13 Facts About Notre-Dame Cathedral

H/T Mental Floss.

Some Notre-Dame trivia.

This story was originally published in 2018 and updated by Mental Floss staff in 2019.

Constructed between the 12th and 14th centuries, Notre-Dame de Paris has centuries of French history built into its stone. The Gothic cathedral reflects the prominent role of Paris as an economic and spiritual center in the 12th century, and its scars from the French Revolution are reminders of its long connection with the monarchy—a connection that almost resulted in its demolition. Thousands of tourists enter its doors each day to photograph its rose windows and flying buttresses.

On April 15, 2019, a fire broke out at the cathedral, enveloping the iconic spire and much of the roof. The spire has now collapsed, and firefighters are still working to contain the flames. It’s unclear what started the fire, though it could be related to ongoing renovation work. (You can find live updates from CNN here.)

As we pause to appreciate the historic Parisian structure, here are 13 lesser-known facts about Notre-Dame de Paris.


The Île-de-la-Cité on which Notre-Dame de Paris now stands was once a Gallo-Roman city known as Lutetia. The cathedral may have been built right over remnants of a temple: Around 1710, pieces of a sculpted altar dedicated to Jupiter and other deities were discovered during an excavation under the choir (although it remains unclear if this is evidence of an ancient temple, or if the pieces were recycled there from another location). Additional architectural ruins found in the 1960s and ’70s, many dating back to this ancient era, lie in the archaeological cryptlocated beneath the square just in front of Notre-Dame.


The Sainte-Anne Portal at Notre-Dame

The Sainte-Anne Portal at Notre-Dame

There are three portals on the western façade of Notre-Dame, each laden with sculpted saints and sacred scenes. One doesn’t seem to fit, however—the Portal Sainte-Anne has a much earlier style than the rest. Its figures, such as the central Virgin and Child, look stiffer in their poses and less natural in their features compared to the other statues. That’s because this tympanum, or semi-circular area of decoration, was recycled from a previous Romanesque church. A close examination in 1969 revealed that it was not originally made for this space, and had been adapted to fit the Gothic structure.


The cathedral contains one of the oldest surviving wood-timber frames in Paris, involving around 52 acres of trees that were cut down in the 12th century. Each beam is made from an individual tree. For this reason, the lattice of historic woodwork is nicknamed “the Forest.”


Low angle view of the East end of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral at sunset with flying buttresses


The cathedral was one of the earlieststructures built with exterior flying buttresses. They were constructed around its nave in the 12th century to lend support to the thin walls, after the need for more light in the incredibly tall church required larger windows, and thus greater supports. The exposed flying buttresses became an iconic aspect of Gothic design, and although there’s some debate over whether Notre-Dame was the first church to have them, they certainly set the trend in sacred architecture.


In 1793, in the midst of the French Revolution, 28 statues of biblical kings in the cathedral were pulled down with ropes and decapitated by a mob. (King Louis XVI was guillotined earlier that year, and any iconography tied to the monarchy was under attack.) The mutilated stones were eventually tossed in a trash heap, which the Minister of the Interior dealt with by ordering the material be repurposed for construction. It wasn’t until 1977 that the heads of 21 of these kings were rediscovered during work on the basement of the French Bank of Foreign Trade. Now they’re at the nearby Musée de Cluny.


The two towers of Notre-Dame


At first glance, Notre-Dame’s two towers appear like identical twins. Closer examination reveals that the north tower is in fact a bit bigger than the south. As with all the elements of the cathedral, they were built over time, and reflect how the cathedral is more of a collage of architectural trends and leadership than the culmination of one person’s vision.


The kings weren’t the only part of Notre-Dame destroyed during the French Revolution. The cathedral, like other churches around France, was transformed in the late 18th century from a Christian space and rededicated to the new Cult of Reason. All 20 of its bells—except the colossal 1681 bourdon called Emmanuel—were removed and melted downto make cannons.

While the bells at Notre-Dame were replaced in the 19th century, the new instruments were not as finely made as the older versions, and made a more dissonant noise when clanging. Finally, in 2013, a new ensemble of bells restored the cathedral to its 17th-century sound, with the deeply resonant Emmanuel still joining in the toll on special occasions.


When Napoléon Bonaparte decided to have his 1804 coronation as emperor in Notre-Dame, the building was in bad shape. Centuries of decay as the city developed and changed around it, as well as the vandalism of the French Revolution, had left it on the verge of demolition. For years it had been used as little more than a warehouse. So when Napoléon declared its return to church use, and hosted his grand ceremony within his walls—an event in which he famously crowned himself—it brought Notre-Dame to new prominence.

Nevertheless, the coronation didn’t fix its structural deterioration. Then author Victor Hugo used the building as a personification of France itself in his 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris. (The book’s name is often translated as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, yet the hunchbacked bell ringer Quasimodo is not the main character; the central figure is Notre-Dame.) And Hugo vividly evoked its decrepit 19th-century state:

“But noble as it has remained while growing old, one cannot but regret, cannot but feel indignant at the innumerable degradations and mutilations inflicted on the venerable pile, both by the action of time and the hand of man, regardless alike of Charlemagne, who laid the first stone, and Philip Augustus, who laid the last. On the face of this ancient queen of our cathedrals, beside each wrinkle one invariably finds a scar. ‘Tempus edax, homo edacior,’ which I would be inclined to translate: ‘Time is blind, but man is senseless.’”

The book was a success, and the momentum led to a major restoration overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.


Gargoyle and wide city view from the roof of Notre-Dame


Some of the most popular images of Notre-Dame are from the perspective of its gargoyles or chimera (the carved monsters that don’t act as waterspouts). Few visitors would guess that the fantastic creatures now on the cathedral weren’t there until the 19th century; they were addedbetween 1843 and 1864 during the radical restoration overseen by Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc.

Hugo had described gargoyles extensively in Notre-Dame de Paris, and Viollet-le-Duc was reportedly inspired by this romantic vision of the past. A daguerreotype from before this overhaul shows a building more stark than the one we know today, with no beasts perched on its towers, its medieval gargoyles having long been removed. Unfortunately, many of the 19th-century gargoyles are now decaying; PVC pipes have taken the place of those that have been taken down for safety.

The gargoyles were far from the only fanciful addition by the architect Viollet-le-Duc. Among the 12 apostles he had installed around the new spire, he included himself as the face of Saint Thomas.


If you look at a photo of the cathedral from before the fire, you’ll spy a rooster on top of the spire (which sadly seems to have collapsed during the fire). This rooster was not a purely decorative bird. In 1935, three tiny relics—an alleged piece of the Crown of Thorns and some bits of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve (the city’s patron saints)—were secured inside the metal bird’s body. The idea, the story goes, was to create a sort of spiritual lightning rod to protect the parishioners within.


The Notre-Dame organ involves almost 8000 pipes (some dating back to the 18th century) played with five keyboards, making it the biggest pipe organ in France (although some claim that Saint-Eustache has a larger one). While there are some slashes on the wood of the organ loft—damage from the French Revolution, when its fleur-de-lis symbols were carved off—it was restored in 2013 to mark the 850th anniversary of the cathedral.


Point Zero marker outside Notre-Dame in Paris


Mostly overlooked beneath the crowds of tourists milling around outside Notre-Dame is a diminutive circular marker with an eight-pointed bronze star embedded in the cobblestones. It’s engraved with the words Point zéro des routes de France, and is the point from which distances are measured from Paris to other cities in France. It was placed there in 1924, although it had to be temporarily dislodged in the 1960s during the excavations for what was intended to be an underground parking garage. Those construction plans were thwarted when workers turned up architectural ruins—now kept in the archaeological crypt.


On the Notre-Dame sacristy, adjacent to the cathedral, is a small hive of bees. It was installed in 2013, with Buckfast bees—a strain developed by a monk named Brother Adam and known for its gentleness—living in its hives. Their honey is made from the flowering plants in nearby gardens, including the Square Jean XXIII just behind the cathedral. According to The New York Times, the sweet stuff is given away to the poor.

Coca-Cola: Morphine Replacement And a By Product of the American Civil War!

H/T War History OnLine.

Coca-Cola trivia.

This addiction to morphine would be what drove Pemberton to invent Coca-Cola.

While not too many people nowadays may know who John Stith Pemberton was, almost everyone in the world knows the name of his most famous creation: Coca-Cola.

The creator of the world’s most popular soft drink was actually a veteran of the American Civil War, and the soft drink he invented after the war came about as a direct result of his participation in the conflict.

Pemberton was born in Knoxville, Georgia, in 1831. By the age of 19, he had earned a medical degree and had become quite a talented chemist. After he got married in 1853, he moved to Columbus, Georgia, where he opened a drug store and had a son.

This period of domestic bliss was to be short-lived, however, for Pemberton was to become involved in the gargantuan conflict that was the American Civil War.

Pemberton enlisted in the Confederate Army and was made a first lieutenant of the 3rd Georgia Cavalry Battalion. He later rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. During the last major battle of the war, the Battle of Columbus in April 1865, Pemberton received a bad saber wound to the chest in the struggle for control of 14th Bridge.

The Battle of Columbus hinged on control of the two covered bridges that connected Girard, Alabama to Columbus, Georgia across the Chattahoochee River; in order to prevent access to Columbus, Confederates set fire to the lower bridge (right)

Like hundreds of thousands of other American soldiers — both Union and Confederate — who survived the war with their lives intact but their bodies maimed by terrible wounds, Pemberton became addicted to one of the most widely-prescribed painkillers of the time: morphine.

This addiction to morphine would be what drove Pemberton to invent Coca-Cola, but it also came perilously close to destroying the fledgling soft drink company before it even got off the ground.

Pemberton was a talented chemist, and after realizing that his addiction to morphine was becoming debilitating, he decided to work on something that would cure him and the thousands of other Americans who were caught in the grip of this terrible addiction.

John Stith Pemberton

He moved to Atlanta, and after much experimentation, he formulated a drink he believed would be able to cure morphine addiction.

The drink Pemberton had invented, which he dubbed “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca” was advertised as a cure-all of sorts. Pemberton claimed that it could be used to treat anything from morphine addiction to depression or alcoholism, impotence, and other conditions.

This early form of Coca-Cola was, in fact, an alcoholic beverage and was loosely based on Vin Mariani, an Italian-French medicinal wine. One of the key ingredients of Pemberton’s concoction was the coca leaf, from which cocaine is derived.

Advertising bill for the wine Mariani, lithograph of Jules Chéret, 1894

While Vin Mariani also contained coca leaves, Pemberton’s drink had a few other key ingredients that the French-Italian product didn’t. There were kola nuts, which added caffeine, and damiana, a South American leaf which was used as an aphrodisiac.

Since Pemberton’s drink contained alcohol, cocaine, and caffeine, it certainly would have given the user something of a buzz.

When Atlanta instituted prohibition laws in 1866, Pemberton had to change the formula of his drink so that it no longer contained alcohol.

He replaced the alcohol with sugar syrup and added citric acid to temper the excessive sweetness. With these alterations, the Coca-Cola we know today was almost complete, but it still lacked one key ingredient: soda water.

An advertisement for the Drugstore where the prototype for Coca-Cola was formulated.

Pemberton’s new syrup had been distributed to various pharmacies throughout Atlanta and was sold as a syrup, which was then mixed with plain water to create the drink. A clerk at one of these pharmacies decided to use soda water instead of regular water, and with that development, modern Coca-Cola was born.

The name Coca-Cola was invented by a bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, and was based on two of the drink’s active ingredients. “Coca-Cola,” of course, has a great ring to it, and the name quickly stuck.

Unfortunately for Pemberton, while his drink had begun to achieve a measure of commercial success, it had not performed the primary function for which he had invented it – namely, it had failed to cure him of his morphine addiction. After all these years, he was still addicted to the potent drug.

Advertisement for curing morphine addiction, ca. 1900

Running into financial difficulties, Pemberton began to sell shares in his Coca-Cola company, sometimes in a rather chaotic and haphazard manner — no doubt due to the morphine and cocaine he was using. This resulted in a number of different companies in the late 1880s all using the name Coca-Cola and all claiming to be selling the genuine product.

The drink’s eventual nationwide success can largely be attributed to one of the shareholders, Asa Candler, a pharmacist who eventually ended up owning the company. Pemberton, sadly, contracted stomach cancer in 1888.

An early Coca-Cola advertisement.

While Pemberton believed that his drink could become a national hit and wanted his son at least to keep some shares in the company, he was desperately ill and needed money.

His son Charles – who at this stage had developed an opium addiction – also wanted money, so father and son sold two-thirds of their shares in the company to Candler. Pemberton then passed away from his illness in late 1888.

Sadly, Pemberton’s only child Charles would pass shortly after his father. In 1894, he was discovered in a coma, with a stick of opium next to his body. He died a few days later.

Believed to be the first coupon ever, this ticket for a free glass of Coca-Cola was first distributed in 1888 to help promote the drink. By 1913, the company had redeemed 8.5 million tickets.

By this time, Candler had managed to achieve complete ownership of the Coca-Cola company, and it was largely due to his genius with marketing and his sharp business acumen that Coca-Cola went on to become a national – and then international – success.

The grave of John Pemberton in Columbus, Georgia.Photo: Hilltoppers CC BY-SA 3.0

John Stith Pemberton will likely be remembered first and foremost as the inventor of the most popular soft drink in the world. But it is important to remember that had he not fought in the American Civil War, the drink would likely never have been invented at all.

So, in no insignificant sense, we can say that the American Civil War was at least partly responsible for the invention of Coca-Cola.


The Zippo Lighter: An Icon Of The Vietnam War

H/T War History OnLine.

Vintage Vietnam War Era Zippo Cigarette Lighter Dated 70-71-72 with Map of Vietnam. Photo: Joe Haupt / CC BY-SA 2.0

“We the unwilling, led by the unqualified, to kill the unfortunate, die for the ungrateful” stands out as a particularly moving slogan on a Zippo.

After an American M1 combat helmet with an ace of spades tucked into the strap and “Born To Kill” emblazoned on it, probably the next most iconic cultural image associated with the Vietnam War is a Zippo lighter engraved with a tragic, humorous, aggressive, patriotic, or rebellious slogan.

Many such engraved Zippos have survived the war’s end and often trade hands between collectors for large sums of money. The images and slogans engraved onto these instantly recognizable lighters can give one a poignant look inside the minds and lives of the young men who served, fought, and died so far from home.

Zippo lighters have a long history of being associated with the American military. When America entered the Second World War after Pearl Harbor, the Zippo company stopped selling their lighters to the consumer market and instead dedicated the entirety of their lighter production to the United States military.

Zippo plant, c. 1930–1945

The Zippo method of manufacture was also affected by the United States’ entry into WWII. Because of the need to divert raw materials to wartime production of armaments, Zippo lighters manufactured for US military personnel during the war were made with steel covered with a black crackle finish.

However, Zippo lighters attained a uniquely iconic status among US troops during the Vietnam War.

These lighters were carried by almost every American serviceman involved in the conflict, and it was during this time that some of the most interesting and sometimes sentimental customizations of these lighters emerged. Many of the slogans and images emblazoned on them have themselves become quintessential images of the war.

Vintage Vietnam War Era Zippo Cigarette Lighter Dated 70-71-72. Photo: Joe Haupt / CC BY-SA 2.0

Many of the slogans reflect the views of career servicemen, who had already been serving in the military prior to the conflict and would continue to do so after it ended. They were men who were proud to serve and believed strongly in the cause they were fighting for.

For such servicemen, slogans were kept to a minimum; if they got their Zippo lighters engraved, it would usually be with their unit’s name, badge, or motto, or else something patriotic.

The Vietnam War was one of the first, however, to see mass public opposition to the conflict back home. There was huge social upheaval going on in the United States in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s: the Civil Rights movement, the Beat Generation and Hippy movements, the rebellion of rock ‘n’ roll, and a growing, vocal anti-war movement.

Consequently, the Vietnam War became more and more unpopular as the years dragged on.

Republic of Vietnam – a member of U.S. Navy SEAL team uses caution as he watches for any movement in the thickly wooded area along a stream. October 1968.

While many young men volunteered to fight in the war, others – often from the working class and various minority communities – were unwillingly drafted and forced to fight in a war they had no interest in. It is from this latter class of young men that many of the most poignant slogans on Zippo lighters come.

Mỹ Tho, Vietnam. A Viet Cong base camp being burned down. In the foreground is Private First Class Raymond Rumpa, St Paul, Minnesota, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, with a 45-pound 90 mm recoilless rifle. April 1968.

“We the unwilling, led by the unqualified, to kill the unfortunate, die for the ungrateful,” stands out as a particularly moving slogan on a Zippo – which was probably the most ubiquitously-owned item by American troops. They were purchased either at Post Exchanges or on the black market.

Others reflect a young serviceman’s journey from neophyte to killer: “35 kills, if you are recovering my body, f**k you!”

Some simply reflect the relief of surviving combat with one’s life intact: “You have never lived ‘till you’ve almost died. For those who fight for it, life has a flavour the protected will never know.”

Vintage Zippo Cigarette Lighter. Photo: Joe Haupt / CC BY-SA 2.0

Others reflect a dark sense of humor, which is a useful tool in a situation where one’s life could be snuffed out at any time: “bury me face down so the world can kiss my a**” or “a sucking chest wound is nature’s way of telling you you’ve been ambushed.”

There was a lot of artwork too – plenty of images of nude women, which is not too surprising given that these were young men generally isolated from female company. There were also other images that were popular at the time such as the peace symbol, maps of Vietnam, marijuana leaves, and the character Snoopy from the comic strip Peanuts.

Navy Zippo lighter.

Aside from being tiny art canvases on which US troops could display their true sentiments about the war, Zippo lighters also proved to be tremendously useful in many other ways.

For one thing, they were almost universally guaranteed to provide a flame, whatever the conditions. This could mean the difference between having a light in the darkness, having a cold meal or a hot one, or lighting what could be your last ever cigarette before heading into a battle you may not come out of alive.

Napalm application during the Vietnam War

Zippo lighters also served as weapons accessories, in a sense. Their ever-dependable flames were used to set fire to the huts of Vietcong hideouts as well as the houses or villages of suspected Vietcong supporters in search and destroy missions that troops nicknamed “Zippo raids.”

Zippos were also often used to ignite napalm from flame-throwing M-132 armored personnel carriers and M-67 tanks if the electronic ignition failed.

These engraved Zippo lighters from the Vietnam War have become such popular collectors’ items that a number of books have been written about them. A booming market in fake Zippos purporting to be genuine items used by US servicemen exploded in Vietnam in the decades following the war.

Those genuine items that have survived, though, remain a touching and moving window, decades later, into the lives and minds of those who served and died in the Vietnam War.

12 Sweet-and-Chewy Facts About Tootsie Rolls

H/T Mental Floss.

Some Tootsie Rolls Trivia.


No Halloween candy haul is complete without them. Invented in 1896 by a Brooklyn food tinkerer, Tootsie Rolls have become one of the most ubiquitous sweet treats in the world, with tens of millions produced every day. Here, we unwrap a few choice facts about the storied brand.


The official story goes that the inventor of Tootsie Rolls, Leo Hirschfield, sold them out of his Brooklyn candy shop before signing over his creation to (and taking a job with) candy manufacturer Stern & Saalberg Co. There’s evidencethat shows the candy store story may have been just that—a story—and that Hirschfield was actually an employee of Stern & Saalberg all along. In any case, Hirschfield named his individually wrapped treats in honor of his 5-year-old daughter Clara, whose nickname was “Tootsie.”


Hirschfield is also credited with inventing Bromangelon, the first commercially successful gelatin dessert. Boxes of the powder sold for around 10 cents, and came in flavors like raspberry, cherry and orange.


The U.S. military valued them a source of “quick energy,” and because they wouldn’t melt in hot weather or go bad over time. In at least one instance they proved to be life-saving: A pilot whose plane was shot down over the Sahara sustained himself on Tootsie Rolls for three days.


Shortly after the invention of the Tootsie Pop in 1931, a rumor began to spread that wrappers featuring a drawing of an Indian shooting an arrow at a star could be redeemed for a free Tootsie Pop. Apparently some stores honored the giveaway, allowing the notion to persist for decades despite the fact Tootsie Roll Industries never sanctioned it. The company, which says that roughly one out of every five wrappers has the drawing, has refuted the rumor, and even came up with a “Legend of the Indian Wrapper” story to entertain customers. And yet the company still receives letters every week from people demanding free Tootsie Pops.


Surrounded by Chinese and North Korean forces at the Chosin Reservoirin 1950, the 15,000-man First Marine Division radioed for an airdrop of “Tootsie Rolls”—the Marine codename for mortar shells. What they got instead were boxes of the real thing. Turns out, though, that the candy boosted morale and kept the Marines going through the subzero temperatures. It also provided one other critical function: Soldiers discovered that chewed-up Tootsie Rolls could patch the holes in their vehicles’ fuel lines, allowing the division to leave their vulnerable position.


According to dead-celebrity expert Alan Petrucelli, Ol’ Blue Eyes is buried with them along with a few other choice effects, including cigarettes, a lighter, and a bottle of Jack Daniels.


Ellen Gordon, 83, who now runs the company after her husband, Melvin, passed away earlier this year, was featured inLife magazine ad when she was 18. Her father, William Rubin, was CEO of the company at the time.


Truly one of the more cringe-worthy superheroes of American comics, Captain Tootsie was a buff blonde lad who undertook odd adventures with kids (like killing bears and punching out bank-robbing cavemen), all while toting around a yellow man-bag full of Tootsie Rolls. First published in 1943, the comics ran as standalone issues and in newspapers for nearly a decade.


Tootsie Roll Industry’s iconic ad, which first ran in 1970, asked, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” For years, fans have responded with their own assessments, typically in the high hundreds. Researchers at Purdue University and the University of Michigan, meanwhile, took a more scientific approach. Using special licking machines modeled after the human tongue, both teams entered into a Big 10 showdown. The Purdue bunch came up with 364, while Michigan put up 411. So is the true answer somewhere between those numbers? The world may never know.


That’s more than 44,440 per minute, or roughly 740 per second.


Under Melvin Gordon’s leadership beginning in 1962, Tootsie Roll Industries gobbled up a slew of competitors like Dots, Crows, Charms, Sugar Daddy, Junior Mints and Charleston Chew. In 2000, they bought Andes Mints, and in 2004 Tootsie bought Concord Confections, makers of Dubble Bubble.


Tootsie Roll Industries saw tremendous growth throughout most of Gordon’s tenure. But sales have slid in recent years as the candy industry has evolved, and lately the company has been acting a bit too old fashioned for investors’ liking. This has prompted many investors and analysts to wonder how many more licks it can take before selling.