"...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, August 28, 2015

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Association of Cave-Dwelling Cats.

What the hell happened in Cherry Creek 50 years ago?

What the hell are fairy circles?

What the hell are these ancient grooves?

What the hell are these ancient petroglyphs?

What the hell is the Kaaba Stone?

Who the hell killed Katie Hood?

Who the hell was the Monster of Florence?

Watch out for the Beast of Gevaudan!

Watch out for the Killer Hellhound of France!

Watch out for the Bird Woman!

Interesting question:  Who is the earliest person in history whose name we know?  And was this person a Sumerian accountant?

One of the strangest mass murderers in history.

Why monsters make the best sales pitches.

One of my favorite weird little mysteries:  The coffined dolls of Arthur's Seat.

When E.T. is an animal.

When a ghost is a mammoth.

The many ghosts of Mary Queen of Scots.

Tips for being a successful medieval heretic.

Is this the first child hero in English literature?

It stands to reason that H.P. Lovecraft would have a weird afterlife.

A Mayan-like temple in Java.

That time when H.H. Holmes was deemed "an honorable gentleman."

That time when robins were considered xenophobic.

That time when Ohio had a volcano.

That time when a science class went insane.

The mysterious Fetter Lane hoard.

Istanbul's history gets in the way of Istanbul's history.

Yes, I'd take it.

Lynching the Sydney Ducks.

Finding the Madonna in the Moon.

The pros and cons of the crinoline.

One of the most notorious muckraking magazines.

Prostitution during the Regency.

A busy Georgian era executioner.

The "other Afghanistan."

More proof that the ancients were smarter than we think.

That time an outer space lady shut off a radio station.

A distinguished presidential dog.

Better late than never.

"Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind/Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned..."

The dubious blessings of being an Elvis clone.

A blog documenting retracted scientific papers.

The colorful career of an American actress who became a German silent film superstar.

Everything you've ever wanted to know about George Washington's bedpan.

Before there was Madame Tussaud, there was Mrs. Salmon.

A beautiful Victorian cemetery.

An inefficient French spymaster.

And, finally, this wonderful Edward Gorey gif:

So, at last we come to the end of this week's links.  See you on Monday, when I'll be presenting one of the Victorian era's strangest accused murderesses.  In the meantime, here's something from my favorite Beatle.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

A while back, I posted a story about an English family whose peace was disturbed by a "Watcher." Here is a similar, but arguably even weirder story out of Nebraska. It comes from the "Fayette County Leader" for July 12, 1917:

Monday afternoon Ossian's marshal and mayor and A.F. Dessel were summoned to the Anton Mecker home, three miles south of town. On arriving there they were told that some one had entered the house on the previous Saturday, while the family were in the garden, and took Mr. Becker's watch chain, his daughter Edith's necklace, and some money, all of which, including $1.00 were found later within ten rods of the house. A ham was also stolen from the cellar, it is believed. The incident was discussed by the family and nothing more was said about it until Sunday morning, when one of the children picked up a scrap of paper in the yard, in which was wrapped $1.00, and on the paper was written the following:

"I will be in your cellar some other day. So I leave $1.00."

Monday morning another note was found, on which was written:

"Did you take that $1.00? If so, bring it back inside of an hour or I will be in your house and show you."

Following the finding of the first note on Monday morning, Mr. Becker's boy shot two woodpeckers, and a little later the following note was found:

"I heard you shoot. I will face you soon."

The finding of this note frightened the family and they rang up the mayor's office, who with marshal and A.F. Dessel, motored to the farm. On leaving the farm this note was found:

"Heard you ring and I'll be gone for today."

The next read as follows:

"I seen all you did. The mayor is gone. I'll face you in ten minutes."

The fifth note read:

"You needn't watch for me. I come tonight."

The sixth note read as follows:

"I will be at the Fred Gerleman home tonight, so you needn't sit up. I'll show him if he is going to stick up to you. I'll stick his house on fire tonight and make him pay $1.00."

Fred Gerleman is a neighbor of Mr. Becker's and was active in Mr. Becker's behalf. The finding of the note naturally caused him a great anxiety, and it is needless to say that Fred did not sleep any that night. The house was not burned.

No other writings have since been found. The mystery remains to be solved, and this afternoon Sheriff Ellingson was called out. What his opinion is we do not know.

The matter has become serious and has caused Mrs. Becker to become ill. Both the Becker and Gerleman families are very much excited over the matter.

This is the only article I have been able to find about this story, so I cannot say if it was ever resolved.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Captain King and the Golden Needle

Joseph McPherson was an Englishman who lived in Egypt as a British security chief from 1904 until his death in 1946.  In 1983, his letters were published under the title of "Bimbashi McPherson: A Life in Egypt." In one of these letters, McPherson briefly described the illness and death of a Captain King. It is one of the eeriest deaths I have ever read about. McPherson's description reads more like a passage in a Victorian Gothic novel than anything from real life.

McPherson stated that early in 1918, King was found on a seat in Cairo's Esbekieh Gardens, "in a semi-somnolent condition, as though drugged or bewitched...The doctors found no lesions, no indication of a blow, no trace of poisoning, nothing to account for his condition, which persisted, and aggravated. He was in no pain, and all his faculties were normal, except that he seemed unable to rouse himself, or to take the least interest in people or things around him." When spoken to, King merely stared blankly and said, "She scratched my eye with a golden needle, and gave me second sight."

McPherson wrote, "Time brought no improvement, and after many days, he became feverish and delirious, repeating the above words, and those only, innumerable times.

"One night he beckoned his nurse to his bedside, and said impressively and in a confidential tone: 'She scratched my eye--she scratched my eye, with a golden needle, a golden needle, and gave me second sight--and gave me second sight--and gave me...'"

Those were the last words King ever said. Soon after this, he died.

McPherson described how he discussed King's baffling end with a Colonel Russell. Neither man had ever heard of any Eastern custom or superstition that could account for what had happened. Russell told him that King's autopsy had failed to explain why he died. However, photos of the body showed a "mark like a scratch" on the corner of one eye.

McPherson made efforts to investigate the mystery. He visited "clairvoyants, alchemists, spiritualists, Druzes, Chaldeans, Persians, weird people from all sorts of weird places, but never elicited the smallest explanation." His inquiries about King's life and associates showed him to be a "normal, pleasant, sporting officer, a moderate drinker, never suspected of drugs, not unduly interested, as far as his friends could judge, in hypnotism, spiritualism, or occult matters. He had a rather conspicuous weakness for women, especially 'Gyppy girls,' as his officer friends dubbed them; and he had been seen, several times recently, driving in his dogcart with a lady in eastern attire--young and beautiful as far as her gauzy white yashmak allowed those who saw her to judge. He had taken a lot of chaff about this 'camarade,' good humoredly, but without taking anyone into his confidence."

McPherson tried to trace this woman, but was unable to find anything more about her. He sighed that "neither I nor, as far as I know, anyone has obtained the smallest clue to King's mysterious illness and death."

It's safe to say no one ever will.

[Note: Many, many thanks to John Bellen for bringing this unjustly obscure slice of The Weird to my attention.]

Friday, August 21, 2015

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is once again sponsored by the Literary Cats of California.

What the hell is ball lightning?

What the hell is at the center of the earth?

What the hell happened to these circus animals?

Watch out for the Monster of Cheat River!

The strange 18th century grave of a witch.

The weird tale of the airplane and the time slip.

Leisure time during the Regency period.

New York's crack early 20th century canine unit.

Solving the mystery of an 18th century naval disaster.

Because they can?

The ancient Egyptians took their prenups really seriously.

An 18th century father/daughter relationship.

Honoring a hero of archaeology who was murdered by monsters.

Tonton, the ferocious dog inherited by Horace Walpole.

The pirate and the frontier con artist.

Exploring Tibet's first civilization.

A wonderfully preserved 1st century Russian grave.

The bigamist who got away with it.

Be careful how you stare into a person's eyes.

A beautiful overgrown East End cemetery.

A delightful little blast from the past:  self-deprecating notes written on vintage photographs.

The vanishing laird.

Bad behavior at a fake orphanage.

Some reports of 19th century "wild men."

Yesterday was World Mosquito Day!

A prince hunts down a sea serpent.

The hoodoos of a motorman.

The extremely creepy deaths of the Jamison family.

The case of the 1,200 year old telephone.

The ruins of an ancient English church.

A gruesome 19th century murder that went strangely uninvestigated.

And all I'll say is that the world needs more Sheep Theater.

That's a wrap!  See you on Monday, when I'll be looking at a sinister, mysterious death in early 20th century Egypt.  In the meantime, hey, hey, we're the Monkees!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The elephant is not always in the living room.  She can sometimes be found in the kitchen!

 The "New York Times," February 22, 1891:
Hermann Reiche of 147 East Fifty-seventh Street is a dealer in wild animals. He does a large business as an importer of elephants, tigers, snakes, and other features of menageries. Last April he brought from Ceylon to his establishment up town a very intelligent young elephant, four years old, which he christened Fanchon. The animal soon manifested an unusual degree of intelligence and such an adventurous disposition that Mr. Reiche concluded to educate her as a trick elephant. His man, George Brown, became her tutor. Brown cares for the animals, and lives, with his wife and three children, in apartments over the stables.

Fanchon became proficient in bicycle riding, walking on pegs, dancing on a stool, and like elephantine accomplishments. She was soon to be shipped to Paris. She had developed no fault, except an overweening curiosity. Up to yesterday, however, this had led her into no serious escapades.

Fanchon's diet consists entirely of a porridge of barley, wheat, and oats, which is cooked for her regularly three times a day in the kitchen above the stable. Her luncheon hour is noon, and when the stable clock strikes twelve Fanchon elevates her trunk and blows a trumpet call for food.

Yesterday morning Mr. Reiche and Keeper Brown went out together to purchase horses, and they did not get back until long after the noon hour. Fanchon tooted at 12. There was no response. Five minutes passed and no porridge came. Fanchon's patience gave out, and slipping her foot strap she set out for the kitchen to investigate. From the stable to the kitchen above is a long, wide, and steep stairway with over thirty steps and a turn. The animal--she weighs three tons--began the ascent to the kitchen. Mrs. Brown heard a familiar snorting in the hallway. 

Running to the door she was amazed to see the elephant poking her way into the kitchen. Mrs. Brown's little girl baby was asleep in the kitchen, and the mother was terrified. She darted through a side door, seized her child, and slamming all the doors ran down stairs and into the street shrieking "Fire!" A policeman came up on a run, but when he heard the story he was at a loss to know how Fanchon was to be "run in." The news of the elephant's doings spread, and in a few minutes 500 persons were in front of the menagerie. Just when the excitement was highest the kitchen window was pushed up and Fanchon dropped her curling trunk out through the opening and peered mischievously down at the gaping crowd.

In the midst of the confusion Reiche and Brown appeared. Brown found that the elephant had been playing havoc with whatever was in range in the kitchen. Pots, kettles, and pans, flour, vegetables, and cooking utensils were scattered, the result of Fanchon's search for porridge.

The problem now was to get the unwieldy creature down. Descent by the stairs would be unsafe, for Fanchon's ballast is so placed that she would be apt to roll end over end to the bottom. The only feasible method was to build a substantial gangplank from the kitchen window to the high iron fence next to the walk, and then, with a gradual slope, to the ground. That will involve work all day to-day. To-morrow the question will arise, Will Fanchon consent to squeeze through the window and try the descent? The experiment will be watched by hundreds.

Last night Fanchon was provided with a bed in Mr. Brown's upper hallway. She appeared to be contented.

After five carpenters worked three days to build a toboggan slide, Fanchon was gently urged out of her kitchen--not without some reluctance on her part, as she had made herself exceedingly comfortable there--and New York's free show was finally over. And hopefully, all those humans learned a much-needed lesson about the importance of timely elephant lunches.

I was unable to learn about Fanchon's subsequent career, but I hope she went on to live a long, happy, and well-fed life.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Ghost of Wizard's Clip

One of America's earliest recorded poltergeist cases took place in a West Virginia village called Middleway, but ever since, the town has become best known, for reasons that will become apparent, as "Wizard's Clip." The most lengthy account of the case comes from the memoirs of Demetrius Galletzen, a Catholic priest who witnessed much of the phenomena first-hand, and was said to have been permanently unnerved by them.

Our story opens around the year 1790, when a Pennsylvania farmer named Adam Livingston moved to Middleway, acquiring a handsome house and some seventy acres of land. He brought with him his wife and seven children. Livingston had a sterling reputation as honest, hard-working, and hospitable.

Life was uneventful until around 1794. According to legend, a traveling stranger--whose name is lost to history--took lodgings at Livingston's farm. Unfortunately, soon after his arrival, the boarder fell seriously ill. Feeling death approaching, he confided to Livingston that he was a Catholic, and begged him to summon a priest.

For all Livingston's virtues, he was also, unfortunately, a religious bigot. As a fervent Lutheran, he could not countenance the idea of a "Papist" under his roof, and sternly denied the man's last request. His lodger died without the comfort of his religion.

Whether this story of the Catholic boarder is true or not, something happened to cause all hell to break loose at the Livingston farm. It began with the sound of horses galloping madly around the home. When Livingston went outside to investigate, he saw nothing.

But the sound continued.

A few days later, his barn mysteriously burned to the ground, killing all his cattle. Invisible hands threw all the crockery in the house to the ground, smashing them into pieces. Money kept in the house vanished. Someone--or something--decapitated his turkeys and chickens. Chunks of burning wood would suddenly fly out of the fireplace, necessitating constant vigilance lest they burn the house down. Then came the Ghost Scissors. Although nothing could be seen, the sound of large shears could be heard in the house, leaving blankets, clothing, shoes, curtains, etc., full of holes in the shape of half-moons and other odd designs.

As word spread of these inexplicable happenings, the Livingston farm inevitably became the leading local tourist attraction. Some lookyloos got a more interactive visit than they had planned. One lady from a neighboring town took care to put her new silk cap into her pocket before she entered the home, to save it from being clipped.

Angry ghosts aren't foiled that easily. When the visitor exited the house, she took her cap out from its hiding place, only to find that it had been slashed into ribbons.

Three young men who had openly scoffed at reports of the phantom got Livingston's permission to spend the night in his house. They'd show everyone there were no such things as ghosts!

No sooner had they settled in for the night when in front of their eyes a large stone flew out of the fireplace and spun madly around like a top.

That was enough for the three bold skeptics. They fled the house, never to return.

Livingston was not sleeping, not eating, and his mind was so tormented by these spectral shenanigans that his health began to fail. In desperation, he went to three different professional "conjurors," who proved to be no match for the spooks. He then approached his minister, Rev. Christian Streit, for assistance. Streit did a bit of buck-passing, offering the unhelpful words that the power to exorcise malevolent spirits "existed only in olden times, but was done away now." An Episcopalian minister tried his hand at dealing with the ghost, only to be "famously abused by the spirit," who tossed his prayer book into a chamber pot. A Methodist minister had rocks thrown at him.

Soon after this latest failure, Livingston had an unusually vivid dream. He saw himself climbing a high mountain. It was a hard, dangerous climb. When he finally reached the summit, he saw a man dressed in robes, and heard a voice saying, "This is the man who can relieve you." He believed this robed figure was a Roman Catholic priest.

The next morning, he made inquiries, hoping to track down the man in his vision. His search led him to a neighboring Catholic family, the McSherrys. They in turn introduced him to their priest, Father Dennis Cahill. Livingston immediately recognized him as the man in his dream. At first, Father Cahill laughed, saying that the "supernatural" activity must be the work of mischievous neighbors. However, Livingston's distress was so compelling, Cahill was finally persuaded to go to the harassed man's home and investigate the matter for himself. He found Livingston's story corroborated not just by his family, but by the many townspeople who had seen the odd phenomena for themselves. Cahill sprinkled the farm with holy water, which appeared to enable the ghost to rest in peace.

For a while, at least. After a brief period of quiet--presumably, even poltergeists have to take a vacation from time to time--the otherworldly pest returned, as troublesome as before.

At this point, Father Gallitzin entered the picture, trying an exorcism of his own. He heard "the rattling and rumbling as of innumerable wagons..." which so terrified him, he fled. Cahill, who was of a more "truculent" nature, was brought back for another try. He celebrated a mass in the home, and the clipping, stone-throwing, and other paranormal abuses finally ceased. In his grateful relief, Livingston converted to Catholicism. (His wife Mary Ann, however, was considerably less enthusiastic about changing religion. She sardonically referred to herself as "Judas." )

This was far from the end of the story. Livingston's conversion just brought the family a different sort of spiritual nagging, which, while of a more benign variety, was probably just as irritating. Every night, the household was visited by a blinding white light, along with a voice that took it upon itself to give the family instructions in Catholicism. No one ever learned the identity of this "voice," although it claimed that it had once been a living person. The voice emphasized the need to pray for those trapped in Purgatory. The screams of these damned souls were heard regularly by the family. The spirit also foretold the future, giving Mrs. Livingston the cheery news that she was destined for Hell if she did not fully embrace Catholicism.

The family's uninvited spiritual leader was an authoritarian sort. It once shattered a mirror as a way of chastising the supposed vanity of the women of the household. On another occasion, it made a priest's horse invisible, preventing him from reaching the bedside of a dying woman to give her absolution. The voice said this was to teach a lesson about repenting at the last minute. After a while, the voice was joined by a visible spirit, a barefoot, ragged young man who told them, "I am going to my father, and I have come to you to teach you the way to him." He spent a few days lecturing the Livingstons about the intricacies of Catholic doctrine, and giving bloodcurdling reports about all the souls who were tortured by eternal hellfire for following the teachings of Luther and Calvin. (These words were evidently directed to Mrs. Livingston in particular.) He then vanished.

In 1809, Livingston sold his farm and moved back to Pennsylvania. The "spirit" apparently declined to follow him, and was heard of no more.

[Note: In September 1798, Mary Ann Livingston sent a letter to the "Potomak Guardian," where she gave her own version of events. She wrote, "I now take the liberty of stating to the Public, that the trouble still remains in the Livingston family, at times, in a greater or less degree, in despite of Priestly art. Whatever it is, it is wonderful and unaccountable, to the most penetrating mind. But what is most unhappy for me, it, aided by Priestcraft, has been the means of secluding me from the business of my family, the embraces of an affectionate husband, and fixed me as the object of public contempt. However, it is finally thought, if Priests and Spirits could frighten me to relinquish my claim to my lawful thirds of Adam Livingston's estate, the Public ear would be no longer thus amused, but this I leave for time to prove." In 1802, Mrs. Livingston did give up her control over the property, but we do not know why. It was among the 34 acres of land her husband deeded to the Catholic Church. The area is now known as Priest Field Pastoral Center.

Unfortunately, we know no more about this matter, but it does put an even more sinister spin on our story.]

Friday, August 14, 2015

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is proud to be sponsored by the Literary Cats of California.

What the hell is this "underwater Stonehenge?"

What the hell is this "Russian Stonehenge?"

What the hell is written on this medieval sword?

What the hell are these ancient Hebrew inscriptions?

Why the hell did Neanderthals have such large eyes?

Who the hell invented ice cream?

Who the hell are the Girls On the Negatives?

Who the hell was the Monster With 21 Faces?

Where the hell is Nefertiti's tomb?

Where the hell is the Roanoke colony?

Watch out for Restaurant X!

Watch out for poison gardens!

Watch out for Witching Spiders!

Watch out for Toast Water!

An amusing Victorian urban legend.

Modern-day alchemy.

A poltergeist case from the mid-1990s.

Advice for retired Indian Army soldiers.

Well, all righty.

Pondering those mysterious bog bodies.

We have met the alien, and it is an octopus.

The "Wizard of Graphology."

Magicians vs. Hitler.

We have seen the future, and, as you can probably guess, it ain't pretty.

The Victorian era's most famous spiritualist.

Two notorious breach-of-promise cases.

The sad tale of Napoleon's widower swan.

How electricity was seen in the 1890s.

Robert Louis Stevenson visits California.

The early history of smallpox vaccination.

A woman who was framed for witchcraft.

White slavery in Pennsylvania.

The case of the Magdeburg Rocket.

The case of the 9,000 year old monolith.

The case of the Murderous Mummy.

The case of the missing Everest expedition.

A photograph of 1839 London.

A roundup of 19th century wild men.

Strange stories involving "phantom limbs."

The wild talents of a blind girl.

A look at Weird Cambridge.

The autobiographical manuscripts of a 19th century French farm servant.

The first Afghan war.

Has Spring-heeled Jack moved to Argentina?

This touching post reflects exactly how I feel about every pet I've lost during my life.  (And Tungsten sounds so much like my late, great Lucy, it's kind of eerie.)

Do some people live identical lives?

Investigating Rita of Rollright.

Don't let any good witchcraft go to waste!

Remembering a past life as a snake.

Rufus W. Griswold slept here.

George III's "amiable" daughter.

The story of England's first cat show.

And, finally, some wonderful film footage of San Francisco, made just before the 1906 earthquake.

That's all for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll be talking 18th century poltergeists. In the meantime, here's the finale to one of my favorite productions of "Fidelio."