Tag: Jennifer Hartman

27 Apr

The Curious Case of the Rogue Remains

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A trip through the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, a ride on the Maid of the Mist, catching a flick at the IMAX Theatre, posing for goofy pictures at Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks. Oooh – don’t forget the big breakfast at HoJo’s after the late night at the Casino. Ah, the cultural attractions of Niagara Falls, Canada.

Did I mention Ramses I?

Three thousand years ago, Ramses I was the founder of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. After ruling for just two years, he died and was buried in the Valley of the Kings in 1290 B.C. (same neighbourhood as King Tutankhamun, for those of you who follow these things). Grave-robbing was rampant in those days, and while the coffin of Ramses I was eventually recovered in 1881, it was found to be empty.

A collective scholarly exercise of connect-the-dots suggests that the mummified remains were ultimately sold for seven pounds (now there’s a bargain in these tough economic times!) to a Canadian physician named James Douglas who had apparently acquired the mummy for a museum owner in Niagara Falls. The remains were placed on exhibit in The Niagara Falls Museum, sharing floor space with a two-headed calf, a five-legged pig, and a collection of barrels showcasing the daredevil history of the Falls.

When the museum shut its doors in 1999, the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Atlanta’s Emory University procured the remains, and the mummy thereafter underwent a barrage of medical investigative techniques including CT scans, X-rays, computer imaging, and of course, radiocarbon dating. The puzzle pieces all fit; the position of the arms high across the chest, carbon dating to 3,000 years old, the quality of the mummification, not to mention the physical resemblance to Ramses the Great.

On October 25, 2003, after negotiations between the Michael C. Carlos Museum and Egyptian authorities, Ramses I finally returned home to Egypt where he is now on display in a special annex to the Luxor Museum.  As foretold in the Book of the Dead: "Fleeter than greyhounds, quicker than a shadow, I have traveled the Earth. I come to you without a witness against me."

Jennifer Hartman, Guest Blogger

P.S. Nothing beats breakfast at HoJos the morning after the Casino.
 

20 Apr

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault: The Ultimate Insurance Policy

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The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), also known as the Doomsday Vault, is a secure seedbank located on a Norwegian island far within the Arctic Circle. The purpose of the SGSV is ‘to provide insurance against both incremental and catastrophic loss of crop diversity held in traditional seed banks around the world.’

The safety of the world’s 1,400 crop diversity collections has been a concern for many years due to risks including poor agricultural management, equipment failures, war, underfunding and natural disasters. The SGSV provides a duplication of seed samples stored in genebanks worldwide, acting as a sort of agricultural ‘spare tire’, if you will.

The SGSV was entirely funded and built by the Norwegian government and took its first delivery of seeds just over a year ago. The vault is situated 390 feet inside ‘Platåberget’, a sandstone mountain on Spitsbergen Island chosen based on its tectonic inactivity. Inside the vault, the seeds are sealed in specially designed four-ply foil packages, which are then placed inside sealed boxes and stored on shelves inside storage rooms. Refrigeration units (powered by locally mined coal) cool the seeds to –18 degrees Celsius, and in the event of equipment failure, it would take weeks for the temperature to even reach that of the surrounding sandstone. The area’s natural permafrost would further prevent the samples from thawing. Even in worst-case climate change modeling, the vault rooms will remain naturally frozen for up to 200 years. Estimates suggest that the SGSV has the ability to conserve a capacity of over 2 billion seeds for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Now, how’s that for global estate planning?

Jennifer Hartman, guest blogger

06 Apr

The Third Man Factor

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Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
– T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, 1922

I just finished reading a fascinating book authored by John Geiger called The Third Man Factor: The Secret to Survival in Extreme Environments. When faced with edge-of-death circumstances, numerous people throughout history have encountered what is commonly referred to as ‘the Third Man’. Confronted by life at its extremes, these people have had the sense that they were suddenly joined by a friendly, trusted presence – a guardian, if you will, who “led them out of the impossible”. The Third Man Factor details many of these remarkable experiences, highlights the common threads of extreme physical and mental distress, monotony and isolation, and explores the domains of physiology, sociology, religion, neurology and psychology to flesh out the meaning of the appearance of the Third Man.

In 1895, while attempting to complete the first solo circumnavigation of the world, Joshua Slocum’s sloop-rigged fishing boat Spray was caught in a violent storm. Slocum became convinced of another on board who steered the boat through the gale while Slocum huddled in the boat’s cabin, sick with food poisoning, but unworried. Slocum had experienced the Third Man phenomenon, someone to whom he referred as his ‘invisible helmsman’. An account of Slocum’s surreal encounter was published in the Boston Globe on October 14, 1895, under the headline “Spook on Spray”.

Other Third Man experiences include:

· Reinhold Messner, legendary Italian mountaineer and the first man to summit Everest solo and without supplementary oxygen. In 1970, after having summited Pakistan’s 8,126 metre Nanga Parbat with his younger brother Günther, the two became separated on the precarious descent, and Messner soon came to the horrific realization that Günther had been swept down in an avalanche. It was then that Messner encountered a lone phantom climber calling out to him, comforting him and eventually guiding him down the mountain to safety.
· Ernest Shackleton, British explorer, and head of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1916. After his ship Endurance became trapped in ice and was destroyed, Shackleton (pictured below) set off on a perilous 36-hour trek across the mountains and glaciers of South Georgia in an attempt to seek rescue. In his book, South: The Endurance Expedition, Shackleton wrote that “…it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.” He referred to this fourth man as a ‘Divine Companion’. It was Shackleton’s experience that actually inspired T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land.


· Charles Lindbergh, early aviator. In 1927, during the first solo, non-stop trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris, Lindbergh encountered ‘vague outlined forms, disembodied beings’ aboard the Spirit of St. Louis while desperately trying to stave off profound exhaustion. These forms not only reassured Lindbergh, but discussed navigational problems and advised him on his flight.

Hallucination? Divine intervention? Sensory illusion? Visit www.thirdmanfactor.com to join a forum for a more in-depth discussion of this phenomenon.

Jennifer Hartman, guest blogger
 

24 Mar

Taking His Secret to the Grave

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I think that in a year I may retire. I cannot take my money with me when I die and I wish to enjoy it, with my family, while I live. – Harry Houdini, Magician and Escapologist

When I was around 6 or 7 years old, I was unequivocally obsessed with Harry Houdini.  My brother and I used to have contests at the local pool to see which of us could hold our breath the longest. He always won, and I’d end the day a few nickels lighter.

Born Ehrich Weisz on this day in 1874, Harry Houdini emigrated with his family from Budapest to the United States in 1878. As a young man, Houdini’s initial attempts to establish a career in magic were relatively unsuccessful; he even had to double as ‘a Wild Man’ carnival act. Harry met his kindred soul in Beatrice (Bess) Raymond, a teenager trying to succeed in show business as a singer and dancer. They married in 1894. After meeting manager Martin Beck, Houdini found his niche in escape acts: handcuffs, ropes, straitjackets, and chains. His most memorable act was to escape “The Chinese Water Torture Cell” (pictured below). To develop his breath-holding capabilities, Houdini even had an oversized bathtub installed in his house so he could practice regularly.

 

In the fall of 1926, after having broken his ankle while performing the Chinese Water Torture stunt, and after several sleepless nights caring for Bess after she suffered a bout of food poisoning, Houdini was in his Montreal dressing room chatting with a college student who also happened to be an amateur boxer. The student asked Houdini if it was true that Houdini could withstand any blow to his body above the waist. A weakened Houdini replied yes, and began to rise to his feet, but before he had time to tighten his abdominal muscles, the boxer punched him three times. Houdini suffered a burst appendix, and later, peritonitis. He died on the afternoon of October 31, 1926 at age 52, and was later buried in his bronze ‘buried alive casket’, his head resting on a black sack of letters his mother had written him while alive. No autopsy was performed. In his 23-clause-long will, which had been prepared in 1924 with a codicil added in 1925, Houdini left his collection of over 5,000 books (valued at $30,000) to the Library of Congress. His brother Theo received most of his magic equipment and memorabilia; however, Houdini stipulated that the magic apparatus be ‘burnt and destroyed’ upon Theo’s death. Two assistants received $500 each, while The Society of American Magicians received $1,000. His ‘hat rabbits’ reportedly were given to the children of friends. The balance of Houdini’s estate went to Bess, and it was enough to cover his extensive debts and to allow Bess to live comfortably. Bess also received $50,000 in life insurance money, since Houdini had remarkably purchased a double indemnity life insurance policy in the event of his accidental death.

The Chinese Water Torture Cell secret remains a mystery to this day, and my breath-holding record stands at 1:03.

Jennifer Hartman, guest blogger
 

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