"...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 2, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn 

This first Link Dump of December is hosted by some of our Christmas Cats!

What you would eat at an ancient Roman tailgate party.

Yet another unhappy wife who opted to say it with arsenic.

The Russian Liberation Army takes on Stalin.

Letters seeking help from the India Office.

A beautiful Scottish castle is on sale for $2 million.  When you consider that a whale skeleton is included, that makes it even more of a bargain.

A tale of a Victorian crossing sweeper.

The deathless Jersey Devil.

A strange ancient bronze figure.

The first American Thanksgiving football game.

Bonnie Prince Charlie in Manchester.

The mystery of the disappearing island.

A brief history of waffles.  Meh, I prefer pancakes, myself.

Intoxicating vegetables.

Yes, they're still trying to figure out what happened to Amelia Earhart.

Yes, they're still trying to figure out what killed Bruce Lee.

The ghosts of Gudgeonville.

Christmas during the siege of Paris.

Spending a penny in the old palace of Westminster.

The fairy witch of Carrick-on-Suir.

A 135-year-old message in a bottle.

Facial reconstructions of people from the past.  There's no way to know how accurate they are, of course, but they're fun.

"Blackout crime" in WWII London.

"Waiting mortuaries" for people who want to make sure they are really dead when they're buried.

It seems fitting that 2022 will bow out with a 48,000 year old zombie virus.

The mystery of the 300,000 year-old footprints.

Mummies with golden tongues.

A Christmas at Belvoir Castle.

How the word "lap" got several different meanings.

The scandalous murder of a Gilded Age entrepreneur.

Cheechee the Cigar Store Cat.

The man with the world's longest nose.

The Veiled Woman of Penn Park.

There is a sporting event known as the Commode Bowl.  Just thought you should know.

Howe and Hummel, two lawyers who were a criminal's best friend.

There may be something really freaking big living under Antarctica.  Not alarming in the slightest.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a strange twist on the old "ghost returns without anyone realizing it's a ghost" stories.  In the meantime, here's everyone's favorite Civil War tune that is not from the Civil War.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

I’ve posted about a number of “ghost cats,” but this one may top them all.  The “Daily Republican Register,” June 15, 1923:

Zion, Ill., June 15. From a cat's grave in the rear of a farm shed, has risen Zion catdom’s latest bid for fame. 

It is Topsy, the ghost cat. 

Topsy has risen to fame in the literal sense, for several days ago she was buried after apparently meeting death in an accident. But with eight lives left to her credit, Topsy wasn't content to remain underground.

Today she is placidly enjoying the second of her nine lives.

Topsy's return from the feline Shadowland is told by Ira Blackwell, one of Lake county’s dry agents.

According to Blackwell, Topsy belonged to one of his cousins. 

Topsy was marked with brown black and white spots, her left hind leg had been broken and had reknit but apart from that, she was an ordinary sort of cat, with no signs of future fame apparent. 

One day Topsy was chasing mice in the corn crib when a heavy barrel fell on her. Topsy’s mashed, bleeding remains were dug out by her owner. There was no sign of life.

It was decided to hold a regular funeral for Topsy. A grave was dug at the edge of the orchard, the remains deposited therein with due pomp and ceremony, and a little mound marked with a headstone heaped on the grave. 

The next day a cat strolled into the kitchen. It was a bit wobbly and its whiskers were dirty. 

It had brown, black and white spots, and seemed strangely at home.

An examination disclosed a left hind leg that had been broken and had knitted.

At last, Topsy’s mourners. hastened to the grave. They opened the grave, and dug down to the bottom. 

There were no cat remains there.

I can only add that I hope Zombie Topsy enjoyed her unusual place in Cat History for a great many years.  And when her people eventually had to do a re-do on her burial, let’s hope they made sure she really needed one.

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Devil's Rocking Chair; Or, The Dangers of Buying Discounted Antiques

Fifteen-year-old Jody Randall of Long Beach, California, was in most ways a typical suburban teenager.  The one thing that set her apart was a passion for antiques which was unusual for someone of her youth.  As a result of spending all her available free time (and her parents’ money) on her hobby, she eventually amassed some impressive pieces, including a doll collection noteworthy enough to earn a writeup in “Teen” magazine.

In the summer of 1970, she sold a vintage French doll to an antique dealer named Marge Lord.  While in Lord’s shop, Randall saw a heavy, ornate rocking chair dating from about 1550, of a style known as “Black Forest sleigh.”  The girl was fascinated.  She knew instantly that she must buy it, even though when she sat in the chair, she had the disconcerting feeling that invisible arms were tightly holding her waist.

Lord told Randall that she didn’t want to sell the chair, but an offer of $1,250 might change her mind.  This was way over Jody’s budget, but the teen was in love.  All she could think of was trying to find some way to get enough money to make the chair her own.

In August, Lord phoned Jody to say that she was now willing to give her the chair for $800.  Randall could even pay her in installments!  Jody was so thrilled to get the antique buy of her dreams, she never stopped to wonder why Lord’s feelings about the chair had changed so abruptly.

By early September, the chair was gracing the Randall living room.  It was not long before the family noticed that there was something…odd about their new acquisition.  No matter how well-lit the room was, the chair appeared to be in darkness, as though it was surrounded by a murky fog.  One afternoon, as Jody sat reading on the floor next to the chair, she suddenly felt a weird blackness surrounding her, leaving her immobilized.  She could not even speak.  After a period of time--she couldn’t even say how long--the dark haze disappeared, leaving her back to normal.  Telling herself that the creepy experience was all in her head, she decided not to mention it to anyone.

About a week later, the black veil again enveloped her--only this time, she saw “hellish-looking yellow eyes” appear over her head.  The terrified girl felt some evil presence was trying to possess her.  The eyes soon disappeared, but the black fog clung to her for some time.  After it finally vanished, Jody was left completely exhausted.

Jody began to feel frightened whenever she was in her house.  She had the sense that some sinister presence was stalking her.  The family’s Yorkshire terrier, Girl Dog, appeared to share the girl’s fear.  Girl Dog avoided the living room, and whenever she was alone in the house, the Yorkie would go next door to the home of Jody’s grandparents, begging to be let in.

One day in October, Jody and her mother were sitting in the living room, when the girl suddenly saw two bats fly through the room.  Her mother had seen nothing.  However, the next day, when Mrs. Randall and some visitors were in the living room, they all saw a weird light appear.  The whole family began to hear strange tapping on the walls, and the sound of invisible hands banging on the front door.  One evening, Mrs. Randall saw the heavy wooden chair vigorously rocking on its own.

Soon after this, Jody was in the kitchen when she heard loud scuffling noises coming from the living room, as if people were fighting there.  When she entered the room, she saw the chair rocking.  She then heard mocking laughter and a voice saying, “Soon she will be in my power.”  After this, the girl frequently woke up in the night to the sound of some invisible being breathing hoarsely in her bedroom.

It began to dawn on Jody why Marge Lord became so willing to sell the chair.

Despite all this, Jody’s father, Jim Randall, remained skeptical.  He did not believe in ghosts, or evil spirits, and remained convinced that the household was suffering from nothing worse than an outbreak of overactive imaginations.  However, realizing that his daughter was genuinely terrified, he offered to buy the chair from her.  He explained that if he became its official owner, she would then be left in peace.  Jim gave Jody $10, and she gave him a formal receipt.

Jim moved the chair to their garage, jokingly telling the antique that if it didn’t behave, he would turn it into kindling.  A few days later, as Jim was gluing formica to a wall, the can of glue mysteriously exploded, covering his legs with burning adhesive.  His burns were so severe he needed a series of skin grafts.

After Jim was hospitalized, his panicked family--now thoroughly convinced something satanic was going on--went to a family friend, Nadine, who was a clairvoyant.  After meditating near the chair, Nadine stated that she saw a monk standing near the rocker, and another man sitting in it.  She sensed that the sitting man was a ruler somewhere in Northern Europe who had sent very many people to their deaths.  She said it was the most disturbing vision she ever had.

Being exiled to the garage did nothing to stop the chair’s malevolent properties.  One day, when Mrs. Randall went to the garage to feed the cat, she saw the chair do its ominous rocking.  A few days later, Jody’s grandmother entered the garage.  She saw nothing, but felt such an air of unease that she left as soon as possible.  The minute she reentered the house, a large ladder that was leaning against the house inexplicably crashed to the ground.

Shortly after this episode, a friend of Judy’s named Bob Anderson playfully sat in the chair and announced that the rocker didn’t scare him.  That night, he was in an auto accident which nearly killed him.

The Randalls--rather late in the day, one would think--decided it was time to get rid of the chair.  A local antique dealer put the chair on sale, without attracting any buyers.  Then, the Randalls had the ingenious idea of writing to Anton LaVey, the notorious founder of San Francisco’s Church of Satan.  The family explained to him that they appeared to have a demon-possessed rocking chair on their hands, and--considering his line of work--they asked if he would be interested in acquiring it.

LaVey was delighted at the idea, and offered them $500.  He cheerfully explained that it was entirely possible to live peacefully with such entities, if you only understood them.

Journalist Marilyn Estes-Smith, who wrote an article about the chair in the July 1973 issue of “Fate Magazine," asked Marge Lord about the rocker’s history.  Lord explained that she had bought the chair from a Mrs. Conger.  She had planned to keep it for her own use, but after coming into the room one day to find the chair rocking on its own, she thought it might be a good idea to let young Miss Randall have the thing.  When Mrs. Conger was contacted about the chair, she became very upset and refused to even talk about it.

The backstory of this antique chair will probably forever remain a mystery.  At least Mr. LaVey had a happy ending from the story.  It’s not every day that a satanist can pick up a cursed rocking chair on the cheap.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Things are a bit hectic around here.  The Strange Company HQ staffers are busy dealing with Thanksgiving leftovers.

Wikipedia strikes again!

Gustave, serial-killer crocodile.

A living room becomes a family history art project.

Pro tip: If you want it to look like suicide, don't shoot your victim six times.

How you can communicate with your cats.  Not that they'll necessarily listen, of course.

The world's first known bad accountant.

Disability in Early Modern times.

A real stand-up guy.

The roundels of Spitalfields.

A famous glutton.

News from the world of underwater archaeology.

The world's oldest ghosts.

Meet beautiful Flossie, the world's oldest cat.

The world's biggest hoaxer.

Some really weird medieval nicknames.

Legends of "lost" Welsh islands might actually be true.

The grave of a man who was buried standing up.

Getting to the English Parliament in medieval times wasn't easy.

The history of various Thanksgiving traditions.

A "misliving singlewoman" in medieval London.

A new theory of why ancient Egyptians practiced mummification.

The Stalingrad Airlift.

The attempted assassination of Viceroy Lord Lytton.

A notorious disappearance in the Grand Canyon.

A ghost that wasn't a fan of mourning clothes.

It seems that humans were cooking food a lot earlier than anyone thought.

Education for girls in the Georgian era.

The fakelore of food.

Contemporary newspaper accounts about the London Blitz.

The heyday of "Princess Alice" Roosevelt.

A village in Romania boasts a matrimonial prison.

The Maury Island UFO.

How cats may come to help solve crimes.

The herding dogs of the Regency era.

A 17th century recipe for sweet potato pie.

The more obscure meanings of the word "plight."

A betrayed brother.

The early years of football in the Gulf.

Anne Greene, one of the luckier people to be hanged.

The GI brides of WWII.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll examine an antique purchase that went very, very weird.  Speaking of weird, here's what happens when a magician builds a guitar.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Newspaper Clippings of the Thanksgiving Day

Via Newspapers.com

Most people think of our American Thanksgiving Day as a pleasant, if slightly dull, holiday.  Nothing happens except lots of food and zoning out on the living room couch afterwards.  The only dark side comes from the prospect of three weeks of turkey hash.

These people have not read old newspaper archives, which present Thanksgiving as a festival of assaults, human body parts, and--my favorite tradition--the turkey’s revenge.

An all-too-typical holiday story is this item from the “Los Angeles Times,” November 25, 1955:

HOUSTON. Nov. 24.  One Houstonian ate turkey today with a fractured collarbone. 

His wife sent him to market for a 15-pound turkey. He returned with a frozen 9-pounder, and his wife threw it at him.

Later, at a hospital, the man said he intended to go ahead with the holiday feast “as planned.”

No, I do not know what “as planned” meant, and I frankly do not want to know.  Another couple that just should not spend family holidays together was noted in the “Buffalo News,” January 26, 1997:

SMITHSBURG — A Hagerstown woman was charged with second-degree assault on Wednesday night after her husband was struck in the forehead with a Scrabble game board, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Department. The incident happened when the man tried to restrain the woman after she threw the Thanksgiving turkey into the yard.

And here was one family where the corpse at Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t that of a turkey.  The “Call-Leader,” January 11, 1983:

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP)-Shirley Jean Cox says she's had it with those portions of corpses stored in her refrigerator-freezer and with having them transported in her truck. The Republican Vanderburgh County commissioner, who is married to Deputy Coroner Earl Cox, said she's tired of using her home as an impromptu morgue. "At Thanksgiving, instead of having a turkey in my freezer, I had to clear out a space to have body parts," she said.

From a vegetarian’s point of view, it’s time to look at the bright side of Thanksgiving.  The “Redwood City Tribune,” November 28, 1923:

SAN JOSE. Nov. 28 A. Pichetti, local automobile dealer, has a grudge against turkeys in general and one in particular as a result of a battle his new automobile had with one of the holiday birds on West Santa Clara street yesterday.   A turkey got loose from its crate near where Pichetti’s machine was parked. The bird made straight for his car, smashing the door of the car with the first blow. Then the turkey proceeded to ruin the finish on the car. As a result of the bird's scratches, Pichetti’s automobile is in the paint shop today.

If you really want to experience Thanksgiving at its most Grand Guignol, you can’t do better than this story from the “Times Record News,” November 25, 1943:

SHREVEPORT La Nov 24—A big white turkey gobbler got his Thanksgiving Day revenge. And he did it all after his head had been cut off. 

They chopped his head off behind a local grocery on Highland Avenue. But the turkey died fighting. 

He threw his 20 pounds against Juanita White, cook at the grocery and spectator at his execution, knocked her down and sent her to the hospital with an ankle broken in two places. 

The big gobbler got revenge too against H. B. Badt, manager of the store. Badt sent the crippled cook rushing to the hospital in his car. On the way It was torn up in a collision with another automobile. 

Juanita has a broken ankle that will lay her up for about 10 weeks; Badt has no car; the store is short a good cook.

And then there’s this item from the “Knoxville News-Sentinel,” April 27, 1992:

POTOSI, Mo.—A man showing off a turkey he thought he had killed was shot In the leg when the wounded bird thrashed around in his car trunk and triggered his shotgun. 

“The turkeys are fighting back.” said Sheriff Ron Skiles. 

To make matters worse, it turns out Larry Lands, in his early 40s, and his 16-year-old son Larry Jr. were hunting a week before the start of turkey season and will probably be fined, the sheriff said.

The accident occurred recently after the Lands shot the turkey and put it in the car along with a loaded shotgun. They drove to a neighbor's house to show the bird off. 

While the son was pulling the turkey out of the trunk, it began struggling, according to the sheriff, and its claw fired the gun. The shot went through the side panel of the car and into the father’s leg. 

Lands Sr was in satisfactory condition in the hospital.

And finally, let us marvel at this epic tale of vengeance that is positively Shakespearean.  The “Dakota Farmers’ Leader,” September 10, 1909:

Does a turkey gobbler possess the same remarkable mental faculties as does the elephant? A turkey on the farm of Amos Hollister, near Benton, Wash., was teased into anger over seven years ago by a little girl with yellow curls. The other day the same little girl, now grown into womanhood, wearing the dresses of the day's style, appeared upon the lawn of the same farm and was attacked by a gobbler enraged beyond all turkey sense, and continued the fight until he was subdued and placed in a pen. Over seven years ago Miss Elsie Gunther visited the farm of her uncle and teased the gobbler with a cane which had ribbons tied to it. The turkey chased her around the barnyard. 

The incident was forgotten and school work and business kept the niece from again visiting her uncle until seven years had passed. Miss Gunther, free from school duties and languishing for the free air of the country, went to the Benton farm last week. The first thing she did was to trip across the barnyard toward the cow pens as she had done years ago. Before she was across the lawn a big turkey gobbler, the same one which attacked her seven years ago, flew at her face and struck her a blow that almost threw her into a heap. The turkey continued his attack until Hollister captured and imprisoned him.

And that’s it for Thanksgiving 2022!  If you celebrate the holiday, please do so wisely.  Hide the Scrabble board.  And whatever you do, don’t tease the turkeys.

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Mutilated Clay Doll

The following Australian crime is not nearly as mysterious as some: it is, officially at least, solved.  However, it has an odd, unsettling air that sets it apart from most murders.

On February 23, 1975, someone walking along Kennett River, near Apollo Bay, made a peculiar discovery--a crudely-fashioned clay figure of a woman was wedged in a tree near the bank of the river.  The doll, which was about 14 inches long,  was missing the lower half of the left arm.  About 15 feet away, washed up on the sand at the mouth of the river, was an equally strange, and far more gruesome discovery: the naked corpse of a young woman.  Her left arm was missing below the elbow.  

"Sydney Morning Herald," February 26, 1975, via Newspapers.com

The autopsy concluded that the dead woman was aged somewhere between 18-25, slim, of medium height, with black hair and blue eyes.  Her arm had been amputated some years before her death.  The body had been in the water for about 24 hours.  Curiously, that was about all that could be determined from the post-mortem.  Although authorities assumed they were dealing with a homicide, the coroner ruled that although he was certain the woman had not drowned, he was unable to say how she had died.

Although one would assume one-armed young women were a rarity in the area, authorities also had a surprisingly hard time learning the victim’s identity.  The motive was an equal puzzle, although the presence of the creepy homemade statuette near the body caused some to surmise that the dead woman had fallen into the hands of some witchcraft cult who used her as a human sacrifice.

In early March, police were finally able to give the corpse a name: she was 16-year-old Sharon Gaye Richardson.  Her mother, who lived in Brisbane, reported her as missing back in 1972.  (As a side note, it was learned Sharon’s arm was missing because she had been a thalidomide baby.)  Three months before her death, Sharon and her young son were in the King’s Cross area, where she worked as a housekeeper.  Later, she and the child moved to Melbourne.  (What became of her son is unclear.  The newspapers reported only that the child “recently returned to Sydney, where he was being looked after.”)

Five weeks before her death, Sharon and an unidentified man moved into a flat on Beach Road, Sandringham.  On February 20, the pair made a “hurried exit” from their flat, taking all their possessions except a few clothes.  On February 26--three days after Sharon’s body was discovered--their car was found at Sydney’s Mascot Airport.

The case remained cold until the summer of 1978, when Sharon’s mysterious boyfriend was finally apprehended: he was 40-year-old chiropractor Ernest William O’Brien, who was living in Sydney, where he had been operating two massage parlors.  The explanation he gave to police for Sharon’s death was as weird as the rest of this case.  According to O’Brien, on February 21, 1975, he found his “de facto wife” in their flat, dead.  She was lying on the bed naked, with her legs tied apart by belts.  He could think of no better way of dealing with this disagreeable situation than by wrapping the body in a bedspread, putting it in the trunk of his car, surrounding it with 12 bags of ice “because it was a hot day,” and dumping the corpse in the sea.

At O’Brien’s trial, the Crown medical experts--in a complete reversal from the initial findings--now stated that Richardson had drowned.  The argument was that during a quarrel, O’Brien had knocked Richardson unconscious.  Thinking that he had killed her, he then threw her into the water, where she died. The jury believed them.  In February 1979 O’Brien was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  As far as I have been able to tell, O’Brien never admitted his guilt.

It is unclear why O’Brien murdered his girlfriend--if, indeed, he did murder her.  The initial speculation that Richardson had been killed as part of some occult ritual had, of course, been long abandoned.  Her death was dismissed as merely a mundane domestic tragedy.

But then, how to explain the clay figurine with the missing arm?...

Friday, November 18, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The staff at Strange Company HQ is already preparing for Thanksgiving dinner!

A 2,000 year old ring that spent the last 28 years in someone's cupboard.

The ghost of a murder victim is charged with contempt of court.

Charles I's warrior queen.

A brief history of Southern California's Santa Ana winds.  ("Fill my sails/Oh desert wind/And hold the waves high for me/Then I will come/And test my skill/Where the Santa Ana winds blow free...")

They're still finding a lot of mummies--and pyramids!--in Giza.

A teenager's particularly brutal murder.  At least this one was solved.

How not to honor Armistice Day.

An aristocratic--and extremely dangerous--family.

Dealing with the plague in 17th century England.

The Royal Canadian Navy and the sinking of U-501.

I'll just have a cheese sandwich, thanks.  (As an aside, I note that we've reached the point on our Crazy Train where Frankenmeat grown in a giant fuel-powered factory is considered more environmentally-friendly than a cow.)

A brief history of Christmas ghost stories.

A Baltic medieval shipwreck is making archaeologists very happy.

America's first End Times prophecy.

Egypt's WWII surrealist movement.

The strange ghost of Camp Hero.

The people of St. George's Chapel, Windsor.

Some revolutionary aspects of 19th century cooking.

Earth's first known mass extinction.

A ghostly, burning ball.

The vicar who loved exclamation marks.

A bird's very long flight.

A tribute to lonely bandstands.

Some forgotten corners of Old London.

A look at turnspit dogs.

How ancient cats came to Europe.

The dead heads of Annecy.

That time when a Normandy town saved U.S. paratroopers.

"Finders keepers" in maritime law.

The first investigation of an aircraft accident.

Trying to explain the unexplainable.

How a cat launched the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Some vintage baking tips.

Isaac Newton's cure for the plague may have been worse than the plague.

A murder at a brothel.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a young woman's strange death.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Bach.