A Half-Made Man


From The Strand Magazine, August 1909:

The above photographs show front and side views of a fancy dress representing ‘Half-an’-‘Arf’. The costume was prepared in three evenings during spare time, and the dress suit was in no way altered or damaged, all the tramp-side garments being superstructed. There is a nine days’ beard on one side of the face, the hair being combed with isinglass to make it stand up. The face and arm are stained and made up with powders to look exactly like a natural tramp’s complexion minus the dirt. The boot is an old hand-sewn one, made up with painted and stained brown paper, with a hole in front from which a piece of tow protruded. The whole costume cost about a shilling to produce, and was a great success at more than one dance.

No Vacancy

Room 308 of the Samudra Beach Hotel in West Java is reserved for the Indonesian goddess Nyai Loro Kidul.

The hotel stands near the cliff from which folktales say a young girl flung herself and became Queen of the South Sea. While praying beneath a nearby ketapang tree in the early 1960s, President Sukarno received the message that a hotel might be built on the spot if a room were reserved for the jealous sea goddess.

The room is decorated in green, her favorite color.

“Odd Year”

The year 1818 was a kind of Annus Mirabilis. The amount of all the figures together was eighteen, which was also the sum expressed by the first two, as well as the last two, and also reckoned singly, either forwards or backwards: an arithmetical combination which can never happen again.

The Nic-Nac; or, Oracle of Knowledge, May 24, 1823

A Sea Historian


In 2007, hunters caught a 50-ton bowhead whale off the coast of Alaska. Lodged in its neck they found a fragment of a bomb lance that had been manufactured in New Bedford, Mass., in 1890.

This means the whale was 115 to 130 years old. It might have been born in the same year that Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in as president.

ID by Woolworth


In 1938, a wallet manufacturer in Lockport, N.Y., decided to include sample Social Security cards in its products. The company’s vice president thought it would be clever to use the actual Social Security number of his secretary, Hilda Whitcher.

It wasn’t. The sample card was half-size, printed in red, and bore the word SPECIMEN in large letters, but by 1943 more than 5,000 people were using Whitcher’s number as their own. The Social Security Administration voided the card and started a publicity campaign to educate users, but over the years more than 40,000 people reported the number as their own, some as recently as 1977.

“They started using the number,” Whitcher marveled. “They thought it was their own. I can’t understand how people can be so stupid. I can’t understand that.”

Diamond Drop

Considerable excitement was caused in our city last Tuesday evening by the announcement that a hailstone weighing eighty pounds had fallen six miles west of Salina, near the railroad track. An inquiry into the matter revealed the following facts: A party of railroad section men were at work Tuesday afternoon, several miles west of town, when the hailstorm came upon them. Mr. Martin Elwood, the foreman of the party, relates that near where they were at work hailstones of the weight of four or five pounds were falling, and that returning to Salina the stones increased in size, until his party discovered a huge mass of ice weighing, as near as he could judge, in the neighborhood of eighty pounds. At this place the party found the ground covered with hail as if a wintry storm had passed over the land. Besides securing the mammoth chunk of ice, Mr. Elwood secured a hailstone something over a foot long, three or four inches in diameter, and shaped like a cigar. These ‘specimens’ were placed upon a hand-car and brought to Salina. Mr. W.J. Hagler, the North Santa Fe merchant, became the possessor of the larger piece, and saved it from dissolving by placing it in sawdust at his store. Crowds of people went down to see it Tuesday afternoon, and many were the theories concerning the mysterious visitor. At evening its dimensions were 29 by 16 by 2 inches.

— Salina (Kan.) Journal, quoted in Scientific American, Aug. 19, 1882



Musing on the housing problem in 1909, Edgar Chambless dreamed of laying a modern skyscraper on its side and extending it into the country. This two-story “continuous house” would be “a workable way of coupling housing and transportation into one mechanism,” with a monorail in the cellar, farmland on either side, and a path on the roof for cyclists and roller skaters.

“The Roadtown is a scheme to organize production, transportation and consumption into one systematic plan,” Chambless wrote in a 1910 manifesto. “In an age of pipes and wires, and high speed railways such a plan necessitates the building in one dimension instead of three.”

Chambless’ friend Milo Hastings promoted the idea in magazine articles, and the American Institute of Architects recognized it in a 1919 contest to present “the best solution of the housing problem.” Thomas Edison even donated the use of certain patents. Alas, though Chambless promoted his dream until his death in 1936, it never got off the drawing board.

Freaks of the Storm


On May 27, 1896, an F4 tornado walked through St. Louis, leaving a mile-wide path of devastation and playing some violent pranks along the way.

Above, wheat straws were forced half an inch into the body of one tree.

Below, a gardener’s shovel was driven 6 inches into another tree, and a 2×4 pine scantling was shot through 5/8″ of solid iron on the Eads Bridge, “the pine stick protruding several feet through the iron side of the roadway, exemplifying the old principle of shooting a candle through a board.”

George Washington University meteorologist Willis Moore also saw “a six by eight piece of timber driven four feet almost straight down into the hard compact soil.” The confirmed death toll is 255, but additional bodies may have floated off down the Mississippi.


Sisyphus Released

Kokichi Sugihara of the Japan’s Meiji Institute for Advanced Study of Mathematical Sciences has won first prize in the Neural Correlate Society’s sixth annual “Best Illusion of the Year” contest:

The top 10 finalists are here.

Another’s Plate

Honest Jack Fuller, who is buried in a pyramidal mausoleum in Brightling churchyard, in Sussex, gave as his reason for being thus disposed of, his unwillingness to be eaten by his relations after this fashion: ‘The worms would eat me, the ducks would eat the worms, and my relations would eat the ducks.’

— John Timbs, English Eccentrics and Eccentricities, 1875