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25 Things You Should Know About Rochester

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For all its grandeur, the Big Apple isn't the only city in New York State. Far from it. Hundreds of great communities call the Empire State “home,” including Rochester—America’s original boom town.

1. Businessman and Colonel Nathaniel Rochester is hailed as the city’s founder. In 1817, it was officially incorporated under the name “Rochesterville,” which was shortened to plain “Rochester” five years later.

2. Today, Rochester is known as both “Flour City” and the “Flower City.” These nicknames arose in the early-to-mid 1800s, when the town boasted both a thriving mill industry and profitable seed trade.

3. Throughout western New York, grade schoolers learn the cautionary tale of Sam Patch. A daring showman, Patch leapt his way into fame and fortune. Between 1827 and 1829, he dazzled crowds by jumping off bridges, buildings, and boat riggings. Among his many feats, the greatest by far was a successful, death-defying hop over the edge of Niagara Falls in October 1829. Alas, Patch’s career came to an abrupt end the very next month. On November 6, he attempted to leap down Genesee Falls, which bisects Rochester. Patch succeeded, but was dissatisfied by the paltry tips his onlookers provided. So, he repeated the stunt nine days later—and this time, he perished.

4. One of America’s snowiest cities, Rochester gets hit with a median annual average of 89.3 inches. You’ve been warned.

5. Frederick Douglass moved to Flour City in 1872, where he’d remain for 25 years. The abolitionist’s grave now overlooks Rochester’s skyline at Mt. Hope cemetery.

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6.
On any list of famous Rochesterians, Susan B. Anthony deserves top billing. In 1872, local authorities arrested her for attempting to vote illegally, prompting a trial in which she delivered what was perhaps the single most influential women’s suffrage speech of all time. Ultimately, the court slapped her with a $100 fine—which Anthony never paid. Her home of four decades on Madison Street is now a National Historic Landmark.

7. Xerox was founded there in 1906 as the “Haloid Photographic Company.” Initially a manufacturer of photographic paper and equipment, it emerged as a juggernaut in the copier trade during the 1960s.

8. With all due respect to Xerox, Kodak is—by far—Rochester’s most famous corporate resident (prior to 2005, it was also the city’s biggest employer). Innovator extraordinaire George Eastman launched the company in 1892. Among his many inventions was the word “Kodak” itself. Eastman rather liked the letter “k,” which he described as “strong” and “incisive.” Thusly inspired, he coined “Kodak”—a memorable but meaningless term—and had it trademarked in 1888.

9. When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, it was specially-designed Kodak film that captured the moment. Furthermore, in recognition for its outstanding contributions to cinema, the Rochester-based company has won nine Academy Awards.  

10. Sports historians cite the Rochester Red Wings as minor league baseball’s oldest continually-operating franchise. Dating back to 1899, the storied club also has the distinction of having lost the longest professional baseball game ever played. On April 18, 1981, the Wings took the field against Pawtucket’s Red Sox in northern Rhode Island. After 32 gridlocked innings, the contest was put on hold at 4:09 a.m. the next morning. This epic showdown remained officially tied until the teams next met on June 23. Then, at long last, Pawtucket scored the winning run at the bottom of inning number 33.

11. Philadelphia has cheesesteaks and Boston’s got clam chowder, but what’s Rochester’s signature dish? A hangover-busting delight affectionately called “the garbage plate.” Several variations exist, with the most popular consisting of hash browns, macaroni, hamburger patties (or, sometimes, sliced hot dogs), ground beef, melted cheese, Italian bread, and hot sauce all strewn together into a haphazard pile. Trust us, they’re worth going up a few pant sizes for.


12.
 Regional entrées also include the beloved white hot. German-American residents invented these pork-based hot dogs during the 1920s as an economical alternative to the more expensive red ones.

13. Joe Simon—the co-creator of Captain America—grew up in Rochester. Following his high school graduation, he worked as a cartoonist and illustrator for the Rochester Evening Journal and Rochester Sunday American. Later on, Simon would move to the Big Apple, where he’d conceive “Cap” with comic book pioneer Jack Kirby.

14. Speaking of Marvel, parts of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 were filmed in Rochester. For one chase scene that involved an enraged, plutonium-touting Paul Giamatti, East Main Street stood in for Manhattan, complete with 59th and Broadway street signs. Masses of local actors were hired as extras.

15. Mohandas Gandhi’s grandson Arun Gandhi currently calls the Flour City home. Along with his wife Sunanda, Arun founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, an organization dedicated to promoting racial justice, environmental sustainability, and peaceful community-building. Created in Memphis, Tennessee, the non-profit is now a part of Rochester’s Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood.

16. Established in 1895, the Rochester Marshmallow Company was the very first American business to mass-produce these fluffy, roast-able treats.

17. Live animals can make for dangerous mascots. Thankfully, the Rochester Institute of Technology took no chances with “Spirit”: a tiger cub who briefly helped rile up the crowds at school athletic contests. In 1963, she was purchased by students for the sum of $1000. Between highly-supervised visits to campus proper, Spirit lived at the nearby Seneca Park Zoo. When it became clear that she’d soon grow too big for these excursions, Spirit was kept at the zoo permanently. Tragically, the big cat died of an incurable genetic defect in October 1964.

18. Drop by for a visit, and you’ll notice an abundance of colorful horse statues on public display all over town. In a 2001 effort to raise money for local charities, artists painted over 100 life-sized bronco sculptures. Sponsored by companies from across the metropolitan area, these horses were decked out in all manner of trappings—from tutus to braces to udders—before being auctioned off and scattered.

19. The NBA’s Sacramento Kings originally played in western New York as the Rochester Royals. Here, the franchise won its only league championship to date by defeating the N.Y. Knicks in the 1951 finals. Despite this victory, the Royals left for Cincinnati after the 1956-57 season. Over the next few decades, they’d set up shop in Kansas City and Omaha before settling down in California’s capital.

20. An ill-fated Flower City subway system started transporting residents in 1927, only to close within a mere 29 years of existence. Urban explorers have since converted the abandoned tunnels into ornate graffiti and mural galleries. Every October, interested parties can take a peek at part of this (literal) underground art scene on a tour led by the Canal Society of New York State.

21. Since 2002, the National Toy Hall of Fame has been headquartered at the Strong National Museum of Play in downtown Rochester. So far, 59 games, dolls, and other playthings have been inducted—including G.I. Joe, checkers, and the cardboard box. To nominate a toy for the 2016 induction process, go here.


22.
 Located in the Rochester suburb of Pittsford, Oak Hill Country Club presents a real challenge for golfers—Tiger Woods himself once called it the “hardest, fairest” course he’d ever played. So far, five stroke play championships have taken place there, in which a combined total of only 10 players were under par.

23. Think you’ve got what it takes to be an Arthurian knight? Head over to E-Z Industrial Park, where a fake sword conspicuously protrudes from the side of a boulder.

24. Another local park has a decidedly spookier claim to fame. Legend has it that the ruins of an old dining hall in Durand-Eastman Park were once the home of a prominent woman whose daughter vanished under mysterious circumstances. Every so often, somebody reportedly sights the grieving parent’s ghost, usually with her two faithful dogs in tow. To Rochesterians, she’s known as “the lady in white”—so named for the pale dresses she supposedly dons.

25. In 2014, a Rochester crowd set an unorthodox Guinness World Record. Clad in purple, pink, and green ponchos, some 2297 people came together to form the largest human flower of all time. Fittingly, this went down at the Lilac Festival, an annual event in which up to 500,000 people get to check out over 200 types of blossoms, trees, and shrubs. Flower City, indeed.

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Neighborhoods
How 8 Phoenix Neighborhoods Got Their Names
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Inhabited by native people for thousands of years and colonized by white settlers in the 1860s, Phoenix has developed a booming economy based around “the Five Cs”: cotton, citrus, cattle, climate, and copper. It's grown from a once-dusty desert town to the state capital, as well as the nation's fifth-largest city, with a population of 1.6 million and counting. Here’s the story of how eight of the city's neighborhoods ended up with their current names.

1. ALHAMBRA

Best known as the founder of Glendale, Arizona, William John Murphy was a pioneer, contractor, and the impresario of the Arizona Improvement Company, created in 1887 to sell land and water rights south of the Arizona Canal. Murphy also greatly contributed to the early development of Scottsdale and Phoenix, and he was responsible for splitting a large chunk of his land along the western border of Phoenix, next to Glendale, into smaller subdivisions [PDF]. He also came up with the subdivision's names; Alhambra stemmed from the 13th-century palace and fortress of the same name in Granada, Spain. Today, the neighborhood is known for large homes and its Murphy Bridle Path, named after its former landowner.

2. AHWATUKEE

The word Ahwatukee—an “urban village” in the East Valley region of Phoenix—has roots in the Crow language, but theories about its translation differ. Before it was a village, the name referred to a single estate built in 1920 that sat at the modern-day streets of Sequoia Trails and Appaloosa Drive. The original builder, William Ames, first named it Casa de Sueños ("house of dreams"), but he died three months after moving in. His widow, Virginia Ames, owned the house until her death in 1932, and it was eventually sold to a rich Midwesterner named Helen Brinton, who had an interest in the Crow tribe. Her attempt to translate “house of dreams” into Crow was Ahwatukee, but the tribe says there’s no such word in their language. The name caught on regardless, being used to refer to the house as well as the area that developed around it.

3. SUNNYSLOPE

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Southwest was a place where sick people would travel from all across the U.S. to recuperate from pulmonary illnesses—especially pulmonary tuberculosis. The hot, arid climate was thought to dry out one's lungs, while the year-round sunshine was believed to have healing properties in general. In the early 20th century, Sunnyslope—and Sunnyslope Mountain, marked by a 150-foot-tall white S near its peak—became known as an area where ill people could get well. California architect William Norton built a subdivision in the area in 1911, and it was his daughter who came up with the name Sunnyslope after admiring the sun glinting off the slope of the mountain.

4. F. Q. STORY HISTORIC DISTRICT

The F.Q. Story district is named after Francis Quarles Story, who purchased the land it’s on back in 1887. Formerly a wool merchant, Story moved to Los Angeles County for health reasons and became a citrus farmer before investing in land in Arizona’s Salt River Valley and promoting agricultural development there. He never lived in Phoenix, but he did have a hand in the development of its major thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, as well as its subsequent streetcar line. The F.Q. Story neighborhood was built as a “streetcar suburb,” with newspaper ads in 1920 calling the grand opening "one of the big real estate events of the season." (Unfortunately, a flood at nearby Cave Creek caused a temporary halt in construction the following year, but the area rebounded after a dam was constructed in 1923.)

5. WILLO

Willo started out as a planned community, an idyllic suburb on the outskirts of Phoenix, although today it lies near downtown. A man named J. P. Holcomb acquired the southern part of the neighborhood in 1878 and then the northern part in 1886, using the land mostly for farming for the next 20 years. In the early 1900s, several homes were built on long, narrow lots, and 41 more were added in the '20s, but the area was still isolated from the city and it was difficult to attract buyers. Developers decided it needed a snappy name, and came up with Willonot from the willow tree, but from combining the two nearest voting districts: Wilshire and Los Olivos.

6. LAVEEN

As early as 1884, Mexican and Mormon settlers were living in what’s now called Laveen Village, in the Southwestern part of Phoenix. The school district was called the Harovitz District, but the community itself had no name for more than 30 years, until Roger Laveen was appointed as its first postmaster in 1913 [PDF]. The post office was located in the back of Laveen’s brother's new general store, which became a cornerstone of the town. Roger only worked in the post office for about two years, although both brothers continued living in the area that now bears their name for decades more.

7. MEDLOCK PLACE

Medlock Place was named after prominent residential developer Floyd W. Medlock, who created the community in 1926 with the idea of giving it a rural aesthetic despite being only a few miles from downtown Phoenix. The precocious Medlock—he was only in his early 20s—planned palm tree-lined roads in the new community and sold pre-built houses, a ground-breaking move in 1920s Phoenix. (In an ad, Medlock called his community "the Subdivision Extraordinary.") For his subsequent South Medlock Place addition, he began selling vacant lots instead, with buyers permitted to hire their own builders.

8. ARCADIA

Located at the foot of Camelback Mountain and one of the wealthiest areas of Phoenix, Arcadia started out like a lot of the city’s neighborhoods: as citrus orchards. The first grove was planted in 1899, and by 1920, the foothills were covered in citrus trees—thanks in large part to the Arcadia Water Company, which set up a widespread irrigation system starting in 1919. Soon, farmers and developers began investing in the region and building homes. The neighborhood took its name from the water company, which in turn got its name from Greek mythology: Arcadia was where Pan, the goat god, originated—a region supposedly named for its king, Arcas, the hunter. The association with nature is still apt, since fruit trees abound in the neighborhood even today.

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Big Questions
Why is New York City Called The Big Apple?
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New York City has been called many things—“The Great American Melting Pot,” “Gotham,” “The City that Never Sleeps”—but its most famous nickname is “The Big Apple.” So just where did this now-ubiquitous moniker originate?

MAKING A BIG APPLE

Over the years, there have been many theories about how New York City came to be called “The Big Apple.” Some say it comes from the former well-to-do families who sold apples on the city's streets to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Another account posits that the term comes from a famous 19th-century brothel madam named Eve, whose girls were cheekily referred to as her “Big Apples.” But the nickname actually springs from a catchphrase used in the 1920s by The Morning Telegraph sports writer John J. Fitz Gerald in his horse racing column, “Around the Big Apple.” Beginning on February 18, 1924, he began every column with the header, “The Big Apple. The dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There's only one Big Apple. That's New York.”

At the time, the jockeys and trainers of smaller horses were said to want to make a “Big Apple," which was their term for the big money prizes at larger races in and around New York City.

Fitz Gerald reportedly first heard "The Big Apple" used to describe New York's racetracks by two African American stable hands at the famed New Orleans Fair Grounds, as he explained in his inaugural "Around the Big Apple" column: “Two dusky stable hands were leading a pair of thoroughbreds around the ‘cooling rings’ of adjoining stables at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and engaging in desultory conversation. ‘Where y'all goin' from here?’ queried one. ‘From here we're headin' for The Big Apple,’ proudly replied the other. ‘Well, you'd better fatten up them skinners or all you'll get from the apple will be the core,’ was the quick rejoinder.” Fitz Gerald nabbed the colloquialism for his column, where it quickly took off.

CATCHING ON

Once the term entered the vocabularies of society up north, its popularity slowly spread outside of the horseracing context, and everything from nightclubs in Harlem to hit songs and dances about the city were named after “The Big Apple.” Most notably, New York jazz musicians in the 1930s—who had a habit of using the nickname to reference their hometown in their songs—helped the nickname spread beyond the northeast.

Throughout the mid-20th century, it remained New York City's nickname until it was officially adopted by the city in the 1970s. The New York Convention & Visitors Bureau hoped that using the moniker would brighten the image of an economically downtrodden and crime-ridden city in decline and revive the tourist economy. In 1997, to give Fitz Gerald his (somewhat unjust) due, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed legislation naming the corner where Fitz Gerald and his family lived at West 54th Street and Broadway between 1934 and 1963 “Big Apple Corner.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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