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ASK MR. KNOW-IT-ALL: Heading over the falls

on March 31, 2013 2:50 AM

Question: Who was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel? — C.K.N., Kerrville, Texas

Answer: The first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel was Annie Edson Taylor, on Oct. 24, 1901. The Bay City, Mich., teacher claimed she was 43 when she was interviewed before her feat. Assistants strapped her into a special harness in a wooden pickle barrel. A small boat towed her to the middle of the Niagara River and let her loose. Minutes later, she went over the falls. It took rescuers 17 minutes to hook the barrel and bring her to the safety of the shore.

Immediately after the stunt, Taylor found the fame she sought, but 20 years later, she died destitute in Niagara Falls, N.Y. She was actually 63 when she went over the falls.

Question: What type of cloud creates hail? Is there more than one? — W.N., Monroe, La.

Answer: Hail forms in huge cumulonimbus clouds, commonly known as thunderheads.

Question: How long did Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio’s marriage last? — P.Z., Portland, Maine

Answer: Monroe and DiMaggio started dating in 1952. They wed Jan. 14, 1954. They divorced in November 1954.

Question: What is the fancy name for sleight-of-hand magic? — O.I.K., Jacksonville, Ark.

Answer: If your sleight-of-hand tricks don’t impress your friends, maybe knowing the word “prestidigitation” will. Prestidigitation is a fun way to say “quick fingers.”

Question: I was looking at my old 45-rpm records from when I was a kid. “Palisades Park” by Freddy Cannon was a 1962 hit. The composer was Chuck Barris. Is he the same Chuck Barris who created and hosted “The Gong Show”? — N.L., Chester, Pa.

Answer: He is. Barris wrote the song as a tribute to the famed New Jersey amusement park.

Question: I recently acquired my brother’s peacoat he had while in the Navy. How did the coat get its name? I asked all the guys who were in the Navy with him, and they didn’t know. — L.J., Santa Rosa, Calif.

Answer: The peacoat got its name from pilot cloth, the coarse, heavy material used to make the garment. The name was shortened to p-cloth, and the garment was called a p-jacket. The name eventually evolved to peacoat. The term has been around since 1723.

Question: In 1961, I vaguely remember a TV program called “The Americans.” Can you tell me more about it? — K.R.L., Wall, S.D.

Answer: “The Americans” appeared on NBC as a midseason replacement for “Riverboat.” The show ran from January through September of 1961. Set during the Civil War, it was a story of two brothers from Virginia who fought on opposite sides. Darryl Hickman played Cpl. Ben Canfield, a Union soldier, and Dick Davalos played Cpl. Jeff Canfield, a Confederate soldier. The series lasted 17 episodes. Robert Redford appeared in one episode.

Question: What is the longest one-syllable word in the English language? — M.M.F., Princeton, N.J.

Answer: I nominate “screeched.” If readers have a longer one-syllable word, please let me know.

Question: I was a longtime fan of the TV series “Gilligan’s Island.” I don’t recall Gilligan ever having a first name. Did he? — F.T., Hays, Kan.

Answer: No. According to the show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz, Gilligan was never given a first name. However, Bob Denver, the actor who played Gilligan, said that he and Schwartz decided that if Gilligan had needed one, it would have been Willie.

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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