Happy Birthday, Mr. President

The bright sun and mild temperatures offered us a glimpse of spring this past weekend, just as Marylanders observing Washington’s birthday 139 years ago experienced “unseasonably warm” weather.

The weather that day, February 22, 1878, was described as “unpropitious for holiday enjoyments,” as the “oppressive” temperature reached a high of 63 degrees with showers, “… and overcoats and heavy clothing were uncomfortable,” according to a front page article the next day in The Baltimore Sun.

That did not stop folks from commemorating the day, however: “The anniversary of Washington’s Birthday was observed in Baltimore and throughout the country yesterday by a general suspension of business and the demonstrations usual to the occasion.

“…The national flag was displayed from all the government and city buildings, as well as from many other places, and among the shipping in port, foreign as well as American. The streets were thronged with people, especially in the afternoon, when the sunshine led to a hope that the showers were over. Baltimore, Charles and other streets in the centre of the city were at that period of the day densely thronged. The places of amusement did a large business, and at night balls, reunions and social gatherings closed the festivities of the day.”

According to the Center for Legislative Archives website, Washington’s birthday (February 22) was officially made a holiday by Congress in 1879 for federal employees in Washington, D.C. though it had been celebrated years before. In 1885, Congress expanded the observance of this day (and the rest of federal holidays) to all federal employees.

This date was celebrated for nearly 100 years until 1968, when Congress passed the “Monday Holiday Law” to create more three-day weekends to boost the economy. Now Washington’s birthday is celebrated each year on the third Monday of February.

An interesting tidbit per the center: “Contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to ‘President’s Day.’”

Sources: Center for Legislative Archives; The Baltimore Sun, February 23, 1878

Image: Pendleton’s Lithography (Stuart, Gilbert). “George Washington, first president of the United States.” From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Digital file from b&w film copy negative of cropped image http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c17116 accessed February 20, 2017

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