Tue 1 May 2012
“Did you know that three-colored cats are almost always female? Years and years ago, P.T. Barnum offered $1,000 for a male three-colored cat. He never got one.”
This bit of trivia comes from the 200th edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which was published in 1992. This year we’ve reached the 220th edition.
For example, here are some “actual quotes from accident reports submitted to insurance companies by hapless policy holders, as collected by the United Services Automobile Association.”
They were reprinted in the 200th edition:
• “Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don’t have.”
• “The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.”
• “I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.”
• “I had been driving for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.”
• “The telephone pole was approaching. I was attempting to swerve out of its way when it struck my front end.”
In the words of Wikipedia: “The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a reference book that contains weather forecasts, tide tables, planting charts, astronomical data, recipes, and articles on a number of topics including gardening, sports, astronomy and farming.
“The book also features anecdotes and a section that predicts trends in fashion, food, home décor, technology and living for the coming year. Released the second Tuesday in September of the year prior to the year printed on its cover, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been published continuously since 1792, making it the oldest continuously published periodical in North America.”
The paperback copies always come with a hole punched through the upper left corner to make it easy to hang the almanac on a nail in outhouses and, later on, in bathrooms. For centuries, both have doubled as reading rooms. And in emergencies, the almanac’s light-weight pages have been substituted for toilet paper. Or so I read.
At the time John B. Thomas launched The Farmer’s Almanac, there were many competing almanacs around. When his outlived the rest, Thomas in 1832 changed the name to The Old Farmer’s Almanac but dropped the “Old” in 1836. Thomas died in 1846, however, and in 1848, the name reverted to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac formula for predicting weather is kept locked in a black tin box at the company office in Dublin, New Hampshire.
For his weather predictions, Thomas studied solar activity, astronomy cycles and weather patterns. He used his research to develop a secret forecasting formula, which is still in use today. Other than the almanac’s prognosticators, few people have seen the formula. It is kept in a black box in the almanac’s office.
During World War II, a German spy was caught in New York with a copy of the 1942 Old Farmer’s Almanac in his pocket. As a result, the almanac from 1943 through 1945 featured “weather indications” rather than “forecasts” in order to comply with the U.S. Office of Censorship’s voluntary Code of Wartime Practices for press and radio. The temporary change allowed the almanac to maintain its record of continuous publication.
While many people buy The Old Farmer’s Almanac for its cooking and gardening tips, its bizarre tales (all supposedly true) have since its founding been a primary attraction. Take this story written by Bernard Lamere:
“During the Civil War, Union doctor Capt. L.G. Capers was acting as a field surgeon at a skirmish in a small Virgina village on May 12, 1863. Some distance to the rear of the captain’s regiment, a mother and her two daughters stood on the steps of their large country home watching the engagement, prepared to act as nurses if necessary.
“Just as Capt. Capers saw a young soldier fall to the ground nearby, he heard a sharp cry of pain from the steps of the house. When the surgeon examined the infantryman, he found that a bullet had broken the fellow’s leg and then ricocheted up, passing through his scrotum.
“As he was administering first aid to the soldier, Capt. Caspers was approached by the mother from the house to the rear. Apparently one of her daughters had also been wounded. Upon examining the young woman, Caspers found a jagged wound in her abdomen, but he was unable to tell where the object had lodged.
“He administered what aid he could for such a serious wound, and he was quite pleased to see that she did recover from the injury. Thereafter it was a full eight months before the captain and his regiment passed through the same area, at which time he was quite surprised to find the young woman very pregnant.
“Within a month, she delivered a healthy baby whose features were quite similar to those of the young soldier who had been wounded nearly at the same instant the girl had been struck nine months earlier.
“The surgeon hypothesized that the bullet that struck the soldier had carried sperm into the young woman’s uterus and that she had conceived.”
The denouement was that the “soldier and young woman courted, fell in love, and married, later producing two more children using a more common method.”
One of the amazing aspects of The Old Farmer’s Almanac is how inexpensive it has always been. You can buy a copy for only $5.99 online from the publisher or a hardcover edition for only $7.98. I received my 200-year-anniversary copy as a gift from colleagues, and it really is a wonderfully entertaining gift for yourself or a friend.