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!

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.

Francesco Lentini

Francesco Lentini nacque nel 1889 a Rosolini, in provincia di Siracusa. I suoi genitori avevano altri 11 figli, e quando rifiutarono di riconoscere Francesco, di certo non pensavano che sarebbe divenuto una celebrità mondiale con nomi d’arte del calibro di “meraviglia delle meraviglie”, “la sfida della natura”, ecc.

I Lentini avevano avuto, in realtà, 12 figli e mezzo: Francesco infatti inglobava nel suo corpo anche le vestigia di un gemello siamese parassita (cioè non completamente sviluppato). Aveva tre gambe, due apparati genitali, e un piede rudimentale formatosi sul ginocchio della terza gamba. Quindi, facendo un rapido calcolo, Francesco poteva vantare tre gambe, quattro piedi, sedici dita dei piedi, e due aree genitali funzionanti. I medici che lo esaminarono decisero che operarlo sarebbe stato rischioso, perché il gemello parassita era collegato alla spina dorsale, e la rimozione poteva risultare in una paralisi degli arti inferiori.

Dopo essere stato ripudiato dai genitori, Francesco venne cresciuto da una zia, che ad un certo punto decise di affidarlo a una clinica per persone disabili. Lì il piccolo Lentini venne a contatto con bambini ciechi, sordi e con altri problemi motori molto più gravi dei suoi, e cominciò ad accettare la sua terza gamba, che aveva odiato fino ad allora. Imparò non soltanto a camminare, ma a correre, saltare la corda, andare in bicicletta e addirittura pattinare sul ghiaccio. La sua esperienza alla casa di recupero fu decisiva nel fornirgli la motivazione per lottare e vivere, come avrebbe dichiarato più tardi.

All’età di nove anni, Lentini emigrò negli Stati Uniti, dove iniziò la sua sfolgorante carriera nei sideshow americani: prima con i Ringling Bros., poi con il circo di Barnum & Bailey, poi ancora a Coney Island, e infine con lo show di Buffalo Bill. A 30 anni ottenne la cittadinanza americana. I suoi spettacoli affascinavano il pubblico per via del suo senso dell’umorismo e della sua signorilità. Aveva inoltre uno stupefacente controllo sulla sua appendice “extra”, con cui poteva calciare una palla, oppure su cui si sedeva come se fosse uno sgabello. Le sue gambe erano tutte di lunghezza differente. “Anche con tre gambe, non ne ho manco un paio”, scherzava.

La sua personalità affascinante conquistò infine una giovane ragazza, Theresa Murray, e Lentini la sposò. Ebbero quattro figli di sana costituzione. Lentini continuò ad esibirsi fino alla morte, sopravvenuta nel 1966 (morto a 77 anni, Lentini è il più longevo uomo con tre gambe della storia). La sua carriera durò più di quarant’anni, e contribuì al successo dei maggiori circhi e sideshow d’America. Francesco era talmente rispettato per la sua affabilità che nel circuito era spesso soprannominato semplicemente “il Re”.