Obscura Day 2012: Where Do You Want to Go?

[Update: Here’s an excellent set of Flickr photos by Adam Foster from our adventures at the INSCAPE building.]

Saturday, April 28th, 2012 is Obscura Day, devoted to off-kilter explorations and wonder-inducing wanderings. I’m one of the hosts for Seattle, and would love to know where you want to go this year! What strange urban space or suburban ruin have you always wanted to visit? Let’s make it happen!

For more on Atlas Obscura and Obscura Day, check out their About page or the video from last year’s events.

Please leave your suggestions in the comments, or message me on Twitter. [PS: Here are some photos from my 2011 Obscura Day event in Seattle, where we attended the Ghost Tour at the Pike Place Market. This year, I’d love to create our own exploration!]

Elena Rzhevskaya: The Woman Who Held Hitler’s Teeth

Today I discovered Elena Rzhevskaya, a Russian writer who worked as a translator with the Soviet team who identified Hitler’s body after his death in 1945. She was entrusted with Hitler’s teeth during the search for a dentist who could identify them, and thus prove that the Fuhrer was really dead.

Rzhevskaya’s “Berlin Notes,” published in the Russian literary magazine Znamya in 1965, provided the first detailed account of the discovery of Hitler’s body. This information had long been suppressed in Russia because Stalin wanted to nurture a myth that Hitler was still alive.

During my research, I kept hearing that these “Notes” were grotesque, literary, not concrete enough for Western researchers. So of course I wanted to read them. But it does not appear that either “Berlin Notes,” or Rzhevskaya’s later book Berlin, May 1945 have been fully translated into English. I hope I’m wrong. Otherwise, this seems like a gap that needs to be addressed.

Here’s some more information about Rzhevskaya, pulled from a variety of sources:

By the will of fate I came to play a part in not letting Hitler achieve his final goal of disappearing and turning into a myth. Only with time did I finally manage to overcome all the obstacles and make public this ‘secret of the century’. I managed to prevent Stalin’s dark and murky ambition from taking root – his desire to hide from the world that we had found Hitler’s corpse.

–From Rzhevskaya’s page at her literary agency, which also includes her bio and more photos.

The fact therefore remains that the first time the world learnt the full story of how the Russians found and identified the corpses of Hitler and Eva Braun was when, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Third Reich, Yelena Rzhevskaya published in Znamya her Berlin Notes.

The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives by Lev Bezymenski, review by: R. Ainszte in International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 45, No. 2 (Apr.,1969), pp. 294-295

A work that combines the documentary method with personal memoir is Elena Rzhevskaya’s Berlin, May 1945 … A translator with the Soviet Army as it took Warsaw and advanced to Berlin, Rzhevskaya was present when Hitler’s charred body was found outside his bunker (and was entrusted with the Fuhrer’s teeth, which she carried in a box for two days during the search for dentists who could identify them). Her eyewitness account of the taking of Berlin, reinfornced by her extensive archival work done decades later, is vivid and detailed.

The last years of Soviet Russian literature: prose fiction, 1975-1991, by Deming Brown

Yelena Rzhevskaya, the interpreter with the Smersh group, later recounted how on the evening of May 8, when Soviet troops prepared to celebrate the German surrender, she was given a box covered in red satin and told to guard it with her life. She described it as “the sort used for cheap jewelry.” The box held Hitler’s jaws. Rzhevskaya was given it because, as a woman, she was considered less likely to get drunk that night and lose it.

— “Hitler’s Jaws of Death,” Anthony Beevor, a NYT Op-Ed

In the smouldering ruins of Berlin, Elena Rzhevskaya stooped by a radio to hear the announcement of the Nazis’ final capitulation, a small box clutched to her side. It was 8 May 1945 and at Karls-horst, on the edge of the city, the German high command had surrendered to Russian, British and American forces.

But the young interpreter from Soviet military reconnaissance was subdued as her comrades across the city broke into wild celebrations.

Tucked in the satin-lined box she was clutching were the flesh-specked jawbones of Adolf Hitler, wrenched from his corpse just hours earlier by a Russian pathologist.

A burnt body thought to be the Fuhrer’s had been found by a Red Army soldier near his bunker days before, but Joseph Stalin ordered the discovery be concealed.

‘Only two officers knew what I was carrying and I had to keep my tongue,’ Rzhevskaya, 85, told The Observer in a rare interview at her Moscow apartment.

…On 8 May, as Soviet soldiers in Berlin’s streets shouted with joy at the news of German surrender, Rzhevskaya poured wine for her colleagues with one hand – while clamping the little box to her side with the other.

‘Can you imagine how it felt? A young woman like me who had travelled the long military road from the edge of Moscow to Berlin; to stand there and hear that announcement of surrender, knowing that I held in my hands the decisive proof that we had Hitler’s remains.

The Guardian 

Read an excerpt from Berlin, May 1945 on p. 48 of Germany, 1945-1949: a sourcebook on Google Books here.

There is also a somewhat odd video put together (I think) by her literary agency on YouTube below: 

The Poe Toaster

The Poe Toaster. Photo by Bill Ballenberg.

Last night, I had the good fortune of giving a private reading about Edgar Allan Poe to a group of folks more or less connected to Seattle’s Awesome Foundation. Thanks to a noise-adverse neighbor, the reading ended up taking place in the bedroom of Dean of Awesome Nathaniel James. It was great—I felt like I was gathering everyone around for a bedtime story. Sam Wilder played the theremin, and Lara Davis provided a spooky soundscape that I think would have made Poe feel right at home. I chose to read about Poe because he died on October 7th, 1849—exactly 162 years ago today. (October 7th is also my birthday.)

The highlight of the night for me (besides meeting some great folks) was getting to share the amazing story of the Poe Toaster. Here’s a paragraph from what I read:

For sixty years, the “Poe Toaster” was a beloved Baltimore tradition. Every year, in the wee hours of the morning on Poe’s birthday, a cloaked figure would steal into the Westminster Church cemetery and hurry to Poe’s original grave. His face hidden by a scarf, the visitor would raise a glass of cognac, take a sip, and leave the bottle on the grave alongside three red roses. No one understands the significance of the cognac (amontillado would be more appropriate), but the roses are thought to represent Poe and the two people he is buried with: his wife Virginia and his mother-in-law Maria Clemm.

I also blogged about Poe’s death, and the second funeral fans gave him in 2009, here.

The photo above is from a Life Magazine July 1990 article called “Once Upon a Midnight Dreary,” written by Gary Smith. The photographer is Bill Ballenberg, and as far as I know, this is the only photo of the Toaster ever taken. (This is an Instagram-filtered version of the magazine image.) For those interested in the Toaster, I highly recommend trying to get your hands on a copy of the issue!

Osama’s body and the power of shrines

It now seems clear that the hasty disposal of OBL’s body at sea wasn’t strictly about Islamic tradition. The Associated Press has quoted Muslim scholars criticizing the burial, including Dubai’s grand mufti Mohammed al-Qubaisi, who said:

“If the family does not want him, it’s really simple in Islam: You dig up a grave anywhere, even on a remote island, you say the prayers and that’s it.”

“Sea burials are permissible for Muslims in extraordinary circumstances,” he added. “This is not one of them.”

Over on the BBC, there’s a nice article that gets to the heart of the matter:

US officials were at pains to insist that the process was conducted in “strict conformance with Islamic precepts and practices”.

But the purpose of his burial at sea was clear – to ensure that there was no grave to become a shrine for supporters, and a recruiting tool for extremist Islamism.

As the BBC notes, such concerns are not new. The body of a dead leader holds an enormous amount of symbolic weight that is often manipulated by leaders left alive. The article notes the example of Lenin’s corpse, embalmed soon after his death and on display in Moscow ever since. It’s worth pointing out that Lenin never wanted to be preserved this way — he considered it “vulgar” to worship the remains of dead leaders. But Stalin knew a great propaganda opportunity when he saw one.

While it seems doubtful that bin Laden would have gotten a monument to match Lenin’s, the US government wasn’t taking any chances. To destroy a person’s life, then their grave, is a double obliteration that serves political ends. The BBC notes the fascinating example of Muhammad Ahmad, a 19th century Sudanese religious leader and enemy of the British:

Ahmad was not killed in a British raid – he died of typhus. But Lord Kitchener destroyed his tomb to prevent it becoming a rallying point for disciples and had his bones thrown into the Nile.

Meanwhile, a parallel discussion is taking place about the photos of Osama’s corpse. The first photo that circulated was revealed to be a fake. For a few days, the administration said they possessed images of of OBL’s corpse, but were hesitant to release them. About an hour ago, Obama said that he had decided not to release the photos after all:

After intense discussions with his national security team, Mr. Obama decided that the photos were too graphic and could further enflame Bin Laden’s followers, according to Mr. Carney, but would not change the minds of skeptics. Mr. Obama indicated in the interview that gloating by releasing the photos “is not who we are,” Mr. Carney said.

(Sadly, the images of American celebrating OBL’s death with drunken shenanigans have already done plenty to tell the world “who we are.”)

It seems likely the photo(s), or a faked version, will surface somehow. On Twitter, the brilliant Colin Dickey, author of Cranioklepty, wondered: “Per John Berger’s comments on Che Guevara’s corpse & Mantegna’s Christ, I am interested what Renaissance painting the OBL photo references.”

Berger’s essay “The Image of Imperialism” makes for some spooky, and recommended, reading right now. In it, Berger compares the photo of the dead Che to Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson:

Here is the photo of Che, from the Pbase galleries:

Berger goes on to compare the photo of Che to Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson:

As well as Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ:

The Pbase site makes some good points about the history of the Che photo:

Unenthused by his efforts to incite revolution among the poor and oppressed in Bolivia, the nation’s army (trained and equipped by the U.S. military and the CIA) captured and executed Guevara in 1967. But before dumping his body in a secret grave, they gathered around for a strategic photo op. They wanted to prove to the world that Che was dead, in hopes that his political movement would die with him. in fact, anticipating charges that the photo had been faked, Che’s thoughtful captors amputated his hands and preserved them in formaldehyde.

But by killing the man, Bolivian officials unwittingly birthed his legend. The photo, which circulated around the world, bore a striking resemblance to Renaissance paintings of Christ taken down from the cross. Even as Che’s killers preened and gloated above him (the officer on the right seems to be inadvertently pointing to a wound on Guevara’s body near where Christ’s final wound was inflicted), Che’s eerily peaceful face was described as showing forgiveness. The photo’s allegorical significance certainly wasn’t lost on the revolutionary protesters of the era. They quickly adopted “Che lives!” as a slogan and rallying cry. Thanks to this photograph, “the passion of the Che” ensured that he would live on forever as a martyr for the socialist cause.

There are likely many reasons behind the decision not to release the photos of Osama’s corpse. But perhaps the 1967 photo of Che served as a cautionary tale?

What happened to Osama bin Laden’s body?

Update 3:45: The similarities between the disposal of bin Laden’s body and Eichmann’s ashes (by Israel) and the Nuremberg defendants (by Germany) are obvious. See this article from Ha’aretz:

No ‘holy tomb’

The prime minister brought up an additional issue: the question of Eichmann’s body. What should be done with it? Ben-Gurion’s position was decisive: “We don’t need for the place where [Eichmann] is buried to become a holy site and we shouldn’t give the body to the family.” Dov Yosef suggested dealing with the body “like at Nuremberg – they incinerated the bodies and scattered the ashes.” Ben-Gurion, who was afraid of a “holy tomb” reaction, was sharp: “This is what I wanted, that not a trace of him will remain.”

Update 3:15pm PST May 2: New York magazine also reports that the DNA match was made by comparing bin Laden’s DNA to that of his dead sister, who died on US soil.

U.S. officials say that DNA evidence confirms with 99.9 percent accuracy that it was indeed the body of Osama bin Laden shot and killed in Abbottabad yesterday. The DNA match was made by comparing physical evidence from bin Laden’s sister. According to the Telegraph, after she died of brain cancer at Massachusetts General Hospital years earlier, the FBI immediately subpoenaed her body so that it could later be used to identify him if he was caught. Her brain was preserved, and blood and tissue samples were taken and used to compile a DNA profile, reports ABC News. Detailed photo analysis as well as matching features and height (he was six foot four) also helped confirm the identity of the Al Qaeda leader.

And just as many Twitter users suspected, the photo of Osama’s corpse is now being reported as a fake. The Guardian says:

The image is based on a genuine photograph of Bin Laden taken in 1998 and used by the Reuters news agency.

On Twitter, a composite including the other photograph used to make the image was posted by @HannahMarbina and other users showed how easy it was to find the image already online with a simple search.

Update at 2:45pm PST May 2: Slate’s ever-useful Explainer column explains whether we always bury enemies of state at sea (the short answer: no.) And Islamic scholars have been criticizing bin Laden’s sea burial, according to the Associated Press. The BBC has the most details about what actually happened: “Religious rites were carried out on the deck of a US aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson. The body, shrouded in a white sheet and placed in a weighted bag, was then placed on a flat board, tipped up, and eased into the Arabian Sea.” Politico says the shroud itself was weighted.

It’s been a fascinating evening, and I’ve been glued to my Twitter stream. Since I can’t stop looking for information about what happened to Osama’s body, I’ll live-blog it here as I find it. (Update: 2:15 am PST — The links below have been re-arranged and edited into a more sensible order, for those interested in piecing together the story. The information is presented roughly in the order I found it, not necessarily the order in which it broke. I’m going to bed!)

News of Osama Bin Laden’s death broke on Twitter, at about 7:30 PST. (See Mashable’s timeline of tweets.)

CNN says forces used “facial recognition work, amongst other things, to confirm the identity” of Osama bin Laden.”

US officials were quick to confirm that the body was being treated in accordance with Islamic practice. (This is actually required by the Geneva conventions.)

From Wikipedia, which already has its own “Death of Osama bin Laden” entry: ABC news is reporting that the body has been identified, though Reuters says DNA results won’t be available for a few days.

The Guardian has an entire article about the difficulties of dealing with Osama’s corpse: “And where to send Bin Laden’s remains? His large extended family in Saudi Arabia have largely distanced themselves from him.”

The latest news (as of 12:33) is that the body has been buried at sea. On Twitter, I’m seeing some skepticism about a burial before DNA analysis, but I can see every reason why the administration would want to dispose of this body quickly. Holding the body of a dead leader is like a game of hot potato — just ask the folks who dealt with Eva Peron’s corpse.

NYT is also reporting that Osama was buried at sea.

CBS is saying that the body was buried at sea in order to adhere to “Muslim traditions, which include strict rules on burial taking place within 24 hours after death.”

The Associated Press explains the sea burial: Muslim customs require burial within 24 hours, plus “Finding a country willing to accept the remains of the world’s most wanted terrorist would have been difficult.” (Background note: The Encyclopedia of Death and the Human Experience has a page on Muslim funeral customs: burial within 24 hours is definitely a priority.)

@AaronFleishman on twitter directed me to this list of Muslim burial laws. Death in the ground is preferable, but burial at sea is ok in some circumstances, especially if mutilation of the body is a concern.

The conspiracy theory is already flowing thick and fast on Twitter. The burial at sea seems to strike people as a bit fishy — no pun intended.

Other famous burials at sea (usually of ashes): Albert Einstein (well, most of him), Janis Joplin, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Jerry Garcia (according to Grave Matters). And of course, lots and lots of Vikings.

The Book

I am thrilled to be able to report that many of the strange tales in these virtual pages are to be written in actual ink and bound together for publication by Simon and Schuster! Yes, it’s true. At some point soon, you will be able to hold in your hands a book entitled Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses. There you will learn all about the posthumous adventures of Che Guevara’s hands, Oliver Cromwell’s head, Descartes’ skull, Einstein’s brain, Galileo’s fingers, and other bodily bits. (I should note that the book is not entirely about severed flesh: there will also be stories of ashes misplaced, stolen, turned into artwork, and otherwise consumed.)

I can think of nothing better than assembling these tales, and I can’t wait to begin later this Spring. Expect more blogging to begin then and continue throughout the summer, since I’m sure I’ll stumble upon many worthy anecdotes. (The best stuff, of course, I must save for the book itself!) For more about the book, see besslovejoy.com.

(PS — if you’d like to be notified when the book becomes available, please fill out the form here and I will send you an email after the pub date.)

My first research folder, with drawing by Ryan Joe

Obscura Day — A Call for Explorers

I don’t spend nearly enough time on Atlas Obscura, but have long appreciated its existence. The site riffs off 19th and early 20th-century “books of wonder,” those compendiums of the bizarre that thrilled our ancestors long before the internet was invented. But instead of relying on one person’s idea of what is strange or marvelous, Atlas Obscura is user-generated, a wiki of location-based curiosities. In their own words:

The Atlas Obscura is a collaborative project with the goal of cataloging all of the singular, eccentric, bizarre, fantastical, and strange out-of-the-way places that get left out of traditional travel guidebooks and are ignored by the average tourist. If you’re looking for miniature cities, glass flowers, books bound in human skin, gigantic flaming holes in the ground, phallological museums, bone churches, balancing pagodas, or homes built entirely out of paper, the Atlas Obscura is where you’ll find them.

Last year, Atlas Obscura organized a wonderful event called Obscura Day, wherein people all over the world went off on the most interesting field trips you can possibly imagine. I lived in New York at the time, and was sorely tempted to explore Dead Horse Bay and the Atlantic Subway tunnel, except that I had a fever or couldn’t be bothered to leave the house or something. Anyway, now I live in Seattle, where people are a little less excited about curious ruins and a little more Scandinavian. And yet. I know there are some brilliant minds here who would love to lead walking tours about psychedelic history or show off their fossil collections or at least share stories about the jade snuff bottles at the Asian Art Museum. So I’m trying to help organize a Seattle event for Obscura Day 2011. (They know what I’m up to, don’t worry.) I’m told an event is already being planned at the Old Curiosity Shoppe, which is fantastic, but surely this city of weirdos can support more than one outing?

What I need now is ideas. I’ve only recently returned to this city after spending most of my adult life away, and I just know there are secret corners of this city waiting to be explored. Touring with the ghosts of Pike Place or the Underground is an obvious choice, and maybe that would be fun. But ideally, I’d like to go a little father afield (but not as far as, say, Sequim). If you have an idea for an event, please drop me a line at besslovejoy at gee male dot com, or comment, or send a carrier pigeon to Capitol Hill.  For ideas, browse the listing of events from last year. Think about the places you’ve always been curious about but never had a chance to visit. Ask some of your nerdiest friends. And tell me what you come up with!

UPDATE 2/9: The folks at Atlas Obscura have confirmed that Obscura Day 2011 will be on April 9th. A tour of the international district with a local expert is currently being planned, with stops to potentially include the Panama Hotel and INScape building. Stay tuned for details, and if you have further suggestions, please send ’em in!

Russians Want to Get Rid of Their Most Macabre Tourist Attraction – Lenin’s Body

Lenin chilling in his coffin

It’s that time again. Every year at the end of January, Russians start debating whether they want to keep the founder of the Soviet Union hanging out in a mausoleum in the middle of Moscow’s Red Square, looking more or less the same as the day he died. Now, some members of the Russian parliament have launched a poll to see whether it’s time to finally bury Lenin. Voting is on-going, but so far there’s strong support for getting the guy into the ground. From the BBC:

Of more than 250,000 people who have voted in the poll, two-thirds so far say Lenin should now be buried.

The revolutionary leader’s embalmed body has been on display in a mausoleum in Red Square in Moscow since his death in 1924.

The debate about what to with his body resurfaces with every anniversary of his death – on 21 January 1924.

For more, check out my earlier post on Lenin and other deceased despots. You can also see a picture of Lenin’s corpse as a cake, if that’s something you’re interested in seeing. (He has also been honored with a turnip.)

Burying Lenin is not a simple task. Boris Yeltsin already tried to do it twice, but was defeated by old-guard Communists, and by the Russian Orthodox Church – who don’t exactly want a life-long atheist on their hands.

Here’s a question for all you awesome science nerds: with that many embalming chemicals clinging to his body, would Lenin ever decompose?

Hot Chocolate Memento Mori

Deathly cocoa from Fremont Coffee
A toast to your health?

When it gets cold, there’s nothing I love more than thick, rich, creamy hot cocoa. It’s a treat, and I never kid myself thinking about “antioxidants” or such nonsense. I just enjoy the lingering effects of all that sugar in my system as I soldier on through yet another rainy Seattle afternoon.

Aside from the occasional addition of spice, until recently I didn’t think there was much beyond high-quality chocolate and milk that could make hot cocoa even better than it already is. I was wrong. If you want to make hot cocoa truly magnificent, add a SKULL, like my barista at Fremont Coffee did the other day.

Of course, my coffee shop Michelangelo wasn’t the first or last guy to do this — I had just never been lucky enough to see it before. (Go ahead and scoff, coffee connoisseurs!) In fact, a quick search on Flickr showed me that Fremont, and Seattle in general, knows no shortage of morbid coffee art.

I posted this picture on Facebook, and people seemed to love it so much that I went searching for other skull-related pictures of coffee and cocoa. Here’s a little gallery, designed for people like me who enjoy a little memento mori with their morning caffeine. Kind of the ultimate “carpe diem” inspiration, don’t you think?

EviLatte shot by Karla Jean Davis
Skull and Bones latte art by Flickr user Alexa Baehr
Halloween cappuccino skull
Halloween cappuccino skull by Flick user Cafédirect
Skull by Dougesfeo from Ratemyrosetta.com
Latte Art Skull by Flickr user Drosche
Latte Art Skull by Flickr user Drosche
Terrifying “Halloween spirit” latte art from Columbia River Coffee Roasters
Skull Java by Flickr user Drop Out Art
Sad Skull Latte by Adam Vrankulj
Latte by unknown genius
Latte by unknown genius

I’m not sure that last image qualifies as a skull (maybe it’s a Jhonen Vasquez latte?), but it was certainly odd enough for inclusion. Hey, this is my ridiculous blog, not yours!

For those who want to try this at home, here’s a little video from Montreal Caffe Java Art that shows you one technique. Pretty simple, actually! A more thorough write-up from RateMyRosetta is here. Or you could totally cheat and just use this cappuccino stencil.

Are you tea drinkers feeling left out? You could always drink your cuppa’ in this mug from CircaCeramics:

Skull cup from CircaCeramics

And stir it with these spoons from Pinky Diablo:

Skull spoons by Pinky Diablo

Or you could just use bone china — that’s creepy enough, especially if it’s made from, erm, human bones.

(Got more pictures of skull latte art and skull-themed coffee accessories? Send ’em my way!)

UPDATE: Alex Palmer, aka @LitMisc, sends this photo of a pumpkin latte with skull marshmallows from a Koreatown cafe in NYC:

My price is spine-tingling, at least

Tycho Brahe’s Psychic Dwarf

Tycho Brahe, as depicted by Sara Drake of the Small Science Collective

On Monday, a team of Danish and Czech archaeologists unearthed the remains of 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe from his tomb in Prague. The research is part science, part murder mystery: the Danish and Czech teams plan to use CT scanning, DNA testing and PIXE analysis to find out more about Brahe’s life and times as well as his cause of death. It seems the latter has never been quite clear, and some pretty nasty rumors have started to swirl about old Johannes Kepler. As the Scientific American blog Observations revealed:

…  Brahe is being disinterred starting November 15 for analysis for the second time since he was buried in Prague in 1601. Testing on hair samples taken from Brahe’s tomb the first time, in 1901, showed an abnormally high mercury content in the astronomer’s body, raising the possibility that he had been poisoned. But Brahe may well have met his fate by less malicious means; for centuries medical practitioners applied mercury as a treatment for maladies such as syphilis. …

The poison angle got a new look in 2004 in the book Heavenly Intrigue: Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and the Murder Behind One of History’s Greatest Scientific Discoveries. Not only was Brahe poisoned, contended Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder, but all signs point to his famed protégé, Johannes Kepler, as the culprit.

Brahe’s body is being returned to his grave on November 19th, but we won’t know the results of the study until sometime in 2011. In the meantime, Brahe’s bones will spend a lot of time spread out in scenes like this one:

Professor Niels Lynnerup of Copenhagen University examining Brahe. Photo by Jacob C. Ravn, Aarhus University.

As a side note, the best part of the Observations post was the bit about Brahe’s psychic dwarf. The post quotes from the 1890 biography Tycho Brahe: a picture of scientific life and work in the sixteenth century by John Louis Emil Dreyer, which I’ll quote at a little more length here:

Two other inmates of Tycho’s house may also be mentioned here. One was a maid of the name of Live (or Liuva) Lauridsdatter, who afterwards lived with Tycho’s sister, Sophia, and later was a sort of quack-doctor at Copenhagen, where she also practised astrology, &c. She died unmarried in 1693, when she is said to have reached the ripe age of 124. The other was his fool or jester, a dwarf called Jeppe or Jep, who sat at Tycho’s feet when he was at table, and got a morsel now and then from his hand. He chattered incessantly, and, according to Longomontanus, was supposed to be gifted with second-sight, and his utterances were therefore listened to with some attention. Once Tycho had sent two of his assistants to Copenhagen, and on the day on which they were expected back the dwarf suddenly said during the meal,” See how your people are laving themselves in the sea.” On hearing this, Tycho, who feared that the assistants had been shipwrecked, sent a man to the top of the building to look out for them. The man came back soon after and said that he had seen a boat bottom upwards on the shore, and two men near it, dripping wet. … When any one was ill at Hveen, and the dwarf gave an opinion as to his chance of recovery or death, he always turned out to be right.

As it turns out, Jepp the Clairvoyant Dwarf has his own Facebook page, where his interests are said to include telling the future, riding drunken elks, hiding Tycho’s nose, and being dead.