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

Monday, April 29, 2024

The Return of Pavlova

Lady Eleanor Smith (1902-1945) was one of the “Bright Young Things,” the name given to the group of aristocrats and socialites who enlivened 1920s London society.  The Bohemian, eccentric Lady Eleanor had a short, but busy career as a society journalist, novelist, and circus publicist.

Lady Eleanor was a great admirer of the prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, who stars--sort of--in this passage from Smith’s 1939 memoir, “Life’s a Circus.”  If Smith’s story is to be believed, the legendary dancer made a brief, posthumous return to the stage, during a 1933 rehearsal of “Ballerina,” a play based on one of Smith’s novels.

Once, at a dress rehearsal at the Scala Theatre, something happened that made a profound impression upon my mind.  If I had been the only person to see what I saw, I should be willing to dismiss the whole matter as an illusion.  But I was not alone; Pat was with me and saw it too; Charles Landstone, our levelheaded business manager, was another witness; so was Hank; so was Hank’s manager, Ralph Glover.

It was about three o’clock in the morning, and the auditorium was dark and empty.  The five of us sat together in the dress circle watching the final rehearsal of the “Snowbird” ballet.  Pat had purposely put on his understudy, Freddy Franklin, because he wanted to watch, in complete concentration, Frances’ [actress Frances Doble] efforts as a dancer.


I have explained before that watching Pavlova from the side of the stage had inspired me to write “Ballerina.”  Had I not watched Pavlova so closely that day at Golders Green, the book would never have been written, although my heroine’s private life was, of course, pure fiction, borrowing nothing at all from the greatest ballerina of all.  At the same time, I think that Pavlova had either directly or indirectly inspired us all, and Pavlova was dead.  She had certainly inspired Pat, Frances, and myself.

The stage revolved to show a woodland glade with nymphs in white tartalan grouped in a traditional entrance.  Previously we had see Varsovina haggard and dejected in her dressing room, wrapped, shivering, in her shabby grey dressing gown.  Now, as we watched, a slight figure walked onto the stage.  A figure snow white in a fluffy tutu, its head bound with swans’ plumage.  The figure paused, crossing itself.  It seemed to me that Frances had grown much smaller.

Then, as it glided into the spotlight, I caught my breath.

For the figure was not that of Frances.  It had assumed the form of Anna Pavlova.

Pat gripped my hand until I thought he would break it.  I looked at him; he was ice pale, and there was sweat on his face.

He muttered:

“This is uncanny…it’s awful…What have we done?  Oh, God--why did we ever bring up the past?”

The white form on the stage stood effortlessly upon one pointe; it pirouetted three times--a thing Frances could not do--and drifted like swansdown into Borek’s arms as the curtain fell.  I looked again at my companions.  They were white and dazed.

Somebody mumbled:

“We’re all very tired…Don’t let’s imagine things…”

Somebody else said:

“We can’t all have seen--what we saw…”

Pat and I ran to the pass door.

We were afraid.

Frances stood there on the stage and said to Pat in a perplexed, mechanical voice:

“Pat, I’m sorry…Let’s take it again.”

“Take it again?  Why?”

“I couldn’t dance.  I must be awfully tired.  My mind suddenly seemed to go blank.  Will someone get me a glass of water?”

Pat gave me a warning look, and we said nothing at the time.

Later he affirmed:

“We can’t deny it.  For a moment, that particular spirit from the past took possession of Frances’ mind and body.”

I was silent, for at the time it occurred to me that what we had seen was an unfavorable omen.

Later on I mentioned this to Lydia Kyasht, who was playing with great charm in the prologue of our play.

Lydia grew white and said:

I saw what you all saw.  I was in front--hidden away in the pit.  I saw it too…”

Friday, April 26, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Our host for this week's Link Dump is Edwin!

I know nothing more about him, but he was obviously quite a charmer.

What the hell is the Baltic Sea Anomaly?

Where the hell is Mata Hari's head?

Why you wouldn't want to encounter ancient Indian snakes.

I admit, I like this guy's flair for self-promotion.

The hoax that got Franklin Pierce accused of treason.

So, kids, don't mess with ancient mummies.  Or elephants.

Uncovering an ancient city in Tonga.

Some lost, stolen, and unreleased music.

A haunted Louisiana courthouse.

The horror at Hillcrest School.

Prisons that have unusual rules.

The death of the publishing industry.

The King and the Vasa Knife Incident.

That time when over 29,000 pizzas were buried alive.

Getting the obituary right.

A look at 16th century "Spittle Fields."

A look at England's 1604 Witchcraft Act.

One of the odder "lost civilization" theories.

The origins of "flash in the pan."

Celebrating Passover during the American Civil War.

The sort of items that were unclaimed in the Bombay Custom House in the mid 19th century.

The oldest curse word in the English language.

Related: The oldest writing in the English language.

Quaker women gone wild.

Why the U.S. was unprepared for the Battle of the Atlantic.

The belief that animals have consciousness.  I'd actually be shocked if they didn't.

A famed 18th century opera singer.

The oldest known example of Neanderthal culture.

What makes a castle?

Yet another marriage that ends in murder.

Portraits of 1920s Londoners.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a legendary ballerina's Fortean encore.  In the meantime, here's some Handel.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This curious little tale of a haunted park appeared in the “Atlanta Georgian,” May 25, 1912:

So many witches and ghosts flit and moan about and generally haunt Springvale park that T.L. Bond, of the Atlanta park commission, has today seriously advised his colleagues to drain the lake, plow up that stretch of land and sow it with salt to drive away the evil spirits, while W.L. Percy and J.H. Porter head petitioners who want the lake made over into a sunken garden. Perhaps the board will adopt Mr. Bond's suggestion. Anyway, its members are investigating his emphatic claim that hobgoblins can’t abide a salted field and if their probe shows that ghosts do really cavort o’ nights about that park, as many folk thereabouts avow, nobody need wonder at seeing a plowman plodding his way through one of the fairest strips of land in all Atlanta, nor marvel if, suddenly, the saline trust increases its prices.

Up to that time some years ago when a very good looking young woman hung herself to a tree that overhung its mirroring lake, Springvale park was one of the most loved recreation spots in Georgia. Nestling in the heart of Inman Park, it smiled up at the lording terraces at its sides and flowers laughed out from the grass that mantled its bosom. Down in the vale a clear, cool lakelet rippled in the sunbeams between the weeping willows that fringe its banks, and it was all so beautiful that bevies of little children played there all day along with squirrels and the birds of many brilliant hues. By daylight Springvale park seemed veritably the haunt of all the good fairies.

Then the girl came there, despondent, and killed herself above the lake, and after her came the ghosts and ghouls. It is still quite well remembered that she was a poor girl who had journeyed to Atlanta from some outlying town in a desperate hope that she would find work here and a chance to earn the honorable living that she craved. She found no work, and after many days when the last of her money was gone she made her way one evening to the dark pond of water in the heart of Springvale and took the life that she thought hopeless.

Next day, when they found her swinging from the tree limb, quite dead, frightened children who hovered fearfully about cried out that they saw her phantom floating in the lakelet beneath the tree.

Of course, that was the shadow of the girl's body cast upon the water, but it was terrible enough for little ones, and for weeks after that no children went to play in the park. Then residents of the Inman Park district caught the morbid infection. Many said they heard the whippoorwill singing in the park at dusk and that its cry sounded like the wail of a spirit damned. One or two, more timorous, began to tell about that those cries were not the whippoorwill's calls at all, but the plaints of ghosts that might be seen flitting dimly about above the shrubbery through the late hours on all dark nights.

The more practical residents thereabout laughed these tales to scorn, but they also had their complaint, and they took it to the park commission with a demand that the Springvale lake be drained to rid it of its suddenly acquired pest of frogs. The park board didn't drain it. They took the word of Joel Hurt, who built Inman Park, that there weren’t enough frogs to speak of. When Hurt, backed by Major Guinn, offered $1 for every wiggletail found in the lake the commissioners declined to investigate further any claim that Springvale reeks with pests. The board also accepted Mr. Hurt’s denial of another claim that mosquitoes had appeared. The sanitary commission did take action. It put oil on the lake surface to drive away the frogs, and for a time things were a bit more quiet. But a little later Inman Park residents began to see strange men lurking in the shadows. A burglary epidemic happened around there about that time, and those who weren't superstitious joined the police in the belief that that park had become a rendezvous for tramps.

But the ghost stories would not down. They have gained such credence among certain folk in that vicinity that children do not play as much in Springvale, even by day, as they used to before the despondent girl hanged herself to the tree there. The residents' disagree about the visitations, but complaints recur, and they have forced the matter up to the park board again, with the renewed demand that something strenuous be done to rid the place of the nuisances—whether they are ghostly or things in nature. Sorely puzzled, the commissioners have been casting about for a solution of the problem for weeks.

While they consider Mr. Bond's plan for a salt sowing they are also giving heed to a petition headed by W.L. Percy and J.H. Porter urging that the lake be drained and made over into a sunken garden. But Mr. Bond insists that the complaints of the superstitious will never be stopped until the saline sesame is employed, and more than one of the commissioners think the scheme, however silly, might not be a bad plan by way of winning the board some peace of mind.

Springvale Park still exists, but, thankfully, any ghosts it may once have had seem to be long gone. Maybe it was the salt.

Monday, April 22, 2024

That Horrid, Hissing Hag

"Detroit Free Press," November 4, 1962, via Newspapers.com

In 1961, a 28-year-old auto worker named Bill Adams, along with his wife Lillian and their five children, moved into a seemingly perfectly normal rental house on Detroit’s Martin Street.  They soon earnestly wished they had found a different place to live.  Before long, the young family found themselves in the middle of what has been described as “Michigan’s most terrifying haunting.”

Almost immediately, the Adamses sensed that there was something strange about the back bedroom.  Bill, who worked the midnight shift at a Cadillac plant, slept there during the day to avoid the noise of children playing.  He soon began having dreadful nightmares, “The kind where I’d see all kinds of horrible things and wake up screaming.  In the morning, I’d never be sure whether they were dreams or whether I had been awake all the time.”

In August 1961, Bill’s grandmother, who lived in Atlanta, Georgia, came to visit.  She spent one night in the back bedroom.  Emphasis on “one.”  Bill later said, “She told us she heard sounds like someone was trying to get in all night.  She wouldn’t sleep there again.”  One night, they locked the family dog in the bedroom and the poor creature “nearly went mad” until he was let out.

In late October 1962, Shirley Patterson, a cousin of Bill’s, came to Detroit to buy a car.  He spent the night with the Adamses.  Without any warning from anyone--which seems rather unkind--he was given the back bedroom.  Patterson later recalled, “I went to bed at about 11:30 Saturday night, right after Bill left for work.  I was in bed for only a couple of minutes, facing the wall, when something turned me over.

“Don’t ask me to describe the feeling.  All I know was that it rolled me over and then I saw it standing outside the bedroom door.

“At first I thought it was Lillian but I started to tremble.  It was a woman with long hair and she had her back to me, looking into the kitchen.”

Patterson screamed and leaped out of bed.  “At that second,” said Patterson, “every light in the house went out.”

The terrified man ran into the kitchen, where he ran into Lillian.  The lights all went on again.  Then, from the back bedroom they heard a bone-chilling “crying groan.”  This was followed by a terrible stench that sickened them both.

Unsurprisingly, neither of them got any more sleep that night.  When Bill returned home, they told him what had happened.  The trio called in the police (the third time they had done so since moving in.)  A search was made of the house and basement, but nothing was found.

Bill had never believed in ghosts, and stubbornly refused to consider that something otherworldly was going on.  He decided to sleep in the bedroom again, just to see what would happen.  While he was in bed, but still awake, he heard a noise in the room.  “I turned to look,” he later said, “and the face was inches away from me.”

“It was the most horrible thing I have ever seen.  The eyes stared past me and the mouth moved to talk but only a hissing noise came out--and a terrible stench.”

Adams ran screaming from the room, so hysterical he was pulling handfuls of hair from his head.  The same horrible smell permeated the house.

The Adamses had seen more than enough.  They gathered up their children and fled, leaving all of their possessions behind--not to mention forfeiting the month’s rent for November they had already paid.  They moved in with Lillian’s parents in Dearborn until they could find another place to live.

After the “Detroit Free Press” covered the Adamses bloodcurdling tale, the “Horrid Hag of Martin Street” became a fixture in local legend.  In 1973, the “Free Press” interviewed the then-current occupant of the home, Mrs. Grace Willis.  She scoffed at the old stories, noting that she now slept in the back bedroom--although she admitted that she couldn’t sleep unless her back was turned to the door.  The “Free Press” reported that locals had various explanations for the “haunting.”  Some believed that the Adamses invented the whole story to get back at their landlord for threatening to evict them.  Others said that the incidents were the work of a “deranged boy” lurking in the house’s basement.

Mrs. Willis did admit that one peculiar thing had happened during her six-year residence in the house.  One day, she and her sister-in-law heard what sounded like a “crashing cascade of breaking dishes” in the kitchen.  When they rushed into the kitchen, they found no broken crockery--all the dishes were neatly stacked in the cupboard.

If that incident was the work of “The Hag,” that appears to have been her swan song.  As far as is recorded, the paranormal has fled Martin Street.

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.