Mystery of Belgium’s Glowing Virgin

April 02, 2014

On two trips to Belgium (in 1998 and 2006), I investigated several “miracle” claims, including a healing shrine, known as the “Belgian Lourdes”; the “Holy Blood of Christ” at Bruges; and a wonderworking statue at Belgium’s most-frequented pilgrimage site. (See my The Science of Miracles, 2013, pp. 23–25, 101–103, 187–190.) Now, another remarkable statue there—one that glows!—has come to light (so to speak); however, its mystery was quickly solved by scientists. (Belinda Robinson, We have seen the light! MailOnline []; March 26, 2014.)

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A Brief Look at Phrenology

March 26, 2014

Phrenology is a form of character reading (like graphology and physiognomy) as supposedly revealed by the individual contours of the subject’s head. The term was introduced in 1815 to refer to a “physiognomical system” of two German doctors, Franz Joseph Gall and John Spurzheim, who gave phrenological readings and lectured on the subject in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Phrenology flourished during the latter century due to the publishing and merchandizing efforts of the Fowler brothers, Orson S. and Lorenzo N., together with their brother-in-law, Samuel R. Wells. The company, Fowler & Wells, was headquartered in New York City with a branch in Philadelphia.

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Warner’s Safe Cures

March 18, 2014

Familiar to collectors of antique bottles, especially those for patent medicines, is the distinctive flask-shaped, amber-colored bottle for Warner’s Safe Kidney & Liver Cure (about 9 3/4’’ tall; see photo). Interestingly, given the word safe in its name, such bottles are embossed with the design of a strongbox, but we are getting ahead of an interesting story about a multiple-quack-medicine empire. Here it is—focusing in turn on each word of the company’s name, Warner’s Safe Cure Company.

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March 09, 2014

More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

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“Slave” Takes Oscars

March 04, 2014

It wasn’t a vision, but in my “Nickell-odeon review” of 12 Years a Slave (Nov. 19) I did foresee Academy Awards in that film’s future.

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“The Invisible Woman”: A Nickell-odeon Review

February 26, 2014

Charles Dickens (1812–1870), the most popular and one of the greatest of English novelists, also deserves plaudits for his literary indictments of society for abusing the poor. To be sure, however, he did have faults. For instance, he fostered belief in the pseudoscientific notion of spontaneous human combustion in his novel Bleak House (1852), although Dickens at least seemed honest in his error.

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“The Monuments Men”: A Nickell-odeon Review

February 18, 2014

The Monuments Men is a true story, based on a book of the same title, written by Robert M. Edsel and subtitled Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. No exaggeration that.

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Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2014


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February 04, 2014

More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

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Dr. Bateman’s Pectoral Drops

January 29, 2014

During some research, I was intrigued by an entry in an old general store ledger from West Liberty, Kentucky, in 1830 for “1 Vial Batmans [sic] drops.” Although I suspected this was just a patent medicine of the day, I was surprised to learn of its staying power as a product marketed (and imitated) for some two centuries.

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