Mouth to Mouth

In 1855 the Western Lancet published a letter from an officer in the Crimea:

A curious thing occurred yesterday. A sapper was brought from the trenches with his jaw broken, and the doctor told me that there was a piece of it sticking out an inch and a half from his face. The man said it was done by a round shot, which the doctor disbelieved, but the poor fellow insisted, and said, ‘Yes, and it took off the head of the man next me.’ This was conclusive, and the surgeon proceeded to remove the bone: it came out easy, when the doctor said to the man, whose face appeared to preserve its form pretty well, ‘Can you move your jaw?’ ‘Oh, yes, sir,’ was the reply. The doctor then put his finger into the man’s mouth, and found the teeth were there, and at length assured the soldier that it was no jaw of his that was broken, but that of his headless comrade, inflicting a severe but not dangerous wound. Upon this, the man’s visage, which had been rather lengthened, rounded up most beautifully.

Reprinted in Paul Fitzsimmons Eve, A Collection of Remarkable Cases in Surgery, 1857.

Leg Room

bel geddes flying boat

Norman Bel Geddes announced big plans in 1932: Air Liner Number 4, a gigantic V-winged flying boat with a wingspan of 528 feet, more than twice that of today’s 777. Twenty 1900-horsepower engines would carry it through the air at 100 mph and an altitude of only 5,000 feet while 451 passengers ranged over nine decks containing 180 apartments, three kitchens, three private dining rooms, an orchestra platform, a gym, six shuffleboard courts, a dance floor, a library, separate solaria for men and women, a writing room, and a promenade deck. The 155-person crew included two telephone operators, 24 waiters, two masseuses, a manicurist, and a gymnast.

The plane was “not ‘big’ for the sake of being big,” Bel Geddes insisted, but he pointed out that

if it were possible to stand her upon one wing tip against the Washington Monument, she would lack only 23 feet of reaching the top. Or imagine that the Public Library was removed from its site in Bryant Park at Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, New York. The plane could then settle comfortably in the park with a clearance of about 35 feet all around.

The craft had a range of 7,500 miles, and it would be supported on the water by two enormous pontoons, 60 feet high and designed “substantially as the hull of a yacht, in order to withstand tremendous pounding when the plane rests on a rough sea.” In the end it was never built, but it may have helped inspire Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose.”

Down at Heel

When actor Conrad Cantzen died in 1945, he left $226,608.34 in a special fund to enable performers to buy new shoes each year.

“I leave the Conrad Cantzen Shoe Fund for the people who can’t buy shoes, even if they are not paid-up members of Equity,” his will read. “Many times I have been on my uppers, and the thinner the soles of my shoes were, the less courage I had to face the managers in looking for a job.”

Remarkably, the fund is still running. If you work in entertainment, are currently unemployed, belong to a performing arts union, and haven’t already applied in the past year, the Actors Fund will reimburse you up to $40 toward a pair of shoes costing no more than $100. Details are here.

Bad Country

Yellowstone National Park doesn’t quite fit in Wyoming — small portions extend into Montana and Idaho. But Congress has placed the legal jurisdiction for the entire park in the District of Wyoming. At the same time, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that a jury be “of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

Suppose you lure me into the 50 square miles of Yellowstone that lie within Idaho, and suppose you kill me there. The Sixth Amendment requires that the jury be drawn from the state (Idaho) and the district (Wyoming) in which the crime occurred. But the only way to fulfill both those requirements is to draw the jury from the tiny part of Yellowstone that lies in Idaho — and its census population is zero. Without a jury, you can’t be tried. “Assuming that you do not feel like consenting to trial in Cheyenne,” writes Michigan State law professor Brian Kalt, “you should go free.”

“It bears emphasis that the flaw here is really with the District of Wyoming statute, not with the Sixth Amendment,” advises Kalt, whose full paper is here. “The solution is to fix the statute, not eviscerate the Constitution. If we do it quickly enough, no one will get hurt.”

Please don’t actually kill me. (Thanks, Ty.)

Next in Line

That’s Ronald Reagan, just before being shot by John Hinckley outside the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981. The man in the white raincoat is Secret Service agent Jerry Parr; after the shooting, it was Parr who pushed Reagan into a limousine, noticed he was bleeding, and directed the driver to take them to a hospital, probably saving Reagan’s life.

Parr had been inspired to pursue his career by the 1939 film The Code of the Secret Service, in which dashing agent “Brass” Bancroft survives a shooting in Mexico. Bancroft was played by a 28-year-old Ronald Reagan.

(Thanks, Colin.)

After Hours

A third case is one of somnocyclism (cycling in sleep). The patient, asleep, sometimes in cycling costume, and sometimes in an undershirt or less, got up, mounted his wheel, and rode about town and in the country. He generally awoke from a fall. On one occasion it was at the foot of a hill, his head on the edge of a pond, and his wheel about thirty feet distant. Another night he found himself suspended by his shirt on a pear tree in his father’s garden. It is not known whether he had descended thither from the roof or was trying to ascend. At other times he would go to his office and work. Once, having stuck over a balance in the afternoon, he found next morning that he had completed it, correcting an error previously not observed. There is no subsequent recollection of what has transpired. He has been observed in hospital to hold a conversation through an imaginary telephone, and again to sit atop a wardrobe with an umbrella up over him. Evidently this man’s disease included a sense of humour.

— G.R. Wilson, “Alcoholism and Allied Neuroses,” Journal of Mental Science, October 1899

Father, Country

Time and weather have sculpted a likeness of George Washington in Colorado’s Roxborough State Park. It even has “teeth.”

Right: A profile discovered near South Bethlehem, Pa., during the clearing of a mountainside in 1913. “Viewed in profile, the nose, upper lip, eye, and chin are as clearly defined as though cut by human agency,” wrote one observer. “Even the rock formation of the head has a surface curiously like in appearance to the wigs of colonial days.”

Never Mind

During an Air Force training mission over Montana on Feb. 2, 1970, Gary Foust’s F-106 entered an uncontrollable flat spin at 35,000 feet.

He rode it down to 12,000 feet, ejected — and watched as the plane righted itself, descended into a snowy field, and made a gentle belly landing. Its engine was still running when the police arrived.

After repairs, the fighter was returned to service in California and New York. Today it’s on display in a museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.


When I lived at Durham, I was walking one evening in a park belonging to the Earl of Stamford, along the bank of a lake where fishes abounded. My attention was turned towards a fine jack of about 6 lbs., which, seeing me, darted into the middle of the water. In its flight it struck its head against the stump of a post, fractured its skull, and wounded a part of the optic nerve. The animal gave signs of ungovernable pain, plunged to the bottom of the water, burying its head in the mud, and turning with such rapidity that I lost it for a moment; then it returned to the top, and threw itself clean out of the water on to the bank. I examined the fish, and found that a small part of the brain had gone out through the fracture of the cranium.

I carefully replaced the shattered brain, and, with a small silver tooth-pick, raised the depressed parts of the skull. The fish was very quiet during the operation; then I replaced it in the pond. It seemed at first relieved, but after some minutes it threw itself about, plunged here and there, and at last threw itself once more out of the water. It continued thus to act many times following. I called the keeper, and, with his assistance, applied a bandage to the fracture. This done, we threw the fish into the water, and left him to his fate. The next morning, when I appeared on the bank, the pike came to me near where I sat, and put his head near my feet! I thought the act extraordinary, but taking up the fish, without any resistance on its part, I examined the head, and found that it was going on well. I then walked along the banks for some time; the fish did not cease to swim after me, turning when I turned; but as it was blind on the side where it was wounded, it appeared always agitated when the injured eye was turned toward the bank. On this, I changed the direction of my movements. The next day I brought some young friends to see this fish, and the pike swam towards me as before. Little by little he became so tame that he came when I whistled, and ate from my hand. With other people, on the contrary, it was as gloomy and fierce as it always had been.

— “Dr. Warwick,” anecdote read before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool, 1850, quoted in Ernest Menault, The Intelligence of Animals, 1869


Dean Buckland, the geologist, when riding once with friends and the party lost their way and were overtaken by night, alighted from his horse, picked up a handful of earth, smelled it, and at once declared they were near Uxbridge. He knew the geology of the land and the smell of the soil.

Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, March 23, 1921