Killer Budgie: The Genteel & the Unspeakable from Chris Woodyard

The Two-Thousand-Year-Old Telephone

India has always been seen as the home of mystic powers and ancient inventions: flying machines, atomic weapons, rust-proof iron. But there was one little-known Indian invention, claimed to have been in use long before “rediscovered” in the western world: A two-thousand-year-old telephone.

A (Tail) Flap of Mermaids

We are coming to the end of the traditional Silly Season. Last year I did a post on popular images of sea serpents from vintage newspapers. This year, we move on to an equally popular Silly Season topic: mermaids, as seen in newspapers and book illustrations.

A Volcano in Ohio

In 1873 the Ohio newspaper, the Cambridge Jeffersonian asked a burning question: IS IT A VOLCANO? Three miles from Bainbridge, Ross County, is located a hill of considerable altitude known as “Copperas Mountain.” Out of the top of this mountain issues a constant stream of smoke, while, on its summit and general surface the vegetation has withered […]

The Madonna in the Moon

Any sky-gazing culture has traditions about faces or figures in the moon: the proverbial Man, a hare, two children carrying water, a thief laden with cabbages or sticks. A lady miniature artist of Boston, a woman of keen, albeit sentimental vision, had a startling night-sky revelation in 1906 of the Madonna of Seven Moons.

Encore: The Bird-Woman Horror

“It was rather dark, for the lower half of the windows were boarded up; but in one corner, on the floor, was plainly distinguishable what looked like a heap of clothes flung together in disorder. It appeared to be in motion, however, and the mistress of the house once more turning to her follower had just time to utter the mysterious words—”Don’t be frightened. If she likes you, she’ll hoot; if she doesn’t, she’ll scream…”

Cartographic Caricatures: Finding Faces in Maps

Reading about the astonishing variety of figures and faces recently seen on Mars, I was reminded of this topical foray into cartographical simulacra: faces of British politicians found in the maps of the world.

The Prince of Monaco Hunts the Sea Serpent

Prince Albert I of Monaco, the distinguished oceanographer, goes on a fishing trip for sea serpents, with fat pigs for bait. Several other well-attested stories of sea serpent sightings are related.

The Wizard of Graphology: Rafael Schermann

An unassuming little man who worked for an insurance company found that he had a strange gift. He had only to touch a writing sample for it to conjure up accurate visions of the person who had written it. Sometimes those visions solved crimes.

White Horses and Itchy Palms: Congressional Superstitions

Some quirky beliefs of superstitious 19th-century United States Senators: white horses are bad luck; itchy palms mean cash; start nothing on a Friday, watch out for the moon over your left shoulder.