Queen of the Mist


The first person to go over Niagara Fall in a barrel was actually a woman. Hoping to make money from the publicity, schoolteacher Annie Edson Taylor climbed into a pickle barrel on Oct. 24, 1901, and was set adrift north of Goat Island. Twenty minutes later she emerged downstream with only a gash on her forehead.

But “if it was with my dying breath,” she later said, “I would caution anyone against attempting the feat. … I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the fall.”

There are some reports that she was accompanied by a black kitten. One says it emerged as a white kitten.

See also Niagara in a Barrel and “Sending Vessels Over Niagara Falls.”

Fleeing the Scene


On April 15, 1912, the German liner Prinze Adelbert was steaming through the North Atlantic when its chief steward noticed an iceberg with a curious scar bearing red paint. He took this photo.

He learned only later that the Titanic had gone down in those waters less than 12 hours earlier.

Love Conquers All

In December 1796, a young man named Graham, a resident of Lancaster, went to Workington, to fulfil a promise of marriage made to a young woman of that town. — On entering the room in which she also was, he became indisposed, and tottering to where she sat, fell dead at her feet.

Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1803

The Marree Man


Charter pilot Trevor Wright was flying over South Australia in 1998 when he discovered something astonishing: the colossal image of a human being, 4.2 kilometers long, carved into the earth.

It must have taken weeks to etch the figure into the arid soil with a tractor and a plough. Even planning the work probably required aerial photography or satellite imagery, surveying skill, and GPS technology.

But no one knows who created the figure, when, or why.

“To Disappoint His Wife”

On the 20th of May, 1736, the body of Samuel Baldwin, Esq., was, in compliance with a request in his will, buried, sans ceremonie, in the sea at Lymington, Hants. His motive for this extraordinary mode and place of interment was to prevent his wife from ‘dancing on his grave,’ which she had frequently threatened to do in case she survived him.

— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882

Come Out, Come Out …


That hollow column on the right is a “priest-hole,” a hiding place for Catholic priests, who were hunted with Elmer-Fudd-like tenacity when Elizabeth took the English throne around 1560. A “papist” could be hanged for saying mass; converting a Protestant was high treason.

Fortunately, the priests had a Bugs Bunny in the shape of Nicholas Owen, a Jesuit laybrother who spent his life devising secret chambers and hiding places for persecuted Catholics. “Pursuivants” could spend as much as a fortnight fruitlessly tearing down paneling and tearing up floors while the priest held his breath a wall’s thickness away.

Ickily, some of these hidden priests starved to death.

Into the Fire

Fighter pilot William Rankin bailed out of a failing jet in 1959 and found himself inside a thunderstorm:

I saw lightning all around me in every shape imaginable. When very close, it appeared mainly as a huge, bluish sheet several feet thick, sometimes sticking close to me in pairs, like the blades of a scissors, and I had the distinct feeling that I was being sliced in two. It was raining so torrentially that I thought I would drown in midair. Several times I had held my breath, fearing that otherwise I might inhale quarts of water. How silly, I thought, they’re going to find you hanging from some tree, in your parachute harness, your lungs filled with water, wondering how on earth you drowned.

The stormcloud toyed with him for 45 minutes before it finally put him down — 65 miles from where he’d bailed out.

Or Bust


In 1909, 22-year-old housewife Alice Huyler Ramsey drove from New York to San Francisco, covering 3,800 miles in 59 days in a Maxwell touring car. She encountered Indians (hunting jackrabbits) in Nebraska, a posse (hunting a murderer) in Wyoming, bad roads, bad weather, flat tires, and breakdowns. All of this is chronicled in her memorably titled 1961 memoir, Veil, Duster and Tire Iron.

With her went two sisters-in-law and a female friend — none of whom could drive a car.

See also Annie Londonderry.

“Lizard Embedded in a Block of Coal”

Lately, in a coal-pit situated upon the outwood, near Wakefield, and belonging to Wm. Fenton, Esq. out of the lower bed or seam, at a distance of 150 yards from the surface of the earth, a block of coal was dug up, which, when broken, contained a lizard, of the species vulgarly called askers; the animal was alive, but upon being exposed to the air, it soon died. The cavity in which it was found, being the exact mould of its own form, no chasm, hole, or external crack appeared on the surface of the block.

Monthly Magazine, 1812


A deaf observer of the American Civil War would have been deeply confused by the outcome of certain battles. That’s because the generals planned to hear the course of the struggle — and, in some cases, the sounds never arrived.

“Acoustic shadows” typically occur when an expected sound is absorbed somehow or deflected by windshear or a temperature gradient. In the Civil War it had significant effects at Fort Donelson, Five Forks, and Chancellorsville. At the Battle of Iuka, a north wind prevented Grant from hearing guns only a few miles away. At Perryville, Don Carlos Buell learned only from a messenger that his men were involved in a major battle.

At the Battle of Seven Pines, Joseph Johnston was 2.5 miles from the front but heard no guns. And certain sounds from the Battle of Gettysburg were inaudible 10 miles away but clearly heard in Pittsburgh.

(Thanks, David.)