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Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Cozy Facts About Vermont

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Officially recognized as the 14th state in 1791, Vermont (taken from the French word “vert,” or green, and “mont,” for mountain) has long represented bucolic, comfortable living. Whether you’re considering a vacation or relocation, have a look at some of the area’s most intriguing bits of trivia. 

1. It wasn’t always so cozy. The French and Indian War made the territory which would later be known as Vermont a chaotic place of unrest; it wasn't until the arrival of peacetime in 1763 that waves of settlers decided to give it a shot. While they were motivated to populate the area, resources like saw mills were limited; early log houses had bark roofs and flooring. 

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2. They had a beef with New York. The neighboring state had tried to claim the land as its own in the 1770s, even escalating the tension to include a small-scale invasion and threats of seizure by brandishing land titles in 1775. The resulting battle, dubbed the Westminster Massacre, left two dead.  

3. Bitter over New York’s aggression, Vermont opted to call itself a republic in 1777, electing its own president (Thomas Chittenden), making its own money, and writing a constitution that predated the U.S. version by ten years. By 1790, however, it relented and paid New York $30,000 in silver to get off its back.

4. It tried to abolish slavery early. When Vermont drafted its constitution in 1777, it made slave ownership illegal. While it was an important first step, some of the fine print was problematic: It applied only to adults 18 and over, and many of its citizens were allowed to continue the practice into the early 1800s.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

5. It once elected a congressman who was sitting in jail. In 1798, brawling politician Matthew Lyons was cooling off in a cell after declaring that President John Adams was fond of “pomp,” or showboating, which was an infraction of the country’s Sedition Act. The misstep did little to sway voters, who re-elected him to the House of Representatives even as he was behind bars.

6. One of its residents led the way in women’s education. Emma Willard was encouraged by her father to pursue studies that were previously only available to men. Moving from Connecticut to Vermont in 1807, she became principal of a Middlebury women’s academy. Leaving to have children, she continued to study advanced textbooks at home and later opened a girls' school out of the same residence. Willard’s ambitions came at a time women were banned from attending college and discouraged from teaching while married.

7. Cavendish was home to one of the most infamous neurological case studies in history. Phineas Gage was part of a railroad crew in 1848 when a tamping iron propelled by explosive powder shot clear through his brain. Seemingly unharmed, Gage remained conscious, and lived over a decade longer to the age of 36. His personality, however, was dramatically altered: he lost any sense of decorum, swore often, and became a case study in how brain trauma could affect personality. 

8. Vermont really embraced the covered-bridge craze. In the 1800s, several states took to constructing bridges with awnings to shield the wood-built crossings from the elements—and later, to make an artistic statement. Vermont has over 100 of them.

9. It wasn’t too hospitable to John Deere. The famous inventor was born in Vermont in 1804 and spent much of his early life mastering the blacksmith trade. After finding that his services weren’t needed in the area and that creditors were going to make his life miserable, Deere headed for Illinois, where he revised conventional soil plows and later became renowned for his farm equipment business.

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10. Your grocery aisles are stuffed with imitation pancake syrup, but it’s Vermont that has the market cornered on the real thing. The state’s genuine maple syrup production adds up to 1.2 million gallons every year, twice as much as runner-up New York.

11. While skiing is responsible for much of the state's tourism, over 30 percent of visitors come during the summer months to check out the parks and campsites, and to visit area lakes.  

12. Rudyard Kipling had a vision for all that snow beyond skiing: he invented “snow golf.” The author, who moved to Brattleboro with his wife in 1892, was fond of using clubs or tree branches to swat at golf balls he colored red so they’d stick out in the snow; tees were made from small, packed-down mounds of snow. Today, golf purists desperate for action sometimes take up the practice when courses are snowed in.

13. Vermont’s state capital of Montpelier happens to be the smallest in the nation. With just over 8000 residents, it’s dwarfed by Albany’s 98,000.

14. It gave the U.S. its own version of the Loch Ness Monster. “Champ,” an aquatic beast said to live in Lake Champlain, was once pursued by P.T. Barnum and has been seen by hundreds of witnesses as far back as the 1800s. In 1982, Vermont wryly declared the lake a safe haven for the creature. 

15. Its two most famous residents are on a first-name basis with the rest of the country. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first ice cream location, Ben and Jerry's, in Burlington in 1978 using $12,000 in seed money. In 1983, they built a 27,102-pound sundae as a promotional stunt. In 1987, the company began giving away all of their delicious waste to Vermont’s hog farmers to feed to their pigs.

16. Before they become synonymous with ice cream, Ben and Jerry also served up soup and crepes—and peddled pottery—in their original location, a converted gas station.

17. Brattleboro had a public nudity problem. In 2006, the town’s more modest thinkers were up in arms when teenagers began to jog and ride bikes while naked. An “emergency” ordinance was passed to ban the practice in 2007. A vote the following month restored the right to bare all. 

18. The von Trapp family depicted in The Sound of Music are proud Vermont residents. Arriving in 1942, the family settled in Stowe and purchased a ski lodge: Johannes von Trapp, the eldest child, still operates the property.

19. Norman Rockwell used it as inspiration. The famed painter moved to Arlington with his family in 1939. It’s said that much of his work in the 1940s reflected the nature of small-town life that surrounded him. He even used residents and landmarks as models.  

20. It was the first state to recognize same-sex civil unions. Amid some heated protesting and debates from all sides, the state legalized what it dubbed “civil unions” in 2000. (The term “marriage” was challenged by lawmakers.) In 2003, it was found that 85 percent of those joined together there had come from out of state.

21. There’s only one area code for the entire state: 802. The number has become a popular designation for tourist gear and residential license plates.

22. They had big problems with margarine. To protect the butter industry at the turn of the century, states like Wisconsin and Vermont insisted that margarine manufacturers dye their white spreads a queasy pink.

23. They’re stuffed to the brim with cute. The Vermont Teddy Bear Company operates out of Shelburne and offers factory tours to over 150,000 people annually.

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24. Billboards are illegal there. In 1968, legislator Ted Riehle proposed a law banning advertising that would distract from the colorful landscapes. Farmers didn’t love it—it cost them money from advertisers—but the ban stuck. (The state sometimes makes an exception for hand-painted murals promoting tourism.)

25. It’s the second-most peaceful state in the nation. 2012 crime rate statistics by the Institute for Economics and Peace indicated that Vermont suffers just one murder per 100,000 residents and 129 incidences of violent crime in the same population. Maine is number one. Then again, they don’t have to fight over ice cream.

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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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History
A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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