In June 1980, Maureen Wilcox found that she held the winning numbers in both the Massachusetts and the Rhode Island lotteries.
She won nothing, though: Her Massachusetts numbers won the Rhode Island lottery and vice versa.
The autobiography of the American eccentric “Lord” Timothy Dexter (1748-1806) contains 8,847 words and no punctuation:
IME the first Lord in the younited States of Americary Now of Newburyport it is the voise of the peopel and I cant Help it and so Let it goue Now as I must be Lord there will foller many more Lords pretty soune for it dont hurt A Cat Nor the mouse Nor the son Nor the water Nor the Eare then goue on all is Easey Now …
When readers complained, he added a page of punctuation marks to the second edition, inviting them to “peper and solt it as thay plese.”
At 8 a.m. on April 22, 1884, Thomas Stevens pedaled out of San Francisco on a 50-inch penny-farthing bicycle. Four months and 3,700 miles later, he arrived in Boston.
That was just the start. The following April he boarded a steamer for Liverpool, cycled across Europe and through Turkey to Calcutta, sailed to Hong Kong, and cycled across Japan, arriving at Yokohama on Dec. 17, 1886.
Even allowing for the steamship passages, he estimates that he actually pedaled about 13,500 miles — and became the first person to “circumbicycle” the globe.
In order that all good little boys may know how much more lucky it is for them to be little boys now, than it was in the ancient times, be informed of the cruel manner in which even good little boys were liable to be treated by the law of the Ripuarians. When a sale of land took place, it was required that there should be twelve witnesses, and with these as many boys, in whose presence the price of the land should be paid, and its formal surrender take place; and then the boys were beaten, and their ears pulled, so that the pain thus inflicted upon them should make an impression upon their memory, and that they might, if necessary, be afterwards witnesses as to the sale and delivery of the land.
– Robert Conger Pell, Milledulcia, 1857
For 60 years, cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths maintained that the photographs they had taken in 1917 depicted real fairies and gnomes they’d encountered behind the family house near Bradford, England.
In 1981 they admitted that the creatures had been paper cutouts held up with hatpins.
But Frances maintained until her death that the photo above was genuine.
A queer dream or illusion had haunted Lincoln at times through the winter [of 1860]. On the evening of his election he had thrown himself on one of the haircloth sofas at home, just after the first telegrams of November 6 had told him he was elected President, and looking into a bureau mirror across the room he saw himself full length, but with two faces. … A few days later he tried it once more and the illusion of the two faces again registered to his eyes. But that was the last; the ghost since then wouldn’t come back, he told his wife, who said it was a sign he would be elected to a second term, and the death pallor of one face meant he wouldn’t live through his second term.
– Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, 1926
We all went over to Mannheim, and dined at the hotel where, seventeen years before, I, being fourteen months old, was given away to my aunt, who was also my godmother, to live with her forever as if I were her own child, and never to see my own parents, as such, any more. … When we returned to the station in the evening, we had a long time to wait for the train. On the platform was a poor woman, crying very bitterly, with a little child in her arms. Emmie Penrhyn, who was tender-hearted, went up to her, and said she was afraid she was in some great trouble. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it is about my little child. My little child, who is only fourteen months old, is going away from me forever in the train which is coming. It is going away to be adopted by its aunt, who is also its godmother, and I shall never, never have anything to do with it any more.’ It was of an adoption under exactly the same circumstances that we had been to Mannheim to keep the seventeenth anniversary!
– Augustus Hare, The Story of My Life, 1896
In 1665, the Black Death came to Eyam in Derbyshire.
To prevent the spread of the disease, the entire village quarantined itself. In the ensuing year, its population dropped from 350 to 83.
The gravedigger survived.
Each February, the residents of Ivrea, Italy, throw oranges at each other. On the three days preceding Shrove Tuesday, thousands of costumed “revolutionaries” battle an “aristocracy” by hurling citrus fruits. Supposedly this commemorates a droit de seigneur drama in the 12th century, but in practice it’s just a bunch of people throwing oranges.
Eight hundred miles to the west, they’re throwing tomatoes.
In 1867, off the coast of Chile, zoologist Enrico Giglioli spotted a whale with two dorsal fins, a feature unheard of in any known whale.
A similar whale was spotted off Scotland in 1868, and another more than a century later near Corsica.
If “Giglioli’s whale” exists, it’s been spotted only three times, and no specimen, living or dead, and has ever been captured.
See also MacFarlane’s Bear.
H. Hamilton, once the proprietor of Payne’s Hill, near Cobham, Surrey, advertised for a person who was willing to become a hermit in that beautiful retreat of his. The conditions were, that he was to continue in the hermitage seven years, where he should be provided with a Bible, optical glasses, a mat for his bed, a hassock for his pillow, an hour-glass for his timepiece, water for his beverage, food from the house, but never to exchange a syllable with the servant. He was to wear a camlet robe, never to cut his beard or nails, nor ever to stray beyond the limits of the grounds. If he lived there, under all these restrictions, till the end of the term, he was to receive seven hundred guineas. But on breach of any of them, or if he quitted the place any time previous to that term, the whole was to be forfeited. One person attempted it, but a three weeks’ trial cured him.
– Robert Conger Pell, Milledulcia, 1857
Bach’s name forms a musical motif. The German note B is equivalent to the English B-flat, and H indicates B natural. So if you revolve this cross counterclockwise, the note at the center takes successively the German values B (treble clef), A (tenor clef), C (alto clef), and H (treble clef).
Bach himself used the four-note motif as a subject in The Art of Fugue, and it’s appeared since in works by Schumann, Liszt, Rimsky-Korsakov, Poulenc, and Webern.
Sad and creepy, yes, but it saves money on corsages.
Sidney Feist patented this “figure for ballroom dancing practice” in 1921.
On Aug. 10, 1628, as hundreds of Swedish spectators looked on, the new royal warship Vasa crossed the Stockholm waterfront, set her sails, foundered, and sank. She had covered less than 1 nautical mile.
During the Battle of Öland in 1676, the Swedish flagship Kronan was heeling to port when commander Baron Lorentz Creutz said, “In the name of Jesus, make sure that the cannon ports are closed and the cannon made fast, so that in turning we don’t suffer the same fate as befell the Vasa.” They didn’t; they did.
Mr. Evelyn mentions a Dutch boy, eight or nine years old, who was carried about by his parents as a show. He had about the iris of one eye the words Deus meus, and about the other Eloihim, in the Hebrew characters. How this was done by artifice none could imagine, and his parents affirmed he was born so.
– Sketches of Imposture, Deception, and Credulity, 1845
In 1924, university professor Hidesamuro Ueno brought his dog, Hachiko, to Tokyo. Every morning Hachiko saw his master off at the front door, and every evening he greeted him at the nearby train station.
The professor died in May 1925, but the faithful dog still went to the station every day to wait for him.
He kept this up for 10 years.
The dog became a national sensation in 1932, when this story was published, and he’s since been the subject of books and movies. Today a bronze statue stands at Shibuya Station, where he kept his vigil.
The Rev. Ralph William Lyonel Tollemache-Tollemache (1826–1895) got a bit carried away in naming his children:
- Sir Lyonel Felix Carteret Eugene Tollemache
- Florence Caroline Artemesia
- Evelyne Clementina Wentworth Cornelia Maude
- Granville Grey Marchmont Manners Plantagenet
- Marchmont Murray Grasett Reginald Tollemache
- Dora Viola
- Mabel Helmingham Ethel Huntingtower Beatrice Blazonberrie Evangeline Vise de Lou de Orellana Plantagenet Toedmag Saxon
- Lyonesse Matilda Dora Ida Agnes Ernestine Curson Paulet Wilbraham Joyce Eugénie Bentley Saxonia Dysart Plantagenet
- Lyulph Ydwallo Odin Nestor Egbert Lyonel Toedmag Hugh Erchenwyne Saxon Esa Cromwell Orma Nevill Dysart Plantagenet
- Lyona Decima Veroica Esyth Undine Cyssa Hylda Rowena Adela Thyra Ursuala Ysabel Blanche Lelias Dysart Plantagenet
- Leo Quintus Tollemache-Tollemache de Orellana Plantagenet
- Lyonella Fredegunda Cuthberga Ethelswytha Ideth Ysabel Grace Monica de Orellana Plantagenet
- Lyonetta Edith Regina Valentine Myra Polwarth Avelina Phillipa Violantha de Orellana Plantagenet
- Leone Sextus Denys Oswolf Fraudatifilius Tollemache-Tollemache de Orellana Plantagenet
- Lyunulph Cospatrick Bruce Berkeley Jermyn Tullibardine Petersham de Orellana Dysart Plantagenet
Lyulph’s name forms an acronym, LYONEL THE SECOND. In Finnegans Wake, Joyce parodied this with Helmingham Erchenwyne Rutter Egbert Crumwall Odin Maximus Esme Saxon Esa Vercingetorix Ethelwulf Rupprecht Ydwalla Bentley Osmund Dysart Yggdrasselmann — whose initials spell HERE COMES EVERYBODY.
On the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the winning numbers in the New York lottery were 9-1-1.
In his diary, Samuel Pepys tells of an odd feat performed by four little girls, who put “each one finger only to a boy that lay flat upon his back on the ground, as if he was dead: [at a signal] they did with their four fingers raise this boy as high as they could reach.” Pepys calls this “one of the strangest things I ever heard” but affirms that his friend Brisband witnessed it and saw the feat repeated on Sir G. Carteret’s cook, “who is very big.”
Strangely, I’ve found two other mentions of this. In Milledulcia (1857), his collection of selections from Notes and Queries, Robert Conger Pell notes that “a living man, lying on a bench, extended as a corpse, can be lifted with ease by the forefingers of two persons standing on each side, provided the lifters inhale at the moment the effort is being made.” “The inhalation of the lifters the moment the effort is made is doubtless essential.”
And in his Letters on Natural Magic (1883), David Brewster tells of an experiment in which “a heavy man is raised with the greatest facility, when he is lifted up the instant that his own lungs and those of the persons who raise him are inflated with air”:
The heaviest person in the party lies down upon two chairs, his legs being supported by the one and his back by the other. Four persons, one at each leg, and one at each shoulder, then try to raise him, and they find his dead weight to be very great, from the difficulty they experience in supporting him. When he is replaced in the chair, each of the four persons takes hold of the body as before, and the person to be lifted gives two signals by clapping his hands. At the first signal he himself and the four lifters begin to draw a long and full breath, and when the inhalation is completed, or the lungs filled, the second signal is given, for raising the person from the chair. To his own surprise and that of his bearers, he rises with the greatest facility, as if he were no heavier than a feather.
“As you have repeatedly seen this experiment, and have performed the part both of the load and of the bearer, you can testify how remarkable the effects appear to all parties, and how complete is the conviction, either that the load has been lightened, or the bearer strengthened by the prescribed process.”
I haven’t tried this myself, and for all I know it’s a joke or a stunt, but the accounts of Pepys and Brewster appear earnest and independent, and it seems unlikely that young girls could (or would) master a sophisticated illusion. I offer it here for whatever it’s worth.
On May 19, 1780, the sky went dark over New England. From Portland, Maine, to southern New Jersey, candles were required between noon and midnight; frogs piped and evening birds sang.
In Connecticut, the state legislature adjourned because none could see to read or write. Col. Abraham Davenport opposed adjourning the governor’s council: “Either the day of judgment is at hand or it is not,” he said. “If it is, I wish to be found in the line of my duty.”
But the darkness lifted the following night. Probably it was really a combination of heavy clouds, fog, and smoke from forest fires.
Obituary of Angelo Faticoni (1859-1931), “The Human Cork,” New York Herald Tribune, Aug. 13, 1931:
Faticoni could sleep in water, roll up into a ball, lie on his side, or assume any position asked of him. Once he was sewn into a bag and then thrown headforemost into the water, with a twenty-pound cannonball lashed to his legs. His head reappeared on the surface soon afterward, and he remained motionless in that position for eight hours. Another time he swam across the Hudson tied to a chair weighted with lead. Some years ago he went to Harvard to perform for the students and faculty. He had been examined by medical authorities who failed to find support for their theory that he was able to float at such great lengths by the nature of his internal organs, which they believed were different from those of most men. Faticoni had often promised to reveal the secret of how he became ‘The Human Cork,’ but he never did.
If there’s a trophy for the world’s best-traveled canine, it belongs to Owney, a mixed-breed terrier who wandered into the Albany post office in 1888. The workers found he was attracted to mail bags, following them onto wagons and eventually trains, so they adopted him as a mascot.
They gave him a collar (“Owney, Post Office, Albany, New York”) and sent him off through the system, where he became a sort of perpetual parcel. Each time he returned to Albany he bore a new assortment of tokens and tags from mail clerks around the country; eventually these numbered 1,017. In 1895 he traveled entirely around the world via train and steamship.
He retired in 1897 due to old age, and his carefully preserved remains are on display in the U.S. Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.
During World War I, Wilfred Owen’s younger brother Harold was an officer on the British cruiser HMS Astraea. While anchored off West Africa shortly after the armistice, he claims he had “an extraordinary and inexplicable experience”:
I had gone down to my cabin thinking to write some letters. I drew aside the door curtain and stepped inside and to my amazement I saw Wilfred sitting in my chair. I felt shock run through me with appalling force and with it I could feel the blood draining away from my face. I did not rush towards him but walked jerkily into the cabin–all my limbs stiff and slow to respond. I did not sit down but looking at him I spoke quietly: ‘Wilfred, how did you get here?’ He did not rise and I saw that he was involuntarily immobile, but his eyes which had never left mine were alive with the familiar look of trying to make me understand; when I spoke his whole face broke into his sweetest and most endearing dark smile. I felt not fear–I had none when I first drew my door curtain and saw him there–only exquisite mental pleasure at thus beholding him. He was in uniform and I remember thinking how out of place the khaki looked amongst the cabin furnishings. With this thought I must have turned my eyes away from him; when I looked back my cabin chair was empty … I wondered if I had been dreaming but looking down I saw that I was still standing. Suddenly I felt terribly tired and moving to my bunk I lay down; instantly I went into a deep oblivious sleep. When I woke up I knew with absolute certainty that Wilfred was dead.
He later learned that his brother had been killed the preceding week.
In 1891, mountaineer John Norman Collie was descending from the peak of Scotland’s Ben MacDhui when “I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps.”
“For every few steps I took I heard a crunch,” he told the Cairngorm Club in 1925, “and then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own.”
Collie could see nothing in the heavy mist, but “[as] the eerie crunch, crunch sounded behind me, I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles.”
Reports of a “big gray man” on the mountain have never been substantiated, though other climbers have reported uncontrollable feelings of panic. Collie concluded only that there is “something very queer about the top of Ben MacDhui.”