The Execution Dock on River Thames

Travellers to early modern London, while approaching the port city up the river Thames, were greeted by a ghastly sight. The riverbank was lined with gallows, from which hung a number of rotting corpses, bound in iron cages. They swung in the wind and made a horrid creaking noise that both terrified and offended wayfarers. But the gallows at London’s infamous Execution Dock would remain for nearly four hundred years.

This was a time when Britain was expanding its empire. The British crown, driven by commercial ambitions and the necessity to one-up the competition with Spain and France, began setting up colonies at far-flung places across the oceans. The crown traded extensively with its colonies. The colonies provided essential raw materials for England, and at the same time, served as markets for British manufactured goods.

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A replica gallows by the River Thames in London. Photo credit: Toby Bradbury/Flickr

The House Where Hitler Was Born

Braunau am Inn, on the south bank of the Inn river, close to the border with Germany, is a charming little town in Austria. But it carries a dark legacy.

Not far from the main square is the street Salzburger Vorstadt, where stands a nondescript three-story, beige-colored brick building, bearing house number 15. It’s the house where Adolf Hitler was born.

The leader of the Nazi party was born here on 20 April 1889. At that time, the building was a modest guest house where Hitler’s father, Alois Hitler Sr., was staying with his wife and Adolf’s mother, Klara Pölzl, during the years when Hitler senior was posted as minor customs official at the nearby Austrian–German border. The Hitlers lived in the building only for a few weeks, before the family moved to another address in Braunau. When Adolf was three years old, the family left the town for good. Hitler returned only briefly to Braunau in 1938, on his way to Vienna, after he annexed Austria to Nazi Germany.

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Photo credit: Michael Kranewitter/Wikimedia

The Terrifying Beauty of Melting Icecaps

Every summer, as the air warms up and the sunlight beats down on the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, pools of brilliantly blue melt water are formed across the pristine white landscape. While summer time melting is normal, over the past several decades, the rate of melting has been alarming high and these deep blue lakes are appearing in increasing numbers, higher and higher up on the ice cap.

These pictures, by photographer Timo Lieber, document the phenomenon.

“I’ve always had a passion for the ice, Leiber told The Guardian. “I’d been to Iceland seven or eight times, to Arctic Norway and to Greenland. Greenland’s contribution to global sea-level rise is about three times that of Antarctica. I saw how fast the landscape was changing and wanted to put it into a body of work.”

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Photo credit: Timo Lieber

The House Made of Newspapers

If you go to Rockport someday, in Massachusetts, the United States, take some time to drive down Pigeon Hill Street and look out for a sign that says “Paper House”. Park your car near the sidewalk and go visit this unique, one story red house that looks like an ordinary log cabin, but is actually made of paper.

The paper house began in 1922 when Elis Stenman, a mechanical engineer, began building a small summer home. It started out like any other home, with a timber frame, shingle roof and floors, but when it came to the walls, Stenman had different ideas. The walls of the Paper House is made up of layers upon layers of old newspapers, glued together until they are about an inch thick, then finished off with a nice coat of varnish. Everything inside the paper house is also made of paper. Stenman built chairs, tables, bookshelves and even curtains and a clock out of newspaper and magazine pages. Only the piano is made of wood and covered with paper to maintain uniformity, and the fireplace is made of bricks, for obvious reason.

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Photo credit: Danielle Walquist Lynch/Flickr

Ecce Homo: The Botched Painting That Saved a Town

Eighty-three year old amateur artist Cecilia Giménez had nothing but good intentions when she turned her attention towards a deteriorating fresco of Jesus Christ painted on the walls of the Sanctuary of Mercy church, in the small Spanish town of Borja. The fresco titled Ecce Homo (meaning “Behold the Man”) was made by the Spanish artist Elías García Martínez in 1930, and although the work was of “little artistic importance”, according to the general opinion amongst the press, because “Martínez is not a great artist and his painting Ecce Homo is not a ‘masterpiece,’” the fresco nevertheless held some sentimental value within the local community. So when the original paint on the fresco started flaking, Cecilia Giménez, who had no formal training, took it upon herself to restore the ageing artwork.

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The damaged fresco of Ecce Homo on the left, and the ‘restored’ version on the right.

A Hanging Tree, Graves And Hemingway: The Colorful History of Captain Tony's Saloon

There appears to be nothing remarkable about Captain Tony's Saloon housed in a yellow, two-storied building at 428 Greene Street in Key West, Florida. But the inside is steeped in history.

Said to be the oldest bar in Key West, what is now Captain Tony's Saloon was the original Sloppy Joe's Bar, where legendary writer Ernest Hemingway spent most of his evenings. It was at Captain Tony's Saloon where well known folk country singer Jimmy Buffett got his start, playing for tips and beers —an experience he later described in the song "Last Mango in Paris." The pub’s other celebrity patrons include Truman Capote, Bob Dylan, Duane Cahill, Tommy Newell, and even John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman, among others.

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Photo credit: Sam Howzit/Flickr

Kitsault: The Ghost Town Where Lights Are Still On But No One’s Home

Think ghost town and you’ll probably imagine ruins —roofless houses, dirty broken windows, rotting floors, but at Kitsault, on the North Coast of British Columbia, Canada, you’ll find rows upon rows of immaculately kept houses, shopping centers, restaurants, banks, pubs and theaters, all abandoned and sitting empty but untouched and spotless. The town’s lights are always on, the streets are lined with neatly trimmed trees and there are freshly mowed lawns, yet no one has called Kitsault home since 1982.

The town of Kitsault, near the Alaskan border, situated about 115 kilometers down the gravel road from Terrace, had a very brief existence. It began in 1979 as a community of workers of the molybdenum mines. Molybdenum forms hard, stable carbides in alloys, and is often used to provide hardness and corrosion resistance properties to steel. But just as life was getting started in this pristine mountain utopia, the market for molybdenum crashed and the entire town of some 1,200 residents abandoned it.

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Photo credit: Bob Steventon/Flickr

The Infamous Mauthausen Stairs of Death

The Mauthausen concentration camp, situated about 20 kilometers east of the city of Linz in Upper Austria, was the hub of one of the largest labor camp complexes in the German-controlled part of Europe, with a central camp near the village of Mauthausen, and nearly one hundred other subcamps located throughout Austria and southern Germany. Among these Mauthausen had the most brutal detention conditions. It was classified “Grade III”, where the most “incorrigible political enemies of the Reich” were sent to be exterminated, often through exhaustion by grueling forced labor. The SS called Mauthausen Knochenmühle, or the bone grinder.

The camp was located on the edge of a granite quarry where camp inmates were sent to work. Indeed, the site for the camp was chosen because of the quarry’s close proximity to Linz, a city Hitler planned to rebuild with grandiose buildings as envisioned by Albert Speer.

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The Stairs of Death at Mauthausen concentration camp, then and now.

La Pascualita, The Corpse Bride

Peering out from behind the glass window of a small bridal shop in Chihuahua, Mexico, stands a tall, slender figure dressed in bridal costume. For close to ninety years, this unnervingly lifelike mannequin at La Popular —the bridal store— has been beguiling visitors from across America and Europe. The mannequin’s pallid skin, her veined hands, the wrinkles on her palms, and her worn out fingernails have people more than convinced that La Pascualita, as she is popularly known, is not a dummy but a perfectly preserved, embalmed corpse.

La Pascualita, or “Little Pascuala”, first appeared on the windows of this well-known bridal store on March 25, 1930. The mannequin’s wide-set glass eyes, real hair and blushing skin tones immediately struck passersby, including the store employees. It wasn’t long before someone noted the strikingly similarity between the mannequin and the recently deceased daughter of the store owner. The stage for the rumor was set.

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Photo credit: Xavi Valero/Flickr

The Second Life of Wind Turbine Blades

As the world pushes towards renewable energy, the wind energy industry comes to the forefront as a clean and a genuinely green energy. And like any other industry, the wind industry too is technologically evolving producing bigger and better upgrades, which means that old wind farms are being regularly decommissioned and refitted with upgraded equipment. Herein, comes the question of recycling, and the wind industry has a reputation to hold. Unfortunately, one of the largest component of a wind turbine —the blades— are completely unrecyclable.

Turbine blades are made from glass or carbon-fiber composites. These materials are strong, lightweight and has a significant aerodynamic advantage, but they are nearly impossible to recycle. Hence, at the end of their lifecycle, most of these blades end up as waste on landfills. According to one estimate, there will be 50,000 tons of blade waste in 2020, which will rise to more than 200,000 tons by 2034.

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A playground in Rotterdam built out of decommissioned wind turbine blades. Photo credit: Denis Guzzo/Flickr