"...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 30, 2014

Weekend Link Dump


This is one of those weeks when Strange Company isn't sure which way is up.


It's pretty clear the cats aren't sure either.

Here's the latest serving of fresh linky weirdness:

What the hell was the "Solway Spaceman?"

What the hell was flying with this London plane?

What the hell is the South Atlantic Anomaly?

What the hell happened to Loraine Allison?

What the hell happened to Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX?

What the hell is happening to Alabama crypts?

What the hell is happening to the waters off Croatian islands?

The dramatic evolution of post-WWII New York City.

How an Egyptian mummy wound up in an Italian monastery.

Britain has an underground network of 15,000 vampires.

In Missouri, the vampires aren't nearly that reticent.

As you may have noticed, this blog is fond of chronicling Sailor Cats.  Here's our first ghostly one.

The mystery paintings of Angkor Wat.

The most haunting doll's head.

Voynich Manuscript, meet the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

The Man in the Iron Mask...unmasked?  Well, read the comments.  Not so much.

John Coan, who hit it big by being little.

More adventures with what Charles Fort called "damned data."

A pacifist, because khaki was tacky.

How to grow your own dragon.

The latest adventures of my favorite Spitalfields cat.

Meet the newly discovered Cats of Nepal.

Raising the dead in St. Louis.

How to be a 1787 beauty.  Watch out for those sunken temples, but if your two balls of snow are deliciously distanced, you're good to go.

So, a few hundred years late, they're finally getting around to saying no, Richard III was not a bunch-backed toad.  Nuts to you, Shakespeare.

If you're planning to visit South Korea, and you happen to be offered a plate of hongeo, my advice is to just go straight to the dessert menu.

Let's end this on a happy note:  The love story of Mr. G. and Jellybean.

With the Photo of the Week: (H/t Paula Bryner)




Well, there it is for this week.  Since we're in the middle of Triple Crown season (Go Chrome!) on Monday I'll be taking a look at one of horse racing's greatest mysteries.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Newspaper Clipping of the Day


This is one of the odder deaths I've come across in some time.  From "The Press" (Canterbury, New Zealand) for December 11, 1888:
One of the most painful and mysterious cases of death which has ever occurred in the colony came to light on Friday last. Mr. G. B. W. Lewis, the well known theatrical manager, resides on the St. Hilda road. In the household was one servant girl named Fanny Perry, aged twenty-three, and on Friday last her dead body was found on the premises under very singular and mysterious circumstances. The girl Perry came to Mrs. Lewis as a general servant last Christmastime, and was with her until August 23rd of this year, when she obtained a fortnight's holiday, and left with the intention of visiting her mother, who resides near Talbot. Subsequent inquiries have shown that she did go there, and while there endeavored to negotiate for the sale of some land which she held jointly with her sister. On September 2nd she resumed duties at Mr. Lewis'. Prior to her departure on this holiday she had been a cheery, lively, happy natured girl, but after her return she appeared to have some trouble on her mind, and her old heartiness of spirit seemed to have gone.

On the 25th of October Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, accompanied by their son, visited the Theatre, and the girl was left in charge of the house. When they returned home they found the place in the usual order, and concluded that the servant had retired to rest prior to their arrival. Next morning, however, she did not put in an appearance, and an examination of her room showed that her bed had not been slept in. Mr. Lewis reported her disappearance to the police, and communicated with the girl's friends. No information as to her movements could be gained.

On the 23rd of November, while Mr. and Mrs. Lewis were sitting together in the evening, they heard moans coming from a large corrugated iron shed erected by Mr. Lewis when he retired from the management of the Bijou Theatre as a store-room for large quantities of scenery he owns.  Knowing that this store-room was continually overrun with rats and cats, it was concluded that one of these animals had been unfortunate enough to become jammed between two pieces of the scenery and was unable to escape. The moaning ceased after brief duration, and nothing more was thought of the matter until last Friday, when the smell from this shed became very offensive. It grew in noisomeness until it became almost unbearable. Mr. Lewis, junr., returned on Thursday, and his father and himself determined to overhaul the scenery and endeavor to ascertain the source of this annoyance. They moved large quantities of the flats, but one piece defied their united efforts, and Mr. Lewis, junr., climbed up to the top of the mass to see what was the cause of resistance. To his horror he discovered lying on the top of the scenery the dead body of the girl in an advanced stage of decomposition. The body was lying on its back with the hands crossed over its breast, and the bodice of the merino dress which the girl had worn when last seen torn as if in great agony. She lay on a bed, which she had carefully prepared, of old theatrical dresses, a large quantity of which are stored in another portion of the building. This bed must have been prepared in a most deliberate manner, and must have been difficult to reach. The whole of the features were completely destroyed, and the flesh deeply discolored. A purse found in the pocket of the dress contained £5 17s 4d in money, a silver brooch, and a pair of earrings. By her side, on a nail in the wall, was hanging her watch. In the shed was also found a portion of. the Argus of November 16th. The girl had disappeared on November 15th [sic], and was found on November 30th. The paper being of the date of November 16th seems to show that she was then alive, but this is only conjecture. The closest enquiry cannot discover any one who saw her after October 15th.[sic]  The inquest was held yesterday. The medical evidence was to the effect that the body was too far gone to enable it to be said how long she had been dead. There was no trace of poison or of any tampering with the girl. The doctors favored the idea that she had died of starvation, though they could not say positively. The girl shared a piece of land with her sister, and some disagreement had taken place between them as to selling it. This appeared to be the only trouble on her mind. After returning from her holiday she told Mrs. Lewis she would like to leave, for no other cause than that she wished to "go right away—right away from everybody." Mrs. Lewis said in evidence —"I asked her what her trouble was, but she had a way of clenching her teeth and nothing could then be got from her. I told her to go in and have a good cry, but she threw herself on the kitchen table, and said 'It is my stepfather who is driving me to this; I want my money, I want my money.' I laughed the matter off, and tried to comfort her as much as I could. I had engaged another servant to come on the Wednesday afternoon, but on the Wednesday morning before I went out she asked me if she could remain. She said, 'I might as well stay here as anywhere else.' She said this with what appeared to be some meaning, but at the time I did not take any notice of it. Her depression on the night of her disappearance was very remarkable, and there was a very peculiar look about her eyes. I never saw her again alive." The Coroner in summing up said the deceased had evidently been most respectable and trustworthy. She had become much depressed in consequence of the unsatisfactory position of her property; and his long experience as a medical man and as Coroner had convinced him that young women in certain conditions of health were likely to take most irrational views of matters which they would at other times treat lightly. It was not at all unlikely that the deceased had given way to despondency to the extent of determining to take her own life by starvation. There were no indications of violence having been used towards her, so that any theory that she had been murdered was quite untenable, nor were there any signs of poisoning. The post mortem examination revealed conditions which bore out the theory of starvation, and he would not say that the examination absolutely established that as the true solution of the mystery surrounding her death, but it pointed to it as being most probable. The circumstance that the body was almost nude was also evidence in favor of that explanation, because it was a remarkable fact that in every case of death from starvation or thirst that he had heard of, the deceased had been discovered partly nude. A surveyor who had nearly perished from thirst in an adjoining colony told him that just before losing his reason he was overtaken by an uncontrollable desire to tear off his clothes. While indications of starvation were thus present in this case, there was an absence of direct evidence to that effect, and the jury would probably be unable to express any opinion as to what had actually occasioned the death. The jury, without retiring, returned a verdict that deceased, Fanny Perry, was found dead on the 30th November, but that there was no evidence to show how death had occurred.


Here is a more contrarian view of Perry's death, from the "Riverine [New South Wales] Grazier" for December 14, 1888:

Many of your readers must be acquainted with the weird writings of the great American poet, Edgar Allan Poe, and especially with those prose works in which he has clothed and solved most intricate mysteries which are a wonder to the fascinated reader. Crimes were imagined and surrounded by a detail of circumstance which made them appear motiveless and impossible of performance, even the probability of suicide being precluded. Yet in the hands of the writer circumstance is linked to circumstance, detail to detail, probability to probability, and possibility to possibility, in so skillful a manner that a perfect exposition of tho whilom mystery is built up and exhibited to the astonished reader. Such is tho case in Poe's "Mystery of Marie Roget" and "The Mystery of Le Rue Noir," in the latter of which it will be remembered the murderer turned out to be a baboon who had stolen his master's razor, escaped down the street, noticed a window high up in the air open, climbed the spouting, entered, cut the throats of the two women he found there, and escaped by the way he went.

Although such mazy mysteries are frequently found in French fiction, the writers of which are very fond of that form of literary trick, it is seldom that anything so mysterious ever happens in the ordinary everyday common prose of civilised life. True, there are often crimes which go untraced as to their perpetrators, but very rarely as to their causes. An exception to that rule has startled Melbourne during the last fortnight through and through. Such a problem as it presents to our detectives has never been surpassed in difficulty, the experience of the oldest members of the force being unable to recall any case in Victoria which has been so surrounded with incongruities. As briefly as the multitudinous facts of the case can be compressed, they are these:

Fanny Perry, a domestic servant, 22 years of age, disappeared from the house of her employer, Mr. G. B. W. Lewis (late theatrical impresario,), situated in the St. Kilda road, on the 25th of October last. She took with her only the clothes she wore, and her jewellery, leaving the bulk of her effects behind. Strange to say, although Mr. Lewis had always taken a great interest in the girl, no particular notice was aroused by her unannounced and peculiar disappearance, which was forgotten. The recollection of it, however, was recalled in a most startling and tragic manner. In a large shed used for the storage of a quantity of theatrical scenery and other stage effects.  Mr. Lewis was wont to pass some time daily in doing little works of carpentry and other jobs, such as are constantly protruding themselves for performance in a household. On the 22nd of November he was thus employed, when he heard a moaning sound. He paid no particular attention to the occurrence, attributing it to a rat or a cat which he surmised had become jammed between two pieces of scenery. A few days after an objectionable smell was perceptible in the air of the shed. That was put down to the cat or rat again, which it was this time surmised had succumbed to the cause of its utterances of distress previously noticed. The disagreeable odour, however, increased in objectionableness until it became absolutely unbearable, and steps were at once taken to remove it. Search was made, and in its pursuit Mr. Lewis climbed to the top of a huge stack of scenery, 15 feet high in one place, and not less than 12 feet in any other. When there the cause was discovered in horrible unmistakeableness. The body of the missing girl Fanny Perry was found there in the active stages of decomposition!

 As soon as Mr. Lewis recovered from the shock and prostration that such a startling sight naturally begot in him he hastily proceeded to give information to the police. Some officers of that body accompanied him back to the shed, where a door was wrenched off an old scene and extemporized into a stretcher, on which the body of the unfortunate girl was carried to the morgue. A palpable disregard to the collection of evidence was shown by both the police and Mr. Lewis in thus impulsively acting, but by the police particularly, for they thus neglected part of what is the duty of their profession. Mr. Lewis is not to be as severely condemned in this respect, for on putting the case in the hands of the police he legally renounced all responsibility in regard to it, yet at the same time he cannot be commended for the exhibition of even common sense. It was not noted how the girl was lying when she was found; how she could have got there; or anything, indeed, that might have aided in the subsequent attempts to elucidate the mystery. . A second examination, under the superintendence of Detective Considine, was necessary before any evidence whatever could be adduced. The first official visitors only found a few trinkets, a few pounds in money, and some old rags with which a bed had been roughly arranged. The results of the second inspection wore far more important— a copy of the Argus dated the 15th November having been found on that occasion.

Efforts were at once made after the discovery of the body to obtain some clue as to the cause of its death. A most careful post mortem examination was made, when it was found that the deceased was neither enceinte nor unvirtuously violated, and that there was not the slightest perceptible trace of poison in the system. Thus two very plausible theories were disposed of. There seemed only one idea left to go upon — that of self-starvation. True, the body appeared to be perfectly nourished; there was mucous in the stomach which might have been food, and faeces in the system, sufficient signs to a layman that the starvation theory was untenable. But medical experts have affirmed that starvation could still have been the cause of death in spite of such symptoms to the contrary, for similar signs have been observed when it was absolutely known that starvation was the cause of death. If that theory is accepted, we have to imagine a young girl deliberately lying down to die in tho heat of the fierce reflections of a galvanised iron roof almost melted by the hottest suns that have ever been experienced, and within a whisper of food and all the other temptations of life.  And, besides, we must imagine the girl doing this for no other cause than that there was a difficulty in disposing of some land of which she and her sisters were the joint proprietors; for that is the only thing that is ever known to have troubled her in any sense, and such a trouble cannot be seriously considered, for she  always treated the matter as a joke.

With such evidence and theories as I have described the coronial inquiry was conducted. At that examination of the case it was stated by Mr. Lewis that Fanny Perry was frequently morose and behaved peculiarly, but no specific instance of peculiarity was adduced unless it was that given in the evidence of a neighbour who declared that he had seen the girl running about the yard wringing her hands. The girl's lover, a letter carrier, also gave evidence, and showed her love affair to have been extremely happy and pure. Then evidence was given as to the finding of the body, the probable date of death which was fixed as the 1st  November, and the difficulty that a girl would have in climbing unassisted to the height at which the body was found, for it was shown that there was absolutely nothing in the shape of outjutting pieces of wood or movable boxes, or the like, to assist in such an ascent. The jury retired and returned the open verdict "Found dead."

Such are the facts of this most extraordinary case. So that its mystery may be appreciated, an examination of the available dates and the incidents connected with them will be advisable. On the 25th October the girl disappeared. On the 1st November she is supposed to have died; in fact the burial certificate was made but to that effect; yet how came it that a copy of the Argus dated the 15th November was found alongside of the body? Who put it there? Who could have been there besides the girl before Mr. Lewis to put it there? Mr. Lewis certainly took no Argus with him in his first search. Then did the girl get the Argus herself or did some one knowing she was there take it to her, or, supposing the theory of death on the 1st of November be granted, did the paper get there by accident, and by what accident? From evidence given by Mr. Lewis at the inquest, the importance of the point as to the newspaper is very obvious. He said that he took the Argus regularly, and that when the papers were a week old they were sent to the kitchen.  Supposing then that the Argus found near the girl was identical with that delivered to Mr. Lewis on the 15th it would reach the kitchen on the 22nd. In still further tracing the career of the papers in the Lewis household, another interesting item of evidence was elicited. It seems that the servants were in the habit of wrapping up refuse in them, and placing the parcels thus made in the shed where the body was found, to be taken thence to the fowl yard.  Did Fanny Perry take the particular parcel that may have been wrapped up in the Argus of the 15th November? Still examining the dates, it is remembered that Mr. Lewis heard groans on the 22nd November; if they proceeded from the dying girl she could not have died on the 1st of that month. Query upon query presents itself for answer from this intricate network of impenetrable mystery. There is one more which I have not yet seen put. Was Fanny Perry murdered? And was her body conveyed by her murderer to the spot where it was found? If so, why was she murdered? All these questions are absolutely unanswerable, and it seems, unless some extraordinary accident occurs, that the mystery must ever remain a mystery.

Unfortunately, this anonymous correspondent was right. Although the young woman's death practically reeks of sinister weirdness, there seem to have been no further attempts to investigate the mystery.

Incidentally, G.B.W. Lewis and his wife were important enough figures in the history of Australian theater to have earned a recent book about them.  I do not know if the author mentions the decidedly theatrical drama that once took place in Lewis' own home.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hell's Bells

Thomas Bell

Many families are a little peculiar. Some are downright dysfunctional. A few are simply nuts.

And then, my friends, there was the Bell family of San Francisco.

Their story opens in the Gold Rush days of the City By the Bay. A man named Thomas Bell was one of the lucky few to strike it rich out West. In 1879, he married a pretty young orphan of decidedly murky background named Teresa Percy. He promised his wife $50,000 for each child she bore him. Teresa brought into the marriage an African-American woman named Mary Ellen Pleasant, who was indisputably the most interesting figure in our saga. Pleasant was an entrepreneur who had made her own fortune through the stock market and a string of boarding houses--although some sources claim her most lucrative business ventures were blackmail and pimping. (To be fair, these accusations may have been based on nothing more than a baffled resentment and envy over the success of an independent black woman.) Pleasant was Thomas' former business partner, and, perhaps, lover. She had introduced him to her "protegee" Teresa, and may even have arranged their marriage.

Mary Ellen Pleasant

The newlyweds moved into a grand 30-room mansion Pleasant designed for them. On the surface, all seemed well. Thomas and Teresa led essentially separate lives, and seemed equally content with the arrangement. Thomas, a founder of the Bank of California, was the "Quicksilver King of the West," one of the wealthiest figures in the financial world. Teresa obligingly presented her husband with six children, and happily banked her 300,000 sweet ones. However, the really powerful member of the household was Mary Pleasant. She raised the young Bell children, ran Teresa's life for her, (even to the point of choosing her clothes and her friends,) hired and fired the servants, handled all the household finances, and generally directed all matters Bell with such efficient ruthlessness that she was said to be a voodoo priestess. As Pleasant herself enigmatically commented years later, "Mr. Bell...knew what I was there for, and I knew what I was there for."

The Bell mansion

Pleasant had been an active figure in the abolitionist movement, giving financial support to John Brown and assisting in the Underground Railroad. She was instrumental in challenging many of California's Jim Crow laws, most notably when she successfully sued the San Francisco streetcars into allowing blacks to ride. On a less sublime plane, it was said she also made tidy sums by finding attractive wives for rich men--and finding homes for the illegitimate children of these same men and women. She found jobs for former slaves in households all over San Francisco. In return, the servants fed her all manner of gossip and private information about their employers. This communication network gave her a formidable power base in the city.

Then, in 1892, a mysterious tragedy struck the family: Thomas Bell was found one evening at the bottom of a dark stairway in back of his mansion, stone dead from a broken neck. Pleasant was in the house at the time, but Teresa was away at the family's desert ranch. How did he die? Did he fall, or, as many whispered, was he pushed? Some believed it was indeed murder, and that the de facto head of the household, Pleasant, was responsible. Whatever the truth may have been, the death of the Bell patriarch was ruled an accident. (Curiously, four years later the eldest Bell son, Frederick, fell down another stairway in the house in what were rumored to be suspicious circumstances. He suffered serious head injuries and several broken bones, but survived.)

In 1897 this "Family of Mystery," as the contemporary journalists liked to call them, made headlines again when Frederick Bell and one of his sisters, Martha, went to court to oust their mother from the guardianship of her children, and to force her to give them their shares of Thomas' estate. Frederick declared that she was mentally incompetent and completely under the domination of the now eighty-three year old Pleasant, who was, he claimed, his father's murderer.

Teresa made quite an appearance on the witness stand. When asked how many children she had, she answered, "Four." When the startled judge asked her, "What about the other children; aren't Frederick Bell and Martha Teresa yours?"

"No," Mrs. Bell calmly replied. "I first saw these two as babies at Mr. Bell's Sutter Street residence. I have always brought them up as my children, but they are not mine."

The court, unsurprisingly, adjourned in great confusion.

Although Frederick produced his father's will, naming all six children as his heirs, along with papers showing that over $100,000 of Bell family money had passed into Pleasant's hands--only to disappear, never to be seen again--he lost his case.

Teresa and Pleasant became increasingly at odds over the disposition of Bell family property--disputes that were probably exacerbated by Mrs. Bell's increasing mental instability--and in 1899, Teresa threw her long-time manager out of the house. "She disposed of some of my jewels without asking my advice," Teresa explained rather lamely. (Other accounts state that Pleasant enraged Teresa when she had Mrs. Bell's young lover sent to jail for embezzlement.) Pleasant, once a powerful "capitalist," (to use her own proud designation,) was now alone. Her fortune had been greatly diminished through various battles with creditors and lawyers, not to mention her tangled, opaque financial dealings with the Bells and other partners. Mary Ellen Pleasant--a remarkable person, no matter which stories about her one cares to believe--quietly died in 1904 at the age of ninety. Although it was widely believed she was destitute, it was later discovered that she still owned tens of thousands of dollars worth of real estate and $150,000 in jewelry.

The bad blood between Teresa and Frederick continued to escalate. Since Thomas Bell's death, his estate had lessened in value, (the loss of Mary Pleasant's financial acumen probably did not help matters,) and mother and son squabbled over every last remaining penny.

Both Frederick and his wife Elizabeth had become severe alcoholics, and in 1912, Elizabeth checked herself into a sanatorium to dry out. When Teresa heard of this, she called the hospital's superintendent to inform him that the younger Mrs. Bell was being poisoned by her husband. Elizabeth died in the sanatorium several months later.

Elizabeth's death caused new legal flurries for the Bells. She had died intestate, and Frederick's siblings went to court against him over possession of land he had given his wife. Frederick declared that Elizabeth had given the property back to him before her death, but his sisters argued that the couple had been estranged, and they were the rightful owners of the land. Teresa, predictably, revived her murder charges against Frederick, triggering a police investigation that eventually ruled Elizabeth had died from complications of dipsomania. Frederick's sisters eventually dropped their claims to the property. Frederick remarried in 1917, and lived in seclusion until 1929, when his second wife died of pneumonia after they had been out drinking. It was said that he remained in the house with the dead woman for several days, believing she was merely "sleeping off" the effects of their spree. After becoming a widower for the second time, Frederick moved into an Old People's Home, where he died in 1934.

The next Great Bell Scandal was in 1922, after Teresa died and her will was read--a last testament that surely deserves an honored place in the annals of The Weird. It opened with some verses of her own composition:

"Perhaps in some one great heroic act
The soul its own redemption will attract,
And thus from sin and shame swiftly
Made fit and ready to meet the Eternal eye.
To live until all is dead within us but ambition and that to live and mock us."

Her "great heroic act" was, as her lawyer put it, giving "the Bell children a roast and a good kick." She cut off all her children with a legacy of only $5 each. Why? Because, she explained from beyond the grave, not one of them was a Bell at all. Her will declared that the Bell progeny were all ringers--"foundlings" obtained by Pleasant so she and Teresa could get Thomas' "bonus money." Whenever Thomas was away on long business trips, she would conveniently "give birth."

The Bell children, as can be imagined, did not take this well. They all ran off screaming for the lawyers, and the result was a great deal of juicy litigation airing all the assorted Bell dirty laundry. Finally, a San Francisco jury decided that Teresa must have been insane when she wrote the will--they probably felt the alternative was just too much for them to contemplate--and the document was overturned.

The Bell progeny then had to fight off various legal challenges filed by odd characters who suddenly emerged claiming they were "long-lost" blood relations of Teresa, and thus they, rather than these "phony" Bell children, were her rightful heirs. In the end, though, the Bell brood all got their share of the estate, and one can't say they didn't earn it.

With that last lurid flourish, the surviving Bells dropped quietly and no doubt gratefully into obscurity. San Francisco was a saner place without them, but surely also much duller.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Weekend Link Dump


Strange Company isn't saying it's aliens, but...





Behold this week's Festival of the Links:

What the hell is this skeleton?

What the hell are auras?

What the hell are dead people trying to tell us?

What the hell crash-landed in Australia?

What the hell crash-landed in Florida?

What the hell is creating African Fairy Circles?  Oddly, "African Fairies" doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone.

Who the hell was the Man From Taured?

Watch out for those breathtaking witches!

The strange case of the Malahide Murders.

The death of Samuel McAleese: murder or accidental homicide?

21st century Fire chief?  Or Civil War General?  Or both?

Forget calling this place a mere "library," I want to live here.

The Hoodoo House of Washington D.C.  No, no, not that big White one.

"Quoth the Granny, Nevermore!" doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?

A mysterious cave filled with "bowlders of gold."  All thanks to the Devil, of course.

Bird Millman, who really knew how to walk a thin line.

Here's your really depressing thought for the day:  What if Giorgio Tsoukalos winds up having the last laugh on us all?

A Soviet-era ghost town...in the Arctic Circle.

A peek at an ex-Kaiser in exile.

Ernest Case: a sad Man of Visions.

A look at the Gypsies of Georgian England.

The tomb of an ancient Egyptian child star.

In search of Belle Gunness.

The lowdown on Piltdown.

Grandison Harris, Georgia Medical College's personal grave robber.

And so we come to the close of yet another Link Dump.  Happy reading, and I'll see you all on Monday, with the saga of San Francisco's weirdest family.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via NYPL. Yes, this picture has nothing at all to do with our story,
but it's darn cute, isn't it?


Longtime readers of this blog--assuming there are any such unfortunates--may recall this case of Mystery Flooding from the archives. Well, I've found a oddly similar report from the "Bradford Observer" for February 15, 1873:

Extraordinary Story. — Our Chorley correspondent writes that for some days past considerable excitement has been occasioned among the inhabitants of Eccleston, a village about six miles •from Chorley, in consequence of a house, known as the "Savings Bank House," being visited by a most unaccountable phenomenon. The house is inhabited by two elderly ladies and their niece, and for several days during the past fortnight these have been alarmed, as they sat in the kitchen, by frequent downpours of rain, or what appeared to be rain. Although the weather was fine and frosty, the inmates were drenched two or three times a day. The ceilings appeared perfectly dry, yet the water came down in a miraculous fashion; and although the inmates were forced to carry umbrellas, but little protection was afforded. Workmen were engaged to ascertain tho cause, but failed, the rain coming down as before. The kitchen and parlour have been almost flooded for days, and every article in the rooms is covered with water. The ladies are much affrighted. Scores of people have visited the house, and many persons have witnessed the extraordinary occurrence, as well as felt the unpleasant affects of the mysterious rain. The people have become impressed with the idea that the drenching downpour has its origin in some supernatural agency.

As is irritatingly common with these sort of stories, I have not found any recorded resolution to the mystery.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Deadly Duke de Praslin

Duke de Praslin


Charles Laure Hugues Theobald, Duke de Choiseul-Praslin was one of the leading figures at the French court during the reign of Louis Philippe. In 1847, he transformed himself into its leading killer, setting off a scandal that so disgraced the king and his government, it helped lead to the Revolution of 1848.

Praslin’s murder of his Duchess, the former Fanny Sebastiani, was as stupid as it was brutal. On August 17, 1847, the couple and their nine children were at their town house in Paris. At about four-thirty the next morning, the household was jarred awake by the most dreadful din. Ominous crashes and horrifying shrieks could be heard emanating from the Duchess’ apartment. The bells in her room used to summon servants were ringing hysterically.

When the servants tried to enter her bedroom, they found that, against her usual custom, it was locked from the inside. As they frantically tried to break down her doors, they could hear her continuous screams, coupled with the sound of someone running about the room. Finally, the Duke’s valet found an unlocked door which led to an ante-room connecting the Duke and Duchess' bedrooms. When the servants came to the rescue at last, they found the room completely dark.  The smell of blood and gunpowder filled the air. The Duchess was found lying on the floor, covered in blood emanating from over forty wounds. She was unconscious, and probably died just at the moment she was discovered.

The room itself was similarly battered, showing all the signs of the prolonged, violent struggle that had taken place. Blood was everywhere, most notably in a sinister path of red that led straight to the chamber of the Duke. Praslin himself soon appeared in the room, putting on a remarkably unconvincing air of shock and sorrow. But even if he had the acting skills of an Olivier, it would not have saved him. Everyone from the maids to the police recognized immediately that he was one of the most obvious murderers on record. The chief investigator said it best: “This is not the work of a professional thief or murderer. It is a vile business clumsily done. It is the work of a gentleman.”

The Duke claimed he had been awakened by his wife’s screams, and entered the room, clutching a pistol, to find her dead. Immediately afterward, the servants arrived at the door, and he let them in, leaving the gun on the floor. The police asked him how he accounted for the partly-burned handkerchief in his fireplace. They wished him to explain the fact that he was wearing as a belt a green cord that precisely matched the missing bell-cord in the Duchess’ room. How did he come to be covered in bruises, fingernail scratches, and bite marks? Most of all, how did it happen that the dead woman’s blood, hair, and skin were all on the butt of his pistol, precisely as if it had been used to club the poor woman?

The Duke had no answers for any of this, other than a blanket denial of guilt. The king loathed the thought of the scandal that would ensue by charging a member of his court with wife-murder, but Praslin’s guilt was so manifest, he had no choice but to order his arrest. However, Praslin cheated the course of justice by swallowing a dose of arsenic which killed him a week later.  His death was ruled a suicide, but many whispered that the king and his government murdered Praslin, in order to avoid the additional unpleasantness of a trial.  (Incidentally, there are persistent rumors that the Duke faked his own death and fled to Nicaragua, where he fathered several children before his "real" demise in 1882.  Although there are today Nicaraguan "claimants" who argue that they are Praslin's descendants, this is one story that can probably safely be classified as legendary.  It is hard to picture a murderer as inept as the Duke staging a successful escape.)

The Duke's motive for his evil deed stemmed from his increasingly tormented home life.  The Duchess’ letters and diaries paint her as a frantically unhappy woman, who knew she had lost her husband’s love, and reacted in such a way as to ensure he would be driven away altogether. By the time of her death, the combination of his increasing distaste and her escalating jealousy and obsession with him had left them bitterly estranged. The Duchess was fixated on the woman who had been their children’s governess for the past six years, thirty-five year old Henriette Deluzy-Desportes. Mlle. Deluzy-Desportes was attractive, highly intelligent, and at least appeared to be the most well-behaved and respectable woman in France.

Henriette Desportes


The Duchess had become convinced that there was an “intrigue” between the Duke and the governess. She began to threaten divorce, which would have ruined Praslin socially. A month before her death the Duchess had—much against the wishes not only of her husband, but of her children, who adored their governess—engineered Mlle. Deluzy-Desportes’ removal from their household. The Duke was furious at this development, and it is usually believed that this was the “last straw,” the catalyst for murder.

The mystery of the case arises from the exact nature of the relationship between Duke and governess, as well as the personality of Mlle. Deluzy-Desportes herself. Was the Duchess merely a paranoid and unstable fantasist, or were her dark allegations justified? Was Henriette an innocent victim of slander or a scheming femme fatale? Servants in the Praslin household boldly stated that the governess was a "bad lot" who had deliberately ruined a once-happy marriage, alienated a mother from her own children, and undoubtedly instigated the Duke to commit his terrible crime.  Were these assertions merely jealous spite, or did they contain at least some element of truth?  Students of the case have yet to reach a consensus on these issues, and likely never will.

After the Duke’s death, the governess was under arrest for three months, constantly interrogated about her role in this household tragedy. While she admitted the Duchess was a very “difficult” woman, her declarations of innocence—in every respect—were so convincing that the magistrates were finally compelled to release her.

Even though she was now a free woman, Henriette Deluzy-Desportes realized she was too notorious to remain in her country. The women of France--who were unanimously on the side of the murdered, and, in their eyes, martyred Duchess--were threatening to lynch Henriette, whom they saw as not only an instigator, but an accomplice.  The Duchess' numerous pathetic, anguished letters to her husband were published. Letters containing lines such as "You cannot be conscious of your own cruelty and the sufferings you inflict on me.  Grief, believe me, is a slow and painful death.  Ah, Theobald, how I loved you! How I loved our children!  I had nothing else in the world.  Now nothing is left me of all I had...Another woman before my very eyes enjoys all that is most precious to me, and you expect me to be content!  My God! what crime has brought upon me such a penalty?  Ah, Theobald, you had no right to deprive me of my children, to give them over to a woman without modesty, without principle, without discretion...For nearly five nights almost ever passed till three or four o'clock in the morning in tears, in convulsions of despair, when I have often pressed the pillow to my mouth to stifle my cries...I have lost my husband, my children; I am near them, yet not allowed to enjoy their society.  I know that I am a burden, and despised.  I must indeed be acting a part if I could be gay and amiable with such bitter sorrows.  The calm I show is owing to opium only, and to the violent efforts I make before the world, which I pay for when I am alone by nervous tremblings and torture unutterable...Mdlle Deluzy is entirely mistress...I every day reproach myself for my cowardice in having tolerated the position, truly scandalous, of Mdlle. D.; for in this world we can only judge from appearances, and in this case they are as shameful as it is possible for them to be."

After the Duchess enlisted her aristocratic and powerful father to order the governess' dismissal, she wrote in her diary, "It has cost me dear.  My God! what will come of it?  How enraged he [the Duke] is!"  Her final diary entry read, "He has been tired of this woman for a long time, but was afraid of her.  That is why he refused to dismiss her.  It is clearly so.  And now that he has got help his self-love revolts against it.  That is his real cause of annoyance; and in conjuring up within himself a fictitious grief he hopes to soothe it.  'You have marred my whole life by this act': these were his words, spoken with suppressed fury...He will be revenged on me!"

These letters and diary entries--hundreds of them, spread out over six years--were undoubtedly, as William Roughead wrote, "as exhausting to the writer as they were exasperating to the recipient, and contributed not a little to the consummation of the tragedy," but they gained an enduring literary fame, and inspired even greater public sympathy for the Duchess, and further inflamed indignant fury against her "rival."

The governess-turned-pariah wisely changed her name and emigrated to America.

It is at this point that this sordid and depressing case took a curious turn. Mlle. Deluzy-Desportes managed one of the most remarkable comebacks of any despised figure in a famous murder case.

She prospered in New York, becoming principal of the Female Art School at the Cooper Union. She met the Reverend Henry M. Field, who soon fell head-over-heels for her. When he proposed marriage, she had the strength of character to tell him the entire truth about her blighted past. While naturally shocked to learn of her entanglement in such an infamous crime, he had no doubt of her innocence. They wed in 1851, and lived very happily ever after.


The new Mrs. Field joined a most distinguished family. One of her brothers-in-law was instrumental in promoting the Atlantic cable, and another was a Supreme Court Justice. She did this family proud, we are told, with her integrity, vivacity, and wit making her a loved and admired figure in their entire circle. By the time she died in 1874, she was considered one of the most notable ladies in New York. She wrote a book about her native country, "Home Sketches of France," which was published posthumously.  She also achieved a more famous literary immortality: her grand-niece, Rachel Field, wrote a popular novel about the case, “All This and Heaven Too.” In 1940 it was turned into a classic film starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.  (For a far darker interpretation of the governess' character and actions, see Joseph Shearing's fictionalized version of the Praslin tragedy, "Forget-me-not.")

The disgraced governess had created quite a second act for herself. Was it a case of virtue finally rewarded? Or one of a skilled and devious actress making the most of a lucky break?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Weekend Link Dump


Strange Company has one message for anyone who says cats and dogs don't get along.


On to this week's Links o'Plenty:

Where the hell is Sultan Suleiman's heart?

What the hell is happening to the animals of Chernobyl?

What the hell should we do about smallpox?

What the hell crash-landed in St. Paul?

What the hell is the Book of Soyga?

Who the hell was La Schiava Turca?

Watch out for those burning phantom ships!

Watch out for those Werewolf Demon Tailors!

Watch out for those Louisville Goat Men!

Watch out for those Shrieking Phantoms!

Are you Texan?  Then watch out for those kamikaze birds!

Are you Welsh?  Then watch out for those aliens!

Michigan is really booming!

The story behind "the most studied mind in history."

William Brown, female British sailor.

George Washington, the Boozer of our Country.

Further proof that Japanese monsters are generally the best monsters.

The 18th century was less painful than we think.

A brief list of Hero Cats.

It's a 16th century book!  It's a Rubik's Cube!

Emily Ruete, Runaway Princess of Zanzibar.

A Troupe of Performing Cats, 1890.  With a special shout-out to those sage and intelligent rescue cats!

Do not pass Go!

"If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begun upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time." - Thomas De Quincey

Adolph Luetgert's terrible, horrible, no good very bad sausages.

Ronald Searle, originator of the Cat Meme.

Julius Caesar's unicorn.

Meet the Elf Whisperer.

A Blue Ridge Stonehenge?

Helene Gillet: a victim of beheading who turned the tables.

A story of unsolved disappearances and the dangers of false memories.

George Gibbs and "the Divil's Cruelty to Mankind."

Aleister Crowley, Wickedest Man in the World, and very possibly the Worst Poet, as well.

Meet Cannibal Jack Jones.

Want to reprogram your brain?  Just learn ancient Greek.

UFOs and the military, 1915.

An ancient "tablet computer."

The lost land of Doggerbank.

The curiously tangled story of James R. McClintock, inventor of the H.L. Hunley.

And so we end yet another episode of As the Link Dump Turns.  See you on Monday, when I'll take a look at one of the most scandalous murders of 19th century France.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Newspaper Clipping of the Day


The Hamilton, Ohio "Republican" published a ghost story with a rather delightful sequel on October 19, 1892:
At Hazelwood, a small village along the Cincinnati & Northern Narrow gauge railroad, resides Jerry Meyers, a prominent farmer, with his wife in a beautiful home.

Several months ago they took to live with them their niece, Miss Anna Avey, for many years a resident of Middletown.

A week ago last Sunday Miss Minnie Hendrickson, a daughter of Marshal Hendrickson, of that city, went to spend a week with Anna at her uncle's home. Last Thursday morning the aunt, Mrs. Meyers, left home for a two days' visit to friends at Lockland. On the following day the uncle also left home, leaving the girls alone.

And now comes a chain of strange circumstances which has thrown that whole community into a condition of the greatest excitement. Immediately after the uncle left home Friday, Anna devoted her time to the discharge of her domestic duties in the kitchen, and her visitor went into the parlor to while the time away by playing the piano.

In a short time Minnie came running to the kitchen in a state of great excitement, and asked Anna what kind of a trick she was playing on her. Anna protested her innocence when Minnie explained that somebody or something had been thumping the doors of the house and that they were being opened and shut. Both girls now becoming thoroughly excited started to leave the cause of the noises and movements.

They saw other doors open and shut, but were unable to see who or what did it. A lamp that had been sitting on the center table in the parlor was found on top of the upright piano. A chair was taken from a chamber and placed in the sitting room. As the girls ascended the cellar steps a poker was thrown after them. The girls becoming thoroughly frightened ran to their neighbors, Mrs. Poepke, for refuge and safety. She advised the girls to call two men who were working near by.

About noon the uncle returned home and was told the strange and supernatural happenings.

The old gentleman was mystified, but sat down and waited for future developments, while the girls started for the barn to gather eggs. As they were about to enter the barn a large bowlder [sp] was thrown and struck near the door, they ran screaming to the house and told their uncle what had happened. The old gentleman arose to get his hat, and found it was gone, and it could nowhere be found. The next morning the hat was found tucked away in the flour barrel. The girls then started to clear away the dinner table, and found that the coffeepot that had been left on the hearth of the stove was gone. On search being made the lid of the coffeepot was found back of the stove, and the coffeepot itself in the oven. While Anna was standing near the stove a large nail, which had been used to fasten the sitting room window, dropped from some invisible direction upon the hearth. The old gentleman ran out into the yard with his gun to apprehend the intruders, but they could nowhere be found. while he was out some missile was hurled as if from the inside of the house, and lodged between the glass and screened doors of the sitting room. Upon its being shown to the old gentleman he said it was a casting taken from his grindstone, which was at the barn.

The girls started to the barnyard to milk, accompanied by Johnny Werster. armed with a double-barreled shotgun. As they were returning, a bowlder the size of two fists was thrown in their direction, and fell near them, and was picked up by Werster, and taken to the house, and as they passed by a workshop, which stood in the yard, another large bowlder was hurled through the window. The men rushed into the adjoining field of corn, and fired their guns, and attempted in every way to uncover the retreat of the author of these mysterious depredations.

Another bowlder was hurled through the sittingroom window, tearing the inside curtains and falling on the floor.

The next day, the paper reported an unusual twist to the mystery:


The weird ghost story, which was published exclusively in the Republican last evening will, in all probability, result in the bringing of a suit for damages. Since the Meyers residence was the scene of such a display of the supernatural powers, the old gentleman has concluded that his niece, Miss Avey, and Miss Hendrickson have bewitched his house, and has since charged the girls with that very serious offense.

The young ladies claim that they had nothing to do with boulders, pokers, chairs and lamps flying through the air; that if they were in communion with any foreign spirit they were not aware of it. They further claim that they did not "jonah" the old man and are not able to account for the strange actions that occurred at his house last week. One of the young ladies said that she had oftentimes read about spiritualism, but took no stock in it, but that since her experience at Hazelwood she is of the firm opinion that spirits can cause lots of trouble if so inclined.

The young ladies were consulting with an attorney yesterday concerning the charges of Jerry Meyers and promise to make the old man hold his tongue or dance according to the law.

I have found no report on how this family feud--never mind the ghost--was resolved. Personally, I'd rather deal with "bowlder"-throwing goblins any day than lawyers.

[Note: The two articles go back and forth in spelling the farmer's name as "Myers" or "Meyers." I stuck with the latter for the sake of clarity.]

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Two Lives of Dorothy Eady



Dorothy Eady began life as a pleasantly ordinary little girl, who gave no indication of becoming anything unusual. Then, when she was still a small child, Eady had a terrible fall. This accident sent her tumbling head-first into The Weird.

In 1907, the three-year-old girl fell down a flight of stairs in her London home, and a doctor pronounced her dead. Soon afterward, however, she had a miraculous revival. However, her relieved parents became increasingly disquieted to find that she had become a completely different, and very peculiar, child. Little Dorothy suddenly treated her surroundings with disdain, begging to be “brought home.” She could not express what “home” was until she was brought on a visit to the British Museum. When she saw an exhibit dealing with ancient Egypt, she immediately became very excited, crying, “These are my people.”  When she saw a photograph of the temple of Pharaoh Sety I (1290-1279 BC,) she insisted she had found her old “home.” After that, she haunted the Museum as often as she could, gazing at their Egyptian artifacts, and even reverently kissing the feet of the statues. During one of her visits, she met the great Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge, who encouraged her obsession with Egypt and helped her study hieroglyphs. (She later said that she had no need to “learn” hieroglyphs—she just required some help in “remembering” them.)

When she was fifteen, she announced that Sety I had begun visiting her at night. Not surprisingly, this development led her to be placed in sanatoriums several times, but nothing could shake her calm determination that her true life—the only one that mattered at all to her—had been in Sety’s Egypt.

When she was 27, Eady got a job writing for an Egyptian-oriented magazine based in London. During this period, she met an Egyptian student, Eman Abdel Meguid. She married him in 1931, largely, it seems, because he provided her with a way to “return home” to Egypt. Not long after the couple settled in Cairo, they had a son she named Sety. She continued to assert that she was visited by the old Egyptian gods. According to Eady, among these nightly visitors was the god Ho-Ra, who dictated to her the story of her previous existence. According to this account, she had been a girl named Bentreshyt who lived during the reign of Sety I. When she was three, her widowed father placed her in the temple of Kom e-Sultan, where she was raised to be a priestess. Despite the fact that she had taken vows of virginity, when she was still in her early teens she and Sety secretly became lovers. When Bentreshyt learned she was pregnant, she committed suicide rather than face the scandal and probable death sentence.

Eady made no secret of all this—if nothing else, she was always a woman with the courage of her convictions—with the result that her conventional, upper-class husband and in-laws became increasingly spooked by her. In 1935, she and Meguid separated, and she went off to work for the Department of Antiquities, where she impressed everyone with her passion and instinctive skill for Egyptian archaeology. Although she had no formal education on the topic, she wrote many highly-regarded articles and books that gave her a prominent place in contemporary Egyptology.

Eady lived the life of an ancient Egyptian woman to the fullest extent that the 20th-century world permitted. She prayed to the old gods, left offerings at the ruins of their temples, and frequently spent the night in the Great Pyramid, communing with who-knows-what. Unlike most obsessives, however, she maintained a respect for opposing views. She would fast with her Muslim neighbors during Ramadan, celebrate Christmas with the Christians, and cheerfully deflect comments on her eccentricity with the calm certitude of one who is sure she is in the right.

After all, priestesses who are hand-in-glove with the gods don’t need to take guff from anyone.

In 1956, the research project that employed her came to an end, leaving Eady without a job. She accepted—on Sety’s advice, she said—a position as a draftsperson in Abydos. While living there, she became known as “Omm Sety” (“Mother of Sety”) a designation she greatly preferred over her birth name. Although her new position paid poorly, she reveled in it, because she believed she had lived in Abydos’ Temple of Sety in her previous life. Even the many skeptics around her were amazed by her intimate knowledge of the site—often, knowledge that she could not have obtained by any conventional means. Although most were reluctant to believe that she had gained this knowledge from her incarnation as a priestess, they were at a loss to explain how she had gained it.

For the first time since her fateful tumble down the stairs those many years ago, Eady was happy and at peace. After all those centuries of waiting, she felt she had finally come home. She was also comforted by the belief that if she led a “chaste” life, that would atone for the “sin” she had committed in her previous incarnation.

Her deep knowledge of Egyptian folklore gained her something of a local reputation as a healer, or “white witch.” The locals would come to her with their illnesses or personal problems, and she would use rituals from the Pyramid Texts or folk medicine to cure them. She claimed a 100% success rate. “Magic in ancient Egypt was a science,” she once said. “It was really magic, and it worked.” She concentrated on using her powers for good, rather than evil, although there are some hints that if someone deliberately harmed her, she could and did dish out highly unusual forms of payback. She had a particular aptitude for documenting how many practices followed throughout the Middle East in the present day are directly related to ancient Egyptian customs.

Eady worked for the Antiquities Department until 1969. She translated and cataloged inscriptions found on the ruins, prepared drawings of the Temple of Sety’s architecture, and assisted archaeologists with their excavations. (She was considered “indispensable” for any serious archaeological mission in the Abydos area.) Her co-workers were awed by her “uncanny sixth sense” about the Temple and its surroundings. She claimed to often have “astral dreams” where she traveled back to Egypt as it had been in her former life—visions that always proved to be unsettlingly accurate. After her retirement, she remained a consultant for the Department, as well as a tour guide for the Temple. She stated that she still received visits from Sety, whom she saw as a source of advice and encouragement throughout her current existence.

As Eady grew older, she became an increasingly well-known and respected figure in Egyptologist circles. Although her spiritual beliefs were never fully accepted, they were at least tolerated. Her health became increasingly fragile, but for one who is convinced this life is just a progression to the next, death is nothing to dread. She only shrugged that when she came before Osiris for judgment, he “will probably give me a few dirty looks because I know I’ve committed some things I shouldn’t have.” Because both the Muslim and Christian cemeteries would not bury someone they considered “a heathen,” she built her own underground tomb, engraved with an ancient offering prayer.

Eady died on April 21, 1981. Unfortunately, the local health department refused to allow her to be buried in the tomb she had so carefully prepared, so she instead lies in an unmarked grave outside a Coptic graveyard.

Eady’s conviction that her knowledge of ancient Egypt stemmed from personal experience is, of course, far from universally accepted. However, there are no doubts about the quality of her scholarship. Scholar Kent Weeks wrote that as an ethnographer, she “has had few equals.” Conventional historians and archaeologists could not help but respect the depth and accuracy of her descriptions of Egypt’s ancient past. She was an intelligent, level-headed person who took her work very seriously, but approached life itself with a healthy dose of humor. In short, she was utterly unlike the stereotypical crackpot.

Perhaps the best answer for the mystery of Omm Sety came from writer William Golding, who met many Egyptologists who had known Eady. Golding reported that while they couldn’t quite bring themselves to believe she had truly been a reincarnated temple priestess, they all had to admit that “she had something.”

Friday, May 9, 2014

Weekend Link Dump


Remember the other week, when Strange Company revealed how ancient Egyptian history convinced Mac he's really the Sphinx?



Now Kate and Ernie have gotten into the act.

On to the links:

Who--or what--the hell is screaming in Texas?

What the hell exploded over China?

What the hell became of the White Bird and its crew?

What the hell were these cow-riding spacemen?

Well, forget all that.  What the holy hell is with all these feet?!

Watch out for those Cornish Black Dogs!

Watch out for Forsyth County!

Watch out for those wandering wombs!

Elizabeth and Mary Branch, who surely got what they deserved.

Sydney, the collie who "lived like a gentleman, died beloved."

The Great Severed Finger Lawsuit of 1634.

Sorting fact and fiction in a horrific IRA murder from 1972.

The latest on the "Jesus' wife" controversy.  Yes, it's looking like another fake.

Vincent Sinatra, the ghost hunter of Queens, New York.  And he does it his way.

Daniel Sickles:  honored war veteran, popular politician, murderer.

An overlooked victim of legendary serial killer H.H. Holmes?

Investigating a Mesolithic tragedy.

Really--but really--getting away from it all.

How Nellie Bly went undercover at a madhouse.

"...and refused to rule out the possibility of officers looking for somebody else in connection with the deaths." Brilliant deduction, Sherlock.

Well.  This is just my week for creepy "pairs of long-dead bodies found" stories.

Recreating the real Golden Oldies.

A handy guide to Early Modern anaphrodisiacs.

Winnipeg the Pooh.

Saving the Tinker's Heart.

Pam and a dead tramp fight the Nazis.

Theodore Baker, who was hanged and just couldn't shut up about it afterward.

Out: Richard the Lionhearted.  In:  Napoleon the Sheephearted!

Stew a la Neanderthal, anyone?

Hawker and his Pixy.

Howell and his Pixies.

Want to earn a few quick bucks over the weekend?  Just decipher this.  (Update:  Solved!)

Neuroscience and Phineas Gage.

Leonardo da Vinci:  Stereoscopic pioneer?

Ghost in the machine.

Ghost in the bedroom!

In short, the universe is one big, unpleasant merry-go-round which never stops to let you off.  (Cf. one of my favorite short stories, Alfred Noyes' "The Midnight Express.")

Comparing London on film, yesterday and today.

The Spanish mercenary who became a Mayan warrior king.  Not for the faint-hearted.

Meet Mrs. Gooch, a most scandalous Georgian lady.

The disappearance of Amelia Earhart:  Don't blame the coconut crabs!

"Tired she was, although she didn't show it..."  The sad personal life of high-kicking music-hall legend Marie Lloyd.

Fiends for a funeral.

Let's close with a word of practical advice from Aunt Undine:  If you're going out looking for Great White sharks this weekend, don't use a boat that looks like lunch.

And there we go.  Have a good weekend, gang, and for God's sake keep your feet in your sneakers.  I'll be back on Monday, talking reincarnation.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

From the Illustrated Police News, October 8, 1892, via British Newspaper Archive


Meet Miss Vint, beloved Crazy Cat Lady Emeritus, and a woman with an admirably open-minded sense of family ties. From the "Royal Cornwall Gazette," October 6, 1892:

It is probably to no small extent due to the circumstance that she is not a rich woman that Miss Vint, of Eden-gardens, Walworth, is permitted to enjoy the sweets of liberty. If, instead of a modest income of but little more than a hundred per annum, she were possessed of thousands of pounds, and in place of having no relatives at all she were blessed with kith and kin that took as lively an interest in her affairs as in their own, it is not impossible that her present place of residence would be Hanwell or Colney Hatch, which would be a thousand pities, as well on the harmless lady's own account as on that of her feline friends and companions, who share with her the comforts of home.

Regarded as a cat case, that of Miss Vint differs widely from some lately brought under magisterial notice. The lady in question is not a person selfishly eccentric in the matter of tabbies and tortoiseshells, harbouring them indiscriminately, and in such a way that they become a nuisance, calling for the interference of the sanitary inspector. Although Miss Vint owns and houses several cats, male and female, the most fastidious next-door neighbours could establish no just ground of complaint against them. They are a highly respectable and cleanly family of pussies, eschewing low company, and having nothing to say to the loose-living, prowling vagabonds of their kind haunting the locality, and who, no doubt, would take delight in demoralising them.

I am not speaking from hearsay. I have been honoured with an interview with Miss Vint, who first questioning me as to my belief in the doctrines of Pythagoras, and satisfying herself that my faith in that ancient philosopher was unassailable, introduced me to her subjects. I have stated that Miss Vint has no relatives; but that, as she regards it, is scarcely correct. She has a mother and father, an aunt Deborah, a sister, and two brothers, all of whom have departed biped life, but live again in feline form, and are dependent on her, their only human relief, to provide for and make them comfortable. I may mention that Miss Vint is a maiden lady, prim and neat, tall, with silvery hair worn in old-fashioned French curls, with a mild and pleasing manner, and, barring cats, I verily believe, as sane as Solomon.

Of the way in which she first became imbued with a belief in transmigration, Miss Vint is reluctant to speak. She admitted, however, that it came to her through her grandmother, of whom she was particularly fond. The old lady, it seemed, when in the flesh had, amongst many more, three peculiarities: grey eyes, that were of not exactly the same colour, a wart on her nose, and a terror of lucifer matches. Up to the last she stuck to the old flint-and-steel method of obtaining a light, the sharp crackling sound caused by striking a lucifer match causing her a nervous shock from which she did not recover for hours afterwards. Her grandmother lived in Devonshire, and on the very day, before Miss Vint was made aware of the demise of her aged relative, there mysteriously appeared to her a kitten. The chamber door being shut and locked, and Miss Vint not having as yet risen from her couch, there suddenly leapt upon it the animal mentioned. It purred at the pillow, and commenced to mew plaintively, whereon Miss Vint opened her eyes, and the kitten at the same moment expanding hers, the lady was instantly struck by the discovery that it had eyes of the grey of her grandmother, and that one of them was a shade lighter in hue than the other, From Kitty's optics, Miss Vint glanced at its pink little nose, and lo! there was a wart? It was winter-time, and scarcely daylight, and with a strange sensation creeping over bar, she leant out of bed to strike a light and as she did so the kitten uttered a cry of affright, and leaping down from the counterpane ran to hide in a distant corner.

Such evidences were, to an unbiased mind, irresistible, and Miss Vint waited only to hear that her grandmother had ceased to exist within a few minutes of the appearance of the kitten on the bed, when she literally took the creature to her bosom, regarding it as a sacred duty to adopt it. Her own mother and father being dead, it was but natural that she should wonder whether they too existed in similar bodily tenements. Bearing in mind those of their characteristics that would most "likely reappear" in animal shape--her father was lame in his left foot--only a short time elapsed before she recovered both her parents, and within a very few months her Aunt Deborah as well. If anything was needed to convince Miss Vint that it was really her own mother in catskin she was cherishing, it was provided when the animal in question put in an uninvited appearance. Aunt Deborah, it seemed, and old Mrs. Vint could never agree in human life. The former was a cross-grained, red-haired woman, and afflicted with a squint, and so was the cat that, forcing its way into the premises and refusing to be "hished" away, pertinaciously picked a quarrel with its whilom sister and fought and scratched her. Had it been a simple question of preserving peace and quietness, Miss Vint, as she herself assured me, would have got rid of the carroty creature by some means or other; but the feelings of a niece prevailed with her, and she permitted it to remain.

Miss Vint's feline relatives had each for its domicile one of a range of boxes, comfortable and capacious, fixed pigeon-hole fashion against the further wall of her large kitchen. A soft bed of hay was provided, and above every doorway appeared the name of the occupier. "Aunt Deborah's" name so appeared, and she was at home. A strong, wrong-headed, sulky-looking cat, she arched her back and spat at me when I attempted to stroke her. "I am sadly afraid," Miss Vint remarked in an undertone and with a sigh, as we turned away from the boxes and returned to the fireplace, "that I shall always have trouble with her." "Is she, then, in the habit of misbehaving herself?" "She is a wicked, wicked creature," whispered the poor lady. "A thief perhaps?" She glanced round, expecting, I believe, that the carrotty cat was listening, and then, screening her mouth with her hand, replied, "Worse, far worse than that. She is a murderess. She killed her own mother--the kind old soul I told you of, and who originally died in Devonshire. She ought, no doubt, to have been long ago dealt with according to law, but the puzzle is, to what law is she answerable? Anyhow, it would be a hard thing for a niece to denounce her aunt, whatever her shape, for such a terrible crime." "But then, again, it might have been an accident." "You are very kind," returned Miss Vint gratefully, "to make such a suggestion, but unfortunately I myself witnessed it, and a more cruel or cold-blooded deed was never committed. She was, as usual, wrangling with her sister when dear old granny interfered, and she at once flew at her, and, seizing her by the throat, strangled her before I could separate them. It has weighed heavily on my mind ever since. It is two years ago, but I feel that I can never forgive her."

"And what as to the other members of your interesting family?--your transmigrated sister, and your three brothers--are they tolerably tractable?" " Well, thank goodness," said Miss Vint, "they give me scarcely any trouble at all. As for my ' Sister Minnie,' no creature, human or otherwise, could be more faithful or affectionate." She called "Minnie, Minnie," and quite a handsome large white cat jumped down from its box, and gracefully leaping first up its mistress's extended arm, and then on her shoulder, putting its cheek against hers. "And by what sign or taken were you able to identify Minnie as your 'departed sister?'" 'Well, that I am scarcely able to explain," she made answer, as she caressed her feline relative. "It was more the prompting of nature than anything else. My dear sister had blue eyes--she was seventeen when she died--a pretty, mincing way of walking, and this darling had the same. There was nothing else, that just drew us together, except that Minnie, my sister, used to take pride in a pink sash worn over her white frock, and Minnie, when she first came here and scratched at the parlour window, had a pink ribbon tied round her throat. She returned her "sister Minnie "' to her box and called "Micah," and gravely introduced the speckled animal to me as her elder brother. The feline Micah was excessively fat and whiskerless, and, as Miss Vint declared, such a living likeness of the firstborn of her respected parents that she recognised him at first sight. It was fortunate that she was able to do so. It was more than a mile distant from Eden-gardens; and the wretched cat was being stoned to death by ragamuffin boys when the identification took place; and the boys were instantly routed and "Micah" rescued.

Observing another box labelled "Job," I inquired for the animal hearing that name, and Miss Vint's face at once assumed an anxious expression. "Conscientiously," she remarked, "I have some doubts respecting Master Job. "As to his being deserving of your confidence and protection, do you mean ?" "Oh, he would be quite welcome to both, of course, if I could feel quite certain as to his previous life, but I must own that at times I am troubled with doubts. The points of resemblance are more in character than in features. Job, my own brother, was not a steady lad. He got into trouble with a young woman before he was twenty-three and ran away and went to sea, and the only letter ever received from him was one that bore the Persian post-mark. That is many years ago, and, as I need not tell you, it made me very anxious, he being my only remaining relative. My belief is, however," and the lady placed her hand on my arm and looked wondrous wise, "that Job Vint died at sea, probably in the Persian Gulf, on the night of February 7th, 1887." "And what is it that enables you to fix the date so exactly?" "Because, sir, that night I was awoke by cries of distress, as of a creature struggling for its life, and, opening the staircase window, near which is this cistern, the lid of which my maid had accidentally left open the day before, there saw, gasping for breath and in the act of sinking, a Persian cat and as it opened its month I observed that it was deficient of some of its front teeth, which was the case with my brother Job, who had lost them in fighting when a boy. I saved its life and took it in, and from that moment called it Job, and treated it as such. But I don't know!" and she shook her grey curls dubiously. "His propensity for roaming is certainly like that of my younger brother, but he was always fond of me, and the cat is not. The only person he shows any regard for is the cat's-meat man, and he would sooner sleep of nights in the dustbin than in his comfortable bed here. I may have made a mistake, but if 1 have," and Miss Vint brightened up, "thank goodness, it is the only one." I did not have the heart to contradict her.

I, myself, would never dream of contradicting Miss Vint. I hope she and her resurrected relatives had a long and happy life together.  (Well, maybe except for Aunt Deborah.)

And that putting her family tree together later gave genealogists fits.