Strange History and News of Weird Trivia 1874 to 1916

A collectiong of random facts and strange history from 1874 to 1916 including trivia about James A. Garfield, a German jailbreak and circus elephants.


1874 To mark his country's centennial, still two years off, a New England composer named Greeler set the entire U.S. Constitution to music, Bill of Rights, preamble, and all. The singular anthem-opera was six hours long and was performed frequently, to wildly cheering audiences. Greeler's opus opened, logically, with the preamble, scored as a recitative for altos and basses. The states' rights section was sung by bass and tenor, and the amendments were fugues.

1880 James A. Garfield, 20th president of the U.S., was not merely the first ambidextrous chief executive. There were those who claimed they had observed him write classical Greek with his left hand and classical Latin with his right simultaneously.

c. 1895 As the European imperialist powers were making major inroads into tropical Africa late in the 1800s, one of the hazards of tropical life with which their forces had to deal was the frequent lack of water. Miracle of miracles, a German inventor devised a special pith helmet crowned with a catch basin wherein rainwater could be trapped and stored. It also had a small spigot on the underside of the brim. Now every man was a reservoir. The hat received a patent from the German government and was actually used by soldiers in West Africa until several were stricken with dysentery caused by the amoebas growing in the water.

1902 From 1902 until his death 10 years later, the Hindu fakir Agastiya, of Bengal, India, kept his right arm extended straight above his head in a singular demonstration of his contempt for physical pain. Physicians noted that while such a posture would cause almost unendurable pain for most people during the first three months, ultimately the inevitable loss of blood circulation and the stiffening of the muscles would have kept the arm erect even if fakir Agastiya had wanted to lower it. Of necessity he was buried with the arm raised. Nor would the arm have been good for anything, although a bird once built its nest in the fakir's open palm.

1903 The Panamanian Declaration of Independence was penned in room 1162 of New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

1907 A prisoner in a German jail literally chewed his way to freedom. The prisoner was Hans Schaarschmidt, serving a six-year sentence for robbery. The prison, a decaying fortress in Gera, had its windows barred, not with steel, but with pairs of heavy crossed wooden beams. Each day Schaarschmidt chewed away as much of them as his abused incisors could stand. Then, to avoid suspicion, he filled in the hole with a rubbery paste made from the black bread he was fed. After three months, Schaarschmidt was able to remove the bread "putty" and squeeze through to freedom.

Unfortunately the police were right on his heels and Schaarschmidt was hunted down and captured within three weeks. This time he was put behind iron bars.

1915 Diva Geraldine Farrar of New York's Metropolitan Opera Company starred in a silent film version of Bizet's Carmen.

1916 A circus elephant named Mary ran amok and killed a man in Erwin, Tenn., on Sept. 13, 1916. Demanding justice, the enraged towns-people dragged the pachyderm to a railroad derrick, bent on hanging her. Before a crowd of 5,000 curiosity seekers, the mob spent two hours stringing their victim up, only to have her fall to the ground when the steel cable holding her snapped. On their second attempt, however, the cable held and the prisoner was hanged.

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