“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.

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.”

The Savage Breast

Ben Greenblatt, popular piano stylist, has played for every kind of society party, but this week marked the first time that his audience consisted of monkeys. He ‘gave’ at the Philadelphia Zoological Gardens just to see how the chimpanzees would react to his Steinway. …

Checking upon the reaction of animals to music has been tried periodically ever since the zoo opened its gates 70 years ago. Once an elephant nearly sprayed a jazz band with a trunkful of water, and on another occasional Tommy Dorsey nearly lost his trombone when an inquisitive chimpanzee tried to take it apart to see what made it tick.

Billboard, April 1, 1944

Hot Rocks


Every year, thousands of tourists pass through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and many collect sand or rocks as souvenirs. And every year, thousands of people mail them back, reporting mysterious misfortunes:

  • “Please return to soil. I have been having bad luck.”
  • “Ever since we have taken items, we have had nothing but back luck and medical problems. We apologize for taking items, so we are returning same to Hawaii.”
  • “We placed the rock last fall on a cast iron chair in our garden, this spring the chair’s leg had fallen off. This is the least of the problems we have had since we have taken the rock.”
  • “I must be cursed! Please, whatever the legend, curse or folklore is, please put these rocks back on a beach for me. I do not want one more stroke of fate to push me over the edge.”

According to legend, the volcano goddess Pele punishes those who steal from her. Timothy Murray took home some sand in 1997, and his pet died, his fiancee left him, he started to drink, and the FBI arrested him in a copyright infringement case. “One minute you’re working and you’re law-abiding and you’ve got money in the bank,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The next minute you are sitting in a federal penitentiary in Miami.”

“People need something to blame their troubles on,” says local postmaster Dave Kell, who notes that much of what is sent back is not even from Hawaii. “They bring this stuff on themselves.”

What does he know? If the fire goddess is oppressing you, mail your guilty rock to this return service and they’ll wrap it in a ti leaf and return it to Pele with a propitiating orchid. Better safe than sorry.

Ghost Train


Cincinnati has a subway. Or, rather, the abortive beginnings of one. The digging began in 1920, when streetcars couldn’t keep up with the city’s growing population. But cost overruns and the advent of the automobile gradually turned it into a white elephant. In all, seven miles were prepared, but no cars were ever ordered.

In the years since 1925, when construction stopped, the empty tunnel has been proposed for use as an air-raid shelter, a storage area, a mall, a film set, a wind tunnel, and a wine cellar, but none of these received approval. Instead the entrances have been sealed with concrete, and it remains simply the nation’s largest abandoned subway tunnel.

If enough time passes, perhaps it will be forgotten entirely. Intriguingly, this has happened before.

Adventures in Tuition

In 1987, University of Illinois freshman Mike Hayes wrote to Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene with a modest proposal: that each of Greene’s readers contribute a penny to finance his education.

“Just one penny,” he told Greene. “A penny doesn’t mean anything to anyone. If everyone who is reading your column looks around the room right now, there will be a penny under the couch cushion, or on the corner of the desk, or on the floor. That’s all I’m asking. A penny from each of your readers.”

Greene published the appeal in 200 newspapers via his syndicated column — and Hayes received 77,000 letters and enough pennies to break his bank’s coin-counting machine three times. He easily reached his goal of $28,000, enough for four years of tuition, room and board, and books.

He graduated with a degree in food science. Asked why the scheme worked, he said, “I didn’t ask for a lot of money. I just asked for money from a lot of people.”

Deep Freeze


In 1871, a Norwegian seal hunter discovered a wooden hut on Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Ocean. In it he found clothing, cooking pots, a tool chest, a clock, a flute, a cooking tripod, and several pictures.

It was the lodge of Willem Barentsz, who had passed the winter there in 1597 while seeking a northern route to China. Barentsz had died on the return journey, and the hut had stood for 270 years, awaiting rediscovery.

According to an 1877 report, later investigations recovered Barentsz’s quill pen, a translation of a work on seamanship printed in 1580, “some candles nearly 280 years old, but still capable of giving light” — and “the Amsterdam flag, the first European colour that passed a winter in the Arctic region.”