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

Monday, March 2, 2015

Goodwin Wharton, King of Fairyland

Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Fairies Dancing by William Blake


"Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence--whether much that is glorious--whether all that is profound--does not spring from disease of thought--from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in awakening, to find that they have been upon the verge of the great secret. In snatches, they learn something of the wisdom which is of good, and more of the mere knowledge which is of evil."
~Edgar Allan Poe, "Eleonora"

Being a younger son in a family of 17th century aristocrats was often not an easy lot. Goodwin Wharton was an ideal example of that. His older brother Thomas was promised all the family's income and estates, leaving Goodwin with no prospects and no practical way of earning his own keep. Worse yet, his father, Lord Wharton, made no secret of the fact that he much preferred his gregarious, dynamic elder son and heir to Thomas' more inward, decidedly oddball sibling.

Goodwin did his erratic best to find a place for himself in the world. In 1675, he patented a design for deep-sea diving equipment, as well as "new inventions for buoying up ships sunk in the sea," and "an ingenious design...for the squenching of public fires."  Another attempt to make his fortune failed when an "alchemist" hired to teach him to make gold instead took his money and ran.

Unsurprisingly, these visionary ventures failed to keep the wolf from the door. He then tried his hand at politics, that favorite last resort of a gentleman incapable of holding a normal job. He was elected an MP in 1680, but his career both began and ended with his maiden speech. It consisted of a bizarre rant against the Duke of York (later James II,) accusing him of everything from cowardice to starting the Great Fire of London. In one stroke, he managed to unite both the Court party and the opposition Whigs. Unfortunately, what united them was their conviction that Wharton was a jerk. Things were not going any better in his personal life. He had a quasi-affair with his sister-in-law Anne, (which, typically for Goodwin, never really got off the ground and ended badly.) Unsurprisingly, this liaison alienated him from both his father and his brother. He was, Goodwin wrote with rather endearing bemusement, "generally hated and slighted by my own relations."

In such desperate circumstances, it is not surprising that our hero sought out a fairy godmother or godfather. What is a bit unusual is that he did took the "fairy" part quite literally.

Wharton's Walk on the Weird Side began in the spring of 1683, when he met a fiftysomething "wise woman" named Mary Parish. She was not very successful at her profession, eking out only a bare living selling "charms" and dubious homemade medicines. For some reason, however, this third-rate witch made a great impression on Wharton. In fact, the story she spun for him would change the course of his life for good.

She told Wharton that although she was now poor, when she was a small child, her family had suddenly acquired a mysterious amount of money. She confided to her new friend the source of these strange riches: Her grandfather had discovered a pot of "fairy gold" in the woods at Northend. What's more, an inscription on the pot promised still more wealth to anyone who knew where to find it. One day young Mary, while searching the woods in search of this treasure, saw a group of fairies. After that, her family, in the hopes that she would expand upon these latent occult talents, sent her to an uncle, who taught her many healing and esoteric arts. Despite this promising start in life, she fell on hard times, and wound up in prison for debt.

While in Newgate, she became friends with a condemned man named George, who promised to become her guardian spirit after his execution. George, she sighed, fulfilled his promise, but alas! despite this otherworldly support and her own native gifts, the jealous machinations of the royal physician, Sir Thomas Williams, kept her in undeserved poverty and obscurity.

However, although the human world may have let her down, Mary had recently found allies in the land below. She explained that while walking through Hounslow Heath, she heard mystic bells ringing underground. She followed the music down into the kingdom of the fairies--the "Lowlands." While there, she visited the royal palace, where she ingratiated herself with no less than the King and Queen of Fairyland. With a little human help--say, someone of high birth, good social connections, and, of course, the ability to raise a little cash (here she stared meaningfully at Goodwin)--she would be able to obtain wealth and powers beyond the imaginings of mere humanity.

Mary told Goodwin all about the world of the Lowlands. The fairies were mortal, but capable of living for many centuries. Through their technological wizardry, they could appear and disappear at will, and change their size and appearance. She effortlessly spun him long, meticulously detailed accounts of these magical creatures--their customs, religion (Roman Catholic with some Jewish trimmings,) and history. She filled him in on the complex, and surprisingly bloody, rivalries at the royal court, complete with biographies of everyone who was anyone in the Lowlands. It all read like J.R.R. Tolkien meets "I, Claudius." Mary's stories were so colorful and spellbinding that Goodwin soon felt himself more immersed in the Lowlands than in his own relatively drab, dull little world. He believed every word she said, and was eager to communicate with these exciting, marvelous creatures.

Goodwin did not find any of this at all weird.

With Mary's spirit pal George acting as mediator, it was arranged that Penelope, Queen of the Fairies, would meet with Goodwin in his lodgings. Frustratingly for Wharton, he always seemed to be asleep when she arrived, and thus kept missing her visits. Annoying though this was, he was cheered when the messages she relayed to him via Mary and George took a new tone. Penelope announced that she wanted to marry Goodwin and make him king of the Lowlands. After this, when she would visit the sleeping Wharton in his rooms, she would--so he was told--make love to him, somehow without wakening him. She even became pregnant by him, but before long Goodwin was told the sad news that she had suffered a miscarriage.

Goodwin still did not find any of this weird.

Around this time, in a curious "as above, so below" parallel, Mary and Goodwin also became lovers. Although she was by now past the age of 60, Mary soon announced that she was carrying his child. After an appropriate number of months, she informed Goodwin that she had given birth to a boy named Peregrine, who had been given over to a nurse to raise. Goodwin never laid eyes on the child, but for the rest of his life, he unhesitatingly provided money for the boy's care. (Mary later produced--God knew how--a second son, Hezekiah.) Further good news came to him when he learned that Queen Penelope had named him as the new King of the Fairies. Young Peregrine would be his successor.

No, of course Goodwin did not find any of this weird.

Wharton and Mary did not let this spectral soap opera distract them from their real goal: Uncovering the hidden fairy gold of Northend. By late 1683, they had located the site of the treasure, but there was just one problem: The gold was protected by an evil spirit named Rumbonium. Fortunately, another, more benevolent spirit named Bromka tipped them off that Rumbonium took every Monday afternoon off, leaving the treasure unguarded during those hours.

Now, the problem was that the two partners were nearly out of money. Goodwin sought out a wealthy acquaintance, the former postmaster-general, John Wildman, and invited him to contribute to their little business scheme.

Whenever an old friend asks, "Can you lend me some money so I can dig up a fairy treasure?" most people, I imagine, react by slamming the door and calling the police. Wildman, however, thought it sounded like a sound investment, which seems to suggest that Goodwin's social circle was even stranger than the Lowlands. He gave Goodwin 300 guineas, with the promise of more if things looked promising.

So. One Monday afternoon in July 1684, the trio (quartet, if you count George, which we really should,) trooped through Northend to the treasure site. The good news was that Rumbonium was indeed absent. The bad news was that he had left some deputies in his place: Two menacing ghosts named Rismin and Osmindor, as well as a fearsome dragon, Accoron. Mary sighed that there was nothing for it but to conduct an exorcism. This was successful, but then Mary informed her partners that the treasure was just too large for the three of them to manage. She would have to hire some servants from Fairyland to haul it out from them. If Wildman would just give her an additional fifty guineas to pay them...

Wildman did not find any of this at all weird. He obediently handed over the money.

Mary obtained these fairy porters, but before they could get to work, Bromka informed her that the treasure was just, oops, well, gone. Taken by whom? And to where? Who knew?

Not to worry! Bromka assured them. He knew where they could find an even better treasure: The "Urim and Thummim," taken from the Temple of Jerusalem when it was sacked in 70 AD. It was now in the possession of a spirit named Ruben Pen Dennis, who was ready to hand it over to them--er, in about a week or so.

All right, then. A week later, the trio hiked back to the woods, only to have Bromka announce regretfully that they were just fifteen minutes too late. The Jerusalem treasures had also unaccountably vanished.

Oh, well.

Although Mary and Goodwin were undiscouraged, John Wildman became occupied with other matters. Always a busy, if rather inept, political plotter, he had become involved in the Monmouth Rebellion, and after its failure Wildman was forced to flee to the Continent. (Accompanying him was another player in the Rebellion, Goodwin's father, Lord Wharton.)

Up to this point, Goodwin's only contact with the angels, fairies, and spirits had been through Mary. In October 1684, he began to hear them speak to him personally. They had wonderful news. He learned that he, humble Goodwin Wharton, was destined to become the greatest ruler who ever lived. Throughout that winter, he became increasingly absorbed in these communications. He and Mary would sit in his candlelit lodgings, praying, listening, and marveling. (While hearing these spirit voices, Goodwin occasionally thought he saw Mary's lips move, but he dismissed such uneasy thoughts from his mind.) His faith was rewarded in the spring of 1685, when none other than God spoke to him--curiously enough, the Almighty's voice seemed to always come through doors or walls, and always when Mary was out of the room. It was at this time that Goodwin began to write his memoirs, intended as a message to his "son," Peregrine. He put down some half-a-million words in a manuscript relating his incredible experiences and the amazing destiny he faced. (This memoir now sits in the British Library, but is unpublished, and, alas, largely unread, which hardly seems like doing justice to God's Elect.)

It was around this time that, at long last, Goodwin began to feel things were getting weird.

He started to hear and see very strange things, even when Mary was nowhere in the vicinity. He would see flashes of sacred fire, encounter Christ on a rowboat in a local river, find himself attacked by Satan. He heard voices telling him that he was the "Solar King of the World," destined to turn earth into God's Kingdom.

With all this to occupy his mind, it is not surprising that the Lowlands began to pale in comparison. Mary told him of the death of his "wife" Queen Penelope, and the succession to the Fairy Throne by her sister Ursula. Although the new queen also wanted to marry Wharton, he rejected her advances. Ursula also died soon afterwards, leaving Goodwin Wharton the sole ruler of Fairyland. He paid little attention to his new honor. Now that God was speaking to him directly, Mary's channeling was no longer so important to him.

Besides, the new King of the Lowlands was about to become royal above ground, as well. God was now instructing Wharton to become lovers with Mary of Modena, the wife of James II. He was meant to father her child, who would then become King of England. Wharton followed the queen to Bath, where he arranged to meet her privately...but, oddly enough, she always failed to show up in person. When later in the year, it was announced that Queen Mary was expecting a child, Wharton immediately knew it was all a fraud. He, and he alone, was destined to make her pregnant. The Revolution of 1688 came as no surprise to him whatsoever.

Although he had no role in James' overthrow, it proved to be a lucky turn of events for Goodwin. The Wharton family's well-known support for the Whigs meant that when William of Orange took over, their loyalty (or, depending on how you look at it, disloyalty,) was well-rewarded. Goodwin's brother Thomas became one of the richest and most powerful men in the country.

And Goodwin--the ruler of Fairyland and Solar King of the World--was made one of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

Startling though this may be to anyone with knowledge of Goodwin's remarkable private life, it seemed like a perfectly normal turn of events to outsiders. In 1690, he had returned to Parliament, where, in contrast to his brief, disastrous previous attempt at a political career, he soon gained a reputation as an expert in military and financial issues. The former feckless ne'er-do-well impressed everyone as hard-working, serious, and learned. His fairy friends--still secretly with him every step of the way--were serving him well. One could hardly find a more solid, respectable figure.

Goodwin's life appeared to be moving towards a peaceful and prosperous close, but his uncharacteristic success was fated not to last. In 1698, he suffered a stroke which forced him to retire from public life. Then, in 1702, King William was replaced by Anne Stuart. Her Tory sympathies ensured that the once-powerful Whartons were in the descendant.

You may be surprised to learn (assuming that by this point in our tale you can be surprised by anything) that Goodwin was pleased by this turn in the political wheel. For some years, he had "known" that Anne cherished a hidden passion for him. One of his visions told him that she would marry him once her husband died. He was certain that before long, his destiny of becoming King of England would at last be realized.

In the meantime, however, he had to deal with the death of Mary Parish early in 1703. Although he had been playing solo, so to speak, on his visions for some time, Mary had been his closest friend and partner for twenty years. Although it is unquestionable that at first, she had seen him merely as yet another pigeon ripe for plucking, it arguably does them both a disservice to simply classify them as "con artist" and "victim." Mary had, in a deranged sort of way, brought fulfillment and purpose to his life. In the words of Wharton's biographer J. Kent Clark, Mary "constructed and described to him a dramatic world in which he had played the central role. She had made his life significant."

One could say that Goodwin had performed the same service for her.

After Mary's left the scene, Goodwin's "dramatic world" rather lost the plot. His subjects in the Lowlands failed to recognize him as their monarch. Queen Anne failed to reveal her love for him. Even Mary failed to keep her deathbed promise to visit him after her death. He lived quietly, but sadly, on his country estate until his death in October 1704.

The fairies didn't even bother to send condolences.

So, what to make of this unusual life story? The easiest and most obvious response is to simply dismiss Goodwin as a madman--someone who, in the words of the "Dictionary of National Biography," ranked "high in the annals of psychopathology."

This may be an oversimplification of a complex character. Although Wharton was undoubtedly a peculiar man, and trusting to a rather stunning degree, it must be remembered that he was a product of his time. An acceptance of fairies, spirits, demons, alchemy, and the like was hardly out-of-the-ordinary among his contemporaries. (Note that John Wildman, whom nobody regarded as mad, found Goodwin's tales of fairies and buried treasure entirely plausible.) Wharton's "spirit voices," could, in other circumstances, have led him to be regarded as a saint, rather than a lunatic. Seen in the context of the 17th century, Wharton's beliefs were no odder than anything shown on "Ancient Aliens."

There is also the fact that no one who knew Wharton, even in his disreputable younger days. seems to have regarded him as a nut. In his mature years, he was regarded as not just talented, but disciplined and responsible. It is, ironically enough, his own memoir that provides any evidence that he was anything more than just another dull politician.

Perhaps, in the end, it's best to simply say that Goodwin Wharton was one of those who dream by day.

[Note: My main source for this post was Jonathan Law's highly entertaining "The Whartons of Winchendon," a book that incidentally proves that Goodwin was among the more normal members of his family.]

Friday, February 27, 2015

Weekend Link Dump


Everyone needs to remember that spring is just around the corner.


Everyone.

Time to spring over to some links:

What the hell caused these places to vitrify?

What the hell is under Toronto?

Where the hell are the bones of John the Baptist?  Now we...maybe know?

How the hell old was this Chinese herbalist?

Watch out for those flesh-eating Icelandic elves!

Watch out for William Poulson's doctor!

Watch out for roofs that were built on the cheap!

Tennessee is really booming!

Russia is really sinking!

The oldest Norwegian.

A haunted castle in New Hampshire.

Church "plague graffiti" reveals an old family tragedy.

Dandy Jim and the body-snatchers.  I adore this story.

The housekeeper's ghost of Brumby Wood Hall.

A ghost keeps busy in the afterlife by inventing new choppers.  No, really.

Mapping the Piri Reis map.

Being king/queen of Scotland was not a recipe for a long and happy life.

Rachel Jackson, semi-First Lady.

A retirement home for cats.

This story cries out for an "Illustrated Police News" drawing.

A sad episode in the history of the Swan & Royal.

A blogger does some internet detective work and uncovers the saga of the Scientific Swindler.

In which we learn of the dangers of treasure-hunting with ghosts.

Defending John Dee.

2500 year-old brain surgery.

Mike, king of the Fire Dogs.

Danish fairy castles.

The unfunny lives of Victorian street clowns.

What did this spiritualist know about the Lincoln assassination and when did he know it?

A gorgeously enigmatic Portuguese palace.

Abandoned lighthouses and their eerie histories.

Yeah, I don't think this is going to end well.

Well, this is embarrassing for some people.

Photographing the 19th century East End.

The surprisingly lively home life of James Madison.

A good attempt to explain the seemingly inexplicable popularity of "Fifty Shades of Grey."

In a related topic, here's some flirtatious flagellation.

The man who tried to tame Dartmoor.

George Wheeler, bad brother-in-law.

The case of the bewitched cheese-maker.

The time everyone tried to make the "world's smartest woman" look dumb.

The Curiosities of Manchester College.

Swedish funeral candy!

A ghostly Jacobite army.

Avoiding disaster with some really cool cats.

And we're outta here! See you on Monday, when I'll be looking at the man who became king of Fairyland. In the meantime, here's Johnny Cash:


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Newspaper Clipping(s) of the Day

February 5, 1898


For me, one of the innumerable joys of the "Illustrated Police News" is that while they did report on a lot of women who were victims of the domestic abuse, robberies, natural disasters and 'orrible murders that were a staple of this august publication, they balanced this by depicting a remarkable number of kick-ass females who fought their own battles, took no prisoners, and generally raised hell.  No one who browses through the archives of this paper falls for the myth of Victorian female fragility for a second.  Call this post my little tribute to the ladies of the IPN.

As the above sketch so eloquently demonstrates, IPN woman did not take insults from men lightly.  The following image shows what happened when a drunk made offensive remarks to a lady cyclist who was "noted for her athletic powers":



Next, a woman's fiance breaks off their engagement with the insulting words that she was "one step above the street."  After that, he was one foot into the grave:

August 10, 1872


Birmingham lady caught her husband with another woman, and acted accordingly:

September 19, 1896


The "Chicago Times" published an article that Lydia Thompson of the Blonde Burlesque Troupe did not like.  She issued a rebuttal to the editor:





This policeman attempted to charge this woman with breaking the rules of a dog show.  He soon regretted the effort.

October 11, 1879

In the Victorian novels, a "traduced" woman cried, or fainted, or committed suicide.  Not the IPN lady:

September 9, 1899


Other insulted ladies scorned mere weapons and used the direct approach:

March 28, 1896

April 13, 1895

April 30, 1898

March 6, 1899


On a more civilized note, aggrieved women did not hesitate to settle their differences on the dueling field:

December 11, 1869
March 7, 1896

December 11, 1897

Even the nuns got into the true IPN spirit:

August 14, 1869


The ladies of the Illustrated Police News were life-savers!

December 4, 1869

February 28, 1874


The ladies of the Illustrated Police News were crime-fighters!

August 2, 1897


March 7, 1885

August 29, 1896

February 14, 1874

March 20, 1897

May 16, 1896

September 9, 1894


March 27, 1897



November 6, 1877

April 7, 1877

December 3, 1898
March 26, 1898
March 4, 1899



The ladies of the Illustrated Police News turned the tails on would-be murderers!

March 20, 1899

The ladies of the Illustrated Police News were expert marriage counselors!

August 31, 1878
August 5, 1899


The ladies of the Illustrated Police News wore whatever they damn well pleased!

September 5, 1896

The ladies of the Illustrated Police News liked to dance!

October 15, 1898



The ladies of the Illustrated Police News knew that sometimes the best man for a job is a woman!

January 14, 1899


And don't you even dream of getting between them and their cats!

October 1, 1870


In short, the ladies of the Illustrated Police News knew what they wanted, and didn't hesitate to get it.

April 9, 1898


How can you not love them?  Here's to you, ladies.  Long may you wave those horsewhips.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Baron of Arizona



In 1883, an aristocratic-looking man suddenly appeared in Phoenix, Arizona, and calmly announced that thanks to his possession of the Spanish titles of Baron de Arizonaca and Caballero de los Colorados, he owned the entire city and an area surrounding it that amounted to nearly eleven million acres. The territory included not only the state’s capital city, but the Silver King mine, a treasure in copper, gold, and silver ore, and, oh, yes, the right of way of the Southern Pacific Railway.

James Addison Reavis had just proclaimed himself the Baron of Arizona.

Reavis’ astonishing rise to fortune began when he was a soldier in the Confederate Army, when he accidentally discovered that he had a remarkable talent for forging passes of leave for himself and his friends. Having an intelligence and ambition to match this unexpected gift for criminality, he naturally began to think of exercising his abilities on a larger scale.

After his discharge from the army, he made his way to St. Louis, where he became a real estate agent. His skill in forgery came in handy, as it allowed him to “discover” property titles and other paperwork that served the interests of his clients.

In 1871, he met George Willing, who alleged he had bought a large Spanish land grant in Arizona from a Miguel Peralta, although his documentation was extremely shaky and informal. Reavis and Willing eventually formed a partnership to promote this claim. In 1874, Willing went to Prescott, Arizona to file his claim, but the very next morning, he died suddenly. The cause of his death was unknown, but—especially in the light of later events—many dark rumors spread about his convenient exit from the scene. Reavis eventually gained possession of Willing’s papers relating to the Peralta grant, got Willing’s widow to sell him her interest in the claim, and began to dream. If he was going to go to all the trouble of pressing Willing’s questionable grant, why not make it for something really worth owning?

Reavis concocted an eighteenth-century grandee, Miguel de Peralta, a leading ornament of the court of King Ferdinand of Spain, and a long list of Peralta ancestors and descendants. And then he gave them all a place in history. Literally. Incredible though it may seem, he managed to tour archives in places ranging from Mexico to Spain to Portugal, where he deposited for the benefit of skeptics his forged historical documents providing a legal record of the Peralta clan. Reavis then established his link to the Peraltas by concocting documentation that "proved" George Willing had, for a trifle, bought from Miguel Peralta—who just happened to be a direct descendant of the original Miguel de Peralta—the ownership of the enormous Peralta land grant that King Ferdinand had bestowed upon the family.

How could anyone doubt the truth of Reavis’ story? He had all the papers to prove it!

The new Baron brought his impressive stack of aged documents to the government’s surveyor general, along with a petition to be declared owner of the great Peralta grant. He also posted public notices all over Phoenix warning all the “trespassers” on his land to make acceptable financial settlements with him.

This caused, as one might imagine, a good deal of disquiet among the citizens of Arizona, and a positive panic in the board rooms of the Southern Pacific, the Silver King mine, and all the other companies within the new Peralta empire. The businessmen screamed for their lawyers, who painstakingly examined Reavis’ documentation and announced in no uncertain terms that…Reavis had them over a barrel. They advised their clients that the easiest way to deal with the interloper was to settle with Reavis as quickly and inexpensively as they could. The Southern Pacific gave him $50,000, the Silver King $25,000. Meanwhile, Reavis began negotiating with the federal government a settlement of a cool $25 million. The new Baron radiated such self-assurance that he was able to secure the financial and moral support of some of the most important men of his day, such as Robert G. Ingersoll, the San Francisco millionaire John W. Mackay, Charles Crocker, and Senator Roscoe Conkling.

Reavis decided to cement his claim to the grant by linking his lot with someone he could pass off as the real Peralta heir. He found a suitable candidate in a young house servant, Sophia Treadway. He informed the girl that she was no penniless orphan, but heiress to a large fortune in Arizona, and, after concocting the necessary documentation that rechristened her “Doña Sophia Michaela Maso Reavis y Peralta de la Córdoba,” married her.

The Baroness of Arizona

The new Baroness must have felt like Cinderella on the big party night. Reavis bought her a suitably aristocratic wardrobe and saw to it that a convent school taught her how to be a great lady. He changed his name to Don James Addison de Peralta-Reavis, and asserted a secondary claim on his Arizona land on behalf of his wife and children, the true blood kin of the once-mighty Peraltas.

Reavis began living less like a Baron and more like a feudal king. He formed lumber and mining companies and began developing his new empire. The citizens of a good chunk of Arizona—who were now essentially his serfs—paid him in return for quitclaim deeds to what they once thought were their properties. Many others simply abandoned their homes and properties rather than fight what was being presented as an unassailable claim. If the Southern Pacific caved in to this man, what chance did these humble individuals have? At Reavis' peak, he was pulling in some $300,000 a year. He owned mansions in St. Louis, Washington D. C., Madrid, and Mexico. His wife and sons dressed in the style of Spanish royalty.

It is difficult to believe that Reavis, deep down, thought this could last forever, but his empire, amazingly, was allowed to flourish until 1890, when the surveyor general finally completed his investigation into Reavis’ claims. In short, he stated flatly that Reavis had sold everyone a pup.

Reavis responded by filing a lawsuit against the government for damages and continued on his merry way until the next year, when the U.S. Court of Private Land Grant Claims was established. Practically their first order of business was to take a very, very close look at the Baron of Arizona. Their agents followed the trail of documents Reavis had deposited from California to Spain, and subjected them all to expert forensic examination. They soon realized that they were looking at the most ingenious, audacious, extensive, and beautifully crafted fakes any of them had ever witnessed.

Unfortunately for the Baron, by the time his claim came up for review before the Land Grant Court in January of 1895, he had spent all his new-found fortune as fast as it came in. He did not even have money left for legal representation. The government had no problem whatsoever proving that Reavis was a forger on a truly epic scale, with the imagination of the most prolific novelist. As one of the Land Grant investigators later put it, “In all the annals of crime there is no parallel. This monstrous edifice of forgery, perjury, and subornation was the work of one man. No plan was ever more ingeniously devised; none ever carried out with greater patience, industry, skill, and effrontery.”

It all makes one wonder what Reavis could have accomplished in the world if he hadn’t been such a dyed-in-the-wool skunk.

The “wholly fictitious and fraudulent” Peralta claim was dismissed, and Reavis then found himself facing criminal charges of forgery and conspiracy to defraud the government. The ex-Baron was inevitably found guilty and sentenced to two years in jail, which frankly seems like a light sentence considering the incredible havoc he had caused.

The ex-Baron turned jailbird.

After his release, Reavis made efforts to launch new development plans for Arizona, but unsurprisingly failed to find any backers.  As he was apparently unable to imagine any way to make an honest dollar, this once-dynamic con man quickly slid into complete poverty. His wife divorced him in 1902 on the grounds of nonsupport.

Reavis died in a poor house in Denver, Colorado, on November 20, 1914. According to some reports, he consoled himself during his last years by haunting public libraries, where he could read old newspaper stories about himself and relive the days when he was heir to one of America’s richest land grants.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Weekend Link Dump


Strange Company is issuing a public safety warning: Dressing a cat in frilly nightgowns usually carries the most dreadful safety hazards.


Safety hazards for the humans involved, of course.

Let's examine--very carefully--this week's links:

What the hell is going on with Russian snow?

What the hell is one to do with Hitler's birthplace?

Who the hell was the Spanish Forger?

What the hell are these Amazonian geoglyphs?

What the hell did Bridget Sullivan know about the Borden murders?

Watch out for the Hawkhurst Smuggling Gang!

Watch out for ghostly goats and demon sheep!

Watch out for those parallel worlds!

I for one thing the world needs more canine saints.

We're more Neanderthal than we like to think.

The sister of John Wilkes Booth.

An odd reincarnation story.

How bad actors and rotten fruit became the perfect team.

Picturing Picts.

How magic challenges the concept of free will.

When the 18th century honeymoon is definitely over.

I'd go a little further and suggest we're just one big computer virus.

Witchcraft in the north of England.

The use of fumigation to cure venereal disease.

More don't-try-this-at-home vintage cosmetics.

A minister interviews his wife's ghost.

How to eat like an ancient Roman.

The first New Orleans Mardi Gras.

A real-life Artful Dodger.

Catching Napoleon.

A Rothschild lands in hot water, 1883.

Kaspar Hauser meets the Adjustment Bureau.

Susan Picotte, pioneering physician.

The dangers of 19th century London streets.

Ghost riots and doppelgangers.

A story of lost love, ghosts, and a famous hotel.

Scotland's Golden Age of grave-robbing.

This abandoned pet cemetery with a dark history is as sad a sight as can be imagined.  (That headstone for "Taiger"...)

Don't even think about it.

The haunted Willard Library.

Broken-hearted, ladies?  Get a dog.

And, finally:  Need a change from reading about weird history?  How about some weird fiction, courtesy of R.A. Lafferty?

And there you have it for this edition of links.  See you on Monday, with the tale of one of the most astonishing con jobs in American history.  In the meantime, here's some Haydn:


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Clipping of the Day



History has recorded several instances where a criminal sentenced to hang happened to survive his/her execution. Well, I'll see your "Half-Hanged Mary," "Half-Hanged Smith," "Half-Hanged McNaghten," etc., and raise you one John Bartendale, who was not only half-hanged, but half-buried.

The following account of the Zombie Piper comes from the "Criminal Chronology of York Castle" (1867):

In the reign of King Charles I., and on the 27th day of March, 1634, John Bartendale was executed on the York gallows, without Micklegate Bar, for felony. When he had hung three-quarters of an hour, he was cut down and buried near the place of execution. A short time after, a gentleman of the ancient family of the Vavasours, of Hesselwood, while riding by, thought he saw the earth move, upon which, ordering his man to alight, and dismounting from his own horse, both of them charitably assisted to throw off the mould, and to help the buried convict from his grave. He was then conveyed again to York Castle, and through the intercession of his deliverer, at the next Assizes, he obtained a reprieve. When the case was brought a second time before the judge, who seemed amazed at so signal a Providence, the resurrectionist obtained a free and full pardon. Bartendale was a piper, or strolling musician, and is noticed by Drunken Barnaby in his Book of Travels into the northern parts. Paraphrased from the Latin, it runs thus :—

"Here a piper apprehended,
Was found guilty and suspended;
Being led to fatal gallows,
Boys did cry, 'Where is thy bellows?
Ever must thou cease thy tuning.'
Answered he, 'For all your cunning,
You may fail in your prediction.'
Which did happen without fiction,
For, cut down and quick interred,
Earth rejected what was buried;
Half alive or dead he rises,
Got a pardon next assizes,
And in York continued blowing,
Yet a sense of goodness showing."

After this wonderful deliverance the poor follow turned hostler, and lived honestly afterwards. On being asked to describe his feelings and sensations while undergoing the process of hanging and entering the trap-door of death, he replied, that when he was turned off, flashes of fire seemed to dart into his eyes, from which he fell into a state of darkness and insensibility.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Stratford Haunting

In 1849, former Philadelphian Rev. Eliakim Phelps moved his family into a beautiful new home: a three-story Greek-revival style mansion on a quiet street in the peaceful town of Stratford, Connecticut.

This was Phelps' "second family," so to speak. Three years earlier, at the age of 59, the reverend, who was a widower, married for the second time.  His bride was Sarah Nicholson, a much younger widow with three children: 16-year-old Anna, 11-year-old Henry, and a six-year-old daughter. This marriage produced a son, who was a toddler when the family moved to Stratford.

There are some hints that the Phelps household was not an entirely happy one. The second Mrs. Phelps was frequently unwell, and apparently deeply disliked Stratford and most of the people in it. The eldest child, Anna, shared her mother's delicate health and unhappy disposition. And young Henry was still in mourning for his dead father, and probably had yet to fully accept the man who had replaced him. However, no family is without its tensions and problems, and there is nothing in the record to suggest that the Phelpses had any difficulties out of the ordinary.

What was slightly unusual about Rev. Phelps was his interest in the then-fashionable topic of spiritualism. He was fascinated by mesmerism and clairvoyance, to the point where he had even tried hypnotizing some of his family. On March 4, 1850, he and a friend decided, as a whim, to try their hands at a seance. The two men were convinced they heard a few mysterious rappings, but they failed to get any other results. Phelps shrugged and dismissed the incident from his mind.



However, some later wondered if Phelps had unwittingly opened a spiritual door that should have remained firmly closed and locked.

The family's life in Stratford was uneventful until the morning of March 10, 1850. It was a Sunday, and their maid had the day off, so the Phelps home was empty while the family was at church. Before they left the house, the reverend had made sure all the doors and windows were locked. He carried the only set of keys in his pocket.

Considering these safety precautions, one can't blame the family for being shocked when they returned home to find the front door wide open.

They entered the house to find a scene of utter riot. During the relatively short time they had been gone, someone or something had thrown around the furniture, smashed the china, hurled books and clothing all over the floor. It was as if a tornado had struck. At first, they assumed they were the victims of unusually maniacal burglars, but they were puzzled to find that nothing was missing. Valuables such as watches and silver had been hurled about like confetti, but not stolen.

The family's understandable puzzlement and unease turned to cold horror when they went upstairs. In one of the bedrooms, the mysterious intruders had spread a sheet on the bed. On this sheet was spread one of Mrs. Phelps' nightgowns and a chemise, with stockings placed at the bottom to give the impression of legs. The arms of the gown were folded over the chest, as if it was a corpse formally placed in a coffin. Baffling symbols were written on the bedroom wall.

Ordinary housebreaking or vandalism is frightening, but comprehensible. But how on earth does one react to something like this?

When it was time for the household to return to church for afternoon services, Rev. Phelps stayed behind. He had a loaded pistol in his hand, just waiting to give the miscreants a proper greeting should they return. He didn't hear a sound, but while patrolling the house, he found another surprise, this one even more unsettling than the first.

Seated in the dining room was a group of eleven shockingly realistic-looking dummies, created by stuffing some of the Phelps family's clothing with rags and other materials. The mannequins were bent over several open Bibles, and appeared to be worshiping a small demonic figure that was dangling by a cord in the middle of the room. It was a grotesque, mocking parody of a prayer meeting.

Who was responsible for this eerie tableau? How did they construct it in such a brief amount of time? And, perhaps most importantly, why did they do it?

That Sunday was just the first act of the Phelps family's nightmare. Although all the rooms in the house were closely watched, these ghoulish dummies kept reappearing every few days, in rooms where nobody--nobody human, at any rate--could possibly have entered. The "New Haven Journal" marveled that the figures "were constructed and arranged...by no visible power." Loud poundings and rappings, made by no visible cause, were heard every night. The pianoforte would play when no one was in the room. The increasingly terrified family heard ghostly voices, sometimes quietly murmuring, at other times loudly shrieking. China spontaneously broke and windows shattered. Heavy tables would suddenly rear up on one or two legs. Silverware levitated. Objects began mysteriously flying around the house, seemingly under their own power. One morning, when the family was having breakfast, a potato dropped from out of nowhere and landed with a crash on the table. The mysterious persecutors had a fixation on turnips--surely, one would think, the most unspiritual of vegetables. The turnips began suddenly materializing out of nowhere, often with strange symbols carved on them. Perhaps the oddest event of all took place when the family saw a "vegetable growth" suddenly rise up from one of the carpets. It flashed more symbols at them before it abruptly vanished.

There were many witnesses to these strange occurrences. They described the objects as traveling through the air almost in slow-motion. Sometimes they landed with a hard bang, at other times they came to rest gently. Sometimes they changed direction in mid-flight. Rationalists assumed that there was some sort of "normal" explanation for what they were seeing--that someone was pulling an elaborate practical joke--but they could not even guess how it was done. The family was closely scrutinized, making it impossible that any of them could have caused the phenomena. Austin Phelps, an adult son of the reverend's from his first marriage, later wrote, "That the facts were real, a thousand witnesses testified. That they were inexplicable by any known principles of science was equally clear to all who saw and heard them, who were qualified to judge. Experts in science went to Stratford in triumphant expectation, and came away in dogged silence, convinced of nothing, yet solving nothing." Phelps became convinced that they were being targeted by demons, and it must be said that no one was able to offer a better explanation.

The spectral tormentors began to show an ominously violent tendency. Anna Phelps found herself pinched and slapped by invisible hands. One night, while she was sleeping, a pillow was pressed over her face and a cord was tied tightly around her neck, nearly choking her. Little Henry received even worse treatment. His bed was set on fire. His clothing would be suddenly torn from his body. Once, while out driving with Rev. Phelps, the boy was suddenly pelted with stones. A family friend saw him carried across a room by some invisible force and thrown onto the floor. The spirits--or whatever they were--took to kidnapping Henry. He would suddenly disappear, to later be found tied up and hanging from a tree outside the house, or in a hay mound, unconscious, or bound and gagged in a closet. After these events, he never had any memory of what had happened to him.

The entities were oddly communicative. Papers began to drop down from nowhere, with creepily cryptic messages on them. The family began receiving letters--nearly a hundred of them--purporting to be from now-deceased people the Phelpses had known in Philadelphia. On one occasion, a woman visiting the Phelps household jokingly asked the "spirits" to write a letter for her to send to a friend in Philadelphia. Almost immediately, a paper floated down to her reading, "Dear Mary, I have just time to write and tell you that I am well. Give my love to Miss K. and her uncle. Also Mrs. and Mr. D. Also to Sarah. Good-bye."

The note was signed, "H.P. Devil."

One of the cryptic "spirit messages."


It was becoming increasingly apparent that the disruptions largely centered around young Henry, a theory that received confirmation from a curious, and possibly highly significant incident. One day, he told his mother that the night before, he was awakened from sleep by a being dressed in white. The figure told him, "Be not afraid, my son; I am your father." The being gave him a silver watch, telling him to wear it "for my sake." Mrs. Phelps tried to brush the story off, telling her son that it was only a dream.

But was it? As it happened, Henry's father had left him a valuable silver watch. It was kept locked in a drawer, to which the boy had no access. After Henry had this conversation with his mother, she unlocked the drawer, and confirmed the watch was still there. She relocked the drawer, putting the key in her pocket. Soon after that, the boy came in from the yard carrying this same watch. He explained that his father had reappeared, and again put this watch in his hand.

Reverend Phelps finally decided there was nothing for it but to hold another seance. If the first one had somehow accidentally summoned these demonic beings, perhaps a second one could persuade them to leave. This resulted in one of the weirdest "spirit communication" on record. Through a series of rappings, the "thing" identified itself as a damned soul, forced to spend eternal torment for its sins. In life, it explained, it had been a law clerk who had done some work for the Phelps family. The clerk had committed a fraud against the family, which led to him being sent to Hell.

Phelps asked sympathetically if there was anything he could do.

Yes, the spirit replied. It wanted a piece of pumpkin pie. And a glass of gin.

When asked why it was tormenting the family, the spirit replied in true satanic fashion, "For fun."

Later, Phelps checked with the law office where the spirit claimed to have worked. It turned out there had been some fraud, but of an amount "not sufficiently large to warrant prosecution."

Prosecution on this side of the grave, at least.

After months of this ghostly warfare, the Phelps family raised the white flag of surrender. They resolved to move back to Philadelphia, and hope their unwanted houseguests would remain where they were. Soon after the family came to this decision, another message floated down on the reverend's desk. It read, "How soon do the family expect to go to Pennsylvania? I wish to make some arrangements before they go. Please answer in writing."

"About the first of October," Phelps wrote back.

He was as good as his word. On October 2, 1850, the family left Stratford. They spent the winter in Philadelphia without incident, and when they returned in the following March, they were greatly relived to find that their demon companions seemed to be getting bored with their "fun." A few days after their return, they heard a slight rapping as they sat at the dinner table. They determinedly ignored it. A few more of the cryptic characters appeared from time to time, but the Phelpses did their best to take no notice of those, either. They received a rapping "communication" from a "spirit" who claimed to be a deceased daughter of the reverend's. When Phelps asked the "spirits" if their harassment of the family would continue, he received a series of raps which spelled out, "Be not afraid that they will trouble you more/Though we have not quitted Connecticut shore." A second message said, "Evil one has gone, and better one has come." The ghostly manifestations gradually subsided, until by December 1851, they finally ceased for good. The Phelpses were able to live a blessedly dull and commonplace existence in the home until they sold it in 1859.

The formerly haunted mansion was eventually turned into a convalescent home. There were occasional reports of ghostly rappings and voices, but nothing like the full-scale Weird reported by the Phelps family. The home was eventually abandoned until it finally burned down in 1972. The site is today a parking lot.

And as for the explanation of what the Phelpses experienced in 1850?  Was it all a hoax, perpetrated for God knows what reason either by someone in the family or an outsider?  Or was it something genuinely Fortean?

Your theory is as good as anyone's.