"...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, August 31, 2015

The Poisonous Adelaide Bartlett

A surprising number of bizarre murders arise out of a backdrop of bland normality. Dull, respectable folk with dull, respectable lives suddenly take an unexpectedly shocking turn.

The same can hardly be said for today's heroine, Adelaide Bartlett. Her life began in an aura of weird mystery, and, many years later, ended in one.

And what happened in between was pure murder.

We have very little information about Adelaide's early years, and what is known is decidedly odd. She was born in France on December 19th, 1855. Her mother was an Englishwoman named Clara Chamberlain. Clara was married to a French mathematics teacher named Adolphe Collet de la Tremoille, but he was apparently not Adelaide's biological father. The question of who sired Adelaide remains unanswered. It was said that her real father was "an Englishman of good social position," but even this was never established. All we know is that he must have been well-known and "respectable" enough to feel it necessary to keep his identity a secret. He must also have been of considerable wealth and influence. Adelaide's father remained an important figure in her life, guiding her destiny with a powerful hidden hand.

Adolphe de la Tremoille died in 1860. Clara followed him to the grave six years later. The now-orphaned Adelaide was taken in by a William Wellbeloved and his wife Ann. Adelaide grew up to be a pretty, intelligent, graceful, and well-educated girl, but her strange family circumstances inevitably left its mark on her personality. However, it was not until some time later that the world learned just how warped a psyche she may have had.

When Adelaide was 19, her father arranged a marriage for her. She was sent to England, where a 30-year-old grocer named Edwin Bartlett was--to put it bluntly--given a large sum of money to marry her. Edwin was, on paper, a perfectly good matrimonial catch. He was ambitious, hard-working, clean-living, amiable, and reasonably attractive. However, he and Adelaide were virtual strangers when they wed. It would not be surprising if the girl deeply resented this arranged marriage, but no one, including Edwin, gave her feelings on the matter any consideration at all.

via British Newspaper Archive

The marriage contract had three stipulations Edwin had to follow before receiving his money and his wife: He had to take sole responsibility for Adelaide, he had to promise never to refer to her dodgy background, and he had to continue her education. In accordance with this last clause, immediately after the pair married on April 6, 1875, Edwin packed his bride off to a boarding-school in Stoke Newington. Adelaide remained there for a year, after which she was sent to a Protestant convent in Belgium. (Although Adelaide had been raised as a Catholic, she converted to her new husband's religion.) It was not until late in 1877 that she returned to England, and she and Edwin finally began their life together.

On the surface, at least, all seemed well. Adelaide made a great show of acting the "perfect wife." Edwin's chain of grocery stores flourished. Still, it must have been a dull existence for the new Mrs. Bartlett. She made no friends (although she easily charmed men, women appeared to find her decidedly off-putting.) With Edwin working long hours at his business, she spent most of her time alone with little to do.

In 1878, the first signs of trouble emerged. Adelaide had found an unorthodox way of keeping herself entertained. Her new father-in-law, Edwin Bartlett Sr.--who had disliked Adelaide from the start--accused her of having a liaison with Young Edwin's brother, Frederick. Although the charges apparently were only too true, Edwin took his wife's side in the family dispute and professed to believe her denial that an affair had taken place. The couple managed to force Edwin Senior to make a formal apology--in writing! Frederick fled to America, although there are signs that he and Adelaide secretly remained in communication.

The Bartletts remained childless until 1881, when, after a long, difficult labor, Adelaide gave birth to a stillborn child. She found the entire experience so traumatic that she vowed she would never become pregnant again. Edwin acquiesced with this decision.

In 1883, the Bartletts moved to Merton Abbey, near Wimbledon, where they made the acquaintance of the local Wesleyan pastor, 27-year-old George Dyson. The trio soon became the closest of friends. Edwin enlisted the reverend to tutor Adelaide in the Classics.  Dyson would often spend the day alone with Adelaide at the Bartlett home while Edwin was at work. The two men exchanged gushing letters, with Edwin writing Dyson lines like "Who could help loving you?" The Bartletts archly called the pastor "Georgius Rex." Dyson wrote Adelaide some truly unforgivable poetry, such as:

Who is it that hath burst the door,
Unclosed the heart that shut before,
And set her queen-like on its throne,
And made its homage all her own?
My Birdie.

The relationship continued after the Bartletts moved to a two-room flat in the suburb of Pimlico. This odd ménage à trois became so intimate that--according to the later testimony of George and Adelaide--Edwin virtually "gave" Adelaide to the reverend, making Dyson her unofficial "co-husband." Furthermore, if Edwin should predecease Adelaide, he asked Dyson to marry her.

Adelaide confided to Dyson many troubling things about her husband. Edwin, she said, had been suffering for years from a mysterious "internal complaint." To soothe the pain of this affliction, she was in the habit of giving him chloroform. Worse still, she claimed that a Dr. Thomas Nichols had told her that Edwin would undoubtedly die within a year.

It was a fact that late in 1885, Edwin's normally robust health took a sudden downward turn, so much so that a physician, Alfred Leach, was summoned. Dr. Leach found that Edwin was suffering from indigestion that he believed was caused by mercury poisoning. Additionally, Edwin's teeth and gums were in an appalling condition. (Edwin had fallen into the hands of a quack dentist, who prepared his mouth for dentures by sawing his teeth off at the gum line.) When Leach questioned him, (he assumed Bartlett had been taking mercury as a cure for syphilis,) Edwin said only that he had been taking pills, but he professed not to know what they were. He strongly--and, as it turned out, truthfully--denied having any venereal disease.

During Edwin's illness, Adelaide appeared to be the most devoted of wives. She insisted on acting as his sole nurse, attending him day and night. When Leach advised her to get more rest, she replied, "What is the use, doctor? He will walk about the room like a ghost; he will not sleep unless I sit and hold his toe." She asked the doctor to bring in another physician for a second opinion, with the curious explanation that if Edwin did not get better soon, his friends would accuse her of poisoning him.

A Dr. Dudley was called in to examine the invalid. He found that Edwin was suffering from sleeplessness and depression, but as far as he could see there was nothing else wrong with him. He concluded that Edwin was a mere hysteric, and advised him to get out more. Dr. Leach believed Edwin was suffering from worms. He dosed the patient with a truly nightmarish series of purgatives, which he believed finally had a beneficial result. Edwin remained in poor spirits, even confiding to the doctor that he believed he would die soon. However, by late in December he rallied slightly, and talked of returning to his work.

On the 27th of December, Adelaide approached George Dyson with an unusual request. She asked him to buy a bottle of chloroform for her, so she could give it to Edwin to help him sleep. When the reverend asked her why she couldn't get it from Dr. Leach, she explained that "he did not know that she was skilled in drugs and medicines, and not knowing that, he would not entrust her with it." Dyson obediently went to several different chemists, where he purchased four small bottles of the drug. He told them he needed it to remove grease stains. He then poured the contents into one large bottle, which he turned over to Adelaide. Neither he nor Adelaide made any mention of the transaction to Edwin.

On December 30, Dr. Leach told Edwin he was nearly completely well, and needed no further medical help. The following day, Edwin went to see his dentist. Dr. Leach and Adelaide accompanied him. Everyone was in good spirits. Adelaide was markedly affectionate towards her husband. She told Leach that she and Edwin wished they were unmarried, so "they might have the pleasure of marrying each other again."

Edwin was nearly back to his old self. Despite his recent dental work, he ate a large supper, and enjoyed it immensely. He asked their landlady, Mrs. Doggett, to serve him a large haddock for his breakfast the next morning, saying that "he should get up an hour earlier at the thought of having it."

Adelaide and Edwin spent New Year's Eve alone together. After 11:30 p.m., no one in their rooming-house had any contact with them. All was quiet until 4 a.m., when Adelaide awakened the Doggetts with startling news: Edwin was dead.

The Doggetts found Edwin lying on a small bed near the drawing-room fireplace. The body was cold, indicating he had died several hours earlier. Adelaide told them that she had fallen asleep with her hand around Edwin's foot. When she woke up, she saw her husband was lying face-down. She turned him over on his back and tried pouring brandy down his throat, but she quickly realized that Edwin was beyond all aid. She stated that she had given him nothing else that night. Mr. Doggett noticed on the mantlepiece a glass three-quarters full of a liquid that smelled like a combination of brandy and ether. He did not see any bottle of chloroform.

When Dr. Leach came to examine the body, he asked if Edwin could have taken a poison. "Oh, no," Adelaide replied. "He could have got at no poison without my knowledge." As he could see no obvious cause of death, the doctor told her an autopsy would be required. Adelaide readily assented. "We are all interested in knowing the cause of death," she said agreeably.

Edwin's father believed he already knew "the cause of death." The minute he heard of his son's sudden passing, he was inexorably convinced that Adelaide had poisoned Edwin.

The post-mortem revealed that Edwin had been a strong, healthy man, with no hint of any "internal complaint." The only clue to his death came when his stomach was opened. The contents had an overwhelming odor of chloroform.

This revelation that Edwin Bartlett died a far-from-natural death completely changed the tone of the investigation. The Bartlett rooms were ordered sealed, forcing Adelaide to seek lodgings elsewhere. She was not allowed to take anything with her, and before she left, Edwin Senior made a great show of checking her pockets.

When George Dyson heard the mention of "chloroform," he became greatly alarmed. The first time he was able to be alone with Adelaide, he asked her, in a distinctly accusatory way, if she had used the chloroform he bought for her. "I have not used it," she replied peevishly. "The bottle is there just as you gave it to me." When he continued to press her on what had become of the bottle, she angrily stamped her foot and snapped, "Oh, damn the chloroform!" When he asked her about the "internal complaint" she had told him was slowly killing Edwin, she denied having ever said anything of the sort.

It began to dawn on Dyson that his Birdie had some very sharp claws. He declared that he wanted to tell the authorities about his connection to the chloroform. Adelaide warned him to do no such thing. The two wound up having a raging quarrel that ensured their strange romance was most definitely over.

The inquest into Edwin's death opened on January 6, but was adjourned until the analysis of Edwin's stomach was completed. Afterward, Adelaide told Dyson that he was distressing himself unnecessarily. When he retorted that on the contrary, he felt he had ample reason for worry, she said casually that if Dyson would only keep his mouth shut about the chloroform, she "would not incriminate" him. Adelaide told him that she had thrown the bottle of poison away. Dyson said hesitatingly, "Suppose it should be proved that you----" "Don't mince matters," Adelaide snarled. "Say, if you wish to, that I gave him chloroform!" Dyson merely silently walked away from her. The two never spoke again.

By January 26, the medical examination into Edwin's death was complete. Dr. Leach told Adelaide that only chloroform had been found in his body; there was no "secret poison" which might have led people to believe she had murdered her husband. "I wish anything but chloroform had been found!" she exclaimed. Adelaide admitted that she had had that substance in her possession. She then proceeded to give the doctor "a sketch of her married life." Adelaide explained that Edwin had peculiar theories about "animal magnetism" and the relations between husband and wife. At Edwin's insistence, their marriage had always been completely platonic. Their marriage was consummated only once, because she wished to have children. After her tragic labor, they returned to living as brother and sister. When they met George Dyson, Edwin threw the two of them together. "He requested us, in his presence, to kiss, and he seemed to enjoy it. He had given me to Mr. Dyson."

However, Adelaide went on, towards the end of Edwin's life, he had second thoughts about their arrangement. He now wished to have sexual relations with his wife. Adelaide primly informed him that this was hardly fair play. She reminded Edwin, "You know you have given me to Mr. Dyson; it is not right that you should do now what during all the years of our married life you have not done." Despite this chastisement, he continued to make romantic overtures to her. To cool his ardor, she decided to obtain some chloroform. She planned to sprinkle some on a handkerchief and wave it in his face whenever he got frisky, so he "would go peacefully to sleep."

Instead, Adelaide went on, her conscience got the better of her. On that fatal New Year's Eve, she confessed her little scheme to Edwin. They "talked amicably and seriously" about the matter, and retired for the night: He lying on his little bed, she sitting and holding his foot. Some hours later, she awoke to find him dead.

She did not examine the bottle of chloroform to see if Edwin had swallowed any of it. On January 6, she retrieved it from their rooms and threw it away.

One can only wish it were possible to have seen the doctor's face when Adelaide told him all of this.

The inquest was resumed early in February. Dr. Leach repeated to the court Adelaide's remarkable account of her married life. Adelaide herself declined to testify.

George Dyson, on the other hand, was positively eager to, as he put it, "make a clean breast." Once the coroner's jury heard his story, it had no hesitation in ruling that Adelaide had murdered her husband, with the reverend acting as accessory before the fact. The ex-lovers were both taken into custody.

Adelaide's attorney was Sir Edward Clarke, one of the most talented--and expensive--lawyers of his day. As she herself hardly had the money to hire such eminent counsel, it has been presumed that her father was responsible for Clarke lending his expert services. Having an illegitimate daughter was obviously already enough of a deep, dark secret for this mystery man. Having an illegitimate daughter hanged for murder would be beyond the pale.

Although Adelaide and Dyson were both called to stand trial, prosecuting counsel recognized that the reverend may have been an incredible doofus, but he was no murderer. At the opening of the trial, they announced they would not offer any evidence against him. Accordingly, the judge directed the jurors to acquit Dyson, and he was released to become the star witness against the remaining defendant. Clarke immediately saw that Dyson's release was an inestimable advantage for his client. He later wrote that "the more closely I could associate his actions with those of Mrs. Bartlett, the more I should strengthen the instinctive reluctance of the jury to send her to the hangman's cord while he passed unrebuked to freedom."

Dyson testified that there had been no "secret understanding" between Adelaide and himself. There had never been any "impropriety" between them. He threw his bottles of chloroform away merely out of a mindless panic. He went to several different chemists in order to obtain as much as Mrs. Bartlett had wanted. He lied about his reasons for wanting the poison simply to avoid tedious explanations.

Dr. Nichols took the stand. He stated that he had never met either of the Bartletts in his life, and he most certainly never said that Edwin would die within a year. Adelaide's story of the platonic marriage was exploded when it was revealed that Edwin had condoms among his belongings. Additionally, the midwife who had attended Adelaide during her childbirth testified that Mrs. Bartlett told her the conception had occurred on the one time she and her husband had not used "some preventive."

The main mystery of the case was how the chloroform got into Edwin's stomach. If he had swallowed the poison, it would have created painful burns in his mouth and throat. No sign of this was found. This difficulty in establishing a murder method proved fatal for the prosecution. The best they could do was suggest that Adelaide had Edwin inhale enough chloroform to put him into a stupor, and then somehow poured more of it down his throat--something that even medical witnesses for the Crown admitted would be a "very difficult and delicate operation."

The prosecutor's case was simple: Edwin's will left everything he had to Adelaide, with no strings attached. (In retrospect, it is rather sinister that he made this new will only four months before his death. His previous will had left his money to his wife only on the condition that she never remarried--a clause that had angered her.) She was, the Crown argued, anxious to marry George Dyson. So, she resolved to get her hands on both her money and her man by--through some means or other--filling her husband full of chloroform. The defense countered by portraying Adelaide as a devoted wife of many years. She had assiduously and uncomplainingly nursed him when he was ill, and readily called in doctors to help him. Does it seem credible, Clarke argued, that this wifely paragon suddenly turned into a murderess--and one who used a method even prosecution witnesses admitted would be nearly impossible to pull off? Clarke pointed out that this was the first case of an alleged murder by liquid chloroform. Didn't it seem unlikely that this quiet suburban housewife had invented an unprecedented method of murder? Clarke hinted that it was much more likely that Edwin Bartlett, ill, depressed, and anxious for his beloved wife to find happiness with George Dyson, deliberately killed himself. The lawyer suggested that if Edwin swallowed the chloroform quickly enough, it would not have left any marks on his mouth and throat. He closed by declaring that "From the moment of that death every word and act and look of hers has been the word and act and look of a woman conscious of her innocence."

It was arguably not the most accurate way to describe Adelaide's actions, but Clarke's famed eloquence had its desired effect. Although the judge's summing-up was fair (and fairly damming to the defendant,) the jury voted for an acquittal. However, they were compelled to add the caveat that although there was not "sufficient evidence to show how or by whom the chloroform was administered," "we think grave suspicion is attached to the prisoner."

If Adelaide's trial had been held in Scotland, it's likely the jury would have delivered a verdict of "Not Proven," that famed Caledonian way of saying "Not guilty, and don't do it again."

After Adelaide was released, she was, for the first time in her life, an independent woman--itself arguably a strong motive for murder. Unfortunately, we do not know what she did with her freedom. Following her acquittal, she simply vanished from history. Over the years, many stories have been offered purporting to describe the latter years of this most enigmatic of accused murderesses, but to date, none of them have been confirmed. However, wherever she went or whatever she did, it is hard to picture anyone with her personality (she would today probably be diagnosed as a "character disorder,") coming to a happy end.

As for the supporting players in her homicidal little drama, all we know of George Dyson's subsequent history is that he emigrated to Australia. One assumes he became very cautious about doing favors for his female friends. As for poor Dr. Leach, in 1892 he, like Edwin, came to a strange and premature end:

After the trial, the London "Times" complained that Edwin's death "remains in its original darkness--an extremely unsatisfactory, but probably inevitable, result." The famed surgeon Sir James Paget was far blunter, stating that now that Adelaide was acquitted, she should, in the interests of science, let everyone know how she did it!

If, as most crime historians assume, Adelaide indeed "did it," she kept that interesting information to herself. All we can do is speculate the about the "how." Did this otherwise unremarkable woman indeed invent a new way to murder?

Probably the most colorful theory was outlined by Yseult Bridges in her book "Poison and Adelaide Bartlett." Bridges highlighted a very odd discussion Edwin had with Dr. Leach less than a week before his death. He told the doctor in Adelaide's presence that George Dyson was a hypnotist, and "he mesmerized me through my wife." Adelaide quickly cut Edwin off, reproaching him for saying such "absurd" things. "It is ridiculous nonsense he is talking," she told the doctor. Edwin, however, continued to insist that he was "under a mesmeric influence" that was forcing him to do "strange things." Dr. Leach dismissed Edwin's revelations as "delusions."

Bridges theorized that Edwin was indeed being hypnotized, but by Adelaide herself, for her own evil purposes. Perhaps Edwin's unaccountable depression and lassitude were being caused from his wife putting him into a chronic hypnotic state. Perhaps this also explained why Adelaide was able to induce him to rewrite his will in her favor. We know that Adelaide possessed a copy of "Squire's Companion to the British Pharmacopoeia," which included the information that brandy was a common solvent for chloroform. We also know that several days before Edwin died, Adelaide purchased a bottle of brandy. Edwin was a teetotaler, and the Bartletts had never bought any brandy before. Bridges imagined that on New Year's Eve, Edwin was "made to pass from the sleep state into the hypnotic state that night, and, under the influence of hypnotic suggestion, took up the glass of chloroform mixed with brandy which Adelaide had put within his reach on the corner of the mantelpiece, gulped it down, and, without pain or vomiting, sank back upon his pillows in a relaxed and natural attitude, and so passed from hypnotic trance into death." (Remember that after Edwin's death, the room was found to contain a glass of brandy with some drug in it.)

Edwin's autopsy showed the presence of a minute quantity of lead acetate, which was never explained. Bridges believed that Edwin's previous illness was caused by Adelaide slowly poisoning him with lead--which Leach mistook for mercury poisoning. (After Edwin's death, two glass bottles filled with lead acetate were found among Adelaide's belongings.) After realizing that Dr. Leach wanted to do tests to ascertain the nature of Edwin's illness, Adelaide abandoned her plan and turned to hypnosis and chloroform instead.

Kate Clarke in her "The Pimlico Mystery," also accepts Adelaide's guilt, although she painted a slightly different picture of that New Year's Eve. Eschewing the hypnosis angle, Clarke suggested that Edwin, who had suffered from sleeplessness, was easily persuaded by Adelaide to try a little chloroform in brandy as a sedative. "And was it then, as the clock on the mantelshelf began to strike twelve, that Adelaide suggested they drink a toast to the New year? Did she then hand him the glass of chloroformed brandy to toast their future happiness? And was there a loving smile on her pretty face as she watched him swallow it gladly, settle back on his pillow and drift into sleep--and death? Had Edwin cried out as the chloroform reached the back of his throat and into his stomach, the sounds of celebration from the party below would have drowned his cries..."

Admittedly, these are peculiar murder scenarios. But, then, Adelaide Bartlett was a very peculiar person.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Association of Cave-Dwelling Cats.

What the hell happened in Cherry Creek 50 years ago?

What the hell are fairy circles?

What the hell are these ancient grooves?

What the hell are these ancient petroglyphs?

What the hell is the Kaaba Stone?

Who the hell killed Katie Hood?

Who the hell was the Monster of Florence?

Watch out for the Beast of Gevaudan!

Watch out for the Killer Hellhound of France!

Watch out for the Bird Woman!

Interesting question:  Who is the earliest person in history whose name we know?  And was this person a Sumerian accountant?

One of the strangest mass murderers in history.

Why monsters make the best sales pitches.

One of my favorite weird little mysteries:  The coffined dolls of Arthur's Seat.

When E.T. is an animal.

When a ghost is a mammoth.

The many ghosts of Mary Queen of Scots.

Tips for being a successful medieval heretic.

Is this the first child hero in English literature?

It stands to reason that H.P. Lovecraft would have a weird afterlife.

A Mayan-like temple in Java.

That time when H.H. Holmes was deemed "an honorable gentleman."

That time when robins were considered xenophobic.

That time when Ohio had a volcano.

That time when a science class went insane.

The mysterious Fetter Lane hoard.

Istanbul's history gets in the way of Istanbul's history.

Yes, I'd take it.

Lynching the Sydney Ducks.

Finding the Madonna in the Moon.

The pros and cons of the crinoline.

One of the most notorious muckraking magazines.

Prostitution during the Regency.

A busy Georgian era executioner.

The "other Afghanistan."

More proof that the ancients were smarter than we think.

That time an outer space lady shut off a radio station.

A distinguished presidential dog.

Better late than never.

"Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind/Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned..."

The dubious blessings of being an Elvis clone.

A blog documenting retracted scientific papers.

The colorful career of an American actress who became a German silent film superstar.

Everything you've ever wanted to know about George Washington's bedpan.

Before there was Madame Tussaud, there was Mrs. Salmon.

A beautiful Victorian cemetery.

An inefficient French spymaster.

And, finally, this wonderful Edward Gorey gif:

So, at last we come to the end of this week's links.  See you on Monday, when I'll be presenting one of the Victorian era's strangest accused murderesses.  In the meantime, here's something from my favorite Beatle.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

A while back, I posted a story about an English family whose peace was disturbed by a "Watcher." Here is a similar, but arguably even weirder story out of Nebraska. It comes from the "Fayette County Leader" for July 12, 1917:

Monday afternoon Ossian's marshal and mayor and A.F. Dessel were summoned to the Anton Mecker home, three miles south of town. On arriving there they were told that some one had entered the house on the previous Saturday, while the family were in the garden, and took Mr. Becker's watch chain, his daughter Edith's necklace, and some money, all of which, including $1.00 were found later within ten rods of the house. A ham was also stolen from the cellar, it is believed. The incident was discussed by the family and nothing more was said about it until Sunday morning, when one of the children picked up a scrap of paper in the yard, in which was wrapped $1.00, and on the paper was written the following:

"I will be in your cellar some other day. So I leave $1.00."

Monday morning another note was found, on which was written:

"Did you take that $1.00? If so, bring it back inside of an hour or I will be in your house and show you."

Following the finding of the first note on Monday morning, Mr. Becker's boy shot two woodpeckers, and a little later the following note was found:

"I heard you shoot. I will face you soon."

The finding of this note frightened the family and they rang up the mayor's office, who with marshal and A.F. Dessel, motored to the farm. On leaving the farm this note was found:

"Heard you ring and I'll be gone for today."

The next read as follows:

"I seen all you did. The mayor is gone. I'll face you in ten minutes."

The fifth note read:

"You needn't watch for me. I come tonight."

The sixth note read as follows:

"I will be at the Fred Gerleman home tonight, so you needn't sit up. I'll show him if he is going to stick up to you. I'll stick his house on fire tonight and make him pay $1.00."

Fred Gerleman is a neighbor of Mr. Becker's and was active in Mr. Becker's behalf. The finding of the note naturally caused him a great anxiety, and it is needless to say that Fred did not sleep any that night. The house was not burned.

No other writings have since been found. The mystery remains to be solved, and this afternoon Sheriff Ellingson was called out. What his opinion is we do not know.

The matter has become serious and has caused Mrs. Becker to become ill. Both the Becker and Gerleman families are very much excited over the matter.

This is the only article I have been able to find about this story, so I cannot say if it was ever resolved.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Captain King and the Golden Needle

Joseph McPherson was an Englishman who lived in Egypt as a British security chief from 1904 until his death in 1946.  In 1983, his letters were published under the title of "Bimbashi McPherson: A Life in Egypt." In one of these letters, McPherson briefly described the illness and death of a Captain King. It is one of the eeriest deaths I have ever read about. McPherson's description reads more like a passage in a Victorian Gothic novel than anything from real life.

McPherson stated that early in 1918, King was found on a seat in Cairo's Esbekieh Gardens, "in a semi-somnolent condition, as though drugged or bewitched...The doctors found no lesions, no indication of a blow, no trace of poisoning, nothing to account for his condition, which persisted, and aggravated. He was in no pain, and all his faculties were normal, except that he seemed unable to rouse himself, or to take the least interest in people or things around him." When spoken to, King merely stared blankly and said, "She scratched my eye with a golden needle, and gave me second sight."

McPherson wrote, "Time brought no improvement, and after many days, he became feverish and delirious, repeating the above words, and those only, innumerable times.

"One night he beckoned his nurse to his bedside, and said impressively and in a confidential tone: 'She scratched my eye--she scratched my eye, with a golden needle, a golden needle, and gave me second sight--and gave me second sight--and gave me...'"

Those were the last words King ever said. Soon after this, he died.

McPherson described how he discussed King's baffling end with a Colonel Russell. Neither man had ever heard of any Eastern custom or superstition that could account for what had happened. Russell told him that King's autopsy had failed to explain why he died. However, photos of the body showed a "mark like a scratch" on the corner of one eye.

McPherson made efforts to investigate the mystery. He visited "clairvoyants, alchemists, spiritualists, Druzes, Chaldeans, Persians, weird people from all sorts of weird places, but never elicited the smallest explanation." His inquiries about King's life and associates showed him to be a "normal, pleasant, sporting officer, a moderate drinker, never suspected of drugs, not unduly interested, as far as his friends could judge, in hypnotism, spiritualism, or occult matters. He had a rather conspicuous weakness for women, especially 'Gyppy girls,' as his officer friends dubbed them; and he had been seen, several times recently, driving in his dogcart with a lady in eastern attire--young and beautiful as far as her gauzy white yashmak allowed those who saw her to judge. He had taken a lot of chaff about this 'camarade,' good humoredly, but without taking anyone into his confidence."

McPherson tried to trace this woman, but was unable to find anything more about her. He sighed that "neither I nor, as far as I know, anyone has obtained the smallest clue to King's mysterious illness and death."

It's safe to say no one ever will.

[Note: Many, many thanks to John Bellen for bringing this unjustly obscure slice of The Weird to my attention.]

Friday, August 21, 2015

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is once again sponsored by the Literary Cats of California.

What the hell is ball lightning?

What the hell is at the center of the earth?

What the hell happened to these circus animals?

Watch out for the Monster of Cheat River!

The strange 18th century grave of a witch.

The weird tale of the airplane and the time slip.

Leisure time during the Regency period.

New York's crack early 20th century canine unit.

Solving the mystery of an 18th century naval disaster.

Because they can?

The ancient Egyptians took their prenups really seriously.

An 18th century father/daughter relationship.

Honoring a hero of archaeology who was murdered by monsters.

Tonton, the ferocious dog inherited by Horace Walpole.

The pirate and the frontier con artist.

Exploring Tibet's first civilization.

A wonderfully preserved 1st century Russian grave.

The bigamist who got away with it.

Be careful how you stare into a person's eyes.

A beautiful overgrown East End cemetery.

A delightful little blast from the past:  self-deprecating notes written on vintage photographs.

The vanishing laird.

Bad behavior at a fake orphanage.

Some reports of 19th century "wild men."

Yesterday was World Mosquito Day!

A prince hunts down a sea serpent.

The hoodoos of a motorman.

The extremely creepy deaths of the Jamison family.

The case of the 1,200 year old telephone.

The ruins of an ancient English church.

A gruesome 19th century murder that went strangely uninvestigated.

And all I'll say is that the world needs more Sheep Theater.

That's a wrap!  See you on Monday, when I'll be looking at a sinister, mysterious death in early 20th century Egypt.  In the meantime, hey, hey, we're the Monkees!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The elephant is not always in the living room.  She can sometimes be found in the kitchen!

 The "New York Times," February 22, 1891:
Hermann Reiche of 147 East Fifty-seventh Street is a dealer in wild animals. He does a large business as an importer of elephants, tigers, snakes, and other features of menageries. Last April he brought from Ceylon to his establishment up town a very intelligent young elephant, four years old, which he christened Fanchon. The animal soon manifested an unusual degree of intelligence and such an adventurous disposition that Mr. Reiche concluded to educate her as a trick elephant. His man, George Brown, became her tutor. Brown cares for the animals, and lives, with his wife and three children, in apartments over the stables.

Fanchon became proficient in bicycle riding, walking on pegs, dancing on a stool, and like elephantine accomplishments. She was soon to be shipped to Paris. She had developed no fault, except an overweening curiosity. Up to yesterday, however, this had led her into no serious escapades.

Fanchon's diet consists entirely of a porridge of barley, wheat, and oats, which is cooked for her regularly three times a day in the kitchen above the stable. Her luncheon hour is noon, and when the stable clock strikes twelve Fanchon elevates her trunk and blows a trumpet call for food.

Yesterday morning Mr. Reiche and Keeper Brown went out together to purchase horses, and they did not get back until long after the noon hour. Fanchon tooted at 12. There was no response. Five minutes passed and no porridge came. Fanchon's patience gave out, and slipping her foot strap she set out for the kitchen to investigate. From the stable to the kitchen above is a long, wide, and steep stairway with over thirty steps and a turn. The animal--she weighs three tons--began the ascent to the kitchen. Mrs. Brown heard a familiar snorting in the hallway. 

Running to the door she was amazed to see the elephant poking her way into the kitchen. Mrs. Brown's little girl baby was asleep in the kitchen, and the mother was terrified. She darted through a side door, seized her child, and slamming all the doors ran down stairs and into the street shrieking "Fire!" A policeman came up on a run, but when he heard the story he was at a loss to know how Fanchon was to be "run in." The news of the elephant's doings spread, and in a few minutes 500 persons were in front of the menagerie. Just when the excitement was highest the kitchen window was pushed up and Fanchon dropped her curling trunk out through the opening and peered mischievously down at the gaping crowd.

In the midst of the confusion Reiche and Brown appeared. Brown found that the elephant had been playing havoc with whatever was in range in the kitchen. Pots, kettles, and pans, flour, vegetables, and cooking utensils were scattered, the result of Fanchon's search for porridge.

The problem now was to get the unwieldy creature down. Descent by the stairs would be unsafe, for Fanchon's ballast is so placed that she would be apt to roll end over end to the bottom. The only feasible method was to build a substantial gangplank from the kitchen window to the high iron fence next to the walk, and then, with a gradual slope, to the ground. That will involve work all day to-day. To-morrow the question will arise, Will Fanchon consent to squeeze through the window and try the descent? The experiment will be watched by hundreds.

Last night Fanchon was provided with a bed in Mr. Brown's upper hallway. She appeared to be contented.

After five carpenters worked three days to build a toboggan slide, Fanchon was gently urged out of her kitchen--not without some reluctance on her part, as she had made herself exceedingly comfortable there--and New York's free show was finally over. And hopefully, all those humans learned a much-needed lesson about the importance of timely elephant lunches.

I was unable to learn about Fanchon's subsequent career, but I hope she went on to live a long, happy, and well-fed life.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Ghost of Wizard's Clip

One of America's earliest recorded poltergeist cases took place in a West Virginia village called Middleway, but ever since, the town has become best known, for reasons that will become apparent, as "Wizard's Clip." The most lengthy account of the case comes from the memoirs of Demetrius Galletzen, a Catholic priest who witnessed much of the phenomena first-hand, and was said to have been permanently unnerved by them.

Our story opens around the year 1790, when a Pennsylvania farmer named Adam Livingston moved to Middleway, acquiring a handsome house and some seventy acres of land. He brought with him his wife and seven children. Livingston had a sterling reputation as honest, hard-working, and hospitable.

Life was uneventful until around 1794. According to legend, a traveling stranger--whose name is lost to history--took lodgings at Livingston's farm. Unfortunately, soon after his arrival, the boarder fell seriously ill. Feeling death approaching, he confided to Livingston that he was a Catholic, and begged him to summon a priest.

For all Livingston's virtues, he was also, unfortunately, a religious bigot. As a fervent Lutheran, he could not countenance the idea of a "Papist" under his roof, and sternly denied the man's last request. His lodger died without the comfort of his religion.

Whether this story of the Catholic boarder is true or not, something happened to cause all hell to break loose at the Livingston farm. It began with the sound of horses galloping madly around the home. When Livingston went outside to investigate, he saw nothing.

But the sound continued.

A few days later, his barn mysteriously burned to the ground, killing all his cattle. Invisible hands threw all the crockery in the house to the ground, smashing them into pieces. Money kept in the house vanished. Someone--or something--decapitated his turkeys and chickens. Chunks of burning wood would suddenly fly out of the fireplace, necessitating constant vigilance lest they burn the house down. Then came the Ghost Scissors. Although nothing could be seen, the sound of large shears could be heard in the house, leaving blankets, clothing, shoes, curtains, etc., full of holes in the shape of half-moons and other odd designs.

As word spread of these inexplicable happenings, the Livingston farm inevitably became the leading local tourist attraction. Some lookyloos got a more interactive visit than they had planned. One lady from a neighboring town took care to put her new silk cap into her pocket before she entered the home, to save it from being clipped.

Angry ghosts aren't foiled that easily. When the visitor exited the house, she took her cap out from its hiding place, only to find that it had been slashed into ribbons.

Three young men who had openly scoffed at reports of the phantom got Livingston's permission to spend the night in his house. They'd show everyone there were no such things as ghosts!

No sooner had they settled in for the night when in front of their eyes a large stone flew out of the fireplace and spun madly around like a top.

That was enough for the three bold skeptics. They fled the house, never to return.

Livingston was not sleeping, not eating, and his mind was so tormented by these spectral shenanigans that his health began to fail. In desperation, he went to three different professional "conjurors," who proved to be no match for the spooks. He then approached his minister, Rev. Christian Streit, for assistance. Streit did a bit of buck-passing, offering the unhelpful words that the power to exorcise malevolent spirits "existed only in olden times, but was done away now." An Episcopalian minister tried his hand at dealing with the ghost, only to be "famously abused by the spirit," who tossed his prayer book into a chamber pot. A Methodist minister had rocks thrown at him.

Soon after this latest failure, Livingston had an unusually vivid dream. He saw himself climbing a high mountain. It was a hard, dangerous climb. When he finally reached the summit, he saw a man dressed in robes, and heard a voice saying, "This is the man who can relieve you." He believed this robed figure was a Roman Catholic priest.

The next morning, he made inquiries, hoping to track down the man in his vision. His search led him to a neighboring Catholic family, the McSherrys. They in turn introduced him to their priest, Father Dennis Cahill. Livingston immediately recognized him as the man in his dream. At first, Father Cahill laughed, saying that the "supernatural" activity must be the work of mischievous neighbors. However, Livingston's distress was so compelling, Cahill was finally persuaded to go to the harassed man's home and investigate the matter for himself. He found Livingston's story corroborated not just by his family, but by the many townspeople who had seen the odd phenomena for themselves. Cahill sprinkled the farm with holy water, which appeared to enable the ghost to rest in peace.

For a while, at least. After a brief period of quiet--presumably, even poltergeists have to take a vacation from time to time--the otherworldly pest returned, as troublesome as before.

At this point, Father Gallitzin entered the picture, trying an exorcism of his own. He heard "the rattling and rumbling as of innumerable wagons..." which so terrified him, he fled. Cahill, who was of a more "truculent" nature, was brought back for another try. He celebrated a mass in the home, and the clipping, stone-throwing, and other paranormal abuses finally ceased. In his grateful relief, Livingston converted to Catholicism. (His wife Mary Ann, however, was considerably less enthusiastic about changing religion. She sardonically referred to herself as "Judas." )

This was far from the end of the story. Livingston's conversion just brought the family a different sort of spiritual nagging, which, while of a more benign variety, was probably just as irritating. Every night, the household was visited by a blinding white light, along with a voice that took it upon itself to give the family instructions in Catholicism. No one ever learned the identity of this "voice," although it claimed that it had once been a living person. The voice emphasized the need to pray for those trapped in Purgatory. The screams of these damned souls were heard regularly by the family. The spirit also foretold the future, giving Mrs. Livingston the cheery news that she was destined for Hell if she did not fully embrace Catholicism.

The family's uninvited spiritual leader was an authoritarian sort. It once shattered a mirror as a way of chastising the supposed vanity of the women of the household. On another occasion, it made a priest's horse invisible, preventing him from reaching the bedside of a dying woman to give her absolution. The voice said this was to teach a lesson about repenting at the last minute. After a while, the voice was joined by a visible spirit, a barefoot, ragged young man who told them, "I am going to my father, and I have come to you to teach you the way to him." He spent a few days lecturing the Livingstons about the intricacies of Catholic doctrine, and giving bloodcurdling reports about all the souls who were tortured by eternal hellfire for following the teachings of Luther and Calvin. (These words were evidently directed to Mrs. Livingston in particular.) He then vanished.

In 1809, Livingston sold his farm and moved back to Pennsylvania. The "spirit" apparently declined to follow him, and was heard of no more.

[Note: In September 1798, Mary Ann Livingston sent a letter to the "Potomak Guardian," where she gave her own version of events. She wrote, "I now take the liberty of stating to the Public, that the trouble still remains in the Livingston family, at times, in a greater or less degree, in despite of Priestly art. Whatever it is, it is wonderful and unaccountable, to the most penetrating mind. But what is most unhappy for me, it, aided by Priestcraft, has been the means of secluding me from the business of my family, the embraces of an affectionate husband, and fixed me as the object of public contempt. However, it is finally thought, if Priests and Spirits could frighten me to relinquish my claim to my lawful thirds of Adam Livingston's estate, the Public ear would be no longer thus amused, but this I leave for time to prove." In 1802, Mrs. Livingston did give up her control over the property, but we do not know why. It was among the 34 acres of land her husband deeded to the Catholic Church. The area is now known as Priest Field Pastoral Center.

Unfortunately, we know no more about this matter, but it does put an even more sinister spin on our story.]

Friday, August 14, 2015

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is proud to be sponsored by the Literary Cats of California.

What the hell is this "underwater Stonehenge?"

What the hell is this "Russian Stonehenge?"

What the hell is written on this medieval sword?

What the hell are these ancient Hebrew inscriptions?

Why the hell did Neanderthals have such large eyes?

Who the hell invented ice cream?

Who the hell are the Girls On the Negatives?

Who the hell was the Monster With 21 Faces?

Where the hell is Nefertiti's tomb?

Where the hell is the Roanoke colony?

Watch out for Restaurant X!

Watch out for poison gardens!

Watch out for Witching Spiders!

Watch out for Toast Water!

An amusing Victorian urban legend.

Modern-day alchemy.

A poltergeist case from the mid-1990s.

Advice for retired Indian Army soldiers.

Well, all righty.

Pondering those mysterious bog bodies.

We have met the alien, and it is an octopus.

The "Wizard of Graphology."

Magicians vs. Hitler.

We have seen the future, and, as you can probably guess, it ain't pretty.

The Victorian era's most famous spiritualist.

Two notorious breach-of-promise cases.

The sad tale of Napoleon's widower swan.

How electricity was seen in the 1890s.

Robert Louis Stevenson visits California.

The early history of smallpox vaccination.

A woman who was framed for witchcraft.

White slavery in Pennsylvania.

The case of the Magdeburg Rocket.

The case of the 9,000 year old monolith.

The case of the Murderous Mummy.

The case of the missing Everest expedition.

A photograph of 1839 London.

A roundup of 19th century wild men.

Strange stories involving "phantom limbs."

The wild talents of a blind girl.

A look at Weird Cambridge.

The autobiographical manuscripts of a 19th century French farm servant.

The first Afghan war.

Has Spring-heeled Jack moved to Argentina?

This touching post reflects exactly how I feel about every pet I've lost during my life.  (And Tungsten sounds so much like my late, great Lucy, it's kind of eerie.)

Do some people live identical lives?

Investigating Rita of Rollright.

Don't let any good witchcraft go to waste!

Remembering a past life as a snake.

Rufus W. Griswold slept here.

George III's "amiable" daughter.

The story of England's first cat show.

And, finally, some wonderful film footage of San Francisco, made just before the 1906 earthquake.

That's all for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll be talking 18th century poltergeists. In the meantime, here's the finale to one of my favorite productions of "Fidelio."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Shorter version: Pennsylvania is weird. From the "Tacoma Times," December 18, 1914:

Pottsville, Pa., Dec. 16--"She is a witch!"

Mrs. Michalina Zemanowski pointed a stubby and shaking forefinger at Mrs. Kate Short. Her words came from her throat in a hoarse whisper, and the crowd that thronged Judge Koch's court gaped while the word ran from one to another.

Mrs. Zemanowski, charged with having ferociously attacked and clawed Mrs. Short, looked up at the Judge before whom she was on trial.

Mrs. Short, who earns a meager living by making tallow dips, had sold some, one day, nearly a year ago, to Mrs. Zemanowski. She asked Mrs. Zemanowski to have a drink of whisky. The invitation was accepted. Soon Mrs. Zemanowski's voice began to fail.

A bad cold? Some disease of the vocal organs? No. In this part of the state of Pennsylvania they know that when a thing like that happens--IT'S WITCHCRAFT!

So Mrs. Zemanowski believed, and, as she brooded, her belief grew stronger till her nights were sleepless and her days frantic.

She was in the power of a witch, she said! By and by the very sight of Mrs. Short made her hysterical. Conferences were held, in which her husband and neighbors took part. The best authorities on witchcraft and its antidotes agreed that the way to break the "spell" was for the victim to draw the witch's blood!

So, one bright Sunday morning, in the little village of Turkey Run, where the Short and Zemanowski families, live, Mrs. Zemanowski attacked Mrs. Short on the street and scratched her till the blood ran down her wrinkled, old cheeks.

Mrs. Short had Mrs. Zemanowski arrested, and Mrs. Zemanowski made her plea. It appeared from the evidence that she had obeyed her husband in attacking Mrs. Short.

Under the Pennsylvania law a wife is held to be coerced when ordered by her husband to commit an unlawful act, so Mrs. Zemanowski was discharged, and the husband as the culpable assailant was fined $1.

Not long ago farmers of a neighborhood near here prowled about at night, each bearing a rifle, loaded with a golden bullet, to kill a black "hex cat" (witch cat), alleged to be four feet high, which had been set upon the heels of a young woman by some malicious enemy.

In one town a poor seamstress was stoned out of town as a witch because the baby of the family with whom she boarded cried a good deal of the time--was bewitched.

A woman who owned a black cat and a white dog was accused of being a witch by a neighbor whose child had died.

If there's a moral to the story, it is this: Don't share your whisky with anyone.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance; or, A Warning to the Curious

The disappearance of Keith Reinhard has an uncanny resemblance to many of M.R. James' ghost stories: Man visits remote town, becomes obsessed with a sinister local mystery, and then his curiosity winds up bringing him much more than he bargained for...

And also like many of James' stories, the ending to this tale is left largely to the reader's imagination.

The 49-year-old Reinhard was a sportswriter for the "Chicago Daily Herald." He lived with his wife of two years, Carolyn. He was well-to-do, had a pleasant job, and seemed to have everything that would make him content with life.

Reinhard, however, was dissatisfied and restless. In fact, he seemed to be going through a classic mid-life crisis. A long-time friend of his, Ted Parker, was living in Silver Plume, a tiny town in the Colorado Rockies, and Reinhard suddenly found himself envying his friend's rustic, uncomplicated lifestyle. In June of 1988, Reinhard announced to his wife that he was taking a leave of absence from his job and moving to Silver Plume--alone. In these bucolic surroundings, he would open an antique shop, write a novel,"find himself!"

Carolyn probably did a bit of wifely eye-rolling at this news, but seeing that he had his heart set on this quixotic dream, she agreed to let him give it a try.

In Silver Plume, Reinhard rented an unused store front owned by Ted Parker. The reason for this property's availability was because the previous lessee, a man named Tom Young, had vanished in September 1987, after telling friends that he was planning a trip to Europe.

As so often happens, Reinhard soon found that his dreams were no match for reality. There was not much of a market for antiques in that sleepy, somewhat run-down area of the Rockies. The day-to-day drudgery of running a shop bored him. He was not doing any better with his Great American Novel. Creative satisfaction was proving to be just as elusive in Silver Plume as it was in Chicago.

As his new business ran into difficulties and his writing stalled, Reinhard became more and more interested in the disappearance of Tom Young. He extensively questioned Parker and other locals about the mystery, keeping detailed notes about what he was learning. He was planning a new novel--one based on the Young mystery. As Reinhard dug deeper into the case, he seemed to start to identify with this missing man whom he had never even met. The lead character of his novel was going to be a compilation of Young...and himself.

On July 31, 1988, local elk hunters made a shocking discovery in the mountains outside Silver Plume: the long-dead body of Tom Young, sitting propped up against a tree. The corpse of his dog, Gus, was lying next to him. They had each been killed by a shot to the head. A pistol and a small backpack were found next to them. Although, through unaccountable incompetence, ballistics tests were never done on the gun, it was assumed that it had been the weapon that killed Young and his dog, and his death was ruled a suicide. However, no explanation was ever found why Young would not only kill himself, but murder his beloved pet.

Although the mystery of Young's whereabouts was finally solved, many felt that his death remained an enigma.

On August 7, 1988--just one week after Young's body was found--Reinhard went out for a walk. Along his way, he ran into several friends. He invited them all to go for a hike with him later in the day to nearby Mount Pendleton, but they all declined. At about 4 pm, he set out for the mountain, alone. He had no backpack, warm clothing, or other supplies, indicating that he was planning only a brief excursion. Considering that the hike to and from the mountain would take at least six hours, this late hour for departure seemed odd, especially since he had tried to climb the mountain before, but had found it too strenuous.

Reinhard has, to date, never been seen again. Multiple search and rescue organizations--including search dogs and air patrols--failed to find the slightest trace of him. The tragedy was compounded on August 12, when a Cessna that was participating in the search crashed, killing the pilot and severely injuring the passenger. The search for the missing sportswriter was terminated the next day.

There are many theories regarding Reinhard's fate. Did he fake his own disappearance, giving him a clean start at attempting to reinvent his life one more time? Although there have been various alleged "sightings" of him over the years, authorities have not given any of them much credibility. Carolyn Reinhard and other family members strongly deny any suggestion that he would voluntarily abandon his loved ones.

Another scenario is that he planned only a short disappearance, as a joke on his friends. But then, when someone was killed looking for him, fear of being blamed for this death--as well as being stuck with the enormous cost of the search operation--persuaded him to make his vanishing a permanent one. It is a colorful story, but implausible.

Suicide? Everyone who knew Reinhard described him as an essentially happy nature, who was deeply devoted to his loved ones. Killing himself seemed entirely out of character. And if he was planning a suicide, why did he try so hard to find someone to accompany him on his mountain hike?

The bizarre fact that Reinhard, who had become so fascinated with a disappearance, should himself vanish into thin air has naturally received much scrutiny. Were these dual disappearances merely a coincidence? Or were both men murdered, perhaps because they both had learned too much about somebody or something? Although that is an intriguing idea, no evidence whatsoever has surfaced to support it.

Or--to take the most prosaic explanation--did the out-of-shape Reinhard merely have a terrible accident while trying to climb the dark, forbidding, treacherous mountain? Did he slip and have a fatal fall, leaving his body hidden somewhere in the rough, difficult-to-search terrain? Or was he eaten by a mountain lion?

Will we ever know?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the League of Extremely Bored Cats.

Why the hell were these horse skulls buried under floors?

Watch out for Jack the Flasher!

Watch out for the cat spirits!

Watch out for those killer owls!

Watch out for those killer ghosts!

Watch out for those one-legged killer clowns!

Watch out for those killer toasters!

Watch out for those killer cocktails!

Watch out for those electric sea serpents!

Watch out for the ghost of Madame Gould!

Watch out for those biting nuns!

Watch out for those violent Argentinian elves!

Calgary is really humming!

Australia is really flashy!

A shocking 14th century royal adultery scandal.

Rediscovering the greatest pie fight in film history.

A bit of Old Hollywood:  The history of the "It" Cafe.

What?  Some professional psychics are frauds?!  The devil you say.

Hyde Park boasts a Victorian pet cemetery.

A WWI ghost story.

An 18th century ghost is currently living in New Jersey.

A surprisingly detailed record of one working woman's life in Early Modern England.

This is pretty amazing:  a recently-discovered recording of Bismarck's voice.

A gruesome hoax written by Mark Twain.

The Civil War officer who tempted fate just a bit too far.

Out: Men in Black.  In:  Green Ladies!

Did Burton Abbott  really murder Stephanie Bryan?

Intriguing minor historical mystery:  Is this the baptism record for the secret twins of Horatio Nelson and Emma Hamilton?

The Gentle Author's cat contemplates August.

A 19th century e-mail scam.

George IV visits Scotland.  Hilarity ensues.

A hypnotist tells all.

Mary Linwood, Queen of Needlepoint.

The story of the last pagan Emperor.

A roundup of wedding ring superstitions.

The strange death of a Saudi princess.

When science gets weird.

John Harrison Curtis and his acoustical chair.

An ancient Roman soldier misses his mom.

A tale of two Lancashire churches.

How to conduct a proper Irish duel.

How to eat like Napoleon.

1816: a great year for body-snatching.

Some recently-discovered evidence relating to the Mayerling mystery.

The New England earthquake of 1663.

Irene Castle had better luck with dogs than she did with men.

The conversion of Esther Rodgers.

One of the worst mother-in-law stories ever.

The history of reading the riot act.

What to ask an oracle.

And that's that for this week. See you on Monday, when I'll be presenting a Tale of Two Disappearances. In the meantime, here's Rodney Crowell: