Shoe Trees

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The “shoe tree” of Morley Field, San Diego. There are at least 76 such trees in the United States. No one’s quite sure how they get started. What will future civilizations make of this?

In a Word

paneity
n. the state of being bread

Doppelgangers

In 1979 University of Minnesota psychologist Thomas J. Bouchard studied a pair of twins, Jim Lewis and Jim Springer, who had been separated at birth. Here’s what he found on interviewing them at age 39:

  • Both men had had first wives named Linda, divorced them and married women named Betty.
  • Lewis named his first son James Alan; Springer named his James Allan.
  • Both named their dogs Toy.
  • Both had worked as gas station attendants and for the same hamburger chain.
  • They drove the same type of car and bought the same brands of cigarettes and beer.
  • They regularly took annual vacations at the same Florida resort.
  • Both disliked baseball but enjoyed stock-car racing and woodwork.
  • Both gained and lost weight at the same age, bit their fingernails compulsively and had had a minor heart attack.
  • Both suffered from migraines.

“Our findings continue to suggest a very strong genetic influence on almost all medical and psychological traits,” Bouchard said. After an extensive study of separated twins, he concluded that shyness, political conservatism, dedication to hard work, orderliness, intimacy, extroversion, conformity, and a number of other social traits are largely heritable.

False Alarm

Because they’re stationary and have a smooth, saucerlike shape, lenticular clouds are often reported as UFOs. These photos were taken in New Hampshire (above) and New Mexico.

The Hum

In the 1990s, residents of Taos, N.M., and Kokomo, Ind., began to report an invasive low-frequency noise, which they likened to a distant idling diesel engine. Others have since reported the sensation elsewhere, especially in Europe. Strangely, the sound is often worse indoors, and ordinary microphones don’t detect it.

Possible explanations have included everything from meteors to submarines, but so far there’s been no large-scale investigation. For now the phenomenon is simply called “the Hum.”

No Message

When he wasn’t escaping straitjackets, Harry Houdini spent a lot of time debunking spiritualists.

Shortly before his death, he made a pact with his wife, Bess: If possible, he would contact her from the other side and deliver a prearranged coded message.

When he died, Bess lit a candle beside his photograph and kept it burning for 10 years, holding séances every Halloween to test the pact. Harry never spoke.

In 1936, after a final attempt on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel, Bess put out the candle.

“Ten years is long enough to wait for any man,” she said.

Oscar the Grouch

No science fiction film has ever been named best picture.

White Meat

In his 1647 Del Luce Animalium, Danish physician Thomas Bartholin noted a great lost opportunity for animal husbandry.

In France’s Montpellier market, he wrote, a chicken had appeared whose feathers glowed. Killed for closer study, the cock “shone on all parts of its body with a remarkably strong light.”

At the same time, he said, an Italian hen from Montebello “shone like a ball of white fire.”

It was a pity, Bartholin noted, that the two birds couldn’t be bred together, “for we might then have obtained a breed of incandescent fowls.” And saved money on candles.

Showcase Dropcloth

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Artist Jackson Pollock put his canvas on the floor and poured paint on it from a height.

Critics called him “Jack the Dripper.”

Command Performance

The Bavarian village of Oberammergau has a special deal with God. While the bubonic plague was ravaging Europe, the town’s citizens vowed that if they were spared they would perform a play every 10 years depicting the life and death of Jesus.

God, apparently, accepted. The death rate among adults rose from 1 in October 1632 to 20 in March 1633, but then it dropped again to 1 in July 1633.

True to their word, the villagers staged a play in 1634, and they’ve done so every 10 years ever since.