Oddities

Dorothy Arnold

On the morning of Dec. 12, 1910, American socialite Dorothy Arnold left her parents’ home in Manhattan to go shopping for a dress for a party. She met some friends on Fifth Avenue, who later described her as cheerful. She visited Park & Tilford’s store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 27th Street and charged a pound of candy to her account, then went to Brentano’s on 26th Street, where she bought a book of epigrams and met a friend, who later reported that Dorothy had intended to walk home through Central Park.

That’s all anybody knows. She never came home that night, and her disappearance has never been explained. Friends searched hospitals, morgues and jails in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia for three weeks but found nothing. Police and Pinkerton detectives fared no better. Arnold’s fiance, George Griscom Jr., spent thousands of dollars searching for her and bought ads in major newspapers, without result.

When her father died in 1922, he had spent more than $100,000 trying to find Dorothy. In his will he stated that he had come to believe his daughter was dead, but no one knows what became of her.

“The Man With the Seven-Second Memory”

Excerpt from Clive Wearing’s diary:

8:31 AM: Now I am really, completely awake.
9:06 AM: Now I am perfectly, overwhelmingly awake.

9:34 AM: Now I am superlatively, actually awake.

Due to a herpes simplex virus, the former BBC music expert is unable to encode new memories. He “wakes up” every few minutes and greets his wife joyously over and over again.

The diary entries are crossed out as “untrue” because he doesn’t remember writing them.

The Phaistos Disk

This disk was found in the ruins of a Minoan palace in 1908.

It’s an archaeological mystery. No one knows where it came from, what it was used for, or the language or meaning of its inscription. It’s known simply as the Phaistos disk.

You Go First

“PIG’S EARS, LYONNAISE — Singe off all the hair from pig’s ears, scrape and wash well and cut lengthwise into strips. Place them in a saucepan with a little stock, add a small quantity of flour, a few slices of onion fried, salt and pepper to taste. Place the pan over a slow fire and simmer until the ears are thoroughly cooked. Arrange on a dish, add a little lemon juice to the liquor and pour over the ears. Serve with a garnish of fried bread.”

— From Good Things to Eat as Suggested by Rufus: A Collection of Practical Recipes for Preparing Meats, Game, Fowl, Fish, Puddings, Pastries, Etc., by Rufus Estes, Formerly of the Pullman Company Private Car Service, and Present Chef of the Subsidiary Companies of the United States Steel Corporations in Chicago, 1911

Surf’s Up

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The supertanker Esso Languedoc was weathering a storm off Durban, South Africa, in 1980 when an enormous wave struck it from behind and washed over the deck. This photo was taken by first mate Philippe Lijour. That mast is 25 meters tall, which means the wave was the size of a four-story building.

So-called freak waves were once thought to be legendary, but now it appears that rogue waves even three times this size, 100 feet tall, can occur spontaneously in the middle of the ocean, sometimes in perfectly clear weather. No one’s sure why.

Pearl Curran

In 1913, Chicago housewife Pearl Curran was messing around with a Ouija board when she claimed to receive the message “Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience Worth my name. If thou shalt live, so shall I.”

On investigating the name, she claimed to find that a Patience Worth had lived in Dorsetshire, England, in either 1649 or 1694. Through the Ouija board Patience told Curran that she had moved to the United States and been murdered by Indians. “From England across the sea. Could I but hold your ear for the lessons I could teach!”

So Pearl/Patience began to publish novels, stories and poetry. Critics pointed out that a 17th-century spirit shouldn’t be able to produce a Victorian novel, as Patience did, but supporters argued that the language she used was beyond Pearl’s normal abilities.

That may have spelled the end of their partnership, actually. Apparently frustrated with the intelligence of her host, Patience clammed up, except for the occasional sarcastic comment. She’d gone silent by the time Pearl died in 1937 … and, presumably, joined her.

Next Stop …

Hell is in Norway, it turns out. The tiny village has a population of 352. This is the train station (curiously, “Gods Expedition,” or godsekspedisjon, means “cargo handling office”).

And, yes, in winter the temperature can drop below zero.

Brontides

In July 1808, 100 kilometers east of the Montana Rockies, Lewis and Clark wrote, “We have repeatedly heard a strange noise coming from the mountains. … It is heard at different periods of the day and night … and consists of one stroke only, or of five or six discharges in quick succession. It is loud and resembles precisely the sound of a six-pound piece of ordnance.”

They were leading the first overland expedition of the United States territory, so it wasn’t a cannon. The sounds have never been explained.

Tretretretre

In 1658, French admiral Etienne de Flacourt reported a curious legend among the natives of Madagascar. They described a creature, called tretretretre, that was as big as a 2-year-old calf, with a round head, a human face and ears, an ape’s feet, a short tail, and frizzy fur.

That description matched nothing on the island, so the Europeans dismissed it. But since then, fossils have been unearthed of a giant lemur, Megaladapis, that may explain the myth. It had been thought to become extinct thousands of years ago, but now zoologists think it may have survived into the sixth century, when humans came to the island, and entered their folklore.

A few Megaladapis may even have survived into the 16th or 17th century, so perhaps Flacourt was witnessing the birth of a legend.

Yonaguni

These structures were discovered off the Japanese island of Yonaguni in 1985. Are they man-made? They resemble the pyramids of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Mexico, and Peru, but analyses showed one was 8,000 years old, which would make these the oldest ruins in the world.

If that’s so, historians can’t explain who would have built them. And archaeologists have suggested that the plates may have formed naturally. For now, the jury’s out.

Duck!

How much damage can one sparrow do?

Last year in the Netherlands organizers were preparing a world-record display of cascading dominoes when a house sparrow flew into the room.

The bird knocked over 23,000 tiles before organizers finally resorted to shooting it, setting off a furor among animal-rights activists.

Four days later, a new record was set when 4,002,136 dominoes fell in one continuous cascade.

The bird, stuffed and mounted, will go on display at the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam this November, exactly one year after the shooting.

Beach Blanket Hades

In western Namibia, there’s a deadly strip of beach where the Namib Desert runs right up against the South Atlantic Ocean. Shipwrecked sailors who landed there found themselves trapped between heavy surf on one side and hundreds of miles of desert on the other. Many starved to death right there on the beach.

It’s called the Skeleton Coast.

Apple-Pie Archaeoastronomy

Drawn to megaliths but leery of foreigners? Then toss those plane tickets, drive to Hunt, Texas, and commune with Stonehenge II, a replica made of adobe and wire mesh.

Just watch out for the fire ants.

No Place Like Home

Gibsonton, Fla., has the nation’s only post office with a counter for dwarves.

That’s because Gibsonton used to serve as a sideshow wintering town, where Percilla the Monkey Girl, the Anatomical Wonder, and other circus “freaks” could spend the off season. Siamese twin sisters ran a local fruit stand, and special zoning laws permitted residents to keep elephants and circus trailers on their front lawns. The school board meetings must have been memorable.

Road Warriors

If you think your commute is bad, check out the Kinetic Sculpture Race, held every Memorial Day weekend in Ferndale, Calif. In three days, participants must cover 42 miles of mud, sand, water, gravel and pavement in vehicles powered only by people (“and friendly extraterrestrials”). Arrows, anchors and grappling hooks are strictly disallowed.

The race’s slogan is “adults having fun so children want to get older.”

Does This Count as Plagiarism?

Published in 1838, Edgar Allan Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket tells of four men who survive a shipwreck. Starving, they draw lots to see which one is to be eaten. The loser is a man named Richard Parker.

Forty-six years later, in 1884, a yacht named the Mignonette sank during a journey from England to Australia. Four survivors were stranded in a dinghy. After 16 days, Captain Dudley and his two mates killed and ate the cabin boy–whose name was Richard Parker.

The three eventually returned to England, where they were convicted of murder.

Shoe Trees

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The “shoe tree” of Morley Field, San Diego. There are at least 76 such trees in the United States. No one’s quite sure how they get started. What will future civilizations make of this?

Doppelgangers

In 1979 University of Minnesota psychologist Thomas J. Bouchard studied a pair of twins, Jim Lewis and Jim Springer, who had been separated at birth. Here’s what he found on interviewing them at age 39:

  • Both men had had first wives named Linda, divorced them and married women named Betty.
  • Lewis named his first son James Alan; Springer named his James Allan.
  • Both named their dogs Toy.
  • Both had worked as gas station attendants and for the same hamburger chain.
  • They drove the same type of car and bought the same brands of cigarettes and beer.
  • They regularly took annual vacations at the same Florida resort.
  • Both disliked baseball but enjoyed stock-car racing and woodwork.
  • Both gained and lost weight at the same age, bit their fingernails compulsively and had had a minor heart attack.
  • Both suffered from migraines.

“Our findings continue to suggest a very strong genetic influence on almost all medical and psychological traits,” Bouchard said. After an extensive study of separated twins, he concluded that shyness, political conservatism, dedication to hard work, orderliness, intimacy, extroversion, conformity, and a number of other social traits are largely heritable.

False Alarm

Because they’re stationary and have a smooth, saucerlike shape, lenticular clouds are often reported as UFOs. These photos were taken in New Hampshire (above) and New Mexico.

The Hum

In the 1990s, residents of Taos, N.M., and Kokomo, Ind., began to report an invasive low-frequency noise, which they likened to a distant idling diesel engine. Others have since reported the sensation elsewhere, especially in Europe. Strangely, the sound is often worse indoors, and ordinary microphones don’t detect it.

Possible explanations have included everything from meteors to submarines, but so far there’s been no large-scale investigation. For now the phenomenon is simply called “the Hum.”

No Message

When he wasn’t escaping straitjackets, Harry Houdini spent a lot of time debunking spiritualists.

Shortly before his death, he made a pact with his wife, Bess: If possible, he would contact her from the other side and deliver a prearranged coded message.

When he died, Bess lit a candle beside his photograph and kept it burning for 10 years, holding séances every Halloween to test the pact. Harry never spoke.

In 1936, after a final attempt on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel, Bess put out the candle.

“Ten years is long enough to wait for any man,” she said.

White Meat

In his 1647 Del Luce Animalium, Danish physician Thomas Bartholin noted a great lost opportunity for animal husbandry.

In France’s Montpellier market, he wrote, a chicken had appeared whose feathers glowed. Killed for closer study, the cock “shone on all parts of its body with a remarkably strong light.”

At the same time, he said, an Italian hen from Montebello “shone like a ball of white fire.”

It was a pity, Bartholin noted, that the two birds couldn’t be bred together, “for we might then have obtained a breed of incandescent fowls.” And saved money on candles.

Command Performance

The Bavarian village of Oberammergau has a special deal with God. While the bubonic plague was ravaging Europe, the town’s citizens vowed that if they were spared they would perform a play every 10 years depicting the life and death of Jesus.

God, apparently, accepted. The death rate among adults rose from 1 in October 1632 to 20 in March 1633, but then it dropped again to 1 in July 1633.

True to their word, the villagers staged a play in 1634, and they’ve done so every 10 years ever since.

Christian von Kahlbutz

Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz is looking remarkably fit for his age. The Prussian knight died in 1702 and his body hasn’t decayed.

No one knows why. He wasn’t embalmed. A legend says it’s God’s punishment for an oath he broke while living. Scientists think he lost a lot of blood before dying and that the local soil lacked materials that would promote decay. But that doesn’t explain why other bodies nearby did rot.