Atlas Obscura - Latest Articles and Places
A German Music Festival Installed a 4-Mile Beer Pipeline
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM
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A full, standard keg of beer weighs just over 160 pounds and is pretty unwieldy. So it's no surprise that the folks at the Wacken Open Air music festival in Wacken, Germany, are sick of schlepping them across fields every year, and have decided to do something about it. Come August, they'll be able to pour 105,000 gallons of beer at stands around the festival grounds thanks to four miles of underground piping.

Music fans at the heavy metal festival are a thirsty bunch. According to Deutsche Welle, the 75,000 attendees each drink, on average, more than a gallon of beer over the course of the festival's three days. Keeping up with that demand has been a struggle in past years. The new pipeline will provide enough pressure to pour six beers in six seconds.

When metalheads aren't taking over the sprawling fields, they're home to crops, so the pipelines are buried deep enough that plows won't disturb them in the off-season. Conduits for fiberoptic cables, along with pipes for fresh and waste water, were installed too.

The festival organizers wrote that the pipelines are "a lasting investment in the infrastructure of Wacken." Fans of Wacken Open Air will be set for years to come.

One Calgary Man's Big Idea: Tiny, Tiny Street Food
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM
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Like many people who love cooking, Tom Brown tries to master a new recipe every week. He's done dumplings, and shepherd's pie, and mushroom-based vegan "steaks" with Brussels sprouts. Now that it's summer, he's working on chocolate-swirl ice cream from scratch, complete with homemade waffle cones. He even makes his own potato chips. It's never enough, though: You could probably eat all of his goodies in one meal, and still come back for more.

That's because Brown cooks tiny. His kitchen—which he built himself, and is outfitted with an oven, a sink, and a stove burner—is about the size of a briefcase. His utensils—handmade spatulas, wooden spoons, and knives of all shapes and sizes—look like they were made for mouse gourmands. Each doughnut is like a glazed Cheerio; each salt-encrusted chip like a baby's toenail.

Brown has made miniatures ever since he was a child. When he enrolled at the Calgary College of Art and Design in 2009, he got even more serious about the practice—it was there that he built a working guitar the size of a matchbox, and a weatherbeaten lighthouse barely a foot tall. "When you walked around it, you felt like a giant ship," he says. "I was like, 'How can I take this further?'"

In 2014, for his graduation project, he began working on his answer: tiny food, made in a tiny kitchen. "I thought, 'If I take this thing that’s so close to us, and transform it in this weird way, when people interact with it, the implications for their own life will be stronger,'" he says. "The next time they eat food… they'll be like, 'Hey, this is actually an interesting thing I’m doing right now.'"

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Brown considers public performance a vital part of his art, and whenever weather permits, he takes his miniature kitchen out to the street. He sits down on a cushion, fires up the stove, and gets to work, carefully cooking his tiny treats and handing them out to passers-by, who are generally delighted. "I've done burgers, empanadas, corn dogs, spring rolls, doughnuts," he says. "Everything is possible."

Unlike other small-scale, presentation-focused chefs, who may heat their stoves with tea lights or incorporate pre-made foods, Brown prides himself on authenticity from start to finish. The miniature stove, which has gone through 37 incarnations, is self-contained, fueled by an eyedropper's worth of alcohol. He cleans up after himself in the kitchen's tiny sink.

Dirty Fries! A special edition video in collaboration with @bluestar_yyc Putting that fry punch to work. Credit to @_jarodtraxel for creating the original dish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #pizzatom #yycart #miniatures #tombrowncreates #feedingthemasses #yycart #minifood #miniaturefood #miniart #miniatureart #canoneosm #cooking #food #art #cuisine #micro #instagood #instafood #poutine #animalstyle #animalstylefries #bluestaryyc

A post shared by Tom Brown (@tombrowncreates) on

When he cooks, say, dirty fries, he starts from scratch, chopping onions on a cutting board the width of a postage stamp, and pushing raw potatoes through a tiny French fry punch mounted on the wall of the kitchen.

Watching the video, it does seem magical that the tenets of cooking still hold at this scale—the onions caramelize in their coin-sized cast iron, and the fries gain a crispy, golden outer layer. By the time he places them on a tiny plate, adds an extremely small dollop of cheddar sauce, and tops everything off with truly infinitesimal bits of scallion, it's like alchemy has taken place. Most importantly, it's delicious. "It's part of the process, having everything taste good," Brown says.

Although he works small, many of Brown's concerns are the same as any chef's. He has dreams and aspirations: right now he's working on the components of a charcuterie board, with vegetarian salami, cheese, and preserves. (All of his "meat"-based dishes are made from soy, for safety reasons.) He also puts his fans first—every week, he posts a new recipe video on Instagram, often based on an audience request. (This week's was an apple pie.)

And although many of his in-person customers scarf down the bite-sized food immediately, it's important to him that they have something to take home, whether it's a petite, hand-stamped pizza box or a centimeter-long pair of chopsticks. "My signature right now is the miniature paper bag," he says—great for corn dogs and other greasy street foods.

Waffles with strawberries, whipped cream and maple syrup. This video was such a challenge! The waffle iron was very hard to make, and the strawberries are version 6. But I'm so happy with how it turned out. . . . . . #pizzatom #yycart #miniatures #feedingthemasses #yycart #minifood #miniaturefood #miniart #miniatureart #canoneosm #cooking #food #art #Waffles #waffleiron #waffled #strawberries

A post shared by Tom Brown (@tombrowncreates) on

He's even suffered from every chef's nightmare: last January, a seam burst on his stove, and the whole thing went up in flames. "It was a very large kitchen fire in a very tiny kitchen," he says. He has since fixed the problem, but if you look closely, you can still see scorch marks on the kitchen walls.

Brown has an ever-increasing stash of gadgets, which he builds in his studio. Some of them, like the french fry punch, were inspired by his time working in full-sized restaurant kitchens. Others—like a lattice cutter for pie crust, or a double-decker woven steaming basket for dumplings—were necessary to fulfill requests. "I try to keep expanding the repertoire of tools for the kitchen, and for cooking live," he says.

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Still others are whimsical, or aspirational. One tiny knife set is modeled after hammered, hand-forged Japanese chef's knives, which Brown calls "objects of extreme accomplishment," and which are out of his price range. "I really want to own all of them, but I can't—so instead, I make them in miniature," he says. And while his early knives are all forged from nails, he has started making some out of sterling silver, simply because he can.

Working small opens up other possibilities, too. The kitchen is extremely mobile. When Brown traveled to Capetown for an artist's residency in 2015, he brought it along, and made samosas and sushi alongside other street vendors. The tiny food made cultural and language barriers less relevant, he says: "It opened up a door that otherwise didn't exist for me."

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He makes extras of his mini-cutlery, and every Friday he hides a piece around the city and posts a hint about where it is—a game he calls Finder's Keepers. "One person found a knife that I had made that just happened to be an exact replica of a knife she already owned," he says.

Later this year, Brown plans to take the whole shebang on tour, where he'll offer the works: tiny street cooking performances, tiny cutlery scavenger hunts. "I'll be trying to hide some stuff in National Parks as well," he says. If you want to see if he's coming to your hometown, you can keep track of past and future appearances via his Instagram. Until then, stay hungry—but not too hungry.

Dubai Has Unveiled the First Robot Cop
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM
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“Your move, creeps,” is probably what police officials in Dubai are saying after unveiling the world’s very first robot police officer.

As the BBC is reporting, the Arab city has taken yet another step toward being the most futuristic city in the world (in the strangest ways), by adding an autonomous mechanical police officer to its law enforcement ranks. The friendly looking robot will patrol the malls and popular attractions around Dubai to provide people with a point of contact for reporting crime, getting information, and even paying fines via a touchscreen in its chest. While it does not have a trusty Auto 9 hidden in a pop-out compartment in its thigh, the robot can prevent crime by broadcasting what it sees directly to the nearest police station, according to a representative from the Dubai Police. At launch, the robot will be able to speak in English and Arabic, but there are plans to have it speak other languages—presumably so that it can say “Dead or alive, you're coming with me,” in Russian or French as well.

The robot cop (for clarification, it is not a “robocop,” as it does not contain any unreliable biological components, or former human memories that might send it inconveniently spiraling into an existential quest of cyborg self-discovery) is a version of the full-size REEM robot built by Pal Robotics. Similar ones have been put into service as customer service agents and informational guides at places ranging from airports to museums. But this will be the model's first foray into law enforcement.

The Dubai Police said that they have no intention of replacing their traditional meat police, but would like to have a quarter of their force be made up of robots by 2030. Detroit had better step up its game.

Caverns of Sonora in Sonora, Texas
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM

Nearly every inch is lined with speleothems.

Some of the country’s best popcorn, bacon, and soda straws can be found in a cavern outside of the small Texas town of Sonora, but trying to bite into these would be injurious to health. They aren’t items on the menu of a subterranean diner but instead bizarrely named and spectacular-looking mineral formations housed inside the cave complex.

"Popcorn" refers to small mineral nodes that develop on cave surfaces. Cave "bacon" is officially called layered flowstone, and is formed by mineral-rich water moving along the same path repeatedly. "Soda straws" are hollow mineral cylindrical formations. These and many more speleothems line nearly every inch of the walls, roofs, and floors of the cave, making it a glittery and surreal site to explore. They were formed due to slow-moving water containing rich mineral deposits.

The cave was discovered by accident in 1905, on ranch land belonging to the Mayfield family. But it took a few more decades for professional spelunkers to fully explore the depths of the discovered cave and see the entire range of stunning speleothems. On a visit to the cave in 1956, Jack Burch, a caver from Oklahoma, noticed that visitors had damaged some of the formations and he went about creating a network of stairs, railings, and trails for people to use, without harming the delicate structures. It was opened to the public in 1960, and its signature formations were the butterfly-shaped helictites. 

The Cannonball House in Lewes, Delaware
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM

Not many things that get hit with a cannonball live to tell the tale. That is one claim to fame for the small town of Lewes, Delaware. Lewes is notable for its many historic homes, but perhaps the most unique is the Cannonball House on Front Street near the canal. 

The Cannonball House is so named due to the battle scars it bares from a little run-in with the British in 1813. During the Bombardment of Lewes, the British attacked the town and kept the canal front under siege, but eventually were defeated with the help of two forts that once sat in the park across the street. The Cannonball House was hit, and that same cannonball remains lodged in its side today. 

Thanks to the Lewes Historical Society, these historical sites still stand today for visitors to experience. The Cannonball House now acts as the local Maritime Museum, home to artifacts from the town’s nautically rich history, such as a Fresnel Lens from the Fourteen Foot Bank Lighthouse in the Delaware Bay.

Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial in Whitesville, West Virginia
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM

Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial.

On April 5, 2010, an explosion rocked the tunnels 1,000 feet underground at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia. In the aftermath, the scale of the tragedy came into focus: 29 deaths at the hands of preventable corporate safety violations.

Two years later, the Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial was dedicated in nearby Whitesville, West Virginia. The 48-foot long granite memorial shows silhouettes of the 29 victims of the disaster on one side and gives a history of Appalachian coal mining on the other. Nearby there is also a bronze plaque honoring the first responders who helped in the rescue and recovery after the disaster.

Investigators had to wait over two months after the explosion before they could begin their study into its cause, due to high levels of dangerous gasses in the mine. The subsequent investigation into the disaster found that the tunnels had high levels of methane and coal dust in the air and lacked regulation-required ventilation systems. Massey Energy was accused of operating the mine “in a profoundly reckless manner.” The investigation found that miners who spoke up about unsafe working conditions were told to keep working or risk being fired. Also, the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration was faulted for being too lenient on Massey Energy prior to the disaster. Government inspectors found a total of 515 safety violations at the Upper Big Branch Mine in 2009.

Alpha Natural Resources bought Massey Energy in 2011 and became responsible for their liabilities in the Upper Big Branch disaster. They eventually paid $10.8 million in fines to the Mine Safety and Health Administration and $209 million as part of a criminal settlement with the Department of Justice. Mine superintendent Gary May was sentenced to 21 months in prison for falsifying records and violating mine safety laws. The mine's security chief, Hughie Elbert Stover, was sentenced to three years for giving false statements to the FBI and obstructing the investigation. 

Today the Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial pays tribute both to the human cost of this tragedy, and the resilience of coal country. 

Two WWII Bombers Have Officially Been Found Off the Coast of Papua New Guinea
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM
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Around 10,000 B-25 bombers took to the skies during World War II, on missions all over the world. Some made it home and now sit in museums. Others never returned, their whereabouts still unknown. More than 70 years after the end of the war, lost warbirds are still found on the ocean floor, but many don't look like planes any more. They may have broken up when they crashed, and many are so encrusted with sea life that they're more reef than plane. New technology is making it easier to find these hidden aircraft, including the two B-25s surveyed off the coast of Papua New Guinea earlier this year.

Project Recover, a partnership between the University of Delaware, the University of Southern California, and the BentProp Project, is dedicated to finding lost planes, using a combination of historical records, interviews, dives, and mapping tools. They've searched off the coasts of the British Isles, New Caledonia, and Palau. The waters around Papua New Guinea are a good place to look as well, since the island saw plenty of military action following an invasion by Japanese forces in 1942.

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The B-25 bomber, manufactured by North American Aviation, is an iconic WWII plane with distinctive square rudders and a long nose that was often paneled with glass windows. It's such a distinctive shape that wreckage from these planes can be easily spotted and identified on the seafloor. One of the two bombers found is mostly intact, and was known to locals and divers for years. Project Recover's survey is the first official documentation of the site.

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The other B-25 studied was a bit more difficult to identify. “People have this mental image of an airplane resting intact on the sea floor, but the reality is that most planes were often already damaged before crashing, or broke up upon impact. And, after soaking in the sea for decades, they are often unrecognizable to the untrained eye, often covered in corals and other sea life,” said Katy O’Connell, Project Recover’s executive director, in a press release. Debris from the second bomber was found only after a search of nearly six square miles of seafloor.

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A video shows just how difficult it can be to pick out pieces of the plane when marine life has had a 70-year head start.

Information about both planes will be used by the U.S. government's Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which recovers and repatriates the remains of the 73,000 WWII servicemen still missing. Project Recover plans to return to Papua New Guinea later this year to look for more aircraft.

Gravelly Point Park in Arlington, Virginia
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM

Gravelly Point Park

A few hundred feet north of Washington National Airport there’s a small grassy park where locals gather to behold the closeup spectacle of commercial aircraft, which come in directly overhead throughout the day.

Aircraft approach Washington over the Potomac River in order to minimize noise disruptions in the city. In their final descent they loop over Gravelly Point Park, quickly snap their landing gear into place, and make their screeching landings on a runway stained black by decades of burnt rubber.

Watching huge jumbo jets passing by so close overhead is a sensory overload that’s exhilarating (and potentially brings into doubt the basic physics of heavier-than-air flight). Planes are very heavy, large, and fast moving—points that are difficult to appreciate until one is roars by a hundred feet above you.

Some days the landing procedure is reversed and you’ll catch planes taking off over Gravelly Point. When the wind is prevailing northerly, air traffic controllers seize on the opportunity to give departing planes a Mother Nature-assisted takeoff.

Howe Street Stairs in Seattle, Washington
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM

The Howe Street stair corridor is the longest in Seattle.

In September 1884, a nickel could have bought a ride on Frank Osgood’s new horse-drawn streetcar that ran along Seattle’s Second Avenue. The horses, or “hayburners,” were slowly replaced by more effective electric streetcars, but the city’s hilly topography made complete urban connectivity a challenge.

To ease the daily commute, staircases were built all around the city, to connect transport lines and neighborhoods located at varying altitudes. The Howe Street stairs, built in 1911, is the longest stairway of this kind, spanning an elevation of 160 feet.

The stairwell was originally built to link two streetcar lines, but is today used as an outdoor gym of sorts for runners and climbers who turn to the steps for a thorough workout. The I-5 Colonnade park rests at the base of the stairs and is a natural starting or ending point for runs.

On the way up, Lake Union and Portage Bay slowly come into view, and with some squinting, so do the distant Olympic mountains. The staircase consists of 13 flights with 388 total steps. It runs along Capitol Hill, ending at Howe Street, which gives it its name. 

India's 'Land of Toys' Has an Uncertain Future
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM
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Just an hour’s drive out of the south Indian city of Bengaluru, a green overhead signboard welcomes visitors to the “Land of Toys”—Channapatna. The wide highway to Mysuru that cuts across the town is lined with small shops with dozens of wooden rocking horses outside that beckon shoppers with their cheerful colors. The interiors of these stores overflow with a dazzling array of lacquered toys of all shapes and designs.

All these are made in this very town, Channapatna, where local artists have been keeping the Persian art form of toy-making alive for over two centuries now. The craft was brought to this region by the local ruler Tipu Sultan in the 18th century; he was so charmed by a toy he received as a gift that he invited Persian artisans to train his people. Many houses in Channapatna still double up as workshops, where entire families—both Hindu and Muslim—are involved in the process of making and selling the toys.

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Turning off the main highway into the town, the workshop of the Karnataka State Handicraft Development Corporation comes into view. Inside the hot and dusty workshop, six machines are in full whirl, the fine sawdust and splinters from the wood flying in the air and falling in heaps everywhere. Most of the dozen-odd artisans at this government-sponsored workshop are shirtless, in a nod to the sweltering afternoon of an Indian summer.

Ignoring—or immune to—the dust and noise, the craftsmen carry on with practiced ease, cutting, chiseling and lacquering a variety of products, from bangles and hair clips to animal figures and spinning tops.

Channapatna toys are made from the wood of a local tree called Haale Mara (Wrightia Tinctoria), too soft to be used in furniture. The wood is dried under the sun for nearly two months to remove all traces of moisture, and then chopped up into uneven blocks. These slowly take on shape and meaning at a mechanized lathe at the hands of these skilled craftsmen, who then spread lacquer till the product assumes a glossy finish.

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Mohammad Shariff, 49, has been in this trade for over 35 years now, starting out as an apprentice under his father, who in turn learned the skill from his own. When things got tough in the market, his father shut down the home production unit, while Shariff found work at this small factory. Today, apart from the local shops, he has dedicated buyers across India.

The Channapatna toys range was initially limited to animal and human figures, and simple games for children, popular mainly in the southern parts of the country. But over a decade ago, competition from the China—whose inexpensive, machine-made toys flooded the Indian market—left many of these toy-makers in dire straits. Combined with a lack of knowledge about marketing, and middlemen who did not pay fair prices to the producers, the industry began to flounder.

The situation improved soon enough on its own, when the imported Chinese toys, with toxic dyes and cheap materials, were found to be unsafe for children.

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The good thing about the brief slump was that the Channapatna artisans, with the help of a few not-for-profit agencies and product designers, started creating more sophisticated and contemporary toys and puzzles, home décor items like napkin rings, salt and pepper shakers, and storage jars. Another boost came in the form of a GI (Geographical Indication) status given by the World Trade Organization, a recognition of the uniqueness of this region’s craft.

Shariff is among those who benefitted from this. He says over the unrelenting din of the machines, “Earlier there were limited designs, and everyone used to make and sell the same things day after day. Now, there are new designs we are taught every few months, so there is more demand outside (the country).” He is just one among the thousands of experienced and skilled toymakers in Channapatna today, each with similar life stories.

Apart from the unique and delightful designs, Channapatna toys (as all products coming from this town are informally called) have the advantage of being completely eco-friendly. Even 10 years ago, all of the work used to be done by hand, but now most of the basic production is done on machines operated by hand. The lacquer is created with totally natural dyes, such as turmeric for yellow, indigo for blue and vermillion for red, all of which lend themselves to a rich and alluring finish.

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There has been a growing demand for Channapatna toys overseas, with significant exports to countries as far away as Japan and the United States. Michelle Obama, in her 2010 visit to India, bought some from the National Handicrafts and Handloom Museum in New Delhi, suddenly shining the spotlight on the town. And Microsoft India is one of their largest regulars, sourcing mathematical and logical games and puzzles for use in their education projects in rural India and other developing countries.

In this town of just over 70,000 people, more than 1,000 families are involved in the trade in some form, either from home or small collective workshops. However, despite all the interest shown by the outside world in this traditional form of toy-making, there is no sense of hope or optimism among the Channapatna artisans.

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There used to be a time when three generations of craftsmen worked together at home. Increasingly though, artisans no longer want to introduce their children to this work, with the younger generations preferring to study or find easier employment in the big cities. For instance, Shariff (who has no formal education) made sure his two sons completed high school, and is proud of the fact they now work outside Channapatna. Like many other indigenous crafts in India, Channapatna toys are on the brink of fading out in the next couple of decades.

But for now, plump Santa Claus figures, sunglassed drivers inside snazzy racing cars, pull-along cutesy turtles, winding trains with interlocking coaches, stackable counting aids and stylish chess sets: Channapatna offers up something for everyone.

The Hunt for Ukraine’s Toppled Lenin Statues
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM

On the night of December 8, 2013, demonstrators were gathered in Kiev’s Bessarabska Square. For two weeks there had been protests across Ukraine against President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian government, and on that wintery Sunday, some dissenters found a symbolic target for their frustration. Primarily aligned with the nationalist Svoboda party, the protestors tore down the 11-foot-tall statue of Vladimir Lenin that had loomed above the square since 1946, and battered it with sledgehammers.

The toppling of the Bessarabska Lenin led to a phenomenon that has become known as Leninopad, or "Leninfall"—the removal of Lenin statues from around Ukraine. Of course, it wasn’t the first time Soviet monuments had been brought low, as statues had been destroyed as early as 1990. But in the following months the intensity increased—so much so that in February 2014 alone, a total of 376 statues were torn down.

Ukrainians had a lot of statues to work with, but their efforts were diligent and comprehensive. In 1990, when Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union, there were 5,500 Lenin statues around the country, more than in any other former Soviet republic. With the country's 2015 decommunization laws, which outlawed communist symbols including statues, flags, and Soviet-era place names, there was a mandate to remove the last of the Lenin monuments. Today, none still stand. But they haven’t disappeared.

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The afterlife of these statues is the subject of the new photobook from Fuel Publishing, Looking for Lenin. Photographer Niels Ackermann and journalist Sébastien Gobert started the project by searching for the remains of the Bessarabska Square Lenin, and they ended up photographing toppled Lenins across the country. Their goal was not just to see where the physical embodiments of the Soviet past had ended up, but also to discover how Ukrainians felt about the ongoing process of decommunization.

“We met scores of people who wanted to discuss the subject,” writes Gobert in the book. “The name ‘Lenin’ loosened tongues: for, against, indifferent, nostalgic, vindictive—everyone had an opinion about Dyadya Vova (Uncle Vlad).”

The Lenins that Ackermann and Gobert found—figures that had previously towered on plinths as a mark of Soviet authority—now fill car trunks, are hidden in the woods, or are stashed in cleaning rooms. Here is a selection of images of the physical and symbolic remains of Ukraine’s past.

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Millennium Bridge in Abiansemal, Indonesia
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM

The Millennium Bridge

One of the largest bamboo bridges in Asia is part of an even larger effort in Sibang Kaja, Bali, to combine modern ideas about green living and traditional uses of bamboo.

The Millennium Bridge extends 75 feet (23 meters) from one side of the Ayung River to the other. It is connected to the Green School, an ecologically sustainable complex that's also made out of bamboo, as well as mud and local grasses. Nearby, there is a community of bamboo houses.

These projects, created by the team at IBUKU, an organization dedicated to beautiful and natural building, demonstrate how bamboo can be used as a renewable alternative to concrete or steel, to which it has comparable strength, though is more susceptible to the elements.

The bridge, which has a floor area of 230 square feet (70 square meters), took eight months to construct, and was completed in December of 2011. The roof of the covered bridge is inspired by the architecture of the Minangkabau people of Indonesia. In addition to being a means of crossing the Ayung River, the Millennium Bridge can also be rented as a scenic place for events. Up to 30 people can be accommodated on the bridge. 

A Moose Destroyed a Flowerbed Planted to Celebrate Canada's Sesquicentennial
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM
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Canada turns 150 years old this summer. To celebrate, the Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) Botanical Garden in St. John's planned far ahead: Last October, they planted carefully selected red and white tulip bulbs, some in the shape of a maple leaf.

One local resident got a bit greedy, though, and wanted to enjoy the celebration alone. Last Thursday morning, May 18, staffers arrived to find the beds stirred up and the plants half-eaten. The culprit? A hungry moose.

"The moose munched on the entire red and white tulip display—Canada's 150th maple leaf design and all!" MUN Botanical Garden posted on Facebook last week. Photos show several ransacked flowerbeds, with bulbs yanked up and leaves chewed to the ground. (One bed, slightly protected by stakes and netting, seems to have been spared.)

"It won't be as magnificent as it should have been," staff member Quinn Burt told the CBC.

The good sports found a way to celebrate anyway, though: "How bloomin' Canadian is that?" they wrote.

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to cara@atlasobscura.com.

Vintage Radio and Communications Museum in Windsor, Connecticut
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM

Table radio display

The Vintage Radio and Communications Museum of Connecticut tells the story of how radios and other communications devices helped transform society.

The displays at the museum are arranged by decade, starting from the mid-1800s up through the 1970s. The museum also has an extensive research library in which visitors can learn more about the history and science behind radio communication.

All kinds of devices are represented, including phonographs, crystals, televisions, telephones, and a variety of recording equipment and early computers.

The collection has continued to grow throughout the museum's 27-year history. The museum is currently raising money to buy a 1940 Wurlitzer jukebox it has had on loan to make it part of the permanent collection. Connecticut’s contributions to the development of communications technology over the years is also highlighted, in tribute to the museum’s home state.

In addition to its various displays, volunteers offer classes on radio building and repair. The facility houses a broadcast studio from the “golden age of radio,” and hosts an amateur radio station, W1VCM (as in “Vintage Communications Museum”). The studio also converts vintage recording media into digital formats, which is important for the preservation of recorded material. 

Found: Snakes That Hunt in Packs
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM
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In the caves of Cuba, at Desembarco del Granma National Park, boas hunt in packs. That’s the conclusion of a study published in Animal Behavior and Cognition, reports ScienceAlert.

In addition to ambushing rodents, birds, and lizards, Cuban boas sometimes snatch Jamaican fruit bats right out of the air. They do this by curling themselves into small cavities in the ceilings and walls of the caves where they bats live. Watching for the right moment, the snakes strike the bats when they fly by. Vladimir Dinets, of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, wanted to know whether the snakes organize themselves to increase their chances of hunting success.

Dinets found that when many snakes hunt at the same time, they do not just choose random cavities to hunt from. They coordinate their positions and create a kind of danger zone for bats. So organized, the snakes were more likely to impede the bats and successfully grab a meal. Teamwork!

The Doors of Fame in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM

Every community should have a space that lives and breathes art and culture, one that artists can collectively group up to teach, and proudly display their works. For Rehoboth Beach, Delaware that place is the Rehoboth Art League.

One of the main attractions of the Art League—other than the constantly rotating exhibitions, the 900-piece permanent collection, and many enriching art courses—are “The Doors of Fame” found at the center. Inscribed on the Doors are many signatures dating all the way back to the '30s when the Art League’s front doors first opened.

Look closely and you'll find signatures ranging from those who first entered the space, to local legends like the late Jack Lewis. These signatures are a “who’s who” of local artistic influence—a sign of respect. 

The Art League has been a engaging young artists in the community for more than 75 years, and has become one of the more recognized art hubs in the mid-Atlantic region. 

Winfield Street Slides in San Francisco, California
May 24th, 2017, 07:17 PM

They were built in 1979.

One morning in 1979, a fierce and loud contest took place on the slopes of Bernal Heights, in San Francisco. The city’s then mayor Dianne Feinstein won a shriek-filled sliding competition against the district supervisor Lee Dolson, on the newly constructed Winfield Street slides.

The 40-feet metal slides on Bernal Hill run alongside a section of the Esmeralda street stairs, that are a direct steep climb up to the picturesque Bernal Heights park from Esmeralda and Elsie streets. The tree-lined corridor offers progressively better views of the city as you make your way up.

Like the Seward Street slides, these structures and the gardens around the stairs came up as a result of initiative taken by and cooperation of the local residents, with the assistance of the city. After a couple of decades of delighting those who knew about them, the slides were nearly dismantled in 1997-98, when expensive repairs were needed. The community stepped in and saved the day again, by volunteering labor to lower the price.

Cardboard pieces to amp up sliding speeds can be found right near these slides, that are as popular with adults, as with children. 

Judean Date Palm Methuselah in Ketura, Israel
May 23rd, 2017, 07:17 PM

Judean date palm in 2012.

A tree grown from a 2,000-year-old seed may bring its sub-species back to Israel, where it once flourished, after a millennium-long absence.

The seed was one of six discovered in 1963, in a jar in Herod the Great’s palace at the Masada fortress in Israel. Radiocarbon dating found that the seeds, preserved by the arid climate, were from some time between 155 B.C. and A.D. 64. 

In 2005, Elaine Solowey, from the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the Avra Institute for Environmental Studies, decided to try planting three of them. She was skeptical, and supposed that the seeds' endosperm, which fuels its early growth, would no longer be viable. The seed was treated with a hormone-rich solution and fertilizer, and then planted on the grounds of the institute in Ketura.

One soon sprouted into a sapling. Twelve years later, it is more than 10 feet tall. A male of its sub-species, it was nicknamed Methuselah after the longest-lived person in the Bible. It is the oldest known germination of a seed in the world.

At first, the leaves were plagued with white blotches, suggesting insufficient nutrients, but eventually the plant thrived. It first flowered in 2011 and it produces pollen, which enables it to reproduce with modern date palms, as it did in 2015. It is predicted it will generate fruit by 2022.

The Judean date palm has deep cultural meaning in the region. In the Bible, King David names his daughter Tamar, which is the Hebrew word for the plant. In the Quran, Maryam (the Arabic name for the Virgin Mary) was advised to eat what was probably a Judean palm date to ease her labor pains. Date palms feature on both ancient Hebrew and modern Israeli currency. Despite this long regional history, the sub-species was wiped out by years of devastation from wars and foreign rule.

Solowey has grown more Judean date palms from the other ancient seeds since the success of Methuselah, and is working on growing a grove of the resurrected variety. Others are investigating the medicinal properties it is reported to have, which modern date palms don’t appear to share.

Colin's Barn in Chedglow, England
May 23rd, 2017, 07:17 PM

Colin's Barn's turrets.

Colin Stokes just wanted to build a barn to store hay and house his sheep. Then he “got a bit carried away,” and ended up with a castle that looks like something out of The Lord of the Rings.

The Hobbit House, also known as Colin’s Barn, in Chedglow, England, has been abandoned since Stokes moved away in 2000 to avoid the noise of a forest marble quarry opening up nearby. He never finished his project, which he had started 1989 using rocks and stones from around his property, and concrete to hold them together.

Inspired by buildings he had seen over the years, Stokes started with a simple rectangular structure, put up with dry-stone techniques. Then he just kept going. He added turrets and dovecotes, stained glass windows featuring the seasons and the elements (which Stokes made himself), a spiral staircase, and beautiful arches. All of it was done by hand, and with no plans drawn up in advance.

Several birds, including an owl, lived in the turrets and dovecotes while Stokes was building, and those parts are now dominated by birds. On the second floor, Stokes added a room for himself so he could live in the structure during lambing season, though he mostly lived in a nearby cottage. 

Built to blend into its surroundings, the building has come to be known as the “Hobbit House,” though Stokes takes issue with the nickname. He thought of it simply as his barn. To be fair, unlike a hobbit's home, the structure is not built into the side of a hill. But it does look a bit like a hill itself. The barn is a little difficult to find, and is on private land. A sign discourages visitors, but it doesn't seem to work. The structure is still in very good condition—a testament to the builder’s skill.

Fireplace of States in Bemidji, Minnesota
May 23rd, 2017, 07:17 PM

The Fireplace of States now at the Bemidji Tourist Information Center.

It was the 1920s, the heyday of lake-side dance pavilions, when Harry E. Roese–resort owner and manager of the Bemidji District State Employment office–decided to build a one-of-a-kind fireplace for his hometown. It started with him collecting rocks in the area of Lake Bemidji, but his idea soon expanded: what if he could get donations from every county in the state? And every state in the union? And every province in Canada?

The result was the ambitious Fireplace of States, built with a collection of rocks and stones from all over Minnesota, the United States, and most of the provinces of the neighbor to the north.

With the help of his secretary, Kathleen Wilson, Roese wrote to government officials throughout the U.S. and Canada, with his idea to create an attraction for Bemidji. It caught on, and rocks and stones from far and wide were shipped to Minnesota to become part of the grand plan. Wilson and Roese worked tirelessly, eventually catching the interest of the Works Progress Administration (the New Deal program that put skilled workers into suitable jobs), who provided masons to complete the fireplace. It was finished in 1935, built inside an octagonal log welcome center on the lake called the Bunyan House.

In 1995, when the old log house was to be torn down, the fireplace was preserved and moved to its present home at the Bemidji Tourist Information Center (also home to the town’s colossal Paul Bunyan and Babe statues). While many of the stones were etched or decorated with messages indicating their sender, others have no trace of origin on their surface. While the local Chamber of Commerce has Wilson’s inventory of stones (a remarkably detailed list), originally there was a key to the layout as well, with each of the contributions mapped. Although the sections were reassembled in perfect order, and Wilson’s list is meticulous, sadly the key itself has been lost to time. Some of the stones may be orphaned, but all of them are equally cared for.

Downtown Seattle's Banana Market Has Crashed. Thanks, Amazon
May 23rd, 2017, 07:17 PM
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At the moment, the banana market around Amazon's downtown Seattle headquarters is a bit of a mess.* According to the Wall Street Journal, they're tough to find in grocery stores in the area, and some restaurants have stopped selling them. And it's all because Amazon has been handing out free bananas to anyone and everyone.

Amazon's community banana stands were dreamed up by CEO Jeff Bezos, who thought the company could help the local community by giving out healthy food. The first stand opened on the campus of the online retailer in December 2015, and it was joined by another in October 2016. More than 1.7 million bananas have been given away by the "banistas" who run the two stands, Monday through Friday.

Those 1.7 million bananas have flooded the hyperlocal market, and now "Amazonians" appear to be reluctant to pay actual money for a Cavendish. Nearby restaurant owners have also complained that patrons are forgetting their banana manners by bringing in outside fruit and leaving the peels behind. Other establishments are capitalizing on the banana frenzy and have added extra banana-based treats to their menus.

The stands have no plans to switch to other fruits anytime soon. Banistas say people have requested avocados and more, but the cost is just prohibitive. Seattle's fruit and vegetable sellers—once they have fully adjusted to the new banana order—can breathe easy.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was first published to clarify the geographic area affected by Amazon's banana stands.

The Mother of All Flamingo Collections
May 23rd, 2017, 07:17 PM
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Congratulations are in order to Cindy Dunlow of Ocala, Florida. She's officially set the new record for the world's largest pink flamingo-themed collection.

As first reported by the Ocala Star Banner, the Guinness Book of World Records recently presented Dunlow with the honor. Dunlow has deemed her collection “The Official Florida Flamingo Museum,” and placed it on display inside the custom frame shop she runs.

The collection dates to the 1960s, when Dunlow first started purchasing flamingo collectables from second-hand shops in and around Florida. Today it includes pink trinkets of just about every imaginable kind. There are coffee mugs, earrings, plush birds, classic plastic lawn ornaments, magnets, and pieces of furniture—all shaped like, or otherwise decorated with, the skinny pink bird.

To earn her title, Dunlow had to individually photograph each item and send a detailed accounting to the people at Guinness. She earned the title of world’s largest pink flamingo collection with 793 items, although it has since grown to 865, according to the Star Banner. Dunlow actually had the previous record (600 items) beat a while back, but waited to apply to Guinness so that the previous record holder could hold the title a little longer.

These Images Were Made With E. Coli Bacteria
May 23rd, 2017, 07:17 PM
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Photographic film relies on light-sensitive grains of silver to capture images. Biological engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a new sort of photography, but it's not digital and it doesn't involve silver. Instead, it uses light-sensitive bacteria to generate images.

With modifications to just 18 genes, the researchers bred E. coli bacteria to detect and respond to red, green, and blue light. They start making these images by placing the bacteria on an agar plate (used to grow microorganisms) in a pattern. Then they shine light onto the plate. Depending on how they have been genetically modified, the microbes produce enzymes in one of the three colors, which then react with the agar to permanently print the image on the plate. The images may take a while—18 hours—to form, but the bacteria can create some fairly high-definition images of complex things, such as Nintendo's Mario, a pile of fruit, or an M.C. Escher tessellation.

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This isn't the first time bacteria have been used as a photographic medium. Chris Voigt, the head of the MIT team, engineered E. coli to produce black-and-white images in 2005, with just four gene modifications. Voigt is calling the new modified microbes "disco bacteria."

Making colored bacterial film sounds like a fun project, but it's also a demonstration for some important future applications. Using light to turn on or off genes in bacteria could start or stop the creation of biological molecules or tissues. The process could even be used to create a communication system between organisms and electronics. Bacterial art is cool, but the potential of light-sensitive E. coli is even cooler.

Why the Venus de Milo Has Extra-Long Second Toes
May 23rd, 2017, 07:17 PM
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With her fleshy buttocks and small, rounded breasts, Venus—de Milo, de Medici, and Botticelli's version—epitomizes the idealized female form found in Classical, Hellenistic, and Neoclassical Art as well as art made during the Renaissance. For 2,000 years she has been a ubiquitous figure in the canon of Western art, yet despite art historians poring over nearly every inch of her curves, a few small parts of her body have been sorely neglected: her second toes, which stick out like sore thumbs past her shorter big toes.

If it seems ridiculous to contemplate a couple of oddly aligned long toes, it’s worth wondering why so many artists in ancient Greece sculpted them to have uneven proportions in the first place. The magnificent bronze sculpture of the Boxer at Rest and the marble Diana of Versailles, which is a Roman copy of the Greek original, each has them, as does the Barberini Faun, a masterpiece most often recognized for the satyr’s seductive pose and brazenly exposed genitalia than for his long second toes.

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A couple thousand years earlier, artists in ancient Egypt sculpted toes that tapered gracefully down in size from the big toe to the pinky. Much like the Great Pyramids, where everything was measured and precise, even these small body parts appear—at least to our modern eyes—harmonious and evenly spaced.

While styles change over time, depicting a longer second toe as the ideal in Classical art might not have been a fluke, and in fact, the phenomenon may have been due to the interest of the Golden Ratio by mathematicians in ancient Greece. The Golden Ratio, which appears in geometric patterns in nature such as some of the spirals in seashells and in leaves, was also used by engineers in ancient Egypt, but the first written account of it was by the Greek mathematician, Euclid, and it was during the Classical era when it gained popularity among people within many professions. Later, the proportions Euclid described, which were often considered both divine in their provenance and also aesthetically pleasing, may have inspired the Roman engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio to write about what he considered to be the perfect proportions of humans in his book, The Departments of Architecture:

Just so the parts of Temples should correspond with each other, and with the whole. The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.

Although Vitruvius didn’t discuss which fingers and toes are the ones that would touch the circle or the square, 1,500 years later, Leonardo da Vinci drew his famous Vitruvian Man—whose long second toes align perfectly with the circle drawn around him. Some art historians believe da Vinci was inspired by the Golden Ratio, but others have demonstrated that while the numbers are very close, the equations don’t exactly match.

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At the beginning of the 20th century, an American orthopedic surgeon named Dudley Morton named the phenomenon of having a longer second toe “Morton’s Toe.” Morton believed that this toe, which he also called Metatarsus atavicus, was an atavism similar to color blindness, human tails, and supernumerary nipples, and that it recalled a trait our pre-human ancestors once expressed so that they could more easily swing from trees.

While swinging from trees might sound delightful, Morton’s Toe can cause a slew of uncomfortable orthopedic problems such as bunions and hammertoes. Some medical professionals such as John F. Kennedy’s personal physician, Dr. Janet Travell, have posited that the odd long toes could also cause Myofascial (chronic) pain due to body weight being shifted to the ball of the foot rather than directly behind the sturdy big toe.

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Between 15 to 20 percent of humans have Morton’s Toe. Although the name of the toe refers to the second toe of the foot, it would be more accurate to call the condition Morton’s foot, as the problem is caused by the first metatarsal bone in the foot, not the toe, being shorter than its neighbor.

Today the toe—and the foot it belongs to—is often called a “Greek foot” by art historians and podiatrists. No matter what it’s called, people who share the atavism can head to many museums around the world to find ancient doppelgängers with the same feet. While it set the standard for idealized feet in many periods of Western art, hopefully podiatrists recommended corrective shoes or pads to provide some relief for the models.