Q: Why do we call certain old towns “ghost towns?”

A: Loosely defined, a ghost town is a location where people once lived or are still living, that is a shadow of its past glory. No one knows the exact origin of the term “ghost town;” however, the phrase “ghost city” was popularized in the mid-1950s by the residents of Jerome, Ariz. They advertised their own town as “the largest ghost city in America.”

Most places that are now referred to as ghost towns lived and died in the mid- to late -1800s. Many of these towns owe their existence to the mining booms of the 19th century, but when those ores played out, people left in search of the next big bonanza.

Q: What is Arbor Day?

A: Arbor Day is a nationally celebrated observance that encourages tree planting and care. National Arbor Day is celebrated each year on the last Friday in April.

The first Arbor Day was celebrated in the state of Nebraska in 1872, in response to a proclamation urging settlers and homesteaders in that prairie state to plant trees. The idea behind the proclamation was that the trees would provide shade, shelter, fruit, fuel and beauty for residents of the largely treeless Plains.

On that first Arbor Day, more than 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska’s communities and on its farms. The Arbor Day idea was promoted by J.Sterling Morton, editor of the Nebraska City News, who later helped the idea spread to neighboring states, and eventually to all of the United States and many other nations.

Q: Did Betsy Ross really sew the first flag?

A: The legend of Betsy Ross that many of us grew up with has now been largely discredited. Her legend was started in an 1870 speech made by her grandson, William J. Canby. Canby claimed that in 1776, George Washington visited Ross, who was a seamstress in Philadelphia. Washington showed her a design of a possible flag, with 13 red and white stripes, and 13 six-pointed stars in a circle.

According to legend, Betsy Ross made the suggestion to use five-pointed stars (mallets), rather than six-pointed ones (estoiles). She supposedly made the first flag of wool bunting.

Historians cannot say for sure that she actually made the first flag; however, records do confirm that, in May 1777, she was paid for making one for the Philadelphia navy. Interestingly enough, some credit Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, with the design of the flag. Hopkinson himself felt that he was the designer and should have been compensated for it by Congress. But Congress did not pay him, saying that many people had contributed to the design.

Q: What can I do with shredded paper? I hate to just throw it away.

A: Shredded paper makes a good filler for mailings. When you are mailing a box and have room at the top, fill it with the shredded paper. If you have shredded tissue paper, wrapping paper or colored paper, why not use it to fill a gift bag? Shredded paper can also be used as bedding for small pets (rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.) and, of course, for many craft projects.

Write to Farmers’ Almanac, P.O. Box 1609, Lewiston, ME 04241 or e-mail: [email protected]


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