“Singular Impression in Marble”


From the American Journal of Science: In November 1829, a 30-cubic-foot block of marble was raised from a quarry northwest of Philadelphia and taken to a Norristown sawmill to be cut into slabs.

“One was taken off about three feet wide and about six feet long, and in the body of the marble, exposed by the cutting, was immediately discovered an indentation, about one and a half inches long and about five eighths of an inch wide, in which were the two raised characters” (left).

“Fortunately, several of the most respectable gentlemen residing in Norristown were called upon to witness this remarkable phenomenon, without whose testimony it might have been difficult, if not impossible, to have satisfied the public, that an imposition had not been practised by cutting the indentation and carving the letters after the slab was cut off.”

No explanation is offered. The block had been raised from a depth of 60-70 feet in the quarry.

A One-Boy Famine

In 1744, 11-year-old Matthew Daking of Yorkshire emerged from a fever with such a ravenous appetite that “if he was not fed as he called out for it, he would gnaw the very flesh off his own bones.” When Matthew was awake, he was devouring food — though “it can hardly be said eating, because nothing passes his stomach, all is thrown up again.”

Here’s a sample of his diet, as reported in the Philosophical Transactions — an incredible 384 pounds of food in six days:



This continued for more than a year, with Matthew losing strength as his appetite grew. Eventually he lost the use of his legs. “He is sometimes so hungry, that he says he could eat them all,” reported Dr. J. Cookson. “He often wishes he were in the king’s kitchen.” He died a few months later, “quite emaciated.”

An Earthy Diet


London had a curious visitor in the 17th century: Francis Battalia, an Italian said to subsist on stones. “His manner is to put three or four stones into a spoon, and so putting them into his mouth together, he swallows them all down one after another; then (first spitting) he drinks a glass of beer after them,” wrote John Bulwer in his Artificial Changeling of 1650. “He devours about half a peck of these stones every day, and when he chinks upon his stomach, or shakes his body, you may hear the stones rattle as if they were in a sack.”

A Dutch ship discovered a second stone eater on a northern island in 1757 and brought him to Avignon, where a Father Paulian declared himself “fully convinced that he is no cheat.” And in 1788 London exhibited a third such man, “the most Wonderful Phenomenon of the Age, who GRINDS and SWALLOWS STONES, &c.,” “subsisting on pebble flints, tobacco pipes, and mineral excrescences.”

What accounts for this? In Miracle Mongers and Their Methods (1920), Houdini wrote, “I watched several performances of one of these chaps who swallowed half a hatful of stones, nearly the size of hen’s eggs, and then jumped up and down to make them rattle in his stomach. I could discover no fake in the performance, and I finally gave him two and six for his secret, which was simple enough. He merely took a dose of powerful physic to clear himself of the stones, and was then ready for the next performance.” Draw your own conclusions.

Far Be It

In 2008, researchers at Oxford University found that subjects could reduce pain and swelling in an injured hand by viewing it through reversed binoculars.

Conversely, a magnified injury was more painful. “If it looks bigger, it looks sorer,” said physiologist G. Lorimer Moseley. “Therefore the brain acts to protect it.”

“Cryonics’ First Mardi Gras”

Image: Flickr

If you’re not doing anything next spring, head to Nederland, Colo., to celebrate Frozen Dead Guy Days, a three-day festival commemorating Bredo Morstoel, whose body is packed in dry ice in a Tuff Shed in the hills above town.

Bredo’s grandson Trygve Bauge imported the corpse from Norway in 1989 and stored it in liquid nitrogen; when Trygve was deported in 1993 and his mother evicted from her home, local businesses pitched in to keep the body preserved.

The annual festival includes coffin races (above), a hearse parade, lookalike contests, an ice-carving demonstration, documentaries (Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed and Grandpa’s Still in the Tuff Shed), frozen turkey bowling, showshoe races, and snow sculpture contests. Nearby Glacier Ice Cream has even concocted a commemorative flavor, Frozen Dead Guy.

Bredo has been dead now for 20 years; psychics report he’s amused by all this but doing fine.

“Where Do the Old London Omnibuses Get To?”


From The Strand, August 1909:

“This is a photograph, taken by myself last year, of an old London horse omnibus that I found on the prairie on the outskirts of the City of Calgary, Alberta, Western Canada. It had been stripped of its outside seats, and bore such announcements as: ‘Over Waterloo Bridge,’ ‘Camden Town,’ ‘Old Kent Road,’ ‘The Dun Cow,’ etc. It still bore the name of the original owner, a Mr. French, of London. I have come across many discarded London omnibuses in out-of-the-way villages, etc., in this country, but I never expected to find one six thousand miles away from the Metropolis. — Mr. Henry Pope, 437, Fulham Palace Road, London, S.W.”

Lemonade Days

The National Weather Service issued a worrisome advisory on Dec. 17, 2003:

Unusually hot weather has entered the region for December … as the Earth has left its orbit and is hurtling towards the sun. Unusually hot weather will occur for at least the next several days as the Earth draws ever nearer to the sun. Therefore, an excessive heat watch has been posted.

The alert, which appeared on NOAA’s website, turned out to be a test message posted accidentally during a training session. By midafternoon it had been removed and a correction posted.

Contending in Vain

In December 2005, tired of endless credit-card offers, West Hollywood realtor Gary More scrawled NEVER WASTE A TREE across one application and mailed it in.

Chase Visa issued a card to “Never Waste Tree.”

He cut it up.

Red Ink

More notable errors in the New York Times:

  • “A report misidentified the document on which John Hancock put his famous prominent signature. It was the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.” (July 14, 1985)
  • “An article about Ivana Trump and her spending habits misstated the number of bras she buys. It is two dozen black, two dozen beige and two dozen white, not two thousand of each.” (Oct. 22, 2000)
  • “A recipe for juniper-flavored gravlax misstated the amount of kosher salt. It is one-half cup, not four cups.” (Nov. 26, 2000)
  • “A report in the ‘Sunday’ pages included erroneous data from the Farmer’s Almanac about occurrences of full moons. The last month with no full moon was February 1980, not February 1866. The next month without a full moon will be February 1999, not some month 2.5 million years from now.” (Feb. 25, 1996)
  • “An article misstated the title of the 1955 film that made James Dean a star. It is ‘Rebel Without a Cause,’ not ‘Rebel With a Cause.'” (May 8, 2000)

See also Erratum.



Writing in Psychological Review in 1917, Berkeley psychologist George Stratton reported the startling achievements of Jewish scholars known as Shass Pollaks, who would memorize the entire Babylonian Talmud — not just the text, but the position of every word on every page:

“A pin would be placed on a word, let us say, the fourth word in line eight; the memory sharp would then be asked what word is in the same spot on page thirty-eight or fifty or any other page; the pin would be pressed through the volume until it reached page thirty eight or page fifty or any other page designated; the memory sharp would then mention the word and it was found invariably correct. He had visualized in his brain the whole Talmud; in other words, the pages of the Talmud were photographed on his brain. It was one of the most stupendous feats of memory I have ever witnessed and there was no fake about it.”

Stratton also quotes Judge Mayer Sulzberger of Philadelphia, who had seen a Shass Pollak put down a pencil at random in the Talmud and immediately name the word on which it had lighted.

These achievements, Stratton wrote, “should be stored among the data long and still richly gathering for the study of extraordinary feats of memory.”