John Godwin's Collection of Fun and Bizarre Trivia Part 2

A collection of random facts and fun trivia from oddity hunter John Godwin including the blind genius, the vanishing island, and mental photography.


John Godwin's 7 Best Oddities

3. Blind Genius. Tom Wiggins, son of an Alabama plantation slave, was totally blind from birth, and could neither read braille nor add the simplest sums. Yet place before a piano, he was able to play any musical piece he heard once; from nursery tunes to the most intricate fugues and concerti. Wiggins not only played the notes but would imitate the personal style of any piano virtuoso, down to the subtlest shades of expression. During the 1880s he toured the concert halls of America and Europe, dumbfounding musicologists with his act. His reproduction was so perfect that he even repeated mistakes deliberately inserted in the original piece. Wiggins had never actually seen a keyboard, had received no musical training of any kind, and was not even especially interested in music. Some-how his brain was capable of recording every note it heard and guiding his fingers to the correct key--a form of genius for which we have no name.

4. The Vanishing Island. In 1739 the French Antarctic explorer Jean Bouvet discovered a glacier-decked island 1,500 mi. from the Cape of Good Hope and named it after himself. Tow subsequent British expeditions, however, failed to locate any such place, which, accordingly, was not marked in the official Admiralty charts. But in 1808 and 1822, British sealing vessels found Bouvet Island exactly where the Frenchman had placed it, and even landed on its bleak shore. The island was promptly marked on the maps. Then, in 1845, Bouvet disappeared once more. Two naval survey expeditions sighted no trace of the 5-sq.-mi. mystery spot. The British Admiralty again expunged it from its charts. Ten years later three ships separately confirmed its existence again, but the Admiralty was now so confused that it produced some maps showing Bouvet and others without it. In 1898 official confirmation, backed by photographs, was supplied by the German steamer Valdivia. Both the Admiralty and the U.S. Navy now put Bouvet back on their charts. It is still there--despite the fact that the Norwegian survey craft Stavanger reported its disappearance once more in 1921.

5. Mental Photography. In 1969 I was among the round dozen observers who witnessed a former Chicago bellhop named Ted Serios produce photographs that originated in his mind. Serios stared at a Polaroid camera supplied by a magazine photographer, apparently willing an image onto the lens by intense mental concentration. The films used were supplied by me, in unbroken packages. Serios stared at the camera, bellowed "Now!" and the shutter clicked. Several times the pictures showed only his contorted face. But twice there were blurred, badly focused, but recognizable shapes of buildings--office buildings somewhere, but certainly not within view of our Polaroid. Were we actually snapping pictures in Serios's mind? I'm still not sure about it, but I can think of no conceivable trickery that could have projected those pictures on the film.

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