10 Uncanny Sets of Birth Twins

Getty Images
Getty Images

Blame astrology, numerology or just coincidence—some people who share a birthdate have more in common than the day they were born. Witness the following 10 sets of birth twins.

1. Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809)

Two of the outstanding figures of the 19th century were both raised as Christians, though Darwin died an atheist and Lincoln was, by some accounts, a non-believer. Both had unimpressive school records, but taught themselves to rise to the peaks of their professions. Both embraced change and detested slavery. Darwin's most important work, On the Origin of Species, was published in 1859 "“ one year before Lincoln was elected president. With these events, both would challenge the status quo "“ changing the world, and winning enemies for their efforts. (Darwin would be denounced; Lincoln would be assassinated.)

2. Jimmy Hoffa and James Pike (February 14, 1913)

Hoffa was a powerful and contentious unionist, alleged to have ties with organized crime. Pike was the contentious Episcopal bishop of California, alleged to have extramarital affairs. Both were known as champions of the underprivileged. Hoffa bargained for low-paid workers and campaigned for prison reform; Pike supported the civil rights movement. Hoffa was finally convicted of fraud and jury tampering in 1967, serving four years in prison; Pike was tried for heresy for his radical ideas, which resulted in the formal censure of his views. But most spookily of all: They both disappeared mysteriously. (Pike's body was found a few days later; Hoffa was never seen again.) Neither of their demises were ever solved.

3. Marlon Brando and Doris Day (April 3, 1924)

The evil twin syndrome (though we're not sure which was the evil one). At their peak in the 1950s, they were polar opposites. Brando played rebellious, tough guys who mumbled everything. Day played wholesome, virginal sweeties who sang beautifully. But they had a few things in common. Both of their careers were the result of a misspent youth (Brando took up acting after being thrown out of a military academy; Day was singing in clubs at 16.) Both had reputations for being "difficult." Brando came to the movies as a famous actor, but proved he could sing (sort of) in Guys and Dolls. Day entered movies as a famous singer, but proved she could act in Storm Warning. Both became attached to important social causes (Brando to the plight of Native Americans; Day to animal rights).

4. President George W. Bush and Sylvester Stallone (July 6, 1946)

These two have more in common than you might realize. Their oratorical skills have been criticized, but at their peaks, both were immensely popular. Their secret: people love a war"¦ provided they win. They each have a past that they would rather forget. In the early 1970s, Bush had a drinking problem and multiple arrests; Stallone (as a struggling actor) was debasing himself in a skin flick. Bush has a history of failed business ventures; Stallone has had his own corporate disasters, like Planet Hollywood, his ill-fated co-venture with two of Bush's friends, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stallone's two most famous roles also seem perfect for Bush. Like Rocky, Bush was an underdog, who triumphed (in the 2000 presidential election) without actually outscoring his opponent; and like Rambo, he has been keen to settle old military scores. Of course, neither Bush nor Stallone are as popular as they used to be, proving that celebrity is fickle business, however you achieve it.

5. Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon and Christo Javacheff (June 13, 1935)

Few birth twins have proven more compatible than these two artists, who have collaborated on many projects over the past 40 years, and have been happily married even longer. They are exponents of environmental installation art, famous for wrapping Berlin's Reichstag and the Paris's Pont Neuf Bridge in plastic, as well as such public artworks as Running Fence, a 24-mile-long curtain in California, and The Gates in New York City's Central Park.

6. Princess Diana and Carl Lewis (July 1, 1961)

They were among the biggest celebrities of the 1980s, winning overnight fame early in the decade "“ despite unlikely beginnings. As a child, years before becoming the world's most photographed person, Diana was notoriously shy; Lewis, years before winning nine Olympic gold medals, was a "runt." (Strangely, Diana showed more athletic prowess than Lewis at school, excelling in several sports.) Both became renowned for their charity work. After Princess Diana's death in 1997, "King Carl" wrote a tribute to her: "She will be missed by the many that she touched. And our birthday will never be as bright."

7. Albert Finney and Glenda Jackson (May 9, 1936)

Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts graduates? Check. Made their film debuts in early-1960s British "kitchen sink" dramas? Check. Became major stars in raunchy, Oscar-winning adaptations of classic British novels? Check. Turned down several film roles throughout their careers to focus on the theatre? Che-e-eck. Hey, these twins could almost be the same person! In fact, have you ever wondered why you've never seen them in the same film together?

8. Meryl Streep and Lindsay Wagner (June 22, 1949)

The super-woman of American stage and screen... and the star of The Bionic Woman on TV! How could that possibly be mere coincidence?

9. Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross (June 22, 1947)

Though these actors are best-known for playing a happily married couple in the classic 1980s sitcom Family Ties, they were actually (birth) twins. They're not the only twins who have worked together in television and the movies, of course. Oliver Stone directed Tommy Lee Jones twice, while Quincy Jones wrote music for The Italian Job (1969), starring his birth twin Michael Caine.

10. Andre Agassi and Uma Thurman (April 29, 1970)

One moment "“ like 1994 "“ you're riding high and everyone thinks you're sexy. A few years later, you're a has-been, ranked 141st in the world (or making appalling movies like Batman and Robin), but at least you're married to a former teen star like Brooke Shields (or Ethan Hawke). A few years later "“ like 2003 "“ you have broken up with your ex-teen-star spouse, but at least you're back in form. You're number one in the rankings (or high in the box office), decimating (or slicing to bits) your opponents in court (or in the Kill Bill movies). Oh, and everyone still thinks you're sexy.

Mark Juddery is a writer and historian based in Australia. See what else he's written at markjuddery.com.

When Skeleton Rocking Chairs and ‘Vampire Killing Kits’ Fooled People Into Thinking They Were Rare Historical Artifacts

A vampire killing kit at Ripley's Believe It or Not! in San Francisco
A vampire killing kit at Ripley's Believe It or Not! in San Francisco
Glen Bowman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 2012, bizarre rocking chairs—usually dark brown, with various kinds of ornate flourishes, always in the shape of a skeleton—began popping up on sites across the internet. Gothic.org and io9 ran stories about them, and Facebook pages like Steampunk Tendencies soon followed. The chairs were sometimes described as modeled on 19th-century Russian examples—and other times described as 19th-century Russian items themselves.

The grotesque chairs were funny, but got even funnier in 2013 when someone appropriated a photo from an auction house and meme-ified it. They added a blurred effect and magnified the skeleton’s anguished, open-mouthed expression, making it seem as if it were screaming into the void—perhaps upon realizing that it must spend the rest of eternity as a rocking chair in some eccentric collector’s parlor. By early 2014, someone on 4chan had associated the meme with the words “Wake Me Up Inside (Can't Wake Up)” after lyrics from the 2003 song "Bring Me to Life" by rock band Evanescence. Then, in true internet fashion, people started adding their own text.

By then, another story had attached itself to the chairs. In 2009, the Lawrence Journal-World discussed the macabre furniture item in a column titled "Ghoulish pieces attract collectors," and suggested that the chair had something to do with a Masonic ritual.

So—aside from the joy of a good meme—what’s the deal? Was this chair used in some secret society's ceremony, or is it just a strange artifact made by some long-forgotten Russian woodworker?

A Macabre Fantasy

According to James Jackson, the answer is neither. Jackson—the president and CEO of Jackson’s Auctions in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and a specialist in Russian art—sold the chair that was featured in several of the early news stories.

He says most of these chairs were probably made in the '90s, but were designed to look older to fool buyers into forking over more money. “These are the type of things that are created in various markets to appeal to the eclectic, exotic tastes of a wannabe fine art consumer,” Jackson tells Mental Floss. “So the person making this chair—and the guy buying it and reselling it—they understand this brain very well.”

The precise origins of the chairs Jackson's sold are murky. A couple of the chairs were sold to a third-party seller called a consignor, who then resold them to Jackson’s Auctions. Jackson suspects they were probably made somewhere in Europe—probably at a workshop where the primary goal is to “make a buck.” That would explain why no artist or craftsman's name is ever attached to the chairs.

These “fantasy chairs” were initially thought to be rare, and some sellers may have benefited from the myths and stories surrounding their origin. Over the years, people started to see more and more of these chairs at auction, which contributed to their diminishing value. Jackson said his auction house sold one of the chairs for $2600 in 2008, but in 2012, the price dropped to $1500. At its lowest price point, a skeleton chair sold for $900 in Detroit, according to Jackson's database of different auction houses.

Artifacts of the Hyperreal

Jackson says the skeleton chairs remind him of the vampire slayer kits that were popular in the '90s, and continued to be sold throughout the 2000s (they still pop up on eBay and other online auctions from time to time). Wooden trunks—purportedly full of vampire-repelling tools from the 1800s such as wooden stakes, garlic, a crucifix, and sometimes pistols—used to command high prices at auction. Sotheby’s even sold one for $25,000 in 2011.

“It was BS,” Jackson says of the trunks, explaining that while they may have contained old tools, the pieces were assembled later for commercial purposes and given a phony backstory. “Whenever we see anything weird like that, it’s an automatic red flag. To the consumer, though, they want it to be some rare and unusual thing—and that’s not true.”

Jackson said one obvious sign that the slaying kits were inauthentic was that "they don’t show up in any literature prior to the 1990s, [and] something like that would have been written about somewhere.” In hindsight, Jackson thinks the whole scam was pretty comical. He said you had experts on TV doing careful analyses of the paper labels inside these kits, when in reality, all they had to do was use a magnifying glass to see that the letters were printed by a dot matrix.

"It’s like doing a metallurgic study on a brand new Mercedes-Benz," he said. “I didn’t have to get a microscope out and a black light and spend an hour fondling it. It’s common sense.”

Jonathan Ferguson, a curator at the UK-based National Museum of Arms and Armour, also debunked these hunting trunks. He wrote in a blog post, “Nowhere was there evidence to support real vampire slayers carting about one of these kits.”

Still, he wrote that they were somewhat valuable as “genuine artifacts of the Gothic fiction,” and rather than being seen as fakes (since there never was a Victorian original), should be seen as "'hyperreal' or invented artifacts somewhat akin to stage, screen or magician's props."

As for the Sotheby's kit that was snatched up for $25,000, its creation was also probably inspired by the popularity of Dracula (1897) and other late 19th century vampire lore, according to Dennis Harrington, head of Sotheby's European furniture department in New York City. Harrington notes that some of the pieces inside the kit are valuable in their own right.

"[The kit] was complete and did contain individual elements that have some intrinsic value themselves, like silver bullets and an ivory figure of Christ on the Cross (though we can no longer sell ivory items today) ..." Harrington tells Mental Floss. "The curiosity value would also have helped, and of course the golden rule of auctions is that any one lot is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it on a particular day."

Likewise, the skeleton rocking chairs—despite not being antiques—certainly have their own unique appeal. “They’re cool, they’re neat. These are ‘man cave’ type things for the most part,” Jackson says. However, “They’re obviously not functional. You can’t sit in it comfortably.”

And what of the skeleton meme? Do the makers of these chairs know that their creation has been turned into an absurd internetism? Jackson, for his part, hadn’t heard anything about it. “I’m glad they made a joke out of [the chairs],” he said, “but I don’t know what meme means.”

Gas Leak at University of Canberra Library in Australia Revealed to Be Durian Fruit

iStock.com/dblight
iStock.com/dblight

On Friday, May 10, firefighters in the Australian Capital Territory received a concerning call: There was a possible gas leak in the University of Canberra library. After evacuating the building and conducting a thorough search, the team found the source of the toxic smell was actually a harmless durian, a Southeast Asian fruit that's infamous for is pungent odor, The Guardian reports.

Writers have been attempting to capture the durian's stench on paper for centuries. Bangkok-based food writer Bob Halliday said Durian smells like "a bunch of dead cats," and 19th-century journalist Bayard Taylor wrote, "To eat it seems to be the sacrifice of self-respect." It may smell like something that died, but Durian's distinct odor actually comes from special genes that release sulfur at a supercharged rate.

The stench apparently is also reminiscent of deadly gas. Emergency services searched the University of Canberra library and conducted "atmospheric monitoring" before tracing the reported gas leak to some fruit. The durian had been placed near an air vent on the building's second floor by an unidentified culprit. It's since been removed in a sealed bag and the library has reopened.

This marks the second time in recent memory that a durian fruit has inspired panic at an Australian university. Just over a year ago, the library at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology was evacuated following reports of a gas leak that also turned out to be a forgotten durian.

[h/t The Guardian]

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