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 article-imageLee Harvey Oswald's arrest card (photograph by Heritage Auction Gallery / Wikimedia)

Lee Harvey Oswald, the sniper who launched a thousand conspiracy theories, was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery on November 25th, 1963, during a funeral so sparsely attended that reporters were asked to act as pallbearers. He was laid to rest in a simple pine coffin his brother Robert had purchased the day before for $300. Now, as the New York Times reports, ownership of that coffin is being disputed in a Fort Worth courthouse.

The reason the coffin is in question at all is that in 1981, Oswald's body was exhumed at the behest of British writer Michael Eddowes, who believed that a Soviet spy had been buried there instead, and Oswald's widow Marina Porter, who wanted to set to rest the doubts and conspiracies. Robert Oswald tried to block the exhumation with several restraining orders, but a Dallas judge ruled that a surviving wife has the right to control a deceased person's remains over a brother. After Oswald's body was exhumed and its identity verified, it was reburied in a metal coffin and steel vault. The original pine box, which was badly damaged, was returned to the Baumgardner Funeral Home in Fort Worth, Texas, from which it had originally been purchased. It remained in storage there for nearly three decades.

article-imageOswald's grave marker, used after the original tombstone was stollen (photograph by Iconsoffright / Wikimedia)

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article-imageAmboy, California (screenshot from Other America)

The town of Amboy, California, was a popular stop on Route 66 during the American roadway's heyday. When the Interstate Highway System put in speedier infrastructure to move cars across the country, Amboy was suddenly off the map. Now just four people live in the ghost town.

Filmmaker James Coulson visited Amboy as part of his Other America series, a 12-part short video exploration of the United States. Rather than zoom in on the derelict remains of the town, or focus on its sensational sale on eBay for $4,000, Coulson interviews a man named Fred who runs the Roy's cafe and filling station, as well as the post office a few days a week. The other residents in Amboy, Fred says, are the postmaster, the town sheriff, and "the guy that runs the salt plant but I can't remember his name." He explains the allure of living in a forgotten rural place: "Out here you can go fly in a hang glider, go dirt biking, go ATVing, go shoot something, and not worry about it, you're not stuck in a cubicle." 

Four videos from the Other America series are online, with new installments released biweekly (you can see future destinations plotted on the front page map). They include interviews with the Lakota living on Rosebud Reservation alongside Mount Rushmore, people in Manchester, Georgia, where the absence of the former textile industry has left the storefronts empty, and a man from Mexico who moved to El Paso, Texas, and turned a gas station into a blacksmith shop. Coulson, born in the UK, was so drawn to the people he met and the places he explored that he became an American citizen partway through the journey. Below you can watch the video on Amboy, and find the continuation of Other America on Coulson's site. It's an engaging example of small budget filmmaking showing the personality of places on the margins. 

View more films from the Other America series online.

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article-imageDutch queen Wilhemina & princess Juliana as snowpeople in the Netherlands (1913) (via Nationaal Archief)

Humans are innately drawn to creating effigies of their own likenesses, often forging the figures from a crude stack of frozen balls plopped one atop of another. Building a snowman utilizes materials that are free of cost, easy to manipulate, and plentiful in certain times and places. It requires minimal artistic skill, as the placement of a few simple twigs and rocks can furnish your creation with an eerily expressive personality. 

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Snowman with charred backside in a 12th-century Book of Hours (via Koninklijke Bibliotheek)

Early snowman documentation has been discovered as far back as the Middle Ages, but we must assume that humans, creative beings that they are, have taken advantage of the icy materials that fall from the sky ever since winter and mankind have mutually existed. Bob Eckstein, author of The History of the Snowman, found the snowman's earliest known depiction in an illuminated manuscript of the Book of Hours from 1380 in the Koninkijke Bibliotheek in The Hague, Netherlands.

The despondent snowman seems to be of anti-Semitic nature, shaped with the stacked-ball method, and donning a jaunty Jewish cap. As he sits slumped with his back turned to the deadly fire, the adjacent text pronounces the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Apparently, plague-ridden Europeans needed a comical stooge onto whom they could foist their blame and frustration, and the Jewish snowman fit that bill.

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Women attacking a cop snowman in a 1937 painting by Hans Dahl (via Wikimedia)

In the Middle Ages, building snowmen was a way for a community to find the silver lining in a horribly oppressive winter rife with starvation, poverty, and other life-threatening conditions. In 1511, the townspeople of Brussels banded together to construct over 100 snowmen in a public art installation known as the Miracle of 1511.

Their snowmen embodied a dissatisfaction with the political climate, not to mention the six weeks of below-freezing weather. The Belgians rendered their anxieties into tangible, life-like models: a defecating demon, a humiliated king, and womenfolk getting buggered six ways to Sunday. Besides your typical sexually graphic and politically riled caricatures, the Belgian snowmen were often parodies of folklore figures, such as mermaids, unicorns, and village idiots.

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article-imagephotograph by Simon / Pixabay

Despite being 2,000 miles away, Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said Denmark will deliver a claim to the North Pole to the United Nations panel that will ultimately determine which countries control the Arctic, according to the Associated Press.

The claim is the result of a study conducted by Danish scientists, along with colleagues from Canada, Sweden, and Russia, from 2007 to 2012. The scientists concluded that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 2,000-kilometer underwater mountain range that crosses the North Pole, is geologically attached to Greenland, a semi-autonomous Danish territory. Russia has been conducting similar studies, and claims that the ridge is continuous with the Siberian continental platform.

Though Denmark is the first to claim the actual pole, the other countries bordering the Arctic —Russia, Canada, Norway, and the United States — all have or are expected to assert rights to parts of it. Currently all countries' borders end 200 nautical miles from their coasts, leaving a huge swath of unowned land (although in 2007 Russia went so far as to plant a meter-high titanium flag on the seabed). The land is likely to become increasingly valuable: according to the US Geological Survey, about 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 percent of its oil will be found in the Arctic. In addition, as the polar ice continues to melt, the Northern Sea Route is likely to open, becoming the fastest way to ship goods around the world.

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article-imageYakustk Kingdom of Permafrost Tourist Center (photograph by Alex Cheban)

Yakutsk, the largest city built on continuous permafrost, is the coldest major city in the world. There are several institutions there dedicated to the study of this unique ecology, including the Institute for Biological Problems of Cryolithozone (IBPC) and the Melnikov Permafrost Institute, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Yakutsk is also home to the Kingdom of Permafrost, a tourist attraction so cold that visitors are given warm coats and boots before entering.

Now, as reported by Siberian Times, IBPC scientists are utilizing Yakutsk's naturally frigid permafrost caves for cryostorage, entering the second phase of their "Noah's Ark" project to preserve millions of the world's rarest plants. 

article-imageIn the Yakustk cryostorage facility (this and all following photographs by Alexey Shein of the IBPC)

The Yakutsk cryostorage facility is the result of 35 years of studies to determine the optimal temperature to preserve seeds without affecting their ability to germinate, and to develop ways to keep that temperature constant. Efim Khlebnyy, Senior Researcher at the IPBC, told Atlas in an email: "We developed a new technology of cold accumulation during winter (the average winter temperature in Yakutsk is –51.4ºC), using a special ventilation system and other techniques, which made it possible to keep constant temperatures of about –8 ºC all year without any electricity or use of external supplies."

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