The Gentleman Bandit

For an Old West outlaw, Black Bart had a rather poetic sensibility. Born Charles Bolles, Bart robbed stagecoaches of thousands of dollars throughout the 1870s and 1880s, but even his first victims noted his politeness — he avoided foul language and merely asked the driver to “please throw down the box.”

Eventually Bart was writing full-blown poetry to leave at the scene of each crime. He left behind this verse after one California robbery in 1877:

I’ve labored long and hard for bread,
For honor and for riches,
But on my corns too long you’ve tread
You fine-haired sons of bitches.

… and this one the following year:

Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat,
And everlasting sorrow.
Let come what will I’ll try it on,
My condition can’t be worse;
And if there’s money in that box
‘Tis munny in my purse.

When Bart was released from prison in 1888, a reporter asked if he were going to return to robbing stagecoaches. “No, gentlemen,” he said, “I’m through with crime.” Another asked whether he would write more poetry. He smiled, “Now, didn’t you hear me say that I am through with crime?”

Cruel and Unusual

Account of a torture and execution by elephant at Baroda, India, 1814:

“The man was a slave, and two days before had murdered his master, brother to a native chieftain, called Ameer Sahib. About eleven o’clock the elephant was brought out, with only the driver on his back, surrounded by natives with bamboos in their hands. The criminal was placed three yards behind on the ground, his legs tied by three ropes, which were fastened to a ring on the right hind leg of the animal. At every step the elephant took, it jerked him forward, and every eight or ten steps must have dislocated another limb, for they were loose and broken when the elephant had proceeded five hundred yards. The man, though covered in mud, showed every sign of life, and seemed to be in the most excruciating torments. After having been tortured in this manner for about an hour, he was taken to the outside of the town, when the elephant, which is instructed for such purposes, was backed, and put his foot on the head of the criminal.”

— From The Percy Anecdotes, 1821

Memento Mori

Rome’s Capuchin Crypt contains the remains of more than 4,000 monks who died between 1528 and 1870, including several intact skeletons wearing Franciscan habits.

Reportedly it inspired the Sedlec Ossuary.

Math Notes

144648 = 861 × 168 = 492 × 294

185472 = 672 × 276 = 384 × 483

9949716 = 2583 × 3852 = 1476 × 6741

16746912 = 2556 × 6552 = 4473 × 3744

Cold Snap

On Feb. 3, 1947, the Yukon’s Snag airport recorded a temperature of minus 81.4 degrees. One worker reported:

Becoming lost was of no concern. As an observer walked along the runway each breath remained as a tiny motionless mist behind him at head level. These patches of human breath fog remained in the still air for three or four minutes before fading away. One observer even found such a trail still marking his path when he returned along the same path 15 minutes later.

And: “We threw a dish of water high into the air, just to see what would happen. Before it hit the ground, it made a hissing noise, froze, and fell as tiny round pellets of ice the size of wheat kernels.”


“Space travel is utter bilge.” — Astronomer Royal Richard Van Der Riet Woolley, 1956

“Colors Most Frequently Hit in Battle”

It would appear, from numerous observations, that soldiers are hit during battle according to the color of their dress in the following order: Red is the most fatal color; Austrian gray is the least fatal. The proportions are — red, twelve; rifle green, seven; brown, six; Austrian bluish-gray, five.

— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882


In seeking a costume for the character Professor Marvel in the The Wizard of Oz, the MGM wardrobe department found a tattered Prince Albert coat in a secondhand store in Los Angeles.

One afternoon actor Frank Morgan turned out the coat’s pocket and discovered the name “L. Frank Baum.” By a bizarre coincidence, they had chosen a coat once owned by the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

This sounds dubious, I know, but cinematographer Hal Rosson, his niece Helene Bowman, and unit publicist Mary Mayer have all vouched for the story.

“We wired the tailor in Chicago and sent pictures,” Mayer told Aljean Harmetz for the book The Making of The Wizard of Oz. “And the tailor sent back a notarized letter saying that the coat had been made for Frank Baum. Baum’s widow identified the coat, too, and after the picture was finished we presented it to her. But I could never get anyone to believe the story.”

Queen of the Mist

The first person to go over Niagara Fall in a barrel was actually a woman. Hoping to make money from the publicity, schoolteacher Annie Edson Taylor climbed into a pickle barrel on Oct. 24, 1901, and was set adrift north of Goat Island. Twenty minutes later she emerged downstream with only a gash on her forehead.

But “if it was with my dying breath,” she later said, “I would caution anyone against attempting the feat. … I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the fall.”

There are some reports that she was accompanied by a black kitten. One says it emerged as a white kitten.

See also Niagara in a Barrel and “Sending Vessels Over Niagara Falls.”

Dig Latin

In 1980 the New York Daily News reported a state bailout of the city’s subway system.