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“Przekrój” Magazine brings English-speaking readers some of the best journalism from across Central and Eastern Europe, in the fields of wellbeing, art, literature, science, ecology, philosophy, psychology, and more. Take a break from the speed and intensity of the daily news and join us!

Our eternally pessimistic correspondent gives his historical highlights for the month of February.
2021-02-01 09:00:00

February in History
Diary of an Eternal Pessimist

February in History
February in History

February in history according to an eternal pessimist.

Read in 7 minutes

1st February 1840

Alexandre Dumas married actress Ida Ferrie. However, the matrimony was not very successful, and the writer focused on his books. In 1844, he wrote The Three Musketeers, followed by The Count of Monte Cristo one year later, before divorcing his wife and never looking back.

2nd February 1986

Pope John Paul II met the Dalai Lama. A small step for building understanding between religions; a great controversy for Catholic conservatives.

3rd February 1014

Sweyn Forkbeard – the king of England, Denmark and Norway – died. Death is nothing unusual for a Viking, but this time paranormal events made for a plot twist. Some people suspected that Sweyn was murdered by the ghost of St. Edmund, seeking revenge on the Viking invaders.

4th February 1866

A 45-year-old American woman Mary Baker Eddy was miraculously healed when she opened the Bible. Not the worst reason to start your own church. Mary did just that and called it Christian Science.

5th February 1886

Adventurer Richard Burton received a medal from Queen Victoria. It caused quite a stir, too, as the renowned traveller and polyglot was also said to be a pornographer. Why? He published a complete translation of One Thousand and One Nights. Turned out it was no fairytale.

6th February 1914

Stanisław Witkiewicz wrote to his son Witkacy to share the news that Marshall Józef Piłsudski had visited him for dinner. “He gave me his rifleman cap. I would like to keep it safe and give it to the National Museum. It might be just a cap, but its meaning is momentous,” he bragged. However, Witkacy one-upped his father: he had Piłsudski’s unfinished cigarette butt in his possession.

7th February 1964

The 22-year-old boxing champion Cassius Clay converted to Islam and adopted a new name: Muhammad Ali. It was an act of radicalization – against white America’s racism.

8th February 1587

Queen Elizabeth I ordered the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots. You might think it was the worst that could happen to poor Mary, but no. The executioner was so clumsy it took him three blows of the axe to decapitate the woman.

9th February 1991

A historic reliquary was stolen from a basilica in Lublin. According to the legend, the casket was said to contain pieces of wood from the Holy Cross. And they say relics are sooo Middle Ages.

10th February 1879

Journalist and researcher Henry Morton Stanley went for a trip to explore the unknown lands of the Congo. Unfortunately, he was sent there by the Belgian King Leopold II, whose cruel politics would take millions of African lives.

11th February 1963

It was a frosty morning when the severely depressed Sylvia Plath wrote a poem called Edge, before making milk and sandwiches for her children, and then taking her own life. What a shame that she was only really recognized after her death.

12th February 1994

One of four versions of Munch’s famous painting The Scream was stolen from an art gallery in Oslo. This caused a lot of noise from those who said the painting wasn’t secured properly. Luckily, the picture was soon retrieved. But a decade later, the thieves nicked another Scream – this time, from a museum in Norway. This time, it was also found. When should we expect Scream 3?

13th February 1503

Near the Italian town of Barletta, there was a brawl between French and Italian soldiers. For Italians, their honour was at stake, as the French had accused them of cowardice. There were 13 men fighting on each side, which must have made the superstitious Italians happy, being the sole Europeans for whom 13 is a lucky number. And indeed, they won! Yet the belief about Italians being scaredy-cats lasted to this very day.

14th February 1989

Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. The Supreme Leader cared little for freedom of speech and even less for the cheerful atmosphere of Valentine’s Day. They are both devilish Western inventions, after all.

15th February 1939

John Ford’s movie Stagecoach, starring John Wayne, premiered in American cinemas. It was the beginning of Ford’s work with the movie star who would define Western cinema for years. Stagecoach also brought fame to Monument Valley, full of picturesque plateaus and rock spires in the Navajo Tribal Park. Thanks to it, the holy area of the Indian tribe became a Western icon.

16th February 1923

Archaeologists opened the tomb chamber containing the mummy and treasures of pharaoh Tutankhamun. What a discovery! But once the explorers started dying, one after another, the world decided it was the pharaoh’s ancient curse. Unlike the mummy, that rumour was just one big lie.

17th February 1880

Tsar Alexander II was late for dinner in the Winter Palace. He could consider himself lucky, as the meal turned out a bit too upsetting for the stomach: a group of assassins blew up the dining room! However, the monarch’s luck ran short not long after. He died in the next attack, a little over a year later.

18th February 1930

American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. Proud of his achievement, he decided it must be the ninth planet in the Solar System. Several decades later, a number of similar objects were observed, and Tombaugh’s achievement was somewhat dwarfed by scientific evidence. Today, Pluto is only a dwarf planet, and one of many at that. Was it worth staring into the sky for so long, Mr Tombaugh?

19th February 1594 

In a cathedral in Uppsala, King Sigismund III Vasa of Poland was crowned King of Sweden. Was it a success? It would have been, had he played it well. Instead, it led to a series of wars with the Swedes that ruined the First Polish Republic.

20th February 1959

The first performance of the 17-year-old Jimi Hendrix in a Seattle synagogue ended with the kid being kicked out of the band. Hendrix did not let the setback get to him. And today, nobody remembers the name of the band that got rid of the young guitarist.

21st February 1921

There was a family with many children that lived in a small town in central Africa. On this day, another child was born to parents who named him Jean-Bedel Bokassa. History knows him as an ambitious military man and vengeful tormentor, mythomaniac and the founder of the Central African Empire, an emperor and… an alleged cannibal.

22nd February 1943

A group of young German activists from the anti-Nazi White Rose group were beheaded in prison in Munich. Not many tears would be shed for them in the Third Reich, albeit their heroism was hailed from abroad by the German Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann.

23rd February 1455 

The first printed copy of the Bible was made. To this day, billions of copies have been published. And yet, human viciousness is just as bad as it always was.

24th February 1981

Prince Charles announced his engagement to Diana Spencer. And to think it was supposed to be a dream come true…

25th February 1924

Maria Skłodowska-Curie received an honoris causa doctorate from the Jagiellonian University. The very same university that was against allowing women academic and professional development in her youth.

26th February 212 CE

A political struggle for power over the Roman Empire between two brothers turned bloody. The older brother, Caracalla, killed the younger Geta, and then he told the Praetorians that he had just prevented his own assassination. He then paid the guardsmen for their understanding and got rid of his brother’s supporters. And yet, he probably missed something, for he was assassinated, too, just five years later.

27th February 1941

Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Rebecca was awarded two Academy Awards, one for Best Picture and the other for Best Cinematography. The director did not get any, and it would always remain this way, even though there was always a great deal of suspense during the ceremonies.

28th February 1931

The Danish press published an interview with Lili Elbe, a woman formerly known as Einar Wegener. Having undergone sex reassignment surgery, Lili was hoping to lead a normal life. Her doctors were very supportive, but former friends turned their backs on her, and the interview caused an unwelcome sensation.

29th February 1692

In Salem, women suspected of magic were arrested for the first time. The paranoia around black magic and evil spirits starts to set in. But the bloody witch hunt would mainly manifest the demons dwelling within the pursuers…


Translated by Aga Zano

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