Pella Katadesmos

Text of an ancient Macedonian scroll discovered in Greece in 1986:

On the formal wedding of [Theti]ma and Dionysophon I write a curse, and of all other wo[men], widows and virgins, but of Thetima in particular, and I entrust upon Makron and [the] demons that only whenever I dig out and unroll and re-read this, [then] may they wed Dionysophon, but not before; and may he never wed any woman but me; and may [I] grow old with Dionysophon, and no one else. I [am] your supplicant: Have mercy on [your dear one], dear demons, Dagina(?), for I am abandoned of all my dear ones. But please keep this for my sake so that these events do not happen and wretched Thetima perishes miserably and to me grant [ha]ppiness and bliss.

It would have been written in the 4th or 3rd century B.C.

Mary the Elephant

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1916 came to a black end for Sparks World Famous Shows, a circus that was traveling through the American South. In Kingsport, Tenn., an amateur trainer named Red Eldridge was leading a 5-ton Asian elephant to a local pond when she stopped to nibble a watermelon rind. He grew impatient and prodded her behind the ear. She flung him against a drink stand and stepped on his head.

What followed can only be described as a lynching. A crowd began to chant, “Kill the elephant!” A local blacksmith fired two dozen rounds into Mary, with little effect. The local sheriff impounded her, newspapers reported (falsely) that she had killed several workers in the past, and nearby towns threatened to boycott the show. By most accounts Mary had calmed down after killing Eldridge, but that didn’t seem to matter.

So on Sept. 13, owner Charlie Sparks took Mary to a local railroad yard and hanged her from an industrial crane in front of 2,500 people, including most of the town’s children. The chain snapped on the first attempt, causing Mary to fall and break her hip. The second attempt killed her, and she was buried beside the tracks.

“Cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside of itself,” wrote George Eliot. “It only requires opportunity.”

Superdollars

Add counterfeiting to Kim Jong-il’s other crimes. Since the late 1980s, North Korea has been quietly making “superdollars,” nearly perfect forgeries of U.S. banknotes, painstakingly re-creating all the necessary inks, threads, fibers, and watermarks. They’re doing a good job — experts have to study the notes closely to detect the forgery. In fact, when a defector brought one to South Korean intelligence officials, they refused to believe it was fake.

Reportedly the Koreans print the currency in Pyongsong and spread it via diplomats and the British criminal underworld. Apparently they’re doing it for income and to undermine the U.S. economy. The North Koreans call these accusations “sheer lies” and claim that the U.S. itself is manufacturing the bills as a pretext for war. A crackdown has been underway since 2004, so this may come to a head soon.

Doomsday Clock

Every issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1947 has displayed a clock face on its cover, symbolizing the world’s proximity to nuclear war (in the judgment of the bulletin’s board of directors).

At its most dire, the clock stood at two minutes to midnight in 1953, when the United States and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear devices within nine months of one another. Thirty-eight years later, when the superpowers signed the START treaty in 1991, the clock reached 17 minutes to midnight, its most hopeful position to date.

That doesn’t mean we’re making progress. Today it stands at 7 minutes to midnight — which is just where it started 59 years ago.

Charley Parkhurst

Excerpt from an obituary for stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst, published in the San Francisco Morning Call, Dec. 28, 1879:

He was in his day one of the most dexterous and celebrated of the famous California drivers ranking with Foss, Hank Monk, and George Gordon, and it was an honor to be striven for to occupy the spare end of the driver’s seat when the fearless Charley Parkhurst held the reins of a four- or six-in-hand …

It was discovered only afterward that “One-Eyed Charlie” had been a woman, born Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst in Vermont in 1812. Posing as a man, she had gained a reputation as one of the best stagecoach drivers on the West Coast.

More than that, her name (as Charles Darkey Parkurst) is listed in the Santa Cruz voter rolls for Oct. 17, 1868 — which means she may have been the first woman to vote in California.

Love Padlocks

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In the 1980s, in the Hungarian city of Pécs, lovers began to clamp padlocks to this wrought-iron fence as a symbol of their commitment.

Now that the fence has filled up, people have begun attaching locks to fences and statues throughout the town center, and the custom has spread to Hungary, Latvia, Italy and Japan.

“Love is a lock that linketh noble minds,” wrote Robert Greene, “faith is the key that shuts the spring of love.”

The Ding Hai Effect

Adam Cheng isn’t very popular among stockbrokers. That’s because every time the Hong Kong actor stars in a new television show, there’s a sharp drop in global stock markets.

No one can explain it, but it’s happened eight times since 1993, when Cheng first starred as Ding Hai in the dramatic series Greed of Man. Only once, in 2004, has a new Cheng series not been accompanied by a drop in the stock market.