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Columns

Reflections: So why hasn't May 16 been declared a national holiday?

An 1894 advertisement for Hires Root Beer
An 1894 advertisement for Hires Root Beer

It’s almost summer, honest. Just keep holding onto that thought, OK? Because it’s always a climatic adventure living in northern Illinois, even during times of the year when it’s supposed to be relatively peaceful and calm.

But fortunately, the kind of destructive weather they’ve gotten elsewhere during the past several weeks doesn’t hit us all that often. Of course, when it does, we get it in spades.

And speaking of spades (not to mention hoes and rakes), it’s also garden-making time. Because while we sometimes have tough weather around here, we also have wonderful soil and a good growing season, meaning we’re all looking forward to eating fresh tomatoes from our own gardens come late summer.

But that’s all in the future. Now, we mainly have junk mail to look forward to as the seasons continue to rumble along. And since junk mail is arriving in large quantities here at the Matile Manse, I thought it was about time to tell you about a few things I never would have known if I hadn’t opened the mail each and every day (that the mail carrier showed up at the mailbox out in front).

On this date, May 16, in 1866, Charles Hires invented Hires Root Beer. Why, I ask myself, is this not a national holiday?

According to an old Cornish superstition, it was unlucky to buy a new broom in May – even though it’s well-known that a new broom sweeps clean. Washing a blanket in May also was said to be unlucky, which may be why folks from Cornwall maintain such distinct aromas.

The title of the classic 1940 Disney film “Fantasia” means “a free musical composition structured according to the composer’s fancy.” Which is why they called it Fantasia instead.

Think parachutes are new inventions? Think again. The first parachute jump from a balloon was made in 1797 by André Jacques Garnerin.

Get your horse colors straight: A palomino is a light tan or golden horse with an ivory or cream-colored mane and tail. A sabino is a roan or light red horse with a white belly. Got that? I never heard of a sabino before.

The Irish wolfhound is the tallest of all dogs, standing about 32 inches high at the shoulder.

The month of May was named after the Greek Goddess of Fertility, Maia.

The impala is a swift, graceful antelope that can leap up to 30 feet (or tall buildings?) in a single bound.

An Irish cow, Big Bertha, lived to the record age of 48 years before her unfortunate death in 1993. In addition to living nearly a half-century, Bertha also produced a record 39 calves.

We need oxygen to breathe, but not too much. The Earth’s atmosphere is only about 21 percent oxygen. Of the balance, 77 percent is nitrogen.

Speaking of elements, nitrogen, as we have seen, is the predominant element in the Earth’s atmosphere, compared with helium on Mercury (does that mean residents of Mercury sound like Donald Duck?), carbon dioxide on Venus and Mars, and hydrogen on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Pluto’s major element is nitrogen combined with the compound methane. Don’t you miss Mr. Wizard?

If you’re reading this, you might be Indian. Indian leads the world in the number of paid subscription newspapers at nearly 8,000.

In 1986, a team of eight in England, using commercial spinning and knitting machinery, created a sweater in less than 2 1/2 hours after shearing the raw wool from a sheep. No one knows if it fit.

Golfer Normal Manley made consecutive holes-in-one in 1964 at a course in Saugus, California. Both holes were par 4’s.

At 870 degrees F., Venus has the hottest average surface temperature of any planet in the solar system. The coldest average surface temperature is found on Pluto, where a warm day pushes the mercury to minus 370 degrees F. There seems to be some question as to whether Pluto is a planet, however. I say it is, since this is MY column.

Speaking of planets and such, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is the only moon in the solar system known to have a measurable atmosphere.

Further speaking of planets, bet you don’t know who the planet Uranus was named for. Famed astronomer William Herschel named the planet he discovered in 1781 after his patron, King George III of England (who was having a spot of bother with his American colonies at the time). Herschel named the planet Uranus Georgium Sidus, which means Georgian Planet.

On Jan. 12, 1992, Troy State beat the DeVry Institute, 258-141, for a combined score of 399, the highest point total in NCAA basketball history. Clearly, defense was not a priority that evening.

Feeling chromosome-deprived? You should. Humans normally have 26 chromosomes. Goldfish, on the other hand, have 94. Have we found a chromosome gap?

The only head of government in this century to give birth to a child while in office was Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in January 1990.

Why doesn’t Lake Michigan have moon- and sun-induced tides? Actually, it does. It’s just that it takes a body of water as big as an ocean to have tides big enough to be noticed.

What do teenagers eat most often? Candy. When surveyed, 32 percent of U.S. high school students said they eat candy at least once a day.

Although the U.S. is the world’s leading producer of peaches, the fruit is not native to the Americas. Peaches were brought here by English colonists in the early 1600s.

Thursday is named for the pagan Norse god of thunder, Thor.

The first college basketball game using five-player teams took place in Iowa City, Iowa, on Jan. 16, 1896. During the game, the University of Chicago defeated the University of Iowa, 15-12. Sounds like a Bulls’ score.

Finally, Venezuela is named after the Spanish term for Little Venice because when the conquistadors arrived, they found Indian houses built on stilts in lakes and it reminded them of Venice and its canals. After giving the country its new name, they burned all the Indian houses down.

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

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