"...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, September 28, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by a celebrity, the formidable Carlyle.

And some guy who probably thought he could dance as well as a cat.

Photo by John Swope, 1962

Who the hell shot Annie Dorman?

Where the hell is Bach?

Why the hell did the ancients bury dogs as if they were family members?  Why not?

Watch out for that tombstone madness!

Want to know where all the bodies are buried?  London, that's where.

Antarctica's first best-selling book.  All right, Antarctica's only best-selling book.

The dark side of digging up the dead.  All right, the especially dark side of digging up the dead.

Money-madness leads to death.

Money-madness leads to ghosts.

Let's talk Japanese shape-shifting raccoon dogs.

A look at early 20th century embalming.

The American voice of Nazi Germany.

An 18th century (accused) serial killer.

The mystery of the ancient bronze hand.

"The Dating Game," 8th century style.

You know, maybe holding a mass public event during an epidemic isn't such a great idea.

I am eternally grateful to SC reader Floodmouse for letting me know that in Russia, one can become a professional baby moose impersonator.

In case you're in need of an Egyptian magic spell, here you go.

The Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants.

Some real life "Weekend at Bernie's."

A UFO con man.

On the old practice of photographing the eyes of the dead.

On the old practice of informing bees when someone dies.

What the well-dressed 10th century woman was wearing.

Psychoanalyzing Hitler.

Historical examples of delayed executions.

Famed caricaturist George Cruikshank.

How French Revolutionaries changed time.

Bruce Lee, zombie celebrity.

The world's oldest known animal.

Coals to Newcastle, Iceland edition.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a lethal weekend house party.  In the meantime, here's my favorite Fleetwood Mac song, from the time when they were a band instead of an extended soap opera.

Any other Southern Californians remember the late great KNX-FM?  I'm pretty sure that's where I first heard the song.  There was a time when it seemed you couldn't walk into a Los Angeles shop or restaurant without KNX playing in the background.  I can't hear this song without being transported to Westwood Village, circa 1980...Ah, the old days, when this town was still fun...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Well, this is...odd.  The "Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Weekly Herald," October 10, 1806:
The following account of an extraordinary phenomenon that appeared to a number of people in the county of Rutherford, state of North Carolina, was made the 7th of August, 1806, in presence of David Dickle, Esq. of the county and state aforesaid, Jesse Anderson and the Rev. George Newton of the county of Buncombe and Miss Betsey Newton of the state of Georgia, who unanimously agreed, with the consent of the relators, that Mr. Newton should communicate it to Mr. Gales, Editor of the Raleigh Register and State Gazette.

Patsey Reaves, a widow woman, who lives near the Appalachian Mountain, declared, that on the 31st day of July last, about 6 o’clock P.M. her daughter Elizabeth, about 8 years old, was in the cotton field, about 10 poles from the dwelling house, which stands by computation, six furlongs from the Chimney Mountain, and that Elizabeth told her brother Morgan, aged 11 years, that there was a man on the mountain.

Morgan was incredulous at first, but the little girl affirmed it, and said she saw him, rolling rocks or picking up sticks, adding that she saw ‘a heap of people.’ Morgan then went to the place where she was, and called out, said that he saw a thousand or ten thousand things flying in the air. 
On which Polly, daughter of Mrs. Reaves, a good four years, and a negro woman, ran to the children and called Mrs. Reaves to see what a sight yonder was. Mrs. Reaves says she went about 3 poles towards them, and, without any sensible alarm or fright, she turned towards the Chimney Mountain, and discovered a very numerous crowd of beings resembling the human species, but could not discern any particular members of the human body, nor distinction of sexes; that they were of every size, from the tallest men down to the least infants; that there were more of the small than of the full grown, that they were all clad with brilliant white raiment; but could not describe any form of their garment; that they appeared to rise off the mountain south of said rock, and about as high; that a considerable part of the mountain’s top was visible about this shining host, that they moved in a northern direction, and collected about the top of Chimney Rock. 
When all but a few had reached said rock, two seemed to rise together and behind them about two feet, a third rose. These three moved with great agility towards the crowd, and had the nearest resemblance of two men, of any before seen. While beholding those three her eyes were attracted by three more rising nearly from the same place, and moving swiftly in the same order and direction. After these, several others rose and went toward the rock. 
During this view, which all the spectators thought lasted upwards of an hour, she sent for Mr. Robert Siercy, who did not come at first; on a second message sent about fifteen minutes after the first, Mr. Siercy came, and being now before us, he gives the following relation, to the substance of which Mrs. Reaves agrees. 
Mr. Siercy said, when he was coming, he expected to see nothing extraordinary, and when come, being asked if he saw those people on the mountain, he answered no; but on looking the second time, he said he saw more glittering white appearances of human kind than ever he had seen of men at any general review; that they were of all sizes from that of men to infants; that they moved in throngs round a large rock, not far from the Chimney Rock; that they were about the height of the Chimney Rock, and moved in a semicircular course between him and the rock, and so passed along in a southern route between him and the mountains, to the place where Mrs. Reaves said they rose; and that two of a full size went before the general crowd about the space of 20 yards, and as they respectively came to this place, they vanished out of sight, leaving a solemn and pleasing impression on the mind, accompanied with a diminution of bodily strength. 
Whether the above be accountable on philosophical principles, or whether it be a prelude to the descent of the holy city, I leave to the impartially curious to judge. 
George Newton 
P.S. The above subscriber has been informed, that on the same evening, at about the same time in which the above phenomenon appeared, there was seen by a gentleman of character, who was several miles distant from the place, a bright rainbow, apparently near the sun, then in the west, where there was no appearance of either clouds or rain; but a haze in the atmosphere. The public are therefore at liberty to judge, whether the phenomenon had any thing supernatural in it, or whether it was some unusual exhalation or moist vapor from the side of the mountain, which exhibited such an unusual rainbow.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Funny How Time Slips Away At Wotton

Wotton's Church of St. John, via Colin Smith/Wikipedia

I have never been one of those people who lament that they can't live in some past era. For all the modern world's great and grievous flaws, it has one thing going for it that can't be beat. It can be summed up in two words: indoor plumbing.

However, my greatest dream is to be able to hop in a time machine and briefly visit any historical scene I choose; for even just an hour or so, to be given the chance to make a personal assessment of Richard III or Mary Queen of Scots, or look into the face of Jack the Ripper. For that reason, my favorite Fortean stories are those accounts of what are usually called "time-slips," and it is the only example of Forteana I'd want to personally experience. Spontaneous Human Combustion is messy, not to mention fatal. Poltergeists are rude. And just try to explain blood oozing from the walls to your insurance company. Time-slips, on the other hand, are generally just good clean anomalous fun.  Among the most interesting of these alleged "visits to the past" was experienced by an English bookseller and his wife during a seemingly ordinary excursion.

In the summer of 1954, Eric Barton and his wife Irina felt the need for a brief holiday. Both were feeling generally tired and stressed by life, and thought a bus trip to the country would revive them. They missed their intended stop, and wound up riding to the small village of Wotton Hatch, most famous for being the birthplace of famed diarist and gossip John Evelyn. Since they were there, the Bartons decided to examine the Evelyn family church, named after St. John the Evangelist.

When the couple left the churchyard, they turned to the right, where they found themselves on a badly overgrown path flanked by high, unkempt bushes. The Bartons followed this path uphill to a clearing with a wooden bench. They sat down there to eat their lunch and enjoy the view of the valley below. In the distance, they heard the sounds of someone chopping wood, birds singing, and a dog barking. Otherwise, all was quiet. It all should have been an idyllically peaceful and soothing atmosphere, but for some reason they couldn't identify, the Bartons were ill-at-ease. They had a strange sense of something being "off."

And then suddenly, these bucolic sounds ceased, and a peculiar hush fell over the scene. An icy terror crept over Mrs. Barton. She knew that things were very wrong indeed, but she still could not say how. Then three men wearing what looked like clerical garb entered the clearing behind her. Although she had her back to them, she somehow just "knew" they were there. One looked friendly, but the other two, in Irina's words, seemed to "radiate hatred and hostility." She wanted to get away, but stayed frozen in place, unable to move. Then the feeling of fear abruptly passed. The men vanished. Eric noticed that Irina's arm felt icy cold, like that of a corpse.

The pair quickly left what felt like an accursed spot, but they found themselves suffering from weakness and mental confusion. After staggering off, the Bartons collapsed on the grass, unconscious. After a period of time they found themselves in Dorking, without being able to remember how they got there. They thankfully took the train back home to Battersea.

Irina remained haunted by her experience. Two years later, she returned to Wotton Hatch, curious if she could recreate the inexplicable events of that day. She tried following the same path she and Eric had taken from the churchyard...only to find that the landscape had completely changed. There was no overgrown path, no hill, no clearing, no wooden seat. According to a local woodman, there had been none of these features on the estate in living memory. Eric revisited the area himself, and confirmed that it was completely different from what they had seen.

At this point, the Bartons realized that things were getting seriously weird. They contacted the Society of Psychical Research, but due to some bureaucratic confusion, their report was overlooked. In 1973, they repeated their story to solicitor and SPR member Mary Rose Barrington, who delivered a paper about the Bartons to the Society in the following years. Barrington researched the area around the Wotton church, and was able to verify that the hill and bench described by the Bartons did not exist, and, as far as anyone knew, never had been there. However, Barrington found an intriguing entry in John Evelyn's diary for March 15, 1696. He wrote of the recent execution of "three wretches," one of whom had been a priest, for the crime of attempting to assassinate King William. The men were hanged at a location matching that of the now-vanished landscape observed by Eric and Irina Barton.

Were these the three sinister men observed by Irina Barton? And did the Bartons indeed visit the area around Wotton Hatch churchyard...but only as it had existed in the late 17th century?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

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

Watch out for those haunted paintings!

Watch out for those haunted bathrooms!

Shoreditch's strange storm.

Documents relating to Shakespeare's early years.

Why you would not want to be married to John Steinbeck.  (It's been my observation that writers generally do not make good spouses.  They're REALLY wedded to their manuscripts.)

The first English novel was basically an all-cat religious Animal Farm.

Early Modern barber shops.

"Golf Digest," CSI.

Napoleon's English supporters.

This Is Your Octopus On Drugs.

Why fortune-tellers really need to be their own clients.

Why you really, really need to be careful around wool shears.

Question of the week: if you get hit by a meteorite--but live to tell about it--does that make you lucky or unlucky?

Indian prisoners-of-war during WWII.

The (perhaps) sad end of James Garfield's dog.

While we're talking about Garfield, he inadvertently caused a lawsuit.  After he was dead.

The eerie history of the Hall of Dreams.

This week's health tip: wear gold, don't drink it.

They call these two "history's worst hoarders," but it alarms me how much this resembles my house.

Georgian era stand-up routines.  Take my Irishman, please!

The life of Marie Antoinette's daughter.

Of ghosts and hurricanes.

A policeman's unsolved murder.

Some owl superstitions.

Another busy day at Tyburn.

The earliest known photos of an American brothel.

When cleaning your teeth with sulfuric acid seemed like a good idea.  Yes, it's the Victorians.

When Hyde Park had a Cheesecake House.

A lively day in court.

A newly-unearthed Egyptian necropolis.

The dreadful fate of a London elephant.

More on the Black Ghost of Devonshire.

And we're outta here for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll talk time-slips. In the meantime...Hoy Hoy!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

I keep a file of stories that I call "Mini Mysteries": true crime cases where there isn't enough information available for a full blog post. Among them is this newspaper item from the "New York Tribune" of August 2, 1922, describing the day when death was on the menu of a popular eatery.
Two more deaths were added last night to the four caused by arsenic in pie served at the Shelbourne Restaurant, 1127 Broadway. Charles Roman, sixty-three years old, a manufacturer, of 1148 Lexington Avenue, died in Mount Sinai Hospital, arid Joseph Laubheimer, thirty-eight years old, of 11 West Sixty-fifth Street, died at his home.

Four others died earlier in the day and at least 100 more were affected, many so seriously that they had to have hospital treatment. More deaths are looked for. It has been impossible to obtain a complete list of those suffering from the poisoning because most of them are being treated at their homes.

The four who died yesterday morning are:

Hyman Bernstein, thirty-two years old, Warren Avenue, Palisade, N. J.

Lillian Getz, eighteen years old, 1262 Brook Avenue, Bronx.

Ida Weissburg, twenty-five years old, 976 Kelley Street, Bronx.

Jacob Pfeffer, fortv-eight years old, 1981 Eightieth Street, Brooklyn.

Mr. Pfeffer was an advertising man, with offices at 318 Broadway. He was well known among Jews in this country and Canada as a forceful editorial writer for Jewish newspapers. At one time he was connected with "The Jewish Daily News" and at another period published "The Jewish Weekly," a paper cf his own.

He was born in Galicia, Austria, and came to this country about twenty eight years ago. He was a prominent member of the Independent Order Brith Abraham and one of the lodges of this organization was named for him.

District Attorney Banton will summon every employee of the restaurant to appear before him to-day in an attempt to fix the responsibility and to find a motive for placing the poison in the pie served in the restaurant on Monday. Samuel Drexler, head of the firm which operates the restaurant, is helping the District Attorney in every possible way. Drexler went to the Bronx and to New Jersey yesterday to see if he could identify the dead persons among those who ate in the restaurant on Monday. In this connection Mr. Banton declared that it might be difficult to establish legally the fact that those who died did actually dine in the restaurant, and therefore, ho said, he wished that all those who ate there on Monday would communicate with him, as they might be helpful on this point.

A special meeting of the Board of Health was called yesterday afternoon by Acting Health Commissioner Monaghan, at which Drexler and his attorney, Harry H. Oshrim, were present. As a result of this meeting, the license issued to the Shelbourne Restaurant was revoked pending tho investigation by the District Attorney's office, the revocation to take effect immediately. After the meeting, Ole Salthe, chief of the Bureau of Food and Drugs of the Health Department, said that chemists of the department had made an analysis of a sample of the pie crust taken from the restaurant and found that it contained arsenic in considerable quantity. All the ingredients which were used in the making of the pie dough were analyzed and found to be pure.

"In my opinion," said Mr. Salthe, "the arsenic was maliciously put into the pie dough." He also announced that samples of all the food served in the restaurant were in the possession of the Health Department and that these would be analyzed as soon as possible.

The District Attorney's investigation has failed so far to reveal any one on whom guilt may be fastened. Mr. Banton thought it possible rat poison (which contains arsenic) or some similar substance might have been mixed with the dough by mistake in place of some of the proper ingredients.

Charles Abramson, a baker, who left the employ of the Shelbourne Restaurant on Saturday, was questioned by the District Attorney's office. Later he was held as a material witness and was released in $100 bail. According to Mr. Banton. he is apparently not to blame.

The examination of witnesses disclosed yesterday that Abramson had been connected with the restaurant for three months, coming into its employ when Louis Mandell, the former baker, quit to go into business for himself. A couple of weeks ago Abramson heard that Mandell had not succeeded in his new venture and had sold out. Believing that Mr. Drexler would desire to take Mandell back, Abramson got another job, and a week ago Monday told Mr. Drexler that he would quit on last Saturday. Mr. Drexler then re-engaged Mandell, who came to work on Monday morning. Abramson also came down that morning to instruct Mandell in the number of pies to bake for the trade that day. According to Mandell there were two pies left over from Saturday (the day Abramson quit) and the crusts of these were thrown away. There was also about five pounds of dough left over and, as was the custom, he mixed this with about two pounds additional, which he made, to compose the amount to be used for that day.

It was also found during the investigation that the baker's helper, a man called Louis, whose full name and address were not available last night, always came very early in the morning and prepared the basis of the dough and that when the baker himself came all he had to do was to add the proper amount of shortening and whatever other ingredients were necessary for the actual process of baking. It was also the duty of Louis to take care of the dough left over each day and see that it was placed in the ice box so that it might be used with whatever new dough it was necessary to make the next day. Louis will be summoned for questioning to-day.

The first knowledge of arsenic in the pie crusts came from the restaurant management. Several people came to Mr. Drexler after lunch and declared that the pie must be bad for it burned their throats. Mr. Drexler turned to his brother-in-law and partner, Frank J. Rosenthal, and said, "Frank, you have a sweet tooth. See if anything is wrong with those pies." Rosenthal tasted several of them and said they seemed all right to him. However, a short time later he was taken violently ill and Mr. Drexler, becoming alarmed, sent a sample of the crust to Bendiner &, Schlessinger, chemists, of 47 Third Avenue, who, after an analysis by Dr. Israel Schwartz, made a report showing that there was considerable arsenic in the crusts.

While most of the victims are supposed to have been poisoned by eating the pie, at least one of them declared yeptcrday that she believed there was poison in some, of the other dishes. Miss Sadie Brown, of 1118 Forest Avenue, the Bronx, one of those made ill by the food, asserted that a woman sitting next to her in the restaurant ate nothing but a small portion of beef a la mode, and nevertheless became violently ill in a short time.
So, where did the investigation into this seemingly utterly senseless mass murder go? Absolutely nowhere. Although it was logical to presume that the food was poisoned by one of the small number of people with access to the restaurant's kitchen, police were unable to find sufficient motive, means, and opportunity to lead them to any one suspect. The crime was never solved.

Unsurprisingly, the Shelbourne closed its doors for good. And it took some time before New Yorkers rekindled their taste for pie.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Case of the Disputed Deathbed

Walton Dwight was, in his own charmingly Freudian words, a man who liked "to bore with a big auger." He was typical of the builders and developers who did so much to transform 19th century America from a rural land into an urban powerhouse. His life reads like a classic American success story...right until it ended as a classic American mystery.

Dwight first rose to some prominence during the Civil War, where he fought with distinction for the Union, rising to the rank of Colonel. After being severely wounded at Gettysburg, Dwight retired from the military. He settled in Binghamton, New York, married a charming young heiress, Anna Dusenbury, and turned his attention to the world of business. His starting capital came through a seemingly tragic event. While he and his family were out of town, his mansion inexplicably caught fire and burned to the ground. Happily, it was very heavily insured, netting the Colonel a tidy sum which he invested in various development schemes.

He quickly found success as a lumber manufacturer, a mine operator, and a real estate tycoon. The physically-impressive Dwight (he was 6'3", 250 pounds, and boasted a long blond beard) soon became financially imposing, as well. He was responsible for many building projects in and around Binghamton, and in 1871 served as the town's mayor. (His campaign slogan was, "I have prospered in Binghamton. Let Binghamton prosper with me!”) A contemporary described Dwight as "tall in stature, of handsome appearance and pleasing address, dignified in learning, yet cordial in social intercourse, warm in his welcome, and princely in hospitality.” There was talk of him as an eventual governor of New York state.

Sadly, the 1870s proved to be unkind to our hero. The fiscal panic of 1873 was a disaster from which he never recovered. His extensive financial operations nosedived. In his efforts to save them, he ran through his own money, then his wife's personal fortune. By 1878, he was some $400,000 in debt. (Over $9 million in today's dollars.) Worse still, his normally robust health suddenly and dramatically failed him. On November 15, 1878, he passed away in a hotel room at the age of forty-one. Only one person--a friend of Dwight's named Charles Hull--was present at his deathbed.

Well, maybe it was a deathbed. The question of what precisely happened to Colonel Dwight on that November day proved to be a leading topic in the law courts of the time.

Almost immediately after Dwight's passing, it emerged that there were some very curious aspects to the financier's last days. For one thing, Dwight went into purchasing life insurance on a truly epic scale. He took out policies on himself with no less than twenty-one different companies, for a total of some $420,000. For those hard-bitten, battle-tested men at those insurance companies, such enthusiasm instantly raised their eyebrows.

Those brows were further raised when the contents of Dwight's will became known. Most of his bequests were normal enough, if curiously lavish for someone of his financial travails. But when a man leaves $5,000 to the Coroner and twice that to the Surrogate who admitted the will to probate, even the most trusting start to mutter that there was some jiggery-pokery going on.

Although one or two of the insurance companies ponied up to the tune of $50,000, others rebelled, with the result that Dwight's loved ones spent the next five years in court battling over the Colonel's dubious deathbed. Walton's heirs presented a beautifully simple story: the Colonel met an untimely demise due to gastric fever. The large amounts of life insurance he bought right before the sad event just showed what a prudent and far-seeing person he was. The insurance companies thought otherwise. They argued that the corpse known as "Colonel Walton Dwight" was a ringer, possibly procured from some medical college. The companies pointed to the curious fact that virtually the last thing Dwight did before "expiring" was to have himself shaved, suggesting that the only suitable corpse to be found was lacking facial hair. They also presented in court a physician who testified that he did not believe the body presented for insurance purposes was that of the Colonel. The doctors who had performed the autopsy believed that this dead man had died of strangulation, leading to the theory that the soi-disant Dwight was in fact some hanged criminal. The genuine article, meanwhile, slipped away, probably to Mexico or South America.

One school of thought proposed that the living Dwight had been packed in a box and mailed out of town, where some co-conspirators unpacked him and set him free to enjoy the fruits of his fraud. Others, who accepted that the Colonel had pulled a fast one on everybody but who still believed that the "corpse" was truly his, had an alternate theory which sounds like something from a Wilkie Collins novel. They believed that Dwight had taken gelsemium in order to temporarily simulate his own death. (An empty bottle of the drug was found outside the room where he met his end.) A man who had once worked with Dwight swore he saw him on the streets of Chicago a month after the Colonel's "death."

The long legal battle provided excellent entertainment for onlookers, but, in the end, proved irritatingly inconclusive. Dwight's heirs lost the case, but only on legal technicalities--the Colonel had made certain false statements on his insurance applications. The question of when, where, and how Walton Dwight truly died--and who, if anyone, lies in the ornate and lavish tomb the Colonel had built for himself--remains, in the words of an anonymous biographer, "the greatest of insurance mysteries."

Friday, September 14, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

As it's back-to-school time, this week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Strange Company Academy!

A look back at the days of bad-tasting watermelons.

A look back at the days of mermaid salespeople.

A look back at the days of taxed beards.

A look back at the days of the British importing ice to India.

A look back at the worst day of the Napoleonic Wars.

A look back at the opera that sparked a revolution.

Choosing burial sites in the Early Modern era.

The impact of reading in the Georgian era.

An ancient Egyptian tomb has been opened to the public.

The folklore of Madagascar.

The life of a transported criminal.

The life of an East India Company director.

handcuffing poltergeist.

The mysterious ruins of Malden Island.

A 17th century Portuguese/Japanese cookbook.

The Black Ghost of Devonshire.

The real Lone Ranger.  Maybe.

The 18th century wells of Hyde Park.

Ice Age burial rituals.

Strange things are going on at one California airport.

Strange things are going on at one New Mexico observatory.

The British occupation of Baghdad and overprinted stamps.

The Industry of Transporting Corpses; Or, Whacking Up On Consumptives.

This has to be the most 21st century headline yet.

The last highwayman to be hanged in England.

This week in Russian Weird: anyone in the market for a psychic cat?

The earliest known tooth cavity.

The earliest known drawing.

What was it like to be imprisoned in the Bastille?  As with so many things in life, it depended on the size of your wallet.

Reconstructing Neanderthal music. Reminds me of a theremin.

Death in an elevator.

Well, all righty then.  We're doomed.

Tragedy at a puppet show.

A salacious historical myth, debunked.

A firehouse's many mascots.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris: how not to treat diarrhea.

And thus ends your weekly dose of links. See you on Monday, when we'll examine that evergreen topic of insurance fraud. In the meantime, here's the "other" Mozart:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

What do you get when you cross the "mysterious showers of stones" that form such a large part of Fortean lore with the modern-day "The Watcher" incidents?

This baby.  The "Maui News," October 4, 1921:
Puunene has a mystery which has roused the interest of not only that community, but of all central Maui as news of it spread about. Stones are being thrown, fairly showered up on and around a house and from unknown senders letters or notes are being delivered. Though the police officials have been working on the case for some time, they have not discovered the source of the annoyance. As many as 300 or 400 persons have gathered about the house of a night to witness the strange happenings. Though the stones appear to fall out of a clear sky and though the notes are delivered by some one unseen, there has been no hint of "ghosts" or of "discarnate spirits" in any of the numerous notes the family has received. There appears to be no occasion to refer the matter to the Society for Psychical Research, since the writer has said he will "stay with" the family he is annoying "until my death."

From police sources it is learned that the family which is suffering the annoyances is Portuguese and consists of a father, mother and daughter. Their troubles started when notes began to arrive shortly after it was announced that the daughter was to marry her cousin. Then and since, following a warning whistle, a note written in lead pencil, large letters on brown wrapping paper, would be found under the door or on the porch or some where about the house. In time the family came to expect and look for the letters after hearing the whistle, and they always found one. The language of the letters is fairly grammatical but it is evident that the writer disguises his handwriting. The writer says the family knows who he is and adds that he will never be caught. He makes fun of the police for failing to detect him and details happenings in the house and about the camp.

For months past, dating back as far as June, the family would be showered with gravel and broken stones when returning from the picture shows, on reaching the stone quarry or perhaps not until almost home, but none of the stones ever struck any of them. Recently the stones have fallen in the crowd around the house, not striking any one though one narrowly missed the sheriff. They appear to come from no particular direction nor do they bounce or roll along the ground from where they strike as a stone ordinarily would when thrown near the ground, but on the contrary, bounce or roll a very short distance, more as if they came from above. Larger stones and a piece of iron weighing six or seven pounds have struck upon the roof of the house.

It is not only at night and in the evening that the annoyances occur. In broad daylight stones and gravel have fallen on or about the house but no thrower of them has ever been seen. So also. in the day time the whistle has been heard and letters have been found at the door or under it.

The sheriff has quite a collection of such letters including one received Friday night in which references to his office are not couched in highly complimentary terms. Parties organized in Wailuku went up several nights last week and members of such parties came home mystified.

So persistent has been the annoyance that the members of the family have become extremely nervous and close by neighbors are becoming almost as much so. The section is very closely settled.

Saturday morning the family found one of the notes lying on the stove. It said the writer was sorry for all the annoyance caused and would cease the stone throwing and the letter writing. Since then there have been no repetitions of the troublesome and mysterious incidents and the police believe their activities have brought the end to the affair though investigations are still in progress.
I wasn't able to find if the mysterious letter-writer was ever found.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Admiral Faces a Mutiny

The most puzzling murderers are not necessarily the ones who are never caught. They are often the ones who are caught, put on trial, and then, thanks to some quirk of fate, get clean away with it.

A prime example is the peculiar death of Rear Admiral Joseph Giles Eaton—a case now completely forgotten, but which, for a brief period early in the 20th century, was the “crime of the century” du jour.

Eaton was born in Alabama in 1847. A graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, in 1867 he served as part of Farragut’s fleet, and went on to many other naval assignments around the world. After his long and distinguished career, he was made commandant of the Charlestown Navy Yard in 1905.

Joseph Eaton, via  Dracut Historical Society

In 1871, he married Mary Ann Varnum. Their only child died at the age of thirteen. Early in 1906, Mrs. Eaton fell ill with what was diagnosed as “cerebral apoplexy.” After her death in February, her nurse, a Mrs. Jennie May Ainsworth, took up residence in the Eaton household, along with her two children. The Admiral had been led to believe she was a widow, but in fact she was still married to a D. G. Ainsworth. In July, Mrs. Ainsworth obtained a divorce from her husband, (it was only then that Eaton learned she was married,) and two weeks later she and Joseph Eaton wed. The newlyweds settled down in Assinippi, Massachusetts.

Jennie Eaton, via Library of Congress

Eaton’s second marriage was troubled almost from the start. If the new Mrs. Eaton was to be believed, this highly-respected, accomplished Admiral was in reality a first-rate monster. In August of 1909, the couple announced the birth of a son. It did not come out until later that the child was not biologically related to either of the parents, but was an illegitimate newborn whom the Eatons had secretly adopted. The baby suddenly died a few months after his birth, and Mrs. Eaton publicly declared her husband had poisoned him. Her assertions were so loud and insistent that a police investigation was made into the baby’s demise. An autopsy showed no signs of poison or any other foul play, and the matter was dropped.

Unsurprisingly, this caused a rift within the Eaton marriage. Mrs. Eaton moved out of the family home, but although one would think accusations of child-murder would be difficult to forgive or forget on either side, some months later the couple was reconciled. At this time, the household also consisted of Jennie Eaton’s mother, Mrs. George Harrison, and Jennie’s two children, June (whose husband had recently divorced her on the grounds that the child she had recently delivered was not his,) and Dorothy.

As soon as the Eatons had patched things up, Mrs. Eaton was back spreading horrifying stories about her husband’s iniquities. She told the family doctor that her husband was insane, a drug addict who was plotting her murder, and a fiendish womanizer who held orgies in their home and made advances to her own daughters. Oh, and she fully expected him to burn their house down. Eaton himself tried passing all this off as “a joke,” but he once sadly admitted that “they now represent a terrible tragedy.”  When asked his address, Eaton took to replying, "a lunatic asylum."

Little did he know that the lunacy was just getting started. On March 7, 1913, Eaton began suffering terrible stomach pains and vomiting, which he attributed to some fresh pork he had eaten the night before. Early the next morning, his wife called their doctor to announce that the Admiral was dead. He was so startled by the news that he immediately brought in the Medical Examiner to do a thorough investigation. While doing the autopsy, the medical men noticed a number of bottles in Eaton’s room, which the widow told them was probably poison. Before they left, Mrs. Eaton pulled the doctor aside and said “I do not know anything about poison. I never made a study of it,” and asked if he found signs of “homicidal insanity” in her late husband. She went on to state calmly that the Admiral had been a drug addict for years, and had an extensive knowledge of poisons.

After an enormous amount of arsenic was discovered in the dead man’s body—at least eight times the amount that could kill—Mrs. Eaton found herself arrested for murder.

"Washington Post," March 23, 1913, via Newspapers.com

The defense argument was simple: Admiral Eaton had been an insane drunkard and drug addict who finally chose to end his utterly worthless existence. Their witnesses included a doctor who in 1909 had received a letter from Mrs. Eaton stating that her “dangerous, insane” husband had murdered their child, and was now plotting her own poisoning, as well as men who “had heard” allegations that Eaton had been “intemperate in his habits.” Their star witness was an eighty-three year old doctor who testified that he had sold the Admiral 45 grains of arsenic. The force of this man’s assertions was greatly weakened when it was revealed he was a regular guest of the prison system, and was, in fact, currently serving a stretch for performing “illegal operations.”

One of the trial’s most curious moments was when a friend of the Eatons testified that, about eight months before the Admiral’s death, Jennie May confided to her that she had a “wealthy lover” in Chicago who wanted her to leave her husband and marry him. The prosecution presented this as a probable motive for her to turn poisoner, but this rich Chicagoan—who was never identified—was very likely imaginary.

Mrs. Eaton took the stand with the same smiling, unruffled demeanor she had displayed ever since her husband’s death. During her six hours of testimony, she defended her actions and deflected all damaging insinuations with remarkable poise and adroitness, causing one lawyer to describe her as “the most wonderful witness I have ever heard.”

There was conflicting testimony about when Eaton ingested the arsenic. A doctor testifying for the defense opined that there was only one large dose of the poison, which the victim swallowed directly after the mid-day meal the day before his death, at a time when it was established that Mrs. Eaton was not at home. Under cross-examination, however, he admitted that it was also possible that Eaton first took the poison late the following day, and that he could have swallowed several other doses between that time and his death.

In his closing argument, Mrs. Eaton’s attorney described her as a sterling character with no motive to murder her husband. In contrast, the District Attorney portrayed the defendant as a “paranoiac,” whose hallucinations led her to murder. He strongly urged a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Instead, after deliberating for nine hours, the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty,” period. As a result, a hitherto highly-respected Naval officer not only suffered an agonizing death, but was posthumously branded a libertine, a drunkard, a drug addict, a murderer, and finally a suicide.

Seven months after Jennie was acquitted, she remarried her first husband. About a year later, her daughter June startled their community with the announcement that a “secret son” of the late Admiral was stalking the family. No one else ever saw any signs of this sinister prowler, and considering that soon afterward, June was committed to a mental hospital, it is safe to assume that she was being harassed by nothing more than a guilty conscience.

In 1918, Jennie May Ainsworth again found herself under arrest, this time for abandoning June’s four-month-old baby in an apartment building. I have been unable to find how this case was resolved. In the 1920s, she and her family were managing a boarding house in Washington, D. C., but after that, this peculiar household disappeared from history.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is proud to be sponsored by Puss in Boots!

What the hell might be living on Jupiter?

What the hell was this "ghost ship?"  Now we know!

What the hell happened to MH370?  It's looking like we'll never know.

Watch out for the Manchester Canal!

Why does he love John Quincy Adams?  Let him count the ways.

From what I've seen of Hollywood, Geoffrey's much better off.

The Water Poet.

Two remarkable war nurses.

The 19th century spiritualist Andrew Jackson Davis.

So it seems that the real victor at Waterloo might have been a volcano.

Yet another busy day at Tyburn.

All hail the power of cheese.

Bankruptcy and body-snatching.

Welsh mythology and the Mabinogion.

Another example of how ancient medicine is underrated.

A 4,000 year old cemetery in the desert.

Yet another victim of the French Revolution.

Is the space station being sabotaged?

The cursed Strahl family.

Old Bombay's "Aunty Bars."

The Rebecca Riots.

Confessions of a murderer.

The body of a long-missing hiker has been found.

A duel in Hyde Park.

Schrodinger, the lonely cat.

The dark side of wildlife conservation.

The dark side of immortality.

The "singing priest" and the Reformation.

An ancient Egyptian village.

Byron's "Breton cousin."

That time kilts were banned in Scotland.

Was this Arthur's Round Table?

An 18th century feminist.

Morse Code's forgotten competition.

The mystery of the dead train children.

The son of Madame Tussaud.

That's it for this week's Link Dump!  See you on Monday, when we'll visit a once-famous murder trial.  In the meantime, bring on the sound of trumpets:

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Book Clipping of the Day

Accounts of people who claim to have solved a murder via dreams are surprisingly common. This relatively little-known example was related in Clarence S. Day's "Remarkable Apparitions and Ghost Stories." (1848)

Mr. William Smythies, curate of St. Giles's Cripplegate, London, in the year 1698, published an account of the robbery and murder of John Stockden, victualler, in Grub street, within the said parish, and of the discovery of the murderers by several dreams of Elizabeth, the wife of Thomas Greenwood, a neighbor to the said Stockden. Here is the substance of the account:—

Mr. Smythies, first telling us that none can doubt but great discoveries have been made by dreams, says: Mr. Stockden was robbed and murdered by three men, in his own house, on the 23d day of December, 1695, about midnight. A little after the murder, there came a woman into the street, and said she believed one Maynard (a very stout and powerful man) to be one of the murderers, because she was informed he was full of money, both silver and gold; upon which there was a warrant against him, but he could not be found. 
Soon after this Stockden appeared to Elizabeth Greenwood, in a dream, and showed her a house in Thames street, near the George, and told her that one of the murderers was there: she went the next morning, and took one Mary Buggas, an honest woman, who lived near her, to go with her to the place to which her dream directed, and asking for Maynard, was informed that he lodged there, but was gone abroad. 
After that Stockden soon appeared again to Mrs. Greenwood, and then representing Maynard's face with a flat mole on the side of his nose (whom she had never seen), signified to her that a wire-drawer must take him, and that he should be carried to Newgate in a coach. Upon inquiry, they found out one of that trade, who was his great intimate, and who, for a reward of ten pounds, promised him on his taking, undertook it, and effected it. He sent to Maynard to meet him, upon extraordinary business, at a public house, near Hockley-in-the-Hole, where, after plying him with liquor, both parties went to bed ; after which a constable came forward, armed with a great club to defend himself, and so apprehended him, and carried him before a magistrate, who committed him to Newgate, and he was carried thither in a coach. 
Maynard, being in prison, confessed the horrid fact, and discovered his accomplices, who were, one Marsh, Bevel, and Mercer,and said that Marsh was the setter-on, being a near neighbor to Stockden, and knew he was well furnished with money and plate; and though Marsh was not present at the robbery, yet he meant to have a share of the booty. Marsh, knowing or suspecting that Maynard had discovered him, left his habitation. 
Stockden appeared soon after to Mrs. Greenwood, and seemed by his countenance to be displeased: he carried her to a house in Old street, where she had never been, and showed her a flight of stairs, and told her that one of the men lodged there: the next morning she took Mary Buggas with her to the house, according to the direction of the dream, where she asked a woman if one Marsh did not live there; to which the woman replied that he often came thither. This Marsh was taken soon after in another place. 
After this, Mrs. Greenwood dreamed that Stockden carried her over the bridge, up the burough, and into a yard, where she saw Bevil, the third criminal (whom she had never seen before) and his wife: upon her telling this dream, it was believed that it was one of the prison-yards; and thereupon she went with Mrs. Footman (who was Stockden's kinswoman and housekeeper, and was gagged in his house when he was murdered) to the Marshalsea, where they inquired for Bevil, and were informed that he was lately brought thither for coining, and that he was taken near the Bankside, according to a dream which Mrs. Greenwood had before of his being there. They desired to see him, and when he came, he said to Mrs. Footman, “Do you know me?” She replied, “I do not.” Whereupon he went from them.  Mrs. Greenwood then told Mrs. Footman, that she was sure of his being the man whom she saw in her sleep. 
They then went into the cellar, where Mrs. Greenwood saw a lusty woman, and privately said to Mrs. Footman, “That's Bevil's wife, whom I saw in my sleep.” They desired that Bevil might come to them, and first put on his periwig, which was not on the time before: the lusty woman said, “Why should you speak with my husband again, since you said you did not know him?" He came the second time, and said, “Do you know me now?" Mrs. Footman replied, “No;” but it proceeded from a sudden fear, that some mischief might be done to her, who had very narrowly escaped death from him when she was gagged; and as soon as she was out of the cellar, she told Mrs. Greenwood that she then remembered him to be the man. 
They went soon after to the clerk of the peace, and procured his removal to Newgate, where he confessed the fact, and said, “To the grief of my heart, I killed him.”  
Mrs. Greenwood did not dream anything concerning Mercer, who was a party concerned, but would not consent to the murder of Stockden, and preserved Mrs. Footman's life; nor has there been any discovery of him since.  He consequently escaped, and the three others were found guilty and hanged. After the murderers were taken, Mrs. Greenwood dreamed that Stockden came to her in the street, and said, “Elizabeth, I thank thee; the God of heaven reward thee for what thou hast done.” 
Since which she has been at quiet from those frights which had much tormented her, and caused an alteration considerable in her countenance. This relation is certified by the lord bishop of Gloucester, who, with the then dean of York, the master of the Charterhouse, and Dr. Alix, had the particulars of the foregoing narrative from Mrs. Greenwood and Mrs.Buggas.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Toths Walk Away

Andrew and Elizabeth Toth, "New York Daily News," August 17, 1952, via Newspapers.com

Most politics-related vanishings have obvious candidates: spies, agitators, office-holders, and other such public figures. A nondescript middle-class couple from New York would not be seen as a possible candidate for such a disappearance.

However, such an unlikely occurrence might--just might--have happened three-quarters of a century ago. And yet, this odd case is now largely forgotten.

Andrew Toth was born in Hungary in 1905. In 1930, he married an American named Julia Voda. The two relocated to New York, where they had a daughter, Margaret. As far as is known, they lived happily together until Julia died of blood poisoning in 1939. About a year later, Andrew met 26-year-old Elizabeth Fabian, and a romance soon developed--perhaps aided by the fact that Elizabeth bore a striking resemblance to the late Julia Toth. When the couple married, four-year-old Margaret was delighted. It was like having her mother back again. Fortunately, Elizabeth loved the child as much as if she had been Margaret's mother. She told her relatives that she wanted a baby of her own, but she and Andrew decided to wait until they had saved up enough money to buy a house.

On the morning of August 17, 1943, Elizabeth Yulling was a puzzled woman. Her friend, Elizabeth Toth, usually met her at the subway so that they could travel together to their jobs at a factory. However, on this day there was no sign of her. Mrs. Yulling went to the Manhattan apartment Mrs. Toth shared with Andrew and Margaret. No one was at home. After work, Mrs. Yulling again stopped at the Toth's. Still no response. Andrew had not been seen at his workplace, either.

This was all very odd. The Toths were careful, thrifty people--not the sort to leave town without informing anyone. Besides, the last time Mrs. Yulling had seen them, Andrew was so excited about passing his citizenship examination. It would be a strange time for him to go on vacation.

After nearly a week went by without anyone hearing from the couple, Mrs. Yulling and another friend, Elizabeth Varga, went to the Staten Island holiday camp where little Margaret Toth was spending the summer. (The Yulling daughter, Teresa, was also staying there.)  This was the first Margaret had heard that her parents were missing. She had no idea where they could be. Now the two women were seriously alarmed. They knew the Toths would never go away without taking their daughter with them. The police were notified.

The police sergeant Mrs. Yulling spoke to was indifferent to her concerns. "Aw, relax," he shrugged. "They could take a holiday without telling you. After all, you're not a relative, you're only a friend."

Mrs. Yulling continued to insist that something was very wrong. Her vehemence finally convinced two policemen to force an entry into the Toth apartment. They found no obvious signs of foul play. Clothes and other belongings all seemed accounted for. The icebox was full of food. There was one very important item missing: the Toths, like many people in those days, kept their cash savings hidden in their apartment. Although an account book was found, showing that the couple had $3,000 on hand, none of it was found in their home.

Mrs. Yulling saw something else that immediately raised alarm bells with her. There was a greasy frying pan in the kitchen sink, and three unwashed whisky glasses on the table. Elizabeth Toth was an immaculate housekeeper. There was no way she would voluntarily leave her house with dirty dishes lying around. And who was the third person who drank with the Toths? The couple seldom had visitors. The only possible clue to the identity of their guest was a scrap of paper on the dresser. It bore the name and address of a Mrs. Emma Fekete. Mrs. Yulling had never heard of the woman.

Mrs. Yulling persuaded the policemen--who were still unwilling to believe anything serious had happened--to go talk to this woman. Mrs. Fekete turned out to be a cousin of the Toths. She was surprised to learn the couple was missing. "Why don't you ask Andrew's boss where he is?" she suggested.

"Lady, this isn't our job," one of the policemen groaned. "If you want to know more about these people you'll have to report their disappearance to the Missing Persons bureau."

It obviously took quite a lot to catch the interest of a 1940s New York cop.

Mrs. Yulling did make a formal report. John McCoy, the detective assigned to the case, talked to Andrew's boss, painting contractor Louis Gervitz. Gervitz was seriously annoyed with his employee. Instead of turning up at the job on the previous Tuesday, Andrew left a note in the letter slot saying he was heading for New Jersey, as one of his sisters-in-law was about to undergo an operation. There had been no word from him since.

Mrs. Fekete scoffed at this news. If there had been any sickness in the family, she would have heard about it. If Andrew truly did write that note, he was, for God knows what reason, telling a lie. She was right. Detective McCoy contacted Mrs. Toth's two sisters. Neither of them had had any operation, and they professed to be as baffled as everyone else by Andrew and Elizabeth's disappearance. One of the sisters, Mary Fabian, said that she and a friend, Matilda Tominus, had spent the previous weekend with the Toths. That Sunday, August 15, the four of them visited Margaret on Staten Island. "They simply couldn't have gone away voluntarily without taking Margaret," she told McCoy. "They adored her."

Margaret Toth (left) and Teresa Yulling

Mrs. Tominus corroborated Fabian's story. She added that Andrew told her he was planning to buy a car, so he could teach his wife to drive. Mrs. Tominus had mentioned that she wanted to buy a tricycle for her son, but found they were scarce, due to the war. She recalled, "The last thing Andrew said, when he took Mary and me to the railroad station to go back to Jersey Sunday night, was that he thought he could get a tricycle for me. He said he'd see about it Monday."

These were hardly the words of a man who planned to disappear.

The last known sighting of the Toths was on the night of August 16. Around 9 p.m., a neighbor saw the couple outside their apartment building. They told her they were going shopping. A nearby butcher, Frank Lieb, saw them walk past his shop on Second Avenue. They exchange a few casual words, and the Toths continued on their way...into what turned out to be oblivion.

Mrs. Yulling told McCoy that of late, Elizabeth Toth "always seemed frightened and suspicious. She was always looking behind her on the street. She never entered or left a building without taking time to see who was around. She certainly lived in fear of something."

McCoy had learned that Andrew Toth had been very vocal about his hatred for the Nazis--perhaps not the safest thing to do when one lived near a large German settlement. He asked Mrs. Yulling if this might have been the reason for Elizabeth's fears.

"No," she replied. "I never heard Andrew or Elizabeth talk of anything like that. I remember one time Elizabeth told me she got home ahead of her husband. As she opened her apartment door she could see that her closet door was open. She was sure she had left it closed. She was so scared she wouldn't go into her own place until Andrew got there." Mrs. Yulling added that nothing had been taken from the apartment, but Mrs. Toth talked about the incident for days. Elizabeth seemed almost obsessively fearful of burglars.

All of this was odd enough for the police to start digging into Andrew Toth's past, where they found some unpleasant information. For one thing, his ex-inlaws, the Vodas, detested him. Julia's brother Andrew told investigators that when Julia was dying, her husband made her sign over all her savings to him. After Julia died, the widower refused to pay her hospital bill, pleading poverty. He had refused to even pay for extra nurses during Julia's illness. "He wasn't poor," Andrew Voda scoffed. "He had a $1,000 policy on Julia's life. But when he collected, he gave the cash to a friend to keep for him so he could still look poor. That way he didn't have to buy a tombstone to mark his wife's grave. So he's disappeared. Good riddance, I say!"

It turned out that a lot of people who knew Andrew Toth endorsed this sentiment. When Julia was hospitalized, Andrew put his daughter in the care of an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Hermann. Andrew had given them the impression that he was very poor, so the Hermanns charged him only $7 a week for Margaret's care. When they learned that Toth was, in fact, hoarding a large store of cash, they indignantly raised their fee to $10.

It's not every day you hear of a man sleeping with a hatchet under his pillow, but according to Joseph Farkas, who roomed with Andrew during Julia's hospitalization, that was precisely what the missing man did. Farkas commented, "He always had that hatchet with him and I kidded him about not trusting me."

That was far from the only peculiar thing Andrew did. Farkas said that for some unknown reason, Toth had all his savings changed into $1,000 bills, which he gave to a friend to put into a bank account. Farkas commented that when this friend wanted to rent an apartment in a city-owned development, he couldn't because Toth's money made his bank account seem bigger than it really was. So the friend withdrew the money and gave it back to Toth. Andrew then carried the cash around in a money belt. In the neighborhood taverns, Toth enjoyed boasting about his nest egg. Farkas added, "He told me that his ambition was to get about $7,000, even if he had to steal it. Then he wanted to return to Hungary, buy a farm, get the peasants to work it for him, and take it easy the rest of his life."

Carrying around large sums of cash--and broadcasting the fact to everyone you know--is usually tantamount to wearing a sign reading "Please rob me." Did this explain the couple's disappearance? Or, the police wondered, did Andrew murder his wife so he could return to Hungary and fulfill his dream of becoming lord of the manor? Or were both of them killed by one of the sizable number of people who couldn't stand Andrew Toth? Did Andrew's very vocal political opinions lead some Nazi sympathizers to shut him up for good?

Frank Lieb's wife Mary had another theory. She told police that soon after the Toths were married, Elizabeth had an abortion. Mrs. Toth had confided to her that she had not wanted the operation, but her husband insisted. He did not want another child. Mary Lieb added that soon before the Toths vanished, Elizabeth told her that she was again pregnant. "She was very nervous and uneasy the last night we saw them," Mrs. Lieb recalled. "I've often wondered whether Elizabeth was on her way to have another abortion." Mary speculated that Mrs. Toth died as the result of a second abortion. Then, did Andrew and the doctor (or whoever performed the procedure) conceal her body somewhere, after which Andrew chose to make himself scarce? Joseph Farkas endorsed this scenario. "I think that something happened to his wife during an abortion and Andrew ran away. My hunch is that he'll come back someday--alone."

Farkas was wrong about at least one thing: Andrew never did come back. The Toths disappeared for good, leaving behind a now-orphaned daughter and a ton of unanswered questions.