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Chloe Effron

25 Facts About Oklahoma (Where the Wind Comes Sweeping Down the Plain)

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Chloe Effron

The Sooner State received its nickname from the settlers who went just a little bit earlier than they were supposed to in order to claim the territory's newly-available land. From Girl Scout cookies to parking meters, Oklahomans have had a long history of notable firsts ever since. Here are 25 remarkable facts about the panhandle state. 

1. Located at the western-most tip of Oklahoma’s panhandle, Cimarron County holds the distinction of being the only county in the U.S. to border four other states (Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico). 

2. In 1983, native Oklahoman Gordon Matthews patented his "voice message exchange" which Forbes described at the time as "a computerized telephone message storage and retrieval system with greater capacity than a tape recorder and a novel ability to reroute and replicate messages." Today we know know it as voicemail. 

3. Okies are so proud of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical bearing their state’s name that “Oklahoma!” is the official state song. But this choice wasn’t met without opposition—when the bill to change the state song was introduced in 1953, an older legislator responded by walking up to the podium, softly singing the old state song “Oklahoma—A Toast,” and breaking into tears. The house responded with a roar of applause. To counter that, the legislator behind the new bill assembled a choir from the Oklahoma College for Women and returned later to give a rendition of his own. The performance was so impressive that the bill was passed through. 

4. Girl Scout cookies were first sold by the Mistletoe Troop of Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1917.

5. Appropriately, it was an Oklahoma City Girl Scout by the name of Katie Francis who shattered the organization’s previous records when she sold over 20,000 boxes of cookies in 2014. After asking potential customers if they were interested in buying, her strategy was to tug on their heartstrings by performing an impromptu song and dance number.

6. Collectively, Oklahomans spend about 3.5 million days hunting each year.

7. The first-ever shopping carts were introduced to Oklahoma City’s Humpty Dumpy supermarket chain in 1937. While they were initially a flop amongst shoppers, they gained popularity after the inventor hired models to push them around his stores.

8. The town of Beaver, Oklahoma, prides itself on being the cow chip throwing capital of the world. Every year it hosts the World Championship Cow Chip Throwing Contest where participants compete to see who can hurl their dried cow pats the farthest. The winner of the 2014 competition cleared 149 feet 10 inches.

Mike Petrucci, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

9. Located along the infamous Tornado Alley, Oklahoma is the most tornado-prone region in the country. Over 3500 recorded storms touched down in the state between 1950 and 2014.

10. The state capitol building in Oklahoma City is the only capitol located directly above an active oil well.

11. Oklahoma’s official state poem is titled “Howdy, Folks!” It was penned by Oklahoma native and cowboy icon Will Rogers.

12. Visitors to Oklahoma City can check out the American Pigeon Museum. In addition to providing an extensive history of the birds’ roles in both World Wars I and II, the museum also includes pigeon-themed paintings, sculptures, and even live flight shows.

13. Whaling is illegal in Oklahoma. There is at least one whale located in the land-locked state, but the Route 66 attraction known as the Blue Whale of Catoosa is made of cement.

Ayleen Gaspar, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

14. Despite its distance from the ocean, Oklahoma boasts approximately 55,646 miles of shoreline. Much of this is made up by its over 200 manmade lakes—more than can be found in any other state.

15. Oklahoma has been located above water for the major part of the past 300 million years, making it an ideal spot for fossil discovery. Since 2000 the state’s official fossil has been the 50-foot-long predator Saurophaganax maximus, whose name means “greatest king of reptile eaters.”

16. During World War II, Boise City was the only U.S. town to have a bomb dropped on them via airplane. What made this case even more remarkable was that the perpetrators weren’t German or Japanese forces but American troops who had botched a training exercise. Though several buildings were damaged in the town’s center, thankfully no citizens were harmed. In line with the patriotic climate of the time, the mayor issued a statement the following morning praising the bombers for their accuracy.

17. The world’s first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City in 1935.

18. Computer pioneer Edward Roberts attended Oklahoma State University to study electrical engineering. He eventually abandoned his college career and instead went on to develop the world’s first personal computer in the mid-'70s.

19. Bluegrass and folk fans, take note: The American Banjo Museum, which hosts the largest collection of the instruments on public display in the world, is located in downtown Oklahoma City.

20. Oklahoma is home to the Will Rogers World Airport and the Wiley Post Airport. The two famous Oklahomans both died in the same plane crash.

21. On the grounds of the Oklahoma governor’s mansion is a panhandled swimming pool in the shape of the state's boundary lines. 

Google Maps

22. Oklahoma City is the site of the historic National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Notable items include pieces donated from the personal collection of John Wayne, who was a member of the museum’s board of trustees from 1968 till his death in 1979.  

23. Oklahoma boasts the highest density of indigenous languages in the U.S. There are over 40 distinct Native American languages spoken in the state.

24. Oklahoma is the only state that produces iodine—an important element used in various types of medicine. It’s a byproduct of the state’s natural gas wells, which draw up iodine-rich brine water from the salt deposits deep beneath the surface. They produce so much of it that the U.S. is third behind only Chile and Japan in terms of iodine production.

25. Oklahoma’s official state meal is truly a gut-buster: it consists of squash, corn bread, fried okra, barbecue pork, grits, biscuits, sausage and gravy, corn, strawberries, chicken-fried steak, black-eyed peas, and pecan pie. 

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P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all-time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.

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