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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

What Is Pulaski Day?

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

If you aren't from Illinois, you might not know what Casimir Pulaski Day is. But if you grew up in Illinois and don't live there anymore, you may be wondering why you don't have this holiday—which is celebrated the first Monday each March—off from work or school.

WBEZ Chicago has a great guide to the holiday, which commemorates Casimir Pulaski, one of Illinois' favorite sons (who died decades before Illinois even became a state).

Casimir Pulaski was a talented military leader and brilliant battlefield tactician who, in the 1770s, had to leave his native Poland after participating in the unsuccessful wars to oust Stanisław II, a king put in place to rule at the behest of the Russians. While in exile in Paris, Pulaski met and befriended Ben Franklin, who recruited him for the American Revolution's cause.

After initial resistance from Colonists reluctant to place a foreigner in an important military post, Pulaski, serving informally, proved his mettle at Brandywine and Germantown. George Washington was so impressed that he made Pulaski a Brigadier General and the first Commander of the American Cavalry. Soon after this recognition, in 1779, Pulaski died from wounds sustained at the Siege of Savannah.

Flash-forward a century or so to Chicago, which, by the late 1800s, had become a worldwide capital for Polish emigration. In the 1930s, Polish citizens in the city, who had faced discrimination, had taken to championing Casimir Pulaski as an example of a great Polish-American hero in the name of cultural integration and understanding. Tributes to the general sprouted up around town—most notably the renaming of a major thoroughfare "Pulaski Road."

Pulaski's profile in Chicago grew, and in 1977, the Polish American Congress successfully lobbied for a law in Illinois designating the first Monday of March as “Casimir Pulaski Day.” At first, it was merely a commemorative holiday, meaning schools and other institutions stayed open, but in 1985, Pulaski Day became a full public holiday for schools. Depending on where you were in the state, other government offices and some banks would also choose to close on that Monday.

Currently, Casimir Pulaski Day is less prevalent than it was in the '80s and '90s. It became an optional holiday for schools in 2009, and, according to WBEZ, "74 percent of the districts chose to keep school open on Pulaski Day." In 2012, Chicago Public Schools tossed the holiday altogether during negotiations between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the teachers union.

While Pulaski the day may be waning, the man won't be forgotten in Chicago any time soon, as his name and image appear all over town (check out the Polish Museum of America for more). And, in 2009, former Chicago resident Barack Obama signed a joint resolution of the House and the Senate to make Casimir Pulaski an honorary United States citizen.

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Big Questions
What Happened to the Physical Copy of the 'I Have a Dream' Speech?
AFP, Getty Images
AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

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Big Questions
How Are Rooms Cleaned at an Ice Hotel?

Cleaning rooms at Sweden’s famous ICEHOTEL is arguably less involved than your typical hotel. The bed, for example, does not have traditional sheets. Instead, it’s essentially an air mattress topped with reindeer fur, which sits on top of a custom-made wooden palette that has a minimum of 60 centimeters of airspace below. On top of those reindeer hides is a sleeping bag, and inside that sleeping bag is a sleep sack. And while it’s always 20ºF inside the room, once guests wrap themselves up for the night, it can get cozy.

And, if they’re wearing too many layers, it can get quite sweaty, too.

“The sleep sack gets washed every day, I promise you that. I know it for a fact because I love to walk behind the laundry, because it’s so warm back there," James McClean, one of the few Americans—if not the only—who have worked at Sweden's ICEHOTEL, tells Mental Floss. (He worked on the construction and maintenance crew for several years.)

There isn’t much else to clean in most guest rooms. The bathrooms and showers are elsewhere in the hotel, and most guests only spend their sleeping hours in the space. But there is the occasional accident—like other hotels, some bodily fluids end up where they shouldn’t be. People puke or get too lazy to walk to the communal restrooms. Unlike other hotels, these bodily fluids, well, they freeze.

“You can only imagine the types of bodily fluids that get, I guess, excreted … or expelled … or purged onto the walls,” McClean says. “At least once a week there’s a yellow stain or a spilled glass of wine or cranberry juice … and it’s not what you want to see splattered everywhere.” Housekeeping fixes these unsightly splotches with an ice pick and shovel, re-patching it with fresh snow from outside.

Every room has a 4-inch vent drilled into the icy wall, which helps prevent CO2 from escalating to harmful levels. Maintenance checks the holes daily to ensure these vents are not plugged with snow. Their tool of choice for clearing the pathway is, according to McClean, “basically a toilet brush on a stick.”

When maintenance isn’t busy unstuffing snow from that vent hole, they’re busy piping snow through it. Every couple days, the floor of each room receives a new coat of fluffy snow, which is piped through the vent and leveled with a garden rake.

“It’s the equivalent of vacuuming the carpet,” McClean says.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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