The Saddest Thing You’ve Ever Seen

In 1985 Ralph Piro patented this “self-congratulatory apparatus … which is useful for providing a self-administered pat on the back or a congratulatory gesture.”

(Using one’s own hand for this “places one in a somewhat uncomfortable posture and additionally lacks the placement of a pat in the most desired middle portion of the back.”)


At the 1939 World’s Fair, San Francisco Seals catcher Joe Sprinz tried to catch a baseball dropped from the Goodyear blimp 1,200 feet overhead.

Sprinz knew baseball but he hadn’t studied physics — he lost five teeth and spent three months in the hospital with a fractured jaw.

The Author’s Tale

‘Twas potter, and the little brown
Did simon and schuster in the shaw;
All mosby were the ballantines,
And the womraths mcgraw.

“Beware Jovanovich, my son!
The knopfs that crown, the platts that munk!
Beware the doubleday, and shun
The grolier wagnallfunk!”

He took his putnam sword in hand,
Long time the harcourt brace he sought;
So rested he by the crowell tree
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in harper thought he stood,
Jovanovich, with eyes of flame,
Came houghton mifflin through the wood
And bowkered as it came!

Dodd mead! Dodd mead! And from his steed
His dutton sword went kennicatt!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went quadrangling back.

“And hast thou slain Jovanovich?
Come to my arms, my bantam boy!
Oh, stein and day! Giroux! McKay!”
He scribnered in his joy.

‘Twas potter, and the little brown
Did simon and schuster in the shaw;
All mosby were the ballantines,
And the womraths mcgraw.

— Anonymous

“A Bird Caught by a Fish”

In a pond near Lewes, in Sussex, a pike, in appearance about a foot long, was seen to seize and gradually gorge a swallow (probably one of the web-footed kind), as it was wantoning on the surface of the water. The above is an indubitable fact, as witnessed and related by a clergyman, whose veracity cannot be disputed, and on whose authority we feel a pleasure in recording this piscatory anecdote.

— Pierce Egan, Sporting Anecdotes, Original and Selected, 1822

Land Ho!,M1

In June 1875, Paul Boyton, “the fearless frogman,” crossed the English Channel enclosed in “Merriman’s Life Preserving Dress,” an inflatable rubber suit designed to float 300 pounds. “Over 1500 persons had assembled on the piers,” reported the Science Record, “and the house-tops in the vicinity were covered with spectators.”

The remarkable suit carried provisions for nine days, and “it is impossible for the body to sink, or, however tossed by a rough sea, to be thrown face downward.” Far from it: Boyton showed crowds how a floating man could display a flag, dispatch a carrier pigeon, build a raft, smoke, read, fish, cook, and shoot.

Ironically, he dazzled his way right out of the record books. Because the miraculous equipage included a sail and a paddle, Boyton’s feat scarcely counts as swimming, and credit for the first channel crossing today generally goes to Matthew Webb, who swam from Dover to Calais two months later the old-fashioned way.

Short Verse

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

That’s the first verse of Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” University of Liverpool librarian John Sampson found it a bit wordy, so he tightened it up:

The curfew tolls the knell of day,
The lowing herd winds o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his way,
And leaves the world to dark and me.

Still unsatisfied, he tried:

The curfew tolls the knell of day,
The herd winds o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his way,
And leaves the world to me.

Finally he settled on:

Dusk tolls,
Herds flee,
Hinds scoot:
Not me.

“Beware the Inventor”

A man about 43 years of age giving the name Joshua Coppersmith has been arrested for attempting to extort funds from ignorant and superstitious people by exhibiting a device which he says will convey the human voice any distance over metallic wires. He calls the instrument a ‘telephone,’ which is obviously intended to imitate the word ‘telegraph’ and win the confidence of those who know the success of the latter instrument. Well informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires, as may be done by dots and dashes and signals of the Morse Code. The authorities who apprehended this criminal are to be congratulated and it is hoped that punishment will be prompt and fitting, and that it may serve as an example to other conscienceless schemers who enrich themselves at the expense of their fellow creatures.

— Boston newspaper, 1865, quoted by Edison’s assistant Francis Jehl in Menlo Park Reminiscences, 1937