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The Odd Truth, Feb. 18, 2005

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

Smoking Them Out

LANETT, Ala. - A landlord in an eviction dispute with a tenant allegedly broke windows at his rental property and threw a tear gas grenade into the residence, police said.

Joseph Hammock, 69, of West Point, Ga., was taken into custody early Wednesday after a 1:30 a.m. dispute at the Lanett rental property. Police said the tenant was not injured.

Officers arrested Hammock near his Georgia home on an unrelated arson charge and took him to Troup County Jail, said Lanett Police Chief Ron Docimo.

Deputies found additional materials for building explosive devices and literature for survivalist techniques in Hammock's Georgia residence, said Troop County Sheriff's Lt. Rick Massie.

Docimo said Hammock will be extradited back to Alabama on a felony charge when he makes bond in Georgia.

XXX Road Conditions?

TERRACE, British Columbia - Northwest British Columbia residents who dial a toll-free number in the phone book to check highway conditions are getting a red-hot reply from the blue pages listing.

"Ummm, baby, you've dialed the right number ...," a female voice says, followed by details that have nothing to do with roads or outdoor weather.

The listing for the British Columbia Ministry of Transport road report is off by two numbers, apparently because of a typographical error, so callers are connected to a phone sex line.

A ministry representative said the U.S. directory company that publishes the phone book failed to verify the number with the government agency. Distribution of the rest of the directories may be halted.

Burnin' Rubber, Literally

SAN FRANCISCO - A man barely escaped serious injury Thursday after a lit cigarette he tried to toss out the window while driving across the Bay Bridge blew back in and ignited the vehicle, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The unidentified man was driving westbound at about 10:40 a.m. when he tossed the cigarette out the window of his Ford Expedition, said CHP Officer Shawn Chase.

Carried by the wind, the cigarette landed in his back seat and almost immediately burst into flames. The man quickly pulled to the side of the road, and leapt from the flame-filled SUV, which continued rolling into a guardrail, Chase said.

"He thought he had thrown it in park, but he didn't and it just kept going," the officer said. "It was in flames by the time he got out. He had some of his hair singed on the back of his head. It burnt down to the frame. There was nothing left."

The incident forced the closure of the Harrison Street off-ramp and one lane of traffic flowing into the city for about an hour.

He said the man will likely face a misdemeanor charge for littering.

"We see people throwing cigarettes out the window all the time but never a situation like this where it comes back in," Chase said. "This guy was lucky."

Philosophical Society Dusts Off Collection

PHILADELPHIA - Since being founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743, the American Philosophical Society has collected just about every kind of trinket, piece of Americana and oddity imaginable.

The problem is, much of it has never been on display. So after trolling through its vast collections, the group has assembled and put on exhibit a broad array of artifacts, historical documents, inventions and other items, many of which have been tucked away for decades.

"It's extremely broad in that way," curator Sue Ann Prince said of "Treasures Revealed: 260 Years of Collecting at the American Philosophical Society," which opened Friday and runs through Dec. 11. "What we did was do a lot of looking through our collections."
The results are so broad they're hard to put into categories.

A New Testament bound in human skin — likely that of an executed convict — is displayed in glass casing not far from the portrait of George Washington that appears on the dollar bill.

Blueprints for ENIAC, an early electronic digital computer developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, hang steps away from a map depicting the Revolutionary War's deciding battle of Yorktown.

An unknown photographer's painful images of atomic clouds rising up after the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests share a room with pages of negotiations between American Indians and Pennsylvania colonists from the mid-18th century.

Divided into themed sections, the displays cover natural history, the nation's founding, art, inventions, technology, artifacts and other areas.

There are chicken feathers saved by poultry geneticist Hubart Goodale and John I. Hawkins' patent polygraph, an early 19th-century device with two mechanically linked pens that allowed an author to have a replica of his writings created. The idea never took off.

The society, located in the heart of Philadelphia's historic district, was founded by Franklin "to promote useful knowledge" and served as a national library, patent office, museum and academy before the nation's capital was moved to Washington, D.C.

Today, it remains a source of research in biology, genetics and other revolutionary sciences. Invitation-only members from a variety of fields include Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, architect I. M. Pei and 93 current Nobel laureates.

In November, the society wrapped up a yearlong exhibit of the nation's natural history, including early examples of taxidermy, dried plants and seeds from Lewis and Clark's expedition, and illustrations by famed naturalists John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson.