Filmmaker Melton Barker started a novel business in the 1930s: He traveled across the United States, shooting a film in each town using local talent. The residents would gladly pay a fee to see themselves immortalized in a two-reel short, and their support financed the production and Barker’s livelihood until he could reach the next town.

He shot the same film, The Kidnappers Foil, 300 times over 40 years, using the same script and largely the same shots. A young girl named Betty Davis is kidnapped on her birthday, and the town’s children organize a search for her. The finished film, 15 to 20 minutes long, would be screened at local theaters. (The example above was shot in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in February 1937.)

Most of these films have been lost, but the project as a whole was added to the National Film Registry in 2012. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image has a collection of surviving films.

(Thanks, Kevin.)



Composer and bandleader Sun Ra insisted that he wasn’t Herman Blount of Birmingham, Alabama, but an alien from Saturn. In a visionary experience in 1936, he said, he’d learned that “I would speak [through music], and the world would listen. That’s what they told me.”

The story became part of his mystique. Late in life, filling out a hospital admission form, he listed Saturn as his place of birth. When worried nurses summoned help, the psychiatrist said, “This is Sun Ra — of course he’s from Saturn!”

(Ian Simmons, “Mothership Connections,” Fortean Times 244 [January 2009], 30–35, cited in Andrew May, The Science of Sci-Fi Music, 2020.)



J.H. Brown’s 1864 book Spectropia: Or, Surprising Spectral Illusions promises to show “ghosts everywhere, and of any colour.” It accomplishes this by relying on two simple principles: persistence of vision and complementary colors. Readers are directed to stare at any of the figures for 15 seconds and then turn their eyes to a white surface (or the sky); “the spectre will soon begin to make its appearance, increasing in intensity, and then gradually vanishing,” in the color complementary to that of the stimulus.

Try it yourself.

All Together Now


Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “The function of the artist is to make people like life better than before.”

Asked whether he’d ever seen this done, he said, “Yes, the Beatles did it.”

(From Dan Wakefield’s introduction to Vonnegut’s If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?, 2013.)

“Prisons for Animals”


This short composition was discovered in the Stanford University Library, tipped into the inside cover of a bound first volume of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1909 magazine The Forerunner:

Spring is in the air. All creatures feel it. The fish are shooting up the rivers, the birds hard working and happy; every animal feels the lift and stir and new life. Even those which are in prison. …

What excuse has the Prison for Animals? What have they done to merit this life sentence?

Spring is in the air. The trees are misty with soft color, blurred with swelling buds, all aslant with curly tassels of young blossoms. The grass is pushing up in joyous vigor, green as it is never green again; soft, sweet, the delicious new first growth; beginning of a long summer’s feasting.

Here are the deer prisons. They have a high iron fence around them, another railing outside that. They have a wooden house for shelter. They have underfoot, cinders — gravel and cinders. …

To keep in a prison yard an animal built for speed, accustomed to wide ranging, to long swift flight, is cruelty. …

And for what? For whose benefit? Does it give pleasure? Those who find pleasure in gazing at helpless pain had better go unpleased. …

These beasts in prison, these who bear no burdens, provide neither food nor drink, wool nor hide — what excuse have we for tormenting them?

Here is a bald eagle. A bird of freedom. … The eagle sits huddled, dull as a brooding vulture. …

Here is a hawk, fierce-eyed. He beats his wings to tatters … against the bars.

Here is an elephant, huge, patient, with small, smouldering eyes that see more than we think. Manacled, this beast, chained at both ends, fore foot and hind foot, to stout posts. The elephant is a water lover. His dry hide itches for water. He wants to wade into it, to draw it up and pour it all over himself. …

All wild creatures have a keen, delicate sense of smell … We imprison them in fetid odors. They needs must breathe, night and day, the repulsive smell of their enemies, odors of danger and distrust. …

(Via Robert Alexander, ed., Spring Phantoms, 2018.)



1985 saw an oddity in the chess world: Russian grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi undertook a game with Hungarian Géza Maróczy, who had been dead for 34 years. The game was arranged by amateur Swiss player Wolfgang Eisenbeiss, who enlisted medium Robert Rollans to contact the deceased grandmaster and communicate his moves. (Rollans did not play chess and was not paid.)

Closely watched in Germany, the game took nearly eight years to unfold, hampered by Korchnoi’s schedule, Rollans’ illness, and Maróczy’s unhurried pace. Korchnoi, who won after 47 moves, remarked that his opponent had shown weakness in the opening but made up for it with a strong endgame.

After an analysis in 2007, neuropsychiatrist and amateur player Vernon Neppe declared that Maróczy had played at master level and that his moves could not have been found by a computer. Further, when asked to confirm his identity, the deceased grandmaster had dictated 38 pages of text to Rollans, complaining, “I am astonished when somebody does not believe me to be here personally.” Historian and chess expert Laszlo Sebestyen determined that 87.9 percent of Maróczy’s assertions there (about his playing, tournament wins, and personal life) had been accurate.

But in a 2021 critique, Edwin C. May and Sonali Bhatt Marwaha point out that Maróczy had typically taken 10 days to make each move, during which time Rollans might easily have consulted outside assistance. And the medium had had ample time to prepare Maróczy’s 1986 communication confirming his identity. Ultimately the answers lie with Rollans, who, ironically, passed quickly out of reach — he died just 19 days after Maróczy’s resignation.

For What It’s Worth

A 2009 study in the journal Sex Roles found that James Bond had had “strong” sexual contact with 46 women in the first 20 films in the Eon Productions Bond series (up to Die Another Day).

He had “mild” encounters, such as kissing, with another 52.

For comparison, Bond author Henry Chancellor had counted 58 sexual encounters in the first 20 films (according to Ben MacIntyre in For Your Eyes Only). Interestingly, Chancellor calculated that Bond sleeps with just 14 women in the 12 books that appeared between 1953 and 1964.

Still, that’s a lot of partners. “The likelihood of James Bond having chlamydia is extremely high,” general practitioner Sarah Jarvis told the BBC. “If he came to my clinic I would definitely advise him to have an STI test.”

(Kimberly A. Neuendorf, et al., “Shaken and Stirred: A Content Analysis of Women’s Portrayals in James Bond Films,” Sex Roles 62:11-12 [2010], 747-761.)

Play On

Local rules adopted at British golf courses during World War II:

  • “In competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.”
  • “The positions of known delayed-action bombs are marked by red flags placed at a reasonably, but not guaranteed, safe distance therefrom.”
  • “A ball moved by enemy action may be replaced, or if lost or destroyed, ball may be dropped not nearer the hole without penalty.”
  • “A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place. Penalty one stroke.”

In Curiosities of Golf (1994), Jonathan Rice writes, “At Folkestone GC, the wartime rules included the rather grudging allowance that ‘a ball may be lifted and dropped if in a bomb hole in the rough, but not if the bomb hole is in or part of a recognized hazard.’ So if you sliced your drive and just caught a bunker by the side of the fairway, which then turned out to be fifty feet deep thanks to an overnight bombing raid, you just had to play out of the hazard, however unrecognizable it might have been compared with the day before. They breed tough golfers in Folkestone.”

In July 1941, some American clubs reportedly adopted similar rules in a show of solidarity.

UPDATE: Here are the rules adopted by Richmond GC, southwest of London. (Thanks, Brieuc.)

The Little People


In medieval chess, each of the eight pawns was associated with a commoner’s occupation. From king rook pawn to queen rook pawn:

  • Laborer (farmer)
  • Smith
  • Notary
  • Merchant
  • Physician
  • Innkeeper
  • City watchman or guard
  • Ribald or town courier

The merchant stood before the king, the doctor before the queen.

Jacopo de Cessolis used the game as the basis for a series of sermons on morality — he says that a philosopher invented the game to show his cruel king “the maners and conditicions of a kynge of the nobles and of the comun people and of theyr offices and how they shold be touchid and drawen. And how he shold amende hymself & become vertuous.”

(From Christopher Kleinhenz’s Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia, 2004.)


A poignant little detail I found in Jay Scarfone and William Stillman’s The Wizardry of Oz: For the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz, MGM designated a flying monkey named Nikko to serve as the Wicked Witch’s familiar.

Unlike the other monkeys, Nikko has very small wings. An early script, dated July 5, 1938, explains that the Witch had clipped his wings to ensure his servitude.

In that script, it’s Nikko who presses the water bucket into Dorothy’s hands at the critical moment.