Comet Vintages

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In “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk,” Dr. Watson describes Sherlock Holmes as being as pleased as “a connoisseur who has just taken his first sip of a comet vintage.”

That’s a reference to a strange tradition in winemaking: Years in which a comet appears prior to the harvest tend to produce successful vintages:

1826 — Biela’s Comet
1832 — Biela’s Comet
1839 — Biela’s Comet
1845 — Great June Comet of 1845
1846 — Biela’s Comet
1852 — Biela’s Comet
1858 — Comet Donati
1861 — Great Comet of 1861
1874 — Comet Coggia
1985 — Halley’s Comet
1989 — Comet Okazaki-Levy-Rudenko

“For some unexplained reason, or by some strange coincidence, comet years are famous among vine-growers,” noted the New York Times in 1872. “The last comet which was fairly visible to human eyes [and that] remained blazing in the horizon for many months, until it faded slowly away, was seen in 1858, a year dear to all lovers of claret; 1846, 1832 and 1811 were all comet years, and all years of excellent wine.”

No one has even proposed a mechanism to explain how this might be, but it’s widely noted in the wine world: Critic Robert Parker awarded a perfect 100-point rating to the 1811 Château d’Yquem, and cognac makers still put stars on their labels to commemorate that exceptional year.

Podcast Episode 113: The Battle Over Mother’s Day

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Anna Jarvis organized the first observance of Mother’s Day in 1908 and campaigned to have the holiday adopted throughout the country. But her next four decades were filled with bitterness and acrimony as she watched her “holy day” devolve into a “burdensome, wasteful, expensive gift-day.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll follow the evolution of Mother’s Day and Jarvis’ belligerent efforts to control it.

We’ll also meet a dog that flummoxed the Nazis and puzzle over why a man is fired for doing his job too well.

Intro:

For its December 1897 issue, The Strand engaged three acrobats to create a “human alphabet.”

In 1989 researchers discovered a whale in the Pacific that calls at 52 hertz — the only one of its kind.

Sources for our feature on Anna Jarvis:

Katharine Lane Antolini, Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for the Control for Mother’s Day, 2014.

Katharine Lane Antolini, “The Woman Behind Mother’s Day,” Saturday Evening Post 288:3 (May/June 2016), 82-86.

“Miss Anna Jarvis Has New Program for Mother’s Day,” The [New London, Conn.] Day, May 9, 1912.

“The Forgotten Mother of Mother’s Day,” Milwaukee Journal, May 13, 1944.

“Founder of Mother’s Day Dies Penniless, Blind at 84,” Pittsburgh Press, Nov. 26, 1948.

Cynthia Lowry, “Woman Responsible for Mother’s Day Died Without Sympathy for Way It Turned Out,” Associated Press, May 4, 1958.

Associated Press, “Mrs. Anna Jarvis Inspires ‘Mother’s Day’ Observance,” May 10, 1959.

Daniel Mark Epstein, “The Mother of Mother’s Day,” Toledo Blade, May 3, 1987.

Marshall S. Berdan, “Change of Heart,” Smithsonian 38:2 (May 2007), 116-116.

Jackie the parodic Dalmatian:

“Hitler-Saluting Dog Outraged Nazis,” World War II 26:1 (May/June 2011), 16.

“Hitler-Mocking Dog Enraged Nazis, According to New Documents,” Telegraph, Jan. 7, 2011.

“Nazi Germany Pursued ‘Hitler Salute’ Finnish Dog,” BBC, Jan. 7, 2011.

Kirsten Grieshaber, “‘Heil Rover!’ Hitler-Imitating Dog Enraged Nazis,” NBC News, Jan. 7, 2011.

Nick Carbone, “Man’s Best Fuhrer: Was Hitler-Saluting Dog a Threat to the Nazis?”, Time, Jan. 9, 2011.

Michael Slackman, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in Finland Who Was Trained to Give a Nazi Salute,” New York Times, Jan. 11, 2011.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Steven Jones, who sent this corroborating link (warning: this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

This Land Is Your Land

https://pixabay.com/en/martha-s-vineyard-docks-mooring-183271/

The Domestic Names Committee of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has granted only five possessive apostrophes in 113 years:

  • Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., 1933. This had been designated Marthas Vineyard for 40 years until the committee restored the apostrophe after a local protest campaign.
  • Ike’s Point, N.J., 1944. Here the apostrophe was allowed because the board agreed that “Ikes Point” would be “unrecognizable.”
  • John E’s Pond, R.I., 1963. Spoken aloud, this might otherwise have been misunderstood as “John S Pond.”
  • Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View, Ariz., 1995. “Joshua” is the name of a tree and “Carlos Elmer” is the name of a photographer. The Arizona state names board argued that three given names in a row would “dilute the meaning.”
  • Clark’s Mountain, Ore., 2002. The Oregon names board asked for this exception “to correspond with the personal preferences of Lewis and Clark.”

Other place names, including Harpers Ferry and Pikes Peak, are generally stripped of their apostrophes in official federal usage (there are some administrative exceptions, such as Prince George’s County, Md.).

The committee argues that an apostrophe implies private ownership of a public place. The United States is the only country with such a policy, but the rule has been reaffirmed five times. In 2013 Jennifer Runyon of the names committee told the Wall Street Journal, “We don’t debate the apostrophe.”

(Thanks, Dave.)

One World

Malcolm Townsend’s U.S.: An Index to the United States of America (1890) contains this table of absurd racial hair-splitting from 1850s Louisiana:

olmsted table

The source is Frederick Law Olmsted’s A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, from 1856.

Olmsted wrote, “All these varieties exist in New Orleans with sub-varieties, and experts pretend to be able to distinguish them.”

Misc

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Image: Wikimedia Commons
  • ZZ Top’s first album is called ZZ Top’s First Album.
  • Supreme Court justice Byron White was the NFL’s top rusher in 1940.
  • LOVE ME TENDER is an anagram of DENVER OMELET.
  • Every palindromic number with an even number of digits is divisible by 11.
  • “In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.” — Cassius

From English antiquary John Aubrey’s 1696 Miscellanies: “Anno 1670, not far from Cyrencester, was an Apparition; Being demanded, whether a good Spirit or a bad? Returned no answer, but departed with a curious Perfume and a most melodious Twang.”

Absent Friends

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Image: Flickr

When Connecticut widow Helen Dow Peck died in 1955, she left $178,000 to one John Gale Forbes, who she said had contacted her through a Ouija board in 1919.

Peck had spent 34 years hunting for Forbes since he’d “resolved out of space” to her during the Ouija craze around 1920. She believed Forbes was confined in a mental institution and wrote to many around the country as she tried to locate him.

Nine nieces and nephews contested the will. But Peck’s executor, City National Bank of Danbury, held out that Forbes might have been an actual person, though a private investigator couldn’t find him.

What to do? Peck’s family finally won when the state supreme court rejected the will in 1958. That was a double blow for the paranormal: If the will had been found valid and Forbes couldn’t be located, Peck had asked that the money create a fund “to be used for research on the subject of mental telepathy for the understanding and care of insane persons.”

In a Word

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tenue
n. bearing, deportment

ogganition
n. snarling

A peculiar detail from the Battle of Waterloo:

As the day wore on, the French cavalry became more and more desperate, and charged repeatedly with fierce gesticulations, which became more pronounced as they were so continuously repelled. These peculiar looks and gestures of the French became so marked that when the colonel, Fielding Browne, gave the familiar order, ‘Prepare for cavalry,’ the officers would thunder out the order, and add, ‘Now, men, make faces!’

(“The Prince of Wales’s Volunteers,” Navy & Army Illustrated, Feb. 4, 1899.)