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25 Things You Should Know About Orlando

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Most Americans associate Orlando with vacation time. And why wouldn’t they? It is, after all, known as the “theme park capital of the world.” The metro area is home to Universal Orlando, Gatorland, and a little place called Walt Disney World. In fact, the City Beautiful has an attraction of some sort for just about everyone—including history buffs. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, impress everyone with these O-Town facts.

1. The city’s original name was “Jernigan.” Georgia native Aaron Jernigan (and his herd of 700 cattle) settled in the region in 1843. Jernigan built a cabin near Lake Holden, and around the property, a thriving community emerged. Sometime in the early 1850s, it was named after him.

2. Jernigan was renamed “Orlando” in September, 1857. Nobody knows why. Many believe that it was a tribute to Orlando Reeves, a soldier who was supposedly killed there by a Seminole warrior. And then you’ve got the bard theory. Judge J.S. Speer was a big player in the founding of Orange County, Florida. According to folklore, he was also an avid Shakespeare buff. Supposedly, Speer pushed to replace “Jernigan” with the moniker of the character from As You Like It.

3. The Hard Rock Café restaurant chain, which was founded in London, is headquartered on Old Park Lane.

4. When Walt Disney decided to build a theme park east of the Mississippi, he soon realized that central Florida, with its dirt-cheap swampland, would be the perfect locale. Greater Orlando was chosen because it was where the Florida turnpike crossed Interstate 4 (which hadn’t been finished yet) and there was a sizable airport in town. Walt Disney World had its grand opening on October 1, 1971.

5. Spaceship Earth—the golf ball-shaped centerpiece of Disney's Epcot Center—measures 165 feet in diameter and weighs 16 million pounds.

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6. Part of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) was shot at Gatorland, a 110-acre Orlando wildlife center and theme park. As the name implies, it’s home to hundreds of alligators—including four ultra-rare leucistic gators. Visitors can also check out a petting zoo, aviary, and zip line.

7. Here’s another fact for you movie buffs. Orlando has had three City Halls in its history, the second of which was demolished in 1991. Beforehand, Warner Brothers received special permission to film the six-second implosion. Their footage was later edited into the opening of Lethal Weapon 3 (1992).

8. Walt Disney World estimates that, since 1971, a staggering 1.65 million pairs of sunglasses have been handed over to its “lost and found” department. More than 6000 cell phones are turned in every year as well.

9. I am not a crook” is probably Richard Nixon’s most famous statement. Denying any involvement with the Watergate scandal, Tricky Dick blurted out this line on November 17, 1973. Of all places, he was at a press conference inside Disney World’s Contemporary Hotel when he said it.

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10.
Orlando has several nicknames (including O-Town), but the best-known has to be “The City Beatiful.” In 1908, Orlando adopted this as its motto. Unfortunately, this isn’t a very unique title. Coral Gables—another Florida city—has been using this same slogan since 1933 and actually tried to trademark it in 2006. Incensed, Orlando blocked their claim. After much negotiating, the two cities made a geographic compromise. Orlando now has the exclusive right to advertise itself as “The City Beautiful” in 22 nearby counties. Meanwhile, Coral Gables exerts this same power over 10 other counties in south Florida.

11. Every so often, the NBA’s Orlando Magic hype up fans with their “dancing dancer dads”—a groundbreaking squad that consists entirely of men who are the fathers of former or current Magic cheerleaders.

12. In May of 1981, the Orlando suburb of Winter Park received a dubious distinction. Over several days, a sinkhole swallowed up a three-bedroom home, five Porsches, and parts of two different streets. When it finally stopped growing, the thing had become 75 feet deep by 350 feet wide. Geologist Jim Jammal later said that this was “the largest sinkhole event witnessed by man as a result of natural geological reasons or conditions.”

13. Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane was born in Orlando on March 29, 1962. His statistics-driven approach to scouting became the subject of Moneyball by Michael Lewis and an Oscar-nominated, 2012 bigscreen adaptation.

14. Orlando is home to what’s billed as the world’s “largest entertainment McDonald’s.” A 19,000 square-foot marvel, it boasts more than 50 arcade games and a children’s jungle gym that stands 20 feet high.

15. The Backstreet Boys were officially founded in Orlando on April 20, 1993. By the way, they named themselves after the city’s Backstreet Market—a long-gone flea market where the singers used to hang out.

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16.
Think of him as the ballooning world’s Charles Lindbergh. Though he was born in Tampa, Joseph Kittinger grew up in the Orlando area. In 1984, he became the first hot air balloon pilot to complete a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Kittinger took off in Caribou, Maine, on September 14.  Eighty-six hours later, his helium vessel touched down in Montenotte, Italy.

17. O-Town’s signature landmark once survived a lightning strike. Finished in 1957, the UFO-shaped Linton E. Allen Memorial Fountain is now part of a regular music and light show. Misfortune, well, struck when a bolt of lightning severely damaged the fountain in 2009. It was fixed and rededicated (at a cost of $1.6 million) on July 4, 2011.

18. The Orange County Convention Center is America’s second biggest. At 2,100,000 square feet, it’s exceeded in size only by Chicago’s huge McCormick Place [PDF].

19. In 2014, 62 million vacationers decided to visit O-Town. This made Orlando the first destination in U.S. history to receive more than 60 million tourists within a single year.

20. Tourism wasn’t always Orlando’s claim to fame. Historically, the city has long been associated with the citrus trade. In the mid-1950s, greater Orlando produced 40 percent of Florida’s famous oranges. Yet, by 1990, that number had plummeted to just 6 percent. Many factors helped spur the local citrus industry’s decline—including the rise of Disney World and a stretch of harsh winters in the 1980s.

21. A relatively unassuming home in Orlando's College Park neighborhood has become a must-see for fans of Jack Kerouac. The author lived there from 1957 to 1958, around the time On the Road was first published. Today, the Kerouac Project of Orlando hosts four writers-in-residence at the cottage annually. (Applications for 2016-2017 are closed, but you can learn more about how to become one on their website.)

22. Orlando wasn’t incorporated as a city until 1875. Its population at the time? Eighty-five. Only 22 of these residents were eligible to vote back then.

23. The first female state senator in Florida’s history was a Pennsylvania native by the name of Elizabeth “Beth” Johnson. Originally from Pennsylvania, she moved to Orlando in 1937. Before her election to the state senate, she chaired the city's first municipal planning board.

24. An 8-foot Statue of Liberty replica keeps an eye out for huddled masses by Lake Ivanhoe. Adored by visitors and townies alike, she was donated to the city by the Boy Scouts of America in 1953 as a replacement for a large concrete sculpture that had been defaced.

25. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando serves some absolutely delicious butterbeer. Corporate executive chef Steven Jayson spent three years working on the recipe. Before it went public, J.K. Rowling herself was invited to taste the finished product, and apparently loved his brew. Ten points for Jayson.

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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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