Friday, December 19, 2014
I've been doing a spot of moonlighting from this blog: Over at Whizzpast, they have been kind enough to include my guest post, giving ten examples of Bad Santas and general holiday mayhem from the past.
Have yourselves a morbid little Christmas!
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas to everyone we know.
Here's a peek at what Santa will be bringing to all the highly peculiar little boys and girls on his list:
Who the hell owns Lee Harvey Oswald's coffin?
Who the hell painted the Virgin on the Rocks?
Where the hell did our water come from?
What the hell happened to the 1962 Alcatraz escapees?
What the hell happened to the 1937 Alcatraz escapees?
What the hell are these Peruvian holes?
What the hell is the Royston Cave?
What the hell is the Shugborough Inscription? Now we know?
Watch out for the Hat Man!
Watch out for Killer Folding Beds!
Are you a resident of Cornwall? Watch out for those possessed cars!
Are you a resident of New Zealand? Watch out for the Taniwha!
Are you a resident of America? Watch out for those baffling codpieces!
Are you a cat? Watch out for Lord Eldin!
As someone who has read more wretchedly-written, insulting Poe novels than I really care to think about, all I can say is, oh hell, yes.
Fighting over a dead American in Ireland, 1867.
Okay, so Zanzic the Necromancer plays pimp for a ghost, and winds up with a dead body on his hands...Oh, never mind. Just follow the link.
From attempted assassin to condemned man to Emperor all in one Christmas and now you know why it was called the Byzantine era.
George VI saved the British monarchy, and when his ghost looks at Prince Charles it must seem like a Pyrrhic victory.
A reminder that you always have to have somebody fact-checking the fact-checkers.
Because you can't have too many Bad Santas.
Here's your big chance to own Cromwell's corpse plate!
Christmas and mourning in old Russia.
The dam that is stealing time.
It's the Million Mummy March!
The sad tale of the Stag of Arbigland, who gave his life to provide a lousy Christmas dinner.
The unsolved mystery of the Baby in the Mine, 1901.
"Tsimequor, indigenous Snuneymuxw." And it only got weirder after that.
Is this Jane Austen? Or a con?
There's more to the Easter Island statues than you might think.
Christmas with George Cruikshank.
The importance of being able to tell your Banshees from your White Ladies.
Some heroic firehouse dogs of old New York.
Here's another historic NYC dog, this one forever standing guard outside an apartment building.
Why "He's a Jolly Good Fellow" is one of the most depressing songs ever.
How Marie Mancini's bed became a tourist attraction. Uh, don't worry about clicking the link; despite what you're probably thinking right now, the story's safe for work.
The amazing photographs of "Snowflake Bentley."
How Charles Dickens got one of England's first personal post-boxes.
Medieval book advertisements.
Some New England snow lore.
A 17th century female alehouse "good fellow."
Saki provides some helpful tips on Christmas present dos and don'ts.
A look at Jay Gould's swimming pool.
Earth lights in 19th century Norfolk.
"Female husbands" in Georgian England.
That time tulips caused an entire country to go barking mad.
And, finally, meet Derby the 3-D dog.
And we're done for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at an evocative Christmas suicide. In the meantime, a brief introduction to our music video of the week: Back in the day, one of my aunts worked with a woman who was married to the leader of a struggling young rock band. The group was having a hard time getting gigs, and money was pretty tight for them. The wife was always reminding my aunt that if she knew of any weddings or parties that needed a band, her husband's group was eager for the work. My aunt had heard their music, and privately didn't think they were very good. She felt sorry for her co-worker, because she figured that band just wasn't going anywhere.
As it turned out, the group wound up doing all right.
Every so often, I remind my aunt of this story, and she just shrugs and says, "I still don't think John Fogerty can sing."
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
|via British Newspaper Archive|
Today's story is brief, but weird. This particular account appeared in the "Evening Telegraph" for July 6, 1910:
The crew of the fishing smack Jeune Frederic, of Grand Camp Les Baines, on the Normandy Coast, saw a strange object in the sea whilst trawling last week.
The sea at the time was rough, and a strong N.W. wind was blowing. The crew were hauling up the trawl when one of them pointed in the direction of Barfleur at a big black object that loomed up on the horizon.
It looked like an immense bird with outstretched wings, and seemed to come from the English coast. Suddenly it fell abruptly to the surface, but shot up again only to drop back heavily.
The fishermen concluded that it was an aeroplane. Three of them climbed into the rigging and saw for an instant a black spot on the surface of the waves. The trawl was hastily got in, and the Jeune Frederic made all haste to the spot, but no trace of anything was to be seen.
The Maritime authorities, to whom the story was repeated, are making inquiries, but as the Jeune Frederic put to sea again after circulating the story more exact details are lacking. Nothing is known of any aeroplane flights along the coast.
This is apparently all we know of the incident, leaving it forever uncertain just what it was these men saw.
Monday, December 15, 2014
When lovely woman stoops to folly,
And finds too late that men betray,
What charm can soothe her melancholy,
What art can wash her guilt away?
Shipboard romances seldom turn out well. However, few, if any, ended as publicly and as spectacularly as the enigmatic entanglement of Major William Charles Yelverton (later Viscount Avonmore) and Maria Theresa Longworth. It took six years, numerous courts in three different countries, and Lord knows how many impassioned newspaper stories to sort out their relationship, and even then the results remained unsatisfactorily inconclusive. The moral, if there is one, could be this: If you are a young, pretty, and romantic young woman, avoid moonlight at sea at all costs.
The story opened in 1852. One summer evening, Miss Longworth, an attractive 19-year-old orphan, took a steamboat from Boulogne to London. During this voyage, she made the acquaintance of the twenty-eight-year-old Yelverton. During the crossing, he was very attentive to her, (just how attentive he was would be a matter for later public debate,) and after landing the next day, he paid her a call.
|Major William Yelverton|
After this, they went their separate ways for more than three years. Longworth went to Italy, and Yelverton to his station in Malta. In the meantime, they kept up a correspondence—volumes and volumes of correspondence that would eventually become exhausting reading for lawyers scattered all over the British Isles. Their mode of addressing each other soon went from “My dear Miss Longworth,” and “Ever your sincere friend,” to ”Carissimo Carlo mio,” and “Cara Theresa mia,” finally culminating in the unforgettable (or unforgivable) “Tooi-tooi carissima.”
It took the Crimean War to reunite Carissimo and Tooi-tooi. They met again in Constantinople, the Major as a military man, Longworth as a nurse. The pair would later give conflicting stories about this reunion. The lady claimed he begged for her immediate hand, but she insisted the marriage be postponed until the end of the war. The Major, on the other hand, stated that he only called on the lady at her request, the meeting was brief, but “in consequences of the advances made by the pursuer, great familiarities ensued.”
After hostilities ceased, Longworth visited a friend in the Crimea. The Major was there as well, and, she stated, was known to everyone there as her fiancé. She said her beloved told her he was suffering financial problems and was dependent upon an uncle who did not wish him to marry. Because of this, he urged they be married secretly in the Greek church in Balaclava. This scheme did not appeal to her, (she was a devout Roman Catholic,) and she returned to Constantinople without any definite plans for their marriage. The Major denied her account, but their correspondence dating from after this interlude tends to support her version of events. Of course, by the time he gave his official testimony, he was quite anxious, for very good reasons which will soon be discussed, to paint himself not as an honorable suitor, but a highly dishonorable seducer.
By 1857, they had both returned to Britain. When the Major was stationed in Leith, Scotland, Longworh was visiting a friend in nearby Edinburgh. The couple saw much of one another and, again, they were recognized by all observers as affianced. Yelverton’s suggestion of a quasi-legal Greek marriage having been rejected, he tried a quasi-legal Scottish one.
“One day,” Longworth testified, “he took the prayer book from the table, and I went to his side, and he read the marriage ceremony, and said ‘That makes you my wife by the laws of Scotland.’ I opened the door of the room in which Miss MacFarlane was sitting, and said to her: ‘We’ve married each other.’”
Longworth appreciated this gesture of esteem, but she refused to grant her Major husbandly intimacy until a more conventional ceremony had taken place. When he persisted in trying to bed her, she fled Scotland, virtue intact.
Yelverton described the scene differently. There was no prayer book, no reading of the ceremony, no nothing. However, even though he lacked the legal status of a husband, he said one day he was granted all the privileges, “on the sofa in Mrs. Gamble’s sitting room.”
Whatever the truth may have been, this peripatetic pair next met in Ireland, where, she said, in August of 1857, they were joined in marriage by a Roman Catholic priest. Yelverton gave a grudging semi-corroboration of her story, muttering that they had indeed knelt before a priest, who read “a portion of a marriage service.”
Over the next year, they traveled together on-and-off, always as Mr. and Mrs. Yelverton. Theresa’s passport was under that name.
In the spring of 1858, Yelverton traveled to Edinburgh, leaving his lady behind in France. There, he found the material wealth he so desperately craved. Unfortunately, it came in the form of a young widow, Emily Forbes.
The Major was evidently one of those men with a knack for persuading ladies to act in ways contrary to their best interests. He soon persuaded this walking cash machine to marry him. He wrote to Theresa, urging her to emigrate to New Zealand, where he would soon join her—honest! Instead, she followed him to Edinburgh, only to discover a second Mrs. Yelverton—one who was already pregnant—and the fat was well and truly in the fire. The discarded Theresa filed suit to prove that she, and she alone, was the rightful Mrs. Yelverton.
The issue of the Major's complex love life first went to court in Dublin. Yelverton’s argument was that the Scottish marriage was a figure of the lovesick Miss Longworth’s imagination, and the Irish one didn’t count, as he was not a Catholic. He unblushingly asserted that from the very beginning of their relationship, he had only illicit sex, not honorable wedlock, on his mind. This self-destruction of his reputation was necessary to his case. In crime writer Edmund Lester Pearson's words, Yelverton "was in a frightful jam. He might admit that some time, in his pursuit of Theresa, he had been animated by the feelings of a true lover, an officer and a gentleman. If he did so, it would lead to the conclusion that his purposes were sort of half-way decent, and therefore that, perhaps, he really had ventured into matrimony. This would naturally lead him straight to jail, as the bigamous husband...Or else he had to paint himself as a scoundrelly seducer, into whose head never entered the tiniest bit of honorable intention. And then, his trouble would be to escape being dissected by the infuriated populace of Dublin."
The "jam" couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.
Theresa made an excellent impression in court. She told her sad tale with an intelligence, dignity, and apparent candor which brought a much-needed touch of class to this sordid story. The blonde, demure-looking Miss Longworth/Mrs. Yelverton fit so perfectly the ideal image of the Victorian heroine that the public instantly made her their idol. Men felt a protective devotion to this cruelly forsaken lady, while women saw her as the personification of all the wrongs they themselves had suffered at the hands of men. Meanwhile, Yelverton, whose whole defense was based on making himself look like a complete stinker, succeeded admirably in that regard. If Theresa seemed like the classic heroine, her former love was the stereotypical villain of melodrama. At the close of Theresa's testimony, the "Freeman's Journal" wrote:
Mrs. Yelverton is abandoned. The legality of marriage is denied, and it is alleged that, though married by a priest, in as much as Mr. Yelverton is a Protestant at the time the marriage is a nullity. We have endeavoured to put the legal point raised in a brief compass. The plea in fact amounts to this: that any Protestant libertine may pretend to any young and beautiful Catholic woman that he has become a Catholic, marry her as a Catholic, and at the end of a month, or of a year, or of three, cast her off and proclaim that the confiding woman who, in the purity of her heart, and before God, became his wife, was in law and in fact his mistress, the victim of his brutal lust, and of the more brutal code which abets his villiany. In fact, the issue before the court in the present case is not one of pounds, shillings, and pence. The issue is whether the law is such as the Hon. Major Yelverton's counsel contends.
Every attempt to cast a slur on the fair fame of Mrs.Yelverton has failed. The counsel for the defendant subjected her character yesterday to a cross-examination of such a character that a crowded court groaned him again and again to indicate the indignation which the questions briefed to him had created. We hope it will be the last time that a member of the Bar will subject himself to such a rebuke that must be felt with double force when he remembers the firm and dignified, yet mild and ladylike tone in which the woman set aside the unworthy attempt to cast an imputation on her honour.
We cannot believe that any court will hold it to be legal for a man to affect to be a Catholic, entrap a Catholic lady into a marriage, and then with impunity turn on his victim and claim her as his concubine. If such be the law, the public virtue, the public conscience, the public will, which has the power of making and unmaking laws, must unmake this hideous code, trample upon it as an outrage against society, against morals and against religion, and must do so by the instrumentality of a jury.
As for Major Yelverton, the same publication snorted:
Major Yelverton's evidence was perfectly damnatory, and while it condemned the defendant out of his own mouth, it confirmed in the minutest details the particulars of the evidence of Mrs. Yelverton. What a triumph for the virtuous wife, what ignominy for the dishonourable husband, the whole evidence of the man of "gentle blood" excited the most intense disgust. Was it believed? We shall not, though we could, answer the question. His sole object from the moment he met Mrs. Yelverton on the Boulogne packet was her ruin. She was not of sufficient gentle blood for his wife, but she was quite good enough to be his concubine.After all the testimony had been heard, the jury, aflame with chivalrous indignation, blew the Major a raspberry. Both Longworth marriages, they ruled, were valid.
Yelverton then tried his luck with an Edinburgh judge, who ruled in his favor. There was an appeal, which ended with a two-to-one decision against him. Yelverton’s next move was the House of Lords, where he won a squeaker: A three-to-two decision decreeing that Emily Ashworth Forbes, and not Theresa Longworth, was the proud bride of this man. It is a matter of debate which lady truly came out the winner. It is also unresolved whether Theresa Longworth and her erstwhile Carissimo were ever really married, and if her role was of wholly innocent dupe or willing and deliberate paramour. Ellen Rosenman, a modern-day student of the case, summed things up nicely: “It seems incredible that the worldly Yelverton would have allowed himself to be maneuvered into an imprudent marriage but equally incredible that Longworth would risk so much by becoming Yelverton’s mistress.”
Unfortunately--or perhaps, now that I think of it, fortunately--we know nothing about Emily Forbes’ reaction to finding her new husband came with some very messy strings attached, or of their subsequent marital life. All that can be said is that after the Irish trial, the army declined to have anything more to do with Yelverton. He succeeded to his father’s title of Viscount Avonmore in 1870, and he died in Biarritz on April 1, 1883, a disgraced and obscure figure.
Theresa—who used, until the end of her days, the names of Mrs. Yelverton and Viscountess Avonmore—had a more interesting post-trial existence. She became a world traveler, lecturer (an unsuccessful one, alas,) and author. She published an edition of her famous correspondence with the Major, travelogues, and several romantic novels.
It is unclear whether her unconquerable restlessness was the happy product of an adventurous and independent spirit, or the tragic efforts to escape a blighted and lonely life. On September 13, 1881, she died in South Africa at the age of forty-eight. She had ten pounds to her name.
Friday, December 12, 2014
Glowing-Eyed Demon Cats: They're not just for Halloween anymore!
The latest chapter in our ongoing compilation of The Weird:
Where the hell are Europa's geysers?
Who the hell was Maggie Wall?
Who the hell killed Ken McElroy? Or perhaps the question is, "Who didn't?"
What the hell is visiting the Bulloo River?
How the hell was Lazarus Averbuch killed?
Why the hell is this cat green? Now we...maybe know?
Watch out for sand!
Watch out for turnip wine!
Watch out for Christmas presents!
Really watch out for UR116!
The world is really booming!
Pennygown: A beautiful and somewhat mysterious old Scottish graveyard.
Here's something you don't see every day: a Victorian underwater ballroom.
Meet Edmund, whose books will Curll your toes.
Okay, I'll go for William Shatner as the gouty clergyman, with Jennifer Lawrence as the haphazardly married Elizabeth Smith.
The British Navy meets some Christmas Eve gun-running in 1910 Dubai. It all worked out about as well as you'd think.
Victorian children, lost and found.
"The King's Mirror": a treasure trove of medieval weirdness.
Anthropomorphic taxidermy: Because the Victorians never tired of finding new ways to weird us out.
Meet Zeus, an amazing-looking rescue owl.
Bribing a man to marry a pauper mother, 1849.
A really out-of-this-world lake?
Saving Wolsey's Angels.
How to celebrate St. Nicholas' Day.
A look at historic Christmas cribs.
Philippe d'Auvergne, British spymaster.
Was this the most unfortunate rescue in history?
Peculiar Historical Theory of the week: Was Leonardo da Vinci's mother a Chinese slave?
How servants knew their place in Victorian England.
A talk with Dorothy Parker.
An old shoe store turns out to be a fashion time capsule.
Untangling the many recorded fates of the "Sea Bird."
American Gothic: the real "Little House on the Prairie."
Fanny Bertrand, the fiery Countess.
A 14th century witchcraft case that all in all, was very unfair to an unfortunate black cat.
Trolls who eat children, elfish food thieves, and killer cats. It can only mean one thing: Merry Icelandic Christmas!
Some rainstorms require not an umbrella, but a barbecue.
Mary Lincoln holds a seance.
Gout: a classic Georgian Era ailment.
To explain how all those Georgians got the gout, here's some Christmas pies and cakes.
2014's Top of the Pops Crop Circles.
And, finally, meet a piano-playing hedgehog.
There you go for this week. I'll be back on Monday, with a tale of love gone wrong, and gone to court. In the meantime, I've lately been watching a lot of old "Your Hit Parade" clips. I think this illustrates why it's my current go-to show for epic musical weirdness.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
That headline pretty much says it all, but here's the rest of the story, as reported in the "New York Times" for July 28, 1856:
On Saturday night last, a man who resided in Twenty-ninth-street was killed in a most singular manner. The following are the peculiar circumstances, as far as our reporter has been able to learn them--for, in consequence of the opinion entertained concerning his relatives by the deceased, who was a man of considerable wealth and respectability, they have made great effort to keep the particulars from the public ear. It appears that nearly a year ago the deceased, who was fifty-three years of age, became strongly impressed with an idea that, when he should die, the parsimonious disposition of his relatives would lead them to put him in a cheap coffin, while he had a strong desire to be buried in one of polished rosewood, lined with white satin and trimmed with silver. Soon after this strange idea got possession of his mind, he discovered an elegant coffin in one of the principal warehouses, which suited him. He purchased it for $75; had it sent to his residence at nightfall, and stowed it away in a small closet adjoining his bed-room, where it remained until the time of the accident. How it occurred is not known to a certainty, for the first intimation the family had of the lamentable occurrence was from a servant, who, on going to call him to breakfast, found the door wide open and the deceased lying upon the floor, dead, with his coffin at his side. She screamed, which soon brought the family, and on raising the body the skull was found crushed in upon the brain. He was discovered about 8 o'clock yesterday morning, when, to all appearance, he had been dead several hours. On examining the closet, a bottle containing a quantity of sherry wine was found, and as Saturday night was excessively warm, he is supposed to have gone to the closet in order to procure the wine to use with some ice-water he had on a small table by his bedside. It is thought that he must have sought for it in the dark, and by some mistake upset the coffin, which stood nearly upright. Becoming sensible that it was falling, he probably made an effort to get away, when he fell, and the outer end struck his head with sufficient force to fracture his skull and cause almost immediate death. The inquest will be held with all possible secrecy. The unfortunate impression of the deceased concerning his relatives is a sufficient reason for withholding the names of the parties.
This story, of course, leaves one question lingering in all our minds, namely, "Was he buried in his killer coffin?" This detail is lost to history, but I assume that was the case.
I'm sure the unnamed gentleman would not have wanted it any other way.
Monday, December 8, 2014
In June of 1931, the life of 28-year-old army lieutenant Herbert "Hugh" Chevis looked pretty darn good. He was happily married, prosperous, and well-liked by everyone who knew him. He had no known enemies or any notable personal difficulties. His life seemed almost disarmingly fortunate.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you're already guessing that this state of affairs did not last long.
Lieutenant Chevis was living in a bungalow at Blackdown Camp, near Aldershot, England. His wife of six months, a wealthy and glamorous woman named Frances Rollason, still had a flat in London, where her three children from a previous marriage lived, but she often joined him in his military quarters. On June 20, the Chevises ordered two partridges from a local poulterer. When they arrived at the bungalow, their cook, Ellen Yeomans, placed them in a meat-safe outside the building, where they remained until it was time to prepare them for the evening meal.
Not long after sampling this peculiarly distasteful dinner, Chevis became extremely ill, and soon fell into frightful convulsions. The lieutenant was rushed to the hospital, but little could be done for him. After a night of dreadful suffering, Chevis died early the next morning. Mrs. Chevis also became sick, but recovered. Tests showed that the lieutenant died of strychnine poisoning.
Although the partridges had already been disposed of by the time Chevis was hospitalized, strychnine was found in the remains of the juice in which the birds had been cooked. A Home Office analyst calculated that for so small an amount of meat to kill Chevis, the birds must have been heavily impregnated with the poison. The presumption was that someone managed to sneak over to the meat-safe--it was never made clear if it was kept locked or not--and injected the partridges with a concentrated solution of strychnine. (All the other birds sold by the poulterer were examined, and found to be completely normal.)
Not only was no convincing motive for the poisoning ever found, the identity of the killer remains an utter mystery. It must have been someone close enough to Chevis to be familiar with the layout of the bungalow and the location of the meat-safe--but who? Further complicating the mystery is the fact that the safe was surrounded by neighboring bungalows, and the back yard was guarded by Chevis' dog, who was known to bark at strangers. Any outsider trying to sneak into the yard was running an enormous risk of being caught.
What made this already unsettling case uniquely creepy were the messages sent after the crime. On the day Herbert Chevis was buried, his father, Sir William Chevis, received a telegram from Dublin. All it contained were the words, "Hooray. Hooray. Hooray." Sir William's address was not listed in any directory and his name had yet to be mentioned in newspaper reports about the death, which suggested that the writer was someone who knew the family, rather than some random crank. All the police could learn about this sinister message was that it had been written by someone who signed his name as "J. Hartigan," giving as an address the Hibernian Hotel. Investigation showed that no one by the name of "Hartigan" had been staying at the Hibernian. No one associated with Chevis knew anyone by the name of "Hartigan," and the dead man had no known connection with Ireland. Some newspaper reports indicated that a man who bought strychnine in Dublin a few days before Chevis' death matched the description of the man who sent the "Hooray" telegram, but even if this was true, it did not help in determining his identity.
The police interviewed dozens of witnesses and potential suspects, including Frances Chevis and her ex-husband, but everyone questioned had either unassailable alibis or no discernible motive, or, most frequently, both. Desperate to solve the mystery, it was even suggested that the poisoning was accidental. Perhaps Chevis' partridge had, while still alive, ingested some poison that killed both the bird and the man who later ate it? That theory, although still vaguely tossed around by crime historians, is so unlikely that it is difficult to take it seriously. The poisoning almost had to have been an "inside job"--that is to say, someone in the household--but then, who sent the telegram from Ireland? Or did "J. Hartigan" have nothing to do with the poisoning? Could he have simply been someone with a personal grudge against the Chevis family who decided to cruelly gloat over the tragedy?
|The "Hartigan" telegram|
After a local paper, the "Daily Sketch," published a photograph of the telegram, the editor received a postcard. It read, "Why did you publish the picture of the 'Hooray' telegram?" It was signed, "J. Hartigan." (However, some students of this case believe that this message was a hoax, written by someone other than the original "Hartigan.")
Soon afterwards, Sir William Chevis also received a postcard signed "J. Hartigan." It had been mailed from Belfast, but it is uncertain whether this was really from the sender of the Ireland telegram. All the card said was, "It is a mystery they will never solve. Hooray."
Unfortunately, the sender was quite right.