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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The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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History
13 Incredible Facts About Frederick Douglass
Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock
Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock

The list of Frederick Douglass's accomplishments is astonishing—respected orator, famous writer, abolitionist, civil rights leader, presidential consultant—even without considering that he was a former slave with no formal education. In honor of his birth 200 years ago, here are 13 incredible facts about the life of Frederick Douglass.

1. HE BARTERED BREAD FOR KNOWLEDGE.

Because Douglass was a slave, he wasn't allowed to learn to read or write. A wife of a Baltimore slave owner did teach him the alphabet when he was around 12, but she stopped after her husband interfered. Young Douglass took matters into his own hands, cleverly fitting in a reading lesson whenever he was on the street running errands for his owner. As he detailed in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he'd carry a book with him while out and about and trade small pieces of bread to the white kids in his neighborhood, asking them to help him learn to read the book in exchange.

2. HE CREDITED A SCHOOLBOOK FOR SHAPING HIS VIEWS ON HUMAN RIGHTS.

Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

During his youth, Douglass obtained a copy of The Columbian Orator, a collection of essays, dialogues, and speeches on a range of subjects, including slavery. Published in 1797, the Orator was required reading for most schoolchildren in the 1800s and featured 84 selections from authors like Cicero and Milton. Abraham Lincoln was also influenced by the collection when he was first starting in politics.

3. HE TAUGHT OTHER SLAVES TO READ.

While he was hired out to a farmer named William Freeland, a teenaged Douglass taught fellow slaves to read the New Testament—but a mob of locals soon broke up the classes. Undeterred, Douglas began the classes again, sometimes teaching as many as 40 people.

4. HIS FIRST WIFE HELPED HIM ESCAPE FROM SLAVERY.

Portrait of Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick Douglass's first wife.
First published in Rosetta Douglass Sprague's book My Mother As I Recall Her, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Anna Murray was an independent laundress in Baltimore and met Douglass at some point in the mid-1830s. Together they hatched a plan, and one night in 1838, Douglass took a northbound train clothed in a sailor's uniform procured by Anna, with money from her savings in his pocket alongside papers from a sailor friend. About 24 hours later, he arrived in Manhattan a free man. Anna soon joined him, and they married on September 15, 1838.

5. HE CALLED OUT HIS FORMER OWNER.

In an 1848 open letter in the newspaper he owned and published, The North Star, Douglass wrote passionately about the evils of slavery to his former owner, Thomas Auld, saying "I am your fellow man, but not your slave." He also inquired after his family members who were still enslaved a decade after his escape.

6. HE TOOK HIS NAME FROM A POEM.

He was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but after escaping slavery, Douglass used assumed names to avoid detection. Arriving in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Douglass, then using the surname "Johnson," felt there were too many other Johnsons in the area to distinguish himself. He asked his host (ironically named Nathan Johnson) to suggest a new name, and Mr. Johnson came up with Douglas, a character in Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake.

7. HE'S CALLED THE 19TH CENTURY'S MOST PHOTOGRAPHED AMERICAN.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There are 160 separate portraits of Douglass, more than Abraham Lincoln or Walt Whitman, two other heroes of the 19th century. Douglass wrote extensively on the subject during the Civil War, calling photography a "democratic art" that could finally represent black people as humans rather than "things." He gave his portraits away at talks and lectures, hoping his image could change the common perceptions of black men.

8. HE REFUSED TO CELEBRATE THE 4TH OF JULY.

Douglass was well-known as a powerful orator, and his July 5, 1852 speech to a group of hundreds of abolitionists in Rochester, New York, is considered a masterwork. Entitled "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July," the speech ridiculed the audience for inviting a former slave to speak at a celebration of the country who enslaved him. "This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine," he famously said to those in attendance. "Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?" Douglass refused to celebrate the holiday until all slaves were emancipated and laws like the Compromise of 1850, which required citizens (including northerners) to return runaway slaves to their owners, were negated.

9. HE RECRUITED BLACK SOLDIERS FOR THE CIVIL WAR.

The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Douglass was a famous abolitionist by the time the war began in 1861. He actively petitioned President Lincoln to allow black troops in the Union army, writing in his newspaper: "Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march into the South and raise the banner of Emancipation among the slaves." After Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass worked tirelessly to enlist black soldiers, and two of his sons would join the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, famous for its contributions in the brutal battle of Fort Wagner.

10. HE SERVED UNDER FIVE PRESIDENTS.

Later in life, Douglass became more of a statesman, serving in highly appointed federal positions, including U.S. Marshal for D.C., Recorder of Deeds for D.C., and Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti. Rutherford B. Hayes was the first to appoint Douglass to a position in 1877, and Presidents Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison each sought his counsel in various positions as well.

11. HE WAS NOMINATED FOR VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

As part of the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872, Douglass was nominated as a VP candidate, with Victoria Woodhull as the Presidential candidate. (Woodhull was the first-ever female presidential candidate, which is why Hillary Clinton was called "the first female presidential candidate from a major party" during the 2016 election.) However, the nomination was made without his consent, and Douglass never acknowledged it (and Woodhull's candidacy itself is controversial because she wouldn't have been old enough to be president on Inauguration Day). Also, though he was never a presidential candidate, he did receive one vote at each of two nomination conventions.

12. HIS SECOND MARRIAGE STIRRED UP CONTROVERSY.

Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.
Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.

Two years after his first wife, Anna, died of a stroke in 1882, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white abolitionist and feminist who was 20 years younger than him. Even though she was the daughter of an abolitionist, Pitts's family (which had ancestral ties directly to the Mayflower) disapproved and disowned her—showing just how taboo interracial marriage was at the time. The black community also questioned why their most prominent spokesperson chose to marry a white woman, regardless of her politics. But despite the public's and their families' reaction, the Douglasses had a happy marriage and were together until his death in 1895 of a heart attack.

13. AFTER EARLY SUCCESS, HIS NARRATIVE WENT OUT OF PRINT.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, his seminal autobiography, was heralded a success when it came out in 1845, with some estimating that 5000 copies sold in the first few months; the book was also popular in Ireland and Britain. But post-Civil War, as the country moved toward reconciliation and slave narratives fell out favor, the book went out of print. The first modern publication appeared in 1960—during another important era for the fight for civil rights. It is now available for free online.

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