Free Falling

http://sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=258375

A falling person reaches a top speed of around 120 mph. After that, all falls are equally dangerous: If you survive the lack of oxygen, a fall of 10,000 feet won’t necessarily hurt you any more than 2,000 feet.

During World War II, at least three airmen survived free falls of around 20,000 feet without a parachute. All three lost consciousness, and two of them landed in deep snow.

In 1972, a Yugoslavian flight attendant fell from 33,330 feet when terrorists blew up her DC-9 over Czechoslovakia. She broke both legs and was paralyzed from the waist down, but only temporarily.

Great Stork Derby

When financier Charles Vance Millar died in Toronto in 1926, he willed his fortune to the woman who had the most children in the next 10 years.

And people took him up on it — in the end, four women tied at nine births apiece. Each got $125,000.

The period is known as “The Great Stork Derby.”

Gentle Giant

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:MartinVanBurenBates.jpeg

Size was no impediment to Martin Van Buren Bates, a quiet schoolteacher who found that his enormous size (7’9″) served him better on the battlefields of the Civil War. The “Kentucky Giant” rose quickly from private to captain in the Fifth Kentucky Infantry; Union soldiers told of a “Confederate giant who’s as big as five men and fights like 50.”

After the war, Bates was touring Canada with a circus when he met Anna Haining Swan, another enormously tall person (7’5″), and they married in London, where Queen Victoria gave them two extra-large diamond-studded gold watches as wedding presents.

Their 18-pound child was stillborn, and they ordered an oversize house custom-built in Ohio, with 14-foot ceilings and giant furniture. “To see our guests make use of it,” wrote Bates, “recalls most forcibly the good Dean Swift’s traveler in the land of Brobdingnag.”

The pair toured again, and lost another son, this one 28 inches tall and weighing 22 pounds. “He looked at birth like an ordinary child of six months,” Bates wrote. But “with this exception our lot has been one of almost uninterrupted joy.”

When Anna died in 1886, Martin sold the house and married a woman of normal stature, with whom he lived peacefully until he died of nephritis in Seville in 1919.

Tunguska Redux

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tunguska_event_fallen_trees.jpg

Somebody up there hates Siberia.

On June 30, 1908, something huge exploded over the Tunguska River near modern Evenkia. The blast felled 60 million trees over 2,150 square kilometers; it’s been estimated at between 10 and 15 megatons. Witnesses described a huge fireball moving across the sky, a flash, and a shockwave that knocked people off their feet and broke windows up to 400 miles away. Afterward, the night sky glowed for weeks.

But, strangely, there was no crater. In fact, a few trees near ground zero were still standing, their branches and bark stripped off. Stranger still, some reports said the skyglow had begun the night before the explosion, and that there had been strange weather and increased seismic activity for days beforehand. And carbon-14 dating of the soil gave a date in the future — meaning the soil had somehow become enriched with radioactive carbon-14.

What caused the explosion? A meteor? A comet? An asteroid? There’s been no conclusive explanation. But, disturbingly, a similar thing happened just three years ago. An explosion in Siberia in September 2002 that measured up to 5 kilotons was accompanied by northern lights, increased radioactivity, and an outbreak of unknown diseases nearby. An expedition the following year concluded that it was a comet, but no one knows for sure.

Society of Mind

http://www.urville.com/

Urville is a city of 14 million inhabitants that exists entirely in the mind of Gilles Trehin, a French autistic savant.

Trehin began creating plans at the age of 12, using Lego blocks and model airplanes. Today, at 33, he has drawn extensive maps and landscapes of his creation, as well as inventing a culture and a detailed history going back to the 12th century B.C., when he imagines the city was founded by the Phoenicians.

Today, in Trehin’s mind, Urville is the third largest city in the developed world, behind Tokyo and New York, and boasts 87 cinemas, 42 cabarets, 174 public swimming pools and European offices of I.B.M., Sony, Citybank, Olivetti, and Siemens.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” wrote Albert Einstein. “Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

What’s in a Name?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Liver-Eating_Johnson.jpg

“Liver-Eating Johnson” had the coolest nickname in the Old West — cooler, perhaps, than the truth warranted.

The “mountain man” was actually born in New Jersey around 1824. He deserted the Navy after the Mexican-American War and lit out for Wyoming, where he trapped, hunted and supplied cordwood to steamboats.

The legend starts in 1847, when the Crow tribe killed his Indian wife and he launched a personal war that lasted 20 years, in which, supposedly, he would cut out and eat the liver of each man he killed.

Did he really? Who knows? But it made a good story, and Johnson’s stature began to grow — literally and figuratively. His Civil War records put him at less than 6 feet tall, but local yarns soon said he was 6 foot 6.

After serving the Union Army as a sharpshooter, he spent the 1880s as a deputy sheriff in Leadville, Colo., and a town marshal in Red Lodge, Mont. He died in 1900.

But a century later the nickname was still working. The 1972 Robert Redford film Jeremiah Johnson was based in part on his life — and Redford even served as one of the pallbearers when Johnson’s body was reburied in Cody, Wyo., in 1974.

Arf!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Dog_mine.jpg

Yes, that’s a real dog, and no, the photo isn’t doctored. During World War II the Soviets experimented with “anti-tank dogs,” dogs that were trained to run under enemy tanks with explosives strapped to their backs.

Unfortunately, the Soviets trained the dogs by putting food under their own tanks, which led to some Three-Stooges-style hijinks on the battlefield. In 1942, an entire Soviet tank division was chased into retreat by its own dogs. Serves ’em right.

Here, Boy!

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:G%C3%A9rard_de_Nerval.jpg

The French Romantic poet Gérard de Nerval had a pet lobster, which he would walk through Paris on a blue ribbon.

He said he regarded lobsters as “peaceful, serious creatures who know the secrets of the sea and don’t bark.”