Encounter with a Newfoundland mermaid, recorded by Richard Whitbourne, 1610:

“Now also I will not omit to relate something of a strange Creature that I first saw there in the yeere 1610, in a morning early as I was standing by the water side, in the Harbour of Saint Johns, which I espied verie swiftly to come swimming towards me, looking cheerefully, as it had beene a woman, by the Face, Eyes, Nose, Mouth, Chin, eares, Necke and Forehead: It seemed to be so beautifull, and in those parts so well proportioned, having round about upon the head, all blew strakes, resembling haire, downe to the Necke (but certainly it was haire) for I beheld it long, and another of my companie also, yet living, that was not then farre from me; and seeing the same comming so swiftly towards mee, I stepped backe, for it was come within the length of a long Pike.

“Which when this strange Creature saw that I went from it, it presently thereupon dived a little under water, and did swim to the place where before I landed; whereby I beheld the shoulders and backe downe to the middle, to be as square, white and smooth as the backe of a man, and from the middle to the hinder part, pointing in proportion like a broad hooked Arrow; how it was proportioned in the forepart from the necke and shoulders, I know not; but the same came shortly after unto a Boat, wherein one William Hawkridge, then my servant, was, that hath bin since a Captaine in a Ship to the East Indies, and is lately there imploied againe by Sir Thomas Smith, in the like Voyage; and the same Creature did put both his hands upon the side of the Boate, and did strive to come in to him and others then in the said Boate; whereat they were afraid; and one of them strooke it a full blow on the head; whereat it fell off from them: and afterwards it came to two other Boates in the Harbour; the men in them, for feare fled to land: This (I suppose) was a Mermaide.”

Death of a Climbing Boy

Account of the death of a chimney sweep’s boy, taken in evidence before the Parliamentary Committee on Climbing Boys, 1817:

“On Monday morning, 29 March 1813, a chimney sweeper of the name of Griggs attended to sweep a small chimney in the brewhouse of Messrs Calvert and Co. in Upper Thames Street; he was accompanied by one of his boys, a lad of about eight years of age, of the name of Thomas Pitt.

“The fire had been lighted as early as 2 o’clock the same morning, and was burning on the arrival of Griggs and his little boy at eight. The fireplace was small, and an iron pipe projected from the grate some little way into the flue. This the master was acquainted with (having swept the chimneys in the brewhouse for some years), and therefore had a tile or two broken from the roof, in order that the boy might descend the chimney. He had no sooner extinguished the fire than he suffered the lad to go down; and the consequence, as might be expected, was his almost immediate death, in a state, no doubt, of inexpressible agony.

“The flue was of the narrowest description, and must have retained heat sufficient to have prevented the child’s return to the top, even supposing he had not approached the pipe belonging to the grate, which must have been nearly red hot; this however was not clearly ascertained on the inquest, though the appearance of the body would induce an opinion that he had been unavoidably pressed against the pipe.

“Soon after his descent, the master, who remained on the top, was apprehensive that something had happened, and therefore desired him to come up; the answer of the boy was, ‘I cannot come up, master, I must die here.’ An alarm was given in the brewhouse immediately that he had stuck in the chimney, and a bricklayer who was at work near the spot attended, and after knocking down part of the brickwork of the chimney, just above the fireplace, made a hole sufficiently large to draw him through. A surgeon attended, but all attempts to restore life were ineffectual.

“On inspecting the body, various burns appeared; the fleshy part of the legs and a great part of the feet more particularly were injured; those parts too by which climbing boys most effectually ascend or descend chimneys, viz. the elbows and knees, seemed burnt to the bone; from which it must be evident that the unhappy sufferer made some attempts to return as soon as the horrors of his situation became apparent.”

Rules for Public Dance Halls

Regulations posted in the dance halls of Lansing, Mich., circa 1920:

  1. No shadow or spotlight dances allowed.
  2. Moonlight dances not allowed where a single light is used to illuminate the Hall. Lights may be shaded to give Hall dimmed illuminated effect.
  3. All unnecessary shoulder or body movement or gratusque dances positively prohibited.
  4. Pivot reverse and running on the floor prohibited.
  5. All unnecessary hesitation, rocking from one foot to the other and see-sawing back and forth of the dancers will be prohibited.
  6. No loud talking, undue familiarity or suggestive remarks unbecoming any lady or gentleman will be tolerated.

Position of Dancers

  1. Right hand of gentleman must not be placed below the waist nor over the shoulder nor around the lady’s neck, nor lady’s left arm around gentleman’s neck. Lady’s right hand and gentleman’s left hand clasped and extended at least six inches from the body, and must not be folded and lay across the chest of dancers.
  2. Heads of dancers must not touch.


No beating of drum to produce Jazz effect will be allowed.

Any and all persons violating any of these rules will be subject to expulsion from the hall, also arrest for disorderly conduct.

By Order of

Chief of Police

Crypt of Civilization

Partial contents of the Crypt of Civilization, a time capsule to be opened on May 28, 8113 A.D.:

  • 5 phonograph records (transcriptions)
  • 1 set Lionel model train (6 cars, 1 track)
  • 1 set Lincoln Logs (toys)
  • 1 telephone instrument dial phone (desk type)
  • 2 microfilm readers and 2 microfilms (Oglethorpe Book of Georgia Verse)
  • 4 skeins of rayon, 1 electric iron
  • 2 electric lighting fixtures and 2 acetate shades
  • 1 “Comptometer,” serial number J246635
  • 1 package Butterick dress patterns
  • 1 slide rule and instructions
  • 1 package 2nd carbon copy of teletype news
  • 1 cover for milk bottle
  • 1 asbestos mat
  • 1 tube rayon thread
  • 1 set of 6 radio tubes
  • 1 “Negro doll”
  • 1 blotter, 1 inkwell (sealed)

These things were sealed away in 1940, and already they’re almost unrecognizable.

Big-Band Propaganda

The biggest trouble with diabolical schemes is the quality control.

Case in point: Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once actually put together his own big band, plotting to use “degenerate” swing music to hypnotize decadent Americans.

“Charlie and His Orchestra” were broadcast to the United States, Canada and England, playing popular tunes like “I Got Rhythm,” “Stardust,” and “The Sheik Of Araby.”

About halfway through each song, when he had the audience’s attention, “Charlie” (Karl Schwendler) would leave off singing and launch into a Nazi tirade about war, privation, death, pain, and the master race. Unfortunately, Schwendler’s snarling is not on a par with his bandleading, so he comes off sounding like Colonel Klink in fourth grade:

Thanks for the memories/It gives us strength to fight/For freedom and for right/It might give you a headache, England/That the Germans know how to fight/And hurt you so much …

It’s said that the act picked up its own following in Germany after the war. The band is actually not bad, but whoever wrote the propaganda probably raised American morale.


In 1900 the Ladies Home Journal made 29 predictions about the year 2000. Sample:

There will be air-ships, but they will not successfully compete with surface cars and water vessels for passenger or freight traffic. They will be maintained as deadly war-vessels by all military nations. Some will transport men and goods. Others will be used by scientists making observations at great heights above the earth.

These prophecies reveal as much about the nature of science fiction as about the nature of science. They’re often utopian, or naive extrapolations of existing knowledge. And change is accelerating. I’m sure the world of 2100 is literally unimaginable to us today. It’s not even worth trying.

Churchill Anecdote #1

When Winston Churchill won a seat in Parliament at age 26, he grew a mustache to make himself look older.

“Winston,” said a female opponent, “I approve of neither your politics nor your mustache.”

“Madam,” he replied, “you are not likely to come in contact with either.”

The Experts Speak

“The bow is a simple weapon, firearms are very complicated things which get out of order in many ways … a very heavy weapon and tires out soldiers on the march. Whereas also a bowman can let off six aimed shots a minute, a musketeer can discharge but one in two minutes.”

That’s Colonel Sir John Smyth in 1591, advising the British Privy Council to skip muskets and stick with bows.

InfoToday collected a lot of similarly farsighted advice into an online feature, appropriately called OOPS!

Down in Front

George Bush and Dan Quayle are famous for fractured oratory, but the godfather of political malaprops is Sir Boyle Roche, an Irish member of Parliament in the 18th century. Highlights:

  • “Mr. Speaker, I smell a rat; I see him forming in the air and darkening the sky; but I’ll nip him in the bud.”
  • “While I write this letter, I have a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other.”
  • “All along the untrodden paths of the future I can see the footprints of an unseen hand.”
  • “He is the kind of opponent who would stab you in front of your face and then stab you in the chest when your back is turned.”
  • “We should silence anyone who opposes the right to freedom of speech.”
  • “I answer in the affirmative with an emphatic no.”

The best I’ve seen: “It would surely be better to give up, not only a part but, if necessary, the whole of our constitution, to preserve the remainder.”