The world’s longest-lived light bulb is in a fire station in Livermore, Calif.
It’s been burning continuously since 1901.
In March 1781, the Continental Navy sloop Saratoga was escorting a convoy of merchant ships off Haiti when it spotted two British sails to the west. It overtook and captured the first ship, put an American crew aboard, and set out after the second.
Midshipman Penfield, commander of that crew, was watching the chase when a strong wind arose, requiring his attention. When he raised his eyes again, the Saratoga had vanished. No trace of her was ever found.
On the evening of Aug. 4, 1900, 5-year-old Tommy Jones went missing near his grandfather’s farm in Brecon, South Wales. A 29-day search of the surrounding country found no trace of him.
His body was finally discovered on Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in South Wales, at an altitude of 1,300 feet. He had died of exhaustion and exposure. No one knows what led him there.
Strangely, almost the same thing had happened 10 years earlier in Virginia.
In the early 19th century, French occultist Jacques Toussaint Benoit became convinced that when two snails touch they form a “sympathetic bond” so that, ever afterward, when one is touched the other will respond.
He got financing to build a “snail telegraph,” a dish in which 24 lettered snails were glued in place. Messages could be sent by touching snails in sequence; their partners, glued to an identical dish elsewhere, would then wriggle, conveying the message.
After a demonstration in October 1851, La Presse hailed the invention as a revolution. Benoit’s backers, however, demanded a stricter test — and found that the inventor had disappeared.
In old times a culprit, when at the gallows, was allowed to select a Psalm, which was then sung, thereby lengthening the chances of the arrival of a reprieve. It is reported of one of the chaplains to the famous Montrose, that being condemned in Scotland to die for attending his master in some of his exploits, he selected the 119th Psalm. It was well for him that he did so, for they had sung it half through before the reprieve came. A shorter Psalm, and he would have been hung.
— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882
In 1943, after a mission in Italy, the American bomber Lady Be Good failed to return to its Libyan base. Apparently lost, the crew had called in for a bearing, but they never arrived. Eventually they were presumed to have crashed in the Mediterranean.
Almost 16 years later, in 1958, a team of British geologists found the plane’s wreckage hundreds of miles away in the Sahara, broken in two but mysteriously well preserved. That created a second mystery: Where were the crew?
Seven bodies were eventually found, far to the north. Low on fuel and thinking themselves over the sea, they had bailed out, landed in the desert, and watched as the unmanned bomber flew out of sight carrying supplies, water, and a working radio. Amazingly, they had stayed alive for eight days in the desert; one walked 109 miles before succumbing.
The plane’s mischief continued even after its destruction. When salvaged parts from the Lady Be Good were installed in other aircraft, they seemed to convey an odd curse. Some transmitters went into a C-54; it encountered propeller trouble and the crew saved themselves only by throwing cargo overboard. A radio receiver went into a C-47; it ditched in the Mediterranean. And an armrest went into a U.S. Army “Otter” airplane; it crashed into the Gulf of Sidra. The crew were never found, but the armrest washed quietly ashore.
“In July 1751, were interred, the coffin and remains of a Farmer Stevenage, in Hertfordshire, who died Feb. 1, 1720, and ordered by will, that his estate, which was 400 [pounds] a year, should be enjoyed by his brothers, who were clergymen, and if they should die, by his nephew, till the expiration of thirty years, when he supposed he should return to life, and then it was to revert to him: He also ordered his coffin to be affixed on a beam in his barn, locked, and the key enclosed, that he might let himself out. They staid four days more than the time limited, and then interred him.”
— Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1820
Mr. C.H. Williams, of the Geographical Society of England, tells us how oysters inhabit the Mangrove woods in Cuba: ‘For several years I resided in that island, and have several times come across scenes and objects which many people would consider great curiosities — one in particular. Oysters grow on trees, in immense quantities, especially in the southern part of the island. I have seen miles of trees, the lower stems and branches of which were literally covered with them, and many a good meal have I enjoyed with very little trouble in procuring it. I simply placed the branches over the fire, and, when opened, I picked out the oysters with a fork or a pointed stick. These peculiar shell-fish are indigenous in lagoons and swamps on the coast, and as far as the tide will rise and the spray fly so will they cling to the lower parts of the Mangrove trees, sometimes four or five deep, the Mangrove being one of the very few trees that flourish in salt water.’
— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882
The smallest park in the world is Mill Ends Park in Portland, Oregon. You’re looking at it: 452 square inches, barely two feet across. The nearby Forest Park is 60 million times as big.
Mill Ends started in 1948, when Oregon Journal journalist Dick Fagan noticed a forgotten hole outside his office on Front Street. He planted flowers and began to write a weekly column about goings-on there, including “the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland.”
When Fagan died in 1969, Portland took up the tradition, dedicating Mill Ends as an official city park in 1976. Today it has a swimming pool for butterflies (with diving board), a miniature Ferris wheel, and statues, and it hosts snail races, weddings, and regular rose plantings.
Just goes to show, you don’t need a large lot if the location’s good.
Titus Angles of Darlington, has again shewn symptoms of a voracious appetite, by devouring five pounds and a half of old bacon, nauseous to the extreme. After finishing his repast he was taken in triumph round the town in a cart, and afterwards ducked in the Skerne.
— “Durham Paper,” cited in The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824
The 13th day of the month is most likely to fall on a Friday.
Ernest Hemingway’s shortest story was six words long:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
He’s said to have called it his best work.
In July 1891, lightning struck the house of a Mr. Arent S. Vandyck of New Salem, Vt. He submitted this account to a Boston newspaper:
Suddenly the younger Mr. Vandyck [his son] pointed to an old-fashioned sofa. Upon it lay what was apparently the silver image of a cat curled up in an exceedingly comfortable position. Each glittering hair was separate and distinct, and each silvery bristle of the whiskers described a graceful curve as in life. Father and son turned towards the sword which hung upon the wall just above the sofa and there saw that the sword had been stripped of all its silver. The hilt was gone, and the scabbard was but a strip of blackened steel. The family cat had been electroplated by lightning.
Draw your own conclusions.
An optical illusion. Squares A and B are the same color.
Van Helmont tells a story of a person who applied to Taliacotius to have his nose restored. This person, having a dread of an incision being made in his own arm, for the purpose of removing enough skin therefrom for a nose, induced a laborer, for a remuneration, to allow the skin for the nose to be taken from his arm. About thirteen months after the adscititious nose suddenly became cold and, after a few days, dropped off, in a state of putrefaction. The cause of this unexpected occurrence was investigated, when it was discovered that, at the same moment in which the nose grew cold, the laborer at Bologna expired.
— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882
This is the Beast of Gévaudan, a wolf the size of a cow that terrorized southeastern France in the 18th century. All the big press in “cryptozoology” goes to Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Abominable Snowman, but there’s a cast of B players that are a lot more colorful:
- The Mongolian Death Worm haunts the Gobi Desert, using poison and electrical charges to kill men, horses, and camels. It’s said to resemble a four-foot length of cow intestine.
- The Great Grey Man of Ben MacDhui lives in Scotland’s Cairngorm Mountains. He can appear as a 10-foot humanoid, or he can afflict victims psychically, with overwhelming terror, dark blurs, echoing footsteps, and “an icy feeling.”
- The Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp attacked 17-year-old Chris Davis while he was changing a tire early one South Carolina morning in 1988. Reportedly a series of long scratches were later found on the roof of Davis’ car.
- The Monkey Man of New Delhi might have had metal claws, or glowing eyes, or a helmet, or green lights on its chest, or it might have been a remote-controlled robot. Whatever it was, it was mad. Between May 14 and May 17, 2001, Delhi police fielded more than 40 reports of attacks around the city.
- The most lyrically named “cryptid” is the Clutchbone, a seven-foot leathery monster that roamed Europe in the 1800s, burning and dismembering its victims. It had a lit torch in place of a head.
My favorite, though, is the New Jersey Vegetable Monster: A single drunken witness claimed to have seen a humanoid resembling a giant stalk of broccoli in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. “Likely attributable to a case of delirium tremens.”
Of sweetness, Shakespeare wrote: “A little more than a little is by much too much.” Boston learned this the hard way in the Molasses Disaster of 1919, when someone tried to fill a weak tank with 2.3 million gallons of the thick syrup.
“A muffled roar burst suddenly upon the air,” wrote the Boston Herald. “Mingled with the roar was the clangor of steel against steel and the clash of rending wood.”
The tank collapsed, sending a giant wave of molasses sweeping through the North End. Even in the January cold, the wave would have been 8 to 15 feet high and traveled at 35 mph. It broke the girders of the elevated railway, lifted a train off its tracks, and tore a firehouse from its foundation. Twenty-one people stickily drowned, and 150 were injured. Cleanup took six months; one victim wasn’t found for 11 days.
No one knows the cause, but it’s been noted that molasses was used in making liquor, and the disaster occurred one day before Prohibition was ratified. It appears the owners were trying to distill molasses into grain alcohol before the market dried up. Write your own pun.
Giuseppe Arcimboldo‘s caricature of Rudolf II’s historiographer and librarian, Wolfgang Lazio (1514-1565) — a collector of coins and a lover of books.
On the 8th of August, 1823, a young man, named Thomas Clements, lost his life in a manner as dreadful as it was extraordinary. He was fishing with a draw net, near Elizabeth Castle, Jersey, and taking a little sole out of the net, he put it between his teeth to kill it, when the fish, with a sudden spring, forced itself into his throat, and choked him. The unfortunate man had just time to call for assistance, but it came too late; he expired soon after in dreadful agony.
— The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824
Albert Einstein’s brain sat in a cardboard box for 43 years. After the physicist’s death in 1955, Princeton pathologist Thomas Stoltz Harvey removed the organ and took it with him as he moved around the country. He gave it up only in 1998.
Travelers are sometimes surprised to find hundreds of evenly spaced “barrels” of snow on a field or lake. Are they the work of elves?
In fact they’re created when strong winds arise after a fall of light, sticky snow.
When the conditions are right, they can reach 3 feet in diameter.
Engineer Claude Sawyer left the Australian steamer Waratah when it docked in Durban in July 1909. He said he’d seen a vision of a man “with a long sword in a peculiar dress. He was holding the sword in his right hand, and it was covered in blood.”
The Waratah left for Cape Town carrying 211 passengers. It was never seen again.
A faded and somewhat droll survival of ecclesiastical excommunication and exorcism is the custom, still prevailing in European countries and some portions of the United States, of serving a writ of ejectment on rats or simply sending them a friendly letter of advice in order to induce them to quit any house, in which their presence is deemed undesirable. Lest the rats should overlook and thus fail to read the epistle, it is rubbed with grease, so as to attract their attention, rolled up and thrust into their holes. Mr. William Wells Newell, in a paper on ‘Conjuring Rats,’ printed in The Journal of American Folk-Lore (Jan.-March, 1892), gives a specimen of such a letter, dated, ‘Maine, Oct. 31, 1888,’ and addressed in business style to ‘Messrs. Rats and Co.’ The writer begins by expressing his deep interest in the welfare of said rats as well as his fears lest they should find their winter quarters in No. 1, Seaview Street, uncomfortable and poorly supplied with suitable food, since it is only a summer residence and is also about to undergo repairs. He then suggests that they migrate to No. 6, Incubator Street, where they ‘can live snug and happy’ in a splendid cellar well stored with vegetables of all kinds and can pass easily through a shed leading to a barn containing much grain. He concludes by stating that he will do them no harm if they heed his advice, otherwise he shall be forced to use ‘Rough on Rats.’ This threat of resorting to rat poison in case of the refusal to accept his kind counsel is all that remains of the once formidable anathema of the Church.
— E.P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, 1906
You and I are having an argument. Our wives have given us new neckties, and we’re arguing over which is more expensive.
Finally we agree to a wager. We’ll ask our wives for the prices, and whoever is wearing the more expensive tie has to give it to the other.
You think, “The odds are in my favor. If I lose the wager, I lose only the value of my tie. If I win the wager, I gain more than the value of my tie. On balance I come out ahead.”
The trouble is, I’m thinking the same thing. Are we both right?