25 Facts About Places Named Springfield

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Where exactly do the Simpsons live? In 2012, show creator Matt Groening revealed to Smithsonian magazine that his fictional Springfield “was named after Springfield, Oregon,” which lies near his hometown of Portland. “I also figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S.”

He’s not wrong. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names lists 67 Springfields across the U.S.—but the name isn't just an American phenomenon. Almost every English-speaking country on earth has a town, village, or city called Springfield. One was the birthplace of basketball. Another is where Abe Lincoln started a family. And yet another is home to the biggest fork you’ll (probably) ever see. Here’s the Mental Floss guide to just a few of those Springfields.

SPRINGFIELD, ESSEX // UNITED KINGDOM

1. You can thank this suburb and parish of 20,000 in the Chelmsford district, and one of its citizens, for all of America's Springfields. Puritan and future New Englander William Pynchon was born in Essex's Springfield on October 11, 1590, and when the community that he founded in modern-day Massachusetts was looking for a new name in 1640, they decided to honor the birthplace of the town’s founder and call it Springfield. It was the start of a continent-wide trend: In neighboring colonies and beyond, other cities started re-using the name like crazy. The rest is history.

SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS

2. The Bay State’s third-largest city is the birthplace of Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. After he passed away in 1991, Springfield's residents created the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Located on Edwards Street, it contains bronze statues of his most beloved characters, including Horton, the Grinch, and the Lorax. There’s also a likeness of Geisel himself, flanked by the Cat in the Hat. The project was completed in 2002 at a cost of $6.2 million.

3. Here’s another fun fact for bibliophiles: The publishing company that would become Merriam-Webster, Inc. was established here in 1831 by brothers George and Charles Merriam. Twelve years later, the company acquired the right to distribute and modify An American Dictionary by the late Noah Webster, and Merriam-Webster Dictionaries were born. They sold well: In 1850, New York state alone ordered 10,000 copies of the 1847 edition for its school system.

4. Each autumn, the Springfield metro area hosts one of New England’s favorite events. Nicknamed “The Big E,” the Eastern States Exposition is the largest annual fair in the northeast. Over a million people drop by every year for 17 days of great food, thrilling concerts, and a "Mardi Gras" parade.

5. Springfield, Massachusetts is called “the City of Firsts,” and for good reason. America’s first government postcards were made here by the Morgan Envelope Company in 1873. Springfield resident Solymon Merrick patented the first adjustable wrench in 1835—and just three years later, Merrick was awarded a patent for the first hand-held hole punch.

6. The city’s most famous invention is the game of basketball. Canadian transplant James Naismith created it in the winter of 1891. At the time, he was employed by the Springfield YMCA as an instructor. His boss, Luther Halsey Gulick, assigned him to a class of young men who desperately wanted to play some kind of indoor sport during the colder months. One brainstorming session and 13 rules later, Naismith unleashed basketball. Appropriately, Springfield is also home to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which has been educating fans since 1968.

SPRINGFIELD, NEBRASKA

7. Lady Gaga’s “You and I” music video was shot in and around this city of 1600 in July 2011. Why’d Mother Monster pick this locale? Her then-boyfriend, Lüc Carl, is a Springfield native whose parents still lived there.

SPRINGFIELD, NEW JERSEY // UNION COUNTY

8. New Jersey has two Springfields, the larger of which is a township in Union County. On June 23, 1780, an important Revolutionary War battle occurred there. Hoping to strike George Washington at his encampment in Morristown, 5000 British and Hessian men marched into town. The invaders were repelled by some 1500 Continental soldiers and 500 New Jersey militiamen. For the Americans, this was a great victory, but it came at an awful price: Before the British left, they burned down most of Springfield.

SPRINGFIELD, VIRGINIA

9. On her first visit to the U.S., Princess Diana and her husband, Prince Charles, took a break from political banquets to check out the Springfield Mall. In their honor, the resident J.C. Penney set up a “Best of Britain” display. Judging by this photo, the royals seemed to enjoy themselves. (Diana bought an $8 silk scarf.)

SPRINGFIELD, MANITOBA // CANADA

10. Unlike the previous entries on our list, this Springfield isn’t any kind of city, township, or village. Instead, it’s a “rural municipality”—the oldest in Manitoba—that contains several small towns. If you like flowers, Birds Hill Provincial Park should be your first stop. Located primarily in Springfield, it's a safe haven for the western silvery aster. Recognized as a threatened species, the perennial is easily identified by its gorgeous violet to pink petals. Canada’s biggest population of them can be found at Birds Hill, where around 4200 now take root [PDF].

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS

11. When Illinois entered the union in 1818, Kaskaskia became its first capital. Then, in 1820, Vandalia became the seat of government—a role it might have kept if not for a state senator named Abraham Lincoln. In 1837, Lincoln organized a coalition with eight other legislators. Since these men were unusually tall for their time (each one was at least 6 feet in height), newspapers took to calling them “The Long Nine.” Together, they pushed through a bill which turned Springfield—Lincoln’s home—into Illinois’s capital.

12. You can’t turn your head in Springfield without seeing something Lincoln-related. America’s 16th president lived there for 23 years, during which time he became a husband and father. Lincoln is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery; less than two miles away is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, where you can buy an Abe Lincoln bobblehead doll. History buffs can also visit the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the church his family attended, and Abe’s old law offices.

13. This particular Springfield's signature dish is the horseshoe sandwich. Originally conceived at the Leland Hotel, the sandwiches are open-faced and typically include two thick slices of bread and either a fried ham steak or huge hamburger patties. Piled atop the whole mess is a heap of French fries—which supposedly represent the “nails” of a horseshoe—covered in mouthwatering cheese sauce. Put your diet on hold and try one someday.

14. Did you know that Santa Anna, the self-described “Napoleon of the West,” had a prosthetic leg? He was forced to abandon it during the Mexican-American War. His fake limb was quickly snapped up by the 4th Illinois Infantry and brought to Springfield, where it’s now occasionally on display at the Illinois State Military Museum.

15. On December 15, 2007, 97-year-old Polly Roesch became the oldest singer to debut with a symphony orchestra, performing “Silver Bells” at the Springfield Sangamon Auditorium. Her solos were part of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra’s annual Holiday Pops Concert. Roesch returned for an encore at the 2008 show. Then, in 2010, she celebrated her 100th birthday with yet another Holiday Pops performance. “The worst thing you can do is be inactive,” she told The Illinois Times. “Get out, and get busy.”

SPRINGFIELD, OREGON

16. Before he made it big as a movie star, teenage Clint Eastwood worked at a Springfield pulp mill, where he earned $1.80 an hour.

17. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In 1972, city employee Russell Ziolkowski built a replica of Springfield’s official seal using nothing but items that he’d found in local sewers. His mosaic features more than 5200 assorted objects, including earrings, marbles, and dentures. Check out the masterpiece for yourself at City Hall, where it’s proudly on display.

SPRINGFIELD, NEW ZEALAND

18. To publicize The Simpsons Movie, 20th Century Fox gave this town an 11.5-foot fiberglass doughnut statue. Unfortunately, an arsonist set fire to it in 2009. A pink truck tire was used as a temporary replacement before Fox sent over a new and improved concrete replica.

SPRINGFIELD, OHIO

19. While superintendent of schools in Springfield, Ohio, Albert Belmont Graham decided to start an agricultural club for the area’s children to teach them some of the scientific aspects of crop growing. This club is generally credited with growing into the modern 4-H.

SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI

20. World record enthusiasts have never verified this, but Springfield insists that it’s got the largest fork on planet Earth. The 35-foot-tall, 11-ton utensil was originally built to promote a long-gone restaurant; it now sits in front of an ad agency’s headquarters on Chesterfield Boulevard.

21. One hundred and fifty years ago, Missouri was considered a “western” state. In 1865, Springfield even gave birth to a quintessential piece of old western lore: the showdown. That summer, an argument erupted between Civil War veteran Dave Tutt and “Wild Bill” Hickok, a professional gambler. While the exact events have changed in the retellings, an 1867 account explains that on July 20, Tutt and Hickok had a disagreement over gambling debts that led to Tutt stealing Hickok’s watch. The next day, the two faced off against each other in Springfield’s town square—as Tutt was wearing the watch. They pulled guns and fired near simultaneously; Tutt missed, but Hickok didn’t. “Wild Bill” rapidly became a folk hero immortalized by dime novels and the press. All this media fanfare convinced the American public that shootouts happened all the time in the old west. In reality, however, they were a rare occurrence.

22. Get your kicks on Route 66! America’s favorite highway received its legendary name at a 1926 meeting in Springfield, Missouri. Accordingly, the city bills itself as “The Birthplace of Route 66.”

23. Come for the giant fork, stay for the poultry. Restaurateur David Leong created Springfield-style cashew chicken to make Chinese food more appealing to Midwesterners. “When I moved here in the 1950s, people kept telling me about fried chicken,” he says. “I did what they wanted. I gave them fried chicken with Chinese oyster sauce and cashews.” An iconic blend of Oriental and Ozark cuisine, the Springfield staple is now available in over 70 local restaurants. But which one serves the best cashew chicken? Every year, chefs compete to answer that very question at Cashew Craze, a beloved festival that raises money for children’s charities.

SPRINGFIELD, VERMONT

24. The Green Mountain State’s oldest one-room schoolhouse resides in Springfield. The Eureka Schoolhouse opened in 1790 and closed in 1900. After a half-century of neglect, it was disassembled plank by plank in 1958. The building was then painstakingly put back together—with some needed renovations—at a more visitor-friendly location nearby.

25. In 2007, 20th Century Fox pitted 14 towns named Springfield against each other for the right to host the world premiere of The Simpsons Movie. Every participant submitted a video that somehow connected their city to Homer and Marge’s fictional hometown. A few participants really went all out: Springfield, Massachusetts even threw in a cameo from Senator Ted Kennedy, who inspired the Mayor Quimby character. But it was Springfield, Vermont, and its 9300 residents that came out on top. Governor Jim Douglas couldn’t have been prouder. “This is an exciting, exhilarating moment for Vermonters,” he said. “To all the other Springfields, I say ‘Don’t have a cow, man.’”

This Course Will Teach You How to Play Guitar Like a Pro for $29

BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

Be honest: You’ve watched a YouTube video or two in an attempt to learn how to play a song on the guitar. Whether it was through tabs or simply copying whatever you saw on the screen, the fun always ends when friends start throwing out requests for songs you have no idea how to play. So how about you actually learn how to play guitar for real this time?

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The strumming course will teach you how to count beats and rests to turn your hands and fingers into the perfect accompaniment for your own voice or other musicians. Then, you can take things a step further and learn advanced jamming and soloing to riff anytime, anywhere. This course will teach you to improvise across various chords and progressions so you can jump into any jam with something original. You’ll also have the chance to dive deep into the major guitar genres of bluegrass, blues, and jazz. Lessons in jam etiquette, genre history, and how to read music will separate you from a novice player.

This bundle also includes courses in ear training so you can properly identify any relative note, interval, or pitch. That way, you can play along with any song when it comes on, or even understand how to modify it into the key you’d prefer. And when the time comes to perform, be prepared with skilled hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, bends, trills, vibrato, and fret-tapping. Not only will you learn the basic foundations of guitar, you’ll ultimately be able to develop your own style with the help of these lessons.

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13 Facts About Robert E. Peary, North Pole Explorer

Christie's, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Christie's, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Robert Edwin Peary, called "one of the greatest of all explorers," claimed to have been the first person to reach the North Pole on April 6, 1909. But from the moment his achievement was announced to the world, Peary was mired in a controversy that overshadowed his other accomplishments as a skilled civil engineer, natural historian, and expedition leader. Here are a few things you should know about this daring Arctic adventurer.

1. Robert Peary was extremely close to his mother.

Robert Edwin Peary was born May 6, 1856, in Cresson, Pennsylvania, an industrial town in the Allegheny Mountains. His father died when he was 3, and his mother, Mary Wiley Peary, returned with her son to her home state of Maine. As an only child, Peary formed a close bond with his mother, and when he attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, they lived together in rooms off campus. When Peary married Josephine Diebitsch, Mary accompanied the couple on their honeymoon on the Jersey Shore and then moved in with the newlyweds, to Josephine's utter surprise. The explorer confided all of his aspirations to his mother throughout his life. In one prophetic letter to her following his first expedition to Greenland in 1886, he wrote:

"I will next winter be one of the foremost in the highest circles in the capital, and make powerful friends with whom I can shape my future instead of letting it come as it will ... remember, mother, I must have fame, and I cannot reconcile myself to years of commonplace drudgery and a name late in life when I see an opportunity to gain it now."

2. Robert Peary had a side hustle as a taxidermist.

Peary enjoyed a childhood spent outdoors playing sports and studying natural history. After graduating from college with a degree in civil engineering, Peary moved to his mother's hometown of Fryeburg, Maine, to work as a county surveyor. But the county had little need for a surveyor, and to supplement his income, he taxidermied birds. He charged $1.50 for a robin and $1.75 to $2.25 for ducks and hawks.

3. Before he went to the North Pole, Robert Peary went to Nicaragua.

Portrait of Robert Peary
Robert Peary in his naval uniform
The American Museum Journal, Wikimedia Commons // No Known Copyright Restrictions

In 1881, Peary was commissioned by the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, which made him a naval officer with a rank equivalent to lieutenant. Three years later, renowned civil engineer Aniceto Menocal picked Peary to lead a field party to survey an area in Nicaragua for a canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Peary's ability to hack through thick jungle and scale mountains impressed Menocal enough that he hired Peary for a second survey of Nicaragua in 1887, this time with a well-funded, 200-person operation.

4. Robert Peary met Matthew Henson in a Washington, D.C. hat shop.

Though some details of the encounter differ, Peary met his eventual polar partner Matthew Henson at B.H. Stinemetz & Son, a hatter and furrier at 1237 Pennsylvania Avenue. Peary needed a sun helmet for his second trip to Nicaragua. He also needed to hire a valet. The shop's owner recommended his clerk, Henson, who surely impressed Peary with his years of experience on ships. Henson accompanied Peary to Nicaragua and on every Arctic expedition thereafter, including the successful North Pole excursion in 1908-1909.

5. Robert Peary made seven trips to the Arctic.

Peary's first trip to Greenland occurred in 1886 between his two trips to Central America. With a Danish companion, he trekked 100 miles across the Greenland ice cap but had to turn back when food ran low.

During his second and third expeditions (1891-1892 and 1893-1895), Peary, Henson, and company traversed the northern end of the ice cap and established that Greenland's land did not extend to the North Pole. On his fourth trip (1896-1897) [PDF], he brought back meteorites for the American Museum of Natural History. Peary's fifth and sixth expeditions (1898-1902 and 1905-1906) tested a feasible route to the North Pole and established relationships with Inughuit communities on which Peary would rely for assistance and supplies. Peary and Henson finally reached the North Pole on the seventh expedition in 1908-1909.

6. Robert Peary's successes in Greenland contrasted with two previous polar disasters.

Robert Peary in furs
Robert Peary, in fur clothing, stands on the deck of the Roosevelt.
Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

In 1879, newspaper mogul James Gordon Bennett and Navy commander George Washington DeLong organized an expedition to reach the North Pole via the Bering Strait in a reinforced ship, the Jeannette. After months of besetment, ice crushed the ship and the crew made a desperate escape to Siberia, where all but two members died. Then, Army lieutenant Adolphus Greely led a 25-member magnetic survey expedition to the Canadian high Arctic in 1881. Relief ships failed to reach them for three years. By the time rescue arrived and they returned home, only Greely and five other men had survived starvation. The public's appetite for polar adventure waned until, a few years later, Peary's triumphs in Greenland earned him a heroic reputation and revived interest the quest for the North Pole. 

7. Robert Peary lost eight toes to frostbite.

On the grueling march to establish his camp at Greely's abandoned Fort Conger on the 1898-1902 expedition, Peary suffered a severe case of frostbitten feet. When they reached the hut, Henson took off Peary's footwear and revealed marble-like flesh up to his knees. As Henson removed the commander's socks, eight of Peary's toes popped off with them. As Bradley Robinson writes in the Henson biography Dark Companion, Peary reportedly said, "a few toes aren't much to give to achieve the Pole."

8. Robert Peary's wife Josephine accompanied him to the Arctic when she was eight months pregnant.

Josephine Diebitsch Peary was a formidable adventurer as well [PDF]. Her father Hermann Diebitsch, a Prussian military leader who had immigrated to Washington, D.C., directed the Smithsonian Institution's exchange system. Josephine worked at the Smithsonian as a clerk before marrying Peary in 1888. Bucking social convention, she insisted on accompanying his second expedition in 1891-1892, and in Greenland she managed the day-to-day operation of the base camp, including rationing provisions, bartering goods, hunting, and sewing furs. She even helped defend the men from a walrus attack by reloading their rifles as fast as they shot them.

She also went on Peary's third Greenland trip when she was eight months pregnant, and gave birth to their daughter Marie Anighito—dubbed the Snow Baby by newspapers—at their camp. In total, Josephine went to Greenland multiple times, wrote three bestselling books, gave lecture tours, was an honorary member of the American Alpine Club and other organizations, and decorated the family's apartment with narwhal tusks, polar bear skins, fur rugs, and other polar trophies.

9. Matthew Henson saved Robert Peary from a charging musk ox.

Cigarette card featuring explorer Matthew A. Henson
A cigarette card for the American Tobacco Company's Hassan Cork Tip cigarettes shows a portrait of Matthew Henson in a fur parka. The card belongs to the "World's Greatest Explorers" series.
American Tobacco Company, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

In 1895, Peary and Henson scouted a route toward the Pole over the northern edge of Greenland’s ice cap, just as they had done on their previous trip in 1891-1892. They reached a promontory called Navy Cliff, in extreme northeastern Greenland, but could go no farther. On the way back to their camp on the northwestern coast, they suffered from exhaustion, exposure, and hunger. Their only chance to make it back to camp was to find game.

As described in Dark Companion, Peary and Henson stumbled upon a herd of musk oxen. Henson and Peary killed several, but in his weakened state, Peary shot and missed one. The animal turned around and charged Peary. Henson picked up his gun and pulled the trigger. "Behind [Peary] came the muffled thud of a heavy, fallen thing, like a speeding rock landing in a thick cushion of snow," Bradley Robinson writes in Dark Companion. "Ten feet away lay a heap of brown, shaggy hair half sunken in a snowdrift."

10. Robert Peary absconded with a 30-ton meteorite.

In 1818, explorer John Ross wrote about several meteorites near Greenland's Cape York that served as the Inughuit's only source of metal for tools. In 1896, Peary appropriated the three huge meteorites from their territory. (By the late 19th century, Inughuit had obtained tools via trade and no longer needed the stones for that purpose.) The largest of the three weighed 30 tons and required heavy-duty equipment to load it onto Peary's ship without capsizing the vessel. 

Josephine Peary sold the meteorites to the American Museum of Natural History for $40,000 (nearly $1.2 million in today's money). They remain on display in the museum's Hall of Meteorites, where custom-built supports for the heaviest one extend into the bedrock of Manhattan island.

11. Theodore Roosevelt was one of Robert Peary's biggest supporters.

Robert Peary and Theodore Roosevelt
President Theodore Roosevelt (left) greets Robert Peary on the deck of the S.S. Roosevelt on July 7, 1908. Peary stopped at TR's home in Oyster Bay, New York, before departing on his North Pole quest.
George Borup, American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries // Public Domain

Peary and President Theodore Roosevelt shared a dedication to the strenuous life, and TR—who had served as the assistant secretary of the Navy—helped Peary obtain his multi-year leaves of absence from civil engineering work. "It seems to me that Peary has done valuable work as an Arctic explorer and can do additional work which entitles him to be given every chance by this Government to do such work," Roosevelt wrote to Secretary of the Navy William H. Moody in 1903. Peary repaid the favors by naming his custom-built steamship the S.S. Roosevelt.

In 1906, TR presented the explorer with the National Geographic Society's highest honor, the Hubbard Medal, for Peary's attainment of farthest north. Roosevelt also contributed the introduction to Peary's book about his successful quest for the North Pole.

12. Robert Peary met his nemesis, Frederick Cook, more than a decade before their feud.

Frederick Cook, a New York City physician, signed up as the surgeon for Peary's second trip to Greenland in 1891-1892. Neither Peary nor Matthew Henson was very impressed with his wilderness skills. Afterwards, Cook joined an expedition to Antarctica and claimed he summited Denali in Alaska, though his climbing partners disputed that feat.

So when Peary and Henson arrived back in Greenland in September 1909 after attaining the North Pole on April 6, they were shocked to hear that Cook had supposedly reached the Pole in spring 1908 and had announced it to the world just five days before Peary had returned to civilization. "[Cook] has not been at the Pole on April 21st, 1908, or at any other time," Peary told newspapers. "He has simply handed the public a gold brick."

From then on, Peary and his family strenuously defended his claim to the Pole. Cook had left his journals and instruments in Greenland in his dash to announce his discovery to the world, and Peary refused to transport them aboard his ship to New York, so it became Cook's word against Peary's. Peary also had the backing of wealthy funders, The New York Times, and the National Geographic Society, who eventually decided the matter in Peary's favor. But the controversy never went away; as late as 2009, the centennial of Peary's claim, historians and explorers were reexamining Peary's records and finding discrepancies in the distances he traveled each day on his way to the Pole. Cook's journals were lost in Greenland, and he spent time in jail for mail fraud. The jury is still out.

13. Robert Peary advocated for a Department of Aeronautics.

Peary was an early proponent of aviation for exploration as well as military defense. As World War I engulfed Europe, he argued for the creation of an air service, the Department of Aeronautics, that would operate alongside the Army and Navy and could then be used for lifesaving coastal patrol. Peary embarked on a 20-city tour to drum up public support for the Aerial Coastal Patrol Fund and raised $250,000 to build stations along the U.S. coast.

The Navy later implemented many of Peary's suggestions, but the tour left the explorer in frail health. He was diagnosed with incurable pernicious anemia and died on February 20, 1920. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and his gravesite is adorned with a large granite globe inscribed with a motto in Latin, Inveniam viam aut faciam—"I shall find a way or make one."

Additional sources: Dark Companion, The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole