An illusion, of sorts. Step back from the screen.
Henry Welby, an eccentric character, confined himself in an obscure house in London, where he remained unseen by any one until his death, a period of 44 years. He died in 1636.
– Bizarre Notes & Queries, April 1886
Browsing in a Paris bookshop in the 1920s, the novelist Anne Parrish came upon an old copy of Jack Frost and Other Stories, a favorite from her childhood in Colorado. When she showed it to her husband, he found it was her own copy, inscribed with her name and address.
George Bernard Shaw once came across one of his own books in a used bookstore in London. He was surprised to find his own inscription inside — he had presented the book “with esteem” to a friend. He immediately bought the book and had it wrapped and delivered again, after adding a second inscription: “With renewed esteem, George Bernard Shaw.”
Quite recently in China fifteen wooden idols were tried and condemned to decapitation for having caused the death of a man of high military rank. On complaint of the family of the deceased the viceroy residing at Fouchow ordered the culprits to be taken out of the temple and brought before the criminal court of that city, which after due process of law sentenced them to have their heads severed from their bodies and then to be thrown into a pond. The execution is reported to have taken place in the presence of a large concourse of approving spectators and ‘amid the loud execrations of the masses,’ who seem in their excitement to have ‘lost their heads’ as well as the hapless deities.
– E.P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, 1906
Meet 2-(2,5-bis(3,3-dimethylbut-1-ynyl)-4-(2-(3,5-di(pent-1-ynyl)phenyl)ethynyl)phenyl)-1,3-dioxolane, a “nanoputian” designed by Rice University chemist James Tour.
With thiol functional groups at the leg, it’ll even “stand” on a surface of gold.
Newly arrived in Fresno, Calif., in 1906, Baldasare Forestiere found the soil would not support an orchard like his father’s in Sicily — there was a layer of hardpan below the surface. But after two years digging tunnels as a laborer in Boston and New York, he had become handy with a pick and shovel, and he soon dug out a skylighted room 10 feet underground, in which an orange tree flourished.
So he kept digging. In time, he added a kitchen, a pantry, a living room, a reading room, two bedrooms, and a tree-filled courtyard that included a bathtub that he could fill with water warmed by the sun.
Forty years later, Forestiere had built a multi-level underground complex that covered 10 acres and included 100 rooms and passageways, including a chapel, a hothouse, a winery, and a “fish-viewing room” whose glass-covered skylight opened onto the bottom of a pond. He estimated the whole thing cost only $300. When he died in 1946, he was adding a 3,500-square-foot ballroom.
Some children at play in a new-mown field, near Kensington gardens, horrid to relate, found the head of a female, with the skull split, the back part of it broken entirely off, and the nose cut away close to the face; the eyes were scooped out, and an iron spike was driven straight up the head through where the neck was amputated. To add to the horror of this occurrence, the head being extremely small, the children brought it, as a matter of curiosity, to show their parents. With a view to the discovery of the perpetrators of this deed, the circumstances were withheld from the neighbours for a time, when, in a lane adjoining the same field, the headless trunk was found extremely mutilated, the arms and thighs having been cut off close to the body. The limbs could not be traced. A hue-and-cry was now raised throughout the vicinity, where horror only kept pace with anxiety for a full investigation of all the circumstances. The result proved to be that some person, not having the fear of mischief before his eyes, had thus treated — a wooden doll!
– William Oxberry, ed., The Flowers of Literature, 1822
James Barry cut an impressive figure as a British military surgeon, working tirelessly to improve conditions for wounded soldiers around the globe. He worked with Florence Nightingale, performed the first successful cesarean section in Africa, and rose to the rank of inspector general of British military hospitals.
So when he died on July 25, 1865, the attendants were surprised to find he was a woman.
No one knows who she was, where she came from, or what led her to a career in military medicine. She’s buried in London under the alias she lived by.
See also Charley Parkhurst.
In 1699, weary and discouraged at the poor sales of his new almanac, Francis Moore set to work on creating the next number.
“What shall I put in for June 4?” his assistant asked.
“Oh, cold and snow!” Moore said irritably.
Remarkably, snow actually fell on June 4. Sales of Old Moore’s Almanack bounded into the thousands, and it’s still being published three centuries later.
In 1774, a wild man was discovered in the neighbourhood of Yuary. This man, who inhabited the rocks near a forest, was very tall, covered with hair like a bear, very nimble, and of a gay humour. He neither did, nor seemed to intend, harm to any body. He often visited the cottages, without ever attempting to carry off any thing. He had no knowledge of bread, milk, or cheese. His greatest amusement was to see the sheep running, and to scatter them; and he testified his pleasure at this sight by loud fits of laughter, but never attempted to hurt them. When the shepherds (as was frequently the case) let loose their dogs at him, he fled with the swiftness of an arrow, and never allowed the dogs to come too near him. One morning he came to the cottage of some workmen, and one of them endeavouring to catch him by the leg, he laughed heartily, and then made his escape. He seemed to be about thirty years of age. As the forest is very extensive, and had a communication with a vast wood that belongs to the Spanish territories, it is natural to suppose that this solitary, but cheerful creature, had been lost in his infancy, and subsisted on herbs.
– John Platts, Encyclopedia of Natural and Artificial Wonders and Curiosities, 1876
French-born acrobat Jean-François Gravelet made a name for himself by crossing the gorge below Niagara Falls on a tightrope. The rope was 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the water, and he crossed it successfully on June 30, 1859.
Evidently this wasn’t hard enough, because he later repeated the feat with a series of hair-raising variations: blindfold, in a sack, pushing a wheelbarrow, wearing stilts. That man on his back is his manager, Harry Colcord, who apparently concluded it must be pretty safe. Midway through one crossing, Gravelet actually sat down and cooked an omelette.
He died quietly of diabetes at age 73.
During the siege of Paris, the city’s starving populace ate its horses, dogs, and cats, and eventually even turned to rats and zoo animals. In Paris in Its Splendor (1900), Eustace Reynolds-Ball gives the menu of a popular restaurant in the Latin Quarter at the beginning of January 1871, “which gives a good idea of the gastronomic straits to which the light-hearted Parisians were reduced”:
- Consommé de Cheval au millet.
- Brochettes de foie de Chien à la maître d’hôtel.
- Emincé de rable de Chat. Sauce mayonnaise.
- Epaules et filets de Chien braisés. Sauce aux tomates.
- Civet de Chat aux Champignons.
- Côtelettes de Chien aux petits pois.
- Salmis de Rats. Sauce Robert.
- Gigots de chien flanqués de ratons. Sauce poivrade.
- Begonias au jus.
- Plum-pudding au rhum et à la Moelle de Cheval.
See also Balloon Mail.
Every March 15, flocks of buzzards converge on Hinckley Township, Ohio.
The town has named it “Buzzard Day,” marking the return of spring.
On May 17, 1817, Samuel Jessup died. That was bad news for his apothecary, who had been suing him over an unpaid bill — over the course of 21 years, Jessup had taken 226,934 pills, an average of 10,806 a year. Between 1812 and 1816 he took 78 pills a day, 51,590 in 1814 alone. With the addition of 40,000 bottles of mixture, juleps, and electuaries, the druggist’s bill filled 55 closely written columns.
Despite all this — or perhaps because of it — Jessup lived to age 65.
Paleontologist William Buckland (1784-1856) proposed to eat his way through the animal kingdom — he served panther, crocodile, and mouse to his dinner guests, and he claimed that the most unpleasant dishes he had tried were mole and bluebottle.
Raconteur Augustus Hare recalled that at Nuneham Buckland was presented with the heart of a French king in a silver casket: “Whilst looking at it he exclaimed, ‘I have eaten many strange things, but have never eaten the heart of a king,’ and before any one could hinder him he had gobbled it up, and the precious relic was lost for ever.”
In July 1891, an engineer named Charles Wells went to Monte Carlo with £4000, broke the bank 12 times in 11 hours, and came away with a million francs.
He returned in November and made another million.
The casino never discovered his system.
A man of the name of Desjardins was tried on his own confession, for having admitted that he was an accomplice of Louvel, the assassin of the Duke de Berri. The case was clearly proved. Desjardins set up, as his defence, that he was so notorious for his falsehood, that nobody could give credit to a word he said, and produced a whole host of witnesses, his friends and relatives, who all swore to the fact with such effect, that he was declared Not Guilty.
– Annual Register, 1822
In 1813 Samuel Coleridge received the news of his own death. A gentleman in black had hanged himself from a tree in Hyde Park; authorities had found no money or papers in his pockets, but his shirt was marked “S. T. Coleridge.”
According to Charles Robert Leslie in Autobiographical Recollections, “Coleridge was at no loss to understand how this might have happened, since he seldom travelled without losing a shirt or two.”
In 1923, the Brazier family traveled from Oregon to Indiana, bringing their 2-year-old collie/shepherd mix, Bobbie. They were separated in Wolcott, Ind., when Bobbie was chased off by a group of local dogs, and after three weeks the family reluctantly returned to Oregon.
Exactly six months later, the family’s youngest daughter was walking down a Silverton street when she recognized a bedraggled dog. At her voice he “fairly flew at Nova, leaping up again and again to cover her face with kisses and making half-strangled, sobbing sounds of relief and delight as if he could hardly voice his wordless joy.”
He had traveled more than 2,800 miles. He was identified by three scars, and by letters the family later received from people who had housed and fed him along the way. The “wonder dog” received national publicity, and well-wishers gave him a jewel-studded harness, a silver collar, keys to various cities, and “a miniature bungalow, which weighed about nine hundred pounds, with eight windows curtained with silk.” He died in 1927, and Rin Tin Tin laid a wreath on his grave.
What is it with salt miners? Apparently inspired by Poland’s Wieliczka mine, which features a salty Last Supper, Colombia has built an entire salt cathedral, complete with 14 chapels representing the stations of the cross. Don’t they have work to do?
The Indianapolis Journal of Sept. 5, 1891, reports that two icemen were hitching a wagon in Crawfordsville, Ind., at 2 a.m. on Sept. 4 when they saw in the sky “a horrible apparition approaching from the west.” A headless monster, 18 feet long and 8 feet wide, floated 300 feet overhead, apparently propelled by fins. It circled a nearby house, disappeared to the east, then returned, emitting a wheezing, moaning sound. The men fled, but the noise awakened a Methodist pastor, who saw the creature from his window.
Reportedly it returned on the following evening, when hundreds of witnesses saw a flapping “thing” that “squirmed in agony” and made a “wheezing, plaintive noise” as it hovered in the sky.
That’s all we know. The creature, if it really existed, never returned to Crawfordsville.
In 1612, John Donne accompanied Sir Robert Drury to Paris, leaving his pregnant wife in London.
Two days after their arrival there, Mr. Donne was left alone, in that room in which Sir Robert, and he, and some other friends had dined together. To this place Sir Robert return’d within half an hour; and, as he left, so he found Mr. Donne alone; but, in such Extasie, and so alter’d as to his looks, as amaz’d Sir Robert to behold him: insomuch that he earnestly desired Mr. Donne to declare what had befaln him in the short time of his absence? to which, Mr. Donne was not able to make a present answer: but, after a long and perplext pause, did at last say, I have seen a dreadful Vision since I saw you: I have seen my dear wife pass twice by me through this room, with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms: this, I have seen since I saw you. To which, Sir Robert reply’d; Sure Sir, you have slept since I saw you; and, this is the result of some melancholy dream, which I desire you to forget, for you are now awake. To which Mr. Donnes reply was: I cannot be surer that I now live, then that I have not slept since I saw you: and am, as sure, that at her second appearing, she stopt, and look’d me in the face, and vanisht.
Donne and Drury immediately sent a messenger to London. He returned to say that Mrs. Donne had borne a dead child at the hour her husband thought he had seen her in Paris.
(From Izaak Walton, Life of Dr John Donne, 1675)
Paralyzed in a fall in 1836, John Carter discovered a talent for art, holding a brush in his teeth and working in bed. The figures below are after Albrecht Dürer.
The first chapter of Genesis, written on an egg.
From the Jerusalem Museum.