• Liza Minnelli, daughter of Judy Garland, married Jack Haley Jr., son of the Tin Man.
  • The Netherlands still sends 20,000 tulip bulbs to Canada each year.
  • Every positive integer is a sum of distinct terms in the Fibonacci sequence.
  • HIDEOUS and HIDEOUT have no vowel sounds in common.
  • “Death is only a larger kind of going abroad.” — Samuel Butler

(Thanks, Colin and Joseph.)

Object Lesson


When alchemist Georg Honauer (1572-1597) claimed he could convert iron into gold, Duke Friedrich I of Württemberg ordered all the iron in his Mömpelgard armory conveyed to Stuttgart for a demonstration. Honauer panicked and fled but was extradited back to town, where, according to this contemporary woodcut, he was dressed in a gilded garment and hanged on a gilded gallows.

The anonymous printer concludes, er soll besser lernen Gold machen — “he should learn how to make gold better.”

(Thanks, Charlie.)

Beyond the Call


Dubious but entertaining: After the Battle of Wauhatchie on the night of October 29, 1863, rumors circulated that Confederate troops had retreated in the darkness because they’d mistaken a stampede of mules for a cavalry charge. Someone wrote a “Charge of the Mule Brigade,” and the Union quartermaster reportedly asked that the gallant mules “have conferred upon them the brevet rank of horses.”

But there are no Southern reports of a mule attack at Wauhatchie, and one Confederate combatant categorically denied the story when it appeared in Grant’s memoir. At best, it appears, some mules broke loose and caused enough confusion to permit the 137th New York Infantry to arrive and oppose the rebels.

“The exact details of whatever the mules did at Wauhatchie will never be precisely known,” writes historian Gene C. Armistead in Horses and Mules in the Civil War (2013), “but the story is too humorous and too good to abandon.”

A High Purpose


The Massachusetts School Law of 1642 declared ignorance to be a satanic ill:

It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from the use of tongues, that so that at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded and corrupted with love and false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; [we resolve] that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors.

It ordered every town of more than 50 families to hire a teacher and every town of more than 100 families to establish a grammar school, an early step toward public education in the United States.

In a Word

adj. resounding with arms

The Battle of the Somme began with a weeklong artillery bombardment in which more than a million shells were fired at the German lines. A soldier describes the first day:

The sound was different, not only in magnitude but in quality, from anything known to me. It was not a succession of explosions or a continuous roar; I at least, never heard either a gun or a bursting shell. It was not a noise; it was a symphony. And it did not move. It hung over us. It seemed as though the air were full of vast and agonized passion, bursting now with groans and sighs, now into shrill screaming and pitiful whimpering … And the supernatural tumult did not pass in this direction or in that. It did not begin, intensify, decline and end. It was poised in the air, a stationary panorama of sound, a condition of the atmosphere, not the creation of man.

At the Battle of Messines in June 1917, 19 mines comprising 600 tonnes of explosives were detonated, producing the largest man-made explosions in history to that date. One witness recalled that the “earth rocked as though a giant hand had roughly shaken it.”

(John Ellis, Eye-Deep in Hell, 1989, via Joy Damousi et al., eds., Museums, History and the Intimate Experience of the Great War, 2020.)

Better Safe


The word curfew derives from the Old French phrase couvre-feu, which means “cover fire.” Under a law imposed by William the Conqueror, all lights and fires had to be covered by 8 p.m. to reduce the risk of conflagration in towns still built largely of timber.

The practice spread through medieval Europe. Writes historian Roger Ekirch, “Not only were streets swept of pedestrians, but homes still aglow after the curfew bell ran afoul of authorities. Besides incurring fines, offenders faced the risk of incarceration, especially if caught outdoors.”

(At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, 2006.)



Another example of Horace Greeley’s terrible handwriting: According to biographer Lurton Dunham Ingersoll, in 1870 the town of Sandwich, Illinois, invited Greeley to address its lecture association. He responded:

Dear Sir. — I am overworked and growing old. I shall be 60 next Feb. 3. On the whole, it seems I must decline to lecture henceforth, except in this immediate vicinity, if I do at all. I cannot promise to visit Illinois on that errand — certainly not now.

The town replied:

Dear Sir. — Your acceptance to lecture before our association next winter came to hand this morning. Your penmanship not being the plainest, it took some time to translate it; but we succeeded; and would say your time ‘3d of February,’ and terms ‘$60,’ are entirely satisfactory.

They added, “As you suggest, we may be able to get you other engagements in this immediate vicinity; if so, we will advise you.”


A curious observation by a British ornithologist during World War I:

The Zeppelin raids … were nearly always heralded in this country by the crowing of pheasants, and the sensitiveness of this species to distant sounds was frequently a subject of comment. There seems no reason to suppose that pheasants have keener powers of hearing than men; it appears more probable that these birds are alarmed by the sudden quivering of the trees, on which they happen to be perched, at the time of an explosion … During the first Zeppelin raid in January 1915, pheasants … thirty-five to forty miles from the area over which the Zeppelins flew, shrieked themselves hoarse. In one of the early battles in the North Sea … Gamekeepers on the east coast used to say that they always knew when enemy raids had commenced, ‘for the pheasants call us day and night’.

On the Western Front, a starling learned to imitate the whistle that warned of enemy aeroplanes. One artillery officer wrote, “It was great fun to see everyone diving for cover, and I was nearly deceived myself one day.” A gun commander wrote of an owl, “The beastly bird learnt to imitate the alarm whistle to a nicety; on several occasions he turned me out in pyjamas and, when the crew had manned the gun, gave vent to a decided chuckle.” See Onlookers.

(Joy Damousi, Deborah Tout-Smith, and Bart Ziino, eds., Museums, History and the Intimate Experience of the Great War, 2020.)

All’s One for That

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The remains of Richard III were discovered under a Leicester car park in 2012. In the city center searchers located the site of the demolished Greyfriars Church where Richard’s body had been buried hastily in 1485, and the skeleton of an adult male human was found beneath the church’s choir. It exhibited severe scoliosis of the spine and 10 injuries to the head, rib, and pelvis, including “a mortal battlefield wound in the back of the skull” apparently inflicted by a halberd. The king’s identity was confirmed by a mitochondrial DNA sample provided by his modern descendants.

He was reburied in Leicester Cathedral in 2015.

04/13/2024 UPDATE: He was identified through descendants of his elder sister, Anne of York — he had no direct living descendants. My mistake. (Thanks, Steve.)