Tall Tale


When Magellan reached Argentina in 1519, he was in for a shock:

One day we suddenly saw a naked man of giant stature on the shore of the port, dancing, singing, and throwing dust on his head. The captain-general sent one of our men to the giant so that he might perform the same actions as a sign of peace. … He was so tall that we reached only to his waist, and he was well proportioned …

The navigator’s account says the man was “10 spans high,” which would be 7 foot 6; later European explorers reported natives up to 15 feet tall.

These legends persisted for 250 years before they were debunked, and they left one permanent legacy: Patagonia means “land of the big feet.”

Dear Diary

The world’s longest diary is kept by Robert Shields of Dayton, Wash. Since 1972 he has spent four hours a day typing a record of everything that happens to him. Sample:

July 25, 1993, 7 a.m.: I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin.

He stores the diary, now 38 million words long, in more than 80 cardboard boxes.

A Professional Student

According to his transcript, George P. Burdell has been a student at Georgia Tech since 1927. How? He was invented out of thin air when student Ed Smith received two enrollment forms. With Smith’s help, “Burdell” attended all his friend’s classes and took all the same exams.

For a nonexistent person, Burdell turned out to be pretty ambitious. Smith graduated in 1930, but his invisible friend stuck around, adopted by other students. He eventually earned a master’s degree and became an official alumnus, then flew 12 bombing missions over Europe in World War II. In 1969 he signed up for a whopping 3,000 credit hours at Georgia Tech — and began a 12-year term on MAD magazine’s board of directors. In 2001 he was briefly the leading contender among voters for TIME magazine’s person of the year.

Strangely, after 79 years of school Burdell is still only a sophomore. He’s majoring in civil engineering, according to a recent report card.