Was this really the first camera ever built?

It may be big, but it certainly wasn’t the first. With that being said, its historical significance can’t be denied.

“The first camera ever built. Taken with the second camera ever built”

– this is the caption that often accompanies the picture above.

While the picture is genuine, it was taken in 1900, so more than 50 years after the first camera was built. The Mammoth Camera (as it came to be known) was created by George R. Lawrence. According to the Hoax of Fame, it was the biggest camera built at the time; it weighed over 400 kg and took 15 people to build.

So who would ever need such a huge camera? According to Simon Baker, it was the Chicago & Alton Railway company, who wished to take a picture of their newest train, the Alton Limited. In 1900, this train was described as follows:

“No train of cars had ever before been built with windows of the same size, shape, and style from mail car to parlor car, the cars in no train heretofore had all been mounted on standard six-wheels trucks, no former effort had been made to have every car in the train precisely the same length and height, and no railway, except the Alton Road, had ever caused the tender of its locomotives to be constructed to rise to the exact height of the body of the cars following, the hood of its locomotives to the exact height of the roofs of the cars.”


So they ordered the Mammoth Camera to be built for hyping purposes; and the picture taken was sent to Paris, for the 1900 World’s Fair.

However, when the picture arrived in Europe, many people were sceptical, as no one has ever seen a picture of this size.

In order to quell the people’s doubts, the French ambassador to the United States was invited to Chicago to inspect the camera. After he verified the camera, the giant picture of the Alton Limited was exhibited and Lawrence received a prestigious award for “evolving art and science of photography”.

13 scary horror legends and myths from around the world

Horror-related urban legends from Singapore to Scotland; as told by Reddit users.

  1. Singapore

A user told the story of how he couldn’t sleep because of the sounds of dropping marbles:

“I grew up in Singapore. Almost every night, if you stay awake long enough, you can hear marbles being dropped on the floor of the apartment above you. This happens to almost everyone I know; we’ve just gotten so used to it that we don’t notice it anymore. It’s still really creepy though since most of the time the apartment above us is owned by an elderly couple who don’t have children (and who obviously don’t play with marbles at 3AM) or it’s empty. It’s just something that we can’t explain and it’s something that immigrants often ask us about.”

Another user attempted to explain this by saying that these sounds probably came from the water pipes, caused by a phenomenon known as water hammer. This however, proved to be a controversial explanation.

  1. Scotland

According to a legend, after someone found an underground passage beneath Edinburgh Castle and City Council, they sent a young boy to investigate:

“In Edinburgh, a passage was supposedly found underneath Edinburgh Castle and the City Council were obviously concerned about the security risk. The opening, however, was extremely small, so they decided to send down a young boy with a drum (so he could beat it and they’d know where it led.) The elders then followed the boy’s drumming from above ground as it led them down the High Street. The drumming stopped just next to the Tron Kirk. They decided just to block up the tunnel to prevent anything coming out of it, leaving the boy to his presumed fate. Apparently, to this day, on quiet nights, a faint drumming can be heard beneath the High Street just near the Tron…”

  1. England

An English user shared a horror story regarding the underground:

“A young woman gets on the last overground train out of central London that night. Most people are sleeping, nodding off, reading. She sits down on one of the few remaining seats and pulls out her book. After a little while she realises she’s being stared at intently by the girl opposite her. Sitting between 2 men, who themselves are staring at her, this girl continues to keep intensely staring at the woman. Unnerved but determined to keep her cool she continues reading and doing her best to ignore the people opposite.

A few minutes pass and they reach the next stop. A man walks on board and sits in the only remaining place – the seat next to the woman – pulls out a newspaper and starts doing a crossword. The train starts running again and she settles back into her book, still doing her best to ignore the 3 intimidating people opposite. The man doing the crossword lets a piece of his broadsheet paper flop onto her book. Annoyed, the woman is about to brush it off her page when she sees a message scrawled in pencil and underlined in such a way as to implore urgency: “get off train next stop”.

Her heart beating hard and feeling the tight walls of the train closing in on her, she decides to take heed of the message and hastily exits the train next stop, ready to attack the man if he attacks her.

As the train pulls away, the young woman and man stand on the platform. She turns to him and asks why she had to get off the train.

“That girl opposite you, staring at you… you didn’t notice?” he asks, visibly unnerved

‘Yea, some people are just like that I guess, it’s London bu-“

“She wasn’t staring” he interrupts “she wasn’t alive”

The next day 2 men were arrested for the murder of a 16 year old girl. They were taking her body out into Epping forest to dispose of her. Unable to find a car, they took her on the train, eyes rolled open, wedged inbetween them to keep upright.”

According to a different version of this story, there were only 5 people on the train: the victim, the killers, the girl and the stranger. There are other versions of this legend out there, too, some of which can be found on Snopes.

  1. Philippines

A university-related story from Philippines:

“One is at a medical school, where a student is about to go home after studying cadavers alone at night. As she enters the elevator (a man is already inside), they both hear a woman running, asking the student to wait and not close the elevator door as she will also use the elevator. But the student quickly pushes the button to close the door, prompting the other man inside the elevator to ask the student, “Why did you close the door? You just made her wait at the dark floor!” To which the student replied, “She’s wearing a red tag on her wrist! And that red tag is only for cadavers!” The man was shocked, then said, “Ohh… so something like this?” as he raised his arm to show the red tag on his wrist.”

  1. Brazil

“In Brazil there’s an urban legend about a man who kidnap children with a bag if you are not near your parents or alone, people call him “Homem do saco”, something similar to “Bag man” in a literal translation. If he got a children, you will never see that children again, some say he ate then.”

The “Homem do saco” stories seem to originate around the 19th century, with some saying that it was born of the fear of immigrating gypsies at the time.

  1. Poland/Russia/Ukraine

A kidnapping-related horror story from Eastern Europe, found on Wikipedia:

“Black Volga refers to an urban legend widespread in Poland, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Mongolia, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s. It was about a black (in some versions red) Volga limousine that was allegedly used to abduct people, especially children. According to different versions, it was driven by priests, nuns, Jews, vampires, satanists or Satan himself. Children were kidnapped to use their blood as a cure for rich westerners or Arabs suffering from leukemia; other variants used organ theft as the motive, combining it with another famous legend about kidney theft by the KGB.”

7-8. Sweden

Two short stories regarding immigrants:

“- Immigrants moving in to a new apartment, breaks up floor and starts growing potatoes there. Some might say this is based on one real incident, but I haven’t found any evidence of it. What’s funny about it is that the ethnicity of the immigrants change according to the latest big wave of immigrants, so chronologically: The immigrants of the story have been Greeks, Turks, Chileans, Yugoslavs and Arabs.

– Related legend, though more obscure: Immigrants raising pigs in the bathtub for food.”

  1. France

A French Reddit user told an old story from Orleans:

“It says that in the 60’s, there was a clothes and lingerie shop in Orleans where the fitting rooms were in fact traps. Women were kidnapped and sent to some prostitution network.”

Certain versions of this legend may include Jewish shop owners, crooked cops, secret tunnel systems and submarines.

  1. India

“In India there was this urban legend in Delhi about a mad scientist creating a monkey-man. This creature escaped and haunted Delhi for a long time. People were supposedly attacked. Nobody ever found out what happened. In the end, years later, we got a bunch of good movies and a comic book series on it.”

  1. South Korea

A story about a honeymoon gone wrong:

“There is a story about this newly weds who go on their honeymoon to either China or India. During the trip, the wife disappears without a trace, and the husband is forced come home, failed to find out anything about what happened to the love of his life. Couple years later, he goes to see a circus with friends, and there, he finds his missing wife, performing as a freak. Luckily, she was perfectly alright, except she now has no legs, arms, nor ability to speak.”

12-13. China

And last, but not least, two bus-related stories from China:

“One night around midnight, some drunk gets on a bus and falls asleep on his seat. There’re about a dozen people inside the bus. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then the drunk wakes up to an old guy getting on the bus. The old guy looks around the bus, and chooses to sit next to the drunk. The drunk is a bit annoyed, but doesn’t think too much of it. He then drifts off again. Suddenly, he wakes up again to the old guy grabbing his collar and shaking him violently. The old guy yells at him, “Little fucker pretended to be asleep and tried to steal my wallet!” Of course he does no such thing. So he defends himself, “No I didn’t! I was drunk and sleeping, you crazy old man!” They causes too much of a ruckus, so in the end, the driver has to throw them both off the bus. As soon as they get off, the guy immediately lashes out. Yet the old man holds up his hand and stops him. “I just saved both of our lives, young man,” he says. “You were too drunk to notice. None of the other passengers had feet!” (Here’s the deal with “no feet.” When Chinese ghosts “walk,” their heels don’t touch the floor, or they just downright flow).”

“One night, a young female driver is driving a bus full of passengers along a dark and quiet road in between cities. All of a sudden, three guys appear by the road asking for a ride. Since they are all willing to pay the fee, the driver has no choice but to let them in. However, as soon as she gets the money and is ready to take off again, one of the guys holds a knife against her side. And the other two starts to walk down the aisle, also with their knives out. Turns out they are robbers. After taking the passengers’ valuables, the robbers notice the driver is a young and attractive woman. So they rape her, in front of everybody. There is this one guy who tries to stop the rape from happening, but eventually gets beaten by the bad guys. After the rape, the bad guys demand the driver to keep driving. But the driver looks that the good Samaritan and screams, “I want him out of my bus!” The guy is dumbfounded. “You didn’t stop them, you useless piece of shit! Get off my bus!” So the poor guy is thrown off the bus by those robbers. He has to walk all night to get to a small town for help. While in the police station, the news is on the TV, saying that a bus full of passengers goes off a cliff, and no one on the bus, including the female driver, survives the crash.”

This story inspired an award-winning short film:

Photo: pexels.com

Does stress really cause ulcers?

Even around the end of the 20th century, medical experts were convinced that stress was the main cause of ulcers, before spicy food, smoking and heavy drinking. Although research findings have since cast a serious doubt on this, public opinion still seems to favour this theory.

Peptic ulcer is a break in the lining of the stomach, the first part of the small intestine or occasionally the lower oesophagus. According to Great Discoveries in Medicine, peptic ulcer had the lifetime prevalence rate of 10% in the 20th century.

Before the 1980’s, even medical experts were convinced that ulcers were mainly caused by stress. Smoking and eating spicy food were thought to be secondary risk factors, suggests 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. This belief was probably based on the observation that whenever we’re stressed, our stomachs contract. However, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren’s Nobel Prize-winning research illustrated that this illness has strong links to bacteria called H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori).

In 1979 two Australian pathologists, Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, noticed that many (about 80%) of their gastric ulcer patients had a mysterious bacteria clinging to the tissues of their biopsy specimens. They theorized that these bacteria (the H. Pylori) had something to do with ulcers, but they were not taken seriously by the medical community.

In order to prove their theory, Barry Marshall designed a dangerous experiment. He drank a brew containing billions of H. Pylori bacteria to show that they are the main cause of ulcers. As he recalled in an interview:

“So what I thought would happen – I thought it would take hold and I would have no symptoms and be perfectly well for a few years and ultimately get an ulcer. So I was surprised when after a week I developed bad breath, and everyone in the family was complaining about me, and then all my laboratory friends put me in my own private lab and I had nobody else in there, it was so bad, and I started having vomiting attacks every morning, which was very, very weird, and I noticed there was no acid in the vomit. So weird things were happening at that point”.

However, Marschall ultimately didn’t get a stomach ulcer, so he couldn’t decisively prove the link between H. Pylori and ulcers. The proof emerged when researchers along the globe reported that their ulcer patients showed improvement after the H. Pylori infection was treated with antibiotics.

With all of this being said, many people (like Marshall himself) don’t get ulcers even after getting H. Pylori infections. This would indicate that there are other factors that lead to the development of ulcers, and stress could be one of them. It seems clear, however, that stress isn’t the main cause of this illness.

Photo: pexels.com

Did a waiter really leave an empty crossword as a suicide note?

In 1926, a waiter committed suicide in Budapest, Hungary. Supposedly, all he left behind was an empty crossword as an explanation.

I first heard about this story a couple years ago and decided to follow this up by examining the 1926 editions of Az Est (a prevalent Hungarian newspaper at the time). While I found that the year’s headlines were dominated by the counterfeit franc scandal, I did find a brief report of the suicide case.


According to Az Est, at midnight on the 3rd of March, a young man visited Café Emke in Budapest and ordered a coffee. After he had been served, he went to the nearest payphone and attempted to call a number multiple times, unsuccessfully. Around 1 a.m., the cloakroom attendant heard a strange sound from the toilet. When she opened the door, the young man laid on the ground, bathed in blood with a gun in his hand. The cloakroom attendant quickly called the police and the ambulance, who were unable to save him.

Upon further investigation, the police managed to establish the young man’s identity. His name was Gyula Antal; he worked as a waiter. Besides his ID papers, another notable item on his person was an envelope, which had “The reason for my suicide” written on it. When they opened the envelope, they found an empty crossword. According to Az Est, the police started working on it, although “the complicated crossword was yet to be solved”.

According to the newspaper the young man had been living in poverty for a while, and he was forced to move out of his apartment a couple days earlier, because he couldn’t pay the rent. His landlord said that when moving out, Gyula had to leave his clothes behind to settle his debts.

Knowing the precise date of the suicide, I decided to look at other newspapers (Pesti Hírlap, Pesti Napló, Budapesti Hírlap, 8 Órai Újság, Kis Újság, Világ, Népszava, Újság) and police magazines (Közbiztonság, and Csendőrségi Lapok) as well in a local microfilm archive. Despite my efforts, I didn’t find out whether the crossword was ever solved. Közbiztonság, a monthly police magazine reported in April 1926:

“First it was thought that the young man killed himself because he couldn’t solve the crossword. Then, it came to light that the he made this crossword and hid his reason for the suicide within it. Our policemen and detectives are hard at work at solving this, although this may not be necessary. The reasons for someone committing suicide are pretty apparent. Joblessness, famine, hopelessness. Although these reasons seem pretty mundane without being hidden in a crossword”.

As Közbiztonság suggests, suicides weren’t very newsworthy at the time in Budapest. Nicknamed the “City of Suicides”, in 1926 its suicide rates were astonishingly high. On March 4th for instance (so the day after the suicide in question), 10 people attempted to take their own lives.

Were nudists really told to cover themselves up because of immigrants?

Various media outlets around the globe reported that a local authority in Germany banned nudism because of a planned refugee shelter. Vice investigated these reports and found that the story was a misunderstanding.

According to the reports of German new sites Bild and Focus (which have subsequently been picked up by international news outlets) …

… nudists at a club near the historic town of Meissen were outraged when their local authority suggested they only swim in the local lake with swimming costumes. The reason is a new refugee shelter being built on the other side of the lake. When the nudists first heard of the refugee camp, they requested a privacy screen from the local council, but instead received a set of rules regarding “German swimming etiquette”. Among these rules, number 9 stated that “the use of the swimming facilities is only permitted with a swimming costume”. The nudists though this to be an affront to the treasured German tradition of Freikörperkultur (“free body culture”), and said that since they’ve been skinny dipping on these grounds for more than a century, they have no intention of adhering to these rules.

The German version of Vice investigated the story, and found that while there will indeed be a refugee camp near the aforementioned lake, the rules that seem to tell the nudists to cover themselves up have been misunderstood.

By contacting the German Swimming Society that created the brochure, the reporters of Vice clarified that these guidelines were meant to inform the refugees about the norms of using public swimming pools in Germany, and were clearly not suitable for nudist bathing areas.

Furthermore, in its entirety the infamous rule number 9 states that “the use of the swimming facilities is only permitted with a swimming costume (not street clothes)”, making it obvious that this rule was never intended to limit Freikörperkultur.

As for who ended up redacting the (not street clothes) part of the rule (the editors of either Bild or Focus, or the representative of the local authority who sent the nudist club the brochure), the Vice article does not give a definitive answer to.

Photo: waldteichfreunde.eu

The legend of 221b Baker Street

In the past, a small legal battle ensued for the rights to answer letters sent to Sherlock Holmes, addressed to the fictive address of 211b Baker Street. For some time now, the “221b Baker Street” sign has been the property of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, found at 239 Baker Street.

“WE met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221b, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes and portmanteaus. For a day or two we were busily employed in unpacking and laying out our property to the best advantage. That done, we gradually began to settle down and to accommodate ourselves to our new surroundings” (…).

“He threw the paper across to me and I glanced at the place indicated. It was the first announcement in the ‘Found’ column. ‘In Brixton Road, this morning,’ it ran, ‘a plain gold wedding ring, found in the roadway between the ‘White Hart’ Tavern and Holland Grove. Apply Dr. Watson, 221b, Baker Street, between eight and nine this evening.”

The address and brief description of Sherlock Holmes’ famous home and office made its first appearance on the first couple of pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes short, A Study in Scarlet.

However, when he penned these lines in 1886, this address didn’t even exist. The highest street address in Baker Street was 100 at the time, according to London (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts). Then, when Baker Street eventually expanded and the 221 address became available in 1932, Baker Street 219-229 was occupied by Abbey National.

This bank supposedly had a full-time employee whose job was to answer fan mail addressed to 221b Baker Street. Furthermore, the bank had the following plaque on its wall, marking the famous address:

gailf548 / flickr.com

In 1990, however, things got complicated when the Sherlock Holmes Museum (found at 239 Baker Street) decided to create its own “official 221b Baker Street” plaque. According to Wikipedia, this started a 15-year old legal dispute between Abbey National and the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

The bank, claiming that responding to mail has become part of the firm’s identity, didn’t want to let go of this tradition. They claimed that the Sherlock Holmes Museum was motivated by potential financial gains only, and that the museum planned to distribute promotional material when responding to letters.

Ralf Roletschek / Wikipedia

The mailmen supported Abbey National, and continued to deliver the letters to the bank. However, since the closure of Abbey National in 2005, the Sherlock Holmes Museum has taken over the “duty” of responding to fan mail.

In closing, it must be mentioned that this legendary fictive address has appeared as an easter egg in various movies and TV shows. For instance, in several episodes of House M.D., Dr. Gregory House is shown at home and his apartment number is 221B, a tribute to Sherlock Holmes famous London address.

Photo: gailf548 / flickr.com | Ralf Roletschek / Wikipedia

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Did Einstein Really Fail Math?

It is a commonly held belief that Albert Einstein was a subpar student in his youth, and he even flunked math once, before becoming one of the most influential physicists of all time. However, it would seem that while he was indeed not a remarkably good student of languages, his math skills far surpassed those of his peers.

It is often said the Einstein was dyslexic. This is seems unlikely, given that he read a lot and gained most of his knowledge through reading. While he wasn’t an outstanding student overall, his maths skills were always notable.

In an open letter sent to a Munich newspaper in 1929, a H. Wieleitner (then principal of the Luitpold Gymnasium, Einstein’s old middle school) reported that “with 1 as the highest grade and 6 the lowest, Einstein’s marks in Greek, Latin and mathematics oscillated between 1 and 2 until, toward the end, he invariably scored 1 in math”.

According to Einstein’s sister (as recorded by Walter Isaacson in his book, Einstein: The Life of a Genius), the young Albert “already had a predilection for solving complicated problems in applied arithmetic” and he decided to see if he could jump ahead by learning geometry and algebra on his own. His parents bought him additional textbooks so that he could master new skills over summer vacation. Not only did he learn proofs from the books, he tackled newer theories by trying to prove them on his own. At one point, his engineer uncle even challenged him to prove the Pythagorean theorem, which he eventually did.

Later, with the support of his parents, Einstein decided to focus on studying engineering. He tried to gain admission to the Zurich Polytechnic, a local technical college, two years before the typical age of admission. Because he didn’t receive a middle school diploma, he had to take an entry exam, which he failed. While he had the sufficient knowledge of mathematics and physics, he wasn’t prepared enough from botanics.

In 1935, Einstein was allegedly shown an article with the headline “Greatest living mathematician failed in mathematics.” He laughed. “I never failed in mathematics,” he replied. “Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.”

In the end, Einstein went back to finish middle school, which would allow him to enter the Zurich Polytechnic without taking the entry exams. When looking at his grades from his final year in middle school, the 1895-96 academic year, it becomes clear that he was never close to failing. With 6 the highest grade and 1 the lowest, all of his maths and physics all his grades were 6’s (he was the only one to achieve such a feat in a class of 10). Even in French, his weakest subject, he managed to get a 3.

While at the Zurich Polytechnic, Einstein took part in a maths and physics course, so mathematics played a central role in his later education, too. During his 4 years at the Polytechnic, he usually got 5’s and 6’s in Physics and 4’s in Mathematics; which is pretty far from flunking. His final GPA was 4.9, the second weakest in his class of 5. As Walter Isaacson remarked, “although history refutes the delicious myth that he flunked math in high school, at least it does offer as a consolation the amusement that he graduated college near the bottom of his class”.

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