Ted Hustead was kind of a nut for self-promotion. When he bought a drugstore in tiny Wall, South Dakota, in 1931, he figured he could attract customers through advertising.
Maybe he overcompensated a little. There are now 500 miles of Wall Drug billboards on Interstate 90, stretching all the way to Minnesota at an annual cost of $400,000, plus signs at the North and South Poles, the Paris Metro, and the Taj Mahal. The photo above was taken somewhere in Africa in the 1950s.
The signs may be eyesores, but they’re scaring off the competition — the little pharmacy is still the only one within 500 square miles.
If you ever invent a time machine, be sure to head back to the Time Traveler Convention held at MIT on May 7, 2005. (If you’re coming from the far future, MIT was at 42.360007° N, 71.087870° W.)
The convention was covered on the front page of the New York Times, so presumably it’ll be well attended … eventually.
An optical illusion. The long lines are parallel.
Justo Gallego Martínez of Spain joined a Trappist monastery as a young man, but he had to leave in 1961 when he contracted tuberculosis. So he decided to build his own cathedral, on a plot of land he had inherited in the Spanish village of Mejorada del Campo.
He has no plans, permissions, permits or even the blessing of the Catholic Church — he’s basically been improvising for 40 years, with the help of six nephews and the occasional volunteer, using recycled construction materials, old gas drums and bricks from a nearby factory. But he’s doing pretty well — that dome is 40 meters high.
“If you think you can win, you can win,” wrote William Hazlitt. “Faith is necessary to victory.”
A photographer from Country Life Magazine reportedly took this picture while shooting a feature on Raynham Hall, a Norfolk country house, on Sept. 19, 1936. The “ghost” has become known as the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall because of the brocade dress she wears.
No one’s seen her since.
An optical illusion. The square’s sides are straight.
In 1928, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia received an old automaton of ingenious design and unknown origin. Activated by springs and guided by a series of cams, the mechanical figure could draw seven different pictures and write verses in both French and English.
Who devised such an elegant machine? That remained a riddle until restorers repaired it. Then the mechanical man penned the words “Written by the automaton made by Maillardet,” a reference to Swiss mechanician Henri Maillardet. Unbelievably, he had built the machine more than 120 years earlier, in 1805 — and receives credit today only because he had taught the machine his name.
When sunlight is refracted through ice crystals in cirrus clouds, it sometimes produces this rare phenomenon, known as a circumhorizontal arc.
It happens only when the sun is high in the sky, so there’s no pot of gold.
Since the 1970s, scores of dogs have leaped from Scotland’s Overtoun Estate bridge, west of Glasgow.
The 60-foot fall kills most of them. Those that survive often try again.
No one knows why.
The Fugate family of rural Kentucky has an odd trait — since the early 1800s, some members of the family have been blue.
Not depressed — literally blue. The family share a genetic blood disorder that has left generations of Fugates with blue-hued skin.
The family’s inbreeding has diminished with time, and today’s members are mostly pink, but a blue Fugate was reported as recently as 1975. Somebody should write a song.
French postman Ferdinand Cheval (1836-1924) tripped on a stone in April 1879 and was never the same again. Claiming he’d been inspired, he began collecting stones during his daily rounds, carrying them home in huge quantities and assembling them at night by the light of an oil lamp.
After 20 years he’d completed the outer walls of his palais idéal (“ideal castle”), combining styles suggested by the Bible and Hindu mythology. But when Cheval finished the project after 33 years of work, authorities refused to let him be buried in it. So he built his own mausoleum.
His dedication was rewarded — he was interred there the following year.
Like Carl Herman Unthan, Prince Randian (1871-1934) achieved more without limbs than most of us do with them.
Born in British Guyana, Randian was discovered by P.T. Barnum in 1889, and he toured American sideshows in the 1930s as the Living Torso, “the human caterpillar who crawls on his belly like a reptile.”
In reality Randian could shave, write, paint, and roll cigarettes unaided. He spoke English, German, French, and Hindi and was reportedly a skilled carpenter, joking that he would someday build his own house.
He married and fathered four children and ultimately lived to age 63, touring American carnivals and museums for 45 years.
Inspiration can strike anywhere. Born in 1884, “arborsculptor” Axel Erlandson made living trees into works of art for more than 40 years, eventually even opening a “Tree Circus” in 1947 in California’s Santa Clara Valley.
His biography is called How to Grow a Chair.
Actors who appeared in The Conqueror (1956) and subsequently died of cancer:
- John Wayne
- Susan Hayward
- Agnes Moorehead
- Pedro Armendáriz
- Chief Tahachee
- Dick Powell
The movie, in which Wayne played Genghis Khan, was shot in St. George, Utah, downwind of Nevada open-air nuclear testing, and producer Howard Hughes had 60 tons of dirt shipped back to Hollywood for use in reshoots.
By 1981, 91 of the 220 cast and crew had developed some form of cancer, and more than half of them were already dead.
“With these numbers, this case could qualify as an epidemic,” said University of Utah biologist Robert Pendleton. “In a group this size you’d expect only 30-some cancers to develop. … I think the tie-in to their exposure on the set of The Conqueror would hold up in a court of law.”
Bandleader Glenn Miller vanished over the English Channel in 1944 while flying from England to France to play for soldiers who had recently liberated Paris. His disappearance has never been explained, but here’s one possibility: In foggy conditions, Miller’s plane may have been bombed out of the air by the Canadian Air Force, which was disposing of unused bombs after an aborted attack on German positions.
“There is no rest, there must be no rest for a fellow when he is successful,” Miller once said. “He has got to keep right on going.”
In August 1660, an Englishman named William Harrison disappeared while walking from his home in Campden to Charingworth, about two miles away.
His manservant and son set out to find him, but Harrison’s bloodstained hat, shirt, and collar were soon discovered on the main road between Chipping Campden and Ebrington. There was no body.
In the furor that followed, the manservant accused his own mother and brother of killing Harrison for his money. He convinced the jury by acknowledging that the idea had been his own, and thus he was putting himself in jeopardy by admitting it. Why would he lie about such a thing?
All three were hanged in 1661. The following year, the missing man reappeared. He said he’d been abducted by pirates, sold into slavery, and escaped.
Why did the manservant lie, bringing a death sentence on himself and his family, if all were innocent? His confession has never been explained.
Stretch out this image by Erhard Schön …
… and you’ll see images of Charles V, Ferdinand I, Pope Paul III, and Francis I:
Big deal, you say, anyone with a computer can make a compressed image.
Well, Schön made this one 1535, as a wood carving. Beat that.
Larry Walters had always dreamed of flying, but bad eyesight kept him out of the Air Force. So in July 1982 he bought 45 weather balloons, filled them with helium and tied them to a lawn chair, hoping to float 100 feet above his backyard.
It didn’t work out that way. When his friends severed him from his Jeep, Walters rose to 16,000 feet and began to float toward Long Beach airport. Desperate to get down, he began shooting the balloons with a pellet gun, eventually descending into a power line and causing a local blackout. The FAA fined him $1,500.
After the flight, a reporter asked Walters why he’d done it. “A man can’t just sit around,” he said.
Prague’s “Dancing House” is nicknamed “Fred and Ginger,” for obvious reasons.
Such a controversial design would normally be denied, but former president Václav Havel is a strong supporter of avant-garde architecture … and he owns the building next door.
If you love megaliths but live south of the equator, check out Stonehenge Aotearoa, located in New Zealand about an hour’s drive from Wellington.
It’s a replica of Stonehenge adapted for the Southern Hemisphere, with 24 pillars about 4 meters high.
An optical illusion. There is no triangle.
In the 1920s, the U.S. military devised a contingency plan for attacking Canada. After a first strike with poison gas, we’d occupy Halifax, invade Montreal and Quebec from New England, strike at the Great Lakes from Detroit and Buffalo, and impose a naval blockade on British Columbia.
At the same time, Canada’s Col. James Sutherland Brown developed a counter-invasion strategy where flying air columns would occupy Seattle, Portland, Oregon, Minneapolis, and St. Paul. Gen. George Pearkes called it a “fantastic desperate plan [that] just might have worked,” but it was withdrawn in 1931.
Every year since 1949, a mysterious figure has visited the grave of Edgar Allan Poe on the author’s birthday, Jan. 19.
Early in the morning, a black-clad figure with a silver-tipped cane enters the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore, goes to Poe’s grave, raises a toast of cognac, and leaves behind three red roses.
He wears a black coat and hat and obscures his face, so his identity is unknown, but in 1993 he left a note saying “The torch will be passed.” In 1999, a second note said that the toaster had died … but since then a younger person has apparently taken his place.
“All that we see or seem,” Poe wrote, “is but a dream within a dream.”
In 1896, to draw tourists to Rhinelander, Wis., Eugene Simeon Shepard staged an encounter with a hodag, a legendary creature with “the head of a bull, the grinning face of a giant man, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with a spear at the end.”
According to the story, Paul Bunyan’s ox had to be burned for seven years to cleanse its soul of all the profanity that local lumberjacks had hurled at it. The hodag rose from its ashes.
There’s no telling whether anyone bought this, but the hodag is now the official mascot of Rhinelander High School.