Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders

Nov. 13 2015 12:30 PM

The Double R Diner Has Returned

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The Double R Diner found an uncannily perfect setting in Twede’s Cafe—before it was Twede's Cafe, and before Twede's Cafe took a hiatus from being the Double R Diner.

Built in 1940, the restaurant that would become Twede’s Cafe opened to the public as Thompson’s Diner the following year. It was taken over a decade or so later by new owners, who changed the name to the Mar-T Cafe, installed the now-iconic exterior neon sign (hence the large “Mar-T” hovering unacknowledged above the Double R’s sign) but otherwise left both the building and the decor largely unchanged.

Thus, when shooting on the original Twin Peaks series began in 1989, the Mar-T Cafe was well equipped to serve as the noir Americana backdrop to romantic and investigatory intrigue in Lynch’s haunted mountain town. Its tobacco-brown wood paneling, horseshoe lunch counter, and chrome-and-vinyl stools appeared in the series pilot as well as the later prequel film Fire Walk With Me and served as the model for the Hollywood sound stage set where all other Double R Diner interior scenes were actually shot.

Once Twin Peaks hit the air, the Mar-T Cafe saw a major influx of business. Fans of the show flocked to the diner; pastry crews churned out pies in a vain attempt to keep up with demand; waitresses fielded nonstop requests for “damn fine coffee” with patience and grace. By the late 1990s, however, the mania had waned, and the restaurant was sold in 1998 to Kyle Twede (pronounced “tweetie”), who renamed it—you guessed it—Twede’s Cafe.

The newly rebranded FDR-era diner would be short-lived, however, as a fire gutted the Packard Mill— sorry, I mean Twede’s Cafe, in July 2000. The fire was the result of arson. News reports from the time of the incident described the perpetrators as burglars who had set the blaze to cover up their theft of $450. However, in an interview from May of this year, Kyle Twede described the arsonists as kids who had broken into the restaurant to mess around and drink wine coolers and then, fearing they would get in trouble for their actions, decided to set the place on fire (an apparent reference to a separate incident in 1997).

Whatever the case may be, the interior was completely destroyed. While the structure and the exterior neon sign remained, Twede’s Cafe reopened in 2001 with an updated interior that looked nothing like the Double R Diner. Since then, it has been proudly serving its Snoqualmie Valley patrons while also bitterly disappointing its Twin Peaks–minded visitors, journalist and civilian alike.

However, as of September of this year, the old Twede’s/Mar-T/Thompson’s Diner is back. As part of the production of the new season of Twin Peaks (and on the production company’s dime), the interior of Twede’s Cafe has been fully restored to the moody, campy diner of our fondest Lynchian memories. The restaurant will once again serve as the shooting location for the Double R Diner. The renovations are reportedly permanent and will stay in place after shooting wraps. So call a meeting of the Bookhouse Boys, or maybe just ask your estranged wife to help you get out of prison on work release: The Double R Diner has returned.

Submitted by Atlas Obscura contributor akornblatt.

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Nov. 12 2015 12:30 PM

A Weigh House for Witches in the Netherlands

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In the small Netherlands town of Oudewater there is an historic weigh house not unlike a number of similar buildings around the Netherlands, except this one is known primarily for weighing witches.

A weigh house was a common feature of medieval townships, used as a central site where people could come to weigh their crops and livestock. They were generally publicly run, used to levy tax amounts on goods as well. As witch hunts became a popular hysteria, they also became the perfect spots to subject the accused to a witchcraft test. Witches were thought to be light enough to float on water, and a common test of, uh, witchitude, was to put the accused on the weigh house scale and see the results. They were generally rigged and countless innocents burned or drowned thanks to the superstitious test.

The weigh house in Oudewater was a bit different, as it was said to have been approved as a fair weighing site by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Thanks to the this, no one is thought to have gone to the stake from its scales. They were originally built in 1482, and the witch weights didn't begin being tabulated until the 16th century.

Today the weigh house is a museum devoted to the site's history. Known as the Museum de Heksenwaag, visitors can come and weigh themselves, receiving certificates that prove they are not witches. If only so many of history's weigh houses could have had such fun programs. 

Submitted by Atlas Obscura contributor brickhound.

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Nov. 11 2015 12:30 PM

Guédelon Castle in France: An Archaeological Experiment

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In a remote forest clearing in Burgundy, France, a 13th-century castle is slowly being constructed using only the tools, techniques, and materials that would have been available to the builders of the day. It's archaeology in reverse.

The Guédelon project was started in 1997 at this location, which was chosen because it was near an abandoned stone quarry, a pond for water, and in a forest that could provide wood. The whole exercise is an experimental archaeology endeavor that seeks to discover what it would have been like to create a castle centuries ago, not by making guesses from artifacts from the past, but by experiencing it in real time. Knotted rope is used to make measurements, stone is imperfectly cut to denote the station of the castle's owner, and rock is chiseled by hand.

There is even a period-accurate back story attached to the project that informs the design and construction. According to the story, the castle (actually a chateau, although to modern eyes it could certainly be described as a castle) is being built by Guilbert Courtenay, aka Guilbert de Guédelon, a low-level noble who is constructing the new home in order to advertise his wealth and station. The elaborate back story, which was specifically started in a fictional 1229, helps the creators speculate as to exactly what type of amenities the space might have.

The project is ongoing and is expected to be completed in 2020. It can be visited and is, by around 300,000 people a year. Not only are many of the members of the project in period dress, but there is also a medieval restaurant to eat at. It may seem a bit kitschy on the surface, but their methods are pretty hardcore.   

Submitted by Atlas Obscura contributor jlanam.

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Nov. 10 2015 12:30 PM

The Doomed Effort to Make Videos Go Vinyl

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In an alternate universe, movie buffs have Citizen Kane on vinyl. In that alternate universe, unlike in our own, Capacitance Electronic Discs, or CEDs, survived instead of being consigned to the same media-format graveyard as Betamax and HD DVD.

Few people even remember that such a medium as vinyl movies existed, but for a brief, doomed period in the early 1980s, home video was available on CEDs. While CED players were not released to consumers until 1981, the development of the system dates back to the 1960s. The idea was that they could encode sound and video information to a vinyl disc if they could only get the grooves small enough.

According to Tom Howe, CED expert and collector, the idea to put moving pictures on a vinyl disc was actually first floated in the 1950s, although work on the unusual system didn’t begin until 1964. The bulk of the early work was done by a pair of RCA employees, Eugene Kaiser and Jon Clemens. Clemens, who had just graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in Electrical Engineering, coming to RCA immediately after school, dug into the project.

Clemens and the team at RCA worked full-time on the project through the end of the 1960s and into the early 1970s, but progress was slow due to the limitations of the available research and the limited resources provided to them. It wasn’t until 1970 that the lab was finally able to create a disc that held black-and-white still images. Undaunted by the laborious process, the small team pressed on. By 1971, they had recorded a color image onto their increasingly densely grooved discs. Finally, in 1972, Clemens and his team managed to record 10 full minutes of color video onto one of their discs. The first ever CED had been created, holding a small portion of the Get Smart episode “A Tale of Two Tails” on one side and an audio recording of various congratulations to the engineers on the other. The visual side of VideoDisc #234, as it was officially known (it was nicknamed “Lum Fong” after a character from the Get Smart episode), contained 4,000 grooves per inch that would be read by a delicate sapphire stylus, which was known to break after just a few plays.

By 1973, RCA had produced a prototype videodisc player—named “February” after the month in which it went into limited production—that could read their new 10-minute discs and had the ability to move around to different parts of the clip. Ten minutes of video recorded onto the grooves of a vinyl record was an impressive achievement at the time, but it was a far cry from a salable movie playback machine. Work on the project continued, and in 1975 a prototype of a consumer version of the videodisc player was shown to tech professionals , garnering more research resources within RCA. Early laser-read playback technologies that would lead to CDs and Laserdiscs were already being developed, but RCA touted the videodisc as a much simpler machine.

Up until this point, CEDs had been made using a layered disc that contained a thin layer of metal coating a vinyl disc and covered in a lubricant to smooth out the stylus’ ride along the tiny grooves. The stylus, which was so small and fine that it eventually had to be made from slivers of diamond, had a bit of metal that would create a circuit with the metal in the disc, and the visual and audio information would be formed by the wavering capacitance caused by the microscopic grooves. In 1977, when RCA had initially hoped to release the technology, the company moved to a much simpler material made of PVC impregnated with conductive carbon, making the disc itself able to complete the circuit. While this may have been a more elegant solution to the layered discs, it could still only hold about 30 minutes of video at that point.  

VHS video players also came out that same year, with Laserdisc following on its heels just a year later in 1978. CEDs were still in the planning phase, but RCA was not about to give up on a project that had been more than 10 years in the making.

Another big problem with CEDs was that as the grooves got tinier and finer, the discs became incredibly delicate. They were easily scratched, and any specks of dust that got into the grooves could cause the stylus to skip and stick. CEDs were originally going to be released like regular vinyl records in paper sleeves, but they proved much too delicate. Thus they were encased in thin plastic caddies so that the discs themselves would be protected. The resulting movies looked not unlike wide, thin eight-track cassettes.

According to Howe, in late 1978, an article in Fortune magazine came out calling out then–RCA chairman Edgar Griffiths as being afraid of taking risks in his running of RCA. In response, Griffiths announced that home CED players would hit the market within two years. The CED technology became a prime focus for the company. “RCA called it their Manhattan Project,” says Howe. The team finally got the play time on each side of the disc up to one hour, and production began on a commercial player, gearing up for a nationwide rollout.

Finally, after 17 years in development, flying in the face of evolving trends in home video technology, the first CED machine, the RCA SFT100W VideoDisc player, branded as SelectaVision, was released in March 1981. Alongside the release of the machine were an initial 50 titles, the very first of which was the cartoon Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown.

Vintage technology.

Photo: Windell Oskay/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

VHS, which offered a longer run time in a smaller package, was already well on its way to being the standard video technology in most homes, and when the ungainly, labor intensive (the movie discs had to be manually taken out and turned over halfway through) CED system was released, it was met with a resounding “Huh?” by consumers. Howe says that the video quality was as good as VHS at the time, if not better, but the CED still seemed like a strangely archaic alternative to video cassettes and Laserdisc. In addition, the discs would deteriorate fairly rapidly with consecutive plays. RCA said you could get around 500 spins out of one disc, but the quality fell with each play.

RCA ended up selling only around 100,000 players in the first year—half of what the company had ambitiously projected—but they didn’t give up the ghost. CED players continued to be sold over the next few years, even though sales of the machine continued to be dire. In addition to RCA, Toshiba and Hitachi hedged their bets and tried selling CED players as well, but they did no better. The number of titles also continued to grow in the face of the public’s disinterest. Big box office movies of the time like Star WarsGhostbusters, and Jaws all made it to CED, but not even these familiar titles could get people into vinyl video.

In 1984, RCA finally admitted defeat. Fewer than 500,000 CED machines had been sold in total, a figure well short of the company’s prediction that half of American homes would have one within 10 years. In April, RCA officially announced the discontinuation of its CED players, soothing the few people who had invested in a machine with the assurance that it would continue to release discs for three more years. They only did so for two. Howe says that only around 45 different models of the CED player were ever released—he has them all—but a surprisingly high 1,700 different titles had made it to market before the platform collapsed.

As a somewhat melancholy endnote, the final vinyl video discs to be released were The Jewel of the Nile and a commemorative short film called Memories of VideoDisc, which was given to a number of RCA employees who had been involved with the CED’s development. With that, the brief, doomed life of CEDs came to an end.

Today CEDs are all but forgotten save for the minds of a few collectors like Howe. The players themselves are relatively rare, but the discs can still be found all over eBay or sitting on thrift store shelves. The whole fool’s errand that the CED became is an odd but memorable footnote in the ever-expanding history of home entertainment.   

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Nov. 9 2015 12:30 PM

The Blue Lagoon of Buxton

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What makes certain bodies of water so beautiful? Is there a precise shade of blue that we are hardwired to want to leap into? Or have decades of Club Med and Sandals Resort advertising created the idea that aquamarine is the color of vacation, relaxation, and freedom?

Former marine biologist turned neurologist Wallace J. Nichols has coined the phrase "blue mind" to describe the relaxed meditative state being in or around water brings to people. Nichols argues, like our fear of snakes and spiders, we have a kind of neurological dowsing rod, an unconscious system for judging clean water from dirty. Blue means pure, clean, good for drinking and swimming. The "blue mind" sets in. 

In the case of the swimmers at the Blue Lagoon of Buxton, England, it seems the power of the "blue mind" has gone a bit cloudy.

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Nov. 6 2015 12:30 PM

A Stunning Crater Lake in Iceland

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In Iceland, you can't just have a stunning lake. No, it also has to be inside of a volcanic caldera. And sometimes that's not even enough, so the showiest country in the world provides something like Kerid Crater Lake, which is a nearly neon-blue lake sitting in a volcano surrounded by rare red volcanic rock.

Located in southern Iceland along the so-called Golden Circle, Kerid is unique among crater lakes in that its caldera likely didn't form from an explosion as most do. The Kerid volcano is thought to have formed when the magma in the center simply depleted itself and the empty chamber beneath caved in. Regardless of the geological minutia that led to the lake's creation, its bright rainbow of colors look unearthly.

In addition to the bright, sapphire-colored waters, the steep slopes of the caldera's bowl are almost entirely covered in red volcanic rock. There is one, less steep side of the slope that is covered in rich green moss, as though the lake weren't colorful enough. 

The lake can be visited along tours of the Golden Circle; just try not to lose yourself in its beautiful blue eye. 

Submitted by Atlas Obscura contributor leiris.

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Nov. 5 2015 12:30 PM

Jordan’s Hand of Hercules

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Towering over Amman's modern skyline is the Temple of Hercules, located at the peak of a hillside in one of the ancient city's oldest quadrants. 

Constructed between 162–166 A.D. during Marcus Aurelius' Roman occupation of Amman's Citadel, the great temple is larger than any in Rome itself. Its portico faces east and is surrounded by six 33-foot-tall columns. Measuring 100 feet long by 85 feet wide with an outer sanctum of 400 by 236 feet, the fact that the rest of the temple remained unadorned by columns suggests to scholars that the structure was never completed, for reasons history has yet to reveal. 

During the excavation process, few clues were left to help scholars unlock the mysteries of this massive half-finished, abandoned temple. But the ones that did exist were huge—albeit ambiguous. From just three gigantic fingers, one elbow, and a scattering of coins, archaeologists have agreed these marble body parts likely belonged to a massive statue of Hercules himself. Therefore, the theory goes, the temple also must have been dedicated to the half-god known for his feats of strength and far-ranging adventures. 

Likely toppled during one of the area's periodic catastrophic earthquakes, the statue fell to bits, but unlike the temple, all except the hand and elbow disappeared. As one guide put it, "the rest of Hercules became Amman's countertops." 

Experts' best guess is that, in its original state, the statue would have measured upwards of 40 feet high, which would have placed it among the largest known marble statues to have ever existed. 

Back in the here and now, it makes for a pretty enjoyable time to walk up to a cluster of fat fingers, stare at their well-trimmed nails and cuticles, and walk away giggling that scholars have agreed: Hercules enjoyed a good manicure, just like modern-day demigods.

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Nov. 4 2015 12:30 PM

The Futuristic Glass Cabins of Kakslauttanen

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Nestled right on the edge of the cold, stark Finland wilderness, the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is certainly off the beaten path, but as its futuristic-looking glass igloos prove, that doesn't mean that you're roughing it. 

According to the resort's website, the unique travel destination was started back in 1973 when its founder, Jussi, was traveling down the lonely roads just south of Finland's northernmost fishing village. As the story goes, his car broke down, and he was forced to make camp near the isolated roadside woods. Instead of just thinking of this excursion as a minor inconvenience, he fell in love with the spot and set up a permanent roadside stop-in that eventually grew up to be the current Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort.

The site of Jussi's breakdown has grown into a luxury resort destination which features a variety of interesting accommodations. There are cozy log cabins, some with built-in glass nooks to better view the surrounding wilderness and auroras. There are the snow igloos, which are little ice hotels where visitors can get warm in a very cold place. And perhaps most astoundingly, there is the field of glass igloos which all look like little see-through geodesic domes where nothing can obstruct your view of the Northern Lights. 

The resort, sitting at almost the northern tip of Europe, seems like some sci-fi outpost built on the edge of the world to survive its collapse. But really it's just a beautiful and cozy little spot.

Submitted by Atlas Obscura contributor akornblatt.

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Nov. 3 2015 12:30 PM

Venezuela’s Everlasting Lightning Storm

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The sky above this river never sleeps. Producing 3,600 flashes per hour, for 10 hours at a time, for most nights out of the year, the "Relámpago del Catatumbo" has been raging, on and off, for as long as people can remember.

It was recently inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records as the place in the world with the most lightning strikes per square meter, taking the record from the town of Kikika in the Democratic Republic of Congo. All of which points to the fact that while unusual, the "Relámpago del Catatumbo" is certainly not the only storm nursery in the world, just the flashiest.  

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Nov. 2 2015 12:30 PM

Was Moses Tripping?

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Thomas Jefferson was a great fan of Jesus. The author of the Declaration of Independence called the son of God “the greatest of all the Reformers," a font of "eloquence and fine imagination," and the author of "a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man." He wrote of him often and tried to keep his teachings in mind.

But there was one catch—Jefferson didn't think Jesus was the son of God. Indeed, he didn’t believe in miracles at all. So for a couple of evenings in February of 1804, after he had gone through the day’s papers and correspondence, the then-President kicked back in the White House, pulled out a razor and some glue, and did something out of a Congressional Republican’s worst nightmare: He cut the parts he didn’t like out of the New Testament and stuck the parts he did like together again.

The resulting Frankenbook—now known as the Jefferson Bible—”abstracts what is really [Jesus’] from the rubbish in which it is buried,” Jefferson explained 15 years later in a letter to his secretary, William Short. That rubbish included the concept of the Trinity (which he called “mere Abracadabra”), immaculate conception (which he predicted would someday be “classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter”), and nearly everything else with a hint of hocus pocus. “If necessary to exclude the miraculous, Jefferson would cut the text even in mid-verse,” biographer Peter S. Onuf writes in Jeffersonian Legacies. His was a Bible without prophecy, resurrection, or infinite loaves and fishes; a Bible where angels feared to tread. It was only 46 pages long.

Jefferson was not the first faithful, rational person perplexed by miracles. For as long as the law of scripture has bumped up against the laws of physics, theologians, philosophers, and scientists have looked for ways to reconcile the two. But in recent years, some researchers have taken things a step further. Armed with improving technology, a willingness to wade through incompatible fields, and, often, great personal conviction, they have set out to scientifically explain the definitively inexplicable

The deepest image of the universe we have, obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2012.

Image: NASA/Public Domain

As miracles go, the first one—the creation of everything—is a doozy. As Genesis has it, God hovered over the face of the waters for a scant six days putting everything in place. Cosmologists put the number closer to 13.8 billion years. Gerald Schroeder, a Biblical scholar and a decorated nuclear physicist, has dedicated a lot of his career to convincing people that it’s actually both. He does this, basically, by asking what a “day” is.

If you make room for relativity, Schroeder says, it’s possible that, “time is different [for humans] than it is from the perspective of the Creator.” Specifically, it’s about a trillion times slower, thanks to Schroeder’s interpretation of what he calls the “stretching factor” in Einstein’s equations. Do the rest of the math, and six of these 24-trillion-hour days come out to a little over 14 billion years. Problem solved. (In case it needs saying, experts in every possible field take issue with this interpretation, pointing out, among other things, that relativity could theoretically make “an ordinary day on Earth appear to be any length at all.”)

Move along further into the Old Testament, and you find another showstopper—Moses’s parting of the Red Sea, just in time for the Israelites to cross and escape the Pharoh’s encroaching army. This event has captured the imaginations of artists for centuries, and filmmakers for decades, but it’s only in the past few years that oceanologists have started getting in on it, too.

In 2010, Carl Drew, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, turned Exodus’ description of the Red Sea parting into a computer model. He translated the “strong east wind” into a high-but-plausible 63 miles per hour, applied it to a reconstruction of a particular spot in the Nile Delta, and concluded that this could indeed have “divided the waters.” “The wind moves the water in a way that’s in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in,” Drew explained in an NCAR press release. This would have given Moses and his followers about four hours to get across. Other researchers have proposed alternate scenarios, including hurricane-grade winds over a shallow reef, or the site of the crossing actually being a reed-clogged lake.

Another Moses classic, the burning bush, has been subject to similar treatment. Colin Humphries, a materials scientist, thinks it was an acacia bush on top of a volcanic vent, while a couple of oil researchers postulate a “volatile isoprene cloud” emitted by a particular herbaceous plant. Others think Moses may have been tripping on a common plant-derived hallucinogenic. 

Moses leading the Israelites across the Red Sea, as envisioned by Nicolas Poussin in 1634.

Image: ReaverFlash/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In 2011, three Boston-area psychologists decided to take a look at miracles from another perspective—perhaps they were real but only to those performing them. Their paper, “The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered,” attempts to retroactively diagnoses a quartet of renowned miracle-makers. Through their lens, Abraham’s and Moses’ divine orders could have been manifestations of paranoid schizophrenia, Jesus’s crucifixion may have been “suicide-by-proxy,” and the thorn in St. Paul’s flesh was probably epilepsy.

“These findings support the possibility that persons with primary and mood disorder-associated psychotic symptoms have had a monumental influence on the shaping of Western civilization,” they write, saying that they hope their article will “translate into increased compassion and understanding for persons living with mental illness.”

Thus far, scientists have been silent on most of the New Testament feats—no nutritionists have tackled the loaves and fishes, and only vintners transform water into wine. (A notable exception is walking on water, which, according to a team of Israeli scientists, could have been accomplished with some well-placed stones.) But as technology improves, this may change—imagine what epidemiologists could do if they cracked the secret to divine healing. If this trend keeps up, anything that fell prey to Jefferson’s razor could be redeemed by Occam’s.

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