Stories That Shocked The World
THE TOCCI TWINS – The Blended Brothers
Giacomo and Giovanni Batista Tocci are something of a strange enigma. Despite being enormously popular with both the public and the medical community during their career, little is actually know about the joined siblings. Furthermore, what is known is often confused and contradicted by various sources.
What is certain is that the brothers were born in Locana, Italy. However sources cannot agree on the date of their birth. It is safe to assume that the boys were born in early October, with the fourth being the general consensus, in 1877. Their mother was only 19 at the time of their birth, her first child (children) but the boys were tiny and the birth was apparently an easy one. Reports indicate that the Tocci family welcomed a total of nine children, all average but the twins.
The only other thing certain about the brothers is that they were dicephalus twins joined at the sixth rib. Their abdomen consisted of separate hearts and organs and each of the brothers had two functional arms. However the two were as one below the point of fusion and shared intestines, a pair of legs and one set of genitalia.
The brothers had great difficulty walking. Each brother controlled one leg and many believe they lacked the co-ordination required to walk. Again, some believe that this was not the reason for their difficulty as subsequent dicephalus twins have mastered bipedal walking. Giacomo had a clubfoot and many attribute this to their lack of mobility. Regardless of the reason, instead of walking the brothers used their arms for locomotion. Their mode of transport was once described as ‘spider-like’.
From birth the brothers were exhibited around Europe, with their father as manager, which eventually led to a very influential tour of the United States in 1891. During their visit, author Mark Twain was so inspired by their appearance that he used them as the basis for his short story ‘Those Extraordinary Twins’. It was also in the United States that the brother adopted their most famous moniker, ‘The Blended Brothers’. In 1892 the twins performed in New York and in a bit of showmanship their billing claimed that one boy spoke only German and the other only French. For the performance, which was preceded that evening by Jo-Jo ‘The Dog-Faced Boy’, they obliged.
The brothers spoke several European languages.
Throughout their life, the twins were the subject of intense medical examination. Their first complete exam was performed one month after their birth. They first appeared in medical literature, Lyon Medical Magazine, following an 1878 examination in Paris. While touring Vienna in 1881 they were touted by the medical community as ‘The Greatest Wonder in the World’. The twins were subject to illustration and photography, including a nude set.
The intelligence of the boys continues to be the subject of much debate as many articles refer to Giacomo being ‘somewhat idiotic’ when compared to his brother. However, those observations were made during infancy and later reports make no mention of any discernable intellectual deficiency. In fact, later reports hail Giacomo as being the more artistically creative of the two.
In 1897, at the age of 20, the boys decided to retire. Together, they had made a great fortune for themselves and their family. During their peak, they made more that $1000 a week. But the boys never really cared for the fame thrust upon them. They purchased a high walled villa near Venice. In 1904 appeared in the media and caused a great controversy by getting married to two separate women. The knowledge of their shared genitalia was public knowledge and their wives were labeled as vulgar.
The brothers retreated further into seclusion for the remainder of their lives. At times, rumors of their death circulated. The exact date of their death is still unknown. One source states that the brothers died childless in 1940, at the age of sixty-three.
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Queen Victoria with her Indian servant Abdul Karim whom she called Munshi (Teacher) and taught her Hindi.
It was also believed that queen and Abdul had intimate relationship. It was a relationship that violated Victorian taboos of race and class, and threatened to destabilise the monarchy and the Empire – yet, although Queen Victoria’s earlier scandalous relationship with her Scottish ghillie [an outdoor servant] John Brown is still common knowledge today, her deep affection for her Muslim servant has been almost forgotten.
However, when she died, in 1901, he was dismissed from Court – just days after attending her funeral – and sent back to India. All his letters and mementos from the Queen were confiscated and destroyed
Full Story: Just imagine. It’s the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year, the eyes of the world are on London... and the Prince of Wales threatens to have his mother declared insane.
Unthinkable? Well, that’s what happened to Queen Victoria in 1897 after her Royal Household refused to condone any longer Her Majesty’s shockingly intimate friendship with an Indian servant.
It was a relationship that violated Victorian taboos of race and class, and threatened to destabilise the monarchy and the Empire – yet, although Queen Victoria’s earlier scandalous relationship with her Scottish ghillie [an outdoor servant] John Brown is still common knowledge today, her deep affection for her Muslim servant has been almost forgotten.
A new Channel 4 documentary, Queen Victoria’s Last Love, rediscovers how, as courtiers plotted to depose the royal favourite, the nation’s Jubilee celebrations teetered on the brink of chaos.
The story began a decade previously, in June 1887, when tall, handsome Abdul Karim, aged only 24, arrived at court as a ‘khitmagar’, one of two Indian servants recruited as waiters at the Queen’s table. Queen Victoria, in her Golden Jubilee year, was 68 and had never recovered from the loss of her dear Albert some 26 years earlier; moreover, her only other close male confidant, John Brown, had died in 1883. The Queen was lonely and in need of male companionship.
‘When he first appeared at court, Abdul looked wonderful in his gorgeous sashes and turbans,’ explains royal biographer Professor Jane Ridley. (Unfortunately, he later became rather fat.) ‘Queen Victoria always had a great appreciation of male beauty. So when she saw him, kissing her feet... how could she resist?’
Within weeks Karim was well on his way to becoming rather more than an ordinary dining-room servant. Kitchen archives at the Queen’s favourite residence, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, reveal that curries featured on the menu every Sunday lunchtime.
‘Had some excellent curry, prepared by one of my Indian servants,’ the Queen remarked in her diary later that summer. ‘We know that Abdul Karim and the Indian attendants prepared the meat, procured their own spices and were given a corner of the main kitchen to prepare these authentic curry dishes,’ says Michael Hunter, the curator at Osborne House. Meanwhile, Karim regaled the Queen and Empress, who had never visited India, with stories and legends from the land that was the exotic jewel in her crown.
Soon he was teaching her Hindustani, having somehow led the Queen to believe he was a man of some education. ‘Young Abdul teaches me,’ she wrote in her diary. ‘He is a very strict master and a perfect gentleman.’ From then until the end of her life, the elderly Queen kept a daily record of her studies and proved an adept pupil, writing in a neat Hindi hand. Karim became her ‘Munshi’, the Hindi word for teacher.
But their translation exercise books betray a more flirtatious relationship. Lucy Worsley, curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, says, ‘He wrote things like, “The Queen will miss the Munshi very much. Translate. Hold me tight. Translate.” It does seem quite personal and intimate.’ The Queen seemed to think of Karim almost as a son, affectionately signing letters to him as ‘your loving mother’.
Her indiscreet affection caused consternation among the Royal Household, led by the Queen’s private secretary Sir Henry Ponsonby and her doctor Sir James Reid, who resented the ambitious young Indian upstart who was breaching all protocol. ‘The Household had never been used to Indian servants,’ explains the present-day Lady Reid, who married the royal doctor’s grandson. ‘The Queen was always worrying about their comfort and Sir James had to have special tweeds made for them in Indian styles because she wanted them to look exotic.’
The courtiers’ resentment came to a head after the Queen promoted Karim to Indian Secretary. Even the Viceroy – the Earl of Elgin – was nonplussed after receiving an ingratiating Christmas card from the Munshi in 1894, only to be rebuked by the Queen for snubbing her favourite when he failed to reciprocate. It wasn’t simply racism; there was no code of etiquette that enabled a Viceroy to hobnob with servants. (Victoria, however, had no racial prejudice and had adopted a little African girl in 1850, providing her with an education and a generous £250 trousseau when she married.)
The Viceroy now despatched his aide-de-camp – Fritz Ponsonby, son of the Queen’s private secretary – to make some overdue inquiries in Karim’s home town of Agra. The Munshi had given the impression that he was the son of an Indian army surgeon. In fact, he came from a much lowlier background. His father was an apothecary at the local prison, where Karim himself had previously been employed as a clerk. It fell upon Sir James Reid to deliver a blistering put-down: ‘By your presumption and arrogance you have created for yourself a situation that can no longer be permitted to exist,’ he thundered. ‘You are an impostor. You are from a low class and never can be a gentleman.’
The Queen was livid. ‘To make out the Munshi is low is really outrageous,’ she protested in a memo to Sir Henry. To everybody’s horror, she now wanted to bestow a knighthood on him. Victoria was in danger of undermining the monarchy itself, devaluing all the trappings of Empire if a prison worker’s son could rise to such an exalted position.
On the eve of the Diamond Jubilee, she even threatened to pull out of the celebrations. The Royal Household delivered an ultimatum, triggered by Dr Reid’s revelation – in an extraordinary breach of professional etiquette –that Karim had contracted a venereal disease. Courtiers threatened to resign rather than allow the Munshi to accompany them on a royal holiday in France. In a fit of rage, the Queen swept everything off her desk.
But then her son Bertie, the Prince of Wales, conspired with Dr Reid and encouraged him to deliver another ultimatum. ‘There are people in high places who know Your Majesty well,’ threatened the brave Scottish doctor when he faced her next day, ‘Who say to me that the only charitable explanation that can be given is that Your Majesty is not sane, and that the time will come when, to save Your Majesty’s memory and reputation, it will be necessary for me to come forward and say so.’
The threat hit home and Queen Victoria was forced to concede defeat. There would be no knighthood for Karim, although he remained at her side throughout the celebrations. However, when she died, in 1901, he was dismissed from Court – just days after attending her funeral – and sent back to India. All his letters and mementos from the Queen were confiscated and destroyed: the new King Edward VII did not look kindly on the Indian servant who had been the last great love of Queen Victoria’s life.
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Prora: World's biggest hotel never had any guests.
Stretching for over three miles along the white sandy beach on Germany's Baltic Sea island of Ruegen, lies the world’s biggest hotel with 10,000 bedrooms all facing the sea. But for 70 years since it was built, no holiday maker has ever stayed there. This is hotel Prora, a massive building complex built between 1936 and 1939 by the Nazis as part of their "Strength through Joy" ("Kraft durch Freude," KdF) programme. The aim was to provide leisure activities for German workers and spread Nazi propaganda. Locals call Prora the Colossus because of its monumental structure.
Prora lies on an extensive bay between the Sassnitz and Binz regions, known as the Prorer Wiek, on the narrow heath (the Prora) which separates the lagoon of the Großer Jasmunder Bodden from the Baltic Sea. The complex consist of eight identical buildings that extend over a length of 4.5 kilometres and are roughly 150 metres from the beach. A workforce of 9,000 took three years to build it, starting in 1936, and the Nazis had long-term plans for four identical resorts, all with cinema, festival halls, swimming pools and a jetty where Strength Through Joy cruise ships would dock.
Hitler's plans for Prora were ambitious. He wanted a gigantic sea resort, the "most mighty and large one to ever have existed", holding 20,000 beds. All rooms were planned to overlook the sea, while corridors and sanitation are located on the land side. Each room of 5 by 2.5 metres was to have two beds, a wardrobe and a sink. There were communal toilets and showers and ballrooms on each floor. In the middle, a massive building was to be erected that could be converted into a military hospital in case of war.
War, indeed happened, before the building could be completed and Hitler’s priorities changed. He transferred the construction workers to build the V-Weapons plant at Peenemünde instead. During the Allied bombing campaign, many people from Hamburg took refuge in one of the housing blocks, and later refugees from the east of Germany were housed there. By the end of the war, these buildings housed female auxiliary personnel for the Luftwaffe. After the war, Prora was used as a military outpost for the East German army. After German reunification in 1990, part of it was used by the Military Technical School of the Bundeswehr and later to house asylum seekers from the Balkans.
Today, the whole place is still pretty much deserted except for a few blocks that has been repurposed for other uses. In 2011, one block was converted into a 400-bed youth hostel and the plan now is to turn Prora into a modern holiday resort with 300 beds that includes tennis courts and swimming pool and a small shopping center.
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This man is one among the 10 people that still live within the confines of an iron lung.
Before going any further, let us understand what an “iron lung” is: it’s not so much a lung as a rigid case fitted over a patient’s body to assist him in breathing by pumping air into his lungs with the aid of mechanical pumps. The iron lung is perhaps most commonly associated with polio, often going hand-in-hand with it, as most polio patients spent a large chunk of their life confined within the iron lung.
Another fact about the iron lung: it is only rarely used today, so much so, that they have stopped making parts for iron lungs. In fact, only 10 people use the iron lung today; seven of them are in the United States. One of them is Paul Alexander.
Alexander, who hails from Texas, is now almost 68. He was left completely paralysed by polio at the age of six, owing to which his lungs stopped working; he has been largely dependent on and confined to his iron lung ever since. It has now been 62 years that Alexander has spent in the iron lung: he still remains completely paralysed, and is only able to move his head, neck, and mouth.
However, that is not the remarkable bit: Alexander taught himself voluntary breathing, which allowed him to escape the iron lung for a few hours at a time. Besides this, Alexander has three college degrees to his name, which allowed him to forge a successful career as a lawyer and set up a successful private law practice. The few hours that he can spend out of confinement are used whenever he may be litigating a case or giving a speech.
While Alexander condemns the machine he is confined to, he also gratefully admits that had it not been for the machine, he wouldn’t be alive today: ‘It is my cage, but it’s also my cocoon,’ says he.
More About what Iron Lung is:
A negative pressure ventilator, often referred to colloquially as an iron lung, is a form of medical ventilator that enables a person to breathe when normal muscle control has been lost or the work of breathing exceeds the person's ability. Examples of the device include both the Drinker respirator and the Both respirator. The negative form of pressure ventilation has been almost entirely superseded by positive pressure ventilation or biphasic cuirass ventilation.
Humans, like most animals, breathe by negative pressure breathing: the rib cage expands and the diaphragm contracts, expanding the chest cavity. This causes the pressure in the chest cavity to decrease, and the lungs expand to fill the space. This, in turn, causes the pressure of the air inside the lungs to decrease (it becomes negative, relative to the atmosphere), and air flows into the lungs from the atmosphere: inhalation. When the diaphragm relaxes, the reverse happens and the person exhales. If a person loses part or all of the ability to control the muscles involved, breathing becomes difficult or impossible.
The person using the iron lung is placed into the central chamber, a cylindrical steel drum. A door allowing the head and neck to remain free is then closed, forming a sealed, air-tight compartment enclosing the rest of the person's body. Pumps that control airflow periodically decrease and increase the air pressure within the chamber, and particularly, on the chest. When the pressure is below that within the lungs, the lungs expand and atmospheric pressure pushes air from outside the chamber in via the person's nose and airways to keep the lungs filled; when the pressure goes above that within the lungs, the reverse occurs, and air is expelled. In this manner, the iron lung mimics the physiological action of breathing: by periodically altering intrathoracic pressure, it causes air to flow in and out of the lungs. The iron lung is a form of non-invasive therapy.
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In 2004, following more than a decade of unsuccessfully attempting to sell the site as a whole, the blocks of the building began being sold off individually for various uses. On 23 September 2004, Block 6 sold for 625 000 Euros to an unknown bidder. On 23 February 2005, Block 3, the former Museum Mile, was sold to Inselbogen GmbH, which announced that the building would be used as a hotel. In October 2006, Block 1 and 2 were sold to Prora Projektentwicklungs GmbH which has announced plans of converting the buildings into shops and apartments. However Block 1 was re-offered for sale at an auction on 31 March 2012 and was purchased by a Berlin investor for 2.75 million Euros.
In November 2006, the Federal agency for real estate purchased Block 5. With financial support from federal government and the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern it planned to establish a youth hostel in the building. Located in the northernmost part of the complex, it was divided into five contiguous parts. In July 2011, the long-planned large youth hostel with 402 beds in 96 rooms opened.
In September 2010, plans were announced by a German-Austrian investor group to renovate blocks 1 and 2 as housing for the elderly and a hotel with 300 beds that includes tennis courts and swimming pool and a small shopping centre. The investment costs are estimated at 100 million euros.
In spring 2013, developers began marketing refurbished apartments in the Colossus for as much as 700,000 euros ($900,000) apiece. Currently, four of the buildings are in the process of redevelopment, a fifth is used as a youth hostel while the remaining three are in ruins.
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The current format of the keyboard was devised in 1870’s by a gentleman named Christopher Sholes. Though, it definitely was not the first format to come up, it didn’t take much time to switch to this one. Starting with lexicographic order i.e. A-B-C-D-E-F, after various trials and errors and taking hundreds of cases, Christopher Sholes gradually reached the Q-W-E-R-T-Y. It was really well received (evident from the fact that we still use it).
When the typewriter was invented, it used a metal bar to hold the character alphabets and the other end of the bar was attached to a linkage carrying a carriage with the coated ink. When a key was struck, it would emboss its character on the paper placed beneath the carriage. However, when an operator learned to type at a great speed, a certain flaw invoked. When two letters were struck in quick succession, the bars of the typewriter would entangle and get jammed.
Christopher Sholes found a way out. He proposed that the letters of frequently used letter pairs should be in different rows. For example, ‘C-H’, ‘S-T’, ’T-H’, ‘E-H’ and more. He also formulated that to speed up the typing process, there has to be a regular alternation between two hands. So observing thousands of words, he placed the letters in way that most words would make use of both hands.
He also observed that almost every word in the dictionary carries a vowel. According to him, the most frequently used vowel was ‘A’ and the most frequently used letter (non-vowel) was ‘S’. So he placed ‘A’ and ‘S’ together and chose to keep less common letters like ‘Q’, ‘W’, ‘Z’, ‘X’, ‘C’ around these. This was complemented by placing fairly common letters like ‘M’, ‘N’, ‘L’, ‘K’, ‘O’, ‘P’ at right extremes to create a perfect alternation between both the hands.
All these factors tested with thousands of trials gave us the format that we still use and perhaps would be using till eternity.