"...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, May 25, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by this celebrity feline who landed a high-paying gig acting as
Ann-Margret's wig.

That ever-popular mystery:  Who the hell were the Green Children of Woolpit?

Another ever-popular mystery:  When the hell did Hitler die?  Surprise, surprise!

What the hell are the Oregon Mystery Shrieks?

What the hell are these carved Neolithic balls?

Watch out for those Prague windows!

Watch out for the Saurian monster!

The evolution of "Beauty and the Beast."

That time when drinking coffee was a capital offense.

A reporter's experiences attending executions.

Tip for the day:  Never pack your sword without the scabbard!  (And, no, that's not meant to be a euphemism for anything.  Get out of here.)

The supernatural creatures of Norway.

You've heard of those old warnings about how masturbation can make you blind?  Well, one guy managed to top that.

Amelia and her bloomers.

Romance and murder in 19th century France.

18th century tips on managing servants.

19th century French funeral etiquette.

Ancient Egyptians brewed pretty good beer.  And then drank it with straws.

While we're barhopping, here's Portugal's wine of the dead.

Joseph Bonaparte and Mexico.

Let's talk mountains and wild men.

More from the bulging "We don't know jack about earth's history" file.

If you own an Alexa, be aware that it's preparing to blackmail you.

The magic of coral.

WWII's greatest urban legend.

A trustworthy Indian in Stockholm.

A remarkable 19th century cancer operation.

Surprizing camels!  Wonderful dromedaries!

The latest Stonehenge theories.

UFOs lead to a strange double suicide.

A Gothic tale of deadly revenge.

France's first Police Minister.

The difficulties of being Byron.

Ancient Jewish graffiti.

How to tell when someone is drowning.  It isn't as obvious as you'd think.  (I can attest to this.  When I was a child, I very nearly drowned in a lake--in the midst of a crowd of people.  The only reason I'm here today is that there happened to be an adult in the vicinity who was savvy enough to recognize that I was in trouble.  Everyone else was completely oblivious.

On the other hand, I suppose it's possible that they simply weren't all that averse to seeing me go under.  I was just that kind of kid.)

A look at vanishing London.

London's infamous "Great Stink."

One very, very well-traveled farmer.

An "extraordinary" bladder stone.

Well, I'm guessing this isn't a good sign.

Witches and Edinburgh Castle.

A bohemian heiress.

John Keats, cat person.

A post-office cat.

The first Duke of Sussex.

Frederick Marryat and the Brown Lady.

Roxy, well-traveled railroad dog.

The yeasty Dolley Madison.

Doppelgangers are pretty useless.

An unsolved murder in Cincinnati.

Windsor Castle during the Georgian era.

Scandinavian fairy crowns.

19th century royal beauty secrets.

The world's oldest mattress.

And that's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at Hollywood's greatest unsolved murder. In the meantime, here's some Artie Shaw. I've been reading a bit about him. Not my idea of prime husband material (although obviously a lot of ladies disagreed with me,) but he was quite an interesting guy.  He had very strong ideas about toilet paper.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Clipping of the Day

This eerie little tale was published by Frederick George Lee in his 1878 book "More Glimpses of the World Unseen."  It was prefaced with, "The following story was told to a lady by the sailor who witnessed the appearance."
David ____ went to sea under a very drunken, cruel, and profane captain. This captain fell ill, after hard drinking, and lay sick in his cabin. It was a moonlight night when David ____ and two other sailors were talking on deck, when they saw a form or figure suddenly fly out of the cabin, as it were, and felt an unmistakable gust of wind as it passed. He said to the others, "Did you see that?" They replied, "It is the soul of our old master." The figure was like a man's head and face, quite recognisable, with black flapping wings. It seemed to fly away into the dark distance.

David then went down to the captain's cabin and found him dead. No one else would go near to the corpse. So David wrapped and sewed it up in a hammock, said a prayer over it, and threw it into the sea.
I don't claim to be an expert on such matters, but this probably was not the best omen for the captain's afterlife.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Road to Fair Elfland: Review of "Magical Folk," Edited by Simon Young and Ceri Houlbrook

"See here, boys, there may be ghosts or there may not; but if there are none, there are fairies, and they are worse."
~One man's understandable reaction to being repeatedly dunked into the Atlantic.

I believe in fairies the same way I believe in Antarctica: I've never seen either in person, but enough seemingly rational people have to convince me of their existence.

I also feel that the fairies--or Brownies, "little people," sprites, pixies, elves, imps, whatever you care to call them--must feel an unimaginable contempt for modern civilization. Consider: for millennia, our ancestors regarded fairies with respect, awe, sometimes deep affection, more often not a little fear. And with good reason: As this book notes, "The fairies...assaulted and tricked and, in some cases, murdered and kidnapped their way through human populations." They were worshiped, placated, grovelled to. Now? They've been degraded into twee, harmless, silly little creatures. Fairies are now cute. And spare a moment of pity for the leprechaun. Imagine going from a mischief-maker with a hidden stash of gold and supernatural powers to a little green guy peddling Lucky Charms cereal.

Possibly for that very reason, few people even believe in them anymore.

Thankfully, antidotes for such puerile drivel are available in the form of books such as "Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies 500 AD to the Present." This volume brings together contributions by various academics, folklorists, and lay historians addressing various aspects of the astonishingly long and varied reign of these "magical, living, resident humanoids"--a reign that continues to this very day.

The editors kick off the book by addressing the question "What is a fairy, anyway?" (Short answer: "It's complicated,") and offering a helpful guide to the widely varying "Fairy Tribes." Then Jacqueline Simpson addresses the sadly ignored fairy lore of Sussex, complete with the Queen of the Fairies dispensing medical advice and poet William Blake crashing a fairy funeral.

Pollyanna Jones looks at Worcestershire, home of fairies who appear as shape-shifters, or simple blobs of light. The region is known for "Pucks," mischievous tricksters who lead people into ditches or ponds, and other such practical pleasantries. The playful aspect of the local folklore helped inspire J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit." Oh, and if you're ever in Worcestershire, don't swear or use an angry tone of voice. The fairies don't like it.

Mark Norman and Jo Hickey-Hall take us to the rich lore of Devon, where the Magical Folk so predominate they have been classified into distinct types: fairies, imps, sprites, elves and pixies (the last-named are tentatively connected to the ancient Picts.) Like Worcestershire's Puck, pixies are most noted for leading travelers astray. This was such a common occurrence that being "Pixy-led" was an accepted local hazard well into the 19th century. As recently as 2002, a Devon farmer reported seeing a "circle of small green figures" dancing around a fire.

Richard Sugg writes of Yorkshire, where the history is replete with dark tales of "everyday magic," witchcraft, and powerful, often quite frightening fairies. Fittingly enough, this often cold, bleak region has spawned some of Britain's most sinister and enduring fairy legends: "having drunk in fairy beliefs with your mother's milk, you did not easily lose them. Ever after, the fairies were in your head. Day by day, you heard them, sensed them, inferred them from their activities--and sometimes even saw them." Many of the elves were considered "evil spirits." Yorkshire fairies would kidnap human babies, leaving weird "changelings" in their place. Yorkshire is also the home of the "Cottingly Fairies," that curious hoax which is probably fairy-lore's most notorious chapter.

Jeremy Harte examines Dorset's eight-hundred years of fairy history, which as far as is recorded, began with enigmatic beings known as "pucas," probably an ancestor of "Puck." Harte also delves into "cunning folk," those humans who took advice (for both good and ill) from the fairies, as well as the often tense relationship between fairies and Christianity.

Simon Young takes us to Cumbria, which has a lively contemporary fairy population. In the early 1920s, a self-described "fairy seer" recorded seeing brownies, rock gnomes, tree manikins, undines, lake spirits, nature devas, and--last but certainly not least--a god. Some twenty years later, hikers at Borrowdale ran into some fairies playing on the rocks. The area's older fairy history, however, was far grimmer, reflecting the punishing environment endured by the human residents. For these villagers, fairies were dangerous creatures who needed to be held at bay by all the folk cures at human disposal. Young's essay is aimed at reviving these earlier, now largely-forgotten days where Cumbrians faced a world filled with destructive and predatory boggarts, monsters, and demons. (In the 18th century, one parish recorded that within a five-year period, no less than four people had been "frightened to death by the fairies.") On a lighter note, Cumbrian fairies had a particular fondness for butter.

Ireland is arguably the area most people associate with fairies, and not without reason. Jenny Butler's essay explores how deeply the belief in fairies (or, "sidhe") has been woven into Irish history and folklore. To the Irish, fairies are a component of the otherworld, "a supernatural realm that is intertwined with the ordinary sphere in which human beings live." It is--albeit somewhat ambiguously and debatably--identified with the afterlife. It has even been suggested that the sidhe are spirits of the human dead--what are more commonly called "ghosts." So respected and feared are these beings that the Irish hesitated to even mention them by name, preferring to call them "the noble people," or "the good people," or merely "themselves." (Rather like actors who refuse to call "Macbeth" anything other than "The Scottish play.") Any encounters with the fairies were generally believed to be ill-fated in some way or another. Butler notes that even though Ireland has not been immune from the "Disneyfication" of fairies, the "good people" are still a major element of the country's cultural tradition.

Anyone at all familiar with Scottish history knows that it is a deeply weird place. Perhaps the fact that it is packed to the rafters with fairy glens has something to do with it. Ceri Houlbrook takes a tour of this region that has a particular bond with fairy belief--a bond so deep that the Scottish landscape itself is felt to have been a creation of the fairies. (It is believed that a "Fairyland" or "Elfland" still exists somewhere in Scotland, and woe to any mere mortal who accidentally stumbles into this territory.) Of all the areas covered in this book, Scotland's fairy folklore is probably the most voluminous, varied, and enduring. Not to mention the most delightful: among the Scots fairies are such gems as the evil Dame of the Fine Green Kirtle, the equally malevolent Whoopity Stoorie, Habetrot (kindly patron of spinning,) and NicNiven the Fairy Queen. As we have seen in other regions, there is a lack of consensus about what these fairies really are: nature spirits? Gods? Fallen angels? An early race of humans who were the first inhabitants of northern Britain? Some sort of human/angel hybrids? Take your pick. Happily, a belief in fairies is still strong in Scotland, albeit on a more benign level. Children still pay homage to fairy glens so their wishes will come true, and no doubt many still take care not to wander into Elfland.

Moving on to the unique supernatural lore of Orkney and Shetland, Laura Coulson informs us that the region's most notable "fairies" are those curious beings known as "trows," melancholy human-like beings who are apt to kidnap women and children and steal cattle. They are also referred to as the "grey folk." Trows had an extensive mythology, covering everything from their marriage and family rituals to their Yuletime celebrations. Sadly, in recent years it is believed the trows have abandoned the Orkney Isles. Life has become too modern on the islands, forcing them to retreat to the Dwarfie Stone on Hoy. More unsettlingly, other traditions say all the trows drowned! Either way, the Orkneys are surely a duller place without them.

Wales, as one sixteenth-century man noted, is a land where the people have "an astonishing reverence of the fairies." The country has always been full of all sorts of supernatural beings of the best sort, but you can barely swing a stick in Wales without hitting a fairy. Richard Suggett's essay examines the Welsh history of these sprites, who were apparently as enigmatic and difficult to categorize as they were terrifying. Welsh fairies tend to take so many forms, they defy easy description. Welsh folklore also has humans seeing fairies much more often than legends of most other areas. Suggett notes the "rather prosaic, everyday quality" of Welsh fairy/human interactions, and adds that "Fairies were encountered in everyday circumstances as people went about their usual business and some people claimed to have had numerous encounters with the fairies." Naturally, many Welsh considered themselves to be "experts" on the fairies. "Enchanters," who helped their fellow humans cope with the sprites, was a popular occupation. One Elizabethan-era writer commented that Wales contained "swarmes of southsaiers and enchanters" who bragged about their frequent communion with fairies. Suggett also provides a handy tip for dealing with any Welsh fairies you might encounter: they are repelled by iron. (On the other hand, the metal is a powerful attraction for ghosts. It's literally a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't.)

Francesca Bihet contributes a look at the fairy culture of the Channel Islands. These sprites, known to islanders as "les p'tites gens" ("the little people,") "faiteaux," or simply "dames," are believed to inhabit the islands' many prehistoric sites, which, according to folklore, they themselves built long before the islands were inhabited by humans. In fact, the ancient monuments are commonly called "pouquelaye," or "fairy place." The fairies are also said to have dug a network of tunnels connecting the various "fairy places." The fairies emerge from these underground passages at night to dance under the full moon. Unsurprisingly, it's considered to be extremely unlucky for humans to meddle in any way with these ancient sites.

Stephen Miller's look at the Isle of Man's fairy-lore focuses on the work of the Early Modern writer George Waldron, whose 1731 "A Description of the Isle of Man," contains the first comprehensive collection of Manx folklore. As is the case with the folk beliefs of the Channel Islands, the Manx believe fairies were the original settlers of the Island. Manx refer to them as "the Good People," and say they still live in forests and wilderness, shunning cities "because of the Wickedness acted therein." Manx believe that any house visited by the fairies is blessed, because the beings "fly Vice." Unlike most other regions, the fairies of Manx are loved and welcomed by humans, as they "never come without bringing good Fortune along with them." Despite this, there are still the usual stories about fairies replacing babies with "changelings," kidnapping adults, and even riding mortals' horses during the night.

Ronald M. James deals with the "piskies and knockers" that make life a great deal more interesting for the human residents of Cornwall. Other terms for Cornish fairies are "pobel vean" ("small people,") spriggans, buccas, and brownies. Cornish fairies are a mix or good or bad. While their human neighbors feared them, they also hoped that the piskies could be propitiated into doing them favors. The fairies are invariably described as being tiny, large in number, and often very well dressed. The most well-known Cornish fairies are the "underground knockers," the beings who haunt the region's many mines.

Peter Muise contributes a look at the fairies of New England. Curiously enough, fairy sightings in that area have only really become popular in recent years. Presumably, the fairies (commonly known in New England as ""Pukwidgies") had no desire to hang around those stern early Puritans, and who can really blame them? Historians have also speculated that as fairies tend to be associated with ancient features of the British landscape, when the Puritans emigrated to the New World, they left the fairy folk of the Old World behind. However, anthropologists and historians have documented a rich and ancient fairy belief among New England's Native American tribes, so it could be said that the region has long been populated with fairies, but the white settlers simply ignored them until modern times. The good news is that, according to James, New England fairy sightings are returning with a vengeance. Recent stories contributed to the Fairy Census include six-fingered humanoids, a little creature made of vegetation, and tiny fairies with dragonfly wings.

Although Canada as a whole has scant fairy folklore, the notable exceptions are the coastal settlements of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Labrador, north-eastern Quebec, and Newfoundland. Simon Young describes these Canadian fairies as a "melting-pot," "a minestrone of different traditions with ingredients coming from different parts of the Old World." Young notes that Atlantic Canadian fairies (known as "good people," "bad people," "little people," lutins, leprechauns, "devil's angels," or "co-pixies") are a particularly alarming lot: "[these] fairies were terrifying, even by the standards of their European confreres." If you are unfortunate enough to encounter a Newfoundland fairy, be prepared to have your tongue pulled out, your eyes gouged out, and your fingernails removed. If they're feeling benevolent, the little folk might merely trick you into getting lost in the woods or toss you into a whirlwind. Harsh climates seem to breed a harsh race of fairies. So pervasive is the largely malign influence of these "little people," that in one notable instance, they wound up in court. In 1880, a man excused himself from missing several days of work by explaining that he had been kidnapped by fairies. And he won his case! (So next time you're late for work, feel free to use the "I was abducted by co-pixies" line to the boss.) Newfoundland fairy lore, Young notes, has been particularly persistent and long-lasting. He dubs the area's supernatural beings, "The Last Traditional Fairies."

In the book's final essay, Chris Woodyard examines how Irish fairylore was transplanted to the New World, where this fresh soil caused the fairies to sprout in some strange new ways. Irish-American fairies take the form of spook lights, "leaping fiends with luminous eyes," will-o'-the-wisps, women in white, and "the odd leprechaun story." Even the traditional banshee and changeling baby make an occasional appearance in 19th century reports. The oddest story Woodyard presents is a baffling news report of a young woman who was kidnapped by fairies, never to be seen again...in 1876 Dubuque, Iowa, surely the last place one would expect to see marauding Little Folk. (This story has certain elements of modern-day reports of Men in Black sightings and alien abductions, reminding me that it would have been interesting to end this volume with a piece analyzing the similarities between historical "fairy sightings" and today's extraterrestrial "close encounters.")

"Magical Folk" is both impressively scholarly and highly entertaining, and I strongly recommend it for anyone with the slightest interest in folklore--or even just a liking for history's stranger corners. It does a wonderful job of documenting how the fairy legends of different regions are similar in so many respects, while displaying their own quaint and distinctive features.

In fact, the book is so comprehensive that I fear its contributors are in danger of meeting the same fate as our old friend Robert Kirk.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.  And his cat.

Particularly his cat.

Who the hell was D.B. Cooper?  The question is probably as futile as the ever-popular "Who the hell was Jack the Ripper?"

Watch out for those hungry ghosts!

Watch out for those haunted bodies of water!

Jane Austen's aunt was someone straight out of a Jane Austen novel.

Royal wedding superstitions.

A history of royal weddings at Windsor Castle.  (Just out of curiosity, are any of you planning to watch Saturday's wedding?  I had no interest at all in the nuptials until I discovered that the bride's family are a right bunch of nutters, oddballs, and publicity hounds who all seem to hate her guts.  So now I'm thinking this whole shebang might prove to be a lot of fun.)

Speaking of which, this is how to do a royal wedding.

Some mystery surrounds an ancient cremation site.

Ukrainian spy dolphins come to a sad end.

A murderer fails to find sanctuary.

Chocolate champions of the 18th century.

Royal weddings in Georgian times.

The Poison Squad.

A mysterious shipwreck.

Britain's grandest ghostbuster.

Why you wouldn't want to drink 19th century milk unless you knew it  came straight from the cow.

The world's oldest library.

The gambler who found the horse racing code.

The painful life and death of an "infamous prostitute."

Merlin and Uther Pendragon.

The fictional "Mysteries" of New York.

The 1975 disappearance of four-year-old Kurt Newton.

The link between Aleister Crowley, John Dee, and Loch Ness.

The Monster of Kirkthorp.

The notorious Villisca Ax Murders.

An eyewitness description of the early 19th century Habsburg Empire.

Pro tip: if you use magic to remove impediments, make sure the impediment isn't you.

Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, pen pals.

Ancient Octopus Aliens!

A new look at an old portrait.

An Anglo-Saxon charm to cure infections.

Celebrating a renowned bibliophile and librarian.

Documenting ancient Nubia.

An ancient city has been uncovered in Iraq.

A political activist and an actress in 18th century France.

Jonathan Salmon, who had the misfortune to become a 19th century Jonah.

Some recently uncovered lines from Anne Frank's diary.

Clergy in the Georgian era.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris: don't try swallowing a live mouse.  You won't like it.  Neither will the mouse.

The diary of an 18th century stonemason.

An all-female Ponzi scheme.

The details of a dinner party held May 13, 1431.

The odd craze for "hat moving."

A real-life Sherlock Holmes.

Ghosts travel fast, but never arrive.

And so we say goodbye for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll be talking British fairies and folklore. As something of a warmup, here's this post on fairy changelings.  In the meantime, here's Johann Quantz:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This Strange Company-worthy scene of domestic bliss comes from the "New Castle Herald," May 16, 1914

It is not often that real life supplies the peculiar sort of plot required in the hair-raising plays which have made the Theatre Grand Guignol of Paris, famous the world over. Yet a divorce case just tried in Stockholm, Sweden, presented evidence that shows a faithless wife and her male accomplice to have figured in scenes that could hardly be improved upon. 
Divorce court records reveal many ingenious ruses whereby wives and husbands have secured evidence of the faithlessness of their wedded partners; but this appears to be the first instance of a husband accomplishing such a feat by having himself pronounced dead and placed in a coffin ready for burial. 
That is the feat that was successfully performed by Karl Petersen, a well-to-do citizen of the Swedish capital. Upon evidence thus obtained the court granted him a divorce from the handsome woman to whom he had been married barely a year. 
Owing to her beauty and many charming accomplishments, Mrs. Petersen’s former suitors and admirers were not altogether discouraged by the fact of her marriage to one of the wealthiest merchants of Stockholm. Several of them became frequent guests at the Petersen home. One in particular–a certain dashing young society man named Swen Egstrom. 
Several months ago Petersen became suspicious that Egstrom was exceeding his duties as bundle-carrier and general utility man about the house. In fact, he more than half believed that the bond between his charming bride and Egstrom was of a nature that was reflecting upon his own honor. Petersen vainly endeavored to prove or disprove his suspicions, and then resolved upon spinning the strangest web in which an erring wife ever was entangled. 
He feigned illness and made that an excuse to go to his country house for a few day’s rest away from the business and social whirl of the metropolis. He was accompanied only by two or three old and confidential servants. 
The day after his arrival in the country, Petersen took to his bed and quietly summoned his confidential physician, to whom he stated his suspicions and outlined the details of his plan. The physician’s sympathies were with the husband. 
“For a beginning,” said Petersen, “I want you to telegraph to my wife, saying that I am dying.” 
“I will do that, willingly,” said the physician. “And I will manage to make you appear as dead as you are supposed to be, when the time comes. But I can’t see my way clear to signing any death certificate.” 
“How long can you defer your official report of my death?” inquire Petersen. 
“Will forty-eight hours be long enough?” 
“Ample,” said Petersen. “I have reason to believe that within twenty-four hours after you have pronounced me dead my wife’s paroxysms of grief will have subsided sufficiently to allow her to give me all the evidence I need.” 
The physician sent the telegram in the afternoon, and a few hours later received Mrs. Petersen’s answer that she would take the first train and reach her husband’s bedside on the next afternoon. 
Petersen’s “illness” had an alarming change for the worse at midnight. At dawn the physician announced to the sorrowing servants that their master had passed away. The butler alone was in the conspiracy, for reasons that will become obvious. But he was naturally melancholy and, therefore, needed to add merely a touch more of solemnity to his features. 
Petersen being of spare build and entirely without color in face or hands, it was a simple matter for the physician to add the corpse-like chill and rigidity that would deceive any ordinary beholder. He also undertook the “setting” of a scene in the library that would give the suspected wife every opportunity to betray herself. 
A handsome burial casket had been timed to arrive before noon. This was placed on trestles in the library within a yard or two of a desk, on which was a telephone.
The physician took upon himself the duties of undertaker. Aided by the undeceived butler, he prepared Petersen’s corpse-like body for burial and placed it in the casket, Mrs. Petersen arrived escorted by the faithful Egstrom. The physician met them at the door. 
“My poor, dear husband!” said the wife. “Do tell me that he is better.” 
“Your poor husband suffered very little,” said the physician. 
“Oh, he’s dead! My darling husband is dead!” exclaimed Mrs. Petersen. 
The physician conducted the sorrowing wife into the library. He received her fainting form in his arms–for one glance at the white face in the coffin assured her that fainting was now in order. 
Mrs. Petersen did not leave her room that night. Egstrom retired early to the chamber allotted to him. 
The butler busied himself in the kitchen behind closed doors preparing a nourishing broth that could be safely taken by a dead man without bringing any tint of life to his cheeks. 
The physician watched beside the coffin. Toward midnight he was awakened by a loud yawn. For a moment, confused by drowsiness, he was startled at the sight of Petersen sitting up in his coffin and drumming impatiently on its lid with his fingers. 
“Did she come?” asked Petersen, who, in the interests of the conspiracy, had lain all this time unconscious under the influence of a drug. 
“She came,” said the physician. “When she gazed on your dead face she fainted. We took her to her room, and she hasn’t left it since. Egstrom was with her, of course.” 
“Did the fellow stay?” asked the “corpse,” eagerly. 
“He did. We dined together and he recalled all your excellent qualities.” 
“Good,” said the corpse. “There won’t be any more attention paid to me–not until I play my little joker.” 
Petersen was restless in his narrow quarters, and to get out to stretch his legs and to get back in again would disarrange the coffin’s upholstery. So he suggested a game of cribbage. 
“I’ll play you for the amount of your bill,” he said with a grim smile. 
“Which bill? Doctor or undertaker?” 
“Both, in their natural order,” Petersen came back at the facetious physician. 
In the morning, the butler entered noiselessly and whispered; 
“Mr. Egstrom is up, ready for breakfast. Mrs. Petersen has ordered her breakfast in her room, sir.” 
The corpse bobbed down into its coffin, white hands folded across his breast. The doctor threw himself into an easy chair, puffing furiously on a fresh cigar to account for the unfunereal atmosphere of the room. 
But these precautions proved unnecessary. The Petersen country house being isolated, there were no callers. Mrs. Petersen and Egstrom went out for a drive immediately after breakfast. Mrs. Petersen was sure that the doctor would make all arrangements. She was “too overcome to be of any use.” She and her “kind escort” probably would not return until evening. 
“Good Lord!” sighed the corpse. “Another night of it.” 
But he stuck to his resolution not to risk anything by getting out of his coffin. 
Mrs. Petersen and Egstrom took breakfast together the following morning in the small breakfast room adjoining the library. Petersen could hear their cheerful conversation.
After breakfast the unsuspecting couple entered the library, carefully closing the door after them. They barely glanced at the coffin, never once looking inside, where Petersen lay with a most undeathlike flush of exasperation on his countenance. 
Mrs. Petersen went directly to the telephone. Petersen heard her call up one of his most intimate business associates in tones that were so cheerful as to be almost gay she announced the joyous fact of her husband’s death. 
“The will leaves everything to me, you know,” telephoned Mrs. Petersen. “I shall be rich–and you know what that means, naughty boy!” 
Petersen could hardly restrain himself. It was lucky he did, for now he heard the vice of Egstrom tenderly rebuking Mrs. Petersen for holding out false hopes to the “fool at the other end of the wire.” 
“La, la! Let me have my little joke with the old reprobate,” said Mrs. Petersen. “You know, Duckie, that I love no one but you, and never have.” 
“You darling!” 
These two words were uttered in the voice of Egstrom. 
Petersen sat up in his coffin. Mrs. Petersen and Egstrom, not two yards away, were clasped in each other’s arms. 
At that instant the butler entered. The exposure was complete, witness included. 
“Caught!” thundered the corpse, with bony finger pointed at the deceitful couple. 
Mrs. Petersen, beholding the fearsome spectacle of her departed husband sitting up in his coffin and so justly denouncing her, fainted in dead earnest. 
Egstrom was so scared that he let her fall to the floor. Then he ran from the room and dashed, hatless, from the house. 

Petersen crawled out of the coffin and carried Mrs. Petersen to her room and sent for a physician–for truly she needed one. 
When Petersen had regaled himself with a bath and a large steak with plenty of fried potatoes, he went back to the city and started divorce proceedings. 

The divorced Mrs. Petersen is living in strict retirement. It is reported that the shocking scene of her departed husband sitting up in his coffin to accuse her had transformed her from a beauty into a nerve-racked old woman.

So, ladies, the moral is clear: Before you start in on your merry widowhood, make very, very sure your beloved husband is not just dead, but safely six feet under. Otherwise, nasty surprises may be in store.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Send Lawyers, Ghosts, and Money

Tales of haunted houses are generally found in collections of ghost stories, journals devoted to psychic phenomena, and Gothic novels. Finding one enshrined in legal history is a rare treat. Such was the unusual honor given to the Nyack, New York home of Helen Ackley.

From the time when Ackley first moved into her 18-room Victorian estate overlooking the Hudson River, she knew it was inhabited by ghosts. Light fixtures would mysteriously sway back and forth. Spectral footsteps could be heard throughout the estate. These unusually generous poltergeists would sometimes even leave little items dating from the Victorian era for the Ackley family, such as a silver ring and sugar tongs. In the mornings, the ghosts would act as alarm clocks, shaking the beds of the Ackley children when it was time for them to get up. (On one occasion, Helen's daughter Cynthia loudly informed the ghosts that she was on spring break, so she did not need to get up early. The bed-shaking stopped.)

"It is an ongoing thing," Ackley said in 1982. "After 15 years here, I'm not afraid. They are very friendly, and I have no desire to get rid of them. After all, they've probably been here a lot longer than I have." Ackley came to think of the ghosts almost as family. "I feel that they are very good friends," she commented. "It's very comforting to have them around when you are by yourself." She believed that the ghosts consisted of a young Revolutionary-era naval lieutenant, a young woman, and an older man in Colonial-era clothing. Ackley took a certain pride in living in a haunted house. In May 1977, she even wrote a "Reader's Digest" article about her friends the spooks.

Life went on very pleasantly for the Ackleys and their ghost tenants until August 1989, when the family put the house up for sale. It quickly found a buyer in one Jeffrey Stambovsky, who made a down payment of $32, 500 for the $650,000 house. It was only then that Stambovsky learned he was also buying a trio of ghosts.

Stambovsky, sadly, did not share Ackley's affection for poltergeists. He had a narrow-minded aversion against being haunted. In short, while he had no general prejudice against houseguests, he insisted that they all be very much alive. The disgruntled buyer, declaring that he was the victim of "ectoplasmic fraud," filed suit asking that his contract to purchase the house be canceled. For good measure, he sued Ackley and her realtor for fraudulent representation. After all, as one of Stambovsky's lawyers pointed out, others might not share Ackley's harmonious relations with the ghosts. "They might not like it if she moves." Another of the plaintiff's attorneys added, "Would you want to bump into George Washington in the middle of the night?"

In March 1990, State Supreme Court Justice Edward Lehner sided with the defendants. He ruled that Ackley was under no legal obligation to tell Stambovsky the house was haunted. Lehner stated that Stambovsky, in trying to get out of his contract, was in default and not entitled to the return of his down payment. "It is clear that in New York the doctrine of caveat emptor still holds sway in real estate transactions," Lehner said. Although he acknowledged that a house's reputation could affect its market value, Ackley was not required to disclose "her beliefs with respect to supernatural inhabitants, nor to disclose the articles written about her house." Ackley, who planned to move to Florida, told reporters that she would be happy to take the ghosts off Stambovsky's hands. "If they want to come with me, I'd be glad to have them," she said cheerfully.

Stambovsky appealed the decision. The Appellate Division of New York's Supreme Court agreed with him. In July 1991, they ruled that Stambovsky could sue to recover his deposit. The court said that Ackley "had deliberately fostered the public belief that her home was possessed," and had "no less a duty" to tell buyers about the ghosts. The court pointed out that although the doctrine of "caveat emptor" would normally apply, ghosts were not a condition that any potential buyer could be expected to ascertain upon normal inspection of the property. "The most meticulous inspection and the search would not reveal the presence of poltergeists at the premises or unearth the property's ghoulish reputation in the community." Additionally, Ackley had obviously not delivered on her promise to leave the premises "vacant." "As a matter of law," the court sternly ruled, "the house is haunted." Stambovsky eventually got back half his deposit.

Ackley, who had since sold the home to another buyer and was now living in Orlando, sadly told reporters that her pet ghosts had not followed her to Florida. "I guess they decided to stay where they were," she sighed. "They did seem pretty put out when we left." After Helen died in 2003, her son-in-law predicted that her spirit would return to Nyack and her ghost friends. Unfortunately, the subsequent owners of the house have not reported any spirit activity. It is unrecorded if they are relieved or disappointed.

The lesson to be learned here is obvious: as the state of New York has ruled that ghosts legally exist, if your house is haunted, make sure any potential buyers know about it well in advance. Do not be shy about your ghosts. Proudly shout the news about this extra added attraction from the rooftops.

Helen Ackley learned the hard way that there is one thing much scarier than any phantom: Lawyers.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the official Strange Company police lineup!

What the hell are the carved stone balls of Scotland?

How the hell did Saladin die?

If you're a bilious noble, watch out for those bread crusts!

Watch out for those haunted forests!

Watch out for Gliese 710!

A wronged husband's bloody revenge.

19th century exercise programs for women.

Captain Cook's house, then and now.

A 19th century dog cemetery.

How a first-century Pope allegedly wound up in the trash bin.

Man is bamboozled by fortune teller.  World's sympathy goes to fortune teller.

Of all the ways you don't want to be executed, this is probably at the top of the list.

Hunter S. Thompson was a wild and crazy guy.  But I guess you didn't need a new book to tell you that.

A fountain that is a tribute to a dog.

The Irish rebels who fought for Israel.

A bit of real estate with a long history.

Beau Brummell, the first metrosexual.

Publicity stunt of the week.

How to eat like a Templar.

Ivan the Terrible's lost library.

Victorian etiquette for breaking engagements.

Using a Ouija board to solve a murder.

A nearly century-old disappearance may be solved.

Corporal punishment in Victorian England.

A wingless Queen Bee gets her own hotel.  No, I'm describing the story quite literally.

A famed "silhouette artist."

If you're keeping a scorecard on human feet being washed up in British Columbia, it's time for an update.

Yes, there is a machine that resuscitates canaries.

Just so you know that people are spending their lives arguing about how many spaces to put after a period.

The rise and fall of the Queen of the Moulin Rouge.

Who doesn't love haunted asylums?

Shorter version: your salad sees you as the enemy.

The funeral service of a police dog.

The Robin Hood of Ceylon.

The bad news: we're not finding MH370.  The good news: we're finding a whole lot of other stuff.

Dolphins are searching for alien life.

Carnivore horses.

Medieval fitness programs.

A mysterious case of attempted murder.

An ancient carriage burial.

Holidays of old London.

Daniel Defoe on ghosts.

Elvis Presley's senior prom.

Napoleon's favorite actor.

Ghosts give racing tips.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at the legal hazards involving haunted real estate.  In the meantime, let's consider the cat, Jeoffry: