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Status: Hoax
image Earlier this spring, while digging up an oak tree, residents of Feckenham (a small British village) discovered an 800-year-old scroll written by King Henry III. The scroll stated that the village should remain independent forever. This prompted the villagers to declare their independence from Britain, set up border-patrol checkpoints around the town, and lower the taxes on beer. The Ottawa Citizen reports:
The scroll, of course, is a joke. The story started earlier this spring as a way to involve locals in a town festival, which wraps up tonight with a dance in the local hall. Villagers followed through with the tongue-in-cheek idea and created their own national flag, t-shirts, and moved to get rid of the government's infamously high alcohol tax. But now villagers feel the line between reality and fiction is starting to blur.
Not everyone realized it was a joke. One businessman reportedly contacted the village to inquire about the possibility of opening an import/export operation to take advantage of the town's tax status.
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 24, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Weird News
The Los Angeles Times reports about a Russian travel agency, Persey Tours, that sells fake vacations:
For $500, nobody will believe you weren't sunning yourself last week on Copacabana Beach, just before you trekked through the Amazon rain forest and slept in a thatched hut. Hey! That's you, arms outstretched like Kate Winslet on the bow of the Titanic, on top of Corcovado! Persey Tours was barely keeping the bill collectors at bay before it started offering fake vacations last year. Now it's selling 15 a month — providing ersatz ticket stubs, hotel receipts, photos with clients' images superimposed on famous landmarks, a few souvenirs for living room shelves. If the customer is an errant husband who wants his wife to believe he's on a fishing trip, Persey offers not just photos of him on the river, but a cellphone with a distant number, a lodge that if anyone calls will swear the husband is checked in but not available, and a few dead fish on ice.
So now who believes that I really did travel to Edinburgh in May for a Museum of Hoaxes get-together? wink

The broader focus of the LA Times article is how awash in fakery Russian society is. You can get fake versions of almost anything in Russia: clothes, food, electronics, university degrees, art, legal documents, etc. One line in the article I thought was particularly ironic:
The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade has estimated that 50% of all consumer goods sold in Russia are fake; the counterfeit trade, Minister German O. Gref announced in January, has reached $4 billion to $6 billion a year — no one knows exactly, because the books are cooked.

Categories: Exploration/Travel, Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 12, 2006
Comments (23)
Status: Real
image The bicycle-eating tree is probably familiar to most residents of Washington, since it's located on Vashon Island, Washington (and won a 1994 contest to select the most unusual places or events in the Washington-Oregon area), but it's new to me. Apparently someone, decades ago, left their bicycle leaning against the tree, and as the tree kept growing it enveloped the bike and now lifts it seven feet off the ground. I think it's amazing that a) the tree actually grew around the bike instead of pushing it over, and that b) in all that time no one ever moved the bike. The bicycle-eating tree has been featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not, and also inspired a children's book by Berkeley Breathed, Red Ranger Came Calling. Breathed used to live on Vashon Island. (via CaliforniaTeacherGuy)
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Sat Jul 01, 2006
Comments (48)
Status: Strange News
image Inside the Amarnath Cave, located in Indian-administered Kashmir, can be found the ice Shiva Linga, one of the holiest objects in the Hindu faith. Basically it's a large, naturally occurring, phallus-shaped ice stalagmite. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus make the pilgrimage to visit it each year, despite a high amount of terrorist activity in that area. (Wikipedia has an entry about it.) But this year the pilgrimage has been marred by allegations that the Shiva Linga has been faked. The BBC reports:
Governor SK Sinha - who is also the chairman of Amarnath Shrine Board - said on Thursday that he had asked a retired high court judge to investigate allegations that a man-made stalagmite was placed in the cave after the naturally occurring one failed to materialise. The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says that this has been blamed on a shortage of snow combined with the wrong temperatures. Our correspondent says that a naturally-occurring ice stalagmite has now begun to appear, but it is far smaller than in recent years.
Now that the Shiva Linga has gone fake, I figure it's only a matter of time before it starts appearing on grilled cheese sandwiches.
Categories: Places, Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 30, 2006
Comments (3)
Status: Strange News
Nigerian travellers have been warned by their government to watch out for conmen while in Britain:
Fraudsters in Britain might pour tomato juice or other substances on your dress and then offer to help remove it, robbing you in the process, the information ministry warned in its first-ever travel advisory obtained by Reuters on Thursday. The conmen, who are mainly white, but also include east Europeans and north Africans, might also pretend to pick up an object from under a potential victim's seat to distract his attention while he robs him, it added. "Nigerian travellers are hereby warned not to carry large amount of money on their body and ensure that their air tickets, passports, expensive wrist-watches as well as trinkets are securely hidden," the advisory said.
The advisory seems sensible enough, though given Nigeria's reputation for crime it seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. The Reuters article points out that, "Nigeria itself has seen a sharp rise in violent crime since President Olusegun Obasanjo was elected in 1999, ending 15 years of military rule. Africa's top oil producer, ranked by Berlin-based sleaze watchdog Transparency International as the world's seventh most corrupt country, is also famous for junk mail scams."

Big Gary (who forwarded me the article) wonders who are the other six most corrupt countries, if Nigeria is number seven. As best I can find out, the other six would be (starting with the most corrupt): Chad, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Haiti, and Equatorial Guinea. This is from the 2005 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (on which Nigeria was actually ranked #6, not #7).
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 28, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: Strange phenomenon
image The residents of Aqueduct Street have an unusual problem. Their lines are going wobbly. Specifically, the double yellow lines on their road. When the city laid down the lines earlier this month, they were straight. But now they've begun to take off in random directions. At first some suspected the work of a prankster, but apparently the truth is much more sinister: The lines are doing this of their own accord!

This idea really appeals to me. Double yellow lines get fed up with being straight and decide to rebel. What we are seeing in Aqueduct Street might merely be the beginning. What if it became a worldwide epidemic of wandering lines? But the government, as usual, has decided to cover up the truth and is blaming the wobbly lines on the use of yellow marker tape. Says a Preston Council spokesman:
"We have had to use yellow marker tape for the double yellow lines, which will not damage the road surface when it's removed. This type of marker tape has been used in the past and we've never had any problems, but some of the tape on Aqueduct Street came loose towards the end of last week, which meant the yellow lines were no longer straight."
A likely story.
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 21, 2006
Comments (13)
Status: Strange, but true
California realtors have devised a new way to sell homes. They're hiring actors to play "happy families" during open houses:
Attractive film and stage actors are cast in the roles of cheerful-looking parents and their angelic children, recreating scenes of domestic bliss that they hope will impress prospective buyers...
With Hollywood just down the road, there is no shortage of photogenic and unemployed actors, for whom the alternatives are normally bit parts in television advertisements and waiting on tables. Centex recruited Jaason Simmons, 35, best known for his three-year stint as a lifeguard on Baywatch, to play the father of the fictitious family. Camille Chen, a television and film actress, is "mother" while two children from a local theatre company are the couple's offspring. While the "family" cooks, eats, chats, plays games and watches television, a stream of house-hunters passes through. The viewers are encouraged to treat the occupants as "real" people and quiz them on the items such as the oven or refrigerator, for which the actors are given fact sheets to mug up on beforehand. Normally, the "guests" will find themselves gatecrashing an uplifting family occasion, such as the baking of a birthday cake. "We do it as a free-flowing improvisation - set the parameters and make it like a play, with specific acts," said Mr Garfield.
My wife and I often go to open houses in our neighborhood, partially because we like seeing what other people have done with their homes and partially because we're thinking of moving. Just last week we went to one in which the homeowners were there with their kid. They seemed like nice people, but now I'm wondering if it was all fake. Maybe they were just actors.

My favorite part of the article is this line: "A second show day at the development, which features three to five-bedroom homes from $500,000 (£280,000) to $610,000, is planned for Saturday. The cast will be the same except for Miss Chen, who has a previous engagement and will be "changed out" for a new mum." This immediately brought to mind Lucy Clifford's short story "The New Mother", in which misbehaving kids learn that their poor suffering mother is going to be changed out for a new mother (a mechanical one with a rat's tail). So I'm thinking that parents who visit the Centex open houses can now warn their kids that if they misbehave they'll be sent to live with one of these fake happy families. That would scare me if I were a kid. (via J-Walk)
Categories: Entertainment, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 06, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Strange, but real
image Speaking of fake Irish bars, now it's possible to have an instant fake British pub, anywhere you like. It's advertised as "the Worlds first fully functioning Mobile Inflatable Pub." This comes from the same people who brought us the world's first inflatable church. Ideally it should come with a bartender who fakes a British accent.
Categories: Food, Places
Posted by Alex on Sun May 14, 2006
Comments (3)
Status: Believed to be a hoax
Here's an interesting news report from Ireland:
It has emerged that a joke bronze plaque found on Dublin's O'Connell Bridge has been there for three years. The plaque claims to mark the spot where a Father Pat Noise drowned when his carriage plunged into the Liffey, in suspicious circumstances, in 1919. But Dublin City Council says the priest is a fictitious figure, and wants the mystery sculptor to come forward. The plaque is arousing great public interest, and flowers and candles have been left on the bridge in memory of "Father Noise".

The Irish Sunday Tribune (no link) has a few more details:
The plaque, which even contains a picture alleging to be that of the mysterious religious figure, claims to mark the spot on which Fr Noise died "under suspicious circumstances when his carriage plunged into the Liffey on August 10th, 1919." The plaque states that Fr Noise was an "adviser to Peader Clancey."
After being informed by the Sunday Tribune of the plaque's existence, council officials inspected it on Friday afternoon and hope to identify when and how it was placed into a hole on top of the wall on the bridge. The plaque is located on the Ha'penny Bridge side of O'Connell Bridge, near to the traffic lights on Bachelor's Walk.
The plaque claims to have been erected by an organisation called "the HSTI", although the heritage department of the city council said it had never heard of a group by this name.
"Council officials had a look at the plaque (on Friday) but they said they had never seen it before," said a spokeswoman. "It is certainly very unusual for this to happen."
The council said that it was possible the plaque was erected legitimately a number of years ago, although this would seem most unlikely given that nobody seems to have noticed it until last week.
The rough manner in which the plaque is inserted into the wall would also suggest that it was placed only recently. Although it appears expertly made, it is too small for the hole, which has several rough edges.
Council officials will now attempt to pinpoint the age of the plaque and the historical significance of 'Fr Pat Noise' before making a decision on whether or not to remove the memorial.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find any pictures of this plaque.

[Update:] Here's a picture of the plaque, though it doesn't let you see it very well.
Categories: History, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue May 09, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Undetermined
Following a post about how California got its name, Boing Boing added an interesting reader comment alleging that Idaho got its name because of a hoax:

"When a name was being selected for new territory, eccentric lobbyist George M. Willing suggested 'Idaho,' which he claimed was a Native American term meaning 'gem of the mountains'. It was later revealed Willing had made up the name himself, and the original Idaho territory was re-named Colorado because of it. Eventually the controversy was forgotten, and modern-day Idaho was given the made-up name when the Idaho Territory was formally created in 1863."

I had never heard this before, so I did a little research. It turns out that Willing did indeed claim to have invented the name Idaho. But whether he did or not is uncertain, since his claim was first published fifteen years after the first appearance of the word. Plus, he was a bit of a self-promoter and not entirely trustworthy. I found the following discussion of the Idaho question in an article by Erl H. Ellis published in Western Folklore, Oct. 1951:
The first known use of this name was by or before a Congressional committee early in 1860, when the proposal to create a new territory of the Pikes Peak region was before the Congress. In the April 18, 1860 issue of the Rocky Mountain News, Mr. S.W. Beall wrote back to Denver and stated that this name Idaho seemed the most popular suggestion before the committee. On May 10 and 11, 1860, the Congressional Globe mentions the proposals for the Territory of Idaho, and noted that Idaho was an Indian name signifying "Gem of the Mountain." When the territory with Denver as its center was later created, the name Colorado was substituted at the last moment for Idaho. How this name came before the Congress very early in 1860 is unknown. If this was an Indian name known to the miners who flocked to the gold fields in 1859, no mention of the fact was ever made in the newspapers of those days. So perhaps the name was invented by one Dr. George M. Willing; at any rate he claimed to have done so. Willing came to Denver in 1859 from St. Louis and became a candidate for election as delegate to the Congress, despite the lack of any right of the gold miners to have a delegate in Washington. Even though Willing lost the election, he went on to Washington and posed as the properly elected delegate. He claimed that he there invented the name Idaho, it being suggested by the presence of a little girl, Ida. His relation of the matter was published by a friend of his, William O. Stoddard, in the New York Daily Tribune for December 11, 1875...

The Territory of Colorado was actually created February 28, 1861. That was the end of the official interest in the word for the Pikes Peak area. It was after these "Colorado" events that we find the word being used in what became the state of Idaho. In December, 1861, the territorial legislature of Washington created an Idaho County, and it later became a county of the state of Idaho. Joaquin Miller, the "poet of the Sierras," was responsible for several versions of how the word Idaho was first put into that form by him in the winter of 1861-1862. In one of these accounts Miller spells the name "E-dah-hoe" and says that it was an Indian word meaning "the light or diadem on the line of the mountain." A number of historians of the state of Idaho have accepted this story from Miller, but others have noted that the name was well known and used before Miller appeared upon the scene. The Territory of Idaho was created on March 3, 1863, again after the Congress nearly adopted another name, Montana.

Even if Idaho did get its name from a hoax, Des Moines can lay claim to a funnier name origin. The Peoria indians told the first white settlers that the tribe living in that area (their rivals) was named the Moingoana, which became the root of Des Moines. But it turns out that Moingoana was really the Peoria word for "shitfaces".
Categories: Literature/Language, Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 26, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Real
image Found on Flickr: a cool picture of a giant laser beaming out of the MMT Telescope, on top of Mt. Hopkins in Arizona. The guy who took it, Filip Pizlo, says it's not photoshopped, and I'm willing to believe him, if only because when I was a grad student at UC San Diego there was a green laser beam similar to this visible in the sky over La Jolla almost every night. I never figured out where it was coming from or what the purpose of it was. It couldn't have been coming from the MMT Telescope in Arizona because that would have been too far away.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 19, 2006
Comments (18)
Status: News
image Thanks to Big Gary for sending me this story about Tijuana's fake zebras, which are facing extinction. The Tijuana zebras are donkeys painted to look like zebras. Tourists like to get their picture taken with them. It's a decades-old tradition. The Reuters article explains:

"It all started in the 1930s when someone decided to paint the donkeys up with stripes so that they'd look better in black-and-white photographs," recalled Jorge Bonillas, a sprightly 75-year-old who has worked with the animals since 1941.

But now tourism to Tijuana has been drying up because of fears about the violence of its drug wars. (I'm guilty of avoiding the place... the last time I went was over ten years ago, even though it would take me less than half an hour to get to the border from my house.) And as the tourist trade shrinks, the zebra workers are finding it harder to make a living. Sad.

Big Gary also forwarded me an article about the financial problems facing Erich von Daeniken's (of Chariots of the Gods fame) Mystery Park in Switzerland. It too, like Tijuana, is failing to attract visitors. My guess is that it's in the wrong location. It should really be somewhere like Las Vegas, not Switzerland. Big Gary notes that "If the park has to close, maybe they can send the unemployed Tijuana zebras there to retire."
Categories: Animals, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 11, 2006
Comments (8)
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