Casimir Pulaski Day – Illinois & Wisconsin

1st Monday in March


“In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March on the holiday…”

Casimir Pulaski Day, Sufjan Stevens

What do kids know nowadays, of bravery and sacrifice and sausages?

They think “Casimir Pulaski Day” is a Sufjan Stevens song.

Which it is. But the song from Stevens’ “Illinois” album is named for a holiday and a figure largely unknown to the vast majority of Americans outside Illinois and its neighbors.

Count Pulaski was a Polish noble, born near Warsaw on March 4, 1746 (some sources say 1745 or 1747), who became an unlikely hero of the American Revolution.

In his early twenties, Pulaski fought alongside his father in Poland against Russian forces seeking to increase their power over Poland. Pulaski quickly became a respected and capable military commander. But the Russians eventually overpowered him and his Polish forces.

[Poland was completely devoured by Prussia, Russia, and Austria in the partitions of the 1770’s and 1790’s. And other than a brief interval between WWI and WWII, Poland would remain under foreign influence until 1989.]

Having been declared an enemy of the state, Pulaski escaped to Turkey in 1772 and then to France in 1775. He was destined to help free, not his homeland of Poland, but an entirely different continent.

In France, Pulaski became acquainted with Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de La Fayette, the French general who would lead American troops to victory during the Revolutionary War.

Pulaski decided to sail to America to join the American Colonists in their fight for independence from Britain. Serving directly under George Washington, Pulaski’s skill as a master of fighting on horseback earned him the top position in the newly-formed U.S. Cavalry, at Washington’s insistence.

On October 9, 1779, Brigadier General Pulaski took part in the French-American siege on British-occupied Savannah. Pulaski was mortally wounded in the groin during the siege and died two days later.

In the late 1920’s, Congressman Hickey of Indiana proposed holiday recognition for Pulaski, based on the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of Pulaski’s October 11th death.

Two years later President Hoover proclaimed October 11 “Pulaski Memorial Day.”

President Franklin Roosevelt however vetoed a 1935 bill which would have made each October 11 “Pulaski Memorial Day,” stating:

“Every American should have the deepest appreciation of the brilliant and gallant services of General Pulaski in the Revolutionary War… [but] I do not think that General Pulaski would have wished to be singled out from his fellows and comrades for more honor than we can give to them all.”

quoted in “Politics and People” by James Harold Wallis

Illinois, Wisconsin, and New York beg to disagree.

The Fifth Avenue Pulaski Parade in New York City dates back to 1937 and falls on the first Sunday of October. The Parade celebrates not just Pulaski but all things Polish.

In 1977 the Illinois Legislature decided to celebrate his birth rather than memorialize his death, declaring the first Monday in March Casimir Pulaski Day. School kids and many government workers get the day off in Chicago, the city with the largest Polish population outside of Poland.

Wisconsin holds a public school observance day in his honor, on or near what is believed to be the actual date of his birth, March 4.

[Pulaski Day was Monday—it’s celebrated the 1st Monday in March in Illinois—but I’ve moved this post to March 4 because that’s  Pulaski’s actual birthdate. March 4 was also the day Chicago was incorporated as a city. And in the Catholic Church, March 4 is St. Casimir Day, patron saint of Lithuania. No, it’s not named four our man Pulaski, but for the 15th century saint who died of tuberculosis.]

George Washington’s Birthday?

Actual birthday: February 22?
Observed: 3rd Monday in February

George Washington’s birthday is observed on the third Monday in February. Since the third Monday falls between Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, many people celebrate it as Presidents’ Day. But the federal holiday’s name was never officially changed. It is still ‘Washington’s Birthday Observed’ even if it is commonly referred to as ‘Presidents Day’ by state legislatures and mattress stores alike.

(Flags George served)
Union Jack 1700s 1776 US flag US Flag 1777
(1700s Union Jack; early 1776 colonial flag; 1777 U.S. flag)

Thing is, George was actually born on February 11th, not February 22nd.

In 1732, British colonies still used a form of the Julian Calendar. Under the British system the calendar year ended on March 24 and the new one began on March 25. Thus March 24, 1732 would be followed by March 25, 1733.* (A modern equivalent would be if the U.S. calendar followed the tax year—if April 15 marked the end of 2008 and April 16 marked the start of 2009.)

Why anyone got rid of this ingenious system God only knows.

Anyway, Britain’s decree to adopt the Gregorian calendar on March 25, 1752, changed two things:

First, 11 days had to be axed from the calendar.** I don’t know who had a grudge against September, but that month was chosen to do the deed. Thus, the date “September 2, 1752” was followed by September 14, 1752.

Did this mean if your birthday fell on September 3rd you didn’t get a year older? No, most folks just reassigned their birthdays or other days of note to the corresponding Gregorian date. So September 3rd became September 14.

George Washington, 1772, by C. Wilson Peale

From the time of the switch onward, Washington chose to observe his birthday on February 22 rather than February 11. In fact, February 22 was celebrated as Washington’s birthday by Americans even when he was alive.

Also, 1752 became the shortest year ever in the British calendar. At just 9 months, it began on March 25 and ended December 31. Thus Washington’s 20th birthday on February 22, 1753 was exactly 365 days after his 19th birthday on February 11, 1751.

If you’re not confused yet, go here.


*[For millennia the beginning of Spring (what we’d consider February or March in the Northern Hemisphere) was considered the beginning of the year. The Roman calendar we use today was an exception rather than the norm. And in fact, even Romans considered March the first month of the new year up until 153 BC. It took centuries for that change to take hold in rural agrarian society.]

**[Astronomers under Julius Caesar suggested that inserting an extra day (leap day) in the calendar once every four years would make up for the fact that the solar year was actually 365.25 days, not 365. That calculation was slightly off, but only by less than a day per century. After fifteen centuries the disparity was too great to ignore. So Pope Gregory instituted a new calendar, removing three leap days every four centuries. But to make up for lost time—or gained time depending on how you look at it—countries adopting the Gregorian calendar had to skip 11 to 13 days on their calendars.]

George Washington: Unanimous my Animous

George Washington: unanimous my animous

Observed: Third Monday in February
Actual Birthday: February 22


Was George Washington elected unanimously?

The tallies of the first presidential election in 1789, submitted by electors of 10 of the 13 United States of America, were as follows:

  • George Washington: 69 votes
  • John Adams: 34 votes
  • John Jay: 9 votes
  • Robert Harrison: 6 votes
  • John Rutledge: 6 votes
  • John Hancock:4 votes<
  • George Clinton: 3 votes
  • Samuel Huntington: 2 votes
  • John Milton: 2 votes
  • James Armstrong: 1 vote
  • Edward Telfair: 1 vote
  • Benjamin Lincoln: 1 vote

[Source: The Papers of George Washington: the Electoral Count for the Presidential Election of 1789]
So you see John Adams had 1 short of half as many votes as Washington. Why do we say Washington was elected unanimously?

Originally the Constitution asked state delegates to submit two names for President. The idea being the person with the most votes would become President and the one with the second most votes would be Vice-President.

Every single one of the 69 delegates across the 10 participating states voted for George Washington as one of their two choices. The remaining 69 votes were split among 11 other prospects as shown above. John Adams was unique among the 11 others in that he acquired votes not just from his own state (Massachusetts) and its neighbors but as far south as Virginia.

Inauguration of Washington, by Elorriaga
Inauguration of Washington, by Ramon de Elorriaga

On April 30, 1789 George Washington was inaugurated President. The ceremony took place on a Federal Hall balcony overlooking Wall Street in New York City, the nation’s first capital. Ironically, New York was the one state that had ratified the Constitution but had not voted for Washington. Or anyone else. New York legislators had failed to pass an Election Act in time to select delegates to participate in the election.

North Carolina didn’t ratify the Constitution until November 1789, 7 months into Washington’s Presidency. Rhode Island ratified it the following year.

Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Inauguration
Rhode Island ratifies Constitution
This Day in History: Washington unanimously elected by Electoral College
NY Times Article on Elorriaga’s Painting: The Inauguration in Oil, April 21, 1889

Mardi Gras

February 21, 2012

[published Feb. 5, 2008]

Mardi Gras, as I’m sure you’re well aware, is first and foremost a devout religious ceremony, marking the last day in the Catholic liturgical calendar that observing Christians can wear beads, eat pancakes and show their boobs.

“Fat Tuesday” (or to the AMA: “Obese Tuesday”) marks the finale of the carnival season. The whole carnival season itself is called, surprisingly, “Carnival,” which spans from Twelfth Night (Epiphany) until the day before Ash Wednesday.

This year’s Mardi Gras is the earliest Mardi Gras in 25 years. But if you’re worried about the abbreviated Carnival season, fear not. The next time Fat Tuesday will fall as early as February 5 is 2160.

What’s changed about Carnival since Katrina? Not the popularity. After Katrina, visitors had dropped from 1 million to 360,000 in 2006. That number skyrocketed to 800,000 in 2007, and crowds this year are estimated to have surpassed the one million mark.

What else has increased? According to locals, the violence. As of Monday there were 5 shootings that injured 9 people, including one incident where a bullet fired in a scuffle outside the Holiday Inn Express pierced the wall of the hotel and struck a bystander in the head.

This year was celebrated as the 40th anniversary of Bacchus, the original “superkrewe.” Superkrewes like Bacchus and Endymion are credited with changing the face of Carnival, starting in the late 1960s. They invited international celebrities as guests of honor to the parades; they introduced larger, more extravagant floats and unprecedented amounts of booty–the bead and throw kind, not the Girls Gone Wild.

The increase in the size of the Krewes (Endymion alone has 2000 riders, 39 floats and 27 marching bands) and the celebration allowed out-of-towners more participation at Carnival. Still, long-time Orleanians note that the new larger scope of Carnival has compromised the communal feel the celebration once held.

Each year krewes select a king and queen for their parade and ball. Tradition dictates that the king is an older, distinguished member of the social club. A group of eligible young women are served a special King Cake with one bean (or plastic baby) baked inside. She who finds the lucky bean in her cake becomes the new Queen, provided she hasn’t choked to death.

King Cake

(King Cake)

Mardi Gras and Carnival’s roots go back to the spring festivals of ancient Greece and Rome, notably Lupercalia, which took place in February.

“Carnival” means “farewell to the flesh.” A great, succinct history of Carnival’s evolution is at:

A Brief History of Mardi Gras


Mardi Gras Multimedia

Arthur Hardy’s History of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras History

2006 NY Times article: No Cinderella Story, No Ball, No Black Debutante

Krewe Index

Presidents’ Day

3rd Monday in February

“A federal statute officially designates the holiday  as ‘Washington’s Birthday,’ reflecting the desire of Congress specially to honor the first president of the United States.” — 5 U.S. Code, Section 6103

The United States government honors three individuals’ birthdays with their own federal holiday. Who are they?

george_washington martin_luther_king_jr_with_ abraham_lincoln_cracked_portrait





  • George Washington (3rd Monday in February)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr (3rd Monday in January)
  • and Jesus Christ (Christmas, December 25th).

Yes, the picture above was just to fool you. Lincoln didn’t make the cut. [And Columbus Day remembers the date Columbus landed in North America, not Columbus’s birthday.]

The third Monday in February is official Washington’s Birthday Observed, not Presidents’ Day. The confusion came in 1968 with the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, in which the federal government moved Washington’s Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February…

…even though the third Monday in February can never fall on February 22.

The first year the Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect was 1971. That year “Washington’s Birthday” holiday fell on February 15, closer to Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12) than Washington’s. Henceforth, many states, cities and companies which formerly recognized Lincoln’s Birthday on a local level decided to forego it in favor of a joint “Presidents’ Day” honoring both.

On the national level, “During the 1998 restyling of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, references to ‘Washington’s Birthday’ were mistakenly changed to ‘Presidents’ Day,'” according to the U.S. Code.

So that year Congress reiterated that:

“A federal statute officially designates the holiday  as ‘Washington’s Birthday,’ reflecting the desire of Congress specially to honor the first president of the United States.” — 5 U.S. Code, Section 6103

Is George Washington miffed about sharing his birthday with another Prez? Or about it never being celebrated on his actual birthday?

It’s all a moot point, because George Washington was not born on February 22.

Nope. Despite the fact that the country has celebrated February 22 as Washington’s Birthday since the end of the 19th century, George was in fact born on February 11.

In 1752, when George was 20, Britain and all its colonies transfered from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, as much of the rest of Europe had already done.

Part of the switch entailed a one-time chucking of 11 days from the calendar, in order to make up for 11 extra leap days that had piled up over the past 15 or so centuries.

Washington chose to recognize the Gregorian equivalent of his birthday, February 22, instead of February 11, as his legal birthday, just as the anniversaries of many pre-1752 dates had to be adjusted 11 days to reflect the new reality. [Yeah, Y2K had nothing on Y1752.]

Personally, I think we should go back to George’s Julian birthday and celebrate his birthday and Lincoln’s on February 11th and 12th. That’s right, a four-day weekend for the hard-working American people.

My friend who’s a Congressional aide tells me another holiday will never fly at the Capitol. But if countries like Germany and Australia can give workers 6 weeks off for vacation, I think each of our two greatest Presidents deserves a little celebration of their own…

Legal Holidays of the United State of America

5 USC Sec. 6103. Holidays

      (a) The following are legal public holidays:

        New Year's Day, January 1.
        Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the third Monday in
        Washington's Birthday, the third Monday in February.
        Memorial Day, the last Monday in May.
        Independence Day, July 4.
        Labor Day, the first Monday in September.
        Columbus Day, the second Monday in October.
        Veterans Day, November 11.
        Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday in November.
        Christmas Day, December 25.

By George, it IS Washington’s Birthday! – History of Presidents’ Day

Lincoln’s Birthday

February 12

If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?

Abraham Lincoln

Young Abe Lincoln

There are only two Americans remembered with a federal holiday: George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.

That’s right, Abe Lincoln, considered by many to be America’s greatest President, didn’t make the cut.

It’s true that many states celebrate ‘Presidents Day’ in honor of both Washington and Lincoln, while others celebrate Lincoln’s Birthday separately.

But on the national level ‘Presidents Day’ was never officially adopted. There were movements in Congress to create a new holiday on Lincoln’s birthday, or, since it was only 10 days before Washington’s birthday, celebrating the two on a single ‘Presidents’ Day. However the change never took effect. Though the date was changed, and the holiday is commonly called ‘Presidents Day,’ by the media and public, the Monday federal holiday is still officially “Washington’s Birthday.”

Here we have one of the earliest writing samples of Abraham Lincoln, when he was a young child:

Abraham Lincoln is my nam
And with my pen I wrote the same
I wrote in both hast and speed
and left it here for fools to read

Abraham Lincoln his hand and pen
he will be good but god knows When

My favorite Lincoln story stems from his Illinois lawyer days when he was defending a client by the name of Melissa Goings in the town of Metamora.

The 70 year-old Goings was accused of killing her husband, a well-to-do farmer, though she claimed she acted in self-defense. Her husband was known to be abusive and drink heavily. In her statement Mrs. Goings said she had wrested loose as he choked her, and struck him in the head with a stick of firewood, fracturing his skull. He died three days later. His last words were, “I expect she has killed me. If I get over it, I will have revenge.”

Even though Mrs. Goings’ story was consistent, awareness of domestic violence was not as broad as it is now, and Lincoln knew there was a good chance of her conviction.

Melissa posted her own $1000 bail. However, on the day of her trial she had a short conference with Lincoln, her lawyer, after which she walked out of the courthouse and was never seen again.

The court bailiff was angry with Lincoln. Unable to locate Mrs. Going, he accused Lincoln of “running off” the defendant. Lincoln denied the charge. “I did not run her off,” Lincoln insisted, “She wanted to know where she could get a good drink of water, and I told her there was mighty good water in Tennessee.” (Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years)



February 9

On this day in 1878 Harper’s Weekly published the following cartoon protesting the renewal of the Federal income tax. The tax had been levied during the Civil War, and abolished in 1872.

Harper's Cartoon

Proponents of re-establishing the tax assured the public that only the rich would be taxed. Harper’s editor George Curtis corrected them: only the honest would be taxed, and the rich would find a way to get around it.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

February 7


My senior year of high school: As my uncle lay dying of AIDS in the hospital, a classmate of mine explained to our AP psychology class that God had created AIDS to punish gay people.

I didn’t say anything. My uncle was gay, and I was afraid that would only cement his point.

It’s 17 years later. Apparently, God didn’t know when to quit.

He punished homosexuals and heterosexuals, Blacks and Whites, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and First Nations, men and women, the poor, and of course sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps because he felt he hadn’t given that continent enough to contend with already.

HIV/AIDS is neither racist nor sexist. It is an equal-opportunity infector, with only one preference: that its host live long enough to infect others.

Still, in 2004, men accounted for nearly three-quarters of all new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States, and African-Americans—who make only 12% of the general population—accounted for half of all new cases.

The spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa and among African-Americans led to other rumors about AIDS: not that it was sent by God to punish gays, but that it was invented by the government to use against Blacks.

The persistence (or truth-resistance) of rumors like these underlies a mystery that medical doctors and scientists haven’t explained. Ever since its youth in the early 1980’s, HIV/AIDS has displayed an uncanny ability to play upon the fears and prejudices of America with the expertise of a 1930’s dictator rising to power.

By taking root in the ‘Out’ caste in America (The mysterious killer was once called ‘Gay Cancer’), it ensured that serious government effort to stop or study the virus would be postponed for years, that millions of future hosts would be stigmatized, and that open dialogue about the disease would be nearly impossible.

The problem worsened as AIDS took hold in minority communities, where negative feelings about homosexuality ran even deeper than in society at large:

“Today, while there are black men who are openly gay, it seems that the majority of those having sex with men still lead secret lives, products of a black culture that deems masculinity and fatherhood as a black man’s primary responsibility — and homosexuality as a white man’s perversion.”

Double Lives on the Down Low – New York Times, 2003

Men in heterosexual relationships who secretly have sex with other men are said to be on the “down low”. According to Ruth Houston:

“Record numbers of Black women are contracting HIV/AIDS through heterosexual contact – mainly  from husbands and boyfriends on the down low…Many of us have been mistakenly led to believe we can tell a “down low brother” by his outward appearance or mannerisms – the way he walks, talks, dresses, or acts.  As a result, many innocent Black men have been falsely accused.”

Black AIDS Day: A Wake-up Call for Black Women About the Down Low

But Keith Boykin, a former White House aide, believes the role of Down Low men has been overplayed:

“The down low…provided a sexy new vehicle to drive home a more predictable message about AIDS in the black community. With hints of closeted sexuality and talk of double lives, it played right into our stereotypical image of black men, and it conjured up the secrecy of a mysterious underground lifestyle.”

Beyond the Down Low, 2005

The same year that I was told that God had sent AIDS to punish gays, another classmate, an African-American bound for Princeton, argued in class that homosexuality was a Western phenomenon that didn’t exist in Africa. Even more confusing was my teacher’s response in evidence that it did: “What are you talking about? AIDS is rampant in Africa!

If God did create AIDS, perhaps he did so, not to punish the marginalized, but to test the rest of us. We didn’t fail the test completely, but we haven’t passed with marks to write home about.

We have invested billions in AIDS research, developed miracle medicines that were unimaginable only a decade ago. But even this has shined a gloomy light on another human flaw.

Because of miracle technology, some of the uninfected continue to live their lives as if HIV/AIDS is no longer a fatal disease, [“If we change our lifestyles, the Viruses have won!“?] expecting that, worst case scenario, science will be there to bail them out.

A Peace Corps volunteer tells the story of how, at the end of her two years, the water pump broke in her small rural village. The villagers expected her to fix it. When she told them she thought they should fix it, that it would benefit the whole village to do so, they “laughed and said they would just wait for the next volunteer to come” and ask them. These formerly self-sufficient villagers had grown, not just to expect foreign aid, but to rely upon it.

Have we become a culture of dependency, confident that science will bail us out of the next mess?

AIDS has a remarkable power to adapt and reinvent itself, both chemically and politically. There is still no cure for the disease, and the drugs that now allow some Westerners to live with HIV are still wildly unaffordable for millions dying in Africa and the Third World.

Working in the field of drug and alcohol addiction in Los Angeles, I found that the “War on HIV/AIDS” is not so much a war as an endless series of battles that are fought through guerrilla tactics, by ordinary men and women on every street and in every house in cities across the continent.

And that miracle drugs are not the shields of the soldiers. They are band-aids for the wounded. The weapon is responsibility.

Every 10 seconds, someone on the planet dies of AIDS. More than 8,000 people will die today from this disease.

Make no mistake about it, the cavalry will not come to save us…

You see, we are the cavalry.

Keith Boykin, An Exhortation To a Weary Army