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8 Conspiracy Theories and What They Get Right

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Grab your tinfoil hats. It’s time to get paranoid.

Conspiracy #1: The government is trying to control my mind.

The Truth: The government has invested millions in mind control technologies.

Who doesn’t want a telepathic ray gun? The U.S. Army sure does. It’s already researched a device that could beam words into your skull, according to the 1998 report "Bioeffects of Selected Nonlethal Weapons." The report says that, with the help of special microwaves, “this technology could be developed to the point where words could be transmitted to be heard like the spoken word, except that it could only be heard within a person’s head.” The device could “communicate with hostages” and could “facilitate a private message transmission.”

In 2002, the Air Force Research laboratory patented a similar microwave device. Rep. Dennis Kucinich seemed concerned, because one year earlier, he proposed the Space Preservation Act, which called for a ban of all “Psychotronic weapons.” It didn’t pass.

The mind games don’t stop there. The CIA’s massive mind control experiment, Project MKUltra, remains the pet project of paranoid people everywhere. Beginning in the early 1950s, the CIA started asking strange questions in memos, like:

“Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation?”

In April 1953, the CIA decided to find out. The Agency wanted to develop drugs that could manipulate Soviet spies and foreign leaders—essentially, a truth serum. The CIA brimmed with other ideas, too, but Director Allen Dulles complained that there weren’t enough “human guinea pigs to try these extraordinary techniques.”

That lack of test subjects drove the CIA to wander off the ethical deep-end, leading the Agency to experiment on unwitting Americans.

About 80 institutions—44 of them colleges—housed MKUltra labs. There, the CIA toyed with drugs like LSD and heroin, testing if the substances “could potentially aid in discrediting individuals, eliciting information, and implanting suggestions and other forms of mental control.” The CIA tested LSD and barbiturates on mental patients, prisoners, and addicts. It also injected LSD in over 7000 military personnel without their knowledge. Many suffered psychotic episodes.

The CIA tried its hand at erasing people’s memories, too. Project ARTICHOKE tested how well hypnosis and morphine could induce amnesia. And when the CIA wasn’t trying to develop a memory-killing equivalent of the neurolyzer from Men in Black, it studied Chinese brainwashing techniques: Project QKHILLTOP examined ancient mind-scrambling methods to make interrogations easier.

In the wake of the Watergate scandal, the CIA destroyed hundreds of thousands of MKUltra documents. Only 20,000 escaped the shredder, and the CIA shifted its efforts from mind control to clairvoyance. In the mid 1970s, it launched the Stargate Project, which studied the shadowy phenomenon of “remote viewing.” (That is, the CIA investigated if it were possible to see through walls—with your mind.) The project closed in 1995. A final memo concluded:

“Even though a statistically significant effect has been observed in the laboratory, it remains unclear whether the existence of a paranormal phenomenon, remote viewing, has been demonstrated.”

Conspiracy #2: The government is poisoning me.

The Truth: It poisoned alcohol supplies to curb drinking during prohibition.

Library of Congress

As the '20s roared, alcoholism soared. Booze was banned, but speakeasies were everywhere. Few people followed the law, so the Treasury Department started enforcing it differently—by poisoning the watering hole.  

Most liquor in the 1920s was made from industrial alcohol, used in paints, solvents, and fuel. Bootleggers stole about 60 million gallons a year, redistilling the swill to make it drinkable. To drive rumrunners away, the Treasury Department started poisoning industrial hooch with methyl alcohol. But bootleggers kept stealing it, and people started getting sick.

When dealers noticed something wrong, they hired chemists to renature the alcohol, making it drinkable again. Dismayed, the government threw a counterpunch and added more poison—kerosene, gasoline, chloroform, and higher concentrations of methyl alcohol. Again, it didn’t deter drinking; the booze business carried on as usual.

By 1928, most of the liquor circulating in New York City was toxic. Despite increased illness and death, the Treasury didn’t stop tainting industrial supplies until the 18th amendment was repealed in 1933.

Conspiracy #3: The government is trying to ruin my reputation.

The Truth: The FBI’s COINTELPRO did it for 15 years.

The FBI has never been a fan of critics. During the second Red Scare, the Bureau fought dissenters, launching a covert program called COINTELPRO. Its mission? To “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” rebellious people and groups.

Under COINTELPRO, the FBI oversaw 2000 subversive smear operations. Agents bugged phones, forged documents, and planted false reports to create a negative public image of dissenters. COINTELPRO targeted hate groups like the KKK, but it also kept close watch on the “New Left,” like civil rights marchers and women’s rights activists. It tracked Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, John Lennon, and Ernest Hemingway.

Few, however, were watched as closely as Martin Luther King Jr. After MLK gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, this memo floated through FBI offices:

“In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands heads and shoulders over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negros. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”

King became an unofficial Enemy of State. Agents tracked his every move, performing a “complete analysis of the avenues of approach aimed at neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader." When a wiretap revealed King’s extramarital affair, the FBI sent him an anonymous letter, predicting that blackmail was in his future. “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that,” the letter said. A month later, MLK accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.

COINTELPRO shut down in 1971, although the FBI continued to monitor certain groups. In the 1990s, it tracked PETA and put members of Greenpeace on its terror watch list.

Conspiracy #4: The government is germ-bombing its own people.

The Truth: It was a common practice during the Cold War.

NASA

From 1940 to 1970, America was a giant germ laboratory. The U.S. Army wanted to assess how vulnerable America was to a biological attack, so it spread clouds of microbes and chemicals over populated areas everywhere.

In 1949, the Army Special Operations released bacteria into the Pentagon’s air conditioning system to observe how the microbes spread (the bacteria were reportedly harmless). In 1950, a U.S. Navy ship sprayed Serratia Marcescens—a common bacteria capable of minor infection—from San Francisco Bay. The bacteria floated over 30 miles, spread through the city, and may have caused one death.

A year later, during Operation DEW, the U.S. Army released 250 pounds of cadmium sulfide off the Carolina coast, which spread over 60,000 square miles. The military didn’t know that cadmium sulfide was carcinogenic, nor did it know that it could cause kidney, lung, and liver damage. In the 1960s, during Project 112 and Project SHAD, military personnel were exposed to nerve agents like VX and sarin and bacteria like E. coli without their knowledge. At least 134 similar experiments were performed.

President Nixon ended offensive tests of the US biological weapons program in 1969.

Conspiracy #5: The government is spreading disease with insects of war.

The Truth: You may have been attacked by a six-legged soldier, but you’re fine.

Wikimedia Commons

In 1955, the military dropped 330,000 yellow fever mosquitoes from an aircraft over Georgia. The campaign was cleverly called Operation Big Buzz, and the mosquitoes buzzed their way to residential areas. In 1956, Operation Drop Kick dropped 600,000 more mosquitoes over an Air Force base in Florida.

In both cases, the mosquitoes did not carry any disease. They were test weapons, part of the military’s entomological warfare team, which studied the bugs' ability to disperse and attack. Results found that the six-legged soldiers successfully feasted on humans and guinea pigs placed near the drop area.

In 1954, Operation Big Itch dropped 300,000 rat fleas in the Western Utah Desert. The military wanted to test if fleas could effectively carry and transmit disease. During one test, a bug-bomb failed to drop, cracking open inside the plane. The fleas swarmed the cabin, biting everybody aboard.

At the time, the military planned to build an insect farm, a facility that could produce 100 million infected mosquitoes per month. Multiple Soviet cities were marked with buggy bullseyes.

Conspiracy #6: The government has exposed me to harmful radiation.

The Truth: If you’re over 50, it’s possible.

Getty Images

“It is desired that no documents be released which refers to experiments with humans and might have adverse effect on public opinion or result in legal suits. Documents covering such work field should be classified ‘secret.’” –Atomic Energy Commission memo, 1947

In the late 1980s, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce released a damning report called “American Nuclear Guinea Pigs: Three Decades of Radiation Experiments on U.S. Citizens.” The report spotlighted Operation Green Run, a military test at a Washington plutonium facility. There, in 1949, managers purposefully released a massive cloud of radioactive iodine-131 to test how far it could travel downwind. Iodine-131 and xenon-133 reportedly traveled as far as the California-Oregon border, infecting 500,000 acres. It’s believed that 8000 curies of radioactive iodine floated out of the factory. To put that into perspective, in 1979, Three Mile Island emitted around 25 curies of radioactive iodine.

The report showed that the military planned 12 similar radiation releases at other facilities.

The government sponsored smaller tests, too. In the late 1950s, mentally disabled children at Sonoma State Hospital were fed irradiated milk. None gave consent. In Tennessee, 829 pregnant mothers took a vitamin drink to improve their baby’s health. The mothers weren’t told the “vitamin” was actually radioactive iron. In Massachusetts, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission fed 73 mentally disabled children oatmeal. The secret ingredient? Radioactive calcium. (Officials told the kids that if they ate the porridge, they would join a “science club.”) From 1960 to 1971, the Department of Defense conducted whole body radiation experiments on black cancer patients, who thought they were receiving treatment. Instead, the DOD used the test to calculate how humans reacted to high levels of radiation.

The United States also conducted hundreds of unannounced nuclear tests. In 1957, Operation Plumbob saw 29 nuclear explosions boom in America’s southwest. The explosions, which 18,000 soldiers watched nearby, released 58 curies of radioactive iodine—enough radiation to cause 11,000 to 212,000 cases of thyroid cancer. Through the 1950s alone, over 400,000 people became “atomic veterans.” Many didn’t know it.

Conspiracy #7: The government is staging terrorist attacks on itself.

The Truth: Military officials once suggested staging phony terrorist attacks to justify war with Cuba.

Wikimedia Commons

In the early 1960s, the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed the impossible: an American attack on America. The plan suggested fake terrorist attacks on US cities and bases. The goal? To blame Cuba and drum up support for war.

Officials called the proposal Operation Northwoods. The original memo suggested that, “We could develop a communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities, and even in Washington.”

Northwoods suggested that US personnel could disguise themselves as Cuban agents. These undercover soldiers could burn ammunition and sink ships in the harbor at Guantanamo Bay. “We could blow up a US ship and blame Cuba,” the memo says.

Northwoods also included a plan to “sink a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida (real or simulated)" and suggested “an incident which will demonstrate that a Cuban aircraft has attacked and shot down a charter civil airline.” Officials planned to fake a commercial hijacking, secretly landing the plane while an identical drone crashed nearby.

When the attacks finished, the government would release incriminating documents “substantiating Cuban involvement. . .World opinion and the United Nations forum should be favorably affected by developing the international image of the Cuban government as rash and irresponsible.”

President Kennedy rejected the proposal.

Conspiracy #8: The government is manipulating the media.

The Truth: From 1948 to 1972, over 400 journalists secretly carried out assignments for the CIA.

If you think the spinning on news channels today is bad, imagine what it’d be like if the CIA still steered the ship. Under Operation Mockingbird, the CIA’s sticky fingers touched over 300 newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Newsweek, and the Washington Post.

Over 400 journalists were in cahoots with the CIA. They promoted the Agency’s views and provided services: spying in foreign countries, gathering intelligence, and publishing reports written by the Agency. Sometimes, CIA Head Frank Wisner commissioned journalists to write pro-government articles at home and abroad. And, as if a CIA spin weren’t enough, the Agency also paid editors to keep anti-government pieces off the presses. Journalists with ties to the CIA also planted false intelligence in newsrooms so that unconnected reporters would pick it up and write about it.

The CIA teamed up with journalists because many reporters had strong foreign ties. A journalist reporting from abroad could gather information that the CIA couldn’t, and he could plant propaganda better, too.

Although a congressional hearing in the 1970s put an end to inside jobs, Big Brother still manipulates markets elsewhere. In 2005, the government spent $300 million placing pro-American messages in foreign media outlets—an attempt to hamper extremists and sway support.

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Atlanta Shelters Give Pups a Temporary Home for the Holidays
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The holidays are looking a little brighter for adoptable dogs from two animal shelters in Atlanta, Georgia. As ABC News reports, a new program called Home for the Pawlidays is providing temporary homes to longer-term residents of Fulton County Animal Services and DeKalb County Animal Services for the week of Thanksgiving.

The initiative was organized by Atlanta's LifeLine Animal Project, a local group dedicated to providing healthcare and homes to shelter dogs. The dogs that were chosen for the project may be older, have special health needs, or other issues that make it more difficult to find them forever homes.

But from November 18 to 25, the dogs are getting to spend time away from the shelter and in the homes of loving foster families.

“We were thinking, everyone gets a break from work, and they should get a break from the shelter,” LifeLine’s public relations director Karen Hirsch told ABC News.

Some caretakers have already fallen in love with their four-legged house guests. Foster Heather Koth told ABC that she hadn’t been considering adoption, but after meeting Missy the shelter dog, she now plans to foster her until she has a permanent home or possibly adopt the dog herself.

And for the dogs that can’t be kept by their temporary owners, just a week of quality playtime and sleeping in a real bed can make a huge impact. You can check out photos of the pets who are benefiting from the program this week below.

[h/t ABC News]

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25 Things You Didn't Know About Turkeys
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Most of us probably associate turkey with a sumptuous Thanksgiving spread, but there’s a lot more to the big bird than how delicious it is alongside your grandma’s famous cranberry sauce. Here are a few bits of knowledge you can drop over the dinner table—when you’re not fighting with your family over white meat or dark meat, that is.

1. THE NORTH AMERICAN WILD TURKEY POPULATION WAS ALMOST WIPED OUT.

Wild turkey
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Wild turkeys once roamed the continent en masse, but by the early 20th century, the entire U.S. population had been whittled down to a mere 30,000 due to hunting and the destruction of their woodland habitats. In the 1940s, many of the remaining birds were relocated to parts of the U.S. with recovering woodlands so the turkeys could repopulate. Despite these efforts, by 1973, there were still just 1.5 million wild turkeys in North America. Today, that number is up to about 6 million.

2. TURKEY APPENDAGES ARE LIKE MOOD RINGS.

Wild turkey
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The dangly appendage that hangs from the turkey’s forehead to the beak is called a snood. The piece that hangs from the chin is the wattle. These fleshy flaps can change color according to the turkey’s physical and mental health—when a male turkey (called a tom, of course) is trying to attract a mate, the snood and wattle turn bright red. If the turkey is scared, the appendages take on a blue tint. And if the turkey is ailing, they become very pale.

3. TURKEYS CAN FLY.

Wild turkey in flight
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Well, domestic turkeys that are bred to be your Thanksgiving centerpiece can’t. They’re too heavy. But wild turkeys can, reportedly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. Though they don’t go very far—usually less than 100 yards—wild turkeys are among the five largest flying birds in the world. They’re in good company: Others on the list include the swan and the albatross.

4. THEY CAN ALSO SWIM.

Wild turkey drinking water
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Turkeys don’t swim often, it seems, but they can, by tucking their wings in, spreading their tails, and kicking. In 1831, John James Audubon wrote, “I have been told by a friend that a person residing in Philadelphia had a hearty laugh on hearing that I had described the Wild Turkey as swimming for some distance, when it had accidentally fallen into the water. But be assured, kind reader, almost every species of land-bird is capable of swimming on such occasions, and you may easily satisfy yourself as to the accuracy of my statement by throwing a Turkey, a Common Fowl, or any other bird into the water.”

5. TURKEY POOP CAN TELL YOU A LOT.

A handler picking up turkey poop at the White House Turkey Pardon in 2013.

The next time you happen across turkey poop—which happens all the time, we know—take a closer look at it. If the droppings are shaped like a “J,” they were left there by a male turkey. Spiral-shaped poo? The culprit is female.

The citizens of Pilot Rock, Oregon, probably don’t much care about the shape of the stuff, but more about the quantity of it. Earlier this year, Pilot Rock turned to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) for help combating a flock of 50 to 70 wild turkeys that would periodically invade the town, destroy gardens, perch in trees, and poop on pickup trucks. The ODFW offered several solutions, but as far as we know the turkeys still rule the roost at Pilot Rock.

6. TURKEY PROBABLY WASN'T ON THE PILGRIMS' MENU.

A recreation of the Pilgrims' first settlement
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Thanks to historical records, we know for sure that the Wampanoag brought deer, and the English brought fowl—likely ducks and geese.

7. BEN FRANKLIN DIDN'T REALLY WANT THE TURKEY TO BE OUR NATIONAL BIRD.

A drawing of Ben Franklin.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Handout

You may have heard that at least one of our Founding Fathers lobbied hard to make the turkey our national symbol instead of the noble bald eagle. That’s not quite true, but in a letter to his daughter, he did expound on the character of each, which may be where the rumor got started:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

8. ANOTHER TURKEY FAN: ALEXANDER HAMILTON.

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Yep, A. Ham liked turkey. In fact, he thought eating turkey was practically a god-given right, and once remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day."

9. TEDDY ROOSEVELT BELIEVED THE BIRDS WERE CUNNING PREY.

Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting trip in Africa.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Stringer

Ol’ TR may have been accustomed to hunting big game, but wild turkeys held a special place in his heart. He believed they were every bit as challenging to hunt as deer. In his 1893 book Hunting Trips of a Ranchman and the Wilderness Hunter, he wrote, “The wild turkey really deserves a place beside the deer; to kill a wary old gobbler with the small-bore rifle, by fair still-hunting, is a triumph for the best sportsman.”

10. WILD TURKEYS HAVE BETTER VISION THAN YOU DO.

Close up of wild turkey's head
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Their fantastic vision is probably one reason Teddy Roosevelt found turkeys such a challenge to hunt. They can detect motion from many yards away, have vision three times greater than 20/20, and have peripheral vision of about 270 degrees. Ours, comparatively, is only 180. And although turkeys can’t see in 3D, they can see UVA light, which helps them better identify predators, prey, mates, and food.

11. THE TOP TURKEY-PRODUCING STATE MAY SURPRISE YOU.

Domesticated turkeys on a farm
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You may know Minnesota for producing Prince, the Mall of America, and Target. But we also have the Land of 10,000 Lakes to thank for our Thanksgiving turkeys. According to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, approximately 46-48 million turkeys are produced in Minnesota every year. In fact, it’s where the turkey that receives a presidential pardon hails from every year. Speaking of which ...

12. THE PRESIDENTIAL TURKEY PARDON MAY DATE BACK TO ABE LINCOLN.

President Barack Obama pardons a turkey in 2011.
Getty / Mark Wilson / Staff

Officially, the tradition of the sitting president of the United States pardoning his Thanksgiving turkey dates back to John F. Kennedy, who decided to let his gift from the National Turkey Federation off the hook. But he wasn't the first president to let a turkey go free: When Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad befriended one of the birds intended for Christmas dinner in 1863, kind-hearted Abe granted it a stay of execution.

13. THE FIRST TV DINNER MEAL: THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS

Thanksgiving TV dinner
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In 1953, Swanson ended up with 10 train cars full of frozen turkeys—260 tons of them—when an overzealous buyer ordered too many turkeys for the holidays. Salesman Gerry Thomas solved the problem by ordering 5,000 aluminum trays and setting up an assembly line of workers to scoop dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes into the compartments. Slices of turkey rounded out the meal, which Swanson sold for 98 cents. The idea was a hit: The following year, 10 million turkey TV dinners were sold.

14. NATIONAL TURKEY LOVERS’ MONTH ISN’T WHEN YOU THINK.

Grilled meats on a silver tray
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Everyone eats turkey in November and December, so there’s not a lot of need for extra poultry promotion during those months. If you want to celebrate National Turkey Lovers’ Month, you’ll have to do it in June with some turkey brats and burgers on the grill.

15. THE TURKEY YOU’LL BE EATING IS PROBABLY ABOUT 18 WEEKS OLD.

Roasted turkey on a platter
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That’s how long it typically takes the birds to grow to maturity, which is when they’re usually slaughtered.

16. THERE WAS ALMOST A TURKEY SIDEKICK IN POCAHONTAS.

Loren Javier via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

At one point, Disney thought Pocahontas needed a little comic relief, so they hired John Candy to voice a wisecracking woodland fowl named Red Feather. Sadly, Candy passed away while the logistics were being worked out, so animators dropped the turkey entirely and opted for a clever raccoon named Meeko.

17. NOT ALL TURKEYS GOBBLE.

Close up shot of a wild turkey
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If you hear a turkey making the distinctive noise we all associate with them, then you’re hearing a male communicating with his lady friends up to a mile away. Females make a clicking sound instead of a gobble.

18. IF YOU DON’T EAT TURKEY AT THANKSGIVING, YOU’RE IN THE MINORITY.

A black and white photo of a family gathering around the table as the mother brings in a turkey.
Getty / Evans / Stringer

According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving.

19. TURKEY CRAVINGS CAUSED A SPIKE IN KFC SALES IN JAPAN.

A large Kentucky Fried Chicken sign
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When KFC opened its first stores in Japan in the 1970s, the company was surprised to find that sales soared during the holidays. The phenomenon stymied executives since most of Japan celebrates neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas. It was later discovered that foreigners craving holiday turkey had decided that KFC’s chicken was the next best thing. After the company figured this out, they played up the association with their “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” campaign—“Kentucky for Christmas.” It worked on tourists and locals alike, and today, Christmas Eve is still the highest-selling day for KFC Japan.

20. THERE IS PROPER TURKEY TERMINOLOGY.

A flock of turkeys on a farm with one staring directly into the camera.
Getty / Cate Gillon / Staff

You probably know that a group of turkeys is a flock, but they can also properly be called a “rafter.” And should you want to call baby turkeys something a little more precise, you can call them “poults.”

21. THE MAYA USED TURKEYS AS SACRIFICIAL OFFERINGS.

A Maya tripod plate featuring a bird
Los Angeles County Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Archaeologists have found vases dating from 250-800 CE that have turkeys depicted on them. According to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee art historian Andrea Stone, "turkeys were quintessential animals for feasting and for sacrificial offerings." The Maya even crafted tamales shaped like the birds.

22. DURING THE ‘70S, YOU COULD CALL JULIA CHILD FOR TURKEY ADVICE ON THANKSGIVING.

Julia Child in her kitchen in 1978
Lynn Gilbert via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Even when she was at peak popularity, the famous chef refused to remove her phone number from public listings. According to friends, complete strangers would call Child on Thanksgiving to ask for advice on cooking the perfect turkey. Julia always answered the phone, and typically told callers whatever they needed to hear to get them to relax and enjoy the holiday. She even told some amateur cooks that turkey was best served cold anyway.

23. BIG BIRD IS A TURKEY.

Big Bird and Elmo at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Getty / Matthew Peyton / Stringer

Well, according to Sesame Street, he’s actually a canary—but his plumage makes him a turkey. The good people at American Plume & Fancy Feather provide Sesame Street with several thousand turkey feathers per costume to make sure Big Bird looks soft and fluffy.

24. THE BIRD IS NAMED AFTER THE COUNTRY.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
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But the whole thing was a mistake. Centuries ago, the English began to import a rather tasty bird, now known as a helmeted guinea fowl, from Madagascar. But they didn’t know it was from Africa. Because it was imported to Europe from merchants in Turkey, the English believed the birds were also Turkish.

Later, when the Spanish arrived in the New World, they discovered Meleagris gallopavo—the wild turkey. It was delicious, so they started importing it back to Europe. Europeans thought it tasted like the “turkey” guinea fowl they had been enjoying, so they called it the same thing.

25. WHAT, EXACTLY, IS DARK MEAT?

Roasted turkey legs on a piece of butcher paper
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It’s just a different type of muscle than white meat. White meat is the result of glycogen, which doesn't need much oxygen from the blood because the muscles it fuels only require short bursts of energy. Dark meat, however, is found on wings, thighs, and drumsticks—muscles that are used for long periods of time and require more sustainable energy. It’s made dark by the proteins that convert fat into energy.

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