Eyewitness account of a performance by the 8-year-old Mozart, 1769:

“After this he played a difficult lesson, which he had finished a day or two before: his execution was amazing, considering that his little fingers could scarcely reach a fifth on the harpsichord.

“His astonishing readiness, however, did not arise merely from great practice; he had a thorough knowledge of the fundamental principles of composition, as, upon producing a treble, he immediately wrote a base under it, which, when tried, had a very good effect.

“He was also a great master of modulation, and his transitions from one key to another were excessively natural and judicious; he practiced in this manner for a considerable time with an handkerchief over the keys of the harpsichord.

“The facts which I have been mentioning I was myself an eye witness of; to which I must add, that I have been informed by two or three able musicians, when Bach the celebrated composer had begun a fugue and left off abruptly, that little Mozart had immediately taken it up, and worked it after a most masterly manner.

He was still an 8-year-old, though. “For example, whilst he was playing to me, a favourite cat came in, upon which he immediately left his harpsichord, nor could we bring him back for a considerable time.”

(From Daines Barrington, “Account of a Very Remarkable Young Musician,” Philosophical Transactions)

Oak Island

Exploring Oak Island, Nova Scotia, in 1795, three boys discovered an old tackle block hung from a tree directly over a circular depression. Excited by thoughts of buried treasure, the three dug down 30 feet, discovering a layer of flagstones followed by layers of logs about every 10 feet, according to news accounts in 1856. That attracted serious treasure hunters, and subsequent digs got as deep as 80 feet, where reportedly they turned up a large inscribed stone (“Forty feet below lies two million pounds”) just before the pit flooded.

That stopped the digging for a while, but it attracted still more attention. In 1849 a drill passed through the following layers, starting at the 98-foot mark:

  • spruce platform
  • 12-inch space
  • 22 inches of “metal in pieces”
  • 8 inches of oak
  • 22 inches of metal
  • 4 inches of oak
  • another spruce layer
  • 7 feet of clay

Reportedly the operators found three small links of a gold chain in the mud stuck to the drill. There have been at least 11 digs since then, ultimately producing nothing. Possibly “the money pit” still holds loot belonging to Blackbeard or Captain Kidd … but no one’s been able to find it.


Another case of man’s inhumanity to elephants. Don’t even read this one. Seriously.

In 1826, the owners of a London menagerie decided to kill Chunee, their 5-ton Indian elephant. The animal had been docile for years — Lord Byron said “I wish he was my butler” — but he grew violent toward the end of his life, perhaps aggravated by pain from a rotten tusk. When, on a rampage, he killed one of his keepers, it was decided he was too dangerous to keep.

Unfortunately, Chunee wouldn’t eat poison. So a group of musketeers were summoned to his cage, a trusted keeper ordered him to kneel, and the soldiers began to fire volleys into his chest and legs. This continued for more than an hour, during which one witness reported that the sound of the elephant’s “agony had been much more alarming than that made by the soldier’s guns.” Even with 152 musketballs in him, the elephant continued to live, kneeling in a cage full of blood, so they had to dispatch him, finally, with a sword.

News of the slaughter inspired numerous poems and even a successful play, but owner Edward Cross sought a profit even in the animal’s death. He charged a shilling to see the body dissected; he sold the hide (which took nine butchers 12 hours to remove); and he put Chunee’s skeleton on display in his old cage — with the bullet holes in his skull clearly visible.

In a Word

n. the use of rare or foreign words to appear learned

Great Land

Alaska is the northernmost, westernmost, and easternmost state — the Aleutian island chain crosses the 180° line of longitude.

“A Phosphorescent Sea”

A singular and highly remarkable case of diffused marine phosphorescence was observed by Nordenskiöld during his voyage to Greenland in 1883. One dark night, when the weather was calm and the sea smooth, his vessel was steaming across a narrow inlet called the Igaliko Fjord, when the sea was suddenly observed to be illumined in the rear of the vessel by a broad but sharply-defined band of light, which had a uniform, somewhat golden sheen, quite unlike the ordinary bluish-green phosphorescence of the sea. The latter kind of light was distinctly visible at the same time in the wake of the vessel. Though the steamer was going at the rate of from five to six miles an hour, the remarkable sheet of light got nearer and nearer. When quite close, it appeared as if the vessel were sailing in a sea of fire or molten metal. In the course of an hour the light passed on ahead, and ultimately it disappeared in the remote horizon. The nature of this phenomenon Nordenskiöld is unable to explain; and unfortunately he had not the opportunity of examining it with the spectroscope.

— W.S. Dallas in Wonders of Earth, Sea And Sky, 1902

The 27 Club

What do Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain have in common?

Each was an influential rock musician who had a meteoric rise to fame cut short by a drug-related death at age 27.

Also dead at 27: Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Peter Ham of Badfinger, “Pigpen” McKernan of the Grateful Dead, Gary Thain of Uriah Heep, Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, Jeremy Ward of The Mars Volta, Dave Alexander of the Stooges … and Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, for whatever that’s worth.

A Lady of Stature

Born to normal parents in 1846, Anna Haining Swan had reached nearly her mother’s height by age 6. She topped out at 7 feet 5 inches, 350 pounds, shortly after signing up with P.T. Barnum, who paid her handsomely.

Like other “freaks,” Anna was cultured and educated. She studied literature, music and acting, even playing Lady Macbeth. Still, her size presented problems. She was nearly trapped by a fire at Barnum’s museum in 1865 because she couldn’t fit through a third-floor window. Eventually she was lowered by block and tackle, with 18 men holding the end of the rope.

Anna was fortunate in love, though. She met Martin Van Buren Bates when the two were paired for a tour, and they were married in 1871, towering over the priest, who was 6 foot 3. They retired to a custom house with 8-foot doors, where she bore two children, one of which weighed 22 pounds at birth (neither survived). She was buried in an oversize coffin in 1888.

At her full height, Anna was nearly five times as tall as Caroline Crachami (1815-1824), the smallest person in recorded history. Born with primordial dwarfism, Caroline was only 19.5 inches tall. Her skeleton is on display at Scotland’s Hunterian Museum, and her story is recorded in Gaby Wood’s wonderfully titled Smallest of All Persons Mentioned in the Records of Littleness.


“Life … is like a grapefruit. It’s orange and squishy, and has a few pips in it, and some folks have half a one for breakfast.” — Douglas Adams

Proof That 1 Equals 0

More proof that math is broken:

0 = 0 + 0 + 0 + …

0 = (1 – 1) + (1 – 1) + (1 – 1) + …

Okay so far? Now shift the parentheses:

0 = 1 + (-1 + 1) + (-1 + 1) + (-1 + 1) + …

0 = 1 + 0 + 0 + 0 + …

0 = 1

Now we’ll have to scrap the whole discipline.