“Graves of the Stone Period”

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The above sketch represents a chamber which was discovered in a barrow, situated near Paradis, in the parish of the Vale, in the island of Guernsey. On digging into the mound, a large flat stone was soon discovered; this formed the top, or cap-stone, of the tomb, and on removing it, the upper part of two human skulls were exposed to view. One was facing the north, the other the south, but both disposed in a line from east to west. The chamber was filled up with earth mixed with limpet-shells, and as it was gradually removed, while the examination was proceeding downwards into the interior, the bones of the extremities became exposed to view, and were seen to greater advantage. They were less decomposed than those of the upper part; and the teeth and jaws, which were well preserved, denoted that they were the skeletons of adults, and not of old men. The reason why the skeletons were found in this extraordinary position it is impossible to determine. Probably the persons who were thus interred were prisoners, slaves, or other subordinates, who were slain — perhaps buried alive — on occasion of the funeral of some great or renowned personage, who was placed in the larger chamber at the end of the passage; and this view of the case is considerably strengthened by the fact that the total absence of arms, weapons, or vases, in the smaller chamber, denotes that the quality of the persons within it was of less dignity or estimation.

— Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860

The Ulas Family

There’s something unusual about the Ulas family of southern Turkey — five of its 19 adult children have never walked upright. Instead they move in a “bear crawl,” using their feet and the palms of their hands. This is not knuckle-walking, as apes do. The five share a congenital brain impairment that prevented them from learning to crawl normally as infants, and apparently they developed the bear crawl to compensate.

The five affected children are 18-36 years old now and the subject of intense study by neurologists, evolutionary theorists, anthropologists, and geneticists, as such a gait has never been reported before. The cause of their disorder remains a mystery.

“My Dearly Departed”

London dentist Martin van Butchell always read the fine print. So when his wife Mary died in January 1775, he noted that their marriage certificate promised him income so long as Mary was “above ground.”

He enlisted a pair of local doctors to preserve her corpse, replaced her eyes with glass ones, dressed her in a lace gown, and put her on display in his window.

Eventually Butchell remarried, and his new wife objected to the display, so Mary was retired to the Royal College of Surgeons, where she slowly decomposed. In 1941, she was destroyed in a German bombing raid, faithful to the last.

A Well-Timed Exit

Composer Arnold Schoenberg was fascinated with numerology. Born on Sept. 13, he came to fear that he would die at age 76, because its digits add to 13. He examined a calendar for 1951 and was dismayed to see that July 13 fell on a Friday. When the fateful day came he took to his bed, fearing the worst. The day passed uneventfully, and shortly before midnight his wife entered the bedroom to say goodnight. Schoenberg uttered the word “harmony” and died.

The time of his death was 11:47 p.m., 13 minutes before midnight on Friday, July 13, in his 76th year.

“A Rat Caught by an Oyster”

A rat, lately visiting a tub of oysters at the post office in Falmouth, and whisking his tail between the open shells of one of them, it closed upon him, and held him so firmly, that he was prevented from escaping through his hole, and was found in the morning with the oyster still holding fast of his tail at the entrance of it.

La Belle Assemblée, January 1800

Soul Food

Followers of Breatharianism believe that humans can live without food or water. Wiley Brooks, founder of the Breatharian Institute of America, even claims to have survived mainly on a diet of fresh air for the past 30 years.

It’s not clear what he counts as fresh air — in 1983 he was spotted leaving a Santa Cruz 7-Eleven with a Slurpee, a hot dog and a box of Twinkies.

Silver Lining

Louis-Auguste Cyparis was lucky to be in solitary confinement. After a bar fight in May 1902, the 27-year-old laborer had been put in an underground bomb-proof magazine in the city jail of St. Pierre, Martinique, when he saw the day grow suddenly dark outside the narrow grating in his door. Presently Cyparis was blasted with scalding air and ashes, suffering deep burns on his hands, arms, legs, and back. He spent four days nursing these wounds before he managed to attract a rescue team.

He had lived through the eruption of Mount Pelée, the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century. Of the town’s 28,000 inhabitants, only three had survived.

Ghost Rockets

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What is this? It was photographed by the Swedish army on July 9, 1946, one of thousands of such sightings over Scandinavia that summer.

Some witnesses said the objects maneuvered or flew in formation. A number of them crashed into lakes, but no debris was found; the army spent three weeks searching for a “gray, rocket-shaped object with wings” that reportedly crashed into Lake Kölmjärv on July 19, but found nothing.

Fearing that the Russians were testing captured German missiles, the U.S. government secretly sent Gen. Jimmy Doolittle and RCA president David Sarnoff to investigate. Sarnoff told the New York Times that “the ‘ghost bombs’ are no myth but real missiles.” Truman was told they were originating from the German village of Peenemünde, but there are no records of rocket launches there after the war.

Whatever they were, there were a lot of them. In September the sightings spread to Greece, Portugal, Belgium, and Italy. In all, 2,000 sightings were reported, 200 on radar. Most likely the objects were meteors, but officially no one knows.

“Curious Account of a Bat”

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On opening the vault belonging to the family of J. Norris, Esq. in the church of St. Peter’s Mancroft, Norwich, on Monday, February the third, 1806, a live bat was found therein, of a greyish colour, where it had probably laid in a torpid state, a solitary companion for the dead, more than thirty-two years, the distance of time since the vault was before opened.

Bell’s Messenger, Feb. 16, 1806