"...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, December 6, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

Renoir, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"

This week's Link Dump is hosted by Baby, award-winning seeing-eye cat!

Life Magazine, 1947. Photographer: Loran F. Smith
















Lethbridge Herald, February 1, 1947, via Newspapers.com

Who the hell was the Princess of Persia mummy?

What the hell is the Eltanin Antenna?

A newly-discovered manuscript written by Elizabeth I.

A collection of links telling you pretty much all you need to know about Bertolt Brecht.

The history of a portrait.

The wonderful world of medieval book curses.

An asteroid's mysterious craters.

Murder at Fleet Prison.

The rise and fall of a Marine Society apprentice.  (Part two is here.)

The River of Bicycles.

Private Bateman, shot at dawn.

Royal inbreeding and the Habsburg Jaw.

The days of Snowball Earth.

Fake wills and forged Bibles.

Death becomes them.

How a ghost solved a burglary.

Nancy Astor, MP.

A brief history of magnets.

Why Percy Mapleton wished the police sketch had never been invented.

The British in 18th century India.

Vinegar Yard's Whistling Oyster.

John Simon, Mr. Nice Guy.

I'd say that getting hit with a meteorite is the definition of "God hates you."

This week in Russian Weird features a cameo appearance by Bigfoot.

One very bad tenant.

Was King Tut buried in a borrowed grave?

A brief history of punk.

A brief history of Christmas trees.

Uncovering an episode in Biblical history.

And we're done for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a mysterious tragedy in 18th century England. In the meantime, here's a bit of Handel.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com



Talking trees are nearly as welcome on my blog as talking cats. From the "Louisville Courier-Journal," September 23, 1904:

Out on the farm of Will Albert, near Heath this county, the people of that section are yet wrought up over the "talking tree" that has been there for some time, says the Paducah News-Democrat.

Enormous crowds continue to congregate there almost every Sunday to hear the strange noises that emanate from the tree. The voice can be distinctly heard and says "there are treasures buried at my roots."

For a time many of the curious thinking people mentioned such a thing with disgust, but as the strange noises can yet he heard the people are now convinced that it is true. A party consisting of the most reliable citizens of the county visited the tree not long since to make a thorough investigation for themselves as to the noises being heard. They listened patiently for several hours and were preparing to leave for home when a sudden crash, which has been given many times before the marvelous production of a human voice, came.

The mystery yet remains unsolved, and so great has the number of people been who have gone there in the past several months that the tree is now dead, caused by the continuous tramping on the earth surrounding the tree. The only theory that has been suggested is that a man was killed under the tree in 1862, and while many do not believe in "spirits," the facts are so plain and the voice can be so distinctly heard that they cannot dispute the fact. A family of people who lived there many years ago became so frightened from the voice they sold their farm at a sacrifice and went West and are now living in Texas.
A while after this article appeared, some boys dug up an old musket that was buried under the tree. This was seen as confirmation of the alleged murder, but as far as I can tell, the "Talking Tree" was one of those weird little stories that made a big splash in contemporary newspapers for a while, only to soon sink without a trace.

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Vanishing in Idaho: The Lillian Richey Mystery



Among the creepiest disappearances are ones where the victim apparently vanished from his/her own home. Equally chilling are the cases where there are virtually no clues indicating what happened to this person. The following mystery managed to combine both these elements, making the fate of one otherwise completely normal person very abnormal indeed.

51-year-old Lillian Richey was a resident of Nampa, Idaho. She had lived alone since the death of her husband, but she had a good job at Bullock's Jewelry, friends, family, and an active social life, so she was far from being lonely or isolated. She was a well-liked woman who had no known enemies or any notable personal problems.

On the night of February 8, 1964, Richey visited a nightclub with an old friend, a California man who was in the area for a cattleman's convention. About 1:30 a.m., the man (whose name was never publicly revealed) drove Richey home in her own car, borrowing the auto to drive back to Boise. One of Richey's neighbors saw the car drive away, immediately followed by lights being turned on in Richey's kitchen. All was quiet and seemingly ordinary.

Around 11 a.m., the California man drove Richey's car back to her home. He was followed by a friend in another car who would drive him back to Boise. They put the car in the garage, and, as the night before Richey had invited them to breakfast, knocked on her door. They were puzzled when she failed to respond. The front door was unlocked, so they opened it and called to her. Silence. The pair entered, and when they failed to find any sign of Richey, they left a note for her, breakfasted in a restaurant, and went to visit other friends in Nampa.

No one realized something was very wrong until the following day, when Richey failed to show up for work. Calls to her home went unanswered. By late afternoon, her co-workers were concerned enough to contact police.

The hunt was on for Lillian Richey. Everything in and around Nampa was searched. All her friends, relatives, and acquaintances were questioned by police. Searches of her home found nothing unusual. All her belongings were in their accustomed places. After checking her clothes closet, friends believed that the only item missing was the black evening dress she had worn to the nightclub. The wrap she had worn that night was found hanging in the closet, but there was no sign of the evening purse she had had with her. Plane tickets she had purchased to visit a son in Moscow, Idaho later that month were untouched. The house was dusted for fingerprints, but the only ones found belonged to the missing woman.

Naturally, the focus of the inquiry was on Mrs. Richey's California friend, the last person known to have seen her before she disappeared. He and his friend were interrogated for hours. Their personal lives were heavily scrutinized. They submitted to lie detector tests. In short, the two men were investigated six ways from Sunday. And their stories checked out completely. The police found absolutely nothing to suggest that either of them were anything other than frustratingly innocent.

So if these two men were not responsible for Richey vanishing, who was? The police found nothing to indicate she committed suicide. Or that she had been kidnapped. Or murdered. Or left voluntarily. It was as clue-free a mystery as you could ever imagine. Police spent years chasing down whatever rumors or tips came their way--they even spoke to a man who claimed he had invented a machine that could find missing people--with absolutely no results. Private detectives hired by Richey's two sons were equally ineffective. It was as if this woman had spontaneously evaporated into thin air.

Idaho Free Press, February 9, 1966, via Newspapers.com


Although Richey was declared legally dead in 1967, the search for her has never really ended. For years, there were rumors that Richey's body could be found beneath the Nampa school district office building, which was under construction at the time of her disappearance. In 2018, police took that gossip seriously enough to excavate the office floor and bring in cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar, but to no one's real surprise, nothing anomalous was found.

The vanishing of Lillian Richey is not only Idaho's oldest cold case, but arguably its most baffling.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

Renoir, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"

Before we get on with the links, here's a pic of Strange Company HQ's Thanksgiving dinner.



Yes, it's still being debated:  What the hell is the Shroud of Turin?

Yes, it's still being debated:  Who the hell was D.B. Cooper?

Gin folklore.

The ghost of a Puritan maiden.

Caring for the mentally ill in medieval times.

Ice Age humans in the Arctic Circle.

Looking for lost dogs in Regency England.

A notable Georgian era woman.

19th century national stereotypes.

The Bosak encounter: a particularly weird UFO report.

The execution of the last of the Plantagenet heirs.  Replacing that dynasty with the Tudors was a sad event for England, IMO.

The man-beast of Sugar Valley.

Victorian DIY Christmas decorations.

The first woman hanged in colonial Australia.

The woman who created America's Thanksgiving Day.

Let's talk really, really bad Thanksgiving plays.  A play that's a real turkey!  Get it?  Get it?...Never mind.

This week in Russian Weird gives us high-tech cows.

The werewolf panic of the...1970s?  Actually, for those of us who remember the '70s, this isn't surprising.

This is really not the way to get published.

That time President Coolidge didn't eat a raccoon.

Some good news:  French ducks just won a lawsuit.

The 1969 Scientology murders.

The creepy mystery of the sand dune that swallowed a child.

A dual disappearance and death that sounds like a real-life "Blair Witch Project."

Maybe this is why people eat turkeys.  Self-defense.

The historical mystery behind Lincoln's first inaugural photograph.

There are times when I really hate the 18th century.

Mary Lincoln and Queen Victoria, pen pals.

The story behind a famed melody.

Some adventurous female sailors.

The man who cursed plums.

A 45,000 year old figurine.

A day in the life of Queen Victoria.

The ghosts of paleontology.

Sad news from 1858 India.

Did we kill off all the other humans?

The "world's most loyal dog."

More on the Chinese seals of Ireland.

More on the Great Pyramid's "hidden chamber."

That's all for this week! See you next week, when we'll look at one of Idaho's most baffling cold cases. In the meantime, here's the SFO:

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Thanksgiving Day

Via Newspapers.com



Yes, Florida Man celebrates Thanksgiving in just the way you'd imagine. Daniel Buckley in the "Tuscon Citizen," November 27, 1997:
It’s likely my life’s “David Lynch Moment" was Thanksgiving of 1989.

My dad had died that summer. I was in Cocoa Beach Fla spending time with my mother as she dealt with her first Thanksgiving without him. It was not an easy trip.

I figured we’d run to the store, pick up a turkey, spend the day cooking it up, and chow down just as we’d done countless Thanksgivings in years past with my three brothers and two sisters.

Florida reality check time. I was quickly informed that my mom had transcended the standard Thanksgiving trip years before.

It turns out she always hated Thanksgiving--all the work, all the hubbub. She was not at all nuts about turkey and even less enthusiastic about cooking doing the dishes and all that. And so for years she and my dad had gone out so they could get what they want and just kick back.

Being practical children of the Depression she and her next-door neighbor Pearl decided we’d head to Furr’s Cafeteria for Thanksgiving and avoid the fuss. So around noon we wandered out from my mom’s seaside condo, hopped in her Mercury, and drove to Furr’s.

So far so serene. But the weirdness was not far off. I ran ahead to hold the door for my mom and Pearl. As they went through I caught out of the comer of my eye the image of several other people approaching. Without looking around I just held the door.

When the trio finally came into view, YOW! There was a man about 50 years old in full-tilt drag pushing two wheelchairs. One held an old woman who looked pretty out of it. The other was occupied by an elegantly dressed mannequin. I have NO idea.

The guy had on a white blouse, long skirt, and heels and was sporting an 8 o’clock shadow. He was a manly looking woman.

As luck would have it they stayed on our heels all the way through the line at Furr’s, so there was a long period when nothing could be discussed.

Pearl--a boisterous woman with a laugh as big as all outdoors--had all she could do to contain her amazement/amusement. My mom was tickled too. Sad as it was it was also a hilarious scene.

They sat nearby, a tray in front of all three. All through our meal we talked quietly about it and observed many in other parts of the room doing the same. It certainly kept the focus off my father’s absence and I was happy for that.

It felt very strange trying to imagine the situation. From the gentleman's awkward negotiation of the halls I could tell the heels were not an everyday thing. It’s hard enough to push two wheelchairs let alone in heels.

My best guess is that the old woman so needed the illusion of having her two daughters take her to Thanksgiving dinner that some caring man had gone to great lengths to make such a situation unfold before her. God only knows.

Florida has its share of crazies. All parts of this country do.

It could be we just walked in on some very weird family scene. But I can’t help thinking we’d seen a bizarre expression of extraordinary compassion.

And it may have just as easily been the other way around. It could be that the lady in the wheelchair was the one with the grip on reality and that the man in the dress was someone she looked after.

We left before they did.

To this day as Thanksgiving approaches we all have a laugh about it. But we also can’t help but be touched and moved by it. They kept to themselves as did we I guess we’ll never know.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Legends of Papillon Hall

Papillon Hall, via Lost Heritage



Any old English manor house worth its salt has acquired numerous colorful legends. However, there are few who can boast such a weird and varied lot as Leicestershire's Papillon Hall. Of all the stories told about the Hall, it is often difficult to say which are hard fact and which are quaint mythology--likely an evenly-balanced mix of the two--but it all makes for a truly Strange Company-worthy heritage. It's not every day you encounter a home boasting mystery skeletons, warlocks, ghosts, haunted paintings, and cursed shoes.

Papillon Hall was built by one David Papillon in 1624. It was an octagonal building, standing on raised ground. The roof was in the shape of a cross, with a top story consisting of four attics. Its early years were, so far as is recorded, uneventful. The Hall did not make its first foray into The Weird until it was inherited by the original owner's great-great-grandson, also named David Papillon.

This David (who was publicly called "Pamp," "Old Pamp," or "Lord Pamp" by his contemporaries, who privately probably called him much less printable names,) was said to be in league with the Devil. Supposedly, he boasted an "evil eye" which could "fix" those who displeased him. And I mean that quite literally. On one occasion, he came across some men who were ploughing a field in a way he did not favor, so he simply "fixed" them for the rest of the day. The men could not move a muscle until dusk, when Pamp chose to release them from his spell. Another time, a thief was unwise enough to try to rob Pamp as he was riding along carrying a bag of money. Pamp "fixed" the miscreant, left the bag of money at the footpad's feet--nice touch, that--and rode home. He then stabled his horse and calmly sent a groom to fetch the bag. Once the money was retrieved, the would-be robber was released and set on his way, presumably a sadder but wiser wretch. Pamp's reputation was such a evil one, that everyone in the area habitually made the sign of the cross when preparing food and drink, in an effort to avoid his baleful glance.

Before his marriage in 1717, Pamp did not live a solitary existence at the Hall. He kept a mistress, whose name is now lost to history. What little is known of her is as sinister as everything else connected with her Lord. The woman--who was believed to be Spanish--never left the Hall, but neighbors occasionally saw her walking along the leads of the roof. She died in 1715, but there is no record of her burial. However, it should be noted that Pamp subsequently bricked up one of the Hall's attic rooms. In 1903, when Papillon Hall was being renovated, a woman's skeleton was found in this particular attic...

It is said that before Pamp's Spanish lady died, she vowed that disaster would strike if her shoes ever left the Hall. These shoes--a pair of silver and green slippers--still exist, arguably unfortunately. Ever since her death, these shoes have been, quite literally, a damned nuisance. So strong was the belief in the curse, that ever since the home was sold by the Papillons in 1764, all new owners signed deeds requiring them to keep the shoes at the Hall.

Whenever buyers chose to ignore this promise, they always regretted it. In 1866, the Hall's then-owner, George Bosworth, died. In his will, he left the shoes to a daughter who lived in Leicester. The next owner, Lord Hopetoun, found that he and his family were to be given no peace in their now-shoeless home. The household was disturbed by numerous angry crashes, bangs, and other vehement spectral noises until Hopetoun wised up and persuaded Bosworth's daughter to sell him the shoes. As soon as they were returned to the Hall, all was quiet.

The Fateful Footwear, via Harborough Museum


A later owner, Thomas Halford, was rationalist enough--or, perhaps, stupid enough--to loan the shoes to an exhibition in Paris. Immediately, the same uncanny racket that had so plagued Lord Hopetoun broke out. When Halford tried retrieving the shoes, he was reminded that he had signed a contract allowing them to remain in Paris for a full year. Sorry. The indignant spirit of Pamp's Spanish lady made life such a hell for the Halfords that the family was forced to live elsewhere until the shoes could be returned.

When a Captain Frank Bellville bought the Hall, he did extensive alterations to the house. Four extra wings were added to the Hall, as well as an extra story. (This was when the skeleton was discovered.) During the construction, Bellville, in the interests of protecting the shoes, sent them to his solicitors.

He meant well, but, nevertheless, he received the usual punishment. Everything that could go wrong with the renovations instantly went wrong. Worse still, numerous workers began to be seriously injured, one of them fatally. After Bellville himself was badly hurt in a coach accident, he had the solicitors send back the shoes.

Some people never get the message. In 1908, for reasons known only to him and his God, Bellville donated the shoes to Leicester Museum. This time, the Spanish lady was obviously determined to teach him a lesson he would never forget. Soon afterward, Bellville fractured his skull in a hunting accident. Two of his servants died. Three polo ponies were killed by lightning. The Hall caught fire.

The shoes were returned to the Hall, securely locked away in a cupboard above the main fireplace, and, just to make double-sure, the key was thrown in a pond.

During WWII, the Hall was occupied by American servicemen. Showing the talent for doubling-down on Stupid which characterizes our human species, some of them smashed open the cupboard holding the famous shoes. On two occasions, two different soldiers took one of the shoes as a souvenir. Both these men soon died, and thus the shoes were returned to Papillon Hall.

When the Hall was demolished in 1950, the shoes became the property of one of Pamp's descendants, and they were brought to her home, Crowhurst Park. They are now in Market Harborough Museum.

The other supernatural-themed object connected with Papillon Hall is, fittingly, a portrait of its most diabolical owner, Old Pamp. According to one story, in 1800 a servant girl was awakened one night by a strange cry. When she sat up, she was confronted by the figure of David Papillon standing by the foot of her bed. He was wearing the same red coat and gold waistcoat he donned for his portrait. The girl insisted that he had literally stepped out of his picture.

So many unwanted sightings of Pamp became associated with his portrait that in 1840, the Hall's then-resident, a Mr. Marriot, begged one of Papillon's descendents to remove the picture. He complained that he was unable to keep servants because of Old Pamp's unnerving habit of emerging from the painting and stalking about the house. Accordingly, the portrait was brought to Crowhurst Park.

After that, Pamp haunted Papillon Hall and Crowhurst Park, thus proving how difficult it is to outwit a ghost. Even after the Hall was demolished, Pamp was often seen in the stables built on the property, and visitors to Crowhurst, even those who knew nothing about the painting's history, often found themselves confronted by his imposing presence. In 1908, Crowhurst Park was let to a Colonel Tufnell and his wife. The couple were left blissfully ignorant about the fact that they were getting a haunted painting in the bargain.

Well, they were not ignorant for long. Crowhurst's owner soon received a letter from the Tufnells, begging him to take the picture out of the house. They sensed something evil about it.

Pamp's portrait was brought to a Papillon who lived in Hastings. Fortunately, Pamp's ghost, like the shade of his mistress, seem pleased with the current location of their earthly relics. In recent years, both their spirits have finally remained quiet.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

Renoir, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"
We're providing a free meal with this week's links!



The execution of a figure in the notorious murder of Sir Thomas Overbury.  (I covered the whole weird affair in this post.)

The unexpectedly long history of UFO sightings.

Nothing to see here, just monstrous black swine in London's sewers.

Some marvelous photos of mid-19th century Egypt.

More forgotten corners of Old London.

Yet another case of jealousy leading to a body count.

A historically significant spy.

Newly-discovered Nazca lines.

A steam circus to promote steam locomotives.

The bank cat and the cat burglar.

Thanksgiving during WWII.

Fortune telling in the Georgian era.

The mystery of Ireland's Chinese seals.

Marie Antoinette's Potemkin village.

Anne FitzHugh, the wife of Richard III's friend Francis Lovell.

Something weird was happening around the sun in the 18th century.

Why you didn't want to smoke around First Lady Louisa Adams.

The strange murder of Christopher Marlowe, and other theatrical links.

The strange disappearance of a UFO musician.

A newly-discovered ancient ritual site.

Two words: automated gallows.

Yeah, Philip K. Dick was an odd duck.

A woman who founded a 20th century religious movement.

A Fortean Irish road trip.

A ghoulish ancient burial.

A ghost that may have been a premonition of death.

The 1881 census of India didn't go too well.

You really need to be careful about what you say around sickbeds.

Luella Cameron visits Heaven.

An inexplicable German mass murderer.

Bird mummies of ancient Egypt.  A lot of bird mummies.

Jean Harlow's premonition.

The grand estate of Napoleon's brother.

Since ancient Babylonia doesn't do take-out anymore, here are some of their stew recipes.  "Unwinding" doesn't sound half-bad.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at the many colorful legends surrounding an old manor house.  In the meantime, here's some Rosanne Cash.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com


An ancient cross which puts a curse on anyone who dares to meddle with it. No, it's not the plot of an M.R. James story, but rather a news item in the Saskatoon "Star Phoenix," March 28, 1969:
Copplestone, England.--Residents in this Devon village fear the consequences of an ancient Saxon curse when municipal workmen move the massive stone cross which has stood here for 1,000 years.

Legend has it that anyone tampering with the 20-ton granite monument will suffer a life of misfortune and eternal damnation.

Thirty years ago the council decided the cross was a traffic hazard and planned moving it, but workmen refused to do the job. Last year the scheme was revived and this time objections came from local citizens, led by 75-year-old Madge Pope, who petitioned officials to heed the warnings.

No action was taken for six months, but now workmen have begun the long task of digging up the stone from its 10th century foundations and re-erecting it on a new site.

We are not worried about the curse, said a spokesman for the county highway department. And a workman commented, "if there is a curse, it will only fall on the boss. He gave the order to move it. My mate and I are just doing as we are told."

Meanwhile, Miss Pope is apprehensive.

"They are all very foolish to interfere with it," she says.

"The curse does work. Nobody in the village would dream of touching it--we all know what happened to others who tried to interfere with it."

"Well," I thought. "This is getting good."  I eagerly searched the archives for the sequel, wondering what was the final body count from this act of desecration.

And then I came upon this story from the (Victoria, British Columbia) "Times-Colonist" from September 6 of the same year.


Copplestone. Eng.--Saxon curses may have lost their potency after 1.000 years. At any rate, no dire consequences appear to have followed the shifting of an ancient stone cross in this Devon village in the interest of highway safety.

The cross, a Saxon monument which has stood at the village crossroads since the 10th century, was supposed to bring a lifetime of misfortune and eternal damnation to anyone tampering with it. In modern times it has proved a traffic hazard, impeding the view of motorists approaching the crossroads. But when the council first proposed moving it 30 years ago, workmen refused on account of the curse and the scheme was dropped.

Earlier this year when the idea was revived, some villagers headed by 75-year-old Madge Pope pleaded with the council to heed the ancient warnings. The council compromised, agreeing to move the cross only a few yards from its original site and to keep it on the crossroads.

The job was done about two months ago. apparently without supernatural retribution.
Bummer. Curses just aren't what they used to be in the good old days.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Calas Mystery



In 1761, a young Frenchman died violently. This tragedy would lead to what is still one of that country's most famous cases of judicial injustice.

Assuming, of course, that it truly was an injustice at all.

The grim chain of events began on October 13, when the body of 28-year-old Marc Antoine Calas was found dead in his family home in Toulouse. The Calas family initially stated that he had undoubtedly died of "an apoplexy." However, the doctor who examined the corpse found rope marks around his neck and bruising behind the ears, leading him to conclude Marc Antoine had died of strangulation.

When confronted with this evidence, the family changed their story. His father, Jean, told authorities that they had found Marc Antoine hanging from a rope balanced between two open doors in a storehouse on the family property, quite dead. Anxious to avoid the scandal of a family suicide, they cut the body down, hoping the untimely death could be attributed to natural causes.

The young man had wished to become a Roman Catholic--a move that went against the grain of his strongly Protestant family. Marc Antoine was known to be a moody, depressed sort--a state of mind that was strongly exacerbated by his recent spiritual conflicts, not to mention a pile of gambling debts he had accumulated. All in all, it did not seem unlikely that he had resorted to killing himself.

Most of France believed otherwise. Onlookers interpreted this evidence as pointing to murder, not suicide. France was still a strongly Catholic country, which led them to look upon the Huguenot Calas family with deep suspicion, and regard the dead would-be convert as a martyr. In short, popular opinion had it that Marc Antoine's father murdered him over their religious conflicts, with his family's approbation. (It was conveniently ignored that another son, Louis, had turned Catholic while still remaining in his family's good graces.)

Jean Calas was arrested and subjected to a trial that was clearly, unabashedly, set against him. To the surprise of no one, he was convicted and sentenced to a particularly hideous fate, which was seen as fitting for the particularly hideous crime of filicide: He was broken on the wheel, and then strangled. To the end, he insisted that he was innocent. The punitive measures did not end there. The Calas daughters were forced into a convent, and the mother and surviving sons exiled. Marc Antoine's death destroyed the entire family.



Despite the verdict, the case was still enigmatic enough to attract the attention of Voltaire. After a bit of amateur detective work, he concluded that Marc Antoine had indeed committed suicide. He learned that the young man had, on the day of his death, lost a lot of money playing cards, and that he greatly feared facing his father with the news. Voltaire also pointed out that Marc Antoine had been the biggest man in his family, towering over his 62-year-old father. He found it highly unlikely that Jean Calas, even with the help of the rest of his family, could have overpowered his son sufficiently to hang him. He believed the family had been unjustly persecuted because of their unpopular religious beliefs.

Contemporary image of Voltaire promising to help the Calas family


Voltaire used his reputation as one of Europe's greatest intellectuals, his contacts in high places, and his brilliant powers of oratory to launch a rehabilitation campaign--albeit one rather late in the day--for Jean Calas. He published "A Treatise on Tolerance," pleading with his countrymen to "not hate one another, let us not destroy one another in the midst of peace."

His campaign worked. In March of 1764, a royal council met to study the matter. A panel of judges was appointed to rehear the case. The upshot was that a year later, they ruled that there had been a terrible miscarriage of justice. Although they could do nothing for poor old Jean, his family was allowed to return from exile, and their property was restored. Voltaire did a bit of pardonable self-congratulation by proclaiming that France had seen "the finest fifth act the theatre can give us."

Was this a "finest" ending, or merely a bitterly ironic twist? In 1929, an author named Marc Chassaigne published "L'Affaire Calas," which contained the fruits of his own investigation of the case. He offered the theory that Marc Antoine's death was not due either to suicide or filicide. He suggested that the young man was attacked and strangled from someone who had followed him into his house--possibly someone from his gaming club. The murderer then slipped out of the house. Chassaigne noted that servants in the household had overheard a man's cries of "Murder!" not long before the body was discovered. Experiments proved to his satisfaction that it was virtually impossible for anyone to hang himself in the way described by the Calas family. Although he acknowledged the brilliance of Voltaire's defense, Chassaigne believed the great philosopher was motivated largely by his anti-Catholic sentiments rather than an objective desire for justice. (Even in the midst of his campaign to clear Jean Calas' name, Voltaire had privately admitted that the case was a puzzling mystery.) Chassaigne proposed that the Calas family was guilty of ineptly stage-managing the discovery of the body, although it is hard to explain why they would cover up their son's murder, especially when they wound up paying such a dear price for their silence. In the end, Chassaigne clearly left open the possibility that the family truly was responsible for the murder, after all.

So, how did Marc Antoine Calas die?

We'll never know for sure.



Friday, November 15, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

Renoir, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"

It's time for yet another Link Dump!

Everybody dance!




Loie Fuller's serpentine dance.

Communal coffins and burial clubs.

The face of a female Viking.

This week in Russian Weird looks at a Napoleon expert's gruesome Waterloo.  Not to mention the flying cat understudy.

The kind of thing that happened when you got on Queen Christina's bad side.

The rocket scientist of the Hollywood Park backstretch.

Family scandal and a disputed will.

When smoking could kill you...a lot faster than you might think.

The Habsburg Imperial Crypt.

The last days of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

The enduring weirdness of Charles Fort.

An equestrian ghost.

How Bridgeport avoided being buried alive.

This is why you shouldn't take pigeons up in a hot air balloon.

Finland's Day of the Dead, and other theatrical links.

The Stone of Cashel.

Tragedy at the South Pole.

WWII and the Official Secrets Act.  (Part two here.)

A legendary Chinese banquet.

Domestic violence turns to murder.

Fighter pilots and a Southern California UFO.

Are we the aliens?

An Armistice Day parade turned lynching.

A New Zealand UFO.

A newly-discovered Bronze Age stone circle.

A newly-discovered 8,000 year old village.

The last person to die of smallpox.

Edward Leyden, human calculator.

A girl's baffling illness.

The busy life of journalist Nellie Bly.

An Anglo-Saxon colony in Crimea.


And that's all for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a young Frenchman's mysterious death. In the meantime, here's some late-period Linda. This is one of my favorites.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com


Today's news item is a helpful reminder of the sort of thing that happens when you mess with fairies. The "Boston Globe," April 5, 1926:
Dublin, April 4. People of the Irish Free State who were rejoicing recently at the reported return of the traditional fairies around about Milltown, a pastoral village district in County Monaghan, now are beginning to worry because the fairy bush used by the little folk for their nightly revels, has been hewn down by some person as yet unknown.

County Monaghan borders on Ulster, and the residents went to bed to the tunes of strange, sweet music. They rejoiced and slept happily, because the fairies were back, and Irish fairy tales took on a look of a productive industry once more. Plenty of citizens almost forgave the Government in their enthusiasm, and William Butler Yeats, who had long been looking melancholy, began to smile. The Abbey Theatre, which floated into existence on folklore and fairies, began to feel its national destiny was going to be fulfilled.

When hearts were beating high and the farmer who owned the site of the fairy revels was hoping the government would lower his taxes because he was supporting a national institution, the bush was destroyed. Some person went out and cut down the fairy bush, leaving nothing but the stump to welcome the revelers.

Since then, the nights around Milltown have been filled with lonely wailings and heart-rendering cries of the bereft fairies are heard over mountain and valley. Where, before all was peaceful and happy, now is alarm and fear, because it is well-known that angry fairies are desperate enemies. Their favorite vengeance is the kidnapping of infants from cradles, replacing their captives with puny and delicate fairy children known as changelings. The mothers of the neighborhood now keep a large shovel near their babies' cradles, because it is well-known that a hot shovel used as a seat for the changelings will exorcise the impostor and bring back the child held captive.

There is evidence that the fairies already are starting a vendetta. The other day a farmers horse was found in the river that runs by the fairy field, and two men who sat out during the night listening to the fairies wailing tell how, in the moonlight, the horse galloped past them in the direction of the river and on its back was what they described as a wee man dressed in red.

The people hope that some means will be found to placate the wrathful fairy folk and again bring their sweet music to the fairy fields of Ireland. All are agreed that if the Government is really efficient it will save Ireland's oldest Industry.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Menace of Magenta Street

Via Newspapers.com


Insulting, foul-mouthed parrots are always welcome at this blog, and the following example is a real pip. Our saga begins with this story from the "Brooklyn Eagle," June 17, 1913:
It is circus day every day at 108 Magenta street, and today a regular performance was held at the New Jersey avenue court for the benefit of Magistrate Alexander H. Geismar, who was repeatedly told in the plainest words possible to seek an even hotter climate than this by a parrot that was accused of being one of the noisiest performers in an East New York back yard.

"This parrot wakes up at the first peep of dawn," testified Mrs. Ormsby Jandro, of 110 Magenta street, who had summoned Mrs. Johanna Vogt, owner of the animals, to the magistrate's court, to explain.

"And as soon as the parrot gets one eye open she begins with 'Polly wants a cracker,' 'Go to_____, go to_____,' 'Polly wants a cracker,' 'Go to_____,' until the young roosters in rear yards begin to crow and the cat to meow, and the dog to bark, and the canary bird to sing. Now my husband works late and wants to sleep in the morning, and that is impossible as long as Mrs. Vogt keeps all those animals next door."

"Are you sure the parrot says 'Go to _____," asked Magistrate Gelsmar with austere dignity.

"Go to____," screamed the parrot, from Mrs. Vogt's seat in the rear of the courtroom, and the decorum of the court was lost so irretrievably that the presiding magistrate could not restore it even with the aid of his gavel and the new robes that have recently been introduced in the police courts of Brooklyn.

The parrot repeated the instructions to the court a number of times, and it was impossible for Mrs. Jandro to continue her testimony.

Mrs. Vogt, the owner of the parrot and the dog and the cat and the chickens and the canary bird, that were accused of having disturbed the occupants of the apartment house next door, was then called to the stand.

"The court is shocked at the language of your parrot, Madam," said Magistrate Gelsmar, sternly. "How do you account for him learning such expressions."

"Your Honor, I live in a small wooden house at 108 Magenta street," said Mrs. Vogt. "I make my living from the chickens and the rest of the animals are my pets. Now my parrot was very refined in its language, but this Mrs. Jandro, who has made a complaint against me, lives in an apartment house next door, and the janitor of that house has a parrot, and from that bird my parrot has learned all its bad words. I suppose the janitor's parrot has learned to swear from the tenants of that apartment house."

At this turn of the case Mrs. Jandro, who was accompanied by several of her co-tenants in the apartment house at 110 Magenta street, took the stand to deny Mrs. Vogt's testimony. She said that she had never noticed the janitor had a parrot, at any rate, she had never heard the bird swear aloud.

"But you ought to hear it when it is left out on the fire escape opposite my windows." broke in Mrs. Vogt. "This is how my polly learned all its bad language."

"In view of the conflict in the testimony," said Magistrate Gelsmar gravely, "the court will be unable to reach a decision in this case today. I, therefore, will adjourn the case until next week, and in the meantime Probation Officer Frank Cooley will make an investigation of the real facts in the case for the benefit of the court. At present I'm inclined to place Mrs. Vogt's parrot on probation for contempt of court, and using profane language in the courtroom."
So. Further gory details appeared in the "Camden Courier-Post" the following day:
Brooklyn, N.Y., June 18. When Armando, the parrot of Mrs. Johanna Vogt of 108 Magenta street, became a witness in his own behalf yesterday before Magistrate Geismar, in the New Jersey Avenue Court, when an effort was made to prove that he was an upright bird of decent speech, Armando certainly spilled the beans.

"Why, Judge," said Mrs. Ormsby Jandro, of 110 Magenta street, "this parrot is a loafer and a rowdy. There's no living in the same block with him. Just the first minute it gets to be morning he begins to scream and chatter, and such language." Mrs. Jandro clucked her tongue several times to indicate the unspeakable character of Armando's soliloquies.

"That's bad enough, but his yelling starts all Mrs. Vogt's menagerie," she went on. "The cat begins to meow to be let in, the dog begins to howl, the roosters crow, her canary sings and oh, dear me!" Mrs. Jandro stuck her fingers in her ears, wagged her head and rolled her eyes to indicate that a boiler factory would be a rest cure compared with the Vogts' neighborhood.

Armando had been placed on the Magistrate's desk in a cage. He winked at Mrs. Jandro with cynical, sneering eyes as she talked.

"And you say he used bad language?"

"He started right in the first thing. 'Go to hell! Go to hell Brrrrrrrrripp! Hell!'"

"And he keeps it up?"

"If you shout 'Shut up!' he answers right back, 'Go to hell! Go to hell! Brrripp! To hell!' "

"Are you sure he says 'Go to hell'?"' asked the Court.

Just as Mrs. Jandro was about to answer, Armando ruffled his feathers, cocked his head to one side, blinked at the Magistrate and said shrilly and clearly: "Go to hell! Go to hell! Brrrrrrrrripp! Hell!"

"That's all," cried counsel for Mrs. Jandro, triumphantly. Mrs. Vogt burst into tears. Armando fluffed his feathers defiantly and began anew: "Go to..."

"Officer, take that bird out of here!" broke in His Honor. The door of the corridor closed on a smothered "Hell!"

"Oh, Your Honor," wailed the hopeless Mrs. Vogt, "it isn't that my bird is bad. As for the other noises, I make my living raising chickens and I like pets. And Armando was just as refined as could be till he got to know the parrot of the janitor in the house where Mrs. Jandro lives. I'm sure if that other parrot could be put away somewhere Armando..."

"The janitor's parrot is a dear." Mrs. Jandro broke in. "I never heard him say anything worse than 'Oh crumpets!'"

The Magistrate thought long and deeply. Then he said, "Armando shall not be convicted to death or exile until a full investigation of the case has been made. Since you, Mrs. Vogt, declare him to be the victim of an evil association the matter clearly rests with Probation Officer Cooley. Mr. Cooley will talk with both parrots and see which is the leader and instigator of these profanity debauches. Meanwhile Armando shall remain in custody with a towel wrapped around his cell to keep him from corrupting other prisoners."

Faintly from the hallway the voice of Armando arose. He was still intent on bidding everybody to go to the place he seemed sure he could recommend.

Still more on Armando's evil doings came from the "Brooklyn Chat" on June 21. The parrot was apparently not only fond of impure language, he was the neighborhood gossip.
When Mrs. Ormsby Grambo [sic], of 110 Magenta street, summoned her neighbor, Johanna Vogt of 108 Magenta street, to the New Jersey avenue police court Tuesday morning, charging her with maintaining a nuisance, there came the story of a big green parrot which has the whole City Line section a tumult of excitement.

"Such language as that bird has--you never heard the like of it outside of a saloon or aboard a tugboat," said Mrs. Grambo to Magistrate Gelsmar.

"He's the most knowing bird you ever saw and if he has the gift of seeing things and folks as they really are and isn't afraid to hand 'em the truth about themselves, why blame him?" said Mrs. Vogt.

According to Mrs. Grambo, the parrot is only one of an interesting collection which makes up Mrs. Vogt's menagerie at 108 Magenta street. Mrs. Vogt is proud of the collection, but Mrs. Grambo said that the menagerie in concert at 5 am with dogs barking, roosters crowing, hens cackling, pigeons cooing and meowing, is something fierce. She asked Magistrate Gelsmar to put a stop to it. At that Mrs. Grambo would be content to put up with the rest of the collection if only Magistrate Gelsmar would choke off the parrot.

His honor ordered the parrot to court for examination. Mrs. Grambo doesn't know where the parrot came from or who owned it before fell into the hands of Mrs. Vogt, but suspects its history is a cagey one. The parrot hangs outside the window in a big brass cage and every morning sunrise hears him shouting, "Get up, get up, go to ____" . After cocking his head one side and waiting a few minutes results and getting none, the parrot again arouses the neighborhood with, 'Turn out, and up with your hammocks; what the 'ell. Bill; goin' to sleep all day?"

There is then no further use in trying to get sleep, says Mrs. Grambo; Morpheus refuses to be wooed under any such circumstances, especially with the parrot screaming, "Time to scrub yer decks, my covies; get up and do it and be ______ to the lot of you!"

As Mrs. Vogt is always up at this hour "scrubbing her decks," naturally she has no sympathy with those who have to be admonished. She says her parrot is a wise bird. Few persons in Magenta street agree with her. Even the Liberty avenue cop who stands on the corner is shocked at Mrs. Vogt's parrot. Sometimes he is a fat cop and sometimes a lean one; sometimes a married cop and sometime single. Last week it was a married cop, but even a seasoned cop, when he is married, will feel painful blushes rising when within the hearing of a whole street he is greeted with, "Well. Bill, how're the chickens, any new ones lately?" And even a bachelor cop may not relish having, "In My Harem'" shrilled at top note whenever he puts in an appearance.

Just why Mrs. Vogt's parrot should make him the object of all its confidences, the cop on the corner does not know. It is most embarrassing, says he, when a skirt of latest fashion goes by to have Mrs. Vogt's parrot yell, "Hi, Bill, get next, get next." or "Hi, Bill, pike it off, pike it off." While Bill may be a willing spirit in private, he does not relish these things in public, and so Magenta street fears it will lose its police protection unless someone puts a quietus on Mrs. Vogt's parrot.

Mrs. Grambo, for Magenta street, says it is impossible to go to the store for milk any more. As soon as he sees the pitcher, Mrs. Vogt's parrot greets it with, "There goes the duck; we haven't got the rent, but the duck is rushing." A small paper parcel carried tightly under the arm causes the parrot to scream, "What'll ye take for a chaser?" Magenta street, made up mostly of church goers, resents the insinuation.

"That bird is an instrument of the evil one," says the street.

"That bird ain't no fool," says Mrs. Vogt.

If there is any one day in the week when Mrs. Vogt's parrot comes out strong, that day is Sunday. "Then his talk is something frightful," says Mrs. Grambo.

A neighboring deacon on his way piously to church goes down the block to the tune of "All night long he calls her snookey ookums," while a belated husband, wending homeward unsteadily, is encouraged with "Soak her if she says a word." Invitations to "Have one on me," "a four-hand game at cents a corner," or "Lets go down the line and look the chickens over," may not be all right at times, but bawled out on Sunday morning when a fellow is leading his wife to church, they are pernicious, say masculine Magenta street. They have been known to cause heated family discussions. You can't convince certain Magenta street women that Mrs. Vogt's parrot doesn't know more than it will tell.

Mrs. Vogt told Magistrate Gelsmar that her parrot had learned all of its bad language from the parrot belonging to the janitor of the house in which Mrs. Grambo lives.

"I live in a small frame house next to the flat building, and I make my living on the chickens," said she; "the bird and dogs are pets. I used to hang my parrot out on the fire escape, and there it struck up a friendship with the parrot belonging to the janitor next door. You can't blame the janitor's parrot if it knew a thing or two. Such tenants in that house, and the talk they used! Maybe my parrot does talk about 'chasing the duck,' and tight skirts, and no rent, but remember, Judge, he got it all from the janitor's parrot and the janitor's parrot got it all first hand from the fellow that knew about it, the janitor himself."

Magistrate Gelsmar turned the case over to Probation Officer Frank Cooley, instructing him to find out what he could in the matter. Cooley will have to see the janitor and the cop on the corner, also, Cooley will have to see masculine Magenta street and the ladies who affect the latest fashions. And Mrs. Vogt will have to bring the parrot to court. She says she is not afraid to do so; "he a nice polite bird if he's among the right people," says she.

Tuesday night when Mrs. Vogt gave the parrot an extra cracker and told him he would have to go to court Magenta street heard him bawling, "I should worry and get wrinkles. Me go to court? Go to ____! Go to ____!"


Sadly, the police investigation did not go well for Armando. On June 20, the "Brooklyn Times Union" reported on his sentencing:
The twenty-three tenants of the apartment home at 110 Magenta street, East New York, are rejoicing today because Mrs. Johanna Vogt, the next door neighbor, has been compelled to get rid of her parrot.

Witnesses told Magistrate Gelsmar in the New Jersey Avenue Police Court on Tuesday that the parrot had scandalized the neighborhood for a year. On that day Mrs Vogt was summoned to court on complaint of Mrs. Ormsby Jambro, who headed a delegation of tenants. They declared the bird called them vile names constantly.

Magistrate Gelsmar ordered Probation Officer Cooley to investigate if vile names were used by the parrot. Tooley reported to the Magistrate this morning that the bird told him to "Go to hell." At this, he said, he made Mrs. Vogt get rid of the parrot.
Mrs. Vogt established that she had sold her offending bird, and Armando faded from history. Personally, I would have enjoyed living next door to him; he was clearly a parrot who had a way with words and a gift for dissecting human nature. He would have been splendid company.

I hope both he and Mrs. Vogt went on to have good lives. And Mrs. Ormsby Jandro can go visit Armando's favorite destination.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

Renoir, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"


This week's Link Dump is being hosted by the security detail here at Strange Company HQ.




Watch out for those cursed trumpets!

An executed man who just doesn't know when to leave.

The two lives of Dr. James Barry.

America's first state police department.

The execution of an actress, and other theatrical links.

A sculptor who created...Strange Company, indeed.

The supernatural side of WWI.

The Case of the Disappearing Boulder.

The man who is rewriting human history.

A senator meets a yowie.

A Neolithic temple has just been uncovered.

One of Napoleon's generals has just been uncovered.

The weird life and death of Joanna Southcott.

This week in Russian Weird brings us weaponized cats.

A boisterous night in Tewkesbury.

A look at the horrors of Lenin-era Russia.  This one is not for the squeamish.

A look at interstellar space.

An all-too-typical witch trial.

Matchmaking and the East India Company.

The London Fireworks Brigade.

A forgotten way to contact the dead.

The Great Sheep Panic.

A newly-discovered ancient Egyptian book.

A newly-discovered ancient necklace.

Britain's "first city."

Another look at a famed UFO abduction story.

Hitler goes to Antarctica.

A mastodon and the Founding Fathers.

Unwed mothers during the Regency era.

The India Office is sent to the salt mines.

Mark Twain and the bloody kitten man.

Some synonyms for being drunk.  Illustrated!

An eyewitness to history.

The last man hanged in Cambridgeshire.

A brief history of Jack o'lanterns.

A brief history of Cremorne Gardens.

A brief history of telephone technology.

A brief history of trolley hearses.

The mortuary ship for the Titanic.

A famed heart surgeon and the Nazis.

A poltergeist in Chechnya.

A UFO in Scotland.


That closes things for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll meet the parrot who terrorized an entire neighborhood. In the meantime, here's a bit of Bach: