Hunger Is the Best Sauce

During the siege of Paris, the city’s starving populace ate its horses, dogs, and cats, and eventually even turned to rats and zoo animals. In Paris in Its Splendor (1900), Eustace Reynolds-Ball gives the menu of a popular restaurant in the Latin Quarter at the beginning of January 1871, “which gives a good idea of the gastronomic straits to which the light-hearted Parisians were reduced”:

  • Consommé de Cheval au millet.
  • Brochettes de foie de Chien à la maître d’hôtel.
  • Emincé de rable de Chat. Sauce mayonnaise.
  • Epaules et filets de Chien braisés. Sauce aux tomates.
  • Civet de Chat aux Champignons.
  • Côtelettes de Chien aux petits pois.
  • Salmis de Rats. Sauce Robert.
  • Gigots de chien flanqués de ratons. Sauce poivrade.
  • Begonias au jus.
  • Plum-pudding au rhum et à la Moelle de Cheval.

See also Balloon Mail.

“If the Indians Hadn’t Spent the $24”


In 1626 Peter Minuit, first governor of New Netherland, purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians for about $24. … Assume for simplicity a uniform rate of 7% from 1626 to the present, and suppose that the Indians had put their $24 at interest at that rate … and had added the interest to the principal yearly. What would be the amount now, after 280 years? 24 × (1.07)280 = more than 4,042,000,000. [The current value of Manhattan is] a little more than $4,898,400,000. … The Indians could have bought back most of the property now, with improvements; from which one might point the moral of saving money and putting it at interest!

— W.F. White, A Scrap-Book of Elementary Mathematics, 1908

How the West Was Won


Some scalping victims survived. At left is Robert McGee, who was scalped as a teenager by Sioux chief Little Turtle in 1864.

Texas settler Josiah P. Wilbarger was scalped by Comanches in August 1833. He later recalled that “while no pain was perceptible, the removing of his scalp sounded like the ominous roar and peal of distant thunder,” recounts James De Shields in Border Wars of Texas.

“Rapidly Wilbarger recovered his usual health, and lived for eleven years, prospering, and accumulating a handsome estate. But his skull, bereft of the inner membrane and so long exposed to the sun, never entirely covered over, necessitating artificial covering, and eventually caused his death, hastened, as his physician, Dr. Anderson, thought, by accidentally striking his head against the upper portion of a low door frame of his gin house, causing the bone to exfoliate, exposing the brain and producing delirium.” He died in 1845.

Thinking Ahead

In 1936, angered by early bonuses being paid to World War I veterans, a group of Princeton students formed the Veterans of Future Wars. They said it was inevitable that the country would go to war within 30 years, and that young men would serve, so they demanded payment of $1,000 each in advance.

By June the group had 50,000 members in 584 chapters nationwide, all of whom adopted the group’s salute, “hand outstretched, palm up and expectant.” But it all blew over by April.

Ironically, nearly all the founding Princetonians did serve in World War II.


Croesus asked the oracle at Delphi whether he should attack the Persians. She replied that if he went to war, he would destroy a great empire.

Croesus attacked, but the Persians beat him back, invaded his kingdom, and threw him into chains. He sent another message to the oracle: “Why did you deceive me?”

She replied that she had not deceived him — he had indeed destroyed a great empire.

“The Spectre Leaguers”


Arriving home late one summer night in 1692, Ebenezer Babson surprised two men leaving his house in Cape Ann, Mass. As they fled, he heard one say to the other, “The man of the house is now come, else we might have taken the house.”

Babson removed his family to a nearby garrison, which by several bizarre accounts was then besieged for two weeks by phantoms dressed as gentlemen, in white waistcoats and breeches. Appearing in groups as large as 11, the “unaccountable troublers” reportedly spoke in a strange tongue, performed incantations, threw stones, beat upon barns with clubs, and made their way through a nearby swamp without leaving tracks. On each sortie from the garrison, they melted into the wilderness, sometimes arising after felled by gunfire.

The siege ended after a fortnight, apparently when the demons tired of their sport. This was the year of the Salem witch hysteria, and it’s likely that pranksters were involved in the later events. But Babson’s curiously specific account does leave questions about his own experience.

The Course of Human Events


The last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll, lived long enough to lay a cornerstone for the B&O Railroad.



The lectures of 19th-century seer Andrew Jackson Davis weren’t well attended, but perhaps they should have been. His 1856 book Penetralia predicted both the automobile and the typewriter:

Look out about these days for carriages and travelling-saloons on country-roads–sans horses, sans steam, sans any visible motive-power–moving with greater speed and far more safety than at present. Carriages will be moved by a strange, and beautiful, and simple admixture of aqueous and atmospheric gases–so easily condensed, so simply ignited, and so imparted by a machine somewhat resembling our engines, as to be entirely concealed and manageable between the forward wheels. …

I am almost moved to invent an automatic psychographer; that is, an artificial soul-writer. It may be constructed something like a piano; one brace or scale of keys to represent the elementary sounds; another and lower tier, to represent a combination; and still another, for a rapid recombination; so that a person, instead of playing a piece of music, may touch off a sermon or a poem!

A Risky Compliment


In Vertumnus, Giuseppe Arcimboldo portrayed his patron Rudolf II as the Roman god of growth and change. Fortunately, Rudolf appreciated the metaphor and awarded Arcimboldo one of his highest orders.

See also Renaissance Surrealism and The Librarian.

Guy Talk

Clement Atlee was using the urinal in the House of Commons one day when Winston Churchill took up a position at the opposite end.

“Feeling standoffish today, are we, Winston?” Atlee asked.

“That’s right,” Churchill said. “Every time you see something big, you want to nationalize it.”

Tug of War


In 1860, a party of Texas Rangers killed a camp of Comanche Indians near Pease River. Afterward, they noted that one of the women they had captured had blue eyes. She spoke no English, but when Col. Isaac Parker mentioned that his 9-year-old niece Cynthia Ann had been abducted by Comanches 24 years earlier, the woman slapped her chest and said, “Me Cincee Ann!”

As it turned out, Cynthia Ann Parker had been kidnapped twice. In 1836, when she was 9, the raiding Comanches had slaughtered her parents and taken her with them. She adopted their ways, grew to womanhood, married a native man, and bore three children. Then in 1860 the raiding Rangers killed her husband and abducted her back into white society.

She would be transplanted a third time: Forty years after her death in 1870, her son had her disinterred and buried on an Oklahoma reservation, reuniting her finally with her native family.

Damn Rebs


A combination plow and cannon, patented in 1862 by C.M. French and W.H. Fancher:

As a piece of light ordnance its capacity may vary from a projectile of one to three pounds weight without rendering it cumbersome as a plow. Its utility as an implement of the twofold capacity described is unquestionable, especially when used in border localities, subject to savage feuds and guerrilla warfare.

“As a means of defense in repelling surprises and skirmishing attacks on those engaged in a peaceful avocation it is unrivaled.”

Angry Planet

History’s 10 deadliest natural disasters:

  1. Yellow River flood, China, summer 1931: 1 million to 2 million dead
  2. Yellow River flood, China, September-October 1887: 900,000 to 2 million dead
  3. Bhola cyclone, East Pakistan, Nov. 13, 1970: 500,000 to 1 million dead
  4. Shaanxi earthquake, China, Jan. 23, 1556: 830,000 dead
  5. Cyclone, Coringa, India, Nov. 25, 1839: 300,000 dead
  6. Kaifeng flood, China, 1642: 300,000 dead
  7. Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami, Dec. 26, 2004: 283,100 dead
  8. Tangshan earthquake, China, July 28, 1976: 242,000 dead
  9. Banqiao Dam failure, China, August 1975: 231,000 dead
  10. Aleppo earthquake, Syria, 1138: 230,000 dead

Six of the 10 occurred in China. See also Death Tolls.

Trevanion’s Escape

Confined in Colchester Castle during the English civil war, the royalist officer Sir John Trevanion was awaiting execution when he received this letter:

Worthie Sir John:- Hope, that is ye beste comfort of ye afflicted, cannot much, I fear me, help you now. That I would saye to you, is this only: if ever I may be able to requite that I do owe you, stand not upon asking me. ‘Tis not much that I can do: but what I can do, bee ye verie sure I wille. I knowe that, if dethe comes, if ordinary men fear it, it frights not you, accounting it for a high honor, to have such a rewarde of your loyalty. Pray yet that you may be spared this soe bitter, cup. I fear not that you will grudge any sufferings; only if bie submission you can turn them away, ’tis the part of a wise man. Tell me, an if you can, to do for you anythinge that you wolde have done. The general goes back on Wednesday. Restinge your servant to command. — R.T.

Sir John studied the message for several hours, and then, apparently despairing, asked to spend some time alone in prayer. His captors agreed — and never saw him again.

Read the third letter after each punctuation mark.

Accidentally Famous


In 1838, a man made history by having his boots polished.

The man, in the lower left, was the only thing standing still when Louis Daguerre took this photograph of a busy Parisian street. Because the film was exposed for 10 minutes, the rest of the traffic blurred into nothing — and the anonymous man became the first person ever to appear in a photograph.

“A Christmas Pie of Ye Olden Time”

James, Earl of Lonsdale, sent a Christmas pie to King George III, which contained 9 geese, 2 tame ducks, 2 turkeys, 4 fowls, 6 pigeons, 6 wild ducks, 3 teals, 2 starlings, 12 partridges, 15 woodcocks, 2 Guinea fowls, 3 snipes, 6 plovers, 3 water-hens, 1 wild goose, 1 curlew, 46 yellow-hammers, 15 sparrows, 15 chaffinches, 2 larks, 4 thrushes, 12 fieldfares, 6 blackbirds, 20 rabbits, 1 leg of veal, half a ham, 3 bushels flour, and 2 stones of butter. It weighed 22 stones, was carried to London in a two horse wagon, and if it was not as dainty as the celebrated pie containing four-and-twenty blackbirds, which, when the pie was opened, began to sing, it was, at all events, a ‘dish to set before the king.’

Bizarre Notes & Queries, January 1886


On the way to one of his many duels, Georges Clemenceau requested a one-way railway ticket.

“Isn’t that a little pessimistic?” asked his second.

“Not at all,” Clemenceau said. “I always use my opponent’s return ticket for the trip back.”

The New World Prophecy


There’s a passage in Seneca’s Medea that seems to have foretold the discovery of America 1400 years before the event:

Venient annis secula seris,
Quibus Oceanus vincula rerum.
Laxet, et ingens pateat tellus
Tethysque novos detegat orbes
Nec sit terris ultima Thule.

“The times will come in later years when ocean may relax the chain of things, and a vast continent may open; the sea may uncover new worlds, and Thule cease to be the last of lands.”

Cold Case


A son of William the Conqueror, William II of England is remembered mostly for the curious manner of his death. In August 1100, William organized a hunting expedition in the New Forest. In sharing arrows with the Anglo-Norman nobleman Walter Tirel, he said, “It is only right that the sharpest be given to the man who knows how to shoot the deadliest shots.” That was tempting fate, apparently: The king did not return after the hunt, and his body was discovered the next day with an arrow piercing his lungs.

Walter fled to France, but chroniclers generally don’t consider him a murderer. He was a skilled bowman, unlikely to fire impetuously, and the abbot who sheltered him in France heard him swear repeatedly that he had not been in the part of the forest where the king was hunting. On the other hand, William’s brother Henry was also in the hunting party, and he stood to gain (and did) from William’s death.

So what really happened? We’ll never know.

Square Deal

In 1994, Leonard Gordon showed that all 37 presidential surnames to date can fit into a 22 × 18 rectangle:


Free Won’t

Zeno once caught a slave stealing and began to beat him.

Knowing the philosopher’s penchant for paradoxes, the slave cried, “But it was fated that I should steal!”

Zeno said, “And that I should beat you.”

Jefferson’s Commandments

A “decalogue of canons for observation in practical life,” sent by Thomas Jefferson to the new father of a baby boy:

  1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do to-day.
  2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  3. Never spend your money before you have it.
  4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
  5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
  7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
  9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
  10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.

It’s not clear what a smooth handle is. Possibly it refers to a saying by Epictetus: “Everything has two handles, one by which it can be borne, another by which it cannot.” Or possibly Jefferson was referring to the need for civil discourse.

See also Ben Franklin’s “13 virtues” and Poor Richard’s lesser-known maxims.

No Comment


A proud mother once remarked that her baby looked exactly like Winston Churchill.

Churchill told her, “Madam, all babies look like me.”

Monte Verde

In 1975, a veterinary student came across a curious bone in south-central Chile, about 36 miles east of the Pacific. It proved to be that of a mastodon, and as archaeologists explored the discovery site, they found the remains of ancient hearths, a brazier pit, and a 20-foot tentlike structure made of wood and animal hides.

The site is estimated to be 12,500 years old. If that’s accurate, these people occupied Chile a full millennium before humans are generally thought to have colonized the Americas. Who were they?