"...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, December 31, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Everyone here at Strange Company HQ wishes you all a Happy New Year!

Where the hell was Queen Elizabeth born?

Who the hell was this man who fell from the sky?

Some Christmas criminals.

A Christmas party turns into a brawl.

Digitally unwrapping a Pharaoh's mummy.

Scientists are having a lot of fun with ancient head lice.

Speaking of Creepy Science, they've just found a previously unknown 15,000 year old virus.  I'm sure this will end well.

A notable sea serpent encounter.

A Victorian scrapbook wishes you a happy new year.

There's a Louis Wain exhibition that can be seen online.

Next time you go bar-hopping, take along a hamster.  They can drive you home.

Some possible new clues relating to the "Princes in the Tower."

To me, this story has an uncomfortable "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" vibe to it.

The graves of the "amber elites."

A warrior Duchess.

Why we count down to the New Year.

An aristocratic pug's Christmas tree.

So maybe Elizabeth Bathory wasn't that bad after all.

A recently discovered birch bark letter from the 12th century.

Why people kiss on New Year's Eve.

New Year's resolutions from 1914.

A murder where--rather late in the day--they discovered they had hanged the wrong man.

Photos of the relics of Old London.

How to dine like an undertaker.

How to dine like an 18th century gourmet.

An unsolved--officially, at least--Pennsylvania murder.

A forgotten Indian dynasty.

And that's the final Link Dump for the year!  I'll be back tomorrow, with my annual look at the top ten posts from the past twelve months.  So long, 2021.  Be sure to let the door hit you on your way out.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This account of of an ice-skating “ghostlets” appeared in the “Buffalo Enquirer,” January 8, 1903:

During the last week a number of railroad men, employed nightly about the northeast section of the Lackawanna Steel Plant at Stony Point have seen what they believe to be a ghost, walking on the ice about twenty feet from the shore at Lake Erie. So firm are some of the workmen in their belief they have seen a ghost and that the place is haunted that a number of them have actually refused to work in that section of the plant. 

The place where the ghost is supposed to have appeared on the ice was named Dead Man's Hole by boys who formerly went swimming at Stony Point before the Steel Plant occupied the grounds. It is a narrow inlet about 100 feet east of the breakwall and was a desirable place for youngsters to swim in. During the past five years no less than half a dozen boys from South Buffalo lost their lives while bathing in this inlet. Because of the number that have been drowned there and the number of bodies which have floated ashore at that point, it was named Dead Man's Hole. 

On Monday night a crew of railroad men were at work near Dead Man's Hole. One of the switchmen who happened to be near the lake shore claims that he saw the figure of a man, black as ink, dancing on the ice about twenty feet from the shore. He was terror-stricken by the sight and-rushed with all haste to the engine and informed the other members of the crew. About 12 o'clock the entire crew went to the lake and while standing there they all claim to have seen the figure of a man appear and then disappear on the ice. At Dead Man's Hole the ice at the present time is not more than an inch thick. 

"People might laugh and say we only Imagined we saw a ghost," said an engineer to an Enquirer reporter, but it's a fact, nevertheless, that we saw a black figure, the blackest object I ever looked at in my life, dancing on that ice. It would be in one place one minute and in another the next. Then It would go beneath the ice.

"This is not the first time that workmen out here at the plant have been frightened by a ghost.  About two months ago fifteen Italians refused to shovel sand down there near Dead Man's Hole at night. When they told their story about seeing a ghost and the place being haunted everyone in the works laughed and made fun of them, but I guess they were right after all.

"You want to know what the ghost looked like? Well, it was simply the form of a man about six feet tall. As I said before, it was black as it could be. For the few seconds that we stood there and locked at it, and, mind you, there were at least ten of us, it never once made an attempt to come near the shore. There are no buildings or trees nearby from which a shadow could originate and appear on the ice. It was a ghost all right." 

During the Pan-American year the bodies of three unknown men were found floating in Dead Man's Hole, all within a month. They were never identified. The place is not more than twenty yards in length.

Whether it was truly haunted or not, I think we can all agree that Dead Man’s Hole certainly lived up to its name.

Monday, December 27, 2021

The Vampire of Silesia

The following quaint little tale of days gone by was related by a Silesian physician named Mortinus Weinrichius, apparently an eyewitness to the whole proceedings.  It was published by Henry Moore in his 1653 book “An Antidote Against Atheism.”

The star of our show was a resident of the Silesian town of Pertsch named Johannes Cuntze.  (Some sources give his name as “Cuntius,” which is no improvement.)  Cuntze was around sixty years old.  He was an alderman, quite prosperous, “very fair in his carriage,” and was generally regarded as one of Pertsch’s most respectable citizens.  

One day early in February 1592, the mayor summoned Cuntze to his home to help deal with some vexing local business matters.  (Cuntze was “a very understanding man, and dexterous at the dispatch of business.”)  After the issue was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, the mayor invited Cuntze to stay for supper.  Cuntze asked to be allowed to go to his home first to deal with some personal affairs.  As he left, Cuntze said cheerily, “It’s good to be merry while we may, for mischiefs grow up fast enough daily.”

As we shall see, Cuntze didn’t know the half of it.

Cuntze ordered one of his “lusty geldings” to be brought out of his stable.  As one of the horse’s shoes was loose, Cuntze and one of his servants immediately began repairing it.  Unfortunately, the horse, “being mad and mettlesome,” struck Cuntze’s head with a massive kick.  When Cuntze regained consciousness, he cried out “Woe is me, how do I burn and am all on a fire!”

Cuntze kept repeating these despairing words.  He then began raving about how “his sins were such that they were utterly unpardonable.”  He refused to say what those sins were, and rejected suggestions that a member of the clergy be summoned.

Cuntze’s neighbors had long wondered how he had acquired his wealth.  His strange behavior now spawned rumors that he had sold his soul to the Devil.

One night soon after his injury, Cuntze’s eldest son was sitting by his father’s bedside.  He saw a black cat claw open the casement, run to the bed, and violently scratch the stricken man’s face.  Then, it suddenly disappeared.  At that moment, Cuntze died.

As soon as Cuntze passed away, a violent storm of wind and snow arose, reaching its peak during Cuntze’s funeral.  The moment he was interred, the tempest ceased.

Unsurprisingly, all these sinister events confirmed the worst suspicions about Cuntze.  Stories began to spread that although the alderman may have been buried, he was hardly resting in peace.  It was said that a “Spiritus Incubus” in Cuntze’s form tried to rape a woman.  Soon afterwards, the same “Incubus” appeared in a room where someone was sleeping.  The spectre awakened the man, announcing in Cuntze’s voice, “I can scarce withhold myself from beating thee to death!”

The town watchmen reported that every night, they heard “great stirs” from Cuntze’s house, “the falling and throwing of things about; and that they did see the gates stand wide open betimes in the morning, though they were never so diligently shut o’re night; that his horses were very unquiet in the stable, as if they kicked and bit one another; besides unusual barkings and howlings of dogs, all over the town.”

Death clearly did not become Cuntze.

One night, the servants of one of Pertsch’s citizens heard the sounds of loud trampling throughout the house.  The residence began shaking as if it might collapse, and the windows were filled with flashes of light.  In the morning, the master of the household found outside his home strange footprints in the snow, “such as were like neither horses, nor cows, nor hogs, nor any creature that he knew.”

On another night, Cuntze’s spirit appeared to a friend of his, saying he had a matter of great importance to communicate.  “I have left behind me,” Cuntze said, “my youngest son James, to whom you are god-father.  Now there is at my eldest son Steven’s, a citizen of Iegerdorf, a certain chest wherein I have put four hundred florins:  This I tell you, that your god-son may not be defrauded of any of them, and it is your duty to look after it, which, if you neglect, woe be to you.”  The ghost then departed for the upper rooms of the house, “where he walked so stoutly, that all rattled again, and the roof swagged with his heavy stampings.”  

Since his death, Cuntze’s widow had shared their bed with a maidservant.  His ghost took to appearing at the bedside, ordering the maid out so he could retake his rightful place in the bed, threatening to “writhe her neck behind her" if she did not comply.  His ghost could be seen riding through the streets of Pertsch and the surrounding countryside, “with so strong a trot, that he made the very ground flash with fire under him.”  The wraith took to attacking, and even killing, random townspeople.  On one occasion, he came through the casement of his home “in the shape of a little dwarf.”  He attacked his wife so viciously that he would have torn her throat out if her daughters hadn’t come to the rescue.  His household was so terrorized by the ghost that the servants all slept together in the same room, watching for the approach of the “troublesome fiend.”  One night, a maid, braver--or perhaps more foolhardy--than the rest, insisted on sleeping alone.  Cuntze appeared in her room, where he pulled off her bedding and would have carried her off with him if she hadn’t managed to break free and run back to the others.  Cuntze filled the house of a local divine with such a “grievous stink” that the theologer became terribly ill, as if he had been poisoned.  Not even the local animals were safe.  The wraith would snatch up dogs in the streets and knock their brains against the ground.  He sucked the cows dry of milk.  He flung goats and poultry around their barns.  It was also noted that Cuntze’s gravestone was turned to one side, and that there were several holes in the earth that went down to his coffin.  No matter how many times the holes were filled in, they would return overnight.

Many more of the ghost’s evil deeds were recorded, but you get the idea: The late Mr. Cuntze was making a thorough pest of himself.  The citizens of Pertsch concluded they had a vampire in their midst.

Before long, Pertsch nearly became extinct.  As nobody would lodge in the town, trade came to a halt, leaving most of the citizens facing bankruptcy.  Clearly, something had to be done about their resident ghoul.  About five months after Cuntze died, his body was exhumed.  The townspeople found that the corpse showed no sign of decay.  When a vein was opened in one leg, fresh blood sprang out.

You will be gratified to learn that in 16th century Silesia, even vampires were treated fairly under the law.  A committee of judges, having heard all the details of this case, pronounced Cuntze guilty of being a posthumous danger to society, and ruled that his corpse must be burned.

And so it was done.  Once the body had turned to a mere pile of ashes, they were carefully swept up and thrown into the nearest river.  And the disagreeable spirit of Johannes Cuntze was never seen again.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

It's the Link Dump Before Christmas!

And the Strange Company Santa Claus is almost here!

The "Coleford sensation."

One of early 19th century America's most famous murders.

A restaurant with some of the most repulsive-looking food I've ever seen gets the treatment it deserves.

The world's first octopus farm is about to open.  Not everyone is happy about that.

Decoding Dickens' "mystery texts."

In which we learn that there are professional ham sniffers.

Harold Lloyd's year-round Christmas tree.  I love Christmas trees as much as anyone, but I think his was a bit over-the-top.

The discarded Yule Goat.

The fall of Antony and Cleopatra.

DNA and ancient mass migration.

A terrible winter in Colonial New England.

Some Christmas gift ideas from 1873.

Some Christmas jokes from 1910.

And here is a morbid Christmas poem.

The boy who inspired "The Exorcist."

A 16th century female pirate.

The London Beer Flood.

Did the mass-suicide at Masada really happen?

How an Estonian boulder became famous.

18th century shopping.

The man who invented cat litter.

A lost palace under Brussels.

A look at 18th century British governments.

Some Christmas burglars.

Supply chain problems in ancient Rome.

A brief history of eggnog.  You're still not getting me to drink it.

Christmas in 19th century Mexico.

A ring with one of the earliest depictions of Christ has been found.

Victorians and their seances.

The latest on the Antikythera mechanism.

That time Australia lost a war to emus.

An aristocratic antiquary.

A look at stork lore.

The oldest surviving photo of the Moon.

More on the famed Ratcliffe Highway murders.

Why humane societies threw Christmas parties for horses.  I wouldn't mind seeing those make a comeback.

The Christmas Cheer Club.

Some holiday hero cats.

How to make Aphra Behn's favorite cocktail.  And Charles Dickens' favorite punch.

Two Soviet space dogs.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll meet a particularly unpleasant vampire.  In the meantime, here's one of my favorite Christmas carols.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Newspaper Clippings of the Christmas Day

It’s very nearly Christmas, so for the benefit of last-minute shoppers, I present the Strange Company Gift List, courtesy of that popular friend of this blog, the Santa Claus of Death!

[All clippings via Newspapers.com]

Our first story illustrates why I always advise against Homeowner’s Associations: exorbitant fees, capricious regulations, and a strong chance of finding turkey feet under the tree.  The “Tacoma News Tribune,” December 28, 1992:

A Spanaway man found a rather gruesome "gift” in a size-7 shoe box near his yard Christmas morning, sheriff’s deputies reported. 

The package--wrapped in teddy-bear Christmas wrapping and purportedly “From Santa"--contained no shoes, but rather two freshly severed turkey feet. 

The man told deputies he’s had ongoing feuds with a local developer and his neighborhood association and believed either may be responsible for the "present."

One would think that nothing expresses Christmas cheer like a memorial of a mass execution, but I suppose Colonel Mosby was just a spoilsport.  The “Staunton Spectator,” December 16, 1897:

Col. John S. Mosby, who is the guest of his son in-law, Mr. Robert R. Campbell, received last week by express a limb from the walnut tree in the vicinity of Front Royal, from which Custer hung ten of his scouts. By mail the same day came a letter from Mr. Charlie Dear, in which he presents the wood, with his compliments, and expresses a wish that the Colonel have a cane made from it. In speaking of the incident, Colonel Mosby said: "I was much vexed with Charlie Dear, who was one of my best soldiers, at sending me a memento of such a ghastly episode. I wrote him in answer that I would not design to handle his gift with a fork or a pair of tongs and would have preferred something that would make me forget rather than remember the dread affair."

Stumped for Christmas entertainment?  Bring on the dead monkeys!  The “Brooklyn Times Union,” December 29, 1897:

STONY BROOK, Dec. 29. Stony Brook possesses a disciple of Aesculapius who has a particular fondness for playing practical jokes, always of a harmless nature, upon his best friends.  This physician is no other than popular Dr. J. Alvin Squire, allround athlete, crack shot with rifle, gun or pistol, judge of trotters and practical politicians. Numerous attempts have been made to catch the wily chirurgeon in some trap or another, but in vain. He could never be caught napping. All practical jokes attempted at his expense acted like an Australian boomerang thrown by an amateur--they hurt the jokers most. “All things come to him who waits,” said Napoleon. The doctors cronies waited. They had their reward last Christmas Day. 

The doctor had been out late and found his house in darkness when he came home. He entered his office, feeling his way in the dark for the match-box. He nearly broke his neck when he stumbled over something that should not have been on the floor, and the genial doctor said something very mildly. He soon got a light and looked for the cause of his fall. “Great Scott!” he exclaimed, "What's this!” It was a coffin-shaped box and was addressed to himself. The doctor scratched his head and pinched himself. He got down and opened the box. “Now! By the great Jupiter and cornstarched Halifax!” He yelled, "What is this? Am I dreaming?" He pinched himself again. Than he paid a visit to a cupboard and took a few drops of medicine. Again he got down on his knees. He examined the strange object before him most attentively. He did not hear smothered snickering in the next room. He was too deeply interested in the object before him. He put down his hand and lifted a tiny arm covered with an unnatural growth of hair. A sudden thought struck the man of medicine. He pulled down the thick veil that concealed the face. 

"Great Scott! It’s a monkey!” he cried out, as a look of abject disgust and fierce scorn covered his visage. “Ah,” he muttered, "that's one on me! Thought I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a baby and a monkey, eh? Well, now, I guess they're not so smart as they thought they were. Good thing they didn't see me fooled, though, or they'd never stop chaffing me. Guess I know what I’ll do! I'll put the monkey to bed alongside of my wife, and then wake her up! I'll be even with someone." 

With these remarks the astute doctor began to very carefully take what be believed to be a dead monkey out of its coffin. No sooner had he got it in his arms than a look of blank dismay filled his eyes; his mouth opened wide and he seemed to be sick.  “My Heavens!” he exclaimed, "it's only a stuffed one!" and he threw it angrily on the floor as a flood of light lit up the next room, showing the doctor's wife and several friends convulsed with laughter. Tableau vivant!

And now we come to several suggestions for adding a body count to your “Secret Santa” exchange.  First up is this item from the “Billings Gazette,” December 27, 1905:

Albany, N.Y., Dec. 26. Miss Elsie Smith, who was "Queen Titania" in the Albany Halloween carnival of 1904, today reported to the police that she received through the mail yesterday a box of candy containing poison. Chocolate drops in the box had been opened and the poison spread within. A druggist, who analyzed the contents, declares that the candy contained enough paris green and other poisons to kill the whole family. 

Miss Smith professes entire ignorance of any one who would desire to injure her, but believes the poison was sent by a girl. The police and post office authorities are investigating.

This next story proves that paris green was quite a popular holiday shopping item back in the day.  The “Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette,” December 19, 1904:

PRINCETON. N. J., Dec. 18. (Special.) William Lutz, a businessman of this place, received through the mail yesterday a neatly wrapped package and a letter bearing the Princeton postmark, which read as follows: "Friend Will--Accept this little token as a Christmas present, hoping you will enjoy it, with greetings.” The letter was unsigned. Lutz found the tobacco contained 18 grains of arsenic and 13 grains of paris green.

Even in recent years, there are those gift givers who really want to start Christmas off with a bang.  The “Philadelphia Daily News,” December 23, 1992:

A British soldier on duty in Northern Ireland was given a potentially deadly Christmas gift of a booby-trapped tin of chocolates yesterday, police said. A motorist he stopped at a checkpoint presented him with the package, they said. Suspicions were aroused when he returned to base in the town with the gift and army experts found and defused a two-pound Semtex bomb hidden among the candies inside.

And so ends this year’s tribute to the Yuletide season!  I sincerely hope all of you have a very happy holiday, and if you have the sort of relatives who leave coffined monkeys in your path, at least now you know what to put in their chocolates and tobacco.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Death on Christmas Eve: The Keim Family Mystery

"Pottstown Mercury," July 11, 1967, via Newspapers.com

In 1963, 68-year-old widow Pearl Keim and her son Douglas (whom everyone called “Dougie”) were living a quiet, unremarkable existence in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.  Although Douglas was aged 42, mentally, he remained a child of seven.  However, he was fortunate enough to be a cheerful, affectionate, trusting soul who was well liked in the town.  Neighbors described Douglas as “a most happy child,” and “friendly as a puppy.”  He enjoyed spending his evenings in a local diner, with a newspaper spread out in front of him.  He was completely unable to read it, but pretending he could appeared to give him a sense of being part of the adult world he was destined to never enter.  Douglas had two great loves: his mother and fire engines.  He often visited the local firehouses, where he would spend hours gazing in wonder at the vivid red trucks with their startlingly loud bells, or browsing through stores, admiring the toy trucks on display.

The Keims spent Christmas Eve 1963 alone together.  As a result, we will never know for sure why it proved to be their last Yuletide.  Three days after Christmas, neighbors, who were concerned that no one had seen mother or son since December 24, phoned police to check on the pair.  Officers found the Keim home had all the doors locked, although they were the type which could be locked from the outside.  One window was open.  When the policemen got no response to their repeated knocks on the front door, they broke inside.

What they found was a bloodbath.  Mrs. Keim was found in her bedroom, dead of multiple stab wounds to her neck.  A knife blade was still embedded in her throat, but the handle was missing.  Douglas’ corpse was in the living room.  Lying near his body was his Christmas present--a brightly wrapped toy fire engine--and the handle from the knife which had killed his mother.  Douglas had died in a particularly bizarre fashion: a metal stove poker had been twisted tightly around his neck, strangling him.

This gruesome tragedy was one of those cases where investigators scarcely knew what to say.  The Keims did not have anything approaching an enemy, and they lived too modestly to be worth robbing.  There was no sign of anyone but the Keims having been in the home.  After a bit of floundering helplessly, the authorities announced their conclusion: murder/suicide.  Montgomery County DA Richard Lowe theorized that on Christmas Eve, Douglas had wanted to open his present early.  When his mother refused, he went into a fit of uncontrollable rage and stabbed Pearl to death.  Then, when he realized the enormity of what he had done, he broke down completely and wrapped the poker around his throat.

There were obvious problems with this scenario.  For one thing, Douglas was regarded as a gentle, sweet-natured man who had never shown any signs of violence.  He adored his mother, who was all he had in the world.  Also, Douglas was a small, slight man.  Would he even have the strength to kill himself in such a physically demanding fashion?   And what caused the several bruises found on his head?

Many people were uneasy about the “solution” to the mystery.  However, law enforcement had come up with a quick and easy way to get this troublesome case off their hands, and they stuck with it.  In my true-crime readings, I’ve come across many tragedies that defy any easy explanation, so investigators simply invent one, just to be able to say “case closed,” and move on.  I fear the deaths of Pearl and Douglas Keim may well be among them.

[Note: One would assume that dusting the knife and poker for fingerprints would most likely answer the question of whether Douglas was a murderer or a murder victim.  However, none of the newspaper stories I've found about the case state whether or not this was done.  Very strange.]

Friday, December 17, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by more of our Christmas Cats!

Who the hell was Eadruf?

What a doctor has to say about near-death experiences.

Meet the guy who just flew in and out of an active volcano.  I'm guessing the "out" part was the hardest.

In which Neanderthals clear a German forest.

Elizabeth I's childhood governess.

The rector's ghost.

A fatal race around the world.

The medieval dance mania.

The difficulties of having a ghost author a book.

The "Pet Rock" craze.  (I remember this fad.  One day, I picked up a stone from our backyard and brought it to school.  I told everyone I had adopted it from a shelter.)

A real-life Christmas ghost story.

If you want to visit the South American rainforests so you can meet a poisonous spider the size of a puppy, be my guest.

The physiognomy of Oliver Cromwell, Mr. warts-and-all.

Why airships disappeared.

The opening of Selfridges department store.

This week in Russian Weird looks at their patron saint for nukes.

The trickster ghost of Muncaster Castle.

An infant's grave from 10,000 years ago.

More on last week's "killer dentures" story.

A hidden sketch in Rembrandt's "Night Watch."

A British disinformation campaign in WWI.

The notorious murder of Vera Page.  (This is one of those where they "knew" who did it, but couldn't prove it.)

The world's first automobile.

A previously-unknown catlike species from 33 million years ago.

Three life-saving dogs.

That true-crime staple: committing murder in order to fake your own death.

Well, this is silly.

Yellow fashions from the 18th century.

The case of the mind-controlled model.

Some British serial poisoners.

A fluorescent wood.

A forgotten Gilded Age model.

Ireland's oldest known pen.

A collection of miniature children's books.

A duel over grammar.

A meeting of the unemployed takes a few unexpected turns.

A Brooklyn ice skating carnival in 1862.

The world's loneliest gun.

The varying meanings of "rusty."

Victorian New Year's traditions.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a mysterious Christmas Eve tragedy.  In the meantime, here's one of those songs that goes way back.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This story--which contains all the classic elements of what we today call “poltergeist events”--appeared in the “Atchison Daily Champion,” November 11, 1873.  It’s a reprint from the “Chamois (Missouri) Leader.”

We are informed by John W. Glover, Esq., of some strange and remarkable occurrences taking place at the residence of Rufus Burchard, Esq., on L'Ours creek, about twelve miles west of Chamois. It appears the first demonstration was made about a month ago, when Mr. Burchard and daughter were absent attending the Jefferson City Fair. Frank Penit, Esq., was engaged at Mr. B.'s house making sorghum molasses, when he was suddenly startled by the falling of rocks upon the roof. A strict search was made, but there was no human agency visible by which the rocks could have been thrown. This rock throwing continued to occur at intervals until Mr. Burchard's return from the Fair, when it ceased, and nothing unusual occurred until week before last, Mr. Burchard being again absent, this time serving on a jury at Linn. Rocks were again thrown on the house, and upon going out into the yard, the family could discern no person about, but, to their surprise and consternation, saw the rocks gradually rise from the ground, and after ascending a sufficient height, drop down on the roof! 

Then the ghost or spirit or whatever it was began operations on the inside of the house. The pillows would suddenly begin to move and drop off the bed to the floor, one pillow lying flat and the other standing erect upon it; then the bed covering and the bed itself would follow, sometimes failing in a confused heap and at other times adjusting themselves upon the floor as neatly and in as perfect order as if "made up" by human hands. A Bible, lying on a stand in the room, repeatedly opened, scattering over the floor sundry Sunday school tickets deposited between its leaves, and each time opening at exactly the same place, viz.: the twentieth chapter of Ezekiel. 

This state of things continued until the family became so badly frightened as to send to Linn after Mr. Burchard. As soon as Mr. Burchard returned home the demonstrations ceased altogether, and we learn that nothing unusual has occurred there since. 

Among the strange features of these strange proceedings, we may mention that they have all occurred in the day time and during Mr. Burchard's absence from home. At night everything was quiet and still about the house, no unusual noises being heard and nothing at all unusual occurring; as soon, however, as the day began to break the demonstrations were renewed. 

We have given the account just as it was given to us by Mr. Glaver, and he received it direct from the lips of Clinton Burchard and wife, eye witnesses during a considerable portion of the time of the strange proceedings were had. 

If all that we hear be true, we are utterly unable to give any explanation that would be satisfactory, either to ourself or anybody else. In the next issue of the Leader we hope to give a detailed account of the whole affair. 

P.S. Since writing the foregoing we have heard many additional reports in reference to the above; among them, one that manifestations still continue. A day or two ago the bed clothes were suddenly turned down, and lying on the sheet a piece of cardboard was discovered upon which were written these words, "These Things Will Continue Forever." An examination revealed the fact that these words were written in a hand exactly resembling that of Mr. Burchard's first wife--he having been married twice, and is now a widower. There are a great many other rumors in circulation, which we forbear publishing until better advised of their respectability.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find anything more about these peculiar events.  I am now very curious about the circumstances of the death of the first Mrs. Burchard.

Monday, December 13, 2021

A Blazing Cat Ghost and the Devil on Horseback: Scenes From a Welsh Neighborhood

As I have mentioned before, Wales has a way of producing many first-rate ghost accounts, ones that are both picturesque and deeply sinister.  In the late 19th century, a young antiquarian named D. Lledrod Davies collected a number of real-life supernatural tales, many of them first-hand accounts.  After his early death in 1890, his friends published these stories in a small pamphlet titled “Ystraeon y Gwyll.”  (“Stories of the Dark.”)  Unfortunately, this pamphlet has apparently never been translated into English (or any other language.)  However, at least two other published works, the “Occult Review” for December 1911, and Jonathan Davies’ book “Folk-lore of West and Mid-Wales” contain translated excerpts.  They focus on the uncanny goings on around an old house near Rhosmeherin, by Ystrad Meurig in Cardiganshire, which Lledrod Davies described as “a perfect nest of spirits.”

“No one liked to pass by there after nightfall, for if they were obliged to, they were certain to see a ghost in some form or other, most often in the shape of a cat, which would sometimes swell and swell until it looked like a great calf. It would also follow people down the road, and they often had trouble to escape it. In fact the mere thought created fear and horror in the bosoms of many of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, without even a sight of it.

“At that time it was the custom amongst the brotherhood of tailors to go round the country working, and it so happened that one of that guild had a job at a house called Blaen Pincher, not far from the haunted farm, and in order to go home he had to pass that place of spirits, or else go round a long way. And being a timid man by nature, the very thought of having to pass the farm sent terror through his bones.

"Generally he was careful to be home before complete darkness set in (though to do so he had to double the haste of his stitches), and one evening he began his journey hoping to pass the farm before dusk. A little way from the house there was a spring of water, and it was there as a rule that the ghost made its first appearance. The tailor reached this well and was passing it, when he happened to glance behind him, and experienced a shock of fear as he saw a reddish-gray cat trotting close to his heels, which, as he stopped short in alarm, leaped to the top of the garden hedge belonging to the farm. He struck wildly at it with the stick he carried, but the cat, eluding the blows, snarled and grinned, and presently began swelling out in some extraordinary way till it seemed double its size, and made as if it would fly at him. Just then he managed to hit it hard and fairly on the back, but what were his feelings when the blow, which should almost have killed an ordinary animal, went through this one as if it had been vapour, producing a shower of sparks in which the cat disappeared.

“This was too much for the poor tailor, who made for home as fast as he could, though he could never afterwards remember how he got there….I have heard him tell this story many times, and believe he felt real terror every time he came to the part where the cat disappeared in fire. He saw many spirits in the course of his life, but this was the only one that ever made any lasting impression on him.”

Another man passing through the area had an even more disturbing experience.  Leave it to the Welsh to encounter not just an evil fiery cat ghost, but Satan himself.  

“I was going home one evening from my work from Ros y Wlad, and had to go through Rhosmeherin.

“That place, you know, is a terrible spot for its ghosts. People say that they are seen there in broad daylight. As to myself I did not see them in the daytime, but many a time was I kept there all night by Jack-a-Lantern. [“Corpse-candles”]

 “I saw a ghost in the form of a cat there also, and when I began to strike him he disappeared in a blazing fire. But now for the gentleman. I was near the spot where I had seen the cat, when I heard the sound of a horse coming after me. I jumped one side to make room for him to pass; but when he came opposite me he did not go forward a single pace faster than myself. When I went on slowly, he went slowly; when I went fast, he went fast. “Good night,” said I at last, but no answer. Then I said it was a very fine night, but the gentleman on horseback did not seem to take any notice of what I said. Then thinking that he might be an Englishman (the man was speaking in Welsh), I said in English ‘Good night,’ but he took no notice of me still. 

 “By this I was beginning to perspire and almost ready to fall down with fright, hoping to get rid of him, as I now perceived that he was the Devil himself appearing in the form of a gentleman. I could think from the sound of the saddle and the shining stirrups that the saddle was a new one. On we went along the dark narrow lane till we came to the turnpike road, when it became a little lighter, which gave me courage to turn my eyes to see what kind of a man he was. The horse looked like a soldier’s horse, a splendid one, and his feet like the feet of a calf, without any shoes under them, and the feet of the gentleman in the stirrups were also like the feet of a calf. My courage failed me to look what his head and body were like. On we went till we came to the cross-road. I had heard many a time that a ghost leaves everybody there. Well, to the cross-road we came. But ah! I heard the sound of the ground as if it were going to rend, and the heavens going to fall upon my head; and in this sound I lost sight of him (the Spirit). How he went away I know not, nor the direction he went.”

Friday, December 10, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The Strange Company HQ staffers are already throwing their Christmas parties.

A seemingly motiveless family murder.

Did this man figure out where Flight 370 crashed?

A British Library collection of anatomical sketches.

The socialite who was a murderer and blackmailer on the side.

Why India has jewelry made of sugar.

The mysteries surrounding the crash of TWA Flight 800.

Shopping in the early 19th century.

The Straw Hat Riot.

You can hardly walk through Europe without stumbling on the bones of St. Nicholas.

Queen Charlotte had the first English Christmas tree.

How Pearl Harbor forced a plane to make a really long detour.

Ancient Egyptian beer.  Which, frankly, doesn't sound much to my liking.

A real-life Cinderella story.

Some very old Ethiopian monoliths.

Some old Christmas traditions you might want to ignore.

The cutthroat world of...meat judging?

December 1641 was a messy month in the English Parliament.

The library of a 17th century playwright.

Christmas shopping at the undertaker's.

In defense of monsters.

Pearl Harbor's most successful rescue mission.

The Bisbee Massacres.

Daily life for Victorian shop girls.

The mysterious Book of Soyga.

The notorious Ratcliffe Highway Murders.

The last of the Covent Garden bawds.

Some odd news items from 1912.

Slumber party folklore.

Horse stories from old New York.

The "green goods" scam.

The puzzling death of Ethel White.

This week in Russian Weird looks at zombie fires by the Pole of Cold.

The weird side of Johnny Cash.

Killer dentures?

Hitler and Pearl Harbor.

The Crimean War's North Pacific theater.

The BS Historian wishes that you would stop trying to find medical reasons for vampires.

The Vikings probably had some particularly awful methods of torturing people.

The men who returned home so they could be executed.

This year's oddest book titles.

George Cruikshank's Christmas illustrations.

Folklore's "wood-wives."

A case of manslaughter.

The Moon has a Mystery Cube.

The origin of the phrase "a friend of Dorothy."

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll visit a particularly lively neighborhood in Wales.  With a cameo appearance by Satan!  In the meantime, let's get medieval:

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

As I have mentioned before, I have a great fondness for Weird Wills.  I have found a great many of them, but I believe this is the first where the chief beneficiary is Satan.  The “St. Johns Herald,” May 26, 1892 (via Newspapers.com):

There is but one spot on the earth's surface, as far as "Ye Curious Man" knows, that has been really and truly willed, deeded and bequeathed to his Satanic Majesty. This sometime-to-be sulphurous spot lies four and a half miles south of Helsingfors, Finland. 

A few years ago, Lars Huolarinen died in the little town of Pielisjarvi, in the above named country, leaving considerable property in the shape of real estate. How he had come into possession of so much land no one seemed to know, but as he was a very bad citizen it was generally admitted that he was in league with Wihtahausa (the devil), and that they had had many business deals with each other. This somewhat startling opinion was verified when old Huolarinen died, for, upon opening his will, the Magistrate found a certified warranty deed inclosed therein which deeded to the devil all of his (Huolarinen's) earthly possessions. The will was to the same effect. 

The family have repeatedly tried to break the will, but so far have been unsuccessful; thus the records plainly show that his Sulphuric Majesty has a legal right and title to some excellent grounds in the near vicinity of both Helsingfors and Prielisarvi. 

The simple people of the neighborhood have changed the course of a road which formerly skirted the Huolarinen homestead, and declare that they would not enter upon the possessions of Satan & Co. for all the money that three such estates would bring. Although no living person has passed the threshold since the old man died, the mansion is said to be brilliantly lighted every night, and many curious stories are told of the unearthly frolics the devils have on this their duly known landed possessions.

So if you’re ever in that part of Finland, enjoy your vacation in Hell.

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Pevely Mystery Illnesses

"Chicago Tribune," October 1, 1978, via Newspapers.com

Poisoning cases are often inscrutable.  They are particularly frightening when it is impossible to tell if the poisoning was by deliberate action or by accident, and even the nature of the toxin is unknowable.  Such was the deadly puzzle which plagued a family in Pevely, Missouri.

In September 1978, Eva Sims and her husband Alvin had their home exterminated for pests.  To get away from the fumes, they planned to spend the night of September 19 at the home of their daughter, Bonnie Boyer.  However, on that day, they were unable to contact anyone at the Boyer home.  Their repeated phone calls were met with only a busy signal.  

When Eva drove to the Boyer home to investigate, she was met with something both terrifying and mysterious.  The first person she encountered there was Bonnie’s husband Robert.  He “didn’t let on like he knew me,” Mrs. Sims said later.  When she asked where Bonnie was, “He looked back at me and shook his head as if he didn’t know.”

When she began searching the house, she soon found the dead body of her daughter.  Bonnie was lying on the bedroom floor, covered with a blanket.  Robert--still in his weirdly dazed condition--went to the bathroom and vomited.  He started to cry.  Mrs. Sims called the police.

When authorities arrived on the scene, they knew something was obviously terribly wrong, although they had a hard time figuring out what it was.  The Boyer’s two dogs and cat were found inside the house, in a curiously weakened state.  (The dogs eventually recovered, but the cat was euthanized in order to obtain tissue samples.)  The two Boyer children, 16 year old Tonya and 14 year old Barry, were semi-conscious and having seizures.  Their father continued in what one policeman called “a spaced-out condition,” unable to say anything intelligible other than his children’s names and ages.  The first officer to enter the Boyer home, Colleen Fitzpatrick, instantly became so nauseated, she collapsed.  Another officer thought he smelled a “gaseous substance” in the basement.  He too began feeling ill.

There were no gas appliances in the home.  There was a sewage line hooked up to the house, but no trace of methane gas was found.  A team of Army epidemiologists could find no trace of any nerve gas contamination.  

Toxicologist Dr. Howard Schwartz assembled a team of specialists to examine the Boyer home.  These experts were able to quickly rule out all the “usual suspects”: carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane, cyanide, strychnine, arsenic, drug overdoses and food poisoning.  The Boyers tested negative for viral or bacterial agents.  Bonnie Boyer’s autopsy found “no obvious cause of death.”

On September 21, Barry Boyer died.  And Dr. Schwartz admitted to reporters that so far, his team had “come up with zilch.”  The only possible clue they had to work with was that one unusual thing was found in the bodies of Bonnie and Barry: a breakdown product of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO,) a solvent commonly found in various household products.  While not toxic itself, it can cause other, more dangerous chemicals to be more easily absorbed through the skin.  However, DMSO was not found in any notably high amount, and Dr. Schwartz was skeptical that it had anything to do with whatever it was that sickened the Boyers.

On September 22, a dog, a kitten, and a rat spent the night in the Boyer home, with no noticeable ill effects.  E.P.A. agents found no sign of any toxic gases that might have seeped into the home.  The residents of Pevely were getting understandably nervous about everyone’s inability to figure out how their neighbors died.

The investigation turned to a set of 30 styrofoam insulation panels that were stored in the Boyer home.  Robert Boyer’s nephew, Steve Reisner, had been planning to install them before winter came.  Reisner had acquired them from the Dow Chemical plant where he worked.  The panels were “uncured”; that is to say, they had not gone through the 7-day storage period required to make sure any industrial fumes dissipated from them.  It was speculated that the panels released methyl bromide into the home, as a related molecule, methyl chloride, is used in the making of styrofoam.  However, while traces of methyl bromide were found in the air of the Boyer home, no levels of any significance were found in tissue samples taken from Mrs. Boyer.  Dr. Schwartz admitted that he was only considering methyl bromide as a suspect in the Boyer poisonings because they were unable to come up with anything else.  Dow Chemical experts pointed out that within the past ten years, Dow employees had suffered no fume-related injuries, and that it was impossible that the styrofoam sheets could have emitted methyl bromide in levels sufficient to be toxic.  The CDC did an experiment where they kept lab animals among uncured styrofoam in amounts proportionate to what was found in the Boyer home.  The animals stayed perfectly healthy. 

Yet another blow to the Styrofoam of Death theory was that on September 17--the day the Boyers began to show symptoms--a friend of Barry’s, Tim Weibking, spent eight hours in the house with no ill effects.  On the other hand, Robert’s 10 year old niece, Suzie, spent the night of the 17th with them, and subsequently became so sick her father brought her to the hospital.  The cause of her illness also proved to be a complete mystery.

In short, the experts had to admit that they were well and truly stumped.

In 1979, Tonya Boyer, who had never recovered her health, died.  Robert Boyer was left permanently impaired.  In 1981, Robert sued Dow Chemical for 3.6 million in damages, using the argument that the styrofoam panels had indeed been responsible for the deaths.  The case was settled out of court, with the judgments in the matter permanently sealed.

As far as I have been able to find, the riddle of what invisible agent so horribly ravaged the Boyer family has never been definitively answered.

[A footnote: as you may have noted in the photo, the Boyers were living in what was intended to be the basement section of the house Robert was in the process of building.  It is unknown whether the unfinished state of their residence had anything to do with the tragedy.]

Friday, December 3, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

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

Strike up the band!

What the hell was "gaol fever?"

The life of Joan, Queen of England.

A mysterious assault at an isolated house.

Some surprises from the largest comet ever located.

The difference between Father Christmas and Santa Claus.

A newly-discovered victim of Vesuvius.

Lady Betty the Executioner.

The (attempted) airships of the Civil War.

A network of fugitive Nazis go to war.

The "female Caravaggio."

This week in Russian Weird looks at some really freaking old fossils.

A guy obsessed with serial killers turns out to be--surprise, surprise!--pretty weird.

How to stop your wife from ever hugging you again.

The weirder side of 1911.

So, let's talk naked goblins.

The "oddest funeral."

A brief history of chop suey.

The crash landing of a Japanese bomber during WWII.

Debunking a Pennsylvania legend.

The dreadful death of Caroline of Ansbach.

The history of "It's a Wonderful Life."  (Confess Your Unpopular Opinion Time: I hated that movie.)

That time when the British couldn't watch TV at 6 p.m.

Why an ancient Chinese civilization disappeared.

Old photos of London's very busy Thames.

Some notable Georgian era "characters."

A weird grave in London.

What may be the oldest known bedding.

A Mesopotamian medical encyclopedia.

The birth of the "picaresque novel."

Turkeys, turkeys everywhere.

A very bad stepmother.

UFO strangeness in Kaplan's Woods.

In which Ann Jefferies dances with the fairies.

The evolution of "begging the question."

The 19th century tattooing fad.

The very creepy disappearance of Tara Calico.

A famed 19th century naval artist.

Violations of medieval sanctuary laws.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a family's mysterious illness.  In the meantime, here's some Macedonian folk music.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Here’s a new category for the Fortean section of this blog:  Mystery Holes!  The “St. Louis Post-Dispatch,” March 19, 1985:

There is a mysterious hole in the ground, discovered last fall, in the northwestern part of the state of Washington on the Colville Indian Reservation, not far from the Grand Coulee Dam. 

A chunk of earth 10 feet long, 7 feet wide and 18 inches to 2 feet deep and weighing at least two tons was uprooted from a wheat field. It apparently flew through the air, turning slightly en route, and landed almost completely intact 73 feet away. 

Since then, winter storms have covered the hole with snow, and cows grazing in the field have trampled down the edges. 

Nobody has figured out how or why the dirt took flight. Several scientists have examined the site and come away scratching their heads. 

When two farmers, Rick and Pete Timm, found the displaced dirt, they notified Don Aubertin, the director of mining on the Indian reservation. He thought it might be a meteorite fragment, but a geologist who investigated said it was not. 

"There was no sign of impact," Aubertin told a newspaper reporter in November, when the story became public. "The hole was not a crater. It had vertical walls and a fairly flat bottom. It was almost as if it had been cut out with a giant cookie cutter." 

There are lots of theories. One is that an earthquake caused the freakish upheaval. A quake, about 20 miles from the hole, had rattled the area nine days before the Timm brothers' discovery. 

Stephen D. Malone, an earthquake expert, believes that a quake that small lacks the power to push a heavy patch of turf out of the ground. "I think a hoax is a possibility," Malone said. So do some other scientists who have not yet seen the site. 

Other scientists say they don't see how a hoax could have been created in the field, in a remote area that is sprinkled with huge boulders that residents call "hapstack rocks." 

For one thing, there are no signs of human beings--no wheel tracks, no footprints, and no evidence of machinery. Robert L. Schuster, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado, examined the hole carefully. He thinks that perhaps an underground methane gas explosion may have popped out the earth. 

Greg Behrens, a geologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at Grand Coulee Dam, and who has probably spent more time studying the situation than anyone else, thinks that the methane theory is improbable. Instead, he suggests that it may have been the result of a freak tornado or a complex freezing action, combined with strong winds. He noted, however, that the weather was warm when the incident was supposed to have happened. 

Behrens mentioned several believable man-made causes, such as an excavation dug by an enormous crane or an airborne pickup of the earth by a helicopter. 

"Man has done more spectacular things," Behrens said, "but the cost would be high, with no profit." 

Big holes in our planet almost never go unexplained. Most common are sinkholes, the kind that occasionally make headlines with cave-ins that swallow buildings, cars and sometimes people. Such "subsidences," as they are called, usually occur in the parts of the United States where the material under the top layer of soil is soluble limestone, which erodes underground. 

Nobody can say with certainty whether an answer to the "Cookie Cutter Puzzle" will ever be found. 

"It's the most bizarre thing I ever saw," said Aubertin. "There are just enough unknowns about this to have it hanging in the air, so to speak." 

Can you think of any other explanation of how that chunk of earth came to be moved?