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

Friday, June 22, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week, the cats are celebrating the first Link Dump of summer with a beach party!

Who the hell was "Joseph Newton Chandler?"  Now we know!

Watch out for those shape-shifting spook lights!

In which a cat is asked to vacate his master's chair.  I think I know who won.

The four Cod Wars.

Los Angeles really likes to watch drunkards.

Giants in the New World.

An extinct ape in an ancient tomb.

The world's most stolen painting.

The problem with using "Pride and Prejudice" as a real life "how-to" guide.

The problem with breaching an 18th century fireground cordon.

Outlaws versus vampires.  Go on, take your pick.

Jonathan Swift and Henrietta Gordon, pen pals.

More 18th century "sporting prints."

A practical "joke" lands a soldier in the hospital.

Folklore of the summer solstice.

The ghost of Louise's Island.

Rebirth in Indian mythology.

Civil War surgical practices.

Men landing on the moon may have had some unintended consequences.

Elizabeth and Josiah Potts, who insisted to the end that they didn't do it.

A senior retirement home...for cats.

No, Fidel Castro did not nearly become a pro baseball player.

A child's grave regularly gets a new set of clothes.

The world's coziest canine shelter.

Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors.

Captain Cook and the not-so-friendly islands.

Regency "blue ruin."

Moe Berg, top baseball player and CIA assassin.

A murderer faces his own death with a notable sangfroid.

A crime-fighting canine squire.

A dead father comes to collect his child.

The puzzling, fascinating world of "alters."

And here's a far worse father.

That's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a noted Irish eccentric, who reputedly came to an end not unlike Saki's "Laura." In the meantime, here's some medieval dance music.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Some of you may remember the story I posted about a hypnotist who put an entire family under his influence...and then couldn't figure out how to undo his handiwork. This report from the (Eufaula, Alabama) "Times and News," February 16, 1888, takes that cautionary tale to a whole 'nother level:
Cincinnati Enquirer--Detective Maheffey and J, Rood, both of Alamo, Van Buren county, Michigan, have been in the city a couple of days, looking for a young man named Dwight T. Holmes, whom they believe to be here. It is a case of life and death, and it is of the most importance that Holmes be found.

The story told by Mr. Rood is a most remarkable one, and his own daughter is party to it. On the evening of Jan. 9 his daughter Kitty attended a "candy pull" in Alamo with Holmes. The couple accompanied Miss Annette Garlanger home, and while waiting for her folks to come, they being out somewhere, Holmes thought he would try some of his mesmeric powers.

He first put Miss Garlanger under the hypnotic influence, to his orders she smoked a cigar and did other things. The he experimented on Miss Kittie Rood. She is of a very nervous organization and subject to hysterical attacks. Holmes found her an easy subject, and compelled her to do a number of absurd acts, concluding by ordering her to feign death. At once she became like a corpse and respiration ceased. Holmes was frightened and Miss Garlanger was paralyzed at the unexpected turn things had taken, for they could not waken Miss Rood at all. Holmes got the village doctor, who gave it as his opinion that the young lady had died of heart disease. The grief-stricken parents accepted this, and the funeral occurred Friday, Jan. 13. Thursday night Holmes disappeared. As the coffin was being lowered into the grave Miss Garlanger became hysterical.

She was at once taken home and gradually told the story of the case. Then there was a great rush for the cemetery, and the sexton was surprised to see a lot of men digging away at the newly made grave. The body was taken home, and when the leading physician at Paw Paw, the county seat, Dr. Vanderburg, made a critical examination, he said she was not dead. He applied tests, and then said she was in a trance. Hypnotists from near and far have been called, but they can do nothing. The parents think the only one who can help their daughter is Holmes, and if he will only return to Alamo he will not be prosecuted, as it is thought that he, having put her in this hypnotic condition, he alone can break the bonds which bind her. Miss Rood still lies at her home as if dead, while it is thought that Holmes is hiding for fear he will be arrested for manslaughter. He is said to be a very good looking young fellow, and of excellent reputation.

As is usual with this kind of story, there were no follow-ups in the newspapers, so for all I know Dwight remained on the lam and Kitty remained in a trance. Needless to say, if any amateur hypnotist wants to practice their new-found skills on you, the safest response is to punch them in the nose.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Failed Partnership of Udderzook and Goss

Insurance fraud is one of those enterprises that leads to unexpected misadventures. When the focus is on life insurance swindles that requires one of the conspirators to feign being dead, the likelihood of unpleasant surprises naturally increases.

Particularly for the corpse.

Our story opens early in 1872. One Mr. Lowndes rented out a cottage he owned just outside of Baltimore to Winfield Scott Goss. Goss explained to Lowndes that he was an inventor--he had already created a "ratchet screwdriver," and was currently formulating an artificial substitute for rubber. The rural retreat would, he said, be the ideal location for his secret and vital experiments.

All seemed well until the evening of February 2, when the cottage inexplicably burst into flames. The conflagration was too intense to be contained. All poor Mr. Lowndes could do was watch helplessly while his property burned to ashes. Also observing the disaster was Goss' brother-in-law, William Udderzook. After studying the flames for about an hour or so, Udderzook strolled up to Lowndes and casually commented, "I think he's still in the house."

"Who is in the house?" asked the understandably rattled Mr. Lowndes.

Udderzook seemed surprised that the man had to ask. "Mr. Goss," he replied.

Lowndes' evening was quickly going from bad to worse. After a bit of sputtering, he inquired why Mr. Udderzook could not have mentioned this earlier. Udderzook--clearly a man with a passion for etiquette rare in this unmannerly world--replied coldly that he had not been introduced to anyone present, so he was naturally reluctant to impose himself. As he said later, "I claim that I performed my duty in sending a message to the family."

When the ruins were searched, it was soon evident that Udderzook's grim assertion was likely only too correct. A man's body was discovered. It was burned beyond recognition, but everyone took it for granted that these were the earthly remains of inventor Goss.

Immediately following this tragedy was the revelation that Mr. Goss had been a great fan of life insurance. In the months before his fiery end, he had purchased no less than four different polices, which--once his accidental demise was made official--would make his wife, Eliza, richer by $25,000.

When a man of modest means suddenly becomes addicted to buying large policies on his life, and then meets a weird end immediately afterward, insurance companies tend to narrow their eyes and begin asking uncomfortable questions. The coroner and the police wanted to know a bit more about Mr. Goss, as well. How was it, they asked, that this perfectly fit man came to be trapped inside the burning little home?

Udderzook and the late inventor's brother, Campbell Goss, told the authorities a simple story: On the day of the fire, Udderzook accompanied Winfield to his cottage, where they spent an educational and entertaining morning inspecting artificial rubber samples. At dusk, Goss filled a lamp with kerosene, and Udderzook took his leave. Later in the evening, Udderzook and a neighbor, Gottlieb Engel, paid a brief call on Goss. Winfield was having trouble with his lamp, so Engel volunteered to get another one from his mother's home. Goss gratefully accepted the offer, insisting that Udderzook accompany him on this mission. Udderzook and Engel returned to find the cottage on fire. It was obvious, said Udderzook, that this faulty lamp had exploded, causing the fire. Just a tragic accident, that could have happened to anybody.

Unfortunately for the Widow Goss, while the insurance companies agreed the lamp was the likely cause of the fire, they were not nearly so certain it had been an accident. They were uncovering some interesting things about Goss. For instance, they found it odd that although the ruins of the cottage had been searched without finding anything of value, more than a week later Campbell Goss claimed to have found in the wreckage his late brother's watch, chain, and keys. It struck them as curious that Goss had been willing to spend no less than half of his total income on life insurance premiums. There was also the fact that the day before the fire, Winfield had withdrawn his entire bank balance and closed his account. And when they also learned that on the night of the fire, Campbell Goss had hired a horse and carriage and made a mysterious ride into the country, the firms began muttering some suspicions that were very painful to the Goss family. The companies flatly refused to pay up.

Mrs. Goss took the companies to court. The lawyers for the insurance companies insisted that the body --which they were now openly doubting was truly that of Winfield Goss--be exhumed and autopsied. Mrs. Goss was asked to give a detailed physical description of her husband, with particular attention to his teeth. After a bit of judicial nagging--she was very reluctant to provide this information--she finally submitted a written report of Winfield's dentistry. He had, she said, an excellent set of teeth.

Unfortunately for her, the corpse revealed a quite different story. The man who had been buried as Winfield Goss had many teeth missing, and the ones he had retained were in a sad shape indeed. The insurance companies felt their darkest theories about the case were vindicated, and they vowed to fight.

The first case--against the Mutual Life Insurance Company--was held in May 1873. The heart of the trial was the medical evidence, all of which raised serious doubts whether the body found in the cottage was truly that of Winfield Goss. However, for reasons best known to themselves--probably a misplaced gallantry--the jury found for Mrs. Goss.

The time would come when they would feel a tad embarrassed about that decision.

The insurance companies moved for a new trial. They were convinced that Winfield Goss was still alive and well, and they were determined to prove it.

Mr. Udderzook was not pleased by this news.

On June 30, 1873, Udderzook traveled to the village of Jennerville, Pennsylvania, and booked into the local hotel. Accompanying him was a middle-aged, bearded man who coyly refused to give his name. That evening, the pair paid their bill and drove off in a rented carriage. A few hours later, Udderzook returned the carriage to the livery stable. He was quite alone. The next morning, the stable owner was disconcerted to find that the carriage was in a sorry state. The dashboard was broken, two blankets were missing, a large seal ring had been left between the cushions, and there were stains on the floor that looked very much like blood.

A week later, a local farmer named Gainer Moore passed by an area known as "Baer's Woods." He noticed an unusual amount of buzzards. When Moore went to investigate, he was shocked to find a man's body.

Or, to be more precise, part of a man's body. There was only a trunk and a head, partially covered with dirt and leaves. Further exploration revealed the man's limbs in a trench about twenty yards away. A quickly-assembled coroner's jury soon determined that the man had died of stab wounds. And that this was the same man who was last seen driving off in a carriage with Mr. Udderzook.

Udderzook was quickly tracked down and put under arrest. And when the insurance companies got the chance to examine the body, at long last they had to admit that Winfield Goss was well and truly deceased.

The prosecution saw very clearly what had happened. The problem with Winfield Goss was that he just didn't know how to play dead. He liked to, in the words of one of Mrs. Goss' attorneys, "deal in conviviality to too great an extent with his companions." After the fire, Udderzook and Campbell Goss settled Winfield--who was now calling himself "A.C. Wilson"--in some secluded residence, and at first all seemed to be going according to plan. However, Winfield soon got bored with being deceased. He also became very thirsty. His fondness for boozing it up in bars could not be contained. This was clearly not at all the way a dead man should behave, and it became an increasing source of worry for Mr. Udderzook, especially when the insurance companies broadcast their intention to find the allegedly defunct Mr. Goss.

Mr. Udderzook decided that Mr. Goss needed some help with being a really convincing corpse.

In October, Udderzook stood trial for murder. The prosecution presented the results of their detective work, which managed to trace the movements of Goss/Wilson from the night of the fire until the discovery of his remains. Photos of Winfield Goss were used to prove that he and the corpse found in the woods were one and the same. (Incidentally, this set a legal milestone in confirming the admissibility of photographs in court.)

Another of Udderzook's brothers-in-law, Samuel Rhodes, offered some startling testimony: he stated that on the day Goss was murdered, Udderzook had asked for his help with a certain scheme. He wanted to bring a man into the woods, sedate him with laudanum, and then rob him.

Very wisely, Rhodes declined.

The defense lawyers--who were apparently taken aback by the strength of the prosecution's case--had a hard time of it. The most they could do was suggest a feeble conspiracy theory that the insurance companies were trying to frame their client by planting a spurious body in Baer's Woods.

While this was certainly a novel argument, it failed to sway the jury. Udderzook was found guilty, and sentenced to death. He was hanged on November 12, 1874, maintaining to the end that Winfield Goss had indeed met his end in that cottage near Baltimore, and solemnly warning his audience about the evil machinations of those dastardly insurance companies.

The true identity of the unfortunate soul who had been enlisted to masquerade as Goss remains a mystery. Trial testimony indicated that Udderzook and Goss had hauled this body to the cottage in an express wagon the morning of the fire, but it was never established how the pair had acquired it. It is assumed that Udderzook had managed to filch it from some medical college.

Unless, of course, that worthy had more than one murder on his resume.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by a majestic, fearsome god.

The statue is pretty formidable, too.

Photographer:  Elliot Erwitt

That ongoing question:  What the hell is Tabby's Star?

Another ongoing question:  What the hell is the Roanoke Stone?

Watch out for those Japanese monsters!

Watch out for those spider rains!

Watch out for those haunted wells!

Watch out for those haunted burger joints!

The Goblin Overlord.

Was William Hastings Richard III's treacherous "friend," or an innocent martyr?  (I go with the former, but your historical mileage may vary.)

Troubled by a barking dog?  Have I got the prayer for you!

A 19th century murder and a white squirrel.

The Victorian fad for gold-dusted hair.

James Joyce and the disappearing scholar.

Hate having people lecture you about ending a sentence with a preposition?  Blame John Dryden, who reminds me of those humorless pedants you see online in such large numbers.

Life in a 17th century coffee shop.

UFOs and a disappearing Air Force officer.

Fairies are among us as much as ever.

The Lady of the Mercians.

The eternal allure of alternate history.

The temporary allure of flagpole sitting.

Agricultural labor in the Georgian era.

The first professional food critic.  Who hosted his own funeral party.

Some recent Fortean ice falls.

It's 18th century Ireland.  There is a football match.  Things go exactly as you'd think.  Plus poetry!

The Beatnik monk.

How Napoleon lost his carriage.

A really freaking deep cave turns out to be even freaking deeper than we thought.

Being a phone operator at "Unsolved Mysteries" is sort of like being on Twitter without use of the "Mute" button.  Bits of good stuff, lots of creeps, and a whole lotta Weird.

The mysterious death of a forgotten Founding Father.

The menu on Cook's "Resolution."  Here's hoping you like "Sour Kraut."

It turns out that the Stanford Prison Experiment was a bunch of hokum.

A tailor who was tempted by dancing.

18th century sporting prints.

Penka the Bulgarian Cow escapes a death sentence.

The history of "witch balls."

Cats and Thomas Bewick.

British hairdressers have a ball, 1866.

The execution of the Paisley Witches.

Cleopatra's medical knowledge.

A hidden 19th century diary.

A cursed family.

Shooting at ghosts.

A fire poltergeist in Zimbabwe.

1918, the year of death.

That's it for this week!  Rejoin me next week, when we'll be looking at one of my favorite true-crime topics: diddling with life insurance!  In the meantime, here's some vintage summer music.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This account of what would now be called a "poltergeist event" appeared in the "Hampshire Telegraph" for May 5, 1800:
A most extraordinary circumstance happened in this Town [Portsmouth] on Sunday and Monday last. It is a topic which engages the attention of the gay, and the serious, the sceptic and the believer, the speculative philosopher, and the superstitious fanatic; in a word, persons of every description are impressed with the singularity of the event, as surpassing, in its causes and effects, every power of reason to investigate, or experience to reconcile with the general tenor of Nature's vicissitudes.

On Sunday morning, between nine and ten o'clock, Mr. Rood, an opulent Wine-merchant in the High-street, was alarmed with the sudden ringing of the bell, hung for the particular purpose of calling up his servant. No cause whatever, could be perceived of the bell ringing. In a little time after, the other bells in the house joined in the concert, and continued at intervals, of a quarter of an hour during the whole day. And, although persons were placed at the handles of each bell, to watch the cause of their ringing, they still continued their clamour without any perceptible agency whatever. At night one of the Maid-servants was so alarmed that she fell into a fit, in which she continued several hours. Late at night, Mr. Rood and his family went to bed, and passed the night without any further disturbance. About nine o'clock on Monday morning, the bells re-commenced their ringing, but with much greater violence and clamour than on the preceding day. Mr. Rood being now in the greatest consternation at not being able to ascertain the cause of this surprising circumstance, called in several neighours as witnesses of what was occurring. They had no sooner arrived than every endeavour was tried, to see whether the bells were rung by any trick of clandestine confederacy, and also to prevent their ringing. For this purpose, the wires were taken from the bells and their clappers were muffled after every examination had been made, in vain, to discover whether they were rung by any deceptive means. Among the most active visitors on this occasion was Mr. Luscombe, the keeper of the town prison. He muffled the principal bell and took away its handle and wire. But he had no sooner left the room with Mr. Rood and the rest of the neighbours, than the bell resumed its ringing more violently than ever. So great was its motion that it beat in such a forcible manner against the ceiling as to injure it materially, and it afterwards broke from its fastening and fell to the ground; but what is still more remarkable is, that the part which was driven several inches into the wall for suspending the bell, was found drawn out at least half a foot, which, to have effected by any human means, would have required more strength than any inhabitant of the place is said to possess without the aid of a mechanical power of most considerable energy.

At this time one of the servants was strongly suspected of being the cause of this supernatural event, in consequence of its appearing that, in two places in which she had lived before, occurrences equally unaccountable, and still more alarming, had happened, so as to occasion her being sent home from both places to her parents. The two places to which we allude, are Mr. Binstead's, Shoe-maker in Lombard-street; and Mr. Peake, builder in the Dock-Yard. At the former place, the most tremendous noises were heard whenever she was alone. Sometimes they represented the crashing of falling ruins, and at others the agitations of buildings being wrenched by the most powerful engines from their foundations. She frequently appeared as if combating with Spectres or Demons, and fell into the arms of her mistress in the greatest state of terrific agitation and horrid dismay.--Having stated the above circumstances, we avoid any comment. We, however, think it but justice to state, that the Girl, although now discharged from her third place, is remarkable for being most pre-possessing in her manners and person, and attentive to her duties as a servant.
[Note: other cases of Fortean bells can be found here and here.]

Monday, June 11, 2018

Edwin Fuhr's Close Encounter

"Nanaimo Times," September 11, 1974

Farmers are accustomed to finding unexpected things in their fields: deceased animals, amorous couples, the occasional visiting UFO...

...That last part may require a bit of explanation.

On September 8, 1974, Edwin Fuhr, a farmer near Langenburg, a community in Manitoba, Canada, went out to swath his fields. As he approached a large hay flat, he saw a peculiar steel-colored object in the hay. His first thought was that neighbors had put duck blinds there as a joke. He got off his tractor and approached the item with the idea of giving "the thing a kick."

When he was about 15 feet from the device, he suddenly realized that "the thing" was not lying on the ground. It was hovering just over the field, and revolving swiftly. Fuhr decided it was more prudent to leave it well alone. He walked backwards to his tractor ("I wasn't going to turn my back on the thing.") where he sat for a few minutes wondering what in the world he was supposed to do next. He was afraid to go near the object, but even more afraid to leave it unsupervised. He noticed that to the left of him were four other objects, all identical to the first and all revolving.

While he pondered his dilemma, the devices simultaneously shot straight up in the air, leaving a trail of gray vapor, and the group disappeared into the clouds. Fuhr estimated that the crafts were about five feet high and ten feet across. He saw no windows or other openings. They were completely, eerily silent.

When the objects rose into the air, they raised a heavy wind. After they disappeared, Fuhr summoned enough courage to survey the hay flat. He found five distinct "donut style" prints in the hay and grass. In the middle of the "donuts," the hay was not disturbed, but around the center was a ring some two feet wide where the hay was pressed flat into the ground. The grass was whirled down in a clockwise direction, but otherwise unmarked. These grass circles could still be seen days later.

Three days later, Fuhr found a sixth circle in that same hay flat.

"Brandon Sun," September 20, 1974

Three weeks before the farmer's brush with The Weird, a family in Yarbo, a town about 25 miles from Langenburg, reported seeing five bright objects moving across the night sky. Around that same time, a bus driver and his passengers reported seeing similar unidentifiable items. It is presumed that these were the same objects that Fuhr had seen.

Fuhr initially told no one of his odd experience. Finally, after some pressuring by his family--who sensed that something was preying on his mind--he confided his story to them. Fuhr had no desire to publicize his tale, but without his knowledge, his brother-in-law contacted the RCMP. From there, the story quickly spread to the newspapers, leaving the world--depending upon one's point of view--skeptical, enthralled, or just plain baffled.

Ron Morier, the RCMP Constable who was the first to investigate the incident, was convinced the farmer's story was utterly truthful. He told a reporter for the "Nanaimo Times," "Something was there and I doubt it was a hoax. There's no indication anything had been wheeled in or out and Mr. Fuhr seemed genuinely scared."

Just what in hell did happen on Fuhr's farmland? For the moment, at least, that must remain a matter of opinion.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the newest member of Strange Company HQ's crack team of assistant writers.

What the hell happened in 6th century Britain?

What the hell is happening in modern-day Britain?

Watch out for those wandering needles!

Watch out for those hitchhiking ghosts!

The strange disappearance of Paul Love.

A suffragette folklorist.

What it was like to attend a ball at Almack's.  Sounds a bit dull, if the truth be known.

A look at historical murder confessions. They were rarer than you might think.

Gossip about ancient philosophers.

Hiding behind a beard.

A ghost's revenge.

You wouldn't want to follow the real caveman diet.  One is suddenly reminded why fast food was invented.

The man who probably regretted surviving being shot through his stomach.

Some mighty old footprints.

A well-liked robber baron.

A Vietnamese fire poltergeist.

Pauline Bonaparte, party girl.

This week in Russian Weird presents the world's most badass eyebrows.

Jack the Ripper appears in court.  Sort of.

Smoky, the cutest warrior.

I'll see your corpse candle and raise you one death fire.

How John Cleese got a rubbish dump named in his honor.

Want to write a biography about someone who left us no biographical information?  Easy!

How to email a cat.  That is, if you want to do so, and I really hope you don't.

Robin Hood and the Virgin Mary.

Letters between an Indian ruler and the wife of an Indian army officer.

Be cautious about breaking death-bed promises.  The deceased won't like it.

Conspiracy theories and Nikola Tesla: a skeptic's view.

Why is it (usually) hard to remember dreams?

How Benedict Arnold went from hero to traitor.

The wild world of Victorian camping.

An intact Roman tomb was recently uncovered.

Three popular 19th century Paris restaurants.

The mysterious death of Bessie Little.

This is truly spooky: an animated recreation of the death of Pompeii.

An accused murderer finds a new life in America.

The rebellion of the Luddites.

Victorian hair removal methods.  Yes, of course arsenic is involved.  Victorians couldn't do anything without involving arsenic.

"Roaring Meg"...well, roars.

Why it's not a good idea to hitch a ride with a horse thief.

Smyrna's Electric Girls.

The "noon girls" of Victorian Paris.

A politician who ran a bordello.  Well, many of them have found worse ways to screw their constituents.

The famed "half-hanged" Margaret Dickson.

Have wrinkles?  Get out the stinking iris!

A "notorious" 18th century captain.

And that's it for this week! Join me on Monday, when we'll look at a Canadian farmer who harvested some High Strangeness. In the meantime, anyone else old enough to remember "If it's Lene, you'll Lovich?"