"...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, April 16, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

It's time for this week's Link Dump!

Everyone dance!

The mysterious murder of Rose Ambler.

The life of the first King of England.

The working dogs of medieval Europe.

A Civil War reunion story.

The Titanic's funeral ship.

How apothecary shops became globalized.

Attending an Early Modern barbecue.

The legends surrounding a vanished ship.

How Margaret Dickson became known as "Half Hangit Maggie."

And here we have a Half Hangit Confederate spy.

The man who is bringing "lost" whisky back to life.

The bloodiest civil war in known history.

The elephant of the Bastille.

So, let's talk dog detectives.

The story behind Latvia's Cat House.

This week in Russian Weird looks at one very bad hike in the mountains.

When patients were treated with mineral water.

Conspiracy theories around a "lost cosmonaut."

Anyone else noticing that government officials are suddenly going full UFO?

Dolph the cat's narrow escape.

Scotland's most haunted castle.  Or at least top ten or so.

The diary of a 19th century housewife.

Life in a late-19th/early-20th century British prison.

The "Ken and Barbie" killers.  It still stuns me that Homolka is free as a bird and having children.

Ireland's haunted Leap Castle.

A young man's odd disappearance.

A strange note in a second-hand jacket.

How horses were put to work in the 19th century.

The world's most beautiful salt mine.

The 19th century's booming skeleton industry.

Why anatomists and body-snatchers were like peanut butter and jelly.

A brief history of Pears Pure Soap.  And their often astonishingly weird ads.

The first steam warship.

The Belfast Blitz.

1300 year old cookie recipes.

In praise of the fall of Rome.

The cradle and the coffin.

Prince Philip and UFOs.

A brief history of the limerick.

Drawings of street life in 1835 London.

The mystery of the body in the chimney.

That's all for this week's Link Dump!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a young woman's baffling disappearance.  In the meantime, here's some country gospel.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This Stephen King-like item is short, and anything but sweet.  “New York World,” May 2, 1905:

“I have been seeing ghosts and I am afraid that they are going to harm me,” were the last words of Irving Fuller, a young embalmer, to his friend, Duncan Stephenson, when they parted yesterday.

Fuller’s body, attired in pajamas, was found at the bottom of an airshaft in the New York and Brooklyn Casket Company’s establishment, at No. 160 East One Hundred and Twenty-Sixth street, early to-day.  He had fallen four floors.  His neck had been broken and death was instantaneous.  Stephenson believes he jumped into the shaft in fleeing from the visions he so greatly feared.

Fuller, who was twenty-seven years old and unmarried, came to New York from an up-state town only a few months ago, and obtained a position as an emergency embalmer for the casket company.  It was part of his duty to live in the big five-story brick building in East One Hundred and Twenty-Sixth street, every floor of which is filled with caskets.  The young embalmer had to stay in the place all night to answer emergency calls.

During the last few days Stephenson, another workman in the casket factory, had noticed that Fuller was growing wan and pale.  When he asked him what the trouble was he says the young man replied:

“I’ll tell you just what it is, Stephenson, although it sounds rather foolish.  For the last few days I have been seeing ghosts.  They walk into my room while I am in bed.  They stand at my side and look at me and some of them make menacing gestures.  All of them seem to be ghosts of people I have embalmed.  I suppose it’s absurd to talk this way.  Of course the ghosts don’t exist.  What I need to drive them away is fresh air and plenty of exercise.  But still when they come and look at me my hair stands on end and my impulse is to get away from them at any cost.”

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Case of the Time-Traveling Priest

Father Ernetti, circa 1960

Pellegrino Ernetti was unquestionably a man of parts.  The Italian Benedictine monk was not merely a renowned religious and archaic music scholar; he held a degree in quantum and subatomic physics.  On a more curious note, Ernetti was also one of his country's most accomplished exorcists.

In short, Ernetti was a man to be taken seriously.  Which is why the world was so befuddled when, during the 1950s, Father Ernetti announced that he had succeeded in building a time machine.

His alleged invention, which he called “the Chronovisor,” was not a “time machine” in the sense that it allowed the user to physically travel to other eras.  Rather, it was sort of a Fortean television set which gave one the ability to view on a screen events in the past as they happened.  According to Ernetti, he had been working on the machine since 1950 in collaboration with a group of 12 other scientists who, perhaps unsurprisingly, wished to remain anonymous.  (Rumor had it that Ernetti’s cohorts included Enrico Fermi and Wernher von Braun.)

Ernetti calmly and unhesitatingly talked of his trips through history via the Chronovisor.  He witnessed a performance in 169 B.C. Rome of Quintus Ennius’ now-lost tragedy “Thyestes.”  (Ernetti provided a transcription he had made of the play.)  He toured a first century AD Roman market.  He viewed speeches by Mussolini, Napoleon, and Cicero.  (Regarding the latter, Ernetti noted that the Latin pronunciation taught in schools today is incorrect.)  Most startlingly, Ernetti claimed he had used his Chronovisor to watch the final days of Jesus.  He presented a photo he claimed to have taken of Christ dying on the cross, which, it must be said, did little to convince skeptics.  (It was eventually identified as a close-up photo of a wooden crucifix on display in the Sanctuary of Merciful Love at Collevalenza.)

Unfortunately, Ernetti never provided many details about his astonishing creation.  The Chronovisor was said to be made up of antennae of various alloys, a sort of steering wheel driven by electromagnetic radiation which enabled the user to hone in on their chosen time and place, and recording devices to copy the sights and sounds of our distant past.

Ernetti told friends that he came to believe his device was just too successful. He and his team dismantled the Chronovisor, fearing what could result if it fell into the wrong hands. It had the potential, he said, to create "the most fearsome dictatorship the world has ever seen." Despite the complete lack of hard evidence for Ernetti’s claims, he never retracted his story.  Although the priest became increasingly silent about his alleged invention, he went to his grave in 1994 content to let the world think he might--just might--have been a time-traveler.

It was after Ernetti’s death that the Chronovisor story really got weird.  In 2002, a French Jesuit priest, Francois Brune published a book, “Le nouveau mystère du Vatican,” (“The Vatican’s New Mystery,”) asserting that, yes, Ernetti’s machine really had existed.  Brune, who had been friends with Ernetti since 1962, accused the Vatican of suppressing all information about the Chronovisor. The Church not only ordered Ernetti to shut up about the damn thing, but covered up all proof of its existence, such as Ernetti’s research notes and blueprints.  (Regarding the dubious photo of Christ on the cross, Brune said that Ernetti had an explanation for its resemblance to the Collevalenza crucifix: the artist who made the icon was guided by a nun who had many visions of the Crucifixion.  Probably, he asserted, the nun had herself been mystically transported through time, enabling her to see the exact same scene that Ernetti had photographed.)  Brune didn’t blame anyone for assuming that Ernetti was merely a particularly wild fabulist.  However, he argued that it was impossible to believe that this brilliant and accomplished man of high moral integrity would be insane enough to make up such an implausible story.

A further complication to our little tale emerged in 2000.  New Paradigm Books published an English-language translation of Viennese journalist Peter Krassa’s 1997 book about Ernetti under the title “Father Ernetti’s Chronovisor.”  This edition included a previously-unknown “deathbed confession.”  This document was sent to New Paradigm by an anonymous source claiming to have been a relative of Ernetti’s present at the priest’s final hours.  In this “confession,” Ernetti admits that although he had been working on the Chronovisor for many years, he had never perfected it sufficiently to actually travel through time.  It took a near-death experience for him to realize that he, and not Quintus Ennius, had composed the text of “Thyestes” he had supposedly copied from an ancient performance.  In the “confession,” Ernetti revealed that he had spent many previous lifetimes struggling to create the Chronovisor, and he vowed to be reincarnated once more in order to try, try again.

Naturally, Brune dismissed this document as a forgery.  He pointed out, correctly, that the “confession” contained many inconsistencies and errors.  He also noted that the description of the Chronovisor allegedly provided by the dying Ernetti did not match in the slightest what the priest had told Brune and others about his device.  Brune scoffed that the document’s author “had read a little bit too much science fiction.”  He believed that the document was evidence that there are powerful forces who want all of us to doubt that the Chronovisor was real.  And, perhaps, Brune mused, it was “for the good of humanity” that the Chronovisor should remain hidden, as “such an invention would run the risk of overturning all of our social structures.”

In other words, if the Chronovisor ever existed, perhaps it shouldn’t have.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

It's time for this week's Link Dump!

And the Strange Company HQ staff can scarcely contain their excitement.

What the hell are the stone balls of Skara Brae?

What the hell was the Boscombe Down incident?

What the hell happened to Betty and Barney Hill?

Watch out for the Yay-Ho!

Watch out for the Ogopogo!

The (gruesome) details of a 17th century examination of witches.

The man who made dead fish speak.  Although I'm not certain why anyone would want to.

Odyssey celebrates 20 years on Mars.

Celebrating spring with wine, whips, and mud.

Discovering a "lost golden city."

A life-saving forger.

Mary Astor's sex scandal; or why some people just shouldn't keep a diary.

Newburyport's most notorious arsonist.

Why you wouldn't enjoy picking oakum.

Well, so much for the laws of physics.

How the Dutch made good money out of the American Revolution.

The ingenuity of ancient engineering.

Meet Apricot, a very unusual kitten.

British-occupied India's Chapati Movement.

A look at historical types of walks.

How the friendship between Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Alexander Pope ended.

Another gateway to Hell.  Our planet has a lot of those, which shouldn't surprise anyone.

A very lonely comet.

The ghost of Nottingham Castle.

Hypnotism as a murder alibi.

The world's most isolated monk.

We may be the alien planet.

A Bronze Age 3-d map.

Yet another reason to hate Zoom.

Non-essential retail shops in 19th century London.

The shining pyramids.

A murder mystery from the 3rd Century AD.

That time they found the Devil's skeleton.

Burying Poor Polly.

The strange tale of the Public Universal Friend.

Graverobbing in Midlothian.

The playwright who may have inspired Shakespeare.

A girl's very weird disappearance.

Pete the Cat, unwilling test pilot.

An ancient Egyptian murder mystery.

Some of history's oddest books.

The poetry movement that wasn't.

Nikolai Gogol and Russian bureaucracy.

The man who allegedly inspired "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

In which a geologist is beaten up by an octopus.

The mysterious rumbles of Mars.

The mystery of the queen's disappearing daughter.

A brief history of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

A study showing the dangers of extreme fasting.

A Viking massacre in Saxon England.

People were collecting crystals 100,000 years ago.

The man who is recreating ancient musical instruments.  The yazh does sound lovely.

Northumberland's fiery ghost ship.

A prostitute's unsolved murder.

Treadmills in the Victorian era.

Meet Mr. E.G.G. Hunt.

Ancient coins and a piratical mystery.

History's greatest palm reader.

Taxes result in a lot of unintended consequences.

A 13th century soap opera with a surprise happy ending.

A look at 19th century Limehouse.

And that's a wrap for this week's Link Dump!  Tune in on Monday, when we'll look at a priest who claimed to travel through time.  In the meantime, here's Merle Haggard:

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

When I come across a newspaper story explaining how exploding corpses are a palliative to grief, by God I’m running with it.  The “Kansas City Daily Gazette,” January 31, 1888:

"I don't think I ever heard of anything quite so ghastly as the experience Mrs.--I mustn’t give her right name--Mrs. Graham, of New Orleans, had a number of years ago,” observes a contributor to the Chicago Times. I am pretty sure it has never been told in print, though it is true in every particular, except as to the names. A small party of us had been traveling through the Holy Land, and had just gone over into Egypt, where Mr. Graham, a man of wealth and culture, met with an accident that cost him his life. Of course we all were terribly shocked, and as for poor Mrs. Graham, she was utterly inconsolable. As soon as she came out of the swoon into which she fell when she first heard the dreadful news, she sat and rocked herself to and fro and wrung her hands in the most exquisite grief. We did everything and said everything we could think of, but nothing consoled her in the least. 

"Finally it was decided that we should have the body embalmed and start for home with it as soon as possible. I was deputed to find an undertaker, and I want to say right here that, however much the ancient Egyptian used to know about embalming, the modern knows but very little. After almost a day's search I succeeded, however, in finding a man who at least said he could fix the body so that it should be preserved for several months. When he had completed his work we placed the remains in an air-tight burial case, which we then inclosed in a box. Thus it was taken on shipboard, and we all set out for home. 

During all this time poor Mrs. Graham called constantly for her husband, and would not be comforted. We were all fearful that she would lose her reason. The ship's doctor did everything he could think of, but as soon as she came out from under the influence of his opiates she resumed her moaning calls for her husband. We told her that Mr. Graham could not come back; that all that remained of his mortal self was in the box. Then she pleaded to be taken to the box. On advice of the doctor we had the box brought into the cabin, and Mrs. Graham knelt down beside it and rocked backward and forward in her agony, praying aloud to the Lord to open the coffin and give back her dear husband to her. 

"Then followed the most marvelous and awful thing I ever heard of, and yet, awful and ghastly as it is, I never can think of it without laughing. There was a crash and a report that filled the cabin, and before we could imagine what it was, Mrs. Graham was hurled back several feet upon the floor, and the air was filled with pieces of the box, and of the coffin and of the corpse. That Egyptian undertaker had embalmed the body with some sort of chemicals that had fermented, and the corpse had exploded. It had blown into a thousand pieces all over the cabin. In an instant Mrs. Graham, who was not hurt at all, took in the whole situation, and saw how it had all happened, and right in the midst of her terrible grief the ridiculousness of the thing struck her, and she burst out in laughter. As soon as we gathered our scattered senses we thought that now she had surely become a maniac, but in a little while we learned that it was genuine and sane laughter. She had many a crying spell after that, but as soon as she began to weep she ran away, for her tears were always the harbinger of laughter which she could not control and did not want to display. The doctor said that explosion probably saved her reason."

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Haunted Tunnel

"Berkshire Sampler," October 30, 1977, via Newspapers.com

Long tunnels are many things, and often not very good things. Dark, dangerous, spooky, with the older ones having an atmosphere of damp and decay, causing one to picture unwholesome things lurking in the gloom. However, few tunnels have as sinister a history as a still-active railroad passageway in western Massachusetts.

The nearly five-mile-long Hoosac Tunnel has been called “The Bloody Pit,” and no one can say it hasn’t earned the nickname.  It even looks ghost-ridden.  It is a pitch-black, bone-chilling cold, narrow corridor, carved out of the base of a mountain range.  It took 24 years to build, and no less than 192 workers died during construction.

The Hoosac was begun in January 1851 under the command of engineer Lionel Baldwin, as part of a planned system linking Boston to the Erie Canal.  Baldwin had originally promised that the tunnel would cost $1,169,168 and be completed within three years.  As this proved to be an underestimate of 21 years and about 19 million dollars, Mr. Baldwin soon found himself a New England laughingstock.  Many people enjoyed repeating Oliver Wendell Holmes’ quip that the millennium would arrive before the Hoosac Tunnel did.  When the first train finally went through the tunnel on February 9, 1875, one could say it did so under a bit of a PR cloud.

As noted above, the tunnel’s completion took a horrendous death toll.  Men fell down the tunnel’s thousand-foot deep center shaft.  Men were burned alive.  Men were blown to bits by nitroglycerine explosions.  A not-untypical disaster involved three workers, Ned Brinkman, Billy Nash, and Ringo Kelley.  Kelley accidentally set off some explosives, burying the other two men alive.  Instead of running for help, Kelley fled the scene, leaving his coworkers to their fate.  One year later, Kelley’s dead body was found in the tunnel, at the same spot where Brinkman and Nash had died.  It was widely believed that the ghosts of his victims had gotten their revenge.  In 1868, three years after this triple tragedy, a mechanical engineer named Paul Travers wrote to his sister:

“Last night Mr. Dunn and I entered the great tunnel (unfinished) at 9 p.m.  We traveled about two miles into the shaft and then stopped to listen.  As we stood there in the cold silence, we both heard what truly sounded like a man groaning out in pain.  As you know, I have heard that sound many times during the war.  Yet when we turned the wicks up on our lamps, there were no other human beings in the shaft.  I haven’t been this frightened since Shiloh.  Mr. Dunn agreed that it wasn’t the wind we heard.  Perhaps Nash or Brinkman?  I wonder.”

In 1872, a doctor named Clifford J. Owens reported an even more eerie experience when he and a friend, James R. Mckinstrey, visited the tunnel late one night.  He wrote, “We had traveled about two miles into the shaft and were about to turn back when suddenly I heard a mournful sound…”  This was followed by a blue light floating toward them, in the shape of a headless man.  “It came so close I could have touched it and it paused in front of us as if looking us over, then floated off toward the east end of the shaft and vanished into thin air.”

One of the reasons the tunnel took so long to build was that it became increasingly difficult to find men willing to work on it.  Aside from the obvious physical risk, workers began insisting that the site was haunted.  Many men reported seeing and hearing things so frightening that no amount of wages could persuade them to enter the tunnel, particularly at night.

Joseph Impoco, who had worked on the tunnel as a teenager, recounted his experiences some fifty years later.  According to him, the ghosts of the Hoosac were responsible for saving his life.  On one occasion, he was crouching down on the tracks when he heard a voice cry out, “Run, Joe, run!”  Impoco turned, to see a train coming at him, but fortunately was able to leap back in time.  When he looked around, no one else was in the tunnel.  Another time, Impoco was freeing an iron crowbar from some ice when he again heard a voice, this time, yelling “Joe! Joe! Drop it, Joe!”  He recalled, “Something made my hands open, and the bar dropped.”  A second later, the bar was smashed against the tunnel wall by 11,000 volts of electricity.  A power line had short-circuited. 

One day, Impoco and some other workers were clearing trees, when “this goddamned big tree started to fall my way.  The gang all hollered and said, ‘Run, Joe, run!.’  I turned around and the tree was coming down.  I ran so fast that I fell and the tree gave me quite a whack.  The whole gang started laughing.  And there was this funny laugh with them that sounded like this...ha...ha...ha...ha.  It was really a strange laugh.  You know the kind I mean...ha...ha...ha...ha.  The men all stopped laughing, but that other one kept right on...ha...ha...ha...ha, all the way down the valley.  There was a light mist all around.  You can call me a liar, but that entire crew, all eight men, died.”

When the interviewer asked him, “While working on the tunnel?” Impoco replied, “No, no.  They all quit pretty soon after that.  They were scared to death.  But they didn’t kid me any more after that.”

Two months after the tree incident, Impoco decided he had quite enough of the Hoosac Tunnel.  He quit his job and moved to Springfield.  However, this wasn’t the end of his association with that strange place.  Every year, he returned to visit the tunnel, because “the ghosts” told him that if he didn’t, something bad would happen.  Impoco kept up this eerie pilgrimage for decades, until his wife implored him to stop, saying that his superstitious ritual was “a lot of bunk.”  To make her happy, he cancelled his annual visit to Hoosac.

His wife died three weeks later.

And then, of course, there’s this: 

"Bennington Banner," July 10, 1973

Mr. Hastaba was observed entering the Hoosac Tunnel, and, as far as I have been able to find, never came out.  To date, he has never been seen, alive or dead, since.

Although the Hoosac is still used by the occasional freight train, it’s main purpose nowadays is to scare the bejeebers out of visitors.  To this day, people report hearing ominous moans and seeing strange lights and apparitions in and around the tunnel.  Some bolder souls have walked through the tunnel, and generally regret doing so, as they often report the unnerving feeling of being closely followed by...something.

All in all, if you are ever in the vicinity of the Hoosac, it might be wisest to stay above ground, in the bright light of day.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week, the staffers at Strange Company HQ have been busy posing for their official photos.

What the hell are the Moodus Noises?

Henry II's illegitimate son.

Why Edwin Major got the hanging he deserved.

The story behind an obscure portrait of Ernest Hemingway.

Egypt's tattooed mummies.

A rebel Countess.

18th century barbers and impolite advertising.

A sailor spends Easter in 1835 California.

Suicide at a state senator's house.

Earth, the musical planet.

How not to make eggnog.

The legal system in Elizabethan England.

What happens when you really overthink your dish of pasta.

The complicated history of VCRs.

The Richmond Bread Riot.

A woman's weird disappearance.

Life aboard the prison hulks.

New insights about human evolution in Africa.

The science behind reincarnation.

A man who had a very unlucky face.

The black cowboys of Philadelphia.

"Revolting charges against an undertaker."

The cosmetic quackery of Madame Rachel.

Some medieval Lent recipes.

The missing boy and the con artist.

Albert Einstein, celebrity.

A strange vanishing at Yosemite.

That time the Pope endorsed cocaine.

Some vintage Easter recipes.

A doctor's views on near death experiences.

The strange world of online amateur detectives.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was many things, but Mother of the Year was not among them.

Food shopping in 19th century Paris.

An Englishman's secret life.

The ghost light of Coverdale.

A sailor cat's wartime adventures.

One of Britain's most famous missing-person cases.

The burial bedding of Iron Age Swedish warriors.

Dolls in the Roman Empire.

A look at Britain's first prime minister.

Fake news from 2700 years ago.

The Kongka Pass is one strange place.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll go through one very weird tunnel.  In the meantime, here's some Schein.