Okay, this isn’t exactly odd or unexplained — maybe file it under “Legends, sort of” — but like many of you, I’ve always wondered why Connecticut was called “The Nutmeg State.”
Fortunately, Steve recently found this:
The Nutmeg State: Nutmeg, the powder used for seasoning foods, is ground from the seed of the fruit of the Nutmeg Tree, Myristica fragans. A couple of stories exist as to the origin of this nickname. One story has it that this nickname came about as a comment on the ingenuity and shrewdness of the citizens of the state. In a story, perhaps originated by Sam Slick (Judge Halliburton), it is claimed that the people of Connecticut were so ingenious and shrewd that they were able to make and sell “wooden” nutmegs to unsuspecting buyers. A variation on this story maintains that purchasers did not know that the seed must be ground to obtain the spice and may have accused yankee peddlars, unfairly, of selling worthless “wooden” nutmegs. It may be that these wooden nutmegs were whittled by idle sailors on ships coming from the spice island and sold as souvenirs.
So really, this sort of pushes Connecticut Yankees closer to the P.T. Barnum end of the spectrum — you know, the ol’ “There’s a sucker born every minute” mentality.
By the way — that famous phrase, often attributed to Connecticut native Barnum was never said by Barnum. A little mythbusting here …
The story, in a nutshell, goes like this: In 1869, a 3,000-pound hunk of gypsum with the figure of a 10-foot-tall giant was allegedly discovered on a farm in Cardiff, New York. Thousands of people flocked to see the Cardiff Giant, so of course, the great showman Barnum — the Prince of the Humbugs — was interested. He quickly realized it was a fake, but nonetheless wanted it to be part of his own museum, and offered $50,000, then $60,000, for the rights to exhibit the Cardiff Giant. The group exhibiting it, led by David Hannum, turned him down. The ever-enterprising Barnum, not letting “no” discourage him, then had his own Cardiff Giant made — can’t get in trouble for making a fake of a fake, right? By 1871, he was exhibiting it as “the real Cardiff Giant” at his museum and drawing larger crowds than the original Cardiff Giant. Hannum and his group sued — and lost, as they had to publicly admit theirs was a fake in the first place. Watching people still lining up to see Barnum’s fake, Hannum then uttered the famous phrase, “Well, I guess there’s a sucker born every minute.”
If you want to read the long version, it’s available in many places, such as historybuff.com.