Oddities

Unspooled

http://books.google.com/books?id=67UvAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

In 1906, while serving in the Navy, Albert Moodie of Austin, Texas, wrote a letter to a shipmate. That wouldn’t normally be noteworthy — but Moodie wrote this letter on the regulation tape that battleships use for receiving wireless messages.

“It took me some two weeks to complete the task,” he reported, “as there is a continuous letter from the beginning to the end of the tape — a distance of over a mile.”

Moodie called it “the longest letter in the world.” His friend received it — and answered it.

In a Word

expergefaction
n. waking up

matutolypea
n. ill humor in the morning; “getting up on the wrong side of the bed”

“An Extraordinary Sleeper at Newcastle”

In the year 1752, during the summer, the following particulars happened at Newcastle, in Staffordshire, related by a lady of discernment and veracity, who went to see the sleeper several times. She was a girl about 19 years of age; she slept 14 weeks, without waking, although several methods were tried to wake her, as bleeding, blistering, &c.; in all which time she took no sustenance, except about nine o’clock every night, she opened her mouth, and then some person that attended her, dipped a feather in wine, and with that wetted the inside of her mouth. Her father often gave her an airing in a horse chair, and sometimes took her several miles, to have the advice of the physicians; but neither the motion of travelling, nor any thing the physicians could do, could awake her; she appeared to be healthy all the time, breathed freely, and her pulse beat very regularly, but rather too slow; she never moved herself all the time, except once, it is thought, she moved one leg. When she awaked, it was very gradually, being two or three days from the time she began to stir and open her eyes, before she was quite awake, and then seemed to be very well, but complained of faintness. I heard, last summer, that she had good health, and had no return of her sleepiness.

Gentleman’s Magazine, 1753, quoted in Kirby’s Wonderful and Eccentric Museum, 1820

“Capture of a Whale in the Thames”

A curious old tract in the British Museum, bearing the date of 1658, gives an account of a wonderful capture of a whale in the Thames, not far from Greenwich, in the month of June of that year. The sailors in the river were, of course, anxious to secure the huge monster who had been so rash as to invade our shores; but they found no slight difficulty in despatching it. All sorts of swords, axes, and hatchets, and even guns were brought into the service; but nothing effectual could be done till some one’s ingenuity suggested striking a couple of anchors into the creature’s body. By these it was held fast, and very soon bled to death. Hundreds of people flocked to see the monstrous stranger, and among others went Evelyn, author of the ‘Diary,’ who has left us a curious account of it. It was of no contemptible size, being fifty-eight feet long, twelve feet high, fourteen feet broad, and measured two feet between the eyes.

The World of Wonders, 1883

The Fateful L

Harry B. Partridge points out that most presidents whose names have contained a penultimate L — Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, Franklin Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy — have died in office or survived an assassination attempt. He speculates that Gerald Ford survived because he was born Leslie Lynch King Jr., and that Theodore Roosevelt was divinely spared because THEO means God. (James Polk died three months after leaving office.)

Partridge also notes that a name with patronymic prefix (Mc, Fitz, etc.) is invariably fatal. To date there have been only two: William McKinley and John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

See Tecumseh’s Curse.

King Without a Country

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

Pity James Harden-Hickey — he founded a nation and no one believed him.

In 1893, newly rich after marrying into steel money, the American adventurer stopped at the empty island of Trinidad in the South Atlantic (not its larger namesake in the Caribbean) and, fancying a military dictatorship, proclaimed himself James I.

To his credit, Harden-Hickey did everything he could to legitimize his claim, but it’s hard to get these things off the ground. He named a secretary of state; opened a consular office in New York; established a flag, postage stamps, and a coat of arms; and began to sell bonds. After only two years, though, Britain seized the island for a telegraph station, occasioning a dispute with Brazil, and Harden-Hickey’s protests brought him only ridicule in the popular press.

Bold to the last, Harden-Hickey even tried to arrange an invasion of England from Ireland, but he couldn’t arrange financing. In 1898 he took an overdose of morphine, leaving behind a note to his wife–and the crown of his quondam nation.

Phantom Islands

In 1823, American explorer Benjamin Morrell reported hunting seal along a coastline in the Weddell Sea near Antarctica. The land, he wrote, abounded in sea elephants and “oceanic birds of every description.” No one has been able to rediscover Morrell’s land, and in the 20th century it was shown conclusively to have disappeared.

In 1841 the English whaler James Stewart described a snow-covered island 5 to 6 miles long in the South Pacific. Other ships confirmed its existence in 1860 and 1886. But subsequent searches found nothing. John Davis of the Nimrod, who searched the area in 1909, wrote, “I am inclined to think Dougherty Island has melted.”

For nearly 30 years, India and Bangladesh disputed an island in the Bay of Bengal. In 2010 rising sea levels solved the problem: The island has disappeared. “What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking,” said Jadavpur University oceanographer Sugata Hazra, “has been resolved by global warming.”

(Thanks, Shrey.)

For Your Consideration

http://books.google.com/books?id=67UvAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

I send you a photograph of a snake made of postage-stamps. It contains, I believe, from fifteen thousand to twenty thousand stamps. The only portion not made of stamps is the head, which is of black velvet, with eyes of white beads, also teeth of beads; the fang is a match stuck into the mouth. The snake was made by Mrs. Membury, of Hyde Corner, Bridport, Dorset, and took about three years to complete. The length is four feet nine inches.

Strand, March 1907

Shades of Gray

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_illusion.svg

An optical illusion. The gray bars on the left appear lighter than those on the right, but in fact they’re the same color.

Roll Call

The taking of the United States census, now nearly completed, has brought to light some curious specimens of given names. A man in Illinois has five children, who have been christened Imprimis, Finis, Appendix, Addendum, and Erratum. In Smythe County, Virginia, a Mr. Elmadoras Sprinkle has called his two sons Myrtle Ellmore and Onyx Curwen, and his six daughters Memphis Tappan, Empress Vandalia, Tatnia Zain, Okeno Molette, Og Wilt, and Wintosse Emmah. The great number of persons surnamed Sprinkle in that county is given as the excuse for these extraordinary names.

Notes and Queries, Dec. 10, 1870

Strike!

Merrimack College mathematician Michael J. Bradley was coaching his son’s Little League team in 1996 when he noticed something odd in the rulebook:

Home base shall be marked by a five-sided slab of whitened rubber. It shall be a 12-inch square with two of the corners filled in so that one edge is 17 inches long, two are 8 1/2 inches and two are 12 inches.

non-euclidean home plate

That’s impossible. “The figure implies the existence of a right isosceles triangle with sides 12, 12 and 17. But (12, 12, 17) is not (quite) a Pythagorean triple: 122 + 122 = 288; 172 = 289.”

“Thus, these specifications seem to give new meaning to a ‘Field of Dreams.'”