On this page you will find information on various topics. These are answers to unique reference questions that the reference staff have answered on several occasions.
What is a "skunk bear"?
A skunk bear is also known as a "mountain devil", but we commonly refer to them as wolverines. It is a clever, fierce predator which is said to have the "strength of a bear."
It also has a horrible smelling musk. When sprayed, it is not unlike the odor of a skunk's spray. Hence, the wolverine won the nickname of "skunk bear."
What is St. Elmo's Fire?
St. Elmo's Fire is a ghostly halo of light that can be seen around ship's masts and aircraft wing tips during storms. It is a form of lightning that occurs during thunderstorms or at other times when electrically charged clouds are present and can only be seen in complete darkness.
The name Elmo is from Erasmus. Saint Erasmus is the patron saint of Mediterranean sailors who believed that the shining electrical discharge which hovered over their ships was the presence of the saint himself.
St. Elmo's Fire was a good omen, for according to the sailor's beliefs, no ship would ever be lost while their patron saint was present.
Who was the first U.S. President to fly in an airplane?
The first U.S. President to fly in an airplane was Theodore Roosevelt. On October 10, 1910, he rode in a biplane piloted by Archibald "Archie" Hoxsey at St. Louis Aviation Field, St. Louis, Missouri. Of course, in 1910, Theodore Roosevelt was no longer President.
The first President to fly in an airplane while serving as President was Franklin D. Roosevelt. In January 1943, he was flown in a four engine Boeing Flying Boat to a conference with Winston Churchill in Casablanca. The flight departed from Miami, Florida and landed on the western coast of Morocco.
What is the source of the expression "OK"?
This colloquialism has come into international usage, but it is American in origin. In 1941, Allen Walker Read described in the Saturday Review of Literature how this expression began.
In 1840, the supporters of Martin Van Buren, who was running for a second term as president, organized a group in New York. Van Buren was born in Old Kinderhook, New York and practiced law there in his youth. During the political battles of the Jacksonian period he came to be known as the Red Fox of Kinderhook. This led to the naming of the club, "The Old Kinderhook Club", which was shortened to the "OK Club" and the expression "OK" became the watchword of the political campaign.
What is a Mugwump?
The Mugwumps were a group of reformers who, from about 1884 to 1900, crusaded against patronage and corruption.
The members generally were well-educated business and professional men from the large cities in the northeastern states. They seemed an unlikely lot to spearhead a reform movement. Their economic views were conservative. Their social views were aristocratic; they harbored no great love for the labor movement or the agrarian reformers of that era. Politically, they tended to support the Republican Party, at least till 1884.
In that year, the Republican candidate for President was James G. Blaine. Blaine had a reputation for political immorality. Unable to accept this quality in a public official, the Mugwumps bolted the Republican Party and voted for the Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland, who was elected.
The term "mugwump" was an Algonquin Indian word which meant "great man." When the movement was alive, the term conjured up two different images. To the Republican Party regulars, Mugwump meant an overdose of self-righteousness. To supporters of the group, it meant political independence and integrity in public office.
What's the Lost Colony?
It refers to a colony of English settlers who were sent to the New World by Sir Walter Raliegh. The first group of 108 men left England on April 9, 1585 and landed on Roanoke Island where they established a colony. Within a year, the men abandoned the colony and returned to England.
Shortly after they left, a second group of English settlers arrived and took over the colony. All but fifteen of this group soon left for a return trip to England.
When, on July 22, 1857, a third group arrived on Roanoke Island, none of these fifteen men were found alive. Nonetheless, the group of 117 (91 men, 17 women, and 9 children) moved into the dwellings built by the earlier Englishmen.
The Governor of the colony, artist John White, sailed to England on August 25, 1587 to obtain supplies for the colony. When he returned three years later he found the colony abandoned. On a doorpost he found the word "Croatoan" (a nearby island) carved. On a tree he found carved the letters "CRO."
No one knows what happened to the people. Some believe they went to live with the Indians. Others believe they were killed by hostile Indians or the Spanish. Still others contend that a message left on a store in Chowan County, North Carolina by White's daughter provides the answer. The message indicated that the group left the colony and followed Albemarle Sound up the Chowan River. By 1591, all but twenty four had died from sickness or war. Of these twenty four, all but seven were killed by Indians.
It is uncertain what happened to these last seven people. Perhaps they went to live with the Indians.
Who was the only politician who voted against the U.S. entering WWII?
Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana, was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and was most adamant about her opposition to war.
During her first term in the House from 1917 to 1919, she voted against the United States entering World War I. The vote cost Ms. Rankin her seat in Congress.
Her second single term in Congress began in 1941, the year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. When Congress voted to enter the war, Rankin cast the only dissenting vote. Again, the vote was unpopular with her constituents and she was not re-elected.
Two and a half decades later, Ms. Rankin voiced her opposition against the war when, at the age of 87, she led a protest against the military conflict in Indochina.
Jeannette Rankin was born in 1880 near Missoula, Montana and died in Carmel, California in 1973.
How many hemispheres are there in the world?
The earth is divided into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres with the equator serving as the boundary line.
Using longitudinal lines as a boundary, Eastern and Western Hemispheres are formed. While this boundary has not been officially established, geographers use 20 degrees West Longitude and 160 degrees East Longitude as their dividing line. The Americas lie in the Western Hemisphere and Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia lie in the Eastern Hemisphere.
In addition to these four hemispheres, there exists the Land and Water Hemispheres. The two hemispheres divide the earth into the half with the largest amount of land mass and the half with the most water. The Land Hemisphere is centered around London, England; and the Water Hemisphere is centered near New Zealand.
What was George Custer's rank when he died at Little Big Horn?
During the Civil War, George A. Custer was a general. The rank pertained to his position in the Volunteer Army, and not the regular army.
In the spring of 1866 after the Civil War ended, General Custer mustered out of the Volunteer Army. His regular army rank was captain prior to his joining the volunteers. Therefore, when he mustered out, his regular army rank reverted back to captain.
By the time he died in 1876, he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel with the regular army.
What were the Carpetbaggers?
Carpetbagger is a derogatory term used to describe a person who attempts to meddle in the politics of a region in which he has no real connection.
The connotation is a carryover from Civil War days. During that period, some Northerners went to the South hoping to make a profit from the political and social upheaval caused by the war.
These low-principled Northerners typically were poor and carried all of their possessions in a carpetbag. Hence, the term carpetbagger was created.
What is the Bayeux Tapestry?
Measuring approximately 230 feet long and 20 inches wide, this light color, embroidered work of 72 scenes depicts the story of the Norman conquest of England in 1066. William the Conqueror led the conquest.
The scenes begin with a visit to Bosham by the English King Harold and ends with the Battle of Hastings, where the English fled. One scene features the appearance of Halley's Comet.
Who ordered the tapestry has been disputed for centuries. While some believe that the wife of William had it made, many others claim that the Bishop of Bayeux and William's half brother, Odo, commissioned the work. French women probably did the handwork.
The tapestry is displayed under glass in Bayeux, France.
The Legend of the Crucifix Fish (Sail Cat)
"Of all the fishes in the sea our lord chose the lowly sailcat to remind us of his misery.
His body on the cross is outlined, the hilt of the sword which was plunged into his side is clearly defined.
Look at the back of the fishes bone where the Roman shield is shown. When you shake the cross
you will hear the dice being tossed for our Lord's blood stained dress.
those who can hear them--will be blessed." Conrad S. Lantz
Taken from a postcard, Gulfstream Card Co. Inc.
Legend of the Dogwood
"There is a legend, that at the time of the Crucifixion the dogwood had been the size of the oak and other forest trees. So firm and strong was the tree that it was chosen as the timber for the cross. To be used thus for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the tree, and Jesus, nailed upon it, sensed this, and is His gentle pity for all sorrow and suffering said to it:
'Because of your regret and pity for My suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. henceforth it shall be slender and bent and twisted and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross...two long and two short petals. And in the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints, brown with rust and stained with red, and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see it will remember.'"
Taken from a postcard, John Hinde Curteich Inc. ©
The Legend of the Sand Dollar
"Upon this odd shapped sea shell a legend grand is told About, the life of Jesus the wondrous tale of old
The center marking plainly shows the well known Guilding Star That led to tiny Bethlehem the Wise Men from afar
The Christmas flower, Poinsettia for His Nativity The Resurrection too is marked the Easter Lily, see
Within the shell, should it be broke five Doves of Peace are found To emphasize this legend so may Peace and Love abound."
Taken from a postcard, Charm Kraft Ind. Inc.©