Project Habakkuk: Britain’s Secret Ship Made of Ice

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and no time in history was as desperate as the time when the world’s most powerful nations were determined in destroying each other. It was time of the Second World War, and the allies were running out of essential resources needed to construct military and naval equipment. One of them was steel.

In the North Atlantic, the British fleets were taking a pounding against the German U-boats. Allied supply ships on their way across the ocean were being intercepted and sunk by German U-boats at an alarming rate. Planes could protect the ships, but they cannot be deployed in the middle of the ocean without aircraft carriers, and those things are massive and required enormous quantities of steel to manufacture, which was in short supply. What was needed was a way for aircraft to land and refuel without overtaxing already strained resources.

project-habakkuk-1

An artist's conception of Project Habakkuk.

Pioneertown: A Movie Set That Became A Real Town

In 1946, a bunch of Hollywood legends including Roy Rogers, Dick Curtis, and Russell Hayden —tired of travelling to far-off locations to shoot western movies, that were very popular at the time— decided to build a Wild West set, in the High Desert of Southern California, where directors could shoot movies and the crew could live. They drove out to a spot 4 miles to the northwest of Yucca Valley, and two hours from Los Angeles, and started building facades and spaces to resemble a 19th-century western town. The town was named Pioneertown.

The project was a huge success. More than two hundred westerns were filmed at Pioneertown, including The Cisco Kid, and it served as the backdrop for a large number of television shows, notably Judge Roy Bean and The Gene Autry Show. As the years rolled by and Hollywood’s interest shifted from westerns to new ideas, business in Pioneertown dwindled and the town assumed a new role—that of a tourist attraction.

pioneertown-5

Photo credit: Helen Gordon/Flickr

The Mysterious Gotland Grooves

Scattered throughout the island of Gotland, in the middle of the Baltic Sea, are thousands of stones with strange grooves or furrows cut into its smooth, hard surface. The grooves always occur in groups, cut side by side and are of varying length, width and depth.

At first glance, it appears as if someone had been sharpening their axes or swords on them. That was the general opinion when the grooves were widely reported in the mid-19th century. Consequently, the grooves were called "sharpening stones". But soon scholars began to have doubts about their origin, since the shape and size of the grooves made them unfit for sharpening swords. Someone pointed out that stone-age swords, and even those from the Middle Ages and Viking Age, were too wide to fit into the grinding grooves.

gotland-grooves-1

Photo credit: Sören Gannholm

The Crypt of Civilization

Under the foundation of Phoebe Hearst Memorial Hall at Oglethorpe University in Georgia, the United States, is a large room, that was sealed shut with a welded stainless steel door more than seventy five years ago. A plaque on this door strictly forbids anyone from attempting to open the door for another six thousand years.

Behind this steel door is an assortment of artifacts and documents comprising nearly all of humanity's knowledge, as it was in 1940. This room is the Crypt of Civilization, and it represents the first successful attempt to record and preserve a snapshot of human culture and civilization for future inhabitants of planet Earth. It was the world’s first time capsule.

crypt-of-civilization-3

Contents of the Crypt of Civilization. Photo credit:  Oglethorpe University

Postman’s Park’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Postman's Park in central London, easily overlooked, lies a remarkable memorial. Under a wooden canopy, stands a short stretch of brick wall upon which are affixed over fifty ceramic plaques, each bearing the name of an ordinary person who performed a final, extraordinary act of bravery and self-sacrifice in their life. Some plaques bear two or more names. Altogether some sixty-two people are commemorated here. All of them died while trying to save the lives of others.

The Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice was created by artist George Frederic Watts, who put forward the idea for a memorial in a letter to The Times in 1887 to mark Queen Victoria's golden jubilee. Watts had been colleting stories of heroic sacrifice from newspaper clippings for many years. One story that struck a special chord was that of Alice Ayres, a servant who saved the lives of her employer’s three children by throwing a mattress out of the window to cushion the fall and dropping them to safety. Alice herself was overcome by fumes and stumbled out of the window to her death.

memorial-heroic-self-sacrifice-1

Photo credit: Cheesyfeet/Flickr

Sarajevo Tunnel: The Tunnel of Hope

Five meters below the runway of Sarajevo's airport runs a short stretch of tunnel that was dug out during the Siege of Sarajevo to bring supplies to the cut-off city. For four years this 800-meter long tunnel was the besieged city’s only connection to the outside world, and its life support.

In the spring of 1992, when Serbian forces encircled the city of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and began bombarding it with artillery and sniper fire, some three hundred thousand citizens found themselves trapped within its perimeter. The Serbs had blocked all access roads to the city, cutting supplies of food and medicine. They also cut off the city's water, electricity and heating. With people starving, the UN negotiated a deal with the Serb nationalists and secured the airport so that humanitarian aid could be flown in. But the merge supplies were not enough for the city’s population.

sarajevo-tunnel-5

Photo credit: rich white/Flickr

Elgin Marbles: A Piece of The Parthenon in London

Should a museum keep artistic treasures it acquired under dubious circumstances a long time ago, or should it return them to their country of origin? This is the debate surrounding the so-called Elgin Marbles.

Currently at the British Museum of London, the Elgin Marbles are some of the finest sculptures of classical Greece, originally sculpted for Athens's greatest monument, the Parthenon. Built nearly 2,500 years ago, the Parthenon was originally a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, before it became a church of the Virgin Mary. When Greece came under the Ottoman rule, the Parthenon was converted to a mosque. The Muslim rulers made small changes to the structure such as removing the Christian altar and whitewashing the walls to cover all icons of Christianity. But the worst was yet to come.

elgin-marbles-10

Photo credit: Alessandro Grussu/Flickr

A Blast From The Past: Episode 33

From the archives of Amusing Planet.

Tristan da Cunha - The Most Remote Island in the World

Tristan da Cunha is a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean lying 2,816 kilometers from the nearest land, South Africa, and 3,360 kilometers from South America. ‘Edinburgh of the Seven Seas’, the main settlement of the island, is regarded as the most remote permanent settlement in the world, being over 2,400 kilometers from the nearest human settlement, on Saint Helena.

tristan-da-cunha-7

Floating Houses of Lake Bokodi

Lake Bokodi, in the village of Bokod, about 80 kilometers west of Budapest, Hungary, is an artificial lake created in 1961 by the Oroszlány Thermal Power Company by flooding a low-lying meadow next to the plant. The power plant draws cold water from the lake to operate its boilers, and warm water is returned back to the lake. This continues recycling of the water causes the lake to never freeze even in the chilly winter air.

Over the years, the lake became a popular spot for fishing and angling, and a number of small wooden cottage on silts were erected by the locals, with wooden boardwalks leading to them. Other than the locals, few were aware of this picturesque spot, until a photograph of the lake and its floating houses appeared in the background of Bing Search in November 2013. As Lake Bokodi’s fame spread through the internet, tourists and photographers started thronging this remote village.

bokodi-lake-4

Photo credit: Zoltán Valkó/Panoramio

The Romantic Tale Of The Chicken Farmer Rock

Verona might be the birthplace of the most famous love story in literature, but the small village of Newbury, in the state of New Hampshire, the United States, is home to the most charming one of recent times. Although very few have heard of the story of the chicken farmer, it is New Hampshire’s favorite legend.

The story begins about thirty years ago. At that time, there was a small white house by the side of Route 103, that passes through Newbury, with a chicken farm in the backyard. And on this farm lived a pretty girl of sixteen, named Gretchen Rule, who helped her family raise chickens. Gretchen had a secret lover, or perhaps two, but this story involves this particular boy who was too shy to come forward. So on one moonlit night, the boy took a paint brush and wrote, in eight-inch high letters, the message —"CHICKEN FARMER, I LOVE YOU", on a large piece of rock conveniently located near her house, just across the road.

chicken-farmer-rock-1

Photo credit: jacmanch/Flickr