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News of the Weird 

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In August the school district in Columbus, Georgia, assigned aides to alter textbook photos of Emanuel Leutze's famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware because some adults thought parts of Washington's pocket watch, dangling against his thigh, could be mistaken for the founding father's penis. The aides spent two weeks touching up 2,300 textbooks. Officials in Cobb County, north of Atlanta, merely cut out the page.

In September Agence France Presse reported that Stepan Kovaltchuk, 75, had recently emerged from his sister's attic in remote Montchintsi, Ukraine, after 57 years of hiding first from the Nazis and later from Soviet military recruiters. He came out of the house soon after his sister's death. And three weeks later, a man was arrested in Xinyuan county, China, for having stolen about $15 in 1987. He had been hiding from police in a three-foot hole underneath the floor of a closet in his house, emerging only at night.

Solutions to Jail Overcrowding

In April in Alberton, Prince Edward Island, Judge Ralph Thompson gave drunk driver Dennis Joseph Peters, 45, a suspended sentence for his fourth conviction, citing Peters's claim that he should not be jailed because he gets claustrophobic. Jailers in Quebec City sent drug trafficker Michel Racine, 57, home in July because they didn't have furniture big enough to accommodate the 450-pound man. And in August jailers in Independence, Iowa, released four Amish men who were serving time for vandalism, concerned that the lockup's modern conveniences, such as TV and running water, would corrupt them.

Uh-Oh!

In August after Cox News Service reported that when the state of Florida ordered DNA paternity tests on 1,025 men refusing to pay child support, it found that 36 percent weren't the fathers after all. However, the state's courts are split on whether a negative test should relieve men of support responsibilities.

In July, according to police in Honolulu, Denny Usui, 28, at first told officers looking for his grandmother that she wasn't home, but when they insisted on looking around, he became progressively more helpful: "Oh, I don't know, she might be here." Then, "Yeah, OK, she's in the shower." Then, "Oh, go inside, my grandma's bathroom is inside her room." Then, "Oh, I think she's dead. She's in the shower." And finally, "I don't want to say anything else until I speak to my attorney, because this is a felony and I never committed a murder before."

According to a June Los Angeles Times report, about 40 violent male offenders at a youth correctional facility near Sacramento are thriving in a rehabilitative program that teaches sewing. The tough guys stitch, knit, and crochet bootees and blankets for premature babies and enjoy what one teen, in for armed robbery, called sewing's "calming" effect.

First Things First

In July a British army helicopter, helping on an archaeological dig near Red Deer, Alberta, was forced to jettison its cargo, a large package of dinosaur bones said to be 68 million years old, in order to stabilize the chopper. The bones were smashed into splinters. Said the pilot, "I'm very sorry."

In May firefighters in Nixa, Missouri, failed to make it to a burning house in time to save it. The fire chief said that people attending a crowded yard sale at a nearby house were too slow in moving their cars to let the engines pass. Said the chief, "When we were pulling out the hoses, they were tripping over them to get a look."

Ew, Gross!

More than 63,000 people visited the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, in July and August to see the world's largest flower, the blossom of the rare Sumatran titan arum plant. It is also possibly the world's most putrid smelling, recalling rotting flesh. Coincidentally, during the run renowned botanist Bastiaan J.D. Meeuse passed away in Kirkland, Washington, at age 83. He was best known for his work with the large voodoo lily, which produces half-pound flowers that generate their own heat and a stench comparable to the titan arum's.

Food in the news: Yogurt developed for the Russian space program, using bacteria from cosmonauts' saliva to bolster their immune systems, will be available to the public soon, according to an August report in New Scientist magazine. And in May, Eiichi Urata, 59, was rescued after being lost for 15 days on a 7,700-foot peak in the mountains near Nagano, Japan. After the first day, he had nothing to eat except two jumbo tubes of mayonnaise, which he daubed on snow to make snow cones.

Things You Don't See Much Anymore

In Almaty, Kazakhstan, three employees of a psychiatric hospital were charged with killing seven prostitutes and eating them in ravioli-like dishes. And India's national news agency reported in August that a three-year-old girl had been sacrificed to a Hindu goddess in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh to bring prosperity to the village, but that no arrests had yet been made.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has reported on parents who were too busy to arrange for sitters while they committed crimes, most recently last year when an Oregon woman robbed two banks with her three young daughters in the getaway car. In Paducah, Kentucky, in September, Gloria Schoffner, 55, was arrested for prostitution in the front seat of a man's car; her two-year-old granddaughter was in the backseat.

Thinning the Herd

In August a 20-year-old man was electrocuted when he snipped a wire in the electrical box of a lamppost in Newport Beach, California, in an attempt to dim the light and get a better look at the Perseid meteor shower. And in July in New Freeport, Pennsylvania, a 19-year-old man with a gun, joking with friends about shooting himself in the head, accidentally pulled the trigger and killed himself.

In the Last Month

In Saint Petersburg, Florida, a convenience-store robber sporting a garbage bag was easily identified later by a clerk because the bag was made of transparent plastic. In Sao Paulo a 31-year-old man had his own arm chopped off for $465,000 in insurance money. The Nebraska Bar Association rejected a man's application because, it said, he is too abusive to be a lawyer. Three teenagers in Des Moines swiped a box from a woman assuming it contained valuables, when actually she had just walked her dog and had used the box for the droppings. A hospital in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, announced that a husband and wife had decided to trade roles and were undergoing sex-change operations.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 East Illinois, Chicago 60611.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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