"...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, February 15, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is hosted by this jaunty cat-about-town:

Where the hell are the UFOs?

Where the hell is the founder of Rome buried?

Where the hell is Strato Lizzie, mascot cat?

Who the hell murdered Frances Korous?

Watch out for those fair swindlers!

"I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule—
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE—Out of TIME."

Napoleon and bees.

A skeleton and a mysterious pyramid.

This is why some archaeologists can't have nice things.

Yes, British Columbia is still the world's top destination spot for severed feet.

Wedding cakes in the 18th century.

From California socialite to Arctic explorer.

The Death Helmet of France.  And it's even more unpleasant than it sounds.

A postman's very bad Valentine's Day.

The busy love life of painter JMW Turner.  (Part 2 here.  Yes, he was so busy, the topic needed more than one post.)

The dark side of Valentine's Day.

Love letters from the early Presidents.

How the rich flaunted themselves in Victorian Paris.

An Irish folk medicine practitioner.

Vintage sailor's Valentines.

Some DIY love spells.

The theory that ghosts are natural phenomena.

The real Lady Jane Grey.

"Poisoning the well" used to be a lot more than a figure of speech.

A Victorian radical.

When Valentine's Day turns deadly.

The ghosts of East Texas.

The surreal artwork of a schizophrenic.

Medieval nun fakes her own death to escape her convent, "wanders at large to the notorious peril of her soul."

A historic door in Cornhill.

Czech literary cats.

Ancient Mesopotamian laundry services.

Ancient Egyptian surgery textbooks.

How Greta Green became an elopement capital.

How American troops got mixed up in the Russian Civil War.

The life of a scribbling accountant.

Journal of a soldier visiting Germany in 1948.

Let's talk electric centipedes.

The occasional horrors of Regency era menus.

Yes, it hurts to be beheaded.  Just in case there was any question about that.

Beer.  There is nothing it can't do.

A murder in Excelsior.

The earliest known Valentine letter.

Death of a moral madman.

Abraham Lincoln could not be described as a dream date.

The slave who popularized Mammoth Cave.

A significant crater in Greenland.

The 15th century Bed of Roses.

The Baldwinsville Homicide.

A quite mesmerizing video: our world as seen from the ISS:

The World Below: Time-Lapse | Earth 2 from Bruce W. Berry Jr on Vimeo.

Kissing in the 19th century.

Victorians enjoyed sending hate mail on Valentine's Day.

Times when dreams were used to uncover murder.

The cannibal of Austerlitz.

Yet another busy day at Tyburn.

That's a wrap for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll look at the possible connection between two murder cases. In the meantime, here's some music from the Civil War era.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

This colorful "haunted house" story appeared in the "Saint Paul Globe," November 16, 1880:
Last week it became known that Mr. Morford's former residence had been more or less haunted for the past nine months, during which time it has been occupied by Mr. Diment and family, consisting of Mrs. Diment, their young son, Mrs. Diment's sister, and a hired girl. The noises have increased of late until they have become almost unbearable.

On one occasion the door bell was rung, but on going to it nobody was found. The knobs of the doors connecting the dining room and hall and the dining room parlor frequently turn in broad daylight and the doors swing open but on going to the same nobody is found. When a man goes through the house all is still as death, but if a women goes through various noises will be heard, in some cases, as if a bundle of pans were thrown at a door, or allowed to roll down stairs, sometimes the noise is as if a croquet ball was started and rolled down. At other times thumping blows will appear to strike the floor from below, and invariably on any women going down cellar, they can feel the thumps on the bottom of the steps of the stair leading down cellar. Indeed, these noises have so continued that when the family has occasion to move from room to room they all go together. If the windows are raised and the springs pushed in, the springs will be pulled out by unseen agencies while you are looking at them and the sash fall with a crash. These springs are frequently pulled out and the windows raised by unseen agencies.

On Tuesday of last week Mr. Diment came home and was surprised to hear of the wonderful increasing noises; and, on account of the fears of his family, determined to remain home Wednesday night. After searching every nook and corner of the house to see if there was anything which could make a noise in the house, they found nothing. After the search was completed, Mrs. D. said, "If you will stay at the foot of this stair and I go up, you will hear a noise." Mr. D. stayed, and at Mrs. D. was passing through the hall above she saw a light on the wall and heard a report similar to that of a cannon and then fell insensible from fright. Her husband rushed up and carried his wife down in his arms. It is almost impossible to carry a lighted lamp through the house at night, and though you may shade it as well as you can with books it will nearly always be blown out by an unseen agency. They then took a lamp to go to investigate, but it was blown out on the third step. They, however, went up, and when they got upstairs they lighted the lamp, and found a narrow stripe two feet long burned on the wall and a large pile of common glass broken on the floor. No windows were open, and the family are unable to account for these wonderful phenomena. Parties who have been temporarily staying with the family, have heard the noises, and have been frequently startled by what seemed to be visitations from the spirit world.
This is the first I've heard of a ghost that haunts only women. Unfortunately, I've been unable to find any other stories about this misogynistic spook.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Book Review: "The Cathars and Reincarnation," By Arthur Guirdham

Arthur Guirdham

The Cathars (or "pure ones") were one of the most intriguing religious sects of the medieval era. Put very simply, they believed that our world was Hell, created and managed by Satan himself. Human beings are the souls of angels who had angered God, and as punishment, were sent to Earth, imprisoned in the physical body. Our only hope of redemption is to spend this life purifying ourselves and becoming joined with Christ.

The Catholic church condemned this gloomy doctrine as dangerous heresy, but the Cathars were left more-or-less alone until 1174, when St. Bernard went to the Cathar stronghold of Toulouse and vigorously preached against the sect. In 1205, a monk named Dominic Guzman took it upon himself to preach the Cathars out of existence. Around this time, Pope Innocent III excommunicated Count Raymond of Toulouse (a Cathar) and ordered the king of France to replace him with a reliable Catholic. In 1208, one of Raymond's henchmen fought back by assassinating the papal legate Pierre de Castlenau.

Pedro Berruguete, "Saint Dominic and the Albigensians"

After this murder, all holy hell broke loose. Dominic Guzman's followers (the "Dominicans,") were given the task of destroying the Cathars, a campaign that came to be called "the Inquisition." The enraged pope essentially declared war on Catharism, resulting in the horrors that gone down in history as the "Albigensian Crusade."

In this 20-year military onslaught, it is estimated that between 200,000 and a million Cathars or Cathar sympathizers were slaughtered. In 1242, two Inquisitors were murdered by Cathars, which just intensified the campaign against the sect. The following year, the Cathars made their "last stand" at Montsegur. The siege lasted for ten months, until they were finally forced to surrender. All the holdouts who refused to renounce their beliefs were burned alive. Catharism was, quite literally, now nothing but ashes.

Chateau de Montsegur, via Wikipedia

Ironically enough, the church's crusade did much to support the belief that this world was Hell.

Pedro Berruguete, "Saint Dominic Presiding Over an Auto-da-fe"

Were the Cathars truly dead and gone, however? Did they--in the most unorthodox fashion--live into the present day? Such was the belief of one 20th century Englishman.

Arthur Guirdham was a prominent and highly respected British psychiatrist. He was an intelligent and inquisitive man, not given to dishonesty or quackery. He was also an ardent believer in extra-sensory perception and reincarnation who believed the study of parapsychology should be a key element of his profession. He found validation for this belief through one particular patient who led him on a strange historical and spiritual odyssey.

In 1962, a woman whom Guirdham identified only as “Mrs. Smith” came to him for treatment. She had been suffering from nightmares involving a man entering her room. For reasons she couldn’t grasp, the mere sight of him filled her with a sickening fear. Guirdham was unnerved—and intrigued—by the fact that he had been having similar dreams. For much of his life, he had nightmares where, as he lay asleep, he was approached by a man. His dreams did not go any further, but they were enough to make him wake up screaming in terror.

Guirdham had long been fascinated—almost obsessed—with the area of France known as the Pyrenees, where the wholesale massacre of Cathars had taken place in 1244. After he met Mrs. Smith, he found himself regularly encountering references to that obscure religious sect. He wrote bemusedly, “To this day, only a few people in England know anything about the Cathars, but it seems that it is preordained that, sooner or later, I meet all of them.” In 1963, he casually mentioned Catharism to Mrs. Smith. She replied that just that day, she had accidentally come across a book on the subject, and immediately became deeply intrigued.

Before learning of Catharism, Mrs. Smith—who had definite, if untrained, psychic abilities—visited the Pyrenees, and immediately felt she had been there before. She regarded the area with a mixture of familiarity and inexplicable anguish.

Two years after becoming Guirdham’s patient, Smith began telling him of dreams she had had involving him. They contained glimpses of her past life in thirteenth-century Toulouse. She saw herself as a Catholic peasant girl named Puerilia, and Guirdham was “Roger-Isarn d’Arborens,” a traveling Cathar preacher. The two became lovers, which caused her to be abandoned by her family and excommunicated from her church.

Some of her dreams involved a cousin of Roger's named Pierre de Mazerolles, a cousin of Roger's. He had participated in the murder of two agents of the Inquisition. (Mazerolles was the man who had so horrified Smith in her dream.) These were the murders which caused the Catholic church to take the savage retaliation that virtually wiped out the local Cathar community. Roger/Arthur Guirdham was arrested, and died of disease in his dungeon. Puerilia/Smith faced an even worse fate—she was burned at the stake, a gruesome death Mrs. Smith recalled with appalling detail.

Fortunately for history, the persecution and annihilation of the Cathars was recorded by their Dominican tormentors with meticulous detail, leaving us with surprisingly extensive records of this ill-fated sect. Guirdham explored these records in an effort to find if any of Smith’s story could be verified. Even he was shocked to discover proof of virtually all of it. He was unable to find any mention of “Puerilia”—he believed this had been a nickname which would not have appeared in the records—but Roger and many of the other names Smith recollected, along with Pierre de Mazerolles’ murder plot, and the subsequent massacre, proved to be historical fact, rather than a troubled woman’s fancy. Her extensive descriptions of thirteenth-century life--which included details unknown to historians until years later--were, Guirdham learned, also astonishingly accurate. In 1970, Guirdham published his findings in "The Cathars and Reincarnation."

In a later book, "We Are One Another," Guirdham went even further, asserting that a large group of Cathars were reincarnated at around the same time in contemporary England, all of whom carried with them powerful, detailed, and historically accurate memories of their traumatic past lives. He described how all these people--who already had some degree of contact with each other--independently came to the conclusion that they had lived before as Montsegur Cathars. Assuming Guirdham was correct, this simultaneous mass reincarnation was likely done for some larger purpose--but what?

“The Cathars and Reincarnation” is fascinating reading, even if you do not accept it as proof that we have all lived before. (I admit to remaining an agnostic on the subject.) His painstaking historical research provides a vivid glimpse of a largely-forgotten but important period of history.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump spotlights Strange Company's team of editors.

What the hell are these booms?

Another case of a premonitory dream.

Arthurians take note: manuscript fragments dealing with Merlin have been discovered.

The scientist who believes an alien spaceship is passing through our solar system.

Medieval poetry time!  A look at Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Did they or didn't they?  They died for it, at any rate.

My Deadly Valentine.

Pauline Bonaparte on Elba.

An 18th century career guide.

Mysterious fireballs and Men in Black.

Childbirth in the Regency era.

Invalids in the Victorian era.

Ireland's first c-section.

Victorians certainly loved their mourning tat.

In praise of anomalies.

Felix Nadar and his giant balloon.

William Windham vs. Napoleon.

The Brewers of Windsor.

In which we learn the White House once had an official Squirrel Feeder.

You want to know the weirdest item in the declassified CIA archives?  Yes, why did I even bother to ask.

This week in Russian Weird: they're still trying to figure out what in hell happened at Dyatlov Pass.

A little piece of India in Woking.

An influential 19th century political couple.

The world of matrimonial ads.  Yes, Belle Gunness makes a cameo.

Cries of Old London.

The mascot of the Carpathia.

Authors, there is such a thing as making your novel too realistic.

Prehistoric bling.

How the pyramids of Giza have changed.

A fan glossary.

The man who died for his hat.

Scenes from the guillotine.

A professional human statue.

Question:  If you make it into the Guinness Book of World Records, don't you cease to be the World's Least Successful Author?

If you want to delve into UFOs and alien abductions, be warned:  things can get very very weird.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a remarkable reincarnation account.  In the meantime, here's a classic bit of country noir:

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

I don't post nearly enough "murder solved by turnip" stories, so here you go. From the "Bristol Mercury," February 2, 1833:
A man has, the last day or two, been exhibiting in Monmouth a singularly formed turnip, of the sort called the tankard turnip. It is exactly in the shape and appearance of a man's right hand, minus the thumb. So far this production of nature is singular and passing strange; but, a tale hangs thereby, which, if true in all its parts, would make a person, not over superstitious, exclaim " Wonderful!" "Murder, though it hath no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ." The story is as follows : About six years since, the body of a man named Gurney, a toll-gate keeper, was found barbarously murdered in a turnip field near Ledbury. The unfortunate man in his agonies bad grasped his hands full of the green tops of the turnips. A waggoner, named Powell, an athletic man, and who had by accident lost his thumb, was apprehended on suspicion of being concerned in the murder; but, for want of evidence to implicate him, he was discharged, and immediately left the country. On the 4th of December last, the first year that the field had been resown with turnips since the perpetration of the murder, a servant of J. Biddulph, Esq. was passing through, and wishing for a turnip to eat, plucked one from the very spot where the dead body of Gurney was found six years since. What was his astonishment and dismay when he drew one which, it is affirmed, is a facsimile of the suspected murderer's hand, even to a wart which was growing upon one of the fingers! Since this occurrence, the neighbours have invested the field with lots of imaginary horrors. "strange sights are seen,"' and a fortune would scarcely bribe the stoutest hearted inhabitant of Ledbury to pass it at the witching hour of night.
As no illustration of this important historical turnip seems to have been preserved, here are a couple of stand-ins.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Edward Montagu, Rogue Scholar

Edward Wortley Montagu in 1775, by Matthew William Peters

I have a particular fondness for a really good last will and testament. There is great pleasure in observing someone who knows how to go out in style. One example of this surprisingly rare breed was written by Edward Wortley Montagu. Montagu, a renowned author, traveler, and con artist, lived as an eccentric (his father once threatened to disown him unless he learned to “act with more prudence than a downright Idiot,”) and, bless him, he died as one.

Montagu was born on May 16, 1713, the only son of diplomat Edward Montagu and his wife, the famed writer and socialite Mary Wortley. Edward's wanderings around the globe began early. When he was only three, his mother took him on an exciting, if highly dangerous, trek to Constantinople. While in that city, he achieved a certain fame by being one of the very first Westerners to be inoculated against smallpox.

After a number of turbulent and essentially unproductive years in Britain's most exclusive schools, he was sent for a brief period to that popular dumping ground for unsatisfactory aristocratic sons, the West Indies. By 1730, he was back in England, where he horrified his parents by marrying, in the disgusted words of his mother, "a woman of very low degree." The new Mrs. Montagu was a washerwoman known  to history only as "Sally."

The marriage played out rather predictably. Whatever Edward's reasons may have been for entering into this scandalous union--it was probably simple bloody-mindedness--he soon left his wife and the marriage was determinedly forgotten by everyone except the bride. His parents soon packed him abroad again, while his father contemplated disinheriting him.

Edward's tour of Europe initially followed the usual dissipated pattern of drinking and womanizing. After a while, however, he developed his own peculiar form of reformation. He talked of entering a monastery, of becoming a humble ploughman, of living out the rest of his days as a simple peasant. He proclaimed himself a changed character.

Then his head cleared and he became himself again. He went back to touring the continent's fashionable attractions and returned home in 1734, leaving behind mammoth debts all throughout Europe. However, he stayed in England only long enough to collect a legacy from his grandfather. Then he was off again, this time to the Netherlands. He endeavored to negotiate a reconciliation with his father, who was now forbidding his son to even come near him. However, the elder Montagu remained obdurate. Edward Senior, a notorious skinflint, was irked by what had proven to be his very expensive son. Aside from Edward Junior's personal debts, his father was forced to pay annuities (read: "hush money") to several of young Edward's former lady friends, not to mention his washerwoman wife. Worse, Edward Junior had begun to associate with notorious highwaymen. His father wanted nothing to do with this family embarrassment he had sired.

Young Edward shrugged and enrolled in the University of Leiden. A talented linguist and bibliophile, he settled down to study Oriental languages. Well, he settled down for about three months, at least. After that period, he became bored with such a respectable, cultivated lifestyle and went back home, leaving the usual trail of debts as his legacy to the Low Countries. When the War of Austrian Succession broke out, Montagu decided to seek an army commission, and in 1742, he was made a cornet in the seventh hussars. He proved to be a fine soldier, eventually rising to the rank of captain, then as aide-de-camp to the British commander-in-chief. In 1746, he was captured by the French, but he was soon freed in a prisoner-of-war exchange.

In 1748, Montagu felt he had advanced as far as he could in the military. Feeling restless, he resigned his commission and this least politic of men sought a diplomatic career. He eventually became a secretary to John Montagu, earl of Sandwich. The earl helped Edward gain a seat in parliament, which freed him from the possibility of being arrested for his numerous debts.

In 1751, Montagu blithely ignored his inconvenient early marriage and bigamously wed a society lady of equally rakish reputation named Elizabeth Ashe. This irregular marriage lasted less than three months before the groom abandoned his bride. He was not pleased when the courts ordered him to pay support for their new-born son, Edward Montagu III. (He already had sired at least three other illegitimate children by various women.)

Montagu's next career move was to turn professional gambler. He also helped launch an extortion racket aimed at cheating men at the gaming tables, and luring them into racking up huge gambling losses. Montagu and his cohorts then forced their victims to pay up, under threat of violence. This repulsive way of making a buck proved--as most such repulsive schemes do--hugely profitable, until one of the ring's victims, Abraham Payba, had his lodgings burglarized by Montagu and one of his cronies, Theobald Taaffe (who was also an MP. ) Payba defied them and made their crimes public. Montagu and Taaffe were arrested and tried for the robbery. They were found guilty, but successfully appealed their conviction. The pair then had Payba charged with defamation.

After this inglorious episode, Montagu demonstrated that his disreputable personal character was paired with a genuine classical scholarship. He published "Reflections on the Rise and Fall of the Antient Republicks," an erudite work praising the civic purity of the ancient republics while condemning the degeneracy he saw around modern society. (It was a degeneracy he himself personified, but that seemed of little concern to him.) It was an immense critical and public success.

Montagu's father died in 1761. Although he left his son a generous allowance, the bulk of his estate went to Edward's sister, Lady Bute. (His mother, who, along with the rest of the family, thought Edward was barking mad, left him the grand sum of one guinea.) Edward was infuriated by this snub, announcing petulantly that he would shake "the dust of an ungrateful country" from his feet and live abroad. He traveled extensively in the East, where he continued his studies in Eastern and classical history and languages. This otherwise utterly worthless wastrel was a genuine scholar. Montagu's entire career, in fact, is a dispiriting slap in the face to those of us (the author of this blog included) who like to assume that knowledge automatically confers virtue. While in Egypt, he somehow persuaded the wife of the Danish consul that her husband had died, and she and Montagu entered into yet another of his illegal pseudo-marriages. (He seems to have had a fondness for the wedded state, just as long as there was nothing legitimate or honorable about it.) Before long, she discovered that her husband was indeed still alive. Montagu responded by cheerily telling her that this unsettling fact was irrelevant--as she was a Catholic and he a Protestant, their marriage had been invalid in any case.

Montagu did not remain a Protestant for long after this latest "marriage." After he traveled to Constantinople, he took to wearing Turkish dress and converted to Islam.

It was early in 1776 that this exasperating man conceived two charming bits of eccentricity. Having (falsely, as it turned out) received news of his first wife's death, he decided that he desperately needed a legitimate male heir, who would be granted a large chunk of his late father’s estate. Accordingly, Montagu placed a singular lonely-hearts ad in several English newspapers. He announced the glad tidings that he had “no objection to marry any widow or single lady, provided the party be of genteel birth, polished manners and five, six, seven or eight months gone in her pregnancy.”

Unfortunately, Montagu never saw what would no doubt have been the interesting responses to this announcement. Two weeks after his ad went into print, he died of a throat abscess.

However, he still managed to, as Poe would say, “kick up a bobbery” posthumously. His will (all printed versions have the names tactfully redacted) read:

"To my noble and worthy relation, the Earl of _____, I do not give his lordship any further part of my property because the best part of that he has contrived to take already.

Item, to Sir Francis_____ I give one word of mine, because he has never had the good fortune to keep his own.

Item, to Lord M_____ I give nothing, because I know he'll bestow it on the poor. Item, to _____ the author, for putting me in his travels, I give five shillings for his wit, undeterred by the charge of extravagance, since friends who have read his book consider five shillings too much.

Item, to Sir Robert Walpole, I leave my political opinions, never doubting he can well turn them into cash, who has always found such an excellent market in which to change his own.

Item, my cast-off habit of swearing oaths I give to Sir Leopold D_____ , in consideration that no oaths have ever been able to find him yet."

Montagu may have rarely known how to live, but at least he certainly knew how to die.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by another member of Strange Company HQ's hard working and dedicated staff of researchers.

Where the hell is Amelia Earhart's plane?  

Who the hell was this Regency mystery woman?

Watch out for the Sasquatch Curse!

Watch out for those decapitated heads!

What it was like to be disabled in the 18th century.

The death of Meriwether Lewis: suicide or murder?

You can see the damnedest things in the Tower of London.

London fat cats of 1824.

The famed Red Barn murder.

How an old photo showed the center of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Perrin Mace, who failed to find sanctuary in a sanctuary.

Everyone loves pancakes.  I mean everyone.

The tomb that inspired British telephone boxes.

An infinite number of worms.  Yes, it's a Thomas Morris link.

Believe it or not, swallowing a live catfish is not a good idea.  No, it's not a Thomas Morris link, but it well could be.

The captain who--unfortunately for him--inspired "Moby Dick."

The Marlborough Papers: the truth behind "The Favourite."

Grace O'Malley, Pirate Queen.

The mercurial Mayhew.

Queen Victoria's cook.

A famed Norwegian folktale.

Medieval cook-offs.  

A little-known down side to being executed:  having to write your autobiography before some hack does it for you.

America's most eccentric fashion plate.

Some lesser-known facts about "Pride and Prejudice."

Button folklore.

Kater Murr, a famed literary cat.

The history of Buda Castle.

The life of the Anglo-Saxon queen Emma.

The goblins of Appalachia.

The power of the priestess Pythia.

How to steal a knighthood.

The case of the San Diego Giant.

Did Elvis (and not, as you might assume, Taylor Swift,) make the world's worst album?

The shooting of a British Consul General.

The world's oldest lingerie.

Life-saving dogs.

Princess Caraboo, queen of impostors.

A literary madman.

A 4800-year-old artificial eye.

Air mysteries from WWII.

The story behind a famous hoax.

Jack the Slasher.

And, finally, if you're into unusual tarot cards, you might want to check this out.

We're done for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at one of the 18th century's most eccentric scholars. In the meantime, a bit of organ music.