Monday, January 21, 2019
This week's forecast for Strange Company HQ: mostly cloudy with a strong chance of malevolent goblins.
The following details of one Scottish Highlander's brush with The Weird comes from two published sources: "The Gael," (volume 6, 1877,) and the Rev. A. Maclean Sinclair's "Glenhard Collection of Gaelic Poetry." (Sinclair received his information from a man whose grandfather had personal involvement with the story.)
In the mid 1700s there lived in Lochaber one Donald Bán, who, for very good reasons, became renowned as "Donald Bán of the Goblin" [or "Bócan," to use the native tongue.] Donald, we are informed, was no stranger to the supernatural. A cousin of his mother's had been carried away by the fairies, and one night Donald himself saw this lost relation among the fairy folk, "dancing as hard as he could." On another occasion, Donald was out hunting, when he noticed a man on the back of a deer climbing a large rock. "Home, Donald Bán," the man instructed him. Donald heeded this advice, fortunately for him. That night, eleven feet of snow fell on the place where he had planned to camp. Such encounters were merely an opening act for a spectacularly strange episode in his life.
The details of Donald Bán's initial encounter with his goblin are lost to history. The source material contents itself with the majestic, if enigmatic, line, "It was on the hill that Donald first met with the Bócan." Who--or what--the Bócan was also unrecorded. Some proposed that the being was a servant of Donald's who had been killed when he and his master fought in the battle of Culloden. Apparently, this "gille" had once given a poverty-stricken neighbor more assistance than his master approved of. The two quarreled over this excessive generosity, causing the "gille" to vow, "I will be avenged for this, alive or dead."
The one thing that can be said for certain about the Bócan was that it was a thoroughgoing paranormal pain in the neck. The goblin physically injured Donald Bán and his family. It ruined the household's food supplies. For whatever reason, the butter was a particular target of the being's wrath, despite all efforts to preserve it. We are told that on one occasion, one Ronald of Aberadair tried to keep his butter clean by holding his bonnet over it, and carrying his dirk in his hand (presumably to fend off the goblin,) but by the time he reached the table, the butter had magically been dirtied. At night, no one could sleep due to the goblin's penchant for stone-throwing: "the Bócan was throwing things out of the walls, and they would hear them rattling at the head of Donald's bed." When Angus mac Alister Bán (the grandfather of Sinclair's informant) spent the night at Donald's home, he received a very rude welcome: "Something seized his two big toes, and he could not get free any more than if he had been caught by the smith's tongs. He could not get moved. It was the Bócan, but he did nothing more to him." All of Lochaber, it seems, witnessed the goblin's many destructive pranks, although no one, not even Donald himself, ever actually saw their tormentor.
Donald and his family became so weary of this supernatural persecution that they decided to move to another house, hoping that the goblin would be content to stay behind. They took with them all their possessions except a harrow, which was left by the side of the house. However, as they began traveling along the road, they spied the harrow...following them. "Stop, stop," sighed Donald. "If the harrow is coming after us we may as well go back again." And so they did.
The goblin had a special animus towards Donald's wife. Although it never gave its reasons for this spite--imps, fairies and the like have never felt the need to justify themselves--it may have been because she belonged to the clan MacGregor. One night, the goblin went to the roof of the house and cried, "Are you asleep, Donald Bán?"
"Not just now," his host replied.
"Put out that long grey tether, the MacGregor wife."
"I don't think I'll do it tonight," said Donald.
"Come out yourself, then, and leave your bonnet."
Donald's wife whispered to him, "Won't you ask at him when the Prince will come?"
No sooner had she said these words that the goblin snapped, "Didn't you get enough of him before, you grey tether?"
No matter how uninvited or unpleasant they may be, all houseguests eventually leave. One night, the goblin bid the family farewell. As the Rev. Sinclair described it, "The last night that the Bócan came he was saying that such and such other spirits were along with him. Donald's wife said to her husband, 'I should think that if they were along with him they would speak to us.' The Bócan answered, 'They are no more able to speak than the sole of your foot.' 'Come out here, Donald Bán,' said the Bócan. 'I will,' said Donald, 'and thanks be to the good Being that you have asked me.' Donald was going out, and taking his dirk along with him. 'Leave your dirk inside, Donald,' said the Bócan, 'and your knife as well.' Donald went out, and he and the Bócan went through Acha-nan-Comhachan by night, and on through rivers and a birch-wood for about three miles till they reached the stream of the Fert. When they got to this the Bócan showed him a hole where he had hid plough-irons while he was alive. While Donald was taking the plough-irons out of the hole the two eyes of the Bócan were putting more fear on him than anything else he ever heard or saw. When he had got the irons, they went home to Mounessie, himself and the Bócan, and parted that night at the house of Donald Bán."
There is a poetic footnote to this little tale. During the period when Donald was troubled by his pesky visitor, he wrote a hymn which, happily, has been preserved for posterity:
O God that created me so helpless,
Strengthen my belief and make it firm.
Command an angel to come from Paradise
And take up his abode in my dwelling,
To protect me from every trouble
That wicked folks are putting in my way;
Jesus that didst suffer thy crucifixion,
Restrain their doings, and be with me thyself.
Little wonder though I am thoughtful--
Always at the time when I go to bed
The stones and the clods will arise--
How could a saint get sleep there!
I am without peace or rest,
Without repose or sleep till the morning;
O thou that art in the throne of grace,
Behold my treatment and be a guard to me.
Little wonder though I am troubled,
So many stories about me in every place,
Some that are unjust will be saying
"It is all owing to himself, that affair."
Judge not except as you know,
Though the Son of God were awaking you;
No one knows if I have deserved more
Than a rich man that is without care.
Although I am in trouble at this time,
Verily, I shall be doubly repaid,
When the call comes to me from my Saviour
I shall receive mercy and new grace;
I fear no more vexation
When I ascend to be with thy saints;
O thou that sittest on the throne
Assist my speaking and accept my prayer.
O God, make me mindful
Night and day to be praying,
Seeking pardon richly
For what I have done, on my knees.
Stir with the Spirit of Truth
True repentance in my bosom,
That when thou dost send death to seek me,
Christ may take care of me.
Thus ends our brief look at typical domestic life in 18th century Scotland.
Friday, January 18, 2019
This week's Link Dump is sponsored by a celebrity feline: Virginia Woolf's Sappho. (Woolf herself took this photo.)
Who the hell shot John Meierhoffer?
What the hell was life like in ancient Mongolia?
Where the hell is Glenn Miller's plane?
Watch out for the radiant boys!
The case of the disappearing pond.
Thomas Rees, demented, happy and useful.
A cotton seed on the Moon.
Folklore of the Oaxacan ruins.
The riverfront gardens near the Taj Mahal.
What you could--and could not--wear in 17th century Lisbon.
It's not necessarily a good idea to let the government know you're interested in UFOs.
The nurse and the ghost.
Carriages drawn by kites.
19th century cat games.
The world's oldest melody.
The world as Xenophon saw it.
A Russian coachman at Chatsworth House.
Why you'll have a problem building a time machine.
Prohibition and the U.S. Army.
How we are becoming slaves to Big Tech.
William Leftwich's ice well.
The best-selling books, 1830-1930.
Boston's Great Molasses Flood.
Britain's worst ice skating tragedy.
Death Masks of the Rich and Famous.
Artist manages to recreate Hell in the middle of the Namibia desert.
A look at Wren's model of St. Paul's cathedral.
The wonderful weirdness of Edward Gorey.
The mysterious language of the Indus Valley civilization.
The life of the Duchess of Wellington.
Reminiscences of a Civil War veteran.
An 1,800 year old homework assignment.
The mystery of Algeria's pyramid tombs.
The hazards of being an ex-Haitian president.
My new favorite conspiracy theory.
Was it murder? Or spontaneous human combustion?
One really awe-inspiring cabinet:
An eyewitness account of the 1780 Gordon Riots.
Women and the Crusades.
A controversial human skull.
Porcelain and Madame de Pompadour.
Why you might not want to move to Dryden, New York.
Atlantis and the Bimini Wall.
The wonders of Kirby's Eccentric Museum.
A Norwegian doppelganger in Ireland.
That's the last of this week's links. See you on Monday, when we'll visit a Scottish goblin. In the meantime, let us end with the sound of trumpets.
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
This account of a particularly sinister haunting appeared in the "Pittsburgh Press," October 12, 1913:
Paris. Oct. 11.--Following the brutal murder at Avignon of a young girl by her brother and sister because they thought her possessed of demons, comes a harrowing tale from Brittany where a terrible spook with an "evil eye" has cast consternation over an entire community.
So much havoc has been wrought by the dreaded ghost that the authorities are taking a hand. An investigation is on.
The Croguennecs, consisting of father, mother, two daughters and two sons, are a well-to-do family owning considerable lands in and about the village of Borgne-Kerranborn. Suddenly their corn dried up on the stalk while a neighbor's corn in adjacent fields flourished to an unusual degree. A strange hand bridled the horses in the dead of night and morning found them covered with lather and almost dead from fatigue. No amount of watching appeared to do an good, while the head of the family, who had been constantly on watch, died suddenly of a strange and malignant disease. He had never been sick a day before in his life.
The day of the wedding of the eldest daughter, the finest horse on the place died without warning. Later, the herd of cattle known all over Brittany for their breeding qualities, became sterile.
Night after night the family went through an inferno of fear; strange noises were heard in every room in the house. A tempest seemed to be blowing outside, the wind shrieking like a million demons, yet the stars were out and the leaves of the trees never stirred. Chains rattled and clanked, and groans came from the chimneys, and every morning it was found that the heaviest furniture in the house had been moved about helter skelter.
In mortal terror, the two sons visited the neighborhood sorceress, but she could not explain the mystery. M. and Mme. Nicholas, a couple living in the neighborhood, came to live with the Croguennecs. to be company for them, but they became so frightened at the seemingly supernatural manifestations that they left the place immediately. Then they both died, suddenly.
Locks on barns seemed no obstacle, for the cattle and horses, securely locked in at night, in the morning were scattered all over the farm, wandering uneasily up and down lanes.
Then, one day Francois Marie Croguennec. one of the sons and as strong as an ox. was assailed in broad open daylight by something or somebody whom he claims he did not see. His back was wrenched so that he is an invalid for life, his nerves shattered.
Finally Alexandrine, one of the daughters, went insane from fear and is now in a madhouse.
Francois Marie Croguennec told an interviewer that the "evil eye" had been on his family for six years, ever since the death of an old aunt who had left them their fortune. Some of the neighbors claim the spirit of the aged woman is wrecking vengeance on the family because of the way they misuse her money. On the other hand the authorities are inclined to believe something more substantial than a ghost is at work on the Croguennec farm, and with this theory in mind the gendarmes are investigating.
There was an article in the July 26, 1913 issue of "Le Matin" which appears to give substantially the same information as the above item. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find anything more about this eerie story.
Monday, January 14, 2019
Gabriel Syveton (1864-1904) was one of the more controversial French politicians of his day. The co-founder of the Nationalist group Ligue de la Patrie Francaise was a hero to his allies and a nuisance to just about everyone else. Early in 1904, he got into a public altercation with the war minister Louis Andre over Andre's efforts to purge the army of officers considered to be disloyal to the Republic. The war minister had gone so far as to gather information on officers' religious practices and beliefs, reportedly with the help of the Masonic Grand Orient, which for some time had been keeping dossiers on this subject. Syveton had managed to acquire many of these files, which gave his party everything they needed to promote a full-fledged scandal with all the anti-Masonic trimmings. The uproar over the revelations forced Andre to resign. The anti-government atmosphere became so heated that on November 4, Syveton publicly slapped Andre on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies.
With this act, the triumphant Syveton went too far. This physical attack got Syveton suspended from parliament, and he was ordered to stand trial on December 9. The government was in a tricky position. If they failed to convict Syveton, it would support his charges against the government, and the Ministry would soon find themselves superseded by the Nationalists. But Syveton was a popular figure to much of the nation, and the idol of his party. Many saw him as a martyr, another Dreyfus. The smart money in Paris was betting on an acquittal.
Both publicly and privately, Syveton was unbowed. He showed great confidence that he would ultimately be exonerated, and threatened that he had even more shocking information to reveal. Unfortunately, we will never know if he was correct. For on the eve of his trial, he died.
At about 3 pm on the 8th, Syveton's wife Marie summoned a Dr. Thoimer, Gabriel's friend and doctor, to their home. The doctor found Syveton sprawled on the floor of his study, unconscious from the fumes of gas from the charcoal stove in the room. He died an hour later.
Madame Syveton's story was that during the day, her husband had numerous callers, the last of whom left at about 1 p.m. After not seeing or hearing anything from Syveton for two hours, she went to check on him, and found him dying in this gas-filled room.
However, it was immediately noted that there were several odd things about the death scene. For one thing, by the time the police arrived at the Syveton house, the gas taps were turned off. (Madame Syveton explained that she had automatically turned them off when she first entered the room.) For another, the door to the study was not locked from the inside. There was a freshly-filled pipe and a loaded gun lying near the body. Two friends of Syveton's did a little amateur sleuthing, and discovered that the pipe of the stove was plugged with a copy of that day's newspaper. This was no accidental death. But was it suicide or murder?
An autopsy ruled that Syveton had died of carbon monoxide poisoning, and the death was officially dismissed as a suicide. Despite his outward show of bravado, the police shrugged, he could not face the shame of standing trial, not to mention the permanent disgrace if he were to be convicted, so he took the easy way out.
This statement gained some credence when Marie Syveton, curiously eager to promote the idea that her husband killed himself, shared lurid details about the dead man's personal life. "On the morning of the day of my husband's death," she told authorities, "I discovered cause for leaving him. I mentioned the name of a woman, and he understood. He pleaded for forgiveness, saying that only my love could save him. I announced to him that I should insist on a separation. When I next saw him at 3 o'clock in his study he was dying."
It soon emerged that the woman Marie was referring to was her own daughter from a previous marriage, Marguerite Menard. According to some versions of the story, Syveton and his stepdaughter had been lovers. According to others, Syveton had raped the beautiful young woman. Whatever the truth about their relationship may have been, Marie Syveton made it clear that she believed the threat of his sordid behavior becoming public knowledge led Gabriel to end it all.
It did not seem to occur to Madame Syveton that in seeking to bolster the suicide theory, she was also suggesting an excellent motive for her to murder her husband. Some of the Paris newspapers went even further, alleging that she was part of a circle of wives of rich and important men who were insuring their husband's lives for large amounts of money, and then killing them. One of the inaugural victims, these papers declared, was Marie's first husband. The Widow Syveton, of course, angrily denied these reports--although she had to admit that both her husbands had been heavily insured.
The government, for their part, insisted that Syveton had committed suicide not merely because of his disgraceful personal life, but as a result of his professional chicaneries. They claimed that he had embezzled large sums of money entrusted to him by his party. Syveton's supporters heatedly denied these claims, proclaiming that "They have slain Syveton, and would now assassinate his character!"
The pro-Syveton party continued to insist that he had been murdered. To bolster their belief that Syveton had not committed suicide, they pointed to his blithe confidence in being exonerated. They asserted that Syveton's stepdaughter was of very dubious morals, and that she had simply invented the tale of being raped. It was surely suspicious, they noted, that Marguerite and her mother both claimed to have had "premonitions" of his death. There were experts who stated that Syveton could not have died in the room and in the position where he was found. And, of course, there was the fact that Syveton's life had been insured for 150,000 francs, all of which went to his wife.
Syveton's father and brother-in-law publicly accused Marie of murdering her husband, and demanded a second, more impartial investigation. Their pleas were refused, and Syveton's enigmatic end was allowed to fade into history.
So, was Gabriel Syveton's death suicide? A political assassination? A family murder? It says much about this strange case that equally solid arguments have been made for all of these theories.
Friday, January 11, 2019
This week's Link Dump is hosting a slumber party!
Where the hell is Napoleon's gold?
Who the hell was the Strawberry Girl?
What the hell is the Stone Head of Salaspils?
What the hell was the first shot of the Civil War? It may not have been what we think.
Watch out for that Magellanic Cloud!
The birth of 19th century spiritualism.
Victorians worried a lot about being cremated alive. Possibly not without reason.
How did Alexander Hamilton get along with the first five presidents? (Spoiler: Not well.)
Earth's magnetic field is going nuts, which may explain a lot about current events.
The battle to raise the Vasa.
The life of Mary, Countess of Elgin.
The first dentures.
A woman's life in an early 20th century circus.
A brief look at buffalo history.
Insert your favorite "I'm not saying it's aliens, but..." joke here.
The lost world of Spitalfields alleys.
You've heard of the first test tube baby? Meet the first London Tube baby.
The fascinating world of Cornish folklore.
The weird world of 18th century wigs and beards.
The Case of the Viking Bodysnatching.
A mysterious man's mysterious death.
Edgar Cayce, Atlantis, and the blue stone.
The horrors of editing Marcel Proust.
The true work of the "cunning-folk."
A mysterious genetic disease that affects only one known family.
1000-year-old teeth give a clue about medieval manuscripts.
What it was like being a servant at Chatsworth House.
The courtesan and the abolitionist: a love story.
The death of a conspiracy theorist sparks--wait for it!-- conspiracy theories.
The power of eye contact.
The death of the world's first communist.
An inexplicable family tragedy.
Charlie Chaplin in the East End.
A new documentary dealing with Appalachian Weird. There's quite a bit of it, evidently.
The case of the pin-swallowing child.
If you wanted to see what your neighborhood looked like 20 million years ago, have I got the map for you.
Tools of the executioner.
Seeking immortality can be the death of you.
For those of you keeping score, yes, human feet are still popping up all along the Pacific Northwest.
George Washington faces an assassination plot.
The last Royal Navy sailor hanged for sodomy.
John Power didn't hang. Unfortunately.
A look at London's lost ice house.
Uncovering an early--very, very early--political assassination.
Mt. Penn's odd fire tower.
Philip K. Dick, call your office.
The earliest known texts dealing with the invention of writing.
This week in Russian Weird looks at the world's worst doll maker.
Why the first balloonists to cross the English Channel did so without their pants.
A mesmerizing little video of snow falling on an Alaskan sea:
Why scientists in India are dissing Einstein.
The White Lady of Greenwich Street.
The history of the Baddeley Cake.
What may be the world's most beautiful bookstore.
The tragic end of Greenpoint Jerry.
The tragic end of a lion tamer.
That's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at the strange death of a French politician. Until then, here's some vintage Linda.
Wednesday, January 9, 2019
From my "mini mysteries" file, here is a peculiar disappearance recorded in the (Munster, Indiana) "Times," April 14, 1960:
Jacksonville, Ill.--A year ago today a 57-year-old New England stock broker, wearing green pajamas, mysteriously vanished from a Jacksonville motel.This brief article contains virtually all that is known for certain about Campbell's disappearance. As far as I can tell, no trace of him, alive or dead, has ever been found.
That's the last ever heard of him.
Bruce Campbell and his wife had driven from Northampton, Mass., to visit their son, Bruce Jr., assistant professor of chemistry at MacMurray College, and his family in Jacksonville. Campbell, tired from the drive, was treated for two days before his disappearance by a physician in the couple's motel room.
His son remembers his father was "rational but disoriented" the last evening he saw him.
Mrs. Campbell said her husband asked her during the night whether their station wagon was locked and she assured him that it was. She said she awoke again at 2:15 a.m. and he was gone.
His disappearance touched off a search by police, MacMurray students and Boy Scouts that lasted for weeks. Theories of murder, suicide and amnesia led the searchers to Mauvaisterre Creek, farm buildings and wells. No clue was found.
Mrs. Campbell and her son still cherish hopes that Campbell will be found alive. Campbell was described as 6-3, 160 pounds, bald and walked with a slight limp. When he vanished he was wearing bright green pajamas, a wrist watch and a ring with a Delta Upsilon fraternity crest. None of his other belongings were taken from the motel room.
Monday, January 7, 2019
For those who assert there is such a thing as genuine poltergeist activity (as opposed to the skeptics who attribute it all to natural phenomena, over-imagination or hoaxes) the question becomes: "What is a poltergeist, anyway?" Believers fall into, roughly speaking, two different camps: some posit that polts are independent spirit beings--ghosts with a taste for nasty practical jokes. Others are of the opinion that what we are dealing with are manifestations unwittingly created by the troubled emotions of some member of the affected household--usually a child or teenager.
That debate will likely never be solved on this side of the grave. However, famed ghost researcher Harry Price recorded one English "poltergeist" case which strongly suggests that these "spirits" or "demons" are evidence of the awesome and little-understood power of our subconscious minds.
The story centers around the family of a Sutherland doctor named Wilkins. In 1940, Wilkins' 19-year-old daughter Olive became engaged to a young flight lieutenant in the RAF. Her parents were not in favor of the match. Although they had nothing against her beau, Dr. and Mrs. Wilkins felt Olive was too young for marriage. Even more seriously, the current war meant that odds were good their daughter might soon go from bride to widow. In the end, however, the course of true love ran smoothly and the young couple married in the fall of 1941.
The newlyweds settled in a rented flat near the Wilkins home, and Olive found work as a secretary. When her lieutenant was on duty, Olive spent much of her time with her parents. She had left many of her belongings in her old bedroom, so the Wilkinses must have often felt like Olive had never left home at all.
On February 26, 1942, Mrs. Wilkins borrowed a pin from her daughter's room. After being out for the day, Mrs. Wilkins came home and went back to Olive's room to return the pin. She was stunned to find the bedspread carefully turned down. She had not touched the bed all day, and she knew no one else had been in the house.
Three days later, Mrs. Wilkins was in the kitchen. She heard the front door open, followed by the unmistakable sound of Dr. Wilkins's footsteps, along with the clicking of her daughter's high heels. She was surprised to see only her husband enter the room.
"Where is Olive?" she asked.
"I don't know," he replied. Dr. Wilkins had come in alone, and had not heard the second pair of footsteps.
Four days after this, Mrs. Wilkins noticed that Olive's bed was mussed up, as if someone had been sleeping in it. A short time later, one of Olive's books had mysteriously been taken from the bookcase and left open on the windowsill. A week later, Mrs. Wilkins again heard the front door opening, followed by footsteps in the hallway. This time, she heard only one set of footsteps: Olive's. The steps went upstairs, and into Olive's room. Then, the steps went into the bathroom, where after a moment, Mrs. Wilkins heard the toilet flush. Then, there was silence. Mrs. Wilkins went upstairs, only to find no one there. When Dr. Wilkins came home, his wife told him her strange story. He went over to Olive's flat. She stated that she had not been to her parents' house all day.
The next few weeks saw two important events: Olive announced that she was pregnant, and her husband was posted overseas. As Olive's pregnancy advanced, so did the weird paranormal activity in her old home. Olive's former bed would not stay fixed. Mrs. Wilkins was constantly finding the bedclothes rumpled, or folded neatly down, or stripped from the bed altogether. Olive's dresser drawers were frequently found open, with the contents placed on the bed. It was now a regular event for Mrs. Wilkins to hear what she swore were the sounds of Olive opening the front door and walking up the stairs and into her old bedroom. When Mrs. Wilkins would go investigate, the footsteps immediately stopped. One day, Mrs. Wilkins arrived home to find that a photograph of Olive that was normally kept on the dining room mantelpiece had been placed on the table. Mrs. Wilkins, fearing this was some sort of bad omen, immediately called her daughter's workplace. She was told that Olive had unexpectedly gone into labor, and had been taken to the hospital.
Happily, Olive was safely delivered of a healthy girl, whom she named Enid. The baby's arrival simultaneously marked the end of the paranormal activity that had plagued the Wilkins home. The "poltergeist"--or whatever one cares to call it--was gone for good.
There was an obvious link between the Fortean events and Olive's marriage and pregnancy, but what did it all mean? Did Mrs. Wilkins' natural anxiety about her daughter, and desire to have her back home, cause her subconscious to create a "phantom Olive" who never married and left the family nest? Or were they manifested by Olive herself? Forced to deal with the combined stress of a husband in active service and her first pregnancy, did she secretly long for her more carefree unmarried life?
The Wilkins case is a perfect illustration of how "poltergeist activity" is virtually impossible to categorize, let alone understand.