10 things you might not know about Michigan

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Last week was a rough one for the state of Michigan, with a setback in its lawsuit against Illinois over the Asian carp. But maybe better things are ahead for our neighbor to the east: Tuesday marks the anniversary of its statehood -- the all-important 173rd. Here are 10 facts about the Wolverine State:

1. Is a person from Michigan called a Michiganian or a Michigander? There's no official answer, but respected sources such as the Michigan Historical Center prefer Michiganian. University of Michigan professor Richard Baileytraced the word Michigander to an 1848 speech by then-Rep. Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. The future president combined the words "Michigan" and "gander" (a male goose and was slang for a dandy) to poke fun at Lewis Cass, a political foe from Michigan.

2. People from Michigan love using stage names. The state has produced Kid Rock, Iggy Pop, Della Reese, Alice Cooper, Del Shannon, Eminem and Stevie Wonder -- previously known as, respectively, Robert James Ritchie, James Newell Osterberg Jr., Deloreese Patricia Early, Vincent Damon Furnier, Charles Weedon Westover, Marshall Bruce Mathers III and Stevland Hardaway Judkins.

3. There was a Lake Michigan before there was a Michigan. The body of water was once called "Lake of the Illinois" by Native Americans. But the French preferred an American Indian word for "great water" -- Michigan. Only later did the land east of the lake take on the name Michigan as well.

4. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has a far better chance of becoming a U.S. Supreme Court justice than president or vice president. That's because she was born in Canada, which means she can't be president, according to the U.S. Constitution. But she could join the high court, as have six other foreign-born Americans.

5. A boy named Leslie Lynch King Jr. became the only Michigan resident to serve as president of the United States. Born in Omaha, Neb., King moved with his mother to Grand Rapids, Mich., after her divorce. She married a paint salesman, and her son took his stepfather's name: Gerald Ford.

6. A school massacre deadlier than Columbine or Virginia Tech occurred in the central Michigan town of Bath in 1927. School board treasurer Andrew Kehoe blamed property taxes for the struggles of his farm, and he plotted revenge. Over weeks, he planted explosives in a school, and then his fury erupted. First, he bludgeoned his wife to death and blew up his farm. Then he drove to the school to witness the deadly explosion he had set by timer. Part of the school blew up with children inside, but Kehoe wasn't done. As townspeople rushed to the scene, he arrived in a truck packed with explosives and loose metal, setting off a blast that killed himself and others. The final death toll: 45 people, including 38 children. In the aftermath, authorities discovered that some of Kehoe's dynamite in the school had failed to explode, suggesting that the worst school massacre in U.S. history could have been even worse.

7. The phrase "jump the shark" was born at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It refers to the point in a TV series when its plot becomes so ridiculous that fans know it is on the way out. The classic example -- and the inspiration for the phrase -- occurred when Fonzie of "Happy Days" went water-skiing and leapt over a shark. "Jump the Shark" was coined by Sean Connolly in a conversation with Jon Hein at the U. of M. in the mid-'80s. They formed a Web site, which was bought in recent years by tvguide.com and turned into a typical Hollywood celebrity gossip site. At that point, jumptheshark.com jumped the shark.

8. In the peace talks that ended the Revolutionary War, the new United States gave Britain two options for drawing the border between the U.S. and Canada in the area around Michigan. The Brits could follow the lines of some of the Great Lakes, or they could establish the border at the 45th Parallel. They chose the former, of course. If they had chosen the latter, Canada would have gained Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the section of the Lower Peninsulanorth of Traverse City. But Toronto would have become an American city.

9. Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. helped make Detroit the epicenter of soul, but he sometimes had a tin ear. When Marvin Gaye recorded "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" in February 1967, Gordy seemed unimpressed and refused to release it. Instead, he gave the song to Gladys Knight and the Pips, who made it a hit. Gaye's version appeared on an album in August 1968 but was not released as a single. Legendary disc jockey E. Rodney Jones of Chicago's WVON-AM played the album track, agitating for recognition of its brilliance. In late November 1968, nearly two years after it was recorded, Gaye's version was released as a single, and is now considered one of the greatest soul recordings ever.

10. It would be natural to assume that Michigan is called the Wolverine State because there are a lot of wolverines there. Wrong. The wolverine -- a voracious eater also known as a "skunk bear" -- generally dwells farther north. The 2004 discovery of a wolverine 90 miles north of Detroit was the first confirmed sighting in Michigan's wilds in two centuries. A popular theory of how Michigan got its nickname is that American Indians in the 1830s called the white settlers "wolverines" to insult them for their gluttony.

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Mark Jacob, a Michigan native, is a deputy metro editor for the Tribune.

Sources: "Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State" by Willis F. Dunbarand George S. May; "Motown: Music, Money, Sex, and Power" by Gerald Posner;"Weird Michigan" by Linda S. Godfrey; "Turn the Beat Around: The SecretHistory of Disco" by Peter Shapiro; michigan.gov; Michigan Today News; LegalTimes; npr.org; jumptheshark.com; and Tribune news services.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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