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11 Tips for That Benjamin Harrison Birthday Bash You're Probably Planning

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If you’re looking for an excuse to host an impromptu Monday get-together, why not throw a birthday bash for America's last bearded president? Today happens to be Benjamin Harrison’s 179th. Here are 11 party-planning tips that’ll help you set the scene for an epic celebration.

1. Leave the Lights On

It is imperative that your rave be well-lit. Benjamin Harrison was the first president to have electricity installed in the White House. He was so afraid of being electrocuted that he refused to touch the light switches. Consequently, he and his wife often left the lights on all night long. So if you want to rage Harrison-style, don’t expect to do it in the dark.

2. Rent a Goat!

Harrison kept a pet goat named Old Whiskers who would often pull the president's grandchildren around the White House lawn in a cart.

One day, Old Whiskers managed to slip through the White House gates and made a break for it, pulling the kids behind him. Harrison chased them down Pennsylvania Avenue, frantically waving his cane as he struggled to hold on to his top hat. Passersby eventually apprehended the rogue goat when they saw the president feverishly running after him. We suggest you unveil your Capricorn early to establish an Animal (White) House vibe early on.

3. Ice, Ice Baby!

Harrison wasn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy guy. In fact, he was known as “the human iceberg” – and it wasn’t exactly a term of endearment. Theodore Roosevelt once called Harrison “a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.” To honor His Frigidness, prepare a party menu that includes plenty of chilled items. Serve up ice cream, ice pops, frozen margaritas, Patron on the rocks – anything below 32 degrees. Maybe even include a little Vanilla Ice or Ice Cube on your party playlist. We hear Harrison was a big fan of (18)90’s rap. (Okay, that’s probably not true.)

4. Spend it Up . . .

If you’re throwing a party for Benjamin Harrison, get ready to part with some Benjamin Franklins. Harrison’s was the first administration to appropriate more than $1 billion in Congressional spending, and we’ve never looked back. While Harrison spent the money on internal improvements, naval expansion, subsidies for steamship lines, and veterans’ pensions, we suggest that you budget your bash differently.

5. . . . But Not at Walmart

If Harrison were alive today, we’re betting he wouldn’t be buying his party supplies at America’s superstore. During his presidency, Harrison supported the landmark Sherman Antitrust Act, the first bill that ever attempted to curb the power of America's corporate giants. Harrison was also a protectionist who favored high tariffs – meaning that businesses who wanted to import products from other countries had to pay major taxes. Harrison believed that consumers should buy American-made products at fair prices. He once said, “I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process.”

6. Be Chill With Big Love

When it comes to a Benjamin Harrison rager, anything goes. Harrison wasn’t exactly your everyday swinger, but he did give his polygamist friends a free pass. In 1893, he issued a proclamation pardoning Mormons who had been in polygamous marriages on the condition that they stick to monogamy from then on. And though he may have appeared supremely traditional, Harrison had his fair share of romantic drama. After Harrison’s first wife Caroline passed away, he married her niece Mary – a widow nearly thirty years his junior.

7. VIP Treatment for the Bearded

Harrison was, regretfully, America’s last bearded president. To honor him right, give your bewhiskered guests special treatment. Rope off a reserved VIP section that only guests with beards can enter. Make sure that they get all sorts of presidential perks – like permission to eat all the chocolate out of the Neapolitan ice cream without consequence.

8. Serve Cleveland Sandwiches as Hors d’Oeuvres

Harrison’s presidency was sandwiched between Grover Cleveland’s two nonconsecutive terms. In 1888, Harrison lost the popular vote to Cleveland by a narrow margin, but won the Electoral College. In 1892, however, Harrison lost to Cleveland in a landslide – largely because his tariff policies were so unpopular. Scrumptious Cleveland sandwich hors d’oeuvres might consist of ice cream to represent the notoriously frigid Harrison, sandwiched between two soft, buttery cookies to symbolize the generously proportioned Cleveland.

9. Show the 700 Club

Turning on a TV or two can help create a party-appropriate ambiance. While your run-of-the mill nightclub probably shows music videos or sports games, we suggest a totally original program to really get the party started: The 700 Club. Televangelist Pat Robertson is a relative of the Harrison clan. Harrison was a born-again Christian himself, and his faith formed the sense of duty that underlaid his political activities. Harrison’s rhetoric reflected civil religious themes, advocating equal opportunity.

10. Steal the Stage

Make sure you prepare a few eloquent words to appease the mid-party calls for a speech. After all, it’s not a real Ben Harrison bash without a great speech or five. Harrison was known as an outstanding and prolific orator; he once made 140 different speeches in one month. That’s 4.67 distinct addresses per day! And he came by his love of public speaking honestly. Harrison’s grandfather, William Henry Harrison, gave the longest inaugural address on record; it lasted nearly two hours and was delivered outside in a snowstorm. (Grandpa Wills died of pneumonia about a month into his term, which many people attributed to his record-breaking address.) We suggest that you make your toast a little shorter, and consider holding it indoors just in case.

11. Ignore the Party Poopers

Harrison certainly wasn’t popular with everyone. In fact, some scholars argue that his economic policies contributed to the Panic of 1893 shortly after he left office. Although he’s not traditionally regarded as one of our most distinguished chief executives, recent historians have come to recognize the important achievements of the Harrison administration. Harrison helped usher the United States into a new epoch of international trade, convened the first Pan-American conference, championed for black citizens’ voting rights, admitted six states into the Union, and took the first step toward curbing the power of corporate giants – all while maintaining impeccably groomed facial hair. So if partygoers aren’t enjoying your awesome rager, give them some time (a hundred years or so) to get into the mood.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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language
6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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