Remembering John F. Kennedy

John F. KennedyToday, May 29th, would have been President John F. Kennedy’s 96th birthday. Kennedy was elected as the United States’ 35th president in 1961 after serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. He was assassinated in Texas two years later.

Though his role as president is widely discussed, the man himself is often overlooked. Born to a tight-knit family in Brookline, Massachusetts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, nicknamed ‘Jack’, was the second son of nine siblings. His brothers and sisters were also extraordinary, and left lasting impressions on the U.S. in various ways.

JFK’s parents were unusual, taking little interest in the world of Boston socialites and focusing their attention instead on the well-being and education of their children. It was rare for a father to focus on his children during that time. In fact, a family friend once said “most fathers in those days simply weren’t that interested in what their children did. But Joe Kennedy knew what his kids were up to all the time.” He was fiercely competitive and had great expectations for his children. He taught them the importance of winning by entering them in competitions such as swimming and sailing.

Jack Kennedy adopted his father’s competitive approach, but remained mischievous and free-willed. He has been described as a man who “embodied youth and vigor,” as well as someone who lived “fearlessly, intensely, joyously” and who “wanted to do everything.” It is not so surprising, then, that the young president knew how to fly. This little-known fact is confirmed by his flight logbook, written in 1944, which is currently on display at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. History often focuses on the political accomplishments and the untimely demise of America’s 35th president, but on the anniversary of his birthday, it is important to appreciate the man himself as well.

Remembering Amelia Earhart

Today’s Google Doodle sets out to honor Amelia Earhart on her 115th birthday. Born on July 24th, 1897, Earhart was an author and aviation pioneer, widely known for being the first aviatrix to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Earhart was awarded the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross as a result of her feat, and set several other records in the field as well. Some of Earhart’s bestselling books included retellings of her flight experiences, and her stories and passion for aviation inspired many women throughout the United States, including Eleanor Roosevelt.

Amelia Mary Earhart, or ‘Meeley’, grew up in Kansas with her younger sister Grace Muriel Earhart- ‘Pidge.’ Having been raised in an unconventional manner, Amelia was always encouraged to pursue her interests and spent most of her childhood climbing trees, hunting rats with a rifle, collecting insects and toads, and ‘belly slamming’ her sled downhill.

Amelia and her sister were homeschooled until she was 12 years old; only then were they sent to public school. Despite the numerous moves and relocations throughout her family life, Amelia learned that she was “exceedingly fond of reading” and pursued her education passionately, taking particular interest in fields that were mainly male-oriented, including law, advertising, mechanical engineering and film direction and production.

Earhart trained as a nurse’s aide and helped care for soldiers and other World War I casualties after visiting her sister in Toronto and witnessing the wounded in 1917. She continued her service when the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic hit Canada, and later became afflicted with the illness herself.

During the time spent recovering, Earhart attended an air fair in Toronto and witnessed a flying exhibition put on by a World War I ‘ace.’  Later she recalled:

“I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”

She planned to study medicine at Colombia University, but after a visit to an airfield and an impromptu ride, Earhart’s life had changed.

“By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly,” she said.


San Diego Maritime Museum Builds Spanish Galleon

The San Diego Maritime Museum is building a real-life replica of a Spanish galleon from the 16th century. The goal is to create a ship similar to the San Salvador,  the flagship of explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s small fleet, which was the first to brave the waters of North America’s  west coast.

During the Keel Laying Ceremony last year, Chairman of the Board of Port Commissioners, explained: “One of the missions of the port is to activate the waterfront, to give people a chance to come out and enjoy this great real estate that we have here in San Diego. The port’s really happy to host and be a landlord  for two of the great waterbourn museums in the world. We have the Midway, which tells the story of the Navy, and we have this great Maritime Museum that tells the story of Maritime here at the West Coast and America.”

Juan Rodriguex Cabrillo sailed into what is now the San Diego port. “It is historically one of the great sea ports in all of history, and keeping with that heritage is very important,” said Maritime Museum Executive Director Ray Ashley. He added that to create the galleon, the designers studied old drawings, contracts and even shipwrecks.

The port has other historical value besides its impact on the region’s economy. It was the first place of contact between Europeans and the native Kumeyaay.

Anthony Pico, tribal chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay, spoke at the event as well. He said: “We all understand that the first meetings throughout this country between your ancestors and mine was a tragic one. But those are times that have gone by, and with this century is a new time. This is a new time for partnerships, it’s a new time to integrate and to learn from one another.”

The building of the Spanish Galleon is a way to celebrate the development of the region and its peoples, as well as to expose the new generation to the areas rich history and educate them about their past.


What is Presidents Day?

Presidents Day has come to an end, and with it the amazing sales and shopping sprees that are associated with the three-day weekend. In a generation where knowledge is so easily accessed, it seems rather sad that the true reason for the day is little known. Many assume the day is to commemorate America’s presidents, but the tradition was initially founded in honor of the United States’ patriarch, President George Washington, on his birthday, February 20th. In fact, though the day is known as Presidents Day, or President’s Day, it is officially known as Washington’s Birthday.

President Rutherford B. Hayes signed the law for the federal holiday in 1879, and only federal workers of the District of Columbia were affected. In 1885, the holiday was extended to federal workers in thirty-eight states by President Grover Cleveland.

A century later, according to Congressional Record, the holiday was moved to the third Monday in February. The change came in order to reduce governmental employee absenteeism, as well as to provide citizens with more family time and increase industrial and commercial production. The same move was made for Columbus, Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

As for the name of the Day, the change was suggested by Representative Robert McClory, who believed the holiday should commemorate both Washington and President Abraham Lincoln. The opposition to the Presidents Day amendment took the form of William Moore McCulloch, who claimed it “would be unwise. Certainly, not all Presidents are held in the same high esteem as the Father of our Country. There are many who are not inclined to pay their respects to certain Presidents.”

Though today the holiday is known as Presidents Day, the amendment to the bill actually fell short of the required votes, and the name was not officially changed. Still, federal holidays only affect the District of Columbia and the Federal Government, and so the individual states have since decided their own legal holidays.

States including California, Texas, Alaska, Massachusetts and others celebrate President’s Day in honor of both Washington and Lincoln, while others commemorate Washington’s birthday alone.


A Brief History of Thanksgiving

Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving

I’m writing now from my parent’s home as we prepare for our annual Thanksgiving dinner. I’m happy to be home, and even happier that the big meal is just a few hours away. Meanwhile, as I smell that sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie baking in the oven, I wanted to share, as a reminder, a brief history of the first Thanksgiving.

A group of “Pilgrims” (as we call them now) left Plymouth, England in September of 1620 in search of a new life and religious freedom. These 102 religious separatists set sale on the Mayflower for the New World. Sixty-six days later they had crossed the Atlantic and docked at Cape Cod, a place far to the north of their intended destination. They set sail for another month and finally docked at the new Plymouth, in Massachusetts.

Their first winter in the new land was a devastating one, as most of the colonists chose to remain aboard the ship while the settlement was being built, and over half of those who had arrived died of exposure, scurvy, and disease. The survivors moved ashore when warm weather arrived in March.

To their surprise, they were greeted by two English-speaking Native Americans. One of them, Squanto, taught them survival skills, including how to cultivate corn, extract maple syrup, fish from the rivers, and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the Pilgrims forge an alliance with the local Indian tribe, an alliance that lasted more than 50 years.

After the first successful harvest in November 1621, Governor William Bradford organized a three-day festival – what we call today, the first “Thanksgiving.” The colonists and their Native American allies gathered to celebrate, eating traditional Native American fare such as deer, lobster, seal and swan, as well as local fruits and vegetables.

From then until the Civil War, Americans celebrated their thanks one or more days a year, until in 1863 Abraham Lincoln proclaimed November 26th as the nation’s official Thanksgiving Day, to be observed on the final Thursday of November each year.

So enjoy your meal, and remember to be thankful for all the good in your life.