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

Friday, April 19, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The Strange Company staffers are here to bring you this week's news from A to Z!

What the hell is a stately home?

Where the hell is Planet Nine?

Organ transplants may trigger changes in personality.  (Two of my relatives had, at different times, large blood transfusions.  Afterwards, they both had vivid dreams where they were certain they were "seeing" events in the lives of their blood donors.  There's a lot about the human body that we simply don't understand.)

On a related note, we may not know jack about evolution, either.

A really weird sound has been recorded deep in the Pacific.

Three castaways prove that cliches sometimes work.

Yet another ancient city that's rewriting history.

A particularly barbaric Neolithic human sacrifice.

A funeral that featured an arrest.

The latest theory about the Voynich Manuscript.

The origins of the phrase, "Roger that."

Medieval dogs had some pretty cool names.

More on that story I linked to earlier about the Scottish whaler stranded in the Arctic.

A murder/suicide from 1912.

The bathroom that features a Neanderthal.

WWII's Operation Title.

The strange tale of a firefighter's handprint.

Star forts and conspiracy theories.

Old Hollywood's most famous "fixer."

17th century tanks.

The case of an Indian stranded in Italy, 1879.

So, let's talk writs of replevin on corpses.

Charles Fort as UFO pioneer.

In which we learn that Joseph Stalin's granddaughter is a Buddhist antique store owner in Portland, Oregon.  It's pleasant to think that the old monster would be highly irritated at this.

Remembering the magazine devoted to flappers.

Benjamin Franklin on 1760s British politics.

A wife and a vampire go to court.

An important farm laborer strike.

A sci-fi author's strange double life.

Charles Darwin's correspondents.

Some curious ways of holding land in medieval England.

Culinary fusion goes a long way back.

When scientists got drunk on nitrogen for God and country.

The last of London's phone boxes.

The Maya Snake Kings.

Something weird just fell into the Delaware River.

Emily Dickinson wasn't all that reclusive.

The "walk of shame."

A shrewd--and murderous--rascal.

London's time-traveling tomb.

The "Peanuts" character who wound up with an ax in her head.

An ancient monument has been discovered in France, and everyone's puzzled about it.

The origins of the phrase, "left for dead."

Yet another mysterious disappearance in the wilderness.

Finding Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The many descendants of Charlemagne.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll meet a hissing ghost in Detroit.  In the meantime, here's one of my favorites from back in the day.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I have a particular fondness for obscure, unimportant, but intriguing little mysteries.  One such example appeared in the “London Morning Chronicle,” April 21, 1809:

Nevis, Feb. 7, 1809.

“Dear Sir,

"I beg leave to mention the following circumstances, and leave to your better judgment the propriety of making the same public.-- 

"About a fortnight since, the Overseer on the Camp Estate discovered a chest, floating in the wash of the sea, and with the assistance of several negroes he had it brought on shore. On opening it, it was found to contain a female corpse wrapped in several folds of seer cloth, and a quantity of tea was spread between each fold. The box or coffin was also filled up with tea, to the quantity, it was supposed, of two hundred weight. The body was in a tolerable state of preservation, and had the appearance of having been that of a person about 30 years of age, rather corpulent, with a remarkable handsome hand, a good set of teeth, and long dark hair--the mouth had been filled with tea, and some moisture having occasioned the tea to swell, left the teeth exposed; on touching them one fell in. The box was better than six feet long, and made remarkably strong, having 16 iron clamps, the whole of it covered with cloth, which had Burgundy pitch rubbed over it, and was perfectly water tight. It must have been in the sea a very long time, as it had a number of barnacles upon it.

“The wood was supposed to be what is called in the East Indies, Teak wood--Around the middle of the box was a tarred rope, which had the appearance of having suspended it, or been a lashing to it. 

"Should the publishing of this account be the cause of making it known to the relatives of the deceased, it may prove grateful to their feelings, to know that the body was decently interred, in this island, and every attention paid it. 

"I remain, dear Sir, yours, very truly, JN. COLHOUN MILLS.

To the very Rev. the Dean of St, Asaph.”

Although we’ll never know who this woman was, it’s easy to reconstruct what probably happened.  In the past, tea leaves were sometimes used to preserve the dead, although as tea was very expensive back then, it was not commonly used.  Our mystery corpse was likely a wealthy woman who died far from her native land.  Relatives arranged for her to be embalmed and shipped back home for burial.  Sometime during the voyage, the boat encountered some disaster at sea which sank it, killing everyone on board.  The coffin--the only survivor of the wreck, you might say--drifted for who knows how long before winding up on the shores of Nevis.

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Kidwelly Mystery

In 1898, a Yorkshire solicitor named Harold Greenwood and his wife Mabel moved to the small Welsh town of Kidwelly.  The couple eventually had four children, and their household was further supplemented by Mabel’s unmarried sister, Edith Bowater.  Edith furnished a small room for herself and contributed to the family expenses.

Greenwood’s practice in nearby Llanelly was not very successful, perhaps at least partly because of his unpopularity--gossipers thought he was too much of a bon vivant with an eye for the ladies.  In contrast, Mabel was well-liked, and active in the social pastimes of the area.  Despite Harold’s marginal income, the family was able to keep a fine mansion, Rumsey House.  Mrs. Greenwood came from a wealthy and prominent family, and had her own private income which kept the family in more than comfortable circumstances.  Although the residents of Kidwelly never warmed to Harold, he and Mabel were considered to be a happy and affectionate couple.

Mabel Greenwood was a bit of a hypochondriac.  Although the doctors never found much of anything wrong with her, she thought of herself as “delicate” with a “weak heart,” and lived in terror of developing cancer.  From the beginning of 1919, Mabel told the family doctor, Thomas Griffiths, that she frequently had pains around her heart and abdomen.  He shrugged it off as the symptoms of “change of life,” and gave her various innocuous potions.  However, her health continued to deteriorate.

Life in Kidwelly puttered along in an unremarkable fashion until Sunday, June 15, 1919.  The day began pleasantly enough.  Mabel wrote letters and did some reading.  Harold tinkered with his car.  The couple, along with their 21-year-old daughter Irene and 10-year son Kenneth (the other two Greenwood children were at boarding school) met for lunch at 1 p.m.  Their cook had prepared a joint with vegetables on the side, with gooseberry tart and custard for dessert.  A bottle of burgundy was provided for the adults.  Harold did not have any of the wine, but Mabel enjoyed a glass.  After the meal, Mabel had a brief nap, after which she rested on a deck chair on their lawn.

Around 6:30 p.m., Mabel began to complain of heart pains.  Harold gave her some brandy, after which she had spasms of vomiting.  She thought the gooseberry tart had disagreed with her.  Dr. Griffiths was called in.  He diagnosed Mabel’s malady as an ordinary stomach upset.  He prescribed sips of brandy and soda, along with a bismuth mixture.

An hour later, Mabel’s closest friend, Florence Phillips, came to visit.  After learning from Harold that Mabel was ill, Florence asked the District Nurse, Elizabeth Jones, to examine Mabel.  Nurse Jones thought that something was very wrong with Mrs. Greenwood, but Dr. Griffiths continued to insist it was merely a temporary stomach bug.  Sadly, Nurse Jones was proven correct when, at 3 a.m., Mabel died, aged only 47.

Mrs. Greenwood’s strange and sudden end had many people in Kidwelly giving Mr. Greenwood the side-eye.  Even so, the matter probably would not have been pursued any further if not for the fact that, after enduring a whole four months of lonely widowerhood, Harold married one Gladys Jones, the daughter of an old friend.  It was widely rumored that their romance had begun some time before Mabel’s untimely death.  (As a side note, while Harold was preparing to marry Gladys, he also proposed to Dr. Griffith’s sister May.  It’s always prudent to have a backup plan.)  The scandal that erupted from this whirlwind marriage was so intense that it was felt that an exhumation of the first Mrs. Greenwood was called for.  The autopsy found no sign of heart disease, but it did discover a grain of arsenic in Mabel’s body.  The next thing Harold knew he was standing trial for murder.

Greenwood had the great good fortune to be represented by Edward Marshall Hall.  Hall has made previous appearances on this blog, always in the role of “The Murderer’s Best Friend.”  During his long and distinguished career, this brilliant barrister managed to save an impressive list of accused villains from the hangman--whether they deserved to be saved or not.

Greenwood during his trial

During the trial, Hall did his usual masterly job of destroying a seemingly open-and-shut case.  He argued that Mabel succumbed to chronic, but perfectly natural health problems that went overlooked thanks to Dr. Griffiths being an obvious quack.  The presence of arsenic in Mabel’s body was undoubtedly due to the medicines Griffiths had prescribed.  Also noted in Harold’s defense was the fact that with Mabel’s death, her private income, on which her husband had so heavily depended, went into a trust fund for her children.

The prosecution’s case was a simple one:  Harold, wishing to marry another woman, doctored Mabel’s lunchtime Burgundy with weed killer.  However, this theory instantly crumbled into dust when young Irene Greenwood testified that she also had a glass from the bottle of wine at lunch, and two more glasses at supper.  That, as they say, was that.  The prosecution could mutter all they wanted about Irene committing perjury to save her father’s neck, but, of course, they couldn’t prove it.  (Oddly, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the Crown lawyers that Harold might have put poison in one of Mabel’s many bottles of patent medicine--bottles which all mysteriously vanished after her death.)

Harold may have been acquitted in a courtroom, but the jury of public opinion thought otherwise.  He became such a pariah, he and his new wife changed their name to “Pilkington,” moved to a tiny village in Herefordshire, and earnestly hoped the world would forget about them.  Unfortunately for Harold, the controversy over his first wife’s death lingered for the rest of his days.  In 1922, he won £150 in damages after a waxworks exhibit in Cardiff included his effigy in their Chamber of Horrors.  Later that year, he wrote for “John Bull” an account of the murder trial of his fellow accused wife-poisoner, our old friend Major Herbert Armstrong.  Facing bankruptcy, Harold applied for the position of Clerk to Ross Urban Council, but was rejected.  Broken in his finances, his reputation, and his health, 55-year-old Greenwood died a sad death in January 1929.  Whether Greenwood was innocent of his first wife’s death or not (true-crime authors still argue over that question,) he certainly paid a high price for his hasty remarriage.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by Sarah, the charming cat of the Metropolitan Hotel in Brockton, Massachusetts!

What in hell were the Oakville Blobs?

The dramatic life of an 18th century violinist.

How some 2,000 year old skulls are rewriting history.

Spring in the East End.

Solving a medieval money mystery.

The brothers: a tale from WWI.

Remembering a primatologist who loved bonobos.

A tale of being lost in the Arctic.

A 70,000 year old mystery has been solved.  Maybe.

Idi Amin's "White Rat."

A mailman who had one hell of a route.

The dog who was sentenced to life in prison.

The Milky Way in ancient Egyptian mythology.

If you love your double boiler, thank alchemy.

The mystery of bird brains.

Five stories about siblings.

The butcher's cat who came back.

Darius the Great, "King of Kings."

So, is Japan's nine-tailed fox happy or not?

A female warrior of the skies.

The eclipse that saved Christopher Columbus.

That planned Saudi megacity is in some trouble.  Hell, when I first heard about this project, I thought it was insane.

Some new discoveries at Pompeii.

300,000 year old wooden tools.

Kitty Fisher, celebrity courtesan.

The Rational Dress Reform movement.

Archaeologists have discovered another ancient henge.

Mount Shasta, one of the weirdest places on Earth.

The ghosts of Bethnall Edge.

Immigration at the Port of Philadelphia.

The cave of the giant skeletons.

The women of the Norman Conquest.

A feud between two prominent lawyers turns deadly.

Two unsolved murders of teenage boys.

The story behind an 18th century settlement for growing flax.

A famed alien abduction story.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a mysterious poisoning.  In the meantime, how about a little Mongolian folk-metal?

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This little oddity appeared in the “Millville Daily Republican,” December 28, 1953:

Mrs. Joseph Davison's canaries, which she raises as a hobby, did not get their usual attention last night. And little wonder! Mrs. Davison, who lives on Quaker St. in Port Elizabeth, was frightened away from the outbuilding in which she raises the birds by an eery-looking "thing" that gave off a ghoulish light and hovered closely overhead.

It all happened at about 11 o'clock last night. Mr. Davison had retired and Mrs. Davison went into the back yard for a last look at her canaries. She usually checks the heater in the building and does a few other chores just before retiring.

As she neared the outbuilding, Mrs. Davison reports, she was startled by a brilliant, greenish light, which shone down on her from above. Looking up, she told a Daily Republican reporter this morning, she saw a flat, oval-shaped object, somewhat larger than a shoebox, hovering around a willow tree. She said the object came to a point In the back.

Frightened, Mrs. Davison ran into the house, and flipped off the lights. Peering through a window, she says the object flew from one willow tree to another and then disappeared. The Port Elizabeth resident said today that this is the second time in two years she has seen the same object. The mystery is still unsolved.

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Electric Poltergeist

"Arizona Republic," October 17, 1988, via Newspapers.com

Strictly speaking, the following tale might not be a “poltergeist” account.  However, it is definitely weird enough to qualify as a Fortean experience of some sort.

Bob and Karen Gallo lived with their two children in what appeared to be a perfectly normal suburban house in the perfectly normal Chicago suburb of Orland Hills.  On March 14, 1988, “perfectly normal” went out the window when 14-year-old Dina Gallo suddenly heard a popping noise, which was followed by sparks shooting from an electrical outlet which were so fierce they set some nearby curtains on fire.  Fortunately, Dina was able to put out the blaze.  When the fire department was called in, they could find no reason for what had happened.

Several days later, Dina saw that the plug to their microwave was sending out smoke.  A repairman found nothing wrong with the appliance.

Soon after this, other family members heard the popping noise, after which they smelled smoke.  When they rushed to the room where the sounds emanated, they found that some drapes and an area of the carpet had caught fire, but, oddly, the blaze had already gone out on its own.  A short time later, a desk and a set of curtains in another room caught fire.

By this point, the Gallos had so many visits from the Orland Hills Fire Department that they were practically part of the family.  The firefighters were perplexed.  Not only could they never find any cause for the fires, but they noted that the fires were strangely arbitrary.  Often, items closest to the fire were untouched, while more remote objects were incinerated.  Engineers came out to inspect the home’s electrical system.  The local electric company checked the outside lines.  All seemed in perfect working order.  What was most inexplicable was, when all electricity to the house was shut off during the testing, the smoke and fires continued.  Finally--not knowing what else to do--the home’s whole electrical system was replaced.

This extreme measure appeared to make someone--or something--angry.  Life in the Gallo household only got more alarming.  Not only did the new outlets shoot out sparks as badly as the old ones did, the family began occasionally seeing a thick white fog that smelled of sulfur.  Meters used to test for the presence of carbon monoxide and other hazardous gases found nothing.

On April 7, the white fog appeared, followed by burn marks around some of the outlets.  A two-foot-long blue flame shot out of one of them.  A mattress suddenly burst into flames.

It was only after this that the Gallos learned from neighbors that long before they moved in, their house had a reputation for being haunted.  This inspired them to consult with a local investigator of the paranormal.  He concluded that young Dina appeared to be the focus of the pyromaniac spirit, as she had usually been somewhere nearby when the fires broke out.  (However, on at least one occasion, nobody was at home when blazes started.)

After consulting with their home insurance company, the Gallos decided they had no choice but to tear down the house completely, and build another one in its place.  The insurance settlement did not cover the cost of rebuilding, so in order to recoup their investment, the Gallos were forced to sell the house and move elsewhere.  Fortunately, the new owners were left to live in peace.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!

I predict good fortune for us all.

“It’s always a weird day when you set off in your car to go and collect a load of human brains."

The War of the Two Matildas.

The first Tour de France.

The earliest known taxation system.

Why bagpipes are played at police funerals.

A pilgrimage along the Black Path.

Some vintage Trouble With Horses.

A famous poison pen letters case.

A possible UFO abduction.

The papers of an engineer in British India.

Some 1952 UFO sightings.

A fireship attack, 1800.

Killer eclipses.

The Hawaiian tsunami of 1946.

Robert Harley, the Dragon of Parliament.

Viking women with modified skulls.

The man who was cursed with a perfect memory.

A hero of British wartime intelligence.

A pirate king who vanished with the loot.

That time Prince was inspired by Nostradamus.

That time Lovecraft was inspired by a Vermont monster.

Volcanoes and the fall of the Roman Republic.

The unpleasant theory that Alexander the Great was buried alive.  (Or, to be more precise, embalmed alive.  Which may be even worse.)

In which yet another marriage is broken up by arsenic.

The coronation of Anne Boleyn.

The women of the California Gold Rush.

The writings of Shakespeare's sister Joan.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll investigate an unusual possible-poltergeist case.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Telemann.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Some years ago, there was a “Midsomer Murders” episode where a killer had the bright idea to hide the body of his victim in someone else’s grave.  This story from the December 19, 1874 issue of the “Louisville Courier Journal” (via Newspapers.com) suggests that such a scheme may have successfully played out in real life.

[Springfield, Ky. Letter to Lebanon Standard]

Your reporter gathers the following facts from the Rev. Miles Saunders.  The family burying-ground of Judge P.I. Booker has been charged to Springfield cemetery; the exhumation we spoke of in a former number of your paper.

Among the number of graves is that of Mrs. Samuel Booker, step-mother of Judge Booker.  She was buried twenty years ago this month.  On opening her grave a human skeleton was found lying diagonally across, and about eighteen inches above the coffin of Mrs. Booker.  The body was in such a position it seemed that it had been chucked into the grave, as it were.  The left leg was drawn up, with the hands to the left side of the face, and the head was drawn over on the breast as though the body had been very hurriedly thrown in, without regard to position or care.  It had been put in without any coffin, box, or covering of any kind, as no signs of any were seen, save of a broad, very thick, poplar plank, which seemed to have been placed over the body.  The coffin of Mrs. Booker was in good condition and untouched.

We understand that, about a year and a half after Mrs. Booker was buried, a large freestone box or tomb was placed over the grave, and large, thick stones set up edgewise and running with the length of the grave.  The freestone box consisted of two very thick stones, three feet long at the sides and two shorter at the ends; these supporting a slab six feet long, four inches thick, and broad enough to cover the grave, on which was the inscription.  Now, the body must have been thrown into the grave during the interval of eighteen months from the time Mrs. Booker was interred to the time of placing the monumental box over her remains.

It is related that about the time of the burial of Mrs. Booker, or sometime after, it is not certain, a loose horse, saddled and bridled, came to the gate of a gentleman in the neighborhood of Judge Booker’s and no owner was ever found or heard of.  We are informed that Judge Booker did not own the farm at the time Mrs. Sam Booker was interred, but had sold it about six years before to Dr. Ashby.  A great deal of interest and curiosity are manifested generally and many suggestions and ideas advanced concerning this mysterious burial in the grave of another person.

Monday, April 1, 2024

The Mystery of the Missing Sharpshooter

"Napa Valley Register," June 24, 1976, via Newspapers.com

Perhaps the most frightening thing about missing-person cases is how so many of them appear to be not only unexpected, but totally inexplicable.  One moment, someone is going through their normal routine, with no hint of anything being amiss, and the next moment, they’re gone forever, with no one ever knowing what the hell happened.  The following little-known mystery is a perfect example of these particularly unsettling disappearances.

Elaine Fay Lehtinen was a promising young Navy Officer.  She was originally from Wisconsin, but in 1976, was stationed at Mare Island in Vallejo, California.  She had a particular talent for sharpshooting.  By 1966, when she was only 21, she was regarded as one of the top 100 shooters in the nation, and the top Navy markswoman.  

As far as Elaine’s personal life goes, there is very little to say.  She appears to have had few living relatives, and they all lived outside of California.  She never married, or even had any known serious romantic relationships.  Colleagues generally liked her well enough--she was a good, reliable officer--but no one was close to her.  She had no financial worries, and was happy with her military career.  She was on track to become a lieutenant commander, an exclusive rank, particularly for a woman in those days.  There was only one known dark side to her life:  In May 1976, Elaine’s mother committed suicide.  However, Elaine appeared to be handling the tragedy as well as could be expected.  As her mother had been sole beneficiary in Elaine’s will, she was beginning the process of having the will updated.  (It’s not clear how much money Elaine had, or whom she was planning to name as the new beneficiary.)  

At about 8 p.m. on Monday, June 14, 1976, two girls who lived in her Napa neighborhood rode their bikes past Elaine’s house.  They noticed that she was watering plants in her front yard.  One of the girls, who knew Elaine personally, called out a “Hello” to her, but Elaine appeared not to hear her.  These girls were the last known people to lay eyes on Elaine Lehtinen.

When Elaine failed to show up for work the following morning, her supervisor was immediately concerned.  It was so unlike her.  A neighbor was phoned, with the request that he check up on her.  This neighbor found that all the doors to her home were locked.  When Elaine failed to answer his knocks on the door, he contacted police.  

When officers arrived at the scene, they found an unlocked window that allowed them to enter the residence.  The house was in perfect order.  Elaine’s car and bicycle were in the garage.  Her uniform was (depending on which account you read) either hung up in the closet or laid out on her bed.  Her purse and keys were on a kitchen counter, along with a bag of groceries.  She had already put together a brown bag lunch for the following day, which was in the refrigerator.  The dirty dishes from a one-person dinner were in the sink.  Her bed was unmade.  A Navy regulation manual was found open to the section dealing with court-martials, but the significance--if any--of this is unknown.

Only one possible clue was discovered regarding her disappearance:  Around 9:30 p.m. on June 14, a blue car was seen going up her driveway.  Someone got out of the car, went to her front door, and then the car drove off again a few minutes later.  This person has never been identified.

Considering that police had virtually nothing to work with, it is sadly unsurprising that the investigation into Elaine’s disappearance went nowhere fast.  Her vanishing was one of those cases that spawned a handful of stories in the local newspaper, and then was largely forgotten.  In 1984, a former Navy captain turned P.I. conducted his own research into the mystery.  He said he found what he believed to be a credible suspect, but he could not find enough evidence to warrant a formal charge.  He believed that Elaine had been murdered and buried somewhere within 50 miles of Napa.

Suicide was ruled out.  Elaine appeared entirely content with her life, and was busy making plans for the future.  Besides, she was regarded as the type who would put her affairs in order if she planned on killing herself.  (On a harsher note, the boyfriend of Elaine’s late mother made the jarring statement that the missing woman was “too selfish” to commit suicide.)

Napa County District Attorney James Boitano had a more exotic theory for Elaine’s disappearance: that she may have been part of some government spy program.  As a loner with no strong ties to anyone, she would be an ideal candidate to take on a new identity.  Boitano found it extremely “fishy” that the Navy claimed to not have Elaine’s fingerprints on file.  “I think the CIA or someone may be involved with this one,” he said in 1979.

If--as many people suspected--the Navy knew more about Elaine’s disappearance than they were willing to say, their silence continues to this day.  A Public Administrator was appointed to deal with Elaine’s assets, she was declared legally dead seven years later, and--to date, at least--that was that.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!

The Strange Company staffers are getting ready for Easter!

My favorite historical mystery:  What the hell happened to the sons of Edward IV?  (I recently read a terrific new book, "The Princes in the Tower: Solving History's Greatest Cold Case."  If you have any interest in the subject, it's highly recommended.)

Witchcraft in North Wales.

Folklore of the Wise Men of Gotham.

The spy who saved the Louvre from Hitler.

Easter drama in the streets of Stepney.

History's worst bridge disasters.

The funeral Mutes.

Nabokov's "Homeric retching."

A British 1930 train carriage was found buried in Belgium, and people have questions.

The "greatest bassist in history" is a woman you've probably never heard of.

A letter between two 19th century female activists.

According to DNA testing, Beethoven wasn't very musical, which tells a lot about the value of DNA testing.

When Elizabethan London panicked over fencing.

How the Siege of Vienna gave us the croissant.

The "first suffragette."

Prisoners and embroidery.

The old "unwritten law" defense.

The saga of the stolen ruby slippers now comes with a side order of revenge porn.

An early female movie projectionist.

A typical "skip bombing" mission in WWII.

An early 19th century false imprisonment case.

An infamous female executioner.

Why clocks go forward in the UK.

A brief history of British acid attacks.

A look at Darwin's personal library.

A look at 18th century umbrellas.

The UK House of Lord's "scribbled books."

Language is probably much, much older than we thought.

Can we "feel the future?"

A recently-uncovered ancient Egyptian tomb.

The lost lizard city of Los Angeles.  (Although I can vouch for the fact that if you go into many areas of L.A., you wonder if it was all that lost.)

So, a Chinese man who said he was the younger brother of Jesus started a civil war...

The cat who got cheated out of an inheritance.

A Valentine's Day murder.

Political apocalypses in Victorian Britain.

A mother's revenge.

A royal super-stepmother.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a Navy officer's odd disappearance.  In the meantime, bring on the elephant orchestras!

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This account of diabolical doings down on the farm appeared in the “Great Bend Tribune,” September 28, 1908:

Groton, Conn. This town is excited indeed over the amazing happenings at the fine old farm of William Hempstead, a mile east of New London.

Visitors have been going out in automobiles and carriages to study the mystery. Small articles, such as beans, spools of thread, knives, marbles, etc., have been moving about the house in broad daylight. Although the house is next to the old Knowles family cemetery, the phenomena do not seem to be of the ghost or spook variety. The manifestations never take place at night. The house was built in the long ago and is two stories high, roomy, in good condition and happily situated.

The family consists of Mr. Hempstead, a refined and practical old gentleman of 70-odd years. He does not believe in spooks. His wife has no superstitions. They have been married 30 years, and have lived in the old manse since their wedding.

Having no children they adopted 13 years ago the young son of Mrs. Hempstead's sister, Frankie Gardner, and gave him their name. The boy has a brother Charles, who is about his own age. There is employed on the farm Gilbert Edwards, a lad of 16, son of a neighbor, and three hired men. 

"When these strange things first began to happen," said Mr. Hempstead the other day, "I said nothing because I didn't want anyone to think that I was deluded. I was in the cornfield one day when a marble such as the boys play with about the house fell at my feet. Looking toward the house I saw that a screen in the second story had been pushed aside and a cloth was being waved from the window. Going into the house I found that no one had been in the room where the cloth was waved. No one had thrown a marble. The hired men were at work and the boys were out.

"I said nothing, but on Friday we discovered beans moving about the house in a most astonishing fashion. They were the same sort of beans as the ones we raised and had been laid ! out on the attic floor to dry. Of course, beans will sometimes dry in the pods, and on a hot day will split open and bounce around, but I never saw any beans that could come down the attic stairs, move around the room, cut square corners and fall on the floor. There was a bean in the northeast room that came out of the north wall, sailed across the room, cut around the sewing machine and after making several corners fell on the floor. Naturally we began to get nervous when marbles that the boys had not touched for months began to move about the house.  They would come in at a door, move across the room and stop. We made certain that it was not the work of the boys because these things happened when the boys were out of the house. 

"For example, several old rusty keys that had been lost for years came bounding down the stairs from the attic into the rooms upstairs and were picked up. I made sure no one was in the attic. I have heard some of our visitors account for the thing by electricity.  We have a telephone, and the wire runs half around the house and in at the dining room window. But I have never heard that a telephone wire would do this thing." 


One peculiar thing about the phenomena is the queer action of Tige, the watchdog, when anything happens. He capers about the yard, showing no supernatural fear or agitation but every indication of joy. The old house has many rats and squirrels live in the roof, but even they could not do some of the things that have happened.

There are swallows in the chimney, but they never come into the attic. Altogether it is a most remarkable daylight mystery. 

Monday, March 25, 2024

Close Encounters of the Floyd Kind

"Akron Beacon Journal," February 27, 1977, via Newspapers.com

It is, of course, common for police officers to chase down suspicious vehicles.  It’s just not every day that the vehicle is a UFO named Floyd.

Our little road trip through The Weird began around 5 a.m. on April 17, 1966, on Route 224 in Portage County, Ohio.  Deputy Sheriff Dale Spaur and mounted deputy Wilbur “Barney” Neff were approaching an abandoned car they had noticed on the side of the road.  It was full of radios and walkie-talkies.  More ominously, on the side of the car was a triangle surrounding a lightning bolt and the words, “Seven Steps to Hell.”

It seemed like the sort of thing that warranted a cautious investigation.

However, the car was soon forgotten when the officers were confronted with something even stranger: a large, brightly illuminated silver flying object emerged from the woods behind them, rising to a level of about one hundred feet.  It was about forty feet wide and eighteen feet tall, and gave off a loud hum.  As the UFO began moving east, Spaur told his dispatcher what they were seeing, and was instructed to start a pursuit.

At first, the men had no trouble following the object, although they had to get up to 100 miles an hour to keep it in close range.  As they drove, they kept the dispatcher informed of their progress.  As they approached East Palestine, Ohio, another officer named H. Wayne Huston happened to listen in on their commentary, and decided to join the fun.  He stopped at an intersection he knew the men would have to pass.  Soon afterward, he saw the UFO glide past him, followed by Spaur and Neff.  Huston started up his car and joined the High Strangeness parade.

The chase finally ended in Conway, Pennsylvania, when Spaur began running out of gas.  He pulled over to ask a local policeman for help.  As the officer was on his radio seeking advice on how to handle a high-speed UFO chase, Huston pulled up with them.  All this while, the flying object hovered nearby, as if it was waiting for its new friends to resume the game.  After a few minutes, the officers heard on their radios that Air Force jets were being sent over to investigate the craft.  Whoever or whatever was piloting the object was evidently listening in, as the news caused it to immediately shoot straight up and disappear.

There was an official investigation of the incident, with the authorities concluding that the men had simply misidentified Venus as the “UFO.”  Or perhaps it was a satellite.  In any case, it was all a bit fat nothingburger.  Case closed.  Move on and shut up.

A word of advice from Aunt Undine:  If you should ever encounter a UFO, it might be wisest to keep that interesting fact to yourself.  The publicity--and public ridicule--that followed news reports of this early-morning chase played hell on the lives of all the men involved.  The Pennsylvania cop Spaur had talked to had to remove his phone line.  Huston changed his name to “Harold W. Huston,” left the police force, and fled to Seattle to become a bus driver.  Neff simply clammed up.  His wife Jackelyne told a reporter, “He never talks about it anymore.  Once he told me, ‘If that thing landed in my back yard, I wouldn’t tell a soul.’  He’s been through a wringer.”  Spaur, who had spoken the most to the press, fared worst of all.  The nonstop harassment from reporters, UFO researchers, and cranks drove him to something approaching a nervous breakdown.  Everywhere he went--even church--he was identified as the local flying saucer-chaser.  Each night, he would have nightmares about chasing the craft.  By the time six months had passed, he had quit his job, his wife divorced him, and for a time he was a homeless drifter, existing on odd jobs.  He once said, “After I saw the damn thing, my entire life came crashing down around my shoulders.”  (Thankfully, Spaur eventually remarried, found new work, and got his life back on track.)

There was a sequel to this ill-starred Close Encounter.  It took place one day in June 1966, shortly before Spaur left the police force.  His department--fearing any more press attention--agreed that if any of them should see the UFO again, they would use the code word “Floyd.”  (Spaur’s middle name.)  As Spaur was driving down I-80 just outside of Cleveland, he saw the silver flying saucer hovering over him.  Spaur muttered into his radio, “Floyd’s here with me.”  He then pulled off the road, lit a cigarette, and brooded for about fifteen minutes.  When he nervously looked out his window again, the craft was gone.

At this point, you’re probably also wondering about the strange “Seven Steps to Hell” car that kicked off this whole Fortean mess.  So is everyone else.  When police went back to where the car had been abandoned, it too had vanished, never to be seen again.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to the first Link Dump of Spring 2024!

The Strange Company staffers have already begun the spring cleaning around Headquarters.

From Richard III to ancient Roman statues: People find the damnedest things in UK parking lots.

Yet another deadly drunken rage.

How a ghost inspired modern chiropractic medicine.

Karl von Drais and his "running machine."

10 lost places.

Don't kiss the bride!

The cats of Turkey.

The father of modern rocketry had some odd ideas about clouds.

HMS Flora, 1780.

The mythology of eggs.

The legend of the Kap Dwa giant.

Stone Age boats.

A genealogical mystery: the life of a black man in early 19th century Iceland.

Henry VIII's pastry tent.

Uncovering mass graves of 13th century Crusaders.

The art of Renaissance clothing.

Amelia Earhart vs. the Queen of Diamonds.

Expressive medieval women.

Swooning medieval knights.

Edgar Allan Poe, time-traveler.

The controversy over the "world's oldest pyramid."

The artists of the East India Company.

Where Easter is all about the hare pie and bottle kicking.

The life of Mary Wollstonecraft.

Painting a dead Emperor.

8,600 year-old bread.

The evolution of pie.

Dogs have been our best friends for a long, long time.

Saving a woman from drowning, 1898.

St. Patrick's portal to purgatory.

A collection of newsworthy dogs.

Arguably the most famous time-slip story.

A famous 1809 duel.

The eclipses of doom.

Why we can't find the source of the Nile.

The face on the barroom floor.

Lester the police horse.

Recreating Otzi the Iceman's tattoos.

Nikola Tesla's mystery signal.

The slang of Smithfield.

Bronze Age "cozy domesticity."

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a remarkable UFO encounter.  In the meantime, here's some Celtic Thunder.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

It’s not every day that your husband’s ghost drops by to warn you that you’re going to Hell.  The “Kentucky Advocate,” July 17, 1874:

Mrs. Eliza Green, aged about 30 years, now living in this place (Springfield, Ky.), a lady of irreproachable character and of decided nerve and courage, having a fair English education, and in possession of tolerable good health, details the following curious incidents as having occurred with her and at her residence since the death of her husband last spring: 

On the 18th of March, 1874, Mr. Green died after a protracted illness, leaving Mrs. Green with a family of six young children with little or no means of support. A short time after Mr. Green's death, say about three months, Mrs. Green heard singular noises about her house after night and sometimes in the day time, heavy breathings and moans resembling a person in the agonies of death, at one time she heard a noise under the house like a horse rolling about and pawing violently as though in the agonies of death. Again she saw frequently in her room at night after the lamp was lighted, a shadowy figure resembling the head and shoulders of a medium-sized man moving around the wall next the ceiling and uniformly as the shadow reached the lamp the flame was extinguished, and this phenomenon happened as often as four or five times in a night. At one time when she and her family with some visitors were sitting quietly in the room, the front door without any visible cause, was seen to fly violently open and shut again as violently, and so violently as to jar boxes of flowers placed In the window out of it.

At other times when the lights were burning, footsteps were heard by her in the room as though a grown person in slippers were walking over the floor, and yet no object could be seen. At one time she thought she heard some person noisily approaching the front door as about to enter. Upon opening the door, however, no one could be seen. Again near the steps of the back door she thought she saw, after dark, a small, white dog resembling one she knew in the neighborhood; that she approached it with the view of taking it up and carrying it in the house, but it eluded her grasp and mysteriously passed away.

At another time the back door of her room seemed half filled with a white, gauzy cloud not resembling anything, only a white figure, which alarmed her, and she ran out of the house; the apparition disappeared. Other persons, friends and relatives, have been present on some of these occasions, and corroborate Mrs. Green's statements. 

The most mysterious and crowning development related by her is said to have occurred on the 30th ult., about 11 o'clock A.M.  She was in the cellar of the house getting kindling wood, and, in stooping down, thought she saw the lower limbs and feet of Mr. Green standing by her, and immediately felt the pressure of a cold band upon her shoulder. She turned and looked, and reports that her husband stood before her just as he appeared when she last saw him in his burial clothes, When she exclaimed: "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who redeemed me, Dick, what do you want?" and that he spoke audibly to her in his natural tone of voice and language, telling her that the sufferings of this life were in no way to be compared to those of the other world, and that he was permitted to come back to her to advise her of her neglect of duty, and to urge her to act otherwise. He also sent by her messages to his brother Charles Green, Mrs. Rachel Walker, and to Miss Edgerton, all living here. He further requested her to have three masses said for the repose of his soul; one on the first Saturday in this month, and the others on the two following Saturdays. He further informed her that he would not visibly appear to her again, but could have appeared twice more had he desired to do so, but not to her but to other persons named by him his kindred. Then repeating the word "friend" three times he vanished from sight. Mrs. Green says she has heard loud knocking on the floors and heard groanings, as of a person in extreme distress, since, but has seen nothing more.

Monday, March 18, 2024

The Ghostly Strangler

Encountering a ghost may be a strange, possibly terrifying experience, but fortunately they are rarely harmful.  However, every now and then there is an account of a spirit that is not just malevolent, but physically dangerous.  One such story was told by folklorist Mary L. Lewes in the December 1912 issue of “Occult Review.”  It concerns a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Caxton.  At the time of Lewes writing her story, the Caxtons had recently moved to Wales after spending some years farming in South Africa.  As Lewes showed, they had very good reasons to emigrate.

The Caxtons’ South African farm had previously been owned by a man with an evil reputation--so evil, that he finally met his end when one of his many enemies poisoned him.  Thereafter, the farm was considered to be cursed: livestock died unnatural deaths, crops would not grow, and so many other unlucky things happened that most people refused to go near the place.

The Caxtons, however, were strong-willed, fearless, and determined to make a go of the farm. When they would periodically hear a horse galloping to the house, followed by the sound of someone jumping off the animal and banging on the door, only to find no one there when they looked outside, the couple shrugged it off as just part of life’s little oddities.

On one occasion, the Caxtons gave shelter to a passing traveler.  As it was a small house, the man had to sleep in the parlor.  The next morning, the terrified stranger announced that “someone” had tried to strangle him while he slept.

Even this news failed to dissuade the Caxtons.  In the end, it was not ghosts that finally convinced the couple to give up the farm, but their simple inability to make a decent living from the place.  While they were moving out, Mr. Caxton spent one night on a mattress he placed on the parlor floor.  Suddenly, he was awakened from sleep by something that jumped on him and began clawing at his throat.  After a long and violent struggle, Caxton managed to roll against the wall.  As soon as he did so, his invisible attacker disappeared.  When dawn finally came, Caxton found that his throat and chest were covered with large red finger-marks that lingered for days afterward.  The shock was enough to give this normally stoic farmer a nervous collapse.

The friend who sent Lewes the story commented, “My theory about this is that the previous owner, being a very wicked man, was earth-bound and having been hurried prematurely out of life was extra strong, and was simply trying to get hold of a new body…That room was most likely the one he died in, and as he was strongest there, a sleeping person would of course be the very thing for him.”  Neither Lewes nor her informant could explain why Caxton touching the parlor wall caused the evil force to vanish.

All I can add to this eerie little tale is that when people tell you a certain place is cursed, it’s usually wisest to take them at their word.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to our pre-St. Patrick's Day Link Dump!

What the hell were the Phoenix Lights?

An iconic tree is getting a second chance at life.

It's oddly depressing to realize that the ocean's depths are filled with cans of Spam.

The great monkey chase at Bishop Auckland.

A brief history of the lunchbox.

Elizabeth I's Swedish lady of the privy chamber.

Why you would not want to be a Mesopotamian stand-in king.

Merchantman vs. a French privateer.

In which we meet some Cockney Cats.

The time the Nazis tried to bomb a Pennsylvania Railroad.

The darker side of London's Zoological Gardens.

The explosion of the Natchez Drug Company.

The excavation of a Neolithic site.

The manhunt for John Wilkes Booth.

A poltergeist in Zimbabwe.

The notorious "Chicago May."

Why we call them "cottage industries."

UK's giant redwoods.

Mysterious Ice Age "queens."

A 3,300-year-old description of a catastrophic invasion.

Hearing the cry of the banshee.

The beginnings of the Guinness World Records.

Predicting eclipses in ancient China.

The man who spent nearly his whole life inside an iron lung.

Shropshire death folklore.

The enslaved boy who revolutionized the vanilla industry.

A murder-for-hire case featuring death spells.

The only woman to be executed in Minnesota.

The "Bold Defiance" of 18th century journeymen weavers.

A Russian princess in the Age of Enlightenment.

Applications for Trinity House pensions.

The mystery of the Yuba City Five.

The mystery of a Vietnam "lost pilot."

The mystery of the Byward Tower Hand.

In search of the site of a 19th century murder.

The life of Margaret of Austria.

How witches came to be associated with broomsticks.

The life of Henry IV's sister, Elizabeth.

Rethinking George Washington's 1754 defeat.

The kayaker and the "mystery creature."

Sudden deaths and foul suspicions.

A curious herbal.

That wraps it up for another week!  See you on Monday, when we'll meet a particularly dangerous ghost.  In the meantime, here's Patsy Cline.