A Town of Storybook Houses and How They Came to Be

In 1924, a man named Hugh Comstock took a little trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California to see his sister and her husband. The town was becoming well known as a haven for artists and other creative types, so it’s not surprising that he met a doll maker named Mayotta Browne during his stay there. Miss Browne was the creator of Otsy-Totsies, cute little felt and cloth dolls meant more for collectors than children. The love bug hit Hugh and Mayotta almost instantly and they married within the year. Mayotta’s business was soon booming, with retailers across the country requesting loads of her merchandise. The dolls began to take over their home, so Mayotta asked her husband to build something to showcase them when buyers came through. Hugh was no architect, nor was he a builder. But he did have a good eye for the whimsical, so he thought he’d give it a shot. Inspired by British illustrator Arthur Rackham, Comstock constructed a little cottage full of handmade details and quirky architecture. He purposely didn’t use a level, so things were just a little skewed and imperfect in an absolutely charming way. The cottage, which he named Hansel (pictured), was just right for Mayotta’s dolls.

The Carmel Pine Cone, the local newspaper, took stock of Hansel and immediately declared it - and Comstock - genius. It wasn’t long before people were knocking down his door, asking for fairytale creations of their own. Because the town was full of artists and writers - Jack London, Mary Austin, Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair and George Sterling among them - the unique style was extremely popular. In response, Comstock built numerous cottages over a period of just five years, hugely influencing the town’s flavor. Most of them have been kept up nicely (or restored) as the decades have gone by, and with good reason: it’s been recorded that Comstock purchased parcels of land on which the cottages were built for as little as $100, and his building materials were dirt cheap. These days, the small but totally original houses go for about $4,000,000. Not a bad investment.

All of the houses have perfectly suited names as well. There’s the Tuck Box, the only commercial building Comstock built; Gretel, the companion house to Hansel; the Honeymoon Cottage; Casanova; Fables and Sunwiseturn, among others.

Anyone ever seen these storybook homes in person? If not, this Flickr set by photographer Linda Hartong will make you feel like you have.

Hansel photo from Tales from Carmel

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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?

If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).


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