"...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, December 9, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

For the month of December, our Link Dump will be sponsored by the Cats of Christmas!

What the hell was the Star of Bethlehem?

What the hell were the Palatine Lights?

What the hell are the Min Min Lights?

What the hell is the Swedish Atlantis?

What the hell is the Voynich Manuscript?  Now we know!  It's a calendar!

What the hell happened to the Holy Grail?

What the hell happened to this Irish village?

Who the hell poisoned the Goebbels children?

Why the hell do people put pineapples outside their door?

Watch out for those malevolent Aztec gods!

Watch out for those haunted TVs!

Watch out for those Devil Chains!

Watch out for the Shutterkin!

The princess and the gypsies.

More from the "pushing back human technology" file.

Some helpful tips if you're planning to take up bodysnatching as a career.

The Mummers of Midwinter.

An interesting peek at social history:  14th century "proofs of age."

No question, my favorite link of the week:  That time Queen Victoria went all King Herod.

The ghosts of Shrewsbury prison.

A "lost" ghost story written by H.G. Wells has just been published.

Voices of the Barbary Coast.

Food of the California Gold Rush.

The sole American killed in the 1814 burning of Washington.

London "city characters," 1824.

A new look at Rasputin.

It used to be great entertainment to watch royals eat.

Dickens and the flea-ridden dog.

How the tango was nearly destroyed.

The fine art of 18th century salads.

A medieval Christmas cookbook.

Along that same theme, here's a look at medieval royal feasts.

The temple of lucky cats.

A disturbing tale of "organ harvesting."

Corpse bread fishing and the dangers of palm-reading.

Tales from the Parish Register.

The dark side of Regency-era Bath.

Hey, let's nuke a hurricane!  What could go wrong?

19th century Persian pageantry.

The mystery of our underground oceans.

When snuff was good for whatever ailed you.

Dorothy Kilgallen and the JFK Assassination.

The "Six Wives" in the archives.

A scandalous royal marriage.  Not that there were any shortage of those.

More on the alleged "Bosnian Pyramid."

The world's largest pyramid is in hiding in Mexico.

The man who sees UFOs.

If you've been dying to know what a pound of snuff cost in 1836, today is your lucky day.

If you've been dying for a recipe for pickled purslane, step right up.

The sad fate of Barnardo's children.

The Grinch who stole Henry VIII's Christmas.

The curious case of the Wollaton Park Gnomes.

The curious case of the coffins in Edward IV's tomb.

Holiday gift ideas, 1913.

A famed French salon hostess.

Experimenting with salamanders.

A surprise at Sutton Hoo.

The ghosts and witches of Joseph Glanvill.

The legend of the haunted apples.

Charles Dickens' uh, unusual way of memorializing his cat.

A Fortean tree of lights.

A case of a bleeding corpse.

The execution of a figure in the Edmund Berry Godfrey mystery.

A telepathic tribe in the Amazon.

Always room in the Link Dump for stories about stolen mummy hands.

Not to mention stories about mystical hermits.  Or mysterious green children. Or people killed by corpses.

The market cat of Spitalfields.

That time a miner captured the Devil.

An interview with the author of "Gods of Eden."

Language falls into a cycle.

The traveling corpses of Wurzburg.

The 1518 "Dancing Plague."

All you need to know about the Dogs of the Titanic.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  What not to do with a piece of wood.

Also: Don't laugh at snakes.  And think twice about buying second-hand boots.

Uncovering the sad end of a 19th century supermodel.

A bloody ax provides clues about human history.

A mammoth skeleton provides clues about human history.

That wraps it up for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll visit one of Scotland's most beloved villains.  In the meantime, here's some Tennessee Ernie Ford.  Because, damn it, I like Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

"Morning Chronicle," October 13, 1804

This week's clipping deals with one of the more peculiar subcategories of poltergeist activity: cut or ripped clothing. The story appeared in the "London Courier," October 9, 1804:
Cambridge, Oct. 7--A few days since Mrs. Adams, the wife of Mr. Adams, a respectable farmer at Sawston, seven miles south of this town, perceived the bottom part of her gown was torn, as if by a nail, this she mended, and thought no more of it till the next day, when she discovered that not only her own gown, but her servant's also was literally in tatters; she could not account for their being in that state, but put on another, this, though whole at the time of doing so, was reduced to the condition of the first, and though in the whole, she dressed herself in six different garments, all of them shared the same fate. She informed several of the neighbours, both male and female, of the circumstance, who, on going into the house, were equally unfortunate, for though the utmost precaution was taken that they might experience no injury, they found such holes in the gowns of the women and the coats of the men as convinced them all were regarded in the same light. A friend of mine, who lives in the place, and who is a gentleman of great respectability, informed me that he went to the house, where there were a dozen others, that he knew their gowns were entire on their entry, but he saw pieces drop off, and rents made without any visible cause. Mr. Adams called on Dr. Milner to acquaint him with the business, and I understand the Vice-Chancellor, who as well as the Dr. has great knowledge in Chemistry, intends accompanying him tomorrow, that they may, if possible, discover the cause of this extraordinary case. The garments have no appearance of having had any Chemical preparation thrown on them, for neither the look or smell would lead you to suppose that the rends were occasioned by vitriolic acid, &c. Many of your readers will laugh at a tale so improbable and inexplicable: there might have been some grounds for ridicule if only one or two persons had been affected by it, but nine-tenths of those who visit the house have a knowledge of the effects from their own experience.

The last report I've been able to find about the mystery is dated about one month later. It was a brief item stating only that the weird destruction of clothing was still continuing, which must have made Sawston's tailors and seamstresses very happy.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Murder in De Russey's Lane

"Next the devil adultery,
Enters the devil murder."
~John Webster, "The White Devil"

Edward Hall and Eleanor Mills

They both looked so peaceful. That only made the sight of them all the more chilling.

Around ten in the morning of September 16, 1922, 23-year-old Raymond Schneider and his 15-year-old girlfriend, Pearl Bahmer, were walking along De Russey's Lane, a popular "lovers' lane" in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Whatever romantic plans the couple may have had were instantly dashed when they came across a man and a woman lying under a crabapple tree. At first glance, it looked as though the pair was affectionately napping together. They lay on their backs, with the man's right hand under the woman's shoulder and neck. The man's face was partially covered by a Panama hat; the woman's was veiled by a scarf. It only needed a second glance, however, to realize they were very, very dead. The man had been shot once through the head. The woman's murder was notably more savage. She had been shot three times, and her throat was deeply cut from ear to ear. The autopsy would reveal the macabre detail that her tongue and larynx had been severed. The stunned young couple raced off to summon police.

Policeman standing at the crime scene.

Officers found a scene that looked oddly staged, like the main setting for an amateurishly-directed theatrical production. Aside from the obviously posed position of the bodies, a calling card was propped against the dead man's left foot, and a collection of handwritten letters and notes were scattered around the corpses.

The card revealed that the dead man was 41-year-old Reverend Edward Wheeler Hall, rector of New Brunswick's Saint John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. The correspondence proved that the dead woman--soon identified as 35-year-old Eleanor Mills, a singer in Saint John's choir--had been conducting a passionate affair with Hall. They were her love letters to him, featuring breathless dime-novel lines such as "I know there are girls with more shapely bodies, but I do not care what they have, I have the greatest of all blessings, a noble man, deep, true, and eternal love."

The minister and his choir singer were both very much married to other people. However, they--particularly Eleanor--did little to hide the affair. In fact, some of their acquaintances believed the lovers planned to elope to Japan. It was said they planned to run off on the very night they were murdered.

Their respective spouses told police that neither had been seen since evening of September 14. Hall's wife Frances, a wealthy, socially-prominent woman who was seven years older than her husband, told police that when Edward failed to return home that night, she and her brother Willie--who lived with the couple--made a fruitless search for him. The following morning, when she saw Eleanor Mills' husband James, she learned that his wife was also missing.

Although both Frances and James later insisted they had no idea their spouses were romantically involved, Mr. Mills asked Mrs. Hall, "Do you think they eloped?"

"God knows," Frances replied. "I think they are dead and can't come home."

Frances Hall

Mrs. Hall's words were curiously prophetic. It was believed that Edward and Eleanor had been killed on the night of the 14th. It appeared that they had been murdered where they had been found. As De Russey's Lane was a well-traveled site near a number of houses, it was strange that the bodies could have lain there for some 36 hours before being discovered. It was just possible that the calling-card and love letters were not, as was assumed, deliberately placed around them by their killer(s), but accidentally scattered by ghouls who came across the bodies earlier and sought to rob whatever valuables they had on them.  (Edward's watch was missing, and his wallet empty of cash.)

Spouses are normally the first to be suspected when their loved ones meet an untimely end, and the particular circumstances of this double murder made it inevitable that police would focus their investigation on Frances Hall and James Mills. (The Mills' 16-year-old daughter, Charlotte--who reacted to the tragic news of her mother's ghastly murder by selling the "New York American" a packet of Edward's love letters to Eleanor for $500--also came in for her share of attention.)

Willie Stevens

Frances' fifty-year-old brother, Willie, was, for a time, everyone's favorite suspect. He was a highly eccentric, excitable man who adored his sister and was noticeably lukewarm towards her husband. Although he was scholarly and highly intelligent, Willie was mentally and emotionally unable to live on his own--he was “regarded as essential to be taken care of in certain things,” in the words of a contemporary. Willie's doctor once summarized his nature with "He may not be absolutely normal mentally, but he is able to take care of himself perfectly well. He is brighter than the average person, although he has never advanced as far in school learning as some others. He reads books that are above the average and makes a good many people look like fools." (Today he would probably be diagnosed as autistic.) With his impulsive and childlike nature, it was thought that if he had learned of his brother-in-law's adultery, Willie would have been capable of reacting in a reckless and highly violent manner. He owned a gun, and knew how to use it. The Hall's maid reported that the morning after Edward disappeared, Willie had told her that "something terrible happened last night, and Mrs. Hall and I have been up most of the night."  He told some acquaintances that "Something big is going to pop. You'll hear about it later." Was Willie merely talking about Edward's mysterious disappearance, or something far more sinister? Frances' other brother, Henry Stevens, was also brought under suspicion. He was an excellent marksman.

James Mills, the very obviously cuckolded husband, was an excellent candidate for the killings, and if he was the killer, it would explain the fact that Eleanor was treated in a much more brutal fashion than the reverend.  However, James--an impecunious handyman with an unmistakable air of "loser"--seems to have been dismissed from official suspicion at a fairly early date. He struck everyone as such a (in the words of Damon Runyon) "harmless, dull little fellow," that everyone had a hard time picturing him working up the gumption to carry out a double murder.  Even Raymond Schneider and Pearl Bahmer were considered as possible killers when it emerged that the pair ran with a very dodgy crowd (including Pearl's father, who was later charged with incest.)

James and Charlotte Mills

However, despite the powerful motives and lack of cast-iron alibis for the time of the murder, investigators were utterly unable to find any solid evidence linking any of their suspects to the crime. It did not help matters that the local police--who seem to have been a remarkably bumbling lot--failed to secure the crime scene. As soon as word went out about the gruesome discovery, hundreds of morbid sightseers swarmed De Russey's Lane, hopelessly contaminating or destroying whatever clues may have remained on the scene. Even the crabapple tree that had canopied the victims was soon chopped to bits by eager souvenir hunters. This case which police had initially boasted would be "a cinch" to solve was instead beginning to look like a hopeless conundrum. The investigation seemed as dead as Edward and Eleanor.

Enter the Pig Woman.

Jane Gibson

True crime writer Edmund Pearson noted the phenomenon of the "Marvellous Female Witness" who enters many a high-profile murder case, stirring up much drama and excitement, while generally doing little or nothing to actually solve the crime. Well, FWs didn't get much more M than 50-year-old hog farmer Jane Gibson. She would go on to virtually hijack the entire Hall-Mills mystery, upstaging even the victims themselves.

Gibson lived with her mentally disabled son, William, in a converted barn adjoining De Russey's Lane. She told police that around 9 p.m. on the night of the murders, she saw a man standing in her cornfield. Assuming he was a thief, she hopped on her trusty mule, Jenny, and rode in pursuit. When she failed to catch him, she turned for home, cutting across a field.

Then, she declared, she saw four figures standing near a tree. She heard a gunshot, and saw one of the figures fall to the ground. Then a woman screamed "Don't! Don't! Don't!" More shots rang out. Another figure fell. Another woman shouted, "Henry!"

Now, enticing as Gibson's story may have sounded, it failed to fit the medical evidence, which indicated that Edward Hall had been lying on the ground when he was shot, not standing. For this reason--along with the fact that Jane Gibson practically had the words "publicity seeker" tattooed on her forehead--some investigators were inclined to ignore her. However, the Special Prosecutor of the case, William Mott, seized upon her story. He felt it was the big break he had been praying for.

Meanwhile, Gibson happily made her story available to any reporter who cared to take it down. Perhaps we should say, "stories," as her account of what she had seen on the fatal night grew more lavishly detailed and lurid each time she repeated it. Now, she had seen a car parked near the murder site--a car that, wouldn't you know it, exactly matched the description of the open touring car owned by the Halls. Gibson now had descriptions of these once-shadowy "figures" she had seen. One was a woman with a long gray coat (like the one worn by Frances Hall.) She was accompanied by a man who, like Willie Stevens, had a heavy dark mustache and bushy hair. "How do you explain these notes?" Gibson heard the woman say. Then, after Edward was shot, she saw Eleanor attempt to flee, only to be caught and dragged back before being repeatedly shot.

Gibson claimed that a few hours later, she realized she had lost a shoe during her ride, so she returned to look for it. When she passed the site of the earlier shooting, she saw a "big lady" with "white hair" kneeling next to a prone man and weeping loudly.

Jane Gibson was anything but subtle.

The more the "Pig Woman" (as the newspapers called her) talked, the less most people believed her. It was pointed out that she could easily have concocted all the details in her story from the copious newspaper reports on the murders. A neighbor stated that if all Gibson said were true, she herself would have heard something that night. She had heard nothing. It also emerged that Jane Gibson was well known as a habitual fabulist. (Her own mother denounced Jane as a hopeless liar.)

As entertaining as Gibson was, two Grand juries failed to find enough evidence to indict anyone for the murders. Although law enforcement insisted the investigation would continue, everyone knew that the hunt for the killer(s) of Reverend Hall and his paramour was effectively over. Life went on quietly for four years, when a seemingly unrelated event took place that suddenly brought the long-dormant mystery roaring back to life.

The Hall family's former maid, Louise Geist, filed for an annulment to her marriage.

Geist's estranged husband, Arthur Riehl, retaliated by going to police with a stunning story. He stated that on September 14, 1922, Louise had informed Frances Hall that Edward was going to run off with Eleanor Mills. That night, Louise had driven off on a mysterious errand with Frances and Willie. Afterwards, the maid received $5,000 for keeping her mouth shut. Louise angrily insisted Arthur was lying through his teeth.

Was she telling the truth, or simply trying to avoid being arrested as an accomplice to murder?

This was good enough for the Somerset County prosecutor. He issued warrants for the arrest of Frances Hall, Willie Stevens, Henry Stevens, and their cousin, Henry Carpender. (It was thought perhaps Carpender was the "Henry" Jane Gibson had allegedly seen.) The defendants fiercely denied any guilt. They hired the best lawyers Mrs. Hall's considerable amount of money could buy, and prepared for battle.

At this point, a minor figure from the initial investigation took on more prominence: Ralph Gorsline, a vestryman in Hall's church. Gorsline, a notorious womanizer, reportedly had an affair with Eleanor Mills before she dumped him for Reverend Hall. Some in the D.A.'s office wondered if the murders had been a case of a "man scorned." Perhaps Gorsline, seeking revenge against Eleanor, told Frances Hall about her husband's infidelity, and urged her to confront the adulterers. After Frances and Henry Carpender killed the lovers, Gorsline helped cover up the crime. This theory was strengthened when the authorities learned that one of Eleanor's fellow choir singers claimed that Gorsline had threatened to expose Eleanor's affair with Hall. He had been spying on her, accompanied by a woman who had her own romantic designs on the reverend. Then, prosecutors heard that Gorsline had been out with a young woman named Catherine Rastall on the night of the murders.

Ralph Gorsline

When Rastall was brought in for questioning, she soon broke down and confessed that she and Gorsline had been near the murder scene. They had heard four shots. When Gorsline heard of this, he reluctantly confirmed Rastall's account. He now said that he and his lady friend had been parked on De Russey's Lane at about 10:20 p.m. They heard a shot, followed by a woman screaming, and then three more shots. He had kept quiet, he explained, because he wished to protect Rastall from unpleasant publicity. Many believed that Gorsline knew far more about the murders than he was willing to say. It was odd how he seemed to know precisely how Eleanor's throat had been slashed.

Henry Carpender was to be tried separately from the other three defendants. The first trial, of Frances Hall and her brothers, opened on November 3, 1926. The case against the defendants was largely circumstantial, but seemingly compelling. A fingerprint believed to belong to Willie Stevens had been on the calling card found at Edward's foot. It was also noted that before the bodies were discovered, Frances had anonymously called the police to ask if there had been any "casualties." She had also dyed her gray coat black. (Willie had sent his coat out to be dyed, as well. The suspicious delivery boy had instead brought the garment to the police, who promptly lost it before any tests could be done.) And, of course, there was the Pig Woman.

The defense countered the fingerprint evidence by pointing out that the print on the calling card did not exactly match Willie's. Besides, the card could have been contaminated. There was even reason to argue that the fingerprint had been planted. After all, when fingerprint experts first examined the card in 1922, they had found no fingerprint at all.

The dramatic climax of the trial came with the Pig Woman's grand entrance. As Jane Gibson was in failing health, she was brought into the courtroom on a stretcher. She was, however, as determined as ever to have her say. Not even the spectacle of Gibson's mother, disrupting the proceedings by shouting, "She is a liar! Liar, liar, liar!" could stop her.

The Pig Woman testifies

Gibson saved the best version of her story for last. She now placed Frances, Willie, and Henry Stevens at the murder scene. "I see something glitter," Gibson intoned with a flair Sarah Bernhardt could envy, "and I see a man and I see another man, like they were wrestling together. One was Henry Stevens." She saw one man beating another. She heard a lot of shouting about "letters." Then came the shots.

This story would have wowed them on the Broadway stage, but in the setting of a court of law it fell decidedly flat. The reviews were not good. For one thing, her testimony contained many elements directly contradicting her earlier statements. Also, even though Gibson insisted Frances Hall had been the "big woman" with "white hair" crying over her slain husband, Frances was a notably petite woman. In 1922, her hair had been dark. There was no evidence at the murder scene of the titanic struggle Gibson described. Quite the contrary, in fact. It emerged that the first time she had been presented with the defendants, she had been unable to identify them. A neighbor asserted that the Pig Woman had tried to bribe him into testifying that he had seen her on De Russey's Lane on the night of the murder. By the time Gibson was carried out--continuing to insist on her veracity to the end--she had begun to rather bore people.

Some performers never know when to end their show and leave the stage.

There was virtually no case to be made against Henry Stevens at all. Evidently, the prosecutor in 1922 had dragged him into the investigation solely because of his skill with firearms. When he was able to present a convincing alibi for the time of the murders, everyone acknowledged he was home free.

After the Pig Woman, Willie Stevens was the most anticipated witness. Many stories had been spread about his odd character, and it was widely expected that he would make an embarrassing spectacle of himself on the stand.

Willie surprised them all. He proved to be more than a match for the prosecutor. He came off as well in control of himself, witty, and self-assured. His ripostes often left his interrogator at a loss for words. The audience in the courtroom loved him. Frances made an equally good witness, impressing observers with her dignity and air of innocence. When confronted with her statements to James Mills about their spouses being dead, she calmly replied that when they failed to return home, it seemed only logical to assume that they must be deceased.

By the time the five-week trial ended, the "New York Times" had devoted a total of 152 front-page articles to the murder mystery. 157 people had taken the witness stand. And after all that, no one felt they were any closer to solving the crime than they had been on the morning of September 16, 1922. After deliberating for five hours, the jury returned an acquittal of all three defendants. Henry Carpender was immediately released. One of the first things he did after being cleared was to sue the "New York Daily Mirror" for its libelous coverage. (The paper settled out of court.)

And that was that. The murders of Edward Hall and Eleanor Mills were fated to remain forever unavenged, leaving nothing but a tempting puzzle for decades of armchair detectives to ponder. Despite the lack of evidence against them, did Frances Hall and/or her brother Willie kill the unfaithful pair? What of James Mills, the openly scorned husband? Perhaps the murderer was a woman who yearned for the reverend and finally lashed out in a fatally jealous rage. The well-known attorney William Kunstler plumped for the KKK as the guilty party. Some have even suggested that none other than the Pig Woman herself killed the pair.

In a recent book about the mystery ("Moonlight Murder on Lovers' Lane") Dr. Katherine Ramsland offered an intriguing theory. She wondered why investigators did not look more closely at Ralph Gorsline. He served in the Spanish-American war and had been captain of a local militia, so he was familiar with both guns and killing. He had also been trained to fight with a bayonet, a weapon which could easily have caused the wide, near-decapitating wound on Eleanor's throat. Gorsline admitted to being just a few hundred yards away when the murder took place, yet he did not say a word about it until forced to do so. Rastall's story of accompanying him had a number of holes in it. Perhaps Gorsline had gotten her to lie for him. Even jurors at Frances Hall's trial believed Gorsline was a liar who should have been charged with perjury.

Ramsland suspected that Gorsline was what now would be called a "stalker." There was evidence that he deeply resented being dumped by Eleanor, and was jealous of her new affair with Reverend Hall--to the point where he was obsessively spying on the pair. Could his anger against them have reached the point where it turned savagely violent?

Under this scenario, Frances and Willie's suspicious behavior the day after the murders becomes understandable. Perhaps, in their frantic search for Edward on the night of the 14th, they went to De Russey's Lane...and found the bodies. Frances hesitated to call police, fearing that if she admitted being at the murder scene, she and Willie might be blamed. However, in their agitation, the siblings could not help but drop hints that they knew something terrible had happened. They must have been very impatient for someone else to make the grim discovery.

There was one more odd piece to this hopelessly scrambled puzzle. A few years ago, an amateur researcher into the case named Wayne Gunn saw something that had escaped all notice before then. When examining a photo of Edward Hall's bloodstained tie, Gunn noticed the tie clasp. It was monogrammed, not, as you would imagine, with an "H" for "Hall," but a "G."

For "Gorsline," perhaps? Did the vengeful vestryman deliberately leave the clasp there, as a brazen taunt? Or did he accidentally lose it at the crime scene, only to have it collected by careless investigators who never bothered to give it a second glance?

Is it possible that the answer to this famed mystery lay under everyone's nose all the time?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

During the month of December, the weekly Link Dump will have the honor to be sponsored by the Cats of Christmas!

What the hell is this Antarctic snow pyramid?

Where the hell are Nefertari's legs?  Now we know?

Who the hell was D.B. Cooper?  A whole lot of people want to know!


Watch out for the monster of Pocomoonshine Lake!

Watch out for those murder marshes!

Flying monks!

Killer peas!

An explorer goes fatally insane.

An odd tale of child murder in a church.

The history of James Hadfield's pistol.

An ancient Egyptian cat cemetery.

19th century drugged-out dinner parties.  For science!

Chinese astronauts hear an extraterrestrial knock-knock joke.

Let's talk post-mortem photographs on vegetables, shall we?

A woman was hit by a meteorite.  And then things began to get weird.

Early 20th century girls and their "chap records."  I'm surprised I had never heard of these before.

Napoleon's coronation had its problems.

How Victoria and Albert popularized Christmas.

Even better, let's talk Krampus.

If you're guilty of incest and infanticide, it's wisest to keep a low profile.

The world of Victorian Vaudeville.

Don't forget to feed the fairies!

More on why selfies are the Black Plague of our age.

Some Midwinter folklore.

The stones of Anne Taylor.

Katterfelto and his famous black cat.

More on the wreck of the "William & Mary."  (Still more!)

Avoiding the apocalypse through white roosters.

A unique auction of cat art.

A scandalous early 19th century love triangle.

When dentists take to experimentation, things are bound to get weird.

Civil war soldiers seek to escape frying pan, land in fire.

A 17th century Franciscan has an uneasy meal.

Abortion in the 18th century.

1999 in 1967.

News to me:  Nathaniel Hawthorne's daughter is a candidate for sainthood.

A music examiner tours early 20th century India.

A life-saving beetle.

Old Whitey, the ghost of a sunken ship.

Dying for incest.

Technology is making us miss out on sea serpents.

That time we thought we had conquered pain.

That time California children declared war on squirrels.

Folklore of the "hairy people."

Ancient Romans meet British snow.

A manhandled UFO.

Anglo-Saxon sign language.

Caesarians and a 14th century queen.

A man is reincarnated as a tree.  Sort of.

For this week in Russian Weird, here is the grave of a Siberian Robin Hood.

We're done for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at a famous American murder mystery. In the meantime, here's some classic country-rock from back in the day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The fourteenth "Famous Cats of New England" presented by the "Boston Post" is Squeak, modest homebody with unexpected aquatic talents:
"Squeak" can claim to probably be the highest type of cat in the annals of New England's famous cats. No public institution cat is Squeak; seeking publicity in the busy marts of men. Squeak is the quiet home dweller, beloved in the bosom of the family; puss that, purring contentedly on the hearth rug, beside the old high backed rocker, has made "home" more of a home for so many of us.

"Just a regular feller, not fancy, but oh, so nice," says Squeak's mistress, Mrs. Webster Hayward of Spring street, Somerville, of her silky coated fireside pet. Stronger still are the praises of Squeak's master. He tells how the coming home hour is made so much the fuller by the sight of the cat silhouetted against the lamp post at the corner, watchfully waiting for him to get off his car.

Each summer Squeak motors with his "folks" to Boon Lake. There the warm months are spent in the companionship of Michael--a most delightful Irish terrier. The best of friends, the cat and the pup vie for the affection of their mistress.

It was when Squeak felt that Mike was winning out that the cat performed a feat that has gone down among the traditions of Boon Lake. It was Michael's custom to swim after the canoe whenever Mrs. Hayward paddled out across the lake. Squeak followed only to the shore and stood there looking wistfully out to sea--decidedly out of it.

Paddling as usual one morning, Mrs. Hayward looked back to assure herself that Michael was coming along in safety when she descried a smaller series of ripples emanating from a small dark object that was battling manfully with the current. Backing until she was closer Mrs. Hayward recognized Squeak, and at the peril of capsizing pulled the valiant little cat into the canoe, where it rested perfectly satisfied with having gone Michael one better.
~December 22, 1920

Monday, November 28, 2016

To Meet Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton

Longtime readers of this blog are aware that this site is meant not to be just entertaining or educational, but inspirational. Moral Uplift is my middle name. So naturally, I'd be sadly remiss in my duty if I failed to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Ray Hamilton. This couple symbolized Strange Company Family Values at its finest.

Robert Hamilton was born into that peculiarly oxymoronic environment known as "American Royalty." This descendant of Alexander Hamilton was the son of famed General Schuyler Hamilton. He was a successful lawyer, a popular clubman, and a member of the New York Assembly. In short, he epitomized the genteel East Coast blue-bloods of the late 19th century. Hamilton could have stepped out of an Edith Wharton novel.

What caused his life to careen from Whartonian elegance to Illustrated Police News farce was his marriage in January 1889 to Eva Mann. Mann, a former star of the May Howard Burlesque Company, was about the last person one would imagine someone of Howard's status taking as a consort. The wedding becomes a little less surprising when you learn it was of the "shotgun" variety. Hamilton evidently felt an illegitimate child would be more scandalous than an inappropriate wife. Perhaps he even fancied himself in love.

As Mrs. Robert Hamilton, the former showgirl was showered with fabulous jewels, a wardrobe of costly and stunning gowns, and an allowance of six thousand dollars a year. A few months after the marriage, she presented her husband with a daughter, Beatrice. The handsome newlyweds shone brilliantly at all the fashionable clubs, restaurants, and summer resorts. "Quite the Cinderella story," you are undoubtedly thinking.

Read on.

In July 1889, the couple visited Atlantic City. Accompanying them was little Beatrice and the baby's nanny/wet nurse, Mary Donnelly. Unfortunately, tensions began simmering between Mrs. Hamilton and the nurse--for reasons that will become evident later--and the nanny was told her services would no longer be required. On the night of August 26, the Hamiltons got into a flaming row over Eva's demands for an increase in her allowance. Eva became so enraged that she picked up a dagger and lunged at her husband. Donnelly, hearing the clamor, rushed into the room and joined the brawl in Robert's defense.

This was a serious mistake. Eva instantly turned her wrath towards the nanny. "You she devil!" she shouted. "You are the cause of this. You'll never be about me again!" She plunged the dagger into the nanny's body.

Fortunately, Mary Donnelly survived the attack, which is more than one can say for the reputations of Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton. Eva was soon hauled before a grand jury, which led in September to her trial for attempted murder. Eva pleaded that it was a case of self-defense. The nurse, she declared, had attacked her, so what else could she do except thrust a knife into the woman's abdomen? The court proceedings revealed the remarkable details behind the Hamilton marriage, all of which kept newspaper readers agog for weeks.

First of all, calling Mrs. Hamilton a former "burlesque dancer" was a polite euphemism. Her real performances took place in one of New York's many brothels. It was at this establishment that she and Robert first made their acquaintance. Next, it emerged that since the marriage, Eva had been using Robert's money to support her old madam, a Mrs. Swinton, as well as Swinton's son, Joshua Mann. Mann had been Eva's lover before and after her marriage. (The defendant's animosity towards Donnelly evidently arose from the fact that she suspected the nurse of tattling to Hamilton about Eva's adultery.) The trial also revealed many juicy details about Eva's habitual violent temper. (The defense countered this by forcing the injured Nurse Donnelly to admit that she herself had often "mauled" people, had threatened on a number of occasions to kill Mrs. Hamilton, she was drunk at the time of the stabbing, and she had once attacked her husband with an axe.) Allegations were also floated that the Hamilton marriage was invalid. It was said that Eva was really the wife of Joshua Mann, who was, people presumed, likely the real father of baby Beatrice.

As it happened, Beatrice's parentage was even more interesting than that. After the bigamy rumors surfaced, the police brought Mrs. Swinton and her son into headquarters for a friendly chat. Under interrogation, the pair admitted that Eva had never been pregnant at all. It was all a ruse designed to pressure Robert into marrying her.

According to Mann and Swinton, Eva had more trouble finding a fake baby than most women have producing the real thing. A suitable period of time after her marriage, Eva acquired a newborn girl via a cooperative midwife. Sadly, a day or two later the child sickened and died. Eva went running back to the midwife and got a second baby girl. This one also died within a few days. The increasingly exasperated Eva was given a third baby, but this loving pseudo-mother decided the dark-haired child "looked like a Dutch baby." Unacceptable. She returned the baby in disgust. Finally, Eva got her hands on a child who was both healthy enough and non-Dutch enough for her needs. She complained that she had had to pay the midwife $10 for the infant. [Note: Let us pause for a moment to ponder the easy availability of spare bogus babies in 19th century New York]

Upon hearing all this, Robert filed for an annulment. Eva, for reasons known only to herself, was shocked at the news.

At Eva's trial, the testimony of the three participants in the near-fatal fight provided a surprisingly strong case for self-defense. Mrs. Donnelly, it became clear, was more than a match for Godzilla. Courtroom observers predicted an acquittal. However, the many lurid revelations about Eva's past--not to mention present--told heavily against her. She was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison. Many believed it was one of those cases where the jury disregarded the evidence and condemned the defendant on the grounds of violating public morality.

The verdict was an unpopular one, and efforts to secure Eva a pardon were ultimately successful. She was freed in November 1890.

While his annulment suit was still pending, Hamilton went West to escape the scandal. He hoped that while he was away, this unfortunate episode in his personal life would be forgotten, and he could eventually re-enter politics. Hamilton settled in Yellowstone Park, where he opened a hunting lodge with an old friend from Yale, John Sargent. On August 23, 1890, he went on a hunting trip.

He never came back. No sign of him could be found for some days, until a body was found floating in a remote area of the Snake River. The corpse was too decomposed for any definitive identification to be possible, but it was accepted to be that of Robert Ray Hamilton. It was presumed he had accidentally drowned. For reasons unknown, his relatives never had the body shipped to New York for burial, and it was quickly laid in a simple grave. These unusual circumstances kept the newspapers entertained with colorful rumors--still persisting to this day--that the ill-fated blue-blood had faked his own death, seeking to replace his unsatisfactory old life with a new Eva-free existence. One Henry Strong came forward insisting that he had met Hamilton face-to-face in Yellowstone days after the New Yorker was supposedly buried.  There are no other reasons to believe the allegation was true, but if it were, it would be the least nutty thing about this entire story. (For their part, Hamilton's relatives declared they were perfectly satisfied--one is tempted to use the words "absolutely delighted"--that he was dead.) A few years later, when John Sargent, (who had found Hamilton's body,) was indicted for killing his wife and child, speculation arose that he had murdered Hamilton as well, but this story appears to have been equally unfounded.

As Hamilton had not formally divorced Eva at the time of his death (or, if you prefer, "death,") she immediately filed suit for her dower's share of Hamilton's half-million dollar estate. These legal proceedings were enlivened by Eva's reluctant admission that Joshua Mann (described by the lady herself as "practically an idiot") had been her long-time lover, and that she had never given birth. The Hamilton camp countered by seeking to prove that her marriage to Robert had been bigamous, meaning she had no legal claim to his estate.

Although the courts twice ruled that Eva had indeed been married to Mann at the time she went to the altar with Robert Hamilton, she announced that she would not be giving up the fight. Hamilton's executors, feeling that no price would be too high if they could just see the last of her, gave her a cash settlement of $10,000. Unfortunately, this one-time Cinderella did not have a happy ending. Eva quickly squandered her money, took heavily to drink, and died in a New York hospital's charity ward in 1904. She was given a pauper's funeral in Mount Olivet Cemetery. As for little Beatrice, dubbed by the newspapers, "The Ten-Dollar Baby," she was taken in Hamilton's executor, E.R. Vollmer. Despite the revelations about her parentage, Hamilton was genuinely attached to the baby, and generously provided for Beatrice in his will. Unfortunately for the girl, in 1899 the courts ruled that Hamilton's estate did not have to give Beatrice the annuity granted by her "father."  I have been unable to find any further information about her.

Our little domestic tale had one final legal skirmish. In his will, Robert had stipulated that a fountain should be built in his memory. However, his family felt that his was a memory best quickly forgotten, and they opposed the project. Happily, these killjoys lost the battle, and to this day New York's Riverside Park boasts the "Robert Ray Hamilton Fountain." If you're ever in its vicinity, do go by and drop in a coin for me.

Just as my way of saying, "Thanks for the memories, Bob."

Friday, November 25, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Cats Who Ate Way Too Much On Thanksgiving.

What the hell became of the Greenland Vikings?

Where the hell is Diego Velazquez?

Who the hell was the Babushka Lady?

Watch out for those supernatural sadists!

Watch out for those killer snake wheels!

Watch out for those exploding witch bottles!

The terrier who inspired a children's book.

A brief history of Christmas lights.

A bottle tells of murder and suicide.

A French Crazy Cat Man.

19th century turkey farming.

The mystical world of magic books.

A 17th century bishop's um, unusual mark on history.

Worst Thanksgiving ever?

Second worst Thanksgiving ever?

Just one really weird historical anecdote.

Edward Winslow, the man who gave us Thanksgiving.

Oh, just Vincent Price summoning demons.

Thanksgiving in the early 19th century.

The art of Angelica Kauffman.

A social-climbing housemaid.

Georgian era charity events.

Dante's ghost and his missing cantos.

The Boy Scout and his nuclear reactor.

18th century children's literature.

Fashionable mid-19th century hairstyles.

A recipe for the 18th century version of instant soup.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  What not to do with a toothbrush.

Why you should never insult a squirrel.

Why you should never underestimate a porpoise.

Why you should never take up the profession of sin-eating.

Mysterious inscriptions in a Jordan desert.

The Mars Rover may have found evidence of ancient life.

Midshipmen's WWII journals.

Folklore's influence on modern-day werewolves.

A look at the 18th century "fair sex."

The scientist who specializes in prehistoric sex.

A tragic fossil.

Lifestyle advice from the Aztecs.

The UFO on the moor.

A man with a window in his chest.

A man with a window in his grave.

More conspiracy theories about the Templars and the Ark of the Covenant.

This is something of a companion piece to my Wednesday post about the turkey legal expert.

If you feel like going down a rabbit hole this weekend, here's a very curious side note to that mother of all rabbit holes, the JFK Assassination.

A Russian princess at the London court.

"Sky ships" in Ireland.

The Ordinary of Newgate.

One really old pair of dentures.

Even older bone jewelry.

The death of Zorro.

Alchemical art.

The wonders of Occult Dentistry!

The wonders of visible speech!

The execution of a 15th century wizard.

This week in Russian Weird brings us shape-shifting Yetis.  Just another day in Siberia.

Oh, and their mummified monks are on the move.

And there you go for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll take another look at marriage, Strange Company style.  In the meantime, you'd like to see a bunch of Japanese nesting dolls playing Beethoven on the theremin, wouldn't you?

Yes, of course you would.