Arizona's birthday, Valentine state celebrates 106 years

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Arizona celebrates 106 years on Feb. 14. (Source:3TV/CBS 5 News) Arizona celebrates 106 years on Feb. 14. (Source:3TV/CBS 5 News)
President Taft signs documents making Arizona a state on Feb. 14th 1912. (Source: Arizona Historical Society) President Taft signs documents making Arizona a state on Feb. 14th 1912. (Source: Arizona Historical Society)
Newly appointed Governor Hunt at the state capitol. 14 Feb. 1912 (Source: Arizona Historical Society) Newly appointed Governor Hunt at the state capitol. 14 Feb. 1912 (Source: Arizona Historical Society)
Celebrations in Phoenix after Arizona is made a state. 12 Feb. 1912 (Source: Arizona Historical Society) Celebrations in Phoenix after Arizona is made a state. 12 Feb. 1912 (Source: Arizona Historical Society)
Capt. Buckey O'Neill of the famed Rough Riders. (Source: Arizona Historical Society) Capt. Buckey O'Neill of the famed Rough Riders. (Source: Arizona Historical Society)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Arizona’s birthday is coming up this week and the Baby State never looked so good!

At 106 years old, I suppose our old nickname, ‘the Baby State,’ may not be applicable these days; indeed, it’s a name that hasn’t applied to us since Alaska and Hawaii added stars 49 and 50 to Old Glory.

The Grand Canyon State, or still better, the Valentine State would be a more appropriate nickname as this Wednesday, on Valentine’s Day, we will celebrate Arizona’s 106th birthday. And there’s a lot to love about our state!

To mark the upcoming date, here are a few things about Arizona that you may not know. Perhaps you’ll find a reason to love our state even more if that’s possible!

[QUIZ: How well do you know Arizona trivia?]

Arizona became a territory on Feb. 24, 1863. Forty-nine years later, statehood was achieved on Feb. 14, 1912.

Statehood was a long time coming. The rough-and-tumble territory had a reputation for general lawlessness, gunfights, feuds, drinking, dance-hall girls and the like all made for a bad reputation with some polite society folks of the East.

The Rough Ride volunteers from Arizona were mustered in 1898 to fight in the Spanish-American war. They were eager to show their devotion to the nation they hoped would soon adopt Arizona as the next state to enter the union. The mayor of Prescott, Captain Buckey O'Neill, volunteered along with the rest, He was a well known man in the area and a strong supporter of statehood for Arizona.

During the battle for San Juan Hill, O’Neill bravely refused to duck for cover from the Spanish sniper fire. Warned of the dangers from the harrowing shot, he remarked, “Who wouldn’t gladly lay down his life to put another star on the flag?”

A moment later, his question was answered by a marksman’s bullet when the young officer was killed on the spot. It would be another 14 years before that star was added.

The morning of Wednesday, Feb. 14, 1912, at 10:23 a.m., President William Howard Taft signed the papers in Washington D.C. making Arizona the 48th state.

When word of President Taft’s signing reached Arizona via telegram, George W.P. Hunt left his hotel room in Phoenix and walked to the state Capitol where he was sworn in as the state’s first governor. There were only about 200,000 residents living in Arizona at the time.

Soon the celebrations began around the Baby State!

In Phoenix, city planners had planned to fire off a 48 round salute with howitzer cannons. Soon after the cannon fire began, several horses were frightened and threw their riders. After the concussion blew out several nearby windows the howitzers were silenced. Down in Bisbee, the miners celebrated the news by blowing up 48 sticks of dynamite. Over in Prescott there was a parade and the pistols fired into the air as they drank a toast to the new state on Whiskey Row.

Maybe the Easterners were right about our rough and rowdy reputation!

Back in Phoenix, a young couple, Joe Melzer and Hazel Goldberg, were stalling their wedding vows in order to be the first pair wedded in the new state. The official news of statehood was to arrive by telegraph. Waiting outside the ceremony hall, a nervous 3-year-old named Barry Goldwater was posted by the door of the Women’s Club along Fillmore Street as he kept watch for the messenger to arrive.

Goldwater later recalled the moment in an interview:

“I remember I was only about 4 years old, standing outside waiting for the telegraph boy to bring a message saying that President Taft had signed us into statehood. It was Joe Meltzer’s determination to be the first man married in the state of Arizona. Sure enough, I can still see that dust coming up old unpaved First Avenue with the messenger with the telegram. Then we marched in and had the wedding.”

Here are some random Arizona facts to toss around in conversation on Wednesday.

  • Arizona is the sixth-largest state in the nation.
  • Oraibi, on the Hopi mesas, dating back to at least 1150 A.D., is reputed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in America.
  • The final link of Interstate 10 to complete the road from one end of the nation to the other was the Deck Park Tunnel section in downtown Phoenix. It was completed in August 1990.
  • Arizona’s constitution granted women the right to vote nearly eight years prior to the national suffrage movement.
  • The Arizona flag displays 13 rays of red and gold on the top half of the flag represent both the 13 original colonies of the Union, and the rays of the Western setting sun. Red and gold were also the colors carried by Coronado's Spanish expedition in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola in 1540. The bottom half of the flag has the same Liberty blue as the United States flag. Since Arizona was the largest producer of copper in the nation, a copper star was placed in the flag's center. Flag adopted 1917.
  • Arizona’s desert climate temperatures can range so much so that we can record both the highest and lowest temperatures of the nation in the same day.
  • Film director Steven Spielberg grew up in Phoenix and was a “Wallace and Ladmo” fan who went to Arcadia High School.
  • Big Surf, in Tempe, was the first wave pool opened in the Untited States in 1969. Big Surf is still in operation today.

Finally, if you really want to soak up some of Arizona's history, stories, songs and folklore, then make time to join Marshall Trimble, Arizona's official state historian and Dolan Ellis, Arizona's official state balladeer, as they hit the stage at the Arizona Heritage Center in Tempe this Wednesday when they celebrate Arizona statehood day.  

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