Friday, September 19, 2014
Strange Company says, "Smile!"
You're on Candid Cat Camera.
Here's a snapshot of This Week in Weird:
What the hell are these deep sea mutant mushroom creatures? And how soon will it be before the horror movie music kicks in and we begin to regret having found them?
What the hell is hovering over Normandy?
What the hell is hovering over Budapest?
What the hell are the Mughal Celestial Spheres?
What the hell is going on in India?
What the hell is this Greek archaeological find? Alexander, is that you?
What the hell is hitching a ride on this comet?
Who the hell killed Charles Woodburn?
Watch out for those Deadly Double Dice!
Watch out for those haunted microwaves!
Watch out for the Kraken!
Watch out for Jack the Clipper!
Watch out for those hot sodas and clam punches!
Watch out for those Ed Wood short stories!
Watch out for the Lagarfljótsormurinn! Just typing the name is nearly enough to finish you off.
In which we learn that the Georgian Era spent a lot of time arguing about snuff.
The British pilot who had his own German fan club.
The Legend of the Dueling Poison Pills.
The Czech Spring-Heeled Jack who became a symbol of freedom.
Proof of dream telepathy?
More proof of dream telepathy?
More evidence indicating that people in a "vegetative state" are not as unaware as we think.
Arsenic, Cyanide, and Strychnine: Three of the things that made the Victorian Age great. In the minds of some of us, at least.
I'm sure I'm the only one who remembers this post I did last year about actress Adah Isaacs Menken. Anyway, I was rather pleased to come upon this ghost story involving one of her husbands, boxer John Heenan.
A possible clue to the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask.
"Her curses on you": An epistolary revenge!
A handy guide to alien abductions.
Hanging around with John Lee and Joseph Samuel.
Decoding the Martellus Map.
The Case of the Bewitched Pig, 1924.
Black magic in 1970s Northern Ireland.
"Lady's Maid": What we now call a "fashion consultant," but with lower pay.
Because every parent wants a little black magician around the house.
The book theft that killed an 18th century composer.
Okay, so it all started with Napoleon III combating a wizard infestation in Algeria...
And then things got weird.
Aw, kids are cute, aren't they?
Free booze, cute shoulders, and pie-selling: Bad reasons to marry.
Blog headline of the week: The Witch of Scrapfaggot Green.
Captain Belstead, popular crook.
In search of Antikythera.
King Silence: What it was like to be a deaf child in Victorian England.
Have you just failed an exam? Blame the polar bears!
How Confederate gunpowder led to some slightly NSFW limericks.
How actress Ellen Terry got really bugged out.
Excavating a Chinese grandma.
Your "Ouch!" story of the week.
Handy device for the little ones? Or medieval punishment? It's both!
More war veteran cats!
Just in time for Halloween: Why bother with investigating haunted houses when you can make ghosts in the privacy of your own home?
The goldfish probably made for more interesting viewing than the TV shows.
"Modern Seduction, Or Innocence Betrayed: Consisting Of Several Histories Of The Principal Magdalens, Received Into That Charity Since Its Establishment. Very Proper To Be Read By All Young Persons; As They Exhibit A Faithful Picture Of Those Arts Most Fatal To Youth And Innocence; And Of Those Miseries That Are The Never-Ending Consequences Of A Departure From Virtue," and more examples of the epic greatness of 18th century novels.
And, finally, say farewell to this week with the dimming of the day:
See you all next week, when I'll be looking at the toy ad that sparked a libel suit.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Being the well-known sentimentalist that I am, I thought it was about time for this blog to showcase a tale of True Love.
True Love Strange Company Style, that is.
From the "Evening Telegraph," December 29, 1909:
The very latest thing in mystical romance here on earth is an elopement of a married lady with a ghost.. The circumstances are vouched for, and the matter is of too serious import to be dismissed lightly. The story of the amorous ghost and the lady of his choice begins in the New World and ends in the Old with the arrival of a stern husband.
The lady is Mrs. Carrington, the wife of Mr. Hereward Carrington, and she has related to the American papers the story the weird runaway will-o'-the-wisp wanderings on the path of ghostly romance.
The importance of this strange, uncanny incident is emphasised by the fact that Mr Hereward Carrington was a member of the Special Committee of three of the Society for Psychical Research, consisting of the Hon. Everard Fielding (brother of the Earl of Denbigh and hon. secretary of the Society), Mr W. W. Baggallay, and himself.
They were appointed to investigate the psychic phenomena alleged to be produced through the notorious Italian medium Eusapia Palladino.
Mr. Carrington's spiritual orthodoxy may be realised by the fact that he is wholly satisfied with the genuineness of Eusapia's feats, although when the latter gave a seance at Cambridge before Prof. Sodgwick and Mr. Neville Maskelyne, the latter discovered that the lady was an acrobat rather than a medium.
It was claimed that psychical objects moved in her presence without contact.
Mr. Maskelyne discovered that her practice was to place her feet under the table and tip-tilt her chair back to its furthest limits.
Then, when two experimenters held the little finger and thumb respectively of one hand, under the impression that each had a little finger, she used her free hand to rattle tambourines behind her.
Mrs. Carrington claims to be the first woman to have eloped with a spirit, and now she proposes writing a book detailing the whole of her experiences with her spook sweetheart.
It was about thirteen months ago when her phantom lover made his first ardent vows to her.
The best description of the ecstatic moment is given by Mrs. Carrington herself:-
Unseen fingers crept over my shoulders and down my arms as I sat at the piano. As iron leaps and dances under the magnet, so I tingled with joy. Divine music poured out at my fingertips and flashed across the keys. Soft, sweet, intangible lips pressed against mine. I could hear swift breaths. It was my demon lover's first spirit kiss.
The "demon lover's" name, it. appeared later, was Kovery of Westmoreland. What "Westmoreland" this may be no one knows. There is at least one Westmoreland in America, and there may be another.
A savage land, holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover.
Although Mrs. Carrington has never seen her attendant wraith, she claims to have "sensed" him. That he must be a veritable Adonis among the Nothings one must surely be convinced, for with sparkling pen she describes him as having hair soft as flax, eyes sparkling like diamonds in the night, and his figure as tall, slim, and fair.
Conversation between the two was conducted by planchette (the ouija board of the Southern necromancers); and the spirit lover sent many passionate declarations by this means.
Here are a few of the flowers and sweets what may described as hot and strong protestations :—
"Helen is mine"
"It is Hell to love and leave you."
"Helen! Helen! My spirit is tortured for you. I love you! I love you! Why don't you respond? I am bound to another world, but would be happy did I not have to leave you."
The ghostly wooer signed his name with the ouija pencil as "Kovery of Westmoreland," and so hypnotic was his touch, so ardent and alluring his breathless whispers, that the lady ran away with him first to London, and finally to Naples.
There the amorous spook told her to study music; Mrs. Carrington is an accomplished pianist.
At the same time, by a strange and truly remarkable coincidence, a message came to Mrs. Carrington from her mother in the spirit world saying that she would be happier studying music than anything else.
It was just at this interesting juncture that Mr. Carrington, who was bent on studying the alleged phenomena of Eusapia Palladino, discovered his wife, and promptly commanded her to return home.
Whether the ghostly lover has dissolved himself in a flood bitter tears at this ending of his daring romance, or whether he still biding his time, faithful and ardent to the end, with a sort of Martin Harvey pessimistic optimism, who shall say?
Those who dabble in psychic mysteries in England are anxiously awaiting fuller details of this eerie romance.
[Note: Alas, I have been unable to discover any more about this unusual ménage à trois, but I fear these human/spook romances seldom turn out well.]
Monday, September 15, 2014
|Bella Wright, via Wikipedia|
The tiny English villages of Stoughton and Gaulby could have passed for the towns featured in "Midsomer Murders": Quiet, green, cozy, quintessentially British. And like Badger's Drift, Fletcher's Cross, Midsomer Magna, or those other locations in that peculiarly blood-drenched fictional county, these real-life towns once spawned their very own bizarre, utterly baffling death.
And unfortunately, there was no Chief Inspector Barnaby or Sergeant Troy to tell us at the end who killed Bella Wright.
Wright, a native of Stoughton, was twenty-one years old at the time of her death. She came from a poor family, and had had to work ever since she left school at the age of 12. She had a number of suitors--at least one of whom was fairly serious--and, from all we know of her, was an attractive, intelligent, self-sufficient young woman.
On July 5, 1919, she had a day off from her job at a rubber factory. She spent what would prove to be the last day of her life sleeping in and writing some letters. After bringing the letters to the post office, she returned home, and, at about 6:30 pm, set off again on her bike in order to visit her uncle in the nearby village of Gaulby. When she arrived, the uncle, George Measures, was with his son-in-law, James Evans. They saw that another cyclist, a young man, was accompanying her. When Wright came in, she commented casually that the man was "a perfect stranger," adding that he would probably be gone by the time she was ready to leave.
However, when she emerged from her uncle's cottage about an hour later, the man was still there. Measures and Evans heard him say, "Bella, you have been a long time. I thought you had gone the other way." Wright gave no sign of being concerned or displeased by the stranger's continued presence. The man chatted casually with Evans for a few minutes, and he then bicycled off with Wright.
Some forty minutes later, a farmer named Cowell was herding cattle along a small, secluded road about two miles away from Measures' home. He and his cows stumbled upon an appalling sight: The body of Bella Wright. Her head was bloody, and her bicycle lay sprawled on the ground. Her body was still warm, indicating that she had died only a short time earlier.
Cowell assumed she had died from an accidental fall. He placed the corpse on the side of the road, and sent for help. When a constable and a doctor arrived, they also assumed that they were dealing with nothing more than a tragic mishap. Although the road was lined with high hedges, there was a gate near the death scene, which led into an open meadow. This fact was given no significance at the time.
The next morning, the constable examined the spot where Wright died, and realized that her death was no accident: A .45 caliber bullet marked the spot where her bloody head had lain. A closer examination of the corpse revealed a bullet had passed through her head.
The policeman made another discovery that has sent crime historians into fits of confusion ever since: The nearby gate was marked with bloody claw tracks. There were also no less than twelve sets of blood-marked tracks leading back and forth from the site where Wright's body was found to the gate. A large black bird--it was never decided if it was a raven, a rook, or a carrion crow--was found in the nearby meadow, dead. The bird's stomach was full of blood, leading to the highly gruesome assumption that it had gorged itself on Wright's blood before dropping dead from overeating.
Measures and Evans gave police a detailed description of Wright's mysterious new friend, who was now the prime suspect in her murder. He was about in his mid-thirties, of medium height, and with greying hair and a high-pitched voice. The men also recalled that he rode a distinctive green bicycle.
Investigators hounded every green-bicycle-riding man in the county, but they were all able to prove that on the fatal night, they were nowhere near the scene of the crime. After six months of effort, Scotland Yard still had no idea who had killed Bella Wright, or why. The young woman's murder seemed fated to drift into the category of unsolved mysteries.
Then, in February 1920, it looked as if the case would finally be solved by a canal boat. It was passing down a river--bringing, ironically enough, coal to the factory where Bella Wright had been employed--when the towrope caught on something. A boatman saw that the "something" was a green bicycle. Fortunately, the boatman remembered the Wright mystery, causing him to drag the canal and haul the object up. When police came in to search the canal, they also found a revolver holster with some cartridges inside. Some of these cartridges resembled the bullet found near the murdered girl's body. The icy-cold Wright case was suddenly heating up very nicely.
The number plate and any other identifying marks had been sanded away from the bicycle. However, police found that whoever disposed of the machine had overlooked one small spot that gave the serial number. Through this number, they were able to determine that the bicycle had been sold to a Ronald Vivian Light.
When the police tracked Light down, they found a quiet, nondescript mathematics teacher in Cheltenham. He had been teaching at the school for only one month. His service in World War I had left him shell-shocked and somewhat deaf, which led to him being discharged in 1919, after which he went to live with his mother in Leicester. His teaching position was the first job since leaving the army.
When informed that his green bicycle had been found at the bottom of a canal, Light reacted in the stupidest way imaginable: He lied, fibbed, babbled, obfuscated, and generally radiated panic. According to Light, he had never owned a green bicycle. He had never been near Gaulby. And, most importantly, he had never once so much as laid eyes on Bella Wright.
The police countered Light's taradiddles by introducing him to Measures and Evans, who immediately identified him as the man they had seen with Bella just before her death. Two adolescent girls, Muriel Nunney and Valeria Caven, stated they had been bicycling in the general area of Wright's murder several hours before her death. They claimed to recognize Light as the man who had menacingly followed them around for a time, badly frightening them. And, of course there was the evidence of the bicycle and the cartridges. Light was quickly put under arrest.
At his trial, the prosecution case looked utterly damning, with the added cherry on the top of Light concealing evidence and then lying about it. How could the math teacher possibly escape the gallows?
There was one way: Light's lawyer, Sir Edward Marshall Hall. Hall was the Perry Mason of his day, a brilliant defense attorney gifted with an ability to present his case with great charm, oratorical skills, and histrionic ability. He was renowned for being able to talk rings around the most cast-iron prosecution cases and hypnotize juries into believing virtually anything. He was, in short, a very guilty-looking defendant's best friend.
Hall blandly informed the court that he was not denying that the bicycle was Light's. His client had also been riding with Wright on the night of her death. He had indeed been the man seen by Measures and Evans. There was, he explained with his usual imperturbable suavity, an explanation for everything.
In contrast to his previously shifty behavior, Light made an excellent appearance on the stand, appearing dignified and truthful. He stated that on the evening Wright died, he left home for a bicycle ride. He never saw the two girls, Muriel Nunney and Valeria Caven. As he was riding, he saw a girl standing at the side of the road examining her bicycle, and he stopped to offer assistance. He determined that her front wheel was merely somewhat wobbly. They rode off together, chatting amicably. The young woman told him that she was going to visit friends in Gaulby, but that would not take long. Light said he took that as an invitation for him to wait for her.
Light said that after Wright entered her uncle's cottage, he waited around for about ten minutes. When she failed to reappear, he decided to go back home, but noticed that one of his tires had gone flat. By the time he repaired his machine, he saw Wright was emerging from the cottage. He testified that he never addressed her as "Bella": He merely said, "Hello, you've been a long time."
They rode together for about ten minutes, until he had more trouble with his tire and had to stop and walk his bicycle the rest of the way home. The girl went on her way alone, and that was the last he saw of her. A couple of days later, he read in the paper of Wright's death. He realized she was the girl he had met bicycling, and that he himself was the suspect wanted for questioning. Light admitted that the thought of being mixed up in a murder investigation caused him to lose his head and behave very foolishly. He broke up his bicycle and threw it into the canal, along with his old revolver holster from the war. “I didn’t make up my mind deliberately not to come forward,” he explained sheepishly. “I was astounded and frightened at this unexpected thing. I kept on hesitating and, in the end, I drifted into doing nothing at all.”
Light told this story convincingly, and stuck to it during five hours of brutal cross-examination. When Hall questioned the two girls, Muriel and Valeria, he did such an expert job of shredding their credibility, suggesting that they had made up their story out of a desire for publicity, that by the end of the trial the judge advised the jury to disregard their testimony altogether. Hall also seriously damaged the assumption that the bullet found on the road was necessarily the one that had killed Bella Wright. He argued that the bullet found was so heavy, that if it had been used to shoot the victim, the exit wound would have utterly destroyed the back of her skull, particularly if it had been fired at close range. He suggested that she was killed accidentally, by someone hunting in the nearby field. And as for the bullet being the same caliber as the ones in Light's holster, so what? One could find millions of similar bullets all over England. Hall pointed out that absolutely no motive had been presented for Light to shoot Miss Wright. The two were strangers. There was no evidence of a quarrel, and the victim had not been sexually assaulted.
Hall also, as was his wont, went heavy on the melodrama. He emotionally reminded the jury of Light's war record, and how he had been shell-shocked due to his service to his country. The lawyer suggested that this earlier trauma had been responsible for Light's strange and suspicious behavior after Wright's murder. Hall pointed out that Light was the sole financial and emotional support for his widowed mother. What a cruel injustice it would be to put this poor, troubled, hard-working man in prison for a crime he so clearly did not commit.
By the time Hall finished speaking, the courtroom was left thinking the great victim in this case was the defendant, not Bella Wright.
After all the evidence had been presented, the jury deliberated for three hours before agreeing on a verdict of "Not guilty." Edward Marshall Hall had done it again.
After his acquittal, Light changed his name until the publicity died down, and in 1934, married a widow with three children. He lived an unremarkable existence until his death in 1975.
Of course, an acquittal is not always proof of innocence. Many students of this case still believe Ronald Light was Bella Wright's murderer. Many sinister things about the ostensibly respectable war veteran were unknown to his jury. When he was 17, he was expelled from school for "lifting a little girl's clothes over her head." As an adult, he tried to rape a 15-year-old girl, and admitted to "improper conduct" with a child of eight. One has to wonder if young Muriel Nunney and Valeria Caven were as fanciful as Edward Marshall Hall claimed.
In 1914, Light was fired from his job at a railway. He was suspected of setting fire to a cupboard and drawing sexually explicit graffiti in a bathroom. He lost a later job at a farm because he was believed to have set fire to some haystacks. While he was in the army, his father committed suicide, reportedly at least partly out of despair over his peculiar son.
On the other hand, it could be argued that even if Light was a pervert and a pyromaniac, that did not necessarily also make him the killer of Bella Wright. It is possible that his underhanded behavior after her death--hiding his bicycle, lying to the authorities--was simply out of fear that his sleazy past would become known and he would lose his teaching job.
But if he did not shoot the young woman, who did? And, no matter who killed her, what was the motive? Wright's death, in the words of one crime historian, retains "considerable claims to be regarded as the most fascinating murder mystery of the century."
And that's not counting the even weirder mystery of what killed that damn bird.
Friday, September 12, 2014
In which we see the entire spirit of this blog summed up in one vintage cat photo.
Let's start squinting at this week's links:
What the hell is hovering over Wisconsin?
What the hell is hovering over Malaysia?
What the hell is hovering over Argentina?
What the hell was hovering over Staten Island in 2001?
What the hell was the Shapira Deuteronomy?
What the hell are the Blue Picketts?
What the hell happened to the Franklin Expedition? It's looking like we've at least found some clues.
Watch out for those brothel-crashing, piano-playing philosophers!
If you're going to Yankee Stadium, watch out for stray bulls!
If you're going to an 18th century theater, watch out for Chinese Festivals!
A Roman Britain treasure hoard and the Colchester supermarket.
Because I cannot read the words "Tough Guy Christmas Pudding" without giggling like a maniac.
That is to say, giggling like a maniac even more than I usually do. Which is a frightening thought.
But I digress.
So, how old is Gunung Padang?
That time Einstein endorsed a psychic.
The world's sweetest weapon of mass destruction.
A look at the dark side of love in the Regency Era. Watch out for those Tattling Tabbies and sloppy neckcloths!
EsoterX: Hell's Travel Agent.
Why does this not really surprise me?
While we're on the subject of ancient Egypt, meet Tjat.
Patching yourself up.
Images of London at the time of Gladstone's funeral.
Meet Greg Krueger. I approve of Greg Krueger.
Well, here's my travel bucket list.
Has Jack the Ripper finally been identified? Uh...perhaps. And perhaps not. [Note: If you want more evidence showing just how--to put it most politely--questionable this "new evidence" is, go read through the forums on the Casebook: Jack the Ripper site and watch this "solution" get thoroughly demolished.]
Perhaps aliens are best off remaining...alien.
Feigning insanity in the Victorian Era.
I don't know if this house is haunted, but I can say you wouldn't get me near the place.
The tale of the Victorian Watercress Girl.
Looking for Atlantis...in Bolivia?!
In which we pay a visit to the Dead Letter Office. And if you're a regular reader of this blog, I think you know what that means.
In which we see a professor's Death Mask. And even if you're a regular reader of this blog, you can't even guess what that means.
Lord and Lady Campbell's Marriage From Hell had the predictable Divorce From Hell.
The saintly but sad Jeanne de Valois.
A sequel to last week's link about the equine hero Warrior: More animals who bravely served during WWI.
And, finally: Los Lobos reminds us that hey, it's Friday!
See you all on Monday, when I'll be looking at a classic English murder mystery.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
|Exeter Gazette, March 20, 1908|
This is the story of a rather novel wager. From the "Essex Newsman," June 13, 1908:
The man who is walking round the world, pushing a perambulator and wearing an iron mask, reached Chelmsford on the 6th inst.
Interviewed by a representative of the Essex County Chronicle, his story was this: —In a London club not a hundred miles from Pall Mall, an American millionaire wagered that I would not walk round the world, pushing a perambulator and wearing an iron mask, for 100,000 dollars, equalling, in English money, about £20,000. I accepted the challenge, and started according to the conditions (one of which, by the way, was that I could take as long I liked over the walk), from Trafalgar-square, at 10.30 a.m. on Jan. 1, 1908. I went via Woolwich, Chatham, Dover, Folkestone, etc., all along the south of the country, through the west country, and down the Midlands to the Eastern Counties. I am now going up the East Coast Scotland, thence to Ireland, and across to Canada. My only means of subsistence is the proceeds of selling post-card photographs of myself and perambulator. I am not allowed to accept anything save curios without paying for it, either in money or post cards. If a person offers me a glass of water I must pay for it. I usually give post cards in payment. If I don't fulfill the conditions I shall lose £5,000. I am accompanied by a friend, who sells the cards. The helmet weighs 41b. 5oz. and the perambulator 1cwt. 3lb.
In the pamphlet which the "Iron Mask" sells, describing what he has undertaken to do, it is mentioned that he was on the look out for a wife, and would open correspondence with any who would marry him. He received 31 answers from ladies, including three from titled ladies. He made his choice, and is now married happily. He has a caravan, with very fine appointments, in which he sleeps at nights, and where his wife lives.
The mysterious traveller testified to the kindness he had received from the police on his journey. He said it was his practice to get at each town the signature of the mayor or other responsible person, to certify that he had passed through that town. He showed our representative an exceedingly interesting book of autographs. He goes the stages at music-halls along the route, but receives no reward except that of selling his postcards in the auditorium. It was due to the fact that he had to lift his perambulator off from and on to stages so often that one of the springs broke, so he decided to have a new perambulator built for him. This was done at Portsmouth. To make it run more easily he had pneumatic cycle tyres put the wheels. Of course he is not limited to the number of prams that he may use. So long he is always wheeling one of not less than one cwt. in weight, he may have as many as he likes. He started wheeling the new perambulator at Romsey, Hants, February 27. When at Teignmouth he attracted such crowds that four policemen had to escort him to the Post-office to post his letters. The first time he had tea with a stranger was at Hastings. He had to have his meal behind a screen, it being fatal to him to be recognised.
The "Iron Mask" bewailed the fact that could not go to church, having always, course, to wear his helmet in public. But, he said, on his journey he had been to two meetings of the Salvation Army, and one at a Baptist Chapel at Launceston, the authorities in each case allowing him to enter their places of worship with his "hat" on.
He anticipates trouble in China, but hopes to get through the other countries without accident. He further informed our representative that he is not doing the walk for financial benefit, since he has an income of .£1,600 (which he is not allowed to touch during his walk), and that he intends to give the 100,000 dollars to charity.
He says he is in excellent health, and has put on several pounds in weight since he started from London.
He will have to pass a night at his home, and his great anxiety is that he may recognised there.
In taking leave of our representative he said: I am a great traveller, and have only been home for three months during the last eight years. I have no doubt that I am well-known you by repute, if you only knew who I was. People would be very surprised if they did know.
When I came across this story, I thought I detected a definite aroma of fish, so I set out to find more information about the neo-Man in the Iron Mask. After a few moments with Mr. Google, I came across these posts from the blog "The Big Retort":
Yup, it was all a hoax, and a rather seedy one, at that.
Still, one has to give Mr. Bensley high points for originality in his deviltry, right?
Monday, September 8, 2014
On the night of December 30, 1919, twenty-year-old Jeanne De Kay, daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur and socialite, left her residence at Jane Addams’ famous Chicago settlement home “Hull House,” and never returned.
The disappearance of a member of such a rich and prominent family set off a worldwide manhunt. The papers were full of the usual “sightings,” rumors, and theories ranging from the plausible to the lurid that are common to any high-profile mystery, but Jeanne remained nowhere to be found.
Finally, nearly four months later, her body was found in Lake Michigan, where it had been washed ashore by a gale, but the mystery of her fate remained unsettled. The frigid waters of the lake made it impossible to tell if she drowned immediately after her disappearance, or soon before she was discovered.
Although there were many unanswered questions surrounding her death, it was ruled a suicide. Jeanne De Kay had been a restless, unhappy young woman. She had absorbed her father’s socialist ideas, and felt a deep sense of guilt at her inherited wealth. As a way of grappling with these emotions, she had recently left home, hoping to live and work as a “normal girl.” At Hull House, she trained to be a social worker, while begging to do the most menial chores. It was suggested that this sudden immersion in a working-class life was too much of a “culture shock” for the formerly pampered young woman, and, unable to handle either her new life or the shame of admitting failure, she saw no way out but death.
Jeanne had other troubles. As a girl, she contracted smallpox, which left her face deeply scarred. She was said to have been neurotically obsessed with her plainness, a feeling that intensified painfully when a young man she loved chose to marry another woman. According to some friends, this left Jeanne convinced she was a disfigured outcast who would never find love and happiness.
Not everyone was persuaded by this solution to the mystery, and there are enough oddities surrounding the De Kay family to make this skepticism understandable.
Her father, John Wesley De Kay, was a peculiar man. As a youth, this Midwestern cattle rancher moved to Mexico, where he got into the meat-packing business. Thanks to a friendship he cultivated with President Diaz, he gained almost a complete monopoly of the Mexican meat industry, and became a millionaire many times over.
He had more on his mind than just sausage and steak, however. De Kay was full of eccentric political and social notions, and, as he also had literary ambitions, he set out to express them on the stage.
He was, to put it most kindly, ahead of his time. His 1910 play “Judas,” showcased the title character as a misunderstood hero. The storyline had Judas’ lover, Mary Magdalene, cheat on him with both Pontius Pilate and Jesus himself, causing Judas to betray his former friend to the Romans. The lead role of Judas was played by none other than Sarah Bernhardt.
It all went over about as well as you'd think. “Judas” played in New York for only one night, and was promptly banned everywhere else. De Kay followed this up with equally controversial books about economics, women’s rights, the labor movement, politics, and history, all from what was then a scandalously left-wing perspective. He also courted scandal by his “ill-reputed” business practices, most notably during World War I, when he entered into complex dealings with the French government in order to buy arms which he then shipped via a German steamer for the use of the Mexicans. (It was this deal that prompted the United States to invade Veracruz.) In 1915, the French sought his extradition on the charge of having defrauded the Belgian government in this munitions deal, and he thereafter made his home in Switzerland. (That is, he made his home there until a decade or so later, when the Swiss kicked him out for swindling a bank in Lucerne.) In 1914, a London bank sued him for fraud. In 1919, he was thrown out of Berlin for arranging the International Socialist Conference. In 1921, he was arrested in Budapest on the charge of "conspiring against the security of the state." In 1930, the Austrians arrested him for passing bad checks. By the time he died in 1938, it seemed that there was hardly a country in the world that had not labeled him as "an undesirable" for some reason or another. De Kay seems to have been a curious mix of capitalist robber baron, flamboyant fat-cat conspicuous consumer, socialist ideologue, international political intriguer, and habitual crook. Small wonder poor Jeanne grew up confused.
It is not particularly surprising that some people believed that De Kay’s many colorful activities had something to do with his daughter’s disappearance and death, especially since the family was very reluctant to allow the police to become involved. Was the young heiress the victim of a botched kidnapping for ransom? Was she murdered outright in revenge for some of her father’s shadier activities? Or did she kill herself due to fear of the central role John De Kay had played in the murky “plot and counter-plot” of Mexican politics? (There was another detail about the De Kays that might—or might not—be relevant. Two months after Jeanne disappeared, her uncle Henry De Kay was sentenced in the Federal Court to five years in State Prison for his participation in the wrecking of Providence R. I.’s Atlantic National Bank. When Jeanne disappeared, her father was unable to return to America to help in the search because of pending indictments stemming from his complicity with this same crime. This was quite a family.)
There were a couple of other facts about Jeanne's disappearance that led many to think there was more to her death than a simple suicide. For one, she left her room at Hull House carrying nothing but a purse containing two dollars and a toothbrush. If she was setting out to kill herself, her brother John Jr. pointed out, would she bring her toothbrush with her?
Immediately after Jeanne vanished, John Jr. remembered that during their recent voyage to America from Europe, Jeanne had become close to two Romanian women, a Mrs. Salter and her daughter. (Some newspapers stated these ladies may have been involved in crooked art deals, and at least one report suggested that Mrs. Salter’s husband was a secret agent.) When found in New York, the women denied knowing anything of Jeanne’s whereabouts. However, while the police were still looking for the Salters, they intercepted a cablegram John De Kay sent his son reading, “Very anxious. Jeanne confided in Romanian lady. Stop.”
What did John De Kay think his daughter had told these women? What was he so “anxious” about?
There were more head-scratchers involving cablegrams. One message to Hull House that was supposedly sent by John De Kay mentioned the “Romanian lady” and begged John Jr. to do everything possible to find his sister. It was dated on the same day that John Jr. sent word to his father in Switzerland of Jeanne’s disappearance. The elder De Kay would not have had time to get his son’s message before he sent this reply. So, who sent this cable, and why?
Another puzzle was a phone message Hull House received a couple of days after Jeanne vanished. It was from a woman saying there was no cause for worry; Jeanne was well and would return in a few days. No one ever discovered who left this message.
One newspaper, shortly after Jeanne’s body was discovered, wondered if “the answer to the riddle of unhappy little Jeanne De Kay’s fate will some day be found in a Mexican bandit camp or in the secret archives of some European government?”
It is a crackpot-sounding thought, to be sure. But, then, the crackpots are sometimes right.
Friday, September 5, 2014
Just another wild, wild weekend with the cats.
|via The Pet Historian|
And here come the links:
What the hell is flying around Pennsylvania?
What the hell was a 14th century English ewer doing in 19th century Ghana?
What the hell are the wandering stones of Death Valley? Case closed!...Maybe?
Who the hell were the Sumerians? Maybe...Case will be closed?
What the hell happened to Lenin's head?
What the hell is under Stonehenge?
Watch out for those radioactive boars!
Arizona is really cracking up!
The disappearance of the Marlborough and the Dunedin, or why your refrigerator is out to get you.
Honoring an equine war hero.
|Evening Telegraph, April 5, 1941|
When beer making turns deadly. A tale from that Golden Age of weird deaths, the Victorian Era.
Horatio Nelson speaks up for a murderer.
The Puritans struggle against the ever-present temptations of cheese, plums, and cereal.
Reasons to be cheerful: No matter how bad your teeth may be, at least you don't have syphilitic dentures.
The murder of Charles Walton: Death by embellishment?
I call this story, "Sheep finally getting a bit of their own back."
The fine art of nosegays.
Debunking the myth of scientific martyrdom.
Quote of the week: "Unable to dissolve his marriage, he decided to dissolve his wife."
A 19th century love letter. Written in code!
Anyone care to go worm-hunting in Iceland?
Honoring the memory of the famed Morrisania Mousers.
Honoring the memory of a village and its efforts to contain the Black Death.
Oh, and by the way, the Pacific Northwest is still sprouting severed feet.
The still-debatable execution of Sevier Lewis: Which brother do we believe?
And that's a wrap! See you on Monday, when I'll be looking at the sad and puzzling death of a young American heiress. In the meantime, here's We Five on my mind.