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The Readers Ask: Why is New York called 'The Big Apple'?

What's the biggest ocean wave? How accurate is 'Titanic'? Do the Everglades really have crocodiles? In the rain, do I walk or run to stay dry? Why are school buses yellow?

By Staff / March 4, 1998


Q Why is New York City referred to as "The Big Apple"?

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A There are a number of different theories. Most likely, the nickname evolved from the jazz culture in Harlem earlier this century. Many musicians compared traveling jazz tours to a tree. When playing away from home, musicians were out in the branches; when they were performing in New York City, they were in "The Big Apple." Stephen Longstreet in the 1920s is credited with being the first to call New York City the big apple. Prof. Alain Locke, the first black Rhodes scholar, used the term to depict Harlem as the "precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, an oasis for the literary, musical, and painting talents of oppressed black American intellectuals." Oral historians of Harlem claim that Fletcher Henderson popularized the phrase, however, in the 1930s or 1940s. He often tried to entice musicians from the South to join him in "The Big Apple." Around this time Harlem became the mecca for jazz and a nationally popular dance was called "The Big Apple."

Q I just watched the movie "Titanic." How historically accurate is it?

A Although the young lovers Rose and Jack (Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio) are fictional, historians are impressed by the accurate depiction of the ship. Director James Cameron constructed a nonfunctioning replica that was 90 percent the size of the original ocean liner, in Popotla, Mexico [see photo, top left]. He even had carpets made from original patterns. However, there were some flaws. The movie has smoke pouring from all four stacks, yet the rear funnel was merely an outlet for the kitchen. Also, Cameron chose the song "Nearer My God to Thee" as the last piece played by the brave four-man orchestra during the ship's final hours. It is believed the final tune was actually the up-beat waltz "Songe d'Automne."

Q In "Titanic," dolphins swim at the bow of the ship as it crosses the Atlantic at 21 knots. How fast can dolphins go?

A That's about the cruising speed of the bottle-nosed dolphin - 21 knots, or about 24 miles per hour. Bottle-nosed dolphins, which are sometimes called porpoises, have been clocked as high as 30 m.p.h.

Q I'm a big collector of video movies, but this move toward digital TV broadcasts worries me. What will happen to my video collection when digital TV begins? Will I need a special VCR to play my tapes, or will my tapes play at all on a digital television? - Reader in Rockport, Mass.

A Your question essentially raises two broad issues. (1) What happens to your video tape collection? A spokesman for Matsushita Electric Corporation of America says your tapes will still work (at least, for awhile) with the new digital TV sets. In the beginning, digital TVs will come equipped with an added feature that will convert old-style TV signals for display on a digital screen. Without that converter, you could not show your videos on a digital TV set. So your videos will be good as long as the converters are available. (2) What happens to your current VCR and TV? Once all broadcasts are digital (currently scheduled to happen in 2006), you will need a digital encoder box to display broadcasts on your old TV or to record them with your old VCR. By that time, the encoder boxes are expected to be mass-produced and economical, industry officials say.

Q Is the House of Representatives limited to 435 members? - Edward H. Tonkin, Bridgeport, Conn.

A Congress capped House membership at 435 in 1929. However, House size grew briefly to 437 in 1960 when Alaska and Hawaii became states. The Constitution provides that each state must have at least one representative, and one member must represent at least 30,000 people. The first House had 59 members. Today, California alone has 52. Efforts are sometimes made to expand the number of members to make the House even more representative.

Q Can you fill us in on information about Jesus' life between the ages of 12 and 30? - George Klaus, Sun Lakes, Ariz.