In 1942 a contaminated yellow-fever vaccine caused an outbreak of hepatitis B among more than 300,000 U.S. Army and Allied troops. Nearly 50,000 clinical cases resulted from the contamination, including 29,000 incidents of overt jaundice. There had been medical evidence of postvaccination epidemics of hepatitis in both men and horses since 1885.
Samuel Johnson enlisted Tobias Smollett, author of Roderick Random, to help rescue Johnson’s “Negro servant Francis Barber” from naval service—“a state of life,” as James Boswell wrote, “of which Johnson always expressed the utmost abhorrence.” Johnson once said, “No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.” At another time he claimed, “A man in a jail has more room, better food, and commonly better company.”
Shortly before Ezra Pound was indicted for treason for his anti-American broadcasts on Benito Mussolini’s Radio Rome, Ernest Hemingway wrote to poet Archibald MacLeish, “If Ezra has any sense he should shoot himself. Personally I think he should have shot himself somewhere along after the twelfth canto, although maybe earlier.”
Questions asked in TV commercials aired in 1993: “Have you ever borrowed a book thousands of miles away? Or sent someone a fax from the beach? Have you ever paid a toll without slowing down? Have you ever watched a movie you wanted to, the minute you wanted to?” The answer: “You will. And the company that will bring it to you? AT&T.”
In 1993 Estelle Ellis, Seventeen magazine’s first promotion director, gave a speech at the Fashion Institute of Technology titled “What Is Fashion?” Ellis gave her answer. Fashion is a perpetual-motion machine expressed in four areas: “mode—the way we dress; manners—the way we express ourselves; mores—the way we live; and markets—the way we are defined demographically and psychologically.”
In 1936 Sotheby’s auctioned many of Isaac Newton’s nonscientific papers, containing much writing about his alchemical interests. A large batch was bought by John Maynard Keynes, who wrote in a lecture published posthumously as “Newton, the Man,” that the physicist and mathematician “was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians.”
A scientific study found that hurricanes given feminine names tend to be deadlier than those given masculine names; people consider them less risky and take inadequate precautions. “Changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley to Eloise,” the study notes, “could nearly triple its death toll.”
In the spring of 1914 the International Workers of the World formed the Unemployed Union. As a publicity stunt the group published fake extracts from first-century Roman press in The Masses magazine. One item carried the headline JESUS OF NAZARETH LEADS HOBO ARMY ON JERUSALEM. “Softhearted sympathy is misplaced,” it read, “as we are informed from reliable sources that the Judean rioters belong chiefly to the class of professional unemployed and habitual roustabouts.”
Eighth-century Persian scholar Ibn al-Muqaffa recorded a parable describing human existence. A man, fearing an elephant, dangles himself into a pit to hide but soon realizes a dragon waits at the bottom and rats are gnawing at the branches he’s holding on to. He then notices a beehive, tastes its honey, and becomes “diverted, unaware, preoccupied with that sweetness.” While he’s distracted, the rats finish gnawing the branches, and the man falls into the dragon’s mouth.
While uniting rival clans into a nation in the third millennium bc, China’s Yellow Emperor is said to have established prohibitions against feuding by making a gruesome example of one rebellious leader—peeling the man’s skin off to use for target practice, stuffing his stomach to make a ball to kick around, and fermenting his flesh and bones into a bitter broth to drink.
Thirteenth-century professor Thaddeus of Bologna once claimed anyone who ate eggplant for nine days would go insane. A student decided to test the theory and after nine days returned to report he was not mad. Thaddeus asked him to turn around; on observing the student’s behind he announced, “All this about the eggplant has been proved.” It is said the student subsequently wrote a learned treatise on the subject.
Lorenzo de’ Medici once observed a young sculptor complete the head of an old and wrinkled faun whose mouth he had rendered open. While astonished at the craftsmanship, Lorenzo pointed out that old men never have all their teeth. Once the great patron of the arts had left, the artist knocked out one of the teeth; when Lorenzo returned and saw the statue again, he was so taken with the new version that he decided to adopt the artist, whose name was Michelangelo.
In 2016, after saxophonist Dan Fabbio was diagnosed with a brain tumor, neuroscientists in Rochester, New York, used functional MRI scans to create a brain map indicating areas crucial for music processing. Fabbio was awake during the surgery and, once the tumor was removed, played a Korean folk song to ensure his skill on saxophone remained; the song’s short notes allowed him to take shallow breaths so his brain would not protrude from his opened skull.
A UK fashion student announced plans to harvest the DNA of late couturier Alexander McQueen—extracted from hair used in his 1992 collection “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims”—to develop epidermal material for a line of leather jackets and bags. The lab-grown skin will feature McQueen’s freckles, moles, and tattoos, and be susceptible to sunburn.