Americana and More (July-August)

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June 7, 2022

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The oldest city in the United States is not a city from the original 13 colonies. It’s St. Augustine, Florida. The Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established a settlement there in 1565. He reached shore on August 28th (the day of the feast of St. Augustine, hence the name).  It was controlled by the Spanish, and then the British, and then the Spanish again, before it was technically American. The United States acquired the region by treaty in 1821.

Because of Christmas’s roots as an ancient pagan holiday (because of the offering of gifts and the decorating of trees), the early American Puritans didn’t originally take too kindly to it. They believed that religion should be very solemn, so the carol-singing, booze-drinking Christmas celebrations didn’t sit well with them. The Parliament of England, largely composed of Puritans, made the holiday illegal in the 1600s, and the North American Puritans in New England did likewise. The law stuck as the New England colonies evolved into the United States. The first state to actively legalize Christmas was Alabama, and that wasn’t until 1836! Christmas became a federal holiday in 1870, but it was still illegal in some states. It wasn’t until 1907, the year that Oklahoma became a state, that Christmas was legal throughout the United States.

The male seahorse carries the eggs until they hatch instead of the female.

The ‘Ms’ in M&Ms stand for ‘Mars’ and ‘Murrie’ — Forrest Mars and Bruce Murrie. The two actually had a very contentious relationship, as Mars leveraged Murrie out of his 20% share in the company in 1949—years before M&Ms would become the best-selling candy in the U.S., paying him just $1 million for a share of business that would soon be worth billions.

The U.S. 50-star flag was designed as part of a high school project by 17-year-old Robert G. Heft. It was 1958, and there were only 48 states at the time, but Heft had a hunch Hawaii and Alaska would soon be granted statehood. His teacher gave him a B- but went on to update the grade to an A after Heft submitted his design to the White House, eventually leading to a call from President Eisenhower that it had been selected as the official U.S. flag.

Crocodile poop used to be used as contraception. Amorous Ancient Egyptian women used crocodile pooh pessaries. Documents dating back to 1850BC refer to this method of contraception. Crocodile dung is slightly alkaline, like modern-day spermicides, so it could have worked. On the other hand, it may well have been that after application neither party felt much like making love.

Post-death, Napoléon Bonaparte’s penis was removed from body during autopsy, displayed on a museum, and sold for $2,700 in1977 to John K. Lattimer in 1977, and is still held in his family, who keep it as a private item.

This famous American landmark didn’t get its name from the mountain on which it is built, nor is it named after the man who sculpted it (John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum) or any of the people depicted on it. Its namesake was a New York lawyer. In 1884, an attorney named Charles Edward Rushmore visited the Black Hills area and, according to the National Parks site, Rushmore asked a local guide what the name of the mountain was. The guide replied, “We will name it now, and name it Rushmore.” And, somehow, that name stuck. An off-hand comment ended up giving the monument its permanent name.

Independence Day (a/k/a the Fourth of July) is the day that’s long been designated as the birthdate of The U.S., which declared its independence from Great Britain by adopting the Declaration of Independence. But Congress officially declared its independence from England on July 2, 1776. We celebrate the holiday on the fourth of July because that was the day that John Hancock became the first man to sign the document. On July 3, 1776, John Adams (who went on to become our second president) wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, to tell her how excited he was that Congress had voted in favor of independence. “The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America,” he declared. Adams so firmly believed that July 2nd was the correct day on which to celebrate American independence that he refused to appear at July 4th events as a matter of principle. Irnically, perhaps, Adams (as well as third President Thomas Jefferson) passed away on Jul 4, 1826.

The largest state in America, Alaska, is 429 times the size of the smallest state, Rhode Island, in terms of area. Its coastline is longer than the coastlines of all 49 other states combined. However, Rhode Island has the larger population of the two—by more than 300,000 more people. Rhode Island is also the state with the longest official name: “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”

At age 32 (when he died), Alexander the Great had conquered and created the largest land-based empire the world has ever seen. It stretched from the Balkans to Pakistan. In 323 BC, he became ill and, after 12 days of excruciating pain, he seemingly passed away. However, his corpse didn’t show any signs of rot or decomposition for a whole six days. Modern-day scientists believe Alexander suffered from the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome. They believe that when he “died” he was actually just paralyzed and mentally aware. Basically, he was horrifically buried alive!

Thanksgiving hasn’t always been held on the fourth Thursday of November. It was held on several different dates until Abraham Lincoln declared that it would henceforth be held the fourth Thursday in November of every year in 1863. This day was honored by every subsequent president until FDR moved it to the third Thursday of November in 1939 to extend the Christmas season. After many complaints, he moved it back to the fourth Thursday two years later, and that’s when we celebrate it today.


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