"...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, May 18, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This tale of a Welsh poltergeist--complete with all the classic trimmings--appeared in the “Buffalo Sunday Morning News,” January 16, 1910:

(Special Cable to the Sunday News)

CARDIFF. Jan. 15. A quaint tale of a spook comes from the small Carmarthenshire village of Llanarthney, and in this case the ghostly visitant seems to be peculiarly vicious, missiles being hurled through the air by an unseen hand.  The mysterious happenings which have terrified the peaceful villagers have taken place at the Emlyn Arms Inn, and a local correspondent says appearances go to show that this old-fashioned hotel must either be haunted or that an exceedingly marvelous conjurer has been able to completely defy police and other detention. 

On Wednesday night, just after closing the inn, Mrs. Meredith, the landlady, whose husband was spending his holidays in North Wales, was pelted with stones as she was tending the cattle. She attached no significance to this, but when her servant girl, aged 13, who bore her company, responded to a knock at the front door a candlestick came whizzing through the passage. Yet not a soul was seen either in or about the premises. 

More mysterious still, various missiles were presently hurled from every quarter of the kitchen, and, terrified in the extreme, Mrs, Meredith shrieked for help. Mrs. Jenkins, wife of the village constable, and her sister-in-law, Miss Jenkins, hurried to the house of mystery at midnight, but so eerie were the antics of the presumed visitant from the spiritual world that neither dared enter the Inn, nor would others venture therein, until the arrival at 2:30 A.M. of Police Constable Gwilym Jenkins, who had cycled through the colliery districts on duty. 

He believed that his services were needed to arrest a burglar, but search where and how he would, no person could be found, although he heard the tramping of "padded feet" on the stairway and in the upper chambers. Bottles fell at his feet and were smashed, says our correspondent. A heavy black varnished stone ornament "jumped off" a bedroom mantelpiece and fell close to his head as he was looking under the bed for a burglar, and stones which bad been immersed in white lime went hither and thither in most inconceivable fashion, while teapot covers and covers of other things came hurling down, to the astonishment of the constable, his wife, sister-in-law, post office officials and the occupants of the inn. 

The spectators, it is said, saw a polished box fall from Meredith's waistcoat, which was hanging in the kitchen. This waistcoat was ironed by Mrs. Meredith on the previous evening, and she could not have failed to notice the box had It been there then. At 3:30 in the morning mistress and maid sought refuge in the house of a mason employed by Earl Cawdor, who owns the inn, but when they returned the following morning with the constable the mysterious happenings were resumed. 

These occurrences were witnessed by other people, including the vicar and curate of the parish. Constable Jenkins, who has been in the Carmarthenshire constabulary about nine years, asserts that this narrative is true in detail, and that it is not the imaginings of Christmas hilarity, for the spectators were perfectly sober and he is a strict teetotaler himself.

The whole affair is simply inexplicable. The constable had the house surrounded by workmen, and had a burglar been at the inn he would have been captured.

I couldn’t find any updates to this story.  Possibly this was one of those polt incidents that comes and goes almost immediately.

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Transformations of Ida Mayfield Wood

Ida Wood, sometime in the 1860s

During the long history of New York City, untold millions have come to the metropolis in an effort to "better themselves" and fulfill their various dreams.  Most of these hopes are doomed to failure.  Ida Mayfield Wood was one of the few success stories--and she accomplished her goals in a way few have done before or since.

Ida first came to New York in 1857.  The nineteen-year-old was a slight, pretty girl with a charm that was both dainty and sensual.  She told her new acquaintances that she was the daughter of a Louisiana sugar planter named Henry Mayfield.  Her mother, she said with a genteel pride, had been a descendant of the Earls of Crawford.

Ida wanted the wealth and social prestige suitable for such a pedigree, so her first order of business was to find an eligible man who could give them to her.  One name that caught her eye was that of 37-year-old Benjamin Wood.  The businessman was very wealthy, well-connected, (his brother, Fernando, was one of the city's mayors,) and reasonably attractive.  He was also married to his second wife, but Ida was not one to trouble about minor details.

She sent Wood a letter that, to say the least, did not beat around the bush.  "Having heard of you often," she began, "I venture to address you from hearing a young lady, one of your 'former loves' speak of you.  She says you are fond of 'new faces.'  I fancy that as I am new in the city and in 'affairs de coeur' that I might contract an agreeable intimacy with you; of as long duration as you saw fit to have it.  I believe that I am not extremely bad looking, nor disagreeable.  Perhaps not quite as handsome as the lady with you at present, but I know a little more, and there is an old saying--'Knowledge is power.'"

Wood arranged an interview with this demure young lady.  He liked what he saw, and almost immediately accepted the invitation openly offered in her letter.  Ida became his mistress, bearing him a daughter they named Emma.  After Wood's wife died in 1867, the long-time lovers were married. 

Benjamin Wood

Wood was rich and powerful enough for his new wife's dubious history to be tactfully ignored.  She became a leading figure in New York society, extolled by the newspapers as "a belle" admired for her "bright plumage and fragile beauty."  Her social circle ran as high as the visiting Prince of Wales and president-elect Abraham Lincoln.  In 1860, Benjamin was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he served until 1861.  (He won another term in 1881-83.)  In the same year he first entered Congress, Wood became editor and publisher of the “New York Daily News.”

Benjamin, unsurprisingly, was no more faithful to his new wife than he had been to the old one.  Ida was not particularly troubled by that.  However, Wood was also addicted to gambling for very high stakes.  This struck horror into the heart of his financially shrewd and prudent wife.  Characteristically, she dreamed up a novel way of turning her husband's deficit into her advantage.  She presented Benjamin with a deal:  He could gamble to his heart's content with her blessing, so long as he gave her half of everything he won, while paying for his losses himself.  In short, "heads she wins, tails he loses." His play was so important to him that he agreed to this one-sided bargain.  The practically inevitable result was that by the time Mr. Wood died in 1900, virtually every dime he had possessed belonged to his wife.  She had also purchased a controlling interest in the "Daily News," making her one of the first female publishers of a large newspaper.

After her husband’s death, Ida sold the "Daily News" for over a quarter of a million dollars.  She had valuable railroad stock.  She was set for a very comfortable and socially prominent widowhood.

Instead, Ida began to do some very strange things.  She sold all the many beautiful and costly belongings she had accumulated during her years with Wood.  In 1907, she went to her bank and demanded that the balance of her account--some $1 million--immediately be given to her.  In cash.  The bank officers had no choice but to comply and watch in stunned amazement as she stuffed the money into a bag and walked out.

She then checked into the Herald Square Hotel...and never checked out.  We  cannot know what inner demons inspired this woman who had so loved worldly matters to give up on life and turn herself into a recluse.  All she would say was that she was "tired of everything."  Joining her in this voluntary confinement were her sister Mary and her daughter Emma.  The trio never left their two-room suite and they never let anyone in.  Only twice during their long stay did they permit a maid to give them clean sheets and towels.  They never bathed.  The closest the women ever came to contacting the outside world was once a day, when through a closed door, they would ask the bellhop to bring them the same menu, which they paid for in cash:  Canned milk, crackers, coffee, bacon, and eggs.  Every so often, they also requested snuff, cigars, and petroleum jelly.  Ida would spend hours rubbing the last item on her face.  This one remaining vanity rewarded her with flawless pink-and-white skin--an ivory doll's head incongruously balanced on a bent, aged body.   Ida would explain that the three of them were destitute, and no one seeing the way they lived had any reason to doubt her word.

The three stayed together until 1928, when Emma Wood died at the age of 71.  Life--if you care to call it that--for the Mayfield sisters carried on as before until March 5, 1931, when the now 93-year-old Ida did something unprecedented during her stay at the hotel.  She opened the door, peered out into the hall, and screamed for a maid, explaining that her sister was very sick and needed a doctor.  As it turned out, Mary was beyond all help.  She was dead.

The doctor--and, soon, the undertaker--found that over the decades, the women had turned the suite into a rabbit warren filled with haphazard garbage:  Newspapers, food containers, trunks, old clothing, all the detritus of their hermit existence.

No one quite knew what to do with the remaining sister.  It seemed unconscionable cruelty to just leave Ida alone in this sad trash heap.  Morgan O'Brien, Jr., a member of a leading New York law firm, was summoned.  Intrigued by the mystery of the society belle turned recluse, he agreed to do what he could to sort out her murky affairs.

It was then that it emerged that Ida had vanished from life carrying with her a very great deal of money.  O'Brien also learned that she had some $175,000 of railroad stock, and had not cashed any dividends for years.  Ida herself was little help.  She insisted on staying holed up in her suite, where she smoked cigars, endlessly slathered petroleum jelly on her face, and refused to answer any questions, saying she was too deaf to understand anything the lawyers said.

Word quickly spread that the hotel was housing a very old and very rich woman, and, inevitably, a parade of long-lost relatives turned up holding out their palms.  First on the scene was Otis Wood, a son of Benjamin Wood's brother Fernando.  Accompanying him were his three brothers and their children.  Then came Benjamin's son from his first marriage, along with his children.  Soon, a crowd of Mayfields descended on the scene, loudly proclaiming their close blood ties to this elderly relative.  Some Crawfords joined the crowd, too, anxious to prove that they were kin to Ida through their common ancestry from the Earls of Crawford.  Before long, over a thousand people bearing the name "Wood,” “Crawford,” or "Mayfield" turned up to claim family ties with Ida--and her fortune.  Although they all claimed to be coming forward out of altruistic desires to help their dear, long-lost relative, their keen interest in her financial status was clearly their priority.  Their idea of "helping" Ida was to have her declared incompetent.  In September of 1931, they got their wish.

Ida was distraught to learn of her loss of independence.  "Why?" she wailed.  "I can take care of myself."  Much against her will, she was removed from her suite and brought to another room in the hotel.  

When her old hotel room was searched, over $700,000 in cash was found hidden here and there.  An old box of crackers was found to contain a diamond necklace. The suite proved to be a veritable time capsule.  Ida was storing 54 trunks filled with lovely 19th century gowns, exquisite jewelry, and valuable historical documents, such as a letter Charles Dickens had written to Benjamin Wood in 1867.  Ida's self-imposed squalor had been hiding a veritable Aladdin's Cave.  Ida's new-found family eagerly awaited the day when she would finally die so they could divide the spoils.

Ida herself, however, was disinclined to oblige them.  Despite her frail body, her mind remained as sharp and obstreperous as ever.  She was not the woman to go out meekly.  When food was brought to her, she would ask its cost.  If it was over a dollar, she would imperiously order that it be taken away.  On the rare occasions when her nurses and guardians would leave her alone for a moment, Ida would rush to a window and scream, "Help!  I'm a prisoner.  Get me out of here!"  In her mellower moments, she would fondly reminisce about the past, telling the nurses and reporters colorful, magical-sounding stories about her pampered New Orleans girlhood, and the fine education she had received thanks to her cultured, multi-lingual mother.

Before long, though, Ida became tired of fighting her imprisonment.  Her iron will gone, she simply gradually let go of life until she died  of pneumonia on March 12, 1932.  That left the question of who would inherit her wealth.  Although she had left a will, it left everything to her sister and daughter, who had, of course, both predeceased her.  Joseph Cox, counsel to New York's Public Administrator, was given the job of investigating Ida's lineage to see who had the best claim to be her heir.

It took Cox several years of hard work before the full truth about this strange woman emerged.  He  learned that Ida was not the Louisiana daughter of sugar planter Henry Mayfield.  Her real father was Thomas Walsh, a penniless Irishman who had emigrated to Massachusetts some time in the 1840s.  Her mother was a semi-literate woman from the Dublin slums.  "Ida" was not even her real name.  She had been born Ellen Walsh, but changed her name as a teenager, simply because she thought it sounded more elegant.  Her sister Mary, caught up in these alluring fantasies, became a "Mayfield" as well.  Oh, and Emma, "Ida's" daughter with Benjamin Wood?  She turned out not to be Ida's daughter at all, but another sister. (Benjamin Wood was apparently a willing partner in this little deception.)  The Mayfields and Woods and Crawfords were thus left out in the cold financially.  The pseudo-relatives did not take this news well.  They filed suit to get their "fair share" of Ida's estate.  The court made the reasonable ruling that, as "Ida Mayfield" was a pseudonym, the would-be heirs could go whistle for their money.  “Ida’s” estate went instead to ten living relatives of Ellen Walsh, who were stunned to learn they had a very odd--and very rich--kinswoman.  They each received about $90,000 (about $1.5 million in 2022 dollars.)  For them, at least, this sad story had a very happy ending.

Towards the end of her life, Ida/Ellen liked to tell her nurses a story from her girlhood.  One day, she went to a "gypsy seer" to have her fortune told.  After reading her palm, the fortune teller told the girl that she was going to be very lucky:  "You are going to marry a rich man, and get everything you want out of this life."

And so she did.  Although one can't help but think that in the end, it turned out to be a Faustian bargain.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This Friday the 13th Link Dump is hosted by one of our Lucky Black Cats!

What the hell were the Roman dodecahedrons?

I guess it's not surprising to learn that North Korean music is really weird.

So is the music on Mars' moon.

The Case of the Camberwell Ghost.

The man who feels no pain, and why that's a tragedy.

Our planet is full of mysterious blobs.

In search of a six-fingered civilization.

A corpse behaves in an unseemly manner.

The making of "Exile on Main Street."

A guy in Turkey has an Iron Age complex under his house.

A new exhibition about the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb.

Napoleon and the Battle of Friedland.

Meet Hector, Australia's most popular thunderstorm.

The king of Ohio's body-snatchers.

The last British peer to be hanged for murder.

A reality show based on "Lord of the Flies."  No, really, someone thought that would be entertainment gold.

England's cost of living crisis in 1800.

The Gardener of Hoxton.

The use of footprints in witchcraft.

Two sisters who became 18th century celebrities.

The disappearance of the USS Cyclops.

Summer fashions from 1822.

Some weird ways people died in the 19th century.

Contemporary newspaper reports on the notorious Ruth Ellis case.

Yes, cats see things that aren't there.

Jimmy Page and the Great Pyramid.

Butchery in Massachusetts.

The saga of Mike the Headless Chicken.

The theory that Stonehenge is a recycled Welsh monument. 

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a woman's unusual career.  In the meantime, here's some early Sinatra.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

A word of warning: this story is quite gruesome, even for this blog.  That said, if my blog stats have taught me anything, it’s that you lot seem to enjoy this sort of thing.  It seems that the more hideous I get, the more my readers say, “Hot doggie!  This one’s for me!”  In any case, the obvious relish with which this reporter lingered on every ghoulish detail amused me.  Peeping out from behind all the moral outrage was the sense that the journalist’s day had been made.  The “Cincinnati Enquirer,” February 25, 1885:

Evansville, Ind., February 24. The excitement caused by the horrible discovery made in the abandoned Medical College yesterday, was increased rapidly to-day, and hundreds of curious people visited the building to meet even more disgusting sights than was witnessed yesterday. A further investigation of the late college and premises was made this morning and the ghastly objects remain undisturbed, the hideousness of which seems to have been intensified by thoughtless and unfeeling persons who have placed some of the remains in such grotesque positions as to show their frightful features in more terrible light. 
There was one brawny and unsightly carcass, which had been partly dissected, that had been placed in a sitting position, leaning on one elbow, with chin resting on its hand, the top of the skull removed, the grinning mouth wide open, facing the door with its eyeless sockets turned menacingly, at any one entering the door. Close to a window, looking out on the gang at the rock-pile, had been placed all that was mortal of some female, which was held in that position by the headless trunk of a large man, and a hideous background made up of large and small subjects that had been dragged from other portions of the room, for the sole purpose seemingly of making the scene more repulsive and disgusting than that of yesterday. Some of the parts that had been noticed by the reporter yesterday were gone, having probably been taken by some relic fiend for the purpose of terrorizing sensitive individuals or a neighborhood by exposing them to public view. 
An instance of this kind was discovered last night at the corner of Main and Third streets, where some human ghouls had procured a huge skull, one of the most repulsive to be found in the collection, which had been set on top of a hitching-post at that corner, in full view of all who chanced to pass after night. This was discovered by a gentleman who placed it in the barrel that covers the fire-plug at that point, where it still remained this morning, with its sightless eyes showing through the opening in the barrel.  
To add to the horrors of the scene, evidence is everywhere to be seen of the ravages of the rats that feed upon these decaying human forms. Among clothing found there is evidence that the remains of some well-to-do people have been removed from their graves to the dissecting-table. 
Why the building was left in such a condition is unknown. Members connected with the faculty can not or will not say anything about it. A man named Scofield was janitor, and, it is said, has several times asked the former President of the "faculty" concerning the cleaning of the building and the disposition of the remains, but was advised to leave it as it was, as he would not be paid for his labor. 
The city papers this morning contained editorials denouncing the faculty for permitting this pestilence-breeder to remain in the heart of the city. The Grand Jury have taken hold of the matter, but with what object no one can tell, as the college faculty have committed no offense against the law other than the public sensitiveness. It is stated that some citizens will take the matter in hand to-night and cremate the whole business.
As a side note, our charming little tale also shows that 19th century Evansville residents had some curious notions about entertainment.

Monday, May 9, 2022

The Ngatea Crop Circle

Diagram of the "crop circle" which was published in the "Waikato Times"

“Crop circles” are, of course, among the most famous categories of alleged Fortean phenomena.  For years, the debate has raged about whether they are human-engineered hoaxes, the work of extraterrestrials, or the result of some bizarre natural forces we aren’t even close to understanding.  One of the strangest “crop circle” accounts is also, oddly enough, among the most credible.

On September 4, 1969, one Bert O’Neill was walking around his farm near Ngatea, New Zealand.  He noticed that some of his manuka trees were sporting an odd silvery color on the tips.  As he walked further, his surprise only increased: he saw a whole group of the trees quite dead, and completely bleached to that same silver color.  They formed a perfectly round patch, nearly five feet in circumference.  In the center of the circle were three distinct, evenly spaced V-shaped depressions in the soil.  The depressions had been made so forcefully, they cut down to the roots of the trees.

The baffled farmer didn’t know what to think.  Several days later, he shared the peculiar occurrence while having dinner with a bunch of friends.  Someone brought up the fact that later on the same day that O’Neill discovered his decimated trees, two Straits Air Freight Express pilots reported seeing a UFO over Wellington.  Perhaps, he said only half-jokingly, the two events were related?  Had a craft from another planet landed on O’Neill’s manuka trees?

The following day, someone from the dinner party told Harvey Cooke, president of the Tauranga Science Space Research Group, about what had happened on O’Neill’s farm.  Cooke immediately went to investigate.

After examining the site, he became convinced that whoever or whatever had caused the damage, it had not been human beings.  The three depressions which formed an equilateral triangle had been caused by about 20 tonnes of pressure.  In 1997, Cooke told “New Zealand Geographic” that “the toes had been moved out from the pad after the object had landed.  The ground had been pushed away and the flat end cut through the roots of the manuka.”  He added that the trees had been cooked by “Some kind of short-wave high-frequency radiation…I know of no earthly source of energy which could have produced these effects.”

News of the strange goings-on at O’Neill’s farm soon spread throughout the country, and his property was soon swarming with reporters, Ufologists, and simple lookey-loos.  Poor O’Neill, unable to do any farm work because of all the commotion, soon wished he had just kept his mouth shut.  Cooke collected samples of soil and the manuka trees and shared them with the University of Auckland’s UFO research group, the New Zealand Scientific Space Research Group, as well as a prominent horticulturist, John Stuart-Menzies.  Stuart-Menzies initially assumed the damage had been caused by weed killer or some other poison, but after examining the samples, he reluctantly had to rule that out.  When he ran a Geiger counter over the dead trees, it showed an increase in shortwave radiation.  He contacted the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research about his findings, but, for whatever reason, the DSIR declined to get involved.

On October 6, Stuart-Menzies released a report about his tests.  He concluded, “Some kind of short-wave high-frequency radiation has cooked the material from the inside outwards.  The effects appear to have been instantaneous.  The energy received has reduced the pith to black carbon without the outsides showing any signs of burning.

“I know of no earthly source of energy which could have produced these effects.  A meteorite or lightning couldn’t do this, and it has been too sudden for combustion.  Some outside object appears to have landed on the spot, and in taking off emitted the energy which cooked the plants.”

Well.  This not-so-subtle hint by a well-respected scientist that a UFO had used O’Neill’s farm as a rest stop created a nationwide sensation.  The furor went all the way up to New Zealand’s parliament, urging the government to compel the DSIR to investigate the matter.

More reports came in suggesting there was a high level of extraterrestrial weirdness going on.  Cattle on a farm in Puketutu suddenly fled a pond from which they had been drinking.  It was found that reeds on a small island in the middle of the pond had somehow been flattened into a circular shape about 27 yards across.  The reeds seemed to have been burned and pressed down in a spiral pattern.  Tripod marks very like the ones found on O’Neill’s farm were in the middle of the circle.  Soon after this, a family near Dargaville saw what they assumed was a low-flying airplane with flames shooting from the back.  The next day, four circles measuring about 5 yards in diameter were found on a nearby hill.

New Zealand’s minister of agriculture and science, Brian Talboys, finally instructed the DSIR to send a delegation of scientists to O’Neill’s farm.  Unfortunately, the site had been so ravaged by souvenir hunters that there was virtually nothing left for them to investigate.  All they had to work with were the samples collected by Cooke.

A few days later, Talboys announced the DSIR’s solution to the mystery:  the trees had been killed by a fungus.  Period.  He did not mention the triangular-shaped depressions or the radiation Stuart-Menzies had reported.  He also refused to address the inconvenient fact that while fungus attacks dead trees, it does not kill living ones.  As far as the New Zealand government was concerned, the subject was now closed.

Not very many people were convinced by this too-tidy official explanation, but bureaucracy, as usual, managed to have the last word.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is here!  And we're not clowning around!

Well, maybe some of us are.

New York City's first professional dog walker.

The life of Margaret of Brabant, Countess of Flanders.

A 17th century man of parts.

The link between horse racing and eugenics.  This article reminds me of something one of the old boys at Santa Anita once said to me.  He had been an exercise rider for Citation--the greatest racehorse who ever lived, in his opinion.  He mentioned that he had also ridden Citation's full brother, Unbelievable.  "What sort of horse was Unbelievable?" I asked.  "He wasn't worth two dead flies!" Jack growled.

Brazil's first female war hero.

The man who invented Creepy Clowns.  (Quick question: Are there any clowns who aren't creepy?)

The legend of "Owd Parr."

The time when Paris was forced to eat zoo animals.

It appears that the Brontes drank graveyard water.  Which would explain a lot about their novels.

An assortment of historical ciphers.

Body-snatching isn't exactly the safest profession.

Murder and a ghostly axeman.

A fatal elopement.

Eerie vintage photos of the Thames.

The world's loneliest post office.

The legends around a 600 year old glass.

People have spent forever trying to live forever.

The Vatican's Garden of Eden.

The history behind a portrait by George Romney.

The mysterious murder of Benjamin Nathan.

How two Tudor enemies wound up having a face-off on New York's Fifth Avenue.

How "It's a Small World" became so damn ubiquitous.

A history-making heist.

The momentous events of April 1945.

A black Gilded Age celebrity.

An Isle of Man memorial of a shipwreck.

A debunking of death omens.  Spoilsport.

A destitute man stranded in 1875 London.

The mystery of "crisis apparitions."

Our ancient ancestors and their complicated sex lives.

The "Wicked Bible."

Meet The Bridge You Will Never See Me Even Go Near.

How "clotheshorse" came to mean "chic."

A photo of 1850s Manhattan.

A bit of astronomer humor.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll talk crop circles.  In the meantime, here's a folk singer I recently discovered.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

As I have mentioned before, the “Illustrated Police News” periodically featured nifty little ghost stories.  The following example appeared in their January 8, 1898 issue:

The people of Buckingham and neighbourhood are troubled at the appearance of a ghost, the truth of which is vouched for by a well-known farmer living in the neighbourhood.

About six miles from the outskirts of the town there stands a weather-beaten hand-post at the corner of four cross-roads, and also a small plantation of young oak saplings at the terminus. Near to this spot some few nights ago the farmer referred to, accompanied by a friend, was driving his horse and trap along the roadway. The night was well advanced and dark, when suddenly the farmer saw standing a few yards in front of him. a black object. 

"What's that?" he said to his friend, and aloud to the figure, "Hullo! there; move on, please." 

There was no answer, and the figure remained almost motionless. It was completely enveloped in a long black sheet, and had the ghastly appearance of a headless woman. Simultaneously the horse saw it, and trembled like a leaf, as if paralysed with fear.

Again the farmer cried, "What do you do there? Move on, please." But there was no response, and the apparition remained still. The horse became restive, and commenced backing into a ditch. 

At this stage the driver's companion got down, took the reins, and endeavoured to back by the spot. Then for a minute or so their queer visitant disappeared. As the trap again faced the roadway the occupants were greatly alarmed at the further appearance of the black, sombre figure a few yards ahead of them, in the same motionless position as before. 

Their situation was now getting positively serious. The farmer, whose presence of mind had stood him in good stead, now finding his nerve on the point of giving way, asked the apparition in the name of God to speak. Then it was that the spectre slowly glided away, and appeared to float through the thick-set bordered hedge. The animal at once galloped off at a rattling pace towards the village they were bound for. Other people in the district have related their experiences, and the belief now prevails that there is a ghost to be seen, and not a little surprising the spot referred to has been less frequented of late.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Murder and Mystery in 1934 New York

In the waning days of 1934, elderly ladies in the New York area—particularly ones who lived alone—were terrified over a series of odd and particularly brutal deaths.

"Hanover Sun," December 10, 1934, via Newspapers.com

On December 7, 1934, the body of 69-year old widow Winnie M. Burlingame, the wealthiest woman in Canisteo, NY, was found in her home.  A hatchet had delivered over 60 wounds to her face and head, some of them chipping her skull.  She had died of hemorrhage and shock.  Blood was splattered throughout the house, from the cellar—where it was believed the initial wounds were made—all the way up to the second floor, suggesting a long struggle.  The weapon was found in the cellar, bloody but lacking any fingerprints.  A half-full bottle of carbolic acid was found near her.  Her internal organs showed no traces of poison, but there were acid burns on her clothing and her skirt was singed, leading to speculation that her killer had tried to burn the body.

After Burlingame died, her daughter-in-law, Mrs. William Burlingame, told authorities that Winnie had confided to her that if “something should happen” to her (Winnie,) Mrs. William should look in a secret pocket Winnie wore on her corset.  When the body was discovered, this secret pocket was unbuttoned, and empty.  Nothing else in the house had been taken, including Winnie’s purse containing $300.  Investigators were curiously reluctant to believe they had a murder on their hands.  They insisted that it was at least as likely that Mrs. Burlingame had killed herself.

There were disturbing sequels to this case.  Ten days after Burlingame died, 70-year-old Mrs. Lydia Beekman Parker was found murdered in her home.  Her skull had been crushed with a metal tube that was later found along a river bank near her home.  She lived only twelve miles away from the Burlingame residence.

Lydia Parker, from the "Elmira Star-Gazette," December 18, 1934

There were many similarities to these deaths.  Both women were rich widows who lived alone.  They both died of head injuries.  Both bodies were found in their parlors.  Both front doors were unlocked.  In both cases, there were no signs of robbery, or any discernible motive to kill them.

On December 23, 79-year-old Victoria Muspratt, a recluse from an old and wealthy family, was found dead in her once-palatial, but now-decayed Brooklyn mansion.  (Not long before her death, she refused an offer of $200,000 for the estate.)  As was the case with Burlingame and Parker, her head had been bludgeoned, and her body lay in the parlor.  It was rumored that she had money hidden in the house, leading to the assumption that robbery was the motive.  However, bank books showing deposits of over $2,000 were untouched.

A couple of weeks after Mrs. Parker was killed, an acquaintance of hers, 44-year-old army veteran Joseph Lewandowski, was questioned by the police.  He initially claimed to know nothing about the Parker slaying, but after 24 hours of intense interrogation, he signed a confession to her murder.  He claimed there had been a romantic relationship between them, and when she cast him aside for a still younger man—a 29 year old organist--he slew her in an impulsive fit of jealousy.  Despite the suggestive similarities to the Burlingame death, Lewandowski was never linked to that case.

Lewandowski never went to trial.  In February 1935 he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was quickly whisked off to a mental hospital.  No evidence of his guilt was ever publicly presented, other than his possibly coerced confession.  The abrupt end to the legal proceedings against him insured that many of the lingering questions about Parker’s death would go unresolved.

As peculiar as Burlingame’s end may have been, the coroner insisted it was suicide.  He based this theory on the fact that no poison was found in her stomach, and all the blows to her head were relatively light ones that faced in the same direction.  Although many onlookers were unconvinced she had killed herself, the jury at the inquest obediently gave suicide as their verdict, and her case was closed. Miss Muspratt’s murder was never solved.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Before you read this week's links, shall we join the Strange Company HQ staffers in our garden?

A tourist's postcard from 2,000 years ago.

Three significant ships in the 1870s British Royal Navy.

A man who did not want to be Speaker of the House of Commons, but wound up with the gig anyway.

One really dangerous sword.

A new theory about the Neanderthal extinction.

What people were saying about Belgium 100 years ago.

A look at "Stalin's architect."

A look at May Day 1876.

Using the telegraph to communicate with ghosts.

Ancient Roman art could get pretty NSFW.

The latest in Czech archaeology.

Mayan independence and the Mexican-American War.

A visit to Eel Pie Island.

A suicide's ghost.

A woman's flight from an abusive marriage.

A 17th century letter dictated by the Devil.

The latest news about the Shroud of Turin.

How to turn your local volcano into an oven.

How to get a body like Henry VIII's.  I presume they mean "young, good-looking Henry," not "waistband the size of a football field Henry."

A cloister's dark secrets.

Medieval hand grenades.

Some weird ancient burials.

Stone Age people may have watched animated cartoons.

Scandal and an 18th century socialite.

Mythological creatures that have yet to be debunked.

The Titanic's most famous widow.

The prayer book of a medieval queen.

The diversity of ancient Egyptian makeup.

Dexter the Cat's remarkable adventure.

The tale of how a police constable was killed in the line of duty.

Some beautiful autochrome photos of early 20th century France.

One of the bloodiest chapters of the ever-bloody WWI.

How the 4th Duke of Norfolk lost his head over Mary, Queen of Scots.

The earliest known record of an aurora.

The adventures of a globe-trotting teenager.

A murder and a near-lynching.

The story of the "Skeleton Queen."

The mysterious woman in the Bayeux Tapestry.

The peculiar burial of an ancient possible mercenary.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a series of possibly-related murders.  In the meantime, here's Jennifer Warnes.  This song was a favorite of mine way back when.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This heartbreaking little tale appeared in the “Hull Daily News,” July 27, 1928.  The author used the pseudonym “Perambulator”:

I like ghost stories and have read a good many; but I know only one which, to me at least, is absolutely convincing, and that is the story that I tell you to-day. The trouble to me about the others, to my own mind, is that they are too vague; names, and dates and places are not precisely given in the printed books or papers which contain the yarns; and, if someone tells you, by word of mouth, what it was that is supposed to have happened, it never (in my experience) happened to the man himself, but only to someone he knows or once heard about. However excellent the setting and apparently authentic the ghosts, the evidence for their appearance at any particular place or time, and to any particular persons, always seems to me too shaky to make a genuine demand upon my powers of belief. I do not, that is to say, really "believe" any of the many "ghost stories" that I have read or been told.

I live in a house where, if anywhere in Hull, it should be possible to "see ghosts," and there are stories stretching over its hundreds of years of history which should encourage "psychics " to see and to hear all sorts of amazing and inexplicable sights and sounds; but I am obliged to say that though I have heard of these things, as happening to people who lived here before me, I have heard of them only at second or third hand, and not from anyone to whom the marvels actually happened. 

I am, that is to say, prejudiced against the “ghosts," almost to the point of arguing that “there ain't no such things." 

Having said this, I trust you will accept what I now write as a truthful account of an experience, which I give with full references to place and time and persons, as being a faithful record of what I still regard as altogether inexplicable, and which I now relate with all the respect for absolute truth of which I am capable. 

It was in July, eight years ago, here in my own garden, and it happened to me myself, who writes these words; so there you have the date and the place and the person all complete, since the Editor knows who I am, and that I really live in Hull, and am a more or less truthful and reliable fellow. 

I had gone to London for the first Anglo-Catholic Congress at the Albert Hall, and on the morning after my arrival in town I had a letter from Perambulatrix saying that she was very sorry, but on the afternoon of my leaving home (i.e., on the previous day), she had been obliged to have our cats destroyed, since she had found them sleeping in the baby's cot, along with the baby, and was afraid lest they should get over the child's face and smother him. 

These two cats were my peculiar property and care. I had brought one of them from Gloucestershire soon after the Armistice, and the other, a mere kitten, had been born a few months before, at Bridlington, just before we removed to Hull. The mother-cat was undersized, and the kitten was black, with white waistcoat and gloves, and they belonged especially to me in the sense that it was I who attended to their food and gave them shelter whenever they wanted it in my study, where they could come in and go out as they pleased, and where nobody ever interfered with either of them. 

Whether because of the regular feeding, or by reason of the peace and quietness of the room into which nobody ever came except myself and these cats, the animals attached themselves particularly to me. and used to follow me about and wander round the garden with me; "Daddy's cats" the children called them. Especially, when in the evening I cut the grass, the creatures would walk beside the machine or sit under the mulberry tree which is the patent of our garden's nobility and watch what I was doing, or perhaps dream, for all I know, of what I should be doing in a little while, when the time came for their supper. 

I knew the two animals pretty well, you see, and as far as any mere man can care for a cat, or cats allow themselves really to bother about human beings, I was fond of them and they managed to appear as though they were interested in me. 

And so that morning in London, when I heard that they had been done in, I was, first of all shocked, and then afterwards very sorry indeed! There was nothing to be said or done about it. of course. If Perambulatrix feared for the well-being of a child she did right when she gave the fatal order. And the Porter, his name was William Carltorn, did but his duty when he put them in a sack with a couple of bricks and dropped them into the Hull River. I myself should have taken them round to a vet. or a chemist, but they were not the first pussycats that have gone overboard like that nor will they be the last. 

Writing home I said nothing about the tragedy, nor when i returned at the end of the week did we talk about what had happened. The thing was done, and probably rightly done, however sorry I felt, and however much I missed my cats there was an end of it! 

But, as you are to hear, not quite the end! The grass, naturally, had grown while I was away, and on the Saturday afternoon I began my job of cutting it. The task took four or five hours, and I was accustomed to finish up near the mulberry tree. On this Saturday evening, round about half-past eight, as nearly as I remember. I had made good going, and was within a few minutes of the end of the job, when I noticed my two cats sitting, as they were wont to sit, under the tree, side by side, waiting, as it seemed, and as they had done a score of times already that summer, for the moment when I should drag the machine away and go indoors with them and give them their supper. 

I thought nothing about it until I realised, very slowly, that the two creatures simply had no business to be there! 

I stopped my grass-cutting and walked towards them, looking closely at them from a distance of three or four yards. snapping my fingers and saying something about “Pussy-tats. Pussy-tats," as I had said so often, in similar circumstances before. 

Instead of coming to me, as I think I expected them to do, the under-sized tabby mother moved deliberately round to the back of the tree, and the little black kitten with the white waistcoat and gloves skittered off among the shrubs and disappeared, and that was the last I ever saw of either of them. 

So far the thing seems simple and explicable enough; but there is more to come. I myself thought, as I left my unfinished lawn and walked towards the house, that my imagination was working too vividly; that I had perhaps been over-excited by the week in town and by the little domestic tragedy of the death of the creatures I knew so well; and that was what I went on thinking for another week or two; nor did I speak of the matter to anyone, in the house or out of it. 

Until a fortnight later, when the Vicar of Drypool—l am anxious, you notice, to give as many exact details as I can—was having supper with us one Friday evening after preaching in a neighbouring chapel. 

I told him the story of the cats as I have told it to you: their violent death and their subsequent reappearance under the mulberry tree, and it was at this point that the real difficulty began, for Perambulatrix burst out excitedly, and all that she said was supported by a cousin who was staying with us at the time, the wife of the Vicar of St.. Leodegarius, Basford, in the Diocese of Southwell, who had been our guest while I was away in London, and who had been sitting with Perambulatrix while I cut the grass, and who together with her had, unknown to me, seen my rencontre with the cats that had no business to be there, and had wondered what in the world to make of it. 

People to whom I have told the tale have offered three separate "explanations,'' none of which, however, seems to me satisfactory. 

(1) I imagined the whole thing, and that as I say, was my own opinion at first. Against that, there is the fact that while I left the machine and called to my cats under the tree, two other people were sitting thirty or forty yards away; that they had seen the cats before I did, and wondered why they were there, that they had watched me, as stated, go towards them, had seen the cats get up and disappear, and then had seen me come into the house, but had not cared to speak to me about it all. "Imagination" does not cover these facts, unless we accept the statement that the three of us imagined precisely the same unexpected and inexplicable things at precisely the same moment and in exactly the same spot. 

(2) They were not the same cats, but some others that chanced to come into the garden and to sit just there just at that moment Truly, a multitude of cats lives hereabout and in those days before a new dog took charge of this garden, many of them were accustomed to dig and scratch and howl therein at all hours of the day and night.  But none of them were friendly with me, none of them ever sat down in my presence, but rather fled for their lives when they saw me coming. No! Those were my own cats, and no other, for a man recognises animals that belong to him as surely as he knows his own hat or his own pipe; and there was no mistaking the size and the markings and the behaviour of that mother and daughter who sat, not for the first time in one special spot under one particular tree and quietly watched me cutting the grass! 

(3) The cats were not really drowned by the Porter, and had somehow found their way back, as cats do to the familiar hunting-grounds. It it true that for a few weeks after these things happened, my children would sometimes say that they had seen "our pussies" in the garden; but I think they made the easy mistake, for them, of thinking that strangers and trespassers were the creatures that used to come in and out of Daddy's study and follow him in the garden, though they never had much to do with other people in the house. I made careful enquiry at the time, and there was no room for doubt that the Porter did exactly as he was told, and got rid once for all, of those two unfortunate cats. I have never seen or imagined that I saw anything of either of them, except on that one occasion on a Saturday evening, as here related. 

What explanation then do I myself offer? I have nothing of the sort to give. As far as I know the meaning of truth, I have told this story truly; but it remains as one of the most puzzling incidents in my life, and until someone provides an adequate and reasonable solution of the whole inexplicable business, it will be, for me, the one occasion on which I have "seen ghosts," even though the ghosts were merely those of a couple of quite ordinary cats.

I have to say, I was hoping this narrative would end with “Perambulatrix” being stuffed into a sack and tossed into the river.  Oh, well.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Professor's Obituary; Or, How to Make Your Resident Ghost Very Happy

Via Findagrave.com

In the long history of ghost lore, there are frequent accounts of the dearly departed being unable to rest in peace because they are troubled by some unfinished earthly business.  Usually, it involves hidden wills, secret stashes of money, and the like.  In the following story, however, we are told that this particular ghost was restless for reasons that were more spiritual than practical: he simply did not want to be forgotten.

For many years, Sybrand Broersma was a well-respected physics professor at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.  Although he was unmarried and apparently had no living relatives, in 1981 he built a comfortable four bedroom, three bathroom suburban house.  He retired in 1986.

On December 27, 1987, Paul Hendrickson, a former student of Broersma’s who was still a close friend, came to check on the professor.  Hendrickson was concerned that Broersma had not shown up as expected to a Christmas party.  He found the professor dead in one of the rooms.  The coroner determined that he had died of natural causes about a week before.  Hendrickson, who was the executor of Broersma’s estate, arranged the burial, settled the professor’s earthly affairs, and put his home up for sale.  That appeared to be the last the world would hear of Sybrand Broersma.

And it soon turned out that the late professor was not very happy about that.

Although Broersma’s charming cream-colored house quickly found a buyer, the new owners did not keep the house for long.  Neither did the next family who moved in.  For the next six years, the residence saw a remarkable number of people come and go.  One family moved out so abruptly they left their personal possessions behind them.

In 1993, a couple named Jon and Agi Lurtz moved in.  It was not long before they learned why this seemingly desirable house had such a hard time keeping owners.  In the middle of the night, the Lurtzes would awaken to the sound of old radio and TV shows.  Shows that were not being played on any of their radios or TVs.  After inspecting the house carefully, they concluded the broadcasts were emanating from somewhere between the floors.  Other strange events began happening that would be familiar to anyone who has studied poltergeist accounts--exploding lightbulbs, objects seeming to throw themselves through the air, inexplicable sounds of crashes and bangs.  The stereo took to blaring music by the German rock band Rammstein.  Even when the Lurtzes unplugged the stereo, the music would defiantly go back on.  One day, the Lurtzes were playing a CD by the Pretenders, when the stereo suddenly began playing the same song repeatedly.  When they tried fast-forwarding to another song, the CD player went back to the song it had been playing.

At this point, most people would have decamped for more ghost-free neighborhoods.  However, Agi Lurtz had lived in haunted houses before, and felt she had nothing to fear from a ghost with a curious taste in music.  The Lurtzes became almost used to such minor annoyances.  Then, one night in 1998, Agi woke up to find a figure standing at the foot of her bed.  Assuming she was being introduced to the home’s original resident, she asked the apparition why he had not moved on.  The ghost replied in heavily accented English, “Because I never had an obituary.”

Agi went to the local library and looked up back issues of the “Norman Transcript.”  She found that the ghost was quite right:  Broersma’s passing had never even been mentioned in the newspaper.  Mrs. Lurtz decided her ghost had a legitimate grievance, and vowed to remedy the slight.

When she began researching Broersma’s past, she found a remarkable story.  He was born in the Netherlands in 1919.  During World War II, he joined the Dutch resistance, which led to him being imprisoned and condemned to death.  Broersma managed to escape prison, after which he spent the rest of the war hiding in a laboratory basement.  In 1947, after receiving his Ph.D. in engineering physics, he moved to America, where he served as a visiting researcher at Northwestern University and the University of Toronto.  He specialized in magnetism and hydrodynamics.  He published many academic articles, and belonged to a number of scientific societies.  He also helped NASA develop some of the first truly effective sensors for satellites.

In his private life, Broersma had a passion for rare and exotic art, which he traveled the world to collect.  (Agi Lurtz commented that Broersma had designed his residence to be more of an art museum than a home.)  He was a supporter of the Oklahoma Symphony, and also enjoyed mountaineering.  He was universally described as a quiet, but brilliant and highly cultured man.  All in all, he had a life well worth remembering.

Mrs. Lurtz’s obituary of Broersma appeared in the “Norman Transcript,” and Broersma finally got his long-delayed memorial service.  After this, the professor’s ghost was never seen again.  Mrs. Lurtz told the “Transcript,” “He needed that before he could go on.”

Friday, April 22, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Enjoy this week's Link Dump, while the Strange Company HQ staffers make tea!

Who the hell was the Lady in Red?

What in hell are the Dighton Rock inscriptions?

A 70-year-old Easter egg that's become a family heirloom.

Monkeys are, well, party animals.

The mysterious room inside India's National Library.

A new forensic method for ancient bones.

A look at Anglo-Saxon barbecues.

The possibility of life on Jupiter's moon Europa.

Evidence of the biggest earthquake in human history.

The disappearing World's Fairs.

A 50,000 year old pharmacy.

An Allied plot to assassinate Hitler.

A thoroughly modern mummy. 

The bluebells of Bow Cemetery.

A pretty nutty art heist.

A small bit of courtroom humor.

A dinosaur who may have been killed by *that* asteroid.

There's a new theory that the Easter Island statues were just a big water filtration system.  I can't say I'm convinced.

A close-up view of a Martian crater.

The sailor they couldn't drown.

Photos of everyday life in rural Victorian England.

A massive early 14th century hunting party.

Two cat-saving Fire Department dogs.

A newly-discovered photo of America's youngest serial killer.

The pig-faced lady panic.

A financial crisis in ancient Rome.

An archaeological site sheds light on an ancient civilization.

The bread crisis of 1795.  From what I've been reading in the news, this post might be only too timely.

The blind playwright's daughter.

Ancient workout tips.

Some New York women who survived the Titanic.

The famed "Hammersmith Ghost" murder case.

The Case of the Churchyard Cur.

A pregnant woman's unsolved murder.  (Although this post offers oblique hints about the possible guilty party.)

A cathedral in Spain may have the Holy Grail.

The professor who thought the answer to all our problems was to blow up the Moon.

The world's oldest fossils may have been found.

The slowest news day in history.

The world's most expensive watermelon.

The hazards of eating buns.

A detailed look at that notable partnership of Burke and Hare.

The code of beauty spots.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a ghost with a wounded ego.  In the meantime, here's are some real oldies.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Any community can have a ghost, but I don't believe too many of them spit fire.  The “Brooklyn Eagle,” December 18, 1885:

If any community has more ghosts than Long Island, the fact has not been recorded. After a rest of five years, a specter with a tongue of fire has reappeared on the old Centerville race course, just south of Woodhaven, and men and women congregate every night to witness the strange sight. 

His ghostship appears promptly at a quarter to ten o'clock and departs at twelve minutes after eleven. There is a good deal of speculation as to whose ghost this is. Two murders on the race track form bloody chapters in its history, and public opinion argues that this spectral visitor is the troubled ghost of the murderer of one or the other of the slain. It is also the belief that when the ghost was in the flesh its avocation was that of a horse jockey, and, as the man last murdered on the race course was thought to have been killed by a rival jockey, some persons who lived in the neighborhood at the time think they can solve the mystery in which the crime remained shrouded. 

The ghost is first visible in the vicinity of the stables of the old Centerville Hotel. It is recalled that the rival jockeys quartered their stock in adjacent stables on this property. From the stable the specter proceeds by the highway to the southward to a point where a hotel formerly stood in front of the entrance to the race track. Here it halts for some minutes, just as the jockeys used to do, for they always took a drink before exercising. There is a dispute whether the ghost wears a robe of white or a garment more the color of sheep's wool. But on one other point there is no disagreement--the ghost spits fire like a foundry chimney and leaves a sulphurous odor behind it. On this fact is based a most animated discussion as to whether the original of the ghost is in bliss or a state of torment. The majority hold the latter theory, and a few think it may be a spirit sent to earth to do penance. 

The ghost never touches terra firma. It moves along through space like a feather in the wind, going a zigzag course. At regular intervals it spits fire. Scores of persons have followed in its wake without getting close enough for personal contact, and all declare that when the ghost comes to a stop, it invariably says "Whoa!" 

From the drinking place the spirit moves in on the race course apparently waiting for the word to dart away from where the wire used to be, going round the mile track at so terrific a gait that some persons argue it must be the ghost of Flora Temple or Lady Suffolk. But those who hold to the theory that it is the ghost of one of the departed jockeys affirm that they can distinctly hear the hallooing and whistling of the whip so familiar to old track habitues. After every heat comes the scoring exercise, and three heats are invariably run. 

After this tho ghost waltzes out into the highway, stops again at the old familiar barroom, and then goes zigzagging along to the stable, into which it disappears seemingly, but there are those who claim that the ghost passes on to the Bay Side Cemetery and into its grave. The keeper at this Hebrew burial place laughs at the credulity of the people. Nobody is ever buried there near enough to the surface to enable a ghost to rise up, the keeper says, but he has a suspicion that at some time, near or remote, some person has been murdered and buried in the old stable. He thinks it is the spirit of some woman who takes to the race track in pursuit of her slayer. Some of the Catholic residents who believe firmly in ghosts and declare that they often conversed with spirits in Ireland, are quite alarmed at this apparition because it is in no particular like the friendly Irish ghosts. Nearly fifty persons watched the fiery tongued visitor for more than an hour last night.

Whatever this entity may have been, you have to admit it put on quite a show.