"...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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day, Bonus New Year's Edition

As a bonus entry for this New Year's Eve, here's a little something that just now came to my attention:  Benjamin Franklin's "Drinker's Dictionary," as it originally appeared in the "Pennsylvania Gazette," January 6, 1737.

Or as it's known around Strange Company HQ, "Words to live by."

Happy New Year!

A Strange Company 2017

Welcome to our annual look back at the past year in Strange Company, where I list the Top Ten posts of the past twelve months!

Without any further ado, here is the best--or, at least, most popular--moments from my blog, ranked from top to bottom.  It's an eclectic mix, with something weird for everyone.

1. The Case of the Vanishing Lieutenant.

A Cold War-era mystery that sounds like something from a particularly wacky spy novel.

2. The Wynekoop Mystery.

Did Dr. Alice Wynekoop murder her daughter-in-law?

3. Never Bored:  The Many Wars of Alfred Wintle.

One of the great English eccentrics.

4. The Haunted Mill.

A once-famed early 19th century ghost story.

5. A Revolting and Horrible Affair: The West Twenty-Third Street Murder

The brutal and seemingly senseless killing of financier Benjamin Nathan; one of New York's classic unsolved crimes.

6. In Deep Water: The Last Dive of the Lonergans

A missing-persons case with some unusual elements.

7. Weekend Link Dump, September 8, 2017

I'm not sure why this particular WLD made the cut, but I suppose it's not surprising, as a number of people have told me the Friday link roundup is the only reason they read my blog.  (Maybe not the most tactful way of putting it, guys.)

8. . Book Clipping of the Day, August 30, 2017

In which Robert Kirk learns it's not very wise to dish the dirt on fairies.

9. Magazine Clipping of the Day, September 20, 2017

The mystery of Alice Phillip's unusual epitaph.

10. Newspaper Clipping of the Day, September 6, 2017

The end of an era: the final installment of "Famous Cats of New England."

And thus ends our look back at 2017.  I plan to keep this blog going for at least one more year, so I hope you'll join me for more murders, disappearances, ghosts, and general assorted oddities.

And if the spirits are kind to me, maybe even more talking cats.  See you in 2018!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

The final LInk Dump of 2017 is sponsored, naturally, by the League of New Year's Cats!

What the hell happened to the Christmas Tree Shrimp?

How the hell did this Norwegian penny get to Maine?

A love letter to a puppy in heaven. (H/t The Pet Museum)

A 19th century Paris New Year's Day.

How a medieval tree debunked a famed bass.

Curses!  Families who were foiled again.

The Gentle Author's childhood Christmas.

A Roman Emperor's bad bad Christmas.

A "Tommy's" Christmas Day letter.

An early cat catalog.

An illegitimate child and a Victorian tragedy.

The case of the bladder shrimp.

The monk who is saving manuscripts from ISIS.

A weird story involving the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It shouldn't be a surprise that strange things go on in a place with "Death" in its name.

A murder at Sandringham.

Italy's Christmas witch.

A tribute to one of WWII's most "remarkable spies."

Early Modern cures for holiday "surfeiting."

This week in Russian Weird: Don't eat the blue snow.  Or the orange snow, for that matter.

That's all for this week's Link Dump, but I shall return on Sunday with a look at this blog's most popular posts over the past year.  On Monday, we kick off 2018 with my all-time favorite UFO story.  Until then, here's one of my favorite choral works.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book Clipping of the Day

Photo via Yahoo News

In his 1894 book "Sights and Shadows," Frederick George Lee included a story told to him by a friend, the Rev. William C. Vaughan:
Some years ago I was accustomed to go on saints’ days to the early morning service at a parish church three miles distant; I used to breakfast afterwards with the clergyman, and then returned home in time for the late morning service. He lives in my memory as a man scrupulously careful to keep to the exact truth in all he said.

On two All Saints’ Days I attended service, but, on the third, circumstances had changed, and at the church where I then ministered we had a special preacher on the eve whom I had not met before, but who was to be my guest. My first thought on seeing him was, "How like dear G." My pleasure was much increased at discovering he was a cousin, and I feel inclined to give him credit for unexaggerating truthfulness. We sat up late talking, and here is a true story :— 
"In one of our manufacturing districts a zealous clergyman laboured, who made it his rule to hold a midnight service on every New Year’s Eve. After the New Year had begun, and the congregation dispersed, he still waited in church interceding for his flock. This had been his custom for some years; when one New Year’s morning, after turning the gas off and shutting the church door, he went across to the vicarage close by. On his way upstairs he passed a window which overlooked the church—the whole building was lit up, and he ran down and out again, afraid of fire. It occurred to him, however, to look through a window of the church before reopening the door, and to his amazement he beheld his whole congregation assembled, with himself in the pulpit preaching. As he gazed in astonishment, he perceived upon the countenances of a certain number, one here, and one there, that peculiar hue which comes on the face so often before death: and he drew away. But as the year went on, he made it his special care to prepare for their last earthly hour all those on whom he had seen the mark; and lo! they all died before the year was out ! 
"Again the next New Year’s night he saw the church filled in like manner, himself there, and the hue of death laid upon other faces; these he cared for and prepared for their latter end, till one by one they dropped off and were buried, their number made complete ere the twelve months had all passed. 
"So it happened another year, and another, and more, nor said he anything of it to anyone, but kept it to himself; till a New Year Day he summoned to him his curate, and declared, 'My people were there last night too, but I did not see which of them should die, only on my own face appeared the hue of death, and you I wish to prepare me for that hour.'

"His death occurred shortly afterwards."

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Poltergeist That Stole Christmas

Unwanted houseguests over the Christmas holidays are always a pain.

Especially if they're poltergeists.

On December 25, 1812, Robert Roberts, a tenant farmer in the Welsh village of Bodeugan, wrote to his landlord what may go down as the best excuse ever for not sending a Christmas gift. Roberts explained that he had been unable to send the customary holiday geese because his home was haunted.

On the first day of the month, he wrote, "Something" began breaking his windows by throwing stones and coals through them. The following day, the "Something" began plaguing the farm's dairy by shattering the pots containing milk, and throwing "cans and other things" at the household. "That night it was so terrible that the women left the house and went to a neighbour's house...it threw stones bricks and the like that they had no quiet to milk by throwing dung upon them."

For several days after that, the "Something" was quiet. Unfortunately, it started up again, throwing water and glasses at the residents "that we were so wet as we had been in a river." All manner of household articles were tossed around and destroyed.

Ten days of peace followed, and the Roberts household thought their eerie ordeal was over. Then on Christmas Eve, "Something" returned, "more dangerous" than ever. The servants were kicked, pinched, and hurled to the ground by invisible forces. Bedclothes were thrown on the floor. The spirit did "a great deal of damage," and so terrified Roberts' wife that she became seriously ill. Roberts could only conclude that "some malicious person or persons had been with some of the conjurors." In other words, where modern-day observers would think "poltergeist," a 19th century Welshman would immediately assume he was the target of witchcraft.

Understandably enough, the landlord wanted to know more about the demons visiting his property. He sent two men named Hughes and Lloyd to investigate the matter. These paranormal sleuths claimed to have caught one of the servants in the act of throwing a potato and a pepper-pot. The girl denied this allegation, but Hughes and Lloyd saw it as "case closed." The farm was being plagued by nothing more than mischievous household help. The Roberts family, however, took the servant's side, asserting their belief in her innocence. Hughes and Lloyd conceded that it was possible "that the Ghost might have made use of her hands to throw things."

Unfortunately, the surviving documentation on this case (preserved today in the Flintshire County archives) ends on this irritatingly inconclusive note. History is silent on when life at the Roberts farm returned to normal, and if the cause of the family's persecution was indeed a troublesome servant...or something a great deal more inexplicable.

[Note: the farmhouse--which dates from the late 17th century--is still extant. Truly, it is a case of "if only walls could speak..."]

Friday, December 22, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is once again sponsored by the League of Christmas Cats!

Watch out for those phantom hogs!

Watch out for those were-cats!

Cruel treatment and hidden identity.

The first computer-generated Christmas carols.

Louis XIV, Dancing King.

The real-life ghost story which enlivened Samuel Pepys' Christmas.

Christmas Eve in 19th century Pennsylvania.

Gryla vs. Krampus!

The paranormal "Titanic."

The case of the frozen pilgrim.

How Speck the cat saved Christmas.

The Great Nova Scotia Wheelbarrow Miracle.

Who was the real Victorian Santa Claus?

Twelve scenes of 18th-19th century Christmases.

Several scenes of Georgian Christmases.

A scene of East India Company Christmases.

Have yourselves a scary little Christmas!

Folklore advice for a merry little Christmas!

Robert Southey's reboot of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

Have you rotated your cat today?

The "Poetess of Perfume."

The curative eye magnet.

Protecting the grave of an equine hero.

Another busy day at Tyburn.

How to relax like an ancient Roman.

A very unlucky apprentice.

The diaries of an 18th century Huguenot girl.

Some early 19th century tavern anecdotes.

Not to worry, it's just a big blob of hot rock bubbling up under New England.

Some Christmas superstitions.

The Egg Race scientist.

A cat's bespoke Christmas coat.

Some early Christmas carols.

A 19th century country house Christmas.

Images of "wonderful London."

Veiled Victorian babies.

Attitudes towards cruelty to animals in 18th century England.

Wife-beating in Victorian England.

Stealing the Irish giant.

The Irish in Regency England.

That's it for this week!  As Monday is Christmas Day, we'll celebrate with a holiday-themed poltergeist!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Newspaper Clipping(s) of the Day, Annual Christmas Edition

It's beginning to look a lot like a Strange Company Christmas! As always around this time of year, I do my best to put in your stockings some Yuletide murder, mayhem, family brawls, and, of course, Bad Santas.

I love how everyone gets into the Christmas spirit. Even those of us who don't wait for Santa to bring them gifts, opting instead for the DIY method. From the "Scott County Kicker," January 10, 1914:
Kansas City--"Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year," shouted back a trio of robbers, as they left the jewelry store of John Mufich after rifling the cash register and filling their pockets with watches, in Kansas City, Kan. Persons passing on the street who heard the greeting knew of nothing unusual happening until the excited jeweler appeared and called for officers. The robbers had disappeared by that time.

The men entered the store, within a block of a police station, and while one kept the proprietor covered with a revolver the others robbed the place. Mufich's loss amounted to several hundred dollars.

"Evening Public Ledger," December 24, 1921

Thus proving there is such a thing as too much Christmas cheer:

"St. Louis Post-Dispatch," December 25, 1900

This item from the "Washington Times," December 26, 1907, seems to have wandered in from Strange Company's annual 4th of July celebration.
Greensburg, Pa., Dec. 26--Paul Caril was blown to death while trying to celebrate the holiday season. He ran a wire from a telephone battery to some dynamite in a can. The explosive was prematurely set off.

I don't know what screams "18th century" quite like this story from the "Norwich Mercury," January 14, 1727:
Sherborn, Jan. 9. A Company of merry People getting together this Christmas in our Neighbourhood, amongst other Diversions, they must needs play a Game at Matrimony, and accordingly suffered themselves to be married to one another; Tho' this was but in jest, and defin'd as a meer Frolick, one of the young Ladies of a good Fortune was the next day demanded by her Husband, and being informed that the marriage was good in Law, the same was consummated. The rest of the married Folks, we hear, have made their Escapes, some for fear of being taken by their Wives, and some to prevent falling into the Hands of their Husbands.

Well, never mind the fun and games. Let's all settle down to dinner, and...

Oh, wait. "Pittsburgh Dispatch," December 27, 1890:
Albuquerque, N.M., Dec. 26--Yesterday afternoon Samuel McCowan, a city prisoner, was stabbed to death by James Mullen, the jail cook.

While the prisoners were eating their Christmas dinner McCowan objected to the cooking, at the same time dashing a handful of salt into Mullen's face. A fight ensued, during which McCowan was stabbed in the heart with a butcher knife in the hands of Mullen. The murdered man was a bully and was arrested as a vagrant.

OK, forget food and entertainment. It's time to decorate the tree!

Uh. "Philadelphia Inquirer," December 23, 1981:
Police officers struggled with a young man and his mother in West Philadelphia yesterday afternoon, police said, after the man had gone on a rampage in the apartment of his upstairs neighbor in a quarrel over Christmas-tree ornaments.

David Pearsall, 18, of the 5400 block of Sansom Street, forced his way into the second-floor apartment of Louise Jaminson, 25, who he said had stolen the ornaments, police said. Pearsall damaged some of Ms. Jaminson's furniture, overturned her Christmas tree, smashed holiday decorations and brandished a knife and a gun, police said. He was choking Ms. Jaminson on the front porch when officers arrived at 1:35 p.m., police said.

When the officers attempted to break up the fracas, Pearsall's mother, Gwendolyn Colburn, 35, jumped on the back of one of the officers, police said. Both were charged with assault on a police officer. Pearsall was also charged with burglary, assault, and weapons offenses.

Obviously, the problem is that too many people spend Christmas at home. They all need to celebrate the holiday at a place of worship, where they can get into the true spirit of the...

Oh, never mind. The "Salt Lake Tribune," December 26, 1908:
 Louisville, Mo., Dec. 25-George Rider, a prominent farmer, was stabbed to death by Edgar Parrish in the midst of a Christmas celebration in the Christian church here last night. The trouble started at a box supper at a country church near Louisville a few nights ago, when Parrish claimed he defended several young women who refused to permit Rider to treat them. The Christian church was crowded last night when Rider entered. Rider saw Parrish near the door and started toward him. Men and women interfered, but he attacked Parrish, who then stabbed him. Rider fell dead at Santa Claus’ feet, just beneath the giant Christmas tree.

In related news, the "Richmond Times-Dispatch," December 27, 1903:
Bessemer, ALA., Dec. 26.-Information has reached here from Cedar Bluff of the killing of John Parsons by A.J. Lockhart, at a Christmas tree given at a church. Lockhart, who is a peace officer, was acting as Santa Claus. It is alleged that Parsons became disorderly while the exercises were in progress, and Lockhart halted the proceedings and ejected him. When the affair was over, Parsons attacked Lockhart with a knife as the latter left the building. Lockhart drew a pistol and shot parsons to death, after having himself been cut in several places.

Yes, indeedy, it's time for my favorite part of every Christmas: When Santa gets drunk and spends Boxing Day in a cell. The "Port Huron Herald," December 17, 1904:
Grand Rapids, Mich. Dec. 17.--"Please don't take Santa Claus to jail," cried a score of childish voices to a group of vigorous policemen on Monroe street, in the heart of the business district, late yesterday afternoon.

But the childish pleas availed naught and Santa Claus, with his long flowing whiskers awry, his robes torn, and so drunk that he was unable to keep his feet, was hustled along to the police station, followed by a howling mob of a thousand or more youngsters.

This particular Santa Claus was the employee of a department store here who had been sent out to advertise its business by distributing small toys to the children who gathered about him. He created plenty of amusement until, the afternoon growing cold, he sought the cup that both cheers and warms.

At each successive saloon that he reached he imbibed freely, and it was not long before his intoxicated antics drew a huge following of little folks. Some of them tormented him, others jeered him, but not a few, still clinging to the childish belief that Santa Claus was a real personage, looked on in real awe and sorrow.

When the street became so black with children that traffic became congested, the police took a hand and hustled Santa to jail, where he is now sobering up. His name is Elmer Clark.

Vanderbilt, PA, a town that sure knows how to get into that whole "peace on earth and goodwill to all" thing. The "Pittsburgh Post Gazette," December 22, 1906:
Connellsville, PA., Dec. 21--Santa Claus started out yesterday to advertise a Dawson firm. He met with enthusiasm everywhere but in the new town of Vanderbilt, where the lone and ambitious policeman placed Kris under arrest, declaring his sleighbells and tooting horn made too much noise.

The prisoner was released with instructions to blow his horn and jingle his bells elsewhere. Dawson and Vanderbilt are rival towns, located on opposite banks of the Youghiogheny river.

Of all the bizarre Christmas stories I've found in the old newspapers, this one stands out.

And not in a good way. The "Louisville Courier-Journal" for December 28, 1905:
A shroud, bearing a card wishing him "A Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year," was the Christmas present received Sunday afternoon by Benjamin Moellman, of 544 East Madison street, and the next morning he died. His death came within thirteen hours after the grewsome gift was delivered at his door by an unknown messenger sent by an unknown donor.

Benjamin Moellman was seventeen years old, and had been ill of heart trouble for a long time. He was the son of August Moellman. The shroud, the black box in which it was packed, and the card were burned by the boy's father.

The shroud was delivered to young Moellman's father Sunday evening about 6:30 o'clock by a small negro boy who waited for no answer and took no receipt for delivery.

The shroud was in a small black box about six inches square, and neither the box nor shroud bore any name of maker or dealer.

The father opened the box, and the boy was spared the feelings which would certainly have followed the receiving of such a suggestive Christmas present.

Mr. Moellman said nothing to any member of his family as to the contents of the package, and told only his brother-in-law, John Uhlen, who makes his home with the Moellman family.

Members of the family could assign no reason for such a present being sent to the sick boy, as he had not an enemy in the world, they said. It affected his father so that he has not been able to attend to his duties in his grocery store at Hancock and Madison streets since he received the package.

John Uhlen said last night:

"The boy had been sick for three or four years with heart trouble and seriously ill for over three weeks. The shroud was delivered to Mr. Moellman, Sr., in a small black box. The negro boy left at once and nothing on the inside or outside indicated where the shroud came from.

"Mr. Moellman opened it in the store. The box, shroud, and the card, which had written on it, 'A Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year,' were burned in the stove and none of his folks, mother, sisters or brothers were told about it until after the boy had died and had been buried.

"It was spread in the neighborhood and they found it out in that way. His mother and father both are prostrated with grief. The boy died in less than thirteen hours after the shroud was received."

The funeral services were held at the family residence at 544 East Madison street yesterday morning at 9 o'clock, and the body was buried in St. Michael's cemetery.

As you longtime readers of this blog may have surmised, it takes quite a bit to make my jaw drop, but this anonymous "joker" managed to do just that. As a side note, a few days later, the "Courier-Journal" reported that someone had stolen crape placed outside a door where there had been a recent bereavement, and hung it on a house where everyone was very much alive. This house was in the same neighborhood as the Moellmans, leading to suspicions that the same diseased sense of humor was responsible for both incidents. I have not been able to find if the perpetrator was ever discovered.

Let us end this Yuletide tribute on a bright note. Christmas is not just a holiday, it's an alibi! The "Arizona Silver Belt," January 17,1908:
One of the most peculiar pleadings set on record in the district court of Cochise county for some time was placed on file yesterday in the affidavit of Thos. McCalish who was applying to the court for a writ of habeas corpus, says the Bisbee Review. The second paragraph reads as follows:

"Petitioner further alleges that he was on or about the 26th day of December influenced by the occasion of the anniversary of the birth of our Lord, the Saviour, to an unusual feeling of keeping peace on earth, and good will toward all men; so that in response to the general impulse that pervaded the good people of the village of Fairbanks, toward generosity and charity to all mankind, and being full of the milk of human kindness, did unwittingly and without premeditation or intention absorb and imbibe certain brands of Fairbanks libations at the numerous and repeated invitations of his friends and neighbors, to such an unwonted enthusiasm and exhilaration; whereupon, a certain peace officer not having the fear of God in his heart, and being influenced and moved by a desire to show his authority and subdue the enthusiasm of this petitioner did arrest and take this petitioner before the said justice of the peace on a charge of disturbing the peace.

"Petitioner admits that he was slightly intoxicated at that time, but denies that he was disturbing the peace in any manner, and further alleges that immediately after being brought before said justice of the peace was assaulted and knocked down with a six-shooter then and there held in the hands of said justice of the peace, and was thereupon without any further proceedings promptly sentenced by said justice of the peace to pay a fine of two hundred dollars or in default thereof to be imprisoned in the county jail at Tombstone for a period of two hundred days. That being unable to pay said fine, he was by said justice committed to the custody of said John F. White, sheriff, with whom he now abides.

"Petitioner further alleges that said sentence is in excess of and beyond the jurisdiction of said justice of the peace to impose under the law, and therefor alleges that the same is void."

It is needless to say that the writ was granted when the case was called before Judge Doan and the prisoner went on his way rejoicing, and resolved that he will not hereafter spend his future Christmases in the village of Fairbanks, as he believes that the officers of the settlement do not possess the proper friendly feeling toward all humanity that they should have at that time of the year.

Bravo, Thomas McCalish! I'll be drinking a toast to you this Christmas, in memory of a man who showed the true Strange Co. holiday feeling.

May all of you enjoy the holidays this year!  Even if you don't choose to celebrate them by getting arrested, blowing up dynamite, or stealing mourning crape.


Monday, December 18, 2017

The Two Catherine Packards

So, what do you get when you add together bigamy, adultery, disappearances, suspected murder, insurance fraud, and Mystery Corpses?

That's right: the ultimate Strange Company blog post!

All this story needs is a talking cat.

Our story centers around a Rutland, Vermont couple: George and Catherine Packard, both aged 21. Unfortunately, their marriage was not a happy one, and the relationship came to a startling and abrupt end when Catherine suddenly disappeared in April 1929. George did not seem particularly perturbed.

Catherine Packard

No further developments occurred until August 20, 1929. On that date, Robert Field, a farmer in Chester Township found something unexpected in his pasture: a woman's badly decomposed corpse. Medical authorities were able to determine that this had been a woman in her early or mid-twenties. She was 5' 4", had long brown hair, and weighed about 110 pounds. The woman had a distinctive and unfortunate dental history: two teeth were gold-capped, and no less than twelve of them had been removed. She had been wearing a tan coat, a sweater, a pink silk dress, silk underwear, rolled stockings, and black shoes, along with a couple of pieces of cheap costume jewelry. A purse was nearby, but all it contained was 38 cents, an unopened bottle of iodine, and a note reading, "I am sick of life and I am going where I will be happy." The cause of death seemed sadly obvious: she was lying next to a half-empty bottle of chloroform.

Local officials had little difficulty ruling the woman's death a suicide. But who was she? Although the case received wide publicity throughout the state, no one offered any clues to the dead woman's identity, and the corpse remained unclaimed. After a week, Chester officials gave up and had her buried in the local potter's field.

The third act of our little tale came in June 1930, when George Packard paid a visit to Chester's sheriff, Ernest Schoenfield. Packard explained that he had only recently heard of this unidentified corpse, and he suspected it might be his long-missing wife. He showed Schoenfield a photograph of Catherine. After examining photographs of the body and the items found at the scene, he declared that the dead woman was indeed Catherine Packard. However, he insisted that she must have been murdered, as she was a deeply religious woman who would never have resorted to suicide.

It soon emerged that George had some very practical reasons for wanting his wife declared dead. His mother, Mary Agnes Packard, had insured Catherine's life for $459, and she now wanted the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company to pay up. Unfortunately for the Packards, John Hancock showed a dishearteningly cynical attitude. The company refused the claim, on the grounds that there was a "reasonable belief" the body was not that of Catherine Packard.

George found a romantic compensation for this financial blow. Three weeks after he declared himself a widower, he married one Margaret MacFarland.

George and Margaret Packard

At this point, a new figure entered the story: Mabel Abbott, a woman who had known Catherine for years. She was as skeptical as the insurance company that the woman who lay in the potter's field was the first Mrs. Packard, and she was determined to prove it. In August 1930, this amateur sleuth received information that Catherine was in Manchester, New Hampshire. When Abbott went to this city, she quickly tracked down the missing woman, who was now working as a housemaid. Catherine professed astonishment to learn that she was considered to be long dead and buried, and readily agreed to return to Vermont.

Unsurprisingly, the newly-married George was less than pleased to see Catherine return from the grave. He prudently hired an attorney. This domestic dilemma was rapidly settled in a Vermont courtroom: it was agreed that George and Catherine would divorce. At the same time, Margaret would annul her now-bigamous marriage, she and George would legally remarry, and the trio would all go on to live happily ever after.

Well, not quite. The newspapers were not nearly as eager to drop the story, especially when Mary Agnes Packard--understandably peeved over the loss of her four hundred bucks--began to dish the dirt on her former daughter-in-law. It turned out that Catherine had been on quite the road trip. In April 1929, she had abandoned her husband (not to mention their two children) and went to Cleveland, Ohio. There, she met up with a "friend" of George, an ex-con named Robert King, who evidently amply deserved his nickname of "Romeo."

The illicit pair settled briefly in Erie, Pennsylvania, but after Robert lost his job there, they hit the road, a journey that was sadly interrupted when Romeo's truck was repossessed. After that episode, the lovers had a falling-out. Catherine--who appears to have developed a taste for walking out on her men--dumped King and hitchhiked to Manchester, where she found domestic employment.

The Packard gang soon learned that their legal troubles were far from over. Catherine's reemergence naturally led police to reopen the investigation into that dead woman, and the authorities treated all the Packards as material witnesses. Although George and Catherine stoutly denied knowing who the woman was, there was the tricky fact that the "suicide note" found with the corpse was in Catherine's handwriting. Catherine reluctantly admitted writing the note--being married to George drove her to frequently contemplate killing herself--but she stubbornly stated that she had no idea in the world how it wound up in this stranger's purse. Law enforcement eyebrows were also raised by the fact that the photograph of "Catherine" George had shown Sheriff Schoenfield was not of his wife at all, but an entirely different woman, one of Catherine's former co-workers.

In September 1930, George and Catherine's divorce was granted, which was speedily followed by his remarriage to Margaret. Despite this nod to respectability, George and Catherine were charged with adultery. Catherine was sentenced to six months, while her ex-husband received one-to-three years. It sounds very much like the authorities strongly suspected that the Packards knew more about the mysterious dead woman than they were willing to admit. As the law did not have sufficient evidence to charge the pair with more serious crimes, police settled for the consolation prize of jailing them for these lesser charges.

You will perhaps not be shocked to learn that while George's second marriage was lengthier than his first, it was no happier. In 1953, Margaret divorced him on the grounds of "intolerable severity." Soon after serving her sentence, Catherine also remarried...to none other than George's father, 64-year-old Horace Packard. It was a fitting coda to this odd slice of Vermont Gothic.

As for the dead body who had so briefly impersonated Catherine Packard, dozens of people came forward, suggesting the woman was some long-lost female relative, but proof was lacking of any of these claims. The state attorney, Lawrence Edgerton, was convinced that the corpse was that of Ruby Chickering Green, a nurse who had disappeared in November of 1926. Green matched the woman's physical description, right down to the many missing teeth, and her handwriting bore a striking resemblance to Catherine Packard's. She had even once worked in Chester. Ruby's life had been a sad one: after her husband was jailed on a morals charge, their children became wards of the state, leaving Ruby to drift aimlessly from one low-level job to another. Given her history, it was not implausible that Ruby had sought to escape her dismal existence by committing suicide. On the other hand, Sheriff Schoenfield believed the woman was Charlotte Moore Buswell. Buswell had become involved in drug-dealing and bootlegging--two professions not conducive to a long and peaceful life--before her unsolved disappearance in 1925.

These theories, however, went unproven. Nowadays, DNA analysis would help to solve the riddle, but lacking such tools, the authorities did not think it was worthwhile to even exhume the corpse for further examination. The woman's identity--not to mention the question of how she came to lie in Robert Field's pasture--seems destined to remain a mystery.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is again sponsored by the League of Christmas Cats!

What the hell are these Venezuelan petroglyphs?

What the hell are these "smoke rings?"

Why the hell is Scotland's national animal the unicorn?

Watch out for those frost coffins!

How Christmas became domesticated.

The house of eleven ghosts.

The sad tale of Bob the mummified cat.

The efforts to understand some strange ancient manuscripts.

The East India Company and Mughal India.

Trips to the Moon, 17th century style.

The ghost ship and the murdered monkeys.

A 17th century Christmas miracle.

The Christmas tree in France.

The Christmas dinner in Georgian times.

The Lithuanian who became South Africa's Ostrich King.

Anne Greene's extremely narrow escape.

What says "The Weekend is Here" better than a Beer Vocabulary?

19th century Christmas gift ideas.

A shark who was alive during the time of the Tudors.

A particularly symbolic menorah.

Salt folklore.

Christmas tree folklore.

The beauty of bismuth.

Living on credit in the Regency era.

A brief history of mince pies.

A brief history of upside-down Christmas trees.

A brief history of the London plague.

A Hunter Thompson Christmas.  Yes, it's pretty much what you'd expect.

Portuguese wine and the American Revolution.

Sorry, kids.  Years ago, a guy killed Santa Claus.

An unusual abandoned island.

The time it was fashionable to have a portrait of your cow.  (Reminds me a bit of Lord Emsworth and his Empress.)

The woman who fought in the English Civil War.

Christmas in the tenements.

Napoleon at Longwood House.

Wolf girls and sheep boys.

How to prevent drunkenness.  (Warning: the words "roasted goat lungs" ahead.)

Let's talk foot-long bladder stones, shall we?

Not to mention pea pod polyps.

And mermaid babies.

18th century gay bars.

A mysterious case of attempted murder.

The latest entry for that copious file marked "Rewriting human history."

For anyone keeping score, yes, dismembered feet are still washing up in British Columbia.

Was it murder or manslaughter?

The journals of an Arctic explorer.

A "romantic" murder story.

A Fortean bedtime story.

A "cruel and diabolical murder."

Schooling in Victorian Britain.

The black female undertaker who assisted the Underground Railroad.

The psychic boy detective.

The chapel of prosthetic limbs.

The tasty history of macaroni and cheese.

Frost Fairs on the Thames.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at a complicated case involving a mysterious dead woman.  In the meantime, here's my current favorite YouTube clip.  I just love this.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This unusual "ghost" story appeared in the "Birmingham Gazette," June 16, 1934:
A brilliantly-lighted motor-bus roaring through the streets of Kensington without driver or passengers; a bus which stops for passengers and suddenly vanishes when one tries to board it. Residents in the North Kensington district were excitedly discussing these remarkable "phenomena" last night following a reference to a ghost bus at a London inquest on lan James Steven Beaton, metallurgical engineer, of Dollis Hilt, who died following a collision at the corner of St. Mark's-road and Cambridge-gardens.

Replying to a question whether this was a place where a ghost bus was stated to have been seen, one of the witnesses replied, "So some of them say."

A Birmingham Gazelle representative discovered last night that the legend of the phantom bus is well-established in the neighbourhood.

"The legend of the phantom bus has been going strong for years," said a woman resident in Cambridge-gardens. "I have never seen it and I have never met anybody who has, but the version I heard was that on certain nights, long after the regular bus service has stopped. people have been awakened by the roar of a bus coming down the street.

"When they have gone to their windows they have seen a brilliantly. lighted double-decker bus approaching with neither driver nor passengers.

"According to this story, the bus goes careening to the corner of Cambridge-gardens and St. Mark's-road, and then vanishes.

A number of accidents have happened at this corner, and it has been suggested that the phantom bus has been the cause."

Quite another version was told by Mr. William Hampton, a motor mechanic, of St. Mark's road.

"The story of a ghost bus," he said, "seems to have originated in an experience related by a woman more than two years ago.

"According to her account she was alighting from a bus at the corner of the road, intending to catch another bus to her destination. She asked the conductor which bus she ought to take and he pointed to a bus which was standing a few yards away.

"She approached the bus and was about to board it when it vanished into thin air.

"Ever since then, this story of a ghost bus has been prevalent in the neighbourhood."
Local authorities eventually had the road repaired and straightened, after which the "ghost bus" was seen no more.

Monday, December 11, 2017

James Graham, Prince of Quacks

James Graham, by John Kay

Hail! Wond'rous Combination!!!—but chief—THOU FIRE ELECTRIC
—Celestial Renovator!—Thou Life of all Things—Hail!
—In Majesty and Mystery combin'd!
Enthron'd—unveil'd—in this tremendous—this most genial Temple!
To Britain's Daughters—to Britannia's Sons—bear the best Blessing, HEALTH!
Stretch forth thy Hand that bears the triple Branch—
Medicinal!—which binds up broken Hearts!—illumes the Soul,
And flings the Rose of Health o'er the pale Cheek of Sickness,
Far—far from those who take them, and from these sacred Walls removing Pain and Death."
-From James Graham's "The Guardian Goddess of Health," 1780

A great many people are obsessed with good health. A great many people are obsessed with good sex. It was James Graham's peculiar genius to be able to fashion an appeal to both those interests. A combination of Dr. Ruth and Dr. Oz, with a considerable amount of P.T. Barnum thrown in, "Dr." Graham is still fondly remembered as one of history's great quacks.

Graham was born into a middle-class Edinburgh family in 1745. In his youth, he studied medicine at Edinburgh University, but never earned a degree. That failed to stop him from adopting the title of "Doctor," and practicing medicine in his own individualistic fashion.

When Graham was 25, he moved to Yorkshire, where he married a Mary Pickering and set himself up in a medical practice. He soon ventured out to the American colonies, where he presented himself as a specialist in eye and ear diseases. In Philadelphia, he studied Benjamin Franklin's recent experiments with electricity, an experience that would be a great influence on Graham's work. He returned to England in 1775, and began to offer the novel treatments that would make him famous.

Like all wise quacks, Graham sought to attract wealthy hypochondriacs. He treated their "nervous disorders" with what he called his "three great medicines" of "electrical ether," "nervous ethereal balsam" and "imperial pills," milk baths, "magnetic thrones" and mild electric shocks. It was all quite barmy, but essentially benign, and his confident charm convinced his patients that it all did them a great deal of good. His skill with what would later be called "placebo effect" gained him a large and highly appreciative clientele among the neurotic well-to-do.

In 1779, he built his Templum Aesculapium Sacrum (popularly known as the Temple of Health) in London's Strand. He also published a series of pamphlets advertising his wonderful cures. His Temple was something of a Georgian medical carnival ride: His "electrical throne" sat in a place of honor among his various odd medical apparatus, while the Temple as a whole was filled with florid paintings, statues, stained glass, and perfumed air, while a glass harmonica played therapeutic music for the benefit of Graham's patients. Graham proclaimed that his Temple aimed to "prevent barrenness" and propagate "a much more strong, beautiful, active, healthy, wise, and virtuous race of human beings, than the present puny, insignificant, foolish, peevish, vicious, and nonsensical race of Christians, who quarrel, fight, bite, devour, and cut one another's throats about they know not what."

"Public Advertiser," November 11, 1780

In 1780, he published his "Lecture on the generation, increase and improvement of the human species," a highly popular sex manual. As part of his favorite theme of good sex through good health, his Temple featured beautiful, robust, nearly-nude young women posing as "Goddesses of Health." (Legend has it that one of these models was a young courtesan named Emma Lyon, who would later gain fame as Lord Nelson's Lady Emma Hamilton.)

Graham's most famous "cure" was his "celestial bed." This large sleeping couch, lined with magnets and connected to his electrical machines, was covered with a flowered dome crowned with a pair of live turtle doves. Couples lay in bed to the tune of musical "celestial sounds" and surrounded by pipes that released "ethereal gases." At the head of the bed was a clockwork tableau in honor of Hymen, the god of marriage. It all frankly sounds like something that would distract from passion, rather than promote it, but the bed was promised to cure impotence and sterility--at fifty pounds a night.

Graham's siren song of vigorous health and lots of sex brought visitors to the Temple in droves. Even skeptics like Horace Walpole, who called the Graham's edifice "the most impudent puppet-show of imposition I ever saw"--eagerly paid a crown apiece to tour the facility. (The scantily-clad Health Goddesses probably didn't hurt attendance.) Graham became such a celebrity that in 1780, he received the dubious tribute of a hit play satirizing him. "The Genius of Nonsense," ran for some 22 performances at the Haymarket Theater. Another satire mocking the "doctor," "Il Convito Amoroso," may even have been written by Graham himself.

Like every great charlatan, he realized there was no such thing as bad publicity.

Unfortunately, as popular as the Temple of Health may have been, it was extremely expensive to maintain. Although Graham himself lived frugally, even ascetically, the splendors he presented to the public soon bankrupted him. In 1782, all his property was seized by creditors, and the following year he was compelled to place ads in the newspaper promising to pay 20s to the pound on all his debts. However, his lectures on "sexual health" continued to be successful, no doubt at least in part because his "rosy, athletic, and truly gigantic goddesses of Health and of Hymen" played a prominent role in his talks. (His "high priestesses" gave separate lectures for the benefit of the ladies.)

Graham's frank lectures on sex got him banned in Edinburgh in 1783. He responded with yet another pamphlet, "An appeal to the public, containing the full account of the ignorant, illegal, and impotent proceedings of the contemptible magistrates of Edinburgh." This admittedly tactless rejoinder got him arrested. While awaiting trial, he issued "A full circumstantial and most candid state of Dr. Graham's case, giving an account of proceedings, persecutions, and imprisonments, more cruel and more shocking to the laws of both God and man than any of those on record of the Portuguese Inquisition." He also lectured to his fellow prisoners, with additional entertainment provided by "a mellow bottle and a flowing bowl." That August, he was sentenced to a fine of twenty pounds sterling, which was paid by his Edinburgh admirers.

After this escapade, he continued to lecture throughout England and Scotland without any more major problems. His increasing interest in religion inspired him to downplay the emphasis on sex that had made him famous--and notorious. In 1789, he told an audience that although his younger days had been regrettably wild, he had now achieved "the mild serenity of an evening natural, and of an autumn intellectual sun." His deepening involvement with Christianity led him to vigorously debate leading Unitarians, and be began to call himself "The Servant of the Lord Oh, Wonderful Love." (O.W.L. for short.) He also became an equally ardent disciple of vegetarianism.

In 1790, he published his "Short treatise on the all-cleansing, all-healing, and all-invigorating qualities of the simple earth," where he extolled the healing powers of his new favorite fad, the earth-bath. He would treat audiences to a demonstration of this cure-all, gradually shedding his clothes onstage while men with shovels covered him in dirt up to his chin. It was, one audience member wrote, "quite enough to call up the chaste blushes of the modest ladies." Graham argued that food was unnecessary--all one needed was to absorb nutrients through bathing in mud.

Sadly, Graham's eccentricities deepened in his later years, to the point where he could arguably have been called quite mad. (He also became an opium addict, which undoubtedly had something to do with his mental deterioration.) He claimed--on no evidence whatsoever--to have offered his medical advice to the prince of Wales. It was said that he would often "rush into the streets and strip himself to clothe the first beggar he met." Graham's family periodically had to confine him in his rooms.

Graham published his final pamphlet in 1793, where he claimed that from December 31, 1792, to January 15, 1793, he ate nothing and drank only cold water, keeping himself alive through massages with his "nervous aethereal balsam." Despite the fact that he boasted that he had discovered the secret to living to the age of 150, the doctor died suddenly from a "burst blood vessel" on his forty-ninth birthday, June 23, 1794.

Although Graham is remembered as a snake-oil salesman, he was much less harmless than the average charlatan. The magnetic and electrical devices he championed are concepts that many modern-day medical experts are now exploring as serious treatments for some ailments. He decried war and slavery, and championed religious tolerance and education for women. He was a generous, charitable man who treated his parents--described by early biographer John Kay as "old-fashioned Presbyterian Whigs of the strictest kind"--with notable kindness and attention. Although some of his ideas were decidedly odd--he called masturbation "a deadly paralytic stroke"--his advocacy of spartan eating, emphasis on fresh air and cold bathing, and celebration of the benefits of a healthy, happy sex life ensured that all in all, he did his patients some good, and probably very little harm. This is a boast few other medical practitioners of his day--reputable or otherwise--could make.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

Throughout the month of December, the Link Dump will proudly be sponsored by the League of Christmas Cats!

What the hell are these wooden structures?

Watch out for those underwater ghosts!

Some facts about Madame Tussaud.

Christmas dinner in Victorian England.

Dangerous driving in Georgian Norfolk.

12 libraries share their oldest treasures.

The history of the "cocked hat."

Russia's oldest city.  Which really is quite freaking old.

If your nickname is "Mad Jack," you're always welcome at this blog.

Yes, on top of everything else, the Nazis were goddamned weird.

A forgotten Arctic heroine.

A ghost and a misplaced grave.

How a Welsh family was rewarded for helping to make Henry Tudor king.

Dickens' dark side.  I've always thought Dickens was little but dark, to be honest.

Christmas folklore involving animals.

A Georgian "scene of low dissipation."

A Vienna poltergeist.

Glass half-full moment: was this sailor extremely lucky, or extremely unlucky?

This ghostly blog post gets extra credit points for the title.

The murders at Frank Lloyd Wright's home.

The Great Sphinx has been uncovered in California.   And it's looking for an agent.

A timeless Scottish town.

A selection of Regency slang.

Napoleonic exiles in America.

A female Indian warrior.

The family of Martin Luther.

The notorious London fog of 1952.

The first great American costume ball.

The Ladies Stone of Denmark.

Magic and medieval monks.

Romantic advice from the 12th century.

Vegan fairies.

Scottish orangeries.

Yet another Victorian urban legend.

A winter without Mr. Pussy.

Why you really wouldn't want to stand behind this French performer.

Is this where Julius Caesar landed in Britain?

The famous murder of Mary Rogers.

The execution of two bride-stealers.

Magical Folk and Munes.

A real-life "Evangeline."

And that's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll meet one of history's great quacks.  In the meantime, here's Bobby Fuller.  He was such a promising talent; it's a pity that--if the most common rumors are correct--he fought the Mob, and the Mob won.