"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Friday, March 31, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the black cats of..."The Black Cat!"

Who the hell killed the Iceman?

Who the hell killed Ludwig II?

How the hell was the Sahara Desert created?

Watch out for Griffith Park!

Watch out for those naked ghosts!

Watch out for those fat-stealing ghouls!

The beggars who became artists' models.

How technology is offering hope for paralysis.

An arranged royal marriage where love was an unexpected bonus.

How to start an 18th century school.

Edison's ghost machine.

An octopus is pretty damn smart.

A medieval "coffin birth."

The attempts to save a dying language.

The death of a cad.

History's worst dam collapse.

Criminal "Women in Black."

More criminal "Women in Black."

The legend of Wellington's Underpants.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  How not to sneeze.

The weird death of William Donaghy.

Lancashire crystal-gazing.

The history of fashion magazines.

Why it was not a good idea to assassinate the King of Scotland.

The case of the green angel.

The fight over the bones of an Irish giant.

Sarah Hare, Wax Woman.

The Mystery Box of Tamaqua.

The Vatican's sex guide.

A first-hand account of an 1825 execution.

The first female solo balloonist.

The return of Lou Gehrig.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a notorious mystery of the sea.  In the meantime, enjoy what has been called the first horror film:

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The latest installment of the "Boston Post's" "Famous Cats of New England" introduces us to Jim, a cat who certainly knew how to get your attention:
"Jim," the Faneuil Hall cat, demands mention on the honor roster. Thousands of shoppers in the market district know Jim and stop to talk to him.

While he belongs to Allen Hurd & Co., Jim can be found almost anywhere about the market and the passerby that does not give him greeting is speedily reminded by Jim.

A monster paw will lift and gently bat the ankle of the neglectful shopper. Or if Jim is sitting high up on a crate of vegetables he holds out the paw sociably to shake hands. So it comes that no one passes by Faneuil Hall Jim.

The best fed cat in New England is another title that Jim can of right claim to. There is not a tempting viand of any kind for which he shows a preference that does not come to Jim. Squab and lamb kidneys appeal particularly, although occasionally Jim gets himself in disgrace by going after his own game and slaying a pigeon up in the tower of the building near where the famous grasshopper weather van twirls to the winds. For this he gets duly punished--sometimes overduly, for conscientiously every marketman who discovers the sin take a hand at spanking him.

A perfect demon where rats are concerned, his monster claws have never once been lifted against a human friend. Even quarrels with the other market cats he scorns, holding himself aloof with a dignity that well becomes his great gray body.
~December 30, 1920

Monday, March 27, 2017

Hero Takes a Fall

"How long, O Lord, how long shall we have to listen to all this tripe about commercial arsenic? Murderers learn it now at their mother's knee.”
~Dorothy Sayers, "Strong Poison"

In March of 1894, a handsome 26-year-old named George Dean married a pretty 18-year-old named Mary Seymour. That is the first and the last normal thing detail about their story.

The couple's household in Sydney, Australia quickly became an unhappy one. Dean, a ferryboat captain, was away from home much of the time, and when he was around he and his mother-in-law, Catherine Seymour, quarreled frequently. After Dean banished Catherine from his home, he and his wife fell on increasingly bad terms. When Mary gave birth to a daughter in December of 1894, Dean even began sullenly insinuating (on no good grounds) that he doubted the child was his. On March 1, 1895, Mrs. Dean had a "scrap" with her husband, which ended with him making the ominous comment that he would marry someone else as soon as he "got rid" of Mary. On March 2, she noticed that the lemon cordial she habitually drank had an oddly bitter taste to it. She had noticed a similar bitterness in beef tea she drank several months before. Soon afterward, she fell ill.

Mrs. Dean's health continued to decline, and the strange taste of her food and drink, coupled with some very suspicious behavior on the part of her husband, led to George Dean being arrested in April on a charge of poisoning his wife.

The evidence against Dean looked quite damning. His wife and her mother testified how Dean had suggested Mary drink some porter. He brought her the glass himself. She saw a white sediment at the bottom of the drink, and refused to take it. On another occasion, he served her tea that had the same white substance in it. Before he gave her medicine her doctor had prescribed, she saw him stir a white powder into it, which he assured her was part of the prescription. After taking it, she immediately became violently ill. The doctor later denied that he had ordered any such powder for her. During Mary's illness, her vomit and the remains of her medicine were analyzed and found to contain arsenic and strychnine. The defense argument was simply that Mrs. Dean must have poisoned herself in an effort to frame her husband for attempted murder. Given the evidence, it is a bit surprising that the jury had a hard time reaching a decision. After much wrangling, the jury finally came up with a verdict of guilty, but with a "recommendation to mercy," tacked on to win over those jurors less certain of Dean's culpability. The judge, William Windeyer, remarked that he "had never in his experience tried a clearer case than this," and that he "was as well convinced of his guilt as though he had seen the attempt to poison his wife, not once or twice, but on every occasion on which she fell sick." Windeyer condemned the prisoner to be hanged.

Normally this would have been the end of George Dean, but fortunately for him, Windeyer's comments backfired dramatically. His Honor already had a reputation as a "hanging judge," and his obvious bias against the defendant created a great deal of adverse comment. It was widely suspected that he had pressured the jury to convict the defendant. This quickly snowballed into a general sentiment that this convicted poisoner was an innocent martyr who fell victim to an "outrageous miscarriage of justice." Public meetings were held in favor of the prisoner which drew thousands of indignant citizens. Money was raised for his defense. Petitions were sent to the government. The true villains, public opinion soon determined, were Mrs. Dean and her mother. Rumors spread that Mrs. Dean was a habitual arsenic eater and a woman of the worst possible character. (These rumors were hardly quieted by the embarrassing disclosure of the fact that Catherine Seymour had a background that included pickpocketing, receiving stolen property, and brothel-keeping.) It was even bruited about that Catherine had poisoned her daughter in order to incriminate her despised son-in-law. The public support for George Dean, and corresponding fury against everyone who had a role in convicting him, reached such a level that on April 17 his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

That did little to subdue the uproar over the case. One of Dean's solicitors, William Crick, was an MP, and on April 18 he gave an address before the assembly where he vigorously denounced Judge Windeyer as unfit to sit on the bench, and he demanded that royal commissioners reopen the case. His client, he declared, had been convicted on "utterly unreliable evidence."

In response to this public outrage, the government appointed a commission of three highly-regarded men to review the case. It was, in essence, an informal trial of Mary Dean and her mother, who were now generally regarded as black-hearted witches who had tried to send an innocent man to the gallows. On June 28, this commission released a report stating that they had "grave doubts" about Dean's guilt, and recommended that he be released. It is difficult to determine if this decision was reached solely due to an objective view of the facts of the case, or if they were influenced by the government's anxiety to placate a large, angry populace.

George Dean was freed, and for some time afterward was quite the popular hero. Large numbers of people, mostly women, rode his ferry simply for the privilege of gazing at his "manly brow" and contemplating his courage and virtue in the face of his horrible ordeal. His most outspoken solicitor, Richard Meagher, won a seat in Parliament simply for having defended Dean.

Happy endings all around! Well, not quite. On September 18, a member of Parliament asked the Attorney General, John Want, about rumors that there had been a "confession" in the Dean case. He received the enigmatic reply that Want "must decline to answer, as whatever communication he had was of a confidential nature."

These words brought the Dean controversy, which everyone thought had been finally settled, roaring back to life. A suddenly-nervous Meagher had the "heroic ferryman" issue a statement denouncing his "persecutors." Dean asserted his innocence and demanded that Parliament clear his name from the Attorney General's slanderous insinuations.

By way of reply, Attorney General Want presented to Parliament a statement from Sir Julian Salamons, the lawyer who had conducted the prosecution of Dean before the royal commission. Salamons said that in the previous July, Meagher admitted to him that after Dean had been convicted, the ferryman fully confessed his guilt to the solicitor.

In July 1895, the "Daily Telegraph" published an editorial suggesting that Meagher's ineptitude had been responsible for the innocent Dean being sent to jail. Meagher was so infuriated by this that he wished to sue the paper for libel. He asked Salamons to represent him in this proposed lawsuit. Salamons told him he had no grounds for complaint. After all, he said, Dean was innocent, but had been found guilty. It would be different, of course, if Dean had been guilty...

It was then that Meagher blurted out the truth: Dean was guilty. His client had admitted to Meagher that all the charges against him were true. In other words, Meagher had stirred up public opinion and blackened the characters of two helpless women all to set free a man he knew was a cold-blooded poisoner.

Salamons said he tried to persuade Meagher to make Dean's confession public, but the solicitor refused. This left Salamons with a great dilemma on his hands: He felt that what Meagher told him fell under the category of "lawyer/client privilege," which decreed that he stay silent. On the other hand, if he kept Meagher's revelation to himself, Mary Dean and her mother would continue to be publicly vilified, while a would-be murderer remained a public idol. He finally shared his secret with the Attorney General.

Meagher angrily called Salamons' statement "a base and cruel fabrication," and asserted that Sir Julian was suffering from "the demon of mental affliction." Crick made a thoroughly disgraceful speech in parliament, describing Salamons as "a cunning little Jew," "a wily Jew" who was simply inventing his entire story. Dean himself denied making any such confession to Meagher.

Meagher and Crick picked the wrong target. In his forty years at the bar, Salamons had not risen to the top of his profession for nothing. He responded to Meagher's attack with a Parliamentary speech that was a brilliant and utterly damning condemnation of Dean and his solicitors. By the time he finished speaking, there was not an impartial soul left in the country who still believed George Dean was an martyr. When a chemist who had sold Dean arsenic finally came forward, the public revulsion towards the ferryman was as strong as their former adulation.

On October 5, Dean, Crick and Meagher were arrested and charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Dean also faced perjury charges. Three days later, Crick rose from his seat in Parliament, and made a stunning announcement. He read a full confession from Meagher, where the solicitor admitted the truth of every word Sir Julian had said. Meagher followed that up by resigning from the parliamentary position he had won only a month before. The following day, the Attorney General read before Parliament a statement from Dean, admitting not only his guilt, but that he had indeed told Meagher of his crime.

By that point, it was far from clear who was the most hated man in Australia--Meagher or George Dean.

The charges against Crick were dropped when it was established that Meagher had never told him of Dean's confession. Meagher was found guilty, but his sentence was later overturned on a technicality. Meagher's law career was over, but he became a successful real estate agent, and, rather remarkably, won a seat in the Legislative Assembly. He also served a two-year term as Mayor of Sydney. In 1920, he even managed to use his political connections to get reinstated to the roll of solicitors.

Dean was found guilty of perjury, and sentenced to fourteen years hard labor. Thanks to his good behavior in prison, he was released after nine years and lived a quiet life until his death in 1933. Mary Seymour Dean obtained a divorce in 1896. She remarried four years later. Hopefully, her second husband was a better bargain than her first.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

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

What the hell was the Galesburg UFO sighting?

Watch out for the Vapor Man of Brown's Woods!

Watch out for those exploding pipes!

The fixers of Old Hollywood.

A tourist visits Regency London.

A guide to bathing like an 18th century queen.

Lucretia Borgia's daughter, the radical composer.

Jumping off bridges for a living really isn't a good idea.

Anyone else unaware that Orson Welles wrote some of FDR's speeches?

In which we learn to pity Napoleon's barber.

Because you can't get enough haunted pubs.

The strange disappearances from public lands.

Vindication for Graham Hancock?

The folklore of sheep.

The historical hazards of teething.

Lafayette and the beautiful countess.

That time God spoke in a wind.

How to make your own mummy.  In case, you know, you want to get your Christmas gifts ready early.

The face of a 13th century man.

The mystery of the "ghost plane crash."

Crosswords and coincidences.

That time Grandpa turned into a seal.

The East India Company's black book.

Let's talk snuff-eating nose centipedes, shall we?

The skeletons in the window.

"All good things" in one medieval book.

Forgery and the thieves of Threadneedle Street.

Thomas Hardy discusses a hanging.

The real Casanova.

Queen Victoria's food.

London's strangest water craft.

Fortean nursing experiences.

Peculiar ancient Chinese statues.

A 1959 sea monster.

A debtor comes to a bad end.

An ancient way to rewire your brain.

2, 124 reasons why I'm glad I never had children.

NASA and the Antikythera mechanism.

A notorious "witchcraft murder."

College girls in the Gilded Age.

How to endure being married to Thomas Carlyle.

The ghosts of Ireland.

The train and the forced turnip-eating.

The bloodbath of the Paris Commune.

The history-changing death of Arthur Tudor.

Seducing a man with bread.

The Prime Minister's assassin.

This week in Russian Weird: that time a literary hoax led to a duel.

That's all for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a controversial Australian poisoning case.  In the meantime, some guy had the bright idea to isolate Grace Slick's vocals on "White Rabbit." You know something? I think I like the song much better this way.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This tale of domestic bliss comes from the "Bloomsburg Columbian," July 6, 1888. (The story is reprinted from the "Chicago Times.")

Mrs. Emma Mumford, at the Armory Police Court yesterday, sold her husband, William, for $200, $50 of which was paid in cash and tho other $150 promised in monthly payments of $50 each.

William is not a bad looking fellow. He is tall, well-built, has a mustache and side-whiskers, dresses well, and with his gold eyeglasses a stylish appearance. Altogether it would seem that William was quite cheap at the price, but he has his failings, and it was these that led his wife to let him go as cheaply as she did.

Mr. and Mrs. Mumford lived in Montreal, Canada. He was a bookkeeper in a large house and earned sufficient money to support his wife comfortably, but he wouldn't do it; he preferred to spend his earnings on fine clothes and let her win the bread for the house. Then he became fascinated with the charms of Clara Brown. Miss Brown is fair, fat and forty, and suffers by contrast with Mrs. Mumford, who is a pretty little black-eyed woman, with a sweet smile and vivacious manner. However, Miss Brown reciprocated Mumford's admiration and he accepted her proposition to run away to Chicago. They got here a little over a week ago, and were followed by Mrs. Mumford, who arrived here last Friday. A warrant charging the pair with criminal intimacy was sworn out and served by an officer, who brought the couple before Justice R. H. White.

They were badly frightened as they stood waiting for the case to be called. Mumford sent word to his wife that he wanted to speak to her. Mrs. Mumford walked over to where her husband stood beside the woman for whom he had forsaken her. Mumford begged her not to prosecute, but she was firm. He leaned over as though to whisper in her ear and his arm stole towards her waist. She jumped back and shook him off. "Emma," he said, "don't prosecute me and I'll go back and behave myself."

"Oh, no you won't. I am not going to pay your way back to Montreal and then have to support you."

"But you wouldn't send your own husband to tho penitentiary?"

"Wouldn't I? You wait and see."

Then Mrs. Mumford thought a moment. "I'll tell you what I'll do, ma'am," she said turning to Miss Brown. "I have scarcely a dollar in tho world. If you will give me $200, enough to start a small business in Montreal, you can have him and I won't stand in your way."

Miss Brown pleaded that she didn't have the $200, but was told that she had better raise it before the case was called. This roused her to action and she left the station. Half an hour later she returned with a despairing look on her face. "I could only raise $50," she said, but I will get the rest if you will give me time."

The wife saw that this was the best she could do and took the money. She then made Miss Brown sit down and write out three notes for $50 each payable in 30, 60, and 90 days. These she put in her pocket, and fifteen minutes later the case was dismissed for want of prosecution.

I think we can all agree that Mrs. Mumford definitely got the best of the bargain. I'd be curious to know how she did with that shop she planned to open. With her business acumen, she probably wound up owning half of Canada.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Ghost of Bryn-Glas

It's not often that you find a cracking good Gothic epistolary novel (complete with family curse!) in the correspondents' section of a 20th century magazine. This first letter appeared in the Welsh publication "Bye-Gones" on February 18, 1903:
THE BRYN-GLAS GHOST.— The “House of Llanlloddian " are Harrisons by surname, but formerly they were Devereuxes and Joneses, the house bearing at all times the proud badge of the Three Nags’ Heads of King Brochwel of Powys. Now at one time a branch of the Devereux family lived at Bryn-glas Hall, three miles north of Llanfair, and the ghost (yspryd) that I am now going to speak about was the bane of existence to this Bryn-glas branch of the family for a considerable time. This ghost made its appearance in the wood and edge-row on the road-side near the house, in the form of a flickering light, and was always in the way when the master of Bryn-glas came home from Pool or Llanfair. It always uttered in a dismal tone the warning and prophetic words “Dial daw, Dial daw” (“Vengeance will come”). It was believed that its mission and the burden of its speech had reference directly to Squire Devereux, who, like other Welsh gentlemen of his day, partook of the good things of this life “not wisely but too well,”--in fact this particular squire never quitted Llanfair town of nights without being more or less in a state of intoxication. This yspryd then had a special mission to perform (so the neighbours imagined), and if only some one would speak to it (they argued), and ask its message it would never more trouble the neighbourhood. Now, it is said, Squire Devereux at last mustered courage to do this piece of business himself, first fortifying himself for the task by sundry potations in the town, and, thus equipped, he went full of courage to the terrible thing, and asked for an explanation. But the apparition was too much for his nerves,and his voice gave way, and all he could say in reply to the dreaded “Dial daw,” was “Pa bryd?” (“When?") in a very hoarse whisper: to which the spirit replied, “Yn amser y gorwyriou y dew” ("In the days of the great grandchildren it will come"). The voice after this was heard no more. It has been maintained that the prediction uttered by the yspryd really did come to pass; and that with the fourth generation died the Devereux family of Bryn-glas. Some of your readers may be able to say whether this was actually the case?
Feb. 7, 1903.
A response to this letter was published in the issue for March 24:
THE BRYN-GLAS GHOST (Feb. 18, 1903). —Prior to “R.O.’s” highly interesting contribution I was certainly under the impression that I was the only individual living who had either heard of or known anything about the Bryn-glas ghost. It is really almost incredible, this sudden and unexpected resuscitation of a defunct "yspryd," or rather of its exploits. In this connection I may mention that my father, in the early part of his career, took up his residence at Bryn-glas,jointly, it is assumed, with the Devereuxes, being, I believe, in no way related to them. This was evidently at a period when the manifestations of the supposed ghost were at their height, for by day as well as by night the mansion was being subjected to intermittent storms of missiles, but whence they came or by whom or what sped, remained undiscovered, and apparently undiscoverable. Many’s the night that my father, armed to the teeth and on detection bent, kept vigil in an adjoining orchard, but on these particular nights neither goblin, ghost nor demon incarnate deigned, or, more probably, dared, to put in an appearance or continue the molestations. A certain yokel, whose veracity was regarded as unimpeachable, protested that at midday, in the light of the sun, he had seen the body of a waggon make a complete revolution, the wheels mean while remaining stationary; but to the credit of the less superstitious be it recorded that this part of the business was accepted cum grano ["with a grain of salt."] It may, however, interest the curious to be informed that the exit of the Devereuxes and my father—de mortuis nil nisi bonum—and that of the ghost, appear to have synchronised, or very nearly so, in a remarkable manner, so that the light which was then beginning to beat upon the dark corners of Wales penetrated even the once haunted halls of Bryn-glas.
M. D, Jones.
Borriew Endowed School.

The best part of the story came last--a contribution from a member of the cursed family himself! The April 1 issue of "Bye-Gones" contained the following communication:
YSPRYD BRYN-GLAS (Feb. 18, March 4, 1903).—I have read with extreme interest the paragraphs relative to "Yspryd Bryn-glas.” I have been acquainted with the story of the Yspryd these thirty years, my father having related it to me as long as that age. Indeed, the Yspryd Bryn-glas has had for us a terrible significance, much as we, and I especially, feign to disbelieve in all matters superstitious; but in “R.O.’s ” account of the Yspryd, I hear for the first time of its colloquy with John Devereux. My grandfather, after his marriage with Miss Williams, of Llangyaiew Rectory, lived for some years at Bryn-glas Hall, being at that time a man of considerable means and heir-presumptive to the Garthlwyd Estates, his uncle, Mr. Lloyd, having bred him in this belief, and he having lived at Garthlwyd from childhood. Directly he took up his residence at Bryn-glas, strange phenomena manifested themselves, and the family was very much disturbed in consequence. My grandfather kept watch repeatedly in the full assurance, he being anything but a superstitious man, that the disturbances were caused by persons of malicious or mischievous intent, but ultimately he adopted a different view and became profoundly impressed by something which took place and of which he only had cognisance. I have always understood that the curse "Dial daw" was pronounced on my grandfather and his immediate descendants, that it was said they should be scattered to the four winds and find nameless graves in unknown and far distant lands, and certain it is that with the single exception of my own father not one escaped the ban. The Far West, the battlefields of America, South Africa long years ago, each and all claimed a victim, and some died in absolute want and ignominy at our very doors. Disaster upon disaster speedily followed the pronouncement "Dial daw." Mr. Lloyd was gathered to his fathers and laid to rest midst solemn pomp and sable woe, the tenantry were gathered together, as the custom then was, the will was read, and lo! in the place of the name John Jones appeared that of Frederick Jones, his cousin. Five and twenty years ago, as a boy, I was walking to Welshpool, when an old man overtook me; he stopped and asked me if I belonged to the Garth-lwyd Family. I told him I believed so. He said, "I see the likeness," and then, taking me by the arm--"Young man, I knew your grandfather, there is a curse upon him and all belonging to him." 
Oxford, M.W.J.
A real-life tale of supernatural horror, lost like buried treasure in an old historical journal. Complete with that wonderfully M.R. Jamesian line about the grandfather being convinced of the ghost's reality by "something which took place and of which he only had cognisance."

Here's to you, Yspryd Bryn-glas.  You don't deserve to be forgotten.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the cats of St. Patrick's Day!

What the hell are these cosmic light flashes?

What the hell happened to the Clovis people?

What the hell are crop circles?

Who the hell really built the Silk Road?

Who the hell was Mary Jane Kelly, the most famous Ripper victim?

Watch out for those killer mermaids!

Watch out for those killer neckerchiefs!

Watch out for those Irish Elementals!

Watch out for those kidnapper Sasquatches!

Watch out for those phantom plane crashes!

A pharaoh has been hiding under a Cairo street.

The president of Brazil has a problem with ghosts.

The murderous month of March.

18th century singing rules.

A Puritan "librarian at sea."

How Venice buries its dead.

The mystery of the Phantom Fortress.

Important women from ancient Greece and Rome.

Does the Mona Lisa look happy or sad?  You make the call!

Since I hate bananas, I can't say I'd cry if people really are killing them off.

The mystery of the steak sauce bottle.

Let's face it, we don't know jack about human history, we don't know jack about the human brain.

Humans don't know jack, full stop.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  What not to do with leeches.  Or your eyeball, for that matter.

Bonus advice: Don't kiss.

Were prehistoric sites large history books?

St. Patrick's autobiography.

A newly-discovered ancient Chinese pyramid.

What, doesn't everyone communicate by means of telepathic snails?

Some St. Patrick's Day trivia.

The first Texan novel.

A dog in Bolivia has taken holy orders.

An ill-fated 18th century heiress.

Saving history from ISIS.

A "ghostly bromance."

The rediscovery of 500-year-old tunnels.

Australia's largest mass UFO sighting.

The case of the chameleon in the classroom.

The hazards of mingling your interests.

A gruesome tale of two Boston sisters.

The possible first woman to write a book in the English language.

It really was not a good idea to cuckold Peter the Great.

The enigmatic Josephine Earp.

The "Manchester Ophelia."

A 17th century sex manual.

The folklore of doppelgangers.

The "brain defense."

A chess-playing hoax.

Miss Neas and her Fortean bones.

Benedict Arnold and the phantom duel.

Behold the mighty Oxford Comma!

Using moles to predict the future.

Vintage photos of London's East End.

Resuscitation methods, 18th century style. 

A French Victorian feminist.

The grave of a once-famed dog.

While we're on the topic, here are more graves of illustrious dogs.

Edith and the Blob.

This week in Russian Weird:  In Russia, the game show plays you.  Plays you to death, probably.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll be taking another look at one of my current pet topics: Welsh ghosts.  In the meantime, let's take a tour of early 20th century New York:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The 21st installment of the "Boston Post's" series "Famous Cats of New England" presents the early 20th century's answer to Maru:
"Who let the cat out of the bag?" That's what the question used to be, but everyone who sees Bosie, the tiger cat at the McCauley Hat Company in Province street, asks instead, "Who put that cat in the bag?"

For there on the counter with all but his head stowed neatly away in a hat bag, sits Bosie. Never a customer removes his hat from the bag in which he brings it to be repaired that Bosie does not back into the bag and curl himself up. When the door opens he sticks his handsome head out the neck of the bag to look over the newcomer.

Specially patented cat food is all that Bosie is fed on, and another of his peculiarities is that he scorns any kind of meat.

The stunt of running across a room on his hind legs while with his front paws he makes passes at catching a fly and invariably succeeds, is something that Bosie's friends believe belongs exclusively to him. He can also climb straight up the side of a wall.
~December 29, 1920
Ah, the cat videos that were lost to the world, simply because Bosie was a century before the invention of YouTube. Truly we have here a feline born before his time.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Murder in Toronto

Frank Westwood

Most murder cases have one or two unexpected twists, but it's a fairly rare surprise to come across one that consists of nothing but the unexpected. One such killing took place one otherwise quiet night in Toronto on October 6, 1894. Hang on tight, because this blog post will be a veritable murder roller-coaster.

If 18-year-old Frank Westwood hadn't been Canadian, you could have called him the All-American Boy. He came from a wealthy family who lived in a mansion in the suburb of Parkdale, overlooking Lake Ontario. He was handsome, athletic, and popular with both men and women.

One would think he was the last person in the world to meet doom at his own front door.

Frank spent the evening of the 6th with friends. He returned home around 10:30. The rest of his family was already asleep. He himself was heading off to bed when, at 11 p.m., he heard the doorbell ring. He went back downstairs to answer it. The instant he opened the door, the visitor shot him with a .38 caliber pistol. Frank just had time to shout, "Mother! I'm shot, I'm shot!" before collapsing.

His parents immediately rushed downstairs. Frank's father, Benjamin, went outside the door and looked down the street, but there was no sign of anyone. However, a Mrs. Card, who lived across the street, later told police that as she was arriving home at about 11 p.m., she saw a slender clean-shaven man in a light-colored coat standing in front of the Westwood home. At the time, she assumed it was Frank. After a doctor was summoned, Benjamin asked his son if he knew who had shot him. Frank insisted he had no idea.

The gravely wounded man told police that his attacker was a man of below-medium height and heavy build. He had a mustache, and wore a fedora and a dark coat. Frank swore the man was a complete stranger to him. (Note: this description contradicts the one given by Mrs. Card.)

The Westwood family home

Investigators suspected Frank was lying about not knowing the assassin. They felt he was keeping information from them. Detectives were particularly curious about an acquaintance of Westwood's named Gus Clarke. Not long before the shooting, Frank had warned the owner of a nearby boathouse that Clarke--a habitual petty thief--was planning to rob it. When Clarke learned what Frank had done, this had led to a bitter fight. Frank admitted to the police that he feared Clarke might "lay for me." When asked if he had any "scrapes" with girls, Frank denied it--a bit too insistently, some thought.

The police scarcely knew where to take their investigation. The gun used against Frank had not been found, they had only a vague description of the shooter, and except for Gus Clarke--who Frank insisted had not been his attacker--they knew of no one who had any motive to kill the young man. To make things worse for them, the public, terrified that a crazed gunman was in their midst, was howling for an immediate arrest.

Four days after being shot, Frank Westwood succumbed to his injuries. Shortly before he died, he made a formal statement. He continued to maintain that he did not know who shot him, but suggested that his murderer resembled a friend of Clarke named James Lowe. Unfortunately for the investigation, both Clarke and Lowe turned out to have watertight alibis for the time of the shooting.

It was looking as though the Westwood shooting would go down as an unsolved mystery, when on November 20, police dropped a bombshell. They announced the arrest of Frank Westwood's killer, and it was not a man, but a mixed-race ("mulatto" in the terminology of the day) 33-year-old seamstress named Clara Ford.

It was Gus Clarke who had steered the police in Ford's direction. He told them that she had made a play for Westwood, who rejected her advances. Perhaps she shot Frank in revenge. He added that Ford often carried a gun, and had a penchant for dressing in men's clothing. (She had previously been arrested for impersonating choirboys and police constables.) One Libby Black told police that she had once chatted with Frank Westwood. Afterwards, Clara, in a jealous fit of anger, told her, "If you speak to him again, I will do for you." Mrs. Black mentioned that Westwood had a mustache at the time.Investigators learned that Ford was hard-working, but hot-tempered. She had been fired from a restaurant job when in a fit of rage, she pulled a gun on her fellow employees. At another job in a tailor's shop, she once threatened a customer with a razor. Clara smoked hard, drank hard, and generally was about as far from the stereotypical Victorian lady as you could get.

Clara Ford in male clothing, "Toronto Star," Nov. 21, 1894 

When detectives questioned Ford, she claimed that at the time of the shooting, she and a 15-year-old friend named Florence McKay had attended a show at the Grand Opera House. (As a side note, it was rumored that the girl was actually Clara's daughter.) However, Florence told police that although she was supposed to meet Ford at the theater, Clara never showed up. A friend of Clara's named Mrs. Crozier told police that Clara visited her house on the fatal night. Clara had had a lot to drink, and was carrying her gun. The following morning, when the women--along with everyone else in Toronto--discussed the Westwood shooting, Clara commented, "Well, I'm glad I wasn't in Parkdale last night, or I'd be blamed for it."

When the police searched Clara's room, they found men's clothes, a fedora, and a .38 caliber pistol. She explained that she kept the gun for self-protection, and if she occasionally wore male attire, so what? That didn't make her a criminal.

Before long, however, she unexpectedly changed her tune. Clara bluntly declared, "There is no use misleading you any longer. I shot Frank Westwood." She added that they would understand why when they heard her story.

According to Clara's formal statement, Westwood and his friends had long been in the habit of harassing her. They would mock her skin color and threaten to turn her into the police for wearing men's clothing. Then, in the summer of 1894, Frank tried to rape her. She was able to fight him off, but, believing it was futile to expect the law to come to the defense of a poor "colored woman," she vowed to get her own justice. She did precisely that on the night of October 6. Clara said she felt no guilt over what she had done. She told the police that if Frank had treated one of their sisters the way he had treated her, they all would have done the same thing.

Clara Ford stood trial for murder in May 1895. Her story had won her a good deal of sympathy. If it was true that the seemingly clean-cut young man had a hidden dark side, few could blame Clara for defending her honor. It was speculated that perhaps Frank's inability to name his killer was really an act of remorse, an effort to protect the woman he knew he had wronged. However, there was no getting around the fact that the defendant looked guilty as hell, and it was seen as inevitable that Clara would have to pay the price for what she had done, no matter how justified her motive may have been.

To everyone's surprise, once Clara's lawyer, E.F.B. Johnston, launched his defense, it was beginning to look like the case against her was not as invincible as they had thought. Johnston pointed out that Gus Clarke, a career criminal, was hardly the most trustworthy witness. At the time Frank Westwood supposedly spurned Clara's advances, he was only thirteen years old. Libby Black was a hopeless alcoholic who was well-known to the police. The gun Clara owned was a cheap model that could be purchased all over the city for less than two dollars. There were likely many hundreds of them in Toronto. Oh, and Frank Westwood had never worn a mustache. Johnston then took the bold--and, at that time in Canadian law, nearly unprecedented--step of calling his client to the stand.

Clara's demeanor on the stand was calm and convincing. She now said that she was innocent of the murder. She barely knew Frank Westwood. Her confession, she asserted, was a falsehood forced out of her by the brutal methods of the police. The story of attempted rape was one invented by the detectives. She said, "Sergeant Reburn continued to press me to confess, and said that if I said Frank Westwood insulted me, nothing would be done to me...When in Inspector Stark's office he said that if I were a man, he would lock me up without a moment's hesitation. He took his watch out, looked at it, and said it was time I said something. He kept repeating I was in a net and could not get out. The more I denied, the more he pressed me to confess. At last, I said I did it." Clara said that once she had invented a "confession" that suited her interrogators, Detective Reburn warned her, "Now stick to this story. Be sure and do not alter your story."

Johnston had more surprises in store. He put on the stand the manager of Grand Opera House, as well as an usher and a constable who had been on duty at the theater. They all testified to seeing Clara in the audience the night of the murder. Additionally, Clara's landlady stated that the defendant had arrived home at 11 p.m. on the night of October 6. The Westwood home was several miles away, meaning that if this landlady was accurate, there was no way Clara could have shot Frank Westwood. In his closing argument, Johnston insisted his client was a helpless woman who had been framed by a law enforcement desperate to "solve" a notorious crime. He intoned dramatically, "If Clara Ford shot Frank Westwood, would she have dared to go into the witness-box and tell that story as she did?"

The jury agreed. After deliberating for one hour, they returned a verdict of "Not guilty."

Like many a freed defendant before and since, Clara made the most of her new-found notoriety. She now cheerfully told reporters that she had indeed shot Westwood. She appeared in a stage show, where she dressed in the clothes she had supposedly worn on the night of the murder. Johnston was so disgusted by his ex-client's lack of taste that he called her into his office and suggested it was high time she got out of town. Clara was more than happy to oblige. It was reported she joined a burlesque company called "Sam T. Jack's Creoles," and toured America, billed as "the damsel who had killed a man in pursuance of the Unwritten Law."

So, which of Clara's stories was the truth: the one she told the police, or the one she told the jury? If it was the latter, who killed Frank Westwood, and why?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

Welcome to this week's Link Dump.

We have tea!

Via Two Strip Technicolor

Watch out for those haunted jails!

Watch out for those haunted pubs!

Watch out for those haunted emeralds!

Watch out for those haunted telephones!

Watch out for those poisonous weasels!

Watch out for those murderous trees!

Watch out for Jimmy Squaretoe!

Saintly medieval recipes.

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

How to eat like a 16th century pope.  (Spoiler alert:  You really wouldn't want to.)

Magic in the British Museum.

A Venetian immortal.

Female journalists in the turn of the 20th century.

George Washington and the courtesan's sister.

Did Jane Austen suffer from arsenic poisoning?

A Welsh "sunken city."

Hans Holbein in England.

A new look at the landmark crime of Daniel M'Naghten.

If you're ever kidnapped by fairies, here's what to do.

If you have a yen to create vampires, follow this link.

Trump-hating witches to the left of me, 4Chan wizards to the right.   Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

A Victorian cat ballet.

A Honduran "lost city"--found.

Aspirin is for Neanderthals.

One of my favorite headlines from the past week.

Just what you've been waiting for:  Jesus the child-killing dragon-tamer.

A portrait of John Quincy Adams.

Finnish cat mythology is just as awesome as you'd expect.

Edward II at war.

Photos of 1950s Moscow.

Some people who really know how to stay focused.

A brief history of burglar alarms.

Oh, just a mysterious round object moving around on the ocean floor.

The secret world of the Knights Templar.

"Taking the waters," 1800.

A flight over the Himalayas, 1934.

Pig Heaven.

A statue honoring a mitten.

18th century science studies ventriloquism.

A 5500-year-old murder.

Memories of past lives.

A delightful array of Cockney Cats.

A busy day at Tyburn.

The mystery of the poisoned candy.

Tempting fate in the 18th century.

Rewriting the history of Mars.

Elizabeth Jeffries: Villain or victim?

The first known photograph of Denmark: Ulfeldts Plads, Copenhagen, June 1840, by Peter Faber.

Scandalous 16th century books.

The first untethered balloon flight.

A friendly hen and an artist with way too much free time on his hands.

The tale of two police cat mascots.

"Undine," you say, "do I have any hope of ever seeing Warren Harding's toilet?"  Glad you asked.

This Week in Russian Weird:  Czar Nicholas II is in tears.

That wraps it up for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll be talking Canadian murder. In the meantime, here's Nanci Griffith:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The birth of love... (Spokane Press, November 26, 1909)
St. Louis, Nov. 26--Mrs. Terence O'Grady, who until last week was Miss Gertrude Arnoldy, and is now the wife of the "human ostrich," said today that she had fallen in love with O'Grady when she saw him eating tacks at one of his exhibitions.

"I thought I would like to cook for a man like that," she said. "He can't fuss at what I prepare for the table."

Mrs. O'Grady says her husband has promised to teach her the art of eating tacks and glass.

...and, alas, the death of love. ("The Citizen," April 1, 1910)
St. Louis, Mo.--Terence O'Grady's fondness for glass, tacks, tenpenny nails and other dishes of which he partakes when performing his "human ostrich" stunts on the stage, has parted him from his bride of two months and landed him in the hands of the police. His bride's cooking did not please him and his persistent complaints led to quarrels which culminated in a separation.

Mrs. O'Grady likes juicy steaks and milk toast. The "human ostrich" cannot eat a piece of meat until it has been cooked so dry and hard it lacerates his gullet when he swallows it. Milk toast also is to him an abomination. When he has toast it must be done to a brown or a black and be as hard as fire can make it.

Coarse sandpaper for dessert is another dish which Mrs. O'Grady never could learn to prepare for her husband or enjoy herself. In fact, the tastes of the two were found to be so far apart that they simply were irreconcilable. The understanding here is that when Mrs. O'Grady served ice cream to her husband he threw the cream out the window and ate the saucer with relish, and that caused the first quarrel.

Friends of Mrs. O'Grady also say that another cause of complaint she has against her husband is that he returned home one night feeling hungry and went to the sideboard, ate three cut-glass dishes which she had received as wedding presents, and completed his repast by eating a hand-painted plate which she prized highly because it had been painted by a schoolgirl friend who has died since the wedding.

These accusations may be overdrawn, but that there was something radically wrong with O'Grady's appetite was asserted in the Central district police station. O'Grady and his bride met casually in the street. They resumed their debates on gastronomic questions. Finally O'Grady said things which mad his bride angry and she had him arrested.

"Why, he wants steak cooked so hard you have to break it with an ice pick," Mrs. O'Grady told the desk sergeant. "He says he gets so used to eating glass and tacks that he isn't happy unless his food scratches when he swallows it. When I tried to make toast for breakfast he would stand at the fire and burn it hard and crisp, so I pretty nearly starved."

O'Grady was discharged after he had told his side of the story.

So, ladies, the moral is clear: If you choose to marry a professional ostrich--something not recommended by the wise--don't bother even trying to cook for him. At mealtimes, just mention the nearest hardware store and tell him to go and tuck in.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Adventures of a Welsh Ghostbuster

Elias Owen

Welsh oral history boasts a series of anecdotes describing the paranormal adventures of one Reverend Griffiths, an early 19th century Nonconformist minister in Denbighshire. Griffiths made his mark in history as a highly successful free-lance exorcist. As Wales apparently has more ghosts, demons, and bogies than the Florida Everglades has mosquitoes, our hero was one very busy man.

Griffiths was a real person, but it is anyone's guess how he acquired the reputation as a supernatural exterminator. Happily, cleric Elias Owen recorded the tales of Griffiths' exploits in his 1896 book "Welsh Folklore." However legendary they may be, these stories certainly throw the movie "Ghostbusters" in the shade.

The reverend's specialty was banishing poltergeists. Owen recorded how a farm in Bryneglwys found itself pestered by a ghost who regularly caused havoc in the dairy and kitchens. It would snatch up the pots and pans and dash them into pieces. When the servants were making cheese, it threw "filthy matter" into the milk, thus spoiling the curds. The owner of the farm offered the princely sum of £5 to anyone who could free him from this spectral nuisance. A local priest took up the challenge by holding an exorcism, but it did not go well. The ghost merely had itself a good laugh and mockingly waved a woman's bonnet in the man's face. Then Reverend Griffiths was called in.

Griffiths lured the poltergeist into the barn. Once inside, he drew a protective circle around himself. The offended ghost turned itself into a lion, growling and waving its claws, but it was unable to enter the circle. Griffiths scornfully told the spirit that he would ignore it until it transformed itself into something friendlier. The ghost obligingly took on the shape of a mastiff.

Not good enough, said Griffiths. After a bit of dickering, he persuaded his adversary to become a housefly. Then, Griffiths swiftly trapped the fly in a tobacco box and triumphantly carried it off. He said afterwards that "this Ghost was the most formidable one that he had ever conquered."

You must admit, he certainly earned that fiver.

At another Bryneglwys farm, the servants had made the mistake of rudely rejecting a traveling beggar's pleas for food. "You shall repent your conduct to me!" he warned them.

Indeed they did. No sooner had the man left that vengeful spirits began viciously pinching the ungenerous servants. This went on for days, until the girls "were tired of their lives." Naturally, Rev. Griffiths was brought in. He dealt with this poltergeist in much the same way as the previous case. This time, he tricked the ghost into turning itself into a spider. The creature was scooped up in the tobacco box, and all was well.

One of Griffiths' most famous success stories took place at the Rectory of the village of Graianrhyd. He was summoned there to deal with a particularly terrifying poltergeist. "No peace was to be got because of it; every night it was at its work." At first, it looked like the reverend had finally met his match. The ghost defied all his efforts to trap it, instead appearing to him every night in various terrible guises. However, after a great deal of prayer, he succeeded in cajoling the spirit into transforming itself into a fly. (One would think the poltergeist community would have become wise to this gag by then, but never mind.) Into the tobacco box it went.

Such a menacing spook obviously needed special handling. Griffiths carried the angrily buzzing ghost to the River Alyn, near the Llandegla Mills. He carefully placed the box under the water, beneath a large stone. He advised the villagers that the evil spirit would stay trapped there until the top of a small tree growing alongside the river's bridge reached the height of the parapet. As recently as the end of the 19th century, the tree was still kept carefully trimmed, but in recent years the practice was abandoned, so presumably this ghost got the last laugh.

Griffiths seems to have been a magnet for spirits of all varieties. One night, while passing through the village of Llanrhaeadr, he saw an apparition that he identified as one David Salisbury. Salisbury had been the black sheep of a prominent local family. After his death sometime around 1820, the "weight of sin troubling the unhappy soul" led Salisbury to give "considerable trouble to the living." He could be seen "mounted upon a white horse, galloping over hedges and ditches," while uttering "terrible groans." (It is said that at one time there was a ballad, "Ysbryd Dafydd Salbri," which gave the full history of David Salisbury and his alarming afterlife, but unfortunately this song has so far eluded folklorists.)

Sadly, Owen does not record any further biographical details about the reverend, not even his first name or the date of his death. My main unanswered question about this remarkable man is: What did he do with what must have been his unrivaled collection of tobacco boxes full of cranky ghosts? Did he keep them as trophies? Sell them to the highest bidder? Pass them out as business cards? Give them away as Christmas gifts?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's episode of Things I Have Learned From Cats:  Old broken trampolines make very popular beds for any families who might be living in your back yard.

What the hell is this Neolithic labyrinth?

What the hell did a dinosaur look like?  We're still working on that.

How the hell do we explain Nikola Tesla?  Aliens, of course!

How the hell did Dorothy Kilgallen die?

Who the hell was the Torso Victim of 1946?

Fortune-telling with a prayer book.

A Fortean cholera epidemic.

The personal possessions of an 18th century couple.

More Bad History about Edward II.

Defining fairy tales and folk tales.

Why walking into Soviet Russia was a bad bad idea.

Performing bears appear in court.

Being a prophet can be...complicated.

A typical day for Marie Antoinette.

The state of British prisons in 1788.

A cow pasture was hiding some Iron Age gold.

A famed tightrope walker.

An Ohio mystery stone.

The role of Justices of the Peace in the Georgian era.

A Sun God in 18th century Ireland.

Keeping warm, Georgian style.

A murderer is pursued by ghosts.

The strange murder of the Frog Boys.

Victorians liked to electrocute themselves.

The first map of the North Pole.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris comes from that copious file marked "What Not to Do When You're Drunk."

Brain scientists have lost their minds.

A 19th century Spanish UFO.

Kennewick Man has been buried, a mere 9,000 years after he died.

The mysterious burial of two victims of the Black Death.

The first man legally hanged in Australia.

Why you wouldn't want Evelyn Waugh as a father.

How tongue clicks help us navigate the globe.

The case of the haunted library.

A high speed police chase, Victorian style.

The rape of a 19th century servant.

A murder solved by a skeleton.

Some famous plundered corpses.

Let's talk Elizabethan psychopaths.

Speaking from personal experience, I can't disagree with this thesis.

Prince Albert's favorite dog.

The real Little House family.

San Francisco's ghost ships.

That time Victorians could dine in the Pyramids.

That time Pennsylvania saw a busy day for the hangman.

Those times they tried to assassinate Napoleon.

The execution of a famed tea infuser.

Louis XV's harem.

In case you're wondering what the heir to the British throne is up to these days, he's sterilizing squirrels with Nutella.

This Week in Russian Weird revisits the portal to Hell.

I'm now outta here for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll look at 19th century Welsh ghostbusting.. In the meantime, here a bit of Irish music: