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Columns

Reflections: If you like games, Great Britain is the place to go

Dr. Jonas Salk (right) developed the first effective vaccine against polio, thereby saving millions from the pernicious effects of the disease. He announced his discovery on this day 67 years ago.
Dr. Jonas Salk (right) developed the first effective vaccine against polio, thereby saving millions from the pernicious effects of the disease. He announced his discovery on this day 67 years ago.

Back in the 1980s, the government mandated that post office hours should be cut back because, well, nobody knew why, except that the conservatives in government decided any sort of government expenditure was bad, including keeping post offices open.

Fortunately, that era passed and we’re now able to stroll into the post office during more hours of the week. But even though the attempt was made to cut back hours, strangely enough, the amount of junk mail flowing through the system never seemed to decline. If anything, it seemed to pick up a bit.

So here we find ourselves near the end of March 2020 with an Illinois spring ready to break out at any moment and plenty of mail in the box out front. And as birds sing and rabbits look upon each other with longing eyes, helping to usher in the rites of spring (so to speak), here are a few things I never would have found out if I hadn’t opened all my junk mail each and every day the mail carrier showed up at the Matile Manse:

On this day in 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk announced he’d developed the first effective vaccine against polio, thereby saving millions from the pernicious effects of the disease.

It says here the Mona Lisa, now valued at $100 million, sold for the equivalent of $330,000 just 10 years after it was painted.

You kids still like to wander the railroad tracks looking for treasure? In 1983, a Florida schoolboy found a bag of diamonds on a railroad track while he was looking for his missing bike. The jewels remained unclaimed for over a year and then were auctioned off for $350,000, which went to the lucky kid. In the world of junk mail, miracles do happen.

The month of March is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. It also gets its name because it was the month when ancient military operations once again could begin without the threat of snow. And that’s one tradition that’s continued: Nearly all major US-NATO military operations since Vietnam have begun in the month of March.

Where, you may ask (go ahead), is the world's largest shopping center? It is not in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles. Rather, it is the New South China Mall in Dongguan, China.

Just in case that old time machine in the basement decides to work, keep in mind that in about 3000 B.C.E., the Egyptians used a checkmark as the letter T, as in Mr. T.

Speaking of the letter T, it is the second-most frequently used letter in books, newspapers and other materials printed in English.

Although the Chinese today dominate pingpong, guess who invented the sport? The first-known mention of a game resembling table tennis was listed in a London sporting catalog from 1884. Those fun-loving Brits! First cricket, and now pingpong. What's next?

Sheep will not drink from running water. Too lazy to catch it, I suppose.

The pyramids in Egypt contain enough stone and mortar to build a wall 10 feet high and 5 feet wide from New York City to Los Angeles. We probably shouldn’t tell the president about this; he’s got enough of a wall fixation as it is.

How long has capitalism, that bane of the communist world, been around? A lot longer than communism, it turns out. The oldest stock exchange is said to be the one in Antwerp, Belgium, which claims to have been established in 1531.

Do you like ballet as much as I do? If so, go directly to the next factoid. If you're still with me, be advised the first ballet was performed in Paris in 1581 as a 5 1/2 hour spectacle. Today's ballets just seem to last that long.

Proving he didn’t take chances for the heck of it, Charles Lindberg, after flying solo across the Atlantic, came home by ocean liner.

Worried about the value of the dollar? Guess which nation has the world's largest reserves of gold. If you guessed us, or U.S., you're right.

Speaking of the world's largest, the U.S. government is the world's largest landowner, currently keeping title to 732 million acres in its sweaty bureaucratic mitts.

Like frog legs? The Goliath frog of West Africa measures more than 30 inches and weighs about seven pounds. More like frog hams, I'd say.

Prell on your mind? The word "shampoo" comes from the Hindu word "sharnpu," which means "to press." Do you suppose the Hindus invented squeeze bottles, too?

Fish can become seasick if kept onboard a ship, although I suppose if a fish is on a ship, seasickness is the least of its worries.

Caffeine reaches its peak stimulant effect two to four hours after it is consumed and may continue to keep you awake for up to seven hours.

The flag of Denmark is the oldest unchanged national flag in existence, dating back to the 13th century.

Emperor Alexander I of Russia and Napoleon I of France agreed to divide the world between them in 1807. From the looks of things, it didn't work.

Finally, remember when we were kids and we were told people were starving in India and that's why we should eat our lima beans? Well get this: It's reported the Emperor Jahangir, a ruler of India who died in 1627, owned a total of 2,235,600 carats of pearls, 931,500 carats of emeralds, 376,600 carats of rubies, 279,450 carats of diamonds and 186,300 carats of jade. How about that guy? You'd have thought he could have spared a carat or two to save us from having to eat lima beans, wouldn't you?

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

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