Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Unusual Facts About Utah

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Settled by Mormon pioneers in 1847, ceded to the U.S. in 1848, and finally recognized as a state in 1896, Utah has one of the most unique histories of any state in the union. It’s also home to some stunning natural landmarks, peculiar customs, and settings that should be familiar to anyone who’s a fan of Westerns. Here are 25 things you might not know about the Beehive State.

1. Utah is where you can find one of the heaviest organisms on earth. The Trembling Giant, or Pando, in the Fishlake National Forest, is made up of 47,000 genetically identical trees that share a single root system. In addition to being notably massive, it’s also among the oldest organisms on earth—it's been alive for more than 80,000 years.

2. According to the state’s license plates, Utah boasts “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” This claim is based around the notion that the snow is supposedly lighter and drier than what’s found in other states, which lends itself well to deep-powder skiing. Research has shown that while Utah’s dry, fluffy snow may not be unique to the state, the high amount of snowfall that hits its top ski resort has helped to boost its reputation.

3. The town of Levan (which is "navel" spelled backwards) is located in the middle of the Utah. According to local lore, the town got its name because it sits at what would be the belly-button of the state, although the official story goes that Brigham Young picked out the tag.

4. Philo T. Farnsworth, the man best known for inventing a prototype of the first all-electric television, was born in Beaver, Utah in 1906. His love of tinkering was apparent from a young age. As a teenager, he converted his parents’ home appliances to electric power and won a national contest by inventing a magnetized car lock. He first sketched out his concept for the vacuum tube that would later revolutionize television in his high school chemistry class, but it was brushed off by his teacher and classmates at the time.

5. In 1869, the nation’s first transcontinental railroad was completed in Promontory, Utah. Construction on the project began in Sacramento to the west and in Omaha to the east and took seven years to build.

6. The Bonneville Salt Flats comprises 30,000 acres of desolate, densely packed salt pan. The spot’s incredibly flat and smooth terrain makes it a popular destination for speed-seeking land racers. In 1964, a man named Norman Craig Breedlove broke the record for longest continuous tire skid when he lost control of his jet-powered Spirit of America on the flats. The resulting skid marks stretched 6 miles long.

Mr. Nixter via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

7. Loftus International, a family-run novelty company in Salt Lake City, sells between 10,000 and 20,000 rubber chickens each year.

8. The official state cooking vessel of Utah is the Dutch oven. Like the ax and the rifle, these cast iron cooking pots would have been considered precious necessities by westbound pioneers coming to the state in the 19th century. Utah recognized the Dutch oven as an official state symbol in 1997.

9. Utah is the only state where every county contains some part of a national forest.

10. Sixty percent of Utah’s population is Mormon (compared to just 2 percent of the American population overall), making it the most religiously-homogeneous state in the nation. This comes through in many aspects of the state’s culture, their unique liquor laws being one major example. Newer restaurants in Utah are required to erect an opaque barrier or “Zion Curtain” around their bars to keep children from seeing alcoholic drinks as they’re being prepared.

11. Walter Fredrick Morrison, the man credited for inventing the Frisbee, was a Utah native. The inspiration for the idea came from tossing tin cake pans back and forth on the beach with his future wife. He began manufacturing “Pluto Platters” of his own in 1948.

12. In 1847, seagulls helped save the lives of pioneers by consuming swarms of crickets that threatened to wipe out their crops. The event was dubbed the “Miracle of the Gulls” and in 1913 a monument depicting two bronze seagulls perched atop a granite column was erected in Salt Lake City’s Temple Square to commemorate the event. The California Gull has since been adopted as Utah’s official state bird.

BigBen212 via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

13. Utahans eat twice the amount of lime green Jell-O as the rest of the population. A popular way to consume the sweet treat in Utah is to add shredded carrots to the mix.

14. The Utahraptor, one of the largest raptors ever known to exist, was discovered in Utah and named after the state. At around 18 feet long, it would have more closely resembled the raptors depicted in Jurassic Park (1993) than its measly cousin the Velociraptor. It was almost named after the movie’s director, but the paleontologist who discovered it was unsuccessful when he proposed the idea to Spielberg in exchange for fieldwork funds.

15. The location of the first-ever KFC wasn’t in Kentucky, but 1500 miles west in Salt Lake City, Utah. The iconic fried chicken recipe was first served in the cafe of Colonel Sanders's friend (and Utah native) Leon W. "Pete" Harman. While paying a visit to his friend’s home in Salt Lake City, Sanders was able to convince him to put the chicken on his menu at the Harman cafe. Harman agreed, and when Sanders returned to Utah a few weeks later he found customers lined up down the street waiting to taste his product. His success at the Utah location inspired him to continue licensing his chicken recipe to restaurants across the country.

16. Utah’s Arches National Park is known for containing more than 2000 natural sandstone arches. In the past, hikers who have discovered undocumented arches have been given the honor of getting to name them.

Palacemusic via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

17. Utah is the only state whose capital is three words long. At one point it was even longer: Salt Lake City was originally named Great Salt Lake City” for its proximity to the Great Salt Lake, but they decided to drop the “Great” in 1868.

18. If your vision of the Old West is informed by films and shows like Stagecoach, The Lone Ranger, and Gunsmoke, you’re likely picturing Kane County. It’s often referred to as “Little Hollywood” because it’s served as the backdrop for dozens of Westerns over the years. You can go here to check out the full list (non-Westerns like Arabian Nights and the original Planet of the Apes were also filmed there).

19. It’s illegal to modify the weather in Utah—at least without a permit. The Utah Administrative Code defines weather modification or “cloud seeding" as, “All acts undertaken to artificially distribute or create nuclei in cloud masses for the purposes of altering precipitation, cloud forms, or other meteorological parameters."

20. The Uintah County Library houses a collection of handmade dolls modeled after every U.S. First Lady up to Nancy Reagan.

21. Utah lays claim to one of the biggest man-made pits on earth. About a 30 minute drive from Salt Lake City, the Bingham Canyon mine has produced 18.1 million tons of copper since the Kennecott Copper Corp. began digging there a century ago. The mine reaches a quarter of a mile into the earth, making it deep enough to fit two Willis Buildings stacked on top of one another and still have room left at the top. The pit’s massive size makes it easily visible to astronauts as they pass over the state. And because Kennecott digs approximately 250,000 tons of rock from the pit every day, tourists can see the hole grow bigger with every visit (the mine is currently closed to visitors due to movement detected on its northeast wall).

22. When Jim Bridger became the first English-speaking person to discover the Great Salt Lake in 1824, he mistakenly thought he had reached the Pacific Ocean. The Great Salt Lake contains between 4.5 and 4.9 billion tons of dissolved salt. The parts of the lake with the highest salt content are nearly nine times saltier than the ocean.

23. According to a recent study conducted by WalletHub, Utah is home to the most charitable people in the country. Utah ranked first in volunteer rates among residents, first in percentage of donated income, and first in median contribution to charity.

24. Bryce Canyon is one of five national parks in the state. The most unique feature of the park are its sprawling forests of Hoodoos, or thin pillars of rock shaped by years of erosion. Nineteenth-century Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce, for whom the park is named, apparently described it as "a hell of a place to lose a cow."

Jean-Christophe BENOIST via Wikimedia Commons //CC BY 3.0

25. Utah was the site of the nation’s first department store. The Mormon leader Brigham Young founded the Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution, or ZCMI, in 1868 in Salt Lake City. The 130-year enterprise finally shut down in 1999, when the Mormon Church sold the store to the Macy’s corporation.

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Marie Antoinette's Jewelry Is Up for Sale
Michael Bowles, Getty Images for Sotheby's
Michael Bowles, Getty Images for Sotheby's

Rare jewelry that once belonged to Marie Antoinette and hasn't been seen in public for 200 years will be heading to the auction block this fall, according to The Adventurine.

A diamond parure (jewelry set), three-strand pearl necklace, and other gems that once adorned the last queen of France will be sold on November 12 in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of Sotheby's "Royal Jewels from the Bourbon-Parma Family" auction. The family in question is related by blood to some of Europe's most important rulers, including former kings of France and Spain and emperors of Austria.

A diamond jewelry set
Courtesy of Sotheby's

Although Marie Antoinette was known for her opulent fashion choices, her jewels have scarcely been seen since the French Revolution, The Adventurine reports. The Smithsonian owns a pair of earrings that are believed to contain diamonds from the queen's collection, and a diamond necklace that appeared at a Christie's auction in 1971 "hasn't been seen since." The jewelry magazine notes that many of Marie Antoinette's jewels were dismantled, but a few—like the ones featured in this latest collection—managed to survive.

A pearl necklace
Courtesy of Sotheby's

According to Sotheby's, Marie Antoinette placed all her jewels in a wooden chest in March 1791 and shipped them off to her nephew, the Austrian Emperor, for safekeeping [PDF]. That following year, the royal family was imprisoned, and in 1793 Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVII were executed by guillotine. Their only surviving child, Marie Thérèse de France, retrieved the jewels and later passed them along to her niece, since she had no children of her own. They ultimately ended up with Robert I, the last ruling Duke of Parma in Italy.

The most valuable piece, a pearl pendant featuring a bow made of diamonds, is expected to fetch between $1 million and $2 million, according to the auction house's estimates. In the late 18th century, pearls were just as coveted as diamonds because of their rarity. Marie Antoinette, of course, wore them often.

A diamond and pearl pendant
Courtesy of Sotheby's

"It is one of the most important royal jewelry collections ever to appear on the market and each and every jewel is absolutely imbued with history," Daniela Mascetti, of Sotheby's European jewelry division, said in a statement.

[h/t The Adventurine]

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12 Facts About James Joyce
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.

1. HE WAS ONLY 9 WHEN HIS FIRST PIECE OF WRITING WAS PUBLISHED.

In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.

2. HE CAUSED A CONTROVERSY AT HIS COLLEGE’S PAPER.

While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.

3. NORA BARNACLE GHOSTED HIM FOR THEIR PLANNED FIRST DATE.

By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.

4. HE HAD REALLY BAD EYES.

While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.

5. HE TAUGHT ENGLISH AT A BERLITZ LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.

6. HE INVESTED IN A MOVIE THEATER.

There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)

7. HE TURNED TO A COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED PUBLISHER TO RELEASE HIS MOST WELL-KNOWN BOOK.

The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.

8. ERNEST HEMINGWAY WAS HIS DRINKING BUDDY—AND SOMETIMES HIS BODYGUARD.

Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"

9. HE MET ANOTHER MODERNIST TITAN—AND HAD A TERRIBLE TIME.

Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”

10. HE CREATED A 100-LETTER WORD TO DESCRIBE HIS FEAR OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.

Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).

11. HE’S THOUGHT OF AS A LITERARY GENIUS, BUT NOT EVERYONE WAS A FAN.

Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”

12. HIS SUPPOSED FINAL WORDS WERE AS ABSTRACT AS HIS WRITING.

Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce

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