"...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

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day


Via Newspapers.com

It’s time for the sound of Mystery Bells!  The “St. Joseph Weekly Gazette,” December 8, 1892:

Baltimore. Md., Nov. 30.-The good Sisters of the convent of Notre Dame, near this city, have been mystified and frightened by the singular antics of the door bell.  It rings by day and it rings by night. It is one of those big brass bells that can be heard all over the convent and in the parsonage of St. Anne’s church adjoining, where its almost incessant jingling during the midnight hours disturbs the rest of Rev. W. E. Bartlett. 

On Saturday, November 5, the mysterious bell-ringing began.  At first, the lay Sisters thought that mischievous boys were jerking the bell-pull and running away. One Sister watched in the hallway and another stood under the bell In the rear of the house. The bell rang, but no one pulled the knob. At night, when the sisters retired, the bell rang again.  It continued to ring at short intervals all night, and deprived some of the sisters of sleep. The bell rang all day Sunday, and could be plainly heard in St. Anne's church during the celebration of high mass. 

The sexton, Joseph Helmcamp, traced the bell wire from the door to the bell, but found nothing wrong.  While this examination was going on the bell kept ringing. Finally the sexton cut the bell wire. This failed to stop the bell from ringing. No electric wires of any kind are about the house. It was finally decided to detach the wire from the bell entirely. This was done, but it did not stop the bell from ringing. Indeed, the bell rang more violently than ever, as if rejoicing from being freed from the wire. 

Rev. William E. Bartlett. pastor of St. Anne's church, was called in. He examined the bell carefully, but could not solve the mystery. "Take it down," was the next order. The bell was removed and was hung up for two days in Father Bartlett's house, but did not ring there. It was then replaced in the convent, whereupon it began to ring again violently. 

The assistant pastor examined the bell.  "Take it down," said he, "and I'll put it up so that it won't ring." The bell was taken down and put up by Father Bartlett.  Then it rang so violently that the steel spring attached was stretched straight out, and the bell oscillated with such force that it beat against the ceiling. 

The priests were completely mystified. More than a score of the members of St. Anne's church were called in to examine the strange antics of the bell, but none could discover the cause. The bell rang so violently at night that Sexton Helmcamp was called in to remove it so that the Sisters could sleep. 

He has since placed it in position every morning and removed it at night. The lay Sisters can not be induced to remain in the kitchen when the bell begins to ring. 

Every Sunday since November 5 the worshipers at St. Anne's church have heard the noisy bell while at mass. Every part of the bell has been carefully examined, as well as the pieces used to attach it to the ceiling. The bell wire was also inspected minutely. It was suggested that the trouble might have been caused by a rat or a mouse. This could not be possible, because the bell rang when absolutely detached from the bell wire. Last Sunday during Vespers the bell raised such a racket that Father Bartlett left the sanctuary several times to stop it. 

The bell continues to ring violently. The investigation is still in progress, but the problem is as far from being solved now as it was three weeks ago.

I haven’t been able to find when (or if!) the ringing stopped, or if they ever found the cause for this aural bombardment.

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Mob, the Mayor, and the Madonna: The Bottazzi/Gerard Disappearance


Asbury Park Press, July 7, 1968, via Newspapers.com

With some missing-persons cases, there are so few clues, it is difficult to even theorize how the victim came to disappear. With others, investigators believe they “know” what happened, but are unable to prove it. This sinister mystery below is among the latter. 

In January 1968, Rose Bottazzi of Brick Township, New Jersey, had been happily divorced for some ten years. (Her former husband, Dominick Mancino, lived in Canada and played no role in our story.) She lived with two of her children: 12-year-old Debra, and Anthony, who was 21. (A married daughter, Donna Inman, lived in Lakewood.) She was extremely devoted to her family, and was an active member of the local PTA. Bottazzi had once been a professional dancer (under the name of “Joan Mason,”) but for some time, Bottazzi had been working with a friend who owned a dry cleaning business, as a sort of apprenticeship before she opened a similar business of her own. She had already purchased the necessary equipment. 

Bottazzi was a homebody, rarely socializing or taking vacations. However, for the past seven or eight years she had been dating 56-year-old James Gerard. For the past 26 years, Gerard had worked in the delinquent accounts section of Newark’s IRS office. His job consisted of collecting overdue tax payments and hunting down people who failed to file returns. Supervisors described Gerard as “reliable, orderly, well-liked...with a clean slate of government service.” That seems to be an accurate characterization of Gerard personally as well. He was described as a quiet, likable person with no enemies. 

His relationship with Rose appears to have been based on warm companionship rather than passion. They enjoyed spending time together and going out to dinner, but there is no evidence the pair considered taking things to a more serious level. Rose’s brother Patrick described them as “two quiet stay-at-home types. He loved Rose’s cooking and would sit in front of the television set watching a football game in his spare time.” One gets the impression of a pleasant middle-aged couple happy to keep their lives in a low key. 

On January 13, James picked up Rose for a dinner date. They drove in his 1968 Chrysler Newport to Peterson’s Sunset Cabin restaurant in Lakewood. After dinner, they had a drink with the establishment’s hostess, Eileen Holland. Holland later described their conversation as “light and friendly.” Afterwards, the pair went to a bar called Tavern on the Mall. The bartender, John Vincintini, recalled nothing notable about them. They had two drinks each, and after leaving a dollar tip, left about 1 a.m. 

The Bottazzi home, Asbury Park Press, July 7, 1968

So far as is known, Vincintini was the last person to see either Bottazzi or Gerard, alive or dead. After exiting Tavern on the Mall, these two people--and their car--vanished completely. As both of them were of regular habits and always let relatives know where they were, their disappearance was noted almost immediately. An exhaustive search was launched. The wooded areas around Lakewood were examined. Nothing. Lagoons nearby were dragged (whenever people disappear along with their car it is shockingly common for it to turn out that they accidentally drove into some large body of water.) Still nothing. 

No one who knew either of them thought the couple might have eloped. They were just not the types to let their loved ones worry about them. And as Rose’s brother pointed out, “If they wanted to, they could have gotten married any time.” Both their bank accounts remained untouched, and neither had any credit cards with them when they disappeared. A state trooper acknowledged that this was one very unusual case. “These just are not the type of people to turn up missing,” he said. 

Which just goes to show that any type of person can turn up missing. 

In July 1968, the mayor of Brick Township, John McGuckin, began throwing around some dark hints about the mystery. He told reporters, “I believe their disappearance is no accident. There is a good possibility that criminal elements were responsible.” When asked to elaborate, he would only say, “There are definitely Mafia or Cosa Nostra elements here. I have seen Cosa Nostra figures from Monmouth County in Brick Township.” 

McGuckin’s enigmatic words took on heightened significance when investigators learned that Gerard had been a close friend of then-Newark mayor Hugh Addonizio. Not long after Gerard vanished, Addonizio--who was said to have Mob ties--was indicted on charges of bribery and extortion. Gerard had prepared at least one of Addonizio’s tax returns, and kept copies of the mayor’s financial records. It was also revealed that Gerard was a big gambler. A search of his apartment found a number of yellow legal pads filled with basketball and football odds and numbers. It was believed that Gerard was involved with illegal sports betting.  Considering his friendship with Addonizio and his job at the IRS, investigators came to the not-unreasonable conclusion that Gerard was targeted by somebody. 

“It’s not hard to think,” commented a police officer, “that with [Addonizio’s trial] coming up there could be reasons for [Addonizio’s] bookkeeper to disappear.” Bottazzi, according to this theory, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. A detective speculated that “whenever they left wherever they left last...there could have been someone in the back seat who said, ‘Start driving.’” Although the famous “being taken for a ride” is associated with bad gangster movies, it has been known to happen in real life to those who rub certain people the wrong way. Considering Gerard’s links to the Mafia and illegal activities, it is not impossible that someone saw him as a liability--someone who “could talk”--and these types are very good at making people disappear forever. (See under “Hoffa, Jimmy.”) 

On the other hand, the night when James and Rose disappeared was a very bad one for driving. It was one of the worst nights of that winter, with the roads being pelted with snow, rain and sleet. The four and a half miles from Tavern on the Mall to Rose’s home was a lightly-traveled, winding road surrounded by lagoons. In 1968, there were no fences, and no streetlights. In short, given the brutal weather, it would have been terrifyingly easy to skid or take a wrong turn, and plunge into deep water. Despite the fact that the lagoons along the route the pair would have traveled were searched, it still seems possible that Gerard’s car could have been overlooked, and is still resting at the bottom of one of those bodies of water. 

However, there is evidence indicating that the pair reached their destination--Gerard’s galoshes, wallet, car registration, and IRS badge were found at Rose’s house. That suggests that whatever awful thing happened to the couple took place after their trip home. (Although Rose’s daughter Debra said she slept all night without hearing anything in the house.) 

There is an eerie footnote to this still unsolved mystery. On the day Rose disappeared, she visited her married daughter Donna. Donna’s infant son, John, had been ill, and Rose was very worried about him. During this visit, Bottazzi told her daughter that her fears for the boy had been amplified by a frightening dream she recently had. In this dream, she was lighting a candle before a statue of the Virgin Mary. As she was leaving, she stumbled, but the hands of the statue came down and kept her from falling. She had been scared by the hands reaching out to her, but Mary told her not to worry. Bottazzi thought the dream was somehow connected to her grandson’s illness, although she could not say how. She invited Donna to join her and James at dinner that night, but Mrs. Inman thought she should stay with her son. 

It was the last time Donna spoke to her mother. Rose Bottazzi went on her way, little guessing that that very night, she would indeed--whether through accident or foul play--fall into the hands of the Blessed Virgin.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

“The Witches’ Cove, Follower of Jan Mandijn 

This week’s Link Dump is here!

Ready or not!

Remembering the South Sea Bubble.

Human footprints from 120,000 years ago.

Liverpool, you have a green glowing UFO on your hands.

The baboon who worked as a railroad signalman.

I am so proud to be able to announce that this week marks the 60th anniversary of Nixon's Unfinished Sandwich.

A visit from our old friends Goss and Udderzook.   (My post is here, if you just can't get enough of those two.)

The East India Company's attempts to save enslaved children.

The folklore of white deer.

An 8,400 year old dog burial.

The ghostly drummer of Cortachy Castle.

A diplomat's mysterious death.

The wandering remains of a Hiroshima victim.

Makeup tips from WWII.

The French Revolution's most notorious prosecutor.

Pro tip: do not follow the Galley Slave Diet.

The vet who accidentally killed Charles Dickens' raven.

This week in Russian Weird looks at the time a bell was exiled to Siberia.  And the Petrozavodsk phenomenon.  And the announcement that Venus is now a Russian colony.

And what would 2020 be without a feral swine bomb?

The truth about tantric sex.  (With some NSFW art.)

19th century rules for women cyclists.

A waif and the Gates Ajar.

Why Janet Spark had a hard time resting in peace.

This article will make you very glad for the invention of toilet paper.

Apocryphal Christian texts dealing with wizard battles and demon circles.

Grover Cleveland's White House wedding.

Advertisements for the Jamestown colony.

Men are from Mars...except Tesla, of course.  He came from Venus.

The sad marriage of the Duke of Wellington.

The life of an 18th century mariner.

A 50-year-long true crime story.

A schoolgirl's unsolved murder.

A strange death in Hells Canyon.

In defense of Nero.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a couple's unsolved disappearance.  In the meantime, here's this lovely Sephardic song.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This absolutely, positively, 100-percent not fake news story appeared in the “Philadelphia Inquirer” on November 8, 1904:

SITKA, Alaska, Nov 1st, 1904. Enclosed with this letter is a sketch by Mr. Ssirk of the queer "thing" found encased in an iceberg on Lake Tinsel. 

Last night a party of Esquimaux runners, highly excited, dashed into Sitka, and reported that the mysterious creature had come to life, that Mr. Ssirk was ill from the strain, and that many of his servants had fled. Business in Sitka is temporarily suspended. Many persons are already on the dog-trail to the interior, and a party of one hundred and fifty men left here this morning on skies for the Ssirk estate. 

My Esquimaux informants state that for nearly an hour after its release the creature lay like a mummy. Then, as night tell, the eyelids quivered, and rhuem was seen to issue from them. All the while Mr. Ssirk was engaged in massaging the "thing's” wrists and heart. With the coming dusk animation stirred its body. The lip trembled, the fingers shook nervously.

Suddenly, as the moon rose, the tongue protruded and articulation was heard. Mr. Ssirk fell over in a faint, and all his servants, save three, fled.

The remaining servants tenderly put their master, who for two days had neglected to take food, upon a dog-sled and bore him, with the strange acquisition, to his home. Recovering, Mr. Ssirk saw again the weird being and found it wholly alive and seated on a chair like any human creature, dispatching with gluttonous haste all the visible eatables on the servants' table, its first food for possibly 4000 years.


My Esquimaux messengers added that when daylight came the creature acted as one dead, and remained so until nightfall, when it emerged from its coma, and, bearing itself like a high-caste human, uttered strange speech and made overt attempts to convey its thoughts.

My next letter will be written from personal observation, as it is no longer possible to endure conjecture.  I leave for the Ssirk estate tonight and will advise you of developments.

Imagine being a Philadelphian reading this baby with your morning coffee.

And before you ask, I couldn't find any follow-ups to this story. What a surprise.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Sarah Stout, Posthumous Political Scandal

Spencer Cowper was born into a prominent Hertfordshire Whig family, and he made the most of his opportunities in life. In 1705, he became a Member of Parliament, and went on to become attorney general to the Prince of Wales and Chief Justice of Chester, winding up his career as Judge of Common Pleas. He is also remembered as the grandfather of poet William Cowper. Despite such achievements, until the day he died in 1728, he was bedeviled by the memory of a tragic incident: a woman’s mysterious and sinister death.

In March 1699, Cowper, who was then a rising young barrister, went to Hertford for the Spring Assizes. His family had a long association with a wealthy Hertford Quaker family named Stout. Cowper generally stayed with the Stouts during the Assizes, and his wife had written to the family telling them of his imminent arrival. However, when Cowper arrived in town, he found that his brother William (who was also a lawyer) had rented rooms with a man named Barefoot. Unfortunately, at the last minute, William had had to cancel attending the Assizes. As this accommodation would still have to be paid for, Spencer thought it most practical to use them himself. He sent his horse to the Stout home to be stabled, along with a note explaining his change of plans.

Among the other attorneys arriving in Hertford were Ellis Stephens and William Rogers. They rented rooms with a family named Gurrey, after which they went to a coffee house, and then an inn, where they met up with a scrivener named John Marson. The trio went back to the Gurreys’ around 11 p.m. There was no spare room for Marson, but the family consented to having him share the room with his two friends.

The Gurreys brought them wine and lit a fire in their room. While performing these tasks, the family later claimed they overheard their lodgers exchanging some curious gossip about one of the Stout family, a young woman named Sarah. Marson--apparently an old beau of hers--commented that “she cast me off, but I reckon a friend of mine is even with her by this time.” Another of the men added, “Well, her business is done, Mrs. Sarah Stout’s courting days are over.” The third man displayed a stack of money, gloating, “I will spend all the money I have, for joy the business is done.”

That same evening, Cowper dined with the Stouts. The current members of the household were Sarah Stout, her mother Mary, and a maid, Sarah Walker. Cowper took the opportunity to give Sarah some two hundred pounds--an interest payment on some money he had invested for her. After dinner, Sarah instructed Walker to prepare a room for their guest. Around 10:45 p.m., the maid heard the front door slam. When she went downstairs, both Cowper and Sarah were gone. Although she and Mrs. Stout sat up all night waiting for her, Sarah never returned.

Sarah’s whereabouts were unknown until early the following morning, when a mill owner named James Berry noticed something floating in the nearby river. When he looked closer, he realized it was the body of a woman, with wide-open, staring eyes and clenched teeth.

When the corpse was pulled from the river, it was quickly identified as Sarah Stout. The interest payment Cowper had given her was still in one of her pockets. A surgeon brought in to examine the body noted that her neck was swollen, and her breasts and collarbone were bruised. As it happened, about two months earlier a little girl had drowned in that same river. Those who had seen the child’s corpse noticed that her condition had been very different. The girl had not been bruised, her eyes were shut, and her body was full of water--which was not the case with Stout.

At Stout’s inquest, Cowper, as the last person known to have seen her alive, was naturally the star witness. He professed complete ignorance of how Sarah had met her death. He said he knew of no reason for her to drown herself. Despite the decidedly odd circumstances, the jury’s verdict was that the unfortunate woman had committed suicide while temporarily insane.

This did absolutely nothing to stem the growing rumors about Sarah’s strange death. There had long been gossip that the married Cowper had been far more than just friends with the dead woman. Now, it was being said that at the time of her peculiar end, Sarah was pregnant with Cowper’s child. In an effort to quash such lurid speculation, the Stouts had her exhumed on April 28. Her corpse was too decomposed for a thorough autopsy, but doctors were able to determine that she had not been carrying a child. However, the absence of water in her body led them to conclude that she had not drowned. In that let’s-not-mince-words way you see so often in the 17th century, one of the physicians declared, “if she had taken in water, the water must have rotted all the guts.”

Townsfolk stopped declaring that Sarah had been pregnant and started declaring that she had been murdered. Eyes once again turned to Spencer Cowper. The strange conversation Stephens, Rogers, and Marston allegedly had about her was recalled. The four men were brought in for questioning. Their--in the eyes of the law--unsatisfactory answers led to all of them being tried for murder at the Hertford Summer Assizes. Overseeing the case was Judge Henry Hatsell. Cowper--ignoring the old adage about lawyers who defend themselves--represented himself and his fellow defendants.

The prosecutor, a Mr. Jones, argued that there was no motive for Stout to commit suicide, and that the bruises around her neck suggested that she had been strangled. He suggested that the fact that she had been found floating in the river proved that she had been murdered. “If persons come alive into the water, then they sink; if dead, then they [float.]” Doctors corroborated this statement, adding that the lack of water found in Stout’s body was further proof that she was already dead when she entered the river. Jones also pointed out the ominous fact that when Marson arrived at Gurrey’s house, he was in a “hot state” and wearing wet, muddy boots.

Cowper stated that Stout had committed suicide. He pointed out that there was no solid evidence against any of the accused. He asserted that this was a political prosecution instigated by the Tories “to destroy, or break at least, the interest of my family in this place.” He brought in witnesses who stated that Stout had not been found floating in the river; rather, she was discovered lying “sideways between the stakes, and almost all under water.” He followed this up with a particularly macabre touch--a surgeon who had prepared for the trial by murdering some extremely unfortunate dogs. A dog was hanged, then placed in water.  The corpse sank immediately.  Three others were drowned.  When the dogs were autopsied, little or no water was found in their stomachs.

Cowper claimed that he himself had an alibi for the time of Stout’s death. He said that after leaving her house at about 10:45 p.m., he went to the Glove and Dolphin inn, arriving there fifteen minutes later, at precisely 11. It would have taken him a minimum of half an hour to go from the Stout home to the river and then to the Glove and Dolphin. As for the other three defendants, witnesses confirmed that they had been in the Glove and Dolphin all evening until 11 p.m. The men stoutly denied having their alleged conversation about Stout. The money they had displayed was merely fifty shillings that Marson had earned from a recent case.

The defense presented witnesses who testified about Sarah’s mental state. Sarah Walker admitted that Stout had been suffering from severe headaches. One Elizabeth Toller stated that she had heard Stout threaten to drown herself. Another woman also stated that Stout “often wished herself dead.” Some witnesses believed that the cause of Stout’s depression was that she was in love with a man she could not marry. The identity of this man was revealed when Cowper himself produced in evidence a letter Sarah had sent him. It included the line, “for come life, come death, I am resolved never to desert you.”

Hatsell’s summing-up revealed only that he was in a fine muddle. He told the jury that he was “very much puzzled in my thoughts.” He could not imagine why any of the defendants would commit “such a horrid, barbarous murder.” He was equally unable to see why Sarah Stout, “a person of plentiful fortune, and a very sober good reputation, to destroy herself.” He closed with one of the most pitiful statements ever uttered by a judge on the bench: “I know not what to make of it...I am a little faint, and cannot remember any more of the evidence.”

After this embarrassing exhibition of judicial vapors, the jury had no choice but to return an acquittal.

The trial did nothing to quell public speculation about Stout’s death. For years afterward, numerous pamphlets appeared arguing either for or against Cowper’s guilt. And to the end of his days, whenever he appeared in public, his political enemies would shout taunts of “Who killed the Quaker?”

Historians still debate whether or not Stout was a victim of murder or suicide. In his book “The Mysterious Death of Sarah Stout,” John Barber proposed a third theory. He suggested that on the fatal night, Stout, knowing her relationship with Cowper was over, fled her house in despair. Sarah’s mother sent the maid Sarah Walker to bring her back home. The two women had a scuffle, during which Stout accidentally fell into the river. In order to deflect Walker from blame, Mary Stout spread word that Cowper, not her maid, had been the last person to see Sarah alive. This is, of course, pure speculation, but so is every other attempt to explain what happened on that fatal March night in 1699.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

“The Witches’ Cove,” Follower of Jan Mandijn 

This week’s Link Dump has a particularly distinguished audience!

Illustrated London News, November 1, 1996

The sort of thing that happened when you got on Ivan the Terrible's bad side.

Mrs. Stum was a useful person to have around if you happen to be dead.

A well-married woman with the glorious name of Temperance Flowerdew.

Just one of those Fortean things.  I've had this happen to me twice just this week.

The particularly creepy Babysitter Killer.

The exhumations of Highgate Cemetery.

A rare surviving slave ship log book.

Ghana's witch camps.

Plants engage in chemical warfare.

This week in Russian Weird brings us an Ice Age bear.

A Georgian era black violin prodigy.  And yes, there were two posts about him this week.  Is George planning to make a comeback?

An unsolved disappearance in the Old West.

That time Oscar Hammerstein got the bright idea to put on a show starring 300 cats.

Some of the odder moments in the history of sanitation.

An artist's odd posthumous fame.

Poland, the Knights Templar, and the Holy Grail.

Science looks at the "Mozart effect."

A suffragette's poetic toilet paper.

Ancient methods of proving your identity.

How ancient Romans got away with murder.

Minnesota's Root Beer Lady.

The life of Ada, medieval Queen of Scots.

The bizarre tragedy of Suzanne Sevakis.

A Danish naval hero.

A murder on Twelfth Street.

If you've got too much clutter, blame a Victorian.

The temporary cities of the Transcontinental Railroad.

How a Swedish soldier became a cannibal king.

Our solar system contains weird brown dwarfs.

A haunted lumber camp.

A 19th century horror at sea.

The proper ways to address unmarried ladies.

Let's talk cursed temples.

How the Civil War started in 1851.

And...that's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a 17th century woman's mysterious death.  In the meantime, here's a real oldie:

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

On one occasion, “Pennies From Heaven” became more than just an old song, if the following story is to be believed.  The “Washington Post,” October 1, 1905:

Genoa, Sept 22.--Genoa has its ghost, with this peculiarity--that people run after it instead of fleeing for their lives. No one has seen the ghost, but its presence is indicated by a rain of money! 

Every evening, between 6 and 7 o'clock, pennies begin to drop in a certain locality, and from 10 to 11 the rain is of silver. Where they come from has not yet been ascertained, and the people of the neighborhood really believe that it is the work of spirits. 

This strange happening has brought many strangers to the neighborhood, not with an idea of making their fortunes, as no single person has yet collected more than from one to two lire in one day, but certainly with an idea of getting "drink money."

The only inn-keeper of the neighborhood gets most of the pennies, for which he gives good red wine, so much so that he has been accused of having invented this novel way of advertising his wares, but his protest that he has no money to throw away is so confirmed by the appearance of his wine-shop that it is generally credited with being the truth. 

That the spirits, if spirits they are, are bad is shown by the fact that among their silver pieces two of them were false, which almost got the person who was unfortunate enough to pick them up into trouble. Can they be a kind of ghostly coiners of contraband money? The police have the matter in their hands, and meanwhile the new kind of rain continues unabated.

I found no follow-ups to this story.

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Blue Man of Louisville

Louisville Courier Journal, January 18, 1921, via Newspapers.com

Ah, Louisville, Kentucky. Famed for the Kentucky Derby, Muhammad Ali, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Louisville Slugger baseball bats, blue quasi-humans roaming the streets…

If you are at all familiar with my blog, you can guess which of the above we will be discussing this week.

The saga of Louisville’s most unusual tourist was first covered in the “Courier Journal” on January 17, 1921, although sightings of the entity which became known as the “Blue Man” had been taking place for some time. In the newspaper’s front-page (!) story on the mystery, one Reese Carrell told a reporter of his encounter with the stranger: “I’ve only been knocked down once in my life, and it did it. It’s been around here every night for the last two weeks. What it’s after, I don’t know. But one night last week when I came home at about 11 o’clock, I saw somebody standing on our front step. I thought it was my father, and I walked right up to him. ‘Looking for the Blue Man, Pop?’ I asked him, and just then, he hit me in the chest. I was knocked against the fence, and when I got up it was gone.” Carrell described the “Blue Man” as extremely tall, and, yes, with a face of a pleasing indigo hue.

The following day, the “Courier Journal” reported on Mrs. Earl Schubnell’s encounter with the being on the previous Thursday evening. She said she was sitting where she could see into her kitchen when she heard the shutter of one of the windows rustling, after which a hand was thrust through a broken pane in the window.

“The hand caught hold of the curtain and pulled it back,” said Mrs. Schubnell. “But when I screamed, it was withdrawn quickly and I heard the sound of someone running out of the alley and down the street in the direction of Kentucky Street.” In contrast to Carrell’s description, Mrs. Schubnell said the hand was “large and white,” one that was impossible to belong to any “blue man.”

A man named Virgil Hobbs claimed to have seen the figure wandering the streets on several occasions. The first time he spotted the Blue Man, a neighbor named Walter Fogel took a shot at it.

“As he shot,” said Hobbs, “I saw a tall figure wearing a black overcoat and a black soft hat climb over the coal shed at the rear of the Fogel yard and disappear into the night.”

Hobbs added, “Five minutes later, when a crowd had gathered in front of the house, I saw a man who, as I remember, looked suspiciously like the figure I had just seen to disappear, walking leisurely down Eighth Street. The man stopped and inquired about the excitement, and when told by one of those standing by, laughed and passed on. On the three other occasions that the intruder was scared off, the stranger passed by and each time the man, who was white and weighed about 180 pounds, wore the same black overcoat and black hat.” Hobbs marveled that the man had so far eluded capture, as on the second night of his appearance the Fogel house was “surrounded by fifteen patrolmen, five detectives and two members of the military force.”

Adding to the strangeness of the whole business is that no one had any idea what the “Blue Man” was trying to accomplish. Louisville residents could only speculate that he--or it--had “iron nerve, no brains, or an irresistible desire to obtain possession of a thing, or things unknown.”

On January 19, the nightly hunt for the “Blue Man” took an unexpected turn. Two detectives standing guard at Eighth and Kentucky Streets saw a man named Stewart Graven walking by carrying a suitcase and a bundle. Their suspicions aroused, the policemen followed Graven to his home. After he had entered, the detectives knocked on the door and politely forced their way inside. The residence, they reported, “looked like a storeroom,” full of expensive goods of all kinds. When questioned, Graven confessed to stealing a large quantity of items from the American Railway Express Company.” He said his only motive for the thefts was that he was out of work, and could not let his wife and small child starve. He was charged with grand larceny and two charges of stealing from a common carrier. There was speculation that Graven was also the elusive “Blue Man,” a theory which made the prisoner laugh. “Me the ‘Blue Man’?” he told reporters. “I wish I was. If I was I wouldn’t be in here right now!”

Despite this sad distraction, the Blue Man continued his rounds. One night, Mrs. Emma Perkins heard “whisperings” outside her home. She investigated, but saw nothing. The following night, she saw someone peeping into her window. However, by the time she opened the door, no one was to be seen. Several days later, on January 20, someone raised a window in the apartment of Stewart Friend, who boarded with Mrs. Perkins. Grabbing his revolver, he ran to the window and shot at a figure standing just a few feet away. He saw “it” fall against the fence. Mrs. Perkins ran out with her gun and also fired at the intruder. Both were positive they had pumped “it” full of lead. Eerily enough, however, when the area was inspected, all that was found was a few bullet holes in the fence. No blood, or any other trace of the “Blue Man” was found.

The following night, Mr. Blue took to letter-writing. Around 9:30 p.m., one Henry Etzel heard a light knocking on his door. This was strange, as the gate in front of his home always creaked when opened, and he had not heard it do so. He had also not heard any footsteps in the adjoining alleyway. When he opened the door, no one was there.

Assuming his ears had played tricks with him, Etzel went back to his newspaper. A couple of minutes later, he heard more knocks, louder than before. He dashed to the door and threw it open. He still saw no one.

There was nothing for it but to return to reading, but he stayed wary. Then, someone or something kicked the door several times. Etzel was able to open it before the noise ceased, but he still failed to see anyone. All he found outside his door was a note reading, “I will call again. Don’t be afraid. Your friend, the ‘Blue Man’ till we meet again.”

On the night of the 22nd, Mrs. L.I. Dilly heard someone trying to force open her apartment door. She ran to her neighbor, Mrs. G.S. Spalding, to sound the alarm. Mrs. Dilly then went out a side door and to the back of their residence. She saw a man jump over the back fence.

When police were summoned, they could find nothing, not even a footprint in the soft ground. Fifteen minutes after the policemen left, Mrs. Dilly, who was back in bed trying to go back to sleep, heard footsteps. Again, she heard someone turning her doorknob and pressing against the door. The intruder gave up on the door and retreated. A moment later, Mrs. Dilly saw a shadow on her window. And then, a face was pressed against the glass.

Mrs. Dilly grabbed her gun and ran outside. Seeing a figure fleeing into the night, she shot at it. Once again, prowler managed to escape. For the second time that night, the police fruitlessly searched the vicinity for footprints.

Immediately after Mrs. Dilly retired to bed, she had to call the police for a third time. She told the policemen that as she was drawing the covers about her, she heard a faint noise. She clutched her gun, waiting for whatever might happen next. The shadowy face returned to her window. She and Mrs. Spalding ran to the side yard, and Mrs. Dilly again fired at the prowler. This time, she heard a moan of “Oh, oh!”

She got the Blue Man at last!

However, when the police arrived they once again found...not one damn thing. No footprints, no blood. If the Blue Man was not a ghost, it did a very fine imitation of one.

Early on the morning of January 23, Mrs. J.G. Crider was awakened by her telephone ringing. When she answered, she heard a strange, husky voice saying, “The ‘Blue Man.'..last seen Eighth and Walnut!” Then the caller hung up. Police, as usual, found no clues to this latest bit of Blue Man Eccentricity.

On the night of the 29th, Blue Man entertained himself by ringing doorbells. At 9 p.m., Mr. and Mrs. E.O. Mershon phoned police complaining of hearing “three different kinds of strange noises” around their house. First, the bell was rung several times. That was followed by noises like snow sliding off the roof “only it wasn’t.”

Then, Mrs. Stanley Searcy reported that her doorbell had been ringing almost continuously from dusk to 11 p.m. It was, she said indignantly, the third night in a row she had been pestered with incessant ringing. Although she stood watch from her window, she saw or heard no one. Just the ringing.

The police, the “Courier Journal” sighed, “passed a restless evening.”

By early February, it seemed that the “Blue Man” had acquired a distaff sidekick. Several female residents of the Richter Apartments at Fourth and Oak Street reported being frightened by the appearance of someone wearing a blue coat suit and a large black hat. This person would knock on doors asking for a glass of water, in a manner the women found very unnerving. Although the visitor was wearing female clothing, the “large physique” made the alarmed residents believe it was probably a man.

Later that month, newspapers reported that a member of the Fogel family bedridden by illness was being pestered every night by a face “blue and terrible” pressed against the pane of his window. “It has been shot at and the bullets struck thin air. When the image appeared members of the family run to the outside, but never have seen anything more than darkness.”

When the family consulted a fortune teller, she told them that when the “thing” got what it wanted, it would go away.

What did it want? She couldn’t say.

Reese Carrell’s name returned to public print. He told reporters that the “Blue Man” had been hanging around his home for days. One night, it even crept into the Carrell home and stole a pair of trousers. Reese shot at the intruder several different times, with the usual failure. Doubting the efficacy of his son’s aim, Reese’s father tried shooting at the stranger. “I never missed a rabbit or a bird in my life,” Mr. Carrell complained, “but the shots went right through him.” When asked if he thought the intruder was a ghost, Carrell Sr. retorted, “Ghost? What would a ghost want with my pants?” One night, a patrolman fired no less than seven shots at close range without causing the slightest effect on the “Blue Man.”

Kansas City Star, January 22, 1921

As they say, all good things come to an end. Such was the case with our “Blue Man.” Whether he feared being caught at last, or simply got bored with his capers, by the end of March, the story disappeared from the newspapers. The “Blue Man” was evidently never captured, and the motive--if there ever was one--behind his activities remained a mystery.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

“The Witches’ Cove,” Follower of Jan Mandijn 

This week’s Link Dump is here to provide you with something to read over breakfast!

What the hell is the James Ossuary?

Fighting the Mafia with artichokes.

Teddy Roosevelt meets Dr. Seuss, and it does not end well.

Science is only now learning that dogs understand human speech.  Do tell.

If we start talking microbiological poetry and What Not To Do With an Oil Gauge, you know Thomas Morris is blogging again.

A 17th century crop circle.

"Coffin confessor" is my new favorite job.

That time John Barrymore starred in "Weekend at Bernie's."

A water demon with a taste for tobacco.

"Little people" in Native American lore.

The life of the Sussex Giantess.

A story of an abandoned cat which may--I hope--be vintage fake news.

An eerie tale from the Galveston Flood.

I obviously have to say this again: if you get a bunch of unsolicited mystery seeds in the mail, do not plant them.

In Egypt, they've just discovered a bunch of completely sealed 2,500 year old coffins.  Yes, cue the spooky music.

In praise of tact.

Ancient hunters coped with the worst of the Ice Age.

The creepy imp of Lincoln Cathedral.

The link between solar activity and earthquakes.

George Talkington was a guy who really should have just stayed in bed.

Pro tip: If you're ever sent to the gallows, insist on a sober hangman.

This is probably the most convincing theory about the Black Dahlia murder.

Popular scams of the 1930s.

A murder that wasn't.

The folklore of Irish holy wells.

A hidden hillfort on Arthur's Seat.

The world's oldest musical instrument.

If you've ever wondered why ABBA wore clothes you wouldn't be seen dead on the street with, just ask a tax attorney.

How a dead dog solved a murder case.

The unusual history of Texas' first radio station.

A mass murder in 19th century Norway.

Deciphering the mystery of the "unknown child of the Titanic."

A brief history of the parking lot.

Some interesting Stone Age rock tombs.

The attempt to find a dead man's identity.

A WWI soldier, shot at dawn.

Some historic makeup tricks.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had a heck of a lot of fiancees.

That wraps things up for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at one of Louisville's strangest residents.  In the meantime, here's Al Green:

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

An odd little mystery from Mojave Desert history was recalled by the (Santa Rosa) “Press-Democrat” for October 17, 1984:
Giant Rock, Calif. (AP) In sweltering little towns that dot the Mojave Desert, residents still tell of the "Mystery Man of Giant Rock," a World War II tale that ended with a shattering explosion.

Was Frank Critzer a German spy or just a hermit unlucky in love? Why did he build a home inside a 70-foot-long boulder miles from civilization, then singlehandedly construct an airstrip outside his door? And why did Critzer blow himself to bits when three curious Riverside County sheriff's deputies went to Giant Rock to talk to him on July 24, 1942?

Critzer, a 54-year-old American of German ancestry, carried all the answers to the grave when he took his life that day in the desert.

Harold Simpson, 72, is the only survivor of the three Riverside County deputies who last saw Critzer alive. Simpson was stationed with the sheriff’s Banning office during the summer of 1942 and remembers visiting Critzer frequently at the remote Giant Rock, located about 190 miles east of Los Angeles. Critzer had been interned in Kansas as a World War I sympathizer, so the FBI wanted Riverside County authorities to keep an eye on him.

Simpson recalls that on his hour-long trips to the rock, he would find Critzer in faded dungarees, denim shirts and with a pair of binoculars around his neck. The two would do some target shooting, listen to Critzer's elaborate radio with 4,800 feet of antenna wire or talk about Critzer's strange home inside the rock.

"He had never actually filed a claim on the property, he just squatted there," Simpson recalls. "He was very afraid that the government would take him away from his airport."

Critzer used dynamite to hollow out two rooms in the underbelly of Giant Rock, with only a small stairwell leading inside. He drilled airshafts in the boulder's side. For 10 years, Critzer, who lived only with his dog, built a 1,600-foot airstrip by dragging a stone-weighted iron from his old Essex automobile. He built about 60 miles of roads, all leading in a spiderweb fashion from the Giant Rock.

Today, Giant Rock Airport is on state maps but is accessible only by those same dirt roads. Simpson, who filed reports to the FBI, knew Critzer's radio was capable of receiving signals from Germany and Italy.

"I heard them talking in Italian and in German," he recalls. "They came in loud and clear."

In addition, he built a series of concealed caverns on the side of the rocky butte which were invisible to unsuspecting visitors. Mostly, authorities were baffled by reports of single-engine planes conducting quick rendezvous on the airfield with lumbering transport planes and black sedans leaving the airport under cover of darkness.

On July 1, 1942, authorities got an unexpected break when the maximum draftable age was raised from 50 to 55. Had Critzer, who was 54, registered? Well, by taking him to town, officials theorized they could wait around Giant Rock to see who might fly in.

Simpson and deputies Mack McCracken and Fred Pratt drove to the airstrip July 24. Simpson recalls that the well-armed Critzer had said "he would never leave Giant Rock voluntarily." Critzer told them he'd been meaning to go into Riverside to register. "Why not come back with us, it's the county's gas," Simpson says he told him.

When Critzer declined the invitation, they told him they'd have to take him in. He had to go to the bathroom first, he told deputies, and walked into an outhouse and then to his 10-by-10 foot bedroom inside the rock to get his hat.

He emerged holding a flashlight battery to a wire dangling from the binocular case. He held another wire running along the wall.

"Are you going to go away and let me alone, or are we all going to hell together?" he shouted.

Then, the explosion. Simpson, who was standing at the entrance, flew out of the rock and 80 feet through the air over Pratt, who was standing outside. Doctors said one of Critzer's vertebrae penetrated McCracken like a bullet, but McCracken survived.
It’s still anyone’s guess what in hell Critzer was up to.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Thomas Pitt, Georgian Era Holy Terror

"He was studious and reckless; scientific and hare-brained; tender-hearted, benevolent, and barbarous; unreasonably vindictive and singularly forgiving. He lived a humorous ruffian, with flashes of virtue, and died a hero, a martyr, and a Christian."
-Charles Reade, describing Thomas Pitt

It is often said that there is a fine line between genius and madness. It can also be argued that there is an even finer line between dashing rogue and out-of-control menace to society.

This brings us to the subject of today's post. Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford, spent his brief life manically swerving between both sides of that particular divide.

Pitt was born into an exceptionally wealthy and influential Cornish family on February 19, 1775. His uncle, William Pitt, as well as William's namesake son, both served terms as Prime Minister. However, despite his grand heritage, Pitt had a lonely, desperately unhappy childhood. His family virtually ignored him practically from his birth, shuttling him off to various boarding schools in Britain and Switzerland, where his prestigious social position allowed him to do pretty much as he liked with no fear of contradiction. This appalling combination of lack of parental love and absence of official discipline does much to explain why the young man grew up with a decided feral streak.

At a very early age--perhaps as young as six--Pitt began a naval career. His curious gift for mayhem first emerged on the pages of history in 1791, when he was serving on HMS Discovery. The Discovery was on an important expedition bound for the Cape of Good Hope, and ending at Nootka Sound, off the coast of North America. During the voyage, Pitt continually made a seagoing pest of himself. The captain, George Vancouver, had him repeatedly flogged for various harebrained offenses (most notably wooing a girl in Tahiti by gifting her with iron he had stolen from the ship.) The boy's behavior was so uncontrollable that Vancouver finally threw up his hands and placed his unruly crewman in irons.

In 1793, his fellow sailors were undoubtedly relieved when Pitt's father died and Thomas was summoned home to assume his title and manage the family estate. Rather oddly, the new Baron paid little heed to the news. He continued serving on various ships for three more years before finally making his way to London. His proud, undisciplined spirit continued to nurse a grudge against Vancouver. He sent his former captain a challenge to a duel. Vancouver--by then a prematurely old, ailing man--sent a dignified reply stating that he had only followed his official duties. However, Lord Camelford was free to take his complaints to a naval board of inquiry.

Pitt was disgusted by such a tame method of righting his perceived wrongs. He went straight to Vancouver's house and verbally attacked him so viciously that the captain was genuinely terrified. Vancouver felt he needed some sort of protection from this aristocratic maniac, but realized that Pitt's wealth and social status left him virtually immune from any normal legal or civil actions. Not knowing what else to do, Vancouver made an appointment with the Lord Chancellor to discuss his quandary.

In a case of supremely unfortunate timing, while walking to meet the chancellor, he was spotted by Pitt. The Baron dashed over to the captain and began walloping him with a cane, an incident that became immortalized in a caricature drawn by Pitt's friend James Gillray. In a classic example of adding insult to injury, Gillray's drawing cruelly depicted Vancouver as a sniveling coward. Despite his long and meritorious naval career, this one cartoon turned the poor captain into a public laughingstock. (It must be said that Vancouver wound up having the last laugh. Before he died in 1789, he completed three large journals detailing his many voyages of discovery. When published, they became a massive success, insuring that he would go down in history as one of his nation's great mapmakers and explorers.) Thanks to his rank, after this fracas Pitt was merely bound over to keep the peace for one year and quickly hustled back to sea.

Pitt showed no signs of mellowing. In 1797, he shot to death two seamen who resisted his efforts to press them into his service. He also killed a fellow officer for perceived insubordination. He horsewhipped a storekeeper for poor service. His rank continued to protect him from serious punishment, but his commanding officer quickly had more than enough of Pitt and packed him back to England. Feeling he still had not had his share of trouble, Pitt decided to single-handedly invade France, which was then at war with Britain. This escapade led to his arrest on suspicion of spying, although it was soon realized that someone this nutty could hardly be acting as an espionage agent.

Pitt, strangely enough, was popular in many circles. Tall, with a slim, but muscular figure, the handsome, blue-eyed Baron was often seen as a charming swashbuckler rather than an antisocial menace. Disliking his family's ornate, if somewhat depressing home, he instead took up residence above a grocer's. He decorated his new abode with a variety of imposing-looking weaponry, and gave himself up entirely to his favorite occupations: boxing and feuding.

In 1799, he was fined for knocking a man down a flight of stairs. In January 1802, all of London put on an illumination to celebrate the recent peace with France. Every house in the city was sporting lit candles in their windows...every house, that is, except for Baron Camelford's. Evidently out of sheer perversity, Pitt flatly refused to take part in the festivities, and his residence remained stubbornly, insultingly dark. An outraged crowd soon gathered around his lodgings to launch an attack on the offender. The Baron gleefully marched out to face the mob alone.

It did not turn out well for him. Despite being armed with "a good stout cudgel, which he laid about him right and left," he was simply hopelessly outnumbered. The Baron found himself "rolled over and over in the gutter" until he finally staged a retreat, "for once in his life crest-fallen."

Later that same year, Pitt took it into his head to assassinate Napoleon. Before he could get very far in this particular whim, he was detained in Paris and packed back home.

Early in 1804, this astonishingly stormy petrel got into what would prove to be his last quarrel. He and an old friend, Thomas Best, got into some petty argument over a courtesan, which the pair--well-matched in hot-headedness--decided could only be settled by a duel. Best was a famed sharpshooter, but Pitt, characteristically, paid no heed to the danger. At dawn on March 7, the two met in a dewy meadow in Kensington. Camelford, who fired first, missed. Best responded with a shot that went through his adversary's body. Three days later, the Baron died from his injuries, at the age of only 29. One of his last acts was to leave written instructions ordering that Best not be punished for his death.

It is interesting, if ultimately pointless, to wonder what would have become of Pitt had he made old bones.   Hard as it may be to believe, Pitt had his good qualities. He was fearless, intelligent, generous, and possessed of a strong sense of humor, with an innate, if deranged, sense of nobility. Would he have carried on his feckless ways indefinitely, springing from one self-made disaster to another? Or would he have learned some sense of self-discipline and responsibility, maturing into a wiser, if considerably duller, respectability? There is no way to know.

It is oddly cheering to note that Thomas Pitt could not even die and be buried like a normal human being. His will stated that he wished to lie on the shores of Switzerland's Lake St. Pierre, a place he had fond memories of from his childhood, "where the surrounding scenery may smile upon my remains." He asked to be buried under a certain tree, where "I formerly passed many hours in solitude, contemplating the mutability of human affairs."

Unfortunately, this surprisingly sensitive and peaceful desire was never realized. His family instead buried his body in St. Anne's Church in Soho, where, according to rumor, it promptly disappeared. For years afterward, this alleged vanishing turned him into a national punchline. "What has become of Lord Camelford's body?" was the 19th century's "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead."

Undoubtedly Pitt himself would have been the first to laugh at the joke.