Oddities

A Rare Birthday

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Sweden briefly had a February 30. In planning to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the Swedish Empire resolved to omit leap days from 1700 to 1740. It followed through on this plan in 1700, but through error 1704 and 1708 remained leap years. With the time now out of joint, the empire abandoned its plan and returned to the Julian calendar by observing two leap days, February 29 and February 30, in 1712. (Sweden finally converted to the Gregorian calendar in 1753.)

If the original plan had been carried out, a person born on Feb. 29, 1696, would not celebrate a birthday until 1744. As it was, a person born on Feb. 30, 1712, would never celebrate a birthday at all.

Colorful

henry cope

A bizarre entry in the Annual Register of 1806:

“Oct. 25. — Among the personages who lately attracted public notice at Brighton, was an original, or would be original, generally known by the appellation of the green man. He dressed in green pantaloons, green waistcoat, green frock, green cravat; and, though his ears, whiskers, eye-brows, and chin, were powdered, his countenance, no doubt from the reflection of his clothes, was also green. He ate nothing but greens, fruits, and vegetables; had his rooms painted green, and furnished with green sofa, green chairs, green tables, green bed, and green curtains. His gig, his livery, his portmanteau, his gloves, and his whip, were all green. With a green silk handkerchief in his hand, and a large watch chain with green seals, fastened to the green buttons of his green waistcoat, he paraded every day on the Steine.

“This morning at 6 o’clock, this gentleman leaped from the window of his lodging on the south parade, into the street, ran from thence to the verge of the cliff nearly opposite and threw himself over the precipice to the beach below. Several persons immediately ran to his assistance, and carried him, bleeding at the mouth and ears, back to his lodgings. The height of the cliff, from whence he precipitated himself, is about 20 feet perpendicular. From the general demeanour of the above gentleman, it is supposed he is deranged. His name, we understand, is Henry Cope, and that he is related to some highly distinguished families.”

Dream Time

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In 1898 J.W. Dunne was staying at a hotel in Sussex when he dreamed he was arguing with one of the waiters. He was claiming that it was 4:30 in the afternoon, and the waiter maintained it was 4:30 in the morning. “With the apparent illogicality peculiar to all dreams, I concluded that my watch must have stopped; and, on extracting that instrument from my waistcoat pocket, I saw, looking down on it, that this was precisely the case. It had stopped — with the hands at half-past four. With that I awoke.”

He lit a match to see whether his watch really had stopped. It was not by his bedside, but after some hunting he found it lying on a chest of drawers. It had stopped, and the hands stood at 4:30. Noting the coincidence, he wound the watch and returned to bed.

On coming downstairs the next morning, he went to the nearest clock in order to restore the watch to the correct time. He expected to find it off by several hours, as he supposed it had stopped during the previous afternoon and was rewound in the middle of the night.

But “to my absolute amazement I found that the hands had lost only some two or three minutes, about the amount of time which had elapsed between my waking from the dream and rewinding the watch.”

In other words, the dream watch and the waking watch had stopped at the same moment. Possibly the sleeping Dunne had sensed that his watch’s familiar ticking had stopped, and this had informed his dream. “But — how did I come to see, in that dream, that the hands stood, as they actually did, at half-past four?”

Eastern Time

The most outlandish uncle of all was William Strachey. Notwithstanding his having lived in India only five years, and his association with the British empire having been slight and undistinguished, he persevered in upholding Eastern customs with far greater rigidity and a finer disregard for common sense than any other Strachey. Having once visited Calcutta, he became convinced that the clocks there were the only reliable chronometers in the world, and kept his own watch set resolutely by Calcutta time, organizing the remaining fifty-six years of his life accordingly. The results were disconcerting for his friends and family in England. He breakfasted at afternoon tea and lived most of his waking hours by candlelight. In visits to Sutton Court, his strange nocturnal habits earned him a reputation in astrology among the embedded Somerset folk.

— Michael Holroyd, Lytton Strachey, 1995

“Continence”

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In writing the first edition of Scouting for Boys in 1908, Robert Baden-Powell planned to include a section on self-abuse.

“You all know what it is to have at times a pleasant feeling in your private parts,” he wrote, “and there comes an inclination to work it up with your hand or otherwise. It is especially likely to happen when you see a dirty picture or hear dirty stories and jokes. Well, lots of fellows from not knowing any better, please themselves in this way until it often becomes a sort of habit with them which they cannot get out of.”

“The result of self-abuse is always — mind you, always — that the boy after a time becomes weak and nervous and shy, he gets headaches and probably palpitation of the heart, and if he still carries it on too far he very often goes out of his mind and becomes an idiot. A very large number of the lunatics in our asylums have made themselves ill by indulging in this vice although at one time they were sensible cheery boys like any one of you.”

Baden-Powell had consulted with his mother as to whether to include the section. He removed it at the strong advice of his publisher.

Late Bloomer

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Gioachino Rossini was born on a leap day, Feb. 29, 1792.

Because 1800 was not a leap year, he took 12 years to reach his second birthday.

“Hop, The Famous Sow”

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This wonderful animal, of New Forest breed, early took a fancy to some pointer puppies that were being broken, and was ultimately trained as an invaluable pointer herself. She would often go out a little way with the puppies, and was gradually coaxed into doing as they did by means of a sort of pudding made of barley-meal. The puppies could be cuffed for misbehaviour, but a pocketful of stones was necessary in the case of the sow. She at length quartered her ground in grand style; backed other dogs when she came on game, and was so staunch as to remain five minutes or more on her point.

Strand, December 1896

Wallflowers

Tiny Point Roberts, Wash., is built on a finger of land that extends south of the 49th parallel into Boundary Bay. This means that, though it’s part of the mainland United States, it can be reached by land only by traveling through Canada.

Similarly, Minnesota’s Northwest Angle extends from Manitoba into the Lake of the Woods, and Alburgh, Vt., resides on a peninsula that extends south from Quebec into Lake Champlain.

None of these places are islands; all are part of the 48 contiguous states but are not directly connected to them by land. Among other things, this makes life difficult for students in Point Roberts, whose primary school offers classes only through third grade. From fourth grade on, students must take a 40-minute bus ride through British Columbia to attend classes in Blaine, Wash.

Misc

  • James Buchanan’s niece was his first lady.
  • FIVE THOUSAND is the highest number name with no repeated letters.
  • Ardmore, Tennessee, borders Ardmore, Alabama.
  • 9306 × 2013 = 3102 × 6039
  • “So that’s what hay looks like.” — Queen Mary

If God exists outside space and time, then how can he be omnipresent, present in all places at all times? If he exists within it, how could he have created it? How could a creation (or anything) take place outside time?

Senior Citizen

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When Chinese herbalist Li Ching-Yun died in 1933, newspapers were hard pressed to write his obituary. Li had contended that he had been born in 1736, which would have made him 197 years old.

In 1930, Wu Chung-Chien of Minkuo University had reported finding records showing that Li had been even older, born in 1677 and congratulated by the imperial Chinese government on his 150th and 200th birthdays.

In 1928 a correspondent to the New York Times had reported that the oldest men in Li’s neighborhood insisted that their grandfathers had known Li when they were children and that he was then a grown man.

Tales told in his province held that Li had traveled widely during his first century, gathering herbs to sell, but then had switched to selling herbs gathered by others. He told one pupil that the secret of living to 250 was to “keep a quiet heart, sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon, and sleep like a dog.” He was credited with either 14 or 23 wives; one 1928 account said that he had 180 living descendants.

He was certainly well preserved. The New York Times noted drily that, according to its 1928 report, “many who have seen him recently declare that his facial appearance is no different from that of persons two centuries his junior.”

(Thanks, Francisco.)