Question: Do you know the story of the bank building that was sent through the mail? My grandfather used to talk about it, but I never really believed him. -- N.L.B., Bedford, Ind.

Answer: Believe him -- it's true! In 1916, W.H. Coltharp of Vernal, Utah, wanted to construct a new building for his general store and an attached corner bank. He wanted his structure to be modern, so that meant using brick. Vernal is in northeast Utah, which is not always easily accessible, so the bricks would have to be shipped 430 miles. The cost of shipping 80,000 bricks that far by rail and wagon was more than four times as much as the bricks were worth.

Coltharp wrapped each brick and placed them in 50-pound bundles (seven bricks per bundle). He shipped the bricks via U.S. parcel post at a considerable savings.

After the Bank of Vernal was completed, locals gave it the nickname "The Parcel Post Bank." The bank still stands, but is now Zions First National Bank.

Q: What is the last name of Joe Louis, the boxer known as "The Brown Bomber"? -- B.L., Endicott, N.Y.

A: Joe Louis Barrow was born in Lafayette, Ala., on May 13, 1914. In the 1930s, amateur boxing was extremely popular. Barrow's mother objected to her son fighting, so he hid his gloves in a violin case. The story goes that when he filled out the forms for one of his first amateur fights, there wasn't enough room for his last name, Barrow, on the paper. So he fought as Joe Louis, which stuck for the rest of his career. He was the heavyweight boxing champion from June 22, 1937, until March 1, 1949. He died in 1981.


Q: We refer to some one who is insignificant as a pipsqueak. Why? -- I.W., Port St. Lucie, Fla.

A: There are several explanations for the word, but a common on is that the word came into being during World War I. The Germans had a wide range of artillery, from very large to very small. Allied forces thought the small shells had an unusual sound, something like a "squeak" when they arrived on target, followed by a "pip" -- not a boom -- when they exploded. In time, the name was applied to people.

Q: What did William Randolph Hearst call Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif.? -- V.L.M., Roanoke, Va.

A: Hearst called it La Cuesta Encantada -- the Enchanted Hill.

In 1865, George Hearst, a wealthy miner, purchased 40,000 acres of California ranchland. In those days, it was known as Camp Hill and was a place for family and friends to rough it on camping trips. In 1919, Hearst's son, William Randolph Hearst, inherited the land from his mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst. By this time, the ranch had grown to 250,000 acres. Tired of the camping experience, Hearst instructed San Francisco-based architect Julia Morgan to build a "little something."

By 1947, an estate of 165 rooms -- including 38 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 14 sitting rooms and two libraries -- and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways was completed. Hearst died in 1951, and the Hearst Corp. donated the property to California in 1957.

Q: I love Charlie Chan movies. How many are there, and how many Charlie Chans were there? -- E.M.C., Plano, Texas

A: Charlie Chan is a fictional Chinese-American detective created by Earl Derr Biggers. There were a total of 47 Charlie Chan movies made from 1926 through 1949. There were many actors who portrayed the detective with countless words of wisdom. The three with the most credits are Warner Oland (16 films), Sidney Toler (22 films) and Roland Winters (six films). Peter Ustinov played Chan in the critically panned "The Curse of the Dragon Queen" in 1981.

Q: I know a thespian is one who is involved in the theater. Why the name? -- S.W.N., Brockton, Mass.

A: Thespis was a sixth-century B.C. Greek actor and playwright. He is said to have developed the Greek tragedy, although none of his plays survived.

Q: I remember my dad taking me to a Boston Braves football game when I was a little kid. What happened to them? -- P.G., Ankeny, Iowa

A: The Boston Braves debuted in the NFL in 1932. The team changed its name to the Redskins the following year. In 1937, the team moved to its current home in Washington, D.C.

Q: How did the Bartlett pear get its name? -- L.Z., San Jose, Calif.

A: The popular fruit was first grown in America on the farm of Cap. Thomas Brewer. He sold his farm to Enoch Bartlett (1779-1860), who popularized the new strain of pear.

If you go to England and want a Bartlett pear, you'd need to ask for a Williams' pear.

Q: I have heard the phrase "holy Toledo" all my life. How did it originate? -- W.F., Flagstaff, Ariz.

A: I came across eight different theories; I'm sure there are more. One version goes that back in the day of vaudeville, performers often complained of poor attendance during Holy Week. Performances in Toledo, Ohio, were always poorly attended, so it was said to be Holy Week all the time there -- which was shortened to holy Toledo.

Another explanation is that Toledo, Spain, became one of the great centers of Christian culture after its ninth-century liberation from the Moors. It was holy Toledo.

Q: To this day, my grandmother has a doily on the arm of each chair and sofa. How did the delicate mats get their name? -- O.S.D., Hickory, Tenn.

A: They were named after a 17th-century London dry goods dealer whose last name was Doily (or possibly Doyly). At one time, "doily" meant "genteel, affordable woolens."

Q: If someone is fired from his or her job, we know what it means. But what does fire have to do with losing a job? -- Y.N.S., Lakeland, Fla.

A: I found many explanations. Here's one: Many years ago in England, if a village wanted a person or family to leave, the family house would be burned. In other words, they would be fired.

Q: Other than Audrey Meadows, did anyone else play Alice Kramden on "The Honeymooners"? -- R.T., Waterville, Maine

A: During the original skits of the show, which aired on the DuMont network's "Cavalcade of Stars" from 1951-1955, Pert Kelton played Alice for the first two years. Audrey Meadows was turned down for the role because Jackie Gleason thought she was all wrong for the part -- too young and too pretty. He later changed his mind, and Meadows replaced Kelton in 1952. She remained with the show until 1961.

Jackie Gleason brought "The Honeymooners" back in 1966, with Sheila MacRae as Alice and Jane Kean as Trixie. Art Carney came back to again play the role of Ed.

Q: I have a question about Kate Smith's TV show: I remember watching her in the afternoon, but my husband insists that she had a nighttime show. We both agree it was on in the early 1950s. Who is right about the time slot? -- H.C., Rutland, Vt.

A: You are both right. In the afternoon, you were watching "The Kate Smith Hour," which ran from 1950 to 1954. In late 1951, she had an evening show, "The Kate Smith Evening Hour," which ran for less than a year. In 1960, she had "The Kate Smith Show," but that ran for only six months.

Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.