I made a journey deep into the heart of darkness last week: the suburbs. And while there, I went native and experienced suburban bar trivia. This must be how undiscovered tribes deep in the Amazon feel when a helicopter travels overhead. Yet 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. May god have mercy on us all.
1. The first commercial hydroelectric plant in the US—awesomely known as 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.
2. I dug down deep into the fascinating history of Memphis. Tennessee. For starters, Memphis is the birthplace of Piggly Wiggly, the nation’s first self-serve grocery store, which opened in 1916. It was the first to have cashiers, standardized layout and product locations, refrigerated produce sections, employees with uniforms, shopping baskets, and the first to allow shoppers to select their own groceries (for our 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). The Pig’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 futures market on frozen concentrated orange juice thanks to a hot tip from Mr. Beeks. 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 from having his Piggly usurped. 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 of a grocery store that was ultimately unsuccessful. Man, that guy was really into grocery shopping.
3. In the 1870s, Memphis suffered from several major 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 city 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 pretty 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, which I can’t even. Also, remember that song Walking in Memphis?
a) “Water motorsports” was an event at the 1908 summer olympics in London. Evidently it was like powerboat racing, but, I imagine, much slower, motorboats being in their infancy at the time. The locale was plagued by bad weather and roiling seas; only two boats were able to even get to the starting line in each of the three races, and only one finished in each race. In one race, one of the boats gave up (capsized?) in the first lap, and the second only finished one of the planned 8 laps. The event was rescheduled for the next day, where basically the exact same thing happened.
b) Tug of war was an Olympic event from 1900-1920, with 4, 6, and 8 man teams. The event was cancelled after the explosive dismemberment of multiple members of the Swedish and British teams during a spirited match in 1920.
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.
5. In Oxford on 10 February 1355—St. Scholastica day—a couple of Oxford students were at the Swindlestock Tavern and began to argue with the bar owner about the quality of the drinks (caveat emptor at a place with “Swindle” in the name, I guess), before eventually attacking him. The mayor asked for the attackers to be arrested, only to himself be pummelled by a marauding band of students.
Townspeople and outsiders poured into Oxford to retaliate, and a two-day riot ensued that left more than 60 scholars and some 30 townsfolk dead. A settlement in favor of the students was eventually reached several years later—yes, the students, how bad were those drinks? As punishment, the mayor and councillors were forced to walk bareheaded through the streets of Oxford on the anniversary of the riot (presumably to be pelted with whatever could be thrown at them), and pay the school one penny for each student killed. In what is truly an inspired bit of perseverance and/or commitment to justice, this tradition continued for 470 YEARS, until the mayor decided not to take part.