January 21, 2017

National Hugging Day is an annual holiday created by Rev. Kevin Zaborney. It occurs on January 21 the midpoint between Christmas and Valentines Day, when people are thought to be at an emotional low.

Studies have shown that human contact has many health benefits. Virginia Satir, respected family therapist, says “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”  Hugging helps build a good immune system, increases the level of oxytocin and decreases the risk of heart disease. Guess what?  Love is the miracle drug.



January 20, 2017

January 20 is Penguin Awareness Day to bring into focus the plight of this flightless bird and their dwindling habitat. The picture you see here is not a prank. Australia’s Phillip Island Nature Park has been dressing Little Penguins (the species name) in hand-knitted wool jumpers to help them survive the oil leaks and spills that happen every day in the Earth’s oceans. Given that a patch of oil the size of a thumbnail is enough to kill the little bird, in 1998 a volunteer came up with the idea of attiring the Little Penguins in sweaters. During the last major oil disaster near the area in 2001, the sweaters helped save 96% of the 453 contaminated penguins. Over the years, the researchers have fine-tuned the knitting pattern to make sure that the wool does not damage the penguin’s feathers and that their flippers or beaks do not get entangled. The sweaters are knitted with 100% wool, which has a unique ability to act as a breathable insulator.


January 19, 2017

The Poe Toaster is an unidentified person or persons who annually visit the grave of Edgar Allan Poe on the anniversary of his birth on January 19, 1809. According to witnesses, the Toaster has made his annual visitation to the Baltimore Westminster Hall and Burying Ground from the 1930s, although nothing is documented until 1950. Each year the Toaster, dressed in black and sporting a wide brimmed hat and white scarf, pours out a glass of cognac, raises a toast, and arranges three red roses on the monument in a distinctive formation.

On several occasions, notes were left along with the roses and cognac. The 2001 note was particularly interesting as it referenced the upcoming Super Bowl XXXV between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens (who, incidentally, derive their name from Poe’s famous poem.) It read “The New York Giants. Darkness and decay and the big blue hold dominion over all. The Baltimore Ravens. A thousand injuries they will suffer. Edgar Allan Poe evermore.” The prophecy was a play on the last line of “The Masque of the Red Death” but was inaccurate since Baltimore beat the Giants 34-7.

In 2007, 92-year-old Sam Porpora, former historian of Baltimore’s Westminster Church, claimed he had started the Poe Toaster tradition in the 1960s as a publicity for the church. However there are reports of the Toaster well before the 1960s and Porpora’s stories vary widely in each telling.

In 2010 the Toaster failed to appear. Jeff Jerome, former curator of the Poe House and Museum, speculated that if the Toaster intended to end the tradition, the 2009 bicentennial would mark a logical end. The 2011 anniversary saw only the appearance of four imposters—dubbed “faux Toasters.” According to Jerome, none of them gave the secret signal, known only to him (Jerome) or arranged the roses in the established pattern. The faux Toasters sparked controversy. Some preferred that the tradition die a “dignified death;” Others urged that it be carried on, by imitators if necessary.

In 2012, once again, there was no appearance by anyone identifiable as the “original” Toaster. Jerome (who has denied rumors that he himself is the Toaster) proclaimed the tradition “over with”. “I would have thought they would leave a note for me saying it was over,” he said. “That does annoy me a little bit, but they are under no obligation to [do so.]

In 2015, the Maryland Historical Society organized a competition to select a new individual to resurrect the annual tribute in a modified, tourism-friendly form. The new Toaster—who will remain anonymous—made his first appearance during the daylight hours of January 16, 2016 (a Saturday, three days before Poe’s birthday), wearing the traditional garb and playing Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre on a violin. After raising the traditional cognac toast and placing the roses, he intoned, “Cineri gloria sera venit” (“Glory paid to one’s ashes comes too late”), from an epigram by the Roman poet Martial.

Though several leading poets were invited to Poe’s funeral, Walt Whitman was the only one to attend. Alfred Lloyd Tennyson, a great admirer of Poe’s, contributed a poem which was read at the ceremony:

Fate that once denied him,
And envy that once decried him,
And malice that belied him,
Now cenotaph his fame.


January 18, 2017

On January 18, 2000 a large meteoroid exploded in the upper atmosphere at an altitude of between 50 and 30 kilometers above Earth with an estimated energy release of about 1.7 kilotons. Because so many people witnessed the fireball above the Yukon Territory and gathered its fragments and because it landed on a frozen lake in the middle of winter, the Tagish Lake Meteorite has become the world’s most well-preserved meteorite. Its fragments were rich in carbon and contained an assortment of amino acids. The passage of the fireball and the high-altitude explosion set off a wide array of satellite sensors as well as seismographs.01-18-17b

January 16

The League of Nations met for the first time on January 16, 1920 in Paris, France. It was organized in the Paris Peace Conference, also known as the Treaty of Versailles, that ended the First World War. Its mission was to prevent wars by settling international disputes via negotiation. It also addressed such issues as labor conditions, human rights, arms trade and global health. The League lacked its own armed forces and depended on the Great Powers to enforce its resolutions and keep its economic sanctions. However the Great Powers were often reluctant to do so. After some notable successes and failures, the League proved incapable of preventing aggression by the Axis powers, all of whom withdrew from the League. The League lasted for 26 years and was replaced by the United Nations on April 20, 1946 after the Second World War.