"...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, February 27, 2023

The Grave at Herm Island

Photo: Glynis Cooper

Herm forms part of the Channel Islands.  It is located near the much larger Guernsey.  This small (1.5 miles long, 2,800 feet wide) island boasts only a handful of permanent residents, but during the summer months, its beauty and idyllic quiet make it a popular stop for tourists who wish to escape the outside world for a while.  This is all well and good, but for the purposes of this blog the main charm of Herm is one particular grave.  What makes it notable is that no one has any idea what in hell it’s doing there.

The so-called “Fisherman’s Path” leads around the western side of the island.  At the end of this path lies the “Island Cemetery.”  It is given this formal name even though it contains only two bodies, lying in the same grave.  The inscription on the headstone reads:

In Memory of

K.W. Conden aged 2 years


R. Mansfield aged 33 years

Died April 1832

Rest in Peace

It is a simple inscription, but utterly baffling, because it is a mystery who these people were, and why they were buried together at this lonely spot.  Adding to the oddity is the fact that photographic magnification revealed that a second “2” was originally added to Conden’s age, meaning that this--man?--woman?--who knows?--actually died at the age of 22.  The second digit looks almost like it was deliberately erased, but why in the world would anyone do that?  (It is also disputed whether the year of their death was “1832” or “1852.”)

Neither name appears in any burial registers or newspapers of the time.  It is inexplicable why they were informally buried on the shore, instead of being given Christian burial in the local churchyard or in nearby Guernsey.  It has been speculated that the two people were cholera victims, which would necessitate a hasty burial.  However, there is no record of any cholera outbreak on the island.  If they contracted cholera--or any other infectious disease--onboard a ship, the vessel would have been quarantined, and anyone ill would have been sent to Herm’s tiny “off-island,” Jethou.  Shipwreck victims who washed ashore would sometimes be buried on the shore, but only as a temporary expedient.

Somebody cared enough about these two people to bury them and erect a stone over their bones, but who?  And how can it be that, to date, is it anyone’s guess who these people were, and why they were given such an irregular burial?

The Herm Island Grave is one of those inconsequential, obscure, but utterly perplexing little historical mysteries which are a particular delight to me.

[Note: novelist Compton Mackenzie, who lived on Herm for several years in the 1920s, loved walking around the part of the island containing the grave.  However, one evening, he suddenly felt himself surrounded by “elemental forces.”  He was so frightened by the experience, he avoided the spot from then on.  Perhaps the enigmatic Conden and Mansfield merely wished to say, “Hi!”]

Friday, February 24, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is proud to be hosted by feline royalty!

What the hell were the origins of the Black Death?

Watch out for those exploding teeth!

Being a WWII combat glider pilot wasn't fun.

Revealed: a 52-foot Book of the Dead.

Napoleon the mediocre horseman.

High Strangeness, meet Deep Weird.

The "other" Elizabethan succession crisis.

Weird things wash up on beaches.

On that same note, there's now a theory about why human feet keep washing up on beaches.  I'm not sure I'm entirely sold, though.

A strange burial in Sardinia.

The sinking of HMS Perseus and a remarkable survival story.

Archery is a lot older than we thought.

The man who rode a bear.

A brief history of pancakes.

A brief history of smuggling.

A brief history of San Francisco's "quake shacks."

A handy reminder that science is rarely settled.

And sometimes science is a little embarrassing for all concerned.  (The article's behind a paywall, but the headline tells you all you need to know.)

Why "W" is called "Double U."

A 2,000 year old flush toilet.

An 18th century forgery scandal.

You will no doubt be pleased to learn that there's a guy who specializes in making armor for cats and mice.

A look at ancient ghost stories.

Stolen Cambodian royal jewelry has been returned to the rightful home.

The living rocks of Romania.

A guy who kept his wife's ashes in a tin can.

Early 20th century tips for living in tropical climates.

Honoring a canine tax collector.

A tragic message in a bottle.

A Pennsylvania "ghost train."

Washington D.C.'s Demon Cat.

An affair of blood and mystery.

The hazards of travel in Early Modern Britain.

Butch, the WWII-era mascot of the Fort Hamilton Fire Department.

The room that proves there is such a thing as too much quiet.

A good story about a modern-day treasure hunt.

The downfall of a medieval London mayor.

A "living fossil" may be living in Indonesia.

The trade of the 19th century gardener.

Pro tip: If someone you meet online offers you $9 million to kill someone, don't do it.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a mysterious grave.  In the meantime, here's Los Lobos.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

I suppose that in the Fortean scheme of things, there are weirder things than having a flaming lump of plastic fall into your yard, but I'd say it's still a notable event.  The "Ottawa Journal," June 19, 1979:

MISSISSAUGA, Ont.--Traven Matchett isn't buying the Ontario environment ministry's conclusion that a mysterious fiery, green blob that plopped down in his backyard Saturday is nothing more than a lump of common plastic.

"I know what I saw and my family knows what they saw and it's definitely not a burned-out frisbee or somebody's idea of a joke," Matchett said Monday. 

Ministry scientists who analyzed the tough, plastic-like blob said it was polypropylene, used for household items and toys. But how it landed in a fiery lump on Matchett's picnic table is still a mystery. 

Matchett said he doesn't believe he is getting the full story from officials because since the story became known, two other persons have told him of a similar experience in recent weeks. 

Ministry spokesman Jim Hornick said Monday scientists will not conjecture about the origin of the material or how it got into Matchett's backyard. 

"But it's not from outer space, did not fall off an airplane and is not a industrial pollutant," Hornick said. 

So, what was the thing?  Officials eventually "solved" the mystery by announcing that the lump was a frisbee that, presumably, somehow spontaneously combusted in mid-air.  Matchett wasn't having it.  He told reporters that he did his own tests with incinerating frisbees, and they looked nothing like what landed in his yard.  In the last articles I could find about the mystery, Matchett was muttering about UFOs, secret government experiments and cover-ups.

And to be honest, in this world, who can say for certain he was wrong?

Monday, February 20, 2023

Jerrold Potter's Flight Into Oblivion

"New York Daily News," September 22, 1968, via Newspapers.com

A while back, I wrote about the bizarre story of Alfred Loewenstein, the 1920s financier who inexplicably fell out of a plane traveling over the English Channel.  While researching the Loewenstein case, I was surprised to discover that, some forty years after Loewenstein's big dive, another man apparently suffered the same fate, under equally murky circumstances.

Jerrold Potter was 54 when he made his unenviable mark on aviation history.  He was an insurance executive and alderman from Pontiac, Illinois.  Potter was a successful and respected businessman, happily married, and as utterly normal as they come.  He was a jovial, outgoing man who belonged to various civic groups such as the Elks and the Chamber of Commerce.  To all appearances, he was honest, well-adjusted, and utterly content with his life.  If you wanted to write an upbeat version of "Babbitt," Jerrold Potter would be your role model.

On June 28, 1968, Pottter and his wife Carrie were among 23 passengers on a Purdue Aviation Corp. charter plane heading from Kankakee, Illinois to a Lions Club convention in Dallas.  It was a calm, beautiful day, and the flight started out as utterly uneventful.  When the plane was somewhere over Rolls, Missouri, Potter told his wife he was going to the lavatory, which was located in the tail of the plane, near the exit door.  After he had been gone for a few moments, the plane gave a slight bump, as if it had hit an air pocket.  This minor disturbance made Carrie Potter uneasy, so she asked the stewardess to check on her husband.

Everyone on the plane was about to get a severe shock.  The stewardess realized that the exit door was wide open, and the boarding stairs were lowered.  And Jerrold Potter was nowhere to be seen.  Carrie Potter tried to go towards the open door, but the crew stopped her.  "There was nothing I could have gained from it," she later said.  "From the look in the stewardess' eyes, I knew he was gone."

Considering the circumstances, the passengers and crew stayed admirably calm.  The door leading from the seating area to the baggage compartment was closed, in order to restrict the air flow, and the pilot, Miguel Cabeza, landed at the nearest airport, which was in Springfield, Mo.

Cabeza told investigators that when the plane was over the Ozark foothills he felt "a sudden jolt."  He sent his co-pilot, Roy Bacus, into the passenger compartment to investigate.  "He came back and told me a passenger was missing."  All Cabeza could surmise was that Potter must have mistaken the exit door for the one leading to the lavatory.  His theory was that Potter could have fallen against the door at the same time as it inexplicably popped open, causing the jolt to the plane.  His weight snapped the safety chain, and the unfortunate man plunged into the sky.

This explanation did not make Potter's disappearance any less baffling.  Another passenger, James Schaive, commented, "It just suddenly happened.  There was a loud noise, the plane sort of quivered a little bit and the door came open.  There was a rush of air...nobody actually saw Mr. Potter fall out.  He was there one second and gone the next.” 

Les Jones, the manager of the Springfield airport, found Cabeza's scenario unsatisfactory.  He noted, "It would take a concentrated effort to open the door during the flight."  The exit door was hinged at the top.  Opening it required turning a large handle at least 180 degrees--something that took a lot of effort.  For good measure, the door was decorated with large white lettering reading "DO NOT OPEN WHILE IN FLIGHT."  The door was securely locked on takeoff, and as the plane was not pressurized, you could stand in the open doorway during a flight and not be sucked out.  Opening the door during flight would be particularly difficult, and the effort would cause a rush of noise and air that would have been obvious to everyone on the plane.

In short, the plane was, sensibly enough, designed to make it virtually impossible to accidentally fall out.

Police and volunteers spent four days searching the Ozarks for Potter's body, but no trace of him was ever found.  Mrs. Potter later sued Purdue Aviation Corp, asserting that their negligence led to her husband's tragic accident.  She eventually settled for $80,000, most of which went into the pockets of her attorneys.

The question of what exactly caused Potter's presumably fatal disappearance can never be known for sure, for the simple reason that no one has ever been able to construct a fully plausible explanation for the tragedy.  An accidental fall seemed highly improbable, but suicide seemed even more unlikely.  In recent years, the mystery has become a popular topic on internet discussion boards, where "solutions" ranging from "faked his own death" to "murder" to--wait for it!--"kidnapped by a UFO" have been offered.  

Speculate away.  Your guess for what happened to Jerrold Potter is as good as anyone's.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by the Three Rogues!

You can tell they're tough characters just by looking at them.

What the hell happened at Dyatlov Pass?

How the hell did the Pacific Ocean get full of dead crabs?

Five times when military pilots were ordered to intercept UFOs.

An air race that ended in tragedy.

When Kansas farmers harvested meteorites.

The American heiress who took on the Nazis.

WWII's all-female, all-black battalion.

The mystery of two boys who disappeared while going fishing.

A man who couldn't be hanged.

Victorian cobweb Valentines.

The "Merciless Parliament."

"The shame of being a bastard."

An archival bag of secrets.

Spring at Bow Cemetery.

A medieval murder mystery.

The life of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy.

The ghosts of Queen Anne's House.

A 5,000 year old tavern.

The children of the Ice Age.

A message from a doomed ship.

The first victim of radiation.

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street.

Sir Charles Raymond of Valentines.

The chemistry of chocolate.

Deadly kisses.

A syphilitic medieval anchoress.

A questionable tale of marital devotion.

The cat who is a Polish tourist attraction.

The oldest known Valentine.

We've found a bunch of new (to us) gods.

Cursed Capouse Avenue.

The similarities between the Book of Revelation and ancient curse tablets.

Latin is making a comeback.

Gobekli Tepe apparently survived Turkey's earthquake.

The soup kitchen of Leicester Square.

A 15th century spice cabinet fit for a king.

The tale of a rapist who faked his own death.  

The man responsible for "Jack Daniels" died in a rather embarrassing fashion.

A murder mystery that may have helped inspire Poe's "The Black Cat."

A very bad fiance.

Images of the last vestiges of ancient London.

The rise and fall of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Why Old English looks like gibberish to us.

Some romantic marriage proposals from the past.

The Lipstick Murder.

An "impossible" ring system has been discovered in our solar system.

In other astronomy news, the sun's acting pretty weird, too.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an airplane mystery.  In the meantime, here's Linda.  It's one of her lesser-known songs, but it's a lot of fun.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

The death of a notorious “cursed ship” was reported in the “Miami News,” October 9, 1929:

A mystery fire, believed set by a superstitious seaman, Wednesday morning was destroying the rotting wreck of the schooner Nancy Hanks, ghost ship of Miami harbor, whose name has been cursed by mariners from Cape Cod to Zanzibar. 

Shortly before midnight Tuesday, when the Miami Beach waterfront was silent except for the soughing of waves and the rippling of the tide, flames suddenly burst out aboard the haunted schooner, which has laid on the end of Fisher's island since 1926. 

Seamen on the SS Magnolia, docked at the Texas Co. wharf, said the fire appeared to break out in the bow and leaped the entire length of the hulk, indicating the wreck had been saturated with oil and the blaze set deliberately. 

Fingers of flame etched the death tale of the Nancy Hanks to a distance of 75 feet in the sky, lighting up the harbor. The fire was visible for miles and burned all night. 

At 9 a. m. Wednesday the sides of the vessel fell in and the stern, which overhung into the water, crashed hissing into the bay. At noon the flames still were eating along the keel and hull timbers that remained.

Miami Beach fire department made a run to a point on the county causeway opposite the bulk and kept watch lest a blazing section of the craft drifting in the water, come ashore and spread the fire to wharf and warehouse properties. 

The Nancy Hanks was a three-masted schooner of 1,100 gross tons. She was 204 feet in length, 41 feet in breadth and drew 19 feet of water. Normally she carried a crew of 10. The name of the shipyard that gave her birth could not be learned, but she was rebuilt in 1917 at Thomaston, Maine. New York was the schooner's home port. 

The "wreck." beached almost at the entrance of the harbor, long has been an eyesore and officials for some time have considered removing it, but the fear of wraiths on the part of a deep water man apparently has accomplished that task. 

Feared by sailor-men as an unholy schooner on which the devil held high fiesta, the Nancy Hanks long has been an enigma of the sea. The ghost of John Wilkes Booth, assassin of Abraham Lincoln, was said to have haunted the craft, which was named for the mother of the Emancipator.

One old sea dog on the waterfront, his eyes probably distorted by superstition and the smoke banks, said he saw a ghastly figure, anguished and fearful, dancing up and down on the tongues of flame that licked skyward during the fire. He swore it was the ghost being driven from its abiding place by the "purifying" flames. 

Often the schooner is reputed to have put to sea with a good cargo and fair voyage in prospect, only to creep into port, torn by storms and the crew in mutiny. Tales that seamen on watch were whisked off the decks by a supernatural agency, that a monstrous black cat, with the eyes of a Satan, appeared from nowhere and perched on the poop as harbinger of disaster, have gone the rounds wherever seafaring men gather. Often the ghost has been reported laid, only to spring up, sphinx-like, from the debacle of its demise. 

Mariners believed the Nancy Hanks was a doomed ship and during the latter days of its career it was almost impossible to ship a crew. One seaman, Capt. C. B. Foster, was said to have beaten the ghost in 10-month battle at sea and returned to port with a $250,000 profit for the owner. He was well known in Miami. 

Captain Foster took the Nancy Hanks from New York to Durban, British East Africa, with a general cargo, and the voyage proved a ghastly Odyssey. When out only a few days, a mysterious leak was sprung and a squall "broke down." 

The crew, terrified, pleaded to put back, but Captain Foster "cracked on." While in the midst of their terror, the devil cat that has been associated with the ship suddenly appeared. 

The skipper found the leak was caused by wedges slipping out of the ports and repairs were made. Fair weather followed the squall and the black cat disappeared. The sailors' spirits rose until suddenly, when they were nearing latitude 40, the cat appeared again, trailed by four coal black kittens. The men reverted to hysteria, the sky darkened and a hurricane "broke down." The ship survived, the skipper said, only by a miracle. After many days, in which misfortunes followed one another in rapid succession, the schooner reached Durban. 

When the seamen looked for the black cat, it had disappeared. The cargo was discharged and a lading of coal taken aboard for West African ports. The Nancy Hanks barely was at sea before the cat appeared and another gale blew up. It was weathered with difficulty and port reached. Upon docking, the cat disappeared again. 

A cargo of mahogany was loaded for Boston and the schooner put to sea once more. The infernal cat appeared again and African fever swept the ship. With only himself and two weakened seamen able to work the schooner. Captain Foster struggled toward America. A sudden squall swept away canvas which the weakened mariners could not reach and it was said the cat was swept overboard. Fair weather followed and the schooner finally reached Boston, clearing about a quarter of a million for her owners on the voyage. 

Captain Foster left the schooner and it carried coastwise cargoes, with varying misfortunes, for several years. One day it appeared off Miami in distress, carrying a cargo of lumber. Aid was given, and the Nancy Hanks towed into the harbor. The crew, muttering mutiny, deserted and it was learned a sailor had killed one of the officers and the captain had been washed overboard at sea during the voyage. 

The cargo of lumber was unloaded and the Nancy Hanks anchored in the harbor, awaiting further orders.

Her name had become a curse in the mouth of every mariner and it was impossible to ship a crew, for sailor-men believe in ghost ships and are firm in the opinion that to ship on one is to seal one's doom. 

Even in harbor, the malignant fate that was the destiny of the staunch schooner did not cease to torture it. The craft strained at anchor and had a disconcerting way of swinging into the path of any boat nearing it. Then, in a storm, it broke away and grounded on Fisher's island. There was no attempt to salvage it. The wreckers dismantled it and left the battered skeleton to rot. Sailor men shook their heads and muttered that at last the devil ship's career was ended and its ghost would walk no more. 

But it seemed that fate only had leered in a twisted smile when it apparently had allowed the boat to end its days on a peaceful bar. 

Some mariner, probably tortured by the sight of the hulk that may have meant misfortune to himself or comrades, apparently could not rest at the sight of the abandoned schooner. Perhaps he thought the ghost would roam again and do more harm unless driven to oblivion by flames. 

So under cover of darkness, with a curse in his throat, perhaps he rowed to the island in a skiff, poured oil on the hull and touched a match--then fled chuckling while the remains of the good shin Nancy Hanks were devoured by flames. Only a few charred timbers remain: the next few tides, a puff of wind, a little sand piled up--and the last remnant of the Nancy Hanks will be removed from the sight of man.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Tales of a Welsh Wizard

John Harries

For all of its recorded existence, Wales has provided a happy home for Wise Men--or, to give them another name, wizards.  (The Welsh term is “dyn hysbys.”)  Until very modern times, these men were sought out to aid people who believed they had been cursed, or to cast some benevolent spells of their own.  For all I know, the wizards still exist here and there, just practicing their curious trade more discreetly.  These men were seers, healers, herbalists, and often astrologers.  This esoteric blend of talents was often surprisingly effective.  Two of the most renowned of the dyn hysbys were John Harries and his son Henry.

The elder Harries was born in Cwrt-y-Cadno in 1785.  His father was a well-to-do yeoman father whose ambition was to see his son become a doctor.  When he was old enough, John was sent to London to learn medicine.  After getting his diploma, John returned home to set up his practice.

It soon became evident that John had healing abilities that extended far beyond anything that could be learned from medical school.  He had an unusual talent for easing pain.  He had a strange power over those who were mentally ill, using his mind to control, or even cure them.  He gave excellent advice for anyone who was troubled in mind or body, showing an uncanny knowledge of his patients’ past--and their future.  In short, the good people of Cwrt-y-Cadno soon realized they had a first-rate dyn hysbys in their midst.  He was a kindly, compassionate man who was eager to provide help for the increasing number of people who sought him out.

John made no secret of the fact that his skills arose from his study of astrology, as well as hidden knowledge he learned from the spirits.  On a certain day every year, John and one of his disciples would go off into the woods, far from any human contact.  There, John would make a clearing and draw a circle on the ground.  He raised a wooden post in the middle of this circle, and placed upon it a large book sealed with seven locks, which he chained to the post.  His disciple entered the circle, with the instructions to carefully report everything he heard or saw.  Then, John opened the book--which was written in some strange, unknown language--and chanted long sections of it.  All of this, it was said, was done to summon the spirits who gave him such miraculous powers.

Although John was valued as a healer, he is chiefly remembered for his remarkable psychic abilities.  He solved many crimes by displaying knowledge that he could not have obtained by any normal means.  On one occasion, a Carmarthenshire man set off to walk to Brecon.  When he failed to return, the police were summoned, but they were unable to find the missing man.  After some weeks had passed, the man’s relatives turned to John for help.  After hearing their story, the wizard sadly told them that the man was dead.  “If you cross the mountain between Llandovery and Brecon your path will lead you past a ruined house, and close by is a solitary tree.  Dig at the foot of the tree and you will find him whom you seek.”  A search party immediately went to the spot, which was exactly as Herries had described it.  When the group dug the ground beneath the tree, they soon found their friend’s body.  Unfortunately, Harries’ talents apparently did not extend to knowing who had murdered the man, and why.  The crime was never solved.

In a more famous story involving Harries, the wizard’s supernatural powers nearly got him into a great deal of trouble.  A young woman had disappeared, and after conventional methods of searching for her failed, Dr. Harries was brought into the case.  He informed her family that the girl had been killed by her lover, who buried the body beneath a certain tree.  After the girl’s corpse was uncovered at the spot, her sweetheart confessed his guilt.  All of this made the local authorities--hard-headed men who had no truck with wizardry--very suspicious of Dr. Harries.  They reasoned that he could not have known so much about the murder unless he had participated in it.  They had the wise man arrested and charged with complicity and abetting the murder.  Fortunately, Harries’ many supporters were able to have the charges dropped.  As a parting gift, Harries cheerfully told the magistrates that if they gave him the date and hour of their births, he could tell them exactly when they would die.

The magistrates declined the offer.

One day, two farmers were robbed on their way home from Swansea market.  One of them went to Cwrt-y-Cadno for help in finding the culprit.  Harries asked the man if he would know his own horses and wagon if he saw them again.  The puzzled farmer said that of course he would.  Harries then took him into an adjoining room and instructed him to look into the mirror hanging on a wall.  When the farmer did so, he saw his horses and wagon standing on the road leading from the market.  Inside the wagon, he and his friend were sleeping.  A third man, whom the farmer instantly recognized, was helping himself to their sacks and money-bag.

On another occasion, a drover sold some cattle and went home with his profits, about £80.  When he woke up the next morning, the money was gone.  Obviously, it was time to consult with the friendly neighborhood dyn hysbys.  Harries told him that he would cause the thief to stay in bed as long as they lived, and that the drover would find the money in his pocket the next day.  When the drover returned home, he was surprised to find his wife lying in bed.  She had been perfectly well when he left.


When the drover rose the next morning, he did indeed find all the money in his pocket.  His wife then confessed to having stolen the money.  She remained bedridden until her death 19 years later.

Another story tells of how a farmer who lost three cows asked Harries for help.  The wise man said he would know what became of the cows the following day.  The farmer had come a long way on foot, so he decided it would be pointless to return home.  Without saying anything to Harries, he decided to spend the night in the wizard’s barn.  Very early the next morning, he was surprised to see Harries in the barn, carrying a lantern.  The dyn hysbys drew a large circle on the floor and recited a long incantation from the book he was holding.  Instantly, seven demons appeared, and one stated “There is a pig in the straw.”  (This was evidently an unflattering comment about the farmer.)  Another said, “The farmer’s cows will be found on Carmarthen bridge at noon tomorrow.”

The terrified farmer managed to slip away without being observed, and ran home as fast as he could.  The next day at noon, he found his cows on the Carmarthen bridge, just as advertised.  While he was driving them home, the animals suddenly stopped at a certain point, and nothing the farmer did could get them to move.  Finally, the man gave up, and went back to Harries for advice.  The wizard matter-of-factly informed him that the cows were frozen in place because he had put a spell on them.  And there they would remain until the farmer had given him his fee!  The sheepish man paid up, and the cows arrived safely home.

From studying his own horoscope, Harries believed he would die violently on a particular day in 1839.  After dinner on what he believed to be his fatal day, he immediately went to bed, hoping in that way to “cross his planet.”  Alas, during the night he was awakened by cries that the house was on fire.  He had no choice but to go downstairs to help fight the flames.  As he was climbing a ladder to throw water on the roof, he slipped and fell to the ground, where he died on the spot.  It is strange how such an accomplished wizard thought he could challenge Fate.

Harries’ funeral provided one last bit of weirdness.  The men carrying his coffin to the parish church said that after crossing the river Cothi, the coffin suddenly felt very light, and that a herd of oxen feeding by the river fled as the funeral procession approached, not stopping for four miles.  The people of Cwrt-y-Cadno believed that this showed that the spirits who had assisted Harries in life stole his corpse and transported it to some place in the mountain crags.

After John’s death, his son Henry took over his job as the local wise man, where he proved to be a more than worthy successor, providing expert occult help to anyone in trouble.  After Henry died in 1849, his younger brother John became the family wizard, but, sadly, he was said to be far less skilled than his father and brother.

A good wizard is hard to find.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The staffers at Strange Company HQ want to be your Valentine!

Who the hell was the Leatherman?

What the hell is the Tamil Bell?

Committing arson to hide a murder.

Meet the world's oldest dog.  A very handsome one, too.

Yet another article about how we may be underrating Neanderthals.

There's a part of Japan that's owned by Russia and inhabited by a cat.

Two forgotten "sister novelists."  I've heard of them, though.  Because I'm weird.

The newly-deciphered code of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Queen Victoria and the governess.

The Holloway Aeronauts.

How the Egyptian pyramids originally looked.

If you're going to elope with someone, make sure you knock on the right window.

A tomb with a view.

Queen Elizabeth I, clothes horse.

The tragic end of the SS Noronic.

Alexander the Great's dog.

Cordelia Botkin's deadly chocolates.

An early reference to fairy wings.

A murderer's strange confession.

A theatrical undertaker.

An amorous thief.

Toy manufacturers of London's East End, 1917.

The first "Mickey Mouse."

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll visit some Welsh wizards!  In the meantime, here's a bit of Bach.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Because everyone likes a good "spectral face in glass" story, let me direct your attention to this item from the "London Morning Post," January 4, 1872 (via Newspapers.com):

San Francisco, emulous of the fame of some of the smaller cities of Ohio, now reports that it has a weird face on a window-pane, the story being related by the Bulletin of the 9th ult. as follows : 

"The precise locality of this wonderful house is No. 2119, Mason-street, between Lombard and Chestnut. The house is a small unpretending two-story, and occupied by a French widow named Joergens, whose husband died September, 1870, while on a visit to France. Madame Joergens states that everything has gone badly with her since her husband's death, as his relatives have been trying to get certain property out of her hands. She says that on Monday some children who had been playing on the street came to her and said there was a man's face in the window of the upper story. She ran up stairs, but could see no face. She then went out on the street, when it was plainly discernible. On the afternoon of Sunday Madame Joergens stated that she examined the window-pane closely, and that just to the right of and seemingly beyond the picture first observed she saw the face and shoulders of another man, having the features of her deceased husband. She says that she was loth to behave in the existence of anything supernatural, and, fearing that her eyes might have been made the fools of her other senses, she called in several friends who knew her husband when in the flesh, and they substantiated her opinion. This figure remained about three hours, and gradually disappeared, but the other remained. Each day it grew more and more distinct. The face is that of a man in the prime of life, with dark wavy hair and whiskers. The view of the face is a full one; the head is resting on the left shoulder. The expression of the features is one of contemplative sorrow. In it a gentleman recognised the features of a French real estate agent, now alive and in this city, and mentioned this fact to Mme. Joergens, who immediately stated that the person referred to was a relative of hers. Every effort has been made to obliterate the features, but without success. Ammonia, vinegar, alcohol, soap-suds, lye, and every variety of erasive matter has been used on the window, but the face is as stubborn as Banquo's ghost, and serenely contemplates all efforts to remove it."

Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything else about this story.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Murder by Wholesale: The Remarkable Career of Dr. Henry Meyer

"Parsons Daily Sun," August 12, 1893, via Newspapers.com

It is a curious thing how some monsters, like Jack the Ripper or H.H. Holmes, linger in human memory to the point where they become dark legends, while equally prolific evildoers have a brief moment of fame, only to be quickly forgotten.

An outstanding example of the latter breed was Dr. Henry C.W. Meyer, aka Hugo Wehler, aka William Reuter, aka Schaffer, aka Oswald, aka Stoffen.  In 1893, the good doctor and his colorful career of insurance fraud and murder made newspaper headlines across America, but today, it is doubtful that even most true crime writers know his name.

It is known that Meyer graduated from Chicago’s Homeopathic Medical College in 1878, but other than that little is known about his early years, aside from the fact that he married a Miss Kirehoff in 1877.

Meyer first caught the legal system’s eye in 1880, when he was working as an agent for Chicago’s Germania life insurance company.  He used his job to issue fraudulent policies, and collect the premiums.  When his little scheme was discovered, he fled to Denver, where he was arrested and brought back for trial.  Oddly, he was acquitted, even though one of the men who allowed the use of his name in one of the bogus policies testified for the prosecution.

In 1881, a patient of his named Henry Geldemann suddenly died of undetermined causes.  Meyer’s wife soon died as well, after which the doctor immediately married Geldemann’s widow Ida (gaining both their dead spouses’ sizable life insurance policies in the bargain.) 

The police began to take an interest in the proceedings.  Despite their suspicions, it was decided that there was not enough evidence for murder charges, and the doctor was set at liberty.

After his release, Meyer faced a dilemma:  He now also wanted liberty from his new wife, but he wished to stay married to all that sweet insurance money.  Like many a spouse in a similar situation, he decided there was nothing for it but to recall those words, “Till death do you part.”

Meyer hired an old boyfriend of Ida’s, Peter Bretz, to murder her.  However, even though the doctor helpfully provided him with vials of poison to do the deed, Bretz got cold feet and went to the police.  Meyer was tried on charges of conspiracy, but—proving the law often works in mysterious ways—he was acquitted.  I have no idea what he told Ida about the matter, but the couple remained together for several more years, until his son from his first marriage suddenly died.  Again, the police looked into this latest Meyer-related death, and again found insufficient reason to prosecute.  Meyer—who truly seemed to have the devil’s own luck—ran off with an actress, which finally inspired Ida to file for divorce.  Some months after that, Meyer returned to Ida and suggested they get back together.  Clearly, he just couldn’t get that insurance money out of his heart.  Mrs. Meyer, who must have been either the most obtuse or the most masochistic of women, agreed.

Predictably enough, the reunion did not last long.  Meyer entered into an affair with a pretty young woman named Mary Dressen…and Ida’s health suddenly and dramatically declined.  Ida, at long last getting a clue, cut off Meyer’s allowance and threw him out of the house.  As soon as she broke up with her husband, her condition rapidly improved.  Meyer shrugged, took up a new career forging checks, and married Dressen.  He soon forged the name of his new father-in-law to a hefty life insurance policy…and the normally robust old man suddenly became very ill…

Fortunately, this forgery was detected by the authorities, and Meyer was arrested.  With his son-in-law behind bars, the ailing Mr. Dressen immediately began to recover.

Meyer was tried for forgery, but acquitted. While awaiting his day in court, he made the most of his leisure time by brooding upon the subject dearest to his heart:  Wholesale insurance fraud.  He enlisted two fellow inmates, minor criminals named Gustave Baum (who was currently going by the name of “Ludwig Brandt,”) and Carl Mueller, in a plan that he assured them was both foolproof and lucrative.  Meyer’s formula was this:  Brandt would enter into a marriage with a woman who’d be in on the game.  Then, he’d take out a large insurance policy on his own life.  After a decent interval, Meyer would dose him with a liquid of the doctor’s own invention that would make Brandt appear to be dead.  Meyer would bring in outside doctors to confirm the “death,” after which he would administer an antidote, forge a death certificate, and find a corpse to take Brandt’s place in the grave.  Then, all the conspirators would collect the insurance money and live happily ever after.

As long as there has been life insurance, there have been many ambitious souls who have tried the “get someone to pretend to die in order to cash in” scheme.  Almost inevitably, the ringleaders of these schemes begin to think how much easier and safer the project would be if they could arrange a genuine death…

After all the plotters were released, they went right to work.  Meyer announced that he knew of the perfect woman to “marry” Brandt.  He introduced Mary Meyer to his confederates, not mentioning, of course, that she was already his own wife.  After she and Brandt went through a marriage ceremony, the groom took out a number of life insurance policies which totaled $8500.

It had been understood that the marriage would be in name only, but Brandt was quite taken with his attractive bride, and tried to persuade her to consummate their irregular union.  It is said that Dr. Meyer’s annoyance with this led to what happened next, but it seems certain that he planned from the start that Brandt would not get out of this marriage alive.  The doctor dosed the new “husband” not with some fictitious “secret potion,” but a mixture of antimony and arsenic which killed him on March 30, 1892.

The new “widow” was able to collect most of the policies, but several insurance agents correctly sensed something was up and sicced the detectives on the Meyer gang.  Brandt’s body was exhumed, and when it was discovered he had been poisoned, the police went in full pursuit of Meyer.

The doctor and his surviving cohorts had fled, but after a well-publicized search, they were finally tracked down in Toledo, Ohio, where they were discovered to be in the middle of yet another scam.  Meyer, deciding that the simplest methods were after all the best, had arranged for Mueller to marry a young servant girl, Mary Neiss.  The plan was that she would take out insurance policies on her life, after which Meyer would poison her.

Unfortunately for Meyer, romance once again complicated his schemes.  Mueller decided that he preferred his bride to the money, confessed all to her, and the pair escaped to Chicago.  Meyer, not one to give up easily, somehow acquired the corpse of a young woman, and was trying to pass it off as that of Neiss when the law finally caught up to him.

Mueller was the star witness for the prosecution at Meyer’s December 1893 trial for Brandt’s murder.  The court proceedings, already of the most sensational character, were enlivened even further when near the close of the trial, one of the jurors suffered a psychotic breakdown while sitting in the jury box and had to be committed to a mental hospital.  It was noted that Meyer was grinning as the man was led away.

The jury was dismissed, and Meyer was re-tried.

Everyone following his trials fully expected to see the good doctor fry, particularly since it was widely believed Brandt had been only one of Meyer’s many victims.  (Detectives solemnly informed the press that they believed Meyer had murdered at least half a dozen other people in the course of his various insurance frauds.)  However, the jury delivered a verdict of only second degree murder.  While there were eleven votes for the ultimate penalty, one juror stubbornly insisted on voting for manslaughter.  Rather than have a mistrial, the jurors settled on the lesser verdict as a compromise.  (As the “New York Times” commented afterwards, “with all the good luck Meyer has had in his troubles he never had such a stroke as when the jury found him guilty of murder in the second degree.”)  

There was talk about charging Mary Meyer with grand larceny for her role in the insurance frauds, but I have found no evidence she was actually tried.  Considering the odd turns justice took throughout this story, I would not be at all surprised if she was given her liberty.

Meyer spent the rest of his days in Sing Sing, where he was described as a mild-mannered man with an “almost visible aura of sanctity.”

Friday, February 3, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by two of the best-dressed cats you'll see all day.

What the hell were the gnomes of Wollaton Park?

How the hell did Amy Robsart die?

Who the hell was the Tylenol Killer?

A unique underwater "lost city."

The dark side of 19th century education.

Egypt's oldest known gold-covered mummy has just been found.

A tribute to the Wife of Bath.

The memorial to Street Cat Bob.

The real-life "Ophelia."  And it nearly killed her.

A 350-year-old manuscript has finally been decoded.

The mystery of ancient rock-cut caves in India.

In which we learn that Rihanna's music is played in Hell, and I for one am not surprised.

Intelligence gathering in the Heart of Arabia, 1918.

Stephen Hopkins' many misadventures on land and sea.

Pigeons and the ancient Egyptians.

Messages from the Titanic.

The barber whose customers were usually dead.

The man who buried himself.

The misfortunes of an Irish merchant in Tenerife.

The attempted assassination of Lord Lytton, Viceroy of India.

On the beat with a London PC.

A murder at Bloomingdale.

When people have the same dream.

If you think you've seen Bigfoot, it was probably a bear.  Sorry.

That time the U.S. government tried recruiting cats to spy on the Soviet Union.

Georgian era waistcoats.

Victorian era bicycling.

It's come to this: DIY gene editing.  Oh, goody, we can all be Dr. Frankenstein now.

Investigating an Ice Age abattoir.

The birth of fettuccine Alfredo.

The man who was both a dwarf and a giant.

Germany's "doppelganger murder."  This one is all kinds of crazy.

Trials, tribulations, and tattoos.

How spouses came to be known as the "better half."

The first Arctic primates.

Treason and the execution of Charles I.

Napoleon versus the rabbits.

Africa's worst maritime disaster.

The last of the Dijon mustard makers.

The formation of the Valois Burgundian empire.

Soviet-era conmen.

The Countess whose teeth were held together with gold wire.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll meet a guy who took insurance fraud to a whole new level.  In the meantime, here's Gregg Allman:

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This tale of a particularly stubborn ghost appeared in the "Newport Daily Express," January 25, 1950:

BRISTOL Eng. Jan 25--If Mrs Drury’s ghost is still walking around the old Victorian house of William Baber today it won’t be the fault of the Vicar. 

The ghost--or whatever has been upsetting the Baber family--has been exorcised. 

The Rev. Francis J. Maddock went through all the rooms of the old house last night performing an ancient rite that is supposed to exorcise ghosts--put them to rest or at least make them stop walking around old haunts. 

The Baber family was on the verge of moving out after it complained that a spooky little old lady in black with a weird glow around her head followed it around the house, woke up the two children and generally upset earthly routines.

The Babers think it is the ghost of Mrs. Gladys Drury who used to live here and died 18 years ago. 

Rev. Maddock got permission from the Church of England to perform the old special services. He studied up on ancient authorities of the subject. The main idea, he said, was that he had to assume the spirit was really there. 

He wouldn’t give any details of the special service but he said he didn't use incense or sprinkle holy-water which he said is called for by the old teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. 

“I used such form of exorcism as is in conformity with the teachings of the Church of England,” he explained. 

After that the Babers said the spirit appeared every morning at about 6 o'clock and followed them around the house. 

The Babers started having trouble with the ghost six months ago after Mrs. Baber opened a closet door containing a lot of old trunks that once belonged to Mrs. Drury. It had been locked since the old lady’s death. 

The Babers still aren’t sure they want to move back into the house. They’ve been living with relatives lately to get away from the apparition. And they’ve also applied to the local housing authorities for fresh accommodations “on the ground of ghostly disturbances in the present home."

As often happens, the exorcism seems to have merely annoyed the ghost.  A sequel appeared in the "Fort-Worth Star Telegram" on February 13:

Via Newspapers.com

"Mrs It," the ghost of No. 13 Highworth Road is back again--with a playmate. 

Only three weeks ago the haunt was exorcised by a Church of England vicar in a religious rite to drive away spirits taken from early Christian records. 

The peace of No. 13 was short-lived. 

Mr. and Mrs. William Baber, who live in the house, say the ghost now does a nightly routine up and down the stairs with an unidentified partner. Sometimes it sounds like they're dancing, sometimes like wrestling. 

The Baber theory is that the original ghost--which they named "Mrs It"--is that of a woman who died in the house 18 years ago. 

"Mrs It" first began prowling around the place in December. Their vicar, Rev. Francis Maddock, went through a rite of exorcism Jan 24 after a month of nightly uproar at No 13. 

Sunday night the Babers called a spiritualist. All they found out is that "Mrs It" (1) speaks a foreign language--possibly Russian--or (2) is an atrocious speller. 

They used a Ouija board to see if she had any message. What came out was "e e h f h m e v."

The last word I was able to find about the story stated that the Babers had moved back into the house, resigned to sharing it with an "It."