Oddities

Miraculous

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

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

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.

Undisturbed

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.

“Singular Accident”

On the 25th of February 1823, a span of horses with a sleigh and lumber box, broke away from the five mile house on the old Schenectady road, and were not heard of until the 17th of March inst. when they were found in a swamp, about a mile and a half from the four mile house. One of the horses, having been thrown down, had, in this situation, eat off half the neck yoke, and the end of the tongue of the sleigh. He was found dead. The other was alive, having remained twenty days, during the most inclement part of the season, without food or water, except what he obtained from browsing in the short space of a hundred feet. Both horses were still in the harness when found, and the articles in the sleigh were found as they had been left.

— “American paper,” cited in The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

“Dürer in the Forest”

Etching by Hungarian artist István Orosz.

Oscar Wilde said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

Contrary Motion

contrary motion

No matter how fast a train is moving forward, certain parts of it are moving backward:

The flanges of its wheels.

A Traveling Companion

SIR,—In reference to your paragraph in your yesterday’s issue [of the Malacca Straits Times Overland Journal], relating to our having seen a sea-monster answering to the popular notion of a sea-serpent, I am prepared to vouch for the correctness of the statement already made to you by the doctor and a passenger by my ship.

Being on the bridge at the time (about 10 A.M.) with the first and third officers, we were surprised by the appearance of an extraordinary monster going in our course, and at an equal speed with the vessel, at a distance from us of about six hundred feet. It had a square head and a dragon black and white striped tail, and an immense body, which was quite fifty feet broad when the monster raised it. The head was about twelve feet broad, and appeared to be occasionally, at the extreme, about six feet above the water. When the head was placed on a level with the water, the body was extended to its utmost limit to all appearance, and then the body rose out of the water about two feet, and seemed quite fifty feet broad at those times. The long dragon tail with black and white scales afterwards rose in an undulating motion, in which at one time the head, at another the body, and eventually the tail, formed each in its turn a prominent object above the water.

The animal, or whatever it may be called, appeared careless of our proximity, and went our course for about six minutes on our starboard side, and then finally worked round to our port side, and remained in view, to the delight of all on board, for about half an hour. His length was reckoned to be over two hundred feet.

JOHN W. WEBSTER,
Commander, S.S. Nestor.
Singapore, 18th September 1876.

“Cat-Concert”

Some years ago there was a cat-concert held in Paris. It was called ‘Concert Miaulant,’ from the mewing of the animals. They were trained by having their tails pulled every time a certain note was struck, and the unpleasant remembrance caused them to mew each time they heard the sound again.

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

The Hopeh Incident

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hopeh_incident_1.jpeg

Japanese student Masujiro Kiru found this photo in a scrapbook left by his father. Apparently the scene is Tsientsien Street in Hopeh, China, around 1942. UFO enthusiasts note that two people appear to be pointing to an object in the sky. It could be a bird, it could be a hat, it could be man-lizards from Aldebaran. You decide.

“Hatching Partridges”

In the year 1819, as a cat belonging to Mr. W. Allwork of Goudhurst, was prowling through the meadows, it was observed to kill a partridge, and, on examining the spot, a nest was found, containing eighteen eggs, which were taken up and that evening deposited in an oven that had been recently used. On the following morning, when the oven was opened, the whole of the eggs were found hatched, and the young ones running about, but in catching them three were unfortunately killed; the remaining fifteen were put into the nest, and placed in the meadow where it was taken from on the preceding evening. In a short time the old cock partridge was attracted to the spot, and in a few minutes it departed with the whole brood, in the presence of several persons; since that time they have been freqently seen by the gamekeeper of T. Wallis, Esq.

— “Edinburgh Paper,” cited in The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

Low Profile

If you were an early Christian fleeing Roman persecution, Turkey offered more than 200 underground cities, 40 of which contain three levels or more. The largest found so far, in Derinkuyu, has eight floors and extends to a depth of 85 meters, covering as much as 7,000 square feet (some floors haven’t yet been excavated).

It wasn’t a bad life: The larger complexes had rooms for food storage, kitchens, churches, stables, wine and oil presses, and shafts for ventilation. At its height, the city at Derinkuyu could accommodate 50,000 people.

Home for Good

A weird story clings to the ruins of Minster Lovel Manor House, Oxfordshire, the ancient seat of the Lords Lovel. After the battle of Stoke, Francis, the last Viscount, who had sided with the cause of Simnel against King Henry VII., fled back to his house in disguise, but from the night of his return was never seen or heard of again, and for nearly two centuries his disappearance remained a mystery. In the meantime the manor house had been dismantled and the remains tenanted by a farmer; but a strange discovery was made in the year 1708. A concealed vault was found, and in it, seated before a table, with a prayer-book lying open upon it, was the entire skeleton of a man. In the secret chamber were certain barrels and jars which had contained food sufficient to last perhaps some weeks; but the mansion having been seized by the King, soon after the unfortunate Lord Lovel is supposed to have concealed himself, the probability is that, unable to regain his liberty, the neglect or treachery of a servant or tenant brought about this tragic end.

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

The McCollough Effect

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Grid_for_McCollough_effect.png

There’s no color in this image, right? Now scroll down and stare at the colored boxes below. There’s no need to focus on any particular spot, just look at the boxes for a few minutes. Then look at the first image again. The horizontal gratings will look greenish and the vertical gratings pink.

That’s not especially impressive, but come back tomorrow and the effect will still obtain. It’s not a simple afterimage. Print out the grid and carry it around with you. Rotate it 45 and 90 degrees and see what happens. If you invest 10 minutes in looking at the colored boxes, the aftereffect can last up to 24 hours.

No one’s sure what’s behind this phenomenon; its discoverer, Celeste McCollough, thinks the induction temporarily modifies the cells in the visual cortex that respond to color and orientation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Red_grid_for_McCollough_effect.png

The “Miracle Girl”

On July 25, 1956, 14-year-old Linda Morgan was in her cabin on the Andrea Doria when it collided with the Stockholm in the North Atlantic. It was feared she had been killed in the disaster: She did not reach any rescue ship, and the Andrea Doria capsized and sank the next morning.

But then a strange story emerged. Shortly after the collision, a crewman on the Stockholm had heard a young girl calling for her mother from behind a bulwark. “I was on the Andrea Doria,” she told him. “Where am I now?”

Apparently the collision had flung her out of her bed and into the other ship. She suffered only a broken arm.

Switcheroo

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meteor.jpgg

Our eyes tend to assume that light comes from above, so this looks like a mound of earth.

In fact it’s an image of Arizona’s Meteor Crater … shown upside down.

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

So It Goes

Halfway between Hawaii and the mainland United States, there’s a vortex of ocean currents where plastic flotsam accumulates.

It’s known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” — and it’s the size of Texas.

“Strange Instance of Sympathy”

The Duke de Saint Simon mentions in his ‘Memoirs’ a singular instance of constitutional sympathy between two brothers. These were twins — the President de Banquemore and the Governor de Bergues, who were surprisingly alike, not only in their persons, but in their feelings. One morning, he tells us, when the president was at his royal audience, he was suddenly attacked by an intense pain in the thigh; at the same instant, as it was discovered afterwards, his brother, who was with the army, received a severe wound from a sword on the same leg, and precisely the same part of the leg.

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

Unwelcome Coincidence

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robert_Todd_Lincoln,_Brady-Handy_bw_photo_portrait,_ca1870-1880.jpg

Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert seemed to carry an odd curse — he was present or nearby at three successive presidential assassinations:

  • On April 14, 1865, his parents invited him to accompany them to Ford’s Theater. He remained at the White House and heard of his father’s death near midnight.
  • On July 2, 1881, he was an eyewitness to Garfield’s assassination at Washington’s Sixth Street Train Station.
  • On Sept. 6, 1901, he was present at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., when McKinley was shot.

In 1863, a stranger saved his life in a Jersey City train station. The stranger was Edwin Booth — the brother of John Wilkes Booth, his father’s future assassin.

Honeymoon

In October 1928, newlyweds Glen and Bessie Hyde set out to run the rapids of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. They didn’t reappear by December, and a search plane spotted their scow adrift on the river, upright, intact, and loaded with supplies. No one knows what became of them.