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Chloe Effron

25 Not-So-Crabby Facts About Maryland

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Chloe Effron

Maryland has a handful of nicknames and just as many reputations. The state is a study in contradictions—cramming crabcakes, trash-talking, jousting, and the greatest TV show of all time into 12,407 square miles.

1. The colony of Maryland was founded by Sir George Calvert, also known as Lord Baltimore, in 1632. Calvert left his stamp all over the territory, from the state flag that includes his family colors to the city of Baltimore itself.

2. The state seal of Maryland was taken from the aforementioned Lord Baltimore’s family crest. As such, it includes his weird family motto: Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine. Literally translated, this means “Manly deeds, womanly words”—a statement that doesn’t really go over too well these days. Maryland tourism information often rephrases the motto as “Strong deeds, gentle words,” which seems to miss the point. Historians and translators have condemned the motto as “sexist in any language,” and note that “traditions can become embarrassing.”

3. Maryland takes its noble roots seriously. In 1962, Maryland became the first state to designate an official state sport. The selection: Jousting. And it’s not just a formality; to this day, the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association is going strong. Horses not your thing? Maybe you’d prefer lacrosse, the official state team sport.

4. Only in Maryland are members of the Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) called judges; elsewhere, they’re justices. And only in Maryland do those judges wear red robes [PDF]—another throwback to the state’s British roots.

5. Baltimore-based TV series The Wire is widely accepted as one of the best shows of all time. It’s also a favorite of President Barack Obama’s. Like most of us, the president’s favorite character is charming, principled gangster Omar Little. “That’s not an endorsement,” Obama clarified in the Las Vegas Sun.


HBO


6.
Maryland is technically a part of the South. The Mason-Dixon line cuts right between Maryland and Pennsylvania, which didn’t seem like a big deal until the Civil War broke out. As a border state, Maryland’s loyalties were divided. Most citizens supported the Union, although a good number went to fight for the Confederacy.

7. The iconic Maryland blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) was named the official state crustacean in 1989. Only two other states have state crustaceans: Louisiana (crawfish) and Oregon (Dungeness crab). Maryland also has a state dog, the Chesapeake Bay retriever, and a state drink (milk).

8. The Baltimore Ravens were named in honor of famous (and famously miserable) Baltimorean Edgar Allan Poe. The team’s mascots, two ravens named Rise and Conquer, live at the Maryland Zoo, where their favorite hobbies include “stealing food from each other and hiding it” and “tearing up telephone books.”

9. Maryland’s state anthem is really something to behold. The song, which is sung to the tune of “O, Tannenbaum,” was written by a Confederate sympathizer during the Civil War and is essentially one long, bitter rant against Abraham Lincoln and the North. There’s no room for misinterpretation here: the lyrics call Lincoln a “tyrant” and the Union “Northern scum.” And there’s no arguing that it was just picked at a bad time; “Maryland, My Maryland” wasn’t named the state song until 1939. Much to the chagrin of Maryland’s children, the anthem—all nine verses of it—is still part of the public school curriculum.

10. Mother Elizabeth Seton was the founder of a number of Catholic schools and charity houses for poor girls in the 1800s. More than 150 years after her death, the Roman Catholic church canonized Mother Seton, which made her the first American-born saint.

11. Maryland was first called the “Free State” on November 1, 1864, after slavery was abolished within its borders. Nearly 60 years later, it was again referred to as the "Free State" because it refused to participate in Prohibition, and continued to permit the use and sale of alcohol even when it was illegal in the rest of the country. 

12. An impressive 41 percent of Maryland’s land is covered by forest [PDF].

13. The first hot air balloon in the U.S. to carry a passenger launched from Baltimore on June 23, 1784. Tavern-keeper and lawyer Peter Carnes built the balloon based on French designs and sold tickets to the first launch. Carnes didn’t test his creation until the big day came, at which point Carnes learned that he was just too heavy. Thirteen-year-old Edward Warren stepped up and took the ride in his place.

Image Credit: Something Original via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA 3.0

14. The first Ouija board was invented in Baltimore in an apartment that is now a 7-Eleven. Creator Elijah Bond and medium Helen Peters asked the “talking board” what it wanted to be called. “O-U-I-J-A,” the board allegedly replied. Bond’s bond with his creation was so strong that it followed him into death; there’s a Ouija board engraved on the back of his tombstone.

15. In 1982, the community of Garrett Park became one of the first American jurisdictions to declare itself a nuclear-free zone. The move made headlines, even if the declaration didn’t change much in Garrett Park. “It was really a symbolic gesture,” town hall manager Elizabeth S. Henley told The New York Times. Garrett Park is still a pretty interesting place; its citizens have opted out of home mail delivery, which means that the community’s little post office sees nearly every adult citizen every day.

16. Boring, Maryland, lives up to its name: It's home to a post office, one church, a volunteer fire company and approximately 40 houses. Accident, Maryland, (population: 325), whose residents are called "Accidentals," has a slightly more interesting backstory.

17. Maryland crab cakes may be too popular for their own good. A recent study found that a full 38 percent of Maryland crab cakes contained imported crab. DNA tests identified eight non-Maryland crab species in crab cakes sold throughout the region. “This is kind of a not-so-secret secret in this area,” a representative for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources told TIME magazine. Maryland fisheries simply do not produce enough crab meat to keep up with the demand, he said, so local restaurants get their crab elsewhere. The crustacean fraud pays off—on average, “Maryland” crab cakes cost $2.12 more apiece than their unlabeled counterparts.

18. The first-ever six-pack of beer was sold in Maryland by the National Brewing Company. That company would later become Baltimore’s iconic National Bohemian, or Natty Boh, as the locals call it.

19. Baltimore’s National Great Blacks in Wax Museum is not your average wax museum. The exhibitions do celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of famous African Americans, but they also highlight overlooked or horrific moments in American history. Each year, the museum sees nearly 300,000 visitors.

20. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written in Maryland in 1814. Francis Scott Key penned the song that would become our national anthem while watching British forces attempting to take the city of Baltimore.

21. Satirist and legendary grump H.L. Mencken called his home city of Baltimore “an immense protein factory” [PDF]. Other famous Baltimoreans include Frederick Douglass, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Adrienne Rich, Babe Ruth, Ira and Philip Glass, Henrietta Lacks, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Frank Zappa.

22. Maryland is home to the country’s first railroad station (1830), first umbrella factory (1828), first telegraph line (1844), and first dental school (1840).

Image Credit: Eric Christensen

23. Maryland’s Smith Island used to be famous for one thing: the layer cake that bears its name. Smith Island Cake, which features between eight and 15 thin layers covered in thick frosting, was named the official state dessert in 2008. These days, Smith Island has a less-pleasant claim to fame: it’s sinking. Scientists estimate the island’s shores might be totally submerged by 2100.

24. The most famous Maryland island may be Assateague, where herds of feral ponies have lived for hundreds of years, eating dune grass and drinking pond water. Whether the animals are true ponies or small, strange horses is up for debate, but everyone can agree that they’re great.

25. Like a crunchy lovechild of Punxsutawney Phil and Paul the psychic octopus, a blue crab named Baltimore Bill had a brief run at psychically predicting the weather. The Old Bay spice company set up two chutes on a dock, one labeled “WARM FALL” and the other “EARLY WINTER,” then let Bill go. In 2012, his predictions failed; in 2013, he was closer to the mark.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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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.

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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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25 of Oscar Wilde's Wittiest Quotes
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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.

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