"...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, August 31, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by more of our lovely and talented Bookplate Cats!

Who the hell was Somerton Man?

Watch out for the Yowie!

Ancient Egyptians had an effective pregnancy test.

What the Well-Dressed Ghost is Wearing.

The Cowboy Cartographer.

Charles Dickens and the pickpocket.

Hazing the freshmen, 14th century style.

An Arctic explorer's Year of Living Carnivorously.

Queen Charlotte's unlucky-in-love sister.

Disraeli and the Deep State.

The suicide capital of America.

The Prince Albert memorial.

The last victim of the Spanish Inquisition.

If you have any coal lying around, keep an eye peeled for bats.

A champion grave-robber.  Everyone has to excel at something, I guess.

Astrology as political propaganda.

Pro tip: if a stretch of road is known as the "Highway of Death," find another route.

19th century tips for raising a British child in India.

The tradition of Jack-in-the-Green.

How an 18th century African boy became a German philosopher.

Say what you will about goats, but they're really damned smart.

A mysterious ancient board game.

An Alaskan "quiet adventure."

The last of the Auks.

If this is real (and as far as I can tell, it is)...Jesus freaking Christ in a sidecar.

19th century crossings of the Atlantic were, well, not fun.

A French "feral boy."

The return of the Hunger Stones.

A mysterious death and Wizard Richardson.

A musical maritime murder.

Unearthing a Chinese pyramid.

This will end well, I'm sure.

The cat as doctor AND burglar alarm.

Everyone who's surprised that something dubbed the "Murder Castle" is haunted, raise your hands.

Everyone who's surprised that something dubbed the "Witches' Prison" is haunted, raise your hands.

The Case of the Blinked Cows.

The many--too many?--dogs of New York City.

The sad case of Horatia Nelson.

Meet Fred the Mummy.

A perfectly preserved body of a now-extinct horse.

Evening gloves and etiquette.

The legendary beauty of the Circassians.

The pioneering Queen of Magic.

The adventures of John Muir and Stickeen.

A very sad footnote to WWII:  England's pet massacre.

The Great Chaise Match.

The murder on 30th Street.

Ah, the joys of San Francisco: astronomical cost of living, high crime, poop maps, and a good chance you'll go missing.

Eloping in the Georgian era.

And that's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a couple's unsolved disappearance.  In the meantime, as we're nearing the end of summer, I thought this song was appropriate.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

If you want to write a screenplay for a horror movie centered around a Boy Scout camping trip, this would be an excellent way to start. The (Camden, New Jersey) "Courier-Post," July 11, 1932:
A mysterious hermit, with long- flowing beard and a chilling cackle, led two Boy Scout leaders Saturday midnight to the body of a murdered man in a Delaware County, Pa., woods.

Then, as he showed them the remains, the hermit disappeared.

An all-night and all-day search of the vicinity has failed to locate him. The murdered man has not been identified.

The Scout leaders were Wilmer Brown, 31, scoutmaster of the Colwyn Troop, and Walter Hawks, his assistant. They were on their way to the Scout camp on Darby Creek, Delaware township.

When the two were at the edge of the woods, the hermit appeared. Flashlights of the Scouts picked out his weird countenance from among the heavy brush and trees. "Do you want to see something?" the hermit asked in his strange, cackling way.

"Yes," the two replied, although later admitting they were frightened for the moment. Then the hermit led them through thicket and underbrush, over little used by-paths and through parts of the woods where no paths at all appeared.

He came to a little clearing. Bending over, he parted the underbrush and said one word" "Look."

Brown and Hawks complied. They saw, with startled eyes, the form of a man. A gun lay close at hand. They advanced into the thicket to get a closer view. Then turning to question the hermit, they discovered he had silently vanished.

The Scouts ran to the Springfield township police headquarters. Sergeant Chandler was on duty. He called Coroner J. Evan Scheehle of Delaware County and a searching party set out.

It took them nearly two hours to again reach the spot where the body of the man lay. At first it was believed he was a suicide. But no bullet holes were found In his tattered clothing nor his decomposed body.

The body was taken to the county morgue and an autopsy performed. Then it was disclosed that the man had been beaten to death. Two shots had been fired from the gun near at hand, but neither entered the body of the man.

His clothing, though worn and tattered by exposure, told police the man had been well-to-do. Expensive dental work furnished a clue.

Police are checking with all dentists of the Philadelphia area in hopes of identifying the man. Meanwhile the hunt for the mysterious hermit with the white, flowing whiskers continues.
A pair of eyeglasses found with the body enabled authorities to tentatively identify the victim as one Zephonia Hopper. Police assumed he was waylaid and killed by robbers, who then hid his body in the woods. However, his murder appears to have remained unsolved. As far as I can tell, they never found that hermit, either.

The moral is clear: if a cackling hermit asks if you would like to view something in the woods, politely decline. You probably won't like what you see.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Poison at the Castle

"The Guardian," October 6, 1911, via Newspapers.com

England's Lancaster Castle is your typical brooding ancient fortress. Unlike most old castles, however, it does not carry any legends of curses or angry spirits.

Judging by what happened there in 1911, perhaps it should.

During that eerie year in the castle's history, it was occupied by the Bingham family. The clan's patriarch, 73-year-old widower William Bingham, had been the castle's caretaker and tour guide for some forty years. Most of his children also worked in various capacities around the estate. William's daughter, Annie, had been acting as housekeeper at the castle, but in November 1910, she died suddenly of what was ruled "hysteria and cerebral congestion."

William was a strong, healthy man, so it was surprising when on January 22, 1911, he suddenly came down with violent stomach pains and vomiting. He died the next day. Despite his lack of any previous health problems, his death was officially dismissed as being due to a combination of "intestinal catarrh," heart failure, and simple old age.

William's son James took over his father's job as castle custodian. In July, he invited his half-sister Margaret to live with him as housekeeper. Within days of her arrival at Lancaster, she too suddenly died. Despite the recent alarming propensity of the Binghams to unexpectedly drop dead, her death was also ruled as natural.

James was once again in need of household help, and the only available Bingham still above ground was his 29-year-old sister Edith. Unfortunately, Edith was a quarrelsome, dishonest, and generally unstable person who had been on bad terms with her family for some years. However, James, feeling he had no other choice, asked her to take Margaret's place.

He soon wished he had coughed up the money for a good domestic agency. Edith neglected her work in favor of nights on the town with her boyfriend, Charlie Emerson, and, on the rare occasions when she was at the castle, spent much of her time bickering with James. Edith wrote to her sister Nellie complaining about how she was forced to take "a back place" in the household, and hinting she might kill herself if the situation did not improve. By August, James had had enough. He hired a Mrs. Cox Walker to manage his household, and informed his sister that her free room and board at the castle was coming to an end.

On August 12--just two days before Mrs. Walker was to move into the castle and Edith was to move out--James fell ill, with the same sudden and agonizing symptoms suffered by his father. And, tragically, they led to the same result. James Bingham died on August 15.

It finally began to dawn on people that Lancaster Castle was compiling a quite unusual body count. James' doctor, J.W. McIntosh, had a hunch his patient died of arsenic poisoning--a diagnosis that was confirmed by the post-mortem examination.

The inquest revealed that just before he became ill, James had eaten a steak cooked for him by Edith. Although Edith usually took meals with her brother, on this occasion James ate alone. Cans of weed-killer containing high levels of arsenic were found hidden near the entrance to the castle. The suspicion grew that Edith, seeking revenge for her imminent eviction from the castle, poisoned her brother. When the bodies of the three other dead Binghams were exhumed, it was discovered that William and Margaret had also succumbed from arsenic poisoning. Only Annie appeared to have died a natural death. It was looking as if Edith had been systematically wiping out most of her family. Chief among her accusers was her sole surviving brother, William. Edith was arrested on August 30. It was considered ominously significant that when she was taken into custody, she blurted out that she never went near the weed-killer.

No one had mentioned to her that the pesticide was the suspected murder weapon.

The cook is always the logical suspect when diners begin dropping like flies, but other than Edith's long-term difficulties with her family, the case against her proved to be astonishingly weak. A charwoman who had been in the kitchen when Edith cooked James' steak testified that she had not seen anything unusual. Edith did not profit financially from the demise of her relatives--indeed, the deaths of her father and brother only insured that she would lose her home at Lancaster Castle. As Margaret Bingham had eaten the same food as the rest of the family just before she was taken ill, it was hard to explain how Edith could have poisoned her. Edith's father had not eaten anything prepared by the defendant before his fatal collapse. Numerous witnesses attested to Edith's apparently genuine shock and grief at the loss of her relatives. In short, while the three Binghams died from arsenic poisoning, there was no hard evidence to say how this had happened. During the trial, Edith had several fits of hysteria and nervous collapse, necessitating her removal from the courtroom.

The judge's summing-up was heavily in the defendant's favor, and the jury agreed. After a brief deliberation, they had little trouble in delivering an acquittal. There was, however, no happy ending for Edith Bingham. In 1914 her grandparents placed her in a mental asylum, where she remained until her death in 1945. Despite many promptings, Edith never spoke about the poisonings, leaving the deaths of William, Margaret, and James Bingham a mystery that will almost certainly go forever unsolved.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by a celebrity:  Tix, the celebrated angora cat of Green's Hotel!

Where the hell is Genghis Khan buried?

What the hell did Jane Austen look like?

Watch out for those demon houses!

The first photograph containing a human being, then and now.

Some cautionary tales about murdering people by putting nails in their skulls.

Jackie Gleason: "To the aliens, Alice!"

Opium and the Sumerians: fact and fiction.

The legend of Guinevere.

Angels are not always welcome.

One of the more horrifying poltergeist cases.

The French female Jekyll and Hyde.

Did Francis Drake bring slaves to North America?

Little Angry Women.  (Incidentally, I recently re-read the "Little Women" trilogy for the first time since I was a teen.  I was struck by how increasingly depressing they are.  "Jo's Boys" is enough to give Thomas Hardy the glooms.)

The legend of the Witch of Warrington.

Words of advice from 19th century letters.

Vegetables as surgical tools.

More reasons why Wikipedia is the most demented site on the internet.

Celebrate World Mosquito Day!  *Slaps arm*

The rumored hidden treasure in Los Angeles.

This week in Russian Weird: Beach Blanket Bizarre.  And guess where Syria is now located.

A mysterious murder in Waldron Woods.

America's first elephant.

How Biddy Mason went from slave to real estate tycoon.

The latest about that newly-discovered Egyptian sarcophagus.

Reindeer reincarnation in Norway.

The murder of a Pope.

The hottest gossip from the 17th century.

Someone nicknamed "the Mad" comes to a bad end.  Surprise, surprise.

Sigmund Freud vs. Woodrow Wilson.

If you want to make your own authentic Egyptian mummy--and who does not?--here's the secret.

A 13th century criminal appeal.

A forgotten Founding Mother.

Charles Godfrey Leland hits the road.

That's all for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at that ever-popular topic, poison mysteries. In the meantime, let's go to a Ranch Party!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Clipping of the Day

"The Nightmare," Henry Fuseli

This strange and extremely creepy narrative was included in Edmund Gurney's "Phantasms of the Living" (1886.)  It gives a sinister twist to that old saying about "meeting the man of your dreams."
From Miss L.A.W., whose only reason for withholding her name from publication is that she is sure that her family would object to its appearance.

She begins by saying that when she was 19 or 20, she had a spell of indifferent health, caused, it was thought, by over-study. During this time, from March in one year till June in the next, she was much troubled at intervals by singular dreams, which she recorded in a note-book, and also described to one of her sisters. The main feature in these dreams was the appearance of a particular person. "I was not in love, nor indeed had I been; and certainly no feeling but that of a mysterious repugnance (and at the same time an inability to avoid or escape from the influence of the person of whom I dreamt) actuated me. He was someone I had never in all my life wittingly seen, though I had reason to think afterwards that he had seen me at a Birmingham musical festival. On that occasion I had apparently fainted, and it was attributed to the heat and the excitement of the music. I hardly knew if it were or not. I only knew I felt all my pulses stop, and a burning and singing in my head, and that I was perfectly conscious of those around me, but unable to speak and tell them so. To return to my dreams. I always knew as I slept when the influence was coming over me, and often in my dream I commenced it by thinking, 'Here it is, or here he comes again.' They were not always disagreeable dreams in themselves, but the fascination was always dreadful to me, and a kind of struggle between two natures within me seemed to drag my powers of mind and body two ways. I used to awake as cold as a stone in the hottest nights, my head having the queer feeling of a hot iron pressing somewhere in its inside. I would shiver and my teeth chatter with a terror which seemed unreasonable, for there was, even in the subjects of my dreams, seldom anything wicked or terrifying."

The dreams ceased after a course of medical treatment. In the next year but one Miss W. was visiting in Liverpool. "I had enjoyed two or three good dances, and was sitting out one, by the lady of the house, when not suddenly, but by degrees, I felt myself turning cold and stony, and the peculiar burning in my head. If I could have spoken I would have said, 'My dreams! my dreams!' but I only shivered, which attracted the notice of my companion, who exclaimed, 'You are ill, my dear. Come for some wine, or hot coffee.' I rose, knowing what I was going to see, and as I turned, I looked straight into the eyes of the facsimile of the being who had been present to my sleeping thoughts for so long, and the next moment he stepped forward from the pillar against which he was leaning behind the lace curtain, and shook hands with my companion. He accompanied us to the refreshment room, attended to my wants, and was introduced to me. I declined dancing, but could not avoid conversation. His first remark was, 'We are not strangers to each other. Where have we met?' I fear I shall scarcely be believed when I say, that (setting my teeth, and nerving myself to meet what I felt would conquer me, if I once submitted in even the slightest degree) I answered that I never remembered meeting him before, and to all his questionings returned the most reserved answers. He seemed much annoyed and puzzled, but on that occasion did not mention dreams.

"I took an opportunity of asking my sister if she remembered my description of the man of my dreams, and upon her answering 'Yes,' asked her to look round the rooms and see if any one there resembled him, and half-an-hour later she came up, saying, 'There is the man, he has even the mole on the left side of his mouth.'"

Miss W. subsequently met this gentleman at almost every party she went to. "He was sometimes so gloomy and fierce at my determined avoidance of any but the most ordinary conversation, that I felt quite a terror of meeting him. He frequently asked if I believed in dreams; if I could relate any to him; if I had never seen him before; and would say, after my persistent avoidance of the subject, 'I can do nothing, so long as you will not trust me.'"

Miss W. says that she has several pages, in her note-book, of entries of dreams in which she seemed to be accompanying her visitor in a flight through the world. "When conversing with him in the flesh, he asked me if I had 'ever travelled.' I said 'No.' He showed surprise, and began to dilate on the wonders of such and such a place or scene, all of which I felt sure I had seen with him, and entered in my note-book. It was deeply interesting, and I was totally absorbed in his recitals, time after time, when he abruptly stopped, saying, 'But have you never had scenes such as these before you?' and I replied, 'Yes, in my dreams I have.' Such, or similar remarks, I know I have noted down, and his eagerness to make me admit similar experiences was at times almost fierce. I had a great longing at times to tell him everything, but an innate sense that by so doing I should be as completely his slave and tool as I had been in dreams, always stopped me."

The effort of these conversations was so exhausting to Miss W. that she wrote home to get herself recalled, a fact which her strange acquaintance seems to have intuitively divined, and for which he bitterly reproached her. She has never seen him since. She says, in answer to inquiries: "You are right in your conjecture that he inferred [? implied] he had seen me in dreams. He often talked as if he were perfectly aware that I knew it, but that I would not go beyond a certain limit in admitting anything." She adds that her sister remembers all the circumstances the dreams, their frequency, and the correct description of the man subsequently met; but we have not been able to procure the sister's written confirmation. Miss W. says that she cannot spare the time to make extracts from her diary for publication.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Ghosts of Chateau des Noyers

Via Wikipedia

Considering Normandy's very long and colorful history, you figure it would take a lot for a residence to get the reputation as its "most haunted chateau," but judging by what one family said it experienced for two straight years, the title may be justified.

Ch√Ęteau des Noyers was located in the Calvados village of Le Tourneur. It was built in 1835, largely from the stones of an earlier medieval castle. The site had long had a reputation for anomalous activity--a spectral woman in white here, a werewolf there--but no solid evidence of High Strangeness was recorded until a couple by the name of de Manville inherited the chateau in 1867. The de Manvilles brought with them their son Maurice, the boy's tutor, a gardener, a cook, and a maid.

Soon after they moved in, they noticed a few odd disturbances--strange noises in the night, doors slamming for no reason, objects inexplicably being moved--but those soon ceased. Life at the chateau was quiet until October of 1875, when the family found themselves plunged into an eerie and terrifying experience, one which, luckily for ghost researchers, was minutely chronicled by M. de Manville in his diary.

On October 13, Maurice's tutor (identified only as "Abbe Y.,") informed de Manville that his armchair had been mysteriously moved. They attached gummed paper to the foot of the chair, fixing it to the floor. That night, the Abbe heard a series of light raps in his room. He also noticed a noise that was "of the winding of a big clock." A candlestick on his mantelpiece began moving on its own. He then heard the armchair being dragged across the floor. It was moved over three feet from where it had been placed.

Over the next few nights, the household continued to hear violent blows throughout the castle, as well as the sound of furniture being moved. The Abbe and the maid, Amelina, swore they heard M. and Mme. de Manville's footsteps, and recognized the sounds of their voices...when the couple was in reality asleep in their bed. When the parish priest spent the night, he heard a heavy tread slowly descending the stairs, followed by a single heavy blow. "He has no doubt this is supernatural."

The unnerving sounds then took a break until the night of October 30, when the household was awakened by a series of loud blows. The next night--Halloween, appropriately enough--the spectral commotion intensified. There was a sound "as if someone went up the stairs with superhuman speed from the ground floor, stamping his feet. Arriving on the landing, he gave five heavy blows, so strong that objects suspended on the wall rattled in their places. Then it seemed as if a heavy anvil or a big log had been thrown on to the wall, so as to shake the house." Everyone present made a minute inspection of the castle, but found nothing. The strange noises continued, keeping everyone awake until three in the morning.

On the night of November 3, the household heard more of the heavy spectral steps ascending the stairs, accompanied by the usual series of crashing blows, heavy enough to shake the walls. They were followed by "the noise of a heavy elastic body" rolling down the stairs and bouncing from step to step. Then came two loud thumps, and a noise like a hammer blow on the door of the "green room." And then scuffling sounds like the steps of animals.

Virtually every night, the household was treated to a cacophony of blows, raps, and invisible footsteps. On November 10, there was "something like a cry, or a long-drawn trumpet call." This was followed by long shrieks, as of a woman screaming for help. These ghostly sobs and cries continued over the next few nights.

On November 13, for the first time the now-familiar sound of blows was heard during the day, and furniture was mysteriously moved in several rooms. Windows opened and closed before their very eyes. That night, there were new cries. Instead of the sounds of a weeping woman, they heard "shrill, furious, despairing cries, the cries 'of demons or the damned.'"

It was noted that the bulk of the eerie phenomena centered around the room of the Abbe. Although he always carefully locked his room whenever he left it, he would invariably return to find his furniture and personal possessions in a state of disarray. On and on it went. De Manville's diary is an unvarying chronicle of loud blows, angry knocks, stamping footsteps, animal-like noises, disappearing objects, and rooms ransacked by invisible hands. Members of the household began noticing that the raps seemed to "follow" them as they walked through the house.

On January 15, 1876, a Canon, described only as "The Rev. Fr. H.L.," performed a religious ceremony in an effort to drive away the dark forces bedeviling the family. Immediately following his departure, there was "a new set of phenomena as intense and serious as those which preceded his coming." That night, there was the sound of a body falling in the first-floor passage, followed by that of a rolling ball giving violent blows on the doors, accompanied by the now-familiar knocks and earth-shaking blows. The oddest occurrence to date took place on January 25, as the Abbe sat in his room reading his breviary. Although it had been a beautiful cloudless day, a stream of water suddenly fell through the chimney on to the fire, putting it out and scattering ashes throughout the room.

Out of sheer desperation, at the end of January the de Manvilles brought in a priest to perform an exorcism, and placed holy medals on all the doors. At first, this seemed to quiet these unusually rowdy spirits, and the family allowed themselves to believe the ordeal was over. Unfortunately, by August 1876 the raps, knocks, cries, etc., started up again, as noisily and eerily as ever. The medals mysteriously vanished. Several days later, as Madame de Manville was writing at her desk, the missing medals came out of nowhere and fell onto her papers. One day, de Manville played his harmonium. When he had finished, he heard the tunes he had been playing repeated in the opposite corner of the room. The spirits evidently enjoyed their musical interlude, as for several days afterward, the family heard the sound of organ music. The Abbe reported seeing a heavy cupboard in his room rise some 20 inches from the ground, where it stayed suspended for some time.

The de Manvilles finally conceded defeat, and sold the chateau for a rock-bottom price. The new owners did not report anything unusual. The now-infamous castle stood quietly until it was destroyed by a mysterious fire in 1984.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

It occurs to me that this eatery's sign would also fit very well for Strange Company HQ.

Who the hell murdered Joe the Quilter?

Who the hell was "Mary Anderson?"

When the hell did the largest volcanic explosion in human history take place?

Watch out for the carpenter of doom!

Watch out for those cursed cheeses!

One of the 19th century's most famous murders.

That time Leonard Bernstein disowned his own performance.

What's believed to be the world's oldest map.

The gruesome mystery of the Woman in the Vineyard.

The trouble with swimming naked is that you might have to stay naked.

I already do this for free, and I have to pay a mortgage, to boot. And God knows I've never gotten enough solitude for my liking.  Sign me up.

The surprising number of people who survived the gallows.

And then there are those who are executed after they're already dead.

The latest theory about Easter Island.

An oozing "miracle house."  Or maybe it has a really bad mildew problem.  Lysol, guys. Just sayin'.

Look, if you decide to call a place "Helltown," don't come crying to me when things get weird.

Hong Kong was shaped by feng shui.

The house of 100 cats.  (No, not Strange Company HQ, although we come close.)

The scientific debate over dinosaur extinction looks like a particularly nasty Twitter war.  (This is a long article, but quite fascinating.)

So, a guy did a study analyzing which world cities have the most perfect temperatures.  Ironically, most of them are cities you'd want to avoid for a whole lot of other reasons.

The unexpected hazards of being a seamstress.

A sideways grave for a sideways dog.

An orchestra of prisoners.

Demonic possession in South Africa.

Radioactive sheep in Australia.

18th century wet nurses.

Hanging is too good for some people.

19th century Indian pension lists.

How tofu was brought to America.

The evolution of the waltz.

The Iranian Saltmen.

Does Egypt have a second Sphinx?

The UK's last public hanging.

William Blake has gotten a new tombstone.

Not a good planet to visit if you dislike the heat.

The importance of mythology in ancient Egypt.

The search for the "Endeavour."

Summoned by the dead.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a well-documented French haunting.  In the meantime, here are the Collins Kids.  I never heard of them until recently, when I discovered the duo during one of my explorations of the wilds of YouTube.  I love these two.  Damn, but Larry rocks.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

Some homes get a reputation for being, if not haunted, at least extremely unlucky for anyone who has the misfortune to live under their roofs. This account of one particularly cursed residence appeared in the "Pittsburgh Press" for December 19, 1892:
The old Durlan mansion at Hempstead, which is supposed to be a genuine hoodoo, has evidently lost its powers. It was believed to work harm on all who lived in it any length of time. Three heads of families which occupied it committed suicide. In one of the cases a coroner's jury placed the blame for the man's act on the house. The ghost of another of the victims was still said to haunt the place. On fine moonlight nights, it was alleged, the shade of the departed could be seen eating watermelons, a fruit he was passionately fond of in life. However true this may be, I.N. Carmen, who now occupies the house, says he has not seen the ghost.

The house was built in 1844 by Canan Durlan. It is a typical country mansion, with wide and cheery rooms. It was built of hewn oak and is very solid. Recently the present owner, while seeking to break a doorway through the wall, was compelled to employ three men to chop with axes two days before an opening could be made. The house stands on Front street, two blocks from Hempstead's busiest thoroughfare.

The old Huntington railroad, now defunct, was directly in the rear of the house. One day two trains came together with a crash. When the debris was cleared there were not enough people left to run the train. As soon as the framework was in position a carpenter tumbled from one of the beams and broke his neck. Durlan and his wife Margaret lived in the house exactly three months, when they died suddenly within a few days of each other. The house was willed to their only son, Valentine. The young man, who was a stonemason, took up his residence there. He had scarcely been in the house six months when he became morbid and looked upon everybody with suspicion. His ruling passion was avarice. He had a taste for watermelons in winter. He cultivated the fruit in hot-houses. The cellar was filled with fine wines and liquors.

One day in September, 1884, Valentine had a quarrel with a tenant. He worried over the trouble, became ill, and went to the rear of the place and drowned himself. He stuck his head in a pool of water two feet deep. The house was not through with him. Durlan's relatives believed he had money, as be lived in a miserly way. A search was made. Bricked up in the chimney was found $4,871 in bank notes and coin. Bank-books also were there, representing deposits amounting to $4,000. This, with real estate, brought the wealth of the dead miser up to $20,000.

With this wealth in view, relatives sprang forth from every direction, each claiming a portion of the estate. The case reached the courts, and when the lawyers were through with it only $1.54 remained for each heir. Next a rumor prevailed that Durlan's ghost haunted the place. Crowds gathered every night. Several reputable citizens say they saw it in the back yard eating watermelon. They describe it as wearing a long, flowing gown, the face being adorned with gray chin whiskers.

Alfred Weeks, undeterred by the black record, came from Brooklyn, where he was a prosperous truckman. He brought a wife and six children. He occupied the old house. Soon misfortune overtook him. His business dropped, his wife and children grew sick. Weeks became despondent, and In September, 1887, he went to the back yard, looked into the muzzle of a shotgun and pulled the trigger with his toe. The top of his head was blown off. This was the time the jury censured the house, with this verdict:

We find the deceased died of heart failure from hemorrhage and shock of gunshot wound received by the accidental discharge of a shotgun and the evil affects of the Durlan house.

The Weeks family still continued to reside in the house. Three weeks after the father's funeral Sadie, the eldest daughter, fell downstairs and broke her arm. A week later the youngest child died of diphtheria. Then Mrs. Weeks moved away.

John Griscom was the next inhabitant. Like others, he met death by his own hand. Griscom was an inventor. He was rich when he started in. He invented an incubator and squandered $50,000 to make it hatch, which it persistently refused to do. In March, 1890, be went to his office in New York city, attached a tube to a gas jet, put the other end in his mouth and lay down and died.

After the Griscoms moved away the mansion remained vacant a long time. The yard was overrun with weeds. Recently Mr. Carmen bought the place for a mere song. The house was repaired, and to show his contempt for the ghost, Mr. Carmen brought bis wife and two daughters in. Mr. Carmen has not felt the effects of the hoodoo. His business is prosperous. Mr. Carmen, laughingly, said: "I'm not afraid of the hoodoo. I have never seen Old Durlan's ghost and I am convinced there is no more of the miser's treasure in the house. My family are well and we are doing nicely. I am an old sailor and knew all about hoodoos. If I were in a ship I might believe it, but in a house, never. They can't hoodoo anything on dry land."
If you know anything about ghosts and hoodoos, you're probably thinking that Mr. Carmen was positively asking for it And you would be correct.

The sequel to our little tale appeared in the "Fort Wayne Sentinel," January 4, 1893. After relating the Durlan House's unfortunate history, the paper reported, "Two weeks ago Mr. Carmen and his little family were seated around the evening table, discussing the advisability of making some repairs on the second floor. They proposed to cut away the pine partitions and replace them with hardwood to match the first floor. Just as the proposition was made a fierce gust of wind seemed to pass through the room where they were. This was followed by a terrific volley of furniture which seemed to be thrown from one end of the upper rooms to the other. It did not subside for fifteen minutes. Then Carmen and his wife ventured above to see what was the cause of it all. Everything was found in its usual place and not a sign of the racket remained. The couple descended with whitened faces and that night took up lodgings at a neighboring hotel. The house is again for sale. It will in all probability remain on the market."

via Newspapers.com

I couldn't find any later information about the house.  I'm wagering the spooks did wind up owning it.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Rickety Dan and Crazy Jack: A Problem of Identity

via Newspapers.com

Like all conflicts, the chaos of the American Civil War left a number of unsolved mysteries in its wake. Few, however, were as peculiar as one confusing case of unknown identity. Today, DNA testing would have quickly resolved the issue, but at the time, it was fated to remain an unanswerable question.

William Newby, the man at the center of the puzzle, was born in Tennessee around 1825, but his family moved to Illinois when he was a small child. Newby's life was totally unremarkable until 1861, when he enlisted in the Union Army.

The secondary star of our show was an unfortunate Tennessean named Daniel Benton. Soon after his birth in 1845, he developed rickets. The disease so affected his legs that he was unable to walk without wobbling, which earned him the nickname of "Rickety Dan." As an adult, he was unable to hold down a normal job. He became a vagrant, traveling from town to town until he was sent to prison for stealing horses, where he remained until he managed to escape custody.

In 1862, Newby was shot in the head at the battle of Shiloh. Although he survived the initial injury, he was obviously gravely, even possibly mortally wounded. His comrades were forced to leave him on the field. Two days later, burial details arrived on the scene. There were conflicting reports about whether or not Newby's body was found and buried, but in any case he was listed as having been killed in action. Nothing more was heard from him until 1891, when memories of Newby were revived in the most startling fashion: a man turned up in his old Illinois hometown, claiming to be none other than the "long-dead" soldier. According to Newby--or was it "Newby?"--after Shiloh, he was captured by the enemy and sent to the infamous Andersonville prison, where he remained for the rest of the war. At Andersonville, he endured terrible privations and witnessed even more horrific sufferings, such as when a fellow captive amputated his own gangrened legs. Newby's head wound caused such a severe loss of memory that he did not even know his own name. At Andersonville, he was known only as "Crazy Jack."

After the war ended, the amnesiac, broken in both body and mind, spent years wandering aimlessly through the South. He eventually wound up in Illinois, where he was recognized by Newby's brother. This relation brought him back to his old home, where Newby's surviving family members--including Newby's mother, wife, sister, and children--instantly accepted him as William.

A happy ending? On this blog? Oh, come now. In 1893, the newly-resurrected Newby ran into trouble when he applied for his army pension, as well as back pay--a sum which, all those years later, amounted to some $20,000 (around $500,000 in 2018 dollars.) The federal government declined his petition, on the grounds that he was not "William Newby" at all! Rather, the feds asserted that he was Daniel "Rickety Dan" Benton. Newby/Benton found himself facing charges of attempted fraud.

The key issue at his trial, of course, was the question of the defendant's identity. This proved to be harder to establish than either side bargained for. Two former Union soldiers testified that after Shiloh, they had given Newby's body a battlefield burial. On the other hand, several other veterans swore that Newby was Andersonville's "Crazy Jack." Other witnesses stated that when Newby was roaming through Tennessee, he was often mistaken for Daniel Benton. On one occasion, he was even arrested as Benton and taken to the prison from which Rickety Dan had escaped. Newby--or whoever he was--remained in custody until 1889. He told the court that after his release, he made his way to a poorhouse in Mount Vernon, Illinois. He made the acquaintance of William Newby's brother, who immediately recognized the amnesiac as his long-lost sibling. Talking to the brother about their shared past helped William to regain old memories of his true identity.

In the end, thirty witnesses claimed that the defendant was Daniel Benton. However, one hundred and forty people swore that he was William Newby. In addition, doctors testified that the man on trial had never had rickets. Unfortunately for "Newby," this seemingly compelling evidence in his favor failed to impress the jury. After deliberating for only 20 minutes, they ruled that this American Tichborne was "Daniel Benton," and found him guilty of attempting to defraud the government. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

"St. Louis Post-Dispatch," July 23, 1893 via Newspapers.com

Virtually everyone agreed that this was a highly unsatisfactory resolution to the riddle. As the "Otago Daily Times" sighed, "There is a strong possibility that he is Daniel Benton; there is a possibility equally as strong that he is William Newby."

The claimant made an unsuccessful request for a new trial. After he served his sentence, Newby/Benton returned to his vagrant ways, a man without either a home or an official identity. He died in Alabama in 1905, and was buried in the local potter's field.

Modern researchers generally believe that the claimant was indeed William Newby, the victim of a blatant miscarriage of justice. Illinois historian Paul Stallings, who studied this strange case for many years, believes the government's pension board, reluctant to pay out such a huge sum of back pay and veterans' benefits, chose to deliberately railroad an innocent man by means of bribed witnesses, a biased judge, and a rigged jury.

Was Stallings correct? Unfortunately, there is no way we will ever know for sure.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by this friend of Marie Prevost.

If you're familiar with the Nick Lowe song, you'll know why the sight of Marie with a household pet makes me a little uneasy.

Who the hell were the skeletons of Grape Island?

Why the hell does the Devil play the fiddle?

Watch out for those Dublin donkeys!

Watch out for those ghost cats!

A brief history of England's witchcraft laws.

A brief history of Ireland's witchcraft laws.

A brief history of posthumous executions.

An influential early 20th century magician.

An appropriately Kafkaesque legal trial.

A Leonardo da Vinci painting sold for $450 million last year.  Well, maybe it was a Leonardo painting.

Could be somethin', will probably end up being nothin': France is reopening the MH370 investigation.

Well, this is creepy.

Some children of famous explorers.

New details about Rasputin's murder.

"Jaws" and an unsolved murder.

Early 20th century cat aristocrats.

A case of murder by medicine.

Have eye problems?  Just consult your cat's tail!

Swan folklore.

The execution of a German witch.

The execution of Purry Moll.

Being murdered is bad enough.  When the Devil is the culprit, you really know you're in for it.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris: do not leap over broomsticks.  Milk churns are to be avoided, as well.

The Super-Silky Sargasso Sea.

The last of the WAMPAS Baby Stars.

Fights and slander at the theater, 1924.

The destruction of the "Empire Windrush."

How Eliza Lewis came back from the dead.

The Croglin Grange vampire: fact or fiction?

Some mysterious ancient artifacts.

A famed "bearded lady."

A very smelly haunting.

A gruesome Pennsylvania mystery.

The librarian detectives.

A mysterious 19th century time capsule.

A dog is arrested for theft.

A curious "near-death experience."

A house owned by Napoleon.

A mystery surrounding a stolen painting.

And, finally, on a somewhat different note:

"Baltimore Sun," September 26, 1925, via Newspapers.com

A while ago I shared the above article on Twitter. I could scarcely believe such a gang really existed, but sure enough they did, and they were just as colorful--and menacing--as this news item suggested.

One thing led to another--as they so often do online--and I wound up receiving an advance copy (to be specific, a complimentary copy--full disclosure, and all that) of an upcoming novel based on the "Forty Elephants."

Anna Freeman's "Five Days of Fog" is set during London's "Great Smog" of 1952. It centers around a teenager named Florrie Palmer, who is a member of a fearsome gang of female criminals dubbed "The Cutters." Florrie faces a dilemma: part of her wishes to leave the gang and "go straight," but on the other hand, London's underworld is the only life she knows, and the Cutters are the closest thing to family she has.  After all, the leader of the gang is her mother.

In short, Florrie fears she's too good to be bad, but too bad to be good.  What's a girl to do?

"Five Days of Fog" is a grim, but ultimately hopeful novel. It's quite well-written, and presents an entirely believable look at the seedy milieu of post-war Britain. I found the story both realistic and immensely entertaining. If you have any interest in the darker side of 1950s London, this novel is highly recommended. Besides, it's hard to resist any book that features the tagline, "My mum always said, a fistful of rings is as good as a knuckleduster."

Well, that's all for this week.  See you all on Monday, when we'll look at a case of disputed identity.  In the meantime, here's another of the songs of summer.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Newspaper Clipping(s) of the Day

Many people go through a lifetime without ever getting their names in the newspapers. Others, in one way or another, provide unceasing copy for journalists.

And then there is Charles Albin of Eastport, Long Island. Some are born Newspaper Clipping of the Day great, some achieve such greatness, and others, like Charles, have greatness thrust upon them. Truly, here was a man who personified the Strange Company Lifestyle.

The first mention I've found of Mr. Albin in the public prints appears in the "Brooklyn Eagle," August 10, 1897:
Speonk, L.I., August 10--When Charles and Henry Tuttle. residents of this village, were returning home in their sail boat from the beach Sunday night they found four young men clinging to the bottom of a capsized boat. They were Collins Jayne, William Jenkins, Jesse and Charles Albin, all of Eastport, and had been caught in a squall and upset out in the middle of the bay. All of the party were drawn into Tuttle's boat in an exhausted condition and brought to shore, where they soon recovered.

You would think that would be enough excitement for one month, but our hero was just getting warmed up. From the August 22 "Eagle":
Eastport, L.I., August 21--While attempting to ride his wheel along a narrow rail projecting out over the Great South Bay, near this place, yesterday, Charles Albin, a young man of this village, fell into the water, his wheel falling upon him. In the attempt to keep his wheel above water he was caught in the frame, from which position he found it impossible to get free. Realizing his danger of drowning, he shouted lustily for help. His cries attracted the notice of some fishermen down by the shore, who immediately ran to his rescue and drew him, his wheel still fastened to his limbs, out of the water.

Bicycles and Albin were obviously magic together. Here is an item from the "Eagle" just three days later.
Eastport, L.I., August 25--A serious bicycle accident occurred here last night by which William Jenkins and Charles Albin, two young men residing in this village, sustained serious injuries. They were returning home on a tandem and were pedaling at a high rate of speed when they collided with a wheelman whom, owing to the late moment at which discovered, and the narrowness of the path, it was impossible to avoid a collision, which resulted. The riders of the tandem were thrown violently to the ground stunned. The bicycle rider was also hurt but succeeded in riding away and concealing his identity. The tandem was so badly wrecked that after Albin and Jenkins were sufficiently recovered from the shock of the accident to allow them to rise, they were obliged to return home on foot.

After this incident, Albin managed to avoid any recorded exploits for a while. Perhaps he was lying low, burning incense and sending up prayers to the gods to remove the curse that had descended upon the good name of Albin. If so, he was sadly disappointed. The "Eagle," July 9, 1898:
Eastport, L.I.. July 9--A horse belonging to Wiggins' livery stable at Center Moriches while being driven by Charles Albin opposite the station here yesterday, became frightened at a passing train and ran away. Albin made a frantic effort to restrain the animal which, however, proved fruitless. The horse broke through a barbed wire fence at the side of the road before it was finally under control. Albin escaped serious injury.

But wait! I have saved the best of Mr. Albin's adventures for last! He has my undying gratitude for inadvertently providing one of my favorite vintage headlines ever:

"Boston Globe,"  Apr 10, 1898

Long Island's crop of spring stories is making its appearance. These alluring tales come with the early flowers and are as full of local color as a whitewashed fence. East Moriches starts the ball rolling with a wild animal story. (N.B. The adjective "wild" in the preceding sentence qualifies animal and not story.)

A muskrat is the hero of it, and Charles Albin the party of the second part. Mr. Albin. whose age, color, and previous condition are not stated, was riding a bicycle between East Moriches and Eastport on Friday evening, when he observed a beast of unknown species loping toward him. Unfortunately the dimensions of the animal are omitted from the reports sent out.

As it drew nearer Mr. Albin recognized it as a muskrat, and, knowing the cruel and ferocious nature of these formidable beasts, put on an extra burst of speed. In vain! The muskrat leaped upon him, bore him to the ground, and. endeavored to chew him to rags.

The unfortunate wheelman fought hard for his life, but was handicapped by the antics of his agile opponent, which darted beneath the fallen bicycle every time he kicked at it. Finally, when his clothes bad been torn to shreds and there were deep wounds on his arms and body, Mr. Albin succeeded in landing a pedal uppercut which lifted the bloodthirsty rodent over an adjoining fence into the dark realm of death. When the wounded bicyclist returned to East Moriches be looked just like a person who had coasted down a long hill with abandon, only to be received in the arms of a barbed wire fence. Had it not been for the story of the adventure with the muskrat many would have believed that this was what had happened.

His wounds were dressed and he trundled his wheel to a repair shop, the muskrat having punctured his tire and bitten three spokes in two. This year these water rodents are said to be unusually plentiful along the Long Island streams, and Long Island story tellers are afraid to go out at night without guns for fear of being attacked by them.

Even after the Great Muskrat Horror, Fate was not through yet with Charles Albin.  The "New York Tribune," December 28, 1904:
Eastport, Long Island, Dec. 27--To the interference of a heavy canvas hunting coat which he wore, Charles Albin probably owes his escape from death while hunting ducks over decoys on the river here yesterday. Another sportsman, mistaking the decoys for wild ducks, discharged his gun among them, the whole charge striking Albin, who was concealed in the grass on the opposite side, in the breast. At first Albin feared he was seriously injured, but on removing his coat it was discovered that the charge had scarcely penetrated the resisting canvas.

There is no other way to put it: the entire animal kingdom was out to get this guy. He inspired another classic headline in the "Brooklyn Eagle," February 15, 1908:

East Moriches, L.I., February 15--Charles Albin of the Moriches Life Saving Station, was attacked by a big bird while on patrol in the fog and mist of the early week, and quite severely bitten and bruised on the legs.

Albin succeeded in killing the bird, which proved to be a loon or Great Northern Diver. He says the night was very dark, and as he was walking above hlghwater mark he heard a peculiar noise nearer the edge of the water, and thinking it might be a man washed ashore, started to investigate.

He was grabbed by the bird's bill and thumped by its wings before he had time to see what manner of creature had attacked him. He had no walking stick and could only defend himself by kicking in tho dark, but won the fight and carried his assailant, dead, to the station.

One of the patrolmen is an amateur taxidermist, and the bird is now set up and on exhibition at the station.

Incidentally, I trust you are all appreciating the irony of Albin working as a rescuer.

After bicycle wrecks, near-drownings, runaway horses, muskrat attacks, killer loons, and being mistaken for wild game, I had assumed this walking hoodoo came to a premature and gruesome end, but by God, the man was even tougher than our old friend Michael Malloy.  Albin died peacefully in 1931, at the respectable age of 69.

I hope you are resting in peace, Mr. Albin. God knows, you earned it.

[Note: All stories via Newspapers.com]

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Baker: Baked?

With some disappearances, it is a complete mystery whether it is a case of foul play, suicide, or a simple desire to start a new life. With others, you can make a fairly educated guess what happened, but lacking a body, it is impossible to have any definitive resolution. This week, we will be looking at a notorious example of the latter, centering around a baker who rejoiced in the impressive name of Urban Napoleon Stanger.

Stanger was born in Germany circa 1843. Some time around 1870, he and his wife Elizabeth emigrated to London, where he started a bakery in the East End. Stanger was frugal, hard-working, and a dab hand with the breads and pies, to boot, so his little business was an almost instant success. The stolid, mild-mannered baker may not have been the most interesting of men, but he was a prosperous and worthy citizen.

Elizabeth Stanger was another matter. Mrs. Stanger was a flashy, indolent sort who spent money as assiduously as her husband earned it. She was also a quarrelsome, demanding woman who henpecked her meek spouse unmercifully--particularly when, as so often happened, she had had a bit too much to drink. She was even known to attack her husband with his own loaves of bread. The Stangers may not have been the ideal couple, but for some years they were a quite ordinary one.

This changed when Franz Felix Stumm entered the picture. He too was a native German who had opened his own bakery. However, his business was not nearly as successful, and he was deeply in debt. Fortunately for him, Stanger was willing to offer a helping hand to his fellow countryman, and often hired Stumm to work around his bakery. Although Stumm was married, he and Elizabeth Stanger also became friends--according to scandalized neighborhood gossip, very, very good friends indeed. Urban, preoccupied as always with business affairs, was either unaware of or indifferent to the rumors involving his wife and his chum. Even more curiously, Mrs. Stumm also seemed perfectly content with the relationship.

On the night of November 12, 1881, Stanger went out to the pub with Stumm and another of his employees, Christian Zentler. All seemed in the best of spirits. Shortly before midnight, Stanger said an amicable good-night to his friends and entered his home.

When Zentler arrived at the bakery the next morning, he was met with a surprise. Instead of being greeted as usual by his boss, he found a "little put out" Mrs. Stanger. She ordered Zentler to immediately go fetch Franz Stumm. Mr. Stanger had suddenly taken it into his head to return to Germany, she explained, and he wanted Stumm to manage the bakery in his absence.

It was soon clear that Stumm was taking Mr. Stanger's place in more ways than one. Within a few days, he completely abandoned his own home in favor of Stanger's. His creditors were paid off with checks purportedly signed by the absent Urban. Franz and Elizabeth were often seen parading through the streets arm-in-arm. Then Stumm painted out Mr. Stanger's name from the front of the bakery and substituted his own. When asked about Mr. Stanger's whereabouts, the pair blandly stated that he "was in hiding somewhere."

The neighbors began saying some very unpleasant things about Franz and Elizabeth.

In April 1882, one of Mr. Stanger's executors, John Geisal, offered a £50 reward for any information regarding the missing baker. He also applied for warrants against Stumm and Mrs. Stanger on the charge of forging checks and conspiring to defraud Urban's executors. Geisal obviously shared the universal suspicions about Mr. Stanger's mysterious "trip to Germany."

Stumm was the first of the accused to stand trial. He was sullen and uncooperative throughout the proceedings. He continued to maintain that Stanger had gone abroad to escape creditors, blithely ignoring the fact that the missing man had left plenty of money in the bank.

Mrs. Stanger, in her role as chief witness, did a bang-up job of blackening the name of her absent husband. Like Stumm, she painted Urban as a hopeless spendthrift who only managed to keep in business thanks to loans from his dear friend, Franz Stumm. She also insisted that her husband had abandoned her. She stated that they had quarreled over his money-wasting ways, which ended with Stanger declaring, "I have often told you I would leave you, and now I will go." She burst into tears and went upstairs to bed. And that, she said defiantly, was the last she ever saw of Urban. Unfortunately, until someone found Mr. Stanger--alive or dead--her story could not be proved or disproved.

As for those fraudulent checks, she stated that she, not the defendant, had signed them. She was accustomed to signing documents for her husband, so she had thought there was no harm in it. She admitted having also forged letters that her husband had purportedly sent from Germany. She only did that, she claimed, to stave off his creditors.

After a three-day trial, the jury had little trouble convicting Stumm. When Stumm heard the verdict, he erupted into a fiery storm of abuse against everyone in the courtroom. He was innocent, he shouted. His lawyers had completely bungled his case. There was, he snarled, "no justice in vile England for a foreigner."

Judge Hawkins--who was known by the charming nickname of "'Anging 'Awkins"--responded to this tantrum by fixing a cold eye on the prisoner and slapping him with the maximum sentence: ten years hard labor.

"Thank you," Stumm sneered. "I am very much obliged to you." He wanted to speak more, but warders quickly hauled him out of the courtroom. He was still muttering vile imprecations all the way back to his cell. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Stanger was also convicted of forgery. She was given a year in prison. It was universally felt that justice had been very incompletely done.

Unsurprisingly, Stumm was such a violent and troublesome prisoner he forfeited any hope of parole, and served his entire sentence. When he was freed, Stumm was reunited with his wife and his lady friend (the two women had been rooming together since Mrs. Stanger's release from prison.) This sinister menage a trois returned to Germany, and disappeared from the pages of history.

So that was that. No trace of Urban Napoleon Stanger was ever found, or even any clue indicating what became of him. Crime historians are generally of the opinion that the baker was done away with--and, as you can imagine, they are not very coy about hinting who was responsible--but if such was the case, the question of what happened to his body will never be answered.

His neighbors, however, had few doubts about what became of Stanger's remains. They noted the fact that his bakery had a nice, large oven--so handy for various purposes--and they came to distressing conclusions about where the poor man wound up.

Suffice it to say that it was a long time before East Enders felt completely at ease about eating a meat pie.

[Note: Sherlock Holmes scholar Michael Harrison believed that the Stanger mystery was the inspiration for "A Study in Scarlet."]