WTF Fun Fact 13619 – Jacobean Space Travel

Over three centuries before space travel to the Moon’s surface, England was the site of a little-known, audacious space proposal. The architect of this early space program was Dr. John Wilkins, a 17th-century scientist and theologian. Wilkins, also Oliver Cromwell’s brother-in-law, dreamed of a lunar voyage, crafting plans for a spacecraft propelled by an extraordinary blend of wings, springs, and gunpowder.

Wilkins’ Revolutionary Concept

In 1640, at the young age of 26, Wilkins penned a meticulous description of the machinery necessary for interstellar communication and even commerce with extraterrestrial beings. His proposal marked the first earnest contemplation of space flight, grounded in the era’s most credible scientific documentation.

Wilkins’ era, as delineated by Professor Allan Chapman of Oxford University, was a golden period of scientific revelation. This era rested between the astronomical breakthroughs of Galileo and Copernicus, who unveiled a universe with potentially habitable worlds, and the subsequent realization of the vacuum in space.

Wilkins hypothesized that Earth’s gravitational and magnetic influence spanned only 20 miles upward. Beyond this boundary, he posited, space travel to the Moon would be feasible. His vision was fueled by the era’s spirit of exploration, mirroring the terrestrial voyages of renowned explorers like Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh.

Divine Space Travel

Wilkins, balancing his scientific pursuits with theological insights, argued from a divine perspective. He believed that if God created other worlds, it was within divine providence to inhabit them. His design for a ‘flying chariot’ was a blend of clockwork, spring mechanisms, feather-coated wings, and gunpowder boosters – an embodiment of ingenuity and ambition.

However, by the 1660s, Wilkins’ theory began unraveling. Scientists like Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke demonstrated the vacuum of space, contradicting Wilkins’ assumptions. Wilkins also later understood the distinction between magnetism and gravity, realizing the impracticability of his ‘sphere of magnetic virtue.’

Wilkins’ notions of space travel also included some unconventional beliefs, like the reduced need for food in space. He reasoned that gravity’s pull on Earth necessitated food consumption to replenish the constantly emptying stomachs, a premise that would not apply in the vacuum of space.

Jacobean Space Travel, Grounded

Wilkins’ theories, while never tested, represented a remarkable leap in thinking. His vision, though grounded by later scientific revelations, paved the way for future explorations and opened a dialogue about space travel’s possibilities.

This early foray into space exploration, termed by Professor Chapman as the ‘Jacobean Space Programme,’ laid the foundational ideas that would much later catapult humans into space. Wilkins’ pioneering spirit, albeit based on flawed premises, showcased the boundless curiosity and ambition that drive human endeavors beyond Earth’s confines.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Cromwell’s moonshot: how one Jacobean scientist tried to kick off the space race” — The Independent

WTF Fun Fact 12960 – Knocker Uppers

No one enjoys an alarm clock. But just imagine not having one and relying on someone to stop by your home and bang on your window or door to get you out of bed in the morning. That’s what happened in industrial England before alarm clocks were invented. The human alarm clocks were known as “knocker uppers” or simply “knockers.”

Who were the knockers?

According to Snopes (cited below): “Before the average industrial worker in England had access to alarm clocks, someone needed to wake them up. This fell to the ‘knocker-ups,’ or ‘knocker-uppers,”’or simply ‘knockers’ who would go around working-class neighborhoods around Britain with sticks, pea-shooters, poles or anything else that would help them knock on doors and windows to get people up.”

Try hitting the snooze on that!

According to the BBC, they “were common in mill towns in northern Britain, or in London where dockers had unusual hours, and even with brewery workers in less industrial towns in Dorset.”

How did the knocker uppers come about?

A 2020 article in the Journal of Victorian Culture, “Knocker Ups: A Social History of Waking Up in Victorian Britain’s Industrial Towns” explains:  

“In pre-industrial societies, people organized their activities around diurnal and seasonal rhythms. Historians have argued that in contrast, industrialized societies became preoccupied with time and watching the clock. Time became money. Beginning work at factories at a fixed hour in the day became crucial for both factories and workers. In particular, wages of industrial workers became bound by time – if they failed to report to their duties on time they were fined. Within this context, knocker ups emerged in British industrial society to perform the vital duty of waking up industrial workers. Consequently, they became an integral part of the service industry created to cater to working-class clients. By waking up industrial hands on time, knocker ups contributed to industrial productivity. Usually, knocker ups went around industrial towns waking up clients with their innovative tools. Some used sticks and canes while others shot peas through pipes. Either way, the knocker ups used their creative ways to let their clients know it was time for them to wake up.”

We just wonder how the neighbors felt on the days they got to sleep in!  WTF fun facts

Source: “Who Were the Knocker-Uppers?” — Snopes

WTF Fun Fact 12946 – The Stone of Destiny

Even if you’re a “royal watcher” and love the idea of real-life kings, queens, and princesses, you can still feel a little “icky” about the idea that royals often feel like they were chosen by the universe in some way to wield power and influence over others. Perhaps that’s why the so-called “Stone of Destiny” is making headlines before the coronation of King Charles III.

What is the Stone of Destiny?

Also called the Stone of Scone, this slab of red sandstone has been used in the UK since the 9th century when it was used to coronate Scottish kings. King Edward I stole it in 1296 after invading Scotland, and it was built into a throne in Westminster.

The Stony of Destiny long sat at Westminster Abbey and is still today what kings and queens of England sit upon during their coronations (with a cushion, of course, because royalty doesn’t want to be uncomfortable).

Stealing the stone

The stone was briefly stolen on Christmas Day in 1950 by students and a teacher making a statement about Scotland’s independence, but (while it was broken in the process) it was returned 4 weeks later. And the people who stole it were not charged – instead, a movie was made about the effort, aptly titled Stone of Destiny.

Soon, it will play a role in King Charles III’s rapidly-approaching coronation.

In 1996, the stone was returned to Scotland, but it will make the journey to England for the King’s coronation.

What’s so special about the stone?

The stone has some conflicting stories associated with it. The most common legend is that it was used by Jacob as a pillow in the Book of Genesis. It’s the pillow he laid his head upon when he had the dream of Jacob’s ladder.

That means it would have been mined in Palestine and the story goes that it made its way through Egypt, Spain, and to Ireland, courtesy of the prophet Jeremiah before the next part of the legend begins.

Later, the stone was brought from Ireland to Argyll, Scotland by Fergus the Great, the legendary first king of Scotland. (More accurately, he was the King of Dál Riada, a territory that spanned modern-day Scotland and Ireland.)

During the Viking raids on Scotland in the 9th century, the stone was moved to the Abbey at Scone (which is why it’s often called the Stone of Scone). It was moved there by Kenneth MacAlpin, which sounds like a modern name but is actually the name of a 9th-century king who began to consolidate the lands (and peoples, such as the Picts) into a separate country called Scotland.

Its biblical origins are unlikely, however, since geologists have proven that it’s “lower Old Red Sandstone” from a quarry very close to Scone. However, some insist the real Stone of Destiny still resides in Scotland because what was stolen by King Edward I and then repatriated had always been a replica of the original.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The “Stone Of Destiny” Is Returning To Westminster For The Coronation Of King Charles” — IFL Science

WTF Fun Fact 12700 – Dr. “Mummy” Pettigrew

During England’s Victorian period, people were obsessed with ancient Egypt. But this fascination led them to plunder pyramids, disturb the dead, and desecrate sacred artifacts. Of course, they didn’t see it this way, they were just having a good time.

A surgeon and Egyptologist (back in the days when you could be both), Thomas Pettigrew, took advantage of this “Egyptomania” to aid in his research on mummies.

According to Tasha Dobbin-Bennett on behalf of Yale’s Peabody Museum:

“…During the spring and summer of 1833, Pettigrew conducted his research for this manuscript while leading three mummy “unwrapping” parties, where members of the British social elite would gather to observe the unwrapping of ancient Egyptian mummies. Although no longer under the employ of the Duke of Sussex, Pettigrew effectively parlayed his introduction to the social elite into patronage, riding on the wave of Egyptomania sweeping the British Isles. While the majority of these private parties were produced for entertainment value alone, Pettigrew utilized these events as another line of investigation complementing his education and access to extensive libraries. The material included within the manuscript testifies to his detailed and serious methodology, particularly in the chapters concerning the mummy as a drug, the embalming procedure and paraphernalia, and the comparison of classical authors with his research. Ten illustrated plates by the satirist George Cruikshank, the result of careful observation, complement the extensive text.”

Tomb-raiding was so common that Egyptian mummies could be procured by wealthy people for just about any purpose.

Apparently, mummy unwrapping parties sometimes involved the hosts giving away the objects people were buried with as party favors. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Mummy-Mania” – Yale Peabody Museum

WTF Fun Facts 12594 – Hot Dog Diplomacy

King George VI was the first sitting British ruler to visit a U.S. president. It was kind of a big deal after the whole Revolutionary War and the sore feelings that left.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president at the time and wanted to give the king a royal greeting, American style.

Of course there was a state dinner with all the attendant fancy food. But it was a casual picnic that really made the trip memorable because that’s when King George VI had his first hot dog on June 11, 1939.

It was a private picnic, but the hot dog moment was anything but a secret. In fact, a NYT headline the following day read: “King Tries Hot Dog and Asks For More.”

The brand was Swift, for those who need to know these things. And the king very appropriately had a beer with his 2 hot dogs as well, according to the Times.

Looking back on the moment in 2009, Dan Barry wrote in the NYT:

There is no record of the founding fathers ever eating hot dogs, no trace, for example, of mustard on the Declaration of Independence. But the hot dog has played a role in American foreign relations since at least June 1939, when the king and queen of England attended a picnic at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s estate in Hyde Park, N.Y., while soliciting American support for England in the war about to consume Europe.”

The king’s mother was with him at the time and also partook in a hot dog – but she is said to have eaten it with a knife and fork.

Upon inviting an Iranian delegation to the US, the Obama administration relied once again on the diplomatic dogs. There’s no word on how they went down, but Barry seemed to think that it was an essential part of the diplomatic process either way, noting:

The hot dog, it seems, figures in American diplomacy only when absolutely needed. In 1999, for example, President Bill Clinton gathered at a table with Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel and the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to eat hot dogs. Kosher, of course.”

– WTF fun facts

Source: “When Franklin Delano Roosevelt Served Hot Dogs to a King” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12563 – A Royal Name Change

The House of Hanover was on the British throne until 1901 until the ascension of King Edward VII, the son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

But the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha name was short-lived among the British royal family. That’s not because another family took over, but rather because the family decided to change its name in the wake of anti-German sentiment in 1917 during World War I. The last straw before the name change came when an aircraft called the Gotha G.IV participated in the bombing of London.

So, while today we know the British royal family as the Windsors, they are the same Saxe-Coburg and Gothas that ruled at the beginning of the 20th century.

The forced abdication of the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, who happened to be a cousin of British king George V, gave the monarchy even more to think about. So when they changed their name, they also abandoned or anglicized the rest of their German titles and houses.

On July 17, 1917, a royal proclamation issued by George V declared:

“Now, therefore, We, out of Our Royal Will and Authority, do hereby declare and announce that as from the date of this Our Royal Proclamation Our House and Family shall be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor, and that all the descendants in the male line of Our said Grandmother Queen Victoria who are subjects of these Realms, other than female descendants who may marry or may have married, shall bear the said Name of Windsor….”

Of course, the name Windsor didn’t pop out of thin air. They took the name from Windsor Castle, a royal property and the center of royal social life, in the town of Windsor, England. It is now the permanent home of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Saxe-Coburg-Gothas didn’t get off without a bit of ribbing, however. The German Emperor at the time, Wilhelm II, joked that he was looking forward to seeing “The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha,” a reference to Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” – WTF Fun Fact

Source: “British royal family change their name to Windsor – archive 1917” — The Guardian

WTF Fun Fact 12555 – The London Bridge of Arizona

London Bridge is falling down
Falling down, falling down
London Bridge is falling down
My fair lady

Did you sing this song as a kid? We sure did, although we had no idea just how many more verses it had – there are lines about building it up with iron bars as well as gold and silver, but in the end, the bridge was simply taken down and replaced.

Originally built in the 1830s, it spanned the River Thames in London, England. But by 1968, it was up for sale. We can’t really relate to the desire to buy an old bridge that’s falling down, but apparently, millionaires can. American entrepreneur and chainsaw manufacturer Robert P. McCulloch (who also inherited a fortune from his grandfather) decided to buy the bridge to serve as a tourist attraction in the new community he was planning in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. He paid $2.5 million (but there wasn’t exactly a bidding war over it).

And what millionaires want, they tend to get. He bought the bridge, had it dismantled, and transported it to Arizona on a cargo ship. After sailing through the Panama Canal, it landed in Long Beach, California, and was trucked to Lake Havasu City. There, it was reassembled and opened in October 1971.

But you don’t have to worry about using a crumbling old bridge if you visit it. The masonry from the old bridge simply forms the outer structure of the new “London Bridge,” which includes reinforced concrete. It now connects an island in the Colorado River with the main part of Lake Havasu City.

Now, when we say it connects an island, we don’t mean that a bridge was needed there. In fact, a canal was dug to create the island after the bridge was built. But it had the intended effect. Interest in buying land in the area increased, and it did indeed become a tourist destination (and it still is to this day). –  WTF fun fact

Source: “Arizona’s London Bridge: A Brief History” — Arizona Highways