Oddities

Homework

In March 1893, weary and vexed in his work classifying ancient finger rings, German archaeologist H.V. Hilprecht went to bed and dreamed that a tall priest led him to a Babylonian treasure chamber. The priest explained that the fragments were not finger rings but earrings for a statue of the god Ninib, cut from a votive cylinder sent by King Kirigalzu to the temple of Bel. “If you will put the two together you will have a confirmation of my words,” he said. “But the third ring you have not yet found in the course of your excavations, and you never will find it.”

“With this the priest disappeared,” Hilprecht wrote. “I awoke at once, and immediately told my wife the dream, that I might not forget it. Next morning — Sunday — I examined the fragments once more in the light of these disclosures, and to my astonishment found all the details of the dream precisely verified in so far as the means of verification were in my hands. The original inscription on the votive cylinder read: ‘To the god Ninib, son of Bel, his lord, has Kurigalzu, pontifex of Bel, presented this.'”

(Reported in The American Naturalist, October 1896)

“Instance of Extraordinary Affection in a Badger”

The following circumstance is related in a letter to a friend from Chateau de Venours:–

‘Two persons were on a short journey, and passing through a hollow way, a dog which was with them started a badger, which he attacked, and pursued, till he look shelter in a burrow under a tree. With some pains they hunted him out, and killed him. … Not having a rope, they twisted some twigs, and drew him along the road by turns. They had not proceeded far, when they heard a cry of an animal in seeming distress, and stopping to see from whence it proceeded, another badger approached them slowly. They at first threw stones at it, notwithstanding which it drew near, came up to the dead animal, began to lick it, and continued its mournful cry. The men, surprised at this, desisted from offering any further injury to it, and again drew the dead one along as before; when the living badger, determining not to quit its dead companion, lay down on it, taking it gently by one ear, and in that manner was drawn into the midst of the village; nor could dogs, boys, or men induce it to quit its situation by any means, and to their shame be it said, they had the inhumanity to kill it, and afterwards to burn it, declaring it could be no other than a witch.’

— Pierce Egan, Sporting Anecdotes, Original and Selected, 1822

See also “Monkeys Demanding Their Dead.”

It Ain’t Over Yet

Below the king’s chamber in the Great Pyramid of Giza there’s a smaller room whose purpose is unknown. A narrow shaft ascends to the south from that chamber. It’s only 8 inches wide, too narrow for a human to climb, but in 1992 a German robot crawled 65 meters up the incline and discovered a stone door with copper handles. In 2003 a second robot drilled a hole through that door and discovered a second door behind it.

“It looks to me like it is sealing something,” said Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. “It seems that something important is hidden there.”

What is it? Who knows?

The Bhawal Case

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Death plays tricks in India. Prince Ramendra Narayan Roy died in Darjeeling in 1909 and turned up alive 12 years later in Dhaka. He didn’t remember the details, he said; he’d been found lying in the jungle and had wandered India as a religious ascetic until his memory had returned.

The Board of Revenue offered proof that Roy had been cremated, but the prince’s tenants believed the claimant and supported his bid for the old estate. Hundreds of witnesses testified variously through 10 years of legal wrangling, which ultimately decided in favor of the mysterious stranger.

His vindication was short-lived, though. Hours after the final hearing, the claimant had a fatal stroke — and, this time, he stayed dead.

See also The Tichborne Claimant.

“Strange Discovery in Ohio”

A queer exhumation was made in the Strip Vein coal bank of Capt. Lacy, at Hammondsville, Ohio, one day last week. Mr. James Parsons and his two sons were engaged in making the bank, when a huge mass of coal fell down, disclosing a large smooth slate wall, upon the surface of which were found, carved in bold relief, several lines of hieroglyphics. Crowds have visited the place since the discovery and many good scholars have tried to decipher the characters, but all have failed. Nobody has been able to tell in what tongue the words were written. How came the mysterious writing in the bowels of the earth where probably no human eye has ever penetrated? There are several lines about three inches apart, the first line containing twenty-five words. Attempts have been made to remove the slate wall, and bring it out, but upon tapping the wall it gave forth a sound that would seem to indicate the existence of a hollow chamber beyond, and the characters would have been destroyed in removing it. At last accounts Dr. Hartshorn, of Mount Union College, had been sent for to examine the writing.

Wellsville Union, quoted in The True Latter Day Saints’ Herald, Jan. 1, 1869

Dark Science

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On Aug. 21, 1945, physicist Harry Daghlian accidentally dropped a brick of tungsten carbide into a plutonium bomb core at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The mass went critical, and Daghlian died of radiation sickness.

Exactly nine months later, physicist Louis Slotin was conducting an experiment on the same mass of plutonium when his screwdriver slipped and the mass again went critical. He too died of radiation sickness.

The mass became known as “the demon core.”

“Disinterested Informer”

A lady walking over Lansdown, near Bath, was overtaken by a large dog, which had left two men who were travelling the same road with a horse and cart, and followed by the animal for some distance, the creature endeavouring to make her sensible of something by looking in her face, and then pointing with his nose behind. Failing in his object, he next placed himself so completely in front of the object of his solicitude, as to prevent her from proceeding any farther, still looking steadfastly in her face. The lady became rather alarmed; but judging from the manner of the dog, who did not appear vicious, that there was something about her which engaged his attention, she examined her dress, and found that her lace shawl was gone. The dog, perceiving that he was at length understood, immediately turned back; the lady followed him, and he conducted her to the spot where her shawl lay, some distance back in the road. On her taking it up, and replacing it on her person, the interesting quadruped instantly ran off at full speed after his master, apparently much delighted.

The Scrap Book, Or, A Selection of Interesting and Authentic Anecdotes, 1825

Rock and Roll

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Every so often a Scottish farmer turns up a knobbly stone ball the size of an orange. No one knows precisely who made them or why: Were they weights for fishing nets? Die-like oracles? Flung weapons? Balls used in games? Some are quite elaborately carved, and they have as many as 160 knobs.

Whatever they were, they were immensely popular among Bronze Age Scots — more than 400 have been found to date in northeastern Scotland, most in Aberdeenshire.

Costa Ricans made stone balls with somewhat larger ambitions, and Romans made enigmatic dodecahedrons. Which of our own artifacts will baffle future civilizations?

Bears Repeating

While lecturing at Oxford, geologist William Buckland kept a bear named Tiglath Pileser. (Buckland was a lunatic.) In 1847 he dressed “Tig” in a cap and gown and took him to the annual meeting of the British Association and to a garden party at the Botanic Gardens. “The bear sucked all our hands and was very caressing,” remembered Charles Lyell. Eventually banished from Christ Church, Tig retired to Islip, where he terrorized the local sweetshop owner until he was sent to the Zoological Gardens.

Byron kept a bear in his chambers at Cambridge — because, he said, Trinity rules forbade dogs. “I had a great hatred of college rules, and contempt for academical honors.” It’s said he conducted it there in a stagecoach (as “Lord Byron and Mr. Bruin”) to sit for a fellowship.

“There was, by the by, rather a witty satire founded on my bear,” Byron later remembered. “A friend of Shelley’s made an ourang-outang (Oran Hanton, Esq.) the hero of a novel (‘Melincourt’), had him created a baronet, and returned for the borough of One Vote.”

Black Sheep

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In 1894, Walter Rothschild drove three zebras to Buckingham Palace to prove they could be tamed.

His family’s banking pedigree meant little to him — he’d wanted to be a zoologist, he said, since age 7.

Somniloquist

Dion McGregor never made it big as a songwriter, but he gained fame for another talent — his roommate discovered that McGregor spoke at full conversational volume while dreaming:

  • “Welcome to Midget City. Uh hmmmm … from the ground up we built it. Yes, from the ground up, ummm hmmmm. Well, we have 173 — a hundred — no — 174, 174 buildings … uh hmmmm. We have our own police system. See that little cop over there? One of our midgets.”
  • “Well, I like … it’s 6 feet deep and about 8 feet long. Yes, well … yes … you can drown the neighbor children in it … if they’re noisy you just lure them in. We have a dumbwaiter that comes up from the garden … you just pop them in that dumbwaiter … drag them right up … and pop them in the water … drown them … throw them down into the still. Hah-hah-hah-hah-hah … of, of course, I’m kidding. Heh-heh-heh-heh!”
  • “Well certainly you have to bring a — you have to bring a gift; it’s a birthday party, stupid! Well naturally. What do you think? You can’t go to a birthday party without bringing a gift. Honestly, for a child of 3, you can be so dense. Naturally … yes of course … I don’t care … you bring a gift of your own choosing.”

The two released a recording of these dreams and a companion book in 1964. “You may not believe this,” McGregor wrote, “but I’m one of those people who really values his privacy.”

Tableau

In Hitler Moves East, former SS officer Paul Carell records a bizarre scene from the bitterly cold winter of 1941 on the eastern front. At Ozarovo a rearguard of the German 3rd Rifle Regiment came across a group of Russian troops standing motionless in waist-deep snow. On investigating, they found that the Soviets, horses and men, had frozen to death where they stood:

Over on one side was a soldier, leaning against the flank of his horse. Next to him a wounded man in the saddle, one leg in a splint, his eyes wide open under iced-up eyebrows, his right hand still gripping the dishevelled mane of his mount. The second lieutenant and the sergeant slumped forward in their saddles, their clenched fists still gripping their reins. Wedged in between two horses were three soldiers: evidently they had tried to keep warm against the animals’ bodies. The horses themselves were like the horses on the plinths of equestrian statues — heads held high, eyes closed, their skin covered with ice, their tails whipped by the wind, but frozen into immobility.

Lance Corporal Tietz couldn’t take photos because “the view-finder froze over with his tears” and the shutter refused to work. “The god of war was holding his hand over the infernal picture,” Carell writes. “It was not to become a memento for others.”

“A Curious Fact”

A lady correspondent of the Boston Transcript submits the following: A few nights since, upon retiring to rest, the gas being out and the room quite dark, the writer’s attention was directed to her foot, which was illuminated by light; which upon examination was found to be phosphorescent, and proceeded from the upper side of the fourth toe of the right foot. Upon rubbing it with the hand, the light increased and followed up the foot, the fumes filling the room with a disagreeable odor. This lasted some time, when the foot was immersed in a basin of water, hoping to quench the light, but to no purpose; for it continued beneath the surface of the water, the fumes rising above. The foot was taken out and wiped dry, but the light still remained. A second immersion of the foot followed, and soap applied, with the same result. No more experiments were tried, and after a time it gradually faded and disappeared. The time occupied by the phenomenon was about three quarters of an hour. The lady’s husband substantiates the above fact, as he also witnessed them. Will some one please explain the above, as the emitting of phosphorus from a living body is new to the writer.

The American Eclectic Medical Review, September 1869

“An Ass Cast Away”

In March, 1816, an ass belonging to captain Dundas, R. N. then at Malta, was shipped on board the Ister frigate, captain Forrest, bound for Gibraltar, for that island. The vessel struck on some sands off the Point de Gat, and the ass was thrown over board, in the hope that it might possibly be able to swim to the land; of which, however, there seemed but little chance, for the sea was running so high, that a boat which left the ship, was lost. A few days after, when the gates of Gibraltar were opened in the morning, the guard was surprised by Valiant, as the ass was called, presenting himself for admittance. On entering, he proceeded immediately to the stable of Mr. Weeks, a merchant, which he had formerly occupied. The poor animal had not only swam safely to the shore, but without guide, compass, or travelling map, had found his way from Point de Gat to Gibraltar, a distance of more than two hundred miles, through a mountainous and intricate country, intersected by streams, which he had never traversed before, and in so short a period, that he could not have made one false turn.

The Scrap Book, or, A Selection of Interesting and Authentic Anecdotes, 1825

“The Continental Salamander”

In the year 1826, one Monsieur Chabert … performed the following feats at the White Conduit Gardens: Having partaken of a hearty meal of phosphorus, washed down with a copious draught of oxalic acid in a solution of arsenic, he drank off a jorum of boiling oil, and with his naked hand helped himself to a serving of molten lead by way of dessert. On another occasion he walked into a fiery furnace, stayed in some considerable space of time, and came out whole and unburned. He represented the furnace as hotter than it really was, though, as a matter of fact, he took in with him a raw beefsteak and brought it out broiled to a turn.

— Albert Plympton Southwick, Handy Helps, No. 1, 1886

Yogi Bear’s Dream

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The Longaberger Company of Newark, Ohio, makes, um, baskets.

Founder Dave Longaberger wanted all the company’s buildings to be basket-shaped, but his daughters vetoed this after his death. Spoilsports.

Late Arrival

In 1933, a lifeboat was found drifting in Barkley Sound on Vancouver Island.

It was marked Valencia — the name of a passenger liner that had run aground there 27 years earlier.

It was still in good condition.

“De Groote Meid”

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In June 1625, Frederick V of Bohemia, having heard tales of a “9-year-old being miraculously tall,” summoned young Trijntje Keever to the Hague. The tales, he found, were true — Trijntje was already 6 foot 6, and she would reach 8 foot 4 before dying of cancer at age 17.

She was probably the tallest woman who ever lived — judging from an anonymous portrait in her hometown of Edam, her shoes were 16 inches long.

Jumbo Jet

Say what you will about the French, they know how to build an elephant:

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This one, proposed for the Champs-Élysées in 1758, had air conditioning, a spiral staircase, and a drainage system in the trunk.

The French government said no. There’s no accounting for taste.

Badlands Guardian

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Natural erosion carved this image out of the soil in southeastern Alberta.

Inspired, someone gave it a counterpart on the other side of the world.

“Leapers”

People born on Leap Day, February 29:

  • Pope Paul III (1468)
  • Gioacchino Rossini (1792)
  • Jimmy Dorsey (1904)
  • Dinah Shore (1916)
  • Howard Nemerov (1920)
  • Dennis Farina (1944)
  • Richard Ramirez (1960)
  • Tony Robbins (1960)
  • Eugene Volokh (1968)
  • Ja Rule (1976)

Sir James Wilson (1812-1880), premier of Tasmania, both entered and left the world on Leap Day. He died on his 68th birthday — or, arguably, on his 17th.

Round Trip

Dave Kunst walked around the world. In June 1970 the county surveyor set out from Waseca, Minn., with his brother John, $1,000, and a mule with the portentous name of Willie Makeit. The brothers walked to New York, flew to Portugal, and had got as far as Afghanistan when John was shot by bandits. Dave recovered from his own wounds and resumed the journey, flying from India to Australia when the Soviet Union denied him entrance. His third mule had died when a Perth schoolteacher agreed to haul his supplies with her car while he walked alongside. He finished the trip in October 1974, having walked 20 million steps and worn out 21 pairs of shoes.

He married the schoolteacher.

Urban Planning

The city of Buenos Ayres, S. A., has received a singular proposition from two German mechanical engineers. They offer to cover the city with a huge umbrella, the base of which is to be 670 feet in diameter, the height 1500 feet, ribs of cast-iron 31 inches in circumference and 8 feet apart, and lining of wrought-iron one and a half inches thick. The great thing when raised will be one mile and a half wide. Around it will be a canal communicating with the Plate River, to carry away the water that might overflow the city. The work is estimated at the modest sum of $5,750,000.

— Albert Plympton Southwick, Handy Helps, No. 1, 1886

The Potsdam Giants

Friedrich Wilhelm I believed in stretching his military — when the Prussian king took the throne in 1713, he founded a special infantry regiment made up of taller-than-average soldiers.

“The men who stood in the first rank in this regiment were none of them less than seven feet high,” wrote Voltaire, “and he sent to purchase them from the farthest parts of Europe to the borders of Asia.” The diminutive king once told a French ambassador, “The most beautiful girl or woman in the world would be a matter of indifference to me, but tall soldiers — they are my weakness.”

They would have made an impressive force on the battlefield, but the “long guys” never saw action — and when Friedrich died in 1740 the crown prince dismissed the regiment.