Obscure facts contribute to year-end edification

Obscure facts contribute to year-end edification
I always enjoy the year-end because it gives me the opportunity to use up tidbits I've saved in the past 12 months, thinking that they'll wind up in a future column.

They never do!

Try as I might, I can't stretch them out to the desired length – even if I make things up.


The first is about tapioca, which is made by boiling the roots of the cassava plant, once thought to be poisonous. The starch from the roots is skimmed off and dropped on hot plates, which makes the tiny white pellets. And, thus, a pudding is born!

It supposedly was discovered by an explorer who was lost in a South American jungle, where he ate what he thought was poisonous – a soup made from cassava roots.

He was starving and decided he would die suddenly on a full stomach rather than starve to death, so he ate the strange concoction.

Not only did he survive, but he proved that cassava roots were not poisonous – and he gave the world tapioca!

The second one is about the Keeley Cure which treated "thousands of men and women" addicted to "alcohol, opium and tobacco using" in their healing institutes across the country. Sioux Falls had one about a hundred years ago.

They hadn't thought of an addiction to gambling then, or they would have added that, too. The closest institute to Las Vegas was Carson City, NV. They also had cures for rheumatism, neurasthenia and other nervous afflictions.

I didn't know what to do with that one either!

The third snippet I saved was an article about those silly pet owners who used a taxidermist to provide the funeral rites for their dead animals. They had them stuffed, that's what they did!

That way they'd have their beloved pet forever!

The fourth item I thought I could do something with was about marshmallows. A couple thousand years ago, ancient Egyptians made them out of sap of the mallow plant, which grew in swampy areas, so it became a marshmallow. It has changed a lot since then, becoming a glob of sugary sweetness which makes tasty s'mores when combined with Hershey's chocolate and a graham cracker.

Of course, you toast them over a charcoal fire, which makes a gooey mess enjoyed by everyone not counting calories.

I now know from a clipping I kept that clothing was made from asbestos by some of the ancient Greeks. They threw their togas into a fire to burn the dirt out of them because even in those days asbestos didn't burn.

I can't make a column out of that either!

This is the season for New Year's resolutions and way-out predictions. But none of the current prognosticators can come up with one to top The Literary Digest – which said, in 1889: "The 'horseless carriage' is a luxury for the wealthy. It will never come into as common use as the bicycle."

I saved that one, too!

© 2008 Robert F. Karolevitz

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