Russian millionaire plans for Romanov empire on Pacific islands

OK, this is the strangest bit of news I’ve seen in a while. From the Guardian: Russian millionaire details plans for new Romanov empire on Pacific islands.

A Russian millionaire is in advanced talks with the Kiribati government to lease three uninhabited islands and establish an alternative Russia and revive the monarchy.

Russian Anton Bakov and his wife Maria are planning to re-establish the Romanov Empire on three remote islands in the south Pacific nation of Kiribati, and invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the impoverished island’s economy.

The Russian monarchy was overthrown by the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and Bakov, a businessman and former Russian MP, has devoted himself to reviving it – which over the years has included exploring options for a base in Montenegro and the Cook Islands. [continue]

The mind boggles.

Creative and forgotten fire escape designs of the 1800s

Oh my. So many of these are insane! From Atlas Obscura: The Creative and Forgotten Fire Escape Designs of the 1800s.

In the morning of March 10, 1860, a crowd of several hundred New Yorkers looked up curiously at a long cloth chute dangling from the top of City Hall. The tube was supported by ropes along its sides, with one end fastened to the top of the building and the other held by people on the ground. “Through this bottomless bag the persons in danger are expected to slide,” reported Scientific American in its March 10 issue.

A group of adventurous boys and men slid daringly through the chute, the spectators both relieved and amused when they reached the ground in one piece.

That one doesn’t sound too bad, eh? We’ve seen the modern equivalent. But wait’ll you see the illustration for a “winged fire escape invention”. And this, oh this:

B.B. Oppenheimer’s 1879 patent for a fire escape helmet would have included a wax cloth chute, about four to five feet in diameter, attached in “a suitable manner” to the head. “A person may safely jump out of the window of a burning building from any height and land without injury and without the least damage on the ground,” Oppenheimer wrote. To soften the impact, his invention also featured overshoes with thick elastic bottom pads. [continue]

The mysterious German fad for posing with a polar bear imitator

The Guardian brings us today’s dose of strange: The mysterious German fad for posing with a polar bear imitator.

It could be a series of scenes from a novel dreamed up by Günter Grass. The author of The Tin Drum, The Flounder and other surreal stories of modern Germany would surely have seen the magic-realist poignancy of these bizarre images, found by Jean-Marie Donat, a French collector of photographs. Perhaps he could even help to explain why so many people in early and mid-20th-century Germany seem to have wanted to pose for their pictures with a polar bear.

In a Grass novel, we might follow the adventures of a polar-bear imitator as he puts on his hot, sweaty, furry white costume to appear beside a variety of Germans for their photographs. Here he is with a couple beside the Baltic sea. The man has taken off his top, but still wears long black trousers.

In another beach picture, the bear holds someone’s dog. Is it Hitler’s dog? I only ask because in another shot, inevitably, the two jolly fellows arm-in-arm with the polar bear are in Wehrmacht uniforms. One has a cigarette, another a sword – they are clearly officer class. Perhaps posing with the Arctic bear was a joke before they headed off to the Eastern Front. If so, the smiles would soon be frozen off their faces. Who knows what became of these soldiers. Who knows, too, what became of the aristocratic couple sitting on a rock in the forest with a bear. The bear cosies up to the woman, leaving the bespectacled man looking isolated and uneasy. [continue]

A ban on mermaid tails

So apparently mermaid tails are a thing now. Who knew? From the CBC: Mermaid tail enthusiasts cry foul over Edmonton pool bans.

Krista Visinski is determined to be a mermaid, even if she’s not allowed in the water right now.

The Edmonton mother has been preparing for more than a year to become a professional sea nymph and teach exercise classes, host children’s parties and appear at public events.

But her plan was recently put on hold when the city announced a ban on mermaid tails, a trendy swim accessory, in all its pools.

The 24-year-old delivered a petition to the city this week with nearly 600 names, some of them parents of children who dream of swimming like Ariel from the Disney movie The Little Mermaid.

Others, calling themselves mermaid advocates, say anyone should be able to swim with a tail. [continue]

Monsters in mid-1870s news prints

From Pink Tentacle: Monsters in mid-1870s news prints.

For a brief period in the mid-1870s, artistic woodblock prints known as "newspaper nishiki-e" were a popular form of mass entertainment in Japan. These colorful prints fed the public’s enormous appetite for sensationalism by retelling shocking stories culled from the major newspapers of the day. The Meiji government swiftly cracked down on the publishers of these "unofficial" sources of information, causing them to disappear as quickly as they had appeared, but not before hundreds of issues had been published and circulated around Japan. While newspaper nishiki-e most often retold stories of scandalous or heinous crimes, they occasionally presented accounts of monsters, ghosts and mysterious happenings, such as the ones included here.

This print shows a lecherous monster said to have haunted the home of a master carpenter in the Kanda area of Tokyo. The apparition habitually showed up late at night to perform unspeakable acts on his sleeping wife, until the family enlisted the help of [continue, see illustrations]

(Link found here at Plep.)

The strangest broccoli image

I suppose buying fresh veggies means that I miss a certain amount of frozen broccoli fun. From Bread and Honey:

…she suddenly remembered this crazy broccoli package in her freezer she wanted to show me. She handed me the box and I studied it carefully, squinting, even allowing my eyes to blur, to try and see what I was missing. She pointed- "Do you see?" See what? I didn’t see anything. Just broccoli. Her finger tapped on a certain part of the box and she urged me to look closer. "There — right there. Do you see it? I’m not going to tell you what it is if you don’t see it." And then, it suddenly became clear to me.[continue, see photos]

Scientists make cat that glows in the dark

From The Telegraph: Scientists make cat that glows in the dark.

By day he is just a normal tabby but when the lights go out this ginger cat glows in the dark.

Scientists have genetically modified a cat as part of an experiement that could lead to treatments for conditions like cystic fibrosis.

Named Mr Green Genes, he look likes a six-month-old cat but, under ultraviolet light, his eyes, gums and tongue glow a vivid lime green, the result of a genetic experiment at the Audubon Centre for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans.

Mr. Green Genes is [continue, see photos]

Monstrous fish

I know you can’t be expected to get through today without a Monsterous Fish story. The National Library of Wales obliges with A most strange and true report of a monsterous fish, who appeared in the forme of a woman, from her waste upwards by P.G.

The library explains:

This unique pamphlet tells the story of an alleged sighting of a mermaid near Pendine, Carmarthenshire in 1603. The creature was first seen by Thomas Raynold, a yeoman from Pendine, who then summoned others to keep watch for three hours. William Saunders of Pendine later examined Raynold and some of the other witnesses.

Stories of mermaids were fairly common during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and there is even reference to a sighting in the journal of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) for 9th January 1493. It was believed that mermaids could save sailors from drowning but could also lure ships to their doom. Belief in mermaids, fairies and other mythical creatures persisted in many areas of Britain until the eighteenth century and sometimes even later. [continue]

Of course you’ll want to view the pamphlet.

Survey turns hill into a mountain

From the BBC: Survey turns hill into a mountain.

A Welsh hill has been upgraded to a mountain after three walkers found its official measurement was just too low.

Mynydd Graig Goch in Snowdonia was originally put at 1,998ft (609m), just short of the magic 2,000ft (609.6m) that qualifies as a mountain.

But the walkers found its true height is six inches over 2,000ft (609.75m).

Their efforts have echoes of the 1995 film set in Wales which starred Hugh Grant as The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. [continue]

DR Congo frees goats from prison

From the BBC: DR Congo frees goats from prison.

A minister in DR Congo has ordered a Kinshasa jail to release a dozen goats, which he said they were being held there illegally.

Deputy Justice Minister Claude Nyamugabo said he found the goats just in time during a routine jail visit.

The beasts were due to appear in court, charged with being sold illegally by the roadside. [continue]

If I said "I am not making this up" as often as I thought it, then it would be the most frequently used phrase on Mirabilis.ca.

The walking house

This has to be the strangest form of housing I’ve seen in a while. From the 24 Hour Museum: Danish artists create life-size walking house for Wysing Arts Centre near Cambridge.

With oil prices rocketing and mortgages plummeting, visionary Danish artist collective N55 has solved the joint problems of transport and housing by building a home that can walk.

Wysing Arts Centre, located in the countryside near Cambridge, will host the wandering oddity next month along with a display of the designs, manuals and concepts that went into the creation of the Walking House.

Using six hydraulic legs, the house will be able to toddle at the same rate as a human — around five miles per hour — and is designed to function on all types of terrain. The unit will also be carbon-neutral deriving all of its energy from micro windmills and solar panels. [continue, see images]

Would you want to live in one of these?

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The old ladies and the rats

What if you’d bought a house in a good neighbourhood, moved in, and then realized that you had a major rat problem caused by the old ladies next door? The LA Weekly tells of Scott and Liz Denham, who had that very problem: Unchallenged by Health Officials, Elderly Twins Fed Local Vermin Population.

"You start to realize that, as you go to that property, ‘Wait a minute. Something isn’t right here,’" says Scott. He hadn’t paid much attention to the house next door. But now, he noticed, "You couldn’t see in any of the windows. I don’t know if it was tarp, but it wasn’t just curtains. It was blacked out. You couldn’t see in the house. The front door was rotted."

When he crept closer,the odor — "a urine stench" — was "unbearable." By the end of their first long weekend in the Palisades, Liz was stressed out, peering at shadows. The more she peered, the more rats she saw. Standing in her own master bedroom, she found herself at eye level with a group of rats who clearly had a routine, slipping methodically in and out of drains and cracks on her neighbors’ outside wall.

She saw three rats squeeze out of a roof drain in a precision, shoulder-to-shoulder group, Ratatouille-style. Another rat pack traveled along the dusty, reeking hedge on the property line. The hedge was a rat highway, and it swayed under its commuters’ weight. [continue]

I love the way the writer of this article, Max Taves, includes information from so many different sources. Hurrah, Max! A fascinating read.

Stories like this make me want to climb on my soapbox to give my one piece of house-shopping advice: go interview the neighbours before you buy a house. They’ll tell you if there are crazy old ladies feeding rats, or if the dog-breeder down the street lets her 74 hounds yip and howl for hours. People selling a house don’t want you to know these things, so they’ll try to arrange it so that you don’t find out. Ask questions, and walk through the neighbourhood at different times of the day when you don’t have an appointment.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Fire in the sky: Tunguska at 100

This is the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska event! From the BBC: Fire in the sky: Tunguska at 100.

At 7:17am on 30 June 1908, an immense explosion tore through the forest of central Siberia.

Some 80 million trees were flattened over an area of 2,000 square km (800 square miles) near the Tunguska River.

The blast was 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and generated a shock wave that knocked people to the ground 60km from the epicentre.

The cause was an asteroid or comet just a few tens of metres across which detonated 5-10km above the ground, 100 years ago today.

Eyewitnesses recalled a brilliant fireball resembling a "flying star" ploughing across the cloudless June sky at an oblique angle. [continue]

There’s lots more at Wikipedia, of course, including this delightful quotation:

Perhaps the earliest widely-held theory for the Tunguska explosion was that the world was about to end. As the minutes passed, this theory was dropped in favour of other, less final theories, until today one is hard-pressed to find anyone who truly believes the world ended on the morning of 30 June 1908.

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World’s weirdest wedding customs

From Atypical Events: World’s Weirdest Wedding Customs.

All over the world, people practice numerous wedding customs that have been passed on through many generations. Although each has a long history of meaning and significance, many just seem strange and out of place in today’s culture.

Check out some of the historical wedding customs that are still practiced today, much to the intrigue and wonderment of its audience. [continue]

(Link found here at Presurfer.)

One-Horned ‘Unicorn’ Deer Born in Italy

From discovery.com: One-Horned ‘Unicorn’ Deer Born in Italy.

A deer with a single horn in the center of its head — much like the fabled, mythical unicorn — has been spotted in a nature preserve in Italy, park officials said Wednesday.

"This is fantasy becoming reality," Gilberto Tozzi, director of the Center of Natural Sciences in Prato, said. "The unicorn has always been a mythological animal."

The one-year-old Roe Deer — nicknamed "Unicorn" — was born in captivity in the research center’s park in the Tuscan town of Prato, near Florence, Tozzi said.

He is believed to have been born with a genetic flaw; his twin has two horns.

Calling it the first time he has seen such a case, Tozzi said such anomalies among deer may have inspired the myth of the unicorn. [continue, see photo]

More homemade submarines

First off, you must go and look at the photos of this amazing homemade submarine. Incredible, isn’t it?

Now I’m as interested in submarines as the next person, but what I find really fascinating is the number of people who come to Mirabilis.ca as a result of searching for homemade submarine or some similar thing at one of the search engines. It’s been a top search term and visitor draw since I blogged about homemade submarines years ago. Who would have guessed? And who do you think is doing all the searching, anyway? Many of the searches come from an IP range belonging to — well, can you guess what organization? Go on. Try.

Anyway. After our trip to the beach this morning I took a look around the web to see what new submarine content has shown up lately. I’m so disappointed that I didn’t notice this NYT article last summer: An Artist and His Sub Surrender in Brooklyn.

At slack tide off Red Hook, Brooklyn, there are usually lots of things floating in the water, most of which you would not want to touch without the help of a good hazmat suit. But just after sunrise yesterday, something truly strange was bobbing there in the shallows near Pier 41: a submarine fashioned almost completely from wood, and inside it a man with an obsession. [continue]

Personally, I’d be afraid to ride in a submarine, and I’m incompetent when it comes to building things. But should you want to build your own sub, check out sub-log.com’s homebuilt submarines, including plans for building your own submarine. The Personal Submersibles Organization probably has some useful tips, too.

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Homeless woman lived in stranger’s cupboard for a year

From The Telegraph: Tokyo homeless woman lived in stranger’s cupboard for a year.

The woman, identified as 58-year-old Tatsuko Horikawa, was found by police searching the home of the man, who believed he lived alone in Fukuoka.

The resident of the house, who has not been named, became suspicious that he was the victim of repeat burglaries after he noticed food was going missing from his refrigerator.

The man decided to install security cameras linked to his mobile phone and on Wednesday caught images of a woman walking around the house while he was out. [continue]

Minus the camera, the same thing happened to a guy I dated some years ago. At first he thought he was just forgetful: clothing went missing, food vanished… but hey, he was overtired, so maybe he was imagining it all. One day he found a note pinned to his front door. It said "To whoever is living here. I am living here, because I thought I could live here." Baffling, but he put it aside and forgot about it. And then one day he found a man in his house, wearing his clothes, and eating his food.

I bet he’s been dining out on the story ever since.

Praying for a cuppa

From Ananova: Praying for a cuppa.

The power of prayer is all it takes to relax with a drink at a newly opened Croatian cafe.

Customers at the Jedro coffee shop in Zagreb are asked to say a certain number of prayers in return for their drinks.

The most expensive beverage is a Coca-Cola which costs five ‘Hail Marys’. A cappuccino costs four ‘Our Fathers’. [continue]

Egypt to copyright landmarks

Oh, this is lovely. From the New York Times: Egypt to Copyright Landmarks.

Egypt plans to copyright the Pyramids, the Sphinx and various museum pieces and use the royalties from copies to pay for the upkeep of its historic monuments and sites, The Guardian of London reported. Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that legislation approved by a ministerial committee will be presented to the Egyptian Parliament, where it was expected to pass. The copyrights would then apply anywhere in the world, he said, although he gave no explanation of how Egypt would pursue infringements. He said the proposed law would apply to full-scale precise copies of museum objects and "commercial use" of ancient monuments. The Egyptian newspaper Al-Wafd recently published a report saying that more people visit the pyramid-shaped Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas each year than Luxor itself. The newspaper suggested that the hotel share some profits with Luxor, Egypt.

Heh. Good luck collecting on that one, eh? This can’t be serious, but it’s a good giggle.

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The Pope’s cologne

Well. You wouldn’t want to miss the Pope’s Cologne now, would you? The about page explains:

The Pope’s Cologne is a classic Old World cologne made from the private formula of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878). We obtained this formula from descendants of the commander of his Papal Guard and lifelong friend, General Charles Charette. We have followed this complex, exclusive formula meticulously, using the same essential oils that his perfumers used 150 years ago. We believe that we have succeeded in capturing the same fragrance that he and those around him enjoyed so long ago.

This makes me giggle. (Link found here at Presurfer.)

Stunning temples secretly carved out below ground

From the Daily Mail: Eighth wonder of the world? The stunning temples secretly carved out below ground by ‘paranormal’ eccentric.

But it is deep underground, buried into the ancient rock, that the region’s greatest wonders are concealed.

Here, 100ft down and hidden from public view, lies an astonishing secret – one that has drawn comparisons with the fabled city of Atlantis and has been dubbed ‘the Eighth Wonder of the World’ by the Italian government.

For weaving their way underneath the hillside are nine ornate temples, on five levels, whose scale and opulence take the breath away.

Constructed like a three-dimensional book, narrating the history of humanity, they are linked by hundreds of metres of richly decorated tunnels and occupy almost 300,000 cubic feet – Big Ben is 15,000 cubic feet.

Few have been granted permission to see these marvels.

Indeed, the Italian government was not even aware of their existence until a few years ago.

But the ‘Temples of Damanhur’ are not the great legacy of some long-lost civilisation, they are the work of a 57-year-old former insurance broker from northern Italy who, inspired by a childhood vision, began digging into the rock. [continue, see photos]