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Chloe Effron

25 Spirited Facts About Massachusetts

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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. 

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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Why Your Traditional Thanksgiving Should Include Oysters
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If you want to throw a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need oysters. The mollusks would have been featured prominently on the holiday tables of the earliest American settlers—even if that beloved Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn’t. At the time, oysters were supremely popular additions to the table for coastal colonial settlements, though in some cases, they were seen as a hardship food more than a delicacy.

For one thing, oysters were an easy food source. In the Chesapeake Bay, they were so plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries that ships had to be careful not to run aground on oyster beds, and one visitor in 1702 wrote that they could be pulled up with only a pair of tongs. Native Americans, too, ate plenty of oysters, occasionally harvesting them and feasting for days.

Early colonists ate so many oysters that the population of the mollusks dwindled to dangerously low levels by the 19th century, according to curriculum prepared by a Gettysburg University history professor. In these years, scarcity turned oysters into a luxury item for the wealthy, a situation that prevailed until the 1880s, when oyster production skyrocketed and prices dropped again [PDF]. If you lived on the coast, though, you were probably still downing the bivalves.

Beginning in the 1840s, canning and railroads brought the mollusks to inland regions. According to 1985's The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook, the middle of the 19th century found America in a “great oyster craze,” where “no evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve 'the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests.”

At the turn of the century, oysters were still a Thanksgiving standard. They were on Thanksgiving menus everywhere from New York City's Plaza Hotel to train dining cars, in the form of soup, cocktails, and stuffing.

In 1954, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to promote Thanksgiving oysters to widespread use once again. They sent out a press release [PDF], entitled “Oysters—a Thanksgiving Tradition,” which included the agency’s own recipes for cocktail sauce, oyster bisque, and oyster stuffing.

In the modern era, Thanksgiving oysters have remained most popular in the South. Oyster stuffing is a classic dish in New Orleans, and chefs like Emeril Lagasse have their own signature recipes. If you’re not looking for a celebrity chef’s recipe, perhaps you want to try the Fish and Wildlife Service’s? Check it out below.

Oyster Stuffing

INGREDIENTS

1 pint oysters
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 cups day-old bread cubes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash pepper

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and chop. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes, and seasonings, and mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with oyster liquor. Makes enough for a four-pound chicken.

If you’re using a turkey, the FWS advises that the recipe above provides enough for about every five pounds of bird, so multiply accordingly.

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