East Meets West

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Diomede Islands of the Bering Strait are a world apart, though only 2.4 miles separate them. Little Diomede belongs to the United States, Big Diomede to Russia, and the international date line runs between them.

So when Lynne Cox swam between them in 1987, she set a peculiar endurance record: Though the waters were cold enough to kill an average swimmer in 30 minutes, she departed “Yesterday Isle” at 1 p.m. on a Friday … and arrived safely on Tomorrow Island on Saturday.

“Mysterious Markings”


The workmen on my father’s estate were cutting up some fallen timber in the park, when, on splitting open a certain beech tree, a peculiar marking in the form of a cross, with an ‘M’ above, was discovered in the centre of it. The whole measures about twelve inches by six, and is very clearly marked, as the accompanying photograph shows.

No one has any explanation to offer as to how these marks came. Perhaps some of your readers could do so. In the photograph the two moieties are displayed side by side. — Miss Rosemary E. Greville-Nugent, Clonyn Castle, Delvin, Co. Westmeath, Ireland.

Strand, July 1908

See “Singular Discovery.”

Fiction and Fact


Journalist Dan De Quille meant only harmless fun with his 1865 story “The Traveling Stones of Pahranagat Valley,” a tale of mysteriously moving stones in the Nevada desert. When placed on a level surface, he had written, the strange stones would move toward a common center and form a clutch, “like a lot of eggs in a nest.”

Reportedly the account caused a furor among German scientists, and P.T. Barnum offered De Quille $10,000 for a set of the strange stones. He put them off, but the legend spread. In response to an 1871 inquiry, he wrote, “We have none of said rolling stones in this city at present but would refer our Colorado speculator to Mark Twain, who probably still has on hand fifteen or twenty bushels of assorted sizes.” (Twain and De Quille had been roommates at Virginia City.)

Still the inquiries came. Finally, seven years later, De Quille learned his lesson and confessed. “We are now growing old, and we want peace. We desire to throw up the sponge and acknowledge the corn; therefore we solemnly affirm that we never heard of any such diabolical cobbles as the traveling stones of Pahranagat — though we still think there ought to be something of the kind somewhere in the world.”

Ironically, less than 200 miles away, there were.

A Starlight Tour

A remarkable instance of a sleep-walker came well authenticated, during the course of the month. Between eleven and twelve o’clock, a boy who serves the bricklayers in Maidstone, got out of bed in his sleep, went through a casement, and walked over the ridges of several houses, after which he returned, and came in at the same window, where he awaked in great tremor, occasioned by a fall on his entrance; this extraordinary circumstance happened in sight of several spectators, one of whom, not knowing him to be in a dormant state, had in contemplation a design of firing at him with a gun, from a conclusion that he intended to break into some house; but seeing him return, without any attempt to effect such a purpose, both parties think themselves happy at the interposition of Providence, to prevent so dreadful a catastrophe.

Gentleman’s Magazine, August 1786

Seafood Delivery

Sometime about the 22d of September 1810, Mr. Elisha Wall and his family, consisting of his wife and three grown children, besides several small ones, at his plantation, on Cypress Creek, about 12 miles from Coosawatchie-bridge, in South Carolina, saw passing over his yard, considerably below the height of the trees, on Sunday, directly after dinner, a prodigious quantity of narrow-headed cat-fish, of two sizes, the lesser quantity about two feet long, and the greater about one foot. The largest fish were as walls of defence, on either side of the small ones, about three yards in breadth, and three tiers deep — they were well arranged, in a small distance from each other, so as each to have room to use their fins and tails, without interfering with each other — they were nearly one hour moving slowly from east to west — they had all the motions of real living fish in their natural element, though there was neither cloud nor wind to support their movements. It is said that several thousands must have passed during the time they were viewed. Mr. Wall is an honest man, of truth, sobriety, and industry, whose word in any case, will not be disputed by those who know him — there were also at his house, at the time, five indifferent persons, who also saw this great phenomenon, and are willing, if necessary, to make oath to the fact herein stated.

— “American Papers,” quoted in Kirby’s Wonderful and Eccentric Museum, 1820

A Leitmotif


“Richard Wagner the composer and the number 13 is worthy of note. It takes 13 letters to spell his name; he was born in 1813; these figures added (1, 8, 1, 3) make 13; hence the letters in his name and the sum of the figures of his birth-date make twice 13; he composed exactly 13 great works; ‘Tanhäuser’ was completed April 13, 1845; it was first performed March 13, 1861; he left Buyrenth September 13, 1861; September is the ninth month, and hence 9 added to the figures 1, 3, make 13; finally he died February 13, 1883.”

Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, September 1893


Something queer happened to Seattle in 1954: Citizens began noticing pits in their windshields. These were attributed first to vandals with BB guns, then to the eggs of sand fleas, and then variously to cosmic rays, a change in the planet’s magnetic field, and a new Navy radio transmitter.

As the rumors mounted, University of Washington glass expert Harley Bovee heard even stranger reports: “glass breaking on store counter while customer reported simultaneous itching; man on nearby island who reported seeing small glow near Big Dipper; and man who reported seeing small spheres emerging from auto tailpipes.”

In the week of April 14, police received reports of 4,294 damaged windshields — but then they stopped abruptly.

The culprit, it now appears, was nothing at all. “The hard fact,” said glass expert James Ashley, “is that this seems to be wholly psychological. Certainly there are some marks being found on windshields. But there always have been. If after hearing rumors you hurry out to examine your own windshield closely, you stand a fair chance of being able to find some ‘pits.’” The epidemic is now regarded as a textbook instance of collective delusion.

“Remarkable Signature”


I send you what I regard as one of the most remarkable signatures ever devised by a writer. It is one which I have seen on hundreds of Government papers at Washington, D.C., where the man who uses it was for some years Expert Computer of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and Astronomer of the Carnegie Institution. His name is Herman S. Davis, and he writes it as here shown. This signature is easily made with two swift strokes of the pen, and is not a mere monogram of initials, for it contains the full name, H.S. Davis, and also the year, month, and day of his birth — namely, 8.6.68. It has the further remarkable quality of being so symmetrical as to read exactly the same viewed upside down. — Mr. Russell Lang, Pittsburg, Pa., U.S.A.

Strand, December 1908

“A Lizard Found in a Millstone”

As a mason, at a village near Kirkaldy, in Scotland, was dressing a barley millstone from a large block, after cutting away a part, he found a lizard imbedded in the stone. It was about an inch and a quarter long, of a brownish yellow colour, and had a round head, with bright, sparkling, projecting eyes. It was apparently dead; but after being about five minutes exposed to the air, it showed signs of life, and soon after ran about with much celerity; after half an hour, it was brushed off the stone and killed. There were about 14 feet of earth above the rock, and the block in which the lizard was found was seven or eight feet deep in the rock; so that the whole depth of the animal from the surface was 21 or 22 feet. The stone had no fissure, was quite hard, and one of the best to be got from the quarry of Cullaloe, reckoned perhaps the first in Scotland.

Kaleidoscope, Aug. 14, 1821