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The Hidden Haunted History of 7 American Landmarks

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The stories of presidential ghosts in the White House are pretty well known. But plenty of other landmarks have their own ghost stories.

1. The Ghostly Curators of the Smithsonian Institution

With so many items and artifacts – let alone mummies and skeletons – it should come as no surprise that many consider the Smithsonian Institution to be haunted. Aside from the typical ghostly footsteps and shadowy figures, many night watchmen in the early part of the 20th century claimed to have seen members of the Institute long after their demise. Some of these ghostly curators and researchers include Emil Bessels, an arctic explorer; Fielding Meek, a paleontologist who lived and worked at the Institute; Joseph Henry, the Institute’s first Secretary; Spencer Baird, the first curator; and even founder James Smithson, who died long before the museum was even built.

If phantoms really existed, Smithson would be the most likely candidate. His remains have been kept at the museum since 1904. In fact, his body was disinterred in 1973 because of what James Goode, former curator of Castle Collections, called ghost sightings. Officially, though, the Institute just did a complete study of the contents of Smithson’s casket, including his skeleton, which was still inside, not out wandering the halls scaring people.

2. The Haunted Hollywood Sign

Peg Entwhistle was an up-and-coming actress on Broadway in the mid-1920s. However, when she tried to make the transition to Hollywood in 1932, she found that she was just another pretty face. After a single film role, her prospects dried up and she was out of work.

Around September 16, 1932, Entwhistle told her family she was going for a walk; it would be the last time anyone saw her alive. She traveled to the Hollywood Hills landmark, the Hollywoodland sign, where she took off her purse, coat, and shoes, before climbing a maintenance ladder to the top of the H (other reports say it was the last letter, “D”). There, she plummeted some 50 feet to the ground below. Her body and belongings – including a suicide note - were discovered two days later.

Since then, “LAND” has been removed from the sign, but the spirit of Peg Entwhistle still lingers. Park ranger John Arbogast claimed to have seen her ghost many times, usually in the middle of very foggy nights. He also claimed to smell gardenias in the area, Entwhistle’s favorite scent, even during winter when there are no flowers in bloom.

In 1990, a man and his girlfriend were hiking near the sign when their dog suddenly began whining and backing away from the trail ahead. The couple soon saw a blond woman in a white 1930s-style dress walking towards them. She looked confused and disoriented, so the couple tried to steer clear of her, but then she suddenly vanished before their eyes. They claim to have been unaware of Entwhistle’s suicide at the time of the sighting.

3. The Demon Pirate of Liberty Island

Since 1886, Liberty Island has been the home of the Statue of Liberty. But earlier in its history it was known as Bedloe’s Island, and was reportedly a favorite spot for notorious pirate Captain Kidd to bury his ill-gotten treasure.

As reported by the New York Times in 1892, two soldiers named Gibbs and Carpenter were stationed at Fort Wood, the military installation on Bedloe’s Island that would later form the pedestal for Lady Liberty. Hoping to get rich quick, the duo sneaked out of their bunks to dig for the treasure at a location that had been foretold to them by a psychic. Then, sometime after midnight, the entire fort was woken up by a blood-curdling scream. As guards headed in the direction of the noise, they encountered a hysteric Carpenter, who led them to the dig site, where Gibbs was found unconscious.

The men said they had only dug a few feet down when they found a wooden box. But just as they were about to claim their fortune, an otherworldly creature appeared. Gibbs described it as a typical depiction of a demon – black skin, horns on its head, giant wings, and a barbed tail. Carpenter, though, said it was red, didn’t have wings, and moved about without any visible form of locomotion. Carpenter ran, but Gibbs stood frozen in terror. He claimed that it was the spirit of Captain Kidd, who breathed sulfur in his face before throwing him into the bay. The guards saw no wooden box or demon pirate, so apparently Kidd took his treasure with him when he disappeared into the ether.

4. The Ghosts of the Rock

WPPilot, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 

Thousands of inmates passed through Alcatraz in its 100-year history, first as a Civil War-era military stockade and later a federal prison that housed some of America’s most dangerous criminals. Thanks to the isolation of the island, as well as the sometimes brutal treatment of prisoners, many men committed suicide, while others were killed by inmates who'd been driven insane. With so much blood staining the Rock, it should come as no surprise that ghosts are said to roam the halls today.

One allegedly haunted area is Cell 14D, one of the solitary confinement cells known as a “hole.” There, prisoners were stripped naked, thrown into a small, dark room, and were kept completely isolated for up to 19 days. By the time they came out, many suffered permanent psychological damage. In the 1940s, an inmate confined to Cell 14D screamed throughout the night that something with glowing red eyes was in there with him. The next morning, the cell was finally quiet, so the guards unlocked 14D to check on the prisoner. Inside, they found his body, strangled to death. An autopsy later revealed that his wounds could not have been self-inflicted.

It’s been said that one of The Rock’s most famous guests – Al “Scarface” Capone – never really left. Driven insane by syphilis, Capone feared that other inmates might kill him during the prisoners’ weekly recreation period in the prison yard. So Capone asked for and received special permission to practice playing his banjo in the prison’s shower room instead. Since the island became a national park in 1972, many park rangers have reported hearing the distinct sound of a banjo coming from the room, often near the end of the workday after all the tourists have gone.

5. The Widow at the Empire State Building

As one of the tallest buildings in the world, the Empire State Building has been the scene of over two dozen suicides in its 80-year history. There are many stories of people who have seen ghostly figures recreating their fateful plunge from the skyscraper’s 86th floor observation deck, but one story stands above the rest.

The story was first told in 1985, when a tourist went to the observation deck to get a bird's-eye view of the Big Apple. While there she met a woman dressed in 1940s-style clothes, crying into her handkerchief. When asked what was wrong, the woman said that her husband died in the war in Germany. Obviously distraught, she said she couldn’t live without her beau, so she walked through the suicide prevention fence that surrounds the deck, and disappeared over the edge.

Shaken by what she'd seen, the tourist went into the bathroom to splash water on her face. Suddenly, the same woman appeared next to her at the sink, touching up her makeup in the mirror, before heading to the observation deck to replay her final moments again…and again…and again.

6. The Haunted Confines of Wrigley Field

According to Mickey Bradley and Dan Gordon, authors of Haunted Baseball and Field of Screams, the most haunted ballpark in the country is Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

One of the most well-known ghost stories is retold by security guards who have heard the telephone in the bullpen ring in the middle of the night. But it’s not a wrong number, because the phone is a direct line to the dugout, which they say is haunted by the spirit of Charlie Grimm, a Cubs manager in the 1930s and 40s. Some guards have even claimed they’ve seen Grimm in the hallways, but as soon as they speak to him he disappears. But why would Grimm still be haunting Wrigley after all these years? Perhaps it’s because his ashes are said to be buried in left field. Or because Grimm was the last manager to take the team to the World Series in 1945. We can only assume he won’t rest until the Cubs are in the Series again.

Fans say they’ve spotted famed WGN broadcaster Harry Caray in the press box and in the outfield bleachers ever since his death in 1998. Others have even seen Steve Goodman, writer of the Cubs’ anthem, “Go, Cubs, Go!,” sitting behind the batter’s box, despite his death in 1984. Goodman’s ghostly box seat would be appropriate since its rumored his ashes are buried under home plate.

7. The Phantom Ship of the Golden Gate

Although over 1,000 people have committed suicide by jumping from San Francisco’s most famous landmark, the Bay’s ghostly past goes back well before the bridge was constructed in 1937. In 1853, the steamer ship, S.S. Tennessee, ran aground at a spot that has since been named Tennessee Cove in its honor. Thankfully, 550 passengers and 14 chests of gold all made it safely ashore before the waters of the Pacific tore the ship apart.

Since then, there have been many reports of a ghostly, antique ship passing under the Golden Gate Bridge before disappearing into the fog. Perhaps the most famous sighting occurred in November 1942, when the crew of the USS Kennison claimed to have floated right past the phantom Tennessee; so close the Kennison crew could tell that the steamer ship’s decks were unmanned. The Tennessee was said to leave no wake as it passed, nor did it show up on the Kennison’s radar.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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