40 Strange Wedding Gifts Given to Royals

AdrianHancu/iStock Editorial via Getty Images Plus
AdrianHancu/iStock Editorial via Getty Images Plus

Although many royal couples, including the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, shy away from traditional wedding gifts and instead ask for charitable donations to be made in their names, that still doesn't stop the barrage of often fairly bizarre and random non-registry gifts sent by well-wishers (royals—they're just like us!).

Looking back through the history books, it seems that giving unusual wedding presents to royal newlyweds is nothing new. Below are 40 strange wedding gifts given to several happy royal couples, dating all the way back to ancient Egypt.

1. A tandem bike

Prince William and Kate Middleton exchange vows in 2011.
Dominic Lipinski, WPA Pool/Getty Images

When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge—then Prince William and Kate Middleton—married in 2011, the then-Mayor of London (and current prime minister) Boris Johnson gifted the couple a tandem bike in the style of the city's then-relatively new bike-share program. "I look forward to seeing the newlyweds on tandem wheels as they start their new life in Anglesey," Johnson told a crowd in Trafalgar Square on the day. Not a bad gift for the sporty couple, but no one has seen them out riding it.

2. A cocker spaniel

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge pose for a photograph with their son, Prince George of Cambridge, and Lupo, the couple's cocker spaniel.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge pose for a photograph with their son, Prince George of Cambridge, and Lupo, the couple's cocker spaniel.
Michael Middleton, WPA Pool/Getty Images

Like Harry and Meghan, William and Kate had requested that donations be made to a charitable fund bearing their names—among the organizations they sent contributions to were the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, an anti-bullying campaign, and the Zoological Society of London. Nevertheless, Kate's brother, James, couldn't resist giving the happy couple a black cocker spaniel puppy, Lupo, who is now a beloved member of the family.

3. A Land Rover

Prince William and Kate Middleton drive away from Buckingham Palace on their wedding day.
Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

One physical gift that Wills and Kate received that went straight to charity was a Land Rover Defender 110 Utility Wagon. Prince William—who is the patron of the Mountain Rescue England and Wales organization—wrote the names of 50 different mountain rescue teams from across the country on slips of paper and asked Prince Harry to pick one out at random. The car was ultimately awarded to a team based in Patterdale in the English Lake District.

4. A kayak

Prince Carl Philip of Sweden and his wife Princess Sofia ride in a carriage on their wedding day.
Ian Gavan, Getty Images

Prince Carl Philip of Sweden and his wife Sofia Hellqvist (now Princess Sofia) are well known for their love of the outdoors, and were gifted a two-seater kayak by the Swedish government on behalf of the people of Sweden for their wedding in 2015. Naturally, they also received their very own nature reserve in Värmland, the region in which they are the Duke and Duchess, in which to try it out.

5. A tennis court

Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark after their wedding in 2004.
ODD ANDERSEN, AFP/Getty Images

When Crown Prince Frederik and Mary of Denmark wed in 2004, the Danish municipality of Sønderborg gave the couple a tennis court and pavilion at Gråsten Castle, the summer residence of the Danish royals.

6. A poem

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, formerly Camilla Parker Bowles stand during the Service of Prayer and Dedication at Windsor Castle in 2005.
CHRIS ISON, AFP/Getty Images

Tradition dictates that the British Poet Laureate pen a new poem to celebrate each royal wedding, which led Andrew Motion to write "Spring Wedding" in 2005 to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles (now the Duchess of Cornwall). The poem was met with mixed reviews: Given the couple's history, some thought lines mentioning "winter-wreckage" and "the heart which slips" weren't quite appropriate.

7. A giant jigsaw puzzle of the bride and groom

Princess of Asturias Letizia Ortiz and Spanish Crown Prince Felipe of Bourbon at their wedding in 2004.
ODD ANDERSEN, AFP/Getty Images

When Felipe, Prince of Asturias (now King Felipe VI of Spain) married Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano in 2004, the people of the Asturian capital Oviedo sent them a gigantic jigsaw puzzle depicting their portrait. It was assembled by visitors to a local shopping mall.

8. A "stop smoking" course

Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon and Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby leave the Oslo Cathedral August 25, 2001 after their wedding.
Anthony Harvey, Getty Images

When Crown Prince Haakon, heir to throne of Norway, married Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby in Oslo in 2001, one of the gifts reportedly sent to the couple was a course on how to quit smoking, intended to curb the bride's smoking habit.

9. A private Whitney Houston concert

Brunei's royal weddings have a ceremony that takes place in the Throne Chamber of the Istana Nurul Iman palace.
Brunei's royal weddings have a ceremony that takes place in the Throne Chamber of the Istana Nurul Iman palace.
Bernard Spragg NZ, Flickr // Public Domain

When the eldest daughter of the Sultan of Brunei, Princess Rashidah, married Pengiran Anak Abdul Rahim Pengiran Kemaludin in 1996, her uncle Prince Jefri Bolkiah hired Whitney Houston to perform as a gift for the happy couple. According to some accounts, Houston was paid $1 million for the gig—but others claim the notoriously profligate Prince Jefri handed Houston a blank check and asked her to fill out whatever figure she felt she was worth: a cool $7 million.

10. A song by Elton John

Rumor has it that when the UK's Prince Andrew, Duke of York, married Sarah Ferguson in 1986, Elton John wrote a song especially for the occasion. As a longtime friend of the royal family, John had also performed at Andrew's 21st birthday in 1981 and at his bachelor party.

11. One ton of peat

Lady Diana, Princess of Wales with Prince Charles of Wales at their wedding at St Paul Cathedral in London in July 1981
STR/AFP/Getty Images

When Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, they received a number of traditional gifts, including paintings, jewelry, a four poster bed, and an art deco Cartier clock. Charles's interest in agriculture was picked up on by a local village council in Somerset, in southwest England, who opted to send the prince one ton of high-quality peat for use on his Gloucestershire estate.

12. A "really lovely rug"

Anne, the Princess Royal and Mark Phillips pose on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London, UK, after their wedding in November 1973.
Fox Photos, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth II's daughter, married Captain Mark Philips in 1973, the members of the British Cabinet all pitched in and bought the couple a rug. Like many office-pooled gifts, every member of the Cabinet contributed an equal share—which private papers later revealed to be just £10.53 each. The princess wrote each member a personal note thanking them "most warmly" for "a really lovely rug." When it was revealed that President Nixon and the U.S. government had sent the couple a solid crystal bowl and four gold candlesticks, Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister Sir Robert Armstrong wryly commented, "This makes an old Persian rug look pretty crumby."

13. A 147-foot yacht (that you can holiday on today)

U.S. actress Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco during their wedding ceremony in Monaco.
AFP, Getty Images

Shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis—future husband of Jackie Kennedy—gave Prince Rainier of Monaco and Princess Grace (a.k.a. Hollywood actress Grace Kelly) a 147-foot yacht, the Arion, as a wedding present in 1956. They honeymooned on it off the coast of Corsica and Sardinia; it's now a luxury floating hotel operating in the Galapagos Islands.

14. The ingredients for a wedding cake

The Princess Elizabeth of England and Philip The Duke of Edinburgh pose on their wedding day in November 1947 in Buckingham Palace.
AFP, Getty Images

Wartime rationing was still in place in Great Britain when Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II, married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, now Prince Philip, in 1947. To get around the food shortages, the Australian Girl Guides Association chose to gift the couple the ingredients they would need for their wedding cake.

15. A box of apples

Queen Elizabeth II (in coach) and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh are cheered by the crowd after their wedding ceremony, on November 20, 1947, on their road to Buckingham Palace, London.
AFP, Getty Images

Rationing didn't stop the British public from giving Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip presents either. In addition to a box of home-grown apples, the royal couple were also sent 500 tins of pineapple, two dozen handbags, 12 bottles of sloe gin, and 131 pairs of nylon stockings.

16. A hand-spun lace tray cover (that looked like a loin cloth)

Members of the British Royal family and guests pose around Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
STR, AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth's wedding was just two months before 78-year-old Mahatma Gandhi's death, and the famed activist sent the couple an Indian lace tray cover that he wove himself. Reportedly, Elizabeth's grandmother, Queen Mary, thought it was a loin cloth.

17. A nationwide amnesty

In the late 19th century, the Imperial Chinese government celebrated the wedding of two members of its ruling Qing Dynasty by enacting a 20-day nationwide amnesty in their honor, during which no one would be punished for any crime. On the day of the wedding itself, the entire population of the Empire was mandated to wear red and green clothing.

18. A half-ton wheel of cheese

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their return from the marriage service at St James's Palace, London in 1840.
Engraved by S Reynolds after F Lock, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, one of the couple's wedding gifts was one of the largest wheels of cheese in British history. Measuring more than 9 feet across, weighing in at more than 1000 pounds, and made from the milk of 750 cows, the cheese was prepared for the occasion by villages in Somerset. And befitting the happy occasion, a cheesy song was written as well:

“The Pennard men then built a cheese
The like was never seen!
’Twas made, and press’d, and fit to please
Our gracious lady Queen!
And wedded to her royal love
May blessings on her fall,
And Pennard cheese at dinner prove
The best thing—after all!”

19. A mini chateau

The funerary monuments (not the graves) of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette at the Basilica of Saint Denis, France.
The funerary monuments (not the graves) of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette at the Basilica of Saint Denis, France.

When 15-year-old Dauphin Louis-Auguste (later Louis XVI) of France married 14-year-old Marie Antoinette in 1770, he gave her Le Petit Trianon, a three-story miniature chateau set in the grounds of the palace of Versailles, as a wedding present. "This pleasure house is yours," he reportedly told her. In the uneasy first years of their marriage, the future queen spent much of her time at Trianon, and though Louis would join her for dinner, he never spent the night there (which likely contributed to their not consummating the marriage for seven years).

20. An opera

William IV, Prince of Orange, his wife, Anne of Hanover, and their children Carolina and William V.
William IV, Prince of Orange, his wife, Anne of Hanover, and their children Carolina and William V.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Prince William of Orange (later William IV) married Anne of Hanover in 1734, the composer George Frederic Handel composed Parnasso in festa, a three-part Italian serenata, to mark the occasion. Handel also composed a wedding anthem for the bride; though he disliked serving as a music teacher, he had made an exception for her when she was a child, calling her a "flower of princesses."

21. A feast made entirely of sugar (and a sugar replica of the groom)

King Henry IV of France and Queen Marie de'Medici
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

When King Henry IV of France married Marie de'Medici in 1600, he presented her with a grand Florentine banquet of fish and roast meats—at least at first glance. Turns out, the feast was made entirely from sugar. The groom perhaps took the European love of sugar a bit too far. Their ceremony was a wedding-by-proxy; in his stead, Henry sent a near life-size sugar replica of himself riding a horse.

22. A gold cup designed by Hans Holbein

King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour
National Portrait Gallery of London, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Henry VIII married his third wife, Jane Seymour, in 1536 (just 11 days after Anne Boleyn was beheaded), he gave her a solid gold drinking cup designed by German Renaissance master Hans Holbein as a wedding present (Holbein was the court artist; many of the most famous portraits done of the Tudors were by Holbein). Alas, all that remains of Queen Jane's gift is a sketch of it: Charles I pawned the cup in 1625 and had it melted down four years later.

23. A book of French romances and an essay on warfare

Detail of the illuminated miniature on the presentation page of the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing the donor, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, presenting the book as a gift to Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI.
Detail of the illuminated miniature on the presentation page of the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing the donor, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, presenting the book as a gift to Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Margaret of Anjou married Henry VI of England in 1445, John Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury, who had accompanied her on her journey from Normandy to London, presented her with a book of illuminated French poems, folktales, romances, and political treatises. The Talbot Shrewsbury Book, as it's now known, also contains a complete list of statutes governing the Order of the Garter, and several lengthy treatises on warfare, husbandry, and hunting. It was likely perfect bedtime reading for the ambitious new queen of England, especially considering that she often had to rule in Henry's place.

24. Three leopards

Eleanor of Provence and King Henry III of England.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

King Henry III is credited with establishing much of the royal menagerie that used to be housed at the Tower of London. In 1235, to mark his betrothal to Eleanor of Provence, he was given three leopards (or possibly lions) to add to his collection by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II.

25. An entire town

"King Solomon with his wives at table," by Anton Koburger, 1491.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

According to the biblical 1st Book of Kings, when King Solomon married the daughter of the Egyptian pharaoh sometime in the mid-10th century BCE, the pharaoh conquered the Canaanite town of Gezer in the Judean Mountains, massacred its people, and gifted it to his daughter as a dowry.

26. A pair of koalas

When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle married in May 2018, they requested that in lieu of gifts, friends and family donate to one of seven handpicked charities, including an HIV charity, a coastal ecology charity, and a fund for children who have lost parents in military service. That, however, didn’t stop a handful of well-wishers from doing both—among them, the regional assembly of New South Wales. In addition to making a donation to a local conservation charity in their honor, premier of New South Wales Gladys Berejiklian had two baby koalas at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney named after the couple “as a gift from the people of New South Wales.”

27. A bespoke James Bond-style cigarette lighter

French president Emmanuel Macron also broke the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s embargo on personal gifts, and presented the couple with a bespoke gift set from ST Dupont’s 007 collection, including two engraved James Bond-style pens and a matching cigarette lighter. The gift had precedent, though: When the future Queen Elizabeth II married Prince Philip in 1947, the royal couple were gifted a Dupont travel case by then French president Vincent Auriol, and the tradition has been maintained ever since.

28. A one-ton Indian bull

Of all the gifts the Duke and Duchess of Sussex received in 2018, however, perhaps the most unique was news that PETA had adopted a one-ton malnourished Indian bullock on their behalf. Named Merry (an amalgam of Harry and Meghan, of course), the bull now sees out its days in an animal sanctuary in Maharashtra.

29. A pair of solid silver kiwis

When Princess Margaret, Elizabeth II’s younger sister, married society photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, many Commonwealth countries sent wedding presents as a sign of their best wishes. Among them were two solid silver kiwis—one nestling an egg between its legs—that were presented to the couple on behalf of the people of New Zealand. In 2006, four years after Margaret’s death, the models were auctioned off for charity in London; despite an early estimate of less than $1000, they eventually sold for £36,000—which would be the equivalent of more than £51,000, or about $66,000 today.

30. An empty plot of land (on a private Caribbean island)

After their wedding, Princess Margaret and her new husband—now officially the Earl of Snowden—spent their honeymoon on a six-week Caribbean cruise aboard the Royal yacht Britannia. During that time, the British socialite and aristocrat Colin Tennant (whose wife, Anne Coke, was Margaret’s lady-in-waiting) gifted the couple a plot of land on Mustique, the 2-square-mile private island in the Grenadines that he had purchased just two years earlier. Margaret later developed the plot into a private villa called Les Jolies Eaux—“The Beautiful Waters”—where you can now spend the week (if you have a spare $21,000).

31. Two soufflé dishes

When Princess Mary, the Princess Royal—only daughter of George V, and Elizabeth II’s aunt—married Viscount Lascelles in 1922, she gifted her husband a pair of antique soufflé dishes. Princess Mary, incidentally, put most of her collection of wedding gifts on display at Buckingham Palace, and used the proceeds the exhibition raised to purchase Foxlease Hall, the headquarters of the Girl Guide Association.

32. A seat in the royal box

When the Russian princess Irina Romanov married her sweetheart Felix Yusupov in February 1914, Tsar Nicholas II reportedly asked his new son-in-law what he would like as a wedding gift. Yusupov requested a seat in the Imperial box in the Marinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

33. A bag of 29 uncut diamonds

While Felix took his seat in the Tsar’s box at the theater, Princess Irina was given a pouch of 29 uncut diamonds, each weighing between three and seven carats. These—plus the countless other precious stones the couple were gifted as wedding presents—helped maintain them financially during their life in exile after the Russian Revolution in 1917.

34. A diamond-encrusted fan

Besides her own mini-chateau, another lavish (but slightly more practical) wedding present Marie Antoinette received from Louis XVI was a diamond-encrusted fan, presented to Marie on her wedding day along with an ornate cabinet full of jewels and gemstones.

35. A quaich

When King James VI of Scotland married Anne of Denmark in 1589, he presented her with a traditional Scottish quaich—a type of shallow, dual-handled drinking bowl. Quaichs have been a traditional wedding gifts in Scotland ever since.

36. Five notebooks (including one that belonged to the husband's ex-wife)

Henry VIII went on to marry his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, just three weeks after his fourth marriage (to Anne of Cleves) was annulled in July 1540. As a wedding gift, he presented Catherine with a set of five miniature jewel-encrusted notebooks, or “girdle-books." Unfortunately, arranging a wedding in less than a month apparently doesn’t leave much for checking little things, like whether or not you and your ex-wife’s initials are still embossed on the wedding present you’ve just given to your new spouse. Yes, one of the books in Catherine’s collection had the letters “H.” and “I.” in black enamel on the front cover, suggesting the book had probably originally been a gift from Henry for Jane Seymour (I standing in for J in the Tudor-period alphabet). Alas, re-gifting her his dead wife’s possessions wasn’t even the worst thing Henry did to poor Catherine: Their marriage lasted just a little over a year, and in February 1542—on a trumped up charge of adultery with her distant cousin, Thomas Culpepper—Catherine was executed at the age of 19.

37. A small wooden chest engraved with knotted thistles

In 2014, a fairly unassuming oak chest owned by an amateur furniture collector from Aberdeen, Scotland, was actually found to be a priceless 500-year-old royal heirloom. The chest’s unusual engravings—featuring a lover’s-knot made of entwined thistles—matched those in the Book of Hours of James IV of Scotland, a devotional prayer book published to mark James’s marriage to Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of the Henry VII of England (and the older sister of Henry VIII). Their so-called “Thistle and the Rose” marriage in August 1503 united the Tudor and Stuart dynasties after decades of conflict, and the chest was apparently commissioned as a wedding gift to mark the occasion.

38. An orange tree

According to legend, to celebrate the marriage of Louis XII of France to his second wife, Anne, the Duchess of Brittany, the Spanish queen Leonora of Castile gifted the couple an orange tree in 1499, which the king had planted in the gardens of his palace in Paris. The tree’s fruit—thought to be an early cultivar of either blood or navel oranges—proved immensely popular, and were soon being grown and sold all across Paris and beyond.

39. A personalized book of psalms.

It’s fair to say that Edward II and Queen Isabella of France didn’t have the easiest of marriages. After all, few healthy marriages tend to involve the husband being embroiled in romantic relationships with his male courtiers, and the wife being questionably implicated in her husband's gruesome murder. But despite those ups and downs, Edward and Isabella did at least keep up appearances by lavishing a great many expensive gifts on one another. Royal records show that Edward showered his young wife in gemstones and jewelry throughout their marriage; had her carriage fitted with extra cushions during her pregnancies; and, in return, Isabella continued to send the king gifts and letters, even after his deposition and eventual imprisonment in the 1320s.

Of all the presents the couple gave each other, however, perhaps the most remarkable is an illuminated books of psalms that Edward apparently gifted Isabella on their wedding in 1308. The book, known as the Isabella Psalter, depicts the queen in various biblical and religious scenes throughout its 280 highly decorated pages.

40. The deposed Emperor of Cyprus

Richard the Lionheart—a.k.a. the 12th century English king Richard I—spent so much time reconquering the Holy Land, that barely six months of his 42-year reign was actually spent in England. (It’s even unclear, for that matter, whether he ever found time to learn to speak English.) Richard’s preoccupation with the Crusades also meant that, for their wedding day to go ahead, his young wife-to-be, Berengaria of Navarre, was compelled to meet him halfway: In 1191, she sailed from her home in northeast Spain and caught up with Richard on the island of Cyprus. There, the couple—who had never met before—were finally wed in a tiny chapel in Limassol.

Before Richard continued on his Crusade, however, he had just enough time to depose the tyrannical self-styled “Emperor” of Cyprus, Isaac Comnenos, and claim the island for England. According to tradition, having promised Isaac that he would not imprison him in irons, Richard had the emperor wrapped in gold and silver chains instead—and then presented him to his new queen as a rather unorthodox wedding gift.

15 Secrets of Sesame Street Puppeteers

Abby Cadabby, Suki Lopez, and Elmo (L-R) on Sesame Street
Abby Cadabby, Suki Lopez, and Elmo (L-R) on Sesame Street
HBO

For 50 years and more than 4500 episodes, Sesame Street has been imparting valuable moral, ethical, and social lessons to young audiences using a sprawling cast of puppets. The Sesame characters—Big Bird, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, the Count, and others—have become instantly recognizable to generations of viewers. But behind every memorable character is a human performer, one tasked with juggling the technical demands of puppet operation without losing the humor and heart that makes their furry counterpart so memorable.

To get a better sense of what goes into this unique skill set, Mental Floss spoke with three veteran Sesame Street performers during the show’s semicentennial celebration. Here’s what they had to say about crossed puppet eyes, grooming habits, and enjoying a long career finessing felt.

1. Sesame Street puppeteers usually get started lending a (right) hand.

Though there’s no definitive set of directions for puppeteers to get to Sesame Street, a number of performers selected to work on the show begin as apprentices with one specific task: operating the right hand of characters alongside the veteran cast members. “A lot of performers will almost only do right hands for a very long time,” Ryan Dillon, the puppeteer behind Elmo, tells Mental Floss. “Some characters, like Cookie Monster, require two performers with two practical hands.”

Dillon started working on Sesame Street in 2005 at the age of 17. He performed as a right hand and as supporting characters for years before scoring the Elmo role in 2013. Throughout that training, he accompanied the main puppeteer, who uses their dominant (usually right) hand to control the mouth and the other to control the left hand. The newcomer will manipulate the right, a duty informally known as right handing. “It’s a great training ground,” Dillon says. “You’re working directly next to a performer with years of experience. You become one character together.”

2. Sesame Street puppeteers have tricks for making their characters emote.

Abby Cadabby, Elmo, and Big Bird (L-R) appear in a scene from 'Sesame Street'
(L-R) Abby Cadabby, Elmo, and Big Bird delve into fine art.
HBO

Peter Linz, who portrays Ernie (among other characters) on the series, tells Mental Floss that getting a puppet to exhibit a personality takes some finessing. “You have to show the entire range of human emotion through something that doesn’t have an expression,” he says. Linz, who also teaches classes on puppeteering, says that there are some techniques to get puppets to show off their mood, however. “You can make them look sad by having them look down. You can get them to smile by opening their mouth. If they’re angry, maybe you close their mouth and then shake their arms ever so slightly. There are degrees of subtlety in all of that.”

Linz says the audience does part of that work themselves, projecting their own feelings onto a puppet. The ultimate proof might be in the example of Miss Piggy. While not a Sesame Street cast member, Linz says it’s telling that people often seem to believe the vivacious and flirtatious porcine character bats her eyes. “She can’t,” he says. The puppet doesn’t have that ability.

3. Not all Sesame Street puppets can perform the same tasks.

Sesame Street utilizes three major varieties of character. There’s the full-body puppet, like Big Bird and Snuffleupagus; “bag” puppets with two articulated hands, like Cookie Monster; and hand-and-rod puppets that have arms controlled by thin rods. “Elmo is a hand-and-rod puppet,” Dillon says. “[The difference means] some puppets can do things others can’t. Cookie Monster can pick things up. Elmo can, but it takes longer. You need to stop [filming] and attach something to his hands with tape or a pin.”

4. Sesame Street puppeteers rely on a key design element to connect to their audience.

Grover, Oscar the Grouch, and Elmo from 'Sesame Street' are pictured
Grover, Oscar the Grouch, and Elmo.
Zack Hyman/HBO

It can be difficult to communicate that a puppet is able to focus a pair of fixed eyes on something, whether it’s another character, an object, or the audience. But Linz says that the Sesame Street crew and the rest of the Muppets were designed by Henson with that in mind. “The eyes are just two black dots against a white background,” he says. “But all the characters are ever so slightly cross-eyed. There’s a triangle between the eyes and nose and a point where it looks like they’re looking right into the camera.” It’s a sensitive illusion. Turning the puppet even slightly, he says, and they will wind up looking at something else.

5. Sesame Street puppeteers can spend their entire day crouched on the floor.

Being a Sesame Street puppeteer requires more than just having performing chops. On set, characters that may be at waist level with their human co-stars are operated by performers crouched below frame, often on wheeled boards called rollies. “The first day or two, your back and everything else is sore,” Dillon says. “It engages your whole body. Your arm is up in the air performing.” Some actors, Dillon says, have developed knee issues as a result of a career bent over. Fortunately, not every scene requires contortions. Some sets are built raised so performers can stand up straight. Other times, they’ll have to situate themselves horizontally. Scenes set on a stoop usually mean the performer is lying down behind the steps.

6. Sesame Street puppeteers have input into character design.

Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Rosita (L-R) pose with fans of 'Sesame Street'
(L-R) Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Rosita pose with fans.
Zack Hyman/HBO

Lurking in the offices of Sesame Workshop is a puppet factory that, according to Dillon, houses a number of "Anything Muppets"—blank designs that may one day be used as the template for a brand-new character. In 1991, performer Carmen Osbahr got an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of conceptualizing a character when she helped originate Rosita (top right), the first regular bilingual Muppet on the series. “They had a meeting and asked what I had in mind,” Osbahr tells Mental Floss. “I was able to tell them I wanted a monster and I wanted live hands because I wanted to be able to play a musical instrument. I wanted her to be active and colorful. I didn’t want a petite, tiny little monster.” Both Osahr and Rosita have been a presence on the show ever since.

7. Sesame Street puppeteers have material for a blooper reel, but you’ll probably never see it.

Puppet manipulation takes concentration and effort. Occasionally, the cast of Sesame Street can find themselves flubbing a take. According to Osbahr, that’s often due to trying to coordinate left and right hands. “The main thing is props,” she says. “Grabbing stuff is easy, but if you want to pour something into a cup or write a letter, that’s hard. You think you’ll have a glass but just miss it.” Performers can also fall off their rollies, sending their counterparts tumbling out of the frame.

8. Each Sesame Street character has a dedicated puppeteer—with a couple of exceptions.

Actress Amanda Seyfried (L) appears on 'Sesame Street' with Abby Cadabby
Actress Amanda Seyfried with Abby Cadabby.
Richard Termine/HBO

When it comes to Sesame Street characters, there is one sacrosanct rule—aside from right handing, no puppet will have more than one puppeteer. “We feel strongly each Muppet has a dedicated performer,” Dillon says. “If there were two or three Elmos, you would see a copy of a copy.” However, illnesses or personal appearances can make that rule difficult to follow every time. If Dillon can’t make a shoot, a performer will step in to operate the puppet, with Dillon going in to provide the voice later.

The cast can also cover for one another if a scene requires two characters who are normally operated by the same actor. Both Bert and Grover, for example, are played by actor Eric Jacobson. If the two share screen time, Dillon might step in to perform one of them, with Jacobson recording his lines later.

9. Sesame Street puppeteers have a specific way of handling their puppets to keep them clean.

Day after day of manipulating puppets can lead to issues with cleanliness. Performer sweat can dampen the foam insides, while body oils and other contaminants can affect their fur coats. To avoid being dirtied, Linz says performers and production members try to pick up the puppets by the scruff of their necks. “We don’t want to put our oily hands on their faces,” Linz says. Puppets are also usually delivered to and from the set by a team of “Muppet wranglers,” and stored in the workshop where they’re built and maintained. To dry out a puppet, they’re sometimes placed on a wooden stand. A hair dryer set on low might also be used to dry a sweaty interior.

10. Sesame Street puppeteers work very, very closely together.

The characters from 'Sesame Street' are pictured
The puppet cast of Sesame Street.
HBO

Owing to the frequent proximity of puppets in frame, Sesame Street puppeteers are usually working near or virtually over other performers. “We try to be very aware and conscious of the people around us,” Dillon says. “Mistakes happen. Elmo has big feet, and Abby Cadabby has big feet, so you’ll often hit the other person with a foot. It doesn’t hurt.”

11. Guest stars will talk directly to Sesame Street characters—not just the puppeteers.

Sesame Street has played host to many guest stars over the decades, from actors to First Lady Michelle Obama. According to Osbahr, their human guests will often address the character even off-camera. “Most everybody who visits us talks to the character like they’re alive,” she says. “The moment we bring a character down [to rest], we have a conversation, but it’s great to have a relationship with a character and a celebrity. They’ll talk to Elmo, Rosita, Cookie Monster, and we’re talking to them right back.”

12. Sesame Street puppeteers can take years to get fully comfortable with a character.

Actress Blake Lively (L) poses with Cookie Monster on the set of 'Sesame Street'
Actress Blake Lively (L) poses with Cookie Monster.
Zack Hyman/HBO

For many performers, it can take years before they feel like they’re fully inhabiting their character. “You can be so focused on doing something right, you forget to have fun with the character,” Osbahr says. “By the fourth season, that’s when I started letting go, taking risks, having fun. You stop having to think about it.”

Fortunately, it’s not uncommon for performers on Sesame Street to spend decades on the show, which means there's plenty of time to adjust. Carol Spinney, who portrayed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, retired in 2018 after 49 years as a cast member. Osbahr says the familial atmosphere encourages longevity. “I’ve been with this group of people for 30 years,” she says. “We’ve shared a lot of incredible memories together.”

13. Sesame Street puppeteers can sometimes mourn a puppet who is declared “toast.”

Made of foam and other delicate materials, Sesame Street puppets have a shelf life. Depending on use, wear, and handling, they might last a few years before needing to be replaced. Linz says two new Ernies have recently been made after one began sloughing off foam inside, a symptom the production calls “toast” because the foam resembles toast crumbs.

Even with replacements, the legacy of characters can still live on. Linz uses an Ernie with the same mouth plate that was used by Jim Henson as far back as 1982.

14. Sesame Street puppeteers have to work backward.

Actor Anthony Mackie appears on 'Sesame Street' with Cookie Monster
Actor Anthony Mackie with Cookie Monster.
Jesse Grant/HBO

The most surprising aspect of working as a Sesame Street puppeteer? According to Linz, it’s the fact that performers often have to essentially work backwards. Because they’re crouched below the camera frame, puppeteers need to watch a monitor placed low to the ground to see what the camera sees. “When you move your arm to the right, the arm on the monitor moves to the left,” he says. “You’re seeing the image the audience sees.”

15. Yes, Sesame Street puppets are technically Muppets.

Sometimes there's confusion over whether the puppets that appear on Sesame Street actually constitute Muppets, or whether that term is reserved for non-Sesame projects like The Muppet Show or other endeavors featuring Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the others. According to Dillon, any Henson-birthed or -inspired puppet is a Muppet. “It’s become a catch-all term for puppets,” he says. “It’s a brand name, like Kleenex. Jim Henson came up with the name. A Muppet is used for characters that he came up with."

15 Colorful Facts About Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe’s enchanting floral still life paintings are now a deeply ingrained part of American culture—so much so that they often eclipse her other colorful accomplishments. For a more complete portrait of the artist, who was born on November 15, 1887, brush up on these 15 little-known facts about her.

1. Flower paintings make up a small percentage of Georgia O'Keeffe's body of work.

Though Georgia O'Keeffe is most famous for her lovingly rendered close-ups of flowers—like Black Iris and Oriental Poppies—these make up just about 200 of her 2000-plus paintings. The rest primarily depict landscapes, leaves, rocks, shells, and bones.

2. Georgia O'Keeffe rejected sexual interpretations of her paintings.

For decades, critics assumed that O'Keeffe's flowers were intended as homages—or at the very least, allusions—to the female form. But in 1943, she insisted that they had it all wrong, saying, “Well—I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower—and I don’t.” So there.

3. Georgia O'Keeffe was not a native of the American Southwest.


Joe Raedle/Getty Images

O'Keeffe was actually born on a Wisconsin dairy farm. She'd go on to live in Chicago; New York City; New York’s Lake George; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Amarillo, Texas. She first visited New Mexico in 1917, and as she grew older, her trips there became more and more frequent. Following the death of her husband in 1946, she moved to New Mexico permanently.

4. Georgia O'Keeffe’s favorite studio was the backseat of a Model-A Ford.

In an interview with C-SPAN, Carolyn Kastner, former curator of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, explained how the artist customized her car for this use: "She would remove the driver's seat. Then she would unbolt the passenger car, turn it around to face the back seat. Then she would lay the canvas on the back seat as an easel and paint inside her Model-A Ford."

Painting inside the car allowed O'Keeffe to stay out of the unrelenting desert sun, where she painted many of her later works. The Model-A also provided a barrier from the bees that would gather as the day wore on.

5. Georgia O'Keeffe also painted skyscrapers.

While nature was O'Keeffe's main source of inspiration, the time she spent in 1920s Manhattan spurred the creation of surreal efforts like New York With Moon, City Night, and The Shelton with Sunspots.

6. Georgia O'Keeffe immersed herself in nature.

While in New Mexico, O’Keeffe spent summers and falls at her Ghost Ranch, putting up with the region's hottest, most stifling days in order to capture its most vivid colors. (The rest of the year she stayed at her second home, located in the small town of Abiquiu.) When she wasn't painting in her Model-A, O'Keeffe often camped out in the harsh surrounding terrain, to keep close to the landscapes that inspired her.

7. Not even bad weather could keep Georgia O'Keeffe away from her work.

The artist would rig up tents from tarps, contend with unrelenting downpours, and paint with gloves on when it got too cold. She went camping well into her 70s and enjoyed a well-documented rafting trip with photographer Todd Webb at age 74. Her camping equipment is occasionally exhibited at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

8. Georgia O'Keeffe married the man behind her first gallery show.

"At last, a woman on paper!" That’s what modernist photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz cried when he first saw O'Keeffe's abstract charcoal drawings. He was so enthusiastic about this series of sketches that he put them on display—before consulting their creator.

When O'Keeffe arrived at his gallery, she wasn't pleased, and brusquely introduced herself: "I am Georgia O'Keeffe and you will have to take these pictures down." Despite their rocky beginnings, Stieglitz and O'Keeffe quickly made amends, and went on to become partners in art and in life.

9. Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz wrote 25,000 pages of love letters to each other.

When the pair met in 1916, Stieglitz was famous and married; she was unknown and 23 years his junior. All the same, they began writing to each other often (sometimes two or three times a day) and at length (as many as 40 pages at a time). These preserved writings chart the progression of their romance—from flirtation to affair to their marriage in 1924—and even document their marital struggles.

10. Georgia O'Keeffe served as a muse to other artists.

Thanks in part to Stieglitz, O'Keeffe was one of the most photographed women of the 20th century. Stieglitz made O'Keeffe the subject of a long-term series of portraits meant to capture individuals as they aged, and she made for a striking model. Though he died in 1946, the project lived on as other photographers sought out O'Keeffe in order to capture the beloved artist against the harsh New Mexican landscapes she loved so dearly.

O'Keeffe later wrote:

"When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me—some of them more than 60 years ago—I wonder who that person is. It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives. If the person in the photographs were living in this world today, she would be quite a different person—but it doesn't matter—Stieglitz photographed her then."

11. Georgia O'Keeffe quit painting—three times.

The first break spanned several years (the exact number is a matter of debate), when O'Keeffe took on more stable jobs to help her family through financial troubles. In the early 1930s, a nervous breakdown led to her hospitalization, and caused her to set aside her brushes for more than a year.

In the years leading up to her death in 1986, failing eyesight forced O'Keeffe to give up painting entirely. Until then, she fought hard to keep working, enlisting assistants to prepare her canvas and mix her oil paints for pieces like 1977's Sky Above Clouds/Yellow Horizon and Clouds. She managed to use watercolors until she was 95.

12. After going blind, Georgia O'Keeffe turned to sculpting.


By Alfred Stieglitz - Phillips, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although her vision eventually made painting impossible, O'Keeffe's desire to create was not squelched. She memorably declared, "I can see what I want to paint. The thing that makes you want to create is still there.” O'Keeffe began experimenting with clay sculpting in her late 80s, and continued with it into her 96th year.

13. Georgia O'Keeffe is the mother of American Modernism.

Searching for what she called “the Great American Thing,” O'Keeffe was part of the Stieglitz Circle, which included such lauded early modernists as Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Paul Strand, and Edward Steichen. By the mid-1920s, she had become the first female painter to gain acclaim alongside her male contemporaries in New York's cutthroat art world. Her distinctive way of rendering nature in shapes and forms that made them seem simultaneously familiar and new earned her a reputation as a pioneer of the form.

14. Georgia O'Keeffe blazed new trails for female artists.

In 1946, O’Keeffe became the first woman to earn a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Twenty-four years later, a Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective exhibit introduced her work to a new generation. Fifteen years after that, O'Keeffe was included in the inaugural slate of artists chosen to receive the newly founded National Medal of Arts for her contribution to American culture.

15. Georgia O'Keeffe wasn't fearless, but she rejected fear.

O'Keeffe was purported to have said, "I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do."

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