Social Climber

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On Nov. 11, 1918, 47-year-old Harry H. Gardiner opened an insurance policy with the Bank of Hamilton in Ontario.

That wouldn’t be big news, except for the circumstances: He was clinging to the outside of the building at the time, and sticking his head in through one of the open windows.

Gardiner had been a professional “human fly” since 1905, climbing more than 700 buildings throughout Europe and North America, using no special equipment and usually wearing ordinary street clothes.

His other conquests included Detroit’s 12-story Majestic Building (1916, wearing tennis shoes); the 16-story Empire Building in Birmingham, Ala. (1917); and Vancouver’s 17-story World Building (now the Sun Tower) (1918), home of the Vancouver World.

Gardiner must have been glad to get the policy. History doesn’t record how he died … which probably isn’t good.

“Horses Feeding One Another”

M. de Bossanelle, captain of cavalry in the regiment of Beauvilliers, relates in his ‘Military Observations,’ printed in Paris in 1760, ‘that in the year 1757 an old horse of his company, that was very fine and full of mettle, had his teeth suddenly so worn down that he could not chew his hay and corn, and that he was fed for two months, and would still have been so fed had he been kept, by two horses on each side of him that ate in the same manger. These two horses drew hay from the rack, which they chewed, and afterward threw before the old horse; that they did the same with the oats, which they ground very small and also put before him. This was observed and witnessed by a whole company of cavalry, officers and men.’

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

A Cautionary Tale

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John Christian Frommann, doctor of medicine, and professor of philosophy at the college of Coburg, in Franconia, mentions a poor widow woman, aged twenty-six years, who lived out of the town in an unhealthy house, frequented by a great quantity of reptiles. This woman being accustomed to sleep with her mouth open, a snake half a yard long, and of proportionate thickness, crept into her stomach. She was attacked with different complaints, which the author describes at length; but by means of various medicines which he administered, he at length succeeded in making her bring it up, and ridding her of such a disagreeable inmate.

Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1820

The Rohonc Codex

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What is this? No one seems to know. In 1838 a local nobleman donated a 448-page illustrated manuscript to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as part of a larger library. It’s written in an unknown system of symbols, apparently from right to left, and illustrated with religious, secular, and military scenes. The paper was made in Venice in the 1530s, but the book may have been composed later.

Hungarian, German, and French scholars have been unable to decipher the text, despite more than a century of work. Possibly the whole thing was a hoax by Sámuel Literáti Nemes (1796–1842), a known historical forger. But no one really knows.

Murder at the Priory

In 1876, London barrister Charles Bravo took three days to die of antimony poisoning but refused to say who had poisoned him or why.

An inquest determined it was a case of willful murder, but no one was ever arrested or charged. To this day, no one knows who killed him.

“Strength and Sagacity of a Fox”

In 1815, a fox was caught in a trap, at Bourne, Cambridgeshire, with which he made off. He was traced in the snow the following morning, by the Earl of De La Warr’s gamekeeper, upwards of ten miles, and was taken out of the earth alive and strong. His pad was then in the trap, which, with three feet of chain at the end of it, is supposed to have weighed fourteen pounds. Another fox accompanied him the whole of the way, seldom being distant from him more than four or five yards.

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

“Toad Embedded in a Tree”

A few days ago, as two sawyers were employed in cutting up an oak tree about thirteen inches in diameter, for the use of the Earl of Derby’s colliery, at Rainsford, in Lancashire, the man in the pit perceived something to move in the part they were then cutting, which, on examination, proved to be a full-grown toad. The animal was quite alive, when taken up, notwithstanding one of the legs had been cut off by the saw; the cavity in which it was found was exactly in the centre of the tree, just large enough to contain the body, and measured three and a half yards from the root or bottom. The tree was perfectly sound in every part, and not the least crack or aperture could be discovered that had a communication with the atmosphere.

La Belle Assemblée, January 1810

Helen Duncan

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In November 1941 a U-boat torpedoed the British battleship Barham, but the Germans didn’t realize they’d hit it. The British Admiralty managed to keep the loss a secret for two months, but in the interval a Scottish spiritualist named Helen Duncan announced that the Barham had sunk. She said she’d heard the news from a dead sailor.

The British authorities arrested Duncan, hoping to discredit her story. They appealed to an old law against fraudulent “spiritual” activity … which unfortunately was called the British Witchcraft Act of 1735.

So: History records that a practicing medium who revealed an “unknowable” secret at a séance in 1941 was convicted under a witchcraft law. She served 9 months.