The British merchant cruiser Hilary was patrolling the North Sea in 1917 when commander F.W. Dean was called to the bridge to witness a “living thing” on the starboard quarter.
“The head was about the shape of, but somewhat larger than that of, a cow,” Dean recalled three years later in Herbert Strang’s Annual, “though with no observable protrusions such as horns or ears, and was black, except for the front of the face, which could be clearly seen to have a strip of whitish flesh, very like a cow has, between its nostrils. As we passed, the head raised itself two or three times, apparently to get a good look at the ship.”
Dean estimated that the creature was 60 feet long and ordered his men to use it for target practice. The first two crews missed it, but the third hit “and produced at once a furious commotion, which reminded me more than anything else of a bather lying on his back in smooth water and kicking out with all his force to splash the water.” The creature disappeared.
All this was noted in the log, over the objections of a superstitious crewman who insisted it was bad luck to record such encounters. Two days later, Hilary was torpedoed and sank. “If you ask me ‘Am I superstitious about seeing a sea-serpent?’” Dean wrote, “I only reply, ‘Well, if ever I found myself again at sea in command of a ship, and anything of the sort was sighted, I should leave it alone and make no entry in the log!’”
When we look at another person’s face, her eyes and mouth convey the most information about her mood.
Indeed, when a face is inverted we can have trouble recognizing it because we can’t read its expression.
So in 1980 University of York psychologist Peter Thompson tried inverting everything but the eyes and mouth.
Most people can recognize the face at left and assign a mood to it, but they’re often surprised to see it right side up.
“Further research into this illusion might help determine whether face recognition is a serial or parallel process,” Thompson wrote in Perception that summer. “It might even tell us something about Margaret Thatcher.”
The Musical World of London, Nov. 28, 1874, reports a surprising project — apparently a Massachusetts composer set the entire American constitution to music:
The authors of the Constitution of the Union thought more of reason than of rhyme, and their prose is not too well adapted to harmony, but the patriotic inspiration of Mr. Greeler, the Boston composer, overcomes every difficulty. He has made his score a genuine musical epopœia, and had it performed before a numerous public. The performance did not last less than six hours. The preamble of the Constitution forms a broad and majestic recitative, well sustained by altos and double basses. The first clause is written for a tenor; the other choruses are given to the bass, soprano, and baritone. The music of the clause treating of state’s rights is written in a minor key for bass and tenor. At the end of every clause, the recitative of the preamble is re-introduced and then repeated by the chorus. The constitutional amendments are treated as fugues and serve to introduce a formidable finale, in which the big drum and the gong play an important part. The general instrumentation is very scholarly, and the harmony surprising.
The music has been lost, but it would be out of date now anyway — we’ve added 12 amendments since then.
This one’s been tricky to write up because I can find so few sources. In a shed behind his farmhouse in Kent, electrical engineer Victor Martin apparently spent 50 years building a working replica of the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway as it existed in 1938. He started the project with his first wife in 1923 and continued it after retirement with his second wife, Louise, the daughter of a railroad stationmaster at St. Pancras. He arranged 500 engines and cars and nearly a mile of track; she added scenery, livestock, and people.
That’s just the beginning. For 30 years the Martins ran the railroad on a daily schedule, following the actual timetable used in St. Pancras in the 1930s. At Christmas they ran extra coaches to accommodate the holiday mail, and when the queen was traveling they included a royal coach on the line. During a national dock strike they added more freight trains, and during the Suez crisis of 1956 they stayed up all night running troop trains. (“Had to do it at night, you see,” Martin told a reporter, “for the secrecy.”)
How real must a model be before you’re a god? The denizens of Victor’s little world enjoyed perfect order until 1986, when Louise died and he cut back to a weekly schedule. Whether this was felt in 1938 is unknown.
“We have had a visit from a monster turtle fish,” wrote a Miss S. Lovell, rather complacently, to Land and Water in 1891. Lovell was a schoolteacher on Queensland’s Great Sandy Island, and she was quite certain of what she saw:
It let me stand for half an hour within five feet of it. When tired of my looking at it, it put its large neck and head into the water and swept round seaward, raising its huge dome-shaped body about five feet out of the water, and put its twelve feet of fish-like tail over the dry shore, elevating it at an angle. Then, giving its tail a half twist, it shot off like a flash of lightning, and I saw its tail in the air about a quarter of a mile off, where the steamers anchor.
Indeed, when an editor expressed some doubt at this, Miss Lovell took offense: “You speak of the impossible length of its tail. I beg to state this is a most astounding statement from people who have never seen this monster, half fish, half tortoise. The tail was over the dry shore for half an hour, so close to me, that five footsteps would have enabled me to put my hand upon it.”
The editor eventually gave up, but W. Savile-Kent took a fuller account from her and published it in his Great Barrier Reef of Australia two years later; she also gave him a document certifying that seven other people had seen the thing within a few days of her encounter. It hasn’t come back.
The Matterhorn at Disneyland contains a basketball goal. Near the top of the mountain is a small preparation room used by the “mountaineers” who are sometimes seen scaling the exterior. The climbers installed a hoop and backboard so they could pass the time during bad weather.
The Matterhorn space is too cramped for a full game — for that you’ll need to visit the Supreme Court.
The London Post says a wager came off, the terms of which were as follows. I will bet any man one hundred pounds, that he cannot make a million strokes, with pen and ink, within a month. They were not to be mere dots or scratches, but fair down strokes, such as form the child’s first lesson in writing. A gentleman accepted the challenge. The month allowed was the lunar month of only twenty-eight days; so that for the completion of the undertaking, an average of thirty-six thousand strokes a day was required. This, at sixty a minute, or three thousand six hundred an hour–and neither the human intellect nor the human hand can be expected to do more–would call for ten hours’ labor in every four and twenty. With a proper feeling of the respect due to the Sabbath, he determined to abstain from his work on the Sundays. By this determination he diminished by four days the period allowed him, and at the same time, by so doing, he increased the daily average of his strokes to upwards of forty-one thousand. On the first day he executed about fifty thousand strokes; on the second, nearly as many. But at length, after many days, the hand became stiff and weary, the wrist swollen, and it required the almost constant attendance of some assiduous relation or friend, to besprinkle it, without interrupting its progress over the paper, with a lotion calculated to relieve and invigorate it. On the twenty-third day, the million strokes, and some thousands over, were accomplished; and the piles of paper that exhibited them testified, that to the courageous heart, the willing hand and the energetic mind, hardly anything is impossible.
– Francis Channing Woodworth, American Miscellany of Entertaining Knowledge, 1852
On March 1, 1934, a scientist at New Hampshire’s already-odd Mount Washington observatory was digging in the snow before a garage when he was shocked to see that the holes he had dug “were promptly filled with deep blue light.”
Investigating, the man confirmed that the light could not be a “reflection from the sky or of bacteria collecting on the snow.” But no explanation was ever found, and no blue light has been reported since.
(Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 1934)
Sailing in the Gulf of California aboard H.M.S. Fly around 1838, Capt. George Hope looked down through waters “perfectly calm and transparent” and saw something new. Or, perhaps, old. From The Zoologist, 1849:
[H]e saw at the bottom a large marine animal, with the head and general figure of the alligator, except that the neck was much longer, and that instead of legs the creature had four large flappers, somewhat like those of turtles, the anterior pair being larger than the posterior: the creature was distinctly visible, and all its movements could be observed with ease: it appeared to be pursuing its prey at the bottom of the sea: its movements were somewhat serpentine, and an appearance of annulations or ring-like divisions of the body was distinctly perceptible.
“Captain Hope made this relation in company, and as a matter of conversation,” writes Edward Newman. “When I heard it from the gentleman to whom it was narrated, I inquired whether Captain Hope was acquainted with those remarkable fossil animals, Ichthyosauri and Plesiosauri, the supposed forms of which so nearly correspond with what he describes as having seen alive, and I cannot find that he had heard of them; the alligator being the only animal he mentioned as bearing a partial similarity to the creature in question.”
A correspondent of the Drawer is involved in domestic perplexities. He writes:
‘I got acquainted with a young widow, who lived with her step-daughter in the same house. I married the widow; my father fell, shortly after it, in love with the step-daughter of my wife, and married her. My wife became the mother-in-law and also the daughter-in-law of my own father; my wife’s step-daughter is my step-mother, and I am the step-father of my mother-in-law. My stepmother, who is the step-daughter of my wife, has a boy: he is naturally my step-brother, because he is the son of my father and of my step-mother; but because he is the son of my wife’s step-daughter so is my wife the grandmother of the little boy, and I am the grandfather of my step-brother. My wife has also a boy: my step-mother is consequently the step-sister of my boy, and is also his grandmother, because he is the child of her step-son; and my father is the brother-in-law of my son, because he has got his step-sister for a wife. I am the brother of my own son, who is the son of my step-mother; I am the brother-in-law of my mother, my wife is the aunt of her own son, my son is the grandson of my father, and I am my own grandfather.’
– Harper’s Magazine, April 1865
One of the magistrates in Harbour Grace, in Newfoundland, had an old dog of the regular web-footed species peculiar to this island, who was in the habit of carrying a lantern before his master at night, as steadily as the most attentive servant could do, stopping short when his master made a stop, and proceeding when he saw him disposed to follow. If his master was absent from home, on the lantern being fixed to his mouth, and the command given, ‘Go fetch thy master,’ he would immediately set off, and proceed directly to the town, which lay at the distance of more than a mile from the place of his master’s residence: he would then stop at the door of every house which he knew his master was in the habit of frequenting, and laying down his lantern, growl and strike the door, making all the noise in his power until it was opened; if his master was not there, he would proceed farther in the same manner, until he had found him. If he had accompanied him only once into a house, this was sufficient to induce him to take that house in his round.
– The Scrap Book, Or, A Selection of Interesting and Authentic Anecdotes, 1825
John Raymond Godley (1920-2006), Lord Kilbracken, was a respected writer and journalist, but he’s remembered mostly for a peculiar talent: He dreamed the winners of horse races.
- While an undergraduate at Oxford in 1946, he dreamed he was reading racing results in a newspaper. Two of the winners were Bindal and Juladin, horses he knew from his waking life. In the morning he discovered that both would be running that afternoon. He bet on both, and both won.
- A month later, vacationing in Ireland, he awoke with the name Tubermore in his mind. He called the local postmistress the following day, and she told him that a Tuberose was running that day. He won, at odds of 100 to 6.
- In July he dreamed that a bookie’s clerk told him a horse named Monumentor had won a race. He found in the morning that a Mentores would be running that day. He bet and won.
- In June 1947 he dreamed he was watching one race in which he recognized jockey Edgar Britt, then watched a second race won by a horse called The Bogie. He woke to find that Britt was riding that day, and that a horse called The Brogue would be running in the race that followed. This time he sealed his picks in a time-stamped envelope in the presence of witnesses. Both horses won.
- In 1949 he dreamed he read the name Timocrat in the Mirror‘s racing sheet. He discovered that Timocrat was running the next day; he bet and won.
And so on. He couldn’t summon the dreams, of course, and the horses he picked didn’t invariably win. But even nine years later a dream led him to the winner of the Grand National. “I can offer no explanation, rational or irrational,” he wrote in a memoir. “Make your own deductions, but accept my facts as true.”
To the Editor of the Herald:
I am anxious to find out the way to figure the temperature from centigrade to Fahrenheit and vice versa. In other words, I want to know, whenever I see the temperature designated on the centigrade thermometer, how to find out what it would be on Fahrenheit’s thermometer.
Old Philadelphia Lady
Paris, December 24, 1899
That’s reasonable enough, right? It ran in the Paris Herald on Dec. 27, 1899.
The curious thing is that it also ran on Dec. 28, and Dec. 29 … and every day thereafter for 18 years, a total of 6,718 times.
Publisher James Gordon Bennett never gave a reason — he only told colleague James B. Townsend that “just so long as there was an average income of jocose but more often indignant and abusive letters about this letter at the Paris Herald office he would continue to publish it.”
If Satan plays miniature golf, this is his favorite hole. A ball struck at A, in any direction, will never find the hole at B — even if it bounces forever.
The idea arose in the 1950s, when Ernst Straus wondered whether a room lined with mirrors would always be illuminated completely by a single match.
Straus’ question went unanswered until 1995, when George Tokarsky found a 26-sided room with a “dark” spot; two years later D. Castro offered the 24-sided improvement above. If a candle is placed at A, and you’re standing at B, you won’t see its reflection anywhere around you — even though you’re surrounded by mirrors.
There were married at Durham, Canada East, an old lady and gentleman, involving the following interesting connections:–
The old gentleman is married to his daughter’s husband’s mother-in-law, and his daughter’s husband’s wife’s mother. And yet she is not his daughter’s mother; but she is his grandchildren’s grandmother, and his wife’s grandchildren are his daughter’s step-children. Consequently the old lady is united in the bonds of holy matrimony and conjugal affection to her daughter’s brother-in-law’s father-in-law, and her great-grandchildren’s grandmother’s step-father; so that her son-in-law may say to his children, Your grandmother is married to my father-in-law, and yet he is not your grandfather; but he is your grandmother’s son-in-law’s wife’s father. This gentleman married his son-in-law’s father-in-law’s wife, and he is bound to support and protect her for life. His wife is his son-in-law’s children’s grandmother, and his son-in-law’s grandchildren’s great-grandmother.
– Charles Carroll Bombaugh, Gleanings for the Curious from the Harvest-fields of Literature, 1875
While in course of demolishing a block of old houses on the north side of Longacre, which requires to be removed for the extension of Marischal College buildings, the workmen made a curious discovery yesterday morning. About fifteen inches from the exterior of a wall composed of solid masonry they came across a couple of crabs, one being dead but still in a fresh state, and the other alive, although so attenuated as to be almost transparent. The crabs were handed over to Mr. Jones, assistant professor of chemistry at Marischal College. The live crab is preserved in a jar containing water. In size it is an inch long and a quarter broad, its dead companion being an inch and three-quarters in length and an inch in breadth. The house has been untenanted for six months, and it is a mystery how the creatures could have found their way into a mass of masonry twenty feet above the ground level of the outside, and three or four feet from the level of the floor.
– Newspaper paragraph quoted in Scottish Notes and Queries, February 1896
In 1979, Robert Barbour applied for a vanity license plate at the California Department of Motor Vehicles. He listed his preferences as SAILING, BOATING, and NO PLATE, meaning he didn’t want a vanity plate if his first two choices were taken.
Inevitably, the DMV sent Barbour plates reading NO PLATE. But that wasn’t the worst of it: In the months that followed he received 2,500 notices of unpaid parking violations from around the state. When a police officer anywhere in California cited a vehicle without plates and wrote NO PLATE on the ticket, the record was matched to Barbour.
Two years later, when the DMV wised up and asked officers to stop doing this, they began writing MISSING instead … and Andrew Burg of Marina del Rey started getting the tickets.
The same thing has befallen motorists sporting the tags VOID, UNKNOWN, NOTAG, and even XXXXXXX. It makes you wonder how the police could write up a tagless car.
When Victor Noir died in a Paris duel in 1870, sculptor Jules Dalou reproduced the fallen journalist in bronze — a bronze that seems unusually hard in the trousers, if you see what I mean.
That feature has made the statue a sort of fertility shrine for Parisian women. It’s said that kissing Noir’s lips, leaving flowers in his hat, or rubbing his, um, press credentials will bring a husband, enhance one’s sex life, or ensure fertility.
Whether that’s true is open to question, of course — but when the cemetery installed a fence around the statue in 2004, local women reportedly protested until it was removed again.
On March 28, 1903, industrialist and horse lover C.K.G. Billings hosted a one-of-a-kind dinner at Sherry’s Restaurant in New York. He covered the floor of the restaurant’s grand ballroom with turf and brought in 36 horses via the freight elevator. The diners passed the evening on horseback, eating from tables on their pommels and drinking champagne from chilled bottles in the saddlebags.
The bill for this came to $50,000, but that was nothing to Billings, who had just retired as president of the People’s Gas Light and Coke Company in Chicago and was celebrating the opening of a new stable in Manhattan. The horses got oats.
When Ida, the famous ostrich at the London Zoological Gardens, died in 1927, a post-mortem showed that she’d eaten too many foreign objects offered by visitors. Her stomach contained:
- three handkerchiefs
- three gloves
- three feet of cord
- an empty film spool
- a four-inch nail
- an eight-inch nail
- a four-inch lead pencil
- four half-pennies
- two farthings
- a French coin
- part of a celluloid comb
- part of a rolled-gold necklace
- a collar button
- a bicycle tire valve
- a brass winding key for an alarm clock
- a dozen short bits of wire
- metal staples
- small nails
- copper rivets
- a glove fastener
- a piece of wood four inches long
“It seems to us that the Associated Press is very profligate with its cable tolls these days,” observed one New York newspaper that picked up the story. “Why didn’t the correspondent say the ostrich had swallowed a stray Ford and be done with it?”
In February 1857 a Dr. Biccard was visiting Green Point in Cape Town when the lighthouse keeper asked him to “come and see a sea monster.” Biccard followed him and was astonished to see the creature illustrated above (“No. 1″) at a distance of about 150 yards. He borrowed a rifle and fired twice; the second ball apparently startled the animal, which straightened and submerged, but it reappeared 10 minutes later at about 200 yards and swam back to its original location, where it assumed position No. 2.
Biccard estimates the animal was about 200 feet long, but he could not estimate its thickness. He thinks the protuberance at one end, which was maculated with white spots, is the upper part of the head. The creature swam into Table Bay shortly afterward and was lost to sight; whatever it was, eight people saw it that day.
Under the terms of an 1845 treaty, Texas has the right to divide itself at any time into five new states.
That was part of the deal when the Lone Star State was first annexed to the Union, and, according to University of Minnesota law professor Michael Stokes Paulsen, it’s still valid and constitutional.
Such a move would create eight new senators and four new governors — and it would add eight votes to the Electoral College.
‘That’s another thing we’ve learned from your Nation,’ said Mein Herr, ‘map-making. But we’ve carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?’
‘About six inches to the mile.’
‘Only six inches!‘ exclaimed Mein Herr. ‘We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!‘
‘Have you used it much?’ I enquired.
‘It has never been spread out, yet,’ said Mein Herr: ‘the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.’
– Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno, 1889
Here is a book lying on a table. Open it. Look at the first page. Measure its thickness. It is very thick indeed for a single sheet of paper — one half inch thick. Now turn to the second page of the book. How thick is this second sheet of paper? One fourth inch thick. And the third page of the book, how thick is this third sheet of paper? One eighth inch thick, etc. ad infinitum. We are to posit not only that each page of the book is followed by an immediate successor the thickness of which is one half that of the immediately preceding page but also (and this is not unimportant) that each page is separated from page 1 by a finite number of pages. These two conditions are logically compatible: there is no certifiable contradiction in their joint assertion. But they mutually entail that there is no last page in the book. Close the book. Turn it over so that the front cover of the book is now lying face down upon the table. Now, slowly lift the back cover of the book with the aim of exposing to view the stack of pages lying beneath it. There is nothing to see. For there is no last page in the book to meet our gaze.
– Patrick Hughes and George Brecht, Vicious Circles and Infinity, 1978