Arsenic And Old Cake

October 29, 2013

On October 28, 1922, a man named William Wrey Sterrett died at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Philadelphia. He seems to have been the quiet type in life; an accountant for Price Waterhouse, he lived an uneventful life with his wife, Martha Campbell Sterrett, in Devon, Pennsylvania. The couple had been married for eight years and had no children. Nor, apparently, did they have an extensive social life: the friends dredged up by newspaper reporters all had kind words to say about him but most of them centered around how unassuming he was. “A home type,” several friends told the Chester County Daily Local News. In an article printed on October 31, The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted more anonymous friends as having “nothing but praise for the dead accountant … while not a person of the kind that made idle boasts, he was always willing to enter into discussions of various sorts, and his advice was generally regarded as good.”

Apart from these modified raptures, the only other distinctive pieces of information about “the dead accountant” were that he and his wife had just bought a new house and that they also liked to go antiquing on the weekends. So far, so unremarkable — until Thursday, October 26, 1922. That afternoon, Mrs. Sterrett picked up the mail at the Devon post office and discovered that she had received a package “about the size of a pound candy box” (according to the October 29th Daily Local News), addressed with a typewritten label to Mrs. W.W. Sterrett. It had no return address but had been postmarked in Philadelphia. The postmistress, Mrs. (or Miss — the papers differ) Gillies, turned out to be happy to share Mrs. Sterrett’s reaction with newspaper reporters. Under the subheading “NERVOUS AT POST OFFICE,” we learn that Mrs. Sterrett, speaking in an “excited manner” speculated on the contents of the box and said that she would hurry home at once to see what it contained. However, “the box remained unopened until the arrival of Mr. Sterrett on a later train, and when the box was uncovered it was found to contain a piece of brown cake known as `devil’s food’ and it was covered with a pink icing. Mr. Sterrett partook freely of the cake, but Mrs. Sterrett, it is said, did not eat as much.” (Newspaper accounts of the cake would differ: according to The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer, both publishing on October 29th, the cake was golden and, as the NYT stated, “had the appearance of having been cut from a large wedding cake.” Later, the Inquirer occasionally referred to the cake as having been devil’s food. One thing was certain: the Sterretts had between them eaten every crumb of it).

“What’s In The Box?”

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National Grammar Day

March 4, 2009

Not to have the blog taken over by short announcements of amusing geek holidays, but again, this one was too good to pass up. Today, March 4, is National Grammar Day! Here are some suggestions from the organizers on how to celebrate:

Speak well! Write well! And on March 4, march forth and spread the word. We want people to think about language and how it can be used best.

Some of our members are planning Good-Grammar Potlucks at their offices. What do you serve at good-grammar potlucks? High-fiber foods, of course. They’re good for the colon. Afterward, at happy hour, we recommend the Grammartini. (Recipes are here.)

Visit their website for good grammar tips and the bad grammar hall of fame.

Feel free to leave a comment with any particularly heinous examples of bad grammar you notice today!


Square Root Day

March 3, 2009

For any of our readers who haven’t looked too closely at their calendars today, I feel it is my duty to point out that today is a very important Geek Holiday: Square Root Day.

This is, of course, a rare and precious holiday. The last one was 5 years ago, and the next one will not be for another 7 years. Feel free to share in the comments how you celebrated/plan to celebrate.


Lincoln’s Playlist for Your President’s Day Party

February 16, 2009

This was your biggest dilemma today, wasn’t it? That nagging question of what would be the ideal playlist for the huge President’s Day bash you’re having tonight? Well, never fear! Abraham Lincoln, via NPR’s Morning Edition, is ready to help you out!

If Abraham Lincoln Had An iPod

You can hear some of the suggested Lincoln favorites at the link above, but the basic things to keep in mind when crafting your 200-year-old presidential playlist are: opera, Scottish ballads, and “Dixie.”

I also thought it was interesting that a lot of the composers that we think of as “core” classical now were actually just getting their start in Lincoln’s day, having been born in and around the same year as Mr. Lincoln himself: Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, Wagner, and many more. Quite the time to be alive.

-posted by Dana


Inauguration Day!

January 20, 2009

I have to admit, after such a long election cycle, I was a little “over” Barack Obama, and he hadn’t even been sworn in yet. For the past month, I had been going back and forth, back and forth, about attending the inauguration. I hadn’t been able to score tickets, but they were putting Jumbotrons out on the mall so people could go downtown and watch. I knew crowds would be so bad that the only way I’d get to the mall was to walk the three miles.

Normally not too bad, but the weather was for the mid 20s (which is unbelievably cold for the DC region) and I can’t handle the DC crowds on the 4th of July and this would be much, much worse. Plus, the predictions. 6 hours to wait for metro. Bring your own toilet paper and a sandwich. 4 million people sandwiched downtown. I couldn’t tell if this was the Inauguration or the zombie apocalypse. Barricading myself in the house and watching the whole thing on TV was sounding like a very attractive option.

Then, I remembered that my toes tend to freeze and lose feeling on a regular basis, like just hanging around the house. Spending all day outside in freezing temps? I’d need to find some new socks. And I’d need new mittens, as my gloves wouldn’t cut it.

But, when my grandchildren ask me where  I was that day, did I really want to answer that it was too cold and too much of a hassle, so I watched it on TV while still wearing my pajamas? Lame.

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Happy Wintersnight

December 21, 2008

Today is Midwinter, perhaps better known as the Winter Solstice. In the northern hemisphere, today is the shortest day of the year, and correspondingly the longest night, as the sun makes it’s shortest arc through the sky that we will see this year. To correspond with this celestial event, celebrations and holidays will be observed by cultures from every continent in the northern hemisphere. The solstice is one of the only events observed by virtually every culture and religion, and one of only a handful to be celebrated continuously for the duration of recorded history.

Danilo Pivato)

Time-lapse photograph of the sun's arc through the sky during the winter solstice (photo credit: Danilo Pivato)

For my own part, I find something highly satisfying about the idea of a long, deep night. I happen to like the dark and the cold, and this is a holiday that really has something to offer for me. Even if you take the opposite view, however, Midwinter is worth celebrating, as it marks the time of year in which the nights cease getting longer, and the sun begins to return us to warmer days to come. However the winter solstice is celbrated in your community, I hope the day finds you well. Take a moment this evening, as the last brief glimmer of daylight fades to night, to think about what the event signifies to you.

-posted by Mark


Trick Or Treat

October 31, 2008

Have you had hordes of little and not-so-little kids coming around this evening, banging on your door and demanding free candy? We haven’t, but that’s only because we live in an apartment and despite the fact that it’s easily accessible, trick-or-treaters tend to avoid apartment buildings for some reason. My husband did take our three-year-old earlier for his first trick-or-treat ever, and he caught on quickly; when they came back an hour later our son had a bag stuffed with candy and a gleam in his eye that suggested he was on to a good thing. It seems like a fairly random sort of custom – going from door to door, expecting something in return for dressing up – but unlike a lot of other traditions (diamond engagement rings for example) it’s not the invention of any remotely modern entity. While candy companies doubtless bless Halloween, the begging tradition far predates them.
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