“Bogs of Butter”

‘At Stramore, in the county of Monaghan, near the town of Glaslough,’ say the newspapers of 1813, ‘a short time ago a quantity of butter was found in a bog on the lands of Thomas Johnson, of Armagh, Esq. at the depth of twenty feet beneath the surface of the ground. In consequence of the antiseptic qualities of the bog, the butter was found in a state of the most perfect preservation; its colour a statuary white. The person who found this butter mixed it with other unctuous matter, and formed it into candles for family use. It was more condensed in substance than butter usually is, but perfectly sweet in taste, and free from any disagreeable odour.’

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

Man-Eating Tree Update


Longtime readers will remember our travel advisories against Madagascar and Java, whose plants tend to eat people.

We must belatedly add Central America to that list, after reading about the ya-te-veo (“I see you”) tree in J.W. Buel’s Sea and Land (1887). That’s a pretty innocuous name, Buel writes, but it hides an evil nature: Get too close and the tree will sieze you with its shoots, press you onto its short, thick trunk, impale you with daggerlike thorns, and drink your blood.

Apologies for the late notice. If any lives have been lost due to our oversight, it’s probably best not to send flowers to the next of kin.

Look Here

The ‘Four-eyed Man of Cricklade’ was a celebrated English monstrosity of whom little reliable information is obtainable. He was visited by W. Drury, who is accredited with reporting the following–

‘So wondrous a thing, such a lusus naturae, such a scorn and spite of nature I have never seen. It was a dreadful and shocking sight.’ This unfortunate had four eyes placed in pairs, ‘one eye above the other and all four of a dull brown, encircled with red, the pupils enormously large.’ The vision in each organ appeared to be perfect. ‘He could shut any particular eye, the other three remaining open, or, indeed, as many as he chose, each several eye seeming to be controlled by his will and acting independently of the remainder. He could also revolve each eye separately in its orbit, looking backward with one and forward with another, upward with one and downward with another simultaneously.’ He was of a savage, malignant disposition, delighting in ugly tricks, teasing children, torturing helpless animals, uttering profane and blasphemous words, and acting altogether like the monster, mental and physical, that he was. ‘He could play the fiddle, though in a silly sort, having his notes on the left side, while closing the right pair of eyes. He also sang, but in a rough, screeching voice not to be listened to without disgust.’

— George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle, Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, 1896

Cruel and Unusual


Account of a torture and execution by elephant at Baroda, India, 1814:

“The man was a slave, and two days before had murdered his master, brother to a native chieftain, called Ameer Sahib. About eleven o’clock the elephant was brought out, with only the driver on his back, surrounded by natives with bamboos in their hands. The criminal was placed three yards behind on the ground, his legs tied by three ropes, which were fastened to a ring on the right hind leg of the animal. At every step the elephant took, it jerked him forward, and every eight or ten steps must have dislocated another limb, for they were loose and broken when the elephant had proceeded five hundred yards. The man, though covered in mud, showed every sign of life, and seemed to be in the most excruciating torments. After having been tortured in this manner for about an hour, he was taken to the outside of the town, when the elephant, which is instructed for such purposes, was backed, and put his foot on the head of the criminal.”

— From The Percy Anecdotes, 1821

Cold Snap

On Feb. 3, 1947, the Yukon’s Snag airport recorded a temperature of minus 81.4 degrees. One worker reported:

Becoming lost was of no concern. As an observer walked along the runway each breath remained as a tiny motionless mist behind him at head level. These patches of human breath fog remained in the still air for three or four minutes before fading away. One observer even found such a trail still marking his path when he returned along the same path 15 minutes later.

And: “We threw a dish of water high into the air, just to see what would happen. Before it hit the ground, it made a hissing noise, froze, and fell as tiny round pellets of ice the size of wheat kernels.”

“Colors Most Frequently Hit in Battle”

It would appear, from numerous observations, that soldiers are hit during battle according to the color of their dress in the following order: Red is the most fatal color; Austrian gray is the least fatal. The proportions are — red, twelve; rifle green, seven; brown, six; Austrian bluish-gray, five.

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


In seeking a costume for the character Professor Marvel in the The Wizard of Oz, the MGM wardrobe department found a tattered Prince Albert coat in a secondhand store in Los Angeles.

One afternoon actor Frank Morgan turned out the coat’s pocket and discovered the name “L. Frank Baum.” By a bizarre coincidence, they had chosen a coat once owned by the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

This sounds dubious, I know, but cinematographer Hal Rosson, his niece Helene Bowman, and unit publicist Mary Mayer have all vouched for the story.

“We wired the tailor in Chicago and sent pictures,” Mayer told Aljean Harmetz for the book The Making of The Wizard of Oz. “And the tailor sent back a notarized letter saying that the coat had been made for Frank Baum. Baum’s widow identified the coat, too, and after the picture was finished we presented it to her. But I could never get anyone to believe the story.”

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.