Friday, January 31, 2014
A happy Chinese Year of the Horse!
All Strange Company can say about this week's assortment of links is...
And it's on with the show:
Oklahoma is really booming!
Watch out for those Goblin Suitcases!
As always, watch out for those Men in Black! Especially if you live near a dam.
The Tell-Tale Skull.
So, Mr. Know-It-All Sherlock, not so smart after all, are you? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
Excuse me. The sudden rush of schadenfreude got to my head a bit.
The Call of Cathulhu.
Don't laugh at this. Reading "Wuthering Heights" certainly made me wish I were dead.
Your heartwarming family history tale of the week: Uncle Frank and His Hatboxed Head.
I'm 5' 9". I think they came up with this study just to mess with my mind.
So, I suppose it comes down to this: the parts of the universe that aren't run by cats are lorded over by bees.
In which we learn that the Portal to Hell is not, as you assumed, Facebook, but a house in Indiana.
"Where have all the monsters gone, long time passing..."
Rethinking alchemy. About bloody time, too.
Or maybe Kazakhstan is just the world's most boring country?
Here is the Key of Hell. Go on, take a test drive!
For the record, there really was one survivor of the Russian Imperial family.
Chronicling the last days of Blackbeard.
To anyone who has read a newspaper in recent years, this will be completely understandable.
For everyone on the internet who has been asking the same question: Yes, this is a very bad sign.
Uh, this may be the point when we all should look to the skies and shout, "WE'RE SORRY AND WE'LL NEVER DO IT AGAIN!"
Indonesia will see your Gobekli Tepe and raise you one Gunung Padang. There really are few things I enjoy more than watching archaeologists get the vapors.
Russia will see your Stonehenge and raise you one Arkaim.
California will see your Scottish Nessie and raise you one...Friskie?
How a famous racehorse got a posthumous modeling career.
How the British died in colonial India.
Reagan's real Star Wars.
If a deal
Sounds just too pat
Perhaps smell a rat.
And that wraps up another Week of the Weird! Tune in on Monday, when this blog will be investigating its second bizarre furnace death.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
|Milwaukee Journal, April 30 1937|
Port Washington, Wis., (AP) —Sheriff Ben F. Runkel Friday continued a search tor Capt. George Doner, who disappeared from the steamship O. S. McFarland while steaming to this port from Sheboygan Wednesday night.
The sheriff sent deputies to the lake shore north of here to hunt for the captain's body and asked commercial fishermen to be on the lookout. Coast guardsmen also cruised over Lake Michigan.
Runkel said ship's officers told him the captain had worried throughout a cruise from Erie, Pa., because the vessel's compasses were not functioning properly.
The disappearance of Captain George Doner is perhaps the most famous example of the many strange phenomena recorded in what is unofficially known as the "Lake Michigan Triangle." In April of 1937, the “O.S. McFarland” left Erie with a load of coal, bound for Port Washington,Wisconsin. On the evening of the 28th, Doner retired to his cabin, telling the crew to inform him when they were nearing their destination. It was a calm, dark night. The following day was his 58th birthday, and he had been sailing the Great Lakes for a quarter-century.
On arriving at the harbor of Port Washington, the captain was signaled to bring the boat between the piers, so it could be tied to the docks. After receiving no response, a search was immediately done of every inch of the ship, with no sign whatsoever of its captain. Other boats soon joined in the hunt, combing all the nearby waters, but to no avail. Captain Doner was never seen again.
It is of some interest that the "McFarland's" compasses had not been working normally during the voyage. Travelers through the more famous "Bermuda Triangle" have often reported the same problem, leading to theories that the area is plagued with some sort of periodic magnetic disturbance.
The crew said that the day before, the captain was "almost in a trance" and in "a highly nervous state" from sleeplessness and his concern over the compasses, leading them to speculate that in his dazed condition, he had accidentally fallen overboard. (They all discounted the idea of suicide, saying that Doner "was not that kind of man.")
Incidentally, when looking into this story, I discovered that the "O.S. McFarland" was previously named the "M.A. Reeb," and before that, the "Kensington." Such name-changing is, as most of you probably know, believed to bring bad luck to a ship.
It certainly brought bad luck to this particular ship's captain.
[Note: Virtually all modern-day retellings of this tale give the captain's name as "Donner." However, contemporary newspaper stories, as well as the gravestone put up in his memory, spell his surname as "Doner."]
Monday, January 27, 2014
|Unidentified cat on HMAS Encounter, via Wikipedia|
Ailurophobes may wish to skip this post. Today, we are paying tribute to the felines who for many centuries--at least as far back as the ancient Egyptians--have shared and brightened the often hard lives of the men and women who make the seas their home. Here's to you, Sailor Cats!
From the "Sydney Morning Herald," for June 21, 1941:
Often in a big ship there are seven or eight cats, but rarely are they seen together. Each keeps to his own part of the ship. This is a never-varying habit. It is in tramp steamers that one sees the sturdiest vagrants, cats from every country under the sun, which stay for a voyage and join another vessel at the next port!
These international ocean rovers seem to steer clear of passenger liners. No doubt they prefer the easy-going ways of cargo vessels. You see, in a tramp, the galley usually opens on to the deck. The stowaway makes friends with the cook first, and is not put to the trouble of searching the ship for him.
The interloper generally appears on the second day at sea. The sailors see a strange face peering at them and the cook finds he has a new friend. At meal times the newcomer calls on members of the crew, and, in plaintive tones, asks to be remembered. Soon the stowaway is accepted and finds himself a bed in a snug corner.
A chief officer in a tramp steamer told me of one of these vagrants that came on board at a South American port. The animal took a liking to him and he adopted it. For 12 months "Alf" (as they called him) lived in the vessel. He seemed as permanent a member of the crew as "Doodles," who "stuck to the ship" till the demolition gangs started work. But in Vancouver the call of the unknown proved to be too strong for Alf. He disappeared one night and the ship sailed early the next morning. He must have had an exciting walk ashore. Half a mile of floating logs separated the ship from the mainland!
This story reminded me of Thomas, a cat from revolutionary Spain. Thomas was powerful and muscular. He could leap with ease to the top of a six-foot partition from a standing jump. His home was a British cargo vessel that traded to Spain during the civil war. He was first seen three days out from Valencia.
"Roaming the 'tween decks he was, sir, looking more like a small tiger than a cat," said the old weather-beaten carpenter when I asked for details. "He chased several members of the crew, and was branded as an outcast. One night I spotted him amidships and got near enough to scratch his ear after bribing him with a piece of meat. I still bear marks of bites and scratches of the times I tried to get friendly in too much of a hurry. Now we're the best of pals."
The cat was rubbing himself against the leg of the carpenter. He looked at me suspiciously and drew away when I put out my hand to stroke him.
"Don't touch him, sir," warned the carpenter.
"Thomas is still filled with the revolutionary spirit and fears neither man nor beast."
The next time the ship came into port I asked about Thomas. "Sir," said the aged carpenter sadly, "Thomas left us at Adelaide. He eloped with Kit, a little grey tabby who had been in the ship for eight voyages. They were both missing a day before we sailed and didn't
When the White Star liner Cedric was broken up in 1932, the owners made a presentation, not to the captain or the chief engineer, but to the ship's cat, "Doodles," a regular old salt. "I am Doodles," read the inscription of his gift collar. "I was born in 1927 in the White Star liner Cedric in which I have travelled over 360,000 miles."
I recall this recognition of merit on the high seas because the cry has gone forth for more cats to deal with the rats that have sought refuge in vessels after being bombed out of their waterfront homes. Any captain will tell you that "Thomas" or "Mousy," the two standard names for cats at sea, are as important for the well-being of a ship as a good quarter- master or an efficient cook. Rats and mice are the natural enemies of seamen, and so a stout rodent hunter is worth his weight in gold.
War risks mean nothing to seafaring cats. A sinking is all in the day's work. There are many cats sailing the seas to-day which have been in vessels sent to the bottom through enemy action.
Ships' cats are divided into two categories. There are the "permanents," who stay in a ship for voyage after voyage, and there are the "vagrants," who join and desert without warning. But whatever his class, a cat is sure of a welcome. No cat has ever regretted the walk up the gangplank.
Doodles, briefly mentioned in the above article, received a longer notice in the "New York Sun" for January 19, 1933:
It's a year since we've heard of Doodles, mascot of the Cedric. The last time we saw her she was strolling through the main saloon of her vessel, her tail held high in the tradition of the feline whose social position is secure. It was the last sailing of the Cedric from New York. Upon the ship's arrival at the other side she was sent up to Scotland and turned over to the ship breakers.
Doodles was as much an institution during the last days of the Cedric as was the purser or the chief steward. Her right to stroll any deck or companionway was never questioned. It was her duty to maintain an iron-paw discipline over the ship's rats, to react in an amenable manner to the friendly advances of the members of the crew and to mix in a dignified way with those passengers whose social position demanded some recognition. To our knowledge, she never fell down in any department. Any cat who was fortunate to be able to scurry off the Cedric was conspicuously scarred and tooth-marked.
When the Cedric arrived on the other side the crew left the ship and Doodles, following the habit of her five years at sea, hurried down the gangplank and made of to the curious waterfront haunts where she spent her leave ashore. When the ship prepared to leave for Scotland, Doodles obeyed the sixth sense which brings animals back to their vessels at sailing time. She climbed the deserted gangway and disappeared inside the lifeless ship.
In Scotland, at the shipyards, the few remaining members of the crew who were on board made every effort to locate Doodles. They searched for an entire day, combing every part of the vessel she used to survey during her daily rounds. But it was to no avail. Doodles, they reasoned, had either committed suicide or failed to board the ship before it left Liverpool.
Several days later, when the workmen were busy tearing down the Cedric's superstructure, a bystander spotted a small cat of questionable antecedents watching the proceedings from the quay with tear-dimmed eyes. The bystander, being at the same time a gentle bystander, picked up the cat and took it home. Some warm milk and raw liver restored, in time, the glitter which had been missing from the cat's eyes and within a fortnight the first faint notes of a purr escaped the pale lips.
Some days later the gentle bystander encountered a former member of the Cedric crew. Some mention was made of the sad demise of Doodles, which led to her identification in the gentle bystander's home. [The story went on to describe the silver and leather collar given to Doodles by the White Star Line.]
Doodles spent the rest of what I hope was her long and happy life with Mr. H. Hutton at his home in Derbyshire.
|Blondie and Seven-Up on the Samkeg. Launceton Examiner, July 26, 1946|
Cats at sea, alas, have not always been as law-abiding as the ones described above. The "New York Times" for March 30, 1930, told the harrowing tale of the Attack of the Pirate Cats. It seems that before the White Star liner Arabic left its port in Liverpool, Tumtum and Cheechee, described as "the toughest among the pirate cats along the Chelsea pier," managed to sneak aboard. The ship's watchman, Ben Fidd, complained to the "Times" that the two fierce stowaways stole two herrings which had been reserved for breakfast. When he reported the theft to the pier superintendent, he received the unsympathetic response that "If you go putting Bismarck herrings down where hungry cats are around it's like asking for it."
Probably the most renowned Sailor Cat was Simon, the pride of the British Royal Navy, whose bravery and industriousness made him a beloved national figure during World War II.
|Simon, via Wikipedia|
Simon was was born into a hardscrabble existence on the Hong Kong wharves circa 1947. The following year, he was found by a crew member of the HMS Amethyst--accounts differ about which man it was--and the gangly, personable little black-and-white kitten was given a home on the ship as rat-catcher and general good-luck mascot.
He quickly made himself at home on the Amethyst. When he wasn't hard at work clearing the ship of vermin, he relaxed by sleeping in the captain's cap, perfecting his favorite parlor trick of fishing ice cubes out of water jugs, and using his playful, intelligent personality to keep up morale among the sailors. Everyone on board came to love him.
Then, on April 20, 1949, the frigate was attacked by the Chinese, coming under heavy fire. By the time the battle was over, seventeen men from the Amethyst had died, including the captain, and twenty-five more were seriously wounded.
Among the injured was Simon. A shell had made a direct hit on the captain's cabin where the cat was taking a nap. He was thrown into the air, and landed with a sickening thud on the deck, unconscious and gravely injured by shrapnel wounds and burns. His tiny body was taken below decks, and he was cared for as well as possible under the hectic circumstances.
No one expected him to survive, but true Sailor Cats are a tough lot. Amazingly, he soon made what seemed to be nearly a full recovery. This was very fortunate for the survivors on the Amethyst, because they badly needed him. The Amethyst was surrounded by Communist forces, and unable to escape. The battle had brought forth hordes of rats who were making dangerous inroads on the ship's quickly-decreasing supplies of food. They even began invading the sleeping quarters.
The now battle-hardened Simon sprang into action. This one-cat army made devastating daily raids on the rodent enemy, presenting his fellow crewmen with a plethora of corpses. He fearlessly entered into single combat with the largest, fiercest rat on the ship--a terrifying beast whom the crew had named "Mao Tse-Tung"--and won. His pluck and determination during this dangerous and difficult time proved to be an inspiration for the surviving crew members. He also acted as a nurse-companion for the men on board who were suffering from what we would today call PTSD. He would lie next to the traumatized men, purring and kneading the bedclothes, reminding them all that, as ugly as life was at the moment, there was still love and goodness in the world.
It was not until July 30 that the Amethyst was able to slip through the blockade. Their daring escape made headlines around the world. When they reached safety, the crew made sure that Simon was given his due credit for his invaluable role as rat-catcher and morale-booster, and this former homeless wharf cat became a national idol, known as the "Able Seacat."
Simon's crewmates wasted no time nominating him for the Dickin Medal, given by the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals for acts of bravery shown by animals serving in the armed forces. "Throughout the Incident," said the letter of recommendation, "Simon's behaviour was of the highest order."
Simon was granted the award--the first, and so far the only, cat to receive this honor. By this point, he was receiving so many gifts and fan mail that a special Cat Officer had to be appointed to manage it all.
Simon's life as a celebrity proved tragically brief. On November 1, the Amethyst arrived in England, and their mascot, as the law required, was put into quarantine in Surrey. Three weeks later, he contracted a sudden, devastating virus. Despite all the best efforts to save him, Britain's feline war hero died on November 28, to be mourned by everyone who had known him during his short life.. It was assumed that his constitution had been fatally weakened from his wounds, but his comrades from the Amethyst suspected that the stress of the enforced separation from them was the real cause of his death. Hundreds of his fans, including the entire crew of the Amethyst, attended his funeral at the PDSA's pet cemetery in Ilford, Essex. He was buried with full Naval honors.
An even more well-traveled Sailor Cat was navigator and explorer Matthew Flinders' Trim. Born at sea in 1799, the feline soon stood out for his unusual intelligence and winning personality--not to mention his remarkable ability at rescuing himself whenever he fell overboard. As a kitten, he learned to swim, and whenever he fell into the water, he would swiftly and effortlessly climb up a rope to get back on board. Trim, Flinders wrote, was one of the finest-looking animals he had ever seen, the model of the ideal cat. He was jet-black, with snow-white feet and under-lip. He also had a white blaze on his chest. Trim was a strong and courageous character, unruffled by the dangers of the sea. Flinders praised the cat's gentleness and goodness of heart, but noted that he had one flaw--vanity. Trim was in the habit of planting himself in a Sphinx-like position front of Flinders and his other shipmates, forcing them to stop whatever they were doing and admire him. His favorite sport was leaping over people's hands, and he also became an expert at "playing dead." This remarkable feline also took a sagacious interest in nautical astronomy and practical seamanship. Trim was not just a born sailor, but a natural scholar.
|Statue of Trim in Matthew Flinders' birthplace of Donington. Via Wikipedia|
Trim was part of the crew of the HMS Investigator when it circumnavigated Australia, making him the first cat to do so. On the return voyage, in December 1803 Flinders was imprisoned by the French in Mauritius on suspicion of being a spy. During his captivity, Trim unaccountably vanished. Although a reward was offered for information about the cat, Flinders never knew what happened to his beloved companion. He glumly made the appalling suggestion that Trim had been abducted and eaten by some of the local slaves.
Flinders was released from prison in 1810 and returned to England, but he never forgot Trim. Before his death in 1814, he wrote an elegy for his lost friend that is among the most touching animal biographies. (It can be read here.)
There are statues of Trim in both Flinders' birthplace in England and at the Mitchell Library in Sydney, Australia. The Library also has a plaque:
To the memory of Trim
The best and most illustrious of his race
The most affectionate of friends,
faithful of servants,
and best of creatures.
He made the tour of the globe, and a voyage to
which he circumnavigated, and was ever the
delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers.
Written by Matthew Flinders in memory of his cat.
Another valiant Sailor Cat who paid the ultimate price for his bravery was Mrs. Chippy, the (male) companion of carpenter Harry McNeish.
|Mrs. Chippy and friend, via Wikipedia|
When McNeish joined Ernest Shackleton's doomed Endurance expedition to the Antarctic, the "full of character" tabby came along as mascot. After the Endurance was crushed by ice, leaving the crew stranded 350 miles from the nearest land, Shackleton gave orders that the sledging dogs be shot, as he decided it would be difficult enough for the men to save themselves without having the additional burden of what he dismissed as "weaklings." He passed a death sentence on Mrs. Chippy as well.
The crew eventually sailed to safety, on a boat McNeish had built. Many believe his expertise in building this literal life raft was the only thing which enabled the men to survive. During their journey home, however, McNeish continually quarreled with Shackleton, and was found guilty of insubordination, which led to him being denied the Polar Medal, an award given to most of the rest of the crew. It has been suggested his rebellious behavior at least partly stemmed from his anger over Mrs. Chippy's murder.
It is certain he never forgave Shackleton. Someone who visited McNeish many years later, when he was a old, ailing man, recorded that all he remembered the carpenter saying was that "Shackleton had shot his cat." He died in 1930.
In 2004, the New Zealand Antarctic Society raised funds to put a statue of Mrs. Chippy over McNeish's grave. His grandson thought it was the most fitting tribute McNeish could possibly have. "I think the cat was more important to him than the Polar Medal."
|Decorated WWII veteran Pooli of the U.S. Navy, via Wikipedia|
In recent years, one famed Sailor Cat was "Colin's Cat," the mascot of Port Taranaki, New Zealand, whose inquisitive spirit got her rather more adventure than she had bargained for. In 2001, she boarded the methanol tanker Tomiwaka to get a free meal from a friendly crewman, and make a general inspection of the ship. ("She thinks she runs the place," commented one of the port's watch-house staff.) Before she could leave, however, the tanker left for its destination of South Korea, turning the handsome tortoiseshell into an inadvertent stowaway. The efforts to bring her home turned into a complicated international rescue mission which made news all over the world. The Whiskas pet food company--knowing a golden PR opportunity when they saw it--volunteered to foot the bill for returning her to Port Taranaki. They arranged for a Taranaki staff member to fly to Korea and collect the wanderer. After two weeks at sea (she was a bit seasick at first, but soon became a "real sailor") she was flown back to New Zealand to receive an epic welcome-home party--and a stern warning to never talk to strangers again.
Colin's Cat subsequently helped raise money for the medical treatment of a local four-year-old girl with cancer. Described as "older and wiser" since her unplanned travels, she no longer boarded ships, but continued to carefully monitor life at the Port. She died in May 2007, at the age of about fourteen. The Port put up a memorial stone to her outside the tanker terminal, which still receives a steady stream of visitors wishing to pay their respects to her memory.
Sailor Cats have introduced themselves to Winston Churchill...circumnavigated the globe...appeared in ticker tape parades in New York...served in post-war research stations in the Antarctic...survived multiple sinkings...and some, sadly, have given their lives in service to their country. Although the Royal Navy banned cats in 1975 on "hygienic" grounds (further proof our civilization is in serious decline,) as long as there are ships on the sea, there will, somewhere, be cats to captain them.
One Sailor Cat has even become part of Titanic lore. Many years after the ship sank, a reporter for the "Irish News" interviewed a retired journalist named Paddy Scott. Scott recalled that he once met a man named Jim Mulholland, who had been a stoker on the doomed liner. Mulholland had cared for the ship's cat, Mouser, and her four kittens during the voyage. When the Titanic stopped in Southampton, Mouser took her babies off the ship and was never seen again. Mulholland decided, "That cat knows something," and wisely left the ship himself.
Unfortunately, most historians see this story as mere legend, based on Titanic survivor Violet Jessup's account of the ship's cat "Jenny," who was among those who perished when the ship sank. (However, the story is not impossible: cf. this well-documented tale.) Whatever the truth may be, some anonymous poet paid a charming tribute to this "Titanicat." Let it stand as a fitting memorial to the uncanny wisdom of all the great cats:
When men go down to the sea in ships,
As they do, to this very day,
They carry along a good ship's cat,
To keep the rats at bay.
One such cat, at the Belfast yard,
Had kittens while on board.
The date was April 1912,
Anno Domini, year of our Lord.
Now the ship was new, and the crew was, too,
So a trial run was deemed fair.
And the scullion lad, whose name was Jim,
Wound up with the tabby's care.
In the F Deck galley Jim scoured and scrubbed,
His job was to bow and bend,
But he saved the scraps from every meal
For the cat that he now called a friend.
They circled the coast 'till their anchor dropped
At the port of the White Star Line,
Where the ship was loaded with lobster and steak,
And silver and crystal and wine.
The cat seemed troubled when the trials were done,
Though she loved her life on the ship.
With kittens in tow, she disembarked,
Refusing to make this trip.
She carried her babies, one by one,
Down the gangplank to the quay,
Two thousand passengers clambered aboard,
But the cat went the other way.
Jim followed his friend and he left that ship
About to sail the Atlantic.
He bid farewell to the maiden voyage
Of the RMS Titanic.
When Jim tells the tale of that wise old cat,
He gets naught but a sneer and a scoff.
Over one thousand drowned when that ship went down,
But Jim and the cat got off.
Down with the ship that fateful night,
Went fathers and sons and wives.
But the cat saved Jim by lending him,
One of her own nine lives.
Friday, January 24, 2014
It's Friday! Strange Company invites you all to settle back with a cup of tea to go with your links.
On with this week's show:
What the hell is roaring at the universe?
What the hell is in the waters off Portugal?
What the hell is crawling around on Mars? (Update here.)
What the hell is crawling around on the Moon?
What the hell is crawling around on Mount Shasta?
What the hell was this grandmother trying to tell us?
What the hell is under the Giza Plateau?
Who the hell was this pharaoh?
Watch out for those flying pancakes!
Have we really reached the time of the Last Trumpet, or is this merely what Doc Severinsen is up to in the afterlife?
Meet Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Blaes, who can truly be called the Couple From Hell.
Meet Peter Freuchen, just your typical 6' 7" peg-legged Nazi-fighting game-show winning arctic explorer who, in his spare time, hung out with Mae West.
Meet the Cannibal Rat Ghost Ship.
Meet Captain George Streeter, World's Greatest Squatter.
"Beware the folly of hurrying straight to the dissecting room without taking any breakfast," and other examples of why nobody, but nobody, knew how to do Weird Death like the Victorians.
You know, "Dracula Meets Jack the Ripper" would probably make for the world's greatest horror film.
In related news, I love how some horror films virtually write themselves.
The After-Death Row.
Your heartwarming family story of the week.
Hey, Sun! Wake up!!
You know those stories that pop up periodically about people seeing the face of Jesus in a slice of toast? Well, now you can see Poe.
When memories of a past life are a curse rather than a blessing.
Trench fungus, trench foot, trench mouth, trench lice, trench fever: Why World War I was an even bigger horror show than you think.
The Chronicle of Ireland: one of history's great Lost Books.
More on the Voynich Manuscript: Could a theorized New World connection help finally crack the code?
"This is all an elaborate hoax." Thumbs up? Or thumbs down?
John Godley, my dream man. Literally.
Catherine the Great meets Ikea. The result? NSFW.
So, it's possible that Francis Drake discovered Western Canada, and just didn't bother telling anyone about it.
Some wonderful photos of children and animals that's enough to make me want to move to rural Russia.
Hell, those photos are almost enough to make me want to have kids.
Uh, I said almost.
And there you have it! See you on Monday, when I will be taking a look at the long, colorful history of seafaring cats. In the meantime, meet a seafaring pig.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
This account of a mental patient's wandering ways appeared in the “Newburgh [Indiana] Democrat" for April 17, 1855. It is reprinting an account from the "Indiana State Sentinel" of unknown date:
Our readers may rely on the perfect accuracy of the following narrative, as it comes from an unquestionable source:
A few days before the adjournment of the Legislature, two members from the South-western part of the State, one hundred and sixty miles distant from Indianapolis, inquired of the Superintendent of the Insane Hospital his reasons for the discharge of Alexander F., a patient from R_____ County.
Dr. Athon assured them that Mr. F. was still at the hospital, and had not been sent home, nor was his early discharge probable.
They stated that they had received letters from different persons, mentioning the fact that Mr. Alex F. was wandering at large in the neighborhoods near his old home; that the citizens were afraid of him and were anxious that he should be returned to the institution without delay.
The next day Dr. Athon received a letter from the guardian of Alex, making inquiry with regard to his escape—how long since he left the hospital and what was his mental condition when he eloped—if elopement it was. I am allowed to copy Dr. Athon’s reply:
Indiana Hospital for the Insane
Indianapolis, March 2nd, 1855
H. C. C____, Esq.
I am just in receipt of your letter of the 28th; and am somewhat surprised to learn that Alex F. is now to be seen in your region. I am not a believer in modern spiritualism, but if Alex is there, his spirit is here; or if his spirit is there, his corporal substance is here, and if both positions can be substantiated, then there is something in spiritualism. But I think we have the veritable, laughing Alex here, so that the people need not be alarmed at his elongated shadow.
Very respectfully, etc.
A few days since the following letter, in answer to the above, arrived. I give it verbatim, with the omission of names of persons and places. It is from a gentleman who is entitled to the fullest confidence:
N____ H____, Indiana, March 19, 1855.
Yours of the 2nd, in regard to Alex F. came to hand. There is something very mysterious about this affair of said Alex’s being here and at the Insane Hospital, both at one and the same time. I have delayed answering on account of taking time to investigate the mystery. These are the facts which eight or ten persons who are well acquainted with Alex will swear to. About Tuesday, the 27th of February last, Alex F. was seen approaching the O___ Mills and distillery. He stopped at the house of a woman by the name of Mrs. W., and asked for water and a basin to wash his hands, and it was given him and he washed. He then approached the O____ Mills, with a staff in hand, but halted for a short time at another place or two. One of the hands at the mill by the name of Russell J., saw him coming, and knowing that he had better be watched, met him and went with him in all his journey through the mills and hog-pens. Alex went up to the garret loft of the mill, observing to Russell J. that he wanted to see the machinery.
After which he went in the distillery, and the distiller, J. B. said to him, “You must not do that, Alex,” at which Alex turned round and said, “What?” He then passed down into the hog house, followed by E. V., (one of the owners of the mills,) and Russell J., who watched him. He came out of the hog house, and they said to him, “Alex, your brother A. and the S.’s are after you.” On which Alex said, “they have no business with me.” He then passed on out of the gate, and picked up his walking stick, which he had left on coming in. He then went on west toward N___ H___, about one-fourth of a mile distant, with a quick walk, and that is the last that has been seen or heard of him.
They all agreed that he looked bad and thin—visage rather pale and sickly. He was not inclined to talk, and said but very little.
Old and young saw him, and he was nowhere else but at the O___ Mills. Those who saw him have been well acquainted with him for years, and they are willing to swear that it was Alex F., and nobody else, for they saw, heard, and, I believe, felt him, and examined his looks closely. He warmed by the fire during the time. The names of a part of the persons who saw him, and are willing to give their affadavits to that effect, are J. B., R. J., R. V., O. B., J. T., and others. Are you certain he was at the Hospital the 29th February.
H. C. C___
The answer of Alex, on being asked when he was home last, makes this “confusion worse confounded,” and the mystery more inexplicable. He at once said: “About three weeks ago I flew down there to whip Russell J., and make honorable proposals to widow ____.” He was reminded that he had not been absent from the Hospital since his admission, on the 19th of June.
“I’ll bite your ear off," he replied, with some indignation. “I tell you that I did go. My spirit flew down there quick, and left this pair of clothes, and the rest of me that you see here in the ward, to take care of Anti-Christ, and keep the devil out of the bath room. I saw Russell J., and threw off my coat to flog him, when he wanted to treat. So I thought I would wait—went with him into the distillery, saw it standing there, and asked, ‘Is this poison?’ and drank a jug of whisky; blowed up R. V. for following me round; didn’t have time to marry the widow, or wring brother A.’s nose—they wouldn’t let me alone enough; went down to the village, got some ale, and then came right home.
“I did not see any body on the road—I was so high up; came with the pigeons; they were a-cheering me—ha! ha! ha!---and didn’t make no time at all; I got home first; I’m going back again to-morrow. The whisky was rotgut; will knock that distiller’s face all to blazes!—it made my head swim—run against the lightning, which singed my whiskers—colored ‘em red. The truth is, Docs, they are all crazy.”
To sum up, we have the positive testimony of ten or more reliable men, who had known him for years, that Alex was in R. county on or about 27th February, and the slightly unconnected, but corroborating narrative of Alex himself, who is yearning to substantiate, at any time, by an unlimited number of oaths, some of them not altogether free from profanity.
On the other hand, the officers of the Hospital, and at least twenty others connected with the institution, will solemnly affirm that they have seen and conversed with Alex two or three times every day for nine months. If this is a case of mistaken identity, it is singular that so many persons should be deceived, and at the same time have such an entire conviction that they are not mistaken. Many a man has been hung on evidence as to his person, much less conclusive. If it is a case of spiritualism, it is somewhat in advance of even modern psychology. If it is an instance of rapid locomotion, the last improvement in transit of passengers has not got round much.
Drawing the hint from Alex’s closing remark, as quoted above, I would suggest that it is a case of morbid mental manifestation—that there is a floating delusion, contagious in its nature, which effects one and the other of the parties alternately; flying from Alex to his county, and from the county to Alex in an uncommonly short space of time.
So. What are we to make of this? As I have mentioned before, 19th century papers were lousy with wild pieces of fiction presented as legitimate news, and that damnable habit of veiling identities with initials makes it impossible to tell if most of the people in this story even existed. (For what it's worth, James S. Athon was indeed the superintendent of the Indiana Hospital For the Insane from 1853-64.) On the other hand, there have been surprisingly well-documented cases of people "appearing" in two places at once, which suggests this story is not entirely impossible.
A genuine doppelganger case? A newspaper hoax? It's your call.
Monday, January 20, 2014
On January 8, 1902, a man who gave his name as “C. B. Hawkins” leased an empty house on San Francisco’s Sutter Street. He paid a month’s rent in advance. He then visited a furniture store, where he bought just enough to temporarily furnish one room. He had an odd demand: his purchases had to be delivered that very night, or the deal was off. The store owner was surprised, and not terribly pleased, by these terms, but not wanting to lose the sale, he agreed. The next day, Hawkins went to another establishment, purchasing a second-hand bed and a cheap chair. He had the furniture arranged in a small room in the back of his new home’s second story, leaving the rest of the house empty.
Everything was ready.
On January 10, a fifteen year old girl named Eleanor "Nora" Fuller answered a job advertisement she found in the “San Francisco Chronicle”: “Young girl to take care of baby; good home and good wages.” The next day, she received a postcard from the man who placed the ad, who gave his name as “John Bennett.” He asked her to meet him at a local restaurant at either one or six o’clock that day. At five, Fuller left her home to meet her new employer. An hour later, she phoned home to say that she was at Bennett’s residence at 1500 Geary Street, and he wanted her to start work immediately. Mrs. Fuller told her to come home; she could begin her job on Monday. The girl agreed.
That was the last her mother—or anyone else—ever heard from Nora Fuller.
|Ad answered by Nora Fuller. Via Newspapers.com|
For reasons unknown to us, Mrs. Fuller waited an entire week to tell the police her daughter had disappeared. Perhaps she would have gone to them sooner had she known what Nora herself must have realized by the time she phoned—1500 Geary Street was a vacant lot.
The proprietor of a local eatery called the Popular Restaurant later recalled that at five-thirty on the evening Nora disappeared, a man who had frequented the establishment for many years—known to him only as “Tenderloin” because that was all this customer ever ate—told him that a young girl was on her way there, and could the proprietor send her to his table when she arrived? “Tenderloin” waited with visible impatience for about half-an-hour, then finally went outside where he presumably met her. That was the last time he had been seen at the restaurant.
Fuller’s disappearance remained a mystery for a month, until the lease expired on the home “C. B. Hawkins” had rented. On February 8, an inspector for the real estate brokers who owned the house came by to make sure it was in shape for new residents. It all looked quite in order until he looked into the small room on the second floor. On the second-hand bed “Hawkins” had purchased was the naked body of a dead young woman. She had been raped, strangled, and “frightfully mutilated.”
Nora Fuller had finally been found.
It did not take the police long to establish that the man who rented the house, the man who placed the babysitting ad, and “Tenderloin” must have been one and the same. The question is, who was he?
A search of the room where the girl was killed was fruitless. All they found other than the victim’s clothes and purse were a cigar butt, a half-empty bottle of whisky, (the autopsy showed that Fuller drank alcohol soon before her death,) and some junk mail addressed to “Mrs. C. B. Hawkins.” The postcard Nora received from her murderer was never found.
The inquest into her death was equally inconclusive. The most interesting testimony was offered by one of Fuller’s friends, a Madge Graham. She startled everyone by declaring that Fuller had a secret boyfriend, a much older man named Bennett. She believed the newspaper ad Fuller answered was just a ruse to fool the girl’s mother. Graham said that on one occasion, Nora had asked her to tell Mrs. Fuller that the two of them were going to the theater together, when in reality she was seeing “Bennett.” Corroboration of her claims was offered by a local grocer, who said that Fuller had often come into his store to phone someone at a hotel. Another friend of Fuller’s recollected seeing her in a local park with a man who matched the descriptions given of "C.B. Hawkins." Nora was stage-struck, and dreamed of becoming an actress. There were some suggestions that the mysterious “Bennett” had presented himself to the girl as someone who could help launch her theatrical career. No one at the time appeared to take Graham's story very seriously, which is surprising, because it would explain much about this peculiar case—most notably, Nora’s otherwise inexplicable unconcern when she inevitably discovered that “John Bennett’s” home address did not exist.
The closest thing to a lead the police ever got in Fuller’s murder came when it reached their attention that a bookkeeper named Charles B. Hadley had stolen money from his firm and disappeared. His girlfriend, Ollie Blasier, told investigators that his handwriting resembled a facsimile of the signature of “C. B. Hawkins” that had appeared in newspapers.
Hadley and Blasier had clearly not parted on the best of terms. She went on to eagerly tell investigators—not to mention the press—that before he vanished, Hadley had intently read articles about Fuller’s disappearance, which “greatly disturbed” him. She had found some garments of his that had blood on them, he was very partial to tenderloin, and, in short, she was convinced he was a murderer. The police became even more interested when they learned that Hadley was wanted for embezzlement in Minneapolis, under the name of “Charles Start.”
Blasier’s revelations—whether they were true or examples of a disgruntled ex-girlfriend seeking revenge—proved to be…absolutely no help whatsoever. A hunt was made for Hadley, but the errant clerk had vanished, never to be found. Even if the authorities had tracked him down, it is very uncertain whether they would have found a murderer.
As an aside, I doubt this was "Bennett's" first--or last--homicide. Fuller's death was so obviously, chillingly, pre-planned, with an almost ritualistic air, that I find myself wondering if the poor girl fell into the hands of some unknown early serial killer. Just some food for grim thought.
In any case, the dreadful death of Nora Fuller remains one of San Francisco’s most haunting mysteries.
Friday, January 17, 2014
Some cats want to be well-read.
Others are happy to be, well, red.
Here's the latest serving of freshly-cut links:
Yet another look at that evergreen question: What the hell happened to Amelia Earhart?
Who the hell is trying to tell us something?
What the hell was going on in 1980?
What the hell is the Space Station seeing?
Watch out for those perverted cat burglars!
Watch out for those devil fish!
Battle of the Green Mothmen?
The Mystery of the Tea Woman of Nevis.
The Great Sacred Cod Heist.
Someday soon, everyone may have a heart of gold.
Ready for an exciting new career challenge?
I'll bet these photos of famous writers looked great on the book jackets.
Elizabeth Chudleigh, who married not wisely and too well.
As Bill Crider would say, here's the plot for your next Scottish horror movie.
Cat vs. Medieval Monk.
Another day, another discovery that causes great problems for the historians...
If you're thinking of turning your home into a Haunted House Attraction, be very careful what you wish for...
The Tell-Tale Parakeet.
A video of Arthur Conan Doyle talking Sherlock and spiritualism.
Archaeology story of the week: Could there be a "second" Lascaux cave?
Italian glaciers are revealing gruesome reminders of the horrors of World War I.
Possible success in identifying the victim in a famous 80-year-old murder case.
Short EsoterX: Yup, we're better off dead.
Oh, sure, our ancestors had to deal with deadly milk, venomous cow intestines, toxic turkeys, and poisonous potato bugs, but by God, being able to read phrases like "perverted pusillanimous caninophobiacs" made it all worth while.
Aliens are everywhere!
Even in death, you can't get away from those psychologists.
A goldfinch, a novel, and a bit of serendipitous synchronicity.
The story of a medieval Mr. Ed, which--as medieval stories generally do--does not end well.
And, finally, the Iranians are giving us a heads-up that Edward Snowden's revealed that Nazi aliens are running the government. Happy weekend.
That wraps it up for this week. So long till Monday, when I will be looking at an eerie San Francisco murder mystery.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
The world of horse racing is full of weird tales, but the following incident in the career of Ralph Neves, known as "the Portuguese Pepperpot," may top them all. The following account comes from the "Centralia Daily Chronicle" of May 9, 1936:
Resurrected from the dead, jockey Ralph Neves was listed to ride five horses at the Bay Meadows track today.
The aggressive 19-year-old kid, looking very much alive, insisted he never was dead. A doctor said he was.
The "fatality" occurred in the third race yesterday when Pannikins, with Neves in the middle, ran up on the heels of the horses in front, and went to her knees, catapulting Neves onto the track.
A half dozen horses raced by. Neves lay motionless on the track.
The track physician examined the jockey, found no sign of life and concluded he was dead. Neves was carried to the track hospital.
It seemed like a hopeless gesture, but as a matter of course, the physician gave him an injection of adrenalin.
Within 20 minutes Neves was sitting up, demanding to be allowed to ride the rest of his mounts for the afternoon.
Neves yielded to the insistence of others, but insisted that he would return today to the track where he "died."
The track physician told the Associated Press, "Whether Neves was dead depends on what you call death." Some accounts claim that Neves only "came back from the dead" when he was in the mortuary, toe-tag and all.
Neves did indeed ride all five races the next day. Bing Crosby would be presenting a gold watch and $500 to the jockey who won the most races during the meet, and Neves was determined to win that prize. He did, too.
Racing's Lazarus went on to have a long and successful career. By the time he retired in 1964, he had won over 3700 races and was elected to the National Racing Hall of Fame. He passed away--for good this time--in 1995 at the age of 79. Presumably, they checked Neves over very well before the funeral.
As Neves himself said in 1954, "Don't let them bury you until you're sure you are dead."
Monday, January 13, 2014
Mr. Spate, so we are told, was a complete stranger to Mr. Clausen, but the idea sounded splendid to this enterprising public servant. On the spot, with no further reflection or questions asked, Clausen granted Spate a five-year contract. Spate would pay the city of New York $500 a year for the privilege of setting up his little business in Manhattan and Staten Island.
It would prove to be highly unfortunate that Clausen did not bother to vet his new business partner before entering into this arrangement. Spate was one of those sprightly souls with a colorful past. As an example, here is the story that first brought him into the public eye, eight years earlier:
|San Francisco Call, Dec. 31, 1893|
Clausen also seems to have been unaware of the fact that his new-found friend was not, as he had intimated, a successful entrepreneur, but an energetic, if remarkably unsuccessful grifter who had recently filed for bankruptcy after a scheme to sell fake "fine Persian rugs" collapsed. Ah, well. On with our story:
On June 22, visitors to Central Park were delighted to find, rather than the usual uncomfortable wooden benches, rows of highly inviting-looking apple-green rocking chairs. However, just as the weary citizens were getting settled into these unexpected civic improvements, several men wearing imposing gray uniforms suddenly appeared. They demanded that every occupant of those rockers hand over five cents. Everyone who refused was rudely evicted from the seats. To every expression of anger or confusion, these gentleman had but one answer: "Them's Mr. Spate's chairs."
When word of the contretemps reached the ears of the New York press, a few journalists went to have a word with the mysterious Mr. Spate. From his office in the St. James Building, the new Rocking Chair King calmly explained: "I'll put in as many chairs as the Park Board will allow. The attendants who collect the charges are in my pay. They will wear gray uniforms, and each will look after about fifty chairs, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. A five-cent ticket entitles the holder to sit in either a five-cent or a three-cent chair in any park at any time during that one day, but the holder of a three-cent ticket can sit only in a three-cent chair."
If Spate had stuck to that statement, all might have been well for him. Unfortunately, he added a few highly insulting comments about how his system would keep "lazy loungers, none too clean," (i.e. anyone too poor to pay for a seat,) out of the more desirable areas of the parks.
The politicians of New York were well aware that many of those lazy loungers voted, and they rose in a body to decry this slur on the indigent, and attack these heartless attempts to deprive them of one of their few free recreations. The president of the Municipal Council denounced the idea that private parties could make money by occupying public ground. Union leaders asked sarcastically if the next step was to barricade the parks against anyone under a certain income bracket, and added some very hard words denouncing Spate and his enabler, the increasingly unpopular president Clausen. The "New York Tribune" snorted that the fiasco was "only another instance of the hopeless stupidity of the present Park Commission."
Spate was undeterred. His response to the controversy was to put out even more of his now-infamous green rockers, and anyone who tried to sit in them without buying a ticket was ejected with increasing severity by his henchmen.
In this atmosphere of heightened tension, a crisis was bound to erupt, and erupt it certainly did. On June 26, the city entered one of the worst heat waves in its history. By June 30, the temperature had reached 97 degrees, and twenty-four people had died from weather-related causes. On July 2, it was ninety-nine degrees in the shade. By then, two hundred deaths were reported, and city officials ordered that the parks were to be kept open 24 hours a day. New York had no relief from the blistering heat and smothering humidity until July 4, after nearly four hundred people had died.
In Russia, Napoleon was brought down by the cold. In New York, Spate was brought down by the heat. Gothamites flocked in droves to the parks for some relief from the intolerable weather, only to find that the Park Commission, in its eternal wisdom, had removed all the free benches for repairs. The only seats that remained were Spate's apple-green rockers, cozily nestled in what little shade the parks afforded.
The Wat Tyler of this story was a man--his name, alas, lost to history--who on July 6, sat in one of Spate's rockers and flatly refused to pay. One of Spate's gray-uniformed bravos, a man named Thomas Tulley, responded by yanking the chair out from under him.
For this hot, tired, suffering crowd, that was the last straw. An ominous-looking mob quickly formed around Tulley, and talk of lynchings suddenly filled the air. Tulley, very wisely, fled. An infuriated crowd chased him through the broiling streets right up to the steps of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, where the terrified henchman managed to rush upstairs and lock himself in a room. His pursuers hung around the lobby for a while, but were finally persuaded to give up their quarry and return to the park. Tulley was given a police escort home.
Later that day, a crowd in Madison Square rioted when a small boy was forced out of one of the rockers. The Spate employee responsible for this ejection was attacked, and a policeman who tried to quiet them was thrown into a fountain for his pains.
The Great Rocking Chair Rebellion was on. Spate's hated employees all ran for the hills, and for the rest of the day, New Yorkers boldly sat in the rockers at their leisure.
The next day, a crowd paraded through Central Park singing their "Marseillaise":
"We pay no more,The mob then fell on the rockers, their hated symbol of oppression, and quickly smashed a number of them to bits. One last, brave Spate worker made an effort to collect fees, but desisted when an elderly woman stabbed him with a hatpin.
We pay no more;
No more we pay for park
Chairs any more.
Clausen made a break,
One summer's day;
And now he ain't
Commissioner no more."
July 8 was Occupy Day. A crowd of boys made the rounds of the surviving rockers, taking turns sitting on them and daring Spate's hired men to interfere. When one of them slapped a boy, it took half-a dozen policemen to get him out of the park safely.
Parks throughout New York were in full riot. Chairs were smashed, and any Spate employee foolhardy enough to show his face risked a pummeling. There were a number of arrests, until the Police Commissioner, Michael Murphy, gave orders that the officers were not to help Spate's men collect their fees, and no further rioters were to be taken in except where there were warrants duly sworn out before magistrates. The magistrates responded by saying they had no inclination to issue warrants for mere protests in the parks.
Commissioner Clausen--who was now sweating from more than just the heat--turned to that time-honored political tactic known as "passing the buck." He nervously issued a statement saying that much as he regretted the unfortunate turn matters had taken, he himself could do nothing about it. Only the Park Commission as a whole could cancel Spate's contract. Seeing that such weaseliness was doing nothing to improve his popularity, Clausen issued a new statement a few hours later reversing himself. As he had been the one to approve Spate's contract, he promised that he would be the one to break it. Spate retaliated by getting a court injunction preventing Clausen or the Park Commission from doing any such thing. The writ was soon dismissed.
Spate tried to keep his new business going by piling his chairs up in heaps and renting them out only to anyone who paid in advance. However, no sooner was a chair rented than onlookers would grab the rocker and destroy it. In between these activities, the crowd kept busy by throwing showers of stones at Spate's workers.
The tumult lasted until July 11, when Max Radt, a vice-president of the Jefferson State Bank, got the state Supreme Court to issue an injunction forbidding anyone from charging money for park seating.
Spate finally gave up. He put his surviving chairs in storage, and New York knew him no more. He tried his hand at several more grandiose schemes that went nowhere--opening a boarding-house for actors here, setting up majestic-sounding, but hollow "corporations" there--but he did not resurface in the news until 1907, when he made headlines in a characteristically singular fashion:
|New York Tribune, Dec. 12, 1907|
At the end of December 1907, Spate, or Seymour, (other accounts insist his real name was "Reginald Spaulding,") was released from prison. He had been jailed for thirty days for proposing "to introduce Pittsburg's wealthy people to the English nobility for a monetary consideration." He was said to also be wanted by the Montreal authorities, but as they did not bother with an extradition request, the former Rocking Chair King was released.
He expressed himself very bitterly about being deserted by his former "clients." "If Judas were alive to-day," he told the press, "he would hang himself to some Pittsburg steel magnate's family tree. The women of Pittsburg would have done anything for me when they thought I could introduce them to the British nobility, but as soon as I got into trouble they deserted me. The Bible says that woman was the last thing God made. He must have made the Pittsburg brand of women on Saturday night. It shows fatigue." He said he was on his way to London to claim his multi-million dollar estate.
The newspapers went on to say that the Pittsburg police had just received a "pitiful letter" from an elderly Englishman named Everett Weston, saying that "Spate" had taken his life savings of two hundred pounds, by persuading him to invest in "Spate's" "Turber & Co. Limited." He and his wife were now left utterly destitute. He begged the authorities to inform "Spate" of his desperate position, and persuade him to return his money, now that "Spate" was reportedly set to inherit a fortune. We are told that "Spate got the letter but refused comment on it."
Shortly before his release from prison, the "New York Herald" commented sardonically that "Mr. Spate is thought of frequently by those who know him in this city, and they are asking what his versatile talents will lead him to do next."
The "next" was Nemesis finally catching up to Mr. Spate/Seymour/Spaulding. In 1911, he committed suicide in Detroit, "following a Government investigation into a company he was promoting."
Returning to the Rocking Chair Rebellion, the Armistice came on July 29, 1901, when the Park Commission announced that Clausen had, out of his own pocket, bought all of Spate's chairs and presented them to the city. The chairs would be put back in the parks. Clausen particularly requested that "FREE" be painted on them in very large letters.
God bless America.
Friday, January 10, 2014
A helpful reminder: Strange Company may not bring you good luck...
...but the black cats always will.
On to this week's Walk Through the Weird:
Who the hell was this Australian sailor?
What the hell was going on in London in 1984?
What the hell was swimming around British Columbia?
What the hell is swimming around Scotland?
Who the hell chloroformed Myra Kniffin?
What the hell is the Williams Petradox?
What the hell was the National Hotel Disease?
How the hell did this Edinburgh garden become a graveyard?
Marion County is really booming!
The...well...whole bloody world is really booming!
Watch out for those incubi!
Watch out for that parsley!
Watch out for Perchta!
Watch out for those tooth worms!
Watch out for those artichokes!
Hear the earth move.
Teddy Roosevelt's cryptid.
The enduring mystery of cyclopean masonry.
Remember that song, "It's Raining Men?" Saudi Arabia's taking it a bit too literally.
Johannes Gutenberg, grifter.
The map of Weird London.
Veterinary medicine, ancient Egyptian-style.
The diary of a little girl in mid-19th century New York.
Why the North Sentinel Island Tourist Board is the world's least successful organization.
The relatively fast rise and fall of Cumbria's Penrith Castle. Just don't go dragging Richard III into the subject!
Yes, Mittens, there will be an afterlife.
Who ya gonna call? Goatbusters!
Creepypasta; or, Crowd-sourcing the Weird.
Leave it to the Victorians to turn Grandma into bric-a-brac.
Because let's face it, the political importance of Goat-headed Baphomets has been overlooked for way too long.
Ines de Castro, who became queen the hard way.
Adventures in 18th century Cat Haberdashery.
The worst publicity stunt ever?
Felix Platter and the executed priest.
The more we study the Antikythera device, the more amazing it gets.
Meet the real Lone Ranger.
Christmas in a British prison, 1839.
If Catherine Howard really spoke in this sort of dialogue, it's small wonder Henry executed her.
I want to live in Supai, Arizona. I want to have my mail delivered by donkeys.
This link is not for the coimetrophobic.
"My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of moon-eyed albino monsters..." They'll be getting their own statue in Oklahoma any day now.
Genghis Khan, Not Mr. Nice Guy.
Mary Moriarty, who would give Genghis Khan the shivers.
A look at the world's most horrifying forest.
Some archaeological high points from 2013.
The hazardous history of hot-air ballooning.
Horses, pocket-books, money, shirts, saddle baggs, and "a very remarkable DOG": Some 18th-century lost-and-found ads.
And, finally, your Essence of Crazy video of the week.
And we're outta here for the week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at the perhaps the only public riot in history that was started because of rocking chairs.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
|Gettysburg [PA] Times, Sept. 28, 1911|
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Hex Cat of Tumbling Run:
Pottsville, Pa., Sept. 28.--In the gray of the early morning a score of the more intrepid farmers of Tumbling Run Valley and a few interested ones, on invitations given by Miss Mary Isabella Thomas, who alleges that a "hex" or witch has placed a spell on the family through the machinations of a relative living in Orwigsburg, watched in vain for the appearance at the farm house of the black cat, which the young woman says has assumed gigantic shape, at times reaching the maximum height of four feet. They waited with a gun loaded with a gold bullet, but the feline for the first time in many weeks failed to put in an appearance.
Some of her waiting guests believe the evil spirit was frightened away by reason of the fact that they carried Bibles, crucifixes and talismans to break witches' spells. Miss Thomas says that the big cat will surely appear some morning, and then either she or her uncle will shoot it with the golden bullet. They have great faith in the precious metal messenger of death, although lead bullets failed them on other occasions. Miss Thomas has taken up her residence with a neighbor, and the haunted farmhouse has been deserted.
Since she made public her statements that a "hex" is following the family, she has had five offers of marriage. [Ed. note: ?!?!?!] She has decided to accept none of them. Mrs. Sarah Potts has offered to give her sister, Mary, a home with her, despite the fact that she is named by the latter as being the author of the family's misfortunes. Miss Thomas still possesses charms sent to her by a California witch doctor, and she says that she will guard them closely for future use.
The farmers of the Tumbling Run Valley are greatly wrought up over this mysterious "hex" case and want the strange affair thoroughly sifted to the bottom. The Republican, of Pottsville, the largest daily, in an editorial asks for an investigation.
While the "hex" stories from Tumbling Run have created derision and laughter in Pottsville, the authorities were surprised at the number of weird complaints which came in from that vicinity. One farmer, who has brought a large quantity of milk from the Tumbling Run Valley for many years, declares that the fresh fluid was discolored as he brought it to market. There were also three automobile accidents in that vicinity.
The sequel, from the "Spokesman Review," Oct. 8, 1911:
Pottsville, Pa.--Captured by a Bible thrown at it, the only witch cat the "hex" believers of Schuykill county known to be in captivity, has been exhibited in a show window here, behind eight-inch steel bars, where "hex" doctors are anxiously studying the creature to determine whether it is the animal which Miss Mary Thomas blames for the death of her father and a long train of other misfortunes in the Thomas family.
The cat was captured by Charles Lawless, one of the posse which had been looking for the demon creature described by Miss Thomas as sometimes taking on four-foot proportions during calls at the Thomas farm. Having failed to appear while men armed with a gold bullet lay in wait for it Lawless provided himself with an old blunderbuss, said to have been blessed by a saint, a web taken from the intestines of a pure white lamb, a book of counter action voices against witches' spells, and many other talismans, and was rewarded for his labors by the appearance of a black cat as he watched on the Thomas farm.
Too much excited to use his gun Thomas threw a Bible at the cat, whereupon it walked over to Lawless, spit in his face and clawed him. Lawless got a good grip on pussy, however, and brought her to town, though Miss Thomas wasn't sure that it was the witch cat. The cat has the witching green eyes.
Lawless has been advised by several witch doctors from various parts of the country to guard the cat closely, some mystic words being supplied to keep it a close prisoner, until they can carefully inspect it and ascertain positively whether it is really a "hex" cat.
If you think this was the end of the matter, you just don't know your Hex Cats. From the "Reading [PA] Eagle," June 16, 1916:
Pottsville, June 16.--William R. Thomas, who achieved wide notoriety three years ago by his allegations that the burning of his barn at his Tumbling Run farm and numerous deaths in his family, ending in the ruination of the farm, were due to the spell cast by a big black cat, was arrested by the police of this city while he was in the act of setting fire to a double tenement building owned by him on North Third street.
Thomas had soaked the two houses in oil and but for the timely discovery of his plot a dangerous fire in the heart of the city would have been started.
Since the "persecutions" of the hex cat, on the once prosperous Thomas farm, Thomas has lived in this city, but he lately declared the cat was again pursuing him.
He had $1,000 insurance on the building, but this would not pay a mortgage having the first claim. In the possession of Thomas was found a revolver in which was a silver bullet, molded by Thomas himself.
Thomas declared that lead bullets passed clear through the cat without harming it. Thomas' niece, Miss Alda Thomas, who also declares she has been bewitched by the hex cat, tried to shoot herself when taken into custody by the police.
Thomas was sentenced to three months in jail. Nowadays, of course, he would instead be given his own smash-hit reality TV show.
Update 1/14/2014: According to the "New York Evening World," the Hex Cat invaded Wall Street in 1911: