On May 23, 1964, Cumberland firefighter Jim Templeton was visiting Burgh Marsh in Cumbria, England, when he snapped three photos of his 5-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. When the pictures were developed, he was surprised to see what looked like a spaceman in the background of one of them.
Templeton told reporters, “I took the picture to the police in Carlisle, who, after many doubts, examined it and stated there was nothing suspicious about it. The local newspaper, the Cumberland News, picked up the story, and within hours it was all over the world. The picture is certainly not a fake, and I am as bemused as anyone else as to how this figure appeared in the background. Over the four decades the photo has been in the public domain, I have had many thousands of letters from all over the world with various ideas or possibilities — most of which make little sense to me.”
The best guess seems to be that the figure is Templeton’s wife, Annie, who had dark bobbed hair and was wearing a pale blue dress that appeared white in other photos taken that day. The camera’s viewfinder obscured part of the image area, so it would have been possible for him to take the photo without realizing that Annie was in the shot. But who knows?
When Winston Churchill died in 1965, he left his country home Chartwell to the government with a curious stipulation: It must always maintain “in comfortable residence” a marmalade cat named Jock.
The original Jock had been given to Churchill two years before his death by his private secretary, Sir John “Jock” Colville, and quickly became a favorite. When the cat died in 1975, 10 years after the prime minister, he was replaced with a Jock II, and the line has continued.
The current resident is Jock V, who “jumps into the sink at every opportunity.”
German architect Herman Sörgel’s plan to drain the Mediterranean was only the beginning — he also wanted to irrigate Africa by creating an enormous pair of artificial seas. By damming the Congo River he would create a gigantic lake in the center of the continent; he calculated that this would cause the Ubangi River to reverse its course, flowing northwest into the Chari River and creating a huge “Chad Sea” that would seek an outlet in the north, a “second Nile” that would irrigate Algeria. Between them, these new seas would cover 10 percent of the continent.
Sörgel also wanted to build a giant hydroelectric plant at Stanley Falls whose power could bring light and industry to much of Africa. But the plans came to nothing. “The scale of such a project is beyond colossal and is utterly unfeasible politically,” writes Franklin Hadley Cock in Energy Demand and Climate Change. “Its hydroelectric power potential is staggering, as are the environmental and human problems building it would cause.”
In 1910, four years after Frederick Cook claimed falsely to have reached the peak of Mount McKinley, an unlikely quartet of Alaskan gold miners — Tom Lloyd, Peter Anderson, Billy Taylor, and Charles McGonagall — announced they had planted a spruce pole on the mountain’s 19,470-foot north summit. Though using rudimentary equipment and not acclimated to the altitude, they claimed to have made the final 8,000-foot climb and descent in only 18 hours, carrying the heavy pole and fueled only by hot chocolate and doughnuts.
President Taft congratulated them on the feat, which the New York Times said “was undertaken not for the enlightenment of the world, but to prove the pluck and endurance of the members of the party.” But Lloyd’s exaggerated accounts began to draw skepticism (he claimed to have joined his companions on the summit when it appears he had remained in camp), and these only grew when the party could produce no photographs taken above 11,000 feet.
But three years later Hudson Stuck conquered the main summit and reported that, using binoculars, he had seen a large pole near the north peak. The pole has since been lost, but today it’s generally believed that the Sourdough expedition did succeed in reaching its goal. In 1914 Stuck wrote, “To Pete Anderson and Billy Taylor, two of the strongest men, physically, in all the North, and to none other, belongs the honor of the first ascent of the North Peak and the planting of what must assuredly be the highest flagstaff in the world.”
I may relate an odd incident in the life of Dr. [Thomas] Birch. He was very fond of angling, and devoted much time to that amusement. In order to deceive the fish, he had a dress constructed, which, when he put it on, made him appear like an old tree. His arms he conceived would appear like branches, and the line like a long spray. In this sylvan attire he used to take root by the side of a favourite stream, and imagined that his motions might seem to the fish to be the effect of the wind. He pursued this amusement for some years in the same habit, till he was ridiculed out of it by his friends.
– John Taylor, Records of My Life, 1832
Travel + Leisure named Lesotho’s Matekane Air Strip one of the world’s scariest runways. The tarmac is only 1,312 feet long, and it ends abruptly at the edge of a couloir at 7,550 feet.
If you run out of runway before getting airborne, explained bush pilot Tom Claytor, “you shoot off the end of the airstrip, then drop down the 2,000-foot cliff face until you start flying. … It’s a little bit hard to do the first time.”
How do you occupy a goat? Build a tower for it. Portuguese winemaker Fernando Guedes da Silva da Fonseca built the first “torre das cabras” in the 1820s, a three-story stone tower surrounded with a spiral ramp made of logs.
Inspired by Fonseca, vintner Charles Back built a tower of his own at the Fairview Wine and Cheese Farm in South Africa in 1981 (shown here). Goats are intelligent, gregarious, and curious, and they like to climb, so Fairview offers the tower to a select few of the 1,000 goats in its winelands.
Inspired in turn, Illinois farmer David Johnson built a 31-foot tower in Findlay, Ill., for his 34 Saanen milk goats. “Goats love it, and people driving by can’t believe it,” Johnson told Farm Show magazine. “Goats are the most curious animals in the world, so they use the tower a lot. They come and go, passing each other on the ramp as needed.”
“People often ask if any goats ever fall off the tower, and I always tell them the answer is no because goats are very sure-footed. Once in a while we do get freezing rain, and then I use a portable torch to melt the ice from the steps.”
The South African tower has also been replicated in Norway and Argentina. Let’s hope they’re not planning a takeover.
In 1525, fed up with robbers and highwaymen on the Anglo-Scottish border, Archbishop of Glasgow Gavin Dunbar composed a monumentally comprehensive curse against them:
I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without.
I curse them going and I curse them riding; I curse them standing and I curse them sitting; I curse them eating and I curse them drinking; I curse them rising, and I curse them lying; I curse them at home, I curse them away from home; I curse them within the house, I curse them outside of the house; I curse their wives, their children, and their servants who participate in their deeds; their crops, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horses, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their livestock; their halls, their chambers, their kitchens, their stanchions, their barns, their cowsheds, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their plows, their harrows, and the goods and houses that are necessary for their sustenance and welfare.
May all the malevolent wishes and curses ever known, since the beginning of the world, to this hour, light on them. May the malediction of God, that fell upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that cast them from the high Heaven to the deep hell, light upon them.
May the fire and the sword that stopped Adam from the gates of Paradise, stop them from the glory of Heaven, until they forebear, and make amends.
May the evil that fell upon cursed Cain, when he slew his brother Abel, needlessly, fall on them for the needless slaughter that they commit daily.
May the malediction that fell upon all the world, man and beast, and all that ever took life, when all were drowned by the flood of Noah, except Noah and his ark, fall upon them and drown them, man and beast, and make this realm free of them, for their wicked sins.
May the thunder and lightning which rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah and all the lands surrounding them, and burned them for their vile sins, rain down upon them and burn them for their open sins.
May the evil and confusion that fell on the Gigantis for their opression and pride in building the Tower of Babylon, confound them and all their works, for their open callous disregard and oppression.
May all the plagues that fell upon Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, their lands, crops and cattle, fall upon them, their equipment, their places, their lands, their crops and livestock.
May the waters of the Tweed and other waters which they use, drown them, as the Red Sea drowned King Pharaoh and the people of Egypt, preserving God’s people of Israel.
May the earth open, split and cleave, and swallow them straight to hell, as it swallowed cursed Dathan and Abiron, who disobeyed Moses and the command of God.
May the wild fire that reduced Thore and his followers to two-hundred-fifty in number, and others from 14,000 to 7,000 at anys, usurping against Moses and Aaron, servants of God, suddenly burn and consume them daily, for opposing the commands of God and Holy Church.
May the malediction that suddenly fell upon fair Absalom, riding through the wood against his father, King David, when the branches of a tree knocked him from his horse and hanged him by the hair, fall upon these untrue Scotsmen and hang them the same way, that all the world may see.
May the malediction that fell upon Nebuchadnezzar’s lieutenant, Holofernes, making war and savagery upon true Christian men; the malediction that fell upon Judas, Pilate, Herod, and the Jews that crucified Our Lord; and all the plagues and troubles that fell on the city of Jerusalem therefore, and upon Simon Magus for his treachery, bloody Nero, Ditius Magcensius, Olibrius, Julianus Apostita and the rest of the cruel tyrants who slew and murdered Christ’s holy servants, fall upon them for their cruel tyranny and murder of Christian people.
And may all the vengeance that ever was taken since the world began, for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, fall on them for their openly evil ways, senseless slaughter and shedding of innocent blood.
I sever and part them from the church of God, and deliver them immediately to the devil of hell, as the Apostle Paul delivered Corinth.
I bar the entrance of all places they come to, for divine service and ministration of the sacraments of holy church, except the sacrament of infant baptism, only; and I forbid all churchmen to hear their confession or to absolve them of their sins, until they are first humbled by this curse.
I forbid all Christian men or women to have any company with them, eating, drinking, speaking, praying, lying, going, standing, or in any other deed-doing, under the pain of deadly sin.
I discharge all bonds, acts, contracts, oaths, made to them by any persons, out of loyalty, kindness, or personal duty, so long as they sustain this cursing, by which no man will be bound to them, and this will be binding on all men.
I take from them, and cast down all the good deeds that ever they did, or shall do, until they rise from this cursing.
I declare them excluded from all matins, masses, evening prayers, funerals or other prayers, on book or bead; of all pigrimages and alms deeds done, or to be done in holy church or be Christian people, while this curse is in effect.
And, finally, I condemn them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, there to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of Burrow moor, first to be hanged, then ripped and torn by dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world.
And their candle goes from your sight, as may their souls go from the face of God, and their good reputation from the world, until they forebear their open sins, aforesaid, and rise from this terrible cursing and make satisfaction and penance.
As part of Carlisle’s millennium celebrations in 2001, local artist Gordon Young carved 383 words of the curse into a granite boulder. Since then, local livestock herds have been wiped out by foot-and-mouth disease, a devastating flood has struck the city, factories have closed, and the Carlisle United soccer team dropped a league. Jim Tootle, a local councillor who blamed these misfortunes on the revived curse, himself died suddenly in 2011.
“It is a powerful work of art but it is certainly not part of the occult,” Young insisted. “If I thought my sculpture would have affected one Carlisle United result, I would have smashed it myself years ago.”
In 1862, journalist John Hollingshead accompanied a crew of workers into the sewers under London, “feeling a desire to inspect a main sewer almost from its source to its point of discharge into the Thames.” At one point he asked his guides about the unusual things they had found underground.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘the most awful things we ever find in the sewers is dead children. We’ve found at least four of ‘em at different times; one somewhere under Notting Hill; another somewhere under Mary’bone; another at Paddington; and another at the Broadway, Westminster.’
‘We once found a dead seal,’ struck in one of the men pushing the boat.
‘Ah,’ continued Agrippa, ‘so we did. That was in one of the Westminster sewers — the Horseferry Road outlet, I think, and they said it had been shot at Barnes or Mortlake, and had drifted down with the tide. … We sometimes find live cats and dogs that have got down untrapped drains after house-rats; but these animals, when we pick ‘em up, are more often dead ones.’
‘They once found a live hedgehog in Westminster,’ said another of the men. ‘I’ve heard tell on it, but I didn’t see it.’
At one point, on being told he was beneath Buckingham Palace, “Of course my loyalty was at once excited, and, taking off my fan-tailed cap, I led the way with the National Anthem, insisting that my guides should join in chorus. Who knows but what, through some untrapped drain, that rude but hearty underground melody found its way into some inner wainscoting of the palace, disturbing some dozing maid of honour with its mysterious sounds, and making her dream of Guy Fawkes and many other subterranean villains?”
In 1952, to “indulge a whim of a peculiar nature,” retired funeral director David H. Brown built a house out of 500,000 empty embalming-fluid bottles.
Situated on the shores of Kootenay Lake in British Columbia, the cloverleaf-shaped house occupies 1,200 square feet, including two bedrooms, a fireplace, a kitchen, and a terrace.
The bottles, together, weigh 250 tons.
One of the famous whitewashed towns of Andalusia is blue.
The little village of Júzcar, population 243, was made up with 4,200 liters of blue paint in 2011 to celebrate the release of the movie The Smurfs.
Afterward, Sony offered to paint the town white again, but the villagers declined — in the six months since the film’s premiere, they had received 80,000 tourists.
Dust devils can grow huge on Mars — judging by its shadow, this one was 800 meters tall, about half a mile, and some have reached 10 times that height.
They’re constantly scrawling striking artwork on the Martian surface (below), picking up red dust to reveal the darker sand beneath.
These creatures may be lonely (spooky animation here), but apparently they’re friendly — both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers have had their solar panels cleaned by encounters with wandering devils.
Between 5:30 and 6:15 p.m. on sunny days from mid-October to early November, a bear appears in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Cashiers, N.C.
It’s caused by 4,930-foot Whiteside Mountain, whose shadow is cast at the right angle by the setting autumn sun.
The bear appears also in late winter, from mid-February through early March.
Asked why he was riding naked in the rain, American eccentric Hugh Henry Brackenridge pointed to the clothes folded under his saddle.
“The storm, you know, would spoil the clothes,” he said, “but it couldn’t spoil me.”
Last November, Jacob and Bonnie Richter of West Palm Beach, Fla., drove their motor home to Daytona Beach to attend an RV rally. Their cat, Holly, bolted when Bonnie’s mother opened the door, and could not be found after several days’ search. Finally the Richters returned home.
On New Year’s Eve, Holly was spotted “barely standing” in a backyard about a mile from the Richters’ house in West Palm Beach. The 4-year-old tortoiseshell had traveled 200 miles over two months to return to her hometown. She was identified both by the black-and-brown harlequin patterns in her fur and by an implanted microchip.
No one is quite sure how cats navigate across such long distances. Like other animals they may rely to some extent on magnetic fields, olfactory cues, and the sun, but generally cat navigation seems surest over short distances. In a 1954 study in Germany, cats were placed in a circular maze with exits positioned every 15 degrees; a cat exited most reliably in the direction of home if home was less than 5 kilometers away.
But at least some cats are capable of much greater feats. British cat biologist Roger Tabor cites “Ninja,” a cat who found his way from Mill Creek, Wash., to his old home in Farmington, Utah, in 1997; Howie, an indoor Persian cat who was left with relatives and traveled 1,000 miles across Australia to return to his family’s home in 1978; and a Russian tortoiseshell who traveled 325 miles from Moscow to her owner’s mother’s house in Voronezh in 1989.
Those exploits, and Holly’s, remain unexplained. “We haven’t the slightest idea how they do this,” cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy told the New York Times in January. “Anybody who says they do is lying, and, if you find it, please God, tell me what it is.”
Elis Stenman built a house out of paper. In 1922 the mechanical engineer began designing a summer home in Rockport, Mass., using wood for the frame, floor, and roof but fashioning the walls from newspaper pressed about an inch thick and coated with varnish.
“Actually, I guess he was supposed to cover the outside with clapboards, but he just didn’t,” Stenman’s grandniece, Edna Beaudoin, told the Cape Ann Sun in 1996. “You know, he was curious. He wanted to see what would happen to the paper, and, well, here it is, some 70 years later.”
In 1924 Stenman moved in and began making furniture, also out of newspaper, rolling it into logs, cutting it to length with a knife, and gluing or nailing it into usable finished pieces (one placard reads THIS DESK IS MADE OF THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR).
Stenman died in 1942, and his family has maintained the house ever since, showing it to curious visitors. “I think probably the most common question is just ‘Why?’” Beaudoin says. “We just really don’t know where he got the idea to build a house out of paper. He was just that sort of a guy.”
A letter to the Spectator, Dec. 12, 1891:
I am not versed in dog-lore, and it may be that my love for the animal makes me an ill judge of the importance of the following story; but a friend vouches for its truth, and to my mind it has its importance, not from its display of jealousy, but from the dog’s deliberate acceptance of the undoubtedly changed condition, and the clearly metaphysical character of his motive.
The story is this. A young man had owned for some years a dog who was his constant companion. Recently the young man married, and moved with his bride and his dog into a house on the opposite side of the street from his father’s house, his own former home. The dog was not happy, for the time and attention which had formerly been his was now given to the young wife. In many ways he showed his unhappiness and displeasure, in spite of the fact that the master tried to reconcile him and the bride to win him. One day when the master came home, his wife sat on his knee, while Jack was lying by the fire. He rose from his place, came over to the couple, and expressed his disapproval. ‘Why, Jack,’ said the master, ‘this is all right, she’s a good girl,’ and as he spoke, he patted her arm. Jack looked up at him, turned away, and left the room. In a moment they heard a noise, and going into the hall, they found Jack dragging his bed downstairs. When he reached the front door, he whined to be let out, and when the door was opened, he dragged his bed down the steps, across the street to his old home, where he scratched for admittance. Since then he has never been back to his master, refusing all overtures.
Chas. Morris Addison
From the log of the S.S. Esso Lancashire, sailing off Durban in the Indian Ocean, Aug. 5, 1968:
At 0845 GMT the vessel entered a wave at an altitude of approx. 20 ft and emerged seconds later very much the worse for wear. If Cdre. W.S. Byles, R.D. has any idea where ‘The One from Nowhere’ went, we found the wave that should be with his trough! The wave passed unbroken over the monkey island (a height of about 60 ft) and we struck it well above the trough. It was preceded by a wave slightly larger than usual and we rode that one fairly comfortably but the wavelengths to the big one appeared much less and we just did not make it.
The log for 0745 had noted swell reaching heights of 20 feet. If the monkey island was 60 feet tall then this wave towered 80 feet above the trough, four times the average wave height.
The “one from nowhere” was a deep trough encountered by RMS Edinburgh Castle in 1964: Commodore W.S. Byles reported that the cruiser had “charged, as it were, into a hole in the ocean at an angle of 30° or more, shoveling the next wave on board at a height of 15 to 20ft before she could recover.”
The photo above was taken in the Bay of Biscay around 1940 — a merchant ship was laboring in heavy seas off the coast of France when a crew member photographed a huge wave behind them.
On May 5, 1916, Ernest Shackleton and three exhausted companions were sailing in a small boat across the South Atlantic, trying to reach a settlement and get help for their shipmates, who were stranded on Elephant Island. At midnight Shackleton, alone at the tiller, looked behind them and noticed a horizontal line in the sky. At first he thought this was a rift in the clouds, but gradually he realized it was the white crest of an enormous wave:
I shouted ‘For God’s sake, hold on! it’s got us.’ Then came a moment of suspense that seemed drawn out into hours. White surged the foam of the breaking sea around us. We felt our boat lifted and flung forward like a cork in breaking surf. We were in a seething chaos of tortured water; but somehow the boat lived through it, half full of water, sagging to the dead weight and shuddering under the blow. We bailed with the energy of men fighting for life, flinging the water over the sides with every receptacle that came to our hands, and after ten minutes of uncertainty we felt the boat renew her life beneath us.
“During twenty-six years’ experience of the ocean in all its moods I had not encountered a wave so gigantic,” Shackleton wrote later. “It was a mighty upheaval of the ocean, a thing quite apart from the big white-capped seas that had been our tireless enemies for many days.” But they survived the disaster and reached their goal.
South Africa’s Table Mountain is sometimes overspread with a tablecloth of cloud.
William Webster, surgeon of the British sloop Chanticleer, described the phenomenon in 1834:
When a south-east wind, passing over the southern shores of the Cape, prevails sufficiently to surmount the Table Mountain, the first notice of the fact is a little mist floating as a cloud on a part of it about ten or eleven o’clock in the forenoon. By noon the mountain becomes fringed with dew; and half an hour after, a general obscuration takes place by the mist. In another half hour the little cleft between the Devil’s Berg and the Table Mountain pours over the cloudy vapour; and at two the Devil’s Berg is capped by the cloud. The table-cloth is now completely spread. … While the Table Mountain remains covered with the dense cloud, fragments of the vapour are torn from it by the force of the wind, and are hurried about the sides of the mountain, assuming a variety of fantastic shapes, and playing about the precipice according to the direction of the different currents of wind. This phenomenon lasts till about five in the afternoon, when a little clearing, which takes place on the western edge of the mountain, announces that the table-cloth is about to be folded up. By six or seven the clearance has considerably advanced; and by eight or nine every vestige of it is gone, and nothing is seen about the mountain but an ethereal sky and the twinkling stars.
Red deer still honor the Iron Curtain. During the Cold War, barbed wire and an electric fence divided Eastern Europe from the West, separating the deer population into two groups. Deer follow traditional trails, which are taught to each generation by its forebears. Now that the fence is gone, red deer range on both sides of the border but refuse to cross it.
“In the past, the deer didn’t go to the Czech side because of the fence,” German biologist Marco Heurich told the Wall Street Journal in 2009. “Now the fence is gone but they still stop at the border.” Film producer Tom Synnatzschke added, “The wall in the head is still there.”
As with humans, it’s the young deer who are testing the old ways. “Our data showed that the animals behaved very traditionally,” said zoologist Pavel Sustr. “The former border was in the minds of the animals. But some of the young animals are searching for new territory. They are more and more deleting the border behavior that was there before.”
In 1924, air mail pilots were having trouble finding their way across the featureless American southwest, so the Post Office adopted a brutally low-tech solution: Every 10 miles they built a large concrete arrow illuminated by a beacon. Each arrow pointed the way to the next, so that a pilot could stay on course simply by connecting the dots.
The system was finished by 1929, permitting mail planes to find their way all the way to San Francisco. It was quickly superseded by more sophisticated navigation methods, but today the arrows still dot the American desert, ready to confuse hikers and, probably, future archaeologists.
In 1978 a bottlenose dolphin at California’s Marine World swallowed a 3-inch bolt. When the frustrated veterinarian complained that his arms were too short to reach it, the park’s president, Mike Demetrios, had a brainstorm. He called 6’9″ Golden State Warriors center Clifford Ray, whose arms are 45 inches long.
Ray reached into the dolphin’s second stomach and retrieved the bolt while a Los Angeles vet instructed him via intercom (photos here).
“They are a very smart animal and I think he realized he was in trouble,” Ray told the Chicago Tribune. “He was pretty much cooperative through the whole thing.”
Demetrios rewarded Ray with the bolt mounted on a bronze plaque, plus lifetime passes to the park, and named a new tiger cub “Clifford Ray” in his honor. For his part, Ray was convinced the dolphin was grateful. “After that whole incident, whenever I would go to the park, he would always recognize me,” he told sportswriter Howard Beck in 2006. “He would come right up to me without being prompted.”
There’s a hexagon of cloud at Saturn’s north pole. It surrounds the pole at 77 degrees north latitude, making it wider than two Earths. First discovered by Voyager in the early 1980s, it was still there in 2009, nearly 30 years later.
“The longevity of the hexagon makes this something special, given that weather on Earth lasts on the order of weeks,” said Caltech astronomer Kunio Sayanagi. “It’s a mystery on par with the strange weather conditions that give rise to the long-lived Great Red Spot of Jupiter.”
No one knows what causes the hexagon or how it has remained organized for so long. JPL atmospheric scientist Kevin Baines called it “one of the most bizarre things we’ve ever seen in the solar system.”
In 1939, the U.S. Navy submarine Sculpin helped to rescue the crew of her sister ship Squalus, which had flooded and sunk off the coast of Maine.
After the rescue the Sculpin went on to serve in World War II, where she was sunk in 1943 by a Japanese destroyer. Twenty-one of her crew were captive aboard a Japanese aircraft carrier when the carrier itself was sunk by torpedoes from an American sub.
The attacking sub was the salvaged and repaired Squalus — the same ship that Sculpin had saved four years earlier.