In 1915, after being cut off from his regiment in northern France, British Army private Patrick Fowler found his way to the farmhouse of Marie Belmont-Gobert in the German-occupied town of Bertry. He implored her to hide him, but she had space only in an oaken cupboard in the living room.
Incredibly, Fowler spent three years and nine months in a space 5.5 feet high and 20 inches deep while more than 20 German musketeers were billeted in the same house. “He was there at times when unsuspecting Germans were actually sitting around the fire in the same room,” reported the New York World in 1927. “Often they came down to the ground floor quarters of the Belmont family and made coffee on the fire there.”
The Germans even made periodic searches. “[A German captain] and his men sounded the walls and floors for secret hiding places, uttered awful threats,” reported Time. “Mme. Belmont-Gobert only sat passive in her sitting room. At last the captain wrenched open the right-hand door of her large black armoire, snorted to see it divided into small shelves incapable of holding a rabbit, banged the right-hand door shut without opening the left-hand door, strode away.”
The Germans finally left Bertry on Oct. 10, 1918, and Fowler returned to his unit. Nine years later, in recognition of her act, the French government granted Belmont-Gobert a pension, and Britain named her a Dame of the Order of the British Empire. The cupboard resides today in the King’s Royal Hussars’ Museum in Winchester.
In January 1953, Albert Gunter was driving a double-decker bus across London’s Tower Bridge when “it seemed as though the roadway in front of me was falling away.”
“Everything happened terribly quickly,” he told Time magazine. “I realized that the part we were on was rising. It was horrifying. I felt we had to keep on or we might be flung into the river. So I accelerated.”
Gunter sped to the top of the rising roadway and jumped across the gap to land on the southern span 6 feet below. “I thought that might start going up too,” he said, “so I just kept right on till I got to the other bank.”
The bus broke a spring, the conductor broke his leg, 12 of the 20 passengers were injured, and Gunter got a £10 bonus.
In 1910, Flint, Mich., landowner Neil Boyston provided a lot for the Flint Union School in return for “one clover blossom a year.”
In exchange for an acre of land in Philadelphia, the Schuylkill Fishing Company used to pay landowner William Warner an annual tribute of three perch on a pewter platter.
In 1772, a Manheim, Pa., congregation rented the site for its church from Henry William Stiegel in return for “one red rose, payable in June, when the same shall be lawfully demanded.”
When Henry VIII granted an estate to the Lord of Worksop Manor in 1542, he received it on the condition that he and his heirs should provide a right-hand glove for the king and support his arm on the day of his coronation.
“Once a year a Lord of the Manor of Essington was compelled to bring a goose to Hilton,” noted the New York Times in 1910. “He was called upon to drive the bird around the room. In the meantime a kettle of water was placed over a wood fire, and the unfortunate tenant was required to drive the goose around the room until the water was boiled and began sending steam out of the spout of the pot. It does not take a very great stretch of the imagination to conjure up the chaos that must have ensued on rent day at Hilton.”
Between 1884 and 1896, visitors to Coney Island could stay in an elephant. Each leg of the tin-skinned wooden behemoth was 60 feet long; its ears were 40 feet wide; and the enormous trunk measured 72 feet. The forelegs housed a diorama and a cigar store, and the hind legs contained staircases leading to 31 hotel rooms above — advertised entertainingly as “a main hall head room, 2 side body rooms, 2 thigh rooms, 2 shoulder rooms, 2 cheek rooms, 1 throat room, 1 stomach room, 4 hoof rooms, 6 leg rooms, 2 side rooms, 2 hip rooms, 1 through room from which the Elephant is feeding.” (Presumably this last carried a discount.)
The hotel idea didn’t work out, and in the end the building served mostly as a concert hall and amusement bazaar, with novelty stalls, a gallery, and a museum. Visitors could use telescopes to peer out of the monster’s glass eyes, and it was said that the mists of Niagara could be seen from the howdah on its back, which teetered at a height of 175 feet.
The contractor that built the colossus said that it would last half a century, but within 12 years it had been abandoned and burned to the ground. All that remained was part of a foreleg.
The hero of this exploit (it is a little difficult to locate him among so many) is Maurice Pardo–the “Herculean Human Motor,” as he modestly styles himself. This wonderful cyclist balances and propels, solely by his own power and skill, twenty-five persons on his specially-made machine, which is unquestionably of the two-wheeled variety; whether or not it may be styled a ‘safety,’ however, is rather for the human cargo to say. The total weight on the bicycle is a little more than 4,000 lb.
New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Cemetery contains 16,000 headstones and only one statue, a life-size sandstone carving of Army private Dennis O’Leary, who died in 1901 at age 23.
Legend has it that O’Leary was stationed at lonely Fort Wingate, where he carved the statue himself, inscribed the death date, and shot himself. Military records show that a Pvt. Dennis O’Leary died of tuberculosis on this date. But then who carved the statue, and why?
When Dora Ratjen competed at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, her teammates thought it strange that she always bathed behind a locked door. “I thought something was a bit funny, because she had a deep voice and she snored in her sleep,” recalled fellow high jumper Elfriede Kaun. “She also had to shave, not just her legs and under her arms, but also her face.”
Ratjen took fourth place and went on to set a world record (1.67 m) in the 1938 European Athletics Championships. On the way home she was detained by the Magdeburg police, who discovered that she was a man. Because of his malformed genitals, the midwife at his birth had mistakenly told his parents that he was female, and he was christened Dora and raised as a girl. “From the age of 10 or 11 I started to realize I wasn’t female, but male,” he told police. “However, I never asked my parents why I had to wear women’s clothes even though I was male.” He learned to pursue his love of sport as a loner.
After the discovery in Magdeburg, Ratjen promised to stop competing, and the prosecutor declared that no finding of fraud was possible because there was no intention to reap financial reward. Dora returned his medals, changed his name to Heinrich, and quietly took over his parents’ bar, declining numerous interview requests.
It’s often reported that the Nazis forced Ratjen to compete in the Olympics as a deliberate ruse “for the honor and glory of Germany,” but a 2009 investigation by Der Spiegel found no evidence of this. Sportswriter Volker Kluge told the magazine, “On the basis of the available documents, I think it is completely out of the question that the Nazis deliberately created Dora Ratjen as a ‘secret weapon’ for the Olympic Games.” He conceded that the Reich Sport Ministry may have been aware that Ratjen was a “borderline case.”
The Haskell Free Library and Opera House straddles the border between Derby Line, Vt., and Stanstead, Quebec. The library’s front door is in the United States, but the circulation desk and all of the books are in Canada. Opera is performed on a Canadian stage before an American audience.
Hence it’s the only library in the U.S. with no books, the only opera house in the U.S. with no stage, and the only library in Canada with no entrance.