18 Creepy Facts about Arachnophobia

This skin-crawling classic turns 25 today. Here are a few things you might not have known about the first (and last) “thrill-omedy.”

1. IT WAS A LONG-TIME SPIELBERG COLLABORATOR’S DIRECTORIAL DEBUT.

Frank Marshall had produced a number of films for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, including The Goonies, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Empire of the Sun, and The Color Purple (among many others). He had directed second unit photography and some short films—including making-of documentaries for the Indiana Jones movies, which he also produced—but Arachnophobia marked Marshall's feature film directorial debut. “As a producer for 20 years, I know how hard directing is, and I didn't want to do anything I'd had no experience with,” he told The New York Times. “Disney's Jeff Katzenberg sent me the script, and I felt it was something I could do. I didn't want to get into a serious dramatic piece that might stretch me beyond my capabilities.” 

2. THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT WAS MORE HORROR, LESS COMEDY.

When Jeff Daniels came on board to play Dr. Ross Jennings, Arachnophobia was a serious horror movie—one that Daniels told Philadelphia’s Daily News was pretty formulaic. "You could tell that the lines were kind of written by computer," he said. He and Marshall were hoping for a black comedy with a more ironic tone, so the script went through several revisions, and the filmmakers studied Hitchcock films and Jaws to get the tone right. One key change: Daniels’s character was given a fear of spiders.

The result, Daniels told the Orlando Sentinel, was a one-of-a-kind movie. “It's not really horror,” he said. “We don't have chainsaws going through necks and blood spurting. It's scary, but this is not The Attack of the Killer Spiders. We approached it as a comedy with a couple of thrills. We knew we had the thrills in there, so we worked hard to make sure the movie had a sense of humor about itself.” The humor, he said, “kind of relaxes the audience, so that we can come in and get them again.”

“We wanted it to be scary, but not too terrifying,” Marshall told Entertainment Weekly. “We didn’t want it to be a typical horror movie—The Spider That Ate Cleveland—so we used a lot of comedy. We tried to make it like a roller-coaster ride for the audience. It’s frightening, but in a fun way.”

3. THE PRODUCTION SHOT IN A PART OF VENEZUELA WHERE NO MOVIE PRODUCTION HAD FILMED BEFORE.

For the opening sequence, which takes place in South America—and where a photographer is bitten by a deadly spider that then hitches a ride back to the States in his coffin—the crew headed to the Tepuis of Venezuela's Canaima National Park. No movie had filmed there before, and getting to it was hard work: They set up a base camp in a location that was meant for one-night stays, and stayed for four weeks, flying in all of the necessary equipment and food. They used five helicopters to fly up to the mountains every day.

“The Tepuis rise out of the rainforest almost 10,000 feet,” Marshall said in a featurette created for the movie. “Because they’re so high up, they’re right in the cloud bank, so the weather is [always] changing. Some days I would just get one take—not one scene, one take—and it would be an hour before the sun came out again. There was one day we were trapped the whole day; we had actually built the survival camp, and 15 minutes before we were going to be stuck all night, the clouds opened up.” Abandoning their equipment, the cast and crew “jumped on the helicopter and got out just in time,” Marshall said. “It was kind of exciting.”

4. ONE SPIDER USED ON THE PRODUCTION WAS NAMED FOR A HOLLYWOOD DIRECTOR.

The production required two species of spider: The first—the arachnid that hitches a ride from South America to California—needed to measure about one foot across. The filmmakers found their star in a bird-eating tarantula native to the Amazon; there was only one such spider in the U.S. Marshall named the spider Big Bob after director Robert Zemeckis. 

5. THE SPIDER HAD TO BE MADE SCARIER FOR THE MOVIE.

As terrifying as Big Bob was, he still wasn't scary enough for Arachnophobia. So the production painted purple stripes on his back and added a prosthetic abdomen “to give him greater bulk,” according to Entertainment Weekly

6. TO CAST THE SMALLER SPIDERS, THE PRODUCTION PUT THEM THROUGH A “SPIDER OLYMPICS.”

In the movie, Big Bob arrives in California and promptly mates with a house spider, creating super deadly offspring. To find the right arachnids for the job, Marshall and his team evaluated a number of species—including wolf spiders, tarantulas, and huntsman spiders—by putting them through a “spider olympics,” running each species through 10 tests, including speed (the faster the spider, the scarier it is), climbing ability, and reaction to heat and cold. 

The “gold medalist,” according to Marshall, was the three-inch-wide Delena spider, a harmless but sinister-looking huntsman native to Australia that was introduced to New Zealand in the 1920s. Marshall joked that “we got them all little passports,” which was sort of true: The production did have to jump through hoops to bring 300 of the spiders to the U.S. for filming (and that was just the initial shipment; supplies were replenished every two weeks).  

7. JOHN GOODMAN WASN’T FREAKED OUT BY THE SPIDERS. 

Though Daniels claimed that he was fine with small spiders, he acknowledged that “anyone in his right mind” would have issues with spiders as huge as Big Bob. But John Goodman, who played exterminator Delbert McClintock, wasn’t fazed. “I don’t have any problem,” he said. “We see each other eye to eye—well, two eyes to their 16—but we get along swell.”

8. A HOUSEHOLD CLEANING AGENT PLAYED A PART IN WRANGLING THE SPIDERS.

“You can’t actually teach them to do anything,” wrangler Steven Kutcher told Entertainment Weekly. “You just watch what they do, then figure out how you can apply it to what you want them to do.” Still, he managed to come up with some solutions for controlling them: He discovered that the spiders hated Lemon Pledge—it gummed up their feet—and used lines of it on the set to control where they went; he also strung networks of wire, vibrating faster than the camera could see, to guide them. But sometimes, more extreme measures were needed. According to The New York Times,

To keep spiders in a relatively contained area, they are put to sleep with carbon dioxide, and tiny monofilament ''leashes'' are attached by wax to their abdomens. And for really complicated shots, minuscule steel plates are glued to the spiders with wax; electromagnets behind a wall then move them to the places where the script calls for them to be.

The wranglers would also sometimes chase the arachnids with hair dryers to get them to go where the camera needed them.

9. MARSHALL PLANNED HIS SHOTS VERY CAREFULLY.

“One of the things I learned in my second unit directing days is the only way it’s going to be scary is to include the spiders in the same shots with the actors,” he said. “So we’ve been designing the shots so when you start on a person you pan over, there’s a spider there, and the audience will know the spiders are very, very close to all the actors.”

10. THE ACTORS HAD TO BE PATIENT.

“This film takes a special kind of actor,” Daniels joked to The New York Times. “You have to realize from day one of shooting that the spiders come first. They're picked up first in the morning, they're first in the chair at makeup, they take lunch first. And they've also got the biggest trailer.'' 

The spiders didn’t always do what they were supposed to do on cue, or on the first try—so, Marshall told Entertainment Weekly, “You just have to keep shooting over and over again until they accidentally give you what you want.”

“You are basically waiting for the spider to get it right,” Daniels told the Orlando Sentinel. “And when he does, you better be great because that's the one [take] we are going to use.” Sometimes, they weren't even awake when the cameras were ready to roll: When Entertainment Weekly visited the set, the cast and crew had to wait for Big Bob to wake up. “This is the last time I work with insects,” Marshall said. “Next time it’s humans only.”

11. THE CREW HAD A “SPIDER LOTTO.”

The New York Times reported that one of the most often heard phrases on the set of Arachnophobia was “Spiders, take 10.” Marshall told the paper that sometimes the cast and crew had "a spider lotto; everyone puts $5 on the take they think is going to work. Twenty-one takes is the longest we've gone.” 

12. FILMING THE SCENE WHERE A SPIDER GETS STEPPED ON TOOK HOURS.

The safety of the spiders was paramount throughout the entire production, so for one scene where Goodman had to spray an arachnid with insecticide, then squash it with his boot, the production went to extreme measures: First, a dummy spider was sprayed. Then Goodman donned special boots with a hollowed out sole for the squash shot. “[The spider] would just curl up inside and wait for the next take,” Goodman told Entertainment Weekly. ”I swear, [Kutcher] was more concerned with the spiders than with us.” The sequence lasts under half a minute on screen but took hours to shoot.

13. A MECHANICAL BIG BOB DOUBLE WAS BUILT—BY A FUTURE MYTHBUSTER.

Even a painted up and tricked out spider wouldn’t be useable for all the shots. “He has to stalk Jeff Daniels; he has to stay in the right light, and if we waited for him to do that, we'd be here three or four months longer,” Marshall told The New York Times. "The main character had to become a creature, and no spider out there could give us the vicious, evil close-ups the script called for," added visual effects supervisor David Sosalla, "The evilest ones, with real ugly looking faces, were too tiny.”

So the production reached out to a Hollywood prop shop to build The General, a 15-inch mechanical Big Bob double—and it was created by none other than future MythBuster Jamie Hyneman. “Arachnophobia was one of the first films I did major effects for,” he said in 2014.

14. THE PRODUCTION SHOT THE TOUGHEST SCENE LAST.

Marshall saved the shooting of Arachnophobia’s climactic fight between Jennings and The General until the very end of production. “All the other actors have been sent home, they've been put on planes, they've been waved goodbye to, they've had parties thrown,'' Daniels told the Orlando Sentinel. “They were gone. It was like, ‘Hey, great, thanks a lot! Now, Jeff, let's go ... down to the basement.’” 

The scene, which involved fire, explosions, and many smashed bottles of fine wine, took two weeks of 13-hour days to shoot. Daniels spent two of those days pinned under a 250-pound wine rack, hurling bottles of wine at Big Bob while under strict instructions to not hit the spider—and, in fact, always miss it by three feet or more. 

“When you're lying under a 250-pound wine rack for a couple of days, it's tough to walk to your car at night,” Daniels told the Sentinel. “Movies have a way of saving those life-or-death stunts for last, so that if you lose an actor, it's a shame and it's horrible, and we'll all be there at the funeral, but at least we got our film shot."

15. DANIELS WAS NOT A FAN OF BIG BOB.

Throughout the Arachnophobia press tour, Daniels spoke openly of his animosity toward his big, hairy co-star—and we’re not talking about John Goodman. I had a problem” with Big Bob, Daniels told Entertainment Weekly. “Especially when the spider wranglers were off-camera wearing thick, heavy gloves, yelling, ‘If he comes after you, we’ll be jumping in right away.’ But meanwhile, it’s the movies, you know, and they’re going, ‘Let’s do it again. Let’s see if we can get him to crawl closer to Jeff’s hand.’ ... We had no rapport,” Daniels jokingly continued. “He’d rear up and hiss. They’d feed him a rat every weekend. It would be, ‘Have a good Saturday night, Bob. See ya Monday.”’

In an interview with Philadelphia's Daily News, Daniels recounted how Big Bob once blew a dozen takes: “I had to be great every time. Big Bob only had to be great once.” And when they were filming the climax of the film and a bottle broke near Bob, drenching the spider with wine, Daniels wasn’t that sorry—although filming did have to be delayed for a few hours to allow Bob to dry off. "The joke went that Big Bob was refusing to leave his trailer," Daniels recalled.

As for the Delenas? "I was OK with them,” he told Entertainment Weekly. "Though I’d rather they weren’t crawling on my face.”

16. THE MOVIE ORIGINALLY ENDED WITH A REFERENCE TO THE BIRDS. 

"There was one ending where we are standing outside after it's all over,” Daniels told the Orlando Sentinel in 1990. “It's like, ‘Wow, we're OK,’ and the family is all right. All of a sudden, one bird lands on the swing set and then another ... and we just turn and look. I think [executive producer Steven] Spielberg was the one who said, ‘Let's not do that. Let's just make it its own thing.’”

17. NO SPIDERS WERE KILLED DURING THE PRODUCTION.

When dead spiders were needed, the filmmakers used bodies of arachnids that had died of natural causes

18. IT WAS BILLED AS “THE FIRST THRILL-OMEDY.”

According to materials released with the film, that meant “a thriller with a sense of humor.” The Washington Post called the term “clumsy coinage,” while Entertainment Weekly dubbed it “awkward” and said in a review that it was “an awful word!—it sounds like somebody got sick from too many rides on the Whip.” It didn’t catch on.

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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
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It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

June 21 date against a yellow background
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The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

A vintage mapped globe showing the Tropic of Cancer
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While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
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The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

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Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

Colorful picture of the sun hitting ocean waves.
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You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

Arty image of fire and water colliding.
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In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

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In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

Yin and yang symbol on textured sand.
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In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

Silhouette of a baseball player.
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Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

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You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

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In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

Ancient Greek sculpture in stone.
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The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

Roman statue of a vestal virgin
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In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

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