"...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

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

In the fifth installment of the "Boston Post" series, "Famous Cats of New England," we meet the ultra-cosmopolitan Frufella:
The "cat without a country," the "international cat"--Frufella, the "greeter" cat who gives first welcome to the immigrants that land upon our shores--has been "in detention" for two years at the immigration station.

A stowaway cat was Frufella, captured aboard the Canopic and turned over immediately to the immigration officials. She cannot be deported because nobody can find out whence she came. Useless are the scores of interpreters who speak to her in every language under the sun. While Frufella appears to understand them all, not one of them can speak her language. [Ed. note: a common situation with cats.]

They were sure she was Italian one day when she licked up with great relish a sizable saucer of macaroni and cheese. But the next day with the same enthusiasm she devoured chop suey, so they couldn't be sure.

When the reporter was leaving the immigration station after interviewing Frufella she followed along most hospitably to the door. A group of new immigrants who had never seen her before called out their greetings. In nearly 15 different languages Frufella was saluted. Greek, Swedish, Portuguese, Armenian predominated. But the Polish "Plen kua koska" ("nice kitten") seemed to please her best. That's what little Mary Nahandian, the eight-year-old Armenian girl who has been at the station for three months, calls her. Mary and Frufella are playmates, although Frufella is frightfully jealous of a great big dolly that someone gave Mary.

No lazy loafer of a cat is Frufella. An expert fisherman she. Mousing, too, she stars in. But many a fisherman who ties up at the docks near the immigration station allow they could take lessons in their trade from the immigration cat. Among the great posts that support the immigration pier is a nubbly one that has a big hump quite low down, and occasionally even washed by the swish of the tide. Here Frufella perches. Watching for her victim closely, she swoops out her paw, sudden and swift. Almost invariably the little fish she saw is caught fast in Frufella's claw.

With so much attention, plenty of food and plenty of warm corners to curl up and sleep in, Frufella appears to have lost all desire to take to the sea again. Never once does she make any attempt to leave detention. There is that about Frufella, stowaway cat without a country, that spells the contented cat who stands willing and ready to spend the whole of her nine lives just where she is.
~December 11, 1920

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Kongsle Bombing

Pearl Kongsle

"I know death hath ten thousand several doors
For men to take their exits."
~John Webster, "The Duchess of Malfi"

It is difficult to solve a murder when you have a lack of obvious suspects. When the motive is equally mysterious, the task becomes nearly impossible. One of the stranger--and more gruesome--examples occurred in a quiet Seattle neighborhood in 1959.

62-year-old Pearl Kongsle had been widowed for ten years. Her late husband, Guy, had been a Puget Sound master mariner. The couple had had no children. Mrs. Kongsle had recently sold her home, and soon planned to leave Seattle on an extensive trip. On the evening of September 2, Mrs. Kongsle and a neighbor, Alberta Bowman, had dinner at a nearby restaurant. They skipped dessert, as Bowman planned to bake them an apple pie. At around 8:45, Bowman brought the freshly-baked pastry to the Kongsle house. As she climbed the front steps, she noticed a brown-paper bag had been placed on top of the steps. She tried to pick it up, but she found it too heavy. She noticed that "something rolled inside." Very fortunately for herself, Mrs. Bowman did not try to investigate the parcel any further.

She found Mrs. Kongsle in the living room with another neighbor, Edith Friedman. "Pearl," said Mrs. Bowman, "what is that sack on the porch? There's a noise in it and something going on in there."

Mrs. Kongsle went to investigate. When she began to examine the package, there was a terrible explosion. "When she picked it up, it went off in her face," Mrs. Bowman later recalled.

The blast broke the windows of nearby houses, blew the hubcaps off a nearby parked car, and caused about $5,000 worth of damage to the home. The place where Pearl Kongsle had been standing was now a foot-wide crater. Whoever left that package meant some very, very deadly business.

Alberta Bowman and Edith Freeman suffered burns and injuries from the blast, but thankfully they were far enough away to avoid serious harm. What was left of Pearl Kongsle was beyond any sort of aid.

A seemingly completely innocent housewife being assassinated by a homemade bomb was a crime totally unknown to the Seattle police. The device had been completely obliterated in the blast, leaving the type of explosive used, and how it was triggered, a mystery.

The motive also remained a puzzle. Mrs. Kongsle's entire background, as far as is known, had been one of placid, comfortable respectability. She had no known enemies, and no discernible reason for anyone to wish her harm. Was the crime meant to be a mere practical joke, created by someone who was both clever enough to put together a bomb and stupid enough to have no concept of how powerful it might be? Was the real target Kongsle's tenant, William J. Meyers? (However, Meyers was in the hospital at the time of the blast--something that surely would have been known by someone planning his murder.) Was it just the random act of a lunatic, with no motivation other a lust for pointless destruction?

The investigation into the murder only became more complicated when it emerged that this was not the only highly disturbing incident connected to Mrs. Kongsle.

Three weeks before Pearl's murder, her brother-in-law, Elmer Kongsle, and his wife Johanna found several sticks of dynamite scattered in the front yard of their home in nearby Alderwood Manor. The perpetrator was never found. Less than five months before this incident, Elmer and Johanna's oldest daughter Betty and her husband, Major Robert Douglas Baker, both suddenly and unexpectedly died at Ft. Lewis, Washington. At first, it was believed the couple had contracted botulism during a recent vacation in Mexico. However, tests ruled out any food poisoning. The cause of their deaths remained unknown. What made their deaths all the stranger was that their three young children remained completely healthy.

There almost had to have been some thread tying together the Pearl Kongsle bombing, the dynamite found in Elmer Kongsle's yard, and the mysterious deaths of Betty and Robert Baker. Something that would provide a coherent explanation for these eerie and seemingly senseless events.

If so, this thread has yet to be found. The Kongsle murder is still thought of as Seattle's "coldest cold case."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Fellowship of Kitten Aeronauts!

What the hell is the Eye of the Sahara?

What the hell are the Fort Mountain Petroglyphs?

Watch out for those sea serpents!

Watch out for those Devon witch wars!

Watch out for those Minneapolis caves!

Watch out for those flying Coney Island monsters!

Watch out for those Megalodons!

One of the more offbeat Jack the Ripper suspects.

A scandalous Victorian bank failure.

Medieval hairstyles.

George Washington's dog.

16th century strange sounds in the sky.

Why it's amazing that we can still read "Beowulf."

Edward Braddock and George Washington.

An Arab embassy in Dark Age Scandinavia.

Ladies share some pleasant discourse in 16th century England.

A wartime execution.

Hints to Victorian unmarried ladies.

A murder in King's Meadow.

Murder for fun and profit.

Georgian cakes and puddings.

The Roughriders of the Mediterranean.

A brief history of the Evil Eye.

Horses who sniff out death.

A DIY cathedral.

19th century Pedestrianism.

Mozart's "Il Seraglio."

The church with a cat greeter.

Neolithic fairies.

The First Servile War.

Life on the road in the Napoleonic era.

The King of the Fairies.

The brewery flood of 1814.

The first woman to be filmed by an Edison motion picture camera.

Using liquid to carve stone.

A particularly sad case of eighth century infanticide.

Another account of a child's death, this one from the early 18th century.

The extremely unfortunate Hoo Loo.

One very busy sleepwalker.

The enduring mystery of the Boy in the Box.

How spiritualism became a craze.

The execution of John Ball.

The Swell Mob vs. Two Intrepid Females.  Three guesses who wins.

Being broken on the wheel: one of the nastier aspects of life in the 18th century.

Canines and crinolines.

That Damned Charles Fort.

That time Voltaire gamed the lottery.

A bad dream of the Romanovs.

Countess Castiglione, queen of the selfies.

19th century longevity.

Major Ward and the skeleton.

And we're done!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a particularly weird murder in Seattle.  In the meantime, here's some Salieri.  It's a pity those silly legends about him have obscured the memory of this quite charming composer.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This unpleasant bit of Forteana comes from the "Spokesman-Review," March 1, 1971:
Oklahoma City (AP)--There's something out there. It walks like a gorilla, leaves hand prints like a man, rips doors off their hinges, and it likes chickens.

For want of a better name we'll call him Oklahoma's Abominable Chicken Man.

It's a long story and it goes like this.

An El Reno farmer walked out to his chicken coop one day in December and found its door on the ground, apparently thrown there after being ripped off the wall.

On the surface of the door, and inside the coop on the walls, were a number of strange hand prints--like none he'd ever seen before. They were about seven inches long and five inches wide.

The farmer called a state game ranger. The ranger had never seen anything like it either and he sent the door to the Oklahoma City Zoo to see what experts could make of the prints.

The experts were baffled too. Zoo Director Lawrence Curtis says the prints appear to be like those of a primate. A primate is an animal like a gorilla or a man that can stand erect.

The thumb of the print is unusual. Curtis says it crooks inside, as if it were deformed or had been injured.

"It resembles a gorilla," he said, "but it's more like a man."

"It appears that whatever made the prints was walking on all fours. There were some footprints on the ground outside," he said. Whatever it was was barefoot. Barefoot in December.

Since Curtis got the first print he has had reports of similar finds around the state. A man in Stillwater and a woman in McAlester have told him of discovering similar prints. The woman has a photograph she is mailing to the zoo for comparison.

Oklahoma has only four native animals big enough to leave such prints: the black bear, the mountain lion, the wolf and man. Curtis has ruled out all but the last.

"We've shown it to several mammologists and several wildlife experts in Oklahoma and some passing through. All agree it is a primate," he said. "These prints were made by some sort of a man, perhaps one looking for chickens."

Asked about the wide distances between the points reporting similar prints, Curtis said, "If there is one there is more than one. There has to be more than one unless he's hitchhiking."

There are no zoos in El Reno, no circuses and no one known to be keeping a gorilla. In fact the only thing in the area that "keeps" primates--in this case men--is the federal reformatory just on the outskirts of town.

The Abominable Chicken Man is being compared with reports of similar findings from California. In this case people have reported seeing a seven-foot man-like creature wandering in the northern wilds. They call him Bigfoot, after the large tracks he makes.

The description also seems to match the Sasquatch, also known as Bigfoot, a towering primate reported in Washington and British Columbia.

Curtis is trying to find a book and a magazine article that tell about the Bigfoot sightings. He's anxious to make a comparison.

In the meantime he has the chicken coop door in his office for reference, and one supposes, for conversation.

There's not much else to go on until somebody reports actually seeing the Abominable Chicken Man.

There are a lot of people looking.
So far as I know, they never did find it, so Oklahoma poultry had better remain on guard.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Grace Sherwood, the Litigious Witch

Although America's most notorious witchcraft trials took place in Salem in 1692-3, judicial persecution of alleged "witches" lingered for a surprisingly long time. In fact, the state of Virginia's last prosecution took place some years after the Salem hysteria. These unusually tangled proceedings centered around one woman: Grace White Sherwood, who is remembered to this day as the "Witch of Pungo."

Grace was born sometime around 1660. In 1680, she married a planter named James Sherwood. The marriage produced three children: John, James, and Richard. After Grace's husband died in 1701, she inherited his farm, which she managed herself, largely without assistance. She was a strong, capable, independent woman who evidently disdained the idea of remarriage. According to later legend, the practical Sherwood was also in the habit of wearing men's clothes to do her farm work. Such unconventionality was rare at the time, which would have made her an object of puzzled disapproval in some circles. Tradition--whether true or false--has it that Sherwood was also a talented midwife and "healer,"--two professions that traditionally have left a woman vulnerable to charges of sorcery by the more superstitious members of a community.

Sherwood's first known legal dispute was in 1697, when a Richard Capps charged her with "hexing" his bull to death. Sherwood retaliated by bringing a defamation suit against him. The surviving information about the incident is sparse, but it is known that some sort of settlement was worked out between the two parties. The next year, another neighbor accused her of casting spells against his hogs and cotton fields. Sherwood counter-sued for slander, but these efforts to defend herself were tossed out of court. Later that same year, one Elizabeth Barnes declared that Sherwood had taken on the form of a black cat, and then entered Barnes' home and whipped her. Other neighbors, John and Jane Gisburne, asserted that Sherwood "bewitched their piggs to death and bewitched their Cotton." Sherwood filed more defamation suits against these new accusers, again unsuccessfully.

In 1705, Sherwood got into a brawl with a woman named Elizabeth Hill. She sued Hill for assault and battery. This was one of Sherwood's few legal successes: the court awarded her twenty shillings in damages. Hill and her husband retaliated by charging Sherwood with witchcraft. Allegedly, she had "bewitched" Mrs. Hill into suffering a miscarriage.

This charge was taken very seriously by the authorities. A jury of twelve "ancient and knowing women" were ordered to search Sherwood's body for "witches' marks." (The forewoman of this jury was the same Elizabeth Barnes who had earlier described being attacked by Grace the Shape-Shifting Black Cat, which gives one a clue about the impartiality of this tribunal.) These woman reported that Sherwood was "not like them nor noe Other woman that they knew of, having two things like titts on her private parts of a Black Coller, being Blacker than the Rest of her Body."

In May 1706, the court ruled that, although there was no proof Sherwood was a witch, there was still "great cause of suspicion." She was ordered to stand trial.

In a truly medieval touch, county justices ordered that Sherwood undergo "trial by ducking." On July 10, 1706, she was brought to the mouth of nearby Lynnhaven River (now known, predictably enough, as "Witch Duck Bay.") There, she would be bound in a sack, and tossed into the water. If she floated, that would be considered proof that she was a witch. If she sank--vindication! (The one nod to humanity shown in the matter was that several justices stayed near the scene in a rowboat. If she proved herself innocent, they would save her from drowning.)

Legend has it that just before being pushed off the boat, the accused woman told the justices, "Before this day be through you will all get a worse ducking than I."

Sherwood was, perhaps, just too self-reliant for her own good. She not only easily floated on the surface, but she was able to untie her bonds and swim to shore. Even though it had been a clear summer's day, as soon as she was out of the water, a sudden downpour broke out, leaving all the spectators soaking wet. Well. If all that didn't prove she was in league with the Evil One, what would?

Although surviving records do not give many details about what happened next, we know Sherwood was jailed for some period of time--perhaps as long as seven years. There is documented evidence that she was a free woman by 1714. As far as is known, there were no further charges made against her.

All in all, Sherwood was a party--either as defendant or plaintiff--in about a dozen known lawsuits. Sherwood was forced to pay court costs in all these cases. As she was far from wealthy, being accused of witchcraft proved to be a financially ruinous pastime.

Still, Sherwood was more fortunate than many alleged witches of her era. After her release from prison, she recovered her 145-acre property, and appears to have been allowed to live quietly on her farm until she died in 1740, aged about eighty.

The "Witch of Pungo" lived on in local memory. One particularly colorful legend has it that after Sherwood's death, her sons laid her body out near the fireplace. A strange gust of wind rushed in through the chimney, causing her corpse to disappear, leaving only a cloven hoofprint to give a clue to the "witch's" final destination. (The dull truth is that she lies in an unmarked grave near what is now Pungo Ferry Road in Virginia Beach.) Shortly after her death, gossip swept the area that her "familiars," in the shape of black cats, were roaming the town, leading to a widespread massacre of felines. The result of this extermination was a serious rat and mice infestation throughout Princess Anne County, which is about the closest this entire story comes to some measure of justice. To this day, locals assert that Sherwood's ghost still appears at "Witch Duck Bay" on every anniversary of her ducking. A far more charming legend has it that all the rosemary growing in the Virginia Beach area was started by a single cutting planted by Sherwood.

In 2007, a statue of the "Witch of Pungo" was erected in her memory near the courthouse where she stood trial. The year before, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine had formally overturned her conviction.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Via Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29338017

Friday, July 15, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Bureau of Cheerful Cats!

Where the hell was Saint Martin's Land?

Watch out for those lying ghosts!

Did vampires kidnap Susan Walsh?

The Vere Street Gang.

Cleaning up Napoleonic battlefields.

Uncovering excommunication records.

Food rationing during WWII.

Space travel is impairing the eyesight of astronauts.

London's first Indian restaurant.

The varying reputation of Jean-Paul Marat.

If D.B. Cooper happens to read my blog, he can know that the FBI has given up on finding him.

A drumming well.

An early female ghostbuster.

The first woman to bicycle around the world.

Brainlessness isn't necessarily as bad as you'd think.

Alexandre Dumas' cat.

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

Some 18th century legends of the sea.

A review of a recent biography of Evelyn Waugh.

The lost palace of Richmond.

Ah, yes.  Spouses: 0 Cats: 1  (More stories on this old blog post.)

What an Amazonian tribe teaches us about music.

Albert Hicks, the last pirate hanged by the U.S.  Maybe.

The high cost of living in early 19th century India.

A chat with a public executioner.

A "primitive machine" in the Great Pyramid.

A domestic murder from 1800.

The rebellious Paracelsus.

George Cruikshank's London summer.

How one lawyer escaped the wrath of the French Revolution.

The disappearance of a child artist.

A double disappearance in 1958.

Sweden's greatest naval victory.

The execution of a prominent Anabaptist.

The battle over Wofle's Farm.

A look at American pamphlets.

How to talk like an 1867 sailor.

Suicides in Brompton Cemetery.

The library that's patrolled by bats.

Brandy as a cure for rattlesnake bites.

A strange ancient skull.

If a goat stares at you, you'd better pay attention.

The Cocaine Bear of Kentucky.

A family has gone to war over an art collection.

The mystery of Philip K. Dick.

Victorian concealed births.

A Swedish forest is hiding a statue of Greta Garbo.

Early 20th century child prodigies.

Yet another tale of deepest crime.

Yet another headless saint.

An Arctic mermaid.

A strange Brazilian disappearance.

And, finally this week in Russian Weird:  Yeah, we're still trying to figure out what the hell happened at Tunguska.

And then there's the tale of a Russian who may or may not have been an American spy.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at witchcraft in colonial America. In the meantime, here's the Kingston Trio. The Beach Boys made "Sloop John B" famous, but I actually like this version better.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This fourth installment in the "Famous Cats of New England" series published by the "Boston Post" features two handsome ladies' men:
The cats that have 1800 girls to love them--Mike and Ike, the Telephone Company's twin cats--scorn to lay claim to any such plebeian accomplishment as mice or rat catching. Never, since last April, when they came to 119 Milk street, wee bits of black kittens, have they done one single stroke of honest work.

Today, great black and white beauties, they bask in the smiles and caresses of the 1800 girl operators;they spend most of their time curled up asleep on the comfortable leather couches of the recreation hall, and show pronounced enthusiasm only when the rattle of dishes in the locker room below announces that it is getting on toward mealtime.

New England can hardly lay claim to two handsomer or more dignified cats than Mike and Ike. Their fur is like silk. Its black is as black as it is possible for black to be. Its white is the white of faultlessly laundered linen.

Not a minute of the day passes that Mike and Ike are not being talked to and stroked. The girls, working in relays, are coming to recreation hall for their 15-minute reliefs every hour of the day and night. They never go back to work without a bit of play with the twins. They always used to bring them some little treat, like a taste of chicken or some catnip.

Killed with kindness, very nearly were poor Mike and Ike. Treats from 1800 loving "aunties" soon landed them up at the Angell Memorial Hospital. Now they are kept on a strict--no eating between meals--diet. Still Mike and Ike appear excessively well fed cats. They are heavy to lift. They have that delicious sort of sleepy languor that makes contented house cats so comfy and cuddly.

Man haters indeed are Mike and Ike. They can scent a man the moment he enters the room. Let them be curled up fast asleep at the other end of the big hall and let one mere man so much as set foot inside the door that is furthest away and "Pssssssst! Pssst!" The twins are on their feet--backs up, tails bristling.

Spitting at the Post photographer the moment he entered the room were Mike and Ike. No soothing word he could say had the least effect. They regarded him with suspicion every moment he was there. Their great gold eyes watched him unwinkingly wherever he went. Their tails stirred uneasily. Thoroughly displeased were they that mere man should have invaded the sanctum where they reign supreme.

A Christmas tree with 1800 presents is coming to Mike and Ike. There will be little wooly play mice--not the mice, in the flesh, all dirty from the cellar that would soil the little white mittens of their paws of which the girls are so proud. There will be little balls, too. Mike and Ike are fond of playing ball occasionally.

They bat a small rubber ball about for hours between each other, racing the length of the big room to catch it and bat it back. But as their kitten days grow further back they play ball less and less. They sleep more and more.

Each with a mammoth lounge completely to itself the cats were blissfully sleeping when the reporter called. They were gracious enough about being rudely awakened. They are used to that. They consented to having the head gear slipped over their heads and to sitting up quite professionally, as if they were saying "Hello." Nor did they run from the photographer. But, oh my goodness, how they hated him!

"They show their good sense and the way we girls train them," said the hello girls. "They're a credit to their 1800 aunties, Mike and Ike are." 
~December 10, 1920