The eccentric Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners, erected a “useless” 100-foot tower on his property in 1935.
He added a notice: MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC COMITTING SUICIDE FROM THIS TOWER DO SO AT THEIR OWN RISK.
Several years since, when travelling by night in the mail coach, in the depth of winter and during the absence of the moon, I was surprised to observe, that, though dense clouds covered every part of the horizon, and not a single star could be seen, yet the night was far from being dark, and large objects near the road were easily discerned. On expressing my surprise to the driver, he replied, ‘The wind is very high, and during a great many years that I have been upon the road, I never knew it to be dark on a windy night.’ The observation was at that time new to me; but subsequent experience has convinced me that it was true.
– B. Hampstead, in The Magazine of Natural History, May 1831
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that this seems to be true — the darkest nights are calm, regardless of cloud cover. Why?
The Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Company’s mail steamer Aquila left Weymouth at midnight on Friday for Guernsey and Jersey. On her passage across Channel, the weather was calm and clear, and the sea was smooth. When about one hour out, 1 a.m., 31st March, 1883, the steamer was struck violently by mountainous seas, which sent her on her beam ends and swept her decks from stem to stern. The water immediately flooded the cabins and engine room, entering through the skylights, the thick glass of which was smashed. As the decks became clear of water, the bulwarks were found to be broken in several places, one of the paddle boxes was considerably damaged, the iron rail on the bridge was completely twisted, the pump was broken and rendered useless, the skylight of the ladies’ cabin was completely gone, and the saloon skylight was smashed to atoms. The cabins were baled out with buckets, while tarpaulins were placed over the skylights for protection. Five minutes after the waves had struck the steamer, the sea became perfectly calm. Several of the crew were knocked about, but no one was seriously injured.
– Symons’s Monthly Meteorological Magazine, April 1883
The largest gem-quality diamond ever found was discovered in a South African mine in 1905. The so-called Cullinan diamond weighed 3,106 carats, or about 1-1/3 pounds.
The Transvaal government purchased the stone and offered it to Edward VII on his 66th birthday, but the problem remained how to transport such a valuable object safely to England. Amid great publicity and heavy security, an ocean liner set out carefully for London.
It was carrying a decoy stone — the real diamond was sent by parcel post. It arrived safely.
Probably you’ll want to skip this one — a recipe “to rost a Goose alive,” from Johann Wecker’s Secrets of Nature, 1582:
Let it be a Duck or Goose, or some such lively Creature, but a Goose is best of all for this purpose, leaving his neck, pull of all the Feather from his body, then make a fire round about him, not too wide, for that will not rost him: within the place set here and there small pots full of water, with Salt and Honey mixed therewith, and let there be dishes set full of rosted Apples, and cut in pieces in the dish, and let the Goose be basted with Butter all over, and Larded to make him better meat, and he may rost the better, put fire to it; do not make too much haste, when he begins to rost, walking about, and striving to flye away, the fire stops him in, and he will fall to drink water to quench his thirst; this will cool his heart and the other parts of his body, and by this medicament he looseneth his belly, and grows empty. And when he rosteth and consumes inwardly, alwayes wet his head and heart with a wet Sponge: but when you see him run madding and stumble, his heart wants moysture, take him away, set him before your Guests, and he will cry as you cut off any part from him, and will be almost eaten up before he be dead, it is very pleasant to behold.
Wecker credits this to a cook named Mizald. William Kitchiner calls it “diabolically cruel”; he quotes another commentator who says “We suppose Mr. Mizald stole this receipt from the kitchen of his Infernal Majesty: probably it might have been one of the dishes the devil ordered when he invited Nero and Caligula to a feast.”
The Strand set itself a novel challenge — to create a complete alphabet using human figures. It engaged an acrobatic trio known as the Three Delevines and set to work in a studio in Plymouth:
“We would venture to say that each and every one of these letters and figures will well repay careful individual study. Each one had first of all to be thought out and designed, then built up in a way which satisfied the author, and finally ‘snapped’ by our artist, for the slightest movement of a head or limb altered the physiognomy of a letter in a surprising way.”
“When the human components had so grouped themselves that the result really looked, even ‘in the flesh,’ like the letter it was supposed to represent, then the author gave the word ‘Go,’ and immediately afterwards, with a sigh of relief, the Three Delevines ‘stood at ease,’ wondering how on earth the next on the list was going to be formed. Neither time nor trouble was spared in the preparation of this most unique of alphabets. Observe that, while we might have inverted the M to form a W, we did not do so; and we think everyone will agree that the last-named letter was well worthy of being designed separately.”
“Perhaps some enterprising publisher would like to publish a whole novel in ‘living’ type. Such a work might, or might not, command a huge sale; but, at least, there can be no two opinions about the human interest of the work.”
Boeing was demonstrating its new Dash-80 airliner for the nation’s air transport executives in Seattle in August 1955 when test pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnston decided to impress them — instead of a simple flyover he performed a barrel roll:
In 1994, just before test pilot John Cashman undertook the maiden flight of the 777, Boeing president Phil Condit told him, “No rolls.”
A curious effect produced by lightning is described to us by Dr. Enfield, writing from Jefferson, Iowa, U.S. A house which he visited was struck by lightning so that much damage was done. After the occurrence, a pile of dinner plates, twelve in number, was found to have every other plate broken. It would seem as if the plates constituted a condenser under the intensely electrified condition of the atmosphere. The particulars are, however, so meagre that it is difficult to decide whether the phenomenon was electrical or merely mechanical.
– Nature, June 12, 1902
From a letter by Henry U. Swinnerton of Cherry Valley, N.Y., to Science, March 10, 1893:
Towards sunset, late in April, 1886, on a warm, thawing day, the snow rapidly disappearing, two men, Capt. John E. Hetherington and Mr. Marcus Sternberg, as they rode down the long hill towards this village from the east, saw what appeared to be innumerable spherical bodies floating in the air like soap-bubbles. Both men saw and wondered at the appearance for some moments before either spoke. Capt. H. then said, ‘I wonder whether I am dreaming?’ The other rubbed his eyes and echoed the sentiment. ‘Well,’ said the captain, ‘I wonder if you see what I see; what do you see?’ They questioned each other, and both agreed as to their impressions. An orchard lay along the lower and northwesterly side of the road, and all in among the apple-trees were thick, gently descending multitudes of these bubbles, pretty uniform in size, say, 8 or 9 inches in diameter, apparently; none less than six; no small ones being observed.
The two observers state that they carefully fixed their attention on particular bubbles, in order to compare notes, and saw them seem to rest on the bough of a tree, or the top board of the fence, and then gently roll off and disappear or go out of sight. The sun was sinking and dropped below the opposite hills as they reached the foot of the long descent and entered the village, and the appearance came to an end. But up to this time the air seemed to be filled with these transparent floating spheres. The position of the observers with regard to the light seems to have made some difference as to seeing well this or that large aggregation or swarm that one or the other pointed out. The bubbles were highly colored, iridescent, gave the same sort of reflections as soap-bubbles, and apparently vanished individually in much the same way. All these points I have ascertained by repeated conversations.
Swinnerton vouches for the “unimpeachable character” of the witnesses. “The only theory I have been able to form to account for such a phenomenon is, that if a certain kind of dust floated off in the air, each particle composed of some sort of saponaceous envelope, enclosing a highly expansible centre or core, like ammonia, particles of this character expanded by the warm air, and at the same time moistened, might, under very nice conditions, produce such an effect.”
We find this culinary folly of the last century in the third edition of The Art of Cookery, by a Lady, 1748. ‘Lay it (the butter) in salt and water two or three hours; then spit it, and rub it all over with crumbs of bread, with a little grated nutmeg; lay it to the fire, and as it roasts, baste it with the yolks of two eggs, and then with crumbs of bread, all the time it is roasting: but have ready a pint of oysters stewed in their own liquor, and lay it in the dish under the butter; when the bread has soaked up all the butter, brown the outside, and lay it on your oysters. Your fire must be very slow.’
– John Timbs, Things Not Generally Known, Familiarly Explained, 1859
In the ‘London Times’ of 1841 a lady advertised in the columns of that newspaper for duplicates, which she put to a more curious use than most people. The advertisement said:– ‘A young lady being desirous of covering her dressing room with cancelled postage stamps, has been so far encouraged in her wish by private friends as to have succeeded in collecting 16,008. These, however, being insufficient, she will be greatly obliged if any good natured persons who may have these (otherwise useless) little articles at their disposal, would assist her whimsical project. Address, E.D., Mr Butt’s, Glover, Leadenhall Street, or Marshall’s, Jeweller, Hackney.’
– American Philatelist, Feb. 1, 1919
In the summarized proceedings of the September 1884 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Trinity College chemist H. Carrington Bolton and Columbia College geologist Alexis A. Julien reported on the “musical sand” at Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass.:
“The character of the sounds obtained by friction on the beach is decidedly musical and we have been able to indicate the exact notes on a musical staff. The shrillness and lowness of note depend chiefly on the quantity of sand disturbed; by plunging both hands into the sand and bringing them together quickly with a swoop a large quantity of the sand vibrates and we hear a tone of which the dominant note is:”
“By stroking the sand nearer the surface and with less force very high notes are heard somewhat confused. The following were heard at different times.”
“By rubbing firmly and briskly a double handful of the sand several notes on a rising scale are heard, the notes rising as the quantity of sand between the hands diminishes. We do not hear each note of the scale separately, but the ear receives an impression something like that formed by sliding a finger up a violin string at the same time that the bow is drawn.”
“The range is very remarkable and decided.”
Bolton and Julien found that “sonorous sand” was “of very common occurrence and widely distributed” — 65 of the 85 U.S. life-saving stations with which they corresponded reported that they knew of such sand. “The number is constantly increasing as the reports from keepers of life saving stations arrive.”
In May 1919, Canadian flying ace Mansell Richard James won an air race from Atlantic City to Boston in a $1,000 competition sponsored by the Boston Globe.
At 11 a.m. on May 29 he departed Boston to return to Atlantic City.
At 12:30 p.m. a group of picknicking schoolchildren saw his Sopwith Camel flying smoothly southward over Hancock, Ct., at an altitude of about 5,000 feet.
He was never seen again. Despite numerous rewards and extensive searching, no trace of James has ever been found.
In the southwestern corner of the desert of southern Arabia, north of the western end of Hadramaut, and approached from the little village of Sawa, is a very remarkable spot described by Wrede from his visit in 1843, whose description is reproduced in a recent number of the Revue coloniale internationale. There are here, in the waste of yellow sand, several spots covered by a grayish white dust, which swallow up every object thrown into them. One of these spots, described by Wrede, is about two miles long and a little less in breadth. It sinks gradually toward the middle and is apparently due to the work of the wind. Wrede approached it with the greatest care and sounded it with his staff. The edge is stony and falls away suddenly. When the staff was thrust into the fine material beyond the edge, almost no resistance was felt and it was as if the staff had been thrust into water. When it was passed through the fine dust lengthwise the resistance was almost imperceptible. A stone of two pounds weight or more was fastened to a cord sixty fathoms long and thrown in as far as possible. It sank at once and with increasing velocity so that at the end of five minutes the end of the cord had disappeared. The presence of Bedouins prevented any more observations. The natives believe that great treasures are buried here and are watched over by genii who pull down into the depths the unwary treasure-seeker.
– American Meteorological Journal, May 1886
This brecciated limestone, quarried near Florence, has a curious property: When it’s polished it produces the image of an ancient city.
“One is amused,” wrote Parisian naturalist Cyprien Prosper Brard, “to observe in it kinds of ruins; there it presents a Gothic castle half destroyed; here ruined walls; in another place, old bastions; and what still adds to the delusion is, that in these natural paintings there exists a kind of ærial perspective, very sensibly perceptible. The lower part, or what forms the first plane, has a warm, and bold tone; the second follows it, and weakens as it increases in distance; the third becomes still fainter, while the upper part presents in the distance, a whitish zone, and finally, as it reaches the top, blends itself, as it were, with the clouds.”
In his 1832 Introduction to Mineralogy, John Comstock wrote, “At a certain distance, slabs of this marble so nearly represent drawings done in bistre, on a ground of yellowish brown, that it would be difficult to convince one to the contrary.”
On Dec. 7, 1968, Richard Dodd of Winamac, Ind., returned a book to the University of Cincinnati medical library, noting that it was overdue.
It certainly was. The book, Medical Reports of Effects of Water — Cold and Warm — as a Remedy in Fever and Febrile Diseases, Whether Applied to the Surface of the Body or Used Internally, had been checked out by Dodd’s great-grandfather in 1823. It was 145 years late.
Dodd, whose grandfather and great-grandfather had both attended medical school at Cincinnati, had received the book as part of an inheritance. The library decided not to fine him, which is a good thing — librarian Cathy Hufford calculated that the fee would have come to $22,646.
On Sept. 8, 1863, two boys discovered a legless man struggling on the beach at Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia. Coughing violently and suffering from exposure, he appeared to be in his late teens or early 20s, and he seemed unable or unwilling to respond to their inquiries.
As the villagers nursed him back to health they found him angry and gloomy by nature, keeping his identity to himself. Rumors began to circulate: He was a Civil War veteran, a pirate, a spy, an exiled Habsburg, a murderer, a mutineer. His soft hands seemed to suggest high birth, but he had been found with only a tin box of hardtack and a jug of water, and he spoke neither English, Spanish, French, Italian, nor Latin. His legs had apparently been amputated by a skilled surgeon. As all attempts to communicate with him were unsuccessful, he came to be known simply as Jerome, after a response he had mumbled when asked his name.
That’s the whole story. For the next 50 years Jerome was lodged with various local families, maintaining his silence despite endless inquiries from curiosity seekers. His identity was never discovered. When he died, finally, on April 15, 1912, the Halifax Morning Chronicle wrote, “The people in this vicinity have given up the solving of the great mystery that closed today in death, thus ending one of the greatest secrets that ever occurred on this continent.”
See The Somerton Man.
In August 1857, 13-year-old Narcisse Pelletier left Marseilles as a cabin boy aboard the Saint-Paul, a three-masted ship bound for Sydney. The ship struck a reef in Papua New Guinea, and Pelletier was feared dead. His parents mourned him for 17 years, until July 21, 1875, when they received this letter:
papa mama i am not dead i am living narcisse I was on board the saint paul of bordeaux I had been shipwrecked in the rock of the savage of the island the chinese in the island stayed and died killed I came in a little boat to an island of savages I had looked for water to drink the captain left in the little boat I looked for water in the woods I stayed in the woods I then see the savages who live on its coast come who had found me the savage gave food and drink he did not kill I give my hand he did not hurt me I stayed in the wood for a very long time I was almost dead I had o great hunger and great drink I was in a lot of pain
Pelletier explained that after the sinking he, the captain, and the surviving crew had crossed the Coral Sea in an open boat to Cape York in northern Australia, where Pelletier was somehow left behind and discovered by a community of aborigines, with whom he lived until he was discovered that year by a landing party from pearling boat. He returned to France, where his thanksgiving mass was celebrated by the same priest who had baptized him 32 years earlier. He married and lived quietly as a lighthouse-keeper until his death in 1894.
The largest privately owned residential yacht on earth is The World, a private floating community conceived in 1997 by Norwegian shipping magnate Knut Kloster. The ship is owned jointly by its residents, 130 families from 19 countries, who spend an average of four months on board each year, and it circumnavigates the globe continuously on an itinerary that they choose.
Since its launch in 2002, the ship has visited 800 ports in 140 countries. It has 165 bespoke apartments, including a six-bedroom penthouse suite, a 7,000-square-foot spa, four major restaurants, three cafes, six bars, two swimming pools, a full-size tennis court, a driving range, an art gallery, a night club, a 12,000-bottle wine cellar, and a theater. The average resident is 64, and 35 percent are under 50.
The original inventory of units sold out in 2006, but “there are a select number of Residences available for resale.”
Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz, by composer John Stump, includes the directions “Add bicycle,” “Duck,” and “Cool timpani with small fan.” The piece fills a single page.
To perform Stockhausen’s Helikopter-Streichquartett you’ll need four helicopters and a string quartet. A moderator introduces the musicians, each of whom boards a helicopter, and the four perform the piece while circling the auditorium at a distance of 6 kilometers. The audience watches and listens via audio and video monitors. At the end, the helicopters land and the musicians re-enter the hall to the sound of slowing rotor blades.
Marc-André Hamelin composed Circus Galop for player piano — it’s impossible for a human to play, as up to 21 notes are struck simultaneously.
On Aug. 17, 1957, in a game against the New York Giants, Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Richie Ashburn hit a foul ball into the stands and hit Alice Roth, the wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth.
The game was stopped, and Roth received emergency medical treatment for a broken nose.
As she was being carried out on a stretcher, Ashburn hit a second foul — and hit her again.
In 1938, 18-year-old Korean soldier Yang Kyoungjong was conscripted into the Japanese army to fight against the Soviet Union.
He was captured by the Red Army, which pressed him into fighting the Nazis on the eastern front.
In 1943 he was captured by the Germans, who forced him to fight the invading Allies at Normandy.
There he was captured by American paratroopers in June 1944.
This means he fought for three different armies during World War II, and was captured each time. He died in Illinois in 1992.
In 1894, Indiana physician Edwin J. Goodwin published a one-page article in the American Mathematical Monthly claiming to have found a method of squaring the circle — that is, of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle using only a compass and straightedge, a task known to be impossible. He proposed a bill to state representative Taylor I. Record, laying out the “new mathematical truth” and offering it “as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost by paying any royalties whatever on the same, provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the legislature of 1897.”
Apparently flummoxed, the House referred the bill to its Committee on Swamp Lands, which transferred it to the Committee on Education … which approved it. Whereupon the whole house passed it unanimously.
The bill, which the Indianapolis Journal was already calling “the strangest bill that has ever passed an Indiana Assembly,” moved on to the senate, which referred it the Committee on Temperance. (Chronicler Will E. Edington writes, “One wonders whether this was done intentionally, for certainly the bill could have been referred to no committee more appropriately named.”) Equally flummoxed, the committee recommended that it pass.
The bill might have achieved full passage had not Purdue mathematics professor C.A. Waldo happened to be visiting the House that day. “A member … showed the writer a copy of the bill just passed and asked him if he would like an introduction to the learned doctor,” Waldo later recalled in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science. “He declined the courtesy with thanks, remarking that he was acquainted with as many crazy people as he cared to know.”
That did it. “Representative Record’s mathematical bill legalizing a formula for squaring the circle was brought up and made fun of,” reported by Indianapolis News on Feb. 13. “The Senators made bad puns about it, ridiculed it and laughed over it. The fun lasted half an hour. Senator Hubbell said that it was not meet for the Senate, which was costing the State $250 a day, to waste its time in such frivolity.”
“Senator Hubbell characterized the bill as utter folly,” added the Indianapolis Journal. “The Senate might as well try to legislate water to run up hill as to establish mathematical truth by law.”
In 1959, psychologist Milton Rokeach assembled three mentally ill patients each of whom believed he was Jesus Christ:
Leon: “People can use the same Bible but some of them will worship Jesus Christ instead of worshiping God through Jesus Christ.”
Clyde: “We worship both.”
Leon: “I don’t worship you. I worship God Almighty through you, and through him, and him.”
Clyde: “You oughta worship me, I’ll tell you that!”
Leon: “I will not worship you! You’re a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts.”
Clyde: “I’m living my life. You don’t wake up! You can’t wake up!”
Joseph: “No two men are Jesus Christs.”
Leon: “You hear mechanical voices.”
Clyde: “You don’t get it right. I don’t care what you call it. I hear natural voices. I hear to heaven. I hear all over.”
Joseph: “I’m going back to England.”
Leon: “Sir, if the good Lord wills only.”
Joseph: “Good Lord! I’m the good Lord!”
Leon: “That’s your belief, sir.”
Rokeach intended the study as an inquiry into the nature of identity: If there is only one son of God, how would these men react on encountering one another? He found that they explained the disagreement by calling one another crazy, duped, or disingenuous, but that the conflict was less damaging psychologically than might have been supposed. In his 1964 account of the experiment, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, Rokeach writes, “We have learned that even when a summit of three is composed of paranoid men, deadlocked over the ultimate in human contradiction, they prefer to seek ways to live with one another in peace rather than destroy one another.”