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Ask SAM: What does the Demon Deacon's plunger represent?
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Ask SAM: What does the Demon Deacon's plunger represent?

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DEMON DEACON MASCOT

The Wake Forest Demon Deacon hypes up the crowd during a basketball game in 2015. 

Q: What does the Wake Forest Demon Deacon’s plunger stand for?

— B.S.

Answer: The origin of the plunger seen in some illustrations of the Demon Deacon dates back to Bill Shepherd, a 1960 Wake Forest graduate who performed as the Deacon for three years while he was a student.

“He was known at the university and throughout Winston-Salem for his plunger twirling atop the goal posts in the late 1950s,” according to The Little Black Book, a reference book published by Wake Forest University about the school’s history. “According to newspaper clippings in the university archives, the plunger was the crowd’s favorite Deacon antic. The mascot would twirl the ‘plumber’s friend’ like a baton and swing it to the chants of the crowd.”

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Dressed in a scissor-tail coat and a high silk hat, Shepherd would use the plunger as a weapon — especially against the Duke Blue Devil and his pitchfork — and do various stunts, including sticking it to things such as a Carolina license plate. Some of his predecessors had carried walking sticks, umbrellas or canes.

Shepherd also used the plunger when he was the mascot of the Red Birds, a local pro baseball team, in the late 1950s.

Q: When did people start brushing their teeth?

— J.R.

Answer: Archaeologists have found toothbrush-like twigs in Egyptian tombs dating back to 3000 B.C.

“The first toothbrushes were small sticks or twigs mashed at one end to create a broader cleaning surface,” according to the Academy of General Dentistry’s website at www.know yourteeth.com. “The Chinese lay claim to the first bristle toothbrush.” The bristles were picked from the backs of the necks of hogs and fastened into handles made of bamboo or bone.

In a 1723 dental textbook, Dr. Pierre Fauchard was critical of horsehair brushes and recommended instead that people vigorously rub their teeth and gums with a small piece of natural sponge. Until modern times, toothbrushes were less popular than toothpicks, which were often made of brass or silver.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, toothbrushes made with hog hair were common; in 1937, the United States imported 1.5 million pounds of hog bristles for toothbrushes.

The first nylon-bristle toothbrushes were developed in 1938 and were marketed under the name Dr. West’s Miracle Tuft Toothbrush.

Toothpaste, meanwhile, has also been around since ancient times, but the ingredients have varied over the years.

“Early toothpaste ingredients included powdered fruit, burnt or ground shells, talc, honey and dried flowers,” according to the site. “Less agreeable ingredients included mice, rabbit heads, lizard livers and urine. Despite the decidedly non-minty flavor of early toothpaste, various recipes continued to appear throughout ancient history and well into the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, many of these toothpastes contained corrosive elements that dissolved tooth enamel.”

Toothpaste closer to what we know today came about in the 1800s, with ingredients such as soap and chalk. The first collapsible tube was marketed in 1892, and in 1956 Procter & Gamble introduced Crest brand toothpaste with fluoride.

Email: AskSAM@wsjournal.com

Online: journalnow.com/asksam

Write: Ask SAM, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101

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