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25 Things You Should Know About Bridgeport, Connecticut

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“No outsider, including me, really understands it,” veteran Connecticut journalist Colin McEnroe once said of Bridgeport. But we can try, with these 25 facts about the state’s largest city.

1. The English first arrived in the area in the mid-17th century. Bridgeport was initially part of nearby Stratford, but was incorporated as its own town in 1821.

2. Several English settlements, including Newfield and Stratfield, used the harbor on which Bridgeport sits. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army “privateered” (or commissioned commercial vessels) several ships docked there, including that of famed naval commander David Hawley.

3. In 1821 (the same year Bridgeport was incorporated), free African-Americans founded a community in the city. The residents of “Little Liberia,” a.k.a. “Ethiope,” were freed slaves, refugees from southern states and the remnants of the area's native tribes. Many worked as seamen and whalers on the busy port. One house from the settlement still stands.

4. Bridgeport’s most famous resident was 19th-century showman P.T. Barnum, who was born in and established his first string of businesses in Bethel, about 20 miles north of the city. At the height of his circus’ success, Barnum headquartered his troupe of performers, “freaks,” and animals at Iranistan, his Moorish palace-like country manor. (Iranistan Avenue is named for it.) Barnum also invested heavily in a few companies to buttress the local economy, which all went belly up, resulting in near financial ruin for the mogul.


5.
In 1842, Barnum met his most successful performer, Charles S. Stratton, a.k.a. “General Tom Thumb,” a singing, dancing dwarf, in Bridgeport. Stratton, who stood 25 inches tall, was the son of a city carpenter when Barnum backed his tours of America and Europe. As a result, Stratton became richer and more famous than Barnum and lent him money after his investments soured. Stratton is buried in Mountain Grove Cemetery under a stone monument topped by a life-sized statue of himself.

6. In his 60s, Barnum became active in politics. He represented the area in the Connecticut state legislature. In 1875, at the age of 64, he was elected mayor of Bridgeport and served a one-year term. Despite his tawdry reputation, Barnum prioritized enforcing prostitution laws and regulating the city’s saloons.

7. Another favorite son is James Henry O’Rourke, a baseball player who scored the first-ever hit in National League history in 1876 and went on to a six-decade career. A Yale Law graduate, O’Rourke worked as an attorney in Bridgeport during the Boston Red Stockings' offseason. He commissioned a Victorian-style home in the East End, near the water. The city was so attached to it that, when the neighborhood was razed for a development in the 1990s, the O’Rourke house was preserved. When the project stalled, the shuttered house stood alone in a vast field for decades. The city finally parted with it in 2009.

8. While running for president in 1860, Abraham Lincoln campaigned in Bridgeport making “an impassioned political speech against slavery.” The local paper described the visitor as a “tall, bony, angular, big jointed figure with a great towering head and very expressive countenance.” A cheering crowd reportedly followed Lincoln back to the train station.

9. By the 20th century, manufacturing dominated Bridgeport’s economy. In 1915, workers went on strike, hoping to limit their workdays to eight hours. The city was the first in the Northeast to successfully establish an eight-hour day, and is considered to have set the standard for the rest of the country.

10. In 1933, despite the first Red Scare, Bridgeport elected a card-carrying member of the Socialist Party to the mayor’s office. Jasper McLevy, a roofer, had run for mayor nine times and was known to stand on street corners decrying political corruption. A wave of discontent with the two major parties finally swept him into office; he would go on to be reelected 11 times. Despite his leftist leanings, McLevy pinched pennies to balance the city’s budget. He even refused to use tax dollars to plow the streets. He famously told residents to ask God for help, exclaiming, “Let the guy who put the snow there take it away!”

11. Subway, the world’s largest restaurant chain by number of locations, began as Pete’s Subway in Bridgeport. In 1965, with a $1000 loan from family friend Peter Buck (not the R.E.M. guitarist), Central High School graduate Fred Deluca established it at a “crummy location” on a side street. Business was better at the second outpost downtown, creating the Subway business plan: Always expand.


12.
 As of 2013, Bridgeport was home to one of the world's oldest bartenders, per the World Record Academy. Resident Angie MacLean, then 98, had tended bar since the age of 17; in 2013, she was still slinging drinks at Panama Joe's Cafe, where she'd worked for more than 20 years. "If you stay at home, what are you gonna do? Watch TV?" she told Connecticut's News 12. "That's not for me."

13. Deindustrialization hit Bridgeport hard. Shuttered buildings, a shrinking tax base, and gun violence have plagued the city, resulting in a sharp contrast to the rest of Fairfield County, one of the overall wealthiest places in the U.S. and a home base for Wall Street commuters, hedge fund managers, and Judge Judy.

14. Pleasure Beach, a two-mile sand barrier jutting off the mainland, was once the site of an amusement park and vacation cottages. In 1996, a fire destroyed the bridge leading there, leaving it abandoned. The ghost town still attracted visitors—mainly curious kayakers toting cameras. In 2014, the city cleared away all the crumbling structures and established a water taxi to the beach.

15. In 2010, Fox’s Family Guy mocked the city. When Brian and Stewie uncover Santa’s workshop as an industrial wasteland, the baby exclaims, “This looks like Bridgeport, Connecticut!” A cutaway shows a Bridgeporter writing an angry letter defending the town as “among the world leaders in abandoned buildings, shattered glass, boarded-up windows, wild dogs, and gas stations without pumps.” Locally, the stir was so great that Mayor Bill Finch was asked to comment. He shrugged off the joke. “[Stewie] comes across as a smarty-pants and a know-it-all,” the mayor said, “so consider the source."

16. Igor Sikorsky, the engineer behind the world's first working helicopter, achieved liftoff with his creation in Stratford, Connecticut, in 1939. After receiving a contract from the U.S. government, he began manufacturing the aircraft in neighboring Bridgeport.

17. The current mayor of Bridgeport, elected in 2015, is Joseph Ganim, who also served as mayor from 1991 to 2003. Ganim’s may be the most flabbergasting comeback in political history. He was convicted on corruption charges in a pay-for-play scandal that ended his fifth term. Companies provided Ganim with $500,000 worth of stuff in exchange for city contacts. Much of it was garish luxury items, like French wine and tailored suits. He served seven years in federal prison. Last year, thanks to backing from the Democratic machine and former mayor Finch’s unpopularity, Ganim clawed his way back into City Hall.

18. The Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry has linked the Connecticut coastline to Long Island since 1883. The ever-industrious P.T. Barnum was the first president of the steamboat company that established the line. Ridership picked up in the 1980s, thanks to an increase in gas prices and the NYC commuter nightmare created by the collapse of the Mianus River Bridge on I-95. Currently, the company operating the ferry line has three ships—the Park City, the P.T. Barnum, and the Grand Republic—that take passengers and some of their cars on the 15-mile, 75-minute trip across the Sound.

19. The defining piece of the city’s skyline is the red-and-white-striped smokestack of the Bridgeport Harbor Station. It’s the last coal-fired power plant in Connecticut.
 

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20.
Bridgeport is nicknamed the Park City. In addition to the larger recreational areas, like Seaside Park and Pleasure Beach, nearly every neighborhood has a green or pocket park. The city has 1300 acres of public space.

21. Since the '70s, the city has played host to an ever-expanding population of monk parakeets, a species typically only found in the wild in Argentina. As the story goes, a cargo crate full of the birds broke open at New York City's JFK Airport, releasing dozens of them—although a senior director for the Connecticut Audubon Society called the tale an "urban legend," adding, "it [did] start from the pet trade … maybe someone just opened their window and let their pet out."

22. From 2007 to 2015, Seaside Park became a hippie wonderland for a few days each summer during the Gathering of the Vibes, a music festival/campout catering to fans of jam bands. Initially, the shindig rotated between East Coast venues before settling on Bridgeport. Organizers announced a one-year hiatus in 2016.

23. Actors John Ratzenberger and Kevin Nealon both hail from Bridgeport. Both have made shout-outs to the city on their respective shows. Ratzenberger, know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin on Cheers, can be seen in one episode perusing a copy of the community newspaper, the Bridgeport Light. Nealon, pothead accountant Doug Wilson on Weeds, experiences a flashback to lifeguarding in Bridgeport while sniffing a marker during season two.

24. Bridgeport has claimed to be the birthplace of the Frisbee, supposedly patented after the aerodynamic tins used by the Frisbie Pie Company, which baked its wares on Kossuth Street from 1871 to 1958. It’s a little more complicated than that. Fred Morrison, inventor of the Frisbee, clarified in his autobiography that he had no knowledge of the pie company and had never visited New England when he first made the disc, which he called “the Pluto Platter.” Toy company Wham-O borrowed the name because kids in the New York region were already tossing around the pie tins and colloquially calling them “Frisbies.” (The pie discs were also popular with Yalies goofing around on the New Haven Green.)

25. Every summer, the neighborhood of Black Rock holds a street fair, a component of which is the bed race. Teams decorate beds and put them on wheels in the name of civic pride. The Black Rock Community Council’s original idea of actually racing the furniture pieces against one another, pinewood derby style, was deemed “unsafe,” so teams of bed fellows maneuver down the street, racing against the clock.

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London's Big Ben to Cease Chiming Until 2021
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Starting in late August, one of London’s largest—and noisiest—national symbols will go silent: As BBC News reports, Big Ben (which has rung on the hour for 157 years) will cease chiming until 2021. The measure is intended to protect workers completing restoration work on both the clock and its surrounding structure.

Big Ben will still chime on New Year’s Eve, Remembrance Sunday (a UK holiday that honors veterans), and other special occasions, but its last hourly bong will sound on Monday, August 21. Meanwhile, scaffolding has already been erected around the clock tower, and repairs have begun.

The clock tower last received extensive conservation work in the early 1980s. Officials say that the clock’s hands, pendulum, and inner workings all have problems “which need to be dealt with immediately to ensure that the clock can continue to work properly,” according to Parliament’s official website.

“Surveys are still being carried out to identify the extent of the works required to the tower itself, but we have already identified areas of concern, including cracks in masonry, leaks, erosion, and severe rusting of metalwork,” officials added. “There is a risk that if not addressed as a matter of urgency, the clock may fail or [structural] problems may become acute.”

Big Ben’s clock will be dismantled piece by piece, so its four dials can be cleaned and fixed. Its faces will be temporarily covered, but an electric motor will continue to drive the clock hands so it can keep telling time. Architects also plan to modernize the clock tower by making it more energy-efficient, and adding an elevator, toilet, and kitchen.

"This essential program of works will safeguard the clock on a long-term basis, as well as protecting and preserving its home—the Elizabeth Tower," the clock's keeper Steve Jaggs told the BBC.

For the uninitiated, the name “Big Ben” is often used to describe the tower, the clock, and the bell, but it originally described the largest of the clock’s five bells, which stands more than 7 feet tall and weighs more than 14 tons. As for the clock’s surrounding tower, it was dubbed Elizabeth Tower in 2012, to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 60-year reign.

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25 Things You Should Know About Jackson, Mississippi
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There aren’t many cities in which you can see a rock concert on top of a prehistoric volcano. It’s equally hard to find a place with the deep ties to the blues, international ballet, and pine-scented products that Jackson enjoys. Here are 25 surprising facts about Mississippi’s intriguing capital.

1) The settlement on the Pearl River that gave birth to Jackson was first called LeFleur’s Bluff, named for French-Canadian trader Louis LeFleur, who had founded a trading post on the site. In 1821, four years after Mississippi achieved statehood, the state legislature decided to erect its capital city at this strategic locale. Lawmakers also chose to name the city after General Andrew Jackson, who had become a national hero by defeating British forces at the Battle of New Orleans, the final skirmish of the War of 1812.

2) Chemist and native Jacksonian Harry A. Cole invented Pine-Sol floor cleaner in 1929. It's now owned by the Clorox Company.

3) The international honor society of two-year colleges, Phi Theta Kappa, claims more than three million members. Founded in 1918 at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, its world headquarters is now located on Eastover Drive in Jackson.

4) Completed in 1842 in the Greek Revival style, the Mississippi governor's mansion is the second-oldest continuously occupied governor's residence in the United States. Virginia’s is 29 years older.

5) The Jackson Zoo, which today houses mammals, birds, and reptiles from four continents, had humble beginnings. In the early 1900s, firefighters at the city's Central Fire Station (now the Chamber of Commerce Building) passed the time by keeping a menagerie of wild pets, including deer, squirrels, and alligators. The city bought land to establish a zoological park in the 1920s, and the firemen's pets became the first animals on display.

6) On June 11, 1963, the first human lung transplant took place at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. The center's chairman of surgery James Hardy, who led the transplant team, achieved the first heart transplant in a human (using a chimpanzee's heart) one year later.

7) During the Civil War, Union commander Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee fought the Battle of Jackson on its way to Vicksburg. Jackson's factories and warehouses were burned, leaving behind nothing but their brick chimneys (thus the city's contemporary nickname, Chimneyville). The Union army spared the city's non-strategic buildings, including city hall, the governor's mansion, and the capitol.

8) The blues were born in the Magnolia State. In 2006, the Mississippi Blues Trail was established to educate the public about this uniquely American art form. One-hundred-and-eighty-nine historic markers are spread out over the state, with each sign planted at a locale that played some role in shaping the blues genre. Jackson alone has 13 such sites. On Roach Street, for example, you’ll find one dedicated to legendary blues pianist Otis Spann, who was born at the spot on March 21, 1930.

9) In 2001, Roderick Paige became the first African-American person to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Education. The longtime college football coach and advocate for improving urban educational opportunities had graduated from Jackson State University in 1955.

10) On the capitol’s north side, you’ll find a naval figurehead shaped like a flying eagle, which once belonged to the USS Mississippi, a battleship commissioned in 1904. Before the navy sold the ship to Greece, it gave the figurehead to the state, where it is currently affixed to a huge planter near the capitol building.

11) Every October, the 12-day Mississippi State Fair brings thousands of visitors into Jackson. Popular attractions include Ferris wheels, an antique car show, and a biscuit-making booth. In recent years, organizers have experimented with newer events, like a beard-growing contest that debuted in 2009.

12) Jackson was the setting for Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 bestseller The Help. When its movie adaptation was shot in 2010, numerous scenes were filmed in the city. Among the many Jackson landmarks to appear onscreen was Brent’s Drugs, a beloved Duling Avenue soda shop. After the shoot, its owners were able to keep a few movie props as souvenirs.

13) Seventy-five million years ago, present-day Jackson sat on a volcanic island. Roughly 2900 feet below the intersection of East Pascagoula Street and I-55, a long-extinct volcano has its origins. Today the Mississippi Coliseum, a 6500-seat multipurpose arena, sits on top of its caldera.

14) On a related note, the Coliseum hosts the annual Dixie National Rodeo and Livestock Contest, the largest annual rodeo east of the Mississippi River. Launched in 1965, it awards nearly $250,000 in prize money each year.

15) Author Eudora Welty was born in Jackson on April 13, 1909. One of the 20th century's most esteemed writers, Welty wrote award-winning short stories for The New Yorker, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her novel The Optimist’s Daughter, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of the Arts, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Today, her house at 1119 Pinehurst Street is a national historic landmark.

16) Another Pulitzer Prize-winning Jacksonian is playwright Beth Henley, a 1981 recipient for her three-act black comedy Crimes of the Heart. The play was made into a film starring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek in 1986.

17) On February 15, 1839, the state legislature passed the Mississippi Married Women’s Property Act. The act stemmed from a lawsuit in which a Chickasaw woman sued to retain ownership of her property (a slave) that her husband's creditors had tried to seize. The court decided that case based on the Chickasaw tradition of matrilineal inheritance. It was the first piece of legislation in American history that gave wives the right to hold property in their own names.

18) In 1943, prisoners of war from a camp near Jackson were recruited to build a large-scale model of the Mississippi River basin to make predicting flood patterns easier. With supervision from the Army Corps of Engineers, they put together a 200-acre, hydraulic-powered replica of the Mississippi delta. After 79 simulated floods, the model was abandoned in 1973. Its remnants can still been seen in Butts Park.

19) Future NFL superstar running back Walter Payton played at Jackson State University from 1971 to 1974. By the time he graduated, he had set an NCAA record for most points scored—464—within a four-year period.

20) James Meredith, the first African-American student admitted to the University of Mississippi, nearly gave his life in the fight for civil rights. On June 6, 1966, he launched a solo march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson to promote voter registration among African-Americans in the south. (The historic Voting Rights Act had been passed into law the previous year.) On the second day of the march, a white man shot Meredith and he sustained several wounds. By the time he was able to rejoin the march near Jackson, it had grown to 15,000 participants and had registered more than 4000 new voters.

21) Mississippi chose to observe Prohibition for 33 years after the Volstead Act was repealed. In 1966, one event turned the last dry state wet. Hinds County sheriff Tom Shelton launched a surprise raid at the Jackson Country Club, where prominent citizens, including the governor, were celebrating Mardi Gras with illegal liquor. Most of the revelers were arrested, prompting the state legislature to quickly pass a law allowing individual counties to decide whether to legalize alcohol—effectively repealing statewide Prohibition.

22) What does Jackson have in common with Moscow, Helsinki, and Varna? They’re the only four cities that get to host the two-week International Ballet Competition (IBC), where the world's best dancers compete for medals, scholarships, and fame. Jackson dance instructor Thalia Maria convinced the IBC to make Jackson its sole American host city, and the capitol has welcomed the tournament every four years since 1979.

23) The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and Mississippi State go head-to-head in the annual Egg Bowl, shorthand for The Battle of the Golden Egg, a college football rivalry dating back to 1903. The showdown has taken place in Jackson on 29 separate occasions.

24) Baltimore native James D. Lynch was the first African-American person to hold any major political office in Mississippi. In 1869, he was elected Secretary of State, an office that he would retain until his death in 1872. Lynch also participated in the 1872 Republican National Convention as a delegate. He's buried in Jackson’s Greenwood Cemetery.

25) Pascagoula Street is home to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures. The brainchild of longtime Jacksonians Okolo Rashid and Emad Al-Turk, it is the first American museum designed to show the story of Islamic culture and history. When it opened in 2001, former governor William Winter praised the facility. “It definitely breaks a stereotype,” he said. “It’s at odds with what the average American would think about Jackson, Mississippi.”

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