Heads Up

As airplanes began to populate the skies over Europe and America, they met an unexpected adversary — eagles. “Some of the adventures of aviators with eagles have been harrowing in the extreme,” reported the Associated Press in 1928. “An airplane was flying over the mountains [behind Athens] recently when several eagles swooped down and attacked it simultaneously. Their dashes at the machine so crippled it that the pilot was forced to descend quickly, and landed so badly that he and a passenger were injured.”

In Adventures With a Texas Naturalist (1975), Roy Bedichek reports that such encounters were reported as early as World War I and were still taking place 60 years later. He writes that pilot J.O. Casparis was flying over Texas’ Big Bend National Park when “an enormous eagle crash-dived his plane before he could shoot, tore through the window, ripped off several feet of the fuselage and showered him with shattered glass.” And J. Wentworth Day reported an attack by two eagles on a three-motored, all-steel passenger plane near Allahbad, India: “The first eagle flew straight in the middle engine, while the second dived from ten thousand feet, and went through the steel wing like a stone, ripping a great hole.”

Bedichek writes that, after the first attacks, the French army seriously considered training eagles to attack enemy planes, and the British Air Ministry issued instructions on the best tactics to pursue during eagle attacks. “Of course, modern planes have little to fear from eagles or other birds individually,” he notes, “but the encountering by plane of migration flights, especially of flights of large birds in considerable number, is said still to offer a considerable hazard.”

“Curious Accident”

On Monday last an accident of a singular but distressing nature happened to one of our townsmen. A pair of fanners were being conveyed in a cart along the road to the Whins, when, from some cause or other, the horse ran off. Mr. Drummond, millwright, the person who has met with the accident, at first stepped forward to stop the horse, but, fearing danger, started hastily back. Behind Mr. Drummond was a lad bearing an axe upon his shoulder. Upon the sharp edge of the instrument Mr. Drummond unfortunately ran, and the consequence was that his nose was very nearly cut off. So complete was the cut the nose fell over upon the mouth, and was suspended by the slightest portion of the integument. Mr Drummond instantly applied his handkerchief to his face, and proceeded to Dr. Brotherston, who was fortunately in his own house at the moment. As may be supposed, the sight was a hideous one, the accident presenting an insight into the interior of the face. We are happy to say that, under Dr. Brotherston’s judicious treatment, the nose has been replaced, and there is every hope of the cure being so effectual that scarcely any trace of the accident will by and by be visible.

Alloa Advertiser, reprinted in the Times, Dec. 18, 1855

The Leaning Virgin

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

On Jan. 15, 1915, a shell hit the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières in Albert, France. Its crowning statue of Mary and the infant Jesus was flung forward and teetered over the building’s facade, but it did not fall.

“We went through the place today where the Virgin Statue at the top of the Church was hit by a shell in January,” wrote chaplain Rupert Edward Inglis to his wife in October. “The statue was knocked over, but has never fallen, I sent you a picture of it. It really is a wonderful sight. It is incomprehensible how it can have stayed there, but I think it is now lower than when the photograph was taken, and no doubt will come down with the next gale.”

But it didn’t. The virgin remained suspended over Albert for three years, during which British, French, and German forces all invented legends for it, commonly saying that the war would end when it finally fell. They were nearly right: The statue finally came down in April 1918, seven months before the armistice.

The basilica has since been rebuilt, and it bears a replica of the original statue.

Connection

At 3:35 a.m. on Aug. 14, 1888, off the coast of Nova Scotia, Second Officer Jørgensen of the Danish steamer Geiser was asleep in his bunk when he was awakened by a “frightful crash.” As he rolled out of his bunk, the bow of another ship “crashed its way through the walls of my stateroom, making an enormous hole and blocking the door so I couldn’t get out.” Desperately he grabbed the anchor chain of the strange ship “and climbed up to her deck just as the Geiser gave one last lurch and went down out of sight, with her decks covered with shrieking, despairing people.”

He found himself aboard Geiser‘s sister ship Thingvalla, which had been plying the same line between New York and Copenhagen. In the stormy night, Thingvalla’s prow had struck Geiser amidships, and she sank in seven minutes. Thingvalla’s boats rescued 14 passenger and 17 crew, leaving 126 unaccounted for — most of the passengers died in their bunks.

See The “Miracle Girl.”

Enough

essex whale attack

On Nov. 20, 1820, the Nantucket whaler Essex was attacking a pod of sperm whales in the South Pacific when an immense 85-foot whale surfaced about 100 yards off the bow. It spouted two or three times, dove briefly, then charged and “struck the ship with his head just forward of the fore chains,” reported mate Owen Chase. “He gave us such an appalling and tremendous jar as nearly threw us all on our faces. The ship brought up as suddenly and violently as if she had struck a rock, and trembled for a few moments like a leaf. We looked at each other in perfect amazement, deprived almost of the power of speech.”

The whale passed under the ship and lay on the surface, stunned at first and then convulsing. Chase ordered men to the pumps and called back the boats, but as the Essex began to settle in the water a man called, “Here he is — he is making for us again.”

“I turned around, and saw him about one hundred rods directly ahead of us, coming down with apparently twice his ordinary speed, and to me it appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect,” Chase wrote. “The surf flew in all directions, and his course towards us was marked by a white foam of a rod in width, which he made with a continual violent threshing of his tail.” The second blow stove in the Essex’s bows, and the whale “passed under the ship again, went off to leeward, and we saw no more of him.”

If this was vengeance, it was well accomplished. The Essex sank more than 1,000 miles from land; of the 21 crew who piled into three boats, only eight would survive, three on a barely habitable island and five after resorting to cannibalism during three months at sea. The whale acquired a further kind of immortality: Chase’s account of the disaster, written on his return to Massachusetts, helped inspire Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick.

Mixed Call

Where in the Bible are we told in one verse not to do a thing and in the next to do it?

‘Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.’ Prov. xxvi. 4.

‘Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.’ Prov. xxvi. 5.

— Samuel Grant Oliphant, Queer Questions and Ready Replies, 1887

Falling Angels

A fearful accident happened on Friday last at the Madeleine church, Bruges. One of the priests, while performing mass, was suddenly struck to the ground by the falling on his forehead of the marble head of an infant Jesus, which had become detached from its body. Fracture of the skull and a severe wound were the consequence to the unhappy clergyman, who, after lingering in great agony, died yesterday.

Times, May 3, 1847

An extraordinary and fatal accident happened this morning in the Roman Catholic parish church of Kildare. As the Very Rev. Dr. J.B. Kavanagh, P.P., was standing in front of the altar with his hand on the chalice to raise it at the close of 7 o’clock mass, and was about to descend the altar steps to recite the Rosary and Litany of the blessed Virgin, the marble figure of a cherub over the altar fell down and struck him with great force on the head. He fell back heavily, murmured the words ‘My God’ twice, and then became insensible. A cry of horror and anguish was raised by the congregation who witnessed the accident. Some persons rushed forward to lift him up, while others ran for medical help. Drs. Watson, Dillon and Chaplin were soon in attendance, and Dr. Kavanagh having been raised from the floor was placed on a stretcher and carried into the adjoining convent, where, having never recovered consciousness, he died soon afterwards.

Times, Oct. 6, 1886

Welcome to America

http://proceedings.esri.com/library/userconf/proc99/proceed/papers/pap138/p138.htm

Is Ellis Island in New York or New Jersey? Surprisingly, it’s in both. Under a 1934 compact, New York had jurisdiction over the original 3-acre Army fort, but the 24 acres of landfill that have since been added are part of New Jersey. The Supreme Court essentially upheld this arrangement in a 1998 ruling.

“New York still collects sales tax from concessions within the donut hole,” writes geographer Mark Monmonier, “while New Jersey taxes purchases elsewhere on the site.”

Wife and Limb

‘Late one evening a person came into our office, and asked to see the editor of the Lancet. On being introduced to our sanctum, he placed a bundle upon the table, from which he proceeded to extract a very fair and symmetrical lower extremity, which might have matched ‘Atalanta’s better part,’ and which had evidently belonged to a woman. ‘There!’ said he, ‘is there anything the matter with that leg? Did you ever see a handsomer? What ought to be done with the man who cut it off?’ On having the meaning of these interrogatories put before us, we found that it was the leg of the wife of our evening visitor. He had been accustomed to admire the lady’s leg and foot, of the perfection of which she was, it appeared, fully conscious. A few days before, he had excited her anger, and they had quarrelled violently, upon which she left the house, declaring she would be revenged on him, and that he should never see the objects of his admiration again. The next thing he heard of her was, that she was a patient in ——– Hospital, and had had her leg amputated. She had declared to the surgeons that she suffered intolerable pain in the knee, and had begged to have the limb removed — a petition the surgeons complied with, and thus became the instrument of her absurd and self-torturing revenge upon her husband!’

From Paul Fitzsimmons Eve, A Collection of Remarkable Cases in Surgery, 1857, quoting the Lancet, 1850. “The case seems to us highly improbable,” writes Eve, “but the Lancet, it will be perceived, is responsible for it.”

A New Start

The Spanish village of Bérchules celebrates New Year’s Day in August. In 1994 a power failure left the villagers unable to join the traditional countdown on Dec. 31, so they moved it to the first Saturday in August.

It’s all arbitrary anyway. “New Year’s is a harmless annual institution,” wrote Mark Twain in the Territorial Enterprise, “of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.”