"...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, June 30, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump brings us Tea and Scandal!

Who the hell killed Lizzie Borden's parents?  (Yes, there are some people who are not sure about the answer to that.)

Watch out for those phantom snowballs!

A tale of a devil-fish and slow-acting poisons.

Because your weekend just wouldn't be complete without a Viking toilet.

18th century book clubs were a lot more entertaining than most 18th century books.

How the Boston Massacre made legal history.

Some possibly life-saving ancient manuscripts from Timbuktu.

The world's weirdest Facebook page?  (No, no, it's not mine.  Now cut that out.)

The world of Haitian voodoo.

What you could buy for a shilling and a pot of beer in Georgian times.

An ancient Ethiopian city has been discovered.

Kings and scrofula.

How ancient Egyptians helped cats conquer the world.

Early 19th century menageries.

The unlucky number three?

An unusual book binding.

A skull cult at Gobekli Tepe?  (Complete with those inevitable words, "surprisingly complex.")

Ghost dogs in African-American folklore.

The long walk of David Ingram.

If you've booked a vacation for 2030, I have some bad news.

It's not looking good for Bigfoot, either.

Proof that the universe really is warped.

Irish UFO reports.

A delightful-sounding cat museum in Montenegro.

Proof that it's impossible to satirize modern poetry.

A modern American sailing disaster.

Pirates of the North Sea.

The "Fejee Mermaid."

Let's talk bog butter.

Let's talk satanic armchairs.

Let's talk fortean brides.

Let's talk Serbian shoe-loving vampires.

Let's talk drumming cockatoos.

Let's talk Rousseau's sex life.  

Invasion of the Sunshine Body Snatchers.

Canada in 1817.

A 19th century marriage that, surprisingly, ended well.

A Welsh botanical excursion.

"Decolonizing" Iraqi archaeology.

Salvador Dali's corpse is about to testify in a paternity suit brought by a professional Tarot card reader.  Because the 21st century is just like that.

The adventures of being a ghostwriter.  I've done a couple of ghosting jobs in the past, and it's a fine path to the madhouse.

A gamekeeper's murder.

The beautiful Fulham Palace.

How to be a proper Georgian footman.

Urine and the philosopher's stone.

Let's just say the Enlightenment era spawned some weird fads.

In a related story, the Victorians had a thing for auburn hair.

Back in the day, "First time on television" was a big deal.

Puritan UFOs.

A dog who served in WWI.

Rayon and insanity.

The fad for liquid stockings.

The worldly Jane Austen.

A 19th century female detective.

A Texan "hidden valley."

A life-saving dream.

A painter who was a victim of the French Revolution.

More proof that crows are smarter than most humans.

The 19th century murder of a Lancashire policeman.

A conspiracy against Napoleon.

A seance and the horror of Luton bus station.

This Week in Russian Weird looks at the strange legend of Czar Alexander I.

Not to mention the Soviet circus clown and the psychic dogs.

And we're done for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a 17th century woman's mysterious death.  And, of course, on Tuesday, enjoy Strange Company's annual Fourth of July celebration/star-spangled Body Count.

In the meantime, here's some Linda Ronstadt.  This is from one of her later albums, so it didn't get much attention, but this is one of my favorite songs of hers.  (She did her best work late in her career, IMO.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Book Clipping of the Day

This following story of...astral projection? appears in John Tregortha's "News of the Invisible World," (1813)

John Thomas, of St. Just, in Cornwall. is about sixty-two years of age, and has been a notorious drunkard the greatest part of his life. He told me that on Sunday, 21st December 1783, about 7 o'clock in the evening, he left San Crete (now spelt Sancreed) in order to go to St. Just. As it was dark he missed his way, and about midnight fell into a pit about five fathoms deep. On being missing his friends made diligent search for him, but to no purpose.

The next Sabbath day, as one of his neighbours was going to seek his sheep, he saw, at some distance, the appearance of a man sitting on the bank. On drawing near he saw the apparition go round to the other side of the bank. When he came to the place he could see no one; but heard a human voice in the bottom of the pit. Thinking that some smugglers had got down to hide their liquors, he went on; but coming back the same way again he heard the voice. He now listened more attentively, and as he could hear one voice he concluded it was John Thomas who was missing, and on calling to him, he found that he was not mistaken in this. He went and got help, and soon got him out of the pit. But as he had been there near eight days he was very low when he was got out; but is now in a fair way to do well. In the bottom of the pit he found a small current of water; which he drank freely of. This, in all likelihood, was the means of keeping him alive.

It is said that several other persons saw the apparition, but took no notice of it.

As I am not fond of crediting stories of this kind on common report, I resolved to get the account from his own mouth.

W. Moore, Redruth, Jan. 22, 1784

Monday, June 26, 2017

In Which Judge Lansing Walks Into Eternity

There is always a particular element of mystery when someone disappears for no known reason. When that someone happens to be one of the most venerable and well-known figures in the country--a former Mayor (of Albany,) military secretary to General Philip Schuyler, New York State Assemblyman (and Speaker,) delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and Chief Justice and Chancellor to the New York Supreme Court, his sudden vanishing becomes even stranger

But that is exactly what happened to John Ten Eyck Lansing on the evening of December 12, 1829. The seventy-six year old retired judge came to New York from his home in Albany that same morning and took a room at the City Hotel. From what we know of it, his day was as quiet and routine as can be imagined. He was scheduled to have tea at six o’clock with a friend. At dusk, he left the hotel, probably to mail letters before heading for his engagement. After that, he appeared to simply step into a void from which he never returned.

While there was naturally a great deal of excitement and concern about his inexplicable disappearance, the New York papers, oddly, did not even mention the event for over two weeks. It was not until the 29th that the newspapers carried brief mention of the mystery, along with offering a reward of $100 for any information about what had befallen Lansing. So far as is known, these advertisements got no reply. It is striking how, unlike other high-profile disappearances, such as Judge Crater and Dorothy Arnold, there was a complete lack of the usual "sightings," speculation, hoax stories, and wild rumor about his disappearance. Not even the crackpots could guess what had happened to John Lansing.

"New York Spectator"

The only thing approaching a clue we have ever received in this story comes from a memoir of journalist and politician Thurlow Weed, which was published by his grandson. It claimed that Weed knew a lot of political and social “hidden history.” One day, so the story goes, Weed was visited by “a gentleman of high position” with some documents proving Lansing had been murdered. Supposedly, these papers detailed the motives and circumstances of this killing, and even named the people directly involved with the crime. Weed was told to make this information public after all these men, “who had lived useful lives, and died with unblemished reputations” had safely passed away. By 1870, all these men, as well as Weed’s informant, were in their graves. However, Weed learned that this information would hurt innocent people who shared “the strong inducement which prompted the crime.” Many of these people “occupied high positions and enjoyed public confidence,” and their lives would be ruined if the truth about Lansing’s death was ever revealed. As a result, when Weed died in 1882, he took the secret with him.

There is no other evidence for this narrative, which, frankly, reads like some of the worst fiction of the era. It is, however, the only "solution" to Lansing’s disappearance that has ever been publicly offered.

[A footnote: This was not the first time Chancellor Lansing made his mark in the annals of true crime. In 1800, he was the judge in the famous trial of Levi Weeks for the murder of his sweetheart Gulielma Sands. Among Weeks’ defense attorneys were Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, who would, of course, eventually create scandal of their own. It is small wonder that a legend arose stating that everyone involved in the Sands case was cursed.]

Friday, June 23, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

The first Link Dump of summer 2017 is sponsored by--of course--the Cats of Summer!

Watch out for those tree-felling ghosts!

Watch out for the Shadow People!

An attempted assassination of Robespierre.

An 18th century woman's search for a husband.

Gotta love those Victorian urban legends.

Medieval bastards.

The king's architect.

Why fairies don't like iron.

A haunted Australian road.

The case for 19th century whiskers.

The "kiss of death," in every sense.

The vicarage murderer.

The Love Hotel Murders.

Beatrix Potter's secret journal.

On the hazards of trying to marry a ghost.

Uncovering the identity of a very mysterious murder victim.

A Frenchman who wrote westerns.

Mercy Otis Warren and the American Revolution.

A look at Regency-era Manchester.

The revolutionary power of baking powder.

People have been eating cheese much earlier than we thought.

Mark Twain's favorite fruit.

The Victorian craze for violets.

Personally, I'd rather work around ghosts than children, but maybe that's just me.

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

On the other hand, here's what to do with champagne!

A house where Edgar Allan Poe once lived.

The terrifying Beast of the Gevaudan.

Kurt Russell and UFOs.

The woman who survived her own execution.

The Chinatown Trunk Murder.

God bless America.

Long-lost messages in bottles.

Rachel Jackson, the unfortunate almost-First-Lady.

The dreams of Herr Wesermann.

This week in Russian Weird:  Let's talk Stinking Siberian Mystery Beasts.

And that's all, folks!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a notorious 19th century disappearance.  In the meantime, here's our video for the week.  The popular Latvian folk tune "Sasala Jurina" ("The Sea Froze") is one of my favorite songs, and Folkvakars does my favorite version of it.  However, I was pretty disgusted that it has--last I checked--only a lousy 196 hits.  So, maybe we can bump up the count a bit?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Our latest installment of the "Boston Post's" "Famous Cats of New England" pays tribute to a Scottish war veteran's adventurous nine lives:
Kiltie was so baptized because he was born in Scotland. But he's an American now: retired recently from active war service with the United States navy, and resides in Searsport, Me. The good U.S.S. Ozama came to Kiltie's native kitchen on the Isle of Arran, near Glasgow, in 1918, and by doing so changed Kiltie's career considerably. A big machinist's mate named Melvin Thompson fancied the kitten and took him aboard ship under his coat.

Adventure with a big "A" began for the six-day-old kitten from that day. He went through three submarine zones safely. He won the undying devotion of every gob on board. Supplies were low and Kiltie remembers well the night when he heard there were only three cans of condensed milk aboard, and that it was to be no plain gob bill of fare, but was to be reserved for the little Scottish kitten. This, in the face of court-martial if caught.

Upon his arrival at Norfolk, Va., Thompson got a big crate. Kiltie, given farewell pats by a hundred hands, was shipped to Searsport, Me., to the home of Captain Pendleton, a seagoing man who could realize what a seagoing cat had been through. For a week Kiltie was on the road without food or drink and arrived "all in," but the bracing Maine air and good milk worked wonders and now Kiltie holds his own with any cat in the neighborhood.

His one weakness is peanuts, and folks laugh because he eats the shell and lets the nut go untouched. Except for this extravagance Kiltie is real Scotch and makes a thoroughgoing cleanup of all daily rations. His master attributes his peanut wastefulness to shell shock, due to long periods in the submarine zone.

Kiltie is eager to show his brothers and sisters in Scotland that the Post has elected him to a place among the famous cats of New England. He wants them to know how well he's getting on in the States.
~January 5, 1921

Kiltie and the "Boston Post" did not forget each other. Four months after this story appeared, Searsport's most famous feline sent "Post" mascot Hindy a basket of catnip.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Joseph Mulhattan, King of Fake News

Here lies what's left of liar Joe,
A truly gifted liar,
Who could outlie the liar below
In realms of flame fire.
He lied in life, in death he lies,
And if, his lies forgiven,
He made a landing in the skies,
He plays the lyre in heaven.
~mock obituary for Joseph Mulhattan that appeared in "The Cambrian" in 1901

Anyone who has spent even a brief amount of time looking through 19th century American newspapers quickly learns that they are full of highly entertaining, but utterly fictitious tales. The annoying truth is, the "better" the story is, the more likely that it was the work of a hoaxer.

If you yourself have read any of these tales, it may interest you to know that it was very likely the product of one man: Joseph Mulhattan, perhaps the most underrated practical joker in American history.

Mulhattan was born sometime around 1853 near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the late 1870s, he moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he got a job as a traveling salesman for a hardware manufacturer. He spent much of his time on the road, which, as it happened, gave him the ideal opportunity to pursue his unusual hobby. Mulhattan had a gift for writing, a warped sense of humor, and a fondness for alcohol. Combine those three qualities, and you have the perfect formula for mischief. He would enliven his travels by composing phony news items, ones that were both so outrageous and so seemingly sincere that they readily fooled people into thinking they were genuine. Mulhattan would send them off to various newspapers (most often the "Pittsburgh Leader" and the "Philadelphia Public Ledger,") secure in the knowledge that most newspapers cared little if a story was accurate, as long as it boosted circulation. Have you ever encountered old news accounts of Texas planters using monkeys to pick cotton? The petrified corpse of George Washington? The amazing crystal cave containing ancient mummies in stone coffins? The little girl who was carried away in the wind because she was holding a bundle of toy balloons? The largest meteor known to man falling in Texas? The discovery of the Star of Bethlehem? You can thank Joe Mulhattan for all of them.

Although he used various pseudonyms in his work, (most often "Orange Blossom,") word of his singular talent eventually spread, causing this once-obscure salesman to be lionized as "the greatest liar in America." In 1891, the "New York Times" described Mulhattan as "known in every city in the United States and has probably caused more trouble in newspaper offices than any other man in the country. His wild stories, written in the most plausible style, have more than once caused the special correspondents of the progressive journals of the United States to hurry from coast to coast to investigate some wonderful occurrence which only existed in the imagination of the great liar."

He even merited a place in Thomas W. Herringshaw's 1888 biographical dictionary, "Prominent Men and Women of the Day," where our hero shared space with the likes of Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Czar Alexander III:
In 1884, as a joke, Joseph Mulhattan was nominated for president of the United States, by the drummers' national convention, held in Louisville. Kentucky, on the ticket of the "business men's reform patty." 
Mr. Mulhattan professed not to regard his nomination as a joke, but spoke of it quite seriously. In an interview at the time he said: "There are two hundred and fifty thousand drummers in the United States, and though we do not expect a large vote this time, we shall make a good showing, and organize for the next campaign. This year we had to do everything inside of a week,and we did not have time to get properly organized. The drummers are good canvassers, and they will s t n m p the country from Maine to California; so, you will see, we shall have lots of stump speakers on the road. We may carry a state or two, and thus throw the election into the house, and in that case the present political parties will have to compromise with us. I have always been a democrat, but now I suppose I shall have to call myself the leader of the business men's reform party. In 1888 the drummers propose to down the bummers." 
...Mr. Mulhattan is a remarkably bright and clever business man, is genial and tender-hearted, sunny of disposition, truthful, excepting in joke, and a practical philanthropist. A year ago he organized the Kentucky humane society, and has worked hard since to promote the success of this benevolent enterprise. 
He is still a bachelor, having, as he says, refused all offers of marriage and never made one. In personal appearance tins ex-presidential candidate is very pleasing. He is a small, and shapely man, about five feet five inches in height, and weighing one hundred and thirty-five pounds. His hair and beard are dark, and heavy dark eye-brows reach across his nose. He speaks with astonishing rapidity, and is quick in all movements. His blue eyes give the impression of comprehensive observation. Slanderous attacks on Mulhattan would fail of their purpose; he is a good man, and is highly esteemed wherever he is known. 
The expression "the greatest liar in America," as applied to Mr. Mulhattan, must be understood with modification. It has been given him on account of the harmless weakness with which he beguiles the monotony of selling hardware all over the country east of the Rocky mountains. "Joe Mulhattan" is known everywhere in connection with the authorship of newspaper yarns as surprisingly clever and impossible as the creations of Baron Munchausen. They are as entirely harmless as brilliant in conception and treatment, such as only a pure-minded and educated gentleman of exceptional endowments can write As a rule they have been used without remuneration to the author, who has sometimes done graver work for the magazines and newspapers for pay, and with the conscientious regard for trustworthiness which characterizes ail Mr. Mulhattan's merely business operation. Apart from these his genius takes wing and indulges in flights which amaze by the sublime range of their unveracity. Hence the epithet applied to this American Munchausen, which he never resents, because his unassailable character as a business man and good citizens gives the proper limits to its application. 
"The champion liar of America,'' a variation in phraseology which some affect in speaking of this ex-presidential candidate, is credited with the enormous feat of "laying out" Tom Ochiltree, who, with characteristic chivalry, acknowledged his defeat. Threats were made of sending him to congress in Tom's place on this account, and he had to leave the district in order to avoid what was, at that time, an undesirable consummation. The story which produced such momentous results is briefly outlined as follows: A huge meteor fell from the heavens, crushing houses, people, cattle and trees by its stupendous weight. So enormous was its ponderosity that its fall imbedded it two hundred feet in the earth, and left seventy feet in height still exposed to the light of day. This meteor was red hot, blasting everything about it, and from huge fissures in its substance proceeded sulphurous gases of baneful strength. The Fort Worth Gazette published this incredible fabrication in collusion with its author. An associated press agent read the account, in his hunger for news swallowed it, and telegraphed it to the main office in New York, from whence it was distributed the length of the United States. The morning after its universal publication, the Gazette received one hundred and fourteen telegrams of inquiry respecting the alleged phenomenon, of which several were from Europe; and letters asking for further information poured into the office for months. Even more horrifying was the alleged discovery of five skeletons found in a carriage in a lonely place on the wild prairie of Texas. This little story had the distinction of being illustrated in several weekly publications, and is most devoutly believed by a great multitude which no man can number. 
When the readers meet with a circumstantial account of hidden rivers being found here or there, of vast bodies of water deep under ground, the haunts of eyeless sharks and whales and other monsters who swim in its waters of untold depth, upon which icebergs float, he is exhorted to think of Mulhattan; and the ethnologist and geologist are warned against believing all they see in newspapers about newly discovered works by prehistoric man. 
How many persuasively written and circumstantial fabrics of lies Mr. Mulhattan has written probably only their author knows. Recent oft-repeated accounts of John Wilkes Booth having been seen in many places, which have caused great excitement,had their origin "on the road;" and that biggest of all "sells," his "great national joke," as Mulhattan calls it, was characterized with his usual felicity of expression. Everybody remembers it, and the time of its origin, 1876. A proposal was published all over the country to remove the bodies of Washington and Lincoln to the centennial exhibition, and charge fifty cents a head to view them.
Modern-day aficionados of Mulhattan's work have made a parlor game of guessing which colorful old newspaper stories are really creations of The Master. The most intriguing theory is that Mulhattan invented the disappearance of "David Lang." Lang was purportedly a resident of Gallatin, Tennessee who vanished into thin air while crossing a field. The story became a staple of various popular Fortean books (most notably Frank Edwards' "Stranger Than Science.") It is only in recent years that the tale has conclusively been established as fiction, probably inspired by Ambrose Bierce's short story, "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field." No one knows for sure who first morphed Bierce's fiction into the supposedly factual "David Lang," but for many years a rumor has persisted in Tennessee that Mulhattan was behind the hoax. If so, it's probably his most influential achievement.

It is pleasant to note that on at least one occasion, this menace to the public prints was actually a force for good. In March 1888, Mulhattan read a small news item in the "Richmond Climax." It stated that a local plasterer named Patrick Cunningham was bitten by a snake. Fortunately, he was given an antidote to rub on his wound, with the result that Cunningham "limps a little yet, but will not die, although he was scared badly enough."

A nice little human-interest story. It appealed to Mulhattan. He thought that the tale just needed that little something extra. And he was more than willing to provide it.

A few days later, the "Lexington Transcript" printed the new and improved account of Cunningham and the snakes:
Lexington, KY., March 23.--The Transcript has received the following special dispatch from Richmond, Ky.: 
"Patrick Cunningham, of this place, is death to snakes and venomous reptiles of all kinds. The snake that bites him dies in great agony, frothing at the mouth and swelling to almost double its former proportions. Cunningham has discovered a poison more deadly than that of the reptile, but harmles as a lotion for the human body, and the moment the fangs of the snake come in contact with it a powerful electrical current is generated that drives the snake's own poison through every blood vessel in its body. Blood-poisoning is the result which, with the terrible electrical shock causes almost instant death. 
Cunningham killed during last summer over 17,000 snakes in Madison county, and realized quite a handsome sum by his wonderful skill in driving these offensive reptiles from the premises of our citizens."
The article described how Cunningham had discovered the "deadly lotion." He was born near Calcutta, India, while his parents were doing department work there for the English government. "It was in the jungles of India that Cunningham discovered from the natives the formula for making the deadly lotion, so fatal to poisonous reptiles...Cunningham says he will keep on killing and driving the snakes until there is not one in the state of Kentucky, if the people will pay him for it."

The report concluded, "I have stated in this article nothing but actual facts, without the slightest attempt at exaggeration. If any of your readers doubt in the least they can address Col. Shackleford, or Shackleford & Gentry; E.W. Wiggins, of Wiggins & Best; P.M. Pope, Mr. Willis, the postmaster, or any other reputable citizen of Richmond, or Mr. Cunningham himself, and they will find the statements herein made are nothing but wonderful facts, and they will find that in the matter of exterminating snakes from the soil of old Kentucky Mr. Patrick Cunningham is indeed the modern St. Patrick."

Mulhattan at work, "The Tennessean," March 23, 1888

The story was picked up by the wire services, and soon appeared in newspapers across the country. In Iowa, it was read by the administrator of the estate of a John Cunningham, a recently-deceased relation of Patrick. As it happened, this administrator was very anxious to find the now-famed snake-slayer, but until reading this article, had no idea how to get in touch. As John's nearest living relative, Patrick stood to inherit 3,000 acres of Iowa farmland. And this felicitous twist was all thanks to Joe Mulhattan.

Unless, of course, this sequel was yet another of the old fraud's taradiddles.

It is sad to say that Mulhattan could not invent any happy ending for his own personal story. His drinking gradually got out of control, to the point where, in 1901, he spent time in an Inebriate Asylum. Two months after his release, he was arrested for stealing money from a man in a saloon. The following year, he was found drunk and unconscious outside a Louisville hotel. In 1904, he was again arrested for stealing a coat. A reporter who saw him at this time wrote with what one can only hope was gross exaggeration, "This outcast, ragged, stuttering, downcast man is the same Joseph Mulhattan who ten years ago was the richest, most popular, and best commercial traveler in the United States... The purple and fine linen of his heyday are changed to noisome rags. He sits on a rickety bench, his smeared face in his dirty hands, his bleary eyes staring at the mud daubed shoes in which he has been tramping the streets and alleys of San Francisco. His nose is red and shriveled, his face and body bloated, his limbs dwindled and shaky, his hands like talons."

We know little about Mulhattan's final years, which is possibly just as well. The man who was once America's most famous prankster moved to Arizona, where he took up prospecting, with mixed success. On December 14, 1913, the "Bisbee Review" announced Mulhattan's appropriately outlandish death:
“The waters of the Gila river brought to a close Friday afternoon the career of Joe Mulhatton [sic], commonly regarded as the biggest liar in the world. Mulhatton, who has been mining a number of years in the vicinity of Kelvin, started to cross the Gila at that place late in the afternoon. The stream was swollen and Mulhatton was swept off his feet. Several persons on the ground saw him drown, powerless to give aid. His body was recovered a short distance below and buried a few hours later.”
Was this news report true? Or was Mulhattan hoaxing everyone right to the end?

I prefer to think the latter was the case.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Maurice Boulanger's Cats of June!

What the hell is this 3,000 year old mask?

What the hell are crop circles?

What the hell caused this sixth century climate disaster?

Watch out for those cursed mountains!

Watch out for those Black Box Specters!

Watch out for the Greenland Kraken!

John Aubrey and the mysterious stone.

A widow marries a ghost.

The colorful life of an early film actress.

The angels of Tudor and Stuart England.

How to throw a party in Regency London.

The sun's evil twin.

The particularly horrifying sinking of an East India Company ship.

A fatal "gentleman in black."

Stealing a saint's brain.

John Wilkes and the Manor House.

Think a wronged raven will forgive you?  Nevermore.

The Lobotomobile: Hell on wheels.

A 7500 year old drill bit.

The man who painted with Raphael.  After Raphael was dead, of course.

Richard III and one of English history's most contentious council meetings.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  What not to do with lead wire.  Not to mention, what not to do with dentures when you're drunk.

Spells to aid women in childbirth.

Protecting cows in India.

What we "know" about human history has been upended.  Again.

A Japanese "suicide ship."

The execution of a Scandinavian saint.

The Antarctic explorer and the bird painting.

An English "fire monument" older than Stonehenge.

The Nazis were masters of the occult!  Well, maybe not.

Traveling to France in the Regency era.

The story behind a human tooth.

The strange rumors surrounding a woman's grave in Kent.

Some fans that commemorate historical events. 

Ruth Read and Puritan justice.

Whit Sunday and Irish folklore.

Part II of Abe the Hotel Cat.

And we're outta here.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a pioneering Fake News peddler.  In the meantime, let's take a walk in Piccadilly during the Blitz.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

"The Changeling," Arthur Rackham

Those of you familiar with medieval history are undoubtedly aware of the custom of "proof of age," where people used landmark events as a means of legally establishing the time of their birth.

Well, I dare anyone to top this one. ("Dundee Telegraph," August 12, 1909)

At a meeting of the Limavady Pension Committee an old woman told a fairy tale that proved the credence sometimes attached to the folk-lore of the fireside. Mr J. A. Lang, J.P., occupied the chair. Among the applicants was Annie Mintire, a bent old woman from Faughanvale. Questioned as to her age, she said she did not remember the year, but she had a distinct recollection of being born on Hallowe'en night in 1839, and of having been stolen by the fairies.

The Chairman —"You are quite sure of that?" " I am as certain of it as that I live," emphatically replied the lady. "Fortunately my brother was returning from Carndonagh, and he heard the noise of their singing and their dancing, and he had a book with him, which he threw into the wood at Carrowkeel. The fairies then abandoned me, and my brother lifted me in his arms and brought me back to my mother."

"There was much joy at your return, I presume?" said the Chairman. Applicant said there was great rejoicing over her rescue. Her mother was in ecstasy at getting back her baby, and the people celebrated the event, by feasting, and there was a considerable quantity of drink consumed. The witness was asked if she could think of any other incident that would enable her to fix her age. but the time of her birth and abduction by the wee people were all she had guide her. The Pension Officer said there was no record of her age in either the 1841 or 1851 census. The committee, however, decided to grant the pension.
After that testimonial, I should hope they did.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Poltergeist of Granite Creek

Poltergeists are a troublesome and frightening lot, but they are surprisingly rarely truly dangerous or malevolent. One exception to this rule was a very angry entity that in March 1935 tormented prospectors in Australia's Palmer River goldfields.

Our only source for the episode is an account written by Joe Jones, one of the spirit's victims. Although he wrote his manuscript in 1938, it did not see print until 1971, when the Cairns Historical Society's journal published it under the title "The Granite Creek Ghost." Despite this lack of corroboration, there is no reason to believe Jones was not writing truthfully.

The story opened early in 1935. Although the Palmer region had a huge--and extremely violence-plagued--boom after gold was discovered in the 1870s, by the early 20th century the fields were largely played out. However, a few persistent prospectors lingered in the area, mining tin and praying for gold.

Among these lonely few was Joe Jones and his partner, Dick Clarke, who had set up a stake on the invitingly named Cannibal Creek. (And yes, in the bad old days there was a good reason why the area got that appellation.) At Granite Creek, a few miles away from their camp, a man named Jimmy Ah Quay made a threadbare living growing vegetables and prospecting bits of tin. Quay's only neighbor was another Chinese man, left unnamed in Jones' account. This man was "suffering from some loathsome disease." Quay looked after the invalid as best he could, until his patient died in January 1935. Quay buried him, then, as a precaution against infection, burned all the dead man's belongings.

The following month, Jones and Clarke volunteered to help Quay mine more tin with the use of explosives. Quay went into civilization and got the necessary provisions. He brought back with him an assistant: a young man named Willie Hip Wah. After giving a tutorial in the use of gelignite, Jones and Clarke returned to their camp. They were surprised when after a few days, the two Chinese appeared, carrying all their possessions.

"My place haunted," Quay explained succinctly. "We can't live there; ghost come; he break up everything."

His listeners thought this was nonsense. They privately suspected that Willie was longing to return to town life and so was pulling a cruel hoax on the old man. They reassured Quay that they would go to his camp and "catch the ghost."

"No matter," said Quay. "You will see."

Indeed they did. The minute Jones and Clarke arrived at Quay's camp, their horses went into a sudden panic. The terrified animals broke down the horse yard and fled.

Jones did not take the hint. He and Clarke still assumed they were dealing with a very human foe. No sooner had he said as much to Quay that "I noticed some coils of fuse were jumping on the floor...I put it back [and] it all jumped back a few minutes afterwards."

That was merely the opening act. For the rest of the day, the men watched plates lifting off the table and smashing against the roof. Cups and cans bounced around the cabin, ricocheting off walls. By the end of the day, the men were in the midst of a "tornado." "Bottles, dishes, and cooking utensils were thrown about, striking the iron roof and walls and making a terrible din." A faint, eerie light moved throughout the room.

Jones was finally convinced this was no ordinary practical joker. He suggested they all go outside the cabin to see if the mayhem would follow them. It did. Quay--who throughout seemed the main target of the entity's wrath--was pelted "with broken plates, bottles and other missiles." Jones' lantern was mysteriously smashed. When he got another lantern, it too was destroyed. They suffered a rain of sticks, rocks, and tin cans.

When they went back into the cabin, an invisible force continued pummeling them with dishes, tins, and scrap iron, the whole making an "awful din."

"Are those things happening, or have I gone suddenly mad?" Jones asked his partner. "Too right they're happening," replied Clarke. Clarke added that his experiences fighting in WWI were "a picnic compared to this," and that if it wasn't so dark and stormy outside, he'd make a run for it.

Later that seemingly endless night, the entity became even more frighteningly violent. A few minutes after Willie tried retiring to bed, he screamed for help. The other men found that something had wrapped a rug around his head so tightly they had difficulty removing it. By the time they freed the boy, he was unconscious, and remained so until morning. This poltergeist was not only destructive: it was murderous.

Throughout the night, the men continued to hear a weird tapping around the cabin, as well as groaning noises. At dawn, there was a brief quiet. Then the uproar started up again with a vengeance. Loud rapping noises emanated from the cabin. Objects were violently hurled through the door. Quay's suitcase hit the ground and flew open, scattering the contents. Worst of all, fires began breaking out all over the cabin, defying all efforts to contain them. The cabin was soon completely in flames. Jones was baffled by the fact that although the cabin was completely consumed, the fire did not spread, even though burning embers fell all around the site.

The men gathered what little they could save of Quay's belongings and returned to Jones' camp. If they assumed their paranormal ordeal was over, they were in for a nasty surprise. That night, "the business started...tins and bottles jumping around, hitting walls...everything in the place started to jump down." For the rest of the night, the men were pelted with scraps of tin until finally at dawn, the activity ceased.

Thankfully, this appeared to be the last of the poltergeist. The men were left in peace. Probably very wisely, Quay never returned to his former camp site. He found employment elsewhere, and after a few years returned to China. Willie Hip Wah eventually opened a successful bakery in Cooktown.

The only reason Jones could find for the strange and terrifying experience was that they had been persecuted by the spirit of Quay's dead neighbor. He noted that as his cabin burned, Quay commented, "I burn him, he burn me." However, it is hard to see why the ghost would have such a violent grudge against the one man who had helped him in his final days.

Perhaps some things are simply beyond all human explanation.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by all the cats from A to Z!

What the hell are the Rollright Stones?

What the hell was the "Wow!" signal?  Um...not much?

What the hell happened to Dennis Martin?

Who the hell was murdered in room 636?

Who the hell was Robin Hood?

Watch out for Rendlesham Forest!

Ghosts testifying in murder cases.

The Victorian hot spot Le Chat Noir.

Napoleon and fake news.

A ghost who knew proper dinner etiquette.

Monkeying around:  The 18th century fad of singerie.

Radio hats!

The secrets of some Lithuanian mummies.

Good luck trying to make an arrest in this case, guys.

A monument to a slave executed for attempted murder.

Why Nova Scotia nearly joined in the American Revolution.

The joys of Victorian medicine.

A tale of a Georgian elephant.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the world's greatest collection of harmonica cases.

And if the harmonicas don't have you too overwhelmed with excitement, here's a museum for moist towelettes.

Three men, one boy, and a coal mine.

Some early cat shows.

The wild world of Georgian medicine.

A history of tarot cards.

A newly-discovered Mesopotamian city.

Elaborate Victorian tattoos.

The children of camp followers.

Ancient sites threatened by modern warfare.

Edwardian water cures.

An East End "disorderly woman."

The cat who wouldn't scat.

That time they tried to keep people from photographing a Swiss village.

A beheading in Anglo-Saxon England.

A French valley of death.

A memorial to a now-forgotten tragedy.

A celebration of Whit Monday.

A tale of remarkable medical recovery from the Civil War.

A tale of a remarkable reprieve from the Civil War.

A Mexican diary chronicling the Spanish Inquisition.

There's now an online database of the letters of medieval women.

The mysteries of Greyfriars Kirkyard.

The execution of an "unnatural father."

A Belarus cat museum.

Laser archaeology.

Exonerating Gilles de Rais.

And, lo! we see the end of yet another WLD.  See you on Monday, when we'll be talking Australian poltergeists.  In the meantime, here is Miss Clara Bow:

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This installment of the "Boston Post's" "Famous Cats of New England" profiles a feline with an appropriately fierce name:
Peter the Great is a fighting cat. He's for action every minute. Up Lowell way they all know Peter, who is the cat of Mrs. H.C. Forbes of 8 Quimby avenue. He has whipped every known cat within a mile, and the only reason that he hasn't extended his activities is that he's too attached to a good home to go abroad looking for new titles, and the other cats are too much in dread of him to come looking for him.

Grave Yard Tom, however, is a cat that Peter's mistress states Peter appears to want to fight. Tom's photograph, in a recent issue of the Post, when shown to Peter, brought a prolonged sputtering and a growl from the champion of Lowell. He up with a black mitt and he let G.Y. Tom have it forcibly right in his smirking, all-ready-for the picture-countenance. Then he tore the paper to bits and flew off in a rage.

Just relieved from being an all black cat by the merest dog of a white "jabot" under his chin, Peter has a real war like attitude every minute. Even when he sits down on a chair to be photographed there's that about Peter that suggests a fight in the offing. Yet his mistress says he is a loving cat to the folks at home.
~January 4, 1921
[Note:  "Graveyard Tom" was the great nemesis of our very first "Famous Cat," the "Post's" legendary Von Hindenburg.]

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Woman in the Well

It's fairly rare that a murder is remembered not for the victim or the accused perpetrator, but for the people involved in the subsequent court trial. Such was the odd fate of the young man and woman at the center of what has often been called America's first great murder.

Our story opens in the New York City home of a Quaker couple, Elias and Catherine Ring. The Rings lived with several boarders, among whom was a cousin, 22-year-old Gulielma "Elma" Sands. Elma was a very pretty girl, who naturally was the center of some interest among the eligible male members of the household. It appeared that the most fortunate of her admirers was a talented, promising young carpenter named Levi Weeks. For some weeks past, everyone under the Ring roof had followed Weeks' courtship of the girl with the greatest attention, (the pair may have entered into a sexual relationship,) and on December 22, 1799, it appeared that the couple would make their union a lifetime one. Mrs. Ring later asserted that Elma had confided to her and another cousin, Hope Sands, that later in the day, she and Weeks were going out to be married. Both ladies professed to being highly pleased at the news.

Around 8 o'clock that night, Mrs. Ring heard Elma leave the house. Catherine had previously heard Elma talking with Weeks, and she assumed the lovers had exited together, but--unfortunately for subsequent developments--she did not know this for sure.

Two hours later, Weeks entered the Ring house, looking notably upset. He asked to see Elma. His state of mind was not improved by the news that she was out. He denied having left the house with her. He also denied that he and Elma planned to marry. Weeks' employer was his older brother Ezra, a prominent architect. Levi pointed out that as Ezra's apprentice, he would need his brother's permission to wed. When by the next morning, the girl was still missing, her relatives began to make inquiries, but no one professed to have the least idea where she was.

Even today, it can be difficult to get the authorities interested in missing persons, but in 18th century New York it seemed to be damned near impossible. Even after Elma's muff was found in a well in Lispenard's Meadows, a lonely, dismal-looking patch of swampland near the Ring home, no particular alarms were raised. The disappearance of Elma Sands was completely upstaged by George Washington's funeral.

The mystery of Elma's whereabouts was solved on January 2, 1800, when someone finally had the bright idea to search that well. Elma's body was found lying on the bottom. Her neck appeared to have been broken, and there were bruises around her neck, suggesting she had been strangled. In a peculiarly grim touch, the corpse was put on public display for an entire day. You probably will be sadly unsurprised to learn that it attracted huge crowds.

When a woman dies under conditions pointing to foul play, her lover or husband is usually--and often correctly--the first to come under suspicion. Such was the case here. Before he knew what had happened, Levi Weeks found himself standing trial for murder. The popular opinion was that he had changed his mind about marrying his sweetheart, and could not think of any better way to break his engagement than by murdering the girl.

Fortunately for Weeks, his older brother Ezra had the money and connections to buy him the most illustrious lawyers in the land. Among Weeks' counsel were future Supreme Court Justice Brockhurst Livingstone, ex-Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, and future Vice President (and, of course, future shooter of Hamilton) Aaron Burr. (Hamilton and Burr owed Ezra Weeks money, so they agreed to work free of charge.) Even O.J. Simpson never had a Dream Team like this. (A curious side note: Burr was the founder of the Manhattan Company, who owned the well where Elma's body was found.)

The case was a sensation unprecedented in America's brief history. Aside from the public interest in the murder mystery, the trial made criminal history as well. The young republic had yet to build up any history of case law, (as Burr put it, "The law is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained,") meaning that Weeks' trial set a number of legal precedents. It was also the first American murder trial for which there is a formal transcript.

Justice may not always have been fair in those days, but it was certainly swift. Weeks' trial opened on the morning of Monday, March 31, 1800, and lasted until 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday. The only recess was between 1:30 and 10 a.m. on Tuesday. Small wonder that at one point, the prosecuting attorney complained that he had been without "repose" for 44 hours and was "sinking" from exhaustion.

The prosecution's case was remarkably weak, based more on conjecture than hard facts. No one definitely saw the defendant with Elma Sands on the night she disappeared, either in or out of the Ring house. Witnesses reported seeing a woman and two men riding on a sleigh in the general direction of Lispenard's Meadows. Was that woman Elma, Weeks, and some unknown party to her murder? No one could say for sure. An "aged and very infirm" woman named Susanna Broad testified seing a sleigh come out of the yard of Weeks's brother on that fatal night. Others claimed to have heard a woman screaming for help in the general vicinity of the well.

The defense managed to make short work of these witnesses. Under cross-examination, Mrs. Broad--who appears to have been noticably confused mentally--admitted that she could have seen that sleigh on any night in the days before and after Christmas. Demas Meed, who took care of Ezra Weeks' horse and sleigh, testified that they had not been used on the night in question. It was pointed out that Weeks had had a reputation as an amiable man of good character. The medical testimony could not agree if the injuries found on Sands' body were the result of an attack or simply from falling into the well. In short, no one could say with any certainty that Elma had been murdered at all.

This confusion over the medical evidence made it easy for the defense to assert that the unfortunate girl had committed suicide. Although the Rings described Elma has being in good spirits on December 22, other witnesses declared that Sands was prone to deep fits of depression and had spoken before of killing herself. It was even claimed that she was a young woman of "loose moral character" who had slept with Elias Ring--and probably other men--before becoming involved with Weeks. The defense painted a picture of a neurotic, unstable girl who, fearing that Weeks would jilt her, decided to end it all by throwing herself into a well. Plus, Weeks had an alibi: he stated that on the night Elma vanished, he had been at his brother's house discussing upcoming building work--a story confirmed by others who had been at this meeting.

Although public opinion remained stubbornly against the defendant, the paucity of evidence meant the jury had little choice but to find Weeks "not guilty." However, his reputation in New York was so irremediably tarnished that he soon left town. After unsuccessful attempts to live down his notoriety in several cities, he finally settled in Natchez, Mississippi, where he had a highly stellar career as an architect. To this day, every April 21 in Natchez is "Levi Weeks Day" in honor of his contributions to the city. He died in 1819, aged only 43.

The enigmatic nature of Elma Sands' death has insured that Levi Weeks has never been truly exonerated. However, if the girl was indeed murdered, there was another obvious suspect: another Ring boarder, Richard Croucher.

Croucher had shown a romantic interest in Elma, and apparently deeply resented his more favored rival. He had quarreled with Weeks about Elma, and was known to have spread damaging gossip about the young carpenter. After Weeks was arrested, Croucher published handbills asserting Weeks' guilt, with lurid stories about Sands' unavenged ghost haunting the area around the well. It was also said that Croucher had been seen around the well on the night Elma disappeared. Most damning of all is the fact that around the time Weeks stood trial, Croucher himself was brought before a criminal court. A 13-year-old named Margaret Miller charged him with rape. He was convicted of the offense and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Croucher was eventually pardoned. It was said that after committing a fraud in Virginia, he fled back to his native England, where he was eventually hanged "for a heinous crime" (likely, another sexual assault.)

In later years, Burr's biographer James Parton recorded what would go on to become the most famous story regarding the Sands case. It was said that during Weeks' trial, Burr suddenly used a candle to cast a diabolical-looking light on the face of Croucher. "Gentlemen!" Burr intoned dramatically, "behold the murderer!"

An excellent anecdote, but--like most excellent anecdotes--one that historians believe never took place. The judicial riddle was not to be wrapped up that neatly. From what we know of Croucher, he certainly sounded like a plausible candidate for a jealousy-fueled murderer, but, sadly, the strange death of Gulielma Sands is fated to remain a mystery.

[Note: The well where Sands' body was found still exists. It sits under an alley alongside a building on Greene Street. Unsurprisingly, it has the reputation of still being haunted by the ghost of one very unfortunate young woman.]

Friday, June 2, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Cat Apocalypse!

Theophile Steinlen, The Apotheosis of the Cats

What the hell is this SOS?

What the hell did Wellington think of Louis XVIII?  (Spoiler alert:  Not much.)

Watch out for those cursed internet sites!  Aside from the one you're currently reading, of course.

Watch out for Japanese Yokai!

Benbecula Bog Books.

Ireland's "Battle of Hastings."

A 19th century honeymoon ends very badly.

The Murderous Maids of France.

The Murderous Peddler of France.

The death and burial of Voltaire.

Confirmation of a bit of 19th century Japanese folklore.

Some real-life pirates of the Caribbean.

Sex, scandal, and leprosy.

A strange death on Fulham Bridge.

Charming letters written by a WWI soldier to his daughter.

Science is finally catching on to the idea that animals are pretty damn smart.  

Until I found this, I wasn't aware there were so many weird Titanic conspiracy theories.

How the color blue appears to be a modern invention.

An ancient tomb fit for a prince.

A real Robinson Crusoe.

Macaroni and cheese, Leo Tolstoy style.

Edith Wharton's "lost" play.

Some interesting research on the human mind.

18th century ballooning.

The many secrets of the Thames.

The many comebacks of Joan of Arc.

A 19th century female true crime writer.

A mysterious volcanic eruption.

The life of a bibliographer and WWI soldier.

King's Men and Bum-bailiffs.

Letters to the Bastille.

The Little People of the Arctic.

The strange suicide of a female atheist.

Our 40,000 year old love affair with bees.

Jupiter is one really weird place.

A human clarinet.

The Bowling Green Cat Massacres.

Honoring a really old tortoise.

This week in Russian Weird:  their healing pyramid needs a little...healing.

That's that for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll visit a landmark American murder trial.  In the meantime, here's Lowell George.  'Cause for me, this week's been nothing but trouble.