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6 Bizarre Items Mailed Through the U.S. Postal System

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Photo by Flickr user Smithsonian Institution

Today, the familiar phrase from Herodotus’ work is engraved on the outside of the James A. Farley Post Office building in New York City: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” But when Herodotus originally wrote the phrase in 500 B.C., he undoubtedly didn’t anticipate that an entire country of Americans would put that slogan to the test. In fact, since the beginning of the U.S. Postal Service in 1775, mischievous citizens have constantly pushed the envelope when it came to challenging their local mailmen. Here are a few strange things that have been sent through the mail.

1. People

One of the earliest tales of beating the mail system occurred in 1849 with the escape of Virginia slave Henry “Box” Brown. One night, Brown had a dream to “mail [himself] to a place where there are no slaves.” With $86 in hand, Brown enlisted the help of a local storekeeper to box him up with water and biscuits and send him north to freedom. James Miller McKim, a Philadelphia abolitionist, agreed to receive the box. The trip began on March 23. While the journey only lasted 27 hours, Brown’s box was passed from wagon to railroad to steamboat and back again. The box often ended up upside down, but Brown remained quiet enough to avoid discovery. On March 24, Brown arrived in Philadelphia and was released as a free man.

That wasn’t the only case of shipping people by mail. In 1914, 5-year-old May Pierstorff was sent from Grangeville, Idaho to visit her grandmother in Lewiston, Idaho. When it came time to buy tickets, Pierstorff’s parents discovered that sending their daughter through parcel post was cheaper than buying fare. Pierstorff, who weighed less than the 50-pound weight limit, was sent through the mail at the chicken rate. Before Pierstorff boarded the train, her parents clipped 53 cents to her coat and sent her on her way. Upon arrival in Lewiston, the postmaster personally delivered the young girl to her grandmother’s house. Six years later, the practice of shipping humans through parcel post became illegal.

2. Diseases

In the August 7, 1895 issue of The New York Times, Miss Daisy James from the New York Post Office noted that dead birds and other small animals were sent to taxidermists throughout the country. She also handled various strains of smallpox, diphtheria, and scarlet fever that were shipped by physicians to the national Health Board.

3. Buildings

The largest thing to be sent through the mail was a building. In 1916, a young businessman by the name of William H. Coltharp decided to construct a new bank on the corner of a street in Vernal, Utah. Of course, Coltharp couldn’t send a completed building through the mail, wall by wall. But Coltharp wanted the best bricks in the area and decided to have those bricks sent from the Salt Lake Pressed Brick Company—all 80,000 of them. He reasoned that parcel post was the most inexpensive way to ship the bricks for construction, and he carefully packaged the bricks in separate crates weighing less than the 50-pound weight limit. Somewhere around 40 crates were shipped each time, and each shipment weighed roughly one ton collectively. It was Coltharp’s infamous scheme that prompted the U.S. Postal Service to change their rules so that a customer could only send 200 pounds of goods per day. Their reasoning? “It is not the intent of the U.S. Postal Service that buildings be shipped through the mail.”

4. Pets

Some patrons have resorted to sending their beloved pets through the postal system. In December 1954, a man named David from Fostoria, Ohio decided to send his pet chameleon through the mail to the much warmer Orlando, Florida. On December 7, David received the following note from Orlando’s postmaster: “Dear David, I received your chameleon yesterday and he was immediately released on the post office grounds. Best wishes for a merry Christmas!”

5. Diamonds

By far, the most expensive item to be shipped through the mail was the allegedly cursed Hope Diamond. In November 1958, Harry Winston donated the diamond to the Smithsonian Institution for the National Jewel Collection. Valued at over $1 million at the time, the diamond was shipped to the museum for only $145.29, which was mostly package insurance for the precious gem.

6. Skis, deer tibias, and dead fish

Even today, individuals still test the limits of our country’s postal service. In 2000, a team of social scientists from the science-humor magazine Improbable Research conducted a study to see what bizarre items they could sneak through the post office. The team broke the proposed items into six categories: valuable items, sentimental items, unwieldy items, pointless items, suspicious items, and disgusting items.

Among the valuable items was a pair of “new, expensive tennis shoes” that were bound together by duct tape. The shoes took only seven days to reach their destination, and a mail clerk along the way tightly tied the laces together in a knot. For one of the sentimental items, the researchers sent a molar tooth to themselves in a clear plastic box. After 14 days, the tooth was delivered in a repackaged mailer and accompanied with a note: “Please be advised that human remains may not be transported through the mail, but we assumed this to be of sentimental value, and made an exception in your case.”

The researchers continued their study with the “unwieldy items” category by sending a ski through the mail. After affixing a large amount of postage to the single ski, the researchers distracted the local mailman and stuffed the ski into a bin of postage being loaded in the truck. Eleven days later, the ski was delivered. “Pointless items” were packages that appeared to be a prank. Researchers sent one fresh, green coconut from Hawaii to their office. It arrived in only 10 days, completely intact. The team also sent a street sign—which could have easily been a stolen item possessed illegally—to themselves. This item, part of the “suspicious items” category, made it to the local post office in nine days.

Finally, the individuals finished their study by sending items from the “disgusting” category on their list. In all, the team sent a deer tibia, a large wheel of rancid cheese, and dead fish through the mail. All of the items were delivered within nine days, although the postal clerks were especially concerned with the team’s motives. They asked the group if they were part of a cult and warned them against being fined for mail service abuse.

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A Hairy Situation: Meet the Winners of the 2017 World Beard and Moustache Championships
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Greg Anderson Photography

From long and thick to coiled or curly, every type of mustache, beard, and goatee under the Sun (and barber's pole) seemed to be present at the 2017 World Beard and Moustache Championships. The biannual competition—held in Austin, Texas in early September, according to Laughing Squid—brings together hairy rivals from around the globe, who come before a panel of judges to see whose facial hair is the most coiffed and creative.

Participants compete across 17 traditional categories in three main groups: mustaches, partial beards, and full beards. Awards are granted to individuals with the best Salvador Dalí–inspired mustache; the best "goatee freestyle," or short beards styled into elaborate arrangements; and the best natural full beard, among other looks.

Held in Leogang, Austria, the 2015 World Beard and Moustache Championships had just 317 competitors, Bryan Nelson—who helped organize this year's event along with the Austin Facial Hair Clubtells Mental Floss. But the 2017 Championships attracted a staggering 738 participants from 33 countries.

Nelson believes that the Austin Facial Hair Club pulled off history's largest facial hair competition (the group is awaiting validation from Guinness World Records), and also says that the tournament was the first of its kind to include craft-based categories for women.

"We had Creative Moustache and Realistic Moustache, Creative Beard and Realistic Beard," Nelson says. For the realistic categories, female participants used either real or fake tresses to create authentic-looking facial hair (which they attached to their faces), and for the creative categories, "they were all over the place and could be made from whatever," Nelson explains. "Seashells, bacon, bones … it's such a creative event."

You can check out a handful of 2017's winners—who were captured in all their hairy glory by Las Vegas-based photographer Greg Anderson—below, or view even more hilarious looks on his Instagram.

[h/t Laughing Squid]

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The Funniest Word in the English Language? 'Booty,' According to New Survey
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iStock

Some words, regardless of their meaning, are simply more chuckle-worthy than others. To determine which expressions in the English language are truly the most comical, Smithsonian reports that psychologists at the University of Warwick in the UK conducted a survey in which they asked people to rate the “humor value” of a sampling of chosen words. They recently published their findings in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

The researchers selected nearly 5000 words, and then used Amazon’s online crowdsourcing tool Mechanical Turk to ask more than 800 individuals to rank the humor value of 211 randomly chosen words from the list, on a scale from 1 (humorless) to 5 (humorous). Likely not surprising to anyone with younger siblings, the funniest word ended up being “booty,” with an average ranking of 4.32. In descending order, the remaining top 12 words—which all received a score of 3.9 or higher—were “tit,” “booby,” “hooter,” “nitwit,” “twit,” “waddle,” “tinkle,” “bebop,” “egghead,” “ass,” and “twerp.”

Why these words are so funny remains fuzzy. But when they analyzed their findings according to age and gender, the researchers did find that sexually suggestive words like “orgy” and “bondage” tended to tickle the funny bones of men, as did the words “birthmark,” “brand,” “chauffeur,” “doze,” “buzzard,” “czar,” “weld,” “prod,” “corn,” and “raccoon.”

Meanwhile, women tended to laugh at the words “giggle,” “beast,” “circus,” “grand,” “juju,” “humbug,” “slicker,” “sweat,” “ennui,” “holder,” “momma,” and “sod.” As for people under the age of 32, they were amused by “goatee,” “joint,” and “gangster,” while older participants liked “squint,” “jingle,” “burlesque,” and “pong.” Across the board, all parties were least amused by words like “rape,” “torture,” and “torment.”

Although humor is complex and dependent on elements like syntax and delivery, the study's researchers say that breaking comedy down to single-word units could demystify its essence.

“The research initially came about as a result of our curiosity,” said Tomas Engelthaler, the study’s lead author, in a press release. “We were wondering if certain words are perceived as funnier, even when read on their own. It turns out that indeed is the case. Humor is an everyday aspects of our lives and we hope this publicly available dataset allows future researchers to better understand its foundations.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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