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

Monday, October 30, 2023

The Nightmare on Fifty-fourth Street

"Des Moines Tribune," July 11, 1978, via Newspapers.com

Although the following story has no links to Halloween, it is as terrifying as any seasonal horror movie.

Anna Titje Miller of Des Moines, Iowa, was born on October 28, 1920.  She was a quiet woman, who never married, and whose social life appeared to be largely limited to dance classes.  (She was a good dancer, even though it was hard on her increasingly arthritic ankles.)

Miller worked for twenty-five years as a secretary at Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Company, where she was regarded as bright, hard-working, and efficient--qualities she carried over into her highly organized private life.  She was methodical, precise, conscientious, and considerate.  Although she seemed to have few close personal ties, there is no evidence she had any enemies, either.  As far as is known, she never even dated.  In short, Miller was what used to be called “a respectable maiden lady.”

In July of 1978, Miller’s well-ordered life took a slightly disquieting turn.  She told friends that she had received several strange phone calls, and believed there was a Peeping Tom in the area who had been trying to look through her windows at night.  She learned that a few of her neighbors had had similar problems.  Still, she didn’t seem to be overly worried.

Sadly, events would soon show that she should have been.

When Miller failed to show up for work on the morning of Monday, July 10, her boss, Robert Naert, was immediately concerned.  In all her years at the company, she had scarcely missed a day.  When phoning her home got no response, Naert contacted Miller’s brother Merle.

When Merle Miller went to his sister’s house at 3531 Fifty-fourth street, he found the most horrifying sight imaginable: Anna was lying in a pool of blood.  Someone had, with particular savagery, beaten and stabbed her to death.  She had suffered 13 head wounds, and a finger of her right hand had been cut off during the struggle with her attacker.  The murder weapon was probably an ax or hatchet.

Anna’s death appeared to be completely motiveless.  Robbery could not have been the motive--nothing in her tidy house was out of place, and her body was still wearing a ring and watch.  She had little cash in her home, as she preferred to pay for everything by check.  She had not been sexually assaulted.  In short, Anna’s gruesome death was a complete mystery.

Her neighbors were, naturally, scared out of their wits for their own safety, especially when there was an eerie sequel to the murder.  A few days after Anna’s death, a neighbor found a note on her door reading, “Axes, axes, we all fall down.”  Women in the area began getting mysterious and sinister phone calls.

The anonymous fiend’s major targets were a 35-year-old real estate broker and her 18-year-old daughter.  (Their names were never published.)  They began receiving frightening obscene phone calls--at least fifty of them.  The caller showed intimate knowledge of the women’s movements--particularly the daughter’s.  During one call, he threatened to blow up their house.  The phone company had no success in tracing the calls.  (In any case, the police advised the women that even if the phone maniac was found, the most he would face was a $25 fine.)

The daughter began getting threatening notes on her car, such as “SCREAM ALL YOU WANT, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU.”  Another was a page torn from a Reader’s Digest, showing a woman being attacked from behind while talking on the phone.  A handwritten note on the page added, “You think this can’t happen to you?”  On one occasion, the daughter found a note on her car saying, “I don’t want you to leave.”  When she tried to start the car, she found that someone had disconnected the ignition coil.  The daughter took to carrying pepper spray everywhere she went.  She never walked alone in public, someone would escort her to her car when she left her college classes, and at home, the doors and windows were always locked.  In short, the two women were under siege by an unknown madman.  Police tried to reassure the women that they were in no physical danger, but after what had happened to Anna Miller, the mother and daughter were probably unconvinced.

What makes this case even more disturbing is the fact that I was unable to find any resolution.  In November 1978, the newspapers reported that the two women were still being tormented by their mysterious stalker, but there were no subsequent articles about the matter.   I have no idea when--or how--the harassment ceased.  Although it seems likely that this man was also Anna Miller’s killer, police were never able to link him to the murder, which remains unsolved.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by the last of our Halloween Cats!

I think we're all about to get turned into frogs.

The cat with the world's loudest purr.

Aleister Crowley, foodie.

Empress Elisabeth's archive of anorexia.

The autopsy of a saint.

A trailblazing TV magic show.

The ancient ceremony of Landing the Pie.

The spiritual roots of solitary confinement.

A farewell to the world's oldest dog.

Two women are sailing on the Thames in Stone Age boats.  Because science.

A sculptor is surprised to learn that he's dead.

A last letter from Auschwitz.

Paranormal science experiments.

A lost archdeaconry.

A 5,000 year old tomb in Scotland.

In search of Roman London.

The scholar who learned the secrets of the Aztecs.

Special delivery!

Neanderthals were more human than we thought.

Did Nietzsche drive himself insane?

Superstitions surrounding burial shrouds.

The fake marriage and the deathbed confession.

A brief history of hidden messages in songs.

Some cold cases that were solved by modern technology.

The memoirs of an early 20th century British student in West Bengal.

Rum and a particularly meaningless murder.

How "thumbs up" became the symbol for hitchhiking.

The man who claimed to have buried the Loch Ness Monster.

A look at Napoleon's generalship.

The judgment of the dead in ancient Egypt.

The case for offering prizes to solve historical mysteries.

How the name of a murdered child became British slang.

Why tourists still visit Lenin's tomb.

A family's tragic history.

The Moon is a lot older than we thought.

The rise and fall of the handkerchief.

A photo-bombing flophouse cat.

The sad story of the feline astronaut.

An insulted woman's deadly revenge.

Magic and medieval bees.

A weeping ghost in Pennsylvania.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll--in the Halloween spirit--look at a particularly spooky murder case.  In the meantime, here's a dance tune from the mid 17th century.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

The world of true crime has many examples of people “confessing” to a murder they did not commit, but this is among the more curious examples.  The “Nottingham Evening Post,” June 26, 1929:

A woman whose body was believed to have been recovered from a river several days ago walked into the office of the examining magistrate at Evreux (France) yesterday, after her daughter had confessed to murdering her. When a body was taken from the River Iton, with the face terribly slashed and almost unrecognisable, the mayor of a neighbouring village and several villagers identified it as that of Mme. Mussard, a tramp, who had been seen in the district recently.

The woman's daughter admitted under police examination that she and her lover had murdered her, and thrown her in the river because she was a burden on them. Mme. Mussard is illiterate, and she has only just learned that she is supposed to be dead. Her daughter and the lover, who has strenuously denied the confession of murder, are being detained by the police until the mystery is cleared up.

A more detailed account appeared in the “Vancouver Province" on August 11:

Evreux, the capital of the French Department of Eure, claims a police force as efficient as that of Paris, but a much lower ratio of criminality. A local judge d’ instruction, or examining magistrate, named M. Vincon, has now furnished it with a case which he admits would baffle the police of the metropolis. 

He was in his room preparing for the procureur de la Republic, or district attorney the case of Marie Mussard and George Potin, charged with murder, the former with having slain her mother, Vitaline Mussard, and the latter with having assisted her in the crime. The magistrate believed he had a clear case; there was the confession of the murderer, and there was the corpus delicti, formally identified by them. He was about to sign his name to his report when an official informed him that Vitaline Mussard was very anxious to see him.

Before he had her come in the magistrate placed at hand a report of the official who had caused Vitaline Mussard to be buried. Thus fortified, he bade her enter. She not only announced but proved her identity. 

"But Madame," the magistrate protested, "here is proof of our death and proof of your burial at the public expense." 

"Nevertheless," replied the woman, "I am alive, although I will admit that recently I suffered some slight inconvenience at the hands of my daughter Marie and her lover George Potin. It is nothing." 

Mme. Mussard withdrew, leaving M. Vincon trying to arrange these instructions for the local agency of the Surete Generate, with its well-known skill for fathoming mysteries.

"A murder was evidently committed. The perpetrators of it have confessed it and have identified their victim. But the victim thus identified is alive. Why did Marie say that her friend and she murdered Vitaline Mussard? Did they murder the woman who was identified and buried as Vitaline Mussard? Was that woman actually murdered, and if so, and if not by the two accused, then by whom? After all, had a murder actually been committed?”

It was eventually learned that the dead woman was an octogenarian named Madame Jourdain, who had been missing since June 15.  I was unable to find if the mystery of Jourdain’s death was ever solved, or why Marie Mussard claimed she had murdered her mother.

Monday, October 23, 2023

The First American Murder

When you are among a large group of people, it always seems to include one of “those” families:  the parents are sullen troublemakers, the kids out-of-control brats.  The family everyone else avoids as much as possible.

As unpleasant as it can be to have such people around at a ball game or while dining in a restaurant, it is at least a temporary annoyance.  Imagine being stuck with them for weeks on a crowded ship where the conditions are already harsh and unsanitary.  Imagine having to be in close proximity to them for the rest of your life, as they are part of your small group of would-be colonists traveling to a far-away land.

Imagine the reaction of the passengers of the “Mayflower” when they realized they had signed up for this.

It is unclear why John and Ellen Billington, along with their two young sons, John Jr. and Francis, wished to leave the Old World in favor of the New.  They were not Puritans, rather, they belonged to that group of Anglicans who became known in colonial history as “The Strangers.”  John’s profession back in London is unknown, but judging from his life in the colonies, it has been theorized that England simply became too hot for him.

The Billingtons quickly made a name for themselves aboard the Mayflower.  Unfortunately, it was one of those names unsuitable to repeat on a family blog.  John was one of the ringleaders of the mutiny against the Puritan leadership, which ended on November 11, 1620 with the adoption of the Mayflower Compact, which bound the signatories to obey the government and legal system which would be adopted in Plymouth Colony.  Several weeks later, Francis Billington distinguished himself by setting off a firework in the ship’s cabin.  As he was near a powder keg at the time, he very nearly managed to bring the voyage to a sudden and highly disagreeable end.

During the first winter at Plymouth, an epidemic reduced the settlers’ population to only about 50.  Remarkably, the Billingtons were the only family to not suffer any deaths.  Soon afterwards, the two Billington boys, apparently bored with colonial routine, set off on their own in search of adventure.  Francis discovered a small lake which is still known today as “Billington Sea.”  John Jr. made his way to Cape Cod, where he may have become the first colonist to make contact with the local tribes.

Meanwhile, their parents were having adventures of their own.  In March 1621, John was sentenced to be tied up by his neck and heels for making “opprobrious speeches” against Captain Myles Standish--the first recorded example of insubordination in Plymouth.  (It is believed that John managed to talk his way out of this penalty.)  When four houses were destroyed by arson in 1622, John was believed to be the culprit, but nothing could ever be proven.  On one occasion, Ellen Billington was sentenced to be put in the stocks and whipped for slandering a church deacon named John Doane.

In 1624, two settlers, John Oldham and John Lyford, were banished from Plymouth for writing letters back home which were highly critical about how the colony was being run.  Lyford claimed that Billington had been among his informants, “which they now denied.”  Billington’s unhappiness with Plymouth’s leaders continued.  In 1625, Governor William Bradford wrote a letter to Deacon Robert Cushman that commented, “Billington still rails against you and threatens to arrest you, I know not wherefore.  He is a knave, and so will live and die.”

Cushman’s prediction proved to be all too accurate.  In 1630, Billington had the distinction of becoming America’s first murderer, when he shot another colonist named John Newcomen.  In Bradford’s “The History of Plymouth Colony,” he included a brief summary of the crime:

This year John Billington the elder (one that came over with the first) was arraigned; and both by grand, and petty jury found guilty of willful murder; by plain and notorious evidence. And was for the same accordingly executed.

This as it was the first execution amongst them, so was it a matter of great sadness unto them; they used all due means about his trial, and took the advice of Mr. Winthrop, and other the ablest gentlemen in the Bay of Massachusetts, that were then newly come over, who concurred with them that he ought to die, and the land be purged from blood.

He and some of his, had been often punished for miscarriages before, being one of the profanest families amongst them.  They came from London, and I know not by what influence they were shuffled into the first body of settlers.  His fact was, that he waylaid a young man, one John Newcomen (about a former quarrel) and shot him with a gun, whereof he died.

It must be said that descendants of Billington’s question his guilt.  They note that his conviction was based solely on two pieces of circumstantial evidence:  He was known to be on bad terms with Newcomen, and had no alibi for the time the victim was shot.  It is not inconceivable that the authorities did not really care about Billington’s guilt or innocence, and they merely seized upon the murder as the chance to rid themselves of a man who had been a thorn in their side for years.

In other words, John Newcomen’s death may not have been just America’s first murder.  It may have been America’s first unsolved murder.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Yet another of our Halloween Cats welcomes you to this week's Link Dump!

Using AI to decipher ancient texts.

A flight attendant's remarkable escape from death.

Neanderthals may have hunted cave lions.

Japanese bathroom ghosts.

The two leading women of the Battle of Hastings.

The first submarine to sink an enemy ship.

That time Elvis Presley got into a fight at a gas station.

The civil service exam that shaped China.

A set of Bronze Age jewelry has been discovered in Switzerland.

What it's like living in a haunted New York brownstone.

Manchester, England's top literary woman.

The physician who treated patients in her sleep.

Archaeological evidence charting the rise and fall of ancient violence.

The dog who saved a city.

A huge solar storm hit our planet over 14,000 years ago.

The true story that inspired "The Nightmare on Elm Street."

The horror TV show that spawned its own folklore.

One very bad uncle.

The stories behind some famous photos.

The birth of the modern bathroom.

Crime and the "hand of glory."

The life of a Georgian-era musician.

A "snapshot" of the day the dinosaurs died.

A haunted grocery store.

Where the Amish go on vacation.

One of those stories involving wills and ghosts.

A folding chair from the 6th century.

An unsinkable stoker.  This is one of those cases where it's hard to say if the guy was very lucky, or very unlucky.

Europe's oldest hunk of bread.

The paint used for the Mona Lisa held a surprise.

A look at the soldiers of the Roman Army.

An Englishman of the Indian Police in Bombay.

Politeness counts.  Even if you're a burglar.

A forgotten Viking Queen.

A look at early legal records relating to verdicts.

Medieval Europe really liked clocks.

General George Washington's medical corps.

Solar eclipses that shaped history.

Yet another look at underwater UFOs.

It turns out that Vikings had stained glass windows.

The Witch's House of Beverly Hills.

A feud leads to murder.

A stone Christ speaks.

Sylvia Plath and bees.

Shropshire's Hallowmas traditions.

Relics of the Salem Witch Trials.

Murder, suicide, or accident?  A man's mysterious death.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at America's first murder case.  In the meantime, here's some Handel.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This account of an…unusual marriage appeared in the “Biloxi Sun Herald,” December 5, 1900:

John Allen of Cameron Okla., was killed in a railroad wreck in the latter part of 1889. A few days ago Miss Bessie Brown of that place was married to the ghost of this John Allen, furnished a house and at this time is living there alone with the ghost of this man she loved. 

She and John Allen had been engaged for a year. The wedding day had been set and in preparation for it he bad gone to Kansas City on a business trip. Returning, the train was wrecked and his dead body was taken out from under the wreckage.  It was brought home and buried in the Cameron graveyard. 

Miss Brown received the news of it all in a daze from which she was slow to recover. She asked only to be let alone and shut herself in her room from which she seldom stirred. Her parents became uneasy. But while they watched her a great happiness came into her face. She told them that she had met and conversed with the spirit of John Allen and that they had planned for the wedding to take place at John's grave. 

The parents looked upon this as a mark of insanity and a physician was called in. He said she was sane. A specialist in brain disease was sent for and while he would not express himself regarding her queer fancy, he said that in all else she was of sound mind. 

But in all this time Miss Brown was making preparations for the marriage ceremony at the grave. She rented a house and furnished it. The minister of the church of which her parents were members at first held out against her, and tried to persuade her that it was sinful that she should marry a mere apparition but she insisted. 

The minister went with her last week into the graveyard where her lover was buried and at midnight the ceremony was performed that married the girl to the ghost. The young woman is now living in her house with her ghost husband. She has covers at the table always laid for two and chats all through the meal as though talking to someone in the vacant chair across the table.

Considering how some marriages between the living turn out, maybe Bessie didn’t make such a bad bargain.

Monday, October 16, 2023

The Necromancer and the King

This week, we visit a curious footnote in English history: That country’s first legal proceeding involving witchcraft where detailed records have survived.

Our story opens one night in November 1323.  A group of 27 “gentlemen” from Coventry and Warwickshire gathered at the house of John de Nottingham, a well-known necromancer.  Robert Latoner, who served as the spokesman for these potential customers, explained to Nottingham that they had enemies in the very highest places in the land: the Prior of Coventry, the Earl of Winchester, royal “favorite” Hugh le Despenser, and--last but certainly not least--King Edward II himself.  Latoner said that he would pay Nottingham £20, and the sorcerer’s assistant Robert Mareschal £15, if they succeeded in using their witchy arts to kill the king and the other named pests.  They also promised Nottingham that once the deed was done, he would be provided with lodging at any religious house he chose.  (After murdering the king, Nottingham would naturally want to keep a very low profile.)

Nottingham saw no reason to refuse, so in December 1323, a week after the Feast of St. Nicholas, he received partial payment in advance, along with four pounds of wax and two rolls of canvas that were needed for his important work.  He used these materials to create wax figures representing the king, the Earl of Winchester, the prior (along with the clergyman’s Cellarer and Seneschal,) Hugh le Despenser, and a man named Robert de Sowe, who was apparently used as a test case.  After some weeks of performing occult rituals, Nottingham held up the image of Sowe and chanted an incantation while Mareschal pushed a spike into the figure’s head.  The following morning, Nottingham sent Mareschal to Sowe’s home to observe results.

What Mareschal found was very satisfactory indeed.  Overnight, Sowe had gone raving mad.  He was screaming hysterically, had completely lost his memory, and was unable to recognize anyone around him.  Poor Sowe remained in this condition for some days, until Nottingham removed the pin from the waxen Sowe’s head and pushed it through the heart.  Sowe died about a week later.

Nottingham’s clients must have felt that warm sense of satisfaction that comes when you know you have gotten value for money.

Our little band of necromantic assassins decided not to waste time.  Their next victim would be Edward himself.  Fortunately for that monarch, before this plan could be carried out, Mareschal got cold feet.  Killing some small-potatoes nobody was all well and good, but the King of England was a different ballgame.  He wasn’t about to risk a charge of regicide for a lousy £15.  Mareschal went to the Sheriff of Warwickshire with quite a story to tell.  The result was that the Sheriff, on the personal command of the King, immediately arrested Nottingham.  The wizard’s former clients turned themselves in.  Predictably enough, they denied everything.  Friends of Richard Latoner and the other “gentlemen” paid their bail, on the promise of returning to face justice after Easter 1325.  Nottingham and Mareschal were put into the custody of marshall Robert de Dumbleton.

Fifteen days after Easter, Dumbleton was ordered to bring John de Nottingham before the King.  Alas, the marshall sighed, that was impossible.  His prisoner had died suddenly.  (It will be forever unknown if Nottingham passed away from natural causes, or if this was the medieval version of “Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself.”)  This oh-so-convenient demise meant that the case against Latoner and Co. collapsed, and the men were set free to go their merry way.  Mareschal’s fate is unrecorded, but it is assumed that he died in prison.

And that, as they say, was that.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by another of our Halloween Cats!

Everybody dance!

Watch out for those phantom coffin-makers!

This week in Russian Weird looks at Moscow's legendary lost library.

A coin hoard linked to the Glencoe Massacre.

The ghost of Mecklenburgh street.

The life of a polar explorer.

A brief history of the theremin.

The birth of James Bond.

The science is settled: cats are perfect.

Coin tosses might not be all that random.

A jazz age superstar in Britain.

A look at narcosynthesis.

The legend of Queen Esther's Curse.

A "holy terror" privateer.

If you love books, go to Hay-on-Wye.

Nobel winners gone mad.

A very well-preserved ancient tomb.

Soul houses and false doors in ancient Egypt.

A 1918 hotel for dogs.

The remarkable "human camera."

A case of early 19th century bigamy.

The link between "Rocky Horror" and Victorian seances.

The Brixton baby farmers.

America's deadliest fire.

The days of professional pew-openers.

Why so many females become ghosts.

Related: A girl ghost in Pennsylvania.

A fiend with a shotgun.  Not good.

19th century "recipes for the poor."

A brief history of "yo."

10th century food poetry.

What's inside the Moon.

A tomb that was used to conceal a murder victim.

The menu of a Cold War fallout shelter.

And, finally, you will be pleased to hear that gurning has a new world champion.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a supernatural murder plot.  In the meantime, here's Joni Mitchell.  I wouldn't say I'm one of her biggest fans--she's one of those singers where a little of their music goes a long way with me--but I love this song.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This item from “Shreveport Times,” June 19, 1953, is one of those difficult to categorize stories that go into the “Just Plain Weird” file.

Houston, June 18.--Five persons, all of whom live in the same house, complained to police they saw a combination of Superman and Captain Midnight perched in an oak tree outside their home early Thursday and said he disappeared in the light of a mysterious "rocket" and a second aerial display. 

Police said they were "investigating" the stories but admitted they were not equipped to handle such phenomena as the five persons described. 

Mrs. Hilda Walker, 23, accompanied by her husband, Lloyd, was the first to report the affair to authorities. She said it was 2:30 a.m., and, because it was so hot, her husband, the 14-year-old daughter of the landlady and herself were all sitting on a porch when the entire yard seemed wrapped in a heavy shadow.

"All of a sudden this shadow settled in a tree," she said. "We all looked up and saw a 'batman.' He was balancing himself on a tree limb and there was a dim gray light all around him."

She said the creature was about six and a half feet tall, wearing a black cape and skintight dark pants, quarter-length boots and looked like a white man.

"I could see him plainly and could see he had big wings folded at his shoulders," she said. Walker and young Judy Meyers, daughter of Mrs. Vivian Meyers, agreed in all respects.

They said after the batman perched in the tree a few moments while they sat paralyzed and watched, a mysterious white flame and smoke shot from behind him and a burning object, like a "flying paintbrush" scooted across the horizon, and the "batman" faded from view. 

Mrs. Meyers said she got home just in time to see the "flying paintbrush" scoot across the sky and another roomer, age 71, said he saw the weird shadowy fellow in the tree, though he said he merely "went back in and went to bed." 

The Walkers agreed it could not have been their imagination and said they were so upset they were thinking about returning to Bryan, Texas, from where they moved only three months ago.

Monday, October 9, 2023

The Welsh Minister and the Golden Ghost

Anyone who likes to explore the stranger side of life is familiar with the many odd rumors and conspiracy theories centering around the French village of Rennes-le-Chateau.  In brief, a priest named Francois Bérenger Saunière is said to have discovered buried treasure hidden in Rennes, a tale that has spawned any number of dizzying legends connecting the village and this treasure to Freemasons, the Knights Templar, the Merovingians, the Cathars, the Holy Grail, and--last but certainly not least--the alleged descendants of Jesus Christ.

While the following story, taken from "The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries," (W.Y. Evans-Wentz, 1911) is not quite as strange--and certainly not as famous--as the mythology surrouding Rennes-le-Chateau, the two tales share certain similarities.  Certainly, this account of a Welsh minister’s mysterious wealth deserves to be better known.

I offer now, in my own language, the following remarkable story: — The ancient manor-house on the Trewern Farm (less than a mile from the Pentre Evan Cromlech) had been haunted as long as anybody could remember. Strange noises were often heard in it, dishes would dance about of their own accord, and sometimes a lady dressed in silk appeared. Many attempts were made to lay the ghosts, but none succeeded. Finally things got so bad that nobody wanted to live there. 

About eighty years ago the sole occupants of the haunted house were Mr.--- and his two servants. At the time, it was well known in the neighbourhood that all at once Mr.--- became very wealthy, and his servants seemed able to buy whatever they wanted. Everybody wondered, but no one could tell where the money came from; for at first he was a poor man, and he couldn't have made much off the farm. The secret only leaked out through one of the servants after Mr.--- was dead. The servant declared to certain friends that one of the ghosts, or, as he thought, the Devil, appeared to Mr.--- and told him there was an image of great value walled up in the room over the main entrance to the manor. A search was made, and, sure enough, a large image of solid gold was found in the very place indicated, built into a recess in the wall. Mr.--- bound the servants to secrecy, and began to turn the image into money. He would cut off small pieces of the image, one at a time, and take them to London and sell them. In this way he sold the whole image, and nobody was the wiser. 

After the image was found and disposed of, ghosts were no longer seen in the house, nor were unusual noises heard in it at night. The one thing which beyond all doubt is true is that when Mr.--- died he left his son an estate worth about £50,000 (an amount probably greatly in excess of the true one); and people have always wondered ever since where it came from, if not in part from the golden image.

This is the substance of the story as it was told to me by a gentleman who lives within sight of the farm where the image is said to have been found. And one day he took me to the house and showed me the room and the place in the wall where the find was made. The old manor is one of the solidest and most picturesque of its kind in Wales, and, in spite of its extreme age, well preserved. He, being as a native Welshman of the locality well acquainted with its archaeology, thinks it safe to place an age of six to eight hundred years on the manor. 

What is interesting about this matter of age arises from the query, Was the image one of the Virgin or of some Christian saint, or was it a Druid idol? Both opinions are current in the neighbourhood, but there is a good deal in favour of the second. The region, the little valley on whose side stands the Pentre Evan Cromlech, the finest in Britain, is believed to have been a favourite place with the ancient Druids; and in the oak groves which still exist there tradition says there was once a flourishing pagan school for neophytes, and that the cromlech instead of being a place for interments or for sacrifices was in those days completely enclosed, forming like other cromlechs a darkened chamber in which novices when initiated were placed for a certain number of days--the interior being called the "Womb or Court of Ceridwen."

"Mr.---" was apparently the Reverend David George, who lived at Brithdir Mawr in the mid-to-late 19th century.  Other versions of the story claim the treasure George found was not an "idol," but gold that had been hidden during the English Civil War.

In any case, this tale is a pleasant twist on the usual "haunted house and hidden treasure" story.  Usually, finding and selling off an ancient idol causes all Fortean hell to break loose.  In this instance, disposing of the gold seems to have laid the ghosts to rest.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The first Link Dump of October is hosted by the first of our Halloween Cats!

Europe's oldest known shoe.

A look at horse spirits.

The deliberate destruction of ancient standing stones in France.

You have to admit, "feng shui grave digger" is not a profession you see every day.

A colonial secretary's very bad day.

Visit this 7-11/One wrong step/And you're sent to Heaven.

A dancing anthropologist.

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake.

The women of the East India Company.

A haunted house in Indiana.

The vibrating cave and the disappearing hiker.

What we got wrong about Stonehenge.

Napoleonic camp followers.

The largest cosmic explosion humans have ever seen.

The club for impoverished French aristocrats.

Medieval university students write home.

If you want to stay in a first-rate haunted hotel, go to Massachusetts.

New chambers have been discovered in an ancient pyramid.

A stage where Shakespeare may have performed has been discovered.

The Bebington Puzzle Stones.

One large and very lucky family.

The case against Einstein.

The sculptor who carved his own death.

How people came to think that eating mummies was a good idea.

A fight with the Grim Reaper.

Electoral graffiti in Pompeii.

A planet that shouldn't exist.

A new search for Cleopatra's tomb.

Six military last ditch efforts.

Mysterious ancient carvings of camels.

Shropshire bee folklore.

The Chocolate Box murders.

A multi-talented Huguenot.

The Titanic of Denmark.

A very weird script has been discovered in Lithuania.

Clara Bow's forgotten dessert recipe.

The origins of "upon my word!"

The strange case of the Cambodian Stegosaur.

Ancient Roman banquets featured dancing skeletons.

The voyage of Sir Joseph Banks.

Near-death experiences get weird.

Early Modern Russian Weird: Magic was everywhere.

This pairs well with Monday's Poe post: A brief history of cooping.

The mystery of UFO sightings in Texas.

The end of corsets.

Uncovering forgotten stories.

America's first banned book.

The "trick or treat" killer.

Slovenia's beautiful beehives.

Beauty and the Canthal Tilt.

The tragic story behind a mysterious family photo.

America's government cheese vaults.

It's theorized that Sodom was destroyed by an asteroid.

How the 18th century viewed the Apocalypse.

A murdered mother.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a story involving a ghost and hidden treasure...but with a bit of a twist.  In the meantime, here's more medieval music.  I like that everyone dressed properly for the occasion.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This item from the "Abilene Weekly Reflector" of May 12, 1898, is brief, but you have to admit it packs something of a punch:

Dickinson county is seldom without some queer happenings to keep the people from getting sleepy. At Manchester last week A. W. McKillip, as he was going to the creamery about 8 a.m., was startled by a noise which sounded like the blowing of a horn. He looked in the direction whence the sound came and saw high up in the air what appeared to be the headlight of a locomotive. He says the light was very large and bright, with rays extending from it in all directions. He could hear a peculiar noise and an occasional blast as from a horn. The "thing" came from the southeast and went in a northwesterly direction.

He has not been able to get his hair to lie down on his head yet.

As an aside, I'd like to know more about what other "queer happenings" were going on in that county.

Monday, October 2, 2023

The Death of Edgar Allan Poe

[Note:  This post originally appeared on my Poe blog in 2009.  However, I thought that a look at his October 7, 1849 death--one of the great mysteries of American literature--was also Strange Company-worthy.]

How did Edgar Allan Poe die? 

I haven't the slightest idea. And neither do you. All of the usual suspects--delirium tremens, rabies (you'd think they'd figure Poe was rabid enough already,) brain tumor, syphilis, meningitis, tuberculosis, accidental poisoning, suicide, or (pace John Evangelist Walsh) a beating at the hands of robbers/emissaries of scorned women/crazed would-be brothers-in-law (take your pick)--are, for various reasons, uncertain or unconvincing. And while the "cooping" scenario has a certain Poesque quality that I'm sure would have delighted him, I think it's safe to put that one out of the running altogether. One can understand how good old George W. Eveleth came to the conclusion that the story we're told of Poe's demise was so nonsensical, it could not have happened at all.

It is an ironic blow to history that most of our information about Poe's death comes from Dr. John J. Moran, the resident physician of the hospital where the poet breathed his last. From the very start, Dr. Moran (I keep having the urge to type "Dr. Moron," but that would not be kind) evidently told different versions of the end of his most famous patient to different people. His descriptions took on increasingly baroque details as time went on, to the point that, by the time he published a booklet about Poe and hit the lecture circuit, the good doctor had made himself a public laughingstock. A letter he wrote to Maria Clemm in November 1849 has been used as the basis of all theorizing about Poe's last days. However, Moran was so unreliable (and, as even this early letter shows,) so intoxicated by the reflected glory he felt he gained from being a part of Poe's tragic end, that I would not trust him if he stated that rain was wet.

The nineteenth-century Poe biographer Eugene Didier claimed that Poe's attending physician was a Dr. William M. Cullen (or Cullan,) not Moran, and that Dr. Cullen flatly contradicted everything Moran said about the poet's end. Michael Powell, a modern-day researcher into Poe's death, was also of the opinion that Moran never knew anything first-hand about the poet's demise. Moran's letter to Mrs. Clemm might be said to bear all this out. He gives no cause of death, stating only, "presuming you are already aware of the malady of which Mr. Poe died..." This could be interpreted as implying Moran wasn't sure himself what "the malady" was. He claimed the details he gave about Poe's death came from "the record of his case"--a record no one else from that day to this has ever seen. His reliance on this possibly mythical "record" again argues against Moran having any personal knowledge about Poe. Moran's claim that Poe's last words were "Lord help my poor soul," sounds like someone quoting the final speech of the lead villain in a third-rate Victorian stage melodrama. And the part about Poe spending his last night calling repeatedly for "one Reynolds" is simply lunatic. (It's interesting that Moran afterwards dropped that part altogether.) And, of course, all the details Moran provided Mrs. Clemm found themselves, shall we say, "evolving" over time, which implies that the doctor never had a solid account of Poe's death to begin with. I see no reason to trust Moran's first story any more than his millionth.

Where does all this leave us? Truly, in the Valley of Unrest. We know that, from at least the mid-1830s on, Poe suffered from periodic attacks of incapacitating illness--his "bad spells," Mrs. Clemm reputedly called them--possibly accentuated or precipitated by depression, that became increasingly acute during the particularly stressful period right before and following Virginia's death. Periods of delirium were said to have set in. Losing Virginia, who was more of a mental and emotional support than possibly even he realized, did nothing to help his condition. Poe clearly deteriorated emotionally, although the oft-expressed theory that he was going mad is debatable. On the one hand, if the letters he allegedly sent Sarah Helen Whitman and "Annie" Richmond are genuine, increasing insanity is the only way to explain those singularly revolting epistles. On the other hand, his published work remained as precise and controlled as ever. It is hard to picture a crazed madman writing "Annabel Lee," "The Bells," or "Eureka." It is yet another unanswerable mystery.

These "bad spells" were often clearly not alcohol-related, although whatever drinking he did obviously must have exacerbated the problem. Blaming his death on drink alone seems far too simplistic. It is logical that, at some point after he left Richmond, he came down with another attack of his malady--whether or not he had been drinking at the time was possibly almost irrelevant--and left to what I suspect was (Moran's suspiciously defensive words to the contrary) the indifferent care of hospital workers, the combination of emotional stress, exhaustion, and possible starvation and dehydration finished him off. I'm convinced he did not have much of a will to live at this point, and it would not have taken a lot to end his existence. It was said that Mrs. Clemm always maintained that if she had only been able to nurse Poe herself, she could have pulled him through the episode as she had so often done before. That may have been true.

Poe acquaintance Marie Louise Shew Houghton told John Ingram that a doctor she knew had diagnosed Poe as having a "brain lesion," and heart trouble, which she knew would send him to an early grave. None of this is substantiated--certainly not by the doctor she named--and at the time she was writing to Ingram, Mrs. Houghton--who died soon afterwards--was not at all well herself. Her letters to Ingram are strange, wild, and at times downright hallucinatory.  They are patently the work of someone who tragically was losing--or had already completely lost--whatever wits she had once possessed. Her hysterical ravings can, at times, be downright frightening to read, and it is a sad indication of Ingram's desperate need for source material that he made biographical use of the few semi-coherent things she wrote. She may have been telling the truth. She may have been telling a complete fantasy. Either way, her statements do little to explain his known symptoms.

So...back we go to Square One: What was this episodic, increasingly debilitating condition? Where was he during those "lost days" between the time he left Richmond late in September, only to be found half-dead in a Baltimore tavern nearly a week later? No one has found the answer. I see no way anyone ever will. And I'm certain the old boy himself would have it no other way.