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Sunday, April 20, 2014
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Published: 1/3/2014

COMMENTARY

In a world of facts, an almanac can make your head spin like a globe

BY DAVID SHRIBMAN
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE EXECUTIVE EDITOR
David M. Shribman David M. Shribman
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This I learned from the Internet: The World Almanac first appeared in 1868 and the word “World” in its title refers not to its global scale or reach, but to its origin as a publication of the New York World newspaper.

It provided Calvin Coolidge’s father with the text of the presidential oath of office when, in 1923, he swore in his son by the light of a kerosene lamp at 2:47 in the morning. The U.S. government asked that special print runs be commissioned, because so many G.I.s read the Almanac during World War II.

This I learned from the latest edition of the 2014 World Almanac and Book of Facts, just now in stores and what you might think of as the information-providing Internet before there was an Internet: A small-craft advisory is prompted by a forecast of winds between 23 and 38 mph. The circumference of the Liberty Bell around its lip is 12 feet and one-half inch.

Some 5.6 percent of white high school girls were in a physical fight on school property in 2011. The first transcontinental television broadcast was on Sept. 4, 1951. Montenegro has 155 miles of rail track.

This I know without looking it up: The first World Almanac I remember was the 1959 edition, and I remember it only because my father brought home the 1960 edition and threw out the 1959 number.

As a young boy, I spent hours with the trim little volume filled with agate type and the sort of worthless knowledge I would eventually spend my life acquiring and then sharing, repeatedly and remorselessly, with others in a newspaper column.

This I also learned from the newest edition of The World Almanac: Romanesque cathedrals have concealed buttresses. Some 82 percent of cell-phone users texted in 2012, up from 31 percent in 2007. The Newberry National Volcanic Monument is in Oregon. Those who travel for medical treatment can deduct part of their expenses from their federal income taxes.

France adopted the Gregorian calendar before Hungary did. Tom Brady is from California. The Library of Congress closes at 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Gabon has 403 miles of rail track.

This is what I learned from Sarah Janssen, a senior editor of The World Almanac, in a telephone conversation: Only 20 people work on the book. Some of the editors’ offices are messy. As deadline looms, the staff works as many as 80 hours a week. Ms. Janssen has on occasion worked at home in her jammies.

This year, the Almanac added a section on marriage and shortened the biography of George W. Bush. The staff proofreads the Almanac on paper. Sometimes, there is a party when the project is completed. This year, there wasn’t one. There is no office cat.

This is more of what I found in the newest Almanac: The monetary unit of Papua New Guinea is the kina. Wilhelm Steinitz of Austria was the world chess champ between 1886 and 1894. Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, was founded in 1850. Allan Nevins won the 1933 Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Grover Cleveland.

Crushed stone, sand, salt, gravel, cement, and wollastonite make up a $1.3 billion industry in New York state. The flag of Somalia has a very pretty shade of light blue. Togo has 353 miles of rail track.

This is more of what Ms. Janssen told me: The Almanac staff is divided about equally by gender. Many of them have beats — broad subject areas in which they cultivate expertise and experience. Sometimes they suggest adding elements, such as more information this year on how often people check their email.

Ms. Janssen can’t think of anything the group does together for fun. But everyone who works on the Almanac, she says, “thinks the work is fun.”

This is more of what I found in the 2014 Almanac: Vice President Charles Fairbanks was born in Unionville Center, Ohio. African-Americans account for 9 percent of the population of Indiana. In a public auditorium, the American flag should be placed at the speaker’s right as he or she faces the audience.

The westernmost town in the 48 contiguous states is La Push, Wash. The first reliable measurement of the speed of light was made by French physicist Armand Hippolyte. Denmark has 1,657 miles of rail track.

This is what I think about the Almanac: I hope it never goes away. And one more thing: Panama has 41 miles of rail track.

David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: dshribman@post-gazette.com



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