I’m not sure where I first encountered The Book. It may have been at my grandparents’ house, or maybe at my Aunt Paula’s. It really doesn’t matter who it belonged to originally, because The Book went home with me. (I don’t remember asking for permission first, so, sorry, Grandma and/or Aunt Paula!)
At first glance, The Book was unremarkable. A hardback, about the size of a college dictionary. A red and black marbled cover. Black cloth binding. And a simple, tantalizing promise embossed on the cover in glittery golden Times New Roman: Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. That’s a big promise, but The Book delivered.
A casual flip through its 608 pages takes you on a tour through a world filled with intriguing and unsolved mysteries; popular facts and fallacies; hoaxes, frauds and forgeries; eccentrics and prophecies. You’ll learn about the wonders of the natural world, the surprising animal kingdom, and the astonishing human body. You’ll ooh and ah at the marvels of science, the enigma of space, man’s amazing inventions and feats of building and engineering. You’ll witness the curious and bizarre beginnings of daring and epic journeys to legendary lands, with their strange customs and superstitions. You will take your first footsteps into the unknown, whether you’re on a quest for the past or searching for the world of tomorrow.
At this point, some of you are rolling your eyes, and you’d be right to, because while I’ve been talking up The Book quite a bit, Strange Stories, Amazing Facts is just a collection of Reader’s Digest articles from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The articles that fired my youthful imagination were just summaries of summaries, recycled from back issues of a magazine I’ve still never seen outside of the confines of a doctor’s waiting room.
But even the mightiest oak grows from a humble acorn. To me, the book was a map that guided my first faltering steps down the path of enlightenment, the spark that kindled my love of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Even after I recognized it for what it was, I remained fond of it. It never had all the answers, but it had pointed me towards the right questions.
Here at The Ancient and Esoteric Order of the Jackalope, we aspire to be a latter day Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. Every few weeks we’ll share a story with you, something that we hope will educate and entertain in equal measure. Nothing too long, nothing too short. No topic is off the table; if we find it interesting, we hope you’ll find it interesting too. Everyone has heard a strange story. Everyone knows some amazing facts. That’s why we’re sharing our stories and facts with you, in the hopes that you’ll share your stories and facts with us.
In two weeks we’ll be back with our first real episode. And then, we’ll present five more, until all six close out our first series. Hopefully, before the series is over, you’ll be inspired to contact us and share a story of your own.
Until next time, keep learning.
“Iceberg Air Bases” (p. 195) is an article about Project Habakkuk, a World War II effort to build ships out of reinforced ice (“Wonder Marvelously”).
“The Westward Urge” (p. 216), an article about pre-Columbian explorers of America, briefly mentions Thorfinn Karlsefni (“The Icelander”).
“The Ancestress of Man” (p. 474) is an article about the Piltdown Man hoax (“Dawson’s Creek”).
- Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, 1976.