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Columns

Reflections: Shoveling out the last of the junk mail before 2017 ends

John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun

The Christmas season has been filed away for one more year, and now we’re looking forward to the start of a new year, which will, we hope, be a better one than this one was.

Merry holiday lights still twinkle when the sun goes down, as we all look forward to lengthening days now that the winter solstice has passed. Winter still has northern Illinois in its grip, and there will undoubtedly be a lot more cold days in store for us as we struggle through January and February.

New Year’s Eve parties and New Year’s Day bowl games should help tide us over a bit as we look ahead to see if we can spot any signs of an early spring.

Meanwhile, I’ve taken the opportunity of some spare time after the hustle and bustle of the holidays to carry my dad’s scoop shovel up here to my office to clear away some of the accumulated junk mail that’s been building up. As I ran those wheelbarrow loads of the stuff over to the recycling chute, I couldn’t help but notice some interesting tidbits of information that piqued my interest in spite of myself.

And so, here are a few things I never would have found out (or even wondered about) if I hadn’t opened all of the mail that shows up out in front of the Matile Manse six days most weeks:

An old saying classified Italian as the language of song, French as the language of love, and English as the language of business.

If you pierce the end of an egg with a pin, it’s less likely to break when you boil it.

The honeybee’s wings beat 200 times a second.

On this day in 1832, John C. Calhoun became the first vice president in history to resign his office. He did so because of serious differences with President Andrew Jackson.

Get a diamond for Christmas? A diamond’s value is determined by the four C’s, cut, carat, clarity and color.

The average American male is 5 feet, 9.5 inches tall, and the average American female measures up at 5 feet, 4 inches.

The blue whale can go up to half a year without eating; its blubber maintains it.

On this day in imperial history, the United States claimed Midway Island in 1867, making it the first U.S. territory outside the continental United States.

The first representative assembly in America convened at Jamestown, Virginia, on July 30, 1619.

Did you have a happy Boxing Day? The British call the day after Christmas Boxing Day, the time when they give small boxes of money to the milkman, postman and others who have served them throughout the year. If I don’t happen to be home when you bring mine over, just leave it on the front porch.

According to most sources, the question mark (?) was derived from the Latin word qvaestio, meaning question. This word was reportedly abbreviated in the Middle Ages by scholars as qo, and over time a capital “Q” was written over the “o,” and it formed one letter.

Paul Revere rode to warn the Massachusetts countryside that the British were coming. But I bet you don’t know his horse’s name. It was Brown Beauty.

A deltiologist is someone who collects postcards. But then you already knew that.

Get a new cake pan for Christmas? If so, you should season it by greasing the inside and putting it in a moderate oven for 15 minutes.

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, formally opened on July 4, 1802, and welcomed its first class of 10 cadets.

It’s no wonder you feel tuckered out at the end of the day: in one day, the average person inhales 15,000 quarts of air.

During the Revolutionary War, Illinois was a county of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Benjamin Franklin only attended school between the ages of 8 and 10, and didn’t seem to do too badly. Of course, it helped that he was a genius.

It takes a skilled knitter one minute to make 100 stitches by hand.

Remember typewriters? The Hoang typewriter that was used in China had 5,700 characters on a keyboard two feet wide and 17 inches high.

It takes an average of just 18 months in circulation for the average $1 bill to wear out.

Says here that until the 19th century, nine out of 10 persons in the U.S. spent their working lives producing and marketing food.

Sometimes progress doesn’t move as fast as we’d like to think. It took 400 years from the time Leonardo de Vinci made his first sketches of a glider to the invention of the first practical airplane.

Two novels are buried in the 1939 World’s Fair time capsule, Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” and Sinclair Lewis’s “Arrowsmith.”

In Australian football, a team has 18 players.

The circumference of the Earth is about 42 miles greater around the equator than it is around the poles.

Silkworm eggs are so tiny that it takes 35,000 of them to weigh an ounce.

Harvard University’s first honorary doctorate degree was awarded to Gen. George Washington in 1776 just as the Revolutionary War was getting underway. Harvard had already honored Ben Franklin with an honorary degree in 1753, but it was a mere Master of Arts degree.

Vultures build no nests, but lay their eggs on bare surfaces. No wonder they look so grumpy all the time.

In order to be considered the real thing, stainless steel must contain at least 12 percent chromium.

Finally, the King Ranch in Texas covers more area, 1,289 square miles, than the entire state of Rhode Island. And it doesn’t even hold a candle to the old XIT Ranch, a going concern from 1885-1912. The XIT (the initials stood for “Ten In Texas” because it included all or parts of 10 counties) checked in at 4,687 square miles, about the size of Connecticut, and twice the size of Delaware.

See you next year. In the meantime, have a safe and happy New Year!

• Looking for more local history? Visit historyonthefox.wordpress.com.

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