Links, Curiosities & Mixed Wonders – 28

Here is a new collection of trivia and oddities to start the year off right; enjoy!

  • Let’s begin with an extraordinary case reported in September 1988 in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology:

The patient was a 15-year-old girl employed in a local bar. She was admitted to hospital after a knife fight involving her, a former lover and a new boyfriend. Who exactly stabbed whom was not quite clear but all three participants in the small war were admitted with knife injuries. The girl had some minor lacerations of the left hand and a single stab-wound in the upper abdomen.

The laparotomy revealed two holes in her stomach, resulting from a single stab wound; the stomach was empty and no gastric fluid spillage was noted in the abdomen, so the doctors sutured the wound and the young patient fully recovered within 10 days.
The bad story seemed to be resolved when, precisely 278 days later, the girl came back to the hospital with sharp pains in her abdomen, and as soon as they saw her the doctors immediately understood that the young woman was pregnant and about to give birth. On closer examination, however, there came a surprise: although the uterus was contracting normally and the cervix was almost fully dilated, the patient had no vagina. Between the labia minora, below the urethral meatus, there was only a shallow skin dimple. The baby, a perfectly healthy male, was delivered by cesarean section, but at that point

curiosity could not be contained any longer and the patient was interviewd with the help of a sympathetic nursing sister. The whole story did not become completely clear during that day but, with some subsequent inquiries, the whole saga emerged.
The patient was well aware of the fact that she had no vagina and she had started oral experiments after disappointing attempts at conventional intercourse. Just before she was stabbed in the abdomen she had practised fellatio with her new boyfriend and was caught in the act by her former lover. The fight with knives ensued. [Subsequently] she had been worried about the increase in her abdominal size but could not believe she was pregnant although it had crossed her mind more often as her girth increased and as people around her suggested that she was pregnant. […] The young mother, her family, and the likely father adapted themselves rapidly to the new situation and some cattle changed hands to prove that there were no hard feelings. […] A plausible explanation for this pregnancy is that spermatozoa gained access to the reproductive organs via the injured gastrointestinal tract. It is known that spermatozoa do not survive long in an environment with a low pH, but it is also known that saliva has a high pH and that a starved person does not produce acid under normal circumstances. […] The fact that the son resembled the father excludes an even more miraculous conception.

  • Katharina Detzel (above) was committed to a mental hospital in 1907 for performing abortions and sabotaging a railroad line in political protest. While confined in the asylum, she constructed a life-size doll with male features, using straw from her mattress. The doll provided her with venting and comfort: she punched it when she was angry and danced with it when she felt happy.
  • In Atlantic City until the 1970s there was a show, dangerous and cruel, that was all the rage: diving into the sea from 18 meters high with horses. (Thanks, Roberto!)
  • Flash news: we have two noses.

  • The facial expression these young ladies are making is called ahegao, and many of you may know that it derives from Japanese hentai in which upturned/crossed eyes, stuck-out tongue and flushing cheeks are used to represent the height of sexual arousal. This pose, which is allusive while not being explicitly pornographic, moved from comic books to the Internet in a short time, becoming a widespread phenomenon on social media. Interestingly, tracing the history of the ahegao face reveals that it owes all its fortune to Japanese censorship.
  • Let’s stay in the Land of the Rising Sun: in 1803 some strange, UFO-like vessel ran aground on the shores of Japan. Inside was a beautiful red-haired teenager, dressed in strange clothes and unable to speak Japanese. The inhabitants, convinced that she might be a princess from a distant country, and wanting to avoid trouble with the local authorities, decided… to throw her back into the sea. Truth or legend?
  • An incredible resource for all artists, and more: J.G. Heck’s Iconographic Encyclopedia, published between 1849 and 1851, has been digitized in a new interactive form that includes more than 13,000 spectacular illustrations. (In each section, the “Plates only” button at the top allows you to exclude the text.)

  • Above is one of the small robots appearing in the science fiction film Silent Running (1972), capable of moving in a funny, almost human-like manner. A very thorough article reveals their “secret”: they were basically costumes operated by legless actors. Director Douglas Trumbull, who at the time was accused of being insensitive about employing disabled people, recalls in interviews that the four actors actually had a great time and were handsomely paid for their job.
  • Speaking of cinema, here is some utter genius at work. Starting in the 1930s, director Melton Barker made the same film, The Kidnappers Foil, more than 130 times, using the same script and largely the same shots. The subject was basic: a little girl named Betty Davis is kidnapped on her birthday; the town’s children, attracted by the reward put up by the missing girl’s father, organize several search parties; they finally succeed in rescuing her, and in the finale a big party erupts in which the children perform dances and musical numbers.
    What, then, was Barker’s gimmick? The film was played exclusively by the children residing in the town where he was staying at the time. Parents gladly paid a small fee for their children to be immortalized on film; within a few weeks of the filming being finished, the movie was ready to be shown in local movie theaters, to the delight of all the residents.
    In this way, moving from town to town across the United States, Melton Barker was able to sustain himself for 40 years. In 2012 the few surviving prints of The Kidnappers Foil were added to the National Film Registry for preservation as historically significant; you can see some versions of the film on this website.
  • In Lviv, during the Nazi occupation, many Polish intellectuals managed to avoid concentration camps and receive additional food rations by undertaking a singular job: louse-feeder. (Thanks, Roberto!)

  • The story of the leg of Santa Anna — a Mexican politician, general, dictator, and president — is almost as adventurous as that of its owner. The Generalisimo had been wounded in 1838 by cannon fire during a battle against the French, and had suffered an amputation below his left knee. He had initially buried the leg on his property in Vera Cruz. Once he became president of Mexico again in 1842, he had his leg exhumed and taken, in a luxurious ornate carriage, to Mexico City; there he had prepared an elaborate state funeral for his amputated limb, burying it in a small glass coffin. Two years later, the Santa Anna government was overthrown and a mob of rioters, in addition to destroying the president’s statues, dug up his leg and dragged it through the streets until there was nothing left of it.
    After regaining power, during the Battle of Cerro Gordo in 1847, Santa Anna was attacked by surprise while he was having lunch. Fleeing in a hurry, he left behind his wooden leg: it was collected as a trophy by U.S. infantry soldiers. That is why the prosthesis pictured above is still in the Illinois State Military Museum today.
  • And let’s talk about animals: in Brazil, in the small seaside town of Laguna, residents and dolphins have been joining forces to fish for 140 years. Only there is some doubt that it is the dolphins who have trained the humans.
  • News from last year but which for some reason I find touching: some archaeologists are hunting for the grave of Nancy, an elephantess who escaped from a traveling circus in 1891.
  • And finally, here is a spider doing a cartwheel (via Bestiale):

That’s all, see you next time!

Sourtoe Cocktail Club

“PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION.
I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB
THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER”.

(Groucho Marx‘s telegram to the Friar’s Club of Beverly Hills)

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Every respectable club, college fraternity, or student group has its specific initiation, a trial the aspiring members have to overcome in order to boast the title of belonging to that community. But of all the bizarre rituals necessary to enter these elites around the globe, none is more unlikely than the one at Sourtoe Cocktail Club in Dawson City, Canada.

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Dawson City is a town with a population of little more than 1.300 souls in Yukon Territory, and was once the center of the Klondike Gold Rush; so much so that wirter Jack London chose it as the environment for several short stories and novels, including The Call of the Wild (1903). Today, it’s mainly a touristic and naturalistic destination, where you can explore old mines, go trekking, visit some historical museum and, if you brought your pan, try to find some gold nuggets at Bonanza Creek.

And then, of course, you could head to the Downtown Hotel, at Second Avenue and Queen Street, and try to become a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. Actually, the club is not as exclusive as it may seem: in the course of the last decades, it earned from 60.000 to 100.000 members. The club’s admission trial has in fact become one of the most renowned city attractions.

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So, what is this ordeal all about? How do you become a member?
It’s easy:

Step 1 – Come down to the Sourdough Saloon and ask for Captain River Rat
Step 2 – Purchase a shot (most club members prefer Yukon Jack)
Step 3 – Pledge the ‘Sourtoe Oath’
Step 4 – Watch as a genuine human toe is dropped in your drink
Step 5 – Drink your Sourtoe Cocktail

You read that right, step 4 says “human toe”. But no worry, it’s mummified.

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There is only one additional rule, the most important of all:

You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow,
but your lips have gotta touch the toe!

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After carefully following the instructions, and guzzling down the cocktail with the unusual human toe garnish, you will be awarded a membership card and an official certificate that proves you are “capable of almost anything“.

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The legend behind this strange tradition begins in the 1920’s. It is said that two rum runners, Louie Linken and his brother Otto, were crossing the border with a load of liquor, when they ran into a terrible storm. Trying to direct his dog team, Louie stepped off of the sledge, and right into an icy overflow. His feet got soaked with icy water, but the pair didn’t stop as they feared police was on their trail. The prolonged exposure to the cold made the unlucky smuggler’s big toe freeze completely. To prevent gangrene, after administering his brother a good dose of rum Otto amputated the toe with a woodaxe. To commemorate the event, the borthers then preserved it in a jar of alcohol.

In 1973, while cleaning a cabin, Captain Dick Stevenson found the jar and the toe.
But what use could a dehydrated and already mummified toe have?
Captain Stevenson extensively analyzed the matter with his friends, until they agreed that there was only one solution: a Sourtoe Cocktail Club had to be established. The original rules were pretty much the same as today, with the exception of the mandatory use of champagne in a beer glass for the infamous drink.

Unfortunately, the first toe lasted only for seven years. In July 1980, a miner called Garry Younger was trying to establish the Sourtoe record. At his thirteenth shot of champagne, his chair tripped backwards, and Garry accidentally swallowed the toe.

Someone could have thought that was the end of the Club.
Instead, since then the hotel has acquired around a dozen new toes, all given by generous donors so thath the tradition wouldn’t die out. The first non-original toe had been amputated because of an inoperable corn.; the second one was give by a frostbite victim (once again the toe was accidentally gulped down).
And then: an anonymous toe, which was later stolen; a pair of toes from a Yukon veteran, donated in exchange for free drinks for his nurses; a toe wich was amputated because of diabetes; and another anonymous toe which came in a jar of alcohol with a note that read: “Never wear open-toe sandals while mowing the lawn“.

Until not long ago, the fine for those who mistakenly ingested the toe was $500.
But in August 2013 a certain Josh from New Orleans entered the bar together with a couple of friends, ordered the Sourtoe Cocktail, and guzzled it down, toe included. Then he handled over the $500, before the dismayed staff had even had a cheance to say a word. It was clearly a bet with his friend, on his last day on a summer job in Dawson.
Luckily the staff already had a replacement toe. But from that day on, the fine has been raised to $2.500.

Today, only one toe is left. The Club staff therefore published an ad on the paper, and — as reported by ABC — is seems they already received some offers.

In conclusion, if you think you don’t have the stomach to become a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club, we suggest this clever workaround: you can always become a donor… and have your name immortalized in the Sourtoe Hall of Fame.

The Alternative Limb Project

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Sophie de Oliveira Barata è un’artista diplomatasi alla London Arts University, e che in seguito si è specializzata in effetti speciali per il cinema e la TV. Ma negli otto anni successivi agli studi, ha trovato impiego nel settore delle protesi mediche; modellando dita, piedi, parti di mani o di braccia per chi li aveva perduti, piano piano nella sua mente ha cominciato a prendere forma un’idea. Perché non rendere quelle protesi realistiche qualcosa di più di un semplice “mascheramento” della disabilità?

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È così che Sophie si è messa in proprio, e ha fondato l’Alternative Limb Project. Il suo servizio è rivolto a tutte quelle persone che hanno subìto amputazioni, ma che invece di fingere la normalità vogliono trasformare la mancanza dell’arto in un’opportunità: quello che Sophie realizza, a partire dall’idea del cliente, è a tutti gli effetti un’opera d’arte unica.

Sophie prende inizialmente un calco dell’arto sano, oppure di un volontario nel caso che il cliente sia un amputato bilaterale. Con il cliente discute della direzione da prendere, i colori, le varie idee possibili; con il medico curante, Sophie lavora a stretto contatto per assicurarsi che la protesi sia confortevole e correttamente indossabile. Le decisioni sul design sono prese passo passo assieme al cliente, finché entrambe le parti non sono soddisfatte.

I risultati del lavoro di Sophie sono davvero straordinari. Si spazia dagli arti ultratecnologici d’alta moda, come quello creato per la cantante e performer Viktoria M. Moskalova (che confessa: “la prima volta che ho indossato un arto che era cosi ovviamente BIONICO, mi ha dato un senso totale di unicità, e di essere una mutante, nel migliore dei sensi“) a un’elegante e deliziosa gamba floreale, fino ad un braccio multiuso che sarebbe tornato utile a James Bond o all’Ispettore Gadget.

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Che si tratti di una gamba ispirata agli elaborati e fini ricami degli avori orientali, oppure di un modello anatomico con muscoli estraibili, o ancora di un braccio con tanto di serpenti avvinghiati in una morsa sensuale, queste protesi hanno in comune la volontà di reclamare la propria individualità senza cercare a tutti i costi di conformarsi alla “normalità”.
Per chi è costretto a subire l’operazione, la perdita di un arto ha un impatto incalcolabile sulla vita di ogni giorno, ma anche e soprattutto sulla sicurezza e la stima di sé: accettare il proprio corpo è difficile, e il sentimento di essere differenti spesso tutt’altro che piacevole. Sophie spera che il suo lavoro aiuti le persone a infrangere qualche barriera, e a modificare, nel proprio piccolo, il modo in cui si guarda alla disabilità.

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E, a leggere i pareri dei clienti soddisfatti, un arto “alternativo” come quelli creati da Sophie può davvero cambiare la vita e ricostruire la fiducia in se stessi. Come dice Kiera, la felice proprietaria della gamba floreale, “ho avuto un incredibile numero di risposte positive, da altri amputati e da persone senza disabilità. Vorrei solo avere più opportunità per indossarla. Devo andare a più feste!

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Ecco il sito ufficiale dell’Alternative Limb Project.

F.A.Q. – Amputazione

Caro Bizzarro Bazar,

esiste un’alternativa alle protesi, per nascondere un’amputazione?

Perché nasconderla, quando si può trasformare in un’opera d’arte di cui andare fieri?