Georgia’s Savannah airport hit a delicate snag in the 1980s — a planned extension to Runway 10 was delayed because a local family refused to move the graves of Richard and Catherine Dotson, a farming couple who had been laid to rest in the land they’d cultivated for decades.
The solution was to pave over the graves but lay the two headstones in its surface. They read “At rest” and “Gone home to rest” — but there’s a legend among pilots that if you land just after sundown you’ll see two uneasy figures on the runway’s north side.
South Carolina’s newspaper The State notes, “Family members are still escorted to visit them safely, though they cannot leave flowers.”
Mathematician John Rainwater has published 10 research papers in functional analysis, notably in the geometric theory of Banach spaces and in convex functions. The University of Washington has named a regular seminar after him, and Rainwater’s Theorem is an important result in summability theory.
This is most impressive because he doesn’t exist. In 1952 UW grad student Nick Massey received a blank registration card by mistake, and he invented a fictional student, naming him John Rainwater because it was raining at the time. “Rainwater” was adopted by the other students and began to submit solutions to problems posed in the American Mathematical Monthly, and he’s gone on to a 60-year (so far) career of considerable distinction — his top paper has 19 citations.
Asked why he’d published that paper under Rainwater’s name, John Isbell quoted Friedrich Schiller: “Man is only fully human when he plays.”
Biochemist Roger Tsien won the 2008 Nobel prize in chemistry for his contributions to knowledge of green fluorescent protein, a complex of amino acid residues that glow vividly when exposed to ultraviolet light.
Inspired, Nathan Shaner, a researcher in Tsien’s lab, painted this San Diego beach scene using an eight-color palette of bacterial colonies expressing fluorescent proteins.
In 2013, Georgia Institute of Technology mechanical engineer David Hu and his colleagues discovered a “law of urination”: All mammals weighing more than 1 kilogram empty their full bladders in about 21 seconds (standard deviation 13 seconds).
Last year Hu followed that up with a law of defecation: Despite a rectum length varying from 4 to 40 centimeters, mammals from cats to elephants defecate within a nearly constant duration of 12 ± 7 seconds. A layer of mucus helps feces slide through the large intestine; larger animals have more feces but also thicker layers of mucus, which aids their ejection.
From the journal Soft Matter, whose cover artist deserves some kind of award.
In 1829 a group of convicts seized the English brig Cyprus off Tasmania and sailed her to Canton. When captured, the convicts’ leader, William Swallow, claimed that they had visited Japan along the way. This was widely dismissed, as Japan had a strictly isolationist foreign policy at that time.
But just last year amateur historian Nick Russell discovered Japanese records of a visiting “barbarian” ship in 1830 that flew a British flag. Local samurai had visited the ship and recorded what they saw, including watercolors. The visitors had “long pointed noses” and asked in sign language for water and firewood. The young skipper put tobacco in “a suspicious looking object, sucked and then breathed out smoke.” The men “exchanged words amongst themselves like birds twittering,” and the ship’s dog “did not look like food. It looked like a pet.”
Another samurai listed gifts that the crew offered to the Japanese, including an object that’s now believed to have been a boomerang.
Takashi Tokuno, chief curator at the archive of Tokushima Prefecture, said there is a “high probability” that the barbarian ship is the Cyprus; Warwick Hirst, former curator of manuscripts at the State Library of New South Wales, said, “I have no doubt that the Japanese account describes the visit of the Cyprus.”
The Japanese turned away the mutineers, who eventually scuttled the Cyprus near Canton and worked their way back to England, where they found that word of their deed had preceded them. Swallow died in prison, and the rest became the last men hanged for piracy in Britain.
In 1967, Ian Stevenson closed a combination lock and placed it in a filing cabinet in the psychiatry department at the University of Virginia. He had set the combination using a word or phrase known only to himself. He told his colleagues that he would try to communicate the code to them after his death, as potential evidence that his awareness had survived.
The combination “is extremely meaningful to me,” he said. “I have no fear whatever of forgetting it on this side of the grave and, if I remember anything on the other side, I shall surely remember it.”
His colleague Emily Williams Kelly told the New York Times, “Presumably, if someone had a vivid dream about him, in which there seemed to be a word or a phrase that kept being repeated — I don’t quite know how it would work — if it seemed promising enough, we would try to open it using the combination suggested.”