"...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, June 18, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


“The Witches’ Cove,” Follower of Jan Mandijn

It's time for this week's Link Dump!

We have all the news!

The hazards of medieval high fashion.

A cold case from 1956 has just been solved.

The inexplicable disappearance of a woman and her dog.

The Brandon family and Richard III.

18th century women's football.

A look at the "Croglin Vampire."

A bionic vulture.

The siege of Constantinople in 860 AD.

The discovery of a "miniature Pompeii."

When it was considered normal to reopen graves.

From bigamy to umbrella fighting.

I've said this here before: ravens are damned smart.

The vegetable that conquered the world.

Notes from a cholera outbreak in Glasgow.

An alchemist prince and his anatomical machines.

Remembering a departed cat.

The first female mountaineers.

Does your salad feel pain?

Medieval killer rabbits!

A father's love goes a bit too far.

An interview with a Tower of London ghost.

New discoveries in the tombs of Saqqara.

18th century songs.

The gypsy hostess of Greenwich Village.

Humans may have arrived in the Americas much earlier than we thought.

The first known appearance of bubonic plague.

Maoris may have visited Antarctica in the 7th century.

Scared to death--literally--by ghosts.

Reflections on the Indian Political Service.

An accidental cat pub.

In case you weren't aware of it, Dashiell Hammett was a real swine.

The study of archaeoacoustics.

Don the Talking Dog.

The Great Serpent Mound.

Interpreting graveyard symbols.

Bigfoot and Ivan Sanderson.

A watchtower to defend against bodysnatchers.

The General Slocum Disaster of 1904.

The Belvoir Castle Fire of 1816.

An ancient letter seal and long-distance trade.

The Iron Age was a great time to be a chicken.

Catherine de Medici was a wicked chess player, which doesn't surprise me.

The largest known geoglyph has just been discovered.

The Aceh Wars.

The scientific Edgar Allan Poe.

A "weight of grief" leads to murder.

A Viking family reunion.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a young man's weird death.  In the meantime, we aint' going nowhere.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

On February 23, 1910, the Honesdale, Pennsylvania “Citizen” carried an account of some strange doings around Prince Edward Island:

The French farmers of New Zealand, a small settlement at the extreme eastern end of Prince Edward Island, have been thrown into a state of intense nervous excitement by a series of supernatural phenomena surrounding a young woman named Chinene. The ignorant farmers believe she is possessed of a devil, and the Rev. Father Walker of Rollo Bay, the parish priest, has been importuned to perform the ceremony of exorcism once resorted to for the purpose of curing those possessed of devils. 

The girl is about 20 years old. Since the death of her parents she has been keeping house for her brothers, small farmers of New Zealand. Several months ago the eldest brother informed his sister that he intended to marry a young woman in the neighborhood. Miss Chinene immediately burst into a fit of rage and declared that "she would as soon have a devil in the family as that girl." 

That night the household was aroused by loud noises, which seemed to come from all parts of the house. Then the voice of the girt, shrieking in agony, was heard from her room. The brother, fearing his sister was being murdered, rushed to the girl's room, followed by other members of the family. When they opened the door, they declare, they saw the young woman floating in the air several feet above her bed. She was talking incoherently and in language much different from that used by her in ordinary conversation. The girl finally sank back on her bed and fell into a natural sleep. When she awoke the next morning she said she knew nothing of the occurrences. Night after night the same performance was repeated. 

News of the happenings soon leaked out among the farmers and those simple people came to believe that the girl by her sacrilegious remark concerning her prospective sister-in-law had given herself over to the evil one. The girl developed clairvoyant powers while in what seemed like a hypnotic trance and told her visitors how much money they had with them. She was also able to repeat the addresses and contents of letters in their pockets, or at least she persuaded them that she could. 

The local doctors were called in to treat the girl, but they could do nothing. Next the parish priest's assistance was sought, but earnest prayers seemed to be unavailing. The excitement in the neighborhood became so intense that Father Walker issued a notice to parishioners forbidding any further visits to the home of the young woman. 

Several physicians were finally summoned from this city for consultation. Among them was Dr. Peter Conroy, chief of staff at the Charlottetown Hospital. Dr. Conroy declares that there is nothing in the case which cannot be explained by science. His theory is that the young woman is an auto-hypnotist with "obsessive influences." He also advances the theory that by involuntary hypnotism she creates delusions in the minds of those around her. 

All efforts to relieve Miss Chinene having been unavailing, her health has given way under the strain and she was brought to the Falconer Hospital for the Insane In this city. Medical attention will there be given to her with a view to ridding her of the strange conditions which have been afflicting her.

I couldn’t find anything more about the story--not even the young woman’s full name--so it’s a mystery what finally became of the unfortunate Miss Chinene.

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Coffin of Henry Trigg; Or, Why It's Not a Good Idea to Turn Your Corpse Into a Tourist Attraction

A lot of people take the manner in which they will eventually be buried very seriously.  Some of them plan their funerals more elaborately than they did their weddings.  However, not even the Egyptian pharaohs were as fussy--or as weird--about the disposal of their earthly remains as an otherwise unremarkable man named Henry Trigg. 

Trigg lived in Stevenage, England in the early half of the 18th century, and did very well for himself.  He owned successful grocery and butchers’ shops, and held the honor of serving as warden of St. Nicholas’ church and general overseer of the parish.  He also owned considerable farmland.  Trigg never married or had children, so it would not be surprising if in his later years, he felt some regret that his prominent place in his community would die with him.  This desire to avoid being forgotten may well explain why he devised a way to insure a conspicuous posthumous place in Stevenage history,

After Trigg died in 1724, it is not too much to say the contents of his will created a sensation throughout England.  He opened with this novel declaration:

“I, Henry Trigg of Stevenage, in the county of Hertford, being very infirm and weak in body, but of perfect sound mind and memory, praised be God for it, calling unto mind the mortality of my body, do now make and ordain this my last will and testament, in writing hereafter following; that is to say, principally I recommend my soul unto the merciful hands of Almighty God that first gave me it, assuredly believing and only expecting free pardon and forgiveness of all my sins, and eternal life in and through the only merits, death and passion of Jesus Christ my saviour.”

Then came the fun part.

“And as to my body, I commit it to the west end of my hovel, to be decently laid there, upon a floor erected by my executor, upon the purlins; upon the same purpose nothing doubting but at the general resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty power of God; and as for and concerning such worldly substance as it hath pleased God to bless me with this life, I do devise and dispose of the same manner and form following.”  He added that his body must remain “upon the purlins” for a minimum of thirty years.

The executor of Henry’s will was his brother, the Reverend Thomas Trigg.  Thomas was reportedly less than delighted by his sibling’s eccentric taste in burials, but as refusing to comply meant forfeiting his share of Henry’s substantial inheritance, the instructions given in the will were followed to the letter.  Henry’s lead-lined coffin was lifted into the rafters of the barn behind his grocery shop, and the residents of Stevenage were left to gawk at the morbid sight to their heart’s content.

The coffin in 2016, via Wikipedia

Although Trigg’s will did not give a reason for his choosing such an unusual resting place, local gossip claimed it arose from fear of his mortal remains falling into the hands of bodysnatchers.  According to legend, one night Trigg and two companions were passing by a local churchyard when they witnessed a gang of grave-robbers busy at their grim work.  The sight so horrified Henry that he vowed to insure that his precious corpse would not meet a similar fate.

In 1774, Trigg’s former shop was turned into the Old Castle Inn, which remained in business until the 1920s.  His coffin had several close calls over these centuries.  In 1769, Trigg’s niece Ann left 40 shillings in her will for her uncle’s remains to be buried in a more conventional way.  However, by then his coffin had become such a popular local attraction that this bequest was ignored.  In 1807, a massive fire broke out in Stevenage that, by some miracle, avoided torching Trigg’s barn.  The old boy was obviously not a fan of cremation.

The Trigg barn, via Wikipedia

However, Henry faced other, even more undignified depredations.  When his badly eroded coffin was replaced in the early 1800s, the carpenter, as a souvenir of his interesting task, took one of Henry’s teeth and a lock of hair.  In 1831, the then landlord of the Old Castle Inn treated himself to a peep inside the coffin, and, it seems, bits of Henry as well.  When the East Herts Archaeological Society examined the remains in 1906, they found that no less than a third of the skeleton was missing.  Henry Trigg was probably resting in pieces all over England--an ironic fate for a man who reportedly so dreaded having his remains defiled.  Eventually, these sneak thefts left so little of the corpse that animal bones were put in the coffin as a substitute.

In 1999, Henry’s former shop became a branch of the National Westminster Bank.  At that time, his barn was renovated, with his coffin being temporarily relocated to an undertaker.  After the work was finished, Henry’s coffin was placed back in the rafters.  (Note: it’s questionable how much of Henry went with it.  Some reports say that when the coffin was removed from the barn, it was found to be empty.  Others state that the undertaker firm that briefly held the coffin buried whatever multi-species jumble of bones it then contained.  In any case, it’s clear poor Trigg came to a very undignified end.)

Strange burials and ghost stories go together like macaroni and cheese, so it’s little wonder that Henry’s spirit is reportedly far from quiet.  In 1964, the Arrow Smith Engineering Works occupied a building adjacent to Henry’s barn.  One day, a builder employed to do renovation work in the Arrow Smith building claimed to have seen the ghost of a man wearing old-fashioned, shabby clothes drift through the room and disappear through a brick wall.  In 1970, workmen converting the Old Castle repeatedly saw the apparition of a man dressed in a long striped apron.  A similar specter was later seen by employees of Arrow Smith.  To this day, it’s said that Henry Trigg haunts his former property, searching for his long-lost remains.

I can’t say I blame him.  As it turned out, he probably would have gotten more respectful treatment from the bodysnatchers.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Now that this week's Link Dump is completed, the staffers at Strange Company HQ plan to take things easy over the weekend.

Watch out for those haunted wailing waterholes!

The ancient grave of a shackled skeleton.

Humans were probably in the Americas a lot earlier than we thought.

The woman who went from socialite to nun.

A newly-discovered letter dealing with Amelia Earhart's last flight.

Some Spring-heeled Jack hoaxers.

A Strange Company sort of love story.

How William Thompson's scalp became a museum exhibit.

Yet another case of a woman killed by a rejected suitor.  (True crime is full of these cases. They're second only to a woman disappearing, and the husband/boyfriend telling police, "We had a fight, and she just walked out.  Golly, I have no idea where she is. Sure, she didn't take any money, clothes, ID, or credit cards, but she's out there alive and well someplace.  Honest.  Cross my heart.")

Currency exchange rates in the 19th century.

The case of the mirrored mansion.

The history of a royal tiara.

A cat who was the feline equivalent of Michael Malloy.

"An American Tragedy" in real-life Pomona, California.

An amazing closeup photo of Jupiter's largest moon.

The argument that they're not aliens.  Spoilsports.

We're at risk of losing knowledge about medicinal plants.

A newly discovered crater in Greenland.

The beginnings of the camping holiday.

Better widowed than wed.

According to the National Geographic Society, we have a fifth ocean that nobody's noticed before.

A look at sunken cities.

An abusive husband comes to a bad end.

This week in Russian Weird: creatures frozen in Siberia for 24,000 years come back to life.  Then they read a few 2021 news headlines and begged to be put in the freezer.

The sounds of 17th century plague.

Sobriety and decorum on East India Company ships.

If you're a fan of Kentucky Fried Chicken, thank Queen Victoria and an evil sea captain.

The long history of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom.

The disappearance and reappearance of Captain Rehrer.

The man who forged paintings just too well.

A family's unsolved murder.

How to party like it's the Stone Age.

Some ill-considered tattoos.

A mysterious moorland murder.

The first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail.

A look at Prince Eugen of Savoy.

The value of echolocation.

Some incidents from 18th century Hyde Park.

Some interesting items from the British Museum.

Tips on table manners from 1939.

One of the most famed examples of someone surviving being hanged.

A major library fire in ancient Rome.

The girl who claimed to live twice.

The notorious "poisoner of Paris."

An extremely prolific poisoner.

A handy guide to the amount of money Burke and Hare made from serial murder.

All you need to do is hear the magic words, "Metal in her mammaries," and you know that Thomas Morris is blogging again.

The strange saga of Walter Stephen Thompson.

First-personal accounts of merchant seamen interned during WWII.

A Duchess accused of witchcraft.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a burial gone weird.  In the meantime, here's a bit of brass.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Since few things personify the Strange Company spirit better than “hoodoo cats,” here is a fine example of the breed from the “Cincinnati Enquirer,” March 3, 1892:

English, Ind., March 2. English and vicinity are stirred up by an incident for which, had it occurred in the days of the forefathers, some one would have been ducked in the horse-pond and burned at the stake. For many years Zip Bennett was a prominent and successful farmer of Sterling Township, and he and his family dwelt in peace and plenty within what might be well termed a palatial frame residence in a country like this. All this it at an end. The Bennett family have swapped the home of their youth, where fruit abounded the year around, and where the smokehouse, cellar and granary were never empty, for a little residence in English, valued at no more than $230.

Mr. Bennett and his family claim that their late residence has been haunted by witches in the form of a black cat with a white ring around its neck, which they honestly believe to be one of numerous neighbors versed in the black art. "And," said the old man to your correspondent today, "they are all poor, worthless wretches, and they will never be any better for it; for the devil has that creek, and he will have all of them what's a working by his methods to beat honest people out of their homes. Yea, I swapped my old home to Sam Benz for the little house in the suburbs, but I have had one good night's rest and one day free from the devil’s plague. And this is more than I have had o. the farm these many months.”

The black cat with the white ring around its neck has been guilty of all sorts of pranks, such as sitting before the bread-tray and preventing the "light bread" (wheaten bread) from rising; watching the yeast with the same sinister purpose, and sitting with its eyes fixed upon the oven to prevent the bread from baking properly. On such occasions the bread was sure to be flat, soggy, and sour, unfit for eating. There was no use to kill the d----d thing. Nothing could hit it, and it always vanished like a flash when an attempt was made. Though each room was mouse-proof, the cursed witch went out at the hole left by the carpenter despite bolts and locks. The imp of darkness has been known to evade a bullet and jump at least 100 yards in two leaps.

Other ordeals which these good people had to undergo was to see this veritable witch leap upon the table and select the choice bits, sit on the pillow and make night hideous with its cries, jump upon horses in the stable or set them wild by scratching them, kill young chickens, suck eggs and a thousand other things.

The farm upon which these scenes occurred is not three miles from the town of English, on the Louisville, Evansville, and St. Louis Railway. It contains 128 acres of fine land one third of which is bottom land, a fine orchard, and a lot of meadow land: in short. yesterday morning it contained everything that ought to satisfy a Crawford county farmer in the way of comfortable residence, stable and out-houses. 

Mr. Benz, who is a prominent merchant and sensible man, saw a bargain in this and felt that he could rent it to advantage, as well as to have pasture for his horses and cows.  In one point he was wrong--everyone whom he approached yesterday shook their heads dubiously and showed plainly that they believed as faithfully in the matter as Mr. Bennett and his family did.  No one wanted it. No one would have it as a gift.  Mr. Benz threatened to send to Germany for a kinsman to cultivate it and prove the foolishness of their ideas, but this morning some of Bennett’s old neighbors who wished to end the witch's work at that place set fire to every building on the place. Benz is at a loss what to do. He dreads the effect of the ignorance of a few adjacent farmers may have upon his place, but has given out that he "don't care, he didn't want the houses any way and intends to make a sheep farm of it."

Mr. Bennett’s family claim to have been sick all the time of late months, and that no medicine was beneficial while they remained on the farm. This was especially the case with Mrs. Bennett, who, though but a few days in town, is now moving about her house work with alacrity. The occurrence proves that there are many believers of witchcraft in the community, who are shaking their beads knowingly, but will not name the ones whom they "know" to be disciples of the black art.

Monday, June 7, 2021

In Which Mrs. Claughton Rescues a Ghost

There are many accounts of ghosts allegedly contacting the living in order to have them carry out certain tasks of great importance to the deceased, but most of these tales live in that shadowy world between history and folklore.  The following account, on the other hand, is unusually well-documented, even though it follows the irritating Victorian practice of cloaking names and places with pseudonyms.  As strange as the story might be, there seems little doubt that it happened.  The story first made print as a series of documents and affidavits published in the “Proceedings of the Society For Psychical Research” in December 1895.  It is a very long and convoluted affair, which I will summarize as best I can.

In an unnamed English village stood a house owned by a family called “Appleby” in the narrative.  They lived elsewhere and rented the home out.  Around 1887, the home was leased to a Mr. Buckley.  He was a bachelor who lived with his mother and sisters.  The Buckley womenfolk went to the house first, to put the place in order.  They soon began complaining that the place was haunted--they kept hearing uncanny noises, such as the sounds of heavy weights being dragged on the floor, or footsteps pacing around supposedly empty rooms.  When Mr. Buckley moved in, he heard nothing unusual, but did have one curious experience.  One evening as he walked upstairs, he found his hand full of water.  There was no stain on the ceiling, or anything else to account for it.  On another occasion, one of his sisters was in the attic alone, when she suddenly felt water swishing over her face, as if someone was swiping her with a wet brush.

These oddities eventually wound down, and life in the Buckley household carried on quietly for two years.  Then, in October 1893, a widow named Mrs. Claughton and two of her children came to visit the Buckleys.  For whatever reason, their arrival was the cue for all spectral hell to break loose.

Late one night, Mrs. Claughton was awakened by footsteps on the stairs.  One of the Miss Buckleys was ill, and the widow assumed a servant was coming to bring her to the sickbed.  The steps stopped outside her door.  Then the noise was repeated.  Mrs. Claughton opened the door, to find that no one was there.  The puzzled woman went back to bed and resumed her sleep.  A short time later, she was roused by the sound of someone sighing.  When she opened her eyes, she saw a woman standing by the bed.  The intruder’s head was swathed in a white shawl, and her expression was “gentle and refined,” although her features were markedly emaciated.

“Follow me,” said the wraith.  Mrs. Claughton took her candle and followed the apparition into the adjacent drawing-room.  Her visitor walked towards the window, turned around and said “Tomorrow!”  It then vanished.

When Mrs. Claughton returned to her bedroom, one of her children asked, “Who is the lady in white?”

“Only me,” the widow replied.  “Go to sleep.”

The next morning, Mrs. Claughton went to a friend, a Dr. Ferrier.  She told him of her strange experience the night before, and asked for advice on what to do next.  The best he could suggest was that an electric bell communicating with Miss Buckley’s room should be set up in her bedroom.

That night, at around one a.m., the alarm let out a loud peal.  When the Buckleys rushed to Mrs. Claughton’s room, they found her in a faint.  When morning came, the widow returned to Dr. Ferrier to ask him about the whereabouts of a certain place, which the narrative chose to call “Meresby.”  After consulting a postal directory, they learned it was a small agricultural community about five hours from London.  The widow explained that “certain ghosts” had ordered her to go there to carry out specific tasks for them.

For a few days, Dr. Ferrier heard nothing more about the matter.  Then, he got a letter from Mrs. Claughton’s governess.  She wrote that when the widow arrived at her London house, she was plagued by a night filled with sounds of weeping, “loud moans,” and “a very odd noise overhead, like some electric battery gone wrong.”  Also heard were heavy footsteps and thuds.  Shortly after this, Mrs. Claughton herself wrote Ferrier, informing him that she had gone to Meresby and carried out her ghostly instructions.  Her job had been to examine the Meresby parish registers and compare certain entries with information given by her spirit employers.  After this was done, she was to spend the time between one a.m. and one-thirty a.m. in the Meresby Church, alone, when she would receive further information from the ghosts.

Mrs. Claughton afterwards described her otherworldly adventure in more detail.  On the night the alarm went off in her room, she had awakened to find the lady in white bending over her.  

“Am I dreaming, or is it true?” the widow asked.  The specter gave her a certain piece of information confirming that it was the latter.  Then a male ghost “tall, dark, healthy, sixty years old” appeared.  He said that he was George Howard, and that his body was buried in Meresby churchyard.  He gave the dates of his marriage and death.  He told her to verify these dates by the parish registers, and then wait at 1:15 in the morning by the grave of one Richard Harte.  Howard added that Joseph Wright, the Meresby parish clerk, would be able to assist her.  She was also to find a Mr. Francis, who was somehow connected to the personal affairs of the ghosts.  Then she saw the ghost of a man whose name she was not free to give.  He appeared to be greatly distressed, covering his face with his hands as though suffering some private agony.  These phantoms said they would meet Mrs. Claughton in Meresby Church in order to give her some important details concerning the third, unhappy wraith.  They then evaporated.  Mrs. Claughton felt faint--something quite forgivable under the circumstances.  She rang the alarm, and collapsed.

When Mrs. Claughton spent the night in Meresby Church, the ghosts gave her information necessary for her to settle whatever the matters were which troubled George Howard’s spirit.  She visited Howard’s daughter, where she “recognized the strong likeness to her father, and carried out all things desired by the dead to the full...The wishes expressed to her were perfectly rational, reasonable and of natural importance.”  Happily, she was able to report that her actions “effected the intended results.”

Most unfortunately, Mrs. Claughton--apparently out of a sense of discretion--never revealed what “the wishes expressed to her” were.  The business which was obviously so important to the undead remains a mystery.  One of the people involved in the whole saga said that judging by his “very partial knowledge” of what the Meresby ghosts wanted done, he considered Mrs. Claughton’s reticence about the matter to be entirely justified.

I suppose all one can say is that it’s a great pity that most ghosts don’t have a Mrs. Claughton around to settle their unfinished business.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The staff at Strange Company HQ celebrate the launch of a new Link Dump!

What the hell happened to the SS Poet?

What the hell caused the Great Sheep Panic?

Getting creative when it comes to addressing a letter.

An odd ancient child burial.

That time when sharks nearly became extinct.

The birth of counting.

The man who survived a catastrophic brain injury.  (And, yes, this is a Thomas Morris post, so be warned that you'll hear every last detail.)

The enduring influence of Poe.

A ship's captain turns mass murderer.

An escape network turns to mass murder.

Personally, I already do.

Murder and an "unnatural love."

The end of the Paris Commune.

If you're renting a haunted house, it usually does little good to take the matter to court.

Enliven your weekend by contemplating all the ways the Sun can kill us.

A creepy case of murder and black magic.

The "belly of Paris."

This week in Russian Weird looks at a strange death in Siberia.

From flattering prospects to perfect destitution.

The link between water and UFOs.

The UFO capitol of Australia.

Literary trolling.

The Lidice Massacre.

The real-life "Lord of the Flies."

How to turn apples into marshmallows.

Some personal accounts of time-slips.

It's safe to say that this is a murder that will never be solved.

The Ice Saints.

Robert Boyd, who died like a gentleman and soldier.

Some notable graves at Bury St. Edmund's.

The man who could grow at will.

A very unusual way to find a wife.

Irene Castle, America's best-dressed woman.

The Nine Men of Madeley.

Birds as natural magicians.

Archival files related to the beginning of Pakistan.

The ghosts of Warwick Castle.

What may be the world's earliest known war memorial.

How a Chinese teenager's death birthed conspiracy theories.

The unsolved murder of a private detective.

A determined young ruffian.

Tales from Britain's worst prison.

A one-armed lion whisperer.

A Ukrainian Stonehenge.

Ancient Roman beauty tips.

The murder that created Scotland Yard.

UFOs and a musician's strange disappearance.

Caps.  Lots and lots of different caps.

Anatomists and the body-snatchers.

Cryptozoology's saga of the "lost" Thunderbird photo.

The dark side of Victorian baby farming.

Andrew Jackson and "Rawhead and Bloody Bones."

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a ghost story with a happy ending.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Bach.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This colorful little haunted house story appeared in “The Town Talk,” October 30, 1987:

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Dorothy Weisler says her 120-year-old house is haunted. What else can explain the knocking in the closet one night, the table that slid across the floor, or the punch bowl that exploded into pieces? 

Shortly after Mrs. Weisler joined her husband in buying their home in the magnolia-scented Garden District they discovered two slate tombs beneath the foundation.

“There were 27 yellow fever epidemics from the time they founded the city," Mrs. Weisler said. "If they ran out of room in the cemeteries they buried people any place they could find." 

Her home is an inviting haunt for a spook. Built in 1867, the house proudly displays Greek columns and an Italianate architecture typical of the Garden District. High ceilings are graced with glass chandeliers and the rooms with antique furniture. Taffeta drapes flow and the gloomy eyes of a Spanish maiden stare down from an 18th-century painting. 

"Twenty-three years ago we bought the house, but it was not until our air conditioning workmen came to do some duct work that they found these two sealed crypts," she said. 

Those workmen fled and others finished the repairs. But Mrs. Weisler said her husband one day was checking under the house a year later and found one of the tombs unsealed and empty. "They had been sealed tight when they were found. From that time on we've had the most bizarre things happen here. And we've just finally accepted that there's no other explanation than we have a very active ghost." 

She has never seen a ghost. But she said she can recall a string of eerie occurrences: a key turning and unlocking a mahogany bookcase; the crash of a chest wrenched from a wall; and a lamp that rolled 30 feet down a hall.

"This chair would be moved all the way across the room and turned around. The lamp would have fallen over and rolled down the hall and turned the corner and hidden behind the gold drapes," she said. "It happened five times." 

Then there was the trash compactor. "I cannot tell you how badly I hated that and I couldn't throw it away," she said of the gift from her husband. One day the family left on a trip. "Without anyone to press the switch and no one able to get in with the alarm system on, that thing turned itself on and when the heavy lever came down with the drawer open it just crunched up its own body," she said. "I came home to this wonderful little pile of metal on the floor." 

Mrs. Weisler said a punch bowl once shattered in the dining room, and another time, an ashtray given by the mother of a new bride. "I have never seen anything break in so many pieces.  And I couldn't figure out why the ghost was suddenly turning against me," she said.  A short time later, she said, she learned the bride had divorced. 

At one Halloween party thrown by her children, a piece of ceiling molding--a bunch of plaster grapes--fell down on the head of a youngster in a loud yellow sportcoat and tie, she said. 

"They had a party here on Halloween and all the kids came in jeans but this one little kid," she said. "The next thing we know there's this crash and this bunch of grapes fell on the guy's head. He went to the hospital to have his head sewed up." 

Despite all that shaking and rattling going on, she said she's not frightened and won’t call in a ghostbuster. 

"One lady called last week because she knew how to have the house exorcised of this ghost. But I love my ghost and I don't want my ghost to leave," said Mrs. Weisler.

Any ghost who hates yellow sportcoats is A-OK with me, too.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Horror in West Texas: The Frome Murders

"Pomona Progress Bulletin," April 6, 1938, via Newspapers.com

The Frome family of Berkeley, California exemplified mid-20th century American prosperity.  Weston Frome, a top executive at Atlas Powder Company, made all the money needed to give his wife Hazel and his two daughters, Nancy and Mada, a life of pampered contentment.  The three attractive, chic Frome women traveled extensively, shopped, and took a prominent part in Bay Area society.  The Fromes could have stepped out of a magazine ad.  As an icing on the cake of the family’s seemingly endless good fortune, Weston Frome won a lottery where the prize was a lavishly equipped, brand-new silver Packard.  He gave the car to Nancy as a college graduation present.

This proved to be the worst decision of his life.

1938 did not start out well for Nancy.  Her fiance, a San Francisco optometrist, broke their engagement.  Upset and anxious to “get away from it all,” in March, twenty-three year old Nancy announced that she would like to take a train cross-country to visit her sister, who was married to an active-duty Marine stationed in South Carolina.  However, Hazel worried about her young daughter making such a long trip on her own.  She had an alternate idea: how about if the two of them use Nancy’s plush new car to drive there?  For a mother and daughter who loved traveling, it would be a fun adventure.  Nancy readily agreed, and the pair were soon on their way.

The road trip was uneventful until they reached West Texas, where the Packard developed engine trouble.  The local auto repair shop had to send for replacement parts for the luxury car, leading to an unavoidable delay before it could be fixed.  Rather than just sit in their El Paso hotel room, the women took a tour of the town and its sister city, Juarez, Mexico.  Five days later, on Wednesday, March 30, their car was finally ready for them.  When the Fromes came to pick up the Packard, they asked for directions to Dallas, and, at about 10:30 a.m., resumed their trip.  

The following afternoon, two army surveyors found the Packard parked on the side of a lonely road eleven miles west of the town of Balmorhea.  They reported the find to their sergeant, who in his turn notified the Reeves County sheriff’s office.

The two deputies who arrived at the scene were baffled.  The car was unlocked, and the keys in the ignition.  No luggage or anything that would identify the car’s owner was found.  Aside from a few minor scratches, the car was in perfect condition.  Why would anyone abandon an expensive auto out in the middle of nowhere?

The California license plate enabled the sheriff, Louis Robertson, to at least determine who owned the car.  When Weston Frome was contacted, he became hysterical, immediately assuming that his wife and daughter were both dead.

A search was immediately launched using all of West Texas’ available resources.  Robertson drove the Packard back along the route the Fromes had taken, asking at every stop if anyone remembered the car and the women driving it.  No one had.  Law enforcement, volunteers and members of the Civilian Conservation Corps searched the area on foot and horseback.  The Coast Guard was called in.  Despite these efforts, no clues to the women’s disappearance were found until five days later, when an El Paso truck driver named Jim Milam went to police with a strange story. Early Wednesday afternoon, as he was driving from El Paso to Wickett, a silver Packard had passed Milam about 13 miles west of Sierra Blanca. Closely following the Packard was a dark coupe, with two license plates and white writing on the right door. Both cars were traveling east. Two hours later, six miles east of Van Horn, he saw the same coupe driving toward him, slowly, along the edge of the highway. A woman was driving. Twenty miles later, the Packard passed him again, headed east and driven by a man. Following the Packard was the coupe with the female driver. Milam took investigators to the spot. As they searched the area, it was Milam who found the bodies of Hazel and Nancy Frome.

Their deaths had been unusually brutal.  Although both were nearly naked, neither woman had been sexually assaulted.  However, they were gruesomely abused in other ways.  They had been badly beaten, one of Hazel’s forearms looked like the flesh had been bitten off, and Nancy’s right hand had been burned to the bone, probably from a cigar or cigarette.  Death finally came when they were shot execution-style in the head.  It was as if someone had tortured the women in order to obtain something that the Fromes wouldn’t or couldn’t provide.  A massive manhunt was instantly launched to find these very, very dangerous murderers.

"El Paso Times," June 28, 1981

Investigators were flooded with tips.  Other motorists remembered that on the day the Fromes disappeared, the Packard seemed to be followed by another car containing several people, but that promising clue wound up going nowhere.  At first, law enforcement assumed the obviously wealthy women were the victims of a random highway robbery.  However, the fact that a diamond watch and Hazel’s gold wedding ring were left inside the car forced them to abandon that theory.  Perhaps, some lawmen thought, the women were mistaken for drug smugglers, and tortured to force them to turn over their stash of dope?  The El Paso sheriff was of the opinion that the savagery of the murders indicated a personal motive; that someone they knew from California was for some reason inspired to take a bloody revenge on the women.  Or maybe, he suggested, the Fromes were murdered by people they encountered in Juarez?

As promising as all these theories initially sounded, no real evidence could be found for any of them.  For all their efforts, law enforcement came up with no solid leads, let alone likely suspects, for the very sinister deaths of Hazel and Nancy Frome.  It remains one of Texas’ creepiest murder mysteries.

Over the years, there have, of course, been efforts by armchair detectives to solve the case.  One of the more interesting scenarios was laid out by former journalist Clint Richmond in his 2014 book “Fetch the Devil.”  It is built around the fact that in 1930s San Francisco, the German consulate was a hotbed of Nazi spies led by Baron Manfred von Killinger.  At the time of the murders, there were also many German agents operating around the Mexican border.

Richmond believed that Weston Frome, as a German-born executive of a major explosives company, was targeted by the Nazis in order to learn his business’ secrets.  However, Frome rebuffed all efforts to either bribe or blackmail him.  The German agents then went after the more vulnerable quarry: Weston’s wife and daughter.

Richmond noted that while the Fromes were stranded in their El Paso hotel, Nancy came down with a bad cold.  As the regular hotel doctor was away, a hotel bellboy referred them to a local doctor, Wolfgang Ebell.  Unfortunately for the Fromes, Dr. Ebell was part of an extensive Nazi spy chain which operated through San Francisco, Latin America, and Berlin.  Hazel was a chatty, outgoing woman, so Richmond thought it likely that when she learned the doctor was German, she mentioned to him her husband’s similar ancestry, as well as his important position at Atlas Powder Company.

Ebell, according to this scenario, called his boss von Killinger to report his encounter with the women.  The spymaster instantly recognized the Frome name, and saw his opportunity to finally get some leverage over Weston.  Von Killinger instructed Ebell to do everything in his power to exploit this unexpected gift while the women were still in the area.

Ebell first sent two Russians, Romano Trotsky and G.N. Gepge, to try to romance the Frome women.  However, the mother and daughter merely laughed off their efforts.  While the Fromes were at the hotel, a letter was dropped off for Hazel at the front desk.  Although it is not known what the letter said, it clearly greatly upset both women.  Richmond theorized that the Nazi agents wrote to Hazel threatening to expose Weston’s peccadilloes, either real or fictional.  It caused the two panicked women to flee as soon as they could.

When Ebell learned the Fromes were preparing to leave, he quickly enlisted Trotsky, Gepge, and an unidentified woman in a plan to waylay the mother and daughter.  On the remote Highway 80, the spies were able to force the Packard off the road.  After that, it was a simple matter to detain the Fromes at gunpoint.  The men forced their way into the Packard, ordering Nancy to drive.  Ebell’s female agent followed them in Ebell’s car.  The Fromes were taken to some isolated place where Ebell’s thugs could question them under torture.  Meanwhile, Ebell searched the Packard for the incriminating letter that Hazel had received.  Unable to find it, he abandoned the car, taking the Frome luggage to be searched at his leisure.

Despite the terrible abuse the women suffered, they proved to be as stubbornly uncooperative as Weston had been.  When Ebell reported to von Killinger his failure to get information out of the Fromes, the spymaster said that there was no other option but to murder them.  Accordingly, the women--probably already nearly dead after hours of torture--were brought to the remote area where their bodies were later discovered, and shot.

The debacle of the attempt to recruit the Frome women--and the even more unwelcome publicity the murders received--caused the spies to quickly tie up loose ends.  The bellboy who had summoned Ebell to treat Nancy’s cold was kidnapped, taken into Mexico, and killed.  Baron von Killinger was recalled to Germany, far away from the reach of any investigators who might stumble across the link between his spy ring and two now-infamous murders.  By the time Dr. Ebell was arrested in December 1941, the Frome case was so cold, it never occurred to anyone to note his possible connection to the mystery.  The Nazi spies may have failed in their espionage activities against the Fromes, but they were very successful when it came to killing them.

Richmond’s scenario may sound like something out of a cheesy spy thriller, but it is not impossible, and would explain many of the odder elements of these unusually odd murders.  It is still possible that some day, some information will emerge to prove whether or not his theory is correct.

[Note: El Paso sheriff Chris Fox, who spent years trying to solve this case, did manage to uncover a couple of interesting details which might--or might not--have been significant.  When he interviewed family members, he learned that Weston and Hazel Frome had marital problems for some years--in fact, they were separated at the time Hazel made her fatal road trip.

Also, in one of those unbelievable coincidences which often dot true-crime cases, it transpired that on the day the Fromes disappeared, there was another silver Packard with California plates containing two women on Highway 80.  Fox was able to contact these women, and satisfied himself that they had no connection to the case.  However, this did lead some people to wonder if perhaps the Fromes had been mistaken for someone else.]

Friday, May 28, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by Claudia Cardinale.

And someone who wants to get as far away as possible from Claudia Cardinale.

The truth behind a famous "plague village."

The secrets of Anne Boleyn's prayer book.

As I have noted before, if you want to make a bunch of archaeologists happy, give them some fossilized poop.  And if it's really big and riddled with parasites to boot, they will practically weep from joy.

Life in the Soviet Union during WWII.  As you might imagine, it wasn't fun.

You know what Poe's contemporaries wanted from him?  Books about seashells.

So maybe Einstein wasn't Mr. Smarty-Boots after all.

The science of archaeogenetics.

Some very strange ancient geoglyphs in India.

Napoleon's second wife.

The servant and the stolen bank notes.

The oldest gold find in southwest Germany.

More about UFOs and USS Omaha.

A scandalous elopement from the 1950s.

Some curious moments from Seattle history.

How two rare lobsters were saved from becoming someone's dinner.

A murderer who just couldn't shut up about it.

The Tower of London has a new raven.

A famously pious woman.

What is possibly the richest ancient shipwreck yet.

A scandalous annotation.

The Bottle Men of the Regency.

Twenty acres of skulls.

Latvia's Sun Barrels.  The setting is delightful, but the "houses" themselves are setting off my claustrophobia.

The good old, "He fell on the end of my umbrella" alibi.

How George Washington's doctors unwittingly helped kill him.  Articles like this always make me wonder how many modern medical practices will be hooted at by later generations.

In related news, modern medical practices unwittingly led to a radioactive corpse being cremated.

Julius Caesar's invasions of Britain.

Thieves just looted Arundel Castle.  I hope Mary Stuart's ghost teaches them a lesson.

And here are other relics of Mary, Queen of Scots.

News reports from Jack the Ripper-era Spitalfields.

One of the attempted assassinations of Queen Victoria.

A fatal glove.

A brief history of the Warenne family.

The life of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Queen Victoria's African-born goddaughter.

Fun fact of the day: John Steinbeck once wrote a novel about a werewolf.

The mysterious life and death of Francis, Viscount Lovell.

A London tomb which is said to be a time machine.

George Orwell's time in Spain.

The dark side of the Scottish borders.

Some questions about the Emperor Nero.

Some well-preserved ancient Roman baths.

Some recipes from the WWII years.

Was Amy Billig kidnapped by bikers?

That time the Devil visited Shropshire.

The relationship of Robert Devereux and Elizabeth I.

The hazards of 18th century shaving.

An alleged escape from a sea monster.

Harry, lazy, husky hero cat.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a notorious Texas murder case.  In the meantime, let's eat!

Man, this one takes me back.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

And here is one of those little news items you don’t see every day.  The “Wilmington Morning News,” August 5, 1947:

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 4 (AP) A retired Ohio doctor has discovered relics of an ancient civilization, whose men were eight or nine feet tall, in the Colorado Desert, near the Arizona-Nevada-California line, an associate said today. 

Howard E. Hill of Los Angeles, speaking before the Transportation Club, disclosed that several well-preserved mummies were taken Sunday from caverns in an area roughly 180 miles square extending through much of southern Nevada from Death Valley, Calif., across the Colorado River Into Arizona. Hill said the discoverer is Dr. F. Bruce Russell, retired Cincinnati physician who came across the first of several tunnels in 1931, shortly after coming West and deciding to try mining for his health. Not until this year, however, did Dr. Russell go into the situation thoroughly. Hill told the luncheon. 

With Dr. Daniel S. Bovee of Los Angeles, who with his father helped open up New Mexico's cliff dwellings, Dr. Russell has found mummified remains together with implements of the civilization which Dr. Bovee had tentatively placed at about 80,000-year old. 

"These giants are clothed in garments consisting of a medium length jacket and trouser extending slightly below the knees," said Hill. "The texture of the material is said to resemble gray dyed sheepskin, but obviously it was taken from an animal unknown today." 

Hill said that in another cavern was found the ritual hall of the ancient people, together with devices and markings similar to those now used by the Masonic Order. In a long tunnel were well-preserved remains of animals, including elephants and tigers. So far. Hill added, no women have been found. He said the explorers believed that what they found was the burial place of the tribe’s hierarchy. Hieroglyphics, he added bear a resemblance to what is known of those from the Lost Continent of Atlantis, They are chiseled, he added on carefully-polished granite. 

He said Dr. Viola V. Pettit of London, who made excavations around Petra, on the Arabian Desert, shortly will begin an inspection of the remains.

You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that we heard no more of the matter from Mr. Hill, not to mention from Dr. Russell, Dr. Bovee, and Dr. Viola V. Pettit of London.

But I bet the members of the Transportation Club had an entertaining afternoon.

Monday, May 24, 2021

In Which Mimi and Toutou Go to War

Normally, war stories just aren't my sort of thing.  If the truth be known, tales of military tactics and battlefield heroics usually leave me yawning and reaching for the books discussing goblin cats and unexpected arsenic in the tea.  However, now and then I stumble across a person who makes me change my view of warfare and welcome them into the hallowed gates of Strange Company HQ.

Enter, Geoffrey Basil Spicer-Simson.

Spicer-Simson was born in Tasmania in 1876, but was educated in his father's native England.  At the age of 14, he entered the Royal Navy, where by 1898 he achieved the level of lieutenant.  Unfortunately, his career stalled, due largely to our hero's manifest incompetence.  On one occasion, he nearly sank a submarine during a training exercise.  On another, he drove a ship onto a beach.  And, of course, there was the memorable day when he crashed a destroyer into another naval ship, killing one of the sailors.  His brash, eccentric personality (one of his biographers describes him simply as "a deeply irritating man,") did not help matters.

However, Spicer-Simson did have some talent for surveying, a task he carried out in China and Africa.  After the beginning of WWI, he was given an office post in the Admiralty.  His task was transferring Merchant sailors to the War Navy.  His superiors evidently believed that the further away from battle he was, the better it would be for their side.  Spicer-Simson, it soon emerged, was peculiarly unsuited for such a routine desk job.  His special talents lay elsewhere.  

In April of 1915, the British learned that the Germans were planning to take control over Africa's Lake Tanganyika.  If they succeeded, it would strengthen the enemy's position throughout German East Africa.  To counter this threat, the British Navy prepared to send a small expedition to challenge the German warships.  As Spicer-Simson was familiar with Africa and fluent in German, he was given the task of leading what the Navy brass assumed would be a routine mission, ridiculously minor and uninteresting compared to the epic conflicts taking place in Europe.

Spicer-Simson's expedition may have been minor, but he was damned if it was going to be uninteresting.

The plan was simple:  Spicer-Simson would be given two small wooden ships with a motor and cannon attached to each one.  (Geoffrey wanted to name them “Cat” and “Dog,” but after these were rejected by the Admiralty, he settled on “Mimi” and “Toutou.”  He later explained that these meant “Miaow” and “Bow-Wow” in French.)  These vessels would be trundled across Africa before being dropped into Lake Tanganyika.  It was assumed that after this, the Germans would either be awed by the majesty of the British Navy or die laughing.  Spicer-Simson's crew was happily suited for the enterprise.  His chief engineer had not the slightest idea how the ship's engines worked.  Another of his sailors was known as "Piccadilly Johnny."  He had dyed bright yellow hair and a monocle, and insisted on taking along two boxes of Worcester sauce, which he drank straight out of the bottle.  The sanest member of the expedition was a chimpanzee named Josephine, who would join the crew for meals. Oh, and don't forget the two Scotsmen in kilts.  It was as if the Marx Brothers decided to make a war movie.

Spicer-Simson, heavily covered in “macabre tattoos,” was the perfect commander for this crew.  Despite having little knowledge of semaphore, he persisted in waving around the flags, perfectly indifferent to the fact that he was spelling out gibberish.  He was also in the habit of giving orders while flourishing a fly-swatter and keeping a cigarette holder in his mouth, leaving his words as unintelligible as his flag messages.  He proudly made himself a bogus Admiral's flag for his ship, donned a skirt--feeling that was more appropriate attire for the tropical climate--dressed his goat mascot in a British uniform, and announced that he was more than ready to take on the German Navy.

When the enemy first caught sight of this floating sideshow, they gave themselves over to the greatest merriment.  Being confronted by this egomaniacal loon and his daffy crew was an unexpected comedy bonanza.  The Germans, chuckling all the while, opted to ignore him.

It never pays to underestimate egomaniacal loons.  Because, you see, the funniest thing is that Spicer-Simson beat them silly.  While the enemy fleet was busy laughing at the self-made Admiral, he was capturing some of their boats and sinking others, to the point where he quickly had the Germans rendered a virtually spent force.  Their stranglehold on Lake Tanganyika was permanently broken.  "Simson's Circus" (as the expedition had been dubbed by the press) had accomplished what was among the most unlikely victories in British naval history.

The awed local tribes decided that Spicer-Simson must have had supernatural powers, and began worshiping him as a god.  They made clay effigies of the Englishman and gave him the titles of "Navyman God" and (in honor of his skirt) "Lord Bellycloth."  Spicer-Simson was not at all displeased.  He had only thought to promote himself to the rank of Admiral.  Divinity was an unexpected bonus.  

When the "Circus" came home, the Navy gave them more traditional honors.  Spicer-Simson was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.  Three of his men received the Distinguished Service Cross, and twelve others were given Distinguished Service Medals.  Later, he was appointed a Commander of the Belgian Order of the Crown.

After the war, Spicer-Simson became Assistant Director of Naval Intelligence.  He was a delegate and translator at the Versailles Peace Conference.  In 1919, he was elected secretary-general of the International Hydrographic Bureau.  His final years were spent in British Columbia, where he gave lectures on his war exploits until his death in January 1947.  All in all, a respectable ending to what at first had promised to be a singularly unmemorable career.

As I said, never underestimate the loons.  They find ways of getting the job done.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by a band of beloved Little Tramps.

And Charlie Chaplin.

A cursed murder house.

The code of letterlocking.

How a banned Russian masterpiece finally got published.

The murder of Agnes Tulfverson.  (And, yeah, there's no doubt the poor woman was murdered.  The identity of the guilty party isn't too mysterious, either.)

Newly discovered footage of the Hindenburg disaster.

Ventspils, Latvia sure loves its cows.

Ten tragic military heroes.

In search of a lost river in London.


A look at the "great dying."

Why it's not a good idea to sleep wearing false teeth.

A metal detector finds stolen treasure.

A look at the "twopenny hangover."

Lady Rochford and the fall of Anne Boleyn.

A baboon's high-wire act.

Napoleon's--possibly--fatal love of cologne.

A bicyclist's unsolved murder.

Aboriginal memory techniques.

A brief history of play.

The Farmington UFO armada.

Mourning rules for divorcees.

When Elizabeth Blackwell met Hans Sloane.

The midwife and the ghost.

Neanderthal cave dust.

This week in Russian Weird looks at tales of lost cosmonauts.

So long, Darwin's Arch.

The making of Saint Thomas Becket.

Don't mess with those girl postal clerks.

Those marvelous 18th century buttons.

A look at "The Compleat Angler."

A ghost hoax in Braybrooke.

There are a lot of possible punchlines to this story, but I'm not going to be the one to publish them.

The blog Dead But Dreaming added some valuable footnotes to my recent post about the levitating butler.

The fine art of pickpocketing.

A brief history of change.

John Dee and a very strange book.

USS Omaha meets a UFO.

The concerts of the Paris Commune.

An exorcist's strange death.

The Beecher-Tilton scandal.

Old occupations, from A to Z.

How clothing may have changed human civilization.

A lovely murderess.

The travails of a Victorian trunk maker.

This week in Russian Weird looks at cloned ancient armies.

A novel way to get a new suit of clothes.

The cake of the patron saint of bakers.

More examples of the U.S. military seeing some mighty weird things.

The Vega Expedition and the North-East passage.

The jade burial suits of China.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at one of WWI's nuttier moments.  In the meantime, hope your weekend's free of Trouble.