This Wild West governor wore shoes made of human skin

From How Stuff Works: “Politicians are under a lot of scrutiny in the 21st century: a public servant can’t even accept millions of dollars in bribes without getting trouble. But let’s reflect back on a time in American history when a new governor could show up to his inauguration proudly sporting shoes made from a hanged felon whose corpse he skinned himself. Back in 1881, an outlaw named George Parrott, known by the nickname “Big Nose George,” was hanged in Rawlins, Wyoming. After Parrott’s 1881 death, nobody showed up to claim the body, so the doctor who pronounced him dead took his body home for “medical study.” He extracted Parrott’s brain and gave it to his friend, the surgeon Thomas Maghee, who wanted to study Parrott’s “criminal brain.” Osborne also sawed off the top portion of Big Nose George’s skull and gave it to Lillian Heath, a 15-year-old girl who went on to become Wyoming’s first female physician (she reportedly kept it her entire life, using it as an ashtray and a door stop).”

The Nobel Prize winner who bet against himself and lost

From Now I Know: “Robert Lucas, Jr. graduated from the University of Chicago with a Ph.D. in Economics and returned to the school as a professor in 1975. Over his career, he developed a macroeconomic theory called “rational expectations,” which, according to the Chicago Tribune, “holds that people aren’t surprised when the government attempts to stimulate the economy, so they adapt their behaviors accordingly during such times and thus alter the expected results of government policies.” It was somewhat controversial at first, but ultimately, the world of macroecon experts adopted Lucas’s view. And on October 10, 1995, Lucas was awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics for his work. The Nobel came with a $1,000,000 cash prize. But he only got half of it — because his ex-wife believed in him more than he believed in himself. A clause in his divorce agreement stated that if he won a Nobel, his wife would get half.”

Note: This is a version of my personal newsletter, which I send out via Ghost, the open-source publishing platform. You can see other issues and sign up here.

He memorized the world through Google Maps and now he’s busy exploring it

GeoGuessr timer

From the New York Times: “Back in 2021, a 22-year-old from Arkansas named Trevor Rainbolt shuttered himself in his Los Angeles apartment to memorize the world. For months, he spent his time studying Google Street View from his desk chair. Delivery drivers handed over his meals; a barber came to style his hair. After a while, his memory grew planetary. When you see cabbage-like plants thriving along the sides of a Russian country road, he learned, you’re most likely looking at Sakhalin Island. On a bridge lined with pea-green pavement? You’re above a river in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province. If your vista, but for the sweep of golden grasslands, screams South Africa, you’ll be in Eswatini. Rainbolt’s growing topographical erudition was in the service of winning at an online game called GeoGuessr. The aim is to use signs, infrastructure, vegetation and any other distinctive elements to locate the images as swiftly as possible. Rainbolt is the game’s most famous player and a legend in the community.”

(Editor’s note: If you like this newsletter, please share it with someone else. And if you really like it, perhaps you could subscribe, or contribute something via my Patreon. Thanks for being a reader!)

Eugene Shoemaker is the only man to be buried on the moon

Eugene Shoemaker looking over a lunar lander model of his own making.

From Atlas Obscura: “Even casual stargazers are likely to recognize Shoemaker’s name from the famed Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (which had broken into fragments) that impacted Jupiter in 1994. The comet, which Shoemaker discovered with his wife Carolyn, alongside David Levy, was remarkable because it marked the first time humans were able to witness a first-hand planetary collision. Shoemaker enjoyed a celebrated career combining his main discipline of geology with more astronomical applications, helping to create the field of planetary science. He studied a number of craters here on Earth, and founded the Astrogeology Research Program within the United States Geological Survey. Shoemaker trained a number of Apollo mission astronauts about what they could expect to find on the surface of the Moon. His fascinating life came to an abrupt end on July 18, 1997, when he died in a car crash while exploring a meteor crater in Australia. But even in death, his journey was far from over.”

An unlikely pair try to bring life back to an abandoned Italian village

Pentedattilo, a village in Calabria, is home to three humans and around 10 cats.

From Der Spiegel: “Pentedattilo is the name of the village in the very south of Italy where every third house no longer has a roof. It is home to 10 cats, one dog and three people. Every hour on the hour, the bell of the village church chimes just for them. When it rang out six time on a springtime evening in late April and the dog started barking, a dozen American tourists streamed out onto the terrace of a single-story white house. A local tour guide brought the tourists here to show them the village. And to meet the two people who have decided to live their lives in the middle of nowhere: Rosa Aquilanti and Maka Tounkara. A woman from Italy, a former mail carrier in her mid-60s, and refugee from Mali in his mid-30s. Together, the two of them have become something of a tourist attraction on their own. They live together in this disintegrating village in Calabria. Apart from them, only one other woman lives here, selling handicrafts. The abandoned homes in Pentedattilo stand as silent symbols of rural flight.”

A Bronze Age woman was the world’s first named author and united an empire

From The Marginalian: “Born in present-day Iraq with a Semitic name lost to history, the daughter of the Sumerian king Sargon of Akkad named herself en (“high priestess”) hedu (“ornament”) an (the Sumerian sky god) na: high priestess of the ornament of the sky, our Moon. Her father — himself the son of a priestess single mother, who had borne him in secret, then cast the infant on the Euphrates river in a straw basket into a life as an orphan — had conquered the major Sumerian city of Ur in 2334 B.C.E. and set out to unify the tessellation of warring city-states that was then Mesopotamia, creating the world’s first multinational empire. He came to see what all leaders eventually see: that nothing binds human beings more powerfully than ideas. His citizens had to believe in one thing to become one people. Sargon hired the best man for the job: his daughter; she anchored her strategy by using the moon.”

Clouds hang down the cliffs of Moher in Ireland

Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, but I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as “serendipity engines,” such as The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, Jodi Ettenberg’s Curious About Everything, Dan Lewis’s Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton’s The Browser, Clive Thompson’s Linkfest, Noah Brier and Colin Nagy’s Why Is This Interesting, Maria Popova’s The Marginalian, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something interesting that you think should be included here, please feel free to email me at mathew @ mathewingram dot com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *