If a person stand beneath a railway girder-bridge with an open umbrella over his head, when a train is passing, the vibration of the air will be distinctly felt in the hand which grasps the umbrella, because the outspread surface collects and concentrates the waves into the focus of the handle.
– Barkham Burroughs’ Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information, 1889
Fed on radioactive turnips, Rose Newman of Bourton-on-the-Water, England,
grew to the astonishing height of 50 feet.
Just kidding. Bourton-on-the-Water contains a 1:10 scale model of itself.
And, yes, the scale model contains a scale model.
In the Honduran province of Yoro, it rains fish. Each year between May and July there’s a heavy rainstorm that leaves hundreds of live fish on the ground, which local villagers cook and eat.
No one knows how this happens, but it’s been going on for more than a century. One town has even started an annual festival.
The world’s first airmail stamps were issued for the Great Barrier Pigeon-Gram Service, which carried messages from New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island to the mainland between 1898 and 1908.
It was pretty good: The fastest pigeon, aptly named Velocity, made the trip to Auckland in only 50 minutes, averaging an astounding 125 kph. That’s only 40 per cent slower than modern aircraft.
In 1964, grad student Donald Currey cut down a bristlecone pine in eastern Nevada to see how old it was.
It was 4,844 years old. He had killed the oldest thing in the world.
Bonus sad noble tree story here.
My homeowners’ association would never allow this. Pineapples were big in 18th-century Europe, a rare delicacy and a symbol of wealth, so they got sculpted into everything: gateposts, railings, weather vanes, and door lintels. This stone cupola, 14 meters high, adorns Dunmore Park in Scotland, where they actually managed to grow live pineapples with a furnace-driven heating system. No mean feat.
Don’t laugh, they’re good at it. Rabbit show jumping began in Sweden in the late 1970s, and today there are more than 50 clubs throughout Scandinavia.
In case you’re wondering, the official world records are 99.5 cm (39.17 inches) for the high jump, 300 cm (118.11 inches) for the long jump.
Charles McKinley lacked the airfare to visit his folks in Texas, so on Sept. 5, 2003, he mailed himself from New York to Dallas.
Amazingly, authorities didn’t catch on until an air freight driver reported that he “had seen a pair of eyes looking out from inside the crate.”
Henry Box Brown did the same thing 150 years ago, but he was escaping slavery. McKinley, apparently, just wanted to save money.
Found in a cave in Argentina, these handprints are at least 9,500 years old.
No one knows who made them, but their size suggests a 13-year-old boy.
In August 1848, during a voyage to Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, the officers and crew of HMS Daedalus observed a creature 60 feet long that held a peculiar maned head above the water.
What was it? The English biologist Sir Richard Owen supposed it was an elephant seal; others have suggested a “super eel,” a giant squid, and an upside-down canoe. We’ll never know.
In 1991, a pair of German tourists discovered the frozen corpse of a Copper Age man in the Alps, where it had apparently lain undisturbed since 3,300 B.C. “Ötzi” had died in a fight, it seems: A CAT scan found an arrowhead in one shoulder, and he had bruises and cuts on his hands, wrists, and chest. DNA analysis also found blood from four other people on his gear.
If he was ornery in life, apparently his ghost was worse. In all, eight people connected with the iceman have died unexpectedly. In 1992, the head of the investigating forensic team died in a head-on collision. The mountaineer who led scientists to the body died in an avalanche. An Austrian journalist who covered the body’s removal died of a brain tumor, and the tourist who found it fell into a ravine on the mountain.
Have investigators unleashed a mysterious curse, like that of King Tutankhamen? “I think it’s a load of rubbish,” said the leading expert on the corpse, archaeologist Konrad Spindler. “It is all a media hype. The next thing you will be saying I will be next.”
He died in April 2005.
Joshua Gardner may be a sex offender, but he’s a creative one. Last year the 22-year-old visited Minnesota’s Stillwater Area High School three times, claiming to be Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, the Fifth Duke of Cleveland. He spoke in an English accent and insisted that students, staff and even the principal call him “your grace.”
Student journalists caught on when he misspelled the name of his “castle,” and they soon discovered Gardner was on probation after having sex with a 14-year-old girl in 2002. He now faces up to 21 months in prison.
Before World War II, this photo emerged from Japan — Emperor Hirohito inspecting a fleet of giant tubas, with anti-aircraft guns in the background.
They’re actually acoustic locators, designed to listen for plane engines. Radar made the whole project obsolete.
Throughout his entire professional career, Andy Kaufman kept a day job busing tables at Jerry’s Famous Deli in Los Angeles.
An optical illusion. The two figures are the same size.
There’s never a good time for a tsunami, but the one that hit Hawaii in 1946 (visible at center right) was particularly unfortunate. It landed on April 1, and many residents dismissed the warnings as an April Fools prank. Ultimately 165 people died.
New York’s Library Hotel has 10 floors, each decorated according to a major category in the Dewey Decimal System. Each room has its own subcategory or genre, including appropriate books and art. Rooms:
- Third Floor: Social Sciences. 300.006 Law, 300.005 Money, 300.004 World Culture, 300.003 Economics, 300.002 Political Science, 300.001 Communication
- Fourth Floor: Language. 400.006 Ancient Language, 400.005 Middle Eastern Language, 400.004 Asian Language, 400.003 Germanic Language, 400.002 Romance Language, 400.001 Slavic Language
- Fifth Floor: Math and Science. 500.006 Astronomy, 500.005 Dinosaurs, 500.004 Botany, 500.003 Zoology, 500.002 Geology, 500.001 Mathematics
- Sixth Floor: Technology. 600.006 Health & Beauty, 600.005 Computers, 600.004 Medicine, 600.003 Management, 600.002 Manufacturing, 600.001 Advertising
- Seventh Floor: The Arts. 700.006 Fashion Design, 700.005 Music, 700.004 Photography, 700.003 Performing Arts, 700.002 Paintings, 700.001 Architecture
- Eighth Floor: Literature. 800.006 Mystery, 800.005 Fairy Tales, 800.004 Dramatic Literature, 800.003 Poetry, 800.002 Classic Fiction, 800.001 Erotic Literature
- Ninth Floor: History. 900.006 Biography, 900.005 Geography & Travel, 900.004 Asian History, 900.003 Oceanography, 900.002 Ancient History, 900.001 20th Century History
- Tenth Floor: General Knowledge. 1000.006 New Media, 1000.005 Journalism, 1000.004 Museums, 1000.003 Encyclopedic Works, 1000.002 Almanacs, 1000.001 Libraries
- Eleventh Floor: Philosophy. 1100.006 Love, 1100.005 Paranormal, 1100.004 Psychology, 1100.003 Philosophy, 1100.002 Ethics, 1100.001 Logic
- Twelfth Floor: Religion. 1200.006 Ancient Religion (Mythology), 1200.005 Native American Religion, 1200.004 Germanic Religion, 1200.003 New Age, 1200.002 African Religion, 1200.001 Eastern Religion
The Chinese practice of footbinding, popular since medieval times, was banned only in 1911. Young girls’ feet were wrapped in bandages to prevent them from growing longer than 4 inches. By age 3, four toes on each foot would break, often leading to infection, paralysis and atrophy. Some elderly Chinese women today still show disabilities.
“Let each man exercise the art he knows,” wrote Aristophanes 2400 years ago. That spirit inspired Italian immigrant construction worker Sabato Rodia, who spent 33 years building the Watts Towers in his spare time.
“I had in mind to do something big and I did it,” he said. He started work in 1921, and by 1954 he’d created 17 interconnected structures, some nearly 100 feet tall. His materials included broken pottery, scrap metal, bottles, bed frames, and seashells, and he assembled them using hand tools and window washers’ equipment.
Rodia finally gave up and left after repeated vandalism — local rumors said the towers were antennae for communicating with the Japanese. But when the city actually broke a crane trying to knock them down, it changed its mind and preserved the site as a state historical park.
An optical illusion. The diamond and the bounding rectangle are square, not distorted, as they appear.
On New Year’s Day, 1949, James Mangan went to the Cook County recorder of deeds and registered his own country. The Nation of Celestia, he said, encompassed all of outer space. He was claiming it, as “founder and first representative,” to prevent anyone else from establishing political hegemony there.
Mangan wasn’t shy about it, either. Later that year he informed the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations that he was banning atmospheric nuclear tests, and he sent angry letters to the Americans and the Soviets when their space flights infringed on his “territory.” He even briefly got the U.N. to add the Celestian flag to those of its member nations.
Still, the idea never caught on, it largely died with its founder. All that’s left are some stamps, coins (“celestons”), and the titles Mangan gave to his grandsons: Glen Stump, “Duke of Selenia,” Dean Stump, “Duke of Mars,” and Todd Stump, “Duke of the Milky Way.”
Times are hard everywhere, but shed a tear for the Kongo Gumi Company of Osaka, Japan. When it closed its doors in January, the construction firm had been operating continuously for 1,400 years. The family business built its first temple in the year 578 and could trace its leadership through 39 generations.
What do you get when thousands of drunken sports fans stack their beer cups into a huge chain? A beer snake, that’s what. They’re not very dangerous, as snakes go — they tend to appear at cricket matches, which take hours and sell a lot of beverages. But they get big: The largest so far measured 23 meters. Cheers.
In 1590, England sent an expedition to check on a colony of settlers on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina. They found the settlement deserted: 90 men, 17 women, and nine children had disappeared without a trace. A search turned up nothing. The only clue was a single word carved into a post: CROATOAN.
There was a Croatoan Island nearby, with a tribe of that name. Had the colonists been killed or captured? No, there was no sign of a struggle. Had they assimilated peacefully? Then why had they left no clue where they’d gone? Had they moved to another base? Tried to return to England? Starved to death? To this day, no one knows.