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Friday, May 26, 2017

How do I get a flag on my relative's grave for Memorial Day?

“I recently found out that one of my relatives fought in the Civil War. How do I make sure that he gets a flag on his grave for Memorial Day?”

Our patron’s relative was not buried in Newton Falls, but we were able to easily locate the rules and regulations for the cemetery where they were buried on the internet. The rules stated that the Memorial Day flags were property of the township and would be displayed for “a reasonable time.” We decided that our most straightforward option would be to contact the township directly, so we called the cemetery sexton, who had listed his phone number on the website, and he was able to solve the problem. We also could have called the local chapter of the American Legion.

According to Holiday Symbols and Customs, edited by Sue Ellen Thompson, Memorial Day, first called “Decoration Day,” originated as a day to honor Civil War soldiers. The first official observance was in Waterloo, New York on May 5, 1866, though other towns were decorating soldiers’ graves before then, including women in Columbus, Mississippi, who gathered on April 25, 1866 to decorate the graves of both the Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

The first nationwide Decoration Day was held by the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union Army veterans’ group, on May 30, 1868. As Union Army veterans were the first to mark the day, several southern states felt that it was only for them, so states instituted their own Confederate Memorial Days on different dates ranging from late  April to early June. This custom mostly ended after World War I, when the American Legion took over planning the holiday.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Do big cats like lions get hairballs?

One of our patrons has been dealing with his cat’s hairballs as the weather warms up and the cat sheds more of its winter coat. Since they groom themselves by licking their coats just like their domestic cousins, wildcats have this same undignified issue.

Hair typically passes through a cat’s digestive system without causing any issue, but sometimes it collects in a hairball which, if not vomited up, can cause an intestinal blockage that must be surgically removed. These troublesome hairballs have made it into the news at least twice in recent years – in 2013, CBS reported on a 4-pound hairball that was removed from a 400-pound tiger, and in 2015, there was an ABC news story about a 450-pound lion that needed a 3.8-pound hairball removed.

Grooming is important for cats, and not only because it keeps them clean. According to Wild Discovery Guide to Your Cat, grooming can regulate body temperature, with cats aligning the hair to better retain heat in cold weather and using saliva as a coolant when it’s hot out. Mutual grooming allows cats to exchange scents, and may help strengthen social bonds. Grooming also seems to serve as the cat equivalent of nail-biting, with cats using it to displace anxiety.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Have the same birds been nesting at my pond for years?

“A pair of mourning doves have nested at my pond every year for the past ten years. Are they the same birds?”

We looked in Noah Strycker’s The Thing with Feathers, Julie Zickerfoose’s The Bluebird Effect, and Ohio Bird Watching by Bill Thompson III and found that there’s no real way to be sure. The average lifespan of a wild mourning dove is a year and a half, but some have been known to live for ten years or longer. According to, the oldest dove was at least thirty years old when he was killed.

Mourning doves travel in flocks but tend to be monogamous during the breeding season. The male stays close to his mate while she forages, guarding her and showing off by inflating his crop to display the iridescent feathers on his neck. The pair can produce 2-6 clutches in a season. The female lays two eggs at a time, which both parents incubate for about two weeks. Once the young hatch, they will remain in the nest for two more weeks.

Birds that return to the same nesting place have a good chance of pairing up with the same mate, so it’s possible that our patron is seeing the same two birds, though their short lifespans make it unlikely. Mourning doves will sometimes reuse their own or other species’ nests, and that tendency may also be in play.

Friday, April 28, 2017

When did Macy's start having balloons in their Thanksgiving Day parade?

Though it can be hard to think about November with the spring weather we’ve been having, the question came up in one of our library book discussions. Brad Ricca, in his book Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – the Creators of Superman, mentioned the Superman balloon in the 1939 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. One of our patrons wondered how long the big balloons had been part of the parade.

According to Kathleen Curtin and Sandra L. Oliver’s book Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie, Eliza Berman’s article on, and Kate Hogan’s article on, the first giant balloons appeared in 1927 – most famously, the cartoon character Felix the Cat.

The Macy’s parade began in 1924, but the custom of Thanksgiving parades in New York dates back to the 1780s, according to Curtin and Oliver. “Fantastical companies,” as they were called, were groups of working-class young men dressing in costume and carousing in the streets on Thanksgiving morning. The Macy’s parade itself may have originated with the company’s employees, immigrants who wanted to celebrate with a European-style parade including clowns, floats, and zoo animals.

In the parade’s early years, officials had no plans for deflating the balloons. They set them free and offered a reward if people could bring them back. This practice ended after a balloon nearly brought down a plane.

For more information, America’s Favorite Holidays by Bruce David Forbes and All around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life by Jack Santino are available for checkout at the Newton Falls Public Library, along with Melissa Sweet’s picture book biography of Tony Sarg, Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade.

Friday, April 7, 2017

How many people survived the Titanic sinking?

After a presentation by Carol Starre-Kmiecik, who told the story of the “unsinkable” Margaret “Molly” Brown, a famous Titanic survivor, one of our patrons was curious about how many other people had survived. Ms. Starr-Kmiecik remembered that around 1,500 had died, but no one could remember the number of survivors.

The answer was in Andrew Wilson’s book Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived. 705 people survived the sinking. Wilson tells some of their stories, from Jack Thayer, a seventeen year-old who jumped from the rail of the ship in its final moments and managed to swim to an overturned lifeboat, to Dorothy Gibson, an actress who went on to star in Saved from the Titanic, a silent film about the tragedy. 

The website provides lists of survivors that can be sorted by lifeboat. According to the site, there were twenty-three other people on Margaret Brown’s lifeboat – less than half its full capacity. These other passengers included several other people from first class and their maids, two crew members, an a third-class passenger. One of the women, Mrs. Elizabeth Rothschild, is said to have snuck her Pomeranian aboard and refused to board the rescuing Carpathian without it.

Friday, March 31, 2017

What's the conversion from avoirdupois to troy weight?

One of our patrons has a collection of silver, which, like all precious metals, is traditionally measured in troy weight. The standard weight used for almost everything else is called avoirdupois weight, from the Old French “avoir de peis,” which means “goods of weight,” and the two measurements are not equivalent. A troy ounce is a little larger than an avoirdupois ounce, but, because there are 16 ounces in an avoirdupois pound and only 12 in a troy pound, the troy pound is smaller.

In both units of measurement, the grain is the same: a little less than 65 milligrams (64.79891 to be exact). There are 437.5 grains in an avoirdupois ounce and 480 grains in a troy ounce. 1 troy ounce equals about 1.097 avoirdupois ounces (so, going the other way, 1 avoirdupois ounce equals about 0.911 troy ounces). 1 troy pound is about the same as 0.823 avoirdupois pounds. Reversed, that means that 1 avoirdupois pound equals 1.215 troy pounds.

Friday, March 24, 2017

What kind of ducks were on my pond?

“Can you tell me what kind of ducks were on my pond this morning? One was brown and the other one was darker but it had a big patch of white on its side. Both of them looked like they had white stripes on their beaks.”

We checked the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s waterbird identification guide and, while we weren’t able to precisely identify the ducks, we could narrow it down. Presumably, they were a male and female pair – the female is often drabber in color, so she was probably the brown duck.

They were not canvasbacks. While the female canvasback is brown and the male is black and rusty brown with a white body, they both have dark bills. The redhead is a possibility, but the colors don’t quite match up. Again, the female is brown and the male, like its name indicates, has a rusty red head and a black and grey body. Their bills are a lighter blue-grey, but they are black-tipped rather than white-striped. The lesser scaup also has a blue-grey black-tipped bill with a darker body and grey-white sides. The female is lighter in color but also has grey-white sides. Our patron’s birds could also be ring-necked ducks. Both the male and female ring-necked duck have white rings on their beaks. The female is brown with pale cheeks and the male is black with grey and white sides and a distinctive peaked head. All of these ducks are common across Ohio when they’re migrating.

If our patron happens to hear their ducks make sounds, they may be able to identify them that way. According to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, while the canvasback is usually quiet while it migrates, it can hoot and growl. The ring-necked duck also growls, hisses, and whistles. The redhead has a “low, nasal quack” and the male in spring makes “catlike” sounds. Finally, the scaup makes a sound that’s an onomatopoeia of its name.

EDIT: Sara from The Bridge, a Newton Falls newspaper, suggests that they may be mergansers, which are common across Ohio during their migration.