CLOSE
Original image
ThinkStock

19 Things You Might Not Know About California

Original image
ThinkStock

You say it's your birthday? It's California's birthday, too. On September 9, 1850, it became the 31st state in the Union. Let's celebrate with 19 facts about the Golden State.

1. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War. The U.S. paid Mexico $15 million for war damages. In turn, Mexico ceded nearly half of its territory, including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and parts of Colorado, Nevada, and Utah.

2. California was originally known as the Bear State. As California boomed—and the bear population was wiped out—it became the Golden State.

3. The grizzly bear on California's current state flag is a tribute to Monarch, the last wild California grizzly bear. In 1899, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst paid a reporter named Allen Kelley to capture the animal. Monarch was sent to San Francisco, where he lived at Woodward's Garden and then Golden Gate Park. He was a star attraction until his death in 1911. The last reported sighting of a wild California grizzly bear was in 1924.

4. But the original Bear Flag had nothing to do with Monarch. It dates back to 1846, two years before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. A group of Americans who'd settled in California, which was then part of Mexico, feared they'd be expelled. They invaded the Mexican outpost at Sonoma and captured the retired general Mariano Vallejo. A few days later they raised the first Bear Flag and called the land the California Republic.

5. The California Republic only existed for 26 days. U.S. Army Major John C. Frémont soon replaced the Bear Flag with the U.S. flag, which takes us back to the beginning of this post and the Mexican-American War.

6. And who designed the original flag? William Todd, nephew of Mary Todd Lincoln. It's a small historical world.

7. The one-word state motto, "Eureka," hearkens back to the exciting days of the Gold Rush. But it doesn't include an exclamation point. The first "Eureka!" is attributed to the Greek scholar Archimedes. According to legend, he had an epiphany as he stepped into a bathtub and watched the water level rise—he realized that the volume of the displaced water was equal to the volume of the foot he'd submerged. And then he ran out of the room to tell others about his discovery ... while he was completely naked. (More on whether that ever actually happened here.)

8. In 2013, the states of California and New York tied for the fourth-highest average credit score in the U.S.—653. (Minnesota was the victor, with an average score of 658.)

9. California is the only state that's hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

10. Most of the U.S. athletes competing in the 2012 London Olympics came from California. But take that with a grain of salt—one out of every eight Americans is from California.

11. The first step to getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: Work in entertainment. The second: Pay a $30,000 nomination fee. Living celebrities are required to appear at their star's unveiling. (Barbra Streisand is the only person who got away with missing the event.) All of the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz—122 adults and 12 children—share one star. 

12. The fortune cookie was inspired by the Japanese cookie o-mikuji and invented in California.

13. I can haz state recognition? In 1973, the sabre-tooth cat, Smilodon californicus, became California's state fossil. A year earlier, Assemblyman W. Craig Biddle had nominated the cockroach-like trilobite for the honor. Nearly 2000 museum curators and fossil experts backed him, but the bill never made it to a vote. A year later, the sabre-tooth cat made it to the floor and passed. The one no-vote? Senator W. Craig Biddle.

14. Except for Alaska, California contains more forestland than any other state.

15. Despite living in Los Angeles for 78 years, writer Ray Bradbury never learned to drive.

16. California's most famous for its Gold Rush in 1849, but it also had a Silver Rush in the Calico Mountains from 1881 to 1896. By 1904, Calico was a ghost town.

17. The mineral benitoite can be found in California, Japan, and Arkansas, but only San Benito County, California has it in gemstone quality deposits. The California State Gem Mine in Coalinga allows the public to dig and take home a quart-sized bag of treasure.

Wikimedia Commons

18. Thousands of U.S. banks failed after the 1929 stock market crash—by 1933, only 11,000 were left. All of San Francisco's banks survived.

19. The highest point in the contiguous U.S., 14,494-foot Mt. Whitney, is only 76 miles from the lowest point in the contiguous U.S., Death Valley. They're both in Cali- well, you know.

Original image
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0
arrow
Lists
5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
Original image
An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

Original image
By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
arrow
literature
25 of Oscar Wilde's Wittiest Quotes
Original image
By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. He would go on to become one of the world's most prolific writers, dabbling in everything from plays and poetry to essays and fiction. Whatever the medium, his wit shone through.

1. ON GOD

"I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."

2. ON THE WORLD AS A STAGE

"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."

3. ON FORGIVENESS

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."

4. ON GOOD VERSUS BAD

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."

5. ON GETTING ADVICE

"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."

6. ON HAPPINESS

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

7. ON CYNICISM

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

8. ON SINCERITY

"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."

9. ON MONEY

"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is."

10. ON LIFE'S GREATEST TRAGEDIES

"There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

11. ON HARD WORK

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

12. ON LIVING WITHIN ONE'S MEANS

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."

13. ON TRUE FRIENDS

"True friends stab you in the front."

14. ON MOTHERS

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

15. ON FASHION

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."

16. ON BEING TALKED ABOUT

"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

17. ON GENIUS

"Genius is born—not paid."

18. ON MORALITY

"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

19. ON RELATIONSHIPS

"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?"

20. ON THE DEFINITION OF A "GENTLEMAN"

"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally."

21. ON BOREDOM

"My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s."

22. ON AGING

"The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything."

23. ON MEN AND WOMEN

"I like men who have a future and women who have a past."

24. ON POETRY

"There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope."

25. ON WIT

"Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

And one bonus quote about Oscar Wilde! Dorothy Parker said it best in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios