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9 Crazy Things People Found Inside Their Walls

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The Ballad of the Walled-Up Wife chronicles the story of hapless masons who are incapable of building a wall that will last. After years of failure, they learn that in order to make their work last, they must offer up a sacrifice. Once, as their master’s wife passed by, they grabbed her and entombed her in the wall they were building. According to some versions of the ballad, the wall still stands.

While immuring wives in walls is strictly outlawed (and largely fictional), the practice of hiding things behind sheetrock or brick is pervasive. From the illegal to the superstitious to the just plain insane, here are 9 crazy things found stashed inside walls.

1. Babies

In 1850, a mummified baby tumbled out from between the walls of a Parisian apartment. The couple living in the apartment were charged with murder; they were later cleared when a physician used insects to determine the time of death. This case marked the first time in French forensic science that entomology was used in a criminal trial. And 28 years later, French pathologist Edmond Perrier Megnin used insects to calculate the time of death of a mummified infant in a similar case.

Mummified infants have been found in walls as recently as 2007, when contractor Bob Kinghorn discovered the body of a child wrapped in newspaper in the walls of a home in East Toronto. Police investigated the infant’s death, but were unable to determine the cause.

2. Urine and Fingernail Clippings

Filled with urine, hair, nail clippings or red thread, Witch Bottles were hidden in walls and buried in the thresholds of homes to counteract a witch's curse. One was found in Greenwich in 2009 that dates back to the 17th century. Researchers were even able to analyze urine found in the bottle, which contained traces of nicotine.

The bottle also contained a piece of leather cut into the shape of a heart and pierced with a leather nail. Scientists are unsure of the symbolism, but in similar finds the bottles have contained heart-shaped cloth pierced by brass pins.

A court record from 1682 documents that a husband who believes his wife to be a witch should boil in a pipkin a quart of her urine, fingernail clippings and hair.

3. Live Children

Two years after he disappeared with his mother, 6-year-old Richard Chekevdia was discovered hidden in the walls of his grandmother’s home in Illinois.

Ricky disappeared in 2007 after a contentious custody dispute between his mother, Shannon Wilfong, and his father, Michael Chekevdia. His grandmother, Diane Dobbs, insists that the boy lived most of his life outside the walls of the home, only hiding when necessary. However, police reports state the boy had rarely been allowed outside. And a judge found that the boy had been denied access to medical care, education and contact with his peers. The police found the boy and his mother crouched in a hiding place behind a bedroom dresser.

4. Cash

In Ohio, contractor Bob Kitts found $182,000 in Depression-era money inside the walls of a bathroom he was renovating. The contractor called the homeowner, Amanda Reece, who offered him 10 percent of the find. He demanded 40 percent and the situation devolved from there.

When the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on the case, descendants of the home’s original owner, Patrick Dunne — a wealthy businessman who hid the money during the Great Depression — also filed claim to the money. After the costly court proceedings, all of the people laying claim to the money received only a fraction of the find.

5. Priceless Artwork

In 1502, Italian statesman Piero Soderini commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint a scene from the famous Battle of Anghiari. The painting is thought to be 20 feet long and 10 feet high. In the 1550s, Giorgio Vasari was commissioned to paint over the mural, but the painter reportedly couldn’t bring himself to destroy it.

Maurizio Seracini, an art diagnostician at the University of California, San Diego, has been looking for the lost Leonardo da Vinci work for 36 years. Seracini is convinced that Vasari hid it in the wall — and he might be onto something.

His first big break came in 1970, when he discovered the words "cerca trova” painted on a flag on Vasari’s mural. Seracini believes that the phrase, which means “seek and you will find,” indicates that Vasari built a false wall over the painting in order to preserve the mural. Recent technology has enabled researchers to take pictures of the hollow between Vasari’s mural and the wall, where they discovered black pigment believed to be similar to the pigment used in other Leonardo da Vinci paintings. Unfortunately, bureaucracy and political protest have stymied the investigation.

6. Ill-Gotten Gains

In the walls of his home in Oak Brook, Illinois, mobster Frank Calabrese hid jewelry, fire arms and, of course, cash money. Lots of it.

During Calabrese’s 2007 trial, authorities learned that the long-time hit man liked to stash money and weapons into the nooks and crannies in his homes. After the trial, federal agents procured a search warrant and discovered Calabrese’s stash of loot and taped recordings with other mobsters behind the basement’s wood-paneled walls. Calabrese’s lawyer told the Chicago Tribune that he was “concerned” that these items hadn’t been discovered in previous searches of the home.

7. Shoes

A collection of 300-year-old shoes was found in the wall of the Gothic Liedberg Palace in Korschenbroich, Germany. In Lubenham, England, a pair of shoes was built into the wall of Papillion Hall in order to rid a family of decades of misfortune brought on by a curse. And in cottages and churches across Europe and the United States, hundreds of shoes have been found tucked inside the walls. The practice is so common that the Northhampton Borough Council collects recorded instances of concealed footwear. If you find any, let them know.

Some scholars theorize that the practice of immuring shoes is done for good luck and to ward off evil spirits from entering a home.

8. Cats

The practice of hiding cats in walls was an ancient ritual to ward off evil spirits. All over the UK, mummified cats are frequently toppling out from between the walls of 17th and 18th century buildings. One of the most famous instances was in Pendle, Lancashire, when a mummified cat was discovered in the wall of an ancient cottage. The cottage is presumed to be the location at which one of England’s most famous witch covens met. In 1612, 11 men and one woman from the coven were accused of witchcraft and hanged.

9. Unmentionables

The only thing worse than discovering dirty underwear hidden in your home is discovering centuries-old dirty underwear in your walls. Across Western Europe, unsuspecting home owners often find caches of garments (under and over) inside the walls of their homes. In fact, the finds are so common that they are not often reported.

Evidence indicates that the practice of hiding your knickers in the walls dates back to the Middle Ages. The clothes hidden are often worn and contain hidden objects like documents and coins. According to the website for the Deliberately Concealed Garments Project:

“The tradition of concealing clothes can be related to the practice of concealing other objects such as dried cats, witch bottles and charms in buildings. These types of objects have been discovered hidden in similar places. The concealing of these items including garments can be related to folklore and superstitious traditions relating to the ritual protection of a household and its inhabitants.”

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5 Things You Didn't Know About Sally Ride
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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are five things you might not know about the astronaut, who passed away five years ago today—on July 23, 2012—at the age of 61.

1. SHE PROVED THERE IS SUCH THING AS A STUPID QUESTION.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A TENNIS PRO.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. HOME ECONOMICS WAS NOT HER BEST SUBJECT.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. SHE HAD A STRONG TIE TO THE CHALLENGER.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. SHE DIDN'T SELL OUT.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

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5 Surprising Facts About the Battle of Dunkirk
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With the release of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dunkirk, the world’s attention is once again focused on the historic events recounted in the film, when a makeshift fleet of British fishing boats, pleasure yachts, and cargo ships helped save 185,000 British soldiers and 130,000 French soldiers from death or capture by German invaders during the Fall of France in May and June 1940. Here are five surprising facts about those heroic days.

1. THE GERMAN ATTACK WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IMPOSSIBLE.

By Weper Hermann, 13 German Mobile Assault Unit - Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The main reason France collapsed so quickly in 1940 was the element of surprise enjoyed by its German attackers, thanks to General Erich von Manstein, who proposed an invasion route that was widely believed to be impossible. In Manstein’s plan, the main German column of tanks and motorized infantry would force their way through the forests of Ardennes in southeast Belgium and Luxembourg—a thick, hilly woodland which was supposed to be difficult terrain for tanks, requiring at least five days to cross, according to conventional wisdom based on the experience of the First World War. The French and British assumed that little had changed since the previous conflict, but thanks to field studies and updated maps, Manstein and his colleague General Heinz Guderian realized that a new network of narrow, paved roads would allow just enough room for tanks and trucks to squeeze through. As a result the Germans passed through Ardennes into northern France in just two-and-a-half days, threatening to cut off hundreds of thousands of Allied troops, with only one escape route: the sea.

2. ONE FRENCH WORD WAS BURNED INTO WINSTON CHURCHILL’S MEMORY: “AUCUNE.”

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The German invasion of France began on May 10, 1940, the same day Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. By May 14, when he paid his first official visit to Britain’s ally, Holland had capitulated and Paris was preparing for evacuation. But an even worse surprise was in store. In one of the most famous passages of military history, Churchill recounted the moment he learned that the French didn’t have any troops in reserve:

"I then asked ‘Where is the strategic reserve?’ and, breaking into French … ‘Ou est la mass de manoeuvre?’ General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, replied. ‘Aucune.’ [There is none] … I was dumbfounded. What were we to think of the Great French Army and its highest chief? It had never occurred to me than any commanders … would have left themselves unprovided with a mass of manoeuvre … This was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.”

3. HITLER MADE A FATAL MISTAKE.

On May 24, 1940, the Allied troops on the French and Belgian coast had been totally surrounded by powerful German tank columns, rendering them essentially defenseless against the impending German onslaught. And then came a brief reprieve, as the attackers suddenly stopped for 48 hours, allowing the British to dig in and create a defensive perimeter, setting the stage for the evacuation.

For reasons that still aren’t clear, Hitler—over the protests of his own generals and to the bafflement of historians—had ordered Guderian to halt for two days to rest and resupply. It’s true the German troops were worn out after two weeks of fighting, and Hitler may have worried about a repeat of 1914, when exhausted German troops were forced to withdraw at the Marne. He may also have been swayed by Hermann Göring, chief of the German Luftwaffe, who boasted that air power alone could destroy the helpless Allied forces at Dunkirk. Less likely is the speculation that Hitler purposefully “let the Allies go” to appear magnanimous or merciful as a prelude to peace negotiations (which was not really in keeping with his character). In the end we will probably never know why Hitler choked.

4. GERMAN DIVE-BOMBERS WERE EQUIPPED WITH SIRENS TO SPREAD TERROR.

Among many examples of Germany’s evil genius for psychological warfare, one of the most famous was the decision to equip its Ju 87 dive bombers with air-powered sirens that emitted a shrieking, unearthly wail as the plane went into attack. The siren, known as the “Jericho Trumpet,” was intended to spread terror among enemy troops and civilians on the ground—and it worked. To this day the Jericho Trumpet is one of the most recognizable, and terrifying, sounds of war. It was certainly one of the lasting impressions of the Dunkirk evacuation for ordinary troops caught beneath the German bombs. Lieutenant Elliman, a British gunner who was waiting to be evacuated on Malo-les-Bains beach, later recalled the Stukas “diving, zooming, screeching, and wheeling over our heads like a flock of huge infernal seagulls.”

5. THE FRENCH FOUGHT A HOPELESS BATTLE TO COVER THE EVACUATION.

By Saidman (Mr), War Office official photographer — Photograph H 1636 from the Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although Churchill and other Brits were quick to criticize the failure of France’s generals during the Fall of France, many ordinary French soldiers and officers fought bravely and honorably—and one hopeless “last stand” in particular probably helped enable the successful evacuation of Dunkirk.

As British and French troops withdrew to Dunkirk, 40 miles to the southeast French troops in two corps of the French First Army staged a ferocious defense against seven German divisions from May 28 to May 31, 1940, refusing to surrender and mounting several attempts to break out despite being heavily outnumbered (110,000 to 40,000). The valiant French effort, led by General Jean-Baptiste Molinié, helped tie up three German tank divisions under Erwin Rommel, enabling the British Expeditionary Force and the remaining troops of the French First Army to retreat and dig in at Dunkirk, ultimately saving another 100,000 Allied troops.

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