25 Things You Should Know About Jackson, Mississippi

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SeanPavonePhoto/iStock

There aren’t many cities in which you can see a rock concert on top of a prehistoric volcano. It’s equally hard to find a place with the deep ties to the blues, international ballet, and pine-scented products that Jackson enjoys. Here are 25 surprising facts about Mississippi’s intriguing capital.

1) The settlement on the Pearl River that gave birth to Jackson was first called LeFleur’s Bluff, named for French-Canadian trader Louis LeFleur, who had founded a trading post on the site. In 1821, four years after Mississippi achieved statehood, the state legislature decided to erect its capital city at this strategic locale. Lawmakers also chose to name the city after General Andrew Jackson, who had become a national hero by defeating British forces at the Battle of New Orleans, the final skirmish of the War of 1812.

2) Chemist and native Jacksonian Harry A. Cole invented Pine-Sol floor cleaner in 1929. It's now owned by the Clorox Company.

3) The international honor society of two-year colleges, Phi Theta Kappa, claims more than three million members. Founded in 1918 at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, its world headquarters is now located on Eastover Drive in Jackson.

4) Completed in 1842 in the Greek Revival style, the Mississippi governor's mansion is the second-oldest continuously occupied governor's residence in the United States. Virginia’s is 29 years older.

5) The Jackson Zoo, which today houses mammals, birds, and reptiles from four continents, had humble beginnings. In the early 1900s, firefighters at the city's Central Fire Station (now the Chamber of Commerce Building) passed the time by keeping a menagerie of wild pets, including deer, squirrels, and alligators. The city bought land to establish a zoological park in the 1920s, and the firemen's pets became the first animals on display.

6) On June 11, 1963, the first human lung transplant took place at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. The center's chairman of surgery James Hardy, who led the transplant team, achieved the first heart transplant in a human (using a chimpanzee's heart) one year later.

7) During the Civil War, Union commander Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee fought the Battle of Jackson on its way to Vicksburg. Jackson's factories and warehouses were burned, leaving behind nothing but their brick chimneys (thus the city's contemporary nickname, Chimneyville). The Union army spared the city's non-strategic buildings, including city hall, the governor's mansion, and the capitol.

8) The blues were born in the Magnolia State. In 2006, the Mississippi Blues Trail was established to educate the public about this uniquely American art form. One-hundred-and-eighty-nine historic markers are spread out over the state, with each sign planted at a locale that played some role in shaping the blues genre. Jackson alone has 13 such sites. On Roach Street, for example, you’ll find one dedicated to legendary blues pianist Otis Spann, who was born at the spot on March 21, 1930.

9) In 2001, Roderick Paige became the first African-American person to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Education. The longtime college football coach and advocate for improving urban educational opportunities had graduated from Jackson State University in 1955.

10) On the capitol’s north side, you’ll find a naval figurehead shaped like a flying eagle, which once belonged to the USS Mississippi, a battleship commissioned in 1904. Before the navy sold the ship to Greece, it gave the figurehead to the state, where it is currently affixed to a huge planter near the capitol building.

11) Every October, the 12-day Mississippi State Fair brings thousands of visitors into Jackson. Popular attractions include Ferris wheels, an antique car show, and a biscuit-making booth. In recent years, organizers have experimented with newer events, like a beard-growing contest that debuted in 2009.

12) Jackson was the setting for Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 bestseller The Help. When its movie adaptation was shot in 2010, numerous scenes were filmed in the city. Among the many Jackson landmarks to appear onscreen was Brent’s Drugs, a beloved Duling Avenue soda shop. After the shoot, its owners were able to keep a few movie props as souvenirs.

13) Seventy-five million years ago, present-day Jackson sat on a volcanic island. Roughly 2900 feet below the intersection of East Pascagoula Street and I-55, a long-extinct volcano has its origins. Today the Mississippi Coliseum, a 6500-seat multipurpose arena, sits on top of its caldera.

14) On a related note, the Coliseum hosts the annual Dixie National Rodeo and Livestock Contest, the largest annual rodeo east of the Mississippi River. Launched in 1965, it awards nearly $250,000 in prize money each year.

15) Author Eudora Welty was born in Jackson on April 13, 1909. One of the 20th century's most esteemed writers, Welty wrote award-winning short stories for The New Yorker, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her novel The Optimist’s Daughter, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of the Arts, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Today, her house at 1119 Pinehurst Street is a national historic landmark.

16) Another Pulitzer Prize-winning Jacksonian is playwright Beth Henley, a 1981 recipient for her three-act black comedy Crimes of the Heart. The play was made into a film starring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek in 1986.

17) On February 15, 1839, the state legislature passed the Mississippi Married Women’s Property Act. The act stemmed from a lawsuit in which a Chickasaw woman sued to retain ownership of her property (a slave) that her husband's creditors had tried to seize. The court decided that case based on the Chickasaw tradition of matrilineal inheritance. It was the first piece of legislation in American history that gave wives the right to hold property in their own names.

18) In 1943, prisoners of war from a camp near Jackson were recruited to build a large-scale model of the Mississippi River basin to make predicting flood patterns easier. With supervision from the Army Corps of Engineers, they put together a 200-acre, hydraulic-powered replica of the Mississippi delta. After 79 simulated floods, the model was abandoned in 1973. Its remnants can still been seen in Butts Park.

19) Future NFL superstar running back Walter Payton played at Jackson State University from 1971 to 1974. By the time he graduated, he had set an NCAA record for most points scored—464—within a four-year period.

20) James Meredith, the first African-American student admitted to the University of Mississippi, nearly gave his life in the fight for civil rights. On June 6, 1966, he launched a solo march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson to promote voter registration among African-Americans in the south. (The historic Voting Rights Act had been passed into law the previous year.) On the second day of the march, a white man shot Meredith and he sustained several wounds. By the time he was able to rejoin the march near Jackson, it had grown to 15,000 participants and had registered more than 4000 new voters.

21) Mississippi chose to observe Prohibition for 33 years after the Volstead Act was repealed. In 1966, one event turned the last dry state wet. Hinds County sheriff Tom Shelton launched a surprise raid at the Jackson Country Club, where prominent citizens, including the governor, were celebrating Mardi Gras with illegal liquor. Most of the revelers were arrested, prompting the state legislature to quickly pass a law allowing individual counties to decide whether to legalize alcohol—effectively repealing statewide Prohibition.

22) What does Jackson have in common with Moscow, Helsinki, and Varna? They’re the only four cities that get to host the two-week International Ballet Competition (IBC), where the world's best dancers compete for medals, scholarships, and fame. Jackson dance instructor Thalia Maria convinced the IBC to make Jackson its sole American host city, and the capitol has welcomed the tournament every four years since 1979.

23) The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and Mississippi State go head-to-head in the annual Egg Bowl, shorthand for The Battle of the Golden Egg, a college football rivalry dating back to 1903. The showdown has taken place in Jackson on 29 separate occasions.

24) Baltimore native James D. Lynch was the first African-American person to hold any major political office in Mississippi. In 1869, he was elected Secretary of State, an office that he would retain until his death in 1872. Lynch also participated in the 1872 Republican National Convention as a delegate. He's buried in Jackson’s Greenwood Cemetery.

25) Pascagoula Street is home to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures. The brainchild of longtime Jacksonians Okolo Rashid and Emad Al-Turk, it is the first American museum designed to show the story of Islamic culture and history. When it opened in 2001, former governor William Winter praised the facility. “It definitely breaks a stereotype,” he said. “It’s at odds with what the average American would think about Jackson, Mississippi.”

8 Delicious Facts About Guacamole

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iStock

Grab a cerveza, tear open a new bag of chips, and kick back with these facts about your favorite bright green zesty spread—in honor of National Guacamole Day.

1. AVOCADOS GO BACK THOUSANDS OF YEARS.

The avocado, first known as the ahuacate, has been cultivated and eaten in Mexico, Central America, and South America as far back as 500 BCE.

2. THE AZTECS INVENTED GUACAMOLE.

When the Spaniards arrived in the New World, they discovered an Aztec sauce called ahuaca-molli; molli was the Nahautl word for “something mashed or pureed,” while ahuactl referred to testicles, or the stone fruit that reminded them of testicles.

3. AVOCADOS HAVE BEEN REBRANDED.

In the early 20th century, our favorite mashable fruit went by the unappealing name “alligator pear,” due to its bumpy green skin. The California Avocado Growers’ Exchange, a trade group, complained in a 1927 statement “That the avocado … should be called an alligator pear is beyond all understanding.” Alligator pear disappeared, and the fruit was called everything from calavo to butter pear to avocado pear before avocado finally stuck.

4. THE AVOCADO HAS FAMOUS RELATIVES.

The avocado trade group also bemoaned the more quotidian foods associated with the avocado, “an exalted member of the laurel family.” Indeed, the avocado is a member of the lauracae family, which also includes bay leaves, cinnamon, camphor, and sassafras.

5. A MAILMAN PATENTED THE MOST POPULAR AVOCADO VARIETY.

There are more than 400 varieties of avocado grown around the world, but the Hass, grown mostly in Mexico and California, is the most popular. A postal worker named Rudolph Hass purchased the seedling from a farmer in 1926 and filed a patent in 1935. The original tree stood, and bore fruit, for nearly 70 years in La Habra Heights, California.

6. CALIFORNIA DOMINATES U.S. AVOCADO PRODUCTION.

The western state accounts for nearly 90 percent of all avocados grown in the United States, with the bulk of farms centered in a five-county region of southern California.

7. MEXICAN AVOCADOS WERE ONCE BANNED IN THE U.S.

Beginning in 1914, Hass avocados were not allowed to be imported to the United States from Mexico. After a two-year debate, the USDA lifted the ban in 1997—although approved farms were only allowed to export their crops to 19 U.S. states and were still forbidden from selling in California. In 2002, the U.S. Federal Hass Avocado Promotion, Research, and Information Order was established, and today Mexican avocados are allowed in all 50 states.

8. THE BIGGEST GUACAMOLE SERVING EVER WEIGHED AS MUCH AS SOME ELEPHANTS.

A Guinness World Record was set in 2013 when a group of 450 students in Tancitaro, Michoacan, Mexico prepared a serving of guacamole that weighed 5,885.24 pounds, or almost 3 tons. Asian elephants can weigh anywhere from 2.25-5.5 tons.

This article was originally published in 2016.

10 Fun Facts About Play-Doh

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iStock

As any Play-Doh aficionado knows, September 16th is National Play-Doh Day! Let's pay tribute to your favorite modeling clay with some fun facts about the childhood play staple that began life as a cleaning product.

1. IT WAS FIRST SOLD AS WALLPAPER CLEANER.

Before kids were playing with Play-Doh, their parents were using it to remove soot and dirt from their wall coverings by simply rolling the wad of goop across the surface.

2. IF IT WEREN'T FOR CAPTAIN KANGAROO, PLAY-DOH MIGHT NEVER HAVE TAKEN OFF.

When it was just a fledgling company with no advertising budget, inventor Joe McVicker talked his way in to visit Bob Keeshan, a.k.a Captain Kangaroo. Although the company couldn’t pay the show outright, McVicker offered them two percent of Play-Doh sales for featuring the product once a week. Keeshan loved the compound and began featuring it three times weekly.

3. MORE THAN 3 BILLION CANS OF PLAY-DOH HAVE BEEN SOLD.

Since 1956, more than 3 billion cans of Play-Doh have been sold. That’s enough to reach the Moon and back a total of three times. (Not bad for a wallpaper cleaner.)

4. IT USED TO COME IN JUST ONE COLOR.

Photo of child's hands playing with Play-Doh clay
iStock

Back when it was still a household product, Play-Doh came in just one dud of a color: off-white. When it hit stores as a toy in the 1950s, red, blue, and yellow were added. These days, Play-Doh comes in nearly every color of the rainbow—more than 50 in total—but a consumer poll revealed that fans' favorite colors are Rose Red, Purple Paradise, Garden Green, and Blue Lagoon.

5. FOR QUITE SOME TIME, DR. TIEN LIU HAD A JOB SKILL NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD COULD CLAIM: PLAY-DOH EXPERT.

Dr. Tien Liu helped perfect the Play-Doh formula for the original company, Rainbow Crafts, and stayed on as a Play-Doh Expert when the modeling compound was purchased by Kenner and then Hasbro.

6. YOU CAN SMELL LIKE PLAY-DOH.

Want to smell like Play-Doh? You can! To commemorate the compound’s 50th anniversary, Demeter Fragrance Library worked with Hasbro to make a Play-Doh fragrance, which was developed for “highly-creative people, who seek a whimsical scent reminiscent of their childhood.”

7. HASBRO TRADEMARKED THE SCENT.

Anyone who has ever popped open a fresh can of Play-Doh knows that there’s something extremely distinctive about the smell. It’s so distinctive that, in early 2017, Hasbro filed for federal protection in order to trademark the scent, which the company describes as “a unique scent formed through the combination of a sweet, slightly musky, vanilla-like fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, and the natural smell of a salted, wheat-based dough.”

8. IT CAN CREATE A PRETTY ACCURATE FINGERPRINT.

When biometric scanners were a bit more primitive, people discovered that you could make a mold of a person’s finger, then squish Play-Doh in the mold to make a replica of the finger that would actually fool fingerprint scanners. Back in 2005, it was estimated that Play-Doh could actually fool 90 percent of all fingerprint scanners. But technology has advanced a lot since then, so don’t go getting any funny ideas. Today's more sophisticated systems aren’t so easily tricked by the doughy stuff.

9. IT HOLDS A PLACE IN THE NATIONAL TOY HALL OF FAME.

Unsurprisingly, Play-Doh holds a coveted place in the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. It was inducted in 1998. According to the Hall of Fame, “recent estimates say that kids have played with 700 million pounds of Play-Doh."

10. YOU CAN TURN YOUR PLAY-DOH CREATIONS INTO ANIMATED CHARACTERS.

While Play-Doh may be a classic toy, it got a state-of-the-art upgrade in 2016, when Hasbro launched Touch Shape to Life Studio, an app that lets kids turn their Play-Doh creations into animated characters.

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