New Documentary Reveals the Surprising Place the Queen's Crown Jewels Were Hidden During WWII

Toby Melville/AFP/Getty Images
Toby Melville/AFP/Getty Images

Today, the Queen of the United Kingdom's Crown Jewels are safeguarded in the Tower of London’s Jewel House, under the watch of armed guards. But during World War II, select gems from the priceless collection were stored in a biscuit tin and buried on Windsor Castle’s grounds, according to Business Insider.

The unorthodox hiding place was recently revealed in a new BBC documentary, The Coronation, which looks back on Queen Elizabeth II’s rise to the throne in 1953. British news commentator Alastair Bruce, who interviews the Queen in the hour-long special, says he stumbled across the story while perusing once-confidential letters between royal librarian Sir Owen Morshead and Queen Mary, the mother of King George VI and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth.

Fearing that the Nazis would seize the royal jewels, George VI ordered the treasure-filled tin to be buried underneath a secret emergency castle exit. The jewels—including the Black Prince's Ruby and St. Edward's Sapphire, both taken from the Imperial State Crown—were accessible only through a trapdoor.

The freshly tilled earth was a chalky white. To avoid notice from the German Luftwaffe, tarps were used to conceal the dug-up grounds at night. The Nazis weren’t the only ones left in the dark: Princess Elizabeth, then 14 years old, had no idea where the gems were buried, although she did know they’d been hidden at Windsor.

This story—along with other musings on royalty from Queen Elizabeth—is shared in The Coronation, which airs on the Smithsonian Channel on January 14.

[h/t Business Insider]

How Seiichi Miyake and Tactile Paving Changed the World for Visually Impaired People

iStock.com/RonBailey
iStock.com/RonBailey

More than 140 years after Louis Braille invented the Braille reading system, Seiichi Miyake came up with a different system based on touch that allows visually impaired people to navigate public spaces. Today, tactile paving is used by major cities and transportation services around the world. Miyake was so influential that he's the subject of the Google Doodle for March 18, the 52nd anniversary of tactile paving's debut.

The Japanese inventor designed the influential system with a specific person in mind. His friend was losing his vision, so in 1965, Miyake used his own money to build special mats with raised shapes that lead blind and visually impaired people away from danger and toward safety. Pavement with round bumps was meant to signal nearby danger, such as a street crossing or the edge of a train platform, while a stretch of pavement with straight bars was meant to guide them to safe areas. The tactile design allowed pedestrians to detect the features with canes, guide dogs, or their feet.

Originally called Tenji blocks, the tactile pavement was first installed outside the Okayama School for the Blind in Okayama, Japan in 1967. They quickly spread to larger cities, like Tokyo and Osaka, and within a decade, Miyake's system was mandatory in all Japanese rail stations.

Seiichi Miyake died in 1982 at age 56, but the popularity of his invention has only grown since his death. In the 1990s, the U.S., the UK, and Canada embraced tactile pavement in their cities. Miyake's initial design has been built upon throughout the years; there are now pill-shaped bumps to indicate changes in direction and raised lines running perpendicular to foot traffic to signal upcoming steps. And even though they're often thought of as tools for blind people, the bright colors used in tactile pavement also make them more visible to pedestrians with visual impairments.

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

iStock
iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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