Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Intriguing Facts About Ohio

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Was Ohio really the the "birthplace of aviation"? How did Dr. Seuss insult Lake Erie? And what, exactly, is a buckeye? Here are the answers to these and more of your burning questions about Ohio.

1. Ohio is known as “The Mother of Presidents” due to its knack for producing POTUSes: seven of our 43 presidents have hailed from there. For those playing along at home, that would be Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding. William Henry Harrison was born in Virginia but settled in Ohio.

2. While we’re talking about William McKinley, let’s discuss the state flower of Ohio. It was well-known that the 25th president liked to keep a red carnation in his lapel—in fact, he gave one away to a little girl just minutes before he was shot in 1901. To honor the assassinated president, Ohio later voted to make McKinley’s iconic scarlet carnation the official state flower.

3. At 900 pounds, the massive poplar tree drumsticks that honor Warren, Ohio's own Dave Grohl are the biggest in the world. After the city dedicated the drumsticks in 2012, Grohl tweeted his thanks: “To the wonderful city of Warren, from the bottom of my heart I'd like to thank you all so much ... For the childhood memories. For my family. For my very own alley. For the world's largest drumsticks! And for all of your support ... But most of all for being such a great community. One that makes me proud to say ... I am from Warren, Ohio!"

4. After seeing a pill-making machine quickly pop out pellets, Ohio candymaker Clarence Crane realized he could make mints with it the same way. The machine happened to have a defect that punched a hole in the middle of the round, but Crane capitalized on that fact by naming his new mints “Life Savers.” He sold his invention for just $2900 in 1913. Crane, by the way, was the father of famous poet Hart Crane.

5. Kelleys Island, located in the middle of Lake Erie, is where you’ll find Glacial Grooves State Memorial—the largest easily accessible set of glacial grooves anywhere in the world. The grooves are the result of glacier movement that dates back to the Pleistocene era; the largest one is 400 feet long, 35 feet wide, and up to 10 feet deep.

6. Joining the likes of Loch Ness and Lake Champlain, Ohio has its own lake monster. “Bessie” was allegedly sighted several times in the 1980s and 1990s, with one family reporting that the serpent-like creature was up to 35 feet long. But if we’ve yet to find definitive proof of Nessie, proving that Bessie exists will be even harder—Lake Erie is more than 10 times as long as Loch Ness. Regardless, Ohio seems to have embraced its cryptid: The professional American League hockey team in Cleveland is called the Lake Erie Monsters.

7. Speaking of Lake Erie, it made it into—and out of—a Dr. Seuss book. Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, once referenced how dirty the body of water was. In early editions of The Lorax, Seuss addressed the plight of the “Humming-Fish,” saying, “They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary in search of some water that isn’t so smeary. I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie.” Conditions in the lake had improved by the 1980s, so employees at Ohio Sea Grant put in a request to Seuss to change his prose on that particular page. He complied.

8. The state flag of Ohio is unique in a particular way—it’s the only flag out of all 50 states' that isn’t rectangular. It’s believed that designer John Eisenmann may have been inspired by the shape of a pennant carried by the U.S. Cavalry. In addition to its unusual shape, there’s also quite a bit of symbolism in the flag. The red circle represents the buckeye, while the white ring around it is an “O” for “Ohio.” The triangles are meant to symbolize the state’s hills and valleys. The 17 stars remind us that Ohio was the 17th state to join the Union.

9. Presidents aren’t the only thing Ohio is good at creating. As of 2013, 25 NASA astronauts were from the state. Astronauts from Ohio have been the first to walk on the moon (Neil Armstrong), the first to orbit the Earth (John Glenn), the first woman to walk in space (Kathryn D. Sullivan), and the first to take a spacewalk from the International Space Station (Michael L. Gernhardt), among other illustrious achievements.

10. If just watching 24 hours of A Christmas Story isn’t enough for you, you can visit the Parkers' house and gaze upon Ralphie’s Red Ryder for yourself. The house where the movie was filmed in Cleveland is now a museum filled with authentic props such as the family car and Randy’s immobilizing snowsuit. Here's hoping you don't run into the Bumpus hounds.

Stacy Conradt

11. Ohio is one of the country’s leading producers of tomato juice, and is one of America's top producers of the juicy red fruits. (And now you know why tomato juice is the official state beverage.)

12. Columbus is home to an 8-foot, 600-lb, bronze statue of mostly-naked Arnold Schwarzenegger. But there’s a good reason for it. The depiction of Arnie from his bodybuilding days is an acknowledgement of the Arnold Sports Festival, an athletic and sports competition he started in 1989 with sports promoter and Columbus native Jim Lorimer.

13. Newark, Ohio, is probably the only place in the world where hundreds of people work in a basket.

Stacy Conradt

The Longaberger basket company headquarters is world-renowned for its distinct shape. The massive “Medium Market Basket” stands 7 stories tall and covers about 180,000 square feet, with handles that weigh more than 150 tons.

14. Thanks to the Wright Brothers, Ohio claims to be the "birthplace of aviation." But that claim is disputed by two other states. Contender #1: North Carolina. Although the Wright Brothers were from Dayton, Ohio, and made many prototypes in their bicycle shop on the west side of town, the famous Kitty Hawk flight took place in North Carolina. In 2003, however, Congress officially ruled that Ohio was the birthplace of flight, not NC. Then, in 2015, Contender #2 popped up. Connecticut lawmakers have recently argued that one of their own, Gustave Whitehead, beat the Wright Brothers to a successful flight by more than two years. Nothing has yet been resolved, but Ohio State Representative Rick Perales has asked his state to officially repudiate Connecticut’s claim.

15. The One and Only Presidential Museum in Williamsfield, Ohio (yes, that's its real name) contends that there were at least eight presidents before George Washington, and it’s the only museum in the U.S. that recognizes those pre-Washington leaders. (This may be a matter of semantics: there were other presidents, but they weren’t Presidents of the United States.)

16. Professional baseball was born in Cincinnati. Prior to 1869, baseball was mostly a game for amateurs. There were a handful of men who made a living playing the sport, but for the most part, it was strictly a fun side gig. Then the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings came along with their all-star starting lineup—all nine men were paid professionals. Their expertise certainly showed. The team embarked upon a road trip later that year where they played against any town willing to put a team together. The Red Stockings won all 57 games.

17. Cleveland may seem like a strange place for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it makes more sense than most people probably realize. Alan Freed, a disc jockey at Cleveland’s WJW station, coined the term “rock and roll” on his radio show and was also instrumental in introducing a larger audience to rhythm and blues. New York City was also in the running, but in the end, Cleveland lobbied harder (and ponied up $65 million in public funding).

Stacy Conradt

18. You may have noticed that when people talk about the state university in Columbus, they often refer to it as THE Ohio State University. That particular “The” has existed since 1878, when the university switched its name from the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. Although the “The” has always been there, university officials started placing an emphasis on it in 1986 to distinguish it from the other OSUs: Oregon State and Oklahoma State.

19. The first-ever police car was used in Akron, Ohio, in 1899—and it was an electric car, at that. The patrol wagon could travel about 30 miles on one charge and could reach speeds up to a whopping 18 mph. Its first assignment? To pick up a drunk guy.

20. The state of Ohio is chock-full of Aesculus trees, a genus that grows very large seed nuts. Native Americans noticed that the nuts resembled the brown, large shape of deer eyes, which is why Ohio is now known as the Buckeye State.

21. The Pennsylvania Dutch get all of the glory, but Ohio actually has the largest Amish population in the U.S. In fact, one expert believes that Ohio’s Holmes County will become the first majority Amish county in the U.S. within 10 to 15 years.

22. If you’re a fan of popcorn, you’re a fan of Ohio. The state is one of the top producers of popcorn in the U.S., which they celebrate every September at the world’s largest popcorn festival in Marion, Ohio.

23. Marion has another claim to fame: It’s where Ohio’s official state groundhog resides. Meet Buckeye Chuck, Ohio’s answer to Punxsutawney Phil. Chuck has been prognosticating since the 1970s, and has lately developed a penchant for predicting an early spring.

24. Metropolis, Illinois, may have the giant statue, but Superman was actually born in the Glenville neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland. That’s where two high school kids named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the first-ever Superman comic strips. They later sold the rights to DC Comics for just $130.

25. You’ve heard of New York-style pizza and Chicago-style pizza. But how about Ohio Valley- or Steubenville-style pizza? While the biggest argument in NY vs Chicago pie is in the crust, the Steubenville difference lies in the cheese. Instead of layering it on and then baking, like the vast majority of pizzerias do, bakers of Steubenville-style pizzas toss the cheese on after the pie exits the oven. According to one pizzeria owner, this method better preserves the flavor of the cheese.

Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.


Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
Pascal Rondeau, ALLSPORT/Getty Images

In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.


Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.


Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.


In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.


A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.


Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.


For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)


While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.


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