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

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Phantom stagecoaches are always fun (especially when they generate manic headlines.)  The “San Bernardino News,” December 7, 1914:

Have you seen the phantom coach that dashes madly, silently, down the steep, rugged mountain trail near Pilot Rock? It is a weird story, this. It deals with the apparently supernatural. Possibly it isn't that at all, maybe it is simply some peculiar, unanswerable vision that floats in nonchalance down tho gloomy mountain trail when the shadows of night are appearing. 

The first report of the vision that has all the ear marks of a specter, was brought to San Bernardino by Driver Herfert, of the San Bernardino Mountain Auto Stage line, who declares that on at least three different trips he has seen the weird thing.

Only yesterday, when approaching the famous Pilot Rock on his return trip to this city with his big mountain auto stage, Driver Herfert again saw the uncanny performance of the phantom stage.

A great bulk, it suddenly appeared in the crooked mountain trail hardly fifty yards in advance of Herfert's big car. For a moment it remained motionless, only the lines of the body of the stage being clearly seen. A second later it began to move rapidly, its momentum increased, and it moved on and on like an Ignis-fatuus, the fluorescent, will-o'-the-wisp of the desert. As the strange vehicle took the turns in the trail, Herfert could more clearly make out its lines. It was drawn by six galloping steeds, that roared and plunged with a terrific madness.  The coach sped like a rocket down the mountain side.

Having before caught a glimpse of the stage, Driver Herfert determined to follow it yesterday with as much speed as possible. And, when he caught sight of it, crammed in as much speed as he could consistently without wrecking his car on the heavy car on the grade. But he was no match for the vision. It seemed to travel with almost lightning speed and finally disappeared, silhouetted against the gray mountain slopes. 

Driver Herfert declares that the first time he saw the strange apparition he heard many shots fired, whereupon he sped toward the stage, believing that a holdup was in progress. But neither on this occasion was he able to get close to it. It vanished as it came, like an unearthly thing that came from nowhere and went back with the same uncanny similarity. "Seemed to bore right into the mountain side," said Driver Herfert.

The apparition always appears near Pilot Rock, according to the driver, and each time at practically the same time, when twilight is nearing. "I can't make out for the life of me," said the driver, "what the blamed thing is. The first time I saw it I thought it was some immigrants traveling through the mountain. But the thing wasn't a wagon or anything like they use nowadays. It looked like the pictures of the old stage coaches.

"The coach was almost a black thing; there was nothing white about It at all except that when it was tearing down the road so fast, I thought I saw something white leave it as though a woman had jumped. But when I reached the place there was nothing to be found. 

"It simply gets me and I can't for the life of me figure out what anyone would want to play jokes for. It makes me awfully creepy and I dread to make the trip back alone."

Monday, February 26, 2024

Tales of the Headless Valley

Via Wikipedia

Many wilderness areas have disconcertingly ominous names: "Devil's ____," "Death _____, "Skull ____," "Lost _____,"etc., etc., etc.  Pretty ordinary, really.  But when you come across a place that has acquired the nickname of "The Headless Valley," it's worth sitting up and taking notice.

And maybe canceling that camping trip.

The Nahanni Valley is located in Canada's Northwest Territories.  It is a beautiful area, boasting waterfalls, hot springs, a whitewater river, and impressive forests.  It is also very remote, (parts of it are still virtually unexplored,) very hazardous, and--if even a quarter of the legends about the place have any basis in fact--very, very creepy.

It's not too often that you find a place where the presence of Bigfoot is the least strange thing you can say about it.

The most notorious story associated with the valley began--as so many awful things in life begin--with a hunt for wealth.  One summer day in 1900, an Indian named Little Nahanni walked into Fort Liard, Yukon Territory, bearing a satchel filled with gold nuggets.  After a bit of coaxing, he revealed that he had made his find in the valley of the South Nahanni River.

As much as everyone in Fort Liard longed to strike it rich, they sincerely wished Little Nahanni had found a different place to do so.  The Nahanni Valley was a tough, inhospitable region with a remarkably sinister reputation.  The natives believed ghosts of dead warriors stalked the land alongside magical lost tribes and giant man-eating beasts.  Although the white visitors professed to scoff at such tales, few of them showed any desire to test the truth of these legends for themselves.  The area was largely avoided.

Although a close watch was put on Little Nahanni, in the hope that he would lead someone to the exact source of his windfall, he never returned to the valley.  After his gold ran out, he went back to trapping.  For reasons he kept to himself, he did not care to make a second tour of the Nahanni Valley, which really should have told everybody something.

In 1903, a second native appeared at the fort, also bearing an impressive number of gold nuggets.  He was close friends with Murdoch McLeod, the factor at the Hudson Bay trading post, and to him the Indian confided where he had found the gold: Bennett Creek, a tributary of the Flat River in the South Nahanni Valley.  McLeod's three young-adult sons, Willie, Frank, and Charlie, were all experienced outdoorsmen eager for adventure, not to mention wealth.  They resolved to mount an expedition to the valley and find some of this gold for themselves.  In January 1904, the McLeod brothers set off on the long, arduous trek to the Nahanni Valley.  By the spring of that year, they had arrived at the Flat River and set up a sluicing operation, where they found modest success, enough to encourage them to try again the following year.  Charlie McLeod, fortunately for him, declined to make this second journey.  In his place, Willie and Frank enlisted a Scotsman--whose name has been lost to history--and the trio set off for the valley.  They were never seen alive again.

The fate of the three men remained a mystery until 1908, when the remains of the McLeod campsite was discovered upstream from Fort Liard.  Nearby were the skeletons of Frank and Willie.  It was believed they had been shot to death.  Accounts differ on what became of the Scotsman.  Some stories claim he fled to Vancouver, carrying a suspiciously large amount of gold.  Others state that his body was found not far from those of his companions.  Rumors that all the bodies were found decapitated soon gave the area the charming nickname of "Headless Valley."

In 1910, a prospector named Martin Jorgenson chose to ignore the valley's increasingly evil reputation, and went alone into the area to hunt for gold.  The next anyone knew of him was two years later, when his skeleton was found near his burned-out cabin near the mouth of the Flat River.  He had been shot and decapitated.

In 1928, a venturesome woman named Annie Laferte made her own solo trek into the valley.  She never returned.  Her body was never discovered, so it is unknown what happened to her.  However, the natives told a story of seeing a naked woman running up the mountainside, screaming.  "The spirits had taken her," they explained.  Around that same time, a man known as "Yukon Fisher," who had found success prospecting in the valley, also disappeared.  His bones were eventually discovered near Bennett Creek.

The following year, one Angus Hall ventured into the valley and never came out.  All that was ever found of him was one boot print.

In 1931, a fur-trapper named Phil Powers made the questionable decision to go hunting in the valley.  The following spring, four RCMP officers found what was left of Powers in the burned remains of his cabin.  It was never known who killed him, and why.

A few years after Mr. Powers' fiery end, two men named J.H. Mulholland and Bill Epler ventured into the valley hoping to find gold.  It's anyone's guess what they discovered, but it could not have been good, as no trace of either man was ever seen again.  However, during a search for them, the body of another man was discovered.  Lacking his head.  This luckless person's identity remains a mystery.

In 1946, a man named Walter Tulley went to the police stating that while he was in the valley, he had stumbled upon the corpse of a missing prospector named Ernest Savard.  The body was in a sleeping bag, with the head nearly cut off.  As it turned out the corpse was not that of Savard--he turned up alive and well in Yellowstone.  So, who was this latest victim of the Nahanni Valley?  We will never know.  By the 1960s, it was believed that over forty people had vanished in the area.

This was hardly the only weirdness associated with the valley.  It has been said to be home to Bigfoot, as well as a carnivorous bear-like creature scientists believe went extinct in the Pleistocene era.  Some years ago, an ice cave was discovered containing the skeletons of over 100 sheep dating from around 2500 B.C.  (The cave is now known as "The Gallery of Lost Sheep.")  The valley is also reputed to be a hotspot for UFO activity.

The string of gruesome murders and disappearances has led to a host of differing theories about who might have been responsible.  Did a single serial killer stalk the valley for over forty years?  Were UFOs to blame?  Or Bigfoot?  Or ghosts of Indians, determined to protect their land from intruders?  Were all these fatalities completely unrelated?  Or, could the Nahanni Valley simply be, as many still assert, cursed?

Friday, February 23, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!  

As you can see, the Strange Company Art Department is busy with the illustrations for next week's posts.

The working lads of Whitechapel, circa 1900.

A human leg has been found on the New York subways, and I'm betting that's not the worst thing you'd find there.

A brief history of condensed milk.

The cryptids of Iceland.

The mysterious deaths of three children.

The only black man on the Titanic.

The first blue eyes.

A very unhappy family.

A walk through Dickens' London.

Why a Midshipman's 1815 death is still remembered today.

A man who'd rather die than pay his debts.

A Victorian wheelbarrow influencer.

HMS Venerable faces a crisis, 1804.

The Red Lipstick Murder.

Everyone do the Scottish Hurkle-Durkle!

One of those murders that is "officially" unsolved.

California's "submerged UFO base."

The mysterious Klerksdorp Spheres.

A pirate's lost treasure.

The cats and dogs who are professional food tasters.

When undertakers blunder.

Britons really know how to talk about drunkenness.

The London Female Penitentiary.

Rock art from the first Amazon settlers.

The diversity of Dutch diets.  (It has nothing to do with food.)

The origins of Leap Year proposals.

The evolution of President's Day.

The nurse who invented the modern syringe.

A tale of heroism and chivalry from WWII.

When everyone thought California was an island.

DNA and ancient genocide.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll visit one of Canada's more Fortean areas.  In the meantime, here's something by a now largely-forgotten composer.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Sometimes, the briefest ghost stories are the most unsettling ones.  The “Evansville Journal,” March 11, 1873:

A Lebanon Ky. correspondent of the Courier-Journal of the 6th solemnly assures us as follows: 

It is currently reported that Marion is delighting herself and the adjoining counties with the unusual sensation of the appearance of a ghost or a something which none of the "ologies” in these parts has so far satisfactorily explained. 

Our readers will remember the appearance in print some three months ago of the death of Bland Ballard of that county, who committed suicide three days previous to the one that he should have married a Miss Rhodes of the same neighborhood. 

The alleged cause of his self-destruction at the time was his father’s opposition to his marriage. For a time after his burial his remains appeared to rest quietly in the grave, but of late he has made frequent visits to the paternal mansion, at each time of which he was recognized by his father, brother, and sister. 

He comes at night and brings with him a light by which he is distinguished and recognized. He familiarly opens the door, proceeds to his former room, and while there employs himself in rummaging through his trunk. His father has spoken to him, but so far has failed to elicit an answer. He makes no attempt to molest anyone. Of course there are many incredible rumors afloat in regard to it, and hence many speculations.  Of the latter, one is that Thomas Ballard’s farm being a desirable one, some wily speculator has taken this means of personating the son to compel the unhappy father to dispose it at a sacrifice.  Others place it among the occurrences which no one can satisfactorily explain.

I was unable to find any more about this story, so I have no idea for how long young Ballard continued to visit his earthly home--or, for that matter, what he was looking for in that trunk.

Monday, February 19, 2024

The Taking of Joan Gay Croft

"Tulsa Tribune," April 9, 1948, via Newspapers.com

On April 9, 1947, the town of Woodward, Oklahoma, (population 5500) was slammed by a monster tornado.  What made the disaster even worse was that a telephone strike meant that the outside world was unable to give the town any advance warning.  Woodwardians literally did not know what hit them.

That night, the two-mile wide tornado destroyed the town.  Almost instantly, more than a thousand people were injured, over a hundred of them fatally.  However, the Woodward tornado is still remembered today not just for the death and devastation, but because of a haunting mystery associated with the event.

Hutchinson “Olin” Croft was a successful sheep farmer; a man of some importance in his area.  He lived in Woodward with his wife Cleta and their two children, Joan and Geri.  The tornado flattened their home, killing Cleta instantly.  Olin was seriously injured.  Four-year-old Joan and eight-year-old Geri, on the other hand, were only slightly hurt.  The three survivors were brought to Woodward’s only hospital.  As they weren’t in need of emergency care, the two girls were sent to wait in the hospital’s basement while staff looked after those in need of immediate help.

Later that night, as the Croft girls lay together on a cot, two men wearing khaki Army-style clothing came into the hospital basement announcing that they had come for Joan.  As one of the men picked her up, the child protested that she didn’t want to leave her sister.  The men reassured her that they would be coming back for Geri.  The men told hospital staff that they were friends of the Croft family, and were taking Joan to Oklahoma City Hospital, where relatives were waiting for her.  It was a plausible enough story, and the hospital workers, overwhelmed by the injured and dying tornado victims, were too busy and too exhausted to ask any more questions.  The men, who appeared to be rescue workers or officials of some sort, were allowed to depart with the girl.

Soon after Joan was taken away, Olin's sister Ruth was told that her brother's name was listed in the local newspaper as being among the deceased.  She rushed to the hospital to find her orphaned nieces and take them to her home.  When she got there, she was told that Olin was alive and would recover.  He had been confused with one "Olan Hutchinson," who had died in the tornado.  When Ruth went to the hospital basement to check on the girls, Geri told her what had happened to Joan.  When Ruth called Oklahoma City Hospital, she was told not only that Joan was not there, but wasn't expected to be transferred to them.  The increasingly panicked Ruth called all nearby hospitals, the morgue, and an orphanage, without result.  The police were called in, but were unable to find any trace of the girl.  Despite the wide publicity the case received, it was as if she and her two kidnappers vanished into mist the moment they left the hospital.

No one has ever seen Joan again.  To date, it’s a complete mystery who the men in khaki were, how they knew the Croft girls were in the basement, and why Joan was targeted for abduction.  Over the years, several women came forward in the belief that they were Joan, but these claims were all proved to be incorrect. 

There was one intriguing postscript to the mystery.  Robert E. Lee, a reporter for “The Oklahoman,” wrote a number of articles about the Croft kidnapping.  In April 1999, he received an email from an anonymous writer asking if he would like to know “what really happened to Joan Gaye and where she has been this past 54 years?”  The writer continued, “She has been and is living in OKC off and on since 1956 under a different name with the full knowledge of her father, Orlin Croft!  She even graduated from an OKC high school under her different name.”  The writer provided an email address where, they claimed, Joan could be contacted.  

The newspaper’s computer technicians could not trace the email address.  Lee wrote back to his mysterious informant, who replied, “I know this time of year there are many people who crawl out of the woodwork claiming to be the ‘lost’ girl, but I was never physically lost.  My immediate family(s) knew where I was.  I just didn’t know who I was.

“Until just lately I never faced the fact that Cleta Croft, my mother died upon me.  I buried this information deep within my long term memory and refused to accept.

“Joan” provided an email address where she could be contacted, adding “We will arrange to meet in person to discuss the details.  I propose we meet at Penn Square for the first meeting.  I would like to meet in public, but not publicly and without photos.  Please let me know a time and date convenient for you.  I am on the internet on most MWF between 9 and 10:30 a.m.  As to compensation, I would prefer none!”

Lee wrote back agreeing to meet his correspondent, but never received a reply.  The email address “Joan” had provided soon stopped accepting messages.

Was this really the missing girl?  Or--as seems more likely--just another of the many warped hoaxers who insert themselves into high-profile crimes?  If Lee was the victim of a cruel prank, that leaves us back to Square One:  Who took little Joan Croft, and why?

Friday, February 16, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Enjoy this week's links!

There'll be a winter skating party afterwards!

I don't care what they say; I refuse to eat soup that is older than I am.

The "Old Shakespeare" murder case.

A very well-traveled Viking woman.

A troublesome gibbet.

Some new photos of Saturn's moons.

When you think you have a mysterious 280 million year old fossil but you find that all you have is a bunch of black paint.  Bummer.

The last place you want to go for a pleasure cruise.

This may be our oldest story.

The legends surrounding a Los Angeles bunker.

The history of "The Muffin Man."

The Cato Street Conspiracy.

A 12-year-old just invented a death ray, which should ensure him the title of Schoolkid Least Likely to Be Bullied.  I'll bet he gets a raise in his allowance whenever he wants, too.

A human fossil discovery that helps prove we really don't know jack about our history.

Bang Go, the dog of FDNY Engine 56.

The codpiece, that fashion fad which inspired a million smutty jokes.

The birth of the modern detective.

How we came to say, "Don't sweat the small stuff."

The "Queen of Scots" soup.

The significance of an ancient Roman egg.

A reclusive New York heiress.

The Dietrich Axe Murders.

America's oldest legible, dated tombstone.

The lesser-known side of Sojourner Truth.

Why we "sweat like a pig."

An archaeological love story.

Peru's Ransom Room.

Owls are weird.  Probably even weirder than you think.

The first couturier.

A post for everyone who hates Valentine's Day.

Florence's last Medici heir.

The adventures of an archaeological journalist.

A mysterious phantom isle.

A Scottish monkey is vanquished by Yorkshire pudding.

In search of the lost aviators of WWII.

The priest who invented bulletproof vests.

The "Titan of the Thames."

A history of toilet paper.

A history of Leap Year marriage proposals.

The life of Cecily of York.

The War of the Bucket.

How Carnival is celebrated around the world.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a particularly odd kidnapping of a child.  In the meantime, here's some Handel.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

The following colorful ghost story appeared in the “Philadelphia Times,” September 4, 1892:

Marion Junction, Ala., August 29

That there are such things as ghosts even the more intelligent portion of the community about here is beginning to believe.  This belief comes from the singular occurrences that are taking place on what is known as the old creek road leading from this town to Uniontown, and which is a well-nigh abandoned roadway, having been superseded in use by the country people by a new turnpike. It is said that the old creek road is haunted by the ghost of a man who is to be seen nightly pulling after him his coffin.

This phantom is thought to be that of a tramp who was lynched near here in 1889, and who was thought to have committed a murder, the victim being an old lady living on the creek road. This woman, one Nancy Pratt, was found in the creek with various marks and wounds on her head, and it was thought that she had been killed before she was thrown into the stream, and the tramp, who behaved in a suspicious manner, was captured and hung for the crime. This much is certain, that he was found in possession of some jewelry that was identified as having belonged to Mrs. Pratt, though in defending himself he declared that he saw the old lady run out of her house and throw herself into the creek, with her head all bleeding from wounds that were self-inflicted, and that, satisfied that she was drowned, he entered the house and robbed it.

This story, however, won no credence, and he was hanged to a tree not far from the spot where the body of his victim was removed from the water. But it subsequently developed that the old woman had threatened time and again to take her life, and doubts began to assail the lynchers as to the justice of the deed, though no measures of reparation were possible. A story was soon in circulation that the ghost of the tramp had been seen on the road, though little faith was put in it by the intelligent country people, and the road soon becoming deserted for the new turnpike, the whole affair was forgotten. But recently the story of the ghost has been revived by the experiences of a number of responsible citizens and farmers of the vicinity, who are ready to vouch for the strange sights they have witnessed on the old road, which has of late been traveled owing to work being begun on the other.

The first to renew the old tale was Dr. Hardeman, of this place, who, returning from the bedside of a patient late one night, was amazed to see issue from a clump of trees just ahead of him the figure of a man. The night was a very dark one and the doctor wondered at his being able to see the man so plainly, for he was able to make out the figure's dress and features. It was clad in a dark suit and wore a wide-brimmed straw hat, but no coat and vest, while about its neck was coiled a rope which trailed behind it several feet and which was so tightly drawn about the throat as to swell it to three times the natural size and to give the face a horribly bloated appearance. This struck the doctor as most remarkable, though as he was a newcomer in the neighborhood, and had never heard of the tramp's death, he did not take a supernatural view of the figure, but hailed it several times.

The figure looked back at him with a sort of unearthly light in its puffed out eyes, but made no reply. The doctor whipped up his horse in an endeavor to overtake the phantom, but the horse began to rear and snort as if in mortal terror and refused to go forward, and on being whipped and spurred by his rider finally threw him into the middle of the road and galloped off in the opposite direction, leaving the doctor to walk home. The phantom vanished from view in the timber that bordered the road, and, unnerved by the terrible appearance it had presented, the physician decided not to follow it, but proceeded to go home, though resolved to find out the mystery the next night. So, arming himself well with both shotgun and revolvers, together with a bull-dog and a young man named Loosman, he took up his stand close to the spot where the ghost had issued the night before, and waited until the hour for it to make its appearance. But this it did not do, though the watchers heard a loud moaning or lamentation coming from a large tree growing close to the road, and from which the figure had come the previous night.

The dog evinced the same terror the horse had, and at last made a frantic dart at some invisible body, which sent it flying back head over heels, but the animal, returning to the attack with every appearance of uncontrollable rage, finally was thrown at the feet of the watchers, who on looking closely at the animal saw that it was dead with a broken neck. Nothing was to be seen, however, and at daylight the doctor and his companion returned home, resolved, though, to keep watch again that night. This they did, and were rewarded on this occasion by seeing the ghost glide from the clump of trees before referred to, this time dragging after it its coffin. The doctor called on it to halt, but there was no response whatever, though the phantom turned and looked at him with a grin, which increased the horror of its appearance. Young Loosman gave it one glance, and broke and ran toward the town, leaving the doctor alone with the ghost.

Lacking the courage to accost it at a nearer distance, he also turned about and made for home, arriving there breathless and full of his story, which was received with ridicule.  But on his persisting in it a party of townspeople was made up to go and watch the spot for the ghost.

These, comprising Colonel Nugent, John Young, George Fuller and several other well-known citizens, repaired to the haunted locality on the next evening armed with guns and pistols, as from the doctor's earnestness in relating his narrative it had come to be thought that a hoax at any rate had been attempted on the young men, and it was resolved to ferret out the jokers. As the night advanced the watchers dispersed themselves along the road so as to command its length, and, weapons in hand, waited the coming of the hoaxers.

It was a little after midnight when the moaning sound was heard from the tree. The sound increased into a sort of bellowing or tremendous crying that resounded through the woods, striking terror to all that heard it. But, resolved to stick it out to the last, the crowd hung about for nearly an hour longer, and at last saw the ghost come walking past them carrying its coffin on its shoulders this time. The rope was twined about its neck and trailed along the ground. Seeing this, Colonel Nugent stepped forward and placed his foot on the length, only to be violently thrown to the ground the next moment insensible. It was some hours before he recovered sufficiently to describe the sensation he had experienced on stepping on the phantom rope. He says that he was thrilled through and through with a shock something like an electric current, and which was severe enough to deprive him of consciousness. He declined to meddle any further with the phantom, which he is persuaded is a ghost.  On the Colonel falling insensible the others of the crowd fired upon the figure, which vanished in the smoke with a loud laugh of derision, and was seen no more that night.

These stories are confirmed by the experience of Judge Blackmore, of this neighborhood, who is a noted skeptic about spiritualism and who accepted a wager that was made him that he could not face the phantom of the creek road without fear. The Judge, who is perfectly fearless, armed himself well and took up his station early a few nights ago to watch for the spectre, which he defied to frighten him.  He soon found that his horse was very restive, and kept starting at every sound, so as to compel him to keep a tight rein on the animal. Had it not been for this the horse would most certainly have thrown him by the sudden start it gave when the Judge saw almost under its forefeet a man looking up at him. The man's face was swollen fearfully by the rope it had about its neck and was grinning up into the Judge's with a hideous sort of mirth. The Judge started in spite of himself, reined his frightened horse back and struck at tho figure with his riding whip, but his arm fell to his side well-nigh paralyzed by the stroke. The figure then walked alongside of the Judge's horse, continuing to grin and snicker to itself as if mightily amused at the Judge's attempt to solve the mystery of its being. At length the Judge made another cut at the phantom, which he refused to believe to be such, when the spectre threw its long arms about the gentleman, dragging him from his horse, which broke away down the road whinnying in terror.  The Judge fell to the earth with the ghost, which clasped its fingers around his throat in an endeavor to choke him, but the Judge, being a very powerful man, grappled with the fiend or whatever the thing may be called, kept its talons from his throat, and finally threw it off. It returned to the charge, however, and laid hold of him once more, but, stumbling over the coffin that it dragged after it, fell to the ground, when the Judge, who had had enough of the affray, ran down the road in the direction of the town. Pursued by the phantom, he ran all the faster, until he came to the first house, against the door of which he fell panting and half fainting. The inmates opened the door and received him into the house, though the spectre is said to have hung about all night peering into the windows and knocking loudly at the doors.

It vanished at daylight, however, and has not been seen since. The Judge will not talk about his adventure, though he has paid his wager, and no longer holds in open derision the belief of the country people in their ghost.

Monday, February 12, 2024

The Mystery of the "Sarah Jo"

Scott Moorman

The tale of the last voyage of the "Sarah Jo" is a short, simple one, but at the same time it is one of the strangest sea mysteries I know.

On February 11, 1979, 27-year-old Scott Moorman, a native Californian who had moved to Maui, set out on the 17-foot Boston Whaler for a day-long fishing trip.  He was accompanied by four friends--Ralph Malaiakini, Pat Woessner, Benny Kalama, and Peter Hanchett.  The weather was good when they set out, but two hours later, the sky darkened, gale-force winds blew in, and the sea became dangerously turbulent.  And the "Sarah Jo" vanished.  

The Coast Guard spent nearly a week searching the area for the boat.  Friends and family of the missing men continued the hunt for another month.  Not one trace of the boat or her passengers could be found.

It seemed to be the end of the story.

Fast-forward nearly a decade, to September 9, 1988.  A Marine biologist named John Naughton Jr. was researching green turtles on the Marshall Islands, about 2,300 miles southwest from where Moorman and his friends disappeared.  On a bleak, uninhabited atoll called Taongi, Naughton found something very unexpected:  the battered remains of the "Sarah Jo."  By an amazing coincidence, Naughton, a member of the National Marine Fisheries Service, had helped in the original search for the boat.  Nearby was a pile of stones topped by a crude driftwood cross and a human jawbone. Under the stones was more of the skeleton.  Dental records were able to identify these bones as all that was left of Scott Moorman.  A search of the atoll found no further clues.

There was no way of knowing when Moorman was buried in this shallow grave, but Naughton and his crew believed it was a relatively recent burial.  Also, a government survey of the atoll done six years earlier would surely have found the boat and the grave.  The boat--and Moorman--must have arrived on the atoll sometime after 1982.  Where were they before that time?

Adding to the eeriness of the scene was something found buried with Moorman:  a stack of unbound, partially burned blank papers 3" by 3" and about 3/4" thick.  Between each of the papers was a small square piece of tin foil.  The meaning of this strangely ritualistic touch remains uncertain.

This partial "solution" to the disappearance only raised even more puzzling questions.  How did Moorman and his small motorboat manage to travel 2,300 miles?  How did he die, and when?  The pathologists could not say.  Who buried him?  What became of Moorman's four companions?  As Moorman's sister said, "All this is like the Twilight Zone."

Speculate away.  Your guess is as good as anyone's.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Step on in for this week's Link Dump!

Don't be a wallflower!

A brief look at pet cemeteries.

The bison of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

Those famed Hopkinsville Goblins.

Scientists have found oozing black eggs and nobody knows what in hell they are.  Great.

A photography studio that turned matchmaker.

Life in Hong Kong during WWII.

The origins of the expression, "the whole nine yards."

In which we meet fairies riding around in a balloon.

A visit to Greyfriars Kirkyard.

The days of unclaimed letter lists.

The days when upper Manhattan had sleigh races.

Aerial photos of old London.

Crime and medieval pilgrimages.

Life in the 1902 German Navy.

Victorian electoral fraud.

The possibility that art existed before modern humans.

A meeting with a wood fairy.

The saddle that's rewriting the history of horseback riding.

A Gilded Age celebrity power couple.

Puffing for bronze monuments.

The Greek site that has seen a whole lot of battles.

Perhaps we all could be psychic.

A colonial con man.

A "lost" fragment of the New Testament has been found in the Vatican Archives.

Yet another spurned lover reaching for a gun.

The pigeon that Tesla loved.

A destructive Polish poltergeist.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an eerie sea mystery.  In the meantime, here's a trip back to 1963.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This little story--which is weird even by the standards of this blog--appeared in the ”Hillsboro News Herald,” November 18, 1875.  It’s a reprint from the “Mechanicsburg (Pennsylvania) Journal.”

Mechanicsburg is in Cumberland county, but the scene of this ghost story is laid in Warrington township, York county, and the plain, unvarnished tale is unfolded to the editor of the Journal by one for whom he vouches as "one of our most reliable and truthful citizens, and an unbeliever in all things supernatural." Several weeks before the story opens there came to the house of a Mrs. Nesbit, living in the county and township aforesaid, a woman with a burned arm, who asked to be allowed to stay all night Mrs. Nesbit declined to grant the request, whereupon the woman asked her how she would like it if she should not be allowed to rest? Mrs. Nesbit replied that she did not know, with which truthful, though not entirely novel remark, the interview appears to have terminated.

Shortly after the above conversation, Mrs. Nesbit discovered in an old hut adjoining the house they live in, and also in their own house, the face of a human being, with large eyes, resembling balls of fire, moving around from room to room in both houses. Pleasant, was it not? Did she scream? Did she faint? History is silent on this point, but shortly after she was stricken with rheumatism so badly she could not rest in any position, and thus became a fine example of retributive justice. After a time the rheumatism left, but not so the ghost. It was a most persistent as well as disagreeable intruder, and unlike most ghosts, which content themselves with scaring their victims out of their wits, resorted to personal violence. As the conditions grew more favorable it materialized a full, but naked human body, the eyes still fiery, and in this shape it would visit Mrs. Nesbit's bedside nightly, pick her up, bed-clothes and all, and fling her into a corner, where she would either faint or go into convulsions. What Mr. Nesbit was about all this while does not appear. It is only incidentally that we learn of the existence of such a man, and it is tolerably safe to presume that while the above tragedy was being enacted he was under the bed.

Of course nobody could stand such treatment long; and so Mrs. Nesbit called the neighbors in, and on their arrival the house was too small to hold them.  Promptly on time the ghost appeared, apparently gratified at having so large an audience. All in the room could see the fiery eyes, but only Mrs. Nesbit could see the human form.

Still the witnesses beheld the two large balls of fire roiling back and forth, approaching the bed where the lady was, and grasping the bed-clothes. The lady fainted, and several going to her assistance, the balls of fire moved away from her and grasped the child in the cradle, but it was also released by persons standing by, and the balls disappeared, leaving all very much frightened and disconcerted. This was dreadful, surely.  We cannot blame the people for being frightened.

But now comes the strange part of our story, an expression which suggests the alarming possibility that such performances as have already been described are quite a matter-of-course in York county. In the neighborhood lived Dr. Gusler, famous for his many cures in witchcraft, another extraordinary character. He being called in, pronounced it a clear case of bewitchery, and instructed the afflicted lady to heat a sickle red hot at a certain hour next night and pass it several times down her arm as close as possible without burning herself. Also, if anybody should appear and ask her for anything, nothing was to be given on any account. The instructions were obeyed, and, sure enough, next day appeared the woman with the burned arm and asked for some lard to grease it. This being refused, she asked for a cloth to tie it up, and then for a pin; but nothing was given her. and she went off. Here the interesting narrative breaks off. The editor says a complete cure was effected, but does not say whether or not the ghost was laid. Neither does he give us the key to the mystery, and we can only conclude that York county is a highly undesirable place to live, or else that Cumberland county whisky must be of a peculiarly virulent quality.

Monday, February 5, 2024

The Case of the Missing Maidservant

Annie Hommel was the daughter of poor German immigrants living in Saugerties, New York.  Around 1870, fourteen-year-old Annie went "in service" for the household of Moses Schoenfeld, a wealthy merchant tailor.

Annie grew up into a strikingly pretty young woman who was considered one of the town's leading belles.  Life went on in an unremarkable fashion until 1877, when Mrs. Schoenfeld fell ill, and began spending most of her time in New York City for medical treatment.  During her absence, Schoenfeld's neighbors began noticing that Annie was dressing very stylishly: her wardrobe suddenly seemed far too expensive for any mere servant girl.  They also took note of the fact that Annie and Moses had become very, very friendly--gossip even reported that they had been seen kissing.

At this point in our story, you are probably coming to some suspicions about the relationship between master and maid.  The residents of Saugerties were entertaining the same suspicions.  Suspicions which seemed to have been confirmed when Annie's waistline began expanding.  She insisted--you dirty-minded people, you!--that she was suffering from "dropsy."

On December 15, 1877, Annie told her parents she was going to New York or Philadelphia to see physicians about her mysterious malady, and disappeared.  No one ever saw her in Saugerties again.  She was spotted in Tivoli, where she boarded a train for New York.  Some reports stated that she was in the company of an older woman, who claimed to be the wife of a doctor.  After her departure, Schoenfeld also began acting strangely.  He too departed for places unknown, and after his return to Saugerties, continued to make unexplained and frequent trips to New York.

A few days after Hommel's disappearance, letters were sent to Annie's parents, purportedly from the missing young woman, although they appeared to be written in a man's handwriting.   The letters stated that Annie was under the care of a physician, and was satisfied with her place.  One of the letters contained five dollars.  The postmarks were from various locations in Brooklyn and Philadelphia.  

George Hommel was convinced that Schoenfeld was behind his daughter's strange vanishing.  He believed there was something very sinister about the whole business, and he was not at all shy about saying so.  Schoenfeld tried to counter such unpleasant talk by bringing Mr. Hommel to Brooklyn to search for Annie, and he offered a reward for any information about her whereabouts. Neither effort did anything to uncover Annie--or to still the talk that Schoenfeld knew more than he was willing to say.

On August 19, 1878, Annie's parents received a shocking letter.  It was postmarked from Philadelphia, and it carried the news that their daughter was dead.  The writer claimed to be a physician who had treated Annie for "dropsy," but in spite of all his medical help, she had "gone to the better home."  It was signed merely "M.D."  Soon after the Hommels received this message, it was reported that two strangers called upon Schoenfeld, asking to have a private interview with him.  Schoenfeld emerged from this meeting "deathly pale."  Annie's sister Mary lived in Philadelphia, and she stated that she had not seen any sign of the missing girl, and had no idea who "M.D." might be.  She was, however, convinced Annie had been murdered.

So did a lot of people.  And they all had the same suspect in mind.  Schoenfeld was considered to be a material witness in Annie's disappearance, but his high social position and previously good reputation saved him from being arrested, although such was the public disgust with him, some feared he might be lynched. For his part, the merchant rallied the support of his prominent friends, and made a big show of his continued trips to New York, where he claimed to be conducting his own investigation of the mystery.

"Brooklyn Eagle," September 24, 1878, via Newspapers.com

Several days after the Hommels received the tragic letter from "M.D.," there was more bad news.  Boys herding cattle near Staten Island's Silver Lake Cemetery came across a barrel that had been partially buried.  Inside was the badly decomposed corpse of a heavily pregnant woman.  After a few weeks of fruitlessly trying to determine the woman's identity, local authorities had her buried in a potter's field.  When news of the gruesome find reached Saugerties, residents immediately suspected that Annie Hommel had finally been located.  The corpse was of medium size, with dark brown hair and good teeth, which perfectly matched Annie's description.  The body was exhumed, and George Hommel, on the basis of the hair and teeth, identified it as his daughter.  However, the clothing the woman had been wearing did not match any the missing woman had owned.

Schoenfeld--accompanied by his attorney--also arrived in Staten Island.  Unsurprisingly, he insisted that the corpse was not that of Annie Hommel, explaining that the hair was too short to be that of his former servant.  (It did not seem to occur to him that hair can be cut.)

The body was reburied, but later exhumed again in order to see if the body showed signs of the fractured wrist Hommel had suffered when she was seven years old.  In rather Grand Guignol fashion, doctors cut off the corpse's arms and enlisted "an insane pauper" to boil the bones clean of whatever flesh remained on them.  (The "New York Times" added that when this revolting task was completed, the pauper "served them up to the doctors with a grin of ghastly satisfaction.")  When the arm bones were examined, it was determined that the wrists had never been broken, and that the corpse was probably of a woman over the age of thirty.  (Annie was about twenty when she vanished.)  In short, Annie Hommel's disappearance was suddenly back to being as big a riddle as ever.

After investigating all the missing-persons cases in the area, police eventually determined that the corpse was that of one Mary Ann Degnan.  Her husband, Edward Reinhardt, was eventually convicted of her murder.  

Unlike the Degnan case, the fate of Annie Hommel was never determined.  Faced with an almost total lack of clues to her whereabouts, the missing maid eventually faded from public memory.  By the time Moses Schoenfeld died in 1914, rich, accomplished, and respected, the fact that he had once been at the center of a disturbing mystery was completely forgotten. 

If the merchant had any guilty little secrets, he kept them very well hidden indeed.

[Note:  There is, of course, an obvious possible solution to the mystery:  After Annie became pregnant, Schoenfeld sent her out of town to have an abortion.  She died as a result of the operation, and her body was secretly buried somewhere.  Unfortunately, we'll never know if this scenario is correct.]

Friday, February 2, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!

I hope you enjoy the show.

A love triangle ends very badly.

St. Thomas Becket's chapel in Poland.

Using lasers to examine ancient art.

Archaeologists keep finding weird things, and everyone has questions.

A look at the construction of the Biltmore Estate.

A noted French Victorian-era caricaturist.

The oldest surviving English-language Valentine's letter.

Packing for pre-modern travel.

An American Revolution soldier who just couldn't make up his mind which side he was on.

How Truman Capote turned himself into a social pariah.

Scientists are boring humpback whales with the usual tedious social small talk.

A discarded Neolithic meal.

Amelia Earhart's plane may have been found.  Or not.

Noah's Ark may have been found.  Or not.

The eeriness of a winter garden during lockdown.

The twilight of the pre-dreadnoughts.

A church that was founded by a murderer.

The Lane Bryant murders.

Some of the oldest human footprints.

A statue memorializing a beautiful milkmaid.

When beer came to Asia.

The disappearance of the Scots language.

How Ireland came to be the "Emerald Isle."

The treasures found in an ancient family tomb.

In other news, a pigeon has just been exonerated from suspicions that it was a Chinese spy.

The "Welsh Roswell."

The shipboard murder of Gay Gibson.

Pigeons of Doom!

Thomas Hardy got on better with his fictional women than the real ones.

England's got a heck of a lot of hedges.

A tragic early 19th century life.

The epizootic of 1872.

Wilkie Collins and women's rights.

A (possibly) reluctant regicide.

A non-haunted nuclear bunker.

A fun Twitter thread proving that the universe is a really weird place.

The first known exclamation point.

The baronet's wife who was "Queen of the Gipsies."

A WWII treasure map.

A Victorian time capsule.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a young maidservant's sinister disappearance.  In the meantime, here's a blast from the 1970s past.  It's hard for me to fathom that this was from fifty years ago.