“Subterranean Garden, and Natural Hot-Bed”

A curious account of a subterranean garden formed at the bottom of the Percy Main Pit, Newcastle, by the furnace-keeper, was lately communicated to the Caledonian Horticultural Society. The plants are formed in the bottom of the mine by the light and radiant heat of an open stove, constantly maintained for the sake of ventilation. The same letter communicated an account of an extensive natural hot-bed near Dudley, in Staffordshire, which is heated by means of the slow combustion of coal at some depth below the surface. From this natural hot-bed, a gardener raises annually crops of different kinds of culinary vegetables, which are earlier, by some weeks, than those in the surrounding gardens.

Curiosities for the Ingenious, 1825

“In Event of Moon Disaster”


On July 18, 1969, two days before the first lunar landing, presidential speechwriter William Safire composed the following text to be read by President Nixon if astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin were stranded on the moon:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by the nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

Safire also suggested that Nixon call the “widows-to-be” before the speech, and that a clergyman should commend the astronauts’ souls to the “deepest of the deep” when communications ended.

“Extraordinary Marine Monster”


This is a correct sketch of the sea-serpent seen by me while on board the ship Sacramento, on her passage from New York to Melbourne, I being at the wheel at the time. It had the body of a very large snake; its length appeared to me to be about fifty feet or sixty feet. Its head was like an alligator’s, with a pair of flippers about ten feet from its head. The colour was of a reddish brown. At the time seen it was lying perfectly still, with its head raised about three feet above the surface of the sea, and as it got thirty or forty feet astern, it dropped its head.

— John Hart, helmsman, to the Australian Sketcher, Nov. 24, 1877

Paradoxical Undressing

Hypothermia victims are often found with clothing removed, as if they’ve been assaulted. It’s not clear why a freezing person would undress; possibly their judgment is impaired, and possibly exhaustion brings a sensation of warmth to the skin.

“A Rare Circle of Friends”

Sir Henry Blackman, of Lewes, on being knighted in 1782, gave a dinner to sixteen friends, with an invitation to them to dine with him annually for forty years; four of them died during the first four years, but twenty-eight years rolled round before another seat became vacant at the festive board. In 1814 two died, aged between eighty and ninety; so that ten remained of the original number at the thirty-third anniversary, held in July, 1815!

Curiosities for the Ingenious, 1825

Mind Your Money

A cold coin placed on the forehead feels heavier than a warm one.

“A Singular Coincidence”


On the 13th of February 1746, as the records of the French criminal jurisprudence inform us, one Jean Marie Dunarry was brought to the scaffold for murdering his father; and, strangely enough, on the 13th of February, 1846, precisely one hundred years later, another Jean Marie Dunbarry, a great-grandson of the first-mentioned criminal, paid the same penalty for the same crime.

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

“A Marine Monster”


Sea serpent witnessed from the S.S. City of Baltimore in the Gulf of Aden, Jan. 28, 1879. Maj. H.W.I. Senior of the Bengal Staff Corps told the Graphic of “a long black object” “darting rapidly out of the water and splashing in again with a noise distinctly audible.” The creature advanced to within 500 yards:

“The head and neck, about two feet in diameter, rose out of the water to a height of about twenty or thirty feet, and the monster opened its jaws wide as it rose, and closed them again as it lowered its head and darted forward for a dive, reappearing almost immediately some hundred yards ahead. The body was not visible at all, and must have been some depth under water. … When the monster had drawn its head sufficiently out of the water, it let itself drop, as it were, like a huge log of wood, prior to darting forward under the water.'”

Senior’s statement is countersigned by two other witnesses, including the ship’s surgeon.

Moore’s Paradox

This is an absurd statement:

It’s raining, but I don’t believe that it is.

This is not:

It was raining, but I didn’t believe that it was.


“A Lucky Find”


During the month of April, 1733, Sir Simon Stuart, of Hartley, England, while looking over some old writings, found on the back of one of them a memorandum noting that 1500 broad pieces were buried in a certain spot in an adjoining field. After a little digging the treasure was found in a pot, hidden there in the time of the civil wars by his grandfather, Sir Nicholas Stuart.

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

“The Day the Clowns Cried”

On July 6, 1944, the Ringling Brothers big top caught fire during a performance in Hartford, Conn., and more than 160 people were killed in the ensuing blaze.

Among the victims was a young blond girl in a brown dress, whose body was assigned number 1565 by the morgue. A photograph was circulated locally and then throughout the United States, but no one came forward to claim her.

To this day no one knows who “Little Miss 1565″ was or how she came to be at the circus that day.

05/23/2013 UPDATE: Connecticut investigator Rick Davey has identified the girl as 8-year-old Eleanor Cook, who had attended the circus with her mother, Mildred. Eleanor received only minor burns in the fire but was trampled by the crowd, and efforts to identify her were unsuccessful. Mildred confirmed her identity to Davey.

(Thanks, Patricia.)

Lex Talionis


In 1386, the tribunal of Falaise sentenced a sow to be mangled and maimed in the head and forelegs, and then to be hanged, for having torn the face and arms of a child and thus caused its death. … As if to make the travesty of justice complete, the sow was dressed in man’s clothes and executed on the public square near the city-hall at an expense to the state of ten sous and ten deniers, besides a pair of gloves to the hangman.

— E.P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, 1906

A Polyhedral Mystery

What is this? Well, it’s a dodecahedron, but what was its purpose? More than 100 of these objects have been found between England and Hungary; this one was discovered among Roman ruins near Frankfurt. Typically they’re made of bronze or stone, with a hollow center and a round hole in the middle of each face, and they range in size from 4 to 11 centimeters.

The Romans likely made them in the second or third century, but strangely they appear in no pictures from that period and they’re not mentioned in Roman literature.

Best guesses so far: survey instruments, candlesticks, or dice.

See Other Sign

Pity the sign makers in this Welsh village:


That’s the longest place name in the United Kingdom. It’s Welsh for “St. Mary’s church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool and the church of St. Tysilio of the red cave.”

That doesn’t take the prize, though. The longest place name in an English-speaking country belongs to a hill on New Zealand’s North Island:


It means “the summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who traveled about, played his flute to his loved one.”

Forward in Reverse

Excerpt from the St. James, Mo., Leader, June 4, 1931:

Plennie L. Wingo, a man walking around the world backwards, stopped in St. James long enough to get some new toe taps for his shoes. This was the 4th pair he had wore out. He started from Fort Worth, Texas, April 15th, and has been walking ever since. He wears periscopic eyeglasses, fastened over his ears like regular spectacles, which enables him to see where he is walking. He will continue on 66 to St. Louis then on Highway 40 to New York where he will secure passage to Europe. Wingo expects to complete the trip in about four years. He depends entirely on the sale of postcards for his expenses. He averages about 20 miles per day.

Wingo had covered 8,000 miles by October 1932, when Istanbul authorities denied him a visa and he gave up and went home.

His wife had divorced him in absentia.

“Monster of Monsters”


Declaration made before a stipendiary magistrate at Dale Street Police Court, Liverpool, by the captain and crew of the British barque Pauline, July 1875:

We the undersigned, captain, officers, and crew of the barque Pauline, of London, do solemnly and sincerely declare that on July 8th, 1875, in latitude 5° 13′, longitude 35° W., we observed three large sperm whales, and one of them was gripped round the body with two turns of what appeared to be a large serpent. The head and tail appeared to have a length beyond the coils of about thirty feet, and its girth eight or nine feet. The serpent whirled its victim round and round for about fifteen minutes, and then suddenly dragged the whale to the bottom, head first.



Curiously, St. Teresa of Ávila died on the same night that the Catholic world switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.

The switch occasioned a 10-day correction — so Teresa died on Thursday, Oct. 4, 1582, and the next day was Friday, Oct. 15.

“A River of Ink”

In Algeria there is a river of genuine ink. It is formed by the union of two streams, one coming from a region of ferruginous soil, the other draining a peat swamp. The water of the former is strongly impregnated with iron, that of the latter with gallic acid. When the two waters mingle, the acid of the one unites with the iron of the other, forming a true ink. We are familiar with a stream called Black Brook, in the northern part of New York, the inky color of whose water is evidently due to like conditions.

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

Nowhere Man

welbeck abbey

Only the poor are crazy — rich people are “eccentric.” William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck certainly fit that bill. When he inherited the dukedom of Portland in 1854, he retired to his estate in Nottinghamshire, holed up in the west wing, and had all the other rooms painted pink.

That was just the beginning. Apparently struck with a pathological shyness, the duke had all his doors fitted with letterboxes and would let not even a doctor in. His tenants were instructed not to acknowledge his presence, and only one valet could see him in person.

He wouldn’t go out, but he did go down, employing hundreds of workmen to create a vast underground complex with a library, an observatory, a billiards room and 15 miles of tunnels, one of which was wide enough to accommodate two carriages.

No one knows what he did down there — the ballroom had a hydraulic lift that could carry 20 people, but he never invited anyone to see it. He left the house only at night, preceded by a servant who was ordered to carry a lantern 40 yards ahead of him. He died in 1879, departing a lonely world of his own making.

The Eltanin Antenna


What is this? The oceanographic research ship USNS Eltanin discovered it off the Antarctic coast in 1964, at a depth of 13,500 feet — that’s 2.5 miles down.

It could be an alien ship buried under the seafloor. It could be ancient technology left by a forgotten civilization. It could be a well-hidden gift left by time travelers from the remote future.

Or it could be a sponge, Cladorhiza concrescens. You decide.

Wait a Minute …

If you use Microsoft Windows, you’ve seen the Webdings and Wingdings fonts. They’re “dingbat” fonts — in place of letters they offer small clip-art images and symbols.

Well, here’s “NYC” in Webdings:

NYC webdings

And here’s “NYC” in Wingdings:

NYC wingdings

Make of this what you will.


A remarkable discovery was made early in the last century at the Elizabethan manor house of Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, only a portion of which remains incorporated in a modern structure. Upon removing some of the wallpaper of a passage on the second floor, the entrance to a room hitherto unknown was laid bare. It was a small apartment about eight feet square, and presented the appearance as if some occupant had just quitted it. A chair and a table within, each bore evidence of the last inmate. Over the back of the former hung a priest’s black cassock, carelessly flung there a century or more ago, while on the table stood an antique tea-pot, cup, and silver spoon, the very tea leaves crumbled to dust with age. On the same storey were two rooms known as ‘the chapel’ and the ‘priest’s room,’ the names of which signify the former use of the concealed apartment.

— Allan Fea, Secret Chambers and Hiding-Places, 1908

No Return

The Milanese airship Italia reached the North Pole in 1928, but on the way back to base it encountered worsening weather and crashed to the ice. Ten men were thrown from the cabin; the chief engineer managed to throw them some supplies before he and five others were drawn helplessly away with the drifting envelope.

Nine of the castaways eventually reached civilization, but no trace of the airship or its captives has ever been found.

See also Hope Springs Eternal.

Earthquake Lights

Witnesses reported seeing “immense columns of flame” shortly before the earthquake that destroyed the Greek cities of Helike and Boura in 373 B.C. Numerous accounts since then have told of aurora-like lights accompanying earthquakes.

They were thought to be a myth until photographs were taken during a Japanese quake in the 1960s, and several corroborating videos have appeared since then. But why they occur is still a mystery.