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25 Things Turning 25 This Year

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The year 1988 was a quarter-century ago. If you're turning 25 this year, good news—you can now rent a car in the US without paying a weird fee, and you're as old as the California Raisins. Read on, before your quarter-life crisis hits.

1. Zack Morris, Screech, Lisa Turtle, and Mr. Belding

Before Saved by the Bell, a little show called Good Morning, Miss Bliss introduced us to the gang from Bayside High School...except it was called John F. Kennedy Junior High, and it was in Indianapolis, not California.

Miss Bliss starred Hayley Mills as the eponymous teacher, and it ran on the Disney Channel for one 13-episode season. The cast of characters was impressive, including the core of the later Saved by the Bell group. Jaleel White, who would play Steve Urkel in 1989's Family Matters, and Brian Austin Green, who starred in Beverly Hills, 90210, also appeared in the pilot. The Disney Channel dropped Miss Bliss after its first season, NBC picked it up and re-tooled it, and Saved by the Bell became a Saturday morning mainstay starting in 1989.

2. A Brief History of Time

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On September 1, 1988, physicist Stephen Hawking unleashed the bestseller A Brief History of Time, exploring great questions about the universe in easily understandable language. While working on an early draft, Hawking was warned that for each equation in the text, the book's readership would be halved. So he compromised, including just one equation: Einstein's E = mc2.

The book went on to sell more than 10 million copies. In the tenth anniversary edition, Hawking wrote: "Nathan Myhrvold of Microsoft (a former post-doc of mine) remarked: I have sold more books on physics than Madonna has on sex." (To be fair, Madonna's Sex wasn't released until 1992.)

3. Photoshop

YouTube / j0han1

Before "Photoshop" became a verb, it was a piece of software designed by John Knoll to display grayscale images on a Macintosh computer's black-and-white screen. Knoll's brother John (who worked for Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm) suggested that the program could be an image editor, not just a viewer. So Knoll dutifully built Photoshop. The first 200-ish copies shipped in 1988, bundled with Barneyscan slide scanners. Adobe bought the rights, put the Knoll brothers to work, and the rest is history.

4. Sega Genesis

Sega ad courtesy of Fors Yard. See a larger version here.

Sega's two-year headstart on Nintendo in the 16-bit gaming wars began on October 29, 1988, when the Sega Genesis launched in the US and Japan. Though sales were initially dicey, the Genesis went on to become Sega's most successful console, largely thanks to a branding rework in 1991 that exchanged the original bundle game, Altered Beast, with the critically acclaimed new game Sonic the Hedgehog.

By the time Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in 1991, the Genesis had already formed a solid reputation as "the cool console," and Nintendo had to compete against a lower price point, a much larger game library, and a Sega ad campaign claiming "Genesis does what Nintendon't." The two battled through the entire 16-bit era, with Sega inching out Nintendo for the lead (in hardware sales, at least) most years, excluding 1994, when Donkey Kong Country released.

5. Girl Talk

Not even Jewel Staite escaped childhood without playing Girl Talk, the very pink, all-girl version of Truth or Dare that launched in 1988. (That's the Firefly and Stargate Atlantis actress in 1995, kissing and telling.) Thanks to Girl Talk's overwhelming popularity, girl-only spin-offs popped up over the next several years, including Milton Bradley's Mall Madness, 1989's Barbie Just Us Girls ("a game of style and challenge," but mostly just spinning and collecting cards), 1990's Pretty, Pretty Princess, and 1991's Electric Dream Phone.

6. The Morris Worm (Computer Virus)

Wikipedia

On November 2, 1988, the first large-scale worm (a form of computer virus) struck the Internet. Written by Robert Tappan Morris (or RTM for short), the Morris worm was designed to figure out the size of the internet by aggressively spreading to Internet-connected computers. The worm had a design problem that made it overzealous in its attacks; the net effect was that the worm ran rampant over systems across the Internet, often repeatedly infecting the same computer until it slowed to a crawl. Sysadmins disconnected from the Internet, cleaned up the worm's damage, and RTM became the first man convicted under 1984's Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

RTM later sold a startup to Yahoo! for tens of millions, received a Ph.D. from Harvard, and ultimately became a professor at MIT. So he's doing all right.

7. Dunk-a-Roos

How do you Dunk-a-Roos? The cookie-and-icing snack debuted in 1988, hot on the heels of Handi-Snacks (the cheese-and-pretzel version offered by Kraft) and remains on (most) supermarket shelves in the US. Though the cookies were all originally cinnamon-flavored and the icing only came in chocolate or vanilla, newer iterations include vanillla, graham or chocolate cookies with chocolate chip, rainbow sprinkle and various other limited-time icing flavors. The mascot was originally a Crocodile Dundee-esque kangaroo named Sydney, who was voiced by John Cameron Mitchell, the director of 2010's Rabbit Hole, for which Nicole Kidman scored an Oscar nomination. After a 1996 contest, the mascot became a different roo named Duncan.

8. Matilda

Roald Dahl's 1988 book introduced us to Matilda, the precocious daughter of sleazy car salesman Harry Wormwood and his unnamed wife, who find Matilda lacking in both charm and intelligence even though she's a genius and secret telekinetic. Matilda uses her powers (spoiler alert) to save beloved teacher Miss Honey from her overbearing aunt and tyrranical headmaster, Miss Trunchbull.

Dahl's story has been adapted for the screen (the 1996 film starred Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman and Mrs. Doubtfire's Mara Wilson), the stage (in a musical written by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin), and the radio (by way of a two-part BBC broadcast). If you'd like to relive part of Matilda at home but think building your own Pokey is probably a bad idea (it is), then consider making a real-life version of the Trunchbull's chocolate cake — you'll find instructions in Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes.

9. Prozac

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Eli Lilly & Co. introduced Prozac to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bulimia, and a host of other psychiatric ills. It became one of the best-selling drugs in history, racking up tens of billions of sales by 2001, the year that generic versions hit the market in the US. It was such a commonly prescribed drug that references to popping Prozac flooded pop culture in the 90s, including the books Prozac Diary and Prozac Nation.

Prozac's possible side effects include nausea, insomnia, anorexia, and anorgasmia. On the bright side, recent research indicates that it might also be an antiviral.

10. Don't Panic

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Neil Gaiman was not a household name in 1988, when he released the book Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Gaiman had previously written a biography of Duran Duran in 1984, a sort of joke book in 1985 featuring bad sci-fi quotes, and some early comics and short stories in 1987. But 1988 was Gaiman's year—Don't Panic was a biography of author Douglas Adams as well as a companion to Adams's work, and it marked the beginning of Gaiman's massive success as a writer (1989 would see his first Sandman comics).

Douglas Adams blurbed the book, saying "It's all devastatingly true—except the bits that are lies."

11. Music - The Traveling Wilburys

1988 saw the formation of a bunch of bands that would go on to rule the 90s: Boyz II Men, Barenaked Ladies, Blur, House of Pain, Mother Love Bone (featuring future members of Pearl Jam), Mudhoney, and Nine Inch Nails. But the biggest new group of the year was The Traveling Wilburys, a supergroup featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. Tragically, Orbison died two months after the Wilburys released their first album, and their second video (for "End of the Line") featured Orbison's lonely guitar in a rocking chair (he did live to participate in the "Handle With Care" video).

The term "Wilbury" came from George Harrison's recording sessions for Cloud Nine—he joked to the recording engineer that "we'll bury" recording mistakes in the mix. (To their credit, the Wilburys buried most of Dylan's vocals in the mix.)

Honorable mentions in the music category: Milli Vanilli, Mr. Big, and Crash Test Dummies were also formed in 1988. Rick Astley's single "Never Gonna Give You Up" was still topping American charts, despite being released the year before. (Nobody got the idea to perform a Rickroll until two decades later.) Guns 'n Roses had a string of hits, most notably "Sweet Child o' Mine." And as we mention elsewhere in this list, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was a major hit.

12. Batman: The Killing Joke

Wikipedia

1988 brought us Batman: The Killing Joke, a graphic novel written by Alan Moore explaining the dark origin story of The Joker. Although Tim Burton didn't use Moore's story for his now-classic 1989 film Batman, the graphic novel was a huge motivator for the movie focusing on The Joker as Batman's primary enemy. Burton said:

"I was never a giant comic book fan, but I've always loved the image of Batman and the Joker. The reason I've never been a comic book fan—and I think it started when I was a child—is because I could never tell which box I was supposed to read. I don't know if it was dyslexia or whatever, but that's why I loved The Killing Joke, because for the first time I could tell which one to read. It's my favorite. It's the first comic I've ever loved. And the success of those graphic novels made our ideas more acceptable."

Heath Ledger was also given a copy of The Killing Joke as a character reference for his performance of The Joker in The Dark Knight.

13. Movies (Mostly Rain Man)


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Rain Man ruled the box office and the Academy Awards for 1988, winning four Oscars, including Best Picture. The film started shooting just before the 1988 Writers Guild of America Strike, so screenwriters Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass couldn't visit the set during production (they won Best Original Screenplay anyway).

But while Raymond Babbitt was watching Wapner on The People's Court, the rest of us were enjoying a string of 80s-tastic movies, including Beaches, Beetlejuice, Big, Big Top Pee-Wee, Coming to America, Die Hard, The Land Before Time, My Neighbor Totoro, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

An honorable mention for best 1988 film goes to The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, which featured a memorable (if slightly embellished) interview in which Ozzy Osbourne cooked breakfast and gave career advice to future rockers.

14. TV Shows

It was a great year for television... but not for criminals. America's Most Wanted aired for the first time on 7 FOX stations in February, 1988. Within 4 days, profiled fugitive David James Roberts was captured thanks to tips from sharp-eyed viewers. A few weeks later the show was picked up on all FOX stations, and in 2008 the AMW team announced their 1000th captured criminal: a New York realtor named Dwight Smith.

While Americans were on the lookout for wayward baddies, Kevin Arnold was crushing hard on Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years, which debuted in January. To set the record straight, again: "Paul Pfeiffer" actor Josh Saviano is not Marilyn Manson. He's a merger and acquisitions lawyer in New York.

Other memorable shows that debuted in 1988: Roseanne, Murphy Brown, The Gong Show (syndicated weekday revival), Garfield and Friends, C.O.P.S., China Beach, and Yo! MTV Raps.

15. Oh, and MST3K!

In November, the first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 aired on the Twin Cities UHF station KTMA-TV. The Satellite of Love (the name of the ship on which the show is set, inspired by a Lou Reed song) and the robots were all constructed in one night by the show's creator, Joel Hodgson, who built everything entirely of toys and Goodwill finds. The premise of the show changed quite a lot between the first and last episodes, but originally, Joel Robinson (played by Hodgson) was a janitor for Gizmonic Institute who was part of an evil experiment by mad scientists Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt. Their diabolical plan was to force as many terrible B movies on Joel as possible until he finally snapped. The torture took a while, though, because Joel didn't escape until season 5, when he was replaced by unwitting successor Mike Nelson. Joel (and later Mike) and the bots made an average of 700 comments during each movie.

16. He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper

RON WOLFSON/Landov

Speaking of rap, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released their second studio album in March. He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper was the first-ever double-vinyl hip hop album, the first to win a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance (in 1989 for "Parents Just Don't Understand"), and led to Jeff Townes and Will Smith's first "serious" movie offers: they declined the lead roles in House Party, which were taken by Kid & Play.

It seems everyone loved "Parents Just Don't Understand," even Will's future wife, Jada Pinkett. Here she is in 1988 with fellow Baltimore School of the Arts alum and friend, Tupac Shakur:

(That clip is from the short-lived Keenan Ivory Wayans Show, which ran from August 1997 to March 1998.)

17. Koosh

Flickr user K Tempest Bradford/Wikimedia Commons

Developed in 1986 by Scott Stillinger for his kids, the Koosh ball was soon picked up by Hasbro. The rubbery toy took off when it was released in 1988, making its way onto the Christmas lists of thousands of kids in 1988. Each ball contains around 2,000 rubber filaments, and the name comes from the sound it makes when it lands.

18. Wild Cherry Pepsi

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In 1988, Pepsi decided to tinker with their Cherry Cola Slice formula. The result was good, but too different from the original product to continue selling it under the same name. Goodbye, Cherry Cola Slice—hello Wild Cherry Pepsi (which was rebranded Pepsi Wild Cherry in 1995).

19. The Flowbee

While Flowbee's website has been updated at least once since 1988, the haircutting/vacuum cleaner apparatus remains largely unchanged at 25 years old. Your desire for feathered bangs may have, however.

20. Battle Chess

Tired of playing the game of kings using physical pieces and your boring old "imagination"? In 1988, Battle Chess changed the game, adding animated battle sequences (several referencing Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Raiders of the Lost Ark), along with sound effects and artificial intelligence, so you could match wits with your Amiga. Of course, those of us who'd seen Star Wars still yearned for Holochess.

21. Shamu One

Southwest Airlines

Few aviation gimmicks are as exciting to children as Southwest Airlines and Sea World San Antonio's collaboration, a Boeing 737 Classic painted to look like Shamu, Sea World's main attraction. Within the next decade, two more aircraft would receive the orca paint job and then all three would be replaced with newer model planes. In December 2012, Shamu took off and landed for the last time. (Sea World's "Shamu" is actually many killer whales; currently there are six different orca in the rotation.)

22. World AIDS Day

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World AIDS Day was first held on December 1, 1988. Supporters wore the now-familiar red ribbon, and world leaders (including Pope John Paul II) marked the occasion with messages of support. In 2007, the Bush administration hung a two-story red ribbon from the North Portico of the White House to draw attention to the cause.

Each year, World AIDS Day has a theme, often focusing on a certain population, like men, women, or children living with AIDS. For the years 2011 to 2015, the theme is clear and aggressive: "Getting to Zero."

23. Pi Day

The first Pi Day was organized by physicist Larry Shaw of the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988. On March 14, his colleagues and Exploratorium-goers were invited to march in circles and eat lots of pie. These days Pi Day is a somewhat bigger deal: In 2009, the House of Representatives passed HRES 224 recognizing March 14 as National Pi Day. (Get your 2014 Pi Day shopping done early in our store!)

24. Kids' Choice Awards

In 1988, Tony Danza hosted the first ever Kids' Choice Awards on Nickelodeon. Guest appearances included Debbie Gibson, Wil Wheaton, Marc Summers, Charles Barkley and Jeremy Miller, who played Ben Seaver on Growing Pains.

The first year's notable wins went to Beverly Hills Cop 2 (Favorite Movie) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (for Favorite Cartoon). Les Lye of You Can't Do That on Television was the celebrity slime recipient.

{You can watch the 1988 show in full on YouTube.)

25. Michael Cera

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1988 was a good year for young actors: Michael Cera was born in Ontario, and went on to win our hearts in Arrested Development, Superbad, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. His birthday is June 7, so you still have time to get him a sweet card.

Other notable births in 1988:

  • Rupert Grint, aka Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films
  • Haley Joel Osment, who famously saw dead people, but also played Forrest Gump's son in 1994
  • Sonny John Moore (aka Skrillex), who won three Grammys in 2011
  • Adele, whose age-themed albums (19 and 21) have led to record-breaking success in the music world (her full name is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins)

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See Also

30 Things Turning 30 This Year

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Animals
15 Reasons You Should Appreciate Squirrels
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Even if you live in a big city, you probably see wildlife on a regular basis. Namely, you're sure to run into a lot of squirrels, even in the densest urban areas. And if you happen to live on a college campus, well, you're probably overrun with them. While some people might view them as adorable, others see them as persistent pests bent on chewing on and nesting in everything in sight. But in honor of National Squirrel Appreciation Day, here are 15 reasons you should appreciate the savvy, amazing, bushy-tailed critters.

1. THEY CAN JUMP REALLY, REALLY FAR.

A flying squirrel soars through the air
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In one study [PDF] of the tree-dwelling plantain squirrels that roam the campus of the National University of Singapore, squirrels were observed jumping almost 10 feet at a stretch. In another study with the eastern ground squirrel, one researcher observed a squirrel jumping more than 8 feet between a tree stump and a feeding platform, propelling itself 10 times the length of its body. Flying squirrels, obviously, can traverse much farther distances midair—the northern flying squirrel, for instance, can glide up to 295 feet [PDF].

2. THEY'RE VERY ORGANIZED …

A squirrel digs in a grassy field filled with fallen leaves.
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In fact, they may be more organized than you are. A recent study found that eastern fox squirrels living on UC Berkeley's campus cache their nuts according to type. When given a mixture of walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts, the squirrels took the time to hide each type of nut in a specific place. This method of "spatial chunking" may help them remember where the nuts are when they go to retrieve them later. Though the study wasn't able to determine this for sure, the study's results suggested that the squirrels may have been organizing their caches by even more subtle categories, like the size of the nuts.

3. … BUT THEIR FORGETFULNESS HELPS TREES GROW.

Looking up a tree trunk at a squirrel climbing down
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Tree squirrels are one of the most important animals around when it comes to planting forests. Though they may be careful about where they bury their acorns and other nuts, they still forget about quite a few of their caches (or at least neglect to retrieve them). When they do, those acorns often sprout, resulting in more trees—and eventually, yet more acorns for the squirrels.

4. THEY HELP TRUFFLES THRIVE.

A man holds a truffle up for the camera.
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The squirrel digestive system also plays an important role in the survival of truffles. While above-ground mushrooms can spread their spores through the air, truffles grow below ground. Instead of relying on the air, they depend on hungry animals like squirrels to spread their spores to host plants elsewhere. The northern flying squirrel, found in forests across North America, depends largely on the buried fungi to make up its diet, and plays a major role in truffle propagation. The squirrels poop out the spores unharmed on the forest floor, allowing the fungi to take hold and form a symbiotic relationship with the tree roots it's dropped near.

5. THEY'RE ONE OF THE FEW MAMMALS THAT CAN SPRINT DOWN A TREE HEAD-FIRST.

A squirrel stands on the knot of a tree trunk looking down at the ground.
iStock

You may not be too impressed when you see a squirrel running down a tree, but they're actually accomplishing a major feat. Most animals can't climb vertically down head-first, but squirrel's back ankles can rotate 180°, turning their paws all the way around to grip the tree trunk as they descend.

6. SEVERAL TOWNS COMPETE FOR THE TITLE OF 'HOME OF THE WHITE SQUIRREL.'

A white squirrel in Olney, Illinois stands on its hind legs.
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Squirrels are a more popular town mascot than you might think. Surprisingly, more than one town wants to be known as the "home of the white squirrel," including Kenton, Tennessee; Marionville, Missouri; the Canadian city of Exeter, Ontario; and Brevard, North Carolina, the location of the annual White Squirrel Festival. But Olney, Illinois may be the most intense about its high population of albino squirrels. There is a $750 fine for killing the all-white animals, and they have the legal right-of-way on roads. There's an official city count of the squirrels each year, and in 1997, realizing that local cats posed a threat to the beloved rodent residents, the city council banned residents from letting their cats run loose outdoors. In 2002, the city held a 100-Year White Squirrel Celebration, erecting a monument and holding a "squirrel blessing" by a priest. Police officers wore special squirrel-themed patches for the event.

7. THEY CAN AID STROKE RESEARCH.

An illustration of different regions of the brain lighting up in blue
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Ground squirrels hibernate in the winter, and the way their brains function while they do may help scientists develop a new drug that can limit the brain damage caused by strokes. When ground squirrels hibernate, their core body temperature drops dramatically—in the case of the arctic ground squirrel, to as low as 26.7°F, possibly the lowest body temperature of any mammal on Earth. During this extra-cold hibernation, a squirrel's brain undergoes cellular changes that help its brain deal with reduced blood flow. Researchers are currently trying to develop a drug that could mimic that process in the human brain, preventing brain cells from dying when blood flow to the brain is cut off during a stroke.

8. THEIR FUR MAY HAVE SPREAD LEPROSY IN THE MIDDLE AGES.

A woman in a fur vest with a hood faces away from the camera and stares out over the water.
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If you always warn your friends not to pet or feed squirrels because they can spread disease, put this story in your back pocket for later: They may have helped leprosy spread from Scandinavia to the UK in the 9th century. Research published in 2017 found a strain of leprosy similar to a modern variant found in squirrels in southern England in the skull of a woman who lived in England sometime between 885 and 1015 CE. The scientists suggest that the leprosy may have arrived along with Viking squirrel pelts. "It is possible that this strain of leprosy was proliferated in the South East of England by contact with highly prized squirrel pelt and meat, which was traded by the Vikings at the time this woman was alive," one of the authors told The Guardian. That may not be the most uplifting reason to appreciate squirrels, but it's hard not to admire their influence!

9. THEY'RE MORE POWERFUL THAN HACKERS.

A squirrel runs across a power line.
Frederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty Images

While energy companies may worry about hackers disrupting the power grid, squirrels are actually far more powerful than cyber-whizzes when it comes to sabotaging our electricity supply. A website called Cyber Squirrel 1 documents every public record of squirrels and other animals disrupting power services dating back to 1987. It has counted more than 1100 squirrel-related outages across the world for that time period, which is no doubt a vast underestimate. In a 2016 survey of public power utilities, wildlife was the most common cause of power outages, and for most power companies, that tends to mean squirrels.

10. THEY CAN HEAT UP THEIR TAILS TO WARD OFF PREDATORS.

A ground squirrel sits with its mouth open.
David McNew, Getty Images

California ground squirrels have an interesting way of scaring off rattlesnakes. Like cats, their tails puff up when they go on the defense. A squirrel will wave its tail at a rattlesnake to convince the snake that it's a formidable opponent. Surprisingly, they whip their tails at their foes whether it's light or dark outside. Squirrels can control the blood flow to their tails to cool down or keep warm, and they use this to their advantage in a fight, pumping blood into their tails. Even if the rattlesnakes can't see the bushy tails, researchers found in 2007, they can sense the heat coming off them.

11. THEY HELP SCIENTISTS KNOW WHETHER A FOREST IS HEALTHY.

A squirrel runs down a tree trunk toward a pile of leaves.
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Researchers look at tree squirrel populations to measure just how well a forest ecosystem is faring. Because they depend on their forest habitats for seeds, nesting sites, and food storage, the presence and demographics of tree squirrels in an area is a good bellwether for the health of a mature forest. Studying changes in squirrel populations can help experts determine the environmental impact of logging, fires, and other events that alter forest habitats [PDF].

12. THEY CAN LIE.

A squirrel with a bushy tail stands on its hind legs.
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Gray squirrels know how to deceive. They can engage in what's called "tactical deception," a behavior previously only seen in primates, as a study in 2008 found. When they think they're being watched by someone looking to pilfer their cache of food, the researchers discovered, they will pretend to dig a hole as if burying their acorn or nut, but tuck their snack into their mouth and go bury it elsewhere.

13. THEY WERE ONCE AMERICA'S MOST POPULAR PET.

A man in a hat kisses a squirrel on the White House grounds
Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though some states currently ban (or require permits for) keeping squirrels as pets, it was once commonplace. Warren G. Harding kept a squirrel named Pete who would sometimes show up to White House meetings and briefings, where members of Harding's cabinet would bring him nuts. But keeping a squirrel around wasn't just for world leaders—the rodent was the most popular pet in the country, according to Atlas Obscura. From the 1700s onwards, squirrels were a major fixture in the American pet landscape and were sold in pet shops. Despite Harding's love of Pete, by the time he lived in the White House in the 1920s, squirrel ownership was already on the wane, in part due to the rise of exotic animal laws.

14. THE MERE SIGHT OF JUST ONE COULD ONCE ATTRACT A CROWD.

A historical photo of nurses leaning down to feed a black squirrel
Library of Congress // Public Domain

The American cities of the 1800s weren't great places to catch a glimpse of wildlife, squirrels included. In fact, the animals were so rare that in the summer of 1856, when a gray squirrel escaped from its cage inside a downtown New York apartment building (where it was surely living as someone's pet), it merited a write-up in The New York Times. According to the paper, several hundred people gathered to gawk at the tree where the squirrel took refuge and try to coax the rodent down. In the end, a police officer had to force the crowd to disperse. The paper did not document what happened to the poor squirrel.

15. IN THE 19TH CENTURY, THEY WERE TASKED WITH TEACHING COMPASSION.

A boy doing homework with a squirrel on the table.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In the mid-1800s, seeking to return a little bit of nature to concrete jungles, cities began re-introducing squirrels to their urban parks. Squirrels provided a rare opportunity for city slickers to see wildlife, but they were also seen as a sort of moral compass for young boys. Observing and feeding urban squirrels was seen as a way to steer boys away from their "tendency toward cruelty," according to University of Pennsylvania historian Etienne Benson [PDF]. Boy Scouts founder Ernest Thompson Seton argued in a 1914 article that cities should introduce "missionary squirrels" to cities so that boys could befriend them. He and other advocates of urban squirrels "saw [them] as opportunities for boys to establish trusting, sympathetic, and paternalistic relationships with animal others," Benson writes.

But young boys weren't the only ones that were thought to benefit from a little squirrel-feeding time. When the animals were first reintroduced to parks in the 19th century, feeding squirrels was considered an act of charity—one accessible even to those people who didn't have the means of showing charity in other realms. "Because of the presence of urban squirrels, even the least powerful members of human society could demonstrate the virtue of charity and display their own moral worth," Benson writes. "Gray squirrels helped reshape the American urban park into a site for the performance of charity and compassion for the weak." Even if you were too poor to provide any sort of charity for someone else, you could at least give back to the squirrels.

BONUS: THEY USED TO HATE TAX SEASON TOO.

A colored lithograph shows men and dogs hunting squirrels in a forest.
Currier and Ives, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though notably absent from big cities, much of the U.S. was once overrun by squirrels. The large population of gray squirrels in early Ohio caused such widespread crop destruction that people were encouraged—nay, required—to hunt them. In 1807, the Ohio General Assembly demanded that citizens not just pay their regular taxes, but add a few squirrel carcasses on top. According to the Ohio History Connection, taxpayers had to submit a minimum of 10 squirrel scalps to the town clerk each year. Tennessee had similar laws, though that state would let people pay in dead crows if they couldn't rustle up enough squirrels.

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Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Trains, iStock. Portrait, Project Gutenberg // Public Domain
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Retrobituaries
Leon Ray Livingston, America's Most Famous Hobo
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Trains, iStock. Portrait, Project Gutenberg // Public Domain
Photo illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Trains, iStock. Portrait, Project Gutenberg // Public Domain

With no more troops or supplies to move after the end of the Civil War, the country's railroads became home to another army—that of the hobos. The ever-increasing web of rails nationwide would go from 45,000 miles before 1871 to nearly 200,000 by 1900, making it easier for the poorest of working-class folk, many of whom were veterans, to hitch a ride on a train and travel from state to state looking for employment. These hobos were soon a familiar sight coast to coast.

The journeys of these destitute travelers quickly caught on in the popular culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, creating a romanticized view of this unique lifestyle. It was a time when writers like W. H. Davies and Jack London parlayed their hoboing experiences into literary notoriety, while Charlie Chaplin's "Little Tramp" would become one of the most recognizable movie characters of the 20th century. Among these wandering folk figures was a man with a sense of showmanship and a keen eye for branding: Leon Ray Livingston—a writer, lecturer, and transient who would go on to dub himself "King of the Hobos."

What we know about Livingston's early life comes solely from the books he wrote, which often read like tall tales designed to help build his mystique. According to Livingston, he was born in August 1872 into a family from San Francisco that he described as "well-to-do," but at age 11, misbehavior at school led him down a different path in life. On the day after his 11th birthday, his teacher sent him home with a note detailing his bad behavior, which was to be signed by Livingston's father. The boy didn't show his father the note that night, and when he spotted his teacher heading toward his house the next morning, Livingston snuck out of the house and kept moving. He wouldn't fully stop for decades.

Livingston says he left his house that day armed with a .22-caliber rifle and a pocket full of money—some stolen from his mother, some a birthday gift from his uncle. From there, his life became an odyssey of riding the rails, hopping on steamers, and taking on odd jobs as he traversed a country in the midst of an industrial revolution. Years later, Livingston would famously brag that he traveled 500,000 miles while only spending $7.61 on fares.

In his decades on the road, he took to writing about his experiences, eventually self-publishing around a dozen books about his adventures; the most comprehensive was Life and Adventures of A-No. 1: America's Most Celebrated Tramp. Published in 1910—nearly 30 years after he left home—this book includes tales of his early life as a hobo, including one globe-trotting adventure in his first year that found him working aboard a British trade ship that set off from New Orleans for Belize, where he jumped ship and began working for a mahogany camp.

Book cover for The Trail of the Tramp
The book cover to Livingston's The Trail of the Tramp
Project Gutenberg // Public Domain

Livingston's Central American exploits include anecdotes about the working conditions in the British mahogany camps, his repeated (but failed) attempts to desert his employers and head home on their dime, feasting on "roasted baboon," and his near-fatal run-in with something he called Black Swamp Fever (which could be a reference to malaria). The writing is colorful and no doubt romanticized, making it hard to separate facts from the legend Livingston aimed to enhance.

It was after his return trip to America that Livingston was christened with the nickname that would help him become something bigger than a lowly transient: A-No. 1. In his book, Livingston said the moniker was given to him by an older companion named Frenchy, who said:

"Every tramp gives his kid a nickname, a name that will distinguish him from all other members of the craft. You have been a good lad while you have been with me, in fact been always 'A-No. 1' in everything you had to do, and, Kid, take my advice, if you have to be anything in life, even if a tramp, try to be 'A-No. 1' all the time and in everything you undertake."

He also told Livingston to carve this new nickname into each mile post he passed on his journey, letting the world know who'd traveled here before them. This piece of advice gave the legend of Livingston more longevity than he could ever imagine: In the 21st century, people are still finding "A-No. 1" scribbled under bridges.

In addition to signing their nickname, the wandering tramps would also draw up symbols to alert others of possible danger or hospitality ahead. In his 1911 book Hobo-Camp-Fire-Tales, Livingston provides drawings of 32 of these symbols and what they all mean—including signs for "This town has saloons," "The police in this place are 'Strictly Hostile,'" and "Hostile police judge in this town. Look out!" It's not completely clear if Livingston played a role in creating this hobo code, but he is credited with preserving these symbols and bringing them to the attention of a curious American public.

As Livingston became more of a cultural figure, he seemingly took an interest in leading people away from the tramp life. His books would often begin with a warning, telling readers, "Wandering, once it becomes a habit, is almost incurable, so NEVER RUN AWAY, but STAY AT HOME, as a roving lad usually ends in becoming a confirmed tramp." He then finished, saying this "pitiful existence" would likely end with any would-be tramp in a "pauper's grave." These warnings could be a well-meaning public service announcement, although scholars say they can also be read as Livingston's attempt to enhance the danger of the lifestyle to create even more intrigue about his exploits (and sell more books).

Always a showman, Livingston understood publicity as well as any celebrity at the time; in his travels he would often seek out local reporters, becoming the subject of numerous newspaper articles and magazine interviews around the country. Taking pride in his exploits, he carried a scrapbook of his journeys around with him, which included personalized letters and autographs from notable figures such as Thomas Edison, George Dewey, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft.

His influence among the community was far-reaching, even capturing the imagination of a young Jack London, author of White Fang and The Call of the Wild, during his formative years. London had reached out to Livingston about his lifestyle in the late 19th century, and the two adventured together, as chronicled in Livingston's book From Coast to Coast with Jack London, which was published in 1917, a year after London's death.

Despite the freight-hopping and steamer trips and odd jobs, Livingston wasn't hurting for money; for him, hoboing was a spiritual necessity, not a financial one. When he would seek some stability during his travels, he could often be found staying at Mrs. Cunningham's Boarding House in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, where he would write many of his books. In The Ways of the Hobo, he claimed the house became "a veritable Mecca to chronic hoboes," including old friends like "Hobo Mike" and "Denver Johnny," who sought out his counsel and companionship.

In 1914, Livingston married a woman named Mary Trohoske (sometimes spelled Trohoski), and he settled down—as best a tramp could—in a house in Erie, Pennsylvania. His later years were spent working various jobs—including at electric and steel companies around Erie, though one source places him in real estate. While he stayed relatively put in his later years, Livingston did travel the lecture circuit to speak out against the lifestyle that defined him. With the country in the throes of the Great Depression, the warnings Livingston wrote about the hobo lifestyle in each of his books had transformed into full-on speeches against tramping. (Sadly, his lectures don't seem to have survived.)

Rumors persist about Livingston's final days. Some claim that he continued his traveling ways toward the end, dying in a train wreck in Houston, Texas, in 1944, but this is likely confusion with a 1912 wreck that killed one of his impersonators. According to most accounts, Livingston passed away due to heart failure in his home on April 5, 1944 around age 71, with his wife by his side. But for a man who lived to mythologize his own story, a little ambiguity about his end is only fitting.

Livingston's fame has waned significantly since the first quarter of the 20th century. He's only re-emerged in the mainstream a few times, most notably when Lee Marvin played A-No. 1 in the 1973 movie Emperor of the North, based on Livingston's travels with Jack London and on London's own book The Road. Though little-remembered now, Livingston was part of a fleeting moment in American history—a time when the country was getting the first real glimpse of itself as an interconnected nation, and when someone who lived by wandering could be the stuff of folklore.

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