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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Basic Biittner : Historic anniversaries

Friday, May 11, 2012

In the multi-media era in which we live today, it seems that one media outlet or another is always reminding all of us that "this (year/month/day) marks the (100th/75th/ 50th/25th/10th) anniversary of (fill in the blank). For example, last year, 2011, marked the 10th anniversary of "9/11," as it's come to be known, and we were reminded of this many times throughout the year, and especially in the days surrounding the actual anniversary date. December 7, 2011, was also the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, leading the U.S. into World War II, and that was also duly noted, though not as extensively as was the 9/11 anniversary. I suppose that has something to do with the fact that there are more people around who actually recall the events of 9/11/2011 than there are those who remember 12/07/41.

At any rate, this year's big "anniversary" date seems to be the recent 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. Also occurring that same month (April 1912) was the opening of Fenway Park in Boston, which is still the home of the Boston Red Sox today, and Fenway Park's 100th anniversary also received a lot of publicity. And let's not forget May 6th, which was the 75th anniversary of the Hindenberg disaster, when the German airship was destroyed while trying to land in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Since for the most part we seem to only "celebrate" anniversaries of negative events such as the ones I have mentioned, I thought I would bring up another anniversary date which just passed - and this ones' a fun - albeit quirky- one.

On April 15, 1952 - sixty years ago last month - The Legend of the Octopus came to be in Detroit, Michigan.. In 1952, National Hockey League teams played two best-of-seven series to capture the league championship, so the number of playoff wins necessary to win the Stanley Cup was eight.

On April 15, 1952, brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano, storeowners in Detroit's Eastern Market, hurled an octopus on to the ice rink in Detroit as a symbol of the required eight (the number of legs an octopus has - get it?) Stanley Cup playoff wins. The Red Wings then went on to sweep the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens en route to winning the championship, as well as winning two of the next three championships. Since 1952, the practice of throwing octopi on to the ice has become a Red Wing tradition during the playoffs. In one 1995 game, fans threw 36 octopi, including a specimen weighing 38 pounds. The Red Wings' unofficial mascot is a purple octopus named Al, and during playoff runs two of these mascots are also hung from the rafters of the Joe Louis Arena, symbolizing the 16 wins which are now needed to win the Stanley Cup. It has become such an accepted part of the team's lore that fans have developed what is considered proper etiquette and technique for throwing an octopus onto the ice.

I won't even go into the octopus twirling done by the arena zamboni drivers, or the responses the octopus tradition has inspired in the fans of other NHL teams like the Sharks or Panthers, but you get the idea, It's a rather odd tradition, but a tradition nonetheless, because it has passed the test of time. If you happen to watch any Stanley Cup games this year, you won't catch any of the Octopus Madness, because the Red Wings are no longer in the hunt for the Cup this year. You may have seen a Honda commercial where an octopus is thrown onto a car windshield, though, and if you wondered what that was all about, as Paul Harvey says, "now you know the rest of the story."

By the way, since our main event celebrations seem to be about no-so-great events, let me be (one of) the first to remind you that 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination - my generation's "day that will live in infamy." If you don't believe me, just ask anyone you know who is now 60-80 years old when they heard the news from Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner