"...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

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Recluse of St. Helena

St. Helena stamp commemorating Fernao Lopes



History is full of “castaway” stories.  However, few are as remarkable as the life of a now little-remembered man named Fernão Lopes.  He made Robinson Crusoe look like a day-tripper.

Lopes was born into the Portuguese aristocracy sometime around 1480.  He grew up during Portugal’s Golden Age, when the country was expanding its influence throughout Europe.  Among the areas colonized by the Portuguese was Goa, a state on the southwestern coast of India.  

Lopes first entered history in 1506, when he set out for India as part of the 8th Armada, led by one Tristao da Cunha.  It’s believed that Lopes was a converted Jew.  At the time, Jews were suffering severe persecution, but considering that Lopes was performing active military duty for his king, he was granted a certain amount of immunity.  Also sailing with the Armada was a military commander named Alfonso Albuquerque, who carried with him secret orders to become Goa’s new viceroy.  Albuquerque was a skilled general, but brutal and ruthless, and there are some hints that an immediate friction developed between him and Lopes.

Lopes would come to deeply regret that.

When the fleet arrived at Goa, Albuquerque had little trouble asserting his authority over the region.  After a time, he moved on to deal with other matters, leaving Lopes and other troops to guard their fort.  In 1512, the king of Bijapur sent an army to reconquer Goa.   Their leader, Rasul Khan, launched a siege of Goa, cutting off food supplies to the Portuguese soldiers.

The Portuguese soon found themselves in an utterly miserable situation.  They had not been paid in months, and were now facing imminent starvation.  To save themselves, Lopes and around 70 other soldiers defected.  They converted to Islam and joined the Bijapur army.  (It has been suggested that as Lopes and many other Portuguese soldiers were married to Goa women, this also influenced their decision.)

When Albuquerque heard of this disaster, he naturally launched a counterattack, which resulted in a military stalemate.  The peace terms included the requirement that the turncoat Portuguese men be handed over to Albuquerque, on the condition that their lives were spared.  

Albuquerque, technically speaking, followed this agreement.  He did not execute the renegade soldiers.  Instead, he did something even worse.  Lopes and his confederates were horrifically tortured for three straight days.  Half the men died.  As Lopes was considered the leader of the group, his punishment was the most savage of all.  In the public square, his ears and nose were cut off, along with his right foot and left thumb.  His hair and beard were scraped off by clam shells and pig excrement was spread over his body.  When the ordeal was finally over, Lopes and the few other maimed prisoners who were (arguably) unlucky enough to have survived were cast out to fend for themselves.

For the next two years, Lopes somehow managed to survive by begging for food.  (It is unknown what happened to his wife.)  After hearing of Albuquerque’s death in December 1515, Lopes decided it was safe to return home.  In early 1516, he boarded a ship bound for Lisbon.

Along the way, his ship made a stop at the island of St. Helena.  The island--which was so tiny and remote it was not discovered until 1502--was uninhabited, but as it was rich in trees and fresh water, the Portuguese armadas frequently made brief stops there for water.

As soon as Lopes’ ship arrived at the island, he made a fateful decision--whether it was one he planned in advance or did out of a sudden impulse can never be known.  He quietly sneaked off the ship and disappeared into the forest.  The captain, who had become friendly with Lopes, ordered that the island be searched for him, but the disfigured ex-soldier had hidden himself well.  The others had no choice but to leave him behind.  The captain left food and other supplies for Lopes, along with a note alerting any other ships that might stop by that the island had a new resident, and he should not be harmed.

For the next 14 years, Lopes lived on St. Helena in complete solitude.  His only companion at during this period was a rooster who had managed to swim ashore after falling off a ship.  It is said he domesticated the rooster as a pet.  His existence became known to other Portuguese ships that stopped at the island.  They would often leave Lopes provisions, including livestock and seeds, but he avoided any direct contact with them. 

If you’re going to divorce yourself from the human race, St. Helena is among the pleasanter places to do so.  The climate was temperate, the ground fertile.  Lopes planted various fruit trees and raised livestock.  Before long, the ships that stopped off at the island were able to get not just water, but fresh fruit and meat.  Lopes gradually became less fearful of visitors, occasionally talking to the sailors who came ashore.  Back in Portugal, the hermit of St. Helena became an almost legendary figure.  His mutilated body--symbol of his martyrdom--and insistence on solitude led him to be seen as an almost saintly figure.

Lopes’ fame became so great that in 1531, the Portuguese king, Joao III, requested a meeting with him.  Lopes was unhappy about returning to Lisbon, but he obviously had no choice in the matter.  After visiting the king and queen, Lopes traveled to Rome, where he met with Pope Clement VI.  The Pope absolved him of his earlier “sin” of apostasy, and issued a proclamation that Lopes should be granted his one request: to go back to St. Helena and be left quite alone.

By the end of 1531, Lopes was back at his island refuge, where he remained until his death in 1545.  It is not known if he was buried on St. Helena or in Portugal, but I think the former is much more likely.  It seems certain that this is what Lopes himself would have wanted.

There has been some speculation about why Lopes chose to spend the last 30 years of his life in isolation, but to me it seems obvious: after his horrific experience at the hands of Alfonso Albuquerque, Lopes must have had the mother of all cases of what we today would call PTSD.  After what humans did to his body and soul, it is small wonder that he would not want to have anything to do with them ever again.  He must have felt that the remote Eden of St. Helena was his only hope for safety and some measure of peace.  Perhaps even happiness.

From the little we know, it’s possible that this hope was fulfilled.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Weekend Link Dump

 

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to the Link Dump!

Enjoy catching up on this week's news!




Who the hell was "Pete?"

The daughters of William Marshal, the "greatest knight."

A very strange death in Poland.


Welsh death tokens and weird lights.

A pendant from over 41,000 years ago.

Napoleon and religion.

A brief history of the Morton Salt Girl.

A brief history of the codpiece.

The horse who is a racetrack commentator's worst nightmare.

More on what a stagecoach journey would have been like in 1816.

However bad your Thanksgiving may have been, at least you didn't spend it having all your teeth removed.

Five little-publicized unsolved murders.

Your dogs know when you're lying to them.  (So do cats. And they will make you pay.)

The restoration of a lovely 17th century globe.

How people with disabilities fared at the Early Modern English court.  (Spoiler: not that well.)

The Pennsylvania county that's a "murderer's paradise."

The dreadful sequel to a famous disaster.

A sad animal story morphs into a Thanksgiving tale with a happy ending.

Pomegranate lore.

A tribute to literary cats.

The merchandise of "inconsolable grief."

A famous "ghost ship."

Victorians go to sea.

A heroic Victorian fireman.

When human skulls were used as medicine.

If you ever build a time machine, do not go to the Sahara Desert from 100 million years ago.  The scenery is crappy, the hotels are lousy, and the local cuisine will probably be you.

Pro tip from Benjamin Franklin: do not electrocute a turkey.

Henry VIII and the execution of Lord Dacre.

When Thanksgiving Day was more like Halloween.

Sri Lanka has a really hard time keeping athletes.

A new look at the Justinianic Plague.

The manuscripts of an 18th century African king.

The Ice Princess of Siberia.

Autumn comes to Spitalfields City Farm.

The mystery of scent.

How magicians came to saw women in half.

A new mineral has been discovered.

How not to hunt for diamonds.

Some 18th century trade cards.

An influential but little-known architect.

The woman who believes she is the reincarnation of Anne Frank.

An "interview" with a 19th century ghost hunter.

Old London's fogs and smogs.

The origins of the phrase "stinking rich."

WWII havoc over New Guinea.

A plagiarism scandal which ended a novelist's career.

In China, you can get paid for investigating if a house is haunted.

The battle of Caulk's Field.

Yes, they're still looking for Jimmy Hoffa.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a man who really wanted to be alone.  In the meantime, here's a fun little tune from some years ago.  And take a moment to marvel at the subtle elegance of those suits.


Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Newspaper Clippings of the Thanksgiving Day

"Arizona Republic," November 23, 1995, via Newspapers.com



Those of you familiar with this blog know that I consider  Fourth of July to be the most lethal of all holidays (and God knows I have posted enough evidence to prove it.)  However, in recent years I have come to appreciate the body-count possibilities of that other all-American celebration, Thanksgiving.  In Novembers past, I have chronicled weaponized turkeys, fatal quarrels over the dinner table, and shootouts at turkey raffles.  This year, I will share with you yet another beloved Thanksgiving tradition:  exploding birds.  

The “Medford Mail Tribune,” November 30, 1958:

Thanksgiving Day, a 30-pound turkey caught fire in the oven of a local resident. In the process of extinguishing the flaming bird, smoke filled the house. The owner, to make things a little more pleasant inside, opened the house doors, and took a broom to help circulate the air. 

In the process of shooing smoke from one room, the broom struck a light fixture, tinkling it to the floor. 

It was the third turkey the family attempted to cook without success. But the family's courageous; they plan to try again someday to cook a turkey, to prove to themselves it can be done.

I have one word for this unnamed family: takeout, gang.  Takeout.  

The “News-Palladium,” November 24, 1967:

SOUTH HAVEN-Volunteer firemen were called to the home of Isaac Merritt, 420 Edgell street, about 2:10 p.m. Thursday, after the grease from a turkey caught fire in the kitchen stove. Firemen said they used a smoke ejector to clear the house of smoke. Damage was limited to one Thanksgiving dinner.

As you will see below, Isaac got off easy.  The “Pittsburgh Press,” November 23, 1973:

BOWIE, Md. (UPI)-James and Iva Savage spent Thanksgiving with their seven children in a Red Cross shelter after a baking turkey burst into flames and started a fire that destroyed their home and all their belongings. 

Officials of the Prince George's County fire department said Mrs. Savage had started her turkey Wednesday night and about 1:30 yesterday morning, while her husband and children were asleep, went into the kitchen to baste the bird. But when she poured cooking oil on the turkey it burst into flames, which quickly spread through their small house. She quickly awakened her husband and children and got them to safety but everything they owned was destroyed. Damage was estimated at $20,000.

Some turkeys are incendiary devices; others are bombs.  The Fort Myers “News Press,” November 24, 1952:

Anything can happen around a turkey ranch, even a call from an irate customer who wails that her dressed turkey has exploded. It happened last winter to Mr. and Mrs. John H. Tice, who turn out 600 to 1,000 turkeys a year for the holiday markets. 

The Tices specialize in what they call "oven-ready" birds dressed, refrigerated and cellophane-wrapped at the efficient little packing establishment they have set up on the Peters farm near Olga, where they have raised 1,000 birds this year for the Thanksgiving and Christmas markets. 

On a Sunday morning which the Tices will never forget their phone rang and a woman's voice reported frantically: "That turkey I bought from you just blew up in the oven!" It turned out that the customer, taking the "oven-ready" label a little too literally, had put the bird into the oven cellophane and all. The cellophane bag, under heat pressure, swelled, then exploded.


"Herald and Review," November 23, 1972


Sometimes, Mother Nature gets a little help from Human Stupidity.  The “Orlando Sentinel,” November 15, 1958:

ROME (U.P.) Meo Pasquetti, a poultry dealer, got the idea of blowing up his turkeys with a pump so as to sell them the more easily. Everything went well until a turkey exploded and a piece of bone injured his assistant's eyes.

This Thanksgiving horror story--more detailed and baroque than most--appeared in the Stockton “Evening Mail,” November 30, 1911:

The noise of a frightful explosion at the home of Joshua Jones, No. 1482 South Commerce street, shortly before noon today attracted several of his neighbors to the house. 

On entering they found everything in confusion, with a strong smell of gas. Investigation disclosed the fact that the Thanksgiving turkey had exploded just as Josh was about to carve it. Josh was considerably surprised, but not so much so that he wasn't able to grab a leg as it sped by his head. It is a very bleak day when Jones lets a turkey get away from him in its entirety. 

Young Johnny Jones also showed some speed and was able to annex a large hunk of the white meat before it hit the floor. It had already made a dent in the ceiling. 

Mrs. Jones had been fasting for that turkey all day, and when she recovered from the first shock she stabbed the carcass with a fork and a come-here-to-you motion. She also scraped a large chunk of stuffing from under her chin about a foot under. 

Sally Jones was never known to lose out on a turkey yet, and when she saw the bird start towards the roof she spread her apron and caught a meaty shower in it, to say nothing of a daub of dressing that landed in her eye. 

Willie Jones had his mouth open at the moment of the explosion, and the whereabouts of the piece known as the "popes nose” is still a matter of conjecture. 

Jones says he can only account for the upheaval in turkey on the hypothesis that the cook blew out the gas and some of it accumulated in the bird, a spark from the steel igniting it when he was sharpening up for the post-mortem. 


 

The Mail had four reporters and a staff artist on the scene before the remains were scraped off the walls. And they would have been on hand sooner had they had any inkling of what had happened. 

In an exclusive interview Josh said: "It's nobody's damn business.” 

Later, just before the Mail went to press, Mrs. Jones, who was given the third degree by the police, admitted that she had found the bird so tough that she put nitroglycerin in the dressing in the hope that it would assist the carver. Jones refused to be interviewed again.

Naturally, of course, some households prefer to take matters out of the turkey’s hands, uh, claws, and ruin the Thanksgiving themselves.  The “Greenwood Commonwealth,” November 23, 1956:

CAMDEN, N. J., Nov. 23--The way the police heard.it, Mrs. Asa Redrow decided she'd had enough husbandly advice on how to roast the Thanksgiving turkey.  She threw the bird at her husband. Redrow ducked. The turkey crashed through a kitchen window. 

Redrow faced a hearing today on assault and battery charges. Mrs. Redrow said he struck her.


I hope all my readers in the U.S. have a happy Thanksgiving dinner.  Here at Strange Company HQ, we will be tucking into, not turkey, but a homemade nut loaf.

Safer.

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Lover's Return




“Every love story is a ghost story.” 
 ~David Foster Wallace 


The idea of a “love that lasts beyond the grave” is one of those things that sounds romantic in the abstract, but in practice can be awkward at best and downright terrifying at worst.  A fine cautionary tale about the hazards of making “our love will never die” promises was related by W.T. Stead in his book “Real Ghost Stories.”

The story was told to him by the woman at the heart of the tale, whom he identified only as “Georgina.”  She was an Irishwoman who was the widow of an official in the Dublin Post Office.  Stead described her as “Celt to her back-bone, with all the qualities of her race.”

Some time after her husband’s death, Georgina and one Irwin O’Neill, an engineer of “remarkable character and no small native talent” fell passionately in love, and soon married.  Irwin must have been of “remarkable character” indeed, for he neglected to inform his bride of one small detail: he was already married.

When Georgina learned of this, she rejected her lover’s vehement pleas to remain with him.  She left Italy, where they had settled, and moved to London, determined never to see him again.  After two years of searching, Irwin tracked her down, and continued his pleas for a reconciliation.  However Georgina was, as Stead noted, “a woman of very strong character.”  Although she still deeply cared for Irwin, she felt his betrayal of her trust was something impossible to forgive.  As painful as it was to her, she felt she had no choice but to insist that their relationship was over for good.  After many “stormy scenes,” Irwin finally gave up and despondently returned to Italy, making dark threats that she would see him again, but not alive.

Some months after Irwin’s departure, Georgina came to Stead in a state of great distress.  She said that she had heard her old love calling to her from outside her window, and shortly after that, saw him materialize in her room.  She feared this was a sign that something terrible had happened to him.

Sadly, her prediction was correct.  After Irwin returned to Italy, he began drinking heavily.  During one of these drunken fits, he left his lodgings, after which he was found dead, at the foot of a great height.  It was never determined if his fall was the result of accident or suicide, but considering his last words to Georgina, it was almost certainly the latter.  His death occurred at the same time Georgina heard him calling her name.

Stead was so intrigued by this supernatural tragedy that he asked Georgina to provide him with a full account of her experience, with as many details as she could remember.  She wrote:

"In the end of the summer of 1886 it happened one morning that Irwin and myself were awake at 5.30 a.m., and as we could not go to sleep again, we lay talking of our future possible happiness and present troubles. We were at the time sleeping in Room No. 16, Hotel Washington, overlooking the Bay of Naples. We agreed that nothing would force us to separate in this life—neither poverty nor persecution from his family, nor any other thing on earth. (I believed myself his wife then.) We each agreed that we would die together rather than separate. We spoke a great deal that morning about our views of what was or was not likely to be the condition of souls after death, and whether it was likely that spirits could communicate, by any transmitted feeling or apparition, the fact that they had died to their surviving friends. Finally, we made a solemn promise to each other that whichever of us died first would appear to the other after death if such was permitted.

"Well, after the fact of his being already married came to light, we parted. I left him, and he followed me to London in December '87. During his stay here I once asked if he had ever thought about our agreement as to who should die first appealing to the other; and he said, 'Oh, Georgie, you do not need to remind me; my spirit is a part of yours, and can never be separated nor dissolved even through all eternity; no, not even though you treat me as you do; even though you became the wife of another you cannot divorce our spirits. And whenever my spirit leaves this earth I will appear to you.'

"Well, in the beginning of August '88 he left England for Naples; his last words were that I would never again see him; I should see him, but not alive, for he would put an end to his life and heart-break. After that he never wrote to me; still I did not altogether think he would kill himself. On the 22nd or 23rd of the following November ('88), I posted a note to him at Sarno post office. No reply came, and I thought it might be he was not at Sarno, or was sick, or travelling, and so did not call at the post office, and so never dreamed of his being dead."

"Time went on and nothing occurred till November 27th (or I should say 28th, for it occurred at 12.30, or between 12 and 1 a.m., I forget the exact time). It was just at that period when I used to sit up night after night till 1, 2, and 3 o'clock a.m. at home doing the class books; on this occasion I was sitting close to the fire, with the table beside me, sorting cuttings. Looking up from the papers my eyes chanced to fall on the door, which stood about a foot and a half open, and right inside, but not so far in but that his clothes touched the edge of the door, stood Irwin; he was dressed as I last had seen him—overcoat, tall hat, and his arms were down by his sides in his natural, usual way. He stood in his exact own perfectly upright attitude, and held his head and face up in a sort of dignified way, which he used generally to adopt on all occasions of importance or during a controversy or dispute. He had his face turned towards me, and looked at me with a terribly meaning expression, very pale, and as if pained by being deprived of the power of speech or of local movements.

"I got a shocking fright, for I thought at first sight he was living, and had got in unknown to me to surprise me. I felt my heart jump with fright, and I said, 'Oh!' but before I had hardly finished the exclamation, his figure was fading way, and, horrible to relate, it faded in such a way that the flesh seemed to fade out of the clothes, or at all events the hat and coat were longer visible than the whole man. I turned white and cold, felt an awful dread; I was too much afraid to go near enough to shut the door when he had vanished. I was so shaken and confused, and half paralysed, I felt I could not even cry out; it was as if something had a grip on my spirit, I feared to stir, and sat up all night, fearing to take my eyes off the door, not daring to go and shut it. Later on I got an umbrella and walked tremblingly, and pushed the door close without fastening it. I feared to touch it with my hand. I felt such a relief when I saw daylight and heard the landlady moving about.

"Now, though I was frightened, I did not for a moment think he was dead, nor did it enter my mind then about our agreement. I tried to shake off the nervousness, and quite thought it must be something in my sight caused by imagination, and nerves being overdone by sitting up so late for so many nights together. Still, I thought it dreadfully strange, it was so real."

"Well, about three days passed, and then I was startled by hearing his voice outside my window, as plain as a voice could be, calling, 'Georgie! Are you there, Georgie?' I felt certain it was really him come back to England. I could not mistake his voice. I felt quite flurried, and ran out to the hall door, but no one in sight. I went back in, and felt rather upset and disappointed, for I would have been glad if he had come back again, and began to wish he really would turn up. I then thought to myself, 'Well, that was so queer. Oh, it must be Irwin, and perhaps he is just hiding in some hall door to see if I will go out and let him in, or what I will do. So out I went again. This time I put my hat on, and ran along and peeped into hall doors where he might be hiding, but with no result. Later on that night I could have sworn I heard him cough twice right at the window, as if he did it to attract attention. Out I went again. No result.

"Well, to make a long story short, from that night till about nine weeks after that voice called to me, and coughed, and coughed, sometimes every night for a week, then three nights a week, then miss a night and call on two nights, miss three or four days, and keep calling me the whole night long, on and off, up till 12 midnight or later. One time it would be, 'Georgie! It's me! Ah, Georgie!' Or, 'Georgie, are you in? Will you speak to Irwin?' Then a long pause, and at the end of, say, ten minutes, a most strange, unearthly sigh, or a cough—a perfectly intentional, forced cough, other times nothing but, 'Ah, Georgie!' On one night there was a dreadful fog. He called me so plain, I got up and said, 'Oh, really! that man must be here; he must be lodging somewhere near, as sure as life; if he is not outside I must be going mad in my mind or imagination.' I went and stood outside the hall door steps in the thick black fog. No lights could be seen that night. I called out, 'Irwin! Irwin! here, come on. I know you're there, trying to humbug me, I saw you in town; come on in, and don't be making a fool of yourself.'

"Well, I declare to you, a voice that seemed within three yards of me, replied out of the fog, 'It's only Irwin,' and a most awful, and great, and supernatural sort of sigh faded away in the distance. I went in, feeling quite unhinged and nervous, and could not sleep. After that night it was chiefly sighs and coughing, and it was kept up until one day, at the end of about nine weeks, my letter was returned marked, 'Signor O'Neill e morto,' together with a letter from the Consul to say he had died on November 28th, 1888, the day on which he appeared to me."

On inquiring as to dates and verification Mrs. F—— replied:—

"I don't know the hour of his death, but if you write to Mr. Turner, Vice Consul, Naples, he can get it for you. He appeared to me at the hour I say; of course there is a difference of time between here and Naples. The strange part is that once I was informed of his death by human means (the letter), his spirit seemed to be satisfied, for no voice ever came again after; it was as if he wanted to inform and make me know he had died, and as if he knew I had not been informed by human agency.

"I was so struck with the apparition of November 28th, that I made a note of the date at the time so as to tell him of it when next I wrote. My letter reached Sarno a day or two after he died. There is no possible doubt about the voice being his, for he had a peculiar and uncommon voice, one such as I never heard any exactly like, or like at all in any other person. And in life he used to call me through the window as he passed, so I would know who it was knocked at the door, and open it. When he said, 'Ah!' after death, it was so awfully sad and long drawn out, and as if expressing that now all was over and our separation and his being dead was all so very, very pitiful and unutterable; the sigh was so real, so almost solid, and discernible and unmistakable, till at the end it seemed to have such a supernatural, strange, awful dying-away sound, a sort of fading, retreating into distance sound, that gave the impression that it was not quite all spirit, but that the spirit had some sort of visible and half-material being or condition. This was especially so the night of the fog, when the voice seemed nearer to me as I stood there, and as if it was able to come or stay nearer to me because there was a fog to hide its materialism. On each of the other occasions it seemed to keep a good deal further off than on that night, and always sounded as if at an elevation of about 10ft. or 11ft. from the ground, except the night of the fog, when it came down on a level with me as well as nearer.

"Georgina F——."

Friday, November 19, 2021

Weekend Link Dump

 

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!

Although there's nearly a week to go, the Strange Company staff is already preparing for Thanksgiving.


Who the hell was the "Man of Etna?"

The haunted houses of Richland County.

The elephant who might become a person.

The mathematician and the Martians. 

Popular dog names in the Regency era.

How old plays are helping to revive a nearly-lost language.

Housewives in the House of Commons.

Joe Fife, a ship's cat who, sadly, possibly should have stayed AWOL.

If they ever do make a biopic about Lady Caroline Blackwood, it's going to be a damned depressing one.

The truth about the "Hobo Code."

The cemetery with an ax-waving ghost.

So you clean out a freezer, and find a couple of vials of smallpox.  I hate it when that happens.

An 1,100 year old mummy with really stylish boots.

One really overdue library book.

A drunk old warrior. 

A UFO and a mysterious copper plate.

How birds fake their own death.

Dr. Verity, a "valuable creature."

Archaeology and the Old Testament.

The sort of thing that happened when you supported German cathedrals during WWII.

Why you should never point at a rainbow.

A "remarkable career of crime."

The Russian Royal family and the Angel of Death.

A 1934 ghost hunt.

A look at the phrase, "I'm by way of being..."

A look at "The Anatomy of Melancholy."

A look at Hell Banquets.

A young man's puzzling disappearance.

A terrorist goes after members of the CIA; gets executed.

The career of the "French Mozart."

They may have found a new ancient species in Utah.

A fatal glass of beer.

An Auschwitz love affair.

That wraps things up for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll learn why some loves should not last beyond the grave.  In the meantime, let's bring on the heebie jeebies!


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com



Some people really know how to live.  Others know how to die.  “The Tennessean,” September 23, 1985:

NAIROBI, Kenya (UPI) This time Musyoka Mututa stayed in the ground when he was buried in his home village of Kitui. 

It was his fourth and final funeral. 

Mututa, 60, was buried without fanfare or publicity in a simple ceremony at Kitui, about 100 miles east of Nairobi, the Kenyan News Agency said yesterday. 

Mututa was a legend in Kenya, known as the man who had cheated death. Three times he was pronounced dead only to disrupt his own funeral and rise minutes before burial. He last "rose" from the dead in May. 

His last and apparently final death was about 12 days ago. The exact cause of death was not disclosed. 

"We had no expectations of another miracle. He told me that the fourth time would be for good," his brother Timothy Mututa said. 

Timothy Mututa said his brother had been disappointed because Pope John Paul II refused to grant him an audience during his visit to Kenya in August. 

Mututa's third death came in May. The Kitui district surgeon pronounced him dead after a short illness suspected to be cholera. 

But when the pallbearers came to fetch his body and sprayed it with insecticide to ward off flies, Mututa revived after a day of lying in state and demanded a drink of water. 

Mututa, a shepherd, first "died" at the age of three. His body had been wrapped in sheets and blankets and was being lowered into the ground when he let out a cry and was hauled back to the surface. 

He died again 19 years later when, after a search of six days, his apparently lifeless body was found. Mututa forced open his coffin lid as it was being lowered into the ground.

For Mr. Mututa’s sake, let’s hope this last time he was, for once, well and truly dead.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Where in the World is the Mad Hatter?

"New York Daily News," June 24, 1962, via Newspapers.com


Harriet Elizabeth Benton had what most people would consider to be a pretty sweet life.  At the age of only 22, the Ogsdenburg, New York, native had a plum job in a Boston advertising firm, where she was considered such a promising employee that she had already been given two raises.  The future looked exceptionally bright for the independent, free-spirited girl who liked to call herself “The Mad Hatter.”

However, Harriet was not quite ready to settle into a prosperous, if somewhat stuffy, career.  Like most people her age, she wanted one last adventure before settling down.  In short, she wanted to see the world while she was still free to do so on her own terms.  Against the wishes of her parents--who were understandably uneasy about their young daughter traveling abroad on her own--Harriet took a leave of absence from her agency.  On July 29, 1959, she and a German-born friend, Freda von Ostrow, sailed for England on the liner “New York.”  Harriet had sold her sports car to help finance the trip, but it’s uncertain how much money she had with her.  It could have been anywhere between $400-$1000.

In England, the two young women visited Harriet’s aunt, and then took a tour of Freda’s native land.  Every week or so, Harriet wrote home, assuring her parents that all was well.  Freda remained in Germany, while Harriet bought a motor scooter to take her through France, Italy, and Spain.  She was supposed to meet another friend, Pat Grant, in Gibraltar on September 24, but these plans had to be delayed.  The scooter turned out to be a lemon that was always breaking down.  Around this time, Harriet wrote to someone at her ad agency that she was contemplating shipping the scooter to India, a country she had always wanted to visit.  She felt the atmosphere there would foster her biggest ambition--to become a “great writer.”

On September 29, Pat Grant, who was then in Madrid, received a telegram from Harriet suggesting they meet in Gibraltar for a trip to Morocco.  Pat tried calling the hostel where Harriet was staying, but the place had no phone.  The following day, Harriet phoned her, telling Pat that she was changing her plans slightly.  She had made the acquaintance of two British women, as well as a young man named Colin John Gallon.  They were all going to sail to Casablanca in Gallon’s yacht, “Raider.”  Harriet said she would spend a couple of days in Morocco, then visit Pat in Madrid.

The next we know of Harriet’s movements was on October 6, when she wrote to Pat, “It’s foolish of me to want to go half-way around the world with a man I met yesterday--but we’re sailing tomorrow.  I’ve had a taste of Morocco.  It was thrilling. I’m going back, then on to the West Indies.”  Two days later, Harriet sent a postcard to her parents.  She told them she had her “sea legs” back, and was now first mate on the Raider.  She said she was going to Casablanca, then to the Canaries.  If Gallon agreed, she would sail with him to the West Indies and through the Panama Canal.  She added that they should write to her in care of the Yacht Club at Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands.  That same day, she wrote to a boyfriend, a GI named James Davis, “Will give you a new address as soon as I know of a port far enough ahead.  Have left my scooter to the apes in Gibraltar, and am off on a yacht tomorrow to Casablanca.  If my sea legs hold up, the captain may keep me on to the West Indies.  Then Tahiti, and at last the Orient.  Looks as if I got my wish.  Always, Hat.”  All these communications indicated that “Hat” was still having the time of her life.

This was the last her parents heard from Harriet.  When Thanksgiving passed with no further word from their daughter, the Bentons began to panic.  On December 9, Harriet’s father Edward contacted his congressman, Clarence E. Wilburn, for help in finding her.  Wilburn alerted the State Department and--since Harriet was last known to be on a ship--the U.S. Navy.

Authorities learned that the Raider left Gibraltar sometime between October 7-9.  Although a dark-haired girl had been seen on the yacht, the captain had “clearly discouraged” anyone else from coming aboard his ship, and insisted that he was sailing alone.  

Then, it looked like the mystery of Harriet’s disappearance might have been solved, and in the worst possible way.  The Navy learned that the body of a young American woman had been found dumped on a street in a suburb of Tangier.  She had been beaten and strangled to death.  Authorities suspected the victim was either Harriet or another young American tourist who had gone missing, 19 year old Barbara Helen Mueller of New York.  A young British man, William Edward Moore, was being held by police for questioning.  The State Department sent the victim’s dental information back to the U.S.  However, the dentists for the Mueller and Benton families were unable to make any certain identification.

As it turned out, the dental records were unnecessary.  Moore finally decided to talk.  He led police to where he had hidden the purse of the girl he had murdered.  Inside was the passport of Barbara Mueller.  Moore said that while Barbara was visiting Tangier, the two of them became romantically involved.  When she told him that she was leaving Morocco--and him--he became so angry that he killed her.  (Moore was eventually found guilty of unpremeditated murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.)

The riddle of one missing young woman had finally been solved.  But what about the other?

The little we know about Harriet’s time in Casablanca suggests that she and Colin Gallon had a falling-out.  Soon after their arrival, Colin told the skipper of another ship, Peter Tangvald, that he very much wanted to make the rest of his voyage alone.  Tangvald later told detectives that “The girl asked if she could switch to my boat when we reached Las Palmas.”  He apparently declined.

At this point, it was learned that James Davis had received an additional postcard from Harriet.  It had been sent from Casablanca on October 14.  It was ominously different in tone from her earlier, exuberant notes.  Harriet now sounded unhappy, perhaps even frightened.  She asked Davis to write to her “immediately” via the Yacht Club in Las Palmas, even though “It looks as if I might be there forever.”  Harriet wrote, “I have to leave the yacht there (Las Palmas) and God knows what I am going to do.  My money’s short.  I’ll probably just try and hitch another ride.”  She added a curiously contradictory postscript: “Sailing is wonderful and worth the hell of being shanhied [it is thought she misspelled “shanghaied.”]  The postcard also had what appeared to be the word “help” written on one side.  Davis, however, dismissed that, giving the odd explanation that Harriet often wrote to him using the word “yelp.”  (Unfortunately, Davis never clarified that remark.)

This disturbing postcard proved to be the last word anyone received from Harriet Benton.  It was established that the Raider arrived in Casablanca on October 10, and left five days later for the Canary Islands, but no one knew if Harriet left with it.  Colin Gallon and the Raider were also never seen again, leading to the theory that the Raider sank during the voyage, taking both Harriet and Colin down with it.  However, there is no record of the yacht sending a distress signal, and no wreckage from the Raider was ever found, which caused the Coast Guard to dismiss the idea.  

The last news item I could find about the mystery was a brief story from 1964.  It reported that Harriet's whereabouts remained unknown, but her parents were still wistfully hoping that she was alive somewhere and would eventually come home.  There is nothing to indicate that she ever did.

Considering that no one knows where or when Harriet disappeared, it is anyone’s guess what happened to her.  Did her relationship with the enigmatic Colin Gallon suddenly turn ugly--so ugly that he murdered her, threw the body overboard, and fled?   Or did she “hitch another ride” with the wrong people?  Or--as Peter Tangvald believed--did Harriet sail off on the Raider, only to find a watery grave when the yacht was swamped by huge waves somewhere on the 700-mile journey between Casablanca and Las Palmas?

All things considered, that last scenario is probably the least awful possibility.