"...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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The fourteenth "Famous Cats of New England" presented by the "Boston Post" is Squeak, modest homebody with unexpected aquatic talents:
"Squeak" can claim to probably be the highest type of cat in the annals of New England's famous cats. No public institution cat is Squeak; seeking publicity in the busy marts of men. Squeak is the quiet home dweller, beloved in the bosom of the family; puss that, purring contentedly on the hearth rug, beside the old high backed rocker, has made "home" more of a home for so many of us.

"Just a regular feller, not fancy, but oh, so nice," says Squeak's mistress, Mrs. Webster Hayward of Spring street, Somerville, of her silky coated fireside pet. Stronger still are the praises of Squeak's master. He tells how the coming home hour is made so much the fuller by the sight of the cat silhouetted against the lamp post at the corner, watchfully waiting for him to get off his car.

Each summer Squeak motors with his "folks" to Boon Lake. There the warm months are spent in the companionship of Michael--a most delightful Irish terrier. The best of friends, the cat and the pup vie for the affection of their mistress.

It was when Squeak felt that Mike was winning out that the cat performed a feat that has gone down among the traditions of Boon Lake. It was Michael's custom to swim after the canoe whenever Mrs. Hayward paddled out across the lake. Squeak followed only to the shore and stood there looking wistfully out to sea--decidedly out of it.

Paddling as usual one morning, Mrs. Hayward looked back to assure herself that Michael was coming along in safety when she descried a smaller series of ripples emanating from a small dark object that was battling manfully with the current. Backing until she was closer Mrs. Hayward recognized Squeak, and at the peril of capsizing pulled the valiant little cat into the canoe, where it rested perfectly satisfied with having gone Michael one better.
~December 22, 1920

Monday, November 28, 2016

To Meet Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton

Longtime readers of this blog are aware that this site is meant not to be just entertaining or educational, but inspirational. Moral Uplift is my middle name. So naturally, I'd be sadly remiss in my duty if I failed to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Ray Hamilton. This couple symbolized Strange Company Family Values at its finest.

Robert Hamilton was born into that peculiarly oxymoronic environment known as "American Royalty." This descendant of Alexander Hamilton was the son of famed General Schuyler Hamilton. He was a successful lawyer, a popular clubman, and a member of the New York Assembly. In short, he epitomized the genteel East Coast blue-bloods of the late 19th century. Hamilton could have stepped out of an Edith Wharton novel.

What caused his life to careen from Whartonian elegance to Illustrated Police News farce was his marriage in January 1889 to Eva Mann. Mann, a former star of the May Howard Burlesque Company, was about the last person one would imagine someone of Howard's status taking as a consort. The wedding becomes a little less surprising when you learn it was of the "shotgun" variety. Hamilton evidently felt an illegitimate child would be more scandalous than an inappropriate wife. Perhaps he even fancied himself in love.

As Mrs. Robert Hamilton, the former showgirl was showered with fabulous jewels, a wardrobe of costly and stunning gowns, and an allowance of six thousand dollars a year. A few months after the marriage, she presented her husband with a daughter, Beatrice. The handsome newlyweds shone brilliantly at all the fashionable clubs, restaurants, and summer resorts. "Quite the Cinderella story," you are undoubtedly thinking.

Read on.

In July 1889, the couple visited Atlantic City. Accompanying them was little Beatrice and the baby's nanny/wet nurse, Mary Donnelly. Unfortunately, tensions began simmering between Mrs. Hamilton and the nurse--for reasons that will become evident later--and the nanny was told her services would no longer be required. On the night of August 26, the Hamiltons got into a flaming row over Eva's demands for an increase in her allowance. Eva became so enraged that she picked up a dagger and lunged at her husband. Donnelly, hearing the clamor, rushed into the room and joined the brawl in Robert's defense.

This was a serious mistake. Eva instantly turned her wrath towards the nanny. "You she devil!" she shouted. "You are the cause of this. You'll never be about me again!" She plunged the dagger into the nanny's body.

Fortunately, Mary Donnelly survived the attack, which is more than one can say for the reputations of Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton. Eva was soon hauled before a grand jury, which led in September to her trial for attempted murder. Eva pleaded that it was a case of self-defense. The nurse, she declared, had attacked her, so what else could she do except thrust a knife into the woman's abdomen? The court proceedings revealed the remarkable details behind the Hamilton marriage, all of which kept newspaper readers agog for weeks.

First of all, calling Mrs. Hamilton a former "burlesque dancer" was a polite euphemism. Her real performances took place in one of New York's many brothels. It was at this establishment that she and Robert first made their acquaintance. Next, it emerged that since the marriage, Eva had been using Robert's money to support her old madam, a Mrs. Swinton, as well as Swinton's son, Joshua Mann. Mann had been Eva's lover before and after her marriage. (The defendant's animosity towards Donnelly evidently arose from the fact that she suspected the nurse of tattling to Hamilton about Eva's adultery.) The trial also revealed many juicy details about Eva's habitual violent temper. (The defense countered this by forcing the injured Nurse Donnelly to admit that she herself had often "mauled" people, had threatened on a number of occasions to kill Mrs. Hamilton, she was drunk at the time of the stabbing, and she had once attacked her husband with an axe.) Allegations were also floated that the Hamilton marriage was invalid. It was said that Eva was really the wife of Joshua Mann, who was, people presumed, likely the real father of baby Beatrice.

As it happened, Beatrice's parentage was even more interesting than that. After the bigamy rumors surfaced, the police brought Mrs. Swinton and her son into headquarters for a friendly chat. Under interrogation, the pair admitted that Eva had never been pregnant at all. It was all a ruse designed to pressure Robert into marrying her.

According to Mann and Swinton, Eva had more trouble finding a fake baby than most women have producing the real thing. A suitable period of time after her marriage, Eva acquired a newborn girl via a cooperative midwife. Sadly, a day or two later the child sickened and died. Eva went running back to the midwife and got a second baby girl. This one also died within a few days. The increasingly exasperated Eva was given a third baby, but this loving pseudo-mother decided the dark-haired child "looked like a Dutch baby." Unacceptable. She returned the baby in disgust. Finally, Eva got her hands on a child who was both healthy enough and non-Dutch enough for her needs. She complained that she had had to pay the midwife $10 for the infant. [Note: Let us pause for a moment to ponder the easy availability of spare bogus babies in 19th century New York]

Upon hearing all this, Robert filed for an annulment. Eva, for reasons known only to herself, was shocked at the news.

At Eva's trial, the testimony of the three participants in the near-fatal fight provided a surprisingly strong case for self-defense. Mrs. Donnelly, it became clear, was more than a match for Godzilla. Courtroom observers predicted an acquittal. However, the many lurid revelations about Eva's past--not to mention present--told heavily against her. She was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison. Many believed it was one of those cases where the jury disregarded the evidence and condemned the defendant on the grounds of violating public morality.

The verdict was an unpopular one, and efforts to secure Eva a pardon were ultimately successful. She was freed in November 1890.

While his annulment suit was still pending, Hamilton went West to escape the scandal. He hoped that while he was away, this unfortunate episode in his personal life would be forgotten, and he could eventually re-enter politics. Hamilton settled in Yellowstone Park, where he opened a hunting lodge with an old friend from Yale, John Sargent. On August 23, 1890, he went on a hunting trip.

He never came back. No sign of him could be found for some days, until a body was found floating in a remote area of the Snake River. The corpse was too decomposed for any definitive identification to be possible, but it was accepted to be that of Robert Ray Hamilton. It was presumed he had accidentally drowned. For reasons unknown, his relatives never had the body shipped to New York for burial, and it was quickly laid in a simple grave. These unusual circumstances kept the newspapers entertained with colorful rumors--still persisting to this day--that the ill-fated blue-blood had faked his own death, seeking to replace his unsatisfactory old life with a new Eva-free existence. One Henry Strong came forward insisting that he had met Hamilton face-to-face in Yellowstone days after the New Yorker was supposedly buried.  There are no other reasons to believe the allegation was true, but if it were, it would be the least nutty thing about this entire story. (For their part, Hamilton's relatives declared they were perfectly satisfied--one is tempted to use the words "absolutely delighted"--that he was dead.) A few years later, when John Sargent, (who had found Hamilton's body,) was indicted for killing his wife and child, speculation arose that he had murdered Hamilton as well, but this story appears to have been equally unfounded.

As Hamilton had not formally divorced Eva at the time of his death (or, if you prefer, "death,") she immediately filed suit for her dower's share of Hamilton's half-million dollar estate. These legal proceedings were enlivened by Eva's reluctant admission that Joshua Mann (described by the lady herself as "practically an idiot") had been her long-time lover, and that she had never given birth. The Hamilton camp countered by seeking to prove that her marriage to Robert had been bigamous, meaning she had no legal claim to his estate.

Although the courts twice ruled that Eva had indeed been married to Mann at the time she went to the altar with Robert Hamilton, she announced that she would not be giving up the fight. Hamilton's executors, feeling that no price would be too high if they could just see the last of her, gave her a cash settlement of $10,000. Unfortunately, this one-time Cinderella did not have a happy ending. Eva quickly squandered her money, took heavily to drink, and died in a New York hospital's charity ward in 1904. She was given a pauper's funeral in Mount Olivet Cemetery. As for little Beatrice, dubbed by the newspapers, "The Ten-Dollar Baby," she was taken in Hamilton's executor, E.R. Vollmer. Despite the revelations about her parentage, Hamilton was genuinely attached to the baby, and generously provided for Beatrice in his will. Unfortunately for the girl, in 1899 the courts ruled that Hamilton's estate did not have to give Beatrice the annuity granted by her "father."  I have been unable to find any further information about her.

Our little domestic tale had one final legal skirmish. In his will, Robert had stipulated that a fountain should be built in his memory. However, his family felt that his was a memory best quickly forgotten, and they opposed the project. Happily, these killjoys lost the battle, and to this day New York's Riverside Park boasts the "Robert Ray Hamilton Fountain." If you're ever in its vicinity, do go by and drop in a coin for me.

Just as my way of saying, "Thanks for the memories, Bob."

Friday, November 25, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Cats Who Ate Way Too Much On Thanksgiving.

What the hell became of the Greenland Vikings?

Where the hell is Diego Velazquez?

Who the hell was the Babushka Lady?

Watch out for those supernatural sadists!

Watch out for those killer snake wheels!

Watch out for those exploding witch bottles!

The terrier who inspired a children's book.

A brief history of Christmas lights.

A bottle tells of murder and suicide.

A French Crazy Cat Man.

19th century turkey farming.

The mystical world of magic books.

A 17th century bishop's um, unusual mark on history.

Worst Thanksgiving ever?

Second worst Thanksgiving ever?

Just one really weird historical anecdote.

Edward Winslow, the man who gave us Thanksgiving.

Oh, just Vincent Price summoning demons.

Thanksgiving in the early 19th century.

The art of Angelica Kauffman.

A social-climbing housemaid.

Georgian era charity events.

Dante's ghost and his missing cantos.

The Boy Scout and his nuclear reactor.

18th century children's literature.

Fashionable mid-19th century hairstyles.

A recipe for the 18th century version of instant soup.

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

Why you should never insult a squirrel.

Why you should never underestimate a porpoise.

Why you should never take up the profession of sin-eating.

Mysterious inscriptions in a Jordan desert.

The Mars Rover may have found evidence of ancient life.

Midshipmen's WWII journals.

Folklore's influence on modern-day werewolves.

A look at the 18th century "fair sex."

The scientist who specializes in prehistoric sex.

A tragic fossil.

Lifestyle advice from the Aztecs.

The UFO on the moor.

A man with a window in his chest.

A man with a window in his grave.

More conspiracy theories about the Templars and the Ark of the Covenant.

This is something of a companion piece to my Wednesday post about the turkey legal expert.

If you feel like going down a rabbit hole this weekend, here's a very curious side note to that mother of all rabbit holes, the JFK Assassination.

A Russian princess at the London court.

"Sky ships" in Ireland.

The Ordinary of Newgate.

One really old pair of dentures.

Even older bone jewelry.

The death of Zorro.

Alchemical art.

The wonders of Occult Dentistry!

The wonders of visible speech!

The execution of a 15th century wizard.

This week in Russian Weird brings us shape-shifting Yetis.  Just another day in Siberia.

Oh, and their mummified monks are on the move.

And there you go for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll take another look at marriage, Strange Company style.  In the meantime, you'd like to see a bunch of Japanese nesting dolls playing Beethoven on the theremin, wouldn't you?

Yes, of course you would.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day, Thanksgiving Edition

Turkeys everywhere are now seeking asylum in Ireland.

While this is not a Thanksgiving Day story, this salute to "a wonderful turkey" surely should be part of the holiday season. Admittedly, as a vegan, I'm all for hiring the birds as legal consultants, rather than eating them. From the "Illustrated Police News," July 9, 1870:
At the last Petty Sessions at Newtownards, near Belfast, an amusing case was heard. It was a process brought to recover a sum of money due for the use and occupation of a house at Ballyhay. The plaintiff was examined, and deposed that the defendant left his house without his knowledge or consent, and he now wished to recover the rent due.--Mr. O'Rorke: Were you advised not to bring this case into court, as there was no chance of your winning it? Plaintiff: I was.--His Worship: Who advised him?--Mr. O'Rorke: Tell his worship who gave you this advice.--Plaintiff: The neighbours about the place told me I need not put myself to the trouble of coming here, as I would never receive a farthing of my rent, as the turkey had told them I was a done man. (Loud laughter.)--His Worship: What's that?--Plaintiff: The turkey told them I would lose the case. (Laughter.)--Mr. O'Rorke: And you will find the turkey was right. (Laughter.)--His Worship: And whose turkey is this that gave this legal advice? Plaintiff: It is the turkey kept by the villagers. It is consulted on all questions affecting their interest, and its advice is said never to have failed. (Loud laughter.)--His Worship: This is certainly a wonderful turkey.--Mr. O'Rorke: I never heard of a legal turkey before. (Laughter.)--His Worship: Where did this consultation with the turkey take place regarding your case?--Plaintiff: It usually takes place in the house of the owner.--His Worship: And how is he consulted?--Plaintiff: A meeting of the people takes place in the owner's house. A table is placed in the middle of the floor, and the turkey put upon it. The people then form in a circle round the table, and the person who has called the meeting--the same as the defendant in this case--asks the turkey whether or not such and such a thing will take place. If the turkey answers in favour of the person who asks the question, it will nod its head; and if it is against the person who asks the question, it will shy away. (Laughter, which lasted several minutes, his worship joining.)--His Worship: This is a nice state of affairs in the 19th century. What did the people tell you the turkey said on this occasion?--Plaintiff: The turkey was asked would I lose the case, and it nodded its head. (Loud laughter.)--Mr. Dinnen: But you did not believe in the turkey's advice?--Plaintiff: I did not; I thought I would try his worship.--His Worship: How long has this turkey been consulted in cases of this kind?--Plaintiff: Oh! it has been the case for upwards of twenty years. If you look into Irish history you will find things of this kind recorded there.--Mr. Dinnen: I think this is a case for reference.--Mr. O'Rorke: Very well.--The case was then left to the arbitration of two gentlemen, and on their return into court they stated that they had found in favour of the defendant, and that there was no rent due to the plaintiff.--His Worship: How does that agree with the advice of the turkey?--Mr. Dinnen: It proves that the turkey was right. (Laughter.)--His Worship: I think in future we should refer all disputed cases to the turkey.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Kidnapping of a Champion

While high-profile kidnappings of animals are less frequent than human abductions, they happen more frequently than you might think. Arguably the most famous example is the unsolved disappearance of the magnificent racehorse Shergar.

As a three-year-old in 1981, he won one of the most illustrious races in the world, the Epsom Derby, by 10 lengths--a record winning margin for the event. Later that year, he was named European Horse of the Year, and was retired to stud, where his connections--as well as race fans--earnestly hoped he might duplicate his success on the racetrack in the breeding shed. He was acclaimed as one of the greatest equines of the century.

Shergar was sent to Ballymany Stud farm in his native Ireland. He was not only an intelligent horse, but gentle and good-natured, so he was adjusting well to his new routine. There was no reason to suspect he had anything but a long, placid life ahead of him.

On February 8, 1983, those expectations went horribly, shockingly wrong.

It was a blustery, icy-cold day, so Shergar was kept inside his heated stable for most of the day. After a brief run in his paddock, the horse's 58-year-old "stable boy," Jim Fitzgerald, brought Shergar back to his shed and returned to his house on the farm's grounds, locking the main door of the stable behind him, as always. All was quiet.

No one was around to see a strange car enter Ballymany's main gate, which had been left unguarded on this wickedly cold, foggy, snowy night. Fitzgerald was completely unprepared when he heard a knock on his door. His son, Bernard, opened the door. A masked stranger asked him, "Is the boss in?" Then, without warning, the intruder delivered a blow to the young man's head that left him flat on the floor. Fitzgerald rushed into the room, only to see the man pointing a pistol at him.

Other masked men--Fitzgerald later thought it was eight or so of them--suddenly entered the house, as well. The gunman told him, "We've come for Shergar, and we want £2m for him. Call the police and he's dead."

Fitzgerald was led at gunpoint to Shergar's stable. They forced him to put tack on the horse, and they led the unsuspecting animal to their waiting truck, and drove off with him.  Some of the kidnappers stayed behind, where they trained guns at Fitzgerald's family for several hours. Fitzgerald was shoved into a second vehicle and driven around for three hours before being tossed out on to the road, with a warning not to call police.

The hunt for the prized stallion began with a bizarre game of "Telephone." Fitzgerald reported the crime, not to the police, but to the stud farm's manager, Ghislain Drion. Drion then called Shergar's vet. The vet called a friend, who in his turn called the Irish Finance Minister. This official then contacted the Minister for Justice. It was not until eight hours after Shergar was taken away that anyone thought to inform law enforcement that they had a particularly weird abduction on their hands.

The crime seemed a complete mystery. No one had any clues who had committed this unprecedented and peculiarly revolting crime, let alone any indication of where Shergar could be. People claiming to be the kidnappers eventually contacted several racing journalists, as well as one of the horse's owners, the Aga Khan, to relay their ransom demands. These moves toward negotiation came to nothing. The horse's syndicate never had any intention of paying a dime, reasoning that if they had given in to the criminals' demands, no valuable racehorse in the world would be safe. The BBC and the Irish racehorse trainer Jeremy Maxwell also received anonymous phone calls claiming that Shergar had suffered an "accident" which required him to be euthanized, but authorities suspected the calls were a sick hoax.  After four days, the alleged kidnappers simply stopped calling. And no one for certain has ever seen Shergar--alive or dead--since.

The kidnapping remained an utterly cold case until 1992, when an imprisoned Irish Republican Army leader-turned-informer, Sean O'Callaghan, told the world what had happened to Shergar.

According to O'Callaghan, another IRA member, Kevin Mallon, was given the job of stealing the horse. The plan was merely to hold Shergar for a great deal of money to pay for arms and other expenses. After the ransom was paid, the horse would be returned.

The plan quickly proved disastrous. O'Callaghan said Mallon told him that Shergar, in unfamiliar surroundings and in the hands of inept thugs, became so hysterical that his kidnappers were unable to handle him. In a panic--and quite scared of this huge, dangerously high-strung creature--the terrorists lost their heads completely and machine-gunned their frenzied captive. According to O'Callaghan, this pampered, noble animal died a particularly slow, agonizing death.

The story goes that the IRA gang dug a large pit in the remote mountains near Ballinamore, about a hundred miles from Ballymany. Then, Shergar's corpse was dumped in this hasty, unmarked grave.

This depressing story is considered the most probable explanation for Shergar's disappearance, but it has never been proven. For what it's worth, the IRA has never claimed responsibility for the theft, and O'Callaghan, like many professional rats, has shown himself to be chronically unreliable.

For years after Shergar vanished, there were numerous "sightings" of him reported all over the world. To this day, there are still racetrack folk who say that his kidnappers, once they realized the impossibility of collecting a ransom, merely turned him out to live "incognito" at some private farm or another.

One would certainly like to think this is what happened.

Whatever Shergar's fate may have been, his kidnapping was one of those crimes as utterly pointless as it was cruel. The thieves themselves--whoever they were--never profited from their crime. The companies who had insured the horse refused to pay Shergar's owners, on the grounds that it was never established that the champion was dead. Only those few members of the 34-member syndicate who insured him against theft received any compensation--about $10.6 million, according to Lloyd's.

When talking to a writer for the "Daily Telegraph" in 2008, Jim Fitzgerald still became teary-eyed when remembering the horse he had known and loved so well. "Shergar was a grand horse," he said. "He deserved better."

That is all anyone can say with any certainty about the matter.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the League of Cats Who Just Couldn't Give a Damn.

Why the hell was King Tut's tomb built in such a hurry?

Where the hell is George Washington's sash?

Where the hell are the WWII shipwrecks?

What the hell flew over Lake Ontario?

What the hell caused the killer 1952 London fog?  Now we know?

Watch out for those weasels!

Watch out for those headless horsemen!

Watch out for those murderous jesters!

Watch out for those Italian demon cats!

The elephants of France.

If you're in Myanmar, get a helmet.

The world of the panorama.

Meet the Joneses we're all trying to keep up with.

The tragedy of the lamplighter's wife.

A clairvoyant hunts for a missing explorer.

A Venetian secretary's clemency plea.

A female coterie.

Photos of 1980s Nepal.

A very unlucky roll of the dice.

An attempted murder in Gloucester, 1878.

I know the only reason any of you visit my stupid blog is because you're hoping to learn how to bewitch rats, so here you go.

A village "fatal affray."

The infamous drownings at Nantes.

Tojo's insulting dentures.

So how much did Georgians drink, anyway?

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  Don't mess with those 19th century Hungarian soldiers.

Also, don't blow into rifles.

On a more positive note, this week's Advice From Untold Lives tells us how to acquire a pension. Even if we're crooks.

When vanished people reappear.

It didn't pay to pretend to be a Czar's son.

ISIS is still doing its best to make the Nazis look like a Girl Scout troop.

The founding of the Iraq Museum.

What mirrors reflect about us.

That time Britain tried to stop a Dane from exploring Arabia.

On the hazards of traveling through 19th century East Anglia.

A croissant gets its own museum.

Recently-discovered ancient stone structures.

Recently-discovered "lost world of shipwrecks."

A young Queen Victoria visits the theater.

A poisoner's lucky escape.

Modern book reviews are too damn nice.

Extreme bagpiping!

The afterlife of Napoleon III.

The many deaths of Queen Victoria.

A violin-playing WWII hero.

Superstitions involving feathers.

This week in Russian Weird brings us workout videos for the dead.

And we're done!  See you all on Monday, when we'll be looking at a dark mystery from the world of horse racing.  In the meantime, here's some Marshall Crenshaw.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The thirteenth installment of the "Boston Post's" "Famous Cats of New England" looks at a particularly well-educated feline:
Secretarial Science is a much more fascinating course to pursue than the course of a silly little mouse around the cellar. So believes Beezel, the Boston University cat. Consequently, he has turned his back on this historic occupation of his kind. Machines that jump up and down when he bats them with his soft, mittened double paws afford him much more fun than mere squeeky mice. For sometimes when he hits a typewriter just far enough a little bell tingles and then Beezel is entranced.

From Manchester, N.H., came Beezel to pursue his course at Boston University. No less a person than Dean T.L. Davis himself conducted Beezel from his old home to the university. When Dean Davis looked around the finished Secretarial building he decided that something was lacking. Searching New England for just the cat fitted to fill the vacant niche, he chose black and white Beezel for the job, which is surely enough distinction for any cat to base its claims to fame upon.

King of the college; with the privilege of jumping into the dean's lap even in the middle of an important conference with the president is Beezel. Besides, the caresses of 500 pretty girls who are his devoted subjects and who feed him on chicken and other dainties are not to be spurned.

Installing himself as building inspector and visitor of classrooms, Beezel struts about the college with the confidence of a monarch. He looks critically at each assembled class, sits for a bit to hear the prof talking; if he likes the subject settles down and stays the hour and if it bores him frankly yawns and strolls out.

The famous Professor Carver of Harvard especially hits Beezel's fancy. The cat never misses his lectures; never sleeps at them and always trots from the classroom at the professor's heels. At one of the opening assemblies Dean Davis, seeing the front rows in the lecture hall vacant requested the students to fill up the seats in front. Up got Beezel, who had been down back; trotted down the aisle and hopped up on a front seat.

When Professor Carver came forward for his first lecture and the applause had died away, Beezel startled the class by two resounding "Meaows." Evidently they were meant for applause in cat language for he followed them by a leap to the platform and since then may always be found there when Professor Carver is lecturing.
~December 21, 1920

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Leper's Ghost

A leper begging for alms, English Pontifical c 1425 MS Lansdowne 451, fo 127r, British Library

While there are few things commoner than ghost stories, accounts of people dreaming of ghosts are somewhat rarer. This week's post looks at an English schoolboy whose eerie nightmare began to play out in his waking life.

In the year 1896, a thirteen-year-old named Robert Thurston Hopkins was enduring his first term at Thetford Grammar School, near the market town of Brandon in Norfolk. Hopkins was a sensitive, intelligent, somewhat withdrawn lad who was having a rough time adjusting to his new environment. The cold, unromantic life of a country boarding-school was far from his liking. He was lonely, bored, and dreadfully homesick. In short, he was in a perfect frame of mind to leave him vulnerable to a plunge into The Weird.

One night, Hopkins had an unusually vivid dream. He found himself in a large, isolated heathland. It was night, and a pale moon shone a silvery light over the scene. In the distance, he saw what appeared to be a patch of mist, moving erratically along the heath's trackways. He soon realized that the "mist" was really the form of a man--a man that was running and leaping in his direction. As the figure came closer, the moonlight revealed that he had a grotesque, terrifying face, of a silver-gray color. The mist-man's ragged, dirty clothes were of the previous century, and he was holding a circular wooden plate.

Hopkins was filled with horror, but found himself unable to move. He later wrote, "My feet seemed fastened to enormous bars of lead. I was terrified, and fear of the thing catching hold of me went nigh to driving me mad--or so it seemed in my dream. The moment came when the man was hovering right over me. I was hypnotised with fear. It was then that I could see my pursuer's face with remarkable distinctness. It was thickened and puckered, giving the face a peculiar, heavily menacing expression. I realised that his intention was to press his face against mine. I knew I could not have borne that."

As so often happens in dreams, it was exactly at this crucial moment that Hopkins woke up. However, the singular hideousness of the nightmare lingered with him throughout the day. Over the next few months, the boy continued to have the same dream. All the details were the same, except that now he sometimes saw in the background of the heathland a distinctive building: a long, narrow structure with a thatched-roof tower.

Hopkins had found a friend in Dr. Catt, one of his schoolmasters. Catt was known to be interested in spirtualism, folklore, and other esoteric topics, which emboldened the boy to confide in him the details of these weird and uniquely unsettling dreams. Catt told him that the sinister mist-like man was a leper, but neither of them could make any more sense out of the dreams. As for the thatched tower, there were many old buildings of that description throughout that part of England, leaving Catt to predict that the meaning--if there was one--behind Hopkins' dreams would likely remain a mystery.

A few weeks after this conversation, Catt visited an inn near the school. To his surprise, he saw on a mantelpiece a photograph of an old structure that exactly fit the one Hopkins had described. The landlord told the schoolmaster that the building was Warren House, at Brandon Warren, about a mile from Thetford. Some years before, it was badly damaged by a fire, but had been restored. The innkeeper knew nothing more about the place.

Dr. Catt brought Hopkins to visit Warren House. The setting mirrored perfectly the scene of Hopkins' dreams: an empty stretch of desolate warren. Warren House itself was the same grim-looking brick and grey stone tower the boy had pictured so many times.

The only sign of life was the tower's caretaker, who expressed his surprise at their visit. Warren House was not among Norfolk's more popular and inviting attractions. Catt told the man that they had an interest in archaeology and old buildings, and they hoped he could tell them something about the tower's history.

The caretaker said that about a century before, the tower was a leper house. The remains of the old cemetery for the lepers could still be seen nearby. The top room of the tower was about 700 years old. It still stored the wooden bowls and dishes used by the unfortunates who had been virtually imprisoned there. The caretaker added that he did not live in the tower, because his wife was afraid of the place. She insisted that whenever she was inside the building, invisible eyes stared at her. The caretaker himself admitted that he tried to avoid the tower after dark. While he had never seen or heard anything extraordinary, it was a place that simply had an aura of evil.

The caretaker permitted his guests to tour the building. The crumbling ancient masonry, the old coffin now used as a chicken trough, and the dank air made a fitting setting for a place with such a ghastly history. The entire atmosphere exuded a foul decay.

As the caretaker had said, the upper tower had stacks of wooden dishware. The bowls, he explained were the "begging bowls" the lepers held as they stood on the road below, pleading for alms from passers-by.

Hopkins picked up one of the bowls, and instantly saw that it was a match for the one carried by the man in his dream. When he replaced the bowl, he heard the clink of metal, and saw that he had knocked against a bell placed behind the pile of dishes. It was a very old copper bell about six inches tall. When he gently shook it, they were all surprised by how loud it was. The caretaker said it was used when a party of lepers would pass through a town, warning the residents to keep well away until the poor souls had moved on. The caretaker said that some years back, a local farmer had taken it to use as a sheep's bell. From that time on, the farmer seemed to be cursed. His livestock sickened and his daughter died of a terrible wasting disease. The man's troubles ceased only when he returned the bell.

The caretaker added that some of the area's inhabitants were convinced the tower was haunted. People who passed by Warren House during the night told of hearing the leper's bell ringing, and seeing strange blue lights in the tower windows.

Visiting the site seemed to free Hopkins from its spell. He never had the nightmare again. However, this was not the last time that Warren House would enter his life.

In 1941, Hopkins--by then an author and researcher of the paranormal--revisited the now long-abandoned leper house. He wrote, "I passed under the arched doorway of the tower and found myself in a tangle of beams and fallen blocks of stone. Looking up, I found that the floor of the upper chamber was missing and that the building lay shamelessly open to the sky. The thatched roof which had been a landmark had evidently been destroyed by fire. However, the shell of the old building remained, and as I looked up at the hoary walls I paused and wondered who first lived in Warren House. Was the original building a church, a casde, or a lookout tower? No one knows."

Determined to find out what he could about the building, Hopkins interviewed one Samuel Bull, who had been the tower's caretaker from 1903 to 1905. Bull recalled that he had been warned not to touch the wooden dishes, so he left them well alone. Although he knew nothing about the tower's history, he had no doubt it was haunted. On one occasion, he was standing on the stone staircase when a ghost rushed down the stairs past him. "We met face to face, so to speak, and the ghost could not help but rush at me. It had a flat white face and two buring eyes, and there was a sound like hissing steam. It passed through me, making a filthy gust of hot air...I looked out of a circular window in the stairway and saw the leper's ghost tear out of the archway at the bottom. He went frisking over the warren at a furious speed and I heard him shouting some kind of heathen gibberish. The night air shook with his devilish voice."

Bull said the spectral activity became so unbearable that he bricked up the door to the tower. From that time on, the ghost left him in peace.

The ruins of Warren House are still in existence, but it is anyone's guess what became of the begging bowls and bell. If you ever see items matching their description in some antique shop or on eBay, it's probably wisest to steer clear of them.

You never know.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the newest members of the Strange Company staff.  A word of explanation: a while ago, one of the--sadly, many--feral cats in my neighborhood decided that my backyard was the perfect spot for her five feral kittens.  Thankfully, I was able to find a woman nearby who runs a cat rescue organization.  She loaned me traps for the family and helped me bring them to a nearby non-profit clinic that spays/neuters strays.  (A million thanks to the wonderful people at Valley Vet!) 

Incidentally, after the experience of humanely trapping six wild kitties, I now truly know the meaning of "as difficult as herding cats."

Anyway, the result is that along with my four indoor crew, I now have a half-dozen in my backyard to feed, pet, and generally worry about.  The mom and two of the kittens are still wild and won't let anyone get near them, but at least they won't be adding to the local stray population.  Three of them, however, have become my best buds.  They now live only to eat, sleep, chase squirrels, and have their stomachs rubbed.  Here are two of the lazy sods:

This is Jimmy.  I call him that because that nose reminds me of Durante.

Never a dull moment at Strange Company HQ.

On to the links!

What the hell are earworms?  Now we know!

How the hell was the Great Pyramid built?

Who the hell was Marco Polo?

Watch out for the Bunyip!

Watch out for those cursed wells!

Watch out for the Loch Ness Monster Ghosts!

Watch out for those fault lines!  For more than the reason you'd think.

The "lost chapter" of "Dracula."

What to do if you're unlucky enough to encounter a serial killer.

Stealing the Great Seal.

The worst soldier.

The violent election day of 1864.

Creating Georgian fires.

The mysterious Mount St. Helens.

"On being over-fond of animals."

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  Reconsider wearing rings.  

And folk medicine is not necessarily to be ignored.

If you want to own Eva Braun's underpants, here's your big opportunity.

The case of the drag queen's closet.

Mexico's "zone of silence."

So, how dirty were medieval people, anyway?

The dental detectives.

The Festival of Reason.

On the dangers of guarding your home against ghosts.

Some of us don't need to justify being an old maid with cats.

A Swedish "mass disappearance."

A remarkable French castaway.

Stealing the Princesse de Lamballe.

Conspiracy theory of the week.

Tudor political advice.

The yacht fit for a Czar.

What it was like to work for Stanley Kubrick.

How an English village became the world's most unlikely tourist trap.

A Tibetan ghost story.

A Sumatran stone spirit.

Two Frenchmen duel in England.

Calico Jack, the dandy of the Caribbean.

An Egyptian funeral boat.

The Duke of Wellington meets Napoleon's wife.

A flaming apparition.

An ancient baby buried upon a swan's wing.

A famed airship cat.

A powerful 15th century royal mistress.

A canard about a canard?

The execution of a werewolf.

The death of the Leu von Mitternacht.

A complicated German ghost legend.

How Britain obtained the Rosetta Stone.

The hard life of Indian seamen in WWII.

This week in Russian Weird:  a guy is looking for a Siberian monster.  

And marvel that at the modest, understated style of Russian millionaires.

And thus ends yet another WLD.  See you on Monday, when I'll be presenting an English schoolboy's ghost story.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Italian baroque.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Nothing brightens the day like a "Mysterious Woman in Black" story, so here's this item from the "Syracuse Herald," April 29, 1928:
Syracuse police today, after an interval of almost 10 years, again were confronted with the "Woman in Black." A detective yesterday was assigned to the 5500 block of South Salina Street, where residents reported a mysterious woman, garbed in black, has been hiding behind trees and frightening children for the last week.

Almost 10 years ago, veteran police officials recalled yesterday, the city literally was held in the grip of terror for months because of the frequent appearances in different sections of a similar woman. That mystery never was solved. The "Woman in Black," despite almost countless theories, remained simply the "Woman in Black."

Police yesterday advanced the theory that this woman seen in the South Salina Street block may be the same "Woman in Black." They declared the search for her, which was started yesterday, will be continued until the mystery is solved. They admitted the possibility the "Woman in Black," as was believed when the figure terrorized the city years ago, may be a man dressed in woman's clothing. They added the caution to residents not to be frightened, because the figure at the time of its former appearance committed no crime of violence and requested that the police be told instantly when any suspicious looking woman appears.

The former visit of the "Woman in Black" which ended as suddenly and mysteriously as it began, left in its wake only one possible solution. The theory was advanced that some mother, crazed by the death of her son in France, roamed the streets at night, vainly seeking to find in the faces of passing children some resemblance to the boy who was lost.

But that was only a theory, neither proved nor discredited. And against it were the claims of many persons, some of whom claimed to have had close views of the mystery figure, that the "Woman in Black" was a man.

The former scare started when milkmen, driving their lonely routes in the late hours of the night, reported a shadowy figure in black. Some of the men declared they made unsuccessful attempts to catch the figure. Others, after the scare had reached major importance, frankly admitted they fled the scene.

One section of the city after another reported visits from the "Woman in Black." One nervous householder reported firing a revolver at the figure. The shot took no effect.

Workers in a railroad yard reported an encounter with the mystery figure.

Then came the story of a man who declared he had a close encounter with the "Woman in Black." He said the cry that came from the lips of the creature as he attempted to seize an arm was the cry of a man. He declared the stride of the fleeing figure was the stride of a man.

But that, even as the story of the crazed mother, was probably only a theory. The "Woman in Black" remained shrouded in mystery. That mystery remained unsolved when she disappeared. For a while it was the leading topic of conversation. Then the city turned to other things.

The mystery, so far as the police were concerned, was reopened when the black-garbed figure was seen yesterday. The "Woman in Black" is back.
I have no idea if the "Woman/Man in Black" was ever identified, but if you are a mourning widow--or just have a taste for Goth fashion--stay well clear of Syracuse. Otherwise, you're liable to get arrested, manhandled, or shot.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Self-Made Countess

In 1857, a woman possessing the grand name of "Lady Amelia Matilda Mary Tudor Radcliffe" suddenly arrived in England--allegedly from Germany--and filed a formal claim to the supposedly defunct estates of Derwentwater. In her petition, she described herself as the granddaughter of John Radcliffe, only son and heir of James Radcliffe, 4th Earl of Derwentwater. Although history claimed that in 1731, John died childless at the age of 19, Lady Amelia maintained that was merely a ruse. In truth, she stated, John, in order to escape the persecution suffered by his family because of their support for the Jacobite cause, had faked his own death and moved to Germany, where he married the Countess of Waldstein in 1740. The couple had eleven children, all of whom died young with the exception of James, who became the fifth Earl of Derwentwater, and John James, who succeeded him. John James married the Princess Sobieski in 1813, fathering six children. The eldest, a boy, died unmarried in 1854. His will left his interest in the Derwentwater property to his only surviving sister: Our heroine, Lady Amelia, the rightful Countess of Derwentwater.

Lady Amelia had an impressive array of physical evidence to support her claim. She had in her possession various portraits, jewelry, family documents such as wills, deeds, genealogical records, and other heirlooms, said to be worth a total of £200,000. She added that she had originally possessed even more definitive proof of her family history, but she had sent these documents to Lord Palmerston, who refused to return them. She wrote many letters to Lord Petrie, the main living Radcliffe descendant, but he ignored her. Her petitions to the Trustees of Greenwich Hospital (who had been granted the Derwentwater estates in 1735,) were also dismissed.

The Illustrated Police News, 1869

In 1866, the undeterred Lady Amelia took her story to the newspapers. At that time, Britain was feeling a great nostalgic affection for the Jacobite "lost cause." Her romantic, if highly improbable, tale endeared her to much of the public. She was an intelligent and accomplished woman, with obvious artistic talent and an in-depth knowledge of the European peerage. Aside from her eccentric claims about her lineage, she appeared prepossessing and utterly rational. She had little trouble impressing many people as a genuine aristocrat. Many people were happy to contribute moral support--and, more importantly, money--to her cause.

Lady Amelia felt the time was ripe for action. In September of 1868, she turned squatter. With the aid of two brawny male supporters, she moved into the ruined Derwentwater mansion at Dilston. She was dressed for the occasion in a wide-brimmed straw hat boasting huge plumes of ostrich feathers and an Austrian military cloak. Hanging from her waist was a gleaming sword, the "sabre of her sires." Amelia hoisted the ancient Derwentwater banner, covered the roofless tower with a tarp, hung the walls with her Radcliffe family portraits, barred the doors, and dared everyone to make something of it.

The Countess in her castle

Until this point, the Greenwich Hospital had chosen to ignore Lady Amelia, on the assumption that she would eventually just go away. However, her virtual theft of Radcliffe property, along with the considerable popular sympathy she had attracted, forced the Trustees to act. On October 1, they sent a representative, a Mr. C.G. Grey, to forcibly evict her.

This went about as amicably and smoothly as you might imagine.

Illustrated Police News, 1868

Although they were successful in ejecting the Countess from her illegally-acquired castle--after ungallantly resorting to carrying the lady out on the chair she refused to vacate--this action backfired on them in the court of public opinion. When Amelia set up public camp on the road outside Dilston, she seemed to many to be a martyr, a distressed gentlewoman cruelly oppressed by heartless bureaucrats.

This support encouraged Amelia to press her campaign even harder. She insisted on collecting rent from tenants on Radcliffe lands. Early in 1870, she actually succeeded in auctioning off livestock and other property belonging to the Greenwich Hospital. On one occasion, some two thousand of her advocates set off a riot.

On September 27, 1871, Australia's "Sydney Evening News" carried a delighted description of the Countess on her travels:
The Countess of Derwentwater is a character. Recently she took a steamer at Jersey City for Liverpool, and the goods she carried with her wore thus inventoried :-One guitar, with two strings ; two old cane-seated chairs, one with two legs ; three empty four-gallon demijohns, uncorked two peacocks and a black-and-tan, in a box ; two broken children's cribs of mahogany, one without rockers ; one cross-breed hound of English birth ; one champagne bucket, covered with dust ; one broken painter's easel ; three rickety deckchairs, with varnish scraped off; one bag of tin ware; one six by three pedestal, without statuette, cracked ; four plain square Irish chests, two painted rod and two black, locks broken and hanging, each marked in white letters, " Countess D. ;" two mammoth chests, cross-tied with half-inch clothes-line, with same mark ; those contained the Countess' numerous hats ; fifteen very ancient-looking trunks, tied across the sides and double-knotted at the back ; one tray for mixing dough ; two tin berth room trunks ; one bundle loose clothing ; two portable hat racks, rather worn ; six cases of mysteriously packed bottles, supposed to be ale ; Huge crates of sauces, mixed pickles, and catsups, put up in every conceivable shape ; one copper-coloured work-box done up in oil ; seven heavy treble-twilled English travelling shawls tied with twine; thirteen gray woolen blankets made in form of" shake down;" seventeen packages of files of newspapers. The Countess wore on this occasion a green silk dress, a white crape shawl, a pair of white silk gloves, etc. When the labourers took hold of the box containing the lady's favourite peacocks and the black-and-tan, the curious crowd pressed down on the countess until her lace-trimmed bonnet took a peep skyward, and her costly shawl swept the rough boards of the pier. “Handle 'em gently; they’re my only loves!" she sharply cried, as she broke through the jeering crowd, and reached the foot of the gang plank. "This remarkable woman," says the Suit, “has a fine estate in the north of England, in the county of Cumberland, called Derwentwater. She has always been noted for her eccentric manner and antiquated notions. Her wardrobe is said to consist of over two hundred rich and elaborately trimmed dresses, girted with gold lace, fringes, and parti-colored velvets. She wears no diamonds, and but one plain finger ring adorns her hands. She claims to have among her apparel robes worn by some of the belles of the time of William the Conqueror, and when she travels, those are part of her personal luggage, carefully packed in the fifteen trunks mentioned, which are as antiquated as the dresses. Her appearance indicates an age not beyond forty, though possibly older. She will visit Scotland and Wales before returning to her home."

The Hospital Commissioners filed suit for the return of their property. Although Amelia contemptuously dismissed the writs she received as "scurrilous pieces of wastepaper," the court, predictably enough, agreed. Amelia was fined £500, plus costs. As she had no money, she was declared bankrupt and her prized collection of "family relics" was sold at auction to meet the debt. The sale earned only £275.

The Countess was hardly through fighting. In 1872, she was infuriated when one of the Derwentwater estates was purchased by a Joseph Laycock. In retaliation for this insult, she gave shooting rights over the property to various members of her dwindling band of supporters. This caused them all to be hauled before a magistrate. Although Amelia felt her august presence--regally attired in black velvet and a green tartan scarf--would intimidate the court into submission, her unlucky adherents were all fined.

Soon after this episode, an elderly man named Milburn put his cottage and the five acres of land he owned at the Countess' disposal. She arrived at her new little kingdom in a carriage drawn by four horses, accompanied by scarlet-coat postilions. She wore a gown of black and white satin, with a fetching hat adored with yellow streamers. She gave onlookers a speech promising many favors for her supporters once her claims to the Derwentwater estate were finally accepted.

Once again, the authorities felt the need to swat at this human fly buzzing around their heads. They sent her a notice of bankruptcy, which, as was her habit with all official documents that did not suit her, she ignored. This brought on a writ for her arrest. After considerable difficulty, the baliffs managed to bring her into custody and she was lodged in Newcastle jail. When she faced a judge one month later, her stubborn refusal to answer any questions about her finances caused her to be charged with contempt. She remained imprisoned until July 1873, when the court felt enough pity for her to allow her release.

Amelia's parade of legal setbacks, combined with her increasingly erratic behavior, began to turn her public image from a heroine into a laughingstock. Although her spirit was unbroken and her attempts to raid the Derwentwater lands continued, fewer and fewer people paid her any attention. She eventually died of bronchitis in 1880, penniless and virtually alone. Defiant to the end, her coffin was inscribed, "Amelia Mary Tudor Radcliffe, Countess of Derwentwater."

The Countess' autograph

Modern-day researchers have had little trouble dismissing the valiant "Lady Amelia" as an impostor. Many of her "family relics" have been established as clumsy and obvious fakes. She herself likely painted her "family portraits." No genealogist has been able to find any record of her supposed mother and grandmother. She never provided any truly convincing proof of her identity.

Still, however, a certain mystery lingers around this curious woman. If she was not Amelia Radcliffe, rightful Derwentwater heir, who was she? What inspired her to stage such an elaborate, outlandish hoax?

We have no idea.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

The Weekend Link Dump is again proud to be sponsored by the League of Bookplate Cats!

What the hell is pinging the Arctic?

Where the hell is Mona Lisa's jewelry?

Watch out for those Wrecking Fairies!

Watch out for those werewolf families!

Watch out for those Black Cat Elementals!

Watch out for those killer palm-readers!

Watch out for those killer camel-riding corpses!

Watch out for those Fortean bookstores!

That time God spoke through a medieval fish.

That time George IV turned grave-robber.

Why the Highway of Tears is among the most sinister spots on earth.

Crimean Gothic.

A devoted Victorian dog.

It's slowly--slowly!--dawning on us that the "primitive ancients" were not all that primitive.

A servant who was little, but fierce.

The election of 1824.

The romance of political reform.

The execution of an Irish lord.

The FBI's file on Nikola Tesla.

A case of a confessed witch.

A bit of Welsh folklore.

Paleolithic jewelry.

The Spanish Mayan.

On the dangers of ignoring dreams.

Voltaire's gambling Madame.

A heroine of the French Revolution.

A bird's-eye view of Saturn.

The Red Man of the Tuileries.

The affair of the poisons.

The poltergeist of Flat Rock.

Why every day should be National Cat Day.

If you want to stare at a century-old fruitcake, have I got the vacation spot for you.

2,500 year-old brewski, anyone?

The head bump that led to department stores.  Or something.

Next Halloween, don't forget the Dumb-Cake.

A "strange Apparition" from the 17th century.

A Japanese Feast of the Dead from the 17th century.

They're using spinach to detect explosives, which is a far more sensible thing to do with the stuff than eating it.

How McDonald's got its start.

The vampire of Paris.

Let's talk hell-wains.

Some particularly odd disappearances.

Anne Armstrong and the witches.

A very quiet queen.

So I guess this means that Jersey City is Hell.

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

Consider yourself advised that Londoners like to look at dead people.

And, finally, this week in Russian Weird: they're giving cats combat vehicles. Like this will end well for any of us.

That's a wrap!  See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at a very unusual Countess.  In the meantime, here's a taste of a Latvian song festival. I attended one a few years back. It was great fun.

Let me put it this way: Beer plays a major role in any Latvian gathering.