“A Curious Race”

A curious race was recently witnessed in Westphalia, the contest being between pigeons and a number of bees, the respective owners of which had wagered their favorites to win. The course was three miles and a half, and a dovecot which happened to be near a hive was selected as the winning post. It was found no easy matter to mark the bees so as to make their identity unmistakable, but the difficulty was at last surmounted by rolling them in flour previous to starting them on their journey. This, while making them easily recognized on their arrival, probably retarded their flight; but nevertheless, and though the pigeons were looked upon by those interested as the most likely winners, the race resulted in a victory for the bees; the first bee arriving at the post twenty-five seconds before the first pigeon, and three other bees before the second.

— Henry Williams, A Book of Curious Facts, 1903

Time Slip


On Aug. 10, 1901, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain were visiting Versailles when they were overcome by a feeling of oppression. They became lost and encountered a number of unusual people, including a man with a scarred face, a fair-haired lady sketching on the grounds, and a group of “very dignified officials, dressed in long greyish green coats with small three-cornered hats.”

Months later, in researching the history of the Trianon, they came to believe that they had somehow slipped back in time on that day to the 1770s and had there met the Comte de Vaudreuil and Marie Antoinette. Their account, published in 1911 as An Adventure, created a sensation but was ultimately dismissed. Moberly and Jourdain were respected academics, but their book simply offered no compelling evidence for their claim.

Nor have any French historians found a record of two bewildered women appearing at Versailles in the 18th century.

“Sea Serpent”

We are informed that the Sea Serpent was seen of Squam Bar on Wednesday last, and again on Thursday, in Sandy Bay harbour. At the latter place, he was visible for some time, within fifty yards of the shore, and was fired at a number of times with muskets; two balls were seen to strike him and rebound. He was distinctly seen by as many as fifty people; and is described as appearing perfectly calm, with his head about two feet out of water, and his body visible only in parts or humps, as he has been before described, with a space of about two feet between each. He was judged to be at least seventy or eighty feet long.

Salem Gazette, cited in The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

Ill Wind

When air hits the Alps, it sometimes drops its moisture on the windward side and descends into the land beyond as a warm, dry wind.

When this happens, headache and depression increase in Central Europe. The “murder winds” have even been blamed for heart attacks and suicide.

No one has explained the effect.



In 1858 Mark Twain had a vivid dream in which he saw his brother Henry lying in a metal burial case. On Henry’s chest lay a bouquet of white flowers with a red rose at its center.

A month later, Henry lost his life when his steamboat’s boiler exploded. A grieving Twain arrived to discover his brother’s body in a metal case—the other victims had been given wooden coffins, but the ladies of Memphis had taken up a fund for Henry, touched by his youth and good looks.

As Twain stood there, an elderly woman approached and placed a bouquet of white flowers on Henry’s chest. At its center was a single red rose.

See also A Premonition.

Owen Parfitt

In June 1768, bedridden tailor Owen Parfitt was put into a chair at the door of his Somerset cottage while his sister made his bed. She emerged after 15 minutes to find only the empty chair.

A search continued throughout the rural village through the night and all the following day. No trace of him was ever found.

Beauty Sleep


Virginia Centurione Bracelli died in 1651, but her body was found largely uncorrupted when her grave was opened 150 years later.

She was canonized in 2003.

“A Strange Phenomenon at Eccleston”

Whilst sitting quietly in [Bank House], the inmates have been frequently alarmed — sometimes two or three times a day — by the descent of showers of water, apparently from the ceiling. These showers have drenched them, flooding the floor and covering the furniture with water, rendering the house almost uninhabitable. … The water comes straight down from the ceiling, and shows not the slightest indication of its being thrown into the apartment. So singular is the affair that people have concluded that it is some spiritual influence, and is a sort of judgment upon the good ladies of the house for some dereliction, who, naturally enough, are much affrighted.

Preston Herald, Feb. 15, 1873

I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing


Image: Flickr

There’s a sculpture of Darth Vader on Washington’s National Cathedral.

During construction, a competition was held among children to suggest a carved grotesque, and Christopher Rader of Kearney, Neb., submitted a drawing of Darth Vader’s head.

It’s visible on the cathedral’s northwest tower — but you’ll need binoculars to see it.

Slow But Sure


In August 1820, an avalanche swept three mountaineers into a crevasse on Mont Blanc. Thirty-eight years later, a physicist who had studied the glacier’s rate of flow predicted that the bodies would soon be given up. He was right. William Herbert Hobbs writes in Earth Features and Their Meaning:

In the year 1861, or forty-one years after the disaster, the heads of the three guides, separated from their bodies, with some hands and fragments of clothing, appeared at the foot of the Glacier des Bossons, and in such a state of preservation that they were easily recognized by a guide who had known them in life.

The bodies had traveled 3,000 meters in 41 years. “To-day,” wrote Hobbs in 1912, “the time of reappearance of portions of the bodies of persons lost upon Mont Blanc is rather accurately predicted, so that friends repair to Chamonix to await the giving up of its victims by the Glacier des Bossons.”

Flash Photo

Near the village of Combe-Hay, in England, there was a wood composed largely of oaks and nut trees. In the middle of it was a field, about fifty yards long, in which six sheep were struck dead by lightning. When skinned there was discovered on them, on the inside of the skin, a facsimile of part of the adjacent landscape.

— William Walsh, A Handy Book of Curious Information, 1913

“Petrified Bodies”

The body of a child, nine months old, was buried in the ‘Old Burying-Ground,’ Stoddard, N. H., in January, 1818. In 1856, the body was disinterred, with others adjacent to it, for the purpose of removal to another lot. The body of this child alone had petrified. It was nearly as white as marble, and the features were as natural as the day it was buried, though the body soon crumbled on being exposed to the air.

Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, February 1888

All Wet


Mark Twain wrote, “Water, taken in moderation, cannot hurt anybody.”

He would have approved of Matthew Robinson, the second Baron Rokeby. Born in 1712, the Scottish nobleman swam in the sea in all weather, sometimes until he fainted, and had drinking fountains installed along his route to the beach.

A visitor noted, “He was accustomed to bestow a few half-crown pieces … on any water drinkers he might happen to find partaking of his favorite beverage, which he never failed to recommend with peculiar force and persuasion.”

Not content with the sea, Robinson eventually even added a glass-enclosed swimming pool to his mansion, where he spent hours.

It doesn’t seem to have hurt him. He shunned physicians, but lived to be 88.

“The Enchanted Coast”


Observing the shore of Greenland in July 1820, explorer William Scoresby was surprised to see it change before his eyes:

The general telescopic appearance of the coast was that of an extensive ancient city abounding with the ruins of castles, obelisks, churches and monuments, with other large and conspicuous buildings. Some of the hills seemed to be surmounted by turrets, battlements, spires, and pinnacles; while others, subjected to one or two reflections, exhibited large masses of rock, apparently suspended in the air, at a considerable elevation above the actual termination of the mountains to which they referred.

All of this was continually changing even as he watched, Scoresby writes. But “notwithstanding these repeated changes, the various figures represented in the drawing had all the distinctness of reality; and not only the different strata, but also the veins of the rocks, with the wreaths of snow occupying ravines and fissures, formed sharp and distinct lines, and exhibited every appearance of the most perfect solidity.”


On the 18th of December, 1795, several persons, near the house of Captain Topham, in Yorkshire, heard a loud noise in the air, followed by a hissing sound, and soon after felt a shock, as if a heavy body had fallen to the ground at a little distance from them. In reality, one of them saw a huge stone fall to the earth, at the distance of eight or nine yards from the place where he stood. When he first observed it, it was seven or eight yards above the ground; and in its fall, it threw up the mould on every side, burying itself twenty-one inches in the earth. This stone, on being dug up, was found to weigh 56 lbs.

Cabinet of Curiosities, Natural, Artificial, and Historical, 1822

“Blows Invisible”

Mr. Brograve, of Hamel, near Puckridge in Hertfordshire, when he was a young man, riding in a lane in that county, had a blow given him on his cheek: (or head) he looked back and saw that nobody was near behind him; anon he had such another blow, I have forgot if a third. He turned back, and fell to the study of the law; and was afterwards a Judge. This account I had from Sir John Penruddocke of Compton-Chamberlain, (our neighbour) whose Lady was Judge Brograve’s niece.

— John Aubrey, Miscellanies Upon Various Subjects, 1696

The Berbalangs

The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal isn’t known for its romance. But one 1896 article has become famous for its account of a bizarre episode in Southeast Asia. Ethelbert Skertchley describes the Berbalangs, a species of ghoul in the folklore of Cagayan de Sulu, an island in the southwestern Philippines. These creatures, he explains, can adopt an astral form when seeking human flesh. It’s all pretty scholarly until the end, when Skertchley describes his own encounter near a Berbalang village:

There was not a breath of air stirring, and we were in the middle of an open valley with no trees about when we heard a loud moaning noise like someone in pain. … Presently the sound died away to a faint wail and the sound of wings became audible, while a lot of little dancing lights, like fire-flies, only reddish, passed over us.

On leaving the village, Skertchley passed an isolated house, where his native companion indicated the ghouls must have gone. The next day the writer returned to the scene:

I entered the house and looked round, but could see no one; going farther in, I suddenly started back, for huddled up on the bed, with hands clenched, face distorted, and eyes staring as in horror, lay my friend Hassan–dead.

Nothing more is said. Skertchley concludes simply by writing, “I have stated above the facts just as they occurred, and am quite unable to give any explanation of them.” If the editors received any further information, they never published it.

“The Everest of Aviation Mysteries”


Two weeks before Lindbergh’s famous crossing, two French war heroes set out in a biplane to attempt the first nonstop transatlantic flight from Paris to New York.

They took off early on May 8, 1927, and were sighted at the French coast and later off Ireland. But no further sightings were made, and after 42 hours the White Bird was listed as lost.

Possibly she was simply the victim of an Atlantic squall. An extensive search between New York and Newfoundland discovered nothing. But witnesses there claimed to have heard the aircraft, and scattered sightings were reported on a line south from Nova Scotia into coastal Maine. Later, struts and engine metal were found that are not manufactured in North America.

But none of this is conclusive, and no definitive trace of the wooden craft has yet been found — in particular, its engine. In 1984 the French government declared officially that the pair might have reached Newfoundland. But whether they did remains unknown.

The Wizard of Mauritius

Jean-Paul Marat’s correspondence mentions one Bottineau, born in France around 1740, who founded a science he called nauscopie, “the art of discovering vessels and lands at a considerable distance.” Stationed on the Isle of France, reportedly he was soon winning wagers by predicting arrivals up to three days in advance.

The commissary-general of the navy swore that “he has announced to us within six months, one hundred and nine vessels, one, two, three, or four days before the signals were made from the mountains, and in this number he only was twice mistaken.” The island’s governor affirmed: “What we can certify is, that M. Bottineau was almost always right.”

Bottineau explained that he observed an effect in the atmosphere, but he refused to sell his method, claiming the offers were too low. Unfortunately, Europe was distracted by the political upheaval in France, and in 1802 he was reported to have “died lately in great misery at Pondicherry.” His secret, if he had one, went with him.

High and Dry

revolution and the ships on the ice

In April 1851, sailing in clear weather off the Newfoundland Banks, the English brig Renovation encountered an enormous ice floe bearing two black three-masted ships, one heeled over and the other upright.

The crew observed them for about an hour, until they were lost to sight. No explanation has ever been found.

Straight Flush

Playing whist at a Suffolk club in January 1998, Hazel Ruffles shuffled the deck and dealt a full suit to each player.

The odds of this happening are 2,235,197,406,895,366,368,301,599,999 to 1.


John Lewis Candiac … was born at Candiac, in the diocese of Nismes, in France, in 1719. In the cradle he distinguished his letters; at thirteen months he knew them perfectly; at three years of age he read Latin, either printed or in manuscript; at four, he translated from that tongue; at six, he read Greek and Hebrew, was master of the principles of arithmetic, history, geography, heraldry, and the science of medals; and had read the best authors on almost every branch of literature. He died of a complication of disorders, at Paris, in 1726.

— John Platts, Encyclopedia of Natural and Artificial Wonders and Curiosities, 1876

The Cock Lane Ghost

A thrill passed through London in January 1762, when a 12-year-old girl reported that she was visited nightly by a dead woman.

Elizabeth Parsons, daughter of the parish clerk of St. Sepulchre’s, said that she heard knockings and scratchings and witnessed the apparition of a woman surrounded by a blazing light. The girl said the ghost resembled Fanny Kent, a lodger in her house who had died recently of smallpox.

Witnesses too heard the knockings, which attended the girl wherever she slept. They learned to communicate with “Fanny” through a system of knocks — and learned that her husband had poisoned her.

The whole thing reached a climax when the ghost agreed to attend a gentleman into the vault where Fanny’s body lay, and to knock upon the coffin there. Unfortunately, no knock came, and the girl asked to return to her father.

She had been using a simple wooden clapper to produce the sounds; her father, who had owed money to the “poisoner,” had invented the whole scheme.

“Curious Will”

Among curious bequests to wives, that of John Lambeth, who died in 1791, is conspicuous for its bitterness. After declaring that ‘the strength of Sampson, the genius of Homer, the prudence of Augustus, the patience of Job, the philosophy of Socrates, the subtlety of Hannibal, the vigilence of Hermognes, would not suffice to subdue the perversity of her character,’ he bequeathed to his wife Elizabeth the sum of one shilling!

Bizarre Notes & Queries, February 1886