Local News


The cemetery at Aurora, Texas, bears a notable marker from the state’s historical commission: “This site is also well known because of the legend that a spaceship crashed nearby in 1897 and the pilot, killed in the crash, was buried here.”

An April 1897 article by S.E. Haydon in the Dallas Morning News explains that “the airship which has been sailing through the country” had had a fatal accident in Aurora:

It was traveling due north, and much nearer the earth than ever before. Evidently some of the machinery was out of order, for it was making a speed of only ten or twelve miles an hour and gradually settling toward the earth. It sailed directly over the public square, and when it reached the north part of town collided with the tower of Judge Proctor’s windmill and went to pieces with a terrific explosion, scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and water tank and destroying the judge’s flower garden.

The pilot, purportedly a Martian, was carrying papers bearing indecipherable hieroglyphics. The ship, “built of an unknown metal,” was “too badly wrecked to form any conclusion as to its construction or motive power.”

The story has been inspiring investigations for more than a century, but one item stands out. In a 1980 interview in Time magazine, 86-year-old Aurora resident Etta Pegues said that Haydon had invented the story “as a joke and to bring interest to Aurora. The railroad bypassed us, and the town was dying.”

(Thanks, Meaghan.)


Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 2021, Istanbul’s public rail service spotted a curious passenger: “We noticed a dog using our metros and trains and he knows where to go,” spokesman Aylin Erol told India Today. “He knows where to get out. It’s like he has a purpose.”

The dog, known as Boji, is a stray Anatolian shepherd who’s been observed using the city’s buses, metro trains, trams, and ferries. Since city officials fitted him with a microchip, he’s been tracked through as many as 29 metro stations in one day, traveling up to 30 kilometers and ranging as far afield as the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara.

“You take the train and, suddenly, you see Boji,” Erol said. “And look at him. He lies, just like this. You just smile and catch the moment, really. This is what Boji evokes for Istanbulites. He also reminds us that we can still enjoy Istanbul as we rush about.”

Sweet Dreams


In an 1894 feature on peculiar furniture, the Strand describes a “suffocating bedstead” used to dispatch unwitting inn guests in the days of coach travel:

Nothing whatever of a suspicious character revealed itself to the eye of the wayfarer, yet when the scoundrel who meditated crime had satisfied himself that the man slept, he would quickly lower an interior portion of the canopy of the bedstead, firmly imprisoning him in an air-tight cavity until suffocation ensued. Struggling and shouting would be useless under such circumstances, as the weight of the box would be tremendous.

This recalls Wilkie Collins’ 1852 story “A Terribly Strange Bed,” in which a visitor at a Paris gambling house realizes the canopy over his bed is moving:

It descended — the whole canopy, with the fringe round it, came down — down — close down; so close that there was not room now to squeeze my finger between the bed-top and the bed. I felt at the sides, and discovered that what had appeared to me from beneath to be the ordinary light canopy of a four-post bed was in reality a thick, broad mattress, the substance of which was concealed by the valance and its fringe. I looked up and saw the four posts rising hideously bare. In the middle of the bed-top was a huge wooden screw that had evidently worked it down through a hole in the ceiling, just as ordinary presses are worked down on the substance selected for compression.

In his preface to the collection in which that story appears, Collins claims that it’s “entirely of my own imagining, constructing, and writing” but credits painter W.S. Herrick for “the curious and interesting facts” on which it’s based. The Strand article, published 40 years later, doesn’t mention Collins, but perhaps the idea had entered English folklore by that point. Or maybe it’s true!

Which Witch?

Hob and Nob live in Gotham, a village stricken with “witch mania.” Rita visits both of them. Hob tells her, “The witch has blighted Bob’s mare,” and Nob tells her, “Maybe the witch killed Cob’s sow.” Hob and Nob themselves don’t suspect any particular person of being a witch, and there’s no definite description (such as “the Gotham witch”) that they both think applies uniquely to some alleged witch. Hob isn’t aware of Cob’s sow, and Nob isn’t aware of Bob’s mare. Rita herself doesn’t believe in witches. She reports the following:

“Hob thinks a witch has blighted Bob’s mare, and Nob wonders whether she killed Cob’s sow.”

How do we make sense of this? The two assertions seem to refer to the same person, but how is this possible if no such person exists? What can it mean to say that one nonexistent object is the same as another?

(P.T. Geach, “Intentional Identity,” Journal of Philosophy 64:20 [1967], 627–32.)

Swan Upping

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of swans: By royal prerogative, all mute swans in open water in Britain are the property of the British Crown. Historically the Crown shares ownership with two livery companies, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers, and so, accordingly, each year in the third week of July three skiffs make their way up the Thames from Sunbury to Abingdon, catching, tagging, and releasing the swans they encounter. Nominally they’re apportioning the birds among themselves; in practice they’re counting them and checking their health.

Magnificently, the Crown’s swans are recorded by the Marker of the Swans, a recognized official in the Royal Household since this tradition began in the 12th century. Queen Elizabeth II attended the Swan Upping ceremony in 2009, as “Seigneur of the Swans,” the first time a reigning monarch had done so. The entire operation was shut down for the first time in 2020, due to COVID-19, but it commenced again the following year.

While we’re at it: All whales and sturgeons caught in Britain become the personal property of the monarch — they are “royal fish.” Plan accordingly.

(Thanks, Nick.)

In a Word

Image: Wikimedia Commons

n. a mark to help navigators to find their way

adj. bringing storms or showers

adj. easily recognizable, conspicuous

adj. having a name

During World War II, pilots in northern Australia noted that an enormous thunderstorm formed daily between September and March on the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. Regularly reaching heights of 20 kilometers, “Hector the Convector” is one of the world’s largest thunderstorms, an object of concentrated study by meteorologists, and a relative oddity — a cloud with a name.