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25 Facts About Places Named Springfield

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Where exactly do the Simpsons live? In 2012, show creator Matt Groening revealed to Smithsonian magazine that his fictional Springfield “was named after Springfield, Oregon,” which lies near his hometown of Portland. “I also figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S.”

He’s not wrong. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names lists 67 Springfields across the U.S.—but the name isn't just an American phenomenon. Almost every English-speaking country on earth has a town, village, or city called Springfield. One was the birthplace of basketball. Another is where Abe Lincoln started a family. And yet another is home to the biggest fork you’ll (probably) ever see. Here’s the Mental Floss guide to just a few of those Springfields.

SPRINGFIELD, ESSEX // UNITED KINGDOM

1. You can thank this suburb and parish of 20,000 in the Chelmsford district, and one of its citizens, for all of America's Springfields. Puritan and future New Englander William Pynchon was born in Essex's Springfield on October 11, 1590, and when the community that he founded in modern-day Massachusetts was looking for a new name in 1640, they decided to honor the birthplace of the town’s founder and call it Springfield. It was the start of a continent-wide trend: In neighboring colonies and beyond, other cities started re-using the name like crazy. The rest is history.

SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS

2. The Bay State’s third-largest city is the birthplace of Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. After he passed away in 1991, Springfield's residents created the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Located on Edwards Street, it contains bronze statues of his most beloved characters, including Horton, the Grinch, and the Lorax. There’s also a likeness of Geisel himself, flanked by the Cat in the Hat. The project was completed in 2002 at a cost of $6.2 million.

3. Here’s another fun fact for bibliophiles: The publishing company that would become Merriam-Webster, Inc. was established here in 1831 by brothers George and Charles Merriam. Twelve years later, the company acquired the right to distribute and modify An American Dictionary by the late Noah Webster, and Merriam-Webster Dictionaries were born. They sold well: In 1850, New York state alone ordered 10,000 copies of the 1847 edition for its school system.

4. Each autumn, the Springfield metro area hosts one of New England’s favorite events. Nicknamed “The Big E,” the Eastern States Exposition is the largest annual fair in the northeast. Over a million people drop by every year for 17 days of great food, thrilling concerts, and a "Mardi Gras" parade.

5. Springfield, Massachusetts is called “the City of Firsts,” and for good reason. America’s first government postcards were made here by the Morgan Envelope Company in 1873. Springfield resident Solymon Merrick patented the first adjustable wrench in 1835—and just three years later, Merrick was awarded a patent for the first hand-held hole punch.

6. The city’s most famous invention is the game of basketball. Canadian transplant James Naismith created it in the winter of 1891. At the time, he was employed by the Springfield YMCA as an instructor. His boss, Luther Halsey Gulick, assigned him to a class of young men who desperately wanted to play some kind of indoor sport during the colder months. One brainstorming session and 13 rules later, Naismith unleashed basketball. Appropriately, Springfield is also home to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which has been educating fans since 1968.

SPRINGFIELD, NEBRASKA

7. Lady Gaga’s “You and I” music video was shot in and around this city of 1600 in July 2011. Why’d Mother Monster pick this locale? Her then-boyfriend, Lüc Carl, is a Springfield native whose parents still lived there.

SPRINGFIELD, NEW JERSEY // UNION COUNTY

8. New Jersey has two Springfields, the larger of which is a township in Union County. On June 23, 1780, an important Revolutionary War battle occurred there. Hoping to strike George Washington at his encampment in Morristown, 5000 British and Hessian men marched into town. The invaders were repelled by some 1500 Continental soldiers and 500 New Jersey militiamen. For the Americans, this was a great victory, but it came at an awful price: Before the British left, they burned down most of Springfield.

SPRINGFIELD, VIRGINIA

9. On her first visit to the U.S., Princess Diana and her husband, Prince Charles, took a break from political banquets to check out the Springfield Mall. In their honor, the resident J.C. Penney set up a “Best of Britain” display. Judging by this photo, the royals seemed to enjoy themselves. (Diana bought an $8 silk scarf.)

SPRINGFIELD, MANITOBA // CANADA

10. Unlike the previous entries on our list, this Springfield isn’t any kind of city, township, or village. Instead, it’s a “rural municipality”—the oldest in Manitoba—that contains several small towns. If you like flowers, Birds Hill Provincial Park should be your first stop. Located primarily in Springfield, it's a safe haven for the western silvery aster. Recognized as a threatened species, the perennial is easily identified by its gorgeous violet to pink petals. Canada’s biggest population of them can be found at Birds Hill, where around 4200 now take root [PDF].

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS

11. When Illinois entered the union in 1818, Kaskaskia became its first capital. Then, in 1820, Vandalia became the seat of government—a role it might have kept if not for a state senator named Abraham Lincoln. In 1837, Lincoln organized a coalition with eight other legislators. Since these men were unusually tall for their time (each one was at least 6 feet in height), newspapers took to calling them “The Long Nine.” Together, they pushed through a bill which turned Springfield—Lincoln’s home—into Illinois’s capital.

12. You can’t turn your head in Springfield without seeing something Lincoln-related. America’s 16th president lived there for 23 years, during which time he became a husband and father. Lincoln is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery; less than two miles away is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, where you can buy an Abe Lincoln bobblehead doll. History buffs can also visit the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the church his family attended, and Abe’s old law offices.

13. This particular Springfield's signature dish is the horseshoe sandwich. Originally conceived at the Leland Hotel, the sandwiches are open-faced and typically include two thick slices of bread and either a fried ham steak or huge hamburger patties. Piled atop the whole mess is a heap of French fries—which supposedly represent the “nails” of a horseshoe—covered in mouthwatering cheese sauce. Put your diet on hold and try one someday.

14. Did you know that Santa Anna, the self-described “Napoleon of the West,” had a prosthetic leg? He was forced to abandon it during the Mexican-American War. His fake limb was quickly snapped up by the 4th Illinois Infantry and brought to Springfield, where it’s now occasionally on display at the Illinois State Military Museum.

15. On December 15, 2007, 97-year-old Polly Roesch became the oldest singer to debut with a symphony orchestra, performing “Silver Bells” at the Springfield Sangamon Auditorium. Her solos were part of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra’s annual Holiday Pops Concert. Roesch returned for an encore at the 2008 show. Then, in 2010, she celebrated her 100th birthday with yet another Holiday Pops performance. “The worst thing you can do is be inactive,” she told The Illinois Times. “Get out, and get busy.”

SPRINGFIELD, OREGON

16. Before he made it big as a movie star, teenage Clint Eastwood worked at a Springfield pulp mill, where he earned $1.80 an hour.

17. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In 1972, city employee Russell Ziolkowski built a replica of Springfield’s official seal using nothing but items that he’d found in local sewers. His mosaic features more than 5200 assorted objects, including earrings, marbles, and dentures. Check out the masterpiece for yourself at City Hall, where it’s proudly on display.

SPRINGFIELD, NEW ZEALAND

18. To publicize The Simpsons Movie, 20th Century Fox gave this town an 11.5-foot fiberglass doughnut statue. Unfortunately, an arsonist set fire to it in 2009. A pink truck tire was used as a temporary replacement before Fox sent over a new and improved concrete replica.

SPRINGFIELD, OHIO

19. While superintendent of schools in Springfield, Ohio, Albert Belmont Graham decided to start an agricultural club for the area’s children to teach them some of the scientific aspects of crop growing. This club is generally credited with growing into the modern 4-H.

SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI

20. World record enthusiasts have never verified this, but Springfield insists that it’s got the largest fork on planet Earth. The 35-foot-tall, 11-ton utensil was originally built to promote a long-gone restaurant; it now sits in front of an ad agency’s headquarters on Chesterfield Boulevard.

21. One hundred and fifty years ago, Missouri was considered a “western” state. In 1865, Springfield even gave birth to a quintessential piece of old western lore: the showdown. That summer, an argument erupted between Civil War veteran Dave Tutt and “Wild Bill” Hickok, a professional gambler. While the exact events have changed in the retellings, an 1867 account explains that on July 20, Tutt and Hickok had a disagreement over gambling debts that led to Tutt stealing Hickok’s watch. The next day, the two faced off against each other in Springfield’s town square—as Tutt was wearing the watch. They pulled guns and fired near simultaneously; Tutt missed, but Hickok didn’t. “Wild Bill” rapidly became a folk hero immortalized by dime novels and the press. All this media fanfare convinced the American public that shootouts happened all the time in the old west. In reality, however, they were a rare occurrence.

22. Get your kicks on Route 66! America’s favorite highway received its legendary name at a 1926 meeting in Springfield, Missouri. Accordingly, the city bills itself as “The Birthplace of Route 66.”

23. Come for the giant fork, stay for the poultry. Restaurateur David Leong created Springfield-style cashew chicken to make Chinese food more appealing to Midwesterners. “When I moved here in the 1950s, people kept telling me about fried chicken,” he says. “I did what they wanted. I gave them fried chicken with Chinese oyster sauce and cashews.” An iconic blend of Oriental and Ozark cuisine, the Springfield staple is now available in over 70 local restaurants. But which one serves the best cashew chicken? Every year, chefs compete to answer that very question at Cashew Craze, a beloved festival that raises money for children’s charities.

SPRINGFIELD, VERMONT

24. The Green Mountain State’s oldest one-room schoolhouse resides in Springfield. The Eureka Schoolhouse opened in 1790 and closed in 1900. After a half-century of neglect, it was disassembled plank by plank in 1958. The building was then painstakingly put back together—with some needed renovations—at a more visitor-friendly location nearby.

25. In 2007, 20th Century Fox pitted 14 towns named Springfield against each other for the right to host the world premiere of The Simpsons Movie. Every participant submitted a video that somehow connected their city to Homer and Marge’s fictional hometown. A few participants really went all out: Springfield, Massachusetts even threw in a cameo from Senator Ted Kennedy, who inspired the Mayor Quimby character. But it was Springfield, Vermont, and its 9300 residents that came out on top. Governor Jim Douglas couldn’t have been prouder. “This is an exciting, exhilarating moment for Vermonters,” he said. “To all the other Springfields, I say ‘Don’t have a cow, man.’”

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Most People Consistently Visit 25 Different Places in Their Daily Lives
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We move around a lot less during our daily lives than you might expect. Based on data from 40,000 people, a new study on human mobility finds that we tend to frequent only 25 places at any given time in our lives.

In the study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, researchers from City, University of London, the Technical University of Denmark, and Sony Mobile Communications found that people tend to have a maximum number of 25 places that they visit regularly, and if they begin frequenting a new place, they probably stop going to another, keeping their total number of haunts constant.

The researchers used several different datasets to understand how people move through their lives, including studies with college students and university employees, data from a smartphone activity tracker called Lifelog, and a Nokia research project that tracked the behavior of a group of cell phone users living near Lake Geneva in Switzerland between 2009 and 2011.

They found that people constantly face trade-offs between the curiosity that drives us to check out new places and the laziness and comfort that keeps us going back to our regular haunts. As a result, the number of locations we tend to visit stays relatively steady. People “continually explore new places yet they are loyal to a limited number of familiar ones,” the authors write.

Though that number may sound a little low to anyone with wanderlust, it makes sense. People don’t have infinite time or resources. Even the number of friends we’re capable of keeping up with is rather limited—anthropologist Robin Dunbar famously hypothesizes that humans can only sustain around 150 friendships at a time, and only five of those friends will be truly close ones. And if that’s our upper limit for connections we can technically maintain without ever leaving our computers, it makes sense that we would be able to sustain even fewer connections to places, which by nature require some amount of travel. If you find a new restaurant and become a regular, it’s probably at the expense of another restaurant you used to visit all the time.

However, the study found that the number of places you frequent can’t necessarily be explained only by the amount of free time you have. The researchers argue that “the fixed capacity is an inherent property of human behavior.” The 25-place rule held even if they adjusted for the time people spent at each location. They also found that the more social a person was, the more places they visited.

The researchers hope to continue their work by looking at connections between mobility and Dunbar’s work on social ties, figuring out how exactly your social life plays into how you move around the world.

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Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago
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Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]

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