Hey, this is a good idea!
How to share a link, or a thing you read, or a project you're working on & think Understandably readers might like. Plus, 3 of my favorite stories so far ... and 7 other things worth your time.
It’s Friday! And I have an idea. Let’s talk about stories.
I’m going to share a few favorite and popular stories from the last year or two below—quick intros with links, so you can go back and read them if you missed them.
But I also spent an hour or two putting together a new way for readers (well, anyone, really) to suggest other stories that you think Understandably should include, or link to, etc.
The truth is, a lot of you do this already—but the sheer volume, along with the fact that it mostly just comes in as emails alongside everything else, overwhelms me. Then I feel bad (and frustrated) for having missed some good things or given the impression I wasn’t interested.
Sometimes I was interested! Often, even! I just can’t keep track of it all.
This should make doing so a bit easier. So if you have …
a link you think we should consider for “7 other things,”
or a story you read somewhere that you think would make a great starting point for a newsletter,
or something that you’re working on that would be interesting to share, or
or just something else you want me to see…
Obviously, this is just a way to pitch something—there’s no implied promise that it will actually wind up on Understandably. Sometimes I get pitched things that are interesting—but they’re just not a good fit for what we do here.
But I can promise this: If you submit something here, you can be confident that I’ll see it. And maybe I’ll agree that it needs a wider audience!
With that, here are a few “greatest hits” that I especially enjoyed writing over the last two years, and that people enjoyed reading. Statistically speaking, a lot of you have never had a chance to see these before.
(If you remember them all, then you’re an amazing person with wonderful taste in newsletters and I love you dearly.)
This is the story of the 24-year-old state legislator whose mother convinced him to cast the deciding vote ratifying the 19th Amendment, thus establishing women’s constitutional right to vote*.
It happened 101 years ago this week. “I knew that a mother's advice is always safest for a boy to follow,” he said the next day. “And my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” (I explained the asterisk in the original article.)
>>Read the story here.<<
Walks downstairs, alone or in pairs
Sometimes timing is everything. In 1945, we had the first peacetime Christmas shopping season after years at war, and the big department stores were jockeying for sales. They were willing to try a lot of different things—big ideas and small ones.
Gimbels, for example, was willing to let Richard and Betty James, a middle-class couple who had by then blown $500 ($7,500 today) in borrowed money trying to sell a toy they’d come up with—the Slinky—set up a test display in their flagship store.
The Jameses built an incline, gathered a crowd, marched the Slinky down the plane—and this time, sold 400 units in 90 minutes. Here’s how it all happened.
>>Read the story here.<<
Letter to the president
This final one today is one of my true favorites, so I had to include it. I’d love to see someone turn this into a well-acted movie.
In 1881, a highly eccentric, devastatingly lonely, 31-year-old virtual shut-in named Julia Sand began writing letters to Chester A. Arthur—who was then vice president of the United States, and who would soon become president (upon the death of James Garfield.)
She’d never met Arthur, but she wrote at least 23 letters, pushing him on policy issues, urging him to be a better man—and even awkwardly flirting with him. (Arthur was a 53-year-old widower whose wife had died only the year before.)
Remember (see above), women didn’t even have the right to vote* back then. Plus, then as now, lots of cranks write to the White House. But historians think this very random woman may have had some real effect on Arthur’s thinking.
What’s the best evidence? Well, with excruciatingly painful awkwardness, Sand invited the president to come and see her sometime in New York City. Arthur, who seems like a lonely heart in his own right, took her up on it, arriving unannounced at her townhouse on August 20, 1882—which, you might note, was exactly 139 years ago today.
Alas, the visit was a social disaster; Sand’s brother and sister dominated the conversation with the president, and Julia was so nervous that she literally hid behind a curtain at one point.
Anyway, it doesn’t really have a happy ending—but it is a heck of a good story!
>>Read the story here.<<
OK, call for comments: Did any of these stories resonate with you? Do you have other favorites? And overall, what kinds of things do you think we should include in Understandably? Don’t forget, you can now submit ideas here, too.
7 other things worth your time
A North Carolina man who claimed to have explosives in his pickup truck, parked near the US Capitol, has surrendered to law enforcement, bringing an end to a five-hour standoff with police that prompted the evacuation of several buildings in the area on Thursday. (CBS News)
Amazon plans to open department stores, starting in Ohio and California. They’ll be about 30,000 square feet, which is maybe a third the size of your average Walmart or Target. (WSJ)
Thousands of Afghans were packed between Taliban checkpoints and a US-imposed ring of steel around Kabul's main airport on Thursday, desperate to get aboard any flight out following the return of the hardline Islamist group. Even more were mobbing foreign embassy compounds in the capital, as rumors spread that visas were up for grabs or safe passage on offer at least as far as the airport. (France24)
The Biden administration will cancel the student loan debt of what it estimates as more than 323,000 Americans with severe disabilities, and plans to remove the complex process to qualify for this debt relief going forward. (Mashable)
Mike Richards, the new host of Jeopardy!, has issued an apology after a number of derogatory remarks about little people, Jews, people receiving unemployment benefits, and sexist comments he made about women resurfaced from a podcast he hosted in 2013 and 2014. Before Richards was announced as the new host last week, he had defended himself against allegations he mistreated colleagues in a previous role with The Price is Right. (CNN)
Polish javelin thrower Maria Magdalena Andrejczyk auctioned off her silver medal to help pay for an infant's heart surgery—a child who, if I’m reading this right, she didn’t know, but had heard about on social media. The Polish convenience store chain Zabka paid $125,000 for the silver medal, then announced it would let Andrejczyk keep her medal after all. (NPR)
Has anyone lost a kangaroo? Local law enforcement in rural Pennsylvania is baffled and trying to catch a wayward marsupial. Remarkably—I mean, this is Pennsylvania—nobody has reported one missing. (USA Today)
Thanks for reading. Photo credits: public domain. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.