Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fun Facts!

By Guest Blogger Melissa Ravely

One of the many reasons I decided to become a librarian is my love of random facts. Once I was assigned my desk at my new job, I found that I had a large expanse of blank, white wall to stare at every day. Naturally, something had to cover that space, so I decided to fill it with facts I learned while working at Towson's Cook Library. Initially it was only going to be things I learned while helping patrons at the desk, but I loosened that rule over time and included any facts I stumbled across while at work. The only rule I upheld was that it had to be a new fact to me. Over the course of the school year, I posted 25 facts on my wall, and it became an entertaining focal point to our shared office space. Even librarians with offices on other floors liked to check in periodically to see what I had posted. Those 25 facts are listed below, with information on where I learned it (if I still remember). Since it was such a hit, I do plan on continuing it next year!
  1. Home schooling is illegal in many countries. (This was one of the first reference questions I helped answer while at Towson - a student wanted to know in which countries home schooling was allowed.)
  2. Moby Dick is based on the true story of the shop "Essex" and its sinking. Deborah Nolan [Towson's Dean of University Libraries] is a descendant of one of the survivors! [I learned this at a Happy Hour Cook Library was hosting for area librarians - Shannon created an ice breaker consisting of book titles affixed to each of our backs and we had to ask each other questions to figure out what our book was. Mine was Moby Dick, and while talking with Debbie she offered up this tidbit!]
  3. In formal usage, "people" refers to a general group, while "persons" refers to a collection of individuals. [I was editing a pdf help guide on how to find bibliographies, and came across the word "persons" and went on a fairly long expedition to figure out if it was correct or not.]
  4. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliopohia is the fear of long words. [The first time my fiance came to my job and I showed him the wall, he said I should add this fact, as it is one of his favorites. He also offered up "defenestration" as the act of throwing someone out of a window, but he had told me that one before so I did not put it up on the wall.]
  5. A teddy bear collector is called an arctophile. [I collected teddy bears, and while researching #17 below, came across this fact.]
  6. True, authentic diners were prefabricated at a factory and then transported to the site. [I had emailed my dad about the Bel-Loc Diner I pass on my way to work every day, saying I thought it looked real since it was from the 1950's, and he replied with this fact.]
  7. In 1916, in Erwin, Tennessee, the only known elephant lynching took place after the elephant, Mary, killed a townsperson/circus volunteer. The circus owner had her publicly lynched so as to dispel the angry town and bad press. The play "The Elephant's Graveyard" is based on these events. [Towson students were putting on the play in question, so I researched its background, as elephants are my favorite animal.]
  8. Until 1971, British currency included 12 pence per shilling and 20 shillings per pound. In 1971, they changed the conversions to just 100 pence per pound. [I was reading Dicken's Oliver Twist at the time and it mentioned shillings, and I thought, you never hear about shillings any more, so I looked it up.]
  9. Hawaii was an independent monarchy until American & European businessmen overthrew it in 1893; it was then an independent Republic until annexed by the U.S. as a territory in 1898.
  10. Originally, a sunroof was a metal panel that only let in air and light when opened, while a moonroof was a glass panel that would let in light all the time. [I mentioned to my colleague Laksamee that my car has a sunroof, and she asked what the difference between a sunroof and moonroof was, so we looked it up. Today, the terms are interchangeable, though by this definition my car actually has a moonroof.]
  11. Vexillology is the scholarly research of flags. [When our new intern, Jennie, began and saw my wall of facts, she said she always uses this one whenever a random fact is needed.]
  12. The German word for "garlic clove", Knoblauchzehe, directly translates as "garlic toe". [I have a friend who started taking German in college for fun, and then moved to Germany after graduating; in one of her email updates on her life she mentioned that this always makes her giggle whenever she goes grocery shopping.]
  13. In poker, "Dead Man's Hand", consisting of a pair of Aces and a pair of 8s, got its name because those were the cards in Wild Bill Hickok's hand when he was shot and killed..
  14. The famous black bricks of the facade of 10 Downing Street [the British Prime Minister's house] were found to be yellow covered with 200+ years of pollution. During the reconstruction of the dilapidated building in the 1960s, the bricks were painted black after cleaning to preserve the iconic look.
  15. The leaves on a rhubarb plant are poisonous. [A colleague brought in strawberry-rhubarb pie for us, and while I was partaking of some with another colleague, Lisa, she informed me of this.]
  16. Most geckos have fused eyelids, meaning they can't blink. [I was checking my email one day and got the quarterly update from my hometown science museum, and it included this fact.]
  17. Douglas Spedden (age 6) survived the sinking of the Titanic with his white bear "Polar". [I was reading the book "Teddy Bear Stories for Grown-Ups" which had a story of one man on the Titanic who perished, but whose son's bear was found (the story said the son had given the bear to his father upon departure). I was looking into to see if the story was true (while the family bear exists, it cannot be proven that it was on the Titanic and could just be family lore) but found this true story instead. Spedden's mother wrote the children's book "Polar the Titanic Bear" based on his story. Sadly, Douglas was the first child to be killed in a car accident at the age of 9.]
  18. Charlie Chaplin married his last wife (the daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill) when he was 54 and she only 18 (thus causing her father to disown her). They subsequently had 8 children, the last of which was born when Chaplin was 73. [Some actor, I don't remember who, on a late-night show had mentioned that Chaplin had 8 children after the age of 54 and I researched the claim the next day.]
  19. During WWI (1914), British and German soldiers held an unofficial "Christmas Truce" along the Western Front, laying down arms on Christmas Eve and Day and exchanging small gifts of food, beer, and tobacco. In 1915, the soldiers went so far as to have a soccer match on Christmas in No Man's Land.
  20. The skin of mangoes contains the same chemical that is found in poison ivy. [I was discussing fact #15 with my colleague Amanda when she mentioned this - she is allergic to poison ivy and found out the hard way about mangoes.]
  21. The Baltimore Ravens are named such because Edgar Allan Poe died and is buried here in Baltimore. [As a newbie to the city, I found this fascinating.]
  22. The exceptions to the less vs. fewer rule are time, money and distance. [Less vs. fewer is one of my biggest pet peeves, and I was venting about new signs in the restrooms saying to "use less paper towels" when it should use "fewer" because "paper towels" are numerically countable. The corresponding sign that said "use less water" was correct, since you can't count "water". The person I was venting to questioned the countable rule, citing an item on sale is said to be "15 dollars less than the list price" when dollars are countable. So I looked it up and she was right!]
  23. Composer Gustav Mahler was one of Sigmund Freud's first patients. [A student researching Freud informed me of this.]
  24. Monowi, Nebraska (as of 4/28/11) is the only incorporated town in the U.S. with a population of 1. [This popped up on Yahoo! News one day when I was checking my email.]
  25. It is believed (but truly unknown) that Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann's wife, Clara, were lovers, as they were known to have all lived together and the two destroyed all of their personal letters.

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