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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What the Heck is Hogmanay?

December 26, 2015

Single Malts of Scotland Tasting Map

When you think New Year’s Eve celebrations, you might think of mobs in Times Square. But December 31st is a big night in Scotland too. There, it’s traditionally known as Hogmanay, a possible corruption of the French au guis menez (“to the mistletoe,” suggesting a Druidic origin). But whatever its name or origins, the celebration is essentially the same to this day—drinking toasts to the old year, counting down to the new, and tying on a few more after midnight. But a wonderful part of Scottish Hogmanay called “First Footing” is less common. In this ritual, the first person to put their foot across a threshold has the honor of bringing good fortune to the whole household. Sometimes, this metaphor for stepping through the door of a new year was accompanied by a handsel, a gift of a lump of coal or a bottle of whisky to symbolize the many gifts of the coming year. Warmth…whisky…who needs a Christmas sweater?

Discover more holiday lore in our Twelve Uncommon Facts About the Holidays post.

Single Malts of Scotland Tasting Map | $30

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What Makes Brooklyn Great?

December 18, 2015

Neighborhood Leaf Map | UncommonGoodsNeighborhood Leaf Maps

Brooklyn! How we love your tree-lined streets, your tiny restaurants with expansive backyards, and your many, many, many bicycles! We got our start in Manhattan’s West Village, and though we can see the Chrysler Building and a thousand tiny windows light up every night from our office window, we can’t help but get the warm fuzzies when we think about our home, the borough that brought us Coney Island, Peggy Olson, and Twizzlers.

And so, as you begin to order and receive your goods (many of which are shipped from the very same Sunset Park building where this is being written) enjoy a few Uncommon facts that make our borough so beloved.
Steel Pizza Cutter | UncommonGoods

Steel Pizza Cutter

1. Until 1898, Brooklyn was its own separate city. In order to strengthen resources and economic growth, lawmakers decided to merge with New York City. Double the bagels, double the pizza. We consider it a win.

Coffee Straws | UncommonGoods

Coffee Straws

2. Brooklyn has approximately 2.5 million residents. If it were separated from the rest of New York City, Brooklyn would become the fourth most populous city in the country. This would explain the lines in the coffee shops.

Coney Island Reclaimed Wood Coasters | UncommonGoodsConey Island Reclaimed Wood Coasters

3. The first roller coaster in America opened at Coney Island in 1884. It was known as a switchback railway, it cost a nickel to ride, and it traveled at a blistering six miles per hour. Hold on to your hats!

The Tourist Babysuit | UncommonGoods

The Tourist Babysuit

4. Coney Island also saved the lives of roughly 6,500 premature babies. In 1903, Dr. Martin A. Couney wanted to treat the infants using an incubator he’d developed but no hospital would fund his research until he had proof that it would work. Coney Island funded his study on the one condition that the research be done out in the open…in the amusement park’s sideshow. Visitors paid a dime to look through the makeshift hospital ward’s window, allowing a rare glimpse of the medical marvels. Parents of the infants were never charged for the treatment and by 1943, hospitals were finally convinced to open their own preemie wards.

Tote Along Picnic Blanket | UncommonGoods

Tote Along Picnic Blanket

5. Brooklyn’s Prospect Park makes up the borough’s largest green space, measuring at 585 acres. Frederick Law Olmsted, the same designer behind New York City’s Central Park, designed it. When asked which park he preferred, he said his Brooklyn creation was the nicer of the two. Bring a picnic blanket and a couple croissants on a beautiful fall day and we can’t argue.

Balloons Over Brooklyn Bridge | UncommonGoodsBalloons Over Brooklyn Bridge

6. Some things invented in Brooklyn: the deep-fried Twinkie, teddy bears, the roller coaster, and the first bank credit card—so pretty much, your ideal weekend.Elephant Bookends | UncommonGoodsElephant Family Bookends

7. When it opened to the public on May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. After a year of use, some pedestrians were still skeptical about the safety of the bridge. In order to prove its stability, P.T. Barnum walked 21 elephants over the bridge in 1884.

She Believed She Could Framed Art Block | UncommonGoods

 She Believed She Could Framed Art Block

8. The Brooklyn Bridge was essentially completed by a woman. Emily Warren Roebling’s husband Washington was the civil engineer tasked with the job, but became bed-ridden after developing caisson disease. Taking over dealings with politicians, engineers, and contractors, Emily stepped in as the first woman field engineer, using her own knowledge along with input from her husband to spend the next fourteen years finishing the bridge. She was the first person to take the journey across the bridge upon completion.

Brooklyn Bridge |UncommonGoodsBrooklyn Bridge

9. The first animal to cross the bridge was a rooster. We could tell you more about why, like how the rooster was seen as a symbol of victory, but we’d much prefer to linger on the image of a street smart rooster making his way to the city.

Brooklyn Map Throw | UncommonGoodsBrooklyn Map Throw

10. In 2006, workers discovered a bomb shelter from the Cuban Missile Crisis in the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was filled with water, 352,000 packets of crackers, and blankets. A label inside said: FOR USE, AFTER ENEMY ATTACK. No one’s sure who exactly was meant to benefit from the high, yet low profile safe place.

DIY Embroidery Poster Brooklyn Bridge | UncommonGoodsDIY Embroidery Poster Brooklyn Bridge

 

11. Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood (setting of Saturday Night Fever and birthplace of fictional Mad Men character Peggy Olson) was originally called Yellow Hook. However, after a yellow fever plague spread throughout the area in the 1840s, residents decided it was time for a name change. Florist James Weir suggested Bay Ridge and it was formally adopted in 1853.

Adventure Filter Water Bottle | UncommonGoods

Adventure Filter Water Bottle

12. The bad news: The 1.8 mile long Gowanus Canal is one of the most heavily contaminated water bodies in the nation. The good news: It’s now a superfund sight and the EPA is going to clean it up. The crazy news: We have absolutely no idea what’s growing/living in there. Even the EPA is clueless and believes the hostile environment could have spawned an entirely new species. See? Even our environmental issues are adventures in science!

Classic Home Portrait | UncommonGoodsClassic Home Portrait

13. Brooklyn loves its brownstones. We love brownstones so much that we build fake ones to house subway maintenance and ventilation sites. At 58 Joralemon Street, you’ll find a stately brownstone with blacked out windows—the only inclination that the building’s façade is…well, a façade. The building also provides emergency exits and electrical conversion for the trains. How’s that for urban camouflage?

Why You're So Awesome | UncommonGoodsWhy You’re So Awesome by Me Book

14. Some awesome people who first became awesome in Brooklyn (in no particular order of awesomeness or relevance): Jean-Michel Basquiat, Scott Baio, Pat Benetar, Mel Brooks, Steve Buscemi, Tony Danza, Richard Dreyfuss, Edie Falco, Lena Horne, Michael Jordan, Jimmy Kimmel, Eddie Murphy, Rosie Perez, Lou Reed, Carl Sagan, Barbara Streisand. Also Mario—the fictional game character that jumps on mushrooms and sometimes sprouts a raccoon tail with which to fly. Who knew?

Men's Military Field Grooming Set | UncommonGoodsMen’s Military Field Grooming Set

15. UncommonGoods is located in Sunset Park’s Brooklyn Army Terminal—the same place where Elvis Presley shipped out for an eighteen-month tour of duty on September 22, 1958.

Mason Jar Speaker & Amplifier | UncommonGoods

Mason Jar Speaker & Amplifier

Want some unofficial Uncommon Knowledge? Nothing beats the pizza, dog-friendly bars, and free concerts in the park. Also, drinking out of a mason jar while wearing flannel has been proven (no it hasn’t) to increase the enjoyment of said beverage by as much as 90%.

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Do Reindeer Really Fly?

December 16, 2015

In Full Bloom Trophy Head | UncommonGoodsSanta’s sleigh-pulling deer have long been the topic of scientific speculation. The advantages of being airborne when trying to cover the globe with holiday cheer in just one night are self evident, but the question remains: how does this terrestrial team take flight? Over the years, many theories have been put forth, from the hoof-lifting benefits of fruitcake, to the propulsive properties of magic corn. But Oregon Zoo Director Tony Vecchio offers two words that get to the heart of the matter: extended leaping.* He admits the extreme difficulty inherent to flying reindeer research, and adds that reindeer relatives like elk can only hope to leap about eight feet in the air (never mind having a sleigh filled with billions of toys attached). Contacted for comment, S. Claus was reticent, but a wink of his eye and a twist of his head soon gave us to know we had nothing to dread.

*Note that Mr. Vecchio’s findings are from 2006, and may not represent the latest in soaring Cervidae research.

In Full Bloom Trophy Head | $55

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Was the Night Before Christmas a Shuttered Affair?

December 15, 2015

North Pole Dish Towel | UncommonGoods

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…Clements Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” paints a picture of a holiday house as quaint as a Currier and Ives scene. But have you ever wondered what house might have inspired the setting? The poem actually offers a clue in its description of the window treatment, of all things:

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

Hold on, Santa—shutters and then sash? That means the shutters in this house are on the inside. Shutters, both exterior and interior, were common in early nineteenth century houses when the poem debuted, but the interior shutters suggest one mansion in particular: Constable Hall in Northern New York. Turns out that Moore was a cousin of the lady of the house, Mary Eliza Constable, and he visited her there. So Constable Hall is a likely candidate for the house St. Nicholas visited that snowy Christmas Eve. But to be fair, in the days before Santa Tracker, his route was anybody’s guess.

North Pole Dish Towel | $20

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Do Blondes Have More Fun When They’re Lions?

December 14, 2015

Lion Booties | UncommonGoods

Unfortunately, no. Blonde lions don’t have much fun at all. For a long time, biologists were stumped about the subtle nuances in a lion’s mane. They knew they could factor in to mating, but other than vanity, what message did they send? Turns out the color and length of a lion’s mane can alter dramatically in a short time, depending on nourishment, habitat, and testosterone levels. When a male lion is going through a rough patch, his mane will be lighter. This sends a message to potential mates that now might not be the best time. To see how this manifested itself, researchers set up lion dummies in a habitat, each outfitted with a different mane—from the healthy and long darker manes to short and light. They then blasted the sounds of hyenas at a kill to act as a dinner bell to the lions. Nine times out of ten, the female lions gathered around the long, dark-maned lion. Yet another win for tall, dark, and handsome.

Lion Booties | $25