"...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, August 30, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

Strange company thinks we all should learn to tiptoe through the tulips.

Just like the cats.

On to this week's Stroll Through the Strange:

So, what the hell visited a Spanish beach?

Or a New York beach?

What the hell are we hearing?

What the hell is playing patty-cake with this funeral home?

What the hell darkened the sky in 1780?

What the hell is on Saturn?

It's a pet!  It's a baby!  It's the ultimate what the bloody freaking hell is it?!

No, hold on, maybe this is the ultimate what the, etc., etc.

What can I say?  It's just been that kind of week.

For heaven's sake:  The debunker debunked?

Take a look at this photo....

...and, trust me, you'll never be able to hear this song in quite the same way again.

What Jane Austen didn't tell you.

An encounter with a Cornish devil.

A tale of Bigfoot and Dream Circles.

Archaeology is starting to diss the Vikings.

Archaeology is starting to catch on to the ancient Romans.

"Love Spells, Prostitutes, and Poison."  Kinda says it all, what?

After reading this story, all I can say is, if "Mark Twain's Cave" isn't haunted, by God it should be.

Same goes for these Mystery Caves in Nepal.

And let's not even think about this old Irish castle.

Revenge of the Salad Bar!

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away...

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door... (slam!)

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away

Edgar Allan Poe, the Sparknotes Edition, via his greatest enemy on Twitter:

Let's end on an "up" note:  Meet the gorgeous cats of London's East End.

That's it for this week.  I'll see you on Labor Day, with some truly heaven-sent music.

I suppose you can guess I'm not exaggerating.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

In 1855, newspapers distributed a report from France delivering a highly unusual cautionary tale about the hazards of lightning strikes.  It seems a fateful bolt from the blue turned a little Mademoiselle into a Monsieur:

The kind of thing that could happen to anybody.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Murder of Dolly Reynolds: A Gilded Age Whodunit

On the morning of August 16, 1898, a chambermaid entered a room at New York’s Grand Hotel, and thus unwittingly kicked off one of the longest and most muddled murder investigations in that city’s history.

To her horror, the maid found the body of a once-beautiful young woman lying on the floor. She had been bludgeoned to death. There was no sign of a struggle in the room, but diamond jewelry the woman had worn when she checked into the room the previous day had been roughly torn from her ears and fingers.

The woman registered under the name of “E. Maxwell and wife.” However, police soon identified the corpse as that of twenty-one year old Emeline “Dolly” Reynolds. She had lived in a fashionable residence on West 58th Street for the past eighteen months. She was frequently visited by a man her housekeeper assumed was the lady’s husband, “Mr. Reynolds.”

Not quite. Dolly was unmarried, as was her “husband,” who proved to be a wealthy, influential stockbroker and man-about-town named Maurice B. Mendham. Although Dolly posed as a humble book saleswoman, she was, in truth, employed in a far older and considerably more lucrative profession. Mendham was, to use the quaint language of the day, her “protector.” He was paying for her house, as well as the expensive jewelry she so loved to wear.

Mendham immediately became an object of interest to the murder investigators, particularly since Dolly’s housekeeper stated the two had bitterly quarreled the day before over Mendham's demand that she return the jewels he had given her. The pair had argued frequently over the past few months. Mendham, it seems, wished to cast her aside, and Dolly was making it clear this would not be an inexpensive task.

Maurice Mendham

The stockbroker, however, asserted that he had been in Long Branch the night of the murder. Contemporary records do not make it clear whether this oh-so-convenient alibi was ever fully investigated, or if police were content to take him at his word. In any case, he was dropped from the suspect list with rather startling abruptness.

Investigators turned their attention to the murdered woman’s movements on the last day of her life. After checking in to the hotel, she had lunch and left, soon returning with a young dark-haired man. They left about seven o'clock in the evening and returned around midnight. An hour or so later, Dolly Reynolds was dead. A night watchman later said that he had seen a man creeping furtively down the stairs around two-thirty, but at the time he thought it was unimportant and paid him little attention. (This watchman was clearly the criminal element’s best friend.)

Some odd things were found in Reynolds’ room. There was a doctor’s prescription blank, on which was written, “E. Maxwell and wife, Brooklyn.” There was a check for $13,000, made out to Emma Reynolds, signed by Dudley Gideon, and endorsed by S.J. Kennedy. Gideon proved to be a completely nonexistent figure. Kennedy, it soon transpired, was something even more curious.

Missing was $500 in cash Dolly had in her purse, as well as the little bag of jewelry she always carried on her person. Remarkably enough, ten days after the murder, Mendham went to the police and reassured them that the bag of jewels had turned up in a sugar bowl in Dolly’s flat.

“S.J. Kennedy,” endorser of generous checks, proved to be a dentist, Dr. Samuel J. Kennedy. Mendham had introduced him to Dolly. Reynolds’ mother told police that about a week before the murder, Dolly told her that Dr. Kennedy volunteered to put $500 on a horse race for her. She had drawn the money from her bank, and would meet him on the evening of August 15th to deliver what he promised would be a highly profitable investment.

Samuel J. Kennedy

Within six hours of the discovery of Dolly Reynolds’ body, Dr. Kennedy was arrested for her murder. Despite the eyebrow-raising quality of his alleged financial dealings with the dead woman, the evidence against him was decidedly weak. Hotel employees all said that the man Dolly was with had dark hair. Kennedy was fair-haired. The man wore a straw hat, something Kennedy had never owned. The motive for this previously highly respectable and notably mild-mannered dentist to suddenly bash a lady’s head in was never convincingly explained.

Nevertheless, Kennedy went on trial in March 1899. The prosecution argued that Kennedy had planned to con Reynolds out of $500 by giving her this bogus check as her “winnings.” Then, deciding that dead women tell no tales, he bludgeoned her in order to cover up his fraud. That check caused a splendid amount of utter confusion. Some handwriting experts swore up and down that Kennedy wrote out the check. Others, with equal fervor, vowed by everything they held most dear that he had not. And what really was the purpose of this check, anyway? No one in that courtroom ever knew for sure. A “police expert” testified that an iron pipe found at Kennedy’s home was the murder weapon. Under cross-examination, this same “expert” admitted that he couldn’t say for sure if it was. A hat salesman named Clark testified that on the day of the murder, Kennedy had bought a straw hat and a plaid cap from him. The police claimed they found that very same cap in Kennedy’s house a week after Reynolds died.

The defense argument was simple: They put in the witness box a slew of people who all claimed to have seen the dentist out-and-about in the city at the exact times Dolly was at the Grand Hotel with her mystery man. Kennedy himself admitted the young woman was one of his patients, but that was all he knew of her. He had had nothing to do with that $13,000 check. He never promised to put money on a horse for her, and, in fact, had never made a bet in his life.  He also swore that on the night of the murder, he had attended the theater. He missed the ferry that would bring him to his train, so he was forced to walk most of the way home. His parents testified to seeing him at home that night and the next morning.

On paper, the case against Kennedy fairly screams “reasonable doubt,” but the jury must have taken a dislike to the defendant. Or perhaps they just wanted to get a bit of their own back against dentists. After a very brief deliberation, they returned a verdict of “guilty.” He was sentenced to die in the electric chair that May.

Then, this already weird case became even weirder. A Staten Island plumber, Daniel Melville, came forward to make an affidavit that two detectives visited his shop and carefully examined pipe identical to what they allegedly later found in Kennedy’s house. After the officers left, he realized the pipe was missing. This testimony was enough for the Court of Appeals to order another trial.

Kennedy Trial 2.0 went considerably differently than the first go-round. The same police expert who had testified about the pipe in the first trial now declared that the pipe said to have been found in Kennedy’s home could not possibly have been the murder weapon. Daniel Melville was unwillingly hauled back from his new home in Florida (it was rumored that after he gave his affidavit, the NYPD had strongly suggested that it would be good for his health to leave town.) The plumber now showed something of a change of heart. Melville still said that the pipe had disappeared from his shop, but oh, good heavens, he never meant to imply that any of those fine, upstanding New York police officers could possibly have taken it. (Melville’s story, incidentally, makes a fascinating companion piece to the plaid cap these same detectives stated they found in Kennedy’s possession.)

Several cabbies testified to having seen Kennedy between midnight and two-thirty on the night of the murder. An employee of the Grand Hotel said that Kennedy was definitely not the man he saw with Dolly Reynolds.

This trial ended with a hung jury—eleven to one for acquittal. According to the “New York Times,” the hold-out was a close personal friend of the Assistant D.A. The verdict so angered one of the other jurors that he wrote out a sizable check for Kennedy’s defense.

Everyone staggered on to trial #3. The highlight of this last tribunal was when they put Maurice Mendham, Sugar Daddy par excellence, on the stand. Even the most innocuous-seeming questions elicited nothing but the most vague and shifty answers from Mr. Mendham, but the defense did manage to drag out of him the highly interesting fact that he had been acquainted with a "Miss Cozzens."  In 1893, Alice Cozzens, a lovely young girl who was, as the newspapers discreetly put it, Mendham's “protégée,” was found dead in her room at the Coleman House. She had killed herself by overdosing on laudanum, and then shooting herself.

Suicide was the official verdict, at least.

The defense proved that Kennedy’s commutation ticket had been used on the night of the murder. (Why it took them three different trials to bring this up is unknown.) The owner of the Grand Hotel admitted for the first time that the establishment had been robbed on the same night Reynolds was killed—and on the same floor as her room.

A Mrs. Melville (no relation to the hapless Daniel) who had a millinery shop in the same building as Kennedy’s office, testified that on the evening of the murder, the dentist left at about five-thirty. Shortly before that, a man who slightly resembled Kennedy turned up making inquiries about him. She recalled that this same man visited the building some days earlier, asking the same questions about the dentist’s comings-and-goings. She described him as a dark-haired man wearing a straw hat.

The man who accompanied Dolly Reynolds to the Grand Hotel?

Mr. Clark, the hat salesman, had died since the first trial, but it was brought into evidence that he had had quite a chat with his customer. Supposedly, Kennedy volunteered his name and all sorts of details about himself, including the fact that he was a dentist on 22nd Street. For a man with murder and fraud supposedly in his heart, the dentist had a peculiar desire to be remembered by as many witnesses as possible.

Was this man Kennedy, artlessly showing that he had nothing to hide? Or was this Mrs. Melville’s dark-haired, straw-hat-wearing man doing his best to incriminate the dentist?

Judging from the newspaper accounts, by this point no one even pretended to know what they were doing or what was going on, but the tide was definitely finally turning in Kennedy’s favor. On one occasion, while the jury was returning from having lunch at the Astor House, they found themselves followed by a crowd chanting, “Turn him out! Turn him out! No Dreyfus trial will go.”

In June 1901, turn him out they did. After a long and reportedly quite acrimonious deliberation, the jury wound up deadlocked at eight to four for acquittal. By this time, everyone was so weary of the business, they simply discharged the jury and set Kennedy free on $10,000 bail. Back home at Staten Island, the dentist was greeted by brass bands and a parade. He returned to his loyal wife and young child, and presumably had a long and happy life filling cavities and pulling teeth.  Maurice Mendham retired from business in 1910 after a highly successful career. In 1911, he married his “ward,” a pretty young sculptor’s model named Frances Cartwright. He died the following year.

The question that had kicked off the whole mess, namely, “Who murdered Dolly Reynolds?” was one everyone seemed happy to forget.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

Strange company is thinking of learning hypnosis.

The cats come by that talent naturally.

This week's Path Through the Peculiar:

If you happen to know what the hell this is, please do not tell me.

So, what the hell is in a South African army base?

So, what the hell is in a Nova Scotia pond?

What the hell was in Rendlesham Forest?

What the hell was in Kentucky?

What the hell is above us?

What the hell is right under our noses?!

You want to be a successful archaeologist?  Forget all those years of school and training.  Just get reincarnated as a badger.

So, it turns out Edgar Allan Poe is linked to UFOs.  No, I'm not at all surprised, either.

In which we are left pondering the question:  Do you want black dogs with burning eyes, or fairies?  Can't have both!

Speaking of UFOs, did Britain have its own "Roswell incident?"

"Stoney Jack," London's most curious antiquarian.

A photo series of an abandoned house in the woods that's become a Holiday Inn for wild animals.  Some wonderful images.

Out: Mayan Calendar.  In:  Edward Snowden!

Everybody sing!  "It's the end of the world, NSA knows it..."

Meet the oldest known globe to depict the New World.  On an ostrich egg.

You thought ancient Peruvians didn't have LOLcats?  Think again, my friends!

When the extraterrestrials land and take over this planet for good, they will be accompanied by LOLcats.  Count on it.

In ancient Egypt, on the other hand, I think the cats were LOL-ing at us.

Don't you hate it when you go digging around in old graveyards, and buried alien heads pop up?

Well, now that I think of it, if you're a reader of this blog, chances are you'd love it.

Here is this week's segment of Owls Are Weird.

Need a few extra bucks?  Sell your body!  Uh, it isn't quite what you think.

Every weird thing that happens in Florida is now explained.  It's all thanks to Robert.

That wraps it up.  See you on Monday, when I will discuss the death of Dolly Reynolds, an epic Gilded Age murder mystery.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The following story was one of several "Remarkable unsolved mysteries" described by a New Zealand newspaper in June 1901:

The annoying thing about this peculiar story is that I have not found any other mention of Marie Cranvar and her Fortean-like disappearance anywhere.  No newspapers, no magazines, no books, no nothin'.  If such a Parisian puzzle was famous enough to be referenced in a New Zealand paper some years later, logically there should have been other accounts of it available.

Was this disappearance a real event?  Or a newspaper hoax, a la David Lang and Charles Ashmore?  I have no idea.  If there are any fellow students of The Weird out there who have any more information about this tale, I'd greatly appreciate hearing about it.

[Clipping via the National Library of New Zealand.]

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Strange Disappearance of Dorothy Forstein

Philadelphian Dorothy Cooper Forstein appeared to be happily married, comfortably well-to-do, a loving mother, and well-liked. She was, in short, one of the last people anyone would imagine as a victim of one of the creepiest disappearances in American history.

In 1944, Dorothy had been married for two years to city magistrate Jules Forstein. The couple had three young children: Myrna and Marcy, his offspring from a previous marriage (Jules’ first wife, Molly, died sometime around 1940,) and their new baby, Edward. One evening in that year, Mrs. Forstein dropped her children off at a neighbor’s house so she could do some shopping. By the time she returned home, it was nearly dark. As she entered her house, someone suddenly sprang up and attacked her, beating the helpless woman into unconsciousness. Her fall knocked over the telephone, and when the operator heard strange noises coming from the instrument, she alerted the police.

Mrs. Forstein was found with her nose and jaw broken, and a shoulder fractured. She was also suffering from a concussion. After she regained consciousness, all she could say was, “someone jumped out at me.”

Investigators were baffled by the crime. Burglary could not have been the motive, as nothing in the house had been taken. Her husband—the usual prime suspect in such cases—had a cast-iron alibi. She had no known enemies. Jules Forstein could think of no one who could have held enough of a professional grudge against him to attack his wife. The fact remained, however, that someone had enough hatred for this seemingly inoffensive woman to lie in wait and nearly beat her to death. But who?

The assault remained a mystery. Mrs. Forstein recovered physically from her injuries, but her emotional health was never the same again. Quite understandably, Mrs. Forstein became fearful, paranoid, and constantly on her guard.

Five years went by, and life for the Forstein family gradually returned to normal. On the night of October 18, 1949, Mr. Forstein was away from home for the evening. The eldest child, nineteen-year-old Myrna, was also absent, visiting friends. Mrs. Forstein and the younger children spent a routine evening at home. Around nine PM, Dorothy phoned a friend to arrange for the two of them to take a shopping trip the next day. She showed no sign she suspected anything was amiss.

Mr. Forstein returned home about 11:30 PM. He found young Edward and Marcy cowering in an upstairs bedroom. “Mommy’s gone!” they told him.

Very curiously, particularly in light of the previous attack on his wife, Jules Forstein waited two days before contacting the police. Officers then made a search all over Philadelphia, without finding any sign of the missing woman. Her purse and keys were still at home. As with the earlier attack, nothing in the house was taken. The front door had still been locked. All we know about her disappearance is the story told by nine-year-old Marcy Forstein. She told police that on the night her mother vanished, she was awakened by the sound of someone entering the house. When she went out in the hall to investigate, she saw a strange man coming upstairs. Her pajama-clad mother was lying face-down on the floor of her bedroom, “resting.” She saw this man pick the dazed or unconscious Dorothy up and carry her downstairs. Marcy asked him, “What are you doing?” He replied, “Go back to sleep, little one, your mother is all right.” He patted Marcy on the head and walked out with Mrs. Forstein's limp body still slung over his shoulder. About fifteen minutes later, she said, her father returned home.

Police were reluctant to credit the girl’s story—there were no strange fingerprints found anywhere in the house, no sign of forced entry into the securely locked residence, and it seemed impossible that anyone could carry a woman's body down a busy street unnoticed. And how could Mrs. Forstein have been rendered dazed or unconscious before this stranger entered the house? However, Marcy consistently stuck to this account, and psychiatrists who examined her were convinced she was telling the truth.

As bizarre and incomprehensible as the girl’s story may have been, it is all we have to go on in trying to solve the mystery of Dorothy Forstein’s disappearance. No trace of her has ever been found.

[A footnote: Shortly after Mrs. Forstein vanished, there was a second unsettling unsolved mystery in nearby Delaware County, where two gallons of blood was found spilled on a road in Sycamore Mills. There was speculation that this grisly find might be related to the Philadelphia puzzle, but no link was ever established.]

Friday, August 16, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

The time has come, strange company said, to talk of many things: of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--of cabbages--and...


This week's Bizarre Bazaar:

You know, probably the last place in the world you want to say "What the hell is it?" is at a nuclear power plant.

This is the week that civilization officially died.  Literally.

Wilfred Scawen Blunt:  Poet, horseman, traveler, diplomat, lover, cretin.

Murder in a Nutshell.

Gustave Whitehead:  Wronged by the Wrights?

Update on a cold-case kidnapping with a sadly bizarre twist.

The Types of London, 1919.

"How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd."

Ludger Sylbaris: Luckiest prison inmate ever?

Bass Reeves:  The real Lone Ranger?

Henry VIII comes back from the grave.  And hawks Gillette razors.  Considering his predilection for decapitating people, that seems quaintly appropriate.

Lithuania's Haunting Hill of Crosses.

I'd say this is a couple made for each other.

1838 London, Cruikshank-style.

Medieval barbarism goes high-tech.  That's, uh, progress, I suppose.

Behold the Money.

Louise Fazenda and Wanda Wiley: Two unjustly-forgotten silent-screen comedians.

An ancient Egyptian sphinx...in Israel.

Space rocks + Old rocks = Stonehenge really rocks!

Some time ago, I came to the conclusion that the truth is often weirder than any conspiracy theory.  Need proof of that?  Meet Nick Beef.

You'll be pleased to hear the Rich Idiot segment of our population is flourishing.

There's a guy out there making a career as a "water sommelier."  I'll have to keep that in mind next time I think I have the world's most meaningless life.

In case you missed it, Twitter had the greatest retweet in human history this past week:

Finally, let me end on a personal note, by wishing a very happy birthday to my dear friend Mike, the one-and-only Singing Fire Guy!

There you have it, gang.  I shall return on Monday with the story of perhaps the oddest and most haunting kidnapping case I know.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

In 1877, William H. Smith informed the "New York Sun" that he had seen an angel hovering over Brooklyn.

Because who doesn't want to visit Coney Island?

Brooklyn angel

To The Editor of The Sun--Sir:

On Tuesday afternoon of this week, a few minutes after 6 o’clock, I noticed from my window a very peculiar, solitary, vapory object in the heavens. Its position was about where the constellation of the Dipper would be at that hour, viz., due north, and thirty-five degrees above the horizon. In magnitude and contour it in a marked degree resembled a human form, head, body, and nether limbs, the body and limbs robed in shadowy drapery. The head, which was of brighter luminosity on the crown and forehead, had thick flowing hair, and the whole figure was extended horizontally, with the head eastward and the front downward. But there was another feature quite as marked, and that was an appearance as of wings projecting upward and backward from the shoulders, and these in due proportional extent to the body and limbs. This last named feature gave the entirety the appearance of an angel.

Flying in mid-heaven, considered as a cloud, it was remarkable that it kept the same outline continuously, which is uncommon in those vapory objects, while I had it in view for a considerable time, as it progressed swiftly toward the east. The luminosity of the shadowy angel was of a golden white, and it presented a very beautiful appearance against the blue background of the sky. In addition to the startling outline of the object, the interest in it was greatly increased by its being at the time the only one visible in the whole northern heavens, except some low-lying black clouds on the horizon. I called the attention of several persons to it, one of whom discovered himself the resemblance I did.

Query--Was this a presage of a coming event? It reminded me of the words recorded in Mark XIII., 27: “Then shall he send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds;” and those in Daniel IX., 21: “Gabriel being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation.”
Wm. H. Smith.
Brooklyn, Sept. 19.

Monday, August 12, 2013

William Nathan Stedman, Poet Laureate of The Weird

The Champion of Protestantism

As any quick skim through literary magazines will prove, anybody can be a bad poet. It takes special genius to be a uniquely, memorably bad one. And when you happen to find such a person who is also a deranged crank, political malcontent, stalker of female novelists, and con man with a fondness for ingenious invective, well, all a blogger can say is, "William Nathan Stedman, come on down!"

When I first discovered the subject of this post, I learned, to my great joy, that Stedman also plagiarized from Edgar Allan Poe. Ladies and gentlemen, here is “The Bells,” Stedman style:

“The Bell! Ah, yes, the bell,
What fate may it foretell?
Birth, death, marriage, dinner,
News—for saint or sinner:
The youth in office, lanky grown,
Is rung up on the telephone.
The young man on commercial trip
Knows that it signals through the ship
From start to finish life is largely hung with bells,
And in them sounds quick summonses and funeral knells.”

He carried on the theme in another masterpiece:
"Ring, ingle, dang, dong
My hard iron song
In the old belfry sung.
Dong, dangle, ring, ding
With flustering wing
Sped by each iron tongue.
Ring, ding, ding, ring, ring, ding, dang, dong.
Ring, ding, dang, dong.
Ding, dang, dong.
Dang, dong.

Stedman’s most famous lines are:

“And where upon your dainty breast I lay
My wearied head—more soft than eiderdown.”

But I personally think Stedman outdid even himself with this one:

“The mongrel has the snarling sauce to sneer
His ‘own idears’ ‘gainst Truth: the gas to rear
Big pronoun talk, so full of ‘I’s that he
Seems like a bad potato, which can’t see
That ‘I’s are no eyes when bunged up with ‘me.’”


“To tea! And tête-à-tête! The snowdrop white
With Mephistopheles just face to face!
…O it was marvelous! Comparison
Doth please my dext’rous mind, my poet’s wit,
He and she! He—a corpse—in unison
With ‘fame’ and ‘tea,’—just She and he and ‘it’
I stay to think, to frown at him—and SPIT.”
Stedman was a man of many varied obsessions. One was that lurid, immensely popular novelist, Marie Corelli, whom he called “Queen Marie,” and his “Bride Elect.” (The two of them, alas, never met, although Stedman saw that as no obstacle in his plans to marry her.) He gallantly dismissed her plentiful amount of detractors as “white-livered parsons,” "bottle-nosed editors," "pawnshop reviewers," “hatchet-faced scribblers,” “grub-street lepers,” “syphilis-veined critics,” “scrofulous swine-hounds” and “bull-browed bastards.” In a poem about Corelli, he declared, “My lance against the world for its Greatest Lady…Any Man, Beast, or Buffoon want SMASHING?” He elsewhere threatened to send “one of my 7-foot Zulus” after her critics “with his sjambok and FULL INSTRUCTIONS WHAT TO DO.”

Among his many poetic tributes to the Bride Elect were the lines:
"I've heard men say--one said it to my face--
'Think what she know, and what she writes about'
I laughed aloud, at merry gleesome pace,
Which made him stare, and then retorted, 'Lout
Wouldst measure wit with her? Heyday!
As well compare thy dullard self and mind
Against the sun.'"
He was not particularly tolerant of his own critics and poetic rivals, either. (“I know that I have MORE clean sound sense in my backside than is in all the squirming lot of these Foul Slugs.”)

The Bride Elect

Stedman was, to put it delicately, a man of strong religious convictions. (“Perchance within my countenance thou’lt see/The shade of Him, The Man of Galilee.”) He believed that "the only way, and the best, sometimes, to convince a fool that the power of God is in you is to knock him down first and reason with him afterwards."  Knock them down he did, although the quality of reason seemed memorably absent.  Fittingly for someone who billed himself as “The Great Champion of Protestantism,” he loathed Roman Catholicism. Here is a sample of what he had to say about the Vatican:

“I’ve read the histories of all mankind,
Yet do I swear that I could never find
Such guilty guilt as stinks in gilded Rome:
Nor crafty craft as creeps beneath her dome.
I’ve travelled earth and sea, yet never seen
Such crimson sin as ‘Her who sits a Queen.’
The brain of man can not conceive a sin
Which SHE’S not done, abroad, without, within—
Still reeling DRUNK—SHE’S ‘ready to begin.’”

However, there was no one or nothing Stedman despised more than William Ewart Gladstone, whom he denounced as being not only Jack the Ripper, but the Great Beast described in the Book of Revelations—not to mention “a protoplasm from the abyss of nowhere” “smelling of satanic gloze.” (Anyone disagreeing with this assessment was dismissed as "a silly hump-backed, boss-eyed, slobbering and ghastly IDIOT.")  Evidently, Stedman saw Gladstone as a secret foe of “the true religion,” for reasons that had something to do with Gladstone’s promotion of Home Rule for Ireland.  (Stedman liked to boast that he had rejected an offer to become Poet Laureate, as "The beautiful gift of poetical genius was ever intended for the service of God and not for prostitution to mammon, not for the antics of a court-paid wee-piping buffoon."  I for one think he would have been an excellent choice for the role.  Considering their similar views about Gladstone, he and Queen Victoria would have gotten along famously.)

Amazingly, Stedman’s poetry was among his lesser literary crimes. A researcher in the British Library recently dug up the charming information that Stedman was involved in what this writer described as “one of the most notorious literary swindles of the 1890s.” He co-created various utterly bogus vanity presses, literary agencies, and a God-knows-what called “The International Society of Literature, Science, and Art.” Aspiring writers and artists would give Stedman and his cohorts sizable “entrance fees,” and “subscription fees,” in the expectation of getting their work sold. A contemporary article in the New York Times noted, “A large number of persons were thus despoiled, losing everything they put in the societies, and getting absolutely nothing in return.” This wholesale fraud earned Stedman a stretch of fifteen months of hard labor.  (For anyone morbidly curious enough to want further details, the record of his trial at the Old Bailey can be found here.)

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any more biographical information about this splendid lunatic. He was born around 1861. At some point after his release from prison, he relocated to Australia, but eventually returned to England. His last published work, “Sky Blue Ballads,” came out in 1916, and it is assumed he died soon afterwards.

Although he once assured us that Lord Salisbury and Queen Alexandra were great admirers of his, Stedman added that it was only “the beautiful gilt-edged programme of extra-superfine double-action donkey-power ignorance” that kept his verses from the worldwide acclaim they so truly deserved. I hope this blog post plays some minor part in rescuing this astonishing character from obscurity.

[A footnote: Many thanks to the British Library blog Untold Lives for introducing me to the Wonders of Stedman.  I hope they don't object that I took the subject and ran with it, so to speak.]

Friday, August 9, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

Strange company wishes to remind everyone that dreams are nothing more than wishes, and a wish is just a dream you wish to come true.

Let's play Name That Tune!

This week's Supply of the Surreal:

So, what the hell is going on in Norfolk, Virginia?

"Weather balloon."  That's the government equivalent of the murder defendant saying, "I just bought that arsenic to kill rats!"

Here's an update on the Norfolk story.  Curiouser and curiouser.

What the hell is going on in Turkey?

And what the hell was going on at the Smithsonian?

And what the hell was in the Florida sky?

And what the hell is falling in Zimbabwe?

And what the hell is going on with these baboons?

And what the hell happened to the dinosaurs?

And what the hell happened to cause this Siberian crater?

And what the...uh, what in Heaven's name happened in Missouri?

You want to know why I'm proud of my Latvian heritage?  This is one damn good reason why I'm proud of my Latvian heritage.

People are really swinish sometimes, aren't they?

The Ghost of the Keokuk Dam:  Fact or fiction?

The evil Black Cloud of Wales.

Continuing the theme:  London's favorite spooks.

How a series of catastrophes in Edinburgh changed firefighting around the world.

You know what's next with this app, don't you?  Telemarketers from beyond the grave.

The End of the World, all in one handy chart!

Don't you just hate it when UFO's cause traffic jams?

Yesterday was World Cat Day, aka The Internet's Most Superfluous Holiday.  To celebrate, here's some beautiful, bookish felines.

The rewards of being a mudlark.

Solving the mystery of the stolen Edgar Allan Poe daguerreotype?

That wraps it up for now.  I hope you'll join me Monday, when I will introduce you to a man who was a mind-bogglingly awful poet, deranged stalker, religious crank, crazed political activist, and failed con man.  I love this guy.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

On the night of September 19, 1929, a prominent artist, 63-year-old Frank Reed Whiteside, heard a knock on the front door of his Philadelphia home. When he opened it, someone shot him dead and disappeared into the darkened streets of this quiet neighborhood.

The motive for the shooting, let alone the identity of the killer, has remained a complete mystery. Twelve days after Whiteside’s murder, an artist’s model named Leona Fishback was strangled and shot by her boyfriend, William E. Peters, who received a life sentence for the killing. Fishback was believed to have posed nude for one of Whiteside’s paintings, so it was theorized that perhaps in a fit of jealousy, Peters also murdered the artist. A year later, newspapers reported that a police inspector involved in the Fishback case claimed that Peters had confessed to the Whiteside shooting, but the alleged “confession” was never made public, and Peters’ lawyer denied his client’s guilt in the painter’s murder. In any case, Peters was never charged with that crime.

What places Whiteside’s murder even higher in the pantheon of The Weird is the fact that some years later, the home where he was murdered saw a second mysterious death. In 1946, the current resident of the house, “Philadelphia Inquirer” editor Howard R. Taylor, was found stabbed to death in his kitchen. At Taylor's inquest, the coroner's jury returned an open verdict, and as far as I can find, that murder has also remained unsolved.

After his death, Whiteside became a forgotten talent until 1971, when his art enjoyed a revival that gave him a posthumous popularity which endures to this day.


Monday, August 5, 2013

The Mystery of the Vanishing Pilots

On August 16, 1942, naval aviators Lieutenant Ernest D. Cody and Ensign Charles E. Adams went out on a routine patrol of the San Francisco coast. Their vehicle was a blimp, the Airship L-8. They had yet to see Japanese submarines in the area, or anything else out of the ordinary, and that day was expected to be no different. Lt. Cody was a notably talented aviator, and both were experienced and able servicemen.

The men flew out of their naval base at 6 AM for the daily tour of the Pacific. Two hours later, Cody radioed the control tower to say they were investigating an oil slick, a common enough sight in the area. Just fifteen minutes later, the tower tried to make contact with the blimp, but got no response. Two search planes were immediately set out to investigate the situation.

At 10:30, a commercial plane reported seeing the blimp near the Golden Gate Bridge. Ten minutes after that, one of the search planes saw the airship briefly rise over the low-hanging fog, only to disappear back into the clouds. At 10:45, observers on the land saw the blimp drift in and hit the beach. Two fishermen tried grabbing the tie lines, but the blimp tugged itself from their grasp and it soared back into the sky. The men later reported that the gondola door was open, and no one was aboard.

The blimp soon hit a cliff overhanging the beach, tearing a small hole in it. The slowly-deflating airship finally sank to earth on a street in Daly City, a residential area just outside San Francisco.

Aside from the rip from its encounter with the cliff, the blimp was in perfect condition. The radio worked. It had plenty of fuel. The parachutes and life raft were packed away in their usual places. The ignition switches were still on, with one engine on full and the other half-way open, suggesting that the men’s exit from the gondola had been very sudden. As the landing space underneath the gondola was dry, it was evident that the L-8 had not hit the sea. Navy maintenance men who examined the airship said that there was no reason why the pilots could not have ridden the blimp to earth and stepped out unhurt. Adding to the puzzle was the fact that the navy airman code directed the crew to stay with the ship when approaching a forced landing.

In short, everything on the blimp was as it should be, except for its pilots.

The inquiry held into the mystery revealed that two fishing boats, a Coast Guard patrol ship, and a Navy ship were all in the vicinity of the oil slick Cody said they would investigate. These witnesses saw the blimp circling the slick at an altitude of about three hundred feet, after which it suddenly shot upwards into the fog. That was the last they saw of the airship.

That was also the last anyone ever saw of the two airmen. Although the bright yellow lifejackets naval rules required they wear during all flights would have made their bodies easily visible to rescuers, days of intensive search on land and sea never discovered the slightest trace of them.

To date, no one has managed to find an even remotely plausible explanation for their sudden disappearance. There were no signs of any enemy submarines in the area. If the men had somehow been careless enough to tumble out of the gondola by accident, the many eyewitnesses in the area would surely have seen them fall into the ocean, while the life jackets would have kept them afloat long enough to be rescued.

It seems absurd to state that during a routine flight close to shore, these two highly capable pilots suddenly dematerialized, but, from all the evidence, it is difficult to know what else to say about the matter.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

Strange company is thankful this is the end of the week.

But that's nothing compared to how the cats feel.

This week's Panorama of the Perverse:

So what the hell happened to Carol Chase McElheney?

So, what the hell is everyone hearing?

Mickey Mouse, drug cartel kingpin.  I'm not at all surprised, are you?

1960s Afghanistan.  A sobering reminder of the fragility of civilizations.

The strange, amazing mind of Daniel Tammet, living proof of how very little we humans understand about ourselves.

Some people buy food for the pets they keep.  One fellow in Japan buys food to keep as pets.

Yesterday was Lammas Tide.  Hope you celebrated accordingly.

If you think Detroit has gone to the devil now, you should have seen the place in 1905.

Baby bats.  Damn it, I want a baby bat.

A guide to reading very old books, if you'd rather not just cut to the chase and stab yourself in the eyeballs with a fork.

The following Victorian-era photograph thoroughly traumatized all my Twitter followers, so naturally I couldn't leave my blog readers out of the general horror.  LOLcat, meet WTFcat:

Goosing up the Saratoga race track.  Honk!

"Berenice" fans, this link is for you!

It turns out that Richard III had company in that car park.

Out: King Tut's Curse.  In:  Oetzi the Iceman's Curse!

JFK assassination conspiracy theory of the week.

Quote of the week: "Cats are not new zombies of the apocalypse."

PSA of the week:  The London fire brigade advises us that putting highly private body parts in toasters is maybe not such a great idea.  Who knew?

Local oddity of the week:  After all these years, it was only the other day that I learned that three great horses from the past (Lamb Chop, Roving Boy, and Quicken Tree) are buried in a sadly unscenic corner of Santa Anita's backstretch.

I've been told that Quicken Tree's groom is here, as well.  He had asked that when he died, he should be cremated, and his ashes scattered with his beloved horse.

I just wish they all had a cheerier-looking resting place.  What added to my general feeling of gloom at this spot is the fact that Santa Anita is doing some major renovations during their off-season, (including, as part of their current business model of "let's do really stupid and expensive things no one wants," building a nightclub, God help us,) so all the horses normally stabled here have been moved elsewhere.  The backstretch is completely deserted, probably for the first time since they reopened after World War II. There's a very eerie atmosphere around SA right now, reminding me of all the many ghosts--equine and human--that must walk there.

I'll see you all Monday, when--speaking of ghosts and WWII--we'll look at the very puzzling case of two vanished naval aviators.