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Yup, he did. At first I wondered if this fellow was armless, but he just developed the talent for the sake of exhibitions. The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards states:

"Herman Cohn, alias Prof. Henry Lewis, made an entire career out of nose exhibitions and once made a run of 46 at Straight-Rail. 1928 br (Jul) 5. See Finger Billiards and Mouth Billiards for the use of different parts of the body to strike the ball."

It takes all kinds.

Verdict: Believe it!
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THE LONGEST FIGHT



THE longest battle within the ropes of a squared circle took place in the Olympic Club of New Orleans, April 6, 1893, between Andy Bowen (colored) and Jack Burke.

The contest lasted 110 rounds - 7 hours, 19 minutes.

Iron men! Doubtless that will be your comment; but the irony of it all was the fact that the referee, Jack Duffy, stopped the struggle in the 110th round and declared it "no-contest."

Following is the report as it appeared in the Police Gazette on the day following the match:


THE LONG-WINDED BOWEN-BURKE FIGHT AT NEW ORLEANS



The Bowen-Burke fight took place last Thursday night and Friday morning before several thousand spectators at the Olympic Club in New Orleans. It was stopped Friday morning in the 110th round by the referee, Jack Duffy, who decided that it was no contest. The purse will probably be divided. Bowen wanted to fight to a finish. The bones in both of Burke's hands were broken.
Bowen, who is a New Orleans man, and Burke, a Texan, fought for a $2,500 purse, of which the loser was to get $500, and the light-weight championship of the South. The betting previous to the fight favored New Orleans, and the largest crowd ever held
 
by the Olympic Clubhouse was in attendance when the men entered the ring. That was at 9.30 o'clock Thursday night. In the twenty-fifth round Bowen was nearly knocked down and out by two punches on the head. His opponent failed to follow up his advantage.
Burke got a stiff punching in the twenty-eighth, and from then on up to the forty-fifth round the contest was dull and uninteresting. At the end of the forty-eighth Burke was knocked down and was only saved by the call of time for the interval between rounds. The crowd whistled "Home, Sweet Home," and at midnight many hundreds deserted the clubhouse for home. It was one of the poorest fights that had ever taken place in New Orleans, although both men were in perfect condition.



******

The Bowen-Burke bout is well-documented as the longest recorded match in boxing history. Wikipedia has articles on both Andy Bowen and Jack Burke, and both articles mention the bout. Another long and bloody battle was waged between another Burke named James, and Simon Byrne - the 99-round war ended both Byrne's career and his life.

The event may bring to mind another famous struggle, at least for those who have a certain exposure to global culture:



Verdict: Believe it!
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THE BOY WHO DIED OF OLD AGE BEFORE HE WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD



THIS strange anomaly of an aged youth attracted considerable attention during the last century. He was Charles Charlesworth, born of normal parents in Staffordshire, England, March 14, 1829. He reached maturity and grew whiskers at the age of four and died suddenly in a faint (syncope) when but seven years old.

Charlesworth was of small stature and proportions, and with imperfectly developed clavicles, lower jaw, and membrane bones of the skull. His face was wizened, hair and whiskers white, skin shriveled, hands knotted with conspicuous veins and tendons, voice piping, and gait and standing posture those of an old man.

Ref.: "Progeria" and "Premature Senility" in any Medical Text Book.


***

Progeria is now a well-known and well-understood phenomenon, although there is no known cure. It was not described until 1886 by Jonathan Hutchinson and independently in 1897 by Hastings Gilford, after which it was named Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria syndrome (HGPS). In 2003, it was discovered that progeria caused by a point mutation in position 1824 of the LMNA gene, replacing cytosine with thymine, creating a form of the Lamin A protein which cannot be processed properly and accumulates in the cell nucleus. Lamin A is a major structural protein of the human cell nucleus. When Lamin A is altered, it affects the shape and the function of the nuclear envelope. These changes cause other cells to die prematurely. (see Progeria at Wikipedia.)

One other famous case of accelerated aging was also documented by Ripley in a later series. His description, accompanied by one of his own illustrations, was lifted almost verbatim from the Huntingdon, PA "Daily News" of 25 September 1830:



Time Magazineof Monday, Oct. 06, 1930 described the event in these words:

At Toledo, Clarence Kehr Jr., 6, standing 4 ft. I in., weighing 87 lb., was barred from both public and Catholic schools because he has a bass voice, smokes, has to shave, is as strong as a grown man. He can lift persons bulking 250 lb., 200-lb. dumbbells, can push without strain a lawn roller, or an automobile filled with passengers. Prime stunt: lifting Jack Dempsey when Dempsey scaled 202 lb. Born normal, Clarence Jr. continued so until 9 mos. old. Between 9 mos. and 3½ years he grew ten years physically in all things except height. When 4½ he was physically 14½, at 6 he is 16. He has no use for girls his own age, prefers them 16 or older.

Doctors attribute his precocity to some defect in his pineal gland. This ductless gland, apparently the rudiment of a third eye,* lies in among the interior folds of the brain. Its functions are not well understood. One thing it certainly does is to inhibit sexual development of children. Because all the ductless glands of the body delicately control and balance one another's forces, when one acts abnormally as in Clarence Kehr's case, or in Harold Arnold's case (see col. 2), it incites a physiological riot. Clarence Kehr's parents plan to appeal to Ohio's State Board of Education. Meanwhile he is being tutored privately.

*In some lizards and other reptiles and in the larva of the lamprey, the pineal gland is on a stalk (like a crayfish's eyes) and is near the top of the head. Here it has a distinguishable retina and lens. French Philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) believed: "There is a small gland [the pineal] in the brain in which the soul exercises its functions more particularly than in the other parts." Contemporaries agreed.


It appears that Kehr was not a victim of progeria - Psych Web Resources describes Kehr's case in this manner:

Accelerated aging can also be produced by hormonal imbalance, as shown by the case of Clarence Kehr. This illustration is from a 1931 article in American Psychologist titled, "A clinical study of 'Toledo's Strong Boy'" (McClure & Goldberg, 1931). It reports "the strange case of Clarence Kehr, Jr., who skipped from the cradle to adolescence in physical development." Clarence, shown at age 6, is in the middle of the photograph, with his brother and sister on either side.


"Toledo's Strong Boy" (from McClure & Goldberg, 1931)

Clarence's development was radically accelerated. He was able to lift his mother off the floor at the age of 5. He had prominent muscles, a mustache, and a baritone voice at age 6.

Clarence was proud of his weight-lifting abilities. He boasted of being the strongest boy in the world. He did not associate with other children, preferring "to do the same things that older people do." His mustache began to appear when he was 11 months old. By the age of 4, his sexual development was the same as a 14-year-old boy, and he was interested in girls.

X-ray studies revealed that Clarence, at age 6, had bone structure typical of a sixteen to eighteen year old. At the time the article was written, Clarence's parents were trying to work out a program of private instruction for him. Mentally, he was a normal 6 year old with average or below-average academic abilities. For example, he could not copy a diamond pattern, or verbally describe a picture, both standard items for 7-year-olds on the 1930 Stanford-Binet IQ test.


Verdict: Believe it!
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A POUND OF FEATHERS WEIGHS MORE THAN A POUND OF GOLD



A pound is a pound you say?

Not always. A pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold because feathers
are weighed by "avoirdupois" weight which has 16 ounces to a pound, while gold is always weighed by "troy" weight which only contains 12 ounces to a pound.


Back in 1929, this may not have been common knowledge outside of the scientific or jewelry communities. Nowadays you're more likely to find people with a broader-based education who - if they don't know it right off the top of their heads - at least were exposed to it at some point in school and will admit that it makes sense.


A GALLON OF VINEGAR WEIGHS MORE IN THE WINTER THAN IN THE SUMMER

This is puzzling - but a fact nevertheless.

The difference in weight is due entirely to the contraction and expansion of the vinegar due to the changes in temperature. During the heat of the summer months the vinegar, as any other liquid, will expand and thus the weight will be slightly less because a gallon jug will hold less.

A gallon jug of 4 per cent. (Acetic Acid) cider vinegar measured at 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) or summer heat, weighed 8.403 pounds - or 134½ ounces. When the same gallon jug filled with the same vinegar was measured at 40 degrees (Fahrenheit), or winter temperature, it weighed 8.457 pounds - or 135½ ounces. In other words, a gallon of vinegar will weigh approximately one ounce more in the winter than in the summer.


Again, not really puzzing and not really news, at least not today. It would even hold true for water, but as the table of volumetric coefficients of expansion below illustrates, acetic acid expands much more than plain old H2O.

Liquid Volumetric Coefficient of Expansion
(1/K, 1/oC) (1/oF)
Acetic acid 0.00110 0.00061
Acetone 0.00143 0.00079
Alcohol, ethyl (ethanol) 0.00109 0.00061
Alcohol, methyl (methanol) 0.00118 0.00066
Ammonia 0.00245 0.00136
Aniline 0.00085 0.00047
Benzene 0.00125 0.00069
Bromine 0.00110 0.00061
Carbon disulfide 0.00119 0.00066
Carbon tetrachloride 0.00122 0.00068
Chloroform 0.00127 0.00071
Ether 0.00160 0.00089
Ethyl acetate 0.00138 0.00077
Ethylene glycol 0.00057 0.00032
Freon refrigerant R-12 0.0026 0.00144
n-Heptane 0.00124 0.00069
Isobutyl alcohol 0.00094 0.00052
Gasoline 0.00100 0.00056
Glycerine (glycerol) 0.00050 0.00028
Kerosene 0.00100 0.00056
Mercury 0.00018 0.00010
Methyl alcohol 0.00119 0.00066
Methyl iodide 0.0012 0.00067
n-Octane 0.00114 0.00063
Oil (unused engine oil) 0.00070 0.00039
Olive oil 0.00070
Paraffin oil 0.000764 0.00042
Petroleum 0.0010 0.00056
n-Pentane 0.00158 0.00088
Phenol 0.0009 0.00050
Sulphuric acid, concentrated 0.00055 0.00031
Toluene 0.00108 0.00060
Trichloroethylene 0.001170 0.00065
Turpentine 0.001000 0.00056
Water 0.000214 0.00012


As it happens, freon and ammonia have values for β around twice that of acetic acid, but Robert Ripley was a man of the people, and he wrote to entertain Gran'ma and Gran'pa Ripley, coincidentally of the same name, who might be reading his odd tidbits in the local paper in their rattletrap cabin on the Iowa plains... whereas some of the other compounds would be Greek to them, everyone would know what vinegar was. "I'll be blowed if'n that don't take the cake, Pa. Says here in th' paper as vinegar weighs less in th' summer. Never learnt that back in Yaark State, no I didn't." "Sho! Sho' it does," cackled Gran'pa Ripley. "Vinegar is vinegar, any dum fool knows that."

Verdict: Believe it!
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THE BED OF NAILS

Continuing our journeyings in India.



"SADHUS who sit on beds of sharp spikes have been more or less featured, in the Sunday supplements of our country. This stunt is a popular one in India and I saw half a dozen of them. In Mysore a six-year-old boy was starting out in life by assuming a sitting position on a home-made "kiddie car" of nails.

One old fellow that I saw in Benares had been on his trundle bed for eighteen years, I was told. After some persuasion, highly emphasized with rupees, the venerable old faquir stood up on his spiny mattress and gave mo the opportunity to see that there was no fake about it."


The bed of nails has long been used by creative physics teachers to demonstrate the principle of the distribution of weight. Lying on a bed of nails for 18 years would take a lot of willpower and generate some calluses from Hell, but is well within the realm of possibility.

Verdict: Believe it!
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THE SUN GAZER



"STRANGE is man when he seeks after his gods." Sometimes he thinks too much and seeks too long, yet learns nothing and loses everything... like the naked faquir who sits all day glaring at the blazing sun. He has looked too long and now sees nothing. The fiery rays of the sun have burned out his eyes long years ago.

Each morning as I floated down the sacred stream I saw this sun gazer being carried down the steps to his accustomed place on the Dasashwamedh Ghat. His brothers placed him down gently-he could not walk as his legs had withered away from years of inactivity -and turned his face toward the east. Slowly he opened his eyes to greet the morning sun as it raised its burning head over the temple tops of the Holy City; here he remained the whole day long with his wide staring eyes fastened on the blazing sun without once turning them away or closing them for an instant until the dying disc had sunk once more below the horizon. He had been doing this for fifteen years."


Robert Ripley traveled extensively for his passion, and reported on many an Indian ascetic - another one I remember, which may be detailed later, was the one who sat all day with his arm upraised until a bird came and built its nest in his palm. Many of these events were documented in the 20's and 30's, recorded only with Mr. Ripley's talented pen and flowery descriptions.

Nonetheless, asceticism is a well-documented phenomenon, and the bounds of devotion and/or insanity have never been determined. Mark Twain, in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," described many examples of odd ascetic behavior... perhaps embellished by imagination but doubtless based on odd tales from the East which had established themselves in the consciousness of the day.

We drifted from hermit to hermit all the afternoon. It was a most strange menagerie. The chief emulation among them seemed to be, to see which could manage to be the uncleanest and most prosperous with vermin. Their manner and attitudes were the last expression of complacent self-righteousness. It was one anchorite's pride to lie naked in the mud and let the insects bite him and blister him unmolested; it was another's to lean against a rock, all day long, conspicuous to the admiration of the throng of pilgrims and pray; it was another's to go naked and crawl around on all fours; it was another's to drag about with him, year in and year out, eighty pounds of iron; it was another's to never lie down when he slept, but to stand among the thorn-bushes and snore when there were pilgrims around to look; a woman, who had the white hair of age, and no other apparel, was black from crown to heel with forty-seven years of holy abstinence from water. Groups of gazing pilgrims stood around all and every of these strange objects, lost in reverent wonder, and envious of the fleckless sanctity which these pious austerities had won for them from an exacting heaven.

By and by we went to see one of the supremely great ones. He was a mighty celebrity; his fame had penetrated all Christendom; the noble and the renowned journeyed from the remotest lands on the globe to pay him reverence. His stand was in the center of the widest part of the valley; and it took all that space to hold his crowds.

His stand was a pillar sixty feet high, with a broad platform on the top of it. He was now doing what he had been doing every day for twenty years up there -- bowing his body ceaselessly and rapidly almost to his feet. It was his way of praying. I timed him with a stop watch, and he made 1,244 revolutions in 24 minutes and 46 seconds. It seemed a pity to have all this power going to waste. It was one of the most useful motions in mechanics, the pedal movement; so I made a note in my memorandum book, purposing some day to apply a system of elastic cords to him and run a sewing machine with it. I afterward carried out that scheme, and got five years' good service out of him; in which time he turned out upward of eighteen thousand first-rate tow-linen shirts, which was ten a day. I worked him Sundays and all; he was going, Sundays, the same as week days, and it was no use to waste the power.


While I have been able to find no corroborating evidence for this particular instance, it seems well within the limits of possiblity, and Mr. Ripley's report is most likely accurate in all respects.

Verdict: Unverifiable but probably true.
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Ripley was one of my favorite reads when I was young. It was sort of like StumbleUpon today, if you select "bizarre/oddities" as a subject. I couldn't get enough of it.

In those days, there was no Snopes.com, no Google, no Wikipedia - nothing really to check the veracity of Ripley's discoveries - many of which were true, others... well, let's say he was an entertainer more than a scientist. But I always remember this one.



THE STRANGEST SUICIDE



A CONDEMNED man, locked in a death cell in San Quentin prison, fashioned a deadly bomb from a deck of ordinary play­ing cards and blew himself into eternity. It was the most ingenious gallows-cheating device ever conceived in the brain of 'a doomed man.

William Kogut, an ignorant lumberjack of Polish descent, was sentenced to death for killing a woman with a pocket knife. Hope gone, he sat silently in his cell, thinking. The shadow of the' noose dangled before him; he could hear the slow, dull tread of the thirteen footsteps ascending the stairs to the scaffold.

Suddenly a light came into his lustreless eyes. Deliberately and methodically, William Kogut set to work. From the prison cot he wrenched a short piece of hollow tubing. I t was just the thing. Digging into his few possessions, he pulled forth a deck of ordinary playing cards. From the cards he tore out all of the red diamonds and hearts, and, reduced them to small bits. Everything was deathly quiet and the night was long. The eight other condemned men in adjacent cells knew nothing of what was taking place.

Kogut then took the small bits of colored cardboard to the wash bowl and soaked them in water. Then he took the soggy mass and tamped it into the piece of metal tubing as if he were loading a blunderbuss. A broom handle was next utilized in the construction of this strange bomb. The handle was pounded tightly into the end of the tube making the interior air-tight.

This diabolically cunning man knew that playing cards were made of cellulose-a fiber from which tri-nitro cellulose, a powerful ex­plosive, is made.

The bomb was now ready. Cautiously he took down a small combination oil heater and lamp and lighted it. Over the tiny flame he held the explosive mess, while steam and gas generated within the tubing. After a time the pipe grew hot. Everything seemed ready so he leaned over withhis head close to his deadly toy.

How long he waited, no one knows.

Just as dawn tinted the grey prison walls, a terrific explosion occurred. It rocked the countryside for miles around, roused prison guards from their nearby homes, and tumbled prisoners from their cots.

Prison alarms were sounded, guards ran madly to their posts, thinking perhaps the blast might be a signal for a general prison break. Rushing to the condemned row, the excited guards stopped, utterly horrified, before the shattered cell of Number 1651.

The walls were dripping crimson.

William Kogut had cheated the hangman!


I got to wondering... true or false? Snopes records it as true, but describes the explosion as simple pressure of steam in a closed-up pipe sufficient to drive bits of playing card into Kogut's skull, not the earth-shaking bang that splashed Kogut all over the walls and destroyed the cell to boot.

Barb Mikkelson wrote, "Kogut removed a hollow steel leg from his cot, tore several packs of playing cards into tiny pieces, and stuffed these bits into the pipe... He plugged one end tightly with a broom handle, and poured water into the other end to soak the torn cards. Then he placed his device on top of the kerosene heater... the heater turned the water to steam, adn when the pressure built up to a high enough level, the resulting explosion shot the bits of playing card out of the pipe with enough force to penetrate Kogut's skull."

Sciencepunk.com quoted an article in Gargles.net giving a bit more science behind the nitrocellulose angle. While I respect Snopes and the research that Barb and her hubby do, usually in-depth and convincing, in this instance I tend to go with the science. If an open pipe is plugged on one end by a broom handle, and on the other end by soggy playing cards, I suspect any steam building up in an open pipe would pop the sodden mass out with some force, but not enough to penetrate a skull. The other scenario implies that the pipe was closed on one end, and tightly sealed with the broom handle on the other. In this case, chemical reaction or no, it's conceivable that the explosion could have had enough energy to kill Kogut... but from what I can tell, the blast was more powerful even than that, and the nitrocellulose story is highly likely.

Only Kogut knows what went down, and the story has passed into the realm of barely verifiable lore... but it's interesting to know that whatever the case, Ripley got this one right.

Verdict: Believe it!

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