Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross is best known for making the first American flag. The story told is that she made the flag after a visit in June 1776 by George Washington, Robert Morris, and her husband’s uncle, George Ross. She demonstrated how to cut a 5-pointed star with a single clip of the scissors, if the fabric were folded correctly.

So the story goes — but this story was not told until 1870 by Betsy’s grandson, and then even he claimed it was a story that needed confirmation. Most scholars agree that it was not Betsy who made the first flag, though she was a flagmaker who, records show, was paid in 1777 by the Pennsylvania State Navy Board for making “ship’s colours, &c.”

She was born Elizabeth Griscom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Samuel and Rebecca James Griscom. She was the great-granddaughter of a carpenter, Andrew Griscom, who had arrived in New Jersey in 1680 from England.

Young Elizabeth probably attended Quaker schools and learned needlework there and at home. When she married John Ross, an Anglican, in 1773, she was expelled from the Friends Meeting for marrying outside the meeting. She eventually joined the Free Quakers, or “Fighting Quakers” because they did not adhere strictly to the historic pacifism of the sect. John and Elizabeth (Betsy) Ross began an upholstery business together, drawing on her needlework skills.

John was killed in January 1776 on militia duty when gunpowder exploded at the Philadelphia waterfront. Betsy acquired property and kept up the upholstery business, beginning to make flags for Pennsylvania as well.

In 1777 Betsy married Joseph Ashburn, a sailor, who had the misfortune of being on a ship captured by the British in 1781. He died in prison the next year.

In 1783, Betsy married again — this time, her husband was John Claypoole, who had been in prison with Joseph Ashburn, and had met Betsy when he delivered Joseph’s farewells to her. He died in 1817, after a long disability.

Betsy lived until 1836, dying on January 30. She was reburied in the Free Quaker Burying Ground in 1857.

When Betsy’s grandson told his story of her involvement with the first flag, it quickly became legend. published in Harper’s Monthly in 1873, by the mid-1880’s the story was included in many school textbooks.

What made the story turn into legend so quickly? Probably three social trends helped:

Changes in women’s lives, and social recognition of such changes, made discovering a “founding mother” to stand alongside “founding fathers” attractive to American imagination. Betsy Ross was not only a widow making her own way in life with her young child — widowed patriotically in the American Revolution not once, but twice — but she was earning a living by a traditionally women’s occupation: seamstress. (Notice that her abilities to buy and manage land never made it into her legend, and are ignored in many biographies.)

A growing patriotic fever connected with the American flag required a tale that was more than just a business transaction, such as the probably-true story of Francis Hopkinson.

The growing advertising industry made the woman with a flag a popular image, used to sell a variety of products (even flags).

Ignoring many other stories of women’s involvement in the American Revolution, Betsy Ross became a prominent character in the telling of the story of America’s founding.

Today, a tour of Betsy Ross’ home in Philadelphia (there is some doubt about its authenticity, too) is a “must-see” when visiting historical sites. The home, established with the aid of two million ten-cent contributions by American schoolchildren, is still an interesting and informative tour. One can begin to see what home life was like for families of the time, and to remember the disruption and inconvenience, even tragedy, that war brought to women as well as to men.

Even if she did not make the first flag — even if the visit by George Washington never happened — Betsy Ross was an example of what many women of her time found as the reality in time of war: widowhood, single motherhood, managing household and property independently, quick remarriage for economic reasons (and, we can hope, for companionship and even love, too).

Nerds and Geeks

The words “geek” and “nerd” are well-used in our society, yet few people know what they really mean or from where and how they originated.

The first documented case of “geek” dates back to 1916. At the time, the term was used to describe sideshow freaks in circuses. Specifically, it was typically attributed to those circus performers who were known for doing crazy things like biting the heads off or chickens or other small live animals, or eating live insects and the like. These performances were often called “geek shows”. The word itself, “geek”, came from the word “geck”, which was originally a Low German word which meant someone who is a “fool/freak/simpleton”.

The first documented case of “nerd” was in Dr. Seuss’s If I Ran the Zoo, in 1950. The specific text was: “a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too”. It was just one year after the Dr. Seuss book, in 1951 in a Newsweek magazine article, that we find the first documented case of “nerd” being used similar to how we use it today. Specifically, they used it as being synonymous with someone who was a “drip” or a “square”.

There are two popular theories as to how the word came to be. The first is that it was perhaps derived from “drunk” spelled backwards, “knurd”. This was fitting to describe people who studied instead of going out with friends and partying. A somewhat more popular theory suggests that it came from a modification of “nut”, specifically “nert”, which meant “stupid or crazy person” and was common in the 1940s, directly before the term “nerd” showed up. The word nerd ended up becoming fairly popular in the 1960s and by the 1970s was hugely popularized by the TV show Happy Days, where it was used frequently.

Bonus Facts:

Before “geek”, “nerd”, “dork”, etc, the proper terms for these same ragamuffins were “Dewdroppers”, “Waldos”, and “Slackers”. Other common old slang words that were somewhat similar in meaning: pantywaist, oil can, drip, stinkeroo, mullet, roach, schnookle, kook, dimp, dorf, squid, auger, square, Joe Zilch, and dudd.

A similar term to “geek”, in British slang, is “anorak”. This is typically used synonymously with “geek”, though it tends to imply an even greater level of awkward behavior patterns, more akin to someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome.

Another British slang term that is somewhat similar to geek/nerd/etc is “boffin”; this is someone who is incredibly smart. Its closest American slang term equivalent is probably “egghead”.

Some Random Thoughts

1. More often than not, when someone is telling me a story all I can think about is that I can’t wait for them to finish so that I can tell my own story that’s not only better, but also more directly involves me.

2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.

3. I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.

4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.

5. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

6. Was learning cursive really necessary?

7. MapQuest really needs to start their directions on #5. I’m pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

9. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t at least kind of tired.

10. Bad decisions make good stories.

11. I wonder if cops ever get pissed off at the fact that everyone they drive behind obeys the speed limit.

12. Shouldn’t it be called “Unplanned Parenthood”?

13. I’m always slightly terrified when I exit my word processor and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page document that I swear I did not make any changes to.

14. “Do Not Machine Wash or Tumble Dry” means I will never wash this – ever.

15. I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (“Hello? Hello? Damn it!”), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voicemail. What did you do after I didn’t answer? Drop the phone and run away?

16. I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.

17. I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

18. Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch three consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

19. If Carmen San Diego and Waldo ever got together, their offspring would probably just be completely invisible.

20. Why is it that shirts get dirty, and underwear get dirty. Yet pants never get dirty, you can wear them forever?

21. Sometimes, I’ll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the hell was going on when I first saw it.

22. I would rather try to carry 10 overloaded plastic bags in each hand than take two trips to bring my groceries in.

23. What would happen if I hired two private investigators to follow each other?

24. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

25. How many times is it appropriate to say “What?” before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t understand a word they said?

26. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong everyone!

27. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone in their purse, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey – but I’d bet my ass everyone can find and push the snooze button from three feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, half asleep, eyes closed, first time, every time!

28. The first testicular guard, the “Cup,” was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.

29. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

30. There are very few worse feelings than that millisecond you’re sure you’re going to die after leaning your chair back just a little too far.

Flintstones 50th Anniversary

Everyone’s favorite modern Stone Age family and friends are celebrating their golden anniversary. “The Flintstones,” America’s first prime-time animated sitcom, first aired on ABC-TV on Sept. 30, 1960.

For six years, the show almost everyone thought was an animated imitation of “The Honeymooners” entertained not just kids, but primarily adults. And that was the point of the Hanna-Barbera production — to create a more adult-styled cartoon.

If you’re a stranger to Bedrock, here are “The Flintstones,” (from left) Fred, Dino, Wilma, Pebbles, Bamm-Bamm, Betty, and Barney.

“The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill,” “Family Guy” and many others no doubt owe a debt of gratitude to the trailblazing prehistoric series. In fact, until 1997, when “The Simpsons” surpassed it, “The Flintstones” held the record as the longest-running prime-time animated series.

The show was set in the fictional town of Bedrock, where the Flintstones and their neighbors the Rubbles shared screen time with various dinosaurs, saber-toothed tigers, woolly mammoths and many other creatures — several of which served as appliances.

And who can forget the celebrities? “Cary Granite” (Cary Grant), “Stony Curtis” (Tony Curtis), “Ed Sulleyrock/Sulleystone” (Ed Sullivan), “Rock Pile/Quarry/Hudstone” (Rock Hudson) and “Ann-Margrock” (Ann-Margret) all had cameos.

The show also influenced pop culture in many ways. There were Flintstone theme parks, the line of Flintstones Chewable Vitamins that still exists, and the cereals Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles.

There were also plenty of cigarette ads featuring the characters, because the show was sponsored in part by Winston.

In addition to the stars of the show, Fred and Wilma Flintstone (originally voiced by Alan Reed and Jean Vander Pyl) and Barney and Betty Rubble (originally voiced by Mel Blanc and Bea Benaderet), there was a host of supporting characters, including Harvey Korman as The Great Gazoo and John Stephenson as Mr. Slate.

After going off the air in 1966, “The Flintstones” ran in syndication for years and spawned dozens of other productions, both on TV and at the movies. Arguably, the most popular spin-off was “The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, ” which ran on TV from 1971-72.

The series presented teenage versions of the Flintstones’ daughter (an animated fashion icon for the bone she wore in her hair) and the Rubbles’ son. The spin-off relied heavily on many voices from the original show (of whom only one, Stephenson, 87, still survives).

Teenage Bamm-Bamm was voiced by Jay North (famous as TV’s Dennis the Menace) and Emmy-winning actress Sally Struthers portrayed Pebbles.

Struthers, who was cast as Pebbles while co-starring as Gloria on “All in the Family,” told AOL News she has incredibly fond memories of the show.

“I grew up as a young girl in Oregon loving ‘The Flintstones.’ It was just wonderful. So if anyone told me that Hanna-Barbera would one day cast me as the teenage Pebbles, I don’t think I would have ever believed them. It was the perfect job. Wonderful writing and a very classy team behind all of it,” Struthers said.

“The animators were so clever, and so funny and innocent. And I got to work with great actors, including the most famous voice in cartoons, Mel Blanc. What a darling, funny man he was. I think if you watch the original series today, it really holds up. And our show was very funny as well, because many of the same folks were involved.”

Some Stone Age Flintstones trivia:

“The Flintstones: was the first American animated show to depict two people of the opposite sex (Fred and Wilma; Barney and Betty) sleeping together in one bed.

The popular closing credits theme “Meet the Flintstones” did not start until season three.

The fact that the Rubbles adopted superstrong Bamm-Bamm (they could not have children on their own) made “The Flintstones” the first animated series in history to address the issue of infertility.

Don’t Mess With Old Guys

Samuel Whittemore was a Colonial farmer. He was eighty years old and living in Menotomy, Massachusetts (present-day Arlington) when he became the oldest known colonial combatant in the American Revolutionary War.

On April 19, 1775, British forces were returning to Boston from the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the opening engagements of the war. On their march, they were continually shot at by colonial militiamen.

Whittemore was in his fields when he spotted an approaching British relief brigade under Earl Percy, sent to assist the retreat. Whittemore loaded his musket and ambushed the British from behind a nearby stone wall, killing one soldier. He then drew his dueling pistols and killed a grenadier and mortally wounded a second. He managed to fire five shots before a British detachment reached his position. Whittemore then attacked with a sword. He was shot in the face, bayoneted thirteen times, and left for dead in a pool of blood. He was found alive, trying to load his musket to fight again. He was taken to Dr. Cotton Tufts of Medford, who held out no hope for his survival. However, Whittemore lived another 18 years until dying of natural causes at the age of 98.

In 2005, Samuel Whittemore was proclaimed the official state hero of Massachusetts.