Hugh Williams

In the year 1664, on the 5th of December, a boat on the Menai, crossing that strait, with eighty-one passengers, was upset, and only one passenger, named Hugh Williams, was saved. On the same day, in the year 1785, was upset another boat, containing about sixty persons, and every soul perished, with the exception of one, whose name also was Hugh Williams. And on the 5th of August, 1820, a third boat met the same disaster; but the passengers of this were no more than twenty-five, and, singular to relate, the whole perished with the exception of one, whose name was Hugh Williams.

Bristol Mercury, cited in The Lives and Portraits of Curious and Odd Characters, 1852

Ahoy!

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1817 saw a rash of sea-monster sightings off the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts. So strong was the craze that in August the New England Linnaean Society announced it had acquired a young sea serpent, which it dubbed Scoliophis atlanticus.

As it turned out, the specimen was a deformed terrestrial snake. Skeptics say this proves that the Gloucester monster didn’t exist. In fact, it only confirms that snakes aren’t sea serpents.

Turnabout

Protagoras, an Athenian rhetorician, had agreed to instruct Evalthus in rhetoric, on condition that the latter should pay him a certain sum of money if he gained his first cause. Evalthus when instructed in all the precepts of the art, refused to pay Protagoras, who consequently brought him before the Areopagus, and said to the Judges — ‘Any verdict that you may give is in my favour: if it is on my side, it carries the condemnation of Evalthus; if against me, he must pay me, because he gains his first cause.’ ‘I confess,’ replied Evalthus, ‘that the verdict will be pronounced either for or against me; in either case I shall be equally acquitted: if the Judges pronounce in my favour, you are condemned; if they pronounce for you, according to our agreement, I owe you nothing, for I lose my first cause.’ The Judges being unable to reconcile the pleaders, ordered them to re-appear before the Court a hundred years afterwards.

— Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860

Night Exercises

A curious circumstance occurred at the Bush Tavern, Bristol, on Monday night, May the 4th, about eleven o’clock. A young man, who has since been discovered to be a sailor, belonging to the Union ship of war, lying at Plymouth, went to bed apparently composed; but before the servant had left the room five minutes, the house was alarmed by his cries of ‘Help me out,’ and by the breaking of glass, occasioned by his bursting through the sash. Though asleep, he continued walking from one roof to the other, and along the narrowest ridges, and at length jumped from the surprising height of thirty feet, without receiving any material injury. He was conveyed to bed, and left the inn the following morning on his journey for Plymouth.

Oxford Herald, May 9, 1812

Moonstruck

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On June 18, 1178, five monks at Canterbury reported witnessing a catastrophe in the sky:

There was a bright new moon, and as usual in that phase its horns were tilted toward the east; and suddenly the upper horn split in two. From the midpoint of this division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals, and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the moon which was below writhed, as it were, in anxiety, and, to put it in the words of those who reported it to me and saw it with their own eyes, the moon throbbed like a wounded snake. Afterwards it resumed its proper state. This phenomenon was repeated a dozen times or more, the flame assuming various twisting shapes at random and then returning to normal. Then after these transformations the moon from horn to horn, that is along its whole length, took on a blackish appearance.

Stony Brook earth scientist Jack Hartung speculates that this may have been an impact event that created the 20-kilometer crater Giordano Bruno.

“An Old Pike.”

In the year 1497 a giant ‘Jack-killer’ was captured in the vicinity of Mannheim, with the following announcement in Greek appended to his muzzle: — ‘I am the first fish that was put into this pond by the hands of the Emperor Frederic the Second, on this 3rd day of October, 1262.’ The age of the informant, therefore, if his lips spoke truth (and the unprecedented dimensions of the body left little doubt on that point), was more than two hundred and thirty-five years. Already he had been the survivor of many important changes in the political and social world around, and would have swam out of perhaps as many more had the captors been as solicitous to preserve his life as they were to take his portrait. This, on the demise of the original, was hung up in the castle of Lautern, and the enormous carcase (which, when entire, weighed three hundred and fifty pounds, and measured nineteen feet) was sent to the museum at Mannheim, where, deprived of its flesh, and caparisoned de novo, it hung, and haply yet hangs, a light desiccated skeleton, which a child might move.

— Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860

AWOL

Around 6 p.m on Jan. 14, 1950, a second-year cadet at West Point named Richard Calvin Cox received a visit from a mysterious friend named George who had a German accent.

Shortly afterward, Cox left his dormitory and vanished. His disappearance is still unexplained; he’s the only cadet ever to go missing from West Point. After a fruitless investigation, he was declared legally dead in 1957.

“Horse-Shoe Embedded in a Tree”

As some workmen were cutting down an elm-tree belonging to Mr. Jopson, of Conisbrough, they discovered in the heart of the tree a horse-shoe with a nail in it, in excellent preservation; it is supposed, it must have been lying there for fifty years and upwards: the tree measures five feet in circumference. Mr. Green, of Sheffield, has the shoe now in his possession, where it may be seen by the curious.

La Belle Assemblée, January 1810