Oddities

The Rohonc Codex

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Roch_codex_sample.jpg

What is this? No one seems to know. In 1838 a local nobleman donated a 448-page illustrated manuscript to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as part of a larger library. It’s written in an unknown system of symbols, apparently from right to left, and illustrated with religious, secular, and military scenes. The paper was made in Venice in the 1530s, but the book may have been composed later.

Hungarian, German, and French scholars have been unable to decipher the text, despite more than a century of work. Possibly the whole thing was a hoax by Sámuel Literáti Nemes (1796–1842), a known historical forger. But no one really knows.

Murder at the Priory

In 1876, London barrister Charles Bravo took three days to die of antimony poisoning but refused to say who had poisoned him or why.

An inquest determined it was a case of willful murder, but no one was ever arrested or charged. To this day, no one knows who killed him.

“Strength and Sagacity of a Fox”

In 1815, a fox was caught in a trap, at Bourne, Cambridgeshire, with which he made off. He was traced in the snow the following morning, by the Earl of De La Warr’s gamekeeper, upwards of ten miles, and was taken out of the earth alive and strong. His pad was then in the trap, which, with three feet of chain at the end of it, is supposed to have weighed fourteen pounds. Another fox accompanied him the whole of the way, seldom being distant from him more than four or five yards.

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

Fleeting Beauty

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Allisvanity.jpg

“All Is Vanity” (1892), by the American illustrator C. Allan Gilbert.

Back up to get the full effect.

“Toad Embedded in a Tree”

A few days ago, as two sawyers were employed in cutting up an oak tree about thirteen inches in diameter, for the use of the Earl of Derby’s colliery, at Rainsford, in Lancashire, the man in the pit perceived something to move in the part they were then cutting, which, on examination, proved to be a full-grown toad. The animal was quite alive, when taken up, notwithstanding one of the legs had been cut off by the saw; the cavity in which it was found was exactly in the centre of the tree, just large enough to contain the body, and measured three and a half yards from the root or bottom. The tree was perfectly sound in every part, and not the least crack or aperture could be discovered that had a communication with the atmosphere.

La Belle Assemblée, January 1810

Helen Duncan

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:HMS_Barham_explodes.jpg

In November 1941 a U-boat torpedoed the British battleship Barham, but the Germans didn’t realize they’d hit it. The British Admiralty managed to keep the loss a secret for two months, but in the interval a Scottish spiritualist named Helen Duncan announced that the Barham had sunk. She said she’d heard the news from a dead sailor.

The British authorities arrested Duncan, hoping to discredit her story. They appealed to an old law against fraudulent “spiritual” activity … which unfortunately was called the British Witchcraft Act of 1735.

So: History records that a practicing medium who revealed an “unknowable” secret at a séance in 1941 was convicted under a witchcraft law. She served 9 months.

Racing by Starlight

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Deathvalleysky_nps_big.jpg

Death Valley at night.

Note the racetrack stone in the foreground.

Now You See Him …

Teleportation in the Bible:

And he commanded the chariot to stand still [in Gaza]: and they went down both into the water, both Philip [the Evangelist] and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

(From Acts 8:38-40.)

Pop Quiz

When calculating prodigy Truman Henry Safford was 10 years old, the Rev. H.W. Adams asked him to square the number 365,365,365,365,365,365 in his head. Dr. Adams wrote:

He flew around the room like a top, pulled his pantaloons over the tops of his boots, bit his hands, rolled his eyes in their sockets, sometimes smiling and talking, and then seeming to be in agony, until in not more than a minute said he, 133,491,850,208,566,925,016,658,299,941,583,255!

Safford (1836-1901) went to Harvard and became director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College. Strangely, his calculating abilities seemed to wane as he got older.

The Shugborough House Inscription

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Shugborough_arcadia.jpg

This relief appears on an 18th-century monument on the grounds of Shugborough Hall, a country estate in Staffordshire, England. The shepherds are pointing to this inscription:


    O•U•O•S•V•A•V•V
D•                   M•


What does it mean? No one knows. If it’s a ciphertext, no one’s been able to solve it, and that includes the codebreakers at Bletchley Park, who cracked the German Enigma code in World War II.

If you can decipher it, there may be a reward in it for you: Some say the message contains a clue to the location of the Holy Grail.

“A Shocking Discovery”

It is well known that during the French Revolution, the wood Kusel, near Deux Ponts, was often the scene of various actions, and that the Prussians encamped in it a considerable time; consequently the wood was so nearly ruined, that only a few oak trees were left standing here and there. These trees were sold in the month of March last, 1803, and one lot fell to a citizen of Strasburgh for fifty florins. Soon afterwards ordering two of them to be cut down, one of them, the largest, was no sooner divided for the purpose of removal, than to the astonishment of the labourers they discovered a human skeleton, from which all the flesh having wasted away, nothing remained near the body at the bottom of the tree but some bits of blue cloth, and part of a hat. A purse half decayed was also found, containing about 100 louis d’ors in gold; and from the buttons upon the blue cloth, it was concluded that the deceased had been a Prussian officer, who not knowing the tree to be hollow, was probably sleeping near the top of the trunk of it, had slipped in, and from cold, or a variety of circumstances, being unable to extricate himself, had there perished. The fact, however, can be attested by the proprietor, the purchaser of the trees, and several other persons.

Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1803

The Battle of Los Angeles

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:La_air_raid.gif

In the early morning hours of Feb. 25, 1942, someone reported a mysterious object flying over Southern California, and L.A. briefly went nuts. A blackout was ordered, sirens were sounded, and the military fired more than 1,400 anti-aircraft shells into the night sky. Some said they struck the object; certainly they struck several buildings, and killed three civilians.

No one knows what really happened that night. The object could have been a weather balloon, a blimp, a Japanese fire balloon, or nothing at all. Navy secretary Frank Knox chalked the whole episode up to war nerves. With three local residents dead of heart attacks, that seems as good an explanation as any.

Finding Religion

Here are the first three verses of Genesis:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Pick any word in the first verse, count its letters, and move ahead by the corresponding number of words. For example, if you start at beginning, you’d count 9 letters and move ahead 9 words, landing on the in the second verse. Count that word’s letters and continue in this manner until you’ve entered the third verse.

You’ll always arrive at God.

(Discovered by Martin Gardner.)

“An Extraordinary Cat!”

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/543445

In 1821, a shoemaker in the south side of Edinburgh, while engaged in cleaning a cage in which he kept a lark, left the door of the cage open, of which the bird took advantage, and flew away by a window at which its owner was then standing. The lark being a favourite, its loss was much lamented. But it may be imagined what was the surprise of the house, when about an hour after, a cat, belonging to the same person, made its appearance with the lark in its mouth, which it held by the wings over the back, in such a manner that the bird had not received the least injury. The cat, after dropping it on the floor, looked up to those who were observing her, and mewed, as if to attract attention to the capture. The lark now occupies its wiry prison, with the same noisy cheerfulness as before its singular adventure.

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

Trompe L’Oeil

Designers wanted to put a dome on Rome’s Sant’Ignazio church, but neighbors complained of the shadow. So, instead, artist Andrea Pozzo painted this design on the flat ceiling.

When it’s viewed from the side (below), the church gets its dome after all.

“Curious Wager”

In August, 1823, a man undertook to carry thirteen sieve-baskets, piled one upon another on his head, from Dean-street, Westminster, to Perry’s potato-warehouse in Covent Garden. The wager was for a sovereign; and the conditions were, that he was to walk through the public streets, and to arrive at the place named with eleven on his head, without resting. He walked with great caution, sometimes in the carriage road, and sometimes on the pavement, followed by numbers of people, who, however, at once encircled and cleared the way for him. His greatest difficulty seemed to be to avoid the lamp irons when upon the pavement, as the upper sieve, which poised the whole, had a continual inclination to the right side. He succeeded in gaining the middle of Southampton-street without losing one sieve, having passed coaches and carts of all descriptions; when here, the upper sieve fell to the ground. He halted for a moment, and poised the remaining sieves, with which he proceeded full into the market, where he cast the whole down, amid the cheers of the populace. Though the weight must have been considerable, the poising the sieves was the greatest difficulty he had to encounter, as they reached the second floor windows. He won his wager; and many gentlemen, who were highly delighted with the novelty of the scene, subscribed to reward his ingenuity and perseverance.

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

But the Rent’s Great

“Corner House,” by Hungarian painter István Orosz (b. 1951).

“Illusion,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “is the first of all pleasures.”

“A Shaved Bear”

At Bristol I saw a shaved monkey shown for a fairy, and a shaved bear, in a check waistcoat and trowsers, sitting in a great chair as an Ethiopian savage. This was the most cruel fraud I ever saw. The unnatural position of the beast, and the damnable brutality of the woman-keeper who sat upon his knee, put her arm round his neck, called him husband and sweet-heart, and kissed him, made it the most disgusting spectacle I ever witnessed.

— Robert Southey, Southey’s Common-Place Book, 1851

The Marozi

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Marozi-pelt.jpg

In 1931, farmer Michael Trent shot two strange creatures in the Aberdare Mountains of central Kenya. They appeared to be small lions, but they bore spots.

Were they a natural hybrid of leopard and lion? A new species? A subsequent expedition found nothing, and no one’s seen one since.

“Vegetable Fungus”

At the beginning of the present century Sir Joseph Banks, of London, had a cask of wine which was too sweet for immediate use, and it was placed in the cellar to become mellowed by age. At the end of three years he directed his butler to ascertain the condition of the wine, when, on attempting to open the cellar door, he could not effect it in consequence of some powerful resistance. The door was cut down, and the cellar was found completely filled with a firm fungus vegetable production — so firm that it was necessary to use an ax for its removal. This had grown from and had been nourished by the decomposed particles of the wine. The cask was empty and touched the ceiling, where it was supported by the surface of the fungus.

— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882

Renaissance Surrealism

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Giuseppe_Arcimboldo_-_Winter,_1573.jpg

There’s no mistaking a portrait by Giuseppe Arcimboldo — the Milanese painter represented his subjects as masses of flowers, vegetables, fruits, and fish. These personifications of the four seasons were composed between 1563 and 1573.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Arcimboldo%2C_Giuseppe_%7E_Summer%2C_1573%2C_oil_on_canvas%2C_Mus%C3%A9e_du_Louvre%2C_Paris.jpg

“Australasian Monster”

At Liverpool, New South Wales, two men voluntarily made affidavits, that they had seen in a bush, two miles and a half out of town, a tremendous snake, which to the best of their belief, was forty-five feet in length, and three times in circumference of the human body!!! He who first saw it, thinking it dead, threw a stick at it, when it reared its monstrous body five feet from the ground. A third person offered to corroborate on oath the depositions. A party of respectable gentlemen went in quest of this extraordinary object, but succeeded only in finding its track, which bore the impression of immense scales, and confirmed the reports. Some conjecture it must be a species of crocodile, from a mark in the earth fourteen inches long, apparently indented by its jaw.

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

Nonstop

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Air_France_Flight_358.jpg

In August 2005, an Airbus A340 airliner overshot the runway at Toronto, plunged into a ravine, and burst into flames.

Of the 309 people on board, all survived.

It’s known as the Toronto Miracle.

“Light From Potatoes”

The emission of light from the common potato, when in a state of decomposition, is sometimes very striking. Dr. Phipson, in his work on ‘Phosphorescence,’ mentions a case in which the light thus emitted from a cellarful of these vegetables was so strong as to lead an officer on guard at Strasbourg to believe that the barracks were on fire.

— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882