Old Booty’s Ghost

https://books.google.com/books?id=fKByQxeCmREC

A striking tale from the 18th century: It’s said that around 1687 a group of English mariners on the Italian coast were surprised to see “two men run by us with amazing swiftness”:

Captain Barnaby says, ‘Lord bless me, the foremost man looks like next door neighbour, old Booty;’ but said he did not know the other behind. Booty was dressed in grey clothes, and the one behind him in black; we saw them run into the burning mountain in the midst of the flames! on which we heard a terrible noise, too horrible to be described.

When they returned to Gravesend, Captain Barnaby’s wife said, “My dear, I have got some news to tell you; old Booty is dead.” Barnaby swore an oath and said, “We all saw him run into Hell!”

As the story goes, when word of this allegation reached Booty’s widow, she sued Barnaby for a thousand pounds. The punchline is that Booty’s appearance on the volcano was shown to have occurred within two minutes of his death, and when his coat was exhibited in the courtroom, 12 sailors swore that its buttons matched those of the fleeing man.

The Judge then said, ‘Lord grant I may never see the sight that you have seen; one, two, or three may be mistaken, but twenty or thirty cannot.’ So the widow lost her cause.

According to folklorist Jeremy Harte, this story appeared in print at least 19 times between the 1770s and the 1830s. It seems to have started among the dockyards of the lower Thames, where in one early version Booty was an unscrupulous contractor who had supplied the navy with adulterated beer — and his damnation was “a matter of just retribution for the sin he had committed.”

(Jeremy Harte, “Into the Burning Mountain: Legend, Literature, and Law in Booty v. Barnaby,” Folklore 125:3 [December 2014], 322-338.)

Edge Case

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

Suppose … for a moment, all existing space to be bounded, and that a man runs forward to the uttermost borders, and stands upon the last verge of things, and then hurls forward a winged javelin,– suppose you that the dart, when hurled by the vivid force, shall take its way to the point the darter aimed at, or that something will take its stand in the path of its flight, and arrest it? For one or other of these things must happen. There is a dilemma here that you never can escape from.

— Lucretius, De rerum natura

Straight and Narrow

English philanthropist Lady Jane Stanley financed footpaths through her native Knutsford with an odd proviso:

For some unknown reason Lady Jane disliked to see men and women linked together, i.e. walking arm in arm; and in her donations for the pavement of the town, provided that a single flag in breadth should be the limit of her generosity,– but she did not specify how broad the single flag was to be, and I fear her wishes are evaded, and the disapproved linking together often indulged in: the chief security for her order being observed is the disagreeable fact that in many places the streets and consequently the raised pavements are too narrow to allow of more than a very slender foot-path, so that if the lasses occupy the flags, the swains must either walk behind, or pick their way in the channel.

Never married, she composed her own epitaph:

A maid I lived,– a maid I died,–
I never was asked,– and never denied.

(From Henry Green, Knutsford, Its Traditions and History, 1859.)

The Mysterious Melody

University of California psychologist Diana Deutsch discovered this phenomenon in 1972. When the tones of a familiar melody are distributed among three different octaves, people find it difficult to identify. But once the underlying melody has been revealed to them, they can hear it more readily in the distributed version. Knowing what to listen for makes the tune easier to follow.

Something Else

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

During a visit to Oxford in May 1931, Albert Einstein gave a brief lecture on cosmology, and afterward the blackboard was preserved along with Einstein’s ephemeral writing. It now resides in the university’s Museum of the History of Science.

Harvard historian of science Jean-François Gauvin argues that this makes it a “mutant object”: It’s no longer fulfilling the essential function of a blackboard, to store information temporarily — it’s become something else, a socially created object linked to the great scientist. The board’s original essence could be restored by wiping it clean, but that would destroy its current identity.

“The sociological metamorphosis at the origin of this celebrated artifact has completely destroyed its intrinsic nature,” Gauvin writes. “Einstein’s blackboard has become an object of memory, an object of collection modified at the ontological level by a social desire to celebrate the achievement of a great man.”

Going Up

The world’s largest vertical maze is the Al Rostamani Maze Tower in Dubai. Designed by Adrian Fisher, it rises 57 stories from the entrance at the bottom to the goal at the top.

The facade of the 12-story car park presents a second maze.

Caution

When Ralf Trylla, environmental commissioner of the small Icelandic fishing village of Ísafjörður, wanted to slow traffic on a narrow street, he took inspiration from a project in New Delhi (below) that imparted a three-dimensional effect to a traditional zebra crossing.

Trylla partnered with street painting company Vegmálun GÍH to create a similar crossing in Ísafjörður, and they’re assessing the effect as they consider whether to apply it to more of the town’s crosswalks.

(Via My Modern Met.)

In a Word

belua
n. a huge or monstrous creature or beast

pervagate
v. to wander through (a place)

cibation
n. taking food, feeding

epichoric
adj. characteristic of or peculiar to a particular country or district

From October to December, a herd of elephants walks through the lobby of Zambia’s Mfuwe Lodge to reach the fruit of a wild mango tree.

At least three generations of one family has returned to the lodge to visit the tree.

Heavens

https://books.google.com/books?id=94oXAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA440

In 1770 Scottish sexologist James Graham moved to America and offered the “celestial bed,” a 12-foot “wonder-working edifice” in which “everything is done to assist the ethereal, magnetic, musical and electric influences, and to make the lady look as lovely as possible in the eyes of her husband and he, in hers”:

“On the utmost summit of the dome are placed two exquisite figures of Cupid and Psyche, with a figure of Hymen behind, with his torch flaming with electrical fire in one hand and with the other, supporting a celestial crown, sparkling over a pair of living turtle doves, on a little bed of roses.

“The other elegant group of figures which sport on the top of the dome, having each of them musical instruments in their hands, which by the most expensive mechanism, breathe forth sound corresponding to their instruments, flutes, guitars, violins, clarinets, trumpets, horns, oboes, kettle drums, etc.

“At the head of the bed appears sparkling with electrical fire a great first commandment: ‘BE FRUITFUL, MULTIPLY AND REPLENISH THE EARTH’. Under that is an elegant sweet-toned organ in front of which is a fine landscape of moving figures, priest and bride’s procession entering the Temple of Hymen.”

For 50 guineas a childless couple could occupy the bed for one night; it would “infallibly produce a genial and happy issue.”

He quickly ran out of money, sold most of his belongings, and decamped back to Edinburgh.

(From Roy Porter, Health for Sale: Quackery in England, 1660-1850, 1989.)