Phantom Islands

In 1823, American explorer Benjamin Morrell reported hunting seal along a coastline in the Weddell Sea near Antarctica. The land, he wrote, abounded in sea elephants and “oceanic birds of every description.” No one has been able to rediscover Morrell’s land, and in the 20th century it was shown conclusively to have disappeared.

In 1841 the English whaler James Stewart described a snow-covered island 5 to 6 miles long in the South Pacific. Other ships confirmed its existence in 1860 and 1886. But subsequent searches found nothing. John Davis of the Nimrod, who searched the area in 1909, wrote, “I am inclined to think Dougherty Island has melted.”

For nearly 30 years, India and Bangladesh disputed an island in the Bay of Bengal. In 2010 rising sea levels solved the problem: The island has disappeared. “What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking,” said Jadavpur University oceanographer Sugata Hazra, “has been resolved by global warming.”

(Thanks, Shrey.)

For Your Consideration

I send you a photograph of a snake made of postage-stamps. It contains, I believe, from fifteen thousand to twenty thousand stamps. The only portion not made of stamps is the head, which is of black velvet, with eyes of white beads, also teeth of beads; the fang is a match stuck into the mouth. The snake was made by Mrs. Membury, of Hyde Corner, Bridport, Dorset, and took about three years to complete. The length is four feet nine inches.

Strand, March 1907

Roll Call

The taking of the United States census, now nearly completed, has brought to light some curious specimens of given names. A man in Illinois has five children, who have been christened Imprimis, Finis, Appendix, Addendum, and Erratum. In Smythe County, Virginia, a Mr. Elmadoras Sprinkle has called his two sons Myrtle Ellmore and Onyx Curwen, and his six daughters Memphis Tappan, Empress Vandalia, Tatnia Zain, Okeno Molette, Og Wilt, and Wintosse Emmah. The great number of persons surnamed Sprinkle in that county is given as the excuse for these extraordinary names.

Notes and Queries, Dec. 10, 1870


Merrimack College mathematician Michael J. Bradley was coaching his son’s Little League team in 1996 when he noticed something odd in the rulebook:

Home base shall be marked by a five-sided slab of whitened rubber. It shall be a 12-inch square with two of the corners filled in so that one edge is 17 inches long, two are 8 1/2 inches and two are 12 inches.

non-euclidean home plate

That’s impossible. “The figure implies the existence of a right isosceles triangle with sides 12, 12 and 17. But (12, 12, 17) is not (quite) a Pythagorean triple: 122 + 122 = 288; 172 = 289.”

“Thus, these specifications seem to give new meaning to a ‘Field of Dreams.'”


New England got unexpectedly clobbered in March 1888 when 40 inches of snow fell in a day and a half. Businesses were closed and streetcars abandoned as screaming winds whipped the drifts into house-devouring hills as deep as 50 feet. Thirty trains were paralyzed near New York City, their passengers taken in by nearby residents, and the city’s fire engines lay mired in the streets, unable to respond to calls. “Despatches between Boston and New York were sent by way of London” due to downed lines, reported the Albany Cultivator & Country Gentlemen, and “for two hours on Tuesday people crossed the East river on an ice floe brought up by the tide.”

The forecast had been “clearing and colder, preceded by light snow.”

Double Takes

A Yorkshire police constable sent this image to the Strand in 1907: “This photograph of dog and puppies was about to be thrown away as a failure, when on turning the picture sideways it was found that the dog’s body has the appearance of a man’s head”:

This undated photo seems to reveal the image of a bearded Jesus:

double takes - jesus image

And Bohemian artist Wenzel Hollar etched Landschafts-Kopf in the 17th century:

Is it a portrait or a landscape?

The Girt Dog of Ennerdale

In 1810, a mysterious creature began killing sheep in northern England. Between May and September it defied the entire county of Cumberland, killing up to eight sheep a night despite being hunted nearly continuously. The “girt dog” never attacked the same flock on successive nights; it ignored poisoned meat left for it and led frustrated farmers on fruitless chases of 20 miles and more, occasionally turning to savage the forelegs of the pursuing dogs but never uttering a sound.

Finally, in September, the creature was run to ground near the Ehen River and shot. In four months it had killed more than 300 sheep. The carcass, which weighed 112 pounds, was stuffed and set up in a museum in Keswick, though it’s since been lost. Its description — a tawny dog with a tiger’s stripes — curiously matches that of the thylacine (above), a wolflike marsupial native to Tasmania. Possibly an exotic predator had escaped from a traveling menagerie and found itself peculiarly adapted to Cumberland farmland. We’ll never know.

For What It’s Worth

A paper received from Natal Africa contains an article by Rev. Josiah Tyler on the similarity of Jewish and Zulu customs. Among them we mention several: The feast of first fruits, rejection of swine’s flesh, right of circumcision, the slayer of the king not allowed to live, Zulu girls go upon the mountains and mourn days and nights, saying ‘Hoi! Hoi!’ like Jepthah’s daughter, traditions of the universal deluge, and of the passage of Red Sea; great men have servants to pour water on their hands; the throwing stones into a pile; blood sprinkled on houses. The authors’ belief is that the Zulus were cradled in the land of the Bible. Certain customs are mentioned which may be ascribed to the primitive tribal organism. These are as follows: Marriages commonly among their own tribe; uncle called father, nephew a son, niece a daughter; inheritance descends from father to eldest son. If there are no sons it goes to the paternal uncle. A surmise has been advanced by some that the relics of the Queen of Sheba’s palace may be found in certain ancient ruins described by Peterman, Baines and others, and the Ophir of scripture has been located at Sofala, an African port.

The American Antiquarian, January 1885

“This Prodigious Child”

Born to an Enfield miller in February 1779, Thomas Hills Everitt began to grow apace after six weeks, and it soon became clear that he was a young giant. When he reached 9 months and 2 weeks a local surgeon compared his dimensions to those of a 7-year-old boy:

His height at that point was 3 foot 1, and his weight was estimated at 9 stone.

Eventually his parents moved to London and began to exhibit him to the public; he was said to be well proportioned, with fine hair, pure skin, an expressive face, and a good temper, and he “subsisted entirely on the breast.” The surgeon hoped he might live to some enormous maturity, but he died in 1780, at about 18 months.