News of the Weird: Beauty pageant puts skill with rattlers to the test

  • Article by: CHUCK SHEPHERD
  • May 24, 2013 - 12:52 PM

The beauty pageant each April at the Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, Texas, requires traditional skills like interview poise, evening-gown fashion and talent, but also some ability and inclination to milk and skin rattlers.

High school senior Kyndra Vaught won this year’s Miss Snake Charmer, wearing jeweled boots one night for her country-western ballad, then Kevlar boots and camouflage chaps the next as she took on dozens of rattlers in the wooden snake pit. Vaught expertly held up one serpent, offered its tail-end rattles for a baby to touch, then helped hold, measure, milk and skin a buzzing, slithery serpent. A Los Angeles Times dispatch noted that Vaught hoped to be on her way soon to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Flea emergency

That there are flea “circuses” is bizarre enough, but in March a cold spell in Germany wiped out an entire troupe of “performing” fleas, requiring the flea whisperer to secure replacements. Trainer Robert Birk reached out to a university near Mechernich-Kommern for 50 substitutes. Fleas, with or without training, can pull up to 160,000 times their own weight and leap to 100 times their own height.

Modern anglers

• Chad Pregracke, 38, a Mississippi River legend, spends nine months a year hauling heavy-duty litter out of waterways with his crew of 12. He told CNN in March that he has yanked up 218 washing machines, 19 tractors, four pianos and nearly 1,000 refrigerators — totaling over 3,500 tons of trash — and has collected the world’s largest array of bottles with messages inside (63).

• Eliel Santos fishes the grates of New York City seven days a week, reeling in enough bounty to sustain him for the past eight years, he told the New York Post in April. The “fishing line” Santos, 38, uses is dental floss, with electrician’s tape and Blue-Touch mouse glue — equipment that “he controls with the precision of an archer,” the Post reported. His biggest catch ever was a $1,800 gold and diamond bracelet, but the most popular current items are iPhones.

Mom in trouble

Tyshekka Collier, 36, was arrested in Spartanburg, S.C., in March after she had rushed to her son’s elementary school after a call that he was suspended. As she burst into the office, angry at her son for getting into trouble, she saw a pouting boy with his head down and slapped him, thinking he was hers. He wasn’t. After apologizing, she then managed to locate her son and promptly slapped him.

Restaurant violation

The owner of a restaurant in southern Sweden told authorities in March that the former owner had assured him that “everything had been approved,” apparently including the appliance the restaurant used for mixing salad dressings and sauces — which was a table-model cement mixer. When health officials told the owner that it certainly was not approved, he immediately bought another, “rust-free” mixer. Health authorities had come to the restaurant on a complaint that a screw had turned up in a customer’s kebab.


A New Delhi, India, neighborhood houses some of the richest people in the country in comparatively modest mansions, with the city’s real estate bubble inflating prices into nine figures, though home sales are rare, according to a March New York Times dispatch. In the similarly wealthy city of Hong Kong, in the “gritty, working-class West Kowloon neighborhood” where the laborers serving the rich live, about 100,000 dwell in pitiable housing. An increasing number rent what are basically stacks of wire sleep cages, measuring about 16 square feet each. An Associated Press reporter found one tenant paying the equivalent of about $167 a month for his mesh digs.

No longer weird

Even the editor of News of the Weird gets bored: (1) A man in his 70s in Burnaby, British Columbia, was rescued in January after being pinned for three days under fallen debris inside his seriously cluttered house. The house had “ceiling-high mounds of garbage,” wrote the Canadian Press. (Ho-hum.) (2) In Lianjiang City, China, in January, Peng Xinhua, 101, joined a long line of returns-from-the-dead. Following a fall, she had become stiff and without a heartbeat, her two daughters said, and burial was scheduled. Just before the funeral, as relatives and friends were washing her body, Peng opened her eyes and calmly greeted them.

Readers’ choice

Henry Gribbohm, 30, admitted in April that he had blown his $2,600 life savings trying to win an Xbox at a rigged ball-toss game at a Manchester, N.H., carnival, lamenting to WBZ-TV, “For once in my life, I happened to become that sucker.” Gribbohm complained to the operator, but was given only a large stuffed banana as consolation. However, when news broke, an Internet website took up a collection and purchased the banana from him for $2,600.

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