Oddities

It’s a Living

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

Eh?

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FN_Marktfrauengruppe_6.jpg

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 Man Carried Away by a Kite”

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

King of the Hill

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

Deep Freeze

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”:

  1. Sitting in an armchair before a roaring fire listening to M. playing and singing.
  2. 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’.
  3. Just having got into bed with clean sheets and ditto pyjamas.
  4. Bright autumn morning, eating an apple in the garden before breakfast (an enormous one): kippers, poached eggs, kidneys and mushrooms, cold partridge.
  5. 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.

Good Company

http://books.google.com/books?id=tvVIAAAAIAAJ

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.”

Late News

http://books.google.com/books?id=0ndBAAAAYAAJ

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.

http://books.google.com/books?id=0ndBAAAAYAAJ

The Perils of Journalism

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

True and False

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.

Marine Biology

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.

Waste Not

Blown off course in the Pacific in 1814, the New York trading ship Neptune encountered a small island, half a mile long, that was not marked on any chart. The crew were putting a boat ashore when a lookout spotted an oar erected on the summit of a rocky hill, and beneath it they saw a bearded, emaciated man jumping excitedly from rock to rock. They pointed to the boat, and he seized the oar, plunged into the surf, and swam out to meet it.

The man’s clothes were tattered and his beard a foot long. As he collapsed in relief and gratitude, the crew noted that his oar was covered with minute carven letters. Its broad end bore this inscription:

This is to acquaint the person into whose hands this Oar may fall, that DANIEL FOSS, a native of Elkton, in Maryland, one of the United States of America, and who sailed from the port of Philadelphia, in 1809, on board the brig Negociator, bound to the Friendly Islands, was cast upon this desolate island the February following, where he erected a hut, and lived a number of years, subsisting on seals — he being the last who survived of the crew of said brig, which ran foul of an island of ice, and foundered on the 26th Nov. 1809.

Said Foss earnestly requests that information of his fate and that of his shipmates may be made known to their friends in America.

The Negociator had foundered on an iceberg while en route to Tonga. Twenty-one escaped in a small boat, but after nine weeks at sea only two remained when they encountered the island, and the violent surf destroyed the boat and killed Foss’ remaining companion as they landed. Foss emerged with only the oar, which he put to myriad uses in the ensuing four years, killing the seals that congregated on the rocks and inscribing its surface elaborately with a calendar, a hymn to chant on the Sabbath, and eventually a comprehensive record of his travails, averaging 12 letters a day.

Foss recovered quickly aboard the Neptune, which returned him directly to his native country, where in time he would publish an account of his adventures. “My much regarded Oar, on which I had wrought so much, was viewed by all on board as a very great curiosity, which I have since my return presented to the keeper of the Philadelphia Museum, where it is lodged for the inspection of the curious.”

Society News

On Thursday afternoon a large party of friends, who had been enjoying themselves at a picnic in the picturesque neighbourhood of Boscastle, Devonshire, were about to return home, when the hat of Mr. Dennis, a solicitor, who was assisting two ladies to the carriage, was blown off, and, in running hastily to recover it, the unfortunate gentleman fell over the cliffs, and was instantly dashed to pieces. The deceased gentleman was much respected.

The Times, Sept. 1, 1853

Round Numbers

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Novgorod_(1873)_a.jpg

The Russian navy undertook an odd experiment in 1871: circular warships. With their broad, flat bottoms, the Novgorod (above) and the Vice Admiral Popov (below) were intended to bear heavy guns into shallow coastal waters where more conventional warships could not go. But without keels they were slow and difficult to maneuver, and in cross currents they tended to spin. They served briefly in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 but were relegated as storeships in 1903 and scrapped nine years later.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vice_Admiral_Popov_(1875).jpg

Traveling Companions

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ellen_Craft_escaped_slave.jpg

In 1848, Ellen and William Craft resolved to flee slavery, but they needed a way to get from Macon, Ga., to the free states in the north. William could never travel such a distance alone, but Ellen’s skin was fair enough that she could pass for white. So she disguised herself as a white male cotton planter attended by William, her slave. (She had to pose as a man because a white woman would not have traveled alone with a male slave.) The two asked leave to be away for the holidays, the illiterate Ellen bound her arm in a sling to escape being asked to write, and they departed on Dec. 21. Over the next four days:

  • Ellen found herself sitting next to a friend of her master on the train to Savannah. She feigned deafness to discourage his attempts to engage her in conversation.
  • The captain of a steamer to Charleston complimented Ellen on her “very attentive boy” and warned him to shun the “cutthroat abolitionists” in the north.
  • During the voyage a slave trader offered to buy William, and a military officer scolded Ellen for saying “thank you” to her slave.
  • In South Carolina a ticket seller insisted on seeing proof that Ellen owned William. A passing captain intervened and sent them on their way.
  • In a Virginia railway station a white woman confronted William, mistaking him for her own runaway slave.
  • An officer in Baltimore threatened again to detain them without proof of ownership, but relented, telling a clerk, “He is not well, it is a pity to stop him.”

On Dec. 25, after a journey of more than 800 miles, they arrived in Philadelphia:

On leaving the station, my master — or rather my wife, as I may now say — who had from the commencement of the journey borne up in a manner that much surprised us both, grasped me by the hand, and said, ‘Thank God, William, we are safe!’ then burst into tears, leant upon me, and wept like a child. The reaction was fearful. So when we reached the house, she was in reality so weak and faint that she could scarcely stand alone. However, I got her into the apartments that were pointed out, and there we knelt down, on this Sabbath, and Christmas-day, — a day that will ever be memorable to us, — and poured out our heartfelt gratitude to God, for his goodness in enabling us to overcome so many perilous difficulties, in escaping out of the jaws of the wicked.

The Crafts went on a speaking tour of New England to share their story with abolitionists, then moved to England to evade recapture under the Fugitive Slave Act. They returned only in 1868, when they established a school in Georgia for newly freed slaves.

Three Non-Tunnels

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tunnelvision.jpg

American muralist Blue Sky (formerly Warren Edward Johnson) painted Tunnelvision on the wall of the Federal Land Bank in Columbia, S.C., in 1975. “The idea for ‘Tunnelvision’ came in a dream. I woke up early in the morning and just sketched it out. I’d already seen the wall, I’d sat and studied it for hours, just waiting to see what would come before my eyes, and nothing came. And early one morning, I woke up and it was there. … That’s why I call it ‘Tunnelvision.’ Because it was a vision in a dream.” Wikipedia adds, “Rumors abound that several drunk drivers have attempted to drive into the tunnel.”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/isavoch/7354979072/

Image: Flickr

Passing trains clear a three-kilometer “tunnel of love” through the forest near Klevan, Ukraine, each spring. The trains serve a local fiberboard factory.

http://www.hans-peter-reuter.de/raum/ri/rit-2.htm

Visitors to the modern art exhibition documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany, in 1977 encountered a blue-tiled tunnel that led to the promise of daylight. They walked 14 meters into the tunnel and climbed four steps before discovering that the rest was an image painted skillfully on canvas by artist Hans Peter Reuter. “The secret of this perfect illusion lies in the combination of a realistic space with a painted surface,” writes Eckhard Hollmann and Jürgen Tesch in A Trick of the Eye (2004). “The picture alone on a white wall could never hope to have the same effect.”

Kaspar Hauser Redux

On Sept. 18, 1989, a frightened teenage girl walked into William B. Jack Elementary School in Portland, Maine. “She just stopped at the counter,” teacher’s aide Judi Fox told the Houston Chronicle. “She walked in and signed a little bit.” Realizing that the girl was seeking help, Fox summoned a teacher who knew sign language and the two took her to a nearby school for the deaf.

Communicating in gestures and drawings, the deaf girl explained that she had been abducted about three years earlier, possibly from a foster home in California, and then moved several times. She believed she was 15 years old, and had been given the name Toby Cole by her captors, though authorities could find no missing-persons report that matched her case.

FBI agent Paul Cavanagh added, “From some of the drawings she was able to provide, it is believed that some of the people she was with since her abduction may have been tied to the occult.”

Unfortunately, no further clues to the girl’s identity were ever found, and she was able to provide no information leading to arrests. She was placed in a foster home, and the case remains unsolved.

On the same theme: In 2009 former Gallaudet University student Joseph Mesa Jr. was convicted of murdering two classmates. The jury rejected his claim that a pair of black hands had urged him on in sign language. Prosecutor Jeb Boasberg said, “An insanity defense doesn’t work if you’re not insane.”

UPDATE: There were further developments in the Toby Cole story, though they make the whole tale even stranger. Police and FBI investigators identified the woman as 27-year-old Margaret Louise Herget of Sandy, Ore. She had moved to Louisiana in August and then to Maine just a few days before turning up at the school. Police lieutenant Michael Bouchard told the Associated Press in October that Herget was hearing-impaired but not deaf and that authorities no longer believed that she had been abducted. But why she had concocted the story, so far as I can tell, is still a mystery. Thanks to everyone who wrote in about this.

Cast Away

In July 1761 an illegal slave ship foundered near Tromelin, a speck of land 200 miles east of Madagascar. After six months on the island, the surviving gentlemen and sailors assembled a makeshift boat and departed, promising to return for the 60 slaves left on the island. They never did.

The slaves kept a fire going for 15 years while they struggled to survive on an island of barely 0.3 square miles. They fashioned houses from coral and sand, built a communal oven, and subsisted on turtles and seabirds.

“We have found evidence of where they lived and what they ate,” archaeologist Max Guérout told the Independent in 2007. “We have found copper cooking utensils, repaired, over and over again, which must originally have come from the wreck of the ship.”

Many of the castaways simply succumbed. At one point 18 left on a makeshift raft; it’s not known whether they reached land. In 1776 a French sailor was shipwrecked on the island, built a raft, and escaped to Mauritius with three men and three women. When a rescue ship arrived for the last seven castaways, they included a grandmother, her daughter, and an 8-month-old grandchild who had been born on the island.

The governor in Ile de France declared them free, since they had been bought illegally. He adopted the family of three and named the boy Jacques Moise. His surname is a French form of Moses — a baby rescued from water.

Spade Work

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_Cocos_from_Pacific_Islands,_vol._2_(Geographical_Handbook_Series,_1943).jpg

August Gussler was persistent. Convinced that Costa Rica’s tiny Cocos Island hid the loot of generations of pirates, the German adventurer set up camp there and in 1889 started digging.

The island occupies only 9 square miles, but it’s crowded with the ghosts of wealthy criminals, including English buccaneers Edward Davis and Bartholomew Sharp, Portuguese pirate Benito Bonito, and Captain William Thompson, who, entrusted with $60 million during an uprising in Lima in 1820, had turned criminal and kept it for himself. All of these, it was said, had hid their loot in the caves of Cocos, whose location 500 miles off the coast had made it an ideal haven for pirates plying the South Seas.

To aid in his search, Gussler had made himself a student of the island’s history. Bonito, he told one visitor, had buried “three hundred thousand pounds’ weight of silver and silver dollars, in a sandstone cave in the side of the mountain. Then he laid kegs of powder on top of the cave and blew away the face of the cliff. In another excavation he placed gold bricks, 733 of them, four by three inches in size, and two inches thick, and 273 gold-hilted swords, inlaid with jewels. On a bit of land in the little river, he buried several iron kettles filled with gold coin.”

Alas, it was hidden remarkably well. In 1908, when Gussler gave up his quest, he had found six gold coins.

Overdue

On Feb. 11, 1979, 27-year-old Scott Moorman and four friends set out from Hana, Maui, for a daylong fishing expedition aboard the Sarah Joe, a 16.5-foot fiberglass motorboat. They did not return. The Coast Guard searched for five days, and private searches continued much longer, but no trace of them was found.

Nine and a half years later, in 1988, marine biologist John Naughton discovered a wrecked boat with Hawaiian registry on Taongi, the northernmost coral atoll in the Marshall Islands, 2,300 miles west of Hawaii. It was the Sarah Joe, and nearby, under a pile of stones and a driftwood cross, were the bones of Scott Moorman. How he came there, who buried him, and what became of the others remain unknown.

The Rain Wizard

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_077.jpg

In August 1891, a man named Frank Melbourne arrived in drought-stricken Cheyenne, Wyo., and claimed that he could summon rain at will. He proposed to produce rain within three days in return for a sizable fee.

“He established himself in the loft of a barn in the suburbs of the city and has been there ever since, except when leaving it for his meals,” reported the Rocky Mountain News. “The only apparatus or chemicals he took into his retreat were contained in four ordinary gripsacks. The windows of the barn were carefully shaded with blankets, and the crevices in the floor of the barn loft covered to prevent any eye penetrating the mystery of the rain-making laboratory.”

At first his efforts seemed to have no effect, but on the third day the sky darkened. “Business was almost suspended and thousands of people were on the streets watching the clouds. At 2:40 o’clock there was a heavy peal of thunder and a vivid flash of lightning, and in a few moments the rain came down in torrents.” Melbourne emerged and claimed credit; to convince skeptics, he returned to the loft a few days later, and again showers fell.

This established his reputation, and he moved on to Salt Lake City and Kelton, Utah, and Goodland, Kan., which were also suffering dry spells. He returned to Cheyenne the following summer, promising to cover 5,000 square miles with rainfall, but this time he produced only a few scattered showers. The committee refused to pay him, and he left Cheyenne for good.

Scientific American noted that Melbourne spent the years 1892 to 1894 aboard a specially rigged railroad car, offering his services to any community along the route. “So long as frequent rains occurred,” the editors observed, “although they were natural and were predicted by the Weather Bureau …, yet the farmers of Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska, ignoring this fact, were sure to accredit all success to Mr. Melbourne.”

The Iowa Weather and Crop Service was more blunt. Melbourne ought to emulate the rain dancers of the Winnebago Indians, it said: “When they begin operations they never let up until it rains, so they score a success every time.”

Round Numbers

Letter to the Times, June 17, 1978:

Sir,

It is not only dates that make nice patterns of numbers. Some years ago I was bringing a Destroyer home from the Far East and was required to report my position twice a day.

One evening, I saw that we would be passing close to where the Greenwich Meridian cuts the Equator so arranged to arrive there dead on midnight. Once there I altered course to due North and stopped engines so my position signal read:

At 0000 my position Latitude 00°00′N, Longitude 00°00′E. Course 000°. Speed 0.

I had considered saying I was Nowhere but thought (probably correctly) that Their Lordships would not be amused.

Yours faithfully,

Claud Dickens

Music for Headstands

http://www.scorage.ru/view.aspx?id=A1B37B90DAE457FC147E86A7C7F88120

Ignaz Moscheles’ piano piece “The Way of the World” is invertible — the music reads the same upside down.

Here’s pianist Felix Noel playing it both ways, and here’s a printable score (PDF) if you’d like to try it yourself.

See Both Sides Now.

Breakfast News

In May 2009, California consumer Janine Sugawara sued PepsiCo for implying that crunchberries are a fruit. She claimed that she and other consumers had been misled both by the name of the cereal and by the image on the box of Cap’n Crunch “thrusting a spoonful of ‘Crunchberries’ at the prospective buyer.” The package suggests that the product contains real fruit, she said; had she known otherwise, she would not have bought it.

“While the challenged packaging contains the word ‘berries’ it does so only in conjunction with the descriptive term ‘crunch’,” wrote Judge Morrison England Jr., reflecting wearily upon the course his life had taken. “This Court is not aware of, nor has Plaintiff alleged the existence of, any actual fruit referred to as a ‘crunchberry.’ Furthermore, the ‘Crunchberries’ depicted on the [box] are round, crunchy, brightly-colored cereal balls, and the [box] clearly states both that the Product contains ‘sweetened corn & oat cereal’ and that the cereal is ‘enlarged to show texture.’ Thus, a reasonable consumer would not be deceived into believing that the Product in the instant case contained a fruit that does not exist.”

He dismissed the case and denied Sugawara the chance to amend her complaint. “The survival of the instant claim would require this Court to ignore all concepts of personal responsibility and common sense,” he wrote. “The Court has no intention of allowing that to happen.”

Creative Taxidermy

http://books.google.com/books?id=sUkBAAAAQAAJ

To demonstrate “the discovery which I had made of preparing specimens upon scientific principles,” eccentric naturalist Charles Waterton (1782-1865) created “The Nondescript,” a red howler monkey whose face he had manipulated into a semi-human cast.

“I have no wish whatever that the nondescript should pass for any other thing than that which the reader himself should wish it to pass for,” he wrote, rather elliptically. “Not considering myself pledged to tell its story, I leave it to the reader to say what it is, or what it is not.”

The specimen is preserved at the Wakefield Museum in West Yorkshire. Lost is a similar Waterton creation, “The English Reformation Zoologically Demonstrated,” a series of “portraits” of famous Protestants fashioned from preserved lizards and toads.

Such experiments could make Waterton seem unfeeling, but he was fundamentally more sympathetic with the wildlife of South America than the Georgian society to which he’d been born. He made this address to a sloth he surprised on the banks of the Essequibo in Guyana:

“Come, poor fellow. If thou hast got into a hobble to-day, thou shalt not suffer for it: I’ll take no advantage of thee in misfortune; the forest is large enough for both thee and me to rove in: go thy ways up above, and enjoy thyself in these endless wilds; it is more than probable thou wilt never have another interview with man. So fare thee well.”

(“I followed him with my eye till the intervening branches closed in betwixt us; and then I lost sight for ever of the two-toed Sloth. I was going to add, that I never saw a Sloth take to his heels in such earnest: but the expression will not do, for the Sloth has no heels.”)