"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Friday, March 30, 2018

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump has the honor to be sponsored by royalty: the cats of Queen Alexandra!

"San Francisco Call," June 28, 1904


Who the hell put a marker on Aaron Burr's grave?

How the hell did actress Gay Gibson die?

Watch out for the Woodenbong Wild Man!

Watch out for those haunted mines!

Watch out for those Victorian mourning veils!

Footprints from the Ice Age.

Easter folklore.

The strange "House of the Green Shutters."

Roberto Calvi: the death that launched a thousand conspiracy theories.

18th century Agony Aunts.

London's "Great Stink."

The Pitcairn poltergeist.

Butchery in Massachusetts.

A gruesome medieval burial.

Witches vs. the Nazis.  

The execution of a 14th century rebel.

This is why we can't have nice archaeological sites.

The rediscovery of a "lost" film that predicted the rise of anti-semitism.

$20 million worth of old movie ads.

Renting out haunted houses.

The FBI and Civil War gold.

The unusual double life of Clarence King.

Putting a dead man on trial.  Well, that's King James VI and I for you.

The hazards of masquerading as a man in the early 20th century.

Cows have character!

An unconventional Marchioness.  

Jim, the laughing ghost dog.

Do astronauts believe in alien life?

A corpse on eggs.

Love and tragedy in the British Library.

Why you would not want to bring a dog to the Cave of Dogs.

Humanity from an executioner.

Whistling Davis and the corpse child.

The hanged 12-year-old: some 19th century fake news.

A cat on a desert island.  Not to worry, it ends well.

Some 19th century mermaids.

Napoleon and three historic carriages.

A look at "Old Dissent."

Artists, go ahead and keep your day jobs.

A reincarnation case involving twins.

Some lesser-known unsolved murders.

A landscape gardener in the archives.

The tomb of a legendary Chinese general.

A cottage haunted by "consumption."

Naughty bicycle messengers.

Giblet pie?  To the gibbet, die.

The diary of a 17th century tradesman.

The Tower of London ravens and their human.

Why you might want to spend your weekend looking upwards.  And wearing a hard hat.

The horrific unsolved slaughter of an Illinois family.

The unexpected delights of medieval "proofs of age."

An Empress washes some feet.

A minister meets a monster.

Wilhelm and Alfred meet Stalin.

Let's talk brothel toilets.

A shocking courtesan.

The oldest decorated eggs.

That's it for this week's Link Dump!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a case of witchy revenge in 1930s Java.  In the meantime, here are the Burrito boys:




Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day




If any of you are keeping an old gibbet around your house, consider this one to be a cautionary tale. The "Ottawa Journal," February 4, 1956:
A hollow, rapping sound echoed eerily through a stately mansion in London's Highgate district.

"There they are," exclaimed Mrs. Doris Hatton-Wood, a wealthy widow who claims her North London home is haunted by the forces of evil.

"That's the work of devilish forces. And it has been going on for three horrible years."

Sitting in a second-floor living room of her Tudor-style home, the frail, attractive widow told of other strange manifestations--sounds of heavy boxes being dragged across the floor and of occupants of the house being "pushed" down steep flights of stairs. She told, too, of blood stains mysteriously appearing on the wall outside her room.

"The blood appeared to have been smeared on in places, spattered in others, and in spots was so thick it ran down the wall.

"I realize it sounds far-fetched, but all this is happening...happening much too frequently for comfort."

"I can vouch for that," said her housekeeper, Mrs. Winifred Allsop. "It is no wild flight of imagination. I've heard and seen these things myself. So has my husband."

There is nothing in the appearance of Olney, the Hatton-Wood home at 5 View Road, to suggest to a visitor that within its walls the forces of black magic are at work. It is a square, two-story structure of grey brick and stucco, surrounded by lawns and gardens and enclosed by a high wooden fence.

Inside, the spacious hallway, four living rooms and nine bedrooms are tastefully furnished with period furniture.

Mrs. Hatton-Wood, who admits she has been "extremely interested in things psychic since I was 12 years old," blames the "supernatural invasion" on her home on a gibbet--an upright post and arm used to execute criminals in olden days.

She said the gibbet--"a gruesome relic left in the house many years ago by a relative"--lay for years in an attic storeroom.

"The first manifestations emanated from that room. We continually hear sounds of boxes being pulled around in the room when no one is up there. The most frightening aspect is that the sounds are so real and physical."

Recently she sent the gibbet to the Kensington Palace Museum.

The widow, who guards her age as a "woman's secret" but says she has a grown-up daughter, says she has no intention of calling in the Society for Psychical Research, a group of British scientists who investigate reports of supernatural occurrences.

"I am afraid that any investigation like that would anger the forces of evil that have a hold on this house and so make matters worse."

Recently, under the urging of relatives, she had the house and grounds exorcised by Rev. Gilbert Shaw, "a priest active in combating black magic."

"I think it may have helped a little...the house seems happier now."

Just before Christmas Mrs. Hatton-Wood outlined her troubles in a television broadcast for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

"I have since learned that the priests are perturbed about the publicity attendant on their efforts to exorcise the evil spirits here and I very much doubt that they will make another attempt."

Mrs. Hatton-Wood says she is convinced the only way she will ever rid her home of evil spirits is to "wear them down."

"I'll just have to grin and bear it. In time I feel confident they will leave."

Has she ever considered selling the house and leaving?

"Never! I'll not be driven out of my home by ghosts."

Another article added that an oil painting had "hurled itself" at Mrs. Hatton-Wood. The household also experienced broken glassware and crockery, not to mention "the apparition of a Corgi dog."

I was unable to find any more about this haunting, so perhaps the doughty Mrs. Hatton-Wood did indeed wear them down.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Alfred Loewenstein's Final Flight: Review of "The Man Who Fell From the Sky," By William Norris



Throughout recorded history, many prominent people have passed away in some odd and/or sinister fashion. As a rule, these suspicious deaths receive a great deal of publicity and investigation, often for years, or even centuries later.

However, there is one notable exception. In 1928, one of the world's richest men, who had been both a famous and highly controversial figure for some years, came to a violent, unusual, and extremely puzzling end...

...and no one seemed to care.

Alfred Loewenstein was born in Brussels on March 11, 1877. By 1914, he had established a successful banking concern. Investments in electric power and artificial silk made him immensely wealthy and influential. In 1926, he founded "International Holdings and Investments Limited," a forerunner of the now-common "holding company." It raised large amounts of money from investors eager to get a piece of Loewenstein's already legendary triumphs. As a result, even more than most financiers, Loewenstein's continued success depended upon maintaining an aura of success. He would be a winner only as long as he looked like a winner. Loewenstein was a ruthless, bold, and cunning risk-taker. As a businessman, he tended to sail close to the wind and did not hesitate to take financial advantage of those who were less crafty--people seldom become self-made multi-millionaires by playing pattycake--but so far as is known, he did nothing that was actually illegal.

In 1908 he married Madeleine Misonne, a member of a socially prominent Belgian family. She was a beautiful, elegant, and sophisticated woman who was, by all accounts, as warm and emotional as the proverbial iceberg. Theirs was one of those marriages which was essentially a business deal: He gave her all the money her expensive tastes needed, and she provided the social status and glamor he craved. Like most of Loewenstein's business deals, it was highly successful. Although the Loewensteins had one son, Bobby, they saw little of each other. Alfred immersed himself in his two passions, (financial schemes and thoroughbred horses,) while Madeleine drifted between their various mansions, enjoying a lifestyle that would make Marie Antoinette gasp. They were both entirely content with the arrangement. There was no love or passion in their relationship (both seemed essentially sexless,) but they had a mutual respect, and even arguably their own form of affection.



Such was Loewenstein's life on the evening of July 4, 1928, when he arrived at Croydon Airport and boarded his recently-purchased Fokker Tri-Motor for a routine flight to Brussels. There were six other people on the plane: pilot Donald Drew, the mechanic and co-pilot Robert Little, Loewenstein's valet Fred Baxter, his secretary Arthur Hodgson, and two stenographers, Eileen Clarke and Paula Bidalon. (The latter two were necessary because the workaholic Loewenstein was continually dictating business letters and memos.)


Two views of Loewenstein's plane


The weather was calm. The flight, we are told, was completely uneventful until, at some point while the Fokker was over the English Channel, Loewenstein went inside the small bathroom at the back of the plane. The compartment had a second door: one which was the plane's exit.

Alfred Loewenstein was never seen alive again.

According to Drew and Little--the only members of that fatal flight to speak publicly about the tragedy--when Loewenstein failed to return to his seat, Baxter went to check on his employer. He found the bathroom empty. He returned to the cockpit area and handed Drew a note saying that Loewenstein had disappeared.

For reasons which were never satisfactorily explained, Drew did not immediately land at a nearby airfield. Instead, he brought the plane to a deserted stretch of beach near Dunkirk. This beach happened to be military territory, which naturally soon brought them to the attention of army authorities. The crew told them that their boss had vanished. They neglected to mention until some time later that "their boss" was one of the richest and most famous men in the land. They were instructed to fly to the airport, where they repeated their stark, simple story of what had happened. The crew could only assume that Loewenstein had been the victim of a dreadful accident. The plane's exit door, they were careful to say, opened and closed very easily. No doubt, the financier had bumped against the door, it suddenly flew open, and...




The authorities immediately began to search the English Channel for Loewenstein's body.  Meanwhile, his wife Madeleine was hit with doubly disconcerting news: until her husband was declared officially deceased and a death certificate issued, she could not touch a penny of his money. And the Belgian authorities refused to issue this certificate until Alfred's body had been found. If the financier remained missing, she would be left virtually penniless.

An inquiry was held into the incident on July 9. For such a bizarre mystery, it was an incredibly brief and casual affair. No witnesses were put under oath. Drew and Little repeated their story about the exit door opening easily. The judge ruled Loewenstein's (presumed) death to be accidental, and, as far as the authorities were concerned, that was that. The official investigation into Loewenstein's fate ended virtually as soon as it had begun.

So, where was Loewenstein? The question remained unanswered until July 19, when a Channel fishing vessel came upon the financier's badly decomposed corpse, floating face-downward. The body was so decayed as to be unrecognizable.  It was identified as Loewenstein by the clothes it was wearing: these consisted only of silk underwear, socks, and shoes. (The rest of the clothes Loewenstein wore the day he vanished were never found.  When news spread of the grisly find, the publicly traded shares of all his many corporations instantly plummeted by more than 50%.

Madeleine Loewenstein arranged a private autopsy. This examination showed no trace of poison or anything abnormal. (However, the post-mortem indicated that Loewenstein had a small amount of alcohol in his stomach: a curious finding for someone who was a lifelong teetotaler.) The physicians ruled that his death was the result of falling from a great height into the Channel waters. There was absolutely nothing to indicate suicide, or any violence of the sort that would hint at foul play.  His death was nothing but a sad accident. Madeleine quietly buried her husband in an unmarked grave in her family's cemetery plot (she herself did not attend his funeral,) and life, so far as everyone closely involved in the matter was concerned, went on. Loewenstein's spectacularly weird death continued to fuel international headlines, making the complete lack of official and unofficial curiosity all the more striking.

The case eventually became largely forgotten and unexamined until an author named William Norris happened to become aware of the story. His initial interest blossomed into an obsession to get to the bottom of the mystery. He recorded his findings in the 1987 book, "The Man Who Fell From the Sky." To date, it remains the most exhaustive record of Loewenstein's flamboyant life and death.

Norris first tackled the problem of how Loewenstein came to fall out of that plane. Despite the testimony of Drew and Little, contemporary experimentation with Fokkers found that, completely contrary to what they had stated, the plane's exit door was--as you would expect from any aircraft--difficult to open, even on solid ground. When it was airborne, it was practically impossible without great effort. To put it bluntly, there was no way that Loewenstein could have fallen out of the plane by accident. To put it even more bluntly, Drew and Little had lied.



Suicide could also probably be ruled out. Loewenstein greatly enjoyed his life and right to the end, was deeply immersed in plans for the future. His was a hectic, pressure-filled life, to be sure, but he was one of those rare souls who thrived on such an existence. Whatever else the man may have been, he was a fighter. In any case, it was extremely unlikely that he could have opened the door wide enough to fall out, even if he had wanted to.

That left Norris with one conclusion: Loewenstein had been deliberately forced off the plane, leaving everyone else on that flight as either cold-blooded murderers or accessories before/after the fact. But who among them would have wanted to kill Loewenstein? And why would the others acquiesce with their silence?

Norris was of the opinion that the pilot and mechanic were hired hit men: someone had paid them very, very well to see to it that Loewenstein never survived that flight. His research led him to discover that both Drew (who died of cancer not long after the flight) and Little spent the rest of their days living well above their obvious means, suggesting that someone had rewarded them lavishly. Norris was unable to learn what had become of the two stenographers and Arthur Hodgson, leaving him uncertain if they had been paid to disappear--or if they themselves had been victims of foul play.

As for Fred Baxter, his end only adds to the peculiarity of this story. After Loewenstein's death, his eighteen-year-old son Bobby took Baxter into his employ. Bobby was a playboy who, unlike his father, was completely uninterested in business, but he was a genial, easygoing young man who readily gave his father's trusted valet a place in his home.

Alfred and Bobby Loewenstein


All went quietly until one day in 1932. Baxter was visiting Bobby in his apartment, after which young Loewenstein departed, leaving the valet there. According to Bobby, when he returned a short time later, he found a note on the front door. It read, "Don't come in. Go and stay with the Countess." (The "Countess" was one Anna Minici, who lived next door.)

Bobby told police that when he entered the apartment, he found Baxter lying on the floor, with Bobby's revolver lying close by. The valet died a few hours later without gaining consciousness. His death was ruled a suicide. However, Norris could not help but speculate otherwise. Was it possible that Baxter, feeling a sudden need to unburden his conscience, tell Bobby that Alfred's fatal "accident," was really a murder, causing the horrified young man to impulsively shoot this man who had been complicit in his father's brutal death?

Assuming that Loewenstein was murdered, how was it done? Norris theorized that perhaps there had been two exit doors on the plane. Perhaps, before the flight, Robert Little the mechanic had placed a new door on the Fokker: one with loose bolts and hinges that could be opened with ease. Then, after shoving Loewenstein from the plane, possibly after drugging the financier into unconsciousness (remember the unexplained alcohol found in his system,) Drew then made the otherwise inexplicable decision to land on the deserted beach, so Little could quickly take the "trick" door off and put the rightful, difficult-to-open door in its place. (After examining one of the few Fokkers still in existence, Norris discovered that the door to the plane's luggage space would have fit perfectly in the space for the exit.) Given such a scenario, murdering Loewenstein would not have been difficult at all.

Who could have commissioned the brutal deed? When any married person dies in suspicious circumstances, one usually has to look first at the surviving spouse. However, Madeleine Loewenstein had no known motive to see Alfred dead. He may not have been a uxorious husband, but he was an extremely generous one. He was very proud of his decorative wife and wanted her to put on a dazzling appearance before the world. Although Madeleine inherited his wealth, she already had all the money she wanted and the freedom to spend it any way she liked. There is no hint whatsoever that the reserved, glacial Madeleine had any outside romantic interest. In other words, she gained no visible benefit from his passing.

Loewenstein, like all major financiers, had made a generous number of enemies during his career. However, Norris was unable to find evidence that would point to any of them in particular as having orchestrated a murder. A possible motive only emerged when he examined Loewenstein's friends.

In the weeks before his death, Loewenstein was facing a serious challenge to his financial empire. An anonymous document was being circulated among worldwide financial circles, accusing Alfred of every financial crime in the book, and quite a few the book never even considered. As Loewenstein's wealth was tied to his reputation, this screed had a disastrous effect on his finances. The value of his holding company was threatened with ruin, and his paper fortune took an immense hit. Just before his death, Loewenstein ascertained that the writer of this exposé was an old business rival, Henri Dreyfus, and he was looking forward to bringing a criminal libel suit against Dreyfus--a suit that he had good reason to assume he'd win. In the meantime, however, anyone who was currently financially entangled with Loewenstein could be forgiven for looking at him as a possibly catastrophic liability. Norris noted, "there is little doubt that even to his friends, and I use the word loosely, the Belgian Croesus was becoming an embarrassment. And an expensive embarrassment as well. Times were changing, and the heyday of freebooting capitalists...was on the wane. They were being replaced by sober men with stiff collars who put collateral before adventure and respectability before display. Loewenstein, however, was not changing; he was still raiding companies, brewing wild schemes, celebrating victories, and absorbing defeats to fight again. To their eyes he was wild, unprincipled, and perhaps a little crazy."

That brings us to Loewenstein's two partners in International Holdings, Albert Pam and Frederick Szarvasy. They had made massive fortunes by hitching their wagons to Loewenstein's star. On the other hand, if the controversial Belgian went down, he could very well drag them along with him. Money is the most powerful motive there is for murder, and there was a very great deal of cash tied up in the fate of Alfred Loewenstein.

While studying the contemporary financial publications, Norris found a very intriguing detail. Shortly before Loewenstein's final high dive, someone had taken out numerous insurance policies: some on Loewenstein's life (policies which covered both accident and suicide,) as well as others providing against any loss on his company's shares that might accrue from his death. The identity of the person(s) who took out these policies was unknown.

Coincidentally enough, International Holdings Corporation, rather than having been financially flattened by its founder's demise, positively blossomed like a rose. Shortly after Alfred's death, Pam and Szarvasy announced to their shareholders that the company had just made an additional profit of over $13 million. The statement blandly announced that this windfall was thanks to "transactions of a special nature."

Norris got out his calculator, and estimated what all the insurance policies on those shares would have paid. Well, well, well. He came up with a sum that was almost exactly the same as the "special" profit enjoyed by Pam and Szarvasy. In addition, Norris learned that not all the shares in International Holdings had been issued at the time of Loewenstein's death. After his passing, those shares were bought at fire-sale prices by a syndicate led by Pam and Szarvasy. After their announcement of International's unexpected profits, these shares rose greatly in value.

The living Alfred Loewenstein was becoming a headache to his business partners. Dead, he was a gold mine.

Was this enough for these men to commission his murder? Norris' case against them is entirely circumstantial and speculative, but it is not unconvincing, and it at least offers a solution for the many baffling elements surrounding Loewenstein's death.

Or--to offer another theory--did the fearless, feckless financier decide he was weary of his increasingly problematic business empire, leading him to fake his own death so that he could start over?  It must be noted that most of what Norris presents as evidence pointing to murder could also be used to indicate voluntary disappearance.  When Loewenstein's plane landed on that deserted beach, did he leave it alive, after arranging for some nameless corpse to be planted in the Channel?  Could it have been Loewenstein himself who purchased all those insurance policies on his life and his company?  (Incidentally, this would also explain the curiously anonymous burial Madeleine gave him.)

Under this scenario, Drew and Little were bribed not to kill Loewenstein, but to keep quiet about the fact that he still lived.  Admittedly, this may be an even more outlandish idea than Norris' murder conspiracy, but if anyone was capable of pulling off such a stunt, it was the "Belgian Croesus."

"The Man Who Fell From the Sky" is a fascinating book about a fascinating man, and Norris is to be commended for some heroic feats of historical research.  Nevertheless, the question of what exactly happened to Alfred Loewenstein on that summer night in 1928 remains unanswered. I fear it always will.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Weekend Link Dump



The cats are celebrating the first Link Dump of spring 2018 with--of course--a little spring cleaning.






What the hell happened to William Hare?

What the hell killed William Henry Harrison?

What the hell was the Crawfordsville Monster?

Why the hell do we cross our fingers?

Watch out for those possessed cats!

Conspiracy theories and vacuous truths.

Britain's last witch.

Benjamin Franklin's cursed musical instrument.

The body in room 348.

The first "dumb blonde."

The execution of Henry VIII's brother-in-law.

Wicklow Winged Weirdness.

Dark Andy and the fairies.

A "hidden" 11th century medical text.

The Case of the Exploding Teeth.

Archiving insurgency.

Swinburne was an unpleasantly weird guy.  But you probably already knew that.

A star that was visible to humans 70,000 years ago.

What do you get when you milk cows in Antarctica?  Instant ice cream.

[Sorry about that last one.  It's been a long week.]

The disappearance and reappearance of a car made famous by Steve McQueen.

Some random events in 1860s France.

The lesser-known artwork of Edmund Dulac.

Titillating toes.

A fake "Egyptian princess."

The lengthy history of a brief joke.

A brief history of fake mermaids.

The latest from the "pushing back human history" file.

NASA is getting messages from 13 billion miles away.

California's strangest town.  And yes, I know that's saying a lot.

Death on the beach.

The cat, the bulldog, and the lobster.

"Little sneaking fetid nothingnesses."  I'll have to remember this phrase; it'd make a good description of my blog.

Tuberculosis as a beauty fad.

In case you've been wanting to grow your own midget, here you go.

The fad for "beauty marks."

This week in Russian Weird shows how to instantly lose $368 million.  And--in case you didn't already know this--hiking at Dyatlov Pass is really not a great idea.  Plus, here's the saga of a female racketeer.

The Millville poltergeist.


That's all for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at the strange death of a prominent financier. In the meantime, here's some water music:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day



Reports of headless ghosts are hardly rare. However, one who removes her own head and tosses it around like a basketball is novel enough for me to welcome her through the hallowed gates of Strange Company HQ. From the "Coffeyville Daily Journal," April 6, 1897:
The country north of Anderson, Ind., has an up-to-date, twentieth century ghost. The people in the vicinity of Florida, a small town, are in a state of excitement, the result of the appearance of the apparition and its unheard of actions.

McClelland Beagle, a gas line inspector, was the first to encounter the ghost. He was riding along a deserted road when his horse suddenly shied and stopped. He looked before him, and his blood froze in his veins. There in the center of the roadway was a white figure strolling along in front of the horse in an unconcerned manner. The form was that of a woman. She did not seem to have any concern for the chilly atmosphere. Beagle whipped up his horse and made a dash at her, but the faster his horse went the swifter the Apparition moved on in front. She took down her hair leisurely, and let it fall down over her white robes. At last she turned into a barn belonging to Andrew Scott, and disappeared.

The next night Beagle induced John Haggarty to accompany him. As they neared the strip of wood the white figure again appeared, singing this time a German lullaby. She strolled along ahead of them and again took down her hair. They tried to run her down. She suddenly stopped, and the next second the buggy passed over the spot but she was not there. A few seconds later they saw a white form appear in the center of the road. The lullaby was again heard. She glided on ahead of them and, coming to the end of the strip of wood, turned in and went up to the barn again and disappeared.

The next night a party of 60 people went on an investigating tour. George Brown and Andy Montgomery headed the party. They encountered the apparition at the end of the wood, and she glided on before them, carefully taking down her hair. When it was done she proceeded to give them a few pointers on what a real, up-to-date, twentieth-century ghost could do. Calmly she took her head from her shoulders and tossed it into the air. It sailed along overhead and at length quietly returned to her shoulders. She then took her head by the hair and as though throwing a sling-shot she sent it sailing along in front of her. It came to no harm, and finally returned to her and she adjusted it on her shoulders.

Finally she took her head off and tucked it under her arm. She seemed in a very pleasant mood as she strolled along headless, and when she reached the end of the woods she again set it on her shoulders, carefully did up the long black tresses, and, as happy as a lark, began singing one of her German songs, strolled up to the barn and disappeared.

A few miles from this spot a great deal of excitement was occasioned a few months ago by a nightly tragedy near an old gas well. A giant would come out. and, strolling down the road, would meet a beautiful young woman spirit, and taking her in his arms would draw a long knife and plunge it into her heart.

Okay, let's all sing: "With her head tucked underneath her arm, she walks the bloody tower..."

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Case of the Woodworked Wife

William Bennett


Tolstoy famously wrote that all happy families are alike. He could only say that because he never met the Bennetts of Fort Bragg, California, a crowd that was happy in a manner unlike any other family in the world.

William Bennett was born in Pennsylvania in 1862. He became an electrical engineer, and, by the early 1900s, he was the operator of Fort Bragg's electrical plant. He was good at his well-paying job, and was liked and respected by everyone in town. However, he was lonely. As a young man, he had been deeply in love, but the girl callously threw him over for another man. The experience so wounded him that he left his hometown and fled out West. His faith in women had been so destroyed that he refused to even try to find another sweetheart.

Unfortunately, his bachelor existence did not please him, either. As afraid as he was of romance, he missed the company of a wife and children. Bennett tried consoling himself by building a house. It was a charming and spacious eight-room dwelling with a flower garden, pets, and plenty of comfortable furniture. However, this ideal family home only emphasized his longing for the ideal family to go with it.

What to do? As he brooded on the problem one day, the solution suddenly came to him. Since his chances of finding the perfect wife and children were remote, why not simply create them?

So Bennett got himself a life-sized block of wood, and carved the woman of his dreams. When he felt he had achieved his ideal of lumber loveliness, he dressed his bride in fine clothes and installed her in the parlor. In due time, the happy couple became the proud parents of a flock of wooden children--five girls and at least one boy. (This was one case where the children could quite literally be called chips off the old block.)

At first, Bennett's neighbors were a bit unnerved by his unconventional approach to family planning, but being a tolerant, live-and-let-live bunch, they soon became accustomed to his household. The ladies of Fort Bragg even began making social calls to the new Mrs. Bennett, and they found these visits unexpectedly delightful. After all, she was always at home, never too busy to welcome visitors, and no one could say she was overly chatty or prone to spread gossip. If you confided your deepest secrets to Mrs. Bennett, you knew she would remain as silent as the tomb. The daughters held receptions, which were attended by the local elite. A contemporary paper boasted, "the sons are well-behaved young fellows, and nothing has ever been said against their habits in any way."



Some snapshots from the Bennett family album.


One day, an itinerant life insurance salesman came to Fort Bragg in search of possible customers. Some resident who obviously possessed a strong sense of humor pointed him in Bennett's direction. The salesman tracked Bennett down and gave him the standard spiel, pointing in particular to the advantages an insurance policy would hold for his family.

"That's just it," said Bennett. "I don't know what my wife would say."

The salesman decided the thing to do was to give his pitch directly to Bennett's spouse. Accordingly, the next day he presented himself at the Bennett residence. The man of the house amicably welcomed him inside, inviting him to step into the kitchen. The agent noticed a woman standing at the sink, apparently washing dishes.

"Good morning!" he said brightly.

Mrs. Bennett did not respond.

The salesman looked at her more closely. He noticed that the head that rose above the blue calico dress was...a block of wood.

"My wife," said Bennett cheerily. "She is as you see, but she's a splendid wife. Never worries me about household troubles or bills; never is late to meals; never quarrels. Isn't she a good deal better than some of those you know?"

The normally fast-talking agent found himself at a loss for words.

Like any good host, Bennett took his guest around to meet the family. In one of the bedrooms, daintily decorated pink, the agent was introduced to a daughter of the house. She was leaning over her bed, as if she were in the process of making it. In the sunny, cheerful sitting room, another girl sat at a sewing machine, while another, smaller girl stood in front of it. A third room was, judging from the furnishings and the photographs on the walls, that of a teenage boy. The agent noticed two more female figures relaxing in the parlor.

"It's..." the agent paused, trying to find a way to express his feelings. "It's peculiar, isn't it?"

"Perhaps," Bennett shrugged. "But think of the advantages. My son never stays out nights, never smokes or gambles; my daughters can never go wrong. They have everything that other children have. I see to that. Jane got a gold watch on her last birthday, and Annie a cameo pin on hers. My wife has a topaz brooch and the boy has all the scarfs and pins he needs. I'm always sure of peace and quiet in my home, and yet I like company when I eat. My family take all their meals with me and it's a good deal better than being alone."

A family of wood might not be for everyone, but by all accounts Bennett was thoroughly and genuinely contented. (Presumably the wife and kids were happy, too, but they were shy about giving interviews.) As the "New York Herald" enthused in 1907, "The daughters can never elope, for their father has only to chop them into kindling wood if they become refractory in such matters, and as for the sons, if they refuse to follow their father's footsteps he has only to put them into the stove and they will help make the house comfortable." Like any good patriarch, Bennett spent all his spare time seeing to his brood's needs. He could often be found in the local stores, carefully examining dress patterns and materials for his daughters, household items for his wife, sporting goods for his son and heir. For Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries he patronized the jewelers. The candy stores knew him well.

The daughters were very fond of sweets, you see.

Christmas of 1905 was a particularly festive affair, as the family was celebrating a new member of the household: just two months earlier, Bennett's eldest daughter got married, to a young man who was as fine and handsome a block of wood as any young lady could ask for. Although no outsiders had been invited to the wedding, it was apparently a lavish ceremony, with the bride bedecked in an elegant gown and an extensive feast afterward.

Bennett invited his nearest neighbors for Christmas dinner. They all came, attired in their best clothes, and sat at the holiday table with Mrs. Bennett, daughter Jane and her new husband, and the other young Bennetts. An excellent time was had by all.

In the words of the "New York Herald" reporter, "Mr. Bennett is not an insane man by any means, but knows exactly what he is doing and why he is doing it."

In case any genealogists are wondering what became of Bennett's family, in his old age and nearing death, he feared leaving them alone. He knew that no one would love and care for his wooden wife and children the way he did.

So he burned them.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is sponsored by a school of well-educated cats!






Why the hell are all these dentists dying?

I've wondered about this myself:  Why the hell are gay men called "fairies?"

What the hell became of Queen Zenobia?

What the hell became of USS Cyclops?

Another of those evergreen questions:  What the hell happened at Dyatlov Pass?

Who the hell did Alfred Arthur Rouse murder?

Watch out for those blue flame ghosts!

Watch out for those Demon Cats!

Eighteenth-century gambling at White's.

You wouldn't want to go to Alfred Hitchcock's dinner parties.  But you probably already knew that.

You wouldn't want to go to a 17th century sailor's dinner party.  You probably already knew that, too.

A Buddhist monk may have set himself on fire in ancient Greece.  Yeah, history is weird.

An 18th century nobleman goes on trial for rape.  Surprise, surprise, he skated.

An interesting theory about ghosts.

The New Orleans riot of 1817.

A brief history of aftershave.

The brutal murder of a mysterious woman.

Some anecdotes from the court of Napoleon.

Speaking of Napoleon, the man himself gives us English As She Is Spoke.

The lynching of Cattle Kate.

Hey, let's listen to rats playing a theremin!



A Roman mermaid.

Necromancy turns out to be a pretty expensive hobby.

Eesh. It seems that a famed archaeologist was nothing but a scam artist.

Victorian advice about perfume.

The world's worst roommate.

Victorian "penny beds."

Encounters with unicorns.

Hieronyma and the incubus.

Yet another Roman Emperor comes to a nasty end.

A useful guidebook for merchants and smugglers.

Hate tofu?  Blame Ben Franklin.

The monster of Drumate Lake.

The tale of the bullock and the gold ring.

Abraham Lincoln in Greenwich Village.

The legend of Vortigern.

So, let's talk about George Washington's bedpan.

A deadly duel in the bedroom.

Astronauts return to earth with altered DNA.

A fairy who likes cake.

And finally...um, I'll just leave this one here.

That's all for this week! Join me on Monday, when I'll present a man and his homemade family. In the meantime, here's some Praetorius:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day



Just call this one, "Bert's Wild Weekend." "The Tennessean," April 3, 1979:
Memphis--The modest four-room house where Bert Gross lived for the past 13 years was never anything special until objects began flying around the home.

The frame house sitting on a small hill just across the city limits in Desoto County, Miss., looks ordinary from the outside, but Gross said strange happenings transformed it over the weekend.

The former construction worker, 54, said he and his five children were sitting in their bedroom-living room watching television Saturday night when a swarm of insects suddenly entered the room and began buzzing around their heads. Then a pillow flew off the couch and landed eight feet away.

That was just the beginning of a weekend of mystery, Gross said.

Over the next two days, a coal-burning heater in the same room collapsed, a portable television set crashed to the floor, and an upright freezer turned itself around in the kitchen, Gross said.

He called neighbors and Desoto County sheriff's deputies over to watch when drawers began opening and closing and items ranging from cans of spaghetti sauce to an alarm clock hurled through the air.

A reporter for the Commercial Appeal said he witnessed the bizarre happenings while spending several hours in the house Saturday.

Gilbert Hines, 58, who lives behind the Gross house, said a pillow made him a believer.

"I'm a hard believer, especially when it comes to what people tell me," Hines said. "But a pillow came from a corner and hit me on the leg. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it."

While no one could explain the phenomenon, friends urged Gross to move his children ranging in age from 13 to 24 out of the mysterious house. Gross convinced his family to stay over the weekend, but said he might change his mind later unless things begin staying where they belong.

A follow-up story appeared the next day in the "Tampa Tribune":
Bert Gross said Tuesday he was going to wait until things "calm down" before doing any more talking about the ghostly events that he says have been happening in his Memphis, Tenn., home.

"I'm not letting anybody into the house for a couple of days until I have time to think it all over," said Gross, refusing to be interviewed.

Carloads of sightseers have been driving past the modest home since reports circulated last weekend about a freezer moving itself, tennis balls flying through the air and objects --ranging from cans to alarm clocks--tumbling from counters. Unable to cope with the phenomenon, Gross took his five children and went to stay with relatives. "There have been television crews out there filming without my permission and people on my porch trying to get in," Gross said. "I just don't know what to think about it all."

The frame house has been locked and a rusted lawn chair stays propped against a sagging screen door. to keep it shut and the spectators away. Outside sits a portable black-and-white television that Gross said crashed to the floor during the bizarre weekend.

Gross said the strange events started Saturday night. While watching television, Gross and his children were surrounded by a swarm of flying insects. A few moments later, he said, a pillow flew off a couch and landed two yards away. A reporter who was asked to witness the mysterious events said he was talking with Gross when a pillow on a couch flew across the room and hit him on the leg.

"I can't explain any of it," Gross said.
The family returned to their home, but strange events kept up for at least several more weeks. On the 15th, the stove suddenly collapsed, forcing the family to cook meals on an outdoor grill. Dirt mysteriously flew around the house, and the refrigerator and freezer moved during the night. The family finally moved, and, so far as is recorded, the exploits of the Gross Poltergeist came to an end.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Doctor and the Deadly House Call




Helen (or Helene) Knabe's life was remarkable, in the best sense of the word. Unfortunately, her death was also remarkable, but in the worst possible way.

Knabe was born in 1875, in Rugenwald, an area by the Baltic Sea that is now the Polish city of Darlowo. She grew up bright, fiercely ambitious, and determined to become a doctor. Feeling that her native land offered her few opportunities to follow her chosen profession, she decided to move to America. Her destination was Indianapolis, Indiana, where several relatives had already emigrated. Upon her arrival, she found work in the household of an Indianapolis doctor, acting as cook and general housemaid. She learned English, and through sheer hard work and self-denial, saved enough money to enter the Medical College of Indiana.

Knabe proved to have a great natural aptitude for medical research--so much so that by the time she graduated in 1904, she had become an instructor at the college. She eventually became the state board of health's assistant pathologist, then Indiana's very first official bacteriologist--an incredible career trajectory for a woman of her day, and a solid tribute to her skill and discipline. She was a recognized expert in rabies and sexually transmitted diseases. In 1908, she resigned in order to open her own medical practice, which was an immediate success. By the time Knabe was thirty-five, she was personal physician to many of Indianapolis' elite. She had an unblemished reputation, and was highly and justifiably respected; the ideal example of a "self-made woman."

So the obvious question is: Why would anyone want to murder her?

On the morning of October 24, 1911, Katherine McPherson, Knabe's assistant, entered the doctor's apartment house (which also served as her office.) The front doors had been locked from the inside, and everything in the outer rooms seemed completely normal. However, Knabe herself seemed to be absent. The puzzled McPherson searched the apartment for her employer.

The mystery of Knabe's silence was quickly solved when McPherson entered the doctor's bedroom, and found her dead body. The corpse lay on a blood-soaked bed. It was immediately obvious that this was a murder, and a particularly brutal one.

Unfortunately for the course of the investigation, McPherson completely lost her head. Instead of immediately phoning the police, she summoned some of Knabe's friends and relatives to gawk at the horrid sight and generally do a splendid job of contaminating the crime scene and wasting valuable time.

When the police finally arrived--more than an hour after McPherson's initial discovery--they found that someone had cut Knabe's throat so viciously that she was nearly decapitated. As the body was wearing a nightdress, it was presumed she had been attacked while she slept, probably very quickly and efficiently. (Incidentally, there were no signs that she had been sexually assaulted.) Only one item was missing from the apartment: an instrument called a microtome, which was used to cut extremely thin sections of material for microscopic examination. It was presumed that this had been the murder weapon.

Investigators soon realized they faced a twin mystery: the question not only of who had murdered Knabe, but how the crime had been committed. All the doors and windows were locked from inside, with the exception of the windows in Knabe's bedroom. These were open, but securely covered by screens. The outside windowsills were coated with a thick layer of dust, indicating that the murderer had not entered or exited through them. It was thought Knabe must have let her killer into the apartment, although no one was able to say who this person might have been, or why the doctor would admit this person into her apartment in the middle of the night.

This inability to satisfactorily explain how anyone could have gotten into, then out of, Knabe's apartment, coupled with the lack of any evident motive for murder, led William Holtz, the chief of detectives, to argue that the doctor had not been killed at all: she had committed suicide. He pointed to the fact that Knabe's launching of a private practice had left her heavily in debt, something that had worried the normally financially prudent doctor. Working against this theory was the fact that the knife used to slash Knabe's throat was never found. It was pointed out that even the most determined suicide would have trouble nearly cutting off their own head and then disposing of the weapon. The body also had a defensive wound in one forearm.

Two days after Knabe's death, police received their first lead: a man named Joseph Carr told them that on the night Knabe died, he had walked past her apartment at about 1 a.m. He heard two screams, which were followed by a man exiting the alley behind the building and running up the sidewalk. When this man realized he had been seen, he quickly covered his face with a handkerchief and dashed off. Carr thought the man was about forty years old, and was dressed in a dark suit. Another witness came forward to state that around 8 p.m. on that fatal night, a man who fit the description of the one encountered by Carr asked him for directions to Knabe's apartment building. A woman who lived near Knabe stated that at the same time Carr saw this mystery man, she heard someone running past her house.

The particularly baffling circumstances of Knabe's death proved to be an excellent breeding ground for increasingly crackpot theories. Some stubbornly clung to the suicide scenario. A letter of Knabe's where she discussed her interest in Buddhism caused others to mutter of crazed Buddhist death squads. My favorite suggestion came from another female physician, Dr. Carrie Gregory. Gregory stated that one of Knabe's female patients had been suffering from "an ailment that was drying up the blood." Knabe opted to treat this woman by transfusing the patient with two quarts of blood from the Knabe's own body. Sadly, this novel treatment wound up killing the doctor. In order to cover up this embarrassing turn of events, Knabe's fellow physicians simulated a murder by slashing her throat and smuggled the body into her apartment.

I do not know how successful Dr. Gregory was in her chosen profession, but she would have wowed them as a Gothic novelist.

Knabe's murder soon went into the police's "cold case" files, and it remained there, getting chillier by the day. The Indianapolis chapter of the Council of Women hired a private detective named Harry Webster to look into the mystery, but he seemed to have as little success as the police. Then, in March 1912, a sailor named Seth Nichols was arrested for public drunkenness in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Before Nichols had a chance to sober up, he told police that a man he only knew as "Knight," had paid him $1,500 to murder Dr. Knabe. However, it soon became disappointingly evident that Nichols' story simply did not stand up under examination. When records proved that Nichols had been on board his ship the night Knabe died, authorities quickly lost interest in him. Nothing more was heard of the mystery until December 1912, when a grand jury was convened to debate the question of just how Dr. Knabe died. During this hearing, a vital piece of evidence was presented that had, inexplicably, been ignored until that time: a bloody handprint had been found on Knabe's pillow. Harry Webster also presented his findings. The result of all this was that the grand jury returned two indictments in Knabe's death: Dr. William Craig, president of the Indiana Veterinary College, was charged with murder, with an undertaker named Alonzo Ragsdale being named as Craig's accessory.



Craig and Dr. Knabe had been "an item" since soon after they first met in 1908. However, shortly before Knabe's death, their romance had hit a rocky patch, evidently over Craig's assumption that she would give up her career after they married. According to some of their acquaintances, Craig had decided to break off their relationship--in fact, he was seeing another woman. Knabe, it was suggested, was not going to take the breakup quietly, thus giving Craig a motive for murder. A man named Harry Haskett claimed that he had seen Craig leaving Knabe's apartment building around 11 p.m. on the night Knabe died. (Of course, if you wish to pin the murder on Craig, this testimony clashes with the other witnesses who allegedly saw a man fleeing the scene two hours later.) One Dr. Eva Templeton stated that Craig's housekeeper told her that on the night of the murder, Craig arrived home late and had immediately changed his clothes. (Curiously, it is not clear if the housekeeper herself ever verified Templeton's story.)

As for Alonzo Ragsdale, he had been the administrator of Knabe's estate. Found in his possession was a kimono that had belonged to the dead woman. Tests showed that it had been bloodstained, then washed in "a strong chemical solution." The assumption was that he had helpfully removed this bit of evidence, as a favor to Craig. (It was never explained why Ragsdale would keep such a massively self-incriminating item.) For his part, Ragsdale said that he had a number of Knabe's more unimportant possessions, and there was no evidence that this kimono was even in Knabe's apartment at the time of her death.

Craig stood trial in November 1912. When Harry Haskett was put under oath, he suddenly became much less certain that he had seen Craig leaving Knabe's apartment. Several of Knabe's neighbors testified to hearing screams around midnight--one hour after this alleged sighting of Craig. In short, the prosecution so signally failed to present any evidence that Craig was the murderer that on December 9, the judge instructed the jury to dismiss the case. Accordingly, the charges against Ragsdale were also dropped.

The ignominious failure of the case against Craig was the end of any formal investigation into Helen Knabe's death. The question of who murdered the pioneering female doctor, and why, will almost certainly remain unknown. Indianapolis psychics and leaders of "ghost tours" insist that Knabe's spirit still haunts the city. If such is the case, the lady's wraith has shown a disappointing failure to elucidate the mystery.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is sponsored by another of our celebrity cats!

And Buster Keaton.



Why the hell did ancient people drill holes in their heads?

What the hell is an island?

Who the hell made the Portolan Charts?

Watch out for those owls!

Watch out for those phantom hitchhikers!

A court case involving ghosts and bleeding corpses.

Watch out for those cursed vases!

The woman who thought she was married to Napoleon.

Shorter version:  water is weird.

A princess' generous ghost.

The diary of a 17th century vicar.

So maybe it's true that elephants never forget.

The donkey who starred in St. Patrick's Day parades.

Recent cases where airplanes encountered UFOs.

That time San Francisco rioted over a beer-drinking actress.

A quack's peculiar disappearance...and equally peculiar reappearance.

The captain whose sea was the desert.

The heroic voyage of Mary Patten.

A dinner with the Alexander Hamiltons and the Bonapartes.

Letters from ancient women.

When you have three brothers nicknamed "Newgate," "Cripplegate," and "Hellgate," you know you're dealing with a fun family.

A brief history of hair transplants.

A magnetic anomaly in Africa.

Blood and the Shroud of Turin.

A Chinese poltergeist.

The odd case of the Black Pig of Kiltrustan.

The (relatively) forgotten Garfield assassination.

The mystery of the appendix.

Folklore and psychotherapy.

Etiquette rules from 19th century France.

A forgotten aviation pioneer.

When father is very unlike son.

The world's oldest tattoos.

How wild animals self-medicate.

The once-renowned Wyld's Globe.

A woman who was framed for witchcraft.

Because I know you've been dying to ask me what London weather was like in the late seventeenth century.

The Coker Hill haunting.

Why it was a bad idea to invite Horace Walpole to a cricket match.

This week in Russian Weird looks at Siberian "wild people."  And what really became of this Soviet spy?

Captain Halpin meets a ghost.

Is this the world's oldest writing?

The serial killer of elephants.

That's it for this week!  We meet again on Monday, when I'll look at a doctor's mysterious murder.  In the meantime, here's some classic Irish music.



Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day



It's another Talking Cat Week at Strange Company! From the "Baltimore Sun," December 21, 1949:
Kiki, of Charles Street avenue and Chesapeake avenue, withheld comment yesterday afternoon on his guardian's claim that she regularly regularly holds conversations with him. Kiki is a cat.

The claimant is Dr. Clara B. Fishpaugh, Ph.D., D.Sc, a former professor of education and psychology at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Kiki wandered into Dr. Fishpaugh's Towson home about six years ago, she recalled. The first time that she learned of his superfeline faculty of speech, Dr. Fishpaugh said, was not until about two years later. "I had brought him some lamb kidneys from the market. He's very fond of lamb kidneys.

"'Kiki,' I said. 'Mr. Will gave you these. Do you think you ought to thank Mr. Will?'

"Kiki distinctly replied. 'Yeah.' He never has managed to pronounce pronounce his S's."

Since that astonishing exchange. Kiki's vocabulary has been enormously increased, or. at least, more fully demonstrated, Dr. Fishpaugb recounted. On a hot summer day, the cat is likely to come crawling into the house, apparently hot and tired, collapse on a cushion and exclaim. "Aw in," which, Dr. Fishpaugh explained, means, "I'm all in."

One recent inclement afternoon, Kiki returned dripping rain and informed the psychologist, that he was "cold-wet."

A great lover of crabmeat, Kiki recently surprised Dr. Fishpaugh by scorning a dish of it and strolling airily out of the dining room. "What's the matter?" Dr. Fishpaugh inquired. "Don't want it," Kiki reportedly replied.

Dr. Fishpaugh was afraid for a moment that Kiki was talking nonsense until she observed that he had neglected food only because he had caught sight of one Suzie, another cat, with whom he is on good terms.

"Kiki is not very friendly with strangers." Dr. Fishpaugh pointed out. "But, after all, there is no other animal as individualistic as a cat, is there?" Like a child coaxed to perform for the benefit of visitors. Kiki is likely to seal his lips and utter not a word when on show. This childlike obstinacy fits Dr. Fishpaugh's theory that animals in some ways resemble human infants. "It has always been my opinion," she said, "that animals learn like children, only more slowly. The trouble is that few animals are given the chance to learn."

Furthermore, Dr. Fishpaugh contends that animals learn not only by association but by their reasoning power and intelligence. Although occasionally inclined to be moody and even rude, Kiki usually calls Dr. Fishpaugh "mom," she said fondly.

As an indication of the high regard in which he holds her, Dr. Fishpaugh told of Kiki's reaction to a recent picture taken of the two together. "Kiki looked at the picture intently. He looked at me intently. He looked back at the picture, and took his paw and knocked the picture out of my hand. He evidently didn't think that the camera had done me justice."

Although most of Kiki's conversation seems reserved for Dr. Fishpaugh. she says her pet once amazed a brush salesman and on another occasion caused a plumber to observe Kiki had "a lot more sense than some people." The brush salesman had been in the house a half hour and Kiki obviously didn't like him, according to Dr. Fishpaugh. She said Kiki finally burst out with: "Man." "Do you have a parrot?" she quoted the brush man. "No, a talking cat," she said she replied.

Kiki apparently looks after his own health quite carefully. He retires for the night promptly when the clock strikes 8 P.M. He wears a snug sweater which Dr. Fishpaugh has provided for him. He carefully avoids the lawn when he is warned that dead grass is being burned there. He stays at home when Dr. Fishpaugh tells him that dogs are at large outside.

Dr. Fishpaugh said that some of Kiki's sentences are almost complete, such as, "Dog out now." There are times, on the other hand, when Kiki's remarks are limited to cryptic monosyllables and nods of the head.

He apparently tends to be reticent when his feelings are hurt. One of the times that Kiki really seemed to be offended was when Dr. Fishpaugh told him about a talented cat that could sing "Silent Night" and earn large sums doing so. "Kiki warbled a few notes," Dr. Fishpaugh said. "It didn't sound like much. When I asked him to try again he just shrugged, as though to say, 'I already showed you I can do it.' "

Yesterday, Kiki wouldn't even shrug.

A side note: to date, I haven't been able to find out anything about the cat who sang Christmas carols, but rest assured, the search goes on.