Question: Who was the first person to go over Ni agara Falls in a barrel? -- C.K.N., Kerrville, Texas

Answer: The first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel was Annie Edson Taylor, on Oct. 24, 1901. The Bay City, Mich., teacher claimed she was 43 when she was interviewed before her feat. Assistants strapped her into a special harness in a wooden pickle barrel. A small boat towed her to the middle of the Niagara River and let her loose. Minutes later, she went over the falls. It took rescuers 17 minutes to hook the barrel and bring her to the safety of the shore.

Immediately after the stunt, Taylor found the fame she sought, but 20 years later, she died destitute in Niagara Falls, N.Y. She was actually 63 when she went over the falls.

Q: I recently acquired my brother's peacoat he had while in the Navy. How did the coat get its name? I asked all the guys who were in the Navy with him, and they didn't know. -- L.J., Santa Rosa, Calif.

A: The peacoat got its name from pilot cloth, the coarse, heavy material used to make the garment. The name was shortened to p-cloth, and the garment was called a p-jacket. The name eventually evolved to peacoat. The term has been around since 1723.

Q: Stuart Sutcliffe was one of the original Beat les. What happened to him? -- L.I.J., Madison, Wis.


A: In 1960, John Lennon suggested that his art school friend Stuart Sutcliffe buy a bass guitar and join his band with Paul McCartney and drummer Pete Best. They played local clubs and later toured Scotland and Germany. After a tour in Germany in 1961, Sutcliffe decided to remain with his girlfriend to pursue his career as an artist, effectively leaving the band.

On April 10, 1962, two days before the Beatles were to arrive back in Hamburg, Sutcliffe died of a brain aneurysm at age 21.

Q: I've often wondered where the first drive-in service station was locat ed in the United States. -- B.R.T., Bedford, Ind.

A: Gulf Refining Co. opened the first drive-in filling station along Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh on Dec. 1, 1913. In addition to gas, the Gulf station offered free air and water, and it sold the first commercial road maps in the United States.

Q: What was tele vision's biggest flop? -- S.G.L., Pueblo, Colo.

A: Most students of television history would probably say it was "Turn-On," a show created by the producers of "Laugh-In." It aired on Feb. 5, 1969. Before the half-hour show was over, most ABC affiliates had been swamped with complaint calls, and a few had even stopped airing it. The show was considered overly risque. NBC and CBS rejected the show early on, but ABC picked it up.

"Turn-On" featured Tim Conway in a series of skits. Some sources say it was canceled the same day it aired, while others say it took two or three days before the program was dropped officially.

Q: When my grand mother used to say she cleaned every nook and cranny in the house, she meant she did a thorough job of cleaning. What ex actly is a "nook and cranny"? -- R.L., Kent wood, Mich.

A: A nook is a corner, while a cranny is a crack. So when your grandmother said she was cleaning every nook and cranny, it meant she was cleaning down to the corners and cracks of the house.

Q: What type of cloud creates hail? Is there more than one? -- W.N., Monroe, La.

A: Hail forms in huge cumulonimbus clouds, commonly known as thunderheads.

Q: Is William Shake speare's "Macbeth" based on a true story? -- B.L., New York City

A: It is. In 1040, Macbeth killed Duncan I, the Scottish king, and became ruler of Scotland. He ruled peacefully for 14 years. In 1054, he was challenged by Siward, Earl of Northumbria, who wanted his nephew -- Duncan's son -- to rule the country. Malcolm Canmore killed Macbeth in 1057 to become king. Six hundred years later, Shakespeare made the incident famous.

Q: How long did Mari lyn Monroe and Joe Di Maggio's marriage last? -- P.Z., Portland, Maine

A: Monroe and DiMaggio started dating in 1952. They wed Jan. 14, 1954. They divorced in November 1954.

Q: What is the fancy name for sleight-of-hand magic? -- O.I.K., Jackson ville, Ark.

A: If your sleight-of-hand tricks don't impress your friends, maybe knowing the word "prestidigitation" will. Prestidigitation is a fun way to say "quick fingers."

Q: I was a longtime fan of the TV series "Gilli gan's Island." I don't recall Gilligan ever having a first name. Did he? -- F.T., Hays, Kan.

A: No. According to the show's creator, Sherwood Schwartz, Gilligan was never given a first name. However, Bob Denver, the actor who played Gilligan, said that he and Schwartz decided that if Gilligan had needed one, it would have been Willie.

Q: Who was Jethro Tull of the band Jethro Tull? -- R.L., Levelland, Texas

A: One of the co-founders of the band, Ian Anderson, explains that in the early days, the band was not very good. In order to get rebooked at clubs, it changed its name every week. The band was finally asked to return after playing a gig with the name Jethro Tull. Anderson says he is not really fond of the name and is embarrassed about it because it's not an original name. The original Jethro Tull was an 18th-century agriculturalist and inventor.

Q: When I was a kid, I got my first ant farm. Not too long ago I bought one for my son. What is the name for the study of ants? -- J.R., Hopkinsville, Ky.

A: The study of ants is called "myrmecology."

Q: To me, Basil Rath bone was Sherlock Holmes -- just as Fess Parker was the "real" Davy Crockett. In how many Sherlock Holmes films did Rathbone appear? -- C.K., Rolla, Mo.

A: I agree with you on both comments. Basil Rathbone appeared in 14 Sherlock Holmes movies made between 1939 and 1946, and also in hundreds of radio broadcasts.

Q: What is the longest one-syllable word in the English language? -- M.M.F., Princeton, N.J.

A: I nominate "screeched." If readers have a longer one-syllable word, please let me know.

Q: What was movie detective Dirty Harry's badge number? -- W.D., Reno, Nev.

A: Harry Callahan had badge No. 2211. "Dirty Harry," starring Clint Eastwood as the titular character, was released in 1971 and had four sequels.

Q: Has the Oscar changed much since it was originally designed? -- L.O., Roseville, Calif.

A: MGM's art director, Cedric Gibbons, designed the Oscar statuette in 1928. The only change that has been made since then is a higher pedestal, which happened in the 1940s.

Q: I was looking at my old 45-rpm records from when I was a kid. "Palisades Park" by Freddy Cannon was a 1962 hit. The composer was Chuck Barris. Is he the same Chuck Barris who created and hosted "The Gong Show"? -- N.L., Chester, Pa.

A: He is. Barris wrote the song as a tribute to the famed New Jersey amusement park.

Q: In 1961, I vaguely remember a TV program called "The Americans." Can you tell me more about it? -- K.R.L., Wall, S.D.

A: "The Americans" appeared on NBC as a midseason replacement for "Riverboat." The show ran from January through September of 1961. Set during the Civil War, it was a story of two brothers from Virginia who fought on opposite sides. Darryl Hickman played Cpl. Ben Canfield, a Union soldier, and Dick Davalos played Cpl. Jeff Canfield, a Confederate soldier. The series lasted 17 episodes. Robert Redford appeared in one episode.

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