The Mysterious Tragedy of the S.S. Ourang Medan

Sometime in the 1940s, the cargo ship S.S. Ourang Medan was found somewhere near Indonesia drifting without control. The crew was found dead, along with a dog which also died. There was no sign of violence, but one lifeboat was gone. Nearby ships had reported hearing a radio distress call the night before.

“All officers including captain dead,” the voice said, “lying in chartroom and on bridge, probably whole crew dead ... I die.”

With those words, the S.S. Ourang Medan cargo ship would go down in infamy. For decades, stories have circulated of the crew being found dead following the distress call, with no obvious cause. Worse, their faces were said to be frozen in horror, anguish, or a combination of the two.

Accounts of the disaster made their way around the world over the next few years, but they raised more questions than there were answers. Surely there was an investigation into the deaths! But no, the evidence was erased when the Ourang Medan's engine blew up, producing four explosions that destroyed the ship shortly after it was found. What cargo was the ship carrying? No one knew, because the ship apparently wasn't properly registered, which means it could have been carrying anything, including dangerous chemicals. Where did the information we have come from? Again, the answers are quite murky. Read what we know and what we don't know about the Ourang Medan at Mental Floss. 

New Ohio License Plate Design Corrected

Ohio's governor Mike DeWine unveiled the design for the state's new automotive license plate Thursday morning. The design features a wheat field, the Ohio River, cities, and mountains all in front of a sunrise. Overhead, the state shows off its pride in the Wright Brothers as the Wright Flyer pulls a banner saying "Birthplace of Aviation." No matter that the first flight took place in North Carolina, as Orville and Wilbur Wright were from Dayton, Ohio. But it was only a matter of minutes before someone discovered an error. The Wright Flyer is backwards, and appears to be pushing the banner from the front! You can see the proper orientation of the Wright Flyer in this colorized photo of Wilbur Wright.

What looks to a casual observer to be the tail of the plane were what the Wrights called "elevators" and were in the front of the plane. Obviously, the plate was designed by someone outside of Ohio, since they surely covered the momentous flight in school.

Colorful and packed with references, the “Sunshine in Ohio” plate was designed by Bureau of Motor Vehicles staff with direction from the governor and First Lady Fran DeWine, who wanted to showcase the state’s agriculture, nature, cities and flight history.

Oops. According to NBC 4, the design had since been corrected- but not before going viral. There's no word on what will happen to the plates that have already been printed at Ohio's Lebanon Correctional Facility. If any survive, they will certainly become collector's items. -via Fark

(Wright image colorized by Jared Enos)

How Finger Counting Works in Different Languages

If someone asks you to count with your fingers, how do you do it? Anand Jagatia writes for the BBC that this practice varies by culture.

Like a good American, I count off starting on my index fingers. Europeans tend to start with the thumb. Iranians start with the pinky finger. In Japan, the norm is to start with an open palm, then curl fingers in as they are counted.

Here’s where it starts to get complicated. In India, it’s common to count off the lines of the finger segments. In Tanzania, both hands are used, with counts switching from hand to hand, forming a symmetrical pattern. The Northern Pame people of Mexio prefer to count on knuckles. The Yuki people of California used to take a different approach: counting the spaces between the fingers. Read about these customs at BBC Future.

-via Kottke

When Colonel Sanders Created Kentucky Roast Beef

Harland Sanders came to financial success only in his sixties. By then, he was firmly committed to his restaurant vision as not only a means of making money, but serving particular types of food. He was a perfectionist, which sometimes caused conflicts with his business partners, such as former Kentucky Governor John Y. Brown.

In Colonel Sanders and the American Dream, Josh Ozersky describes some of the spin-off businesses that Brown encouraged as Sanders lost control over the company he founded. Among these were a motel chain named Colonel Sanders Inns and a line of British-inspired fish-and-chips shops called H. Salt., Esq., Authentic Fish and Chips (89-91).

Perhaps the most daring venture to accompany Kentucky Fried Chicken was Kentucky Roast Beef and Ham. It was modestly successful, both as freestanding restaurants and as additional menu items, but as it was not as wildly popular as the fried chicken, the company eventually dropped the chain in favor of a focus on fried chicken.

-via Weird Universe | Image: Kawanee Historical Society

Looking Into the Origin of Vampires

Stories of vampires have been around for about a thousand years, as far as we know, but those Eastern European tales did not involve bats or Romanian despots or anything we see from Hollywood. At its core, the vampire myth was a way of explaining terrible things that happened to people by blaming the dead. Disease was particularly troubling. Before germ theory, it was difficult to understand why a remote village would be stricken by horrific illnesses such as rabies or pellagra that caused such strange symptoms and usually death. In these isolated villages, every family knew at least one dead person who might be seeking revenge on the living when an outbreak occurred. Over time, they developed defenses against the dead, which often involved digging up graves to destroy the remains, a practice that continued well into the relatively modern times. Research into the matter is hampered by a centuries-old restriction on saying the name of the demon who caused the calamity. Read about the origins of the vampire legend at Atlas Obscura.

The Portuguese Diplomat Who Saved Thousands From the Nazis

Before reading this story, you should picture the movie Casablanca, and the desperation of the many refugees who just wanted to go somewhere safe. The following true story about desperate World War II refugees actually plays into the movie eventually.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a diplomat at the Portuguese consulate in Bordeaux, France, when Hitler's army invaded France in 1940. Refugees from Paris and all over the country headed south, hoping to cross into a safe country. Portugal was officially neutral regarding Hitler's march across Europe, and seemed a likely destination. But Portugal was ruled by the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, who had forbidden Portuguese consulates to issue visas for refugees. Salazar wanted to keep the war at arm's length. Sousa Mendes had already gotten into trouble with his superiors for issuing a few visas here and there. Then he met a Polish rabbi named Chaim Kruger (pictured above with Sousa Mendes) who had fled from Belgium with his family ahead of the Nazis. Sousa Mendes told the rabbi that no visas could be arranged.    

Quietly, however, Sousa Mendes did request permission from Lisbon to issue the visas, and on June 13 the Foreign Ministry responded: “Recusados vistos.” Visas denied. Flouting his superior, Sousa Mendes offered Kruger the papers anyway. Kruger declined them. “It is not just me who needs help,” he told Sousa Mendes, “but all my fellow Jews who are in danger of their lives.”

Suddenly, Sousa Mendes’ selfless effort to help a new friend, to aid a single Jewish family, was revealed for what it truly was: A choice between saving himself and saving thousands, between obeying his government and obeying his conscience. The dilemma was so destabilizing that Sousa Mendes stumbled into his bedroom “as though he had been struck down by a violent disease,” his son recalled.

He finally emerged three days later. “I am going to issue a visa to anyone who asks for it,” he announced. “Even if I am discharged, I can only act as a Christian, as my conscience tells me.”

And so he did. Sousa Mendes issued thousands of visas in the next couple of weeks in Bordeaux, then moved to other French cities where refugees had gathered to sign more, to anyone who wanted to escape. Some of those refugees were people you've read about here at Neatorama. He even went to the Spanish border, where word had been sent not to honor Sousa Mendes' visas, and he managed to personally escort refugees across the border. But in Portugal, Salazar made sure Sousa Mendes paid for his actions. Read the story of the diplomat who followed his conscience at Smithsonian. 

(Image source:

See also: Holocaust Hero Chiune Sugihara

A Honest Trailer for Sean Connery as James Bond

The latest video from Screen Junkies is less an Honest Trailer and more of a tribute to the greatest James Bond ever, the original played by Sean Connery. His Bond was the ultimate role model for 1960s men: skilled, handsome, brave, sophisticated, clever, cool, and very lucky. He was also attractive to the women who could buy into the misogyny and objectification of the time. These movies offered action, intrigue, sex, comedy, and the good guy always won in the end. It was a standard formula, but one that worked. The Connery Bond movies were far from perfect, but they were enjoyable in a simple way.

The Jericho Skull

Excavations in the ancient city of Jericho in 1953 yielded eight skulls that shared a peculiar commonality: they were covered in plaster. This was a unique funerary custom that baffled scientists, who dated the skulls to between 9,000 and 6,000 BC. Were they plastered as a form of portraiture to make them look like they did in life? Were they really loved ones, or skulls taken as trophies from warfare? Did they remove the flesh or wait until it naturally decomposed?

One of the skulls that came to be known as the Jericho Skull was from a man who died 9,500 years ago. The plaster was embedded with seashells where the eyes had been. Scientists in the 1950s couldn't find out much about him, but technology has come a long way since then. In 2009, the Jericho Skull underwent a Micro-CT scan, revealing the shape of the skull underneath. In 2016, the scan was used to make a 3D print of the skull, after which a forensic reconstruction of the man's face was made. Read how that turned out at The British Museum Blog.

Covering skulls in plaster is just one of 5 Of The Most Badass Ways Cultures Used To Treat Their Dead, which you can read at Cracked.    

(Image credit: Zunkir)

No Nigels Were Born in Britain Last Year

Pictured above it the late actor Nigel Terry, who portrayed King Arthur in the greatest movie ever made. At the end of that story, the fallen once and future king was carried off to the mystical island of Avalon to await the day when he would take up the sword of power and be king again.

Similarly, the Nigels have left us. The United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics reports that not a single baby born last year was named Nigel. Although once a very common British baby name, it is now extinct.

On the upside, journalist Harry Wallop reports that there 189 Kylos, 86 Aadams (yes, I spelled that correctly), and 64 Cais.

But no Nigels, “for it is the doom of men that they forget.

-via Marginal Revolution | Image: Orion Pictures

4-Year Old Calls 911, Invites Police to Play with His Toys

The headline is a translation. In New Zealand, the standard emergency number is 111. The concept is the same as the American emergency number of 911.

The Associated Press reports that a 4-year old boy dialed 111 on a phone while he was at home in the city of Invercargill. There was no emergency. He just had some awesome toys and wanted to show them off to someone. Could a police officer come and check them out?

The dispatcher put out a call to available units. An officer was, fortunately, available to examine the toys, which he confirmed were indeed “cool”.

Therapy Dog Picks A Different Toy To Cuddle With Every Night

It’s adorable, and shoutout to the owner for having a lot of toys for their beloved pupper-- because that’s love right there! 

Meet Mojito, a one-year-old therapy dog that has a very unique night routine. Before she goes to bed, Mojito goes through her pile of toys to choose a toy to accompany her in her sleep. If you’re worried that the dog does not have enough toys for variation, worry not because Mojito gets new toys every month in a new BarkBox. 

According to Kim Downie, her mom, “she is very specific about what she chooses to take to bed. She will search the house and empty her toy boxes until she finds whatever one she is looking for. If we move them back downstairs, she will carry them right back up.”

Image credit: Mojito Rose Soldan via Instagram

Boy Picks 10-Year-Old XL Ginger Cat Out Of All The Animals In The Shelter

While all animals deserve love and a good home, old animals rarely get adopted by new people. This boy defies all the usual expectations for children, and raises hope that more people will pay attention and realize that older animals deserve love too! 

Easton, a young boy from Canada, picked a 10-year-old cat named Tiny from a long list of animals at the Exploits Valley SPCA Adoptables Facebook page. Tiny is a ginger cat that is “weight-challenged” as well as “shy.” However, that did not stop Easton from taking the big chonk home. 

Source: Facebook/Exploits Valley SPCA Adoptables

Quokka Follows Man Who Took A Selfie With Him

The quokka has chosen thee! 

While on a bike ride on Rottnest Island in Western Australia, Campbell Jones and his girlfriend met a quokka on the bike trail. Upon spotting the creature, Jones got off his cycle and snapped some selfies with the curious animal. The quokka, known as  “the happiest animal on Earth,” posed for the pictures with a smile. What a sport! 

A surprising development in this story is that the quokka actually chased after the two bikers when they were done taking photos.  “As I walked back to my bike, the quokka chased after me,” he told Western Australia's newspaper, Perth Now. “I put down the GoPro and it jumped at me as if to say come ‘come back.’”

Image credit: Campbell Jones via My Modern Met 

Stray Puppies Won’t Stop Hugging Each Other After Being Rescued

Two stray dogs wandering the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, went viral for hugging each other. The photos of the two puppers providing safety and comfort to each other from the harsh streets were loved by the Internet. Don’t worry, as these two dogs are now safe and sound in a Buddhist temple, as Buddhist nuns took them there to provide shelter. 

Image via 

Ancient Hipster Buried With His Beard Comb

A grave of a wealthy medieval man in Bavaria, Germany, was discovered by the Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection (BLfD). The man, estimated to have been around 40 to 50 years old when he died, was buried with weapons, a horse, and a set of luxurious toiletries-- such as an intricately carved ivory comb that may have been used to style his hair and beard. Experts believe that he may have been a fierce warrior who also cared deeply about his personal appearance. 

Image credit: BLfD

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