Tonight is Krampus Night

Krampus
In Central European folklore, Krampus is a horned figure described as “half-goat, half-demon,” who during the Christmas season punishes children who have misbehaved.

Fewer Christmas traditions are stranger than that of Krampus. Krampus, you may be aware, is St. Nicholas’s sinister (and lesser-known) demonic sidekick. If old St. Nick is the good cop who rewards well-behaved children with gifts of toys, Krampus is his bad cop counterpart: he punishes naughty children by beating them with birch switches (and by terrifying them with his demonic visage). Truly unlucky troublemakers might be kidnapped away in the basket he carries strapped to his back. The tradition recalls the old trope of saints vanquishing demons through the power of God and forcing them into their thrall, but likely has deeper roots in pre-Christian Alpine customs.

Many Americans remain unfamiliar with Krampus, although his profile has grown in recent years (owing in part, no doubt, to the 2015 holiday horror film of the same name). But he is widely celebrated across several parts of Europe, including Austria, Bavaria, Hungary, and surrounding regions. Young men in these parts will traditionally dress up as Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly on the evening of 5 December, and roam the streets frightening children with rusty chains and bells. So grab your mask, hit the streets, and get in the Krampusnacht spirit — just be prepared for some weird looks if you’re not in Europe.

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How Cleveland Lost the World’s Largest Book

The Golden Book of Cleveland
The Golden Book of Cleveland was 7 feet by 5 feet and 3 feet thick, with 6,000 pages. It was about the size of a queen-size bed and weighed 2 1/2 tons.

The Golden Book of Cleveland was as big as a queen sized bed, contained more than half a million signatures, and weighed more than two tons. If it still exists, it is the largest book in the world. But its whereabouts have been unknown since 1937.

Cleveland, Ohio played host to the Great Lakes Exposition of 1936-37, its own effort at a World’s Fair that attracted more than 7 million visitors over its two-year run. The expo was “conceived as a way to energize a city hit hard by the Great Depression” and featured rides, sideshows, botanical gardens, cafes, art galleries, and other attractions. Notable among these was the Golden Book of Cleveland, billed as the largest book in the world. From Cleveland Magazine:

The Golden Book of Cleveland, official registration book of the Great Lakes Exposition, stood inside the main entrance on St. Clair Avenue during the expo’s first season. It was 7 feet by 5 feet and 3 feet thick, with 6,000 pages — about the size of a queen-size bed. It weighed 2 1/2 tons. The Golden Book had spaces for 4 million signatures. By Aug. 17, 1936, halfway through the expo’s season, 587,400 people had signed it.

According to Cleveland Magazine, the expo’s organizers intended to donate the book to a local historical society. (“The idea was that fairgoers or their descendants could visit Cleveland again years later, look on the page number recorded in their booklet and find their signature.”) The book disappeared from expo coverage in Cleveland newspapers after August 1936, however, and after the expo ended it vanished from the public record entirely. Cleveland Magazine checked three libraries’ archives, a dozen books of newspaper clippings from the expo, more than a dozen Cleveland historians, the Western Reserve Historical Society, and the Ohio Historical Society, and none could account for the book’s ultimate fate.

So where might Cleveland’s lost bed-sized book have ended up? Some speculate that it was simply destroyed following the expo. However, after Cleveland Magazine published an article about the book in 2006, a man named Al Budnick claimed that his father had sold the book to a Tucson doctor in the early 1950s. While no physical trace of the book (nor the identity of its alleged purchaser) has since turned up, you can read more in a 2007 article in the Arizona Daily Star.

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Thanksgiving in space

The American astronauts onboard the International Space Station are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving, and they’ve recorded a video message giving us a look at what their observations will entail. Check it out here, or watch below:

According to NASA, Thanksgiving was first celebrated in space aboard Skylab, the first American space station, in 1973. Since then, Thanksgiving has also been celebrated on space shuttles and the defunct Russian space station Mir.

Worried about getting into political arguments over Thanksgiving dinner? Consider talking about space instead! The Planetary Society last year compiled a helpful list of space-related conversation starters, covering topics such as:

  • How to stop an asteroid headed for earth
  • Liquid water elsewhere in our solar system
  • Space tourism
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The magic water pump in Chicago’s Schiller Woods

There are more than 500 hand-operated water pumps throughout the 68,000 acres of the Cook County Forest Preserves encircling Chicago. Most are utterly ordinary. But there’s one pump in Schiller Woods — a forest preserve in suburban Schiller Park, just to the northwest of Chicago — that some consider very special indeed.

The Schiller Park pump, in fact, regularly attracts crowds of people filling gallon jugs and other odd containers on any given day. What draws them to this pump in particular? The water, they say, has special properties: it energizes you; it makes you younger; it clears up chronic illnesses. Some describe the water as holy; others say they just like the taste.

Forest Preserve officials, for their part, claim there’s nothing particularly special about the well. To be sure, the water comes straight from the ground, meaning it contains none of the chemical additives — fluoride, etc. — that are found in city water. Because the pump is so popular, it is tested more regularly than others in the Forest Preserve system. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, its water is “a little low in iron and somewhat low in other trace minerals” but otherwise not distinctive. Still, the Schiller pilgrims cannot be dissuaded from faithfully toting their bottles and buckets to and from the well to refill week after week.

Check out a short video about the pump put together by WBEZ’s Curious City, below:

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Alligator spotted in Chicago lagoon

Spotted in a pond in Chicago’s Humboldt Park: a four-to-five foot long crocodilian. The latest Chicago-area gator-sighting since a four-footer was found swimming in Lake Michigan last October, residents observed the reptile earlier this afternoon and Chicago Police and Animal Care and Control — though skeptical at first — later confirmed the report.

Humboldt Park alligator
An alligator was spotted in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, July 2019. (Photo credit Block Club Chicago.)

From the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago officials confirmed an alligator was living in Humboldt Park Lagoon after several people reported seeing the animal there Tuesday morning and others shared possible photos of it.

Chicago police were called to the 1400 block of North Humboldt Drive about 12:15 p.m. after someone called 911 “saying they saw a Facebook post saying there is an alligator in the lagoon area,” said Chicago police spokeswoman Karie James.

Police had “independently confirmed the alligator is in the lagoon and state reptile specialists” said it was 4 to 5 feet long, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a tweet. The animal was expected to be trapped Tuesday night “and relocated to a zoo for veterinary evaluation.”

Sounds like the makings of a summertime blockbuster! Hopefully the alligator will be captured and relocated without too much fuss.

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Before America had Uncle Sam, there was “Brother Jonathan”

We’re all readily familiar with that ubiquitous personification of the United States, Uncle Sam. What is largely forgotten today, however, is that he was hardly the first such national symbol. In fact, Uncle Sam had several predecessors — perhaps most notably the post-Revolutionary War-era character “Brother Jonathan.”

Brother Jonathan, an early emblem of the United States.

From Atlas Obscura:

He was ill-mannered and ill-spoken—a boor, a braggart, a ruffian, a bigot, a hick, and a trickster. His name was Brother Jonathan.

Today he is all but forgotten—eclipsed by his upstanding uncle, Sam. But after the Revolutionary War, Brother Jonathan was the personification of the newly independent American people: clever, courageous, not all that sophisticated and proud of it. He was the everyman incarnate. It was the everyman who had led America to victory. And now America looked to the everyman to lead them out from the bloated shadow of Great Britain.

Brother Jonathan was a rustic New Englander who was depicted at various times on stage as a peddler, a seaman, and a trader, but always as a sly and cunning figure. He began to show up in political cartoons in newspapers and magazines during the early part of the 19th century as new and cheaper printing methods developed. It was at this point that American cartoonists transformed Brother Jonathan from a figure of derision into one of patriotic pride.

Scholars and historians disagree about the origins of Brother Jonathan:

The term appears to date to the English Civil War, when it was applied derisively to the Puritan roundheads. […] It is probably derived from the Biblical words spoken by David after the death of his friend Jonathan, “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan” (2 Samuel 1:26).

A popular folk tale about the origin of the term holds that the character is derived from Jonathan Trumbull (1710–85), Governor of the State of Connecticut, which was the main source of supplies for the Northern and Middle Departments during the American Revolutionary War. It is said that George Washington uttered the words, “We must consult Brother Jonathan,” when asked how he could win the war. That origin is doubtful, however, as neither man made reference to the story during his lifetime and the first appearance of the story has been traced to the mid-19th century, long after their deaths.

It’s worth noting, of course, that even Brother Jonathan had predecessors: even earlier personifications of America include Columbia and Lady Liberty.

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Freak summer hailstorm buries Mexican city under feet of ice

Hail is not unheard of in severe summertime thunderstorms. And yet you definitely don’t expect a city in southwestern Mexico to be completely buried under multiple feet of ice in late June. “Incongruous” is a word that readily comes to mind!

Ice-covered streets in Guadalajara, Mexico, June 30 2019. (Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images)

From CNN:

Guadalajara had been enjoying a sweaty summer for the past few weeks until the weekend brought a shocking surprise.

The Mexican city woke up Sunday morning to more than 3 feet of ice in some areas after a heavy hailstorm swept through the region.

Now, that sounds like a lot. But the visuals are even more striking. Check out video footage of the ice below:

Climate change, anyone?

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Something on Mars Is Producing Gas Usually Made by Living Things

Methane is often produced by living things, and it doesn’t persist long in atmospheres because it is quickly broken down by solar radiation. Yet satellites and rovers have periodically detected surges in atmospheric methane concentration on Mars, raising the question: where is that gas coming from?

The New York Times reports:

Methane gas periodically wafts into the atmosphere of Mars; that notion, once considered implausible and perplexing, is now widely accepted by planetary scientists. […]

The presence of methane is significant because the gas decays quickly. Calculations indicate that sunlight and chemical reactions in the thin Martian atmosphere would break up the molecules within a few hundred years, so any methane detected must have been created recently.

It might have been created by a geological process known as serpentinization, which requires both heat and liquid water. Or it could be a product of life — specifically methanogens, microbes that release methane as a waste product. Methanogens thrive in places lacking oxygen, such as rocks deep underground and the digestive tracts of animals.

Even if the source of the methane turns out to be geological, the hydrothermal systems that produce the emissions would still be prime locations to search for signs of life.

Check out the full story here!

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The year 2019 as predicted in 2009

Check out this slick video that Microsoft produced in 2009 to showcase their vision of 2019:

As Boing Boing points out,

They did well with the software aspects of touchscreen interfaces and machine vision, but overshot the runway on bezel-less devices and the general ubiquity of touchscreens themselves. There’s a touchscreen coffee mug! All the depicted applications (such as flexible high-FPS color e-ink) are shown without a batteries or other power sources. This is a mandatory omission in all such future fantasies.

Of course, they’re a bit nearer to the mark than many other portrayals of the present. Blade Runner, after all, is set in 2019 and features synthetic human replicants and space colonies. Although we’ve got more than eleven months still ahead of us…

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Antarctica’s unsettling blood waterfall

Blood Falls, Antarctica.
Iron oxides cause the blood-like coloring of this waterfall in Antarctica.

Nature’s marvels are boundless, and one of its most visually disturbing is a certain blood-red cascade found in Victoria Land, East Antarctica (aptly named “Blood Falls“). Fortunately for the squeamish, it’s not actually blood:

Blood Falls is an outflow of an iron oxide-tainted plume of saltwater, flowing from the tongue of Taylor Glacier onto the ice-covered surface of West Lake Bonney in the Taylor Valley of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Victoria Land, East Antarctica.

Iron-rich hypersaline water sporadically emerges from small fissures in the ice cascades. The saltwater source is a subglacial pool of unknown size overlain by about 400 metres (1,300 ft) of ice several kilometers from its tiny outlet at Blood Falls.

The reddish deposit was found in 1911 by the Australian geologist Griffith Taylor, who first explored the valley that bears his name. The Antarctica pioneers first attributed the red color to red algae, but later it was proven to be due to iron oxides.

Surely a sight to see! Given the remote location of Blood Falls, though, it’s unlikely to appeal as a tourist destination to any but the hardiest and most well-heeled of travelers.

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