Fifteen-year-old Owen Burnham was walking along a Gambian beach in 1983 when he came upon a group of villagers cutting up a carcass. He says it measured about 15 feet long, with a 4.5-foot head and a beak containing 80 conical teeth. The villagers eventually sold the head to a tourist and buried the body.

Burnham’s story is a little fishy — he took extensive measurements but didn’t think to take a photo or save a sample. And now no one can find the body.

Maybe “Gambo” was a living dinosaur; maybe it was a mangled whale; maybe it never existed. At this point the only person who can shed any light is the tourist … and he’s not talking.

“A Bill Becomes a Law When the President Vetoes It”

Excerpts from students’ civics exams in the 1800s:

  • “The three departments of the government is the President rules the world, the governor rules the State, the mayor rules the city.”
  • “The first conscientious Congress met in Philadelphia.”
  • “The Constitution of the United States was established to ensure domestic hostility.”
  • “The Constitution of the United States is that part of the book at the end which nobody reads.”
  • “Congress is divided into civilized half civilized and savage.”

— From Mark Twain, “English as She Is Taught: Being Genuine Answers to Examination Questions in Our Public Schools,” 1887

First Draft, Best Draft

Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence contained a passage denouncing the slave trade:

He [George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.

Congress removed it.


George Bernard Shaw is the only person who has won both a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award.

He won the Nobel in 1925 and an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1938 (for Pygmalion).

“I can forgive Alfred Nobel for having invented dynamite,” he once said, “but only a fiend in human form could have invented the Nobel Prize.”

Ironic Post-Ironic Irony

In 1998, University of Iowa communications professor Kembrew McLeod trademarked the phrase “Freedom of Expression.” Then he sent AT&T a cease-and-desist letter because they were using his phrase in an advertising campaign.

He said he knew he was overreaching, but “I do want to register my genuine protest that a big company that really doesn’t represent freedom of expression is trying to appropriate this phrase.”

P.S. Need More Erasers

During the American Civil War, captured Union soldiers held in Libby Prison, Richmond, Va., were allowed only six lines in correspondence with their friends at home. Here’s a sample letter:

“My Dear Wife. – Yours received – no hopes of exchange – send corn starch – want socks – no money – rheumatism in left shoulder – pickles very good – send sausages – God bless you – kiss the baby – Hail Columbia! – Your devoted husband.”

It Pays to Advertise

Ted Hustead was kind of a nut for self-promotion. When he bought a drugstore in tiny Wall, South Dakota, in 1931, he figured he could attract customers through advertising.

Maybe he overcompensated a little. There are now 500 miles of Wall Drug billboards on Interstate 90, stretching all the way to Minnesota at an annual cost of $400,000, plus signs at the North and South Poles, the Paris Metro, and the Taj Mahal. The photo above was taken somewhere in Africa in the 1950s.

The signs may be eyesores, but they’re scaring off the competition — the little pharmacy is still the only one within 500 square miles.

Uh, Right

Decimal arithmetic is a contrivance of man for computing numbers, and not a property of time, space, or matter. It belongs essentially to the keeping of accounts, but is merely an incident to the transactions of trade. Nature has no partiality for the number 10; and the attempt to shackle her freedom with them [decimal gradations], will for ever prove abortive.

— John Quincy Adams, recommending against the metric system in 1821, as reported in Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, May 15, 1852