12 People Who Died on Their Birthdays

Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It's called The Birthday Effect: a statistical phenomenon that seems to indicate that the likelihood of one's death increases on or around his or her birthday. While one Swiss study in 2012 put your chances of leaving this world on the same day you entered it as 14 percent higher, there aren't a lot of examples of famous people who have managed to pull it off—with a few exceptions.

1. INGRID BERGMAN

Oscar-winning Casablanca star Ingrid Bergman was born on August 29, 1915, in Stockholm, Sweden. She died 67 years later in 1982 in London after battling breast cancer (though the official cause of death was lymphoma complications that came after a breast cancer operation).

2. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

English dramatist William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616), circa 1600
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

William Shakespeare couldn't have written a more poetic circle of life for himself: While the exact date of his birth has long been a source of debate, the general consensus is that he was born on April 23, 1564 and died on that same date in 1616, at the age of 52. Though the exact cause of his death is unknown—he was said to be in high spirits and "perfect health" just weeks before his passing—an entry in the diary of John Ward, a vicar in the town where Shakespeare was both born and died, claimed that, "Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted."

3. WALTER DIEMER

Walter Diemer, the inventor of bubble gum, went "pop!" on his 93rd birthday on January 8, 1998.

4. BETTY FRIEDAN

 Author Betty Friedan attends a reading of the U.S. Constitution at Cooper Union for the People For the American Way Foundation September 1, 2004 in New York City
Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Betty Friedan, author of the groundbreaking The Feminine Mystique, was born on February 4, 1921, and died on the same day in 2006. She died of congestive heart failure at her home in Washington, D.C. on her 85th birthday.

5. GEORGE "MACHINE GUN" KELLY

For a lifelong gangster and bootlegger, George "Machine Gun" Kelly got off pretty easy when he died of a heart attack at 59 years old, dying on his birthday, July 17, in 1954. Kelly was incarcerated at Leavenworth at the time.

6. LEVI P. MORTON

Levi Morton
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Levi P. Morton, Benjamin Harrison's vice president, died of pneumonia on his 96th birthday on May 16, 1920—outliving his former boss by nearly 20 years.

7. JOHNNY LONGDEN

Johnny Longden—a Triple Crown-winning jockey who took home wins at the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes while riding Count Fleet in 1943—was born on and died on Valentine's Day (in 1907 and 2003, respectively).

8. SIDNEY BECHET

Sidney Bechet Playing Soprano Saxophone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though he was largely overshadowed by Louis Armstrong, jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer Sidney Bechet actually found his way into the recording studio a few months ahead of Armstrong. But his alleged temper proved detrimental to his career, and it wasn't until the late 1940s that Bechet's accomplishments were fully recognized. Fortunately, he lived long enough to see it happen; he passed away in Garches, France on May 14, 1959, his 62nd birthday.

9. ELLA BAKER

Though she largely stayed behind the scenes, Ella Baker was a key activist who worked alongside some of the most well-known civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including Martin Luther King, Jr., W. E. B. Du Bois, and Thurgood Marshall. She was born in Virginia on December 13, 1903 and passed away on the same day 83 years later, in 1986.

10. KAMEHAMEHA V, KING OF HAWAII


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Kamehameha V, King of Hawaii, died on his 42nd birthday on December 11, 1872.

11. ALLEN DRURY

Novelist Allen Drury—who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1959 political novel Advise and Consent, based partially on the true-life story of the scandal and suicide of Senator Lester Hunt—died on his 80th birthday on September 2, 1998.

12. SWEDE RISBERG


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Swede Risberg, whose name became synonymous with the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, died on October 13, 1975, his 81st birthday.

8 Surprising Uses for Potatoes

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istock

Potatoes are one of the world’s most common, and most beloved, vegetables—and they can be used for much more than just sustenance. In honor of National Potato Day, here are a few other ways to use a potato.

1. WEAR THEM

Potatoes come from a nightshade plant called Solanum tuberosum, which blooms with white, pink, red, blue, or purple flowers. In the late 1700s, in an effort to inspire their starving subjects to plant the newly introduced vegetable—which the Spanish had brought to Europe from the New World—Marie Antoinette wore potato flowers in her hair, and her husband King Louis XVI wore them in his buttonholes. This inspired potato flowers to be a favorite of the French nobility for a time, but the ploy didn't work: The lower classes spurned the upper class's efforts to get them to farm the crop. 

2. MAKE ELECTRICITY

If you’re in a lurch, or perhaps a doomsday prepper, start stocking up on potatoes now. With just a few household items—wires, some copper, and a zinc-coated nail—and one of the tubers, you can power a clock, a light bulb, and many other small electronics.

3. GARDEN IN SPACE

In 1995, the potato became the first vegetable grown on the space shuttle. Raymond Bula of the University of Wisconsin spearheaded a project in which five Norland variety potato leaves were propagated in space. Bula’s research group monitored this project from Wisconsin, staying in constant contact with NASA, who stayed in contact with the crew on the space shuttle. When the shuttle arrived home, everyone was pleased to find that the potato plants not only survived the ordeal, but actually grew potatoes.

4. GROW ROSES

Gardeners can insert rose cuttings into a potato, and then plant the entire potato as if it were a seed or bulb. The nutrient-rich potato helps provide moisture and sustenance to the growing plant, giving the cutting a better chance to survive.

5. MAKE PLASTIC

Bio-plastics, as they’re called, can be made from corn, wheat, and—you guessed it—potatoes. The concentration of starches and cellulose in a potato can be used to make plastic, and the plastic made out of potatoes can be burned and composted with much less impact on the environment.

6. MEASURE TIME

Peru’s Incas used the potato for all sorts of things at the height of their civilization. Known for creative, forward-thinking agricultural practices, the Incas also studied time—and started using the time it takes to cook a potato to measure time.

7. REMOVE RUST

Have a knife with some rust spots? If you insert the knife into the potato and let it sit for awhile, you'll go a long way in removing the rust. Potatoes naturally contain oxalic acid, which is used in many household cleaning products (in much greater quantities, of course). Oxalic acid also dissolves rust. To attack larger rusted surfaces with a potato, cut it in half, sprinkle baking powder on it or dip it in dish soap, and get to scrubbing.

8. MAIL THEM

Thanks to Mail A Spud, for only $9.99 everyone’s dream of mailing a potato to their closest friends and family can be a reality. The site advertises that it can send potatoes anywhere in the U.S., and that your choice of mailed gift will be sure to delight recipients. And, if not delight, at least confuse ... in a good way.

Additional Sources: Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent

This article originally ran in 2016.

15 Uplifting Facts About the Wright Brothers

Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Before they built the world’s first powered, heavier-than-air, and controllable aircraft, Wilbur and Orville Wright were two ordinary brothers from the Midwest who possessed nothing more than natural talent, ambition, and imagination. In honor of National Aviation Day, here are 15 uplifting facts about the siblings who made human flight possible.

1. A TOY PIQUED THEIR PASSION.

From an early age, Wilbur and Orville Wright were fascinated by flight. They attribute their interest in aviation to a small helicopter toy their father brought back from his travels in France. Fashioned from a stick, two propellers, and rubber bands, the toy was crudely made. Nevertheless, it galvanized their quest to someday make their very own flying machine.

2. THEIR GENIUS WAS GENETIC.

While they were inspired by their father’s toy, the Wright brothers inherited their mechanical savvy from their mother, Susan Koerner Wright. She could reportedly make anything, be it a sled or another toy, by hand.

3. THEY WERE PROUD MIDWESTERNERS.

The Wright brothers spent their formative years in Dayton, Ohio. Later in life, Wilbur said his advice for those seeking success would be to “pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”

4. THEY NEVER GRADUATED HIGH SCHOOL.

While the Wright brothers were undoubtedly bright, neither of them ever earned his high school diploma. Wilbur became reclusive after suffering a bad hockey injury, and Orville dropped out of school.

5. THEY ONCE PUBLISHED A NEWSPAPER.

Before they were inventors, the Wright brothers were newspaper publishers. When he was 15 years old, Orville launched his own print shop from behind his house and he and Wilber began publishing The West Side News, a small-town neighborhood paper. It eventually became profitable, and Orville moved the fledgling publication to a rented space downtown. In due time, Orville and Wilbur ceased producing The West Side News—which they’d renamed The Evening Item—to focus on other projects.

6. THEY MADE A FORAY INTO THE BICYCLE BUSINESS.

One of these projects was a bike store called the Wright Cycle Company, where Wilbur and Orville fixed clients’ bicycles and sold their own designs. The fledgling business grew into a profitable enterprise, which eventually helped the Wright brothers fund their flight designs.

7. THEY WERE AUTODIDACTS.

The Wright brothers’ lifelong interest in flight peaked after they witnessed a successive series of aeronautical milestones: the gliding flights of German aviator Otto Lilienthal, the flying of an unmanned steam-powered fixed-wing model aircraft by Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel Langley, and the glider test flights of Chicago engineer Octave Chanute. By 1899, Wilbur sat down and wrote to the Smithsonian, asking them to send him literature on aeronatics. He was convinced, he wrote, “that human flight is possible and practical.” Once he received the books, he and Orville began studying the science of flight.

8. THEY CHOSE TO FLY IN KITTY HAWK BECAUSE IT PROVIDED WIND, SOFT SAND, AND PRIVACY.

The Wright brothers began building prototypes and eventually traveled to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1902 to test a full-size, two-winged glider with a moveable rudder. They chose this location thanks in part to their correspondence with Octave Chanute, who advised them in a letter to select a windy place with soft grounds. It was also private, which allowed them to launch their aircrafts with little public interference.

9. THEY ACHIEVED FOUR SUCCESSFUL FLIGHTS WITH THEIR FIRST AIRPLANE DESIGN.

The Wright brothers started testing various wing designs and spent the next few years perfecting their evolving vision for a heavier-than-air flying machine. In the winter of 1903, they returned to Kitty Hawk with their final model, the 1903 Wright Flyer. On December 17, they finally achieved a milestone: four brief flights, one of which lasted for 59 seconds and reached 852 feet.

10. THE 1903 WRIGHT FLYER NEVER TOOK TO THE SKIES AGAIN…

Before the brothers could embark on their final flight, a heavy wind caused the plane to flip several times. Because of the resulting damage, it never flew again. It eventually found a permanent home in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum—even though Orville originally refused to donate it to the institution because it claimed that Smithsonian Secretary Samuel P. Langley’s own aircraft experiment was the first machine capable of sustained free flight.

11. …BUT A PIECE OF IT DID GO TO THE MOON.

An astronaut paid homage to the Wright brothers by carrying both a swatch of fabric from the 1903 Flyer’s left wing and a piece of its wooden propeller inside his spacesuit.

12. THE PRESS INITIALLY IGNORED THE KITTY HAWK FLIGHTS.

Despite their monumental achievement, the Dayton Journal didn’t think the Wright brothers’ short flights were important enough to cover. The Virginia Pilot ended up catching wind of the story, however, and they printed an error-ridden account that was picked up by several other papers. Eventually, the Dayton Journal wrote up an official—and accurate—story.

13. THE BROTHERS SHARED A CLOSE BOND...

Although the Wright brothers weren’t twins, they certainly lived like they were. They worked side by side six days a week, and shared the same residence, meals, and bank account. They also enjoyed mutual interests, like music and cooking. Neither brother ever married, either. Orville said it was Wilbur’s job, as the older sibling, to get hitched first. Meanwhile, Wilbur said he “had no time for a wife.” In any case, the two became successful businessmen, scoring aviation contracts both domestically and abroad.

14. …BUT WERE OPPOSITES IN MANY WAYS.

Although they were much alike, each Wright brother was his own person. As the older brother, Wilbur was more serious and taciturn. He possessed a phenomenal memory, and was generally consumed by his thoughts. Meanwhile, Orville was positive, upbeat, and talkative, although very bashful in public. While Wilbur spearheaded the brothers’ business endeavors, they wouldn’t have been possible without Orville’s mechanical—and entrepreneurial—savvy.

15. OHIO AND NORTH CAROLINA FIGHT OVER THEIR LEGACY.

Since the Wright brothers split their experiments between Ohio and North Carolina, both states claim their accomplishments as their own. Ohio calls itself the "Birthplace of Aviation,” although the nickname also stems from the fact that two famed astronauts hail from there as well. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s license plates are emblazoned with the words “First In Flight.”

This article originally ran in 2015.

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