"...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, July 29, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Feline Symphony Orchestra!

What the hell was the Canton Church Apparition?

Watch out for the Nevada Triangle!

Watch out for those phantom postmen!

Watch out for those cursed lakes!

Watch out for that undertaker ice!

If you happen to be a mermaid, watch out for Caithness!

A 50-year-old murder still haunts one New Jersey city.

A history of bloodletting.

Poe the Time Traveler!

A duel between 18th century royals.

A clandestine marriage made by an 18th century royal.

England's first umbrella.

More proof that we really know little about human history.

How the 19th century beat the heat.

The words that are eating themselves.

A Latvian fortress complex.

A murder mystery at Lamb's Gap.

An 1843 ghost riot.

Police raid a Victorian cross-dressing ball.

The Zines of Renaissance England.

The legendary ghost of Benjie Gear.

18th century lighting.

18th century women's cricket teams.

The downside of being a Roman emperor.

Encountering the Fairy Hunters.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris: What not to do with an umbrella.

A forgotten martyr of WWI.

The power of community memory.

Traveling tips from the early 19th century.

A restored Victorian house in Oregon.

Leaves that are relics of a king's death.

Cows in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The family scandal of Constantine the Great.

18th century lotteries.

Lady Alice and Sir Tom of the NYPD.

A crime writer who might also be a murderer.

The wedding of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon.

Political snowball atrocities.

Murderous Ohio.

The Ottoman siege of Belgrade.

Using mermaids to cure cancer.

A tribute to wasps.

A notorious early 19th century murder.

A Civil War killer rabbit.

The last woman to be hanged in Newfoundland.

The death of Napoleon's son.

The real "English patient."

The weird disappearance of a New Mexico girl.

A modern-day literary hoax.

The mermaids of Congo.

And, finally, this week in Russian Weird:  Siberia's not just sinking, it's bouncing.

So there it is for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at a very unusual princess.  In the meantime, let's hear the Flying Burrito Brothers:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

In the fifth installment of the "Boston Post" series, "Famous Cats of New England," we meet the ultra-cosmopolitan Frufella:
The "cat without a country," the "international cat"--Frufella, the "greeter" cat who gives first welcome to the immigrants that land upon our shores--has been "in detention" for two years at the immigration station.

A stowaway cat was Frufella, captured aboard the Canopic and turned over immediately to the immigration officials. She cannot be deported because nobody can find out whence she came. Useless are the scores of interpreters who speak to her in every language under the sun. While Frufella appears to understand them all, not one of them can speak her language. [Ed. note: a common situation with cats.]

They were sure she was Italian one day when she licked up with great relish a sizable saucer of macaroni and cheese. But the next day with the same enthusiasm she devoured chop suey, so they couldn't be sure.

When the reporter was leaving the immigration station after interviewing Frufella she followed along most hospitably to the door. A group of new immigrants who had never seen her before called out their greetings. In nearly 15 different languages Frufella was saluted. Greek, Swedish, Portuguese, Armenian predominated. But the Polish "Plen kua koska" ("nice kitten") seemed to please her best. That's what little Mary Nahandian, the eight-year-old Armenian girl who has been at the station for three months, calls her. Mary and Frufella are playmates, although Frufella is frightfully jealous of a great big dolly that someone gave Mary.

No lazy loafer of a cat is Frufella. An expert fisherman she. Mousing, too, she stars in. But many a fisherman who ties up at the docks near the immigration station allow they could take lessons in their trade from the immigration cat. Among the great posts that support the immigration pier is a nubbly one that has a big hump quite low down, and occasionally even washed by the swish of the tide. Here Frufella perches. Watching for her victim closely, she swoops out her paw, sudden and swift. Almost invariably the little fish she saw is caught fast in Frufella's claw.

With so much attention, plenty of food and plenty of warm corners to curl up and sleep in, Frufella appears to have lost all desire to take to the sea again. Never once does she make any attempt to leave detention. There is that about Frufella, stowaway cat without a country, that spells the contented cat who stands willing and ready to spend the whole of her nine lives just where she is.
~December 11, 1920

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Kongsle Bombing

Pearl Kongsle

"I know death hath ten thousand several doors
For men to take their exits."
~John Webster, "The Duchess of Malfi"

It is difficult to solve a murder when you have a lack of obvious suspects. When the motive is equally mysterious, the task becomes nearly impossible. One of the stranger--and more gruesome--examples occurred in a quiet Seattle neighborhood in 1959.

62-year-old Pearl Kongsle had been widowed for ten years. Her late husband, Guy, had been a Puget Sound master mariner. The couple had had no children. Mrs. Kongsle had recently sold her home, and soon planned to leave Seattle on an extensive trip. On the evening of September 2, Mrs. Kongsle and a neighbor, Alberta Bowman, had dinner at a nearby restaurant. They skipped dessert, as Bowman planned to bake them an apple pie. At around 8:45, Bowman brought the freshly-baked pastry to the Kongsle house. As she climbed the front steps, she noticed a brown-paper bag had been placed on top of the steps. She tried to pick it up, but she found it too heavy. She noticed that "something rolled inside." Very fortunately for herself, Mrs. Bowman did not try to investigate the parcel any further.

She found Mrs. Kongsle in the living room with another neighbor, Edith Friedman. "Pearl," said Mrs. Bowman, "what is that sack on the porch? There's a noise in it and something going on in there."

Mrs. Kongsle went to investigate. When she began to examine the package, there was a terrible explosion. "When she picked it up, it went off in her face," Mrs. Bowman later recalled.

The blast broke the windows of nearby houses, blew the hubcaps off a nearby parked car, and caused about $5,000 worth of damage to the home. The place where Pearl Kongsle had been standing was now a foot-wide crater. Whoever left that package meant some very, very deadly business.

Alberta Bowman and Edith Freeman suffered burns and injuries from the blast, but thankfully they were far enough away to avoid serious harm. What was left of Pearl Kongsle was beyond any sort of aid.

A seemingly completely innocent housewife being assassinated by a homemade bomb was a crime totally unknown to the Seattle police. The device had been completely obliterated in the blast, leaving the type of explosive used, and how it was triggered, a mystery.

The motive also remained a puzzle. Mrs. Kongsle's entire background, as far as is known, had been one of placid, comfortable respectability. She had no known enemies, and no discernible reason for anyone to wish her harm. Was the crime meant to be a mere practical joke, created by someone who was both clever enough to put together a bomb and stupid enough to have no concept of how powerful it might be? Was the real target Kongsle's tenant, William J. Meyers? (However, Meyers was in the hospital at the time of the blast--something that surely would have been known by someone planning his murder.) Was it just the random act of a lunatic, with no motivation other a lust for pointless destruction?

The investigation into the murder only became more complicated when it emerged that this was not the only highly disturbing incident connected to Mrs. Kongsle.

Three weeks before Pearl's murder, her brother-in-law, Elmer Kongsle, and his wife Johanna found several sticks of dynamite scattered in the front yard of their home in nearby Alderwood Manor. The perpetrator was never found. Less than five months before this incident, Elmer and Johanna's oldest daughter Betty and her husband, Major Robert Douglas Baker, both suddenly and unexpectedly died at Ft. Lewis, Washington. At first, it was believed the couple had contracted botulism during a recent vacation in Mexico. However, tests ruled out any food poisoning. The cause of their deaths remained unknown. What made their deaths all the stranger was that their three young children remained completely healthy.

There almost had to have been some thread tying together the Pearl Kongsle bombing, the dynamite found in Elmer Kongsle's yard, and the mysterious deaths of Betty and Robert Baker. Something that would provide a coherent explanation for these eerie and seemingly senseless events.

If so, this thread has yet to be found. The Kongsle murder is still thought of as Seattle's "coldest cold case."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Fellowship of Kitten Aeronauts!

What the hell is the Eye of the Sahara?

What the hell are the Fort Mountain Petroglyphs?

Watch out for those sea serpents!

Watch out for those Devon witch wars!

Watch out for those Minneapolis caves!

Watch out for those flying Coney Island monsters!

Watch out for those Megalodons!

One of the more offbeat Jack the Ripper suspects.

A scandalous Victorian bank failure.

Medieval hairstyles.

George Washington's dog.

16th century strange sounds in the sky.

Why it's amazing that we can still read "Beowulf."

Edward Braddock and George Washington.

An Arab embassy in Dark Age Scandinavia.

Ladies share some pleasant discourse in 16th century England.

A wartime execution.

Hints to Victorian unmarried ladies.

A murder in King's Meadow.

Murder for fun and profit.

Georgian cakes and puddings.

The Roughriders of the Mediterranean.

A brief history of the Evil Eye.

Horses who sniff out death.

A DIY cathedral.

19th century Pedestrianism.

Mozart's "Il Seraglio."

The church with a cat greeter.

Neolithic fairies.

The First Servile War.

Life on the road in the Napoleonic era.

The King of the Fairies.

The brewery flood of 1814.

The first woman to be filmed by an Edison motion picture camera.

Using liquid to carve stone.

A particularly sad case of eighth century infanticide.

Another account of a child's death, this one from the early 18th century.

The extremely unfortunate Hoo Loo.

One very busy sleepwalker.

The enduring mystery of the Boy in the Box.

How spiritualism became a craze.

The execution of John Ball.

The Swell Mob vs. Two Intrepid Females.  Three guesses who wins.

Being broken on the wheel: one of the nastier aspects of life in the 18th century.

Canines and crinolines.

That Damned Charles Fort.

That time Voltaire gamed the lottery.

A bad dream of the Romanovs.

Countess Castiglione, queen of the selfies.

19th century longevity.

Major Ward and the skeleton.

And we're done!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a particularly weird murder in Seattle.  In the meantime, here's some Salieri.  It's a pity those silly legends about him have obscured the memory of this quite charming composer.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

This unpleasant bit of Forteana comes from the "Victoria Advocate," February 28, 1971:
Oklahoma City (AP)--There's something out there. It walks like a gorilla, leaves hand prints like a man, rips doors off their hinges, and it likes chickens.

For want of a better name we'll call him Oklahoma's Abominable Chicken Man.

It's a long story and it goes like this.

An El Reno farmer walked out to his chicken coop one day in December and found its door on the ground, apparently thrown there after being ripped off the wall.

On the surface of the door, and inside the coop on the walls, were a number of strange hand prints--like none he'd ever seen before. They were about seven inches long and five inches wide.

The farmer called a state game ranger. The ranger had never seen anything like it either and he sent the door to the Oklahoma City Zoo to see what experts could make of the prints.

The experts were baffled too. Zoo Director Lawrence Curtis says the prints appear to be like those of a primate. A primate is an animal like a gorilla or a man that can stand erect.

The thumb of the print is unusual. Curtis says it crooks inside, as if it were deformed or had been injured.

"It resembles a gorilla," he said, "but it's more like a man."

"It appears that whatever made the prints was walking on all fours. There were some footprints on the ground outside," he said. Whatever it was was barefoot. Barefoot in December.

Since Curtis got the first print he has had reports of similar finds around the state. A man in Stillwater and a woman in McAlester have told him of discovering similar prints. The woman has a photograph she is mailing to the zoo for comparison.

Oklahoma has only four native animals big enough to leave such prints: the black bear, the mountain lion, the wolf and man. Curtis has ruled out all but the last.

"We've shown it to several mammologists and several wildlife experts in Oklahoma and some passing through. All agree it is a primate," he said. "These prints were made by some sort of a man, perhaps one looking for chickens."

Asked about the wide distances between the points reporting similar prints, Curtis said, "If there is one there is more than one. There has to be more than one unless he's hitchhiking."

There are no zoos in El Reno, no circuses and no one known to be keeping a gorilla. In fact the only thing in the area that "keeps" primates--in this case men--is the federal reformatory just on the outskirts of town.

The Abominable Chicken Man is being compared with reports of similar findings from California. In this case people have reported seeing a seven-foot man-like creature wandering in the northern wilds. They call him Bigfoot, after the large tracks he makes.

The description also seems to match the Sasquatch, also known as Bigfoot, a towering primate reported in Washington and British Columbia.

Curtis is trying to find a book and a magazine article that tell about the Bigfoot sightings. He's anxious to make a comparison.

In the meantime he has the chicken coop door in his office for reference, and one supposes, for conversation.

There's not much else to go on until somebody reports actually seeing the Abominable Chicken Man.

There are a lot of people looking.
So far as I know, they never did find it, so Oklahoma poultry had better remain on guard.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Grace Sherwood, the Litigious Witch

Although America's most notorious witchcraft trials took place in Salem in 1692-3, judicial persecution of alleged "witches" lingered for a surprisingly long time. In fact, the state of Virginia's last prosecution took place some years after the Salem hysteria. These unusually tangled proceedings centered around one woman: Grace White Sherwood, who is remembered to this day as the "Witch of Pungo."

Grace was born sometime around 1660. In 1680, she married a planter named James Sherwood. The marriage produced three children: John, James, and Richard. After Grace's husband died in 1701, she inherited his farm, which she managed herself, largely without assistance. She was a strong, capable, independent woman who evidently disdained the idea of remarriage. According to later legend, the practical Sherwood was also in the habit of wearing men's clothes to do her farm work. Such unconventionality was rare at the time, which would have made her an object of puzzled disapproval in some circles. Tradition--whether true or false--has it that Sherwood was also a talented midwife and "healer,"--two professions that traditionally have left a woman vulnerable to charges of sorcery by the more superstitious members of a community.

Sherwood's first known legal dispute was in 1697, when a Richard Capps charged her with "hexing" his bull to death. Sherwood retaliated by bringing a defamation suit against him. The surviving information about the incident is sparse, but it is known that some sort of settlement was worked out between the two parties. The next year, another neighbor accused her of casting spells against his hogs and cotton fields. Sherwood counter-sued for slander, but these efforts to defend herself were tossed out of court. Later that same year, one Elizabeth Barnes declared that Sherwood had taken on the form of a black cat, and then entered Barnes' home and whipped her. Other neighbors, John and Jane Gisburne, asserted that Sherwood "bewitched their piggs to death and bewitched their Cotton." Sherwood filed more defamation suits against these new accusers, again unsuccessfully.

In 1705, Sherwood got into a brawl with a woman named Elizabeth Hill. She sued Hill for assault and battery. This was one of Sherwood's few legal successes: the court awarded her twenty shillings in damages. Hill and her husband retaliated by charging Sherwood with witchcraft. Allegedly, she had "bewitched" Mrs. Hill into suffering a miscarriage.

This charge was taken very seriously by the authorities. A jury of twelve "ancient and knowing women" were ordered to search Sherwood's body for "witches' marks." (The forewoman of this jury was the same Elizabeth Barnes who had earlier described being attacked by Grace the Shape-Shifting Black Cat, which gives one a clue about the impartiality of this tribunal.) These woman reported that Sherwood was "not like them nor noe Other woman that they knew of, having two things like titts on her private parts of a Black Coller, being Blacker than the Rest of her Body."

In May 1706, the court ruled that, although there was no proof Sherwood was a witch, there was still "great cause of suspicion." She was ordered to stand trial.

In a truly medieval touch, county justices ordered that Sherwood undergo "trial by ducking." On July 10, 1706, she was brought to the mouth of nearby Lynnhaven River (now known, predictably enough, as "Witch Duck Bay.") There, she would be bound in a sack, and tossed into the water. If she floated, that would be considered proof that she was a witch. If she sank--vindication! (The one nod to humanity shown in the matter was that several justices stayed near the scene in a rowboat. If she proved herself innocent, they would save her from drowning.)

Legend has it that just before being pushed off the boat, the accused woman told the justices, "Before this day be through you will all get a worse ducking than I."

Sherwood was, perhaps, just too self-reliant for her own good. She not only easily floated on the surface, but she was able to untie her bonds and swim to shore. Even though it had been a clear summer's day, as soon as she was out of the water, a sudden downpour broke out, leaving all the spectators soaking wet. Well. If all that didn't prove she was in league with the Evil One, what would?

Although surviving records do not give many details about what happened next, we know Sherwood was jailed for some period of time--perhaps as long as seven years. There is documented evidence that she was a free woman by 1714. As far as is known, there were no further charges made against her.

All in all, Sherwood was a party--either as defendant or plaintiff--in about a dozen known lawsuits. Sherwood was forced to pay court costs in all these cases. As she was far from wealthy, being accused of witchcraft proved to be a financially ruinous pastime.

Still, Sherwood was more fortunate than many alleged witches of her era. After her release from prison, she recovered her 145-acre property, and appears to have been allowed to live quietly on her farm until she died in 1740, aged about eighty.

The "Witch of Pungo" lived on in local memory. One particularly colorful legend has it that after Sherwood's death, her sons laid her body out near the fireplace. A strange gust of wind rushed in through the chimney, causing her corpse to disappear, leaving only a cloven hoofprint to give a clue to the "witch's" final destination. (The dull truth is that she lies in an unmarked grave near what is now Pungo Ferry Road in Virginia Beach.) Shortly after her death, gossip swept the area that her "familiars," in the shape of black cats, were roaming the town, leading to a widespread massacre of felines. The result of this extermination was a serious rat and mice infestation throughout Princess Anne County, which is about the closest this entire story comes to some measure of justice. To this day, locals assert that Sherwood's ghost still appears at "Witch Duck Bay" on every anniversary of her ducking. A far more charming legend has it that all the rosemary growing in the Virginia Beach area was started by a single cutting planted by Sherwood.

In 2007, a statue of the "Witch of Pungo" was erected in her memory near the courthouse where she stood trial. The year before, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine had formally overturned her conviction.

By Lago Mar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Better late than never, I suppose.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Bureau of Cheerful Cats!

Where the hell was Saint Martin's Land?

Watch out for those lying ghosts!

Did vampires kidnap Susan Walsh?

The Vere Street Gang.

Cleaning up Napoleonic battlefields.

Uncovering excommunication records.

Food rationing during WWII.

Space travel is impairing the eyesight of astronauts.

London's first Indian restaurant.

The varying reputation of Jean-Paul Marat.

If D.B. Cooper happens to read my blog, he can know that the FBI has given up on finding him.

A drumming well.

An early female ghostbuster.

The first woman to bicycle around the world.

Brainlessness isn't necessarily as bad as you'd think.

Alexandre Dumas' cat.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris: What not to do with a circular saw.

Some 18th century legends of the sea.

A review of a recent biography of Evelyn Waugh.

The lost palace of Richmond.

Ah, yes.  Spouses: 0 Cats: 1  (More stories on this old blog post.)

What an Amazonian tribe teaches us about music.

Albert Hicks, the last pirate hanged by the U.S.  Maybe.

The high cost of living in early 19th century India.

A chat with a public executioner.

A "primitive machine" in the Great Pyramid.

A domestic murder from 1800.

The rebellious Paracelsus.

George Cruikshank's London summer.

How one lawyer escaped the wrath of the French Revolution.

The disappearance of a child artist.

A double disappearance in 1958.

Sweden's greatest naval victory.

The execution of a prominent Anabaptist.

The battle over Wofle's Farm.

A look at American pamphlets.

How to talk like an 1867 sailor.

Suicides in Brompton Cemetery.

The library that's patrolled by bats.

Brandy as a cure for rattlesnake bites.

A strange ancient skull.

If a goat stares at you, you'd better pay attention.

The Cocaine Bear of Kentucky.

A family has gone to war over an art collection.

The mystery of Philip K. Dick.

Victorian concealed births.

A Swedish forest is hiding a statue of Greta Garbo.

Early 20th century child prodigies.

Yet another tale of deepest crime.

Yet another headless saint.

An Arctic mermaid.

A strange Brazilian disappearance.

And, finally this week in Russian Weird:  Yeah, we're still trying to figure out what the hell happened at Tunguska.

And then there's the tale of a Russian who may or may not have been an American spy.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at witchcraft in colonial America. In the meantime, here's the Kingston Trio. The Beach Boys made "Sloop John B" famous, but I actually like this version better.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This fourth installment in the "Famous Cats of New England" series published by the "Boston Post" features two handsome ladies' men:
The cats that have 1800 girls to love them--Mike and Ike, the Telephone Company's twin cats--scorn to lay claim to any such plebeian accomplishment as mice or rat catching. Never, since last April, when they came to 119 Milk street, wee bits of black kittens, have they done one single stroke of honest work.

Today, great black and white beauties, they bask in the smiles and caresses of the 1800 girl operators;they spend most of their time curled up asleep on the comfortable leather couches of the recreation hall, and show pronounced enthusiasm only when the rattle of dishes in the locker room below announces that it is getting on toward mealtime.

New England can hardly lay claim to two handsomer or more dignified cats than Mike and Ike. Their fur is like silk. Its black is as black as it is possible for black to be. Its white is the white of faultlessly laundered linen.

Not a minute of the day passes that Mike and Ike are not being talked to and stroked. The girls, working in relays, are coming to recreation hall for their 15-minute reliefs every hour of the day and night. They never go back to work without a bit of play with the twins. They always used to bring them some little treat, like a taste of chicken or some catnip.

Killed with kindness, very nearly were poor Mike and Ike. Treats from 1800 loving "aunties" soon landed them up at the Angell Memorial Hospital. Now they are kept on a strict--no eating between meals--diet. Still Mike and Ike appear excessively well fed cats. They are heavy to lift. They have that delicious sort of sleepy languor that makes contented house cats so comfy and cuddly.

Man haters indeed are Mike and Ike. They can scent a man the moment he enters the room. Let them be curled up fast asleep at the other end of the big hall and let one mere man so much as set foot inside the door that is furthest away and "Pssssssst! Pssst!" The twins are on their feet--backs up, tails bristling.

Spitting at the Post photographer the moment he entered the room were Mike and Ike. No soothing word he could say had the least effect. They regarded him with suspicion every moment he was there. Their great gold eyes watched him unwinkingly wherever he went. Their tails stirred uneasily. Thoroughly displeased were they that mere man should have invaded the sanctum where they reign supreme.

A Christmas tree with 1800 presents is coming to Mike and Ike. There will be little wooly play mice--not the mice, in the flesh, all dirty from the cellar that would soil the little white mittens of their paws of which the girls are so proud. There will be little balls, too. Mike and Ike are fond of playing ball occasionally.

They bat a small rubber ball about for hours between each other, racing the length of the big room to catch it and bat it back. But as their kitten days grow further back they play ball less and less. They sleep more and more.

Each with a mammoth lounge completely to itself the cats were blissfully sleeping when the reporter called. They were gracious enough about being rudely awakened. They are used to that. They consented to having the head gear slipped over their heads and to sitting up quite professionally, as if they were saying "Hello." Nor did they run from the photographer. But, oh my goodness, how they hated him!

"They show their good sense and the way we girls train them," said the hello girls. "They're a credit to their 1800 aunties, Mike and Ike are." 
~December 10, 1920

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Vanishing at Euston Square

Euston Station, 1851

A particularly odd international disappearance generated a great deal of copy in newspapers and magazines in the first half of 1872. It is small wonder the case attracted attention, because whatever the truth may have been behind the mystery, it reads like something from that era's most outlandish Penny Dreadfuls.

William Blews and Sons was a firm of gas engineers based in Birmingham, England. They were contractors to the City of Moscow Gas Company. Their manager in Moscow was 26-year-old L.R. Bauer, a Russian of German descent. Bauer was an excellent employee. He had a fiancee in Latvia whom he planned to marry soon. His life, so far as is known, was prosperous and untroubled. On January 12, 1872, Bauer wrote to Blews and Sons, stating that he was coming to England to consult with them about a business matter. He arrived in London on the 25th, where he had a meeting with a member of the Moscow Gas Company. The following morning, he telegraphed Blews announcing that he was about to take the noon train from Euston station to Birmingham. A cabman later asserted that he delivered Bauer to the station at twenty to twelve. However, for unknown reasons, Bauer failed to make his train. He told a porter at the station that he would take the next train at 3 p.m. He sent a second telegraph from the Euston office advising Blews of this change of plan.

Bauer never arrived. No one heard a word from him until eight days later, when Blews and Sons received an envelope containing two notes, both dated January 27. It was postmarked in London on February 2. The first letter read,
Dear Sir,—As a special grace permission has been granted to me to address these lines to you; they will be the last, because in a few hours I shall be dead. In good faith of doing a good deed I joined some people a few years ago. Alas! it was a sad error into which my youth and want of experience had led me. About a year since I discovered my great mistake, because I was not bad enough to carry out some consequences of my vow—the very point of my misunderstanding, and ever since I lived in dread, although I was not prepared for this when one of these devils in the shape of men peremptorily stopped me from leaving London yesterday noon. I was not even aware of being so closely watched. Having no choice left but either to do things against which my whole soul revolts, and which I find utterly impossible to do, or to die myself, I have chosen death, and shall die in some hours hence. It is a very hard thing, I feel, to go thus suddenly for ever without seeing anybody whom I loved once more, and my heart breaks when I think of my family and my poor girl in Russia; but it cannot be helped. I know but too well my fate is sealed, and I am quite composed now. How could I write these lines were it otherwise? My luggage has already been destroyed, I believe, for they will make sure work about me. On account of the trouble that will arise to you, dear sir, through my sudden death, I am exceedingly sorry, because a good many things I had in my mind only to explain; but I hope you will grant me pardon when you see that I am thus cut off from all, O God! everything that could have made me happy. Farewell, dear sir; I am punished hard for my mistake of men, but I have the knowledge, at least, which gives me strength to endure all—I shall, at least, not die a villain!—Farewell, for ever,
L. R. Bauer
The second note said merely, "Sir,—The foolish author of the enclosed brief has informed you right; he is dead. Our safety forbids us to send your property— to wit, some papers, which have been burnt.—We are, sir,
"A Sufficient Number."

Opinion differed on the vital point of whether these letters were both in Bauer's writing, or in two different hands. Everyone was at a loss for words to explain what was going on here. Bauer's father in Russia apparently took these letters seriously. He wrote to the head of the Blews firm stating, "His letter to you, and the enclosure signed 'A sufficient number' speak to my heart as of his death. It seems to me no insanity. The persecution of this gang to which my son alludes in his letter is a truth, because in the summer before last in St. Petersburg he was through it then seized with madness, and spoke of it alone." The missing man's fiancee, Marie Schulze, also wrote to Messrs. Blews that when she last saw Bauer, shortly before his trip to England, he was "filled with evil forebodings." His final letter to her, dated on January 26 and bearing the stamp of the London Charing Cross Hotel, "contained anxious misgivings, and fears of a heavy approaching calamity."

In May, Blews and Sons supplied the newspapers with a letter they received from another of their agents, who was currently in Brazil. It only made the mystery still murkier:
Gentlemen, — I am in receipt of your letters informing me of the disappearance of Mr. L. R. Bauer. I am very greatly touched by the horrible event. When we parted at Moscow we parted as two brothers would; he embraced me as no man save my father has ever done; he promised to write me instantly in any difficulty business might bring about; we sketched out how each was to pull with the other, how we were not to be separated, though we lived in different hemispheres; and I came away satisfied that you had as good and faithful a servant in Bauer as you ever had in any man. Of his connection with one of the numerous associations professing freedom for the Baltic Provinces and for Poland he has informed me fully, and of his bitter sufferings in connection with his vows; and when it became necessary to appoint him in my stead, it was only on the distinct arrangement that he should marry at Christmas, 1871, and then look out for a magasin having store-room beneath or in rear and apartments over it for his occupation. Such an act would, I knew, bring him face to face with the association, and in any such contest, supported by a loved wife, and protected by the position your Moscow business furnished him with, the issue was in his hands. The fact of his youth having been allied to such institutions would not weigh against Mr. Bauer in the eyes of the General Governor of Moscow, and to him I urged any appeal which might become necessary during the strife, and also to myself. I undertook to run over to Moscow at any time on his informing me the hour had come. His appointment to a business position was essential to his marriage, and I many a time dwelt on the urgent necessity there was for marriage among the young men in the Hotel Haldy. Many will remember these adjurations of mine, and they may possibly now see their point. Bauer promised he would marry, and I promised to secure him from your service what would enable him to live comfortably. From this you will see I am not surprised that trouble has befallen him, but I am sorry it did not happen in Russia. In London I know of several such associations, organised, officered, and managed entirely there ; and the consequences of their actions are never traced to them in England. Many a poor fellow falls in an emcute instantly suppressed, and seldom reported; but that does not affect smug John Bull. The organisations are perfect in London; they are only deficient in action in the locality to be advantaged by association. In London, then, Bauer was much less safe than in Russia. It is always a difficulty to a foreigner how police can be useful for protective purposes; they are known only for repressive purposes, and strangers hesitate to utilise them. Bauer, doubtless, arrived at Euston for the twelve o'clock train, and was there accosted by an agent, and unfortunately, in his exceeding great courtesy, would balance his head two or three times, and proceed to address the agent instead of demanding a seat from the guard and leaving the agent to himself. Of course the agent would have a plausible story with which to detain Bauer, and in this, the first minute of the attack, life or death to Bauer were in the scale. Failure was irretrievable. Steady progress towards his seat was salvation. But I have several times found him in Moscow staying in the street to listen to the applications of strangers. This is a habit I have studiously avoided in England and abroad. In a thousand ways it is dangerous. The letter of January 27 is quite Bauer's style of expression. Phrases in it are indisputably his. Russians speaking to Russians say "my bride." Bauer to my wife and me, invariably said "my girl" and other instances I could name, but you have the original and can test the handwriting. If I were in England I could readily ascertain whether he really had fallen under the displeasure of his association, but no assistance would be rendered me at this distance. Satisfaction is quite possible on this head, and also upon the point if he is sent to Russia for adjudication, for I do not think action would be taken in London beyond his being sent to Paris or Russia. I notice the Telegraph points to possible defalcations. My knowledge of the position sets that aside. The sum open to him was valueless to him. I am as certain of his superiority to temptation of that kind as I am certain of my own; and I am equally certain Bauer was quite indifferent to the temptations of London life. You will find no one person charge him with intemperance or immorality, and I am confident Messrs. Laidlaw and Son's manager will join in assuring you that the whole of Bauer's intercourse with him was, as it was with me, singularly pure. From none of these sources will help come to you in your search. If that second letter (February 2) is the production of another, then my first hope that he has been attacked with the fear of those devils being near him, and had lost his reason, vanishes. He would not, under any such attack of insanity, perpetrate the second letter. The first he would; but if the second is not in his writing, then I have little hope of your finding him in England. You have lost a most valuable servant, and I have lost the dearest friend late years have brought me. My wife (who also besought him to marry) is quite unable to believe the story. All seems to her like a miserable dream; it is not possible, she says. Had we been in England he would have been safe.

I await with anxiety further intelligence from you and remain, gentlemen, yours very respectfully, Joseph Edward Jones

It gets even weirder. Several publications indicated that the "gang" Bauer's father alluded to was the sect known as the "White Dove," or "Skoptsy," a fanatical Orthodox cult that practiced voluntary castration as part of their rituals. The Skoptsy first emerged around 1770, and at the time Bauer disappeared, this sect of mystical eunuchs had acquired a great number of proselytes. The suggestion was that the young man had become involved with the Skoptsy, but after finding a girl he wished to marry, Bauer naturally rebelled at the idea of castration. In revenge for this apostasy, members of the cult kidnapped and murdered him.

Was Bauer's disappearance tied to his links with subversive political groups, as Joseph Jones seemed to intimate?

Or, suggested less romantic types, did Bauer simply do a runner? Was this seemingly contented man secretly nursing a dissatisfaction with his job, his life, and his intended bride? Did he fake his own kidnapping and death so he could start anew under a different identity? Did he kill himself? Others noted his father's reference to Bauer having been "seized with madness" in 1870. Did the young man have another sudden attack of "madness," causing him to wander off in a daze? But if that was the case, where was he?

For some weeks, the public prints carried fruitless speculation about the young Russian's fate. Then, inevitably, the story faded from general attention. And L.R. Bauer was never heard from again.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is pleased to be sponsored by the Federation of Extraterrestrial Cats!

Who the hell was the Ghost Sniper of New Jersey?

Where the hell is Wanka?

Alhambra is really booming!

The castle of Death Valley Scotty.

New York's Grumpy the Bulldog.

The museum clerk who saw the Battle of the Somme.

Female soldiers in the Mexican-American War.

Women in Russian folklore.

Marriage-by-abduction in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Jewish pirates of Jamaica.

Canada Day, 1867.

Port wine and war.

Folklore involving birds and death.

The murder behind "The Ballad of Reading Gaol."

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  What not to do with a fork.  (A truly unforgettable headline on this one...)

Studying history through medieval graffiti.

Stravinksy's troublesome Star-Spangled Banner.

Famous last words, French Revolution department.

The rather depressing Budapest Smile Club.

The remains (well, bits of them) of the Buddha may have been found.

The 10,000 year old grave of a "Shaman woman."

Popinjays, fops, and macaronis.

The most haunted town in America.

Food'll kill ya.

A fortune-telling praying mantis.

John Jackson's Boxing Saloon.

This has got to be one of my favorite funeral stories ever.

Divided loyalties during the American Revolution.

The world's worst fireworks accident.

The bishop and the bread knife.

Some of the greatest royal epithets.

The ultimate Crazy Cat Man story.

That time Los Angeles celebrated the 4th of July with a cricket match and a bagpipe contest.

A 10th century Bigfoot?

A Thames sailing barge.

The Man in the Iron Wax Mask.

A 1,000-year-old arson case.

The bones of Betsy Ross.

Victorian Cat Ladies, crazy or otherwise.

Some crime and punishment from the 18th century.

Dora Jordan, 18th century comic.

Why one man keeps dying in terrorist attacks.

Everyone's favorite alien conspiracy theories.

The library that serves two different countries simultaneously.

The Devonshire costume ball of 1897.

Historical children-scarers.

Was Noah's Ark a pyramid?

And, finally, this week in Russian Weird goes sunbathing.

And that's that for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at the very odd mystery surrounding a young Russian man.  In the meantime, here's something from the early 18th century.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This odd little tale of ghosts that go bump--well, shriek--in the night comes from the "New Zealand Tablet," May 30, 1901:
The Wellington ghost seems to have taken a trip to Ireland, and settled down in the neighborhood of Nenagh. A correspondent writes: An affair of a decidedly mysterious nature has for the past fortnight or so kept, and is still keeping, the inhabitants of the districts of Bawn and Kilmore, a couple of miles from Nenagh, in a state of terror bordering on panic. It appears that on the night of March 1 a most unearthly shrieking noise awoke the inhabitants of the districts mentioned from their slumbers, and as it lasted intermittently for several hours, a party of investigation was formed, but although the noise continued during the time of search, now seeming quite close to the party, and again coming apparently from a distance of a couple of miles, the closest inquiry failed to elicit the cause. On Friday night, March 8, the uncanny disturbance was again renewed, and the now thoroughly alarmed country folk informed the police of the matter. On the following Sunday night a patrol, under Head Constable Horgan, was on duty in the neighborhood of Bawn, and distinctly heard cries of a most terrifying description. Matters became so serious that on the night of March 19 a force of 30 police, under District-Inspector H.P. Shiel and Head Constable Horgan, were in the neighborhood of Bawn, but though they remained out until the small hours of the morning their efforts to penetrate the mystery were fruitless.
I found no follow-ups to this article, so I have no idea how long the disturbance continued, or if the source for these unsettling sounds was ever found.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Strange Death of George Austin

London Bridge, late 19th century

In February 1835, the corpse of a fifteen-year old boy named George Austin was found floating in the Thames.  The assumption was that he had thrown himself off London Bridge.  The inquest into his death brought out a very strange story. It was told mostly by a boy named William Barstolen, who worked at the same brass foundry as the deceased.

Barstolen said that a few days before Austin died, the boy was in an obviously troubled state. He was “confused and dull,” and had trouble doing his usual work. Austin said he “was distracted in his mind,” and threatened to stab himself “or make away with himself somehow, and end his miseries.” Austin explained that about three weeks earlier he had called on his brother-in-law, who gave him more to drink than he was accustomed to. After he left, he encountered a young woman named Sarah, who persuaded him to go home with her. He “stopped at her lodging some time,” and then proceeded to his father’s house. A short time later, he visited the girl again. On his third visit, he found her with another woman, both of whom were extremely drunk “and danced about the parlour.” Sarah went upstairs, after which Austin heard a child let out a scream. After a few minutes, Sarah came back down announcing that “she had done for the buntling,” by smothering him in a feather bed. She went back upstairs, returning with a baby’s corpse. The horrified boy desperately wanted to leave, but as there was a knife on the table, he feared the girls would murder him if he tried.

Barstolen went on to say that Austin told him that the girls buried the baby under the stairs. Unsurprisingly, he vowed never to see either of these viragos again. However, a few days later, a boy known only as “the Countryman” told him that the girls frequented the Brown Bear “opposite the London-dock gate.” He (the Countryman) had met them there, where he heard that Sarah was accused of having murdered a child. She denied it, asserting that George Austin was the killer. The Countryman gave Austin the sage advice, “Keep away from them, if you don’t wish to be hanged.”

Barstolen said that Austin expressed “the greatest dread and horror at the situation he had placed himself in by his own imprudence,” and added that a couple of days previously Austin had encountered Sarah in the street, and when he declined to go home with her, she angrily retorted, “Then so help me God, I will split about the murder and get you scragged! [hanged]” She threatened that if he did not get her some money by the following morning, she would have him arrested. When Austin tried running away from her, she chased him yelling “Stop thief!” but he managed to elude her. He reached his father’s home “in a state of great distraction."

Testimony was then given by a policeman named Pennington. He stated that he had investigated one Sarah Luff, the girl believed to be Austin’s Sarah. He learned that she did indeed frequent the Brown Bear, and had known Austin. He also ascertained that she had had a baby about the time Austin said the murder had taken place, but he also discovered that the child had been put in the Foundling Hospital. Pennington added that the only other girl Austin had been familiar with was one “Dosey Bet,” but there was no evidence she had ever been pregnant.

“The Countryman”—whose name, it turned out, was Peake--denied ever having warned Austin about his danger of being arrested for murder, although he admitted often accompanying the deceased to the Brown Bear, where they associated “with the worst characters.”  (It was noted that Peake was exceedingly uncomfortable about being questioned.)

The jury, after expressing their disapproval of “such mere lads frequenting such a house; it necessarily led to ruin,” returned a verdict of suicide due to insanity.

So…what to make of this long-forgotten little tragedy? Was young George Austin delusional? Was "The Countryman" telling the truth at the inquest, or was he hiding something?  Did Barstolen, for reasons unknown to us, invent his bizarre little melodrama? Or is the answer that Sarah Luff killed a baby that was not hers—perhaps the child of her unnamed female companion? Was Austin's death conceivably not suicide, but murder?

This is just one of those obscure little stories that defies an easy resolution.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Newspaper Clippings of the Independence Day


As has become traditional on this site, here's a little round-up of star-spangled Independence Day horrors, directed in particular to that idiot down my street who, on the night of every July 4th, insists on setting off an arsenal that sounds like a riot in Hell. I doubt he reads this blog--public opinion questions whether he is capable of reading, full stop--but one can dream.

Our first example comes from the "Los Angeles Herald," July 7, 1908:
Chicago, July 6.--Suffering all the agony, physical and mental, and exhibiting many of the symptoms that accompany death by poisoning, John Nerisa is dead, the victim of hallucination and auto-suggestion. It is believed his condition resulted from worry because of Fourth of July noise.

A weak mental state is believed responsible for the self-hypnotism. It was asserted by several physicians that scores of deaths occur annually in every large city from such conditions.

The "Reading [PA] Times" of July 7, 1913 showed that their city really got into the holiday spirit:
Mrs. Charles J. Stahl was accidentally shot twice in the arm from a revolver held by her husband in their home, 1640 Muhlenberg street. The weapon was the property of their son and was lying upon the table. When Mr. Stahl was examining it the blank cartridges were discharged.

A package of fire crackers in the pocket of Stanley Kozlenski, aged 8 years, 653 Strong alley, became ignited from a stray spark and exploded before they could be extinguished by a bucket of water. He was removed to the residence of Dr. F.H. Lawrence, 1502 Perkiomen avenue, where it was found that he had suffered severe burns of the left leg from his toes to his hips.

Catapulted by the explosion of a giant fire cracker, a large piece of wood struck Warren Bechtold, 17 years old, 935 Robeson street, in the face while walking upon the street near his home. He was knocked unconscious and was carried to the residence of Dr. A.N. Seidel, 824 North Tenth street, where it was found that he had suffered a broken nose.

Frightened by the explosion of several fire crackers, Lester Lincoln, 14 years, Seventeenth-and-a-half and Haak streets, fell from a bicycle he was riding, receiving a concussion of the brain, several lacerations and body contusions. He was carried unconscious to the residence of Dr. F.G. Runyeon, 1390 Perkiomen avenue, who dressed his wounds and later he was removed to his home. His condition is serious.

Fred Miller, 14 years, 549 North Eleventh street, received a charge of shot in the face while walking along the street. When brought to the residence of Dr. M.L. Cahn, 551 North Eleventh street, he was unable to explain how he was shot, declaring that he did not see the person who held the gun. The physician removed most of the shot.

Warren Bechtold, 17 years, 935 Robeson street. Broken nose, premature powder explosion. Dr. A.N. Seidel, 824 North Twelfth street.

Mrs. Charles J. Stahl, 1640 Muhlenberg street. Accidental shot wounds in arm. Dr. H.H. Wanner, 1619 Perkiomen avenue.

Mary Rahr, aged 3 years, 1611 Perkiomen avenue. Fractured nose, tripped in running from firecrackers.

Walter Flatt, aged 4 years, 1564 Perkiomen avenue. Dog bite. Animal maddened by fireworks.

Clarence Rappaport, aged 10 years, 1651 Cotton street. Severe burns from holding pack of firecrackers.

Madeline Zieber, aged 7 years, 1411 Muhlenberg street. Severe burns from holding lighted cannon cracker.

Clinton E. Fisher, 39 North Seventh street, broken leg responding to fire. Homeopathic hospital.

Mrs. Mary Bellis, 324 Mulberry street, burns of face and arms from explosion of gunpowder. Homeopathic hospital.

On July 5, 1911 "Seattle Star" congratulated everyone for the relative lack of casualties, rather in the tone of survivors of an annual natural disaster:

The "San Francisco Call," on July 4, 1903, celebrated the holiday in a decidedly grim manner:

Yeah. We can guess how this one's going to end.

As a change of pace, here is a holiday reveler who was not lethal, just...overenthusiastic. The "Philadelphia Inquirer," July 12, 1876:
A deranged man, whose diseased mind is crowded with patriotic thoughts, created a genuine sensation and much amusement yesterday by his antics around the State House. Early in the afternoon he made his way into Independence Hall and was determined to sign the original draft of the Declaration of Independence.

After being removed from the hall he climbed to the roof of the State House by a lightning rod, and then with considerable effort clambered up the steeple, finally ascending into the belfry. He grasped the hammer of the new bell and rang it violently for some five minutes, until the hand of Captain Donnelly, the special officer of the hall, was laid upon his shoulder.

The lunatic was locked up in the Central Station, where he gave his name as W.J. Sullivan, and residence No. 404 West Fifteenth street, New York. He was neatly dressed, but had no money upon his person.

So, my fellow Americans, I trust you now understand how to have a happy July 4th. No DIY fireworks, no self-hypnotism, no efforts to annotate the Declaration of Independence.

And if one of you could hog-tie that guy down my street and lock him in a closet until the holiday is over, I would be most grateful.

So would the cats.

[Note: Previous Independence Day disasters can be found here and here.