A portrait with a wood cut 

In August, a Columbus, Ga., school district assigned aides to alter textbook photos of Emanuel Leutze's famous painting, "Washington Crossing the Delaware." Some grown-ups thought that parts of Washington's pocket watch, dangling against his thigh, might appear to fifth-graders to be the Founding Father's penis. After locating the appropriate paint, the aides spent two weeks touching up 2,300 textbooks. Officials in Cobb County (Atlanta's northern suburb) merely snipped the page from their textbooks.

Upstairs, downstairs

According to an Agence France Presse wire story, Stepan Kovaltchuk, 75, emerged in September from 57 years of living in his sister's attic in remote Montchintsi, Ukraine, having hidden first from the Nazis and later from Soviet military recruiters. Apparently unaware of Ukrainian independence, he came out of the house only because his sister had just passed away. And three weeks later, a man identified only as Lu was arrested in Xinyuan county, China, for having stolen about $15 in 1987. He had been hiding from police in a 3-foot hole underneath the floor of a closet in his house, venturing out only at night.

On the road again

In April in Alberton, Prince Edward Island, Judge Ralph Thompson gave drunk driver Dennis Joseph Peters, 45, a mere suspended sentence for his fourth conviction, citing Peters' medical claim that he should not be jailed because he suffers from claustrophobia. And penal officials in Quebec City sent drug trafficker Michel Racine, 57, home in July because their prison did not have furniture big enough to accommodate the 450-pound man. And in August, jailers in Independence, Iowa, released four Amish men who were serving time for vandalism, concerned that the lockup's modern conveniences (TV and running water) would corrupt the prisoners.

Sperm limits

According to an August Cox News Service report, Florida state-agency DNA paternity tests performed on "fathers" in four counties who had resisted paying child support revealed that 36 percent of the 1,025 men were not the children's fathers after all. However, Florida courts are split on whether even a negative DNA test should relieve men of support responsibilities once they voluntarily begin paying.

And that's the rest of the story

According to police in Honolulu, Denny Usui, 28, at first told investigating officers in July that his grandmother wasn't home, but when they insisted on looking around, he became increasingly helpful. "Oh, I don't know, she might be here," he waffled. Then: "Yeah, OK, she's in the shower." Then: "Oh, go inside; my grandma's bathroom is inside her room." Then: "Oh, I think she's dead. She's in the shower." And finally (but probably too late): "I don't want to say anything else until I speak to my attorney, because this is a felony and I never committed a murder before."

The needle and the damage done

According to a June Los Angeles Times report, about 40 violent male offenders (including murderers) at the Preston Youth Correctional Facility near Sacramento, Calif., are thriving in a program that teaches the rehabilitative effects of sewing. The tough guys stitch, knit and crochet booties and blankets for premature babies in order to experience what one teen (an armed robber) called sewing's "calming" effect.

Fossil follies

In July, a British Army helicopter, helping on an archaeological dig near Red Deer, Alberta, experienced a wild swinging of its cargo and was forced to jettison it in order to stabilize the chopper. The cargo -- a large package of dinosaur bones said to be 68 million years old -- was smashed into splinters. Said the pilot, "I'm very sorry."

Cause for alarm

In May, firefighters in Nixa, Mo., failed to arrive at a burning house located in a cul-de-sac in time to save it. The problem, said the fire chief, was that too many people were attending a crowded yard sale in a nearby house and were reluctant to move their cars to allow the engines to pass. Added the chief, "When we were pulling out the hoses, they were tripping over them to get a look."

The bloom is off the nose

More than 63,000 people visited the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., in July and August to see the rare Sumatran titan arum plant (considered by some botanists as their holy grail) blossom to produce the world's largest flower. It is also possibly the world's most putrid, resembling rotting flesh and luring not bees but dung beetles. During the run, renowned botanist Bastiaan J.D. Meeuse coincidentally passed away in Kirkland, Wash., at age 83; he was best known for his work with the large voodoo lily, which produces half-pound flowers that generate their own heat and a stench comparable to the titan arum's.

Food for thought

The Russian space program's specially developed yogurt, which uses bacteria from cosmonauts' saliva to bolster the immune system, will soon go on sale to the public, according to an August report in New Scientist magazine. And in May, Eiichi Urata, 59, was rescued after being lost for 15 days on a 7,700-foot peak in the Japanese mountains near Nagano; for the last 14 days, he had eaten nothing but two jumbo squeeze-tubes of mayonnaise, which he daubed on ice to make snow cones.

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