"...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, June 14, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

It's time for the weekly Link Dump!

Just don't become a basket case over it.

What the hell is a "time-slip?"

The codebreaker and the boiled eggshells.

The last days of Alexander the Great.

The mystery of the thousand-year-old giant snake that pops up everywhere.

Pro tip: Don't wear clothes that scare the horses.

Henry VIII and Catherine Parr.

Vintage scandalous gossip.

Some ancient shipwrecks.

15th century Parliamentary elections.

Was Charles Darwin lactose intolerant?

Why we tell bees about a death.

Do plants have minds?

The Pokomoke Tragedy.

The letters of a young man in 18th century London.

Why a grey squirrel is really puzzling people.

On comforted widowers.

The murder spree committed by four sisters.

The first cocktail.

Elephants call each other by name.

The first RV.

The Coroner's Records for 18th century Bombay.

The earliest known record of Jesus' childhood.

The mysterious Singapore Stone.

The good side to feeling bad.

The days of dangerous dirigibles.

Promoting Early Modern travel.

A tour of Fulham Palace.

The 34 cats of Jack's Restaurant.

Georgian-era rings.

The people who survived the destruction of Pompeii.

The latest research into that classic hotspot for The Weird, Rennes-le-Ch√Ęteau.

A haunted dairy pit.

The first female helicopter rescue pilot.

An ancient pet cemetery.

An Irish UFO.

The search for telepathy.

A look at the "Silk Road."

In which we learn that Zimbabwe police are being attacked by goblins.

The waters at Bath really do have healing properties.

A royal wet nurse who went on to murder her children.

A lost Caribbean Utopia.

The life of Marguerite de Valois.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll meet some Mexican ghosts.  In the meantime, bring on the bagpipes!

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

“Mysterious face in a window” stories are surprisingly common.  Here is a good example from the “New York Daily Herald,” August 30, 1870:

Since the fall of the Pemberton Mills the city of Lawrence has known no such excitement as that produced on Saturday, the 20th instant, by the unaccountable appearance of a female's features in a light of glass in the window of a house on Broadway.

It appears that a few days previous to the discovery of the phenomenon an elderly lady, after a long and wearing sickness, had died. The day that on which the funeral occurred a lady who was visiting one of the tenants or the same house, in passing saw a figure in the attic window, which she instantly recognized as that of the deceased lady, and with great consternation communicated the fact to the other occupants of the building, and in a short time the entire neighborhood was made acquainted with the strange and exciting discovery.  The window of the room in which the woman had died was immediately under that in the attic, and was the usual sitting place of the deceased. Some supposed that by some means her face had become impressed upon the glass; but the fact that it was not in the room occupied by her, and in a room that was usually unoccupied, displaces all belief in this idea.

During the day and evening the story of a ghost on Broadway was widely circulated throughout the city, and early the next morning, which was the Sabbath, people commenced to gather about the ill-fated and haunted house, much to the annoyance of its inmates and immediate neighbors. None professed to believe a word of the wild story, and were only convinced upon an actual view with their own eyes. A sister of the deceased, hearing of the matter, visited the place, and pronounced the likeness to be that of her relative. The only members of the family are two small children. The excitement momentarily increased, as also did the crowd in the street, and by noon it was so great as to render the passage of the horse cars quite difficult.

The inmates tried various means to remove the image from the glass, but were unsuccessful, and, with a view to sending the crowds away, removed the sash to the rear of the building; but as a means of scattering the people it was only successful in drawing them away from the front of the building to the rear, where the face was seen to a still better advantage, though it seemed to have a somewhat different appearance. It was only when the sash had been removed and secreted in the house that the crowd began to disperse and wander back to their homes, each having an idea as to the cause of the singular vision and all agreeing that "there was something in it, anyway." Early on Monday morning another crowd gathered around the house, and Dr. Wm. D. Lamb, a prominent physician, obtained permission to remove the sash to his office, on Essex street.

Here it was placed in his window opening upon the main business street in the city, and every one could get a fine view from below. The window was examined by Intelligent and scientific men, and while some were of the opinion that it might be the result of the action of lightning, when some person had been sitting near, others thought this theory one of impossibility.  Of course the many superstitious were satisfied that it was the "ghost of the dear woman, and nothing more." There is one thing about it, at least, that seems strange, and that is the fact of no face or figure, to be seen in looking out from the inside. During the day an army of photographers, after several attempts, succeeded in getting a very good likeness of the sash and the face it contained.

No one can account for this strange phenomenon, but men who are practical and possessed of a good share of common sense conclude that it must be one of those curious defects that will sometimes appear in window glass. The strangest thing in its connection is that it was not discovered until after the death of an inmate of the house. Those who believe In the "spiritual"' are making the most of the circumstance, and, doubtless, there seldom occurs such instances upon which they can surely reach the partially superstitious mind. Ghost or not, there has nothing occurred in the city of Lawrence of this nature that has produced such wonderment since the well-remembered stories of various apparitions in connection with the fall of the Pemberton Mills.

[A side note: The Pemberton Mills was a large textile factory that, thanks to substandard construction, suddenly collapsed on January 10, 1860.  Several hundred workers were trapped in the rubble, killing about half of them instantly.  Small wonder the disaster attracted its share of ghost stories.]

Monday, June 10, 2024

"The Day I Died": The Puzzling Murder of Helen Tobolski

"Muncie Star-Press," March 24, 1975, via Newspapers.com

Helen Tobolski led such a quiet, anonymous life, she likely never dreamed that one day far in the future, a blogger of my peculiar bent would see her as prime post material.  She wed one John Tobolski in 1933, and after his death nearly 30 years later, she never remarried, or entered into any romantic relationships.  The couple had two children, one of whom died in infancy.  After John’s death, Helen needed a source of income, so she took a job as a custodian at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.  She was happy in her job, and was well-liked by all her coworkers and the University staff.

This humble, but pleasant routine went on smoothly for twelve years.  On the morning of March 22, 1975, 62-year-old Helen arrived for work at 7 a.m., and punched her time card.  (She always arrived an hour earlier than the rest of the cleaning crew, so she could qualify for overtime.)  Normally, no one else would be on campus at that time.  She collected her cleaning materials, and went to the University’s aerospace engineering building.

Two hours later, an engineering professor named Hugh Ackert went into the building.  As he headed for the machine shop, he was stopped in his tracks by the sight of Helen’s dead body sprawled across the hallway, surrounded by a pool of blood.  The autopsy later revealed that someone had shot her in the left ear at close range.  

Helen’s mop bucket was found at the north end of the hallway.  It was unused, suggesting that she had been shot very soon after entering the building.  The doors had been locked the previous night, but the door nearest to Helen’s body had been forced open, with a small window on the door broken.

The most obvious theory was that Helen’s unexpectedly early entrance into the building startled a prowler, who panicked and shot her.  The only things missing from the scene were several “personal items” removed from her purse, which could be seen as evidence for the “burglar” scenario.  However, there was nothing of value in the building other than large machinery and equipment, which would be impossible for anyone to carry away.  No one could see what might have possibly attracted a potential thief.

There was one very eerie touch to this murder.  In the classroom across from where Helen’s body was found, enigmatic words were found written on the blackboard: “2-21-75 the day I died.”  It remains unknown who wrote this message, or if it had anything to do with Helen’s death.

This murder is one of those particularly depressing cases where the investigation died practically at birth for a want of clues.  Police could find no one with the least animosity towards her, and if she was shot by a prowler, that person managed to disappear, leaving no trace behind of their identity.  After a handful of brief “Cleaning Lady Shot at Notre Dame” headlines, the mystery vanished permanently from public view, and the frustrated police were forced to move on to more explicable crimes.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to the first Link Dump of June 2024!

Wedding season is here!

The incubator baby kidnapping.

The first movie star.

In which a ghost turns matchmaker.  Sort of.

The child who was part human, part Neanderthal.

More evidence that if you should see a UFO, it might be wisest to shut up about it.

A hot 19th century musical instrument.  Really hot.

The mystery of Mount Everest's missing bodies.

A visit to a "medieval marvel."

The "Princess Alice" disaster.

Europe's "fraud of the century."

A new species of dinosaur has been discovered.

Syphilis, a part of the dark side of the Victorian Era.

Paging Graham Hancock: new evidence for a prehistoric comet.

When potash fueled the world.

The executioner of the Nuremberg Trials.

The secret gardens of Spitalfields.

An elopement in Newcastle.

When "pineapple cheese" was a fad.  For some reason.

Two parliamentary impeachments.

A composer's really embarrassing death.

A mother shoots her child's killer.

The travails of a blind orphan.

The Green Children of Woolpit: one of those historical mysteries we'll never solve.

A gruesome unsolved murder.

A fashionable 18th century hairdresser.

The Gaspe Massacre.

A Father's Day reunion.

The "phantom phaeton."

The earliest known carved horse.

A palace made of human blood.

The origins of the word "wuss."

Raffles, the world's most popular burglar.

Russia's Circassian princess.

Murder by bandage-removal.

The story behind a famous Renoir painting.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a remarkably puzzling murder.  In the meantime, here's some Tchaikovsky.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

It’s time for that ever-popular Fortean staple, the mysterious shower of rocks!  The “Abilene Reporter-News,” November 10, 1962:

BIG BEAR LAKE Calif. (AP) Pebbles from the sky--or someplace--have pelted a house without apparent explanation for four months.

Why? Nobody knows, the sheriff's office says. 

It was spooky for the W.M. Lowe family. They don't believe in goblins, but on Halloween night they gave up and moved out. 

“The rocks were falling from all directions" they reported. 

Ever since the Lowes moved into the one-story house in this Southern California mountain resort last June 15: About four times a week--at all hours of day and night--rocks up to four inches long have rained on the house and an area of about two city blocks around. So say sheriff's deputies, and Lowe, 44, a former Fullerton, Calif., real estate man. 

Sheriff’s investigators theorized that somebody had it in for the Lowes, who endured the mysterious barrages for a month before they sought help. 

But, say officials, they’ve found no pebble tossers, even though they've been Johnny-on-the-spot when: 

A rock dented the hood of a patrol car parked near the house. 

A rock whistled past Deputy Jack H. Cox's ear on Halloween night and hit the house. 

Two window panes in Lowe’s house have been broken, others cracked. Eight windows in a neighboring house were broken. One of the Lowes' five children was bruised by a missile from nowhere. 

Sometimes they come from bright blue sky, says Lowe, sometimes at 4 a.m., noon or midnight. 

Sum result of more than a score of trips by eight different men from the San Bernardino sheriff's office: "The sheriff’s office is investigating.'’ 

The sheriff doesn't believe in goblins, either. 

Lowe's own theory: "I think it might be the wind blowing off that rocky ridge a tenth of a mile away--the closest hill. I have seen pine needles streaming past at treetop level during when rocks fell.”

As far as I know, the mystery was never solved.

Monday, June 3, 2024

The Mystery of "Joe Piker"

Toft Hill, circa 1967

In February 1823, a young man moved into Toft Hill, a small mining and agricultural village in South Durham, England.  Although he boasted the impressive name of “Josiah Charles Stephenson,” the fact that he settled into a cottage adjoining a turnpike gate soon earned him the snappier nickname of “Joe Piker.”

Joe mined coal in the winter and did farm work in the summer.  He proved to be quite handy at both occupations, which enabled him to earn a comfortable living.  He offered no information about where he came from, or anything else about his prior life, but as he was a useful citizen who caused no trouble for anyone, his neighbors saw no reason to press him for information.  He kept himself as apart from his fellow workmen as possible, and while he made no friends, he made no enemies, either.

Within a year of his arrival in Toft Hill, Joe married Sally, a pretty, amiable servant maid at the village inn.  The couple never had children, but they were a notably devoted pair, entirely content with each other and their simple, humble little existence.  After his marriage, Joe abandoned mine work to support them by doing freelance work on the neighboring farms.  He became known as the fastest shearer of corn and grain in the area, so getting enough work to live on was never a problem.  All in all, he and Sally could be said to be among the most fortunate residents of the village.

This pleasant state of affairs lasted until Sally’s death about thirty years later.  This sad event marked the end of Joe’s happiness.  He was understandably devastated by the loss of the one person in the world he was close to, and vowed he would spend the rest of his days as a widower.  Given all that, it was a great surprise to the villagers when Joe remarried after just a year or so, to a woman whose name is unrecorded by history.

Unfortunately, Joe’s second marriage was as cursed as his first had been blessed.  The new Mrs. Stephenson was soon on such bad terms with her husband that within two weeks of the wedding, she left him for good.  The estranged wife told anyone who would listen stories about Joe that were considered impossible to credit, and as she already had a reputation for dishonesty, her allegations were ignored.

After the quick collapse of his remarriage, Joe became more reclusive than ever, with such a bitter antipathy towards women as a whole that he refused to let any female even enter his cottage.  Never known for his piety in the best of times, Joe soon became, in the vivid words of a local historian, “a most blasphemous old reprobate, whose profanity, excited by the most trivial annoyance, was truly blood-curdling.”

In his later years, on nights when he had too much gin at the village pub, Joe took to dropping hints about his past life.  He once told one of his very few friends that he hailed from Berwick-upon-Tweed, although he furiously rejected any suggestion that he return to his native land, or even communicate with anyone he knew there.  He occasionally muttered that when he eventually died, it would cause the greatest scandal Toft Hill had ever seen.  His listeners tolerantly dismissed such words as the drunken babblings of a bitter old man.

In November 1869, Joe became so ill that it was soon evident that he was dying.  A female neighbor with some experience as a nurse offered to look after him, but she was rewarded with such a torrent of abuse that she fled.  The miserable recluse died alone, which was clearly what he had wanted.

When it was clear Joe’s end had come, a couple of charitable women went to his cottage to prepare the body for burial.  As they prepared to wash the corpse...they suddenly stopped.  The women immediately summoned the village doctor.  And then the village constable.  Before long, Toft Hill was treated to news just as stunning as the dead man had promised:  “Joe Piker” was really a “Jane Doe.”

The rector of the local parish, W.B. Findlay, did his best to trace “Joe’s” true identity.  He learned one interesting story: in the winter of 1822-23--not long before Joe settled in Toft Hill--a young shepherd in Berwick-upon-Tweed jilted his sweetheart, after which, both suddenly and mysteriously disappeared for good.  It was speculated that “Joe” was this wronged girl, who murdered her faithless lover and fled, assuming both his clothing and his gender.  Unfortunately, no one was ever able to satisfactorily establish the identity of “Joe Piker.”  The corpse was buried in the parish church as “an unknown woman.”

Friday, May 31, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week, the Strange Company staffers are taking a road trip!

Some remarkable pie art.

The war on East End vice.

Hearing a dead man groan.

A look at the "cunning folk."

Colorado's black cowboys.

A rescue, despite the odds.

That time robbers broke into a jail.

Why we need earthquakes.

The high school library with a mysterious mummified head.

How to dissolve the British Parliament.

Krishna: Man or myth?

From Civil War doctor to cult leader.

The "thousand-bomber raids" against Nazi Germany.

The diary of a Victorian bank clerk.

Wild saints and holy fools.

The story behind "Dali Atomicus."

Why it's called a "hamburger."

The origins of some popular songs.

The birth of Britain's National Gallery.

A look at the "Irish exit."

The world's oldest known pearl.

Jews in 18th century Wales.

The Great Airship Flap.

America's first female POW in Vietnam.

The concept of "sonic seasoning."

The mystery of Neanderthal language.

The mystery of numbers station UVB-76.

A funeral for a very scary ham.

The story behind some hidden love letters.

The man who broke the news that Mount Everest had been climbed.

How mathematical probabilities led to gambling casinos.

The ropemakers of Stepney.

The first celebrity actress.

The unsolved "icebox murder."

You can boil an egg or you can climb Everest.  Not both.

The "Holy Grail of shipwrecks."

Prehistoric domesticated cats.

Empress Matilda, who may or may not have been Queen of England.

The first photo of an electric chair execution.

Not Bruce Mayrock.

Crows can count out loud, which is more than I can say for some humans nowadays.

The Tolstoy family reunion.

A child murders his parents.

The oldest known human viruses.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll meet a resident of an English village who had a few posthumous surprises.  In the meantime, this song seemed appropriate for this blog.