"...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, February 10, 2016

Newspaper Clipping(s) of the Valentine's Day

via British Newspaper Archive


Valentine's Day is just around the corner.  It's that time when we all turn our attention to such ultra-romantic topics as suicide, murder, assault, revenge, and homicidal clowns.

You guessed it.  It's time to look at love, Illustrated Police News style!

The IPN loved their duels.  And if they were fights to the death over the affections of some lady or gentleman, so much the better:






Jealousy was also a popular theme:











Not even churches were safe:




Neither were the schools:




In the world of the Illustrated Police News, you always had to beware of those vengeful clowns:



Not to mention the lovesick fishmongers:


Or the wrath of Mother Nature!



This lady took a deadly retaliation against her husband's passionate liaison with a dressmaker's dummy:


Two "love birds" have just a bit too much fun at Covent Garden:



Naturally, French counts were hardly immune to the charms of Love, IPN Style:


Neither were the gypsies:




Or the recently-deceased, for that matter:


But, at least, everyone had a happy ending after the marriage ceremony, right?

Well.













This image says it all:


Happy Valentine's Day, gang!

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Ghost of Cock Lane: Partly Truth and Partly Fiction?

"Illustrated Police News," 1883


It is ironic that one of Britain’s most well-known spook stories, “The Cock Lane Ghost,” is famous not because it was proved to be a genuine haunting, but because it was officially labeled as a cruel hoax.

The “official” version of any story, is, of course, not necessarily the correct one…

The saga had its roots in the marriage of a young moneylender, William Kent, to a lady named Elizabeth Lynes. So far as we know, the marriage was a happy one, but it ended sadly with Elizabeth’s death in childbirth. The Lynes ladies, in fact, so suited Kent that after he became a widower, he entered into a liaison with his wife’s sister, Frances. As canon law forbade their marriage, in 1759 the two simply moved to Greenwich, where they were strangers, and settled down there under the pretense of being husband and wife. They found lodgings in the home of Richard Parsons, the parish clerk.

For a while, at least, relations between the Kents and the Parsons were quite cordial. Parsons also became a client of Kent, borrowing twelve guineas from him that he was to repay at the rate of one guinea a month. This seemingly innocuous transaction went on to figure highly in the upcoming trouble. Frances (commonly known as “Fanny,”) became so fond of Parsons’ eleven year old daughter Elizabeth that, one night when Kent was away, she had the girl come sleep with her for companionship.

This is where things began to get weird. Throughout the night, the pair found their sleep disturbed by loud and peculiar noises in their room, which Fanny described as a combination of rapping and scratching. The next day, Parsons suggested the noises came from a neighboring shoemaker industrious enough to work the night through. However, when a few days later Fanny heard the same noises—even louder than before—on a Sunday night, when even the most hard-working cobblers must rest, everyone realized something unusual was afoot. A visiting neighbor reported seeing a strange white figure drifting through the Parsons home. (This same neighbor, James Franzen, reportedly later heard the ghostly knockings in his own bedchamber.)

From then on, the noises were heard off and on at various volumes, always in the same room where the girl Elizabeth slept. The strange phenomenon became the subject of some talk in the neighborhood, but other than that no action was taken.  Fanny feared the sounds were caused by the spirit of her sister Elizabeth, angered at Fanny's irregular relationship with Elizabeth's husband.

Shortly after the manifestations started, Kent and Parsons quarreled, and the moneylender and his lady moved to other lodgings.  Some weeks later, in February 1760, the pregnant Fanny came down with what was diagnosed as smallpox, and died.

After the Kents moved out, the Parsons family heard no more of the strange noises, and they undoubtedly shrugged it off as “just one of those things.” At the time of the two families had parted company, Parsons still owed Kent three guineas. As he neglected to pay the outstanding amount, Kent took him to court. Shortly after he collected this debt, in January 1762, the strange noises started up again, even more loudly and vehemently than before. Again, the sounds centered in young Elizabeth Parsons’ bedroom.

It was now that the family decided they must have a ghost on their hands. By means of various reciprocal taps and scratches, they held communication of sorts with their strange visitor, and through this means, elicited the message that their “ghost” was none other than Fanny Lynes, wanting the world to know that William Kent had poisoned her with arsenic.

The news that “Scratching Fanny,” as she came to be called, was trying to get justice from beyond the grave eventually spread throughout the neighborhood, then to all of London, then Britain as a whole, and finally to the continent. Fanny became a posthumous superstar.

People began to recall that before her death, Fanny had made a will leaving everything she owned to Kent. They remembered with even more interest than when Fanny’s sister Ann had arrived for the funeral, she was much perturbed to find that she had been unable to take one last look at her sister, as the coffin lid was already screwed down shut. She had been even more upset about Fanny’s will, suggesting that it had been something Kent engineered in order to rob Fanny’s surviving siblings, “who had all lived in perfect harmony until this unhappy affair happened.” Legal problems involving Fanny’s estate even compelled one of her brothers, John, to take Kent to court.

Many people began to be very interested in Mr. William Kent.

“Scratching Fanny” was taken so seriously that one evening, a squadron of twenty or so clergymen got together to “interview” her. Amid a sound that resembled the rustling of wings—a new addition to the program—she told her clerical audience that the fatal poison had been administered to her in “purl” three hours before her death, and that her former maid, Eleanor “Carrots” Carlisle, could tell them more about her murder. (When questioned, “Carrots” stated that she had no reason to suspect Fanny’s death had been unnatural, and that her former mistress and Kent appeared “very loving, and lived very happy together.”)

It was not long before Horace Walpole was describing Fanny as “the reigning fashion.” Although he thought her a rather paltry sort of ghost, he felt obligated to call on the Parsons, “for it is as much the mode to visit the ghost as the Prince of Mecklenburg, who is just arrived.”

I wonder what the Prince would have made of the comparison.

For some time, very many people had quite a good bit of fun with this novelty act, but eventually the more cynical members of society took the upper hand. They pointed out that Fanny’s “fortune” amounted to only about a hundred pounds—not, they reasoned, worth poisoning her over. The doctor who attended her last illness declared unequivocally that she had died of smallpox. And when it was learned that “Scratching Fanny” made her accusations against Kent right after he had successfully sued his former landlord, it began to look very like it was not a ghost, but Parsons himself, who sought revenge.

Suddenly, public opinion became as eager to discredit the “haunting” as it had been to champion it. The Lord Mayor directed that little Elizabeth Parsons, the central figure of the story, be removed from her parents and subjected to a close examination. (Among the committee appointed to examine the story was Dr. Samuel Johnson.) The results were inconclusive, but by this point, London’s intelligentsia was eager to seize upon anything they could to crush what they saw as the ridiculous superstition of spiritualism. In short, people were now as blindly, rigidly skeptical as they had earlier been blindly, rigidly credulous. For several nights, Elizabeth’s bed was swung up like a hammock over the floor, and her hands and feet were tied all night. No noises were heard during those nights, which led many to assume the girl was nothing but a common trickster. Her questioners badgered the child to confess that she herself was responsible for all the “ghostly” manifestations, and when she persisted in maintaining her innocence, she was told that if she did not make the ghost heard within half an hour, she and her parents would be sent to Newgate.

The terrified girl pleaded to be allowed to go to her bed to see if that would bring on the noises. That night was again a silent one. On being told that she would only get one more night before being imprisoned, the inevitable happened. The poor desperate child hid a board in her bed, and, when she thought no one was looking, began to scratch and knock upon it. She was found out, of course, and, even though those observers who had heard “Scratching Fanny’s” previous manifestations agreed that the sounds in no way resembled Elizabeth’s pitiful imitations, this was still seen as irrefutable proof that the whole “ghost story” was a giant fraud.

The “ghost,” the sophisticates said, was nothing but a naughty child and a piece of wood. Because, after all, what intelligent person believes in ghosts. Another victory for the forces of reason!



The now-vindicated William Kent had the satisfaction of seeing charges of conspiracy brought against the Parsons family, as well as several other people who had championed “Scratching Fanny.” After a trial of twelve hours, they were all found guilty. Richard Parsons, who continually maintained his innocence, was sentenced to three periods in the pillory, as well as two years imprisonment. (While he was in the stocks, a sympathetic crowd passed the hat and collected “a handsome subscription” for his benefit.) Mrs. Parsons got one year. Others involved in the so-called conspiracy got sentences varying from six months of hard labor to fines of various amounts.

And thus the Cock Lane Ghost was put to rest. Most modern accounts of the episode take it for granted that it was indeed nothing but a ridiculous fraud engineered by a vindictive family. In the sense that there is no other reason to suspect Fanny Lynes was murdered, the ghost was not legitimate. However, it does appear that there was something genuinely weird going on in the Parsons home. For one thing, it was acknowledged that Elizabeth’s efforts to mimic “Scratching Fanny” sounded nothing like the sounds heard before. Then there is the fact that on an earlier night, Elizabeth’s bed had been thoroughly searched before she was put to bed. However, when she was lying in the bed, it began shaking violently, from no discernible cause. And, it was never satisfactorily explained how a ghost was seen and heard by an independent party before Fanny died, or how the noises were first heard from the living Fanny Lynes herself.

Also, could the Parsons family really have been so murderously vengeful over the loss of three guineas that they did not even rightfully own that they would take the stupid gamble of completely inventing a ghost aimed, one presumes, at sending an innocent man to the gallows for murder?

Whatever the truth might have been about the “Cock Lane Ghost,” it may well have been a bit more complicated than we think.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is proud to be sponsored by the Ancient Order of Robber Kittens:








What the hell is under Nottingham?

What the hell happened to Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker in 1973?

Watch out for Mel's Hole!

Watch out for those New Zealand vampires!

Watch out for those Red Fairies!

Ceres keeps getting weirder.

A tribute to Edward Lear.

A tribute to everyone's favorite Protestant whore.

The discovery of Neanderthals.

Photographs of 1920s-30s Shanghai.

A fictional character's gravestone.

A werewolf's gravestone.

A church haunted by a ghost bird.

How America was able to buy Alaska on the cheap.

Myths can be less mythical than you might think.

The cat in Celtic lore.

An American's view of Russia, 1851.

A "peculiar" father is charged with manslaughter.

The lesser-known side of Marie Curie.

Victorian hair care.

Exploding eyes and bath-water beer:  It wasn't easy being a 6th century saint.

The world's top chef turned out to be a real-life "Richard Cory."

Anne Boleyn's earwax.

Oh, just another human-leg-dwelling boned insect.

Some remarkable 18th century cats.

A gin recipe even I wouldn't drink.

Lucy Stanton, influential abolitionist.

When your dad is a ghost.

When 19th century poets turn ghost hunters.

Looking for love in 18th century newspapers.

India's amazing cave temples.

Napoleon's smartest sister.

Becoming Louis Vuitton.

I can't say this surprises me.

Let's face it, the Sumerians were smarter than we are.  So were the Babylonians.

Simeon Pfoutz, who tried to bring feudal society to 19th century Pennsylvania.

Yale's Great Chalkboard Rebellion.

Treating mental illness in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The decadence of Weimar Germany.

Keeping 14th century time.

Paddy Scott, Irish pirate.

The history of WWI's most famous song.

Listening to history.

The diary of an early American woman.

Two horses receive a surprisingly elaborate burial.

An early 19th century "provincial tragedy."

More 19th century infanticides.

The execution of a 16th century scapegoat.

Feeling blue.

The cover-up surrounding the Challenger disaster.

The strange tale of the alien mummy and the mountain lights.

Who murdered the Grimes sisters?

Framing a guilty man.

The deerhounds of Windsor Park.

The opening of the London Docks.

The Lusitania cover-up.

For this week in Russian Weird, here's a look at their female shamans.

And there it is! See you on Monday, when I'll look at one of the 18th century's most notorious ghost stories. In the meantime, here's probably the prettiest song ever to feature the word "crap" in its lyrics:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day



Yet another case of mystery stone-throwing--heated ones, this time!--appeared in the "New York World," January 12, 1890:

The people on the plantation of John W. Brooks, near Culpeper Court House [Brandy Station, Virginia] have been thrown into a state of terror by phenomenal occurrences in a house on the place which was until quite recent occupied by the family of Richard Moten. Moten and his neighbors allege that hot stones have been thrown into the house through closed windows without breaking the glass, and that the furniture could not be kept in any particular place by reason of some invisible influence that caused it to move about the rooms and even to travel up and down stairs. This peculiar state of things was developed last September and has continued uninterruptedly since.

The effect of sudden showers of hot stones and unexpected encounters with perambulating chairs and beds on Mrs. Moten's nervous system has been such that to save her life her husband considered it necessary to move from the neighborhood. The family came to Brandy Station and a World correspondent had an interview with the husband on the subject of the phenomena.

While protesting entire disbelief in the power of disembodied spirits to return to earth and assert their presence by impish pranks, Mr. Moten is unable to account for the strange occurrences at his former home. He contends that they cannot truly be accounted for on psychological grounds, and rather inclines to a belief that they are due to mineral magnetism, but in just what manner he is at a loss to explain. Ho continued to reside in the house despite the protests of his wife in the vain hope of discovering the source of the disturbances, and his investigations were conducted in such a manner, he says, as to leave no doubt in his mind that they were brought about, not by supernatural, but by other than human sources. Here is his version of the mysterious visitations :

"On returning from work one day near the end of September I was surprised to find my family huddled together outside the house, As soon as she saw me my wife cried out: 'Oh, Richard, the house is haunted! Stones have been dropping into the rooms all the afternoon.' Insisting that the stones had been thrown by neighbors' children, I succeeded in quieting her fears and induced her to re-enter the house with me. 

"Looking around on the floor of the north room I discovered stones as large as hen's eggs lying on the floor. I picked them up and threw them out into the yard, thinking some practical joker had been trying to frighten the children. As I had cause to remain home the next day I thought I would just keep an eye open to detect the joker. About ten o'clock in the day a scream from my wife caused me to run into the kitchen, my wife lay in a faint on the floor and near her were four large stones. Picking up one of those I found it the least bit warm, and on examining; the rest I found them of the same temperature. I then sent for Mr. Brooks to come and make an examination. I showed him the stones which were scattered hero and there over the floor. Taking a chair, he sat clown to examine them. While doing so a stone that seemed as if it came through the window-glass struck Mr. Brooks on the foot. On examining this stone we found it to be hot. Mr. Brooks, thinking some one was playing a joke on us, got a gun and commenced firing at random into the cornfield to see if the mischievous person was hiding there. As the shooting availed nothing we re-entered the house to see if we would be disturbed again by the mysterious stones. After waiting for an hour or so, and as no more stones fell, Mr. Brooks left for home feeling at a loss to account for this strange mystery.

"We lived in the house for five months, and during that time the stones fell frequently. On one occasion the children were hauling walnuts under a large tree. Coming into the house to answer a call of their mother, they left the walnuts under the tree until they could return. Not ten minutes after they entered the house the walnuts came flying through the open door and fell on the floor in a shower. People in the neighborhood became afraid to come near the house. The stones seamed to come through the window-glass and also through the door when standing open. How the stones came through the glass without breaking the panes is a mystery to me. My little girl once said she saw a hand against the window just as a stone came in the room. 
"While eating one evening a stone fell from the coiling over the table into my coffee. After taking the stone out of the cup I drank the coffee as if nothing had happened. My family objected to it, but I was not the least bit afraid. The same evening my little boy's spelling book was swept from his hand as if some one had snatched it from him, At this moment several stones, which seemed to come through the window-glass, fell on the floor. My brother threw one of the stones in the fire, and it immediately leaped out of the fire back into the room. He tried this twice, with the same result each time. Flat-irons would fly across the room, and articles downstairs would come upstairs on a fly over the banisters. My wife grow ill and could stand this no longer, so I moved. The house is still vacant."

As is the norm with these sort of incidents, I found no follow-up stories.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Case of the Kidnapped Corpse [Part Two]

Joseph Werner, "Four Grave Robbers Awaken a Ghost"

In December 1880, Alexander Lindsay, the 25th Earl of Crawford, died while on a visit to Florence, Italy.  His body was carefully embalmed, packed in a complicated array of coffins, and reverently shipped back to his home in Scotland.  By the end of that month, his remains were buried in his family vault at Dunecht House, near Aberdeen. The crypt was accessible only through a short flight of steps. After the burial, the stairway was covered by four huge slabs of granite, which were then covered in lime. A few months later, the slabs were covered with dirt, which was brightened by the addition of grass and flowers. The whole was then surrounded by an iron railing. His loved ones could be pardoned for thinking the late Earl was well and truly buried.

Life at Dunecht went on placidly until five months after the burial, when the housekeeper, who happened to be passing by the crypt, noticed a strong, but pleasant smell coming from the burial chamber. The next day, the scent was also perceived by a gardener. Curiosity about the mysterious fragrance became so intense that orders were given to examine the slabs that had been placed over the vault. A crevice between two of the slabs was noted, but the assumption was that it had been caused by recent frosts. This crack was filled with lime, cement was placed over the stones, and everyone soon forgot the matter.

Our little story would now be over, if not for an anonymous letter sent several months later to the Lindsay family solicitor, William Yeats. It read:

"Sir--The remains of the late Earl of Crawford are not beneath the chapel at Dunecht as you believe, but were removed hence last spring, and the smell of decayed flowers ascending from the vault since that time will, on investigation, be found to proceed from another cause than flowers." The note was signed, "Nabob."

Yeats immediately contacted the builder who had constructed the burial vault. On learning from him about the apparently impregnable character of the Earl's resting place, the solicitor assumed the letter was merely a sick hoax. He dismissed the incident from his mind, saying nothing about it to the Lindsay family.

Some three months later, a workman at Dunecht House was passing by the vault. He noticed that the turf around the entrance to the burial site was displaced. Police were called in to examine the crypt.

They found that the earth around the granite slab directly above the stairway had been removed. The stone itself had been propped up by about a foot and a half. And when the search party descended into the vault itself, they were horrified to find that the coffin containing the Earl's remains had been forced open. The body itself was gone. The aromatic smell noticed earlier had come from scented sawdust that had been used to fill the coffin.

Naturally, a criminal investigation was immediately launched. Everyone connected with the estate was closely questioned by police, and the grounds surrounding Dunecht were searched. No clue to the Earl's current whereabouts--not to mention the identity of the thieves--could be found.

Weeks passed without any progress in solving the crime. A £600 reward was offered for any information about the theft. William Yeats, finally realizing that the anonymous letter he had received was all too legitimate, placed an ad in the local papers asking "Nabob" to communicate with him. These efforts received no replies.

Late in December, authorities received their first possible break in the case. "Nabob" sent a letter to a Mr. Alsop, the late Earl's London solicitor:

"The body is still in Aberdeenshire, and I can put you in possession of the same as soon as you bring one or more of the desperadoes who stole it to justice, so that I may know with whom I have to deal. I have no wish to be assinated by rusarectionests nor suspected by the public of being an accomplice in such dastardly work, which I most assuredly would be unless the gulty party are brought to justice. Had Mr. Yeats acted on the hint I gave him last Sept., he might have found the remains as though by axedand [accident] and hunted up the robers at lsure, [leisure] but that chance is lost, so I hope you will find your men and make it safe and prudent for me to find what you want.

P.S.--Should they find thad an outsider knows their secret it may be removed to another place."

The case remained stalled until July 1882, when a man named Charles Soutar was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the theft. Some years earlier, Souter had worked as a rat-catcher at Dunecht House, but due to his illegal side-job as a poacher, he had been fired three years before the Earl's death. Under interrogation, he admitted writing the "Nabob" letters. When asked to say what he knew of the crime, he told a gloriously deranged story.

Soutar claimed that one night in the spring of 1881, he was poaching in the woods around Dunecht. On hearing noises, he assumed they were caused by keepers, so he fled. Soon, however, someone tripped him and threw him to the ground. Two strangers with guns held him down. They were joined by two more men. They menacingly asked Soutar what he was doing there. He replied that he was merely "looking for a beast." One of the men, who appeared to be the leader of the group, told him that if he had been a spy, they would have had to kill him. The man added, "Remember what I am going to tell you; you're known to our party, and if you breathe a syllable of what you have seen, I will have your life if you're on the face of the earth." They then released Soutar and ordered him to leave the wood.

At daybreak, the poacher returned to the spot where he had encountered the men. They had gone, but left behind "a heap of rubbish where they had concealed something." When he examined the pile, he found a dead body, which emitted a strange odor. Soutar thought it best to just cover the corpse up again and forget the whole thing.

Some weeks later, he found himself in conversation with a man named James Cowe, who had done some plastering work at Dunecht. Cowe mentioned how the Earl's burial vault had been closed up, due to the strange, sweet smell coming from it. Soutar realized that the description of this smell matched the scent he had noticed on the body in the woods, and so was able to put two and two together about the fate of the Earl's corpse.

Soutar demurred at the suggestion that he lead police to the site, explaining, "I'll rather wait until you get them that took the body; it will be safer for me then."

An intensive search was conducted around the woods surrounding Dunecht. Iron probes were used to find anything that might resemble a burial site. Finally, on July 18th, the probes found a patch of ground about five hundred yards from Dunecht House that looked promising. The place was dug up, and their efforts were rewarded when they uncovered the Earl, wrapped in a blanket. The face was still recognizable. The remains were eventually reburied in Wigan, at the Lindsay Chapel, and the Earl was finally left to continue his rudely interrupted eternal slumber.

Soutar continued to insist his innocence, but, as the authorities lacked any other suspects, he found himself on trial for grave-robbing. A number of witnesses testified to having seen the defendant in the neighborhood of Dunecht late in May 1881--just a couple of days before the sweet odor began to emanate from the vault. James Cowe asserted that he had never had any conversation with Soutar about the Earl's crypt or the strange odor. Others related how Soutar had made a number of enigmatic comments to the effect that he knew where the missing Earl's body was hidden. The prosecution suggested that Soutar had written the "Nabob" letters in the hope of collecting a reward for his information.

Soutar's lawyers made the somewhat backhanded defense that his presence in the Dunecht area in May 1881 was easily explained--after all, he was a poacher. He did not travel in any secrecy, as he surely would have done if he had been planning to expand his activities to grave-robbing. For all anyone knew, the odor from the vault could have begun weeks before it was first detected. If he was guilty, it made no sense that in the "Nabob" letters he would make the conditions that the perpetrators be caught and he himself protected, as he knew the ads specifically rejected the idea of offering immunity to anyone involved in the crime. The defendant's story of finding the body may have been extremely weird, but it was one he had stuck to consistently, and nothing had been found to refute it. In short, the prosecution had presented no proof that Soutar had been responsible for the crime.

The jurors disagreed with that statement. After deliberating only half-an-hour, they found Soutar guilty. The judge commented that the "peculiar heinousness" of the crime deserved a punishment greater than that given to the "normal" body-snatcher who stole for the purposes of anatomical dissection. (A curious bit of judicial snobbery.) He sentenced the prisoner to five years in jail.

Although there was a legal "solution" to the crime, it still ended on a very unsatisfactory note. Even if Soutar had been involved in kidnapping the Earl's corpse--which was by no means proved beyond a shadow of a doubt--it was acknowledged by nearly all observers that he must have had accomplices. No one else was ever charged, or even suspected, of the deed. Whether Souter's conviction was justified or not, somebody got away with some very bad behavior.

As William Roughead noted in his essay on the Dunecht Mystery, such cases present "a strong argument in favor of cremation."

[Note:  By coincidence, I recently came across this curious--although most likely hoaxing--epilogue to our story.]

Friday, January 29, 2016

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is pleased to be sponsored by the Knittin' Kittens!






Who the hell was the Death at Indian's Head?

What the hell is the Dare Stone?

What the hell is the Waffle Rock?

Who the hell killed Elizabeth Short?

Watch out for the monster of Lake Elsinore!

Watch out for Queen Victoria's handwriting!

Watch out for those 85-year-old jewel thieves!

Watch out for those 18th century quacks!

Watch out for the Nine of Diamonds!

South Carolina is really booming!

Schrödinger, Church cat.

Date night in 1953 San Francisco.

John Dee, his mom, and a dwarf.

In a previous Link Dump, we were introduced to a goat snuggler.  Now meet the professional panda hugger.

The much-traveled Jeanne Baret.

A visit to a debtor's prison.

The plot to kill George III.

The life of a Texas revolutionary.

Elizabeth Canning and other female "liars and monsters."

This may be the ultimate "don't try this at home" story.  Not that I'm betting you'd want to.

The Haunting of Bunny Hall:  an eerie--and frustratingly unresolved--17th century witchcraft case.

In which a bogle is a complete failure as an alibi.

The Earl of Bridgewater, who had good taste in dinner guests.

I'm hoping this hotel has changed the sheets during its lifetime.

Isobel Gunn, who had more success as a Canadian man than as a Scottish woman.

The plastic surgeon who got sued for creating a vampire.

The Titanic's sea monster.

A "mail-order bride" comes to a very bad end.

John Collier, whose art aimed to soar to higher things.

George IV's giraffe.

"Dragging his bowels after him."  Just to give you fair warning on what you'll be getting with this one.

Why doppelgangers never double your fun.

How to go riding in 18th century style.

The history of the lorgnette.

Mr. Curtiss and his acoustic chair.

Addressing authority in Early Modern Europe.

A ghost in the morgue.

The mystery of the Beaumont children.

Germany's Castle Frankenstein.

The slaves of the White House.

The Berry sisters, 18th century celebrities.

A ghost solves her own murder.

Another ghost fails to solve her own murder.

London's Sailortown.

Thomas Oliver, who was in the habit of marrying witches.

The women of the early days of ballooning.

Photographs of 19th century Glasgow.

A duel between doctors.

The curious case of the Dromedary Scrimshaw.

The rice recipe that was responsible for a nervous breakdown.

Letters to a 19th century witch.

That time a nuke crashed into Canada.

In related news, I'd love to see a Swear Like a Viking Day.

Medieval cosmetics.

One of my favorite moments in Weird New York:  The Great Rocking Chair Riots.

An Italian ghost story.

A disappearance at a Japanese shrine.

The executed criminal who wrote his own elegy.

Drain a Paris canal, and you never know what you'll find.

Ghosts of the Japanese tsunami are looking for a ride.

The history of Victorian dog shows.  (H/t The Pet Museum.)

Pity Houdini's ghost.  No one's listening to him.

Modern British witchcraft.

What Google Earth doesn't want you to see.

The busy career of Julia Ward Howe.

An 18th century public apology.

Souls trapped in photographs.

A 10,000 year old massacre.

And with that, we come to the end of this week's Link Dump.  See you on Monday, when I'll bring on another case of corpsenapping.  As for our Song of the Week, I recently saw "The Martian," (a terrific film, even though I had a few quibbles about the ending,) so naturally, this has been running through my brain ever since.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day



This memorable example of "gallows humor" appeared in the "Sacramento Union," March 9, 1922:
NEW YORK, March 9.—The grim humor of a wireless operator, who laughed at death and flashed striking bits of wit into the ether as his ship, the Norwegian steamer Grontoft, wallowed and slowly sank during a mid-Atlantic hurricane last Thursday, was recorded on the radio log of the Danish steam Estonia, arriving here today. Each detail of the ship’s plight, each call for aid, was supplemented by the jesting comment of the radio man, whose identity is still unknown. He talked as If he were going on a lark in port, instead of to the bottom of the sea. His last message, a disjointed one, was a series of witticisms —with death as the butt of the joke. The Estonia, herself hard hit in the 110-mile gale, made a valiant, but unsuccessful, effort to reach the Grontoft, which first sent out calls for aid at 10 o’clock last Thursday morning, reporting her position as about 700 miles east of Cape Race. The Estonia at that time was 48 miles west of the disabled Norwegian and steaming in an opposite direction. Captain Hans Jorgenson ordered his ship about and she steamed slowly toward the Grontoft, Meanwhile radio Operator Hansen engaged the operator of the Grontoft in conversation. The latter sent out first the following—stereotyped irony of the seas: “God pity the poor sailors on a night like this.” Then followed a series of “Ha, ha,” “and say,” he continued, “the old man thinks this calm will be over by nightfall. We sure need some breeze.”

An hour later an urgent call for aid was sent out by the Grontoft and her operator jested again. “Well, the steward is making sandwiches for the lifeboats. Looks like we are going on a picnic.’’ Again a half hour later he sent: “The old wagon has a list like a rundown heel. This is no weather for a fellow to be out in without an umbrella.” “Hold on,” returned the Estonia’s wireless, “we’ll be alongside soon.” The Grontoft did not reply until 40 minutes later. Then: "We are sinking stern first. The boats are smashed. Can’t hold out any longer. The skipper dictated that—he ought to know —where did I put my hat—sorry we can't wait for you, pressing business elsewhere." The Estonia’s operator quoted in reply these lines: “What dam of lances brought thee forth to jest at dawn with Death?" But there was no answer. Six hours after picking up the first call from the Grontoft, the Estonia reached her reported position, and though she cruised about for four hours, failed to find even a trace of wreckage. The Grontoft, from Galveston, New Orleans and Norfolk, was en route for Esbjerg. She had a crew of thirty.

It was later reported that the operator who "jested at dawn with Death" was a 26-year-old Norwegian named John Frantzen. His fiancee had been waiting in Esbjerg to meet him.

There was another eerie story associated with the ill-fated radio operator. Before its last voyage, the Grontoft crew went to the Norwegian consul in New Orleans to complain about the inedible food in their ship's mess.  As the men were leaving, Frantzen drew a picture of the Grontoft on the walls of the corridor outside the consul's office. Underneath the sketch he wrote, "We wish you a happy voyage to Hell--if not this summer, then next year."

Rest in peace, John Frantzen.  You had style.