In the 1930s, before he became a children’s author, Theodor Geisel worked as an illustrator for New York ad agencies. His father, who was superintendent of parks in Springfield, Mass., began sending him the antlers, beaks, and horns of deceased zoo animals, and Ted turned them into the Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy.
When the Seneca Army Depot in upstate New York was shut down in 2000 it left an odd legacy: the world’s largest herd of white deer. The fence erected around the facility in 1941 happened to enclose a few white-tailed deer that carried a recessive gene for all-white coats; the depot commander forbade his GIs to shoot any white deer, and eventually the white herd grew to number more than 300.
These are not albinos; they have brown eyes, not pink, and they live alongside some 600 brown white-tailed deer. In 2016 the Army sold the depot to a local businessman, and part of the land has now been established as a conservation park. Bus tours have “turned out to be hugely successful.”
A truly ‘spread eagle map’ is found in a small book of 1833, entitled, ‘Rudiments of Knowledge,’ by Joseph Churchman. This eagle map is explained very geographically. The United States and territories are represented under the figure of an eagle; the States of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and a part of New York being chiefly included in the head and beak — the remainder of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, principally embraced in the neck — the outline of coast, from Cape Henlopen to South Carolina inclusive, making the turn and formation of the breast, Florida representing the legs — the Arkansas territory, including the land occupied by the Cherokees to the Spanish line, forming the tail — the northern line of the United States, through lakes Ontario and Erie to Detroit, describing the back — the wings raised and the outline of them curving with the line of the United States through lakes St. Clair, Huron and Superior, and spread and extended to overshadow a large part of the Missouri territory.
— P. Lee Phillips, “Some Peculiar Maps,” Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, August 1918
On June 11, 1900, someone in Harvard Yard called out “Oh, R-i-i-i-n-e-HART!” There must have been something in the air, because hundreds of students repeated the cry, and for the next 40 years it took on a strange life of its own. Journalist (and alumnus) George Frazier mentioned it in his 1932 song “Harvard Blues,” recorded in 1941 by Count Basie. John Barrymore mentioned it in his 1939 film The Great Man Votes. Thomas Pynchon describes it in his novel Against the Day. Today it’s documented in slang dictionaries and has entered the realm of legend: A Harvard man menaced by Arabs in Africa supposedly cried “Rinehart!” and was rescued by a fellow alumnus from the nearby French Foreign Legion.
The truth is more prosaic. Rinehart is John Bryce Gordon Rinehart, class of 1900. A contemporary article in the Harvard Crimson explained:
Rinehart, who is an earnest student, has been in great demand as a tutor to other men in his courses. As he lives at the top of Grays hall his friends have sought to find out whether he was in or not by directing plaintive cries of ‘Rinehart, O Rinehart’ at his windows. This made the studiously inclined who swell in the neighboring dormitories very tired and they determined to quell Rinehart, so promptly at dark for the past three nights the college yard has resounded with the cries of ‘Rinehart, O Rinehart.’ First one end of the yard and then other would send up the plaintive cry, and then all the buildings would swell as if in chorus with the same old plaint. Last night the college police tried to stop the racket, but the boys by a little teamwork kept them running from one dormitory to the other. One man with a megaphone was particularly offensive, but despite the police vigil of three hours the megaphonist was still summoning Rinehart in tearful tones.
Rinehart himself, “stocky, gray, and genial” at 61, finally confirmed this at the university’s tercentenary celebration in 1936, his first time back to campus:
It was in the Spring of 1900. Examinations were over and the atmosphere was tense, as it usually is between examinations and commencement.
My classmates always looked upon me as a grind. They were continually calling for me to go out on a spree, but I have never touched a drop in my life.
That Spring evening, in 1900, they came and called up to my room — I was living in Gray’s 49, on the top floor — for me to join them. The late Frank Simonds, living in Matthews, who was a friend of mine, heard the call and just for a joke stuck his head out of his window and repeated the call.
The cry was taken up. Among those who joined in were John Price Jones and Charles Underwood, who is director of the Manly School here in Cambridge. Within a few minutes the yard was a bedlam.
Why it caught on, though, still seems to be a mystery.
When Toronto attorney Charles Vance Millar died in 1926, he left behind a mischievous will that promised a fortune to the woman who gave birth to the most children in the next 10 years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the Great Stork Derby and the hope and controversy it brought to Toronto’s largest families during the Great Depression.
We’ll also visit some Portuguese bats and puzzle over a suspicious work crew.
Northumberland’s Alnwick Garden contains a special section full of hemlock, belladonna, foxglove, deadly nightshade, Brugmansia, Laburnum, and the botanical ingredients of strychnine and ricin.
“If you’re building something, especially a visitor attraction, it needs to be something really unique,” Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland, who designed the garden, told Smithsonian. “One of the things I hate in this day and age is the standardization of everything. I thought, ‘Let’s try and do something really different.'”
She collected more than 100 varieties, which visitors are forbidden to touch, taste, or smell. (Even so, in 2014 seven visitors reportedly fainted from inhaling the fumes alone.)
“I thought, ‘This is a way to interest children,'” the duchess said. “Children don’t care that aspirin comes from a bark of a tree. What’s really interesting is to know how a plant kills you, and how the patient dies, and what you feel like before you die.”
Australian commuter train driver Ian Silva spends his free time building a world — a jaw-droppingly detailed Indian Ocean republic called the Koana Islands, whose 32 islands, nine major cities, 11 national parks, and 93 million residents exist only in his imagination.
The Koana Islands, he explains, are located south of the equator roughly between Madagascar, Indonesia and Australia. It has thirteen states, and sprawls three climate zones. The population is mostly white, and speaks a language that is derived from mixing English and Swedish settlers. The country industrialized relatively late, but did so quickly, becoming the world’s best place to earn a living by the 1970s. It is routinely ranked among the world’s best countries to live. Civic engagement is high, and the country has an extensive public welfare system, including the famous public transit system. Crime is low, but if you find yourself trouble, you can dial 777 for assistance.
For those who want to know more, Silva maintains a wiki and a subreddit. “I’m a very quiet person with strong opinions,” he says, “and the beauty of building a fictional nation is it gives you an outlet to express those things.”
When Florence Ilott began working at the House of Commons in the early 1930s, she learned that the staff there had set a standing challenge: to run across Westminster Bridge in the time it took Big Ben to strike noon. An amateur sprinter, Ilott donned her running gear and on April 14, 1934, became the first person to fulfill the challenge, as witnessed by reporters and photographers from the Associated Press, the Daily Sketch, and the Evening Standard.
In 1806 British scholar Benjamin Heath Malkin published A Father’s Memoirs of His Child to record the almost alarming gifts of his son Thomas, who had taught himself to read and write by age 2, inquired into mathematics and Latin, and at age 5 invented an imaginary country called Allestone:
Allestone … was so strongly impressed on his own mind, as to enable him to convey an intelligible and lively transcript of its description. Of this delightful territory he considered himself as king. He had formed the project of writing its history, and had executed the plan in detached parts. Neither did his ingenuity stop here; for he drew a map of the country, giving names of his own invention to the principal mountains, rivers, cities, seaports, villages, and trading towns.
“The country is an island,” the father explained, “and therefore the better calculated for the scene of the transactions he has assigned to it. The rivers, for the most part, rise in such situations, and flow in such directions, as they would in reality assume. Their course is marked out with reference to the position of principal towns, and other objects of general convenience.”
Thomas sketched out the country’s political history, principal actors, and monetary system, and had composed a series of representative adventures among its people and a comic opera (“only imaginary music, made by Thomas Williams Malkin, who does not understand real music”), when he died, probably of peritonitis, at age 6 — leaving his subjects without a king.
When Los Angeles police were alerted to gunshots at the home of Fred Oesterreich on Aug. 22, 1922, they found the wealthy clothier dead in his bedroom and his wife locked in the closet. She told them that burglars had killed Fred when he’d resisted them. The story seemed plausible — Fred’s diamond watch was missing, and Dolly couldn’t have locked herself in the closet — but it seemed odd that Fred had been killed with a .25-caliber handgun, a relatively modest choice for an armed robber.
The story held up for nearly a year, but then detectives learned that Dolly had offered a diamond watch to the attorney settling her husband’s estate and had asked two other men to dispose of guns for her. She was jailed for murder, but detectives couldn’t prove that the rusted guns had been used in the crime, and still no one could explain how Dolly could have locked herself in the closet when the key was found in the hall. Eventually the charges were dropped for lack of evidence.
Seven years went by before her attorney finally revealed the bizarre truth. In 1913 Dolly had seduced Otto Sanhuber, a sewing-machine repairman who had worked in her husband’s factory. For nearly 10 years he’d lived in the Oesterreichs’ house as Dolly’s sex slave, hiding in the attic to evade Fred. On the night of the murder he’d heard the couple in a violent quarrel and emerged with two guns, astonishing Fred and, in a struggle, shooting him three times. He and Dolly had invented the tale of the burglary and he’d locked her in the closet. In jail she had begged the attorney to take food to a man in her attic. He’d thrown Otto out of the house but kept the secret because he and Dolly had become lovers themselves.
A jury found Otto guilty of manslaughter, but by that time the statute of limitations had passed. In a separate trial Dolly was charged with conspiracy but saved by a hung jury. She lived quietly thereafter until her death in 1961.
(Michael Parrish, For the People: Inside the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office 1850-2000, 2001.)