watch races at Daytona and Talladega, but not with the same focus I'll give football or baseball. Any other race, I'll generally wait for highlights.
That I remember what I was doing when I heard Earnhardt died is a testament to his stature. He's arguably the best driver in the history of the sport. I was running the projectors at a movie theatre when a coworker who was a big NASCAR fan came to see a movie on his day off and informed me Earnhardt had died following a wreck earlier in the day during the Daytona 500.
I remember that entire conversation and the ensuing pain in the neck caused by having to remove Oreo ads featuring Earnhardt that were attached to every movie we played. The crash didn't look as bad as other racecar crashes where drivers have walked away unscathed, but Earnhardt was traveling at more than 150 mph and crashed head-first into the wall and was simultaneously T-boned by another car.
Earnhardt was in third in the final turn when the crash happened, but never crossed the finish line. Two cars he owned, however, finished first and second, driven by Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr, respectively.
Here are some of the events of note that happened between Feb. 18-24.
Given that today is Presidents Day, I'll start with the birth of George Washington. His High Mightiness, as it was proposed to call to Washington upon his election as president, was born Feb. 22, 1732. Washington being the simple (and totally loaded) Virginia farmer he was, chose instead Mr. President. It might be the smartest thing he ever did. I can see calling Andrew Jackson or Teddy Roosevelt something regal and majestic, but it doesn't translate quite the same to James Buchanan.
Two hundred years later to the day Ted Kennedy was born. He's only slightly less attractive than Charles Barkley who was born Feb. 20, 1963, and Barkley is only slightly less attractive than Cindy Crawford who was born the same day three years later. Crawford is much more attractive than Kurt Cobain, who was born a year later.
Hans Asperger, who more or less discovered what is now known as Asperger's syndrome, was born Feb. 18, 1906, but he died before his research findings were accepted mainstream. Another prominent German known only for one thing is George Frideric Handel, who was born Feb. 23, 1685. You have to stand when you hear the only song by Handel that you can name. (It's Lent, so here's a gratuitous link to a flash mob singing the Hallelujah chorus.)
The reason you stand is because George II stood when it was sung while he was attending a performance of Messiah, and when the king stood, you stood. It isn't known why he stood, but I'm convinced it was because the song is awesome. (Here's more proof.) We typically use it for Christmas today, but it was intended for Easter.
Mark and Scott Kelly, the only brothers to go into space, were born Feb. 21, 1964. The U.S. can't send anybody else into space right now, but Mark Kelly has increased his profile nonetheless as Mr. Gabrielle Giffords.
The most brutal person on TV – Jillian Michaels – was born Feb. 18, 1974, and the most useless person on TV – Vanna White – was born Feb. 18, 1957.
One of the greatest Naval commanders ever, Chester Nimitz, was born Feb. 24, 1885, and died Feb. 20, 1966. Nimitz has a museum dedicated to him in his hometown of Fredericksburg, TX, which is at least a three-hour drive from anywhere a ship might be found.
Martin Luther (1546), Michelangelo (1564), Robert Oppenheimer (1967) and Harry Caray (1998) all died Feb. 18, and Frederick Douglass died Feb. 20, 1895, two years after Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard, who is one of the people who lends credence to my theory that people in the 1800s had better names – and facial hair – than we do today.
Malcolm X was assassinated Feb. 21, 1965.
Pluto was discovered Feb. 18, 1930. Pluto had a good run. It was a planet until 2006, and probably is still listed that way in science textbooks across the country. I think Pluto should be called a planet. I have no scientific basis for this other than it's what I was taught, and I don't want stuff I know to be wrong. There's a weird "contest" on www.plutorocks.com to name its moons, but most of the names are terrible. (I voted Orpheus, but I wasn't thrilled about it).
It's time now for a Great Moment in the History of Flying Cows. Elm Farm Ollie was the first cow to fly in an airplane and the first cow to be milked in an airplane Feb. 18, 1930, because flying makes you thirsty. Notice that's the same day Pluto was discovered. I no longer think Pluto should be a planet, because it just occurred to me that Pluto is most likely a cow. I'm sure I read that somewhere. It might have been in a science textbook.
Snow fell in the Sahara Desert on Feb. 18, 1979, giving rise to the question just how freaking cold was it in 1979? I could never have lived back then. Calvin Coolidge became the first president to deliver a radio broadcast from the White House on Feb. 22, 1924. This was a big moment because it means Coolidge actually said something.
Scientology was founded Feb. 18, 1954, which happens to be the same day prominent Scientologist John Travolta was born. If I was one of those people who think the Illuminati are behind everything, I would draw some ridiculous parallel between Xenu and John Travolta's pilot's license. I don't know enough about Scientology to make such parallels, so I'll just move on.
The Gregorian calendar was announced Feb. 24, 1582, making this column possible. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth Feb. 20, 1962, and in a Great Moment in Alcoholism the 21st Amendment was presented to Congress on Feb. 20, 1933. (Please, drink responsibly.)
The first telephone book was issued Feb. 21, 1878, in New Haven, CT. Forty years later, the last Carolina Parakeet died, but the species was not declared extinct until 1939. It was an additional 40 years later that the peace sign was designed. Mississippi was readmitted to the Union on Feb. 23, 1870. That's where I grew up, and I know a lot of good people there, so it can stay.
Feb. 20, 1935, marked the first time a woman set foot in Antarctica. Caroline Mikkelsen went there because apparently it wasn't cold enough in her native Denmark. She has a mountain on the continent named after her now, which probably made the trip worthwhile. She also paved the way for Kate Upton to be the first model to do a photo shoot there, and that definitely made the trip worthwhile.
Here's another gratuitous link, but this one involves Kate Upton so it is legitimately gratuitous. (Take all necessary work-related precautions before clicking.)
The first Ironman Triathlon was held Feb. 18, 1978. I have no idea why anyone would want to compete in one of these. Running a marathon is hard enough on its own, and the Ironman ends with one. Before running the marathon, competitors have to first swim 2.4 miles and then bike 112 miles. That's the equivalent of swimming across San Francisco Bay, biking across the Florida peninsula and running the length of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway back-to-back-to-back. I pulled my hamstring just thinking about it.
NASCAR was incorporated Feb. 21, 1948, and a year and a day later Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500.
The greatest moment in American sports history happened Feb. 22, 1980, with the Miracle on Ice. The U.S. hockey team defeated Russia in a huge upset, and won the gold medal two days later. It could also be the only reason Al Michaels is still employed as a broadcaster.
Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the provisional president of the Confederacy on Feb. 18, 1861, at the Alabama State Capitol. It wasn't until Feb. 22, 1862, that he was inaugurated officially – in Richmond, VA. The Alabama State Capitol is only a few blocks from my office, so that's the one I'm recognizing.
On paper, Davis was a smart choice for president. He had attended West Point, had a distinguished military career, served in both houses of Congress and had been secretary of war. But in a bit of irony, the Confederacy, which heavily favored states' rights, had a president who actively practiced strong central government by being an overbearing micro-manager who refused to delegate authority. In every area where his counterpart, Abraham Lincoln, was strong, Davis was weak. In other words, Davis was weak and ineffective at everything.
The Zimmermann Telegram was turned over to the U.S. on Feb. 24, 1917, turning public sentiment toward favoring entering World War I. Germany had attempted to promise Mexico it would help it retain all the land it lost in earlier wars if it would join the effort.
Perhaps the greatest picture ever taken was snapped Feb. 23, 1945, four days after 30,000 Marines landed on Iwo Jima. Joe Rosenthal captured the raising of the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi. Except, he actually didn't.
Rosenthal's famous picture actually captured the second flag raising. The first flag raising was captured as well, but the picture is not as dynamic, and was not of the flag actually being planted in the ground. The first flag was small, and was difficult to see from the base of the mountain, so a second one was put up.
Rosenthal wasn't prepared, and pointed his camera in the general direction of the activity once he saw the men start planting it in the ground. He didn't even look through the camera's lens, and didn't know what he had actually taken a picture of. That picture later won a Pulitzer Prize, was used as the model for the Marine Corps Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery and got painted on the back wall of the classroom of a history teacher I had in high school.
Celebrity Day is Feb. 22. We are apparently not obsessed enough with celebrities and the ridiculous things they do that we need a holiday to recognize them even further. If you're blaming TMZ, you're wrong. The day was created by an entity even more celebrity-obsessed – Scientology.
The world got shook up.
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