Our Geneva Correspondent writes: — ‘A few days since two schoolmasters from Morzine, a Savoyard village near the Swiss frontier, made an excursion to the Col de Coux, not far from Champéry, in the Valais. As they were descending the mountain, late in the afternoon, they thought they heard cries of distress. After a long search they perceived a man holding on to a bush, or small tree, which had struck its roots into the face of the precipice. As the precipice was nearly perpendicular and the man was some 1,200 ft. below them, and the foot of the precipice quite as far below him, they found it impossible to give the poor fellow any help. All they could do was to tell him to stay where he was — if he could — until they came back, and hurry off to Morzine for help. Though it was night when they arrived thither, a dozen bold mountaineers, equipped with ropes, started forthwith for the rescue. After a walk of 12 miles they reached the Col de la Golèse, but it being impossible to scale the rocks in the dark they remained there until the sun rose. As soon as there was sufficient light they climbed by a roundabout path to the top of the precipice. The man was still holding on to the bush. Three of the rescue party, fastened together with cords, were then lowered to a ledge about 600 feet below. From this coign of vantage two of the three lowered the third to the bush. He found the man, who had been seated astride his precarious perch a day and a night, between life and death. It was a wonder how he had been able to hold on so long, for besides suffering from hunger and cold he had been hurt in the fall from the height above. He was a reserve man belonging to Saméons, on his way thither from Lausanne, where he had been working, to be present at a muster. Losing his way on the mountains between Thonon and Saméons, he had missed his footing and rolled over the precipice. He had the presence of mind to cling to the bush, which broke his fall, but if the two schoolmasters had not heard his cries he must have perished miserably. Hoisting him to the top of the precipice was a difficult and perilous undertaking, but it was safely accomplished. None of the man’s hurts were dangerous, and after a long rest and a hearty meal or two he was pronounced fit to continue his journey and report himself at the muster.’
— Times, July 12, 1882
Can objects have preferences? The rattleback is a top that seems to prefer spinning in a certain direction — when spun clockwise, this one arrests its motion, shakes itself peevishly, and then sweeps grandly counterclockwise as if forgiving an insult.
There’s no trick here — the reversal arises due to a coupling of instabilities in the top’s other axes of rotation — but prehistoric peoples have attributed it to magic.
See Right Side Up.
Some insurance policies declare themselves inapplicable to injuries or losses that are covered by other policies. What happens if an injured person holds two such policies?
If the provisions are interpreted strictly, “then each would become inapplicable,” notes Earlham College philosopher Peter Suber. “But as soon as they were inapplicable, they would each trigger the other’s applicability again, and so on.”
“The policy-holder would either be entitled to nothing or to benefits from at least one policy, to be determined by an unending and indeterminable oscillation of liability.”
As airplanes began to populate the skies over Europe and America, they met an unexpected adversary — eagles. “Some of the adventures of aviators with eagles have been harrowing in the extreme,” reported the Associated Press in 1928. “An airplane was flying over the mountains [behind Athens] recently when several eagles swooped down and attacked it simultaneously. Their dashes at the machine so crippled it that the pilot was forced to descend quickly, and landed so badly that he and a passenger were injured.”
In Adventures With a Texas Naturalist (1975), Roy Bedichek reports that such encounters were reported as early as World War I and were still taking place 60 years later. He writes that pilot J.O. Casparis was flying over Texas’ Big Bend National Park when “an enormous eagle crash-dived his plane before he could shoot, tore through the window, ripped off several feet of the fuselage and showered him with shattered glass.” And J. Wentworth Day reported an attack by two eagles on a three-motored, all-steel passenger plane near Allahbad, India: “The first eagle flew straight in the middle engine, while the second dived from ten thousand feet, and went through the steel wing like a stone, ripping a great hole.”
Bedichek writes that, after the first attacks, the French army seriously considered training eagles to attack enemy planes, and the British Air Ministry issued instructions on the best tactics to pursue during eagle attacks. “Of course, modern planes have little to fear from eagles or other birds individually,” he notes, “but the encountering by plane of migration flights, especially of flights of large birds in considerable number, is said still to offer a considerable hazard.”
On Monday last an accident of a singular but distressing nature happened to one of our townsmen. A pair of fanners were being conveyed in a cart along the road to the Whins, when, from some cause or other, the horse ran off. Mr. Drummond, millwright, the person who has met with the accident, at first stepped forward to stop the horse, but, fearing danger, started hastily back. Behind Mr. Drummond was a lad bearing an axe upon his shoulder. Upon the sharp edge of the instrument Mr. Drummond unfortunately ran, and the consequence was that his nose was very nearly cut off. So complete was the cut the nose fell over upon the mouth, and was suspended by the slightest portion of the integument. Mr Drummond instantly applied his handkerchief to his face, and proceeded to Dr. Brotherston, who was fortunately in his own house at the moment. As may be supposed, the sight was a hideous one, the accident presenting an insight into the interior of the face. We are happy to say that, under Dr. Brotherston’s judicious treatment, the nose has been replaced, and there is every hope of the cure being so effectual that scarcely any trace of the accident will by and by be visible.
— Alloa Advertiser, reprinted in the Times, Dec. 18, 1855
On Jan. 15, 1915, a shell hit the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières in Albert, France. Its crowning statue of Mary and the infant Jesus was flung forward and teetered over the building’s facade, but it did not fall.
“We went through the place today where the Virgin Statue at the top of the Church was hit by a shell in January,” wrote chaplain Rupert Edward Inglis to his wife in October. “The statue was knocked over, but has never fallen, I sent you a picture of it. It really is a wonderful sight. It is incomprehensible how it can have stayed there, but I think it is now lower than when the photograph was taken, and no doubt will come down with the next gale.”
But it didn’t. The virgin remained suspended over Albert for three years, during which British, French, and German forces all invented legends for it, commonly saying that the war would end when it finally fell. They were nearly right: The statue finally came down in April 1918, seven months before the armistice.
The basilica has since been rebuilt, and it bears a replica of the original statue.
At 3:35 a.m. on Aug. 14, 1888, off the coast of Nova Scotia, Second Officer Jørgensen of the Danish steamer Geiser was asleep in his bunk when he was awakened by a “frightful crash.” As he rolled out of his bunk, the bow of another ship “crashed its way through the walls of my stateroom, making an enormous hole and blocking the door so I couldn’t get out.” Desperately he grabbed the anchor chain of the strange ship “and climbed up to her deck just as the Geiser gave one last lurch and went down out of sight, with her decks covered with shrieking, despairing people.”
He found himself aboard Geiser‘s sister ship Thingvalla, which had been plying the same line between New York and Copenhagen. In the stormy night, Thingvalla’s prow had struck Geiser amidships, and she sank in seven minutes. Thingvalla’s boats rescued 14 passenger and 17 crew, leaving 126 unaccounted for — most of the passengers died in their bunks.
On Nov. 20, 1820, the Nantucket whaler Essex was attacking a pod of sperm whales in the South Pacific when an immense 85-foot whale surfaced about 100 yards off the bow. It spouted two or three times, dove briefly, then charged and “struck the ship with his head just forward of the fore chains,” reported mate Owen Chase. “He gave us such an appalling and tremendous jar as nearly threw us all on our faces. The ship brought up as suddenly and violently as if she had struck a rock, and trembled for a few moments like a leaf. We looked at each other in perfect amazement, deprived almost of the power of speech.”
The whale passed under the ship and lay on the surface, stunned at first and then convulsing. Chase ordered men to the pumps and called back the boats, but as the Essex began to settle in the water a man called, “Here he is — he is making for us again.”
“I turned around, and saw him about one hundred rods directly ahead of us, coming down with apparently twice his ordinary speed, and to me it appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect,” Chase wrote. “The surf flew in all directions, and his course towards us was marked by a white foam of a rod in width, which he made with a continual violent threshing of his tail.” The second blow stove in the Essex’s bows, and the whale “passed under the ship again, went off to leeward, and we saw no more of him.”
If this was vengeance, it was well accomplished. The Essex sank more than 1,000 miles from land; of the 21 crew who piled into three boats, only eight would survive, three on a barely habitable island and five after resorting to cannibalism during three months at sea. The whale acquired a further kind of immortality: Chase’s account of the disaster, written on his return to Massachusetts, helped inspire Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick.
Where in the Bible are we told in one verse not to do a thing and in the next to do it?
‘Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.’ Prov. xxvi. 4.
‘Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.’ Prov. xxvi. 5.
— Samuel Grant Oliphant, Queer Questions and Ready Replies, 1887
A fearful accident happened on Friday last at the Madeleine church, Bruges. One of the priests, while performing mass, was suddenly struck to the ground by the falling on his forehead of the marble head of an infant Jesus, which had become detached from its body. Fracture of the skull and a severe wound were the consequence to the unhappy clergyman, who, after lingering in great agony, died yesterday.
— Times, May 3, 1847
An extraordinary and fatal accident happened this morning in the Roman Catholic parish church of Kildare. As the Very Rev. Dr. J.B. Kavanagh, P.P., was standing in front of the altar with his hand on the chalice to raise it at the close of 7 o’clock mass, and was about to descend the altar steps to recite the Rosary and Litany of the blessed Virgin, the marble figure of a cherub over the altar fell down and struck him with great force on the head. He fell back heavily, murmured the words ‘My God’ twice, and then became insensible. A cry of horror and anguish was raised by the congregation who witnessed the accident. Some persons rushed forward to lift him up, while others ran for medical help. Drs. Watson, Dillon and Chaplin were soon in attendance, and Dr. Kavanagh having been raised from the floor was placed on a stretcher and carried into the adjoining convent, where, having never recovered consciousness, he died soon afterwards.
— Times, Oct. 6, 1886
Is Ellis Island in New York or New Jersey? Surprisingly, it’s in both. Under a 1934 compact, New York had jurisdiction over the original 3-acre Army fort, but the 24 acres of landfill that have since been added are part of New Jersey. The Supreme Court essentially upheld this arrangement in a 1998 ruling.
“New York still collects sales tax from concessions within the donut hole,” writes geographer Mark Monmonier, “while New Jersey taxes purchases elsewhere on the site.”
‘Late one evening a person came into our office, and asked to see the editor of the Lancet. On being introduced to our sanctum, he placed a bundle upon the table, from which he proceeded to extract a very fair and symmetrical lower extremity, which might have matched ‘Atalanta’s better part,’ and which had evidently belonged to a woman. ‘There!’ said he, ‘is there anything the matter with that leg? Did you ever see a handsomer? What ought to be done with the man who cut it off?’ On having the meaning of these interrogatories put before us, we found that it was the leg of the wife of our evening visitor. He had been accustomed to admire the lady’s leg and foot, of the perfection of which she was, it appeared, fully conscious. A few days before, he had excited her anger, and they had quarrelled violently, upon which she left the house, declaring she would be revenged on him, and that he should never see the objects of his admiration again. The next thing he heard of her was, that she was a patient in ——– Hospital, and had had her leg amputated. She had declared to the surgeons that she suffered intolerable pain in the knee, and had begged to have the limb removed — a petition the surgeons complied with, and thus became the instrument of her absurd and self-torturing revenge upon her husband!’
From Paul Fitzsimmons Eve, A Collection of Remarkable Cases in Surgery, 1857, quoting the Lancet, 1850. “The case seems to us highly improbable,” writes Eve, “but the Lancet, it will be perceived, is responsible for it.”
The Spanish village of Bérchules celebrates New Year’s Day in August. In 1994 a power failure left the villagers unable to join the traditional countdown on Dec. 31, so they moved it to the first Saturday in August.
It’s all arbitrary anyway. “New Year’s is a harmless annual institution,” wrote Mark Twain in the Territorial Enterprise, “of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.”
On Thursday morning one of those extraordinary beings who gain a precarious subsistence by penetrating into the sewers in search of coin or other valuables that may be washed into them from the drains was taken out of the main-sewer in Broad-street, Golden-square, in a very exhausted state, having been 36 hours and upwards endeavouring to find his way out, which, from having advanced further than was his custom to recover some silver that had been accidentally dropped down a grating near the Seven Dials, he was unable to accomplish. Fortunately, the poor fellow’s cries were heard by Mr. Tickle, cheesemonger, at the corner of Berwick-street, Broad-street, opposite whose door there is a manhole, which he had contrived to ascend, and, assistance being procured, he was liberated. Some compassionate persons supplied him with soup, &c., which speedily restored him.
— Globe, reprinted in the Times, April 1, 1848
In the nightly programme of performances at Sanger’s Circus, in the Agricultural-hall, is set down ‘The renowned Professor Palmer, as the Fly Man, performing marvellous feats of walking a glass ceiling.’ The professor has invariably walked the ceiling after fly-fashion successfully, but on Monday night he met with an accident which for the moment appalled the audience. The glass ceiling is composed of a piece of plate glass about 50ft. long by 20ft. wide, enclosed in a wooden framework. It is fixed at a distance of about 80ft. or 90ft. from the ground, and some 30ft. below it a net is spread to receive the professor in case of accident. On Monday evening the professor had taken his place on the ceiling, his feet being bound up in what appeared to be india-rubber, and commenced to walk, head downwards, on the glass, leaving on the latter as he lifted each foot a mark as if some glutinous substance had been applied to it. The utmost silence prevailed in the hall as he continued his perilous walk along the narrow glass, and all went well with him until within a couple of feet of the end of his journey, when by mistake he placed a portion of his foot upon the wooden frame instead of on the glass. His body immediately trembled violently, as if suction was the power which held him to the glass, and he struggled hard to keep up the weight of his body, which was now suspended from the glass by only one foot. His face, which up to this moment was very red, became pale, and in an instant the audience was shocked at seeing him fall head foremost towards the ground. The women turned their heads, and were afraid to look again at the spot, until a cheer reassured them. Palmer fell just on the border of the netting, which might well be of greater width. He came upon the back of his head, and having coiled his body into the shape of a ball, wriggled himself out of the net, and reached the ground by means of a rope ladder. Several gentlemen rushed from the front and second seats into the arena and shook hands with the professor, who then retired. He was called out again, and warmly applauded when he appeared in the circus, but he did not finish the performance.
— Times, Jan. 31, 1868
Is hearing silence just a matter of inferring an absence of sound from one’s failure to hear? No, a wounded soldier who wonders whether he has gone deaf can hear silence while being neutral about whether he is hearing silence. He hopes he is hearing silence but neither believes nor disbelieves that he is hearing silence.
— Roy Sorensen, Seeing Dark Things, 2008
A young man named Power, residing at Castlecomer, went a few evenings ago to fly what he termed a Spanish kite, of very large dimensions. Having adjusted the cord and tail, it rapidly ascended with a brisk breeze until it had taken the full length of the cord, which became entangled round Power’s hand. The wind increasing, he was drawn a distance of nearly half a mile in the greatest agony, the cord cutting into the bone. The Rev. Mr. Penrose, the protestant curate of the parish, seeing the man running and shouting, at one time raised off the ground for a distance of some perches, and again running along at full speed, perceived that he was dragged by the kite, and followed him as fast as he could; but being unable to come up with him, he shouted at the top of his voice to ‘Let go; there was a man killed in a thunderstorm by the lightning of a kite.’ When Power heard these words, he shouted with redoubled vigour, but could not extricate himself until, after the distance mentioned, he was stopped by a high stone wall, the top of which, being coped, cut the cord and set at liberty the kite and the owner, who was almost lifeless with fatigue and fright.
— Kilkenny Journal, reprinted in the Times, Oct. 28, 1858
On Tuesday week, as the coal train on the Swannington line was proceeding to Leicester, and when near Glenfield, the engine-driver suddenly perceived a fine bullock appear on the line, and turn to meet the train, head to head with the engine. The animal ran directly up to its fiery antagonist, and by the contact was killed on the spot. There was no time to stop the train before the infuriated beast came up. It was afterwards discovered that the animal belonged to Mr. Hassell, of Glenfield, and made its way on to the line from the field adjoining.
— Leicester Journal, reprinted in the Times, Aug. 10, 1849
In December 1930, 26-year-old British meteorologist Augustine Courtauld volunteered to man an observation station alone in the interior of Greenland. He passed the winter well enough, but his relief party was thrice delayed, and by late March Courtauld’s station was entirely buried in snow. He would spend the next six weeks immured in his hut, above which only the Union Jack projected, and husbanding his dwindling supplies. Most of the time he simply lay in the dark, but occasionally he would light a candle to write in his journal or to read his sweetheart Mollie’s last letter. At one point he listed the pleasures he would “like to have granted if wishing were any good”:
- Sitting in an armchair before a roaring fire listening to M. playing and singing.
- Eight a.m. on a fine summer morning at sea at the helm of a small boat, a fresh breeze blowing, all sail set with M. and a smell of breakfast coming up to say ‘good morning’.
- Just having got into bed with clean sheets and ditto pyjamas.
- Bright autumn morning, eating an apple in the garden before breakfast (an enormous one): kippers, poached eggs, kidneys and mushrooms, cold partridge.
- Getting into a hot bath.
By May 1 he was out of food and was burning ski wax for light. Five days later, the stove that he used to melt drinking water had just died when “suddenly there was an appalling noise like a bus going by, followed by a confused yelling noise. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Was it the house falling in at last? A second later I realised the truth. It was somebody, some real human voice, calling down the ventilator.”
They pulled him out through the roof and he rode back to the coast on a sledge, reading The Count of Monte Cristo in the sun. He went on to fulfill all of the New Year’s resolutions he had made on the ice cap: to marry Mollie, to buy a house and a boat, to collect a library, and to give up exploring.
Sailing past the Azores on his solo circumnavigation of 1895-98, Joshua Slocum ate some bad plums and collapsed with cramps in his cabin. He awoke from a fever to find that he was not alone.
“I saw a tall man at the helm. His rigid hand, grasping the spokes of the wheel, held them as in a vise. One may imagine my astonishment. His rig was that of a foreign sailor, and the large red cap he wore was cockbilled over his left ear, and all was set off with shaggy black whiskers. He would have been taken for a pirate in any part of the world.”
“I have come to do you no harm,” the stranger told him. “I have sailed free, but was never worse than a contrabandista. I am one of Columbus’s crew. I am the pilot of the Pinta come to aid you. Lie quiet, señor captain, and I will guide your ship to-night. You have a calentura, but you will be all right to-morrow.”
Slocum drifted out of consciousness, but he awoke in the morning to find that the Spray had made 90 miles that night on a true course through a rough sea. As he lay on deck that day, the man revisited him in a dream. “You did well last night to take my advice,” he said, “and if you would, I should like to be with you often on the voyage, for the love of adventure alone.”
“I awoke much refreshed, and with the feeling that I had been in the presence of a friend and a seaman of vast experience,” Slocum wrote. “I gathered up my clothes, which by this time were dry, then, by inspiration, I threw overboard all the plums in the vessel.”
Beadle’s Monthly carried a startling feature in November 1866: two drawings of a “great sea-monster” witnessed by the author, Jesse H. Lord, during a visit to Green Harbor, Nova Scotia, in August 1855. Lord recalled that he had just arrived in town when he found the townspeople in a great commotion over “the snake.” Presently he saw a monster emerge from the sea, pursuing boats through a channel and into the harbor:
Near what might be the head, rose a hump, or crest, crowned with a waving mass of long pendulous hair like a mane, while behind, for forty or fifty feet, slowly moved, or rolled, the spirals of his immense snake-like body. The movement was in vertical curves, the contortions of the back alternately rising and falling from the head to the tail, leaving behind a wake, like that of a screw-steamer, on the glassy surface of the ocean. … In a moment he raised his head, from which the water poured in showers, and opening the horrid jaws he gave utterance to a noise resembling nothing so much as the hissing sound of steam from the escape-pipe of a boiler.
The beast withdrew, but Lord glimpsed it again beneath his rowboat the following morning:
The tide was ‘making,’ and the serpent lay head to the current, which was flowing into the harbor, keeping up an undulatory movement just sufficient to retain his position. The shell-like head was just abaft the stern of the boat and the immense mane flowed wavingly, either by the motion of the current or the convolutions of the body. … Hethcote moved silently to the stern and cut the rope that held the ‘kilick,’ and we drifted quietly with the tide into the harbor.
Lord was a journalist, not a short story writer, and Beadle’s presented his tale without a wink. But it seems most likely a simple hoax — why would a newsman withhold such a sensational story for 11 years? Unfortunately, we’ll never know the whole story: A few days after the article appeared, Lord shot himself on his wife’s grave.
An accident, the consequences of which are expected to be fatal, took place at Cannes on Sunday last. A M. Despleschin, of Nice, had announced his intention of making an ascent in a balloon, and two gentlemen, M. Hardy, of Cannes, and M.A. de Sorr, a literary man from Paris, had made arrangements to accompany him. These two gentlemen had taken their seats in the car, M. Despleschin not having yet entered it, when some person in the crowd, anxious to see the balloon start, cried out ‘Let go.’ The man who held the ropes, thinking that the order had come from the aeronaut, obeyed, and the balloon rose rapidly into the clouds, and disappeared. M. Hardy and M. de Sorr are both entirely ignorant of the management of a balloon, and it is feared that they have been carried out to sea. Up to the 2d. no intelligence had been received of them.
— Times, May 9, 1854
I go fishing with my friend John. We both catch fish, a large one and a small one. We think John has caught the large one, but in fact the lines were crossed and I caught it. We throw the fish back and I go home thinking that I caught the small fish.
When my father asks how I did, I decide to deceive him, and I tell him I caught a big fish.
Am I lying?
“My linguistic intuitions tell me that a lie must be a false statement, and that, therefore, what I say in this case is not a lie,” writes Loyola University philosopher Thomas L. Carson. “I intend to lie in this case, but I don’t. … To the extent that it rests on disputed intuitions, my claim that a lie must be a false statement is open to question.” Further fishing trouble.
Encounter with a mermaid, from a letter by Scottish schoolmaster William Munro to a Dr. Torrence, June 9, 1809:
About twelve years ago, when I was parochial schoolmaster at Reay, in the course of my walking on the shore of Sandside Bay, being a fine warm day in summer, I was induced to extend my walk towards Sandside Head, when my attention was arrested by the appearance of a figure, resembling an unclothed female, sitting upon a rock extended into the sea, and apparently in the action of combing its hair, which flowed around its shoulders, and of a light brown colour. The resemblance which the figure bore to its prototype, in all its visible parts, was so striking, that had not the rock on which it was sitting been dangerous for bathing, I would have been constrained to have regarded it as really a human form, and to an eye unaccustomed to such a situation, it must have undoubtedly appeared as such.
The head was covered with hair of the colour above mentioned, and shaded on the crown; the forehead round, the face plump, the cheeks ruddy, the eyes blue, the mouth and lips of a natural form, resembling those of a man; the teeth I could not discover as the mouth was shut: the breasts and abdomen, the arms and fingers of the size of a full grown body of the human species; the fingers, from the action in which the hands were employed, did not appear to be webbed, but as to this I am not positive. It remained on the rock three or four minutes after I observed it, and was exercised during that period in combing its hair, which was long and thick, and of which it appeared proud, and then dropped into the sea, which was level with the abdomen, from whence it did not re-appear to me. I had a distinct view of its features, being at no great distance, on an eminence above the rock on which it was sitting, and the sun brightly shining. Immediately before its getting into its natural element it seemed to have observed me, as the eyes were turned towards the eminence on which I stood.
“If the above narrative can in any degree be subservient towards establishing the existence of a phenomenon, hitherto almost incredible to naturalists, or to remove the scepticism of others who are ready to dispute every thing which they cannot fully comprehend, you are welcome to it from, dear Sir, your most obliged, and most humble servant, William Munro.”
From The Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany, October 1809.