Oddities

Mill Ends Park

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.

“A Glutton”

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

Great

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/826615

The 13th day of the month is most likely to fall on a Friday.

Flash Fiction

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.

Here … Kitty

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.

Shades of Gray

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An optical illusion. Squares A and B are the same color.

“Effect of a New Nose”

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

Cryptozoology

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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.”

Boston Molasses Disaster

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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.

“The Librarian”

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Giuseppe Arcimboldo‘s caricature of Rudolf II’s historiographer and librarian, Wolfgang Lazio (1514-1565) — a collector of coins and a lover of books.

“Singular Death”

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

Head Case

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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.

Snow Rollers

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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.

“Australia’s Titanic”

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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.

Killing With Kindness

http://books.google.com/books?id=D-raAAAAMAAJ&rview=1&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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

The Necktie Paradox

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/599259

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?

Social Climber

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On Nov. 11, 1918, 47-year-old Harry H. Gardiner opened an insurance policy with the Bank of Hamilton in Ontario.

That wouldn’t be big news, except for the circumstances: He was clinging to the outside of the building at the time, and sticking his head in through one of the open windows.

Gardiner had been a professional “human fly” since 1905, climbing more than 700 buildings throughout Europe and North America, using no special equipment and usually wearing ordinary street clothes.

His other conquests included Detroit’s 12-story Majestic Building (1916, wearing tennis shoes); the 16-story Empire Building in Birmingham, Ala. (1917); and Vancouver’s 17-story World Building (now the Sun Tower) (1918), home of the Vancouver World.

Gardiner must have been glad to get the policy. History doesn’t record how he died … which probably isn’t good.

“Horses Feeding One Another”

M. de Bossanelle, captain of cavalry in the regiment of Beauvilliers, relates in his ‘Military Observations,’ printed in Paris in 1760, ‘that in the year 1757 an old horse of his company, that was very fine and full of mettle, had his teeth suddenly so worn down that he could not chew his hay and corn, and that he was fed for two months, and would still have been so fed had he been kept, by two horses on each side of him that ate in the same manger. These two horses drew hay from the rack, which they chewed, and afterward threw before the old horse; that they did the same with the oats, which they ground very small and also put before him. This was observed and witnessed by a whole company of cavalry, officers and men.’

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

Inverted Sightseeing

In 1900, Johann Hurlinger walked on his hands from Paris to Vienna. He covered 870 miles in 55 days, averaging 10 hours a day. That’s about 1.5 miles per hour.

See also The Stilt-Walkers of Landes.

A Cautionary Tale

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John Christian Frommann, doctor of medicine, and professor of philosophy at the college of Coburg, in Franconia, mentions a poor widow woman, aged twenty-six years, who lived out of the town in an unhealthy house, frequented by a great quantity of reptiles. This woman being accustomed to sleep with her mouth open, a snake half a yard long, and of proportionate thickness, crept into her stomach. She was attacked with different complaints, which the author describes at length; but by means of various medicines which he administered, he at length succeeded in making her bring it up, and ridding her of such a disagreeable inmate.

Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1820

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

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

Back up to get the full effect.