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

Friday, June 28, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!

In which we find that summer road trip the Strange Company HQ staffers are taking is going about as expected.

Who the hell was "Georgio?"

A medieval woman was buried with a bunch of Spanish monks, and archaeologists are confused.

A brief history of UK allotments.

Meet John Edward Tinkler, book thief.

What an Egyptian port tells us about ancient history.

A fatal 18th century parachute jump.

A very weird rock in the Mojave Desert.

The "Love Letter Generator."

A killer chiropractor.

A political beard.

The "Napoleon of Crime."

The "9 Days' Queen."

A Neanderthal child with Down's Syndrome.

Scientists have created a smiling robot face made from human skin cells, and it's even more horrifying than you'd imagine.

Wine and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Coffee and the American Civil War.

19th century "burial societies."

The youngest winner of the Ladies Singles Championship at Wimbledon.

The oldest known burial site wasn't created by humans.

It turns out that apes know how to self-medicate.

Water freezing is more complicated than you might think.

Playing the etymology card.

Remembering a Victorian philanthropist.

The 1924 Democratic National Convention was a hot mess.

A brief history of summer camps.

An Ibadhi scholar and statesman.

Georgian-era table etiquette.

"Perkin Warbeck" and Lady Katherine Gordon.

The "Pay Phone Bandit."

Princess Elizabeth in WWII Britain.

Flirtation leads to a murder.

Yet another story about a hiker's mysterious disappearance.

Some vintage "Cries of London."

Leadership debates in 18th century Britain.

That wraps things up for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll hear a Greenland ghost story.  In the meantime, here's one impressive pipe organ.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Who doesn’t love encounters with a headless ghost?  The “Frankfort Capital,” November 24, 1894:

Crown Point, Ind. Nov 23 — About four miles south of this city on the west side of the old Crown Point and Lowell wagon road stands a large 2-story frame residence in a plat of ground containing several acres. The house is a large square flat-roofed structure about 40 by 40 feet in dimensions and stands back in the lot fully 30 yards. It was erected some 80 years ago by a man named Nichols, who together with his family occupied it for a time and then gladly vacated the hated place. Mr Nichols told the neighbors about hearing strange and uncanny noises, rappings. stamping of feet etc., and many nights he could not sleep on account of the sounds borne to his ears.

Several months afterward the place was sold to an Ohio man for $500, less than the house itself had cost. The man from Ohio soon moved in with his family and he expended several hundred dollars in making the place more attractive. Within a short time he began to be annoyed by strange sounds, sometimes followed by chairs chasing each other across the room, the clock striking the full hour when the hands indicated the half-hour mark, etc., and on one light moonlight night near the midnight hour, happening to glance into the yard he was fairly frozen with terror by the spectacle he witnessed.  

Walking up and down the yard less than a dozen paces from where he was standing was the headless trunk of a man.  The Ohio man watched it make a few strides up and down the passage and then disappeared.  Fearing to inform his wife of the sight, groanings and moanings immediately began in the room in which he was standing and these were kept up until nearly morning, when they ceased as abruptly as they began. 

It is needless to say that the gentleman soon after abandoned the place, and during the 25 years that have elapsed since that time numerous tenants have moved in and out again, none remaining longer than a month or so at farthest. 

For the past six years the place has had no tenant and the yard and parcel of ground has grown up with a thick mass of grass, hazel-brush, and rank weeds. The house is fast falling into decay by the ravages of time, and altogether the place presents a wierd and uncanny aspect. 

A young Crown Pointer will not soon forget the experience he encountered near the place a short time ago. He had been to Lowell in a buggy, accompanied by his lady-love, and on their return they happened near the haunted residence at near the midnight hour. The horse was trotting along at a comfortable gait when a sight was encountered that almost froze the marrow in their bones. 

The horse no doubt observed the wraith about the same time the occupants of the buggy did, for he immediately stopped stock still with a loud snort of alarm. Not 20 paces distant, walking with long and swinging strides in the middle of the highway, was the headless trunk of a man, a wierd phosphorous light playing around his headless form.  For a moment the young couple were almost paralyzed with fright, then turning the horse hastily they drove back to the farmhouse on the road and aroused the inmates. 

The old farmer who came to the door was implored to robe himself and accompany the frightened couple beyond the confines of the haunted premises. This accomplished, the old farmer returned along the road alone but no more was seen of the ghost. The young man has been careful since that time when out driving with his lady-love to seek some other road and he declares he never wants to pass through a similar experience. 

The oldest inhabitant can remember of no tragedy or accident happening in the neighborhood of the haunted residence, and they are at a loss to account for the strange apparition. Several times a crowd have talked of going to the place at night to make an investigation, but so far it has only resulted in talk. The mystery still remains unsolved.

Monday, June 24, 2024

When Mr. Swope Met Dr. Hyde

Thomas Swope

A classic plot device in murder mystery novels is when the rich, elderly head of a family announces that he or she is updating their will.  Naturally, all hell subsequently breaks loose.

It is a great pity that Thomas Swope was evidently not a connoisseur of such books.  It might have saved him from disaster.

Swope was born in Kentucky in 1827.  When he was thirty, he moved to Kansas City, where he immediately saw the area’s potential for growth.  He snapped up every bit of real estate he could get his hands on, eventually owning most of the land which is modern Kansas City.  From subdividing his land and reselling it to others, his prescience soon made him an extremely rich man.  As so many wealthy entrepreneurs do, he “gave back” to the community--and got himself good publicity in the bargain--by donating generously to hospitals, civic organizations, and the local Humane Society.  He gave the city 1,300 acres of land which became the massive Swope Park, which still remains one of the largest municipal parks in the country.  (It must be said that cynics mutter that Swope’s motive for this particular gift was a desire to avoid paying property taxes on the undeveloped land.)

Swope was a shy, reserved man who never married.  He lived alone for much of his life until, in his later years, he moved into the Independence, Missouri mansion which had been owned by his late brother Logan Swope.  There, he had plenty of companionship in the form of Logan’s widow Margaret and her seven children.  (However, he spent much of his time alone in his upstairs bedroom, drinking and smoking cigars.)

The Swope mansion

As Swope aged, his thoughts naturally turned to how he would dispose of his $3.6 million estate.  He drew up a will leaving generous bequests of $140,000 (about $4 million in 2024 money) to each of his nieces and nephews, with the rest of his money going to various charities.  If any of the beneficiaries died unmarried and childless, their share of the estate would be divided among the survivors.  However, late in 1909, just a few years after writing this will, Swope began expressing a change of heart.  He made no secret of the fact that he was now thinking that the charities should be getting a greater share of his fortune, with his nearest and dearest accordingly getting much less.

If you wish to find a reason for Swope’s sudden reversal, it might be wise to look at the other major figure in our little tale:  31-year-old Kansas City physician Bennett Clark Hyde.  Hyde was a good-looking fellow, with a suave manner that delighted the ladies.  He sang beautifully and was fond of reciting Shakespeare’s soliloquies.  Alas, Bennett balanced out these attractive qualities by being a complete dirtbag.  He had a history of charming elderly women out of their life savings.  In 1898, he was arrested on the charge of hiring a gang of grave-robbers to procure corpses for the local medical college.  (He somehow managed to talk his way out of that trouble.)  When serving as Kansas City’s police surgeon, he was accused of physically abusing Annie Clemmons, a woman he was supposedly treating for a morphine overdose.  (The scandal caused him to be discharged from his position.)

In 1903, Hyde met Thomas Swope’s 23-year-old niece Frances.  Frances apparently didn’t know or didn’t care about Hyde’s unfragrant past, because before long, Frances was hopelessly infatuated.  When Margaret Swope--evidently a better judge of character than her daughter--refused to allow Frances to marry Hyde, the young couple eloped to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where they were wed in June 1905.  The infuriated Margaret cut off all communication with her errant daughter.

The newlyweds remained family outcasts until October 1907, when Margaret’s brother was badly injured in a mining accident.  For reasons that frankly completely escape me, it was Hyde that Margaret turned to for her sibling’s medical care.  After that, Mr. and Mrs. Hyde were both accepted back into the family fold.  Thomas Swope bought the young couple a house, and thanks to his influence, Hyde was made president of the Jackson County Medical Society.

After the prodigal couple’s return, things seemed to jog along quietly for the Swope clan.  And then Thomas Swope began dropping those comments about revising his will.  Soon afterwards, on October 1, 1909, Swope’s cousin and closest friend, J. Moss Hunton, suffered a stroke.  Hyde and the family doctor, George Twyman, were immediately summoned.  The two physicians decided on a course of bloodletting--a slightly antiquated practice even then, but still occasionally used.  Hyde made the incision, and Hunton’s blood began to flow.

That was not considered the alarming part.  The alarming part was that once Hyde began bleeding his patient, he did not seem inclined to stop.  Even though the Swopes--including Frances--began to express unease about the amount of blood Hunton was losing, Hyde did not bandage his patient until about two quarts of blood had been removed.  Minutes later, Hunton died.  Tragic, of course, very tragic, but, well, these things happen.

Two days after Hunton’s demise, Thomas Swope’s personal nurse, Pearl Virginia Keller, brought Swope his breakfast, along with a digestive pill Hyde had prescribed.  About twenty minutes after finishing his meal, Swope suddenly broke into a cold sweat, and began shaking violently.  He told Keller, “Oh my God, I wish I were dead.  I wish I had not taken that medicine.”

Those were his last words.  Swope fell into a coma, from which he never emerged.  The 81-year-old died that night.

Two sudden deaths in a family within 48 hours is unusual enough for people’s minds to wander in some uncomfortable directions.  Swope’s kinfolk recalled Thomas’ plans to change his will.  They reflected on the fact that J. Moss Hunton had been the executor of Swope’s current will, the one leaving his fortune firmly in the hands of his family.  Nurse Keller found herself dwelling on how, before Hunton’s body had turned cold, Hyde was volunteering to be Swope’s new executor.

And then it emerged that, two weeks before Thomas Swope ate his final breakfast, Hyde made two calls to a local drugstore.  In the first call, he put in an order for Fairchild’s Holadin, a common digestive compound.  In the second, he asked for several capsules of potassium cyanide.

Despite all this interesting information, the Swopes--apparently not fond of making a fuss over life’s little issues--went on as usual.  Then, just one month after Hunton and Swope died, tragedy again struck the family.  Two of Margaret Swope’s children, Margaret and Chrisman, fell ill with typhoid.  The dread disease quickly spread throughout the whole household, including the servants.  The family was so afflicted, they were forced to bring in not just doctors Hyde and Twyman, but five nurses.  No one else in Independence had come down with typhoid for many months.  The outbreak was exclusive to the Swopes.  Odd, that.  The family's water supply was uncontaminated, so it was a mystery how everyone became sickened.

31-year-old Chrisman was the sickest of the family, with a high fever.  On December 5, Hyde gave him a pill that he said would control the fever.  In a sense, it did.  Within half-an-hour, Chrisman went into convulsions and fell into a coma.  By the following night, he was dead.

When a bacteriologist named Dr. Edward Stewart heard of the plague striking the Swope family, he felt uneasy.  Typhoid was a common ailment at the time, but it was rarely fatal, especially for young people like Chrisman.  Dr. Stewart had not forgotten that in early November 1909, Hyde had requested his help in setting up his own laboratory.  To get Hyde started on his research, Stewart gave him samples of common bacteria--including salmonella typhi, which causes…typhoid fever.  One day when he knew Hyde was out of town, Stewart went into Hyde’s lab, just to see what he could see.  He was appalled to find that Hyde’s entire supply of typhoid culture had disappeared.

While Stewart was playing amateur detective, Nurse Keller was becoming increasingly unnerved by Dr. Hyde’s way with a sickbed.  She, as well as the other nurses, were particularly troubled by Hyde giving the patients frequent shots of strychnine.  In those days, strychnine was given in small doses as a stimulant, but the nurses felt that with the Swope invalids, such measures were unnecessary.  Keller and the other nurses went to Margaret Swope and stated flatly that if Dr. Hyde was not banished from the house, they were quitting en masse.  Margaret agreed to their terms.  It did not go unnoticed that as soon as the patients ceased to be treated by Hyde, they began to recover.

The Swopes had been hoping to avoid a public scandal, but after what must have been a singularly grim Christmas, the family decided they had no choice but to have Chrisman and Thomas Swope exhumed and autopsied.  These examinations found that both bodies were chock-full of strychnine.  When this news reached the ears of the public, along with the revelation that Thomas’ nephew-in-law was the prime suspect in their deaths, newspaper editors across the country wept with joy and slept with sweet dreams of lurid headlines and booming circulations.

In February 1910, a coroner’s jury affirmed that both Swope men had died of strychnine poisoning.  The following month, a grand jury indicted Hyde on eleven charges, including first degree murder and (in the case of J. Moss Hunton) manslaughter.  He was also accused of poisoning a number of other Swopes with typhoid germs.  

Hyde during his trial

Hyde’s trial--solely for the alleged murder of Thomas Swope--began in April, 1910.  The prosecution’s argument was exquisitely simple and glaringly obvious: Hyde wanted wife Frances to split the Swope loot with as few people as possible.  Accordingly, he plotted a wholesale massacre of his in-laws.  The defense was equally straightforward.  Hyde--with his wife remaining loyally at his side--asserted his complete innocence.  He declared that all the incriminating testimony against him was either taken out of context or a simple pack of lies.  He explained that he had bought capsules full of poison solely to kill some dogs.  After deliberating for less than three days, the jury found him guilty.  However, his lawyer immediately filed an appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court.  The Court overturned the verdict, ruling that the prosecution had not found “causation” (that is to say, they failed to prove that Hyde’s actions directly and deliberately led to Thomas Swope’s death.)  The Court also disapproved of the fact that, although Hyde was essentially on trial only for the demise of Thomas Swope, evidence relating to the other deaths was allowed to be presented to the jury.

The state of Missouri resolved to try, try again.  However, the second effort to convict Hyde abruptly ended on a bizarre note, when a juror became homesick and fled the hotel where the jury was sequestered.  The judge declared the escapee to be "mentally unsound" and declared a mistrial.  Trial number three had a hung jury.  After that, Margaret Swope--who had spent $250,000 trying to get Hyde convicted--threw up her hands and gave up.  Early in 1917, Hyde was officially a free man.

Frances divorced Hyde in 1920.  She gained full custody of their two children, and reconciled with her family.  She told her divorce attorney that she wanted nothing more to do with her husband, as he had become increasingly “sullen and irritable.”  However, she maintained her conviction that he was not a murderer.  Hyde moved back to his hometown of Lexington, Missouri, where he worked as a truck driver and mechanic before returning to the practice of medicine until his death in 1934.  As far as is known, he left no further suspicious body counts in his wake.

The Swope Mystery has remained a well-known part of Kansas City history, with a solid number of people willing to argue that Hyde was an innocent man who unfairly suffered a seven-year legal ordeal.  However, I suspect that Frances Swope Hyde made a very fatal elopement.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to the first Link Dump of Summer 2024!

Time for that summer road trip!

A young man's murderous attack on his family.

The ghost of a murderer.

Did the Allied leadership prolong WWII?

The Great Bed of Ware.

Decoding UK's "Seahenge."

Hunter Thompson and the Hell's Angels.

Looking for UFOs in the Vatican.

A quadruple murder case in Pennsylvania.

The oldest wine in the world.

Meet Mr. Moon and Mummified Molly.

The career of journalist Nellie Bly.

The South Carolina family who had a nuclear bomb dropped on them.  

How to befriend birds.

A weird hole on Mars.

The Soviet-Afghan War.

The mystery of the English "sweating sickness."

The murder that led to modern forensic kits.

The last of the East India Company Chaplains.

A Georgian-era murder.

Press reports of 18th century British elections.

Objects that were used to celebrate the Summer Solstice.

A look at "Kirby's Wonderful and Eccentric Museum."

A satanic mill.

Why depression is called "the black dog."

Christopher Lee and France's last public execution.

Life at sea in the 1860s Royal Navy.

New archaeological finds at Mount Vernon.

The richest woman in 15th century France.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at two mysterious deaths within the same wealthy family.  In the meantime, here's some Mozart.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Any cat can make your life difficult.  But when the cat in question died some three centuries earlier, you know you’re dealing with one special kitty.  The “Vincennes Sun-Commercial,” November 17, 1975:

SUDBURY, England (AP) — Residents of this East Anglia town hope they’ve seen the end of a series of local misfortunes now that the mayor and the rector have reburied a 300-year-old cat.

The trouble began four years ago when Arthur Kemp tore down a 16th Century building to build a hotel and found a mummified cat buried beneath. It was the custom in medieval times to bury a live cat in a building under construction to ward off witches and prevent fires. 

Kemp decided to place this historical curiosity in his shop. 

Shortly thereafter the shop caught fire for no apparent reason. 

Kemp then put the cat in a workshop. The workshop caught fire. 

Then serious defects suddenly appeared in the new hotel Kemp built, although it had appeared structurally sound. The defects showed up just above the spot where the cat was found. 

Kemp and the city fathers got the message. On Friday, Mayor Tony Moore placed the feline remains in a glass-topped casket and with a special service by Canon Peter Schneider buried it in the floor of the hotel. 

“My prayers were for the building” Rev. Schneider stressed. "I could not become involved in a religious ceremony for a cat”.

Hopefully, both Kemp and the cat were subsequently able to coexist in peace.  Although I can't say I like Rev. Schneider's attitude.

Monday, June 17, 2024

The Builders of Invisible Walls: A Mexican Ghost Story

"Montana Record-Herald," September 24, 1900, via Newspapers.com

This somewhat unusual story about ghosts with a taste for spectral construction work originally appeared in the “Boston Herald” in 1900, but was reprinted in a number of different newspapers.  The author was F.R. Guernsey, an American living in Mexico who was a regular correspondent for the “Herald.”

For scores of years the old one-story stone house on the Street of the Seven Gentlemen in the city of Querendaro had remained in the possession of the Allendes, till, in the troublous times preceding General Diaz's coming into power, it had passed Into the hands of "Col." Marron, guerrilla leader against the French and imperialists, as he preferred to be known; but regarded by the "Mocho" party in the city as a bloody-handed robber and highwayman. 

How the "colonel" had become possessed of the house was something of a mystery. No deed was passed; the old owners, the family of Allende, most respectable people with haciendas and shares in mines. had been extinguished, there remaining, at last, only one old man, as deaf as a wall, to occupy the place. He disappeared one night, and the next day the "colonel" took possession with his "estado mayor” or staff, a desperate crew recruited among the sort of people who hang on the edges of every revolutionary cyclone. And as the "colonel" was a testy person whose hands were stained with powder, and something more doubtful, and as his enemies had a trick of vanishing, nobody in the city dared inquire Into the conditions of his tenure of the Allende property. He was a tall, wiry, sinewy man, with long brownish mustachios, eyes gray and full of fire, a harsh mouth, and an eagle's beak of a nose. Things were unsettled in the state and the "colonel" was much afield, usually in the sierra where, like a hawk, he watched the fertile plain below and swooped down on an unwary enemy. During the war of the Intervention, he commanded as many as 1,410 daredevils, and once had made a dash Into Querendaro, surprising and punishing awfully four thousand French soldiers, some of whom had seen African service, and all tough chaps. That exploit made the name of "Col." Marron famous. For a few days he was master of the city, and good imperialistic citizens were hiding in friendly houses, or getting away in the disguise of cotton-clad peons. A dozen or more were ranged against a wall out by the cemetery and shot for "enemies of the republic." It was said that the "colonel” did some extensive and profitable looting. Anyhow, he seemed, in after years, to have hidden treasure to resort to in case of any financial difficulty.

The Emperor Maximilian went to his doom, and, slowly, peace returned. The iron-handed Juarez ruled in the city of Mexico and finished the anti-clerical programme begun years before by President Comonfort. Friars and nuns were bundled out of the convents and monasteries, great properties, the result of centuries of church rule, were sold to speculative people for whatever they chose to pay, and thus the great leveler, revolution, redistributed accumulated wealth. It seems a natural sort of process; it happened in Henry's time in England; it has occurred In many lands at different epochs. President Juarez gave place to President Lerdo, who was a milder man and had less strenuous work to accomplish, and, finally, there loomed high in the political firmament of Mexico a soldier of genius and the ablest of them all. the great son of destiny, Porflrio Diaz. Lerdo was beaten, and, fleeing, left the country. Thus the dawn of modern Mexico began. A man with vast and Napoleonic plans had begun to build a new national edifice, a statesman who had no fear of American invasion, the friend of Grant and an encourager of railways. 

It was, as has been said, some two years before this restorer of order took Mexico in hand, that "Col." Marron became the de facto owner of the ancient city house of the Allendes. Querendaro was a long way from the federal capital; times were doubtful; he had been a power in his region, and had shown that he could raise troops and command them to good purpose, and so his predatory tastes had to be overlooked by men at the capital. It was no time to bother about a fighting gentleman's peccadilloes.

The occupancy of the old house by the guerrilla chieftain was characterized by prodigal expenditure, much cock fighting on Sunday afternoons, and high gaming. Awful tales were told of people inveigled there, who were tortured into sending letters to their friends in distant places demanding large sums of money for some unmentioned purpose. One party in the city said these were high players who had to send home for money to meet debts of honor, but the few Mochos, or Clerical party men, still alive, whispered that "Col." Marron was no Republican officer, but an out-and-out scoundrel. They only whispered this statement in the privacy of their own houses, and with the doors barred. But Marron carried himself with a high head; he rode abroad with his bodyguard of friends all armed to the teeth, and nobody liked to talk of his doings. He had become possessed of all the bakeries and meat shops of the city, leased them to enterprising north-country Spaniards, or to natives of a business turn of mind, and so had a comfortable monthly income of fully $2,000. Thus, with extra income derived from queer sources, he could live in the style becoming a gentleman and support his henchmen quite like an old-time feudal baron, and just as respectably. In fact, this type of strong, unscrupulous and resolute men paralleled, in the time spoken of, the followers of William the Conqueror: might makes right till lawyers and notaries come along with red sealing wax. much tape, and stiff parchments. You have got to begin somewhere and somehow. Families of the aristocracy begin like the Duke of Argyll’s race, by killing off troublesome property holders and seizing what they have. And, after all, it will be seen on due reflection that Colonel Marron’s manner of accumulating capital was not a whit worse than the exploiting of the general public by the modern kings of finance and the great speculative manipulators of Wall street. They have the men of the long robes to help them steer clear of the awkward points of the criminal code, and take little risk; Marron took big risks, spent his money, and poor people found him likeable. In fact, a numerous party in Querendaro would have mobbed you had you remarked that he was a red-handed villain. They were recipients or his bounty. 

The house was ample, like all old-fashioned Mexican houses, built on broad and generous principles, and suited to the patriarchal life of the people. Fifty guests could easily be accommodated there, and In the palmy days of the Allendes they entertained in baronial style. Marron, their successor, was lavish In his hospitality. Nobody outside of his following lived there: he was a woman hater, and allowed none of the gentler sex on the premises. His cooks were devoted followers. They would not be tempted to poison him.

No one exactly knows what went on in the house and its great gardens and enwalled orchards. There were "high jinks," much feasting, gambling and pistol practice, occasionally strangers, apparently well-to-do, went to the house, and popular rumor ran that they did not always come out again. The Marron tenure lasted from 1874 till 1890. Then the colonel, being old and worn with excitement, and, most of all, with high living, fell ill, and his spirit departed to unknown regions. The Mochos, who were unsympathetic, said he had gone to hell. But as he had merely lived as other able men had done in many periods in the world's history, and gave of his substances to the poor at all times, we may cherish the hope that he fared as well as any feudal baron. 

Don Nicolas Valdemoro, about fifty years old, was the next owner. How he arranged that little matter of the title I don't know. He probably satisfied, for a song, any legal heirs of the Allendes, and Marron's estate had passed into the hands of his only nephew. 

The Licenciado Valdemoro was from Puebla, and as keen as the Poblanos have always been reputed to be. A Philadelphia lawyer would have had to take his dust on the highway of professional competition. And he was hard-headed. He had come to Querendaro in 1888, two years before Marron died. He liked the place, and when the time came, bought it. His family consisted of his wife Elena and three children of between twelve and eighteen, two boys and a girl. He had perhaps ten servants, including the chief gardener, who had peons under him, and they don't count. 

People talked about Marron's uneasy ghost walking about the rooms at night without any regard to locked doors. Servants stayed but a few weeks as a rule, and went away with queer tales to tell. The licenciado grew nervous, and, finally taking a house a few blocks away, began tearing down the Allende-Marron casa. He confided to his friends that he had no fear of anything phantasmal, but his wife not being able to keep servants long, it seemed best to pull down the house and build a new one on its foundations, and then he would have something modern, with the up-to-date conveniences that women like so well. It was a year and a half before the Valdemoros went back to the place, into a house spick and span. brand new and smelling of fresh paint and paper, with a private electric-lighting plant and electric bells all over the house, which was of one story, like the old place. The parish priest blessed the premises and there was a grand fiesta and any amount of champagne. The ghosts were surely banished. They might walk in the orchards, said the licenciado, and much good would it do them.

And the ghosts did remain away until a year ago, when they came back in troops and with any amount of accumulated ingenuity. You would have said that it was “Colonel" Marron and all his desperado gang. The pride of the licenciado’s heart was his collection of oil paintings, many of them selected by him in Europe, and valued at many thousands of dollars. He liked to show them to his guests and expatiate on their merits. 

He had sometimes talked of having a portrait painted of "Colonel" Marron, as a sort of fit historical subject, and, perhaps, if he had carried out his purpose things might have gone better with him. But the Senora De Valdemoro objected, and put her plump Mexican foot on the project.

One morning the licenciado went into the big sala, or parlor, for some purpose and noted with Indignation that several paintings had been pulled from their frames and lay on the floor. He called up all the servants and read the riot act to them. They got down on their knees and assured el senor amo that they could not have been guilty of such vandalism. It was evident that they were sincere, and badly frightened into the bargain. 

A week after, the pictures having been duly restored to their frames, the same thing happened again, only this time several costly paintings had been ripped from the frames and slashed as with knives. Valdemoro was wroth and consulted the chief of police, who sent two trusty and confidential men to stay in the parlor nights. They remained on guard ten days, when one night they saw pictures falling from their frames and heard a smashing of mouldings which terrified them. They bolted into the patio and stayed there, yelling for the licenciado. who arose and went to the sala and saw things for himself. His hair stood up all over his head. He was a badly scared man. He swore rippling, gentle oaths in the Creole manner, too. It was plain that the supernatural visitors were no admirers of the fine arts. So the pictures were taken down, packed, and sent away for storage. The parish priest and his young assistants came and exorcised the demons, and things went well for a few months. Marron had never been addicted to the use of holy water.

One afternoon in summer a servant was sent from the family sitting room to the dining room for a glass of water; she came back and reported that midway in the big dining room somebody had built a wall and that she could not pass beyond It. Her face had grown singularly white and her knees shook. The senora went to the dining room and she, too, ran up against the invisible wall. Then she properly and decorously (as is customary under such circumstances) fainted dead away. When the licenciado, who was away from home, returned, he found his wife in a high fever and delirious. The servants told him what had happened, and he was naturally incredulous. He went to the dining room, but found no wall. Then he cursed them for a pack of imbeciles. But he was uneasy in his mind for all that. 

The next day he remained in the house, his wife still ill. Once he arose and went to his library to fetch a book, and just inside the library door he found a wall, solid, on which you could rap with your knuckles and hurt them. He had a queer feeling about the stomach and in the throat, and went back to his bedroom to reflect and collect his senses. Then he returned to the library and found the wall once more. It was a rough wall, he could tell by the touch, but he could not see it. He retired discomfited.

Next morning, he having said nothing about the matter, he went once again to the library and found no wall. He accused himself of being a victim of an hallucination. But his brain was dizzy and his nerves unstrung. 

The invisible builders were active for weeks; there were times when the dining room was obstructed, and always in the middle, across which a good stiff wall had been erected. Only no one could see it. Neighbors intimate with the Valdemoro family were called in, and they felt the wall and were wonderstruck. In an hour the wall had vanished, and for months the family could move about freely, but a few weeks ago, the house became again the scene of building operations. Valdemoro called in an architect, who made measurements, and finally submitted a plan; it was, in outline, a very good sketch of the old Allende-Marron house; the old walls were rising just as they had before. Jokers said that the dead-and-gone Allendes were recovering their property, of which they had been dispossessed. The Valdemoros moved out during such hours as the invisible builders made their walls passable. The house stands unoccupied; Valdemoro is puzzling over a nice legal question, namely, the right of ghostly owners to erect a house within your own. The descendants of the old Mocho families of the city are wagging their heads and saying, "I told you so." On some days, you can wander all over Licenciado Valdemoro's new house; on other days you run up against unseeable walls. 

The fame of the house is spreading beyond Querendaro. Some people say it is the work of the Allendes; most people fancy it is a trick of "Col." Marron and his henchmen. I don't pretend to know; I only put down the story as told by travelers from Querendaro. It is a psychical "nut" of the most unbreakable sort.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

It's time for the weekly Link Dump!

Just don't become a basket case over it.

What the hell is a "time-slip?"

The codebreaker and the boiled eggshells.

The last days of Alexander the Great.

The mystery of the thousand-year-old giant snake that pops up everywhere.

Pro tip: Don't wear clothes that scare the horses.

Henry VIII and Catherine Parr.

Vintage scandalous gossip.

Some ancient shipwrecks.

15th century Parliamentary elections.

Was Charles Darwin lactose intolerant?

Why we tell bees about a death.

Do plants have minds?

The Pokomoke Tragedy.

The letters of a young man in 18th century London.

Why a grey squirrel is really puzzling people.

On comforted widowers.

The murder spree committed by four sisters.

The first cocktail.

Elephants call each other by name.

The first RV.

The Coroner's Records for 18th century Bombay.

The earliest known record of Jesus' childhood.

The mysterious Singapore Stone.

The good side to feeling bad.

The days of dangerous dirigibles.

Promoting Early Modern travel.

A tour of Fulham Palace.

The 34 cats of Jack's Restaurant.

Georgian-era rings.

The people who survived the destruction of Pompeii.

The latest research into that classic hotspot for The Weird, Rennes-le-Ch√Ęteau.

A haunted dairy pit.

The first female helicopter rescue pilot.

An ancient pet cemetery.

An Irish UFO.

The search for telepathy.

A look at the "Silk Road."

In which we learn that Zimbabwe police are being attacked by goblins.

The waters at Bath really do have healing properties.

A royal wet nurse who went on to murder her children.

A lost Caribbean Utopia.

The life of Marguerite de Valois.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll meet some Mexican ghosts.  In the meantime, bring on the bagpipes!

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

“Mysterious face in a window” stories are surprisingly common.  Here is a good example from the “New York Daily Herald,” August 30, 1870:

Since the fall of the Pemberton Mills the city of Lawrence has known no such excitement as that produced on Saturday, the 20th instant, by the unaccountable appearance of a female's features in a light of glass in the window of a house on Broadway.

It appears that a few days previous to the discovery of the phenomenon an elderly lady, after a long and wearing sickness, had died. The day that on which the funeral occurred a lady who was visiting one of the tenants or the same house, in passing saw a figure in the attic window, which she instantly recognized as that of the deceased lady, and with great consternation communicated the fact to the other occupants of the building, and in a short time the entire neighborhood was made acquainted with the strange and exciting discovery.  The window of the room in which the woman had died was immediately under that in the attic, and was the usual sitting place of the deceased. Some supposed that by some means her face had become impressed upon the glass; but the fact that it was not in the room occupied by her, and in a room that was usually unoccupied, displaces all belief in this idea.

During the day and evening the story of a ghost on Broadway was widely circulated throughout the city, and early the next morning, which was the Sabbath, people commenced to gather about the ill-fated and haunted house, much to the annoyance of its inmates and immediate neighbors. None professed to believe a word of the wild story, and were only convinced upon an actual view with their own eyes. A sister of the deceased, hearing of the matter, visited the place, and pronounced the likeness to be that of her relative. The only members of the family are two small children. The excitement momentarily increased, as also did the crowd in the street, and by noon it was so great as to render the passage of the horse cars quite difficult.

The inmates tried various means to remove the image from the glass, but were unsuccessful, and, with a view to sending the crowds away, removed the sash to the rear of the building; but as a means of scattering the people it was only successful in drawing them away from the front of the building to the rear, where the face was seen to a still better advantage, though it seemed to have a somewhat different appearance. It was only when the sash had been removed and secreted in the house that the crowd began to disperse and wander back to their homes, each having an idea as to the cause of the singular vision and all agreeing that "there was something in it, anyway." Early on Monday morning another crowd gathered around the house, and Dr. Wm. D. Lamb, a prominent physician, obtained permission to remove the sash to his office, on Essex street.

Here it was placed in his window opening upon the main business street in the city, and every one could get a fine view from below. The window was examined by Intelligent and scientific men, and while some were of the opinion that it might be the result of the action of lightning, when some person had been sitting near, others thought this theory one of impossibility.  Of course the many superstitious were satisfied that it was the "ghost of the dear woman, and nothing more." There is one thing about it, at least, that seems strange, and that is the fact of no face or figure, to be seen in looking out from the inside. During the day an army of photographers, after several attempts, succeeded in getting a very good likeness of the sash and the face it contained.

No one can account for this strange phenomenon, but men who are practical and possessed of a good share of common sense conclude that it must be one of those curious defects that will sometimes appear in window glass. The strangest thing in its connection is that it was not discovered until after the death of an inmate of the house. Those who believe In the "spiritual"' are making the most of the circumstance, and, doubtless, there seldom occurs such instances upon which they can surely reach the partially superstitious mind. Ghost or not, there has nothing occurred in the city of Lawrence of this nature that has produced such wonderment since the well-remembered stories of various apparitions in connection with the fall of the Pemberton Mills.

[A side note: The Pemberton Mills was a large textile factory that, thanks to substandard construction, suddenly collapsed on January 10, 1860.  Several hundred workers were trapped in the rubble, killing about half of them instantly.  Small wonder the disaster attracted its share of ghost stories.]

Monday, June 10, 2024

"The Day I Died": The Puzzling Murder of Helen Tobolski

"Muncie Star-Press," March 24, 1975, via Newspapers.com

Helen Tobolski led such a quiet, anonymous life, she likely never dreamed that one day far in the future, a blogger of my peculiar bent would see her as prime post material.  She wed one John Tobolski in 1933, and after his death nearly 30 years later, she never remarried, or entered into any romantic relationships.  The couple had two children, one of whom died in infancy.  After John’s death, Helen needed a source of income, so she took a job as a custodian at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.  She was happy in her job, and was well-liked by all her coworkers and the University staff.

This humble, but pleasant routine went on smoothly for twelve years.  On the morning of March 22, 1975, 62-year-old Helen arrived for work at 7 a.m., and punched her time card.  (She always arrived an hour earlier than the rest of the cleaning crew, so she could qualify for overtime.)  Normally, no one else would be on campus at that time.  She collected her cleaning materials, and went to the University’s aerospace engineering building.

Two hours later, an engineering professor named Hugh Ackert went into the building.  As he headed for the machine shop, he was stopped in his tracks by the sight of Helen’s dead body sprawled across the hallway, surrounded by a pool of blood.  The autopsy later revealed that someone had shot her in the left ear at close range.  

Helen’s mop bucket was found at the north end of the hallway.  It was unused, suggesting that she had been shot very soon after entering the building.  The doors had been locked the previous night, but the door nearest to Helen’s body had been forced open, with a small window on the door broken.

The most obvious theory was that Helen’s unexpectedly early entrance into the building startled a prowler, who panicked and shot her.  The only things missing from the scene were several “personal items” removed from her purse, which could be seen as evidence for the “burglar” scenario.  However, there was nothing of value in the building other than large machinery and equipment, which would be impossible for anyone to carry away.  No one could see what might have possibly attracted a potential thief.

There was one very eerie touch to this murder.  In the classroom across from where Helen’s body was found, enigmatic words were found written on the blackboard: “2-21-75 the day I died.”  It remains unknown who wrote this message, or if it had anything to do with Helen’s death.

This murder is one of those particularly depressing cases where the investigation died practically at birth for a want of clues.  Police could find no one with the least animosity towards her, and if she was shot by a prowler, that person managed to disappear, leaving no trace behind of their identity.  After a handful of brief “Cleaning Lady Shot at Notre Dame” headlines, the mystery vanished permanently from public view, and the frustrated police were forced to move on to more explicable crimes.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to the first Link Dump of June 2024!

Wedding season is here!

The incubator baby kidnapping.

The first movie star.

In which a ghost turns matchmaker.  Sort of.

The child who was part human, part Neanderthal.

More evidence that if you should see a UFO, it might be wisest to shut up about it.

A hot 19th century musical instrument.  Really hot.

The mystery of Mount Everest's missing bodies.

A visit to a "medieval marvel."

The "Princess Alice" disaster.

Europe's "fraud of the century."

A new species of dinosaur has been discovered.

Syphilis, a part of the dark side of the Victorian Era.

Paging Graham Hancock: new evidence for a prehistoric comet.

When potash fueled the world.

The executioner of the Nuremberg Trials.

The secret gardens of Spitalfields.

An elopement in Newcastle.

When "pineapple cheese" was a fad.  For some reason.

Two parliamentary impeachments.

A composer's really embarrassing death.

A mother shoots her child's killer.

The travails of a blind orphan.

The Green Children of Woolpit: one of those historical mysteries we'll never solve.

A gruesome unsolved murder.

A fashionable 18th century hairdresser.

The Gaspe Massacre.

A Father's Day reunion.

The "phantom phaeton."

The earliest known carved horse.

A palace made of human blood.

The origins of the word "wuss."

Raffles, the world's most popular burglar.

Russia's Circassian princess.

Murder by bandage-removal.

The story behind a famous Renoir painting.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a remarkably puzzling murder.  In the meantime, here's some Tchaikovsky.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

It’s time for that ever-popular Fortean staple, the mysterious shower of rocks!  The “Abilene Reporter-News,” November 10, 1962:

BIG BEAR LAKE Calif. (AP) Pebbles from the sky--or someplace--have pelted a house without apparent explanation for four months.

Why? Nobody knows, the sheriff's office says. 

It was spooky for the W.M. Lowe family. They don't believe in goblins, but on Halloween night they gave up and moved out. 

“The rocks were falling from all directions" they reported. 

Ever since the Lowes moved into the one-story house in this Southern California mountain resort last June 15: About four times a week--at all hours of day and night--rocks up to four inches long have rained on the house and an area of about two city blocks around. So say sheriff's deputies, and Lowe, 44, a former Fullerton, Calif., real estate man. 

Sheriff’s investigators theorized that somebody had it in for the Lowes, who endured the mysterious barrages for a month before they sought help. 

But, say officials, they’ve found no pebble tossers, even though they've been Johnny-on-the-spot when: 

A rock dented the hood of a patrol car parked near the house. 

A rock whistled past Deputy Jack H. Cox's ear on Halloween night and hit the house. 

Two window panes in Lowe’s house have been broken, others cracked. Eight windows in a neighboring house were broken. One of the Lowes' five children was bruised by a missile from nowhere. 

Sometimes they come from bright blue sky, says Lowe, sometimes at 4 a.m., noon or midnight. 

Sum result of more than a score of trips by eight different men from the San Bernardino sheriff's office: "The sheriff’s office is investigating.'’ 

The sheriff doesn't believe in goblins, either. 

Lowe's own theory: "I think it might be the wind blowing off that rocky ridge a tenth of a mile away--the closest hill. I have seen pine needles streaming past at treetop level during when rocks fell.”

As far as I know, the mystery was never solved.

Monday, June 3, 2024

The Mystery of "Joe Piker"

Toft Hill, circa 1967

In February 1823, a young man moved into Toft Hill, a small mining and agricultural village in South Durham, England.  Although he boasted the impressive name of “Josiah Charles Stephenson,” the fact that he settled into a cottage adjoining a turnpike gate soon earned him the snappier nickname of “Joe Piker.”

Joe mined coal in the winter and did farm work in the summer.  He proved to be quite handy at both occupations, which enabled him to earn a comfortable living.  He offered no information about where he came from, or anything else about his prior life, but as he was a useful citizen who caused no trouble for anyone, his neighbors saw no reason to press him for information.  He kept himself as apart from his fellow workmen as possible, and while he made no friends, he made no enemies, either.

Within a year of his arrival in Toft Hill, Joe married Sally, a pretty, amiable servant maid at the village inn.  The couple never had children, but they were a notably devoted pair, entirely content with each other and their simple, humble little existence.  After his marriage, Joe abandoned mine work to support them by doing freelance work on the neighboring farms.  He became known as the fastest shearer of corn and grain in the area, so getting enough work to live on was never a problem.  All in all, he and Sally could be said to be among the most fortunate residents of the village.

This pleasant state of affairs lasted until Sally’s death about thirty years later.  This sad event marked the end of Joe’s happiness.  He was understandably devastated by the loss of the one person in the world he was close to, and vowed he would spend the rest of his days as a widower.  Given all that, it was a great surprise to the villagers when Joe remarried after just a year or so, to a woman whose name is unrecorded by history.

Unfortunately, Joe’s second marriage was as cursed as his first had been blessed.  The new Mrs. Stephenson was soon on such bad terms with her husband that within two weeks of the wedding, she left him for good.  The estranged wife told anyone who would listen stories about Joe that were considered impossible to credit, and as she already had a reputation for dishonesty, her allegations were ignored.

After the quick collapse of his remarriage, Joe became more reclusive than ever, with such a bitter antipathy towards women as a whole that he refused to let any female even enter his cottage.  Never known for his piety in the best of times, Joe soon became, in the vivid words of a local historian, “a most blasphemous old reprobate, whose profanity, excited by the most trivial annoyance, was truly blood-curdling.”

In his later years, on nights when he had too much gin at the village pub, Joe took to dropping hints about his past life.  He once told one of his very few friends that he hailed from Berwick-upon-Tweed, although he furiously rejected any suggestion that he return to his native land, or even communicate with anyone he knew there.  He occasionally muttered that when he eventually died, it would cause the greatest scandal Toft Hill had ever seen.  His listeners tolerantly dismissed such words as the drunken babblings of a bitter old man.

In November 1869, Joe became so ill that it was soon evident that he was dying.  A female neighbor with some experience as a nurse offered to look after him, but she was rewarded with such a torrent of abuse that she fled.  The miserable recluse died alone, which was clearly what he had wanted.

When it was clear Joe’s end had come, a couple of charitable women went to his cottage to prepare the body for burial.  As they prepared to wash the corpse...they suddenly stopped.  The women immediately summoned the village doctor.  And then the village constable.  Before long, Toft Hill was treated to news just as stunning as the dead man had promised:  “Joe Piker” was really a “Jane Doe.”

The rector of the local parish, W.B. Findlay, did his best to trace “Joe’s” true identity.  He learned one interesting story: in the winter of 1822-23--not long before Joe settled in Toft Hill--a young shepherd in Berwick-upon-Tweed jilted his sweetheart, after which, both suddenly and mysteriously disappeared for good.  It was speculated that “Joe” was this wronged girl, who murdered her faithless lover and fled, assuming both his clothing and his gender.  Unfortunately, no one was ever able to satisfactorily establish the identity of “Joe Piker.”  The corpse was buried in the parish church as “an unknown woman.”