Welcome to Fun Facts About the 50 States, where – week by week – I’ll be taking you on a tour around this great nation of ours, providing you with interesting, yet completely useless and probably untrue, information about each of the 50 states.
This week, we’ll be wondering how they squeeze a million square miles of tacky tourist shops into a thousand square miles of state as we visit Rhode Island. So let’s get started…
* Rhode Island became the 13th state on May 29, 1790. It was originally founded by refugees from Connecticut and Massachusetts who thought that having double consonants in a state’s name looked snooty and pretentious.
* The state motto of Rhode Island is “Size Doesn’t Matter”.
* Rhode Island license plates have black letters on a light blue background and the slogan “Clamtastic!”
* Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US, measuring a mere 48 by 37 miles. Think of it as the old maid in America’s popcorn bucket.
* Rhode Island never ratified the 18th amendment (Prohibition). They were going to, but they ran out of gas. They had a flat tire. They didn’t have enough money for cab fare. Their tuxes didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole their cars. There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! It wasn’t their fault! I swear to God!
* Jeremiah Johnson of Newport, Rhode Island, was the first person to receive a jail sentence for speeding in an automobile. His sentence was later reduced to picking up after all the horses that his reckless driving had scared the crap out of.
* Polo was first played in the US in Newport, Rhode Island. For those not familiar with the game, it’s sorta like hockey, except with more horses and – if you can imagine this – even fewer black people.
* The Flying Horse Carousel in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, is the oldest in the US. Since it was built in 1876, it has been ridden more times than Madonna.
* NOTE: The previous statement should be reviewed for accuracy on a day-by-day basis.
* The first circus in the US started in 1774 in Newport, Rhode Island. The ceaseless bickering between the Fat Lady and the Dog Faced Boy is frequently cited by historians as the inspiration for America’s two-party political system.
* Newport, Rhode Island is home to the Tennis Hall of Fame, which honors such widely-known tennis stars as… um… you know… that one guy… what’s-his-face. And I think there’s a couple chicks in there, too.
* Whatever. Does anybody ACTUALLY follow tennis?
* Songwriter George M. Cohan was born in Providence, Rhode Island. His big hit “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy”, was translated for the British stage as “I’m An American Loony Poofter”.
* In 1953, St. Mary’s church in Newport, Rhode Island was the site of the marriage between John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier. It was a fairy-tale wedding, right up until the point where an especially drunken Ted Kennedy mistook the confessional for a men’s room stall.
* Rhode Island is famous for making silverware and fine jewelry. I personally have no idea what these are, since I’m more of a plastic spork and rubber bracelet kinda guy.
* The roof of Providence, Rhode Island’s New England Pest Control building is home to the world’s largest bug – a 58-foot-long blue termite. The second largest bug is any given Florida cockroach.
* Yeah, I know they’re technically “Palmetto Bugs”, but that’s not much consolation when one pours out of your box of Wheaties in the morning.
* At the Point Judith corrosion test site, various materials sit exposed for years to determine the effects of sun and salt air. Tests show that the thing that falls apart most rapidly under adverse circumstances is a Republican Congress.
* Rhode Island was the first state to strike a blow against England during the Revolutionary War. The English ship “Gaspee” was sunk in Narragansett Bay in 1772 after being hit by a cow that had been catapulted from a nearby castle.
* Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, wrote the original draft of the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech, the press, religion, and public assembly. Sadly omitted in the final draft was the guarantee of hot-chicks-only nude beaches.
* Samuel Slater of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, invented the water-powered cotton mill in 1790. Southern plantation owners opposed the machine, fearing that it’s high efficiency and productivity could spark a wave of low self-esteem amongst the slaves.
* The first British troops sent to crush the Revolution landed in Newport, Rhode Island in 1773. They were themselves crushed by a giant wooden rabbit that had been catapulted from a nearby castle.
* Atop the State House in Providence, Rhode Island, stands the statue of “The Independent Man”. Standing above him and wielding a rolling pin is the statue of “The Nagging Wife”.
* The first girl born to American colonist parents is buried in Little Compton, Rhode Island. The first boy is also buried there, under a marker engraved with his last words, “Look! Friendly Indians!”
* The White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island is the oldest operating tavern in the US. When it first opened in 1673, the labeling of the men’s and women’s restrooms as “Stallions” and “Mares” was still considered original and clever.
* Portsmouth, Rhode Island, is home to the oldest schoolhouse in the US. Built in 1716, some of George Washington’s original spitballs can still be seen stuck to the ceiling.
* The Rhode Island Red Monument in Adamsville, Rhode Island, honors the famous poultry breed, and is the largest chicken-related monument in the world except for the Eiffel Tower.
* Built in 1763, Newport, Rhode Island’s Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the US and contains the oldest Torah in North America. And no, it’s NOT because they’re too cheap to buy a new one. Don’t be anti-Semitic.
* Pelham Street in Newport, Rhode Island was the first street in America to use gas-illuminated streetlights in place of the burning witches common to New England in that era.
* Rhode Island has a population of just over one million people, all of whom know that a “coffee-cup salute” is a shout-out to local businesses by Channel 10’s Frank Coletta, and NOT a euphemism for an unspeakably degrading sexual act.
* Don’t try asking anyone from Massachusetts about it, though.
That wraps up the Rhode Island edition of Fun Facts About the 50 States. Next week we’ll be frustratedly breaking golf clubs in Myrtle Beach as we visit South Carolina.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go visit the confessional before Ted Kennedy… EWWWWWWWW!… too late…
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