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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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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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13 Secrets From the Guinness Archives
Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Guinness has been a staple in Irish pubs for nearly 260 years. With so much history, it's no surprise that the Guinness Storehouse Archives—which are open to the public—are stuffed with intriguing artifacts that tell some pretty wild stories. Here are a few.

1. THE LEASE TO THE DUBLIN BREWERY WAS INTENDED TO LAST 9000 YEARS.

In 1759, founder Arthur Guinness signed a lease for a four-acre property at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. The lease required a down payment of £100, an annual rent of £45, and a term of 9000 years (not a typo). Such lengthy leases were relatively common back then: “At the time in Ireland, there was a lot of instability to do with land tenure,” explains Fergus Brady, Archives Manager at Guinness. Centuries earlier, the British had begun confiscating land from native Irish in an effort to build plantations, and extra-long leases were a means of avoiding this fate. As Brady explains, “You see these really long leases: 99-year or 999-year leases. It seemed to be a legal custom at the time that they used the number nine.”

2. ARTHUR GUINNESS WAS NOT AFRAID TO DEFEND HIS PROPERTY WITH A PICKAXE.

In 1775, the Dublin Corporation—that is, the city government—demanded that Arthur Guinness pay for the spring water flowing to his brewery. When Guinness argued that he was already paying for water rights through his 9000-year rental agreement, the Dublin Corporation sent a sheriff and a committee to his brewery to cut off the water supply. Guinness was livid. He seized a pickaxe and unleashed a torrent of obscenities so colorful that the Dublin Corporation’s goons eventually retreated.

3. GUINNESS ONCE DEPLOYED FIELD AGENTS TO CATCH COUNTERFEITERS.

Guinness Apology
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In the 19th century, there was no such thing as brand consistency. Guinness did not bottle its own beer; instead, it shipped the suds in wooden casks to publicans who supplied their own bottles and applied their own personalized labels. Occasionally, these publicans sold fake or adulterated Guinness. To prevent such sales, the company sent special agents called “travellers” into the field to collect beer samples, which it tested in a laboratory. “If a publican was found to be serving adulterated or counterfeit Guinness, they had to give a public apology in their local newspaper—and even the national newspapers,” archivist Jessica Handy says.

4. FOR 21 YEARS, THE COMPANY HIRED A GUY TO TRAVEL THE WORLD AND DRINK BEER.

In 1899, Guinness hired an American ex-brewer named Arthur T. Shand to be a “Guinness World Traveller.” It was arguably the coolest job in the world. For 21 years, Shand traveled the world taste-testing beer. According to Brady, “His job was to travel the world and taste Guinness, say whether it was good or bad, who our bottlers in the market were, who our major competition was, what kind of people were drinking our product.” Shand traveled to Australia and New Zealand, to Southeast Asia and Egypt. “He was sort of a Guinness sommelier,” Brady says.

5. THE COMPANY'S HARP LOGO CAUSED TROUBLE WITH THE IRISH GOVERNMENT.

The Celtic harp—based on the 14th century “Brian Boru Harp” preserved at Trinity College—became a trademarked Guinness logo in 1876. Forty-five years later, when Ireland gained independence from England, the Irish Free State decided to use the same Celtic harp as its official state emblem. This became awkward. Guinness owned the trademark, and the Irish government was forced to search for a workaround. You can find their solution on an Irish Euro coin. Look at the coin, and you’ll notice that the harp’s straight edge faces the right; meanwhile, the harp on a glass of Guinness shows the straight edge facing left [PDF].

6. GUINNESS REPORTEDLY SAVED LIVES ON THE BATTLEFIELD.

The old slogan “Guinness is good for you” sounds like a marketing gimmick, but it was born out of a genuine belief that the beer was, in fact, a restorative tonic. The health claim dates back to 1815, when an ailing cavalry officer wounded at the Battle of Waterloo reportedly credited Guinness for his recovery. For decades, the medical community widely claimed that the dark beer possessed real health benefits—and they weren’t necessarily wrong. “There was little safe drinking water at the time,” Handy says. “But with brewing, consumers knew they were getting a safe beverage.”

7. THE COMPANY CREATED A SPECIAL RECIPE FOR CONVALESCENTS.

A label for Guinness invalid stout
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

From the 1880s to the 1920s, Guinness produced a special “Nourishing Export Stout”—a.k.a. “Invalid Stout”—that contained extra sugars, alcohol, and solids and came in cute one-third pint bottles. “It was very common practice for people to buy a couple bottles and keep them as a tonic, even if it was just a glass or half a glass,” Handy says. In fact, Guinness went as far as asking general practitioners for testimonials attesting to the beer’s medical benefits. According to Brady, “Many of them wrote back and said yes, we prescribe this for various ailments.” One doctor even claimed a pint was “as nourishing as a glass of milk.”

8. DOCTORS REGULARLY PRESCRIBED THE BEER TO NURSING MOTHERS.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, many physicians believed Guinness was an effective galactagogue—that is, a lactation aid. The company sent bottles to hospitals as well as wax cartons of yeast (which supposedly helped skin problems and migraines). Hundreds, possibly thousands, of doctors prescribed the beer for ailments such as influenza, insomnia, and anxiety, David Hughes writes in A Bottle of Guinness Please: The Colourful History of Guinness. According to Brady, the company was sending beer to hospitals as late as the 1970s.

9. THE COMPANY ONCE DROPPED 200,000 MESSAGES-IN-A-BOTTLE INTO THE OCEAN.

A Guinness message in a bottle
The message within every bottle dropped in the Atlantic Ocean in 1959.
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In 1954, Guinness dumped 50,000 messages-in-a-bottle in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 1959, they repeated the stunt again, with 38 ships dropping 150,000 bottles in the Atlantic. The first bottle was discovered in the Azores off Portugal just three months after the initial drop [PDF]. Since then, the bottles have turned up in California, New Zealand, and South Africa. Just last year, a bottle was discovered in Nova Scotia. (If you find one, you just might be offered a trip to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.)

10. THE PERSONNEL FILES IN THE GUINNESS ARCHIVES CONTAIN SOME DOOZIES.

The Guinness corporate archives are open to the public. According to Handy, “Some of the stories you get in there are amazing, because you get accident reports and you get crazy stories of people bouncing on bags of hops outside the brewery." This may sound less surprising considering that, back in the day, Guinness employees were given an allowance of two pints of beer every day [PDF].

11. A GUINNESS SCIENTIST MADE A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT MARK IN THE FIELD OF STATISTICS.

If you’ve taken a statistics class, you might be familiar with the Student’s t-test or the t-statistic. (It’s a method of working with a small sample size when the standard deviation is unknown.) The t-test was first described by William S. Gosset, a brewer and statistician at Guinness who was attempting to analyze a small sample of malt extract. Gosset’s discovery not only helped Guinness create a more consistent-tasting beer, it would lay the bedrock for one of the most important concepts in statistics: statistical significance.

12. GUINNESS IS SO BIG IN AFRICA, IT LAUNCHED A SUCCESSFUL FEATURE-LENGTH FILM.

Guinness began exporting beer to Africa in 1827. In the 1960s, it opened a brewery in Nigeria—followed by Cameroon and Ghana. Today, there are reportedly more Guinness drinkers in Nigeria than there are in Ireland. “In Ireland, England, and the United States, everybody thinks that Guinness is synonymous with Ireland,” Brady says. “But in Nigeria, there’s a very very low conception of that.” The beer is such a cultural staple that a fictional character who advertised the product named Michael Power—a James Bond-like, crime-fighting journalist—became the star of a feature film in 2003 called Critical Assignment, which was a box office smash. (Of course, there’s some branding built into the script. As Brady explains, “There are definitely scenes where Michael Power is enjoying a pint of Guinness.”)

13. DISPENSING BEER WITH NITROGEN WAS ORIGINALLY CONSIDERED LAUGHABLE.

In the 1950s, Guinness scientist Michael Ash was tasked with solving the “draft problem.” At the time, dispensing a draft pint of Guinness was ridiculously complicated, and the company was losing market share to draft lagers in Britain that could be easily dispensed with CO2. “The stout was too lively to be dispensed with CO2 only,” Brady says. “Ash worked on the problem for four years, working long hours day or night, and became a bit of a recluse apparently. A lot of doubters at the brewery called the project ‘daft Guinness.’” But then Ash attempted dispensing the beer with plain air. It worked. The secret ingredient, Ash discovered, was nitrogen. The air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. Today, a Guinness draft contains 75 percent nitrogen. Not only did the discovery make dispensing the beer easier, it created a creamy mouthfeel that’s been the signature of Irish stouts since.

Full disclosure: Guinness paid for the author to attend an International Stout Day festival in 2017, which provided the opportunity to speak to their archivists.

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