"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Friday, April 28, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is here!

Unfortunately, as usual, putting it together has left the staffers as basket cases.

A theatrical execution.

A grave gets mysterious visitors.

A lesser-known American naval hero.

European house cats go back a really long way.

A look at secret passageways.

A life on the lam.

Four objects that made science history.

The organ-grinding nuisance.

The strange case of a destitute man in London.

How to unmake a priest.

One of the most heavily-engaged units of the American Revolutionary War.

So, you want to prove there's life after death?  Here's one guy who really walked the walk.

When deadly steamboat races were popular.

Inventing a royal past.

Hollywood's first professional stuntwoman.

The life of an author "torn between Catholicism and diabolism."

An alleged alien abduction case.

The long history of a New York mansion.

A little boy gets a little visitor.

The origins of calling a group of people "you lot."

Contemporary news reports about the theft of the Mona Lisa.

A brief history of the Gibson Girl.

A paranormal escape from premature burial.

The coronation of George II and Queen Caroline.

The coronation of James II.

The mysteries of the "Stone of Destiny."

The mysteries of the Mayan calendar.

A look at Truxtun bowls.

Well, when a guy dies saying the Devil has him by the throat, don't be surprised when he becomes a ghost.

A scientist ranked the pain of stinging insects so you don't have to.

In which we learn that the Devil once left his pants in Bruges.

A 19th century handbook for European women visiting the tropics.

A hiker just found 2,000 year old buried treasure.

Whistleblowers and UFOs.

The mysteries of Neolithic stone balls.  Related: The mysteries of the Skara Brae artifacts.

The first celebrity robot.

Sand as quack medicine.

A 1st century surgeon who was buried with the tools of his trade.

That time London tried to have its own Eiffel Tower, and it didn't go so well.

That time people tried to domesticate zebras, and it didn't go so well.

That time three Martians sued NASA, and it didn't go so well.

The history of the "cries of London."

The ancient gods of a lost civilization.

Foul facts and a pretended marriage.

Remembering the "Hitler's diary" hoax.

The "black owl" robbery.

The first "pocket phonograph."

Um, guys?  The world already has plenty of natural-born pathological liars.  You really didn't need to invent one.

Henry VII writes to the shipwrecked Margaret of Austria.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll travel to India to meet some very dangerous ghosts.  In the meantime, let's travel to Ireland!

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

The following is a pretty stereotypical poltergeist case, but it's still of interest.  The "Philadelphia Times," September 10, 1885:

John Seitzinger, wife and children live in a modest two-story house in this place. For the past several days their lives have been made miserable, owing to some unseen force, which moves the furniture from one end of the room to the other and which throws stones and other missiles. The police went there today to investigate. Stones wore hurled in a continuous shower from the air, but no one could see who threw them. One of them struck Lucy Seitzinger, aged 10, severely injuring her. Pies, bread, etc., were hurled out of the larder and the plates, cups and saucers commenced dancing on the table. While the members of the family were in bed for the past few nights they were turned upside down, sometimes as often as a dozen times in an evening. 

Large crowds of excited people visit the house to see the furniture dance and see the stones thrown through the air. When the stones commenced to fly the thickest, the policemen who went to the house left in a hurry. Frequently after an hour's absence Mrs. Seitzinger will find all the furniture disarranged. Superstitious people believe that the place is haunted and some of the stones have been given to a witch doctor to use his influence in destroying the power of these strange and mysterious forces.

As is all-too-common with such reports, I couldn't find any conclusion to the story, so I can't tell you if the witch doctor had any luck.  I rather doubt he did, though.

Monday, April 24, 2023

The Shot in the Dark: A Charleston Mystery

Mrs. Mary Mack Ravenel of Charleston, South Carolina, was practically a stereotype of the vintage Southern matron.  Although she was born in Detroit, after her 1892 marriage to William Martin, a plantation owner in Shirley, South Carolina, she spent the rest of her life in the South.  William died in 1905, and two years later his widow married a Charlestonian named John Ravenel.  Ravenel was rich, thanks to inheriting his father’s successful phosphate company, and very well-connected socially.  After marrying Ravenel, Mary became a leading figure in Charleston high society.  She was a popular hostess who was active in many charitable and social organizations.  Her husband’s death did little to slow her active life.  She had four loving children and was liked and respected in her community.  In short, she seemed to have a charmed existence.

You guessed it.  Things did not end well for Mary.

On the night of November 1, 1933, the 64-year-old widow was walking home after having dinner with a friend.  Around 10 p.m., two women were driving past Ravenel’s mansion, when they were shocked to see the body of a woman slumped on the sidewalk.  It was Mary Ravenel.  When the women approached her, Mrs. Ravenel murmured, “A man hit me.”  The women flagged down two men who were passing by, asking them to help load the stricken lady into their car.  They assumed she had been the victim of a hit-and-run accident.  As they drove Ravenel to the hospital, she screamed, “Let me out of the car.  I know I am going to die.  The pain hurts me so!”

When doctors asked Ravenel what had happened, she weakly repeated, “A man hit me.”  When they suggested she had been hit by a car, she replied, “No, I don’t know what it was.”  Without knowing what had struck her down, the hospital staffers were helpless to aid her.  By morning, Mrs. Ravenel was dead.

"Greenville News," November 4, 1933, via Newspapers.com

It was not until she was autopsied that the coroner discovered what had killed her: she had been shot with a .38 caliber bullet which passed through her right forearm, upper arm, and into her chest.  There were no powder burns, which indicated that her murderer had been some distance away.  The trajectory of the bullet suggested that at the time Ravenel was shot, she was raising her arm, possibly to ward off a blow.

The mysterious murder of one of Charleston’s leading citizens was, naturally, a great shock to the community, and people--very, very important people--demanded the police catch her killer immediately.  After all, if an inoffensive widow like Mrs. Ravenel could not be safe walking the streets, no one was safe.

Unfortunately, this was one of those murders where the police had absolutely nothing to work with.  There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting.  The murder weapon was never found.  Nobody could think of any reason why anyone in the world would want Mrs. Ravenel dead.

Perhaps Mrs. Ravenel was the victim of a mugging?  However, her purse and jewelry were untouched.

Did she, against all logic, have someone in her life deliberately murder her?  But if so, who?  And why?  If she was shot by someone she knew, why didn’t she name him, instead of merely saying “a man” struck her?

A third theory is the quirkiest of the lot:  That she was shot accidentally.  Detectives found witnesses who stated that on the night Mrs. Ravenel was killed, they heard the howling of a cat, followed by a gunshot and a woman’s scream.  It was proposed that someone fired at the cat, only to strike poor Mary instead.  However, this scenario does not explain why Mrs. Ravenel said “a man hit me,” and the evidence that at the time she was shot, she was raising her arm in self-defense.  (For what it’s worth, a friend of Mrs. Ravenel’s indignantly told police “We don’t shoot cats down here!”)

So that was that.  As no evidence surfaced to prove or disprove any of these possibilities, Mrs. Ravenel’s death gradually drifted into that netherworld of “cold cases.”  However, it is still remembered as one of Charleston’s strangest murders.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by the lovely and talented Jenny Wren!

"Illustrated London News," November 1, 1996

A famously corrupt East End politician.

Meet Hester the Mummified Ground Squirrel.

Scientists are occupying their time by making zombie bird drones.

The rules of sexuality in ancient Greece.

Mark Twain's very short, very goofy period as a Confederate soldier.

Eyewitness accounts of the San Francisco earthquake.

Deep and rich mourning clothes.

A look at "raree shows."

What female pirates wore.

Queen Victoria's hairdresser.

The archaeology museum where you are greeted by a skeleton.

The ancient rock carving that became a meme.

America's last execution by hanging.

When Irish Catholics took fasting very seriously.

Why Samuel Terry wound up being grateful for being transported to Australia.

MPs and Queen Victoria's coronation.

A brief history of lemonade.

20,000 year old glue.

The children's games of Tudor England.

The origins of "go-to."

Why coins are left on gravestones.

Two one-armed men meet on a train.  Hilarity ensues.

The day-to-day lives of Regency gentlewomen.

Medieval doctors were really interested in urine.

Some things you probably don't know about John Quincy Adams.

The 19th century race to the "promised land."

Bad behavior in the 19th century Bombay Army.

People are hearing weird sounds in the sky.

Art sleuths reunite a family.

The loss of HMS Alceste.

A reminder that the Titanic was also a mail ship.

Preparing for the coronation of Richard II.

The story behind a famous--and racy--album cover.

Why an American spy surrendered to the Nazis.

A trunk full of trouble.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a Southern matron's mystifying murder.  In the meantime, here's Glenn Miller!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Here's a fine example of that beloved Fortean category, mysterious showers of stones!  From the "Washington Star," August 24, 1891:

A Hinton, W. Va., special to the New York Tribune today says: The people living on New River mountain in this (Summers) county are much wrought up by a phenomenon which has been witnessed there at intervals for several months, but only recently assumed startling proportions. 

In May reports were circulated of a mysterious rain of tiny stones, which apparently came out of the ether. At first these attracted little attention, but as time passed the reports became general. In May several stones fell in a clearing near the cabin of "Cy" Henly, who lives half way up the north slope of the mountain. These were jagged pieces of sandstone the size of a walnut.  There is an old trail and a quarry, occasionally used by the mountaineers, high above him on the mountain, all the notice Henly took of the matter was to curse the persons supposed to have thrown the stones. 

One night in June. however, he was wakened by sounds on the roof like the falling of hail. As he had a little garden patch he was uneasy as to the effect of the hail. Examination in the morning developed that the hail was composed of tiny stones. Henly spoke of this to other mountaineers and it was learned that stones had fallen at other points on the mountain. In July a clearing almost on top of the mountain was visited by a desultory rain of tones, many of them striking buildings with loud noise and bounding off. 

A peculiarity of this shower was the presence of several pebbles which are as rare on that mountain as icicles in August. The superstition of the mountaineers was aroused, and some strange theories wore advanced. The reports grew as they went. A newspaper in a neighboring county recently printed a story that showers of stones were constant on the mountains, and that business was suspended on account of the excited condition of the populace. The fact is that the populace consists of not more than a dozen families scattered over the mountains, and there never was any business to suspend. 

The most peculiar manifestations occurred on the farm of Ellison Fosman, a justice of the peace living on the south slope. Several stones had fallen here at intervals of a day or so, and "Ed" Meekers, a school teacher of the vicinity, went to Fosman's to investigate. A stone was heard to fall in the yard, and after some search seekers found it. It was almost sunk beneath the hard surface of the ground, and was smooth, black and of a perfectly oval shape, and about the size of a robin's egg. Meeker said it was warm when he touched it. Just as he stooped another stone struck him a sharp blow in the small of the back. This stone was scarcely larger than a lima bean and about the same shape, although not so regular. 

A stone about a large as a man's fist and resembling brown hematite iron ore fell on the roof of Addison Butt's house, two miles from Fosman's, and, bounding off, fell into a barrel of water standing at the corner of the house. It sizzled like hot iron and sent up a little cloud of steam. This stone is undoubtedly of meteoric origin, as some of the others may be, but the average falling stone is an irregular, jagged bit of sandstone, and small clouds of coarse sand accompany some of the stones. Twigs are broken off trees, shingles split and corn broken down. Probably a bushel of these stones have fallen, all in all, in the clearings. If, as seems probable, the phenomenon has been general over the mountain, several tons must have fallen. In the valley of New River mountain the wildest reports receive credence, and the Rev. John Justin, a local Baptist exhorter, is using them with startling effect at nightly revival meetings at the little log school house.

Monday, April 17, 2023

A Visit With Sandown Sam

All accounts of alleged encounters with extraterrestrial beings are, by their very nature, bizarre.  However, your average planet-hopping space aliens will really have to up their game if they ever want to outweird the creature now known in UFO lore as “Sandown Sam.”

The January/February 1978 issue of the Journal of the British UFO Research Association carried a story written by one Norman Oliver.  He stated that a man who wished to remain anonymous (Oliver dubbed him “Mr. Y.”) wrote him one very weird story.  On October 20, 1970, “Mr. Y” was driving from Shanklin to Ryde, with a stop at Seaview in order to visit a friend.  As he was passing through the village of Brading, he noticed a “large multi-lit ‘aircraft’” to his right, flying low over the swampy terrain.  He stopped the car, and observed the “aircraft” hovering, seemingly aimlessly, over the banks of the river Yar.  It made no sound.  “Y” resumed driving, with the “aircraft” flying parallel.  After a few minutes, the object cut across some 300 yards behind him, and continued its meanderings.  Y again stopped the car and spent ten minutes shining a flashlight at the craft, which was now weaving backwards and forwards.  Y drove on.  When he reached his destination, he saw the craft had followed him, and was playing “hide and seek” among the tree-tops.  When his friend came out of the house to greet him, he also noticed the craft.  When Y continued to Ryde, the mysterious object, evidently getting bored with him, went on its way.  He did not see it again, although on several later occasions, he saw a single ball of red light in the sky, which appeared to be following him.

Y had an even more unsettling experience on the night of March 1, 1972.  He was on the cliffside of Compton Bay, where he had retreated following a mysterious tidal surge that appeared to have been caused by some sort of underwater craft.  He saw in the water below two points of yellow light “peering up at me like the eyes of some horrible sea monster.”  After a few minutes, the “eyes” disappeared and the tide subsided, enabling Y to return to his car and drive home.

Y had a small daughter, whom Oliver called “Fay.”  Although Y never told the child anything about his eerie experiences, in early May 1973, the seven-year-old youngster found herself joining in the Fortean fun.  One Tuesday afternoon, Fay and a boy about her age were near Lake Common, Sandown, when they heard “a weird wailing noise not unlike an ambulance siren.”  They followed the noise to a swampy meadow adjacent to the small Sandown Airport.  The sounds stopped.

As the children were crossing a footbridge spanning a small brook, a blue-gloved hand suddenly appeared from under the bridge and an odd-looking figure emerged.  It took out a book, which it accidentally dropped in the water.  The creature retrieved it and entered a windowless metal hut.  It walked with an awkward hopping motion.

The children continued on their way.  After they had walked about 50 yards, the figure reappeared, carrying a black-knobbed microphone.  The creepy wailing started up again, so loudly that the boy took fright and began to run.  The wailing stopped, and the figure spoke into the microphone, asking, “Hello, are you still there?”  The voice sounded so friendly that the kids were moved to ignore the splendid lunacy of it all, and went over to speak to him/her/it.

The figure was nearly seven feet tall and had no neck--the head was resting directly on the shoulders.  It wore a yellow pointed hat which was attached to the red collar of its green tunic.  The hat was topped by a round black knob with what seemed to be wooden antennae attached to it.  The creature’s face had triangular eyes, a brown square for a nose, and yellow lips which never moved.  Its white cheeks were decorated with round markings, and a fringe of bright red hair festooned the forehead.  Wooden slats stuck out of its sleeves and from below white trousers.  It had only three fingers on each gloved hand, and three toes on its bare, white feet.

The creature wrote in a notebook, “Hello and I am all colours, Sam.”  “Sam” could talk, but its speech was unclear--probably because its lips did not move.  The three had an amiable chat.  The children asked why its clothes were ripped.  “Sam” replied that this was the only set of clothes it had, so they couldn’t be changed.

Are you a man, they asked.  “No,” “Sam” chuckled.

A ghost, perhaps?  “Well, not really, but I am in an odd sort of way.”

“What are you, then?” 

Sam replied with the enigmatic words, “You know.”

Sam went on to say that it had no real name.  It added that there were other beings like itself.  He normally avoided people, because he was frightened of them.

Sam invited the children to visit its two-level hut.  The lower floor had blue-green walls and was covered with a pattern of dials.  It also boasted an electric heater and crude wooden furniture.  The upper level was smaller, with a metallic floor.  Sam said it lived on berries and river water.  The creature ate in an unusual manner: Sam would place a berry in its ear, thrust its head forward, which caused the berry to disappear and reappear through one of its eyes.  After repeating the process, the berry would go into its mouth.

After visiting with Sam for half an hour, the children said a polite “Goodbye” and went on their way.  Some three weeks later, Fay told her father about Sam.  At first, he refused to believe her story--and who can really blame him?--but the wealth of details the girl provided, along with her vehement insistence that she was telling the truth, caused Mr. Y to reluctantly accept her account.  Y questioned the boy who had been with Fay.  The child didn’t want to talk very much about what had happened, but he corroborated Fay’s story.

Y wrote Oliver that as wild as Fay’s account was, there were parts of the story that seemed plausible to him, particularly since he thought there might be a connection to his own odd experiences.  He added, “I get the impression that Fay was somehow taken into a bubble of alien reality created by this strange personage…he told them he had just made the hut.  Also, Fay told me that while they were talking to this ‘ghost,’ two workmen nearby were repairing a post.  They paid no attention to the weird charade--as though they could not see it.”

So.  Did “Fay,” showing a talent for science-fiction well beyond her years, invent the story?  Did the two children have some sort of joint hallucination?  Did some adult stage a remarkably elaborate practical joke?  Or did they really have an encounter with one very, very peculiar “ghost?”  Whatever your opinion about this tale may be, it is indisputable that “Sandown Sam” occupies a proud place in the world of High Strangeness.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn 

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

And the Strange Company staffers are ready to celebrate!

A mysterious triple murder.

A melancholy case in Whitechapel.

The "fighting cartoonist" of WWII.

This week's scientific "Oopsie!" moment.

A lemon that incited a citrus panic.

This week in Russian Weird looks at the official Worst Dish in the World.  Voters were obviously unaware of this Mexican restaurant I visited in West L.A. back in the '80s.  I don't know how you make cheese enchiladas completely toxic, but this place pulled it off.

Some weird things found in amber.

Jane Austen's house is for sale.

There's something very weird and very bright out in space, and astronomers don't have a clue.

The port city that fell off a cliff.

A Mayan scorecard.

The "car-hook tragedy."

Winston Churchill's airplane egg.

The holidays of Old London.

Appalling scenes at a burial ground.

A folk song immortalizes a train derailment.

Birmingham, England's first black minister.

The beginnings of the legend of the Holy Grail.

That time when musicians were banned from an East India Company voyage.

A look at Shropshire fairies.

The half-sister of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

Honoring the dead by dining with them.

The Amritsar Massacre.

How to manage a medieval household.

An 18th century printer and publisher.

You will undoubtedly be shocked to learn that injecting yourself with a crushed black widow spider isn't a great idea.  What a species we are.

A man's 30-year relationship with a fish.

Don't underestimate oral histories.

The Fastnet Race disaster.

The curse of the Riff Pirates.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at one of the weirder "close encounter" stories.  In the meantime, here's some glass harp.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This odd little story appeared in the "Danville Morning News," June 28, 1907:

Baffled to explain how the mangled body of a young man was catapulted through the window of a Third avenue trolley car near the east tower of the Brooklyn bridge, the police department has assigned its cleverest detectives to account for a tragedy, the mystery of which might puzzle Sherlock Holmes himself. The victim is believed from cards found in his pockets to have been John Nelson, a Brooklyn machinist. The Third avenue car was just approaching the bridge tower late last night when a heavy body crashed through the rear platform window into the center of the aisle. It was a man's corpse. 

The body could not have fallen from directly overhead, for the car roof extends three feet over the window. The police figured that the man must have tumbled from an "L" car, struck a pillar and bounded sideways into the car. But no car can be found on which such an accident occurred. Several of the passengers seriously advance the theory that the man fell from a balloon, but the police laugh at the idea. There was a panic in the car when the corpse bounded through the window. The conductor and motorman were arrested.

As far as I've been able to find, the mystery never was solved.  And, no, I haven't the faintest idea why police arrested the conductor and motorman.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Mystery At the Savoy Hotel

In 1902, an Irish-born barrister named Cecil Lincoln built a sprawling hotel in the hills above Mussoorie, India, which he named “the Savoy.” Its flamboyant Edwardian elegance soon made it one of “the” stops for travelers wealthy enough to afford such in-your-face opulence.  The Savoy was also highly popular among British expats seeking a refuge from the heat, dust, and noise of the crowded towns below.  So many authors frequented the hotel that its bar became known as the “Writer’s bar.”  The Savoy would have been the ideal setting for an Agatha Christie tale of mysterious murder among the jet-set.

And according to some, it was.

In the summer of 1911, a 49-year-old Englishwoman named Frances Garnett-Orme came to the Savoy, along with a companion, Eva Mountstephen.  Garnett-Orme had been engaged to a British Army officer who died before the wedding.  This tragedy led her to become deeply involved in spiritualism (in those days, a fashionable form of self-therapy among the bereaved.)  She and Mountstephen spent most of their time at the Savoy holed up in their rooms, crystal-gazing, holding seances, and the other usual activities done to contact the dearly departed.

On September 12th, 1911, Mountstephen left for Lucknow on what she described as “urgent” business.  On the morning of September 19th, Garnett-Orme was found lying on her bed.  Sometime during the night, she had joined the dead souls she had been so anxious to contact.  An empty glass was on the nightstand near her bed.  All the doors and windows were locked from inside, and there were no other signs of any disorder.  The autopsy revealed she had died from a considerable dose of prussic acid.

Suicide does not seem to have been seriously considered.  The dead woman had been in good spirits, and was making various plans for her future.  Authorities believed Garnett-Orme was murdered, and the obvious chief suspect was the dead woman’s companion.  When a woman suddenly skips town soon before her dear friend dies an unnatural death, people will talk.

Mountstephen was easily traced to Lucknow, where she was put under arrest.  She was accused of poisoning the bottle of medicine Garnett-Orme sometimes took for stomach upsets.  Unfortunately for the prosecution, aside from the suspicious nature of it all, there was no conclusive evidence against Mountstephen.  The defense argued that the victim’s spiritualistic experiments had convinced her she had not long to live, leading her to commit suicide.  Given the vague nature of the case, the court had no choice but to return an acquittal.  In another odd turn of events, the doctor who performed the autopsy on Garnett-Orme died of strychnine poisoning just a few months later.  His murder was never solved.  As for the late Miss Garnett-Orme, the Allahabad High Court declared that her death was murder done by person or persons unknown, and that was that.  Unsurprisingly, this pair of mystifying poisonings led to a drastic drop in the Savoy’s popularity for some months afterward.  There are also the inevitable accounts of Garnett-Orme’s ghost still haunting the hotel.

Back to Agatha Christie.  The Garnett-Orme mystery attracted the notice of Rudyard Kipling, who passed the story on to Arthur Conan Doyle.  Doyle, in his turn, shared the case with Christie, who, it was said, used it as inspiration for her first novel, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles.”  Personally, that last statement strikes me as folklore--aside from a woman being fatally poisoned, there is little resemblance between Christie’s novel and the Garnett-Orme case--but the alleged link has kept alive the memory of this enigmatic death.

[Note:  In 1912, Mountstephen applied for probate of her late friend’s will, which left her virtually all of Garnett-Orme's estate.  The trial--Garnett-Orme’s relatives contested her claim--elicited some curious details.  For instance, evidence was presented that Mountstephen had stolen money and jewelry from Garnett-Orme, as well as other wealthy acquaintances.  It was broadly hinted that she had planted the idea in Garnett-Orme’s mind that “the spirits” were saying Frances did not have long to live.  Most startling of all, there was testimony that shortly before Garnett-Orme’s death, a fellow guest at the Savoy went to the authorities declaring that Mountstephen intended to poison her “friend.”  Mountstephen’s application was dismissed on the grounds of “fraud and undue influence in connection with spiritualism and crystal-gazing,”  and Garnett-Orme’s brother was granted probate.]

Friday, April 7, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The Strange Company HQ staff wish you a happy Easter!

Getting away with murder in Regency England.

What happened after the Mutiny on the Bounty.

So, let's talk medieval zombies and shapeshifters.

A guy who made a living eating things nobody should be eating.

Decoding ancient smells.

What ancient people thought of their ancient ruins.

Brutality at a Catholic "poor school."

The bizarre shooting of Marvin Gaye.

A brief history of Shakespeare's Juliet.

One very long spinsterhood.

Elephants may have domesticated themselves.

Space archaeologists.

"The Decameron" and male underpants.

A brief history of Westminster Abbey.

An eggy corpse.  I came across this story a while back, and was completely flummoxed by it.  My best guess is that the burial was some sort of occult ritual--it seems like a waste of a lot of eggs otherwise--but who knows?

The doll-like corpse.

The possible origins of "heard it through the grapevine."

One very scandalous politician.

In which Napoleon's penis goes on tour.

The execution of murderer Mary Pearcey.

A family that barks at people, communicates through grunts, and lives in squalor.  To be honest, they sound like me on most days.

If you lived 170,000 years ago, you'd be dining on roasted, supersized land snails.

The good-luck cat of the Brooklyn Robins.

A tale of disastrous paintings.

The coronation of George I.

What Antarctica looks like under all that ice.

A wife goes up for sale.

The Bank Nun Ghost.

Where the term "laundry list" came from.

Mathematicians have found a weird new shape.

Why horseshoes are considered lucky.

19th century exercises for ladies.

Native Americans utilized horses much earlier than we thought.

So maybe Stonehenge wasn't an ancient calendar.

A war over eggs in early San Francisco.

Bees are pretty damn smart.

A brave Union girl.

A vengeful (and homicidal) husband.

A murder and an attempted murder.

The "unluckiest man in the world."

A con artist turned murderer.

Yes, the crystal Aztec skulls are fakes.  Sorry.

Some sunflower superstitions.

The Screaming Spectre of Farringdon Station.

2,000 years of ancient Egyptian graffiti.

Ill-fated and scandalous lovers.

The swindling wolf of Wolfe Tavern.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a mysterious death at a luxury hotel.  In the meantime, here's a clip that could only have come from the 1970s.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This account of an unusual plane crash appeared in the "Wichita Eagle," June 12, 2004:

WASHINGTON — On a foggy October evening in 2002 pilot Thomas Preziose took off in a small Cessna airplane from the Mobile, Ala., airport on a routine flight carrying Express Mail. Preziose, an experienced pilot, had made the flight to Montgomery dozens of times for a small freight company. He knew the aircraft so well that he was certified to give flight instruction in it. 

Six minutes into the flight Preziose urgently told air traffic controllers: "I needed to deviate, I needed to deviate, I needed to deviate, I needed..." 

The plane was later found in pieces in a swamp. Preziose was killed. 

Small-plane crashes usually don’t get much attention But as investigators pulled the pieces of the Cessna out of the swamp they found unusual evidence that led them to report that the aircraft had “collided in-flight with an unknown object at 3000 feet." Twenty months after the crash, however, the agency still has not found an object.

In an unusual action, the National Transportation Safety Board's Washington headquarters has taken over the investigation, which had been conducted by the agency’s Atlanta regional office.  The NTSB released an interim report Thursday that makes no mention of a possible in-flight collision. 

The NTSB now says that the initial report should not have suggested an in-flight collision.  "That sentence should not have been in the factual report” spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said. 

NTSB investigators have begun to focus on whether the pilot somehow lost control of the aircraft, sending it plummeting into the water.  The shift in view is causing some involved in the investigation to raise concerns that the agency is not placing enough emphasis on leads pointing to impact from an object, possibly a military drone. 

What has stumped investigators are 34 red marks found on the aircraft’s wreckage when it was pulled out of a shallow marsh at Big Bateau Bay, several miles from the Mobile airport. The red smudges and streaks were on pieces of the plane from the nose to the tail, both inside and outside the aircraft. Many were on the left side of the plane near the pilot’s door. The direction of streaks did not show a consistent pattern. 

Proponents of the in-flight collision theory say the red marks support their contention. But the NTSB now says those streaks could have come from inside the aircraft. “We have to look for the more obvious sources" first, Lopatkiewicz said. If no match is found, the agency will pursue other possible sources of the red marks, he said. 

Investigators say they plan to review a piece of the wreckage recovered last week. The plane’s third propeller blade was found buried in the mud near the crash site. It was folded in half with gouges and red marks on its face. 

Initial speculation centered on the possibility that the Cessna could have been hit by another aircraft, such as a plane that was not equipped with a transponder. Another early idea explored by the NTSB was that the red marks could have come from an unmanned aerial drone. Many such drones are painted bright red or orange. 

Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, more than 170 miles from Mobile, flies unmanned aerial drones and has had three drone accidents since 2001, according to military accident records and local media reports. No one was hurt in those incidents. 

An Air Force spokesman said that no drones were operating on the evening of Oct 23 and that the drones fly only in military airspace. 

The NTSB tested drone material supplied by the military and compared it with the red marks on the plane. It also tested other red items found at the wreckage site, such as red cargo bags. The tests did not yield a match.

"No way we could let that go...that we possibly had an unknown midair,” said John Clark, director of aviation safety at the NTSB "We can’t let it go at that unless we just know we had exhausted every avenue." 

Clark said the agency does not plan to test any more aerial drones for comparison with the red marks. First he wants to examine the possible sources on the plane.

The NTSB's final report blamed the crash on "the pilot's spatial disorientation," and that was that, as far as officialdom was concerned.  Others, particularly Preziose's family, were not convinced.  The mysterious crash has attracted a fair amount of attention online, with the most popular theory, naturally, being "slammed into a UFO."  While that is, to say the least, unlikely, the cause of the fatal accident seems destined to remain unknown.

Monday, April 3, 2023

The Tenant From Hell...

…And I just might be speaking literally.

Landlord/tenant disputes are common, and sometimes incredibly rancorous.  Fortunately, few such clashes are as malevolent--not to mention Fortean--as the account given by Maureen Taylor in the August 1973 issue of “Fate Magazine.”

Taylor related that soon after her parents, Katherine and Leonard Morrell-Jones, were married in 1936, they built their “dream home” in Croxley Green, a town in Hertfordshire, England.  It was a charming two-story house the newlyweds named “Kelm” (a combination of their initials.)

About a year later, Leonard volunteered for service in the Royal Army Medical Corps.  His new duties kept him away from home for a few weeks at a time.  During one of his visits home, his wife informed him that she was pregnant.  The couple agreed that given her condition, managing a large house on her own would be too taxing.  They decided that for the duration of the war, Katherine would move in with her husband’s grandmother, Lucy Jones.  During that time, Kelm was rented out to a family named Browne.  Little did they know that the war would see to it that these “temporary” living arrangements would last for years.

Early in 1947, Leonard was finally demobilized, and the family prepared to move back to their home.  However, they were disconcerted to realize that Mrs. Browne had become so attached to Kelm that she refused to leave.  When the Morrell-Joneses remonstrated with her, Mrs. Browne argued that they had been very good tenants, and they had lived in the house longer than the owners had, anyway.  Mrs. Browne was so insistent on staying put, Leonard was forced to take her to court.  Unsurprisingly, the judge ordered the Brownes to be evicted.

When Mrs. Browne heard this ruling, she was infuriated.  The outraged woman hissed to Katherine, “You will never be happy in that house.  You will be forced to leave it just as I have been.  Curse you and your family!”  Mrs. Browne made such a scene, she had to be forcibly ejected from the courtroom.

By August 1947, the Morrell-Joneses were finally settled in their beloved home.  Leonard found work at a nearby printing firm, and little Maureen, who was now seven, soon started school.  All seemed well.  At first.

One evening in September, Leonard and Katherine were reading in the living room when they suddenly heard what sounded like a child’s scream.  It seemed to come from right outside the front windows.  Katherine ran outside, but saw nothing.  Leonard went upstairs to check on Maureen, who was sleeping soundly.  The shaken couple could only surmise it had been some animal.

A few days later, the telephone rang.  When Katherine answered, she heard only a low grunting.  Assuming it was just some crank call, she hung up.  Almost immediately, it rang again. And again, she heard nothing on the other end but those unsettling grunts.  Whoever--or whatever--was on the other end repeated these calls five more times within the next few minutes.  Then it stopped.

The Morrell-Joneses suspected Mrs. Browne was behind the calls.  They asked the telephone company to keep a record of all calls placed to their number.  When the grunter started up again three days later, Katherine wrote down the exact times the calls were placed, and reported them to the phone company.  The family was told that at the times given, no calls had been registered by the phone operator.  The “normal” calls to their number were all accurately registered--just not the 13 “prank” calls.

Strange things continued to happen at Kelm.  The wooden gateposts on either side of the driveway had two metal numbers, “4” and “3” screwed on them.  One day, Leonard washed the gateposts and polished the metal numbers with a cloth.  Then he briefly went into the house.  When he returned, he found that the numbers were gone…but the screws were there.  He went back in to fetch his wife.  When she examined the gateposts, the numbers were back in place.

One night early in 1948, Maureen was awakened by screams and wails that seemed to be in the room with her.  Her light was on, although she knew she had turned it off when she went to bed.  When she looked at her watch, she saw that its crystal cover was missing.  When her mother, curious to see why Maureen’s light was on, entered the room, the screams stopped.  The next morning, Maureen saw that the crystal was back on her watch.

The bed in the master room was always covered by a fine quilt of silk and goose down.  The quilt began repeatedly appearing on the floor, even when nobody had been near the room.  One day, the family did a little experiment.  Replacing the quilt on the bed, the room’s windows and doors were locked.  Then, they went to the living room to await events.

Twenty minutes later, the family heard bangs and thuds coming from the bedroom.  When the noises stopped, they reentered the room.  The quilt was gone.  They finally found it jammed behind a large oak wardrobe in the corner of the room.

One Sunday evening, a Mr. and Mrs. Greaves were having tea with the Morrell-Joneses.  As they sat in the living room, they all heard a series of crashes coming from the kitchen.  When Leonard and Mr. Greaves went to investigate, they saw all the pots and pans flying through the air.  Leonard was hit square on the head with a meat platter.  Mr. Greaves felt vibrations like an earthquake.

By March 1949, the Morrell-Joneses had to admit defeat.  They sold Kelm and moved elsewhere.  The family who moved in never experienced any of the unsettling incidents which had so plagued the original residents.

Mrs. Browne’s revenge was complete.