The tagline under the title of our blog is, “We post the interesting and kooky things we find while looking for the answers to reference questions.” Last week, I got a couple of questions that were pretty straightforward, but on the way to finding their answers, I learned a lot of other excellent (and definitely kooky) nuggets of information.
The original request was “When did Johnny Horton die?” The answer was November 5, 1960. However, get this: Johnny Horton was a country singer whose wife, Billie Jean, was the widow of Hank Williams. So Hank and Billie Jean got married October 18, 1952, and on January 1, 1953, Williams died. According to the super-reliable Wikipedia, Billie Jean posthumously divorced Williams, which is weird but very interesting. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of anyone getting posthumously divorced, although there was some question about the validity of their marriage, which was only settled in 1975! Williams’ first ex-wife, Audrey Sheppard, wanted to be known as The Official Widow of Hank Williams [and thus have the right to half his estate] and allegedly paid Billie Jean $30,000 to retain this title. So anyway, back to Johnny Horton: he apparently had premonitions that he would be killed by a drunk driver, and on November 5, 1960, this came true. In semi-related news, I also learned that Hank Williams had spina bifida, that he nicknamed Hank Williams, Jr. “Bocephus” after a ventriloquist dummy (!), and that Billie Jean Jones Eshlimar Williams Horton never remarried.
Someone wanted to know “How popular was the name Sawyer last year?” According to the Social Security Administration, Sawyer was ranked #225 in popularity in 2008. Their website lets you see the top 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, or 1000 names--this is fascinating! I might’ve gotten a little carried away, as I felt compelled to create this chart, which shows the first and 1000th most popular names for boys and girls, every ten years from 1880-2000, plus 2008.
Some other names you also need to know about: in 1880, Katherine ranked as the 994th most popular name...for a boy. In 1900, Gertrude ranked as the 997th most popular name...for a boy (Dorothy was #985). Elizabeth ranked #999 and #998 in 1960 and 1970, respectively...for a boy. Were these parents just trying to honor female family members by naming their sons these traditionally girly names, or were they just mean?
And finally, there was no request involved, but the awesome book Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World did teach me about this primitive Balinese funeral tradition:
“After death, a kind of Chinese water torture is performed on the body; it is laid on a table, and stream of water slowly drips onto the body. Just below this setup, the family places a cradle filled with unhusked rice so that as the water runs off the body it drips directly onto the rice, along with any liquid leaching out of the body”(6). Oh, then the rice is cooked as usual, formed into the shape of a human, and eaten. Yum!
Rogak, Lisa. Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World. Ten Speed Press, 2004.