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January 4, 2024 10 mins

Today's stories are deeply curious—and almost became larger than life as a result.

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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):
If you talk to the residents of Pontianac, Indonesia, many
of them will tell you that their city is haunted,
and it has been for over two hundred and fifty years.
Situated near the western coast of Indonesian Borneo, in between
Singapore and the Philippines, Pontianac used to be a vast
expanse of forest. It wasn't until seventeen seventy one that
the contemporary Indonesian leader or Sultan, led a group of

(00:58):
explorers to the area. He instructed them to start chopping
down trees so that they would have a place to
build his palace. And the Sultan, well, he didn't exactly
believe in the eight hour workday. He made his employees
work around the clock. The men chop trees at all
hours of the night, making their way through the dense
forest by the light of the moon. And then one night,
when the moon was full, they heard something strange. It

(01:22):
sounded like a baby crying, but it was so quiet
that they couldn't be sure. A sour, putrid scent wafted
on the breeze. Suddenly they heard a woman laughing, and
then they saw a figure clad in a long white
dress darting between the trees. They knew exactly what it
was too. The Kuntilanak one of the most famous and
fearsome creatures in Indonesian folklore. The Kuntilanak is said to

(01:45):
have pale skin, black hair, and blood red eyes. Her
fingernails are as long and sharp as knives, her canine
teeth looked like fangs of a lion. Now, depending on
the version of the myth, the Kuntilanach either died in
childbirth or suffered a miscarriage. The loss transformed her into
a vengeful, vampiric spirit known to hunt and eat men,

(02:06):
and as her eerie laughter reverberated through the forest, the
men ran to the Sultan and told him that there
was a ghost in the woods. Now, I don't know
about you, but if I was being hunted by a
bloodthirsty spirit, I'd get a one way ticket out of town,
but not the Sultan. He was determined to build his palace,
so he took two anti ghost measures. First, he fired

(02:26):
a few canons to scare the Kuntilanak away. Second, in
case she ever came back, he named the settlement after
her in the hopes of appeasing her anger, and that's
where Pontianac came from. It's another name for the spirit.
Whether or not the Sultan's methods worked is still up
for debate. Some people think that Kuntilanak is just a story,
but others believe the vampire spirit continues to haunt the city.

(02:49):
Either way, the legend is an important part of local culture.
A festival is held each year to commemorate the end
of Ramadan and also to set off cannons then make
sure the Kuntilanaks far away. Now, while most people would
like the malevolent spirit to keep her distance, one man
suggested that they embrace her. In twenty seventeen, the head
of the city's tourism agency pitched an idea for how

(03:12):
to bring more visitors to the area. Why not build
a statue of the Kuntilanak right outside the local recreation center. Oh,
and to make things even better, how about the terrifying,
bloodthirsty ghost be three hundred feet tall. As you might imagine,
people were not enthused about the prospect of seeing their
nightmares brought to life. In fact, as news about the
statue spread, locals were pulled, and ninety eight percent said

(03:35):
that they were opposed to having a murderous spirit literally
looming over their city. Within days, a group of citizens
organized and gathered outside the city's parliament building, holding a
banner that read community movement to reject ghost statue. Before long,
the demonstrators were invited inside. Members of parliament said that
they didn't understand why the protest was even happening. The

(03:57):
city's head of tourism was known to have a sense
of humor. It turned out the media had taken his
joke about building a three hundred foot tall ghost statue
and spun it into a story that ignited national outrage.
The following month, the mayor of Pontianac issued a statement
to put people's minds at ease. There would be no
statue of Kuntilanak gracing their city. As for her spirit, though, well,

(04:20):
that was something he couldn't guarantee. When you hear the
word dinosaur, an image of a t rex probably springs

(04:40):
to mind. In this post Jurassic Park era, where kids
grow up playing with miniature versions of prehistoric beasts. Dinosaurs
are well known, but if you lived in eighteen forty
and someone said dinosaur, you would have absolutely no idea
what they were talking about. The word didn't even exist yet.
Although the first dinosaur bone was discovered in the seventeenth century,

(05:01):
it wasn't until eighteen forty two that English biologist Richard
Owen coined the term dinosauria, which means terrible lizard. Owen
was a leading paleontologist during his time, and he aimed
to educate the public about these so called terrible lizards.
That's why in eighteen fifty one, Owen teamed up with
famous sculptor and natural history artist Benjamin Hawkins. The pair

(05:23):
hatched a plan to bring lifelike dinosaurs to London. Using
Owen's scientific background and hawkins artistic skill, the men created
dozens of life sized dino sculptures, which were put on
display at Crystal Palace Park in South London on the
day the dinosaurs were unveiled in eighteen fifty four, Over
forty thousand people crowded into the park to get a look.

(05:44):
The display was so groundbreaking that one modern paleontologist credits
Owen and Hawkins with making dinosaur's mainstream. Fast forward to
eighteen sixty eight. While Owen continued his work in England,
Hawkins moved to America. He worked on a few different projects,
like a series of lectures on paleontological art. During one

(06:05):
of these talks, he mentioned how much he'd liked to
create more dino sculptures like those in London. The next
thing he knew, he was contracted by the Administrative Board
of New York City's Central Park. It seems that they
had a project that was right up Hawkins Alley, an
American equivalent of London's Crystal Palace Dinosaurs in true American fashion.
The board wanted Central Parks display to be bigger and better.

(06:27):
With a budget of seven point five million in modern
day dollars, they dreamed of an exhibition chronicling life in
North America, including sculptures of the dinosaurs that once lived
in the region. Then it would be called the Paleozoic Museum.
For Hawkins, the commission was a dream come true. He
spent the next two years hold up inside his studio.
He made the Hadrosaurus, a long tailed bipedal dinosaur with

(06:51):
a beak like nose, and the Dryptosaurus, which looked kind
of like a mini t rex, but many is a
relative term. The Dryptosaurus was still twenty five five feet long.
When you consider the scale of these sculptures, you realize
that Hawkins really had his work cut out for him,
and the process wasn't all smooth sailing. He got kicked
out of his original studio and had to move all

(07:11):
of his work into a temporary shed. Just imagine a
middle aged guy trying to get his twenty five foot
dinosaur statue into a U haul. And then there was
the issue of Central Park's administrative board, which was full
of drama. In eighteen seventy, a man named William Tweed
was one of New York's state senators, but he was
also the de facto leader of New York City. One

(07:32):
of the most corrupt politicians in state history, William Tweed
was more commonly known as Boss Tweed. He ruled the
city like a mafioso, and he placed his cronies in
charge of Central Park administration cronies like Henry Hilton and
Tweed and Hilton, well, they weren't fans of the Paleozoic Museum. Now.
The exact reasons why are still up for debate. Some

(07:53):
people think that Tweed had a religious opposition to science,
while others believe that he simply thought the project was
too expensive. But perhaps the most interesting theory surrounds another
museum entirely. You see, at the very same time that
the Paleozoic Museum was in the works, so was the
American Museum of Natural History, which is obviously still up
and running today. The Museum of Natural History was to

(08:15):
be built right next to Central Park, and it also
featured dinosaurs, which wouldn't necessarily be a problem. I mean,
the more dinos the merrier, right, Well not if you
were Henry Hilton. You see, Hilton had been a very
vocal proponent of the Museum of Natural History, and he
didn't want any competition hindering its success. In December of

(08:35):
eighteen seventy, Benjamin Hawkins, our dinos sculptor extraordinaire, received a
letter from the Administrative Board letting him know that the
entire project had been canceled. The note wasn't signed by
Tweet or Hilton, but it was pretty clear what had happened. Hawkins,
as you might imagine, was bitterly disappointed and as if
things couldn't get worse. One day in May the following year,

(08:56):
he arrived at his workshop to find the floor littered
with shards of plats, master and cement. Someone had broken
into his shed and smashed every dinosaur to bits. As
for the culprit, while there's no definitive proof, it is
believed that Henry Hilton, who had a pension for bizarre
and violent behavior, committed the assault himself. Soon after this
final blow, Benjamin Hawkins returned to England, where he lived

(09:19):
out his final years as a recluse. But despite this
sad ending, he still made his mark on New York City.
According to one historian, the broken pieces of hawkins dino
sculptures didn't remain in his warehouse. There's evidence that the
material was ground down and used to pave parts of
Central Park. And that's history for you, right. Even a

(09:40):
sidewalk can tell you a curious tale. 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 with how Stuff Works.

(10:04):
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 Theworldoflore dot com. And
until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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