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    21 Things I Learned This Week That Will Stick With Me For The Rest Of My Life

    There's a reason mosquitos bite some people more than others.

    1. This man was the inspiration for Norman Bates from Psycho, Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre — to name only a few — and arguably an entire sub-genre of grotesque horror films that these iconic characters would come to represent. His name was Ed Gein, aka the Butcher of Plainfield — aka the Plainfield Ghoul. Gein would only confess to (and be convicted of) two murders, though he's believed to be responsible for a handful of others. While two murders might not seem like a whole lot in the wider context of American true crime, it's what investigators found on his property and inside his house that established Gein's legacy as being one of the most depraved and nightmarish figures in American criminal history...

    Ed Gein with a creepy smile on his face as he's being escorted by police in handcuffs
    Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

    WARNING: 2 contains graphic descriptions of what was found inside Ed Gein's house. Proceed with caution, or skip over it altogether.

    2. Gein lived like a hoarder — the photo on the left shows what his kitchen looked like as investigators were searching the property. They discovered chairs upholstered with human skin, an unfinished suit made of human skin, masks made of human faces, and various household objects fashioned from bone, much of which he stole from a local cemetery (and this is only a small preview of what was found). There was also an entire section of his house that he never visited: The rooms that were once occupied by his mother before she died 12 years earlier (right photo). The doors to these rooms were allegedly nailed shut, and when investigators pried their way in, they found mostly furniture and dust.

    Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / Getty Images, Francis Miller / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

    3. In 1859, the Sun let loose a solar flare so large that it created a geomagnetic storm here on Earth called "the Carrington Event." This storm produced auroras in the sky (much like the Northern Lights but *way* farther south) so bright that you could allegedly read at night by that light alone. It also caused telegraph machines to break and, in some cases, shoot sparks and cause fires. It happened again in 1921, and if a similar storm hit us today — and scientists claim one certainly will (it's only a matter of when) — it could cause catastrophic blackouts across the planet, destroy satellites, and generally disrupt our tech-reliant society in very significant ways.

    A massive solar flare coming off the sun and the size of the Earth (tiny) for scale
    SOHO / ESA / NASA / Getty Images

    4. No recordings of Abraham Lincoln's voice exist, but we do have some descriptions left behind from his contemporaries, and it's probably not at all what you'd expect. One journalist said it was "a thin tenor, or rather falsetto, voice, almost as high-pitched as a boatswain’s whistle." Another noted its "frequent tendency to dwindle into a shrill and unpleasant sound.” His accent contained a bit of Indiana and a bit of Kentucky. Historian Harold Holzer told Smithsonian Magazine that, great orator though he was, "for the first 10 minutes" his audiences "couldn’t believe [...] the way he sounded, his accent."

    Abraham Lincoln posing for a portrait
    Lawrence Thornton / Getty Images

    5. There's an extremely powerful force in the universe that's pulling us — along with the entire Milky Way Galaxy and many surrounding galaxies — toward it, and we have no idea what it is. It's simply called "The Great Attractor," and scientists can only describe it as a "gravitational anomaly." It exists somewhere beyond the stars and constellations pictured below, which prevent us from so much as catching a glimpsing of...whatever (or wherever) the Great Attractor truly is.

    Stars, galaxies, and more captured by the hubble telescope
    ESA / Hubble / NASA

    6. In 1959, in the small town of Lake City, South Carolina, 9-year-old Ronald McNair took a stand. He only wanted to borrow some books from the library, books on science and calculus that would foreshadow the great things he would go on to do with his life. But this was the Jim Crow South, and the librarian wouldn't allow it. Ronald, however, refused to leave empty-handed. The police were called to the scene — as was his mother, who promised to pay for the books if they weren't returned. Ronald McNair went on to become a brilliant physicist and astronaut, becoming the second Black man ever to travel to space. In 2011, the library where that determined 9-year-old boy took his stand was reopened as the Dr. Ronald E. McNair Life History Center.

    Ronald McNair posing for a photo in his NASA jumpsuit
    Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

    In 1986, Ronald McNair was tragically killed along with 6 others when the space shuttle Challenger exploded only 73 seconds after taking off. Today, schools, monuments, parks, and highways across the country are named for McNair, whose achievements in, and great sacrifice for, the field of science continue to inspire people around the world. 

    7. And this is Peggy Whitson, who, over the course of three separate missions, has accumulated a total of 665 days in space — more than any other NASA astronaut. She has spent so much time in space, in fact, that she had to retire after hitting NASA's limit for radiation exposure. But that's not stopping her from going back as a private citizen. Alongside GT race-car driver John Shoffner, she'll be piloting Axiom Space's Ax-2 mission to the International Space Station for an eight-day stay.

    Peggy Whitson holding a microphone in her NASA jumpsuit
    Bill Ingalls / Getty Images

    8. Though various cobra species are now protected by law in India, that wasn't always the case. Under British Colonial rule, the government attempted to eradicate these venomous snakes in Delhi by offering a reward for cobra skins. The result? People began breeding cobras just to collect the reward, and when the government discovered this, they ended the program. When cobra skins suddenly lost their value, all those bred cobras were set free, which actually caused the population to spike. This phenomenon became known as the Cobra Effect, aka perverse incentive, and it refers to an initiative that's intended to solve a problem but that actually makes that problem exponentially worse.

    A cobra in a defensive pose
    Getty Images

    9. There are dozens of stories out there about legendary wrestler André René Roussimoff, better known by his stage name André the Giant. He was, after all, a larger-than-life figure in every sense, standing at 7 feet 4 inches tall (223.5 centimeters) and weighing 500 pounds (226.8 kilograms). One aspect of the man that really stood out to those who knew him was his drinking ability. Hulk Hogan claimed he saw André drink 108 beers in just 45 minutes, which some claim is an unofficial world record; Gerald Brisco said that André would drink six bottles of wine before a match and "no one could tell."

    Jeffrey Asher / Getty Images, Stephen Green-Armytage / Contributor Via Getty Images

    Cary Elwes, who co-starred alongside Roussimoff in The Princess Bride, told Vanity Fair why he drank so much: “André didn’t drink for the sake of drinking—André was in a lot of pain, God bless him. His back was injured from carrying all that weight around, and from having other wrestlers breaking chairs over his back. He was due to have an operation right after the shoot, and his doctor didn’t know what kind of pain medication to give him because of his size, so the only way that he could deal with the pain was to drink alcohol."

    10. When Pompeii was buried under volcanic ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., an otherwise typical day in the ancient Roman city was frozen in time — the most unexpected remnants of everyday life were eerily preserved for future generations to study. Take, for example, this 2,000-year-old loaf of bread that was found inside the oven of an excavated bakery:

    A round loaf of bread that looks to have been turned to stone
    De Agostini Picture Library / De Agostini via Getty Images

    11. Mosquitos actually prefer some people's blood over others. According to one study, they were twice as likely to land on people who have Type O blood than Type A blood (Type B was in-between O and A in terms of popularity). Mosquitos also prefer to bite people who have been drinking alcohol, people who have just finished exercising, and people who are pregnant — and these are only a few of the biological and circumstantial factors that make you more appetizing to these incredibly annoying insects.

    A closeup of a mosquito filled with blood
    Fema / Getty Images

    12. The last words Albert Einstein ever spoke will never be known. According to his New York Times obituary, published on April 19, 1955, the only person present at the time of his death was a nurse who reported that "he mumbled in his sleep several words in German," which she didn't speak.

    Albert Einstein posing for a photo
    Mpi / Getty Images

    13. This is the bearded vulture, and they're the only animals in existence whose diet consists mostly of bones — and not just bone marrow; they eat the whole thing. What they'll do is take a bone and fly it really high up into the air and drop it (sometimes repeatedly), until it breaks into small enough pieces for them to eat. Their very strong stomach acid does the rest of the work.

    A bearded vulture up close
    Koekeloer / Getty Images / iStockphoto

    14. In 2008, in a small town in western Japan called Kasuya, a man started to suspect that the food in his refrigerator was disappearing. He was so certain that this was happening — and so determined to find out why — that he installed cameras in his kitchen that he could monitor using his cellphone. Sure enough, after he left the house one day, the cameras spotted a woman rummaging through his fridge. He immediately called the police, and when they searched the house, they found the woman curled up in one of the closets, where she'd been living, completely undetected, for *an entire year*.

    A closet in the dark with light shining through a crack
    Dougal Waters / Getty Images

    15. In pretty much every city in the world, digging new subway tunnels for the metro is a difficult, time-consuming task. But perhaps nowhere is it more difficult than in Rome, Italy, where constant archeological discoveries set these projects back *literal decades*. Planning for Rome's Metro C line started in the mid-'90s, but construction didn't officially begin until 2007 — it's still not finished. As of 2018, this project has turned up over 40,000 artifacts. There are so many artifacts sitting beneath Rome, just waiting to be discovered, that some building owners have even started digging out their own basements to see what they can find.

    Artifacts on display in one of the finished C line stations
    Stefano Montesi - Corbis / Corbis via Getty Images

    16. In December of 1799, 67-year-old George Washington got caught in a downpour of freezing rain and was soaked to the bone. The next day, he developed a fever and sore throat — serious symptoms at that time, especially for someone of his age. Doctors were eager to save the former president, and they turned to a treatment that's not very widely used today: bloodletting. Over the course of the next 24 hours, George Washington's doctors bled him — they bled him a lot. They reportedly drained about 80 ounces of his blood, an estimated 40% of his blood volume, and he died the following day.

    A painting of George Washington on his deathbed
    Photo 12 / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

    17. Conservationists believed there were only three giant river otters left in Argentina — all three of which live in captivity. In the Argentinian wild, they were thought to be completely extinct; giant river otters, which are listed as endangered on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, haven't been seen in Argentina since the 1980s, and they haven't been spotted in or around the Bermejo River in almost 100 years. So you can imagine his surprise when conservationist Sebastián Di Martino, who's hoping to reintroduce giant river otters back into the region, spotted one swimming in none other than the Bermejo River.

    A giant river otter eating a fish
    Hal Beral / Getty Images

    18. And the Galápagos tortoise wasn't just thought to be extinct in the wild or in a single nation; this species was thought to be lost forever. Lonesome George, who was the last Galápagos tortoise in captivity, died in 2012 at the age of 152, and they haven't been sighted in the wild since 1906 — until now. In 2019, a female tortoise was discovered on Fernandina Island, and genetic testing has finally confirmed that she is indeed a member of the species Chelonoidis phantasticus. Researchers estimate that she's over 100 years old.

    A Galápagos tortoise
    Dea / De Agostini via Getty Images

    19. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer and went to The Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment. While she was there, cells were taken from her cervix — without her permission — and brought to a lab for study, and what they found astonished researchers. Instead of dying, like past samples collected from other patients, Henrietta's cells not only survived, they multiplied. She died at the young age of 31 later that year, but her cells (which are called HeLa cells, named for her) would revolutionize cancer treatments and the entire field of immunology. They're still used for research today. In fact, they were even used in the development of the COVID-19 vaccines.

    A small framed photo of Henrietta Lacks sitting on her family's mantle
    The Washington Post / The Washington Post via Getty Images

    Henrietta Lacks was a Black woman who was exploited by the healthcare system that was supposed to be protecting her. Not only did she never give consent, but millions (possibly billions) of dollars have been made from research that her cells were used to conduct. None of these profits have been shared with her family — not only that, but her family wasn't even told about HeLa cells until more than two decades after her death. 

    20. Don't worry! Some random accident didn't knock these cacti over; this is all part of their natural lifecycle. They're called creeping devils, and though they grow vertically when they're young, eventually they get too heavy for their base and fall over. The base will eventually die, but the tips will continue to grow, creeping across the desert just as their name suggests.

    Creeping devil in the arizona desert
    Lisa Werner / Getty Images

    And last but most certainly not least (unless you mean in terms of size), a frog fact:

    21. This tiny frog (sitting on a US dime for scale) is called a paedophryne amauensis, and it's not only the smallest frog in the world, it's also the smallest vertebrate:

    A very small frog sitting on a dime
    Christopher Austin / Louisiana State University

    Want to see what I learned last week? Click here to find out. And click HERE to see what I learned in April.

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