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


In 1914, Collier’s assigned writer Julian Street to write a feature about Denver. Street duly arrived in town, but he didn’t venture far from the red-light district on Myers Avenue, and he spent most of his time there interviewing a Madam Leo, who gave him a story “hot enough to burn the paper on which it is written.”

To get even for the bad press, the town council ordered a new name for the prostitutes’ lane: They called it Julian Street.

Enjoy Your Stay

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Phrases you are likely to need in Borneo, to judge from a phrasebook distributed in 1966 by the Borneo Literature Bureau:

  • Wait while I remove these leeches.
  • I have been bitten by sand flies.
  • There are too many rats.
  • There are a lot of mosquitoes here.
  • The cockroaches have eaten my shirt.
  • Is this poisonous?
  • What made that noise?
  • Is Sibu Laut in a swamp?
  • Is there a taboo on your house?
  • Is the burning finished?
  • Where can I defecate?
  • Is that fish dangerous?
  • This floor is not safe.
  • The roof is leaking.
  • There is no room in this boat.
  • We must keep dry.
  • I can’t come for a time because the monsoon will soon start.
  • She has a bad pain/snakebite/gunshot wound.
  • Tear some clean cloth into strips.
  • Keep him warm.
  • Go quickly for help.
  • This vomiting needs urgent treatment.
  • I do not know what is wrong. You must take her to the clinic.
  • Your eyes need treatment, or you will become blind.

“Ape Owe ‘Em”

When fur stews can this sill leer I’m,
Toot rye tomb ache theme e’en ink Lear,
Youth inked wood butt bee weigh sting thyme;
Use eh, “It’s imp lean on scents shear!”

Gnome attar; Anna lies align!
Nation mice lender verse says knot–
Fork rip tick poet real Ike mine,
How Aaron weal, demesnes allot.

— Deems Taylor