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Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Wild Facts About Wyoming

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Wyoming may always come last alphabetically, but don't hold that against it. From its natural wonders, to its early progressivism, to its many colorful characters, there's a lot worth knowing about the 44th state. Here are 25 facts for starters.

1. The name “Wyoming” comes from the Lenape Indian word mecheweami-ing, which means “at (or on) the big plain.”

2. The Wyoming territory became first in the nation to grant women over the age of 21 the right to vote in 1869. Historians believe that legislators passed the bill for several reasons, including a genuine conviction that women should have the same rights as men, a desire to attract new settlers to the territory by making it appear more modern, and because some legislators voted for it just to be able to say they did, believing (mistakenly) that the bill did not have enough traction to pass.

3. The country’s first female governor was also elected in Wyoming. After Nellie Tayloe Ross's husband, Governor William Bradford Ross, passed away, she was elected to finish his term. She served as the 14th governor of the state from 1925 to 1927, and was later appointed by FDR to serve as the director of the United States Mint. She is still the only female governor that the state has ever had.

By George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

4. Wyoming is the least populous state in the country, even though it’s the 10th largest by area. According to census records, approximately 586,000 people live within its 97,818 square miles. To put that in perspective, the smallest state in the U.S., Rhode Island, has an area of only 1212 square miles and is home to around 1.055 million people.

5. The official motto of Wyomingites is "Equal Rights" and one of the state’s nicknames is the Equality State, both in reference to the pioneering women’s suffrage law from 1869. The motto was officially adopted 86 years later in 1955.

6. The outlaw Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, a.k.a. The Sundance Kid, took his nickname from the town of Sundance, Wyoming, where he was jailed at the age of 15 for stealing a horse.

7. Most of Yellowstone, the nation’s first National Park, lies within the borders of Wyoming. Established in 1872, 44 years before there was a National Park Service, the park hosts nearly 4 million visitors each year. People come from all over the world to get a glimpse of Yellowstone’s majesty and its unique ecosystem, which is comprised of almost 300 species of birds, 67 species of mammals, 16 species of fish, five species of amphibians, and five species of reptiles.

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8. Abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, a town named after the man who helped establish it, William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Pollock’s family then moved to Arizona and California, and Jackson later followed his older brother Charles to New York.

9. There are reportedly only two escalators in the entire state, and both are located in the town of Casper. That number is doubled if you count the up and down sides as independent systems.

10. Bison are the official state mammal of Wyoming, but the relationship between the animals and their human neighbors is complicated. According to the National Park Service, there are more people hurt every year at Yellowstone by bison than by bears. Because conservation efforts have been so successful, there's also an initiative to keep the bison population down: this year, the goal is to capture and kill between 600 and 900 of the animals.

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11. The mythical creature known as the jackalope was "born" in the 1930s when, in Douglas, Wyoming, Douglas Herrick and his brother Ralph decided to add antlers to a dead jackrabbit they had taxidermied. They sold the creatures—and their tall tale—to anyone willing to buy. You can still get a jackalope hunting license in the city.

12. We hate to disappoint any Jake or Heath fans, but there is no Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. The 2005 film may have been set in the mountains of Wyoming, but it was actually filmed much further north, in Alberta, Canada. It did, however, increase tourism to the area. “People are talking about Wyoming," Wyoming's director of travel and tourism, Diane Shober, told ABC News. “We've had more visibility from this movie than we've had in a long time from a movie." The last time movie fans flooded the state in droves, she added, was after the Devils Tower National Monument was used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

13. Speaking of Devils Tower, President Theodore Roosevelt declared it the nation’s first National Monument as a part of the Antiquities Act of 1906.

14. Another famous movie that was filmed in Wyoming: Rocky IV. Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) trained to fight Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) on a farm in Jackson Hole; the frozen landscape that was supposed to pass for Russia was actually Grand Teton National Park.

Cinema Sins on YouTube

15. Since the mid-1800s, Wyoming has been an important destination for fossil hunters. Dinosaur bones were so plentiful in one area of southeast Wyoming that in the late 19th century, an enterprising local used bone fragments to construct a cabin (it still stands today). Wyoming is also one of only a handful of states with an official state dinosaur. An elementary school chose Triceratops to represent the state back in 1994.

16. There is only one public four-year educational institution in the state, the University of Wyoming. So if someone says they went to school in the Equal Rights State, they were probably rooting for the Cowboys.

17. In 2013, the tiny outpost of Buford, Wyoming—population one—was sold for $900,000 after its only resident decided to move away to be closer to his son. Pham Dinh Nguyen, a businessman from Vietnam, purchased the town in an online auction, and renamed it PhinDeli Town Buford, after the coffee brand he hoped to introduce to the area.

18. Old Faithful, the infamous cone geyser located in Yellowstone, got its name because of how dependable its eruptions are. The geyser erupts about every hour and a half, on average, and more than 90 percent of predictions about its eruptions are, according to the Park Service, accurate within a ten-minute window. 

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19. At one time or another, Tiger Woods, Harrison Ford, Sandra Bullock, Charles Schwab, and Wyoming native Dick Cheney, just to name a few, all reportedly owned real estate in Jackson Hole, which is still a favorite ski destination of the rich and famous.

20. Nearly half of the state (48 percent [PDF]) is owned by the United States government. Its Wyoming-based holdings include national forests, the National Grassland, and an Air Force Base in the capital.

21. Wyoming didn’t raise the legal drinking age from 19 to 21 until 1988—the last state in the union to do so.

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22. James Cash Penney opened his first store on April 14, 1902 in Kemmerer, Wyoming. Today there are approximately 1020 JCPenney stores across America.

23. On April 30, 2015, Laramie, Wyoming danced its way into the Guinness Book of World Records when 1184 swing dancers took to the floor of the University of Wyoming’s Fieldhouse at the same time.

24. Two of the largest coal mines in the world are located in Wyoming: North Antelope Rochelle and Black Thunder, both in the Powder River Basin. Coal is big business in Wyoming, with about 40 percent of the country’s domestic supply coming out of the state’s mines.

25. Wyoming may be landlocked, but it's still home to dozens of islands. There are 32 named islands within the state’s borders, most of which are located in Green River, Yellowstone Lake, and Jackson Lake.

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Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
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Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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