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Archive for the ‘Edutainment’ Category

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Olympus Mons, an extinct volcano on Mars, is 16 miles high, almost three times taller than Mt. Everest.

● In the 1970s, future pop star Madonna Ciccone dropped out of college and moved to New York City. She took a job at a Dunkin’ Donuts, but was fired on her first day for squirting jelly filling on a customer.

● April 12 is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.

● In 1850, a French violin maker invented the octobass, a stringed instrument designed to produce ultra-low sounds, including sounds that fall below the range of human hearing. The octobass has three strings and is some 12 feet tall. Today, the only octobass not in a museum is owned by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

● In 2013, Russia changed a long-standing law that classified all beverages with less than 10 percent alcohol by volume as soft drinks. The change thus classified beer as an alcoholic beverage in Russia for the first time.

● One teaspoon of healthy soil (e.g., soil enriched with compost) easily can contain six billion microorganisms, doing their thing to decompose organic matter and free up nutrients for reuse. To put six billion in perspective, the current human population of the planet is 7.9 billion.

● Your body contains about 1.3 gallons of blood. Blood cells make a full circuit of your vessels in about one minute.

● The screaming hairy armadillo, so named because it squeals like crazy when handled and is hairier than other armadillos, is native to central and southern South America. It is the smallest of the armadillos, adults being about a foot long. They live in underground burrows and eat plants, bugs, lizards, and an occasional mouse.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● In Alabama and Georgia, legislation forbids carrying an ice cream cone in your back pocket. The laws were enacted in the 1800s when horse thieves used the cones to entice horses to follow them.

● The producers of Ghostbusters wanted the film to star John Belushi, but Belushi OD’d, so the part went to Bill Murray.

● There is evidence that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, a natural painkiller, as well as hormones that relax your body and improve your sense of well-being. Apparently, “a good cry” is pretty accurate.

● A former Chinese prostitute named Ching Shih (1775-1844) became the most successful pirate of all time. Ching married an infamous pirate captain, then took command of the operation when he was killed. At the height of her reign, she led 80,000 pirates and a fleet of 1,800 ships.

● George Washington was fond of sweets. He made his own eggnog, and when he became President, he installed ice-cream-making equipment in his Capitol office.

● Your body contains 206 bones. 52 of them, 25 percent of the total, are in your feet.

● The teabag was accidentally invented in 1908 when Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, sent his customers samples of a new variety of tea in small silk bags. He meant for the recipients to transfer the leaves to their metal infusers, but many misunderstood and just tossed the silk bags into their teapots.

Sullivan knew a good thing when he saw it. He began manufacturing teabags for commercial production, first of gauze and then of paper. He also added a string and a paper tag to facilitate removal of the used bag.

● The highest mountain in both Europe and Russia is Mount Elbrus, which rises 18,510 feet above sea level. Elbrus is in southern Russia on the isthmus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. FYI, the elevation of Mt. Everest is 29,032 feet.

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As you no doubt are aware, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were Depression-era Texas lovers who went on a murderous crime spree, emerged as folk heroes, and ultimately were gunned down by the law.

It occurred to me recently that I really knew very few details about the infamous duo. I haven’t seen the 1967 movie with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in decades, and I’m pretty sure Hollywood was loose with the facts anyway. Ergo, I decided some research was in order to get to their real story.

How did Clyde end up as a murderer on the lam? He was easy to figure out. He was a runty kid from a poor family who grew up being bullied and mistreated. His older brother coaxed him into becoming a thief, and things quickly went south. Clyde was doomed to crash and burn.

Bonnie’s trajectory was not so transparent. She seems to have been bright and talented and had, by most accounts, a normal childhood. But at age 16, she dropped out of high school and married her boyfriend. He turned out to be abusive and a cheat, so she left him. Soon thereafter, she met Clyde.

Here, for your edification, is more of their story.

———

Clyde Champion Barrow was born in 1909 to a rural farm family in Telico, Texas, the fifth of seven children. When he was a boy, the farm failed due to drought, and the family moved to Dallas. Clyde learned to play guitar and saxophone and hoped to become a musician.

However, under the influence of his older brother Buck, Clyde became a shoplifter, then a car thief, then an armed robber. By 1929, at age 20, he was on the run from the law.

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born in 1910 in Rowena, Texas. Her father died when she was four, and her mother and the three children moved to Dallas to live with grandparents.

The diminutive Bonnie (4’ 11”) was an attractive girl who dreamed of becoming an actress. She earned academic honors in school and was interested in poetry and literature.

In 1926, during her sophomore year, Bonnie quit high school and married classmate Roy Thornton. When Roy began to abuse her physically, Bonnie walked out, moved back to her grandmother’s house, and got a job as a waitress.

In January 1930, when Clyde and his small gang of thieves were trying to elude the police, a mutual friend introduced him to 19-year-old Bonnie. The attraction was immediate. Bonnie declared that Clyde was her soulmate. They became inseparable.

But only for a few weeks. Clyde was arrested for auto theft, tried, convicted, and imprisoned.

A short time later, Bonnie smuggled a pistol to Clyde during a visitation period. On March 11, 1930, Clyde used it to escape with several cellmates. They were captured a week later, and Clyde was sentenced to 14 years at hard labor.

He was sent to the notorious Eastham Prison Farm near Huntsville, Texas. Clyde called Eastham “that hell hole” because of the sadistic guards, the heat, the overcrowding, the grueling work details, and the repeated sexual assaults he endured from another inmate.

Bonnie and Clyde exchanged numerous love letters throughout 1931, a regular theme being the hope that Clyde would get an early release. In February 1932, in an effort to get excused from field work and possibly get transferred to another facility, Clyde faked an accident in which two of his toes were cut off. Thereafter, he walked with a limp and had to remove his shoe while driving.

Ironically, unknown to Clyde, his mother had convinced a judge to grant parole to ease the overcrowding at Eastham, and his release already was being processed.

Also ironically, Bonnie was injured in a car accident the following year that left her with a limp, as well. During a car crash, battery acid spilled onto Bonnie’s leg, causing third-degree burns that never fully healed. Thereafter, she walked with a limp and at times had to be carried.

Two weeks after Clyde was separated from his toes, he was free and reunited with Bonnie. Initially, he tried to go straight, taking a job at a Dallas glass company. But law enforcement officers who had pursued him in the past pressured the company owners until Clyde was fired.

Probably resigned to the hand he was dealt, Clyde formed another gang, this time with Bonnie at his side. They robbed banks, gas stations, and assorted small businesses across Texas.

A few months later, Bonnie was captured when a robbery went wrong. While in jail for two months pending trial, she wrote poetry, most of it about her relationship with Clyde.

After her release in late 1932, Clyde killed a police officer and a store owner, and the gang quickly left Texas.

In early 1933, Clyde, Bonnie, and one of the gang members hid out in Joplin, Missouri, at the home of Clyde’s brother Buck. Soon, suspicious neighbors notified the police, who came to investigate. The fugitives escaped, and two police officers were killed.

Left behind was an undeveloped roll of film that Bonnie and Clyde had taken of themselves. The pictures were printed in newspapers around the country, along with sensational stories about the couple’s exploits. Bonnie and Clyde became national celebrities.

In January 1934, Clyde orchestrated a jailbreak at Eastham to free a childhood friend. One prison guard was killed, and several inmates escaped. One of the escapees, Henry Methvin, joined Clyde’s gang.

On April 1 near Grapevine, Texas, Clyde and Methvin shot and killed two Texas highway patrol officers. Days later, with a posse in pursuit, Methvin killed a police officer in Oklahoma.

The gang fled to northern Louisiana to hide out at the Methvin family farm. Frank Hamer, the former Texas Ranger leading the posse, learned of their whereabouts and made a deal with Henry Methvin’s father: the elder Methvin would lure Bonnie and Clyde into a trap in exchange for amnesty for Henry.

On May 23, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde came upon the elder Methvin on a rural road, standing beside his supposedly stalled truck. When they stopped to help, Hamer and his six-man posse opened fire on the couple from the nearby woods with a barrage of more than 130 armor-piercing bullets.

The coroner’s report said Bonnie was shot at least 26 times, Clyde at least 17 times. The bodies were so damaged that they would not hold embalming fluid. Bonnie was 24. Clyde was 25.

Immediately after the ambush, with the bodies still slumped where they fell, souvenir-hunters descended on the site. Before police stopped them, one man tried to cut off Clyde’s ear, another his trigger finger. Someone in the crowd stole a lock of Bonnie’s hair and snipped off a piece of her dress.

For several decades, the blood-spattered, bullet-ridden sedan in which they died made the rounds of carnivals and state fairs nationwide. In the 1970s, it was housed at a Nevada racetrack, where, for a dollar, you could sit inside and have your photo taken.

Currently, the car is on display in the lobby of Whiskey Pete’s Hotel and Casino in Primm, Nevada.

The Barrow gang committed dozens of robberies and burglaries between 1930 and 1934, as well as 13 murders. Bonnie participated in numerous armed robberies, but I found no claims that she shot or killed anyone.

Among the poems Bonnie wrote in 1932 while in jail was “The Trail’s End.” Two weeks before her death, she gave a copy of the poem to her mother. It is not especially artistic or memorable, except for the closing:

Some day they’ll go down together
they’ll bury them side by side.
To few it’ll be grief,
to the law a relief
but it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

———

You can read “The Trail’s End” in full here.

Bonnie’s mother would not allow the couple to be buried together. Bonnie’s grave is at Crown Hill Memorial Park in Dallas. Clyde was buried at Western Heights Cemetery, also in Dallas, next to his brother Buck.

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Galileo

Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian intellectual and polymath known as the father of, among other things, physics, astronomy, and the scientific method.

In his time, the world believed what Aristotle had decreed 1500 years earlier: that Earth stood at the center of the universe, and all other celestial bodies rotated around it. This was the geocentric model.

Science was a fledgling thing in the 1500s, but slowly, it was examining the old beliefs and often calling baloney on them. This did not please the Catholic Church, which saw a threat to its influence. To the church and many common folk, questioning the traditional teachings was blasphemous.

To be clear, Galileo and others who rejected geocentrism didn’t get it right, either. They believed in heliocentrism, which said the sun is at the center of the universe. Not until the 1700s did we figure out that the sun is just an ordinary, unregarded star.

That error aside, Galileo’s achievements were many and impressive. And his ideas were so radical and disruptive that the Catholic Church eventually locked him up for them.

Galileo was born in Pisa, and both of his parents were from prominent families. His father wanted him to pursue the lucrative profession of medicine, but young Galileo was drawn to mathematics and various sciences.

His studies led him to teaching positions in Pisa and Florence and the beginning of a long series of scientific breakthroughs.

As a young man, he invented the thermoscope, a device that measured temperature changes and evolved into the thermometer.

He dropped items of different weights from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, demonstrating that the speed of fall is not proportional to weight, the prevailing wisdom at the time.

He also built a series of refracting telescopes, first of 3x magnification, then 9x, then 30x. The devices immediately became a sensation in the nautical world and gave Galileo a profitable side business.

Observations with his telescopes led him to deduce that the supernovae of 1572, 1691, and 1694 involved distant stars. The Catholic Church was not amused.

Observing the Moon through a telescope, he concluded that the mottled lighting and uneven appearance is caused by craters and mountains. At the time, the surface of the Moon was believed to be smooth.

His telescopes also located four “fixed stars” close to Jupiter. After studying their motion, he correctly declared them to be moons orbiting Jupiter.

The idea of moons orbiting another planet directly contradicted geocentrism. The church fumed.

Galileo concluded that all stars and planets are round. He also said that the Milky Way consisted of so many stars that, as viewed from Earth, they have the appearance of a cloud.

By his 50s and 60s, Galileo had become famous, wealthy, influential, and probably somewhat cocky. But the church and a host of enemies opposed him, and finally, his activism went too far.

In 1616, he was hauled before the church’s dreaded Roman Inquisition — which had been pursuing witches and blasphemers since the 5th Century — to answer for his sacrilegious views. There, he was told he could write about heliocentrism or anything else as personal opinion, but he was ordered to stop teaching heliocentrism as scientific fact.

Galileo agreed, and for a time stayed out of trouble. But only for a time.

Eventually, he wrote a book that featured the account of a fictional geocentrist and heliocentrist making their respective arguments. No surprise, the heliocentrist won easily — and proceeded to refer to the geocentrist as a “simpleton.”

His enemies pounced, claiming the comment was directed at Pope Urban VIII. Galileo vehemently denied it, but the Pope could not allow himself to be subjected to public ridicule. Accordingly, in 1633, the 70-year-old Galileo faced the Inquisition in Rome for a second time.

Galileo faces the music again, 1633. This painting depicts him pushing a bible away.

This time, he was found “suspect of heresy.” His writings, past and future, were banned from publication, and he was placed under house arrest, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Historians point out that the Inquisition generously did not convict Galileo of heresy per se, for which he would have been executed.

During his years under house arrest, Galileo wrote at length, refining and organizing his works of the previous 40 years. But his health steadily declined, and in 1642, he died of heart failure at age 77.

In 1718, the church announced that Galileo’s works could be published, if they were edited to remove the offending heliocentric references.

In 1758, the church modified its Index of Prohibited Books to allow authors, including Galileo, to assert that Earth is not the center of the universe.

Finally, in 1992, 360 years after the fact, Pope John Paul II formally declared that the church was wrong to condemn Galileo and lock him up.

A truly magnanimous gesture. Who says the Catholic Church invented science denial?

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The human nose has about six million scent receptors. A dog’s nose has about 300 million.

● In 1962, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors set the record for the most points scored by a player in a professional basketball game: 100 points against the New York Knicks.

In 1983, the Detroit Pistons defeated the Denver Nuggets 186-184 in triple overtime. The combined score of 370 points is the most points scored in a single pro game.

● If you drove your car straight up at 60 mph, you would reach “outer space” in about one hour.

● The water of Lake Hillier, a salt water lake on an island off the west coast of Australia, is the color of bubble gum. The cause is a red dye created when algae in the water combine with the salt. Other than the pink color, the water is normal and harmless.

● Gravity varies with mass, so a person weighing 200 pounds on Earth would weigh 505 pounds on Jupiter and 13 pounds on Pluto.

● John Quincy Adams, who was President from 1825 to 1829, kept a daily journal from age 12 until his death at 80. It revealed that during his term as President, he arose each morning between four and five AM, walked two miles around the city, and, when the weather was nice, went skinny-dipping in the Potomac River.

● In the mid-1960s, the CIA launched Project Acoustic Kitty, a plan to implant tiny microphones and transmitters in cats and train them to eavesdrop on the Soviets. After a few years, the agency decided the project was impractical and canceled it. The implants worked fine, but no one could train the cats.

● In the late 1880s, Gustave Eiffel proposed building the Eiffel Tower in Barcelona, Spain, and was told to get lost. He then approached Paris, and the city agreed to let him erect the tower for the 1889 World’s Fair.

The tower was not popular with Parisians, who considered it just plain ugly. One critic called it a “metal asparagus.” After the exposition, it was scheduled to be dismantled and sold for scrap, but it was spared because the French army found it useful as a communications tower.

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Silent Cal

John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. (1872-1933) served as President from 1923 to 1929. He was born in Vermont on July 4, 1872, the only President born on Independence Day.

Like most politicians, Coolidge was a lawyer who got elected to local office, then proceeded to work his way up. In his case, Coolidge went from mayor to state senator to lieutenant governor to governor to vice president to president.

Scholars do not rank Coolidge very high in terms of accomplishments, but he was considered honest and fair-minded. He was a small-government conservative and an advocate of racial equality, a rare combination of beliefs even then.

In 1923, President Warren Harding died of a heart attack. Vice President Coolidge succeeded him and was elected to a full term in 1924.

But as the 1928 election approached, Coolidge announced that he would not seek a second full term. He said the office “takes a heavy toll on those who occupy it and those who are dear to them.” He and his wife Grace returned to Vermont, where he wrote his memoirs and was fond of cruising the Connecticut River in his motorboat.

Coolidge was an effective public speaker, but a quiet person by nature and rather a loner. By contrast, his wife Grace was vivacious and congenial. Soon, Coolidge was given the nickname “Silent Cal.”

In one supposed incident, which Coolidge said never happened, a man seated next to him at dinner said, “I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.”

“You lose,” Coolidge replied.

Most historians say Coolidge embraced the Silent Cal nickname and his image of stoicism because he believed presidents should be serious and reserved. Others note that he was genuinely withdrawn and became more so when his son died in 1924.

The Coolidges were animal lovers, and at any given time, the White House was home to several pets. In all, they had nine dogs, four cats, and seven birds.

In addition, foreign countries regularly gave them exotic animals as gifts — a black bear, a wallaby, a miniature antelope, and a raccoon. All were given homes at the National Zoo.

One Easter, they were given a group of 13 white Pekin ducklings, which Mrs. Coolidge tried to raise in a White House bathtub. The ducklings soon grew too large for the space, however, so they were sent to live at the zoo.

The President was a cat person, and his favorite feline was Tige — short for Tiger — an orange tabby brought to Washington from the family farm in Vermont. Coolidge often strolled the White House with Tige draped around his neck.

One night in March 1924, Tige slipped out of the White House and disappeared. The next morning, an alarmed Coolidge ordered the staff to search the building and grounds. No luck. Apparently, Tiger had ventured beyond the gates and into the city.

Coolidge had the DC police issue a bulletin to all officers to be on the lookout for the cat. He also sent a Secret Service agent to a local radio station, where an appeal was broadcast, asking the public for information about the missing cat.

Hundreds of people subsequently called the White House, some with tips, some offering to give Coolidge another cat.

Among those who heard the radio broadcast was Edward Bryant, an employee at the Main Navy Building on Constitution Avenue. Arriving at work, he found an orange tabby cat sleeping in a hallway.

As suggested in the radio broadcast, Bryant called out, “Here, Tige!” and the cat ran to him. Bryant hailed a cab and returned Tige to the White House.

After the incident, Coolidge had a collar made for Tige engraved with the message, “My name is Tiger. I live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

In 1928, Coolidge was succeeded as President by his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. Coolidge did not have a high opinion of his successor. Once, Coolidge said privately of Hoover, “For six years, that man has given me unsolicited advice, all of it bad.”

Officer Benjamin Fink, a guard at the Main Navy Building, and Tige.

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The national parliament of Iceland is the oldest governing assembly in the world. It dates back to 930 AD, when Viking chieftains gathered in an open field to discuss mutual issues. The field was the site of Icelandic government meetings until 1798, when it was moved to Reykjavik and, finally, indoors.

● In 2007, actor Nicolas Cage won an auction for a dinosaur skull, bidding against, among others, Leonardo DiCaprio. Cage paid $276,000 for the skull. A few years later, evidence surfaced that the skull had been stolen from Mongolia, and Cage had to return it. He didn’t get his $276,000 back.

● The letter e is used three times and pronounced three different ways in the word Mercedes.

● In 2005, remains were found in South Dakota of an extra-large cousin of the Velociraptor popularized by the Jurassic Park films. The new cousin, Dakotaraptor, was about 18 feet long and weighed 500 or so pounds. The largest known cousin so far is Utahraptor at about 23 feet long and 600 pounds.

FYI, Velociraptors actually were about the size of a turkey. Spielberg knew that, but he really liked the name Velociraptor.

● Martin Luther King, Jr. was born Michael King, Jr. When he was five, his father changed both of their names to honor Martin Luther, the German theologian who started the Protestant Church in the days of Columbus.

● In 1920, the “American Professional Football Association” was established in Canton, Ohio. Five of the 16 original teams were based in Cleveland. In 1922, the group changed its name to the “National Football League.”

● Pistachio nuts are especially dry and high in fat content — so much so that when the nuts are transported, the temperature, humidity, and air pressure must be carefully controlled to prevent them from over-heating and exploding.

● The Clowns’ Gallery-Museum, a display of clown costumes, memorabilia, and reference material, was founded in 1959 in the basement of Holy Trinity Church in London. Due to the growth of the collection, the museum opened a second location in Somerset in 2007.

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Eugene Bullard

I didn’t learn about Eugene Bullard in school. You probably didn’t, either.

Eugene James “Jacques” Bullard (1895-1961) was the first African-American combat pilot and the only black pilot who fought in World War I. He flew for the French, not the US, and his story is remarkable.

Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, the son of a Haitian father and a Creek mother. He had an especially troubled childhood. He ran away from home regularly, only to endure beatings by his father when he was caught. In 1906, at age 11, he ran away for good and made his way to Atlanta.

There, he fell in with a band of gypsies and tended their horses as they traveled the South. In 1912, at age 17, he stowed away on a German freighter bound for Aberdeen, Scotland. He went to London, where he worked as a boxer and a slapstick performer in a black entertainment troupe.

Bullard first visited Paris in 1913 for a boxing match. He was captivated by the city and resolved to make Paris his home. He wrote years later, “It seemed to me that French democracy influenced the minds of both black and white Americans there and helped us all act like brothers.”

Bullard was 19 when World War I began. He joined the French Foreign Legion and served as a machinegunner in a regiment that fought in the Battle of Verdun, the longest battle of the war. He was seriously wounded twice and was awarded two medals for bravery, including the Croix de Guerre.

His wounds prevented him from further infantry duty, so he applied for, he was accepted into, the French flying service, the Aéronautique Militaire. He attended flight school, got his wings in 1917, and quickly earned a reputation for his courage and skill. He flew 25-plus combat missions, usually with his pet rhesus monkey Jimmy on his shoulder.

The Germans called Bullard “The Black Swallow of Death.” He had two confirmed kills and earned 15 medals.

When the US entered the war, he and other Americans in the Aéronautique Militaire, applied to transfer to the US military. Most were accepted, but Bullard was not because the US did not allow blacks to serve as pilots or aircraft mechanics.

Specifically, US policy was that black soldiers were not intelligent enough to understand aircraft mechanics or to pilot an aircraft. Seriously.

Moreover, under US pressure, the French removed Bullard from aviation duty.

When the war ended and Bullard was discharged from military service, he became part owner of a Paris nightclub, Le Grand Duc. The club became a popular hangout for the rich and famous, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Pablo Picasso, the Prince of Wales, and Ernest Hemingway.

Soon, he opened a second club, and in 1923, he married Marcelle Straumann, the daughter of a French countess. They had a son, who died in childhood, and two daughters. The Bullards were divorced in 1931.

When the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, Bullard quietly joined the French resistance as a spy. By then, he was fluent in German and was able to eavesdrop on unsuspecting German officers, with whom his nightclubs were popular, and who had no idea Bullard spoke German.

Later in 1940, possibly because his ties to the resistance became known, Bullard fled Paris with his two daughters. On the way to Spain, he joined a group of French soldiers defending Orléans and suffered a severe spinal wound. He and his daughters returned to the US, where he recuperated in a New York hospital.

In France, Bullard had been a national hero; in America, he was just another black man. Using a financial grant from the French government, he bought a small apartment in Harlem. Both of his daughters married, and Bullard lived alone.

He never fully recovered from his back injury, and his mobility was restricted. He supported himself by serving as an occasional French interpreter for Louis Armstrong, working as a security guard, and selling perfume. His final job was as an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center.

In 1960, while in New York, French President Charles de Gaulle visited Bullard, named him a Knight of the French Legion of Honor, and called him a “true French hero.” Bullard’s achievements were never recognized by the US.

He died in Harlem of stomach cancer in 1961. He was buried in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery in Queens and was given full military honors by the Federation of French War Officers.

In 1994, the US Air Force finally gave Bullard official recognition of sorts by giving him a posthumous commission as a second lieutenant.

Why did the US pressure the French government to ground Eugene Bullard, and why did the US government fail to recognize and honor his achievements?

Racism. What else?


Bullard’s French military decorations from WWI and WWII, as displayed in his Harlem apartment.

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● James Madison, the fourth U.S. President, was 5’ 4” tall and weighed just shy of 100 pounds.

● In American English, the letter sequence “ough” can be pronounced eight different ways — namely, as in the words rough, cough, drought, dough, thought, through, thorough, and (even though this is not a common spelling) hiccough.

● The salivary glands in your mouth produce about three pints of saliva per day. The fluid serves as a lubricant and also contains enzymes that aid the process of digestion.

● Tigers have white spots on the backs of their ears that may have evolved to mimic eyes. One theory is that the spots protect the animal from being attacked from behind; tigers are said to be vulnerable when they lower their heads to get a drink of water. That seems like a stretch to me, but what do I know?

● As a teenager, actor Christopher Walken (real name Ronald Walken) worked in a circus as an assistant lion tamer. He also trained at a Washington, DC dance studio and earned money dancing in local night clubs.

● All the letters of the alphabet have one-syllable names except W.

● In the early 1950s, before he began his music career, Johnny Cash wrote several short stories that were not published in his lifetime. One was “The Holografik Danser,” a science fiction story about life after a nuclear attack in which holographic entertainment is beamed into homes. His daughter Rosanne included the story in an anthology in 2001.

● Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a physical education teacher at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. Naismith wanted to create a vigorous indoor sport to keep his students fit during the winter months. Initially, the game was played with a soccer ball, and the hoops were peach baskets.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The first ATM went into service on September 2, 1969, at a branch of Chemical Bank in Rockville Center, New York.

● Most animals have only one heart, but there are exceptions. Squid and octopuses have three hearts, and hagfish have four. In their cases, the extra hearts are smaller and serve as auxiliary pumps. Earthworms have five hearts of equal size that evolved to deal with the worms’ length.

● In Latin, the word onion means “large pearl.”

● In 1989, rock star Billy Idol checked into a hotel in Thailand and threw a party that continued for three weeks. When he and his friends refused to leave, the Thai army was called in. Idol was shot with a tranquilizer dart and carried out unconscious on a stretcher. Damages totaled $150,000.

● When President Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou wanted to keep a conversation private, they conversed in Mandarin Chinese. President Calvin Coolidge and his wife Grace, a former teacher at a school for the deaf, maintained their privacy by using sign language.

● By long tradition, horse races in England are run clockwise. In 1788, in defiance of the Brits, the American colonies began conducting their races counter-clockwise. Today in the US, horse and auto races still move counter-clockwise; in England and Germany, still clockwise.

● The full name of actor Richard Gere is Richard Tiffany Gere; his mom was Doris Ann Tiffany.

● Among the mammals, only the platypus and the spiny anteater lay eggs instead of giving live birth. Both are native to Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania.

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