"...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, July 30, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

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

And the Strange Company Army is on the march!

Lydia Sherman, poison fiend.

Nobody told me that it was Lydia Sherman Week around the blogosphere.

Some stained glass windows at Canterbury Cathedral are even older than we thought.

I never thought I'd see "Hobby Lobby" and "Epic of Gilgamesh" in the same news story, but that's 2021 for you.

An account of children living in a den of snakes.

A novel way of dealing with public transportation.

Gravediggers go on strike.

The ghosts of Norton Hall.

The giant of Alton, Illinois.

The mystery of a Winchester rifle.

A birdwatcher in early 20th century Assam.

The weird death of Mitrice Richardson.

A dangerous old New York City tradition.

The mystery of post-mortem meditation.

The only people to not die on this planet.

The Japanese Embassy Hoax.

The Duke of Wellington in India.

New York's Tonsillectomy Riots.

Strange moorland carvings.

Ireland takes fairies very very seriously.

Don't lie to your dog.  

Emily Bronte's lost second novel.  To be honest, I wouldn't have objected if the first had been lost as well.

Squiggly wiggly fossils!

A captain's very unlucky first voyage.

The oldest known "message in a bottle."

English is a weird language.

Britain's first female Olympians.

The world of the thief-trainers.

Over in England, they still have live bombs from WWII lying about the place.

The pigeon armies of WWI.

A brief history of Nathan's Famous hot dogs.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll revisit the never-a-dull-moment world of Scottish witchcraft.  In the meantime, here's Marshall Crenshaw.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

What do you get when you mix a decrepit old cemetery, a mysterious grave, and Jimmy Hoffa?

This report from “Newsday” (Nassau edition) for June 12, 1992: 

By Ellen Yan 


The dead tell no tales. That left plainclothes Officer William Maldonado staring down yesterday at a mysterious grave outlined by bricks and marked by a cross made of rusty pipes at the Lakeview Cemetery in Patchogue. According to rumor the grave showed up in the mid-1970s among the chest-high weeds but no one seems to know if anything or anyone lies under it.

“It’s a lot easier asking ‘Who punched you in the bar?’” said Maldonado of the Fifth Precinct’s crime section. “Unless we start getting some hard facts I don’t see how it’s going to be solved.” 

It seems appropriate that the oddly marked grave appeared at the historic and shadow-filled Lakeview which dates back to the 1700s and is owned by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. There rest five sailors frozen or drowned in a stormy shipwreck of the Louis V. Place in February 1895 as well as the 1800s suffragette leader and author Elizabeth Oakes-Smith. 

Four obelisks mark the plot of the rich Smith family who owned the Smithport Hotel in Patchogue’s heyday at the turn of the century and donated money in the early 1900s to maintain the cemetery. Alarmed at being buried alive the Smith daughters gave orders to be left in their homes fully clothed days after dying and one daughter Ruth wrote in her will “I do not wish to be buried until several days after my death like my sisters.” 

In recent times the 65-acre site degenerated into a jungle of fallen headstones and a hangout for the homeless because the church hasn’t had the money for upkeep since at least 1959, said Clifford Still, a member of the church’s building and ground committee. Only recently have church members futilely fought the overgrowth. 

During cleanups that started in January, Patchogue firefighters and villagers carted off mattresses and more than seven bags of clothes, condoms, and underwear, collected at least 13 cases of beer cans and liquor bottles, sawed about 150 trees and burned the weeds. 

“It was like going into Burma--we could have used machetes,” said firefighter Peter Barrie who has relatives buried at Lakeview and has been trying to compile the cemetery’s history. 

With the growth cleared the clean-up volunteers found the mysterious grave by rusty wrought-iron fences in the northeast corner. Concerned that the grave might hold a missing person, they told Brian Foley, aide to his father, John Foley (D-Blue Point.) Brian Foley called the police. 

But their task is complicated, because the church lacks burial records. Whatever documents might have been kept were given to a man by the name of Guttridge who was interested in the cemetery, Still said.  When he died, Still said, the records were lost. 

Police haven’t gotten any concrete leads in their undertaking since being notified June 1. Anyone with information may call the crime section at 854-8526. Those with deeds or historic details may call Barrie at 475-6745. 

Police must decide whether to dig up the grave, but Maldonado believes if foul play ended someone’s life the talk would have been on the streets. His one lead lies in the rumor that a drug-overdose victim was buried there in the mid-1970s. 

“That’s when Jimmy Hoffa disappeared,” Fifth Precinct Inspector Martin Raber joked, referring to the ex-Teamsters boss with alleged Mafia ties. “Wouldn’t it be something if it were Jimmy Hoffa? It’s as good as any theory.”

As far as I know, the identity of the person lying in the grave remains a mystery.

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Haunted Council House

32 Coxwell Road was not, even by the standards of council houses in 1950s Birmingham, England, anything special to look at.  But for the family of 31-year-old ex-paratrooper Frank Pell, it was a palace compared to their previous lodgings--a house so dilapidated it was officially condemned.  The three-bedroom home was newly decorated, on a quiet road close to all necessary services.  And the rent was cheap!  Mrs. Pell, in particular, was overjoyed to live in such clean, spruce surroundings.  The house “seemed the answer to our prayers,” she later said.  After the young family brought in their local priest, Father Francis Etherington, to bless their new home--the Pells were devout Catholics--they settled in for what they expected to be a long and happy stay.

Such hopes did not last long.  On the first weekend after moving in, the Pells were abruptly awakened by the sound of banging doors.  When Frank went to investigate, he saw nothing.  The family began hearing loud, inexplicable thuds from the ceiling above the kitchen, and strange smells, like garlic and burning rubber.  The Pells dismissed such occurrences as “odd, but nothing to worry about.”

Then, in June 1955, just three weeks after moving into 32 Coxwell, they were hit by a mysterious tragedy.  The Pells woke up one morning to find that their one-month old baby daughter, who slept in the same bed as her parents, had died during the night.  An autopsy showed that the baby, who had been in perfect health, had died from suffocation.

The stricken parents could not fathom what had happened.  As it had been a hot night, they had thrown back the bedclothes.  There was not a mark on the baby.  Surely, the Pells reasoned, if one of them had rolled on top of the child in their sleep, there would have been signs of bruising on the tiny body.

More strange occurrences intruded themselves on the grieving family.   Every night, at about 10:30, loud taps continued to come from the kitchen ceiling.  Towards dawn, they heard the noise of banging doors.  The temperature of the bedroom over the kitchen would inexplicably fluctuate.  The unpleasant odors of garlic and burning rubber periodically wafted throughout the house.  In the upstairs rooms, the Pells began to hear an eerie whispering, like someone speaking softly into a microphone.

Then, four days after their child’s death, the Pells were hit with one of the creepiest “haunted house” incidents on record.  Their four-year-old son Alan suddenly asked, “Did baby go with the little white dog?”

Frank and his wife, understandably stunned, asked, “What dog, Alan?”

“Why, the little white dog who comes and sits on my bed sometimes.  I saw him sitting on baby’s face the night baby left us.”

Mrs. Pell became hysterical.  Frank sent for the police.  The house was thoroughly searched, but nothing out of the ordinary was found.

Out of desperation, they sent for Father Etherington to conduct an exorcism on the house.  As he stood in an upstairs room, armed with his rosary and Holy Water, the priest heard the eerie tappings and whisperings.  Afterwards, he advised Frank that although he had done all he could, the Pells should leave the house, for their own safety.  It was a very bad place.  However, Frank Pell was a very brave man, and a very determined one.  He vowed to fight back against whatever it was that was trying to drive them from their home.

This resolve lasted for two weeks.  One morning as Frank was shaving, he heard the uncanny whispering--this time, from right behind him.  As he knew his wife was the only other person in the house, he ran to the stairs to see if she had been making the sounds.  He found her standing at the top of the stairs.  Her mouth was open as if she was screaming, but she made no sound.  Frank began climbing the stairs, but he suddenly had to stop.  There was an invisible barrier between him and his wife.  Using all his strength, he finally broke through the wall.  When he did, he immediately heard his wife screaming and sobbing.  She told him the sinister voices had been whispering to her, as well.

The Pells could take no more.  They were terrified about what might happen next.  The family fled, not even bothering to pack.  Frank’s niece and her fiance volunteered to go to the house to collect their belongings...until they began hearing the tappings themselves.  After that, they couldn’t be persuaded to go near the place.

“The People,” July 17, 1955

Birmingham Council sent their technical staff to make a full investigation of the house, but apparently no physical reason for the sounds and smells which plagued the Pells could be found.  In the meantime, the Council agreed to rehouse the family.  They acknowledged that whether the house was haunted or not, the Pells genuinely believed it was.

There was one more odd occurrence, which, in retrospect, might have been a warning.  Soon after the Pells moved into 32 Coxwell, Mrs. Pell cleared out the home’s loft.  Among the assorted junk was a newspaper dated July 12, 1917.  It was folded so that the headline read, “Watch your children…”

Mrs. Pell found this right before her baby died.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump will be enhanced by some live music from the Strange Company HQ orchestra.

The internet helps solve the mystery of a 19th century botanist.

If you want to spend over $200 bucks for a cheese sandwich that looks like roadkill, be my guest.

Why it's not a good idea to eat a coelacanth.   Although I'll bet it's still better than that $200 sandwich.

Enjoy a selection of the world's worst poetry.

Some myths about Anne of Cleves.  You have to give credit to any woman who married Henry VIII and escaped with her life.

For years now, people have been arguing over the gender of a pigeon.

Tollund Man's last meal.

The Blythe Intaglios.

The first cruise ship.

Cultural diffusion of knowledge goes way back.

America's first female steamboat captain.

Why scientists killed Ming the Clam.

The life of French king Louis Philippe I.

A hero's final resting place.

Some people become addicted to travel.

A fantastic medieval chess set.

The Shiva Hypothesis.

The medieval Olympics.

This week in Russian Weird meets Doctor Chip.  And the time when Peter the Great put a tax on beards.

Mourning a wife who could fry a great piece of tripe.

If plants really do run the world, you'd think they'd do a better job of it.  On the other hand, maybe my pots of basil think everything is going just swimmingly.

The oldest man in the world to play bowls.

If you're a dowser looking for work, head to California.

The family tree of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

A brief history of tobacco.

A look at the servants of the East India Company ships.

A coroner and a morgue keeper fight over a corpse.

The Battle of Beecher Island.

How not to behave when you're an American in Europe.

The adventurous life of a one-armed knight.

A bonobo who's a pretty good cook.

Houdini's favorite detective.

A mysterious cave house in England.

A haunted village of witches in Italy.

Curiosity rover discovered what may be signs of ancient life on Mars.

One of Los Angeles' most iconic homes. 

The year with 445 days.

A cowardly--and lethal--lover.

The elopement of Mad Lord Adolphus.

An enormous memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery.

One really weird saint.

A look at the F4U Corsair.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a particularly creepy haunted house.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Flemish dance music.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

One of the many delightful things about the “Illustrated Police News” is that they often varied their reports of ‘orrible murders, gruesome deaths, and assorted wickedness with some nifty little ghost stories.  This short but extremely weird little tale appeared in the March 30, 1878 issue:

A singular scene was witnessed a few days ago at Bennington. As a young couple were standing at the altar of St. Mary's Church to go through the marriage ceremony, the proceedings were brought to an abrupt termination by that which all rational people must of necessity deem most preposterous and ridiculous. It appears that the whole wedding party was composed of spiritualists. All of a sudden the bridegroom became deadly pale, trembled, and pointed to a shadowy form, which he asserted arose between himself and the woman he was about to espouse. Like her, it was dressed in full bridal costume. The features were those of a young lady whom he, the bridegroom, had courted some four years, and who had but recently died. The loving bride, the bridegroom's best man, and indeed the whole wedding party, declared most positively that the spirit of the departed stood there to forbid the ceremony from being completed, and the effect was so tremendous and overpowering that the loving bride withdrew from the altar, and refused to have any further share in the proceedings.

Monday, July 19, 2021

In Which Russell Palmer Returns From the Dead, and Everyone Wishes He Hadn't

Russell Palmer in the "New York Daily News," Dec. 17, 1950, via Newspapers.com

In some missing-persons cases, the man or woman returns home alive and well, to be greeted with great joy.  Occasionally, however, it turns out that the returnee had a darn good reason for wanting to disappear, and the reason is rarely something anyone wants to hear.  In such instances, everyone--particularly the formerly vanished--comes to wish he or she had stayed lost.  An outstanding example is a once-notorious case from Ohio.

In 1920s Akron, Russell Palmer was among its most prominent and respectable citizens.   His father, Thomas J. Palmer, had been a state senator.  Russell himself was a veteran of WWI and held two well-paying jobs: employee in a real estate firm and secretary-treasurer of the Meadowbrook Country Club.  He was married, with a seven-month old daughter.  He could have passed for a character in Sinclair Lewis’ “Babbitt.”

On the night of February 4, 1922, Palmer’s club held a charity dance, which kept him working late.  Around 2:30 a.m., he called Helen, his wife of four years, to tell her he was heading home and would see her soon.  He carried with him the proceeds from the dance, about $60.

He never arrived.

No one had any idea what had happened to Palmer until a few hours after he left the club.  A milkman spotted the missing man’s crashed car on the Gorge Bridge, over the Cuyahoga River.  When police were summoned to the scene, they immediately realized that something terrible had happened.  Someone had hurled a brick through the windshield.  Palmer’s ripped overcoat, crumpled hat, and empty billfold were on the front seat.  Outside the car were found his car keys and some other personal effects.  A man-sized hole could be seen in the frozen river below.  It did not take Sherlock Holmes to piece together the dreadful scenario:  some criminal had been waiting by the bridge to rob the first car that came by.  He threw the brick through the windshield, causing Palmer’s auto to crash.  He then robbed the unfortunate man, killed him, and dumped the body in the river.

The river was searched for the corpse, but nothing was found.  It was speculated that Palmer’s body was caught in the debris of a steel bridge which had collapsed into the water years earlier.

Investigators did find one clue which would possibly identify the perpetrator of this heinous deed: underneath Palmer’s car was a pair of driving gloves with scratches on them which could have been made by someone holding a brick.  The gloves were not in Palmer’s size.  After doing a bit of sleuthing, investigators learned that one Herbert Weinstein, the bartender at Palmer’s club, had bought an identical pair of gloves on February 1.  Police, of course, joyfully hightailed it to Meadowbrook Country Club, only to be told that Weinstein had quit his job on February 4.  He and Palmer, they were told, had a falling out.

Police learned that a man matching Weinstein’s description had caught a freight train out of Akron at about the time Palmer’s crashed car was discovered.  A nationwide dragnet was launched for this murder suspect, but they only succeeded in tracing Weinstein to Denver, after which he vanished just as thoroughly as his presumed victim.

Palmer’s body was never discovered, but he was declared dead in 1929, and his widow received $8,500 in life insurance.  She eventually fell in love again and happily remarried, and life, as it always does, went on.

One night in 1925, a hobo sought a bed for the night in the police station at Tacoma, Washington.  Although shabbily dressed, the man had clearly seen better days.  He had the manner of a gentleman and his white, soft hands displayed his unfamiliarity with manual labor.  The stranger told Cliff Osborne, the officer on duty, that his name was Ross T. Cartier.  He had just come from the East in the hope of finding work.  A few days later, Osborne saw Cartier working at a malt shop.

Cartier flowered in his new surroundings.  Within two years, he was comfortably well-off, and belonged to Tacoma’s leading service clubs, becoming renowned for his civic work.  In 1927, he married Helen Dower, the daughter of a rich lumberman.  Among the guests was Cliff Osborne, who had become a close friend of the bridegroom.  Cartier’s new father-in-law helped him purchase a successful drugstore, which also served as the local post office.

There was, however, a private dark side to all this public happiness and prosperity.  Cartier’s wife confided to Osborne that her new husband could be very moody, suffering from bouts of depression that he refused to discuss with her.  And he would get so angry when she’d suggest that they go East to visit his family.  It was starting to trouble her that she knew absolutely nothing about Ross' life before he came to Tacoma.  She added, “Sometimes I think he’s got a terrible secret--that he just lives from day to day.”  Osborne told her soothingly that Cartier merely suffered from “nerves.”

Despite these occasional troubles, Cartier’s life continued to seem a quiet and fortunate one.  And then on the night of May 13, 1935, his affairs unraveled with a startling speed.  Mart Parnell, a private security guard making his rounds, spotted Cartier’s car outside his drugstore.  A light was on in the back of the shop.  When Parnell touched the front doorknob, he found the door was unlocked.  When he entered, he was relieved to find, not a burglar, but Cartier himself, in the process of locking the safe kept at the back of the store. The druggist did not seem happy to see him.  After a brief chit-chat, Cartier all but ordered his visitor out.

Parnell shrugged and continued his rounds.  A few minutes later, Cartier’s car sped by him.  The druggist and another man were in the front seats.  Towards dawn, Parnell’s route again brought him to the vicinity of Cartier’s drugstore.  The back light was still on and the door was still unlocked.  When Parnell entered, he found that the safe was wide open, and empty.  On top of the safe was a loaded revolver.  The narcotics drawer was also empty.

It was all looking very fishy, and very bad for Ross Cartier.  Parnell phoned the police.  A quiet search was launched, but Cartier and his car were nowhere to be found.  It was discovered that $1,500 in postal receipts had vanished with him.  Unpleasant rumors began to circulate throughout Tacoma about Mr. Cartier.  The druggist’s wife and father-in-law, however, insisted that he must have been kidnapped.

Two days after Cartier disappeared, a garage owner in Vancouver, Washington reported that Cartier’s car had been driven into his place by two men--neither of which matched Cartier’s description--and a woman.  They never came back for it.

Meanwhile, postal inspectors discovered that three money orders issued by Cartier’s post office substation carried different names, but were written in the same handwriting--the handwriting of Ross T. Cartier.  A federal warrant was issued charging the druggist with embezzlement.

Authorities ran into an odd problem.  They naturally wanted to circulate a photograph of the wanted man, but they found that there didn’t seem to be any in existence.  His wife explained that “Ross hated to have his picture taken.”

Newspaper stories about Cartier’s disappearance caught the eye of a former Akron resident now living in Tacoma.  It reminded him of the old Palmer/Weinstein mystery.  He went to police with the suggestion that “Ross Cartier” might be one of the two missing Akron men.  Authorities pooh-poohed it as “far-fetched.”

Two months after Cartier vanished, his wife and father-in-law, acting on a tip from an anonymous woman, flew to a remote ranch in Arizona.  A guest there, “Ross Smith,” was immediately recognized by them as the man they knew as “Ross Cartier.”

“Why did you do it, Ross?” his wife sobbed.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said sullenly.  “Maybe I got tired of living without any excitement.”

His father-in-law repaid the Government for the postal funds Cartier had stolen, and the now black-sheep son-in-law surrendered to the authorities.  He was asked if he was really Russell Palmer or Herbert Weinstein.  He replied that he had never heard of either man, and had never been in Akron in his life.

Nobody was convinced by his denial.  It was discovered that there was absolutely no record of Cartier before 1923.  It was dawning on everyone that Ross Cartier--or whoever he was--was a man capable of doing a lot of very curious things.  The Tacoma chief of police contacted his counterpart in Akron.  He received in return an old newspaper story about the Palmer mystery, a photograph of Palmer, and Palmer’s WWI War Department fingerprints.

The man in the photograph was either Ross Cartier or his identical twin.  When Cartier was fingerprinted, those proved to be an exact match, as well.

“Cartier” was now forced to admit his true identity.  When he was asked about Weinstein, he replied, “I didn’t kill him.  He robbed me of club receipts.  I never saw him again.  I knew it would take a lot of explaining after I said I’d been robbed on my new job.  So I just went down to the station and caught a train west.”  He added with a shrug, “Well, that’s all in the past.”

Few believed him.  It was widely suspected that Palmer had enlisted Weinstein to help him fake his own death, after which he murdered his cohort to ensure he kept his mouth shut, but unfortunately the police had no way to prove it.

In 1936, Palmer was sentenced to two years in the federal penitentiary for embezzlement.  After he was released in May 1938, he again disappeared, this time for good, much to the relief of his former loved ones.  It was rumored that Palmer settled in California, but that was never proven.  It’s anyone’s guess what Palmer did with the rest of his life, but judging by his previous form, I presume his subsequent history would have provided me with a whole series of blog posts.

A tragic footnote to this sordid saga is the fact that Palmer’s father, aghast at the realization that his son was a thief, a fraud, a bigamist, and a possible murderer, committed suicide.  The only person to mourn Russell was his mother, who went to her grave many years later hoping in vain that her errant son would contact her.  

[Note: many thanks to Chris Woodyard for bringing this story to my attention.]

Friday, July 16, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

One of our Strange Company HQ staffers wishes to announce that it's time for this week's Link Dump!

Photo: Edward Henry Weston

An ancient tiara turns out to be a hoax.

How to eat like Jane Austen.

The disappearance of Jon Haynes.

The end of the "King of the Beggars."

One really expensive stamp.

Contemporary news accounts about the discovery of the Rosetta Stone.

The difficulties of Early Modern childbearing.

The real "Chariots of Fire."

The tragedy at Pond Hill.

Romance blossoms in an unexpected place.  

Elephants having themselves a good time.

The ghost on the golf course.

Discovering ancient DNA in mud.

P.T. Barnum and the cherry-colored cat.

They've reportedly found the tomb of Alexander the Great's mom.

Puppies are born to understand humans.  Kittens, on the other hand, are born understanding us all too well.

Churchill and "Operation Unthinkable."

How the diary of Betsy Ross' husband wound up in a California garage.

A reusable coffin.

The miniature world of a Benedictine monk.

An East India Company "secret and confidential agent."

What it was like to be a Neanderthal child.

It's all in our guts.

Helping the poor in Victorian England.

The life of a 19th century American publisher.

A pickled Knight Templar.

The cover-up behind the murder of Jane Stanford.

A look at the phenomenon of weird stuff falling from the sky.  (More here.)

Vivaldi and psychedelic therapy.

In which Galileo and the Pope quarrel over cicadas.

Snails may have helped solve the mystery of the Cerne Abbas Giant.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a disappearance that turned into...something no one was expecting.  In the meantime, here's a tune from 17th century Scotland.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

On this blog, I have featured sailor cats, ghost cats, witch cats, hoodoo cats, and, of course, hypnotizing cats.  So, naturally, it’s time to bring on the weather-predicting cats.  “The Menasha Record,” April 17, 1925:

Ever since the total eclipse of the sun scientists, storekeepers and post-boys in Middletown, Conn., have had a wholesome respect for Weathervane, the meteorological cat of East Hampton, which has been offered to President Coolidge by its owner, Louis James, the Boston Transcript says.

The cat predicted fair weather for the eclipse when the astronomers who came to Middletown to set up their instruments to view the eclipse were getting cold feet and taking out rain insurance to protect their expeditions from loss if the rain should come on that day. The success of Weathervane's prediction on that occasion won him name and fame as surely as did the prediction of the 1888 blizzard for the late Horace Johnson of Middle Haddam.

Weathervane was a foundling and was picked up by Ellis Hughes of East Hampton and taken to a warehouse in that village. Mr. Hughes told Richard Gillon, an employee, to give the cat a bed of blankets and to allow it the run of the warehouse. Mr. Hughes now claims he showed the cat a thermometer. and declared that is what stirred the meteorological instincts of the animal.

Later Louis James took the cat home to his wife, who gave it some catnip and three meals a day. The cat thrived under this treatment and soon began to predict the weather with a success that bade fair to rival that of the United States weather bureau. 

Those who have learned to decode the cat's forecasts say he is unerring in his predictions. For several years now he has been giving valuable dope on the weather. This is done by mannerisms and purrings as weather changes impend.  Strong, rhythmic purrings forecast fair weather. Contortions announce sudden changes. A haughty attitude indicates a frost.  If the cat insists on rolling over there will be ice and snow.

Weathervane is not handsome and does not take to many people.  A great many, however, now come to the James house to find out what the weather is to be.

Weathervane was born before his time.  Imagine the high-paying gig he could have gotten on the Weather Channel.

Monday, July 12, 2021

A Fatal Resemblance

"St. Louis Post Dispatch," July 13, 1897, via Newspapers.com

In early June 1897, a 19 year old man named Elliot Duckworth left his home in Springfield, Missouri for a visit to St. Louis, and promptly disappeared.  Duckworth was known as a reliable sort with no bad habits, which made his sudden vanishing all the more peculiar.

On June 14, a man was sitting quietly in a St. Louis park, when he was--by his hand or that of another--shot in the head.  A gun was found with him, so it was assumed that he had tried to kill himself.  When the gravely wounded man was brought to the hospital, a card found in his pocket read, "I am Edward L. Doling of Terre Haute, Ind., in case of accident." 

Word of the shooting reached the ears of some bank officials in Terre Haute.  Doling was a cashier in their bank, and had recently disappeared, along with about $30,000 dollars he had embezzled from them.  They were naturally anxious to have a word with him.  Representatives of the bank visited the hospital, and identified the patient as their thieving employee.  The search for Doling was abandoned.

The victim was mostly unconscious and unable to speak for about a month, and it was thought he could not possibly survive.  To everyone's amazement, however, he maintained a tenacious hold on life.  When the patient was finally able to communicate, he insisted that he was not Doling, but Elliot Duckworth.  All he knew was that he had gone to St. Louis to "see a man."  He had no memory of who this man was, or why he wanted to see him.  He recalled going to the park, and that he was sitting there alone, reading, when he suddenly felt a dreadful pain in his right eye,and lost consciousness.  When he awoke, he found himself in the hospital, where--for reasons he couldn't even imagine--everyone addressed him as Doling, a name completely unfamiliar to him.

Duckworth himself had no answers for what had happened.  The injured man begged doctors to save him with such desperation that they were forced to believe his vehement claims that he had not attempted suicide.  He swore someone tried to kill him, but he could not say who or why.

It was a baffling case.  Was Duckworth/Doling telling the truth, or was his wound causing him to hallucinate?  If he was not Edward Doling, what was he doing with that man's card?  And where was the real Doling?  In short, what was going on here?

Duckworth's family was contacted, and they were able to identify the young man as their missing relative.  Tragically, Duckworth's injury left him permanently sightless, and he was transferred to an institution for the blind in Kansas City, where he died of complications from his gunshot wound in November 1898.  This puzzling case was now a murder mystery.

Investigators were able to trace Duckworth's movements prior to the shooting.  When he arrived in St. Louis, he registered at the Planter’s Hotel.  He asked the desk clerk if an Edward Doling had asked for him.  He received a negative answer.  A few hours later, he strolled out of the hotel and asked passerby for directions to the nearest park.  He wished to find relief from the oppressiveness of the day, he explained.  Having received the guidance he sought, he boarded a streetcar.

The next anyone heard was the news that a well-dressed young man had committed suicide in the park.  Police found Duckworth slumped on a bench, a revolver at his feet.

It was not until after Elliot Duckworth's death that the mystery of his shooting began to be pieced together.  Two months before Duckworth left Hutchinson for the last time, he visited a brother in Terre Haute.  Although he and Doling had never been introduced, Doling evidently saw the young man during his visit, and noted the curious fact that they bore a remarkable resemblance to each other.

This caused Doling to form a truly diabolical plan.  He knew that his embezzlement would inevitably be discovered.  Here was his chance, he thought, to fake his own death, and make a clean getaway.

When Duckworth returned home, Doling wrote him a letter.  It stated that Doling was in a position to offer a talented young man a good job in St. Louis, and a mutual friend had recommended Duckworth for the post.  Doling asked Duckworth to meet him at the Planter's Hotel on the afternoon of the 14th so they could discuss the matter.  One of Duckworth's sisters said that the day before he left for St. Louis, this letter was handed to him by a stranger--Doling himself, she assumed, or an agent he had hired.  The stranger also gave Duckworth money to buy a ticket to St. Louis.  He also asked Duckworth if the young man had a revolver.  When he received an affirmative reply, this man bought the gun from him.  This was the very same weapon that had been found near Duckworth after he had been shot.

All became clear.  Doling had lured Duckworth to St. Louis, found a favorable opportunity to shoot him, left the gun at his victim's feet to make it look like a case of suicide, slipped his own card in his victim's pocket, and fled, assuming that he would be identified as the corpse, leaving him free to make a new life with his ill-gotten gains.  If his victim had died without regaining consciousness, he would have been buried as “Edward L. Doling,” and the mystery of Elliot Duckworth’s disappearance would never have been solved.

An effort was made to find Edward Doling but, of course, he had a generous head start.  I never found anything to suggest that the cold-blooded, if ingenious, assassin was ever seen again.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week, the Link Dump is proud to be hosted by the first Earthlings to reach the Moon!

You didn't really think it was Neil Armstrong, did you?

An unsolved 4th of July murder.

The murder of Mena Muller.

The murder of the Elling Woman.  Good luck solving this one.

More evidence that Neanderthals were a lot less primitive than we thought.

That time they held a contest to determine which was superior: beer or water?  Guess which beverage won?

A 15-year-old murderer.

How a rural English brewery wound up in North Korea.

Some particularly weird UFO accounts.

A huge medieval cathedral in Africa.

In related news, let's talk cat-faced aliens.

JMW Turner was not the world's greatest father.

To be honest, I've always been puzzled by the assumption that shellfish don't feel pain.

A carving recording the assassination of a 13th century abbot.

Eerie photos of British woods and moors.

When it was something of a fad to predict your own death.

1972: the longest year in history.  And not just because "Baby, Don't Get Hooked On Me" was being played everywhere.

Etiquette tips from 1939.

A blind playwright.

James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, was an odd duck.

The man who vanished during an Alaskan footrace.

A three-eyed Welsh calf finds a home.

Michelangelo as a forger.

Reprogramming the human body.

Juggling for the Donner Party.  Oy.

Why they moved Thomas Becket's bones.

An ancient group of hippies.

The time the world fought over a bug.

Lizzie Borden's house has a new owner, and a lot of people aren't happy about that.

A lost Roman pyramid.

The magic of tattoos.  I'm still not getting one.

Poe's role in American science.  (I've been reading Tresch's book; it's the most valuable work about Poe in years.)

17th century "Cries of London."

The phenomenon of "terminal lucidity."

A look at ancient cataclysms.

A look at the 1948 London Olympics.

A look at Da Vinci's DNA.

Midway and the Pacific War.

A child's unsolved kidnapping.

If you're courting someone's maid, don't hide under the sofa.  It will give people the wrong idea.

Nothing says "2021" quite like "Radioactive Hybrid Terror Pigs."

Hypnotism and Jack the Ripper.

Some newly-discovered Edward Lear poems.

The man who believed he had discovered an unlimited power source.

Why Henry VIII was not fond of Thomas Becket.

The unsolved Burger Chef murders.

Mars may have once been habitable.

The rise and fall of peanut butter and jelly.

The baffling disappearance of a tech genius.

An accidental bombing.

The birth of the spiritualist movement.

The Marilyn Monroe conspiracy theory du joir.

A brief history of bourbon.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at the sort of thing that happens when you have the bad luck to resemble an embezzler.  In the meantime, here are Van Morrison and the Chieftains.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Now, that’s a snappy headline, eh?  From the “St. Louis Globe Democrat,” April 21, 1888:

Plainfield, Ind., April 14.  Taylor Reagan, a prominent business man of this place, is not a believer in ghosts. but one night recently, while returning from the town of Mooresville, six miles southeast of this place, in company with his wife, the two witnessed something that to this day remains a mystery to both. 

The strange tale, as related to the Journal Correspondent by Mr. Reagan himself, is as follows: 

“My wife and myself had been spending the day with friends at Mooresville, and it was after dark before we started to drive home. It was a very cloudy night, and the moon did not give the least bit of light. The horse, however, was gentle, and well acquainted with the road, and I let him pick his way along. We had reached a point about two miles south of here, just where the farm of the State Reform School begins, when I noticed, about 10 yards out in a field from the fence on the opposite side of the road, a white object of the exact size and shape of a 2-year-old calf. Had the night not been so very dark I should have thought it was a calf and not given the subject any thought, but I felt sure that no object could be seen at so great a distance as this calf apparently was. When I looked at the thing closely I saw that its legs were not moving, but that the creature was gliding along without moving a muscle, and kept on an even race with our horse. I thought the strange vision was certainly conjured out of my imagination, and for fear of being laughed at by my wile I did not mention seeing the thing until she called my attention to it by saying she had been observing the object tor some time and that it appeared to her like it got along without using its legs, as ordinary calves do. I thought it was now time for an investigation, so, stopping the horse, I got out of the buggy, and keeping the calf, which had now become stationary, in view, I proceeded toward it. As I reached the fence, and was on the point of climbing over, the object suddenly disappeared from my sight. I told my wife the thing had disappeared, and she replied that it was still to be seen plainly from the buggy, and she insisted that I return to the buggy and let her get out, and she would find out what it was.  But she succeeded no better than I, for although the creature went from her sight when the fence was reached, I could, from my post in the buggy, still see it plainly. We then drove on, and thought to outrun the mysterious animal, but whether the horse trotted, ran or galloped, it made no difference, the white calf over in the field kept the same pace. Over fences and ditches the thing moved with ease, and we only got rid of it just at the edge of town. where it disappeared as suddenly as It came. The next day, in order to satisfy myself, and if possible dispel from my mind the unwelcome idea that it was a ghost we had seen the previous night, I visited the owners of the farm through whose fields the object had passed, to discover if there were any cattle in any of them, and was Informed that there was not, nor had there been for several years. I do not desire to comment on the strange, and, what seems to be an unreasonable tale," concluded Mr. Reagan, but merely narrate what my wife and myself actually witnessed."

Monday, July 5, 2021

The Woes of Honore Mirabel; Or, Why Some Treasures Should Remain Buried

"New York Times," June 28, 1874 via Newspapers.com

So, you’re just a poor working stiff, barely getting by in this world.  Then one night, a ghost tells you the location of some buried treasure.  You do a little digging, and by golly, there’s the loot.  All your troubles are over, right?

Not necessarily, chum.

Honore Mirabel was a young laborer living near Marseilles, France.  One night in May of 1726, he was lying under an almond tree when he noticed a man at an upper window of a nearby building belonging to a Madame Placasse.  Mirabel asked the man what he was up to, but he got no response.  When he entered the building, he found no one there.  The unnerved boy went to a well for some water.  As he drank, he heard a faint voice telling him to dig there for some valuables, and asking that masses might be said for his (the voice’s) soul.  Then, from out of nowhere, Mirabel saw a stone fall on a certain spot.

Recognizing this as a sign of where to dig, Mirabel enlisted the help of another laborer named Bernard, and the two began excavating.  They soon uncovered a packet of dirty linen, containing more than a thousand Portuguese gold coins.  Mirabel was so thrilled by his windfall that he not only paid for the masses for his ghostly benefactor, he had himself bled four times, just to calm his nerves.

And then it occurred to Mirabel that he didn’t know what to do with the coins.  He consulted a merchant named Auguier, who advised him to do nothing with the loot, as putting them into circulation would inevitably lead to some awkward questions.  Auguier persuaded Mirabel to give him the coins for safe keeping, in exchange for a loan of less suspicious cash.  On September 27, Auguier gave him a formal signed receipt.

Then things got complicated.  When Mirabel later asked for his coins back, the merchant flatly refused.  When Mirabel tried pressing him on the issue, Auguier--according to the laborer--tried to murder him.  Mirabel then filed a lawsuit against him demanding the return of his property.

During the trial, Auguier acknowledged that Mirabel had told him of finding buried treasure, but insisted that he himself had never so much as seen the money, even though a ribbon was found in his house identical to the one Mirabel had used to tie up his bag of coins.  A woman named Marguerite Caillot testified that Mirabel had told her about his ghost.  She witnessed the hoard being uncovered, and identified the ribbon from Auguier’s home as the one used for the coins.  Another witness described seeing Mirabel give bags to Auguier, and getting a slip of paper in return.  A third stated that Mirabel had shown her his treasure.  As for the defense, Auguier brought in expert witnesses who stated that although the handwriting on the receipt was similar to the merchant’s, it was a forgery.  The ribbon found in Auguier’s home, it was claimed, was merely part of a dress belonging to his daughter.  After hearing all this, the obviously bewildered judge could think of no better solution than ordering that Auguier should be put to the torture.

Naturally, the merchant’s lawyer appealed this disagreeable decision, on the grounds that Mirabel’s whole story was nuts.  He argued that if there was no ghost--and what sane person believes in ghosts?--there was no treasure.  And if Mirabel found the coins on his own initiative, why didn’t the other digger, Bernard, claim his share of the loot?  Auguier also now claimed that he was in Pertuis, eight leagues away from Marseilles, on the day he allegedly received Mirabel’s treasure.

Mirabel’s lawyer countered by arguing that ghosts did indeed exist.  He cited as evidence the fact that the Bible, the Faculty of Theology in Paris, the Sorbonne, and the Parliament of Paris had all, in various ways, affirmed the reality of the spirit world.  In any case, whether you believe in ghosts or not, Mirabel unquestionably had a hoard of gold coins, which he had unwisely entrusted to the merchant.  Auguier, they claimed, had altered his handwriting when he wrote out the receipt, in order to trick Mirabel.  And Auguier’s alibi was worthless: he could easily have traveled the distance between Pertuis and Marseilles in less than a day.

Although one might think he’d be the first person to be interviewed, it was only at this point that Bernard was called to the stand.  He stated that Mirabel had told him about the ghost, he helped his friend dig, and they found some linen, but he insisted he had never seen any coins.  He added that Mirabel had given him money to pay for masses for the ghost, and later showed him a document which he thought resembled the receipt Auguier had allegedly signed.  More handwriting witnesses came forward, testifying that the receipt was not in the merchant’s hand.

A legal summons was submitted, in which Madame Placasse (who owned the land where the coins were allegedly found) insisted that the treasure rightfully belonged to her.  According to Mirabel, the document was a forgery, handed to him one day by an unknown man.

Marguerite Caillot now repudiated her earlier testimony, saying she had lied about hearing of the ghost and seeing the discovery of the packet in order to do Mirabel a favor.  She and Mirabel were arrested and joined Auguier in prison.  A man named Etienne Barthelemy was also arrested, on the charge that he had attempted to suborn witnesses to deliver testimony in Mirabel’s favor.

This fine legal mess was finally resolved on February 18, 1729.  The court acquitted Auguier, fined Marguerite Caillot ten francs, and sentenced Mirabel to be tortured and sent to the galley for life.  While under torture, Mirabel accused Etienne Barthelemy of instigating his charges against Auguier.  He claimed that Etienne had forged the receipt and the document where Madame Placasse demanded the return of her gold.  However, Mirabel doggedly insisted that he had indeed given Auguier sacks of coins, one of which had been tied with the ribbon found in the merchant’s home.  Barthelemy was also given a life sentence in the galleys.

The moral here is obvious: if, on some moonlit night, a ghost wants to guide you to a hidden fortune, tell it to get lost.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

In this week's Link Dump, our host is celebrating the upcoming Fourth of July holiday!

And really hitting those high notes in the "Star Spangled Banner."

What the hell happened to Flight 2501?

That ever-popular question: What the hell was the Tunguska Event?

Who the hell was Sylvester the Mummy?

A nemesis of Alexander Pope.  And of a lot of other people.

Samuel Pepys and his famous diary.

Why you probably don't know how to breathe.

A dessert made out of peaches and physics.

The clock-eyed boy.

A brief history of the solstice at Stonehenge.

The Pentagon's report on UFOs has been released.  Their conclusion?  "We dunno."

Some people just aren't cut out to be bank robbers.

Geordie Davidson and his Flying Machine of the Future.

That time the Chinese blasted tunnels in the Sierra Nevada.

The most dangerous sport in Olympic history.

Danny Casolaro and the Octopus.  That's still a favorite rabbit hole for a lot of people.

The portrait mummy of Herakleides.

Raymond Chandler's slang notebooks.

The Angel of Gettysburg.

The "Blue Boy" goes home.

A series of strange deaths and Marconi Electronic Systems.

The beginning of the Paralympic Games.

The worst punishment in ancient Rome.

Maybe the Big Bang wasn't the Big Beginning.

The joys of browsing.

The cow and chickens of the Sprong-Duryea House.

The 5,000 year old roots of the Black Death.

An unusual but long-forgotten character actor.

A brief look at trial by combat.

It's the mid-19th century.  You're a new employee of the East India Company about to go to India.  Here's what to pack.

Possible Ice Age sign language.

Why Bermuda is a land of white roofs.

Acid throwing and insolent weavers.

Early American UFO sightings.

A very weird ancient skull has been found in China.

A disappearance in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Anne Griffith's screaming skull.

A bad mother is charged with murder.

The FBI and missing Civil War gold.

Murder at the Devil's Punch Bowl.

A lavish wedding in 19th century high society.

A particularly puzzling unsolved murder.

A particularly strange psychic.

The case of the vanishing village.

An outraged father's revenge.

The Age of Pedestrianism.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll explain why it's not always a good thing to find buried treasure.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Albinoni: