Every baseball used by every major league team is coated in mud from the Delaware River.
One of the problems with brand new baseballs is that their clean surface makes them slippery to handle, especially for pitchers. Following the 1920 death of Cleveland Indian Ray Chapman by an accidental pitch to the head, Major League Baseball created rule 3.01c requiring umpires to “remove the gloss” from baseballs before the game, to help improve the pitcher’s grip. Teams tried a variety of methods but had mixed results. Enter Lena Blackburne.
Born in 1886 Pennsylvania, Russell “Lena” Blackburne was a baseball player, coach, and manager. In the 1930s while he was the third-base coach for the Philadelphia Athletics an umpire complained to him about this grip problem and how there wasn’t a good solution. Blackburne went in search of a material that could be applied to new baseballs and he found the answer in mud.
Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud
Blackburne collected mud from the Delaware River near Palmyra, New Jersey (coincidentally, close to where he lived). The exact location is a guarded secret. He took this mud to the Athletics clubhouse and they tried it on baseballs. It didn’t soften the surface of the ball, it didn’t discolor the leather too darkly, it didn’t smell, it provided grip, and the umpires approved.
Lena Blackburne began to sell this mud to teams around the American League – he refused to sell to the National League teams as he was ardent supporter of the American League. After his death in 1968 the Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud company began to sell to the National League and today every team in Major League Baseball uses the product on every baseball.
A literal interpretation of the Bible has some people handling venomous snakes as a testament of their faith.
Snake handling is the fairly obscure religious practice of holding a venomous snake / snakes as a testament of your faith in God. It stems from a literal interpretation of various Bible verses including Mark 16:18 where Jesus tells the disciples that the true believers “… will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” Practitioners of snake handling feel the Bible is inerrant and should be read plainly so, when it says you will pick up snakes, you pick up snakes.
The practice began in the early 1900s – exactly who started the practice of snake handling is debatable. One of its earliest proponents was George Hensley of Tennessee. He later created the Church of God with Signs Following, a Pentecostal Holiness church that spread around southern Appalachian states. Not every service features snake handling, but there is a box of snakes by the altar for when someone is feeling especially energized by the Lord. Signs Following churches don’t just limit their demonstrations of faith, their signs of expression, to handling snakes. Some members will also handle fire while others may drink poison such as strychnine.
Perhaps not surprisingly, people handling snakes sometimes die by snake bite. You might get by one or two times handling a snake safely without incident, but the more times you shake around a snake the probability of getting bit gets higher. Initially some outsiders felt there must be a trick as to why the snakes weren’t biting people: the snakes were milked before hand, or they were sedated in some way, etc. Believers said it was the work of God, but then deaths started to make the news.
The 1945 death of Lewis Ford as a result of handling snakes in the Dolley Pond Church of God with Signs Following put snake handling in newspapers around the country. During his memorial service six snakes were placed in the casket, including the one that killed him. The national spotlight on this fairly bizarre rural practice stopped the popular spread of these churches. Membership began to decline partially due to poor public relations, but also due to members dying … of snake bites.
Snake handling expert, and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga psychology professor, Ralph Hood estimates that almost 100 people have died in the last 100 years as a result of snake handling. Some churches will call an ambulance if you get bit and you then have the option of choosing medical assistance or riding it out. The bites are interpreted as God’s will. As such it was God’s will that Pastor George Hensley die by snake bite – same with Pastor Jamie Coots and then years later his son Pastor Cody Coots. There are only around 100 snake handling churches left.
Added info: Besides all of the obvious problems with this practice an additional concern is the treatment of the snakes. Inspections of these churches have found malnourished and sick snakes. In 2013 Tennessee authorities raided the church of Pastor Andrew Hamblin, confiscating 53 mistreated ill snakes. There are a host of laws in different states that ban the handling of venomous snakes but local officials tend to not prosecute offenders.
Indigo was included in the color spectrum by Isaac Newton because he wanted the spectrum to have seven colors instead of six.
Isaac Newton’s pioneering experiments with light & prisms explained how white light is actually the combination of several wavelengths (colors) of light. He demonstrated this using a prism to break apart white light into its composite colors and then used a second prism to recombine those colors back into white light. When white light is broken apart the “spectrum” (a word Newton introduced to the field of optics meaning a “continuum of color”) has many colors. Exactly how many colors is open to cultural interpretation.
Any Color You Like
Most human eyes are essentially the same which means that most of us are physically capable of seeing & differentiating all of the same colors. Where we differ is how we think about color. Your culture & language influences how you categorize colors.
The importance of, and names for, different colors varies from culture to culture. For example, the medieval English didn’t have a name for the color orange until the 16th century, so before then things that were orange were just called red (like “redheads” and the robin “redbreast”). It’s not that they couldn’t see orange, they just didn’t have a name for it because having two distinct names for red and orange wasn’t important until then. Russian, Greek, Turkish, and Hebrew all have two different words for idea of blue: one for darker blue and the other for lighter blue.
Hungarian has two different words for red depending on what you’re describing. “Piros” is used for red inanimate objects or red cheerful things, while “vörös” is used for red animate things or red serious things. Irish Gaelic has two words for the idea of green depending on where it’s seen. “Glas” is used for the green of plants while “uaithne” is used for the green of artificial dyes. The hue of a plant and a sweater could be exactly the same, but in Irish Gaelic different words will be used for the idea of green. In a nutshell: the names, categorization, and importance of various colors is entirely influenced by which culture we are a part of.
This cultural influence also applies to the spectrum of color and rainbows. Illustrations of rainbows contain discreet, countable, bands of colors. In nature however they’re continuous gradations of wavelengths/colors. Assigning a fixed number of colors to a rainbow depends on your cultural interpretation. In Islam, rainbows traditionally only have 4 colors corresponding to the four elements of water, earth, fire and air. Western culture should probably only have six colors, but we have seven because of Isaac Newton’s interest in mysticism.
The Sacred Seven
As scientifically minded as Newton was, he also held occult/mystical beliefs. He believed in sacred geometry and the ideas of Pythagoras that there was an importance to the number seven. At first, after refracting white light, Newton recorded observing five colors (red, yellow, green, blue, violet). Then he recorded seeing six (he added orange). But to Newton six wasn’t as satisfying as seven. There are seven notes in the western major scale, seven days in a week, seven known “planets” in the sky (in Newton’s time), but only six colors in the spectrum of light? This wouldn’t do, so he added indigo.
The first six colors he observed are a logical western division of the spectrum: • three primary colors (red, yellow, blue) • three secondary colors (orange, green, violet)
Indigo is a blend of blue + violet and as such is the only tertiary color he included. It’s not that indigo isn’t part of the spectrum (it’s definitely there), but rather the problem is that it’s the only tertiary color listed because Newton shoehorned it in. Why indigo? Why not vermillion or cerulean? Indigo’s inclusion was an arbitrary choice driven by Newton’s desire to have seven colors instead of six so he picked one tertiary color but ignored the five others. Cultural influences pushed him to find seven colors instead of six (or eight, or twelve, or any other number). Centuries later we still divide the spectrum into seven colors because of Newton.
William Hunt (aka “The Great Farini”) was a well known Canadian tightrope walker & daredevil. He crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope multiple times performing different tricks. He eventually became an inventor & a (manipulative) talent manager as a safer way to make a living. In 1876 he invented a spring-loaded platform that could launch a person 30ft. He further developed this idea into the first human firing “cannon”.
The cannons used in the human cannonball act are not true cannons, there is no gunpowder used to propel the performer. Some are spring loaded but many use compressed air which pushes a small platform up the barrel firing the person out while the platform stays hidden inside. Sometimes a little explosion takes place outside the cannon to create smoke for dramatic effect, but there is no gunpowder used inside the cannon.
On April 10th, 1877 a 14-year-old Rossa Richter (aka. “Zazel”) became the first human cannonball with a performance at the Royal Aquarium in London, flying out of Hunt’s new cannon invention. She was chosen because of her size and her circus experience. The Royal Aquarium was chosen because they were looking to increase their profits, and it worked. The human cannonball act soon became integral to circus performances as it could bring in thousands of paying spectators.
The Dangers of Being The Cannon Ball
The upsides of being a human cannonball are usually a fun stage name and that you only have to “work” for about 5 seconds a day. Unfortunately the dangers are obvious and quite real. Today’s cannons can apply 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of pressure on the performer as they accelerate from 0 to 70+ mph into the air. This can put enormous G-force pressure on a performer, sometimes up to 9 times normal gravity. All of this is damaging enough on the human body, but the greatest danger is the landing. After reaching heights up to 75ft in the air and coming down sometimes 200ft away from where they started, human cannonballs have to land in the target area – there’s no other option. Some use nets, some use airbags, but to miss the target is as devastating as you might imagine.
Anton Barker (aka. “The Human Rocket” aka “Capt. George Wernesch”) incorporated a trick where he was inside a shell which he would break out of in mid-air. On March 29, 1937 he was set to travel 84 feet but only went 64, crashing into the ground injuring his spine. Mary Connors wanted to break a record by being shot from one side of the River Avon and land on the other. On August 24, 1974 she failed to make it to the other side and ended up in the river. To make matters worse the rescue boat then capsized so she and the rescue team had to be rescued.
On January 8, 1987 human cannonball Elvin Bale (aka. “the Human Space Shuttle”) knew something was wrong the instant he was in the air. He tried to adjust for it in mid-air but he overshot the airbag by a few feet, landing on the ground feet first. He broke his ankles, knees, and his back in two places.
The multi-generational Zacchini family produced numerous human cannonballs, performing for 70 years. Mario Zacchini ended his career as a human cannonball after he flew over a Ferris wheel at the 1939–40 World’s Fair in New York, but landed wrong breaking part of his spine, shoulder, and some ribs. On February 7, 1970 Emmanuel Zacchini and his wife Linda collided after being fired from a double-barreled human cannon. He fractured his spine while she broke her neck.
The Most Dangerous Act
Breaking bones is bad enough but fatalities are very common. One of the most cited human cannonball statistics comes from British historian A.H. Coxe. He estimates that of the 50+ people who have been human cannonballs, 30 have died while performing their act (almost all of which missed their landing). That’s a fatality rate of around 60%, making the human cannonball the most dangerous act in the circus.
Added info: Being a human cannonball is different than being a human catching a cannonball. Frank “Cannonball” Richards was a carnival performer famous in pop culture for taking a cannonball shot directly to the stomach.
Similar to the cannons used for human cannonballs, Frank Richards used a spring-loaded cannon instead of a real one fired by gunpowder. This slowed down the speed and force of the cannonball considerably … but he still took a 104lb cannonball to the stomach twice a day for years.
Groundhog Day is halfway between the winter solstice & the spring equinox, and has its roots in Candlemas which has even older pagan roots.
Every February 2nd since 1887, people have gathered in the small Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day, the day Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) predicts whether there will be six more weeks of winter or an early spring. This idea of marking the transition between winter and spring existed long before Groundhog Day.
Before Groundhog Day
February 2nd sits halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The ancient Celts of Europe marked this solar event with a festival which, after the Celts made it to the British Isles, became the the Imbolc festival. Imbolc began at sundown on February 1st and ended at the following sundown on February 2nd. In Ireland it evolved to honor the pagan goddess Brigid. When Christianity took over Ireland Brigid the pagan goddess became Brigid the Catholic Saint whose feast day (conveniently) was also on February 1st. The church Christianized the following day as well and made February 2nd Candlemas, the day commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
Candlemas has its own customs. People take their candles to the church to be blessed, a reminder that Jesus is the light of the world. For some, Candlemas marks the end of the Christmas season and is the date they take down their Christmas decorations. German speaking areas of Europe also marked Candlemas as “Badger Day”, a folkloric day when a badger would help predict the weather. If a badger was seen in the sun on February 2nd there would be a “second winter”, ie. four more weeks of winter.
The tradition emigrated from Germany to North America where the groundhog was substituted for the badger, since groundhogs are native to the areas were these immigrants settled (especially Pennsylvania). Similarly, where badgers weren’t common in parts of Europe other regional animals had been used such as foxes and bears.
The small western Pennsylvanian town of Punxsutawney has the most famous observation of this tradition, creating what has become the modern day Groundhog Day. The first “official” event was in 1887, where six more weeks of winter was predicted. Groundhog Day is presided over by a group of men in top hats & tuxes dubbed the “Inner Circle.” This amusing secret-ish society originally began as members of the Punxsutawney Elks Lodge, where the groundhog was not only use for weather prediction, but was also served as food at the lodge.
Phil the groundhog wasn’t a named element of the ritual until 1961. As the tradition goes he is the only groundhog to have ever predicted the weather for Groundhog Day, on account of the “magical elixir” he drinks every year which adds 7 more years of life, keeping him alive so long. Otherwise, a normal groundhog has a life expectancy of about 3 years (or up to 14 in captivity). Phil’s popularity as the prognosticator of prognosticators, the seer of seers, has led to many imitators.
Much is made of Phil’s prognostication track record. As of 2021, he has called for: • Saw his shadow / 6 more weeks of winter: 105 times (84%) • No shadow / early spring: 20 times (16%) • No record of his prediction: 10 times
Stormfax has said that Phil has 39% accuracy in predicting the weather, but the Inner Circle has said that Phil is 100% accurate. Any “wrong” predictions must have been Inner Circle error in interpreting Phil’s prediction.
Added info: the 1993 movie Groundhog Day was filmed not in Punxsutawney but in Woodstock, Illinois. The movie was so popular that Woodstock started hosting their own Groundhog Day festival. Meanwhile the popularity of the film took the Punxsutawney Groundhog Day event from attracting around 2,000 visitors to bringing in tens of thousands each year with the 2020 celebration bringing in an estimated 40,000 people (about 8 times the town’s population).
Santa’s reindeer are all female and possibly on drugs.
Our primary source of information regarding Santa’s reindeer is the 1823 Clement Clarke Moore poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (aka ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas). As one of the most influential cultural artifacts regarding Santa Claus, the poem tells us that Santa’s sleigh is pulled through the air by eight reindeer. Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, is optionally added to the front of the team based on the Robert Lewis May 1939 story.
All Female Crew
Reindeer are a species of deer native to the northernmost regions of the planet. As an Arctic and sub-Arctic animal they are well-suited to assist Santa at the frigid North Pole even though they are not naturally found at the pole. Reindeer (or caribou as they are known in North America) graze primarily on lichen which is found a bit south of the North Pole. Their ability to see ultraviolet light, an ability beyond our human visual spectrum, allow reindeer to spot food, predators, and mates more easily amongst the highly reflective snow.
In pop-culture Santa’s reindeer are almost always depicted as having antlers. Both male and female reindeer grow, shed, and regrow their antlers. Male reindeer shed their antlers around November, female reindeer in late May. Given this time frame, all of Santa’s antlered reindeer must be female.
As for Rudolph, who would confusingly be a female reindeer with a male name, his/her red nose could be attributed to the reindeer nasal system which contains nasoturbinal bones. This system of curled bones increases the surface area with thin tissue inside reindeer noses which helps to warm air on the way in and recapture moisture when breathing out. It may not be glowing red, but for ordinary reindeer their noses are an evolutionary feature that enable them to live in harsh winter conditions.
In any of the original stories of Saint Nicholas his mode of transportation would have been a horse or a donkey. The introduction of reindeer moves the story, and Santa Claus, to the frosty areas of Northern Europe/Asia. As for flying reindeer, the ability to fly is not commonly found in reindeer. One theory for this association comes from the shamanistic religions of these northern cultures.
Due to the historically migratory nature of Laplanders they did not have a regular supply of alcohol until the recent past. It would have been fairly cumbersome to move alcohol production on a regular basis, let alone the challenge of keeping the yeast alive & active in the extreme cold. So instead as a way to come closer to God, or just go out of their minds, they had the Amanita muscaria, aka the Fly Agaric, aka hallucinogenic mushrooms.
On its own the Fly Agaric is hallucinogenic but poisonous. To reduce the toxic poisonous effects, but still get the hallucinogenic benefit, you have to process them. Outside of just eating lichen, reindeer will also eat the Fly Agaric mushroom. The people of these northern regions learned you could “process” the mushrooms through the reindeer. After the animals had eaten the mushrooms people would collect and ingest the reindeer urine to receive the psychoactive benefits of the mushrooms with less of the toxic effects. Interestingly they would also “process” the mushrooms through other humans, which has a long (and fairly disgusting) history of people drinking the urine of others to get high.
As for flying reindeer, when the reindeer are high on the mushrooms their movements are erratic (but not flying). When humans are on the mushrooms however, they have reported taking shamanistic journeys with winged reindeer transporting them to the highest branches of the World Tree. Less dramatically, sitting around high on mushrooms, people thought their reindeer were flying before their eyes.
Added info: The reindeer ability to see ultraviolet is a feature shared with their deer relatives. As such, for hunters wearing new blue jeans, deer probably see you coming long before you see them, negating any orange or camouflage you may be wearing on the rest of your body. The blue hues of new jeans stand out as especially vibrant for animals who can see ultraviolet.
The lost Pennsylvania mining town with an uncontrollable fire raging underground.
For most people who have heard of Centralia they know it as a spooky abandoned ghost-town. They might even know it as the inspiration for the film adaptation of Silent Hill. But before Centralia was abandoned it was a normal small Pennsylvania mining town like most others in the area.
In the spring of 1962 one of the town trash dumps, which had previously been a strip mine, was set on fire in an attempt to clean it up for Memorial Day. The fire got out of hand and spread down into the abandoned mining tunnels below the town. The fire was not put out.
Given the estimated amount of anthracite coal under Centralia the fire could burn for another 250 years. Temperatures easily exceed 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. As the fire rages underground it expels gases above ground and causes the ground to shift both up & down. Even as roads buckled and sinkholes collapsed people continued to live in town.
The fire was relatively benign until late 1979 when it was discovered that the basement of Coddingtons gas station had a floor temperature of 136° F and the lot across from the station had steam coming out of the ground. The gas station was in the direct path of the underground fire that was aggressively spreading in multiple directions. In the 1980s hot mine gasses were spewing from the ground and into homes. Residents were sickened by carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
In 1980 there were around 1,000 residents of Centralia. As the fire spread across multiple fronts, and the toxic conditions worsened, people began to move out in larger numbers. By 1992 there were only 5 remaining residents. What was left of the town was claimed by the state of Pennsylvania under eminent domain. Per an agreement with the state, as the remaining residents move away or die, the state demolishes their homes.
Today there are still a few die-hard residents remaining. Centralia is now a grid of streets with no street signs, only four buildings, and a few cemeteries. Sidewalks are interrupted by the occasional cut-in for driveways which no longer exist. There are walkway stairs that go nowhere. You could drive through Centralia and not even notice. Nature has reclaimed most of the space that used to be people’s homes and businesses as the underground fire continues to burn.
Rather than being a freaky ghost-town, Centralia is a sad story about the end of a small town community. The documentary the Town that Was does a great job documenting the town’s history and its slow disappearance.
Tide laundry detergent is a popular product to steal in exchange for cash and/or drugs.
During economic recessions the products that continue to have strong sales numbers are the products with desirable powerful brand names. Cheerios, McDonalds, Kleenex, Huggies, Coca-Cola, Tylenol – these are all strong “recession-proof” brands. Tide, which is the best selling laundry detergent in the world, is also a strong recession-proof brand, but it has an additional ignominious distinction. Tide is a popular product to steal as a de facto street currency to exchange for cash and/or drugs.
Beginning around 2011 thieves started stealing Tide from stores around the USA. Some would grab a few bottles and run, others would load entire shopping carts and stroll right out the door. Over several visits, Patrick Costanzo of St. Paul, Minnesota stole almost $6,000 of Tide from a Walmart. Some stores were losing $10,000 to $15,000 a month from people stealing Tide. The stolen bottles of Tide are exchanged for $5 in cash or $10 worth of weed or crack. Dealers then sell the bottles through various middlemen at normal retail prices, or even discounted prices, but still making a substantial profit. Finally the stolen Tide appears on shelves at corner stores, flea markets, and sometimes even back at the store it was originally stolen from via shady local wholesalers.
Part of what makes Tide a popular brand is also makes it a great product for the black market. It doesn’t spoil, it’s a desirable brand name, and everyone needs to wash their clothes. It’s also very difficult to trace its origins, so once it’s stolen it’s hard to tell where it came from. As long as Tide remains popular people will find reasons to steal it.
Amish built mantles added to Chinese space heaters
In print and online you may stumble upon advertisements (that frequently look like news articles) for the Heat Surge, the “miracle heater”. These ads heavily imply that the heaters are being brought to you by the Amish. Sometimes the deal is that you get the heater for “free” if you purchase the Amish built oak mantle to go with the heater. They range in price from $330 to $600 and use technology from the “China coast” according to the Heat Surge website. The secret to their power is their “Fireless Flame® technology”. Of the numerous questions one may have, one question is: how is this happening?
The Amish, famous for their aversion to electricity, are not developing electric space heaters. Their involvement is in the production of the oak mantles that encase the heaters. As for the “miracle” heaters, they’re nothing more than 1500 watt electric space heaters made in China. Search your local big-box store and you can find comparable 1500 watt space heaters but with price tags as low as $50. That said you would be losing out on the opportunity to partake in a “miracle”.
Zabibah and the King is a romance novel written by Saddam Hussein
When former president/dictator of Iraq Saddam Hussein wasn’t busy ruling/committing genocide, he found time for the arts. Between 2000-2003 he published four historical novels, all fiction, all written either by Saddam or written by ghostwriters under his direction. Three of the novels take place in the distant past of Iraq while 2002’s Men and the City takes place in the near past telling a fictionalized history of Saddam’s relatives fighting the Turks.
Zabibah and the King
It is 2000’s Zabibah and the King that is of particular interest. Zabibah and the King is a romance novel written by Saddam Hussein. On its surface the book is about King Arab of medieval Iraq, a beautiful commoner woman named Zabibah, and Zabibah’s abusive husband. The book is written as if an elderly woman is telling the story to a group of children, but there are large sections where Saddam is clearly airing his personal grievances that seem out of place if an elderly woman is telling them to children. As for the plot, when the King and Zabibah meet they mostly just talk about political theory, religion, and the best way to rule a country.
Eventually the abusive husband gets jealous that his wife is spending so much time with the King. He exacts his revenge by raping Zabidah and eventually teams up with the ruler of an enemy kingdom to wage war on King Arab. In the end Zabibah and her husband die in battle against one another, King Arab dies later, and when he dies he leaves the kingdom in the hands of a democratic council (which had been Zabibah’s idea) and the country prospers. Oh and also there is a whole section about bestiality between a bear and a herdsman which, again, is supposedly being told by an old woman to children.
Thinly veiled is the fact that Zabibah and the King is an allegory. The King represents Saddam himself, Zabibah is the people of Iraq, Zabibah’s rapist husband is the United States, and the enemy kingdom who help to wage war is Israel. Also the bear involved in the bestiality might represent Russian forces in some way. The book is Saddam laying-out his worldview, it’s about the United States’ 1991 invasion of Iraq during the Gulf War, and ultimately it’s a soapbox for Saddam to complain about things.
The book is not good but “remarkably” it was a bestseller in Iraq. Also Saddam used a 1998 painting titled The Awakening by Jonathon Bowser for the book cover, but never got permission from the artist.
Added info: Be sure to check out Saddam’s Goodreads author profile for more of his work and a very generous biography of him.