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Columns

Reflections: Mail facts: Cy Young baseball's all-time winner, but also all-time loser

Cy Young holds the MLB record for wins (511) and losses (316).
Cy Young holds the MLB record for wins (511) and losses (316).

So, has everybody recovered from New Year’s Eve?

This year’s celebration was the usual up-tempo blast at the Matile Manse here in downtown Troy. Plenty of pickled herring and Towne House crackers were stocked in the larder, and banging on pots and pans welcomed in the New Year.

Now that we’ve got it all out of our collective systems, can we get back to the important stuff? Such as trying to figure out when walleye season starts in Wisconsin.

I suspect we’ve all had our fill by now of endless renditions of the same Christmas tunes, played until our toes were ready to curl. But we can all look forward to using up our gift cards during the next few weeks, especially the ones good at bookstores. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as reading a good book, unless it’s browsing through the shelves at Anderson’s or Barnes & Noble and selecting that one special volume to take home to enjoy.

These days, of course, books also come through the ether from places such as Amazon.com and Kindle, and ordering them with gift cards is satisfying, as well. Although lots of folks insist on reading actual books because of the feel of the pages, those of us whose hands are lots more arthritic than they were when we were younger appreciate reading e-books on our phones, tablets or laptops.

But while many of us no longer look to the mailbox for the latest book we’ve ordered, I suspect mail carriers aren’t exactly sorry to see the disappearance of books sent by mail. After all, they’ve got enough to do this time of year wrangling all those holiday cards and packages while keeping up with the regular flow of junk and nonjunk mail. But even junk mail isn’t totally useless, of course. There are a number of things a person can learn from junk mail if they pay attention. Here, for instance, are a bunch of things I never would have found out if I hadn’t opened all the mail here at History Central each and every day the mail carrier showed up out front:

Legendary pitcher Cy Young holds the major league records for both career wins (511) and losses (316).

The first uniforms for U.S. Mail letter carriers were authorized by Congress on July 27, 1868.

Ever wonder why Boston is called “Beantown,” and “Boston Baked Beans” have been so popular for so long? Boston’s Puritan settlers considered cooking on Sunday a sin. So they baked beans every Saturday and then served them for Sunday dinner, creating a Boston tradition – and a great nickname.

When first lady-to-be Abigail Adams grumped about “that bainful weed” that was being imported into America, she wasn’t talking about tobacco or pot. She was referring to tea, a beverage with which she (and her husband) had political issues.

The constellation Orion contains three of the 24 brightest stars in the sky: Rigel, Betelgeuse and Bellatrix.

Says here that on Jan. 2, back in 1832, the first curling club in the U.S. (the Orchard Lake Curling Club) opened at Detroit, Mich.

According to the International Game Fish Association, the heaviest fish ever caught with rod and tackle was a 2,664-pound Great White Shark, caught by a fellow by the name of Alfred Dean in 1959. He probably got it on a jig and a minnow.

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is the only one in the solar system known to have a measurable atmosphere.

True heather is not common in the U.S., but many common U.S. plants belong to the heather family, including blueberries, cranberries, azaleas and rhododendrons.

The largest pearl in the world, the 14-pound, 1-ounce Pearl of Zao-tze, was found at Palawan in the Philippines on May 7, 1934. Must have come from quite a clam.

A halophyte is a plant that grows in salty soil, where most plants do not thrive. Asparagus is a halophyte, which explains why it grows wild only in certain areas, but especially along roads.

The World’s Columbian Exposition opened at Chicago on this date (Jan. 2) in 1893.

So how did they ice their mint juleps in the 1700s? They shipped the ice in, that’s how. The first shipment of ice from New York City to Charleston, S.C. took place in 1799. During the 1800s, fast clipper ships carried New England ice all over the world, including to the West Indies, South America and even India.

The Pekinese was the royal dog of old China. At one time, only people of royal blood could own them.

Mystery author John Creasey wrote under 27 pen names.

Among Emperor Penguins, the male birds hatch the eggs.

In 1884, a rose cutting from Scotland arrived in Tombstone, Ariz. Today, the Lady Banks Rose Tree has a 40-inch-thick trunk that stands 9 feet high. Supported by 68 posts and thousands of feet of piping, 150 people can sit under the 8,000-square-foot arbor.

Ever wonder who thought up house numbers? Thank the French. The practice of numbering houses in a town began in 1643 in Pont Notre Dame in Paris, France.

The Phoenicians and later the Romans made a purple dye from Murex sea snails. Cloth colored with the dye was more valuable than gold – thus the “royal purple” designation.

The antimalarial drug quinine comes from the bark of the cinchona tree, a South American evergreen.

Baker’s ammonia, a key ingredient that makes German springerlie Christmas cookies rise, originally was manufactured from reindeer antlers. Which is sort of fitting, don’t you think, for a Christmas cookie ingredient? Which makes me wonder who the first bright person was to figure that ground up reindeer antlers would be just the thing to make cookie dough rise.

Finally, London’s Big Ben is named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the chief commissioner of works when the bell was cast. You did know Big Ben is the name of the bell and not the clock or the tower, right?

Happy New Year!

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

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