Monday, February 19, 2018

Nancy (Mullen) Benco Oswald (1928 - 2018)

On Saturday morning, February 18, 2018, , Nancy (Mullen) Benco Oswald died at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, PA. She was one month shy of her 90th birthday. Nancy was the daughter of Patrick Mullen (born in Ballina, County Mayo) and Bridget McHugh (born in Glangevlin, County Cavan). She lived her entire life in the Philadelphia and Allentown areas and is predeceased by two husbands, Joseph P. Benco and Walter T. Oswald.

Although her health had been failing over the past couple of years, Nancy was determined to attend the wedding of her granddaughter, Laura, last May. A few months after attending that wedding, she set her sights on another goal: attending the annual Mullen Christmas Party this past January. She accomplished that goal, participating in a rousing Irish sing-a-long lead by her son, Joe.

She died peacefully in her sleep surrounded by all of her children. Below is her official obituary, along with a few photos of her throughout the years.
 Nancy T. (Mullen) Benco Oswald, 89, of Allentown, died Saturday, February 17, 2018 at Lehigh Valley Hospital - Cedar Crest. She was the beloved wife of the late Joseph P. Benco, Sr. to whom she has now rejoined in Heaven. Born in Philadelphia, March 13, 1928, Nancy was the daughter of the late Patrick J. and Bridget Agnes (McHugh) Mullen. She was employed as a unit clerk at Lehigh Valley Hospital - Cedar Crest for 17 years before retiring. Nancy was a member of St. Joseph the Worker Roman Catholic Church, Orefield serving as Lector, Eucharistic Minister and sang with the funeral choir. She volunteer as a religious counselor at the Lehigh County Prison. Survivors: Loving and devoted mother of Maureen T. Benco of Allentown, Elaine P. Benco Hersh and her husband, Frederick of Emmaus, Janet A. Benco McShane and partner, Robert S. Lavin of Macungie, Joseph P. Benco, Jr. and his wife, Mary of Hampton, NJ, James Patrick Benco of Allentown; brother, Joseph Mullen of Wayne; sister, Patricia Sears of Willow Grove; grandchildren, William, Laura, Christopher, Andrew, Julie, Joseph III, Jessica; predeceased by siblings, Jack, Mary, Thomas, James.
Service: A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated 10:30 am. Friday, February 23, 2018 at St. Joseph the Worker Roman Catholic Church, 1879 Applewood Drive, Orefield. The Rev. Joseph P. Becker will be the celebrant. Family and friends may pay their respects from 6 - 8:00 pm. Thursday and 9 - 9:45 am. Friday in the Heintzelman Funeral Home, Inc., 4906 Route 309, Schnecksville. Interment will take place at 2:00 pm. Saturday, February 24, 2018 at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Philadelphia. Online expressions of sympathy may be recorded at www.heintzelmancares.com. Contributions: In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to St. Joseph the Worker Angel Fund c/o the funeral home, P.O. Box # 196, Schnecksville, PA 18078-0196.

Nancy at the wedding of my parents in 1948

With her husband, Joseph Benco, at the same wedding
At the 2005 Mullen Christmas Party


Reviewing passenger ship manifests at the 2006 Mullen Christmas Party

A better photo of Nancy at the 2006 Mullen Christmas Party

Checking in at the 2008 Mullen Reunion in Ballina


At the "family farm" in Ballina in 2008

With her son, Jim, in Puerto de Cádiz in 2014


At her birthday party in March, 2017


At her granddaughter's wedding in May, 2017




Thursday, November 9, 2017

Kathleen Duffy (1923-2017)


It is with sadness that I report the death of Kathleen Duffy on October 26, 2017, from complications caused by pneumonia.  Although she lived to the age of 94, her sudden sickness and death still caught me by surprise.  When I spoke with her on her birthday last August she still sounded strong and clear of mind. Her obituary, written by her nephews Patrick Mills (standing, center, in the photo above) and  Brian Fowler (standing, upper right) can be found here.  

From a genealogical perspective, Kathleen Duffy was my third cousin once removed, but from every other perspective she was much closer than that.  I first "met" Kathleen back in 2005 after my first visit to Ireland.  During that visit my interest in genealogy was fueled by a meeting in Ballina with Vince Duffy who showed me a large family tree that had been put together by his late father (Sean Duffy) and his father's cousin (Madge Messenger).  When I returned to the States, I sent a packet of information to Madge describing my interest in genealogy and asking for her help. A few months later, though, that packet was returned to me unopened with a note stating that it had never been claimed.  I decided to send the packet to Madge's sister, Kathleen Duffy, who called me at my home a week or so later.  She informed me that Madge's health had deteriorated to the point that she could no longer participate in detailed genealogical discussions, but that she would help me if she could.  This phone call initiated a friendship between us that would last until Kathleen's unexpected death. 
Letter to Aunt Mary

In early 2006 I began to organize a reunion of the extended Mullen Family in Ballina. Kathleen was overjoyed when she heard of this.  She stated that she was battling a number of physical ailments but that she would try her best to be there. I told her that I completely understood if she could not attend and mentioned that my Aunt Mary (a year older than Kathleen) was facing a similar dilemma.  A day or two later I received an email from Kathleen.  Embedded within was a note that Kathleen asked me to forward to Aunt Mary, a woman that Kathleen had never even met!  Click on the image on the right and take a minute or two to read this note.  It will provide you with a small inkling of Kathleen's unique personality and her ability to connect with others.  Ultimately, Aunt Mary's illness prevented her from attending the Reunion and meeting Kathleen.  Still, Kathleen would often ask me about Aunt Mary in her emails. 


At the 2008 Reunion
Kathleen and I finally met face-to-face at the Mullen Reunion in Ballina in 2008. While that event was, in many ways, a tremendous success, I didn't spend as much time as I would have liked with Kathleen.  Thankfully, my extended family had a chance to talk with her at length, and she made a deep and lasting impression on them -- and vice-versa.  This was epitomized on the morning after the Reunion as the U.S. contingent was climbing on a bus for a tour of western Ireland.  Kathleen, of course, had insisted on being there to see us off.  As the bus pulled away from the Downhill House Hotel, the last thing we all saw was Kathleen waving goodbye to us with her handkerchief.  I didn't capture that moment in a photo but I can still see it in my mind's eye as I type these words.  

In the years which followed, we continued to stay in touch, but it was mostly by email (Kathleen was very good with email into her 90's!)  She would often ask when Marilynn and I would return for another visit.  Sadly, we only managed to get back to England twice -- once during a week long vacation in 2009 (when the photo at the top of the post was taken) and again in 2015 when we attended Maire Davies' 70th birthday party.  It was during the 2015 visit that we had the pleasure of meeting Bridie Simkins, a woman whom Kathleen called "my best friend".  Marilynn and I had brought some gin and tonic with us as Bridie had told us that it was Kathleen's favorite drink.  We spent a lovely evening with Kathleen at Bridie and Ernie's house but, somehow, forgot to drink a gin and tonic!  After we returned to the States, Bridie sent us a short video of Kathleen.  I think it's fitting to end this memorial to Kathleen by clicking on the link below and hearing a few words from Kathleen herself -- sitting around with her best friend while enjoying a gin and tonic.

Kathleen and Bridie enjoying a G&T:  November 2015

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My Day of Living Dangerously



A couple of days ago I inadvertently sliced my finger while unwrapping an Oster blender / food processor that I got for my birthday.  (Damn!  I should have looked at that YouTube unboxing video first!)   It wasn't a huge slice but it was bleeding like a sonovabitch, so I hustled to the medicine cabinet for a BAND-AID® (registered trademark of Johnson & Johnson) and some kind of ointment.  Sadly, the cabinet contained only a box of minimally sticky CVS bandages and no antiseptic ointment of any kind. With no real option, I decided to use a CVS bandage sans ointment.  Then I spotted a little bottle hiding in the corner of the cabinet containing a substance that I had almost forgotten about, something that -- if you're under 30 -- you've probably never heard of.  Its chemical name is "merbromin" but it was mass-marketed in the United States for the better part of a century under a different name: Mercurochrome. 

Opening the Oster blender box without assistance took courage, but what happened next was truly living dangerously.  I unscrewed the top off of the bottle, removed the glass applicator and placed a daub of Mercurochrome on my cut finger.  And there you have it.  I have just admitted to self-medicating myself with a drug that has been banned in the United States of America.  #politicalcareerover.
 
Click to enlarge
At this point you're probably wondering why Mercurochrome is a banned substance. Well, there's a short answer and a long answer.  The short answer is that it contains mercury, a substance identified by the EPA as a neurotoxin which, in sufficient quantities, is detrimental to your health.  The long answer is much more interesting.

The Long Answer

After extensive research via that fake-news pipeline known as the Internet, I learned that, in 1889, a John Hopkins professor named Ira Remsen created a substance called phenolsulfonphthalein (as difficult to pronounce as it looks).  In 1919, Hugh H. Young, another John Hopkins professor, built on that discovery to create merbromin, a related compound containing a trace amount of mercury. Finally, a third guy named Dr. H.A.B. Dunning developed a two percent solution of merbromin that would become known as Mercurochrome.  While initially used as a urinary antiseptic, Mercurochrome was soon sold to the public as an all-purpose antiseptic for small cuts and scratches.  Its trace amount of mercury acted as a disinfectant, disrupting the metabolism of microorganisms that could infect an exposed wound.

Mercurochrome quickly became a staple of every first aid kit in America. The FDA, which in those days didn't have the power or the resources to effectively regulate every drug, classified it as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS).  Things stayed that way until 1978 when the FDA began a twenty year review of all over-the-counter antiseptics. While it found no evidence that Mercurochrome caused mercury poisoning, the FDA removed it from the GRAS list in 1998 anyway.  It also reclassified it as a "new drug.  This meant that a company wishing to continue producing Mercurochrome had to go through the FDA's onerous (and expensive!) approval process.  Unsurprisingly, no company elected to go through this process since:
  • There were already many other non-mercury based antiseptics available to consumers.
  • The patent on Mercurochrome had expired.  If a company chose to invest the time and money and managed to persuade the FDA to approve Mercurochrome, any other  company would then be able to produce a generic version. 
  • Mercurochrome was a very inexpensive drug to make with a very low profit margin.
  • The public had become wary of anything that contained even a trace amount of mercury.

Is it Safe?
According to this publication on a website called ISPUB (Internet Science Publications), Mercurochrome is as safe as bath water:
"Generally speaking, methylmercury is the poisonous form which is not the form of mercury found in Mercurochrome, thermometers, dental fillings, electrical switches, or vaccines. Mercurochrome contains mercury in a disodium salt form which is considered to be perfectly safe."
Despite it's impressively sounding name, ISPUB has all of the earmarks of a fake news site or, at bare minimum, a site without the proper amount of scientific oversight.  I resorted to quoting from it because, after 4 hours of searching the web, it was the only site I could find that even attempted to address the safety question.  Every other site avoided the issue with variants of "If the FDA banned it, it must be dangerous!" or "Better safe than sorry!".  While I understand those sentiments, there still should be some objective scientific evidence as to whether Mercurochrome is safe or not, especially since it is still being produced and used by other countries.   But as far as I've been able to determine, the effect of Mercurochrome on humans has never been rigorously tested and documented.

Since there appears to be no medical proof for the relative safety of Mercurochrome, let me leave you with the following logical proof:
  • References to Mercurochrome describe it as a 2% aqueous solution of merbromin containing a "trace amount of mercury".
  • Per FDA documents, a "trace amount" of mercury must be less than 1 part per million.
  • The FDA has also set the maximum permissible safe level of mercury in seafood at 1 part per million.  
  • A drop of Mercurochrom (which is mostly water) weighs approximately 0.050 grams.
  • A recommended serving size of swordfish is approximately 100 grams.
  • Therefore, eating a meal consisting of a recommended serving size of swordfish will expose your body to 2,000 times the amount of mercury that is contained in a drop of Mercurochrome. 
  • Stated another way, you can put 2,000 drops of Mercurochrome on your body before it becomes a mercury health-hazard greater than a single FDA-approved swordfish dinner.
  Q.E.D.                             

PS:  Mercurochrome remains banned in the United States, France, Germany and Switzerland.

Friday, March 24, 2017

William J. Behrens and the Man of Steel


About four years ago, I joined a genealogical research site called Ancestry and began investigating the Hugues branch of my mother's family tree.  In a relatively short period of time, that tree has grown to over 1,100 verified names.  That may sound like a lot of names but, in genealogical terms, it's not that impressive.

Think of it this way:  Assume that you want to build a comprehensive family tree that extends from the present day back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence (1776).  That's a span of 241 years or approximately 10 generations.  Let's also assume that, as you progress down through the generations, three children from each family marry and have (on average) three children of their own who marry,  and so on, down through the generations.  The chart on the left shows how quickly a family tree based on these simple assumptions can explode into almost 200,000 names!  All of this is a roundabout way of saying that there are quite a few names on my Hugues Family Tree that have not been fully explored.  One such name belongs to a man named William J. Behrens.

William J. Behrens was my mother's second cousin.  He was the son of Henry Behrens and Martha Mehan and was born in San Francisco, CA, on September 12, 1921.  Per Ancestry's California Marriage Index, William married a woman named Noel Heill in Los Angeles, CA, on August 27, 1953.  He died in Los Angeles on February 12, 2011, at the age of 89.  That, in a nutshell, was everything I could find out about William J. Behrens.  Ancestry contained no other information about his wife and no leads at all regarding children.  After a while, I marked William Behrens as a "cold case" and moved on to other names. 

Who called him "Papa"?
Last week, though, a colleague on Ancestry (and also my third cousin) posted a photo of the gravestone of William J. Behrens.  I already had this photo but I clicked on it anyway, just for the hell of it. Surprisingly, I saw something I hadn't noticed before.  Above his name was the word "Papa".  To me, this was a strong indicator that he had, indeed, fathered at least one child.  The game was once again afoot!  I dusted off my Ancestry research skills and dove in. 

Pay dirt!
It had been quite a while since I'd done any research on this guy so I was hoping to find a fresh, new lead.  That hope was quickly dashed.  After about an hour of searching I hadn't turned up anything meaningful on him or his wife, Noel Heill.  In fact, other than that reference in the California Marriage Index, I had absolutely nothing on his wife, not even a date of birth!  I decided to bring up a scanned image of that marriage index to see if it contained anything else of use ... and did it ever!  William's wife was not named Noel Heill.  Her name was Noel Neill!  If that name means nothing to you, it's probably because you weren't born before 1960 and didn't watch the Superman TV show on channel 11, WPIX, starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel.  Noel Neill was the name of the actress that played Lois Lane!

All this seemed a little too good to be true.  Before I could announce this monumental discovery, I needed ironclad proof.  Now that I had Noel's correct name, this turned out to be pretty simple: 
  1. The California Birth Index confirmed that William J. Behrens, with a mother whose maiden name was Mehan, was born on September 12, 1921.
  2. The Minnesota, Birth Index confirmed that Noel Darleen Neill was born on November 25, 1920.
  3. The California Marriage Index (above) confirmed that William Behrens (age 31) and Noel Neill (age 32) were married on August 27, 1953.  Both ages correspond exactly to the information contained in their birth index records.
On top of that, there's this excerpt from a Wikipedia entry on Noel Neill:
Personal life
In 1943, Neill married makeup artist Harold Lierley in Hollywood, California. The marriage was annulled shortly afterward. Neill then married William Behrens in 1953 in Santa Monica, California; the marriage ended in divorce in 1962. While still married to Behrens, the Superman television program was cancelled. 
That sealed the deal for me.  In the TV series, Lois Lane never married Superman.  But in real life, William J. Behrens was her Man of Steel! 

George Reeves and Noel Neill in the 1950's

Noel Neill died last year. In her obituary, the New York Times failed to mention any children, noting only that she had "no surviving family members".  Since Behrens was in his 40's at the time of their divorce, it's probably a safe bet that he, too, died without children.  Maybe the word "Papa" on his gravestone was simply his nickname:  "Papa Behrens", a play on "Papa Bear".  Whatever.  It's time to close this case again and move on to a new name.  


Postscript:

Here we go again.  While writing this story, I couldn't resist the urge to continue researching.  When the Ancestry well ran dry I switched to a second genealogical site called Family Search.  I created a search using everything I now knew about Noel Neill and William Behrens and hit ENTER.  Unbelievably, my results included a copy of their actual marriage certificate from a database called "California, County Marriages, 1850-1952":

Mind blown ... again!
This document confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that William John Behrens, my mother's second cousin and the son of Martha Mehan and Henry Behrens, married Noel Darleen Neill in 1953.  But it also raises a brand new issue:  Before marrying Noel Neill, William Behrens had been married twice before!  So maybe he does have descendants after all!

The game is afoot!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thoughts on Inauguration Eve

I have no intention of watching any of this weekend’s Inauguration festivities for the 45th President of the United States.  But I also have no intention of participating in any of the protest marches taking place around the nation.   At this point, Trump hasn't done anything as President of the United States to warrant such an action.  It is true, though, that he continues to do things that border on the ridiculous and the petulant, as though he’s deliberately thumbing his nose at his detractors.   Here are a few of his highlights since Election Day: 
Rex Tillerson:  Amid fears that Russia possessed comprising information on him, and despite proof that Russia successfully hacked the email accounts of Democratic party leaders during the election and attempted to hack into the U.S. electrical grid, Trump nominated Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State.  Mr. Tillerson was the CEO of ExxonMobil until last month and is a multi-millionaire with deep ties with Russia dating back to the 1990’s.   He is also strongly opposed to the 2014 sanctions that were imposed on Russia by the EU and the US in response to Russia’s military intervention in the Ukraine.  Those sanctions have already cost ExxonMobil an estimated $1 billion.  Not exactly an appointment that “drains the swamp.” 
Ben Carson: Following his November victory, Trump nominated Ben Carson for Surgeon General, a position for which Dr. Carson could actually be qualified.  Surprisingly, he declined the position because, as stated by his business manager:  “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency.  The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”  At that moment on that day, I had new-found respect for Dr. Carson.  But it didn’t last long.  A few weeks later, Trump nominated him again, this time to head up the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  You’d think that Dr. Carson would once again decline, but you’d be wrong.  He quickly accepted the nomination, stating as one of his qualifications, “I grew up in the inner city … and have dealt with a lot of patients from that area”. 
Betsy DeVos:  Ms. Devos is a Michigan billionaire nominated by Trump to head the Department of Education despite the fact that she has been a longtime foe of public education.  She’s an advocate of the voucher system and the use of public funding to pay for private and religious schools.  The National Education Association (NEA) calls her “dangerously unqualified”, stating that she has “spent decades working to dismantle public education and privatize public schools”.  The ACLU denounced her attempts to “create a voucher system that would divert public money to private and religious schools and erode the bedrock value of separation of church and state.” And then there’s her support for guns in schools, citing grizzly bears in Wyoming as a compelling reason. 
Rick Perry:  While this sounds like a Saturday Night Live bit, it’s true:  Donald Trump nominated Rick Perry to head up the Department of Energy, the very department that Perry said should be eliminated back in 2012.  While being a scientist isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for the position, it's worth noting that the current DOE head is a nuclear physicist and the guy before him won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics.  Rick Perry graduated from Texas A&M with a D+ average in his science courses and supports the teaching of Creationism in public schools.  On the positive side, though, he has appeared on Dancing With the Stars.  That has to count for something.
Twitter Response to John Lewis:  Trump continues to use Twitter as his main method of communication, retribution and revisionism.  After Congressman John Lewis criticized Trump in a television interview, Trump tweeted, “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”  He tweeted this despite the fact that Lewis’s district is fairly affluent and his life has been committed to public service and activism, particularly in the cause of Civil Rights
There are more examples (Monica Crowley, Stephen Bannon, Mike Pompeo, etc.) but I think we’ve both had enough. I just want it to be clear that I’m aware of  Trump’s recent actions before you read the next paragraph. 

--------------------------------------------------------------

I fervently hope that four years from now, on the eve of the 2021 Inauguration, my candidate, Donald J. Trump, is preparing to embark on his second term as President of the United States.  This has happened because he, once again, has confounded the "lamestream media" and become one of the best and most effective presidents in the history of the United States.  How could he possibly do this?  Well, here’s a scenario:
  • Ruling by caustic tweets that rewrite history, all of Congress – Democrats and Republicans – live in fear of crossing Trump.  In contrast to the last 8 years of a do-nothing Congress, the next four years are marked by a blizzard of new legislation.
  • Since Trump purposely surrounded himself with puppets like Rick Perry and Ben Carson, there is no discord or opposition within his Cabinet or inner circle.
  • Trump appoints two Supreme Court justices in his first term, creating a solid majority that rules in favor of virtually any legislation that he supports. 
  • With all of this power, Trump feels completely unfettered by any promises that he made in the past.  As such, his first term is marked by legislation, social programs and foreign policy that is long overdue and beneficial for the country and the world. 
That last bullet might be a tad far-fetched, I agree.  But something just that stupefying would have to occur before I could ever vote for Trump.  In the meantime, let's all be very wary of any movement, no matter how faint, to repeal the 22nd Amendment.




Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Trump Presidency and a Glimmer of Hope


When I realized that Trump had been elected as the 45th President of the United States, I fell into a deep despair.  I wasn't ashamed of being an American, but I was angry, sad and frightened for America. Our ignorance is appalling, and I'm not saying this simply because my candidate lost. Trump won this election because the majority of the electorate believed all of his lies, despite the abundance of unbiased fact-checking that was available to them. They just didn't care enough to read.

What happens next?  Pundits like Bill Maher believe that this is just the beginning of a "slow right-wing coup" in which Trump, once he gains control, will not give it up.  A year ago such a statement would have been laughable.  After last night, though, anything is possible.  At this point you're probably wondering "Where the hell is that glimmer of hope?" Read on.

There are two characteristics that epitomize Donald Trump: his huge ego and his skill at lying.  He is such a good liar that he received over 80% of the white evangelical vote, despite the fact that he has been married three times, has admitted to committing adultery, has been caught on audiotape making incredibly misogynistic statements, and has been accused of sexual assault by at least 12 women, one of whom has accused him of raping her in 1994 when she was 13.  Why "in God's name" would evangelicals support this man?  Because he promised that, if elected, he would appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.  That's it.  That's all it took to lock up the white evangelical vote.  But will Trump actually follow through on this promise?  This video from 1999 would suggest otherwise.  In it, Trump characterizes himself as "pro-choice in every respect" and states that he is not even in favor of banning partial birth abortions.  It's impossible to know what Trump truly believes but the "glimmer of hope" is that he will not follow through on most of the promises he made in order to win the election. No wall, no Muslim ban, no repeal of Obamacare, no repeal of Roe v. Wade.

And then there's the Trump ego.  Everything with Trump has to be the best. The best steaks.  The best University.  The best hotel.  The second "glimmer of hope" is that he truly wants to go down in history as the best President of the United States.  If that's the case, he can't preside over a 4-year train wreck and then leave saying "I was the greatest President ever!" Trump may be the master at controlling our malleable media but he can't control history.  Even he knows that.  So for Trump to truly be the greatest President he is going to have to do a complete about face, work harder than he ever has in his life and lead this country to the "greatness" he has promised.  And, to be honest, with Republican majorities in the both the Senate and the House and with a favorable Supreme Court in the near future, Trump will be in a much better position to do this than Hillary would have been had she been elected last night.

As I said, though, this is only a glimmer of hope, one that will keep me functioning for the next few days.  If Trump appoints Chris Christie as his Attorney General, Rudy Giuliani as head of the FBI, and Sara Palin for Secretary of the Interior, then all is lost. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why I'm Special


Everybody's special, right?  Isn't that what your Mom always told you?  Finding out what makes you special, though, isn't always easy.  I'm proud to say that I finally figured it out.  

Today is my birthday, June 22.  (Thanks for the card!)  As a kid I always equated my birthday with the first day of summer, otherwise known as the summer solstice.  Whenever I mentioned this to other people, though, I was almost always told, "No way kid, the summer solstice is on June 21st", and that would be the end of that.  I didn't care enough to dig into it further. 

A couple of days ago, though, I read that this year's summer solstice (in the northern hemisphere) was on June 20th.  That was two days ago!  How could I have been that wrong as a kid?  There's no way I was off by two full days.  It was time to go down the Internet rat-hole and investigate.  

It was a quick investigation.  My first stop was, of course, Wikipedia, which authoritatively stated that, "depending on the shift of the calendar, the summer solstice occurs some time between June 20 and June 22 in the northern hemisphere".  It also displayed the table shown on the right which provided the dates of the summer solstice between 2010 and 2020. If you click on that graphic, though, you'll notice that June 22 does not appear anywhere.  What gives?  At this point, Wikipedia does a fairly poor job of explaining, citing simply the "leap shifting in the Gregorian Calendar" as the cause.  In a nutshell this refers to the fact that the Gregorian Calendar is slightly out of sync with the Astronomical Calendar, requiring corrective measures like leap-days and leap-seconds.  There's undoubtedly a much more academic discussion of this phenomenon somewhere on the web but I'm not interested in searching for it and you sure as hell aren't interested in reading it.

But here is something that is interesting and what makes me so special.  This website contains a table showing the exact date of the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere from the years 1600 to 2400.  In that 800 year span, it occurs on June 22 exactly 87 times.  And -- you guessed it -- one of those times was in 1955, the year I was born.  Yes!!  I win the game!!   I was born on the summer solstice!!!  

One other thing.  Since my birth, the summer solstice has occurred on June 22 only five times, the most recent being in 1975.  Amazingly, it won't happen again until the year 2203!  So from a slightly skewed viewpoint, I'm not 61 today.  From a Gregorian/Astronomical Congruence viewpoint, I'm only 5, and I won't be 6 for a very, very long time.  Naturally, birthday cards and presents will be graciously accepted on a Gregorian basis.