February 13, 1891: Birth of Grant Wood

“The persons in the pAmerican Gothicainting, as I imagined them, are small town folks, rather than farmers. Papa runs the local bank or perhaps the lumber yard. He is prominent in the church and possible preaches occasionally. In the evening, he comes home from work, takes off his collar, slips on overalls and an old coat, and goes out to the barn to hay the cow. The prim lady with him is his grown-up daughter. Needless to say, she is very self-righteous like here father. I let the lock of hair escape to show that she was, after all, human.
These particulars, of course, don’t really matter. What does matter is whether or not these faces are true to American life and reveal something about it. It seemed to me that there was a significant relationship between the people and the false Gothic house with its ecclesiastical window.
Incidentally, I did not intend this painting as a satire. I endeavored to paint these people as they existed for us in the life I knew. It seems to me that they are basically solid and good people. But I don’t feel that one gets at this fact better by denying their faults and fanaticism.
In general, I have found, the people who resent the painting are those who feel that they themselves resemble the portrayals…

This Midwestern farm country is in my blood. By build and by disposition, I am a prairie schooner.”

February 12, 1809: Peggy Walters Midwives a Baby near Hodgenville, Kentucky

“I was twenty years old, then, and helping to bring a baby into the world was more of an event to me than it became afterward. But I was married young, and had a baby of my own, and I had helped mother, who, as you know, was quite famous as a granny-woman, and I had gone several times to help when I was sent for. It was Saturday afternoon, I remember, when Tom Lincoln sent over and asked me to come, and I got up behind the boy that rode across to fetch Lincoln's Cabinme, and I rode across to the cabin that then stood here. It was a short ride, less than a mile. It was winter, but it was mild weather, and I don’t think there was any snow. If there was any then, it wasn’t much, and no snow fell that night. They sent for me quite as soon as there was any need, for when I got there nothing much was happening. They sent for her two aunts, Mis’ Betsy Sparrow and Mis’ Polly Friend, and these both came, but they lived about two miles away, so I was there before them, and we all had quite a spell to wait, and we got everything ready that we could.

They were poor folks, but so were most of their neighbors, and they didn’t lack anything they needed. Nancy had a good feather-bed under her; it wasn’t a goose-feather bed, hardly anyone had that kind then, but good hen feathers. And she had blankets enough. There was a little girl there, two years old. Her name was Sarah. She went to sleep before much of anything happened.

Well, there isn’t much that a body can tell about things of that kind. Nancy had about as hard a time as most women, I reckon, easier than some and maybe harder than a few. It all came along kind of slow, but everything was regular and all right. The baby was born just about sunup, on Sunday morning. Nancy’s two aunts took the baby and washed him and dressed him, and I looked after Nancy. That’s about all there is to tell. I remember it better than I do some cases that came later, because I was young, and hadn’t had so much experience as I had afterward. But I remember it all right well.

Oh, yes, and I remember one other thing. After the baby was born, Tom came and stood there beside the bed and looked down at Nancy, lying there, so pale and so tired, and he stood there with that sort of a hang-dog look that a man has, sort of guilty like, but mighty proud, and he says to me, ‘Are you sure she’s all right, Mis’ Walters’? And Nancy kind of stuck out her hand and reached for his, and said, ‘Yes, Tom, I am all right.’ And then she said, ‘You’re glad it’s a boy, Tom, aren’t you? So am I.’

No, there isn’t much you can tell anybody about things of that sort. But Tom Lincoln was mighty anxious about his wife, while she was suffering, and mighty good to her, too. And they were both proud and happy that it was a boy. You can’t tell much about the birth of a baby, except that you were there, and that the baby was born. But you can tell whether folks wants the baby or not, and whether they love or hate each other on account of it. I was young then, and I noticed and remembered everything. I remember it a heap better than I remember much that happened afterward. I tell you I never saw a prouder father than Tom Lincoln; and I never saw a mother more glad than Nancy was to know that her baby was a boy.

And they sort of explained to me how they named the little girl Sarah because the name Abraham didn’t fit, and Sarah was the next best. For Tom’s father, that was killed by Indians when Tom was a little boy, his name was the one they wanted the first baby to have. And so Nancy says to Tom, ‘Now we can use the name we couldn’t use before.’

And Tom says, says he, ‘Yes, Nancy, and it’s a right good name. This here baby boy,’ says he, ‘is named Abraham Lincoln.’ “

February 11, 1861: Abraham Lincoln bids Farewell to Springfield, Illinois

When Abraham Lincoln left Illinois, to start his inaugural journey for Washington, D.C., he boarded a special presidential train at the Great Western Railroad station in Springfield.Lincoln Farewell

A huge crowd gathered. These were his people – he knew nearly every face in the crowd – and everyone in the assembled throng recognized the immense challenges he would soon face. These were his farewell words:

“My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”

February 10, 1807: Congress Authorizes the US Coast Survey

The United States Coast Survey was authorized by Congress and President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 to survey “the coasts of the United States, in which shall be designated the islands and shoals, with the roads or places of anchorage, within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States; and also the respective courses and distances Hasslerbetween the principal capes, or head lands, together with such other matters as he may deem proper for completing an accurate chart of every part of the coasts within the extent aforesaid.”

Just as Lewis and Clark had been sent to explore the western frontier, Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, a recent Swiss immigrant who had taken part in the survey of Switzerland and served as its Attorney General, was charged with charting the coastal waters of the United States as well as the St. George’s bank and the Gulf Stream.

Drawing on his deep experience as both a scientist and a lawyer, he brought together mathematicians, cartographers, geodesists, metrologists, hydrographers, topographers, sailors, laborers, and administrators and molded them into the first United States Government agency which collected masses of geographic information, developed means to process that information, and produced products for the safety and welfare of the citizens of our Nation.

The Coast Survey developed accurate maps and mathematical models for predicting future states of geophysical phenomena such as tides, currents, and geomagnetic declination. Its work proved instrumental in the formation of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Academy of Sciences and the establishment of their early policies.

Hassler was criticized for his foreign ways, but he accomplished much more than just surveying the coast. He fought the first budget and administrative battles with bureaucrats and lawmakers who did not understand the nature of science or its requirements; trained a cadre of surveyors, topographers, and artisans, and helped establish our nation’s standards of weights and measures on a scientific basis.

More than anything else, he elevated the status of science in government and society. He came to a nation with little science infrastructure and left a thriving organization of mathematicians, geodesists, topographers, hydrographers, instrument-makers, engravers, and printers who worked in concert to collect and process the data for our nautical charts.

As the first professional American scientist Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler left a legacy of accuracy, precision, and scientific integrity with which he imbued not only the Coast Survey but, ultimately, all American science institutions

Source: NOAA – Celebrating 200 Years

February 9, 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy Discovers a Nest of Communists

Joe McCarthy was facing reelection in the winter of 1950. Speaking in Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9 he held up a piece of paper which he claimed listed the names of 57 State Department employees who were members of the Communist Party. Two days later he sent a telegram to President Truman:

“In a Lincoln Day speech at Wheeling Thursday night I stated that the State Department harbors a nest of communistsMcCarthy and communist sympathizers who are helping to shape our foreign policy. I further stated that I have in my possession the names of 57 communists who are in the State Department at present. A State Department spokesman flatly denied this . . .
“The day the House Un-American Activities Committee exposed Alger Hiss as an important link in an international communist spy ring, you signed an order forbidding the State Department giving to the Congress any information in regard to the disloyalty or the communistic connections of anyone in that Department, despite this State Department blackout, we have been able to compile a list of 57 communists in the State Department . . .
“This list is available to you, but you can get a much longer list by ordering the Secretary Acheson to give you a list of these whom your own board listed as being disloyal, and who are still working in the State Department. I believe the following is the minimum which can be expected of you in this case:
“That you demand that Acheson give you and the proper Congressional committee the names and a complete report on all of those who were placed in the Department by Alger Hiss, and all of those still working in the State Department who were listed by your board as bad security risks. . .
Failure on your part will label the Democratic Party of being the bed-fellow of international communism. Certainly this label is not deserved by the hundreds of thousands of loyal American Democrats throughout the nation, and by the sizable number of able loyal Democrats in both the Senate and the House.”

Harry Truman drafted this reply:

My dear Senator;
I read your telegram of February eleventh from Reno, Nevada with a great deal of interest and this is the first time in my experience, and I was ten years in the Senate, that I ever heard of a Senator trying to discredit his own Government before the world. You know that isn’t done by honest public officials. Your telegram is not only not true and an insolent approach to a situation that should have been worked out between man and man but is shows conclusively that you are not even fit to have a hand in the operation of the Government of the United States.
I am very sure that the people of Wisconsin are extremely sorry that they are represented by a person who has as little sense of responsibility as you have.

Sincerely yours,

February 6, 1911: Birth of Ronald Reagan

Born in Tampico, Illinois, on February 6, 1911, Ronald Reagan and his family moved many times during his childhood.  In December 1920, when he was nine years old, they rented a house on Hennepin Avenue in Dixon.  Reagan remembered raising rabbits in the back yard with his older brother Neil. “All of us have to have a place we go back to.  Dixon is that place for me.  There was the life that has shaped my body and mind for all the years to come.”

Ronald_Reagan YoungHis father, Jack Reagan, was a shoe salesman who scraped and scrapped so his family could get by. Always looking for a new pot of gold, he uprooted the family at every turn. Throughout young “Dutch” Reagan’s childhood, his family never owned a home.

In one of these moves Ronald had a kind of epiphany. The lonely boy ventured to the attic of his latest home. The previous tenant left behind a collection of bird’s eggs and butterflies enclosed in glass. The curious first-grader escaped into the attic for hours at a time, marveling at the eggs’ rich colors and the intricate wings of the butterflies. “The experience,” Reagan remembered, “left me with a reverence for the handiwork of God that never left me.”

But life was not simple or easy. One cold February evening in 1922 11-year-old Ronald returned home from a basketball game at the YMCA, expecting to arrive to an empty house. Instead, he was stunned by the sight of his father sprawled out in the snow on the front porch. “He was drunk,” his son later remembered. “Dead to the world … crucified.” His father’s hair was soaked with melted snow, matted unevenly against the side of his reddened face. The smell of whiskey emanated from his mouth.

“Dutch” Reagan wanted to simply let himself in the door and pretend his dad wasn’t there. Instead,  he stood over his father for a minute or two, and then grabbed a fistful of overcoat and hauled his father into the bedroom, away from the weather’s harm and neighbors’ attention.

The event shook the young Reagan, but he felt no resentment, just grief. And he never forgot it. This, after all, was the man who had always carried him.

Four months later he was baptized at his mom’s church.

February 5, 1826: Abigail Powers Marries Millard Fillmore

In 1819, Abigail Powers was a teacher at the New Hope Academy in upper New York State. Millard Fillmore was working off an indenture, chopping wood, milking cows, making cloth and doing what he could to get by.

FillmoresAbigail was the daughter of a Baptist minister and grew up in a home with a large collection of books. Millard Fillmore never had the benefit of a continuous education, but he did have a thirst for knowledge and he read voraciously – using a dictionary to learn the meaning of words he didn’t understand.

Fortunately for Millard Fillmore, his poverty and drive for knowledge was mirrored Abigail’s own experience and ambition. She helped him learn, and on subjects where they both lacked knowledge, they studied together.

When Fillmore moved to Buffalo to further his education, he soon realized he had been “unconsciously stimulated by the companionship” of his teacher. Abigail and Millard did not see each other for three years but they corresponded and shared their hopes and dreams.

In Buffalo, Fillmore studied for a career in law. Despite their separation and skepticism from Abigail’s family regarding his suitability as a husband, the relationship survived through their letters. They were married at her oldest brother’s house in Moravia, New York, on February 5, 1826.

Abigail continued to teach for more than a year after the wedding, but after becoming pregnant with the first of two children, she turned her focus to supporting her husband’s career. She kept abreast of the important issues of the day by reading newspapers and listening to debates and he was soon elected to Congress.

His political career took off and in 1848 Fillmore was elected Vice President. When Zachary Taylor came down with cholera and died in July 1850, Millard Fillmore suddenly became the 13th President of the United States, and Abigail became First Lady.

Abigail was shocked upon coming to the White House that it had no library and promptly began lobbying for funds to create one. Despite a lingering foot injury that made it difficult to stand, Abigail boosted her husband’s profile through her public appearances, though she preferred attending art galleries and lectures over glitzy social events.

She hosted some of the era’s renowned artists, including Washington Irving and Charles Dickens and opera singer Jenny Lind. She remained an important advisor during her husband’s tenure as president, although his failure to heed her suggestion to veto the Fugitive Slave Act likely doomed his chances of earning the Whig Party’s re-nomination in 1852.

Abigail was looking forward to a tour of the Southern states as her husband’s term of office drew to a close. Unfortunately she caught a cold standing outdoors during the inauguration of his successor Franklin Pierce. The next day she came down with a fever, and she was moved to the nearby Willard Hotel for care, but the fever turned into bronchial pneumonia.

Abigail Fillmore passed away just 26 days after leaving the White House.

February 4, 1789: George Washington wins in a Landslide

Article Two of the new U.S. Constitution specified that each state appoint a  presidential electors equal to the “number of Senators and Representatives to which the state may be entitled in Congress.”

washington postcardEach elector would vote for two people, at least one of whom did not live in their state. The individual receiving the greatest number of votes would be elected President, and the next-in-line, Vice President.
The first election was set for February 4, 1789.

Between December 15, 1788 and January 10, 1789, electors were chosen in each of the states, but New York failed to choose its eight electors in time for the vote, two electors each from Virginia and Maryland were delayed by weather, and North Carolina and Rhode Island, which would have had seven and three electors respectively, had not yet ratified the Constitution and so could not vote.

So on February 4, 1789 the remaining 69 electors of the Electoral College gathered to cast their votes.

George Washington was the favorite son of the largest state and had served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and President of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. When the votes were counted Washington was unanimously elected the first President of the United States with all 69 electoral votes. No other president since has come into office with anything close to such a universal mandate.

John Adams, who had served as the first U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, finished second with 34 electoral votes and became the first Vice President of the United States.

John Jay came in third with 9 votes, Robert Harrison and John Rutledge each received 6, John Hancock got 4, and George Clinton 3. Five other candidates split the remaining seven votes.

Upon hearing the news of his decisive election, Washington reluctantly returned from Mount Vernon to New York “in obedience to the public summons” to assume his new responsibilities, explaining that “the voice of my Country called me.”

February 3, 1931: Arkansas Prays for the Soul of H.L. Mencken

One of H.L.Mencken’s Laws was “Nature abhors a moron,” and one of his favorite pastimes was attacking the South for being ruled by the “booboisie”.

mencken“In all that gargantuan paradise of the fourth-rate there is not a single picture gallery worth going into, or a single orchestra capable of playing the nine symphonies of Beethoven, or a single opera-house, or a single theater devoted to decent plays. . . . Nor a historian. Nor a sociologist. Nor a philosopher. Nor a theologian. Nor a scientist. In all these fields, the south is an awe-inspiring blank.”

The Arkansas state legislature finally decided it had heard enough when it heard that Mencken had elevated their state to “the Apex of Moronia”. Unable to indite, or skin him alive, they passed a motion to pray for the soul of H. L. Mencken.

Mencken’s writings left it unclear whether or not he believed he actually had a soul:

“We are here and it is now. Further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine.”

“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

“I am suspicious of all the things that the average people believes.”

“Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”

“Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant.”

“The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.”

“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.”

“If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.”

February 2, 1934: First “Grundsow Lodge” established in Pennsylvania

By early February, winter is starting to get old and everyone is itching to see a sign of spring. Farmers start to get nervous about whether they have put up enough hay to get through the rest of the winter. “Groundhog Day – Half your Hay” is the old proverb they repeat as they count the remaining supply in their hay lofts.groundhog

The first record of Groundhog Day as we know it comes from the diary of James Morris, a storekeeper in Berks County of Pennsylvania, who noted back in February of 1841:

  “Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

An old English poem associated Candlemas, when beeswax candles were blessed to celebrate the presentation of Christ in the Temple, with a weather forecast:

     If Candlemas be fair and bright,
          Come, Winter, have another flight;
     If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
          Go Winter, and come not again.

Back in the old country, the Germans had looked to either a hibernating badger or a hedgehog as a weather prognosticator as winter neared the halfway mark. When they got to Pennsylvania neither of those animals could be found, but the groundhog was everywhere.

The Scotch-Irish in western Pennsylvania tried to appropriate the holiday in 1886 when “The Punxsutawney Spirit” newspaper would dub their resident rodent “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary” and start a tradition.

But eastern Pennsylvania was always the true home of the groundhog. Berks and Lehigh Counties in eastern Pennsylvania had been for the main part German speaking societies for their first three hundred years. But by the early nineteen-thirties English was taking over in most communities and German Americans looked for ways to preserve their heritage.

In 1934 William “Pumpernickle Bill” Troxell, who wrote a “Pennsylvania Dutch” column for the Allentown Morning Call, organized some local German Americans into the first “Grundsow” (Groundhog) Lodge at the Keystone Trail Inn in Allentown. They proclaimed the groundhog to be their King for the day on February 2nd and burned off some cabin fever with good clean fun.

The lodge still meets every year at a “Fersommling” (Gathering) on “Grundsow” Day to hear the groundhog make its annual weather prognostication, and to enjoy an evening eating scrapple and shoo fly pie, speaking “Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch” with “g’spiel” (plays or skits) , singing “Mei Land, ich sing von dir” (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee), and celebrating old traditions and customs.  Pennsylvania Dutch is the only language permitted and those who slip up and speak in English must pay a nickel per word into a bowl in the center of the table.

Today there are 17 “Grundsow” lodges in Berks and Lehigh Counties, and a “Grossdaddi” (Grandfather) Grundsow Lodge in Kutztown, which celebrate Pennsylvania’s German cultural heritage and keep the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect alive.

Here is another useful saying to predict the weather::
 “Wann der Hund dich uff der Buckel legt, gebt’s Schnee!”
(When the dog lies on his back, there will be snow!)

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