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Reflections: Know where grass skirts originated? It's not Hawaii

Attired in flowers and grass skirts, Kini Kapahu (right) and her colleague (Pauahi Pinao or Pauahi Kamokei) played music and danced the hula at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Their grass skirts have become synonymous with Hawaii, but, in fact, were first worn in Samoa.
Attired in flowers and grass skirts, Kini Kapahu (right) and her colleague (Pauahi Pinao or Pauahi Kamokei) played music and danced the hula at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Their grass skirts have become synonymous with Hawaii, but, in fact, were first worn in Samoa.

We are rapidly closing in on what is simply the best of northern Illinois’ four seasons.

During each autumn, which arrives a week from Saturday, Sept. 22, we stop sweating (or perspiring, depending on our sex and breeding) and start really enjoying the out-of-doors.

The first frost, which we now eagerly start to anticipate, will make things even better when it kills off all those pesky mosquitoes and yellow jackets – not to mention most of those allergy-antagonizing plants that have been giving half the population fits, off and on, since last spring.

Autumn is also the time of year of two signal holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Halloween is that uniquely American holiday that prepares youngsters for political careers as they visit homes throughout the community promising they will not harass residents if they are given the handouts they demand.

Thanksgiving is probably our best holiday, since it requires no fancy gifts and no wallowing in guilt. All it demands is that we express our thanks for our good fortune which, being Americans, even the least of us have in full measure.

One of the many things Americans have to be thankful for this and every year is that no matter what, the mail goes through – except for holidays, of course.

Despite the threats of diminutive proto-politicians in masks and in spite of feeling really thankful that we don’t live in, say, Afghanistan, we can expect a full load of mail – including a healthy dose of junk mail – each day the letter carriers head out on their appointed rounds. To show you what I mean, here are a number of things I never would have found out if I hadn’t open all my junk mail each and every day the letter carrier showed up out in front of the Matile Manse:

Grass skirts were actually imported into Hawaii from Samoa in 1874 and are not really native apparel there.

September is National Mushroom Month.

The mercury-based thermometer we use today was invented in 1714 by Gabriel D. Fahrenheit, a German physicist. He also donated his name for the name of the temperature scale on his new measuring device.

Sept. 13 is the 256th day of the year.

Speaking of great inventions, the thermos bottle was invented by Sir James Dewar, a British chemist, in 1892 (remember those thermos bottles we took to school when we were kids that used to break if you looked at them cross-eyed?).

What’s a nine-letter word that’s another term for actors? “Thespians.” Thespians are named after Thespis, a Greek actor of the sixth century B.C.

In a battle on this day in 1814, the British failed to capture Baltimore during the War of 1812. Poet Francis Scott Key’s poem, composed during the battle, “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” was later set to music to become our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner. So, happy birthday to our national anthem!

The first professional doll maker in the U.S. was probably Izannah F. Walker, who worked in the mid-1800s. She invented a process in which layers of glued cloth were pressed between the halves of a mold to produce ready-made dolls in quantity.

Ben Franklin attended school for only two years, where he proved himself excellent in reading, fair in writing, and poor in arithmetic. He went on to become one of the most successful self-educated persons of all time. It probably helped that he was a genius.

The only two changes made in the letter pattern on the standard typewriter – and now computer – keyboard since it was first marketed in the 1870s are the “X” and the “C” keys have changed places and the “M” key has moved down a line.

September starts on the same day of the week as December each year.

Tennis, anyone? The minimum age required for a ball girl or ball boy at the U.S. Open tennis matches is 14 years.

According to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid,” a mermaid’s life span is 300 years. Glad to have some expert opinion on that subject.

A little Florida history: Miami, Florida, was developed near the site of a 19th-century army post known as Fort Dallas.

For my friend, Howard Manthei: The accordion was invented by Vienna in 1829 by Cyrillys Damian.

Put a goldfish in a river or creek and it soon loses its gold coloring and looks just like any other carp. Or so it says here.

Think your life is complex? Pity the poor harpist. Orchestral harps have either 46 or 47 strings and seven pedals.

Bet you didn’t know North Dakota is sometimes called “The Flickertail State” because of the many flickertail ground squirrels that live in the central part of the state. Bet you didn’t care, either.

“The Horse Latitudes” are regions noted for their lack of winds.

According to one old French version of “Beauty and the Beast,” Beauty’s real name was Zemira, proving once again (as if we needed reminding) that the French can foul up anything.

I am not making this up: The Apostle Bird is so named because it travels in groups of about 12.

The game of backgammon is not named after some weird Middle Eastern animal. Rather it’s so named from the old Anglo-Saxon phrase “bac gammon,” meaning “back game.”

The first name of the Queen of Sheba was Balkis, which fortunately has disappeared into the mists of time.

Finally, remember the Equal Rights Amendment? Thought it was some sort of 1960s feel-good legislation? The first version of the amendment was submitted to Congress in 1923. And the Illinois General Assembly just approved the ERA, which now needs just one more state’s approval for its addition to the Constitution.

• Looking for more local history? Visit

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