Thursday, March 31, 2011

Facts, New or Not

Facts need never be dry and dull, especially when they involve food fights with whoopie pies, the exhumation of the Leather Man, and art criticism from the beaks of pigeons and Java sparrows. Enjoy!

✦ Washington, D.C., claims L'Enfant. Can you name New York City's own? Last week (March 22) was the 200th birthday of the certification by the Big Apple's street commissioners of "the grid" on which were mapped 11 major avenues and 155 cross-town streets, thereafter spurring development of the City That Never Sleeps. Engineer and surveyor John Randel Jr. drafted the street plan. A wonderful article in The New York Times tells the story of the map. (The print version also features a graphic replete with interesting facts. For example, Greenwich Village was already developed by 1811 and so found itself generally exempt from official efforts to impose orderliness on the island's real estate.) 

"How Manhattan's Grid Grew" (Interactive)

✦ An honest-to-goodness food fight — over whoopie pies, no less — has broken out between the state of Maine and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Maine lawmakers were to have debated legislation March 16 that would make whoopie pies the "state treat" (originally, their HP 59/LD 71 was "An Act to Designate the Whoopie Pie as the State Dessert") but they set aside the matter, presumably for, ahem, more important issues, like stirring up support for a movement to amend the bill to designate blueberry pie the state dessert. Subsequently, after two readings, legislators in the House approved the measure, 107 to 34, and sent the matter of the state's treat to the Senate. To celebrate, a whoopie pie maker whipped up a confection weighing 1,067 pounds, putting Pennsylvania's 250-pound treat to shame.  ("Maine Outdoes Pa. With Massive Whoopie Pie") Meanwhile, in Lancaster, the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau calls Maine's action "confectionary larceny". This video from Amish Country tells you something, if not everything, you might need to know. 


Whoopie Pie Recipe

Maine Whoopie Pie on FaceBook (More than 11,700 souls "like"  this.)

Maine Whoopie Pie Festival 2011 on FaceBook

Now, before you go hard on Maine, consider: Massachusetts has both an official donut and a state dessert, the Boston Cream; Florida cites key lime as its official state pie; and South Carolina has an official snack food, boiled peanuts, as does Illinois, which claims popcorn. For more "official state foods", go here. This is serious business!

✦ Sparta Cemetery, just a few feet off well-traveled Route 9 in Ossining, New York, is soon to be the site of an exhumation of the mysterious "Leather Man", a vagabond who, according to lore, lived in caves and between 1883 and 1889 regularly walked a 365-mile route through 41 towns in Westchester County, New York, and western Connecticut. (He's also the subject of Eddie Vedder's song "Leatherman".) His body was found in March 1889 in a cave near Ossining and subsquently buried in a pauper's grave at Sparta Cemetery. According to genealogist Dan W. DeLuca, who wrote The Old Leather Man (2008), the headstone attributing the remains to Jules Bourglay of Lyons, France, is wrong; so now, 122 years later, the Leather Man will be exhumed and subject to DNA testing sometime this spring to try to resolve the issue of his identity. Outraged by the turn of events, history teacher Don Johnson has launched the site Leave the Leatherman Alone.

Sparta Cemetery Headstone of the Leather Man

Nick Keppler, "Digging Up  the Leatherman", Fairfield Weekly, January 11, 2011

Jaime Ferris, "Historian Revisits the Old Leatherman's Stomping Grounds", Housatonic Times, April 15, 2010

✦ Until last week, when this Off the Wall post showed up in my blog roll, I did not know that a series of photographs of Vassar College by Alfred Eisenstaedt, published in 1937 in Life Magazine, was the first feature to be called a "photographic essay". The article is a fascinating look back at my alma mater. (Times do change.) It includes a link to this 132-page thesis, "Life and the Photo Essay", which makes for very interesting reading (the Vassar photo essay is highlighted and the magazine feature included in Appendix A).

✦ I learn many new things in the course of a week browsing the Web, such as this fact for Women's History Month: Janet Harmon Bragg was the first black woman in America to receive a commercial pilot's license. She did so in the face of pervasive race and sex discrimination. Read this excellent post about Bragg at The Bigger Picture, where you'll also find a brief videotaped interview with Bragg that is now part of Smithsonian Institution Archives. What an inspiration this accomplished woman was!

✦ A Japanese psychologist at Keio University, Shigeru Watanabe, has taken to heart the notion of leaving things up to the birds. He set up an experiment during which he trained pigeons to discriminate between "good" works of art and "bad". And for every peck or two that were correct, Mr. Watanable rewarded his newly minted critics with seed. Read the enlightening and funny post "Bird Brain" that puts human art critics (and one in particular) to shame.  

Watanabe has since undertaken another study relating to animal cognition of art, this one seeking to ascertain Java sparrows' preferences for art styles, in this case cubism and impressionism. This brief press release gives you the lowdown on results.

✦ Frank Neuhauser, who won the first national spelling bee, in 1925, died March 11. The Washington Post published this feature on Neuhauser, who also appeared in the 2002 documentary Spellbound.


Valerie Kamikubo said...

Who knew that when I got up at 4;00 this morning because I couldn't sleep that I would be rewarded with such a vast array of information? This is wonderful stuff, and now I can amaze my friends with some lesser known facts :) Clearly, Oklahoma is ahead in the food sanctions with an entire meal as its' official state food!

Anonymous said...

i think the oregon state food can be...
. black truffles
. white truffles
. dungeness crab

Billy Coffey said...

There are few things in this world better and more comforting than a whoopie pie.

Anonymous said...

MMMMMMM whoopie pies!!!! I grew up in Amish country! Taught to cook by Amish neighbors! sticky buns, apple dumplings, apple butter, bean soups

Maine my tooshie!