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When George Washington Took a Road Trip to Unify the U.S.

We all know George Washington, Father of our Country, Commander of the Continental Army which defeated the British Empire to create the first modern democracy. He was the most famous and most respected man of his time among the 13 states, and so Americans elected him to the presidency twice. But do you recall exactly what Washington did while he was in office? He had his work cut out for him, as the young nation's government was fairly unorganized, and the states worked as if they were all separate countries. Washington went to the people, to sell them on the idea of putting "United" before "States."

Washington took his show on the road in the spring of 1789. Over the span of two years, he visited all 13 original states (14 if you count Maine, which was then part of Massachusetts), traveling on horseback and by carriage along rutted dirt roads and over rising rivers. The president often donned his magnificent Continental Army uniform and rode his favorite white stallion into towns, where he was greeted by cheering citizens. Along the way, he communicated his hopes for the new nation and how he needed everyone’s support to make this vision reality.

“It was awe inspiring,” Philbrick says. “Washington was seriously the only one [who] could have sold the concept to the people. Not only was [he] able to unify us politically, he was able to unify us as a nation. Instead of saying our state is our country—as was customary back then—we were saying the United States is our nation. We take that for granted today, but it wasn’t that way when Washington took office in 1789.”

Get an idea of how the new nation came together under the leadership of Washington on his road trip at Smithsonian.


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The Strange Stories Behind 10 Historical Body Parts

Some celebrities find no rest in death. There are plenty of people who want just a little piece (or more) of a famous body for one reason or another. That's to be expected if one becomes a saint, but keeping body parts around is not limited to religious icons. When Galileo's remains were moved to a new tomb in 1737, several pieces were snatched up along the way. One of the scientist's fingers ended up in a museum, and a stolen vertebra eventually went to the University of Padua. That left two missing fingers and a tooth unaccounted for.

Galileo’s tooth and the other two fingers didn’t leave such an obvious trail. The original thief, an Italian marquis, bequeathed them to his progeny, and they stayed in the family for generations. But the last written reference to the artifacts was from 1905, and historians later in the 20th century assumed they were gone for good. Then, in 2009, two fingers and a tooth showed up in a jar at an auction in Italy. The auction organizers didn’t know whose body parts they were selling, but the buyer had an inkling that they were Galileo’s. They brought their purchase to the Institute and Museum of the History of Science, where museum director Paolo Galluzzi confirmed the theory.

He based his verdict on the fact that the items and their container matched the detailed description from 1905. And since the objects were unlabeled and sold for a scant sum, it seemed unlikely that someone had produced them in some kind of bizarre counterfeiting scheme. As Galluzzi told CNN, “[The] story is so convincing I cannot think of a reason not to believe it.” After renovations, the museum reopened in 2010 under a new name—the Galileo Museum—which proudly exhibited Galileo’s two shriveled digits (and lone tooth) next to the finger already on display.  

Read the stories behind ten corporeal relics of historical figures at Mental Floss, or you can listen to a video telling the same tales.

(Image credit: Marc Roberts)


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