If You Build It …


Green River, Wyo., is certainly neighborly: In 1994, when NASA determined that up to six meteors might strike Jupiter, Green River’s city council designated an airstrip south of town as the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport. They asked NASA to broadcast the news to any fleeing Jovians and warned residents to “prepare themselves to make welcome any refugees who might cast themselves upon our mercy.”

Mayor George Eckman told the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner, “I feel it is a gesture that could be made and should be made by someone on the planet Earth to fellow citizens of the solar system.”

The two council members who opposed the resolution pointed out that the region already has a problem with illegal aliens and noted the local housing shortage. But the mile-long runway remains open.

The Montauk Monster


In July 2008 an unrecognizable creature washed up on a beach on Long Island. Local resident Jenna Hewitt took this photo, which appeared in the local newspaper The Independent. What is it? No explanation quite adds up:

  • Its proportions don’t match those of a raccoon.
  • Sea turtles don’t have teeth.
  • It lacks the large incisors of a rodent.
  • A dog or coyote would have a more prominent eye ridge.

Some speculate that the animal was an escapee from the nearby Plum Island Animal Disease Center. William Wise, director of Stony Brook University’s Living Marine Resources Institute, flatly calls it a fake, the product of “someone who got very creative with latex.” The carcass has since been lost, so we’ll never know for sure.

Divine Recall

One of the most marvelous feats of recent times was performed in August, 1897, at Sondrio, capital of the Valtellina district, in the northern part of Italy, by Signor Edoe, professor in the Institution di Lorenzo, who, on a wager, repeated from memory, and without making a single mistake, the whole of Dante’s immortal poem, ‘Divina Commedia,’ which consists of nearly one hundred cantos, an amount of matter about equal to the number of words contained in the New Testament. The feat occupied about twenty-four hours in its accomplishment, lasting from 6 p.m. on one day until 2 p.m. the following day. It was achieved in the presence of a committee of associate professors and literary men, who, at about midnight, divided into two parties, alternately sleeping and listening until the recitation was finished, the text being carefully followed by prompters during the whole time, all in order that there might be no question as to the genuineness of the performance. This feat was accomplished after a preparation that was comparatively short, considering the great length of the poem, and is perhaps the most wonderful exhibition of verbal recollection in recent times.

— Henry H. Fuller, The Art of Memory, 1898

For What It’s Worth


The longest nose in history, 7.5 inches, belonged to Thomas Wedders, who was exhibited throughout Yorkshire in the 1770s.

In Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine (1901), George Milbry Gould writes, “This man expired as he had lived, in a condition of mind best described as the most abject idiocy.”

“The accompanying illustration is taken from a reproduction of an old print and is supposed to be a true likeness of this unfortunate individual.”

Working Late


For twenty-five years past an oral addition to the written standing orders of the native guard at Government House, near Poona, had been communicated regularly from one guard to another, on relief, to the effect that any cat passing out of the front door after dark was to be regarded as His Excellency the Governor, and to be saluted accordingly. The meaning of this was that Sir Robert Grant, Governor of Bombay, had died there in 1838, and on the evening of the day of his death a cat was seen to leave the house by the front door and walk up and down a particular path, as had been the Governor’s habit to do, after sunset. A Hindu sentry had observed this, and he mentioned it to others of his faith, who made it a subject of superstitious conjecture, the result being that one of the priestly class explained the mystery of the dogma of the transmigration of the soul from one body to another, and interpreted the circumstance to mean that the spirit of the deceased Governor had entered into one of the house pets. It was difficult to fix on a particular one, and it was therefore decided that every cat passing out of the main entrance after dark was to be regarded as the tabernacle of Governor Grant’s soul, and to be treated with due respect and the proper honours. This decision was accepted without question by all the native attendants and others belonging to Government House. The whole guard, from sepoy to subadar, fully acquiesced in it, and an oral addition was made to the standing orders that the sentry at the front door would ‘present arms’ to any cat passing out there after dark.

— Sir Thomas Edward Gordon, A Varied Life, 1906

Return to Sender

On Sept. 30, 1826, a beachcomber found a bottle in the surf at Barbados. Inside was a penciled note:

The ship the Kent, Indiaman, is on fire. Elizabeth, Joanna, and myself commit our spirits into the hands of our blessed Redeemer; His grace enables us to be quite composed in the awful prospect of entering eternity. Dun. McGregor. 1st of March, 1825. Bay of Biscay.

Strangely, the note’s author arrived a short time later. Duncan MacGregor, now a lieutenant colonel in the 93rd Highlanders, had been a major bound for India when the Kent took fire. After he and his family had been rescued by a passing brig, an explosion aboard the burning vessel had cast the bottle into the sea, and it had floated across the Atlantic as if to rejoin him.

A regimental historian confirmed the story after MacGregor’s death in 1881. “[The note] is still preserved by his son, who was at the time of the loss of the Kent a child of only five weeks old, and was the first saved from the wreck.”

(Thanks, Evan.)



In 1964, as the Apollo program prepared to land a man on the moon, it received unexpected news from Zambia. “I’ll have my first Zambian astronaut on the moon by 1965,” announced Edward Mukaka Nkoloso, a grade-school science teacher and director-general of the Zambian National Academy of Space Research.

“We are using our own system, derived from the catapult,” he explained. It would fire a 10-foot aluminum and copper rocket that would carry 10 Zambian astronauts ultimately to Mars.

“I’m getting them acclimatized to space travel by placing them in my space capsule every day. It’s a 40-gallon oil drum in which they sit, and I then roll them down a hill. This gives them the feeling of rushing through space. I also make them swing from the end of a long rope. When they reach the highest point, I cut the rope — this produces the feeling of free fall.”

Unfortunately, “I’ve had trouble with my spacemen and spacewomen,” Nkoloso complained. “They won’t concentrate on spaceflight; there’s too much lovemaking when they should be studying the moon. Matha Mwamba, the 17-year-old girl who has been chosen to be the first woman on Mars, has also to feed her 10 cats, who will be her companions on her long space flight.”

The U.N. denied the £700 million Nkoloso needed “to really get going,” but his enthusiasm remained undiminished. In 1968 he congratulated the returning Apollo 8 team but urged: “Let us make a Zambian rocket today. We shall never be content to remain behind other races. This is our heavenly destiny, our natural ambition and cultural hegemony.”

Survival of the Fittest

In 1499, a bear which had been terrorizing a German village and had killed people, was captured and brought to trial. The attorney appointed to defend the bear was allowed to argue for days that the animal had the right to be judged by a jury of its peers (that is, other bears). However, the animal was tried and convicted by human beings. It was sentenced to dangle from the public gallows until relatives of its victims stoned the bear to death.

— Thomas J. Gardner and Victor Manian, Criminal Law: Principles, Cases and Readings, 1975


If you see a kangaroo wearing a man’s waistcoat with $20 in one pocket, please notify William Thompson, farmer of Grafton, near Sydney, Australia. When Thompson found a kangaroo caught in a wire fence he acted on impulse, removing his old waistcoat and buttoning it firmly on the kangaroo, which then bounded away. It was several hours later when he remembered the money in the pocket.

The Paris News, Feb. 4, 1946