Ann Arbor man, 90, founded catalogue of events for every day of the year
In his nearly nine decades, William D. Chase has counted thousands of days.
There’s Quirky Country Music Song Titles Day, National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day, Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day and Chase’s own Eliza Doolittle Day.
Chase, of Ann Arbor, has counted just as many weeks and months: There’s National Pretzel Week, National Hot Tea Month, National Chimney Safety Week and National Condom Month.
The man who founded Chase’s Calendar of Events (it was spelled Chases’ Calendar of Events when it was founded in 1957 to reflect the original partnership with his brother Harrison) will observe a special day of his own on April 8 when he turns 90.
Janet Miller | AnnArbor.com
“There aren’t many homegrown American reference books that have been published continuously for 54 years,” Chase said. “Even the World Almanac hasn’t been published every year.”
While Chase sold interest in the book in 1983 and stopped working on it four years later, the reference book today has grown to 752 pages with 12,000 entries and weighs in at four pounds.
It started out as a fluke.
Born in Ann Arbor and reared in Dearborn, Chase moved to Flint to work as the librarian in the Flint Journal newsroom library, beginning in 1949. His chief task was to clip and file stories reporters could use and record everything on micofiche for posterity. “We thought microfiche was forever,” he said.
Chase begin keeping a file on dates, including special days marked by trade associations who sent the newspaper announcements, such as National Apple Week. He had had a fascination with time keeping since he was young, Chase said. “I was curious about clocks and calendars and almanacs, about time and time reckoning,” he said. He asked his brother Harrison, a university professor in Florida, if he wanted to help write a book compiling dates, from religious holidays to national holidays to historic curiosities to trade association events.
Chase resurrected his company, Apple Tree Press, which he had founded four years earlier to publish George Bernard Shaw’s last will and testament, to publish Chases’ Calendar of Events in late 1957. It included 364 events, along with a brief description of each.
“We did it sort of tongue in cheek,” Chase said. “We took out a three-line add in the ‘Saturday Review of Literature’ for $11, had 2,000 copies printed and didn’t sell all of them. We got modest recognition, but nothing spectacular.”
But luck came their way when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked the brothers if they would include the growing number of association events - such as National Apple Week - in the next year’s calendar. Suddenly, the book caught fire: Sales went from a few hundred to 15,000 and radio personalities, newscasters and comedians were quoting dates from Chase’s Calendar. The National Broadcasters Association alone bought 4,000 copies. Cartoons in the New Yorker and other magazines referenced days and events listed in Chase’s Calendar. The White House called about events.
“It was a great source for comedians,” Chase said. Tonight Show host Johnny Carson frequently pulled an event from the pages of the Calendar to spoof and introduced the book to a national audience. The Peanuts cartoon stripe from Charles Schulz frequently mentioned special days listed in Chase’s Calendar, and the cartoonist was grateful enough to send Chase and his children gifts, including a crystal Snoopy and Peanuts clocks.
Chase joined the action himself when he created Eliza Doolittle Day, after the Pygmalion heroine and honoring the importance of speaking one’s language properly.
Chase’s Calendar began to reflect the changing times. When an association sent him information on National Condom Week, Chase balked and didn’t print it, worrying it could create problems with the Post Office and the book rate. With assurances that it wouldn’t, Chase ran it the next year. Eventually, Chase’s brother bowed out and his wife, Helen, joined the team. They sold it to Contemporary Books in 1983, which was acquired by McGraw-Hill Companies in 2000.
Chase’s Calendar has become a collection of presidential proclamations, religious holidays and important dates. It lists sponsored events such as American Heart Month and ethnic and international observances along with major sporting events. It lists the dates of significant historic events, important birthday and astronomical observations. Not all of the entries are fun or frivolous: There’s Poison Prevention Awareness Month, Arthritis Awareness Month and World Breastfeeding Week.
Many are familiar: National Black History Month, Super Bowl, Mardi Gras and Daylight Savings Time. Some, just plain obscure: Take Your Dog to Work Day and Oatmeal Month.
While Chase has moved on from the reference book that bears his name, his wit remains sharp. Asked if he’d like to do an interview about his book, he replied: “There’s enough of a ham in me to enjoy talking about my accomplishments, as modest as they may be.”
He keeps up with the day’s issues, with opinions on periodical preservation (with a life expectancy of 400 years, microfiche has a much longer shelf life than digital, he said) to the works of George Bernard Shaw, who corresponded with Chase until his death in 1950.
Chase also has opinions about the printed word in the Age of the Internet.
"The Internet has changed the role of all printed material,” he said. “And reference books are particularly vulnerable, from almanacs to dictionaries. It’s an endangered area of publishing. With Chase’s Calendar, the name may eventually change. But someone is always going to compile a directory of events worldwide.” .