1. As ubiquitous as McDonald’s may seem, there are are actually more public libraries in the US than golden arches.
2. The last letter added to the English alphabet wasn’t Z — it was the letter J.
For a long time, in fact, the letters I and J were the same. Jsn’t that jnterestjng? Until it became its own letter, J’s were used as “swashes,” aka fancy, embellished I’s. Italian Renaissance man Gian Giorgio Trissino first made the distinction between I and J in 1525, and J finally entered the alphabet in the 19th century, around the same time as the letter V.
3. In 1518, a “dancing plague” took over a French town.
Yup, people literally danced ‘til they dropped in Strasbourg, France, when this bizarre illness took hold. It all started when one woman, Frau Troffea, “began a fervent dancing vigil that lasted between four and six days,” and within a month, 400 people joined her. Local authorities didn’t know quite what to do, so they told everyone to just keep dancing (!), but the physical exertion caused dozens of people to die from heart attacks, strokes, and exhaustion. Weirder still, there were at least seven other instances of a dancing plague in other towns throughout the region around the same time.
The cause of the “plague” remains a mystery, but one historian who has studied the story at length believes it was stress-induced psychosis, brought on by a severe famine and widespread diseases.
4. People wore fake moles made of velvet, silk, or mouse skin in the 18th century as a fashion statement.
Long before Cindy Crawford and Marilyn Monroe made moles all the rage, people put patches of all different shapes on their faces. Some used them to cover up scars or pimples, others sent political messages with them, and still others used them to convey their relationship status and personality. Even better? The patches were in all different shapes, from circles to hearts to stars and moons. The look had a brief comeback in the 1940s before fading into obscurity once again.
5. Before the invention of color TV, 75% of people said they dreamed in black and white.
Apparently, TV really can affect your brain in unexpected ways — just 12% of people in a 2008 study said they dream in black and white. Amazingly, people 25 or younger responded that they “almost never” dream in black in white, while people 55 or older (who were exposed to black-and-white TV as children) had colorless dreams about 25% of the time. Crazy!
6. A female architecture student prevented a Manhattan skyscraper from collapsing in the 1970s when she caught a massive design flaw.
It’s not fun to think about, but sometimes architects mess up — big time. Take Citigroup Center on 53rd Street in New York, a 59-story skyscraper that was built on glorified stilts in 1977 so that a church that was already on the site didn’t have to move. It was a genius design, and it stood for a full year before Diane Hartley, an undergraduate architecture major at Princeton, called the architect, William LeMessurier, to tell him she’d been studying Citigroup Center in class and she’d discovered that if the wind got too strong, the stilts supporting the building would collapse. In Midtown Manhattan. Which would…not be good. LeMessurier checked Hartley’s numbers and realized that she was right — he had failed to account for a certain type of wind that could weaken the stilts. LeMessurier’s team worked overnight to fix the mistake before disaster could strike — but it was Hartley who actually saved the day.
7. And it’s illegal to own just one guinea pig in Switzerland because they get lonely.
Guinea pigs — they’re just like us! Apparently, the social animals get lonely if they’re by themselves, so Switzerland passed a law in 2008 making it illegal for people to own only one of the rodents. The “social rights” law covers other animals, too: Cats must be allowed to go outside or see other cats from a window, and not allowing your parrot to interact with other parrots is considered abuse. Awww.
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