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Does the Key to the City Actually Open Anything?

LOUIS LANZANO/Landov

The short answer: no.

The long answer: Once upon a time, being presented with the key to the city served a real function. In ancient times, when it was common for European towns to be ringed by walls, visiting dignitaries were presented with a key to the city gate as a gesture of trust and kindness; these particular visitors could come and go as they pleased with the assumption that they wouldn't be returning with a militia to lay siege to the city.

Today’s gesture of presenting keys is similar in sentiment if not function. And sometimes, not surprisingly, it’s just a PR stunt (see Kardashians, below). When mayors present keys to their cities these days, they’re also a lot fancier than I imagine those old gate keys were: the ones handed out by New York City are gold-plated.

An incomplete list of people who have received keys to cities:

  • Saddam Hussein received the key to Detroit in 1980 after making a sizable donation to a church there.
  • The Kardashian-Jenner family received the key to Beverly Hills in 2010.
  • Pilot Chesley Sullenberger (above) received the keys to New York City and to his hometown of Danville, California, after safely landing a plane in the Hudson River after birds were sucked into the engine.
  • Regis Philbin received the key to NYC two years later when he retired from his TV gig.
  • Usher was given a key to New Orleans in recognition of his charitable work.
  • Members of the Jackson 5 were each awarded the key to their hometown of Gary, Indiana.
  • Members of the Three 6 Mafia have keys to the city of Memphis.
  • Axl Rose can open up imaginary doors in West Valley City, Utah.
  • Cher angered a bunch of Aussies earlier this year when she sold her key to Adelaide, Australia, for $96,000 on eBay. She received the key in 1990 for performing at the Formula One Grand Prix there. She responded to the backlash on Twitter: “'I'm upset 2 & trying 2get2 bottom! I think my office f***** up?"
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Big Questions
How Are Royal Babies Named?
Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

After much anticipation, England's royal family has finally received a tiny new addition. The birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's second son was confirmed by Kensington Palace on April 23, but the name of the royal newborn has yet to be announced. For the heir to the British throne and his wife, choosing a name for their third child—who is already fifth in line to the throne—likely won't be as easy as flipping through a baby name book; it's tradition for royals to select names that honor important figures from British history.

According to ABC WJLA, selecting three or four names is typical when naming a royal baby. Will and Kate followed this unwritten rule when naming their first child, George Alexander Louis, and their second, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Each name is an opportunity to pay homage to a different British royal who came before them. Some royal monikers have less savory connotations (Prince Harry's given name, Henry, is reminiscent of a certain wife-beheading monarch), but typically royal babies are named for people who held a significant and honorable spot in the family tree.

Because there's a limited pool of honorable monarchs from which to choose, placing bets on the royal baby name as the due date approaches has become a popular British pastime. One name that keeps cropping up this time around is James; the original King James ruled in the early 17th century, and it has been 330 years since a monarch named James wore the crown.

If the royal family does go with James for the first name of their youngest son, that still leaves at least a couple of slots to be filled. So far, the couple has stuck with three names each for their children, but there doesn't seem to be a limit; Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to George VI in 1936, shouldered the full name of Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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