The Great Outdoors

On Nov. 20, 1980, Leonce Viator Jr. went fishing with his nephew on Louisiana’s Lake Peigneur. He might have noted two worrisome things: Below the lake was a salt mine, and above it was a drilling rig.

The drill punctured the mine’s roof, and the resulting whirlpool devoured two oil rigs, 11 barges, a tugboat, a loading dock, “assorted greenhouses,” a house trailer, several tractors, countless trees, and most of the Live Oak Botanic Gardens. Amazingly, the water drained so quickly that Viator’s 14-foot aluminum boat was stuck in the mud at the lake’s bottom, and the pair were able to walk away.

No one was killed, but Lake Peigneur is now saltwater.

UPDATE: Viator’s boat wasn’t stuck in the mud — he tied it to a tree, ran to safety, and watched the hole eat both the boat and the tree. There’s good footage here, including the waterfall formed when the normally outflowing Delcambre Canal reversed itself to feed the whirlpool:

(Thanks, Kevin.)

The Crooked Forest
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Outside the village of Nowe Czarnowo in western Poland is a grove of 400 pine trees bent into curious crooked shapes. The surrounding trees are straight, but these were apparently deliberately bent north at their bases about 10 years after their planting in 1930. No one knows why.

(Thanks, Bullet.)

“Ping-Pong at Its Greatest Height”

This photograph, taken in mid-winter at the highest point in His Majesty’s home domains, shows two of the meteorologists enjoying a game of ping-pong alongside the observatory on the summit of Ben Nevis. The photo was taken when the snow reached an average depth of 7ft., and during the progress of the game the temperature was as low as 18deg. Fahr. The table, composed as it was of a solid block of snow, covered with baize, served its purpose admirably, and the game, if not played under the most favourable climatic conditions, can at least boast of ‘high’ scoring.

— Robert H. Macdougall of Ben Nevis Observatory, quoted in Strand, August 1902


When Marshall Bean left the Army in 1965 after eight years’ service, he inverted his name to avoid his creditors. His new driver’s license and Social Security card read Naeb Llahsram.

Unfortunately, this fooled the Army, too, which drafted him back again in 1966. It took him more than a year to convince them he’d already served.

“All this is his own fault,” an Army spokesman told the Associated Press. “It would not have happened in the first place if he hadn’t spelled his name backwards.”


Bored and industrious in 1902, the citizens of the Yukon built a 32-foot snowman on the border between Canada and Alaska.

In the spirit of brotherhood, they gave it two faces — King Edward looked out over the British domain, and Uncle Sam surveyed the American.

Out of Sight
Image: Look and Learn

In 1915, after being cut off from his regiment in northern France, British Army private Patrick Fowler found his way to the farmhouse of Marie Belmont-Gobert in the German-occupied town of Bertry. He implored her to hide him, but she had space only in an oaken cupboard in the living room.

Incredibly, Fowler spent three years and nine months in a space 5.5 feet high and 20 inches deep while more than 20 German musketeers were billeted in the same house. “He was there at times when unsuspecting Germans were actually sitting around the fire in the same room,” reported the New York World in 1927. “Often they came down to the ground floor quarters of the Belmont family and made coffee on the fire there.”

The Germans even made periodic searches. “[A German captain] and his men sounded the walls and floors for secret hiding places, uttered awful threats,” reported Time. “Mme. Belmont-Gobert only sat passive in her sitting room. At last the captain wrenched open the right-hand door of her large black armoire, snorted to see it divided into small shelves incapable of holding a rabbit, banged the right-hand door shut without opening the left-hand door, strode away.”

The Germans finally left Bertry on Oct. 10, 1918, and Fowler returned to his unit. Nine years later, in recognition of her act, the French government granted Belmont-Gobert a pension, and Britain named her a Dame of the Order of the British Empire. The cupboard resides today in the King’s Royal Hussars’ Museum in Winchester.


In January 1953, Albert Gunter was driving a double-decker bus across London’s Tower Bridge when “it seemed as though the roadway in front of me was falling away.”

“Everything happened terribly quickly,” he told Time magazine. “I realized that the part we were on was rising. It was horrifying. I felt we had to keep on or we might be flung into the river. So I accelerated.”

Gunter sped to the top of the rising roadway and jumped across the gap to land on the southern span 6 feet below. “I thought that might start going up too,” he said, “so I just kept right on till I got to the other bank.”

The bus broke a spring, the conductor broke his leg, 12 of the 20 passengers were injured, and Gunter got a £10 bonus.

(Thanks, Hugh.)

Odd Rents

In 1910, Flint, Mich., landowner Neil Boyston provided a lot for the Flint Union School in return for “one clover blossom a year.”

In exchange for an acre of land in Philadelphia, the Schuylkill Fishing Company used to pay landowner William Warner an annual tribute of three perch on a pewter platter.

In 1772, a Manheim, Pa., congregation rented the site for its church from Henry William Stiegel in return for “one red rose, payable in June, when the same shall be lawfully demanded.”

When Henry VIII granted an estate to the Lord of Worksop Manor in 1542, he received it on the condition that he and his heirs should provide a right-hand glove for the king and support his arm on the day of his coronation.

“Once a year a Lord of the Manor of Essington was compelled to bring a goose to Hilton,” noted the New York Times in 1910. “He was called upon to drive the bird around the room. In the meantime a kettle of water was placed over a wood fire, and the unfortunate tenant was required to drive the goose around the room until the water was boiled and began sending steam out of the spout of the pot. It does not take a very great stretch of the imagination to conjure up the chaos that must have ensued on rent day at Hilton.”

The Elephantine Colossus

Between 1884 and 1896, visitors to Coney Island could stay in an elephant. Each leg of the tin-skinned wooden behemoth was 60 feet long; its ears were 40 feet wide; and the enormous trunk measured 72 feet. The forelegs housed a diorama and a cigar store, and the hind legs contained staircases leading to 31 hotel rooms above — advertised entertainingly as “a main hall head room, 2 side body rooms, 2 thigh rooms, 2 shoulder rooms, 2 cheek rooms, 1 throat room, 1 stomach room, 4 hoof rooms, 6 leg rooms, 2 side rooms, 2 hip rooms, 1 through room from which the Elephant is feeding.” (Presumably this last carried a discount.)

The hotel idea didn’t work out, and in the end the building served mostly as a concert hall and amusement bazaar, with novelty stalls, a gallery, and a museum. Visitors could use telescopes to peer out of the monster’s glass eyes, and it was said that the mists of Niagara could be seen from the howdah on its back, which teetered at a height of 175 feet.

The contractor that built the colossus said that it would last half a century, but within 12 years it had been abandoned and burned to the ground. All that remained was part of a foreleg.

Mass Transit

The hero of this exploit (it is a little difficult to locate him among so many) is Maurice Pardo–the “Herculean Human Motor,” as he modestly styles himself. This wonderful cyclist balances and propels, solely by his own power and skill, twenty-five persons on his specially-made machine, which is unquestionably of the two-wheeled variety; whether or not it may be styled a ‘safety,’ however, is rather for the human cargo to say. The total weight on the bicycle is a little more than 4,000 lb.

Strand, October 1896