"...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, November 29, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

Strange company regrets to say they have never gone where fashion sits, puttin' on the ritz.

The cats, on the other hand...

What the hell goes on in Cherokee, California?  [A footnote.  This happens to be near the town where I was born.  Yes, this just may explain a lot.]

What the hell landed in Long Island?

What the hell is Cicada 3301?  Perhaps even more importantly, why the hell is Cicada 3301?

What the hell is floating around Newfoundland?

What the hell is sinking Bosnia?

What the hell exploded in Montreal?

What the hell was shining on the Moon?

Who the hell murdered poor Rose Ambler?

When the hell was the Great Pyramid built?

Ghost cats on the march!

Devil cats on the march!

Behold, the Troll-haired Mystery Bug.

The sad thing is, this probably still looks a lot better than the typical modern-day variety.

So, you thought "A Rose For Emily" was fiction?

Out: "It's Raining Men."  In:  "It's Raining Cows!"

Stepping into dead men's shoes.  In every sense.

I've read Poe.  I've read Lovecraft.  I've read Bloch.  I know this isn't going to end at all well.

In which James Wannerton gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "eat your words."

I've seen Hell, and it's in Singapore.  Really.

Exploring the deepest--and probably strangest--lake on earth.

A good example of why ghost-hunting and abject stupidity make a bad combination.

Another in our continuing series of "Science just ain't so scientific" articles.  Incidentally, I think comment #11 to this column pretty much nails it.

And here's another one where orthodox science takes it on the chin.

Perhaps it's not surprising to learn that demons are among us.  What is a bit of a shock is that they happen to be the Danish Royal Family.

How Poe serves as an inspiration to oceanographers.

Why the "Mary Celeste" teaches us to never, but never, mock the Mummy.

Speaking of that most famous of sea mysteries...Did researchers come up with a solution to the riddle in 2006?

And there's our roundup for this week.  See you on Monday, when I'll look at an unsolved killing from early 20th century Scotland.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day, Thanksgiving Edition

The truth is, Edgar's turned vegetarian.

One year ago, I published on the World of Edgar Allan Poe blog the following story from the "Grange Advance" for January 7, 1874.  This may be a rerun, but damn it, if this turkey poem doesn't deserve to become a beloved annual holiday tradition, what does?

May all my American readers have a happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!


[The other evening at a seance of spiritualists in Hastings, Minnesota, Edgar A. Poe, the great American poet, announced himself as present. Among other questions, he was asked which one of the good things of this life he missed most in his new abode. His answer, to the great surprise of his interviewers, was "a good, square meal." He added that he had not had too many of them while alive, but that since his transfer to the spirit-world his ethereal stomach had been perfectly disgusted with the light diet to which it was subjected and that while making a meal the other day of a gentle zephyr, flavored with the breath of roses, his imagination had longingly reverted to the last roast turkey he had enjoyed on earth, and that he had thereupon composed the following additional verse to his "Bells." He added, with suppressed raps and with long pauses between the words, that "there was nothing in the spirit world equal to roast turkey;" and in the silence which followed a peculiar sound was heard which the medium said was the smacking of Poe's ghostly lips over the recollections of "the royal bird." The verse is as follows, and we trust our readers will accept the moral of the poem, especially in this holiday season, which is, to take all the comforts out of this life they possibly can.]


Hear the glorious dinner bells,
Copper, silver, golden bells,
Sympathetic dinner bells;
What a world of satisfaction,
Their melody foretells.
And the turkey, smoking hot,
From the dark ambrosial pot,
Crammed with sweetness till it swells,
And it smells! oh! it smells,
As if an angel dwells
In the circumambient air;
And from irridescent wings,
O'er the loaded table flings,
Paradisial odors rare,
Filling, thrilling all the air.
While it smells! oh! it smells,
Smells, smells, smells,
Smells, smells, smells,
As if the saints forgiven,
Through the open gates of heaven,
Flung the beaming, gleaming,
Light of Eden rare;
Through the circumambient air,

[It may be objected that this verse is hardly equal to the rest of Poe's poetry, but allowances must be made for the light diet on which it was produced. EDITOR GRANGE ADVANCE.]

Monday, November 25, 2013

"A Complicated Scene of Art and Treachery": A Georgian Era Domestic Scandal

George Cruikshank, "Valentine's Day"

In this social media-obsessed era of ours, we are accustomed to seeing people share the most intimate, and often most embarrassing, details of their private lives with the world.

It is easy to forget that this is not a new phenomena. The way it is expressed may shift through history, but human exhibitionism is unchanging. One striking example comes from the Georgian-era scandal that is the subject of this post. The four people involved in this private mess involving bigamy, seduction, gold-digging, drugs, domestic violence, and hints of murder plots sought not to hush up their shame, but to share it with the world in a dizzyingly prolix series of letters and pamphlets exposing each and every degrading detail. It makes the blood run cold to think what this quartet could have done with Facebook and Twitter. (If this post seems overly long, I can only say in my defense that I am presenting as concise a version of this tangled tale as possible.)

The whole saga was first revealed to the public by means of an anonymous letter sent to London’s “General Evening Post” on October 3, 1747. The writer explained that “Such a complicated Scene of Art and Treachery” as he had to tell “ought to be exposed to open View, to serve as a Memento for your Fair Readers in particular, and teach them Caution in the Choice of the two most endearing Blessings in Life, a Friend in whom to confide, and a Partner in their Bed and Affections.”

It was a cautionary tale indeed. While leaving the names discreetly blank in the inexpressibly irritating custom of the day, the correspondent told of a “Mr. C” “a young Gentleman of some Fortune in the West of this Kingdom,” who became enamored of a Miss “S.” To avoid offending a wealthy relation from whom he had “expectations,” the couple married secretly. “After a considerable Time spent in the Enjoyment of the Sweets of a gratified Passion,” an extremely rich lady, little knowing of this clandestine marriage, let “C” know she would welcome his attentions. “Flattered with the Hopes of so advantageous a Match,” “C” persuaded “S” to acquiesce in his public marriage to the woman of wealth, with the argument that this other lady’s fortune would be of great benefit to them both. “C” bigamously married the unsuspecting heiress, who eventually bore him two children who were fated to share the disgrace that would inevitably fall upon “the innocent Adultress, their Mother.”

Meanwhile, a “Mr. L,” also ignorant of “S’s” marital state, paid honorable court to her, so successfully that their relationship went so far as to come to “a Contract and Settlement.” When this reached the ears of “C,” this wretched blackguard, “fired with the Thoughts of losing one of his Wives,” told “L” that his fiancée was his, “C’s,” mistress. When “L” confronted “S” with this disturbing report, she, “losing all Patience at C’s unparallell’d Audaciousness,” revealed to “L” that she was not a harlot, merely a party to bigamy.

The letter-writer closed his harrowing tale with the pious hope that the law could somehow aid “C’s” wronged second “wife” and her offspring.

The modern-day writer of soap operas had nothing on those Georgians when they really rolled their sleeves up and got to work.

The "complicated scene"--which comes off as a parody of one of those lurid thousand-page epistolary novels of the time--dated back to 1737, when Lancelot Lee, who was not only the “Mr. L” of the above letter, but the letter-writer himself--began courting “Miss S,” Elizabeth “Betty” Scrope. Miss Scrope’s grandmother, Mrs. Cresswell, who was the girl’s guardian, objected to the match, as when Elizabeth married, the old lady would lose an unpaid companion. With “direct Rudeness,” she ordered Lee to give up any idea of winning her granddaughter. After this scene, Lee was understandably shocked when he soon learned the girl he loved was engaged to her cousin, Thomas Cresswell. However, rumors Lee had heard of Cresswell’s attentions to other women led him to believe the engagement was doomed, and like a true knight worthy of his first name, he resolved to discreetly bow out and bide his time.

However negative a view Lee may have had about the future of this relationship, even he was shocked when the next news he heard was that Cresswell had married a Miss Anna Warneford. This development caused him to renew his courtship of Elizabeth Scrope, whom he had never ceased to love. Miss Scrope acknowledged that Cresswell was “a most egregious Villain,” who had “abused me monstrously.” However, she admitted to Lee that she was not free to marry him “while that Villain lives.” The unspeakable Cresswell then reappeared on the scene, determined to end any renewal of their romance. With a rather dog-in-mangerish attitude, he told the Scropes that Lee was a Jacobite—the most heinous charge possible to good Whigs such as that family—and ordered Elizabeth to tell Lee that she could never marry him while Cresswell lived. Finally, she told her suitor the truth about her legal ties to Cresswell. Lee then threatened to bring a bigamy suit against his nefarious rival.

Cresswell had a counter-offer: He would send Miss Warneford packing and publicly acknowledge Elizabeth Scrope as his wife. When Cresswell’s attorney found that this offer was greeted “with laughter,” he warned Lee and Miss Scrope that a bigamy suit would hurt the two women involved more than it would hurt Cresswell himself. If convicted, his “Punishment is trifling,” and the “Consequence” would be that Miss Scrope would be forced to take him as her husband. Besides, this man of the law sneered, it was not easy to convict a man of bigamy, “for he had once himself defended a Man that had seven Wives!”

Lee then sent Anna Warneford’s mother a letter telling her in no uncertain terms what a gem of a son-in-law she had acquired—a letter Cresswell scornfully dismissed as “one continued Lye.”

At this point, “A By-Stander” sent his own letter to the “General Evening Post.” He told Lee that, despite what he had said about Miss Scrope’s innocence in Cresswell’s bigamy, it was well known in the neighborhood that Elizabeth herself had suggested Cresswell marry Miss Warneford. If there had been a previous marriage, why didn’t Miss Scrope herself disclose it before this second one took place? This heckler in the audience added, “Since Miss Scrope is in Possession of a handsome Fortune of her own, and has one Brother who is possessed of a very large Estate and another Brother who is bred up to the Law, why do you concern yourself so much in this Cause, if you are to receive no particular Benefit from it?”

Why, indeed?

Lee responded in the pages of the “Post” by asking why, if “By-Stander” spoke the truth, he was hiding behind a pseudonym? “What honest Reason can you give for concealing your Name? If you speak Truth, can you be too publickly known? If you speak falsely (being deceived,) will it be a Discredit if, upon Conviction, you acknowledge your Error.” He deprecated the slurs against Miss Scrope, describing her as “a Woman of real Merit…oppressed with most grievous Misfortunes.”

The other principals in the matter now decided to speak up. Cresswell published a seventy-eight page pamphlet aimed at taking off “that Load of Infamy that has been laid upon me.” His version of the affair was that although Elizabeth Scrope had been in love with him, he had no notion of marrying her, particularly as her fortune was not sufficient for his needs. However, when the lady fell deathly ill, he decided, in the interests of giving her something to live for, “to tell her I would marry her; and when she was recovered, to assure her it was impossible and advise her never to see me more.” This, he assured his readers, was all agreeable to the damsel. When he heard that Lee was courting Miss Scrope, he did everything he could to encourage her to accept this suitor, but she rebelled, stating “that if he was the last of Man and she of Woman, the Human Race should fail; that of all Men she ever saw she hated him the worst; that his Hands and Feet resembled those of a Baboon; and that it hurt her Eyes and gave her Pain to look at him.”

There things stood until the following year, when they were again thrown together at their grandmother’s house. Elizabeth so pestered Cresswell with talk of her love for him, that, at length, he finally consented that she should become his mistress. According to Cresswell, they agreed that if she became pregnant, he would marry her; if she did not, he would be free to marry elsewhere.

This liaison continued until he was advised that a certain wealthy young woman was undoubtedly his for the asking. When he conveyed this information to his mistress, she fell into “perpetual and eternal Convulsions.” She finally offered him a deal: He would marry another woman, but settle part of his estate on her, and continue to “live sometimes with the one and sometimes with the other.” The next day, for the sake of Elizabeth’s conscience, they read over the marriage service together, which by the laws of the day was enough to constitute a legal, if irregular, union.

Cresswell was then free to turn his attentions to Miss Warneford and her money—definitely not in that order. “I was not at all enamored with her Person,” this gentlemanly fellow informed us. However, a fortune of thirty thousand pounds a year provided a good deal of compensatory beauty.

Their marriage, he sighed, was not a success. His bride proved to be a cold, ill-natured nag. “I heartily repented my having married her,” and Cresswell found himself thinking nostalgically of the good-natured and complaisant Elizabeth. His marital relations reached the point where he was forced to pour cold water upon his wife in order to keep her quiet. When Lee sent his mother-in-law “a Letter full of Lyes,” claiming that Cresswell had married Anna without Miss Scrope’s knowledge, he told Mrs. Warneford that he was indeed married to Elizabeth, “but they could not prove it.” Mrs. Warneford, after consulting with a clergyman, retired from the fray in utter confusion, announcing that her daughter must do as she liked in the matter.

However, Cresswell had decided that there just wasn’t enough money in the world for him to continue living with Anna and her “provoking and constantly employed Tongue,” which was robbing him of “all Ease and Comfort in Life.” Articles of separation were signed, and the couple parted—doubtless with equal relief on the part of the lady.

Elizabeth Scrope did not take all this quietly. In a publication of no less than two hundred and thirty-two pages, she set out to demolish Cresswell’s “defense,” as “the most unmanly Libel,” written by a man who was doubtless under the “immediate Possession of the Devil.”

According to this manifesto, she had been indifferent to Cresswell, but he pursued her incessantly. When Lancelot Lee began his decidedly protracted courtship, Cresswell urged her to refuse him. Cresswell told her that he was too poor to marry her, and begged her to maintain a secret engagement until he was able to get money from the family estate. She indignantly called his claims that she had been his mistress “of so infamous a Nature, and so extremely indecent, that by my Sex I am denied the Privilege of expatiating upon them.  I can only most sacredly declare they are absolutely false.” Cresswell had indeed tried to make their relationship a physical one, but when she virtuously rejected such a wicked thing, he apologized, and, as a peace offering, suggested they read over the marriage service, with a public ceremony to subsequently take place in London. A rather sinister touch was added when he began pressing her to take laudanum every night—so much of it that her maid told him “I do believe you will never be easy till you have laudanum’d her into her Grave!”

Despite all this, the pair eventually traveled to London, where on April 23, 1742, Elizabeth Scrope “was married to my sure most bitter Enemy.” They kept this ceremony a secret, although her husband visited her bedroom once a week. Some weeks later, she—erroneously, as it happened—believed she was pregnant. When she told Cresswell the news, he, to her horror, tried to persuade her to abort the child. When she confronted him with gossip about his interest in Miss Warneford, he dismissed her fears. Even if he were free, he said, he could never marry “a Creature so immensely ugly.” Scrope declared that she never had any idea he would actually marry this other woman. The first she heard of his perfidy was when one morning, her maid announced to her that Cresswell and Miss Warneford had been seen coming out of the local church. The news caused her to take to her bed and weep for three hours straight.

Cresswell soon returned to her, excusing his behavior on the grounds that he really, really needed that money. And, in any case, he told her, “the disagreeable Wretch” was in poor health, and she would surely die within the year. When Elizabeth threatened to reveal that she was his wife, Cresswell retorted that she could not prove it, and if she tried to expose him, he would tell everyone that she was merely his mistress.

Thus deadlocked, they parted company, but Cresswell continually pestered her with letters “full of Repentance for what he had done, and dreadful Accounts of his extreme Misery.” She wrote that “He could not bear the Thought of owning himself a Villain, nor I the Infamy of living as his Mistress. He was the former; but I was not the latter.” One letter mentioned his disappointment that his bride had not died in childbirth, “if she has another I will see no great Care shall be taken of her.” Elizabeth shrewdly noted that even if Miss Warneford died what was ruled a natural death, she would “suspect some unfair Dealing.”

In the meantime, the ever-patient Lancelot Lee tried to take up their courtship where it left off. She was forced to tell him that she had troubles “of a very uncommon Sort” that prevented her from accepting him as long as Cresswell lived. When she finally confessed the truth about the impossible position she was in, Lee could only counsel patience, assuring her that he would be waiting to marry her if she should ever be free.

Lee went to London, where he discovered that—evidently through Cresswell’s skullduggery—there was no record of Elizabeth’s marriage. He did, however, discover that the amazing Mr. Cresswell had been married to yet another woman before he married Elizabeth Scrope! By this point, she did not even wish to show she was bound to a man she now “detested and despised.” Alas, Scrope could not bring herself to marry Lee “while Mr. Cresswell, by a Set of foolish Lies, obliged me in my own Justification to make publick my Marriage with him.”

The long-suffering Elizabeth concluded her narrative by sighing that “Few Women meet with so compleat a Villain as Mr. Cresswell, and still fewer with so amazingly sincere a Friend as Mr. Lee. He must not condemn me for being cautious in Regard to his Proposal of Marriage. In Publick I will acknowledge what, in my own Opinion only, I would marry him. But I have been too wretchedly unfortunate to depend on that only; therefore will govern my Resolution by better Judgments.”

This was the last public word on this singular domestic drama, but we know at least a little of the later lives of the dramatis personae. Elizabeth Scrope was able to prove in court that thanks to the prior wedding Lee had discovered, Cresswell’s marriages to both her and Anne Warneford were bigamous, and these unhappy unions were annulled. In 1751, Lancelot finally won his Guinevere, when Lee and Elizabeth Scrope were wed. Sadly, she died less than a year after their marriage. Lee subsequently married an Ann Elizabeth Michel, and, after her death, Catherine Danvers. Lee himself died in 1775.

Thomas Cressford, who all of England agreed was a “very great villain,” went on to have an undistinguished Parliamentary career. He finally gave up on matrimony—or perhaps it gave up on him—but he had a number of illegitimate children by a mistress. Although his offspring with Anna Warneford were technically bastardized, their eldest son inherited the family property and eventually served in Parliament.  Cresswell died in 1788.

As for poor Anna, the only one of the four who failed to leave a public record of her miseries, she wound up, in a sense, having the last word.  She died while on a visit to Bath in 1791.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

Strange company has been stretched pretty thin this week.

But not nearly as much as the cats.

On to this week's frolic down the rabbit hole:

What the hell has been walking around Latin America?

What the hell is flying over Jerusalem?

What the hell is going on in Chicago?

Where the hell is Vlad the Impaler?

Watch out for those Funayurei!

Watch out for those Alligator Men!

Watch out for those Emus!

Watch out for those Hex Cats!

Watch out for those film scripts!

Watch out for those...ah, hell, just run for your freaking lives!!!

Out: Mayan Apocalypse.  In:  Viking Apocalypse!

Violet Jessup:  One of the luckiest, or very unluckiest, people in history?  Discuss.

Things are booming is Saskatoon!  Uh, perhaps not in a good way.  (P.S. Make that double for, well, pretty much everywhere else.)

Why it wasn't always easy to be an ancient Egyptian lentil cook.

Did Clark Gable really kill off the undershirt industry?  Analyzing the birth of a myth.

In which quantum physics finally begins to catch up with Poe's "Eureka."

Hart Island:  New York's Land of the Lost.

"The Fall of the Romanoffs":  The first Russian-history docudrama.

A look at British country houses that are now gone forever.  Sigh.

The loneliness of Old London:  A photo essay.

Medieval masquerade balls were more reminiscent of Poe's "Hop-Frog" than you'd really like to think.

Short version:  Anglo-Saxon politics was really, really messy.

Because Mystery Blood Wednesday just isn't enough at this blog, may I present Mystery Blood Friday?

Howard Winham and his Double Trouble.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, we present Conspiracy Theories A-Plenty.

The Benders:  Little Bates Motel on the Prairie.

The odd tale of Hitler's secret first love.

The excavation of a Roman girl:  A 15th century archaeological nine-days-wonder.

I know I've probably posted a link about this island before, but I'll do it again.  Because, damn it, Fukuoka sure looks like Heaven to me.

And, finally, my favorite photo of the week, via Twitter:

And...that's it for this week!  I'll see you on Monday, when I'll be dishing up some juicy Georgian-era dirt!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Here's the tale of rather unusual...poltergeists?--natural phenomena?--general un-classifiable weirdness?--that was recorded in the "Indianapolis Sun" on October 17, 1896:

The excitement at the Newport house, on N. Capitol-ave., continues. Friday evening, shortly after 7 o'clock, Mr. Newport was in the front room and Blacksmith Ambuhl was sitting at the table in the dining room, when a series of shocks began and, before ceasing, 18 were counted.

The occupants ran out as people do in earthquake countries. Mr. Newport confesses that the series of frightful shocks made him nervous, and he has decided to sleep in the house no more until something more is learned of the affair. Saturday morning, at 8 o'clock, there were seven distinct shocks. The characteristics of the quakings resemble earthquakes. There is no house nearer than 100 feet to the house in question. The rumblings of the Newport house can be heard at times by the neighbors, but they have never yet been felt by them.

The property owners in the immediate neighborhood are signing a petition which asks the state geologist to make a complete and thorough investigation. This is to be presented to Geologist Blatchley when he returns from the oil fields of Indiana Saturday evening. Those in the neighborhood are beginning to realize that it is a serious matter and that if Mr. Newport's house is destroyed by an eruption of some sort, their property will also be injured. The Board of public safety will be asked to do something. It has the power of ordering the house torn down if it is found unsafe. The shaking house, however, is well built and it is a question whether it could go so far as to condemn a house on account of disturbances under the foundation.

The yard was crowded with people Saturday morning, and they came and went until noon. Many of the visitors have advice to offer. It's "Well, I tell you," and "If I were you" until the Newports are weary of life. At present the family is living with Mrs. Newport's mother, on Pratt-st. A man came in from Plainfield, Friday, and offered to trade his farm for Newport's property. He offered a "Dick-nailin'" good trade, but Newport says he's going to stay with it until he finds out what the matter is.

It was theorized that these strange noises and shakes were caused by oil or gas deposits under the house. In November, drilling commenced on the property, but after going down nearly a thousand feet without anything of significance being found, the project was abandoned the following month and as far as I can tell, the mystery was left unsolved.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Slip in Time

“Time-slips,” the most common name for the alleged experience of “visiting” another period in history, are one of the most intriguing forms of paranormal experiences. Probably the most famous example comes from Charlotte Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, two English women who, while touring Versailles in 1901, claimed to have briefly seen it as it was at the dawn of the French Revolution.

Assuming time-slips are a genuine psychic adventure, no one has any idea what exactly they are, or what might trigger them. Most people, of course, deny they truly happen at all.

Recorded episodes of time-slips come in varying degrees of credibility. To my mind, one of the most convincing accounts comes from biologist and author Ivan T. Sanderson. Sanderson was rationalist enough to bring a clear-headed, facts-driven approach to his experiences, while remaining open-minded enough to acknowledge that during his life, he saw many things that simply couldn’t be explained.

His time-slip story (related in his book “More ‘Things’”,) has a convincing simplicity that cannot be easily dismissed, particularly as he stated flatly that occult matters had never interested him: “I have only one life to lead (that I know of) and I’ve been far too busy trying to catch up with the more pragmatic facts of it.”

His story took place in Pont Beudet, Haiti some years ago, where he, his wife, and his assistant Frederick G. Allsop were engaged in a biological survey. One evening, the trio were driving down an old dirt road that quickly engulfed the car in mud, leaving them stranded. They attempted to walk back to their home, but after traveling most of the night, they became exhausted. They encountered a car driven by an American doctor, but he was on his way to an urgent case, and had no room for all three of them. He agreed to try to pick them up on his return trip. The three of them grimly slogged on, until Sanderson looked up and suddenly noticed that everything around him was transformed. In the brilliant moonlight, he saw that he was surrounded by houses of various shapes and sizes—and all of them “casting shadows appropriate to their positions.” Their previously dusty road was now muddy, with patches of cobblestones. The homes appeared to be of the medieval or Elizabethan period, and he somehow immediately knew he was in Paris. It was not a static scene, as would be the case in a mirage. He saw the flickering glow of candlelight in some windows, and hanging lanterns were gently swaying, as if in a breeze—a breeze he did not feel. Otherwise, the scene before him appeared utterly real.

While still trying to grasp what he was seeing, his wife, who had been walking behind him, suddenly stopped and let out a gasp. When he asked what was wrong, she was speechless for a moment, but then began describing the precise scene he was experiencing.

At that point, wrote Sanderson, they both had a hard time finding speech. His shock only deepened when his wife blurted, “How did we get to Paris five hundred years ago?”

They continued to examine everything around them—apparently they were in perfect agreement with every detail—but a strange weakness began to descend upon them. Sanderson called to Allsop, who was some distance ahead. They tried to catch up to the assistant, but became so dizzy they both had to sit—on what they both saw as a tall, rough Parisian curbstone. Allsop came back to them and tried to find out what was wrong, but the Sandersons did not know how to answer. Allsop gave each of them a cigarette. Staring into the flame of his lighter somehow brought the Sandersons “back” to reality. When they looked around again, 15th century France had vanished, replaced by the familiar Haitian surroundings.

By the time the doctor had returned and brought them home, it was close to dawn. They were stunned to find their house servants, all of them local residents, had not departed for the night as usual, but had a freshly prepared meal and hot baths waiting for them. The next morning, their housekeeper, Margo, whom Sanderson described as a “’guider’ of tradition,” someone that “stupid, or even sensible” outsiders would call a “priestess,” refused to say how she knew exactly when they would return. He had the impression that she also knew of their very strange experience, but that was never explained, either. Later, however, a young Haitian man told Sanderson, “You saw things, didn’t you? You don’t believe it, but you could always see things if you wanted to.”

That last line has haunted me ever since I first read Sanderson’s book some years ago. Just how much could we all see—or know—if we really wanted to?

[Note:  Here is another account of Sanderson's odd experience.]

Friday, November 15, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

This week, strange company accused the cats of lying down on the job.

They strongly disagreed.

On to this week's look at the World of Weird:

What the hell was wandering around in Sykesville?

What the hell was Thomas Mantell chasing?

Watch out for those seashells!

Watch out for those tea towels!

Some of the world's greatest castles.

“For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry”:  A delightful 18th century ode to a poet's favorite feline.

Explaining how the Coral Castle was built, while carefully avoiding giving any explanation of how the Coral Castle was built.

Seriously, now, if the mystery of the Coral Castle is "explained"--oh, there was nothing to it, just a little elbow grease, etc.--why doesn't someone replicate Leedskalnin's mysterious achievement? Hell, build a whole chain of 'em, like Holiday Inns!

I dare the writers of that Live Science article to do just that.

The Cat and the Diplomat.

A little Icelandic witchcraft how-to.  Yes, featuring Necropants.

Jan van Rymsdyk:  The man who turned dissection into an art form.

For some reason, this post is making this song run through my head:

Jack the Milkman.

An underground medieval world.

Putting Grandpa on ice.

Occult photos a go-go!

A look at the coffin of a wealthy Roman child.

A look at the diaries of a wealthy (and unhappy) Victorian teenager.

A look at what's left of a Stalinist ghost town.

Spiders, leapers, slobberers, cabbages, snacks, and hairypants:  Why medieval monarchs had all the good nicknames.

Sasquatch must die!

The kind of thing that happens when you forget about Greek mythology.

Battlefield ghosts.

The last soldier killed in World War I.  Sounds very much like a tragic case of "Suicide by Army."

Remembering canines who served their country.

How Ian Stevenson made the case for reincarnation.

And, to close things out, the video of the week:  Cats and theremins, together at last! (H/T @wunderkamercast)

It's a wrap!  I return on Monday, with the tale of a 20th century biologist who made an unexpected visit to 15th century France.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

OK, friends, I think I have here the Mystery Blood story to top all Mystery Blood stories. It took place in Oklahoma in 1932.

On three different occasions that August, J.T. Gilstrap and his teenage son Andrew shot at prowlers vandalizing the family farm near Wyandotte. After all these encounters, large trails of blood led from the place where the Gilstraps saw the intruders. However, officers found not one trace of any wounded man or men. It also puzzled them that miscreants would continue to come back to the same farm after the attempted thefts gained wide local publicity--not to mention after being shot.

This already odd case plunged head-first into The Weird when samples of the blood found around the Gilstrap farm were sent to the state chemists in Oklahoma City. The scientists reported that the blood they had been given to analyze was not human.

This left local authorities completely baffled by what to do next. The last word I have found on this story stated that the Deputy Sheriff consulted with the County Attorney and they "agreed there was little to be done, although the mystery is not much nearer solution."

Monday, November 11, 2013

The "Herbert Fuller" Murders

Of all the crimes that have taken place at sea, the gruesome triple murder that was committed aboard the barkentine “Herbert Fuller” is among the most frustrating. Whether one thinks the man accused of the killings was guilty or innocent, it is impossible to say that justice was truly done in the end.

A long and unsatisfactory legal saga had its beginning on July 3, 1896, when the “Herbert Fuller,” captained by Charles I. Nash, set out from Boston to South America with a load of lumber. The first mate was Thomas M. Bram, a former restaurant manager who had returned to his original occupation of sailor eight years earlier. Aside from the captain and his nine-man crew, the only passengers were Nash’s wife Laura and Lester Monks, a Harvard student who wished to take a sea-voyage “for his health”—ironic, considering the decidedly unhealthy experiences he was soon to face. (Incidentally, the luggage of the twenty-year old Monks is an interesting touch. Aside from clothing and necessary accessories, he brought on board a bottle of brandy, a bottle of whisky, and sixty bottles of beer.)

Aside from Nash and his wife, all the inmates of the ship were strangers to each other. They got along well enough, with the exception of Bram and Julius Leopold Westerberg (who went by the name of “Charley Brown.”) Brown, who was described as “jolly and talkative”—despite the fact that after a previous voyage he had suffered an episode of paranoid delusions—quarreled frequently with the first mate during the early part of the voyage, in the trivial, querulous way people sometimes do when forced familiarity breeds contempt.

Bram did not appear impressed with his captain, either. The steward later testified that he said of Nash, “Here is a man who has a good wife and is not deserving of her.” He added, somewhat cryptically, “Some other sport will dash his money up against the wall.”

Thomas Bram

The trip, however, was essentially uneventful until the night of July 13. Charley Brown was at the wheel, when he claimed that shortly before two in the morning, he looked into the window of the chart-room and saw Bram striking something with what appeared to be an axe. He also saw a man lying on the floor. Then the first mate went into the main cabin, where the captain and his wife slept. He then heard Mrs. Nash scream. A minute or so later, Bram reemerged on deck. He said nothing, but merely turned and went to starboard.

Before long, another crew member, Francis Loheac, came to relieve Brown at the wheel. Oddly, Brown said nothing of what he had witnessed. He joined Hendrik Purdok, the lookout, as if nothing at all peculiar had happened.

Meanwhile, Loheac heard a “gurgling noise” from the direction of the chart-room. He then saw Bram walk down the steps of the deck. He abruptly turned and ran back up, just as Monks was heard calling “Mr. Bram! Come down!”

Monks, it turned out, had been awakened by Mrs. Nash’s scream. As he came to, he also heard heavy, ominous breathing from the chart-room, which was next to his cabin. Unsure of what was going on, he reached for a revolver that he kept under a pillow (he obviously thought little of his companions) and called for the captain. Getting no response, he opened the door that connected his quarters to the chart-room and rushed in, to find Nash lying on the floor, emitting the labored gasps of one who is painfully dying. Monks ran to the main cabin to summon the captain’s wife. In the dim light, he did not see any sign of her, only sinister-looking dark patches that turned out to be hunks of hair.

Horrified, Monks realized the ship was turning into a slaughterhouse. Keeping his revolver at the ready, he cautiously returned to the deck and summoned the first mate. He added, “The captain is killed!”

Bram took one look at Monks’ gun and came to understandable, if unfortunate, conclusions. Holding a board in front of him for protection, he cried “No! No! No!” The young student managed to convince Bram that he was not an assassin, and got the mate to accompany him back to his cabin so he could change out of his pajamas. On the way there, Bram fetched his own revolver. In order to get to Monks’ cabin, they passed through the chart-room where the captain still lay alive, although obviously breathing his last. Throughout all this, Bram said nothing about Mrs. Nash or the second mate, August W. Blomberg, who were both unaccounted for. He was even silent about the fact that they had just passed a dying man in the next room.

After Monks dressed, the pair returned on deck—again passing Captain Nash, as well as Mrs. Nash’s open door. Bram went to Loheac to ask him where Blomberg was. “Forward,” Loheac replied. When Bram returned, he said calmly to Monks, “There is a mutiny.” Monks asked what had happened to Brown. “He has gone forward with the men,” said Bram. He then cried, “The whole crew has mutinied and may rush on us!” He knelt before Monks, grabbing his legs and begging to be protected. He then stumbled about the deck, vomiting and muttering that Blomberg had poisoned him.

By this point, Monks was, in his own words, “excited but not nervous.” He took Bram to the starboard rail, which enabled him to monitor both sides of the ship. He told Bram to stand guard over Loheac at the wheel.

Lester Monks

The two stayed in position until four a.m., when it began to turn light. They then fetched the steward, Jonathan Spencer, and told him of the grim doings that had taken place overnight. Spencer went down into the after house, where he found Blomberg’s dead body.

The terrified steward ran back up on deck to share this latest horrid surprise. “What does this mean?” he wailed.

Bram suddenly pointed across the ship and announced, “There is an axe. There is the axe that did it!” He was gesturing towards a half-concealed axe, covered in blood. Bram cradled the gory object, repeating hysterically, “This is the axe that done it!”

He suddenly stopped. “Shall I throw it overboard?” And, before anyone could stop him, that is exactly what he did.

The rest of the crew was called on deck, where they were informed there was a murderer in their midst. Bram continued his strange, jittery behavior, noting several times that both he and the Captain had been Freemasons. At one point, he described himself as a widow’s son—although the point was lost on his listeners, he was repeating a traditional Masonic distress signal.

When Bram had calmed down, he offered a decidedly novel solution to this triple murder: Obviously, the two men had killed Mrs. Nash, and then slaughtered each other. “We must not blame the living for the dead,” Bram shrugged, “the dead can’t speak for themselves.” He seemed quite eager for everyone to just put this bit of unpleasantness behind them and go on with their lives. Least said, soonest mended.

It was finally decided to take the ship to Halifax, the nearest convenient port. It is difficult to imagine a more uncomfortable journey. Everyone on board knew they were cooped up with a particularly brutal and senseless killer, but no one knew who he was. There was, however, a growing suspicion about the “Herbert Fuller’s” two strangest inhabitants, Bram and Charley Brown. It was felt that one of those men had to be the killer, but no one could decide which. To be on the safe side, the others put them both in irons until they reached port. From there, the crew was brought back to Boston to have a few words with a Grand Jury.

This panel, after hearing everyone’s stories, brought an indictment against Thomas Bram. His trial began on December 14, 1896. The key testimony came from the three men who were nearest to the scene of the murders: Monks, Brown, and Bram. Monks, a man who evidently radiated inoffensiveness, was universally excluded from any suspicion in the crime. Brown told how from his position at the wheel, he had seen Bram murdering the Captain in the chart room. The terror he felt from this knowledge explained his suspiciously odd behavior aboard the “Herbert Fuller.” Bram retorted that Brown could not possibly have seen him from the wheel—a statement that has been interpreted as either an accidental confession or an innocent statement of fact. He maintained that Brown was undoubtedly the murderer.

The question of motive was a bit of a problem for the prosecution. They found numerous people willing to testify that Bram had long entertained the idea of turning pirate, with the suggestion that he committed these murders in order to seize the ship. The Court, however, excluded all this testimony.

What proved to be a key part of the trial was the question of whether or not Brown could have lashed the wheel long enough to go down and, for whatever insane reason, commit a triple axe murder. The defense, of course, argued that it was very possible to tie the wheel down in such a fashion. The prosecution was not allowed to rebut this testimony, but among the observers, there were any number of experienced seamen who insisted that in the conditions the “Herbert Fuller” faced on the night of the killings, it would have been impossible to immobilize the wheel for more than a minute or so.

The jury began their deliberations on January 1, 1897. By the next day—after apparently a good deal of wrangling—they had their verdict: “Guilty.” Bram was sentenced to death. His lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Central to their argument was the testimony given at the trial by Nicholas Power, the Halifax detective who was the first to formally interview Bram. (It was he who elicited from Bram the suspicious remark that Brown would not have been able to see him murdering the Captain.) The Court agreed that when Power accused Bram to his face of the murders, it had called “imperatively for an admission or denial” by Bram, thereby rendering his response, which was seen as an indirect confession, involuntary. “A plainer violation ... of the letter and spirit [of the Fifth Amendment] could scarcely be conceived of,” wrote one of the justices. They ordered a new trial.

The highlight of Bram’s second trial, which took place in March and April of 1898, was when the jurors were allowed to visit the “Herbert Fuller” to see for themselves whether or not Brown, from his post at the wheel, could have seen the murderous goings-on in the chart room. It was decided that he could have, indeed. The prosecution was also allowed to introduce testimony asserting to the impossibility that Brown could have lashed the wheel long enough to commit murder. Besides, it was argued, if Brown had left the wheel, how was it that Bram himself, the officer of the deck, did not notice his absence?

This jury again found Bram guilty, but added to their verdict the qualification, “without capital punishment.” It was believed this was a compromise verdict made to win over a couple of jurors who were less certain of Bram’s guilt. The former first mate was sentenced to life imprisonment on July 12th, 1898. He was released on parole fifteen years later.

Bram had his champions, who believed that the real murderer was Charley Brown. Foremost among them was the popular novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart. She even wrote a novel based on the case, “The After-House,” where the fictional Bram was an innocent martyr who suffered because of a crime committed by “Charley Jones,” “a homicidal maniac of the worst type.” It is Rinehart who is given most of the credit for Woodrow Wilson’s decision to grant Bram a full pardon in 1919. As a result, the “Herbert Fuller” murders are now officially unsolved.

Bram returned to a life at sea, eventually rising to the position of Captain of his own ship, the “Alvena.” He was last heard from in Portland, Maine, in 1936, after he collided with an anchored lightship. The United States government, he sighed, now owed him at least $4,000 in damages.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

Strange company is seriously regretting allowing the cats to read the archives of this blog.

They may be planning a revolt.

Here is this week's Peek at the Peculiar:

Who the hell killed Mary Rogers?

What the hell killed Rutger Hale?

What the hell happened to Miss Rosa Day?

What the hell was...well, this?

What the hell was Hyperborea?

What the hell is in the Atlantic Ocean?

What the hell is in the South China Sea?

Who the hell was Zana?

Who the hell were the Green Children of Woolpit?  Nick Redfern thinks he knows!

Watch out for those octogenarian Russian shepherds!

Watch out for those big cats!

Watch out for that even bigger kraken!

Watch out for...well, pretty much everything on this list.

A tale of murder, ghosts, Marie Antoinette's lover Axel von Fersen...and, uh, watch out for those unbrellas!

If you like books, music, toilet paper, and sex, reconsider your plans to relocate to these countries.

King Tut:  Crash Test Mummy?

Quote of the week: "The European GOCE satellite is falling uncontrollably to Earth but no one need worry too much."

A curious double suicide (?) in 1930s Los Angeles.

Pandora, meet The Box of Crazy.

So, it turns out the beloved restaurant chain is really the Intergalactic House of Pancakes.

The Great Oulu Fire of 1882:  Real-life tragedy or Wikipedia Rabbit Hole?

George Orwell's ghost story.

H.H. Holmes:  Murderer, con man, Crapola Myth Magnet.

Speaking of Crapola Myth Magnets, what would our weekend be without yet another deliriously half-witted Poe Death Theory?

And we're done for this week!  See you on Monday, when I'll be examining a mysterious--and highly controversial--triple murder at sea.  What the hell happened aboard the "Herbert Fuller?"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This account of a most peculiar death comes from the "London St. James Gazette and Evening Review," September 18, 1889.  I must confess, I don't have the slightest idea what to say about this one:

Mr. Coroner Carttar and a jury were for several hours on Monday night engaged in holding an inquiry into the death of Ann Georgina Hanks, aged eighteen, of 11, Frederick street, Greenwich. The court was crowded, considerable interest being manifested in the proceedings on account of the rumour that the deceased girl had been frightened by ghostly signs. An extraordinary story was told to the jury by Mary Ann Robinson Maxstead, aged fourteen, sister to the young man with whom the deceased was “keeping company.” She said that on Wednesday evening last she went with deceased to her bed-room. The witness carried a paraffin lamp. The deceased got an apron out of her box in the back bed room, and with her left hand felt round the corners of the box. When she got to the last corner, something like white thick smoke came up about six inches, startling witness.

When the smoke left her hand the deceased fell on the floor. When she moved her hand the smoke was with it, and when she fell the smoke dispersed in front of witness. There were light sparks in it. She called to her brother downstairs, but when he came the smoke had gone, where she did not see. She was frightened, and went downstairs with the light. There was no noise when witness saw the smoke, and no smell. She could not tell what it was. Evidence was given to show that shortly after falling to the ground, the deceased started screaming, which continued for half an hour. She never spoke again, or recovered consciousness, dying at half-past eleven on Saturday night. The coroner's officer and another witness searched the box for anything to account for the alleged smoke, but could find nothing. The witness Maxstead’s brother said that next morning she told him of the fire in deceased’s left hand, and of the cloud in front of her. He put down the cloud as a sign of death, but could not account for the fire. Asked by the coroner, "What put this in your head and your sister's head?" Maxstead could not say, and the coroner remarked that there had been a story of a Greenwich ghost, which was said to have manifested itself at a house near where the deceased lived.

It was stated that she had been employed at the lead-works of Messrs. Pontifex and Wood, Millwall, and it had been suggested that death was due to lead-poisoning; but this Dr. Hartt found was not the case, the actual cause of death being syncope, following an epileptic fit. Fright, he said, was a common cause of epilepsy, and the screaming referred to might have been epileptic. The post-mortem appearances were such as one would expect to find after severe functional disturbance. Epilepsy might have been produced by sudden excitement. He could not account for the alleged smoke at all. Phosphorus paste might cause it, but it would have to be handled. The Coroner thought some of the girl Maxstead’s story was imaginary. Ultimately the jury found a verdict of Death from syncope following an epileptic fit.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Mystery of the "Dark Countess"

19th century illustration of the grave of the "Dark Countess"

In 1807, a most mysterious couple moved into the castle of Eishausen, in Hildburghausen, Germany. The man let it be known that he was Count Vavel de Versay, but gave no clue to the identity of his female companion. The pair, whom the locals dubbed the “Dark Count and Countess,” was obviously extremely wealthy, leading luxurious, but remarkably secluded lives. They kept very much to themselves, particularly the “Countess,” who, in the rare times she was fleetingly seen in her carriage, was silent and heavily veiled. They gave not the slightest clue who they really were, where they came from, or why they lived such a hermetic existence.

The lady died in 1837, at what was estimated to be about the age of sixty. The Count, when presented with the need to give the woman a name for her death and burial records, finally said she was “Sophie Botta,” of Westphalia. Later research has found no sign that such a woman ever actually existed, and it is assumed that the woman was buried under a pseudonym. The Count continued to live in aristocratic isolation in Eishausen until his death in 1845.

That is all that can be said with any degree of confidence about this peculiar couple. After his death, it was claimed that “de Versay” was really a Dutch diplomat named Leonardus Cornelius van der Valck, but even that cannot be established with any certainty. Even if that was his real name, it does nothing to explain why he chose to seal himself off from the world.

The “Countess” is an even bigger enigma. In the 19th century, a popular romantic legend emerged claiming that she was Marie Thérèse, the only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. According to the story, the young woman was so traumatized by her horrific experiences during the Revolution that she was emotionally unable to resume any normal life. Supposedly, an Ernestine Lambriquet, allegedly an illegitimate daughter of Louis, took on her identity. Support for this theory was offered by the fact that portraits of Marie Thérèse from before the Revolution differ considerably from those painted after she became the Duchess of Angouleme in 1799.

Although this bit of folklore has lingered to this day, modern-day historians, of course, do not buy any of it. There is absolutely no valid reason to believe that Lambriquet was Louis’ daughter, let alone that she was enlisted in such a bizarre conspiracy.

Dismissing the story as fable, however, does nothing to clear up the genuine mystery of the Dark Countess. She was obviously a woman who felt that her true identity was important enough—and dangerous enough--so that she could not even reveal her face to the world, let alone her name.

If she was not Marie Thérèse, then who was she?

[Note: The tomb of the "Dark Countess" has recently been excavated, with the intention of comparing DNA from the skeleton to that from Marie Thérèse's "official" remains. Will these tests reveal everything...or nothing? Stay tuned!]

Update 2/2015:  This item reveals that DNA testing proved that the "Countess" was not related to the French royal family, so the idea that she was Marie Antoinette's daughter can finally be dismissed once and for all.  The question of her real identity remains unknown, however.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

This week, strange company has been working undercover.

So have the cats.

Here's the Friday Linkapalooza.  Discuss amongst yourselves.

Who the hell was George Psalmanazar?

What the hell is the Newport Tower?

What the hell are Ouija Boards?

What the hell crashed in Chile?

What the hell is running around Tunbridge Wells?

What the hell is running around Quebec?

What the hell is running around Iceland? Personally, I don't care, as long as it's not a pair of Necropants.

Watch out for those demonic dolls!

Watch out for those demonic manors!

Watch out for those demonic dogs!

Watch out for those probably-demonic neighbors!

Watch out for those demonic B & Bs!

Watch out for those demonic libraries!

Take a stroll through 17th century London.

The mystery of Wales' Red Dress Manor.

A literary hoax worthy of Poe.

A roundup of all our favorite humanoids, right here.  I"ll take "giant orange shrimps in the laundry room" for $500, Alex!

You must admit, this would explain a whole lot.

Out:  Magic Bullet Theory.  In:  Magic Saucer Theory!

Why do we love the Mummy's Curse?  Do they really have to ask?

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe what we have here is the Darwin Awards Hall of Fame.

The greatest literary conspiracy theories.  Incidentally, I've read the Lewis-Carroll-as-Jack-the-Ripper book, and you may not believe this, but it's even battier than it sounds.

It may be the day after Halloween, but if you think I was going to ignore a blog post with "Zombie Stalin" in the title...

Carl Jung visits a haunted house.

Tweet/photo of the week:  For me, this epitaph summarizes the basic tragedy of Life:

Well, that's a wrap for this week.  I'll be back on Monday, with the tale of a mysterious veiled "Countess" lurking around early 19th century Germany.