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Chloe Effron

25 Major Facts About Mississippi

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Chloe Effron

When people think of the deep south, Mississippi is among the first states mentioned. A region rich in culture (and controversy), there are lots of stories to be told about the people, music, geography, and politics of the state. To pique your interest, here are 25 things you may not know about Mississippi.

1. Mississippi became the 20th state to join the Union on December 10, 1817. Despite launching a large promotional campaign with buttons, posters, and thousands of postcards, the state’s centennial celebration was canceled in 1917 because of the start of World War I. Preparations for the bicentennial are already under way; events will include a "Capitol for a Day" initiative, as well as the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History.

2. The state is named after the Mississippi River. The native word for the river (coined by the Ojibwa tribe) was messipi, which means “Big River.” 

3. Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, is named after General Andrew Jackson in honor of his victory at the Battle of New Orleans in January of 1815.

4. Root beer was invented in Biloxi in 1898 by Edward Adolf Barq, Sr. of Biloxi Artesian Bottling Works. The Barq’s Root Beer company is now owned by Coca-Cola and is based in Atlanta.

Dyxie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

5. Blues music was born in the Mississippi Delta, the northwest section of the state between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. Iconic blues musicians who hail from the state include B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt, Lead Belly, and Little Freddie King, just to name a few.

6. The University of Mississippi is home to the Marijuana Research Project, the only federally-funded center devoted to growing cannabis and investigating the plant's medical effects. Just this March, the National Institute for Health earmarked $68.8 million for the center's efforts.

7.
Mississippi has more churches per capita than any other state in the country, and they’re not just buildings taking up space; a 2009 Gallup poll found that people in the state actually go to church more frequently than residents of any other state. 

8. According to a 2011 report by the Mississippi Forestry Commission, 63 percent of the state’s land area is covered in forest, which amounts to 19.5 million acres.

9. The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865, was not ratified by Mississippi until 2013. In 1995, lawmakers had finally voted to ratify the amendment, but the paperwork was never sent to the U.S. Archivist to be made official.

10. The term “teddy bear” originated in Mississippi when President Theodore Roosevelt refused to kill a trapped bear during a hunting trip near Onward, Mississippi in 1902. A Brooklyn candy shop owner saw a political cartoon depicting Roosevelt and the bear and was inspired to create a stuffed animal that he called “Teddy’s Bear.”

Clifford Kennedy Berryman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


11. Legendary puppeteer Jim Henson was born in Greenville and spent his childhood in Leland, Mississippi. The town still honors Henson’s Mississippi roots with the Birthplace of Kermit the Frog Museum and the Rainbow Connection Bridge.

12. The late '80s-early '90s drama series In the Heat of the Night (based on a film and book of the same title) was set in the fictionalized town of Sparta, Mississippi. There is a real Sparta, but the television show was filmed elsewhere, in Hammond, Louisiana, and Covington, Georgia.

13. Ridgeland, Mississippi, may be home to the country's most picturesque (not to mention patriotic) cell phone towers: a structure shaped like the Washington Monument

14. Pine Sol, the cleaning and deodorizing product, was developed in 1929 by chemist Harry A. Cole, who lived in a pine forest near Jackson, Mississippi.

15. Mississippi is the farm-raised catfish capital of the United States, with over 100,000 acres of catfish ponds.

16. In 1963, Dr. James Hardy at the University of Mississippi performed the first human lung transplant. One year later, he performed the first animal-human heart transplant. The patient, who received a chimpanzee heart, lived 90 minutes after the operation.

17. Coca-Cola was invented in Atlanta in 1866, but it was only sold as a fountain drink for nearly 30 years. Joseph Biedenharn decided to bottle the drink for the first time in 1894 at a plant in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Fuzzy Gerdes, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

18. In the 1940s, the town of Pascagoula had a hard time figuring out the mystery of the bizarre “Phantom Barber.” The serial hair-snipper would break into homes to steal locks of hair and then slip away into the night. When it was all said and done, a man named William Dolan was caught and charged with attempted murder. But after serving six years of his 10-year sentence, Dolan passed a lie detector test and was set free.

19. On April 12, 1974, the state officially named the Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) its state shell, becoming one of only 14 states to have one.

20. The magnolia is both the state flower and the state tree of Mississippi, thanks to two separate elections by schoolchildren.

21. In 2002, 48-year-old marathon swimmer Martin Strel swam the entire length of the Mississippi River. The 2,414-mile swim took a total of 68 days to complete.

Strel World Swim on YouTube

22. Mark Twain had a literary love affair with the Mississippi River and wrote about it often. One of his most famous works centered around the river and places along its path is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

23. The 26-mile section of the Mississippi Gulf Coast that stretches from Biloxi to Henderson Point is the longest man-made beach in the world.

24. The Nina Simone song "Mississippi Goddamn" was written and composed in an hour. The song was a response to violence against Blacks in the South, prompted by the murder of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi on June 12, 1963 and the bombing of a church in Birmingham. The song was named one of the top 20 protest songs of all time by The New Statesman in 2010.

25. No one seems to know the origin of using the word “Mississippi” to count seconds, and even people outside of the United States were taught to use the state’s name. “I was taught ‘one Mississippi’ etc. even in England,” wrote one person on a blog titled Separated by a Common Language. In a similar thread on reddit, someone wrote, “Australian, I go ‘One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand,’ but also did Mississippi growing up.”

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Chloe Effron
25 Transportable Facts About Michigan
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Chloe Effron

It's hard to ignore the hugely influential part Michigan has played in 20th century engineering, music, and natural resources. Take a look at 25 facts that prove the Wolverine State—which is celebrating its 180th birthday today—is more than the sum of its auto parts.

1. Recognized as the 26th state in the union in 1837, Michigan is taken from the Indian word Michigama: it means a "large lake."

2. They almost went to war with Ohio. Prior to becoming a state, the Michigan territory took issue with Ohio claiming the mouth of the Maumee River in Toledo as its own property. Things came to a head in 1836, when militia forces from both sides marched into the wilderness to oppose one another. They never came in contact; blood was drawn only when the son of one Ohio military officer tried to rescue his father from a Michigan jail by stabbing a sheriff in the thigh. Congress insisted Michigan accept the boundary line and cede Toledo in order to gain statehood—they reluctantly agreed.

3. When Michigan was a new state in 1837, they immediately set about constructing railroads, river transportation, and other infrastructure to make shipping goods easier. Part of this was facilitated by President Andrew Jackson’s sour attitude toward bankers and lack of formal regulation. The state let virtually anyone open their own bank; land speculation ran rampant, leading to institutional failures and nearly bankrupting the state before it had even gotten started.

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4. Michigan was the first state to ban the death penalty. After Detroit bar owner Stephen Simmons was hanged for murdering his wife in 1830, newspapers and religious leaders began to criticize the brutal practice and petitioned for its abolishment. When another hanged man was later found to be innocent, the public movement became so influential that state legislature banned the practice in 1847. (You could still, however, be executed for treason through 1963.)

5. Michigan was an early and outspoken opponent of slavery and welcomed refugees from the Underground Railroad. When former slave Adam Crosswhite fled Kentucky in 1843, he settled in Marshall. When Kentuckians came to the state in 1847 searching for Crosswhite, citizens intervened and had the mob jailed while Crosswhite headed for Canada.

6. Battle Creek was once the unofficial capital of breakfast cereal. When physician John Harvey Kellogg assumed duties at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in the late 1800s, he advised a strict diet and exercise regimen, including a flaked cereal he developed called Granose. When businessman C.W. Post visited the center in 1891 and tried to convince Kellogg to market his cereal, Kellogg wasn’t interested—so Post came up with some of his own, including Grape Nuts. The Kellogg family later started the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company in 1906, ushering in the modern age of soggy carb-and-milk bowls.

7. Michigan’s thriving lumber industry meant the state's economy became inextricably tied to the manufacture of carriages and wagons, which soon would give way to the automobile. Henry Ford’s Model T became the standard for carmakers to follow, with reasonable production prices and satisfied consumers. (At under $300, the vehicle was half the price of the competition.) Introduced in 1908, it led the way for Ford Motors to claim over half of all auto sales by the 1920s.

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8. Ford’s assembly-line ingenuity and production cleverness came at a price: workers in his Detroit-area factories experienced a high turnover due to the repetitive nature of their tasks. Eager to keep employees happy, Ford paid them $5 a day, double what a typical auto plant worker made in 1913. They now earned enough to actually buy a Model T of their own.

9. The auto workers wouldn’t stay placated forever. As labor unions began to gain momentum in the industry, workers at General Motors engaged in a sit-down strike in 1936. They wanted to be represented in negotiations by the United Auto Workers, which GM resisted. For 44 days, employees occupied the Flint plant; GM tried turning off the heat and enlisted help of local police, to little avail. The workers had succeeded in turning off the spigot of production, with the company going from 50,000 cars in December to 125 in February. President Franklin Roosevelt advised the sides to make peace: GM eventually relented, with the UAW insisting on salary increases and better working conditions.

10. All of those auto plants—Michigan held more than 75 percent of the world’s car factories—became crucial during World War II. Many automakers converted their resources into providing jeeps, tanks, and other combat tools to Allied forces. Over 350,000 people came into the state to fill labor openings; President Roosevelt declared Detroit the “Arsenal of Democracy.”  

11. One Michigan radio station emitted what’s believed to be the first news broadcast on radio. On August 31, 1920, the Detroit News aired a news segment reporting election results on company-owned station WWJ. The paper had bought the station (then known as 8MK) to offset concerns that the instant communication of a broadcast might eventually replace printed news.  

12. The state had a real problem with quicksand. In 1926, the Barnes-Hecker Mine in Ishpeming suffered a catastrophic collapse when an explosion opened up a tunnel to a nearby bit of swampland. Muddy, sandy soil poured in, killing all but one of the 52 miners working. It’s considered the worst industrial accident in the state’s history.

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13. Berry Gordy founded Motown (“Motor Town”) Records in Detroit in 1959 using $800 he borrowed from his family. Gordy was influenced by his time as an assembly-line worker at Lincoln-Mercury, using the raw steel he saw transformed into sleek vehicles as a metaphor for the young talent he nurtured into massive successes. The label would go on to introduce some of the most influential artists of the century, including Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder.

14. Christmas, Michigan (pop. 400, not counting the numerous roadside Santa cutouts), was founded in 1938 after a man from nearby Munising opened up a roadside stand to sell holiday gifts.

15. Holiday spirit can also be found year-round in Frankenmuth, home of Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, the world's largest Christmas store. The retailer and its landscaped grounds cover a total of 27 acres.

16. Have a thing for beards and buffalo plaid? Mackinaw City hosts the Jack Pine Lumberjack Show, in which two woodsmen compete in events like log rolling, axe throwing, pole climbing, and, of course, wood and springboard chopping. 

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17. It's home to a giant fist. To honor Detroit resident and heavyweight champion Joe Louis, the city displays a 24-foot long bronze arm and fist downtown. The sculpture was a gift from Sports Illustrated in 1987 to the Detroit Institute of Arts.

18. Tombstones in Forest Hill Cemetery and Schoolcraft's Harrison Cemetery have been known to emit eerie glows at night, with reports of the phenomenon dating back to the 19th century. The weirdest part: get too close, and the glow seems to fade. One 1988 investigation by a local journalist turned up nothing, after he ruled out, with help from experts, reflections from car headlights and surrounding buildings and "phosphorescent headstone materials." 

19. An ancient fungus known as Armillaria gallica was discovered in 1992 in Crystal Falls. The 37 acres of living organism could be up to 10,000 years old. An annual festival is held each year in the spore’s honor.

20. It hosted the body slam heard around the world. In 1987, Vince McMahon’s burgeoning WWF franchise hosted WrestleMania III in Detroit’s massive Pontiac Silverdome. In front of one of the largest indoor crowds ever assembled for a sporting (or sport-like) event, Hulk Hogan defeated Andre the Giant by heaving him nearly over his head and slamming him to the mat. Suffering from the neglect brought on by the city’s decaying economy, the Silverdome is scheduled to be demolished in 2016.

21. Lawmakers in Flint won’t tolerate saggy pants. The town passed an ordinance in 2008 barring residents from wearing anything that drops below the buttocks based on what then-police chief David Dicks dubbed “indecent exposure.” Violators could be arrested.

22. Residents like to call each other names: those living in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) are known as “Yoopers,” while those living under the Mackinac Bridge are affectionately (we think) called “trolls.”

iStock

23. It has a monorail. The Detroit “People Mover” was unveiled in the mid-1980s and runs across 2.9 miles, carrying passengers for free.  Because it was originally intended to be part of a larger public transport system that never materialized, the Mover has been criticized for its inadequate reach and general pointlessness. 

24. Colon, Michigan, is known as the magic capital of the world. The small town (pop. 1200) began to credit itself as a home base for illusionists after performers like Harry Blackstone and Percy Abbott took up residence there. Numerous magic supply stores sprung up, with many remaining to this day.

Universal

25. Mackinac Island has become an unlikely tourist destination. In 1979, parts of the island and the Grand Hotel were used to film Somewhere in Time, a fantasy-romance film starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour: Reeve portrays a playwright who finds a way to travel back in time to meet an actress (Seymour) he saw in a portrait. Based on a story by Richard Matheson, the film was not an immediate commercial success but eventually developed a cult following. Fans gather on the island every year for a convention, with Seymour sometimes making appearances.

This article originally ran in 2015.

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Chloe Effron
25 Homegrown Facts About Idaho
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Chloe Effron

Easily recognized as potato country, 152-year-old Idaho (pop. 1.6 million) has emerged as one of the country’s most productive agricultural states. But that’s hardly the only reason to take a closer look. Check out 25 facts that prove there’s more to the area than just spuds.

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1. It used to be a rectangle. When Idaho was recognized as a territory by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, it included Montana and most of Wyoming, creating a nicely geometric shape. But poor winter traveling conditions made it hard for residents to get around, and the size of the land made it difficult for government authorities to organize. When Wyoming broke off in 1868, the territory was left with its slightly jagged imprint on the map. 

2. Boise was named the capital owing to similar travel difficulties. After lawmakers found that arriving in distant Lewiston was proving stressful, they voted to move the capital to Boise in 1864.

3. Latah County, created in 1888, is the only county in the U.S. ever created by an act of Congress. The move was made to pacify citizens in Northern Idaho who had petitioned to annex themselves to Washington the year before.

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4. The state held a contest in 1891 to find an official seal. The winner, Boise City’s Emma Edwards, became the first woman to design an emblem for any state. (She also won $100.) It was later redesigned in 1957 (above) to better reflect their agricultural, mining, and forestry commerce.  

5. The archetype of the pacifistic farmer wasn’t always accurate here: tensions between sheep herders and cattle ranchers over water and land resources for their animals resulted in two sheep farmers being murdered in 1896. Professional enforcer “Diamondfield” Jack Davis was tried and convicted for the killings, but later pardoned when two others confessed.

6. That same year, the Montpelier Bank became infamous for being knocked over by legendary outlaw Butch Cassidy. He stole over $7000, allegedly to pay the lawyer for a friend of his on trial for murder. Authorities searched for Cassidy for over a week, but he had made his escape.

7. The Coeur D’Alene mining controversy remains one of the most notorious chapters in the state’s history. In July 1892, union miners rallied against wage reductions and longer shifts by rioting at the mine, where scab workers had been assembled. After the violence ended in the death of several men, the National Guard was brought in to restore order. 

8. Idaho took a proactive approach to forest fire prevention. By stationing men and women on tree chairs (and later steel towers) 15 feet to 54 feet in the air, workers could spot smoke from an encroaching fire and alert park workers before it could spread. (Fire wasn’t the only hazard: One lookout was struck and killed by lightning while on duty.)

9. It’s the home of the first ski lift. Union Pacific Railroad felt that the slopes of Sun Valley in Idaho would be able to attract skiers for their snow fix. UPR engineer James Curran came up with the chair lift concept in 1936, which he modeled on the banana hooks that would carry fruit on to boats.

10. Walt Disney got married there in 1925. His wife-to-be, Lillian Bounds, was born in Lewiston and had come to California to visit her sister; after getting a job as an inker at Disney Productions, she met Walt and the two grew close. They were wed at a family house in Lewiston; Bounds is credited with naming her husband’s signature mouse “Mickey.”

11. No one has done more for potatoes than J.R. Simplot, who stumbled upon the idea for dehydrating them in 1941 by using a prune drying machine. The Dubuque-born farmer developed flash-frozen and cut potatoes for fries that would become a staple of freezers and fast-service restaurants everywhere. His license plate read “Mr. Spud.”

12. It introduced the world to atomic power. Idaho’s National Reactor Testing Station became the first site of nuclear fission being converted into electricity in 1951. In 1955, the Atomic Energy Commission was able to power the town of Arco for an entire hour with nuclear energy.

Teresa Bear, Flickr // CC BY CC0 1.0

13. It was hiding an extinct species of horse. Rancher Elmer Cook stumbled upon the remains in 1928 and soon the Smithsonian Institution was digging up more than three tons of specimens—including a complete skeleton—of the “Hagerman horse” in 1929.  It’s the earliest known fossil of the horse, though it actually might have more in common with zebras.

14. Evel Knievel met his match there. In 1974, the famed daredevil attempted to “jump” the 1600-foot width of Snake River Canyon in a custom-built “Skycycle.” The contraption sprung its parachute early, leaving Knievel in a heap at the bottom. Daredevils are still plotting ways to cross the Canyon, though no one has been successful yet.

15. Snake River was also a culprit in one of the state’s biggest disasters. The Teton Dam gave way in 1976, submerging thousands of homes and drowning countless cattle. The waters were stopped by the American Falls reservoir.

16. Fate didn’t give them much of a break: four years later, the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in Washington showered northern Idaho with a layer of volcanic ash.

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17. Usually, they have their lava under control. The Craters of the Moon is an area near Snake River full of post-volcanic fissures, fields, and tubes. At the heart of the 75-square-mile landmark is the Great Rift, a 52-mile-long crack in the Earth’s crust. It was declared a National Monument by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 and later used by NASA as terrestrial training ground for the Apollo 14 astronauts.

18. All that ash might actually be why Idaho potatoes are world-renowned. According to the Idaho Potato Museum, volcanic debris makes for light, mineral-rich soil that’s ideal for spud production.  

19. Potatoes are really kind of small potatoes when it comes to Idaho’s major export. The arguably bigger contribution is television, which was invented by Philo T. Farnsworth for his Rigby high school chemistry class in 1922. The plan for image-producing electrons Farnsworth came up with would later become the crucial piece in his 1927 television prototype.

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20. They can lay claim to one of the world’s greatest athletes. Olympic decathlon gold medalist Dan O’Brien went to the University of Idaho and trained in the state for the 1992 Games, for which he failed to qualify due to failing on the pole vault. He returned in 1996 and conquered the competition.

21. Idaho’s Capitol Building is about as green as it gets: the structure is heated using geothermal water pumped from hot springs more than 3000 feet below the surface. Over 200 homes near Boise are also able to benefit from the system to keep warm, with the water reaching temperatures of 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

22. Author Edgar Rice Burroughs spent a chunk of his pre-Tarzan life toiling in Idaho, working as a cattle ranch hand near Pocatello before opening a stationery store and buying a houseboat. He once ran into fellow Idahoan Ernest Hemingway in Honolulu; despite his wife’s prodding, he was too shy to go say hello.

23. Adam West lives in Ketchum part of the year. If you look up his name in the local phone book, you’re advised to instead search for “Wayne, Bruce.”  

24. They have their own Loch Ness-esque mystery. The Bear Lake Monster at the Utah/Idaho border was first spotted in 1868 and described by witnesses as being reptilian or bear-like (or both) in appearance. One possible explanation: swimming elk.

Richard Elzey, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

25. You can thank Idaho for Furby. The mechanical toy fad was co-invented by Boise resident Caleb Chung in 1997, who later sold it to Tiger Electronics. Chung maintained a presence in his Idaho lab, where he also developed Pleo, a robotic dinosaur pet launched in 2006.  

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