25 Things Turning 25 in 2016


If 2016 marks your quarter-century of life, you're in great company. In 1991 we saw the popular explosion of grunge music, the release of the World Wide Web, the premiere of The Jerry Springer Show, and the very first Kenny Rogers Roasters. Here are 25 things turning 25 in 2016. (And in case you missed it, we also have 30 Things Turning 30 in 2016!)


On August 6, Tim Berners-Lee introduced the World Wide Web. He created the Web on a NeXT computer at CERN in Switzerland in 1990, and unveiled the first Web page to the public in 1991. You can now browse that original page and experience the ultra-simplicity of the first day of the Web.


Alternative and grunge music had a good year in 1991. On September 24, Nirvana released its seminal album Nevermind, the Red Hot Chili Peppers released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory. That's quite a day in music history!

Some other major events in 1991 musical history include the release of Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II, Michael Jackson's Dangerous, Pearl Jam's Ten, Metallica's eponymous album (often called "The Black Album"), REM's Out of Time (featuring the hit single "Losing My Religion"), Smashing Pumpkins' Gish, and U2's Achtung Baby. Oh yeah, and let's not forget the debut of a little music festival called Lollapalooza.


In December, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned his presidency of the U.S.S.R. This marked the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the de facto end of the Cold War. Russia, Belarus and Ukraine (formerly part of the U.S.S.R.) formed the Commonwealth of Independent States, led by Boris Yeltsin. (The whole story is quite a bit more complex than that. Read up!)


Using photographs, scholars published the first publicly available edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, entitled A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The photos came from an unnamed source (whose lawyer provided them). This was just one step in a long and tortuous battle over publication of the scrolls, and quickly resulted in legal action.

Today you can view the Scrolls online; of course, in 1991 the World Wide Web wasn't quite so robust! (See item No. 1 above.)


Twenty-year-old Finnish computer science student Linus Torvalds wanted to use a UNIX-style operating system on his home PC, but was frustrated by the lack of a truly free option. So he proceeded to create his own, called it Linux. In the years since, Linux has spread across the world, powering the vast majority of World Wide Web servers, most smartphones and tablets, many embedded systems (smart devices like fridges and TVs), and plenty of PCs.


The South African Parliament repealed the racist policy of apartheid ("separateness") on June 5. Under apartheid, the minority white population of South Africa ruled the country, and maintained strict racial segregation. Although the policy was officially repealed in 1991, it wasn't until 1993 that nonwhite citizens were allowed to vote.


Australian kids' group The Wiggles formed in 1991 and released "Get Ready to Wiggle" (atrocious video above). For an extraordinarily detailed history of the band, check out Wigglepedia. (Yes, really.)


On August 23, Nintendo released its 16-bit Super Nintendo console in the North America. (It had already been on sale in Japan since November 1990 as the Super Famicom.) U.S. buyers picked up Super Mario World in a bundle with the console, similar to the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt bundle from the original NES. Despite competition from other 16-bit consoles, the SNES was a hit, remaining popular well into the 32-bit era of home console video games.


On October 29, the Galileo spacecraft zipped by the asteroid 951 Gaspra and snapped photographs. This was the first time a space probe had visited an asteroid, and the resulting photograph was the first time humans saw an asteroid up close.


The Comedy Channel launched on April Fools' Day, though it would soon be renamed Comedy Central. It merged two existing channels: The Comedy Channel and Ha!, which previously competed in the cable comedy space. The new combined channel featured original programming as well as reruns (many borrowed from sister channel Nick at Nite), plus cult classics like Mystery Science Theater 3000. On June 1, the channel was renamed Comedy Central, to avoid confusion with a similarly-named Canadian "Comedy Channel." Within the decade, major original shows would include South Park and The Daily Show.

For tons of early Comedy Central videos, check out SplitSider's coverage of the channel's formation.


Born in 1991: Actors Shailene Woodley, Dylan O'Brien, Emma Roberts, Erik Per Sullivan, Bonnie Wright, and Jamie Lynn Spears; plus musicians Ed Sheeran, Tyler the Creator, and Lena Meyer-Landrut.

Above: The Fault in Our Stars star Shailene Woodley explains horseradish (among other things) to Jimmy Fallon. Awesome.


On August 11, Nickelodeon premiered The Ren & Stimpy Show, one of its first three "Nicktoons"—original cartoon shows made for the network (the other two were Doug and Rugrats). What made Ren & Stimpy so special was its bizarre, psychedelic, subversive style. Series creator Jon Kricfalusi built the characters around deep neurosis and idiocy, then let it all hang out. My favorite bit (aside from the History Eraser Button) is the commercial for LOG:

Other notable TV premieres in 1991: Blossom, Clarissa Explains it All, Liquid Television (featuring Aeon Flux), Herman's Head, Home Improvement. And then there's....


With the benefit of hindsight, we can look back on 1991 as the year when daytime talk TV started heating up. The Jerry Springer Show premiered, along with The Jenny Jones Show and The Montel Williams Show. Initially, Springer was actually a pretty serious show—one of his early guests was Oliver North, and Springer himself is the former mayor of Cincinnati. After a few seasons, the show devolved into baby-daddy tests and similarly prurient material. But in the earliest Springer shows, the discussion was actually very substantive.


Public Domain / Evan-Amos

The Honeycrisp apple was developed at the University of Minnesota, in the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station's Horticultural Research Center. It was originally cultivated in 1960, patented in the late 1980s, and finally released to the public in 1991. Prized for its sweetness, juice content, and long shelf life, the Honeycrisp is now a staple in American grocery stores.


In 1991, author Bret Easton Ellis released his brutal satire, American Psycho. The narrator is Patrick Bateman, a businessman-slash-serial killer. It was later adapted into a fantastic, funny, and violent movie by Mary Herron. Ellis told an interviewer in 2010:

[Patrick Bateman] was crazy the same way [I was]. He did not come out of me sitting down and wanting to write a grand sweeping indictment of yuppie culture. It initiated because of my own isolation and alienation at a point in my life. I was living like Patrick Bateman. I was slipping into a consumerist kind of void that was supposed to give me confidence and make me feel good about myself but just made me feel worse and worse and worse about myself.


Other notable books of 1991: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon; Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock; and Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.


In July, the first Cybercafe opened in San Francisco. (If you're not sure what a Cybercafe is, watch this explainer from 1996.) Wayne Gregori set up the SF Net Coffee House Network, a network of coin-op computers around San Francisco. Users could access chat rooms, message boards, games, and FidoNet—effectively, a coffee house-specific BBS network.

If you're curious where the Cybercafe originated, check out the list of early participating shops in and around San Francisco.


Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported / Danamania (Wikimedia Commons)

In October, Apple introduced the first PowerBook, the first laptop-style Mac computer (the earlier Macintosh Portable was, in a word, gigantic).

The PowerBook 100 was relatively underpowered for the time, but it sported a black-and-white 640x400-pixel screen, built-in hard drive, and external floppy drive. Weighing just over five pounds (down from the Macintosh Portable's 16 pounds—complete with lead-acide battery), the laptop was a hit, despite its $2500 price tag. For a guided tour of the computer, check out this in-depth video.


In 1991, the FDA approved the nicotine patch to help smokers kick the habit. The idea was that tobacco users could apply a stick-on patch to the skin, delivering a low dose of nicotine, and that would reduce the craving for smoking actual cigarettes and using other tobacco products. At the time, "the patch" was available by prescription only, though by 1996 it became an over-the-counter product. On December 9, 1991, The New York Times reported:

Analysts reason that the patch will attract a broader market than [nicotine] gum, which must be chewed several times a day for 20 to 30 minutes and causes irritation of the mouth and stomach. The skin patch costs the same but is much less obtrusive; its main side effect is skin irritation in some people. As a prescription product, analysts estimate the skin patch could soon have a $400 million market, and should it become available without a prescription in a few years, the market would expand considerably.


Terminator 2 came out on July 1. It was a rare example of a sequel that was at least as good as (if not better than) the original, and it became the highest-grossing film of the year. It won a pile of Academy Awards for sound, makeup, and special effects. The most visually impressive element of the film was the silvery T-1000 Terminator, a milestone computer-generated effect. The film also spawned the phrase "There is no fate but what we make," commenting on the time travel aspect of the film franchise.

Other notable movies of 1991: Point Break, The Fisher King, Thelma & Louise, Jungle Fever, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Boyz n the Hood, What About Bob?, Beauty and the Beast, Hook, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Silence of the Lambs, JFK, Fried Green Tomatoes, and The Prince of Tides.


Grunge and alternative music weren't the only musical trends in 1991. In Charlottesville, Virginia, Dave Matthews recruited local jazz musicians and formed the Dave Matthews Band early that year. They released their first album, Remember Two Things, in 1993, and released their breakthrough album Under The Table and Dreaming in 1994.

Other notable bands formed in 1991: Belly, Bloodhound Gang, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Cake, The Chemical Brothers, Counting Crows, Dogstar, Frente!, Guster, Heatmiser, House of Pain, Incubus, Luscious Jackson, Oasis, Portishead, Rage Against the Machine, Rancid, Sloan, Three 6 Mafia, and Unwound.


Four major video game companies formed in 1991: Blizzard (then known as "Silicon & Synapse"), Bungie, Epic Games, and id Software. Of the quartet, Blizzard is likely the best-known today, for its epic franchises Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft. Bungie is best known for the Halo series, and co-developed Destiny. id Software made Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. Epic Games made Unreal.


On January 22, McDonald's cooked up a special new burger: the McLean Deluxe. To reduce its fat content, the hamburger contained a special mix of carrageenan (seaweed extract) and water. According to reports, the burger was definitely healthier, but was not a big hit with consumers, some of whom reported that it tasted a bit dry. It only lasted a few glorious years.

(The same year, McDonald's introduced its breakfast burrito.)


The mega-hit arcade game Street Fighter II launched the fighting game boom of the 1990s. It featured vibrant graphics, player-vs.-player combat, combo attacks, and the ability to play as a variety of different characters. In the years following the arcade release, Street Fighter II was ported to all sorts of computer systems, including the Super Nintendo, PC, Game Boy, PlayStation, Xbox, and many more.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On June 17, the body of President Zachary Taylor was exhumed to test a theory that he might have been poisoned from arsenic. (His cause of death is unclear, but it may have been cholera or gastroenteritis.) The result? No arsenic.

You can watch a C-SPAN video about the exhumation for more information.


In 1991, musician Kenny Rogers and former Kentucky governor John Y. Brown Jr. formed Kenny Rogers Roasters, a fast-food chicken restaurant. The first location was in Coral Springs, Florida. By 1998, the company was bankrupt. After a series of ownership changes and much restructuring, Kenny Rogers Roasters now operates primarily in Malaysia, where it's apparently much-beloved. (The restaurant was also memorably featured on Seinfeld.)

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15 Relatively Brilliant Albert Einstein Quotes
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getty images

In addition to being one of the world's greatest thinkers, Albert Einstein was also quite the philosopher. On what would be the renowned theoretical physicist's 139 birthday, here are 15 of his most relatively brilliant quotes.


"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."

— In a letter to Carl Seelig, 1952; Einstein Archives 39-013


"To punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself."

— Aphorism for a friend, 1930; Einstein Archives 36-598 


"There is separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it." 

— From a lecture at Lincoln University, 1946 


"You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. The very prevention of war requires more faith, courage and resolution than are needed to prepare for war." 

— In a letter to Congressman Robert Hale, 1946; later published in Einstein on Peace, 1988 


"I look upon myself as a man. Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind." 

— To The Saturday Evening Post, October 1929 


"The cult of individual personalities is always, in my view, unjustified. To be sure, nature distributes her gifts variously among her children. But there are plenty of the well-endowed ones too, thank God, and I am firmly convinced that most of them live quiet, unregarded lives. It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few of them for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque." 

— From The World As I See It, 1949 


"I am doing just fine, considering that I have triumphantly survived Nazism and two wives."

— In a letter to Jakob Ehrat, 1952; Einstein Archives 59-554 


"School failed me, and I failed the school. It bored me. The teachers behaved like Feldwebel (sergeants). I wanted to learn what I wanted to know, but they wanted me to learn for the exam. What I hated most was the competitive system there, and especially sports. Because of this, I wasn't worth anything, and several times they suggested I leave. This was a Catholic School in Munich. I felt that my thirst for knowledge was being strangled by my teachers; grades were their only measurement. How can a teacher understand youth with such a system?"

— In a conversation with William Hermanns, later published in Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man, 1983


"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music ... I cannot tell if I would have done any creative work of importance in music, but I do know that I get most joy in life out of my violin."

— To The Saturday Evening Post, October 1929


"What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life." 

— From The World As I See It, 1949


"The only way to escape the corruptible effect of praise is to go on working."

— Via an article in Smithsonian magazine, 1979 


"Reading after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking, just as the man who spends too much time in the theater is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life."

— To The Saturday Evening Post, October 1929


"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. This insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms— this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men." 

— From Living Philosophies, 1931


“If I were to start taking care of my grooming, I would no longer be my own self.”

— From a letter to Elsa Löwenthal, 1913 


“I am truly a ‘lone traveler’ and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart. In the face of all this, I have never lost a sense of distance and the need for solitude.”

— From The World As I See It, 1949

Paco Junquera, Getty Images
The Incredible Adventures of Gabriel García Márquez
Paco Junquera, Getty Images
Paco Junquera, Getty Images

Gabriel García Márquez (the subject of today's Google Doodle) was born 91 years ago—on March 6, 1927—and grew up in Aracataca, Colombia, a hardscrabble banana town that was barely a stop on the railway. His father, an undereducated telegraph operator, had fallen in love with a girl beyond his status—the daughter of Colonel Nicolás Márquez Mejía. Her family vigorously opposed their union, but that only strengthened the couple's resolve to marry. They maintained a secret relationship, communicating by telegraph and passed notes and stealing moments together at Mass. In 1926, after a priest lobbied the family on their behalf, the pair finally married. They had their first child, Gabriel, in 1927. Only a few months later, they left him to live with his grandparents while they moved to the port city of Barranquilla to open a pharmacy.

As a boy, he was simply "Gabito"—a shy child who blinked compulsively when he was nervous. He struggled to learn how to read and developed a habit of drawing his stories rather than writing them down. But he was the apple of his grandfather's eye. Whatever disdain the Colonel once had for his daughter's marriage, it had been softened by Gabito's birth. As García Márquez described it, his grandfather "took [him] to the circus and the cinema and was [his] umbilical cord with history and reality."


His grandmother, the indomitable Tranquilina Iguarán Cotes, made an equally strong impression, "always telling fables, family legends, and organizing our life according to the messages she received in her dreams." García Márquez credits her with his "supernatural view of reality." This was a woman who went blind in her old age, but successfully convinced her doctor that she could still see. When he examined her, she described in detail all of the objects in her room, convincing him that her vision had returned. In truth, she'd simply memorized the contents of the room.

When García Márquez was 10 years old, his grandfather died, so Gabito and his two siblings went to live with their parents in Barranquilla. It was a difficult time for the boy, having only known his parents as infrequent visitors.

Things grew more tense as his mother continued to have children (she bore a total of 11), and his father relocated the family to the town of Sucre. Eventually, Gabito ended up back in Barranquilla, where he was enrolled at a prestigious Jesuit secondary school. García Márquez was a brilliant scholarship student, known to wear his father's old suits and recite long works of poetry from memory.

His education continued outside the classroom, as well. At age 13, he was introduced to the world of women when he lost his virginity to a prostitute. (She later informed him that his younger brother was a frequent visitor to her bed.) Two years later, he began an affair with an older married woman, who came up with an ingenious system for getting him to do his schoolwork: Failing grades meant no sex. He graduated with honors and went on to win a scholarship to a prestigious college outside of Bogotá.

Not surprisingly, the seeds of García Márquez's later novels were all planted in his youth. His grandfather, grandmother, parents, siblings, assorted aunts and uncles—even the prostitute—all make appearances in his work. His hometown of Aracataca would famously become the Macondo of One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and Leaf Storm (1955), and his parents' troubled courtship was thinly veiled as the centerpiece of Love in the Time of Cholera (1985).


In 1947, 20-year-old García Márquez decided to abandon law school and pursue writing. Much to his father's dismay, he dropped out and became a reporter for El Heraldo, a liberal newspaper in Barranquilla. This was during the days of La Violencia, a period of bloody civil unrest that threatened to tear Colombia apart. With daily reports of rape, murder, and the government's oppressive sanctions on the press, it was a challenging time to be a journalist. Earning just three pesos a story, García Márquez often went hungry.

He was also writing a novel. In his spare moments, García Márquez tapped out the manuscript for Leaf Storm. It took seven years to find a publisher, but the book finally came out in 1955. Although it garnered good reviews, the novel never sold well. That same year, García Márquez serialized the true account of Colombian sailors who'd been shipwrecked. The news story directly contradicted a government report of the incident and revealed that corruption in the navy had led to the sailors' deaths. García Márquez became so unpopular with the government that the newspaper sent him abroad for his own safety.

He spent the next several years desperately poor in Europe, living mostly in Rome and Paris and briefly in communist Eastern Europe. While overseas, he wrote No One Writes to the Colonel (1961) and In Evil Hour (1962), had a torrid affair with a Spanish actress, and continued to starve. When he finally returned to Colombia, he married his longtime love, Mercedes Barcha Pardo. García Márquez had first proposed to her when he was 18 and she was only 13. After more than a decade of courtship, most of which had been spent writing letters to one another, she consented to marry him.

García Márquez continued to work as a journalist, first in Havana at the start of the Cuban Revolution and then in New York. From there, he, his wife, and his infant son traveled by bus to Mexico. The trip opened his eyes to the American South and the homeland of William Faulkner, one of García Márquez's greatest influences. (Some literary scholars have suggested that García Márquez lifted much of his style and lyricism from Faulkner.) It also inspired him to begin his breakthrough book, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

On June 26, 1961, Gabriel's family arrived at a railway station in Mexico City with their last $20 and "nothing in their future." García Márquez started writing, and in just 18 months, he'd completed the novel that would change his life. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, he used all of the storytelling techniques he'd picked up as a reporter. As he would later tell The New York Times, the "tricks you need to transform something which appears fantastic, unbelievable into something plausible, credible, those I learned from journalism. The key is to tell it straight. It is done by reporters and by country folk."

Although the writing came quickly, it was not easy. To support his family, García Márquez sold his car, his hair dryer, and anything else that would bring in some cash. When it came time to send off the manuscript to his publishers in Buenos Aires, he could only afford to mail half of it.

Half was enough. With One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez exploded onto the literary scene. While still living in Mexico, he quickly emerged as Latin America's most beloved writer and was affectionately nicknamed "Gabo." In Colombia, he became a symbol of national pride. The book would go on to sell more than 35 million copies and be translated into at least 35 languages.


Despite the fanciful nature of his work, García Márquez's novels are firmly grounded in the politics of Latin America. He addresses guerrilla warfare, drug trafficking, the failures of communism, the evils of capitalism, and the dangerous meddling of the CIA. After the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the author began to use his status to get more involved in politics. He started publicly castigating the United States for using the "war on drugs" to intrude in Latin American affairs. And beginning in the 1970s, he acted as an intermediary between the Colombian government and leftist guerrillas.

García Márquez also found himself in high-powered company. While reporting on the Cuban Revolution, he became friends with Fidel Castro, and over the years, their relationship deepened. Fidel cooked him spaghetti dinners. García Márquez, in turn, described the Cuban president as a "king" and a great literary man. He even showed Castro an early manuscript for Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981) so that Castro could point out flaws in the plot. The close relationship led critics to call the author Castro's "literary hatchet man." However, García Márquez's influence wasn't enough to stop the Cuban government from convicting and executing one of his friends for treason in 1989.

In a 1982 article in The New York Times, the author explained that, as a Latin American writer, it was his duty to be politically active. "The problems of our societies are mainly political, and the commitment of a writer is with the reality of all of society, not just with a small part of it," he explained. "If not, he is as bad as the politicians who disregard a large part of our reality. That is why authors, painters, writers in Latin America get politically involved."

García Márquez's works continued to be politically charged. In 1996, he published News of a Kidnapping, a journalistic account of 10 people abducted by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, and the convoluted machinations involved in rescuing them. The same year, he wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times recounting the Elian Gonzalez situation, in which his sympathies were clearly aligned with Cuba: "The real shipwreck of Elian did not take place on the high seas, but when he set foot on American soil."

To a certain extent, García Márquez's political activism was also about cultivating his own legend. In the mid-1970s, the author famously claimed that he wouldn't publish anything again until Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was no longer in power. Gabo's friends agreed that the declaration was made for a "calculated effect." Moreover, García Márquez didn't even stick to it. He published Love in the Time of Cholera not long after that.


In the 1990s, García Márquez had a cancerous tumor removed from one of his lungs and lived through a bout of lymphatic cancer. Then, in July 1999, rumors of his impending death grew after someone took a sentimental poem about dying and attached García Márquez's name to it. The poem quickly turned into a hoax e-mail that circulated the world and unleashed a hailstorm of headlines. It also touched a raw nerve. As García Márquez got older, his output slowed. Readers waited since 2002 for him to produce the second part of his memoirs. His novel Memories of My Melancholy Whores was published in 2004 to critical and commercial success. But at just 115 pages, audiences were left craving more. Even the controversies García Márquez has stirred up later were disappointing. In 2004, the author was banned from the International Congress of the Spanish Language for allegedly suggesting that they should scrap their focus on spelling, which he called "that terror visited on human beings from the cradle onwards."

In his 2008 biography of García Márquez, Gerald Martin revealed that the author had been suffering from progressive memory loss—no doubt a serious problem for a man who called himself a "professional rememberer." Martin wrote, "It seemed clear to me that he could no longer write books."

And then there are García Márquez's own statements. In 2006, he told the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, "I have stopped writing. Last year was the first in my life in which I haven't written even a line." When the Colombian paper El Tiempo called the 82-year-old author in the spring of 2009 to ask if the rumor of his retirement was true, García Márquez replied, "Not only is it not true, but the only thing I do is write." He concluded by saying, "I'll know when the cakes I am baking are ready."

García Márquez died of pneumonia on April 17, 2014, at the age of 87.


Many of the scenes in Gabriel García Márquez's novels come straight out of his own strange life. Here are a few examples.

The Little Girl Who Eats Dirt
When he was 3 years old, García Márquez's little sister Margarita moved in with Gabito and his grandparents. She refused to speak or eat, and the family wondered how she didn't starve. It wasn't long before they discovered the answer—she'd been sustaining herself on dirt from the garden and the whitewash off the walls. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the orphan character Rebeca does the same thing when she moves in with the Buendia family. She eventually gets better, just like Margarita did, once she "surrendered to family life."

Death by Gold Cyanide
At the beginning of Love in the Time of Cholera, the aged Dr. Juvenal Urbino is called to the scene of a suicide. The victim is a crippled war veteran who has killed himself using gold cyanide vapors. García Márquez witnessed a similar death firsthand. As a child, his grandfather brought him to meet "the Belgian," a World War I veteran who'd lost the use of his legs. The image of the man—his crutches laid neatly next to his cot and his Great Dane lying dead next to him—was recreated in detail in the novel's opening scene.

The Banana Plantation Massacre
One of the more shocking passages in One Hundred Years of Solitude describes the massacre of 3,000 men, women, and children during a workers' strike at the Macondo banana plantation. There was, in fact, such a plantation near García Márquez's childhood home in Aracataca, and he grew up hearing about a massacre that supposedly happened when he was an infant. No one seemed sure how many people died (1,000 or 3,000), but the official government record, which was suspect for several reasons, showed only nine deaths. In the novel, the government denies the event altogether.

The Solace of Little Gold Fish
The Colonel, García Márquez's beloved grandfather, was also trained in metallurgy and spent many years as a jeweler, crafting small gold fish that became a symbol of his family. Those same fish, crafted by Colonel Aureliano Buendia, make a memorable appearance in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The Mark of Ash Wednesday
One of García Márquez's most vivid childhood memories was one Ash Wednesday when the illegitimate sons of his grandfather visited his family with crosses of ash still on their foreheads. This visceral image inspired the 17 illegitimate sons of Colonel Aureliano Buendia and their mysterious assassinations. Each of them died after being identified by the permanent mark of the cross on their foreheads.

A version of this article originally appeared in mental_floss Magazine in 2009.


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