The Forgotten Winchester

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In 2014, archaeologists conducting surveys in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park found a .44-40 Winchester rifle propped against a juniper tree. Manufactured in 1882, apparently it had stood there for a century.

“It looked like someone propped it up there, sat down to have their lunch and got up to walk off without it,” Nichole Andler, the park’s chief of interpretation, told the Washington Post.

Possibly it had belonged to a miner, a rancher, or a hunter. Winchester manufactured 25,000 of this model in 1882, so its presence isn’t exactly surprising. But why did the owner abandon a $25 rifle?

“It probably has a very good and interesting story,” Andler said, “but it probably is a story that could have happened to almost anyone living this sort of extraordinary existence out here in the Great Basin Desert.”

It’s now on permanent display at the park’s Lehman Caves Visitors Center.

Precocious

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Christian Heinrich Heineken, “the infant scholar of Lübeck,” was so supernaturally gifted that it’s hard even to believe the stories that are told about him. Born in 1721 to a pair of German artists, as a baby he could recite several Biblical stories from memory, and he read the Old and New Testament in Latin before the age of 2.

After he was fourteen months of age the child began the history of the world and could answer any question asked. In his fourth year he could read printed and written matter, although he never learned to write. The multiplication table was learned and recited in order or skipping about. He could relate whole stories in French and knew fourteen hundred sentences from good Latin authors; in geography he knew all the important places on the map.

During a storm at sea he quoted John Trapp: Qui nescit orare, discat navigare (“He that cannot pray, let him go to sea [and there he will learn]”). Introduced to the Danish king at age 3, he said, “Permit me, sir, to kiss the hand of Your Majesty and the hem of your royal garment” and recited his own history of Denmark.

There’s no telling what sort of life lay in store for him, but he passed away after only 4 years and 4 months, apparently of celiac disease, leaving his tutor to proclaim him “a wonder for all time.”

(Jennifer L. Jolly and Justin Bruno, “The Public’s Fascination With Prodigious Youth,” Gifted Child Today, 33:2 [March 2010], 61-65.)

Black Monday

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Something extraordinary happened to the army of Edward III on Monday, April 13, 1360, as they camped in an open field near Chartres during the Hundred Years’ War.

According to the contemporary historian Jean Froissart, “During the time that the French commissioners were passing backwards and forwards from the king to his council, and unable to obtain any favourable answer to their offers, there happened such a storm and violent tempest of thunder and hail, which fell on the English army, that it seemed as if the world was come to an end. The hailstones were so large as to kill men and beasts, and the boldest were frightened.”

Some sources say that 1,000 men and 6,000 horses were killed. Possibly they died through cold rather than trauma; a London chronicle says the “day was a foul dark day of mist and hail, and so bitter cold that many men died for cold.”

Whatever it was, it shook Edward’s confidence. Froissart writes, “The king turned himself towards the church of Our Lady at Chartres, and religiously vowed to the Virgin, as he has since confessed, that he would accept of terms of peace.”

Jack the Snipper

From the United Press, June 18, 1942:

Pascagoula, Miss. — (U.P.) — Everybody in town is just as mystified over the motive of the ‘phantom barber’ as they are about who he might try to clip next.

Without robbing or otherwise disturbing his victims, he breaks into homes at night and snips the hair of heavy sleepers. He has given haircuts to three persons in the past week and not one of them even woke up during the process.

Police chief A. W. Ezell said he didn’t have the slightest idea why a man would want to do such a thing, but because the complaints have been coming hard and heavy, his department has staked a $300 reward for information leading to his capture. He also gave pistol permits to six volunteer officers and ordered the regular police force to be on the alert.

Bloodhounds, given a man’s footprint to start on, have failed miserably. None of the victims could give a description since they slumbered on oblivious of the tonsorial attention they were getting.

Stuckie

Loggers with the Georgia Kraft Corp. were cutting down a chestnut oak in southern Georgia in the 1980s when they discovered the mummified remains of a dog inside the hollow trunk. Experts determined that it was most likely a hunting dog that had pursued some quarry up through the hollow tree sometime in the 1960s. The dog had wedged itself into the narrowing trunk and, unable to turn around, eventually perished 28 feet above ground level. But chestnut oak contains tannin, a natural desiccant that stopped microbial activity, and the dog’s position and a natural updraft through the trunk prevented other animals from scenting or reaching it. So it just remained there for 20 years, waiting to be found.

The mummified dog, now known as “Stuckie,” is on display at the Southern Forest World museum in Waycross, Georgia.

River of Gold

For about two weeks each February, the last rays of the setting sun set Yosemite’s Horsetail Fall glowing orange and red.

The effect is best seen from a clearing close to the picnic area on the north road leading out of the valley east of El Capitan.

Detour

During the 1974 English Amateur stroke play championship at the Moortown Golf Club in Leeds, businessman Nigel Denham’s approach shot on the 18th fairway struck a path in front of the clubhouse and bounced up the steps, through the open door, off a wall, and into the bar.

Denham was allowed inside, having first removed his golf shoes as required by the club. Local rules showed that the clubhouse was not out of bounds, so it followed that the ball lay within an obstruction from which no relief was available. He could move a chair or a table, but once this was done there was no interference with his stance or the intended area of his swing. He reasoned that he must play the ball as it lay.

So he opened the window and shot the ball neatly through it. It traveled 20 yards and finished 12 feet from the hole, to an ovation from the bar patrons. He even completed the subsequent putt for par.

“In the fulness of time the details of this daring stroke were conveyed to the Rules of Golf Committee at St Andrews for adjudication,” writes Peter Dobereiner in The Book of Golf Disasters. “The commitee ruled that Denham should have been penalized two strokes for opening the window. Chairs, tables, beer mats and sundry impediments could be cleared aside with impunity as movable obstructions but the window, as an integral part of the immovable obstruction of a clubhouse, should not have been moved.”

The clubhouse has since been declared out of bounds.

Arrh

https://track-adventure.squarespace.com/our-adventure/

In May 2017, brothers Ollie and Harry Ferguson launched a plastic pirate ship, the Adventure, into the North Sea at Peterhead, Scotland. It carried a message asking anyone who found it to record their location and return it to the sea. After the ship had visited Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, the crew of a Norwegian ship volunteered to launch the Adventure in new waters, and on Nov. 8 released it 100 miles off the coast of Mauritania, hoping that it would cross the Atlantic westward to the Americas.

It nearly ran aground in the Cape Verde Islands but had made it past Barbados by mid-May. You can track its progress here.

(Via MetaFilter.)

The Death Valley Germans

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In July 1996 a family of four set out from Dresden for a holiday in the American Southwest. Architect Egbert Rimkus, 34, his son Georg, 11, his girlfriend Cornelia Meyer, 27, and her son Max, 4, arrived in Los Angeles and visited Las Vegas, then traveled to Death Valley National Park. Their names appear in the logs of several visitor sites, and it appears they spent their first night camping in a canyon near Telescope Peak.

When they failed to return as planned on July 29, Rimkus’s ex-wife began to make inquiries. When their travel agency learned that the rented van had not been returned, it notified Interpol. Temperatures in the park had topped 120 degrees on the week of the disappearance.

In late October, a helicopter search pilot spotted the van on a closed road in a remote part of the park known as Anvil Canyon. It had been driven at least 200 miles, and the tracks showed that it had run on flat tires and bent wheels for the final two miles. More than 200 search and rescue workers combed the area; under a bush a quarter mile away they found a beer bottle that appeared to have come from a package in the van.

The search was called off on Oct. 26, but 13 years later, in 2009, hikers discovered the skeletal remains of a man and a woman several miles south of that spot, near a photo ID belonging to Cornelia. Authorities said they were fairly sure the bones belonged to Egbert and Cornelia, but the remains of the children have never been found.

(Thanks, Tom.)

Podcast Episode 208: Giving Birth to Rabbits

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In 1726 London was rocked by a bizarre sensation: A local peasant woman began giving birth to rabbits, astounding the city and baffling the medical community. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the strange case of Mary Toft, which has been called “history’s most fascinating medical mystery.”

We’ll also ponder some pachyderms and puzzle over some medical misinformation.

See full show notes …