Progress

hammer-wielding monkey

Hollinwood, near Manchester, was the scene of a rather novel rat killing match the other day, between Mr. Benson’s fox terrier dog, Turk, and a Mr. Lewis’ monkey, for £5. The conditions of the match were that each one had to kill twelve rats, and the one that finished them the quickest to be declared the winner. You may guess what excitement this would cause in the ‘doggy’ circle. It was agreed that Turk was to finish his twelve rats first, which he did, and in good time, too, many bets being made on the dog after he had finished them. After a few minutes had elapsed it now came the monkey’s turn, and a commotion it caused. Time being called, the monkey was immediately put to his twelve rats, Mr. Lewis, the owner, at the same time putting his hand in his coat pocket and handing the monkey a peculiar hammer. This was a surprise to the onlookers; but the monkey was not long in getting to work with his hammer, and, once at work, he was not long in completing the task set before him. You may talk about a dog being quick at rat killing, but he is really not in it with the monkey and his hammer. Had the monkey been left in the ring much longer you could not have told that his victims had been rats at all — he was for leaving them in all shapes. Suffice it to say the monkey won with ease, having time to spare at the finish. Most persons present (including Mr. Benson, the owner of the dog) thought the monkey would worry the rats in the same manner as the dog does; but the conditions said to kill, and the monkey killed with a vengeance, and won the £5, beside a lot of bets for his owner.

Illustrated Police News, Sept. 4, 1880

Lofty Sentiments

https://books.google.com/books?id=K2XVAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA144

The first marriage ever celebrated in a balloon was held on Oct. 19, 1874, between Mary Elizabeth Walsh and Charles M. Colton, two performers in P.T. Barnum’s Roman Hippodrome in Cincinnati. Fifty thousand people watched as the “monster balloon” P.T. Barnum, trimmed with flags and flowers and “full almost to bursting with the best of gas,” carried the wedding party a mile above Lincoln Park, where minister Howard Jeffries performed the ceremony and made the following remarks:

Marriage is not an earthly but a heavenly institution, belonging to the higher realms of life, and as such is it revered by the enlightened; the greater the enlightenment of any country or community the greater the respect it accords marriage; as an institution above those of the world, merely, it is, then, most fitting that its solemnization should be celebrated far above the earth.

May you, whose life-destinies have been joined together at this altitude, be always lifted above the adversities of life. Hence you look down upon the multitudes below, who appear as pigmies from your elevation, and you see that the sun is fast going down upon them; shadows lengthen and darkness will quickly enwrap them. Upon you the sun shines with greater brilliancy than we have seen it at any time to-day; so may it be in life, and you be exempt from shadows and darkness, though you see them fall upon others. As you here serenely float above the hills, the rocks and the roughness below, so may your united destinies bear you above the rugged places of life; may you have no hills of sorrow to scale, no valley of adversity to pass through, no rock of passion to stumble upon, no treacherous ditch of contention to fall into.

Soon we shall all descend to earth, as we must shortly all go down to the grave. As upon leaving this vessel you two will pass forward in company while you live, so, when you have both crossed to ‘that bourn from whence no traveler returns,’ may your united souls in company explore the glorious paradise of God’s redeemed.

He left them with this certificate:

https://books.google.com/books?id=K2XVAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA144

(From History of Donaldson’s Balloon Ascensions, 1875.)

Express

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sliding,_Mt._Washington_Railway.jpg

This paragraph jumped out at me last night from B.G. Wilson’s Unusual Railways (1958) — he’s writing about the Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire, one of the world’s steepest, with an average grade of 25 percent:

Before leaving this line, mention must be made of a method of riding down the track employed by track maintenance men and long since banned. Wood and metal seats some 3 ft. × 1 ft. were made to fit over the rack rail. These were known as slide-boards, or more popularly, as ‘Devil’s Shingles’. Seated on these, controlling (sometimes) the speed with hand brakes, the men would career down the mountainside. The record time for the trip — as we have said, 3 1/4 miles — was 2 3/4 minutes!

That’s 70 mph! For comparison, the modern train takes 40 minutes to descend at 4.6 mph. And this was in the late 19th century — the railway opened in August 1869. Wilson writes, “After one man had been killed and another seriously injured, the Devil’s Shingles were banned.” I don’t know any more than that.

In a Word

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/paris-1395428

topolatry
n. excessive reverence for a place

Of the million or so Japanese who visit Paris each year, about 12 have to be repatriated due to “Paris syndrome,” a transient psychological disorder brought on when the mundane reality of the city clashes with their romanticized expectations.

The syndrome was first diagnosed by Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist working in France. Symptoms include delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution, and anxiety.

“Fragile travellers can lose their bearings,” psychologist Hervé Benhamou told Le Journal du Dimanche. “When the idea they have of the country meets the reality of what they discover, it can provoke a crisis.”

(A. Viala et al., “Les japonais en voyage pathologique à Paris : un modèle original de prise en charge transculturelle,” Nervure 5 (2004): 31–34.)

Putting Words

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hideki_Tojo.jpg

In 1946, when Japanese prime minister Hideki Tojo was being held prisoner by the victorious Allies, he asked for a set of dentures so that he could speak clearly during his war crimes trial.

The dentures were made by 22-year-old military dentist E.J. Mallory. “I figured it was my duty to carry out the assignment,” Mallory remembered in 1988. “But that didn’t mean I couldn’t have fun with it.”

An amateur ham radio operator, he inscribed the phrase “Remember Pearl Harbor” in Morse code into the dentures and delivered them to Tojo.

Mallory and his colleague George Foster told a few friends, but the secret got out and the two had to awaken Tojo in the middle of the night to borrow back the dentures and grind out the message. The next day, when a colonel confronted them, they were able to say truthfully that there was no message.

It’s not known whether Tojo ever found out what had happened. He was executed in 1948.

“It wasn’t anything done in anger,” Mallory remembered in 1995. “It’s just that not many people had the chance to get those words into his mouth.”

Illumination

night gallery

In the 1969 Night Gallery episode “Eyes,” Joan Crawford plays Claudia Menlo, a ruthless dowager who blackmails a doctor into performing a nerve transplant that will grant her vision for 11 hours. Afterward, alone in her apartment, she impatiently removes the bandages prematurely. She catches a glimpse of a crystal chandelier and then everything goes black. She rampages through her suite and collapses in tears, unaware that the city has suffered a power outage. At dawn, through dimming vision, she sees the rising sun, rushes to grasp it, and crashes through a window to her death.

Now: “How many things did Claudia Menlo see?” asks Dartmouth philosopher Roy Sorensen. “Most people say she saw only the chandelier and the sun (and possibly the pavement on the way down). But I say Claudia saw something in between seeing the crystal chandelier and the rising sun: the darkness of her blacked-out apartment. Claudia had never seen darkness before and mistook this visual experience for an absence of visual experience.”

Can we see darkness? Sorensen pictures a cave explorer in a completely dark cave. If the explorer is asleep and dreaming that he is in a completely dark cave, he does not see the darkness — but when he wakes up, he does. If the explorer then stands too quickly and the blood rushes from his head, he sees stars against an accurately perceived black background — the surrounding darkness. In contrast, his blind companion can’t tell whether the cave is dark; “only the sighted man can tell whether the cave is dark just by looking.”

This raises a puzzle: Suppose you’re in a light-tight container that’s suspended within a larger light-tight container. If the interior of the larger container is illuminated, then of course the darkness you see is the darkness of the smaller container. But what happens if the illumination of the larger space is turned off? You certainly can’t see beyond the walls of the small container in any circumstances. And only the larger container is blocking light. Does it follow that you’re seeing the darkness of the large container within the small container?

(Roy Sorensen, “We See in the Dark,” Noûs 38:3 [2004], 456-480.)

Piggyback

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

Between Grana and Casorzo, Italy, grows a cherry tree atop a mulberry tree.

It’s not uncommon for a small tree to grow on a larger one, but it’s rare for them to reach such a large size. The cherry even flowers in the spring.

The pair are known as the Bialbero de Casorzo, or “double tree of Casorzo.”

Last Words

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Conan_Doyle.jpg

A letter from Arthur Conan Doyle to Light, April 5, 1930:

SIR, — It might interest your readers to know that some weeks ago I had a communication which professed to come from Thomas Hardy. It came through an amateur Medium from whom I had only once before had a message, which was most veridical. Therefore, I was inclined to take Hardy’s message seriously, the more so as intrinsically it was worthy of him. I should place it on the same level of internal evidence as the Oscar Wilde and the Jack London scripts. Hardy gave a posthumous review of his own work, some aspects of which he now desired to revise and modify. The level of his criticism was a very high and just one. He then, as a sign of identity, sent a poem, which seems to me to be a remarkable one. It describes evening in a Dorsetshire village. Without quoting it all I will give here the second verse which runs thus:

Full well we know the shadow o’er the green,
When Westering sun reclines behind the trees,
The little hours of evening, when the scene
Is faintly fashioned, fading by degrees.

The third and fourth lines are in my opinion exquisite. I do not know if they were memories of something written in life. I should be glad to know if anyone recognises them.

Arthur Conan Doyle

Podcast Episode 79: One Square Inch of the Yukon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Klondike_Big_Inch_Land_Promotion_Certificate.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

If you opened a box of Quaker Oats in 1955, you’d find a deed to one square inch of land in northwestern Canada. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story behind the Klondike Big Inch land giveaway, whose bizarre consequences are still being felt today.

We’ll also hear about a time traveler who visited the British Museum in 1997 and puzzle over why a prizewinning farmer gives away his best seed to his competitors.

See full show notes …