Half-century fire, Hitler's font, laughing to death, cartoon physics, and screams

Today's post will examine the famous movie scream clip, hammerspace, laughing yourself to death, the German dispute over the Antiqua and Fraktur typefaces, and a Pennsylvania town that's been on fire since 1962.

It is possible to die from laughter (so much for the "best medicine"). Supposedly the death of Greek philosopher Chrysippus of Soli died from laughing at a drunk donkey (though other accounts claim he was the one who drunk the wine, and that killed him). Other people supposed to have died of laughter include king Martin of Aragon, Italian author (and inventor of erotic literature) Pietro Aretino, and Scottish author Sir Thomas Urquhart, who died upon learning of Charles II's coronation. The most obvious causes would naturally by asphyxiation, laughter-induced syncope, and heart failure, which may be related to the laughter by means of atony, gelastic epilepsy, and damage to the brain, such as an infarct or lesions.

Have you ever watched the Star Wars films? How about Lord of the Rings, Titanic, Spiderman, Kill Bill, Aladdin, Indiana Jones, Willow, Toy Story, or Batman Returns? If you have, then you've heard the infamous Wilhelm scream, a simple stock sound effect first used in the 1951 film Distant Drums as a man is bitten by an alligator. It was named in 1977 for a character in the 1953 film The Charge at Feather River who gets shot by an arrow, but became famous when sound producer Benjamin Burtt found it on a studio reel and included it in the original Star Wars. It's sometimes used as a cinematic cliché as the over-use of dramatic effects (The Charge at Feather River used it six times), but has become a tradition and is often worked into serious films (often rather subtly, as if it were part of the Foley). The author is unknown, but research suggests it was likely Sheb Wooley, an actor used for vocal effects in Distant Drums.
WikiWorld comic by Greg Williams.

 Most everyone that watched cartoons as a kid remembers fondly the liberties taken with the laws of physics. Among the laws of cartoon physics are the silhouette of passage (wherein an object, usually a person, passing through an object, will imprint a neat hole in the shape of the object) and the selective passage of objects through a wall painted to resemble a tunnel. A firearm that fails to fire will detonate the moment the antagonist looks down the barrel. If a character is unaware that they have left solid ground and become suspended in mid-air, they will not fall until they realize it (i.e. walking off the edge of a cliff). An antagonist will always fall faster than an anvil, safe, or other heavy object so that they may be struck by it after landing on the ground; a corollary states that anyone struck by a safe will be inside of it when it is opened. Anything purchased by Acme will not work as the antagonist intends. And one of my favorites is hammerspace, wherein large objects (such as oversized mallets) are retrieved from impossibly small spaces (such as pockets) or from behind the back, and sometimes allows characters to hide behind smaller objects.
More WikiWorlds by Williams

The Antiqua-Fraktur dispute was a minor German typeface controversy of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Both are ornate blackletter Gothic scripts with traditional usage dating back to the 1600s: Antiqua tended to be used for Latin texts, while Fraktur was used for German language (even German-English dictionaries of the period used both fonts in this convention). This became more than a tradition after nationalism grew after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, and became a polarized debate on the suitability of the fonts and the heritage of each. Otto van Bismarck would reject gift books printed in Antiqua, and Fraktur was romanticized for Middle Age glorification. Even the readability and "seriousness" of each was called into question, and a 1911 Reichstag vote narrowly failed to resolve the issue in favor of Antiqua. The popularity of Fraktur grew in the time of Nazism, until it was suddenly banned in 1941 as "Schwabacher Judenlettern", as Hitler disliked the font due to a preference for internationalization. Later, Hitler also banned other Germanic scripts (such as Kurrent), and remained in use only for stylistic reasons, such as advertisements wishing to convey a rustic feel.

Centralia is a ghost town in Columbia County, Pennsylvania that is noted for having had a continuous mine fire since 1962. Previously a moderately sized mining town, a firefighting exercise at the local trash dump accidentally ignited a subterranean coal seam (the landfill being constructed over an abandoned strip-mine pit). Concerns were muted through the 60s and 70s, though there were reports of health issues from gas issues (carbon monoxide and dioxide and a lack of oxygen in some areas). When a gas station owner found an underground tank to be 172°F in 1979, concerns were raised, and attentions were focused when a 12-year-old fell into a sinkhole caused by the fire and nearly died two years later. $42 million was given federally for relocation efforts in 1984, and the state claimed eminent domain on the lands and ordered the evacuation of the few remaining residents in 1992. Despite failed attempts to challenge this claim and eviction efforts, a few people still live there (21 at the 2000 census and 7 as of last year), though most of the buildings no longer stand and the post office revoked the 17927 zip code in 2002.

Today's bonus: did you know that the police badge of a Texas Ranger, by tradition started in 1875, is a star cut into a Mexican five peso coin?

Happy reading!

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