Open for Business

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

When Elijah Bond, patentee of the Ouija board, died in 1921, he was buried in an unmarked grave, and as time passed its location was forgotten. In 1992, Robert Murch, chairman of the Talking Board Historical Society, set out to find it, and after a 15-year search he did — Bond had been buried with his wife’s family in Baltimore rather than with his own in Dorsey, Md.

Murch got permission to install a new headstone and raised the necessary funds through donations, and today Bond has the headstone above, with a simple inscription on the front and a Ouija board on the back — in case anyone wants to talk.

Long Haul

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Recognize this locomotive? You’ve almost certainly seen it before: Built in 1891, “Sierra No. 3” was adopted by Hollywood in 1948 and became “the most photographed locomotive in the world,” appearing in The Red Glove, The Terror, The Virginian, The Texan, Young Tom Edison, Sierra Passage, Wyoming Mail, High Noon, The Cimarron Kid, Kansas Pacific, The Moonlighter, Apache, Rage at Dawn, The Return of Jack Slade, Texas Lady, The Big Land, Terror in a Texas Town, Man of the West, Face of a Fugitive, The Outrage, The Rare Breed, The Great Race, The Perils of Pauline, Finian’s Rainbow, A Man Called Gannon, The Great Bank Robbery, Joe Hill, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, Oklahoma Crude, Nickleodeon, Bound for Glory, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, The Long Riders, Pale Rider, Blood Red, Back to the Future Part III, Unforgiven, and Bad Girls.

Gary Cooper alone starred in four movies with it, including High Noon; Clint Eastwood, who appeared with it in Rawhide, Pale Rider, and Unforgiven, said it was “like a treasured old friend.” TV shows:

The Lone Ranger, Tales of Wells Fargo, Casey Jones, Rawhide, Overland Trail, Lassie, Death Valley Days, The Raiders, Petticoat Junction, The Wild Wild West, The Big Valley, The Legend of Jesse James, Scalplock, Iron Horse, Cimarron Strip, Dundee and the Culhane, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Ballad of the Iron Horse, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Great Man’s Whiskers, Inventing of America, Little House on the Prairie, Law of the Land, A Woman Called Moses, Lacy and the Mississippi Queen, Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid, The Night Rider, The Last Ride of the Dalton Gang, Belle Starr, East of Eden, Father Murphy, The A-Team, Bonanza: The Next Generation, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., and Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman.

William L. Withhuhn, former transportation history curator at the Smithsonian Institution, wrote, “Sierra Railway No. 3 has appeared in more motion pictures, documentaries, and television productions than any other locomotive. It is undisputedly the image of the archetypal steam locomotive that propelled the USA from the 19th century into the 20th.”

Fierljeppen

Since much of the Netherlands is below sea level, Dutch farmers needed a way to leap waterways to reach their various plots of land. Over time this evolved into a competitive sport, known as fierljeppen (“far leaping”) in which each contestant sprints to the water, seizes a 10-meter pole, and climbs it as it lurches forward over the channel. The winner is the one who lands farthest from his starting point in the sand bed on the opposite side.

The current record holder is Jaco de Groot of Utrecht, who leapt, clambered, swayed, and fell 22.21 meters in August.

Overdue

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Harry Houdini worked out a code with his wife, Bess, so that they could communicate during his performances:

Pray = 1 = A
Answer = 2 = B
Say = 3 = C
Now = 4 = D
Tell = 5 = E
Please = 6 = F
Speak = 7 = G
Quickly = 8 = H
Look = 9 = I
Be quick = 10 or 0 = J

Each of the first 10 letters of the alphabet is represented by both a word and a number, so BAD, for example, could be represented by “Answer, Pray, Now.” Letters beyond the 10th would be represented with two digits; for example, S, the 19th letter, could be indicated by 1 and 9, “Pray-Look.”

After Houdini died in 1926, Bess waited for a message in this code, according to an agreement between them. In 1929, psychic Arthur Ford claimed to have received it:

Rosabelle, answer, tell, pray-answer, look, tell, answer-answer, tell.

“Rosabelle” is a song that Bess used to sing. The rest, decoded, spells out BELIEVE. At first Bess took this as a genuine message from her husband, but skeptics pointed out that by this time she had revealed the code to Harold Kellock, who had published it in a biography that had appeared the previous year. So Ford could simply have learned the code and prepared the message himself. Bess repudiated Ford’s claim and in 1936 stopped attending séances. She said, “Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.”

“Houdini never said he could come back,” observed Henry Muller, curator of the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame. “He just thought that if anybody could do it, it would be him.”

(From Craig Bauer, Unsolved!, 2017.)

Unquote

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“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”

— George Orwell, “The Sporting Spirit,” 1945

“[It is] to be utterly abjected of al noble men in likewise, footballe, wherein is nothinge but beastly furie and extreme violence whereof procedeth hurte and consequently rancour and malice do remaine with them that be wounded wherefore it is to be put in perpetuell silence.”

— Sir Thomas Elyot, The Governour, 1531

“For as concerning football playing, I protest unto you it may rather be called a freendly kinde of fight, then a play or recreation; A bloody and murthering practise, then a felowly sporte or pastime. … and hereof groweth envie, malice, rancour, cholor, hatred, displeasure, enmitie, and what not els: and sometimes fighting, brawling, contention, quarrel picking, murther, homicide, and great effusion of blood, as experience dayly teacheth.”

— Phillip Stubbes, Anatomy of Abuses, 1583

Misc

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  • In 1898 Sam Clemens signed a hotel register “S.L. Clemens. Profession: Mark Twain.”
  • Jonathan Swift invented the name Vanessa.
  • How many outs are in an inning of baseball? Six.
  • Isaac Asimov’s collected papers fill 71 meters of shelf space at Boston University.
  • “He is greatest who is most often in men’s good thoughts.” — Samuel Butler

After starring as the title character, Anne Shirley, in the 1934 film Anne of Green Gables, actress Dawn O’Day changed her stage name to Anne Shirley and used it for the rest of her career.

Unquote

humphrey bogart

“I’m not good-looking. … What I have got is I have character in my face. It’s taken an awful lot of late nights and drinking to put it there.” — Humphrey Bogart

“If a face like Ingrid Bergman’s looks at you as though you’re adorable, everybody does. You don’t have to act very much.” — Humphrey Bogart

“All I do to look evil is to let my beard grow for two days.” — Humphrey Bogart

Hybrid Sports

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Chess boxing has evolved from a performance art piece to a serious worldwide professional sport. Two competitors engage in six rounds of chess and five rounds of boxing, switching between the two every three minutes. A player can win by knockout, technical knockout, or checkmate, or if his opponent resigns, exceeds the time limit, or is disqualified. If both the contests end in a draw, the player of the black pieces wins.

In football tennis (below), you have to return the ball over the net without using your hands. Up to three players can play on each side, with corresponding rules regarding the number of touches and bounces allowed on each return. This sport is growing too — the first rules were written in 1940, and it held its 11th world championship in 2014. Now we need a way to combine all four of these.

Technically Color

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 film Spellbound was shot in black and white, but the conclusion contains two frames of red when a gun is fired (1:54:40 above).

(This involves a big spoiler, so don’t click if you haven’t seen the movie.)

Above It All

https://www.google.com/patents/US915171

Here’s a lost art: “Ceiling walking” was a popular form of American entertainment as early as 1806, when “Sanches, the Wonderful Antipodean” wore iron shoes that were “fitted in grooves in a board fastened to the top of the stage.”

Spectacles such as this were drawing crowds right through the 19th century. In New Orleans in the 1880s a young “human fly” named Mademoiselle Aimee was carried by her teeth to a trapeze 50 feet in the air, from which she affixed her feet to the ceiling by some indistinct means. “Many such exclamations as ‘My God!’ ‘Oh My!’ and so on follow, and as she puts one foot before the other, walking in a forward direction, the situation is most thrilling,” marveled the Daily Picayune. “Often ladies have fainted at the sight of the almost child’s peril, and men have trembled while looking up at her. Many refuse to look up at all and those who do continue to look are in constant apprehension of a terrible accident. There is no question in the world but that the feat is without parallel in the matter of tempting fate.”

How was this done? There seem to be a range of answers. V. Waid’s “Theatrical Device” of 1905 used vacuum cups attached to the fly’s feet, but both E.I. George’s “Electric Aerial Ambulating System” of 1909 (above) and C.H. Newman and W. Berrigan’s “Electrical Device to Enable Showmen to Walk on the Ceiling” of 1885 used electromagnets.

How would this have evolved if it had remained popular? What would we be using today?

(From Jacob Smith, The Thrill Makers, 2012.)