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Reflections: Boston was home to nation's first paid fire department

Uniform patch for the Boston Fire Department, the first paid fire department in the United States.
Uniform patch for the Boston Fire Department, the first paid fire department in the United States.

As I sat pondering life, looking out the window here at History Central onto the banks of the beautiful Fox River, and watching the winter’s snow cover come and go, I thought about the three constants in life: death, taxes and junk mail.

Yes, the junk mail has continued to cascade into the mailbox out in front of the new Matile Manse at unprecedented rates. And this despite the fact that we’re living in a different Matile Manse. But the U.S. Postal Service is apparently pretty efficient in tracking people down when they put their minds to it, so the junk mail continues to arrive uninterrupted.

And strangely enough, I have managed to learn a few things that I did not know before as I thumbed through the latest accumulation. So, for what it is worth, here are a few things I might never have found out if I hadn’t opened all my junk mail each and every day (that the mail carrier showed up at our mailbox).

Boston established the first paid fire department in the American colonies in 1678. The department consisted of one crew of men with strong backs who operated a hand pump. I wonder what their budget was?

The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, who is the god of beginnings and transitions and is sometimes called the god of doorways. The rationale was that Janis, having two faces, kept watch over both the year past and the year to come. If you’ve gotten the feeling the ancient Romans had an inordinate effect on our calendar, you’re right.

January is National Blood Donation Month. Possibly related, January is also the most popular month of the year for divorces.

There are about 126 million households in the United States. About 70 percent of all mothers with children under age 18 have jobs outside the home. The average cellphone user makes five calls a day, 365 days a year. Does any of this matter?

Speaking of phone calls, the last pole of the transcontinental telephone line, linking the east and west coasts, was erected in 1915.

The walking catfish lives for days out of water and even walks on land from one lake or stream to another. It has managed to supply yet another fishermen’s excuse for letting the big one get away: “He walked out of the lake and spit the hook out at me. But he was huge!”

Historians believe that folding fans were invented in Japan about 700 A.D. when some bright son of Nippon noticed the way a bat folds its wings.

Has your house been dusted lately – for fingerprints, that is? If so, you can thank Sir Francis Galton, who, in the 1880s, proved mathematically that no two persons could have exactly the same fingerprint patterns, thus ushering in plot devices for decades of TV detective shows.

How about that solar power? One second of the sun’s energy is 13 million times the annual mean electricity consumption of the United States. Like the energy of a bored teenager, the problem is harnessing it.

One termite queen produces about half a billion offspring during her lifetime. Keep the Orkin Army on speed dial!

If your name is John Smith, thank Fushi. The ancient Chinese were the first people known to use more than one name. Emperor Fushi is said to have decreed the use of family names about 2852 B.C. If your name is Sting, or Madonna, or Cher, you’ve been out of style for about 5,000 years.

How important is heredity? There were at least 52 musicians in the family of famous composer Johann Sebastian Bach.

On this day in 1684, Lord Baltimore’s representative, Margaret Brent, was rudely ejected from the Maryland Council after requesting the right to vote. Apparently, from listening to the news, there are a growing number of men who’d like to go back to those misogynistic days of yesteryear.

Mix grated apple, crispy crumbled bacon and peanut butter for a different sandwich filling. It didn’t say here it was good, just different.

If you have a bunch of cows, it’s a herd. What’s a bunch of ferrets? It’s a fesnyng. Nope, no clue how to pronounce it.

In ancient Greece, it was believed bats flew at night to avoid creditors. I wonder what they bought? Is there a market here American business has missed?

The hyrax, a small mammal that looks much like a guinea pig, is actually most closely related to elephants.

How about a game of cards? Each year, more than 70 million decks of cards are sold in the U.S. Guess there are still a few folks who don’t play video games.

Wonder why graduation garb looks so weird? Because it was designed by a committee. Back on 1894, the Intercollegiate Commission set the standards and symbols we use today for graduation ceremonies.

The first patent for artificial teeth was issued to Charles Grahm of New York City in 1822. Somehow, you never think of dentures being patented.

Our flag, designed more than 200 years ago, is but a youngster. The oldest national flag is in use by Denmark, which has flown the same white cross on a red background for the past 750 years.

In the 1600s, it was common to flavor wine with carnations. What the heck does a carnation taste like, anyway?

Know what a male panther is called? A “pard.”

The skin on your body least sensitive to pain is on your heel.

Hey, ladies! Looking for a man? The odds are with you. There are slightly more men in the world than there are women.

In 1880, the entire population of the U.S. was only 50,155,783. Today, greater Tokyo in Japan alone has 38 million people.

Finally, the bungalow gets its name from the city of Bengal in India, where such houses were popular among Europeans.

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