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Local

From walruses to Grundy County in 7 moves

I often wonder how people passed time before the internet. That’s probably why game shows or that thing in which kids chase a hoop rolling down the street with a stick – that activity you might see in old cartoons – were popular. For me, when I end up with an hour or so of unstructured time, I end up falling down a rabbit hole, because one thing catches my eye, and the rest proceeds like dominoes.

I’d never seen a baby walrus before. That’s what started the trip down the
rabbit hole. Watching a nature documentary on Netflix one night, there was a video of a baby walrus. As ugly as grown-up walruses are, a baby walrus is that cute. Smooshed-in face, mustache, big eyes and no tusks. Seriously, it was adorable.

However, while watching the movie, I realized I knew almost nothing about walruses. They lived where it was cold, probably moved faster than I would think – meaning I should never approach them in the wild – and they had tusks. Oh, and they have those mustaches. I felt I should know more about a fellow mammal, and so I went where I usually go for information of a trivial nature – the internet.

You shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet, of course. And kids, Wikipedia is not a legitimate source. But I was looking up walrus facts that I would probably never need in a practical sense and, if I needed information on walruses for a professional reason, I knew I could call a walrus expert. This exercise was just mind candy. I’ll go with the internet.

This was where I learned that walruses are probably related to bears, albeit distantly. The only predators of a walrus are orcas – who, I’ll add, the more I learn about the more I realize they are really just aquatic jerks – and polar bears. But polar bears are predators of just about everything.

The Lewis chessmen are also probably carved from walrus tusks. Knowing nothing about the Lewis chessmen, I clicked the link to chase them down that wormhole. These are chess pieces that were probably carved in Scandinavia in the 12th century and found in the 19th century on one of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland – once ruled by Norway. Currently, they are housed mostly in the British Museum, but some are on display in the National Museum of Scotland. This arrangement is controversial, however, because of Scottish nationalism.

Click. The Scottish National Party was formed in the 1930s and works toward the cause of Scottish independence. During World War II, the leader of the party was a classics professor named Douglas Young, who urged the Scottish people to resist conscription into the armed forces. He was tossed into prison for this.

Click. After he was released from prison, Young actually ran for Parliament, although he came in second. He eventually left the SNP because it prohibited members from being members of another political party as well. He ended up leaving Scotland and ultimately served as a classics professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill until his death.

Click. UNC was the first public university to receive a charter after the passage of the U.S. Constitution. It was founded on a literal hill near the ruins of a chapel. Although it was one of the few southern universities to remain open during the Civil War, the loss of students in the conflict forced it to close from 1870 to 1875. President James K. Polk was an alumnus of the university.

Click. Polk served only one term as president, a campaign promise he made and kept. He also led the United States in its war against Mexico over Texas.

Before that, however, he practiced law in Nashville with his mentor, Felix Grundy.

Click. Felix Grundy was a senator from Tennessee and also served as United States Attorney General from 1838 through 1839 under President Martin Van Buren. After he died in 1840, Polk would purchase his home and rename it Polk Place.

There would also be four counties named for him, including one in Illinois that was formed out of La Salle County in 1841.

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