Friday, December 14, 2018
This week's Link Dump is sponsored by still more of our Christmas Cats!
What the hell became of Lloyd Gaines?
Watch out for those cursed Christmas trees!
Watch out for those hungry ghosts!
That time when it was a Fun Thing to tour morgues.
Superstitions about Thursdays.
Another Jacobin bites the dust.
Scotland and the Yule Log.
Abraham Lincoln and the murder trial.
How Joan Cuneo managed to get all women banned from auto racing.
The Winter of Death and the Snowman Invasion.
Real-life Christmas ghost stories.
The first Human Cannonball.
A brief history of dentures.
Hanukkah folklore and traditions.
Christmas in Georgian England.
London's "garrotting panic."
The Monsanto murder.
Shopping at the mall, 18th century style.
"Book-women" and the Great Fire of London.
Why it's never a good idea to marry someone who threatens to kill you.
It's usually not so swell to be Peter the Great's brother-in-law, either.
A fascinating look at what killed people in a 17th century village. Watch out for those killer fairies!
Victorian Christmastime crimes.
When turkeys wore boots.
Using Artificial Intelligence to decipher ancient languages.
Napoleon's 1840 funeral.
Deserted families in the 19th century.
The real Pied Piper.
The real Lady Godiva.
Pro tip: Don't bother trying to drown Aleix Segura. It won't be easy.
A possible 19th century serial killer.
Zimbabwe, land of cursed beer.
Antarctica, land of psychological hibernation.
This week in Russian Weird: the country's most advanced robot turns out to be...amazingly lifelike.
A spectral Christmas tree.
The "other" Easter Island.
The best-selling fiction of the past 100 years. It's rather sobering how many of these books are now completely forgotten.
An amazing story of premature birth.
And we're done for the week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a famed 18th century eccentric. In the meantime, since we're heading into winter, here's a Latvian song honoring the season. I think I posted this last year, but so what. I love it.
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
The dead can get so damned touchy about what you do with their remains. This charming little cautionary tale was related by one S.G. Hobson, in what appears to have been a syndicated column. This particular reprint comes from the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" for July 12, 1908.
Medical students are notoriously irreverent; serious views come to them later on in life. And they are apt to take a material view of the sanctities of the human body. But even their materialism sometimes gets a jolt.I always try to warn people that skeletons rarely have a sense of humor.
This eerie story was told to me by a doctor in the west of Ireland one evening as we were discussing supernatural things. He was a King's man and therefore held a London degree. In his student days he used to foregather with a number of his college chums in a house in Bloomsbury where lodged a student, to whom money was not of much object.
By some subterranean means these young sparks had got hold of a corpse to dissect. It was the body of a distinguished-looking man, well nourished, and having every indication of cleanly habits during life. The corpse was regarded as a great find, and for several nights careful scientific dissection went on. After all dissecting possibilities had been exhausted the owner proceeded to retain the skeleton and took the necessary means to have the bones cleansed.
About a month later half a dozen of the fellows met for a jollification and I fear that what with whisky and soda, rum punch and other deleterious and distinctly unmedical lotions, the wee small hours found them in a rollicking mood, if not in an intoxicated condition. Practical jokes followed fast and furious upon each other, and finally irreverent hands were laid upon the new bleached skeleton. Nothing would satisfy one youngster but to detach the skull and place it in the bed of the student lodger. This led to other pranks on the unfortunate skeleton, and before long arms and legs were distributed in various parts of the room. Another hour's jollification witnessed the exhaustion of the party. Arm chairs were requisitioned for sleep, and there was a brisk fight for possession of the sofa. Soon silence came upon them. The room was dark enough for it reeked with tobacco smoke. Sleep came to tired eyes and one or two hoggishly snored.
Suddenly a startled voice rang out: "Hie. you chaps, look." All were immediately on the alert, and surely never did a more blood-curdling picture present itself, for the bones of that skeleton by some unseen agency one by one were coming together again. Not a man dared move. These brave youths, who had not scrupled to play silly jokes with a skeleton which six weeks before was clothed in the majesty of manhood, now sat in a horrid fright, eyes starting from their sockets. A nightmare was child's play to this. Soon the whole skeleton had been integrated save for the head. Then there was a pause. But in the silence each man instinctively knew that something even yet more uncanny was about to happen. After a lapse of about 30 seconds the door opened, and on a level with the handle the skull was seen to advance slowly to the corner of the room where stood the rest of the skeleton. The skull rose to the level of the neck and was placed in position by the same unseen agency that had brought together the other part.
Nothing more had happened, and it was half-an-hour before the first student dared utter a word. Then all rushed for hats and coats.
"My God, you fellows! Are you going to leave me here alone with that?" exclaimed the medical lodger, pointing dramatically to the skeleton.
This is how my informant finished the story: "Not one of us was disposed to stay there, but I said to him in a whisper, 'Come and spend the night with me, old man.'"
"And so we left the room where the ghost of the departed grandee had set up his own skeleton. Gad, my son! 'Twas an experience you would not go hunting for. Billy Stephens, who lodged there and owned the skeleton, got such a sickener that he gave up medicine and took to the church."
Monday, December 10, 2018
|"Buffalo Courier," December 31, 1873, via Newspapers.com|
On November 28, 1873, 28-year-old Nicholas Ryan and his 24-year-old sister Mary rented furnished lodgings on the fourth floor of a New York City boarding house run by Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Burke. Nicholas was a shoemaker, and his sister had a similar occupation as a "gaiter-fitter." It was a typical tenement room of the day, about sixteen feet square, simply but comfortably furnished. It cost them nine dollars a month rent. Nicholas slept in the walnut bedstead that sat in one corner of the room, while Mary took her rest on a mattress she nightly placed on the horse-hair sofa. The brother and sister were regarded as quiet, hard-working, and deeply religious. They seemed to get along excellently with each other. The pair dressed well, saved their money, and appeared a distinct cut above their seedy, crime-ridden neighborhood. They mostly kept to themselves, having few visitors other than their relatives. Neither had any known romantic involvements.
So far as anyone could tell, the lives of the Ryans were completely uneventful until the morning of December 22. A policeman who was passing their tenement around three a.m. heard a window raised with a loud crash. Looking up at the source of the sudden noise, he saw a man leaning out from a window on the fourth floor, shouting "Murder! Police!"
The policeman immediately yelled for backup and ran into the house, followed swiftly by several other officers. They were confronted by blood pouring down the stairs. When they reached the landing of the second story, they discovered the body of Nicholas Ryan, wearing nothing but his nightshirt. His throat had been savagely cut. A deeply agitated Patrick Burke met the officers on the stairway with the news that another body could be found in one of the rooms. He led them to the lodgings of the Ryans, where Mary lay on her makeshift bed, her neck slashed as deeply and fatally as her brother's. It appeared that she had been strangled into insensibility before her throat was cut.
Blood permeated the tenement--all over the stairs and walls of all the floors, out on the landing of their room, and, of course, their room itself. It was assumed that the killer had entered the Ryan room using a false key. He then murdered Mary in her bed. Nicholas leaped out of bed to confront the intruder, and they had a savage fight in the landing outside the room, which ended in young Ryan's death. Someone had somehow managed to commit a particularly violent and gruesome double murder in this building of nearly a hundred residents and depart like a malevolent ghost.
Patrick Burke told police that at about 2:30 a.m., he was awakened by strange sounds. He went into the hall, but he saw nothing in the darkness. A moment later, he heard another noise that he likened to "the wheezing of a cat." As he was getting dressed, his eleven-year-old daughter Jennie called to him, "Come here, father; there is something the matter on the landing." He got a lamp and reemerged into the hallway, where he was now able to see streams of blood on the floor and walls. He saw that the door of the Ryan's room, which adjoined the Burke family's lodgings, was open. When he went to investigate, he discovered Mary Ryan's blood-soaked corpse, after which he went to the window and gave the alarm which had summoned police.
A few hours after the bodies were discovered, Jennie Burke found Nicholas' vest on the roof of the building, with the pockets rifled of their contents. (Oddly, the police had previously searched the roof without seeing this vest.) Bloody footprints, which were also noticeable on the roof, indicated the route the murderer had taken after committing the crime. However there was no trace of the murder weapon, or any clue where the killer had gone.
Investigators were baffled by the crime. The motive was never determined. The initial theory was that the pair were victims of a burglar, but that remained nothing more than conjecture. Nicholas' silver watch was believed to be missing from the room, but that seemed hardly worth burglary, let alone murder. It was generally believed that the killer had taken it in order to simulate a robbery. (Mary's gold watch and pencil and a small amount of cash remained in the room.) Patrick Ryan, an older brother of the victims, described his siblings as clean-living, peaceable sorts without any enemies, and no evidence could be found to disprove this statement. A theory was entertained by some police investigators that in a fit of sudden madness, Nicholas had murdered his sister, after which he fled out to the landing to cut his own throat. However, no solid evidence could be found to support this comfortably tidy explanation. Everyone who knew the siblings described their relationship as affectionate and devoted. It seemed unlikely for the right-handed Nicholas to inflict his own wound, which was largely on the right side of his throat. Besides, if this was a murder-suicide, how to explain the absence of the weapon and the vest on the roof?
Mrs. Burke did tell police one curious little story about her deceased tenants. Several days before the murders, the Ryans, uncharacteristically, had a heated quarrel. Nicholas afterward told Mrs. Burke "that he and his sister could not live together, and that he would have to break up housekeeping, as he had been obliged to do once before." He declared that "he would not be governed by a woman, and that his sister wanted to rule him." Mrs. Burke described his demeanor as "very nervous," and that he "was trembling from head to foot when he was talking to her." The following day, Mary told her that Nicholas had been upset with her for "buying a new teapot, which proved to be too small." A tempest over a teapot, one might say. Mary's explanation smacks of a ludicrous cover story, but the true cause of the fight between the siblings--and whether or not it was somehow connected to their deaths--remained a mystery. (As an aside, there were numerous hints in the contemporary newspapers that while the Burkes probably had nothing to do with the murders, they knew more than they were willing to say.)
As far as the police could tell, the last day the Ryans spent alive was utterly ordinary. Earlier in the evening, Patrick Ryan and another sister, Johanna, had tea with Nicholas and Mary in their room. All were in excellent spirits, laughing and joking. Afterward, the little party all left the house. Nicholas then parted from the company. No one knows where he went or what he did before returning to his lodgings. Mary accompanied her sister to Johanna's house. At about nine p.m. Mary left to return home.
When the bodies of the Ryans were autopsied, everyone, including their relatives, received a severe shock: Mary had been pregnant when she died. It is generally assumed that her child's father was also her killer--perhaps out of desperation to keep his guilty secret safe--but no one had any idea who this man might have been. Or--on an even more lurid note--did Mary's pregnancy have anything to do with what some investigators believed was an "unnatural" relationship between the siblings?
We simply do not know.
Friday, December 7, 2018
This week's Link Dump is sponsored by more of our Christmas Cats!
Who the hell made the Arthur's Seat Coffin Dolls? And why?
Watch out for those cursed rings!
Mrs. Hodges and the meteorite.
Incidentally, the new film about Mary Queen of Scots sounds like a real stinker. Judging by the trailer, I'm guessing it's the equivalent of John Cusack's Poe movie.
Two executions that were footnotes to the American Revolution.
When London got street lights...it didn't work out too well.
The foxes of Foxhurst.
The last written words of a condemned man.
A trio for this week in Russian Weird: Siberia has unicorns!
And there was the Russian woman known as "Lady Death."
And the cats of the Hermitage!
There's something on Mars that looks like a clump of tin foil.
If you want to have some fresh new nightmares, check out this 9,000 year old mask.
And here is the reconstruction of an astounding 1,300 year old helmet.
If, like me, you think all modern pop music sounds alike, you may be right.
As a Californian, I can say that Krampus fits right in here.
The famed courtesan Nelly O'Brien.
Ancient Egyptians did coffin-making on the cheap.
A Graveyard Christmas.
The spirit world and the hairwork bracelet.
The mountain bike murder.
William Lambert of the Bombay Army.
How to dress for an 18th century masquerade ball.
There are times when it doesn't pay to take things slowly.
Found: a medieval man who literally died with his boots on.
A reporter who became a literal ghost writer.
There may be such a thing as too much Christmas spirit.
So, let's discuss Tycho Brahe and the psychic dwarf.
Let's also talk about beer-drinking duck Marines.
The diary of an 18th century teenager in London.
When your mother is a homicidal sociopath.
Mysterious sheep-killings in Wales.
Shorter version: social media has turned us all into exhibitionists.
The singing heroine of a tragedy at sea.
Well, this is a bit unnerving.
The grave of a heroic dog.
The origins of Thanksgiving.
A ghost with a grudge.
Medieval guide dogs.
Pirate ghosts and cursed treasure. What could be better?
The mystery of Petrarch's cat.
The first female ghostbuster.
The world's most sickening museum. Literally.
The lost art of flower-making.
The rector returns from the grave.
Did Ida Quinlan murder her sister?
A look at Napoleon's coronation.
We're done for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at an unusual poltergeist account. In the meantime, here's a bit of classic Christmas music.
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
You may recall that a while ago, I posted a story about a man who was being pestered with letters...from his very dead wife. Curiously enough, this wasn't the only marital correspondence from beyond the grave that I've found. Here is a story from the "The True Northerner," October 1, 1885:
This may be said, if all the advices that have been floating of late in regard to people who were supposed to be dead, and are alive again. A telegram from Toledo relates the story of a farmer in Montclara , Ohio, who died and was buried thirteen years ago, but is still writing to his family. The Sunday Capital prints a story quite as remarkable, as follows:As is too often the case with the particularly weird newspaper reports, I've been unable to find how, or if, this mystery was ever resolved.
“A very remarkable case has come to my attention through a friend in the pension office which furnishes incidents for a novel as powerful as any Dumas or Eugene Sue ever used. In 1864 a lieutenant from an Ohio village was killed in one of the battles in Virginia and his body was sent home, buried with military honors and a handsome monument erected over it by the citizens of the place. Thousands of people paid their tributes of honor to the young hero and looked upon his face as the body lay in the town hall. He left a widow to whom he had been married only a year, and for more than twenty years she has been trying to get a pension; but, although she keeps fresh flowers upon her husband’s grave, she cannot prove that he is dead. The records in the adjutant general’s office are perfect, and affidavits can be furnished from thousands of people who saw and recognized his lifeless body, but every few months she receives a letter from him written in a hand as familiar as her own. Two letters never come from the same place; now they are postmarked in Colorado, then in Texas, then in New York. Once she got a note from him dated at Washington. He appears to know what is going on at home, and always alludes to local occurrences with a familiarity that is amazing. He sends messages to old friends and gives her advice about business matters which it seems impossible for a stranger to know. She cannot answer these ghostly missives, because he never gives any clew to his whereabouts, and no detective has ever been able to find him. Her friends believe that the writer is some crank or malicious person who takes this way to annoy her, and the distress the poor woman suffers cannot be measured by any other human experience. Long ago she ceased to open envelopes which came with the familiar address, but sends them sealed to her attorney, who uses every possible means to secure a clew to the identity of the writer. The only circumstances to suggest that it may possibly be her husband are the penmanship and the familiarity the writer shows with the lady’s private life, but how he could keep himself posted is another mystery, which cannot be solved. Several times the writer has intimated that he might soon pay her a visit, but the next letter always contains an apology for not having done so. The woman has suffered agony of mind beyond description, and her life has been ruined by this horrible mystery, but of late she has become more resigned, and would neither be surprised or disappointed if her husband should someday walk into her door."
Monday, December 3, 2018
|James Drummond, "The Porteous Mob," 1855|
Historically speaking, many large-scale riots seem almost unpreventable, or, at least, unforeseeable. A series of unlucky or tragic events suddenly coalesces into mass violence, and it is difficult to say who could have prevented it, or how. No one person was at fault.
An exception is Edinburgh's most notorious public disturbance, which has gone down in history as "The Porteous Riot." In this incident, it was argued at the time that the violent and fatal commotion could all be laid at the feet of one man's arrogant and thoughtless behavior.
And in the end, he paid a very high price for his errors in judgment.
The origin of our story lies in that age-old practice of smuggling, which was a particularly common activity in18th century Scotland. Fierce resentment of the high taxes imposed by the government in London caused Scots to treat those who provided them with contraband goods as heroes, even patriots. It wasn't just a question of getting a bargain; smuggling was seen as a sign of national independence from that despised Sassenach regime. England, recognizing that smuggling was as much a political issue as it was a financial concern, was doubly determined to crack down on the smugglers. When captured, the lawbreakers would not just be imprisoned, they would be hanged as traitors.
One of the era's most well-known and successful smugglers was Andrew Wilson, who operated out of the village of Pathhead, about twelve miles from Scotland's capital. His skill and popularity among his countrymen made him London's number one target for destruction. In February 1736, Wilson and two cronies, George Robertson and William Hall, burgled the residence of James Stark, a local customs duty collector. This was done out of revenge for Stark having seized some of Wilson's smuggled goods a short time back. As far as Wilson was concerned, he was merely evening the score.
As the authorities were well aware of Wilson's personal grudge against Stark, he became the prime suspect for the theft. Within three days, the smuggler and his confederates were arrested. On March 2, after a short and pro forma trial, all three were condemned to hang on April 14th. (Hall's sentence was later commuted to transportation to America.)
Wilson did not accept his sentence meekly. He, as well as a lot of other Scots, felt he was not a common criminal, but a political martyr. He was determined to make his escape. Allies managed to sneak a saw and a heavy knife to him, tools that he and Robertson used to saw through the bars of their cell window. Robertson was able to squeeze through the gap they had made, but unfortunately for Wilson, he was a "squat, round man." When he tried to make his way through the opening, he became stuck, unable to go either all the way out or back inside his cell. Before Robertson could free him, the guard was alerted, bringing the flight to freedom to a highly embarrassing end.
Wilson was doubly depressed over his failure. Not only had he lost his last chance to save his own neck, but he felt he had forfeited Robertson's as well. Although he accepted his grisly fate, he was determined that his friend should still find a way to escape. A characteristically audacious plan formed in his mind.
Three days before their scheduled execution, Wilson and Robertson were escorted to the Tolbooth church to hear their final Sunday service. When the proceedings were about to commence, Wilson made his move. He threw himself on their three guards, using all his considerable strength to hold them down. "Geordie, do for thy life!" he shouted.
Robertson followed this sage advice. He ran, and did not stop running until he was able to hide himself in Edinburgh's dark, twisting alleys. The citizens were more than happy to offer him shelter from the authorities. Wilson, of course, was soon overpowered, but he no longer cared. He had accomplished his goal.
Wilson's act of self-sacrifice made him even more of a hero in Edinburgh. Anger over what was seen as his totally unjust death sentence grew. As the date of Wilson's hanging approached, authorities became increasingly concerned about the public mood. They feared there would be an attempt to rescue the condemned man on the way to the gallows. John Porteous, one of the three captains of the City Guard, was given orders to have the 25 men under his command monitor the execution site and swiftly put down any signs of dangerous mutiny among the spectators. For good measure, the magistrates brought in a detachment of 150 men from the Royal Welsh Fuseliers.
|Edinburgh City Guard|
The 41-year-old Porteous could not be called a pleasant character. He had obtained his promotion to captain not from merit, but from influence--the job was his payoff for being willing to marry the Lord Provost's cast-off mistress, Isobel Gordon. Porteous was one of those people who are put in a position of authority, and come to enjoy their power rather too well. To put it more plainly, he was a harsh, officious bully who did not scruple to use physical violence on those unlucky enough to come into his custody. His insensitive and tyrannical nature had made him the most well-hated figure in Edinburgh. He was the worst possible choice to be put in charge of controlling an already hostile and indignant crowd.
As if all that wasn't bad enough, Porteous had a particular animosity towards the condemned man. He saw Wilson's engineering of Robertson's escape as an insult, a grave offense against his authority. It was said that while Wilson was in his custody, Porteous had inflicted savage physical revenge on the prisoner that virtually amounted to torture--a rumor that made Edinburghians all the more outraged.
|Site of Wilson's execution|
When April 14th arrived, the large crowd around the scaffold was grim, but silent and orderly. Somewhat to the authorities' surprise, the death sentence was carried out without incident.
The trouble began after Wilson was hanged. When the hangman moved to cut down the body of the man Edinburgh had liked and admired, this final indignity caused the crowd's buried wrath to bubble over. Infuriated citizens began throwing stones and clods of dirt at the City Guard. The hangman received such a volley of missiles that he fled. (He had to be put under police protection.) Spectators began rushing the gallows, determined to cut Wilson down and try to revive him, or at least give his body an honorable burial. The situation was dangerously near to going completely out of control.
What happened next is disputed, which is unsurprising, given the chaotic scene. Most reports state that Porteous, instead of working to pacify the crowd, behaved in a way guaranteed to bring on disaster. Furious at this show of open insubordination, he grabbed a musket and fired it at the mob. A young man named Charles Husband fell down dead.
Porteous ordered his troops to fire warning shots over the crowd, which only succeeded in hitting several spectators in the tenement buildings opposite them. When this only added to the uproar, he insisted that his men shoot directly at the horde, threatening the reluctant soldiers with disciplinary charges if they disobeyed. Three people were instantly killed, and at least twelve wounded. The confusion this caused among the crowd enabled Porteous to order a retreat. The Guard began to flee, with the now thoroughly inflamed mob in hot pursuit. Porteous gave another order to fire at the multitude, which resulted in three more deaths and great many other casualties. This just spurred the crowd on. Their goal now was not merely to mourn Wilson's death. They wanted revenge, and their target was Captain Porteous. If the onlookers had managed to get their hands on him at that moment, he would have been quickly torn to pieces.
Porteous made his report to a meeting of the city magistrates, only to find he was no more popular there than he had been among the mob. The magistrates were furious at the debacle, and had no desire to offer him much support. By the time the riot had quelled down, at least nine people were dead and some twenty more seriously injured. The official inquiry into the tragedy led to Porteous facing charges of manslaughter, maiming, and murder.
Porteous' trial took place on July 5-9, 1736. He pleaded self-defense, and brought in witnesses who testified that he had not personally fired into the crowd. (Crown witnesses, naturally, asserted the reverse.) Although by the letter of the law, the defendant had a strong case, public sentiment was so against him that his conviction was virtually a foregone conclusion. It was decreed that on September 8, Porteous would follow Wilson to the gallows.
Although this verdict was welcomed in Scotland, London felt otherwise. His Majesty's government felt that Porteous' actions had been entirely called-for in the circumstances. Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole granted Porteous a six-week reprieve. It was believed that a full pardon would soon follow.
The news that the Porteous would escape the noose after all outraged Edinburgh. The thought of the hated London government butting in to save a man they held responsible for the death of Scottish citizens just added further fuel to the public fire. A group of men--some of them holding prominent positions in Edinburgh society--secretly made their plans, determined that Porteous would not escape the punishment they felt he well deserved. These vigilantes spread the word that on September 8, they would assault the Tolbooth and deliver their own form of justice to the prisoner. Naturally, the authorities planned to have extra guards at the prison on that night.
The rumored date was, however, merely a ruse. On the night of September 7, some four thousand men quietly marched on Edinburgh, taking the castle garrison completely off-guard. The crowd broke into the City Guardhouse and emptied it of its store of weaponry. Then, they headed straight for the Tolbooth--and John Porteous. The city magistrates were helpless in the face of this very large, very well-armed, and very very determined army. The authorities sent frantic messages to all the garrisons quartered in the city, but these soldiers were disinclined to come to their aid.
By 11:30 p.m., the mob had succeeded in breaking down the prison door. After relieving the jailer of his keys, they marched on Porteous' cell. The prisoner was savagely dragged outdoors, the his captors beating and kicking him all the way. Porteous was hauled to the site where Wilson had been executed, and a makeshift gallows was swiftly erected.
The former captain had a much more agonizing end than the one delivered to Andrew Wilson. After a rope was put around his neck, Porteous was repeatedly hauled up, then quickly lowered again. All the while, members of the mob beat him and even tried setting him on fire. This slow torture lasted for nearly an hour before it finally killed him. His body was pulled up one final time--like a macabre victory flag--and left dangling there while the mob silently dispersed into the darkness.
London was indignant at the news of Porteous' grisly end, and ordered an inquiry into the affair. A reward of £200 pounds--as well as a promise of immunity--was offered for anyone who would give information about the lynching. It was all in vain. Although everyone in the city must have known who was involved in Porteous' murder, they kept that knowledge to themselves. No one was ever punished, or even publicly identified, for their part in the grim doings of September 7.
The English government settled for fining Edinburgh £2000, with the money to be paid to Porteous' widow. Probably very wisely, that lady then left Scotland for good. The Lord Provost, whom London blamed for failing to prevent the incident, was fired from his post. All the clergymen in Scotland were ordered to issue threats of arrest to anyone involved in Porteous' murder. These instructions were largely ignored. Scots tend to have long memories. Public opinion remained so bitter against John Porteous that it was not until 1973 that his grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard was given a proper headstone.
As for George Robertson, he managed to escape to Rotterdam, where he became the proprietor of a successful tavern. He also supplemented his income by acting as an informant for Scottish customs officers, giving them information on the local smugglers. According to a 1789 pamphlet, Robertson "at last got into some way with the English smugglers, and ruined many of them. The Dutch got information of him, and he took the hint and escaped over to London...he skulked about in London for some time, and got letters from those he did for in Scotland; and he applied to that hero, William Duke of Cumberland, who procured him a pardon from the King; and at last he died in misery in London."
There are no happy endings in this story.
[There is one quaint footnote to our ugly little tale. In his leisure moments, Porteous was a renowned and skillful golfer. In 1724, he and one Alexander Elphinston played the first golf match to be reported in the newspapers. Among the spectators were the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Morton, "and a great many persons of distinction." The wager was twenty guineas, with Mr. Elphinston coming out the winner. Scottish true crime historian William Roughead's last word on Porteous was, "one would fain hope that such a good golfer was not so great a rogue."]
Friday, November 30, 2018
From now until December 21, our Link Dumps will be sponsored by the Cats of Christmas!
Watch out for those haunted cars!
Watch out for those Welsh dragons!
Watch out for the Yowie!
The friendship of Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
A beheading in Pennsylvania.
It's a nice enough shack, but a bit busy for my taste.
The Cycling Countess, who was really a menace on the road.
"There is death in the pot!"
An execution that was a mess in more ways than one.
The history of the Halifax gibbet.
The dogs of Old London.
A notorious 19th century bigamist.
The world's oldest known drawing of an animal.
The most mysterious--and creepy--ancient statue.
New interactive map shows all the ways medieval London could kill you.
The chocolate houses of 18th century London.
The often alarming world of Early Modern medicine.
Nothing to see here, just a mysterious radioactive heat melting Antarctica.
UFOs over Baffin Island.
Well. That's nice.
How Nazis tried to breed a superhorse.
An 18th century East India Company cadet writes home.
This week in Russian Weird: THEIR CATS.
Death Valley and the lost underground city.
Some overlooked heroines of WWI.
The Aiken Party Massacre.
India now has an elephant hospital.
Everyone's favorite female serial-killer-for-profit, Belle Gunness.
How Benedict Arnold got the boot.
The oldest known whiskey distillery.
A horrific tale of revenge.
Victorian dining etiquette.
The enigmatic Edward Gorey.
The Parrot Fever Panic.
Johnny Cash and the hemorrhoid cream.
The subject of this portrait would probably have preferred to remain unknown.
Vintage tea terminology.
Rats and cats take to the stage.
Rough justice in 19th century Ohio.
Shopping for mourning.
That does it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a dark moment in Edinburgh history. In the meantime, let's jump with Harry James!
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
A ghostly church organist and a spooky cat? Sign me up. The "Calgary Herald," April 15, 1921:
London. April 2. (By Mail) Dressed in early Victorian costume, the ghostly figure of a former organist is said to haunt the ancient church of Allhallows-Barking-by-the-Tower. It is alleged to have appeared at choir practice.
Mr. Arthur Poyser (organist and master of the choristers) told how, in 1910, he first saw the apparition.
Mr. Poyser. with two solo boys, was in the practice room for special choir work. The only entrance to the church, Mr. Poyser said, was locked, and apart from the light above the piano, the building was in darkness. Anyone, to approach the room, even if the door had not been locked, must pass through two sets of folding doors, which creak badly.
"Yet in the middle of the practice," he went on, "an old lady appeared in the centre of the room gazing fixedly upon me, but without uttering a word or making a sound.
"We all saw her plainly, and so real did she appear that one of the boys offend her a chair. She simply nodded her head and sat down, remaining thus for three-quarters of an hour while we practiced our Christmas carols.
"I wondered how anybody could have got into the room, but thinking that perhaps she was a relative of one of the choir boys, I said nothing at the time. What struck me most was her eccentric behavior in not speaking to us, and her still more eccentric dress. She wore a brown shawl with a deep fringe, an old-fashioned black silk dress, and a big coal-scuttle bonnet.
"At the conclusion of the practice, much to my astonishment, she wearily rose from her seat and disappeared into the darkness of the church.
"I said to one of the boys: 'Go and tell that lady that, if she does not go out now she will be locked in,' but the boy came back and said that there was nobody there. I immediately switched on all the lights in the church, and the three of us searched every nook and cranny, but found no trace of the strange visitor and the entrance door was still locked.
"On the following Sunday, the preacher, a skeptic on psychical matters, now passed away, came to the church. I did not mention the mysterious occurrence to him, but, later in the day, he observed: 'A remarkable thing happened during this morning's service.. A huge tortoiseshell cat came out from under the piano (which was in use at the time owing to the organ being out of repair), ran round the brass altar rails and disappeared mysteriously right through the closed glass doors of the clergy vestry under the east window.'
"I then told him about my experience, and laughingly, we said that there could be no connection between tho old lady and the cat--but there was.
"Some time afterwards an old gentleman came to see me, saying that he used to be a choir. boy at the church 60 years ago. I asked him who the organist was in his day. He replied Miss Lysetta Rist, and described with extraordinary accuracy the old lady who had appeared to us in the practice room. He added that she was remarkably fond of music and animals, and used to be followed wherever she went by cats for whose food she gave money regularly.
"I verified the latter facts at Guildhall, and found that to this day sand and ashes are scattered on Tower Hill for the benefit of horses us a result of a bequest of Miss Rist, who died about 40 years ago and was buried in this church.
"Whenever any music is going on we quite frequently hear footsteps on the old wooden stairway, and other manifestations of the presence of the spirit of Miss Rist.
"Only the night before last, while seated alone at the piano in the porch music-room, playing Wagner's Master-singers, with only a single light above me, I heard distinctly a voice humming the melody apparently from behind an adjacent screen.
"Although we are all quite accustomed to such happenings, I, on this occasion, was overcome with nervousness and made a dash for the street."
"I thought it rather strange," ventured the writer, "that when I entered the church yesterday, while it was left untenanted for noonday prayer, I heard unmistakable rappings in the organ loft. I had previously been through the building in search of some one connected with the church, but no one was there at the time. A boy with a letter entered a few minutes later, on a similar errand, and. hearing the same sounds, remarked, 'I think there is someone up in the gallery."'
"Oh! you heard tho rapping, I am glad." replied Mr. Poyser. "That is a common manifestation at all times of the day and night. There have been other apparitions here, apart from that of Miss Rist, but I have only told you of what I have seen and heard myself."
Monday, November 26, 2018
|"Hazelton Sentinel," February 4, 1884, via Newspapers.com|
On January 31, 1884, Mrs. Catherine Collier (or Collyer) of Laurel Hill, Long Island, went to the butcher’s and bought onions and beef. She used her purchases to make soup and a hash for dinner. That evening, she, her husband Thomas, and their two-year-old daughter Annie all ate the meal. Thomas, however, complained the food was too peppery, and declined to eat very much of it. Catherine and Annie, however, ate without noticing anything unusual.
Very soon, it became evident that there was something extremely unusual indeed about the meal. Thomas was struck with agonizing stomach pains and constant vomiting. Catherine fell ill as well, but only many hours later. Little Annie was completely unaffected, even though she had eaten the same food as her parents.
The next day, Catherine died. Thomas began to recover, and it was assumed he would survive. A few days later, however, he had a sudden relapse, and also passed away. Autopsies showed the two had died from arsenic poisoning. The remaining portion of their dinner was analyzed, and found to be full of arsenic. No poison was found in their house, and it was a puzzle how it got into the food, considering their daughter had eaten the same meal with no ill effects.
The mystery only deepened when the authorities exhumed the body of Catherine’s father, Dennis Cowhey, who had died suddenly only two weeks previously. It was found that he, too, had ingested large amounts of arsenic.
Cowhey’s two surviving children, John and Annie Cowhey, were arrested for murder. The theory was that they committed this triple homicide in order to get sole possession of their father’s money (which amounted to about $2,000 in cash and real estate.) Annie “kept house” for her widowed father, and had prepared the beefsteak he ate immediately before becoming ill. She also admitted having bought rat poison on more than one occasion. However, she and her brother denied their guilt in the strongest terms.
Public opinion strongly supported John and Annie’s innocence, (they both had excellent reputations,) and the case against them immediately fell apart from lack of evidence. No proof was ever found that the “Rough on Rats” Annie bought had been the source of the arsenic. Relations between all members of the Cowhey/Collier families were said to have been extremely harmonious. John and Annie were soon released.
There was another minor mystery associated with the case. After Dennis Cowhey died, his relations made an unsuccessful search for his bank book. (He had not left a will, but his children agreed to split his estate equally between them.) After the Colliers died, Thomas’ mother, while going through her son’s possessions, found the bank book. No one knew how it got into his possession. According to John Cowhey, the Colliers had always denied knowing where it was.
Who poisoned Dennis Cowhey and the Colliers? The inquest was no help at all in answering that question. The verdict of the coroner’s jury was that the Colliers had died of arsenic poisoning, but they declined to say how it was administered. Popular rumor had it that Mrs. Collier had poisoned her father in order to prevent him from remarrying, and then “went insane” and killed herself and her husband.
This strikes me as a very unsatisfactory solution, but that seems to have been the last word about the crime.
This is one of those cases full of nagging questions left unanswered by the contemporary newspaper accounts. If Dennis Cowhey’s daughter did not poison him, who did? There was no evidence anyone other than Annie had access to the meal which killed him. But how could she have also poisoned the Colliers? Neither she nor her brother had the opportunity to doctor their food. There is an equal lack of evidence that any outside party had the motive or opportunity to poison any of the trio.
If Catherine Collier was guilty, how did she manage to murder her father? And why? Why go on to kill her husband and herself? Why was Thomas Collier the only one of his household to complain about the “peppery” quality of the food? If the hash and soup were what poisoned them, how did their daughter escape the wholesale slaughter?
Friday, November 23, 2018
This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Strange Company HQ's staff photographer.
Watch out for those fire giants!
The Stillwell murder.
The Massachusetts Borgia escapes the noose.
Another instance of the internet proving there is such a thing as too much publicity.
Regulating boy soldiers.
Legends of the Tower of London.
A deadly ancient meteor.
Shorter version: Brrrr!
That time the Dutch executed an entire village.
That time Ben Jonson faced a murder charge.
How Harriet Moore became John Murphy.
Here's your big chance to live in Britain's most haunted village.
Some delightfully wretched Thanksgiving plays.
Serious question: Aren't all nightclubs portals to Hell?
The birth of the fingerprint detectives.
How Voltaire went from prisoner to playwright.
One of the first suffragettes.
The oldest original manuscripts of Old English poetry. All four of 'em.
The Toyota dealership employee who should have won a Nobel Prize.
A day in the life of the Society for the Protection of Women and Children.
Thanksgiving recipes you probably won't want to copy. Unless, of course, you really dislike your guests.
Giving some love to the pun.
The fiery mystery that inspired Charles Dickens.
Shorter version: sailing the North Sea in the 18th century was...not fun.
A "mythical" city has just been found.
The Duchess and her wolf.
If you need a theme for your next dinner party, here are some dishes made by famous poisoners.
A first-hand look back at Jefferson Airplane and the Summer of Love.
Jack the Ripper's most mysterious victim.
The toy monkey and the Nazis.
A 19th century woman goes to sea.
Why you would not want to take your time machine to 536 AD.
One of 2018's weirdest hoaxes.
Public Thanksgiving and the Jacobite Rebellion.
A shooting on a streetcar.
A stone-throwing poltergeist in Zimbabwe.
A ghost who liked to count oranges.
That wraps it up for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll look at an obscure and deeply puzzling poisoning mystery. In the meantime, here are Glen and Roy. RIP, guys.
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Welcome to Strange Company's annual celebration of our American holiday of Thanksgiving! If you are familiar with this blog, you already know what that means.
The "Williamsburg Sun-Gazette," December 26, 1911:
Bloomfield, N.J., Dec. 25--On his way home with a twenty-pound turkey Saturday night Harry Stanislaus sacrificed the bird to save himself from being bitten by a savage dog which attacked him near his home in Chapel street.
The dog leaped at the man's throat, but Mr. Stanislaus got out of the way, and then when it jumped again he used the turkey as a weapon and showered blow after blow on the animal, finally causing it to sneak away.
There was not enough left of the fowl, however, to make soup.
If there's one thing I've learned from writing this blog, it's that turkeys are a must for self-defense. The "Republican and Herald," December 2, 1912:
Richfield, N. J., Dec. 2. With a turkey as a weapon, John Moran, a farmland, kept a highwayman at bay and saved his wallet, containing $32.60, which he had received only a short time previous from his employer for his month's work. Moran was walking over a lonely stretch of road toward Paterson, and when he approached the railroad tracks the highwayman jumped out from behind a tree and demanded his money. Moran swung his turkey and landed on the fellow's head with such force as to knock him down. He then dropped the bird and pummeled the would-be thief with his fists and afterward he continued his journey without further molestation.
From the "New York Tribune," November 27, 1903:
Bloomfield, N.J., Nov. 26--Moses De Witt, a colored man, whose home is in the Bowery district of this town, is now a firm believer in the luck attached to the number thirteen. On the thirteenth of the month De Witt bought a ticket for a raffle for a turkey. He paid thirteen cents for it and won the bird, which tipped the scales exactly at thirteen pounds. The number thirteen figured in the affair in other ways, too. On the way home, in passing the bridge over Second River at Henry st., he was stopped by two men, one of whom asked him the time. He informed him and was about to pass on when the fellows both attacked him and endeavored to take the watch away from him. De Witt was taken by surprise, but not so much as his assailants were when the old man suddenly gripped the turkey firmly by the legs and then laid about him right and left, using the bird as a weapon. The highwaymen took to their heels and the turkey graced the table at the De Witt home. "If anything, the use I made of the turkey," said De Witt, "only served to make it more tender."
Now there's a cooking tip I'll bet never occurred to Martha Stewart.
|[Note: All items via Newspapers.com]|
The "New York Tribune," December 1, 1899:
James Cannon, fifty-eight years old, of No. 3 First St., Hoboken, and his wife, Ellen, eight years his junior, spent yesterday afternoon and last evening at Hoboken Police Headquarters because Mrs. Cannon did not cook a Thanksgiving turkey to suit the taste of her husband. The police say that when Cannon tried to carve the bird he first found fault because it was not properly basted, and then because the turkey was tough. Finally the husband, according to his wife, seized the cooked fowl by a leg and struck her over the head with it. Policemen Borrune and Kiely were called in and found the Thanksgiving dinner a wreck. The couple were arrested on a charge of being drunk and disorderly.
If Mrs. Cannon had only known to first use the bird to beat up highwaymen, all this trouble could have been averted. And curious, is it not, how New Jersey appears to be the Turkey Weapon Capital of the World?
Of course, using a turkey as a club does not always work very well for you or the bird. The "Philadelphia Times," November 28, 1884:
There was a clear space of the length of a man's arm and two turkey legs in front of Stephen Nash's crowded bar for ten minutes yesterday afternoon. At the end of that time the man with the arm and the turkey legs was put out. In the ten minutes he rapped the turkey legs repeatedly on the counter and made the glasses jingle. He also had something to complain of.
He spoke rapidly and his voice got thick toward the end of his speech. " I went to buy a turkey this morning, gentlemen," the man said, "and I won the turkey that belonged to these legs in a raffle. Then I thought I'd spend my turkey money for rum and unless I can pick up the fragments of that turkey on the road back to Frankford my family will have to dine on cranberry sauce." Here the turkey man mournfully dangled the trailing tendons of the mangled fowl in the olive dish.
"A man belted me," he continued, "in a Clearfield street saloon on the way home and when I whacked him with that proud bird of freedom the head and neck came off like a link of sausage and flew into the Tom and Jerry bowl.
"The bartender got unreasonable and wanted me lo pay for the Tom and Jerry. I refused and he became impudent. I swung that barnyard's pride at him and he dodged behind the cigar case. Gentlemen, the glass of that case sluffed off more than two pounds of white meat.
"Then we clinched and both wings of the bird disappeared in the scuffle. I saw the bartender through the door brushing pin-feathers off his cardigan jacket when I left. The wish bone was busted, too, and the turkey's lungs was hanging out of the place where his neck had been. I thought then that I'd better take the rest of the family's Thanksgiving home to 'em.
"A Fifth street car conductor said I couldn't bring the turkey aboard. We had a fencing match-- him with the car hook and me with the turkey. When we got through I asked him to let me take his coat home to roast for dinner, for all the turkey was on it but the Pope's nose and the legs. He wouldn't have it and I gave the Pope's nose to a blind beggar and here I am with the drumsticks."
And, of course, few things say, "Spirit of Thanksgiving" like getting into a shootout at a turkey raffle.
|"St. Paul Globe," November 27, 1902|
And, finally, considering what this holiday means to turkeys, it's always nice to see them get a bit of their own back. The "Los Angeles Herald," July 14, 1907:
Newmarket, N.J., July 13.— Justice Clarke T. Rogers, who makes a specialty of breeding big hogs and prize fowls, had a hair raising experience with a turkey yesterday. Rogers picked up a young turkey yesterday and, while he was fondling it, the mother turkey attacked him. The enraged bird flew at the judge's face, beating his head with its wings and pecking wildly away into his flesh. So unexpected and ferocious was the attack that Rogers felt to the ground unconscious. The cackles of the turkey brought Col. Downey, a. nephew, to the scene and he drove away the infuriated bird.Yes, New Jersey again. And no, I'm not going to ask why the judge was fondling a turkey.
Happy Thanksgiving! And as for you Jerseyites, for the love of God, go vegetarian this year.
Monday, November 19, 2018
In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, there were many different ways—both good and bad—in which a woman could earn herself the enigmatic label of “adventuress.” During her relatively brief life, Cora Howarth Murphy Stewart, who eventually became, spiritually if not legally, “Mrs. Stephen Crane,” ran through all those ways, and probably invented a few new ones along the way.
Cora Howarth, daughter of a modestly well-to-do owner of a Boston art gallery, was born in 1868. (Some sources say 1865.) She was given the quintessential Victorian genteel, restrained upbringing, and spent the rest of her life trying to live it down. Tiring of being guarded by chaperones, at a young age Howarth married a usefully nondescript fellow named Thomas Vinton Murray simply so she would be free to do as she liked. As it turned out, one of the first things she liked was a young army captain, Donald William Stewart. No sooner had she become “Mrs. Murray,” than she was running off to England with Stewart. They married after Murray displayed his useful nondescriptness by quietly giving her a divorce.
Cora enjoyed English social life so much that when Stewart was sent to India, she decided she greatly preferred it to her new second husband. She remained behind, earning Stewart’s everlasting enmity by committing adulteries as numerous as they were well-known.
It is not clear how she came to go from London party girl to Florida madam. One story claims that she happened to sail into American waters on the private yacht owned by one of her current lovers. They quarreled during the voyage, and she angrily leaped overboard and swam ashore, ending up on the beaches of Jacksonville.
However this change in scenery came to be, she decided to start a new life in what was then a booming, lively resort town. Renaming herself “Cora Taylor,” she opened what was tactfully termed a “nightclub.” In reality, it was an upscale brothel. (“Class-A,” according to the helpful guides available to male tourists.)
It was in Jacksonville that, in 1896, she first met Stephen Crane, who had already achieved fame with “The Red Badge of Courage.” He came there as one of the journalists covering the burgeoning war fever against the Spanish presence in Cuba, but he soon found the lively brothel-keeper at least as fascinating. Crane and Cora were similar wild, restless spirits, and they felt an immediate mutual sympathy. When he wound up in a shipwreck (the inspiration for his story “The Open Boat,”) and she nursed him back to health, this sympathy turned to love.
When Crane left to cover the war in the Balkans, Cora accompanied him. She filed dispatches for the Hearst papers under the name “Imogene Carter,” becoming the world’s first female war correspondent. By this time, she was certain she had at last found the man with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life. However, Stewart spitefully refused her a divorce. Her response was to simply shrug off the formalities. For the rest of her life, she called herself “Mrs. Cora Crane.”
The Cranes eventually settled in Brede Place, a rambling, rundown, allegedly haunted 14th century mansion in Sussex, England. They lived as precursors to Scott and Zelda, leading a stereotypically bohemian life of drink, nonstop house parties—they both craved living in crowd scenes--and chronic personal disarray. The couple became deeply in debt—they were just the generous, careless types who make perfect targets for spongers. Their personal relationship was equally turbulent—at one point, Stephen even walked out on his chagrined “wife.”
|Brede Place, via Wikipedia|
The party ended when Crane left to cover the Spanish-American war. Already suffering from tuberculosis, the combination of the Cuban climate and the physical strains of being in the midst of war destroyed his health. To add to the couple’s troubles, they were broke—both of them were incapable of handling practical affairs—ostracized from society, and at a loss as to what on earth to do.
The sad climax to their story came during one of their typically crowded house parties, when, on December 29, 1899, Crane began hemorrhaging and collapsed. Cora somehow managed to raise enough funds to bring him to a sanatorium in Bavaria, but soon after their arrival, in June of 1900, Crane died. He was only twenty-eight.
Crane’s death robbed Cora of the closest thing to stability she ever had, and the loss sent her on a downward spiral. She suffered a nervous breakdown after Stephen’s death, but she pulled herself together enough to return to Jacksonville. She managed to borrow enough money to open “The Court,” one of the city’s most elegant brothels. It proved so successful that she became part owner of other bordellos, as well.
Cora saw her little prostitution empire as a form of social work, giving men a needed break from the humdrum. She once wrote, “I wonder if husbands are so often unfaithful because their wives are good? I think so. They cannot stand the dreary monotonies and certainties.”
It could have been interesting to hear what the wives would have made of this doctrine.
Captain Stewart died in Africa, finally leaving her free to remarry. She used her new-found freedom in the most disastrous way possible. In 1905, after a very short acquaintance, she impulsively married one of her establishment’s clients, a good-looking, lively young wastrel named Hammond McNeil. He soon showed himself to be an unstable, hotheaded alcoholic. Even worse was to come. One day in 1907, she went out on a picnic with a man named Harry Parker. McNeil followed them and shot Parker dead.
McNeil’s defense was the “unwritten law” that supposedly allowed a man to kill his wife’s seducer, causing Cora’s public reputation to go from merely notorious to infamous. She refused to testify, and McNeil was acquitted. They divorced soon afterward. (During their divorce, McNeil, showing a rather quaint amount of gall, accused Cora of beating him on numerous occasions. She retorted, “Yes, I did it, and I only wish I had beaten him to death.”)
After Parker’s murder, Cora was painted as the Black Widow and Scarlet Woman combined, but she was doggedly determined to carry on with her life. She had always shown a talent for writing, and this creative outlet became increasingly important to her. Her stories appeared in the leading publications of the time, and she began to consider moving to Europe and devoting herself full-time to a literary career.
This uncharacteristically quiet daydream was not to be. Cora continued to run the Court until 1910, when she suffered a mild stroke. She turned the management of the brothel over to her housekeeper, who reportedly repaid this trust by embezzling from her employer. Cora Crane died not long afterward, from heat stroke brought on when, with her usual impulsive generosity, she tried to help push out a car that had been stuck in the sand.
A woman too famous to be ignored, but too notorious for frank public description, presented a unique challenge to the local obituary writers. Her death notices emphasized her Boston Brahmin heritage, her literary talents, her personal charm, and her stature as “the wife of Stephen Crane, the novelist.” The more unconventional side of her career—which summarized everything she was—found itself quickly dismissed as merely a flirtation with “the Bohemian life.”
I doubt she would have been pleased by such airbrushing.