In the 1950s, the Northampton Museum
(home of the "World Famous Shoe Collection) began to receive reports of shoes that had been found hidden in buildings. The shoes, usually discovered by people doing renovations or repairs, were concealed under floors, inside walls, in chimneys, above ceilings, etc.
Eventually the Museum received enough of these reports that they realized the concealment of the shoes wasn't an accident, but rather that hiding shoes inside a building was an ancient, deliberate practice. Ever since then, the Museum has kept a record of all concealed shoe finds (the "Concealed Shoe Index"). As of 2012, the index had over 1900 reports of shoe concealment from all over the world (but mostly Europe and North America).
image source: wikipedia
The Museum curators aren't entirely sure why people hide shoes inside buildings, but the leading theory is that it's a form of protection superstition, done to ward off forms of evil such as witches, bad luck, or the plague.
Shoe historian June Swann, former keeper of the Northamton Shoe collection, notes in a 1996 article about concealed shoes
that there are all kinds of weird superstitions associated with shoes:
there is much recorded on other shoe superstitions, which are rife wherever shoes are traditionally worn. They are symbols of authority, as in the Old Testament. They are linked with fertility: we still tie them on the back of wedding cars. And they are generally associated with good luck (witness all the holiday souvenirs in the shape of shoes). But most of all they stand in for the person: it has been a common practice from at least the sixteenth century to at least 1966 to throw an old shoe after people ‘for luck’.
Why the shoe? It is the only garment we wear which retains the shape, the personality, the essence of the wearer.
Just recently, maintenance workers at Cambridge University found a 300-year-old shoe hidden inside a wall
And earlier this year, a Michigan family discovered 53 pairs of shoes behind a wall in their home
— concealed there since the 1970s. Though in that case, it was theorized that the hidden shoes weren't warding off bad luck, but instead were evidence that a previous owner of the home had a shoe fetish.
While on a lecture tour of the United States in 1990, Raymond Fullager, an expert on the British royal family, revealed the existence of a royal handbag code. According to him, the Queen of England used her purse to communicate secret signals to her staff.
Fullager claimed to have identified 23 different signals she used. For instance, if she moved her purse from her right to her left arm it meant that she was bored and needed to be rescued. A lady-in-waiting would then approach and say, "I'm afraid, ma'am, that you are running 10 minutes behind schedule."
If the handbag was securely gripped on her left arm, it meant that all was well.
Fullager refused to reveal all 23 signals, insisting that they needed to be kept a royal secret. But he did share some of the Queen's other body-language code. For instance, if she rubbed the middle finger on her left hand, it meant that a spectator was getting too close.
However, other royal experts were skeptical of Fullager's handbag-code theory. Gossip columnist Nigel Dempster declared that the code theory was "silly" and "just rubbish."
Andrew Morton said, "Frankly, you've got to wonder if anyone can actually do 23 different things with a handbag."
More info: Philly.com (Sep 14, 1990)
LA Times - Aug 8, 1990
Mae West in "She Done Him Wrong" (1933)
Actress and sex symbol Mae West cast a large shadow over popular culture, as can be seen by the number of things named after her.
1. Life Preservers
The inflatable life preservers used in WWII were often referred to as "Mae Wests" because they gave their wearers the appearance of having a large chest (wikipedia
2. Parachute Malfunction
A "blown periphery" parachute malfunction causes the canopy to contort into the shape of a giant brassiere, and so is referred to as the "Mae West" malfunction (wikipedia
3. Newfoundland Islands
The Isaacs islands in Newfoundland were named "Mae West" by American sailors stationed at nearby Argentia Naval Base, and the name seems to have stuck
. The caption for the above image (found in "US Navy PBY Catalina Units of the Atlantic War"
) reads, "Groundcrewmen load water-filled practice bombs onto a PBY-5A from VP-6(CG) at Argentia in 1944. The twin mounds in the background were called 'Mae West' after the sex goddess, who incidentally had her roots in Newfoundland."
4. Gas Generator
Chemists nicknamed the Kipp Gas Generator the "Mae West" (Life magazine
5. Coca-Cola Bottle
After the Coca Cola Company introduced the "contour" bottle in 1915, it quickly became known as the "Mae West bottle" (Story of the Coca-Cola bottle
In 1937, the couturier Elsa Schiaparelli launched her "Shocking" perfume, in a bottle whose shape was directly inspired by Mae West (FIDM Museum
). So this doesn't count as something named after her, but is still something in her image.
Finally, I've even found a reference to a "Mae West Theory of Islamic Terrorism"
— the theory being that sexual frustration is the root cause of much Islamic terrorism.
News of the Weird
Weirdnuz.M489, August 21, 2016
Copyright 2016 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved.
New World Order: Australians are about to learn how fussy some people are about their genders. Queensland University of Technology and three other sponsors have created an online preference survey (currently underway) that asks participants to decide among 33 "genders"
(since "gender" is, according to the World Health Organization, "socially constructed"). "Male" and "female" are clear enough--but only where "identity" matches plumbing. Otherwise, it's "trans" or "transsexual", or else the more complicated bigender, omnigender, polygender, pangender, intergender, genderfluid, "cis gender," trigender, demigender, "gender non-conforming," "non-binary," "none gender," and a few others. [News.com.au (Sydney), 7-29-2016
Latest Religious Messages
India has supposedly outlawed the "baby-tossing" religious test
popular among Hindus and Muslims in rural villages in Maharashtra and Karnataka states, but a July New York Times
report suggested that parents were still allowing surrogates to drop their new-born infants from 30 feet up and and awaiting the gods' blessing for a prosperous, healthy life. In all cases, according to the report, the gods come through, and a bedsheet appears below to catch the unharmed baby. [New York Times, 7-29-2016
Government in Action
More federal civilian employees have "arrest and firearms authority" than the total number of active-duty U.S. Marines
, according to a June report by the organization Open The Books, which claims to have tallied line-by-line expenditures across the government. Several agencies (including IRS and EPA) purchase assault weapons and other military-grade equipment (camouflage, night-vision goggles, 30-round magazines) for their agents, and even Small Business Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Department of Education buy their agents guns and ammo. [Washington Free Beacon, 6-22-2016
San Diego Padres outfielder Justin Upton Jr. was traded on July 23rd to the Toronto Blue Jays--in the middle of a series between the Padres and the Blue Jays in Toronto. Normally, such a player would merely gather his belongings and walk down the hall to the other team's locker room. However, while Canada treats Blue Jays' opponents as "visitors," Blue Jays players, themselves, are Canadian employees, and if not residents must have work permits. Upton had to leave the stadium and drive to Lewiston, N.Y.,
which is the closest place he could find to apply to re-enter Canada properly. (He made it back by game time.) [Associated Press via New York Times, 7-27-2016
Leading Economic Indicators
Shrewd Tourism Campaigns: (1) Since Bulgaria, on Romania's southern border, lies close to Romania's iconic Transylvania, Bulgarian tourism officials have begun marketing their own vampire tourism industry--stepped up following a 2014 archaeological find of a 4th-century "graveyard" of adolescents with iron stakes through their chests
. (2) The new tourism minister of Thailand is threatening to close down the lucrative sex business in Bangkok and Pattaya, even with the country still rallying from a 2014 near-recess ion. Ms. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul insisted that visitors are not interested in "such a thing [as sex]"
but come for Thailand's "beautiful" culture. [Mother Nature News, 7-22-2016
] [Daily Telegraph (London), 7-17-2016
Paid to Go Away: Sports Illustrated
noted in May that some universities are still paying out millions of dollars to failed coaches who had managed to secure big contracts in more optimistic times. Notre Dame's largest athletic payout in 2014 was the $2.05 million to ex-football coach Charlie Weis--five years after he had been fired. That ended Weis's Notre Dame contract (which paid him $15 million post-dismissal), but he is still drawing several million dollars from the University of Kansas despite having been let go there, also. [Sports Illustrated, 5-30-2016
The Continuing Crisis
(1) A year-long, nationwide investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
(reporting in May) found more than 2,400 doctors penalized for sexually abusing their patients--with state medical boards ultimately allowing more than half to continue practicing medicine. Some doctors, a reporter noted, are among "the most prolific sex offenders in the country," with "hundreds" of victims. (2) District Judge Joseph Boeckmann (in Arkansas's rural Cross County) resigned in May after the state Judicial Discipline committee found as many as 4,500 nude or semi-nude photos of young men who had been before Boeckmann in court. (Some were naked, being paddled by Boeckmann, who trolled for victims by writing young men notes offering a "community service" option). [ABC News, 7-6-2016
] [CNN, 5-10-2016
For Good Measure: (1) Rhys Holman pleaded guilty to a firearms charge in Melbourne, Australia, in July for shooting 53 bullets
into his brother's Xbox. (The brother had urinated on Holman's car.) (2) Mauricio Morales-Casares, 24, was sentenced to life in prison by a Montgomery County, Md., judge in July following his April conviction for fatally stabbing a "friend"--89 times
. [The Age (Melbourne), 7-22-2016
] [Washington Post, 7-15-2016
Boldface Names in News of the Weird!
(1) Police in Southampton, N.Y., confirmed a July altercation in which model Christie Brinkley
water-hosed a woman she had spotted urinating on her beachfront property. Erica Remkus, 36, said her need was urgent after watching a July 4th fireworks show, but Brinkley shouted, "How dare you!" and "I walk on these rocks [where Remkus relieved herself]." (2) Also in July, actor Brooke Shields
made the news when she--as a curator of an art show in Southampton, N.Y.--managed to rescue a piece that custodians had inadvertently tossed into the garbage. (The cleanup crew had made an understandable mistake, as the statue was a raccoon standing next to a trashcan, ready to rummage.) [New York Daily News, 7-4-2016
] [New York Post, 7-11-2016
(1) Knoxville, Tenn., firefighters were called to a home in July when a woman tried to barbecue brisket in her bathroom
--and, in addition to losing control of the flame, melted her fiberglass bathtub. Firefighters limited the damage--by turning on the shower. (2) One day earlier, in Union, S.C., a 33-year-old woman called police to her home, claiming that she had fallen asleep on her couch with her "upper plate" in her mouth, but that when she awoke, it was gone and that she suspects a teeth-napping intruder
. [WVLT-TV (Knoxville), 7-13-2016
] [WHNS-TV (Greenville, S.C.), 7-14-2016
How to Tell If You're Drunk
The owner of the Howl At The Moon Bar in Gold Coast, Australia, released surveillance video of a July break-in (later inspiring the perpetrator to turn himself in). The man is seen trying to enter the locked bar at 3 a.m., then tossing a beer keg at a glass door three times, finally creating a hole large enough to climb through, acrobatically, and fall to the floor (lit cigarette remaining firmly between his lips). Once inside, he stood at the bar, apparently waiting for someone to take his order. When no one came, he meekly left through the same door. The owner said nothing was taken, and nothing else was damaged. [Brisbane Times, 7-29-2016
Too Many Toilet-Themed Restaurants
: The first one, in Taiwan, made News of the Weird
in 2006, but recently two more opened their doors. One, in Semarang, Indonesia (on Java island), serves only one dish--brown meatballs floating in thick soup, arrayed in a toilet-shaped pan. The owner's secondary agenda is to inspire people to install toilets in their homes. In Toronto's Koreatown, a dessert-themed one was scheduled to open in August with patron seating on you-know-whats and a variety of brown sweets such as swirly-stool-shaped chocolate ice cream. Potty-themed restaurants have opened in Russia, South Korea, the Philippines, China, Japan, and Los Angeles. [BBC News, 7-20-2016
] [The Independent (London), 7-22-2016
A News of the Weird Classic (October 2012)
In August , a Michigan government watchdog group learned, in a Freedom of Information Act request, that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department still has one job on the payroll as a "horseshoer." (The Department owns no horses.) Over the years, the position has become a patronage slot paying about $57,000 a year in salary and benefits, and sometimes the “horseshoer” has been asked to do “blacksmith” work, such as metal repair. (The city employees’ union fights to retain every job, no matter its title.) [Michigan Capitol Confidential, 8-20-2012]
Thanks This Week to Jim Peterson and Ken Paille, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.
Beirut Spite House
A "spite house" is a house whose primary reason for being is to annoy someone.
In The Hidden Dimension
(1969), which is a study of how people perceive space, the American anthropologist Edward T. Hall described a spite house built in Beirut. Although a "spite wall" might be a more accurate description:
Arabs don't mind being crowded by people but hate to be hemmed in by walls. They show a much greater overt sensitivity to architectural crowding than we do. Enclosed space must meet at least three requirements that I know of if it is to satisfy the Arabs: there must be plenty of unobstructed space in which to move around (possibly as much as a thousand square feet); very high ceilings — so high in fact that they do not normally impinge on the visual field; and, in addition, there must be an unobstructed view. It was spaces such as these in which the Americans referred to earlier felt so uncomfortable.
One sees the Arab's need for a view expressed in many ways, even negatively, for to cut off a neighbor's view is one of the most effective ways of spiting him. In Beirut one can see what is known locally as the "spite house." It is nothing more than a thick, four-story wall, built at the end of a long fight between neighbors, on a narrow strip of land for the express purpose of denying a view of the Mediterranean to any house built on the land behind. According to one of my informants, there is also a house on a small plot of land between Beirut and Damascus which is completely surrounded by a neighbor's wall built high enough to cut off the view from all windows!
I think building a massive wall to block a neighbor's view would actually be considered obnoxious in any culture.
There's plenty of other examples of spite houses described online. See, for example, wikipedia
or Mental Floss