"...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, May 27, 2016

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Strange Company HQ staffer Potter.  If you wish to hire security for your next big party, his size and temperament make him an excellent bouncer.





What the hell was the Harlech Meteor?

What the hell was the Flying Black Giant of Boston?

What the hell were these Neanderthal stone circles?

Watch out for those voices in your chimney!

Watch out for those snowball bombs!

Watch out for Morgawr!

The world's oldest cave paintings.

A Roman villa has been found under an English barn.

An early 19th century racetrack that's still in business.

The first broomstick witches.

How DNA can implicate the innocent.

A Georgian merman.

Good Walkers battle the witches over wine.

Aristotle's tomb may have been found.

The Macclesfield Pedestrian.

The Etruscan underworld.

The ghosts of war.

The strange death of a Hollywood screenwriter.

A brief history of relics, religious and secular.

An 1801 public subscription ball.

An Israeli mermaid.

Louis Slotin and the Demon Core.

A secret club of rooftop climbers.

Childbirth in the Regency period.

The Victorian poor tell their own story.

A gruesome small-town murder mystery.

The Gordon Riots of 1780.

You can buy a cannibal's castle.

So, there's such a thing as "tree law."

America's first cremation.

The comet scare of 1773.

How a printer crippled the Confederacy.

The story behind "Grand Hotel."

How to buy food, 1950s style.

The baby farmers of Brixton.

19th century sporting cats.

Napoleon's "beautiful moon."

The tricky issue of 19th century "marital coercion."

An ancient Egyptian spell book.

The vampiric Countess Elga.

A cursed village.

Still more Bohemian Cats!

Beauty tips for bluestockings.

Sleeping with the Devil.

Mary Anning, who sold seashells on the seashore.

The astronomer nuns.

Shakespeare in India.

A smelly ghost.

A Mediterranean garden in Northumberland.

Some of the most influential criminal trials in history.

The ungrateful Tully McQuate.

That time fighter jets were sent to intercept a UFO.

That time when sugar was good for your teeth.

A tale of the Sjo-Troll.

The case of the wandering musket ball.

A particularly odd case of grave-robbing.

The Flying Goliath of Boston.

A hired boy's ghost.

The kind of thing that happens when they dissect you before you're dead.

And we're done!  See you on Monday, when we'll have a look at a Wonder of a horse.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Pleyel:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Magazine Clipping of the Day

"The Vision of Death," Gustave Dore


In 1853, a Welsh magazine called ""Y Traethodydd" ["The Essayist"] published a biographical tribute to a late clergyman named John Jones. This eulogistic memoir included Jones' own account of an experience he had had many years before. Whether it was--as the reverend firmly believed--a case of God coming to his aid, or something considerably more down-to-earth, it's a quaint and oddly touching little tale.
One summer day, at the commencement of. the present century, I was travelling from Bala, in Merionethshire, to Machynlleth, in the neighbouring county of Montgomery, in order to attend a religious meeting. I left Bala about 2 p.m., and travelled on horseback and alone. My journey lay through a wild, desolate part of the country, and one which at that time was almost uninhabited. When I had performed about half my journey, as I was emerging from a wood situated at the commencement of a long, steep decline, I observed coming towards me a man on foot. By his appearance, judging from the sickle which he carried sheathed in straw over his shoulder, he was doubtless a reaper in search of employment. As he drew near, I recognised a man whom I had seen at the door of the village inn of Llanwhellyn, where I had stopped to rest my horse. On our meeting he touched his hat and asked if I could tell him the time of day. I pulled out my watch for the purpose, noticing at the same time the peculiar look which the man cast at its heavy silver case. Nothing else, however, occurred to excite any suspicion on my part, so, wishing him a "good afternoon," I continued my journey.

When I had ridden about half-way down the hill, I noticed something moving, and in the same direction as myself, on the other side of a large hedge, which ran nearly parallel with the road, and ultimately terminated at a gate through which I had to pass. At first I thought it an animal of some kind or other, but soon discovered by certain depressions in the hedge that it was a man running in a stooping position. I continued for a short time to watch his progress with some curiosity, but my curiosity soon changed to fear when I recognized the reaper with whom I had conversed a few minutes before, engaged in tearing off the straw band which sheathed his sickle. 
He hurried on until he reached the gate, and then concealed himself behind the hedge within a few yards of the road. I did not then doubt for a moment but that he had resolved to attack— perhaps murder—me for the sake of my watch and whatever money I might have about me. I looked around in all directions, but not a single human being was to be seen, so reining in my horse, I asked myself in much alarm what I could do. Should I turn back? "No." my business was of the utmost importance to the cause for which I was journeying, and as long as there existed the faintest possibility of getting there, I could not think of returning. Should I trust to the speed of my horse, and endeavour to dash by the man at full speed? If so; for the gate through which I had to pass was not open. Could I leave the road and make my way through the fields? I could not; for I was hemmed in by rocky banks or high hedges on both sides. The idea of risking a personal encounter could not be entertained for a moment, for what chance could I—weak and unarmed—have against a powerful man with a dangerous weapon in his hand? What course then should I pursue? I could not tell; and at length, in despair rather than in a spirit of humble trust and confidence, I bowed my head and offered up a silent prayer. This had a soothing effect upon my mind, so that, refreshed and invigorated, I proceeded anew to consider the difficulties of my position. 
At this juncture my horse, growing impatient at the delay, started off: I clutched the reins, which I had let fall on his neck, for the purpose of checking him, when happening to turn my eyes, I saw to my utter astonishment that I was no longer alone. There, by my side, I beheld a horseman in a dark dress, mounted on a white steed. In intense amazement I gazed upon him; where could he have come from? He appeared as suddenly as if he had sprung from the earth. He must have been riding behind and have overtaken me. And yet I had not heard the slightest sound: it was mysterious, inexplicable. But the joy of being released from my perilous position soon overcame my feelings of wonder, and I began at once to address my companion. I asked him if he had seen any one, and then described to him of what had taken place, and how relieved I felt by his sudden appearance, which now removed all cause of fear. He made no reply, and on looking at his face, he seemed paying but slight attention to my words, but continued intently gazing in the direction of the gate, now about a quarter of a mile ahead. I followed his gaze, and saw the reaper emerge from his concealment and cut across a field to our left, resheathing his sickle as he hurried along. He had evidently seen that I was no longer alone, and had relinquished his intended attempt.

All cause for alarm being gone, I once more sought to enter into conversation with my deliverer, but again without the slightest success. Not a word did he deign to give me in reply. I continued talking, however, as we rode on our way towards the gate, though I confess feeling both surprised and hurt at my companion's mysterious silence. Once, however, and only once did I hear his voice. Having watched the figure of the reaper disappear over the brow of a neighbouring hill, I turned to my companion and said, "Can it for a moment be doubted that my prayer was heard, and that you were sent for my deliverance by the Lord?" Then it was that I thought I heard the horseman speak, and that he uttered the single word, "Amen." Not another word did he give utterance to, though I tried to elicit from him replies to my questions, both in English and Welsh.

We were now approaching the gate, which I hastened to open, and having done so with my stick, I waited at the side of the road for him to pass through; but he came not; I turned my head to look—the mysterious horseman was gone! I was dumbfounded; I looked back in the direction from which we had just been riding, but though I could command a view of the road for a considerable distance, he was not to be seen. He had disappeared as mysteriously as he had come. What could have become of him? He could not have gone through the gate, nor have made his horse leap the high hedges which on both sides shut in the road. Where was he? Had I been dreaming? Was it an apparition, a spectre which had been riding by my side for the last ten minutes? Could it be possible that I had seen no man or horse at all, and that the vision was but a creature of my imagination? I tried hard to convince myself that this was the case, but in vain; for, unless some one had been with me, why had the reaper resheathed his murderous looking sickle and fled? Surely no; this mysterious horseman was no creation of my brain. I had seen him; who could he have been? 
I asked myself this question again and again; and then a feeling of profound awe began to creep over my soul. I remembered the singular way of his first appearance—his long silence—and then again the single word to which he had given utterance; I called to mind that this reply had been elicited from him by my mentioning the name of the Lord, and that this was the single occasion on which I had done so. What could I then believe ?—but one thing, and that was, that my prayer had indeed been heard, and that help had been given from on high at a time of great danger. Full of this thought, I dismounted, and, throwing myself on my knees, I offered up a prayer of thankfulness to Him who had heard my cry, and found help for me in time of need.

I then mounted my horse and continued my journey. But through the long years that have elapsed since that memorable summer's day, I have never for a moment wavered in my belief that in the mysterious horseman I had a special interference of Providence, by which means I was delivered from a position of extreme danger.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Rufus Cantrell: Invasion of the Body-Snatcher



It is commonly known that in older days, medical colleges, desperate to find corpses to use as subjects in their anatomy lessons, were usually not overly finicky about how they acquired them. As a result, grave-robbing became a lucrative industry for anyone with a strong enough stomach to tackle the job. By the 1870s, American medical schools were dissecting thousands of corpses a year...and they scarcely hid the fact that nearly all of them were former residents of the local churchyard.

Abhorrent though it may have been, the trade often went unpunished, and even when the thieves were brought to book, the penalties were usually light. Occasionally, however, the body-snatchers became a bit too enthusiastic. For example, the infamous business partnership of Burke and Hare cut out the middleman and provided the medical students with corpses they themselves had created. Others, while perhaps not going so far as to commit murder, pursued their unholy profession in such large numbers that they became a public menace. America's most notorious example was Rufus Cantwell, who earned the distinction of being named "King of the Ghouls."

Our story opens on a suitably eerie note in Marion County, Indiana. In September 1902, a disguised man billing himself as "The Voice From the Grave," made late-night visits to the homes of people who had recently suffered a bereavement. He would deliver a chilling message: their lost loved ones were not resting at peace in their graves. Instead, they were resting in pieces at the Central College of Physicians in Indianapolis. If he was correct about every body he named, over 100 corpses had been stolen within a period of three months. This Grim-Reaperish Town Crier was never identified.

Central College of Physicians


Police made a search of the College, and found enough to assure them that the Voice From the Grave was not exaggerating. The next step was to find out who was responsible for this wholesale plundering. The authorities got their first clue when the owner of a gun store told them that Dr. Joseph Alexander, an anatomy professor at the College, had provided credit for four men to buy rifles.

The break in the case came on September 29, when seven men, led by 20-year-old Rufus Cantrell, were arrested for lurking around a graveyard in a decidedly...businesslike fashion. Cantrell, the acknowledged "brains" of the gang, quickly proved that loyalty was not among his small store of virtues. He not only immediately confessed to a prolific career of looting graveyards, but freely implicated his confederates, as well. One cemetery in particular, Mount Jackson, had been visited by the gang so often that it was virtually empty. (A footnote: Cantrell's "day job" was acting as preacher at the Antioch Baptist Church. The talk was that he would read the burial service for the newly dead during the day and "resurrect" them at night. One has to marvel at the man's versatility.)

Cantrell gave a detailed description of his methods. ("There are secrets in the grave-robbing business that only professional ghouls with considerable experience understand.") It is worth repeating for anyone curious about how a pro goes about his business: As the leader of the gang, he gave his confederates the menial job of digging up the grave. Then, "When the box is reached then it's my time. I go after the stiff and jerk it out. It's a job everybody can't do. I don't use hooks. I usually get 'em out with my hands. I can do it all right. Once in a long time I find it necessary to use the hooks. If the body sticks in the box the hooks are put on and the other fellows help me pull it out."

Unfortunately for the faculty of the Central College, Indiana law required medical schools to keep detailed records of the bodies used for dissection. As body-snatching is not a trade that lends itself to careful bookkeeping, a number of the College's doctors found themselves under arrest.

The loquacious Cantrell provided the police with more interesting news: His was far from the only gang monetizing Indiana cemeteries. He claimed there were two other bands of body-snatchers working out of Indianapolis. Some of the bodies were sold to local medical colleges, but most were shipped to schools out West, disguised as normal freight. Investigations of local cemeteries proved that Cantrell was hardly fibbing about the scope of the vandalism. There appeared to hardly be a decently-buried corpse left in the entire state.

Everyone with loved ones buried anywhere in the Indianapolis area reacted with predictable outrage. One man had his late wife's body encased in cement. Other families formed vigilante groups to patrol the cemeteries in the hope of being able to put bullets through any passing resurrectionists. A Jesse Hodgin had the most ingenious way of dealing with the body-snatching epidemic. Before his wife was buried, he placed "a quantity of nitroglycerin" in the grave with her, ensuring that anyone who tried to make off with the corpse would be blown to kingdom come.

For all I know, the explosive is still there, so if you should ever visit Indiana's Summit Lawn Cemetery, tread lightly.



Meanwhile, Cantrell continued talking. Thanks to his revelations, by mid-October police had arrested an impressive list of co-conspirators: Nine body-snatchers, three doctors, an undertaker, plus a cemetery proprietor and his night watchman. (For good measure, Cantrell also mentioned a man who had just buried his wife and child together. The grieving husband was perfectly content to allow Cantrell's gang to make off with the bodies of his dearly deceased--as long as he received half the profits from their sale.) Members of the two rival gangs were also rounded up. It looked like, at last, all the bodysnatchers had been snatched.

The most prominent member of this gruesome ensemble was Dr. Joseph C. Alexander. It was confirmed that he had supplied the Cantrell gang with guns and then paid them $30 for each fresh corpse they supplied him. As an extra perk of the job, the resurrectionists also got to keep whatever jewelry or other valuables they found on the bodies. It also emerged that Alexander had a deal with the proprietors of the local insane asylum: Officials would secretly tip him off whenever a patient died, and then the deceased would be interred in a conveniently shallow grave. Cantrell told reporters that he took great pride in his chosen profession: "Grave robbing is a legitimate business, and it's no disgrace to be in it."

Cantrell was disconcerted to learn that the state of Indiana thought otherwise. The penalty for disturbing a grave was 3 to 10 years. If you removed the corpse? 3 to 14 years.

The faculty at the Central College was going into a panic. After all, they had a great many corpses on their hands, and a great lack of any legitimate explanation for how they acquired them. Their method of dealing with this damning evidence was to simply dump the bodies in the public streets.

On October 25, a grand jury issued indictments against the body-snatchers, the doctors who had employed them, and the cemetery workers who had been bribed into turning a blind eye. The physicians and the cemetery employees had the money to pay their bail, and were soon released from custody. Cantrell and his fellow resurrectionists, lacking such financial wherewithal, were left to rot in jail and sulk.

Cantrell became increasingly indignant at this state of affairs. He found it grossly unfair that he should remain in custody while the men who hired him walked free. He felt they had betrayed him, and he sought revenge. Cantrell announced he would turn State's evidence, and tell all. It was the classic case of a conspirator who vows that if he has to go down, he'll at least have the satisfaction of taking everyone else with him. He told the press that when he testified before the grand jury, he would point the finger at over a dozen more doctors and undertakers, plus a couple of embalmers and additional medical schools that had so far been unimplicated.

These threats seem to have had their effect in certain quarters. We do not know who promised what to Cantrell, but he suddenly lost his zeal for playing super-grass. On January 7, 1903, he sent a letter to a local newspaper stating that he refused to provide further evidence against his old confederates. He would just plead guilty and take his lumps...alone, if it came to that.

This put the prosecution in a bind. Cantrell was the man who, to use the old phrase, "knew where the bodies were buried" (or in this case, of course, not buried,) and without his testimony, they lacked much of a case against the other defendants. Despite this blow, they carried on the following month with the trial of Dr. Alexander. Prosecutors highlighted the fact that several shrouds had been found in the College's basement. At least one was identified as belonging to a recently-buried woman.

When Cantrell took the stand, he said that Alexander had hired him to lead the gang of grave-robbers, at a price of $30 per corpse. (He added the charming detail that on one occasion, he unwittingly dug up the remains of his, Cantrell's, girlfriend--while he was out of town, she had died without his knowledge. He sold the body anyway. After all, love's love, but thirty bucks is thirty bucks.)

Another member of Cantrell's gang stated that in June 1902, Alexander told him that he needed corpses for dissection. He revealed that the doctor would check the lists of the county Board of Health. When he found a recent death, he would tell Cantrell it was time to go to work. A liveryman confirmed that Alexander paid for the vehicles used in the gang's grisly outings. Another witness testified to seeing the body of one Stella Middleton on a dissecting table at the College--at a time when she was supposedly lying in a cemetery. In his defense, all Alexander could do was deny that he knew the bodies he bought from Cantrell were stolen.

Whether Dr. Alexander had amazing hypnotic powers, or the jury was composed entirely of the local village idiots, I do not know. Either way, this defense plea actually worked. After two days of deliberation, the jurors announced they were hopelessly deadlocked. The prosecution, reluctant to let this modern-day Dr. Knox out of their clutches, prepared for a retrial. In the meantime, Cantrell kept himself occupied by testifying before another grand jury, where he provided entertaining and instructive details about a further grave-robbing syndicate, this one in Hamilton County. His information led to eleven more people being arrested. During his stay in Hamilton County, Cantrell earned some pocket money by selling autographed photos of himself to his admiring public.

Cantrell had little reason to be sanguine. The more authorities investigated his doings, the more they began to suspect that grave-robbing had been the least of his gang's crimes. In 1902, a Chinese laundryman named Doc Lung had been decapitated in his own shop. The murder was so far unsolved, but prosecutors came to believe Cantrell knew more about it than he had been letting on. Under interrogation, Cantrell stated that Lung's killer was a confederate of his named Nim Davidson. Davidson was eventually convicted of manslaughter and sent to prison.

Dr. Alexander was to be retried in April 1903. However, the prosecutor, John Ruckelshaus announced that the trial would be postponed indefinitely, thanks to the refusal of Cantrell and his gang to testify. (Rumor had it that the faculty at the Medical College bribed the ghouls into keeping their mouths shut.) Some Indiana residents were so outraged about the good doctor getting off the hook that they burned him in effigy.

When Cantrell himself faced trial in April, he pled not guilty by reason of insanity. Unfortunately, the judge in his case decided that the King of the Ghouls was merely a perfectly sane creep. He found the defendant guilty of grave-robbing and conspiracy to commit a felony. The penalty was up to fourteen years in prison, with a minimum of three. After Cantrell's conviction, his former confederates gave up and pleaded guilty. They were all given various prison sentences.

Not long after he entered prison, Cantrell decided to enliven his enforced vacation by regaling reporters with tales of his exploits. He now claimed that, like the legendary Burke and Hare, his gang simplified their job by occasionally creating their own human merchandise. All in all, he confessed to having been implicated in five murders. Cantrell also took credit for a story I've already covered on this blog: the puzzling case of a woman named Carrie T. Selvage, who disappeared in 1900 while a patient in Union State Hospital. According to Cantrell, he and his gang kidnapped Selvage and held her captive for some weeks, with the intention of eventually selling her corpse. However, when they began to fear she would be discovered, they killed her and hastily placed her body in a grave they had recently emptied. Cantrell refused to say where they had buried her. (As I had noted earlier, in 1920 a skeleton believed to be Selvage's was discovered in the hospital's attic, leaving the question of how it got there an unsolved mystery.) One of Cantrell's old accomplices even claimed that the King of the Ghouls was the leader of a band of hit men called "The Sign of the Cross." When police investigated these lurid stories, they uncovered evidence linking the Cantrell gang to no less than twenty murders. Unfortunately, they were never able to find enough hard evidence to bring any of alleged perpetrators to justice. There were also suspicions that the publicity-loving Cantrell exaggerated the scale of his criminal history. In 1903, it was reported that Cantrell was writing his life story, with the delightful title "Graveyards I Have Robbed," but, alas, I have found no evidence the book was ever published.

Cantrell was paroled in May of 1909, on the condition that he "secure employment and keep away from Indianapolis." Later that year, he married one Hattie Patterson, who was romantically dubbed by newspapers, "The Grave Robber's Bride." The couple moved to Anderson, Indiana, where Cantrell found work at a steel mill. In 1910, he capitalized on his notoriety by appearing on vaudeville, where "The Famous King of the Ghouls" delivered lectures on "his past terrible life." Subsequently, this multi-talented character attended Tuskegee Institute, where he studied medicine and theology. The Reverend Rufus Cantrell became pastor of a Baptist church in Indianapolis. He was dismissed from his post in 1912 as the result of a dispute over Prohibition, thus depriving his flock of what must have been remarkably edifying sermons. He subsequently moved to Ohio, where he spent the rest of his career working at an asphalt company. He continued to preside over revival meetings, which always attracted large crowds. He also earned money as a popular Abraham Lincoln impersonator.

No, seriously.

I regret to say that our hero just could not stay out of trouble. In 1916, he and an accomplice were convicted of "frisking the pockets" of a gospel group in Detroit, and sentenced to two years in jail. After his release, Cantrell returned to the vaudeville stage, where he entertained audiences with tales of his old adventures. He also campaigned on behalf of Woodrow Wilson's presidential campaign, which has to be a high point in the history of celebrity political endorsements. Cantrell was alive as late as 1920, but the date and place of his death is unknown. If the man had any sense for a fitting exit, he would have left his body to some medical school.

Following the Cantrell scandal, Indiana state law was changed to allow medical colleges to have unclaimed bodies for dissection. It was specifically noted that this was done for "the promotion of anatomical science and to prevent grave desecration." Presumably after that, Indiana graveyards became a safer resting place.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Strange Company HQ staffer Mac.  If anyone needs a good Sphinx impersonator, he has very reasonable rates.





Who the hell were the Luwians?

Who the hell was Neil Dovestone?

What the hell is this Viking runestone?

What the hell was the Rendlesham Incident?  (A continuing series, here.)

How the hell did Vincent Van Gogh die?

Watch out for the Wulver!

Watch out for Old Stinker!

Watch out for those paranormal post offices!

Watch out for those Irish shape-shifting turkeys!

Spring-heeled Jack visits Dundee.

Tudor vagabonds.

Early American medical cures.

A pet cemetery fit for a Queen.

The world's last survivor from the 19th century.

A church haunted by a ghostly bird.

The Atlanta file clerk who became pen pals with Flannery O'Connor and Iris Murdoch.

The Dorset ghost of T.E. Lawrence.

The discovery of a secret Mexican tunnel.

14th century weight-loss tips.

The ghost of Lady Lee.

An unusual child-stealing case.

The legend of the madam who turned to stone.

The diary of a young Victorian clerk.

A feast fit for a newly-cornonated king.

Why you might want to reconsider naming your son "John."

Studying a "plague village."

A collection of small, offbeat Australian museums.

The history of aftershave.

The governess' tale.

Bavarian werewolves want you to mind your own business.

The Victorian "solitary vice."

A life-saving luminous entity.

Early 20th century floraphones.

18th century flower power.

The elves of Iceland.

Old cures for hay fever.

The "first Englishman in Japan."

The last king of the Cumbrians.

How astronomy was used to date an ancient poem.

Mesopotamian ghosts.

Orange County ghosts.

Stories involving Bigfoot and Mt. St. Helens.

The latest on the "alien megastructure."

The Sykes-Picot Agreement.

The famous weapon that never existed.

More Bohemian Cats.

A tunnel-loving entomologist.

Rona Barrett, Gossip Queen.

An ancient shipwreck was recently discovered.

Captain Cook's cook.

Victorian female explorers.

That time a Princess met an Empress.

That time two murderers murdered each other.

That time a bunch of schoolkids reburied Liver-Eating Johnson.

That time Missouri went to war against cobras.

That time Satan visited New York.

Relics of ancient humans have been found under a Florida river.

Poland's Holy Sepulchre Guardians.

Sentries and the supernatural.

A puzzling quadruple murder.

The Battle of the Hydaspes.

Regency marriage settlements.

The efforts to develop a photo from a corpse's eye.

The transformation of a transported convict.

An Anglo-Saxon summer.

The real Macbeth.

The Incombustible Man.

The first official royal mistress.

A tale of a Weeping Virgin that ended very badly.

Yet another love triangle that ended very badly.

Some delightful Regency toasts.

The legendary peacock.

In case you're assuming entertainment at the Moulin Rouge was always the height of sophistication, think again.

And it's time to say farewell for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll be doing a bit of grave-robbing. In the meantime, here's the Sir Douglas Quintet:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day



Well, here's a Louisville ghost story that starts off with a bang. From the "Eau Claire Daily Leader," March 25, 1885:
Annie Coleman rushed excitedly into Lucien Alexander's drug store this morning, and threw a small package on the counter. She requested that it be examined, and asked the clerk to tell her what it was.

The clerk, on opening the bundle, found a large black thumb. The relic had been picked up on Congress street, between Eighth and Ninth. After leaving the drug store, Coleman went into Dr. Payton's office and asked his opinion of the fragment of mortality. From there she went to several neighboring places, in all of which she displayed her trophy and solicited opinions.

In an old house on Congress street, between Eighth and Ninth, Annie Coleman and her husband live. Within the last year the woman claims that eight deaths have taken place in their present abode.

The numerous persons deceased conspiring together in the spirit land have determined to render miserable the lives of those now residing in the former home of the departed.

With this idea in her head, Annie very positively asserts that the ghostly visitors have haunted her house steadily for the past four weeks and unlike the ordinary every-day ghost, they kick up as much of a row in daylight as in darkness. As substantial evidence of the truth of what she says Annie produces a number of fingers, toes and ears which she has at various times picked up in a little side alley next to her house. The uneasy spirits who so disturb her began their unseemly conduct just two weeks ago yesterday.

On the morning of that day she found in the side alley a tiny package neatly and securely sewed in silk. Opening it, she discovered two fingers, evidently those of a white person. She told several of her neighbors, who solemnly advised her to bury them. This was done with all the usual ceremonies incident to such an occasion.

A few days later mysterious sounds emanated from the closed doors of closets, and Mariah Brent, another inmate, was startled to find a white form bending over her while at work ironing. Mariah could give no description of the specter, beyond that it was big and white, and she seemed paralyzed by its presence. After this, almost daily, packages were picked up, every one of which contained some portion of a human body, a few fingers, toes, or ears and an occasional nose.

These were all buried with great reverence by the spook-ridden family of Coleman, who hoped eventually in this way to bury the whole of the specters by piecemeal.
I wasn't able to find any more about this story, so I have no idea what happened next. I'm really rather grateful for that.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Last Voyage of the Patanela



It is (relatively speaking) shockingly common for ships to vanish without a trace, but the disappearance of the Patanela has enough oddities about it to make the mystery somewhat unique.

On October 16, 1988, the Patanela, a very well-equipped, even luxurious yacht, set out from Fremantle, Australia for its intended destination of Airlie Beach, Queensland. The 62-foot schooner was carrying the owner, a businessman named Alan Nicol, skipper Ken Jones, and two passengers, Ken's wife Noreen and their daughter Ronnalee. The yacht was in excellent condition and well suited for long journeys. During its history, the Patanela had sailed around the world several times, and even made a voyage to Antarctica. Nicol had only owned the boat for a few months.

Also on board were two sailors, John Blissett and Michael Calvin. They had happened to see the Patanela when it was in the harbor at Fremantle, and so admired the yacht that they asked Nicol for a job. They were both trying to accumulate as many sailing hours as possible in order to get their navigational certificates. Nicol agreed, and took them on as crew.

Nicol only remained aboard for the first leg of the trip. At Esperance, he left the ship to attend to some business. For similar reasons, Ronnalee Jones also disembarked.

The Patanela and its four remaining occupants continued on its way, periodically radioing its position. The trip appeared to be completely placid and uneventful until November 8. At about 1 a.m., a radio operator at the Overseas Telecommunications Commission received a message from the yacht. Ken Jones reported that the ship was 10 miles east of Sydney's Botany Bay. He said they appeared to have run out of fuel. They intended to "tack out" for a couple of hours, then tack back in. He added that in the morning, they may need assistance to get back into Sydney harbor. Jones sounded calm and unconcerned. It was not uncommon for ships to run out of fuel, and the night was calm. Everything seemed routine.

At least, it seemed routine until Jones called a second time about an hour later. Still sounding untroubled, he asked for a weather report, saying that he didn't want to be too far out before coming into the harbor. Then--for reasons no one has been able to understand--he asked for directions to the town of Moruya, on the New South Wales coast. The radio operator replied that the town was about five hours away, and warned Jones that there was a wind warning in his area.

Shortly past 2 a.m., the operator received a third call from the Patanela. This time, there was so much static on the line that it was difficult to make out what Jones was saying. All that could be made out was the skipper saying "Three hundred kilometers south? Is it south? Is it? South..."

Then his voice faded away completely. Those enigmatic words were the last anyone heard of the Patanela.

At this point, no one at the OTC saw any particular reason for concern. It was quite normal for skippers to report that they would be entering the Sydney harbor, and then change their minds and sail elsewhere without bothering to inform the shore station. Everyone, including the Patanela's owner, assumed that Jones had just decided to sail straight for Airlie Beach. But as days went by with no word from the yacht, concern began to grow, especially when Jones' son Peter revealed that he had been unable to reach his father through ship-to-shore radio. November 18, the day when the Patanela had been scheduled to reach Airie Beach, came and went without any sign of the ship. A search was then launched, but by then it was far too late to be of any use. After such a long period of time, the yacht could have been virtually anywhere on--or under--the ocean. It could not even be confirmed that the yacht was truly anywhere near Sydney when Jones sent his last radio messages.

The mystery of the Patanela's whereabouts only deepened when Michael Calvin's father told reporters that three days before the yacht disappeared, he got an unsettling radio call from his son. Michael said only "Hello, Dad." Then the line suddenly went dead. It was also pointed out that the Patanela's large fuel tanks had been filled completely before it set sail, making it extremely unlikely that it could have run out of gas. Could Jones' message that the yacht was out of fuel have been made against his will? Or as a coded plea for help?

There was no evidence pointing to any collision. All 48 vessels known to have been in the area at the time were checked for damage, and none of them carried any sign that they had run into anything. The yacht was made of steel, with several watertight compartments, which made it exceptionally difficult to sink. Also, the yacht was equipped with an emergency radio beacon. If turned on, it could have been picked up by any passing aircraft. It would have beeped for 48 hours after being set off. There was no sign this signal was ever used. The suspicion quickly grew that the yacht was the victim of a hijacking, although that still did not answer the central question: Where was the Patanela?

Nothing more was heard about the yacht until May 9, 1989, when a fisherman off the coast of Terrigal (about thirty miles north of Sydney,) discovered a barnacle-covered lifebuoy. It bore the name "Patanela." Tests determined that the buoy could not have been in the water longer than a month, suggesting that the yacht was still afloat somewhere six months after it had disappeared.

Although--as is typical with any highly publicized disappearance--numerous "sightings" of the Patanela were reported around the globe, they all failed to lead investigators to the missing yacht. To date, it is anyone's guess what happened to the ship and its four inhabitants.

Predictably, there has been no shortage of theories. Was it accidentally sunk by a collision with a Russian spy submarine? Or by an uncharted reef? Was it hijacked by arms dealers, drug-runners, or other types of modern pirates?

The inquest into the disappearance failed to shed any light on the mystery. No evidence was found to support the idea that the Patanela had been hijacked. Although there was an equal lack of proof (other than the lifebuoy) that the yacht had sunk, officials could only propose that the Patanela was the victim of a maritime "hit-and-run": it had gone to the bottom of the ocean after colliding with a tanker or some equally large vessel. However, they admitted that this still did not explain the lack of any wreckage and the puzzling calls made by the skipper and Michael Calvin.

In 2008, there was one sad footnote to this story. A woman visiting a remote beach in West Australia found a bottle washed up on the shore. It contained a message the young crewman John Blissett had written aboard the Patanela on October 26, 1988--less than two weeks before the ship disappeared. It read, "Hi there. Out here in the lonely Southern Ocean and thought we would give away a free holiday in the Whitsunday Islands in north Queensland, Australia. Our ship is travelling from Fremantle, Western Aust, to Queensland to work as a charter vessel." The note gave a phone number for the finder to call and claim their prize.

The note closed with a lighthearted "See ya soon!"

To date, the fate of the Patanela still remains one of Australia's great sea mysteries.

[Note: The yacht's name only adds to the eerieness of this story. The name was chosen by the ship's original owner, Phil Waterworth, who assumed it was an Aboriginal word for a protective god. Then, in 1964, a group of scientists who were chartering the Patanela for an expedition did a little research and concluded that the name actually meant "Storm Spirit."

As it happened, they were all wrong. "Patanela," you see, is really another word for "Devil."]

Friday, May 13, 2016

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is proud to be sponsored by Strange Company HQ staffer Ernie, the original Slenderman.




What the hell was the Monster of Glamis?

What the hell was Rudolf Hess up to?

Watch out for those poltergeist wood chips!

Watch out for those plum stones!

Watch out for those thirsty ghosts!

The Case of the Exploding Bookcase.

Victorian child-care tips.

Victorian cat funerals.

News coverage of Napoleon's death.

The history of nursery rhyme cats.

How to grow your own medieval herb garden.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt's archaeologists?

Interesting article about one man's very curious self-help treatment.  (It's not recommended that you read this while eating.)

Boarding schools as vehicles for social climbing.

Child Shakespeare Press Gangs.

A new look at the '45 Rebellion.

A tribute to Edward Lear.

Colorized photos of 19th century China.

The discovery of an ancient statue.

A 1st century B.C. haunted bathhouse.

The mystery of the levitating monk.

The mystery of living cadavers.

Diet and health in the Victorian era.

The Derbyshire Damsel:  a 17th century medical marvel.

An 1809 microcosm of London.

Making boring interesting.

That time Mark Twain met an Empress.

The plague oak of Wrexham.

The most diary-oriented family in history.

How a penguin became the head of Norway's Royal Guard.

The Khaksar movement.

Rudolph Valentino gives some post-mortem interviews.

John F. Kennedy does some post-mortem movie viewing.

John Wilkes Booth does some post-mortem preaching.

Handwriting as social code.

Regency dancing as social code.

A mystical mathematician.

A bit of vintage doctor humor.

That time a drinking spree kept England from being invaded.

The life and death of a famed stagecoach driver.

The fashionable side of tuberculosis.

There will always be new Jack the Ripper suspects, and new attempts to uncover the Man in the Iron Mask.

A 1906 virtual reality tour.

The man who brought science fiction magazines to America.

Why Tudor church reform was more interesting than you'd think.

A gruesome murder of a mother.

A still-unsolved Spanish murder case.

Bohemian cats of New York.

Trying to make sense of the medieval dancing mania.

The first tornado chasers.

Mummies in tartan.

The art of bookplates.

Spitalfields' Jack Sheppard.

Folklore and medicine.

Celebrate the hedgehog!

19th century children of the 1%.

Hi, Mummy!

Exploring underwater Egyptian cities.

And we're outta here for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at an Australian sea mystery. In the meantime, here are some eagles and horses.