CURIOSITIES - HANDY HINTS & TIPS
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"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
It is the source of all true art and science."
LOCKED IN STONE:
A horned lizard that had been found alive in a block of stone - "so solid as to preclude the entrance of the smallest insect" - was sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington by Judge Houghton of New Mexico in 1853. The lizard lived for two days after its release.
(Scientific American, 8:366, July 30 1853)
Temporary illness? A revenge plot? A cry for help? A wily publicity scheme?
Even before Bruno Hauptmann was arrested, Agatha Christie, the enormously popular English mystery novelist, had been inspired by the known facts of the Lindbergh kidnapping to craft her ingenious Murder on the Orient Express, published in 1934. Her fictional detective, Hercule Poirot, discovers that a murder victim on the luxury train had once headed a gang of professional kidnappers. Eventually, it becomes clear that all 12 of the likely suspects are conspirators and took turns stabbing the criminal to death.
Agatha Christie, who wrote 94 books and 17 plays, specialized in constructing slick mystery novels with unexpected conclusions based upon subtle clues deftly hidden throughout the story.
In 1926 she herself became involved in a tantalizing mystery. When her husband asked for a divorce so that he could marry another woman, she suddenly vanished, leaving clues to suggest that she had either been murdered or had killed herself.
Already well known for her first six books of intrigue and mayhem, she immediately became the object of a frantic nationwide hunt, including aerial searches. Suspicion of her husband intensified, but after 10 days an anonymous letter appeared, directing investigators to a resort hotel where the writer, diagnosed as suffering from amnesia, was registered under the name of the woman her husband now loved.
Temporary illness? A revenge plot? A cry for help? a wily publicity scheme?
The legendary author never explained and, in fact, does not even mention the incident in her autobiography.
One of history's most boring evenings gave birth to a fictional character that has inspired terror and fascination the world over. On a stormy night in 1816, a notorious band gathered at Lord Byron's Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva were reading ghost stories aloud beside the fireplace as winds howled over the waters and rain spattered against the window panes. Byron was host to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife-to-be Mary Godwin, Mary's half-sister Claire Clairmont, and his personal physician and traveling companion, Dr. John Polidori.
Vexed by the bad weather and bored by this makeshift entertainment, Byron suggested that they compete to see who could write the best horror story. Sometime later the group, pondering the possibility of understanding the secret of life itself, discussed whether or not electricity could "bestow the spark of life and make one living entity from the sum of dead parts."
Long after midnight, as was their custom, the residents of the villa retired. Mary, in a state of unnatural excitement, dozed but fitfully. Halfway between sleep and waking, she had a terrifying vision: "I saw the pale adept of wretched arts kneel beside the creature he had assembled. I saw the abominable phantom of a man lying stretched out and suddenly, with the help of an enormous machine, show signs of life and move in an awkward fashion." Startled fully awake, she had found her horror story. Published two years later, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has endured well into a second century and has spawned sequels and imitations in both fiction and film.
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