Lonely Planet Writer

21 strangest things you should know about the USA


1. Yes, Kansas IS flatter than a pancake. Anyone crossing I-70 swears by it, but a 2003 study using a cross-section of a flapjack actually determined Kansas flatter. It failed to mention that Delaware and Florida are actually flatter than Kansas.

2. The streaking craze actually began in Missouri, aka the “Show Me State.” On Missouri University’s campus in Columbia, students took off sans knickerbockers in 1974. For some reason, it caught on.

3. The “Old Man of the Mountain” that appears on the New Hampshire state quarter is done gone and died. A 2003 rockslide smashed the formation, but he lives on on quarters and license plates.

4. John Deere tractors made in Iowa – incidentally the nation’s leader of hogs, corn and eggs – are green. On a factory tour in Waterloo, one worker explained the color choice, 'Well, they can’t be red. BARNS are red.'

5. 'American Pie'? Defintely NOT the plane Buddy Holley went down in, no matter what Don MacLean (or a drunk frat guy) sings. The plane that claimed the rock’n’roll pioneer at Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1959 was actually called the 'N3794N.' In several ways, catchier.

6. New York City claims it has the best pizza in America. Not to Frank Sinatra, who was known for ordering pizzas from nearby New Haven, Connecticut.

7. There is a very interesting city in Louisiana by the name of New Orleans.

8. Forget Minnesota, Oklahoma had Vikings too. Or so claims folks around the Heavner Runestone south of Poteau in the state's hilly southeast. Supposedly dating to AD 750, the carvings seem real, but science types doubt their authenticity.

9. First subway in the states? That’d be Boston not New York.

10. Some like to brag Delaware is the only state east of the Mason-Dixon Line. A severed part of it is actually too east. By topographical accident, the 12-Mile Arc (meant to solve quibbles between Lord Baltimore and William Penn) accidentally claims bit of New Jersey, across the Delaware River, now part of the sad, unclaimed East Delaware. Technically it’s not Jersey, though all you find there is weeds and empty beer bottles (shown below).

11. It’s said the Maine Coon Cat are descendants of Marie Antoinette’s pets. She apparently wanted them to live in America, and lost her head for it.
12. In Montana, livestock outnumber people (on two or four legs) 12 to 1.
13. No one knows what state was inaugurated first, North or South Dakota. In one swoop in 1889, both were blindly signed in back to back. In books though North gets the nod as the 39th state, South the 40th, due to the alphabet.
14. Paul Bunyan? Some say real. But he NEVER would have worn blue jeans, like modern-day lumberjacks (or his disfactual statues in Minnesota). Levi Strauss turned old-world denim into blue jeans in 1872, while Bunyan’s legend dates from the 1830s.
15. Roswell thinks of itself as UFO nation. Not to Max, Nebraska. Max farmers were terrorized by aliens in 1884, well before Roswell was founded.
16. Most disparate temperatures in the US: Fort Yukon, Alaska, where it reaches 100 degrees in summer and 80 below in winter.
17. Rhode Island’s real name is Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, which is just absurd. And should be mandated to be, in full, on their license plate.
18. Iowa City and San Antonio don’t like each other. Each claims to have the world’s biggest nickel: Iowa’s is 16’ x 3”, San Antone’s is 13’ x 4”, but is – locals remind you – double sided. 'Like real nickels are.'
19. The ice cream cone is, some say, a St Louis accident. When cups ran out during the 1904 World’s Fair, an ice-cream vendor lifted some Belgian waffles when the Belgian waffle vendor was flirting with the Swiss chocolate exec, and tailor-rigged 'cones' in real time.
20. Forget the Vikings or Chris Columbus, Alabama claims Welsh Prince Madoc made it to Alabama in 1169 – on a strict A-to-B Wales-to-Bama itinerary apparently. No other region in the US seems to claim a visit to Madoc and his princely outfits.
21. The song 'Take Me Home, Country Roads' is a danged lie. John Denver name-drops West Virginia, but it’s inspired by Maryland’s backroads: that's a completely different state. Reminds one how Omaha tends to get treated. One Counting Crows song places it “somewhere in middle America” while Groucho Marx put it in “the foothills of Tennessee.” Ah, can anyone even remember life before GoogleMaps?