"...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 14, 2018

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is sponsored by still more of our Christmas Cats!







What the hell became of Lloyd Gaines?

Watch out for those cursed Christmas trees!

Watch out for those hungry ghosts!

That time when it was a Fun Thing to tour morgues.

Superstitions about Thursdays.

Another Jacobin bites the dust.

Scotland and the Yule Log.

Abraham Lincoln and the murder trial.

How Joan Cuneo managed to get all women banned from auto racing.

The Winter of Death and the Snowman Invasion.

Real-life Christmas ghost stories.

The first Human Cannonball.

A brief history of dentures.

Hanukkah folklore and traditions.

Christmas in Georgian England.

London's "garrotting panic."

The Monsanto murder.

Shopping at the mall, 18th century style.

"Book-women" and the Great Fire of London.

Why it's never a good idea to marry someone who threatens to kill you.

It's usually not so swell to be Peter the Great's brother-in-law, either.

A fascinating look at what killed people in a 17th century village.  Watch out for those killer fairies!

Victorian Christmastime crimes.

When turkeys wore boots.

Using Artificial Intelligence to decipher ancient languages.

Napoleon's 1840 funeral.

Deserted families in the 19th century.

The real Pied Piper.

The real Lady Godiva.

Pro tip: Don't bother trying to drown Aleix Segura.  It won't be easy.

A possible 19th century serial killer.

Zimbabwe, land of cursed beer.

Antarctica, land of psychological hibernation.

This week in Russian Weird: the country's most advanced robot turns out to be...amazingly lifelike.

A spectral Christmas tree.

The "other" Easter Island.

The best-selling fiction of the past 100 years.  It's rather sobering how many of these books are now completely forgotten.

Old Marylebone.

An amazing story of premature birth.

And we're done for the week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a famed 18th century eccentric.  In the meantime, since we're heading into winter, here's a Latvian song honoring the season. I think I posted this last year, but so what. I love it.



Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com


The dead can get so damned touchy about what you do with their remains. This charming little cautionary tale was related by one S.G. Hobson, in what appears to have been a syndicated column. This particular reprint comes from the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" for July 12, 1908.
Medical students are notoriously irreverent; serious views come to them later on in life. And they are apt to take a material view of the sanctities of the human body. But even their materialism sometimes gets a jolt.

This eerie story was told to me by a doctor in the west of Ireland one evening as we were discussing supernatural things. He was a King's man and therefore held a London degree. In his student days he used to foregather with a number of his college chums in a house in Bloomsbury where lodged a student, to whom money was not of much object.

By some subterranean means these young sparks had got hold of a corpse to dissect. It was the body of a distinguished-looking man, well nourished, and having every indication of cleanly habits during life. The corpse was regarded as a great find, and for several nights careful scientific dissection went on. After all dissecting possibilities had been exhausted the owner proceeded to retain the skeleton and took the necessary means to have the bones cleansed.

About a month later half a dozen of the fellows met for a jollification and I fear that what with whisky and soda, rum punch and other deleterious and distinctly unmedical lotions, the wee small hours found them in a rollicking mood, if not in an intoxicated condition. Practical jokes followed fast and furious upon each other, and finally irreverent hands were laid upon the new bleached skeleton. Nothing would satisfy one youngster but to detach the skull and place it in the bed of the student lodger. This led to other pranks on the unfortunate skeleton, and before long arms and legs were distributed in various parts of the room. Another hour's jollification witnessed the exhaustion of the party. Arm chairs were requisitioned for sleep, and there was a brisk fight for possession of the sofa. Soon silence came upon them. The room was dark enough for it reeked with tobacco smoke. Sleep came to tired eyes and one or two hoggishly snored.

Suddenly a startled voice rang out: "Hie. you chaps, look." All were immediately on the alert, and surely never did a more blood-curdling picture present itself, for the bones of that skeleton by some unseen agency one by one were coming together again. Not a man dared move. These brave youths, who had not scrupled to play silly jokes with a skeleton which six weeks before was clothed in the majesty of manhood, now sat in a horrid fright, eyes starting from their sockets. A nightmare was child's play to this. Soon the whole skeleton had been integrated save for the head. Then there was a pause. But in the silence each man instinctively knew that something even yet more uncanny was about to happen. After a lapse of about 30 seconds the door opened, and on a level with the handle the skull was seen to advance slowly to the corner of the room where stood the rest of the skeleton. The skull rose to the level of the neck and was placed in position by the same unseen agency that had brought together the other part.

Nothing more had happened, and it was half-an-hour before the first student dared utter a word. Then all rushed for hats and coats.

"My God, you fellows! Are you going to leave me here alone with that?" exclaimed the medical lodger, pointing dramatically to the skeleton.

This is how my informant finished the story: "Not one of us was disposed to stay there, but I said to him in a whisper, 'Come and spend the night with me, old man.'"

"And so we left the room where the ghost of the departed grandee had set up his own skeleton. Gad, my son! 'Twas an experience you would not go hunting for. Billy Stephens, who lodged there and owned the skeleton, got such a sickener that he gave up medicine and took to the church."
I always try to warn people that skeletons rarely have a sense of humor.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Ryan Murders

"Buffalo Courier," December 31, 1873, via Newspapers.com


On November 28, 1873, 28-year-old Nicholas Ryan and his 24-year-old sister Mary rented furnished lodgings on the fourth floor of a New York City boarding house run by Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Burke. Nicholas was a shoemaker, and his sister had a similar occupation as a "gaiter-fitter." It was a typical tenement room of the day, about sixteen feet square, simply but comfortably furnished. It cost them nine dollars a month rent. Nicholas slept in the walnut bedstead that sat in one corner of the room, while Mary took her rest on a mattress she nightly placed on the horse-hair sofa. The brother and sister were regarded as quiet, hard-working, and deeply religious. They seemed to get along excellently with each other. The pair dressed well, saved their money, and appeared a distinct cut above their seedy, crime-ridden neighborhood. They mostly kept to themselves, having few visitors other than their relatives.  Neither had any known romantic involvements.

So far as anyone could tell, the lives of the Ryans were completely uneventful until the morning of December 22. A policeman who was passing their tenement around three a.m. heard a window raised with a loud crash. Looking up at the source of the sudden noise, he saw a man leaning out from a window on the fourth floor, shouting "Murder! Police!"

The policeman immediately yelled for backup and ran into the house, followed swiftly by several other officers. They were confronted by blood pouring down the stairs. When they reached the landing of the second story, they discovered the body of Nicholas Ryan, wearing nothing but his nightshirt. His throat had been savagely cut. A deeply agitated Patrick Burke met the officers on the stairway with the news that another body could be found in one of the rooms. He led them to the lodgings of the Ryans, where Mary lay on her makeshift bed, her neck slashed as deeply and fatally as her brother's. It appeared that she had been strangled into insensibility before her throat was cut.

Blood permeated the tenement--all over the stairs and walls of all the floors, out on the landing of their room, and, of course, their room itself. It was assumed that the killer had entered the Ryan room using a false key. He then murdered Mary in her bed. Nicholas leaped out of bed to confront the intruder, and they had a savage fight in the landing outside the room, which ended in young Ryan's death. Someone had somehow managed to commit a particularly violent and gruesome double murder in this building of nearly a hundred residents and depart like a malevolent ghost.

Patrick Burke told police that at about 2:30 a.m., he was awakened by strange sounds. He went into the hall, but he saw nothing in the darkness. A moment later, he heard another noise that he likened to "the wheezing of a cat." As he was getting dressed, his eleven-year-old daughter Jennie called to him, "Come here, father; there is something the matter on the landing." He got a lamp and reemerged into the hallway, where he was now able to see streams of blood on the floor and walls. He saw that the door of the Ryan's room, which adjoined the Burke family's lodgings, was open. When he went to investigate, he discovered Mary Ryan's blood-soaked corpse, after which he went to the window and gave the alarm which had summoned police.

A few hours after the bodies were discovered, Jennie Burke found Nicholas' vest on the roof of the building, with the pockets rifled of their contents. (Oddly, the police had previously searched the roof without seeing this vest.) Bloody footprints, which were also noticeable on the roof, indicated the route the murderer had taken after committing the crime. However there was no trace of the murder weapon, or any clue where the killer had gone.

Investigators were baffled by the crime. The motive was never determined. The initial theory was that the pair were victims of a burglar, but that remained nothing more than conjecture. Nicholas' silver watch was believed to be missing from the room, but that seemed hardly worth burglary, let alone murder. It was generally believed that the killer had taken it in order to simulate a robbery. (Mary's gold watch and pencil and a small amount of cash remained in the room.) Patrick Ryan, an older brother of the victims, described his siblings as clean-living, peaceable sorts without any enemies, and no evidence could be found to disprove this statement. A theory was entertained by some police investigators that in a fit of sudden madness, Nicholas had murdered his sister, after which he fled out to the landing to cut his own throat.  However, no solid evidence could be found to support this comfortably tidy explanation. Everyone who knew the siblings described their relationship as affectionate and devoted. It seemed unlikely for the right-handed Nicholas to inflict his own wound, which was largely on the right side of his throat. Besides, if this was a murder-suicide, how to explain the absence of the weapon and the vest on the roof?

Mrs. Burke did tell police one curious little story about her deceased tenants. Several days before the murders, the Ryans, uncharacteristically, had a heated quarrel. Nicholas afterward told Mrs. Burke "that he and his sister could not live together, and that he would have to break up housekeeping, as he had been obliged to do once before." He declared that "he would not be governed by a woman, and that his sister wanted to rule him." Mrs. Burke described his demeanor as "very nervous," and that he "was trembling from head to foot when he was talking to her." The following day, Mary told her that Nicholas had been upset with her for "buying a new teapot, which proved to be too small." A tempest over a teapot, one might say. Mary's explanation smacks of a ludicrous cover story, but the true cause of the fight between the siblings--and whether or not it was somehow connected to their deaths--remained a mystery. (As an aside, there were numerous hints in the contemporary newspapers that while the Burkes probably had nothing to do with the murders, they knew more than they were willing to say.)

As far as the police could tell, the last day the Ryans spent alive was utterly ordinary. Earlier in the evening, Patrick Ryan and another sister, Johanna, had tea with Nicholas and Mary in their room. All were in excellent spirits, laughing and joking. Afterward, the little party all left the house. Nicholas then parted from the company. No one knows where he went or what he did before returning to his lodgings. Mary accompanied her sister to Johanna's house. At about nine p.m. Mary left to return home.

When the bodies of the Ryans were autopsied, everyone, including their relatives, received a severe shock: Mary had been pregnant when she died. It is generally assumed that her child's father was also her killer--perhaps out of desperation to keep his guilty secret safe--but no one had any idea who this man might have been.  Or--on an even more lurid note--did Mary's pregnancy have anything to do with what some investigators believed was an "unnatural" relationship between the siblings?

We simply do not know.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is sponsored by more of our Christmas Cats!








Who the hell made the Arthur's Seat Coffin Dolls?  And why?

Watch out for those cursed rings!

Mrs. Hodges and the meteorite.

Incidentally, the new film about Mary Queen of Scots sounds like a real stinker.  Judging by the trailer, I'm guessing it's the equivalent of John Cusack's Poe movie.

Two executions that were footnotes to the American Revolution.

When London got street lights...it didn't work out too well.

The foxes of Foxhurst.

The last written words of a condemned man.

A trio for this week in Russian Weird: Siberia has unicorns!

And there was the Russian woman known as "Lady Death."

And the cats of the Hermitage!

There's something on Mars that looks like a clump of tin foil.

If you want to have some fresh new nightmares, check out this 9,000 year old mask.

And here is the reconstruction of an astounding 1,300 year old helmet.

If, like me, you think all modern pop music sounds alike, you may be right.

As a Californian, I can say that Krampus fits right in here.

The famed courtesan Nelly O'Brien.

Ancient Egyptians did coffin-making on the cheap.

A Graveyard Christmas.

The spirit world and the hairwork bracelet.

The mountain bike murder.

William Lambert of the Bombay Army.

How to dress for an 18th century masquerade ball.

There are times when it doesn't pay to take things slowly.

Found: a medieval man who literally died with his boots on.

A reporter who became a literal ghost writer.

There may be such a thing as too much Christmas spirit.

So, let's discuss Tycho Brahe and the psychic dwarf.

Let's also talk about beer-drinking duck Marines.

The diary of an 18th century teenager in London.

When your mother is a homicidal sociopath.

Mysterious sheep-killings in Wales.

Shorter version: social media has turned us all into exhibitionists.

The singing heroine of a tragedy at sea.

Well, this is a bit unnerving.

The grave of a heroic dog.

The origins of Thanksgiving.

A ghost with a grudge.

Medieval guide dogs.

Pirate ghosts and cursed treasure.  What could be better?

The mystery of Petrarch's cat.

The first female ghostbuster.

The world's most sickening museum.  Literally.

The lost art of flower-making.

The rector returns from the grave.

Did Ida Quinlan murder her sister?

A look at Napoleon's coronation.

We're done for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an unusual poltergeist account.  In the meantime, here's a bit of classic Christmas music.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com


You may recall that a while ago, I posted a story about a man who was being pestered with letters...from his very dead wife. Curiously enough, this wasn't the only marital correspondence from beyond the grave that I've found. Here is a story from the "The True Northerner," October 1, 1885:

This may be said, if all the advices that have been floating of late in regard to people who were supposed to be dead, and are alive again. A telegram from Toledo relates the story of a farmer in Montclara , Ohio, who died and was buried thirteen years ago, but is still writing to his family. The Sunday Capital prints a story quite as remarkable, as follows:

“A very remarkable case has come to my attention through a friend in the pension office which furnishes incidents for a novel as powerful as any Dumas or Eugene Sue ever used. In 1864 a lieutenant from an Ohio village was killed in one of the battles in Virginia and his body was sent home, buried with military honors and a handsome monument erected over it by the citizens of the place. Thousands of people paid their tributes of honor to the young hero and looked upon his face as the body lay in the town hall. He left a widow to whom he had been married only a year, and for more than twenty years she has been trying to get a pension; but, although she keeps fresh flowers upon her husband’s grave, she cannot prove that he is dead. The records in the adjutant general’s office are perfect, and affidavits can be furnished from thousands of people who saw and recognized his lifeless body, but every few months she receives a letter from him written in a hand as familiar as her own. Two letters never come from the same place; now they are postmarked in Colorado, then in Texas, then in New York. Once she got a note from him dated at Washington. He appears to know what is going on at home, and always alludes to local occurrences with a familiarity that is amazing. He sends messages to old friends and gives her advice about business matters which it seems impossible for a stranger to know. She cannot answer these ghostly missives, because he never gives any clew to his whereabouts, and no detective has ever been able to find him. Her friends believe that the writer is some crank or malicious person who takes this way to annoy her, and the distress the poor woman suffers cannot be measured by any other human experience. Long ago she ceased to open envelopes which came with the familiar address, but sends them sealed to her attorney, who uses every possible means to secure a clew to the identity of the writer. The only circumstances to suggest that it may possibly be her husband are the penmanship and the familiarity the writer shows with the lady’s private life, but how he could keep himself posted is another mystery, which cannot be solved. Several times the writer has intimated that he might soon pay her a visit, but the next letter always contains an apology for not having done so. The woman has suffered agony of mind beyond description, and her life has been ruined by this horrible mystery, but of late she has become more resigned, and would neither be surprised or disappointed if her husband should someday walk into her door."
As is too often the case with the particularly weird newspaper reports, I've been unable to find how, or if, this mystery was ever resolved.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Porteous Riot; Or, Why Some People Should Just Stick to Golf

James Drummond, "The Porteous Mob," 1855


Historically speaking, many large-scale riots seem almost unpreventable, or, at least, unforeseeable. A series of unlucky or tragic events suddenly coalesces into mass violence, and it is difficult to say who could have prevented it, or how. No one person was at fault.

An exception is Edinburgh's most notorious public disturbance, which has gone down in history as "The Porteous Riot." In this incident, it was argued at the time that the violent and fatal commotion could all be laid at the feet of one man's arrogant and thoughtless behavior.

And in the end, he paid a very high price for his errors in judgment.

The origin of our story lies in that age-old practice of smuggling, which was a particularly common activity in18th century Scotland. Fierce resentment of the high taxes imposed by the government in London caused Scots to treat those who provided them with contraband goods as heroes, even patriots. It wasn't just a question of getting a bargain; smuggling was seen as a sign of national independence from that despised Sassenach regime. England, recognizing that smuggling was as much a political issue as it was a financial concern, was doubly determined to crack down on the smugglers. When captured, the lawbreakers would not just be imprisoned, they would be hanged as traitors.

One of the era's most well-known and successful smugglers was Andrew Wilson, who operated out of the village of Pathhead, about twelve miles from Scotland's capital. His skill and popularity among his countrymen made him London's number one target for destruction. In February 1736, Wilson and two cronies, George Robertson and William Hall, burgled the residence of James Stark, a local customs duty collector. This was done out of revenge for Stark having seized some of Wilson's smuggled goods a short time back. As far as Wilson was concerned, he was merely evening the score.

As the authorities were well aware of Wilson's personal grudge against Stark, he became the prime suspect for the theft. Within three days, the smuggler and his confederates were arrested. On March 2, after a short and pro forma trial, all three were condemned to hang on April 14th. (Hall's sentence was later commuted to transportation to America.)

Wilson did not accept his sentence meekly. He, as well as a lot of other Scots, felt he was not a common criminal, but a political martyr. He was determined to make his escape. Allies managed to sneak a saw and a heavy knife to him, tools that he and Robertson used to saw through the bars of their cell window. Robertson was able to squeeze through the gap they had made, but unfortunately for Wilson, he was a "squat, round man." When he tried to make his way through the opening, he became stuck, unable to go either all the way out or back inside his cell. Before Robertson could free him, the guard was alerted, bringing the flight to freedom to a highly embarrassing end.

Wilson was doubly depressed over his failure. Not only had he lost his last chance to save his own neck, but he felt he had forfeited Robertson's as well. Although he accepted his grisly fate, he was determined that his friend should still find a way to escape. A characteristically audacious plan formed in his mind.

Three days before their scheduled execution, Wilson and Robertson were escorted to the Tolbooth church to hear their final Sunday service. When the proceedings were about to commence, Wilson made his move. He threw himself on their three guards, using all his considerable strength to hold them down. "Geordie, do for thy life!" he shouted.

Robertson followed this sage advice. He ran, and did not stop running until he was able to hide himself in Edinburgh's dark, twisting alleys. The citizens were more than happy to offer him shelter from the authorities. Wilson, of course, was soon overpowered, but he no longer cared. He had accomplished his goal.

Wilson's act of self-sacrifice made him even more of a hero in Edinburgh. Anger over what was seen as his totally unjust death sentence grew. As the date of Wilson's hanging approached, authorities became increasingly concerned about the public mood. They feared there would be an attempt to rescue the condemned man on the way to the gallows. John Porteous, one of the three captains of the City Guard, was given orders to have the 25 men under his command monitor the execution site and swiftly put down any signs of dangerous mutiny among the spectators. For good measure, the magistrates brought in a detachment of 150 men from the Royal Welsh Fuseliers.

Edinburgh City Guard


The 41-year-old Porteous could not be called a pleasant character. He had obtained his promotion to captain not from merit, but from influence--the job was his payoff for being willing to marry the Lord Provost's cast-off mistress, Isobel Gordon. Porteous was one of those people who are put in a position of authority, and come to enjoy their power rather too well. To put it more plainly, he was a harsh, officious bully who did not scruple to use physical violence on those unlucky enough to come into his custody. His insensitive and tyrannical nature had made him the most well-hated figure in Edinburgh. He was the worst possible choice to be put in charge of controlling an already hostile and indignant crowd.

As if all that wasn't bad enough, Porteous had a particular animosity towards the condemned man. He saw Wilson's engineering of Robertson's escape as an insult, a grave offense against his authority. It was said that while Wilson was in his custody, Porteous had inflicted savage physical revenge on the prisoner that virtually amounted to torture--a rumor that made Edinburghians all the more outraged.

Site of Wilson's execution


When April 14th arrived, the large crowd around the scaffold was grim, but silent and orderly. Somewhat to the authorities' surprise, the death sentence was carried out without incident.

The trouble began after Wilson was hanged. When the hangman moved to cut down the body of the man Edinburgh had liked and admired, this final indignity caused the crowd's buried wrath to bubble over. Infuriated citizens began throwing stones and clods of dirt at the City Guard. The hangman received such a volley of missiles that he fled. (He had to be put under police protection.) Spectators began rushing the gallows, determined to cut Wilson down and try to revive him, or at least give his body an honorable burial. The situation was dangerously near to going completely out of control.

What happened next is disputed, which is unsurprising, given the chaotic scene. Most reports state that Porteous, instead of working to pacify the crowd, behaved in a way guaranteed to bring on disaster. Furious at this show of open insubordination, he grabbed a musket and fired it at the mob. A young man named Charles Husband fell down dead.

Porteous ordered his troops to fire warning shots over the crowd, which only succeeded in hitting several spectators in the tenement buildings opposite them. When this only added to the uproar, he insisted that his men shoot directly at the horde, threatening the reluctant soldiers with disciplinary charges if they disobeyed. Three people were instantly killed, and at least twelve wounded. The confusion this caused among the crowd enabled Porteous to order a retreat. The Guard began to flee, with the now thoroughly inflamed mob in hot pursuit. Porteous gave another order to fire at the multitude, which resulted in three more deaths and great many other casualties. This just spurred the crowd on. Their goal now was not merely to mourn Wilson's death. They wanted revenge, and their target was Captain Porteous. If the onlookers had managed to get their hands on him at that moment, he would have been quickly torn to pieces.

Porteous made his report to a meeting of the city magistrates, only to find he was no more popular there than he had been among the mob. The magistrates were furious at the debacle, and had no desire to offer him much support. By the time the riot had quelled down, at least nine people were dead and some twenty more seriously injured. The official inquiry into the tragedy led to Porteous facing charges of manslaughter, maiming, and murder.

Porteous' trial took place on July 5-9, 1736. He pleaded self-defense, and brought in witnesses who testified that he had not personally fired into the crowd. (Crown witnesses, naturally, asserted the reverse.) Although by the letter of the law, the defendant had a strong case, public sentiment was so against him that his conviction was virtually a foregone conclusion. It was decreed that on September 8, Porteous would follow Wilson to the gallows.

Although this verdict was welcomed in Scotland, London felt otherwise. His Majesty's government felt that Porteous' actions had been entirely called-for in the circumstances. Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole granted Porteous a six-week reprieve. It was believed that a full pardon would soon follow.

The news that the Porteous would escape the noose after all outraged Edinburgh. The thought of the hated London government butting in to save a man they held responsible for the death of Scottish citizens just added further fuel to the public fire. A group of men--some of them holding prominent positions in Edinburgh society--secretly made their plans, determined that Porteous would not escape the punishment they felt he well deserved. These vigilantes spread the word that on September 8, they would assault the Tolbooth and deliver their own form of justice to the prisoner. Naturally, the authorities planned to have extra guards at the prison on that night.

The rumored date was, however, merely a ruse. On the night of September 7, some four thousand men quietly marched on Edinburgh, taking the castle garrison completely off-guard. The crowd broke into the City Guardhouse and emptied it of its store of weaponry. Then, they headed straight for the Tolbooth--and John Porteous. The city magistrates were helpless in the face of this very large, very well-armed, and very very determined army. The authorities sent frantic messages to all the garrisons quartered in the city, but these soldiers were disinclined to come to their aid.

By 11:30 p.m., the mob had succeeded in breaking down the prison door. After relieving the jailer of his keys, they marched on Porteous' cell. The prisoner was savagely dragged outdoors, the his captors beating and kicking him all the way. Porteous was hauled to the site where Wilson had been executed, and a makeshift gallows was swiftly erected.

The former captain had a much more agonizing end than the one delivered to Andrew Wilson. After a rope was put around his neck, Porteous was repeatedly hauled up, then quickly lowered again. All the while, members of the mob beat him and even tried setting him on fire. This slow torture lasted for nearly an hour before it finally killed him. His body was pulled up one final time--like a macabre victory flag--and left dangling there while the mob silently dispersed into the darkness.

London was indignant at the news of Porteous' grisly end, and ordered an inquiry into the affair. A reward of £200 pounds--as well as a promise of immunity--was offered for anyone who would give information about the lynching. It was all in vain. Although everyone in the city must have known who was involved in Porteous' murder, they kept that knowledge to themselves. No one was ever punished, or even publicly identified, for their part in the grim doings of September 7.

The English government settled for fining Edinburgh £2000, with the money to be paid to Porteous' widow. Probably very wisely, that lady then left Scotland for good. The Lord Provost, whom London blamed for failing to prevent the incident, was fired from his post. All the clergymen in Scotland were ordered to issue threats of arrest to anyone involved in Porteous' murder. These instructions were largely ignored. Scots tend to have long memories. Public opinion remained so bitter against John Porteous that it was not until 1973 that his grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard was given a proper headstone.

As for George Robertson, he managed to escape to Rotterdam, where he became the proprietor of a successful tavern. He also supplemented his income by acting as an informant for Scottish customs officers, giving them information on the local smugglers. According to a 1789 pamphlet, Robertson "at last got into some way with the English smugglers, and ruined many of them. The Dutch got information of him, and he took the hint and escaped over to London...he skulked about in London for some time, and got letters from those he did for in Scotland; and he applied to that hero, William Duke of Cumberland, who procured him a pardon from the King; and at last he died in misery in London."

There are no happy endings in this story.

[There is one quaint footnote to our ugly little tale. In his leisure moments, Porteous was a renowned and skillful golfer. In 1724, he and one Alexander Elphinston played the first golf match to be reported in the newspapers. Among the spectators were the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Morton, "and a great many persons of distinction." The wager was twenty guineas, with Mr. Elphinston coming out the winner. Scottish true crime historian William Roughead's last word on Porteous was, "one would fain hope that such a good golfer was not so great a rogue."]

Friday, November 30, 2018

Weekend Link Dump



From now until December 21, our Link Dumps will be sponsored by the Cats of Christmas!










Watch out for those haunted cars!

Watch out for those Welsh dragons!

Watch out for the Yowie!

The friendship of Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

A beheading in Pennsylvania.

It's a nice enough shack, but a bit busy for my taste.

The Cycling Countess, who was really a menace on the road.

"There is death in the pot!"

An execution that was a mess in more ways than one.

The history of the Halifax gibbet.

The dogs of Old London.

A notorious 19th century bigamist.

The world's oldest known drawing of an animal.

The most mysterious--and creepy--ancient statue.

New interactive map shows all the ways medieval London could kill you.

The chocolate houses of 18th century London.

The often alarming world of Early Modern medicine.

Nothing to see here, just a mysterious radioactive heat melting Antarctica.

UFOs over Baffin Island.

Well.  That's nice.

How Nazis tried to breed a superhorse.

An 18th century East India Company cadet writes home.

This week in Russian Weird:  THEIR CATS.

Death Valley and the lost underground city.

Some overlooked heroines of WWI.

The Aiken Party Massacre.

India now has an elephant hospital.

Everyone's favorite female serial-killer-for-profit, Belle Gunness.

How Benedict Arnold got the boot.

The oldest known whiskey distillery.

A horrific tale of revenge.

Victorian dining etiquette.

The enigmatic Edward Gorey.

The Parrot Fever Panic.

Johnny Cash and the hemorrhoid cream.

The subject of this portrait would probably have preferred to remain unknown.

Vintage tea terminology.

Rats and cats take to the stage.

Rough justice in 19th century Ohio.

Shopping for mourning.

That does it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a dark moment in Edinburgh history. In the meantime, let's jump with Harry James!