Island Cats

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_Island,_New_Zealand.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1914, the rim of the New Zealand volcano Whakaari collapsed, burying a sulfur mining operation and killing 10 men.

“Remarkably, there was one survivor: the camp cat, Peter the Great,” notes Sarah Lowe in New Zealand Geographic. “The cat returned to Whakatane, perhaps with one life less, but with unimpaired virility: many Whakatane cat owners trace their pet’s genealogy back to this hardy beast.”

It’s sometimes said that a cat named Tibbles dispatched the last living Lyall’s wren from Stephens Island, also in New Zealand, making her the only known individual to have extirpated an entire species. It’s more likely that a colony of feral cats overran the island, the birds’ last refuge. But maybe one of them was named Tibbles!

In his notebook, Mark Twain wrote, “A cat is more intelligent than people believe, and can be taught any crime.”

Podcast Episode 155: The Giraffe Who Walked to Paris

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giraffe_Crossing_(1827)_by_Jacques_Raymond_Brascassat.jpg

In 1824 the viceroy of Egypt sent a unique gift to the new king of France: a two-month-old giraffe that had just been captured in the highlands of Sudan. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the 4,000-mile journey of Zarafa, the royal giraffe, from her African homeland to the king’s menagerie in Paris.

We’ll also visit Queen Victoria’s coronation and puzzle over a child’s surprising recovery.

Intro:

In 1952 a stray cat made a home in Classroom 8 of a California elementary school.

Abe Lincoln’s ghost seems to spend a lot of time in the Lincoln Bedroom.

Sources for our feature on Zarafa the giraffe:

Michael Allin, Zarafa, 1998.

Erik Ringmar, “Audience for a Giraffe: European Expansionism and the Quest for the Exotic,” Journal of World History 17:4 (December 2006), 375-397.

Heather J. Sharkey, “La Belle Africaine: The Sudanese Giraffe Who Went to France,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 49:1 (2015), 39-65.

Olivier Lagueux, “Geoffroy’s Giraffe: The Hagiography of a Charismatic Mammal,” Journal of the History of Biology, 36:2 (June 2003), 225–247.

Samuel J.M.M. Alberti, “Objects and the Museum,” Isis 96:4 (December 2005), 559-571.

Philip McCouat, “The Art of Giraffe Diplomacy: How an African Giraffe Walked Across France and Became a Pawn in an International Power Struggle,” Journal of Art in Society (accessed May 14, 2017).

Olivier Lagueux, “Zarafa: A Giraffe’s True Story, From Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris [review],” Isis 92:1 (March 2001), 186-187.

S. Mary P. Benbow, “Death and Dying at the Zoo,” Journal of Popular Culture 37:3 (2004), 379-398.

Elena Passarello, “Beautiful Animal of the King,” Paris Review, Dec. 20, 2016.

Henry Nicholls, “Meet Zarafa, the Giraffe That Inspired a Crazy Hairdo,” Guardian, Jan. 20, 2014.

Olivier Lebleu, “Long-Necked Diplomacy: The Tale of the Third Giraffe,” Guardian, Jan. 11, 2016.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zarafa_2010.jpg

Today Zarafa stands on the landing of a stone staircase in the Museum of Natural History in La Rochelle.

Listener mail:

Julia Baird, Victoria, 2016.

C. Dack, “The Coronation of Queen Victoria,” Pall Mall Magazine 48:219 (July 1911), 2-5.

Wikipedia, “East Asian Age Reckoning” (accessed May 26, 2017).

Josh Clark, “How Thoroughbred Horses Work,” How Stuff Works, Oct. 4, 2011.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg. Here are two corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

A Late Project

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Paine_rev1.jpg

Thomas Paine came to an ignominious end. The revolutionary activist so inspired English journalist William Cobbett that Cobbett dug up his bones in 1819 and transported them back to England, hoping to give Paine a heroic reburial in the land of his birth. (G.K. Chesterton wrote, “I wonder what he said when asked if he had anything to declare?”)

But Cobbett never got around to it. When he himself died in 1835, Paine’s bones were still among his effects, and they’ve since been lost: His skull may be in Australia, his jawbone may be in Brighton, or maybe Cobbett’s son buried everything in the family plot when he couldn’t auction it off. In 1905 part of his brain (“resembling hard putty”) may have been buried under a monument in New Rochelle, N.Y. But no one knows for sure.

Crescent Lake

https://emorfes.com/2017/05/22/crescent-lake-an-oasis-in-the-gobi-desert/

Six kilometers south of Dunhuang in western China lies Crescent Lake, an oasis that once served as a waypoint to the West along the Silk Road. British missionaries Mildred Cable and Francesca French recorded their first sight of it during their travels through the Gobi Desert in the 1920s:

All around us we saw tier on tier of lofty sand-hills, giving the lie to our quest, yet when, with a final desperate effort, we hoisted ourselves over the last ridge and looked down on what lay beyond, we saw the lake below, and its beauty was entrancing.

The lake survived for 2,000 years thanks to its low altitude and sheltered position, but it began to shrink in the 20th century due to population pressures — its depth dropped from 7.5 to 0.9 meters between 1960 and the early 1990s. In 2006 the government stepped in to reverse the decline, and now it’s growing again.

(Via eMORFES.)

Podcast Episode 154: Spared by a Volcano

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cyparis.jpg

The worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century struck Martinique in 1902, killing 30,000 people in the scenic town of Saint-Pierre. But rescuers found one man alive — a 27-year-old laborer in a dungeon-like jail cell. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll meet Ludger Sylbaris, who P.T. Barnum called “The Only Living Object That Survived in the Silent City of Death.”

We’ll also address some Indian uncles and puzzle over a gruesome hike.

Intro:

The French newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur is published only on Leap Day.

When a vat burst in 1814, 323,000 imperial gallons of beer flooded a London street.

Sources for our feature on Ludger Sylbaris:

Peter Morgan, Fire Mountain, 2003.

Edmund Otis Hovey, The 1902-1903 Eruptions of Mont Pelé, Martinique and the Soufrière, St. Vincent, 1904.

Ludger Sylbaris, “Buried Alive in St. Pierre,” Wide World Magazine, November 1903.

Matthew St. Ville Hunte, “Inside the Volcano,” Paris Review, Sept. 16, 2016.

“Prison Cell of ‘The Man Who Lived Through Doomsday,'” Slate, July 31, 2013.

Brian Morton, “There’s No Smoke Without Fire,” Financial Times, Feb. 13, 2003.

Tony Jones, “Lone Survivor,” New Scientist 177:2382 (Feb. 15, 2003), 48-49.

“[front page — no title],” New York Times, Oct. 13, 1906.

Listener mail:

Kate Connolly, “He’s Hired: Belgian Lands ‘Dream Job’ as Hermit for Austrian Cliffside Retreat,” Guardian, April 19, 2017.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David White, who sent two sets of corroborating links — these contain explicit photos, and these don’t.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Moo

http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/cow-shoes-prohibition-1924/

This is clever — during Prohibition, moonshiners wore shoes that left hoofprints. From the St. Petersburg, Fla., Evening Independent, May 27, 1922:

A new method of evading prohibition agents was revealed here today by A.L. Allen, state prohibition enforcement director, who displayed what he called a ‘cow shoe’ as the latest thing from the haunts of moonshiners.

The cow shoe is a strip of metal to which is tacked a wooden block carved to resemble the hoof of a cow, which may be strapped to the human foot. A man shod with a pair of them would leave a trail resembling that of a cow.

“The shoe found was picked up near Port Tampa where a still was located some time ago. It will be sent to the prohibition department at Washington. Officers believe the inventor got his idea from a Sherlock Holmes story in which the villain shod his horse with shoes the imprint of which resembled those of a cow’s hoof.”

(Via Rare Historical Photos.)

Adam’s Bridge

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adams_Bridge_aerial.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

A curious chain of limestone shoals extends between India and Sri Lanka, possibly the remains of a land connection between the two. The sea between the two landmasses is called Sethusamudram (“Sea of the Bridge”), and early British maps refer to it as Adam’s Bridge. How and when the structure evolved are still sources of controversy among geologists, but historical records suggest that it was passable on foot until a cyclone deepened the channel in the 1400s.

Appealing to NASA satellite images, some sources contend that the bridge was created by Rama to rescue his kidnapped wife Sita, as described in Hindu theology, perhaps with the aid of a human army. NASA delicately observes that this interpretation “is certainly not ours. … Remote sensing images or photographs from orbit cannot provide direct information about the origin or age of a chain of islands, and certainly, cannot determine whether humans were involved in producing any of the patterns seen.”

“The Elephant Who Walked to Manchester”

https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/the-disputed-toll-205152
Image: Art UK

In 1872, as he prepared to retire in Edinburgh, English menagerie owner Alexander Fairgrieve auctioned off his remaining attractions in the Waverley Market. The largest lot was Maharajah, an Indian elephant 7 feet tall with 20-inch tusks. The winning bid, £680, came from James Jennison, proprietor of the Belle Vue Gardens near Manchester, who was expanding his zoological collection. The elephant rebelled at entering a horse box on the Northern British Railway, so his keeper, Lorenzo “Lion Tamer” Lawrence, simply walked his charge to Manchester.

The unlikely pair covered 200 miles in 10 days, arriving on April 20, and the celebrated animal, “having travelled by road from Scotland, via Carlisle, Kendal, Lancaster, Preston and Bolton,” was installed in a temporary glass-roofed elephant house. In the ensuing years he would walk among the visitors, ridden by thousands of children and starring in spectacles such as “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” in the city’s May Day and Whit parades. He died of pneumonia in 1882 at the age of 18.

Heywood Hardy’s 1875 painting A Disputed Toll, above, records an event that probably never happened — it’s said that during their journey, while Lawrence was arguing with a parsimonious gatekeeper, Maharajah simply lifted the gate from its hinges. Accurate or not, the memorable painting now hangs in the Manchester Art Gallery.

Thorough

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lucas_Cranach_d._%C3%84._035.jpg

Obscure but interesting: In his 1857 history of the West Branch Valley of the Susquehanna River, John Franklin Meginness quotes a 1793 indenture that purports to trace the title to a plot of Pennsylvania land back to the creation of mankind:

Whereas, the Creator of the earth, by parole and livery of seisin, did enfeoff the parents of mankind, to wit, Adam and Eve, of all that certain tract of land, called and known in the planetary system by the name of The Earth, together with all and singular the advantages, woods, waters, water-courses, easements, liberties, privileges, and all others the appurtenances whatsoever thereunto belonging, or in any wise appertaining to have and to hold to them the said Adam and Eve, and the heirs of their bodies lawfully to be begotten, in fee-tail general forever, as by the said feoffment recorded by Moses, in the first chapter of the first book of his records commonly called Genesis, more fully and at large appears on reference being thereunto had …

This goes on for four pages, tracing ownership through the Six Nations of North America to William Penn and finally to one Flavel Roan, the “witty and rather eccentric gentleman” who Meginness says drew up the deed. “His education was good, and his penmanship superior.”

The whole thing is here.