The Thing About Today – February 21

February 21, 2020
Day 52 of 366


February 21st is the fifty-second day of the year. It marks the ancient Roman festival of Ferālia, a celebration of the Manes (Roman spirits of the dead, particularly the souls of deceased individuals), which fell on 21 February as recorded by Ovid in Book II of his Fasti. It’s the end of Parentalia, a nine-day festival honoring the dead ancestors.

In the United States, it is “celebrated” as National Grain-Free Day, National Sticky Bun Day, and National Caregivers Day. That last one is typically observed on the third Friday in February.


Historical items of note:

  • In 1804, the first self-propelling steam locomotive debuted at the Pen-y-Darren Ironworks in Wales.
  • In 1808, Russian troops crossed the border to Sweden at Abborfors in eastern Finland, without a previous declaration of war, thus beginning the Finnish War. In the end, Sweden lost the eastern half of the country to Russia.
  • In 1828, the initial issue of the Cherokee Phoenix was published. It was the first periodical to use the Cherokee syllabary invented by Sequoyah.
  • In 1842, John Greenough was granted the first U.S. patent for the sewing machine.
  • In 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto.
  • In 1866, Lucy Hobbs Taylor became the first American woman to graduate from dental school.
  • In 1885, the newly completed Washington Monument was dedicated.
  • In 1916, the Battle of Verdun began. The longest confrontation of World War I, the battle was fought from February to mid-December on the Western Front in France. It was the most costly battle in human history, totaling over 714,000 casualties in 302 days.
  • In 1925, The New Yorker published its first issue.
  • In 1927, American journalist and author Erma Bombeck was born.
  • In 1933, singer-songwriter and pianist Nina Simone was born.
  • In 1937, actor Gary Lockwood was born.
  • In 1946, actor and producer Anthony Daniels was born. He portrayed C-3PO in loads of Star Wars media.
  • Also in 1946, actor and director Alan Rickman was born.
  • Also in 1946, actress Tyne Daly was born.
  • In 1947, Edwin Land demonstrated the first “instant camera”, the Polaroid Land Camera, to a meeting of the Optical Society of America in New York City.
  • In 1955, Kelsey Grammer was born.
  • In 1972, President Richard Nixon went to the People’s Republic of China to normalize relations between the two countries.
  • In 1987, actress Ellen Page was born.
  • In 1996, actress Sophie Turner was born.


In 1964, Mark and Scott Kelly were born. The twin brother shared similar career trajectories: They were both United States Navy captains, pilots, and astronauts.

Sons of two retired police officers, the brothers were both inspired to join the military. Mark graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy with a bachelor of science degree in marine engineering and nautical science. Scott attended the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) at State University of New York Maritime College (SUNY Maritime) and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering.

Both brothers became naval aviators – Mark flew with Attack Squadron 115 (VA-115) in Atsugi, Japan while Scott was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 143 (VFA-143) in NAS Oceana, Virginia – before reuniting at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. Their classmates included future astronauts Alvin Drew, Lisa Nowak, and Stephen Frick.

After being selected for the NASA Astronaut Corps, both brothers worked on the Space Shuttle program. Mark started with STS-108 (Endeavour) and Scott with STS-103 (Discovery).

Mark Kelly’s final mission was STS-134 (Endeavour), after which he retired from NASA and the Navy. His wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, survived an assassination attempt and he retired in order to help with her recovery. In February 2019, he launched his campaign for election to the Senate.

Scott Kelly’s final mission was a year-long study on the International Space Station to better understand the effects of spaceflight on the human body. His brother was used as an Earth-bound control. He retired from NASA after returning home, having retired from the Navy four years earlier.

The Kelly brothers are the only known siblings to have both traveled in space.


The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.




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