Sack Race

After losing a bet in April 1864, shopkeeper Reuel Gridley carried a 50-pound sack of flour through the little town of Austin, Nev. In a saloon afterward, someone proposed selling the flour at auction for the benefit of wounded Union soldiers. The suggestion was adopted on the spot, and the winning bid, $250, came from a local mill worker.

When Gridley asked where to deliver the sack, the man said, “Nowhere — sell it again.”

Thus was born a unique enterprise: Three hundred people paid a total of $8,000 for the same sack of flour that day, and soon Gridley went on tour through other Nevada mining towns, raising tens of thousands of dollars by selling it repeatedly. By the war’s end he had extended the tour through California, New York, and St. Louis and raised $150,000, a fortune for the time. Mark Twain wrote, “This is probably the only instance on record where common family flour brought three thousand dollars a pound in the public market.”

Ninger Note

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Ninger.jpg

Counterfeiting was a lot harder in the old days.

In the 1880s, Emanuel Ninger, known as “Jim the Penman,” drew $50 and $100 bills by hand, spending weeks on each one. Fifty bucks was a lot back then, about $2,000 in today’s money, so the effort was worthwhile. This also meant that his “work” ended up in the hands of rich people, and he actually gained a perverse following who realized the forgeries’ value as works of art.

He drew this note in 1896, just before the Secret Service nabbed him. He’d left a note on a wet bar, and the bartender saw the ink run. Ninger served six months and was forced to pay restitution of $1. He never forged again.

“Note How Your Friend Laughs”

It is a well known and easily demonstrated scientific fact that different people sound different vowels when laughing, from which fact a close observer has drawn the following conclusions: People who laugh in A (pronounced as ah) are frank, honest, and fond of noise and excitement, though they are often of a versatile and fickle disposition. Laughter in E (pronounced as ay) is peculiar to phlegmatic and melancholy persons. Those who laugh in I (pronounced as ee) are children or simple-minded, obliging, affectionate, timid, and undecided people. To laugh in O indicates generosity and daring. Avoid if possible all those who laugh in U, as they are wholly devoid of principle.

— Henry Williams, A Book of Curious Facts, 1903

Small World

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Internet_users_en_2007.PNG

Proportions of national populations who are Internet users:

  • Norway: 88 percent
  • United States: 75 percent
  • Canada: 67.8 percent
  • France: 53.7 percent
  • Spain: 43.9 percent
  • Greece: 35.5 percent
  • Peru: 25.5 percent
  • Russia: 19.5 percent
  • South Africa: 11.6 percent
  • India: 3.7 percent
  • Iraq: 0.1 percent

“Curious Will”

Among curious bequests to wives, that of John Lambeth, who died in 1791, is conspicuous for its bitterness. After declaring that ‘the strength of Sampson, the genius of Homer, the prudence of Augustus, the patience of Job, the philosophy of Socrates, the subtlety of Hannibal, the vigilence of Hermognes, would not suffice to subdue the perversity of her character,’ he bequeathed to his wife Elizabeth the sum of one shilling!

Bizarre Notes & Queries, February 1886

Gallantry Mechanized

http://www.google.com/patents?id=IvFQAAAAEBAJ&dq=james+boyle+hat+1896

James Boyle patented this hands-free hat-tipping device in 1896.

“The hat is detachably secured to the working parts of the device that raise the hat, completely rotate it, and deposit it correctly on the head of the wearer every time said person bows his head and then assumes an erect posture.”

There’s no record of how the ladies received it.

Representing Rats

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:PolynesianRatNZ.jpg

In the ecclesiastical courts of 16th-century France, lawyer Bartholomew de Chasseneux made his name by prosecuting the local vermin (“O snails, caterpillars, and other obscene creatures, which destroy the food of our neighbours, depart hence!”).

Impressed with his argument, the authorities in Autun asked him to advocate for the rats, which they put on trial in 1510 for eating the harvest of Burgundy.

That’s a tall order for even a master lawyer, but, amazingly, Chasseneux won the day:

In his defence, Chasseneux showed that the rats had not received formal notice; and, before proceeding with the case, he obtained a decision that all the priests of the afflicted parishes should announce an adjournment, and summon the defendants to appear on a fixed day.

At the adjourned trial, he complained that the delay accorded his clients had been too short to allow of their appearing, in consequence of the roads being infested with cats. Chasseneux made an able defence, and finally obtained a second adjournment. We believe that no verdict was given.

(From Sabine Baring-Gould, Curiosities of Olden Times, 1896)

Pulp Friction

Each February, the residents of Ivrea, Italy, throw oranges at each other. On the three days preceding Shrove Tuesday, thousands of costumed “revolutionaries” battle an “aristocracy” by hurling citrus fruits. Supposedly this commemorates a droit de seigneur drama in the 12th century, but in practice it’s just a bunch of people throwing oranges.

Eight hundred miles to the west, they’re throwing tomatoes.

Help Wanted

H. Hamilton, once the proprietor of Payne’s Hill, near Cobham, Surrey, advertised for a person who was willing to become a hermit in that beautiful retreat of his. The conditions were, that he was to continue in the hermitage seven years, where he should be provided with a Bible, optical glasses, a mat for his bed, a hassock for his pillow, an hour-glass for his timepiece, water for his beverage, food from the house, but never to exchange a syllable with the servant. He was to wear a camlet robe, never to cut his beard or nails, nor ever to stray beyond the limits of the grounds. If he lived there, under all these restrictions, till the end of the term, he was to receive seven hundred guineas. But on breach of any of them, or if he quitted the place any time previous to that term, the whole was to be forfeited. One person attempted it, but a three weeks’ trial cured him.

— Robert Conger Pell, Milledulcia, 1857