Oddities

Showoff

Dr. S.V. Clevenger, in the Alienist and Neurologist for July 1890, describes an infant prodigy, Oscar Moore. Two little colored children were reciting the multiplication table at their home, in a little cabin in Texas, as they had repeatedly done before, and one of them asserted that four times twelve was fifty-eight, whereupon a thirteen months old baby, Oscar Moore, who had never spoken before, corrected the error by exclaiming, ‘Four times twelve are forty-eight!’ There was consternation in that humble home until the family became reconciled to the freak. Oscar was born in Waco, Texas, in 1885; his father is an emancipated slave, his mother is a mulatto. He was born blind; the other senses are unusually acute; his memory is the most remarkable peculiarity. He is intelligent and manifests great inquisitiveness; his memory is not parrot-like. When less than two years of age he would recite all he heard his sister read while conning her lessons. He sings and counts in different languages, has mastered an appalling array of statistics, and is greatly attracted by music. The writer concludes that Oscar is not mentally defective, but may possess extraordinary mental powers.

Science, June 26, 1891

Sympathy

A most singular circumstance has recently occurred in Louisville. One Robert Sadler being arraigned on a writ of lunatico inquirendo, the following appeared in testimony: It was allegated that in the night time he would alarm his family and his neighbors with screams as if in severe pain, exclaiming that he felt the pain inflicted upon persons at a distance, by amputation or other causes. Mr. Sadler was said to be of good character and incapable of wilfully feigning what he did not feel, and therefore was supposed by his friends to be insane. In consequence of this belief a writ was issued to make the proper legal inquiry and to decide the question. The jury however could not agree to call him insane and he was discharged. It was proved that he uttered his cries and expressions of pain at the precise time that those with whose sufferings he claimed to be in sympathy, were actually undergoing the operations, which would cause similar pain; and this under circumstances which precluded the belief that he could have been aware, by external means, of the time or place at which such operations were to take place. The length of time during which he had displayed this morbid sensibility had been so prolonged, that if he had really been practicing a deception it could scarcely have failed to be discovered. In his conversation, and in all other particulars except the one we have described, Mr. Sadler gave no evidence of anything except the most perfect sanity. The case seems to be well authenticated, and if the truth of the details can be relied upon is altogether a very remarkable one.

Scientific American, Dec. 16, 1868

Identity Crisis

This notice appeared in Dublin in July 1781:

This is to certify that I, Daniel O’Flannaghan, am not the Person that was tarred and feathered by the Liberty Mob, on Tuesday last; and I am ready to give 20 Guineas to any one that will lay me 50, that I am the other Man who goes by my Name.
Witness my Hand, this 30th July.
Daniel O’Flannaghan.

Wrote Henry Sampson, “A man who can afford to lay seventy guineas to thirty that he is himself, and nobody else, deserves credit for his boldness, if not for his ingenuity.”

Rock Music

The stones of Pennsylvania’s Ringing Rocks Park chime like bells when struck with a hammer.

The rocks are a volcanic basalt, but the mechanism of their ringing is not completely understood.

See The Musical Stones of Skiddaw.

Leviathan

Extract from the log of A.H. Raymer, second officer of the S.S. Fort Salisbury, Oct. 28, 1902, quoted in The Zoologist, January 1903:

Dark object, with long, luminous trailing wake, thrown in relief by a phosphorescent sea, seen ahead, a little on starboard bow. Look-out reported two masthead lights ahead. These two lights, almost as bright as a steamer’s lights, appeared to shine from two points in line on the upper surface of the dark mass. Concluded dark mass was a whale, and lights phosphorescent. On drawing nearer, dark mass and lights sank below the surface. Prepared to examine the wake in passing with binoculars. Passed about forty to fifty yards on port side of wake, and discovered it was the scaled back of some huge monster slowly disappearing below the surface. Darkness of the night prevented determining its exact nature, but scales of apparently 1 ft. diameter, and dotted in places with barnacle growth, were plainly discernible. The breadth of the body showing above water tapered from about 80 ft. close abaft, where the dark mass had appeared to about 5 ft. at the extreme end visible. Length roughly about 500 ft. to 600 ft. Concluded that the dark mass first seen must have been the creature’s head. The swirl caused by the monster’s progress could be distinctly heard, and a strong odour like that of a low-tide beach on a summer day pervaded the air. Twice along its length the disturbance of the water and a broadening of the surrounding belt of phosphorus indicated the presence of huge fins in motion below the surface. The wet, shiny back of the monster was dotted with twinkling phosphorescent lights, and was encircled with a band of white phosphorescent sea. Such are the bare facts of the passing of the Sea Serpent in latitude 5 deg. 31 min. S., longitude 4 deg. 42 min. W., as seen by myself, being officer of the watch, and by the helmsman and look-out man.

The ship’s master added, “I can only say that he is very earnest on the subject, and certainly has, together with look-out and helmsman, seen something in the water of a huge nature as specified.”

Brewing Trouble

A curious excerpt from The Pursuit of the Heiress, a history of aristocratic marriage in Ireland by A.P.W. Malcolmson, 2006:

Another strange tale, which this time ended less happily for the heir presumptive, is that of the 3rd Earl of Darnley, an eccentric bachelor who suffered from the delusion that he was a teapot. In 1766, when he was nearly fifty and had held the family title and estates for almost twenty years, Lord Darnley suddenly and unexpectedly married; and between 1766 and his death in 1781, he fathered at least seven children, in spite of his initial alarm that his spout would come off in the night.

I thought this couldn’t possibly be true, but Malcolmson gives two sources, a letter from the Rev. George Chinnery to Viscountess Midleton, Aug. 18, 1762, kept at the Surrey History Centre in Woking, and a typescript family history by Rear Admiral W.G.S. Tighe. An Irish auction house supports the story.

(Thanks, Donald.)

Signs and Wonders

COLUMBIA, S.C., May 29. — Closely following the appearance of the hand of flame in the heavens above Ohio comes a story from Darlington County, in this State, of a flying serpent. Last Sunday evening, just before sunset, Miss Ida Davis and her two younger sisters were strolling through the woods, when they were suddenly startled by the appearance of a huge serpent moving through the air above them. The serpent was distant only two or three rods when they first beheld it, and was sailing through the air with a speed equal to that of a hawk or buzzard, but without any visible means of propulsion. Its movements in its flight resembled those of a snake, and it looked a formidable object as it wound its way along, being apparently about 15 feet in length. The girls stood amazed and followed it with their eyes until it was lost to view in the distance. The flying serpent was also seen by a number of people in other parts of the county early in the afternoon of the same day, and by those it is represented as emitting a hissing noise which could be distinctly heard.

New York Times, May 30, 1888

Meeting the Locals

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:????????????_???????-?????.jpg

Henry Hudson made this curious journal entry in the Canadian arctic, June 15, 1610:

This morning one of our company looking overboard saw a mermaid; and calling up some of the company to see her, one more came up, and by that time she was come close to the ship’s side, looking earnestly on the men. A little after, a sea came and overturned her. From the navel upward, her back and breasts were like a woman’s, as they say that saw her; her body as big as one of us; her skin very white; and long hair hanging down behind, of colour black. In her going down they saw her tail, which was like the tail of a porpoise, and speckled like a mackerel. Their names that saw her were Thomas Hilles and Robert Rayner.

“Whatever explanation be attempted of this apparition,” wrote Philip Gosse, “the ordinary resource of seal or walrus will not avail here. Seals and walruses must have been as familiar to these polar mariners as cows to a dairy-maid. Unless the whole story was a concerted lie between the two men, reasonless and objectless, — and the worthy old navigator doubtless knew the character of his men, — they must have seen, in the black-haired, white-skinned creature, some form of being as yet unrecognized.”

Hidden Monsters

Last year, University of Queensland psychology undergraduate Sean Murphy was collecting images of faces while preparing an experiment. As he skimmed through them, he noticed that they began to appear grotesque and deformed, though when viewed individually they appeared normal and even attractive. (The demonstration above uses photographs of celebrities.)

“The effect seems to depend on processing each face in light of the others,” writes grad student Matthew Thompson, who published the result last year with Murphy and Jason Tangen. “By aligning the faces at the eyes and presenting them quickly, it becomes much easier to compare them, so the differences between the faces are more extreme. If someone has a large jaw, it looks almost ogre-like. If they have an especially large forehead, then it looks particularly bulbous. We’re conducting several experiments right now to figure out exactly what’s causing this effect.”

(Tangen, J. M., Murphy, S. C., & Thompson, M. B. (2011). Flashed face distortion effect: Grotesque faces from relative spaces. Perception, 40, 628-630.)

The Flatwoods Monster

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatwoods_monster

On Sept. 12, 1952, three West Virginia boys saw a floating reddish sphere drop behind a hill, where it emitted a steady glow. As they went to investigate, they were joined by a local beautician and three others boys.

A dog ran ahead of the group, barked furiously at something, and fled with its tail between its legs. The first boys to reach the site saw a “big ball of fire” among a foul-smelling mist to their right. To their left were two points of light. When one boy turned his flashlight on them, the group saw a grotesque, armless creature with a head shaped like the “ace of spades,” with a circular window through which two pale blue beams of light played.

The creature, which was more than 6 feet tall, glided toward the group at first, then turned toward the glowing ball as the group fled. When a reporter from the Braxton Democrat arrived at the scene, he noticed an unusual odor in the grass that irritated his nose and throat.

No one knows what the group saw that night, but the most likely explanation seems to be a meteor and a startled barn owl. Flatwoods held a “monster festival” in September 2002, on the 50th anniversary of the event; the alien, if that’s what it was, failed to attend.

Ballot Box

In October 1956, Los Angeles mentalist Jack Swimmer declared that he would predict the exact number of votes that President Eisenhower would receive that year in the nation, in California, and in Los Angeles County. A small box containing his predictions was placed in a larger box, which was locked in a county safe on Oct. 10, and Swimmer deposited $5,000 with the county board of supervisors, saying they could give it to charity if he failed.

On Nov. 13, a week after Election Day, the supervisors opened the smaller box and found a tiny roll of paper on which were written three numbers:

33,974,241
2,875,637
1,218,462

These corresponded exactly to the published totals. The board returned Swimmer’s money, and he donated it to charity anyway, saying he was happy with his “small part in bringing out the vote.”

Swimmer wouldn’t say how he had accomplished the feat, though he said there was nothing supernatural about it. “Some of the spectators later said the tiny roll of paper on which the figures were written could have been hidden in a hollow key and injected into the box when it was unlocked,” noted a UPI account. “But by the time they thought of it, the key was no longer available for inspection.”

Noteworthy

http://www.georgelloyd.com/index.php/table-top-carol

The nephew of British composer George Lloyd discovered this among his papers — a Christmas carol written as a “tabletop double canon” that can be read simultaneously by singers facing north, south, east, and west.

A printable PDF is available here.

(Thanks, Steve and Bill.)

The L-8 Mystery

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:L-8_blimp.jpg

At 6:03 on the morning of Aug. 16, 1942, U.S. Navy blimp L-8 ascended from Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay to conduct an anti-submarine patrol along the coast of California. Aboard were pilot Ernest Cody and ensign Charles Adams. The flight proceeded uneventfully until 7:42, when Cody reported that they’d spotted an oil slick and were going to investigate.

At 11:15, caddies at a seaside golf club saw the airship float in from the sea, its motors silent. Descending, it struck some telephone lines and the roofs of several homes before coming to rest in Daly City. The first person to reach the downed ship, volunteer fireman William Morris, was surprised at what he found: “The doors were open and nobody was in the cabin.”

There was no trace of Cody or Adams. Though most of the fuel had been dumped, the parachutes and life raft were stored appropriately, and the radio was in working order. Only the crew were missing.

After a search, the Navy declared itself certain that “the men were NOT in the ship at any time it traveled over land.” Two fishing vessels near the oil slick testified that they’d seen the blimp descend to investigate, but nothing had fallen or dropped from it.

That’s all. A Coast Guard search found nothing. Cody and Adams were both declared missing, then pronounced dead a year later. No one knows what became of them.

Misc

  • A pound of dimes has the same value as a pound of quarters.
  • The French word hétérogénéité has five accents.
  • 32768 = (3 – 2 + 7)6 / 8
  • Can you deceive yourself deliberately?
  • “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” — Thomas Paine

In 2000, Guatemalan police asked Christmas revelers not to fire pistols into the air. “Lots of people die when bullets fall on their heads,” National Civilian Police spokesman Faustino Sanchez told Reuters. He said that five to ten Guatemalans are killed or injured each Christmas by falling bullets.

Edifice Complex

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kinkaku-Snow-8-Cropped.jpg

On visiting the Gold Pavilion Temple in Kyoto, Douglas Adams was impressed at how well the 14th-century structure had weathered the passage of time. His Japanese guide told him that it hadn’t weathered well at all; in fact it had burned to the ground twice in the 20th century.

“So this isn’t the original building?” Adams asked.

“But yes, of course it is.”

“But it’s been burned down?”

“Yes.”

“Twice.”

“Many times.”

“And rebuilt.”

“Of course. It is an important and historic building.”

“With completely new materials.”

“But of course. It was burned down.”

“So how can it be the same building?”

“It is always the same building.”

“I had to admit to myself that this was in fact a perfectly rational point of view, it merely started from an unexpected premise,” Adams wrote. The essence of a building is its design, the intention of the builder. The materials may decay and be replaced, but these are only instantiations of a persistent idea. “I couldn’t feel entirely comfortable with this view, because it fought against my basic Western assumptions,” Adams wrote, “but I did see the point.”

From Last Chance to See. John Locke asked: If I keep patching holes in my sock until none of the original material remains, is it the same sock? And see Ship Shape.

The Conch Republic

On April 23, 1982, the Florida keys seceded from the Union. Frustrated that a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint was obstructing the main artery to the mainland, Key West mayor Dennis Wardlow opted for a lighthearted public relations campaign: He proclaimed his “Conch Republic” a separate nation, declared war on the United States, surrendered one minute later, and applied for $1 billion in foreign aid.

Since then the republic has maintained an uneasy peace with its giant neighbor. On Sept. 20, 1995, when an Army reserve battalion forgot to notify Key West of local training exercises, Wardlow mobilized for war. He sent letters to Bill Clinton, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and secretary of state Warren Christopher, and his militia engaged La Dichosa Bakery to bake Cuban bread with which to pelt the convoy (“our historic weapon of choice for dealing with Federalist Forces”) and Key West Lager “to provide the beer.”

By 10:50 p.m. they had received a fax from the battalion’s leaders stating that they had “in no way meant to challenge or impugn the sovereignty of the Conch Republic.” An official surrender ceremony was held two days later.

Tilt Shift

Above is a photo of the Indian city of Jodhpur. Below, seemingly, is a detailed scale model of the same scene.

In fact it’s the same photo, altered so that the foreground and background are out of focus. This narrow depth of field is most familiar from close-up photographs of miniature scenes, so the eye assumes that’s what it’s seeing.

Introspection

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

On April 10, 1818, John Cleves Symmes Jr. of Ohio issued the following challenge:

To All The World. — I declare the earth to be hollow and habitable within; containing a number of concentric spheres, one within the other, and that their poles are open twelve or sixteen degrees. I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the concave, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking.

I ask one hundred brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia, in autumn, with reindeer and sledges, on the ice of the Frozen Sea; I engage we find a warm country and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals, if not men, on reaching about sixty-nine miles northward of latitude 82; we will return in the succeeding spring.

Kentucky senator (and future vice president) Richard M. Johnson proposed that Congress fund two vessels for the expedition, but Congress voted this down. But we have an account of the voyage anyway: An anonymous hoaxer published Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery under Symmes’ name in 1820.

The Leaning Tower Illusion

These images are identical, yet the tower on the right appears to lean more. Why?

Frederick Kingdom, Ali Yoonessi, and Elena Gheorghiu of McGill University discovered this effect in 2007. Normally parallel towers viewed from below appear to converge with distance; because that doesn’t happen here, the brain infers that the towers are diverging.

Notice

Any person in want of a DEAD PIG may find one, that will probably answer his purpose, in the middle of Broadway, between Broome and Spring Streets. Applicants need not be in any great haste, as it is expected that he will lie there several days; and if the warm weather should last, and the carriages will let him alone, he will grow — bigger and bigger.

New York Daily Advertiser, 1822

This Earth of Majesty

Letter to the Times, May 2, 1940:

Sir,

In view of the publicity you have accorded to Mrs Barrow’s letter, I hope that you will spare me space to say, as an advocate for the consumption of grass-mowings, that I have eaten them regularly for over three years, and off many lawns. The sample I am eating at present comes off a golf green on Mitcham Common. I have never suffered from urticaria or any of the symptoms Mrs Barrow mentions. Nor did any of the many of my horses to which I have fed grass-mowings, freshly cut and cleaned from stones, &c. For my own consumption I also wash them well.

Yours faithfully,

J.R.B. Branson

The Earthquake Rose

http://www.earthquakerose.com/

When a magnitude 6.8 earthquake shook Olympia, Wash., in 2001, shopowner Jason Ward discovered that a sand-tracing pendulum had recorded the vibrations in the image above.

Seismologists say that the “flower” at the center reflects the higher-frequency waves that arrived first; the outer, larger-amplitude oscillations record the lower-frequency waves that arrived later.

“You never think about an earthquake as being artistic — it’s violent and destructive,” Norman MacLeod, president of Gaelic Wolf Consulting in Port Townsend, told ABC News. “But in the middle of all that chaos, this fine, delicate artwork was created.”

Pirouette

Is this woman spinning clockwise or counterclockwise?

Death Takes a Holiday

Miss Mildred West, whose duties on the Alton [Ill.] Evening Telegraph include the writing of obituaries, has been taking a week’s vacation. And, for the first time in the memory of her fellow workers on the newspaper, a week has passed with no deaths being reported in this city of 32,000. Normally, ten occur every week.

New York Times, Sept. 1, 1946