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A lot of things can happen in a town that borders Maine, Ohio, Nevada, and Kentucky. Here are the more memorable events, some of which haven't even happened yet. Weird. On April 29, 1990 in a story ahead of its time, town TV clown Krusty gets arrested for robbing a convenience store. Although he was actually framed by his TV sidekick, Sideshow Bob, Krusty is convicted in the media and in popular opinion even before his trial. As Homer put it, "The clown is G-I-L-L-T-Y." A huckster sells Springfield on a flawed monorail project on January 14, 1993. During its maiden journey, the monorail becomes a runaway, stopping only when conductor Homer Simpson hooks it to a giant faux donut. Homer's conclusion: "Donuts. Is there anything they can't do?" After an oil reserve is discovered beneath Springfield Elementary, town billionaire Montgomery Burns builds a slanted drilling rig in order to drain the reserve without touching the school's property on May 21, 1995. Fumes from the rig pollute nearby­ Moe's Tavern, causing town drunkard Barney Gumble to declare, "These fumes aren't as fun as beer. Sure, I'm all dizzy and nauseous, but where's the inflated sense of self-esteem?" On May 20, 2007 The Simpsons' 400th episode airs. Special guest star: Ludacris. Not expected to appear: Oprah.

Americans have always loved elephants, perhaps because they embody our national leaning toward the outsized and the grandiose, perhaps simply because they are such unlikely and engaging beasts.

The first American circus elephant was bought by a man whose headquarters was at Somers, N. Y. She was called Old Bet. She was exhibited locally. In a small town in Western Connecticut, religious people decided that she was the reincarnation of Behemoth, and shot her dead. Bailey’s Old Bet was buried in Alfred, Maine, where she died. A statue was erected in her memory in Somers in front of the Elephant Hotel, built by Hachaliah Bailey, 1820-25. Ever since, it has been a shrine for circus people.

It is not an established fact that Old Bet was the first elephant to arrive in America, and quite possibly she was second. An April, 1796, publication, Greenleaf’s New York, mentions an elephant journeying to our shores aboard the ship America. A few days later an elephant was exhibited around Beaver Street and Broadway, according to an advertisement in The Argus, April 23, 1796. The first documented proof of Old Bet’s existence is a bill of sale drawn up in Somers, New York, dated August 13, 1808. That document, on file at the Somers Historical Society Museum, details the sale by Hachaliah Bailey “for $1200, equal two-thirds use of an elephant for one year.” Mr. Owen witnessed the bill of sale, which was made out to Andrew Brown and Benjamin Lent, Somers men who went on to circus fame along with Bailey.

P. T. Barnum, not often cited for his honesty, nevertheless made an accurate statement when he called Hach Bailey “the father of the American circus.” As a boy Barnum had worked as a ticket seller for the Somers drover turned showman.

In 1916 in a small Tennessee town —out of what charming provocations you can imagine—Mary went berserk, and killed three men. The general populace decided, accordingly, that she should be hanged. They strung her up to a railroad derrick; she broke it down by sheer weight. They got a stronger derrick: after two hours, Mary died, hanged by the neck, while 5,000 oafs looked on.

In 1934 the greatest choreographer of his time. George Balanchine, instructs the greatest elephant corps of any time, in ballet. The elephants are embarrassed, but dutiful. The big night comes. They dance to music by Stravinsky, in pink tutus. They do very nicely; hardly a mistake. But all through the performance, people roar with joy at their clumsiness, and their dutifulness. The elephants are deeply shamed. Later that night the wisest of them, extending his trunk, licks up a dying cigar-butt, and drops it in fresh straw. All 36 elephants die in the fire.

Jumbo's remains were destroyed in a fire that swept through the P. T. Barnum Hall at Tufts University's Medford campus. But all is not lost. Canny showman that he was, Barnum had Jumbo's bones and skin mounted separately after the elephant was knocked into eternity by a Grand Trunk freight locomotive. Barnum donated the hide to Tufts and the skeleton to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where it remains, stark and sound.

Throughout most of the library's history, the term "book" referred to works written on papyrus and some parchment rolls. Beginning in the second century, stacked and bound wooden boards recorded literature, science, and technical information. These tablets, called codex, derived from a centuries-old practice of using wooden writing tablets for notetaking. These new, durable codices gradually replaced the fragile rolls. However, rolls continued to be used for archival-type documents. Parchment eventually replaced the wooden boards.

The new codex form impacted book storage. Codices were stored flat on the shelf and covers protected their leaves. The libraries had to find ways to house both rolls and codices. New libraries emerging in the Middle Ages in churches, schools, and monasteries concerned themselves only with the codex form.

Based on their definition of a serial killer (“three or more separate events in three or more separate locations with an emotional cooling-off period between homicides”), the FBI believes there are 30 to 50 in the United States at any given time. Experts estimate they average about 70 victims a year in total. Scary numbers, until you remember there are nearly 300 million Americans, meaning it’s far more likely you’ll crack your head in the shower than have it removed and made into a planter by a psychopath.

Despite the enjoyable resurgence of interest in "burlesque" in the last few years, the great days have long been gone, and the so-called "new burlesque," while a well-meaning nod to the Golden Era, appears, well, vulgar by comparison. With the advent of movies, television, the Pill, and porn, the need for the sweet titillation of burlesque lost out to up-close and in-your-face sex. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that stripping was a "form of free speech" in 1953, but that ruling was reversed in 1957 with the claim that "obscenity" was not protected by the First Amendment. The Adams Theater in Newark closed its doors permanently.

The first successful union of striptease artists was organized in that same year, and its demand for increased wages put most of its members out of work, as theaters simply could not pay the union rates. One ambitious producer fought for no less than four years in the courts to be able to open a burlesque show without striptease in Brooklyn and finally won his case in 1957. The show closed after four days, owing to poor ticket sales: burlesque without naked girls is like a fish with a bicycle.

The first of Bob Hope's wartime USO tours was in 1942, when he traveled to Alaska and the Aleutians - what Hope dubbed the "Great White Way." Along with sidekick Jerry Colonna, singer Frances Langford, and musician Tony Romano, he put on his show for American troops guarding the North Pacific at Anchorage, Annette, Cold Bay, Cordova, Naknek, Nome, Unimak, and White Horse. Hope and his troupe made their first combat-zone tour in 1943, when they brought their show to U.S. forces in North Africa. After the show, they followed Gen. George Patton's Seventh Army into Sicily. Somewhere along the line, probably in Italy, Hope started using one of his signature jokes: "You remember World War II," he'd say to the dirty, tired troops. "It was in all the papers." While in Palermo, Hope was one of the first comedians to have firsthand experience of what it was like to really bomb, or more precisely, be bombed, when the Germans staged an air raid on a target right next to his hotel. Immediately afterward, Patton had Hope and his company sent back to Algiers for their own safety.

Hope next went to the South Pacific, where on Wendy Island, his show was seen by a young naval officer and future president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and his PT-boat crew. At the war's end in 1945, Hope was playing to American GIs in Germany and noted the change of mood and outlook of his audiences. Back in the early dark days of the war, the men had been anxious about the impending challenges that lay ahead. With the war won, they were more relaxed, expressing an attitude that seemed to say, "We'll see you again." And they sure did. Over the next four decades, Hope continued to contribute his unique humor and cheer with shows for American service personnel in all parts of the world.

In the 1950s, radio's stars, including many of its star newscasters, left for television, and radio surrendered its position as the nation's central gathering place. However, while the activation of a great national community had been invaluable for national leaders, its value for those who had been funding commercial radio in the United States was not as obvious as it initially had appeared. Advertisers, particularly local advertisers searching for more efficient uses of their monies, began to develop a taste for media that might gather more defined and homogeneous crowds—teenagers, eager for acne remedies; blacks, looking for stores near their neighborhoods and store owners without prejudice; farmers, shopping for fertilizer and tractors. Radio managed to survive and thrive in the television era through its ability to target specific demographic groups for advertisers, through "narrowcasting."


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