Come Out, Come Out …

That hollow column on the right is a “priest-hole,” a hiding place for Catholic priests, who were hunted with Elmer-Fudd-like tenacity when Elizabeth took the English throne around 1560. A “papist” could be hanged for saying mass; converting a Protestant was high treason.

Fortunately, the priests had a Bugs Bunny in the shape of Nicholas Owen, a Jesuit laybrother who spent his life devising secret chambers and hiding places for persecuted Catholics. “Pursuivants” could spend as much as a fortnight fruitlessly tearing down paneling and tearing up floors while the priest held his breath a wall’s thickness away.

Ickily, some of these hidden priests starved to death.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is fear of the number 666, which is linked to Satan and the Antichrist in the Book of Revelation.

Unfortunately, it’s rather hard to avoid. 666 is the sum of the squares of the first seven primes:

666 = 22 + 32 + 52 + 72 + 112 + 132 + 172


666 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 567 + 89

= 123 + 456 + 78 + 9

= 9 + 87 + 6 + 543 + 21

= 13 + 23 + 33 + 43 + 53 + 63 + 53 + 43 + 33 + 23 + 13

In 1989, after his second term as president, Ronald and Nancy Reagan moved to a new home in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles. They had the address, 666 St. Cloud Road, changed to 668 St. Cloud Road.

“Odd Bill for Repairs”

One meets with curious things in the old church registers of England. The subjoined, in the Record Office of Winchester Cathedral, dated 1182, is certainly unique. It is a bill for work done: —

To soldering and repairing St. Joseph, 0 l. 8 d.
To cleaning and ornamenting the Holy Ghost, 0 l. 6 d.
To repairing the Virgin Mary and cleaning the child, 4 l. 8 d.
To screwing a nose on the Devil, and putting in the hair on his head, and placing a new joint in his tail, 5 l. 6 d.

— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical (1882)

Holiday for Vowels

“In an old church in Westchester county, N.Y., the following consonants are written beside the altar, under the Ten Commandments. What vowel is to be placed between them, to make sense and rhyme of the couplet?”


— Charles Bombaugh, Facts and Fancies for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1860

Click for Answer

“Earthquake Panic”

A panic terror of the end of the world seized the good people of Leeds and its neighborhood in the year 1806. It arose from the following circumstances. A hen, in a village close by, laid eggs, on which were inscribed the words, “Christ is coming.” Great numbers visited the spot, and examined these wondrous eggs, convinced that the day of judgment was near at hand. Like sailors in a storm, expecting every instant to go to the bottom, the believers suddenly became religious, prayed violently, and flattered themselves that they repented them of their evil courses. But a plain tale soon put them down, and quenched their religion entirely. Some gentlemen, hearing of the matter, went one fine morning and caught the poor hen in the act of laying one of her miraculous eggs. They soon ascertained beyond doubt that the egg had been inscribed with some corrosive ink, and cruelly forced up again into the bird’s body. At this explanation, those who had prayed, now laughed, and the world wagged as merrily as of yore.

— Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860