Atlas Obscura - Latest Articles and Places
Glasgow City Center Mural Trail in Glasgow, Scotland
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

Saint Mungo.

A large painting of man in a burgundy hat gazing at a bird perched atop his finger graces the side of a nondescript building in Glasgow, Scotland. Nearby, on yet another concrete canvas, a gigantic woman peers down at people through a magnifying glass. On even more urban structures, a pedestrian attempts to hail a taxi held afloat by a colorful group of balloons and a kilted man plucks a mushroom from the earth.

These vibrant, massive murals are part of Glasgow’s City Center Mural Trail. The works of art are scattered throughout the city on various buildings. Many of the murals were painted on abandoned structures which had previously stood as stark reminders of the area’s past economic perils. The city council began commissioning the individual pieces in an effort to revive old, unsightly buildings and transform them into displays of street art. The first mural was produced in 2008 and this citywide tapestry of completed works has expanded since.

The trail features a diverse range of art and has something to suit all tastes, from conservative to radical, quirky to bizarre, all set within an easily walkable radius. Locals and tourists alike can download an app or snag a printed brochure to take a self-guided tour. 

Found: A Puma Under the Desk
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

In Serra, outside of São Paulo, Brazil, some employees at a factory showed up to work on Monday and found a large puma lying down underneath a desk, according to Agence France-Presse. In a video, the puma was startled enough to growl a bit and show its teeth, but not enough, apparently, to get up and do anything about it.

"Good afternoon, followers," some local firefighters who were called to the scene announced in a Facebook post, before going on to explain that they suspected the puma had been displaced from its natural habitat by "constant" wildfires.

They also included a nice photo:

The puma was taken to an animal rescue organization, according to AFP. Everyone, in the end, was fine, but that doesn't make it any less startling to the workers, who will certainly be looking under their desks when they arrive at work for the foreseeable future.

On This Chilean Island, the Whole Community Helps Move Your House
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM
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Moving house can be a real pain. But shuttling some boxes, a couch, and other detritus from point A to point B is small potatoes compared to the ordeal of moving house for the islanders of Chiloé, who physically move their homes from place to place—sometimes over water.

Floating off the coast of southern Chile, the misty archipelago of Chiloé is a pastoral, sheep-dotted, and drizzly, the austral equivalent to Ireland. Verdant forests fringe on undulating fields that roll down to the sea, where palafito stilt houses perch over tidal bays. The ocean provides a constant flow of fresh catches, with the promise of sighting whales, dolphins, and penguins (which are not on the menu). The snowy tips of volcanoes on the mainland pierce the skyline.

Meaning “seagull place” in the indigenous Quechua language, Chiloé is isolated from the mainland, with no connecting bridges. The only way on or off is by boat or small airplane. This separation has birthed a distinct way of life that distinguishes Chilotes—as the archipelago's inhabitants are known—from their onshore brethren. Ask any Chilote, and they will say that they are Chilote first, Chilean second. They are a close-knit island community of farmers, fishermen, and sheep herders. An unsinkable sense of heritage keeps them anchored to their wind- and water-battered islands.

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Every once in a while, due to non-arable farmland, the threat of tsunami, the danger of erosion, or the rising tides, Chilotes need to move house. And when they do, their house comes with them. It’s a real show, and it’s known as a minga.

Translating to “a meeting of neighbors and friends to do some free work for the community,” a Chilote minga can refer to a range of communal events, such as a gathering for harvest, but is most famous as a house-moving ceremony. These actions are done without payment, but with the expectation of reciprocity in the future should it be needed.

“The minga is a collective work where a community comes together to help each other, and the concepts of solidarity and brotherhood are the pillars of this action,” says Maria Teolinda Higueras, head of the Quemchi Public Library in Chiloé. “What matters is that the neighbor achieves his objective, and that payment is not necessary.”

The custom of mingas started before the Spanish arrived in Chiloé in the 1500s, and is believed to have been brought to the islands by the Huilliche tribe, who learned the practice of communal work without pay from the Incas. The minga was then adopted and used by the Spaniards.

Higueras says modern mingas originated in the 1950s, with the creation of roads on the island.

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“Before that time, all the work of the inhabitants of the archipelago of Chile was done by sea, since there were no roads between the villages, therefore all the communities were located by the edge of the ocean. When the roads began to be built in the late 1950s, Chilotes started moving their houses to places where it would be easier to connect them to the roads ... thus was created the collective work of the house-moving mingas.”

The need for farmers to gain better access to roads also opened up the possibility of relocating to more fertile ground. For low-income families surviving on the slim and volatile profits of farming or fishing, leaving behind a perfectly good house only to have to invest the time and money in building a new one elsewhere is not the most feasible option. Besides, with a whole community at their disposal to help with the move, who needs to pay general contractor fees?

For many Chilotes, the tradition is also rooted in their spiritual beliefs. Although Chiloé’s main religion is Catholic, the islands are also rich in pre-Christian pagan mythology, involving apparitions such as El Caleuche, a local ghost ship staffed by drowned fishermen. It is also believed that the “collective Chilote spirit” resides within the home, so leaving one’s home for a new one would be to abandon a vital part of their cultural identity. Many Chilotes still believe in the myths, which is why sometimes a minga’s purpose is to move a house away from haunted land.

The preparations for the minga take several days, with the family first going to their town to ask for assistance and establishing an official date for the move. The house is then prepped for departure, with furniture, windows, and doors either removed or secured in place. Sometimes, the building is reinforced with struts so it doesn’t suffer structural damage en route.

The big day arrives. After the house is blessed for the journey, it is removed from its wooden foundations and hoisted onto tree-trunk rollers. A team of oxen or bulls is hooked up, and the helpers (usually men) drive the oxen forward, with the “minga engineer” overseeing the procession. Men outside the house help direct the oxen and adjust the rollers, while men inside the house spur the oxen forward with sticks and shouts. The minga route is usually lined with other villagers and onlookers cheering them on.

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Moving a house overland is laborious enough, but water-crossing mingas take things up a notch.

Having been pulled to the beach, the house is deposited below the waterline at low tide to wait for the tide to come in, and buoys are attached to the underside of the structure. As Chilote houses are single-story and wooden, they are generally light enough to be towed across channels without completely submerging. Some houses can also be placed on a small raft to help them float.

Once the tide is in and the house is surrounded by water, it’s hooked up to one or more boats, and is pulled at a steady speed through the water to its destination. The house is then floated as close to shore as possible at low tide, refitted to a new team of oxen, and is pulled back onto the wooden rollers to finish the journey.

It can take several days, but when the minga is finally completed and the house safely returned to dry ground, the community celebrates. Curanto, a clambake-style meal of seafood, meat, and potatoes, is prepared by the family for the workers and community. With music and drink, everyone dances and parties as the house is, once again, blessed.

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“Moving the house is a sensation of joy, of happiness, because we achieve the goal with the whole community,” says Higueras.

Because of their rarity and spectacle, mingas nowadays are a big attraction, drawing tourists and other locals to watch the procession and take part in the afterparty. Some, like Higueras, believe this is a slippery slope.

“The threat is that mingas will become arranged for the expectation of the tourists, without a larger objective than that ... mingas should not be an instrument to develop tourism,” she says. “It is a reason to attract tourists to the area and while we do not oppose that, it would be a real shame to have mingas without having the need for their original purpose.”

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With plans to finally construct a bridge connecting the island to the mainland, tourism becoming a greater economic force and incentive, and climate change a looming threat to coastal communities, change is in the winds in Chiloé.

But based on Chilotes’ proven adaptability, molding centuries-old traditions to suit modern necessities, whatever comes will be handled hand-in-hand with neighbors and communities. When houses float, anything’s possible.

'Welcome to Gagauzia' Sign in Chekur-Menzhir, Moldova
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

Now entering Gagauzia

Driving across Moldova towards the city of Ciucur-Minger, you might pass a small sign reading "Gagauziya" and below that, "Komrat Dolayi." It would be easy to miss the fact that you have just entered a separate country... the beginnings of one at least. 

There are currently 195 countries and 38 dependencies (areas such as Guam and the Falkland Islands) in the world. Considering the diversity of language, heritage, and history of nearly seven-and-a-half billion people, 233 states and dependencies is shockingly small number. Enter the autonomous region. Often disputed and rarely recognized by the country they wish to secede from, around the world autonomous regions fight to represent themselves as an independent entity, and more importantly, to control their destiny.

Such is the case of Gagauzia, a proto-state consisting of just three towns, separated into four geographically disconnected enclaves all contained within the borders of Moldova; Gagauzia is an archipelago of national yearning.  

In 1991 as Moldova declared itself a separate country from Romania (which itself had just thrown off the yoke of dictatorship) two groups of Moldovans began to wonder if perhaps it was time to declare their own independence. It seems that nation building can be contagious. In the more extreme of the two cases, Transnistria also known as Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic’ (or ‘PMR’) declared war on its parent country of Moldova in 1990, a conflict which lasted two years, resulted in over a thousand deaths, and ended in a 1992 ceasefire. The conflict has never been resolved and Transnistria has been locked in a state of suspended military aggression ever since. 

Gagauzia meanwhile took a softer approach. Gagauzia is made up almost entirely of ethnic Gagauz, a group of Turkish speaking Bulgurs of mysterious descent. Eastern orthodox Christians they speak mostly Russian or Gagauz and tend to share a rose tinted vision of rule under the USSR. However unlike Transnistria the existence of Gagauzia was announced not with guns but with a referendum. In 1991 Gagauzia voted unanimously to stay in the USSR, which quickly became a moot point. The next vote was for their own independance. By 1994, the Moldovan parliament had given Gagauzia a special legal status. Not a country exactly, but the right to some self-determination. 

Today Gagauzia is in a perilous situation. The poorest region of the poorest country in Europe, they lack many of the basic resources to advance their proto-state. In addition, while Moldova is actively trying to make its way into the European Union, Gagauzia leans heavily towards Russia, with statues of Lenin still proudly standing outside their state buildings. With Ukraine right next door, and Moldova looking to the EU, Gagauzia starts to look a lot like the Crimea, a strategically important area with a population looking to Russia for help.

It may only be a matter of time before rather than gaining its independence Gagauzia is reabsorbed by a much larger, and perhaps crueler, empire than Moldova. 

Head of the Virgin Mary in Nagasaki, Japan
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

The head of Virgin Mary.

At 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945, an atomic bomb landed 1,640 feet from the Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan. Though the building was almost completely destroyed, some remnants of the church still exist. The wooden head of a statue of the Virgin Mary, which survived the bombing, is brought outside the cathedral for a peaceful memorial procession each year on August 9th.

Even before the dropping of the atomic bomb, Christians in the Urakami District had experienced a long history of suffering. The area was where many hid during the the ban on Christianity in Japan and the resulting persecution between the 17th and 19th centuries. Those who were suspected of being Christian were subjected to fumi-e interrogations, where they were made to step on images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary to prove they didn’t practice this forbidden religion.

When the ban was finally lifted in the 19th century, locals built the Urakami Cathedral on the site where many of these shameful interrogations had occurred. The original building, which was the largest Christian structure in East Asia, was a symbol of their perseverance and dedication to their faith.

However, World War II reduced the grand architectural novelty to ruins. When the atomic bomb dropped, two priests and about 30 parishioners were inside the church. All were killed almost instantly. For the surviving members of the congregation, the tragedy was more than just a consequence of war—it was a great spiritual loss, too.

The cathedral was rebuilt near where its predecessor had once stood. Parts of the original building are now preserved in the Nagasaki Peace Park and at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. The salvaged head of the Virgin Mary, with its dark, hollow gaze, is one of the few religious relics that survived. It rests in a special chapel within the cathedral, except for when it's brought outside each year to mark the anniversary of the bombing.

'Total Eclipse of the Heart' Was Almost a Meat Loaf Song
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM
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When Bonnie Tyler’s husky, powerful "Total Eclipse of the Heart" hit the radio in 1983, rock ballad fans around the world fell in love. In the U.S., the song peaked at number one on the Billboard’s Hot 100 list. To anyone not privy to the details, the song seems like a fairly straightforward musical success. But for one musician, the history of the tune, which was written by composer Jim Steinman, is as torn as the dark love ballad’s lyrics. Meat Loaf is the one who was supposed to have sung that song.

Many pop singers and high-profile musicians rarely write the material they perform; instead, they partner with professional songwriters and composers, who select or write songs for particular musicians. Meat Loaf had long worked with songwriter Jim Steinman, especially on his hit 1977 album Bat Out of Hell. Meat Loaf’s next planned album, the never-made Renegade Angel was poised for recording, and was supposed to include the track "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

But Bat Out of Hell was, it turns out, a hard album to follow. Amid mysterious and abrupt problems with his voice and a psychologically damaging aversion to fame, Meat Loaf’s success and partnership with Steinman began to slowly unravel, forever changing the sound and trajectory of the ballad "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Meat Loaf was living in a powder keg, if you will, and giving off sparks. But not the sort that bring rushing crashes of musical greatness.

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According to a Q Magazine article in 1993, now available in text form on Jim Steinman’s website, Meat Loaf and Steinman’s joint record company and management team distrusted Meat Loaf’s mental stability in the early ‘80s, and initially pushed Steinman to leave the duo in hopes of writing a new hit. "He had a mental block on the new songs," Steinman said of Meat Loaf at the time, adding that management wouldn’t let Meat Loaf rest his voice. Meat Loaf suffered from severe stress and anger and emotional issues; he then lost his operatic voice, prompting Steinman to leave the team. Meat Loaf accused his former managers of misjudging him during a particularly difficult time, which he got through emotionally by coaching little league softball games for his daughters

“The record company said I shouldn't have anything to do with Jim, that nobody wanted to hear his songs. These morons—and I'm gonna sit here and call 'em morons—passed on "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" and "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All," which reached number one and two on the American charts during the same week. "They couldn't care less about me,” Meat Loaf told Q Magazine. Sadly for Meat Loaf, at the same time, the trend-busting success of his hallmark album came at a steep cost. According to an interview with Meat Loaf in The Guardian, 45 lawsuits allegedly amounting to $80 million were starting to be propagated by Steinman's ex-manager for undisclosed various reasons, which haunted Meat Loaf into bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, Bonnie Tyler had made her name with her album The World Starts Tonight, and hit in the top three in the U.S. Billboard charts and near the top of pop music charts in Australia and the U.K. with the song "It’s a Heartache". But Tyler wasn’t feeling the country-rock influenced vibe that her producers and team, who wrote her music, had set before her, and longed for a more epic sound. After hearing Bat Out Of Hell, Tyler approached Jim Steinman to be her new producer.

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Tyler met with Steinman in his New York City apartment in 1982, where Steinman showed her two tracks to gauge whether they were on the same page, musically: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" and Blue Oyster Cult’s "Goin’ Through the Motions." Tyler liked the music, which cemented her partnership with Steinman. In a People interview in November 1983, Steinman claimed that he wrote (or perhaps re-worked) the song “to be a showpiece for her voice,” calling the ballad “a Wagnerian-like onslaught of sound and emotion.” The track landed on Faster Than the Speed of Night, released in 1983 as Tyler’s fifth album.

By the time Meat Loaf had regained his voice and was ready to record again, his label was no longer willing to pay for production-heavy, expensive tracks and writers. That included the songs he had still wanted to record with Steinman: "Making Love (Out of Nothing at All)," which instead went to the band Air Supply and hit number two on the U.S. Billboard charts, and "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Meat Loaf, under contractual obligation, went ahead with his next record, Midnight at the Lost and Found, a collection of songs written by various songwriters, which Meat Loaf later came to regret. (Steinman meanwhile released songs that he initially thought up for Meat Loaf on his own solo album, Bad for Good.)

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The repercussions of all this likely hit Meat Loaf pretty hard. While Bonnie Tyler’s album sold nearly 6 million copies, Meat Loaf's album only sold roughly 700,000, with none of the tracks hitting the U.S. top 100 music charts, though with some mixed international success in some regions, including the U.K., Australia and Norway. Meat Loaf continued to be embroiled in a series of lawsuits with Steinman and his producers, continuing in 2014 with a $50 million lawsuit for trademark rights to Bat Out of Hell. According to Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell royalties didn’t surface for him until 20 years after its release. Apparently, there was no ill-will between Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler, who put out their own compilation album Heaven and Hell in 1989; this included some tracks from Bat Out of Hell and Tyler’s rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart," and the pair occasionally performed together in Europe.

The song, ever popular, has resurfaced from time to time. Steinman re-used the song in his 1997 Broadway remake of Roman Polanski’s 1967 film Dance of the Vampires. He also revealed to Playbill in 2002 another quirk about the song: it was initially meant to be about vampires. “Its original title was 'Vampires in Love',” said Steinman. “If anyone listens to the lyrics, they're really like vampire lines.” Bonnie Tyler also re-released a version of the song in 2003 with French singer Kareen Antonn, and another in 2014 with an all-male choir. The song’s music video, which featured prep school boys with glowing eyes, gymnasts, dancing men in leather jackets, and lots of floating fabric, also spawned a Literal Video spoof in the early 2000s that highlights the super weirdness of the visuals.

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Despite the whirl of drama surrounding "Total Eclipse of the Heart" for Meat Loaf, the song boosted Bonnie Tyler’s career, and remains a favorite decades later—so much so that Tyler has just announced she will perform it during the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. (While many fans of the song might like to see both Tyler and Meat Loaf perform as the moon moves past the sun, Meat Loaf is not involved.) According to a U.K. Survey in 2016, the song is still a top guilty pleasure for people who like to belt out with abandon when showering or home alone.

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“I just cried at the intense emotion of it and was so happy to have that song,” Bonnie Tyler wrote for The Guardian in 2009. “Now when I go on stage and sing Total Eclipse, everybody sings with me.”

The Nails in Bristol, England
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

The Nails outside Bristol's Corn Exchange.

According to locals, the saying “cash on the nail,” meaning an immediate payment, may have originated in the city of Bristol, England.

Located outside the Corn Exchange building on Corn Street are four bronze pedestals called The Nails. They were moved here from their original location on Tolzey Walk, a covered area alongside All Saints Church. The pedestals were used by merchants to negotiate over while making deals and possibly to display samples of the wares up for sale. When the deal was done, payment was made by placing money on a nail, hence the term "cash on the nail."

However, while many Bristolians believe this to be the case, the saying, in both English and other European languages, certainly predates these particular pedestals. Unfortunately for the locals and their legends, it's more likely these places of business became known as Nails because of the term which was already a common usage.

The four nails all have a raised rim, supposedly to stop coins from rolling off the top of the pedestal. They each have a slightly different design and were made at different times. It appears they were not owned by individual merchants, but were communal property donated by individuals.

One of the nails is marked around the rim with the name John Barker, a rich merchant who dealt in wine during the 17th century and at one time served as member of Parliament for Bristol during the reign of Charles I.

The oldest is undated but is thought to be Elizabethan and little is known of its origin. The second oldest, also from the reign of Elizabeth I, was donated by Robert Kitchen who died in 1594. The dates of the other two are listed, according to the Historic England database, as 1625 and 1631.

These remarkable remnants of Bristol's mercantile past are protected at the highest level under British conservation legislation. The Nails were moved to their spot outside the Corn Exchange when it was built, perhaps to indicate that this was now the place to do business.

Scientists Have Unlocked the Magic in 'Magic Mushrooms'
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM
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Prepare your minds and souls to witness the self-transforming machine elves hiding past the material veil because scientists have finally unlocked the key to creating artificial psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms.”

According to Science Alert, German researchers at Friedrich Schiller University Jena have finally identified the four enzymes that create the psilocybin compound responsible for so many psychedelic breakthroughs. Scientists have known about the existence and effects of psilocybin since the late 1950s, but only now have they concretely figured out how it is created.

Now that the chemistry behind psilocybin is better understood, the hope is that it can be produced in safe, replicable, industrial amounts, just like other drugs. The psychoactive agent has a number of uses beyond opening one’s third eye, including treatment of depression and addiction. But testing of psilocybin has so far proved difficult both because the amount and quality varies in natural samples; it's also, in many places, a controlled substance.

All of which means we’re probably a long way from over-the-counter recreational psychedelics, but now, at least, the benefits of mushrooms can be more easily studied outside of college dorms.

An Oregon Couple Has Built the Perfect House for Observing the Total Eclipse
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM
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Jon Brewster has always been interested in how things work. He’s an engineer by training, and he refurbishes steam locomotives. “For astronomy, it’s the universe itself,” he says. “It’s just fascinatingly complex and interesting.” He was given his first telescope when he was eight years old, a dime-store model that he could use to look at the Moon and the rings around Saturn. He still has it, but, he says, “over the years, we’ve upgraded.”

That’s putting it modestly. Brewster and his wife Susan chose the site of their house, on a hilltop in Oregon, to fulfill their vision of building their own permanent observatory. Today, with their suite of telescopes, observatory dome, specialized cameras, and custom software, they are perfectly positioned for 2017’s total solar eclipse. Their observatory-home is right in the path of totality.

The Brewsters, married 40 years, met in high school and complement each other well. When they go out stargazing together, Susan is more likely to lean back in a chair and look through binoculars. She knows the lore and the stories that go with the constellations, the mythology of stars. Jon, on the other hand, likes to nerd out about the digital gear. When Halley’s Comet passed close to Earth in 1986, they bought an eight-inch Celestron scope, and Jon figured out how to control it with a computer. That was not an easy task back then, and it got him a job in Hawaii at the Mauna Loa Observatory. After their time there, they began to get more serious about digital imaging of the universe, and in the mid-1990s started imagining a permanent set-up, in a place with dark sky and good elevation—and ideally positioned for the eclipse.

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“We knew the eclipse was coming. We spent years looking for the right spot,” Brewster says. Half an hour outside of Corvallis, Oregon, where he works at HP, can feel like it’s far away from everything, but it was still a challenge to find the right site, with good dark sky and a view of the horizon, with the Milky Way stretching down to the edge. They would drive around at night, and even meet with realtors in the dark. But the right site, a clear-cut hilltop that belonged to a logging company, they encountered for the first time in the day. They came back at night and thought, "This could work." It wasn’t for sale, but they tracked down the owner and made an offer. It took years of work—putting in a well and a driveway, replanting the clear-cut land, designing the house—before they moved in, in 2001.

There are other serious astrophotographers around, perhaps 20 or 30 in Oregon, Brewster estimates. Most of them like to be on the move, though. “I don’t know of too many people, and still with their day jobs, having a full observatory as part of their home set-up,” he says. Part of the fun of the permanent observatory for him has been automating his equipment, which means, for instance, that he can get a shot that he wants, even while sleeping or when they are not home. One time, when he was trying to shoot the Orion Nebula, winter clouds kept thwarting him. Finally, there was going to be a clear night, which happened to be on the date of a full moon. Normally that would make the task impossible because the bright moonlight would wash the sky out. But that was also the night of a lunar eclipse. When the shadow of the Earth blocked the light of the Moon, the observatory scope was pointed at the nebula and cameras captured the image. Brewster was fast asleep.

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The Brewsters often host star parties, with guests from nearby Oregon State University, slideshows of the pictures they’ve taken of the distant universe, and a chance to do some observing. They are, naturally, planning a party for the August 21 total solar eclipse, and Jon already knows what shots he wants to go after. The main dome will photograph the corona; another set-up, with a drone stationed higher up, will capture the moon’s shadow flying towards them. He’ll capture flares, shadow bands, atmospheric effects. All of this will be set up in advance of the event. During the actual eclipse, he’ll be down in the observing field, enjoying the experience.

Afterwards, the Brewsters will go back to their regular astronomical routine. There’s plenty to see in the sky, even on an average night. “We’ve got galaxy clusters to bag,” Brewster says. “I’ve seen a fraction of the way across the universe, but I can see half? Can I see three-quarters? We haven’t really pushed it.”

Castle of Childhood in Moscow, Russia
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

Exterior of the Castle of Childhood

Although there isn’t currently a Disneyland in Russia, the next closest thing lies on the far outskirts of Moscow. This giant, six-story medieval castle colored in shades of orange, green, and pink appears to be one of Moscow’s most magical amusement parks. In reality, the towering chateau is a lavish kindergarten for 150 very lucky children.

There’s no better way to make a child’s early years extraordinary than sending them to a colorful castle every day. Moscow’s fairy tale kindergarten, known in English as the “Castle of Childhood,” was built in February of 2013 by Pavel Grudinin, who modeled it after Germany’s famous Neuschwanstein Castle. Grudinin’s mission was simple: to share magic and fun with the children of the area so they were always inspired and never bored.

The area surrounding the building is also whimsical. Outside the castle's doors is an imaginative playground complete with hanging bridges, flower gardens, locomotive cars, and even a small carousel. Grudinin finances pretty much whatever the kids want, be it a xylophone or an observatory.

Chasing Totality: A Look Into the World of Umbraphiles
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM
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Bill Kramer was a boy in 1970 when he raced outside to witness a partial solar eclipse. The act itself wasn’t out of character for a kid who was already an astronomy buff, aside from the fact he was gearing up for a swim meet and wearing only his Speedo.

But that was only the beginning of his obsession with a darkened sun. Kramer is an eclipse chaser—also known as an “umbraphile” for the Latin word “umbra” meaning “shadow.”

“I’ve seen 15 total solar eclipses and it’s easier to say I have not gone to the Antarctic and I have not been in South America, although I’ve been close,” says Kramer, in lieu of ticking off the numerous locales he has visited in pursuit of eclipses. Kramer is a freelance computer programmer who runs Eclipse-Chasers.com and organizes viewing expeditions.

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Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun. During most solar eclipses, only part of the sun is obscured. Total solar eclipses, during which the sun is completely obscured and “totality” occurs, happen around every 18 months. And unless you live in their “path”—a thin band of around 100 miles (give or take) circling the Earth, you won’t witness totality. So eclipse chasers go to the eclipse.

As the Earth, Sun, and Moon move across the sky, so does the path. In 2009 it traipsed across Asia. In 2012, Australia. In 2017, it will slice across the United States, from Oregon to the Carolinas. But often the best place to see the path isn’t a vacation hotspot. In 2015 crowds amassed to witness totality on the remote Faroe Islands, halfway between Iceland and Norway. And sometimes the most desirable viewing spots aren’t even on land but in the ocean. For those times, chasers can partake of the niche travel industry that has sprung up around the craze and buy passage on an eclipse cruise.

But how do you know when an eclipse is going to happen? That’s the easy part, thanks to the internet and computers that crunch out calculations. Many sites, including one run by NASA, provide dates and maps. It’s figuring out where to go once you’ve got the information that presents a challenge—eclipse chasers take into account many factors, from weather to politics, when it comes to picking the ideal place.

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“Chasing? Nah, nah, nah,” says Kramer. “We tend to do a heck of a lot of homework and figure out exactly where we want to be.”

Homework alone could be enough to turn anyone off from eclipse chasing. Throw in time and money and the uninitiated may wonder: Why?

It’s a question that Kate Russo, a clinical psychologist and author of three books about the psychology of eclipse chasers, has asked herself a lot. Russo witnessed her first total eclipse in 1999 in France.

She didn’t expect to feel the rush of adrenaline that coursed through her body or to break into tears or feel overwhelmingly connected to something bigger than herself.

“At the end of it, I just couldn’t make sense of it,” says Russo, who lives in Ireland. “I knew that I needed to see it again.”

Since then she has witnessed nine solar eclipses over 15 years. A self described “eclipse nerd,” she has traveled in all-terrain vehicles across Outer Mongolia and on a cruise ship 800 miles off the coast of the Galápagos Islands to reach totality. She also often works with local communities to help them prepare for eclipses, including planning for crowds.

“I love looking at eclipse maps,” says Russo. “Because I just look at possibility and adventure and my eyes light up and I think, ‘Wow, the world is out there and it’s just amazing.’”

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Here is what you might see if you get totality and clear skies: As the Moon, Earth, and Sun align, a shadow pours over the Earth and the Moon gradually devours the Sun, which sends out flares of bright light around the black orb. Twisted filaments spill out in every direction as the Sun’s corona is revealed. The temperature drops, the wind slows, and darkness falls.

“There’s a whole roller coaster of emotions that happen and these emotions are really quite intense,” says Russo. “Awe is at the central part of the eclipse experience, but there’s something I’ve termed ‘primal fear,’ this eerie feeling in the environment. The primitive parts of our bodies are picking up that things aren’t quite right in the natural order of the world.”

Kramer also describes the experience grandly.

“The total solar eclipse,” he says, “it’s like the eye of God is staring down on you from the sky.”

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Eclipses trigger a range of physical responses in viewers, according to Russo, including weeping, crying out, goosebumps and chills. It can be literally hair-raising.

It’s hard to pinpoint how large the eclipse-chasing crowd is. Eclipses are witnessed by many people, particularly if they are visible from an easily accessed area. The 2009 total eclipse visible from the southeast coast of Asia is estimated to have been seen by millions. But when it comes to the hardcore chasers who travel to multiple eclipses, Russo estimates that number is anywhere from 200 to 500. For her book, Total Addiction: The Life of an Eclipse Chaser, Russo conducted a survey to which 80 chasers responded, and 67 completed. The survey was a means to find interviewees, writes Russo, and a “brief snapshot” that is not necessarily representative of the whole. But she does include data for “those who enjoy reading statistics.”

The average age of the responders was 46, the majority (39 percent) hailed from the United States, and 92 percent were male. The number of total eclipses seen ranged from 0 to 29; the average was 7.

A common uniting factor in serious eclipse chasers is a stronger desire for experiences than material possessions, says Russo.

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Over the years, Kramer has become familiar with many flavors of eclipse experiences.

Ravers congregate to party under the spectacle. Photographers live to snap the most dramatic picture. Some reverent viewers prefer to watch far from the crowds. Casual observers pop a tallboy and wait for the show. There’s the dude who stinks because he used scant packing space for extra binoculars instead of an extra T-shirt. One thing that an eclipse always offers is commonality, an experience that can be shared concurrently and through time.

When Kramer looked on in astonishment at his first total eclipse, he wondered what the ancients must have made out of someone turning out the celestial lights.

“If you weren’t already religious you might easily be swayed,” he says. “When you got home and the wife is sitting there asking if you’ve been reading the Good Book lately: Nah, give it to me, man, I just saw the sun go freaking out in the middle of a cloudless day.”

This story originally ran June 29, 2015, and has been updated.

Sky Mound in Kearny, New Jersey
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

Sky Mound seen in satellite imagery

Until the late '80s, a gigantic landfill stood next to the Turnpike in the Meadowlands of Kearny, New Jersey. Just outside New York City, along the Hackensack River, local industry had turned much of the wetland area into an unsightly and polluted wasteland. Sky Mound, a huge work of public art, was one of the first projects aimed at conservation of the Meadowlands, and most people don't even notice it.

Artist Nancy Holt began the work, which is an ongoing project, in 1988. Holt's art can be grouped into the Land Art school, which was exemplified by large-scale outdoor projects involving the movement and shaping of soil, rocks, and water to create monumental art pieces out of the Earth itself. And Sky Mound is unequivocally a land art piece: an enormous mound of earth covered in grass that rises up out of the flat industrial landscape. But at the same time, it serves an environmentally-friendly and functional purpose; the mound reclaimed the space of a landfill and is now a sanctuary for migratory birds. Sky Mound is also meant to raise awareness about how we deal with garbage, and Holt, who died in 2014, planned on using methane from the former landfill to provide energy for the neighboring communities.

For many New Yorkers and New Jerseyans, however, Sky Mound remains unknown, even if they drive by it every day. For now, the work is quietly doing its job of conservation and beautification. Given the alternative of staring at an ugly landfill, taking a large-scale artwork for granted is surely the better option.

Why Northern Long-Eared Bats Love Nantucket
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM
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Like many of her neighbors, Danielle O'Dell of Nantucket, Massachusetts, has some strong opinions about local architecture. As more and more people discover the island, old houses keep coming down to make room for the new. O'Dell has watched dozens of homey little cottages, their shingles gray with age, get replaced by fresh-built summer mansions, and she doesn't necessarily like it.

Unlike many of her neighbors, though, O'Dell's concerns aren't driven by aesthetics, or an attachment to history. As a biologist with the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, she spotlights one thing about the old-style houses: with their eaves, attics, nooks and crannies, they make better homes for bats. Northern long-eareds, the species she's been tracking, prefer drafty crawlspaces to airtight finished basements. "Everything's brand-spanking new here now," O'Dell says. "I worry a little bit."

There's a reason the bats haven't been invited to recent zoning meetings: they're brand-spanking new, too. Until a couple of years ago, no one knew they were there—Nantucket, an island small enough that it once scrupulously regulated shingle colors, had somehow missed them. What's more, they seem to be thriving, a contrast with the mainland that intrigues local biologists. "We live in this tiny little place, and we think we know everything that's going on," says O'Dell. "And here we found a new species of mammal. It's crazy."

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Nantucket has plenty of seasonal inhabitants: vacationers whose summer homes stand empty in the winter, and tourists who take the ferry over for a week or two. For years, biologists assumed any bats people saw on Nantucket were the same way—that they stopped over in the fall, en route to hibernating grounds farther south, and then again in the spring on their way back. "We don't have that many in the collections," says Emily Goldstein Murphy, the director of science at the Maria Mitchell Association. She adds that historically, the island's naturalists have been more interested in birds and insects. "No one was really looking for bats."

That changed in the summer of 2015, when the researcher Zara Dowling, who was monitoring bat populations on nearby Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, decided to check Nantucket, too. "I thought, 'What the heck, it's worth a try,'" Dowling says. She set up some acoustic detectors, which picked up a near-continuous chorus of high and low-pitched calls—evidence of a variety of species. "It was a total shot in the dark," she says, and the denizens of the dark shot back.

Once they were on the scientists' radar, bats started showing up all over the place. Because it can be hard to identify bat types by sound alone, in the summer of 2016, O'Dell and her fellow researchers went out to see the newcomers for themselves. "We set up a net, and within 90 minutes we had caught 10 northern long-eared bats," she says.

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Over the last year, the researchers have engaged in further detective work, tracking individual bats with radio transmitters. They've concluded that although some of the bat species may just be passing through, the northern long-eareds, at least, aren't tourists: they spend the whole year on Nantucket, where they hibernate, mate, and raise their pups.

What's more, they seem to be enjoying the island's many comforts: although they're generally considered to be forest-dwelling bats, their squeaks have been detected near the ocean, over the island's famed sandplain grasslands, and even on the golf course driving range. "It's like, 'What are you doing there?'" says O'Dell. "We're getting them everywhere."

It's hard to blame them for having some fun. On much of the rest of the East Coast, northern long-eared bats have been hit hard by white nose syndrome, an itchy fungal disease that rouses bats early from hibernation and forces them to scratch themselves instead of sleeping, essentially exhausting them to death.

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White nose thrives in cold, crowded environments: if one infected bat brings it into a cave, it can knock out up to 90 percent of the colony hanging inside. There are no bat caves on Nantucket, though, and so far, no sign of killer fungus, either. "We're really hopeful that we don't have it," says O'Dell. "Maybe the population here could be a refugium"—a place where the bats can hold on, despite dire circumstances elsewhere.

It's a cautious kind of hope. Martha's Vineyard—another of Cape Cod's islands, 38 miles from Nantucket as the bat flies—has been seriously tracking their own population of northern long-eareds since 2012. They too have seen pups, and evidence of full-time residency. They too have felt optimistic about their bats' cave-free lifestyle. And then, earlier this year, they found one of their tagged bats dead on the ground, hidden underneath some leaf litter. When they sent it out for a postmortem, it tested positive for the fungus that causes white nose syndrome.

The diagnosis "suggests that Martha’s Vineyard is not the safe haven for bats that researchers had suspected it was," the Vineyard Gazette wrote at the time. As those researchers are quick to point out, though, one bat does not an epidemic make. "There are still a lot of unanswered questions," says Liz Baldwin of BiodiversityWorks, Martha's Vineyard's chief conservation organization. "We don't actually know where the bat came from." Did it fly over from Cape Cod and spend its last days on the island? Did it have white nose, but die of something different?

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"These are all just theories," says Baldwin. Still, it's true that the case doesn't mesh with the standard mainland trajectory, in which one case of white nose means an instant plague. Plus, certain aspects of island life do seem promising for vulnerable bats. For one thing, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard have slightly shorter winters than the mainland, which could spell briefer hibernations, leaving less time for the fungus to wreak havoc.

For another, small-group living might mean that even if some individuals do get white nose, they won't spread it to their brethren quite so quickly. "Maybe we lose a few each year, but we're not losing our entire population," says Baldwin.

Then there are those creaky old New England houses—the ones that are left, at least. O'Dell and her team are still trying to figure out exactly where Nantucket's bats are hibernating, but when they managed to follow one group home, it brought them right to a crawlspace.

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Last but not least, the bats have a welcoming committee. They're a bit hard to keep up with—they tend to chew or groom off their own transmitters—so O'Dell has been talking up their presence aggressively, recruiting locals and visitors alike to call in signs and sightings.

"People are fascinated," she says, especially once they learn that the island's small colonies may be escaping disease. A few weeks after she manned a bat-themed table at the island's annual science festival, one young enthusiast—who happens to live in an old house—recognized the fluttering shapes he had been seeing in the evening sky.

"'He saw bats flying from under their shingles and said, 'Mom, you have to call the bat lady,'" says O'Dell. So she did. After all, it's not every day you meet a new neighbor.

The Hollow Steel Ball That Changed Ocean Exploration Forever
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM
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In the spring of 1930, a group of scientists and artists sailed to a tropical island called Nonsuch in Bermuda. They awaited a submersible called the “bathysphere,” which would bring the team of men and women deeper into the ocean than humans had ever gone before and permit the first studies of deep-sea creatures in their natural waters.

The bathysphere—“bathy” meaning “deep” in Greek—was a hollow, steel ball less than five feet in diameter with three small windows and a steel cable to tether it to a ship. Engineer Otis Barton and boat architect John Butler designed it for an expedition led by William Beebe, a naturalist with the New York Zoological Society’s Department of Tropical Research. The record human aquatic descent at the time was a mere 525 feet and Beebe wanted to see what life was hidden further beneath the waves.

In May, the completed bathysphere arrived at the research station. After several unmanned test dives and a short, manned descent to 45 feet, it was deemed ready for a plunge.

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On June 6, a tug towed a barge bearing the sphere out to sea. Beebe and Barton wriggled through the pod’s 14-inch opening, arranged themselves on the cold, curved floor, and the crew tightened the lid. As reported in Descent by Brad Matsen, oxygen flowed from two tanks, trays of soda lime and calcium chloride absorbed exhaled carbon dioxide and moisture, and the men waved palm leaf fans about for circulation.

Slowly the crew cranked the winch to raise the bathysphere up, over the ship’s deck, and down into the cerulean sea. Gloria Hollister, the chief technical associate for the Department of Tropical Research, stood on deck with a telephone in her hand. She served as the passengers’ only line of communication to the world above—copying down Beebe’s every observation, relaying their depth, and passing on orders to raise or lower the sphere—via a telephone line clamped to the steel cord.

Down the bathysphere sank. Fanged and bioluminescent animals swam before the window. The blue ocean light was a strangely brilliant hue that the English language could not account for, Beebe wrote in his account of the expedition, entitled Half Mile Down. He and Barton were witnessing the gradual disappearance of each color in the rainbow as they were absorbed by the water above, an optical effect that produced nameless shades. They stopped at 803 feet that day, getting a glimpse of a previously secret realm.

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As summer rolled on the crew made more descents and meticulously recorded each lanternfish, eel larva, and sea sapphire that floated past the pod. The world’s knowledge of deep-sea fish came mostly from the practice of dragging nets through the water, but some fish could escape the nets and others exploded as the pressure dropped on the way up, leaving scientists with an imperfect picture of what lay below. Now they watched the creatures in their homes and were surprised to find that large fish could exist under the crushing pressure of deep water.

After dives, nature artist Else Bostelmann took to her studio on Nonsuch and transformed Hollister’s notes and Beebe’s recollections of the animals into paintings. Her technical illustrations would be the primary visual documentation of the work in Bermuda, and would appear alongside Beebe’s words in National Geographic Magazine in 1931 and 1934.

Though she painted much of what floated past the bathysphere’s windows, the “greatest fun,” Bostelmann said, “was actually to paint at the bottom of the ocean.” Some days Bostelmann donned a copper diving helmet with air hose attached, climbed down a ladder into the sea, and had her canvas and oil paints, which wouldn’t mix with the water, sent down after. Standing in sandy clearings under the waves Bostelmann painted “tall coral reefs, swaying sea-plumes, slender gorgonians, purple sea-fans”—what she called her own underwater “fairyland.”

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In July another female researcher, named Jocelyn Crane, arrived fresh from college graduation. Critics chastised Beebe for hiring women in science, calling him “unprofessional. ” Beebe responded that he hired based on “what’s above the ears” and that he had chosen Crane and Hollister for their “sound ideas for scientific research.” Hollister and Crane continued to study sea creatures and dive in the bathysphere, and Bostelmann continued to paint in spite of these criticisms.

On days the sphere didn’t descend, the team studied dredged fish in the lab. Hollister often used her own system of chemical baths, dyes, and ultraviolet light, to decolor fish organs until they became translucent. This revealed the red-stained skeleton and allowed her to study tail structures.

The team left the tropics in autumn and when the following summer came, bad weather and a broken winch prevented the bathysphere from diving, though other research continued.

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The sphere dove again into the world of languid siphonophores and flying snails in 1932, and on one descent, the National Broadcasting Company invited all of America into the deep sea, transmitting right from Hollister’s phone line. On another eventful dive Beebe reported two six-foot fish he did not recognize. They resembled barracudas, he wrote, but with bioluminescent lights down their side and two long tentacles, each with lights on the end. Beebe dubbed the creature Bathysphaera intacta—the untouchable bathysphere fish—but it was eventually reclassified as a new species of dragonfish.

The bathysphere did not always lend itself to glamorous discovery. Dives were thwarted by bad weather and a roiling ocean. More than once the sphere came up full of water, releasing jets of dangerously pressurized water. When, on one occasion, the telephone line up to Hollister failed, Beebe described a feeling of sudden, true isolation, “as if hose, cable, and all had gone. We had become veritable plankton.”

After exhibiting at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, the bathysphere returned to Bermuda in 1934. That summer, Hollister set a women’s world record during a dive to 1,208 feet. On August 15, 1934, Beebe and Barton sat in the cramped steel sphere 3,028 feet below sea level. They rested about a tenth of the distance underwater that Mount Everest towers above sea level. Beebe described the region as akin to “naked space itself, out far beyond atmosphere, between the stars.” They peered out at an unfamiliar fish, about 20 feet long, that the Chicago Tribune described as “illuminated by myriads of tiny lights glittering like a diamond tiara.”

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Submerged excursions proved too expensive to continue past 1934 given the sad state of the U.S. economy. Hollister took off to lead scientific treks in the jungles of British Guiana (now Guyana), while Bostelmann illustrated children’s books and painted for National Geographic. Crane and Beebe continued to work together and she took over as Director of the Department of Tropical Research when Beebe passed away. Barton the engineer turned to filmmaking with Titans of the Deep, a flop of a film that combined footage taken in Bermuda with invented drama.

The bathysphere itself now sits on display at the New York Aquarium while remotely operated submersibles like the Deep Discoverer descend almost four miles into watery darkness. The Alvin can carry passengers down nearly three miles, untethered. But before them came a little steel sphere in Bermuda, the submersible that carried science into a new domain.

A Lost Diamond Engagement Ring Reappeared on a Carrot
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

Nearly 13 years ago, in a garden in Armena, Alberta, about 45 miles southeast of Edmonton, Mary Grams, then 71, lost her diamond engagement ring.

Grams's husband Norman had given her the ring in 1951, but rather than tell him that she lost it, she just replaced it. "I thought for sure he'd give me heck or something," she told the CBC.

When Norman passed away five years ago, the ring was still missing, with Grams was convinced she'd never see it again. But this week, Colleen Daley, Grams's daughter-in-law, pulled up a carrot in the garden that appeared to have taken a liking to the ring, and grew right through it.

"I knew it had to belong to either grandma or my mother-in-law," Daley told the CBC, "because no other women have lived on that farm."

Grams said the ring still fits (though it doesn't appear to have fit the carrot very well), adding, "I recognized it right away."

Despite Europe's Egg Scare, a Belgian Town Unites Over a Giant Omelette
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

For the past 22 Augusts, the 14,000 townspeople of Malmedy, Belgium, have come together with hands out and bellies empty. Each summer, in the square, the local chapter of the Global Brotherhood of the Knights of the Giant Omelette tends to an enormous pan. Their mission? "To prepare and serve, free of charge and full of joy, a giant omelette."

The brotherhood sprung up in the 1970s in Bessières, France. A cracking idea, it turns out, is a cracking idea: Rapidly, it accrued outposts all over, from New Caledonia to Argentina to Belgium. Knights don toques blanches and wield wooden spoons the size of oars. The pan itself is appropriately vast: 13 feet across, with a handle (decorative, apparently) made of a telephone post. The vessel sits over an open fire and, eventually, contains 6,500 eggs and many, many pounds of duck fat.

But this year, on Tuesday, there was fear, along with chives and bacon bits, on the lips of some diners. A scandal, in which thousands of eggs were found to be contaminated with the insecticide Fipronil, has worried consumers across the continent. Not these, chapter cofounder Benedicte Mathy told the Associated Press. Organizers apparently verified the sourcing of all the eggs and deemed them safe. Still, not everyone was as confident. "We'll see how it goes, because you still hear a lot of rumors and people are saying they're a bit frightened," reported "grandmaster" Robert Ansenne, in an interview with the BBC.

Traditionally, giant omelettes made by the brotherhood contain 10,000 eggs or more. This year's was smaller because of the concerns over contamination, as well as a drizzly forecast. The event apparently went off without a hitch.

Captain Jones' Leg in Washington, New Hampshire
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

The grave.

In 1804, a man named Captain Samuel Jones was doing construction work when his leg became pinned between a building and a fence. It was so badly mangled it had to be amputated. Luckily for Jones, loss of limb didn’t automatically mean loss of life.

He managed to survive, and then did what any reasonable person would do with a body part lost in a violent accident: He held a funeral for his leg and buried it in the town graveyard.

Supposedly, people at the time believed that affording any severed appendages a proper, dignified burial would lessen the chance of suffering from any phantom pains.

At the time, Jones was living in the rural town of Washington, New Hampshire. He eventually moved from the area, and reports are conflicting as to whether the rest of him was buried in Boston or Rhode Island. His leg, however, remains in its original resting place.

This Tortoise Escape Artist Has Been Brought Home Once Again
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

If you have to escape from the same place twice, it probably means you're not that great at it.

Still, we should give some credit to Abuh the tortoise, who has managed to evade her captors at Shibukawa Animal Park in Okayama, Japan twice already this summer. As Agence France-Presse reports, Abuh was returned to the zoo today after a two-week stint on the lam.

Both times, Abuh has escaped using a tried and true method: high-tailing it slowly out the front door while everyone was distracted. Last time she got out, in late July, she was found walking down the highway less than 500 feet from the zoo. (At 121 pounds, she's a little too big to hitchhike.)

Despite the length of this more recent escape, Abuh was again found close to home, this time hiding in some shrubbery. Her keepers, who offered a large reward for her return, are happy to have her back.

Although tortoises are no flamingos, they have historically shown a certain amount of escaping panache. Last July, a pet tortoise successfully evaded Los Angeles's disastrous Sand Fire by getting out of his house and walking down the freeway.

In 2015, two elderly tortoises on opposite coasts broke out of their homes at the same time, perhaps to meet up. The year before that, a tortoise in Michigan may have even aided and abetted the escape of a fellow reptile, Carlos the alligator.

Eventually, one of these attempts is going to pay off—for Abuh or someone else. Slow and steady wins the race.

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.

The Chapel of Our Lady in Rotherham, England
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

The bridge chapel at Rotherham.

This 15th-century bridge chapel in Rotherham, South Yorkshire has been an almshouse, town jail, and tobacconist’s shop but is now actively used in its original role as a place of worship. Its proper name is the Chapel of Our Lady of Rotherham Bridge and it's considered a real hidden gem within this industrial town.

A bridge chapel is a small chapel, located either at one end of or built into a structure in the middle of the bridge. Today, there are only six such chapels remaining in England, with only four actually constructed in the middle of a bridge. In the past, when travelers passing through wanted to take a break from their journey to pray, these chapels were at hand.

The Chapel of Our Lady on the bridge which is, unsurprisingly, on Bridge Street, was constructed out of ashlar sandstone in 1483 and is situated on the original four-arched bridge over the River Don. John Bokyng, the head teacher of the local grammar school, left a will requesting that it be built as a chantry but did not leave enough funds for the entire construction. It is thought the shortfall was borne by a famous son of the town, Archbishop Thomas Rotherham, from the diocese in York.

The elaborately decorated church functioned as a chantry until legislations were passed in 1545 and 1547 to tackle the alleged misappropriation of funds and lands by chantries. When it could no longer be used as a spiritual space, it was used for several different purposes, including as the local lockup, until 1901 when the town residents created a petition to restore it. The church wardens of the All Saints Church worked on the repairs and the restoration was eventually completed after World War I. The dedication took place in 1924.

Though it is now a functional church, the crypt and cell doors stand as a reminder of the time it served as Rotherham’s jail.

Rock Rings in Bellingham, Washington
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM

Rock Rings.

Western Washington University is about as far northwest as you can go and still be in the United States. The liberal arts college in Bellingham boasts an ever-growing Public Sculpture Collection and currently features over 30 works. In 1978 “Rock Rings” was the 16th piece added to campus after the board of trustees established a policy encouraging public art in 1957.

Unlike land artist Nancy Holt’s previous works, which were designed to align with the sun, “Rock Rings” is mapped according to the celestial layout of the North Star. The 10-foot-tall structure is made up of a 40-foot outer ring wrapped around a 20-foot inner ring and made from local stone. Each ring has two arched entryways and six holes.

When lined up, the four archways run south to north according to Polaris―WWU is a befitting location as it's the northernmost university in the contiguous U.S. And the holes line up northeast to southwest, east to west, and southeast to northwest. Bellingham is a seaport, and the structure’s precise cardinal directions were calculated the same way navigators in the area set paths for their ships.

The stone Holt used, called schist, is millions of years old. Local masons quarried it by hand, and she remained on site to oversee the project's construction. Like her other works, the walls of “Rock Rings” offer a private, individual experience. When lined up, its entryways and windows provide new frames for one to view and participate in the surrounding area.

Found: Authentic NASA Spacesuits in the Corner of a Thrift Store
August 16th, 2017, 05:27 PM
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Talia Rappa and Skyer Ashworth were searching through the piles of clothes at a Salvation Army in Florida that was going out of business, when they came upon a white suit with a NASA logo on it. Underneath were five more suits, in blue, that also came from NASA.

They bought the suits for 20 cents a piece, $1.20 in total. Their thrift store find has now been authenticated, News 6 reports: These were authentic NASA suits worn by ground crew and astronauts in the early 1980s.

No one knows how the suits came to be at the thrift store; they may have been there for years. Rappa and Ashworth found them under a pile of sweaters. The labels on the suits indicate that they were worn by astronauts George Nelson, Robert A. Parker, and Charles D. Walker.

The thrifters stand to make a substantial profit on their discoveries: According to News 6, a local TV channel, the suits could be worth $5,000 a piece. They'll be auctioned through the American Space Museum in November. Rappa and Ashworth say they'll donate a portion of their profits to the museum, and the rest of the money will go towards their college tuition. Ashworth, whose parents have worked for NASA communications, will be studying aerospace.

Dark Star Park in Arlington, Virginia
August 15th, 2017, 05:27 PM

Dark Star Park.

Artist Nancy Holt’s installations often occupy remote, rural spaces. Her large scale sculptures like Sun Tunnels offer alternative frames through which individuals can observe nature. But Dark Star Park is a much more public project. The first major art project commissioned by Arlington County is also Holt’s most urban creation, and was completed in 1984. 

This is a historical monument that eschews typical historical monument conventions. Instead of a decorative archway or a statue of a man on horseback, the area features large concrete spheres designed to resemble fallen stars. Even the name masks its intentions: Dark Star Park commemorates August 1, 1860, the day William Ross bought the land that would become Rosslyn. 

Towering black poles are erected along a winding trail meant to slow one’s pace and provide relief from the bustling city streets. The dead stars strewn about are taller than the nearby parked cars. The surreal park contrasts the surrounding grid of buildings and, as art critic Lucy Leppard noted, give each visitor "a sense of one's individual place, at this very moment, in the universe."

The spheres and poles in one section of the park feature oblong discs that mimic the shadows of the objects, and every year at 9:32 a.m. on August 1, the shadows line up perfectly for 60 seconds. As Holt explained it, every year, on the anniversary of Ross buying the land (as long as the weather cooperates) the park merges  ‘historical time with the cyclical time of the sun.”

Grey Owl's Cabin in Waskesiu Lake, Canada
August 15th, 2017, 05:27 PM

Grey Owl's cabin at Ajawaan Lake.

On Ajawaan Lake in Canada’s Prince Albert National Park, a conservationist who called himself Grey Owl lived in a cabin with beavers from 1931 to 1938. He faked a First Nations identity; the former trapper was actually an Englishman named Archie Belaney, though these details didn’t emerge until after his death.  

Grey Owl first moved to Canada from England in 1906. As a child, Grey Owl had already exhibited an apparent fascination with American Indians. He’d read about them and draw them in the margins of his school books. After relocating as an adult to North America, his interest only increased and he began signing his name with his newly adopted moniker. He eventually crafted an entirely new identity, claiming his father was Scottish and his mother was Apache.

 After working as a fur trapper, wilderness guide, and forest ranger, he eventually dove into the world of conservation. His third wife (he’d already had two overlapping, failed marriages by the age of 37), a Mohawk Iroquois woman named Anahereo, helped convince him to make the switch from trapping beavers to advocating on their behalf.

Anahereo had accompanied him one day as he set up a trap to catch a mother beaver. The cries of the kits (baby beavers), which supposedly resembled the wails of a human child, caused her to beg him to release the mother. Though Grey Owl failed to heed to her requests because the pelt would earn them much-needed income, he did go back and locate the abandoned kits the next day. He and his wife raised them in their cabin.

Grey Owl went on to write several books about nature conservation, focused largely around a central theme of the negative effects of the commodification of the natural world. Grey Owl and Anahereo were featured in documentaries about their environmental work and became fairly well known among 20th-century conservationists within the United States and Canada. After Grey Owl died of pneumonia in 1938, the details of his fabricated First Nations identity came to light and tarnished his reputation.

His cabin at Ajawaan has since been rebuilt. It was originally halfway over the water so it would be a more suitable abode for the beavers. Grey Owl, Anahereo, and their daughter are buried nearby within the wilderness area where deer, elk, bears, and, of course, beavers may occasionally mosey through.

Mummies of San Bernardo in San Bernardo, Colombia
August 15th, 2017, 05:27 PM

Mummies on glass display within the mausoleum.

In the small town of San Bernardo, Colombia, high within the Andes, people become naturally petrified for reasons unknown to modern science. The preserved remains were first discovered in the 1950s, when the local cemetery was relocated due to a flood.

Some of the town's natives believe the local diet, which involves the guatila and the balu, two unusual fruits that are commonly eaten in the area, is responsible for the mummified remains. But a dietary explanation is unlikely, as the mummies’ outfits are also well-preserved. Others point to the area's climate and high altitude, which are slightly more plausible reasons as to why the dead refuse to rot.

This isn’t the first Latin American country to sport spontaneously mummified residents. In Guanajuato, Mexico, underground gas and the chemical composition of the soil cause bodies to remain relatively intact after burials. For whatever the reason, those who are buried within the boundaries of San Bernardo are mummified without any sort of accidental chemical intervention.

Today, these mummies can be observed within the town's cemetery, where a mausoleum was recently built to display some of the most complete and best preserved bodies. These mummies are curated by the families of those being displayed and their biographies are shared by their close ones. Tourists can pass through to look at the unusual spectacle, while locals can pop in to see the absurdly intact corpses of their neighbors and kin.