Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Trivial Pursuits

All my life I have been obsessed with trivia. My pursuit of trivia has taken two routes, accumulating random facts, and obsessively learning everything I can about any subject I am interested in. Books, articles, Internet searches, I check it all out. A long time ago my relatives refused to play Trivial Pursuit or any other trivia game with me. (The kids play trivia games, but the prefer specific topics sets  like Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit.  My daughter beat the pants of me at Twilight Trivia ) 

It probably started when I was a kid, watching  baseball. No other sport is as obsessed with trivia. Plus my dad was absolutely fascinated with trivia also, especially sports and history. I was able to easily learn things like the 12 Olympians and their attributes, the order of the Presidents of the United States, various Oscar winners,the line of descent of the Queen of England.

Really good trivia is more than just obscure facts.  The best trivia relies on a twist, or an unexpected outcome, some foreshadowing of the future or an interesting sychronicity.

Here are 5 of my favorite pieces of trivia:

In the US and around the world today there are a number of  memorials  to fictional characters. Among the most famous are the statue of the Little Mermaid in Denmark, and the statues of Peter Pan in children's parks all over the world. One of the most adorable is the statues of Mrs Mallard and her children marching into the Boston Public Garden just as they did in the book Make Way for Ducklings. (Theres Jack, and Kack, and Lack, and Mack, and Nack, and Ouack, and Pack and Quack) All over England, and at the Reichanbach Falls in Switzerland there are markers honoring events in the life of Sherlock Holmes. And in front of the Port Authority Transit Center in  New York city there is a statue of Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden, TV's most famous bus driver.

The most famous of all sled dogs, Balto, was sold to a circus after his sledding days were over and was being kept along with some of his fellow dogs in poor conditions in California when they were found by a Cleveland businessman. He went home and organized a fundraising drive to bring the dogs to Cleveland. It was successful and Balto and six of his sled mates were brought to Cleveland where they lived out their lives in comfort at the Cleveland Zoo. There is a statue of him, at the Zoo, in addition to the more famous statue in Central Park, and Balto himself can be seen, mounted,  at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where he is one of the favorite exhibits.

The career of the great 19th actor Edwin Booth was overshadowed forever by his younger brother, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Also forgotten in the shuffle was an act of heroism by Edwin, rescuing a young man who had fallen on the railroad tracks in Jersey City, NJ. The young man turned out to be Robert Todd Lincoln,  Abraham Lincoln's eldest son.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a college professor who volunteered for the Civil War and received a commission as a Captain, was a General by the end of the war, and received the Medal of Honor for holding the Union line on Little Round Top at Gettysburg. He was also wounded 6 times during the war, most seriously at the siege of Petersburg when he was shot through both hip, the bullet damaging just about everything in between. He not only survived, but got back to his troops in time to figure in several more major battles and to receive the Southern Troops surrender at Appomattox. The Petersburg wound never really healed though, and he dealt with it for the rest of his life, while serving as governor of Maine, President of Bowdoin College, and head of the Maine Militia (putting down a major riot trying to take over the Statehouse), He died as a direct cause of the Petersburg wound in 1914...50 years after he was wounded. He was the last known veteran to die of a Civil War wound.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were friends, rivals, and at the end of their lives friends again. Both were greatly involved in the process of getting the Declaration of Independence approved by Congress, Jefferson as its chief author and Adams as its chief advocate. They were also the 2nd and 3rd Presidents of the United States. Both men died on the same day, July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence. (and by the way, the President at the time was John Quincy Adams,  John Adams' son.)

I could go on and on with this (and no doubt will in some other post some time) but for now, tell me: Do you have a favorite piece of trivia? Some interesting coincidence that just seems to good to be true?  I would love to hear about it.


  1. I remember playing Trivial Pursuit with my BIL and sister. There were a bunch of government questions and I got them right. He turns to me and asks "How did you know all that?" I replied "They teach that stuff in school." Granted, some people now don't even know who our VP is, but I just had to laugh at that. Favorite trivial fact? Wow - I do have a brain filled with useless "knowledge", but I'm not even going to attempt it as the ones you've listed here are so good. Did not know about the Edwin Booth one! Wow!

  2. I like trivia and I like knowing as much as I can about lots of topics. If I watch a TV show based on real people or historical events (like The Borgias on Showtime), I’ll immediately start looking up information about the real events on the Internet and Wikipedia. Before the days of the Internet, I’d be absorbed in the encyclopedia. How great that your dad was fascinated by trivia and you learned so much from him. Love your 5 favorite pieces of trivia. I learned some new things like the fascinating facts about Edwin Booth and about Balto. I knew about John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and that would be one of my favorites too.

    A couple of my favorite pieces of trivia are: 1) Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s 2nd wife and mistress to Henry before he got together with Anne, gave birth to a son named Henry (not recognized because she was just the mistress) before her sister, Anne, as Queen, gave birth to Elizabeth (later to be Queen). If poor Anne had been the Boleyn sister to give birth to a son, she would have kept her head! 2) The word “freelance” was first used by Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe to describe a “medieval mercenary warrior” or “free-lance” meaning a knight whose lance was free to hire and not sworn to any one master. Since I often work as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader, I like that one. Very interesting post!