CLOSE
Original image
statefairofwv.com

46 State Fairs and What Makes Them Special

Original image
statefairofwv.com

One of the most quintessentially American traditions of all is the State Fair. New Englander Elkanah Watson is credited with creating the first agricultural fair in the U.S.: the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Cattle Show in 1811, which exhibited animals and awarded prize money to the best oxen, cattle, swine, and sheep. In the next few years, county fairs popped up throughout New England, and by 1841, the country had its first state fair, in Syracuse, New York, designed to show off New York’s agricultural prowess with livestock and giant-vegetable competitions.

Today, there are over 3200 fairs in North America each year, according to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, and attendance is booming. Several draw over a million visitors each year. You’ll still find most of the things you’d have seen at those early fairs today: a chance to show off the best agriculture, livestock, horticulture and other products from that region, even though far fewer Americans are involved in agriculture than when they got started. But you’ll also find a whole lot more, and part of the appeal is unabashed celebration of sheer quirkiness—where else can you find veggies on steroids, moose-calling contests, butter sculptures, and not just racing pigs, but racing dogs with monkey jockeys? 

Here are a few highlights of what you’ll find at fairs across the country today.

1. ALABAMA — Alabama State Fair

Location: Pelham, AL
In operation since: 1947
Standout events: Alabama might be the only fair with more events in the modeling and talent competitions than livestock competitions. They’re serious, too: Aspiring models ages 4 to 28 are judged on runway, jeans, and swimwear, and those past age 15 must meet height requirements. Winners get photo shoots and meetings with agents—a big step up from the ribbons sheep and horse show winners get. 

2. ALASKA — Alaska State Fair

Location: Palmer, AK
In operation since: 1936
Standout events: Let’s face it, you’re probably not going to Alaska for the state fair. But if you happen to be in town, you can witness a peculiarly Alaskan pastime—giant cabbage growing. Alaska’s farmers seem to have a knack for growing steroidal vegetables. The most recent world record, in 2012, went to Scott Rabb and his 138 pound cabbage (above).

If mega-vegetables aren’t your thing, maybe you’d have better luck in the speed-texting or moose calling competitions. Note: must know the difference between—and demonstrate—separate bull and cow calls.  

3. ARIZONA — Arizona State Fair

Location: Phoenix, AZ
In operation since: 1886
Standout events: Most states’ fairs feature unique sources of state pride, so you’d think that Arizona might have gone with the Grand Canyon. Instead they created Trekkie Mecca. Of course, there are all the standard state fair attractions—performances, cooking and livestock competitions, a demolition derby and midway—but according to their website, organizers are especially proud of the exhibit featuring sets, costumes, and props from all five Star Trek TV series and 11 movies. Live long and prosper.

4. ARKANSAS — Arkansas State Fair

Location: Little Rock, AR
In operation since: 1938
Standout events: Arkansas’s events include the Great American Spam Cooking contest, but the real competition centers on the pageants, where fairgoers vie for the title of Fair Queen, Rodeo Queen, Mrs. Fair Queen, and Little Mr. and Miss Pageant. For those craving more adrenaline-fueled competition, it’s also a tour stop for a team of professional bull riders.

5. CALIFORNIA — California State Fair

BigFun.org

Location: Sacramento, CA
In operation since: 1854
Standout events: The highlight of California’s state fair in the early 1900s was a massive train crash staged each year to delight audiences with destruction, mayhem, and screaming twisted metal. It came to an end around WWI, when wrecking much-needed locomotives just for the fun of it was deemed a little too wasteful. Today, fairgoers can enjoy a calmer spectacle: the state fair is home to the oldest wine competition in North America, with over 2800 entries each year. Yes, fairgoers get to taste.

6. COLORADO — Colorado State Fair

SaffireEvent

Location: Pueblo, CO
In operation since: 1872
Standout events: Lots of states have pageants, but only Colorado crowns a silver queen. It’s your typical pageant with one catch: all competitors must be nursing home residents. At the other end of the spectrum is the Little Britches Rodeo National Championships – these kids can ride. But there’s a competition for everyone in Colorado, even the less athletically oriented: it’s the only state fair offering a Pet Rock Olympics. 

7. DELAWARE — Delaware State Fair

Location: Harrington, DE
In operation since: 1920
Standout events: Delaware’s fair features a no less than five-day horseshoe pitching contest, and crowns a whole family: the Sheep and Wool Queen, Sheep and Wool Lass, Little Boy Blue and Little Bo Peep. Perhaps they get a leg up in the wool contest displaying the best-quality wool outfit and coordinating wool sheep?

8. FLORIDA — Florida State Fair

Location of fair: Tampa, FL
In operation since: 1904
Standout events: Florida is one of a surprising number of fairs that have added llamas to their livestock competitions. Some of last year’s winners had racehorse-worthy names—Oakrest’s First Snow, “Moose” Aladdin’s Sneak Preview, Peruvian Edison—but there’s also the less-exotic “Yeti.”

Young llama farmers are still second to the more traditional main attraction: Only kids showing steers get a portrait with their champion.

9. GEORGIA — Georgia State Fair

Location: Macon, GA
In operation since: 1851
Standout events: One fair wasn’t enough for Georgia. The official state-sponsored fair is the Georgia National Fair, but the longest-running is the Georgia State Fair. Perhaps it’s because only the State Fair offers the Banana Derby. The race features “America’s favorite monkey jockeys”—elaborately costumed capuchins that race on canine steeds. 

10. HAWAII — 50th State Fair

Location: Honolulu, HI
In operation since: 1937
Standout events: At Hawaii’s 50th State Fair, it’s all about the rides, some of which are shipped in from the mainland just for the event. According to an interview with fair organizers in Honolulu Pulse, the Zipper is the fair’s best-loved ride. The ride, in which fairgoers ride in spinning cages that dangle from chains flung around by a rotating arm, was so beloved that when the company organizing the fair sold the ride, the outcry was so strong they went out and bought a new one. The fair had a bit of an identity crisis in its early years, when for over a decade it was known as the 49th State Fair. Apparently, no one expected they’d get beat out by Alaska. 

11. IDAHO — Eastern Idaho State Fair

Location: Blackfoot, ID
In operation since: 1902
Standout events: For a truly one-of-a-kind sport, check out Idaho’s Indian Relays. Tribal teams from throughout the Rockies and High Plains regions come to compete in a dangerous bareback race requiring teams of three horses and four people. A rider must make three laps around the track, leaping to a new horse after each lap. Two teammates calm the waiting horse, while the fourth catches the arriving horse as the rider dismounts. Broken bones are not uncommon, but the $25,000 prizes—and particularly the bragging rights—make it a big draw.

12. ILLINOIS — Illinois State Fair

Location: Springfield, IL
In operation since: 1853
Standout events: Need for speed? The fair’s one-mile dirt track is considered one of the fastest in the world. Numerous horse racing records have been set there, including the fastest mile ever paced, but it’s now home to stock car racing as well—raising the speed limit considerably.

There’s also a celebrity harness race, a lesser-known form of horse racing in which the celebrity is jammed into a small, lightweight cart rolling on bicycle wheels and must guide his team of two horses to victory. “Celebrity” is a relative term—it’s decidedly local, generally drawing state politicians and officials.

13. INDIANA — Indiana State Fair

Location: Indianapolis, IN
In operation since: 1852
Standout events: It’s the year of popcorn in Indiana, the second-largest popcorn-producing state in the nation (we can barely imagine what they’d have done were they the biggest). Each year, fairgoers consume 4350 pounds of popcorn, but this year they decided to celebrate with a world record-setting 5200 pound popcorn ball, along with a popcorn maze. No word yet whether fairgoers will get to sneak a bite.

14. IOWA — Iowa State Fair

Location: Des Moines, IA
In operation since: 1854
Standout events: If you want the classic fair experience, Iowa’s the place to do it. It's also the only fair with an unabashed love of butter, thanks to the state's dairy industry. Check out the butter cow, a 100-plus year tradition in which a life-size cow is sculpted from 600 pounds of butter—enough to top 19,200 slices of toast, while snacking on a pork chop on a stick, one of which is sold about every 10 seconds throughout the fair.

15. KANSAS — Kansas State Fair

Location: Hutchinson, KS
In operation since: 1913
Standout events: If you really can do anything with duct tape, the Kansas State Fair is for you. In addition to the auction bid calling contest, spelling bee, and more traditional fair competitions—including an astonishing variety of pigeon judging events—fairgoers can compete on their ability to make things out of duct tape, with a separate competition for wearable creations.

16. KENTUCKY — Kentucky State Fair

Location: Louisville, KY
In operation since: 1902
Standout events: It’s no surprise the state home to the Kentucky Derby also hosts the World’s Championship Horse Show. More than 2000 horses compete for world champion titles and over $1 million in prize money.

17. LOUISIANA — Louisiana State Fair

Location: Shreveport, LA
In operation since: 1906
Standout events: Louisiana is home to a few competitions you won’t see anywhere else—leaf collecting and BB-gun sharpshooting, for starters. If you’re looking for a little more action, the cheerleading championships promise high-flying stunts. 

18. MAINE — Bangor State Fair

Location: Bangor, ME
In operation since: 1849
Standout events: The Bangor State Fair is home to one of the few eating contests you might want to join in on: the annual lobster roll contest. Last year’s winner devoured a whopping 37 rolls in 8 minutes, so taking home the title might be tough, but it’s one way to get your fill of an East Coast delicacy. Maine also offers a grizzly bear show – just don’t let the bears smell your sandwiches. 

19. MARYLAND — Maryland State Fair

Location: Timonium, MD
In operation since: 1878
Standout events: Most fairs have human pageants; Maryland has one for the livestock. On the fair’s opening day, kids competing in the livestock contests can parade their animals through the “Cow Palace” in homemade costumes, while announcers describe the stories behind their get-ups. 

20. MASSACHUSETTS — Eastern States Exposition

Location: Springfield, MA
In operation since: 1917
Standout events: In terms of state fair bang for your buck, it’s hard to beat the Eastern States Exposition, also known as “the Big E.” Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont join forces for a single New England mega-fair. Highlights include Mardi Gras-in-September, world-famous cream puffs, and the Big E Craz-E Burger—a bacon cheeseburger with two halves of a grilled glazed donut instead of a bun. 

21. MICHIGAN — Fifth Third Bank Michigan State Fair

Location: Novi, MI
In operation since: 1849
Standout events: Michigan’s state fair is something of an endangered species. The state cut all funding in 2009 and the fair disappeared for the next two years—despite some claims that state law actually required the Michigan Exposition and Fairgrounds Authority to conduct an annual fair. It’s now back as the “Fifth Third Bank Michigan State Fair.” One of its more bizarre features: a family exhibit known as the “fallen giant,” entered through a bloody hole in the giant’s head. 

22. MINNESOTA — Minnesota State Fair

Location: St. Paul, MN
In operation since: 1859
Standout events: “County Dairy Princesses” vie for the title Princess Kay of the Milky Way. The winner—chosen for her knowledge of the dairy industry, personality and enthusiasm for promoting dairy—becomes a goodwill ambassador for Minnesota’s 4000 dairy farmers and is immortalized with a statue of her face carved in butter.

23. MISSISSIPPI — Mississippi State Fair

Location: Jackson, MS
In operation since: 1859
Standout events: The carnival is center stage at the Mississippi State Fair: Its midway is crammed with roller coasters, games and spin-til-you-can’t-stand-it rides, and stretches a full mile long. They also boast a “Mr. Legs” contest, with a category for everyone: longest, shortest, skinniest and hairiest.

24. MISSOURI — Missouri State Fair

Location: Sedalia, MO
In operation since: 1901
Standout events: It’s only fitting that in the Show-Me State, fairgoers can get how-to lessons from the expert exhibitors, not just look. Whether you want to learn to bowfish, cook and clean your catch, raise livestock or pair fine wines, there’s a class to help you do it. 

25. MONTANA — Montana State Fair

Location: Great Falls, MT
In operation since: 1931
Standout events: Plenty of fairs have craft contests, but only Montana has speed-crafting. Each year, competitors can vie for the title of “Fastest Crochet Hook in Montana” and “Fastest Needle in Montana,” along with the Veggie 500—think Pinewood derby cars topped with onions, broccoli and rhubarb—and Ole Cow Lick Contest, featuring carved salt blocks in two categories: hand-sculpted and “Nature Carved” (i.e., sculpted by cow tongue). 

26. NEBRASKA — Nebraska State Fair

Location: Grand Island, NE
In operation since: 1868
Standout events: If rodeos make you think of cattle roping and bull riding, you’ve missed out on Nebraska’s Lineworkers Rodeo. Electric lineworkers take to the arena to showcase the high wire stunts they do to keep the power running, day-to-day and in emergencies. Why, you ask? Nebraska’s the only state served entirely by community-owned electric utilities.  

27. NEW HAMPSHIRE — Hopkinton State Fair

Location: Contoocook, NH
In operation since: 1915
Standout events: New Hampshire’s Hopkinton State Fair has long offered demolition derby and car racing events. New this year is the “Divorce Course”—a timed passenger car obstacle course, open to the public. The name speaks for itself. 

28. NEW JERSEY — New Jersey State Fair/Sussex County Farm and Horse Show

Location: Augusta, NJ
In operation since: 1924
Standout events: Despite its reputation as the land of interstates and industry, the Garden State’s agricultural fair has a long history. There are livestock shows and livestock obstacle courses, while humans can compete for the title of Lumberjack/Lumberjill in the annual wood chopping contest. 

29. NEW MEXICO — New Mexico State Fair

Location: Albuquerque, NM
In operation since: 1939
Standout events: Food is a main attraction at any fair, but New Mexico takes it a step further with the Unique Food Contest. Last year’s winners: Mini Donuts with Green Chile Icing, Fried Beer, and a Donut Burger. 

30. NEW YORK — The Great New York State Fair

Location: Syracuse, NY
In operation since: 1841
Standout events: As the site of the country’s first state fair, New York pays more attention to history than most. Between the fully-furnished log cabin with demonstrations of 18th century farm life, recreated Iroquois village, blacksmithing, and collection of horsedrawn vehicles, antique tractors and trains, and modern-day agricultural exhibits, it’s like zooming through the New York’s history in a time machine bouncing pinball-style through the decades.

31. NORTH CAROLINA — North Carolina State Fair

Location: Raleigh, NC
In operation since: 1853
Standout events: North Carolina puts curious fairgoers to work at a fully-functioning old-fashioned tobacco barn. It kicks off with a leaf-stringing contest, and after the state champion is crowned, the leaves strung on sticks are hung in the barn and cured by a wood fire for seven days. Fairgoers get to see the fruits of their labor at the end, though they probably don't get to smoke them.

32. NORTH DAKOTA — North Dakota State Fair

Location: Minot, ND
In operation since: 1922
Standout events: North Dakota held its first-ever Redneck Relay in 2012. Teams panned for gold (fishing through a mountain of whipped cream, no hands allowed, to find three gold coins), had to toss four corn ears in a bucket, run with an egg balanced on a spoon, shave a balloon (a version of sheep shearing designed to spare unfortunate ungulates) and carry a “greased pig”—or Crisco-coated watermelon.

33. OHIO — Ohio State Fair

Location: Columbus, OH
In operation since: 1853
Standout events: Like to play with your food? Ohio’s state fair has a food sculpting contest, and while amateur carvers may have trouble competing with pro chefs’ four-foot high masterpieces, novices will be given specific fruits and three hours to transform them into art, Master Chef-style.

34. OKLAHOMA — Oklahoma State Fair

Location: Oklahoma City, OK
In operation since: 1907
Standout events: The Oklahoma State Fair is a stop on the “Swifty Swine” racing pigs’ tour. These piglets—“America’s fastest swine,” according to the fair schedule—zip around the Pork Chop International Speedway Arena to win an Oreo cookie prize. According to the pigs’ website, the Yorkshires are quickest but meanest. Potbellies are friendlier, but you wouldn’t want to bet on them being first across the line.

35. OREGON — Oregon State Fair

Location: Salem, OR
In operation since: 1861
Standout events: One of the Oregon state fair’s most popular contests is the Milk Mustache contest. The State Dairy Princess Ambassador picks the most impressive mustaches; for an easy win, head straight there from the milk carton chugging contest.

36. SOUTH CAROLINA — South Carolina State Fair

Location: Columbia, SC
In operation since: 1869
Standout events: In addition to showing off the state’s domestic products, there’s also a decidedly non-local competition: Ikebana, or Japanese flower arranging. The South Carolina Mule and Donkey Association also hosts a fun day with wacky rodeo antics, wild cow milking, and a porcine costume competition interrupting the typical swine show events. 

37. SOUTH DAKOTA — South Dakota State Fair

Location: Huron, SD
In operation since: 1885
Standout events: Unlike the cow-calling and cherry pit spitting contests you see at most fairs, the South Dakota state fair Strong Man Competition isn’t for the faint of heart. Contestants complete five challenges, including carrying a rock as far as possible without dropping it, and flipping a tractor tire as many times as possible in two minutes. The less athletically inclined can watch the “Legislative Beef Show”—this time, it’s state politicians leading cows around the arena, and they’re the ones being graded on their showmanship. 

38. TENNESSEE — Tennessee State Fair

Location: Nashville, TN
In operation since: 1906
Standout events: Read through the list of equine demonstrations at the Tennessee state fair and one likely jumps out: horse bomb proofing. It’s not what you’d think—bomb-proof horses are safe, calm horses that won’t bolt even if a bomb goes off (in theory). Since the point is that they don’t get rattled, the trick riding and roping might make more entertaining viewing, or head for the state cornhole championships, with cash prizes for the best-aiming team. 

39. TEXAS — State Fair of Texas

Location: Dallas, TX
In operation since: 1886
Standout events: Everything’s bigger in Texas, and the state fair is no exception. Their fair runs longer and brings in more visitors than any other—at 3 million, comfortably doubling the next largest states' attendance. So what’s everyone there to see? Quite a bit, judging by the fact that the fairgrounds are large enough to merit gondola tours. The fact that college football games are held on the fairgrounds certainly boosts attendance, but there’s also the Texas Auto Show, featuring new and classic cars, the “Picasso of pumpkin carvers,” and all the usual attractions. 

40. UTAH — Utah State Fair

Location: Salt Lake City, UT
In operation since: 1856
Standout events: Utah kids save their foulest-smelling footwear all year long for the state fair’s Rotten Sneaker Contest, sponsored by Odor Eaters. The winner gets a cash prize, Golden Sneaker award, and entry in the national smelly shoe championships.   

41. VERMONT — Vermont State Fair

Location: Rutland, VT
In operation since: 1846
Standout events: California used to draw state fair crowds by slamming two locomotives together for fairgoers' viewing pleasure. They stopped the train-crash-as-entertainment during WWI, but the tradition lives on in Vermont as the Demolition Derby. Vermont bookends its state fair with grandstand stage demo derbys, with box seats available if you're worried about flying car parts. 

42. VIRGINIA — State Fair of Virginia

Location: Doswell, VA
In operation since: 1854
Standout events: You know them from horror movies, but as art? Each year at Virginia's state fair, there's a chain saw show where an artist uses the whirring blades to turn three-foot logs into sculptures in a matter of minutes.

43. WASHINGTON — Washington State Fair

Meryl Schenker

Location: Puyallup, WA
In operation since: 1900
Standout events: Want to experience cute baby animals in the real world, not just as Internet memes on Buzzfeed? Washington State Fair's Piglet Palace lets you get a look at a litter of tiny pink piglets born during the fair. Just try not to think about the 24,868 pounds of barbecue pork spareribs fairgoers ate during last year's fair.  

44. WEST VIRGINIA — The State Fair of West Virginia

Location: Lewisburg, WV
In operation since: 1924
Standout events: West Virginia's Strongest Mountaineer Competition isn't for the faint of heart. Competitors are judged on events including a truck pull, dead lift, clean and press with a log and stone carry. Note: This isn't a strongman competition—women can compete to be West Virginia's Strongest Mountaineer, too.

45. WISCONSIN — Wisconsin State Fair

Location: West Allis, WI
In operation since: 1851
Standout events: Leading up to the fair, judges tour the state seeking the best of the best for the annual Moo-la-palooza competition to find Wisconsin’s most authentically mooing human. Winners—chosen for realism, style, stage presence and originality—get $1000, a cowprint jacket and golden cowbell trophy. Costumes encouraged. 

New this year is the “Sporkies,” a state fair food contest that encourages exotic creations (above). Several finalists for the Golden Spork award seem to be aiming for the “most creative”—separate from “best tasting”—title, and fairgoers can sample thanksgiving waffles, deep fried PB&J nuggets, and gelato-on-a-stick.

46. WYOMING — Wyoming State Fair and Rodeo

Location: Douglas, WY
In operation since: 1886
Standout events: When Wyoming held its first in 1886, it wasn’t even a state yet. Today’s fair is a bit different than the Territorial Fair. The rodeo, Wyoming Ropefest and Mustang Days—celebrating America’s wild horses—are always highlights, but so is pig wrestling. Teams of four enter a mud-slicked wrestling ring and have just one minute to catch a pig and wrestle it into a barrel. This is an elite event—all teams must first qualify by winning their county fair pig wrestling championship. 

Original image
Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
Original image
Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Lists
The First Known Uses of 6 Common Typographic Symbols
Original image
iStock

Many of the most common symbols on our keyboards have fascinating origin stories. Some, such as the zero, we now take for granted—yet the idea of denoting an absence of value was not present in Western mathematics until introduced from the East. Other symbols, such as the hashtag or at-sign, had a variety of uses until the internet ushered in a new way of communicating and fixed them with the meanings we know today. Below are six examples of the first known usage and subsequent history of some of the most common typographic symbols.

1. AT SIGN // @

The @ (or at-sign) is usually dated to 1536 in a letter from a Florentine merchant, Francesco Lapi, who used it to mean a unit of wine called “amphorae.” But a Spanish researcher claims to have found an even earlier usage in a 1448 document, where the symbol also referred to a unit of measurement (even today, Spaniards call the @ symbol arroba, which is also a unit of weight, and some other Romance languages have similar dual meanings). Either way, the researchers think that the symbol then moved to Northern Europe, where it eventually gained the meaning of “at the price.” Other explanations have also been offered, but whatever the exact root of the symbol, its meaning eventually became known as shorthand for at, and it was generally used in written financial transactions—for example, in noting “Bob sells James 4 apples @ $1.”

The sign had largely fallen out of use by the early 1970s, when computer scientist Ray Tomlinson was working at what is now BBN Technologies, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tomlinson, who was working for the government on a forerunner of the internet, was trying to figure out how to address messages sent from one computer to another when he noticed the little-used @ on his computer keyboard, and used it to send a prototype email. This precedent was soon adopted as the internet developed, and the at-sign is now, of course, central to our lives.

2. ZERO // 0

The absence of a value is a complex concept, one that many ancient civilizations struggled with. The idea of a zero ultimately came to the West from the mathematicians of India, where, as in a few other cultures, zero was initially used as a placeholder, for example to indicate a lack of units, as in the number 101.

The earliest surviving usage of a zero in India has been traced to an ancient mathematical text known as the Bakhshali manuscript, which is held at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. In September 2017, radiocarbon dating indicated that the manuscript was produced as early as the 3rd or 4th century—providing us with the first known usage of zero some 500 years earlier than previously thought. As Oxford’s Bodleian Library says, “the symbol in the Bakhshali manuscript is particularly significant for two reasons. Firstly, it is this dot that evolved to have a hollow centre and became the symbol that we use as zero today. Secondly, it was only in India that this zero developed into a number in its own right, hence creating the concept and the number zero that we understand today."

The manuscript itself was discovered buried in a field in 1881 in what is today Pakistan. Written on 70 delicate leaves of birch bark, historians think it represents a training manual for Silk Road traders, teaching them concepts of arithmetic.

3. HASHTAG // #

Hashtag on an old typewriter key
iStock

The origin of the hashtag (or pound sign as it's traditionally known in the U.S.) comes from scribes writing shorthand for the Latin libra pondo, which translates as "pound by weight." The abbreviation they used was lb, which was sometimes misread as 16. So, scribes took to drawing a line through the top of the two letters, which over time developed into the now familiar #. In the 1960s, the pound sign was chosen by Bell Laboratories to be a function key on their newly designed telephone keypad. (The Bell Labs team fondly nicknamed the symbol the “octothorpe,” possibly in honor of athlete Jim Thorpe.) Fast-forward to 2007, when early Twitter users wanted to be able to group and filter their feeds, so developer Chris Messina suggested they appropriate the method used in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) whereby users employed the pound sign or "hashtag" to signpost what they were chatting about. (Programmers knew the symbol as the hash, which was now being used to "tag" content.) This simple method soon caught on, and today the hashtag has become indelibly linked to the rise of social media.

4. ELLIPSIS // …

Originally, periods of silence were marked textually with a series of hyphens, but today the symbol of choice is the , a.k.a. the ellipsis. Dr. Anne Toner of Cambridge University spent years researching the ellipsis and finally discovered what she thinks is its first use—an English translation of Roman dramatist Terence’s play Andria printed in 1588. Although the play used hyphens instead of dots, the general idea caught on rapidly. (Toner notes that although there are only four “ellipses” in the 1588 translation, there are 29 in the 1627 version.) By the 18th century, dots started to replace the dashes, which an assistant professor from Southeastern University suggests may be connected to a medieval piece of punctuation called subpuncting or underdotting, which generally indicated something was incorrectly copied.

5. AMPERSAND // &

Ampersand symbol on an old metal block
iStock

The ampersand originated in Latin when the word et (meaning and) was written in cursive script as a ligature (in which one or more letters are written together as a single glyph). One of the earliest examples was found daubed in graffiti on the walls of a house in Pompeii, where it was preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. By the 8th century the ampersand became a recognizably distinct character, but the word ampersand did not come into use until the late 18th/19th century, when English school children would recite "and per se and" meaning “and by itself means and” to help remember the symbol (per se being Latin for "by itself"). One of the most thorough investigations into the typographic history of the ampersand comes courtesy of German graphic designer Jan Tschichold, who in 1953 published The am­persand: its ori­gin and de­vel­op­ment, in which he collected numerous examples of the ampersand from the 1st century onwards, visually charting its developing form.

6. PLUS SIGN // +

A variety of ceramic plus signs
iStock

The plus sign used for addition in mathematics likely derives from a shorthand ligature for the Latin et meaning “and” and was probably in use for a long time before a surviving example appeared in print. One candidate for the earliest surviving usage is in French philosopher and polymath Nicole Oresme's Algorismus proportionum, a manuscript handwritten between 1356 and 1361, although scholars debate whether it's a true plus symbol. The first use of a plus sign in a printed book is more definitive, and can be found in a 1489 edition of Johannes Widmann’s Mercantile Arithmetic. Widmann also uses the minus sign for the first time in print in this volume—although both plus and minus signs relate not to addition and subtraction but to surpluses and deficits in business accounting. After this usage, the plus sign began to appear more frequently in German mathematical texts, and first appeared in an English text in 1557 in Robert Recorde’s The Whetstone of Witte—which also introduced the equals sign.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios