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Chloe Effron

25 Magnificent Facts About Maine

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Chloe Effron

Settled by Europeans in the 17th century and officially declared a state in 1820, Maine is known for its chilly winters, and for the chilling horror stories of Stephen King. Blanketed in forests, and bordered on one side by thousands of miles of coastline, the state is full of wonders both natural and human-made. Here are 25 facts you should know about Maine. 

1. No one knows exactly how Maine got its name; its etymology is something of a mystery. Some believe it was shorthand for the “mainland,” used by sailors differentiating it from islands off the state’s coast. Others believe it was named for the French province of Maine. 

2. As the crow flies, the Maine coastline stretches an already-impressive 250 miles. But recent satellite images measuring the contours of its convoluted and craggy coast have shown that the Maine coastline actually stretches around 3500 miles. And that number jumps up to 5500 miles when islands are included. 

istock

3. Maine has its own desert, which spans 40 acres outside the town of Freeport. Though its silt hills are now a popular tourist attraction, the desert originally developed as a result of over-farming in the area.

istock

4. Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the East Coast. Named for explorer Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac—for whom the car company is also named—Cadillac Mountain is 1530 feet tall, and, from October through March, is the first place to experience the sunrise in the United States. 

5. Burt’s Bees was founded by former photojournalist Burt Schavitz in Maine in the 1980s. Schavitz moved to Maine from New York after deciding television had made photojournalism superfluous. He became a beekeeper, began selling honey, and ultimately co-founded Burt’s Bees with Roxanne Quimby in 1984.

6. Since 2005, Maine’s annual lobster yield has weighed in at more than 60 million pounds, with nearly 124 million pounds caught in 2014. (That’s almost 90 percent of the United States’ lobster supply.)

WorldIslandInfo.com, Flickr// CC BY 2.0

7. The people of Maine take lobsters so seriously, the University of Maine even has its own Lobster Institute, dedicated to learning more about the animals. Founded in 1987, its primary purpose is to support the state’s lobster industry, and to help lobstermen around the world develop sustainable practices.  

8. Until 2003, Strong, Maine, was known as the “Toothpick Capital of the World.” At one point, 95 percent of all wooden toothpicks produced in the U.S. were made in Strong. But as toothpicks declined in popularity towards the end of the 20th century, the toothpick industry began to falter. In 2003, The Forster Manufacturing Company, the last of Strong’s toothpick mills, shut down. 

9. Most of horror writer Stephen King’s books are set in Maine. A native Mainer, King has set novels like Pet Sematary, It, and Salem’s Lot in small Maine towns. He wrote his first novel, Carrie, while working as a teacher in Bangor, Maine.

10. Portland, Oregon is named after Portland, Maine. The Oregon city was founded by two New Englanders, one from Massachusetts, and the other from Maine. After a coin flip, Francis Pettygrove of Maine got to choose the city’s name. He picked Portland to honor his hometown. 

11. The official state insect of Maine is the honeybee. The state has a rich beekeeping culture, and even has a non-profit organization, the Maine Beekeepers Association, which was founded in 1976 to promote understanding of the insect’s importance. 

12. The official state animal of Maine is the moose. The state is home to approximately 76,000 moose, the highest moose population in the lower 48 states. Not surprisingly, moose-watching is a popular tourist activity.

13. Maine is nicknamed “The Pine Tree State.” The tree appears on the state flag, and, as of 2012, a full 83 percent of the state was covered in forest, making it the second most tree-covered state in the lower 48 states (New Hampshire was first with 89 percent). 

14. Maine used to be part of Massachusetts. The former Massachusetts province spent decades after the American Revolution campaigning for independence, and finally gained official statehood in 1820.

15. Bangor, Maine, claims to be the birthplace of Paul Bunyan, and is home to a giant 31-foot statue celebrating the legendary woodsman. The enormous Bunyan tribute, built in 1959, is “reputed to be the largest statue of Paul Bunyan in the world”—at least according to the statue’s accompanying sign.

Jimmy Emerson, DVM, Flickr //CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

16. Maine has a ton of quirky museums, including the telephone museum in Ellsworth, the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum in Jonesport, the Umbrella Cover Museum in Portland, and perhaps most famously, the International Cryptozoology Museum (also in Portland), dedicated to the study of “hidden” or “unknown” animals like Yetis, Bigfoot, and Lake Monsters. 

17. L.L. Bean was founded in Freeport, Maine in 1912 by hunter and fisherman Leon Leonwood Bean. Its flagship store in Freeport not only has an aquarium, but is also adorned with a giant size 410 Bean boot. 

Heather Paul, Flickr// CC BY-ND 2.0

18. With a little more than 66,000 residents, Portland has the highest population of any city in Maine. That’s nearly twice the size of Lewiston, which is the state’s second largest city with just 36,000 or so residents. 

19. The Maine Coon Cat, which is the official state cat of Maine, is the largest domestic cat breed—and with their thick, layered fur coats, they’re perfectly adapted for Maine’s snowy winters. 

20. Founded in 1794, Bowdoin College is the oldest college in Maine. Its famous alumni include renowned poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and writer Nathaniel Hawthorne.

21. At just 15 years old, Farmington native Chester Greenwood came up with the idea for earmuffs in the 1870s as a way to stay warm when he went ice skating. To this day, Farmington, Maine, celebrates the revolutionary invention every year with the Chester Greenwood Day Parade, which features an array of earmuff-themed floats. 

22. Maine is known as “The Birthplace of Prohibition.” The state was the first to ban the sale and manufacture of alcohol in 1851 (although the law was repealed five years later), and in 1880, Portland Mayor Neal Dow, sometimes called the “Father of Prohibition,” ran for president on the Prohibition Party ticket. 

23. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote her anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Brunswick, Maine, during the 1850s. The house where she worked on the novel is now a museum.

24. One of the ten coldest states, Maine has long been famous for its harsh winters and chilly springs. In January of 2009, the state experienced its coldest day ever, hitting -50°F in Big Black River.

25. Maine’s motto is “Dirigo,” meaning “I direct.” The motto appears on the state’s coat of arms and its flag, and was adopted in 1820.

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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski
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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Nicole Garner
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History
How One Widow's Grief Turned a Small Town Into a Roadside Attraction
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Nicole Garner

Like many small towns, the southwest Missouri town of Nevada (pronounced not as the state, but as Nev-AY-duh) loves to tell tales. Incorporated in 1855, the 8000-person city was once a railroad hub and a former home to the outlaw Frank James, the elder brother of the more infamous Jesse James. But the one story Nevada residents love to tell above all others isn't about anyone famous. It's about an atypical above-ground grave in the town's oldest cemetery, the man who's interred there, and how he can't get any rest.

Scan of the Nevada Daily Mail from March 4, 1897.
Nevada Daily Mail; March 4, 1897.
Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

On March 4, 1897, the body of a young man was found near Nevada, Missouri, apparently struck by lightning. The local newspaper, the Nevada Daily Mail, printed the story of his death that evening right next to the news that William McKinley had been sworn in as president that day; a bold-faced headline declared "Death Came Without Warning," and noted “His Clothing Torn From His Body." A reporter at the scene described how the body, which was found around 11 a.m., was unrecognizable at first. Eventually the young man's father identified him as Frederick Alonzo "Lon" Dorsa, and the coroner determined that an umbrella was the cause of Lon's electrocution.

Lon left behind a widow whose name was never mentioned in newspapers; to this day, other printed versions of the Dorsas' story omit her identity. But she had a name—Neva Dorsa—and her grief led her to commission a singularly peculiar grave for her husband—one that would open her up to years worth of ridicule and also make their small town a roadside attraction.

A funeral announcement in the Daily Mail noted that undertakers had prepared Lon's body in a "neat casket" before a funeral service set for March 7. A follow-up article the next day read that Lon's funeral was widely attended, with a large procession to the cemetery and burial with military honors. His widow—whose name was determined from a marriage license filed at the Vernon County courthouse showing that Lon married a Neva Gibson on February 12, 1895—had gone from a newlywed to a single mother in just two years.

But, Lon's first interment was temporary. Neva had arranged a grand resting place for her husband, which wasn't ready in the short time between his death and the funeral. Modern newspaper retellings of Lon and Neva's tale say she ordered a large, above-ground enclosure from the Brophy Monument Company in Nevada. A large piece of stone—some accounts say marble while others suggest limestone or granite—was shipped in via railroad car. When it arrived, the stone was too heavy to move, so a local stonecutter spent more than a month chiseling away before the piece was light enough to be pulled away by horses. A wire story described the stone tomb as being "12 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet high. Its weight at completion was 11,000 pounds."

Before Lon’s body was placed inside, Neva made a few key additions—specifically a hidden pane of glass that let her view her husband:

"A piece of stone, covered to represent a bible [sic], is the covering of the aperture. It can be lifted easily by the widow's hand and when Mrs. Dorsa's grief becomes unusually poignant, she goes to the cemetery and gazes for hours at a time upon the face of her dead husband."

The Daily Mail covered the second tomb's installation with morbid attention to detail on May 6, 1897, precisely two months after Lon was initially buried:

"When the grave was opened this morning the coffin looked as bright and new as when buried but it had water in it which had at one time nearly submerged the body. The remains looked perfectly natural and there were no evidences of decomposition having sat in—no odor whatover [sic]. A little mould [sic] had gathered about the roots of his hair and on the neck, otherwise the body looked as fresh as when buried."

The newspaper called the tomb a "stone sarcophagus" and noted that Neva was there to examine her husband's corpse and watch the reburial of his remains. There was likely no inkling from those present, or the community who read about it in that evening's paper, that Neva had designed the tomb with unexpected and usual features, like the pivoting stone Bible that would reveal Lon's face below when unlocked and moved.

Instead, the newspaper suggested that the "costly mousoleum [sic] provided for the reception of his remains is the tribute of her affection."

Lon Dorsa's grave.
Lon Dorsa's grave at Deepwood Cemetery in Nevada, Missouri.
Nicole Garner

Following Lon's re-interment, Neva managed her grief by visiting her deceased husband regularly. Her home was near his grave—the 1900 U.S. Census listed her as a 25-year-old widow living on south Washington Street in Nevada, the same street as the cemetery—and three years after her husband's death, she was employed as a dressmaker, working year-round to provide for their young children, Beatrice and Fred.

By 1905, a new wave of public scrutiny hit the Dorsa (sometimes spelled Dorsey) family when the details of Neva's specially designed, above-ground grave began circulating. It's not clear who reported the story first, but the Topeka Daily Capital, published across the Kansas border 150 miles from Nevada, published a piece, which eventually spread to The St. Louis Republic. Early that spring, the same story was printed in the Pittsburgh Press, a Chicago church publication called The Advance, and in the summer of 1906, a description of Lon Dorsa's crypt had made it nearly 1000 miles to the front page of the Staunton Spectator and Vindicator in Staunton, Virginia:

"The strangest tomb in America, if not in the world, is that which rest the remains of Lon Dorsa in Deepwood cemetery, Nevada, Mo. It is so constructed that the widow can look upon her deceased husband at will, by the turning of a key in a lock which holds a stone Bible just above the remains."

Articles at the time noted that Lon's remains were in an airtight tomb and that scientists supposedly told Mrs. Dorsa that her husband's body would be well-preserved in those conditions, but decomposition had already taken place: "It [the body] has turned almost black, but the general outline of the features remains unchanged."

According to a 1997 walking tour pamphlet of Deepwood Cemetery, it wasn't long before community members caught on that Neva visited the cemetery all too often: "Fascinated children hung about to watch the lady arrive in her buggy. If she saw them, she'd go after them with a whip, shrieking like a madwoman …" the guide stated. Eventually, "her family had the pivot removed and the Bible cemented down."

Local lore suggests that the publicity and Lon's deterioration drove Neva to insanity. Some say she ended up in an asylum and died soon after—a fairly believable tale, considering Nevada was home to one of the state's hospitals for mental illness. However, a list of Deepwood Cemetery lot owners, found at the Vernon County Historical Society, doesn't have a burial space for Neva.

A more likely explanation—based on a listing on Find a Grave, a website that indexes cemeteries and headstones, and which matches Neva's personal information—suggests she simply remarried and moved to California. The California Death Index, 1945-1997, shows that a Neva (Gibson) Simpson died Dec. 30, 1945 in Los Angeles. The birth date and place match those of Neva (Gibson) Dorsa.

Newspaper clipping featuring a picture of a skull.
Nevada Daily Mail, Nov. 30, 1987. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
State Historical Society of Missouri

Wherever Neva ended up, Lon's body didn't exactly rest in peace. In July 1986, vandals broke into the town's most famous tomb and stole his head. It was recovered the following year in a Nevada home, but law enforcement and cemetery caretakers noted that the stone Bible, which had been cemented down for some time, was periodically ripped off the tomb.

Talbot Wight, the Deepwood Cemetery Board’s president at the time, told the Daily Mail in 1987 that Lon's hair, skin, and clothing were well preserved until vandals broke the encasing glass. "Evidently, he was still in pretty good shape until July," Wight said.

But when Lon's skull was photographed for the newspaper's front page, it featured no hair or skin, both of which likely decomposed quickly after being stolen if not before. The skull was buried in an undisclosed location away from the body so as to not tempt new grave robbers, and the tomb was re-sealed with marble in an attempt to prevent further damage.

Still, the story of Neva Dorsa and her husband’s remains hasn't died away. It circulates through southwestern Missouri, drawing visitors to Deepwood Cemetery to gaze at the stone plot—just not in the same way Neva had intended.

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