Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Spirited Facts About Massachusetts

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

As the birthplace of the Revolution and the birthplace of TV dinners, Massachusetts history is synonymous with that of America. Here are 25 New Englandbred facts you may not have known about the Bay State. 

1. Somerville, Massachusetts is home to MOBA or the Museum of Bad Art, which describes itself as “the only museum dedicated to bringing the worst of art to the widest of audiences.” Some notable pieces include the Mana Lisa and a Georges Seuratstyle paining of a man sitting on a chamber pot titled Sunday on the Pot With George.

2. Massachusetts has a State Polka titled “Say Hello to Someone from Massachusetts.”

3. As of last year, Massachusetts was tied with Maryland for the lowest divorce rate in the nation. 

4. Marshmallow Fluff was invented by a Somerville candy shop owner in 1917. Today, the town hosts the annual “What the Fluff?” festival in honor of their sweet legacy.

5. Central Massachusetts’s Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaoggagoggchaubunaguhgamaugg has the longest place name in the U.S. and the sixth longest in the world. The name comes from the language of the Nipmuc tribe and it was long rumored to mean "You fish on your side, I fish on my side, and nobody fish in the middle." That myth has since been dispelled, with a more accurate translation thought to be, "Englishmen at Manchaug at the fishing place at the boundary although.” Though most locals simply refer to it as Webster Lake, the town is home to a sign displaying the full 45 letter of the name.

Doug Kerr, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

6. In the 1920s, Clarence Birdseye developed his revolutionary frozen food brand in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Springfield shoppers were the first to find frozen meals in their grocery stores in 1930.

7. Another staple of American suburbia, the plastic pink flamingo, was invented in 1957 in Leominster, Massachusetts.

8. In the 1972 election, even after an FBI investigation revealed his campaign had been responsible for the Watergate break-in, Richard Nixon secured the vote of every state but one: Massachusetts. 

9. Today, Fenway’s 60-by-60-foot CITGO sign is considered a Boston icon, a designation that saved it from near destruction in 1982. In light of the energy crisis of the 1970s, the neon behemoth was dimmed for years at a time. CITGO was getting ready to tear it down completely when the Boston Landmarks Commission announced it was considering making it a city landmark. The workers who were assigned to dismantle it were forced to drag down their equipment which they had already hauled up to the roof in preparation. 

10. Boston’s Ted Williams Tunnel is the deepest in North America, reaching 90 feet below the surface. 

11. MIT’s “Project Whirlwind” resulted in the first-ever digital computer that operated in real time. It was originally developed during World War II as part of a research project to design a universal flight simulator for the Navy. 

12. Rockport, Massachusetts, is home to a cottage built with approximately 100,000 newspapers. The house was constructed over the course of 20 years using newspapers, varnish, and homemade glue. Today it’s open to the public as a museum (admission is $1.50 for adults).

DISNEY_DEN, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

13. The first Fig Newtons were baked in Cambridge in 1891. The fruity pastries got the latter half of their name from the Massachusetts town of Newton—not from the guy who discovered gravity. 

14. If one man has his way, Shrewsbury, Mass., will soon be home to Busta Rhymes Island. (The island has "rope swinging, blueberries, and … stuff Busta would enjoy," Kevin O'Brien said of his pick.) Unfortunately, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names stipulates that places may not be named after a celebrity until five years after his or her death. Not one to be deterred, O'Brien has used Google maps to geo-tag the 40-foot-by-40-foot island, and is hoping that the name will stick, at least locally.

15. Massachusetts is the birthplace of both basketball (invented in Springfield in 1891) and volleyball (invented in Holyoke in 1895).

16. The first-ever Dunkin Donuts opened in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1948. Today, there’s a Massachusetts location for every 6500 people in the state. In the state's capital of Boston, residents are never more than 1.45 miles away from a Dunkin’.

17. In Massachusetts, it’s technically illegal to use tomatoes in the production of clam chowder (tomatoes are a key ingredient in the Manhattan-style version, not the classic New England dish). 

18. In 1919, 26 million pounds of of molasses flooded Boston’s North End, killing 21 people and injuring another 150. Locals claimed that the scent of molasses could be smelled on warm days for decades to follow. 

19. For the first few decades of our nation’s history Maine was a part of Massachusetts. In 1820, Massachusetts became 30,000 square miles smaller when Maine finally received statehood of its own. 

20. Boston is home to America’s oldest public beach, public park, and subway system.

21. One-hundred twenty-one years after the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth, a 10-ton boulder was identified as its specific landing spot. The evidence behind the claim was questionable—there’s no written record of the pilgrims ever disembarking onto a rock—but the rock became a patriotic symbol nonetheless. Over the course of American history, the rock was relocated, accidentally broken, and cemented back together multiple times. People visited the landmark with chisels and hammers to break off pieces to take home with them. After years of being dropped and whittled away, the current rock is estimated to be about a third of its original size. On top of that, only a third of what remains today is visible above the sand, often resulting in disappointed reactions from tourists to Plymouth. 

Bill Ilot, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

22. The infamous town of Salem, Massachusetts is home to many modern-day Wiccan and Pagan organizations today including W.E.B (the Witches Education Bureau) and P.R.A.N.C.E. (the Pagan Resource and Network Council of Educators).

23. In Boston, Cheers fans can visit the real-life bar that inspired the setting of the iconic sitcom. After scouting several locations in the city, the Bull & Finch tavern in Beacon Hill was eventually chosen by the show’s producers. In 2002, the establishment officially changed its name to “Cheers.” 

24. After a petition from Massachusetts schoolchildren, the corn muffin was finally recognized as the official state muffin in 1986.

25. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, was the primary filming location for Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic Jaws. The location was partly chosen was because the surrounding ocean bed had a depth of 35 feet for up to 12 miles offshore, which was ideal for rigging the mechanical shark. 

(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.
The Time Carl Akeley Killed a Leopard With His Bare Hands
(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.
(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.

Carl Akeley had plenty of close encounters with animals in his long career as a naturalist and taxidermist. There was the time a bull elephant had charged him on Mount Kenya, nearly crushing him; the time he was unarmed and charged by three rhinos who missed him, he said later, only because the animals had such poor vision; and the time the tumbling body of a silverback gorilla he'd just shot almost knocked him off a cliff. This dangerous tradition began on his very first trip to Africa, where, on an otherwise routine hunting trip, the naturalist became the prey.

It was 1896. Following stints at Ward’s Natural Science Establishment and the Milwaukee Public Museum, Akeley, 32, had just been appointed chief taxidermist for Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, and he was tasked with gathering new specimens to bolster the 3-year-old museum's fledgling collections. After more than four months of travel and numerous delays, the expedition had reached the plains of Ogaden, a region of Ethiopia, where Akeley hunted for specimens for days without success.

Then, one morning, Akeley managed to shoot a hyena shortly after he left camp. Unfortunately, “one look at his dead carcass was enough to satisfy me that he was not as desirable as I had thought, for his skin was badly diseased,” he later wrote in his autobiography, In Brightest Africa. He shot a warthog, a fine specimen, but what he really wanted was an ostrich—so he left the carcass behind, climbed a termite hill to look for the birds, then took off after a pair he saw in the tall grass.

But the ostriches eluded him at every turn, so he returned to camp and grabbed the necessary tools to cut off the head of his warthog. However, when he and a “pony boy” got to the spot where he’d left the carcass, all that remained was a bloodstain. “A crash in the bushes at one side led me in a hurry in that direction and a little later I saw my pig's head in the mouth of a hyena travelling up the slope of a ridge out of range,” Akeley wrote. “That meant that my warthog specimen was lost, and, having got no ostriches, I felt it was a pretty poor day.”

As the sun began to set, Akeley and the boy turned back to camp. “As we came near to the place where I had shot the diseased hyena in the morning, it occurred to me that perhaps there might be another hyena about the carcass, and feeling a bit ‘sore’ at the tribe for stealing my warthog, I thought I might pay off the score by getting a good specimen of a hyena for the collections,” he wrote. But that carcass was gone, too, with a drag trail in the sand leading into the bush.

Akeley heard a sound, and, irritated, “did a very foolish thing,” firing into the bush without seeing what he was shooting at. He knew, almost immediately, that he'd made a mistake: The answering snarl told him that what he’d fired at was not a hyena at all, but a leopard.

The taxidermist began thinking of all the things he knew about the big cats. A leopard, he wrote,

“... has all the qualities that gave rise to the ‘nine lives’ legend: To kill him you have got to kill him clear to the tip of his tail. Added to that, a leopard, unlike a lion, is vindictive. A wounded leopard will fight to a finish practically every time, no matter how many chances it has to escape. Once aroused, its determination is fixed on fight, and if a leopard ever gets hold, it claws and bites until its victim is in shreds. All this was in my mind, and I began looking about for the best way out of it, for I had no desire to try conclusions with a possibly wounded leopard when it was so late in the day that I could not see the sights of my rifle.”

Akeley beat a hasty retreat. He’d return the next morning, he figured, when he could see better; if he’d wounded the leopard, he could find it again then. But the leopard had other ideas. It pursued him, and Akeley fired again, even though he couldn’t see enough to aim. “I could see where the bullets struck as the sand spurted up beyond the leopard. The first two shots went above her, but the third scored. The leopard stopped and I thought she was killed.”

The leopard had not been killed. Instead, she charged—and Akeley’s magazine was empty. He reloaded the rifle, but as he spun to face the leopard, she leapt on him, knocking it out of his hands. The 80-pound cat landed on him. “Her intention was to sink her teeth into my throat and with this grip and her forepaws hang to me while with her hind claws she dug out my stomach, for this pleasant practice is the way of leopards,” Akeley wrote. “However, happily for me, she missed her aim.” The wounded cat had landed to one side; instead of Akeley’s throat in her mouth, she had his upper right arm, which had the fortuitous effect of keeping her hind legs off his stomach.

It was good luck, but the fight of Akeley’s life had just begun.

Using his left hand, he attempted to loosen the leopard’s hold. “I couldn't do it except little by little,” he wrote. “When I got grip enough on her throat to loosen her hold just a little she would catch my arm again an inch or two lower down. In this way I drew the full length of the arm through her mouth inch by inch.”

He felt no pain, he wrote, “only of the sound of the crushing of tense muscles and the choking, snarling grunts of the beast.” When his arm was nearly free, Akeley fell on the leopard. His right hand was still in her mouth, but his left hand was still on her throat. His knees were on her chest and his elbows in her armpits, “spreading her front legs apart so that the frantic clawing did nothing more than tear my shirt.”

It was a scramble. The leopard tried to twist around and gain the advantage, but couldn’t get purchase on the sand. “For the first time,” Akeley wrote, “I began to think and hope I had a chance to win this curious fight.”

He called for the boy, hoping he’d bring a knife, but received no response. So he held on to the animal and “continued to shove the hand down her throat so hard she could not close her mouth and with the other I gripped her throat in a stranglehold.” He bore down with his full weight on her chest, and felt a rib crack. He did it again—another crack. “I felt her relax, a sort of letting go, although she was still struggling. At the same time I felt myself weakening similarly, and then it became a question as to which would give up first.”

Slowly, her struggle ceased. Akeley had won. He lay there for a long time, keeping the leopard in his death grip. “After what seemed an interminable passage of time I let go and tried to stand, calling to the pony boy that it was finished.” The leopard, he later told Popular Science Monthly, had then shown signs of life; Akeley used the boy’s knife to make sure it was really, truly dead.

Akeley’s arm was shredded, and he was weak—so weak that he couldn’t carry the leopard back to camp. “And then a thought struck me that made me waste no time,” he told Popular Science. “That leopard has been eating the horrible diseased hyena I had killed. Any leopard bite is liable to give one blood poison, but this particular leopard’s mouth must have been exceptionally foul.”

He and the boy must have been quite the sight when they finally made it back to camp. His companions had heard the shots, and figured Akeley had either faced off with a lion or the natives; whatever the scenario, they figured Akeley would prevail or be defeated before they could get to him, so they kept on eating dinner. But when Akeley appeared, with “my clothes ... all ripped, my arm ... chewed into an unpleasant sight, [with] blood and dirt all over me,” he wrote in In Brightest Africa, “my appearance was quite sufficient to arrest attention.”

He demanded all the antiseptics the camp had to offer. After he'd been washed with cold water, “the antiseptic was pumped into every one of the innumerable tooth wounds until my arm was so full of the liquid that an injection in one drove it out of another,” he wrote. “During the process I nearly regretted that the leopard had not won.”

When that was done, Akeley was taken to his tent, and the dead leopard was brought in and laid out next to his cot. Her right hind leg was wounded—which, he surmised, had come from his first shot into the brush, and was what had thrown off her pounce—and she had a flesh wound in the back of her neck where his last shot had hit her, “from the shock of which she had instantly recovered.”

Not long after his close encounter with the leopard, the African expedition was cut short when its leader contracted malaria, and Akeley returned to Chicago. The whole experience, he wrote to a friend later, transported him back to a particular moment at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which he’d visited after creating taxidermy mounts for the event. “As I struggled to wrest my arm from the mouth of the leopard I recalled vividly a bronze at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, depicting the struggle between a man and bear, the man’s arm in the mouth of the bear,” he wrote. “I had stood in front of this bronze one afternoon with a doctor friend and we discussed the probable sensations of a man in this predicament, wondering whether or not the man would be sensible to the pain of the chewing and the rending of his flesh by the bear. I was thinking as the leopard tore at me that now I knew exactly what the sensations were, but that unfortunately I would not live to tell my doctor friend.”

In the moment, though, there had been no pain, “just the joy of a good fight,” Akeley wrote, “and I did live to tell my [doctor] friend all about it.”

Additional source: Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
Meghan Markle Is Related to H.H. Holmes, America’s First Serial Killer, According to New Documentary
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network

Between staging paparazzi photos and writing open letters to Prince Harry advising him to call off his wedding, Meghan Markle’s family has been keeping the media pretty busy lately. But it turns out that her bloodline's talent for grabbing headlines dates back much further than the announcement that Markle and Prince Harry were getting hitched—and for much more sinister reasons. According to Meet the Markles, a new television documentary produced for England’s Channel Four, the former Suits star has a distant relation to H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer.

The claim comes from Holmes’s great-great-grandson, American lawyer Jeff Mudgett, who recently discovered that he and Markle are eighth cousins. If that connection is correct, then it would mean that Markle, too, is related to Holmes.

While finding out that you’re related—however distantly—to a man believed to have murdered 27 people isn’t something you’d probably want to share with Queen Elizabeth II when asking her to pass the Yorkshire pudding over Christmas dinner, what makes the story even more interesting is that Mudgett believes that his great-great-grandpa was also Jack the Ripper!

Mudgett came to this conclusion based on Holmes’s personal diaries, which he inherited. In 2017, American Ripper—an eight-part History Channel series—investigated Mudgett’s belief that Holmes and Jack were indeed one in the same.

When asked about his connection to Markle, and their shared connection to Holmes—and, possibly, Jack the Ripper—Mudgett replied:

“We did a study with the FBI and CIA and Scotland Yard regarding handwriting analysis. It turns out [H. H. Holmes] was Jack the Ripper. This means Meghan is related to Jack the Ripper. I don’t think the Queen knows. I am not proud he is my ancestor. Meghan won’t be either.”

Shortly thereafter he clarified his comments via his personal Facebook page:

In the 130 years since Jack the Ripper terrorized London’s Whitechapel neighborhood, hundreds of names have been put forth as possible suspects, but authorities have never been able to definitively conclude who committed the infamous murders. So if Alice's Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll could have done it, why not the distant relative of the royal family's newest member?

[h/t: ID CrimeFeed]


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