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10 Seemingly Silly Traditions With Inspiring Followings

by Karl Smallwood
fact checked by Jamie Frater

There are many traditions in the world and there is no list big enough to cover all of them. Today, we’re going to focus on a very specific subset of traditions. Ones that, at first glance, seem rather odd until you read into the history behind them and realize that they exist for a pretty good reason.

10The Flint Rock Paintings

10 Flint rock

Photo credit: MLive

In Flint, Michigan there is a humongous slab of concrete known to locals as “The Block” or sometimes just “The Rock,” which we’re sure has led to endless people mistaking the concrete cube for Dwayne Johnson due to their similar appearance and name. But we digress. For decades, citizens of Flint have been painting things onto the Rock. Why? Well, nobody really knows. All we know is that over the years the Rock has been covered in hundreds of layers of paint featuring everything from declarations of love to political views.

While painting the rock is technically considered a crime, it hasn’t stopped people from painting the entire rock several times a day, every day, for the past few decades. People painted the Rock so much that, in June 2014, nearly 3.5 centimeters (1.4 in) of paint fell off the Rock due to its weight. The people of Flint used this as an opportunity to turn the peelings into pieces of art in their own right and restart the tradition anew.

9The Duke Of Wellington And His Traffic Cone


Photo credit: Finlay McWalter

In Glasgow, Scotland there’s a rather curious statue of the Duke of Wellington that for years has been at the center of a fierce debate. The debate is about the public’s penchant for sticking a traffic cone on the statue’s head and the local council’s repeated attempts to stop them. This tradition this has been going on since the early 1960s with upward of 100 cones being placed—and subsequently removed—from the statue’s head each year.

The local council in Glasgow reportedly spends over $15,500 per year removing the cone, only for it to be immediately replaced as soon as their backs were turned. In 2013, plans to raise the statue’s plinth by several feet to stop the tradition were quickly halted after a huge social media campaign by locals who felt that the cone was an integral part of Glasgow’s history. Some even said that the cone has done more for Glasgow’s economy than Wellington ever did.

It may sound silly, but it’s not without precedent. The cone has made the statue one of the most famous in all of Scotland, and the numerous attempts to curb the tradition have only seen it embraced by more and more people. To the point that today the cone has become so popular it’s considered by some to be a Scottish landmark and actual tourist sites suggest you go look at it if you happen to be in the area.

8The Legend Of George P. Burdell

8 GA Tech
In 1927, a student at Georgia Tech named William Smith was accidentally sent two enrollment forms just before he was due to start classes. Sensing a chance for mischief, Smith decided to enroll an imaginary student at Georgia Tech just to see what would happen. He named this student George P. Burdell after the then-president of his school, George P. Butler.

To Smith’s surprise, Burdell was accepted at Georgia Tech and, in an effort to see how far he could take the joke, he also decided to enroll Burdell in all of his classes and proceeded to hand in two copies of every assignment he was given. Apparently, the university never saw through the ruse because George graduated three years later with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Since that day, George has become a legendary figure at Georgia Tech and students have been carrying on his memory for decades, continuing to enroll him in classes and submit homework in his name. In 1969, partly in an attempt to stop students enrolling George in yet more classes, the university installed a new computer system that students had to use to register. Within days, students hacked into the system and George’s name mysteriously appeared on the register for every class that semester. This has happened every time the school has tried to update its system.

George is now considered such an important part of the university’s history that he even has a building on campus named after him, and even though he’s technically been studying for 70 years, he’s still a member of nearly every student club and sports team on campus.

7The Legend Of The Octopus

7 Octupus
In 1952, two brothers made a smelly and significant impact on ice hockey which persists to this day. They decided to throw a large octopus onto the ice during a Detroit Red Wings playoff game. Since that day, the octopus has become an unofficial mascot and good luck charm for the team, and every year someone will inevitably continue the tradition by hurling one onto the ice.

While this may initially seem stupid, there is a fairly decent reason behind why such an odd tradition has lasted for so long. Back in 1952, to win the playoffs a team had to win eight games, and the year the (eight-legged) octopus was lobbed onto the ice the Red Wings dominated their next few games and eventually won the Stanley Cup.

Since sports teams and fans are notoriously superstitious, the throwing of a sweaty octopus quickly became a tradition that fans take very seriously. So seriously that, according to the New York Times, there’s a “complex octopus etiquette” that fans must adhere to when taking part, and many locals have developed a number of increasingly sophisticated ways to smuggle the creatures into games without being caught. All because two guys in the 1950s thought it would be funny to throw an octopus onto the ice.

6The Darth Valley Run

6 darth vader
In 2010, a 42-year-old man named Jonathan Rice decided for no particular reason that he wanted to run a mile through Death Valley on the hottest day of the year wearing a Darth Vader outfit. So that’s exactly what he did, managing an impressive time of 6 minutes and 13 seconds.

The following year, again for no particular reason, Rice decided to do it once more. Then again in 2013, making a slightly slower time of 6 minutes 31 seconds due to an ankle injury. What initially started out as some guy doing something just for the hell of it exploded when the international media caught wind of the fact that, in 2013, Jon may just have run the fastest and hottest mile ever recorded—dressed as Darth Vader! But that’s not all. Soon after he ran his mile in 2013, it came to light that he’d run the distance while enduring 54 degrees Celsius (129.2 °F) of heat, a temperature that was only 2 degrees off of the supposed hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth.

So, the next time you don’t feel like exercising, just remember that a 40-year-old man ran a mile in just over six-and-a-half minutes on literally one of the hottest days ever recorded—dressed in a Darth Vader costume. Then, you should have all of the motivation you need to go for that jog.

5The Senate Candy Desk

5 candy drawer
It’s a little-known fact that hidden toward the back of the Senate is a desk that is filled to the brim with candy. Since the 1960s, this desk has been manned by a string of senators who are tasked with keeping it stocked with candy from their home state so that their fellow senators always have something to snack on if they get hungry. Which is apparently a lot because the desk supposedly costs hundreds of dollars to maintain over a given year.

This curious custom was supposedly started back in the 1960s by Senator George Murphy who was known to always keep a healthy supply of candy in his desk during his time as a senator. After Murphy was moved toward the back of the Senate near one of its entrances, he began offering this candy to other senators as they entered. After a while, senators simply began referring to Murphy’s desk as “the candy desk.”

When Murphy left his position in 1971, the candy desk stayed and it has been standard practice ever since for this desk to always be filled with candy, just in case. The tradition is so popular that when Senator Craig Thomas was charged with manning the desk in 2007, his fellow senators complained that his home state of Wyoming had no well-known confectionawakery manufacturers and, as such, he would be unable to keep the desk sufficiently stocked.

However, Thomas did manage to keep the desk stocked when some smaller independent chocolate makers stepped up and offered their services. But, just for a second, can we all appreciate that in 2007, for a brief but glorious moment, the most pressing issue the Senate discussed was where all their candy was going to come from?

4NASA Wake-Up Calls

4 astronaut
During the heyday of the Apollo Space Program, workers in NASA’s control room would sing to astronauts returning from the Moon to celebrate a successful mission. Over the years, ground crews took a liking to this tradition and before long it became standard practice for ground crews to start every work day by playing a piece of music to rouse orbiting astronauts.

Seeing the benefit this could have on morale, NASA has allowed the tradition to continue and has given the ground crews a surprising amount of leniency in what they are allowed to beam into space.

Over the years, astronauts have been woken up by a wide array of songs and sounds including the Rocky theme song, recordings of their children yelling at them to get to work, messages from the cast of Star Trek and even clips from the movie Groundhog Day, which were of course played more than once.

According to astronaut Chris Hadfield, the ground crews mostly play “peppy” music to wake up the astronauts without scaring them—a rule they mostly adhere to unless they feel particularly annoying that day. But the astronauts have been known to flip the tables on ground control from time to time, like in 1989 where they blasted the song “Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It’s Off To Work We Go” through ground control’s speakers when they managed to wake up before their usual alarm.

3The Poe Toaster

3 poe grave

Photo credit: Midnightdreary

The Poe Toaster is the name given to an unknown individual who for about seven decades has been visiting the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. Every year on the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death, the toaster, clad all in black, would go to the poet’s grave and drink a single glass of cognac before disappearing into the night.

What makes this tradition so unusual is that the toaster would leave behind several neatly trimmed roses in an odd pattern along with the remainder of the bottle of cognac they were drinking, suggesting that they’re a person of sizable income or work in a bar with a huge rose garden and lax security.

However, despite numerous attempts to identify this mysterious fan, nobody has ever been able to discern who they are even though they’ve been doing this since the 1930s! The last confirmed sighting of the Poe Toaster was back in 2009, and it’s rumored that the toaster has since given up the tradition. Since 2010, several copycat toasters have emerged—perhaps trying to steal the original toaster’s fame. All were outed as frauds since none of them were able to place their roses in the same pattern as the original toaster.

Very little is known about the toaster or his or her motives, save for the few facts gleaned from notes left on Poe’s grave. These notes suggest that the original toaster died in 1999, and that their son had taken up the tradition in their stead. As for why the toaster suddenly stopped in 2009, the two main theories are that, as 2009 was the bicentennial of Poe’s birth, it seemed like a good place as any to let the tradition rest, and the other theory is that the toaster grew tired of trying to avoid the crowds that had begun gathering every year to catch a glimpse of him or her. Either way, you have to admire that dedication.

2The South Pole Research Station’s Movie Nights

2 south pole
Few places on Earth are as inhospitable as the South Pole, with the exception of possibly the North Pole. Researchers working at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station have to deal with sub-freezing temperatures and nights that last for months, so it will probably come as no surprise to you that they’ve come up with a few traditions to help lighten the mood. What may surprise you is what these traditions entail.

One of the most enduring and popular traditions of researchers at the base is to watch The Thing just after the last flight of the summer leaves, leaving them effectively stranded until spring. Just to be clear, The Thing is a movie about an alien that kills a bunch of people stranded at an Antarctic research station. As if that wasn’t odd enough, halfway through winter it’s also a tradition for researchers to watch the The Shining, a movie about a man who goes crazy and kills his family after getting snowed in. And, just in case you weren’t already confused enough, at the end of winter the researchers all get together and watch Con Air, a film about Nicolas Cage punching a plane full of criminals out of the sky on Betamax. It’s almost like scientists are trying to tempt fate to record whether God loves irony or not.

1Swedish People Keep Setting Fire To A Giant Goat

1 goat
In Sweden, it’s a popular Christmas tradition for households to put a small straw goat somewhere in their home to celebrate the festive season. The history behind the goat and why it came to be associated with Christmas is a little murky, but a popular theory is that it goes back to the days of worshiping Thor who, according to Norse religion, owned an awesome chariot pulled by goats.

Regardless of the goat’s origins, it’s now considered a Christmas staple in Sweden and nowhere do people take this tradition more seriously than the town of Gavle. Since 1966, it has been a tradition in Gavle to erect a giant yule goat in the center of town despite the fact the people of Gavle seem intent on burning the goat to the ground.

After the first Gavle goat was mysteriously set ablaze just before the new year in 1966, almost every subsequent goat ever built has been set on fire. Setting fire to the Gavle goat has now become a tradition in and of itself, to the point that you can literally bet on whether or not it’s going to survive until Christmas day.

The goats were being burned down so often that the town stopped erecting them between 1970 and 1986, until the tradition was once again brought back due to popular demand. The first year the goat was built, it was set on fire.

Since that day, the police have tried dozens of tactics to stop people from burning the goat only to be outwitted nearly every single time. Vandals have managed to burn the goat down during a severe blizzard, while dressed as Santa with a flaming bow and arrow, and, when the goat was covered in special flame retardant paint, someone hit it with their car instead.

And that’s the image we want to leave you with today: A man crashing his car into a giant straw goat after a futile attempt to burn it down to celebrate Christmas.

If you want to see more from Karl, you can follow him on Twitter if that’s the sort of thing you’re into.

fact checked by Jamie Frater