Cyclopedia of Factoids - The Letter H

Entries written by Sam Vaknin for the Links and Factoids Study List


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Centuries ago, October 31 was called in England "All Hallows' Eve". People prayed to prepare the souls of the departed for the Catholic All Saints' Day on November 1.

October 31 was also the Celtic New Years' Eve - the "Samhain". On that night, the spirits of the deceased were supposed to possess living bodies before departing to the afterlife.

Pumpkins were not part of Halloween celebrations until late in the 19th century. The Irish and other Europeans actually carved up turnips. Poor immigrants to the USA could not afford turnips and turned to pumpkins instead.


The Tatars were nomad Turkic tribes who conquered a large swathe off current day Russia in the 13th and 14th centuries. Constantly on the move, they placed meat under the saddles of their horses to soften it, the shredded and spiced it and ate the meat raw. Hence the celebrated - and expensive - "Beefsteak (or steak) Tatar".

The tenderized beef crossed over to northern Europe and was especially appreciated in Germany. Immigrants from the German port city of Hamburg brought the "Hamburg steak" (or "Hamburger" - "from Hamburg" in German) to the US in the 19th century.

The term "Hamburger steak" appeared in a menu of Delmonico's in New York dated to 1834. It is mentioned as part of a restaurant menu in the Walla Walla, Washington Union News in 1889 and in Mrs. Rorer's New Cookbook in 1902. Hamburgers cost 15 cents a piece in Ray Croc MacDonald's hamburger chain launched in 1955.

Head Shrinkers

A few tribes in Amazonian Ecuador used to shrink heads as part of their post war rituals. Visit the links below for additional ethnological and anthropological data. 

But what is head shrinking? How is the procedure carried out?

The heads of both men and women were shrunk. The head was severed with a clean cut of the neck. The skin was carefully peeled from the back of the skull forward and preserved. The skull and brain were discarded. The skin was then turned inside out and all the fat was scraped.


A rope was inserted through an incision at the top of the skin. The head was dipped into a pot of boiling water and chinchipi plant juice. It was left to simmer for two hours until the hair is soft and the head shrinks by two thirds to three quarters of its previous size. All the cuts and incisions are sown and the lips are attached to each other with minute bamboo nails. 


Next, the neck is shrunk repeatedly over a few days by inserting hot pebbles and hot sand into the cavity. Scalding stones are also used to massage the face in order to conserve the facial features. Facial hair is singed off and charcoal is applied to the eyes.


The head is smoked, dried, and cured. It is then washed and polished.


A hermaphrodite is someone with both ovaries and testicles (both, in most cases, rather undeveloped). Sometimes the ovaries and testicles are combined into a chimera called ovotestis. Most of these individuals have the chromosomal composition of a woman together with traces of the Y, male, chromosome. All hermaphrodites have a sizable penis, though rarely generate sperm. Hermaphrodites develop breasts during puberty and menstruate. Some hermaphrodites even got pregnant and gave birth.

Hitler, Adolf

According to British intelligence documents declassified  in 1998, Winston Churchill (1874-1965), acting without informing the cabinet, sent agents to Germany to try to assassinate Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). These attempts were codenamed Operation Foxley. The agents almost poisoned Hitler's tea, dipped his uniform in lethal bacteria, blown up his train and shot him during his daily walk.

Hitler survived numerous other assassination attempts by his own people, too.


On December 13, 2002, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) - which represents 38,000 mental health professionals - joined other professional groups in supporting the right of homosexual (gay and lesbian) couples to adopt:

"Research over the past 30 years has consistently demonstrated that children raised by gay or lesbian parents exhibit the same level of emotional, cognitive, social and sexual functioning as children raised by heterosexual parents."

It was only in 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association reversed 100 year-old opinion that gays are mentally ill. In 2000 it came out in favor of same sex unions.


Bees visit 4 million flowers to make one kilo (2 pounds) of honey. The typical bee visits 50-100 flowers in every single trip. Thus, to produce 1 kilo of honey, bees travels a distance equal to 4 times the circumference of the earth. Each American consumes 1 pound (a half kilo) of honey a year.


It takes the lifetime of 12 bees to produce one teaspoon of honey. Bees have been producing honey for 10-12 million years.


Hygiene, Personal

Personal hygiene was rediscovered only in the late 19th century, having been popular in ancient Greece and Rome almost two thousand years before.

Water was considered by the sophisticates - perhaps justly - to be the carrier of disease. Bathing in water was a hazardous exercise. Royalty used milk instead. Others were confined to wet towels or to splashing water from basins on one's face and armpits. The great unwashed utilized public baths, built throughout Europe between the 12th and 17th centuries.

Consider the Spanish Queen Isabella of Castile, of Christopher Columbus fame. She boasted that she had only two baths in her life - at birth and prior to her wedding. But not all royals were so unhygienic. The flushing toilet was the preserve of Queen Elizabeth I. It was invented for her in 1596 by Sir John Harrington, her godson.

New York entrepreneur Joseph C. Gayetty manufactured in 1857 the first pre-moistened bathroom tissues, each embossed with his name. Aptly named British plumber Thomas Crapper redesigned the modern toilet and received a series of related patents between 1861-1904. The Kleenex tissue was not introduced until 1920 and the pop-up box only nine years later.

Prior to the invention of the toilet paper in 1890 by the Scott Paper Company, people used an assortment of objects to wipe clean - most often leaves and corncobs. French royals employed lace, hardy Vikings - wool, Romans resorted to the sponge. The Chinese, ahead of the times in 1391, were the first to use paper sheets.


The word means "of the womb" in Greek. Hysteria was thought to be confined to women who were suffering from some problems with the womb. Hysteria is, indeed, more common among women - probably due to social and cultural expectations and conventions as to how a woman should and does behave. 

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