"...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, August 30, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

I have to admit, just before I hit the "publish" button for this post, I thought, “Do I really want a blog that features tales of women being wooed by talking corpses?”  

And then I remembered just what sort of joint I’m running here.  The “Los Angeles Herald,” November 27, 1887:

A great many people are under the impression that when the breath is out of the body there is nothing animate or intelligent remaining. It is true that religion teaches us to believe that the better part of man--the soul--lives after the collapse of the mental frame. But nowhere until recently has the idea ever been advanced that a corpse can be so arranged under the ministrations of science as to preserve the intelligence and perspicacity of the natural man. It has, however, been left to an undertaker of this city to demonstrate that this very thing can be done.

Not a great while since there died in San Francisco a gentleman who was on a visit to this coast from the East. He was apparently a person who commanded sufficient means for all the ordinary purposes of life, but when he died only a small sum of money was found in his possession. His relatives were communicated with, and instructions came from his wife to have the body embalmed, preparatory to shipment to his old home in the East. This was done, and the bill, representing rather a steep figure, forwarded to the grieving widow. The sum so far exceeded her expectations, that she indignantly refused to pay it, and the corpse was left on the hands of the undertaker.

This gentleman had read somewhere that in a similar case down in Arizona the conductor of funerals had utilized the corpses left on his hands as an advertisement for his trade. Acting upon this suggestion he had the cadaver in question taken from the neat metallic coffin to which it had been fitted and dressed up in a Prince Albert suit, adjusted to a sitting position in a chair in the back parlor of his establishment. So perfectly had the embalming been accomplished, that with the exception of the grayish pallor which overspread the face, the dead man looked as natural as life. The circumstance suggested to an ingenious young man connected with the undertaking establishment the idea of utilizing the corpse for entertaining visitors. To this end the chair in which it sat was placed against a thin partition, which had been previously pierced for the reception of a speaking tube.

This was so arranged that the tube rested against the coat collar of the corpse. By speaking through this from the other side of the partition, in the dim light of the back parlor, to the casual observer it appeared as if the corpse was talking. 

Fortunately, however, the upright position and graceful poise of the body of this interesting person, led all who looked upon it to conclude that it was only a middle-aged gentleman sitting there at his ease. But this was not all.

The undertaker's ingenious clerk had attached to the right arm of the corpse the wire of a galvanic battery, and by the proper manipulation of the instrument he could cause the arm to rise or fall or gently circle around any object near it. One day a spinster lady of uncertain age came into the parlor to make some inquiries relative to a prospective funeral. As she entered, the corpse, which she supposed to be a well-dressed visitor, gracefully bowing, invited her to take a seat at his side, where a vacant chair was ready for her service.

"Take a seat, Miss, sit here, (indicating the chair.)  “I am charmed to have the pleasure of seeing in this desolate apartment a lady of such fascinations.”

"You are very polite, l am sure," murmured the flattered fair one. 

"I make it a point, my dear," continued the corpse, "to note every beautiful face that comes into this room. You must know that I remain here all the time, night and day, and my only happiness consists in receiving and entertaining the occasional visitor."

"Why, how curious! You stay here all the time?" 

"All the time, my dear, night and day. In fact, I never leave this chair," softly and sadly remarked the dead man. 

“Are you doing a penance, sir?" inquired the lady.

"Oh, no; the undertaker is my jailer." 

For a single moment the lady was frightened. The thought occurred to her that she was in the presence of a maniac and a thrill of apprehension shot through her heart. But the calm, serene face reassured her, and when the corpse gently raised its right arm and calmly encircled her waist, she no longer doubted its sanity. 

"You are very beautiful, my dear," sighed the middle-aged cadaver. 

"Oh, sir, how strangely you talk," and the lady blushed to the tips of her pink-like ears.

"You see, my dear, to a lonely man like myself, condemned to sit day after day in this darkened chamber, such a lovely vision as yourself comes to me like a gleam of sunlight. I trace in your fair face some of the sweetest memories of my youth, when in long by-gone years I was loved and was beloved in return. When you entered this dreary place a moment ago you seemed to bring me a vision of the beautiful world which lies beyond the threshold l am never allowed to pass, and my withered heart turned to you with an emotion of delight." 

It must not be supposed that the lady listened to these bold words without sweet and tender reflections. Upon the possibilities they might lead to. She was not very old, but she had wanted a husband longer than she cared to acknowledge, and words like these naturally raised a flood of most agreeable thoughts. Nevertheless she deprecated the dead man's enthusiasm and insisted that he was speaking unadvisedly.

Still she turned upon him a tender glance, which would have had anything but a chilling effect upon the ardor of a veritable wooer.  It seemed to send fire through the veins of the dead man. The arm tightened around her waist. His words grew musical and soft. 

“I see in you, my dear," continued the corpse, "the embodiment of all my dreams of bliss. If I only had your sweet companionship in this desolate room its gloom would take the hue of radiant sunshine, and I should be content to sit here forever, warmed by our smiles and gladdened by the tender glance of your eyes." 

“Oh, sir," sighed the lady. 

''Can it be possible, continued the enraptured dead man, "that you reciprocate my passion; that you will be mine?" 

The fair head was gently inclining to the shoulder of the corpse when the undertaker entered. The lady screamed. The corpse sat upright.

“Why, how is this?" exclaimed the astonished dealer in coffins. 

"Oh, sir," gasped the fair one, "this gentleman has been talking so very strangely." 

“Talking?” shouted the undertaker. "Why you must be mad. How can a dead man talk?" 

"Dead?” screamed the lady. 

"Why, yes; look at him. Lord help you! You have been courted by a corpse." 

The astonished spinster cast one fond despairing look on the ashen face of her wooer, and, flinging her arms above her head, cried piteously: "Heavens! does my beauty charm the dead?" and fainted away.

You have to admit that this isn’t the sort of love story you see every day.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Murder of a Prohibitionist: The Myrtle Cook Mystery

"The Columbia Record," September 14, 1925, via Newspapers.com

Some murder cases are impossible to solve because of the inability to find anyone who had a discernible motive to kill the victim.  Other cases grow cold because so many people had a motive, the police are left spoiled for choice.  The following 1925 mystery is a perfect example of the latter.

If one wanted to be tactful, one could describe Myrtle Underwood Cook of Vinton, Iowa, as a strong-minded, courageous woman of deeply-held beliefs.  Or you could be blunt and suggest that she was an overbearing, bigoted busybody.  The 41-year old Mrs. Cook was a very active lady.  She was an ardent prohibitionist--so ardent, that she habitually copied license plate numbers of cars she suspected were rum-running, and spied on her neighbors for any sign of illegal tippling.  She made a perfect pest of herself to the local authorities, demanding that they go after anyone she believed was distributing alcohol.  She managed to have a number of bootleggers arrested.  When she wasn’t chasing after peddlers of bathtub gin, Mrs. Cook was head of the Benton County women’s organization of the Ku Klux Klan.  Although fellow prohibitionists considered her a local hero, she was, unsurprisingly, not very popular in other circles.  In fact, a sizable portion of Vinton's residents saw her as a “meddler and a disagreeable gossip.”

Myrtle lived with her mother-in-law, Elizabeth Cook, and her sixteen-year-old daughter Gertrude.  Myrtle’s relationship with her husband, Clifford Cook, was an unusual one, particularly by the standards of her time.  Clifford had not lived with his wife and daughter for five years, working various jobs such as driving a truck and acting as a traveling salesman--any profession, it seemed, that could keep him well away from the bosom of his family.  However, he would visit his home every couple of weeks, and he and Myrtle regularly corresponded, so you could not exactly call them estranged.  Perhaps Clifford just wanted to have a drink in peace now and then.

On the night of September 7, 1925, Myrtle was sitting in her living room, writing a speech for the next day’s meeting of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  (She was president of the local chapter.)  Her work was forever interrupted when someone crept up to the living room window, and fired a gun.  The bullet went through her heart, killing her less than an hour later.

Elizabeth Cook told police that in the moments before Myrtle died, she named her killer.  However, investigators dismissed the claim.  The man--who was never publicly named--was a businessman of irreproachable reputation.  They simply couldn’t see him as an assassin.  Police believed that if Myrtle really had accused this man, it must have been a case of mistaken identity.

Not unreasonably, police immediately assumed that a bootlegger was the murderer.  Their first suspect was Harold Ponder, a major figure in a prominent local liquor ring.  Ponder had been serving a sentence in the Fort Madison Penitentiary, but he had escaped prison three weeks before Myrtle’s murder.  And he was known to have been in Vinton just before and after the shooting.  The theory was that Ponder had killed her in order to implicate a rival ring.  Ponder was captured in October, but authorities were unable to find any solid evidence linking him to the slaying.

A few days after the murder, four young men were arrested for having egged Myrtle’s house back in July.  One of the youths was the son of a state senator.  However, as was the case with Ponder, there was nothing to implicate them in the murder.

Police then turned their interest to the dead woman’s husband.  At the time of the murder, Clifford was living in a rooming house in Sioux City.  However, he had recently lost his job there.  According to Clifford, when he was unable to find other work, he gave up on Sioux City and headed back to Vinton on September 6.  Because of slippery roads, he said, he spent the night of September 7 in a hotel in Grundy Center, some 50 miles from Vinton.  When he arrived home the following day, he was greeted by the sight of crepe and flowers on the door.  His sobbing daughter ran out to him, crying, “Oh, daddy, mama is gone.”

Detectives soon learned that Clifford could not keep his story straight.  He had told the coroner’s jury--under oath, of course--that he had no female acquaintances in Sioux City.  However, during a later round of questioning, he admitted that he had spent most of the day that his wife died in the company of one Hester Sieling.  (He and Sieling later married.)  Clifford’s lawyer argued that while his client may have been an unfaithful husband, that didn’t make him a murderous one.  Police were unable to prove otherwise.  And as Myrtle was not insured, Clifford had no financial motive to see her dead.  The coroner’s jury concluded that they could not say who shot Myrtle, but they recommended that police keep their eyes on her husband.  (For what it’s worth, Clifford declared that some of his late wife’s many enemies had hired a hit man.)

"Cedar Rapids Gazette," September 7, 2000

In his 1986 book “Tobin Tales,” prominent Vinton judge John W. Tobin suggested that Myrtle’s shooting was accidental.  He pointed out that her home was near railroad tracks that were a hangout for drunks, drug addicts, and other undesirables.  Perhaps one lowlife, trying to shoot another lowlife, happened to hit Mrs. Cook instead?  Tobin also noted that a salesman testified to seeing Clifford in the Grundy Center hotel on the night Myrtle was killed, thus corroborating his alibi.

Although Myrtle Cook’s murder was never solved--and almost certainly never will be--her death had a lasting impact on her town.  Vinton residents, disliking the negative publicity the murder brought to their community, turned against having the KKK in their midst.  The Klan soon went underground, and eventually disappeared from Vinton altogether.  Locals--no matter where they stood on Prohibition--agreed that the lawlessness brought on by rum-running had to end.  The liquor gangs were also largely run out of town, leaving Vinton a considerably more peaceful place.

It is possible that Myrtle’s spirit wound up feeling vindicated.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to the last Link Dump of August 2023!

Thankfully, the Strange Company HQ staffers are finally returning from their summer vacation.

How three fingers in a jar became an Ohio tourist attraction.

Before there was K-pop, there were the Kim Sisters.

The difficulties of publishing during WWII.

Scientists really have no concept of "unintended consequences."

Why you would never want to be in the same building with Joseph Maski.

The disappearance of SS Marine Sulphur Queen.

The Portuguese Bank Note Scandal.

"Seditious publications" in early 20th century India.

Some strange ships at sea.

Alternate history time: What if Queen Elizabeth I had died in 1562?

The shooting of a Hollywood clubman.

A mysterious Pictish stone.

The murder of a jogger.

An accessory to murder, 1772.

The world's oldest animation.

This one's for all you "exploding corpse" fans.

A murderous minister.

A lost ancient "miracle plant" may have been rediscovered.

Recreating the face of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  Looking at the results, I sort of wish they hadn't bothered.

The significance of Dave the Potter.

I assume all of you want to spend hundreds of dollars for a cow stomach.  One that you carry around with you.

A 5,000 year old jewelry factory.

Cats in the Illustrated Police News.

The Lettuce Wars.

The lost treasure of Padre Island.

A visit to Walton on the Naze.

The assassination of Michael Collins.

Let's talk see-through squids with demon eyes.

An odd little story about some stolen items that belonged to Alan Turing.

A possible clue regarding the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller.

12,000 year old sequins.

Yet another failed Utopia.

A deadly pudding recipe.

The disappearance of Diane Webb.  I don't think this one is particularly mysterious, though.  I'll leave it at that.

The legend of the Witch of Yazoo.

The birth of "easy listening" music.

A courtroom melee.

A cat who survived nine days adrift at sea.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at the murder of a Prohibitionist.  In the meantime, here's Ensemble Unicorn.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Peeping Toms are pretty reprehensible characters.  And being a ghost is no excuse.  The "Sydney Morning Herald," December 1, 1963:

Couples who go courting in a country lane in Kent say they are being haunted by a ghost. A local rector is tracking down a reported black magic circle that has been blamed for the "terror." The ghost is said to be of William Tournay Tournay, a rich, eccentric landowner who was buried 60 years ago on an island in the middle of a lake at Saltwood, near Hythe village, in Kent. 

Mervyn Hutchinson, 18, said he saw the ghost one black, chilly evening last week while walking his girlfriend to the village station. 

"We saw a red flash in front of us like a red ball of fire going down the hill, he said."

"Then suddenly this figure appeared. It was rather like a bat. 

"It seemed to have webbed feet and no head. It was a terrifying experience and we just ran." 

Another teenage courter, John Flaxton, was strolling with his girlfriend along the same country lane, known as Slaybrook Corner, when they saw the ghost. He said: 

"We were scared out of our wits.  I'm never going up that lane again at night unless I'm in a crowd." 

The rector of Saltwood, the Reverend E. Stanton, said: 

"Several young people in the village have come to see me saying they have seen the ghost. 'There are rumours that a black magic circle meets in a secret hideout in the village and that they are responsible. l have no proof yet that they are working in Saltwood, but I'm determined to set to the bottom of this business because it's disrupting village life."

I found a handful of other newspaper stories about this strange apparition, but aside from one suggestion that the young people had seen a UFO, there was no additional information.  I have no idea if the mystery was ever solved. 

Monday, August 21, 2023

In Which Polly Melton Takes a Hike

"Charlotte Observer," November 20, 1981, via Newspapers.com

With some missing-persons cases, it is clear that they were victims of an abduction.  With others, it seems likely that they disappeared voluntarily, either to start a new life or commit suicide.  Sometimes, especially when they were last seen in the wilderness, it is easy to guess that they suffered some sort of catastrophic accident.  What makes the following disappearance intriguing is that there are a number of clues suggesting that any of those scenarios may be correct.

Thelma Pauline “Polly” Melton was born in 1923.  In 1975 the twice-widowed woman married 72-year-old Bob Melton.  Polly had no children of her own, but Bob had two adult sons from a previous union.  Although their home was in Jacksonville, Florida, every summer the Meltons lived a nomadic existence in their Airstream trailer.  During their travels, they usually stayed at the Deep Creek Campground, located next to North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Due to health issues (she took medications for high blood pressure and regular bouts of nausea) Polly did not drive.  Polly’s mother died in 1978.  The loss sent her into a deep depression, but of late she seemed to finally regain her normally high spirits.  Polly had no job, but every year when the Meltons stayed at the campground, she did volunteer work every morning at the Presbyterian Nutritional Center.

During their months at the campground, Polly loved to hike every day the weather permitted it.  Because of her fragile health, she never walked alone, and always stuck to the easier trails.

At about 3 p.m. on Friday, September 25, 1981, Polly and two friends, Trula Gudger and Red Cannon, set out on the Deep Creek Trail.  For most of the hike, Polly lagged behind the others, which they mildly teased her about.  An hour later, the trio started back from the campground.  After a short time, Polly suddenly accelerated her pace.  She dashed past her friends, rounded a bend in the trail, and disappeared from their view.

When Trula and Red reached Polly's trailer, they found that Bob was still alone.  He hadn’t seen Polly since she left for her hike, and had no idea where she might have gone.

The three of them, along with two other friends, went back down the trail looking for Polly.  None of the hikers they met along the way had seen her.  After two hours of fruitless searching, they contacted park rangers, who brought in the police.  Officers were able to track Polly’s footprints for a while (the sole of one of her shoes had a distinctive crack across it,) but before long they were lost among the prints of other hikers.  All they could say was that there was no evidence she left the trail.

The trail was immediately closed to the public while some 150 volunteers and nine search dogs scoured the area.  The dogs picked up Polly’s scent at the site where she was last seen, but nowhere else.  Polly’s sister Kit Postell commented, “When the dogs got to the place where Polly disappeared, they howled and turned ‘round and ‘round, but they wouldn’t go left or right.  It was eerie.”  Four days of hunting failed to find any sign of Polly.  The official search ended on October 2.

To date, Polly Melton has never been seen again, and her fate remains an utter mystery.  Those who have studied this case have developed several different theories:

Did she willingly leave her old life, in order to start a new one?  After she vanished, Polly’s minister revealed that he suspected that she was having an extramarital affair, and was feeling deeply guilty about it.  None of Polly’s friends had any idea she might have been seeing another man, and his identity--if he did indeed exist--remains unknown.  Did she run off with a lover?  

Another possible clue that Polly left voluntarily is that on the day she disappeared, she did not do her usual work at the Nutritional Center.  The practice at the Center was for the workers to leave a written notice if they would be coming in the following day.  On Thursday, the 24th, Polly did not leave this notice, suggesting that she knew she would not be working on Friday.

Polly’s supervisor said that in the four years Mrs. Melton had worked at the Center, she had never once used their telephone.  However, on the day before she disappeared, Polly called someone--no one knows whom--on the Center’s phone.  

And then there was Polly’s odd behavior on the trail.  Did she speed past her friends at the end of the hike in order to meet her alleged “mystery man?”  (It is perhaps significant that there was a parking lot near the Melton trailer.)  However, Polly left her needed medications and ID behind, and her bank account was never touched after her disappearance, all of which would seem to refute the “left willingly” scenario.  For what it’s worth, Polly’s friends and family vehemently rejected the idea that she would have abandoned her husband, particularly since Bob was suffering from heart trouble.

It is possible that a stranger abducted Polly along the trail, but her friends and nearby hikers saw or heard nothing that would suggest such a thing.  Also, Polly was a formidable-looking woman--she was nearly six feet tall and weighed 180 pounds.  In other words, she was not an easy person to kidnap.  Authorities found the “kidnapping” theory highly unlikely, although not impossible.  On the other hand, some of Polly’s relatives were of the opinion that someone attacked her in order to steal the three expensive diamond rings she was wearing.

Could she have suffered a fatal accident?  It was pointed out that the area where she was last seen was unfamiliar to her.  It took her past several small side trails that she could conceivably have taken by mistake.  Trula Grudger speculated that--perhaps after a small, disorienting stroke--Polly accidentally took the wrong path and just kept walking, lost and bewildered, until she dropped.  It is frighteningly easy to disappear in the woods.

Suicide?  Did her mother’s death three years earlier leave her even more shattered than anyone had thought?  One of the many curious aspects about this case is that Bob’s prescription bottle of Valium mysteriously vanished the same day that Polly did.  Although a Valium overdose is a difficult way to kill yourself, some have tried, and a few, sadly, have succeeded.

Polly's disappearance--under whatever circumstances--had a tragic sequel.  When Bob Melton learned his wife was missing, the shock caused him to suffer a stroke, and he spent the short remaining period of his life in a nursing home.

[Note: A couple of accounts of this case state that in April 1982, a check in Polly’s name was cashed in Birmingham, Alabama, and that the signature appeared to be genuine.  Polly’s only known bank account was in Jacksonville, but she was born in Alabama and still had relatives there.

I don’t know the original source for this claim, and it’s lacking in details.  There was no mention of this alleged cashed check in any of the numerous newspaper reports I found about Polly’s disappearance.  A 1991 story commemorating the 10th anniversary of her vanishing quoted her surviving relatives--who had recently put up a memorial gravestone for her in an Alabama cemetery--and they all seemed genuinely convinced that she died soon after she was last seen.  If this cashed check had indeed turned up, I assume that would have been addressed.

I'm unsure if this check story is true, or one of those erroneous details that often creep into true-crime cases.  Or perhaps the check was for another Pauline Melton.]

Friday, August 18, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!

And more late-summer fun with the Strange Company HQ staff!

The house of Mystery Mannequins.

The town that comes to life only once a year.

The ghosts of Beachy Head.

The loss of the schooner Betsey, 1805.

The flatworm that could hold the secrets of life.

A salute to Germany's cow chapels.

One really haunted house.

A man who fled Communism, only to flee civilization as well.

The British diplomat who tried to save the Romanovs.

No, Charlemagne did not have an asbestos tablecloth.  Sorry.

Here's pirate Jean Lafitte's grave.  Maybe.

I like that there are people on the internet compiling lists of medieval towns that had sewer systems.

The lost library of Herculaneum.

I suppose I was a happier person before I learned that ancient Egyptians used crocodile dung as birth control.

What Ötzi the Iceman looked like.

Rediscovering forgotten Knights Templar graves.

The mystery of the "birthday effect."

The oldest resident at Hampton Court Palace.

The origin of the expression "double-edged sword."

The skeletons of Waterloo casualties were found in a Belgian attic.

The world is getting way too Philip K. Dick for my taste.

What may be the world's largest asteroid impact structure.

The WWII journal of an American POW.

Britain's oldest door.

The undertaker sends his condolences.

The life of a male lion is usually nasty, brutish, and short.

The disappearance of an 11-year-old girl.

British ladies and their "beautiful game," 1895.

The Osage Murders.

The world's oldest restaurant.

T.E. Lawrence and the Hashemite dynasty.

Inside the mind of Napoleon.

The ancient culture that would regularly burn down their homes.

Some famous "lost burials."

The "big freeze" that made Europe uninhabitable.

Why Richard III pardoned John Morton.

You can't always trust the science.

Chess in the Georgian/Regency era.

America's last public execution.

A 400-year-old "vampire child."

The hunt for a fugitive murderer.

A mysterious message in a bottle.

An Ice Age carving of an unknown animal.

A handy reminder that we know very little about our own world.

Historical ice cream flavors could get...unusual.

A Bloomsbury boy in the Baltic.

The only woman to be executed in New Zealand.

Vintage photos of "hopping season."

Saturn's hundred-year storms.

The time the U.S. government wanted to flood the Grand Canyon.

A really weird ancient skull.

A "horrible and mysterious murder."

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a puzzling disappearance along a hiking trail.  In the meantime, bring on the one-man bands!

I'm old enough to remember this guy.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

The following poltergeist tale--one more Gothic and sinister than most--appeared in the Knoxville “Journal and Tribune,” October 11, 1889:

On the outskirts of this town, says a Woodville (Tex.) letter to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, is an old house which has stood untenanted for years but was recently repaired and once more rendered inhabitable.  A Mr. Z,  who is a recent arrival in Woodville, though well known in the county as an honorable gentleman, moved into this house about six weeks ago with his family, which consists of his wife, a grown daughter, and a little boy of seven.  One night about a week after they got settled the child came running in from the hall, which was unlighted, into his mother’s room crying out: 

“Oh, mamma, somebody with their hands all wet caught hold of me.”

His mother commenced to soothe his fright, when to her horror she perceived that the sleeve of the child’s little jacket of white linen bore the mark of a bloody hand.  She called to her husband who was sitting on the porch, and told him what the child said, showing at the same time the crimson marks. The two proceeded to search the house but found only the usual occupants. Mr. Z. was certain that no one could have passed him and the servants, on being questioned, declared that they had been sitting on the back porch and had seen no one come in. The whole occurrence was dismissed as a mystery that would in due course explain itself in some natural way, for both Mr. Z. and his wife were people of strong religious convictions. besides being possessed of cool practical common sense. 

Scarcely a week, however, had elapsed when one night about ten o’clock, shrieks were heard issuing from the room of the young lady daughter, who had just retired. When reached the girl was found to be nearly insensible from fright and it was several minutes before she was restored sufficiently to be able to tell the cause of her alarm. She had been standing before her toilet mirror in her night-dress braiding her hair when, happening to cast her glance on the reflection in the glass, she perceived a hand all dripping with blood lying familiarly on her shoulder. Seeing this frightful sight and knowing that there was no living creature in the room beside herself the terrified girl attempted to run from it but was mysteriously held fast by that bloody hand. 

Her night-dress was plainly impressed with the print of a large hand outlined in fresh blood. Mr. and Mrs. Z. were now thoroughly alarmed, for these things were wholly inexplicable from any but a supernatural stand-point. However, with a courageous determination to accept none but a purely natural explanation, they resolved to remain in the house awhile longer, but sent away their children.  Mr. Z. went to the owner of the house and inquired if any thing in its history could account for the strange appearances that had been witnessed in it.  Mr. O., to whom the house belonged at that time, informed him that he had bought it from a family who had left the place suddenly--for what reason no one ever knew--about eight years before. 

For a time nothing further was seen or heard of the bloody hand, and they were beginning to congratulate themselves that it would trouble them no longer, when it began a course of persecution that finally ended in driving them from the house. Mrs. Z. would be awakened by the touch of clammy fingers playing over her face, her husband found himself struck violently over the head whenever he entered a room unlighted; the servants left complaining that their work was interfered with constantly, for the dishes were thrown to the floor, freshly laundried clothes sprinkled with blood, and gory marks defaced the white plastered walls. The door-bell kept up a perpetual ringing day and night, and occasionally there would be a fearful crash as if the very roof had fallen. Mr. Z. procured a dog which was kept in the house all the time, but one morning after an unusually disturbed night the animal was found dead with a broken neck and a look of almost human terror in its wide-open eyes. One day Mrs. Z. in broad daylight was seized by her back hair and dragged violently from room to room until she repeated the Lord's prayer aloud, when her invisible enemy relaxed its hold and a pitiful moaning or lamentation filled the air as of some lost spirit bewailing its doom. 

The climax, however, was reached one magnificent moonlight night when Mr. and Mrs. Z. were sitting on their porch quietly conversing. All at once the husband without speaking directed his attention to the floor. There was a hand, severed at the wrist, and with a faint blue light playing about it, writing with the index finger on the white plank flooring of the porch. When the hand finished its writing it seemed to wring itself in the air in speechless despair and disappeared flaming.  A lamp was at once procured and the pair read the sentence traced by the hand in blood:

“The wicked cry rest, rest, and there is no rest!”

Scarcely had they finished reading it when the lamp was snatched from the hand of Mr. Z. and flung violently to the floor, shrieks and wails, sad and terrible beyond describing, filled the air and the husband and wife, conquered at last, rushed from the accursed house and sought refuge at a neighbor’s.  In a short while the alarm of fire was given and the house just deserted by the Z.s was found enveloped in flames. The lamp in its fall had set it on fire and it was completely consumed.

Monday, August 14, 2023

The Skeleton's Revenge; Or, What Not to Do With Ancient Bones

I like a quiet life.  Therefore, if I should happen to run across a mysterious skeleton, I leave it strictly alone.  And if, for whatever reason, it should wind up in my house, I certainly don’t play silly buggers with the bones.  You avoid a lot of nasty surprises that way.  The wisdom of this course of action is illustrated in a cautionary tale that appeared in the July 1922 issue of “Occult Review.”  The author, Katherine Godefroi, heard the story directly from the doctor at the center of the incident.

Godefroi’s friend, whom she gave the pseudonym “Dr. Smith,” lived on some property adjacent to the ancient castle of Herstmonceux, in Surrey, England.  Godefroi described him as “very strong-minded, hard-headed, and extremely clever, and quite the last person in whose way one would think that anything supernatural would be likely to come.”

At the time our story opens, Smith had been married for two years.  His wife had a brother who was a medical student at St. George’s Hospital.

Like so much of the English countryside, Smith’s property boasted a number of archaeological relics.  He occasionally let parties conduct excavations on his land, and if they discovered any ancient treasures, they were allowed to keep them.  One morning, he received a letter from a London archaeological society, asking for permission for several of their members to examine a barrow which had never been opened.

The barrow was near Smith’s house, which initially made him reluctant to grant the request.  His wife was heavily pregnant with their first child, and he naturally did not want her disturbed.  In the end, however, he decided to permit the dig.  The three archaeologists arrived a week later.

At first, nothing was discovered in the barrow other than a few Roman coins.  However, on the second day, they uncovered a “most perfect specimen” of a man’s skeleton.  This fleshless body so impressed Dr. Smith that he told the men he could not resist keeping it for himself.  The visitors, naturally, agreed.  Smith set up the skeleton in his study, where it “remained a joy to his eyes for some weeks to come.”

To each his or her own, I guess.

Not long afterward, Mrs. Smith gave birth to a son.  Once she had recuperated, her brother came for a visit.  He was as delighted with the skeleton as Dr. Smith had been.  The young medical student was about to start a course of anatomy, so he asked his brother-in-law for permission to remove a little finger, for dissection purposes.  Smith agreed.

After two or three days of working on the finger, the brother-in-law noticed something odd.  His own little finger became increasingly painful.  It then gradually shrunk to the point where it was so withered, the digit had to be amputated.

Some months later, a friend of Dr. Smith, who was also a physician, came to call.  He, too, was dazzled by the ancient skeleton.  He was so enthralled, he begged to be allowed to take the skull home so he could examine it in detail.  Smith agreed, and the skull was given pride of place in the friend’s baggage.

Several days after acquiring the skull, Smith’s doctor friend was walking down a street when he tripped on a curb and landed with such force that he broke his jaw.  His face was so damaged that he had to keep his jaw in splints for over a month.  Before leaving the hospital, he ran into Smith’s brother-in-law, where he heard the sad tale of losing his finger after removing the corresponding bit of bone from the skeleton.

Smith’s friend was quite capable of putting two and two together.  He immediately returned the skull to Smith, thanking him for the loan, but suggesting that he now felt it was perhaps wisest to keep the skeleton together.  After hearing his friend’s story, Smith resolved not to make any more presents of the bones.  Smith had a small cupboard where he kept poisons used in medical prescriptions.  The cupboard was always locked, and the key was kept attached to his watch-chain.  He put the skull and finger bone in this cupboard until he could have them reattached to their rightful owner.

Several weeks later, a man came down from London to do this task.  When Smith unlocked the cupboard, he was deeply unnerved to see that the skull and finger were gone.  He was so rattled, he immediately telephoned the vicar.  It was clearly time to bring a little divine assistance into the situation.

Smith told the vicar everything that had happened.  After a brief discussion, they agreed that the wisest thing would be to rebury the skeleton.  The following day, the bones were reverently interred in the local churchyard, with the vicar saying a few prayers for the dead.

Godefroi added, “Since then nothing unusual has happened to Dr. Smith or to any of his friends.”

Friday, August 11, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump brings on more summer fun!

A youthful patricide.

Why Beethoven's hair is surprising scientists.

Indiana Jones and the Antikythera Mechanism.

The Yarmouth suspension bridge collapse of 1845.

The secret 1670 Treaty of Dover.  Well, it's not a secret any more, of course.

The legend of "living dinosaurs" in the Congo.

Two famed San Francisco street dogs.

Protecting graveyards in medieval England.

The mystery of "corn rocks."

What the oldest water on Earth tastes like.  (Spoiler: It ain't Perrier.)

Meet the Gallup Goatman.

The Peruvian village that's being targeted by face-peeling aliens.  It's not the best tourist destination right now.

The mystery of the Victorio Peak treasure.

Some vintage observations about Iceland.

How to make funeral flatbreads, Viking style.

The WASPs and Air WAACs of WWII.

Rats as archivists.

Mars is spinning increasingly faster, and scientists are sitting around scratching their heads.

The 17th century explosion that nearly destroyed Beijing.

How a book can kill you.

Hank the Tank, the terror of Lake Tahoe, has finally been captured.

Five little-known Victorian inventors.

The child with a dollhouse gravestone.

The Octogenarian Murders.

The diary of a volunteer nurse during WWI.

Oral stories that may be 10,000 years old.

That time Lord Byron tried to buy a 12-year-old girl.  Some poets really know how to up the "Ick" factor.

A case of rival chiropodists.

The Victorian solicitor who founded Britain's first mosque.

The risen dead of the Himalayas.

The slave who mailed himself to freedom.

How "begger" became "beggar."

A visit to a pet cemetery.

A disappearance in the Alps.

An 1894 witchcraft trial.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a cautionary tale about skeletons.  In the meantime, here's a classic folk song.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Imagine the rom-com this story would make.  The "Oregon Daily Journal," December 4, 1902:

Hillsboro, Ore. Nov. 29. Another ghost story, thrilling in the extreme, has come to light, this time the vicinity of Cedar Mill, this county, being the scene of the operations of this unwelcome guest. 

For two weeks past the home of William King, a farmer, has been besieged by what was supposed to be a ghost or other supernatural being. The home of Mr. King is situated about one hundred yards from a strip of timber, and during the quiet hours of the night something could be heard trying to gain an entrance to the house. Apples were thrown against the windows and pieces of wood against the doors. A systematic search failed to disclose who or what caused the disturbance. 

King one evening dressed himself in female attire and went out upon the porch, hoping to catch the wary ghost. He had no sooner approached a tub of water than a large piece of wood, which seemed to come from above, fell in the tub, completely drenching him. He returned to the house more mystified than ever, and on the following morning told his annoyances to his neighbors. 

Sheriff Sewell was appealed to, and in company with E. J. Lyons, of this city, went to the scene of the trouble late one evening last week and watched for developments. Nothing occurred while the Sheriff was on the ground, and that officer declared that it was his opinion the trouble rested with, some member of the family. The following day apples and clubs flew in abundance in broad daylight and the whole community was terrified. 

As the shades of evening began to fall the trouble increased, and a systematic search of the premises was made by an organized party of neighbors, and the longer the search was continued the more troublesome the ghost became. The cause of the disturbance, which had by this time become a nightmare to the whole community, was discovered by John King, a brother of William, about 22 years of age, the following day, when he visited the premises unknown to the family of William King. He caught Miss Jennie Seversal, a 14-year-old girl, who was staying at the home of William King, in the act of throwing apples at the house, and when he charged her with being the guilty party she broke down and made a clean confession. 

As far as can be ascertained, for the matter has been kept as quiet as possible since the discovery, Jennie had become infatuated with John King. She has been at the home of William King for about two months having come there from the Catholic school in or near Salem.  Charles King, father of William and John, recently lost his house by fire, all at this time living together.  A temporary home was provided a few miles away until a new structure could be erected. The new house was completed a short time before the supposed ghost put in an appearance and the elder King and his son, John, took up their abode therein, leaving William and his family and Jennie in the temporary home, thus separating Jennie from the object of her affection. 

The frivolous young girl conceived the idea that by terrorizing the King family and making them believe the house was haunted they would return to the home of the elder King as before, and she would once more be under the same roof with the one upon whom her affections were centered.

Paranormal outbreaks are often unfairly blamed on the nearest available adolescent, so who knows if Jennie was indeed responsible for the uproar.  If she was, I doubt if the young lady got her man in the end.  Few people want to date a poltergeist.

Monday, August 7, 2023

The Falcon Lake UFO

The following narrative is one of Canada’s best-documented alleged UFO encounters.  It took place at Manitoba’s Falcon Lake Provincial Park in 1967.  The witness, amateur geologist Stephen Michalak, was a 51-year old native of Poland who moved to Canada in 1949.  Later that year, Michalak described his experience in a privately-published booklet, “My Encounter With the UFO.”  He wrote:

It was 5:30 A.M. when I left the motel and started out on my geological trek. I took with me a hammer, a map, a compass, paper and pencil and a little food to see me through the day, wearing a light jacket against the morning chill. 

The day was bright, sunny--not a cloud in the sky. It seemed like just another ordinary day, but events which were to take place within the next six hours were to change my entire life more than anyone could ever imagine. I will never forget May 20, 1967.

Crossing the Trans-Canada Highway from the motel on the south side, I made my way into the bush and the pine forest on the north side. After travelling some distance I got out my map and compass and orientated myself. 

By 9 o’clock I had found an area that particularly fascinated me because of the rock formation near a bog along a stream flowing in the southward direction. I was searching for some special specimens that I had found on my earlier expedition. 

My approach had startled a flock of geese, but before long they became accustomed to my presence, quieted down and went about their business. 

At 11 o’clock I began to feel the effects of the breakfast I did not eat that morning. I sat down and took out the lunch I had brought with me. Following a simple meal of smoked sausage, cheese and bread, an apple and two oranges washed down with a couple of cups of coffee, and after a short rest, I returned to the quartz vein I was examining. It was 12:15, the sun was high in the sky and a few clouds were gathering in the west. 

While chopping at the quartz I was startled by the most uncanny cackle of the geese that were still in the area. Something had obviously frightened them far more than my presence earlier in the morning when they gave out with a mild protest. 

Then I saw it. Two cigar-shaped objects with humps on them about half-way down from the sky. They appeared to be descending and glowing with an intense scarlet glare. As these “objects” came closer to the earth they became more oval-shaped. 

They came down at the same speed keeping a constant distance between them, appearing to be as one inseparable unit, yet each one completely separate from the other. Suddenly the farthest of the two objects--farthest from my point of vision--stopped dead in the air while its companion slipped down closer and closer to the ground and landed squarely on the flat top of a rock about 159 feet away from me. 

The “object” that had remained in the air hovered approximately fifteen feet above me for about three minutes, then lifted up skyward again. As it ascended its colour began to change from bright red to an orange shade, then to a grey tone. Finally, when it was just about to disappear behind the gathering clouds, it again turned bright orange. 

The “craft,” if I may be allowed to call it a craft, had appeared and disappeared in such a short time that it was impossible to estimate the length of the time it remained visible. My astonishment at and fear of the unusual sight that I had just witnessed dulled my senses and made me lose all realization of time. 

I cannot describe or estimate the speed of the ascent because I have seen nothing in the world that moved so swiftly, noiselessly, without a sound. Then my attention was drawn back to the craft that had landed on the rock. It too was changing in colour, turning from red to grey-red to light grey and then to the colour of hot stainless steel, with a golden glow around it. 

I realized that I was still kneeling on the rock with my small pick hammer in my hand. I was still wearing goggles which I used to protect my eyes from the rock chips. After recovering my composure and regaining my senses to some degree I began watching the craft intently, ready to record in my mind everything that happened. 

I noticed an opening near the top of the craft and a brilliant purple light pouring out of the aperture. The light was so intense that it hurt my eyes when I looked at it directly. Gripped with fear and excitement, I was unable to move from the rock. I decided to wait and watch.

Soon I became aware of wafts of warm air that seemed to come out in waves from the craft, accompanied by the pungent smell of sulphur. I heard a soft murmur, like the whirl of a tiny electric motor running very fast. I also heard a hissing sound as if the air had been sucked into the interior of the craft. 

It was now that I wanted a camera more than anything else, but, of course, there is no need for one on a geological expedition. Then I remembered the paper and pencil that I had brought with me. I made a sketch of what I saw. 

By now some of the initial fear had left me and I managed to gather enough courage to get closer to the craft and to investigate. I fully expected someone to get out at any moment and survey the landing site. 

Because I had never seen anything like this before, I thought it may have been an American space project of some sort. I checked for the markings of the United States Air Force on the hull of the craft, but found nothing. 

I was most interested in the flood of lights that poured out of the upper reaches of the craft. The light, distinctly purple, also cast out various other shades. In spite of the bright midday sun in the sky, the light cast a purple hue on the ground and eclipsed the sunlight in the immediate area. 

I was forced to continually turn my eyes away from the light which made red dots to appear before my eyes every time I looked away. 

I approached the object closer, coming to within 60 feet of the glowing mass of metal. Then I heard voices. They sounded like humans, although somewhat muffled by the sounds of the motor and the rush of air that was continuously coming out from somewhere inside. I was able to make out two distinct voices, one with a higher pitch than the other. 

This latest discovery added to my excitement and I was sure that the craft was of an earthly origin. I came even closer and beckoned to those inside: 

“Okey, Yankee boys, having trouble? Come on out and we’ll see what we can do about it.”

There was no answer and no sign from within. I had prepared myself for some response and was taken aback when none came. I was at a loss, perplexed. I didn’t know what to do next. 

But then, more to encourage myself than anything else, I addressed the voices in Russian, asking them if they spoke Russian. No answer. I tried again in German, Italian, French and Ukrainian. Still no answer. Then I spoke again in English and walked closer to the craft. 

By now I found myself directly in front of it and decided to take a look inside. However, standing within the beam of light was too much for my eyes to bear. I was forced to turn away. Then, placing green lenses over my goggles, I stuck my head inside the opening. 

The inside was a maze of lights. Direct beams running in horizontal and diagonal paths and a series of flashing lights, it seemed to me, were working in a random fashion, with no particular order or sequence. 

Again I stepped back and awaited some reaction from the craft. As I did this I took note of the thickness of the walls of the craft. They were about 20 inches thick at the cross-section. 

Then came the first sign of motion since the craft touched down. Two panels slid over the opening and a third piece dropped over them from above. This completely closed off the opening in the side of the craft. 

Then I noticed a small screen pattern on the side of the craft. It seemed to be some sort of ventilation system. The screen openings appeared to be about 3/16 of an inch in diameter. 

I approached the craft once again and touched its side. It was hot to the touch. It appeared to be made of a stainless steel-like substance. There were no signs of welding or joints to be seen anywhere. The outer surface was highly polished and looked like coloured glass with light reflecting off it. It formed a spectrum with a silver background as the sunlight hit the sides.

I noticed that I had burned my glove I was wearing at the time, when I touched the side of the craft. 

These most recent events occurred in less time than it takes to describe them.

All of a sudden the craft tilted slightly leftward. I turned and felt a scorching pain around my chest; my shirt and my undershirt were afire. A sharp beam of heat had shot from the craft. 

I tore off my shirt and undershirt and threw them to the ground. My chest was severely burned.

When I looked back at the ship I felt a sudden rush of air around me. The craft was rising above the treetops. It began to change colour and shape, following much the same pattern as its sister ship when it had returned to the sky. Soon the craft had disappeared, gone without a trace.

As wild as Michalak’s story might be, it seems undeniable that he had encountered something very unusual.  He was admitted to the hospital with first-degree burns on his chest, and he also had to be treated for recurring vision problems.  However, he was able to lead investigators to the site where he claimed to have seen the strange crafts.  “Landing traces” were found there, along with some radiation in the ground.  

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the National Research Council, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization were all brought in to look into the matter.   A report was made to the Department of National Defense, but for whatever reason, the Canadian government thought it best to not make these findings public.  

Michalak himself theorized that government leaders feared that releasing this report would cause “a national panic.”

Friday, August 4, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!

Feel free to relax in the Strange Company HQ gardens while you read.

Medieval water supply systems.

The Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

A case of insane (and homicidal) jealousy.

Perfectly preserved glass from an ancient Roman shipwreck.

If you want to eat like a 19th century lumberjack, I hope you like baked beans.

A remarkable Neolithic bead necklace.

The famed highwayman (and escape artist) Jack Sheppard.

The rescue of a child from a well.

1782 was quite a year for HMS Hector.

The 18th century fake chess-playing machine.

19th century science explains whether you are harmless or vicious.

Some new discoveries on the Antikythera wreck.

A literary hit job.  The 19th century had a lot of those.

The world's fanciest public restroom.  Eh, it's a bit busy for my taste.

A lost Egyptian city has been found underwater.

One of WWI's most daring naval raids.

Capturing the scent of rain.

Secret commandos of WWII.

A child born to two different ancient human species.

That time New York's Central Park opened a dinosaur museum.  And then things got weird.

The first nuclear bomber.

The days when sailors brought the world home.

An uncelebrated woman.

Five scientists who were destroyed by science.

A "dead" child comes back to life in the nick of time.

The life of Maria Rasputin.

The Cleveland Street Scandal in contemporary newspapers.

More phony history is being shared on social media.

A brief history of back to school shopping.

Life in a 19th century British fort in India.

Daniel Defoe spent a lot of time in the pillory.

Werewolves of  ̶L̶o̶n̶d̶o̶n̶  Kyiv.

A historic American church.

In search of fairy sightings.

The days of professional ice harvesters.

In praise of pickles on a stick.

The controversial death of Warren Harding.

Fake luxury items from ancient Greece.

A tour of Göbekli Tepe.

A tour of St. Botolph's Church Hall.

The murder of a Missouri hermit.

The world's strongest giant.

Edward Shuter and the tavern rats.

The specialness of "especially."

One of America's first botanical gardens.

A look at skeleton lovers.

The evolution of battlefield casualty evacuation.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a particularly intriguing UFO encounter.  In the meantime, I'm betting you've never heard an Eagles cover quite like this.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This account of an Englishman’s night on the town that morphed into a Marx Brothers movie appeared in the “Daily Telegraph,” September 5, 1998:

A detective’s nephew who broke into an empty police station and dressed in a sergeant's uniform to run the front desk was cleared of burglary yesterday after a jury could not stop laughing. 

Simon Davey, 29, climbed through a lavatory window and staggered around Hailsham police station, East Sussex, after spending the night drinking at a darts competition. He had intended to report that he had not paid a taxi fare but when he found the station was unmanned he put on a sergeant's jacket and an inspector's cap and decided to be in charge of the desk, Lewes Crown Court was told.

A special constable who returned to the station spotted Davey and banged on the door. Davey opened it, rocked on his heels, and slurred "evenin' all." 

Davey, from Hailsham, was charged with burglary after a telephone wire, a broken part of an answering machine, and statement forms were found in his pockets. But the case was halted after Judge Richard Brown ordered that a tape of an interview between Davey and a detective be stopped because the jury kept laughing.

Davey, who had no previous convictions, had said in an interview that he knew the layout of Hailsham police station because his uncle Alan used to be the acting detective inspector and he had attended his 50th birthday party there. 

He said he had drunk eight or 10 pints at the Eastbourne Darts Open before a friend called a taxi, which he realised half way home he could not pay for. The driver dropped him off and unable to find any police officers, he let himself in and searched the station for someone before accidentally breaking an answering machine on which he tried to leave a message. He put the bits in his pocket. 

He added: "I thought there are no police here, so I will be the policeman on duty.  I came downstairs and saw an inspector's hat so I put it on just in case there was another idiot like me that night and decided I would be on the front desk. 

"When I saw the officer I said ‘evenin' all.' He was a bit stunned and I was too because I ended up in handcuffs." 

After ordering the not guilty verdict, the judge told the jury: "If anybody ever tells you judges are not human or don't live in the real world you can now put them straight" 

He told Davey: "There are amusing factors to this story but whatever you were doing that night befuddled by drink your actions have caused a great deal of inconvenience and a lot of public expense. It's not the sort of conduct you should risk doing again. It may mean that you have to limit your alcoholic intake the next time you go down the Eastbourne Darts Open." 

Davey was bound over to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for two years. 

After the case he said he had been disowned by his parents and had not spoken to his uncle since the incident. 

"My family are very proud and this has caused an uproar. I feel embarrassed at what I did and because this has cost the taxpayer a lot of money." 

Davey's wife Heidi said she was angry with him, but that even the police officer who reported what had happened had been laughing about it.

Davey, who is out of work with a back injury, added: "I have not had a drink since that day and I am never going near a police station again.”

I do hope Davey’s family quickly developed a sense of humor and forgave him.