Beachcombed 35 May 1, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Beachcombed , trackback
Dear Reader, Sorry but no time. Today is a national holiday that means I have to walk to get to my final exam (university open but buses not running). then I hope to spend the summer writing cool articles about north-western English fairy history (boggarts, bogles…) and enjoying this blog. Here are the 13000 most important words from this month plus some links sent in by friends. Enjoy May! And sorry for this rapid post.
BH News Stories
Botched Beheadings: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books writes in: Here is a botched decapitation from 1874 Japan. The backstory: “The Japan Gazette of Aug. 21 contains an account of the murder of Mr. Haber, the German Consul at Hokodadi, by a native, who says he was actuated by a demon.[The murderer was described as a “spiritualistic fanatic” in other papers.] He killed his victim with a sword, slashing him in a most horrible manner, and cutting one leg entirely off.” New York Herald-Tribune 11 September 1874: p. 1 And excerpts from the execution story: A JAPANESE EXECUTION. A Horrible Scene. Decapitation of the Murderer of the German Consul Hakodate, September 27, 1874. On Friday evening notice was given to the consuls that at 9 o’clock A.M., of the day following, Tazaki Hidechika would be sentenced for the murder of the late Mr. Haber, acting German Consul at this port, and that he would be executed at 10 o’clock, in the jail inclosure. [This was to prevent the prisoner from exhibiting “unseemly bravado.”] The prisoner was made to kneel, blindfolded, at the edge of a trench. “Two executioners stood by with their swords, which were dipped in water. First executioner advanced and struck, missing his aim and hitting under the neck close to the shoulders; the body fell forward, with the head in the trench, seeming to suffer much. A second blow was struck and then the hesitant executioner advanced and delivered a heavy blow, which, being unsuccessful, a fourth attempt to sever the head from the body was made but failed. One executioner then took the head by the hair and began to saw the head off with his sword in most horrible manner, but was stopped by the chief officer. Water was thrown on the face, and in order to show the face to the witnesses, the head not being entirely severed it was necessary to partially lift the body up with it. The body was covered with a mat and Tazaki Hidechika had met his due reward. The time occupied by the decapitation was two minutes. As the head was not severed from the body as per sentence and according to Japanese custom, the question may be raised as to whether the failure was intentional or not, as Hidechika may have preferred to suffer more to having his head cut entirely off; as to the Japanese idea of disgrace I am entirely ignorant. Notice of the execution was posted in one place, written in Japanese.” Wheeling [WV] Register 21 November 1874: p. 1 And one from 1882 Denmark: A HORRIBLE EXECUTION A Drunken Headsman Causes a Frightful Scene. Copenhagen, December 11. The entire country was thrilled by a general feeling of horror when the papers this morning brought the details of the execution of a criminal in a provincial place the previous day. According to the Danish law, criminals condemned to death suffer the last penalty of the law by decapitation by means of an axe, the block being placed at some conspicuous point as near as possible to the place where the murder was committed. A man condemned to death was to be executed yesterday morning and, as usual, a large crowd of people from the surrounding districts had assembled round the spot, only one constable being present to keep order. When the usual formalities were gone through, the criminal laid his head on the block; but the eye and the hand of the executioner, who had been drinking heavily on the previous day, were uncertain, and the stroke fell over both shoulders, the criminal uttered a smothered cry of pain. The executioner wrenched the axe out of the wound, wielded it again, and struck the criminal high upon the back of the head; again he wrenched the axe out of the wound and succeeded at last in cutting the head off. The crowd rushed to the headless trunk, some to try to catch some drops of blood, which the peasants think has some kind of magical effect to cure certain diseases, others to satisfy their morbid curiosity; in fact, a horrible and disgusting scene took place, several men and women fainting. Every one agrees that such a disgraceful spectacle must never more take place in Denmark; and the Minister of Justice has already, with praiseworthy speed, declared his intention to bring in a short bill providing for execution by means of the guillotine and within the precincts of a prison. Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 12 December 1882: p. 4. Then the Count: You’re right to feel sorry for the poor old executioner, whether he was a headsman or a hangman. It was an extremely unpopular job, but somebody had to do it. The public executioner was shunned by absolutely everyone, the belief being that his grim trade gave him an ill-omened aura that might somehow rub off on people like leprosy, so he frequently had to live in an isolated house, where of course he got no visitors except officials coming to tell him his services were required. At one time the public executioner of Edinburgh lived in a now-vanished and very lonely cottage on Arthur’s Seat, and eventually grew so depressed that he committed suicide, which of course automatically made the house haunted and even more uninhabitable than it would have been anyway, hence its total demolition. The guillotine, under a different name but the same device in almost all respects, was invented in Halifax. The “Halifax Gibbet” was mainly intended as a humanitarian way of dispatching felons as mercifully as possible, but it also did away with the need for an executioner, since all that was required to do the deed was a tug on a rope. This meant that a committee of law officers could all pull the rope at the same time, sharing responsibility while allowing each of them to think that it wasn’t his feeble tug but somebody else’s that actually released the blade. (Similarly, in those American states that execute murderers by firing-squad, one rifle is always loaded with blanks, so that should the executioners feel bad about taking a human life, they can console themselves with the thought that maybe they didn’t.) Sometimes an animal was used; if the crime was stealing livestock, the actual creature stolen, assuming it hadn’t been eaten, became the executioner.For some reason it never caught on in the UK, except in Edinburgh, where a copy of the Halifax Gibbet known as the Edinburgh Maiden was used for a time. The good Dr. Guillotine’s machine was in fact the third such device, and presumably inspired by the other two, His only innovation was making the blade triangular, which resulted in an even more efficient lopping action.’ Thanks Chris and thanks to the Count!
Weighing Witches: LK writes: In the Low Countries there is actually a weigh-house that was endorsed by emperor Charles V, for weighing witches: Every city and town (especially in the export oriented Low Countries) had its own Weigh-house, to ensure that nobody skimped on weight with agricultural and (proto)industrial products. And of course the (official) weights were not always correct, so the weigh-master could pocket the difference. Apparently they also weighted witches, and were not averse to using doctored weights to get a conviction, for a small fee, of course. It is said that emperor Charles V was present at such a witch trail, and he did not believe the verdict. So he let the witch be reweighed at Oudewater, and they found that she was around 100 pounds, which was consistent with her body build. As a sign of his confidence in the weights (and weigh-master) at the Weigh-house in Oudewater, Charles V appointed it as the official Witches Weigh-house, to ensure a fair trail for anybody that was accused of being a witch (and thus (nearly) weightless, otherwise you could not fly). If you had a “normal” weight, then you got an official certificate, which seems to have been a live saver for a lot of people. At Oudewater they never found a witch. It is now a charming museum, and you can still get yourself weighed and get a certificate. Thanks Louis!!!
Bishop Erik: Jonathan from A Corner writes: ‘once again I emerge for my periodic canter through your fine blog, and run up against your post “Bishop Erik’s Unorthodox Trip, 1121”. I don’t know anything here but two things strike me as worth musing on; firstly, the text as quoted doesn’t say that Bishop Erik ever got there, which may be significant. But secondly, whether he did or no, I don’t see that it must imply that there were settlers there to whom he intended ministry. Might it is not in fact have been an (abortive) mission attempt to the locals whose presence he would, presumably, either have heard of or inferred? That wouldn’t damage orthodoxy too much, but would put the poor bishop in the list of those who sailed west without getting there perhaps. Does he ever attest again after this… ?’ What struck me [Beach] in reading through the literature is that there has never been a proper attempt to ground the Icelandic annals and until that is done and this annal is properly situated it is going to be an ungrounded exercise (to say the least). I was particularly anxious comparing Bishop Erik with the conventional list of Greenland bishops: and no he is not attested again (or before…). I wonder if we even have a legendary annal such as those that crop up in the Spanish, Irish and Welsh traditions. As to him not coming back this suggestion has often been made and too the idea that he converted the ‘gentiles’: the Vinland map forgery enjoys this. Thanks J!
Exotic Blood: Jonathan from A Corner writes: I couldn’t quite let EC’s assertions about Islamic race relations in your In Search of Exotic Blood post of January get past uncommented. It’s true, of course, that Islamic powers had huge numbers of African slaves, but they also had huge numbers of Slavic ones, and in Spain at least these people could rise to major office. I don’t see much sign of a racial determinism in early and medieval Islamic society about *who* should be slaves; anyone unlucky enough to be caught, and without that necessarily implying much about their character or ‘nature’ (hateful word). You would look in vain in these polities for the kind of discourses on the `inferior’ character of the `negroid’ that nineteenth-century Britain, Germany and America were so happy with, as far as I know. This is not to say that there was no race hatred under Islam: there are some *very* unpleasant things said about Berbers in the chronicles that cover the end of the Andalusi caliphate, and equally nasty ones about the Cordobans by the Berbers, but whether that’s more than political slurs from an emotive and bloody time, I wouldn’t like to say. Certainly it parallels better to Romans vs barbarians (neither of which, as you know, are racial categories) than to black vs white.’ Thanks Jonathan.
Bloody Foreigners: Antony Poulton-Smith writes: Enjoyed the post on the ‘Foreigners’. When my forthcoming marriage to an American lady was announced her friends and colleagues offered their congratulations all asking about this mysterious man. Two opinions changed quite quickly when they found out she was marrying “an English” as both the Irishman and the Scotsman put it. Your post reminded me of this when highlighting the French / Frenchman problem – for both Celts used “an English” rather than “an Englishman” as a sneer – and as it was clearly meant as such. I’d like to raise a second point. My interest in etymology has resulted in a number of books on the origins of place names. It might be of interest to learn another Celtic group, the Welsh, is a name coined by the Saxons, who gave Old English. To the Welsh their home of Wales is known as Cymru. “Wales” is an English word derived from the Old English for ‘foreigner’. Fred from Chinesefolktales: Dr. Beach chances are you might already know about this. If not, you might be amused by Chinese names of European & Western nations [DB: no!]. (1) England = 英国 (yingguo, “Nation of the Brave,” “Valiant Nation, etc.) (2) America = 美国 (meiguo, “Nation of beauty,” “Beautiful Nation,” etc.) (3) Germany = 德国 (deguo, “Nation of Morality,” “Ethical Nation,” etc.) (4) France = 法国 (faguo, “Nation of Laws,” “Lawful Nation,” etc.) Others are rendered purely phonetically and the sequential characters do not provide a meaning other than forming a foreign name. Examples: (5) Scotland = 苏格兰 su ge lan and my native land: (6) Canada = 加拿大jia na da Re: “German,” “Germans,” etc., I still get students, some of whom are America-born and should know better, write “Germen” for a plural. Thanks Fred and Anthony!
Celtic Church: JJ from a Corner of Tenth-Century Europe writes: Apropos of your defence of the Celtic Church (a curious defence that abandons the citadel and starts looking for a new one, if you’ll forgive my saying so…), Atlantic might work better than you expect, depending on whether or not you know that as well as the British exodus to what became Brittany in the fifth century, there was also a smaller one to Cantabria on the north coast of (what is now) Spain. For about eighty years there was a `British’ bishop there who operated in a kind of circle of monasteries the exiles had founded or acquired, causing his bemused but more-or-less-welcoming neighbours to recognise a sort of see at Mondonedo. I know all this from the venerable but perhaps dated deductions of the late Jose Orlandis from early Spanish Church council records, if I remember rightly, which mention these characters here and there, and the state of discussion has probably changed, but the evidence at least won’t have too much. How `British’ any of these people were after two generations in exile, of course, especially given that monastics hopefully wouldn’t be reproducing that much, might be wondered, but presumably their institutions lived a little longer than they did! But were they `Celtic’…’ Jonathan refers to Britonia. Thanks! B
Mesalliances: KR sends in this depressing instance. John de Warrene succeeded his grandfather, John de Warrene, as Earl of Surrey in September 1304, when he was eighteen, and became a ward of Edward I. The following year, Edward offered him the marriage of his granddaughter Jeanne de Bar, which John enthuasiastically accepted, and their wedding took place on 25 May 1306. Jeanne was only ten years old, John almost twenty. Thanks, grandpa. John, at nineteen to twenty, was not happy with his 10 year old child bride. I think it might be likely that the child screamed and cried when he attempted to have marital relations with her, since that would be painful, and frightening, for a child who was too young for sex. (We often read that with such young brides, “the marriage was not consummated until the child grew into a woman.” It seems obvious that once a baby-bride was under the control, and in the bedroom of her “lord” it was entirely up to him, whether she were six or sixteen.) In 1309, John asked Edward for the right to leave his inheritance to whomever he pleased: he soon began to have children from another woman. John asked for a dissolution of his marriage several times. Jeanne de Bar after 1313 was allowed to live in the Tower of London, because John was living with his mistress. In 1317, he abducted (and presumably raped) the wife of his enemy Thomas of Lancaster, Alice de Lacy. John left his first mistress and his several children for another mistress in the 1330’s. At John’s death in 1347 Jeanne de Bar was awarded a his Lincolnshire property as her dower. They had been married 41 years. Thanks KR!
Blood Rain: Paige writes: Google is a wonderful thing … 🙂 referencing  THE POST OFFICE DIRECTORY OF GLOUCESTERSHIRE, HEREFORDSHIRE, SHROPSHIRE, AND THE CITY OF BRISTOL, WITH MAPS ENGRAVED EXPRESSLY FOR THE WORK Under entry for Stoke Edith: Perton is a hamlet; Stokebridge, Old house, Showle Court, and Free Town are farms. Taylor[,] William, farmer, Shawle Court (transcription )
Yarkhill (Herefordshire) Parish Register Transcription Baptisms at St John the Baptist’s Church – 1563 to 1840 First instance on page: Showle 1582, Showell 1583, Showel 1592, Shewell 1594, Shoule 1634 Showle Court, Stoke Edith 1807. Mary Godsall – listed in register as mother of Alice baptized Jan. 29, 1649 Many people by the name of Godsall/Godsal/Godshall in the register. The Count offers an alternative: Your blood rain story takes place in “the parish of Stoake-Idith”, by which I guessed the writer meant “Stoke Edith”. There is such a place, and it’s very near Canon Frome. Bearing in mind that his spelling of place-names was somewhat random, it didn’t surprise me that the map didn’t show anywhere called “Shewall” within the small area that might comprise a parish. However, about half a mile from Stoke Edith, there’s a pond called Shade Well. I think that has to be your location. Then Invisible comes in with another shower of blood for general edification: Your gorge-rising little story of the rain of blood made me think of this very localized shower of blood, which, it cannot be doubted, was intended for the recipient: The following letter was sent to me by Mr. T. J. A., whom I had asked to make personal inquiry into the story he had told me: “my Dear Sir, November 17. The incident I mentioned to you the other evening occurred at Wivenhoe, near Colchester, in the cottage of a poor widow, who added to a very small annuity by letting two rooms, whilst her sons earned their subsistence by fishing. At the time of which I write, the widow’s rooms were inhabited by Captain and Mrs. B., a family connection of mine, and from whom I heard the tale. One morning the two young fishermen went out, telling their mother they should not be home all night as the tide would not serve them. Their mother gave them their provisions accordingly, telling them if they did get home, to knock very gently at the window, so as not to disturb the sick lady (meaning Mrs. B.) At night she went to bed as usual and as the weather was calm, felt no uneasiness about her sons. She slept till about three o’clock when she was roused by the usual signal at her window; jumping out of bed and quietly throwing open the sash, she looked into the darkness and saw the form of her eldest child. “Be still,” she said, “I will light the candle and let you in.” On opening the door she found no one there, nor could she obtain any answer to her calls though often repeated, and thinking she had been dreaming, she re-entered her room to return to bed. But again she heard the knocking at the window and a second time she put her head out the window and called her sons by name. No answer was given and feeling something drop on her forehead, which she supposed to be rain, she, almost angry at what she called a trick, put out the light and got into bed. Though not alarmed she could not sleep and at day break rose to dress herself. The first thing she saw was a slight stain of blood upon her fingers, and on going to the little glass hanging on the wall, she was frightened at seeing blood upon her temple, and on the border of her night cap. There was no scratch in either temple or finger, no clue to guide her as to the cause of the blood stain. In a moment the truth flashed upon her mind, and she felt sure her sons were dead. She went to the kitchen and there, sitting in a state of desolation, Captain B found her, when, wondering at her non-appearance, he went to enquire about his wife’s breakfast. The tale was told, and the blood stains, displayed upon the night cap. Captain B. was startled, for he had heard (or fancied he had heard) the knocking, but he endeavoured to persuade the poor woman she had hit her head against the window. No, she was sure she had not, and what she had supposed to be rain was, in reality blood. She bade Captain B. examine the window, and to satisfy her he did so, but he could discover no projecting nail or anything by which his landlady could have hurt either head or finger, but on the small sill, he saw drops of blood similar to those on the night cap. Nothing could be otherwise than conjecture, and taking the afflicted woman to his wife, Captain B set out to obtain tidings of the young men, but it was late in the day ere their suspense was ended and then the widow’s presentiment was confirmed. Her son’s boat had been swamped and both had perished. The body of one, the younger, was soon found and on his temple was a deep wound as if he had been struck by the mast of the boat as it turned over. The body of the other was never brought to shore. Thus ends the tale of the Wivenhoe widow. I have seen her many times, but I never heard her mention the subject, for she never quite recovered her senses. To my sister, who married Captain B’s son, she has frequently told her tale, and shown her the cap with the blood stains on it.’ The British Spiritual Telegraph, vol. 3-4, 1859, p. 57 Thanks to Paige, the Count and Invisible!!
Strange Suicides: Bast sends in this very curious case http://historicmysteries.com/the-lead-masks-case/. We give here a sample: Three days later, Jorge da Costa Alves found the bodies of the two men on Vintem Hill in Rio de Janeiro. Naturally, he alerted the police, who conducted an investigation. They ascertained the last known whereabouts of the men and discovered the miscellaneous items that represent their last moments alive. Both men were dressed in suits and wearing waterproof coats. They had lead eye masks with no holes, such as one would wear to protect from radiation. There was also an empty water bottle, two towels and a notebook. The notebook confused the case even further. It contained a few notes in Portuguese. Translated, they read: ‘16:30 be at agreed place, 18:30 swallow capsules, after effect protect metals wait for mask signal.’ David Otton sent some nice links via twitter. R. Budd Dwyer who also committed suicide on live television: . The Dance of Zalongo, a mass Greek suicide from 1831 and certainly worth a post of its own: Ronald Opus, an interesting fictional suicide case that is well reading: And most striking of all Peg Entwistle who killed herself using the Hollywood sign: On Sunday, 18 September 1932, an anonymous woman telephoned the police and said that while hiking she had found a body below the Hollywoodland sign… and then, according to a police transcript of the call, ‘wrapped a jacket, shoes and purse in a bundle and laid them on the steps of the Gresham Police Station.’ A detective and two radio car officers found the body of a moderately well-dressed, blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman in the 100-foot ravine below the sign. Entwistle remained unidentified until her uncle (at whose Beachwood Canyon home she had been living) connected her two-day absence with the description and initials P.E. on a suicide note which had been found in the purse and published by the newspapers. He said that on Friday, 16 September she had told him she was going for a walk to a drugstore and see some friends. The police surmised that instead, she made her way from his Beachwood Drive home up the nearby southern slope of Mount Lee to the foot of the Hollywoodland sign, climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the ‘H’ and jumped. The cause of death was listed by the coroner as ‘multiple fractures of the pelvis.’ The suicide note as published read: ‘I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.’ Entwistle’s death brought wide and often sensationalized publicity. Her funeral was held in Hollywood and the body was cremated, with the ashes later sent to Glendale, Ohio for burial next to her father in Oak Hill Cemetery, where they were interred on 5 January 1933.’ Then Chris from Haunted Ohio Books has some crackers from her own collection: ‘Suicides were meat and drink to journalists, who reveled in the gory or unusual details and sometimes made light of the tragedies: An Ohio man has made six unsuccessful attempts to commit suicide. If he has made as great a failure of everything he undertook we are not surprised that he is tired of life. The Washington[DC] Post 20 September, 1907: p. 6 The latest phase in Parisian suicide is to shoot yourself in a hack. It is apt to damage the linings [horse-drawn hackney cabs had linings of cloth, like modern cars], but enables the suicide to be promptly conveyed to the morgue. Fort Wayne [IN] Daily Gazette 2-4-1882 p. 6. ‘A few unusual suicides from my files’: Suicide by a Spiritualist. A short time since it was stated in the newspapers that a young lady, Miss Hattie A. Eager, of Boston, had died under peculiar circumstance—being a spiritual medium, she had predicted her own death at a certain time, being at the time of the prediction in good health. She was buried with ceremonies peculiar to the spiritualists, and since the event, her case has been mentioned by spiritualists as a clear and convincing proof of the truth of their theory. It has come out now that she committed suicide. The examining physicians say that 20 grains of antimony was found in her stomach after death. Lowell [MA] Daily Citizen 15 December 1856: p. 2 Suicide Of Miss Mary Kyger a Wealthy and Cultured Woman of Oxford, by Burning Hamilton, O., Dec 15. In a fit of madness, Miss Mary Kyger, 46 years old, a wealthy and cultured woman of Oxford, committed suicide by burning. Miss Kyger poured a can full of gasoline on her clothing. She then applied a match and was instantly a human torch. She dashed into the yard, but went less than 10 feet when with piercing shrieks she fell. Many people saw her death agony, including scores of girl students in Oxford College for Women, just across the street. Several young women were prostrated by the shock. Miss Kyger’s entire body was roasted and she died in 20 minutes. Fifteen years ago she was in an asylum, and lately she has imagined that she could not manage her property. The Newark [OH] Advocate 12-15-1903 p. 2 Butler Co., Oxford GUILLOTINED HIMSELF. Deliberate Preparations Which a Demented French Inventor Made to Take His Own Life. Arthur Charollais, a demented inventor, 40 years old, guillotined himself this week in his laboratory at Mulhouse in Alsace. He had constructed the machine himself. It was an exact duplicate of the legal French guillotine, but was made of costly woods and finely polished. The triangular knife had engraved on it: “This blade cut Arthur Charollais’ neck, October, 1900.” Near the body was found a note reading: “Distribute my belongings among the poor. Demolish this guillotine. It is intended solely for my own private use.” Charollais’ servants heard an unfamiliar electric bell suddenly ringing persistently, and rushing to answer it discovered with horror a wriggling, headless body, with blood gushing in streams from the neck. The head was in a basket with sawdust where it had fallen. The suicide had so arranged the knife that its fall started an electric bell. Marietta [OH] Daily Leader 7 November 1900: p. 7 ‘I’ve found a number of cases of women strangling themselves with their hair.’ Strangled With Her Own Hair: Madeline Messner Commits Suicide in a Novel Manner. Toledo, Ohio, Jan. 30. Madeline Messner of Gibsonburg, Ohio, a melancholy patient at the insane asylum here committed suicide this afternoon in a peculiar manner. While sitting in a chair she fastened her hair around her neck and to the back of the chair and leaned forward. When found some minutes later she was dead. Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 1 February 1896: p. 6 [I have seen other cases where people, with unusual strength of purpose, held up their feet until they strangled or otherwise performed seemingly impossible feats in order to die.] QUEER SUICIDE IN PRISON Woman Strangles Herself to Death With Her Hair The suicide in the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul of a young woman named Dorofieff, who had been imprisoned there for nearly six months without trial, has caused as painful an impression here as that of the girl Vietrova, who committed suicide in the same place about eight or ten years ago by pouring over herself the oil of the lamp with which her cell was provided and setting herself on fire. Dorofieff strangled herself by tying her hair around her neck, fastening the end of the plait to the foot of the bed and then leaning back till death released her. She was a young married woman, barely 22 years of age, who came to St. Petersburg with her husband in the spring of last year. The Two lived a quiet, simple life and attracted little notice from their neighbors until shortly after the successful attack made by the Social Revolutionists at the corner of the Catharine Canal on a carriage conveying several hundred rubles from the port of St. Petersburg to the Branch Treasury in Kasnatcheifskaya street in October last year. The couple disappeared from their rooms at this time, and when the police made a descent upon their apartment they found the doors locked and had to force their way in. A few men were left in permanent ambush, and when two days later the husband returned alone he had hardly entered the hall when they rushed out with loaded revolvers and arrested him. Two days later he was executed in accordance with the verdict of a field court martial. The woman Dorofieff was arrested on the same premises the day after her husband had fallen into the hands of the police. She was immediately incarcerated in the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul and since then, according to the newspaper accounts, she was kept in complete ignorance as to the fate of her husband, the jailers not being allowed to reply to any of her questions. The news of her husband’s death, it is said, was only conveyed to her on the eve of her suicide. She had been dead for several hours before it was discovered that she had put an end to her life. She was buried secretly at night time in the Preobajensky cemetery where are the graves of many of those who fell during the shooting on Red Sunday. Who she was and who her husband was remains a mystery. Those who knew her during her stay in St. Petersburg describe her as an exceptionally beautiful and attractive woman of superior intelligence and education. St. Petersburg, Cor. Chicago Chronicle. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 11 May 1907: p. 14 ‘What interests me almost as much as unusual suicide methods are the alleged reasons for why people committed suicide, as in these two articles’: READ NOVEL, WENT CRAZY AND DIED Boston, April 13. After reading Sir Conan Doyle’s House of the Baskervilles,” [sic] which tells of the ghostly dog that tears the throat of man and leaves him dead on the moor, Marcus J. Long,, 65, chopped to pieces all the keys and strings of the piano, smashed a $1,000 violin, then committed suicide by inhaling illuminating gas. The Spokane [WA] Press 13 April 1909: p. 6 Strange Fatality ERIE, PA., June 13 Mrs. Mary Kreshner suicided to-day under peculiar circumstances. A few weeks ago her husband’s dead and mangled body was brought home and the hearse containing the corpse ran over and killed her only child while enroute to the cemetery. She was about returning to her father in Germany when news came that he was drowned. Then Mrs. Kreshner resorted to laudanum for relief from further fatalities. Marion [OH] Star 17 June 1885. Thanks to Chris, Bast and David, who really blew my examples away!
Joan Tyrry. Sharon writes in with a couple of interesting details. First, Thomas got the wrong box number! The horror… Sharon will supply any interested party. Second, an early reference appears in Discoveries in the Diocesan Registry, Wells, Somerset. A Paper read before the Society of Genealogists 10th March 1926 / Holworthy (R): Diocesan Registry, Wells, 1926. 8vo. Thanks Sharon!
Amazon Battles: Two different contradictory opinions on this. First KR “Many scholars have suggested that these were not women at all but differently dressed men. The genitals were not exposed and ‘the breasts’ may have been chests.” Really!? Many scholars are idiots. These didn’t check with the right experts: endocrinologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, soldiers, and, not to mention, your average healthy male human. Any of you guys out there willing to say that you cannot tell a group of bare-breasted women from a group of bare-chested men? (Remember this is centuries before sex-change operations!) Endocrinologists, neurologists,-psychiatrists and psychologists, who work with Post-traumatic stress in soldiers, say that when one is in danger, adrenaline flooding the system begins a systemic process that gives one a heightened awareness such that fine details are much MORE vivid. This hyper-awareness is part of what enables a warrior to fine-tune his responses, improve his aim, and thus it increases his chances of surviving. It is also the reason that saying “just forget about it” to a PTS sufferer doesn’t work: post-trauma flashbacks are more like reliving the experiences than simply remembering them. Those men in the story, who were in mortal combat, would have a heightened sense of danger and thus, a biologically-determined greater awareness of details. The author was thus MORE likely to recall accurate details and not less likely to do so. Bare female breasts are not the sort of detail a male adult human is likely to mistake or misidentify in the calmest of times, as identifying females of his species is also a strong biological imperative. Nope. I don’t believe those scholars. I don’t believe they believed what they said either. Shoddy scholarship on their part, or just dissembling?’ Next the Count who swings the bat with the other hand: ‘I’d just like to say that in my opinion, the final part of your Conquistadors vs. Amazons saga seems to be at odds with the rest. These warrior women have been built up as an all-female tribe who only interact with men because it’s necessary if there are going to be any little Amazons, and only at very specific times. Yet here we have them apparently not only living with but governing a normal half-male tribe! I suspect that, having been led to believe that these terrifying warrior women existed, the Spaniards misinterpreted long-haired men, perhaps with well-developed pectorals (bearing in mind that tribal women who spend their entire lives naked from the waist up and have children from puberty onwards tend to be a bit flat-chested once their youth is past), as these scary women they’d been led to expect. As you say, they didn’t get to examine the corpses of these “Amazons” because they lost the battle. But they did observe that these “women” were physically larger and stronger than the male warriors, used more powerful bows – at any rate, they comment on the penetrating power of their arrows as if this is unusual – and had clubs as secondary weapons. All of this sounds more like a tribe with two castes, the dominant one being physically bigger and stronger than the others, as well as being lighter-skinned and wearing their hair in a way which the Spaniards considered feminine. In tribal societies where nothing significantly changes for thousands of years, minor genetic differences get amplified so that different tribes may become extremely dissimilar in appearance – look at Africa! They’re all dark-skinned, but that’s about it – it’s hard to believe that Watuzi and Pygmies live on the same continent, only a few hundred miles apart. In primitive warfare, the physically bigger and stronger tribe would tend to win in pitched battles every time. Let’s suppose that the big guys decisively beat the little guys, but weren’t ruthless enough to exterminate them, Instead, they made them permanent second-class citizens. Naturally, the conquerors regarded themselves as superior to the conquered, and it became strictly taboo for the two classes to interbreed. This has happened time and time again. The Indian caste system is based on this idea, and Brahmins are to this day very obviously lighter-skinned and taller than Untouchables, with various gradations in between. The very first contact between Europeans and the population of Easter Island reported that the ruling class were much taller than the rest, and possessed abnormally long earlobes, though by the time of the belated second contact, a disastrous revolution had taken place, and half the population was dead, including all but one of the “Long-Ears” (who were apparently so tall in comparison to everybody else that they are sometimes referred to as giants). The Manchu dynasty of China were Mongols who were taller than everybody else, had different features, and wore their hair long and loose. Europeans would have considered this feminine, but its actual purpose was to emphasize their freedom, as opposed to the strict rule that their ethnic Chinese subjects had to bind their hair into pigtails as a token of submission. And so on. I think that’s what we’re talking about here – a dominant caste of bigger and stronger individuals who breed only amongst themselves, and wear their hair uncut and unbound to indicate that they can do whatever they like, whereas ordinary tribesmen presumably had to have topknots or whatever. But everything in that story makes these “Amazons” sound like men, not women. Which doesn’t mean that the actual Amazons didn’t exist – merely that the Spaniards were mistaken in thinking that they’d met them.’ I [Beach] would like to add here that a crucial question – forgive me if this is almost painfully shallow sounding, but this is bizarre history – would be the breast size of Amerindian Amazonian women. There is, after all, breast size variation in terms of ethnicity: . Thanks to KR and the Count!
Hebrew Invasion of Bedroom: The legendary KMH writes: This vision might make some sense if the person were Jewish. The group in strange costumes do come from heaven (which one isn’t clear) and those in heaven traditionally wear togas, tunics, etc., when they communicate with earthlings. The subject of their visit was to inform the person of their decision to let him see in 1851 terms a few aspects of the next 100 years. The machine imitates the teletype or automatic typewriter. Hebrew wasn’t spoken or known by Jews to any real degree before their influx into Palestine and the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948. So we see that the Jews are predicted to have their own language again at about the time that letters can be automatically placed on paper. Of course, Jews have a high regard for writings from a religious perspective, even more than Christians. So, the religion of this person would be a key in interpreting the vision.’ The JO writes: One or two notes in passing: 1. The “ancient costume” he refers to may have been a cowl and cloak. Many of these little buggers (it is said) show up wearing a hooded robe. Additionally, they are sometimes said to wear tunics — though this is far less frequently reported. 2. The Hebrew bit sounds part and parcel of all the 19th-century spiritualism baloney. Even the Book of Mormon was said to have been composed in, if not Hebrew, a special angelic language. (That indomitable source Wikipedia gives it as “reformed Egyptian”.) I have followed the UFO/paranormal business for some years. While I don’t suppose anybody really knows what’s going on with any of it, the “sleep paralysis” hypothesis always brings a smile to my face: it’s rather hard to support a sleep paralysis explanation when it comes to multiple-witness sightings or events that leave behind physical evidence. A certain Jacques Vallee, I believe, came out with several books in the ’70s studying UFOs and alien contact from the point of view of folklore, noting the many similarities between contact/abduction tales and old faery stories.’ Thanks JO and KMH!!
The Children: LE writes in: ‘There may be something missing in your blog concerning the sad fate of the children of Bjelaja-Zerkow. You write: HG [Helmuth Groscurth] was quickly cowed by the killers in the room – he was, like this blogger and perhaps many of his readers, brave but not brave enough’. While ‘cowed’ is an appropriate term, Groscurth’s options were limited. He would have been threatened, and one can well speculate on the nature of the threats. The SS would have let Groscurth know that ‘personal acrimony’ meant not only his own death, but it would also have led to atrocity against his family. Threats against family were generally effective. They were (and are) standard operating procedure for totalitarian enforcers. Groscurth would have been persuaded that the fate of the Bjelaja-Zerkow children was sealed, that his resistance would lead to the disappearance of his family and himself, and that the circumstances leading to their fate would never see the light of day. How confidently can we state that ‘There was agreement that the killing had to take place?’ Groscurth may simply have agreed that martyrdom was not a good idea considering the circumstances.’ I would agree with most of LE’s analysis here, in other words that Groscurth would have died if he had pushed the boat out any further. Though I’m not sure his family would have suffered physically, that was generally restricted for ‘blood’ crimes against the state. I also feel terribly sorry for a man who belonged to the old and honourable nineteenth-century nationalist tradition, finding himself amid these monsters. (The linked French article has the perfect title in this respect: ‘the Loneliness of Helmuth Groscurth’). I though wonder whether death was the worst thing that could have happened here. There may be a case for letting something, even something terrible pass so that you can try and do good later on. But if HG had not managed to do some good here – he clearly tried… – then what possibilities were there for him in the context of the Wehrmacht gone mad? A Russian POW here, a dying soldier there… It would be interesting to know what his final reflections were in captivity after the surrender at Stalingrad: an intelligent man with a pre-Nazi conscience. All of this is written, of course, under the painful consciousness that while judging might be necessary, I will never, pontificating and eating chocolate at my keyboard, come close to the experience of decent men and women locked into that (and other) ghastly twentieth-century regimes. Incidentally, one of my sources here was Michael Burleigh’s The Third Reich. In that book MB quotes a depressing line from Solzhenitsyn: ‘Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts.’ Thanks to LE for taking the time to write this comment!
Blood Loss: Count writes: I’m a little doubtful about your new theory concerning deliberate blood-loss as a way of inducing visionary experiences. Let me point out one fact that escaped you. For a very long time indeed – from the Middle Ages right up until the early 19th. century – draining copious amounts of blood was a standard part of European medicine, and was used to treat almost everything, including anaemia! If this led to religious visions, or indeed visions of any kind, on a regular basis, nobody seems to have noticed! I think that the amount of blood-loss you’re talking about here would have to be not merely weakening but life-threatening. I suspect that the illustrations of South American religious fanatics with bleeding tongues or penises do not show that blood-loss was the main factor, since that could be accomplished much more efficiently by opening a vein in the arm. The amount of damage you’d have to do the aforementioned bits to lose several pints of blood doesn’t bear thinking about! What I think they’re doing is deliberately harming the most sensitive bodily tissues – these parts are shown bleeding to emphasize that they have been wounded, not to indicate that significant amounts of blood are being lost. Severe pain will release endorphins much more efficiently than bleeding yourself half-dry, and at considerably less risk to your life. Look at all the religious masochists of just about every faith throughout the ages, many of whom do indeed report sublime visions! These characters were doing almost exactly the same thing as those Christians in – I forget, but isn’t it Seville? – who to this day hold an Easter procession where, in an atmosphere of incredible religious fervor, the faithful flog themselves until the blood flows. And many of them cease to feel pain and experience profound religious ecstasies, which is the whole point of doing it in the first place. So there’s your explanation. Deliberate massive blood-loss as a way to release endorphins and thereby have visions makes about as much sense as taking a great big hammer and breaking your own leg. That would release plenty of endorphins all right! But I don’t know of any religions that have ever gone in for it. On a related note, if you’re looking for a method of releasing lots and lots of endorphins which South American people wouldn’t have had any trouble at all discovering, and which might be worth looking into in this context, consider this… Then Chris from Haunted Ohio Books: You asked And how much would they need to lose to start the endorphins firing madly? Perhaps none. The very act of “cutting” causes the release of endorphins according to a number of stomach-churning sites online geared to either stopping or “cutting safely” for those who use it as a form of stress/trauma control. As for the barbed rope causing infection, people pierce their tongues all the time without incident. I’ve read that the barbs were thorns or cactus spines, some of which contain saps high in vitamin C, which might boost the immune system or provide quick healing for such apparently ghastly self-inflicted injuries. I’m afraid I’m one of those people of whom they say, “reality is for people who can’t handle drugs,” and the idea of drawing blood to alter consciousness makes me woozy to think of it. Thanks Chris and the Count!
Death by Celluloid: Dennis M writes: Director Varick Frissell, cinematographer Alexander G. Penrod, and almost all the film crew were killed on 15 March 1931, when the sealing ship S.S. Viking, from which they were shooting additional footage, exploded in ice off the Horse Islands on the northern Newfoundland coast. In all, 27 people lost their lives; this is the largest number of fatalities ever incurred in the production of a film. Please don’t turn this footnote into a rant against the sealing industry which has sustained Newfoundlanders for centuries, continues to do so, and will hopefully prosper for many years to come. If the industry and its workers does perish in the face of manipulated media images, it will be another instance of Death by Celluloid – of the industry and the NL culture it supports. Thanks Dennis!
Walking Upside Down: Lisa L writes in. ‘In regards to your blog post about witches walking upside down: I have no idea where that belief stems from, but your post reminded me of a newspaper story from 1907 I recently blogged about. It described a “bewitched” apartment building in Paris where everyone who entered a certain flat felt immediately compelled to walk on their hands. As I say, I don’t know the meaning of this, but it does seem to be a not-uncommon theme in witch and spook stories. Oh, and regarding the Lord Mansfield anecdote: I’ve come across a 1712 witchcraft trial where the judge was reported to have said much the same thing. When informed that the defendant allegedly flew through the air, he just shrugged and said there were no laws on the books against flying.’ Chris from Haunted Ohio Books has another explanation: Although it is tempting to see the upside-down witch as a folk figure reversing the natural order to some hellish purpose, the incident suggests (at least to my literal mind) an image projected from a camera obscura, perhaps by accident as in this account from the late 1800s. I remember on awakening one sleepy Sunday afternoon, my room darkened by heavy green paper shades, closely rolled down, my surprise at seeing upon the wall at the foot of my bed — on a clean, whitewashed wall, a miniature cow walking leisurely along, every motion, even to the swish of her tail, as natural as possible. I could not account for it — the image was distinct and clear. She was walking upside down, her feet toward the ceiling of the room and her back toward the floor. I wondered if I could be dreaming, or from what the illusion could be caused. I had never seen or heard of such a manifestation before. I hurriedly got off the bed to investigate, pulled the curtain aside and looked out upon the street — there was the cow moving contentedly along unmindful of the exhibition she had given me or the mystery I was in about her. She had demonstrated the principle of the camera obscura and of pinhole photography. There was, as I found, a hole the size of a pin-head through the paper shade, located near the center, through which had been carried the image of ” bossy ” as through a lens. The reversal of the image I was conversant with from the use of the camera, and by it was helped to an understanding of the upside-down cow phenomenon. Voigtlander and I: In Pursuit of Shadow Catching: A Story of Fifty-two Year’s Companionship with a Camera, James Ryder, 1902 Such devices certainly were available and were used for artistic and amusement purposes in the late 18th century. Obviously similar effects could also arise spontaneously–all one needed was a crack or hole and light. The difficulty is that this story does not tell us specifically whether the “witch” was seen inside or outside. David K is getting all early modern, with a precious reference: Walking upside down on the ceiling has an established precedent in English witchcraft. William Drage informs us that witches could ‘stand in the air [i.e. levitate]’ and ‘fly from house to house or leap many yards’ and also ‘run up walls with their feet uppermost [i.e. walk upside down on the ceiling]. Reference: William Drage, Daimonomageia: A Small Treatise of Sicknesses and Diseases from Witchcraft and Supernatural Causes (London: 1665), pp.8, 41. Thanks, David, Chris and Lisa!
Mrs T’s Eyes: Southern Man off to a very early start this morning: I find the poll numbers incredible. It really does mark a divided country. If you had asked Britons about Churchill in 1970 say you may have had a few south Welsh miners who still hated him, but approval ratings would have been, what, close to 95%? Thanks SM!
Why Fairies Aren’t Scary: Chris from HauntedOhioBooks writes ‘Comments on why fairy fiction isn’t scary: 1) It is, as you say, all Disney and twee. And you can make up your own rules, since, as you rightly observe, they lack a mythos. I keep coming across chat boards for housewives who apparently have created whole kingdoms of fairy fan fiction, which slides over into Sci-fi. Sample (and less parody-able than most) synopsis: “Lucy meets Erza Scarlet, the strongest woman in all of Fairy Tail. She, along with Natsu, Happy, & Gray accompany Erza on a mission to stop the Dark guild known as Eisenwald from unleashing the death magic known as “Lullaby” upon the people of Fiore.” The authors debate how to name their fairies (usually some gorge-rising flower combination) and is there such thing as a violet elemental and what powers does it have and what would it wear? It’s, to paraphrase a style sheet for regency romance writers I once read, all about the clothes. 2) there’s too much sex. Search for “fairy” and all you get are sexy creatures in pastel chiffon silk clinging to their fairy mounds. Same ilk as Frazetta maids, although slimmed down a bit and done in sidewalk-chalk colors. Pointy ears, big eyes, floaty hair, and unnecessarily elaborate weaponry. Fairy fetish porn. Sylvia Townsend Warner in Kingdoms of Elfin may have done the best “recent” job in portraying a fairy world without a conscience. As I have previously remarked to you, the Gentry are the sociopaths of the Invisible World. Perhaps the author of the Dexter series needs to take on the pixies. BTW, just found this review about a book on possibly scary fairies. Haven’t read it. Beach doesn’t find Townsend Warner scary but she did manage to create a fairy universe that humans walk through at their peril.Next is Louis K who writes: You could always try and play a fairy in Changeling: the Dreaming: In which you can play a fairy, including a lot of scary ones (but with seelie and unseelie courts) And in this RPG you play a fairy hunter: And the last one. Apart from the first, you get a lot of lore about how to turn faeries: clothes inside out, sign of the cross, iron, running water (but not for the water born ones) which is always important in RPG books, as these can be major plot hooks, and/or weapons against faeries…(except for the one obscure creature that the players did not know, and that turns out to be immune against all the usual “antidotes”… And the Changeling series spawned a whole series of stories about faeries, and in most of them the faeries are definitely not nice…. And in the Discworld novel “Lords and Ladies” Terry Pratchet also points out that faeries are NOT NICE. So yes, there is a “counterstream” in popular (sub)culture in which faeries are no longer disgustingly cute, but begin to more or less resemble their old view. I also feel that the regional\national differences in faerie belief is not taken into account. What people in Ireland thought about faeries was, and is, different from what people in Scotland, England, the Netherlands, France, etc. think. Unfortunately, because of the pervasiveness of American culture (in which all those differences were forgotten, and all the beliefs taken together, we get a hotchpotch which is both not internally consistent, and is said to be universal…. Then Bast: My daughter used to read an author named Holly Black. Holly’s fae are not twee – one of the titles I remember is ‘Tithe’ – she wrote several in that vein. II picked up one of Miss Black’s books (sadly do not remember which one it was) and the fae lured mortals underground and did unpleasant things to them. I believe they enslaved the foolish mortals afterwards (if I remember correctly). LC writes: I wish there were more fairy folklore based fiction out there but few fantasy and horror authors seem to head in that direction unfortunately. I don’t remember the story very well now but I remember thinking at the time of reading that Raymond Feist’s ‘Faerie Tale’ was one of the best of the genre. Though mostly based on the movie ‘Don’t be Afraid of the Dark’ (which is the only fairy movie to give me a nightmare), I found Guillermo Del Toro’s book ‘Blackwood’s Guide to Dangerous Fairies’ to send a few shivers down my spine too. I think that years of fairies being portrayed as cute little friendly folk has taken it’s toll, and people no longer seem to consider fairies to be a serious threat. Whilst many people would admit to being scared of ghosts, monsters, demons etc, how many would admit to being scared of fairies? Horror stories prey on our deepest fears, but unfortunately few people seem to find the fairies scary. Borky writes: For the same reason I suggest Beach Lovecraft used to work far more than he does these days ie by the time Lovecraft died shortly before WWII the myth was being established we know every square inch of the Earth including the Arctic and Antarctic and since there’s no where left for anything to hide we KNOW there’s no Atlantis no fairies no vampires no nuffink. Reaching the Moon and Mars’s only made belief in that myth worse and science’s been doing much the same thing since the Post Enlightenment hence even vampires’re reduced to the level of horny teens leading to the current superstardom of the less explicable zombies. Thanks Laura and Borky! Thanks Bast, LC. Borky, Chris and Louis!
Death by Basketball: First up is Ball-Player who has some corrections: Beach, a couple of points where I think you could have been more exact. First points were also possibly gained if your opponent missed a high shot; second a ring shot seems to have been so valuable that the game was practically over if you managed it; third, you got points if your opponent failed to stop the ball going out or if you held possession for a certain number of bounces. You say that you could used all your body but not your hands. In some version of the ball-game you could use sticks or holders, but the classic game seems to have involved only the hips and below: even the torso and head were out, perhaps because of your point about the damage a ball could do! The ball would have been considerably lighter if there was a skull within the rubber: having said that the balls so far found don’t have a skull inside. Final point there seem to have been different numbers on teams. It was even possible, apparently, to play one against one. Of course, as you note we are talking about a long time and a vast geographical area. Over that space anything was possible and rules would have changed.’ Norm, meanwhile, writes: I went down for the new year celebrations for the Maya new year this past December. Linda and I rented a car out of Antigua Guatemala and drove to Mixco Viejo for the event. They put on a ball game the afternoon before the ceremonies, it looked a bit like crab soccer. We visited a good number of ruins on this past trip, many of the off the beaten track type places. Something I noticed about the ruins was that it looked like there were many different kinds of sport played. Palenque and Tonina in Chiapas State Mexico had several different kinds of what looked like sports fields and arenas. Tonina was set up for a vast field game where hundreds could play with seating for thousands of spectators. Most of the ruins I visited on this last trip had what looked for all the world like fighting pits, areas 10 meters by ten meters with seating all around. Chacmultun in Yucatan State Mexico had a playing field of around two hundred acres that had viewing platforms on three sides, it also had the standard ball court and what I would call fighting pits. It seems to me and it is just a guess from my own observations, that these cities in some cases were sports centers, places that held sporting events as a matter of specialty. The specialty concept held over to other things as well. Yaxchilan on the Rio Usumacinta looked to be a trading center, it had a gate on the river front that looked like a toll booth if I ever saw one. Uaxactun, north of the great city of Tikal in Guatemala looked like a place where people went on trial. Uaxactun had the look of a place where you went to settle differences short of war. Thanks BP and Norm.
Postcard Terrorists: Wade here makes a point that I regret not making. ‘As to your second question in the post about what kind of country had Germany become by 1941-1943, that the citizens would turn in the postcards, I can think of a reason that this might actually be reasonable self-preservation. If I suspected a discarded stairwell postcard was some sort of insane loyalty test run by the Gestapo, I might very well turn the card in to avoid being seized by the state.’ Thanks Wade!
Witch Initiation: Ruththeunstoppoablycurious writes. This one made me giggle. It brings to mind a bon mot by Mark Twain, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” I think I saw a video of Sanders about 10 years ago. He was all solemn, nude except for a loincloth covered with sigils and whatnot. Said loincloth caught on fire from one of the candles on his altar, and it took a few moments for him to notice. Thanks Ruth!
Irish Ghosts: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books: On the subject of ghost cases in court, the following is an excerpt from my book The Headless Horror: Strange and Ghostly Ohio Tales, citing several cases about ghosts and rent, including “The Great Spook Trial” of Marion, Ohio. It’s a moot point whether someone selling or renting a house is obliged to tell purchases/renters about the haunting. Is a ghost a disclosable defect? A couple in Nyack, New York sued to get back their deposit when they found the house they had purchased was haunted and the owner had not disclosed the fact. They won their case. I’ve found a number of similar historic cases where the residents were haunted either by spirits or buyer’s remorse, such as this one: GHOSTS AND HOB-GOBLINS IN COURT Human credulity touching ghosts and hob-goblins has just been illustrated according to law in Tuscarawas County. We learn by the New Philadelphia Advocate, that in January, 1856, Levi Hull bought a farm of 250 acres of William Dunlap, in Sandy Township, for which he paid $5,000 down, and his note for $3,000 secured by mortgage on the farm. The note was not paid, and Dunlap brought suit. Hull set up in defense that shortly after taking possession of said premises, he became convinced that the house was haunted and that ghosts, hob-goblins, spooks, evil spirits, &c., were in the habit of making nocturnal visits to the inhabitants of the mansion, and of making night hideous—that the neighbors were afraid to come near the house—that he was unable to get work hands to cultivate the land—that his own and his family’s health of body and peace of mind were destroyed thereby, &c.—and that therefore he ought not to be compelled to pay said note of $3,000, but ought to have judgment for $4,000 as damages sustained in consequence of getting so terribly “skeerd.” The hob-goblin plea, however, did not avail the frightened Mr. Hull, and instead of getting damages he got put in for the $3,000, interest and costs. The haunted farm can probably be bought cheap. Cleveland [OH] Morning Leader 21 March 1859: p. 2 TUSCARAWAS COUNTY Here is a similar case from Marion, where a house was declared legally haunted. A JURY AND A GHOST EXCEPTIONAL CASE WHICH A MARION COUNTY JURY DECIDED ACCORDING TO WHICH GHOSTS AND HAUNTED HOUSES HAVE A LEGAL EXISTENCE LEGEND OF THE TOWN OF PROSPECT, WHICH REMAINS A MYSTERY It is likely that many more people believe in ghosts and apparitions than would like to acknowledge the fact…Superstition is yet part of our natures. But it is not often that a jury of enlightened Americans can be found who, in broad daylight, are willing to acknowledge their nightly fears, and to sympathize to the extent of their legal power with the victim of a witch, for example, or the tenant of a haunted house. The history of a little town in Ohio furnishes the only case within the knowledge of the writer of this, unless search is made in the records of a previous generation. The town of Prospect, in Marion County, was formerly called Middletown, because it lay midway between the cities of Delaware and Marion. It lies on the banks of the Upper Scioto, in the midst of a flat country such as if there is anything in geographical theories about superstitions, should make its inhabitants quite skeptical on all these mysteries. The town is a thriving one now, and some of its new citizens may be inclined to doubt whether a jury was ever impaneled in one of its Justice’s Courts that actually and frankly expressed in legal form its belief in haunted houses, but there are others who will certainly call to mind what happened not a great many years ago. The case caused a great stir in the town at the time and was even mentioned briefly in the newspapers as remarkable. The house which was the center of interest in the affair was anything but a castle or a manorial hall in its appearance. Generations of moldy ancestors had not called it theirs for several hundred years, and consequently had no occasion to be pottering around on the look-out for their degenerate heirs. Nor had it ever been the scene of a crime. The ghost that infested it did so out of pure wantonness or because the grave that had been made for him did not fit…The reputation of the house for queer carryings on was gained during a period in which it had no tenant. It began to be whispered about that strange beings and flitting lights and rapping noises disturbed its solitude at frequently intervals. A harmless lunatic who went by the name of Doc Weights, and whose mania was to load himself with all the old coats, old hats and old boots that he could find and carry them around the country, was allowed to take refuge in the house one evening. He was as simple as an infant, and utterly devoid of superstition because he had not sense enough to be terrified at a ghost had he seen one. He might have asked for its shroud, if he had observed that there was a hole in the garment anywhere but he was incapable of fear. His experience was looked upon beforehand as a real test of the reputation of the house. So many people were curious about the matter and watched the place so closely that it seemed hardly possible that any mischievously inclined person could have played the simple-minded old fellow a trick. Yet in the small hours of the night he was seen emerging from the house with his pack on his back. He moved with some haste, and seemed considerably disturbed. He was asked what the trouble was, and answered gruffly: “Don’t want to stay there. Man of the house makes too much fuss.” The madman’s verdict was thought by many people to be conclusive evidence that there was really some mystery which nobody could pretend to solve. But a young farmer who worked some land near the village on the shares moved into the house with his wife, taking the chance because the rent was cheap. He had one or two hired hands, who boarded with them. For a few nights they all got along well enough. Then the hired men began to show some signs of fright. They insisted that when they were awake and fully conscious something would come silently and pull the quilts off their bed. They would hold on the clothes and pull with all their strength, but slowly and surely the quilts would slip away. Then the farmer and his wife began to have the same experience. There were strange noises about the house at night, too, snappings and cracklings, as if the woodwork was on fire, creakings as if doors opened which were known to be not only shut, but locked and bolted. The climax was reached late one night. Every room in the house was lighted with a brilliant ball of fire. The sleepers were all awakened, and each saw in his own room the same apparition. That was enough. The next day the young farmer and his wife and hired men sought other quarters. The building remained empty for some time, until, at length, it was taken by a stranger unacquainted with the town and, of course, ignorant of the reputation of the house. He moved in with his family, and the neighbors waited to see what would happen. For a few days all was quiet enough. Then the stranger began to show signs of annoyance and discontent. When asked about the matter he stoutly insisted that he was not afraid himself, but there were queer things happening about the house, and he could not keep his wife and children from being frightened. The older residents, glad of a chance to gossip, gave him a full account of the events that had already happened, with such added details as their excited fancy dictated. In fact, without meaning to do it, they converted themselves into regular legend manufacturers. The women performed the same office for his wife. As a result the stranger and his household gathered up what belonged to them and sought a house not frequented by ghosts. Farmer Landon, the owner of the place, had rented it for a month, and when his tenant vacated thus unceremoniously he determined to find out what the law was in the case. After demanding the rent for a month and getting a refusal, he brought suit before the village Justice of the Peace. The foreman of the jury was Errick, the saddler, an eccentric but sharp-witted and sensible man, and the panel was throughout quite up to the average of juries. In the trial the endeavor was made on behalf of Landon to show that the plea of the defendant was frivolous, that no house could be haunted and that the belief in such things was absurd. The defendant produced plenty of witnesses whose senses had convinced them that a house could be haunted and that his house in particular was haunted to a peculiar and surprising degree. They had seen and heard things that neither science nor common sense could explain to their satisfaction. The jury, without pretending to any knowledge of their own with respect to ghosts, accepted the sworn statements of these eye and ear witnesses and returned a verdict for the defendant. They laughed it off afterward, but what was really the matter with the house is still a mystery. It was tenanted anew after a length of time and turned out one of the best behaved domiciles in the town. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 5 August 1883: p. 13 MARION COUNTY NOTE: The New York state court case was Stambovsky v. Ackley, 1991. I was puzzled about the connection between flat country and “geographical theories about superstitions.” I found some discussion among social theorists and geographers that geography, shaping a people’s way of life, also determined their level of superstition. For example, “Among pastoral tribes and nations..their habits of contemplation and solitude…dispose the mind for the reception of superstitious rites…In agricultural life, the regular and continuous strain on the physical powers produces corresponding exhaustion; leisure is used for rest…The physical development is in muscular strength, the mental is overpowered by it, the religious belief…becomes often vulgarly and coarsely superstitious.” A Manual of Geographical Science, Charles Grenfell Nicolay, 1852. Some of the more notable testimony in what was dubbed “The Great Spook Trial” follows: The Defendant testified that he had heard sounds at different times like dogs fighting and running across the floor in the night. Also, that on the night of 17th of December, 1856, clouds of fire and smoke appeared in the room with a flaming sword in the midst of it. The effect of the fire and smoke seemed almost to kill him…A bad smell also pervaded the house, like some person dead and putrid. At different times noises were heard as if potatoes were thrown violently across the floor… A crock of new milk put in the buttery, would spoil in one hour, and would have that putrid smell. First Witness for the defendant testified that the smell was very sickening one—that new milk would spoil. Also, that a young man stayed at the house when he lived in it—slept upstairs—heard something walking up and down the stairs like a man—which came to his bed and pulled the bed clothes from him….Also states he is not afraid of spooks, witches, spirits, men, or the d—l. Second Witness heard noises at different times—smelt the offensive smell—testified to the spoiling of new milk—searched the house at different times, but could find nothing; believed there was something troubling the house uncommon and unnatural. Third Witness was passing by one evening, with his son, when they heard a mournful groaning in the house, such as no human person could utter…saw large lights in and about the house, as large as a washing tub…was acquainted with the smell….the cause of the trouble he did not know. The defendant himself… made awful denunciations—so much so, that it would make the hair stand on end to hear him. Among other things he said he would go to jail and be carried out of the keyhole by worms before he would pay the rent, and so went on until he got perfectly enraged, when he took his seat, greatly excited. Thus ends the great spook trial. Now for the decision. Well, the spooks got off victorious—the plaintiff had to pay the cost of suit; lose all the rent, and pay $15 damage!…We are a people to be looked up to as a very intelligent and progressive people! We are the first in the world to bring to light and establish the personality of spooks by judicial litigation! NOTE: Quoted in News from Marion, Marion County, Ohio: 1844-1861, Sharon Moore (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1995): pp. 110-111 MARION COUNTY I also found this short article suggesting that there will always be people willing to exploit a landlord’s fear of notoriety. HOUSE HAUNTED? LOW RENT! When alien immigrants arrive in this country they often bring with them a stock of misapplied ingenuity. The tenant with a ghost is a game that is being played by foreigners in various parts of the United States, and, what is more, it is being played successfully. The newcomer takes a house, and, after one or two payments of rent, complains that the premises are haunted. Quaking with simulated fear, he tells a tale of horror—of a headless man seen stalking from the coal cellar, a lady in white or of something invisible but groaning. Now, a ghost is the average landlord’s prime aversion. Spectral visitors afford splendid subjects for gossip in the neighborhood, and prospective tenants seldom fail to hear and be warned off by the story. Anxious that the report shall not get about, landlord confers with tenant, and in several such instances the result has been this—the tenant agrees to stay on, to say nothing about the matters to others and to put up with the ghost, providing the rent is substantially reduced. The Logan [UT] Republican 4 April 1911: p. 2 There are several 18th- and 19th-century cases where a witness cited a ghost’s testimony or a dead person was called to the stand or a ghost appeared to a defendant in court. I also have a few cases where a ghost was cited as a co-respondent in a divorce suit. The information above is over-long already, so let me know if you’d like more cases. Thanks Chris!!