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25 Not-So-Corny Facts About Indiana

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Nestled between Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan is Indiana, the Midwestern state known for racing, inspirational sports stories, and corn. But as its residents will tell you, there is a lot more to the Hoosier State than Rudy. Here are 25 things you should probably know about Indiana. 

1. The people of Indiana are called “Hoosiers” and the state itself is often called "The Hoosier State," but no one seems to know what a Hoosier is. The Indiana Historical Society notes that a letter from 1827 is one of the earliest known uses of the word, and in the 1830s, poet John Finley wrote a popular poem called “Hoosher’s Nest,” which was published in the Indianapolis Journal. There are many theories about the origin of the name, but most of them have been disproved

2. The name “Indiana” means “Land of the Indians,” or “Indian Land.” It was named for the native people that gave the land to white settlers as restitution for raids on a Philadelphia trading company.

3. December 11 is Indiana Day. Adopted in 1925, it is the anniversary of Indiana’s statehood. It is not a paid holiday, but Hoosiers do participate in museum-based events, and there is an annual essay contest for fourth graders.

4. The official state motto is “Crossroads of America.” It began as a nickname for Indianapolis because of the point where several interstates cross in the city, and it was later adopted by the state in 1937.
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5. The Indiana state flag was designed by a resident of Mooresville as a part of a design contest held for the state’s centennial celebration. The torch is a symbol for liberty and enlightenment, the rays are said to represent Indiana’s “far-reaching influence,” and there are 19 stars because Indiana was the 19th state to join the Union.

6. Christmas lives in Indiana year round. In 1856, the town of Sante Fe (pronounced fee) changed its name to Santa Claus so that they could open their own post office (another town had already claimed Santa Fe). Most of the businesses and streets have Christmas-themed names, and there are statues of the jolly gift-giver all over town. The Santa Claus post office receives an estimated 400,000 letters from children around Christmastime every year.

7.America’s oldest magazine,” The Saturday Evening Post, is headquartered in Indianapolis. The magazine is probably best known for its iconic covers, 323 of which were painted by Norman Rockwell over the course of five decades.


8. Indiana bred Vice Presidents in the late 19th to early 20th century. An unofficial nickname for the state was “Mother of Vice Presidents,” because in 10 of the 13 elections between 1868 and 1916, there was a man from Indiana on the ballot. 

9. The capital was moved from Vincennes to Corydon in 1813, when Indiana was still a territory. It became a state three years later, and Corydon remained the capital until it was moved again in 1825 to Indianapolis.

10. There's truth to the state's corny reputation. In 2014, farmers in Indiana planted 91,000 acres of corn for popcorn and harvested 90,000 of it, which was an increase of 10,000 acres from the previous year. An estimated 20% of the country’s popcorn supply comes from those crops.
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11. There is no Eerie, Indiana, and no Pawnee, Indiana, either (despite the super official-looking city website).

12. A Christmas Story (1983) is set in Hammond, Indiana, the hometown of Jean Shepherd, the author who wrote the book on which it was based, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. There are several references to the town and surrounding areas, but Hoosiers have to travel east to Cleveland, Ohio to visit Ralphie’s iconic home, which is now a museum

13. A lot of famous performers and entertainers were born in Indiana. Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, and the rest of the Jackson 5 were born and raised in northwestern Indiana, but they weren't the only ones. Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Freddie Hubbard, Adam Lambert, John Mellencamp, David Lee Roth, Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin, Deniece Williams, Scatman Crothers, and numerous other rock, jazz, and blues performers were born in the state. Comedians Red Skelton, Mike Epps, David Letterman, and Jim Gaffigan, and actors Florence Henderson, Shelley Long, and James Dean were also Hoosiers.

14. The home where Michael Jackson and the rest of the Jackson family grew up is still standing in Gary, Indiana. Located at 2300 Jackson Street, the home (and the rest of the block) has been renovated since The King of Pop’s death in 2009, and a memorial statue has been erected in the front yard of the property in his honor. 14660974313_484d861359_z.jpg

Abi Skipp, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

15. Colonel Sanders was from Indiana, not Kentucky. The American businessman, Colonel Harland David Sanders, was born in the small town of Henryville. After an honorary discharge from the United States Army, Sanders moved to Alabama, then Tennessee, then back to Indiana before finally landing in Kentucky, where he bought an old roadside motel and began selling fried chicken.

16. The Reno Brothers gang made crime history on October 6, 1866, when they became the first robbers to knock off a moving train in Jackson County, Indiana. Before then, trains were robbed while they sat in stations, which carried a higher risk of being caught by the law. The gang made off with $10,000, which is around $260,000 when adjusted for inflation.

17. There are nearly 100 historic covered bridges in the state of Indiana. In the 1800s, there were over 10,000 covered bridges built across America, but only around 800 still exist. Pennsylvania has the most (approximately 224), but Parke County, Indiana is known as the “Covered Bridge Capital” with a total of 31 within its 450 square miles.
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18. It’s where Johnny Appleseed is buried. The man who inspired the American folktale, John Chapman, died in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1845. There is a marked grave in what is now known as Johnny Appleseed Park (formerly Archer Cemetery), but there are some who contest the location and say that Chapman was actually buried on the other side of the St. Joseph River.

19. Indiana is home to the world’s largest Batman memorabilia collection. Kevin Silva of Indianapolis began collecting at age five and has since collected his way into the Guinness Book of World Records with over 2500 Gotham City souvenirs. His personal batcave boasts everything from gumball machines, signed posters, replica costumes and themed underwear to lots of vintage and new toys.

20. Garfield (the cat, not the President) lives in Muncie, Indiana. mental_floss sat down with creator Jim Davis last year to talk about the iconic cat and he explained why the town is, for the most part, not explicitly mentioned in the comic strip: 

I would like for readers in Sydney, Australia to think that Garfield lives next door ... Garfield is very universal. By virtue of being a cat, really, he’s not really male or female or any particular race or nationality, young or old. It gives me a lot more latitude for the humor for the situations.”

21. There is a road in Amity, Indiana, with a gravesite right in the middle of it. In 1831, Nancy Kerlin Barnett (whose husband was a descendant of Pocahontas and John Rolfe) was buried on a hill that overlooked Sugar Creek. Others graves were established in the area, but plans to build a road through the site meant that the bodies would have to be moved. Barnett’s grandson guarded her grave with a shotgun while the others were moved, and the county officials eventually agreed to leave it be, building the road around the plot. The concrete slab protecting the grave and historical marker were added later.

22. Indiana’s racing legacy runs deep. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909, and the first race held before construction on the oval was completed was between helium gas-filled balloons. The Indy 500 has been called the largest single-day sporting event in the world in terms of attendance, with an estimated 350,000 spectators flocking to the stadium in Speedway, Indiana, every year for the 200-lap Memorial Day weekend race. 

Barbara Ann Spengler, Flickr //CC BY 2.0

23. On March 25, 1995, the deadliest tornado in United States history struck Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. The category F-5 “Tri-State Tornado” traveled 300 miles, claimed 695 lives, and injured over 2000 others.

24. The first professional baseball league game was played in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1871. The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players season kicked off with a match between the Fort Wayne Kekiongas and the Cleveland Forest Cities. The Kekiongas won 2 to 0 in front of a crowd of 200 people.

25. The first city in the United States to use electric street lights was Wabash, Indiana, in 1880. The population at the time was 320, but an estimated 10,000 people showed up to witness the lighting of the lamps for the first time.

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10 Pirate Landmarks You Can Visit
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Hungering for a scurvy-ridden romp across the seven seas? We’ve mapped out an international journey that will take you through 10 historic places with maritime yarns to unravel. From a rediscovered wreck to the site of real buried treasure, these locales will set your timbers a-shivering.

1. THE QUEDAGH MERCHANT, CATALINA ISLAND, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

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In 1695, Scottish privateer William Kidd was hired by an English governor to fight pirates in the Indian Ocean. But he made one critical mistake. On January 30, 1698, he captured the Quedagh Merchant, a treasure-laden ship flying a French flag. Since England was at war with France, Kidd believed he had a legal right to seize this ship. However, a nobleman who stood to lose his riches on board complained to the British East India Company, which put out a call for Kidd’s arrest. Unable to prove his innocence, Kidd was convicted and hung by an English court in 1701.

As for the Quedagh Merchant, Kidd had abandoned the vessel and its final resting place remained unknown for centuries. Marine archaeologists discovered the wreck off the coast of Catalina Island in 2007. The site is now a protected marine area where divers can read about its history on underwater plaques.

2. FOX POINT, ST. GEORGE ISLAND, FLORIDA

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Born in Maryland, William Augustus Bowles was a British loyalist during the Revolutionary War. While stationed in Pensacola, Florida, he married into the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and, later, fought on behalf of both nations against Spain in the Gulf of Mexico. Bowles would later establish himself as a pirate and self-appointed representative of the Muscogee Nation, and secured Great Britain's support for establishing an independent Muscogee Republic. In those roles, he attacked numerous Spanish ships and was arrested by the Spanish authorities. He escaped from prison and was on his way back to Florida in the British schooner HMS Fox when it went aground on St. George Island at a site now called Fox Point. A historical marker commemorates the Fox’s wreck.

3. A REAL BURIED TREASURE SITE, GARDINER’S ISLAND, NEW YORK

Howard Pyle, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Contrary to popular belief, most pirates did not bury treasure. (People who steal loot generally want to spend it right away.) In fact, the only pirate known to have stored booty underground was William Kidd. Prior his arrest by the British authorities in 1699, Kidd paid a visit to Gardiner’s Island, a spot between the forks of Long Island. Its owner, John Gardiner, agreed to let Kidd bury some valuables there. Accounts differ about what happened next. Some sources say that Gardiner decided to come clean and tell the colonial governor, Lord Bellomont, about the treasure. Others say that Bellomont learned of its whereabouts directly from Kidd. Either way, the loot was exhumed and taken to Boston. The gold, silver, and other valuable items were worth more than $1 million in today's U.S. dollars. Today, a stone plaque marks the spot.

4. DUNGEON ROCK, LYNN, MASSACHUSETTS

Ejkastning, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1658, a group of buccaneers landed in Lynn, Massachusetts. Most were arrested, but a pirate named Thomas Veal escaped into the forest. Legend has it that a huge geologic formation now called Dungeon Rock became his hideout. Once a spacious cave, it was reduced to a pile of boulders by an earthquake, entombing Veal and his treasure within.

Almost a century later, a spiritualist named Hiram Marble, who believed Veal's ghost had contacted him from the afterlife, bought Dungeon Rock. He and his son, Edwin, spent their lives digging for the treasure but found nothing. Since then, the site has been incorporated into the Lynn Woods Reservation. A door bars the entryway to the rock's interior, which is open to visitors during certain times of the year. Nearby, you can pay your respects to Edwin Marble at his modestly marked grave.

5. LAFITTE’S BLACKSMITH SHOP, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Lafitte’s origins are shrouded in mystery, but he arrived in New Orleans around 1806 with his (alleged) brother, Pierre. They organized a fleet of smuggling vessels and conspired with potential business partners at a colleague's blacksmith shop on Bourbon Street. Now a popular bar, the building was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

During the War of 1812, Lafitte offered his ample supplies, experienced sailors, and local knowledge to the American forces under General Andrew Jackson, in exchange for the release of some of Lafitte's men then in prison. At the Battle of New Orleans in 1814-15, Jackson's and Lafitte's forces helped repel the British attack, and the two Lafitte brothers both received federal pardons.

6. LAFITTE’S FORMER STOMPING GROUNDS, GALVESTON, TEXAS

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Soon after the Battle of New Orleans, the city's elites grew tired of tolerating the Lafittes. In 1817, Jean Lafitte decamped to Galveston, Texas, with seven ships and a few dozen followers. They established a town called Campeche with its own boarding house, taverns, and courts, while continuing to prey on Spanish ships in the gulf and operating a large slave market. In 1821, the U.S. government ordered them to clear out. Nothing can be said with certainty about Lafitte's post-Galveston exploits. Just like his origins, Jean Lafitte’s fate remains the stuff of speculation.

A relic from his time in Galveston can be found at 1417 Avenue A, where Maison Rouge, Lafitte’s home and fortress, once stood. The grounds are protected by a chain-link fence, which also surrounds the remnants of a second building that was built on top of Maison Rouge’s foundation in 1870. Learn more at Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast, a local attraction which focuses on Lafitte’s life and deeds.

7. PLUM POINT, BATH, NORTH CAROLINA

m kasahara, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Blackbeard—whose real name was either Edward Teach, Edward Thatch, or some variant thereof—settled in Bath, North Carolina, for a brief period of quasi-retirement beginning in 1718. His place of residence was reportedly somewhere on Plum Point, an outcropping which cuts into Bath Creek. Despite his track record of plundering and theft, he was constantly getting dinner invitations from curious families. According to regional lore, he paid multiple visits to the Hammock House, an elegant white building thought to be the oldest surviving house in Beaufort, North Carolina. This city is also home to a gigantic Blackbeard statue on U.S. Highway 70. Beaufort’s branch of the North Carolina Maritime Museum contains numerous Blackbeard artifacts.

8. A PIRATE-FILLED CEMETERY, ILE SAINTE-MARIE, MADAGASCAR

JialiangGao, Wikimedia Commons // GFDL

In the Age of Sail, pirates operated in nearly all of the world's oceans. Île Sainte-Marie, near Madagascar, was a magnet for pirates back in the 17th and 18th centuries. The island had plentiful fresh fruit to prevent scurvy and convenient natural harbors for safe anchorages. So many crews visited the island regularly that trading posts run by and for pirates became a vital part of the local economy. In its heyday, more than 1000 pirates lived on the island. A great many now lay buried in a cemetery near Ambodifotatra, Île Sainte-Marie’s biggest city. The 30 on-site tombstones of pirates can be identified because they were given etched-in skulls, crossbones, or both.

9. BLACK BART’S MEMORIAL STONE, CASNEWYDD-BACH, WALES

Daniel Defoe, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Typically cited as the most successful pirate of all time, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts was born in the Welsh village of Casnewydd-Bach in 1682. In 1719, the crew of the slave ship he worked on elected Roberts, an experienced navigator and seafarer, as their new captain. Roberts really seemed to like the name Royal Fortune, which he gave to multiple ships. He also authored a pirate’s code of conduct for his crew in 1721.

The dreaded “Black Bart” would seize more than 400 ships before he died in battle on February 10, 1722. His hometown acknowledges its native son with a memorial stone on the village green.

10. BLACKBEARD’S POINT, HAMPTON, VIRGINIA

Charles Ellms, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Our adventure ends with a visit to a place that once displayed Blackbeard’s severed head [PDF]. North Carolina's governor, Charles Eden, granted the pirate a pardon in exchange for a hefty share of his loot, which upset the colony's wealthy planters. The elites asked Virginia's governor, Alexander Spotswood, to get rid of Blackbeard permanently. Spotswood sent a naval force led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard to engage the pirate's crews in combat. Maynard caught Blackbeard by surprise in North Carolina's Ocracoke Inlet, and a great battle ensued, with Maynard coming out on top. Blackbeard was killed in the fight and Maynard mounted the pirate's head on the bowsprit of his ship on their way back to Virginia. Later it was suspended from a pole at Tindall’s Point, at the confluence of the James and Hampton rivers, where it served for several years as a warning to anyone else with piratical designs. Tindall Point is now called Blackbeard’s Point.

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Most of the World’s Population Lives Within This 2500-Mile Radius
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Prof Kenneth Myers

The Earth gets more crowded each year. In just the past decade, the planet has welcomed about 1 billion new residents. The biggest contributors to the booming population are a handful of countries, and most of them fall within a 2500-mile radius.

As friend of Mental Floss Ken Jennings writes for Condé Nast Traveler, the Valeriepieris circle covers more than half the world’s population. China and India, the world’s two most populous nations, plus Indonesia (the fourth) and Pakistan (the sixth), are all part of a section of Earth that stretches 2500 miles in all directions from a central point near Hainan, China's southernmost area. Bangladesh, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, which all place in the top 15 most populous countries, are also included.

Not only are the populations of these places high, they’re also dense. In Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka, for instance, every square mile holds about 115,000 citizens. (For comparison, New York City, America's most densely populated city, counts roughly 27,000 per square mile.) That explains how this circle can house billions of humans while also containing a lot of open ocean and empty desert.

The Valeriepieris circle is named after the American Reddit user who first shared the map in 2013. His real name is Ken Myers, and he was inspired to create the graphic after visiting Manila in the Philippines for a teaching fellowship and seeing firsthand how many people were crammed into the tight area. The math was checked by Singapore economics professor Danny Quah years later, and he found that Myers had actually been generous with his calculations. Narrow down the circle to a 2050 mile radius, with Mong Khet in Myanmar as the center point, and it still fits close to half the world’s people.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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