In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore some curiosities and unanswered questions from Greg's research, including a novelist's ashes, some bathing fairies, the mists of Dartmoor, and a ballooning leopard. We'll also revisit the Somerton man and puzzle over an armed travel
Publish Date: Jul 19, 2021
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In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore some curiosities and unanswered questions from Greg's research, including a novelist's ashes, some bathing fairies, the mists of Dartmoor, and a ballooning leopard. We'll also revisit the Somerton man and puzzle over an armed traveler. Intro: Amanda McKittrick Ros is widely considered the worst novelist of all time. John Cummings swallowed 30 knives. Sources for our notes and queries: The Pony Express ad is quoted in Christopher Corbett's 2004 history Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express. It appeared first in Missouri amateur historian Mabel Loving's posthumous 1961 history The Pony Express Rides On!, but she cites no source, and no one's been able to find the ad. The anecdote about John Gawsworth keeping M.P. Shiel's ashes in a biscuit tin appears in John Sutherland's 2011 book Lives of the Novelists. "The comedian and scholar of nineteenth-century decadent literature, Barry Humphries, was (unwillingly) one such diner -- 'out of mere politeness.'" Sutherland gives only this source, which says nothing about the ashes. (Thanks, Jaideep.) Henry Irving's observation about amateur actors and personal pronouns is mentioned in Robertson Davies' 1951 novel Tempest-Tost. Joseph Addison's definition of a pun appeared in the Spectator, May 10, 1711. Theodore Hook's best pun is given in William Shepard Walsh's Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1892. Richard Sugg's anecdote of the Ilkley fairies appears in this 2018 Yorkshire Post article. The proof of the Pythagorean theorem by "Miss E. A. Coolidge, a blind girl" appears in Robert Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan's 2011 book Hidden Harmonies: The Lives and Times of the Pythagorean Theorem. They found it in Elisha Scott Loomis' 1940 book The Pythagorean Proposition, which cites the Journal of Education (Volume 28, 1888, page 17), which I haven't been able to get my hands on -- the Kaplans couldn't either, until they discovered it had been mis-shelved in the stacks of Harvard's Gutman Library. Neither Loomis nor the Kaplans gives the proof as it originally appeared, and neither gives Coolidge's age at the proof. The anecdote of the Dartmoor fog appears in William Crossing's 1888 book Amid Devonia's Alps. The Paris fogs of the 1780s are described in Louis-Sébastien Mercier's Tableau de Paris (Chapter CCCLXIV, 1:1014), a 12-volume topographic description of the city that appeared between 1782 and 1788, as quoted in Jeremy Popkin, ed., Panorama of Paris: Selections From Tableau de Paris, 2010. "I have known fogs so thick that you could not see the flame in their lamps," Mercier wrote, "so thick that coachmen have had to get down from their boxes and feel their way along the walls. Passers-by, unwilling and unwitting, collided in the tenebrous streets; and you marched in at your neighbour's door under the impression that it was your own." The anecdote about Charles Green and his ballooning companions appears in John Lucas' 1973 book The Big Umbrella. The best image I've been able to find of the Dobhar-chú, the "king otter" of Irish folklore, accompanies this 2018 article from the Leitrim Observer. Does a photo exist of Grace Connolly's entire headstone? According to WorldCat, G.V. Damiano's 1922 book Hadhuch-Anti Hell-War is held only by the New York P