A Gettysburg Reunion

William Milford of Company H, Twenty-third Pennsylvania, while lying in the breastworks at Culp’s Hill, on the morning of July 3d [1863], picked up the head of a penny which some one had cut out, probably to make a stickpin. Some months afterwards while on reserve picket under Lieutenant Vodges of F Company, talking over campaigns, told of a relic he found at Gettysburg, and pulling it out showed it to the lieutenant.

‘Why, Milford, you are the man I have been looking for,’ and pulling out of his pocket a ring or rim of a penny, it was found the two pieces fitted together. The lieutenant stated that he had found the ring when the regiment went over from Culp’s Hill to the left of Meade’s headquarters, on the afternoon of July 3d. He gave the relic to Milford, and when the regiment erected its monument at Culp’s Hill, Gettysburg, in 1886, Milford had the relic go in with others that are now in the box sunken in the lower base of the monument.

History of the Twenty-Third Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Birney’s Zouaves, 1904

Podcast Episode 182: The Compulsive Wanderer

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In the 1870s, French gas fitter Albert Dadas started making strange, compulsive trips to distant towns, with no planning or awareness of what he was doing. His bizarre affliction set off a 20-year epidemic of “mad travelers” in Europe, which evaporated as mysteriously as it had begun. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll consider the parable of pathological tourism and its meaning for psychiatry.

We’ll also contemplate the importance of sick chickens and puzzle over a farmyard contraption.

See full show notes …

Extraordinary Lengths

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A number of German writers intentionally suppressed the letter ‘r’ (as did also a fair number of Italians), of whom the eighteenth-century German poet Gottlob Burmann (1737-1805) is perhaps the most amusing: he is reported to have hated the letter ‘r’ to such an extent that in 130 poems he never used it and refused to pronounce his own last name.

— Laurence de Looze, The Letter & the Cosmos, 2016

Peace and Quiet

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Most of the inhabitants of Colma, California, are dead. When a fast-growing San Francisco outlawed new interments in 1900, and then evicted its existing cemeteries two years later, nearby Colma became the city’s burying ground. Over the following 30 years, thousands of bodies were carted here from their former resting places in the city — the Catholic Holy Cross cemetery alone received 39,307. Today the town’s 17 cemeteries occupy 73 percent of its 2.25 square miles, and the dead (1.5 million) outnumber the living (1,792) by more than 800 to 1.

The town has a sense of humor about it, though — its unofficial motto is “It’s great to be alive in Colma!”

Mysterious Ways

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Image: Flickr

Between 1950 and 1964, Meyer Wertlieb rented a garage in Washington D.C. to James Hampton, a janitor who worked at the General Services Administration. When Hampton died, Wertlieb opened the garage and found a throne.

Hampton, the son of a minister, had been born in South Carolina in 1909. In 1928 he moved to Washington to share an apartment with his older brother, and in 1931 God and his angels told him to make a throne for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Working for hours in the middle of each night, he spent 14 years building what he called “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly,” piecing it together from aluminum foil and cardboard boxes, jelly jars and light bulbs. God visited him regularly to check on his progress.

Eventually it was 7 feet tall and occupied 300 square feet. When Hampton died, his sister rejected it, and it now stands in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Stephen Jay Gould wrote, “I am not an art historian. I will make no aesthetic interpretation or judgment beyond a purely personal statement that Hampton’s Throne stunned and delighted me when I happened upon it by accident during a coffee break from a meeting at the Smithsonian, and it has never failed, upon many subsequent and purposeful visits, to elicit the same pleasure and awe.”

(If that’s not interesting enough, Hampton left behind a 70-page notebook that no one has ever deciphered.)

Illumination

The BIG Maze, a temporary installation at the National Building Museum in 2014, inverted the idea of the traditional Renaissance maze: Instead of getting more bewildering as you advanced toward the goal, it got easier.

“From outside, the maze’s cube-like form hides the final reveal behind its 18-foot-tall walls,” explained Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. “On the inside, the walls slowly descend towards the center, which concludes with a grand reveal — a 360-degree understanding of your path in and how to get out.”

Kids who wanted an overview could ride on their parents’ shoulders or go up to the building’s mezzanine in order to memorize the layout.

To Each His Own

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Taiwan’s Modern Toilet restaurant is so popular that it’s expanding into China and other parts of Asia. Patrons sit on acrylic toilets around glass-topped sinks to eat food from miniature toilet bowls and drink from plastic urinals. The desserts include “diarrhea with dried droppings” (chocolate), “bloody poop” (strawberry), and “green dysentery” (kiwi).

Owner Wang Zi-wei began by selling chocolate ice cream in paper toilets, inspired by a cartoon character. When the idea took off, he opened the full bathroom-themed restaurant in 2004, with shower heads and toilet plungers among the decor.

“It’s a little gross when you see other people eat,” one patron told Time in 2009. But, another added, “They do it tastefully.”

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Image: Flickr

Plea

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One sticks a finger into the ground to smell what country one is in. I stick my finger into the world — it has no smell. Where am I? What does it mean to say: the world? What is the meaning of that word? Who tricked me into this whole thing and leaves me standing here? Who am I? How did I get into the world? Why was I not asked about it, why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought from a peddling shanghaier of human beings? How did I get involved in this big enterprise called actuality? Why should I be involved? Isn’t it a matter of choice? And if I am compelled to be involved, where is the manager — I have something to say about this. Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint?

— Kierkegaard, Repetition, 1843

Bullseye

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Rather than follow daylight saving time, the state of Arizona observes standard time throughout the year.

But the Navajo Nation observes daylight saving time throughout its territory, including the part that lies in Arizona.

And the Hopi Nation, which lies entirely in Arizona, surrounded entirely by the Navajo Nation, doesn’t.

So the Hopi Nation is a region that doesn’t observe daylight saving time inside one that does inside one that doesn’t inside one that does.

Related: Ontario contains an island in a lake on an island in a lake.

Fierljeppen

Since much of the Netherlands is below sea level, Dutch farmers needed a way to leap waterways to reach their various plots of land. Over time this evolved into a competitive sport, known as fierljeppen (“far leaping”) in which each contestant sprints to the water, seizes a 10-meter pole, and climbs it as it lurches forward over the channel. The winner is the one who lands farthest from his starting point in the sand bed on the opposite side.

The current record holder is Jaco de Groot of Utrecht, who leapt, clambered, swayed, and fell 22.21 meters in August.