Weird Universe Archive

February 2021

February 8, 2021

Upside-Down Rhinos

Recent research has proven that it's safe to hang rhinos upside-down by their feet for up to ten minutes. Future research should let us know whether longer periods, up to half-an-hour, are also safe.

More info: Cornell Chronicle, Journal of Wildlife Diseases

Posted By: Alex - Mon Feb 08, 2021 - Comments (6)
Category: Animals, Experiments

The Sympowwowsium

In October [1969], several prominent figures within the counterculture and festival scene, including Ken Kesey and Woodstock promoter Michael Lang, gathered in New Mexico for a socalled “Sympowwowsium.” Robert Santelli, author of Aquarius Rising: The Rock Festival Years,
claims that, with the explosive popularity of summer music festivals, and fresh off Woodstock,
those gathered sought an answer to the burning question within the counterculture: “What Comes
After Woodstock?” Santelli writes, “The group was unanimous in its feeling that the rock festival was a potent force in the continuation of the counterculture and should be used to further advocate alternative life-styles, aside from presenting the newest sounds in rock music.”39 These
gathered individuals, as well as hundreds of thousands of countercultural youth spread throughout the country, were eager to bring the Nation back together once again


Apparently, ROLLING STONE #49 had a piece on this historic conference, but I can't find digital access to it. I'd love to know more about this conference of hippie movers and shakers.

Posted By: Paul - Mon Feb 08, 2021 - Comments (2)
Category: Music, Conferences, Conventions, Meetings and Symposia, Bohemians, Beatniks, Hippies and Slackers, 1960s

February 7, 2021

Bathing Poncho

The bathing poncho, invented by Timothy and Brenda Reardon, allows someone to shower while clothed. From the patent:

The present invention generally relates to wearing apparel. More specifically, the present invention is drawn to a disposable poncho adapted for wear while bathing or showering...

In institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, college dormitories, gyms, and the like, the bathing or showering facilities often lack the privacy to which one is accustomed to at home. Thus, becoming unclad to take a shower or a bath can be somewhat of an unpleasant and embarrassing experience. A covering that would preserve one's dignity by minimizing exposure while also insuring a thorough cleansing would certainly be a welcome addition in the marketplace.

I can appreciate the problem this addresses, but I wouldn't want to be the kid who shows up in the locker room shower wearing one of these.

Posted By: Alex - Sun Feb 07, 2021 - Comments (3)
Category: Fashion, Hygiene, Baths, Showers and Other Cleansing Methods, Inventions, Patents

Train Robberies

Are train robberies an extinct crime? The Wikipedia page for the topic does not list one later than 1999.

Here's one from early in the 20th century that I found interesting.

Two booking cards from Spokane, WA police. One is for Charles McDonald, who is listed as a "miner," age 27, 5 ft. 9.5 in. and weighing 151 lbs. Arrested Oct. 25, 1907 for the crime of train robbery. Includes Bertillon Measurements for more detailed identification. Plus tattoos, scars, moles, etc.

Second card is for Ed Smith, alias Geo. Frankhauser. Also listed as a "miner," age 30, 5 ft. 5 3/4 in., 135 lbs. Arrested the same day as his compatriot. Same Spokane police card.

Frankhauser and McDonald pulled off one of the most daring train robberies, truly worthy of the "Wild, Wild West," although they accomplished their heist in the 20th century. The pair took up residence near Rexford, along the Northern Pacific line that the Oriental Limited regularly traveled. They surveyed the line, and decided on their spot. September 9, 1907, when the engineer and fireman took over the engine, two men came out of the darkness and ordered them at gunpoint to follow directions and they would not be hurt. They ordered the train to proceed at 40 mph until they reached a pre-selected location. The train was ordered to stop, while Frankhauser went to a cache and took out a small black bag. They had the fireman knock on the baggage car door and ask to come in. When the door was opened, the baggageman was ordered out, and the dynamite from the bag was used to blow the safe - and half of the car. They found nothing, so they decided to try the mail. Here, purely by accident, they stumbled on four small packages in a mail bag. They were addressed to the Old National Bank of Spokane and contained an estimated $40,000. But their mistake of tampering with the mail brought down the wrath of the postal inspectors, who would not let them get away with the robbery.

While the train was ordered to stay for 10 minutes, the pair escaped into darkness. They partied throughout the Northwest, posing as mining promoters. They sometimes "bought out" a bar for the night and had private parties for selected "friends," including "working" women. Eventually, a man by the name of Jesse Howe became suspicious, and alerted the Spokane police, who were waiting at the end of another party.

They obtained saws in the Kalispell jail, according to Frankhauser, and hid them in strapped to their ankles. When they were transferred to Helena, the guards found McDonald's saw, but Frankhauser managed to hang on to his. They spent two months sawing the bars on the windows. When they finally made their break March 21, they got over the wall by piling the bloodhound's doghouses on top of each other.

They were spotted by two women while coming over the wall, but managed to get ahead of the searchers. The two remained on the run for months, following the Missouri River north. They lived by taking what they needed from farmhouses and cabins (some occupied, others not). When the sheriff spotted them in Fargo, they split up. Frankhauser took a job for the Northern Pacific, but was arrested while going to a friend's house for Thanksgiving. He claimed he never saw his friend again. He was tried in Helena and sentenced to life in prison at Leavenworth, KS.

According to some newspaper reports, he escaped from Leavenworth. Others say he died there. One report indicates that another train robbery occurred in Benecia, CA that looked a lot like the work of this pair. This time they reportedly caught up with McDonald, but his buddy was still on the run.

Whatever the truth, it has the "feel" of another Butch and Sundance story. [See also "The Criminal Record: Stories of Crime and Misadventure from a Century Ago," Vol. 5, Issue 4 (April 2010).]

Posted By: Paul - Sun Feb 07, 2021 - Comments (5)
Category: Crime, Scary Criminals, Twentieth Century, Trains

February 6, 2021

Avakoum Zahov, the Soviet James Bond

Avakoum Zahov was a fictional secret agent who featured in the novels of the Bulgarian writer Andrei Gulyashki. Zahov made his first appearance in the 1959 novel The Zakhov Mission. He returned in the 1966 novel Avakoum Zahov versus 07 — in which he battles and defeats a British agent known as '07'.

image source: pulp curry

There have been persistent rumors that Gulyashki created Zahov at the behest of the KGB in an attempt to produce a Soviet James Bond. Details from an article by Andrew Nette:

Journalist and popular historian Donald McCormick was the first to raise the idea that Gulyashki was involved in a propaganda scheme to create a proletarian Bond. In his 1977 book Who’s Who in Spy Fiction, McCormick lists the Bulgarian as a ‘novelist who responded to the KGB’s request for writers to glorify the deeds of Soviet espionage and to improve its own image in the early sixties. The object was to popularise secret agents of the Soviet Union as noble heroes who protected the fatherland and it was launched by Vladimir Semichastny, the newly appointed head of the KGB in 1961, when he contributed an article to Izvestia on this very subject.’

It is not clear where McCormick got his information, but others have since picked up the claim and run with it. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory states that Gulyashki ‘was invited by the KGB to refurbish the image of Soviet espionage which had been tarnished by the success of James Bond’. Likewise, Wesley Britton claims in Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film that, in 1966, the Bulgarian novelist was hired by the Soviet press to create a communist agent to stand against the British spy ‘because of Russian fears that 007 was in fact an effective propaganda tool for the West’.

"My name is Zahov, Avakoum Zahov" just doesn't have the same ring as "Bond, James Bond".

Posted By: Alex - Sat Feb 06, 2021 - Comments (4)
Category: Literature, Books, Spies and Intelligence Services, 1960s

Carousel Kitchen

Did anyone ever actually want this, or build it, outside of the ad man's imagination?


Posted By: Paul - Sat Feb 06, 2021 - Comments (1)
Category: Domestic, Excess, Overkill, Hyperbole and Too Much Is Not Enough, Advertising, 1960s

February 5, 2021

Robert Ashley’s Automatic Writing

A very odd piece of music composed by Robert Ashley in 1979. An explantion from

On Automatic Writing, which comprises one 46-minute piece, Ashley repeats the line, “My mind is censoring my own mind,” or a slight variation of it, a dozen times. The composition is based on a recording of the composer’s involuntary speech, a symptom he attributed to a possible “mild form of Tourette’s.” “It is against the ‘law’ of our society to engage in involuntary speech,” he wrote in the liner notes of a 1996 reissue of the record...

In his searching, Ashley distorted his voice to the point of granular gesture on Automatic Writing. (Save for a few moments of clarity, it is only possible to understand what he says by reading the transcription that accompanies the release.) In a rare example of an echo being more legible than its origin, the emotional resonance of his mouth sounds is underscored by a whispered French translation of his involuntary speech performed by long-time collaborator Mimi Johnson. The faraway melody of an organ and the murmurings of a Polymoog, the latter evoking a crate of old-fashioned milk bottles jiggling against each other in transit, hold the space for the two voices. Layered together, these four sonic elements—or characters in an opera, as Ashley saw them—have a proto-ASMR quality, textural and sensual.

I think the whole piece would work well as the soundtrack to a horror movie.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Feb 05, 2021 - Comments (1)
Category: Music, 1970s

February 4, 2021

The Banana Bat

In the late nineteenth century, Emile Kinst decided that the game of baseball was too easy, so to make it more challenging he invented a curved bat which came to be known as the "banana bat". Obviously his invention never caught on. But Kinst made several hundred of these bats, and the few that are still around are quite valuable. The one shown below sold for $2880.

image source: goldin auctions

From The Boston Globe - Apr 24, 1904:

Bats have been the subject of brain cogitations by ambitious inventors. Some years ago the players became familiar with what was called the flat bat. This was never patented, but it showed the inventive genius of some player. This bat was made by shaving one of the round bats with a knife until a part of the bat near the end was flat. The object of this was to give the player a chance to bunt the ball by catching it a short clip...

There was another bat invented, however, and the man who originated it had such faith in his idea that he had it patented in 1890. This bat had a curve in it and was something like a lacrosse stick. According to the theory of the inventor, Emile Kinst, when the ball was struck by a certain portion of the bat, in addition to the regular flight produced by the blow the ball would receive a rotary motion more or less violent. The result was supposed to be a ball not only difficult to handle by the fielder if it were to come straight at him, but also hard to hold if it were a fly and he got under it, because of the spinning produced by the bat.

It was also designed to produce the effect of a bunt, but in a better way, for the inventor claimed his bat would cause the ball to land near the batter and stay there under certain conditions. With these results Mr. Kinst claimed that it would make the game more difficult to play, and therefore more interesting and exciting. But his hopes were not realized, for the bat never got the official sanction of the league.

Posted By: Alex - Thu Feb 04, 2021 - Comments (1)
Category: Sports, Patents, Nineteenth Century, Bananas

Artwork Khrushchev Probably Would Not Have Liked 32

"Actress Germaine Dulac (1882-1942) as a worm at the Folies Bergere in Paris, France, photograph by Walery from The Tatler, No 1408, June 20, 1928, London."

Posted By: Paul - Thu Feb 04, 2021 - Comments (3)
Category: Art, Avant Garde, Beauty, Ugliness and Other Aesthetic Issues, Costumes and Masks, 1920s

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