What’s In a Name?

Henry Honychurch Gorringe (1841-1885) certainly deserved a hero’s remembrance. A naval officer and captain of the USS Gettysburg, he discovered an undersea mountain and moved Cleopatra’s needle from Egypt to New York.

Instead, he’s remembered for a verse by Arthur Guiterman:

In Sparkill buried lies that man of mark
Who brought the Obelisk to Central Park,
Redoubtable Commander H.H. Gorringe,
Whose name supplies the long-sought rhyme for “orange.”

Boo?

Undoctored photo of a church window at Fremantle Prison in Western Australia.

Skeptics say the image in the center is just rippled glass. Believers say it’s the face of Martha Rendell, who was hanged there in 1909 for killing her children.

“I can believe anything,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “provided that it is quite incredible.”

“Curious Post-Office”

The smallest post-office in the world is kept in a barrel, which swings from the outermost rock of the mountains overhanging the Straits of Magellan, opposite Terra del Fuego. Every passing ship opens it to place letters in or take them out. Every ship undertakes to forward all letters in it that it is possible for them to transmit. The barrel hangs by its iron chain, beaten and battered by the winds and storms, but no locked and barred office on land is more secure.

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

Franklin’s Mint

Lesser-known maxims from Poor Richard’s Almanack:

  • Happy that Nation, — fortunate that age, whose history is not diverting.
  • He that is rich need not live sparingly, and he that can live sparingly need not be rich.
  • Kings and bears often worry their keepers.
  • Proclaim not all thou knowest, all thou owest, all thou hast, nor all thou can’st.
  • Would you persuade, speak of Interest, not of Reason.
  • Those who are fear’d, are hated.
  • Many complain of their Memory, few of their Judgment.
  • Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
  • Where there’s marriage without love, there will be love without marriage.

And: “Mankind are very odd Creatures: One Half censure what they practise, the other half practise what they censure; and the rest always say and do as they ought.”

You Can’t Keep a Bad Man Down

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

Frankenstein nearly came true in 1803, when Italian physicist Giovanni Aldini ran electric current through the newly dead body of murderer George Forster.

The prison record states that “on the first application of the process to the face, the jaws of the deceased criminal began to quiver, and the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion.”

One witness reportedly died of fright, but there was really no cause for alarm. If Forster had returned to life, the prison planned to re-execute him — after all, he’d been sentenced to “hang until he be dead.”

In a Word

librocubicularist
n. one who reads in bed

Update: An alert reader points out that this is not a proper English word — it was proposed by Christopher Morley in his Haunted Bookshop (1919):

‘All right,’ said the bookseller amiably. ‘Miss Chapman, you take the book up with you and read it in bed if you want to. Are you a librocubicularist?’

Titania looked a little scandalized.

‘It’s all right, my dear,’ said Helen. ‘He only means are you fond of reading in bed. I’ve been waiting to hear him work that word into the conversation. He made it up, and he’s immensely proud of it.’

In any case, etymologically librocubicularist should mean merely “someone who does something with a book in a bedroom.” Apologies for the error, and thanks to Eadwine for pointing it out.

Do Animals Have Emotions?

In 1984, a pet kitten was given to Koko, the Stanford University gorilla who communicates through sign language.

She cared for it as a baby gorilla until December of that year, when the cat escaped from her cage and was run down by a car.

When her trainers told Koko what had happened, she gave the signs for two words.

They were “cry” and “sad.”

One Fish, Two Fish

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Basking_shark_Harper%27s_Weekly_October_24%2C_1868.jpg

A “wonderful fish” caught near Eastport, Maine, in August 1868, as depicted in Harper’s Weekly.

It’s known that basking sharks can reach 40 feet in length.

Then again, basking sharks don’t have legs.

“The Tartarian Lamb”

Tartarian Lamb

Another sighting of the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, previously discussed here:

This singular production of nature, which is one of the curiosities of the East, though not commonly known, has heretofore engaged much of the attention of the learned naturalists. To the eye, though a perfect vegetable in its internal form, particularly at a distance, it carries an exact resemblance of the animal whose name it bears. It has four stalks or stems, which appear like feet, and the body is covered with a brownish kind of down, which has the medicinal quality of stopping blood; its head also bears an exact resemblance to the representation we have given of it.

Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1803

Ahem

The statement “no statements are true unless they can be proven scientifically” cannot be proven scientifically.