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January 16, 2024 10 mins

Things get really curious when people's interests become highly specific, as tthese stories prove to us today.

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales right there on display, just waiting
for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

(00:36):
Winter is the perfect time to curl up with a blanket,
a cup of hot tea, and a cozy mystery novel.
What's better than spending the chilly evening indoors attempting to
answer the age old question who done it well? If
you lived in New York City in the early seventies,
there's one place you would have gone to pick up
your newest cozy read. It was called Murder Ink. That's
I NK as in the ink from a pen. And

(00:59):
it was the first American bookstore solely devoted to selling
mystery novels. The Hole in the Wall Bookshop was run
out of a tiny storefront in Manhattan's Upper west Side.
The decort was, in a word, eclectic. A plastic skeleton
hung facing the front door, as if to welcome or
threaten any would be customers. The floors were plaid linoleum,
and the wallpaper was paisley flower arrangements hung from the ceiling.

(01:23):
Tall wooden bookshelves lined the walls, each one overflowing with
hundreds of paperback books. Here and there you might stumble
upon the jar of pretzels or a cat curled up
on the floor. When you were ready to check out,
you would head towards the huge desk at the front
of the room, and there sat the store's owner, thirty
one year old Dylis win. With short, dark hair and

(01:43):
eyes that seemed to be sizing up other people, Dylis
cut an intimidating figure, but she was also one of
the most beloved people in the mystery novel community. She
was born in Dublin, Ireland, in nineteen thirty nine, but
her mother brought her to the United States when she
was still a baby. Grew up among her extended family
in New Jersey, and, strangely enough, she never had a

(02:04):
particular affinity for mystery stories. Sure, she read Nancy Drew,
but that was basically a write of passage for any
girl in the mid twentieth century. It wasn't until she
graduated from college in nineteen sixty one that she became,
as The New York Times put it, a serious reader
of mysteries, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie. She

(02:25):
often read two full novels each day, and that was
all on top of her full time job as a copywriter.
By nineteen seventy one, Dylis was making a good living,
but she wasn't passionate about her work. She started daydreaming
about turning her love of mystery novels into a job. Now,
when Dylis wanted something, she didn't hesitate to get it.

(02:45):
One Wednesday, she decided she would open a bookstore that
only sold mystery novels, and she settled on the name
Murder Inc. On Thursday, she walked around Manhattan until she
found a suitable building for rent. On Friday, she signed
the lease, and over the next six weeks she built
up a stock of over fifteen hundred different titles, moved
in her desk, and hung up her iconic skeleton, and

(03:05):
just like that, it was time for the grand opening.
On her first day of business, a reporter from The
New York Times stumbled inside. He was so charmed by
the odd little store that he wrote a positive review
about it in the paper. The next thing, Dylis knew
she had a near constant flood of customers, ranging from
bookworms to forensic scientists and police detectives. Just one year

(03:26):
after opening, she had doubled her stock, opened a mail
order business, and even started catering to mystery novel collectors.
To celebrate her success, she invited friends and customers to
a party. In true Murder Ink fashion. The get together
had a grizzly name, the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. When
guests arrived, they were promptly served a bloody Mary, and

(03:47):
this party helped Dyllis realize something about herself. She actually
liked hosting parties more than running her bookstore. In nineteen
seventy five, she sold Murder Ink and pivoted to organizing
mystery centric events. Every Sunday, she hosted mystery talks, where
she interviewed writers, editors, and other guests in front of
a live audience. She put together a two week mystery

(04:08):
reader's tour of Great Britain, complete with a stop at
the Tower of London and a walk through Jack the
Ripper's neighborhood. And through all these events, Dylus met and
became friends with a ton of novelists, and she got
to thinking, what if instead of writing mysteries, she gave
these authors a chance to solve one. In nineteen seventy seven,
she teamed up with two other women to plan a

(04:29):
murder mystery party for the Ages. It was held at
the Mohunk Mountain House in New Platts, New York, in
the dead of winter. Two hundred and fifty people were
invited to bear witness to a murder, a staged one,
that is, and then try to solve the case. Among
the guests were authors Isaac Asimov and Stephen King. The
party was such a success that it's been held annually

(04:49):
ever since. Murder Inc shut down in two thousand and six,
but Dylis wins legacy continues to delight and inspire those
who love a good cozy winter time read. Soh, the
beloved bookshop founder passed away in twenty sixteen. She donated
her body to science, perhaps in the hopes that she
might help future physicians learn to solve the mysteries of medicine.

(05:25):
Animals really are incredible, aren't they. I think that most
of us have dogs or cats in our lives who
are cherished, silly and maybe even a little bit bizarre.
I know in my family we have a running joke
about what's going on between our dogs' ears, and I
think most people think about that every once in a while,
usually after a beloved family pet does something way too
smart or chaotic. But sometimes they seem so human, especially

(05:49):
when they're reminding us that it's time for dinner. But
one species actually can speak to us if we give
them time and attention. It turns out that Edgar Allen
Poe wasn't too far off the mud with his smack
talking feathered friend. Some species of birds, including cockatiles, crows,
and yes, even ravens, are capable of speech. And of

(06:09):
course let's not forget about parrots, although they tend to
either be the b villain in Alatin or incessantly asking
if Polly wants a cracker. But back in the early
eighteen hundreds, a funny little birdie was discovered in South
America that changed history. There are about three hundred and
fifty species of parrots spread across almost every continent, from

(06:29):
Australia to Asia and Africa to the Americas, and they'll
eat just about anything, even meat, which opens up a
bunch of possibilities for a new winged Halloween beastia. Some
are as big as a housecat, well almost, and parrots
can almost live as long as thirty five to fifty years,
depending on the species. But the oldest ever recorded was

(06:49):
a cockatoo named Cookie, who died at the age of
eighty two. And yes, some species of parrots can learn
to talk, although if you want a chatty pet that
will probably be with you for the rest of your
natural life, you should know that it takes some practice
and patience and treats, lots and lots of treats. Now,
we humans have always been drawn to parrot's colorful plumage

(07:11):
and even more colorful attitudes. Alexander von Humboldt was no different.
Humboldt was a geographer and a naturalist by trade, and
he absorbed the Enlightenment idea of learning anything and everything,
making it his life's work. Swinging between charismatic and annoying,
Humboldt turned out an impressive amount of work. Before his death.
He traveled to four continents, wrote over thirty six books

(07:34):
and twenty five thousand letters, allegedly only slept four hours
a night, and lived basically on coffee he called it
concentrated sunbeams. I like to call it nap in a cup.
My kind of guy, right, So it's not surprising that
tall tales about his exploits appeared over time. He seems
like a bizarre mix of a mad scientists and an
adventurer with all the stories that he told. But one

(07:56):
of those anecdotes might not have been as fictional as
we thought. In June of seventeen ninety nine, Humbold set
out from Spain on a journey that would take him
the length and breadth of North and South America. Lasting
about five years, he would bounce through different countries and
colonies before making his way back to Europe. He hoped
with new discoveries to publish, and he got what he wanted,

(08:17):
recording vast amounts of raw ecological and zoological data about
every place he visited. He also made sure to note
the cultures he encountered, the conversations he had, and the
people he met, and to be fair, speaking Spanish was
a huge help, giving him the ability to talk to
most indigenous tribes he came across. Because few places had
escaped Spain's grasping, greedy fingers in the century since Columbus's

(08:40):
conquest and everything that followed. That unifying language also helped
humboldt gain insight into the peoples he met, no matter
where they lived. According to one story, Humbold made a fascinating,
extraordinary discovery in the depths of the Venezuelan jungle around
eighteen hundred. He was exploring the Orinoco River and staying
with the local Carab tribe. These people kept several parrots

(09:01):
in cages throughout the village, and many of them could
and would speak to anyone who talked to them. Delighted
by what he saw, Humbold observed each parrot in turn,
and then began to realize that one bird sounded different
from the others. After asking his hosts about the creature,
he learned that it hadn't originally been theirs. The parrots
had come from a neighboring tribe, one of the Carib
people's enemies. Some years before. The tribe had been driven

(09:24):
away from their lands, and the last members died decades
before Humbold's arrival, meaning that all aspects of their culture
died out with them, well, all but one. You see.
Humbold realized that this parrot must have learned to speak
its original owner's language, and was therefore the last living
creature to do so. Leaping into action, he managed to
phonetically record about forty words from the near dead language

(09:48):
and saved it from total extinction. Now, the truth of
the story might always be a little iffy, and this
project was relatively minor compared to his other work, but
it has been a gift and an inspiration for linguists
and even artists to this day. In fact, in nineteen
ninety seven, an artist taught that language to a pair
of modern parrots, and knowing how long they live, it'll

(10:10):
probably be with us for many more years to come.
I hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet
of Curiosities. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn
more about the show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com.
The show was created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership

(10:32):
with how Stuff Works. I make another award winning show
called Lore, which is a podcast, book series, and television show,
and you can learn all about it over at the
Worldoflore dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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