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Frick & Frack

One of the more popular genres of touring entertainers of the 1930s were professional ice skating shows.  They still exist today, but at one time they were far more popular, and a number of professional ice skating companies would tour the United States regularly.  There were the the Ice Cycles, Holiday on Ice, the Ice Capades, and the Ice Follies, among others.  They would tour from city to city, and drew audiences as well as any other form of live entertainment of the day.  The Ice Follies were even popular enough to be featured in the Joan Crawford film The Ice Follies of 1939, produced by MGM studios as an answer to the popular ice skating films of ice skating star Sonja Henie. The Ice Follies featured large, elaborate productions, pooling the talents of numerous ice skating stars of the day.  It followed the structure of circus shows, with large, impressive numbers punctuated with smaller acts.  One of the smaller acts was a novelty skating team from Switzerland that combined th

Going to Reno

What do you do when you and your spouse have gotten to where you just can’t reconcile your differences anymore?  Often this means lawyers and alimony, but if the two of you are looking to split amicably, a short trip to the county courthouse is probably enough.  Sign some papers, agree to split up the property, work out what to do with the children and the pets, and you’re done.  Divorces like this might or might not be the norm (I’m hardly an expert in that), but they are an option.  This wasn’t always the case, though. Ending a marriage simply because the two partners fell out of love or tired of each other has only been recently considered legally acceptable.  Religious institutions have long forbidden divorce (though even clergy have always been known to make exceptions), which probably has something to do with secular law also making divorce difficult, if not impossible.  Secular law has always tended to be more lenient than religious law, but even so, to get a divorce, a plaint

John F. Kennedy, Train Robber

John F. Kennedy—known to his friends as “Jack”—is remembered for a lot of things.  There was his service on PT-109 during World War II, his popular presidency that was contemporarily referred to as “Camelot”, the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tragic and violent assassination, and a series of train robberies.  Okay, that last item comes off as a little… incongruous, I’ll admit.  Presidents don’t usually get up to criminal activity until after they’ve been in office, so where would Kennedy find the time to slip away from the Oval Office and go stick up trains? Well, there were actually two different John F. “Jack” Kennedys.  The better-known one was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1917.  The train robber was born somewhere in Missouri, sometime in 1870.  (Sorry, but that’s as specific as his biographers are able to get.)  The first Jack Kennedy’s fame was eclipsed considerably by the second Jack Kennedy.  Despite identical names, the two are not known to be related.  (Having the same na

Half Dimes and Nickels: My 3¢ Worth

One peculiar aspect of American and Canadian coinage is the fact that the dime is smaller than the nickel, even though it’s worth twice as much. Why would these countries design a currency system like this? The fact is: they didn’t. The United States first determined the size and denomination of American coins when it passed the Coinage Act of 1792. This established ten different denominations of US coins, made of three different kinds of metals: copper (½¢, 1¢); silver (5¢, 10¢, 25¢, 50¢, $1); and gold ($2.50, $5, $10). The smaller coins made of each metal were the lower denominations, with the values of the coins increasing with their sizes. This made sense, since it cost more money to mint a larger coin, so of course the higher denominations would be worth more. With three exceptions, the sizes of US coins have changed since 1792. The United States stopped making half cents in 1857, and it stopped making gold coins in 1933. The original 1¢ coin was much larger until 1857,

Spam: Where Does this Meat Come From?

In 1926, George A. Hormel of Hormel Foods created the first canned ham. This canned meat product gained quick popularity at hotels and restaurants, who were happy to have ham in such convenient storage. Though canned ham would be a common item in grocery stores later on, Hormel saw the product as too bulky to appeal to customers, and didn’t really try to get them onto the shelves. Eleven years later, George Hormel’s son Jay Hormel hit upon a new way to sell pork. He came up with a combination of pork shoulder, ham, and potato starch, with salt, water and sodium nitrite added in. This new product was processed into rectangular blocks and placed in 12 ounce cans. It retailed for 10¢, and was a hit with shoppers during the Great Depression, when there was a large demand for cheap meat. This new product was called Spam. Exactly why Spam is called Spam is shrouded in mystery, according to Hormel. It’s widely assumed to be short for “spice ham” or “spare meat” or “shoulders of pork

Genesis 26: Foreigners, go home!

Here's a map, in case you're having as much trouble following these people around as I am. Isaac had a dream.  In it, God told him he shouldn’t go to Egypt or to anywhere else, and that he should stick around.  If he did, God would tell him where he should go, and what he should do so that he would be heaped with blessings, and that his descendents would be, as well, and any country where they would choose to live in the future would be happy to have them.  God told him to go to Gerar, where the Philistines were.  Gerar wasn’t a great option—it was no better, in fact, than where he’d been living before.  There was a drought everywhere, so moving on was tempting. The king of the Philistines at Gerar was, of course, Abimelech.  This might have been the same King Abimelech whom Abraham ran into; this might have been a different one.  Since the name Abimelech translates roughly as “my father was the king,” it’s possible that this Abimelech was just another one in a long r

Scofflaw? I'll drink to that!

In 1923, a national contest kicked off in Boston to find a new word.  The definition was in place, and a $200 prize was announced once someone invented a word that would embody this definition.  The definition: “a person who drinks illegally”.  At the time, this meant pretty much everyone in the United States (and much of Canada), since Prohibition had been in place since 1919.  The contest and its prize was sponsored by Delcevare King, a banker and an enthusiastic supporter of Prohibition. The contest was announced in newspapers across the country, but it was the Boston Globe that found the winners.  There were two winners, in fact: Globe readers Henry Irving Dale and Kate L. Butler, who independently hit upon scofflaw to inhabit this definition.  Since both came up with it, Mr. King decided it was fair that they split the prize money, giving $100 to each of them.  Theirs were only two of about 25,000 entries received. The term caught on, and enjoyed popular currency for as long