Daniel Lambert

Daniel Lambert

The keeper of an 18th-century workhouse, Daniel Lambert insisted that he ate moderately and avoided alcohol, but the evidence suggested otherwise. By age 23 he weighed 448 pounds; at 36 he hit 700 pounds and began to finance customized furniture and clothing by touring local cities and charging gawkers a shilling apiece to look at him. When he died in 1809, at age 39, he was 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 739 pounds. The wall of the public house in which he was staying had to be dismantled to remove his body.

“A Circumstantial and Authentic Account”


February 20, 1766, Richard Persons, and three other persons, met at a private house in Chalford, in order to play at cards. Though only nineteen years of age, he was very guilty of swearing, and using bad language. A dispute arising while thus engaged, he wished that his flesh might rot upon his bones, and frequently repeated this expression, with many others equally shocking. The party continued to play to a very late hour; and before they broke up Parsons felt a pain in his leg, and complained of it to his partner, of the name of Rolles. From that time it increased, and he went to Minchinhampton, to get advice of Mr. Pegler, a surgeon, who found that a mortification had taken place. All possible means were taken to prevent its spreading, but nothing could save him: it flew from his legs to various parts, viz. under his eyes, and the tops of his shoulders, and on one hand; and he died in twelve hours after it so spread, on the 4th of March in the morning, a most shocking spectacle.

Annual Register, 1766

Perfect Casting

In the 1970s, Anthony Hopkins won a role in the film The Girl From Petrovka. The story was based on a novel by George Feifer, and Hopkins sought it out in several bookstores, without success. He was waiting at the Leicester Square underground station when he noticed a discarded book on a bench nearby. It was The Girl from Petrovka, with notes written in the margins.

Two years later, while shooting the project in Vienna, Hopkins met Feifer, and during their conversation he learned that the novelist had no copy of the book. He had lent his to a friend, who had lost it somewhere in London.

Incredulous, Hopkins handed him the book he had found two years earlier. “Is this the one?” he asked. “With the notes scribbled in the margins?” It was Feifer’s book.

“Crossing the Thames in a Butcher’s Tray”

July 5, 1766. At eight o’clock in the evening, a man who had laid a wager to cross the Thames in a butcher’s tray, set out in the same from Somerset Stairs, and reached the Surrey shore with great ease, using nothing but his hands. He had on a cork jacket, in case of any accident. It was said 1400l. was depending on this affair; and upwards of seventy boats full of spectators were present.

Annual Register, 1766

Happy Landings

On March 23, 1944, RAF tail gunner Nick Alkemade was over Berlin when a Luftwaffe attack set his bomber ablaze.

His parachute was in the flaming cabin, so he resigned himself to a quick death and jumped without it.

Alkemade fell head down for 18,000 feet, trying to relax and thinking of death. But after the impact he found himself looking up at the stars through a canopy of pines. The trees and snow had apparently slowed his fall, and he escaped with only a sprained leg.

The Gestapo refused to believe his story until they found his burned parachute at the crash site.

“Longevity of a Hawk”


In the beginning of September 1792, a paragraph appeared in several newspapers, mentioning that a hawk had been found at the Cape of Good Hope, and brought from thence by one of the India ships, having on its neck a gold collar, on which were engraven the following words:

“This goodlie Hawk doth belong to his Most Excellent Majestie, James Kinge of England, A.D. 1610.”

Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1820

Tons of Atmosphere


You’d do well to avoid Lake Nyos, which sits in a crater on the flank of a Cameroonian volcano. In 1986, like a shaken soft drink can, it suddenly released 80 million cubic meters of carbon dioxide, which rushed down nearby valleys and suffocated 1,800 people and 3,500 livestock where they stood.

It’s not known what caused the eruption, but it turned the lake a deep red.

In Other News

Ten human skeletons have been discovered at Fattey Llyn, near Llandebie, at a depth of thirty feet from the surface of a limestone rock. The skulls are of a very uncommon size and thickness, and all the bones are of a larger calibre than those of the present race of men.

— Edinburgh Star, Aug. 27, 1813

Size Doesn’t Matter


RMS Queen Mary was one of the world’s largest ocean liners in December 1942, but that didn’t impress Mother Nature. As the ship steamed off the coast of Scotland during a gale, an enormous freak wave struck her broadside and sent her listing fully 52 degrees. The wave may have been 28 meters high; it smashed windows on the bridge 90 feet above the waterline. Later investigations estimated that 5 more inches of list would have turned her over.

The incident inspired Paul Gallico to write The Poseidon Adventure.