Jeffrey Hudson was only 18 inches tall, but his life was enormous. Born in 1619, the “rarity of nature” was served in a pie to a delighted Queen Henrietta, who adopted him. Thereafter he played in court masques for Inigo Jones, undertook a mission to France, observed the Spanish siege of Breda, won a duel (on horseback!) against the queen’s master of horse, was captured by Barbary pirates and enslaved in North Africa, returned to London, and was imprisoned for his Catholicism. He died in 1682, both small and great.
Okay, let’s keep an open mind here. Reportedly native to central Asia, the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary was rumored to put forth lambs as fruit in order to graze the surrounding ground. It’s thought to be a medieval myth to explain the existence of cotton.
When it ran out of grass, it died. Still, kudos.
There’s something odd about Illinois’ Bull Valley Police Department — it has no square corners.
The house was built by George Stickney, a spiritualist who believed spirits could be caught in 90-degree angles. Stickney used to hold seances on the second floor; he had lost nine of his 12 children and possibly was trying to reach them.
Whatever the truth, the house seems a poor place for a police department. There are numerous rumors of paranormal activity, and so far two officers have quit.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Last week, while the sexton of Tynemouth Church was digging a grave in North Shields Church Yard, he imagined he heard a feeble voice under his feet, pronounce the word ‘murder!’ but looking down, and perceiving nothing, he plucked up his spirits and resumed his work. No sooner, however, did he begin to make use of his spade, than the same awful sound vibrated three times in his ears: the courage of the astonished Moses forsook him — the spade dropped from his grasp, and, with the agility of an harlequin, he skipped out of the grave, and fled from the church yard, to the no small amusement of those who were in the secret. A soldier practising ventriloquism, who was placed at a convenient distance, conveyed the sound.
– Times, Oct. 29, 1808
In 1976, off Bombay, the oil tanker Cretan Star sent out a distress call:
VESSEL STRUCK BY HUGE WAVE THAT WENT OVER THE DECK
It was never seen again.
The above is a sketch of a cave which well deserves a place among our collection of Wonders. It is called Port Coon Cave, and is in the line of rocks near the Giants’ Causeway. It may be visited either by sea or by land. Boats may row into it to the distance of a hundred yards or more, but the swell is sometimes dangerous; and although the land entrance to the cave is slippery, and a fair proportion of climbing is necessary to achieve the object, still the magnificence of the excavation, its length, and the formation of the interior, would repay greater exertion; the stones of which the roof and sides are composed, and which are of a rounded form, and embedded, as it were, in a basaltic paste, are formed of concentric spheres resembling the coats of an onion; the innermost recess has been compared to the side aisle of a Gothic cathedral; the walls are most painfully slimy to the touch; the discharge of a loaded gun reverberates amid the rolling of the billows, so as to thunder a most awful effect; and the notes of a bugle, we are told, produced delicious echoes.
– Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860
The skunk ape is Florida’s answer to Bigfoot, a large primate that reportedly lives east of Interstate 75, near Myakka River State Park.
In December 2000, an anonymous writer mailed two photographs and a letter to the Sarasota sheriff’s department. “Is someone missing an orangutan?” she asked, identifying herself as a grandmother who had taken the photos when she found the beast stealing apples from her backyard. “It is hard to judge from the photos how big this orangutan really is. … I judge it as being about six and a half to seven feet tall in a kneeling position. … It had an awful smell that lasted well after it had left my yard. The orangutan was making deep ‘woomp’ noises.”
That’s a bit hard to swallow. If the skunk ape is 7 feet tall kneeling then it must be nearly 10 feet tall standing. The largest male orangutans are 4 feet 5 inches. The letter writer says she was standing within 10 feet of the monster when it stood up (“an animal this big could hurt someone seriously”), but she stood there anyway and took a second picture. And why send an anonymous typewritten letter?
There have been other “sightings” since this one, but of course no evidence. Nice photos, though.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Passing some cemeteries and public fountains, we came to the outskirts of the city, which consist chiefly of gardens producing olives, oranges, raisins and figs, irrigated by creaking water-wheels worked by donkeys. To one of these the droll contrivances which attracted our notice was affixed. The donkey who went round and round was blinded, and in front of him was a pole, one end of which was fixed to the axle and the other slightly drawn towards his head-gear and there tied; so that, from the spring he always thought somebody was pulling him on. The guide told us that idle fellows would contrive some rude mechanism so that a stick should fall upon the animal’s hind quarters at every round, and so keep him at work whilst they went to sleep under the trees.
– Albert Smith, A Month at Constantinople, 1850
200 million years ago, a creature called Cheirotherium stepped in some German mud.
That’s all we know about it — no remains have ever been found.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)
June 30, 1811. A few days ago, John Hall, a labouring man, went at low water among the rocks, at Hume Head, near Cawsand, for the purpose of catching crabs, when meeting with one in the interstices of the rocks, of a large size, he imprudently put in his hand, for the purpose of pulling it out; the animal, however, caught his hand between its claws or forceps, and, strange as it may appear, kept its hold so firmly, that every effort on the part of the poor fellow to extricate himself proved ineffectual; and no one being at hand to assist him, the tide came in and he was next morning found drowned.
– National Register, 1811
In 1808, a large decomposing corpse washed up on Scotland’s Orkney Islands. It was enormous — 55 feet long, including a 15-foot “neck” — and the Royal Museum in Edinburgh decided it must an unknown species of sea serpent.
London anatomist Sir Everard Home later concluded it was a basking shark, but still it’s an enigma — the largest previously recorded basking shark had been 40 feet long.
The keeper of an 18th-century workhouse, Daniel Lambert insisted that he ate moderately and avoided alcohol, but the evidence suggested otherwise. By age 23 he weighed 448 pounds; at 36 he hit 700 pounds and began to finance customized furniture and clothing by touring local cities and charging gawkers a shilling apiece to look at him. When he died in 1809, at age 39, he was 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 739 pounds. The wall of the public house in which he was staying had to be dismantled to remove his body.
In the foyer of the Department of Physics at New Zealand’s University of Otago is a clock that has been running continuously since 1864. The “Beverly Clock” is driven by variations in atmospheric pressure and by daily temperature variations, so it never needs winding.
February 20, 1766, Richard Persons, and three other persons, met at a private house in Chalford, in order to play at cards. Though only nineteen years of age, he was very guilty of swearing, and using bad language. A dispute arising while thus engaged, he wished that his flesh might rot upon his bones, and frequently repeated this expression, with many others equally shocking. The party continued to play to a very late hour; and before they broke up Parsons felt a pain in his leg, and complained of it to his partner, of the name of Rolles. From that time it increased, and he went to Minchinhampton, to get advice of Mr. Pegler, a surgeon, who found that a mortification had taken place. All possible means were taken to prevent its spreading, but nothing could save him: it flew from his legs to various parts, viz. under his eyes, and the tops of his shoulders, and on one hand; and he died in twelve hours after it so spread, on the 4th of March in the morning, a most shocking spectacle.
– Annual Register, 1766
In the 1970s, Anthony Hopkins won a role in the film The Girl From Petrovka. The story was based on a novel by George Feifer, and Hopkins sought it out in several bookstores, without success. He was waiting at the Leicester Square underground station when he noticed a discarded book on a bench nearby. It was The Girl from Petrovka, with notes written in the margins.
Two years later, while shooting the project in Vienna, Hopkins met Feifer, and during their conversation he learned that the novelist had no copy of the book. He had lent his to a friend, who had lost it somewhere in London.
Incredulous, Hopkins handed him the book he had found two years earlier. “Is this the one?” he asked. “With the notes scribbled in the margins?” It was Feifer’s book.
July 5, 1766. At eight o’clock in the evening, a man who had laid a wager to cross the Thames in a butcher’s tray, set out in the same from Somerset Stairs, and reached the Surrey shore with great ease, using nothing but his hands. He had on a cork jacket, in case of any accident. It was said 1400l. was depending on this affair; and upwards of seventy boats full of spectators were present.
– Annual Register, 1766
On March 23, 1944, RAF tail gunner Nick Alkemade was over Berlin when a Luftwaffe attack set his bomber ablaze.
His parachute was in the flaming cabin, so he resigned himself to a quick death and jumped without it.
Alkemade fell head down for 18,000 feet, trying to relax and thinking of death. But after the impact he found himself looking up at the stars through a canopy of pines. The trees and snow had apparently slowed his fall, and he escaped with only a sprained leg.
The Gestapo refused to believe his story until they found his burned parachute at the crash site.
In the beginning of September 1792, a paragraph appeared in several newspapers, mentioning that a hawk had been found at the Cape of Good Hope, and brought from thence by one of the India ships, having on its neck a gold collar, on which were engraven the following words:
“This goodlie Hawk doth belong to his Most Excellent Majestie, James Kinge of England, A.D. 1610.”
– Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1820
You’d do well to avoid Lake Nyos, which sits in a crater on the flank of a Cameroonian volcano. In 1986, like a shaken soft drink can, it suddenly released 80 million cubic meters of carbon dioxide, which rushed down nearby valleys and suffocated 1,800 people and 3,500 livestock where they stood.
It’s not known what caused the eruption, but it turned the lake a deep red.
Ten human skeletons have been discovered at Fattey Llyn, near Llandebie, at a depth of thirty feet from the surface of a limestone rock. The skulls are of a very uncommon size and thickness, and all the bones are of a larger calibre than those of the present race of men.
– Edinburgh Star, Aug. 27, 1813
RMS Queen Mary was one of the world’s largest ocean liners in December 1942, but that didn’t impress Mother Nature. As the ship steamed off the coast of Scotland during a gale, an enormous freak wave struck her broadside and sent her listing fully 52 degrees. The wave may have been 28 meters high; it smashed windows on the bridge 90 feet above the waterline. Later investigations estimated that 5 more inches of list would have turned her over.
The incident inspired Paul Gallico to write The Poseidon Adventure.
The above sketch represents a chamber which was discovered in a barrow, situated near Paradis, in the parish of the Vale, in the island of Guernsey. On digging into the mound, a large flat stone was soon discovered; this formed the top, or cap-stone, of the tomb, and on removing it, the upper part of two human skulls were exposed to view. One was facing the north, the other the south, but both disposed in a line from east to west. The chamber was filled up with earth mixed with limpet-shells, and as it was gradually removed, while the examination was proceeding downwards into the interior, the bones of the extremities became exposed to view, and were seen to greater advantage. They were less decomposed than those of the upper part; and the teeth and jaws, which were well preserved, denoted that they were the skeletons of adults, and not of old men. The reason why the skeletons were found in this extraordinary position it is impossible to determine. Probably the persons who were thus interred were prisoners, slaves, or other subordinates, who were slain — perhaps buried alive — on occasion of the funeral of some great or renowned personage, who was placed in the larger chamber at the end of the passage; and this view of the case is considerably strengthened by the fact that the total absence of arms, weapons, or vases, in the smaller chamber, denotes that the quality of the persons within it was of less dignity or estimation.
– Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860
There’s something unusual about the Ulas family of southern Turkey — five of its 19 adult children have never walked upright. Instead they move in a “bear crawl,” using their feet and the palms of their hands. This is not knuckle-walking, as apes do. The five share a congenital brain impairment that prevented them from learning to crawl normally as infants, and apparently they developed the bear crawl to compensate.
The five affected children are 18-36 years old now and the subject of intense study by neurologists, evolutionary theorists, anthropologists, and geneticists, as such a gait has never been reported before. The cause of their disorder remains a mystery.
London dentist Martin van Butchell always read the fine print. So when his wife Mary died in January 1775, he noted that their marriage certificate promised him income so long as Mary was “above ground.”
He enlisted a pair of local doctors to preserve her corpse, replaced her eyes with glass ones, dressed her in a lace gown, and put her on display in his window.
Eventually Butchell remarried, and his new wife objected to the display, so Mary was retired to the Royal College of Surgeons, where she slowly decomposed. In 1941, she was destroyed in a German bombing raid, faithful to the last.