"...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

Monday, January 31, 2022

The Peeping-Tom Ghost of Wernafon

It’s not often that a ghost story could be called “sweet,” but that adjective arguably applies to this odd, and oddly touching, little tale.  It was first published in folklorist Mary L. Lewes’ 1911 book “Stranger Than Fiction.”

The backdrop for our story is a large old estate called Wernafon, which stood in what Lewes called “one of the most peaceful and beautiful spots in Wales.”  Wernafon was surrounded by oak woods, flowery meadows, and a clear, meandering river, so Lewes was probably not exaggerating in the least.  During the rainy season, the normally quiet river flooded stepping-stones and fords, so, for the sake of Wernafon’s workforce, and anyone else who lived on the other side of the river, a narrow wooden foot-bridge was built.

Among Wernafon’s residents were two laborers whom Lewes called merely “Ben” and “Tom.”  The two had known each other since boyhood, and were the closest of companions.  The day eventually came when “both being old” Ben died.  Tom was naturally left stricken and terribly lonely by the loss of his longtime friend.

One day, soon after Ben’s funeral, Tom was crossing the river’s foot-bridge, full of sad thoughts.  He had imagined himself to be quite alone, so he was startled when he suddenly saw a man standing before him in the middle of the bridge.  When he looked at the figure more closely, he realized that it was Ben, giving him a friendly smile of welcome.  Ben looked so natural, Tom forgot entirely that he had last seen his old friend being buried six feet under.  The two exchanged a bit of casual chit-chat about trivialities, and then Ben asked Tom a curious question: Would he like to see the inside of Wernafon?  Ben explained that “I go there every night, and a strange sight it is to see the people all asleep while I pass through.”  He said that if Tom would meet him on the bridge at midnight, he would give Tom a guided tour.  Then, Ben silently glided over the bridge, and disappeared.

It was only then that a feeling of cold horror came over Tom, as he realized that he had just been talking to a dead man.  He told himself that he had merely been seeing things, or had an unusually vivid dream.  However, Tom was a brave man, and besides, he was intensely curious to see what would happen if he kept the suggested rendezvous.  That midnight found him standing on the bridge, awaiting events.  He soon saw that Ben had again appeared at his side.  After giving Tom a cheerful greeting, Ben took him by the hand and led him to Wernafon’s front door.  The door was, of course, securely locked, but the lightest touch of Ben’s hand caused it to quietly swing wide open for themselves.  Ben led Tom through the dark, silent house and up the staircase.  

When they reached the landing, Ben stopped in front of a closed bedroom door.  It immediately opened.  When the pair softly walked in, Tom noted that the room was filled with a strange bluish light.  They stood for a moment gazing at the sleeping occupant, and left.  Ben and Tom visited all the other rooms in the same fashion.  Eventually, “how he hardly knew,” Tom realized he was back in the moonlight outside the front door.  And Ben had disappeared.

Poor bewildered Tom walked home, hardly knowing how to comprehend what had happened.  However, he probably did not have to wait long for enlightenment.  Only a few days after his strange experience, Tom suddenly joined his old friend in the grave.

So, sleep tight tonight.  Ben and Tom may be watching over you.

[Note: “Wernafon” may have been Lewes’ pseudonym for the estate.  However, there was once a “Wernafon colliery” in West Glamorgan and in 1841, a field in Merionethshire was recorded as being named “Wern afon.”  Perhaps the house had a connection to one of those sites.]

Friday, January 28, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

If Strange Company ever gets a soundtrack, this will have to be one of the leading tunes.

A murder, followed by a lynching.

The naval partnership of Nelson and Hardy.

The first English woman to become a duchess in her own right.

Italian prince marries American beauty queen.  Then things get weird.

A remarkably preserved 2,000 year old glass bowl.

How Hindenburg led to Hitler.

A clock saves a girl from being buried alive.

The disappearance of three young siblings.

In which we learn that Chicago has the best-dressed criminals.

A brief history of the "Dear John" letter.

A 90-year-old fish who likes belly rubs.

A new theory about Earth's tectonic activity.  It sounds plausible.

One of America's deadliest winter storms.

People often have problems with their in-laws, but they usually don't involve black magic.

The long, and now largely forgotten, history of "two sleeps."  A late relative of mine would do this: she'd go to bed at the normal time, get up around midnight, read or listen to the radio, then go back to bed until morning.  I don't believe she knew she was following in very old footsteps.  (Incidentally, a few years ago I read Ekirch's book "At Day's Close: Night in Times Past."  I highly recommend it!)

Old music is outperforming new music.  Interesting.  I myself rarely listen to anything later than the 1980s, but I thought that was just because I'm a crotchety old maid.

The days of the French  Yé-Yé movement.

Mars has bouncing boulders.

In which an American consul receives a rap on the knuckles by a British consul.

A look at Armenian folklore.

A very controversial peerage.

Images of Old Bishopsgate.

The medieval queens of Jerusalem.

A reconstruction of the face of an ancient mummy.

The non-ghost of Woburn Square.

A 19th century serial poisoner.

When things went pear-shaped for the French in the Franco-Prussian war.

The haunted side of Idaho.

Beer drinking goes a long way back.

Urban graffiti in 19th century Paris.

Rejected men in 19th century England.

Hawaii's mysterious island.

A haunted village in India.

Fun with ancient Egyptians!

Georgian-era mourning rings.

The remarkable life of an "exploratrice."

The discovery of Franz Josef Land.

Victorians liked microscopic erotica.

The lost treasures of India.

A look at "witch wands."

Two police cat mascots.

A composer's very embarrassing death.

Oh, just a cocker spaniel giving people CPR.

The first "prison newspaper."

A brief history of lockets.

That's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at an unusual, and rather touching, ghost story from (where else?) Wales. In the meantime, here are the McGarrigles and Linda.


Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

The following little meteorological oddity was reported in the “Ogden Standard,” January 7, 1909:

Santa Cruz, Cal. Jan 6.--A remarkable phenomenon that has caused wonder and consternation in the neighborhood of the Santa Cruz Beach was reported by Mrs. W.H. Burns of 240 Riverside avenue this city this morning and when investigated was fully corroborated by residents of the neighborhood. 

Mrs. Burns’ attention and her curiosity were aroused yesterday by the peculiar antics of a number of barefooted children who were playing in front of her house. When she asked them what was the matter, they told her that the air was full of electricity and that hot shots were falling from the clouds. She then noticed a clatter on the housetop that sounded like hail and looking to the grandstand of the Casino ball grounds she saw little white threads of smoke arising from the roof wherever those little red hot metal globules struck the damp boards. Every  roof in the vicinity showed the same peculiar condition. 

This molten rain continued from about 2 to 4 o’clock in the afternoon and varied in intensity. At times, however, children who were bareheaded and unshod were compelled to take to cover. One boy carried a burn on his finger as the result of being struck by one of those hot pellets. 

One theory to account for the phenomenon is that the molten rain was due to a passing meteor that had been disintegrated. 

Mrs. Burns has saved a few of the little pellets. They are about the size of No. 8 shot and resemble lead.

I couldn’t find anymore about the story, so I assume that this was one of life’s one-offs, where onlookers say, “Well, that was weird,” shrug, and move on.

Monday, January 24, 2022

The Upstaged Death of Barton Edsall

"Chicago Tribune," October 7, 1871, via Newspapers.com

In 1871 Chicago, it is doubtful that you could have found a man in more pleasant circumstances than 44-year-old Barton Edsall.  He and an old friend were partners in the thriving wholesale druggist firm of Hurlburt & Edsall.  He had been happily married for five years.  Friends described him as cheerful, amiable, affectionate, optimistic, and a “pure-minded Christian gentleman.”  In short, a prosperous, happy, and fortunate man.

And we all know by now what happens when prosperous, happy, and fortunate men make an appearance on my blog.

On October 5, 1871, Edsall and his wife Isabella retired to bed at around 9:30 p.m.  Their maid, who was entertaining a caller, went to bed at 11.  The cook went to sleep a few minutes later, after making sure all the doors and windows were locked.

Unfortunately, on this night there was one flaw in Edsall’s normally charmed life: he was suffering from a raging toothache.  Unable to sleep, he took some hydrate of chloral to ease the pain and gave his small son a drink of water.  Then he returned to bed.  At around four a.m., Edsall got up again, for reasons that can never be known.  Because a few minutes later, he was dying of a gunshot wound to the head.

When his wife heard two gunshots, she dashed downstairs, to find Barton lying by the open front door, bleeding profusely from his head.  A revolver lay nearby.  Four smudged fingerprints were on the door, and a second bullet was later found lodged in it.  Although a doctor was immediately summoned, by the time he arrived, Edsall was beyond all aid.

So.  The obvious question: how did Edsall go to bed a man with (teeth aside) no known problems in life, only to wind up shot to death before sunrise?  The first theory was that Edsall had heard a prowler downstairs.  When he went to investigate, the criminal shot him and fled.

The problem with this scenario is that the servants swore the front door was securely locked, and there were no signs of forced entry on that door, or any of the other doors and windows of the house.  There were some feeble suggestions that perhaps, plagued by toothache and other health problems, Edsall impulsively wandered downstairs to end it all, but no one, it seemed, was able to take the notion seriously.

There was, of course, a coroner’s inquest, which did precisely nothing to clarify the mystifying circumstances of Edsall’s death.  Mrs. Edsall testified that her husband owned a gun, but she could not say if it was the one found by his body.  She could only assume that he was killed by a burglar.

One of the Edsall servants, Margaret Green, said the front doors were open when she came downstairs after hearing the shot, but she heard no one running away.  She also said that Mr. Edsall had a gun (she had recently seen him shooting at a rat,) but she also had no idea if it was the one found at the scene.  (In case you were wondering, it does not seem to have ever been proven that the gun near Edsall’s body was the gun that killed him.)  Nowadays, the fingerprints on the front door would have been valuable clues, but in 1871, they were worthless as evidence in court.

Edsall’s business partner (and brother-in-law) Horace Hurlbut, scoffed at the idea that Barton killed himself.  Edsall had never shown any sign of “mental derangement”; in fact, Hurlbut described his friend as possessing “a remarkably even temperament.”  There was conflicting medical testimony about whether or not the amount of hydrate of chloral Edsall took on the fatal night could have made him temporarily insane.

The ballistics evidence was equally uncertain.  One gun expert testified that the gun could not be the one used to shoot him: the spring was broken.  Another said that on the contrary, the broken spring would have made it easy for the gun to fire accidentally.  The coroner testified that he had had the bullets examined, and he did not believe the bullet found in Edsall’s head and the one removed from the door were from the same gun.

All this left the inquest jury in a fine muddle.  Some jurors plumped for the “burglar” scenario, others suggested that Edsall had accidentally shot himself.  However, no one in Chicago was entirely happy with either theory.  It was proposed that a reward be offered, in the hope that someone would come forward with information that would help to clear the mystery.  There was talk of hiring private detectives.  The whole city could think of nothing else: who killed Barton Edsall?  According to one local newspaper, “The event has created, perhaps, the most intense excitement throughout the community than has been produced by any similar occurrence for many years, and speculation will be busy on the subject, probably for some time to come.”

On October 8, Edsall was buried in his family plot in Graceland Cemetery.  That night, the infamous Great Chicago Fire began its terrifying march through the area.  It destroyed the Edsall home, the Edsall business, and, of course, most of the rest of the city.

And just like that, everyone instantly forgot about poor Barton Edsall.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Winter has been here for one month now.

And this is the current mood here at Strange Company HQ.

A professor has an interesting side job.

A board game from 4,000 years ago.

Exploring the possibility that John Keats was a grave-robber.

This week in Russian Weird looks at a vampire Baroness and her cursed tomb.

In which we are confronted with way too much piano playing.

The latest discoveries in the "Siberian Valley of the Kings."

The lives of early 20th century British servants.

The real Lord of the Flies.  Gah. I hated that book.

It probably won't surprise you to hear that Napoleon was a workaholic.

French post-Revolution fashions.

Unicorns may once have been real.

Latvia's blue cows.

A visit to a 19th century dissection room.

One freaking big black diamond.

Skull surgery from 2,000 years ago.

(Possible) drinking straws from 5,500 years ago.

A brief history of the gruesome Hand of Glory.

Ellen Sadler, famed Sleeping Girl.

A look at early American prisons.

Social networking 50,000 years ago.

The fashions of 200 years ago.

The return of the literary hatchet-job.

This is probably the ultimate Crazy Cat Lady story.

My grandmother was a fatalist (considering what a hard life she had, that's not surprising.)  One of her favorite sayings was "If it's your time, it's your time."  These stories seem to suggest she was right.

The emotional toll of air combat.

A Japanese captain who had no quit in him.  To say the least.

The posthumous career of Elmer McCurdy.  (Fun fact: I used to date a guy who was a distant relative of McCurdy's.  He was very proud of it, too.)

Human fossils which are even older than we had thought.

A reminder of the horrors of 18th century medicine.

The code of the pirates.

A case of amnesia.

An Egyptian mummy's "Linen Book."

The philosophy of uselessness.

Female spies during the American Revolution.

If you've longed to know about Oliver Cromwell's love life, have I got the post for you.

The famous soup that may never have really existed.

Longest blind date ever?

The latest on the Antikythera Mechanism.

The Ape Man of Kent.

January lore.

The origins of "cut to the chase."

The latest proof that people are jerks.

The writings of anchoress Julian of Norwich.

A murderous Svengali.

That wraps it up for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a Chicago man's puzzling death.  In the meantime, here's a bit of English folk music.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

The “Flatwoods Monster” has become one of the most famous episodes in American cryptozoology.  The following eyewitness account from the “Windsor Star” of September 15, 1952, is one of the (numerous) contemporary accounts, complete with a delightful headline.  

SUTTON, W. Va., (UP) Eyewitness accounts of a tall, glowing monster with a blood-red face skulking in the hills divided Braxton County today into two camps--believers and skeptics. 

Seven persons said they saw the unearthly being, described as “worse than Frankenstein,” in the hills above Flatwoods, W. Va., Friday night.

State police and a number of residents hooted at the reports as a product of mass hysteria.  Police said the eyewitnesses’ guess as to the monster's height varied from seven to 17 feet. 

The excitement began when the two young sons of Mrs. Kathryn May, a Flatwoods beautician, said they saw a flying saucer land on C. B. Fishers farm near here. 

Mrs. May, National Guardsman Gene Lemon, and five boys climbed a hill on the Fisher farm to look for the “saucer.”

Mrs. May said a fire-breathing monster, 10 feet tall with a bright green body and a blood red face, bounced and floated toward them.

“It looked worse than Frankenstein,” she said. “It couldn't have been human.”

Lemon, 17, said he thought he saw a possum or a coon until he turned his flashlight on “the thing.”  It was then he saw the monster with the blushing face and green body “that seemed to glow.” 

Mrs. May said Lemon stared and then screamed as the monster duck-walked toward them. All of them fled, occasionally looking over their shoulders. 

The monster, Mrs. May said, had an overpowering metallic odor that nauseated them. She said they vomited for several hours. 

A. Lee Stewart, co-publisher of the Braxton County Democrat, received the first report from Mrs. May. The veteran newspaperman organized an armed posse and went to the scene.

“The odor was still there,” Stewart said. “It was sort of warm and sickening. And there were two places about six to eight feet in diameter where the brush was trampled down.” 

Stewart said he did not know what to think. 

“I hate to say I believe it, but I hate to say I don't believe it,” Stewart said. “Those people were scared--badly scared, and I sure smelled something.” 

Authorities said they believed the “flying saucer” which Mrs. May’s sons saw was a meteorite. The incident occurred during a meteor shower over a three-state area.

Skeptics concluded that what the witnesses had seen was merely a barn owl, but the legend lives on!

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Deathless Arm of Dan Donnelly; Or, You Never Know What Will Get You Into the History Books

The 19th century boxer Dan Donnelly had a brief, but spectacular career.  Although he had trained as a carpenter, by the time he reached the age of 30, he was Ireland’s unbeaten heavyweight bare-knuckle champion.  The tall, muscular man (a contemporary dubbed him a “pocket Hercules”) was quite the successful brawler in his private moments, as well.  Many tales (of possibly less-than-unimpeachable veracity) were related about Donnelly using his formidable fists to teach bullies a lesson, and generally protecting those less able to defend themselves.  His defeats of renowned English boxers turned him into an Irish hero.  However, his skill as a fighter is not why he is still remembered today.

Donnelly’s boxing days came to an end on the frigid, rainy night of February 18, 1820.  The 31-year-old champion got roaring drunk in a Dublin pub, wobbled off towards home, and almost immediately collapsed.  By the time he was found the next morning, pneumonia had set in.  He died a few days later.  This fatal booze-up is also not why he is still remembered today.  The reason for the boxer’s lasting renown is all thanks to his right arm, which turned out to have a career more varied--and certainly far longer--than the rest of Donnelly put together.

Donnelly was unfortunate enough to die during the Golden Age of body-snatchers--hard-hearted (not to mention strong-stomached) criminals who were happy to make a living robbing graves and delivering the corpses to surgeons in need of cadavers to dissect.  Not long after poor Dan was buried, visitors to his grave saw unmistakable evidence that the dearly departed was no longer resting in peace.

Donnelly’s corpse was soon traced to a surgeon named Hall, who swore (unconvincingly) that he had no idea he had been sold the body of a local folk legend, and he promised to immediately have the late fighter properly reburied.  Dr. Hall was true to his word.  Sort of.  Before the reinterment,  Hall just couldn’t resist amputating Donnelly’s right arm.  He wanted to dissect it to see if it would reveal the secrets of the boxer’s devastating punch.

After Hall had gazed at the arm to his heart’s content, he coated it with red lead paint, to act as a preservative.  Eventually, the limb somehow made its way to Scotland, where for the next 50 years, it was a teaching aid at Edinburgh University.  The arm was then sold to a traveling circus, where the sight of it entertained audiences throughout England.  In 1904, a Belfast pub owner bought the arm.  For most of the 20th century, this mummified portion of Dan Donnelly was the star exhibit in several Irish pubs.  (Considering how our hero met his end, perhaps the limb served as a sort of anti-drunk-driving message.)  

When Jim Byrne, the last publican to own the arm, died, his pub was sold in 1997.  Byrne’s son, not knowing the limb’s storied history, consigned the gruesome relic to the basement in his mother’s home.  There it lay--just another forgotten knick-knack--for nearly a decade.  Then, an American relation of the boxer, Thomas Donnelly, launched a search for the arm.  When Byrne’s widow Josephine heard of the quest, she revealed its location.  However, she thought it disrespectful to ship a 200-year-old mummified arm in mere cargo class.  Happily, she was acquainted with an Aer Lingus pilot named Henry Donohoe, who readily agreed to take the relic into the cockpit with him on his next flight to the States.

As the 21st century dawned, the arm traveled to the Irish Arts Center in New York, where it took part in an exhibition paying tribute to Irish boxers.  It was also shown at the South Street Seaport Museum and Boston College.  In 2009, Dan’s astonishingly peripatetic limb was returned to Ireland, where it still makes public appearances.

Dan’s spirit probably initially resented the desecration of his corpse, but I’m betting he eventually realized that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  After all, if the boxer's remains had been treated with the proper respect, you wouldn’t be reading about him right now, would you?

[Note: If you're curious, there are photos of The Arm available online, but I advise against looking for them, particularly if you want to eat a hearty lunch.  This last remaining bit of poor old Dan can't be said to have aged well.]

Friday, January 14, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!

Just watch your step.

The old "I caught them in the act" murder excuse.

Put another way, here is a man who was a Presidential jinx.

How Maggie Cuddigan became the first woman to be lynched in Colorado.

Some now-extinct occupations.

Some now-extinct foods.

Three prize-winning fire dogs.

A tale of a widow.

Percy Shelley's odd eating habits.  Now that I think of it, Percy Shelley was odd, full stop.

If you've ever browsed the Charley Project, you've undoubtedly noted the depressing number of missing-persons cases that say only "Little information is available."  Here is a particularly striking example.

An alleged modern-day fairy encounter.

The Wandle Pirates.

Anyone care to wear a hat covered in decayed teeth?

Murder and a psychic experience.

Charlie Chaplin in the East End.

The women of the Napoleonic Wars.

A remarkable case of a kidnapped child finding his home many years later.

Martial punishment in the 18th century.

How the Elgin Marbles wound up in England.

The first known case of chemical warfare.

The fogs of Old London.

Jane Austen, wild child.

In praise of tackiness.

A circus performer turned spy.

Prehistoric technological geniuses.

The time Henry V had a bad Christmas.

Watching a supernova in real time.

How medieval women coped with unwanted pregnancies.

Some sensible advise to a romantic 13-year-old.

The underrated art of courtroom sketching.

Eleanor of Provence, influential Queen of England.

Why Henry VIII had a relatively simple tomb.

The daughters of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

A dinosaur has been found in a reservoir.

Haunted Clapham Wood.

The Midtown cat and the possum wrangler.

A haunted former military installation.

Victorians and Rotten Row.

Dice and divination.

The Royal Navy Exhibition of 1891.

The grave of a dragon-slayer.

A Victorian child housebreaker.

The horrors of "baby farms."

Fighting the Riff Pirates.

A child's unsolved disappearance.

If you want to move to this town, you have to leave your appendix behind.

A brief history of potato chips.

A brief history of the word "washing."

The guy who used leeches as a weather report.

A remarkably well-preserved wooden figure from the ancient Roman era.

Meditation and the immune system.

A particularly revolting murder.

When poltergeists go just too far for us.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at the many adventures of a boxer's arm.  In the meantime, it occurred to me that I've yet to share a song by the Beatles in this space, so here you go.  This is my favorite song of theirs.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

While there are, of course, many stories of ghosts communicating with friends or family, it’s rare that they’re as chatty as the one in the following tale given in the “Plattsmouth Daily Herald,” April 15, 1889.  (Note: Withers’ original, and slightly longer, account is still extant.)

Robert Withers, M.A. Vicar of Gately, England, in 1706, relates, in a publication of that time, the following singular story of the supernatural: 

Mr. Grose went to see Mr. Shaw on the 2nd of August last. As they were talking in the evening, Mr. Shaw says: “On the 21st of last month, as I was smoking my pipe and reading in my study, between eleven and twelve o'clock at night, in comes Mr. Naylor (formerly fellow of St. Johns College, but who had been dead for four years). When I saw him I was not much affrighted, and I asked him to sit down, which, accordingly, he did for about two hours, and we talked together. I asked him how it fared with him. He said: 'Very well.' Were any of our old acquaintances with him? ‘No,’ (at which I was very much alarmed), ‘but Mr. Orchard will be with me very soon, and you not long after.’ As he was going away I asked him if he would not stay a little longer, but he refused. 'No, he had but three days' leave of absence, and he had other business.’ 

Mr. Orchard died soon after, Mr. Shaw is now dead. He was formerly fellow of St. Johns College --an ingenuous, good man.  I knew him there; but at his death he had a college living at Oxfordshire, and here he saw the apparition."

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Runcorn Poltergeist

Life Magazine, December 8, 1952

Most alleged poltergeist cases fall into patterns that are remarkably alike--to the point where reading books describing one polt account after another gets downright monotonous.  After perusing virtually identical stories of bangs on walls, hurled stones and displaced furniture, you begin to get irritated with the spooks and wish they'd come up with a new act already.

Naturally, I am grateful whenever I find a case where the pesky little beings think out of the box and come up with fresh Fortean hell.  Hauntings may be a dime a dozen, but you don't find too many that close on such an unusual note as that crafted by what has come to be known as "The Runcorn Poltergeist."

Runcorn, England, a small town near Liverpool, had its most famous brush with The Weird at the home  of 68-year-old Sam Jones.  Living with him was his daughter-in-law Lucy, his teenage grandson John Glynn, John's eight-year-old sister Eileen, and an elderly lodger named Ellen Whittle.  The little home was a crowded one:  Sam and his grandson shared a bedroom, with Lucy and Eileen in another.  The "paying guest," Ellen Whittle, had a room of her own.

Life for the Jones family was quiet and uneventful until August 1952.  The household was even more cramped than usual, due to a visit by Lucy Jones' son and his wife.  Lucy and Eileen gave the guests their bedroom, and slept in a second bed moved into the room of Sam and John.  One night, the quartet was awakened by scratching sounds coming from the bedroom's dresser.  Assuming it was mice, they turned on the lights and examined the drawers.  No mice were found, or any other obvious cause for the  noise.  As soon as they turned off the lights and returned to bed, the sounds broke out again.

This was just the opening act.  Over the next few nights, the disturbances swiftly progressed to the sound of knocking on walls. The dresser began shaking violently, and its drawers would inexplicably open and close.  Then other items of furniture began moving on their own.

Not knowing what else to do, the alarmed family called in the police.  Three officers were greeted by the sight of a large chest merrily bouncing across the room.  The policemen tried to calm the chest by sitting on it.  When the item reacted by bucking violently enough to throw them off, the officers, deciding they would have a hard time justifying arresting the Jones family furniture, wished the family "good luck," and departed.

The household then tried bringing in a psychic, Philip Francis, to conduct a seance.  Curiously enough, at first it seemed that he had success in calming down whatever it was that plagued the family.  For three weeks after the seance, all was normal, and the Joneses assumed their ordeal was over.  But then, the nocturnal phenomena returned with a vengeance.  The dresser resumed its nighttime hoppings and bangings, and objects continued to fly through the darkness.  The fact that the bulk of the disturbances happened at night, when all the lights were off, naturally led to assumptions that the whole uproar was a hoax.  As 17-year-old John Glynn appeared to be the focus of much of the activity, he became the prime suspect.  However, several outside witnesses swore that they had seen the dresser and other household items move on their own power when John was nowhere in the vicinity.  It became increasingly obvious to most observers that whatever was causing the disturbances, John--or anyone else in the household--could not have been responsible for all of them.  The most curious aspect of this "haunting" was that the one non-family resident, Miss Whittle the lodger, seemed unaffected by the uproar.  Her bedroom remained tranquil while all hell broke loose in the rest of the house.

Meanwhile, the "poltergeist"--which the family had dubbed "Brutus"--became increasingly destructive.  Family members and visitors were pelted with items like clocks and books.  It seemed that whatever was hurling the objects was deliberately aiming at them.  When the household tried to sleep, they would find their pillows suddenly yanked from under them, or they would be thrown out of bed altogether.  Clothing was mysteriously torn.  Dresser drawers were pulled out and their contents rudely dumped on the floor.  Furniture slammed into the walls hard enough to knock plaster off the ceiling.  Small objects would hover in the air as though they were weightless.  Perhaps weirdest of all, balls of bright light began drifting through the house.

As almost inevitably happens in poltergeist accounts, the phenomena--whether truly supernatural, human fakery, or some combination of both--petered out in December 1952.  Eerily enough, according to Thomas Barrow, a friend of John Glynn's, the disturbances began to wind down after Ellen Whittle suffered a fatal accidental fall off a cliff.

Believe it or not, it is at this point that the story really gets strange.  Sam Jones worked on a local farm owned by one Harold Crowther.  This farmhouse had suffered similar poltergeist activity at the same time as the Jones household.  One day, Crowther saw what he swore was the ghost of his late father-in-law walking around the farm.  Then, three of Crowther's pigs died, of no discernible cause. Over the next two weeks, all 53 of his pigs mysteriously expired.  Crowther and his wife began seeing a form resembling a large black cloud with "two prongs sticking out of the back" hovering over the farm.  Once, it even floated through their kitchen.  Crowther insisted he had seen this same "cloud" over the Jones house.  Thankfully, this sinister manifestation disappeared simultaneously with "Brutus."

Friday, January 7, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to the first Link Dump of 2022!

Married at 15, (possibly) murdered at 20.

The Fairy Coffins of Arthur's Seat.  One of my favorite weird little mysteries.

Scientists are teaching goldfish to drive.  I still wouldn't trust them with my car keys.

Dogs can differentiate between human languages.  And I'm betting cats can speak them.

The first person to be killed in a railway accident.

China has an artificial sun that's hotter than the real thing.

The futility of trying to predict the future.  Man proposes, God disposes.

The imperfect marriage of John Quincy and Louisa Adams.

Domestic violence and an athlete's diet.

More about the curious goings-on between the U.S. Navy and UFOs.

"Living in sin" in Victorian Britain.

Some taverns of Old London.

Two daring medieval queens.

A significant moment in India's fight for independence from Britain.

The influence of two Dutch families on British history.

Some of the quirkier Good Samaritans.

Neanderthals may have explored a volcano.

An ancient pregnant mummy.

The unexpectedly popular pastime of stealing cremated human remains.

The ancient Jerusalem elite had a lot of health problems.

A look at female pirates.

Some newly-discovered structures near Machu Picchu.

The efforts to save an archaeological site in Iraq.

Eustace the Piratical Monk.

Australia's 6,000 year old fire.

So, let's talk shrunken heads.

Sleigh-riding in Old New York.

Imagine the humiliation of losing a race to a dead man.

The question of whether we should posthumously pardon witches.

Life in the London area of Pimlico, circa 1800.

In which we learn that caterpillars hate lots of noise.

The origins of "swear like a sailor."

An inventive constable sneaks a drink.

The evolution of red lipstick.

Mayan time-keeping.

The lost history of Yellowstone.

A legendary fabric that no one knows how to make anymore.

A 3,600 year old tsunami victim.

A 2,000 year old murder victim.

In praise of booze.

The largest known flying animal.

America's first "media murder."

An Elizabethan New Year.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll meet a particularly odd poltergeist.  In the meantime, here's a blast from the 1980s past.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This odd little tale appeared in the “Asheville Citizen-Times, January 6, 1909:
Alleging that burglars or ghosts of burglars, masked figures possessed of demoniacal desire to Invade his home in South Biltmore made his life a torment, Reuben Baldwin, who lives opposite the Methodist church, appeared before the board of county commissioners yesterday and asked that the county officially provide guards for his residence. 
It was almost a remarkable tale that Mr. Baldwin unfolded to the astonished commissioners. He said that the burglars were generally dressed in white like ghosts and wore masks and that they frequently sought entrance to his home and got in despite the fact that he had boarded up his lower story windows. The strange visitors, he said, had bored so many augur holes in the windows and pried the casings to such an extent that he could not get the glass to stay in and when he did succeed they came with diamond pointed tools and cut out sections of the glass. 
The commissioners were much astonished at the boldness of burglars so close to the city and asked Mr. Baldwin for particulars and why the burglars were so anxious to get in. Mr. Baldwin said he did not know why they were so anxious to enter, but supposed they thought the house was an easy mark because he worked at nights and was not at home at that favorable time for house breakers. He had hired a man to stay with his family, but this availed nothing because one might wake up at any hour and hear the miscreants boring or chiseling or cutting at the glass. Often he tried to surprise them, he said, but before he could get into the yard they were gone invariably even though the moon was shining. He had shot at them on different occasions but could not hit them and they did not seem at all alarmed. 
Mr. Baldwin said that these persons were highly dangerous because one night they got into the house and threw a cup of chloroform into the face of the man he had hired to watch and also into the face of his daughter. The last exploit of the masked men, he said, was on Monday night when two of them followed one of his boarders from the Biltmore car and when he entered the yard they set on him and threw him over a fence. Then by some sort of hocus pocus illustration the queer performances of these mysterious individuals he threw one of them over the fence. Mr. Baldwin ran out with his gun; nobody there except the boarder. 
The commissioners decided they could not afford to pay a guard for the place and so Mr. Baldwin went away empty handed to fight single handed against the spooky persons whose movements are as mysterious as those of characters in an Anna Katherine Green novel. 
Those who have studied the matter hazard the idea that the malevolent are but ghosts of dead burglars. It will be remembered that some months ago it was believed that burglars were concealed in the Whitaker house and from their places of hiding tried to blow suffocating fumes into bedrooms.
Interesting place, Asheville.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Down the Driveway, and Into Oblivion: The Disappearance of Charles Ulrich

"Newark Advocate," March 7, 1975, via Newspapers.com

Some missing-person cases are baffling because they feature a number of strange and contradictory clues.  On the other hand, some disappearances are unique puzzles due to their utter lack of any clues at all.  One outstanding example is the now little-known vanishing of Charles Albert Ulrich.

Ulrich led a stable, unremarkable life.  The 62-year-old Uhrichsville, Ohio resident had worked for many years as a small claims examiner at the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services.  He was a good employee who had no noticeable problems with his job.  He was an intelligent, devoutly religious man who didn’t smoke or drink, served as an elder at his local Moravian Church, and was happily married for over forty years.  By all appearances, his health and spirits were both excellent, and while he was not rich, he had no financial problems.

On the night of January 27, 1975, Ulrich’s wife Dorothy woke up thinking that she heard their front door close.  Ulrich got his shotgun and went to investigate, but he found nothing to suggest someone had been there.  It is unknown if this was simply a case of Mrs. Ulrich mishearing something, or a hint of worse things to come.

The following evening, Ulrich got a phone call.  After the conversation was over, he commented to his wife, “You know, if it was a year later, I would retire.”  Unfortunately, Mrs. Ulrich does not appear to have asked him to clarify this remark.  It’s also unknown who he talked to.  Like the suspected prowler, no one can say if this was an innocuous, meaningless incident, or…something else.

On the night of the 28th, there was a severe thunderstorm.  It was still raining heavily when Mrs. Ulrich woke up at 7 a.m. the following morning.  It was Charles’ invariable habit to wake his wife at 6:55 a.m. every morning so they could have coffee and watch a 5-minute religious program on television together before he went to work, but she found him nowhere in the house.  Mrs. Ulrich saw his pajamas were left tossed across the bed, which was very uncharacteristic of him--after he dressed for the day, he would always put the pajamas neatly away.  The front door was ajar.  Charles had left his keys and wallet behind.  Their car was still in the garage.

The perplexed Mrs. Ulrich called neighbors, asking if anyone had seen him.  No one had.  When her search of the area around their house proved futile, she phoned the police.  Law enforcement and volunteer search parties explored the vicinity for some days, without finding any answers why Ulrich had vanished, or where he might have gone.  The Tuscarawas River, which paralleled the street leading to Ulrich’s home, was dragged.  There was nothing to indicate Ulrich had accidentally drowned there.  A neighbor reported that at 6:30 on the morning of the 29th, he had seen car lights in the Ulrich driveway, and another witness saw on that same morning an unidentified man standing alongside Route 36, as if he was waiting for someone.  What, if anything, did these two reports indicate?  No one could say.  “It’s a mystery how he disappeared in thin air,” Ulrich’s brother-in-law, Walter Whitis, commented to a reporter.  “The more you talk about it, the more it seems you run up against a blank wall.”

"Daily Reporter," February 11, 1975

The police, while admitting that they could not rule out foul play, settled on the theory that Ulrich had experienced an amnesia attack.  Five years before his disappearance, Ulrich had suffered a fall which severed some nerves leading to his brain.  A doctor claimed that thunderstorms have been known to trigger "hysterical amnesia" in people who had similar injuries.  However, even if this rather exotic explanation for Ulrich’s disappearance is accurate, it doesn’t explain the inability to find him.

Ulrich’s younger brother George had a far darker theory.  Eight months after Charles vanished, George Ulrich told a reporter, “I believe he walked out of the house and found something he shouldn’t have.  I see nothing but foul play.”  But what could Ulrich have possibly “found” just outside his home that would compel someone to (presumably) kidnap and murder him?

To date, the mystery of Ulrich’s disappearance remains unsolved.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

The Best of Strange Company 2021


Yes, it's once again time for my annual round-up of the most popular posts from this past year.  As usually seems to happen, most of them are the posts I would least expect, which just shows how much I know about blogging.

Here we go, with the most-read post first:

1. Weekend Link Dump, June 18.  This topped the list by a incredibly wide margin, and for the life of me, I don't know why this particular WLD got so many hits.  Maybe stories about Iron Age chickens are an irresistible draw.

2. Weekend Link Dump, June 25.   Yup, my two biggest blog success stories were WLDs.  Which just confirms the suspicion I've had for some time that most of you would prefer that I just shut up and post nothing but links.

3. The Haunted Tunnel.   Tales from one of America's spookiest places.

4. A Witch Trial and a Shape-Shifting Apparition.  An unusual little ghost story from the 17th century.

5. Murder and Mystery at Wolf Lake.  A case of death and disappearance that, if you read the comments to this post, may well be even more sinister than it seems.

6. The Case of the Time-Traveling Priest.  The "Chronovisor" is one of the weirdest stories I've ever read, and it baffles me that it isn't better known.

7. The Body in Stack Number Nine.  An unidentified person suffers a mysterious--and very gruesome--death.

8. The Coffin of Henry Trigg.  An 18th century man's eccentric resting place.

9. The Haunted Council House.  One of those ghost stories with particularly unsettling details.

10. The Vanishing of Ruth Dorsey.   An Alabama woman's inexplicable disappearance.

And there you have it for 2021!  I hope 2022 will be a festive year full of murders, disappearances, ghosts, and assorted High Strangeness.  Plus, of course, Link Dumps.  Otherwise I may have a riot on my hands,.