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The Odd Truth, Dec. 22, 2003

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.


125 Year-Old Fruitcake

TECUMSEH, Mich. - A fruitcake that is an estimated 125 years old - an artifact of holiday cheer - is expected to make a tasty debut of sorts when it's introduced on national TV.

Morgan Ford, 83, of Tecumseh, is taking his great-grandmother Fidelia Bates' fruitcake to Burbank, Calif., to share a piece with Jay Leno on Tuesday's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

The cake rests in a glass bowl, covered by a glass top. A large raisin and what might be a clove are visible among the brown mass - Ford says it's fossilized - that emits a pleasant odor of spices.

Its baker died in Berkey, Ohio, in 1879 and the cake remained untouched for 85 years.

Not much is known about the origin of the cake; even the recipe is lost.

"I don't think my dad knew anything more about it than I do now," Ford said.

Ford intends to pass along the fruitcake to his son, James Ford, of Tecumseh.

"I guess I don't have anything else that's a family heirloom," James Ford said. "It's history. I think my dad gets a little more fun out of it than I do."

Lobster Barbie

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND, Maine - Practical jokers Jim Bright and Chris Costello never imagined that their idea of dressing a female lobster in a Barbie outfit - accessorized with pink high heels - would save her from the steam pot.

But it did - at least 10 times.

As a gag, the fishermen clad the crustacean and placed her in a friend's trap last September.

"It's a monotony hauling traps day after day," said Costello, "and we just wanted to break it up a little bit. It totally worked."

Barbie Lobster, as she has come to be known, has been hauled up - and thrown back - at least 10 times. The radios used by lobstermen buzzed with chatter and laughter each time a new sighting of Barbie was reported.

Costello made a special trip to Wal-Mart to buy the blue blouse, red- and white-checkered skirt and shoes.

The men had wanted to dress up a jumbo lobster, but it was too fat to fit into a Barbie ensemble. Instead, they chose a svelte 1-and-a-half- pound model.

"They slipped right on, just like Cinderella," Bright said of the footwear.

Costello disagreed, saying it was a challenge to put the high heels on the little lobster legs. There are four legs on each side so the men attached them to the two in the center.

"You try squeezing Barbie shoes on a lobster," he said. "That was the most time-consuming thing."

Barbie hasn't been seen since early December and apparently was unkempt and nearly naked, except for her shoes.

If she survives a few more months, she may be home free for another season, Costello said.

"We have our spring fashions all ready to go," he said.

Small World

VENICE, Fla. - Czech refugee Jan Koren made it to the U.S. - as did his painting. But not together. Koren is now a retired architect in Florida. He discovered the painting he did as boy in a Venice, Florida, shop. He painted the landscape more than 60 years ago in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. It was a gift to his mother and was painted on board because they didn't have any canvas. He says he would have paid anything for it. But it only cost him $70. Koren has no idea how the painting got to the U.S.

Ton Of Bananas Wash-Up In Lithuania

VILNIUS, Lithuania - Lithuanians got an early Christmas present this weekend when more than a ton of bananas washed ashore on a stretch of the country's Baltic Sea coast.

To the astonishment and glee of hundreds of residents, the still-green bananas were swept onto four miles of shore near Sventoji, 180 miles west of the capital, Vilnius.

People rushed to gather and haul them away in sacks and minivans, officials said.

Officials speculated that crates of bananas washed overboard from a merchant ship plying the stormy Baltic Sea - and that currents carried them to Lithuania.

It's not uncommon for cargo, from lumber to cigarettes, to wash ashore although most said it was the first time in memory that unripe bananas did so.

But while some residents may have thought Christmas came a few days early, health officials may have spoiled their banana-induced cheer.

They warned that the fruits were waterlogged with sea water and that anyone who eats them may become ill.

Milk-Vomiting Teacher Back In Class

RALEIGH, N.C. - The high school chemistry teacher who conducted a milk-drinking experiment in which some students drank to the point of vomiting can return to the classroom in January, but he won't be recommended for rehire.

Jeff Ferguson has been severely reprimanded, and Johnston County schools superintendent Jim Causby will not recommend that he be rehired in June, according to a letter from the school system.

Ferguson learned of the decision Saturday, a month after he was suspended with pay for conducting the experiment in his honors chemistry classes at Smithfield-Selma Senior High School. The goal was to demonstrate the limits of the body's ability to neutralize the acids in milk.

The letter said Ferguson erred by not notifying parents of the experiment in advance, awarding students extra credit for participating in the experiment, and not researching safety concerns more extensively.

The letter also said he had inappropriately pushed students to keep drinking after they felt sick, Ferguson said. No students were injured in the voluntary experiment, but several vomited.

"I'm surprised at the concerns that are supposedly addressed in the letter," Ferguson said. "I don't believe I erred in any way, because I didn't break any policies."

"I know what it is about them that makes them learn," Ferguson said. "If I'm egging them on, it's because I know that's the kind of thing that motivates that student."

Ferguson is forbidden to conduct the milk-drinking experiment again.

Christmas In Prison

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The stockings won't be empty on Christmas in Arkansas prisons - and they won't contain lumps of coal, either.

As a humane gesture, state prison officials will give each inmate two apples, two oranges and $5 cash.

Arkansas inmates, numbering about 13,000, also will get a traditional Christmas meal, and most will get the day off from prison work Christmas Day, though family visits won't be allowed.

"Let's face it. If you're not where you want to be on the holidays, it can be real depressing," said Dina Tyler, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Correction. "So this is something we do as a humane gesture."

The annual gift costs the prison system between $60,000 to $70,000. Administrators say the expense is worth what it represents to inmates - an acknowledgment of what is a difficult time of year for anyone away from family.

Even $5 can make a difference at the prison commissary, where inmates can purchase deodorant, shampoo, stationery, soup or candy.

Dee Engle, state coordinator for the Arkansas chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, said she doesn't disagree with the $5 allotment, especially if inmates with children can put it toward sending a small gift home.

"It would mean so much to those children to get something," Engle said.

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