10 Things About Scary Stories

When I was younger, I used to love ghost stories, scary movies, haunted house attractions–the works. If it could make me jump out of my skin or lose sleep, I loved it. This changed at some point in my life. I don’t remember the exact moment that I stopped enjoying them, it may have been more of a gradual thing.

Now I don’t care much for scary stories. Maybe it’s because as an adult (with anxiety) I have enough things keeping me up at night. I don’t really know, but I still have fond memories of being scared out of my wits as a kid with horror movies and ghost stories told during the wee hours of an October sleepover party. I’ve even called for Bloody Mary in the mirror.

These days I’m much more interested in the origins of the scary stories we all know. All stories start somewhere. And with Halloween just around the corner this seemed like as good a time as any to dive into the history of a few famous ghost stories.

Here are 10 things you might not know about scary stories.

  1. The oldest (known) ghost story *written* in *Western Culture* (these are my disclaimers because I have heard some spine tingling things from Eastern cultures and have no idea how old they are, and because even in the West, so much was passed by word of mouth for so many centuries that who knows how old some of our favorite ghosties really are) is credited to Pliny The Younger of Ancient Rome. He wrote of a house in Athens that, though large and luxurious, had to be rented out of cheap because anyone who stayed there was tormented by spooky sounds and menacing whispers throughout the night. It was said one could hear chains rattling if you listened closely enough. Finally, one determined fellow waited for the apparition to appear and marked the spot where the ghost stood. The next morning, he had a crew come dig up that area of the floor. They found the decomposing body of an emaciated man in chains. They gave the unknown man a proper burial and the ghost was never heard from again.
  2. The Headless Horseman. In Washington Iriving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow we meet an apparition who stalks a particular road through the woods looking for a head to replace the one he’s missing. Some think that this story evolved after rumors of a Revolutionary War soldier losing his head to cannon fire in upstate New York being seen post mortem. However, if you look back far enough, you can find a character in Celtic Mythology–The Dullahan–who rides a dark horse and carries his own head under his arm. He is also said to stalk the night terrorizing the unwitting.
  3. The Exorcist. Before Linda Blair spewed green gunk across movie screens in the the mid 1970s, she spun her head around in a book. That book was based on an account of an actual exorcism in the late 1940s. A young boy that the records call “Roland Doe” because they would not record his true name, was said to scream, speak gibberish, and suddenly have terrifying powers manifest. His mother called priests who thought he must be possessed by demons and tried to exorcise them to save the boy. It wasn’t pretty. The Catholic Church admits this happened, though they’d rather people forget about it, and agrees that it was the wrong thing to do. In hindsight, it is believed the boy may have suffered from more than one psychological disorder and needed an entirely different kind of care.
  4. Ghost stories have been translated from Egyptian Hieroglyphics that could be even older than Pliny the Younger’s 1st Century A.D. story. The inscription was found in Luxor and parts of the story are missing or too damaged to read, but it is definitely about a ghost.
  5. The Mummy. A lot of the inspiration for this tale of a tomb raiding releasing the powerful mummy spirit comes from the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. The world was fascinated when the tomb was found and followed the story of it closely in newspaper accounts. However, very shortly after the tomb was opened, one of the team members died of a sudden and unidentified illness. One member was poisoned, another smothered by his own father who was then so distraught over what he’d done that he committed suicide. Even one of the first visitors of the tomb, who wasn’t involved in the actual opening of it, was shot by his wife shortly after returning from the site. All of these events may have been explained away, but at the time it caused rumors of ancient curses and vengeful spirits.
  6. Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs were all inspired by the same, very real murderer. Ed Gein of Wisconsin. In 1957, some of Gein’s crimes came to light when authorities discovered he’d been snatching women’s bodies from local graveyards and making “trophies” out of their skin and bones. He also admitted to the murders of two women, but was declared legally insane and spent the rest of his life in a mental health facility.
  7. Amityville Horror. Ronnie DeFeo murdered his entire family while living in this New York town. He claimed during his trial that “the voices” made him do it. The Lutzes soon bought the house, not so surprisingly at a really good price since nobody else wanted to live there. Practically before they were done unpacking they claimed to experience terrifying and dangerous things they couldn’t explain. They called in famous paranormal investigators, The Warrens (yes the same couple mentioned from above) who agreed the house had way too much paranormal activity and was absolutely haunted. However, what The Warrens, and most of Amityville, didn’t know was the the Lutzes were working very closely with DeFeo’s lawyer to try to help him get a lesser sentence. It didn’t work. No other family who has lived in the house since the Lutzes moved out has mentioned any unusual happenings.
  8. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is based on a young German woman named Annelise. While today it is believed she suffered from epilepsy, during her own lifetime her parents and the local priests thought she was possessed. The poor girl went through not just one, but numerous exorcisms, and died less than a year after the last of them was performed. Some think that all of the exorcisms weakened her, but the records claim her death is the result of parental neglect. Since they thought she was possessed, they didn’t think taking her to a doctor would do any good.
  9. Dracula, and by association the German knock-off Nosferatu (because the film company couldn’t get the rights from Bram Stoker’s estate), is based on European pagan folklore. It was basically how people explained deaths by plagues, heart attacks, pretty much anything they couldn’t understand with the limited resources and knowledge the average peasant had at the time. Some say Stoker based Dracula on Vlad the Impaler of Wallachia in Romania. And while Stoker’s research notes mention that “dracula” means “devil” in Wallachian, there is some doubt about whether the connection goes further than that. I’d argue that it does, but I’m not a scholar or a historian, I’m just a nerd with a website and a heavy dose of skepticism. But I digress. In any case, by the time Stoker’s vampire came to life, so to speak, vampiric novels, epic poems, etc were already rising in popularity throughout Europe, some written by his own friends.
  10. La Llorona, or the Weeping Woman, about a woman who murders her own children and then is so overcome with grief that she commits suicide and her ghost wanders the night wailing over the loss of her offspring (and in some recitations, taking or killing other children to replace her lost ones), traces all the way back to an Aztec earth goddess tale. Meaning she predates the use of Spanish as the primary language in Latin America, but I cannot seem to find the name the Aztecs used.

In any case, each of these stories, both the ancient and the horrifyingly more recent, shows that scary stories, especially those about the afterlife, have existed all around the world since the days of old. Some scholars argue that this is merely evidence of the humans’ persisting and inherent fear of death, but others argue that the apparitions and monsters have more often been used to critique something about society, while thinly masking the message behind a “campfire tale” in order to escape retribution from society, or authority. Is Frankenstein’s monster really any more frightening than a doctor and scientist who is willing to disrespect the dead enough to use them like jigsaw puzzles? In the exorcism stories, is it the unhinged actions of the “patient” that are so scary, or the fact that the person is suffering from something unidentifiable and instead of really listening to their needs, everyone around them chalks it up to demons? Is Dracula a threat because he’s a vampire, or because he has the power to lure otherwise “virtuous” maidens into his lair with suggestions of a pleasure they aren’t supposed to even know about?

Happy Halloween.

10 People that History Whitewashed

Last month I handed off the mic and pointed to several articles, videos, podcasts, etc that better handled the topic of racism than I was prepared or qualified to. I would love to do that again, but honestly I can’t afford to pay guest posters and asking someone to donate their skills during a time when they are bombarded with requests for emotional labor to explain this or that seemed like a jerk move. So we’re back to me. And while I’m not qualified to talk about the ins and outs of daily racism experience, I am entirely capable of research and editorializing.

I have screamed for years that Jesus wasn’t White. No matter how movies, paintings, sculptures, statues, or any other art media portray him. He was whitewashed starting around the time of the Italian Renaissance (a weird thing, to me, since at the time Italians themselves weren’t actually considered “White” by most of Europe).

Anyway, when I start that conversation people are often taken aback and then transition into “Oh…I guess you’re right.”

I’m fun at parties. Also, this is where a sarcasm font would absolutely come in handy.

It’s doesn’t stop with Jesus, though. There are a plethora of historical figures who have been whitewashed in one way or another (or, as the case with one figure on my list, erased from the narrative completely).

In writing it is all too easy to fall into a “white normative” mindset. If you only describe someone’s features, ethnicity, etc when they are not White, you’re essentially saying that everyone else is by default. And just for the record, while “White/Caucasian” is the majority in the U.S., Canada, and several European nations, worldwide it’s not even top three. So a white normative dystopian future tale is saying something about who the author expects to survive. Be mindful of that as you write.

Because white normative narratives affect more than literature. In history, unless we are specifically told someone isn’t White, it’s basically assumed that they are. You know why Alexander Hamilton being mixed race shocked a lot of people? Because they don’t mention his race in history books and he’s light skinned in all his paintings, so the dude must have been White, right? *Annoying buzzer sound* Wrong. We’re (United States education, both public and private, I can’t speak for anyone else) just accustomed to a White Normative History Perspective. A Whitewashed history.

What else are we missing? A lot, actually. But I’m limiting myself to ten because that’s my series. “10 Things on the 10th” not “A lot of things on the 10th”. So here are 10 famous figures who have been whitewashed or erased by our culture (in no particular order, be it chronological or importance).

  1. J. Edgar Hoover. He was part Jewish, yes. He was also (credibly) rumored to be Gay (though, some believe he was more Ace than anything). But the man who went hard against leaders of the Civil Rights Movement was also part Black. He was light skinned and began passing very early in life, and his family went to great lengths to hide that part of their heritage. But DNA analysis, genealogical research, and familial accounts all back up the claim that he was, in fact, part Black himself. There are also several accounts of people who openly questioned this while he was still alive who were immediately threatened by the man himself. It was a secret he guarded more closely than the nature of his romantic life.
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  2. Alexandre Dumas. He wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers among many others. His father was a general in the French Army, well decorated, well respected and well recorded in paintings. Alexandre’s grandmother was a slave in what is now Haiti. His father was a dark-skinned biracial man, something made very clear in artistic depictions of him. Alexandre was lighter skinned than his father, but still pretty clearly mixed race. Now go back and read The Count of Monte Cristo, the story of a man who is wrongly accused of a crime and imprisoned for years, who eventually gains his freedom and fortune and returns (pretending to be an Italian Count) to seek revenge on those who purposely framed him. Do you picture it differently now?
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  3. St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine was born Northern Africa to a pagan father (who converted to Christianity before his death) and a Christian mother. His household primarily spoke Latin as a way to evidence their education in Roman society. However, genetically, his family were Berbers–a people group historically and genetically tied to Northern Africa. Yep. One of the most important and celebrated figures in post Biblical Christian history was Black. Even early artistic depictions of him by the church show him as a dark skinned man.
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  4. Saint Nicholas. Yes, I’m bring Santa Claus into the fray. Saint Nicholas was of southern Greek decent, Turkish, and not especially light skinned given the early artistic renderings of him by the church. Santa Claus wasn’t a White guy. White beard is totally probable, though.
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  5. Ludwig Van Beethoven. This one has been debated, but science is on my side. While the first examinations were ruled inconclusive because his hair didn’t have the “most common” characteristics of genetically African hair (do not get me started on everything wrong with that statement), follow up DNA analysis and a facial mold created from his remains and modern technology say everyone’s favorite deaf musical genius was Black. And also didn’t look ANYTHING like the majority of his artistic renderings. This was not uncommon for his day and time, and it was even more so for Beethoven who was rumored to use copious amounts of white facial powder and even employ body doubles for portraits to hide his true visage.
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  6. Queen Charlotte. Wife of King George III (yes, the crazy dude from Hamilton). Charlotte came from a small German ducal family, but on her father’s side she was descended from Portuguese royalty. More specifically, she was descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, from the Black branch of the Portuguese Royal Family Tree. Remember when I said it was not uncommon for people to look nothing like their artistic renderings in Beethoven’s day? It was true for Charlotte too. In fact, when some court painters depicted her a little more realistically, they were fired and threatened with death. Her contemporaries’ written accounts of her discuss her dark skin (as compared to most White Europeans) and features, though, so her correct visage hasn’t been lost to history.
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  7. Pete Wentz. Most identifiable member of Fall Out Boy. His grandfather was a Black Jamaican man who is also a cousin of Colin Powell. Pete has never hidden his heritage, and has stated proudly that he is mixed race. However, with white skin and the last name Wentz, people have actually called him a liar regarding his ethnicity before, leading the musician to to essentially throw his hands in the air over it. If you’re wondering, I’m including him on this list to show that this is STILL HAPPENING.
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  8. Saint George. The patron saint of England whose flag was co-opted by Crusaders and a modern English political party. George was Turkish and Persian. He was Middle Eastern. By modern definitions, not a White guy. Something I’m almost certain is lost on the particular English political party using his personal emblem.
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  9. Alessandro de Medici. Financial gurus, power players, political powerhouse, Head of the Catholic church in their pocket, feared and revered in Florence, and an integral part of Italian history. That Medici family. Alessandro was raised as the son of Lorenzo II (son of Lorenzo the Magnficent) de Medici, but was, in actuality, the son of Lorenzo I’s nephew Giulio and a Black servant in the Medici household. Giulio was only seventeen when he fathered Alessandro, but would become Pope Clement VII by the time Alessandro reached his adolescence. His mother was married off to a lesser noble and Alessandro was accepted as a legitimate Medici because the last thing you want to do is lose your cousin the Papal throne and relinquish all the power (and blackmail ability) that goes with raising his son for him on the sly. Thanks to his birth father, Alessandro would eventually become the Florentine Head of State. Possibly (I say only possibly because I don’t know who else history has whitewashed) the first Black Head of State in Europe.
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  10. Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The Godmother of Rock and Roll. A Bisexual, guitar playing, boundary pushing, musical powerhouse who literally created rock and roll by fusing Delta Blues and New Orleans Jazz with her Gospel music. And yes, she was simultaneously bisexual and a worldwide Gospel sensation. When White artists began to copy her style and even get credit for it, she didn’t have much recourse. So she traveled to Europe and toured there for decades, creating a new following and performing to large crowds until just three years before her death in the 1970s. Still, even many music enthusiasts have never heard of her because her name gets buried under names like Elvis Presley who very much used her as inspiration.
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Do you have someone to add to the list? Tell me about them in the comments. I’m a history nerd who would actually be very interested.

10 Things About Nail Polish

Today is Mother’s Day, my vegetable garden has been planted, and I sprained my calf and cannot do my interval workouts for a few days, so I decided to turn to something else that brings me peace–painting my nails. I’ve always liked to paint my nails, but quite frankly I’m not great at it, so I don’t do it terribly often. But I recently discovered nail stamping, and now with just a swipe and a press I can showcase my love for books, pretty flowers, Sci-Fi and Fantasy franchises, or even create dinosaur designs that my kids love. There’s nothing quite like stamping a triceratops on your nails and then having your three-year-old look upon you with awe and declare, “Mama, you SO beautiful.”

But where did the tradition of painting our nails even come from? The answer is actually pretty hard to pin down other than to call it widespread cultural appropriation. I did give it the old college try, though, and learned several interesting things along the way. So here are 10 things you might not know about nail polish.

  1. While some sources claim the tradition of pigmenting one’s nails began circa 3,000 BC in China, others claim there is evidence of soldiers from Babylon using it circa 3,200 BC. Still others point to mummified pharaohs with pigmented nails and say it all began in Egypt. However, I find the most plausible place of origin from all the different arguments to be India. Henna had been used to create intricate designs on the hands for thousands of years. And from India, the use of such a pigment could easily have geographically expanded to China, Babylonia, and even Egypt where–spoiler alert–henna was used to pigment the nails of the upper classes.
  2. While Babylonian soldiers used kohl to color their nails and lips before going into battle (there is also archaeological evidence that they also spent time curling their hair before heading out, which leads me to call BS on many modern gender norms), Chinese women painted their nails to show their class. Women of the upper class, and especially of the royal family, wore specific colors that women of lesser classes were not allowed to wear. They also created intricate designs and even wore long, claw-like tips to protect long nails on two fingers of each hand. It was to show others they didn’t have to use their hands for manual labor.
  3. During the Rennaisance, the trend of coloring nails and then buffing them to a shine spread to Europe. However, the available colors were few and sometimes toxic. And in Victorian England, for example, simple, clean, nude nails were seen as a sign of moral purity and good upbringing (nevermind mind the abrasives and processes they used to make their nails look “naturally clean”).
  4. Towards the end of the 19th century, French women began re-popularizing the use of colored pigment on nails. And the turn of the century saw suffragettes in both England and North America don make-up and colored nail pigment to outwardly showcase their rebellion against the status quo. Some went so far as to wear bloomers (gasp) or even, dare I say it, pants. The horror.
  5. In 1916 Cutex developed a clear lacquer to paint over nails to make them shine so that women no longer had to spend hours breathing in chemicals from the abrasives they used to buff their nails to a shine. It revolutionized the nail industry. Mary E. Cobb studied how French salons manicured the nails of their clients, both men and women alike–a tradition dating back to King Louis Philippe. She also spent years watching her husband who was a podiatrist and a cosmetics manufacturer. She divorced her husband, struck out on her own, moved to New York City, and opened the first nail parlor in America. “Mrs. Pray’s Manicure” was the official name of the service and it was a runaway hit.
  6. In the 1920s, Michelle Menard watched the automotive industry develop shiny, brightly colored paints for cars. She made some changes to the formula, and voila, modern liquid nail polish was born. Of course, her employer owned the rights to her invention and patented it himself. And in 1932 Ms. Menard’s invention flooded the shelves. We can still find it there today, but alas Ms. Menard’s name isn’t on it. Instead, it bears the name of the company started by the man who patented her formula: Revlon.
  7. Since 1932 was still during the Great Depression, it might make you wonder how a company based on a luxury cosmetic item could survive. The answer is that it wasn’t that much of a luxury. A bottle of nail varnish in the early 1930s was about thirty-four cents in the United States. While that still put it out of reach for large swaths of the population, many women deemed it an item worth buying to lift their spirits during tough times. However, during WWII as many women entered the workplace and embodied Rosie the Riveter, painted nails became impractical. Women didn’t give up painting their nails altogether, it just became more popular to paint them with clear lacquer.
  8. In 1957 Frederick Slack changed the nail game again. Dr. Slack was a dentist who had the unfortunate experience of badly chipping a nail during his workday. A resourceful gentleman, he used tin foil and dental acrylic to create a fake nail to cover his chipped one. It looked so real and so natural that he decided to collaborate with his brother to turn his invention into a marketable venture. The result? Acrylic nails. It would still take until the 1970s for acrylics to become widely available.
  9. With strong colors once again en vogue by the 1970s, it sometimes made it difficult for make-up artists and designers to find a way to paint the nails so they wouldn’t clash with clothing during runway shows with multiple wardrobe changes. In 1976, Jeff Pink (who founded Orly) created a new type of nail design that wouldn’t clash with the outfits and was understated but adored the moment it debuted in a Paris fashion show. Today we call it the French manicure.
  10. Today the nail polish industry is a multi-billion dollar market and lacquers, varnishes, dips, powders, and polishes come in different price ranges, color schemes, and even ingredients. The most expensive bottle of nail polish available though is created by crushing black diamonds which gives the formula a one of a kind sparkle. Of course, at $250,000 there would need to be a genie in that bottle before I got too close to it.

From ancient traditions to battlefields to politics to wartime factories, the history of nail polish gives an interesting insight into changing values and ideals for women. With each new trend or available product line coinciding with women taking a step away from the societal norms of their day, it is an art that tells a story all its own. A sign of the struggle for equality. Beautiful war paint.

Maybe that will clear out the pandemic induced cobwebs and spark an idea for a new world to build. If not, don’t beat yourself up. The creative juices will flow again at some point. Until then, cut yourself some slack. You’re in the middle of a major historic event. It’s okay to be off your game (I’m really saying this to me because I haven’t written any salvageable material since school closed).

As for me, I’m going to enjoy my Mother’s Day and paint my nails.

Happy Mother’s Day to you. Whether you are a pet mom, a biological mom, an adoptive mom, a step-mom, a pregnant mom, a legal guardian, caretaker, or someone desperately wanting to become a mom, Happy Mother’s Day.

10 Things About Trampolines

Like most of the world, my family is staying home and distancing ourselves from non-essential spaces, activities, etc. I have two sons. If they can’t play with their friends at school or have playdates at the park, they need to get their energy out somehow. Plus, they are young and while we have talked about the virus and the reason we have to stay home right now, I don’t want them to live in fear.

Just as the virus was ramping up in the United States, my younger son had a birthday. I found a mini-trampoline that could be used indoors (a major plus considering the epic amount of rain this winter), but I could also toss it out in the yard and let them turn it into a dinosaur nest, part of an obstacle course, and flying superhero training pad, or whatever else their little imaginations could produce. It’s not the same as a big trampoline, but it fit in my budget at the time and it has provided them with a blessed amount of stimulation.

Despite its size and ease of use indoors, it has become an outside toy for two reasons. The first is that they like to have it there to be part of their imaginary games of dinosaur, superhero, American Ninja Warrior contestant, etc. The second is that somehow when indoors the idea of using it to propel oneself against a wall as hard and fast as possible seemed like a capital idea.

Still, they have loved every second of having it around and for that I’m grateful. They are already campaigning to get a bigger one. My husband is against it for a plethora of safety reasons. I can’t blame him, but I also have to remind him that most of the common injuries on a trampoline are caused by things our generation did on purpose when we were young. Elder millennials are the reason they now sell nets to go around the outside of backyard trampolines. We tried to bounce each other off on purpose. It was great fun.

Anyway, it got me to thinking, where did this ridiculous and fun contraption even come from? And ta-da, a 10 Things post is born.

Here are 10 things you might not know about trampolines:

  1. Long before the modern trampoline, the Inupiat (I hope that is the correct term, please forgive and correct me if it is not), a group of Alaskan Natives, would toss dancers into the air from taught walrus skin as part of the whaling festival in the spring.
  2. There is also evidence of this type of activity–involuntarily bouncing a person from a cloth tightly held by a group of people–being used as a type of punishment in Europe before it became a tool used by firemen to catch people who jumped from burning buildings.
  3. In the early 19th and 20th centuries, circus performers used springboards sometimes called trampolines and “bouncing beds” in acrobatic routines and comedic performances.
  4. What we know as the modern trampoline is an invention credited to George Nissen and his University of Iowa gymnastics coach Larry Griswald. Nissen is said to have first gotten the idea as a teenager watching acrobats use their safety net as a part of their routine at the circus to wow the audience. At some point, he even took apart his bedframe at home trying to create a smaller-scale replica of the bouncing safety net. When he was in college, his gymnastics coach helped him create a new prototype and in 1934 they filed for a patent. They named their invention a trampoline–a purposely anglicized version of el trampolín, a Spanish term for a diving board.
  5. Trampoline was originally trademarked. The product’s generic name was a “rebound tumbler”. However, when the term trampoline lost its trademark, the term became synonymous with the generic product.
  6. During World War II, the United States Navy began using trampolines as a training activity for pilots. The rebound tumbler was a way for the pilots to get a more accurate feel of orienting themselves in midair, a skill often needed during air fights and bombing raids. It was also one of the tools first used by the newly developing space program after the war ended.
  7. As far back as 1959 and into the 1970s, outdoor trampoline parks popped up across North America. George Nissen often spoke out against this type of use, little supervision or training and with practically no safety regulations, of his invention, but could do little to stop it. He believed in the power of his invention as a training tool, exercise equipment, and even a platform for sports, but thought that safety should always be a primary concern.
  8. In 1962 trampolining was officially recognized as a sport by the International Gymnastics Federation. It was introduced as an Olympic event in 2000 in Australia. George Nissen was there to witness the moment.
  9. He was also, at 94 years of age, able to “test” the trampolines at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He died two years later in 2010, but his daughter–who now runs a trampolining academy in California–says it was a true highlight and an unforgettable moment for him.
  10. Competition trampolines are made with slightly different materials than the recreational backyard version. A competition trampoline can help an athlete reach heights of approximately 33 feet (10 meters). Recreational trampolines can be expected to serve up about 1/3 of that height. Thank goodness.

It should also be noted that the added nets around the outside of a trampoline haven’t actually caused a big decrease in the number of trampoline-related emergency room visits. Kids will find a way to hurt themselves.

So if you have a backyard trampoline, or just a backyard to play in, get out in the fresh air and have some fun. If your stay-at-home orders are more stringent and don’t allow outside play, or perhaps you don’t have an outside play space, nobody is going to judge you for the amount of screen time you allow your child right now.

Remember, during this time you are not homeschooling your child. You are providing educational triage. You are not simply parenting. You are parenting through a global pandemic, something the What to Expect series never prepared any of us for. Cut yourself some slack, and cut your kids some slack too. Most of them don’t know how to appropriately express their fear or anxiety. Reach out if you need help or your kids need help. There are teletherapists that can consult with you over the phone, there are food banks to help those without a paycheck right now, there are organizations that exist to help you. Let those of us who want to reach out a hand do so. Please. Like the old song says, no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show.

We’re all in this together no matter how far apart we are.

Happy Good Friday, everyone.

A 10 Things Repeat About Flu

I’ve never straight up repeated a post (that I’m aware of), however back in the fall I wrote a 10 Things post that seems super apropos right now. The world is concerned about a type of influenza. It doesn’t matter if you think the world is overreacting, if you feel the need to stockpile supplies, or if you are just taken aback by the seemingly overwhelming number of people in your town who apparently weren’t washing their hands before this. Seriously. If you are privileged enough to have ready access to clean, running water and AREN’T already washing your hands after EVERY bathroom visit I have serious questions. But I’ll ask them from over here because I don’t want to get too close.

Anyway, if you’d like to see the original post, I’ll post the text below or you can visit it at its permalink here.

The following was posted back in September:

I thought about doing a post about the traditions and origins of Homecoming Week, but I realized that I’ve done a lot of posts about sports-centric or sports-related topics. But while I was contemplating a post on Homecoming, I came across a piece of trivia that steered me in a new direction. Most of the homecoming celebrations for colleges and universities in the United States that try to lay claim to the longest celebrated tradition almost all have a gap in 1918 and/or 1919.

Why is not a great mystery to any world history nerd, or Twilight fan for that matter. The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 killed millions of people worldwide. Hospitals were overcrowded with sick patients, so universities and colleges (and churches, high schools, community centers, etc) were often converted to makeshift clinics. And since the flu is, as it always has been and continues to be, highly contagious, you can imagine why people might have wanted to avoid crowded sporting events and the like.

When people think of an illness that killed millions and affected world history, most conjure up thoughts of the Bubonic Plague. However, the “Spanish Flu” affected more people. And a single virus that makes its way around the world could give a writer a lot of ideas about how something as simple as a cough can shape the worlds we build.

10 Things About the Influenza Pandemic of 1918:

  1. An epidemic is an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and across multiple communities, but a pandemic spreads throughout the world. Both words are Greek in origin and epidemic means “among the people”, while pandemic means “all the people”. The people part can also be translated as “district”, but since I have a less than rudimentary grasp on Greek, I’m just going to roll with it. The Influenza Pandemic affected most of the world, including remote islands and the Arctic. It killed somewhere between 3% and 5% of the Earth’s population at the time.
  2. Afraid of mass panic, many countries coming out of the war censored how widespread the flu was as much as they could for as long as they could. However, Spain had been neutral in the war and had no wartime censorship in effect. Other countries felt free to report on how the disease was ravaging the Spanish population, including the king. This misled the general public to believe that the flu originated in Spain, and that Spain was hit particularly hard by it. In truth, scholars and historians still aren’t certain where it began. So it’s called the Spanish Flu because of how newspapers reported it, not because it actually has any tie to Spain itself.
  3. It was not any more aggressive than previous influenza strains, or most since. However, a combination of crowded medical camps and hospitals, poor hygiene, and malnourishment helped it spread quickly. Many of the lives lost during the pandemic were actually from bacterial infections that patients got because their immune systems were so weak from fighting the virus.
  4. The reason for overcrowded medical camps and malnourishment had a lot to do with World War I. If the war had never happened, the pandemic might not have either. That’s not to say that the flu originated in Europe at the time. Different researchers have claimed the spread of this strain of the flu began in China, Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe. There is still great debate about where the spread of the disease began. But as travel modernized, the disease could be carried quicker and more efficiently than ever before.
  5. It has been dubbed “the greatest medical holocaust in human history”. It killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDS killed in twenty-four years. It also killed more people in a single year than the Black Death killed over the course of 100 years. Think about that the next time you pass on getting a flu shot.
  6. The pandemic was truly worldwide and not just “Euro-centric World”, “First World”, or “Developed World”. There was not a single region of the globe that was unaffected. 3-5% of the world’s population died, but that was only somewhere between 10% and 20% of the people who contracted the flu at the time.
  7. While typical flu epidemics tend to be more dangerous for the very young and the elderly, the 1918 pandemic was different because it actually killed mostly young adults. Half of the fatalities were between ages 20 and 40.
  8. Because of secondary infections, symptoms such as bleeding from the ears, coughing up blood, and bloody stools, the flu was misdiagnosed as a number of other conditions early on. These included dengue, cholera, and typhoid.
  9. It came in two waves, but disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. The first wave of flu during the pandemic wasn’t much worse than the usual flu season numbers. The second wave was the deadly pandemic. However, less than three weeks after the largest spike in death tolls, many cities were reporting that the illness seemed to be disappearing. There are many theories about why this is, but the prevailing one seems to be that the virus began to mutate (which is common) to a less deadly strain.
  10. Even after the flu died down at the end of the pandemic, the havoc wasn’t over. Studies showed that babies who were in utero during the outbreak were more likely to exhibit physical abnormalities or disabilities at birth and in the long-term were less likely to achieve the same socioeconomic status or educational milestones as the generation before or after.

The Pandemic of 1918 changed how we study the flu, how we classify the flu, and how we treat the flu. Generations were affected and populations decimated. All from a “simple” respiratory illness. There are a lot of plot and world-building possibilities in that concept.

Also, flu season is rapidly approaching. Get vaccinated.

One more time for the people in the back.

GET. YOUR. FLU. SHOT.

And if you are running a fever, stay home if at all possible.

10 Things About Santa Claus

It’s that time of year. Parents are rushing to and fro, whether from store to store or website to website, to find the perfect gifts for their children. And children are making lists for Santa. They will write letters and make pleas for all the things their little hearts desire and mail them to a “jolly old elf” clad in red and white furs who lives at the North Pole.

But wait. Santa Claus is also known as St. Nick. And Saint Nicholas didn’t call the North Pole home. He lived in modern-day Turkey. So when did Santa move to his new arctic digs? And just how old is he?

Let’s follow the evolution of the legend and see what it can teach us about world-building. Here are 10 things you might not know about Santa Claus.

  1. Nicholas, who would later be canonized as Saint Nicholas, was born sometime around 270 AD in a town that was at the time a part of Greece, but today is part of Turkey. He lost his parents at a young age, but was left with a large inheritance. Nicholas decided to dedicate his life to the Christian church and used his inheritance to help those in need whenever he could. The most famous account of this is when Nicholas secretly gave money to an indebted father of three daughters so he would have the money to pay their dowries. That meant the daughters could marry instead of becoming prostitutes to support themselves. The story goes that Nicholas, on three separate occasions (once for each daughter as she came of age) threw a small bag of gold through an open window into the family’s home during the night. The bags landed in shoes or socks that had been hung by the fire to dry. It didn’t take long for the story to spread and children began hanging up their socks to see if they, too, could wake up to life-altering gifts.
  2. Nicholas was made Archbishop of Myra and served the post at a time when Rome was persecuting Christians. He was no stranger to imprisonment, and possibly even torture, but refused to abandon or renounce his faith. When Constantine came to power, he invited Nicholas to Nicea where he was part of the council that gave us the famous Nicene Creed.
  3. Nicholas died on December 6th, 343 AD. Hence the reason December 6th is his Saint day. In fact, December 6th is still the day that many cultures exchange gifts–instead of Christmas Day. Fast forward to modern times and forensic scientists have been able to use his remains to create new models for what Nicholas actually looked like. Spoiler alert, it’s not the chubby, red-cheeked guy that pop culture depicts. It’s a man with dark olive-toned skin, deep brown eyes, and a gray beard. While the forensic picture the scientists came up with had to take some artistic license based on probability and common features of people in his area during his time, it still seems much more likely than the Scandinavian looking, blue-eyed version we know. What they can tell is that Nicholas had a crooked nose from a bad break that didn’t heal correctly (possibly from his tenure in prison courtesy of the Romans).
  4. After Nicholas passed, the stories of his generosity lived on. The tradition of secretly leaving gifts during the night around Saint Nicholas Day became increasingly popular throughout Europe. The prevalence of the celebration continued to spread until a man named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to a wooden door. After the Protestant Reformation, celebrating saints largely fell out of favor in Europe. However, by then people didn’t want to give up the St. Nick traditions, so they secularized him.
  5. Depending on which part of Europe we’re talking about, the new secular St. Nick took many forms. In some countries, he had taken on the abilities of old pagan deities/legends such as flight and immortality. In others, he not only delivered gifts in the night but also possessed the power to guide the hand of parents in disciplining their children whenever they misbehaved. In some areas, though, they dropped St. Nick altogether in favor of the “Christ Kind” or Christ Child giving gifts on Christmas day. However, the holy child didn’t seem one to be mean and discipline children, so he was given an accomplice who threatened to kidnap and/or beat bad children who didn’t deserve presents. What’s up, Krampus? In any case, and an ironic twist, the Germanic term Christ kind was eventually anglicized into Kris Kringle–another name for Saint Nicholas/Santa Claus.
  6. As you can imagine, as Europeans traveled the globe (and colonized everything they touched) they took their traditions regarding St. Nick with them. The Dutch took Saint Nicholas or Sint Niklaas, often shortened to Sinterklaas to the “New World”. This too was eventually anglicized into, you guessed it, Santa Claus.
  7. When the Dutch brought Sinterklaas to American shores, Christmas celebrations were not the family-friendly affairs we think of today. Unless you’re picturing rowdy and raucous holiday parties with heavy amounts of alcohol and at least one big bonfire. Then you’re totally on the right track. However, in the early 1800s it became the fashion for poets and novelists to write about Santa Claus and promote a much more heart-warming holiday. In 1809 Washington Irving gave Santa Claus a pipe and had him flying over rooftops in a wagon. In 1822, Clement Clark Moore, an Episcopalian minister and father of three young girls, wrote a poem for his children, “An Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas”. The minister was very hesitant to have the poem published because of its whimsical nature, but his family adored it and pushed for him to do it anyway. It was instantly popular. We better know the poem today as “The Night Before Christmas”. It is in this poem that we first see Santa with a sleigh, reindeer, sliding down chimneys and being jolly.
  8. In 1881 Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, gave us a rendering of Santa Claus in his now-iconic red color (though this depicted long johns instead of fur robes) with a fluffy white beard, an armload of toys and a red hat. The image was published in Harper’s Weekly and quickly became the accepted image of Old St. Nick. During the 1930s a man named Haddon Sundblom took the concept Nast had drawn and ran with it. He replaced Santa’s long johns with red and white fur and replaced his pipe with a bottle of Coca-Cola. This image had been commissioned by the soft drink company as part of their holiday ad campaign and has been in use ever since.
  9. During World War II, American soldiers took their concept of Santa Claus with them across the ocean and the idea of a white-bearded, chubby, laughing, red-fur wearing Santa spread like wildfire. For a time, the Russian government even tried to bury Santa under the blue-fur wearing, New Year’s gift-giving, completely devoid of religious sentiment Grandfather Frost, but St. Nick persisted.
  10. As for Santa’s home at the North Pole, it has been a little harder to trace, but from I can tell it seems to stem from a set of letters that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his children from St. Nick (and sometimes his side-kick North Polar Bear). The letters were eventually published and there was great detail about how the North Polar Bear once wreaked havoc on Santa’s workshop through a series of accidents that almost ruined Christmas. The bear even wrote to the children in “arctic” and they had to decipher the language since it was too difficult for the bear to become truly fluent in English.

And that’s how a Turkish Archbishop gained immortality and moved to the North Pole. Is there a legend that the people in your fictional world believe? Perhaps it, too, evolved over time from something real to something fantastical. It might affect the way people celebrate or don’t celebrate something. Or it might add a touch of magic and evoke emotion. That’s why the Salvation Army began using Santas to ring bells to gather donations near Christmas. The tradition began in the early part of the 20th century when the organization needed to raise money to help pay for the meal they provided each year for families in need. They hired homeless and/or unemployed men to dress as Santa and ring bells on street corners to get attention. It was such a successful campaign that it continues today, though the bell ringers are now volunteers.

A man who became a tradition. A tradition that became a poem. A poem that became an image. An image that became a legend. A legend that became an icon. Never underestimate the power of a person with a good story to tell.

Happy Holidays.

10 Things About the History of American Public Education

While a lot of the country is still enjoying the last few weeks of summer vacation, in the Southeast we’re already back in school. We start earlier than a lot of the country and get out earlier too. I’ll talk about why in just a moment. My oldest child started Kindergarten on Wednesday. He’s in love with learning and has really enjoyed school so far. I can only hope his enthusiasm doesn’t wane over the course of the year.

But, with a child in elementary school, my brain has been focused on school-related things lately. Back-to-school shopping (supplies and clothes), Meet the Teacher night, ensuring proper registration for school, etc. In honor of my back-to-school focused brain, this month’s 10 Things post is focused on American Public Education.

Let’s do this.

  1. The reason we start school in the fall in the United States has long been attributed to agrarian needs. However, that’s false–not to mention illogical–and is an excuse the urban elite have been using for decades. Think about it. In farming, there is a lot of work in the spring during planting season and a lot of work in the fall during the harvest. In comparison, summer and winter have moderate amounts of work to be done. Why, then, would farmers send their children to school in the fall and spring? They wouldn’t. And didn’t. Agrarian schools in the early days of public education generally had a summer term and a winter term. However, in densely populated urban areas where summer heat (before the invention of air conditioning) could be stifling, smelly, and dangerous the wealthy would retreat to summer homes outside the city until the weather cooled again. When public education started being federally funded and compulsory, it was decided that all school calendars (both rural and urban) should more or less match up. Guess who won that battle.
  2. As I said in the opening paragraph though, schools in the South often start earlier than those in the North. We start in August and are out before Memorial Day (in late May) whereas the majority of the country starts in September and finishes in mid-to-late June. The South once lined up our start and end dates with the rest of the country, but have changed in the last two decades. The reason? State testing. The South struggles with federally mandated standardized tests–a price paid for racist and classist education policies starting in the Colonial Period and continuing through the Civil Rights Movement–and so by starting earlier, we have more time to prepare for before the testing dates and we end the school year shortly after the testing period ends.
  3. Public school hasn’t always meant free. The first public schools were open to the public–for a comparatively smaller fee than hiring private tutors or paying for boarding school.
  4. The first public schools were connected to specific churches. The objective was to teach children to read so that they might be able to read and better understand the Bible. Moreover, the schools would only admit students who were a part of the specific denomination of the church. Brown University was considered quite progressive and liberal in its early days because, while it was started by Baptists, it would admit young (white) men from other denominations. Women, minorities, or even white men with other religious affiliations–including Catholics–were out of luck.
  5. Until the early 1800s, teachers were overwhelmingly male. The only women who received more than rudimentary education were generally from wealthy families who hired private tutors. They were training their daughters to be better prospective wives for other wealthy men. However, there was a movement in the early part of 19th century that spread the idea that women were much more suited to educating children, even young males, because of their natural maternal instincts. This gave rise to more young girls being admitted to schools, a prevalence of “teaching colleges” where women could specifically study how to be better educators, and new job prospects around the nation.
  6. Home Economics courses are disappearing from most schools, but it was a fight to get them started at all. Women’s groups and charities fought for and funded courses on sewing and mending for young women in public schools. The reasons were two-fold. First, for those young women who would eventually have to find work, this gave them the training necessary to apply for a position as a lady’s maid or other domestic service position. That meant better pay, better working conditions, and better life prospects. Second, some of the young ladies who attended public school institutions were poor and would show up to school in torn or tattered dresses. By teaching them how to sew and mend at school, they were able to better care for themselves and help their families.
  7. School didn’t become compulsory in each state at the same time. Massachusetts was the first state to lead the charge in both compulsory and free public education, as well as the education of women. Other states followed, some more slowly than others. Much of the south, for instance, didn’t make public education mandatory until the early 1900s. Even so, education was only compulsory through the eighth grade. High school attendance became more popular after World War I, and enrollment in secondary schools rose significantly after World War II thanks to the original G.I. Bill that helped pay for military veterans to attend college. Students had a reason to finish high school. They could serve in the armed forces and then the government would pay for them to get a college degree, greatly increasing job prospects and upward mobility. The bill was not limited to men. Women veterans could also claim G. I. Bill benefits. However, only 2% of American veterans of World War II were women. Side Note: The original G.I. Bill expired in 1956, but has revamped and extended time and again. In 1984, the Montgomery G.I. Bill was one of the newest incarnations of the bill. Named for G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, a congressman from Mississippi and a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, who authored the bill.
  8. When public (and free) education (through 8th grade) became compulsory nation-wide, it didn’t mean there were suddenly Elementary and Middle Schools on every corner. Most schools were one room, one teacher, and all the students within walking distance–generally a five-mile radius from the school.
  9. While Black citizens had to fight for access to education, Native Americans were sometimes ripped from their tribes and families and forced to attend residential schools where they had to learn to dress, speak, and act in an “Anglo-American” style. The argument was that it would make Natives “more civilized” and ease tensions between Whites and Tribal Nations. Spoiler alert: It was a horrendous practice and not-so-shockingly a failure. The first Indian Residential School opened in the mid-1800s and the last one officially closed in 1973 (in the United States. It’s my understanding that some Indian Residential Schools still operated in Canada into the 1990s). The Bureau of Indian Affairs must have had the motto of “If at first we don’t succeed, we’ll keep forcing the same policy down your throats for over a century.”
  10. The official color for public school buses in the United States is “National School Bus Glossy Yellow”. While the name of the official paint color has changed, the yellow hue has been more or less the same since it was agreed upon in 1939 at an education conference funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Yellow with black lettering was voted the standard because it is the easiest to see in the dark of the early morning (more modern research studies have confirmed that you are more likely to notice something yellow in your periphery or in the dark than something red). The first school buses were not all motorized, some were yellow wagons pulled by horses. The design has certainly changed over the decades, but the color has remained the same.

American Public Educations has had its ups and downs. In the early 20th century, we had the highest literacy rate in the world. While that is no longer true, we don’t have to view it as all doom and gloom. I am a product of the public education system, and I hold two bachelor’s degrees from a public (though certainly not free) university. I received a quality education (my penchant for typos and my ongoing war with commas notwithstanding). However, I have also been a teacher in the public school system. Most of the pitfalls we (Americans) face are of our own making. The situation is certainly not hopeless, though the most effective solutions won’t be the most popular ones. And until we have someone in Congress who actually has experience in public education, or–heaven forbid–has a child in the public school system, nobody wants to take on that battle.

But I digress.

This post is for writers, as always. The public education system isn’t a bad idea, nor did it begin with bad intent. But the system has never been perfect. And bad decisions have been made along the way that negatively affected a lot of the population. So when you create a world, even if you design a complete Utopia, remember that just because something is a good idea and meant for the greater good of all, doesn’t mean it won’t face or create challenges. In fact, this could serve as the perfect opportunity to flesh out the implicit biases of your characters. What beliefs do they hold that could keep an altruistic venture from succeeding? How could that cause a rift in their perfect society? How does that affect your main character’s worldview or experience?

Not everybody all at once. Raise your hand.

Class is officially in session.

10 Things About the History of College Football

Monday night the NCAA College Football National Championship game was played. And, at the risk of sounding like Anna from Frozen, for the first time in forever I didn’t watch. We recently ditched traditional TV service in order to save money. We like to watch live sports, but pretty much everything else we watch is through a streaming service these days anyway. And our internet package affords us access to several big sporting events, so we’re covered for now. We might have to revisit our options before next Fall, but we’ll see. The point is, I could have watched the game, but I didn’t.

It was the same ol’ teams, playing the same ol’ match-up. To be fair, I did read the recap and even get some live updates during the game so I know that it wasn’t actually just “same ole, same ole” all night. But I was very busy and not altogether upset over missing it. That was a new feeling for me. Even when my oldest child was born and I was knee deep in hormone changes, new infant insomnia, and new parent panic I still watched most of the game. Maybe next year.

A lot of my friends, especially the writers I know, have different interests from me. They don’t watch or follow “the sportsball”. Totally fine. I don’t judge. We’re allowed to have different passions. In fact, it means we bring different things to the table. I value that. But I also realize that there has been a lot of talk about using sports and/or holidays to make your fictional world/culture feel more real and true. How are you supposed to build a believable sport when you don’t like sports to begin with? Where do you start?

It might help to start with the history of a game that already exists. Sports didn’t appear out of the ether one day with complete rulebooks and defined playing surfaces. Each game we know and love has evolved in some way or another, and many continue to do so in small ways. Looking at that evolution could be helpful while trying to build a fictional sport. So let’s jump in with some examples.

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10 things about the history of college football (American football, that is).

  1. American Football as we know it today evolved from a game commonly played in Britain called “mob football”. The same game is also the precursor to rugby and was mentioned as far back at the 9th century. Versions of this original game are still played at special events in parts of the United Kingdom.
  2. While mob football became a more organized tradition at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) first, it was also part of a traditional at Harvard that began in 1827 when the sophomore class challenged the freshmen to a game. This became known as Bloody Monday and was an annual tradition until 1860 when university officials and local police banned it due to violence.
  3. The first intercollegiate game was November 6, 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. There still wasn’t a formalized set of rules, and the game was often played differently from school to school, so the team captains came together to decide which rules to play by. A round ball was used and the field and number of players were both considerably larger than they are today.
  4. Walter Camp played at Yale in the late 1870s and was instrumental in formalizing the rules. He reduced the accepted number of players per team on the field from 15 to 11 (1880 – though this would officially change once more before returning to eleven), reduced the size of the playing field to the current 120 yards (1881), created the line of scrimmage, and adjusted the scoring rules and points awarded. And for those of you who don’t follow the game and are asking “But I thought the field was only 100 yards,” you aren’t crazy. However, each endzone is ten yards. Two endzones+field of play=120 yards.
  5. Officials were not mandated (or paid) for games until 1887 when two became the requirement. We commonly call them all referees, but that’s not accurate. A referee is only one member of a team of officials who all have different roles. This is true for most sports, but it’s just easier to angrily scream “Hey, REF!” than it is to keep that same angered tone for “Hey, Line Judge!”
  6. The new, more organized game spread from schools in the East, to the Midwest, and then to the South by 1873. It would travel to the Southwest and then the Pacific coast by 1888. However, the game was still very violent by nature and between 1890 and 1905, 330 players died on the field or as a result of their injuries. The game was banned at many colleges around the country. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a fan of the game and had sons who played, met with leaders from several schools to find a solution. The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) was the solution. In 1910 it would be retitled the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and is still the governing body over collegiate sports.
  7. As the sport grew in popularity and more schools began to play, groups of schools began to form conferences to better govern the game on more regional levels. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the conferences represented in Monday’s game, are both descendants of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). Alabama and Clemson (the two teams from Monday’s game) were both charter members (so was my alma mater, Mississippi State then known as Mississippi A&M). The SIAA boasted the first accepted forward pass, the first game decided by a field goal, some of the first trick plays, John Heisman, and Pop Warner.
  8. While the SIAA claims the first ever forward pass in 1895, the forward pass wasn’t technically legal in the game until 1906. The game sometimes evolved faster than the official rules.
  9. The most lopsided victory in college football history was Georgia Tech over Cumberland in 1916 with a score of 222-0. That’s not a typo.
  10. “Modern Era” college football has more or less been the same since 1958. However, meetings are held each year at both the conference and national levels to discuss rule changes and adjustments and reassess any changes from the previous years. Most of these are minor, but the sport continues to evolve, especially when it comes to player safety.

I’m not going to lie, being both a geek and a sports fan I could keep going on this for a while. Lucky for all of you, this is clearly a “10 Things on the 10th” situation so I must stop. Hopefully, though, this shows you how sports come into being and gives you some ideas for what sports in your fictional world might look like.

And if not then at least you have some new tidbits for your next trivia night. You’re welcome.

 

10 Things About the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 (Pt. 1)

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School is about to let out for summer vacation and all over the country (the United States), fairs and festivals are gearing up. From now through the fall, Ferris Wheels, funnel cakes, and (mostly) family-friendly fun are the orders of the day. To celebrate that, this month’s 10 Things post will be about the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. This will be part 1 of 2 because there are several fascinating things about the World’s Columbian Exposition and I plan to share more of them with you next month. Buckle up, my friends. It’s time to get your history on.

The Chicago World’s Fair, otherwise known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, was held in 1893. The area for the fair covered more than 600 acres and spawned such attractions as the Ferris Wheel, but that’s not all. There are some really interesting things associated with the Fair that you might not know, especially if you’re not a history geek like me, so I thought I would share a few things that might spark your interest.

  1. One of the principal designers and builders of the Chicago World’s Fair was Daniel Burnham, who also designed the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington, D.C. Frederick Law Olmsted was another principal designer (but he worked with the landscaping, while Mr. Burnham worked with architectural structures). Mr. Olmsted is most famous, however, for co-designing Central Park in New York City.
  1. The design of the “White City”, the nickname of the part of the Fair officially known as the Court of Honor because all of the buildings were white (and because of the extensive use of streetlights actually made it possible to use the area at night), was actually the inspiration for L. Frank Baum’s Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. It also was the inspiration for the “alabaster cities” referenced in the poem “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates.
  1. The world’s first Ferris Wheel, so called because it was designed by George Ferris, debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was 264 feet high and had 36 cars, each car could carry 60 people. In fact, in some parts of the world today the Ferris Wheel is actually known as The Chicago Wheel.

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  1. Walt Disney’s father was one of the laborers who helped build and paint the buildings used for the World’s Fair.
  1. It was the Columbian Exposition because it was meant to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World.
  1. When it was originally suggested to have such a celebration, it drew little interest. However, in 1889 Paris hosted a World’s Fair during which the Eiffel Tower was unveiled. At that time, the Eiffel Tower was taller than any American Building, and during the fair France made sure that their exhibits seemed more elegant than those of any other nation, including America. Wounded pride is a driving force, and soon the idea of having a World’s Fair, with the excuse of it being the Columbian Exposition, that would top anything France could offer seemed only right. It took a vote of Congress to decide where the Fair would be held and Chicago won over Washington, D. C., New York City, and St. Louis. Chicago lobbied for votes by saying that this was their chance to show the world they had rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1871.
  1. The Decorations Director for the Chicago World’s Fair, Frank Millet, died in the sinking of the Titanic, while Daniel Burnham, by now his close friend, rode a sister ship, the Olympic, going the opposite direction across the Atlantic. The Olympic made an attempt to answer the distress call, but it was too late. Mr. Millet invented spray painting as a way to speed the process of painting all the building facades white for the Fair.
  1. Chicago’s Mayor, Carter Harrison, Sr., was assassinated two days before the Fair’s Closing Ceremonies. The Ceremonies were canceled in favor of a memorial service for the late mayor.
  1. Both General Electric (backed by Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan) and Westinghouse (backed by George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla) made bids to provide the electricity for the event, but Westinghouse won, and the Tesla alternating current system was used, instead of General Electric’s direct current proposal.
  1. All of the 200 buildings that were built for the fair were intended to be temporary. Two of them, however, still stand in place today. One now houses the Museum of Science and Industry and the other is home to the Art Institute of Chicago.

To be continued…

Origin of the Mason-Dixon Line

I love history. We can learn so much from it when we’re not busy memorizing names and dates for that big test. So today, we’re going to have a little history lesson. Partly because I’m a history nerd, and partly because this is a post from my old site and I forgot to write a sparkly new post for today. Just being honest.

Let the learning commence!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re asking what credentials give me the right to teach you history. None, actually. I don’t teach history. I’m certainly not a historian. I don’t have a degree in history of any kind. What I did have were two excellent history teachers in high school. My tenth grade history teacher made it fun. She told us the untold stories that weren’t in our history books. She read to us out of books like Lies My Teacher Told Me and One Night Stands in American History. That last one isn’t exactly what you think. I also had an AP US History teacher in the eleventh grade who was small, but fiery and just a little bit scary. She reminds me of the character “Hetty” from NCIS Los Angeles. She made me a better writer, too.

Thanks to those two ladies (and the other great teachers I had along the way) I am quite well versed in the history of these here United States. And today’s topic hits close to home because I’m from the south. South of the Mason-Dixon Line. Which isn’t what you think.

Did you know the creation of the Mason-Dixon Line has absolutely nothing to do with the division between North and South? Not a thing. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. The Mason Dixon Line, for the most part, runs along the southern border of Pennsylvania (it also dips down the western border of Delaware). In 1861, Maryland (south of the Mason-Dixon Line) became a “border state”, meaning it was a slave state that did not secede when the Confederacy did. So the Mason-Dixon Line was drawn to separate slave states and non-slave states, right? No. Actually, it existed quite some time before that.

MasonDixonPlaque

The Mason-Dixon Line was “drawn” because of a completely different fight. Approximately a century before the Civil War. The line is named for the two surveyors (just called scientists back then, by the way) from England, who were sent to settle a disagreement over the city of Philadelphia.

The original Maryland charter placed part of its border in Philadelphia. The Penn Family (you know, of PENNsylvania –just in case you missed it) was none too happy about this. Philadelphia was theirs, and they would have none of this Maryland nonsense. In 1681, when the disagreement arose, they took the problem to King Charles II. The King’s answer was to give Delaware (originally part of Maryland) to Pennsylvania, as a satellite colony, and to give Philadelphia to Maryland. Again, William Penn wasn’t happy. He had already decided that Philadelphia would be his colony’s capital! Outrage! This border dispute continued. In fact, in 1732 a war over it broke out, known as Cresap’s War. The result? The offended parties went back to the King. He came up with a new solution and sent two scientists, Mason and Dixon, to enforce it.

Mason and Dixon surveyed the land and drew the line, based on the stipulations they were given (I should add here that the timeline is quite drawn out. It took a while to get from England to the colonies, and it took much longer to survey land). The two scientists used crown stones, which were actually created in England and then shipped to the colonies, at five-mile intervals to mark the line. One side of the stones had the Calvert Family (Maryland) crest, and one side had the Penn Family crest. This line was created sometime in the 1760s.

Crown Stones

So, there you have it. It may have become famous for other reasons, but that is the real origin of the Mason-Dixon Line. It was the center of disputes between states long before the Civil War. It doesn’t change what it has been used for in the time since, but like I said, I’m a history nerd. Plus, this was the best I could do last minute. I’m a hot mess mom today, what can I say.