From Alec Marsh for Outside magazine: "On September 5 of 1936, a pair of fisherman came across a woman floundering her way through a bog on the eastern shores of Nova Scotia. In the background was her single-engined Percival Vega Gull aircraft, its nose buried deep in the moss. Blood streamed down the woman’s face and black peat went up to the waist of her formerly white overalls: ‘I’m Mrs Markham,’ she told them. ‘I’ve just flown from England.’ Taken to a local farmhouse, the aviator asked for a cup of tea and for a phone. She was directed to ‘a little cubicle that housed an ancient telephone’ built on the rocks, ‘put there in case of shipwrecks,’ she recalled. Over the line she told the operator: ‘Could you ask someone to send a taxi for me?’ Beryl Markham, 33, had just become the first person to fly non-stop, solo, from Europe to North America."
The Donner party might have survived if they hadn't rejected help from indigenous tribes
From Julie Schablitsky for Archeology Archive: "Until now the Native American perspective has been left out of the telling of the Donner tragedy, not because the wel mel ti did not remember the pioneers, but because they were never asked, or perhaps were not ready to share. Their oral tradition recalls the starving strangers who camped in an area that was unsuitable for that time of year. Taking pity on the pioneers, the northern Washoe attempted to feed them, leaving rabbit meat and wild potatoes near the camps. Another account states that they tried to bring the Donner Party a deer carcass, but were shot at as they approached. Later, some wel mel ti observed the migrants eating human remains. Fearing for their lives, the area's native inhabitants continued to watch the strangers but avoided further contact. The migrants at Alder Creek were not surviving in the mountains alone—the northern Washoe were there, and they had tried to help."
The magic number of 10,000 steps has little or no science behind it
From Amanda Mull for The Atlantic: "In the past decade, as smartphone apps and wearable fitness trackers have proliferated, another benchmark has entered the lexicon: Take at least 10,000 steps a day, which is about five miles of walking for most people. As with many other American fitness norms, where this particular number came from has always been a little hazy. But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a default daily goal for some of the most popular activity trackers on the market. Now new research is calling the usefulness of the 10,000-step standard into question. I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard and lead author of a new study, began looking into the step rule because she was curious where it came from. It turns out the 10,000-step guideline started as a marketing strategy: in 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers, and they gave it a name that, in Japanese, means ‘the 10,000-step meter.’”
Editor's note: If you like this newsletter, please share it with someone else. And if you really like it, perhaps you could subscribe, or contribute something via my Patreon. Thanks for being a reader!
Researchers are using AI to decipher ancient scrolls buried in the eruption of Vesuvius
From Ashlee Vance for Bloomberg: "The Herculaneum papyri are a collection of scrolls whose status among classicists approaches the mythical. The scrolls were buried inside an Italian countryside villa by the same volcanic eruption in 79 A.D. that froze Pompeii in time. To date, only about 800 have been recovered, but it’s thought that the villa, which historians believe belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, had a huge library that could contain tens of thousands more. Such a haul would represent the largest collection of ancient texts ever discovered, and the conventional wisdom is that it would multiply our supply of ancient Greek and Roman poetry, plays and philosophy manyfold. “Some of these texts could rewrite the history of key periods of the ancient world,” says Robert Fowler, a classicist and the chair of the Herculaneum Society."
Thomas Pursell created ventilation hatches for his family's burial plot just in case
From Atlas Obscura: "Thomas Pursell wanted to make absolutely sure that neither he nor his family would suffer the nightmare of a freak awakening six feet under. So the retired firefighter from Pennsylvania concocted an advanced version of the safety coffin: the escape burial hatch. Obsession with the safety coffin, which became especially intense between the 18th and 19th centuries, was born from widespread fear of being buried alive. Coffins were outfitted with bells and tubes for air and even feeding, but Pursell took matters into his own hands and made a vaulted apparatus that would allow the revived to ventilate their coffin from the inside via a patented wheel lock that he devised. Each tomb was lined with felt for comfort, warmth, and safety should they begin to panic, and any fallen family members would be laid to rest with tools and bread."
Milwaukee went to war over bridges and you can see the results on a map
From Dan Lewis at Now I Know: "Milwaukee was officially founded on January 31, 1846, but non-Native people looking to make a better life for themselves began moving there decades earlier. In 1818, a French-Canadian fur trader and land speculator named Solomon Juneau moved to the east bank of the Milwaukee River and began a settlement he called Juneautown. Sixteen years later, two other settlers moved to the area; that year, a Connecticut-born engineer named Byrom Kilbourn started Kilbourntown on the west bank of the river, and a Virginia-born trader named George H. Walker founded Walker’s Point in the river’s southern bank. And unfortunately, the three men didn’t get along. Each one wanted their settlement to be the shining star in the area, and Kilbourn and Juneau, in particular, didn’t play nice — and transit paid the price."
You can see the Chicago skyline from the far shore of Lake Michigan
Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, but I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as "serendipty engines," such as The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, Jodi Ettenberg's Curious About Everything, Dan Lewis's Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton's The Browser, Clive Thompson's Linkfest, Noah Brier and Colin Nagy's Why Is This Interesting, Maria Popova's The Marginalian, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something interesting that you think should be included here, please feel free to email me.