Oddities

“A Most Unnatural Bargain”

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/433844

If you’re selling a house in New York, you must disclose the presence of poltergeists. That’s the finding of the New York Supreme Court in Stambovsky v. Ackley, widely known as the “Ghostbusters case of 1991.”

When Jeffrey Stambovsky offered to buy Helen Ackley’s house in Nyack, he didn’t know it was haunted. Stambovsky tried to back out of the deal, but a trial court dismissed his suit.

When he appealed the case, the new court noted that, since the seller had reported the ghosts in Reader’s Digest, she couldn’t claim that they didn’t exist. “As a matter of law, the house is haunted.”

And, it said, a buyer couldn’t be expected to discover ghosts on his own, because “the most meticulous inspection and search would not reveal the presence of poltergeists at the premises or unearth the property’s ghoulish reputation in the community.”

So Stambovsky got no damages but escaped the contract. Moral: caveat emptor.

King Crab

All right, keep your seats. Bathynomus giganteus is an example of “deep-sea gigantism,” where creatures assume huge sizes in the cold black mud a mile down, perhaps to better regulate body temperature.

It’s related to the woodlouse, if that’s any comfort.

“Hen With a Human Face”

http://books.google.com/books?id=9sccAQAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false

A “hen with a human profile” found near the Russian city of Tula in 1816, reported in Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum (1820).

“As the beak is wanting, and has for substitute a kind of mouth, it is very difficult for her to eat, and still more so to collect grains,” reports a Professor Fischer. “The too great advancement of the nostrils prevents her altogether from drinking; it is, therefore, necessary to feed her with bread soaked in water, or in milk.”

Wait a Minute …

Every May and December, thousands of Catholics gather in Naples to witness a miracle: The dried blood of Saint Januarius, which is kept in small capsules, liquefies when it’s brought near his body.

Januarius was martyred in 305, and the “miracle of the blood” has been happening since at least 1389, which is pretty impressive.

But investigator Joe Nickell notes that a thixotropic gel such as hydrated iron oxide remains highly viscous until it’s stirred or moved. And the same miracle is claimed for several other saints … all in the Naples area. Hmm.

2BR, Bath, Tail

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Dinny1.jpg"

Dinny the Dinosaur isn’t just an eyesore, he’s a habitable building. Created in the 1960s to attract visitors to a nearby inn, the 150-ton brontosaurus has an entrance at the base of his tail, and his builder, Claude Bell, used to live in the upper rooms. You can see Dinny in Cabazon, Calif., just north of Interstate 10.

Ironically, he’s now been turned into a creationist museum. Perhaps you’d prefer to stay in an elephant?

Fish Story II

On Oct. 26, 1873, fishermen Daniel Squires and Theophilus Piccot set out to fish for herring off Portugal Cove, Newfoundland. With them in the 20-foot dory was Piccot’s 12-year-old son, Tom.

On the water they spied a mass of flotsam that they took for wreckage or seaweed, but when they tried to draw it near with a boathook the thing struck the gunwale with a parrotlike beak and threw a tentacle around the boat. Thinking quickly, the boy hacked at the attacking creature until it released the dory and retreated.

The trio returned to port with a severed tentacle 19 feet long, which they gave to the Rev. Moses Harvey, an amateur naturalist in St. John’s. It’s thought to be the first conclusive proof of the existence of giant squid.

Fun With Breeding

With enough patience, you can breed an animal to do almost anything. When medieval Norwegians wanted help hunting puffins, which nest in cliffs and burrows, they created the Norwegian lundehund, which is practically a puffin-hunting machine. A lundehund can close its ears, turn its forelegs at right angles to its sides, and bend its head backward until its forehead touches its back. Plus it has an extra toe.

When the puffin hunters switched to nets, the breed nearly disappeared — by World War II there were only six left. But now they’re back up to around 2,000. Waste not, want not.

Location, Location, Location

Petersburgh, July 30, 1817. — The ground of a village, distant twenty-two versts from Abo, has sunk suddenly to the depth of many fathoms, and twelve peasants’ houses have been buried in a manner that no trace remains of their former position. A similar event happened at the same place, in the years 1755 and 1788. Among other unknown causes of this phenomenon, it is attributed to the situation of the village upon a swampy soil, and to a river which flows beside it. It is not stated, whether any lives were lost.

— London Morning Post, Aug. 30, 1817

Grrrr

Sweden’s Björketorp runestone (center, above) certainly means business. Thirteen feet tall, it bears this threatening inscription:

Here, I have hidden the secret of powerful runes, strong runes. The one who breaks this memorial will be eternally tormented by anger. Treacherous death will hit him. I foresee perdition.

That’s scary, but it’s not very clear. Archaeologists had thought the curse protected a grave, but a dig in 1914 found no remains. So maybe it’s a cenotaph (meaning the body is buried elsewhere), or a shrine to Odin, or an ancient border marker between Sweden and Denmark. Anyway, be vaguely careful.

The Flannan Isles Mystery

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/17148

On Dec. 15, 1900, a passing steamer noticed that the lighthouse on Scotland’s Flannan Isles had gone dark. A relief crew, arriving on Dec. 26, found that the flagstaff was bare, the beds were unmade, the clock was stopped … and there was no trace of the three men who manned the lighthouse.

A chair had been overturned by the kitchen table, but otherwise there were signs of order. The lamps had been cleaned and refilled, the entrance gate and main door had been closed, and a set of oilskins were found inside, which was strange, considering the violent weather.

As they explored further, the relief crew discovered at the island’s west landing signs of damage that were “difficult to believe unless actually seen.” An iron railway was wrenched out of its concrete, a rock weighing more than a ton had been displaced, and turf had been ripped from a clifftop 200 feet above sea level. But the keepers had kept their log after this point.

What really happened? An investigation suggested that the three were swept away while trying to secure a box on the west landing. But no one really knows.

Vacation Planning

Mandeville's Travels

What John de Mandeville lacked in travel experience, he made up in imagination:

In Ethiope are such men that have but one foote, and they go so fast yt it is a great marvaill, & that is a large fote that the shadow thereof covereth ye body from son or rayne when they lye uppon their backes, and when their children be first borne they loke like russet, and when they waxe olde then they be all blacke.

The writer published a singular book full of such prodigies in the 14th century, most of it apparently borrowed from other writers or spun from whole cloth. Who would do such a thing? We’ll never know — as it turns out, the name “Mandeville” itself was made up.

Topsy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Electrocuting_an_Elephant.jpg

One last unlucky elephant. In the early 1900s, Thomas Edison was locked in a historic “war of currents” with George Westinghouse. Edison wanted the nation to use direct current; Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla wanted alternating current.

That sounds like a pretty tame dispute, but Edison went to some horrific lengths to sway public opinion. To prove that AC was dangerous, he began electrocuting stray cats and dogs. He said they were being “Westinghoused.” He also secretly funded the first electric chair, which ran on AC but was underpowered — its first use resulted in “an awful spectacle, far worse than hanging,” in the words of one witness.

Anyway, around this time a Coney Island elephant named Topsy was condemned to death for killing three men in three years. Hanging was out, thanks to the ASPCA, so Edison suggested they send 6,600 volts of AC through her. So on Jan. 4, 1903, 1,500 people gathered at the amusement park and watched as Topsy ate carrots laced with 460 grams of potassium cyanide and was Westinghoused. She died quickly, reportedly, but Edison recorded the whole thing on film, and later played Electrocuting an Elephant to audiences around the country.

He lost the fight for DC power, though. There’s some justice.

Like Father, Like Son

Mr. Zachariah Pearce, aged 21, died at Cranbrook, Kent, October 17, 1786. The following remarkable occurrences are related as matters of fact, which can be attested by many persons in Cranbrook. Mr. W. Pearce, the father of the above Zachariah, died of a frenzy fever, November 30, 1785. Some time before he died, a small bird, of the dish-water kind, came often every day, and pecked hard against the chamber window where Mr. Pearce lay sick. The window was set open, to try if the bird would enter the room, but it did not; and means were used to catch it, but in vain. The bird continued to come and do the same, till Mr. Pearce died, and was buried, and then it ceased to return. Since the above Zachariah Pearce was taken ill, the same bird, or one of the like kind, frequented his chamber window, and continued to do so occasionally to the time of his death. A similar circumstance occurred in the same parish, about two years and a half before. These are real facts.

Gentleman’s Magazine, 1786

The Bélmez Faces

In August 1971, a human face formed on the kitchen floor of María Gómez Cámara in Bélmez de la Moraleda, Spain. Her husband and son destroyed it with a pickaxe and laid new cement, but the face formed again. In the ensuing 30 years, the family says, a succession of human faces, of varying shapes and sizes, have appeared on the cement floor.

An excavation beneath the house reportedly found human remains, but removing them didn’t stop the apparitions. Spanish parapsychologist Germán de Argumosa claimed that the faces continued to develop even when the floor was sealed to prevent fraud, which he said proved their “paranormal origin.”

But, using infrared photography, his colleague Ramos Perera concluded that pigmentation had been added to alter one face, “and even the paint brush bristles could be perceived.” A third parapsychologist, José Luis Jordán, believes that an acid was used to oxidize the cement.

Maybe they should just switch to linoleum.

Romance 1, Reason 0

On Sept. 3, 1873, an inebriated English shoemaker named James Worson wagered he could run from Leamington to Coventry and back, a distance of about 40 miles. He set out followed by three friends in a light cart. The first few miles went well, but suddenly Worson stumbled and fell, “uttered a terrible cry,” and vanished before touching the ground. He was never seen again.

That’s a good tale, but it’s probably fiction, originating with “An Unfinished Race,” a short story by American author Ambrose Bierce.

That explanation would be reassuring … except that Bierce himself later disappeared.

Be Prepared … Be Very Prepared

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

Boy Scout Lane isn’t a very dramatic name for a haunted road, but maybe that’s par for Wisconsin. The wooded, dead-end lane, in Linwood Township, was once slated to get a scout camp, but somehow a story sprang up that a troop was murdered there, and now it’s the subject of paranormal investigations. Scouts make pretty well-behaved spooks, by all accounts: Witnesses have reported ghostly buses, phantom scoutmasters and the sounds of … hiking.

Now compare that to New Jersey.

A Giant Bird Call

This is El Castillo, the 1,100-year-old Mayan pyramid on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. It’s long been known that if you stand at the base of the staircase and clap your hands, the pyramid will return a “chirped echo” — a curious “chir-roop” with a characteristic lilt.

In 2002, on a hunch, acoustical engineer David Lubman compared the echo with a Cornell recording of the quetzal bird, which was revered in ancient Mesoamerica.

They matched perfectly.

Spectral Evidence

In 1897, testimony from a ghost helped to convict a murderer. Zona Heaster Shue’s death was presumed to be natural until her mother claimed that her ghost had visited her on four successive nights and described how she had been murdered by her husband, Edward. When Zona’s body was exhumed, her neck was found broken, and a jury convicted Edward of murder.

That may be the last U.S. case of “spectral evidence,” but it’s not the first. During the Salem witch trials, if a witness testified that “Goody Proctor bit, pinched, and almost choked me” in a vision or dream, this would be accepted as evidence even if Proctor was known to have been elsewhere at the time.

“Justice has nothing to do with what goes on in a courtroom,” wrote Clarence Darrow. “Justice is what comes out of a courtroom.”

Ouch

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_piece_of_sperm_whale_skin_with_Giant_Squid_sucker_scars.JPG

A piece of sperm whale skin bearing scars from a giant squid’s suckers. Once thought to be legendary, the squid normally keep to the deep sea; almost everything we know about them has been learned from specimens found in whale stomachs.

High Aim 6

On Jan. 9, 2003, Australian officials found the Taiwanese ship High Aim 6 adrift off the West Australian coast. It had plenty of fuel, and the crew’s personal belongings were still aboard (including seven toothbrushes), but it was mysteriously empty, drawing comparisons to the Mary Celeste of 1872.

Authorities spent two days inspecting the vessel and conducted an aerial search of 7,300 square nautical miles, but they found no trace of the crew, who had last contacted the owners on Dec. 13 from the Marshall Islands, halfway between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii.

That’s all. The unwanted ship was finally sunk to serve as a fish habitat, but no one knows what happened to the crew.

The Osborne Monster

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15373/15373.txt

A “sea-monster” reported by the officers and crew of H.M.S. Osborne in calm waters off northern Sicily, June 2, 1877. These sketches were produced by Lt. Haynes, a witness, for the London Graphic.

A Lt. Osborne told the New York Independent that the row of fins pictured in the first sketch was 30 to 40 feet long. The second sketch, he said, shows the creature “end on,” depicting only the head, which was “bullet-shaped and quite six feet thick,” and flippers. Osborne estimated that the animal was 15 or 20 feet wide across the back, and “from the top of the head to the part of the back where it became immersed I should consider about fifty feet, and that seemed about a third of its whole length.”

“Thus it is certainly much longer than any fish hitherto known to the zooelogists,” concludes the Independent, “and is, at least, as remarkable a creature as most of the old wonder-makers ever alleged.”

Space Ghost

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Earth6391.jpg

In September 2002, astronomers noticed something odd: An object about 60 feet long was orbiting Earth. It must have arrived recently, but it didn’t resemble any recently launched spacecraft. It might have been an asteroid … but it appeared, spookily, to bear titanium dioxide paint. Was it an alien ship?

The object disappeared again in June 2003, so officially we’re still baffled. But the best guess is that it’s an old stage of Apollo 12 that somehow wandered away from Earth in 1971, circled the sun about 30 times, and came home to visit. If that’s true then it might come back again in 2032—we can visit it on our rocket scooters.

The Ulloa Circle

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15884/15884-h/15884-h.htm

French astronomer Camille Flammarion writes of a curious optical phenomenon in Wonders of Earth, Sea And Sky (1902):

Ulloa, being in company with six fellow-travellers upon the Pambamarca at daybreak one morning, observed that the summit of the mountain was entirely covered with thick clouds, and that the sun, when it rose, dissipated them, leaving only in their stead light vapors, which it was almost impossible to distinguish. Suddenly, in the opposite direction to where the sun was rising, “each of the travellers beheld, at about seventy feet from where he was standing, his own image reflected in the air as in a mirror. The image was in the centre of three rainbows of different colors, and surrounded at a certain distance by a fourth bow with only one color. … All these bows were perpendicular to the horizon; they moved in the direction of, and followed, the image of the person they enveloped as with a glory.”

“The most remarkable point was that, although the seven spectators were standing in a group, each person only saw the phenomenon in regard to his own person, and was disposed to disbelieve that it was repeated in respect to his companions,” Flammarion writes. “The same apparition was observed in the polar regions by Scoresby, and described by him. He states that the phenomenon appears whenever there is mist and at the same time shining sun.”

MacFarlane’s Bear

In 1864, the Inuit gave the skin and skull of an “enormous” yellow-furred bear to naturalist Robert MacFarlane. He packed them up and shipped them to the Smithsonian Institution, where they were placed in storage and forgotten.

Fifty-four years later, zoologist Clinton Hart Merriam unpacked the remains and realized they represented an entirely new species, and MacFarlane’s specimen was apparently the last of its kind. No one has ever seen a living “MacFarlane’s bear,” except for those Inuit — and now their story is lost.