"...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

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Newspaper Clipping(s) of the Day, Christmas Edition

Welcome to Strange Company's annual Christmas celebration, renowned throughout the internet as the holiday party you'd least like to crash.

While compiling the Yuletide stories for 2018, I noticed a theme emerging, one that I hadn't really covered in previous years. Introducing the Strange Company Holiday Gift Guide!

To start with, here are three words that say it all about the spirit of this post: "Christmas Death Box."

"Louisville Courier Journal," December 25, 1907, via Newspapers.com

Erie, Pa., Dec. 24. While distributing Christmas bundles in the South Erie post-office this afternoon an employee became suspicious of a package, the end of which had broken open, and upon making an investigation the package was found to contain an infernal machine, so constructed that the opening of the box would cause an explosion that would have undoubtedly killed all persons near it and set fire to everything in the vicinity.

The package was addressed to Archie Carr, 2208 Cherry street, and had been mailed in this city. The box was turned over to Postmaster Sobel, who called In Chief of Police Wagner and Detective Pinney.

The following inscription was on the inside wrapper: "You may perhaps find the cover will catch a little when you open the box, but pay no attention to it. Merry Christmas."

Dr. W. J. Wright, health officer and chemist, after an examination of the machine, said it contained a high explosive, but would give no other details. A post-office inspector is expected here shortly.
The "Buffalo Courier" for December 26, 1902, provides a less deadly contribution:
The giving of two sliver stickpins by two young men to a young woman, whom they both liked, resulted in the arrest last night of both men on charges of disorderly conduct. Stephen Moslowski, 21 years old. and Frank Teobola, 20 years old. were arrested by Patrolmen Long and Shahan of the William Street Station. The two young men gave the same girl stickpins of almost identical patterns. The two young men saw one of the pins worn by the girl. A dispute arose between them as to who gave the pin for Christmas and a rough and tumble fight in Broadway last night didn't decide it.
As a side note, if that girl had any sense, she refused to marry either of those clucks.

If you're making a list of "Unwise Christmas Presents," this next one must be near the top.

"Oakland Tribune," December 26, 1891, via Newspapers.com

If you thought I'd provide only one person who received a homemade bomb for Christmas, you really don't know me at all. The "Montana Standard," December 8, 1950:
Oakland, Calif., Dec. 17. You can quit worrying about "The Thing."

Robert R. MacLean, 22, national advertising salesman for the Oakland Tribune received it as a gruesome Christmas present.

MacLean received a package Saturday night, delivered by a boy about 10 years old. It was marked "Don't Open Until Christmas." Another sticker said, "Just for You."

The package started to tick, so MacLean and his wife, Betty, 19, opened it. Inside, they found a one-pound stick marked "nitroglycerine," a complicated clock mechanism, two batteries, a maze of wires and a booster mechanism.

First, MacLean tossed it in the bathtub full of water, but it kept rising to the top. Finally he dashed outside with it and called the police.

It was rushed to the city hall and dismantled in the laboratory where the explosive experts discovered it was filled with dirt. There was no danger of explosion, they said. Somebody was just fooling in a grisly sort of way.
A word of advice from Aunt Undine: If over the holidays, someone sends you a package that looks very like a bomb, it is probably best not to throw it around.

This next guy's holiday family gatherings must have been really lousy. The "Indianapolis News," December 18, 1946:
Columbus, Ind.. Dec. 18 Theodore Bouchie, 61, of Vincennes and Columbus, is going to get his wish. He will be back in State Prison at Michigan City for Christmas. Arrested here for issuing fraudulent checks, Bouchie made his wish known to Judge George W. Long. The judge gave him a one-to-five-year term and fined him $10. Bouchie said he had been in the prison before on a fraudulent check charge.

You can't beat this next gift for originality. The "Philadelphia Times," December 27, 1898:
Special Telegram to The Times.

Chattanooga, December 26.

Charles Grimm. saloonist, doing business at the corner of West Ninth and Chestnut streets, received a gruesome graveyard Christmas present yesterday, which he does not fully appreciate.

About a year and a half ago William Riden, who had been a character in Chattanooga for years, died supposedly from the effect of drink. Prior to his death Mrs. Mary Riden, his wife, according to a State law, filed written notice with a number of local saloon men warning them to sell Riden more liquor. It slated that several saloonists persisted in selling the liquor after this legal notice had been served on them.

Riden died and the widow sued Grimm for $10,000 damages, alleging that they sold her husband liquor contrary to the law. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court and there decided in favor of the widow.

During the trial of the lawsuit Grimm Brothers erected a tombstone over the grave of the dead man. Last week Mrs. Riden conceived the idea of returning the tombstone as a Christmas present to the saloonists. She sent a man with a wagon to the cemetery, and he brought the stone to the city, where she had it wrapped in paper and during Saturday night deposited in Grimm's front yard, accompanied by a note in which Mrs. Riden expressed the desire that the tombstone be altered so as to make it appropriate to be erected over the head of the grave of Charles Grimm after his death.

The presentation has caused a sensation among those persons who were familiar with the details. Just what Mr. Grimm will do with the tombstone is hard to say.
A formidable and ingenious lady, Mrs. Riden.

I'm getting an idea why Mr. Riden drank.

A suitable partner to the above story appeared in the "Little Falls Herald," December 30, 1904:
Duluth. Minn., Dec. 25.— E. L. Naylor of Bemidji, Minn., received a gruecome Christmas present, a coffin, shipped from Fergus Falls, where he formerly resided. Mr. Naylor does not know whether the coffin was intended for a joke or carries a threat.

On the outside of the box containing the coffin was a card with this statement written on it: "Perishable, Should Be Used at Once." Within the box was another card, on which was written: Compliments of the Season." and the donor expresses the hope that this day, probably meaning Christmas day, will be the recipient's last. The coffin was delivered to Mr. Naylor by express.

Some people dream of a White Christmas. Others go for the Coffin Christmas. The "Winston-Salem Journal," January 7, 1911:
Washington, Jan. 6. A miniature coffin is not considered an acceptable Christmas gift for a young lady, nor an attractive addition to Christmas decorations, according to the Rev. Harry Spencer, pastor of the Congress Heights Methodist Episcopal Church, who today swore out a warrant for the arrest of Bryon Sutherland.

Mr. Sutherland is charged with breaking up the recent Sunday school Christmas tree party by mixing in with the other gifts this gruesome donation, which, it is alleged, he had addressed to Miss Elizabeth Spalding, a pretty teacher in the Sunday school.

Sutherland denied that he was the sender, but Mr. Spencer has the word of the messenger who brought it to his church. Miss Spalding unwrapped a large package which had the appearance of being a dozen long-stemmed roses, but, instead of roses, a two-foot coffin greeted her eye. When she lifted the cover a rubber doll leaped out.
Byron must have been quite the addition to any festive event.

Let's keep the coffin party going! The "Des Moines Tribune," December 23, 1955:
Zanesville, Ohio--Police Detective Dick Tracy had a mystery of his own to solve Friday. Tracy found a Christmas gift on his porch. The present bore the message, "Merry Christmas From an Out-of-town Friend."

Unwrapping it, Tracy found a 500-pound antique wooden coffin. Inside was a "body"--a life-sized dummy of a man dressed in 1900-style clothes.

Tracy thinks the joker might be an out-of-town police chief with whom he has had a friendIy feud the past few years, or one of his fellow officers.

Since you can't have a Coffin Christmas without the body, here's this item from the "Semiweekly Billings Gazette," December 31, 1901:

via Newspapers.com

Crawfordville, Ind., Dec. 27.-Citizens in and about Bowers, a small place near this city, are greatly excited because of a ghastly Christmas box, sent to Charles Campbell, a farmer. Campbell has been on a visit in Dakota for some weeks and before he left home he instructed his two small boys to open a Christmas box he expected to send them. On Christmas day a box was delivered at Campbell's home. His sons opened it and were horrified to find it contained the body of a woman. The limbs and arms had been severed close to the body to allow the ghastly object to be crowded into the box. The body was taken from the box and hung up in the barn, where it was viewed by scores of people. As soon as the health officers heard of it they ordered the body cut down pending an investigation. 
It was soon learned that the body belonged to Dr. Campbell of Lafayette, who procured it at the medical college at Indianapolis and was shipping it home for dissection. He was able to convince the officials that everything was regular.. Dr. Campbell secured the body and took it to Lafayette. A Christmas those boys probably never forgot.
If you're itching for more stories about gifts of body parts, boy have you come to the right blog. The "Rapid City Journal," December 16, 1915:
Mexico City, Dec. 15--General Pablo Gonzales, commander of Mexico City, received a telegram that the head of General Juan Fernandez, former intimate 'friend of Porfirio Diaz, and relative of General Huerta, was being shipped from Esperanza, state of Vera Cruz, as a Christmas present. Fernandez was more than eighty years old. According to military advices his head was severed while the body lay on the battlefield. It was boxed by the victor, Lieutenant Galicia, and sent by special messenger. Fernandez was widely known throughout the republic and was a prominent member of the Cientifico party.

A similar story appeared in the "Elmira Star-Gazette," December 27, 1907:
Hornell, Dec. 27. It was a gruesome gift but an acceptable one which Charles Hawley, formerly of this city but now of Rochester, received on Christmas.

The present is a finely polished human skull given to him by a nurse who was on duty with the English forces at the battle of Spion Koppe, South Africa, during the late Boer War. It is said the head is that of a Boer soldier who was shot through the body while storming the works and afterward died in a field hospital.

And then there's this item from the "Detroit Free Press," December 20, 1913:
Lansing, Mich., December 19. Human fingers constituted the gruesome Christmas presents delivered to Floyd F. Swanton and C W. Hamilton, two local businessmen, today. Neatly wrapped packages were delivered by a boy who said the donor wished the recipients a very merry Christmas.

The men reported the matter to the police.
Not pleasant for the two men, of course, but I'm guessing the person who donated the fingers had an even worse Christmas.

A literary celebrity makes an appearance in this next story, from the "Freeman's Journal," December 21, 1892:
Mr Rider Haggard, the popular novelist, has, as we learn from letter of his to the "Times," been the recipient of a somewhat remarkable and gruesome Christmas gift from a correspondent who is evidently imbued with the realistic view of writing fiction.

The other day the author of "King Solomon's Mines" found amongst his post a package which he proceeded unsuspectingly to open. It contained a short note, which ran as follows: "Dear. Sir--Please find herewith cremated remains of Dom De Castro, which I found the other day in some old furniture." The writer then gave his name and address, and added that he thought the remains would form a good foundation for a new romance. It is not surprising to learn from Mr. Haggard that the discovery of what the stuff in the parcel was "gave everybody present what is known as a turn." We have no doubt novelists welcome anything that gives a fillip to their imagination in these days of overproduction, but certainly the mortal remains of a Spanish hidalgo is not the pleasantest form of a Christmas gift. Besides Mr. Haggard, at any rate, does not require any such stimulus to develop his inventive powers.
In which we learn that the residents of early 20th century Kansas enjoyed swapping tales of their gruesome Christmas presents. Evidently there was a great deal of friendly competition. The "Leavenworth Weekly Times," January 4, 1917:
It was recently stated that a young man of Leavenworth county had received a set of skunk teeth for a Christmas present. A well known young lady of Potter received a pig tail on the Christmas tree at that place, and an Oak Mills man was given the left hind foot of a rabbit killed in the Sapp graveyard, but George Remsburg, of Potter, believes he was the recipient of the most gruesome Christmas present bestowed upon any person in this section.

He received from a friend in Oklahoma City, who was a former government trader among the Osaga Indians, a couple of genuine Pawnee Indian scalps that were taken in the last battle between the Pawnees and Osages at Big Hill, Okla., in the early days.

One of the scalps has a mummified human ear attached to it. This former trader secured these scalps from an Osage chief with whom he was on very friendly terms and they are well authenticated.

This is romantic.

"The Citizen," December 25, 1912, via Newspapers.com

Of course, Mrs. Pelham would say that there are worse Christmas gifts than a dead man.

Like, for instance, a live one.

"Wausau Daily Herald," June 18, 1929, via Newspapers.com

Well, that's the end of this year's holiday festivities. If any of you have found inspiration from this story, and are now longing to give loved ones cremated remains, assorted body parts, or even a tasteful coffin, no need for the recipients to thank me.

Really, no need at all.


  1. It is definitely better to give - and get the heck out of town - than to receive.

    I like the suspected bomb that was rushed to city hall in Oakland. Granted, the police laboratory was in the basement, but I like the idea of politicians being near any explosive a citizen might get.


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