Ghost Rockets

What is this? It was photographed by the Swedish army on July 9, 1946, one of thousands of such sightings over Scandinavia that summer.

Some witnesses said the objects maneuvered or flew in formation. A number of them crashed into lakes, but no debris was found; the army spent three weeks searching for a “gray, rocket-shaped object with wings” that reportedly crashed into Lake Kölmjärv on July 19, but found nothing.

Fearing that the Russians were testing captured German missiles, the U.S. government secretly sent Gen. Jimmy Doolittle and RCA president David Sarnoff to investigate. Sarnoff told the New York Times that “the ‘ghost bombs’ are no myth but real missiles.” Truman was told they were originating from the German village of Peenemünde, but there are no records of rocket launches there after the war.

Whatever they were, there were a lot of them. In September the sightings spread to Greece, Portugal, Belgium, and Italy. In all, 2,000 sightings were reported, 200 on radar. Most likely the objects were meteors, but officially no one knows.

Counting the Days

Thomas Fuller, known as the Virginia Calculator, was stolen from his native Africa at the age of fourteen and sold to a planter. When he was about seventy years old, two gentlemen, natives of Pennsylvania, viz., William Hartshorne and Samuel Coates, men of probity and respectable characters, having heard, in travelling through the neighborhood in which the slave lived, of his extraordinary powers in arithmetic, sent for him and had their curiosity sufficiently gratified by the answers which he gave to the following questions: First, upon being asked how many seconds there were in a year and a half, he answered in about two minutes, 47,304,000. Second: On being asked how many seconds a man has lived who is 70 years, 17 days and 12 hours old, he answered in a minute and a half 2,210,500,800. One of the gentlemen who employed himself with his pen in making these calculations told him he was wrong, and the sum was not so great as he had said — upon which the old man hastily replied: stop, master, you forget the leap year. On adding the amount of the seconds of the leap years the amount of the whole in both their sums agreed exactly.

— E.W. Scripture, “Arithmetical Prodigies,” American Journal of Psychology, 1891

“Curious Account of a Bat”

On opening the vault belonging to the family of J. Norris, Esq. in the church of St. Peter’s Mancroft, Norwich, on Monday, February the third, 1806, a live bat was found therein, of a greyish colour, where it had probably laid in a torpid state, a solitary companion for the dead, more than thirty-two years, the distance of time since the vault was before opened.

Bell’s Messenger, Feb. 16, 1806

Math Notes

(4 + 9 + 1 + 3)3 = 4913

(1 + 9 + 6 + 8 + 3)3 = 19683

Triple Word Score

Rupert Hughes’ 1954 Music Lovers’ Encyclopedia contains what might be the most outlandish English word ever seen: ZZXJOANW. Hughes claimed it was of Maori origin, pronounced “shaw” and meaning “drum,” “fife,” or “conclusion.”

Logologists accepted this for 70 years before it was exposed as a hoax. Who can blame them? The English language contains about 500,000 legitimate words, including monstrosities like MLECHCHHA and QARAQALPAQ. Better luck next time.


“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” — Associates of Edwin L. Drake, refusing his suggestion, 1859

In a Word

n. the delusion that one is an ox

Michael Malloy

In 1933, a group of four thugs came up with a gruesome way to make money. They took out three insurance policies on an Irish vagrant named Michael Malloy and killed him for the proceeds.

Well, tried to, anyway. Malloy proved to be almost unkillable:

  • They gave him unlimited credit at a local speakeasy, but Malloy just drank.
  • They substituted antifreeze for Malloy’s whiskey, but he just passed out.
  • They substituted turpentine for the antifreeze, horse liniment for the turpentine, and then rat poison for the horse liniment. No luck.
  • They served him a meal of raw oysters marinated in wood alcohol, then a dish of spoiled sardines mixed with carpet tacks.
  • They dumped him into a bank of wet snow and poured water on him.

None of this worked. Desperate, they ran him down with a taxi at 45 mph. This put him in the hospital for three weeks, but it didn’t kill him. Finally the trio waited until Malloy had passed out one evening, took him to a room and put a gas hose in his mouth.

That killed him, but they didn’t have long to enjoy the insurance money. Infighting among them led to rumors, and the police exhumed Malloy’s body and revealed the plot. One conspirator went to prison and the rest were electrocuted at Sing Sing.

An Airborne Doppelganger

French astronomer Camille Flammarion writes of a curious ballooning incident in Wonders of Earth, Sea And Sky (1902):

On April 15, 1868, at about half-past three in the afternoon, we emerged from a stratum of clouds, when the shadow of the balloon was seen by us, surrounded by colored concentric circles, of which the car formed the centre. It was very plainly visible upon a yellowish white ground. A first circle of pale blue encompassed this ground and the car in a kind of ring. Around this ring was a second of a deeper yellow, then a grayish red zone, and lastly as the exterior circumference, a fourth circle, violet in hue, and imperceptibly toning down into the gray tint of the clouds. The slightest details were clearly discernible — net, robes, and instruments. Every one of our gestures was instantaneously reproduced by the aerial spectres. … It is … certain that this is a phenomenon of the diffraction of light simply produced by the vesicles of the mist.

A Prophetic Monk

The English Benedictine monk Eilmer of Malmesbury saw Halley’s comet as a young boy in 989.

When he saw it again 76 years later, he declared: “You’ve come, have you? … You’ve come, you source of tears to many mothers. It is long since I saw you; but as I see you now you are much more terrible, for I see you brandishing the downfall of my country.”

The year was 1066. That October, with the Battle of Hastings, the Normans began their conquest of England.