October Holidays and Observances

Columbus Day has been celebrated on the second Monday of October every year since 1971, this year falling on October 14th. Columbus Day became a national holiday in 1937 and was previously celebrated on October 12th, marking the day that Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas. Actual observance varies in different parts of the United States. Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon and South Dakota are some of the U.S. states that do not recognize Columbus Day at all.

United Nations Day has been marked throughout the world with meetings, exhibits and observed as a public holiday. In the United States the President has issued a proclamation each year since 1946. The United Nations General Assembly declared October 24th as a day to highlight, celebrate and reflect on the work of the United Nations.

The most popular holiday in October is Halloween, of course! Halloween dates back to about 1745 and is celebrated each year on October 31st. It is of Christian origin and the name Halloween means “hallowed evening” or “holy evening”. Over time the observance of Halloween has included trick or treating, dressing up in scary costumes which resemble monsters, ghosts, witches, etc. The annual New York Halloween Parade, initiated in 1974, is the world’s largest Halloween parade and the only major nighttime parade in America celebrating Halloween.

 Historic Events

October 9th is Fire Prevention Day and is celebrated during week of October 6th-12th, also known as Fire Prevention week. October 9th was chosen as Fire Prevention Day as it marks the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, 148 years ago.

Many people know the story of the Great Chicago Fire. Legend holds that Patrick and Catherine O'Leary's cow knocked over a lighted lantern in their barn igniting the fire, which roared out of control in minutes. The fire took the lives of about 300 people, left over 100,000 people without homes and caused over $200 million in property damage. The Great Chicago Fire has certainly earned it's place in history, but did you know there were two other large fires that took place during the exact same time?

The Peshtigo Fire, which took place in Wisconsin, began on October 8th, 1871. This fire swept through 17 towns, including Peshtigo, burning over 1.2 million acres. The Peshtigo Fire is still recorded as the most deadly fire in U.S. history claiming the lives of approximately 1,200 people with some records citing much higher death totals.

The third major fire that took place was in Michigan. This fire actually consisted of three fires, the Holland Fire, the Port Huron Fire, and the Manistee Fire, that tend to be collectively called the Great Michigan Fire. While much less deadly than the Peshtigo Fire, these fires burned roughly 2.5 million acres in Michigan.

What are the chances that 3 monumental fires burned over the same few days in different parts of the Midwest? Well, pretty high considering the conditions. First, The mid-west was experiencing one of the worst droughts on record. Secondly, a front moved in just before the fires bringing with it strong winds. And finally, most infrastructure in 1871 was built out of lumber.

We have learned a lot and come a long way since these three horrific fires in 1871 but we still have a lot to learn as nearly 9 out of 10 wildfires are started by humans and could have been prevented.

Here are some quick tips on preventing wildfires:

  • Make sure there are no burn bans and it's not too windy.
  • Make sure that your fire site is clear from overhanging branches, and debris that could catch on fire.
  • Never leave a campfire unattended; an adult should supervise the campfire at all times.
  • Never put anything but wood into the fire.
  • When it's time to put the fire out, dump lots of water on it, stir it with a shovel, then dump more water on it. Make sure it is COLD before leaving the campsite. If it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave!

To learn more about preventing Wildfires visit the Smokey Bear website. The Smokey Bear campaign celebrated 75 years of preventing wildfires in August!


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