If You Find Yourself Stranded on a New Zealand Island, Look for One of These

Lawrie M, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Lawrie M, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

If Chuck Noland had found one of these little depots, the movie Cast Away (2000) would have been much less interesting.

From the late 19th century through the mid-20th century, shipwrecks were almost commonplace in the southern oceans near New Zealand. Despite dangerous waters and unpredictable weather, more and more traders were using the Great Circle shipping route between Australia and South Africa. The seas were violent, the water was cold, and the coastline was rocky—anyone who found themselves dumped unceremoniously into the ocean faced an almost certain death sentence.

One of the last straws was when a ship called the General Grant wrecked near New Zealand in 1866, killing nearly 70 people, including children. There were just 15 survivors, and five of them died on the desert island where they'd found shelter before rescuers arrived 17 months later.

In an attempt to stop similar tragedies, toward the end of the 19th century the New Zealand government installed depots on islands that shipwreck survivors were likely to come across, including the Auckland Islands, Campbell Island, the Snares Islands, and the Antipodes Islands. Some of the tiny sheds were just big enough to hold supplies, from food and water to wool "survivor suits" meant to provide warmth to drenched sailors. But others, like the one on Antipodes Island (pictured), were large enough for survivors to actually live in.

Sadly, it wasn't entirely uncommon for looters to stop by the islands to pick up a stash of free food and clothes, but woe to the unscrupulous sailors who did so—each shed was accompanied by a curse that read, "The curse of the widow and fatherless light upon the man that breaks open this box, whilst he has a ship at his back."

The supplies weren't limited to non-perishables stacked in a shed; the government actually released livestock to roam free on several islands, giving shipwreck survivors a source of fresh meat. For about 60 years, the depots were maintained by government steamer ships, which replenished supplies, released new livestock, cut firewood to leave in the huts, and checked for survivors. Plenty of castaways benefited from the depots, including 22 members of the Anjou, who survived for months after their shipwreck in 1905.

The steamers stopped maintaining the depots sometime in the late 1920s, after radio technology had advanced and that particular trade route fell out of popularity. Though they're no longer replenished, many of the castaway depots still stand today, including the one on Antipodes Island. (One of the oldest, built in 1880, is on Enderby Island.) Should you find yourself stranded in the area, shelter will be covered—but like Chuck, you'll still want to bring your volleyball for company.

Why Are We So Scared of Clowns?

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

With the recent box office-smashing success of Stephen King's It, it’s safe to say that coulrophobia (fear of clowns) isn’t a fringe phenomenon. The colorful circus performers are right up there with vampires and werewolves on the list of iconic horror villains. But unlike other movie monsters, clowns were originally meant to make kids laugh, not hide under their beds in terror. So what is it about clowns that taps into our deepest fears?

According to Yale doctoral candidate Danielle Bainbridge, the unsettling clown stereotype goes back centuries. In the inaugural episode of the PBS digital series Origin of Everything, Bainbridge explained the long history of this pervasive part of our culture.

Before clowns wore floppy shoes and threw pies at each other’s faces, early versions of the performers could be found in royal courts. The court jester wasn’t evil, but he was the only person in the kingdom who could poke fun at the monarch without fear of (literally) losing his head. The fact that fools didn’t fall within the normal social hierarchy may have contributed to the future role clowns would play as untrustworthy outsiders.

From the medieval era, clowns evolved into the harlequins of 16th-century Italian theater. Again, these weren’t bloodthirsty monsters, but they weren’t exactly kid-friendly either. The characters were often mischievous and morally bankrupt, and their strange costumes and masks only added to the creepy vibes they gave off.

Fast-forward to the 19th century, when the white-faced circus clowns we know today started gaining popularity. Unlike the jesters and harlequins that came before them, these clowns performed primarily for children and maintained a wholesome image. But as pop culture in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s showed us, that old perception we had of clowns as nefarious troublemakers never really went away. Steven King’s It, the cult classic Killer Clowns From Outer Space (1988), and that scene from Poltergeist (1982) all combined these original fears with the more modern association of clowns with children. That formula gave us one of the most frightening figures in horror media today.

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The Mongolian Princess Who Challenged Her Suitors to a Wrestling Match—and Always Won

iStock.com / SarahWouters1960
iStock.com / SarahWouters1960

In a lot of fairy tales, a disapproving father or a witch's curse stops the princess from finding Prince Charming. But things were a little different in 13th-century Mongolia. Any single lad, regardless of status or wealth, could marry the khan's daughter, Khutulun. There was just one caveat, which the princess herself decreed—you couldn't take her hand in marriage until you took her down in a wrestling match. If you lost, you had to give her a handful of prize horses.

Sounds easy, right? Nope. After all, this is the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan we're talking about!

Born around 1260, Khutulun was an intimidating presence. According to The Travels of Marco Polo, the princess was "so well-made in all her limbs, and so tall and strongly built, that she might almost be taken for a giantess." She was also the picture of confidence. She had mastered archery and horsemanship in childhood and grew up to become a fearless warrior. Whenever her father, Kaidu—the leader of the Chagatai Khanate—went to battle, he usually turned to Khutulun (and not his 14 sons) for help.

Nothing scared her. Not only did Khutulun ride by her father's side into battle, she'd regularly charge headfirst into enemy lines to make "a dash at the host of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father," Marco Polo wrote. The 13th- and 14th-century historian Rashid al-Din was more direct, writing that she "often went on military campaigns, where she performed valiant deeds."

It's no surprise that Khutulun had suitors lining up and down the street asking for her hand in marriage. The princess, however, refused to marry any of them unless they managed to beat her in a wrestling match, stipulating that any loser would have to gift her anywhere between 10 to 100 horses.

Let's just put it this way: Khutulun came home with a lot of prize horses. (Some accounts say 10,000—enough to make even the emperor a little jealous.) As author Hannah Jewell writes in her book She Caused a Riot, "The Mongolian steppes were littered with the debris of shattered male egos."

On one occasion, a particularly confident suitor bet 1000 horses on a match. Khutulun's parents liked the fellow—they were itching to see their daughter get married—so they pulled the princess aside and asked her to throw the match. After carefully listening to her parents' advice, Khutulun entered the ring and, in Polo's words, "threw him right valiantly on the palace pavement." The 1000 horses became hers.

Khutulun would remain undefeated for life. According to legend, she eventually picked a husband on her own terms, settling for a man she never even wrestled. And centuries later, her story inspired François Pétis de La Croi to write the tale of Turandot, which eventually became a famed opera by the composer Giacomo Puccini. (Though the opera fudges the facts: The intrepid princess defeats her suitors with riddles, not powerslams.)

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