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Chloe Effron

25 Rock-Solid Facts About New Hampshire

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Chloe Effron

Home to our country's most badass state motto and some of the worst weather ever recorded, New Hampshire is a lot tougher than most people realize. Here are 25 facts you might not know about the Granite State.

1. In 2008, Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire, was named the largest arcade in the world by Guinness World Records. It’s home to over 600 games, half of which are classic arcade games.

2. At the Anheuser-Busch factory in Merrimack, New Hampshire, guests can visit the home base of the East Coast hitch of the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales.

mgstanton via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

3. The real life inspiration for our national mascot Uncle Sam grew up in Mason, New Hampshire, in the late 18th century. Samuel “Uncle Sam” Wilson later worked for a meat packing company that supplied rations to troops during the War of 1812. When the soldiers who were familiar with Sam saw the letters “U.S.” stamped onto their ration packages, they joked that this stood for “Uncle Sam” Wilson, which is how the legend is said to have been born. Today his childhood home is used as a private residence, but patriotic tourists can read his story on the government landmark sign posted outside the building.

4. Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut to enter space in 1961. He was born and raised in Derry, New Hampshire.

5. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905 officially ended with the Treaty of Portsmouth, whose negotiations took place in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The peace agreement marked the first and only time a foreign war has concluded on U.S. soil.

6. For centuries, the Old Man of the Mountain presided over the White Mountains of New Hampshire as the state’s most recognizable landmark. The distinctive rock formation consisted of five granite cliff ledges jutting out from Cannon Mountain that resembled the striking profile of an old man when viewed from the north. It made appearances on the state’s route signs, license plates, and official quarters, and was even the inspiration for the Nathaniel Hawthorne short story “The Great Stone Face.”

Tragically, the formation collapsed from the face of the mountain on May 3, 2003 after years of thawing and refreezing. Heartbroken New Hampshirites left flowers at the base of the cliff as a tribute; there was even a push to revise the state flag to include the Old Man. Eight years following the collapse, the Profile Plaza opened as a memorial to the landmark, complete with seven “profilers” or steel rods that appear to return the old man to his original spot when viewed from the right angle.

James Walsh via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

7. In 1719, some of the first potatoes grown in America were planted by Scottish-Irish settlers in what is today Derry, New Hampshire. Today, the white potato is recognized as the official state vegetable.

8. Of all the coastal states, New Hampshire has the briefest shoreline, stretching no more than 18 miles.

9. The classic nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was penned by New Hampshire journalist Sarah Josepha Hale in 1830. Hale was also partly responsible for securing Thanksgiving's status as an national holiday. She petitioned federal and state officials to recognize the holiday for years, and after she sent a letter to Abraham Lincoln, he officially proclaimed national observation of the day a week later.

10. In 1833, the citizens of Peterborough, New Hampshire voted to make theirs the first true free public library in the nation.

11. On September 19, 1961, Betty and Barney Hill of Portsmouth were, they claimed, abducted by aliens while driving on Route 3. Though they've both since passed away (Barney in 1969; Betty in 2004), a gas station bathroom in Lincoln, plastered with articles about the couple, now serves as a memorial to them, while the Betty and Barney Hill archive is now a permanent collection at the University of New Hampshire.

12. Concord, New Hampshire clock maker Levi Hutchins invented the first American alarm clock in 1787. He knew he wouldn’t be able to change the time of the alarm after establishing it, so he set it for 4 a.m.—the time he had to get up for work each morning.

13. America’s first documented serial killer, H.H. Holmes, was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, in 1861. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in medicine, and was able to finance his education by stealing corpses and presenting them to insurance companies to substantiate false claims. After moving to Chicago, he transformed an old pharmacy into a "murder castle" that he passed off as a hotel to unsuspecting victims. His body count had reached well into the triple digits by the time he was executed in 1896. Today, visitors to Gilmanton, New Hampshire, can still visit the unassuming house where he was born.

14. A perennial presidential candidate named Vermin Supreme has had his name on the New Hampshire Primary ballot since 2008. His platform centers around something he calls the “pony economy" and prepping for the impending zombie apocalypse; he can be recognized by the giant boot he wears on his head.

Marc Nozell via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

15. Literary heavyweights who have called New Hampshire home include e.e. cummings, Willa Cather, Dan Brown, and Robert Frost.

16. In 1934, gusts reaching 231 miles per hour were recorded atop New Hampshire’s Mount Washington (winds in a Category 5 hurricane must measure at least 156 miles per hour). The mountain held the world record for fastest winds ever recorded on earth until 253 mile per hour speeds were measured on Australia’s Barrow Island in the 1990s. Mt. Washington officials still insist the combination of wicked wind, cold, snow, and freezing fog make the spot home to some of the world’s worst weather.

17. A student named Theodor Geisel graduated from New Hampshire’s historic Ivy League university, Dartmouth, in 1925. After he was caught drinking booze on campus, the college banned him from writing for the school’s humor magazine The Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern. In order to continue writing for them, he adopted the now iconic pen name “Seuss.” He later added the “Dr.” because his father had allegedly always wanted him to become a professor.

18. In 1947, Tupperware's air-tight "tupper seal" was patented by New Hampshire-born Earl Silas Tupper.

19. The state motto, “Live Free or Die,” originated with lifelong New Hampshire resident General John Stark. He was famous for fighting in both the French-Indian War and Revolutionary War, and in 1777, he led his men to victory in the crucial Battle of Bennington as the brigadier general of the New Hampshire militia. He penned a letter to his fellow battle veterans in 1809 that closed with the statement: “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.” In 1845, New Hampshire adopted the first half of the sentiment as its official state motto. It’s considered one of the most memorable of the 50 states, and can be seen at the top of New Hampshire license plates today.

Stripey the crab via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

20. One of comedian George Carlin’s final wishes was to have his ashes scattered in Spofford Lake, New Hampshire, where he attended summer camp as a child. It was there that he performed some of his earliest comedy bits, which won him the camp’s drama award every year he attended. One year the award was a small necklace bearing the iconic comedy and tragedy masks. Carlin held onto this his whole life and was even found wearing it the day he died.

21. In 1991, the entire town of Hill, New Hampshire, was relocated to accommodate the construction of a dam.

23. A 222.5-pound meatball made by Matthew Mitnitsky of Nonni’s Italian Eatery in Concord holds the record for world’s largest meatball (it beat out Jimmy Kimmel’s previous record-holding behemoth by 23 pounds).

24. The 1995 film Jumanji was filmed on location in Keene, New Hampshire. After filming wrapped, Keene residents repainted the Parrish Shoes sign that appears in the movie; after star Robin Williams's 2014 death, it became a makeshift memorial to the beloved comedian.

25. Mystery Hill, a.k.a. “America’s Stonehenge,” consists of rock walls, peculiar stone arrangements, and underground chambers located in the woods of Salem, New Hampshire. The origins of the site remain an archeological mystery, but there are plenty of theories floating around. Explanations from over the years have included astronomy-savvy ancient Native Americans, a migrant group of Irish monks, or just 18th and 19th century farmers whose work has been misinterpreted (most academic archaeologists side with the latter).

NikiSumblime via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
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Assault, Robbery, and Murder: The Dark History of "Bedsheet Ghosts"
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Wearing his finest black outfit, Francis Smith stared nervously at the three judges in London’s main criminal courthouse. A mild-mannered excise tax collector, Smith had no known criminal history and certainly no intention to become the centerpiece of one of 19th century England’s most unusual murder trials. But a week earlier, Smith had made a criminally foolish mistake: He had shot and killed what he believed to be a ghost.

The spectators inside the courthouse sat hushed as the prosecutor and a cross-examiner questioned about half a dozen eyewitnesses. Each person had seen Smith in the village of Hammersmith (now a part of London) the night of the crime, or they had previously seen the ghost that Smith was zealously hunting. One such eyewitness, William Girdler, the village night-watchman and Smith’s ghost-hunting partner, had not only seen the white-sheeted specter lurking across the street—he had chased it.

“When you pursued it,” the cross-examiner asked, “how did it escape?”

“Slipped the sheet or table-cloth off, and then got it over his head,” Girdler responded. “It was just as if his head was in a bag.”

“How long had the neighborhood been alarmed with its appearance?”

“About six weeks or two months.”

“Was the alarm great and general?”

“Yes, very great.”

“Had considerable mischief happened from it?”

“Many people were very much frightened.”

Girdler was telling the truth. The people of Hammersmith had reported seeing a ghost for weeks now, and they were terrified: The specter was verifiably violent. It assaulted men and women, and during its two month campaign of harassment and intimidation, it had successfully evaded capture. Rumors swirled that it could manifest from graves in an instant, and sink back into the mud just as quickly. At the time, the magazine Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum reported that the ghost was “so clever and nimble in its retreats, that they could never be traced.”

When Ann Millwood took the stand, the cross-examiner asked if she was familiar with these reports.

The Hammersmith Ghost.
The Hammersmith ghost

“Yes, I heard great talk of it,” Millwood explained, “that sometimes it appeared in a white sheet, and sometimes in a calf-skin dress, with horns on its head, and glass eyes.” That wasn’t all. The ghost also reportedly took the shape of Napoleon Bonaparte; other accounts said that its eyes radiated like glow-worms and that it breathed fire.

It must have been incredibly difficult for Millwood to describe the ghost’s appearance, especially in front of a public audience. The ghoul she characterized looked nothing like her late brother Thomas, the young man whom Francis Smith had mistakenly murdered.

 
 

In 19th century Britain, seeing a ghost—at least, a person dressed up as one—was not uncommon. Ghost impersonating was something of a fad, with churchyards and cobblestoned alleyways regularly plagued by pranksters, louts, and other sheet-wearing hoaxsters who were up to no good.

Historian Owen Davies tracks the origin of ghost impersonators in his wide-ranging book, The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts, tracing the first reports of fake ghosts to the Reformation, when critics of Catholicism accused the Church of impersonating the dead to convert doubters. (According to one account by the reformer Erasmus, a priest once fastened candles to a cast of crabs and released them in a dark graveyard in hopes of imitating the lost, wandering souls of purgatory.)

But for most ghost impersonators, candle-strapped crustaceans were unnecessary; all you needed was a white sheet. Up until the 19th century, the bodies of the poor weren’t buried in coffins but simply wrapped in fabric—sometimes the sheet of the deathbed—which would be knotted at the head and feet. Ghost impersonators adopted the white sheet as their de facto wardrobe as early as 1584, when Reginald Scott, a member of parliament and witchcraft aficionado, wrote that, “one knave in a white sheet hath cozened [that is, deceived] and abused many thousands that way.” It’s from this practice that the trope of a white-sheeted ghost originated.

Seventeenth and 18th century Britain are sprinkled with accounts of phony phantoms. Take Thomas Wilmot, a famed crook and highwayman who once disguised himself as a spirit to steal money. (His appearance—chalked-up skin and a sheet-bound head—sent a table of gamblers scrambling for an exit. Wilmot pocketed the cash they left on the table.) And by the 1760s, so many white-sheeted pranksters were prowling in cemeteries that annoyed citizens were paying bounties to get rid of them. According to the Annual Register, one ghost in southern Westminster “struck such terror into the credulous inhabitants thereabouts, that those who could not be brought to believe it a ghost, entered into a subscription, to give five guineas to the person, who would seize him.”

These pranks had consequences. In 1792, a ghost impersonator in Essex spooked a farm-worker steering a wagon; the horses jumped, the driver tumbled, and his leg was crushed by one of the wagon’s wheels. He died from his injuries. Twelve years later, soldiers in London’s St. James’s Park spotted the specter of a headless woman, an event that authorities took very seriously, if only because it was distracting—and reportedly harming—its security guards. In the 1830s, a ghost impersonator was tried for manslaughter because he literally frightened an 81-year-old woman to death.

It was dangerous for the so-called ghosts, too. In 1844, six men chased a ghost impersonator and beat him so badly that he had to visit the hospital. In 1888, a mob of 50 villagers—all armed with sticks—surrounded a “ghost” and only released him after he agreed to donate money to a local infirmary. (Some ghost-busts startled investigators for other reasons: Davies writes that, in 1834, an investigation of an unoccupied haunted house revealed “nothing more than some boisterous love-makers.”)

Like many other pastimes in 19th century Britain, ghost impersonating was a gendered activity: Women, especially young female servants, were often restricted to mimicking poltergeist activity indoors—rapping on doors, moving furniture, throwing rocks at windows—while the sheet-wearing hijinks were reserved for young men who, far too often, had scuzzy intentions.

Most accounts of ghost impersonating, both modern and historical, gloss over the fact that men often used their ghostly cover to intimidate, harass, sexually assault, and even rape women. In his precise and critical account of ghost impersonators, Spirits of an Industrial Age, the historian Jacob Middleton argues that ghost impersonating was not only the domain of juvenile pranksters, but also that of sexual predators. This was made most painfully clear during the 1830s, the height of hauntings by “Spring-Heeled Jack.”

Spring-Heeled Jack.
Spring-Heeled Jack
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Every day, London’s women had to contend not only with the persistent threat of cads and street harassers, but also with men the press dubbed “Monsters,” menaces who stalked, grabbed, groped, slashed, and stabbed women in the breasts and buttocks. These criminals were piquerists, people who took sexual pleasure in piercing the skin of women, and a spate of attacks in the 1780s put all of London at unease. In the early 1800s, these boors started to take cover by dressing as ghosts. Spring-Heeled Jack, called a “monster in human form,” was among them: Hiding in alleyways after sunset, he would seek lone women, knock on their doors, and attempt to tear away their clothes with hooks. Thanks to London’s sensationalist press, tales of Spring-Heeled Jack would bloat into urban legend.

But even before Spring-Heeled Jack, on a normal evening, the women of Hammersmith were justified in feeling worried about stepping outside after dark. Organized police forces were a relatively new idea in Great Britain, and solitary neighborhoods such as Hammersmith were protected by little more than a roving constable or watchman. Reports of the Hammersmith ghost intensified that anxiety. (The community's men weren’t much help. As the Morning Post reported, “[The ghost] was seen on Monday evening last pursuing a woman, who shrieked dreadfully. Although there were four male passengers in the stage coach, which passed at the time, not one durst venture to the rescue of the distressed female.”) It wasn’t until weeks of attacks that bands of locals, their bellies sloshing with ale supplied by the nearest public house, began taking to the streets to stop the menace.

It was at the intersection of these two sad facts that the tragedy at Hammersmith unfolded: Francis Smith went out on January 3, 1804 to catch a ghost, while Thomas Millwood went out to ensure that his wife, who was walking home alone in the dark, did not meet one.

 
 

Thomas Millwood was told he resembled the Hammersmith ghost. A bricklayer, Millwood wore a white jacket, white trousers, and a white apron, an ensemble that scared a carriage-riding couple one dark Saturday night. When the passerby exclaimed to his wife, “There goes the ghost!” Millwood turned and uncorked a few colorful and unprintable words, asking if the man wanted “a punch in the head.”

After the incident, a family member named Phoebe Fullbrooke implored Millwood to change his wardrobe at night. “Your clothes look white,” she said. “Pray do put on your great coat, that you may not run any danger.” Millwood mumbled something about how he hoped the town’s vigilantes would catch the ghost, but he neglected the advice and continued walking home in his white work clothes.

A few nights later, Francis Smith and William Girdler went ghost hunting.

Compelled by reports of the ghost’s violence, the men carried firearms. Hammersmith’s spirit had choked a man and the village swirled with rumors that it had even attacked a pregnant woman who later died of shock. According to one report, the apparition caused “so much alarm, that every superstitious person in that neighborhood had been filled with the most powerful apprehensions.” But superstitions mattered little. Ghost or not, there was undoubtedly a public menace in Hammersmith, and people wanted it gone. A bounty of 10 pounds would be awarded to anybody who caught it.

A depiction of Francis Smith hunting the Hammersmith ghost in 'The Newgate Calendar.'
A depiction of Francis Smith hunting the Hammersmith ghost in The Newgate Calendar.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

That same night, Thomas Millwood stopped at his father’s house and began chatting with his sister Ann. Sometime between 10 and 11 p.m., she suggested he leave and escort his wife, who was still in town, back home. “You had better go,” Ann said. “It is dangerous for your wife to come home by herself.” Millwood agreed and stepped outside, wearing his white bricklayer’s clothes. He didn’t know that he was walking down the same unlit lane as Francis Smith, shotgun in tow.

When Smith spotted the white figure gliding in his direction, he lifted his fowling piece to his shoulder and yelled, “Damn you, who are you? Stand, else I’ll shoot you.” The air stood silent. He yelled a second time and stared down the barrel. Not hearing any response, Smith fired.

Millwood’s sister heard the gunshot and screamed for Thomas, but, like Smith, she heard no response. She later found her brother lying face up on the dirt lane, his face stained black with gunpowder, his white clothes stained red.

 
 

The Caledonian Mercury reported the sad news later that week: “We have to announce to the public an event, in some of its circumstances so ludicrous, but in its result so dreadful, that we fear if the reader should even laugh with one side of his mouth, he must of necessity cry with the other.”

The moment the smell of spent gunpowder hit his nose, Smith knew he’d made a mistake. Millwood had been killed instantly; the shot entered his lower left jaw and exited through the back of his neck. Smith barged into the White Hart pub in visible distress, possibly in shock, and waited to be arrested. One week later, he stood trial at London’s Old Bailey courthouse. The jury deliberated for 45 minutes before returning with a conviction of manslaughter.

The three judges rejected the sentence.

“The Court have no hesitation whatever with regard to the law,” Justice Rooke exclaimed, “and therefore the verdict must be—‘Guilty of Murder’ or ‘a total acquittal from want to evidence.’” In other words, the jury could not be wishy-washy. Smith was either guilty of murder, or not guilty of murder—the jury needed to decide.

Within minutes, Smith was convicted of murder. He was sentenced to hang the next Monday; his body would be dissected in the name of science.

Reports of Smith’s trial were lurid. As the Newgate Calendar tells it, “When the dreadful word ‘Guilty!’ was pronounced [Smith] sank into a state of stupefaction exceeding despair.” His feelings were likely intensified by the admission of John Graham, a Hammersmith shoemaker who days earlier admitted to starting the Hammersmith ghost hoax. (Graham began impersonating the specter to scare his apprentices, who he complained were filling his children’s heads with nonsense about ghosts. Unfortunately, his prank appears to have inspired violent copycats to engage in what the Caledonian Mercury called “weak, perhaps wicked frolic.”)

In the end, Smith would be lucky. His sentence was sent to His Majesty King George III, who not only delayed the execution but eventually granted Smith a full pardon.

The Hammersmith ghost trial, however, would haunt England’s legal system for almost another two centuries. Smith’s case would remain a philosophical head-scratcher: If somebody commits an act of violence in an effort to stop a crime from occurring—only to realize later that they were mistaken and that no crime was being committed—is that person still justified in using violence? Or are they the criminal? British law would not be make room for this gray area until the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the tragedy in Hammersmith failed to deter England’s many ghost impersonators. Pranksters and creeps alike continued wearing bedsheets in dark cemeteries and alleyways for almost another century. In fact, the ghost of 1803 and 1804 would not be the last specter to haunt the village of Hammersmith. Two decades later, a ghost would return. But this time, villagers whispered rumors that this haunting was real, caused by the angry soul of a white-clad bricklayer named Thomas Millwood.

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The Little-Known History of Fruit Roll-Ups
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David Kessler, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The thin sheets of “fruit treats” known as Fruit Roll-Ups have been a staple of supermarkets since 1983, when General Mills introduced the snack to satisfy the sweet tooth of kids everywhere. But as Thrillist writer Gabriella Gershenson recently discovered, the Fruit Roll-Up has an origin that goes much further back—all the way to the turn of the 20th century.

The small community of Syrian immigrants in New York City in the early 1900s didn’t have the packaging or marketing power of General Mills, but they had the novel idea of offering an apricot-sourced “fruit leather” they called amardeen. A grocery proprietor named George Shalhoub would import an apricot paste from Syria that came in massive sheets. At the request of customers, employees would snip off a slice and offer the floppy treat that was named after cowhide because it was so hard to chew.

Although Shalhoub’s business relocated to Brooklyn in the 1940s, the embryonic fruit sheet continued to thrive. George’s grandson, Louis, decided to sell crushed, dried apricots in individually packaged servings. The business later became known as Joray, which sold the first commercial fruit roll-up in 1960. When a trade publication detailed the family’s process in the early 1970s, it opened the floodgates for other companies to begin making the distinctive treat. Sunkist was an early player, but when General Mills put their considerable advertising power behind their Fruit Roll-Ups, they became synonymous with the sticky snack.

Joray is still in business, offering kosher roll-ups that rely more heavily on fruit than the more processed commercial version. But the companies have one important thing in common: They both have the sense not to refer to their product as “fruit leather.”

[h/t Thrillist]

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