Progress Marches On

Uncle Billy rested his axe on the log he was chopping, and turned his grizzly old head to one side, listening intently. A confusion of sounds came from the little cabin across the road. It was a dilapidated negro cabin, with its roof awry and the weather-boarding off in great patches; still, it was a place of interest to Uncle Billy. His sister lived there with three orphan grandchildren.

Leaning heavily on his axe-handle, he thrust out his under lip, and rolled his eyes in the direction of the uproar. A broad grin spread over his wrinkled black face as he heard the rapid spank of a shingle, the scolding tones of an angry voice, and a prolonged howl.

“John Jay an’ he gran’mammy ‘peah to be havin’ a right sma’t difference of opinion togethah this mawnin’,” he chuckled.

— Annie Fellows Johnston, Ole Mammy’s Torment, 1897

Revenge of the Food Chain

A human sacrifice to a carnivorous tree, as described in the South Australian Register, 1881:

The slender delicate palpi, with the fury of starved serpents, quivered a moment over her head, then as if instinct with demoniac intelligence fastened upon her in sudden coils round and round her neck and arms; then while her awful screams and yet more awful laughter rose wildly to be instantly strangled down again into a gurgling moan, the tendrils one after another, like great green serpents, with brutal energy and infernal rapidity, rose, retracted themselves, and wrapped her about in fold after fold, ever tightening with cruel swiftness and savage tenacity of anacondas fastening upon their prey.

Unfortunately, years of subsequent investigation — including the enchantingly titled Madagascar, Land of the Man-Eating Tree (1924) — have failed to find such a tree, or even the Mkodo tribe that purportedly feeds it. Nice try, though.

Victoria Punk’d

From The Private Life of the Queen, by “One of Her Majesty’s Servants,” 1897:

Her Majesty [Queen Victoria] takes delight in a clever riddle or rebus, but on one occasion she was very angry at having been hoaxed over a riddle which was sent to her with a letter to the effect that it had been made by the Bishop of Salisbury.

For four days the Queen and Prince Albert sought for the reply, when Charles Murray (Controller of the Household) was directed to write to the bishop and ask for the solution.

The answer received was that the bishop had not made the riddle nor could he solve it.

A Daughter’s Farewell

Forgive your dying daughter. I have but a few moments to live. My native soil drinks my blood. I expected to deliver my country but the fates would not have it so. I am content to die. Pray, Pa, forgive me. Tell ma to kiss my daguerreotype.

P.S. — Give my gold watch to little Eph.

— Telegram dictated by “Emily” (last name unknown), who left home to join the Union army as a man and was fatally wounded in Tennessee at age 17

The Cottingley Fairies

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Cottingley_Fairies_1.jpg

In 1920 two English cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, produced a series of photos that seemed to show them cavorting with fairies and gnomes.

The images were published in The Strand and convinced Arthur Conan Doyle, among others. In The Coming of the Fairies (1922), he wrote: “It is hard for the mind to grasp what the ultimate results may be if we have actually proved the existence upon the surface of this planet of a population which may be as numerous as the human race, which pursues its own strange life in its own strange way, and which is only separated from ourselves by some difference of vibrations.”

But see Fairies Unmasked.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d1/Cottingley_Fairies_2.jpg

I Say, 007!

Blue Peacock was the sexy code name of a secret British plan to salt the Rhine with nuclear mines in the 1950s, in case of war.

Less sexily, they planned to put a live chicken in each one, to keep the electronics from getting cold.

When the file was declassified on April 1, 2004, this was taken to be an April Fool’s joke, but it’s true. Fortunately, the project was canceled.

Landmarks in Medicine, #2

Cures, from John Aubrey, Miscellanies Upon Various Subjects, 1696:

  • To cure a Thrush: Take a living frog, and hold it in a cloth, that it does not go down into the child’s mouth; and put the head into the child’s mouth ’till it is dead; and then take another frog, and do the same.
  • To cure the Tooth-Ach: Take a new nail, and make the gum bleed with it, and then drive it into an oak. This did cure William Neal’s son, a very stout gentleman, when he was almost mad with the pain, and had a mind to have pistolled himself.
  • For the Jaundice: The jaundice is cured, by putting the urine after the first sleep, to the ashes of the ash-tree, bark of barberries.
  • To cure a beast that is sprung, (that is) poisoned: It lights mostly upon Sheep. Take the little red spider, called a tentbob, (not so big as a great pins-head) the first you light upon in the spring of the year, and rub it in the palm of your hand all to pieces: and having so done, piss on it, and rub it in, and let it dry; then come to the beast and make water in your hand, and throw it in his mouth. It cures in a matter of an hour’s time. This rubbing serves for a whole year, and it is no danger to the hand. The chiefest skill is to know whether the beast be poisoned or no. From Mr. Pacy.

“The Planet of War”

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17513/17513-h/17513-h.htm

The land regions of Mars can be distinguished from the seas by their ruddy color, the seas being greenish. But here, perhaps, you will be disposed to ask how astronomers can be sure that the greenish regions are seas, the ruddy regions land, the white spots either snow or cloud. Might not materials altogether unlike any we are acquainted with exist upon that remote planet?

The spectroscope answers this question in the clearest way. You may remember what I told you in October, 1876, about Venus, how astronomers have learned that the vapor of water exists in her atmosphere. The same method has been applied, even more satisfactorily, to the planet of war, and it has been found that he also has his atmosphere at times laden with moisture. This being so, it is clear we have not to do with a planet made of materials utterly unlike those forming our earth. To suppose so, when we find that the air of Mars, formed like our own (for if it contained other gases the spectroscope would tell us), contains often large quantities of the vapor of water, would be as absurd as to believe in the green cheese theory of the moon, or in another equally preposterous, advanced lately by an English artist — Mr. J.T. Brett — to the effect that the atmosphere of Venus is formed of glass.

— Richard A. Proctor, St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls, November 1877

Toil and Trouble

Recipe for “flying ointment”:

  • 1/2 oz. soot
  • 1 oz. pork fat
  • 1 oz. hemlock
  • 1 oz. deadly nightshade
  • 1 oz. wolfsbane

Allegedly such recipes were obtained by torturing accused witches, who said they used the ointment to fly to the Sabbat. More likely the mixture induced hallucinations; maybe that amounts to the same thing.