Unquote

“Why can’t somebody give us a list of things that everybody thinks and nobody says, and another list of things that everybody says and nobody thinks?” — Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

“Isn’t it strange that we talk least about the things we think about most!” — Charles Lindbergh

Podcast Episode 3: Extreme Pedestrians, Kangaroo Stew, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In 1926, a woman named Lillian Alling grew disenchanted with her life as a maid in New York City and resolved to return to her native Russia. She lacked the funds to sail east, so instead she walked west — trekking 6,000 miles alone across the breadth of Canada and into Alaska. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll consider Alling’s lonely, determined journey, compare it to the efforts of other long-distance pedestrians, and suggest a tool to plot your own virtual journey across the United States.

We’ll also learn the truth about the balloon-borne messenger dogs of 1870 Paris, ponder the significance of October 4 to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and offer a chance to win a book in the next Futility Closet Challenge.

Our main feature this week concerns “mystery woman” Lillian Alling, who left New York City in 1926 in a single-minded quest to walk to Siberia. Our original post about Lillian ran on Feb. 25; the single best resource about her life (what little is known of it) is Susan Smith-Josephy’s Lillian Alling: The Journey Home. We also discuss the backing, fiddling, crawling, and wheelbarrow-pushing exploits of Plennie Wingo, Otto Funk, Hans Mullikin, and Jack Krohn.

TransAmerica, the free online tool to plot your own virtual course across the United States, includes a feature that lets you connect with friends. If enough of us are interested, perhaps a pack of us could swarm virtually across the U.S. this spring.

Here’s the menu of one Paris restaurant from Christmas 1870, about 99 days into the Prussian siege:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Menu-siegedeparis.jpg

Daily News correspondent Henry Labouchère’s Diary of the Besieged Resident in Paris lists his culinary impressions of horse, cat, donkey, kitten, rat, and spaniel.

If you’d like to learn more about the pigeon post and the use of balloons during the Siege of Paris, the best resource I’ve been able to find is John Fisher’s 1965 book Airlift 1870; Frederic Luther’s 1959 book Microfilm: A History contains detailed records of all 65 manned balloons that left Paris during the siege. They were strikingly helpless to the whims of the winds: Number 31 went up at 11:40 p.m. Nov. 24 and came down at 2:25 p.m. the following day in Oslo, of all places, having covered a thousand miles in 15 hours. By contrast, “one drifted for an entire night, first north, then west, then south, to land within the Prussian lines almost at the gates of Paris.”

I have no resources (yet) to suggest regarding Coleridge and October 4; on a trip to UNC this week I hope to consult Stephen Weissman’s promisingly titled His Brother’s Keeper: A Psycho-Biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which at least speculates about the date’s significance to the poet.

This week’s Futility Closet Challenge is inspired by another reader competition from New York magazine in the 1970s. These are collected in two books with the magnificent titles Thank You for the Giant Sea Tortoise and Maybe He’s Dead, both by Mary Ann Madden. A few further “near misses” from those collections:

  • Tarzan of the Larger Primates
  • One if by land, and two if not
  • The Sun Comes Up, Too
  • Mrs. Butterfly
  • Here Comes the Iceman
  • Nebraska!
  • “In the Foyer of the Mountain King”

Post your own entry below or mail it to podcast@futilitycloset.com by Friday, April 4. Our favorite entry will win a copy of our book, Futility Closet: An Idler’s Miscellany of Compendious Amusements.

Thanks again to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset. The show notes are on the blog, where you can also enter your submissions in this week’s Challenge. Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

Next week we plan to discuss the strange wave of airship sightings that swept the western U.S. in 1896. If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Neighborly

Located in Texas’ northwest corner, the town of Dalhart is closer to six other state capitals than to Texas’ own capital, Austin.

As the crow flies, Dalhart is 201 miles from Santa Fe, 281 miles from Oklahoma City, 289 miles from Denver, 375 miles from Cheyenne, 434 miles from Topeka, and 458 miles from Lincoln, but 491 miles from Austin.

In driving distance, it’s 263 miles from Santa Fe, 343 miles from Oklahoma City, 348 miles from Denver, 448 miles from Cheyenne, 461 miles from Topeka, and 540 miles from Lincoln, but 579 miles from Austin.

False Alarm

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PSM_V46_D799_The_lyre_bird_menura_superba.jpg

I’ve had some incredible experiences with lyrebirds of late in Sydney’s southwest. Recently on the Old Ford Road, Kentlyn, I observed a male in full display on his mound, going through a repertoire of vocal impressions that would have put Peter Sellers to shame. Among the imitations I recognised were kookaburra, currawong, butcherbird, cockatoo and even a small dog. But my most startling experience was last Christmas morning, about 7 a.m. From a group of three or four lyrebirds arose a distinct call of ‘Fire! Fire!’ It seems that one bird must have overheard this cry on some earlier danger-fraught occasion. Or, as the far side of the Georges River is Defence Department territory, maybe it picked it up during military training.

— Frederick Hill, “Members’ Mailbag,” Australian Geographic, July-September 2005

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:New_York_Public_Library_060622.JPG

jubate
adj. having a mane

Oliver Herford said that at the New York Public Library one “learned the meaning of the expression ‘reading between the lions.'”

Young American

Thomas Jefferson received the following letter on July 31, 1806:

To his Excelency Thomas Jefferson Esq.

Sir.

It is A Boy of 15 years Old Address to You the following lines. I feel A Strong regard for my Country’s welfair.

I think if I had A been Presendent at the time them opposen Set of People (I allude to the Brittish) appeared before Newyork I Should A been for rasing all the Naval force in the United States and opposed thire proceeding’s. My Father is an Englishman Born. Ever Sence I had an knowledge of Nation affaires I dispised them tirents as there are. I often read of the American War. I fear they Never will Come hear Again. I think if they Should I take up armes boy as I am in my Country’s Defence. If every one was as true to thier Country as me I think the Contest last war would not of been of so long Duration. Conquer or Die is my Wash Word.

A True American though a Youth

Huza to the Constetuon
Huza to the Repubeck
Huza Fredom Independence
Huza to all America.
PS. Sir Excuse the spelling.

“Opus 34″

A magic square by Lee Sallows. The 16 pieces progress in area from 1 to 16, and those in each row, column, and long diagonal can be assembled to form the same target shape with area 34.

Science, Fiction

Inspired by Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, marine engineer Simon Lake devoted himself to making a working practical submarine. In 1898, when his company built the first sub to operate successfully in the open sea, Verne sent a congratulatory telegram:

WHILE MY BOOK ‘TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA’ IS ENTIRELY A WORK OF IMAGINATION, MY CONVICTION IS THAT ALL I SAID IN IT WILL COME TO PASS. A THOUSAND MILE VOYAGE IN THE BALTIMORE SUBMARINE BOAT IS EVIDENCE OF THIS. THIS CONSPICUOUS SUCCESS OF SUBMARINE NAVIGATION IN THE UNITED STATES WILL PUSH ON UNDER-WATER NAVIGATION ALL OVER THE WORLD. IF SUCH A SUCCESSFUL TEST HAD COME A FEW MONTHS EARLIER IT MIGHT HAVE PLAYED A GREAT PART IN THE WAR JUST CLOSED. THE NEXT GREAT WAR MAY BE LARGELY A CONTEST BETWEEN SUBMARINE BOATS.

Bonus fact: The “20,000 leagues” in Verne’s title refers to the distance of the Nautilus’ voyage, not its depth. The sea is only about 2 miles deep; 20,000 leagues is nearly 70,000 miles.

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Otterness_CR022.jpg

immiserization
n. the act of making or becoming progressively more miserable

luctiferous
adj. bringing sorrow, mournful, gloomy

The Road Coloring Problem

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Road_coloring_conjecture.svg

Every road in this little town is a one-way street, and each street is colored either red or blue. This has a helpful effect: If you start at any house in town and follow the sequence blue-red-red three times in a row, you’ll always arrive at the yellow house.

If you follow blue-blue-red three times, you’ll always arrive at the green one.

In 1970 Roy Adler and Benjamin Weiss asked whether it’s always possible to create such a coloring in a given network; in 2009 Avraham Trahtman proved that, within certain constraints, it is.

Page 40 of 826« First...102030...3839404142...50607080...Last »