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25 Things You Should Know About Portland, Maine

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Maine’s biggest city has been practically leveled on several separate occasions. Yet in true New England fashion, it’s always bounced right back. Today, the city is beloved by tourists, foodies, and boaters of every stripe. Read on for 25 facts about the Forest City.

1. Hear the name “Portland,” and you probably think about a certain city out in Oregon. That place was founded by a pair of New Englanders—Boston’s Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove from Portland, Maine. Each man wanted to name the spot after his hometown. So, they settled this matter the right way—via coin toss. Pettygrove won two out of three flips and that was that.

2. Roughly 40 percent of all Maine residents live in the greater Portland metropolitan area.

3. It’s situated on the Portland peninsula near Maine’s southernmost border. Originally, this outcrop was peopled by the Wabanaki, who called it Machigonne, or “Great Neck.” English settlers would later rechristen it “Casco” in 1633 and then “Falmouth Neck” in 1658 [PDF].

4. In 1675, what’s now the Portland area was set ablaze during a Native American raid. The assault came during King Philip’s War, a conflict between natives and settlers that raged on from 1675 to 1676. An even bigger attack was launched in May 1690. This time, the perpetrators were a combination of French and indigenous forces, who also burned the settlement to the ground.

5. Portland as we know it started out as part of a bigger metropolis. Dubbed “Old Falmouth” by historians, it was created in the aftermath of the 1690 raid. Within this urban hub were modern-day Portland, Westbrook, Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, and the current city of Falmouth. On October 18, 1775, the region was once again besieged. As part of Britain’s retaliation against the colonies following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Royal Navy cannons bombarded Old Falmouth.

6. In 1786, Portland finally broke away from Old Falmouth for good, earning independent township status on July 4. Ironically, given the date, it was named after the British Isle of Portland.

7. No transatlantic port in the U.S. is closer to Europe than Portland. According to the city’s official website, it’s also America’s 20th-largest fishing port.

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8. 
Acclaimed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and author Stephen King were both born in Portland. King still maintains a residence in his native state; he and his wife Tabitha divide their time between Florida and the city of Bangor.

9. Another famous native is five-time Olympic medalist Ian Crocker. A born-and-raised Portlander, the swimmer attended Cheverus Jesuit High School. His resume includes multiple Pan Pacific championships and two gold medals—the latest of which came in 2003, after Crocker became the first man to ever swim the 100-meter butterfly in under 51 seconds.

10. Let’s just say that Portland doesn’t have the most original nickname. Informally, it’s called “Forest City,” an alias that’s also used by Cleveland, Ohio and London, Ontario. In Portland’s case, the moniker can be traced back to a burial site. During the 1850s, the government-funded Forest City Cemetery was established. Before long, people began referring to all of Portland as “Forest City” and the name stuck.

11. The suburb of South Portland is home to the famous Maine Mall—the largest American commercial, retail, and office complex north of Boston. When it’s closed, only about 23,000 people can be found in South Portland. But when the mall’s open, that number jumps to anywhere between 60,000 and 80,000.

12. Like Bigfoot? Check out the International Cryptozoology Museum. Founder Loren Coleman ranks among the planet’s leading Sasquatch experts. In 2003, he established this unique museum inside of a Portland house he’d purchased. Visitors can see stuffed jackalopes, yeti footprint casts, and a fully-furred Bigfoot model.


13.
 Portland was Maine’s first state capital. For seven years, it retained the title; a two-story building on the corner of Myrtle and Congress streets served as the statehouse. But in 1827, the more centrally-located Augusta was officially designated the new capital. The legislature would use the Portland-based statehouse until 1832, when the one in Augusta was completed.

14. Every year, downtown Portland salutes the beginning of summer with the annual Old Port Festival. Established in 1973, it’s now the largest one-day festival in Maine. Originally, it was always thrown on the first Sunday of June, but in 2010, this date was changed to the second Sunday—which historically has gotten less rain. Drop on by for some live music, street performers, and local cuisine.

15. Billed as “America’s first all-display fresh seafood auction,” the Portland Fish Exchange has been doing business since 1986. On a daily basis, fishermen present their latest catch and entertain offers from seafood wholesalers and processors.

16. The Civil War came to Maine’s doorstep in 1863. The Battle of Portland Harbor—a conflict that was started by a group of undercover Confederates—took place on June 27. Led by Lieutenant Charles Read, the southerners decided to sneak into Portland's Casco Bay and steal a federal cutter, the USRC Caleb Cushing. But before long, news reached federal authorities, who sent four Union ships out to capture them. A heated ammunition exchange ensued, with Uncle Sam ultimately coming out on top. Read was forced to surrender and imprisoned.

17. Portland was ravaged by yet another fire on July 4, 1866. That day of celebration turned into a nightmare when fireworks triggered an inferno. In total, 1800 buildings were destroyed, leaving 4000 people homeless. To prevent history from repeating itself, the city set up a fire alarm signal system the very next year.

18. Attention, gum chewers: The first factory that was ever built specifically to manufacture this treat was constructed in Portland by businessman John Curtis. His company, Curtis & Son, set up the facility way back in 1850.

19. Where is the so-called “Italian sandwich” really from? Maine, of course. An early forerunner of subs and hoagies, these were created by Giovanni Amato, a Portland baker, in 1902. The story goes that some of Amato’s customers persuaded him to create massive sandwiches by cutting loaves of bread lengthwise. In Portland, a standard “Italian” sammie comes with boiled ham, sliced tomatoes, olives, onions, green peppers, and American cheese. This is coated with a mixture of salt, oil, and more pepper. Mangia!

20. Former mayor Neal Dow (1804-1897) is regarded as the father of Prohibition. At age 23, he co-founded the Maine Temperance Society, beginning a lifelong crusade against liquor. As mayor, Dow used his political clout to help turn Maine into America’s first dry state in 1851. Four years later, it was discovered that he’d quietly allowed the city to buy $1600 worth of “medical and mechanical alcohol.” Angry protesters surrounded City Hall on June 2, 1855. Dow ordered the militia to shoot, killing one protester and injuring seven more. Everything went downhill from there. A year after the incident, Dow lost his re-election bid and Maine repealed its anti-booze laws.

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21.
 Despite having a population of just 60,000, Portland boasts an impressive 17 microbreweries—the most per capita of any city in the U.S., according to a recent analysis by the Brewers Association. Clearly, Prohibition never stood a chance there.

22. Here’s our obligatory, Maine lobster-related fact: In 2009, Portlanders joined forces to assemble the world’s biggest lobster roll. A 61-foot, 9 1/2-inch marvel, it contained 4 gallons of Miracle Whip and 48 pounds of lobster meat. However, just last year, the record was shattered by two groups out of Canada, who both constructed rolls that were more than 70 feet in length. (A heated feud over which roll had actually broken the record ensued.)

23. In 2013, Portland became the first East Coast city in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana—at least nominally. That November, around 70 percent of voters supported a groundbreaking referendum on pot possession. The measure allows residents aged 21 and older to carry as much as 2.5 ounces. But be warned: Portlanders still aren’t allowed to purchase the drug, sell it, or smoke it in a public area. Furthermore, as Maine Attorney General Janet Mills pointed out, the referendum “does not override state or federal laws” against weed.

24. They may play in Boston, but the Red Sox are wildly popular throughout New England. As a nod to the organization, the minor-league Portland Sea Dogs use a 37-foot replica of Fenway’s “Green Monster” wall in their own outfield. Fans call it the Maine Monster—or should we say “monstaah”?

25. To honor the city's long history of overcoming adversity, its flag and city seal show a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Also included on both is the Latin word resurgam, which means “I shall rise again.”

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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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