February: Groundhogs, Valentines, Presidents, & African American History

February is the time to celebrate some very important events and themes.

February is the time to celebrate some very important events and themes.

Dig Into Some Groundhog Trivia
Each February since 1887, people have gathered at locations across the country to watch a hairy animal pop out of a hole and predict the weather. Although most people know that there is no actual way a groundhog can be a weather prognosticator, the curiosity of whether he will see his shadow and predict six more weeks of winter weather or call for an early spring is enough to make this fun event an annual one. Here on Staten Island, our own Staten Island Chuck will play host to media, fans, and all interested parties at his home at the Staten Island Zoo with a free Groundhog Day Celebration beginning at 6:30am. Yes, that’s 6:30 AM (!), when New York City’s only forecasting groundhog will make his grand prediction. There will be music and fun and a chance to meet the hog himself! There is also an optional special breakfast with Chuck afterwards (registration/fee required).

Wondering how groundhogs, one of 14 species of marmots, hibernate like that? These animals gorge themselves during the summer to build up fat reserves. After the first frost arrives, they nestle down in burrows to hibernate the winter away. The groundhog is able to slow its heartbeat down considerably and survive with a body temperature that is not much warmer than its burrow environs. Groundhogs reside across North America, although they are more common in the Northeastern and Central United States. Groundhogs have been found as far north
as Alaska.

Although they are aggressive by nature and will be territorial among their species and defend their territory — often fighting to establish dominance — most groundhogs will run from humans to the safety of a burrow. It can take quite a lot of socialization to produce the groundhogs handled for Groundhogs Day celebrations.

From Saints to Chocolate
Valentine’s Day commemorates love and romance and also the patron saint, Valentine. The history of St. Valentine is shrouded somewhat in mystery, and there are beliefs that many different people went by the name St. Valentine. One such individual was a holy priest who served in Rome, Italy. Some historians surmise that he was jailed for defiance during the reign of Claudius II, who decided that men served better as soldiers if they were single and had no attachments at home in the way of a wife and family. Thusly, he outlawed marriage. St. Valentine didn’t agree with the views and reportedly performed marriages for young lovers in secret. For this, St. Valentine was sentenced to death. Pope Gelasius marked February14 as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom in 496 AD. Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different martyred saints named Valentine or Valentius. Another legend says that Valentine himself authored the first Valentine card. It has been rumored he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter while in prison and sent her a letter. He signed it, “from your Valentine.”

No matter the origins of the holiday, today St. Valentine’s Day has become a day where love is celebrated by sending cards, flowers and tokens of affections. Chocolates and roses seem to go hand-in-hand with Valentine’s Day events.

Presidential Biography:
William Howard Taft
With President’s Day upon us, the history of the office of the President of the United States of America is once again being celebrated. While most are aware President Barack Obama is currently in the Oval Office, less likely know off the top of their head who occupied the office a century ago.

William Howard Taft took his oath of office in 1909 and served until 1913 after he lost his bid for re-election the previous fall to New Jersey’s Woodrow Wilson. Though Taft might have preceded Obama by a century, their respective presidencies did have similarities. According to his official White House biography, Taft’s presidency was largely uncomfortable, as he often found himself caught in the midst of intense battles between Progressives and Conservatives, a type of political infighting that the current President may relate to.

The 27th President of the United States, Taft was born in 1857 and, following in his father’s footsteps, practiced law like his father, who was a distinguished judge. Appointed a federal circuit judge at the ripe old age of 34, Taft’s ultimate aspirations at the time were to become a member of the Supreme Court. But biographers credit Taft’s wife, Helen Herron Taft, with encouraging her husband to pursue a political career, one that ultimately would find him in the nation’s most prestigious and powerful political office.

Under President McKinley in 1900, Taft served as a chief civil administrator to the Philippines, where he was credited with improving the economy and the nation’s infrastructure. Taft eventually found himself serving as President Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of War in 1907. Roosevelt encouraged the Republican Party to nominate Taft as his successor in the next election, and Taft was nominated the following year.

After leaving office, Taft returned to his alma mater, Yale University, to serve as a professor of law. Years later, President Warren G. Harding made Taft Chief Justice of the United States, a position Taft claimed was the greatest honor of his lifetime. Within five weeks of his retirement from that position in 1930, Taft passed away and became the first President to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The History of Black History Month
February is Black History Month, a month dedicated to educating people about the culture of those, including African-Americans, who left Africa and celebrate their various achievements in all walks of life. The origins of
Black History Month can be traced to
the founders of the Association for
the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH): Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson–the son of two former slaves, and Jesse E. Moorland–a black minister and civic leader from Ohio.

In 1926, the ASNLH sponsored a national Negro History Week, choosing the second week of February for the celebration because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln–the 16th President of the United States who presided over the end of slavery, and Frederick Douglass–the famed former slave who rose to prominence as a social reformer, writer, orator, and statesman. Negro History Week proved inspiring to communities across the country which organized local celebrations and established historical clubs to study the history of black Americans. By the late 1960s (possibly due to the Civil Rights Movement), it had evolved into Black History Week. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially proclaimed February as Black History Month. In less than 100 years, Woodson and Moorland went from honoring the history of black Americans to joining the growing list of honorees who are celebrated every February.

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