"...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, November 30, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

I’ve posted about a number of “ghost cats,” but this one may top them all.  The “Daily Republican Register,” June 15, 1923:

Zion, Ill., June 15. From a cat's grave in the rear of a farm shed, has risen Zion catdom’s latest bid for fame. 

It is Topsy, the ghost cat. 

Topsy has risen to fame in the literal sense, for several days ago she was buried after apparently meeting death in an accident. But with eight lives left to her credit, Topsy wasn't content to remain underground.

Today she is placidly enjoying the second of her nine lives.

Topsy's return from the feline Shadowland is told by Ira Blackwell, one of Lake county’s dry agents.

According to Blackwell, Topsy belonged to one of his cousins. 

Topsy was marked with brown black and white spots, her left hind leg had been broken and had reknit but apart from that, she was an ordinary sort of cat, with no signs of future fame apparent. 

One day Topsy was chasing mice in the corn crib when a heavy barrel fell on her. Topsy’s mashed, bleeding remains were dug out by her owner. There was no sign of life.

It was decided to hold a regular funeral for Topsy. A grave was dug at the edge of the orchard, the remains deposited therein with due pomp and ceremony, and a little mound marked with a headstone heaped on the grave. 

The next day a cat strolled into the kitchen. It was a bit wobbly and its whiskers were dirty. 

It had brown, black and white spots, and seemed strangely at home.

An examination disclosed a left hind leg that had been broken and had knitted.

At last, Topsy’s mourners. hastened to the grave. They opened the grave, and dug down to the bottom. 

There were no cat remains there.

I can only add that I hope Zombie Topsy enjoyed her unusual place in Cat History for a great many years.  And when her people eventually had to do a re-do on her burial, let’s hope they made sure she really needed one.

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Devil's Rocking Chair; Or, The Dangers of Buying Discounted Antiques

Fifteen-year-old Jody Randall of Long Beach, California, was in most ways a typical suburban teenager.  The one thing that set her apart was a passion for antiques which was unusual for someone of her youth.  As a result of spending all her available free time (and her parents’ money) on her hobby, she eventually amassed some impressive pieces, including a doll collection noteworthy enough to earn a writeup in “Teen” magazine.

In the summer of 1970, she sold a vintage French doll to an antique dealer named Marge Lord.  While in Lord’s shop, Randall saw a heavy, ornate rocking chair dating from about 1550, of a style known as “Black Forest sleigh.”  The girl was fascinated.  She knew instantly that she must buy it, even though when she sat in the chair, she had the disconcerting feeling that invisible arms were tightly holding her waist.

Lord told Randall that she didn’t want to sell the chair, but an offer of $1,250 might change her mind.  This was way over Jody’s budget, but the teen was in love.  All she could think of was trying to find some way to get enough money to make the chair her own.

In August, Lord phoned Jody to say that she was now willing to give her the chair for $800.  Randall could even pay her in installments!  Jody was so thrilled to get the antique buy of her dreams, she never stopped to wonder why Lord’s feelings about the chair had changed so abruptly.

By early September, the chair was gracing the Randall living room.  It was not long before the family noticed that there was something…odd about their new acquisition.  No matter how well-lit the room was, the chair appeared to be in darkness, as though it was surrounded by a murky fog.  One afternoon, as Jody sat reading on the floor next to the chair, she suddenly felt a weird blackness surrounding her, leaving her immobilized.  She could not even speak.  After a period of time--she couldn’t even say how long--the dark haze disappeared, leaving her back to normal.  Telling herself that the creepy experience was all in her head, she decided not to mention it to anyone.

About a week later, the black veil again enveloped her--only this time, she saw “hellish-looking yellow eyes” appear over her head.  The terrified girl felt some evil presence was trying to possess her.  The eyes soon disappeared, but the black fog clung to her for some time.  After it finally vanished, Jody was left completely exhausted.

Jody began to feel frightened whenever she was in her house.  She had the sense that some sinister presence was stalking her.  The family’s Yorkshire terrier, Girl Dog, appeared to share the girl’s fear.  Girl Dog avoided the living room, and whenever she was alone in the house, the Yorkie would go next door to the home of Jody’s grandparents, begging to be let in.

One day in October, Jody and her mother were sitting in the living room, when the girl suddenly saw two bats fly through the room.  Her mother had seen nothing.  However, the next day, when Mrs. Randall and some visitors were in the living room, they all saw a weird light appear.  The whole family began to hear strange tapping on the walls, and the sound of invisible hands banging on the front door.  One evening, Mrs. Randall saw the heavy wooden chair vigorously rocking on its own.

Soon after this, Jody was in the kitchen when she heard loud scuffling noises coming from the living room, as if people were fighting there.  When she entered the room, she saw the chair rocking.  She then heard mocking laughter and a voice saying, “Soon she will be in my power.”  After this, the girl frequently woke up in the night to the sound of some invisible being breathing hoarsely in her bedroom.

It began to dawn on Jody why Marge Lord became so willing to sell the chair.

Despite all this, Jody’s father, Jim Randall, remained skeptical.  He did not believe in ghosts, or evil spirits, and remained convinced that the household was suffering from nothing worse than an outbreak of overactive imaginations.  However, realizing that his daughter was genuinely terrified, he offered to buy the chair from her.  He explained that if he became its official owner, she would then be left in peace.  Jim gave Jody $10, and she gave him a formal receipt.

Jim moved the chair to their garage, jokingly telling the antique that if it didn’t behave, he would turn it into kindling.  A few days later, as Jim was gluing formica to a wall, the can of glue mysteriously exploded, covering his legs with burning adhesive.  His burns were so severe he needed a series of skin grafts.

After Jim was hospitalized, his panicked family--now thoroughly convinced something satanic was going on--went to a family friend, Nadine, who was a clairvoyant.  After meditating near the chair, Nadine stated that she saw a monk standing near the rocker, and another man sitting in it.  She sensed that the sitting man was a ruler somewhere in Northern Europe who had sent very many people to their deaths.  She said it was the most disturbing vision she ever had.

Being exiled to the garage did nothing to stop the chair’s malevolent properties.  One day, when Mrs. Randall went to the garage to feed the cat, she saw the chair do its ominous rocking.  A few days later, Jody’s grandmother entered the garage.  She saw nothing, but felt such an air of unease that she left as soon as possible.  The minute she reentered the house, a large ladder that was leaning against the house inexplicably crashed to the ground.

Shortly after this episode, a friend of Judy’s named Bob Anderson playfully sat in the chair and announced that the rocker didn’t scare him.  That night, he was in an auto accident which nearly killed him.

The Randalls--rather late in the day, one would think--decided it was time to get rid of the chair.  A local antique dealer put the chair on sale, without attracting any buyers.  Then, the Randalls had the ingenious idea of writing to Anton LaVey, the notorious founder of San Francisco’s Church of Satan.  The family explained to him that they appeared to have a demon-possessed rocking chair on their hands, and--considering his line of work--they asked if he would be interested in acquiring it.

LaVey was delighted at the idea, and offered them $500.  He cheerfully explained that it was entirely possible to live peacefully with such entities, if you only understood them.

Journalist Marilyn Estes-Smith, who wrote an article about the chair in the July 1973 issue of “Fate Magazine," asked Marge Lord about the rocker’s history.  Lord explained that she had bought the chair from a Mrs. Conger.  She had planned to keep it for her own use, but after coming into the room one day to find the chair rocking on its own, she thought it might be a good idea to let young Miss Randall have the thing.  When Mrs. Conger was contacted about the chair, she became very upset and refused to even talk about it.

The backstory of this antique chair will probably forever remain a mystery.  At least Mr. LaVey had a happy ending from the story.  It’s not every day that a satanist can pick up a cursed rocking chair on the cheap.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Things are a bit hectic around here.  The Strange Company HQ staffers are busy dealing with Thanksgiving leftovers.

Wikipedia strikes again!

Gustave, serial-killer crocodile.

A living room becomes a family history art project.

Pro tip: If you want it to look like suicide, don't shoot your victim six times.

How you can communicate with your cats.  Not that they'll necessarily listen, of course.

The world's first known bad accountant.

Disability in Early Modern times.

A real stand-up guy.

The roundels of Spitalfields.

A famous glutton.

News from the world of underwater archaeology.

The world's oldest ghosts.

Meet beautiful Flossie, the world's oldest cat.

The world's biggest hoaxer.

Some really weird medieval nicknames.

Legends of "lost" Welsh islands might actually be true.

The grave of a man who was buried standing up.

Getting to the English Parliament in medieval times wasn't easy.

The history of various Thanksgiving traditions.

A "misliving singlewoman" in medieval London.

A new theory of why ancient Egyptians practiced mummification.

The Stalingrad Airlift.

The attempted assassination of Viceroy Lord Lytton.

A notorious disappearance in the Grand Canyon.

A ghost that wasn't a fan of mourning clothes.

It seems that humans were cooking food a lot earlier than anyone thought.

Education for girls in the Georgian era.

The fakelore of food.

Contemporary newspaper accounts about the London Blitz.

The heyday of "Princess Alice" Roosevelt.

A village in Romania boasts a matrimonial prison.

The Maury Island UFO.

How cats may come to help solve crimes.

The herding dogs of the Regency era.

A 17th century recipe for sweet potato pie.

The more obscure meanings of the word "plight."

A betrayed brother.

The early years of football in the Gulf.

Anne Greene, one of the luckier people to be hanged.

The GI brides of WWII.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll examine an antique purchase that went very, very weird.  Speaking of weird, here's what happens when a magician builds a guitar.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Newspaper Clippings of the Thanksgiving Day

Via Newspapers.com

Most people think of our American Thanksgiving Day as a pleasant, if slightly dull, holiday.  Nothing happens except lots of food and zoning out on the living room couch afterwards.  The only dark side comes from the prospect of three weeks of turkey hash.

These people have not read old newspaper archives, which present Thanksgiving as a festival of assaults, human body parts, and--my favorite tradition--the turkey’s revenge.

An all-too-typical holiday story is this item from the “Los Angeles Times,” November 25, 1955:

HOUSTON. Nov. 24.  One Houstonian ate turkey today with a fractured collarbone. 

His wife sent him to market for a 15-pound turkey. He returned with a frozen 9-pounder, and his wife threw it at him.

Later, at a hospital, the man said he intended to go ahead with the holiday feast “as planned.”

No, I do not know what “as planned” meant, and I frankly do not want to know.  Another couple that just should not spend family holidays together was noted in the “Buffalo News,” January 26, 1997:

SMITHSBURG — A Hagerstown woman was charged with second-degree assault on Wednesday night after her husband was struck in the forehead with a Scrabble game board, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Department. The incident happened when the man tried to restrain the woman after she threw the Thanksgiving turkey into the yard.

And here was one family where the corpse at Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t that of a turkey.  The “Call-Leader,” January 11, 1983:

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP)-Shirley Jean Cox says she's had it with those portions of corpses stored in her refrigerator-freezer and with having them transported in her truck. The Republican Vanderburgh County commissioner, who is married to Deputy Coroner Earl Cox, said she's tired of using her home as an impromptu morgue. "At Thanksgiving, instead of having a turkey in my freezer, I had to clear out a space to have body parts," she said.

From a vegetarian’s point of view, it’s time to look at the bright side of Thanksgiving.  The “Redwood City Tribune,” November 28, 1923:

SAN JOSE. Nov. 28 A. Pichetti, local automobile dealer, has a grudge against turkeys in general and one in particular as a result of a battle his new automobile had with one of the holiday birds on West Santa Clara street yesterday.   A turkey got loose from its crate near where Pichetti’s machine was parked. The bird made straight for his car, smashing the door of the car with the first blow. Then the turkey proceeded to ruin the finish on the car. As a result of the bird's scratches, Pichetti’s automobile is in the paint shop today.

If you really want to experience Thanksgiving at its most Grand Guignol, you can’t do better than this story from the “Times Record News,” November 25, 1943:

SHREVEPORT La Nov 24—A big white turkey gobbler got his Thanksgiving Day revenge. And he did it all after his head had been cut off. 

They chopped his head off behind a local grocery on Highland Avenue. But the turkey died fighting. 

He threw his 20 pounds against Juanita White, cook at the grocery and spectator at his execution, knocked her down and sent her to the hospital with an ankle broken in two places. 

The big gobbler got revenge too against H. B. Badt, manager of the store. Badt sent the crippled cook rushing to the hospital in his car. On the way It was torn up in a collision with another automobile. 

Juanita has a broken ankle that will lay her up for about 10 weeks; Badt has no car; the store is short a good cook.

And then there’s this item from the “Knoxville News-Sentinel,” April 27, 1992:

POTOSI, Mo.—A man showing off a turkey he thought he had killed was shot In the leg when the wounded bird thrashed around in his car trunk and triggered his shotgun. 

“The turkeys are fighting back.” said Sheriff Ron Skiles. 

To make matters worse, it turns out Larry Lands, in his early 40s, and his 16-year-old son Larry Jr. were hunting a week before the start of turkey season and will probably be fined, the sheriff said.

The accident occurred recently after the Lands shot the turkey and put it in the car along with a loaded shotgun. They drove to a neighbor's house to show the bird off. 

While the son was pulling the turkey out of the trunk, it began struggling, according to the sheriff, and its claw fired the gun. The shot went through the side panel of the car and into the father’s leg. 

Lands Sr was in satisfactory condition in the hospital.

And finally, let us marvel at this epic tale of vengeance that is positively Shakespearean.  The “Dakota Farmers’ Leader,” September 10, 1909:

Does a turkey gobbler possess the same remarkable mental faculties as does the elephant? A turkey on the farm of Amos Hollister, near Benton, Wash., was teased into anger over seven years ago by a little girl with yellow curls. The other day the same little girl, now grown into womanhood, wearing the dresses of the day's style, appeared upon the lawn of the same farm and was attacked by a gobbler enraged beyond all turkey sense, and continued the fight until he was subdued and placed in a pen. Over seven years ago Miss Elsie Gunther visited the farm of her uncle and teased the gobbler with a cane which had ribbons tied to it. The turkey chased her around the barnyard. 

The incident was forgotten and school work and business kept the niece from again visiting her uncle until seven years had passed. Miss Gunther, free from school duties and languishing for the free air of the country, went to the Benton farm last week. The first thing she did was to trip across the barnyard toward the cow pens as she had done years ago. Before she was across the lawn a big turkey gobbler, the same one which attacked her seven years ago, flew at her face and struck her a blow that almost threw her into a heap. The turkey continued his attack until Hollister captured and imprisoned him.

And that’s it for Thanksgiving 2022!  If you celebrate the holiday, please do so wisely.  Hide the Scrabble board.  And whatever you do, don’t tease the turkeys.

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Mutilated Clay Doll

The following Australian crime is not nearly as mysterious as some: it is, officially at least, solved.  However, it has an odd, unsettling air that sets it apart from most murders.

On February 23, 1975, someone walking along Kennett River, near Apollo Bay, made a peculiar discovery--a crudely-fashioned clay figure of a woman was wedged in a tree near the bank of the river.  The doll, which was about 14 inches long,  was missing the lower half of the left arm.  About 15 feet away, washed up on the sand at the mouth of the river, was an equally strange, and far more gruesome discovery: the naked corpse of a young woman.  Her left arm was missing below the elbow.  

"Sydney Morning Herald," February 26, 1975, via Newspapers.com

The autopsy concluded that the dead woman was aged somewhere between 18-25, slim, of medium height, with black hair and blue eyes.  Her arm had been amputated some years before her death.  The body had been in the water for about 24 hours.  Curiously, that was about all that could be determined from the post-mortem.  Although authorities assumed they were dealing with a homicide, the coroner ruled that although he was certain the woman had not drowned, he was unable to say how she had died.

Although one would assume one-armed young women were a rarity in the area, authorities also had a surprisingly hard time learning the victim’s identity.  The motive was an equal puzzle, although the presence of the creepy homemade statuette near the body caused some to surmise that the dead woman had fallen into the hands of some witchcraft cult who used her as a human sacrifice.

In early March, police were finally able to give the corpse a name: she was 16-year-old Sharon Gaye Richardson.  Her mother, who lived in Brisbane, reported her as missing back in 1972.  (As a side note, it was learned Sharon’s arm was missing because she had been a thalidomide baby.)  Three months before her death, Sharon and her young son were in the King’s Cross area, where she worked as a housekeeper.  Later, she and the child moved to Melbourne.  (What became of her son is unclear.  The newspapers reported only that the child “recently returned to Sydney, where he was being looked after.”)

Five weeks before her death, Sharon and an unidentified man moved into a flat on Beach Road, Sandringham.  On February 20, the pair made a “hurried exit” from their flat, taking all their possessions except a few clothes.  On February 26--three days after Sharon’s body was discovered--their car was found at Sydney’s Mascot Airport.

The case remained cold until the summer of 1978, when Sharon’s mysterious boyfriend was finally apprehended: he was 40-year-old chiropractor Ernest William O’Brien, who was living in Sydney, where he had been operating two massage parlors.  The explanation he gave to police for Sharon’s death was as weird as the rest of this case.  According to O’Brien, on February 21, 1975, he found his “de facto wife” in their flat, dead.  She was lying on the bed naked, with her legs tied apart by belts.  He could think of no better way of dealing with this disagreeable situation than by wrapping the body in a bedspread, putting it in the trunk of his car, surrounding it with 12 bags of ice “because it was a hot day,” and dumping the corpse in the sea.

At O’Brien’s trial, the Crown medical experts--in a complete reversal from the initial findings--now stated that Richardson had drowned.  The argument was that during a quarrel, O’Brien had knocked Richardson unconscious.  Thinking that he had killed her, he then threw her into the water, where she died. The jury believed them.  In February 1979 O’Brien was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  As far as I have been able to tell, O’Brien never admitted his guilt.

It is unclear why O’Brien murdered his girlfriend--if, indeed, he did murder her.  The initial speculation that Richardson had been killed as part of some occult ritual had, of course, been long abandoned.  Her death was dismissed as merely a mundane domestic tragedy.

But then, how to explain the clay figurine with the missing arm?...

Friday, November 18, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The staff at Strange Company HQ is already preparing for Thanksgiving dinner!

A 2,000 year old ring that spent the last 28 years in someone's cupboard.

The ghost of a murder victim is charged with contempt of court.

Charles I's warrior queen.

A brief history of Southern California's Santa Ana winds.  ("Fill my sails/Oh desert wind/And hold the waves high for me/Then I will come/And test my skill/Where the Santa Ana winds blow free...")

They're still finding a lot of mummies--and pyramids!--in Giza.

A teenager's particularly brutal murder.  At least this one was solved.

How not to honor Armistice Day.

An aristocratic--and extremely dangerous--family.

Dealing with the plague in 17th century England.

The Royal Canadian Navy and the sinking of U-501.

I'll just have a cheese sandwich, thanks.  (As an aside, I note that we've reached the point on our Crazy Train where Frankenmeat grown in a giant fuel-powered factory is considered more environmentally-friendly than a cow.)

A brief history of Christmas ghost stories.

A Baltic medieval shipwreck is making archaeologists very happy.

America's first End Times prophecy.

Egypt's WWII surrealist movement.

The strange ghost of Camp Hero.

The people of St. George's Chapel, Windsor.

Some revolutionary aspects of 19th century cooking.

Earth's first known mass extinction.

A ghostly, burning ball.

The vicar who loved exclamation marks.

A bird's very long flight.

A tribute to lonely bandstands.

Some forgotten corners of Old London.

A look at turnspit dogs.

How ancient cats came to Europe.

The dead heads of Annecy.

That time when a Normandy town saved U.S. paratroopers.

"Finders keepers" in maritime law.

The first investigation of an aircraft accident.

Trying to explain the unexplainable.

How a cat launched the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Some vintage baking tips.

Isaac Newton's cure for the plague may have been worse than the plague.

A murder at a brothel.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a young woman's strange death.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Bach.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Stories about ghosts returning to haunt someone because their earthly wishes had been ignored are a dime a dozen, but this is among the more eccentric examples.  The “Saint Paul Globe,” January 19, 1889:

A refusal of a husband to cremate the remains of his wife has, according to his story, entailed upon him a haunt by her disappointed spirit. Mrs. V. was a vivacious brunette and an esthetic woman, always abreast of the times. The idea of cremation won her most enthusiastic support in a moment, and, being a society lady, with little else to do but gratify her whims, she allowed the new scheme for disposing of the dead to enthuse her. It took so much of her attention from her devoted husband that he grew jealous, as it were, of the innovation. He grew to hate it more on the ground of its divorcing his wife's devotion from him than aught else. 

Suddenly she died, and on her deathbed made him promise to cremate her corpse. She talked until the last moment of how her spirit would delight in watching the urn containing her ashes on her husband's mantel, but vowed she would haunt Mr. V. if he was untrue to his promise. It was even said that her longing to become a subject for the furnace actually hastened her death. The husband, however, spurned the thought of giving all that was mortal of his adored wife to the cause that he believed had robbed him of his darling, and, placing the remains in a costly casket, he had her quietly buried. He kept their chamber, where the urn was to have been, sacred to her memory and his own use. Two negro servants were employed to live in the basement and take care of the house.

After a few nights the colored man's wife awakened him with the exclamation: “Mrs. V.’s upstairs." He laughed at it at first, but, after listening a little while, was convinced she was right. Mrs. V. seemed pouring out a torrent of invective and reproach against him, which was varied by a smart controversy. In the morning he appeared with a haunted look in his eyes, and face pallid.  The spook kept getting worse every night, until finally they heard a struggle and a sound as of glass breaking. They rushed up, and, breaking into the room, found him struggling with an imaginary foe.

The debris of a lot of vases that had stood on the mantel were strewn about the floor. The next day he complained to a friend of his trouble, stating that his wife haunted him every night. He was advised to have her remains taken up and cremated, but says he would rather have the company of her spirit than none if the phantom would only desist from pulling hair and breaking furniture. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Bunty and the Beastie

"Aberdeen Press," March 26, 1934

A lonely little family is living in an isolated area.  Then, they begin hearing the sound of a mysterious, invisible creature merrily chatting away to them…

No, it’s not Gef the Mongoose.  It’s the Scottish Beastie.

Nine-year-old Isabella “Bunty” Ross lived in the Tarves district of Aberdeenshire, Scotland with her grandparents,  Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Wilkie.  (The newspapers do not seem to have recorded what became of Bunty’s parents.)  Life in their rural cottage was comfortable enough for the child, but also dull and lonely.  Aside from the Wilkies, Bunty’s only companion was her black cat, Topsy.

Let me amend that.  She acquired an additional companion.  And it was one nobody could have expected.  

One day in December 1933, the little household heard a mysterious voice coming from behind a wall of their home.  At first, they were frightened, but by the time several months had passed, the three were chatting away with The Voice (which spoke in a “broad Buchan accent,”) as if it were an old friend coming to call.  It was better than the radio.

Mrs. Wilkie once asked it, “What are you?  Have you four legs?”

“Aye,” The Voice replied.

“Have you a tail?” she inquired.

“No, but I have a beak.”

The Voice informed them that it was fond of chicken, but declined to come out to get some, explaining that Mr. Wilkie had “plugged up the hole.”  (Soon after they moved into their cottage, Mr. Wilkie had filled in a small hole in one wall of the house.)

The “Beastie” (as the household soon dubbed their visitor) was both talented and versatile.  It could recite the alphabet, count up to twenty, say the Lord’s Prayer, and sing “A Bicycle Built For Two” and “Jesus Loves Me.”  Beastie occasionally talked to visitors, although it would, we are told, tell them “what it thought of them in a very straightforward manner when they became too inquisitive.”

In late March 1934, shortly after reports of this unusual houseguest hit the newspapers, it was announced that the mystery was solved.  Although Bunty had always been a fluent talker, she had recently developed a bad stutter.  That somehow led to her discovering “by accident” that she had a natural gift for ventriloquism.  She used her newfound talent to amuse herself by fooling everyone into thinking there was some mysterious talking creature living in their wall.  We are told that her secret was uncovered at her school.  During the reading lesson, Bunty’s teacher noticed something unusual about the girl’s voice, and came to the conclusion that the child was a ventriloquist.  When confronted with this revelation, the girl readily confessed.

Mystery solved!  Yay for teacher detectives!  Well, maybe.  And maybe not.  Despite these assertions that their little granddaughter had--no one could explain how--taught herself to throw her voice like an experienced professional, the Wilkies continued to insist otherwise.

“Bunty hid naething tae dee wi’t,” Mr. Wilkie told a reporter indignantly.  “I tell ye it wis a beastie thit wis ahin the wa’.”  He added that, despite what the newspapers claimed, the “Beastie” continued to speak after Bunty’s “confession.”  (“Bit naebody ‘ll believe ma.”)

How could the old couple continue to insist that something genuinely supernatural was going on?  Because both Mr. and Mrs. Wilkie, as well as a neighbor named Lizzie Stott, had frequently spoken with the “Beastie” while Bunty was away at school.

That is the last word we have about the Beastie.  The local newspapers, evidently feeling that things were getting a bit too weird, promptly dropped the story.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

It's Friday, so you know what that means.

It's Link Dump showtime!

Yet another tragic love affair.

A brief history of dates.  (The sticky, rather disgusting fruit; not a night out on the town.)

The famed Pittsburgh Potty.

We're still learning things about King Tut's tomb.

We're still learning things about Otzi the Iceman.

A disputed sketch is finally vindicated.

A look at smart, creeping slime.  Personally, I prefer my slime dumb and stationary. And somewhere far away from me.

Some remarkable ancient bronze statues have been discovered.

The Collier family and the East India Company.

That time the Germans bombarded Cape Cod.

Some mystical walks through Wales.

The National Park Service doesn't want you licking toads.

The oldest known written sentence.  And it says something about history that it's all about head lice.

The document detectives.

The Hittite deity and the Roman Army fort.

The legend of the turtle and the shark.  And it's not so legendary after all.

The night the stars fell.

The 1784 ball at Carlton House.

That time when French winemakers took weevils to court.

The man who invented the glass coffin.

The canaletto of the Surrey Canal.

Jack the Ripper in the contemporary press.

The oldest book in the Americas.

Some really bad license plates.

How the British Tommy was born.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll meet a Scottish cousin of Gef the Mongoose.  In the meantime, here's Dwight Yoakam.  I love "Sloop John B," and I love that Bakersfield Sound.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

“Ghostly faces in mirror” stories are relatively common, but this is one of the eeriest of the lot.  “The South Bend Tribune,” February 11, 1904:

Relatives in this city have received information from Bangor, regarding a mysterious picture mirror which is causing considerable interest in that place. A dispatch regarding the matter says: 

“Boydoinham's [Note: “Bowdoinham”] mysterious picture mirror is exciting more wonder than at first, for new faces have appeared in it and the house of Robert Warren, where the mirror hangs, is visited by hundreds of curious persons daily.

"A few weeks ago Mr. Warren's wife died, and since then faces have appeared in the mirror, generally, at dusk, and remained in full view for some hours.  First came the face of an old man, then that of a young girl, followed by indistinct traceries as of woodland scenes.

“None of these were recognized by Mr. Warren or by any of his neighbors. But now the face of the dead Mrs. Warren has come into the mirror, distinct arid unmistakable, as has also that of Mrs. Warren's mother.

"At first, the stories were not believed, but responsible persons have visited Boydoinham for the express purpose of viewing the phenomena. and they declare that the faces and figures do really appear in the mirror, being most distinct at night after the lamps have been lighted, and that there has been no misstatement or exaggeration whatever in the matter. 

“It is the strangest thing I ever saw or heard of, says a Lewiston man who went to see the pictures.  “Many of the neighbors are afraid to go near the Warren house, declaring that it is haunted; but Mr, Warren, a quiet and pious old man, sits by the hour looking at the pictures in the old looking-glass, and is not at all disturbed over them. He believes that his dead wife is trying to convey a message to him, or that, perhaps, she has simply come back to keep him company." 

Edward Warren, a son, in a letter to Mrs. Thomas Eller, of 603 East Jefferson street, written from Boston, Mass., says:

"In the room in which mother died is a looking glass of quite large size and the glass is full of faces small and big. They call it mother’s shadow painting, but I did not think much about it myself.  You can see in the glass as well as you can in any glass, but at the top of the glass are letters that can be seen, but we cannot tell them all. They are coming out clearer all the time, so if letters come out on the glass, and I think they will, I shall think that mother still lives and it is her work.”

Mrs. Warren resided in South Bend 18 years ago.  She was born in this city and was about 52 years of age. She was Miss Adelia Leach and during her residence here had many friends.

There were numerous newspaper stories about the mysterious mirror throughout early 1904, but I have been unable to learn when--or if--the strange phenomena ended.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Mrs. McCann's Cake: A Murder Mystery

For me, the most interesting thing about studying old newspapers is that you uncover so many remarkable stories that at the time had considerable publicity, only to soon disappear into the mists of time, never to be heard from again--except, occasionally, on the pages of this blog.  The following poisoning case from Manchester, England, is a perfect example.

On the afternoon of June 30, 1828, a woman carrying a small child stopped a little girl named Janet Frame who was walking down Butler Street.  She introduced herself as “Mrs. McCann,” and offered Janet a shilling if she would deliver a cake to the shop of Mr. S. Drummond, a nearby flour and provision dealer, and tell him that Mrs. McCann had sent it.  Janet later described the woman as  “of middle size, with small features, and remarkably prominent fore-teeth.”  It must have been a tempting offer for the child, but as she was in the middle of doing an errand for her parents, she had to decline.  Mrs. McCann then accosted an eight-year-old boy named Thompson with the same request.  He immediately agreed.

When the boy arrived at the shop, he found Drummond’s wife, and gave her the cake and the message.  As Mrs. Drummond did not know any “Mrs. McCann,” and could not imagine why she, or anyone else, would be sending them cakes, she told the boy that there must be some mistake.  She told him to take the cake back to the woman, and ask her again where the gift should be delivered.  After a few minutes of fruitless searching for Mrs. McCann, Thompson returned to Mrs. Drummond, insisting that he was quite sure that this was where he was told to bring the cake.  Mrs. Drummond, still convinced there had been a mix-up, put the cake in a safe place, assuming that eventually either Mrs. McCann or the dessert’s proper recipient would come by to claim it.

The boy then went to see his mother, Grace Thompson, who was then at her job in a factory.  He proudly showed her his little windfall, explaining how he had obtained it.  Mrs. Thompson must not have had the highest opinion of her son’s probity, because she instantly suspected that he had actually stolen the money.  She sent a girl to accompany him back to Drummond’s shop, with orders to return the shilling.

On their arrival, the girl found that the boy had been telling the truth, but she left the money with Mrs. Drummond anyway, explaining that Mrs. Thompson was sure it was intended for the Drummonds.  (It is not recorded how young Master Thompson felt about being wrongly accused of theft and losing his lawfully-earned cash, which is probably just as well.)

When Grace Thompson heard this news, it occurred to her that Mrs. McCann must have meant to give him the cake for carrying the shilling, not the other way around.  That evening, after she got off work, she went to the Drummond shop and demanded the cake.  Mr. Drummond initially refused, but after a moment’s consideration, either he concluded that Mrs. Thompson was likely correct, or he didn’t think the damn cake was worth any more fuss.  In any case, he gave it to her.

On her way home, Grace gave a small piece of it to a girl named Wellins whom she met in the street.  She gave the rest to her own two children, the two children of the woman who shared the house with the Thompsons, an elderly woman named Margaret Mason, and a couple of other neighborhood youngsters--nine people in total.  Grace herself did not eat any of the cake, “though she wished to do so, as it seemed very nice.”

It did not seem nice for long.  Very soon, everyone who had eaten the cake were all attacked by a burning sensation in their mouth and throat, which was quickly followed by severe vomiting.  When Grace saw what was happening, she ran for Drummond’s shop, where she demanded the shilling back.  She used the money to buy an emetic, which she gave to the sufferers.

It was very fortunate that the cake caused such intense and immediate vomiting.  Although--as later examination of the remnants of the cake showed--it had contained an immense amount of arsenic, most of those afflicted expelled enough of the poison to be able to recover.  The one tragic exception was four-year-old Susannah Rigby, who died the following day.

It was obvious that the elusive Mrs. McCann did not mean the Drummonds or their five children well.  But why?  Mr. Drummond was a law-abiding and well-liked merchant, who could not imagine who would want his family dead.  After giving the matter some thought, Drummond remembered that the wife of a man he had recently evicted for non-payment of rent somewhat matched “Mrs. McCann’s” description.  However, when Janet Frame was taken to see this woman, she unhesitatingly declared that this was not “Mrs. McCann.”  Besides, the woman proved to have the proverbial iron-clad alibi for the day when the cake was delivered.

During the inquest on Susannah Rigby’s death, a more promising suspect emerged.  Living next door to the Drummonds was a family named Macdonald.  About eighteen months earlier, one of the Macdonald sons married a young woman named Elizabeth Brown.  Elizabeth’s parents had opposed the marriage, on the grounds that they were considerably higher on the social scale than the Macdonalds.  They felt their daughter could have made a much better match.  Unfortunately, the marriage soon became so unhappy that at the time of the murder, Elizabeth was back living with her parents.  The Macdonalds pointed out that Elizabeth matched the published description of “Mrs. McCann,” and she had a child about the age of the one the poisoner had been carrying.  Perhaps, they suggested, the Thompson boy was supposed to leave the lethal cake with them, and not the Drummonds?

Elizabeth Macdonald was taken into custody.  Janet Frame agreed that the prisoner did resemble “Mrs. McCann,” but could not state positively that she was the same woman.  Also, like the previous suspect, Elizabeth was able to account for her activities at the time when the malevolent “Mrs. McCann” was stalking the streets with her Cake of Doom.  Accordingly, she was discharged from custody.

And that was that.  After the Rigby inquest concluded--with the expected verdict of “murder by person or persons unknown”--the mystery disappeared from the newspapers, never to return.

“Mrs. McCann”--whoever she was--may not have been a very successful murderer, but she was certainly a very lucky one.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

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

Tell a friend!

A Byzantine shopping center.

A look at psychic researcher Harry Price.

The personality traits of cats.  Personally, I think every cat is "a little of each."

The world's earliest known party.

Some particularly deadly spearheads.

The 4th Duke of Devonshire's "very disagreeable situation."

Some controversial Viking runes.

A punk rocker in 1920s Berlin.

The Flying Tailor of Ulm.

The Statue of Liberty leaves Paris.

A look at the Palace of Saint-Cloud.

Victorians loved their porcelain dolls.

Our relationship with the "loved dead."

A palm tree that symbolizes pre-Disney Anaheim.

In which the Virgin Mary beats up the Devil.  Repeatedly.

South Yorkshire has a demonic jackdaw named Derek.  You're welcome.

So, family relationships get complicated.

In which we meet Mr. Trick and Mrs. Treat.

Harriet Tubman, psychic spy.

Six cursed objects.

The roots of the Day of the Dead.

Two of San Francisco's most popular dogs.

Benjamin Franklin's playful ghost.

A ghost story from 1827 with a twist ending.

A history of the term, "bone-deep."

A 5,000 year old brewery.

When veterinarians were also magicians.

The first film to be copyrighted.

A tale of Victorian adultery and detective work.

Memories of Irish Halloween traditions.

Ghosts in Bengal like fish.  Just thought you should know.

A murderer confesses.  And then they hanged the bastard.

Some odd news items from the past.

The Dead Man of Clerkenwell.

The Obedient Dead Nun.

A brief history of wrapping paper.

The nature of horror.

Soup in Britain's Regency era.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a little-known poisoning mystery.  In the meantime, here's some Haydn.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This brief cautionary teaches us what should be obvious: if you summon the Devil, be damn sure you want him to oblige.  The “Fort Lauderdale News,” October 9, 1965:

OKLAHOMA CITY. A teenage girl was determined to disappear with the devil last night, but she made it only as far as a hospital. 

Friends convinced Kathy Campbell, 14, that if she laid on a grave and called 10 times for "Lucifer," she would disappear, or "something would happen to her." So, police said, Miss Campbell and four companions went to a graveyard, where she carefully stretched out on a grave in the darkness and pleaded for Lucifer to appear. 

After 10 attempts, Lucifer did not show up. But when the girl got to her feet a large bird swooped down out of the darkness and struck her on the chest. 

She was taken to a hospital in a state of shock. She was released a few hours later.