“Toad Embedded in a Block of Stone”

Lately some workmen employed in a quarry at Byker Hill, on splitting a huge block of free stone, nearly three tons weight, found a living toad in the middle of it; the cavity that contained the animal, to which there was no apparent passage from the outside, was the exact model of its figure, and was lined with a black substance suffused with moisture.

Monthly Magazine, April 1812

(See also Entombed Animals.)

“Manufacturing Feat”


In 1811 a gentleman made a bet of one thousand guineas that he would have a coat made in a single day, from the first process of shearing the sheep till its completion by the tailor. The wager was decided at Newbury, England, on the 25th of June in that year, by Mr. John Coxeter, of Greenham mills, near that town. At five o’clock that morning Sir John Throckmorton presented two Southdown sheep to Mr. Coxeter, and the sheep were shorn, the wool spun, the yarn spooled, warped, loomed and wove, the cloth burred, milled, rowed, dried, sheared and pressed, and put into the hands of the tailors by four o’clock that afternoon. At twenty minutes past six the coat, entirely finished, was handed by Mr. Coxeter to Sir John Throckmorton, who appeared with it before more than five thousand spectators, who rent the air with acclamations at this remarkable instance of despatch.

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

Pelorus Jack


In 1888 a curious white dolphin appeared in the strait between New Zealand’s north and south islands. “Pelorus Jack” would guide steamers through the dangerous French Pass, known for its rocks and strong currents, swimming alongside each ship for up to 20 minutes.

No one knows where Jack came from or what led him to do this. He appears to have been a Risso’s Dolphin, Grampus griseus, uncommon in those waters, but he led ships through the strait for 24 years, and not a single shipwreck occurred in that time. He disappeared in 1912, as mysteriously as he’d come.

See also Everybody Wins.

“Groaning Boards”

Groaning boards were the wonder in London in 1682. An elm plank was exhibited to the king, which, being touched by a hot iron, invariably produced a sound resembling deep groans. At the Bowman tavern, in Drury Lane, the mantelpiece gave forth like sounds, and was supposed to be part of the same elm tree. The dresser at the Queen’s Arm Tavern, St. Martin le Grand, was found to possess the same quality. Strange times, when such things were deemed wonderful — so much so as to merit exhibition before the monarch.

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

The Great Crush Collision

Apparently bored in 1896, Texas railroad agent William G. Crush decided to make his own fun. He got two 35-ton train engines, painted one green and one red, and set them at opposite ends of a four-mile track. Then he sent them toward each other at 45 mph:



Viewed strictly as a publicity stunt, it was a great success: Crush’s advertising had attracted more than 40,000 spectators. Unfortunately, falling debris killed two of them. Moral: Stick to pinochle.

Good Boy


A dog with a gas mask. “This dog was employed by a sanitary corps in locating wounded soldiers.”

From Francis Whiting Halsey, The Literary Digest History of the World War, 1920.

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