Fun Facts: Strange But True
"We know no more our own destiny than a tea leaf knows the destiny
of the East India Company."
- Douglas Adams
Perhaps the most strange annual culinary affair was hosted by
Clodius, a rich Roman actor who had one hundred birds given
voice lessons at a cost of approximately $250 per bird. He
then had these birds made into a pie for his guests. He then
offered a drink which contained a dissolved pearl worth about
one-half million dollars.
The first machine gun, the Puckle Gun, built in 1722, was also the most unusual.
It could fire two types of bullets. When targeting lesser enemies
such as other Christians, round bullets were used, but for truly hated enemies
such as Muslims, more destructive square bullets were used.
One day in 1893, James Ziegland of Honey Grove, Texas, walked out on his
fiancée, Metilda Tichnor, who killed herself. In response, her brother shot Ziegland and,
believing he had killed the man, then killed himself. His shot at Ziegland,
however, just grazed his face before burying itself in the trunk of a nearby tree.
In 1913, Ziegland decided to remove the tree from his property
by using dynamite. The explosion dislodged the bullet, shooting it
violently into Ziegland's head, finally killing him twenty years later.
On the morning of New Year's Day, 1963, one of the top physicists in
Australia, Dr. Gilbert Stanley Bogle, and his girlfriend
Margaret Chandler were
found dead in suburban Sidney, Australia, near Fuller's Bridge, on the Lane Cove River.
The best efforts of the Sydney police, Interpol, and the FBI notwithstanding,
no-one has been able to figure out who killed them, how they were killed,
or why they were killed. This case is unique in that all three of these
questions are unanswered.
Image credit: NOAA/Monika Bright.
Biologists divide the animal kingdom into as many as thirty-one different
divisions, called phyla (singular phylum). One animal is so
unique that it has its own phylum. In hydrothermal vents in the ocean
floor lives a reddish worm, Riftia pachyptila,
that creates a long, tough tube to live in. It
ranges up to 25 feet long and ingests food, but has neither a mouth nor
intestines. These worms are apparently nourished by bacteria that live
inside their cells.
Cyprus was one of the world's important mining centres in ancient
times, but for reasons still unknown the Romans halted operations
there and sealed the tunnels. Many of the tunnels were found and
reopened in the 20th century, thanks to clever detective work by an
American mining engineer, D. A. Gunther. In the New York Public
Library, he had stumbled on an ancient account of the mines.
Years of ingenious search in Cyprus led him to the tunnels, which
he found complete with usable support timbers and oil lamps. Cyprus
became an important mining centre again.
At Baalbek, 53 miles from Beirut in Lebanon, stand the
ruins of several Roman temples that were constructed in the first century A.D.
A massive stone wall surrounds the temples. At the western end of
the wall lie three of the largest blocks of cut stone in the world;
the largest is 64 by 14 by 12 feet and weighs around 800 tons. This block
would have to have been cut from a quarry almost a mile away,
transported to Baalbek, and may have had to have been lifted up to 25 feet
in the air in order to be placed in its final position.
Few modern industrial cranes are capable of such a feat; however,
the stones are placed so precisely, it is impossible to insert the blade
of a knife between them. It is not known how these stones were transported.
In the Pampa Colorada (Red Plain) in the Peruvian Desert,
there are large line-drawings
of geometric shapes, animals and plants on the desert soil.
These drawings are known as the Nazca lines. These were likely
drawn by the Nazca Indians approximately 2,000 years ago.
These figures are only fully comprehensible from the air. In fact, in
1937, before flight was commonplace, a highway was constructed through
the Nazca lines, as no-one was yet aware of the lines' significance.
It is unknown how the drawers achieved such geometrical precision
in their art, or why they would draw figures that they could not view.
The legend of the Loch Ness Monster began circa 565, when
St. Columba claimed to meet a water beast at Loch Ness and granted it
"perpetual freedom of the loch".
Having lasted for six centuries, the civilisation known as Classic Mayan
culture collapsed abruptly in the ninth century, for reasons still not yet
understood. Several theories have been proposed, such as an epidemic,
natural disaster, civil war, invasion, poor farming methods leading to
exhaustion of the land, or climate change resulting from clear-cutting.
The collapse occurred quite quickly. Within about a century, inscriptions
ceased to be carved at every Mayan city, and the Mayan population decreased
by about 2/3 over the span of a century.
In June 1872, the steamship Iron Mountain, one of the largest
riverboats on the Mississippi, being over 180 feet long, left the city of
Vicksburg, Mississippi, with fifty-two passengers, a cargo of cotton bales,
and a line of barges carrying cotton and molasses in tow, bound for Pittsburgh.
It was never seen again. Late that morning, the crew of another
steamship spotted the line of barges. The tow line had been cut,
indicating that the crew of Iron Mountain had sensed a problem.
However, there were no traces of the steamship, its crew, or its cargo,
which should have dotted the river for miles had the steamer sank.
Off the coast of Nova Scotia lies tiny, irregular-shaped Oak Island.
In 1795, Daniel McGinnis and two friends found an old ship's tackle block
hanging above a filled-in depression on the island. They dug thirty feet
down, finding three oak platforms at ten-foot intervals. Nine years later,
a more concerted effort to uncover what lay underneath began. More oak
platforms were found, as well as a "cipher stone" in obscure symbols that
were interpreted to indicate an enormous treasure below.
Several channels were later found that connect to the island's beaches that
serve to flood the shaft with water. Even with the benefits of modern
technology, the bottom of the pit, and the treasure supposedly there,
has not yet been uncovered. It is also not known whose treasure it is, or
why they went to such trouble to bury it.
Abraham Lincoln's oldest son, Robert Todd, was at the scene of three
presidential assassinations. On April 14th 1865, he rushed to
Ford's Theater, where his father had been mortally wounded. In 1881 he
was at President James Garfield's side just after he was shot. In 1901,
he was about to join President McKinley at the Pan American Exhibit when
he learned that McKinley had been shot. After that, Robert resolved to
stay away from the president.
In the early part of the 20th century, when a young Russian
journalist named Shereshevsky attended an editorial meeting, others in
attendance noticed that he was not taking notes. When asked, he said that he
could remember what the editor was saying, so there was no need. He
was then able to reproduce the entire speech, word for word, sentence for
sentence, and inflection for inflection. Alexander Luria, Russia's
leading psychologist, tested Shereshevsky and determined that he was in
no way abnormal but that he had a perfect memory.
In 1977, as an experiment, Chuck Ross typed up a fresh manuscript
copy of Jerzy Kosinski's novel Steps, which had won the National Book
Award in 1969 for best work of fiction, changed the title, and
submitted the work under his by-line to 14 publishers. All of them
rejected the novel, including Random House, the book's original publisher.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story in 1838, "The Narrative of Arthur
Gordon Pym of Nantucket", in which three shipwreck survivors in an
open boat kill and eat the fourth, a man named Richard Parker. In 1884,
in the real world, three shipwreck survivors in an open boat killed and
ate the fourth, whose name was Richard Parker.
In 1946, when Mildred West, the obituary writer on the Alton
Evening Telegraph, went on vacation for a week, no deaths were
reported in the city of 32,000 that week.
On February 18th, 1986, U.S. district court judge Samuel King,
unhappy with juror absences due to rain, decreed "I hereby order that it will
cease raining by Tuesday." California suffered through drought until February
27th, 1991, when King ordered that "rain shall fall in California
beginning February 27, 1991", whereupon four inches of rain fell on the state.
King noted that these events were "proof positive that we are a nation
governed by laws."
Charles Francis Coghlan (1841–1899), a native of Prince Edward Island,
was an internationally known actor. He was appearing in
Galveston, Texas, when, after a short illness, he died on November 27, 1899.
He was buried in a granite vault in a cemetery in Galveston, Texas, in a coffin lined with
lead. On September 8, 1900, a hurricane struck Galveston, and Coghlan's
coffin was washed out to sea. In October 1908, off the coast of Prince
Edward Island, some fishermen
found Coghlan's barnacle-encrusted coffin, only a few miles from his birthplace.
It is believed that the coffin had floated into the Gulf of Mexico, where it would have been caught by the West Indian current and carried into the Gulf Stream, moving north in the Atlantic Ocean until it reached the vicinity of Newfoundland, where it would have been thrown off course by a gale, and and then drifted aimlessly until it reached Prince Edward Island.
In 1985 the Chinese press announced the discovery of a strip of land
1,000 metres by 15 metres, running down from a hill to a river, in
Huanre County, Liaoning province. In winter when the surrounding
temperature dips to -30° Celsius, the strip remains at 17° Celsius.
In summer the reverse happens, and the strip freezes to a depth of 1 metre.
The locals use the strip for growing vegetables in winter and as a
refrigerator in summer.
In 1867, a falling tree severely injured Belgian Pierre de Rudder's left leg.
A surgeon had to remove a piece of bone that had become lodged in tissue, leaving the leg bone separated by a space of over one inch.
The leg, which had an open wound and the lower part of which could be manipulated in all directions, was useless,
and doctors said nothing could be done except for amputation.
In 1875, Rudder went to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Oostakker, arriving on April 7.
Sitting on the ground, he prayed, asking to be able to work again.
He felt deeply moved and then rose, walked through the crowd and knelt before the statue
before realizing that he was walking again.
The wound had closed and the leg appeared normal.
After his death in 1898, one of his doctors, Dr. Van Hoestenberghe, performed an autopsy.
He found that the bones of the left leg were still deformed, but the legs were of equal length so that the weight of the body was equally supported, and there was a healthy white piece of bone over one inch long that connected the two sections
that still showed traces of breakage.
At 7:25 pm on March 1, 1950, five minutes after the scheduled start of a choir practice, a church in Beatrice, Nebraska, exploded. However, the church was empty, as all fifteen members of the choir were late for practice, for ten separate and entirely unconnected reasons.
It has been shown that there is a half-second delay between when one's
unconscious mind makes a decision and when one's conscious mind becomes
aware of that decision.
One of the most widely known geological curiosities in the vicinity of
Cork is a series of knobs or knots projecting from the face of a cliff.
There are sixteen of these huge projections all together, all regularly
set in the face of the cliff, one above the other, forming a series of
such uniformity as to give it the general appearance of a stairway. Since
time out of memory this unusual
ascent and its projecting "steps" have been known as the Giant's Staircase.
In October 1969, in the woods of Yrjo Kanto in the Palloneva region of
Finland, farmer Heino Seppi, splitting an aspen log, discovered a rotten
middle of the log forming a hollow that contained a dry fish around 1.3 feet
(40 centimetres) long. It is not known how the fish got there.
In 1877, during the height of violent labour unrest in the United States,
three men were found guilty of the murder of a foreman of the Lehigh Coal
and Navigation Company and sentenced to hang. Two of them went stoically
to their deaths, but the third, Alexander Campbell, swore that he was
innocent. As he was being dragged from his cell to the gallows, Campbell rubbed his left
hand in dust from the floor and pressed his palm against the plaster wall,
and shouted repeatedly, "This handprint will remain here for all time as
proof of my innocence." Even after Campbell's death, the handprint remained.
In 1931, Carbon County Sheriff Robert L. Bowman undertook a renovation of
the cell, removing the section of plaster wall containing the handprint,
replacing it with a new section of fresh plaster. However, the handprint
still came back, and still exists today.
Some apparently ghostly experiences, such as feeling an odd sense
of presence, can be caused by low-frequency sound waves that are
produced by wind blowing across an open window.
a lawyer and former witch doctor who represented
Ivory Coast in the French Senate, was the only senator ever eaten by his constituents. In January 1950 he returned home to campaign
for re-election. He set out on a tour and was never seen again. His
belongings and a pile of bones were found near the village of Bouaflé
on January 28th. After two years of investigation, the French overseas
minstry determined that Biaka-Boda had been eaten by cannibals among his
One of the most unusual houses in the United States is the Winchester
Mansion, in San Jose, California.
Sarah Winchester was the wife of Oliver Winchester, owner of the Winchester
Repeating Arms Company. At Oliver's death in 1881, Sarah inherited over
$20 million dollars and an income of $1,000 per day, an incredible sum for
the time. However, Sarah was deeply troubled and spoke to a medium about
her troubles. It's unclear as to exactly what was said, but popular belief holds
that the medium told Sarah that her family was cursed by the spirits of those
who had been killed by Winchester rifles, and that she had to move west and
build a house and never stop building, either as a home for the spirits or to
confuse the spirits, which she did.
Every day, she would give the foreman a new set
of instructions, and work would continue around-the-clock. This ad-hoc, spirit-focused style of construction led to
many oddities, including staircases that dead-end at ceilings, windows in
floors, and doors that open onto two-storey drops. By the time of her death
in 1922, the house had around 160 rooms (an exact count is difficult due to
the confusing floor plan). The house is now a tourist attraction.
Superstitious people took note in Santa Clara, California, on October 22nd, 1931, when the Gamma Eta Gamma legal fraternity was partially destroyed by fire. The house was located at 1313 Franklin Street, had telephone Santa Clara 13, and the postman who delivered the mail wore badge number 13. The damage sustained to the house was estimated at $13,000.