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Tales of wildfire survival, unusual cocktails, and more.
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September 08, 2020
Notre Dame’s Majestic Organ
When a fire tore through Paris’s Notre Dame in April 2019, there were some who waited with bated breath for news about the cathedral’s cherished pipe organ. Luckily for music lovers, the organ was spared direct damage from the burning roof. Unfortunately, it was coated with toxic lead dust, which meant that it was in dire need of restoration. But cleaning an organ isn’t as cut and dry as you might think.
A Historic Observatory’s Near-Miss
In another story of survival by fire, we turn now to Santa Clara, California, home to the historic Lick Observatory. In its vaults are almost 150,000 photographic plates bearing witness to the early history of modern astronomy as well as the only accurate seismographic reading of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. But when the wildfires approached in August, these treasures of scientific history were almost lost forever.
Dawson, Yukon Territory
The Sourtoe Cocktail
Established in 1973, the Sourtoe Cocktail is exactly what it sounds like: an actual human toe that has been dehydrated and preserved in salt. The Sourtoe can pair with any drink, but one rule remains the same: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow—but the lips have gotta touch the toe.” Not suitable for tee-toe-talers.
Atlas Obscura Experiences
Speaking of beverage mishaps, on our next edition of Accidental Discoveries we’ll hear about the happiest of mistakes that led to the creations of some of your favorite beverages! Grab your drink of choice and get inspired to go with the flow while learning about some characters and circumstances from our boozy past.
Oldest Korean Cookbook
Written by Lady Jang Gye-hyang around the year 1670, the manuscript is titled
, or “Understanding the Taste of Food.” Some historians even believe it could be the first cookbook written by a woman in all of East Asia. But even though it is a masterpiece in and of itself, Lady Jang’s contributions to food history went unnoticed for centuries.
Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
Surf’s up in Santa Cruz, where a memorial lighthouse on the north tip of Monterey Bay houses a museum chronicling the history of surfing. The popular activity is an ancient Polynesian sport, but Santa Cruz was its point of entry in the United States, introduced in 1885 by three teenage Hawaiian princes.
From the Archives
World’s Most Dangerous Toy?
The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab Kit, which first went on sale in 1950, included three sources of radiation and four uranium ores that are also radioactive. The kit also came with an instruction booklet, a pamphlet on how to prospect uranium, and various tools that enabled children to dive deep into the world of atomic chemistry.
Manhattan, New York
Bryant Park Bathroom
Let’s face it—public bathrooms are not often known for being fancy. The Bryant Park bathroom, however, may be the fanciest one in the city, containing fresh flowers, paintings of the park, bathroom attendants, all set to a background of curated classical music.
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