"...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

Monday, July 15, 2024

The Specters of the Tower: A Tale Told in Letters

19th century illustration of the Jewel House



In August 1860, a correspondent who signed his name only as “K.B.” sent a brief question to the magazine, “Notes & Queries.”  He asked, “Is there not a ghost story connected to the Tower of London, and what is it?  Has not the ghost, or appearance, been seen once at least during this century, and with fatal results?”

Little did “K.B.” know that this innocent query would soon open a Pandora’s Box of The Weird.  Over the following year, the magazine received a flurry of responses attesting to the fact that, yes, the Tower is one very strange place.  One account in particular can not even be called, strictly speaking, a “ghost story”--in fact, you’d have to label it as simply “uncategorizable.”  These tales of the “Tower ghost” have long achieved a certain fame in Fortean circles, so apologies if this is old news to some of you, but I couldn’t resist publishing them on this blog as well, simply because they’re so dang peculiar.

The fun started with a letter from one Edmund Lenthal Swifte:

I have often purposed to leave behind me a faithful record of all that I personally know of this strange story, and K. B.'s enquiry now puts me upon consigning it to the general repertory of Notes and Queries. Forty-three years have passed, and its impression is as vividly before me as on the moment of its occurrence. 'Anecdotage,' said Wilkes, 'is an old man's dotage,' and at 83 I may be suspected of lapsing into omissions or exaggerations; but there are yet survivors who can testify that I have not at any time either amplified or abridged my ghostly experiences.

In 1814 I was appointed Keeper of the Crown Jewels in the Tower, where I resided with my family till my retirement in 1852. One Saturday night in October, 1817, about the ‘witching hour,' I was at supper with my then wife, our little boy, and her sister, in the sitting room of the Jewel House, which then--comparatively modernised--is said to have been the 'doleful prison' of Anna Boleyn, and of the ten bishops whom Oliver Cromwell piously accommodated therein. For an accurate picture of the locus in quo my scene is laid, I refer to George Cruikshank's woodcut in p. 384 of Ainsworth's Tower of London, and I am persuaded that my gallant successor in office, Colonel Wyndham, will not refute its collation with my statement.

The room was, as it still is, irregularly shaped, having three doors and two windows, which last are cut nearly 9 feet deep into the outer wall; between these is a chimney-piece projecting far into the room, and (then) surmounted with a large oil picture. On the night in question the doors were all closed, heavy and dark cloth curtains were let down over the windows, and the only light in the room was that of two candles on the table. I sat at the foot of the table, my son on my right hand, his mother fronting the chimney-piece, and her sister on the opposite side. I had offered a glass of wine and water to my wife, when, on putting it to her lips, she paused, and exclaimed, ‘Good God! what is that?' I looked up, and saw a cylindrical figure, like a glass tube, seemingly about the thickness of my arm, and hovering between the ceiling and the table; its contents appeared to be a dense fluid, white and pale azure, like to the gathering of a summer cloud, and incessantly rolling and mingling within the cylinder. This lasted about two minutes, when it began slowly to move before my sister-in-law, then, following the oblong shape of the table, before my son and myself; passing behind my wife, it paused for a moment over her right shoulder (observe, there was no mirror opposite to her in which she could then behold it). Instantly she crouched down, and with both hands covering her shoulder, she shrieked out, ‘Oh, Christ! it has seized me!’ Even now, while writing, I feel the fresh horror of that moment. I caught up my chair, struck at the wainscot behind her, rushed up stairs to the other children's room, and told the terrified nurse what I had seen. Meanwhile, the other domestics had hurried into the parlour, where their mistress recounted to them the scene, even as I was detailing it above stairs.

The marvel--some will say the absurdity--of all this is enhanced by the fact that neither my sister-in-law nor my son beheld this ‘appearance,' as K. B. rightly terms it, though to their mortal vision it was as apparent as to my wife's and mine. When I the next morning related the night's horrors to our chaplain, after the service in the Tower Church, he asked me, ‘Might not one person have his natural senses deceived? And if one, why might not two?' My answer was, 'If two, why not two thousand?' an argument which would reduce history, secular or sacred, to a fable. But why should I here discuss things not dreamed of in our philosophy?

I am bound to add, that shortly before this strange event, some young lady-residents in the Tower had been, I know not wherefore, suspected of making phantasmagorial experiments at their windows, which, be it observed, had no command whatever on any windows in my dwelling. An additional sentry was accordingly posted, so as to overlook any such attempt.

Happen, however, as it might, following hard at heel the visitation of my household, one of the night sentries at the Jewel Office was, as he said, alarmed by a figure like a huge bear issuing from underneath the door; he thrust at it with his bayonet, which stuck in the door, even as my chair dinted the wainscot; he dropped in a fit, and was carried senseless to the guard room. His fellow-sentry declared that the man was neither asleep nor drunk, he himself having seen him the moment before awake and sober. Of all this, I avouch nothing more than that I saw the poor man in the guard-house prostrated with terror, and that in two or three days the 'fatal result,' be it of fact or of fancy, was that he died.

My story may claim more space than Notes and Queries can afford; desiring to be circumstantial, I have been diffuse.

This I leave to the Editor's discretion; let it only be understood, that to all which I have herein set forth as seen by myself, I absolutely pledge my faith and my honour.

EDMUND LENTHAL SWIFTE.

Swifte’s letter inspired a follow-up:

This unfortunate affair took place in January, 1816, and shows the extreme folly of attempting to frighten with the shade of a supernatural appearance the bravest of men. Before the burning of the armouries there was a paved yard in front of the Jewel House, from which a gloomy and ghost-like doorway led down a flight of steps to the Mint. Some strange noises were heard in this gloomy corner, and on a dark night at twelve the sentry saw a figure like a bear cross the pavement and disappear down the steps; this so terrified him that he fell, and in a few hours, after having recovered sufficiently to tell the tale, he died. It was fully believed to have arisen from phantasmagoria, and the governor, with the colonel of the regiment, doubled the sentry, and used such energetic precautions that no more ghosts haunted the Tower from that time. The soldier bore a high character for bravery and good conduct. I was then in my 30th year, and was present when his body was buried with military honours in the Flemish burial ground, St. Catherine's.

GEORGE OFFOR.

Swifte then replied:

Could I, by referring to circumstances of that period, have satisfied myself on Mr. Offor's dates, I would readily acknowledge their correctness, but on other points he is certainly mistaken. The Jewel House guard had been doubled before that fearful night—and, therefore, nec post nec propter, hâc—for the surer supervising the phantasmagorial pranks which some fair neighbours of ours were suspected of playing. When on the morrow I saw the unfortunate soldier in the mainguard-room his fellow-sentinel was also there, and testified to having seen him on his post just before the alarm, awake and alert, and even spoken to him. Moreover, as I then heard the poor man tell his own story, the 'figure' did not cross the pavement and disappear down the steps' of the sally-port, but issued from underneath the Jewel Room door-as ghostly a door, indeed, as ever was opened to or closed on a doomed man; placed, too, beneath a stone archway as utterly out of the reach of my young friends' apparatus (if any such they had) as were my windows.

I saw him once again on the following day, but changed beyond my recognition; in another day or two, not in a few hours, the brave and steady soldier, who would have mounted a breach or led a forlorn hope with unshaken nerves, died at the presence of a shadow, as the weakest woman might have died.

A moment's recurrence to my own personal adventure. Our chaplain suggested the possibility of some such foolery having been intromitted at my windows, and proposed the visit of a scientific friend, who minutely inspected the parlour, and made the closest investigation, but could not in any way solve the mystery. Subsequently, a professor of the Black Art favoured me with a call, and undertook to produce my cylindrical figure, or serpents on the ceiling, or any other appearance which I should bespeak, provided that he might have his own apparatus on the table, or (with the curtains drawn back) on the seven-gun battery immediately fronting the window, and where, by-the-bye, a sentry is posted night and day. His provisoes were of course declined, and the wizard acknowledged that of himself he was no conjuror.

Sir John Reresby, who was Governor of York Castle, records in his Memoirs, that one of the night sentries was grieviously alarmed by the appearance of a huge black animal issuing upon him from underneath a door in the castle. I have not my copy at hand to transcribe the passage; but the volume itself is not very difficult of reference.

Others soon joined the chorus:

Is Colonel Swifte aware of the publication made by Dr. Wm. Gregory in his Letters on Animal Magnetism, London, 1851, p. 494. &c.? There are circumstances mentioned in this account, certainly not obtained directly from Col. S. (as he is called) on which I think it very desirable, after his full account, that his comment should be made. Such are-the court-martial held on the soldier-his acquittal by means of Colonel Swifte's evidence that he was not asleep, but had been singing a minute or two before the occurrence-the declaration of the sergeant that such appearances were not uncommon, &c. I should suppose that all this is the additional snow which the ball has got by rolling.

A. DE MORGAN.

Up to a certain point there is a striking resemblance in the apparition recorded by Mr. Edmund Lenthal Swifte as having been witnessed by himself in the Tower in the year 1817, and one recorded in that curious volume, Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, a collection of authenticated ghost stories by Mr. Robert Dale Owen. It is to be found at p. 282 of the English edition of the above named work, and is entitled 'Apparition of a Stranger.' I will transcribe as much of the story as will serve to show the likeness to Mr. Swifte's preternatural visitant:

In March of the year 1854, the Baron de Guldenstubbé was residing alone in apartments, at No. 23, Rue St. Lazare, Paris.

On the 16th of that month, returning thither from an evening party, after midnight, he retired to rest; but finding himself unable to sleep, he lit a candle and began to read. Very soon his attention was drawn from the book, by experiencing first one electric shock then another, until the sensation was eight or ten times repeated. This greatly surprised him, and effectually precluded all disposition to sleep; he rose, donned a warm dressing gown, and lit a fire in the adjoining saloon. Returning a few minutes afterwards without a candle, he observed, by light coming through the door of the saloon, just before the chimney (which was situated in a corner of the room, at the opposite diagonal from the entrance door), what seemed like a dim column of greyish vapour, slightly luminous. It attracted his attention for a moment, but deeming it merely some effect of reflected light from the lamps in the courtyard, he thought no more of it, and re-entered the parlour. After a time, as the fire burned badly, he returned to the bedchamber to procure a faggot. This time the appearance in the front of the fireplace arrested his attention. It reached nearly to the ceiling of the apartment, which was fully 12 feet high. Its colour had changed from grey to blue-that shade of blue which shows itself when spirits of wine are burned. It was also more distinctly marked, and somewhat more luminous than at first. As the Baron gazed at it, there gradually grew into sight, within it, the figure of a man. The outlines at first were vague, and the colour blue like the column, only of a darker shade. The Baron looked upon it as an hallucination, but continued to examine it steadily from a distance of some thirteen or fourteen feet. Gradually the outlines of the figure became marked, the features began to assume exact form, and the whole to take the colours of the human flesh and dress. Finally, there stood within the column, and reaching about half way to the top, the figure of a tall, portly old man, with a fresh colour, blue eyes, snow-white hair, thin white whiskers, but without beard or moustache.  He appeared to lean on a heavy white cane. After a few minutes the figure detached itself from the column and advanced, seeming to float slowly through the It returned to the fireplace. After facing the Baron it remained stationary there. By slow degrees the outlines lost their distinctness, and as the figure faded the blue column gradually reformed itself, inclosing it as before. This time, however, it was much more luminous, the light being sufficient to enable the Baron to distinguish small print, as he ascertained by picking up a Bible that lay on his dressing table, and reading a verse or two. He showed me the copy, it was in minion type. Very gradually the light faded, seeming to flicker up at intervals, like a lamp dying out.

For the remainder of this remarkable story, which was related to the author by the Baron de Guldenstubbé himself, I must refer the reader to Mr. Owen's book. Its marked resemblance, in some respects, to Mr. Swifte's narrative induced me to 'make a note of it.

JOHN PAVIN PHILLIPS.

Until now I have been very sceptical in matters of this kind, but I must confess this strange account by Mr. Swifte has impressed me with considerable interest. It was too circumstantial to attribute the appearance to optical delusion, and the depth of the window recesses, and the closed dark cloth curtains, forbid the possibility of the action of a magic lantern or phantasmagoria. Will Mr. Swifte oblige me, and through me several interested friends, with further information?

1st.-Was Mr. Swifte's son old enough to understand the vision, or to be impressed by the circumstance?

2nd.-What was the impression of the sister-in-law respecting the affair, as evidenced by the horror and expressions of Mr. and Mrs. Swifte?

3rd.-How did the phantom disappear, and did it assume any other form?

It must truly have made a profound impression upon the family, and haunted the imagination continually. Very few would have had the courage to continue the residence. The warders tell of a spectre said to flit about Sir Walter Raleigh's apartments. 

GEORGE LLOYD

When the catholic page of Notes and Queries was opened to my story, I became bound to satisfy its correspondents upon every personal and local circumstance. I, therefore, readily answer Mr. Lloyd's reasonable and seasonable questions :—

1.-My son had nearly closed his seventh year; and was endowed with more than the ordinary intelligence of childhood. Assuredly, he was not terrified with what he did not see; but he was exceedingly scared at his mother's outcry and my agitation.

2.-His aunt, to whom likewise the phantom had been invisible, and who knew nothing of its presence till she heard it described by her sister, treated it as our joint hallucination; contenting herself with the chaplain's logic--that the illusion which possessed one person's mind could as readily possess another's.

3.—It did not assume any other form; but, in the moment of my wife's exclamation and my striking at it with my chair, it crossed the upper end of the table and disappeared in the recess of the opposite window.

4.-That unforgettable night was continually discussed among us (my boy alone excepted, to protect his young mind from its impression), until he and they had quitted this world of realities wherein it is still my surviving mystery.

The preternatural transcends my philosophy; and the doctrine of chances does not, I suppose, deal with impossibilities. Nequeo monstrare, sentio tantum. I forbear, therefore, comment or inference, hardly expecting that my most absolute pledge of veracity shall ensure what I might claim in sublunary matters.

Sir Walter Raleigh, and the other Eidola of the Tower, may be left to its officials' traditionary snowball.

Professor De Morgan has made me, for the first time, aware of Dr. Gregory's publication. His account of this strange incident was not obtained "directly" from me, seeing that I never had the pleasure of his acquaintance, and his indirect details, as alluded to by Professor De Morgan, present a curious assemblage of errors. I have already stated that I' heard the ill-fated soldier described in the Tower guard-room by his fellow-sentinel, not as singing a minute or two before the occurrence,but as immediately before it, awake and alert on his post, exchanging with him some casual remark. Of the serjeant's comment, that 'such appearances were not uncommon,' I am as unaware as of the summary '&c.' wherein Professor De Morgan includes Dr. Gregory's other reminiscences; or of the court-martial,' whereat I did not attend, and of course bore no testimony to his wakefulness. Let Professor De Morgan be assured that the 43 winters which have since that date blanched my head have not added one single flake to his traditional snowball--the gatherings of which, whatever may be their increment under Dr. Gregory's manipulation, are to me an unknown quantity.

Of the military title attributed to me, I have hitherto been equally unconscious, my only martial experience having been during 1796-1803, when I bore arms in Ireland as a member of the Lawyers' Corps-a service which I would right gladly resume in 1861, with whatever spirit and strength might then be abiding in me.

EDMUND LENTHAL SWIFTE.

Enclosed is the story of an apparition in York Castle, alluded to by Mr. Swifte. The appearance, it will be seen, was not similar to that which caused the death of the soldier in the Tower. The preceding story about a witch is not worth quoting:

"One of my soldiers being on guard about 11 in the night at the gate of Clifford Tower, the very night after the witch was arraigned, he heard a great noise at the castle, and going to the porch, he there saw a scroll of paper creep from under the door, which, as he imagined by moonshine, turned first into the shape of a monkey, and thence assumed the form of a turkey-cock, which passed to and fro by him. Surprised at this, he went to the prison and called the underkeeper, who came and saw the scroll dance up and down, and creep under the door, where there was scarce an opening of the thickness of half-a-crown. This extraordinary story I had from the mouth of both one and the other.” Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, p. 238. "H."

All those who were interested by Dr. Gregory's account (received from Sir David Brewster) of supernatural appearances in the Tower of London, are much obliged by Mr. Edmund Lenthal Swifte's authentic statement of his personal knowledge of the occurrence, and by his correction of some Dr. Gregory's account of it. But there are two particulars in that account which are neither confirmed by Mr. Swifte in his own narrative, nor denied by him in his rectification of Dr. Gregory's statement, with which statement he appears to be acquainted only through Professor De Morgan's allusion to it, where those particulars are not mentioned.

Perhaps, then, Mr. Swifte, in addition to the interesting information he has already given upon the subject, will have the goodness to reply to the following queries:

1.-Is it true, as stated by Dr. Gregory, that Mrs. Swifte perceived a form, apparently not perceived in the cylindrical tube by Mr. Swifte?

2.-If so, what was her description of the 'form' perceived only by herself?

3.-Is there any truth in Dr. Gregory's statement of an immediate failure in Mrs. Swifte's health, consequent upon the supernatural appearance, and terminating, though not so rapidly as in the case of the soldier, in a no less fatal result?

The serjeant's comment, of which Mr. Swifte declares himself to be unaware, was probably made to the colonel of the regiment, who, in Dr. Gregory's account, appears to be confounded with the Keeper of the Regalia, the eye-witness of the indoors apparition.

Some readers of Mr. Swifte's narrative have not gathered from his expression, 'following hard at heel,' that the apparition to the soldier occurred, as stated by Dr. Gregory, on the same night as that within the Jewel House. But a collation of the narrative with Mr. Swifte's reply to Mr. Offor seems to leave no reasonable doubt that the same night is indicated by that expression.

"M. P."

While reading the case of Baron de Guldenstubbé, the Spectre of the Brocken rushed into my mind, and further reflection convinced me that two apparitions so closely resembling each other as those of Mr. Swifte and the Baron must be due to natural causes. The latter case also resembles one which recently occurred at Bonchurch, and was described in the Times. I would ask, Is it known whether the figure seen by the Baron in the column of vapour resembled himself? Whether the external air was very damp? and whether there had recently or ever been a fire in the stove in front of which the ghost appeared? It seems to have kept the line between the Baron and the fireplace, and the doorway was in a line also. As a faggot is mentioned, I suppose the fireplace in the saloon was an open one. Although unskilled in such matters, I venture to offer this hint, feeling very strongly that it is not reverent to refer to supernatural agency anything that can be solved by natural causes; and my reason tells me that the similarity of these two visitations is strong evidence against their being supernatural; while we have the testimony of the tourists, &c., on the Brocken, the gentleman at Bonchurch, Ulloa on Pichincha, and the host of Scotch 'second-sight' seers as to such effects in the open air. Then why may not the same have occurred in a column of fog descending a damp chimney.

Mr. Swifte's case is more difficult to account for, particularly as regards the sentinel; still, I think, if one case can be solved the other may, the clue once given,

One word as to the Baron's electric shocks. Can these be accounted for by atmospheric causes? His frame seems not to have been in a healthy state, as he could not sleep. Were they not simply those twitchings of the muscles, or prickings in the veins, which are not uncommon in ailing persons? We know how a state of semi-sleep magnifies every sound and feeling, and hence I think the truth of the Baron's 'electric shocks' may be doubted. “F. C. B."

In reply to the queries of F. C. B., I may mention that the apparition seen by the Baron de Guldenstubbé in his apartments in the Rue St. Lazare, at Paris, in no wise resembled himself, but presented the semblance of a "tall, portly old man, with a fresh colour, blue eyes, snow-white hair, thin white whiskers, but without beard or moustache, and dressed with some care. He seemed to wear a white cravat and long white waistcoat, high stiff shirt collar, and a long black frock coat, thrown back from his chest, as is the wont of corpulent people like him in hot weather. After a few minutes the figure detached itself from the column, and advanced, seeming to float slowly through the room, till within about 3 feet of its wondering occupant. There it stopped, put up its hand as in form of salutation, and slightly bowed.' The figure then returned to the column, as previously related, and gradually melted into the cylindrical vapour, until it was no longer perceptible. Upon the following morning the baron met the wife of the concierge, Madame Mathieu, and inquired of her who had been the former occupant of his room, adding:

His reason for making the enquiry was that the night before he had seen in his bedroom an apparition. At first the woman seemed much frightened, and little disposed to be communicative, but when pressed on the subject, she admitted that the last person who had resided in the apartments now occupied by the baron was the father of the lady who was the proprietor of the house, a certain Monsieur Caron, who had formerly filled the office of mayor in the province of Champagne. He had died about two years before, and the rooms had remained vacant from that time until taken by the baron. Her description of him, not only as to personal appearance, but in each particular of dress, corresponded in the minutest manner to what the baron had seen a white waistcoat coming down very low, a white cravat, a long black frock coat-these he habitually wore. His stature was above the middle height, and he was corpulent, his eyes blue, his hair and whiskers white, and he wore neither beard nor moustache. His age was between 60 and 70. Even the smaller peculiarities were exact, down to the high-standing shirt-collar, the habit of throwing back his coat from his chest, and the thick white cane, his constant companion when he went out.

Madame Mathieu further confessed to the baron that he was not the only one to whom the apparition of M. Caron had shown itself. On one occasion a maid-servant had seen it on the stairs. To herself it had appeared several times, once just in front of the entrance to the saloon; again in a dimly lighted passage that led past the bed room to the kitchen beyond, and M. Caron had dropped more than once in the bedroom itself. down in the passage referred to in an apoplectic fit, had been carried thence into the bed room, and had died in the bed now occupied by the baron. She said to him, farther, that, as he might have remarked, she almost always took the opportunity when he was in the saloon to arrange his bedchamber, and that she had several times intended to apologise to him for this, but had refrained, not knowing what excuse to make. The true reason was that she feared again to meet the apparition of the old gentleman. The matter finally came to the ears of the daughter, the owner of the house. She caused masses to be said for the soul of her father, and it is alleged-how truly I know not-that the apparition has not been seen in any of the apartments since. Up to the time when he saw the apparition the Baron de Guldenstubbé had never heard of M. Caron, and of course had not the least idea of his personal appearance or dress ; nor, as may be supposed, had it ever been intimated to him that any one had died, two years before, in the room in which he slept.--Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World. English edition, pp. 284-5.

In my former communication on this subject, I only copied as much of the Baron de Guldenstubbé's narrative as served to mark its likeness to the apparition seen by Mr. Swifte. The whole story is very well told, and will amply repay perusal.

JOHN PAVIN PHILLIPS.

Appropriately enough, Swifte had the last word:

I readily respond to M. P.'s queries:

1 and 2.-My wife did not perceive any form in the cylindrical tube, except the cloud or vapour which both of us described at the time, and which neither had ever described otherwise.

3.-Her health was not affected, and her life was not terminated by the appearance--be its cause what it might--which then presented itself to us.

I cannot supply the precise date of the sentinel's alarm. If 'following hard at heel' be a synchronism, then must Hamlet's mother have married his uncle on the day of his father's funeral; the 'morrow,' whereon I saw the poor fellow in the Tower guard-room, had reference to his visitation, not to ours, which I submit to F. C. B., is of the twain the more difficult of solution.

The Bonchurch and Pichincha cases have not come within my knowledge; the appearance in the Jewel House did not suggest to me the Brocken spectre; and the Guldenstubbé phantom fails in its parallel. We were not favoured by any portly old man, detaching himself from any vaporous column and resolving himself into it again; no 'electric shocks' or 'muscular twitchings' had predisposed us; and the densest fog that ever descended a damp chimney could hardly have seized one of us by the shoulder.

The only natural cause which has occurred to me is phantasmagoric agency, yet to say nothing of its local impediments in the Jewel House, the most skilful operator, with every appliance accorded him, could not produce an appearance visible to one-half the assembly, while invisible to the other half, and bodily laying hold of one individual among them. The causation of non-natural, preternatural, or supernatural effects passes my scholarship; and the anomalies of a formless, purposeless, phantom, foretelling nothing and fulfilling nothing, is better left to the adepts in psychology.  Davus sum, non Edipus.

EDMUND LENTHAL SWIFTE.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Weekend Link Dump

 

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn


Enjoy this week's Link Dump!

And then we can all go shopping!



A brief history of footnotes.

How the camera threatened the private of Gilded Age Americans.

A look at tokens of death.

Building a 19th century Protestant church in Egypt.

The real-life characters of "The Great Escape."

I've long been amazed at how many old newspaper articles I've found about people drinking the contents of bottles without knowing what was in them, and instantly regretting that action for the very short period of the rest of their lives.  By God, they're still at it.

The sad story behind some photos found in a thrift shop.

Doctors, cure your patients by scaring the bejeezus out of them.

People are finding all sorts of weird things in the Alps.

Why fairy tales begin with "Once upon a time..."

The birth of modern American summer vacations.

A Pennsylvania outlaw.

A tribute to Benjamin the Library Cat.

The French boy who became an Aboriginal man.

War crimes and an attack on a WWI hospital ship.

A visit to an envelope maker.

The internet and a wife's revenge from beyond the grave.  This is an insane story.

An 18th century government fixer.

An ancient crocodile cult.

Living through the 1941 invasion of Hong Kong.

The strange history of "laughing gas."

Vivian Maier, reclusive street photographer.

The "yogurt shop murders."

The "juries of matrons."

Are mermaids actually fairies?

Mysterious symbols that may be from an unknown ancient culture.

Five places you are not allowed to visit.

The ramming of HMS Prince George.

The man who invented the modern Olympics.

In which Henry Ward Beecher discusses cats.

A haunted hotel in Yosemite.

The Aberfan tragedy.

A murderous sister-in-law.

That wraps things up for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at some of the ghosts of the Tower of London.  In the meantime, let's get Hawaiian.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com



It’s time for another peep into the Mystery Bells file!  The “Glasgow Daily Record,” February 5, 1971:

Every morning and evening a bell rings in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Bentley, whether they like it or not. 

They don't need it and don’t want it but they can't get rid of it because they can’t find it.  Neither can GPO engineers, the fire brigade, or council. 

“I first heard it three weeks ago though we’ve lived here for a year now,” said Mrs. Josephine Bentley, 35, at her home in Stone, Staffs, yesterday. 

“It seemed to come from the loft above the bed and I shot out of bed. But I was left staring at the ceiling because we don’t have an alarm clock in the room.” 

Since then, with almost unfailing regularity, a five-second burst rings out promptly at 8:30 am and 5:50 pm every day. 

It has only missed once--when two firemen came with equipment to trace it.

The fire brigade thought the bells were linked to a level crossing on a nearby railway.  But that was ruled out.

The Bentleys know an old fireman once lived in this house until his death some years ago.  But the brigade say the installation that was used to call him to duty was removed.

GPO engineers found wires leading to the loft and cut them.  That didn’t help either.

Now it’s up to the surveyors’ office in the local council.  They are still checking…hopefully.

I wasn’t able to learn if the mystery was ever resolved.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Weird Times at Muncie High

Fortunately, most schools avoid being the site of a weird and inexplicable death, but it has been known to happen.  However, when one school is known for two such unsolved mysteries, well, you know you’ve just enrolled in Strange Company U.  The institution boasting such an unenviable record was Muncie Central High, a four-story building in Muncie, Indiana.

Sixteen-year-old Perlie Guelsby Hogg was a sophomore at Central High.  His was one of those lives that seem destined to be defined by tragedy.  Just before he was born, his father, Ben Hogg, vanished.  As Ben was never seen again, it is unclear whether he deserted his pregnant wife, or was the victim of foul play or some accident.  In any case, Perlie’s mother Mary was left to fend for herself and her baby as best she could.  When Perlie was only two, Mary died.  The boy was shuffled between various relatives for a couple of years before settling in with his aunt and uncle, Minnie and Charles Cooper.  Perlie told another aunt that Charles was an overly strict guardian, to the point of being abusive.  The household was also extremely poor.  Not surprisingly, Perlie became a deeply unhappy boy, who occasionally threatened to run away, or even kill himself.

On the morning of December 16, 1922, Perlie left for school, telling his aunt and uncle he’d probably be home late.  (He had an after-school job as a grocery delivery boy, and as it was the Christmas season, he had recently been working overtime.)  Because of this, Minnie and Charles were not alarmed when he failed to return home that night.  However, when Perlie did not turn up on the following morning, Minnie contacted the police.

Investigators soon learned that two days before Perlie disappeared, he and several other boys had gotten into a physical fight with a teacher who had allegedly threatened them.  The following day, Perlie withdrew himself from the school, vowing never to return.  However, many people who knew the boy expressed the firm belief that he would never have run away while Minnie, who was in poor health, was still alive.  She was apparently the one person in the world the boy loved.

Despite that, police classified Perlie as a runaway, and the official search for him soon sputtered and died.  Minnie and Charles continued doing what they could to find what had happened to the boy, but eventually, they too were forced to give up.

Nearly ten years after Perlie vanished, some plumbers were doing repairs at Central High.  After climbing down a ventilation shaft, one of the men was stunned to realize he was standing on human remains.  At first, the identity of the corpse was unknown, but after local newspapers published photos of shoes and a pocket knife found with the body, Charles Cooper recognized them as belonging to his long-missing nephew.  Perlie had finally been found.

"Evansville Journal," July 11, 1931, via Newspapers.com


The ventilation shaft could be accessed by students from the back of broom closets in the boys’ restrooms.  Boys would often enter the shaft to smoke cigarettes, or just lounge around.  Pearlie’s body was found in a “crouched position” at the bottom of the shaft.  He had died holding his open pocket knife, and his shoes were at the opposite side of the little chamber.

The autopsy did little to clarify how Perlie died.  The coroner found no broken bones, suggesting that he had not accidentally fallen down the shaft.  However, he could not rule out that possibility.  Or did the miserably unhappy boy use his knife to follow through on his many threats to commit suicide?  Or were Charles and Minnie correct in their belief that Perlie had been murdered, and his body subsequently hidden in the ventilation shaft?  In July 1931, a grand jury was brought in to examine the mystery, but the lack of evidence led to the case being dismissed, and that, as they say, was that.

Life at Central High went back to normal.  And then on the night of April 13, 1948, a Muncie painter, 36-year-old Nelson Dull, was having a hard time getting to sleep.  (He suffered from “painter’s colic,” what we today would call “lead poisoning.”)  He told his wife Marian that he was just stepping outside for some air.  Around 1:30 a.m., Nelson left his home and started walking down the street.  He never came back.  Marian realized quite quickly that something was wrong--a few months before, Nelson had suffered a leg injury which left him unable to walk for very long--and she called the police.  A search was made, without finding any sign of Nelson.

On the morning of April 26, Central High’s custodian, Aramis Joris, turned on the ventilation system for the first time that year.  When staffers subsequently entered the school, they were greeted by a hideous stench which filled the entire building.  As the day went on, the smell only got worse.  Joris went in search of the source of the odor.  When he opened a little hatch leading to a three-foot-tall attic above the school, he found it: A decomposed human corpse was lying on the attic floor.

"Muncie Evening Press," April 26, 1948


The body in the attic was soon identified as Nelson Dull.  However, what nobody could say was what in hell it was doing there.  Dull was found completely naked and lying face up.  His clothes were piled up near him.  However, his wedding ring and silver “lucky piece” were missing.  (They were later discovered scattered elsewhere in the attic.)  A few other items were found nearby--jars of food, a straw hat, an old newspaper, and a small chair that police thought was used to climb in and out of the attic.  As had been the case with Perlie, the autopsy was unable to determine how Nelson died.

Joris told police that several times in the recent past, when he looked up the shaft leading from the boiler room to the roof, he had seen a man staring down at him.  (It is unknown why he apparently had kept this interesting information to himself.)  This led police to theorize that, for reasons best known to himself, Dull had formed the habit of “hanging out” in the attic.  During one of these visits, Nelson took off all his clothes, lay down, and died.  The sort of thing that could happen to anyone.

Dull’s family rejected this scenario, arguing that he simply wasn’t the sort of weirdo who would camp out in school attics.  Besides, they asserted, his leg injury rendered him incapable of climbing into the attic unassisted.

The investigation into Dull’s death ended on this frustratingly inconclusive note.  In 1973, the Central High building was demolished, taking all its secrets with it.  Good riddance, I say.

Friday, July 5, 2024

Weekend Link Dump

 

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Here comes this week's Link Dump!

Let's hit the road!



A murder victim and her orphan.

The soldier who could eat anything.  And did.

The oldest living culture.

Elizabeth I's instructions to Sir Francis Drake.

Henry Ward Beecher and the homeless cat.

What may be the world's oldest known narrative art.

In which the Vatican rejects the Miracle of the Multiplying Pizzas.

How different cultures depict dragons.

The disappearance of a legendary French sword.

The menu for Revolutionary War soldiers on July 4, 1776.

The world's youngest war photographer.

The Acid Bride.

The music of electoral victories.

Be careful with those toy cannons, kids.

The birth of the Jersey Devil.

The scandal over an Army veteran whose corpse was sent to the dissection table.

Australia's demonic pelicans.

The man who contested JMW Turner's will.

That time Benjamin Franklin performed a naked water ballet.

The mystery event that killed off Siberian woolly mammoths.

The baker of Gettysburg.

Earth's hidden continent.

The complicated history of the Duff family.

The sacred forests of Ethiopia.

A new discovery at Auschwitz.

Whale corpses as a cure for rheumatism.

Pondering why ancient humans made art in dark caves.

When pets bid us farewell.

A shocking murder in a small town.

A visit to Waterbeach.

The 17th century "Fen Tigers."

The sacrifice of a princess.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at two mysterious deaths.  In the meantime, here's a bit of summer music.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Newspaper Clipping(s) of the Independence Day

Via Newspapers.com



Normally, I honor this nation’s birthday by posting an assortment of various holiday-related disasters, but this year, I am focusing on one story, and one story only.  Because, boy howdy, it’s a doozy.  The “St. Louis Globe-Democrat,” July 8, 1894, told with the subtlety and good taste we have come to cherish from newspapers of that period:

From the Cincinnati Times-Star.

Shortly before 10 o'clock last night Henry L. Driver, a politician, peculator. bookmaker and general sport, was blown to pieces at the northeast corner of Sixth and Main streets by the explosion of a package of nitro-glycerine which he carried.

The victim of this remarkable explosion, which has no parallel in the Fourth of July records, was popularly known as Jack Driver.  He was 50 years of age and lived with his second wife and daughter at 429 Main street. Tuesday night two strange men stopped him in front of the Moselle building on West Seventh street, and he drove them off with a knife. They said they would get even. Yesterday morning as he sat in Pat Russell's saloon on Main street, over which he lives, a bullet fired by some unknown person on the street struck his watch charm, but as it had evidently glanced from somewhere, and was almost spent, it did him no harm, but called to his mind the threats of the two men.  He believed they fired the bullet. In the evening he was seated with a friend in front of the Court House when his daughter asked him to go and get her some more fireworks. He promised to do so, and went downtown. About 10 o'clock he was seen walking up Main street on the east side, and when just above Sixth several persons who observed him say he suddenly felt his right-hand coat pocket and then, putting his hand into it, drew out a bottle which slipped from his grasp and fell to the pavement. The explosion immediately followed. There are those who believed the man who fired the bullet slipped the bottle of nitro-glycerine in his pocket in a crowd, expecting him to find it with the result which followed. Others hint at suicide, and advance the theory that he was in a bad financial way, and that an accident policy of $3000 which expired July 5, 1894, could only be collected for his family by his taking himself off in a way that would seem accidental.

However the explosive came to be touched off, the result was horrible. For an instant there was a roar like a sharp clap of thunder. Buildings for blocks around shook, and hundreds of panes of glass were shattered, and pedestrians were thrown off their feet. Then a fearful silence succeeded, while the astonished people were getting to their feet.  Dozens of people rushed to the spot, but a sudden shower fell upon them. Those in the glare of the lights were horrified and sickened when they saw that it was not rain, but a shower of blood and bits of flesh that was falling, and the timid ran away from the red deluge. The smell of burnt flesh arose, and the sharper odor of burnt chemicals mingled with it.

Face downward lay Driver, his body apparently intact, but when a bystander rushed to lift him up the body fell all to pieces. The head rolled over, with the mouth still gasping for breath.

As the body fell apart and the spectators realized the awful effect of the explosion, many drew back in horror.  A boy came running up with the right arm of the victim, which he had found some 50 feet away on a doorstep.   The walls of the house were spattered with fine bits of flesh like sausage, and across the street, like a festoon, on a cornice, were draped several yards of intestines. The telegraph wires were laden with bits of intestines and flesh, and dripped blood. On a pole nearby were embedded a silver dollar and the open-faced watch of Driver's, while other articles that had been in his clothes were scattered for a square about. There were no remains of fireworks.

A patrol was called, and the officers shoveled the fragments into a stretcher and, hunting up all the parts of the body that could be found in the dark, carried them to the Morgue. 

Driver was well known in certain circles of the city. In former years he dealt in patent rights, and realized thousands of dollars from a corrugated stovepipe elbow.

He next inherited a large sum of money from his mother, but spent that in fast living, and was worth but little when his aunt, Jemima Driver, started him in the Globe Varnish Company on Sycamore street. Two years ago she died, leaving him considerable money, but regarding that a suit is still pending in court. He made a pile of money out of a book at Latonia this spring. He also dealt in Florida real estate and Texas property for a time.

The “Cincinnati Enquirer,” July 7, 1894.  Note the considerably more subdued tone from the article above.

The awful death of poor Jack Driver, who was blown to pieces at Sixth and Main streets Wednesday night, is still shrouded In mystery. The second day's investigation by the police and Coroner has not developed anything definite that throws light on the subject. It is generally conceded that the explosive which killed Driver was either in his pocket or under his arm, or was thrown at him and struck him in the abdomen. It could not have fallen on the ground without tearing up the pavement and also tearing Driver’s legs to pieces.

His limbs below his knees were not injured, and the effect of the explosive was confined to his abdomen and the upper part of his legs, from the fact that his left hand was blown off just above the wrist it is positive the explosion occurred in his left side, which was also badly torn to pieces, while the right tide is not nearly so badly injured. 

Nothing positive has yet been ascertained as in the character of the explosive.  Some persons think it was a bomb or "flower pot.’”  which explodes with a loud report, and their theory is that Driver was carrying one or more of them home to shoot off. It is also supposed to have been nitroglycerine,  dynamite, or a common firecracker. It is also suggested that Driver had an infernal machine under his arm.

All of Mr. Driver’s friends are unwilling to believe that he committed suicide. They say he was not the kind of a man to do that, and they feel certain he would never resort to that awful method to end his life.  Mr. Frank Armstrong, Secretary of the Board of Supervisors, said to an Enquirer reporter yesterday that he had known Driver for 25 years, and he is confident that Jack would not take his own life.

Mr. Armstrong is inclined to believe that Jack had bought some dynamite with the intention of shooting it off a little bit at a time in order to make a loud noise, just for a joke. He said that Jack always was a great man for playing jokes, and this leads him to this theory.  The remains of the dead man will be removed from the morgue to his late home, at No. 422 Main Street this morning, and the funeral will be at 2 o'clock this afternoon. It has often been Mr. Driver’s wish that whenever he died his remains should be laid alongside those of his first wife in Wesleyan cemetery, and this will be done. 

Tiie inquest in the case was begun by Coroner Querner at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon, and his office was crowded with friends of the dead man and persons who were at the scene of the explosion shortly after it occurred.  A number of prominent citizens and county officials were also present.  Attorney Otway Cosgrave sat beside the coroner and suggested questions now and then. He was the attorney for Jack Driver, and he was present in the interests of the family to assist in unraveling the mystery surrounding the death.  Detective Schnucks, who is investigating the case under direction of the Coroner, was also present. The United States Mutual Accident Insurance Company, in which the deceased was insured for $5,000, was represented by its District Manager.

Mr. A. J. Thorpe, who listened with care to every word uttered by the witnesses.

The testimony of the different witnesses was quite contradictory on a number of points. Messers. Goodman and Haywood agree that the body was lying near the center of the pavement with his head toward the liver and his feet toward, the north, while Messrs. Cumming and Crotty testified that the body was lying across the pavement with the head toward the house and his feet toward the gutter.

The two former swore that they were the first persons beside the body after the explosion, while the two latter testified under oath that they were there first. Crotty testified that the body was lying between the Corner of Sixth street and the telegraph pole, while all the other witnesses claim that it was lying about five feet north of the pole. Mr. Heywood and Mr. C.S. Weatherby both testified that they saw the body blown about five feet in the air after the explosion, while Cumming and Crotty both swore that the body was not blown up in the air, but fell right down on the pavement after the explosion. 

Mr. Patrick Russell, the saloonist at No. 422 Main street, in the house where Driver lived, was the first witness. He said he knew Driver 25 years. He saw him last about 6:15 p.m. on the Fourth of July on the pavement, in his shirt sleeves.  Driver said he was going upstairs to get supper. His little girl came along just then, and he gave her a quarter and said that after supper he would go downtown and get her some fireworks. He was not drinking and did not complain of any trouble. Mr. Russell was told that Jimmie Baldwin handed Driver two letters at the courthouse shortly after this. He did not see any firecracker in Driver's pocket, and Driver had never intimated to him that he would suicide. 

Mr. Walter B. Alvorn, the barkeeper of Andy Gllligan's saloon, on Vine street, said he saw Driver about 9 o'clock on the evening of the 4th in the saloon. He had no package with him. He drank a whisky, but he was sober and all right. He sat down at a table and talked with him 15 minutes.  He said he was going to Main street to get some fireworks for his little girl. He left the saloon about 9:30 o'clock. Driver took two drinks altogether. He was not excited or worried in his action or conversation. Witness had known him 20 years.  He said Driver was at Rugby, Tenn., at one time, but did not know that he ever was engaged in the mining business. Driver never intimated suicide, or that he was in financial difficulties. He always understood that Driver had a good income. He remarked after the explosion that if Driver got any explosive he would very likely have got it at Keeshan's drug store at Sixth and Walnut streets, as he had traded there many years, and used to live in that neighborhood.

Mr. G.W. Schuler, proprietor of the Merchants' Hotel, at 248 Vine street, said he knew Driver some years.  He saw him about 9:30 on the night of the 4th, in his place. Driver said to him: "Sit down, Billy, I want to tell you one thing that happened to me in front of George Hobson’s house." He then told how he drove off two fellows who wanted to hold him up, and about being struck by a spent bullet, as already published in the Enquirer.  Driver spoke of some patent right he was interested in. He said he was going to get some skyrockets for his daughter. He took one drink and left in about 5 minutes. He never intimated that he was going to commit suicide. He had no firecracker in his pocket and he had no package with him.

Mr. Henry Bodeker, the saloonist on Main Street, between Fifth and Sixth, knew Driver 15 years. He saw him shortly before 10 o’clock in his saloon.

Driver said he was not feeling well and complained of rheumatism in his legs and feet.  He drank one whisky. He was alone.  He had a little round package, three or four inches in circumference and about 10 inches long, wrapped up carelessly in a newspaper.  He put it on his left side on the counter. He stayed only about five minutes, and then took his bundle and left. He was perfectly sober and acted as he usually did.  He said he had such an awful pain in his feet that he could hardly walk. The package was a little longer than a mineral-water bottle. It was not heavy. He laid it down very carefully.  There was no noise when he laid it down. He did not say anything about fireworks. The explosion occurred about five minutes after he left. 

The next witness was Mr. Henry Goodman, manager of the Bandle Arms Company, 256 Main, four doors north of Sixth street. He was not acquainted with Mr.  Driver. He was not in the Bandle store on the Fourth of July.  Goodman first observed him shortly before the explosion, about eight steps from the telegraph pole. Witness was sitting on a box in the gutter, facing the store. Dr. Heywood was standing in the door facing him.  Goodman looked south and saw Driver coming up Main street. Just as he passed Sixth street he stopped in front of the telegraph pole.

The awning of the Wellman hardware store at the corner was down, causing a shadow on the pavement where Driver stopped.  He stepped to the curb stone and stopped on the north side of the pole, about 50 feet from where Goodman sat.  The latter happened to look into the store just then, and at that moment there was a terrific explosion which caused him to shut both eyes. There was no firing of pistols or firecrackers at that time. Goodman said he done no shooting since 9 o’clock.  The explosion occurred about 10 o'clock. He did not notice Driver smoking a cigar, and Dr. Heywood recovered from the shock before he did.  He was stunned by the shock. It was louder than a gun or any common cracker that he had ever heard. He did not notice a smell of gunpowder or see any flame or smoke after the explosion. As soon as he saw the man lying on the pavement, he ran into the store and telephoned for the patrol wagon. If the explosion had been caused by a giant cracker there would have been an odor, flash and smoke, and he did not notice any of those. He said persons sometimes wait for the cars at the telegraph pole.  Goodman said he did not know the difference between dynamite and glycerine. He did not know of any thing called "dynamite firecracker" that is being manufactured. He did not see anybody in any windows on either side of the street, and had no idea of how the explosion occurred. 

Dr. Harry D. Heywood, the veterinary surgeon, who was standing in front of the Bandle store, testified that several minutes before the explosion there was shooting of Roman candles on the porch on the second floor of the Galt House at Sixth and Main.  He did not see Driver until the explosion.  He first thought the awning had blown up, but when he looked up he noticed the man in the air five feet above the pavement. He yelled to Goodman, "Look at that." The man fell flat on his face.  When he ran up to him he gave a few gasps and died. A number of persons ran up as he was bent over the man, but the first person he spoke to was Sergeant Grimm.

Waller Cummings of 179 Spring street, a painter, said he was standing in front of Colter's grocery with W.M. Crotty about 10 o'clock waiting for a lady with whom Crotty had an engagement.  He was there 15 minutes and before that sat in front of the Galt House. He saw no fireworks, but heard some on Fifth street shortly after 9 o'clock. While on the corner he first observed Driver in front of the hardware store at the opposite corner.  He was staggering and thus attracted his attention. He was south of the telegraph pole when he staggered toward it. He said that he and Crotty made fun of his staggering. He thought that Driver was under the influence of liquor. He got about a foot beyond the post when the explosion occurred.

He noticed that Driver had something that looked like an Apollinaris bottle under his left arm and carried his cane in the same hand. It looked like it had a blue wrapper on it. Cummings saw it drop from under his arm onto the pavement. It exploded as soon as it struck the pavement. He did not notice a flash or smoke.  It was about two seconds after the explosion when he ran over to the body. It was lying crosswise on the pavement, his head was to the east and his feet to the west, close to the gutter. Cummings said he was the first person there. He touched the man on the arm and asked him whether he could speak. Just then Crotty told him, "Be careful, there might be another one on him.”

Crotty was then placed on the witness stand. He said he was from Greenwich, Ohio, and a porter at the Galt House four weeks, and worked under Cummiings at the Beckel House in Dayton a year ago.  He had an engagement with Edith White, of Springfield, Ohio, who was working at the Stratford Hotel.  He was to meet her at the Galt House, but she did not come, so he went across the street with Cummings. While standing at the corner he noticed Driver staggering over the sidewalk on the other side, and remarked: "That fellow has a pretty good jag on." He saw Driver but a minute, and the latter took but three or four steps before the explosion occurred.  Crotty said he heard a lot of shooting around, but did not see any.

He noticed a package under Driver’s arm which looked like an Apollinaris bottle. It had a blue label. It was under his left arm, and he also had a cane in his left hand.  He saw the bottle fall, but did not see any flash or smoke.  The body was not thrown in the air, but fell right down on the pavement. He never saw Driver before. Crotty said the body was eight or ten feet south of the pole. He fell right down on the spot.  Crotty said he is out of work at present, and that he was discharged at Dayton for drinking.

The next witness was James P. Murray, who lives with his wife on the third floor of No. 252 Main street, in front of which the explosion occurred.  He said it was 10 o'clock, and he was just going to bed when he was startled by the explosion. He hurried to the window and looked down and saw a man lying on the pavement. He then called his wife. The only other persons he saw on the pavement were Dr. Heywood, stooping over the prostrate form, and Mr. Goodman, getting up from a box in the gutter. He did not see any other person. He then hurried downstairs. He said the body was lying in a northeasterly position on the pavement, with the head more toward the gutter than the feet. He appeared to be a little mixed up about this, and corrected himself, saying that the feet were more toward the gutter than the head.  The body was lying downward, and he saw Dr. Heywood turn it over. He noticed the back of the coat and white shirt were turned up. 

Mr. C.S. Weatherby. the well-known retired dry goods merchant, testified that he and his family were on a Price Hill car coming up Main street. He was on the second seat in front, on the east side of the car. Just as the car was about to turn west on Sixth street the trolley came off the wire, and it was stopped there.  Mr. Weatherby was looking east out the window up Main street, and he noticed a man on the east side of the street about 40 feet above Sixth street and about five feet beyond the telegraph pole. He did not notice any other person near there. The man had no bottle under his arm as far as he could see. While he was looking at the man there was a terrific explosion, and he saw the man blown five or six feet into the air. The shock of the explosion made the car vibrate, and it was the loudest report he had ever beard. Mr. Weatherby testified also that he had known Jack Driver intimately for 25 years. He met him just before the Latonia races, and Jack said he had been hunting him for several weeks in order to borrow $2500 from him to invest in poolrooms across the river.  Jack said he got the money from someone else. 

The last witness was James J. Sheehan, the conductor on the Price Hill car, which stopped at the corner. He said he noticed Driver about five feet north of the telegraph pole. He was standing still and his left side was partly turned toward him.  He did not notice any bundle under Driver’s arm. After the explosion he ran over to the dead man with Mr. Weatherby, and when he returned to the car, the motorman, Mr. Hill, said he saw the fellow have a package under his arms and felt sure it was dynamite.

Both the conductor and motorman saw a large ball of fire at the time of the explosion. The inquest lasted until nearly 6 o'clock. It will be resumed Monday at 3 p.m.

After performing what sounded like extremely hazardous experiments with various explosives, the coroner concluded that Driver was “probably” killed by a large firecracker that he carried, which may have been set off from ashes dropping from Driver’s cigar.  However, most felt the case was not quite closed.  Several years later, when reporting on the suicide of one of Driver’s relatives, a newspaper recalled Jack’s grisly death as “still mysterious.”

Monday, July 1, 2024

The Six Missing Skulls: A Greenland Ghost Story

Robert Peary



If there’s one thing wading into Fortean waters has taught me, it’s this:  Don’t play silly buggers with corpses.  The former occupants of those remains generally have a way of expressing their disapproval.  A perfect illustration is this story which appeared in the “London Daily Graphic” in October of 1898:

A member of the Peary expedition writes: While reading the "Dally Graphic" review of Lieutenant Peary's recent book it occurred to me that a curious experience resulting from sundry raids made on Greenland burying-grounds in the scientific pursuit of Esquimaux skulls and skeletons may be of present interest, I confess that my story has a distinctly Rougemont flavor, but its accuracy is vouched for by the scientists of the party. We know it really happened. We leave the explanation to the Psychical Research society.

The Greenland section of the Peary expedition was partly subsidized by several scientific societies on the understanding that skulls and skeletons and geological specimens should be secured for their various museums. Six Esquimau skeletons were promised to the Chicago World's Fair authorities in return for a grant toward the Peary expedition. Esquimau skeletons are rare, especially of those types known as the "Arctic Highlanders," and it was a question of honor that the scientific branch of the expedition should not return without some of these coveted specimens. Now, the Esquimaus are a superstitious people, and hold a tradition that if a body belonging to one of their race be taken to a country where no walruses, seals or bears exist, and where grass is plentiful, the bones of such a transported Esquimau are chewed up by snakes, and the spirit perishes beyond redemption. Consequently our endeavors to obtain skulls and skeletons by legitimate purchase failed utterly, though I must say in defence of our skeleton-snatching action that we offered large prices and tempting prizes for their barter.

When the Kite landed at Ittiblu the scientists went ashore on a skeleton-hunting quest, and, finding no bone market open to bribes or sales, determined to make a raid on the two-century-old burying-ground, which contained several hundred graves. The Esquimaus built a dome-like erection above their graves, the stones being so arranged as to cover the corpse without coming in contract with it. Snow falling between the crevices of the stones causes a firm kind of cement, so that the opening of such a grave is no easy task. We settled on the likeliest-looking grave, and, intending to return at midnight, went back to the ship. The natives, however, were so excited by our arrival that they resolved to make a festive night of it.

Perpetual twilight made it impossible to cover our scientific deed with the shades of night. One of the Kite's officers, however, undertook to keep the natives otherwise occupied while we pursued our disagreeable duty of skeleton-snatching. He therefore took up his position in a large tent and busied himself in displaying the mighty wonders of New York jackknives and the marvels of American-made needles, the latter being highly coveted, and forming perhaps the only prize which might tempt an Esquimau to dishonesty. With such wonders to disclose, their attention was duly engaged for several hours, while the scientists employed themselves in procuring an admirable type of mummified Esquimau, a chief buried some two years previously, whom we found clad In a complete sealskin suit. Wrapping the body in an ulster, we carried it down to the whaleboat, conveyed it on board the Kite, and put it in a canvas gunbag, which we promptly sealed. We had arranged that the affair was to be concealed from the crew, since, had they known of the circumstance, one and all would have refused to sail with so ghastly a burden aboard. Our plans fell out so well that even the captain of the Kite was for some time unaware of the presence on board of what one ethnologist called "a grand specimen." At Herbert Island we collected two skulls, each "find" being duly sealed in a canvas bag, and at several landing points we added to the skeletons in our bags, winding up at Godhaven, where thirteen fine skulls and several bones was converted into a regular grave-yard, but each specimen was separately bagged, securely sealed and the cabin carefully locked. After the shipping of thirteen skulls we encountered terrible weather. The crew meanwhile had their suspicions as to "uncanny" influences aboard, and formed a deputation to the captain to assure him that there would be no luck about the ship till "something" was thrown overboard. The men at the wheel declared in turn that while in the act of steering some stronger hand than theirs was constantly turning the ship shoreward. One veteran helmsman ran us into a sandbank.

He said he "couldn't help it; 'somebody' seized the wheel and ran the ship aground." The superstitious sailors were firmly persuaded that ghostly "Huskies,” as they call the Esquimaus, were piloting the ship landward to induce us to give up their chief's body for decent burial. One morning at breakfast an officer told a strange yarn. He said he was on watch during the night when he noticed a kyak paddled by an Esquimau alongside the vessel. It was bad weather, and he knew it must be a ghostly kyak, for no such craft could have been out fifty miles from the land on such a night. Added to which he stated that the kyaker had no difficulty in keeping up with the ship.

The Esquimau hailed the watch and kept waving and beckoning with mysterious gestures and a threatening tone in his exclamations. Suddenly he vanished, to reappear alongside a few minutes later, hailing the ship, with a mournful wail. The sky was lit up by the vivid northern lights, so the officer stated that he saw distinctly what subsequently took place.  Out of the hatchway came a procession of six Esquimaus walking noiselessly along the poop deck.

They passed through the bulwark, not over it, and vanished. The kyaker disappeared at the same time. The scientific party left the breakfast table and went to the locked graveyard bunk. The seals were unbroken, and were apparently the same that we had affixed.

The remaining bones and skulls, with the chief's skeleton, are now the property of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. The six missing skulls have never been heard of. Most of the crew refused to go another voyage in the Kite, which they declared to be haunted by "Huskies" in search of their desecrated bones. I give you the story just as it occurred.  We cannot explain it. If the crew had conspired to steal the bones to "lay" the "Husky" ghosts, why did they take only six skulls, and how did they manage not to disturb the seals? The abstraction of the skulls made no difference--so the sailors declared--to the "Husky" apparitions with which they said the ship was constantly haunted.