- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

Winter gets really old right about now, with little distraction save a $5-off coupon for Jiffy Lube and the temptation to order a multidimensional pizza for no apparent reason.

Alas, winter has gone grim, gray, grizzled, granular — and now that we have run out of g-words, it is time to buck up and remember that the Chinese New Year has begun, and the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day beckon in cheerful disarray.

Why, January itself is National Bread Machine Baking Month, National Bald Eagle Watching Month, National Hot Tea Month, National Oatmeal Month and National Puzzle Month, and it embraces International Get Over It Day and Z Day, meant to recognize those whose names begin with Z.

But let us talk about today. As in Jan. 29.

Yes, Jan. 29. As an exercise in optimism and to prove that each day is full of, full of — well, they’re all full of something — we shall repair to our BarcaLoungers and laud Jan. 29.

Oyez, oyez. The first meeting of the Jan. 29 Appreciation Club is now in session.

Jan. 29 looms large for fans of Galileo, who first spotted Neptune through his telescope on this very day in 1613. Everyone also should rattle library cards. John Beckley, the nation’s first Librarian of Congress, was appointed to his post on Jan. 29, 1802, at the salary of $2 a day.

Next, all loyal club members must say, “Once upon a midnight dreary” with great vigor, in unison and on the count of three. Edgar Allan Poe first published “The Raven” in the New York Evening Mirror on this day in 1845.

We follow next with a rousing chorus of “Home on the Range,” official song of Kansas, which became the 34th state in the Union on Jan. 29, 1861.

The American Baseball League was organized in Philadelphia 105 years ago today and, moving right along, we find that an unknown named Walt Disney landed his first job as an artist on this day in 1920, working for $40 week at the KC Slide Co. in Hollywood. Not to be outdone, one Carl R. Taylor of Cleveland was granted a patent for an ice-cream-cone-rolling machine on this day in 1924.

All hail the cone rollers.

Just in case the club is inclined to wear turbans and swing dance, we shall remember that Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra recorded “Song of India” for RCA Victor Records on this day in 1937. And it was on Jan. 29, 1944, that the world’s first telecast of a ship’s launching — the USS Missouri — went out over the rudimentary airwaves from Manhattan.

(The club now offers a short break to all members who would like to think for a few moments about Jan. 30 or even Feb. 1.)

Speaking of ships, the nation’s first air-conditioned ship, the Newport News, was commissioned in Newport News, Va., on this day in 1949. Houston’s Astrodome — the first of our massive, fully enclosed sports arenas — was finished on this day in 1966. The inaugural event? A polo game.

By the way, President Reagan announced on Jan. 29, 1984, that he would seek a second term.

But what of our famous Jan. 29ers? History Orb, a historical Web site, lists a whopping 135 famous persons born on Jan. 29, from Prince of OrangeFrederik Hendr (1584) to second baseman Steve Sax of Dodgers/Yankees/White Sox fame (1960).

But wait. There also are:

“Common Sense” political scribe Thomas Paine (1737), 25th U.S. president William McKinley (1843), angst-ridden writer Anton Chekhov (1860) and William Claude Fields (1880), more affectionately known as W.C., the film actor who once noted, “It was a woman who drove me to drink, and I never even thanked her.”

The list also includes Yazoo Delta blues singer Leadbelly (1885), New York Democratic lawmaker Adam Clayton Powell (1908) and actors Victor Mature (1915) and Tom Selleck (1945). Punk rocker Tommy Ramone was born on this day in 1952, two years before media maven Oprah Winfrey in 1954.

The old music charts reveal the following folks had No. 1 hits on Jan 29: Dinah Shore (“Buttons and Bows,” 1949), Pat Boone (“Don’t Forbid Me,” 1957), the Righteous Brothers (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” 1965) and Stevie Wonder (“Superstition,” 1973).

And just in case Jan. 29 of yore is getting, well, old, consider that our friends to the north are horning in on Punxsutawney Phil’s territory today. Now. The little town of Stirling, Ontario, is celebrating its 20th Groundhog Fest at this very moment, complete with Celtic music and the culinary delights of Newfoundland.

The Canadians may be on to something. “We’re just trying to beat the winter blahs and give everybody a welcome break from Old Man Winter,” organizer Dave Potts observes.

Punxsutawney Phil could not be reached for comment and remains in seclusion until Thursday, when he will emerge from his burrow to sign autographs, eat pizza and perhaps cash in on his $5-off coupon at Jiffy Lube.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and groundhogs for The Washington Times’ national desk. Contact her at jharper@ washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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