Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Evergreen Facts About Washington

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Admitted to the Union in 1889, America’s 42nd state is known for its great coffee and even greater outdoor attractions. Blanketed in lush forests and sprawling farmlands, Washington is one of America’s largest producers of fresh produce, rock & roll music, and tech start-ups. Here are 25 facts you might not know about the Evergreen State.

1. You might know that Washington State was named after American founding father George Washington, and that it’s the only state named after a president.  But did you know that Washington’s capital, Olympia, was named for the Olympic Mountains? Or that the Olympic Mountains were named after Mount Olympus of Greek legend? Explorer John Meares gave the Olympic Mountains their name in 1788, exclaiming, “If that be not the home where dwell the Gods, it is beautiful enough to be, and I therefore call it Mount Olympus.” 

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2. John Meares didn’t always award his discoveries such flattering names, however. In addition to naming the Olympic Mountains, the explorer also dubbed a headland in southwest Washington “Cape Disappointment,” a name that remains to this day. Whether or not you actually find Cape Disappointment disappointing probably depends on whether you’re a fan of fog: The area is one of the most consistently overcast in the state, with an average of 106 days of fog a year.  

3. Even though Olympia is Washington’s capital, Seattle is its most populated city. In fact, close to 60 percent of Washington residents live in the Seattle metropolitan area.

4. Washington is the biggest producer of apples, raspberries, and sweet cherries in America. As of 2010, more than 90 percent of America’s red raspberries and close to three out of every five apples in the U.S. were grown in Washington. The official state fruit is the apple.

5. Washington State is 52 percent forest. The state is home to an incredibly diverse range of flora and fauna, including some of the oldest trees in the country. If you’re a lover of the great outdoors (or just fascinated by very old things), Grove of the Patriarchs trail near Mount Rainier is the perfect place to see some of the state’s oldest trees: Several are over a thousand years old and more than 25 feet in circumference.

6. Nowadays, it feels like there’s a Starbucks on every street corner in America. But the company started out in 1971 with just one store in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. It remained a local establishment until the 1980s when it was purchased by Howard Shultz’s coffee company Il Giornale. It opened its first stores outside of Washington in 1987 in Chicago and Vancouver, Canada. Shultz remains CEO to this day.

Sali Sasaki, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

7. Washington State has a long and rich musical history. Seattle is, of course, famous for launching the grunge movement and the careers of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains. But a wide range of musicians come from Washington, including guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, hip hop legend Sir Mix-a-Lot, and singer/actor Bing Crosby. 

8. Back in Washington’s Wild West days, Aberdeen was thought to be the state’s toughest town. It was often called “the roughest town West of the Mississippi,” and was known for its gambling and violence. Nowadays, it’s best known as the birthplace of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. 

Brandy, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

9. Now the biggest online retailer in America, Amazon.com was started by Jeff Bezos in a converted garage in Bellevue, just outside of Seattle, in 1994. Their move to Seattle proper marked the start of a golden era for startups in the Pacific Northwest (and in Seattle, specifically). Outside of Silicon Valley, Seattle has become one of the fastest growing tech job markets in America in recent years.

10. Washington hosted the World’s Fair twice. In 1962, the Century 21 Expo (also known as the Seattle World’s Fair) was held in Seattle, where the Space Needle was built for the event. Then, in 1974, the first environmentally-themed world’s fair, Expo ’74, was held in Spokane. To this day, Spokane is the smallest city to host a World’s Fair. 

11. The skeletal remains of the Kennewick Man, one of the most complete ancient human skeletons every discovered, were found by two college students in Kennewick, Washington in 1996. Scientists believe the skeleton is around 9000 years old. 

12. Longview, Washington, is home to several bridges made specifically for squirrels. The first bridge, called Nutty Narrows, was constructed in 1963 by local builder Amos Peters to help squirrels cross a busy street. The bridge was so popular amongst squirrels, residents, and tourists, that four more have been constructed in different styles. 

Ted Drake, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

13. One of the best remembered, and most bizarre, high school football games in Washington history occurred in 1988 between rival teams the Colfax Bulldogs and the St. Johns Eagles. The game was a rematch, played half a century after the Eagles beat the Bulldogs 14-0 in the original 1938 game. The “Codger Bowl,” as it’s now known, was played by a group of former high school football stars in their late 60s, and was organized by former Colfax resident and movie star John Crawford. In the end, the Bulldogs beat the Eagles 6-0, and an enormous 65-foot-tall statue was carved to commemorate the game and its elderly players. 

14. If you’re hankering for a damn fine cup of coffee and a slice of cherry pie, Twede’s Cafe in North Bend has both. It’s also the cafe that was used to film the Double R Diner scenes in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

Elizabeth, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

15. While Washington is home to many awe-inspiring forests, the Ginkgo Petrified Tree Forest in Eastern Washington is one of the most unique. In the 1930s, highway workers digging up land for a new road found their progress hindered by pieces of fallen tree as hard as rock. These were the fossilized—or petrified—remains of ancient trees. The government decided to set the land aside for a historic preserve, and founded the Ginkgo Petrified Tree Forest, which soon became famous for its fascinating fossils, and for its Wanapum petroglyphs (Wanapum carvings dating back centuries).

agit-prop, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

16. It’s illegal to shoot Bigfoot in Skamania County, Washington. According to one account, the law was put in the books at the height of the Bigfoot craze—not to protect the mythical creature, but to protect citizens from the overly enthusiastic, weapon-toting paranormal enthusiasts flocking to the area. In Texas, meanwhile, hunting Bigfoot is completely legal on private land (as long as you have the landowner’s consent).

17. Seattle is home to a Dialysis Museum, which is dedicated to preserving the history of dialysis machines and the treatment of kidney disease in the United States.

18. Founded in Long Beach in 1935, Marsh’s Free Museum is more sideshow than field trip fodder. The museum, which is free to visit (but has plenty of tantalizing souvenirs for sale) boasts oddities like “Jake The Alligator Man,” a taxidermied “Half-Man Half-Gator.”

19. Washington is a popular location for filmmaking. Films shot in the state include 2002's The Ring (which used Seattle’s fog to great effect), The Hunt For Red October (1990), and 10 Things I Hate About You (1999).

20. The Washington State Fair, also known as the Puyallup Fair, is the largest annual attraction in the state. The fair combines food, amusement park attractions (including a Merry-Go-Round that’s been in operation at the fair since 1923), and livestock competitions.

21. During World War II, the Washington State Fairgrounds were put to a darker use. Renamed “Camp Harmony,” the grounds were used for the internment of Japanese Americans.

22. According to a 2014 study of restaurant menus around America, prawns are the most distinctly “Washingtonian” food. That is, while they’re not necessarily the state’s most beloved cuisine or its most frequently served, they are served in Washington more often than in any other state. According to the study, prawn dishes appear on 47 percent of Washington’s restaurant menus (as opposed to 9 percent throughout the other 49 states). 

23. Father’s Day originated in Washington in 1910. It began as a statewide holiday, created by Spokane resident Sonora Smart Dodd, who wanted to find a way to honor her own father, a civil war veteran and single parent who had raised six children on his own. 

24. The official state folk song of Washington is “Roll on Columbia, Roll On” by Woody Guthrie. Though Guthrie never lived in Washington State, he was inspired by the state during his brief visit in 1941.

25. The official state song of Washington, meanwhile, is “Washington, My Home.” However, few Washingtonians know the words to the official song, and in 1985, Whatcom County Commissioner Craig Cole petitioned the State of Washington to change the official state song to "Louie Louie" which was written by Richard Berry in 1955 and first made popular by Tacoma-based group The Wailers in 1960. (The Oregon-based Kingsmen, of course, would go on to record the 1963 version we all still croon in the shower today.)

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Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
When John Lennon and Yoko Ono Mailed Acorns to World Leaders
 Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Dennis Oulds, Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

John Lennon and Yoko Ono had a big year in 1969. Following a quick wedding ceremony in Gibraltar, they hopped over to Amsterdam and used their honeymoon suite at the Hilton as a stage for their week-long “Bed-In for Peace” protest against the Vietnam War. A week later they were in Vienna wearing bags over their bodies and declaring the formation of a comical new philosophy called “bagism." Their goal, they said, was to promote "total communication" by getting people to focus on their message instead of their skin color, ethnicity, clothes, or in Lennon's case, hair length.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with a sign reading "bagism"
Bob Aylott, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

These attention-grabbing antics were among their most famous peace efforts, but that same year they undertook a very different project. This time, away from the cameras, Lennon and Ono mailed acorns to some of the world's most important leaders and asked that they be planted in support of world peace.

The idea had been a year in the making. While filming a part for a movie called A Love Story on June 15, 1968, Lennon and Ono planted two acorns at England’s Coventry Cathedral, which had been bombed during WWII and was later rebuilt as a symbol of peace. They were “planted in east and westerly positions,” symbolizing the union of Lennon and Ono and their respective cultures.

Then, in 1969, they decided to scale up their "peace acorn" project. Along with two acorns placed in a small, round case, they sent world leaders a letter that read: “Enclosed in this package we are sending you two living sculptures—which are acorns—in the hope that you will plant them in your garden and grow two oak trees for world peace. Yours with love, John and Yoko Ono Lennon.”

Like the proverb “Great oaks from little acorns grow,” the couple understood the power of small gestures and wanted to start a conversation that would get world leaders thinking about the possibility of peace—or in Lennon's words, to encourage them to "give peace a chance."

John and Yoko hold up a protest sign that says "War is over if you want it."
Frank Barratt, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

They did provoke some thought, at least. In a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon explained, “We got reaction to sending acorns—different heads of state actually planted their acorns, lots of them wrote to us answering about the acorns. We sent acorns to practically everybody in the world.”

The two acorns were “submitted to Her Majesty [Queen Elizabeth II] in due course,” according to a letter that the Privy Purse Office at Buckingham Palace sent to the Lennons. A response from Malaysia confirmed that the acorns were to be planted in Kuala Lumpur’s Palace Gardens, and another letter from South Africa indicated that they would be planted on then-president Jim Fouché’s farm.

Golda Meir, then-prime minister of Israel, reportedly said something along the lines of, “I don’t know who they are but if it’s for peace, we’re for it,” Lennon told Rolling Stone. An official response sent by Meir’s assistant director in 1970 read, “Mrs. Meir very much appreciated the gesture, the underlying symbolism of which she would indeed like to see take root within a realistic framework.”

One particularly polite response came from Cambodia's head of state, Norodom Sihanouk, who worried he had erred in addressing Lennon and Ono as Mr. and Mrs. (he hadn't). He wrote, “Dear Sir and Madam, I may have wrongly assumed the friendly donators of acorns are husband and wife, and would like to submit ‘preventive’ apologies, together with my sincerest thanks for their gift.”

Norodom Sihanouk at a naval event
Norodom Sihanouk at a naval event in 1960
Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ono saved all of these letters, and photocopies can be viewed on her website. For his part, Lennon memorialized the event in The Beatles single "The Ballad of John and Yoko." In case you've ever wondered what the line "50 acorns tied in a sack" means, the verse in question references the events following their honeymoon and return to London:

Caught the early plane back to London
Fifty acorns tied in a sack
The men from the press
Said we wish you success
It's good to have the both of you back

To mark the 40th anniversary of the peace acorn offering in 2009, Ono recreated the act and sent acorns to 123 world leaders, including Barack and Michelle Obama. Next year, for the 50th anniversary, it remains to be seen if the famous peace acorns will again make their way around the world. If you happen to be a president or the Queen, you might want to save a spot in your garden, just in case.

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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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