The Library of Vanished Sounds includes steam engines and teletypes, telephone rings and LP records.
Here’s a little light reading before you go strolling downtown: “Self-Defence With a Walking-Stick: The Different Methods of Defending Oneself With a Walking-Stick or Umbrella When Attacked Under Unequal Conditions.” It originally ran in Pearson’s Magazine in January 1901.
Apparently those things were pretty deadly: If you use your wrists and swing from the hip, “it is possible to sever a man’s jugular vein through the collar of his overcoat.”
In 1931, George Bernard Shaw wired Winston Churchill: “Am reserving two tickets for you on opening night of my new play. Come bring a friend — if you have one.”
Churchill wired back: “Impossible for me to attend first performance. Would like to attend second night — if there is one.”
Cats and their owners:
- Hodge: Samuel Johnson, British writer and lexicographer
- Selima: Horace Walpole, British writer and historian
- Langbourne: Jeremy Bentham, British writer, reformer, and philosopher
- Old Foss: Edward Lear, British poet and humorist
- Siam: Rutherford B. Hayes, American president
- Appolinaris, Beelzebub, Blatherskaite, Buffalo Bill: Mark Twain, American author
- Bismarck: Florence Nightingale, British nurse
- Cobby: Thomas Hardy, British writer
- Chess, Checkmate: Alexander Alekhine, Russian-French chess player
- Taki: Raymond Chandler, American novelist
- Jellylorum, George Pushdragon: T.S. Eliot, American-born British critic and writer
- Blackie, Jock, Nelson, Tango: Winston Churchill, British politician and writer
- Beppo: Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian writer
- Gujarat: John Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian-born American economist, writer, and diplomat
- Fuckchop: Trent Reznor, leader, Nine Inch Nails
In 1610, Ludolph van Ceulen died of exhaustion after deriving 35 decimal digits of pi.
They’re engraved on his tombstone.
Rules, Mt. Holyoke College, 1837:
- No young lady shall become a member of Mt. Holyoke Seminary who cannot kindle a fire, mash potatoes, and repeat the multiplication table and at least two-thirds of the shorter catechism.
- Every member of the school shall walk a mile a day unless a freshet, earthquake, or some other calamity prevent.
- No young lady shall devote more than an hour a day to miscellaneous reading.
- No young lady is expected to have gentlemen acquaintances unless they are returned missionaries or agents of benevolent societies.
We need some new wonders. The old ones wore out some time ago, as you may have noticed. Of the seven wonders of the ancient world — the Pyramids of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria — only the pyramids are left. The hanging gardens may never have existed.
Well, there are lots of wonderful things in the world. Can’t we just choose a better list? That depends on who does the choosing. In 1994 the American Society of Civil Engineers took a shot at it and proposed these modern replacements:
- Empire State Building, New York
- Itaipu Dam, Brazil and Paraguay
- CN Tower, Toronto, Canada
- Panama Canal, Panama
- Channel Tunnel, United Kingdom and France
- Delta Works, North Sea protection works, Netherlands
- Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Not so great. I mean, you can’t compare the Chunnel with Zeus.
Fortunately, now we can all vote on it. In 2001, the Swiss filmmaker, adventurer and explorer Bernard Weber founded the NewOpenWorld Foundation to reach a global consensus on seven new wonders. It hasn’t made a big splash in this country, but it’s been huge in China and in India, which is lobbying hard for the Taj Mahal.
With 17 million votes in, here are the current leaders:
- Wall of China (11.01 percent)
- Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet (8.52 percent)
- Taj Mahal, India (7.70 percent)
- Colosseum, Rome (7.00 percent)
- Pyramids of Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico (6.33 percent)
- Statues of Easter Island, Chile (6.03 percent)
- Tower of Pisa, Italy (5.98 percent)
So that’s looking pretty good. They’ll announce the final list next January. I figure if we can get 2 million Americans to vote, we can push Wal-Mart to the top of the list.
Doctor Zebra’s Medical History of American Presidents gives the lowdown on all 43 commanders-in-chief. Excerpts:
- George Washington really did wear dentures, made of hippopotamus ivory, seahorse ivory, and lead. “Other sets used the teeth of pigs, cows, elks, and humans.”
- A dentist once broke off part of Lincoln’s jawbone while pulling a tooth — without anesthesia.
- JFK was diagnosed with Addison’s disease in 1947 and given less than a year to live. In October he was actually given last rites.
- Reagan quit smoking easily, which can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
- George W. Bush has creases in his earlobes, which may be a marker for increased cardiovascular risk. No one knows why.
The Constitution explains what to do if the president dies, but not if he’s incapacitated by illness. “Note the heavy burden of disease that has afflicted our presidents,” writes the anonymous doctor. “We have been very lucky indeed.”