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  • Victorian Urban Legends: In Search of the Sewer Crocodile in Hamburg August 25, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern


    This story is quite exciting because it is a possible source for the famous crocodiles in the sewer tale. There are reports from the early 1870s about crocs associated with drainage in the US. However, they rarely involve danger or fun. We are in Hamburg, Germany:

    The police authorities of this city have issued a formal notice warning the public of the escape of crocodiles from an African sailing vessel into the Elbe, and are cautioning all persons against bathing in the river. The number of crocodiles which have got away is considerably larger than first reported. Altogether, we are informed, that no fewer than twenty-one of these formidable creatures, ranging from five to six feet in length, have escaped. Wednesday’s Standard says : ‘At this moment the citizens of Hamburg are enjoying, as best they can, the knowledge that twenty-one crocodiles, ranging from five to six feet in length, are at large in the Elbe. This circumstance is not due to any of those misdirected efforts at acclimatisation, for which some of our Colonies are moderately grateful, but to the clumsiness of those who had imported the reptiles for sale to various Zoological Gardens, Hamburg being the great European centre for this peculiar trade. No doubt the crocodiles will in a very short time be duly killed or captured. But, meantime, a fresh zest will be imparted to life Blankense or Nienstedten by the sight of a crocodile basking on the strand in uncomfortable proximity to the bathers’ clothes, thought which suggests the painful possibility that before the brutes are secured, appetites sharpened the voyage from Africa may be satisfied in a manner too horrible to contemplate. In any case, the densely-populated shores the Elbe are among the last localities in which anyone would wish to cultivate the acquaintance of these African reptiles. Their existence in the lower Elbe, however, is not likely to be either long or merry one. Even should they escape the rifles of the sport-loving lieutenants of the Hamburg garrison, the climate would speedily put an end to them, or render their movements so lethargic that it improbable the reptiles will be dangerous.

    Yorkshire Gazette (25 August 1888), 7

    By the first of September several newspapers were revealing that the story had been a fake. Spoilsports…

    Other crocodiles on the loose: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    Snowball Atrocities #4: Napoleon at Brienne August 24, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Snowball Atrocities #4: Napoleon at Brienne

    Perhaps the single most famous snowball fight in history took place in the winter of 1783-1784 at Brienne in Aube in central France. Brienne at this date was a military school and among the students was a fourteen-year-old Corsican named Napoleon Bonaparte. (Permission given to sigh deeply) Frustrated by the cold and the tedium of snowmen, […]

    Paleo Family Planning Today? August 23, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Prehistoric
    Paleo Family Planning Today?

    There is a whole literature out there on paleo food, the idea that we are digital men and women living in stone age bodies and that we need to eat in a stone age fashion. But what about the idea that we should also live other aspects of our lives as stone agers among the skyscrapers […]

    Stephen King and the Source of Bye Bye Man? August 22, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Stephen King and the Source of Bye Bye Man?

    This is thought fall out from reading Robert Damon Schneck’s Bye Bye Man a few months ago. The most fascinating chapter in the book is the eponymous ‘Bye Bye Man’: Beach described the case in great detail when he reviewed BBM but a quick recap. In 1990 three young adults (two men and a woman) […]

    Medieval Marvels: Italian Dragonets August 20, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Medieval Marvels: Italian Dragonets

    Beach recently ran across this legend in the work of the endlessly fascinating Gervase of Tilbury, an English writer with a penchant for the impossible or failing that the improbable. There is an island in Tuscany pertaining to the domain of Count Ildebrandino, in which there are winged snakes which look like dragons. As soon […]

    First Knocker Record from Wales August 19, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    First Knocker Record from Wales

    Knockers (aka knackers) were the tiny mine spirits described particularly in Cornwall and in Wales. They were sometimes said to be helpers, sometimes hinderers, and sometimes they warned of disasters in the pit. On this last point Beach links here to his description of a nineteenth-century mine disaster in Wales at Morfa. They arrived in […]

    Pig in a Rock August 18, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Pig in a Rock

    This story recalls those rather tedious tales about toads being dug out of rocks but with a much more interesting animal. Perhaps it could be true… On the 14th of December, 1810, several considerable falls of the cliffs, both east and westward of Dover, took place; and one of these was attended by a fatal […]

    Don’t Walk Through That Wood August 17, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Don't Walk Through That Wood

    This is one of those short but really quite terrifying nineteenth-century supernatural stories: the account is very raw. The person who sent in this story reckoned that the adventure had taken place about 1850. We are in Somerset in south-west England. Miss Williams of Over Stowey was returning home from Watchet late in the evening, and near…. her pony […]

    Immortals: Napoleonic Warrior in Russia August 16, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Uncategorized
    Immortals: Napoleonic Warrior in Russia

    Beach has previously enjoyed ‘immortals’ fictional and factional characters who have lived through an improbable number of generations. Here is a likely sounding tale from 30 Jun 1894 (Dundee Eve Tele). A man, who was born 1768, and preserves unimpaired memory, and who was, moreover, in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, has a good […]

    Earliest Manuscript Broomstick Witches August 15, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Earliest Manuscript Broomstick Witches

    A few months ago Beach offered the evidence for early images of broomstick riding witches. There are three important manuscript sabbats that come down to us from the period 1450-1500 and that offer the best early visual evidence for the belief that witches attended sabbats by broom. The first of these images dates to about 1450. […]

    Bending Towards Justice August 14, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite
    Bending Towards Justice

    ‘The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.’ This quotation is one that has followed Beach around for the last few years. It is the favourite sentence of a dear friend and often appears in the media. It was first said by a man of immense moral stature: Theodore Parker […]

    A Nineteenth-Century Hydrogen Bomb? August 13, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    A Nineteenth-Century Hydrogen Bomb?

    Was the first hydrogen bomb designed in the late nineteenth century in France? One contemporary newspaper suggests as much.

    Post Mortem Lynching August 12, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Post Mortem Lynching

    This story came out of the Russian countryside in 1890. It should be remembered that this was a period when Russia was cast as an eastern ‘Ireland’ the butt of ‘civilised’ Britain’s jokes. In other words, take with a pinch of salt until a Russian source is found. Can anyone help: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT […]

    Oakmen Fairy Fakes? August 11, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Oakmen Fairy Fakes?

      ***Sorry this post was accidentally pre-released!*** Ah, there are few things as warming to the heart as duffing up a made up folklore creature and Beach recently came across the oakman, which he now hopes to remove like a tic from the body of folklore. Katharine Briggs in her fairy dictionary writes: ‘There are […]

    Burning Library: Galen in Chinese Shorthand August 10, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Burning Library: Galen in Chinese Shorthand

    The Arab writer Ibn al-Nadim included this extraordinary record of contact between east and west in his Index of the Sciences, finished in 988. He is reporting an encounter between a Chinese student, visiting Baghdad, al-Razi, perhaps the greatest of the Persian writers of the golden age, and the writings of Galen, the greatest Mediterranean […]

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