"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Friday, January 22, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

One of Strange Company HQ's crack research team is busy selecting next week's Newspaper Clipping of the Day.

What the hell is the difference between a shanty and a sea song?

For the millionth time: what the hell is the Shroud of Turin?

Why the hell are there so many Regency romance novels?

Why the hell are Alaskans called "Sourdoughs?"

How the hell do butterflies fly?

Watch out for those cursed ferries!

The mysterious railway death of a Scottish baronet.

A teenager's unsolved murder.

Tudor England and the laws concerning sanctuary.

The world's rarest pasta is in danger of extinction.

There are times when I think scientists have way too much time on their hands.

Our planet's oldest living lifeforms.  I resisted the impulse to add a joke about the Rolling Stones.

How a case of rape was thrown out of court.

A brief history of plastic surgery.

The trees of Celtic folklore.

The challenging life of Isabella Frend.

Well, they finally managed to come up with a gin I refuse to drink.

Some tips for being a successful pickpocket.

Abe Lincoln, true crime writer.

The link between Horace Walpole and the East India Company.

What ancient DNA teaches us about the Ice Age.

James Buchanan's close call.

The star knowledge of the First Australians.

Multitasking tips from the 19th century.

Tales of tribes of headless men.

How to fake your own death for fun and profit.

A side note to the first link: the 1920s sea shanty craze.

An 1825 travel diary.

RIP, Doris Hobday.

How some people can communicate with the dead.

Why technology isn't always the answer.

A reminder that the nurse's monologue in "Romeo and Juliet" is...a bit weird.

If you want to spend your weekend learning how to write cuneiform, here you go.

A doctor commits a particularly heinous murder.

The tomb of an ancient Roman baker.

The latest Egyptian archaeological discoveries.

The "Siberian Tutankhamun."

An encounter with a phantom ship.

Ulysses S. Grant's first inauguration.

The maidservant and the Walworth robbery.

Kelly the Cat's strange voyage.

A controversial death sentence.

The Wizard of Marblehead.

19th century residential care.

Yet another stone-throwing poltergeist.

A look at Battlefield Stalingrad.

History's earliest known businesswomen.

A love letter from beyond the grave.

The dead signs of Spitalfields.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll examine a little-known Alabama disappearance.  In the meantime, I'll let Elvis Costello have the last word.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

 This musical ghost story appeared in the “Shippensburg Chronicle” on November 20, 1919:

Hereford, Eng. The little village of Avenbury, which Iies in a secluded valley of Herefordshire, has a haunted church. 

The church is of the Norman period and tales concerning its ghost have become like household words. There are many stories of different ghosts in various forms, but the most astonishing visitant is one which plays the church organ.

"I have heard the ghost play twice myself," said the Rev. Archer Sheppard, the vicar. "Some neighbors brought the matter to my notice first.  They heard the sounds when they were walking by the church one afternoon, and thought that it was my organist practicing. They found, however, that the church was locked up. 

"The first time I heard the ghostly playing was while I was gardening. I believed that the woman who cleaned out the church was allowing her child to use the organ, and I went to see into the matter. The music stopped when I was a few yards from the church, and I found that the building was locked and empty." 

"This ghost was at Avenbury before Mr. Sheppard became vicar," said Col. Purser of Bromyard. "I told him the story, but he did not believe it until he heard the music himself. My children and I have heard it, and it sounds like a voluntary. Once my children were In the church when there was a groan. They rushed out into the chancel whence the sound appeared to come, but there was nothing to be seen.

Via Newspapers.com


"Mysterious will-o'-the-wisp lights are also said to have been seen, and a volunteer band which was marching by the churchyard was badly frightened in this way.

"Avenbury church has always had a ghost. A certain Nicholas Vaughan burnt down a palace of the Bishop of Hereford in the Middle Ages. His ghost was laid by twelve clergymen with twelve candles. A small piece of the twelfth candle was burnt and the remainder put in a silver casket under a stone, which stands ten yards above the church footbridge over the River Frome. They put a spell on the ghost not to return until the candle was burnt out and the casket carried into the Red Sea."

The church was closed in 1931, and now lies in ruins.  The site is still said to be haunted.

Monday, January 18, 2021

The Body in Stack Number Nine

While I wouldn’t say it’s an everyday occurrence for someone to discover a corpse in a chimney, it has happened more often than you’d like to think.  The following story is one that puts a particularly gruesome twist on such tragedies.

September 20, 1987, started out as a perfectly ordinary day of work at the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Bellingham, Washington.  At around 5:21 a.m., employee Roy Harris noticed that a smoke alarm had gone off for one of the mill’s ten boilers, which were used to preheat steam for use in the mill.  This particular boiler--number nine--wasn’t used often, so was rarely checked.

The boiler was a 10-foot-square steel structure, with a four-foot-wide lid which was usually left open.  Harris climbed to the top of the boiler, and looked inside.  And got what was likely the shock of his life.  He realized he was looking at--in the clinical words of the later autopsy report--a “partially skeletalized, extensively carbonized” human corpse.  The victim had evidently been alive when they entered the boiler, and essentially gradually roasted to death.

Harris instantly notified both plant supervisors and Bellingham police of his macabre find.  Police, in turn, called in the county’s deputy medical examiner, Robert Gibb.

It was, Dr. Gibb later sighed, “not one of my favorite afternoons.”

“Tacoma News Tribune,” September 18, 2017, via Newspapers.com

It was estimated that the body had been inside the boiler from anywhere from several days to several weeks.  The victim would not have had an easy time gaining entrance to their death trap.  They would have had to either climb three flights of stairs or ride a vertical conveyor belt to reach the roof of the plant.  From there, they could have either used a ladder to reach the top of the boiler, or climb using pipes as handholds.  It was also conceivable that the person could have jumped from a nearby roof onto a small structure next to the boiler.  Although the plant had relatively little security, which would have enabled an outsider to access the property, boiler number nine was itself remote, largely hidden, and rarely visited.  As the plant superintendent commented, “You would have a better chance on winning the lottery than having someone look down Stack No. 9.”

The autopsy was able to determine that the corpse was--probably--a male between 25 to 35 years old and weighing 130 to 155 pounds.  He was 5’8” or 5’9” inches tall.  The body had numerous fractures, but it was unknown if they were the result of the fall into the boiler, heat stress, or an assault.

The man wore a shirt, jeans, a denim jacket, and size 8 sneakers.  There were indications that the victim had used the clothing to try to protect himself from the heat, and marks on the inside wall suggested that he had made hopeless efforts to escape his doom.  The body was so charred that authorities were unable to test for drugs or alcohol, as well as making DNA testing an impossibility.

The victim had no personal items, such as a wallet, keys, or a watch.  The only thing found on him was a partially-charred piece of a Continental airline ticket or baggage claim.  Unfortunately, it was not readable enough to identify who had bought or sold the ticket.

The first task law enforcement faced was putting a name to this extremely unfortunate victim.  It was easily ascertained that no employees or contract workers at the mill were missing.  The skull was used to make forensic drawings which were distributed to law agencies, police, and the media across both the United States and Canada.  No one came forward to suggest who this person might have been.  Although the victim had dental work, a search of dental records in missing-person files found no match.  In short, the authorities were unable to even make a guess about this person’s identity.

In 2006, a potential clue to the mystery emerged.  A steam engineer at Western Washington University named Richard Severson told the “Bellingham Herald” that in the late summer of 1987, he had given a woman a tour of the University’s steam plant.  He recalled that she began behaving very oddly when she saw the boilers, asking if she could go inside one.  When he directed her to an inactive boiler, she excitedly climbed in, playing inside the thing like a small child frolicking in a jungle gym.  Severson was so disturbed by this strange woman that he asked her to leave.  He said he had mentioned to her the boilers at the Georgia-Pacific plant, which he assumed were inaccessible to non-employees.  When he read about the grisly discovery at the plant, he wondered if there was a connection.  However, police remained reasonably certain that the corpse could not have been female.

The obvious next mystery was: how on earth did this person end up in such a strange, inaccessible place?  Was it a particularly grisly suicide?  A weird, self-destructive environmental protest?  Murder?

Could it have been an evening of “fun” gone very, very wrong?  In 2006, an employee at Mt. Baker Plywood mill told police that shortly after the body was discovered, he talked to a visitor at his plant.  This man claimed to be part of a group who would occasionally sneak into Georgia-Pacific and climb the towers.  An employee at the plant would help them get into the mill after it closed for the day.  He went on to say that if any of these urban explorers feared they had been seen by security guards, this person would blow a whistle and they would all meet in some pre-arranged spot.  The visitor said that someone from New York had recently joined the group, but on their latest outing, failed to turn up at the pre-arranged location.  The obvious implication is that the New Yorker, while prowling around the roof, accidentally fell into the boiler.  State police in New York provided information on five missing men who could possibly be a match for the victim, but these five files were all lacking dental records.  Police were unable to locate the Mt. Baker Plywood visitor, so it is impossible to say if this story can be trusted.

In 2001, the Georgia-Pacific mill closed, and has long since been demolished.  In 2006, Bellingham police closed their investigation, citing their complete lack of leads.  Nothing has happened in the years since then to change their view.  Even the current location of the victim’s corpse is unknown.  Virtually no physical traces remain of this particularly puzzling death.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to our Friday Link Dump!

Where everyone is guaranteed a good time!

Why the hell was Stonehenge built?

Napoleon's last years, as described by his doctor.

Don't try to steal a kiss from a maid who knits.

A death at the Tower of London.

Second hand hearses.

Some handy tips for the next time you have to scrub thousands of years of bird poop from an ancient temple.

Gluttony in the 18th century.

The mystery of two women of the Old West.

The man who fought with a ghost.

The archaeology of plastic. 

Animism and the ancient Celts.

A Vietnam soldier's strange disappearance.

A kingpin's strange disappearance.

A girl's really strange disappearance.

The adventures of Betty the Hobo Cat.

The adventures of the Duchess of York's wolf.

A possible sign of intelligent life beyond our planet.

A brief history of hypodermic drug administration.

A brief history of baby walkers.

The sounds of the Stone Age.

Prohibition and poisonous illicit alcohol.

The Hatimura Blast.

A complicated case of false imprisonment.

The CIA's UFO files.

Contemporary newspaper reporting about the Spanish Flu.

The brothers who picked fights with sharks.

When witchcraft was used to try to kill a king.

A drawing of a pig is the earliest known cave art.

A first-person account of the Indian Indenture Trade.

A Polish woman's strange death in Egypt.

An American woman's strange death in Philadelphia.

A UFO researcher's strange death in Miami.

The horrifying case of Gennie Pilarski.

The mistress of Napoleon III.

A memorial to an early 19th century murder victim.

Body snatching in Essex.

China's English town.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an unknown person's mysterious death.  In the meantime, let's get medieval.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com


This odd little story is from the “Deadwood Pioneer Times,” December 20, 1968:

A chemical analysis has failed to provide an identity for a substance which allegedly floated down from an unidentified flying object over Houston on Nov. 3. The report, released Wednesday by Gene Senter, president of the Houston Science Discussion Group on UFO.'s, said the mysterious substance, which resembled "angel hair," would be rent to the Aerial Phenomenal Research Organization in Tucson, Ariz., for further analysis.

APRO, an international organization, has 4,000 members including physicists, psychologists, scientists, and other related fields. 

Robert Hubbard, 15, and David Kelley, 17, both students at Spring Branch High School, retold Wednesday how they had observed the UFO Nov. 3, and like others, gathered the curious substance from the area.

"Look at the funny jet," Hubbard said he heard a child shout to his mother as he played football at 4:15 p.m. that Sunday. 

"I looked up and It looked like a coin on its side with a dome and black dots like windows. 

"I looked at it for about two minutes. It started going up slowly and disappeared when a (commercial) jet came out of the north," Hubbard said. 

"A few minutes later a delta wing jet circled the area and left," he said. 

Kelley said he and Hubbard retrieved the hairlike fibers which began falling over the area before the jets arrived.

Some of the substance reached the hands of David Wuliger, a professor of music at the University of Houston with an avid interest in UFOs.  [Yes, the same David Wuliger mentioned in the Houston mystery blood story.  The guy got around.]  Wuliger said a chemist, who requested anonymity for himself and his company, agreed to analyze it in the laboratory of a multi-million dollar petroleum industry company on Nov. 9.

"Microscopic and tactile examination indicates the substance is fibrous, elastic, relatively strong, somewhat sticky and white in color," Wuliger said.

"It looked like a rope with many fibers under a powerful microscope, but after being carbonized, appeared to have a honeycomb structure," Wuliger said. 

"The fact it only changed color when it was heated, indicated it was organic," Wuliger said the chemist told him.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Ghosts of Surrency

“Nashville Banner,” May 13, 1905, via Newspapers.com

Accounts of families being pestered by ghosts often achieve an immediate fame, only to be soon forgotten when the haunting ends.  It takes a special ghost indeed to achieve enduring local celebrity.  The following case is a perfect example; it was such a prolonged and violent supernatural episode, that even though it took place over a century ago,  it is as well-remembered in Appling County, Georgia, as if it had happened last week.

Allen Powel Surrency lived with his family in a fine two-story farmhouse in Surrency, a small hamlet he founded about sixty miles from Savannah.  The sawmill operator was, in the words of a contemporary journalist, “a gentleman well-to-do in the world, and is universally regarded as one of the most honorable citizens in the county.”  Long-time readers of this blog will immediately recognize those words as cue for some first-class mischief.

The trouble began in late October 1872.  One evening, the Surrencys were alarmed to see sticks of wood flying into the house and falling about the floor “from directions they could tell nothing about, and without any human agency they could see or find out.”  Stranger still, the room in which the wood was falling had all the doors and windows closed.  This was followed by a succession of brickbats, which continued to regularly fall throughout the night.

Then, all the bottles, vases, and glassware in the house were swept by invisible forces from their usual places, shattering on the floor.  Seeing the wholesale destruction of his house, Surrency had a servant move bottles of kerosene oil to the front yard.  No sooner had the man set them down when one of the bottles flew back and fell into the front room, scattering the contents.  The bedlam continued until sunrise, when it suddenly ceased, leaving the house in a shambles of broken glass and cutlery, with brickbats and wood carpeting the floor.

That afternoon saw an identical repeat of the previous night’s activity.  The family--which had by now been joined by a host of inquisitive neighbors--examined every corner of the house to find the source of the weird antics.  However, “so quickly would pitchers, tumblers, books and other articles jump from their positions and dash to the floor the eye could not follow, and broken fragments were the first things seen.”

Chairs, shoes, and items of clothing flew through the house.  A bunch of clothes hooks somehow escaped a locked bureau drawer and fell on the floor without the drawer ever being opened.  During all this, the hands of the old family clock began spinning madly at the rate of about five hours a minute.  At about eight o’clock at night, the commotion again abruptly stopped until noon the next day, when the daily performance opened with a pair of scissors jumping from the kitchen table to the floor.  A neighbor sitting in a chair was startled to have a large brickbat appear from seemingly nowhere and fall at his feet.  When he picked it up, he found it was red-hot.

Soon after this, the Surrencys and a number of guests sat down to dinner.  They were greeted by an ear of corn falling from the ceiling and striking the floor with such force that the kernels scattered all throughout the room.  Later that day, another ear of corn fell in another room.  While some of the guests were standing in the front room, a mirror smashed into fragments in the center of the room.  Although all the men were closely watching every item in the room, nobody saw anything move until after the mirror was broken.

By this point, the fun and games at the Surrency house had become so well known that the Macon and Brunswick Railroad had to add an extra train to handle all the eager lookyloos and would-be paranormal sleuths.  Within three days after the haunting began, some five hundred people had visited the home.

All this attention seems to have merely encouraged the pandemonium.  The family cook was terrorized by knives, skillets, and crockeryware flying about the kitchen.  Little piles of sugar--of a type not used by the family--suddenly appeared in the floors.  One of these piles contained a few pins and steel pens.

One evening, the Surrency’s teenage daughter Clementine was in their front yard, looking for the lights of the expected train.  Instead, she saw an object in the form of a man approaching her.  Not knowing who--or what--this was, she walked back to the house.  When she reached the steps, she heard something come whizzing through the air and fall on the ground near her.  She immediately looked in the direction from where she had seen the apparition, but it had disappeared.  She was then surrounded by more things falling about her in rapid succession.  Although they all came quite close to her, none of them struck her.  After she went inside the house, everyone could hear the noise of brickbats, bottles, and stones falling in the yard and against the end of the house.  The men present went outside and made a thorough search of the grounds, but even though the objects continued falling all around them, no one was anywhere in the vicinity.  The disturbances transferred to inside the house, with the now-familiar routine of books, glasses, knives, crockery, etc., flying through the air and scattering themselves on the floor.

Whenever the family sat down for meals, milk, water, tea, or soup was flung into their faces, on a few occasions causing painful scalding.  At the same time, the spoons were broken or suddenly twisted out of shape in their hands.  Sometimes, the tablecloth, with the entire dinner upon it, would be yanked from the table and flung to the floor, leaving the meal ruined.

After a few days of this bombardment, Mrs. Surrency was so frazzled that, on the advice of her husband and friends, she and Clementine went to stay with friends, a family named Patterson who lived some two miles away. However, as soon as they arrived, the supernatural mayhem simultaneously ceased at the Surrency home and broke out at the Patterson’s.  After a few hours of this, Mrs. Surrency, not wishing to see all her neighbor’s household items destroyed, conceded defeat and returned home.  Her daughter remained behind with the Pattersons.  As soon as Mrs. Surrency arrived at her residence, the pandemonium broke out afresh there and stopped at the Patterson home.  It was noted that throughout the ordeal, Mrs. Surrency seemed to be the focus of the disturbances.  Both she and her husband were staunch materialists, with no interest or belief in spiritualism, but they, as well as all the other witnesses to the activity, were at a loss to find any way to attribute it to human agency.

One day, as some six or seven visitors sat in the front room, a large hog calmly walked in at the door and advanced to the middle of the room.

It was a true conversation-stopper.

After a moment of humans and hog staring silently at each other, the creature walked into an adjoining room.  Everyone followed it.  As they stared at the intruder, the hog suddenly vanished.

Another visitor was “an old sea captain” who was determined to solve this mystery.  He sat down in one room to await events.  Nothing happened.  After a while, the captain began to get bored, and his thoughts turned longingly to a bottle of whisky he knew was in an adjoining room.  No sooner had he thought of this that the bottle fell from the ceiling.  He picked it up, poured a glass, and set it down.  Before his eyes, the bottle disappeared as abruptly as it had appeared.

In contrast to other poltergeist cases, which usually are of fairly short duration, the paranormal persecution of the Surrencys went on for months.  The family felt they could endure no more of the nervous strain and the fears for their physical safety, not to mention the cost of constantly having to refurbish their home.  They began to speak of moving to another farmhouse they owned, several miles away.  The final straw happened when one of the Surrency sons, Samuel, entered the sitting room where his brother Robert was reading by the fireplace.  Samuel saw an andiron which was on the hearth lift itself and move swiftly across the room, striking Robert a heavy blow on the temple.  As the startled, bleeding Robert sprang up, Samuel grabbed the andiron.  The object wrenched itself from his grip and again hit Robert on the head.  As he fled the room, the andiron followed him, hitting him repeatedly until he was unconscious.  Then, it floated back to the sitting room and took its usual place on the hearth.

The next day, the family fled to their second home, taking nothing but their clothes.  For a week or so, they enjoyed their longed-for peace and quiet.  Then, the manifestations started up with even greater power, as if angered by this attempt to escape them.  Years later, Herschel Tillman, a man who had known Allen Surrency personally, told a reporter, “That place was possessed by something evil.”  He added, “That thing haunted old man Surrency until the day he died [in 1877.]  But when he was buried, the haunting stopped.”

The Surrency house stood deserted until one morning in 1925, when it mysteriously burned to the ground, putting an exclamation point to one of Georgia’s eeriest stories.

[Note: since the turn of the 20th century, the town of Surrency has been the site of a “ghost light” phenomena commonly known as “the Surrency spook light.”  Whether or not it has any connection to the famed haunting is anyone’s guess.]

Friday, January 8, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

I advise you to pay close attention to this week's WLD.

There will be a quiz afterwards.

A rock star's strange death.

Two strange deaths which inspired a rock song.

A bunch of old skeletons found walled up in a monastery.  Paging M.R. James!

Earth's strangest mammal.  (Personally, I would have put human beings in the number-one slot, but...)

That time when Los Angeles went nuts over Sir Walter Scott.

Some teenagers find out the hard way why a house was haunted.

Yet another Jack the Ripper suspect.

The blue-blooded Bohemian's bra.

Mrs. Bungay and the undertaker.

An eccentric's lost grave.

Winter in 19th century London parks.

The "scandal sheets" of Regency England.

The last Civil War widow just died.

That time John Adams gave everyone the flu.

The Wardle UFO incident.

Early modern diet tips.

Yellowstone's lost history.

Uncovering a necropolis from the early Bronze Age.

Discovering an Emperor's tomb.

Why Venus is not an ideal vacation spot.

The first humans in the Americas were probably much earlier than we have thought.

The pigs of Camp Thomas Paine.

The "brown babies" of WWII.

Britain's very bad winter of 1763.

Iowa's strange cult city.

The case of the disappearing heiress.

The man who invented Aztec crystal skulls.

How Archie Leach portrayed Cary Grant.

Napoleon's sanest sister.

Science explains why cats love catnip.

The latest from Easter Island.

There may be more Dead Sea Scrolls.

A famous diver's strange death.

Peanut butter: from sanitarium to supermarket.

A notable 20th century psychic.

19th century hair combs.

The deadly vamp of New Orleans.

The shortest street in the world.

The hacker who saved the internet.

The Great Diamond Hoax.

That's it for this week!  Tune in on Monday, when we'll look at a famed Southern haunted house.  In the meantime, here's a jaunty little tune from the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra: