When I initially signed on to review this book, I had both hoped and expected to find one of those odd little collections of weird and paranormal trivia — you know: ghosts, haunted houses, and the like — that I will readily admit to being a guilty pleasure of mine.
So in that sense, the title Strange But True America is a bit misleading. You might say the "strange" moniker leans a little more towards the "odd and whimsical" definition of the word than it does the truly weird. That said, I found myself almost immediately engrossed in this book from the moment I opened the cover one sunny morning in the porcelain library.
You might call Strange But True America a history book for people who don't necessarily read history books. It can also function as a great conversation starter. Once you've finished your private reading in the library, I highly recommend leaving this one out on the coffee table for visiting relatives and friends.
In the book, author John Hafnor compiles a collection of odd little historical tidbits from all fifty states. The stories are just off the wall enough to have been left out of the history books you might remember studying as a kid in grammar school.
For example, did you know George Washington actually died as a result of being bled to death by his own doctors? It seems, the rather arcane medical practice of "bloodletting" was actually a fairly common one in Washington's day. Stranger still is that Washington's doctors wanted to preserve his body by freezing it — so that he might be resurrected. The early attempt at cryogenics was vetoed by George's wife, Martha.
Speaking of Washington, I couldn't resist finding out what Hafnor managed to dig up about my own home state. Unfortunately I didn't find anything about how our state was the place where Kenneth Arnold's 1947 sighting of a UFO over Mt. Rainier gave birth to the term "flying saucer" entering the zeitgeist. It does however make note of Dry Falls, Washington — home to what may be the world's biggest dry waterfall.
Another interesting part of Strange But True America details just how close New Mexico came to nuclear apocalypse when neighboring Texas actually dropped a nuclear bomb on Alberquerque. In a section called "When Doomsday Came Calling On Your State," it turns out that we have in fact come within an asshair of nuclear disaster more times than you might think.
Fast paced and easy to read at 150 or so pages, Strange But True America makes for a great little coffee table book that doesn't really look like one. The publishers have also come up with a great marketing gimmick, in the form of individual Strange But True America postcards for each of the fifty states.
Each of these stories, all of them nicely illustrated with drawings by Dale Crawford, will also make for a great ice-breaker when you invite the in-laws over. I've placed my copy proudly atop the throne in the porcelain library.