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December 5, 2023 10 mins

Science can explain some things, and get stumped on others. But both of today's tales are curious nonetheless.

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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):
Any police officer will tell you that in their line
of work they've seen some very strange things. But for
two officers in Philadelphia, the weirdness went to a whole
other level. John Collins and Joe Keenan were patrolling the
streets of Philly on the night of September twenty sixth
of nineteen fifty when all of a sudden, they saw
a mysterious object fall from the sky and land on

(00:57):
a telephone pole. Curious, they went to get a close look.
Dangling off of the pole was a ton of slimy
purple goop. The blob was at least six feet wide
and a foot thick. These guys were understandably confused. Just
imagine how you would react if you saw a huge
vat of colored snot fall from the sky. Personally, I
would probably turn around and run in the opposite direction,

(01:20):
but they didn't do that. Instead, they called for backup.
Two other officers arrived, and all four of them were
looking at the goop trying to figure out what it
was when it evaporated right before their eyes. It was
literally just there one moment and then gone the next.
The police officers were so freaked out that they contacted
the FBI. An investigation revealed no further clues about the

(01:42):
disappearing goop's nature or origins, but it did make headlines.
The next morning, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article entitled
flying Saucer just dissolves and that saucer with air quotes
like the goop might have been some kind of extraterrestrial pastatoping.
Now fast forward to nineteen fifty seven. Film producers Jack
Harris and Irving Millgate were looking for their next big idea,

(02:05):
and they remembered reading about the gooup in the Inquirer
a few years earlier. This inspired them to write a
screenplay about a mindless, faceless purple ooze that came from
outer space and was the embodiment of pure evil. Thus,
the nineteen fifty eight blockbuster movie The Blob was born.
If you've never seen it. It stars a young Steve

(02:25):
McQueen fighting for his life against the extraterrestrial snot monster,
and honestly, it's better than it sounds. The original movie
was a hit, followed by multiple re releases, a sequel,
and a remake in nineteen eighty eight. But despite the
success of The Blob, one question still remains, what exactly
did those police officers see that night? It turns out

(02:47):
to unexplainable jelly like substances have been reported well, much
more often than you would probably imagine. As early as
the fourteenth century, European writers mentioned the group under various
names like star slime and star jelly because it was
believed the substance fell to the earth during meteor showers,
and although it was most often described as clear or white,

(03:08):
it could also be purple, and some people believe that
it had magical or at least medicinal properties. One medieval
English physician claimed the stuff could be used to treat injuries.
The so called star jelly appeared in other continents too.
Locals in Vera, Cruz, Mexico, called it to put a
kindly moon poop. These days, though we know starjelly can't

(03:29):
come from space because it would be destroyed by the
Earth's atmosphere before it reached the planet's surface. But there
are quite a few other theories about the origin of
the ooze. Some scientists believe that it could be a
type of algae that soaks up water, turning it into
a gelatinous mass when the weather is just right. Others
think that it might be glycoprotein, which is a guey

(03:49):
substance that female frogs store their eggs in. Perhaps the
grossest theory is that star jelly is just vomit, like
maybe an animal accidentally ate a poison toad or a
worm and then puked it up, leaving a pile of
goop behind. However, none of these theories can explain why
those Philadelphia officers saw the stuff falling from the sky.
Plus a two thousand and nine study seem to rule

(04:12):
all of those other ideas out. Scientists commissioned by the
National Geographic Society determined that the star jelly did not
contain DNA, meaning it likely wasn't of plant or animal origin.
While we might not know what starjelly really is, the
iconic nineteen fifties Snot monster is still going strong these days.
The Blob movie remains a cult classic, and the silicone

(04:34):
gel used to simulate the viscous villain during its filming
actually still exists. The curious collectible belongs to one Wes Shank,
who bought it from the film crew in nineteen sixty
five and has kept it stored in a can inside
his house ever since. Music changes at lightning speed. For example,

(05:08):
only a handful of years separate the end of the
big band era and the dawn of rock and roll. Today,
popular genres changed almost every year. What's in right now
probably won't be in fashion much longer. But in nineteen nineteen,
one man turned the music world upside down and gave
us an instrument that will never go out of style,
especially around Halloween. His name was Lev Sergeyevitch Tairman. He

(05:30):
was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in eighteen ninety six,
and from a young age he demonstrated a fascination with electricity.
He would give presentations of his electrical experiments to classmates
and even built a lab at home where he could
dabble in things like circuits and magnetic fields. He also
attended college lectures as a teen and got to know
big names in the scientific community like physicist abram Iyofa,

(05:53):
and it paid off too. Lev's brilliant mind and networking
skills managed to earn him a place at the Universityoa
had attended, and along with his admission came his own laboratory.
As part of his research, he constructed a million volt
tesla coil, which led to studies of gas and light.
Lev was so smart he was recommended by the university's

(06:13):
leadership to attend a military engineering school in Petrograd when
he was only in his second year of college. They
typically restricted enrollment to fourth year students. He managed to
graduate in six months and entered the military as a
radio engineer. He was then tasked with connecting Moscow to
the Vulgar region by way of a radio station. Lev
did a lot of work over the next several years

(06:35):
for the war effort, but eventually his past came calling literally.
Abramofa had just founded a new physical technical institute in
Petrograd and wanted Lev to work with him. The young
scientists showed up ready to put his scientific mind to
the test. One of his primary focuses was a government
sponsored project to test proximity censers. Lev built a special

(06:57):
device the utilized electromagnetic waves to detect how close an
object was. The apparatus, developed in nineteen twenty, was built
inside a large wooden box on thin, spindily legs. It
looked more like a writing desk than scientific equipment. On
the top was an antenna, and jutting out one side
was a loop of metal that looked like someone had

(07:18):
curled the second antenna and then shoved an open end
back into the box. Lev noticed that his machine made
a high pitched, whining sound akin to the upper strings
of a violin the closer that he moved his hand
to it. When he pulled his hand back, the pitch
dropped lower. There was more to this contraption than its
original intent, and it had awakened another one of his passions.

(07:40):
You see, in addition to his love for physics and electricity,
Lev was also a cellist. So he brought the device
to Yofa and showed him what he had found. With
his hands in the air, as though he were playing
an invisible cello, Lev moved them about the box as
a haunting sound reverberated around them. He did his best
to remember songs that he had played before sussing out

(08:00):
the notes by changing the position of his hands, and
Iofa was enthralled. He summoned students and professors who were
nearby to come and hear Lev play. But his colleague
wasn't the only one to see the machine's utility, so
did another important Russian figure, Vladimir Lenin. In nineteen twenty two,
Lenin asked Lev to bring his new instrument, now called

(08:21):
an atherophone, to the Kremlin. The inventor played several pieces
for him, which were enough to impress him, so much
so that Lenin shipped him out on a European a
Theophone Tour, and the tour was a smash. Lev took
his show overseas the next year, playing to packed houses
at Carnegie Hall and the Mets in New York City.
But he was more than a musician. He was also

(08:43):
a scientist, and to Lenin, the perfect spy. And with
a hot new instrument that was garnering rave reviews, it
was only a matter of time before a major American
company arrived with the goal of selling it to the masses.
That company was RCA. Lev sold them the manufacturing rights
in nineteen twenty nine, and pretty soon his atherophones were

(09:04):
reaching well, not a lot of people. They were very
expensive and hard to play. Once the Great Depression hit,
RCA stopped making them entirely, and things only got worse
for Lev, who returned to his home country just as
Joseph Stalin was rising to power. He was arrested for
treason and forced to work in a gulag making all
kinds of spy technology for the Soviets. But not all

(09:26):
was lost. Lev's atherophone found its way to the film industry.
Its haunting, ethereal tones were perfect for mysteries and thrillers,
and eventually science fiction pictures as well. Most famously, Bernard
Hermann used it in his score for the nineteen fifty
one film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Since then,
it's been heard in movies like Batman, Forever, Mars Attacks,

(09:48):
and Ghostbusters. But we don't call it the Atherophone anymore.
It's taken on the name of its inventor, Lev Sergeyevich Tahreman,
better known today as Leon Thehreman. I hope you've enjoyed
today's guided tour of the Cabinet of Curiosities. Subscribe for

(10:08):
free on Apple Podcasts or learn more about the show
by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com. This show was created
by me, Aaron Mankey in partnership 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.

(10:30):
And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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