Image: Wikimedia Commons

Play your cards right in Nebraska and you could be named an admiral. The landlocked state proudly created its own navy in 1931, and it’s named about 100,000 honorary admirals since then:

And I [the Governor of Nebraska] do strictly charge and require all officers, seamen, tadpoles and goldfish under your command to be obedient to your orders as Admiral—and you are to observe and follow, from time to time, such directions you shall receive, according to the rules and discipline of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska.

There’s no pay, but you’d be in rare company: Bill Murray, Douglas MacArthur, Jack Nicklaus, and Elizabeth II have all been inducted.

Unquiet Slumbers

Pity Lal Bihari: In 1976 the Indian farmer applied for a bank loan and learned he was dead. His uncle had arranged it in order to get control of his land.

This is fairly common in the crowded northern state of Uttar Pradesh, and it creates an odd predicament: If you complain too much about being dead, your enemies might kill you for real.

The struggle led Bihari to make some strangely existential demonstrations. He added the word “dead” to his name, signed his letters as the “late” Lal Bihari, organized his own funeral, and demanded a widow’s compensation for his wife.

Finally he was recalled to life in 1994, after 18 years in the grave. But the “association of the dead” that he founded has now grown to 20,000 members.

“The Fatal Effects of Fear”

One of the officers of Haslar Hospital being dangerously ill, a medical gentleman who was attending him, had occasion, about two o’clock on Saturday morning, the 25th of December, 1814, to send the nurse from the officer’s house to the dispensary; the weather being bad, the nurse wrapped herself round with a piece of red baize, with which she covered, in part, a candle and lantern, to prevent the light from being blown out, as the wind was very high. The rays of light issuing from the red covering, to the imagination of a sentry at a distance, she appeared a terrific spectre; and as she approached him his fear so increased, that he ran from his post with haste to the guard-house, where, in about half an hour, he expired!

Courier, Dec. 28, 1814

The Leather Man


This ain’t quite a mystery, but it ain’t normal either. “The Leather Man” traveled in a 365-mile circuit through Connecticut and southern New York between 1858 and 1889. Everything he wore, from hat to shoes, was hand-made of leather.

The strange vagabond orbited through 32 New England towns, stopping at each at intervals of a little more than a month. That would mean he covered 10 miles a day, on average. He slept in rock shelters and caves, building fires to keep warm, and would accept food from local townspeople, often eating on their doorsteps.

His origins and identity are unknown. It’s said that he was fluent in French, but he communicated mostly in grunts and broken English and would abruptly stop a conversation if asked about his past. He had money, and he wasn’t crazy — the Humane Society detained him briefly in 1888, but they had to let him go, declaring him “sane except for an emotional affliction.” In the end, it’s possible he chose this life.

“Curious Wagers”

There have been travelling wagers, and one of the least singular of such was that of Mr. Whalley, an Irish gentleman (and who we believe edited Ben Johnson’s works), who, for a very considerable wager (twenty thousand pounds, it was said,) set out on Monday the 22nd of September, 1788, to walk to Constantinople and back again in one year. This wager, however whimsical, is not without a precedent. Some years ago a baronet of good fortune (Sir Henry Liddel) laid a considerable wager that he would go to Lapland, bring home two females of that country, and two rein-deer, in a given time. He performed the journey, and effected his purpose in every respect. The Lapland women lived with him about a year, but desiring to go back to their own country, the baronet furnished them with means and money.

— Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860

The Somerton Man


On Dec. 1, 1948, a bather discovered a body on the beach near Adelaide, Australia. The man appeared to be European, about 45 years old, well dressed, and in excellent physical condition. Indeed, the coroner could not determine a cause of death. Still more strangely, it seemed the man had carried no money, and all identifying marks had been removed from his clothes. Apparently he had left a suitcase at the Adelaide railway station, but it contained no useful clues. Photos and fingerprints were circulated throughout the English-speaking world, but no one identified him.

And the body bore one last strange clue: In a trouser fob pocket, one of the investigators found a tiny piece of paper bearing the words “Taman Shud.” Those are the final words in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam; they mean “The End.” A local doctor came forward with a copy of that book, from which the words had been clipped. He had found it tossed on the front seat of his car the day before the body was found.

But even that clue went nowhere. To this day, no one knows who the man was or how he died. He’s known only as the Somerton man.