I was talking with my daughter Kaci recently about my favorite book genre – nonfiction – and how I hate that it is inelegantly named and defined by what it is not. She suggested perhaps it should have been called “faction,” which I thought was quite clever.
Anyway, I was thinking back on when I was a kid and tried to pinpoint when it was I developed my love of nonfiction. Now, it was definitely primed by exploring the world around me through the set of World Book encyclopedias my parents bought for me and my brothers. However, what really ignited my passion for nonfiction was the Guinness Book of World Records, now known as Guinness World Records.
I recently bought a paperback copy of the 1975 edition online. I know they have modern ones and some of the records in the 1975 book are obsolete, but I wanted to attempt to recapture some of the magic from the same book that blew my mind when I was 11 years old.
I was amazed that many of the records and pictures were seared indelibly into my memory. It starts out with human beings and I totally remembered the picture of the heaviest man, his name (Robert Earl Hughes) and how much he weighed (1,041 pounds). He died at the age of 32 and his coffin was as large as a piano case that had to be lowered into the ground by a crane.
The tallest man was Robert Wadlow at 8 feet 11.1 inches. I noted he weighed 439 pounds and I couldn’t help but notice at one point, I weighed more than him and I’m only 5 feet 16 inches tall.
A couple of other pictures – the woman with the 13-inch waist and the guy with the super long fingernails – freaked me out a little back then and did the same all these years later.
Then there were the famous conjoined, or Siamese, twins, Chang and Eng Bunker. They were each married and had 22 children between them. Uh, how exactly does that work?
The picture in the book of what was then the largest office building, the World Trade Center, made me sad. After 1977 I associated it with King Kong, and you know what I associated it with after 2001.
This sufferer of ornithophobia (fear of birds) did not need to see the picture of the marabou stork, the bird with the largest wingspan of up to 9 feet.
The loudest pop group title at that time went to British rockers Deep Purple. Their 1972 concert at the Rainbow Theater in London hit 117 decibels and rendered three audience members unconscious. I saw them at the Cow Palace in 1985 and can vouch for their volume. They made Metallica seem like a folk band by comparison.
There are, of course, hundreds of records are listed, but here are a few others I highlighted:
Apple peel: The longest single unbroken apple peel was more than 130 feet long. It was a big apple.
Moth with the most acute sense of smell: The male emperor moth can detect the sex attractant of the virgin female at 6.8 miles upwind. The scent is one of the higher alcohols, C16 H29 OH, of which the female carries less than 0.0001 of a milligram.
Forget beer goggles, the emperor moth has beer nostrils.
Most alcoholic person: An English hard drinker named Vanhorn (1750-1811) averaged more than four bottles of ruby port for 23 years prior to dying at age 61. He is believed to have emptied 35,688 bottles.
Vanhorn sounds, appropriately in this context, like the name of a hard-partyin’ rock band.
Largest nudist camp: It was in France and had 15,000 nekkid people.
It took everything I had to suppress the 11-year-old boy in me who really wanted to add the French word for “yes” twice after this entry as the homonym made him chuckle mightily.
Rating cats: A tabby named Minnie in a six-year period killed 12,480 rats at White City Stadium, London. Mickey, a tabby from Lancashire, England, killed more than 22,000 mice in 23 years at a firm there.
Ratting dogs: James Searle’s bull terrier bitch “Jenny Lind” killed 500 rats in 1 hour 30 minutes at The Beehive in Liverpool, England, in 1853.
I have a couple of questions about this rating thing. First, who counts the rats? Second, why are there so many rats in England?
Largest dish: The largest dish in the world is roasted camel, which is prepared occasionally for Bedouin wedding feasts. Cooked eggs are stuffed into fish, the fish are stuffed into cooked chickens, the chickens are stuffed into a roasted sheep carcass and the sheep is stuffed into a whole camel.
While it sounds like an impressive meal to have to prepare, it really needed John Madden to brand it like he did the Turducken – perhaps Cashickenisheggs.
Worst driver: A 75-year-old male driver received 10 traffic tickets, drove on the wrong side of the road four times, committed four hit-and-run offenses and caused six accidents all within 20 minutes on Oct. 15, 1966, in McKinney, Texas.
The best part of this entry was the word male was in italics in the book.
Most times struck by lightning: Park Ranger Roy Sullivan at that time had been struck five times but would get zapped two more times and later be featured on the TV show “That’s Incredible!”
Most protracted litigation: The longest contested lawsuit ever recorded ended in Pune, India, on April 28, 1966, when Balasaheb Patloji Thorat received a favorable judgment on a suit filed by his ancestor Maloji Thorat 761 years earlier in 1205.
I had a good joke to insert here about lawyers and billable hours, but this one sounded suspicious. I dug a little and sure enough, it was not accurate. In 1991, it was discovered the 761 years thing was based on this quote: “This decision hereby ends a dispute between the parties, the seeds of which were sown as far back as 750 years and over.” That is considerably different from saying the case lasted 761 years.
Now I know people stretch the truth to get into Guinness World Records book and mistakes are sometimes made, and after flipping through the pages I came across another erroneous entry: The book said the earliest photograph was taken in 1826 in France and it took eight hours to expose it.
It was much earlier than that. Anyone who watched the Flintstones knows Fred had a Polarrock camera that had a li’l bird in it that etched the image in a rock almost instantaneously – without having to shake it.
And yes, I’m afraid of that li’l bird, too.
Fairfield freelance humor columnist and accidental local historian Tony Wade writes two weekly columns: “The Last Laugh” on Mondays and “Back in the Day” on Fridays. Wade is also the author of The History Press book “Growing Up In Fairfield, California.”