"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

“Mystery Fires” are an unnervingly common Fortean phenomenon.  This example was reported in the “Madisonville Messenger,” June 16, 1983:

WHARNCLIFFE, W.Va. (AP) - An Appalachian Power Co. official says electricity can’t be blamed for a baffling series of fires at a house and nearby church in which objects ranging from mattresses to roller skates have inexplicably burst into flames.“There is no physical way that electricity could have caused all these fires," said Appalachian representative Paul Owens, who visited the site of the unexplained fires Tuesday.  Gilbert Fire Chief Jerry Grimmett says the fires began Monday and continued Tuesday, burning carpeting, clothes and trashcans. 

The Rev. and Mrs. Gene Clemons, who live in the modular home stricken by the bizarre blazes, told firefighters they had seen “fire shooting six inches” from electrical outlets, he said. 

Even when the power was shut off, though, the fires kept erupting in trash cans and closets, said Assistant Fire chief Kendall Simpson. And when the family moved its belongings into the church, the bulletin boards there began to burn.

"We're literally watching our house burn one piece of furniture at a time,” Mrs Clemons said Tuesday during firefighters' fourth visit to the property in 24 hours. 

Simpson said local firefighters are baffled and that the state fire marshal's office planned to send a representative to Wharncliffe today to investigate.  "All anybody's told us so far is what didn't cause the fires," Simpson said.

On Monday, the first fires began erupting throughout the Clemons home even after the power was turned off, burning mattresses, a towel on a wooden bathroom rack, trash cans and carpeting, Grimmett said. When the family began to move its belongings into the church, bulletin boards there began to burn and smoke, he said. 

On Tuesday, firefighters were called back to the church, where they were told local residents had extinguished a small fire involving a couch and an artificial Christmas tree. Despite reports that flames had been leaping from electrical sockets, Owens contended there was no way an electrical problem could have caused the wide-ranging series of fires, including clothes that burned on hangers in closets. Owens said he believed the fires were the work of an arsonist, although Grimmett and Simpson said they weren't so sure. 

“This is just like something you'd see in a movie,” Grimmett said. “It beats all I've ever seen.”

I couldn’t find any further news reports about the mystery, so hopefully the fiery ordeal the Clemons family experienced was a brief one.

Monday, September 27, 2021

In Which Dr. Coolidge Settles a Debt

One of the most notorious crimes of 19th century America was the 1849 murder of Boston businessman John Parkman by Harvard Medical College lecturer George Webster.  The motive was that Webster, a man who spent far more than he earned, owed Parkman a great deal of money.  Murder was Webster’s way of cancelling the debt.  A similar, but far more obscure, killing took place just two years earlier.  And, coincidentally enough, the murderer was another medical man.

In 1847, a dashing young physician who bore the grand name of “Valorous Perry Coolidge” was one of the most notable residents of Waterville, Maine.  Our Dr. Coolidge was fond of the good life, and he spent money with a lavish hand, with the result that he soon owed a great deal of money to a great many people.  (Coolidge saw to it that each of his lenders was ignorant of the existence of the others.)  

One of Coolidge’s patients was a wealthy cattle dealer named Edward Matthews (or Mathews.)  In September of 1847, Coolidge approached Matthews with a tantalizing offer:  if Matthews would lend him $1,500 for ten days, Matthews would earn $400 interest.   Matthews, apparently without stopping to wonder about the “too good to be true” aspects of the deal, agreed.  (Coolidge must have been either extraordinarily persuasive or extremely lucky in having a lot of very rich and very stupid friends.)  

On September 30, Matthews withdrew $1,500 in cash from his bank.  At around 8 p.m., Matthews left a small party he had attended, commenting that he was on his way to Dr. Coolidge’s office.  He had no idea that Coolidge had already worked out an exquisitely simple plan for never having to return the money.

Not long after nine, Thomas Flint, a medical student who worked as Coolidge’s assistant, was walking home after a relaxing evening of playing backgammon.  As he passed Coolidge’s lodgings, the doctor emerged, asking Flint to accompany him to his office, which was next door.  When they arrived in the office, Coolidge locked the door and informed Flint that he was about to tell him a very important secret:  “That cursed little Ed Matthews came in here and went to take a glass of brandy and fell down dead; he now lies in the other room; I thumped him on the head to make people believe he was murdered.”  He followed up this interesting bit of news by asking Flint what they should do with the body.

Personally, if I arrived at work to find that the boss wanted me to dispose of a corpse, my response would be to immediately start checking the “Help wanted” ads.  Flint, however, was clearly of a more accommodating disposition.  He agreed to help move the body downstairs to the basement of a store run by one David Shorey.  The pair appeared to assume that when Matthews’ remains were inevitably discovered, they both could get away with assuming an air of angelic innocence.

The following morning, Mr. Shorey got a very unpleasant surprise when he went into his basement.  The body was moved to a nearby boarding house for a post-mortem.  One of the three physicians conducting the autopsy was Dr. Valorous P. Coolidge, which must have pleased him immensely.  During the examination, Coolidge removed Matthews’ stomach, which smelled very strongly of brandy.  He put the stomach in a basin, and advised Cyrus Williams, the owner of the boarding house, to dispose of the reeking organ.  Instead, Williams wisely locked it up in his icehouse.  The following day, one Professor Loomis tested the contents of the stomach, and found that along with the brandy, Matthews had swallowed a great deal of prussic acid.  

The inquest into Matthews’ death soon began looking at one person: the one person who had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to poison the victim.  As the result of what a Waterville paper enigmatically described as “strange facts” that had been presented to the coroner’s jury,  Coolidge was indicted for murder on October 7.  (Coolidge’s fervent pleas of innocence lost further credibility when Matthews’ gold watch was found hidden in the doctor’s sleigh.)

Coolidge’s trial took place between March 14 and March 22, 1848.  You may be surprised to learn that the good doctor’s insistence that Matthews had walked into his office carrying a very large sum of money just so he could poison himself failed to persuade the jury.  The star witness for the prosecution was Thomas Flint, who finally--at the urging of his father--described the defendant’s efforts to make him an accessory after the fact.  The jury had no difficult finding Coolidge guilty of murder in the first degree.  At that time, Maine law required that prisoners on death row remain in jail for at least one year before they were hanged, in case any exonerating evidence was discovered.  

Coolidge was not idle during his twelve-month reprieve.  He appealed to the Governor for a pardon, which was refused.  However, in February 1849, the state council decided that this cold-blooded poisoner deserved to have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.  Coolidge faced spending the rest of his days doing hard labor and living in solitary confinement.

In reality, Coolidge found that his sentence was not quite as harsh as he had expected.  The prison warden sometimes allowed him out in the yard, and his duties were relatively light.  However, our hero was not happy with the situation.  He put the entire blame for his imprisonment not on himself, but on Thomas Flint, his former assistant who showed such a deplorable inability to keep a secret.  Like Mary Stuart after the murder of Rizzio, Coolidge studied revenge.

In May 1849, Coolidge wrote a series of letters to a fellow prisoner who was about to be released.  To make a rather long and complicated story short, Coolidge recruited the man to make Flint’s acquaintance, and then poison him with prussic acid in a fashion designed to make it seem like Flint killed himself out of remorse for betraying his good friend, the spotlessly innocent Valorous Coolidge.  He even forged a “suicide note” where Flint confesses to Matthews’ murder.

Our Valorous, while certainly inventive, was not a subtle man.

Unfortunately for him, Coolidge never considered the possibility of these letters falling into the hands of the prison warden.  After the warden had himself a good read, he sent Coolidge back to solitary confinement and released the letters to journalists, all of whom thanked God for Valorous Coolidge, an unending source of entertainment.  The little murder plot earned Coolidge nationwide fame.  

His new celebrity status did not please Coolidge.  The knowledge that everyone in America knew he was a homicidal dirtbag--and someone who was not even very good at it--left him “unwell and low spirited.”  On May 17, 1849, he told the prison doctor that he no longer wished to live.  Right on cue, the very next morning, Coolidge was found in his cell with his head in a bucket.  He died as a result of taking prussic acid that had somehow been smuggled to him.

Well.  That’s the end of that particular story, you say.

Not so fast.

When Valorous’ father claimed the body for burial, he insisted that it was of a stranger.  He claimed that Valorous was smaller than the corpse, and that his son had lost part of a thumb in childhood.  He pointed out that the corpse’s thumbs were both intact.  For some weeks, the newspapers engaged in a lively debate over whether or not Valorous P. Coolidge was indeed well and truly dead.  Then, in December 1849, a man who had known Coolidge well wrote a letter which appeared in various newspapers and magazines.  He swore that he had seen Coolidge in Short Bar, California, going by the name of Wilkins.  “He appeared well, but in no other way altered, save that he was meanly dressed, and looked a little harder than usual.”  The next morning, “Wilkins” had left the town.  “Where he has wandered I cannot guess.”

Did Valorous Coolidge meet his end in his little prison cell?  Or did he somehow manage to use his undeniable creative talents to take on a new name and a new life?

We’ll never know, will we?

Friday, September 24, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The staffers at Strange Company HQ are celebrating the release of this week's Link Dump!

What the hell is the Sentinel Enigma?

Who the hell was Agent 355?

A handy reminder that geniuses can be very bad people.

The emeralds of El Dorado.

A board game for everyone who's ever wanted to be an Anabaptist martyr.

This week in Russian Weird looks at why Soviet parents had their kids sleep in snow.

If you want to buy a famous haunted house, here's your big chance.

The (largely erroneous) folklore about an English inn.

A look at a lost ancient civilization.

One heck of an 18th century cabinet.

A famed 19th century spiritualist medium.

William Dampier:  explorer, scientist, and pirate.

Photos of a lost East End of London.

A young man's very strange disappearance.

Coaching inns during the Georgian Era.

A...well, handy bequest.

How the British people saw the American Revolution.  Hint: a lot of them didn't like it.

A number of artifacts from the Middle Ages have been discovered in Poland.

You have the chance to buy Marie Antoinette's bracelets.  That is, if you have a whole lot of money and aren't too worried about possibly cursed jewelry.

A long, but fascinating article about a child prodigy's difficult life.

If you've ever wondered about the sex life of dinosaurs, this is your lucky day.

The 15th century battle of Blore Heath.

A look back to the days when they took hats very seriously.

Victorian dress reform.

Hildegard of Bingen's cheerful cookies.

The mystery of the vanishing shipwrecks.

Ella Harper, famed "Camel Girl."

Indian soldiers protest in British India.

The world's rarest flower.

Henrietta Barnett and the Workhouse children.

The graffiti of 16th century Venice quarantine stations.

Animals who made headlines.

The ancient city that was destroyed by an asteroid.

A sideshow of Circassian Beauties.

Ancient Japanese history is being rewritten.

Some WWI mysteries at sea.

A murderer's execution is bungled.  Twice.

A family who really, really liked mustard.

Nero, beloved Fire Patrol dog.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an unusual way of paying back a loan.  In the meantime, this piece by Scarlatti seems appropriate for this blog.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This brief, but intriguing story appeared in the “South Bend Tribune,” February 24, 1880.  Unfortunately, this is the only news report I’ve found about the mystery.

Lebanon, Ohio, is the scene of a great excitement caused by a wonderful phenomenon of showers of ordinary bird-shot falling from the ceiling of John W. Lingo's hardware store. This strange occurrence was first noticed by parties who retort to the place each evening to spend a few hours in social chat. On the first evening quite a number of persons were in the store when the shot began to fall in different parts of the room, but principally in the midst of the crowd of persons sitting about the stove. As the stove was near a hatchway, it was thought by some that some person or contrivance was in the upper portion of the building which threw or dropped the shot down. Parties were selected and a thorough search made of the building.  All the floors were visited and every nook and corner ransacked, when the committee returned and reported no spooks found. Then someone suggested that they all go to the front end of the store where the ceiling is perfect and no hatchways to the upper rooms. The shot continued to fall the same way at the back portion of the room. Then it was proposed that all present hold their hands up over their heads, in order that no one could use his hands to throw or drop the shot. Still the shot fell, as usual. Many believe the shot is thrown by the spirit of a burglar who was shot and killed in the store in 1874 while attempting to rob it.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Thomas Phillipps, World's Greatest Bibliomaniac

Anyone who agrees with the old saying that "you can't have too much of a good thing" has never heard of Thomas Phillipps.  This gentleman took what is normally a highly admirable pastime--collecting books--and turned it into a nightmare for everyone unfortunate enough to be around him.

I'm not sure he enjoyed it much, either.

Phillipps was born on July 2, 1792.  He was the illegitimate only child between Thomas Phillipps, a well-to-do merchant, and a woman named Hannah Walton.  Although Walton lived until 1851, Thomas Jr. was raised exclusively by his father, and he had little, if any, contact with his mother.

Young Thomas was given a good education--his father was determined that despite the accident of his birth, he should become a proper "gentleman"--and the boy demonstrated his passion for books from an early age.  By the time he went to Oxford, he was a devoted antiquarian, focusing on his own private studies rather than those imposed upon him by the college.  His father--an ominous sign for the future--was already complaining about the remarkable sums his son was spending on books.  By the time Thomas Sr. died in 1818, he had become so concerned about his progeny's unbridled bibliospending that he left his estate in trust.  Thomas Jr. was able to access only the income--which was, however, a quite generous £6000 a year.

In 1819, Phillipps married Henrietta Molyneux, a charming and pretty girl of good family, but relatively small dowry.  It appears to have been a love match, one that produced three daughters and, for some years at least, was a happy and stable union.  During the first decade of his marriage, Thomas' intellectual pursuits were successful and pleasantly normal.  He was made a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1821 became a baronet.  He threw himself into buying books with increasing exuberance.  He also paid to have transcripts made of various historical documents, which he often published with his own small private printing press.  He was equally fanatical about hoarding his own personal history.  He never threw out any scrap of paper.  Household bills, drafts and copies of all his letters, receipts, memos, you name it.  Every bit of documentation of his private life, no matter how trivial, was obsessively saved.  Phillipps had quite possibly the best-documented life in history.

Unfortunately, these pastimes began to control him, rather than the other way around.  His increasingly heedless spending, coupled with his refusal to take any sort of financial advice, soon landed him hopelessly in debt.  Beginning in 1822, he was obligated every few years to spend long periods living on the Continent to avoid his creditors.  This did nothing to dissuade him.  He traveled throughout Europe scooping up every book and old manuscript he could lay his hands on.  No volume was safe from him.  A number of booksellers who were foolish enough to lend Phillipps long lines of credit were, thanks to this generosity, eventually forced into bankruptcy.

It was all too much for Henrietta Phillipps.  Worn out by years of living with a fanatic, she consoled herself by becoming a drug addict, dying at the age of only 37 in 1832.  Thomas almost immediately set out to find her replacement.  Unlike his first marriage, this time he was determined to marry for wealth.  "I am," he announced grandly, "for sale at  £50,000."  All of his wife's money would, of course, be converted into books.  

No one--except apparently Phillipps--was surprised that there was not a flock of ladies eager to close this sale.  It took him ten years before he was able to find a woman rich enough and brave enough to take him on.  (One prospective father-in-law accused him of behaving like a "Smithfield cattle dealer.")  In 1842, he wed Elizabeth Mansel, the daughter of a wealthy clergyman.  Fortunately, she proved to be an amiable, forgiving, and self-sacrificing sort.  Any woman married to Thomas Phillipps would have to be, if she wished to keep some measure of sanity.

One month after his remarriage, another wedding took place that was to have a great effect on Phillipps' life.  His eldest daughter, Henrietta, eloped with James Orchard Halliwell.  Halliwell was a talented scholar whom Phillipps had hired to help organize his by now massive collection of manuscripts.  Although Phillipps had found the young man useful, he disapproved of him personally--particularly when it came out that Halliwell had stolen manuscripts from Cambridge libraries.  Besides, Halliwell didn't have a penny, and Phillipps had been determined that all his daughters should marry rich men.  He was not a man accustomed to being thwarted, and being forced to accept this brilliant but unscrupulous and impecunious scamp as a son-in-law sent him into a rage which never quite abated.  From then on, he considered Halliwell--and Henrietta--as his greatest foes.

By this time, Phillipps' estate of Middle Hill had become little more than a massive storage closet.  His books and manuscripts were kept in large trunks, which soon filled virtually every corner of the mansion.  He owned so many that they were virtually impossible for him to catalog.  (Although he continually press-ganged his wife and daughters into assisting him with this task.)  He himself completely lost track of what he owned, or where anything was kept, which sent visiting scholars practically into fits of frustration.  He was able to keep himself financially afloat only through a rigid miserliness that he also imposed upon his family.  He refused to spend money on anything except books, and if his wife and daughters suffered as a result, well, too bad.

Phillipps simply could not stop buying.  He was, in his own word, a "Vellomaniac," buying up huge quantities of historical manuscripts whenever he could.  Many of them were highly valuable, many of them were utter rubbish.  It seemed to matter little to him which they were.

In his later years, he became increasingly absorbed in the problem of what should become of his fabulous collection of historic printed treasures after his death.  Although Middle Hill was entailed on his daughter Henrietta, he was determined that his hated son-in-law should not get a single one of his precious manuscripts.  It was for this reason that in 1867 he bought Thirlestaine House, in Cheltenham.  This mansion was dilapidated and uncomfortable, but all Phillipps cared about was that it was large enough to house his collection.  It took two years before all his books and manuscripts could be transported to his new home.  In the meantime, simply out of spite, he deliberately let Middle Hill go to ruin.  The estate's beautiful trees were cut down and sold for firewood.  The land was allowed to become a dank wilderness.  The house itself was left to rot.  If he could not keep the Halliwells from inheriting the house, he could see to it that it was an inheritance not much worth having.

Thirlestaine House

Phillipps was content with his new home--drafty and vermin-ridden though it was--but his wife, she complained, was left "booked out of one wing and ratted out of the other." Most of the rooms were so crammed with trunks of books and papers that they were unusable for any other purposes.  The hallways were so jammed with his acquisitions that only one person at a time could snake their way through the corridors.  The bedrooms contained little else than a bed and books.

Elizabeth’s husband scarcely noticed her unhappiness.  All he cared about were his books.  "I wish to have one copy of every book in the world!!!!!" he once wrote, and if he came short of this goal, it certainly was not for lack of trying.  He continued in his same old pattern of running up debts and corresponding with scholars across Europe until his death on February 6, 1872.

Elizabeth Phillipps was left only £100 in her husband's will.  Most of his lands were settled on various tenants, as well as a grandson.  Thirlestaine House went to his youngest daughter Katherine, with instructions that not one book or a single piece of parchment was to be moved from the home.  The Halliwells--and all their descendants--were barred from even entering the place.  It was not until 1885 that Katherine's family was able to get legal approval to begin dispersing Phillipps' life's work.

Selling such a vast collection was a job that took years to complete.  The last of the estimated 60,000 manuscripts acquired by this greatest of literary hoarders was not sold until 1977.

As for Phillipps' bĂȘte noire, James Halliwell ironically came out quite well from his connection to the old bibliomaniac.  After his father-in-law's death, Halliwell fixed up Middle Hill and found a buyer.  The money from the sale made him a rich man for the rest of his life.  He became a leading Shakespeare scholar.  He is given much of the credit for launching modern-day Shakespeare idolatry, and his biography of the Bard is still considered one of the best books on the now-legendary dramatist.  He himself became a noted bibliophile (his collection was founded on items he had secretly stolen from Phillipps.)  Halliwell lived long enough to overcome his tawdry early reputation, becoming a respected, even revered figure in literary circles.  As a victory lap of sorts, he eventually took on the grand name, "J.O. Halliwell-Phillipps."

How old Thomas' ghost must have hated that.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

While you read this week's Link Dump, enjoy another performance by the Strange Company choir!

Why the hell did the Maya civilization collapse?

What the hell is the oldest known archaeological site?  The answer is...complicated.

Where the hell did a billion years go?

If you don't take banshees seriously, you should.

Human body parts which had a strange afterlife.

Kids may have been the first prehistoric artists.

Pro tip: getting drunk and summoning ghosts is rarely a good idea.

Clues that humans were making clothing 120,000 years ago.

If Dada is too normal for you, meet Fluxus.

Using Mozart to treat epilepsy.

Visualizing Scotland under ice.

An ancient tiger god is still at work in India.

How not to drive a stagecoach.

What animals may think of death.  Personally, I've always thought they are far more capable of abstract thinking than we obtuse humans realize.

In which we learn not to serve Madame Palatine any soup.

Some misunderstandings about the Vikings.

The charming widow and the mourning racket.

Get outta my face, Zuckerberg.

A narrative of 9/11.

A theater that memorializes a teenager's death.

Big Bertha the Confidence Queen.

A particularly gruesome--and unsolved--murder of a family.

The secret world of Bach's music.

Another gruesome, unsolved family murder.

You can now download the universe.

It may please you to know that scientists are keeping busy studying squirrel personalities.

Commemorating the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante.

Contemporary news reports about the infamous Belle Gunness.

This week in Russian Weird presents what may be the ultimate body-snatching story.

Post-Hitler Germany was a very strange place.

A ghost in Yorkshire.  Well, maybe not.

A brief history of the miniskirt.

The historically significant Bacton Altar Cloth.

Why Napoleon had a thing about eagles.

The lighthouse at the end of the world.

Franz Liszt, rock star.

The boy who was raised by wolves.

A breakfast in British India.

Meet the world's deadliest cat breed. They're among the cutest, too.

The legends surrounding a murder/suicide.

The legend of Bip Vawn.

Some famous Celtic fight songs.

The grave of a "first-class eccentric."

The once-famous murder of Harriet Lane.

A teenager murders his stepmother.

A realtor's bizarre unsolved murder.

That wraps up this week's festivities.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a man who loved books not wisely, but too well.  In the meantime, what do you get when you combine Mongolian throat singing and Latvian drumming?  This.  Someone in the YouTube comments put best:  "If we ever go to war with aliens, this should be our battle song."

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This odd little story appeared in the “Altoona Tribune,” March 25, 1875:

For the past week a story has been current on the street which at first we could not believe. Mrs. Julien Jerome, a Frenchwoman, whom all that knew her say had always led a very devout, good life, lived on Main street, and was taken sick about five weeks ago. Immediately after a cross appeared on the wall beside her bed, which, all efforts cannot obliterate. It first appeared very small and faint, and scarcely observable, but by degrees it began to grow large and appear plainer. Such was the story, and yesterday morning our correspondent visited the house of the sick woman to ascertain the truth of the story. 

There is no denying it was the cross on the wall, plain and observable to all. The wall is not papered, but is whitewashed, and when the cross first appeared some member of the family took a knife and attempted to scratch it out of the wall, but to no avail. The white wash was daubed over it with the same result. The woman died last evening, and your correspondent visited the house again. He found the mysterious cross was fading as had the life of the woman who had lust passed away. In the morning it looked on the white wall like a strong shadow, black and heavy, but in the evening it was the color of a November leaf. 

We questioned the son of the deceased woman concerning the case and he substantiated the above. He said that he was continually scratching, attempting to obliterate that mysterious reminder of our Savior’s death. True it is the print of a knife was on the plaster, having worn it off about a quarter of an inch while attempting to destroy the figure. When asked why he did not give it publicity, the son said he thought if he did his house would be crowded all the while, annoying his sick mother (now dead). He also said that he told only his immediate friends of it, but somehow it began to leak out from them. The above may be thought by some a romance,but it is a plain, undeniable fact.

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Ghosts in the Mist

It is far from uncommon for multiple people to simultaneously see the same ghost.  However, accounts of multiple people simultaneously seeing the same multiple ghosts are fairly rare, which makes the following tale worthy of notice.  In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a “true ghost story” quite like it.  It was first published in Sir Ernest Bennett’s “Apparitions and Haunted Houses” (1939), a collection of first-hand encounters with the supernatural.

Bennett prefaces the story by stating, “This strange account was received directly from the elder of the two ladies who witnessed the phenomenon; the younger sister has read it through and appended a brief comment to the account. The maid cannot now be traced.” 

I daresay it is ten or twelve years since this happened. One night in November my sister C. and myself, with the maid, had been to evening service in our village church. There was thick fog; the moon was full, but it made a sort of steam in the fog, instead of shining brightly. 

As we walked we met a man: he was whistling, and we heard his whistle and his footsteps long before we saw him; he passed us on C.’s side, whistling still. Shortly after he had gone, I was surprised to see another man at C.’s side, who had come there without making a sound; he was a much shorter man than the first. C. apparently did not see him; I was walking beside her, and I pulled her sleeve, whispering, ‘Let that man pass.’ C. was walking on the outside of the three, next the carriage road. As I spoke, the man disappeared--it seemed, into C.’s dress; neither C. nor the maid had seen him, and he had made no sound. In another moment we were all bewildered at the sight around us; men, women, children, and dogs, all were moving briskly about, some singly, others in groups, all without a sound; they appeared mist-like. There was a broad strip of grass on our right, and a narrow strip on our left; the figures were hidden directly they got on either of these dark strips, or when they passed into ourselves; but as we walked on they came from every quarter. Some seemed to rise out of the grass on either side of us; others seemed to pass through us, and come out on the other side. The figures all seemed short, dwarf-like, except one, of whom I write after. The women were dressed in by-gone fashion, high bonnets, big cloaks or shawls, and large flounces on their dresses, such as I remember my mother wearing when I was a child. We three were never mistaken as to the identity of the different shapes; if one saw a man, all saw a man; if one saw a woman, all saw the woman; and so on. Overhead it was perfectly free of them; they were all walking on the ground, as we ourselves were. We saw two men (at different intervals) that had sparks all round their faces; they appeared to grin. As we saw the second of these, looking hideous, close to us, one of my companions said, ‘I can’t pass that,’ and I answered, ‘Look at the sky, you don’t see them then.’ 

There was one man taller than all the rest (he looked very tall), who took great strides, though perfectly noiseless; he wore a kind of cape; he was the only one who walked beside us, and he was on the carriage road; the rest all went on in an aimless kind of way, losing themselves on the grass, and so on; but this one never changed his step or swerved. 

As we walked on, and he kept near us, we cast frightened glances at him, and kept bidding each other in a whisper to look at him, though he never turned his head to look towards us. We approached our own gate, where we should turn in, and then we had a long drive to walk up before we should reach the house. I think that by the time we reached our gate all the figures had disappeared except this one tall man. He had quite a different look to any of the others, looked more horrible altogether. His way of walking was quite different to the rest, and he was, I should think, twice as tall or more than any of the others. He looked as if he had a purpose; the rest seemed quite different. As we had to cross the road and enter our gate, I thought I could not go if that horrible figure went too, but to our intense relief, he passed our gate, and went on with his measured stride up the middle of the road. As we turned into our gate, he was the only form in sight. 

E. F. 

February 7th, 1882. Mrs. F.’s sister adds: 

The only thing I do not recollect in this story is where E. says the men had a grin. All the rest is true. I cannot say I recollect the faces. The sparks I did see; the faces appeared to me, as did the figures, mist-like. 

C. M. B. 

February 11th. 

In two further letters, Mrs. F. writes: 

 (1) (As to the distance actually traversed in company with the ‘spirits’.) After talking together and recalling the road, we think we may safely say we were among them for two hundred yards, or thereabouts. (So that the probable duration of the vision would be from two to three minutes.) 

(2) As to the sparks around the two faces, I certainly think they were on the faces; they were around the faces, as it might be, on the edge of the faces; they were yellow sparks; the two figures who had the sparks appeared to me thin and cadaverous, for the faces did not look round, but seemed to fall in under the cheek bones. I wish I could draw, for I can see the ‘things’ now just as plainly as I saw them then, and I could point out the exact spot of ground on which they stood. We were close to them. As to the number of sparks I cannot speak definitely; they were placed at regular distances round the face; there might be about ten or twelve round each face, so I think. They appeared yellow and bright, and they made a slight steam in the fog. Their light was not nearly so beautiful as a star’s light (this last a suggested simile); it might be more like a small yellow candle’s flame. There was nothing beautiful about them. 

(3) You ask whether I have any theory as to the apparition. I have none whatever, and should be extremely interested if anybody could throw light upon the matter. The style of the women’s dress seemed to take me back as far as I could remember (perhaps to 1857), when I seemed to remember my mother wearing the same sort of fashion, but as you know, fashions come and go, and repeat themselves a hundred times. I think the men chiefly wore capes or long cloaks; but you must remember, they all looked dark and mist-like…. I should be myself about twenty when I saw this appearance, and my sister sixteen…One might imagine it to be a kind of mirage, only the whole appearance was so unlike what one would have seen in any town at the time we saw it. No woman in any English town was dressed in the least as were all the women in our vision. 

(4) We were all very much frightened. The maid and my sister were crying aloud; I was not, for I felt I must keep my wits about me; the tears were rolling down my cheeks in a kind of bewilderment, yet I was not crying, and my voice was strong and firm. We kept pulling each other from one and another side of the road, as the figures came thicker towards us from different sides, for it was an uncomfortable feeling to see them disappear into ourselves. When we burst into the house with the history of our curious apparition my father and mother came out with us again, to see if anything was to be seen, but the road was quite free of anything, and after walking about for half an hour we went indoors again. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The Strange Company Campanologists are here to announce the arrival of this week's Link Dump!

Why the hell do we sleep?

Who the hell was in the Killhope Moor coffin?

What the hell just exploded in Tennessee?

Watch out for the Bat Beast of Kent!

A cache of ancient gold has been discovered in Denmark.

Images of a very strange asteroid.

The northernmost island in the world has just been discovered.

How the birth of farming affected human immune systems.

An unsinkable corpse.

Scientists are always doing studies that are old news to anyone who knows cats.

An "unseemly squabble."

An Empress and her ice palace.

A striking image of Earth taken from the ISS.

A shroud made from a wedding dress.

Contemporary newspaper reports about 9/11.

Edgar Allan Poe, prophet.

The church with a very weird skull.

The Great Meteor of 1783.

A brief history of the slang term "Molly."

A brief history of ambergris.

Influential British TV shows from the 1960s.

The conspiracy theory that the whole internet is now a fake.  This reminds me of one of my weirder online experiences: some years back, I was doing a lot of research on a particular historical figure. I found a website that had a lot of primary source material about him, along with a discussion forum in which I began to participate. Before long, I noticed some odd things: when I would look up the old newspaper and magazine articles on the site, I found that many of them either did not really exist, or were markedly different from the text the site owner posted.  And I began to have a funny feeling about some of the people posting on the forum--for one reason or another, I came to suspect many of them were fake accounts. I got so creeped out that I stopped posting on the forum, although I'd occasionally lurk, just to see what was going on. One day, I found that the site had been taken over by someone else, and the forum had disappeared.  I e-mailed the new owner, to ask what was going on. He replied that he had successfully sued the previous owner, because she had posted photos he owned the rights to without permission. Part of the settlement from the lawsuit was that he got the site. He also confirmed my suspicions about the forum: a majority of the "people" posting there were all the previous site owner, using a bunch of pseudonyms. It made me wonder how much of this sort of tomfoolery was cluttering up the internet.

The Great Tea Race.

That time in Scotland where you could buy beer by the slice.

The strange side of New York's Long Island.

1963 was a big year for the occult.

Sightseeing in Medieval England.

The mistress of George I.

The horrifying solution behind a girl's disappearance.

Let's talk Victorian eyebrows.

A murderer plays dead.

The Parisian Poison Panic.

A shipwrecked king and queen visit Henry VII.

Something unusual has been spotted in Loch Ness.

A haunted railway car.

New York's first Labor Day.

A wedding turns deadly.

The birth of television.

Dissing some works of classic literature.

Personal reflections on the Indian Political Service.

Ripper the Talking Duck.

A daring Civil War raid.

One of the earliest Merlin narratives.

The largest known comet.

The last great Viking king.

If you've ever wished you lived in ancient Rome, be aware that they crucified dogs.  They also had a strange idea of humor.

A one-legged champion swimmer.

A child's unsolved disappearance.

Michelangelo may have been short.  I'm not sure why we should care, but here's the link anyway.

That time someone mailed a puppy.  Not to fear, it ended well.

Graywood, New York police dog.

Parliament and the Naval Review.

The island where manliness means knitting some badass hats.

The pygmy mammoths of California's Channel Islands.

A tour of the medieval town called Sandwich.

A ghost bear at the Tower of London.

A brief history of pickles.

A brief history of crime literature.

WWII's very young hero.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an unusual ghost story.  In the meantime, let's get medieval:

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

If there is such a thing as Sheep History (and if there isn’t, there should be,) one of its odder moments was what is now commonly known as the Great Sheep Panic.  This contemporary report appeared in the “London Times,” November 20, 1888:

Sir--In case it has not previously come under the notice of your readers, we beg to call attention to a remarkable circumstance which occurred in this immediate locality on the night of Saturday, November 3. At a time as near 8 o'clock as possible the tens of thousands of sheep folded in the large sheep-breeding districts north, east, and west of Reading were taken with a sudden fright, jumping their hurdles, escaping from the fields, and running hither and thither; in fact, there must for some time, have been a perfect stampede. Early on Sunday morning the shepherds found the animals, under hedges and in the roads, panting and frightened as if they had been terror-stricken. The extent of this remarkable occurrence may be judged when we mention that every large farmer from Wallingford on the one hand to Twyford on the other seems to have had his sheep thus frightened, and it is also noteworthy that with only two or three exceptions the hill-country north of the Thames seems have been principally affected. 

We have not heard, nor can any of the farmers give, any reasonable explanation of what we have described. The night was intensely dark, with occasional flashes of lightning, but we do not think either circumstance would account for such an effect being produced over such a large area. We would suggest the probability of a slight earthquake being the cause, but possibly some of your readers, or members of Scientific societies, may be able to offer a satisfactory explanation. 

We beg to remain. Sir, your obedient servants, 


Reading, Nov. 17. 

Similar “panics” took place in that part of England in 1889 and 1893.  Although many possible theories have been offered, ranging from meteors to UFOs, no universally satisfactory answer has been found.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Cathy Moulton's Final Walk Home

"Bangor Daily News," October 6, 2005, via Newspapers.com

Cathy Marie Moulton was a typical early 1970s American middle-class teen.  By all accounts, she was a nice, well-behaved girl with no serious problems in her life.  Born in Portland, Maine, in 1955, she and her two sisters had a quiet, comfortable suburban childhood.  Those who knew Cathy described her as intelligent, quiet, and contemplative.  Although Cathy had few close friends, she was universally liked.  She wrote poetry, worked as a babysitter, attended local dances, and--entirely on her own initiative--did what she could to assist neighbors who were ill or otherwise in trouble.  Her mother, Claire Moulton, once commented, “She felt if you were nice to other people they would be nice to you.”

The summer of 1971 was the most exciting of Cathy’s young life.  Her father, Lyman Moulton, took time off from his business of selling used cars to take the family on a long road trip through the U.S. and Mexico.  When Cathy returned in the fall to her high school, friends noted that she was still visibly elated over her little adventure.  She proudly showed off a distinctive leather handbag that her parents had bought her in Mexico for her 16th birthday present.

On Friday, September 24, 1971, Cathy came home from school and asked her father to give her a ride into town so she could do a bit of shopping.  She had a run in her pantyhose, and wanted to get a new pair to wear to a YMCA dance she was attending that evening.  Her mother gave her a few dollars, asking her to buy some toothpaste.  Mrs. Moulton also gave her some coins for the bus ride home.

Cathy’s father dropped her off at about 1:15 pm, and watched her walk up the street towards the shops.  Two hours later, Cathy ran into a classmate, Carol Starbird.  Cathy told Carol that she was heading home to get ready for the dance.  She added that since she had spent her bus fare, she’d have to walk the two miles home.  She then went on her way, with Carol never dreaming that she would be the last known person to see Cathy Moulton, alive or dead.

When Cathy failed to arrive home for dinner, her mother instantly became concerned.  The Moultons always notified each other when they were running late, and Cathy had never gone anywhere without telling her parents first.  At 6:30 p.m, Claire called the police saying she wanted to file a missing persons report.  “They laughed at me,” she later bitterly.  She was told that she would have to wait 72 hours before police could do anything.

After checking with friends and doing a search of local hospitals, Lyman went to the police station, where he raised such a fuss that just to get rid of him, officers finally allowed him to file the report.

It did little good.  Although one would think the inexplicable disappearance of a girl of Cathy’s known reliability would have attracted attention, the local media gave the mystery scant coverage.  And, of course, there was no internet to spread the word about the missing teen.  The Moultons contacted the FBI, only to be told that without any evidence that their daughter was kidnapped, the Bureau could do nothing.  And the Portland police made it clear that they believed Cathy was a mere runaway.  Her family came to realize that no one was going to help them in their search for her.  Sixteen years later, Lyman Moulton told writer Grantland S. Rice, “I don’t agree with the way they [the police] handled things, but I understand they weren’t picking on us.  This was a whole new ball game for us.  We’d had no real problems to think about.  Then something like this happens.  You don’t know what to do.”

The Moultons remained in this state of helpless despair.  Then, in November, officials at Cathy’s high school cleaned out her locker.  They found a phone number scribbled on a scrap of paper.  This briefly raised her family’s hopes that finally, some clue had been found about her disappearance.    Unfortunately, it turned out to be for one of the phones at Lyman’s used car lot.  Mrs. Moulton spent most of her time sitting by an upstairs window, vainly waiting to see her daughter, walking home.

A few possible clues began to trickle in.  One person recalled giving a lift to a boy and a girl with an unusual looking purse.  Another claimed to have seen a teenager fitting Cathy’s description hitchhiking on Route 88.  Another remembered seeing a girl with long hair and glasses getting into a Pontiac driven by a young man.  Yet another had a story of seeing her with two older men.  Were any of these girls really Cathy?  No one could say.  The mother of one of Cathy’s classmates told police that the gossip around her school was that Cathy had gone to Boston.  Shortly before Cathy disappeared, a girl in her study hall had talked about all the fun she had during a visit to the city.  Cathy “appeared interested.”

Out of desperation, Lyman Moulton consulted a psychic named Alex Tanous.  “I’m not saying I do or don’t believe,” Moulton explained, “but you’ve got to try these things.”  One evening, they drove around what they believed would have been Cathy’s route home.  At the corner of Forest and Park Street, Tanous felt “a sense” that Cathy got into a car.  He felt that the car then turned left and headed south, in the direction of Boston.  At that point, Tanous lost the “vibrations.”

In late November 1971, the Moultons were told by the State Police that a girl who looked like Cathy was living in Presque Isle.  Her parents immediately drove there, to discover that the local sheriff’s department knew nothing about Cathy’s disappearance, or the girl allegedly living in their area.  Lyman Moulton--by now extremely frustrated and extremely angry--handed out Cathy’s photo to the area’s police and sheriff’s departments.  He went door to door handing out flyers and asking if anyone had seen a girl resembling his daughter.  Unfortunately for the Moultons, the girl turned out to be a runaway from Connecticut.  She returned home.  And the Moultons were still left without any trace of their daughter.

There were reports that Cathy left with a friend, Lester Everett, and that a few weeks after she vanished, they were seen working at a potato farm in Aroostook County, about 300 miles from Portland.  Witnesses claimed to have heard the girl saying that she wanted to go home but was worried about facing her family.  However, this proved to be yet another dead-end lead.  When police traced Everett, he was alone and insisted he knew nothing about Cathy’s disappearance.  No one could prove otherwise.

In 1983, a man hunting in the woods of Smyrna, Maine, discovered skeletal remains with what appeared to be female clothing.  Unfortunately, after contacting authorities, he was unable to retrace his steps, and even though cadaver dogs were brought in to search the area, the remains were never found.

Sixteen years after Cathy vanished, a Portland police detective commented, “Maybe she’s living happily ever after somewhere in Canada.  That’s where everyone was going in the early Seventies.  Or maybe she’s buried in a grave somewhere in Maine or Massachusetts...or a skeleton in a morgue.  That’s the sad thing.  We just don’t know.”  In 2008, 83-year old Lyman Moulton told a “Boston Globe” reporter, “One of my greatest--greatest--greatest sadnesses is that I may die...and never know what happened to Cathy.  And yet I’m helpless to change it.”  His fears came true when he died in 2017 with his daughter’s fate as mysterious as ever.

This is one of those missing-persons cases which might one day be solved.  If Cathy Moulton is still alive--something which seems unlikely, but not impossible--she would be only in her mid-60s, and could, conceivably, come forward to explain what happened to her so many years ago.  If she is long dead, the wonders of DNA testing might one day match some unidentified remains of a teenage girl, and Cathy’s surviving family members could see her, at long last, come home.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Strange Company HQ invites you to relax in our adjacent restaurant (immortalized, of course, by Louis Wain,) while you read this week's Link Dump.

Who the hell decapitated Sasquatch?

A murderer's "weight of grief."

Social media and fractured identities.

The lighthouse keeper who was "the bravest woman in America."

Just another reminder that TikTok is the home of our very goofiest humans.

It's now believed that the Vinland Map is a fake.

An ancient commerce scam.

The Solomon Islands and some nasty UFOs.

The mysteries of an English village.

A young man's career in the East India Company.

Pompeii wasn't the only ancient city to be buried by a volcano.

A brief history of the breakup album.

A police dog saves a cat family.

The "other" Norman Conquests.

That time an English village was haunted by a cockatrice.

Madame Palatine, the most fun person at the court of Louis XIV.

The "strangest cabinet in British history."

Some "inevitable" wars that didn't happen.

New research on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A couple of innovative surgical techniques.

A child's particularly brutal murder.

The life of a paranormal investigator.

The memoirs of a 19th century London delivery boy.

Europe's first farmers.

Very ancient humans got creative with elephant bones.

One of the longest manhunts in U.S. history.

You might not be surprised to learn that cemetery superintendents see the damnedest things. 

Upwardly mobile in Pompeii.

That time Thomas Jefferson harbored a killer ram.

The sinking of the SS Princess Alice.

The consolation of a cat.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a teenage girl's disappearance.  In the meantime, here's Warren Zevon.  If you put a gun to my head and forced me to name my one favorite rock album, this would be it.  I first heard it when I was 14, I think, and I've been playing it pretty much nonstop ever since.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Here is yet another little ghost story from the “Illustrated Police News,” December 30, 1882:

A most singular occurrence took place a few days back at a village near Charlton. We have received the intelligence from an acquaintance of ours staying in the village at the time, from which we print the following: 

Some seven years back a young lady of the village, about eighteen years of age, and who was well known to the villagers roundabout for her affability and generous disposition, fell desperately in love with a young person about her own age. The love was as readily returned, and the two soon after were frequently seen in each other's society, and a more happy, and congenial couple could not be conceived.

Some six or eight months rolled on in this happy condition when the young man received a letter from his parents in Canada urging his immediate attendance in consequence of his father's serious illness, and other affairs that had to receive prompt attention. From time to time letters were interchanged between the lovers, in which she received information of his father's extreme delicate slate of health which rendered him incapable of managing his business affairs, which of necessity involved upon his sons. Some few years had now rolled over, and, as the fates had decreed, with no apparent hope of her lover's return, when all of a sudden the communications from Canada ceased, and though she had written several letters in succession urgently requesting to know what strange mishap had occurred that was the occasion of not writing, she fully and strenuously believed in her lover's faith; but still receiving no reply, it worked desperate havoc upon a sensitive and not over-strong constitution.  The neighbours one and all perceived the painful alteration in her appearance, and many and varied were the conjectures brought to bear upon the subject, and one, which some time afterwards seemed to bear much truth upon the matter, was that the brother to the intended of the young lady had intercepted by some means their communications. This was in part vouched for by a person who had resided some time in Canada, and who was well acquainted with the brothers and their affairs, so much so that he had heard from the younger brother that he had received no communication from England for some time past.  That the elder was disliked in the family in consequence of his dissolute habits was likewise confirmed, and also that the younger son was retained to manage the father's business, who, I should have stated, had died some three years back. 

Matters had now grown so serious that the lady was advised a change of scenery, that the recollection of the past might be somewhat expelled. This she objected to, and called to her bedside a brother for whom she had every confidence and affection, to whom she related the following story: 

She had for three nights in succession dreamt that she saw Charles (her lover) at a favourite resort of theirs called Swallow-lane in the form of a skeleton, and lying on the ground was his wounded brother. Charles stated he had received a letter from her (this she declared to her brother was false), urging him to meet her on a certain date at their old trysting place. He then related how his brother had pounced upon and slain him, but not before he had wounded his brother, and with the same weapon. Here the sister said the voice of the spirit became indistinct, but, as far as she could understand, it was to the following effect: 

She saw the outstretched figure of her lover's brother raise himself from the ground, and was soon lost to view, Then the spectre figure said, ‘Meet me, love, at Swallow-lane on such an evening, that such may be confirmed, which I have revealed to you through a dream. Farewell, farewell,' and the figure vanished. 

The young lady then, lifting herself from her pillow, addressed her brother and said, ‘Dear brother, I must go there, I must go.  Will you accompany me, that I may be satisfied in this mystery?’ 

The brother accompanied his sister to the old and familiar spot specified in her dream. The evening was lovely and warm, and all that could be wished for, but a cold chill seized the maiden's frame as they approached the spot, where they saw a skeleton form, as predicted; and the brother lying on the ground was not only perceived by the girl, but by the brother likewise, who declares he saw it, but no sound reached his ears. 

Soon after this the frail construction of the lady weakened by degrees and passed away. The brother of the broken-hearted girl has made for Canada. Swallow-lane is well known to the neighbours roundabout, and many hundreds have visited the spot of late, but without eliciting any proof to unravel this strange and mysterious story.

It would be interesting to know what the brother found when he arrived in Canada, but, as is usually the case, there were no follow-ups to the story.