I made a journey deep into the heart of darkness last week: suburban bar trivia. Now, I soldier onward to perform the most essential of trivial duties: the roundup. Batten down the hatches, button up the ass-flap on your union suit, and grab all the canned goods you can: it’s time for a suburban trivia roundup.
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1. The first commercial hydroelectric plant in the US—the Vulcan Street Plant—was opened by Thomas Edison (I didn’t know this) in 1882, in Appleton, Wisconsin (trivial side note: Appleton was the first US town to have an electric streetcar system, laid claim to the first telephone in Wisconsin, and was the birthplace of Willem Dafoe, Joe McCarthy, and Mrs. Garrett from the Facts of Life (double parentheses note: the character, not the actress)). The Vulcan’s generator was directly connected to the waterwheel, which meant the lights would brighten and dim depending on the flow of the river, and because voltage regulators and meters didn’t yet exist, customers were charged a flat fee. All the wiring was bare copper, and I’m sure this is unrelated, but the paper company to which the station provided power burned to the ground in 1891.
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2. I dug down deep into the fascinating history of Memphis. Tennessee. Most importantly for our purposes, Memphis is the birthplace of Piggly Wiggly, which opened in 1916. The Pig was the nation’s first self-serve grocery store, the first to have cashiers, the first to have standardized layout and product locations, the first to have refrigerated produce sections, the first to have employees with uniforms, the first to have shopping baskets, and the first to allow shoppers to select their own groceries (for southern readers: the first store in North Carolina to offer that option was Harris Teeter, which was—tragically—not opened by a guy named Harris Teeter). Wiggly’s undeniable success spawned imitators including Handy Andy, Helpy Selfy, Mick-or-Mack, Jitney Jungle, and Ziggy Piggy.
When asked why he named the store Piggly Wiggly, founder Clarence Saunders responded “So people would ask that very question.” In 1923 speculators tried to bear-raid the wildly successful corporation, and Saunders responded by attempting to corner the market, driving the stock price up more than three times. His effort failed, he lost money, and he was forced to sell the mansion he was building (called the Pink Palace—because pigs are pink?) which is today a science museum in Memphis. He subsequently entered a period of depression:
which did not wane until he cornered the pork belly futures market. Actually, having been forced to sell his share in the Pig, he opened a new chain of stores in 1928 called—and I am absolutely not making this up—the “Clarence Saunders Sole Owner of My Name Stores.” It’s just possible he was still carrying a grudge. He also sponsored a football team, called—unsurprisingly, I guess—“The Clarence Saunders Sole Owner of My Name Tigers.” The stores were initially successful—no word on the football team—but went under after the market crashed. Saunders would go on to develop the Keedoozle, a sort of giant automated vending machine / grocery store that was ultimately unsuccessful. Man, that guy was really into grocery shopping.
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3. In the 1870s, Memphis suffered from several yellow fever outbreaks. The last one, in 1878, cut the city’s population by 75%, from a combination of disease or flight. Revenues collapsed, the city couldn’t pay back its bonds, and it lost its charter. Until 1893 it was governed as something called a “taxing district.” The fever epidemic of 1878 is remembered every year during Martyr’s Weekend.
A few other Memphis fun facts: In the early part of the 20th century, Memphis was the world’s largest lumber market. In the 1950s, it was the world’s largest MULE MARKET, which is a grim thing to have to put on a “Welcome to Memphis” sign. The Memphis political machine was controlled by E.H. “Boss” Crump, which is a great name (is it mandatory that all political bosses are actually nicknamed Boss?). Memphis is home to the largest annual barbecue pork cooking contest in the world; note that Memphis-style barbecue is split between dry rub (“sauce is a myth”) and wet rub. Wikipedia tells me that a favorite local treat is pulled pork nachos. Also, remember that song Walking in Memphis?
4. Now for some Summer Olympics factoids:
a) “Water motorsports” was an event at the 1908 summer olympics in London. Evidently it was like powerboat racing, only slower. The locale was plagued by bad weather and roiling seas; in each of the three races, only two boats were able to make it to the starting line, and only one finished. In another race, one boat capsized in the first lap, and the other completed only one of the eight laps. The event was rescheduled, whence basically the same thing happened again.
b) Tug of war was an Olympic event from 1900-1920, with 4, 6, and 8 man teams. The event was permanently cancelled after the explosive dismemberment of multiple members of the Swedish and British teams during a spirited match in 1920, which led all olympic nations to sign a disarmament treaty.
c) Ice hockey was an event at the 1920 summer olympics. I don’t have a joke, it’s just a thing that happened.
d) At the 1956 games in Melbourne, political turmoil boiled over during a water polo match between the Soviet Union and Hungary, which is now called the “Blood in the Water Match.” Due to a foot and mouth disease outbreak, the equestrian events were held in Stockholm.
e) The US currently holds the all-time medal lead with 2399, with the Soviet Union in second place at 1010. The Soviet Union, though, only competed in 9 Olympic games.
f) In 1988, Ben Johnson was stripped of his medal in the 100-meter dash after testing positive for steroids and some kind of fish tranquilizer.
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5. Dateline: Oxford, 10 February 1355, St. Scholastica Day. A couple of Oxford students argued with the owner of the Swindlestock Tavern over the quality of the drinks. Apparently unsatisfied with his explanation, and apparently unaware of the concept of caveat emptor while drinking at a place with swindle in the name, they attacked him. When the mayor called for the attackers to be arrested, he was pummeled by a marauding band of students.
Townspeople and outsiders poured into Oxford to retaliate, sparking a two-day riot that left more than 60 scholars and 30 townsfolk dead. Eventually a settlement was reached, in favor of the students—yes, the students, exactly how bad were those drinks? As punishment, the town’s mayor and councillors were forced to walk bareheaded through the streets of Oxford every year on the anniversary of the riot, to be pelted with whatever could be thrown at them. They were also required to pay the school one penny for each student killed. In an inspired bit of perseverance and/or commitment to justice, this tradition continued for 470 YEARS, until the mayor decided not to take part.
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6. Final, totally unrelated trivium: did you know Duncan Hines was an actual person? Betty Crocker, in contrast, is just some made-up bullshit.