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Did you ever thumb through the encyclopedia looking for interesting articles to read? Or through the dictionary looking for interesting words or illustrations?

Well, I did and now I'd like to “thumb” through the internet or world wide web looking for interesting or unusual photos, photographs, pictures, or illustrations and the articles, descriptions, or other writing and stories that go with them. (Check that list of search terms, oh ye great search engines!)

When I was a child our teachers asked us to use photographs from old magazines to illustrate our essays, artwork, and school projects, so I have saved all my old magazines for my grandchildren to use for their school work. However, technology has changed and I now imagine that teachers ask their students to “find something interesting on the web” to write about.

But how does one search the web for “something interesting”? How many students would know to enter the search terms “Monte Ne Arkansas” or “Johnstown Flood” or “Jonesboro Tornado” in a search engine? How do you search for “interesting” or “unusual” things on the web?

I thought of putting the phrase “something unusual or interesting” on each of my web pages that fit that description, but then remembered web rings! So I am starting the “Find Something Unusual and Interesting on the Web” web ring – a ring of Unique Photo Illustrated Articles and Stories on the Internet or World Wide Web.

In the meantime you should visit the web sites that "I Highly Recommend" on my web index.

Or how about these ...

Things You Probably Didn't Know About until Now

Clever Hans

The horse that learned to do simple math was a sensation in the early twentieth century. The study of the horse's abilities led to the definition of "The Clever Hans Effect" which basically posits that horses (and dogs) pick up cues from the people around them; slight involuntary motions, increasing tension, and perhaps increasing heart rate.

A brief story from KBR horse training program is HERE. (Their Home Page) Note that in this article "skittles" refers to the game, not the candy.

Wikipedia entry for Clever Hans.

Johnstown Flood

On May 31, 1889 the dam of a lake above Johnstown, Pennsylvania, gave way after heavy rains. The water was 60 feet deep at the dam. The dam "just moved away!" as one witness described it. A forty foot high, half mile wide hill of debris was pushed down the valley by the water. It wiped out much of the town and swept hundreds of people away. Clara Barton and her Washington, D . C . contingent of the Red Cross built hotels for people to live in and warehouses to store the many supplies the community received. The record says that 2,209 people were killed. Compare that to the number killed in the 1900 Galveston hurricane.

The Johnston Flood Museum has a great article with photos here.

The Flight of the Eagle

In 1897 S. A. Andree and a group of supporters attempted to fly a hydrogen inflated balloon from Sweden across the North Pole to Russia or Canada. You may realize that balloons only go where the winds go - usually. However, Andree had devised a system that he thought would allow some limited steering or 'tacking' across the wind. A surprisingly simple failure left them adrift on the wind. Ice accumulated on the balloon and finally forced them down. Some of them almost made it home after months on the arctic ice and it wasn't until about 1930 during a warm summer that the remains of their final camp were discovered along with journals and unprocessed film. The film was processed and revealed some amazing photos of the journey.

Wikipedia has a good article including some photos here.

The 1999 book "The Flight of the Eagle" by Peter Joseph Capelotti is listed on Google Books.

The book I read was of the same title by Per Olof Sundman from 1970. It was a documentary novel version of the story.

Things Introduced or popularized at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.

Didn't know the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus was a year late? Electricity for lighting was just coming into use at that time and more electricity was used for the Colombian exposition in 1893 than in all the rest of Chicago combined. Many new things were introduced or popularized at the fair. The Ferris wheel was probably the most famous, but Juicy Fruit gum, carbonated sodas, and hamburgers were presented to a mass market for the first time at the Exposition food booths although there is some dispute over the time and place that hamburgers, as we know them, originated.

The Ferris Wheel was intended to be the answer to Paris' Eiffel Tower which was the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition. The Ferris Wheel had 36 cars suspended between two wheels that stood over 250 feet high. Each car had room for 60 people and a concession stand. The ride was 20 minutes long during which it made one revolution to unload and load the cars and then one complete non-stop revolution. It was powered by two steam engines.

The link in the title line above is to a scholarly thesis that provides a description of the fair, its history, and its legacy. The following paragraph is from the introductory page:
"So, take a step back in time, to an era when bicycles were a novelty, telephones a rarity, and phonographs an absolute revelation. To a time when the hustle and bustle of a consumer society, the immigration problem, economic instability, and feelings of cultural inferiority were foremost in Americans' minds. Does it sound familiar? Perhaps, in our investigation of this watershed event in American history--this celebration of early modernity--we can find ourselves in and learn from the messages of, and reactions to, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.".

Little Egypt, a belly dancer, was introduced to America as part of the mid-way entertainment by Sol Bloom, a young show business promoter who later became a Congressman and worked on the United Nations Charter. His story is unique in itself. You may know of a little melody associated with snake charmers and belly dancers in cartoons of days gone be. The baudy version of the tune begins "There's a place in France where ...." It was introduced to accompany the dancers on the mid-way. HERE is a midi version with Shira's neat page giving the history of the song and information about belly dancing.

Sonora Carver and the Diving Horses of Atlantic City

This "Christmas Essay" by Susan MacDonald is an excellent story of the diving horses of the Atlantic City Steel Pier and the young women who rode them. There is a brief history of the Pier itself. A couple of good photos are included. One of the first young women to ride diving horses was Sonora Webster who was hired by Doc Carver for his circus horse diving act. The story is that he and his horse fell through a bridge. The horse made a perfect dive and swam to safety so Carver decided to develop the diving horse act. Sonora married Doc Carver's son. The Wikipedia article has links to her autobiography and the movie that was made about her life.

More photos of the horses are here on another website.

Where Did All the Oxen Go?

The short answer is that they became milk and beef cattle. Ox is the term for a draft bovine and there are still breeders who breed cows and bulls for the characteristics required of draft animals. There are contests all across the country and the Berlin Fair in Berlin, Connecticut, includes an Oxen and Cattle Drawing Contest. The next fair is the first weekend of October, 2009.

Here is the Wikipedia article for "Ox." The web has many listings of ox drawing events and rules for contestants.

A Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea
In 1857, the SS Central America sailed from the port of Colon in Panama with 477 passengers and about 15 tons of gold from California. The gold was in the form of bars, coins, and dust. Some of it belonged to the passengers and crew, but most of it was for the financiers of the northeast. After a stop in Havana, the steam side-wheeler sailed up the east coast of the U.S. and into a hurricane off the cost of the Carolinas. The book "A Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea" by Gary Kinder tells of the tragic loss of the ship, the gold, and many of the passengers (mostly the men, who attempted to save the ship and help the women and children escape). The shipwreck was the main news story of the time and the loss of the gold contributed to the Panic of 1857. And now for the rest of the story as told in the book. In 1989 the shipwreck was located and the gold (about $1 billion worth) was found mostly intact on the bottom of the ocean. A treasurer hunter and his investors recovered a tremendous amount using new techniques developed just for that purpose. The gold is being sold off at a slow rate to prevent a depression in the gold market. The book jumps back and forth between the story of the shipwreck and the treasure hunt and is sometimes slow, but it probably is the best source of all the details. Wikipedia has a brief account from which I quote below and there are reviews of the book on the web. Amazon.com listing for paperback copy of book. (Also available for Kindle.) Wikipedia Article

"SS Central America ... was originally named the SS George Law, ... the SS George Law was to be decommissioned but the owners felt she had a few more trips in her .... They ignored the law, had her painted, and re-named her the SS Central America for concealment. Had she been removed from the high seas as the law had demanded this entire episode in history would not have happened. (Source: History Channel.) Thus this faulty ship sank in a hurricane in September 1857, along with 400 passengers and crew and 30,000 pounds of gold, contributing to the Panic of 1857."

" ...

"On 9 September, the ship was caught up in a Category 2 hurricane while off the coast of the Carolinas. ... winds and heavy surf had shredded her sails, she was taking on water, and her boiler was threatening to go out. A leak in one of the seals to the paddle wheels sealed her fate, and, at noon that day, her boiler could no longer maintain fire. Steam pressure dropped, shutting down both the pumps keeping the water at bay and the paddle wheels that kept her pointed into the wind. The passengers and crew flew the ship's flag upside down (a universal sign of distress) to try to signal a passing ship. No one came.

"A bucket brigade was formed and her passengers and crew spent the night fighting a losing battle against the rising water. During the calm of the hurricane, attempts were made to get the boiler running again, but these all failed. The second half of the storm then struck. The ship was now on the verge of foundering. Without power, the ship was carried along with the storm, so the strong winds would not abate. The next morning, two ships were spotted, including the brig Marine. 153 people, primarily women and children, managed to make their way over in lifeboats. However, the ship remained in an area of intense winds and heavy seas that pulled the ship and most of her company away from rescue and eventually took the ship and many of the roughly 425 people still on board to the bottom at around 8 pm that night. A Norwegian bark, Ellen, rescued an additional fifty from the waters. Another three in a lifeboat. were picked up over a week later."

This is from another source. "... salvaging its treasure, which lay undisturbed for 132 years 8,000 feet deep off the coast of South Carolina."

"'... the picture on the monitor began to clear and slowly revealed a scene few people could imagine. "The bottom was carpeted with gold." said Tommy. "Gold everywhere, like a garden. The more you looked, the more you saw gold growing out of everything, embedded in all the wood and beams. It was amazing, clear back in the far distance bars stacked on the bottom like brownies, bars stacked like loaves of bread, bars that appear to have slid into the corner of a room. Some of the bars formed a bridge, all gold bars spanning an area of treasure over here and another area over here, water underneath, and the decks collapsing through on both sides. Then there was a beam with coins stacked on top of it, just covered, couldn't see the top of the beam it had so many coins on it.'"

The First Hydrogen Filled Balloon Free Flight (About.com)

"Less than two weeks after the ground-breaking Montgolfier flight [the first manned flight in a hot-air balloon], the French physicist Jacques Charles (1746-1823) and Nicolas Robert (1758-1820) made the first untethered ascension with a gas hydrogen balloon on December 1, 1783. Jacques Charles combined his expertise in making hydrogen with Nicolas Robert's new method of coating silk with rubber."

Nearly a half million people assembled at the Tuileries Gardens to watch the first attempt. Charles and his assistant flew north about 27 miles in two hours and landed near another waiting crowd. However, when the assistant stepped out of the basket, the balloon shoot upward taking Charles to about 10,000 feet before he could regain control. He later said "Never has a man felt so solitary, so sublime -- and so utterly terrified." He never flew again. (This is a paraphrase from The Week's review of Richard Holmes book, The Age of Wonder.)

Phineas Gage

I first read about Phineas Gage in The Old Farmer's Almanac many years ago. Back then the Almanac included odd historical stories such as his. Now the combination of two technologies, the daguerreotype and the internet, has helped to bring an image of him to the present day. The couple who owned the photo for about three decades thought it was a whaler with a harpoon, then they placed a copy on Flickr and viewers said the object wasn't a harpoon and that it was perhaps a photo of Phineas Gage holding the tamping iron that penetrated his head during a ancident with explosives. A close examination of the original dagurretype revealed an inscription on the iron bar reading "This is the bar that was shot through the head of Mr. Phineas P. Gage."

Phineas was 25 years old and the foreman of a railroad crew working a roadbed near Cavendish, Vermont, on September 13, 1848. He was tamping blasting powder and sand into a hole when the powder exploded and blew the pointed tamping rod through his left cheek and out near the front center of his skull. The rod was three feet, seven inches long and weighed 13 1/4 pounds so the approximate diameter can be calculated as a little over an inch depending on the tapered point. The bar landed about 75 to 85 feet behind him. Gage was still conscious. He was taken by ox-cart to a nearby inn where he jokingly told one doctor "Here is business enough for you!" About a year later he was examined at Harvard where a life mask was made of his head. The mask, Gage's skull, and the tamping iron are displayed there at the Warren Anatomical Museum according to an article by Stephen Smith in the Boston Globe reprinted in the Houston Chronicle and from which I've paraphrased this paragraph.

The Boston Globe article has an excellent copy of the upper half of the framed daguerreotype and an interactive illustration showing the drilling and tamping process, the explosion, and a video of the bar going through a cut-away drawing of a skull and brain.

The Phineas Gage Information Page has the most information on Phineas Gage. It is maintained by Malcolm Macmillan at the School of Psychology of Deakin University, Victoria, Australia.
Wikipedia entry for Phineas Gage with a photo of his life mask and illustrations showing the path of the rod through his head.

The Mechanical Turk or Automaton Chess Player Wikipedia Entry

This "mechanical wonder" was constructed and unveiled in 1770 by Wolfgang von Kempelen. He is supposed to have gotten the idea while watching a magic act in the court of Maria Theresa of Austria. He wanted to do somthing more impressive than the magician's illusions. He built a cabinet-like table with a chess board on top and various drawers and doors that could be opened to show mechanical devices inside. Behind the table was a manikin dressed in a turbin and clothing that matched what was considered to be the dress of a person from Turkey. Kempelen had the device ready to present about six months after he began developing his idea and returned to court to put on his big show. He typically opened the doors and drawers to demonstate that the table contained only the mechanical devices and then invited chess players to try to defeat "the Turk." The Turk played the white pieces. If an opponent made an illegal move, the Turk would move the piece back and then make its own move, thus forcing a forfeit. The Turk would nod its head twice to indicate it was threatening the opponent's queen and three times when placing the king in check. The mechanical devices made clockwork sounds as the Turk mades its various motions. The Turk could do the "Knight's Tour" and could answer questions by using a letter board.

Apparently Kempelen planned to impress Maria Theresa and then get out of the mechanical chess player business, but he hadn't anticipated the interest in what he had devised. He even lied that the device was broken and needed repair to put off requests for demonstration. Finally, Emperor Joseph II ordered him to get the thing working in time to demonstrate it at a state visit from Grand Duke Paul of Russia and his wife - a request that Kempelen apparently felt he couldn't refuse.

From that court appearance the Turk begain a European tour. The Turk didn't always win, but was always a challenge to defeat. It was exhibited by various owners for more than eighty years even though its secret had been described by 1820. It was destroyed by fire in 1854. The Wikipedia entry provides a very complete summary of all this. The book The Mechanical Turk by Tom Standage is available on Amazon.co.uk. It's a very interesting story.


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Posted 7/25/09