Kempe’s Jig

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In 1600, actor William Kempe traveled from London to Norwich, a distance of 177 kilometers. Why is that notable? He morris-danced the whole way, a feat that took nine days spread over several weeks. He published an account of the journey to convince doubters:

Vpon Fryday morning I set on towardes Thetford, dauncing that tenne mile in three houres; for I left Bury somewhat after seauen in the morning, and was at Thetford somewhat after ten that same forenoone. But, indeed, considering how I had been booted the other iourneys before, and that all this way, or the most of it, was ouer a heath, it was no great wonder; for I far’d like one that had escaped the stockes, and tride the vse of his legs to out-run the Constable: so light was my heeles, that I counted the ten mile no better than a leape.

He’s remembered for an even more distinctive accomplishment — he was one of the original stage actors in Shakespeare’s early dramas.

(Thanks, Tyler.)

Special Circumstances

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

A few details from Christine Quigley’s Conjoined Twins (2003):

  • Filipino twins Simplicio and Lucio Godino, above, had separate cars, each with the steering column on the appropriate side, “but Lucio had the better arrangement, since in the Philippines the cars passed each other on the left as in England.”
  • When Mary and Margaret Gibb boarded the ocean liner Majestic in 1930, they attempted to use a single passenger ticket. The White Star Line denied their request, basing its decision on the number of meals they’d consume.
  • “In a case in Paris in the seventeenth century of a conjoined twin stabbing a man to death, the sentence of death was commuted rather than executing the innocent twin.”
  • Ronnie and Donnie Galyon had two Social Security numbers and two voter registration cards but one passport.
  • Yvonne and Yvette McCarther didn’t share a wristwatch, lighter, or purse, “but their purses contained matching sets of everything from vitamin jars to wallets containing the same family photos.” “I speak for myself, and she speaks for herself,” said Yvonne.
  • Abigail and Brittany Hensel received two birth certificates, but both read “first” as to order of birth. If either misbehaved, both were sent to their room.
  • Separated from her conjoined sister Maria in 1965, six-year-old Giuseppina Foglia asked, “Am I really myself?” She told her sister, “You’re so far away!”

Psychologist Nancy Segal writes that “[W]hile most identical twins get along well, many conjoined twins are are masters at negotiation, cooperation and compromise.” By contrast, when unjoined sisters Patricia and Madeleine Infante connected themselves with a wire and entered show business as “Violet and Daisy Milton,” they ended up quarreling with their manager and destroying a sign billing them as “the only original American Siamese twins.” They were charged with vandalism, ending their career.

Not Guilty

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The Swedish courts took up a perplexing case in 1656: Småland maid Karin Svensdotter claimed to have had a sexual relationship with the King of the Fairies. She said she’d met a beautiful man in golden clothes who called himself Älvakungen and courted her with gifts. She’d borne him seven children, which he’d taken away to the land of the fairies. She said she’d given birth during recurring fits, from which she was known to suffer, and her employer testified that he’d heard her searching for her children in the forest.

In the 17th century the church acknowledged the existence of mythical creatures, and consorting with nature spirits such as Älvakungen would have constituted bestiality, for which a human might face a death sentence. After some consideration, though, it was determined that Svensdotter had been driven mad by Satan’s magic. The congregation was ordered to pray for her, relatives gave her a silver cross, and Älvakungen never troubled her again.

The Female Stranger

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

This enigmatic headstone stands in in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia, over the body of an unknown woman. Nothing definite seems to be known as to the woman’s identity, apart from the year of her death, but the poignant epitaph has fueled speculation for more than two centuries. One common suggestion is that she was Theodosia Burr Alston, a daughter of Aaron Burr who disappeared at sea in 1813, but this doesn’t account for Alston’s whereabouts in the three years before the mystery woman’s interment at Alexandria. It seems unlikely now that the inscription will ever be explained.

DIY

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Image: Flickr

In 1962, determined to start life anew, Yorkshire newspaper editor Brendon Grimshaw purchased little Moyenne Island in the Seychelles for £8,000. He remained there for the next 40 years. In that time Grimshaw and an assistant planted 16,000 trees by hand, built three miles of nature paths, attracted 2,000 new birds, and became caretakers of 120 giant tortoises. The island now hosts two thirds of all plants endemic to the Seychelles.

Grimshaw once turned down an offer of $50 million for the island, saying that he didn’t want to see it become a holiday destination for millionaires. Instead, in 2008 it was named a national park. Grimshaw died in 2012, but today a warden is posted on the island to collect entrance fees from tourists.

Adrift

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Fighting a storm in the Kuril Archipelago in January 1960, Soviet barge T-36 ran out of fuel and was carried out of its lagoon and into the open ocean. By the time the storm ceased it had also lost its radio transmitter, and when rescue crews found debris it was concluded that the vessel had sunk.

In fact it was drifting eastward across the North Pacific. The barge had recently been stocked with a three days’ supply of food and water, but some of this had been ruined in the storm, and the four-man crew were eventually reduced to eating their shoes and belts as they drifted endlessly east. “Each time we awoke, we were surprised to be alive,” private Philip Poplavski later told Time. “But we felt we were too young to die.”

Finally, after 49 days, they were spotted by an American Navy reconnaissance plane and picked up by the aircraft carrier Kearsarge. Amid worldwide publicity, the crew sailed to Paris on the Queen Mary, then flew back to the Soviet Union.

Google Dearth

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This is a photograph of an absence. In 1876 the whaling ship Velocity reported spotting some “Sandy Islets” in New Caledonia, and “Sandy Island” was carried into later charts as a potential navigational hazard. But doubts began to arise in the 20th century, and in 2012 an Australian research vessel visited the area and “undiscovered” the island. With its absence officially confirmed, it’s been removed from modern maps and databases.

In a Word

advigilate
v. to watch carefully; to keep vigil

cunctation
n. lateness; delay

vagarious
adj. roving; wandering; characterized by vagaries

mundivagant
adj. that roams around the world

Letter to the Times, Aug. 24, 2001:

Sir, Some years ago when I lived in Livingstone, Zambia, I received a letter from Lusaka, the capital, correctly addressed but weeks late.

Among the numerous back stamps the envelope had collected in its travels the last was Livingstone, Canada, with an inscription ‘Try Livingstone, Zambia’.

The letter had also visited Scotland and New Zealand.

Yours truly,

David H. Walton
Crowland, Peterborough

Cosmopolitan

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Drive east on Canusa Street and you’re in the United States, drive west and you’re in Canada. That’s because the street, part of Quebec Route 247, runs along the border — the yellow line dividing its lanes follows the 45th parallel.

Families who live on the south side are in Vermont, and those in the north are in Quebec — they can see one another but must present themselves at a border post before crossing the street.

But residents of both countries can freely visit the Haskell Free Library — where the main entrance is in America but the books are in Canada.