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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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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The strange Christmas custom of Tió de Nadal

Photograph of a typical contemporary Tió

Image via Wikipedia

There are many holiday traditions that might seem a bit unusual upon closer inspection, and Christmas has more than its fair share (see Krampus, for example). One of the most unique and bizarre Christmas customs comes from Catalonia, Spain: Tió de Nadal (the “Christmas log”), also known as the “Caga tió,” literally meaning “the pooping log.”

The Tió de Nadal, according to Wikipedia, is a popular character in Catalan mythology. Basically, it’s a small, hollow log, typically adorned with legs, a face, and a festive hat. Sounds cute!–but there’s more. Wikipedia goes on:

Beginning with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), one gives the tió a little bit to “eat” every night and usually covers him with a little blanket so that he will not be cold at night.

On Christmas day or, depending on the particular household, on Christmas Eve, one puts the tió
partly into the fireplace and orders it to “poop” (the fire part of
this tradition is no longer as widespread as it once was, since many
modern homes do not have a fireplace). To make him “poop”, one beats him
with sticks, while singing various songs of Tió de Nadal.

The tió does not drop larger objects, as those are brought by the Three Wise Men. It does leave candies, nuts and torrons.
Depending on the part of Catalonia, it may also give out dried figs.
When nothing is left to “poop”, it drops a salt herring, a head of
garlic, an onion or “urinates”. What comes out of the tió is a communal rather than individual gift, shared by everyone present.

Catalans even sing carols to the Tió de Nadal. Here’s one such song (translation included):

caga tió,

caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!”

poop log,

poop turrón,
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
poop log!

giving log,

give us treats,
give us sweets!
if you don’t want to give,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
give it up!

 

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Defense department acknowledges secret program to investigate UFOs

Conspiracy theorists rejoice: according to a recent New York Times report, the Department of Defense spent $22 million to secretly investigate UFOs from 2007-2012. Billed as the “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program” and instigated at the behest of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the DoD’s efforts “produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion” and “videos of encounters between unknown objects and American military aircraft.” Although funding for the program expired in 2012, officials have apparently continued to investigate these episodes even while carrying out their other duties.

The video below, filmed in 2004 by a jet fighter near San Diego and investigated as part of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, was released by the Defense Department along with these disclosures.

Of course, this is not the first time that the U.S. government has conducted official, systematic investigations into unidentified flying objects. From 1952 to 1970, Project Blue Book (which might sound familiar to fans of Twin Peaks) was an Air Force program that collected, categorized, and analyzed thousands of reports of UFOs. The results of these efforts were summarized in the Condon Report.

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Bizarre 307-million-year-old “monster” fossil identified

One of the weirdest-looking creatures ever to have existed has finally been analyzed and categorized. The “Tully Monster” (named after its discoverer Francis Tully, who found the fossils in Illinois nearly sixty years ago) has long puzzled scientists. But a team of researchers recently used scanning electronic microscopes to explore its internal structure, and their findings have allowed them to explain the animal’s lineage. From arstechnicabizarre-monster-fossil

The “Tully monster,” a mysterious animal that swam in the inland oceans of Illinois more than 300 million years ago, left behind a tantalizingly detailed map of its body in a well-preserved package of fossils. Unfortunately, nobody could figure out what the creature was for half a century—until now.

[W]here did Tullimonstrum fit into the history of life in the seas? A team of researchers has just […] analyzed the fossils using scanning electron microscopes, which allowed them to explore the anatomy of the Tully monster inside and out.
[…] “The buccal apparatus of Tullimonstrum suggests that it grasped food with its bifurcate anterior projection and rasped pieces off with the lingual apparatus,” the authors conclude. Which is to say, the Tully monster used that long, toothy protrusion from the front of its body to grab food, and then it ripped bites off using a long, powerful tongue. And it needed that weird-ass eye arrangement to see what it was doing at the end of its mouth proboscis.

Cool stuff! You can read more here.

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Here are some weird facts about leap years.

Happy Leap Day, everyone! One of the rarest holidays of them all (though not nearly as rare as Thanksgivukkah), February 29 only shows up every four years. Lucky for us, this happens to be one of them! To celebrate, here are Five Weird Facts about leap years, courtesy of about.com.

A sampling:

3. Leap Year Capital of the World
In 1988, the town of Anthony, Texas, with a population of 8000, declared itself to be the “Leap Year Capital of the World.”

Its justification for this title was that two members of its Chamber of Commerce were born on leap year days. But in a moment of honesty a member of the Chamber also admitted that, “We just voted arbitrarily to name this as the leap year capital of the world because no one else has.”

As of 2016, the town of Anthony continues to pride itself on being the Leap Year Capital, with festivities planned for February 29.

I’m also partial to the notion of re-envisioning Leap Day as a “day out of time.”

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Austria reassures refugees that there’s no need to fear Krampus

Moving to a foreign land and experiencing a new culture can be trying under the best of circumstances, let alone following harried passage from war-torn regions. The new sights, sounds, and tastes can be overwhelming, the unfamiliar customs can be baffling, the different climate can be uncomfortable. I’m certain the Syrian refugees have confronted all of these things in Austria and elsewhere throughout Europe. But while each element of culture shock can (by definition) be cause for distress, one aspect of life in Austria that is likely to be particularly disturbing for uninitiated newcomers is… Krampus. For those unfamiliar, Krampus is “a horned, anthropomorphic figure who punishes children during the Christmas season who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards well-behaved ones with gifts.” In Austria and other Alpine regions of Europe, early December often features “traditional parades in which young men dress as Krampus.”

Mindful of these festivities, “Officials in the village of Virgen worried about how new arrivals from the Middle East would react to the local tradition of meeting so-called ‘Christmas Devils’ who pretend to abduct kids.”

Fearing the spectacle would be misunderstood, community representatives last week visited the 22 migrants — including 12 children — who have been housed in the Alpine village since the end of October.

They were shown the frightening masks and given insight into the event’s history with the help of an Arabic translator. The verdict? The newcomers had “lots of fun,” according to social worker Nicole Kranebitter.

The migrants “will now know what to expect when St. Nicholas and the Krampus creatures knock on their door,” Kranebitter added.

She said the next event planned for the families who fled war-torn homelands will be traditional cookie baking.

What a great and thoughtful approach, and in such marked contrast to the xenophobia that has greeted migrants in so many other parts of the world.

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Look at this abandoned Indonesian church shaped like a giant chicken.

Our loyal reader Donna sends word of an impressive godly monument shaped like a familiar variety of domesticated fowl. Rising high above the tropical canopy in Magelang, Central Java, Gereja Ayam (which translates literally as “chicken church,” and is not to be confused with a similarly-named fast food chain) was “originally built as a prayer house by 67-year-old Daniel Alamsjah after he received a divine message from God.” While the building more closely resembles a chicken, it was actually intended to look like a dove. You can read and see more here — and in the meantime, check out the video below:

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Hitchhiking robot is trying to get to Millennium Park

DNAInfo|Chicago reports that HitchBOT, a hitchhiking robot, is en route to Chicago — if the kindness of strangers allows, of course. Yes, this is as fantastic as it sounds. The future has finally arrived, and it is one in which shiftless hobo-robots use their robo-thumbs to traverse our dusty highways.

From the article:

Chicagoans may soon have the chance to meet HitchBOT, a Canadian hitchhiking robot setting out on a journey across the U.S. with a stop in Chicago.

The robot, made out of a beer bucket and pool noodles, relies on the kindness of strangers to pick it up and has made several successful trips abroad. […] The robot has a GPS and a camera, microphone and speaker, and can access Wikipedia knowledge for its conversations. It posts to social media to track its progress and adventures, but won’t post a photo of a person without permission. HitchBOT also displays its “emotions” via an LED face. It charges by solar panel and car powerboutlet, and will let drivers know if it gets low on battery.

Check out this video explaining HitchBOT:

What’s the basic raison d’être behind HitchBOT? According to its creator, the project is an exploration of trust: between robots and humans. According to Dr. David Harris Smith, co-creator of HitchBOT (quoted in Boston Magazine), “trust is a very important part of this experiment […] There’s this issue of trust in popular media where we see a lot of dystopian visions of a future with robots that have gone rogue or out of control. In this case, we’ve designed something that actually needs human empathy to accomplish its goals.”

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