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The Odd Truth, Aug. 24, 2004

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum.

350-Year-Old Pear Tree Falls

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - It stood for 350 years, bearing fruit for a dozen generations, but strong winds finally brought what is believed to be the oldest pear tree in Scandinavia crashing down.

Ever since the mid-1600s, the massive pear tree had helped feed the people outside Enkoeping, an hour's drive west of Stockholm.

On Saturday night, as Alf and Eivor Svantesson were going to bed after watching Sweden's Carolina Kluft win the Olympic gold in the heptathlon in Athens, the tree keeled over outside their house in an ear-deafening crash.

"It sounded like gunshots at first," Eivor Svantesson said. "We thought someone was saluting the gold."

As they looked out the window, they saw their beloved tree had fallen to the ground. Strong winds had been blowing in the area for the last couple of days, Eivor Svantesson said. The inside of the trunk also turned out to be rotten, she said.

"It feels very empty now," said Svantesson, 74. She has lived in the house since 1959. "As a child, I played and hid in that tree, and my children and their children have as well. This whole area was known for that tree."

Her husband Alf said a professor from Uppsala University, Anton Nilsson, dated the tree in 1989. It was widely believed to be the oldest of its kind in the Nordic countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Its trunk measured 14 feet in circumference, and it was about 20 feet tall, Alf Svantesson said.

'Spider-Man' Burglar All Tied Up

NEW YORK - A man dubbed the "Spider-Man Burglar" because of his ability to scale walls, leap from windows and swing on fire escapes was convicted Monday of breaking into offices and apartments in Manhattan.

Rufus Graham, 41, was also convicted of breaking into two schools.

Police officer Ray Gogarty testified that he saw Graham leap backward out a seventh-foor office window and land on the roof of a theater that was across a 10-foot alley and three stories below.

Graham pretended to be hurt until he spotted a fire escape, which he quickly slid down and vanished, the officer testified.

Graham, a former personal trainer, did not testify at trial. His lawyer, Christopher Boyle, argued that the defendant was the victim of mistaken identity. He said Graham's admissions to police that he committed 10 of the burglaries had been coerced.

Because of a previous criminal record, Graham faces a sentence of 15 years to life when he is sentenced Sept. 22.

Beloved Iguana Saved From House Fire

SHREVEPORT, La. - The Hulk lives - thanks to some quick thinking by Louisiana firefighters. Hulk is Bobbie Chaput's five-year-old, five-foot-long iguana. Firefighters were called to a house fire in Shreveport and stumbled on two pet iguanas. One didn't make it. But the firefighters thought they might be able to save Hulk. They brought him outside and put an oxygen mask over his face. Captain Al Sanders says he has seen oxygen used to revive cats and dogs before, but this is his first iguana. Chaput says she's extremely grateful firefighters were able to save her big green lizard.

Hurricane Art Heist

ORLANDO, Fla. - Florida authorities say thieves staged a museum heist during the onslaught by Hurricane Charley.

They made off with a Vatican-commissioned bronze bust of the Virgin Mary from an Orlando gallery.

Police are looking for Madonna Dela Pieta, based on the image of Mary in Michelangelo's "Pieta." The bust is said to be worth $25,000.

It was one of two pieces stolen from Inspiration Living Fine Art Gallery August 13th.

According to police, the gallery's alarm system was triggered, but, with Charley buffeting Orlando, the alarm was dismissed as false.

'Virtual Girlfriend' - Coming To A Loser Near You

HONG KONG - She needs to be coddled with sweet talk and pampered with gifts, but you'll never see her in the flesh, says a Hong Kong company that's developing a "virtual girlfriend" for new cell phones with video capability.

Artificial Life, Inc.'s electronic love interest will appear as an animated figure on a telephone screen. But she'll require a lot of attention, involving virtual flowers and diamonds, company spokeswoman Ada Fong said on Monday.

The gifts will keep the relationship going from one level to the next - and even though it's all made up of cold, hard data, suitors will have to pay cold, hard cash for the gifts.

The amounts have yet to be determined, Fong said.

Users of so-called third-generation, or 3G, cell phones who subscribe to the game can send text messages to the virtual woman, who'll respond by voice, Fong said.

If she's neglected, "she'll be unhappy and she won't talk to you," she added.

The game doesn't allow interactions of a sexual nature, Fong said, calling it "suitable for all ages."

The company hopes to develop a virtual boyfriend for women by early next year.

The virtual girlfriend is similar to the popular Tamagotchi "pet" concept developed by Japan's Bandai Co., Fong said.

Artificial Life hopes to launch the service in the English, Japanese and Korean languages in late November. No 3G operators have agreed to offer it yet, she said.