War Pigeon

Humans have no monopoly on valor. A pigeon won the French Croix de Guerre for heroic service delivering messages in Verdun during World War I.

Cher Ami, a Black Check cock, delivered 12 important messages for the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

On his final mission, during the battle of the Argonne in October 1918, he was shot through the breast and still delivered his message. It was found in a capsule hanging from his shattered leg, and helped saved around 200 U.S. soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division’s “Lost Battalion.”

“Sending Vessels Over Niagara Falls”

“SENDING VESSELS OVER NIAGARA FALLS. — There have been three such instances. The first was in 1827. Some men got an old ship — the Michigan — which had been used on Lake Erie, and had been pronounced unseaworthy. For mere wantonness they put aboard a bear, a fox, a buffalo, a dog and some geese and sent it over the cataract. The bear jumped from the vessel before it reached the rapids, swam toward the shore, and was rescued by some humane persons. The geese went over the falls, and came to the shore below alive, and, therefore, became objects of great interest, and were sold at high prices to visitors at the Falls. The dog, fox, and buffalo were not heard of or seen again.

“Another condemned vessel, the Detroit, that had belonged to Commodore Perry’s victorious fleet, was started over the cataract in the winter of 1841, but grounded about midway in the rapids, and lay there till knocked to pieces by the ice.

“A somewhat more picturesque instance was the sending over the Canada side of a ship on fire. This occurred in 1837. The vessel was the Caroline, which had been run in the interest of the insurgents in the Canadian rebellion. It was captured by Colonel McNabb, an officer of the Canada militia, and by his orders it was set on fire then cut loose from its moorings. All in flames, it went glaring and hissing down the rapids and over the precipice, and smothered its ruddy blaze in the boiling chasm below. This was witnessed by large crowds on both sides of the falls, and was described as a most magnificent sight. Of course there was no one on board the vessel.”

— From Barkham Burroughs’ Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information, 1889

An Unlikely Spy

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Looks pretty innocuous, right? This is part of a letter composed by New York doll shop owner Velvalee Dickinson in May 1942. The FBI decoded it as follows:

I just secured information on an aircraft carrier warship. It had been damaged, that is, torpedoed in the middle. But it is now repaired. … They could not get a mate for this, so a plain ordinary warship is being converted into a second aircraft carrier. …

Probably she was referring to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Saratoga. Apparently Dickinson had been operating as a Japanese spy throughout the war — her letters to Buenos Aires, ostensibly about doll collecting, had actually contained detailed information about U.S. warships, coastal defenses, and repair operations.

She protested her innocence but got the maximum sentence, 10 years and a $10,000 fine. She died in 1980.

Wisdom of the Seven Sages

The condensed wisdom of Greece’s “seven sages,” as recorded on the temple wall at Delphi:

  • Solon of Athens – “Nothing in excess.”
  • Chilon of Sparta – “Know thyself.”
  • Thales of Miletus – “To bring surety brings ruin.”
  • Bias of Priene – “Too many workers spoil the work.”
  • Cleobulus of Lindos – “Moderation is the chief good.”
  • Pittacus of Mitylene – “Know thine opportunity.”
  • Periander of Corinth – “Forethought in all things.”

Hitler’s Soft Side

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For a genocidal monster, Adolf Hitler was kind of a pansy:

  • He didn’t drink.
  • He largely avoided eating meat, beginning in the early 1930s. (“The world of the future will be vegetarian.”)
  • He slept with his dog, Blondi, a German Shepherd given to him by Martin Bormann.
  • He disapproved of cosmetics, since they contained animal byproducts, and he frequently teased Eva Braun about her makeup.

Hitler didn’t smoke, either, and he promoted aggressive anti-smoking campaigns throughout Germany. Witnesses reported that, upon learning of his suicide, many of his officers, aides and secretaries responded by lighting cigarettes.

Harry S? Truman

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You can start fights among copyeditors by asking them how to punctuate Harry Truman’s name.

The 34th president had no middle name — just the letter S. So the question is, do you add a period afterward? Purists say no, it’s not an abbreviation. Pragmatists say yes, if you omit the period then some readers will stop at the “error.”

Truman himself usually signed his name with a period, but he once remarked that it should be omitted. That’s why, to this day, some newspapers refer to him as Harry S Truman.

Shortest-Reigning Popes

Shortest-reigning popes:

  • Urban VII (elected in 1590): 13 days
  • Boniface VI (896): 16 days
  • Celestine IV (1241): 17 days
  • Sisinnius (708): 21 days
  • Theodore II (897): 21 days
  • Marcellus II (1555): 22 days
  • Damasus II (1048): 24 days
  • Pius III (1503): 27 days
  • Leo XI (1605): 27 days
  • Benedict V (964): 33 days

1978 is called the “year of three popes”: Pope Paul VI was succeeded by John Paul I, who lived only 33 days. John Paul II succeeded him.