Tag Archives: Historical Oddities

When ‘Blowing Smoke Up Your Ass’ Was a Real Thing

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This neat little box containing a pair of bellows and an assortment of pipes and other fixtures is a Tobacco Resuscitator Kit from the 18th century, approved for use and distributed by London’s Royal Humane Society, then known as Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned. Tobacco was thought to have invigorating properties and the ability to soak up moisture and warm the body from the inside. Thus blowing tobacco smoke through various orifices of the human body was the recommended procedure to revive the apparently lifeless body of a drowned victim. The bellows in the kit enabled the physician or the reviver to pump tobacco smoke through the various nozzles that were ideally designed to fit into the victim’s nostrils and the … Read the rest

How The London Bridge Was Sold to America

For centuries, children and kindergarteners have sung and danced to the tune of London Bridge is falling down, but when engineers discovered that the London Bridge was actually falling down in the early 1900s, it was no laughing matter. The stone bridge was just over a century old, and was the busiest point in London crossed by 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles every hour. Surveyors found that the bridge was slowly sinking—about one third of a centimeter every year. When measurements were taken in 1924, they found that the bridge’s east side stood some 9 cm lower than the west side. Another four decades had passed before the City Council could arrive at a decision.

Council member Ivan Luckin suggested that instead of demolishing the … Read the rest

Galgano Guidotti And The Sword in Stone

The story of King Arthur and his legendary sword Excalibur which he pulled out of a rock to prove his divine right to the throne is well known. But what is fiction to the British, is fact for Italians—for in a Tuscan abbey in Montesiepi, is a sword plunged into solid rock.

The sword, of which only the hilt and a few inches of the blade is visible, is now preserved at the abbey of San Galgano in the town of Montesiepi, 30 km from Siena. Legend has it, that the sword was driven into the rock by Galgano Guidotti, a 12th-century Tuscan nobleman, who after seeing a vision of the Archangel, renounced his life of violence and lust in favor of a pious hermitage, and … Read the rest

Robert Peary’s Meteorite And Minik

Many historical figures are celebrated for achieving great things but conveniently forgotten of all the terrible things they did to other people. Christopher Columbus is one prime example. A quick Google search will reveal dozens of beloved characters with shady personalities, but one story that is not told often is that of Arctic explorer Robert. E. Peary who is widely believed to be the first person to have reached the North Pole in 1909. This story, however, begins a lot earlier.

About 10,000 years ago a large lump of extraterrestrial rock veered too close to the earth and got sucked into the planet’s gravitational field. As it slashed through the dense atmosphere, the intense heat generated weakened the structure of the iron meteorite and it exploded … Read the rest

Why Do Many Historic Buildings in The UK Have Bricked Up Windows?

There was a time in Great Britain when having windows in homes and buildings were prohibitively expensive.

That time began in 1696 with the introduction of the much-despised window tax, that levied tax on property owners based on the number of windows or window-like openings the property had. The details of the tax kept changing with time, but the basic premise was that the more windows the house had, the more tax the owner had to pay.

In the eyes of the legislature the window tax was a brilliant way to put the burden of tax on the shoulder of the upper class. The rich usually had larger houses with more windows, and so were liable to pay more taxes. Poor people, on the other hand, … Read the rest

Beechey Island And Franklin’s Lost Expedition

On the southwest corner of Devon Island in the Canadian Archipelago of Nunavut, lies a small desolate island—the island of Beechey. For more than a hundred years, this windswept and barren island was a favorite landing site for Arctic explorers. Beechey Island’s relatively flat beach allowed for easy landing, while the small hill behind the narrow beach provided the needed shelter. Many crews from Arctic expeditions wintered here over the years.

Beechey Island’s claim to fame lies in its association with one of the most tragic episodes in arctic exploration history—the Franklin expedition.

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Illustration of Franklin’s two ships, H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror.

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Fort Blunder: The Fort That America Mistakenly Built in Canada

During the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, between Great Britain and the United States, the border between British Canada and upstate New York saw some of the fiercest fighting, much of which took place around Lake Champlain. This freshwater lake situated across the US-Canada border provided the British a direct invasion route into the heart of America. Had this important travel corridor from the mighty Saint Lawrence to the Hudson fell into the hands of British troops, the results of the American Revolutionary War could have been very different.

Anxious to prevent another invasion attempt, immediately following the War of 1812, America decided to fortify the shores of Lake Champlain. A small sandy spit called Island Point was chosen as the site for … Read the rest

That Time When America Banned Sliced Bread

Modern life is full of conveniences but few things are as convenient as sliced bread.

Just think about it. To make a sandwich all you need to do is open a bag and remove the required number of pre-cut slices. No need to take out the whole loaf, find a knife and saw into it resulting in uneven slices and broken edges. It’s almost funny that it took humans more than two thousand years to figure that out. Now imagine someone trying to take away this great invention.

The United States Government attempted to do that in 1943. The Second World War was in full swing, and America, like most Allied countries, was trying to conserve resources for the war effort. Food was one of them. … Read the rest

The Frost Fairs of River Thames

Between the 13th and the 19th centuries, the northern hemisphere was in the grip of a “Little Ice Age”. Temperatures dropped worldwide as summers became cold and wet while winters became colder, long and harsh.

In the Swiss Alps encroaching glaciers destroyed farmlands and villages. Canals and rivers in Great Britain and the Netherlands froze up frequently hampering navigation. Greenland was largely cut off by sea ice for three hundred years. With failing crops, many Norse colonies in Greenland starved to death and disappeared.

While famine and death became common across Europe, people also started taking advantage of the cold weather. Frozen ponds and rivers became impromptu ice skating rinks, and outdoor winter sports became popular pastime activities.

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A Frost Fair on the River Thames in Read the rest

The Ramree Island Crocodile Massacre

That night was the most horrible that any member of the motor launch crews ever experienced. The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp punctured by the screams of wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on earth. At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left…. Of about one thousand Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about twenty were found alive.

The above extract, describing the horrific events of the night of February 19, 1945, is taken from the 1962 book “Wildlife Sketches Near and Far” by eyewitness Bruce Stanley Wright, who was one of the participating … Read the rest