"...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, November 30, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

From now until December 21, our Link Dumps will be sponsored by the Cats of Christmas!

Watch out for those haunted cars!

Watch out for those Welsh dragons!

Watch out for the Yowie!

The friendship of Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

A beheading in Pennsylvania.

It's a nice enough shack, but a bit busy for my taste.

The Cycling Countess, who was really a menace on the road.

"There is death in the pot!"

An execution that was a mess in more ways than one.

The history of the Halifax gibbet.

The dogs of Old London.

A notorious 19th century bigamist.

The world's oldest known drawing of an animal.

The most mysterious--and creepy--ancient statue.

New interactive map shows all the ways medieval London could kill you.

The chocolate houses of 18th century London.

The often alarming world of Early Modern medicine.

Nothing to see here, just a mysterious radioactive heat melting Antarctica.

UFOs over Baffin Island.

Well.  That's nice.

How Nazis tried to breed a superhorse.

An 18th century East India Company cadet writes home.

This week in Russian Weird:  THEIR CATS.

Death Valley and the lost underground city.

Some overlooked heroines of WWI.

The Aiken Party Massacre.

India now has an elephant hospital.

Everyone's favorite female serial-killer-for-profit, Belle Gunness.

How Benedict Arnold got the boot.

The oldest known whiskey distillery.

A horrific tale of revenge.

Victorian dining etiquette.

The enigmatic Edward Gorey.

The Parrot Fever Panic.

Johnny Cash and the hemorrhoid cream.

The subject of this portrait would probably have preferred to remain unknown.

Vintage tea terminology.

Rats and cats take to the stage.

Rough justice in 19th century Ohio.

Shopping for mourning.

That does it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a dark moment in Edinburgh history. In the meantime, let's jump with Harry James!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers,com

A ghostly church organist and a spooky cat? Sign me up. The "Calgary Herald," April 15, 1921:
London. April 2. (By Mail) Dressed in early Victorian costume, the ghostly figure of a former organist is said to haunt the ancient church of Allhallows-Barking-by-the-Tower. It is alleged to have appeared at choir practice.

Mr. Arthur Poyser (organist and master of the choristers) told how, in 1910, he first saw the apparition.

Mr. Poyser. with two solo boys, was in the practice room for special choir work. The only entrance to the church, Mr. Poyser said, was locked, and apart from the light above the piano, the building was in darkness. Anyone, to approach the room, even if the door had not been locked, must pass through two sets of folding doors, which creak badly.

"Yet in the middle of the practice," he went on, "an old lady appeared in the centre of the room gazing fixedly upon me, but without uttering a word or making a sound.

"We all saw her plainly, and so real did she appear that one of the boys offend her a chair. She simply nodded her head and sat down, remaining thus for three-quarters of an hour while we practiced our Christmas carols.

"I wondered how anybody could have got into the room, but thinking that perhaps she was a relative of one of the choir boys, I said nothing at the time. What struck me most was her eccentric behavior in not speaking to us, and her still more eccentric dress. She wore a brown shawl with a deep fringe, an old-fashioned black silk dress, and a big coal-scuttle bonnet.

"At the conclusion of the practice, much to my astonishment, she wearily rose from her seat and disappeared into the darkness of the church.

"I said to one of the boys: 'Go and tell that lady that, if she does not go out now she will be locked in,' but the boy came back and said that there was nobody there. I immediately switched on all the lights in the church, and the three of us searched every nook and cranny, but found no trace of the strange visitor and the entrance door was still locked.

"On the following Sunday, the preacher, a skeptic on psychical matters, now passed away, came to the church. I did not mention the mysterious occurrence to him, but, later in the day, he observed: 'A remarkable thing happened during this morning's service.. A huge tortoiseshell cat came out from under the piano (which was in use at the time owing to the organ being out of repair), ran round the brass altar rails and disappeared mysteriously right through the closed glass doors of the clergy vestry under the east window.'

"I then told him about my experience, and laughingly, we said that there could be no connection between tho old lady and the cat--but there was.

"Some time afterwards an old gentleman came to see me, saying that he used to be a choir. boy at the church 60 years ago. I asked him who the organist was in his day. He replied Miss Lysetta Rist, and described with extraordinary accuracy the old lady who had appeared to us in the practice room. He added that she was remarkably fond of music and animals, and used to be followed wherever she went by cats for whose food she gave money regularly.

"I verified the latter facts at Guildhall, and found that to this day sand and ashes are scattered on Tower Hill for the benefit of horses us a result of a bequest of Miss Rist, who died about 40 years ago and was buried in this church.

"Whenever any music is going on we quite frequently hear footsteps on the old wooden stairway, and other manifestations of the presence of the spirit of Miss Rist.

"Only the night before last, while seated alone at the piano in the porch music-room, playing Wagner's Master-singers, with only a single light above me, I heard distinctly a voice humming the melody apparently from behind an adjacent screen.

"Although we are all quite accustomed to such happenings, I, on this occasion, was overcome with nervousness and made a dash for the street."

"I thought it rather strange," ventured the writer, "that when I entered the church yesterday, while it was left untenanted for noonday prayer, I heard unmistakable rappings in the organ loft. I had previously been through the building in search of some one connected with the church, but no one was there at the time. A boy with a letter entered a few minutes later, on a similar errand, and. hearing the same sounds, remarked, 'I think there is someone up in the gallery."'

"Oh! you heard tho rapping, I am glad." replied Mr. Poyser. "That is a common manifestation at all times of the day and night. There have been other apparitions here, apart from that of Miss Rist, but I have only told you of what I have seen and heard myself."

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Laurel Hill Poisonings

"Hazelton Sentinel," February 4, 1884, via Newspapers.com

On January 31, 1884, Mrs. Catherine Collier (or Collyer) of Laurel Hill, Long Island, went to the butcher’s and bought onions and beef. She used her purchases to make soup and a hash for dinner. That evening, she, her husband Thomas, and their two-year-old daughter Annie all ate the meal. Thomas, however, complained the food was too peppery, and declined to eat very much of it. Catherine and Annie, however, ate without noticing anything unusual.

Very soon, it became evident that there was something extremely unusual indeed about the meal. Thomas was struck with agonizing stomach pains and constant vomiting. Catherine fell ill as well, but only many hours later. Little Annie was completely unaffected, even though she had eaten the same food as her parents.

The next day, Catherine died. Thomas began to recover, and it was assumed he would survive. A few days later, however, he had a sudden relapse, and also passed away. Autopsies showed the two had died from arsenic poisoning. The remaining portion of their dinner was analyzed, and found to be full of arsenic. No poison was found in their house, and it was a puzzle how it got into the food, considering their daughter had eaten the same meal with no ill effects.

The mystery only deepened when the authorities exhumed the body of Catherine’s father, Dennis Cowhey, who had died suddenly only two weeks previously. It was found that he, too, had ingested large amounts of arsenic.

Cowhey’s two surviving children, John and Annie Cowhey, were arrested for murder. The theory was that they committed this triple homicide in order to get sole possession of their father’s money (which amounted to about $2,000 in cash and real estate.) Annie “kept house” for her widowed father, and had prepared the beefsteak he ate immediately before becoming ill. She also admitted having bought rat poison on more than one occasion. However, she and her brother denied their guilt in the strongest terms.

Public opinion strongly supported John and Annie’s innocence, (they both had excellent reputations,) and the case against them immediately fell apart from lack of evidence. No proof was ever found that the “Rough on Rats” Annie bought had been the source of the arsenic. Relations between all members of the Cowhey/Collier families were said to have been extremely harmonious. John and Annie were soon released.

There was another minor mystery associated with the case. After Dennis Cowhey died, his relations made an unsuccessful search for his bank book. (He had not left a will, but his children agreed to split his estate equally between them.) After the Colliers died, Thomas’ mother, while going through her son’s possessions, found the bank book. No one knew how it got into his possession. According to John Cowhey, the Colliers had always denied knowing where it was.

Who poisoned Dennis Cowhey and the Colliers? The inquest was no help at all in answering that question. The verdict of the coroner’s jury was that the Colliers had died of arsenic poisoning, but they declined to say how it was administered. Popular rumor had it that Mrs. Collier had poisoned her father in order to prevent him from remarrying, and then “went insane” and killed herself and her husband.

This strikes me as a very unsatisfactory solution, but that seems to have been the last word about the crime.

This is one of those cases full of nagging questions left unanswered by the contemporary newspaper accounts. If Dennis Cowhey’s daughter did not poison him, who did? There was no evidence anyone other than Annie had access to the meal which killed him. But how could she have also poisoned the Colliers? Neither she nor her brother had the opportunity to doctor their food. There is an equal lack of evidence that any outside party had the motive or opportunity to poison any of the trio.

If Catherine Collier was guilty, how did she manage to murder her father? And why? Why go on to kill her husband and herself? Why was Thomas Collier the only one of his household to complain about the “peppery” quality of the food? If the hash and soup were what poisoned them, how did their daughter escape the wholesale slaughter?

Who knows?

Friday, November 23, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Strange Company HQ's staff photographer.

Watch out for those fire giants!

The Stillwell murder.

The Massachusetts Borgia escapes the noose.

Another instance of the internet proving there is such a thing as too much publicity.

Regulating boy soldiers.

Legends of the Tower of London.

A deadly ancient meteor.

Shorter version: Brrrr!

That time the Dutch executed an entire village.

That time Ben Jonson faced a murder charge.

How Harriet Moore became John Murphy.

Here's your big chance to live in Britain's most haunted village.

Some delightfully wretched Thanksgiving plays.

Serious question: Aren't all nightclubs portals to Hell?

The birth of the fingerprint detectives.

How Voltaire went from prisoner to playwright.

One of the first suffragettes.

The oldest original manuscripts of Old English poetry.  All four of 'em.

The Toyota dealership employee who should have won a Nobel Prize.

A day in the life of the Society for the Protection of Women and Children.

Thanksgiving recipes you probably won't want to copy.  Unless, of course, you really dislike your guests.

Giving some love to the pun.

The fiery mystery that inspired Charles Dickens.

Shorter version: sailing the North Sea in the 18th century was...not fun.

A "mythical" city has just been found.

The Duchess and her wolf.

If you need a theme for your next dinner party, here are some dishes made by famous poisoners.

A first-hand look back at Jefferson Airplane and the Summer of Love.

Jack the Ripper's most mysterious victim.

The toy monkey and the Nazis.

A 19th century woman goes to sea.

Why you would not want to take your time machine to 536 AD.

One of 2018's weirdest hoaxes.

Public Thanksgiving and the Jacobite Rebellion.

A shooting on a streetcar.

A stone-throwing poltergeist in Zimbabwe.

A ghost who liked to count oranges.

That wraps it up for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an obscure and deeply puzzling poisoning mystery.  In the meantime, here are Glen and Roy. RIP, guys.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Newspaper Clipping(s) of the Day, Thanksgiving Edition

Welcome to Strange Company's annual celebration of our American holiday of Thanksgiving! If you are familiar with this blog, you already know what that means.

Weaponized turkeys.

The "Williamsburg Sun-Gazette," December 26, 1911:
Bloomfield, N.J., Dec. 25--On his way home with a twenty-pound turkey Saturday night Harry Stanislaus sacrificed the bird to save himself from being bitten by a savage dog which attacked him near his home in Chapel street.

The dog leaped at the man's throat, but Mr. Stanislaus got out of the way, and then when it jumped again he used the turkey as a weapon and showered blow after blow on the animal, finally causing it to sneak away.

There was not enough left of the fowl, however, to make soup.

If there's one thing I've learned from writing this blog, it's that turkeys are a must for self-defense. The "Republican and Herald," December 2, 1912:
Richfield, N. J., Dec. 2. With a turkey as a weapon, John Moran, a farmland, kept a highwayman at bay and saved his wallet, containing $32.60, which he had received only a short time previous from his employer for his month's work. Moran was walking over a lonely stretch of road toward Paterson, and when he approached the railroad tracks the highwayman jumped out from behind a tree and demanded his money. Moran swung his turkey and landed on the fellow's head with such force as to knock him down. He then dropped the bird and pummeled the would-be thief with his fists and afterward he continued his journey without further molestation.

From the "New York Tribune," November 27, 1903:
Bloomfield, N.J., Nov. 26--Moses De Witt, a colored man, whose home is in the Bowery district of this town, is now a firm believer in the luck attached to the number thirteen. On the thirteenth of the month De Witt bought a ticket for a raffle for a turkey. He paid thirteen cents for it and won the bird, which tipped the scales exactly at thirteen pounds. The number thirteen figured in the affair in other ways, too. On the way home, in passing the bridge over Second River at Henry st., he was stopped by two men, one of whom asked him the time. He informed him and was about to pass on when the fellows both attacked him and endeavored to take the watch away from him. De Witt was taken by surprise, but not so much as his assailants were when the old man suddenly gripped the turkey firmly by the legs and then laid about him right and left, using the bird as a weapon. The highwaymen took to their heels and the turkey graced the table at the De Witt home. "If anything, the use I made of the turkey," said De Witt, "only served to make it more tender."

Now there's a cooking tip I'll bet never occurred to Martha Stewart.

[Note: All items via Newspapers.com]

The "New York Tribune," December 1, 1899:
James Cannon, fifty-eight years old, of No. 3 First St., Hoboken, and his wife, Ellen, eight years his junior, spent yesterday afternoon and last evening at Hoboken Police Headquarters because Mrs. Cannon did not cook a Thanksgiving turkey to suit the taste of her husband. The police say that when Cannon tried to carve the bird he first found fault because it was not properly basted, and then because the turkey was tough. Finally the husband, according to his wife, seized the cooked fowl by a leg and struck her over the head with it. Policemen Borrune and Kiely were called in and found the Thanksgiving dinner a wreck. The couple were arrested on a charge of being drunk and disorderly.

If Mrs. Cannon had only known to first use the bird to beat up highwaymen, all this trouble could have been averted. And curious, is it not, how New Jersey appears to be the Turkey Weapon Capital of the World?

Of course, using a turkey as a club does not always work very well for you or the bird. The "Philadelphia Times," November 28, 1884:
There was a clear space of the length of a man's arm and two turkey legs in front of Stephen Nash's crowded bar for ten minutes yesterday afternoon. At the end of that time the man with the arm and the turkey legs was put out. In the ten minutes he rapped the turkey legs repeatedly on the counter and made the glasses jingle. He also had something to complain of.

He spoke rapidly and his voice got thick toward the end of his speech. " I went to buy a turkey this morning, gentlemen," the man said, "and I won the turkey that belonged to these legs in a raffle. Then I thought I'd spend my turkey money for rum and unless I can pick up the fragments of that turkey on the road back to Frankford my family will have to dine on cranberry sauce." Here the turkey man mournfully dangled the trailing tendons of the mangled fowl in the olive dish.

"A man belted me," he continued, "in a Clearfield street saloon on the way home and when I whacked him with that proud bird of freedom the head and neck came off like a link of sausage and flew into the Tom and Jerry bowl.

"The bartender got unreasonable and wanted me lo pay for the Tom and Jerry. I refused and he became impudent. I swung that barnyard's pride at him and he dodged behind the cigar case. Gentlemen, the glass of that case sluffed off more than two pounds of white meat.

"Then we clinched and both wings of the bird disappeared in the scuffle. I saw the bartender through the door brushing pin-feathers off his cardigan jacket when I left. The wish bone was busted, too, and the turkey's lungs was hanging out of the place where his neck had been. I thought then that I'd better take the rest of the family's Thanksgiving home to 'em.

"A Fifth street car conductor said I couldn't bring the turkey aboard. We had a fencing match-- him with the car hook and me with the turkey. When we got through I asked him to let me take his coat home to roast for dinner, for all the turkey was on it but the Pope's nose and the legs. He wouldn't have it and I gave the Pope's nose to a blind beggar and here I am with the drumsticks."

And, of course, few things say, "Spirit of Thanksgiving" like getting into a shootout at a turkey raffle.

"St. Paul Globe," November 27, 1902

And, finally, considering what this holiday means to turkeys, it's always nice to see them get a bit of their own back. The "Los Angeles Herald," July 14, 1907:
Newmarket, N.J., July 13.— Justice Clarke T. Rogers, who makes a specialty of breeding big hogs and prize fowls, had a hair raising experience with a turkey yesterday. Rogers picked up a young turkey yesterday and, while he was fondling it, the mother turkey attacked him. The enraged bird flew at the judge's face, beating his head with its wings and pecking wildly away into his flesh. So unexpected and ferocious was the attack that Rogers felt to the ground unconscious. The cackles of the turkey brought Col. Downey, a. nephew, to the scene and he drove away the infuriated bird.
Yes, New Jersey again.  And no, I'm not going to ask why the judge was fondling a turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving!  And as for you Jerseyites, for the love of God, go vegetarian this year.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Scandalous Mrs. Crane

In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, there were many different ways—both good and bad—in which a woman could earn herself the enigmatic label of “adventuress.” During her relatively brief life, Cora Howarth Murphy Stewart, who eventually became, spiritually if not legally, “Mrs. Stephen Crane,” ran through all those ways, and probably invented a few new ones along the way.

Cora Howarth, daughter of a modestly well-to-do owner of a Boston art gallery, was born in 1868. (Some sources say 1865.) She was given the quintessential Victorian genteel, restrained upbringing, and spent the rest of her life trying to live it down. Tiring of being guarded by chaperones, at a young age Howarth married a usefully nondescript fellow named Thomas Vinton Murray simply so she would be free to do as she liked. As it turned out, one of the first things she liked was a young army captain, Donald William Stewart. No sooner had she become “Mrs. Murray,” than she was running off to England with Stewart. They married after Murray displayed his useful nondescriptness by quietly giving her a divorce.

Cora enjoyed English social life so much that when Stewart was sent to India, she decided she greatly preferred it to her new second husband. She remained behind, earning Stewart’s everlasting enmity by committing adulteries as numerous as they were well-known.

It is not clear how she came to go from London party girl to Florida madam. One story claims that she happened to sail into American waters on the private yacht owned by one of her current lovers. They quarreled during the voyage, and she angrily leaped overboard and swam ashore, ending up on the beaches of Jacksonville.

However this change in scenery came to be, she decided to start a new life in what was then a booming, lively resort town. Renaming herself “Cora Taylor,” she opened what was tactfully termed a “nightclub.” In reality, it was an upscale brothel. (“Class-A,” according to the helpful guides available to male tourists.)

It was in Jacksonville that, in 1896, she first met Stephen Crane, who had already achieved fame with “The Red Badge of Courage.” He came there as one of the journalists covering the burgeoning war fever against the Spanish presence in Cuba, but he soon found the lively brothel-keeper at least as fascinating. Crane and Cora were similar wild, restless spirits, and they felt an immediate mutual sympathy. When he wound up in a shipwreck (the inspiration for his story “The Open Boat,”) and she nursed him back to health, this sympathy turned to love.

When Crane left to cover the war in the Balkans, Cora accompanied him. She filed dispatches for the Hearst papers under the name “Imogene Carter,” becoming the world’s first female war correspondent. By this time, she was certain she had at last found the man with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life. However, Stewart spitefully refused her a divorce. Her response was to simply shrug off the formalities. For the rest of her life, she called herself “Mrs. Cora Crane.”

The Cranes eventually settled in Brede Place, a rambling, rundown, allegedly haunted 14th century mansion in Sussex, England. They lived as precursors to Scott and Zelda, leading a stereotypically bohemian life of drink, nonstop house parties—they both craved living in crowd scenes--and chronic personal disarray. The couple became deeply in debt—they were just the generous, careless types who make perfect targets for spongers. Their personal relationship was equally turbulent—at one point, Stephen even walked out on his chagrined “wife.”

Brede Place, via Wikipedia

The party ended when Crane left to cover the Spanish-American war. Already suffering from tuberculosis, the combination of the Cuban climate and the physical strains of being in the midst of war destroyed his health. To add to the couple’s troubles, they were broke—both of them were incapable of handling practical affairs—ostracized from society, and at a loss as to what on earth to do.

The sad climax to their story came during one of their typically crowded house parties, when, on December 29, 1899, Crane began hemorrhaging and collapsed. Cora somehow managed to raise enough funds to bring him to a sanatorium in Bavaria, but soon after their arrival, in June of 1900, Crane died. He was only twenty-eight.

Crane’s death robbed Cora of the closest thing to stability she ever had, and the loss sent her on a downward spiral. She suffered a nervous breakdown after Stephen’s death, but she pulled herself together enough to return to Jacksonville. She managed to borrow enough money to open “The Court,” one of the city’s most elegant brothels. It proved so successful that she became part owner of other bordellos, as well.

Cora saw her little prostitution empire as a form of social work, giving men a needed break from the humdrum. She once wrote, “I wonder if husbands are so often unfaithful because their wives are good? I think so. They cannot stand the dreary monotonies and certainties.”

It could have been interesting to hear what the wives would have made of this doctrine.

Captain Stewart died in Africa, finally leaving her free to remarry. She used her new-found freedom in the most disastrous way possible. In 1905, after a very short acquaintance, she impulsively married one of her establishment’s clients, a good-looking, lively young wastrel named Hammond McNeil. He soon showed himself to be an unstable, hotheaded alcoholic. Even worse was to come. One day in 1907, she went out on a picnic with a man named Harry Parker. McNeil followed them and shot Parker dead.

McNeil’s defense was the “unwritten law” that supposedly allowed a man to kill his wife’s seducer, causing Cora’s public reputation to go from merely notorious to infamous. She refused to testify, and McNeil was acquitted. They divorced soon afterward. (During their divorce, McNeil, showing a rather quaint amount of gall, accused Cora of beating him on numerous occasions. She retorted, “Yes, I did it, and I only wish I had beaten him to death.”)

After Parker’s murder, Cora was painted as the Black Widow and Scarlet Woman combined, but she was doggedly determined to carry on with her life. She had always shown a talent for writing, and this creative outlet became increasingly important to her. Her stories appeared in the leading publications of the time, and she began to consider moving to Europe and devoting herself full-time to a literary career.

This uncharacteristically quiet daydream was not to be. Cora continued to run the Court until 1910, when she suffered a mild stroke. She turned the management of the brothel over to her housekeeper, who reportedly repaid this trust by embezzling from her employer. Cora Crane died not long afterward, from heat stroke brought on when, with her usual impulsive generosity, she tried to help push out a car that had been stuck in the sand.

A woman too famous to be ignored, but too notorious for frank public description, presented a unique challenge to the local obituary writers. Her death notices emphasized her Boston Brahmin heritage, her literary talents, her personal charm, and her stature as “the wife of Stephen Crane, the novelist.” The more unconventional side of her career—which summarized everything she was—found itself quickly dismissed as merely a flirtation with “the Bohemian life.”

I doubt she would have been pleased by such airbrushing.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is full of surprises!

The murder of a miser.

The "canonical" victims of Jack the Ripper.

The 16th century's most important medical book.

The men who survived the eruption of Mount Pelee.

How to cope with November?  Why, fenugreek soup, of course!

Robin Hood and the Men in Black.

A man executed for murdering his slave.

Napoleonic refugees in America.

Botulism and the Hotel of Death.

Why you wouldn't want to offer Frederick the Great a cup of coffee.

Definition of A Bad Day: realizing you have a live viper in your stomach.

The history of an unusual painting.

One heck of a big crater.

The woman who signed the Declaration of Independence.

A morbid night out in late 19th century France.

An Early Modern woman mourns her dearest friend.

Early Modern tales of nose reattachments.

Maybe it's best to avoid an area known as "the end of the habitable world."  (No, no, I'm not talking about Strange Company HQ.)

If your local high school wants to put on an early 20th century production of "Mean Girls," here you go.

The real Indiana Jones.

Lady embalmers.

Wise men and cunning women.

Ancient poetry and the Great Pyramid.

The lost continents under Antarctic ice.

Bad news: silver bullets won't protect you from werewolves.  Of course, this guy doesn't believe in werewolves, either, so I guess everything's cool.

In defense of Blackbeard.

When ghosts send telegrams.

The Grand Canyon's oldest footprints.

Fishermen reel in The Weird.

Forgers come to a bad end.

The execution of "witch children."

An ancient cat tomb.

The quest to end "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."

A frozen "super-Earth."

A Moroccan poltergeist.

Native Americans reach for the sky.

From librarian to WWI soldier.

A notorious Welsh murder.

WWI and the 300' casket.

A crowd-funding project for those of you with an interest in alchemy and natural magic.

That's all for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at the busy life of a scandalous lady. In the meantime, let's all have a Lizzie Borden sing-a-long!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

When we think of "fairy sightings," probably one of the last settings to come to mind is 1970s American suburbia. Nevertheless, we have this report from the (Rochester, New York) "Democrat and Chronicle," August 6, 1977:
Leprechauns? PURE TOMFOOLERY, RIGHT? Sure well, maybe.

On the afternoon of October 12, 1976, eight-year-old Tonnlie Barefoot was playing in a cornfield near his Dunn, North Carolina, home, when he spotted a curious little man "not much bigger than a Coke bottle." At least that's what the boy claims to have seen.

The creature, according to Tonnlie, wore black boots, blue trousers, a blue top made of "shiny stuff," a black "german-type hat" with a figure that looked like crossed rifles on it, and "the prettiest little white tie you ever saw." The little man, with mouth agape, reportedly shot a glance at the boy, then squealed like a mouse and ran off.

"Was it fast?" the boy was asked.

"Faster'n me," he replied.

In support of the boy's story, two sets of tiny tracks were found in the field. "The tracks were definitely those of little boots," local newspaper editor Fred Bost wrote in the Spring, 1977, issue of Pursuit. "Cleat marks were easily discernible.

"I failed to count the number in the first set, but there were 14 in the second set, which was clearer than the first. Individual prints were 2 1/4 inches long and about 1 inch wide at the broadest point."

Bost and Tonnlie's school principal questioned the boy, and came away convinced that he was telling the truth, or what he sincerely believed to be the truth. Tonnlie's mother concurred. "I know my son Tonnlie," she asserted. "He's telling the truth."

Two weeks after Tonnlie's alleged sighting, 20-year-old Shirley Ann McCrimmon was entering her home when she suddenly heard a strange rustling sound behind her. She quickly turned around and, to her astonishment, saw a tiny man staring at her. The woman reported that she watched the creature for several minutes, and then began to approach it for a closer look. Almost immediately the little man shined a "very bright yellow light" in the woman's eyes. She screamed, and her visitor fled around the side of the house.

The woman told police that the tiny man was either wearing a semitransparent costume or was naked. His skin (or clothes) appeared to be light brown, and he was wearing boots, but no hat. Two miniature footprints were discovered at the scene. The prints were less distinct than those in the cornfield, but they were the exact same size.

"The ground was hard where the footprints were found at the McCrimmon home," Bost noted, "yet around the back where the little man was said to have disappeared, there was a garden area with soft earth but here no footprints could be found."

Bost continued: "The strange part about the footprints was that they led nowhere in any of the locations where they were found. The ground was soft in both areas of the cornfield, yet in both cases the footprints ended abruptly." It was as if the tiny intruder had gone up.

Curiously, a UFO was sighted over Dunn the evening before the little man was first sighted. A witness described it as a "strange orange light which appeared in the sky." Moreover, soon after the little man sightings, a woman came into Bost's office to purchase some issues of the newspaper that contained stories of the weird goings-on. The woman explained that she was buying them for friends in Cleveland. She went on to say that her friends had written her not too long ago about a neighbor of theirs. The neighbor, her friends had informed her, insisted she had seen a man who was "very small, very little."

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Most Baffling Murder: The Death of Margaretta Todd

"Fort Wayne Journal," August 29, 1915, via Newspapers.com

Agatha Christie, meet Margaretta von Hoffman Todd, a woman who could have stepped right out of your books. Like many a Christie character, Mrs. Todd was elderly, extremely wealthy, and decidedly eccentric. Like many a Christie character, Mrs. Todd in one way or another managed to give many people a motive to see her dead. And, of course, like many a Christie character, Mrs. Todd met a mysterious, and very bad end.

Unfortunately, unlike a Christie character, the puzzle of Mrs. Todd's death wasn't neatly wrapped up in the last chapter.

For some years before her death, Mrs. Todd had lived with what was described as "almost Oriental lavishness" in her New York City apartments. The red-wigged, flamboyantly dressed dowager received daily a parade of callers--some of whom, it was alleged, were forced to kneel and kiss her hand, as if in the presence of royalty.

Early in 1902, Mrs. Todd, whose age was vaguely estimated as between 75 and 80, made out her will. Everyone in her inner circle benefited from it in one way or another. She named as executor her lawyer (and possibly lover) 60-year-old Ingersoll Lockwood, who would also be given control of her home, the Von Hoffman Arms. (He was already living in a suite in the building, rent-free.) Friends and servants, most notably her maid (and close friend) Jennie Paine, were given generous cash bequests. The bulk of her estate went to Mrs. Todd's daughter. All in all, no one who knew her had any reason to complain about how she planned to disperse her wealth.

It was later that same year that the Todd story began to get weird. In December, an old friend of Mrs. Todd's named Anna Haight unexpectedly turned up at her door, evidently with the hope of making an extended visit. Mrs. Todd was out of town at the time, but Jennie Paine decided there would be no harm in letting the visitor stay.

This proved to be a mistaken assumption. Two days later, Mrs. Haight began to behave strangely--so much so that Paine thought it best to send for a doctor. However, before he arrived, the houseguest suddenly began shrieking "Let me out! Let me out!" and leaped through an open window to the street below. Haight survived the incident with only minor injuries, but the cause for her bizarre behavior remained a mystery.

In early 1903, Mrs. Todd began acting a bit oddly herself. In a classic Agatha Christie twist, she rewrote her will, naming her daughter, Rosalie Tousey, as executrix, cutting Lockwood out of having any control over her estate. She began dropping broad--and obviously, to certain people, highly ominous--hints that she was preparing even bigger changes to her will.

Jennie Paine was clearly among those disturbed by Mrs. Todd's Adventures in Will-Making. Apparently at the instigation of Ingersoll Lockwood, she went to Mrs. Todd's personal physician, Albert G. Weed, and confided to him that their "dear old friend" was losing her mind. She bluntly recommended that he have Mrs. Todd placed in an asylum. Dr. Weed, who had seen no sign of the lunacy Paine described, curtly brushed off the suggestion.

What the good doctor did do was run straight to Mrs. Todd and inform her about these efforts by her nearest and dearest to brand her a madwoman. Margaretta, understandably infuriated, immediately had Lockwood thrown out of his apartment and informed Jennie Paine that it was time for her to seek new employment. And I doubt she gave the maid glowing references. Mrs. Todd angrily wrote a friend that she was through with both these false former friends. "I have them sized right up and know their game. They have laid plans which will fall through just like themselves." Around this time, her 1903 will disappeared from her home. Mrs. Todd believed that Lockwood had had it stolen.

On October 26, 1905, Mrs. Todd told her new lawyer, George Gordon Hastings, that she had written out a new will--one that, presumably, completely cut out Paine and Lockwood. They agreed that she would go to his office the following morning to sign it. This new will was done in secret. Mrs. Todd, Hastings later said, did not want anyone else to know what she was doing because she believed she was "surrounded by conspirators."

If you have ever read an Agatha Christie novel, you are probably already guessing that she never made it to this appointment. You would be right. Later that same day, Mrs. Todd told Jennie Paine's replacement, Marie Goddard, that she was going out for some fresh air. Mrs. Todd removed some papers from a safe, which she put "into the bosom of her dress," and left the Von Hoffman, evidently with the intention of paying a quick visit to New Jersey, ostensibly to visit a relative.

This was the last time she was known to have been seen alive. Just a few hours later, Mrs. Todd's body was found on some railroad tracks near Philadelphia. Before she was discovered, a train had run over her, crushing her head and severing both legs. She was still wearing the $20,000 worth of jewelry she had donned before leaving her home. The papers Miss Goddard said she had been carrying were never found.

Any idea that she had killed herself was dismissed when the autopsy showed that she died of poison. Then, her body had been placed on the tracks, evidently in the hope that her death would be seen as accidental. The presence of her jewelry ruled out any idea that this had been some common robbery. The timing of her death led to the obvious conclusion that someone had killed Margaretta Todd before she could sign her new will.

At this point, yet another odd person entered this odd case--Louis Todd, Margaretta's third, and most recent, husband.

Well, maybe he was her husband. Although Mrs. Todd had let it be known that the two were married, Louis--a dapper, dashing entrepreneur, gambler, and general man-about-town, came forward to vehemently deny the dead lady had ever been his wife. As he was currently indisputably married--to a Medora Sanford--he was naturally anxious to clear himself of a bigamy charge. As no proof ever emerged that he and Mrs. Todd had gone through a marriage ceremony, it seems to have been accepted that he was telling the truth. (We have no idea why Margaretta posed as his wife.)

Further complicating matters was the fact that Louis Todd was on a train from New York to Philadelphia on the night Margaretta died. His proximity to the site where her body was discovered added his name to the list of murder suspects.

Whoever was responsible for Mrs. Todd's death--and it was beginning to look like "Who wasn't?"--Ingersoll Lockwood lost no time taking advantage of the tragedy. Although he had failed in his efforts to have Mrs. Todd's body cremated before it could be autopsied, he immediately filed her 1902 will, took back his old apartment, and hired a pack of detectives to help him cement his new supremacy.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Todd's daughter--who had been in Europe at the time of her mother's death--wasted no time hurrying home to tackle the usurper. Mrs. Tousey firmly planted herself in the Von Hoffman Arms, forced Lockwood out of his recently-recovered apartment, and announced that she was hiring her own team of gumshoes. She vowed to get to the bottom of the murder mystery.

She never did. Less than a month after Mrs. Todd's death, the police, failing to find any solid leads in the mystery, shrugged their shoulders and dropped their inquiries. In one of this tale's many bizarre touches, one of Mrs. Tousey's detectives, Walter Hoyer, committed suicide. He left a note saying he was committing the act out of despair over being unable to solve the Todd case.

Rosalie Tousey also did not long survive her mother. In July 1906, she married Margaretta's attorney George Hastings. Five months later, Rosalie died suddenly in Nice, France. The cause of her death does not seem to have been publicly recorded. Her new husband received her entire estate.

Mrs. Todd's 1902 will was finally admitted to probate in March 1906. Rosalie , George Hastings, and Mrs. Todd's grandson, Milton Berolsheim, immediately appealed this decision. After four years of legal wrangling, the survivors of the Todd Mystery finally reached a settlement over her estate. We are told that everyone involved was relieved to finally close the books on a case that had come to be regarded as a "hoodoo." Mrs. Todd's final will was never found.

And, of course, her murder was never solved.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the ghostwriting team for playwright John Patrick.

What the hell are ghosts?

For that matter, what the hell are ghost bears?

Where the hell is this Japanese island?

So maybe there are worse things than being buried alive.

A dubious honor: the first person to be executed in Detroit.

I'm not saying it's aliens, but they're saying it's aliens.

If you want to know what the weather in Lincolnshire was like on February 2, 1817, here you go.

The unluckiest soldiers: the last men to be killed in WWI.

Nero's many attempts at matricide.

The perils of posing as a man in 18th century Germany.

Yet more examples of DNA changing how we write history.

So there are people out there giving sharks ultrasounds.

The Case of the Candlelight Killer.

Some forgotten sea serpents.

The story of Subway Nellie.

The woman who didn't marry Napoleon.

This week in Russian Weird: just a boy and his...wolf?

This is your map of Britain on drugs.

The journal of an 18th century East India Company employee.

A ribald poetic look at 18th century London.

The Queen of Bohemia predicts her own death.

The psychic Battle of Britain.

The Great Airship Scare.

A cautionary tale about fireworks.

Laura La Plante and the ghost.

Madame Tussaud's in 1883.

Ancient bathroom humor.

Schrodinger cat is definitely alive.

The ghost of Cork City.

The intuitions of Charles Henry Kelly.

Mary Robinson, 18th century Renaissance woman.

Examples of weird fossils.

"42" may not be the answer to the universe after all. It's "137."

A true house of horrors.

And that's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at the Agatha Christie-like murder of a wealthy woman.  In the meantime, here's one of the prettiest melodies ever written:

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Most dogs bring home bones or dead rats. However, one canine finally had the bright idea of turning herself into her own ATM. Meet Dumpy (or Duchess Dumpy, to give her full name.)

"Reno Gazette-Journal," September 20, 1938, via Newspapers.com

A follow-up to our little tale appeared in the "Battle Creek Enquirer," July 23, 1939:

Dumpy was a handsome crossbreed. Her father was a registered Doberman Pinscher. Her dam was a registered Irish setter. She belonged to Mrs. Harvey C. Stiles, of Granary Cottage, San Jose Mission, San Antonio, Texas.

Always, from puppyhood, she had been clever and original, as befitted the offspring of two such breeds. But not until July 9, 1938, did she develop the amazing trait which was described in so many newspapers at the time.

On that day, Dumpy came home from her usual daily walk; carrying a crumpled strip of paper daintily between her jaws. She laid the paper at Mrs. Stiles' feet, then stepped back waiting to be thanked for her gift.

Instead of thanks, the dog was greeted with a stare of blank amazement. For the strip of paper was a $1 bill.

The bill was badly mussed up and it was crusted with fresh earth. Yet, undeniably, it was a dollar bill, and apparently a good one. Mrs. Stiles' family and one or two neighbors came in to see the treasure trove Dumpy had brought home. Many were their exclamations of wonder.

Next day, she came back from her walk with another dollar bill, similarly rumpled and dirt-sprinkled. And again she was met by the same chorus of astonishment. Day after day she returned from her stroll, always carrying one of the soiled dollar bills she had found somewhere. This continued, week after week.

People tried craftily to trail Dumpy on her daily rambles and to find out whence she got the money. But always the wise dog gave them the slip; using the cunning of a wolf, to elude her followers. And every day she brought home a dollar bill.

Never for a long while did she bring a bill of any other denomination, never more than a single bill. Mrs. Stiles took a handful of this cash to the nearest bank to have experts decide whether or not it was counterfeit currency, and to tell her if it was marked or "wanted" or if it were "hot money."

The bills were proven genuine. Nor were they marked, nor on any list of "wanted" money. And the mystery deepened.

The story reached the newspapers. Reporters tried to shadow the dog, on her walks. But she dodged them as easily as she had eluded the neighbors. And still the money came in, always a dollar a day. The press notoriety was quite enough to have warned anyone who might have hidden the cash in a supposedly safe place where the dog had happened to find it, and to have given him full opportunity to remove what was left of the hoard.

But it was not removed. No neighborhood miser-stories were revived which might have given a clue. No, the money came daily from the earth--as was attested by the crumbs of fresh dirt sticking to it--and only Dumpy knew where in the earth it came from. Within a few months, $166 had been amassed. And the regular flow of dollars did not cease nor slacken. How large the treasure may be by the time you read this if Dumpy is still living and if the hoard has not been exhausted I don't know. Nor if, by that time, the mystery may have been solved.

Now for a letter from Mrs. Stiles. She wrote me:

"I will gladly tell you in detail about Dumpy. So far, everything printed about her finding money is absolutely true; not even exaggerated. Since July 9, she has been bringing me one dollar a day, except once when she was poisoned and again when she had seven puppies.

"The puppies, born November 30, 1938, I named Penny, Nickle, Dime, Two Bits, Four Bits, Six Bits and Dollar. I called them The Currency Family.'

"The money brought home to me by Dumpy was all in singles; except, for several days, later on, five $5 bills; one of them a day. We have followed her, again and again. Always she goes toward an old gravel pit. But always she manages to give us the slip.

"I keep on feeling sure each day's dollar will be the last. But it never is. When she began bringing money home to us we thought some one was giving it to her, though we couldn't guess why anybody would do such a thing.

"So we notified the authorities. It was verified. That is how it got into the newspapers. And since then we have about as much privacy as Cobb's goldfish. But Dumpy's daily deed is doing much good, as I'll explain.

"I decided that the money brought home by her was a Godsend and thus must be used for charity. I spent part of it for a Jersey cow, whose 12 quarts of milk a day I give to the Bexar County Tuberculosis association to be distributed among TB children.

"In Dumpy's name also, I gave out many baskets of food for Christmas. And the money paid me for her pups (one of them, 'Two Bits,' sold for $25) goes to the Dumpy fund, to help the unfortunate.

"This Dumpy fund is really worthwhile. For there are many who need help, in this region. Other contributions have been added to it by generous people."

So, Dumpy s treasure trove consists not only of a dollar a day, but also of a good deed a day which is worthy of the best Scout traditions. When the first details of the mystery were printed, a year or more ago. I wondered what was going to be done with the money.

It adds to one's faith in human nature to hear that it is put to such splendid use. Mrs. Stiles writes me that not one penny of the treasure is used otherwise than for charity. If ever the secret of the hidden fortune is made known to me, I'll tell you about it. Until then, as far as I can learn, there is no hunt as to the source of the money. As to Dumpy's continuing to bring it home, day after day, for such a long time well, to me, there is no mystery at all about that part of the story.
The last news item I've been able to find about Dumpy was in September 1939, where they indicated that the dog was still bringing home the dough. I cannot find when--or if!--the parade of bills ceased, or if they ever found Dumpy's hidden store of loot.

In any case, I'm showing these articles to my cats. It's about time they started earning their keep.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Where is Trevaline?

Trevaline Evans, via Cascade News

An utterly normal person, going about an utterly normal day in his/her utterly normal life. All is well. Not the slightest need for any apprehension. Then, seemingly within a heartbeat, something--we can only guess what--happens. And this person is never seen again, alive or dead. What could be more eerie?

It's small wonder a great many people have found themselves obsessed with the mystery of Trevaline Evans.

In 1990, Evans was a 52-year-old antiques dealer who managed a shop, "Attic Antiques," in the picturesque little town of Llangollen, Wales. She was a loving and content wife, mother, and grandmother. At 9:30 on the morning of June 16th, she opened her store as usual. Llangollen being the sort of place where "everybody knows everybody," Evans had many friends dropping by the shop, as well as the normal stream of tourists. Everyone who saw Mrs. Evans agreed that she seemed her usual placid, cheery self. She made plans to go out with friends that evening.

On that particular day, Trevaline's husband Richard was at the holiday cottage they owned in nearby Rhuddlan, doing some renovations. When he phoned home that night, there was no answer. After calling several times with equally fruitless results, he contacted friends to see if they knew where Trevaline was. When he learned that no one had seen her since mid-day, Richard began to get concerned, and asked a neighbor to visit the antique shop. The man found Trevaline's car still parked outside the store. Attic Antiques was unoccupied. The door was locked, and she had pinned a note to it: "Back in 2 minutes." (The handwriting was later confirmed to be hers.) Richard realized something was seriously wrong, and he contacted police.

Investigators found that Trevaline's purse, car keys, and coat were still in the shop, as well as fruit and flowers a friend had given her on the morning of the 16th. All of this indicated that, just as her note had said, the missing woman had intended to be out of the shop for only a brief time.

Detectives pieced together all the information they could find about her movements on the 16th. Around 12:30 p.m., a friend briefly stopped by the shop. Soon after that, Evans put the note on the door and departed. She bought an apple and banana from a nearby store on Castle Street, Llangollen's main thoroughfare. The town's streets were bustling and full, so Evans was seen by numerous people who knew her. No one noticed anything unusual about her behavior. At 2:30, a friend saw Trevaline near her home. As far as is known for certain, no one has seen her since. Shortly after 2:30, a woman matching her description was reported as walking along the busy A5 leading out of Llangollen. An hour after that, someone believed they saw her walking by the River Dee. However, both these "sightings" have been disputed. A banana peel was found in the garbage can of the antique shop, suggesting that Trevaline may have returned there after buying the fruit, but we have no way of knowing if it was from the banana she bought on the 16th.

The search for Trevaline became the biggest missing-person hunt in North Wales history. Police went door-to-door asking about her. The surrounding countryside was searched. Divers scoured all local waterways. Bloodhounds were brought in. Updates about the case were frequently featured on local TV. Richard Evans offered a reward of £5,000 for any information about his wife's whereabouts. Psychics were even consulted. Everything that could be done to find this woman was done. And the result was...next to nothing.

The most intriguing thing to emerge from the investigation was that in the days before her disappearance, Trevaline was seen several times in the company of a man who was a stranger to everyone who saw them together. On all these occasions, the two appeared to be having intense conversations. On the night before she vanished, Mrs. Evans reportedly had a "heated" talk with this man behind her shop. Unfortunately, this man has never been identified, leaving his role--if he had one--in Trevaline's disappearance a mystery. A police sketch artist made a drawing of this man which was widely circulated. However, police eventually dismissed this sketch as "inaccurate."

Mrs. Evans was declared legally dead in 1997. The investigation was briefly reopened in 2001, with the hope that modern forensic technology might help solve the case. Richard Evans was brought in for questioning--the husband is inevitably always the first suspect when a woman goes missing--but was soon released for lack of evidence.

Police believe that Trevaline Evans did not leave voluntarily. The assumption is that she was a victim of foul play, but the question of who could have murdered this seemingly harmless, innocent woman, and why, is to date still a frighteningly murky puzzle.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Strange Company HQ's receptionist.

Watch out for those haunted beds!

Watch out for those haunted jewels!

Watch out for those Halloween masks!

A mysterious case of "local self-combustion."

A pantomime witness to murder.

The life of an 18th century baronet.

So, there's such a thing as "crop circle tourism."

A 16th century witch trial.

How America's first bird warden became a murder victim.

The importance of historical accuracy of place.  (A footnote: for years now, there's been a lively argument about the true site of the battle of Bosworth.  It may well not be where most think it is.)

A wizard in stone.

The 1918 influenza pandemic was particularly bad in India.

A possible link between Parkinson's disease and the appendix.

A poorly-tailored statue.

The power of the screaming mandrake.

But was their hair perfect?

A look at phantom hitchhikers.

Suffolk's fairylore.

Commemorating the dead of WWI. 

A violent All Hallows' Day.

The ghost of John Adams.

The "Trick or Treat" murder.

The life and times of a famed 19th century publisher.

A tribute to the cats of wartime.

Somebody really, really wants this guy to have pizza.

300,000 year old stone tools.

New findings on the origins of chocolate.

Weird historical artifacts.

A near-fatal encounter with a carriage.

Some handy tips from a century ago.

The only dog to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy.

The oldest weapons ever discovered in North America.

The curious relationship of Queen Victoria and John Brown.

Ghosts in the White House.

Prohibition wasn't just for Americans.


Examining Seabiscuit's DNA.  (Personally, I think some greatness goes beyond mere genetics.)

A bad murderer spawns even worse poetry.

A memorial to two lost children.

A transported criminal comes to a good end.

Some grim incidents from the Victorian era.

The Witch of Moorgate.

Victorian spinsters have a Halloween tea party.

When it was common to picnic in cemeteries.

Why people fake their own death.

A hidden New York park and an unsolved murder.

George Orwell vs. the Joy of Sex.

A man's exceedingly weird death.

A little-known 17th century female playwright.

The ghosts of Hampton Court.

In defense of Gilles de Rais.

Victorian fictional deaths, from A to Z!

Why a murderous coachman got a large funeral.

Alfred the Aetheling comes to a bad end.

A church goes to the dogs.  And cats.

The famed Hammersmith Ghost.

So we bid farewell to yet another Link Dump.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a Welsh disappearance.  In the meantime, here's Le Vent du Nord: