Today in 1887, Groundhog Day was celebrated for the first time at Gobbler’s Knob at Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. 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.
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. German settlers continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs.
Groundhogs, are also called woodchucks and the scientific name is Marmota monax. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on February 2nd and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring. 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.
Other towns across North America now have their own weather-predicting rodents, from Birmingham Bill to Staten Island Chuck to Shubenacadie Sam in Canada. 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.
Today in 1847 Harriet McCutchen the first member of a group of pioneers known as the Donner Party died during the group’s journey through a Sierra Nevada mountain pass. The disastrous trip west ended up killing 42 people and turned many of the survivors into cannibals.
A total of 87 people joined up in South Pass, Wyoming, in October 1846 to make a trip through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to California. Most of the pioneers were farmers who had little experience with wilderness travel. Trapped by snow, they were forced to make camp for the winter near a small lake (now known as Donner Lake) northwest of Lake Tahoe.
A group of 15 adults (known as the Forlorn Hope) attempted to get to Sutter’s Fort near San Francisco–100 miles away–for help. About half of the group died in the harsh conditions and the others were forced to eat their fallen companions’ remains to survive. Finally, the seven remaining members of the expedition were able to reach a Native American village.
A rescue party was sent from Sutter’s Fort to reach the rest of the Donner Party, still stuck in the mountains. By the time the rescue was complete, nearly half of the Donner Party, including George Donner, was dead.
Today in1980, details of ABSCAM, an FBI operation to uncover political corruption in the government, were released to the public. FBI agents posed as representatives of Abdul Enterprises, Ltd., a fictional business owned by an Arab sheik. Under video surveillance, the agents met with officials and offered them money or other considerations in exchange for special favors, such as the approval of government contracts for companies in which the sheik had invested.
Senator Harrison Williams, and Representatives John Murphy, Michael J. Myers, Richard Kelly, and John W. Jenrette Jr., were ultimately convicted of bribery and corruption. All but Richard Kelly, who had his conviction overturned in 1982 on the basis that the FBI had unlawfully entrapped him, left Congress. John Murphy, whose term ended in 1981, was saved the fate of expulsion suffered by Williams and Myers. John Jenrette resigned in 1980.
Today in1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the Mexican-American War. The Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo added an additional 525,000 square miles to United States territory, including the area that would become the states of Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
Controversy during and after the war pitted President James K. Polk in a political war against two future presidents: Zachary Taylor and Abraham Lincoln. Polk was immediately denounced by Abraham Lincoln, then a leading Whig member of Congress, who described the resulting war as unconstitutional, unnecessary and expensive.
Polk was a firm believer in America’s “Manifest Destiny” of increased U.S. territorial expansion in order to bring democracy and Protestant Christianity to a “backward” region. Lincoln and his cohorts protested not so much expansionism itself, but Polk’s justification of the war. Although the war ended favorably for the U.S., Lincoln continued to attack Polk after the signing of the treaty for his lack of an exit strategy that clearly defined citizenship and property rights for former Mexican citizens. Lincoln called the president “a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man.” Although Polk’s war was successful, he lost public support after two bloody years of fighting during which the U.S. lost 1,773 men and spent a whopping $100 million.
The treaty was ratified on March 10, 1848.
Today in1876, the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, known as the National League was formed. The American League (AL) was established in 1901.
The first official game of baseball in the United States took place in June 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became America’s first professional baseball club. In 1871, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was established as the sport’s first “major league.” In 1876, Chicago businessman William Hulbert formed the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs to replace the National Association, which he believed was mismanaged and corrupt. The National League had eight original members: the Boston Red Stockings (now the Atlanta Braves), Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs), Cincinnati Red Stockings, Hartford Dark Blues, Louisville Grays, Mutual of New York, Philadelphia Athletics and the St. Louis Brown Stockings.
In 1901, the National League’s rival, the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs, was founded the first World Series was held in 1903. Various teams switched in and out of the National League over the years, but it remained an eight-team league for many decades until 1962, when the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s (later renamed the Houston Astros) joined the league. In 1969, two more teams were added: the San Diego Padres and the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals). Also that year, the league was split into an East and West division of six teams each. The Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins became part of the National League in 1993, followed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998. In 1994, the league was reorganized to include a Central division, along with the East and West groups.
In 1997, Major League Baseball introduced inter-league play, in which each NL team played a series of regular-season games against AL teams of the same division. (In 2002, the rules were changed to allow AL/NL teams from non-corresponding divisions to compete against each other.)
One major difference between the two leagues remains: the American League’s 1973 adoption of the designated hitter rule allowed teams to substitute another hitter for the pitcher, who generally hit poorly. As a result, teams in the American League typically score more runs than those in the National League, making, some fans argue, for a more exciting game.
The American League’s New York Yankees have won more World Series championships–26–than any other team in baseball.
Rest in peace, Eugene Curran “Gene” Kelly, actor, dancer, singer, director, producer and choreographer, who died today in 1996 at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was age 83.
Gene Kelly was born August 23, 1912 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With jobs scarce, he worked at a dancing school partly owned by his mother. On the side, he formed a dance act with his brother Fred, appearing in local nightclubs and theater productions. In 1938, Kelly got his first Broadway job in the chorus of Leave It to Me, starring Mary Martin.
With his first big Broadway success, in My Pal Joey, Kelly headed to Hollywood, having signed an exclusive contract with the producer David O. Selznick. Selznick promptly lent Kelly to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a studio best known at the time for its large-scale movie musicals. Kelly starred in his first film, For Me and My Gal (1942), co-starring Judy Garland, and bought his contract from Selznick. He choreographed and co-starred in Cover Girl (1944), opposite a then-unknown Rita Hayworth. Cover Girl featured an innovative sequence in which Kelly dances with his “alter ego”–another image of himself filmed separately and combined on a single strip of film.
After serving in the U.S. Navy, Kelly returned to the silver screen with The Pirate (1948), with Judy Garland; Anchors Aweigh (1945) and On the Town (1949), both with Frank Sinatra. He performed a dance routine in Anchors aweigh with the animated mouse Jerry from the Tom and Jerry cartoon series. The eight-minute sequence cost MGM $100,000 and took two months to film, but it was celebrated as a breakthrough moment in cinema for its combination of live action and animated footage. Kelly was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.
An American in Paris (1951), which won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture got Kelly awarded a special Oscar, in honor of his “extreme versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, but specifically for his brilliant achievement in the art of choreography.”
Arguably his last great musical, Singin’ in the Rain (1952). featured Kelly dancing and singing alone on the street during a downpour, with only his umbrella for a prop. As the popularity of big-budget movie musicals waned, Kelly’s films during the 1950s met with varying degrees of success. Late into his career, he continued to make film appearances and direct the occasional movie, including Hello, Dolly! (1969). Kelly’s last big-screen role was in Xanadu (1980), in which he performed a dance routine on roller skates.
Gene Kelly was cremated, without any funeral or memorial services.