Rick, Marty, and Craig Tester reluctantly purchased the sword -- at my urging -- on the remote chance it could be real. We always knew it would have to be professionally tested . . .
We never claimed otherwise. Testing it on camera, however, was essential if we were ever going to quiet Mr. Pulitzer.
Therefore, purchasing the sword was done to (A) test it to see if it could be real, (B) discredit Mr. Pulitzer and (C) create compelling television.
Anyway, it seems that facts are important to Burns only when they can be weaponized.
Speaking of Ancient Aliens, I learned today that our old friend Sean David Morton, the self-described psychic who got kicked off of Ancient Aliens after I exposed his fake Ph.D., is back again! This time he’s reinvented himself as a “self-taught attorney in law (sic)” using the charges filed against him for fraudulent psychic predictions as proof of his legal wizardry. On the ConspiraSea cruise last week he allegedly told participants at a seminar that children are property and commercial liens can be placed on them to prevent vaccination, according to an account published on the Violent Metaphors blog. Yes, he’s an anti-vaxxer, too!
It’s always strange to me that people making extraordinary claims seem to have a bad time keeping their facts straight. (Here comes the awkward transition to a completely different topic!) You might remember M. Claude-Nicolas Le Cat, the eighteenth century French gigantologist who delivered influential remarks on giants to the Academy of Sciences at Rouen in 1764. He made reference to a find in what is now the Czech Republic: “At Totu, in Bohemia, in 758, was found a skeleton, the head of which could scarce be encompassed by the arms of two men together, and whose legs, which they still keep in the castle of that city, were 26 feet long.” Le Cat denied that these could be animal bones, but it appears no one ever checked up on the facts.
Le Cat’s remarks were translated in Dodley’s Annual Register and then included verbatim in the Encyclopedia Britannica, among other publications, and through it they ended up in Bell’s New Pantheon, where the year of discovery morphed into 1758 and stubbornly stayed there in texts descended from that one. The Olio magazine of 1831 gave the date as 785, while the Mormons, writing in the Latter-Day Saints Millennial Star in 1874, misread it as 753.
Even the dimensions changed in the copying. The 26 feet were often misread as 20 thanks to the peculiar “6” the Annual Register used, which was easy to mistake for a “0” if one’s copy wasn’t printed perfectly.
Commenting on Le Cat’s claim, an early edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica added, “But if these bones were actually kept in any part of Bohemia, it seems strange that they should not have been frequently noticed, and particular descriptions of them given by the learned, who inhabit, or have noticed, that country.” Such skepticism didn’t reach the ears of George Milbry Gould, who in 1900’s Anomalies and Curiosities of medicine assumed that the 1764 report was still current and that the bones, which he never saw in person, were still on display. Jan Bondeson, in 1997’s Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, declared that the shin bones were “kept in the collection of a medieval castle as late as 1764,” judging the date from that of Le Cat’s speech.
Weirdly, there doesn’t seem to be any other mention of a city named Totu anywhere in the historical record, suggesting that Le Cat got his facts wrong somehow. Kirby’s Wonderful and Eccentric Museum, copying from the same original text, but apparently misreading the italicized name, gives the city’s name as Totic. Seriously: In hundreds of books and articles copying from Le Cat directly or indirectly (usually plagiarizing verbatim), not one person ever checked whether these bones really existed, or for that matter whether Totu was a real city in what was once the Bohemian crown lands of the Habsburg monarchy. I can’t find any record of it, or anything similar in either modern Czech listings or older Habsburg-era German-language place names, and I don’t know whether Le Cat got the name wrong or whether it changed its name sometime after 758, or whether some other factor was at work.
Part of me suspects that the problem comes from the Annual Register’s translation of Le Cat (at least I have to assume that Le Cat actually gave a lecture; I can’t find the French original, but the Comte de Buffon attests that it exists) which may have Anglicized a French phonetic rendering of a German name for a Czech original. I thought for a minute I had come close to solving the puzzle when I found a 1771 French text that paraphrased Le Cat without an English intermediary, but sadly, the author skipped over the key word! “There is no better case for it (giants) than that of the one that was found in Bohemia in 785.” Yes, the date changed again.
Regardless of where the bones really are, the story Le Cat gives is almost identical to that of many other Eastern European exhibition of whale and mammoth bones, like that of the Castle Cathedral at Wawel Hill in Krakow. As Johann Georg Kohl wrote in 1842 on a trip through Poland, as translated anonymously the next year:
As we left the Vavel, there arose between us a dispute, as to whom the great bones, which hang in chains over the cathedral gates, could have belonged to. This is generally the case with all travellers who arrive here. Some said they were the jaw-bones and ribs of a whale, and others that they were mammoth’s bones found near Cracow. Our Jew declared that they were the shoulder-bones of a giant, who formerly lived here, and our coachman denied this, affirming them to be the remains of a monster who once raged in the neighbourhood of Cracow, and who was killed by some valiant knights.
Update: David Bradbury found the source of the claim, a passage in the Annales Bohemorum of Wenceslas Hajek (before 1553) for the year 785, which I translate here:
... At Tetín, some people were excavating the foundation for underground vaults, and they encountered among the rubble a human head of such extraordinary size that two men could scarcely wrap their arms around the skull. They reported that the other bones of the body were equally vast, especially the legs at twenty-five feet and nine inches, or twelve and a half Prague cubits. This comprised the remains of a most ancient giant. These were not destroyed, and by order of the Prince of Tetín they were affixed to the gates, suspended there for some time as a wonder.