The Museum of English Rural Life got a surprise on Wednesday — a 155-year-old mousetrap there managed to catch a mouse:
So, this retired rodent had managed to sneak past University of Reading security, exterior doors and Museum staff, and clambered its way up into our Store. Upon finding itself there it would have found the promised land; a mouse paradise laid before it full of straw, wood and textiles. Then, out of thousands of objects, it chose for its home the very thing designed to kill it some 150 years ago: a mouse trap.
The trap was patented in 1861; it bills itself as a “perpetual mouse trap” that “will last a lifetime.” More at the museum’s blog.
The Austrian village of Jungholz is connected to the rest of the country by a single point, the summit of the mountain Sorgschrofen. The summit marks a “quadripoint,” a point that touches four distinct territories — here, Austria to the north and south and Germany to the east and west.
This raises some philosophical questions. Suppose a stubborn, infinitely skinny Austrian leaves Schattwald (in the south) to visit Jungholz at the same moment that an equally stubborn, infinitely skinny German leaves Bad Hindelang (in the west) to visit his grandmother in Pfronten (in the east). What happens? They can’t sidle past one another; the countries meet at a single, indivisible point. If neither will stand aside while the other passes, then the only solution I can see is for one to hop briefly onto the other’s shoulders.
Now suppose a border guard accosts them at this moment. The two occupy the same point on the Earth’s surface, yet one claims to be in Austria while the other is in Germany. Are they both right? And suppose that the lower man is killed by being jumped upon (he is very attenuated, after all). Which jurisdiction has authority over the crime scene? Who should judge the crime?
In The Book of the Harp (2005), John Marson mentions a musical oddity — in 1932, a committee devoted to equal temperament was so incensed at the Royal Schools of Music that it hauled them before London’s Central Criminal Court for obtaining money under false pretenses. From The Music Lover magazine, April 30, 1932:
There is a touch of knight errantry about the action of Lennox Atkins F.R.C.O., hon. sec. of the Equal Temperament Committee, in applying at Bow Street for process against the Associated Board of Examiners in Music on the grounds that they were not qualified to know whether the music was being played in tune or not, and that therefore their diplomas were valueless. It certainly savours of the ‘ingenious gentleman’ of La Mancha who tilted at windmills. The temperament question seems to have upon those who take it up an effect similar to that which temperament produces in a prima donna. They become, to say the least, unreasonable. Happily Mr Fry, the magistrate, decided that this was not a matter for a criminal court, so that Sir John B. McEwan and Sir Hugh Allen are not to be shot at dawn, as was at first feared.
McEwan headed the Royal Academy of Music and Allen the Royal College of Music at the time. I find a bit more in the Musical Times, June 1, 1932:
Candidates were allowed to pass off the tuner’s scale as their own, and to obtain certificates to which, the E.T.C. claimed, they were not in equity entitled. Every sound produced was the tuner’s and not the candidate’s. Famous examiners, such as the late Sir Frederick Bridge, had wrongly passed thousands of candidates in keyed instrument examinations. From the point of view of the E.T.C., the candidates were not really examined at all.
The magistrate added that if it was thought that the examiners’ knowledge was insufficient then civil proceedings might be undertaken.
“We have only once before heard of the Equal Temperament Committee — a long while ago — and we were, and are still, vague as to its aims,” noted the Musical Times. “We had imagined it to be a learned Society that met from time to time to exchange light and airy chat about ratios, partials, mesotonics, and other temperamental details. But it seems that it is a body with a Mission, though we are not clear what that Mission is. Judging from the Bow Street evidence, the Committee’s aim is to make ‘Every Musician His Own Tuner’ — which seems rather rough on real tuners.”
Shortly after Pearl Harbor, a 12-year-old boy walked into an Arizona recruiting office and said, “I want to join the Army and shoot some Japs. Sure, I’m 17 years old. You enlist men 17 years old, don’t you? I don’t need my mother’s consent … I’m a midget.”
He didn’t get in, but other boys did. In 1942 the Marines issued an honorable discharge to William Holle of Eau Claire, Wis., who had enlisted the previous year at age 12. And 13-year-old Jackie MacInnes of Medford, Mass., took his older brother’s birth certificate to a Boston enlistment office, forged his parents’ signatures on the consent papers, and reported for duty at Newport, R.I. “Everything was going fine,” ran one news report, “until he wrote a letter home.” His parents came to pick him up.
At least one underage enlistee escaped detection — in 1988 Ronald Reagan signed a special bill granting disability benefits to Calvin L. Graham, above, a Marine veteran injured at Guadalcanal. The Navy had denied them because he’d lied about his age when enlisting. He was 12.
(From William M. Tuttle Jr., “Daddy’s Gone to War,” 1993.)
An attractive woman approaches Sylvester in a bar. She has a proposition: For a single payment of £50, he can have a passionate weeklong holiday with her in Nice. Everything else is covered: travel tickets, a first-class hotel, and her attentions. There’s one further condition. She’ll shortly say something important, which we’ll call the “key.” If the key is true, then she keeps the £50 and Sylvester gets the holiday at no further cost, as explained. If the key is false, then Sylvester must accept the £50 back, but he still gets the week’s holiday with her for free.
“How can he lose?” asks Peter Cave in How to Think Like a Bat (2011). “Either way, with regard to whether the key is true or not, he is bound to have the splendid trip and the passion. At worst, it costs him a mere £50.” He gives her the £50, and she gives him the key:
Either I shall return the £50 or you will pay me £1 million.
For an either/or statement to be false, both elements must be false. So for the key above to be false, the woman must not return the £50. But under the agreement she must. So this yields a contradiction, whether or not Sylvester pays her £1 million; the key cannot be false. On the other hand, if the key is true, then the agreement requires that she keep the £50 … which means that he must pay her £1 million.
“Once we have contradictions involved in conditions,” writes Cave, “we may find ourselves trapped into all manner of things.”
In March 1999, fisherman Steve Gowan was fishing for cod off the coast of Essex when he dredged up a green ginger beer bottle with a screw-on rubber stopper. Inside he found a note:
Sir or madam, youth or maid,
Would you kindly forward the enclosed letter and earn the blessing of a poor British soldier on his way to the front this ninth day of September, 1914.
Private T. Hughes
Second Durham Light Infantry.
Third Army Corp Expeditionary Force.
The enclosed letter read:
I am writing this note on this boat and dropping it into the sea just to see if it will reach you. If it does, sign this envelope on the right hand bottom corner where it says receipt. Put the date and hour of receipt and your name where it says signature and look after it well. Ta ta sweet, for the present.
Private Thomas Hughes, 26, of Stockton-on-Tees, had dropped the bottle into the English Channel in 1914 as he left to fight in France. He was killed two days afterward. His wife Elizabeth and daughter moved to New Zealand, where Elizabeth died in 1979. Gowan delivered the letter to the daughter, Emily Crowhurst, in Auckland that May. Two years old when her father had left for the war, she was now 86. She said, “It touches me very deeply to know … that his passage reached a goal. I think he would be very proud it had been delivered. He was a very caring man.”
On June 15, 1875, physician Albert Childs was standing outside his office in Cedar Creek, Nebraska, when he saw the horizon darken. At first he was hopeful for some needed rain, but then he realized that the cloud was moving under its own power.
“And then suddenly it was on him, a trillion beating wings and biting jaws,” writes entomologist Steve Nicholls in Paradise Found (2009). It was an unusually huge swarm of Rocky Mountain locusts descended from the mountains. Stunned, Childs set about estimating its size:
Using the telegraph, he sent messages up and down the line and found the swarm front to be unbroken for 110 miles. With his telescope he estimated the swarm to be over half a mile deep, and he watched it pass for ‘five full days.’ He worked out that the locusts were traveling at around fifteen miles an hour and came up with the astonishing fact that the swarm was 1,800 miles long. This swarm covered 198,000 square miles, or, if it was transposed on to the east coast, it would have covered all the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
“Albert Childs had recorded the largest ever swarm — the biggest aggregation of animals ever seen on planet Earth,” Nicholls writes. University of Wyoming entomologist Jeffrey Lockwood calls it the “Perfect Swarm.”
The shortest jail sentence ever served in Washington state is one minute. From the Seattle Daily Times, Jan. 20, 1906:
[Joe] Munch is a soldier, on leave of absence. On the thirteenth day of August he found garrison life dull and proceeded to get drunk. A policeman found him in this condition and he was hustled off to the police station. In Judge Gordon’s court he was sentenced to thirty days for being drunk and disorderly, but his case was taken to the higher court.
Judge Frater decided that while the soldier’s crime was not enough to merit punishment, for the looks of things he ought to be sent to jail, and have a lesson taught him. Consequently Munch was sentenced to an imprisonment of one minute, something which the clerk who makes out the sentence documents never heard of before and which caused much merriment in court house circles.
“Those who heard the decision were inclined to take it as a joke of the judge’s, until Munch was hustled off to jail and kept there until the second hand of the jailer’s watch had completed the circle of sixty seconds. Munch was so surprised that he hardly knew what was going on and when released decided that the best thing for him to do was to get away for fear the sight of him should cause the judge to inflict a heavier penalty.”
(From the Washington State Library blog.)
Hollinwood, near Manchester, was the scene of a rather novel rat killing match the other day, between Mr. Benson’s fox terrier dog, Turk, and a Mr. Lewis’ monkey, for £5. The conditions of the match were that each one had to kill twelve rats, and the one that finished them the quickest to be declared the winner. You may guess what excitement this would cause in the ‘doggy’ circle. It was agreed that Turk was to finish his twelve rats first, which he did, and in good time, too, many bets being made on the dog after he had finished them. After a few minutes had elapsed it now came the monkey’s turn, and a commotion it caused. Time being called, the monkey was immediately put to his twelve rats, Mr. Lewis, the owner, at the same time putting his hand in his coat pocket and handing the monkey a peculiar hammer. This was a surprise to the onlookers; but the monkey was not long in getting to work with his hammer, and, once at work, he was not long in completing the task set before him. You may talk about a dog being quick at rat killing, but he is really not in it with the monkey and his hammer. Had the monkey been left in the ring much longer you could not have told that his victims had been rats at all — he was for leaving them in all shapes. Suffice it to say the monkey won with ease, having time to spare at the finish. Most persons present (including Mr. Benson, the owner of the dog) thought the monkey would worry the rats in the same manner as the dog does; but the conditions said to kill, and the monkey killed with a vengeance, and won the £5, beside a lot of bets for his owner.
— Illustrated Police News, Sept. 4, 1880
The first marriage ever celebrated in a balloon was held on Oct. 19, 1874, between Mary Elizabeth Walsh and Charles M. Colton, two performers in P.T. Barnum’s Roman Hippodrome in Cincinnati. Fifty thousand people watched as the “monster balloon” P.T. Barnum, trimmed with flags and flowers and “full almost to bursting with the best of gas,” carried the wedding party a mile above Lincoln Park, where minister Howard Jeffries performed the ceremony and made the following remarks:
Marriage is not an earthly but a heavenly institution, belonging to the higher realms of life, and as such is it revered by the enlightened; the greater the enlightenment of any country or community the greater the respect it accords marriage; as an institution above those of the world, merely, it is, then, most fitting that its solemnization should be celebrated far above the earth.
May you, whose life-destinies have been joined together at this altitude, be always lifted above the adversities of life. Hence you look down upon the multitudes below, who appear as pigmies from your elevation, and you see that the sun is fast going down upon them; shadows lengthen and darkness will quickly enwrap them. Upon you the sun shines with greater brilliancy than we have seen it at any time to-day; so may it be in life, and you be exempt from shadows and darkness, though you see them fall upon others. As you here serenely float above the hills, the rocks and the roughness below, so may your united destinies bear you above the rugged places of life; may you have no hills of sorrow to scale, no valley of adversity to pass through, no rock of passion to stumble upon, no treacherous ditch of contention to fall into.
Soon we shall all descend to earth, as we must shortly all go down to the grave. As upon leaving this vessel you two will pass forward in company while you live, so, when you have both crossed to ‘that bourn from whence no traveler returns,’ may your united souls in company explore the glorious paradise of God’s redeemed.
He left them with this certificate:
(From History of Donaldson’s Balloon Ascensions, 1875.)