"...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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The latest installment of the "Boston Post's" "Famous Cats of New England" introduces us to Jim, a cat who certainly knew how to get your attention:
"Jim," the Faneuil Hall cat, demands mention on the honor roster. Thousands of shoppers in the market district know Jim and stop to talk to him.

While he belongs to Allen Hurd & Co., Jim can be found almost anywhere about the market and the passerby that does not give him greeting is speedily reminded by Jim.

A monster paw will lift and gently bat the ankle of the neglectful shopper. Or if Jim is sitting high up on a crate of vegetables he holds out the paw sociably to shake hands. So it comes that no one passes by Faneuil Hall Jim.

The best fed cat in New England is another title that Jim can of right claim to. There is not a tempting viand of any kind for which he shows a preference that does not come to Jim. Squab and lamb kidneys appeal particularly, although occasionally Jim gets himself in disgrace by going after his own game and slaying a pigeon up in the tower of the building near where the famous grasshopper weather van twirls to the winds. For this he gets duly punished--sometimes overduly, for conscientiously every marketman who discovers the sin take a hand at spanking him.

A perfect demon where rats are concerned, his monster claws have never once been lifted against a human friend. Even quarrels with the other market cats he scorns, holding himself aloof with a dignity that well becomes his great gray body.
~December 30, 1920

Monday, March 27, 2017

Hero Takes a Fall

"How long, O Lord, how long shall we have to listen to all this tripe about commercial arsenic? Murderers learn it now at their mother's knee.”
~Dorothy Sayers, "Strong Poison"

In March of 1894, a handsome 26-year-old named George Dean married a pretty 18-year-old named Mary Seymour. That is the first and the last normal thing detail about their story.

The couple's household in Sydney, Australia quickly became an unhappy one. Dean, a ferryboat captain, was away from home much of the time, and when he was around he and his mother-in-law, Catherine Seymour, quarreled frequently. After Dean banished Catherine from his home, he and his wife fell on increasingly bad terms. When Mary gave birth to a daughter in December of 1894, Dean even began sullenly insinuating (on no good grounds) that he doubted the child was his. On March 1, 1895, Mrs. Dean had a "scrap" with her husband, which ended with him making the ominous comment that he would marry someone else as soon as he "got rid" of Mary. On March 2, she noticed that the lemon cordial she habitually drank had an oddly bitter taste to it. She had noticed a similar bitterness in beef tea she drank several months before. Soon afterward, she fell ill.

Mrs. Dean's health continued to decline, and the strange taste of her food and drink, coupled with some very suspicious behavior on the part of her husband, led to George Dean being arrested in April on a charge of poisoning his wife.

The evidence against Dean looked quite damning. His wife and her mother testified how Dean had suggested Mary drink some porter. He brought her the glass himself. She saw a white sediment at the bottom of the drink, and refused to take it. On another occasion, he served her tea that had the same white substance in it. Before he gave her medicine her doctor had prescribed, she saw him stir a white powder into it, which he assured her was part of the prescription. After taking it, she immediately became violently ill. The doctor later denied that he had ordered any such powder for her. During Mary's illness, her vomit and the remains of her medicine were analyzed and found to contain arsenic and strychnine. The defense argument was simply that Mrs. Dean must have poisoned herself in an effort to frame her husband for attempted murder. Given the evidence, it is a bit surprising that the jury had a hard time reaching a decision. After much wrangling, the jury finally came up with a verdict of guilty, but with a "recommendation to mercy," tacked on to win over those jurors less certain of Dean's culpability. The judge, William Windeyer, remarked that he "had never in his experience tried a clearer case than this," and that he "was as well convinced of his guilt as though he had seen the attempt to poison his wife, not once or twice, but on every occasion on which she fell sick." Windeyer condemned the prisoner to be hanged.

Normally this would have been the end of George Dean, but fortunately for him, Windeyer's comments backfired dramatically. His Honor already had a reputation as a "hanging judge," and his obvious bias against the defendant created a great deal of adverse comment. It was widely suspected that he had pressured the jury to convict the defendant. This quickly snowballed into a general sentiment that this convicted poisoner was an innocent martyr who fell victim to an "outrageous miscarriage of justice." Public meetings were held in favor of the prisoner which drew thousands of indignant citizens. Money was raised for his defense. Petitions were sent to the government. The true villains, public opinion soon determined, were Mrs. Dean and her mother. Rumors spread that Mrs. Dean was a habitual arsenic eater and a woman of the worst possible character. (These rumors were hardly quieted by the embarrassing disclosure of the fact that Catherine Seymour had a background that included pickpocketing, receiving stolen property, and brothel-keeping.) It was even bruited about that Catherine had poisoned her daughter in order to incriminate her despised son-in-law. The public support for George Dean, and corresponding fury against everyone who had a role in convicting him, reached such a level that on April 17 his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

That did little to subdue the uproar over the case. One of Dean's solicitors, William Crick, was an MP, and on April 18 he gave an address before the assembly where he vigorously denounced Judge Windeyer as unfit to sit on the bench, and he demanded that royal commissioners reopen the case. His client, he declared, had been convicted on "utterly unreliable evidence."

In response to this public outrage, the government appointed a commission of three highly-regarded men to review the case. It was, in essence, an informal trial of Mary Dean and her mother, who were now generally regarded as black-hearted witches who had tried to send an innocent man to the gallows. On June 28, this commission released a report stating that they had "grave doubts" about Dean's guilt, and recommended that he be released. It is difficult to determine if this decision was reached solely due to an objective view of the facts of the case, or if they were influenced by the government's anxiety to placate a large, angry populace.

George Dean was freed, and for some time afterward was quite the popular hero. Large numbers of people, mostly women, rode his ferry simply for the privilege of gazing at his "manly brow" and contemplating his courage and virtue in the face of his horrible ordeal. His most outspoken solicitor, Richard Meagher, won a seat in Parliament simply for having defended Dean.

Happy endings all around! Well, not quite. On September 18, a member of Parliament asked the Attorney General, John Want, about rumors that there had been a "confession" in the Dean case. He received the enigmatic reply that Want "must decline to answer, as whatever communication he had was of a confidential nature."

These words brought the Dean controversy, which everyone thought had been finally settled, roaring back to life. A suddenly-nervous Meagher had the "heroic ferryman" issue a statement denouncing his "persecutors." Dean asserted his innocence and demanded that Parliament clear his name from the Attorney General's slanderous insinuations.

By way of reply, Attorney General Want presented to Parliament a statement from Sir Julian Salamons, the lawyer who had conducted the prosecution of Dean before the royal commission. Salamons said that in the previous July, Meagher admitted to him that after Dean had been convicted, the ferryman fully confessed his guilt to the solicitor.

In July 1895, the "Daily Telegraph" published an editorial suggesting that Meagher's ineptitude had been responsible for the innocent Dean being sent to jail. Meagher was so infuriated by this that he wished to sue the paper for libel. He asked Salamons to represent him in this proposed lawsuit. Salamons told him he had no grounds for complaint. After all, he said, Dean was innocent, but had been found guilty. It would be different, of course, if Dean had been guilty...

It was then that Meagher blurted out the truth: Dean was guilty. His client had admitted to Meagher that all the charges against him were true. In other words, Meagher had stirred up public opinion and blackened the characters of two helpless women all to set free a man he knew was a cold-blooded poisoner.

Salamons said he tried to persuade Meagher to make Dean's confession public, but the solicitor refused. This left Salamons with a great dilemma on his hands: He felt that what Meagher told him fell under the category of "lawyer/client privilege," which decreed that he stay silent. On the other hand, if he kept Meagher's revelation to himself, Mary Dean and her mother would continue to be publicly vilified, while a would-be murderer remained a public idol. He finally shared his secret with the Attorney General.

Meagher angrily called Salamons' statement "a base and cruel fabrication," and asserted that Sir Julian was suffering from "the demon of mental affliction." Crick made a thoroughly disgraceful speech in parliament, describing Salamons as "a cunning little Jew," "a wily Jew" who was simply inventing his entire story. Dean himself denied making any such confession to Meagher.

Meagher and Crick picked the wrong target. In his forty years at the bar, Salamons had not risen to the top of his profession for nothing. He responded to Meagher's attack with a Parliamentary speech that was a brilliant and utterly damning condemnation of Dean and his solicitors. By the time he finished speaking, there was not an impartial soul left in the country who still believed George Dean was an martyr. When a chemist who had sold Dean arsenic finally came forward, the public revulsion towards the ferryman was as strong as their former adulation.

On October 5, Dean, Crick and Meagher were arrested and charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Dean also faced perjury charges. Three days later, Crick rose from his seat in Parliament, and made a stunning announcement. He read a full confession from Meagher, where the solicitor admitted the truth of every word Sir Julian had said. Meagher followed that up by resigning from the parliamentary position he had won only a month before. The following day, the Attorney General read before Parliament a statement from Dean, admitting not only his guilt, but that he had indeed told Meagher of his crime.

By that point, it was far from clear who was the most hated man in Australia--Meagher or George Dean.

The charges against Crick were dropped when it was established that Meagher had never told him of Dean's confession. Meagher was found guilty, but his sentence was later overturned on a technicality. Meagher's law career was over, but he became a successful real estate agent, and, rather remarkably, won a seat in the Legislative Assembly. He also served a two-year term as Mayor of Sydney. In 1920, he even managed to use his political connections to get reinstated to the roll of solicitors.

Dean was found guilty of perjury, and sentenced to fourteen years hard labor. Thanks to his good behavior in prison, he was released after nine years and lived a quiet life until his death in 1933. Mary Seymour Dean obtained a divorce in 1896. She remarried four years later. Hopefully, her second husband was a better bargain than her first.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Cats of March!

What the hell was the Galesburg UFO sighting?

Watch out for the Vapor Man of Brown's Woods!

Watch out for those exploding pipes!

The fixers of Old Hollywood.

A tourist visits Regency London.

A guide to bathing like an 18th century queen.

Lucretia Borgia's daughter, the radical composer.

Jumping off bridges for a living really isn't a good idea.

Anyone else unaware that Orson Welles wrote some of FDR's speeches?

In which we learn to pity Napoleon's barber.

Because you can't get enough haunted pubs.

The strange disappearances from public lands.

Vindication for Graham Hancock?

The folklore of sheep.

The historical hazards of teething.

Lafayette and the beautiful countess.

That time God spoke in a wind.

How to make your own mummy.  In case, you know, you want to get your Christmas gifts ready early.

The face of a 13th century man.

The mystery of the "ghost plane crash."

Crosswords and coincidences.

That time Grandpa turned into a seal.

The East India Company's black book.

Let's talk snuff-eating nose centipedes, shall we?

The skeletons in the window.

"All good things" in one medieval book.

Forgery and the thieves of Threadneedle Street.

Thomas Hardy discusses a hanging.

The real Casanova.

Queen Victoria's food.

London's strangest water craft.

Fortean nursing experiences.

Peculiar ancient Chinese statues.

A 1959 sea monster.

A debtor comes to a bad end.

An ancient way to rewire your brain.

2, 124 reasons why I'm glad I never had children.

NASA and the Antikythera mechanism.

A notorious "witchcraft murder."

College girls in the Gilded Age.

How to endure being married to Thomas Carlyle.

The ghosts of Ireland.

The train and the forced turnip-eating.

The bloodbath of the Paris Commune.

The history-changing death of Arthur Tudor.

Seducing a man with bread.

The Prime Minister's assassin.

This week in Russian Weird: that time a literary hoax led to a duel.

That's all for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a controversial Australian poisoning case.  In the meantime, some guy had the bright idea to isolate Grace Slick's vocals on "White Rabbit." You know something? I think I like the song much better this way.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This tale of domestic bliss comes from the "Bloomsburg Columbian," July 6, 1888. (The story is reprinted from the "Chicago Times.")

Mrs. Emma Mumford, at the Armory Police Court yesterday, sold her husband, William, for $200, $50 of which was paid in cash and tho other $150 promised in monthly payments of $50 each.

William is not a bad looking fellow. He is tall, well-built, has a mustache and side-whiskers, dresses well, and with his gold eyeglasses a stylish appearance. Altogether it would seem that William was quite cheap at the price, but he has his failings, and it was these that led his wife to let him go as cheaply as she did.

Mr. and Mrs. Mumford lived in Montreal, Canada. He was a bookkeeper in a large house and earned sufficient money to support his wife comfortably, but he wouldn't do it; he preferred to spend his earnings on fine clothes and let her win the bread for the house. Then he became fascinated with the charms of Clara Brown. Miss Brown is fair, fat and forty, and suffers by contrast with Mrs. Mumford, who is a pretty little black-eyed woman, with a sweet smile and vivacious manner. However, Miss Brown reciprocated Mumford's admiration and he accepted her proposition to run away to Chicago. They got here a little over a week ago, and were followed by Mrs. Mumford, who arrived here last Friday. A warrant charging the pair with criminal intimacy was sworn out and served by an officer, who brought the couple before Justice R. H. White.

They were badly frightened as they stood waiting for the case to be called. Mumford sent word to his wife that he wanted to speak to her. Mrs. Mumford walked over to where her husband stood beside the woman for whom he had forsaken her. Mumford begged her not to prosecute, but she was firm. He leaned over as though to whisper in her ear and his arm stole towards her waist. She jumped back and shook him off. "Emma," he said, "don't prosecute me and I'll go back and behave myself."

"Oh, no you won't. I am not going to pay your way back to Montreal and then have to support you."

"But you wouldn't send your own husband to tho penitentiary?"

"Wouldn't I? You wait and see."

Then Mrs. Mumford thought a moment. "I'll tell you what I'll do, ma'am," she said turning to Miss Brown. "I have scarcely a dollar in tho world. If you will give me $200, enough to start a small business in Montreal, you can have him and I won't stand in your way."

Miss Brown pleaded that she didn't have the $200, but was told that she had better raise it before the case was called. This roused her to action and she left the station. Half an hour later she returned with a despairing look on her face. "I could only raise $50," she said, but I will get the rest if you will give me time."

The wife saw that this was the best she could do and took the money. She then made Miss Brown sit down and write out three notes for $50 each payable in 30, 60, and 90 days. These she put in her pocket, and fifteen minutes later the case was dismissed for want of prosecution.

I think we can all agree that Mrs. Mumford definitely got the best of the bargain. I'd be curious to know how she did with that shop she planned to open. With her business acumen, she probably wound up owning half of Canada.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Ghost of Bryn-Glas

It's not often that you find a cracking good Gothic epistolary novel (complete with family curse!) in the correspondents' section of a 20th century magazine. This first letter appeared in the Welsh publication "Bye-Gones" on February 18, 1903:
THE BRYN-GLAS GHOST.— The “House of Llanlloddian " are Harrisons by surname, but formerly they were Devereuxes and Joneses, the house bearing at all times the proud badge of the Three Nags’ Heads of King Brochwel of Powys. Now at one time a branch of the Devereux family lived at Bryn-glas Hall, three miles north of Llanfair, and the ghost (yspryd) that I am now going to speak about was the bane of existence to this Bryn-glas branch of the family for a considerable time. This ghost made its appearance in the wood and edge-row on the road-side near the house, in the form of a flickering light, and was always in the way when the master of Bryn-glas came home from Pool or Llanfair. It always uttered in a dismal tone the warning and prophetic words “Dial daw, Dial daw” (“Vengeance will come”). It was believed that its mission and the burden of its speech had reference directly to Squire Devereux, who, like other Welsh gentlemen of his day, partook of the good things of this life “not wisely but too well,”--in fact this particular squire never quitted Llanfair town of nights without being more or less in a state of intoxication. This yspryd then had a special mission to perform (so the neighbours imagined), and if only some one would speak to it (they argued), and ask its message it would never more trouble the neighbourhood. Now, it is said, Squire Devereux at last mustered courage to do this piece of business himself, first fortifying himself for the task by sundry potations in the town, and, thus equipped, he went full of courage to the terrible thing, and asked for an explanation. But the apparition was too much for his nerves,and his voice gave way, and all he could say in reply to the dreaded “Dial daw,” was “Pa bryd?” (“When?") in a very hoarse whisper: to which the spirit replied, “Yn amser y gorwyriou y dew” ("In the days of the great grandchildren it will come"). The voice after this was heard no more. It has been maintained that the prediction uttered by the yspryd really did come to pass; and that with the fourth generation died the Devereux family of Bryn-glas. Some of your readers may be able to say whether this was actually the case?
Feb. 7, 1903.
A response to this letter was published in the issue for March 24:
THE BRYN-GLAS GHOST (Feb. 18, 1903). —Prior to “R.O.’s” highly interesting contribution I was certainly under the impression that I was the only individual living who had either heard of or known anything about the Bryn-glas ghost. It is really almost incredible, this sudden and unexpected resuscitation of a defunct "yspryd," or rather of its exploits. In this connection I may mention that my father, in the early part of his career, took up his residence at Bryn-glas,jointly, it is assumed, with the Devereuxes, being, I believe, in no way related to them. This was evidently at a period when the manifestations of the supposed ghost were at their height, for by day as well as by night the mansion was being subjected to intermittent storms of missiles, but whence they came or by whom or what sped, remained undiscovered, and apparently undiscoverable. Many’s the night that my father, armed to the teeth and on detection bent, kept vigil in an adjoining orchard, but on these particular nights neither goblin, ghost nor demon incarnate deigned, or, more probably, dared, to put in an appearance or continue the molestations. A certain yokel, whose veracity was regarded as unimpeachable, protested that at midday, in the light of the sun, he had seen the body of a waggon make a complete revolution, the wheels mean while remaining stationary; but to the credit of the less superstitious be it recorded that this part of the business was accepted cum grano ["with a grain of salt."] It may, however, interest the curious to be informed that the exit of the Devereuxes and my father—de mortuis nil nisi bonum—and that of the ghost, appear to have synchronised, or very nearly so, in a remarkable manner, so that the light which was then beginning to beat upon the dark corners of Wales penetrated even the once haunted halls of Bryn-glas.
M. D, Jones.
Borriew Endowed School.

The best part of the story came last--a contribution from a member of the cursed family himself! The April 1 issue of "Bye-Gones" contained the following communication:
YSPRYD BRYN-GLAS (Feb. 18, March 4, 1903).—I have read with extreme interest the paragraphs relative to "Yspryd Bryn-glas.” I have been acquainted with the story of the Yspryd these thirty years, my father having related it to me as long as that age. Indeed, the Yspryd Bryn-glas has had for us a terrible significance, much as we, and I especially, feign to disbelieve in all matters superstitious; but in “R.O.’s ” account of the Yspryd, I hear for the first time of its colloquy with John Devereux. My grandfather, after his marriage with Miss Williams, of Llangyaiew Rectory, lived for some years at Bryn-glas Hall, being at that time a man of considerable means and heir-presumptive to the Garthlwyd Estates, his uncle, Mr. Lloyd, having bred him in this belief, and he having lived at Garthlwyd from childhood. Directly he took up his residence at Bryn-glas, strange phenomena manifested themselves, and the family was very much disturbed in consequence. My grandfather kept watch repeatedly in the full assurance, he being anything but a superstitious man, that the disturbances were caused by persons of malicious or mischievous intent, but ultimately he adopted a different view and became profoundly impressed by something which took place and of which he only had cognisance. I have always understood that the curse "Dial daw" was pronounced on my grandfather and his immediate descendants, that it was said they should be scattered to the four winds and find nameless graves in unknown and far distant lands, and certain it is that with the single exception of my own father not one escaped the ban. The Far West, the battlefields of America, South Africa long years ago, each and all claimed a victim, and some died in absolute want and ignominy at our very doors. Disaster upon disaster speedily followed the pronouncement "Dial daw." Mr. Lloyd was gathered to his fathers and laid to rest midst solemn pomp and sable woe, the tenantry were gathered together, as the custom then was, the will was read, and lo! in the place of the name John Jones appeared that of Frederick Jones, his cousin. Five and twenty years ago, as a boy, I was walking to Welshpool, when an old man overtook me; he stopped and asked me if I belonged to the Garth-lwyd Family. I told him I believed so. He said, "I see the likeness," and then, taking me by the arm--"Young man, I knew your grandfather, there is a curse upon him and all belonging to him." 
Oxford, M.W.J.
A real-life tale of supernatural horror, lost like buried treasure in an old historical journal. Complete with that wonderfully M.R. Jamesian line about the grandfather being convinced of the ghost's reality by "something which took place and of which he only had cognisance."

Here's to you, Yspryd Bryn-glas.  You don't deserve to be forgotten.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the cats of St. Patrick's Day!

What the hell are these cosmic light flashes?

What the hell happened to the Clovis people?

What the hell are crop circles?

Who the hell really built the Silk Road?

Who the hell was Mary Jane Kelly, the most famous Ripper victim?

Watch out for those killer mermaids!

Watch out for those killer neckerchiefs!

Watch out for those Irish Elementals!

Watch out for those kidnapper Sasquatches!

Watch out for those phantom plane crashes!

A pharaoh has been hiding under a Cairo street.

The president of Brazil has a problem with ghosts.

The murderous month of March.

18th century singing rules.

A Puritan "librarian at sea."

How Venice buries its dead.

The mystery of the Phantom Fortress.

Important women from ancient Greece and Rome.

Does the Mona Lisa look happy or sad?  You make the call!

Since I hate bananas, I can't say I'd cry if people really are killing them off.

The mystery of the steak sauce bottle.

Let's face it, we don't know jack about human history, we don't know jack about the human brain.

Humans don't know jack, full stop.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  What not to do with leeches.  Or your eyeball, for that matter.

Bonus advice: Don't kiss.

Were prehistoric sites large history books?

St. Patrick's autobiography.

A newly-discovered ancient Chinese pyramid.

What, doesn't everyone communicate by means of telepathic snails?

Some St. Patrick's Day trivia.

The first Texan novel.

A dog in Bolivia has taken holy orders.

An ill-fated 18th century heiress.

Saving history from ISIS.

A "ghostly bromance."

The rediscovery of 500-year-old tunnels.

Australia's largest mass UFO sighting.

The case of the chameleon in the classroom.

The hazards of mingling your interests.

A gruesome tale of two Boston sisters.

The possible first woman to write a book in the English language.

It really was not a good idea to cuckold Peter the Great.

The enigmatic Josephine Earp.

The "Manchester Ophelia."

A 17th century sex manual.

The folklore of doppelgangers.

The "brain defense."

A chess-playing hoax.

Miss Neas and her Fortean bones.

Benedict Arnold and the phantom duel.

Behold the mighty Oxford Comma!

Using moles to predict the future.

Vintage photos of London's East End.

Resuscitation methods, 18th century style. 

A French Victorian feminist.

The grave of a once-famed dog.

While we're on the topic, here are more graves of illustrious dogs.

Edith and the Blob.

This week in Russian Weird:  In Russia, the game show plays you.  Plays you to death, probably.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll be taking another look at one of my current pet topics: Welsh ghosts.  In the meantime, let's take a tour of early 20th century New York:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The 21st installment of the "Boston Post's" series "Famous Cats of New England" presents the early 20th century's answer to Maru:
"Who let the cat out of the bag?" That's what the question used to be, but everyone who sees Bosie, the tiger cat at the McCauley Hat Company in Province street, asks instead, "Who put that cat in the bag?"

For there on the counter with all but his head stowed neatly away in a hat bag, sits Bosie. Never a customer removes his hat from the bag in which he brings it to be repaired that Bosie does not back into the bag and curl himself up. When the door opens he sticks his handsome head out the neck of the bag to look over the newcomer.

Specially patented cat food is all that Bosie is fed on, and another of his peculiarities is that he scorns any kind of meat.

The stunt of running across a room on his hind legs while with his front paws he makes passes at catching a fly and invariably succeeds, is something that Bosie's friends believe belongs exclusively to him. He can also climb straight up the side of a wall.
~December 29, 1920
Ah, the cat videos that were lost to the world, simply because Bosie was a century before the invention of YouTube. Truly we have here a feline born before his time.