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    21 Shocking, Surprising, And Downright Unforgettable Facts I Learned This Week

    As a young child, Bruno Mars performed as an Elvis impersonator. Mars got his start at just 4 years old, when he performed at his father's rock-and-roll revue. Mars even appeared in both a 1989 documentary called Viva Elvis that showcased impersonators from around the world and in the 1992 movie Honeymoon in Vegas starring Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker.

    1. In the years following the sinking of the Titanic, many people claimed that the Titanic had been marketed as being an unsinkable ship. Turns out, White Star Line had actually used phrasing like "as far as it is possible to do ... designed to be unsinkable" when talking about their ships. Other headlines from the time period included words like "nearly" and "practically" when discussing the unsinkable claim. It was only after the ship had actually sunk that people latched onto the idea that the Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable, and they failed to use the company's actual phrasing when discussing the tragedy.

    2. While you're probably familiar with The Addams Family, you might not have known that the family actually first originated as a cartoon in the New Yorker in 1938. Over the next few decades, 58 cartoons featuring a series of anonymous creepy people appeared in the New Yorker, all drawn by Charles Addams, who had published over 1,000 cartoons in the magazine. In 1946, Addams and science fiction author Ray Bradbury met up to work on a book about the Elliots, a fictional family full of monsters. Bradbury was going to write the stories, and Addams was going to illustrate the book. The partnership between Addams and Bradbury didn't quite pan out, and Addams resumed drawing cartoons about the still-unnamed family for the New Yorker.

    In 1964, a TV executive came across a book of Addams' cartoons with an image featuring the family on the cover. The executive thought it would make an excellent live-action TV show. They decided to name the family after Addams and asked him to develop first names and personality traits for his characters. He worked closely with the writers to ensure that the show matched the tone he wanted. In 1964, The Addams Family premiered on ABC. While the show only lasted two seasons, it became a cult hit and inspired several future adaptations. While the show was running, the editor of the New Yorker banned cartoons about the family.

    3. Sometimes, there's truly nothing better than a crisp, crunchy Dorito. The name of the chip is derived from the Spanish word "doradito," which means "little bits of gold."

    4. This month marks 20 years since the Washington, DC metro area was terrorized by two men often known as the Beltway Snipers, who ultimately killed 10 people and critically injured three others over the course of three weeks. On Oct. 2, 2002, a man was shot and killed in Wheaton, Maryland. By the end of the next day, five more people had been murdered in the same area. Evidence found at the crime scenes allowed authorities to connect all of the murders and launch an investigation, invoking both the Montgomery County Police Department and the FBI.

    The murders happened at everyday places like gas stations and grocery stores. Soon, children were not allowed to go outside, Guardian Angel groups came in to pump gas for those who were scared, and people began to run through parking lots in zig-zag patterns to become less of a target for bullets. Authorities began to conduct car checks after rumors began to surface that the killer was traveling in either a dark Chevrolet or a white box truck. On Oct. 4, a woman was wounded by a bullet in Spotsylvania, Virginia, which expanded the search to encompass Maryland; Washington, DC; and Virginia. As coverage ramped up, the killings became more spaced out. On Oct. 7, a middle schooler was shot and injured outside of a school in Bowie, Maryland. A tarot card with a message reading "Call me God" written on it was found at the scene.

    Over the next two weeks, three more people were killed and an additional person was wounded in Virginia. On Oct. 17, a man called into the tip line and told authorities to investigate a recent shooting and robbery in Alabama for a possible connection. The next day, a clergyman received a phone call from a man who told him that he knew who the killer was. He also mentioned the shooting in Alabama and asked the clergyman to write down the phrase, "Dear Mr. Policeman — call me God. Do not release to the press." The clergyman went to the authorities.

    A note with a similar message was found outside a steakhouse in Virginia on Oct. 19. By Oct. 20, authorities began to look into the killing in Alabama. A fingerprint from evidence found at that crime scene was linked to Lee Boyd Malvo, who lived in Tacoma, Washington. On Oct. 22, a bus driver in Aspen Hill, Maryland was killed in what became the final killing. As police began to learn more about Malvo and the Alabama shooting, they linked him to John Muhammad, who had also been mentioned by a tip line caller. The two lived in a house in Tacoma together, and neighbors said they frequently shot targets in the backyard.

    Authorities issued an alert for a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice that was registered to Muhammad. On Oct. 24, police swarmed a rest stop along I-70 in Maryland, where Muhammad and Malvo were sleeping in the Caprice. They were arrested without a struggle. Police found they had cut a hole in the trunk of the car, allowing them to shoot undetected. Both Muhammad and Malvo, who was a minor, received life sentences in both Maryland and Virginia. In 2009, Muhammad was executed for his role. In September 2022, Malvo sought parole after a ruling that life sentences for minors were unconstitutional, but was denied.

    5. As a young child, Bruno Mars performed as an Elvis impersonator. Mars got his start at just 4 years old. "I was impersonating Elvis Presley in my dad's rock 'n' roll 1950s revue in Waikiki," he told James Corden during a Carpool Karaoke segment. Mars even appeared in both a 1989 documentary called Viva Elvis that showcased impersonators from around the world and in the 1992 movie Honeymoon in Vegas starring Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker.

    6. If there's chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream on the menu, chances are I'm ordering it. The flavor actually didn't hit shelves until 1984, when a customer at a Ben and Jerry's store in Vermont suggested that they add chunks of cookie dough to their vanilla ice cream. The flavor was a hit, and by 1991, Ben and Jerry's was selling pints of cookie dough ice cream.

    7. Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" is arguably one of the world's most popular songs — it's been estimated that around the globe, it plays on the radio about once an hour. Freddie Mercury, the band's front man, actually had a piano as his bed's headboard and allegedly would wake up in the middle of the night to work on songs whenever inspiration struck. According to the BBC, this was how "Bohemian Rhapsody" was born.

    The song, which on the surface is about a man confessing a murder to his mother and his subsequent trial, has been the subject of debate about the true meaning. Some believe that the song is about Mercury coming to terms with being gay. In 2004, Queen's Greatest Hits album became the first rock album allowed in Iran, where it came with a leaflet explaining that the hero accidentally killed a man, then sold his soul to the devil, only to call to God before his death, thus freeing him.

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    8. In Ukraine, there is an old marriage tradition where if a woman denies her suitor's proposal, he is sent home with a pumpkin so he doesn't leave empty-handed. So, what do pumpkins have to do with marriage? Many believed they were good for a man's virility. According to NPR, men used to propose only at night so the chances of being spotted with the pumpkin were slim.

    9. If you've ever wondered why movies are often referred to as appearing on the silver screen, you're not alone. Turns out, the term originated in the 1920s, when filmmakers were looking for ways to increase the picture quality. They found that coating screens with metallic paint helped cut down on blurriness.

    10. Warren G. Harding has gone down in history as one of the worst presidents the United States has ever seen. Turns out, he also was embroiled in a passionate affair that his family tried to cover up after his death for fear of making his legacy appear even worse in the public's eye. A series of letters exchanged between Harding and Carrie Fulton Phillips, who was allegedly his mistress for about 15 years in the 1910s and 1920s, surfaced in 1964 when Francis Russell, a historian, attempted to publish them. The Harding family promptly sued Russell. The Hardings eventually agreed that the letters would be sealed for 50 years and gave them to the Library of Congress.

    In 2014, the Library of Congress released 106 letters. Many of them were written on official Senate stationary and were shockingly explicit. In some of the letters, Harding referred to his penis as "Jerry," which was assumed to be a codename that would protect the politician in case the letters were intercepted. Phillips and Harding's affair spanned his terms as the lieutenant governor of Ohio and as a US senator. Once Harding won the Republican presidential nomination, the Republican National Committee was forced to pay off Phillips, who was threatening to release the letters to the public. Harding also allegedly gave Phillips a stipend of about $5,000 a year to keep her quiet.

    The affair had potential political repercussions. Phillips supported Germany in World War I and would frequently try to convince Harding to share her views. She sent him newspaper articles and was known for challenging Harding for his stance on issues while he was a senator. After Harding and Phillips split once he became president, they still saw each other privately. Some believed that Phillips was a spy. Other historians have claimed that Harding warned Phillips that authorities were focusing on her and her husband, although her family has denied these claims.

    11. At birth, baby pandas weigh about 100 grams, which is the same size as a stick of butter. In fact, panda cubs are 1/900 the size of their mothers and are unusually tiny compared to the birth size of other mammals relative to their mothers. Some theories for the size discrepancy have been attributed to hibernation because mothers aren't eating, or the lack of nutrition found in bamboo, but no adequate explanation has been found.

    12. After the Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania in 1936, the state enacted a 10% tax on alcohol. All of the money from the tax was supposed to go toward helping those affected rebuild and recover from the flood. Turns out, Pennsylvanians have been paying that tax ever since. After the town was rebuilt, lawmakers marveled at how much extra money they were able to bring in. In 1935, they decided to make the alcohol tax permanent, and eventually raised it to 18%. It doesn't appear on receipts and is instead built into the price of liquor sold in the state, which can only be purchased at state-run liquor stores.

    13. The button down and boxers look from the Tom Cruise movie Risky Business has long been a quick and easy Halloween staple. This year, I have a feeling that we'll be seeing yet another Tom Cruise–themed costume everywhere, given the popularity of Top Gun: Maverick. In order to pull off both costumes, nailing the sunglasses is key: You'll need Ray-Ban Wayfarers for Risky Business and Aviators for Top Gun. Turns out, both movies actually saved the sunglasses from being discontinued by Ray-Ban! It all started in the early 1980s, when both Aviators and Wayfarers were selling pretty poorly. The brand was considering discontinuing both styles so they could focus on trendier looks.

    When Risky Business was released in 1983, the movie's success spawned a resurgence in the Wayfarer style, selling over 360,000 pairs compared to about 18,000 in the years before. Just a few years later in 1986, Top Gun was released, sending sales for Aviators skyrocketing. By 1988, Ray-Ban was selling over 4.5 million pairs of Aviators a year. When Cruise nabbed a role in 1988's Rain Man, director Barry Levinson actually told Cruise that he didn't want his character wearing Ray-Bans because he thought that he was too closely associated with the brand.

    14. Despite its name, the vampire squid is actually a pretty gentle little guy. To make the naming even more confusing, the vampire squid isn't even technically a squid! Scientists originally classified the creature as Vampyroteuthis infernalis, which translates to "vampire squid from hell." Instead of living off of blood, the vampire squid mostly eats marine snow, which is comprised of particles of dead animals, rotting materials, poop, and snot.

    15. Before Walt Disney World was built in Florida, Disney was allegedly eyeing New Orleans as a potential location for a park. In 1963, Walt Disney was scouting out locations for his amusement park. Sam Caruso, who later became the mayor of Slidell, Louisiana, claimed that he dealt extensively with a Disney aide who was looking to purchase property in the Big Easy. He also alleged that Disney was in talks with city and state officials to put the park's construction in motion. On Nov. 22, 1963, president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, sending the business dealings to a halt.

    Once the shock from the murder subsided, it was back to business. However, during this time, Disney had flown over Orlando in his plane and decided that he wanted to build his park there instead of New Orleans. The company began setting up dummy corporations to purchase land under so they could keep their plans under wraps. By 1965, it was revealed that Disney was building Walt Disney World in Orlando, and the park opened in 1971. Although the park ended up in Florida, Disney was also apparently thinking about St. Louis, Missouri as a potential home for EPCOT, but realized that it would involve a total restoration of the city's downtown and wouldn't quite align with Disney's vision.

    16. More than two-thirds of current and former NASA astronauts were active in Boy or Girl Scouts as children. NASA claims that almost all of their missions have had someone on board who was involved in the scouts as a child. There have even been several missions where everyone involved was a former scout.

    17. If your name is Jessica, you have William Shakespeare to thank for coining your name! The first known instance of the name Jessica appearing anywhere was in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, prompting historians to credit the Bard with inventing the name.

    18. Sammy Davis Jr. was a Black performer who broke racial barriers in Hollywood. As a child, Davis performed vaudeville with his father until he was drafted into the Army to fight in World War II at just 17 years old. During an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, Davis discussed his time in the military and said his fellow soldiers beat him, painted him white, and poured pee in his beer. Some believed this treatment pushed Davis to excel in show business. According to cultural critic Gerald Early, Davis likely thought that being successful in Hollywood would “transcend all those humiliations…they’re going to love [him] as an entertainer no matter how much they may hate [him] as a Black.”

    After the war, Davis returned to performing and released several albums that went on to be incredibly successful. In 1953, Davis, along with the trio he performed with, were offered their own TV show about being Black musicians. The show would be revolutionary in that it wouldn't use any of the stereotypical Black characters of the time period, and instead would focus on the characters as people. After the show couldn't get any sponsors, it was shelved. In 1954, Davis lost his eye in a car accident but continued performing.

    By 1959, Davis began performing with the Rat Pack, a group of friends and performers that also listed Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop as core members. The group's performances blended music and comedy, but much of the humor was targeted at Davis, who was the only Black member. While on stage, Davis acted like the jokes didn't affect him, which caused people to view him as an "Uncle Tom" figure. In 1998, Don Cheadle played Davis in a movie about the Rat Pack. It was reported that Cheadle initially declined because he felt that the movie glossed over the way Davis was treated by the members.

    In 1960, Davis married May Britt, a white Swedish actor. At the time, interracial marriages were illegal in 31 states and were still very rare even in places where they were allowed. The controversy around the marriage allegedly caused John F. Kennedy, Jr. to rescind an invitation for Davis to perform at his inauguration party.

    19. I will never forget the absolute shock of my classmates when our elementary school art teacher told us that Vincent van Gogh had cut off his own ear. In the years since, I realized that she never quite told us why, so I decided to do a little digging. According to the Vincent van Gogh Museum, the painter cut off his left ear while in an argument with fellow artist Paul Gauguin. During this time, van Gogh had been experiencing signs of mental illness: He frequently hallucinated and would often lose consciousness. It is believed that during the fight, he grabbed a knife and cut off his ear, but had no recollection of it when he regained consciousness.

    20. Ford's Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865, has vowed to never perform Our American Cousin, which was the play Lincoln was watching when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth. On April 22, 1865, just eight days after Lincoln's death, they performed the play for the final time so investigators could get a clear idea of what happened. After this, the theater closed down for 103 years. When it reopened in 1968, they agreed to never re-stage the play out of respect.

    21. And finally, Sacheen Littlefeather was an actor and activist who made headlines in 1973 for her Oscar appearance. Marlon Brando won Best Actor for his role in The Godfather. He was frustrated by the way Native Americans were being treated in Hollywood, and in protest, sent Littlefeather on stage to decline his award. Littlefeather had previously acted in films like Winterhawk, Shoot the Sun Down, and The Trial of Billy Jack.

    When Brando's name was announced, she headed to the stage clad in a buckskin dress and moccasins. The 1973 awards were the first time the show had been broadcast internationally, and over 85 million people watched Littlefeather's passionate speech, which came just a month into a standoff between Native American activists and authorities after police killed a Lakota man at Wounded Knee in South Dakota. As a result of the speech, Littlefeather was essentially blacklisted in Hollywood. In August 2022, the Academy issued a formal apology for the way Littlefeather had been treated. In response, Littlefeather said, "We Indians are very patient people — it’s only been 50 years! We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival." She died in October 2022.