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ASK MR. KNOW IT ALL: Witch trial judge regrets his decisions

on November 17, 2013 2:00 AM

QUESTION: During the infamous Salem witch trials, who was the judge? Or was there a judge? — L.B., Glove, Ariz.

ANSWER: The 1692 trials were presided over by English-born judge and businessman Samuel Sewall. Five years after the trials, he publicly announced he made a mistake — he condemned innocent people to death for witchcraft. From then until his death in 1730, he spent one day of fasting and prayer annually as penance.

QUESTION: President Harry S. Truman, fearing Gen. Douglas MacArthur would attack China, relieved him of his duties in Korea. Who replaced MacArthur? — J.R., Stockton, Calif.

ANSWER: Gen. Matthew Bunker Ridgway was the commander of all United Nations forces in Korea.

QUESTION: My husband and I have a slush fund from which we take money for emergencies. How did the name “slush fund” come about? — M.L.S., Evansville, Ind.

ANSWER: “Slush” is a nautical term used to refer to refuse fat. It’s been in use since the mid-1700s.

The term “slush fund” started in the British Navy, where it was customary for vessels to sell slush to benefit the officers. Slush consisted of fat and grease from the cook’s galley and was used to lubricate the masts and spars of the ship. Later, when this extra money was raised through the sale of worn-out equipment or personal effects left on board, the term “slush fund” continued to be used.

On the darker side, it would seem likely that “greasing” palms for illegal gains would have been an outgrowth of this term.

QUESTION: One of my favorite comedians was Flip Wilson. What was his real name? When and where was he born? — A.M.U., Amarillo, Texas

ANSWER: Flip Wilson was born Clerow Wilson Jr. on Dec. 8, 1933, in Jersey City, N.J., and was one of 18 children. He was sent to a foster home at age 7, but because he repeatedly ran away, he was placed in a reform school. At age 16, he quit school and lied to an Air Force recruiter to join the service, where he became an immediate hit with his sense of humor and his impressions. He earned the nickname “Flip” after someone told him he had a “flipped-out” sense of humor.

In 1954, at age 21, Wilson left the service and got a day job as a bellhop at a San Francisco hotel; at night, he moved from job to job performing at comedy clubs. By 1959, his career took a positive turn, and he quit his job to concentrate on his comedy. He appeared in better nightspots and became a regular on television.

In 1970, “The Flip Wilson Show” debuted and was an instant hit. In 1974, his show was canceled; after that, he appeared regularly on TV comedies and variety shows. He died Nov. 25, 1998, at age 64.

QUESTION: In a novel set in the late 1800s to early 1900s in New York City, there was a reference to “Croton bugs.” It was obvious they were referring to cockroaches. Why the name Croton bug? — T.L.K., Poterville, Calif.

ANSWER: Cockroaches were introduced into this country around 1840 from ships coming from Europe. At the time of your novel, the Croton Aqueduct was recently completed, bringing water from the Croton River in Westchester, N.Y., to New York City.

The newly introduced bug was found around indoor water pipes, so the association with Croton was made, and the bug was given the name. Today we know the Croton bug as the German cockroach.

Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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