The French newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur is published only on leap day, Feb. 29 — which means a new issue appears only once every four years.
You can buy a century’s subscription for 100 euros.
The following account of unusual phenomena was received March 10, at the Hydrographic office, Washington, from the branch office in San Francisco. The bark Innerwich, Capt. Waters, has just arrived at Victoria from Yokohama. At midnight of Feb. 24, in latitude 37° north, longitude 17° 15′ east, the captain was aroused by the mate, and went on deck to find the sky changing to a fiery red. All at once a large mass of fire appeared over the vessel, completely blinding the spectators; and, as it fell into the sea some fifty yards to leeward, it caused a hissing sound, which was heard above the blast, and made the vessel quiver from stem to stern. Hardly had this disappeared, when a lowering mass of white foam was seen rapidly approaching the vessel. The noise from the advancing volume of water is described as deafening. The bark was struck flat aback; but, before there was time to touch a brace, the sails had filled again, and the roaring white sea had passed ahead.
– Science, March 20, 1885
A narrow escape from destruction by an immense meteor was reported this morning by officers of the steamer Cambrian, which arrived from London. The huge fiery mass struck the water within fifty yards of the Cambrian’s starboard bow last Friday evening when the ship’s position was longitude 51.10 west, latitude 42.05 north, several hundred miles south of Cape Race.
[Third officer Daniel Vittery:] ‘The air was filled with a deafening din such as a thousand railroad trains in a tunnel might create. The hiss of dropping fragments gave me the fleeting impression of the ship’s boilers leaking in every plate. … With a crash that shook the ship the monster struck the sea not fifty yards away, and the upheaval was terrific. Not a rope nor a spar was scathed when the meteor, big as a fair-sized house, went squarely over us and struck the sea.’
– The Friend, Sept. 21, 1907
The gold medal for canine endurance goes to Petey, the junkyard dog who guarded Al’s Auto Salvage in New Bern, N.C., in 1996. Petey was only 10 inches tall, and when Hurricane Fran roared up the North Carolina coast on Sept. 5, he was locked in a building that flooded with 16 inches of water.
Owner Skip Crayton feared the worst, but when he opened the shop the following morning, out came Petey, covered up to his neck in oil and mud. Apparently the dog had swum continuously for six to eight hours in the flooded building, keeping his head just above water to stay alive.
Petey couldn’t tell of the experience, of course, but when Crayton got him home he slept for two days.
See also The Dog of Pompeii.
In 1984, philosopher William Lycan published a paper with this statement:
The probability of the title of this paper, given itself (and the fact of its being a generalization), is less than 1/2. Yet the probability of any contingent statement given itself is 1. So 1 is less than 1/2.
The title of the paper was “Most Generalizations Are False.”
In other words, the chance that any statement is true, given itself, is 1. But the chance that Lycan’s title is true, given itself, is less than 1/2. Thus 1 is less than 1/2.
What is it with poets and doppelgängers? From a letter from Lord Byron to John Murray, Oct. 6, 1820:
In the latter end of 1811, I met one evening at Alfred my old school and form-fellow, … Peel, the Irish secretary. He told me, that, in 1810, he met me, as he thought, in St. James’-street, but we passed without speaking. He mentioned this, and it was denied as impossible; I being then in Turkey. A day or two afterwards, he pointed out to his brother a person on the opposite side of the way: ‘There,’ said he ‘is the man whom I took for Byron.’ His brother instantly answered, ‘Why it is Byron, and no one else.’ But this is not all:– I was seen by somebody to write down my name among the inquirers after the king’s health, then attacked by insanity. Now, at this very period, as nearly as I could make out, I was ill of a strong fever at Patras, caught in the marshes near Olympia, from the malaria. If I had died there, this would have been a new ghost story for you.
On Aug. 10, 1741, explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller reported spotting “a very unusual and new animal” in the waters off southern Alaska. It was about 5 feet long, he said, with the head of a dog and the tail of a shark, and was covered with gray hair. It had long whiskers, large eyes, and erect ears. When it rose out the water to observe his ship, Steller saw that it had no flippers.
For two hours Steller and the animal watched each other. It passed some 30 times under the ship, he said, apparently in order to view it from both sides. At one point it juggled a bit of kelp in its mouth, occasionally biting off and swallowing pieces. An assistant finally shot at it twice with a musket, missing both times, and the animal disappeared.
In 250 years, no one has ever seen another “sea ape.” The consensus among biologists is that Steller saw a young northern fur seal, but he had observed these creatures on the same voyage and presumably would have recognized one. So what was it?
Peculiar effect of a thunderstorm near Leadhills, Lanarkshire, on June 7, 1817, reported by surgeon James Braid before the Wernerian Society and later reprinted in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine:
… [T]he master of the house told me that he was very much alarmed as he was going home on Saturday evening, between six and seven o’clock, ‘from,’ as he expressed himself, ‘his horse’s ears being the same as two burning candles, and the edges of his hat being all in a flame.’ …
On Thursday 20th, I was gratified for a few minutes with the luminous appearance described above. It was about nine o’clock, P.M. I had no sooner got on horseback than I observed the tips of both the horse’s ears to be quite luminous: the edges of my hat had the same appearance.
The horse’s ears stopped glowing after a shower of moist snow, Braid reported, “but the edges of my hat, being longer of getting wet, continued to give the luminous appearance somewhat longer.”
“I could observe an immense number of minute sparks darting towards the horse’s ears and the margin of my hat, which produced a very beautiful appearance, and I was sorry to be so soon deprived of it.”
Mike is overweight. His wife has just baked a cake. Happily, Mike has a box that will quiet his desire for cake. Unhappily, its battery is dead. Mike pushes the button, nothing happens, and he eats the cake.
Now, the fact that he pushed the button shows that his desire to avoid cake was greater than his desire to eat cake. So why did he push the button?
Statements of the family and associates of H. Rider Haggard regarding the events of July 9, 1904:
Mrs. M.L. Haggard:
On the night [of] July 9th I was awakened by most distressing sounds proceeding from my husband, resembling the moans of an animal, no distinct words. After listening for a few moments, I woke him up, whereupon he said that he had had a nightmare, in which he was engaged in some struggle connected with our retriever dog “Bob,” and that “Bob” was trying to talk to him and explain that he wanted help. It was quite dark at the time, so I conclude it must have been about 2 a.m.
Angela Rider Haggard:
On Sunday morning, July 10th, my father mentioned at the breakfast table that he had had a horrid nightmare about my black retriever dog “Bob.” He said that he dreamt the dog was dying in a wood and trying to make some communication to him. My mother corroborated this statement, saying he had made such a noise that he had even awakened her, and she aroused him as he seemed so disturbed. Of course we all laughed at it at the time, for we did not know then that anything had happened to the dog, for I had seen him myself at 8 o’clock on the preceding evening.
Lilias R. Haggard:
On the evening of Sunday, July 10th, I, who am in the habit of feeding the dogs, told Daddy that “Bob” had not come to his breakfast or his supper that day, so I thought he must be lost. Daddy had said at breakfast on Sunday that he had dreamt that “Bob” was dying in a wood, and that he, Daddy, was trying to extract something from “Bob,” and that “Bob” was trying to speak.
Harry Alger, railway platelayer:
I was at my business on the line between Bungay and Ditchingham at 7 o’clock on the morning of Monday, the 11th July … and found the broken collar of a dog lying there, which I produce, and had to scrape off the dried blood and some bits of flesh from the line. … Under all the circumstances I think that the dog must have been killed by the late excursion train on Saturday night which left Ditchingham for Harleston at 10.25. … The marks of blood upon the piles showed where the dog had fallen from the bridge into the reeds. These reeds grow in deepish water.
C. Bedingfield, groom:
My master and I found the dog in the Waveney near the Falcon Bridge on the morning of July 14th. It is the retriever dog, Bob, which I have known ever since it has been at Ditchingham House.
“I seem therefore to come to this conclusion,” Haggard wrote later, after relating the story in the Times. “Either the whole thing is a mere coincidence and just means nothing more than indigestion and a nightmare, or it was the spirit of the dog on its passage to its own place or into another form, that moved my spirit, thereby causing this revelation, for it seems to be nothing less.”
Dubious but colorful: The Foreign Quarterly Review, January 1844, reports the case of Quatremer Disjonval, a Dutch adjutant-general whom the Prussians had incarcerated in a dungeon at Utrecht.
To pass the time he studied the prison’s spiders and noted that their behavior varied with approaching weather. When a sudden thaw threatened the advance of republican troops in January 1795, Disjonval sent a letter to the French general promising a severe frost within two weeks.
When the cold that arrived 12 days later froze Dutch canals solid enough to bear French artillery, the republicans took Utrecht and “Quatremer Disjonval, who had watched the habits of his spiders with so much intelligence and success, was, as a reward for his ingenuity, released from prison.”
What’s 2.5 miles wide, perfectly circular, and warm enough to melt ice?
I don’t know either, but there are at least two of them in Russia’s Lake Baikal.
They were spotted in April from the international space station.
09/26/2013 Resolved. (Thanks, Drew.)
In 1945, Dutch designer Arnold Henske realized that his body was “invulnerable” and took to swallowing glass and razor blades as a fakir in Amsterdam.
That’s a real rapier transfixing his thorax at left.
His dream was to use his ability to spread a message of love and peace, but Dutch officials would license him only to perform his act, not to preach against materialism, as he’d hoped.
A voice told him to swallow a steel needle in 1948, and he died of an aortic rupture — a broken heart.
At a desert oasis, A and B decide independently to murder C. A poisons C’s canteen, and later B punches a hole in it. C dies of thirst. Who killed him?
A argues that C never drank the poison. B claims that he only deprived C of poisoned water. They’re both right, but still C is dead. Who’s guilty?
Distances to which objects were carried by the tornado at Mount Carmel, Ill., June 4, 1877:
A letter from Mount Carmel was found at Vincennes, Ind., twenty-five miles northeastward. A piece of tin roofing was picked up near Hazleton, Ind., seventeen miles northeastward. The spire, vane, and gilded ball of the Methodist church were found near Decker’s Station, Ind., fifteen miles northeastward. A letter from Mount Carmel was carried by the wind to Widner Township, Ind., forty-five miles north-northeastward. A discharge from the military service of the United States belonging to a Mount Carmel man was found near Edwardsport, Ind., nearly fifty miles northeastward, and a letter from Mount Carmel was found near the same place. … I was also told that a paper sack of flour from a demolished store was found nearly five miles distant in Indiana, with no further damage than a small hole in it.
From the Annual Report of the Secretary of War, 1877.
In September 1931, the Irving family claimed to hear a scratching behind the walls of their farmhouse on the Isle of Man. That seemed mundane enough until the scratcher revealed itself as Gef, a 79-year-old talking mongoose from New Delhi. Over the next four years, James Irving kept a journal recording the family’s bizarre interactions with the creature, which he said threw objects, boasted about its powers, and gossiped about the neighbors.
Investigations went nowhere, as Gef appeared and spoke only to the Irvings. A hair sample and tooth impressions suggested only a dog; a set of pawprints were found not to be those of a mongoose.
It’s hard to credit such an outlandish story, but it’s equally hard to see why anyone would invent it. The Irvings profited nothing by it and were widely ridiculed in the media; when the family finally sold the house in 1937, they lost money, as it was now reputed to be haunted.
In 1947, the new owner claimed to have discovered and shot a real mongoose on the property. You don’t suppose … ?
Each year, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, someone scatters red hearts through downtown Montpelier, Vt.
When they first appeared, in 2002, they were simple photocopies, but by 2006 large banners were gracing the State House columns. Soon the decorations spread to the high school’s chimney and a tower at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
“Currently, there are no leads and no suspects,” joked police chief Dave Janawicz in 2007, when 14 inches of snow failed to stop the bandit. “But the investigation continues.”
Vermont’s capital is not alone in this — for years, the same thing has been happening in Portland, Maine, and in Boulder, Colo. No one knows who does it or why.
A similar phantom visits the grave of Edgar Allan Poe each year on the poet’s birthday.
According to mathematician Eugene Northrop, in England between 1907 and 1921 it was legal for a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife, but illegal for a woman to marry the brother of her deceased husband.
Suppose then that twin brothers marry twin sisters. One husband and the opposite wife die, and after a decent interval the surviving woman and man marry. For the man this marriage is legal; for the woman it’s illegal. Thus, if they have a son, he’s legitimate for one parent and illegitimate for the other.
Modern meteorologists might envy Patrick Murphy: In compiling his Weather Almanac for the Year 1838, Murphy had made a year’s forecasts at once, including the prediction that Jan. 20 would be “fair” with probably the “lowest degree of winter temperature.”
The weather complied in spades: On Jan. 20 the thermometer plunged 56 degrees and stood below zero for several hours, marking the coldest day of the century. Such a throng filled Murphy’s London shop that police were called in to keep order, and the forecaster was immortalized in verse:
Murphy has a weather eye,
He can tell whene’er he pleases
Whether it will be wet or dry,
When it thaws and when it freezes.
The almanac made £7,000 and went through 50 reprintings, and for many years afterward the winter of 1837-38 was remembered as Murphy’s Winter.
Somehow he never repeated the feat, though.
See Lucky Guess.
We met Erhard Schön’s anamorphic woodcuts back in 2006.
This one, Was sichst du? (What Do You See?), from 1538, seems to promise an edifying religious theme — there’s Jonah on the left being spit out of his whale. But view it edge-on and you’ll see this:
So, maybe not.
About three weeks ago, while a number of boys were amusing themselves in searching for rabbit burrows on the north-east range of Arthur’s Seat, they noticed, in a very rugged and secluded spot, a small opening in one of the rocks, the peculiar appearance of which attracted their attention. The mouth of this little cave was closed by three thin pieces of slate-stone, rudely cut at the upper ends into a conical form, and so placed as to protect the interior from the effects of the weather. The boys having removed these tiny slates, discovered an aperture about twelve inches square, in which were lodged seventeen Lilliputian coffins, forming two tiers of eight each, and one on a third just begun! Each of the coffins contained a miniature figure of the human form cut out in wood, the faces in particular being pretty well executed. They were dressed from head to foot in cotton clothes, and decently ‘laid out’ with mimic representation of all the funeral trappings which usually form the last habiliments of the dead. … [M]any years must have elapsed since the first interment took place in this mysterious sepulchre; and it is also evident that the depositions must have been made singly, and at considerable intervals — facts indicated by the rotten and decayed state of the first tier of coffins and their wooden mummies, the wrapping-clothes being, in some instances entirely mouldered away, while other show various degrees of decomposition; and the coffin last placed, with its shrouded tenant, are as clean and fresh as if only a few days had elapsed since their entombment. … None of the learned with whom we have conversed on the subject can account in any way for this singular fantasy of the human mind. The idea seems rather above insanity, and yet much beneath rationality; nor is any such freak recorded in The Natural History of Enthusiasm.
– Scotsman, July 16, 1836, quoted in Notes and Queries, May 23, 1863
Obey this command!
In 1838, Samuel Rowbotham waded into a drainage canal in Norfolk and sighted along its length with a telescope. Six miles away, an assistant held a flag three feet above the water. If the earth were round, its curvature should hide the flag from him. But he decided he could see it clearly. “It follows,” he wrote, “that the surface of standing water is not convex, and therefore that the Earth IS NOT A GLOBE!”
Rowbotham’s triumphant result stood until 1870, when naturalist, surveyor, and obvious crackpot Alfred Russel Wallace attempted to disprove the result. His endeavor ended only in a heated argument — and eventually a libel suit against the “planists.” (Round-earthers are clearly desperate men.)
In fairness, we must note that not all observations have agreed with Rowbotham’s. In 1896 a newspaper editor conducted a similar experiment in Illinois and discovered that the earth is concave. Clearly more work is needed.
In the afternoon of Monday, July 25th, 1768, an extraordinary gust of wind near Cleobury Mortimer, in Shropshire, not only unroofed the dwelling-house, barns, stables, and out-buildings belonging to a farmer named Bishop (levelling one of the buildings with the ground, and tearing up and rending more than sixty apple and pear trees), but also took up his son, a youth of sixteen, and carried him at a height of four or five yards from the ground to a distance of about eight yards, over a stone wall, fish-pond, and a hedge, depositing him in a great state of terror, but otherwise unhurt, in a field of hay.
– The World of Wonders, 1883
The world’s largest population of feral camels is in … Australia.
Thousands were imported between 1840 and 1907 to help explore the continent’s arid interior — it’s said that the first piano in Alice Springs arrived on a camel’s back. (A world away, the same thing was happening in the United States.)
The animals were gradually obviated by automobiles, but as many as a million still wander the country in herds — so many, ironically, that Australia has begun exporting camels to Saudi Arabia.