jump to navigation
  • Beachcombed 41 November 1, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Beachcombed , trackback


    Dear Reader, Crisis continues here as Beach’s father-in-law’s building problems have spiralled out of control: f-i-l classic example of a very intelligent person completely lacking in wisdom; fifty years of sociology haven’t helped either. Interesting new experiences have included getting a nonsensical bill for 50,000 euros; being shouted at out over the phone; opening hysterical emails; and receiving a letter from a stronzo lawyer insulting Mrs Beachcombing (for which they will PAY). Beach has always tried to live a gentle life of virtue so when he experiences these things he does what any self-respecting historian should do and looks through the law codes of the ancients to see how architects were dealt with in centuries past when their buildings fell down (or when they swindled old men out of their life savings). There is a lot to be said for reactionarism. To be honest he’d also like to headbutt some people: how do you even do that? Yoga doesn’t prepare you for these things…

    This month advertising began properly on the site. Beach is looking to cover his costs (cough) and buy some shoes for his children. All adverts on sidebar will, from this point on, cost 300 euros or dollars for a year and that includes the GIF design (moving graphics), which we’ll undertake and which can be used elsewhere: look to your right for examples. An attractive ad will get about 1500-2000 hits in that time: is that about 20 cents per ad? This is a special first year price.

    Below are some fun bizarre history articles and here in this paragraph the best non-history offworld articles/videos have included: From the Sea to the Land Beyond (amazing footage); alternative visual histories including Martians at Marathon; the horrific truth about a pedophile MP Cyril Smith; headless soldiers; knights and snails; twitter storms (laugh); Crowd Sourcing for African Coins; the Decline of Wikipedia; British Conservative Agent and a Urinal; Best scene from Thin Red Line; van Zandt, To Live is to Fly; Icelanders and elves; vigiliantism in Britain; rara avis, an interesting academic conference; fairies and horror; when Jay Roberts almost got killed by a serial killer; Fairy news, serious and otherwise; tombstones (look out for auf wiedersehn); and Peter Sellers and Jeremy Thorpe.

    Oh and yesterday’s prize went to Harpex in South Africa: the answer was Hugh Dowding, commander of the RAF’s fighter command in WW2.

    BH News Stories

    And here are 15000 words of comments, the most important items published on the blog this month. Thanks to all those who wrote in!!!!

    Dreaming Murder: Wade writes in with this useful reference from Boase Bibliotheca Cornubiensis: P-Z (1878). ‘WILLIAMS, John (eld. son of Michael Williams, b. Gwennap Aug. 1730, bapt. 20 Oct. d. Bath, bur. Gwennap 28 Feb. 1775, m. 30 Nov. 1752 at Cury,Susanna, eld. dau. of Hen. Harris of Cusgarne. She was bapt. Gwennap 23 Nov. 1732, d. Penryn 2 Feb. 1814, bur, Gwennap). b. Lower Cusgarne 23 Sep. 1753. bapt. Gwennap 15 Oct. Educ. at Truro gram, sch.; Resided sometime at Burncoose which he built circa 1775 and at Scorrier house 1778; The most extensive mine adventurer in Cornwall; Purchased the manor of Calstock from the Duchy 1809; One of the constructors of the Plymouth breakwater 1812; Possessed the finest collection of Cornish minerals ever brought together; F.R.S. 1828. d. Sandhill near Callington 17 Apl. 1841. bur.Calstock. Monu. in ch. m. by license 23 Jan. 1776 at Kenwyn, Catherine, dau. of Martin Harvey of Killefreth, Kenwyn. She was b. 12 Jan. 1757, d. Sep. 1826, bur. Gwennap. cf. Gent. Mag. xvi, 103-104 (1841); D. Gilbert’s Cornwall ii, 134; Duke of Rutlands Journal of tour round Southern WILLIAMS, John. (Con.). coast (1805) pp. 184-89; West Briton 23 Apl. 1841, p. 2, col. 3. Mr. John Williams’ extraordinary prophetic dream concerning the assassination of Mr. Spencer Perceval, chancellor of the exchequer in the lobby of the house of commons 11 May 1812. cf. Spencer Walpole’s Life of rt. hon. Spencer Perceval (1874) pp. 295-96, 329-32; John Abercrombie’s Inquiriesconcerning the intellectual powers (Eighth ed. Lond. 1838) pp. 285-86; Clement Carlyon’s Early years (1856) i, 219-21; Chambers’ Book of days i, 617; Autobiog. of sir John Rennie 1875, pp. 168-70; Sir J. Maclean’s Trigg Minor ii, 433-35; Rev. F. G. Lee’s Glimpses of the supernatural (1875) i, 226-30; The Spiritualist 9 June 1876, by Chas. Fox. Note.—Mr. Williams’ attested statement drawn up and signed by him in the presence of the rev. Thos. Fisher and Mr. Chas. Prideaux Brune is now (1877) pents Mr. Spencer Walpole.’ Thanks Wade!

    Dreaming Murder #4: Sm writes in: Dear Beach, as if this was not complicated enough already. This text appears, in 1830, in The Royal Book of Dreams, with the following passage added on. ‘The foregoing dream is the more marvelous and astonishing, on account of the striking conformity of its details to those of a contemporaneous event, which was performed nearly three hundred miles from the person of the dreamer. Moreover to silence all those doubts, which those who fancy they can theorize upon dreams continually offer to the public, when any thing of the kind becomes realised, it must be stated, that the person who dreamed the dream is now alive; the witnesses to whom he made known the particulars of it at the time are also living; and the whole comes, therefore, under the denomination of a special and undoubted type or warning of what afterwards happened. The great respectability of the parties, are are ready (as they have assured the author) to make oath on the subject, sets aside every appearance of wishing to impose upon public credulity. It is here recorded as a matter of fact, which may cause the sceptic to paulse ere he pronounces all dreams as the offspring of the imagination, or the effects of bodily infirmities.’ This is presumably an addition? Thanks SM!

    Dreaming Murder #5: Note that some of these comments were for earlier posts related to the dream but that I only put up now. Writers in then cannot be blamed for missing information. This is my fault for putting this stuff up late, they were all perfectly cogent at the time. Apologies to readers and to contributors! The Count on the dream: I must admit to being unimpressed by your prophetic dream story. It appears that no detailed record of it was made until 16 years after the event, during which our hero must have retold the anecdote a great many times – probably everybody he knew was thoroughly sick of it. Human memory is a funny thing, and tales grow in the telling! I’m particularly puzzled as to how he knew he was right about the precise details of the clothes the murderer and his victim were wearing. The newspapers would presumably have illustrated the story with black and white drawings. Would they have supplied detailed descriptions of what everybody was wearing? It seems unlikely! I think it most probable that he had a coincidental dream in which something quite similar to the assassination occurred, and gradually persuaded himself that it was a perfect fit. I recently read an article somewhere or other about a study demonstrating that a quite large percentage of adults – 15%, I think it was – could, with the help of doctored photos, be persuaded that when they were children they’d had a ride in a hot air balloon, and, once “reminded”, they’d recall this exciting event vividly, even though they’d never been up in a balloon in their lives. Then a little later the Count added a slight correction. I think he may be onto something here, see my comments on secondary elaboration. ‘Here’s a little point which may be of interest. I previously commented that the papers of the time would have had black and white illustrations. You have just demonstrated that this is wrong by printing a colored picture! However, it’s a fairly crude print, not a photo. Still, it does prove that the vision was accurate in terms of getting the colors of everybody’s clothes right. But is that drawing accurate? The color printing is pretty basic, and it looks as though the colors have been chosen the same way they are for a map – no two items of clothing the same color overlap. Blue coat and white waistcoat are a dignified combination for the dead man, but the people behind him are clad in red, yellow, green, or whatever makes for an interesting contrast with him and each other, while the murderer has a drab, seedy brown coat. It looks a lot more like artistic license than accurate reportage. The odd thing is, the “psychic vision” must in that case have been of this picture of the event, not the event itself! It’s a perfect depiction of the dream, right down to our hero knowing who the victim was, even though he didn’t know him by sight, just as if his dream had a caption like this picture does! Is this perhaps a case of somebody having a half-remembered, vaguely troubling dream about somebody who seemed important being shot, then subsequently seeing this picture and persuading himself that the details matched perfectly, and subsequently, over more than a decade of retelling the story, persuading himself that every little detail shown here, including the victim’s name and the color of his coat, was what he’d dreamed in the first place? That would be entirely in keeping with the way we know human memory works. Just a thought.’ Then the Count offers some more food for thought: I don’t quite know why you’re devoting so much space to the tedious case of Mr. Williams and his miraculous vision of the future! As the skeptics are fond of saying at times like this, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. What is the “proof” that Mr. Williams is the infallible oracle he claims to be? That he had a disturbing dream, told his wife, son, and a few close friends about it, and then, when it allegedly came true, sat on his thumbs for 16 years before telling anybody else. Although allegedly it troubled him greatly at the time, and he thought of reporting it to the authorities, no mention is made of his making a notarized statement, or indeed recording it in writing in any way, however informal, at the time, or at any other time between 1812 and 1828. Also, the only witnesses he mentions who could corroborate his story are people who aren’t very likely to disagree with him, none of whom seem to have actually made any statements to the press at all. Basically, three explanations exist, in ascending order of plausibility. Firstly, Mr. Williams was indeed vouchsafed a vision of the future – one he couldn’t usefully act upon, concerning the death of a complete stranger he cared about so little that he couldn’t even identify him by sight. So, not a terribly helpful bit of supernatural wisdom, then. Secondly, he told a complete lie so that he could be a little bit famous. It had all happened too long ago to check, the only identifiable witnesses were his wife and son, and the propensity of otherwise normal human beings to tell whoppers in order to get the attention of the media is rather better established than the truth concerning claims that sometimes we can see into the future by various means. And thirdly – well, consider this. Newspapers by definition prefer to print things which are new. They wouldn’t have waited until 1828 to report something which took place in 1812 unless they’d only just heard about it. Which implies very strongly that Mr. Williams was, 16 years after the event, still going on about it on a sufficiently regular basis for it to happen to come to the attention of the press. Subsequent events prove that he was certainly still airing his increasingly repetitive tale in 1832. He sounds like a rather dull man obsessed with the one unusual thing that’s ever happened to him. And the tale wasn’t written down for 16 years, it was recited, probably hundreds of times, to everyone who would listen by somebody who was already somewhat obsessed with it. I think this is definitely a tale which could very easily have grown in the telling from a vaguely coincidental dream which the dreamer took too seriously to a Sybilline vision in which every minute detail was accurate, right down the assassin’s metal buttons! Have you ever read this book? Part of it covers something very similar. Although the Indian Rope Trick was in fact a complete myth invented by a newspaper just to fill some space with entertaining nonsense, and furthermore, especially in its most elaborate version, impossible to the point of being downright Surreal, dozens of perfectly respectable Edwardians who had no possible reason to lie swore they’d actually seen it! The author’s conclusion is interesting. He notes that the version of the trick people claimed to have seen became more elaborate, and increasingly impossible, the longer ago they claimed to have seen it. And all these claims went back rather a long time. There was, however, a form of acrobatics involving a flexible bamboo pole which was often performed by traveling Indian entertainers which, with only a slight exaggeration, be misremembered as a boy climbing a mysteriously unsupported rope. Of course, the more elaborate elements, such as the boy vanishing in plain sight when he got to the top, being gorily dismembered, and then miraculously returning to life, were only “remembered” by people who saw the trick a very long time ago indeed. I suspect something very similar happened as Mr. Williams bored his friends rigid with endless retellings of his “vision”  over the best part of two decades. Had the papers gotten to him the day after the assassination, they would probably have gone away with a vague story about a dream of somebody being shot in a big building which miraculously came true, and decided it wasn’t worth printing. Also, if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was very impressed by something improbable, as a rule of thumb this tended to mean it was utter nonsense. Ozzie writes: I’m sure many readers will point this out, but on the issue of three successive dreams, this is a parallel of the three dreams that Claude Sawyer had (albeit on three consecutive nights, rather than three times in one night) concerning the SS Waratah’s disappearance in 1909.  Another case where details may have been filled in post hoc. Of course Mike Dash has written about this (http://blogs.forteana.org/node/53), as he has about everything else! And on the subject of MD, Mike wrote in with this comment  I am very much enjoying your series on the remarkable Perceval assassination premonitions. With regard to your statement that “the experience of dreaming the same dream three times in quick succession seems absurd and, indeed, almost incredible. Beach has never had this experience and never read of it,” though, I suspect that the motif is probably fairly common. Certainly it appears in the case of another strange premonition which has the rare claim of being made public before the events that were predicted actually occurred; that is the case of the loss of the steamer Waratah in 1909 en route from South Africa to London. In this case, a passenger, Claude Sawyer, told a formal court of enquiry in London that he had experienced a dream relating to the Waratah’s loss three times in one night while on the ship before she reached South Africa. This is what Sawyer told the court [Source: The Times, 17 Dec 1910]: “Three of four days before reaching Durban, witness had a dream, which was unusual for him. He was a man with a long sword in his left hand, holding a rag or cloth in his right hand saturated with blood. He saw the same dream twice again the same night, and the last time he looked so carefully that he could almost draw the design on the edge of the sword. He mentioned his dream to Mr Ebsworth, who said it was a warning. Witness was then anxious to get off the ship. He landed at Durban and drafted a telegram to his wife. He tried to persuade Mrs and Miss Hay to leave the ship, but unfortunately they decided to go on. He saw theWaratah leave, and believed there was a slight list to starboard. While at Durban, on July 28, he had another dream. He dreamt he saw the ship in big waves; one big wave went over her bows and pressed her down,; she rolled over on her starboard side, and disappeared. On the 26th he called at the Union-Castle offices [Union Castle was another shipping line], saw a Mr Hadfield, and told him what he had told the Court. Witness sailed from Durban to Cape Town in the Kildonan Castle, and from Cape Town to London in the Galician on August 5. On August 4 he cabled to his wife: “Booked Cape Town. Thought Waratah top heavy. Landed Durban. Claude.” He produced the draft and the original cable.” I wrote about this story a few years ago here.*** Chris from Haunted Ohio books writes in with some triple dreams, so much for them not happening… ‘At the same house the following story was told by a Miss Williamson: I remember quite well how a very charming young surgeon came into this neighborhood, a Mr Stirling; he was beloved by everybody and, though he was as poor as a church mouse, he had not an enemy in the world. After his medical round he was in the habit of riding home through a lovely wooded lane which there is near Gibside, with trees on each side and the river below. One day—one Friday as he was riding home this way he was shot by some men concealed among the bushes. His body was dragged into the wood and searched and rifled; but he was very poor, dear man, he had nothing but his watch, and the brutes took that, and that is all I have to say about him. On the night before, the wife of Mr. Bowes’ agent, who was in the habit of going every week to receive money at the lead mines, some miles distant from Gibside, awoke dreadfully agitated. She told her husband that she had had a most terrible dream and conjured him, as he loved her, to stay at home that day and not to go to the mines. She said she did not know the place herself, but she saw a wooded lane above a river and some men hiding in bushes and she saw him come riding along and the men shoot at him from behind and drag him into the bushes. He laughed at her and said of course he could not neglect his duty to his master for such an idle fancy as that, and that he must go to the mines. She fell asleep again and she dreamed the same thing and she urgently entreated him and implored him not to go He said “I must; the men will be expecting me; they are to meet me there, and I have really no excuse to give.” She fell asleep the third time and she dreamt the same thing, and awoke with agonized entreaties that her husband would accede to her wishes. Then he really began to be frightened himself, and at last he said he would make a concession; he would go to the mines, but he would not go by the wooded lane at all (for he was obliged to allow there was such a place), but would both go and return by the high moorland way on the other side of the river. So the agent was saved, and the poor young surgeon was murdered in his place. The following was told to Mr. Hare by Mr. George Russell: On the railway which runs from Exeter to Earnstable is a small station called Lapford. A farmer who lives in a farmhouse near that station awoke his wife one night, saying that he had had a very vivid dream which troubled him—that a very valuable cow of his had fallen into a pit and could not get out again. The wife laughed, and he went to sleep and dreamt the same thing. Then he wanted to go and look after the cow. But the wife urged the piercing cold of the winter night, and he went to sleep instead, and dreamt the same thing a third time. Then he insisted upon getting up, and, resisting his wife’s entreaties, he went out to look after the cow. It was with – sense of bathos that he found the cow quite well and grazing quietly, and he was thinking how his wife would laugh at him when he got home, and wondering what he should say to her, when he became aware of a light in the next field. Crawling very quietly to the hedge, he saw, through the leafless branches of the hawthorns, a man with a lantern and a spade, apparently digging a pit. As he was watching, he stumbled in the ditch, and the branches crackled. The man, hearing a noise, started, threw down the spade and ran off with the lantern. The farmer then made his way round into the next field and came up to the place where the man had been digging. It was a long narrow pit like an open grave. At first he could make nothing of it, then by the side of the pit he found a large open knife. He took that and the spade and began to set out homeward, but with an indescribable shrinking from the more desolate feeling of the fields he went round by the lane. He had not gone far before he heard footsteps coming toward him. It was two o’clock in the morning and, his nerve being quite unstrung, he shrank before meeting whomever it was and climbed up into the hedge to conceal himself. To his astonishment, he saw pass below him in the moonlit road one of the maids of his own farmhouse. He allowed her to pass and then sprang out and seized her. She was most dreadfully frightened. He demanded to know what she was there for. She tried to make some excuse. “Oh,” he said, “there can be no possible excuse; I insist upon knowing the truth.” She then said, “You know I was engaged to be married and that I had a dreadful quarrel with the man I was engaged to, and it was broken off. Well, yesterday he let me know that if I would meet him in the middle of the night he had got something to show me which would make up for all the past.” “Would you like to know what he had to show you? It was your grave he had to show you,” said the farmer, and he led her to the edge of the pit and showed it to her. The farmer’s dream had saved the woman’s life. The Story of My Life. By Augustus J. C. Hare. Dodd, Mead 8: Co., New York.’ Thanks! Chris, Mike, Ozzy and the Count!

    Dreaming Murder 7#: This gets weirder and weirder. This just in Bob S who has given lots of interesting information on this case.  EXCERPTS FROM “THE RIGHT HONOURABLE PERCEVAL SPENCER” – by Philip Treherne  (1909) (P. 203-4) According to Lord Rokeby, Perceval had strange forebodings of his approaching death, a few days before it occurred, and gave his will to Mrs Perceval at the time… (p. 205-13 , after an account of Williams’ dream of Perceval’s murder) For the second time within the space of a hundred and fifty years a warning had been received of approaching death in the Perceval family. The body of Robert Perceval, aged nineteen, was found by the watchmen “under the Maypole in the Strand,” in the early morning of the 5th of June 1667. He was uncle to the first Earl of Egmont, and had come to London to study for the law under the guardianship of his uncle, Sir Robert Southwell. ” Many extraordinary circumstances attended this sad affair. The particulars are delivered word for word, as they are minuted down by the present Earl of Egmont upon a conversation which Sir Robert Southwell had with him immediately before his death.” “Robert was but twenty when he was murdered in the Strand by villains, that, to this day, are not found out, and lies buried at Lincoln’s Inn, near one of the pillars underneath the chapel. Some circumstances concerning his death are too extraordinary to be passed by, and what I am going to relate, I had from two persons whose sincerity I can depend on. “ A few nights before the murder, Robert, who was a student in Lincoln’s Inn, was sitting in his chamber reading, and it was late at night when there appeared to him his own apparition, bloody and ghastly, stalking into his chamber. My uncle was so astonished at the sight that he immediately swooned away; but, recovering, he saw the spectre walk out again and vanish downstairs. When he was recovered of his fright he undressed himself and went to bed, but in extraordinary uneasiness, so that he could not sleep, but rose early, and, putting on his clothes, went to his uncle and guardian, Sir Robert Southwell, who lived in Spring Garden. It was so early that Sir Robert was not yet stirring, but nevertheless he went into his room and waked him. It was a freedom he was not used to take, and Sir Robert was surprised; but, asking him what made him there so early, my uncle, still in consternation, replied he had that night seen his ghost, and told him all the particulars as I have related them. Sir Robert at first chid him for reporting an idle dream, the effect of an ill life and guilty conscience (for he loved his pleasure, and followed it too much); but, observing the disorder he was in, and having repeated the story to him, he grew very serious, and desired his nephew would take care of himself, and recollect if he had given occasion to any person to revenge himself on him; for this might be a true presage of what was to befall him. My uncle after some time left him, and, notwithstanding the impression thus made at first, I suppose he wore it off soon, or else it were impossible he could be so careless of himself the night he was killed. For that evening he was dogged from house to house where he visited, by a single man, who followed him at a small distance, who when my uncle went into a house would wait like a footman in the porch till t’other came out; insomuch that once or twice he spoke to him, asking what was his business in following him so close, and the other answered what was that to him, he was about his own business. Nay, when my uncle told his friends he was dogged, he would not let them send a footman to attend him; and when at eleven o’clock at night he was assaulted by two or three, and wounded slightly as he entered a tavern in the Strand, where some friends of his were, he would take no warning, nor admit any one to see him safe away, though the tavern boy was so urgent with him that he chid him for his impertinence. But, leaving that company, he was a little time after found dead by the watchmen in the Strand, supposed to be killed in a house and laid there afterwards. I have the examinations taken by a coroner’s inquest now by me, but they could not help to a discovery. This my uncle Southwell told me a little time before he died, word for word. “It is said of this unfortunate young gentleman, that when he came into the tavern before mentioned, he called for a glass of brandy, saying he was a little faint ; and then, after having wiped his sword, which was stained with blood (as he said) of one of those by whom he was assaulted, and whose business (as he expressed it) he had done; and after having with his handkerchief tied up his leg, which was wounded, as he was going out of the house to return to his own chambers, he stepped back to tell the master of the tavern that he should remember, that he had been attacked by persons who bore him an old grudge, and that, if he was murdered, his friends would find it out. “His person and conversation were both more agreeable to others than advantageous to himself, for they led him into company which proved his ruin. Example and fashion had, as it generally has upon men of his years, too great an influence, which showed itself in most of his actions, and in one particular (in which it was exaggerated by a great courage and high spirit) in a remarkable degree; for he had been engaged in nineteen duels before he was twenty years of age, in all of which he came off with honour, and commonly with advantage… ” A stranger’s hat with a bunch of ribbons in it was found by his side, from whence it was at first hoped that the murderer might be discovered ; but this expectation was found vain. For though the King by his proclamation, and the family by all proper enquiries, endeavoured to bring the offenders to justice, no positive or certain proof was ever attained to, and the villainy has as yet escaped at least a publick punishment. . . . Some imagined it was done by Beau Fielding, with whom he had a quarrel at a play; others by a near relation to Sir Robert Southwell’s wife.” The assassination of Spencer Perceval affords a landmark in the early political history of the nineteenth century, and the dream of John Williams has been quoted in matters of psychical research. But the direct death-warning of Robert Perceval has a romance, a mystery of its own. The same fatalism connects itself with the murder of a Prime Minister in the lobby of the House of Commons, and the death of a young law student, his ancestor, who was found on a June morning lying dead ” under the Maypole in the Strand.” Thanks Bob!

    Dreaming Murder 8#: Bob writes in: The reference to the   Hist MSS 5th Report is reproduced in the W.E Buckley letter in N&Q Ser. 7 Vol 11 p. 47. Reference to the provenance of the MSS (more than one) is given in Wedgewood’s great contribution in the same volume N&Q Ser. 7 Vol 11 p. 121-3. Thanks Bob!

    Ghost Wore Black: Some words on Fort from Umbriel: ‘while Fort is frequently characterized as an ‘investigator of strange phenomena’, I think that’s always been a misnomer, and one that he himself would likely have objected to. He apparently refused membership in the Fortean Society founded in his honor, in the expectation that it would attract all manner of lunatic fringe ‘true believers’, when it was ‘true belief’ itself to which he was fundamentally opposed.  He had much in common with his friend H.L. Mencken as a curmudgeonly critic of orthodoxy, but as another friend, Tiffany Thayer, put it in his introduction to Lo, noting Mencken’s criticism of Fort’s earlier work: ‘I tried to learn once, what H. L. Mencken had said of The Book of the Damned. He was going around busting things. One would think there would be some affinity. I could not learn. Now, Mr. Fort tells me that he called it ‘poppycock’ or something similar. Upon analysis that is understandable. Mr. Mencken, like Voltaire, had to ‘believe’ in science and its pronouncements to carry on against religion. It is incomprehensible to him that they may both be products of the same imbecilic urge to worship what is not readily explainable.’ I think Fort is more accurately seen as an ‘ideological nihilist’. His interest in the aberrant was chiefly as a means of throwing brickbats at orthodoxy of any kind. He was an advocate not of alternative inquiry, but rather of intellectual humility.’ Thanks Umbriel!

    Jokes from Second World War: Stephen D writes in with a home-made but very amusing selection. ‘Definition of nightmare war = Italian weapons, German winter equipment, Finnish summer equipment, British rations, American entertainment tournees, Russians as foes and French guarding flanks.’*** Tacitus from Detritus writes in with this beauty. ‘Technically this is not a WWII joke, but deals with the preliminaries for same.  And honestly, once a war starts doesn’t it get a lot less funny….Instantly? Back when German rearmament was more rumor than admitted fact there was a man who worked in a factory that make baby carriages.  His wife insisted that he smuggle home parts to make one for their own child. To their great surprise when the task was accomplished under cover of darkness they found that they had not a pram but a Messerschmidt….’ Love that! Thanks Tacitus and Stephen D!

    History Montages: Willgoose of Public Service Broadcasting writes in ‘Maybe some of British Sea Power’s more historical offerings? Their Storyville BBC4 soundtrack for ‘From the Sea to the Land Beyond‘ (or ‘From the Land to the Sea Beyond’, I always get confused) was a fine offering and many of their tracks are inspired by historical events…’ Thanks!

    Russian in Seventeenth-Century EnglandMike Dash has done, in a few minutes, a far better job on this than I have in an hour: ‘Especially fascinating article today, enough to inspire a brief burst of research when I am actually supposed to be researching slave traders on Easter Island in the 1860s… the story actually seems well attested. I presume you have done some basic searching, which reveals some additional family info on Ancestry.com by a 10th generation granddaughter, including a supposed portrait, and quite a long and apparently well sourced extract from WHB Saunders’s Legends and Traditions of Huntingdonshire of 1888. There is a DNB entry on Alpherry by SL Sadler, and five nicely researched pages on him in the Slavonic and East European Studies Review for 1987. Another detailed account comes from Anthony Glenn Cross’s Cambridge – Some Russian Connections – a lecture delivered on his assuming the post of Professor of Slavonic Studies in 1987, which might therefore be thought likely reliable. According to Cross, Alphery actually attended St John’s College, Cambridge and later migrated to Clare College (BA 1611/12). Cross says that he arrived in England in 1601 not as a refugee but as a youth (a gentleman, not a prince; there is no mention of imperial blood till 1714) sent over by Boris Godunov. His real name was apparently Mikifor Olfer’evich Grigor’ev. He came with three other youths, whose fates are unknown. No contemporary reference, apparently, to their being brothers, or to the others dying of smallpox. They dispersed, on to Ireland and the other two to India as servants of the East India Company. Alphery converted to the CofE and became a fierce opponent of Orthodoxy, and this led him to resist several efforts to bring him home – one of them an attempted kidnapping. It’s not quite clear why the Muscovites made such strenuous efforts, over the course of a decade, to have him returned to his homeland. There are still some monuments to the family – the graves of his wife and a daughter can still be seen at Woolley. There is some mention in a couple of the sources of the person who took him in when he first arrived in England, and found him his church living in Huntingdonshire: one John Bedell, who while sometimes described as Russian was probably a merchant of the Muscovy Company. This is a reminder that trade links did exist between England and Russia in this period – mostly a product of the fur trade. Ivan the Terrible [Ivan the IV] famously received an elaborate state carriage (still surviving) as a gift from Elizabeth I, and infamously sought her hand in marriage. How different all our histories might have been had they wed.’ Wade points out that there is Wikipedia page on this gentleman – hadn’t expected that… Then Umbriel writes making again the connection with Ivan the Terrible, who knows? Your discussion of Mikipher Alphery yesterday brought to mind the much later story of Prince Gallitzin, former Russian noble turned Catholic missionary priest on the early American frontier. Gallitzin, though, at least had ties to Catholicism through his mother, and it’s harder to envision what might have brought a Russian into the Anglican clergy. You were a little dismissive of the idea of Alphery being a political refugee, and weren’t specific on the date of his immigration, but the late 16th century could well encompass the tail-end of Ivan the Terrible’s reign, which could surely have provided ample justification for anyone to seek greener pastures. Perhaps Alphery was an infant at the time of his arrival, and was committed to the clergy as part of his parents’ seeking acceptance in their new home? *** KMH is also thinking about Ivan IV: The late sixteenth century in Russia was the time of Ivan the Terrible – whatever positive qualities he may have possessed, he was particularly known for his harsh treatment of the nobility, known as the boyars, in building his empire as the first “Tsar of all the Russias.” After his death in 1698 Russia entered into a time of trouble and confusion until the establishment of the Romanov dynasty in 1613. If Alphery was of boyar heritage (his exact rank isn’t known) it may explain why he immigrated to England – to escape the  persecution by Ivan the Terrible and his supporters. Any claims to the throne of Russia would need to be backed by unquestioned heredity and an army, both  of which would be particularly controversial at the  time, especially for the foreign powers involved with Russia during the period, (Poland, Lithuania, Tatars, etc.). So, even if he were a prince of a particular area, he was only one of several or many among the Russian peoples, and had very little or no chance of upending the Romanov drive to power. There is a story for every émigré, and today for every refugee, political or otherwise.’ Thanks Ken, Mike, Wade and Umbriel!

    Horse Whispering: JH writes in, ‘As one who has a history with these knot heads (horses) this was fascinating. I can see a scam being done if the two guys were in it together and you would be surprised how well horses can be trained. But why they would conspire and the “sweating” are beyond me.’ Thanks JH!

    Italian Child Sacrifice: The Count writes, ‘Although I don’t speak Italian and therefore haven’t wasted my time attempting to search Italian newspapers, it would appear that the same report, with slight variations, appeared around the world. Here it is in the London Illustrated News (on a website containing much else that might also be of interest you). And here it is from New Zealand – whatever the truth of the matter may be, it does seem that the story genuinely did originate in Italy, and a lot of people took it seriously. Possibly the detail that the Pope took a personal interest in the matter and followed the case might be useful, if the Vatican archives are searchable?’ Thanks Count!

    Viking Buddha: Lucifer’s Own writes in: in refrence to buddha in sweden i doubt it being stolen more than likely traded for since much of india iran most of asia the vikings peddled their wares peacefully to northeren india in search of crucible steel which they were extremely fond of since all crucible steel was traded for (and this is where the story gets weirder as it goes) various good strongly desired by its asian steel exporters once obtained this high grade steel was taken to frankish kingdom to be forged by catholic sword smiths +vlfbert+ which i surmise quite a alot of coin traded hands to forge this asian steel into pagan weapon to curry favor and protection of said catholics against pagans known to plauge them these ulfbert swords many that still exsist are infact metalirguically tested for origin and indeed are asian in origin and by same maker or from same makers shop several  of years apart  i suspect this buddah was a bauble for the misses on a return trip one must always bring back something for lady of the house and what more appropriate than a gift of peace and harmony within violent viking home ,i suspect they were after the higher grade iranian and indian wootz or patteren welded steel but accepted a greater alternative since this steel was not easily forged unless you were a master of masters to even begin to forge such a weapon of unnatural strenght and power your rolls royce of killing implements.  Asian steel forged by catholics for pagans for defence angainst pagans and a buddah to boot for the misses  their is a youtube video which explains it all it will greatly explain the vast trade that went on and the paticulars very intresting sword forgeing going on gives a better insight into the much misunderstood and horrible bad press given relatives of mine i belive the nova produced clip on youtube is called secrets of the viking sword  very interesting….’ Thanks LO!

    Tolkien and Fairy Flowers: EH writes: Apparently the young Tolkien was quite Victorian in his fairy-lore!  His later detestation of such things makes more sense if they not only disinterested but actually *embarrassed* him, reminding him of youthful tastes he had repudiated. Thanks EH!

    Bird Whispering: JT writes in on bird whispering: was it Francis of Assisi that preached to the birds? if you google “bird whisperer”some amazing bird trainers pop up a friends father stands in his backyard, whistles  scatters bits of seed around and he gets birds using him as a perch,letting him pat and scratch them-some  of them even pluck hairs from his head,presumably to use as nest material.He says the trick is to not look  them directly in the eye you can calm a chicken down by picking it up by the legs(it gets stunned by the blood rushing to its head) and covering its eyes- but I think this is a bit like catching a chicken by putting salt on its tail.Just in case you are interested- fish can also be calmed down by holding them upside down and covering their eyes.*** Then The Verb To Do writes: I might be making the text fit my own facts, but I’m reminded of trout tickling which my grandfather told stories of doing (complete with a long coat with a hidden pocket), and bird “hypnosis”. I’ve seen my dad hypnotise a budgerigar to the point where it was lying flat on its back in the palm of his hand, so I’m wondering if the “fell to the ground” is a form of playing possum.’ Thanks JT and Verb!

    WW2 Jokes: Keir writes with this great joke I’d not come across: In 1944, during WWII, a reception took place in Rio de Janeiro and the Hungarian ambassador was among the invitees. The Ambassador, wearing the ceremonial uniform, entered the room and performed a Nazi salute. The host of the reception, an influential banker, took notice of the ambassador and approached him. “Your Excellency, you greeted with Heil Hitler. I suppose that people of your country belong to the Nordic race?” The Ambassador replied, “No, we are of Mongolian origin.” The Banker was curious and continued. “I see, so your country must be situated in Asia?” “No, Hungary is part of Central Europe.” “I know that there is a war going on in Central Europe. Is Hungary involved in that?” “Yes, indeed. We are fighting against the Soviet Union” “And do you have any territorial claims against the Soviet Union?” “No, we don’t have any territorial claims against the Soviets. However, we do have them against Romania and Slovakia.” “So, Romania and Slovakia must be your enemies then?” “No, they are our allies.” The banker got slightly confused by Ambassador’s answers, but he eventually spotted a royal badge on his uniform and went on asking, “I reckon that Hungary is a kingdom. How is your King doing?” “We do not have a King. We are ruled by an Admiral.” “An Admiral? Hungary must have an access to the sea then.” “No. We are a landlocked state.” The banker got puzzled even more. “Anyway, how is your Admiral?” “He has been captured by the Germans.” “They are also your enemies?” “No, the Germans are our greatest allies and friends.” The banker was completely lost. “Damn it! I really don’t get it. You are living in the landlocked kingdom in the heart of Europe, which is ruled by an Admiral, who was captured by his greatest friends. You are fighting a country, which you don’t want a single acre of land from. On the other hand, you have territorial claims against your allies. What a bizarre situation is that!”  “Sir, that’s the new European order.” Thanks Keir!

    Lion that didn’t roar: Two lion disguises courtesy of Andy the Mad Monk and the Daily Mail: Pony and Dog.

    Authority in the Village: The great Mike Dash writes in with a reflection on this. ‘When I was writing my book Satan’s Circus, on police corruption in early 1900s New York in the heyday of Tammany Hall, I discovered that the Hall’s great and undoubted authority was rooted in its ability to get out the vote, and that that vote was got out principally by local ward politicians whose job essentially was to be responsive to any and every need of their constituents. (Cold winter? Have some free coal, but remember to vote Democrat.) Now, these people were leaders, by your definition, not figures of authority. But the interesting thing was that they could not have done their job of liaising with the local community if it had not been for the existence of what were popularly known as locality “mayors”, people who were actually authority figures in, not even a street, but part of a street, or perhaps a block. They were often saloon keepers. They knew what was happening and who needed something on a family-by-family basis and acted as a conduit between the community and the Hall. Perhaps this function is a little more active than the one you describe, but I think the parallels are there and the interesting thing is that the mayors emerged by the sort of natural process that you describe. There was no election, the office was generally something someone held onto for life in effect, but everyone just “knew” who the mayors were and made use of them casually and naturally because it was an effective thing to do.’ Thanks Mike!

    Sleeping Together: SM writes in: Beach you’ve skipped a crucial point. On TV and films from before the war couples often slept apart because they could not be show to be together. Morality would not allow a double bed on the screen. A classic instance of sources being skewed. KMH writes: your question seems as if it may be  one which your children asked. Cultures/religions  which permit only one spouse at a time are most likely to have couples always sleeping together. Otherwise, there could be too much of a temptation to sneak in a mistress between the  covers while the real wife sleeps separately. Separate sleeping arrangements may in fact imply acceptance of the mistress function. Miriam meanwhile has been doing some research: An article in Salon dated Aug. 13, 2012.  This article is an excerpt from this book  “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep”.  I cannot believe I passed over the Salon article at least three times while searching.  I thought it would probably be too frivolous to contain anything pertinent.  I think I need to get out more.  Thanks KMH, Miriam and SM!

    Funeral Fights: Wade sends in a couple of modern crackers. Here’s a funeral from Alabama that, as Wade puts it, starts slow but catches fire very quickly, a second fighting funeral meanwhile is described  **** Chris from Haunted Ohio Books sends in these: FIGHT IN A GRAVEYARD Mourners and Diggers Assail Each Other With Wooden Crosses. (!!!) Mount Vernon, N.Y., Jan. 28. The infant son of Mr. and Mrs. William Trode died of pneumonia last Thursday night, and an interment was arranged later in the cemetery of the Holy Sepulcher, which belongs to the Church of the Holy Sacrament, at New Rochelle. The hearse and seven carriages containing the family and friends reached the cemetery all right. Mr. Trode owns a plat in the cemetery and the grave was ordered dug there. Gravedigger Patrick Fox, in carrying out the instructions, struck a large rock near the surface, and a time was short he dug a grave in the public part of the cemetery, thinking at some other opportunity, when not so hurried, to blast to the rock in Trode’s plat and reinter the infant. The funeral party arrived at the grave, when a discussion arose between the mourners and the grave-digger as to the correct location of the grave. A wordy war ensued, which resulted in the grave-digger taking one of the strips of wood used in supporting a coffin over the empty grave and hitting one of the mourners, John Callahan, who had become very boisterous. This was a signal for a general attack on Fox. The men of the party promptly armed themselves with the wooden crosses with which several of the surrounding graves were marked, and a general fight ensued. This was only stopped when the drivers of the funeral coaches, and several passers-by interfered. Grave-digger Fox was badly hurt, and several persons received black eyes and bruises. The body was finally buried with the assistance of the mourners, the party retuning to Mount Vernon. The Morning Call [San Francisco, CA] 29 January 1895: p. 6 These next three articles tell of the so-called “Polish Church War.” In Plymouth, Pennsylvania, animosity broke out between the Poles and the Lithuanians, who had previously shared a church and a cemetery, when two Lithuanian priests were appointed in succession by the Bishop. A Polish parishioner named Martin Wilkes fomented trouble and was the ringleader in the following incidents. He was arrested repeatedly and when he attempted to intimidate the newly appointed Polish priest, the man pulled a gun on him and his minions, so that they fled. Wilkes was eventually sent to prison. The Lithuanians built their own church and cemetery, and an uneasy peace was restored. The Polish Church War Again. The Polish church war at Plymouth, Pa., has broken out afresh. On Friday the young son of a member of the Lithuanian faction died. Arrangements were made to bury him in the Polish cemetery, where all Lithuanians were buried previous to the war between that faction and the Poles. When the hearse drove up to the gate of the cemetery, however, it was not allowed to enter. A number of armed Polanders stood guard and warned the mourners that if they made an attempt to enter they would be shot down. The funeral procession retraced its steps to the home of the afflicted family and the corpse was placed in the front room of the house. The father of the dead boy, with two friends, went to Scranton to see Bishop O’Hara about the matter. Evening Star [Washington, DC.] 20 January 1890: p. 8 A FIGHT IN A GRAVEYARD Stones Thrown and Pistols Drawn During a Disgraceful Church Riot. Wilkesbarre, January 20. The Polish Church war at Plymouth culminated in a riot this evening. On Friday last the young son of a member of the Lithuanian faction died. Today a second attempt was made to bury the dead in the cemetery. About a dozen Poles, headed by Anthony Silkia, hastened to the place. The Lithuanians were about to lower the corpse in the grave. The angry Poles marched up to the crowd of mourners, and demanded that the coffin be taken up again. The Lithuanians refused. The Poles then picked up stones and began to throw them into the crowd. The women fled. The men stood their ground and for about five minutes a fierce battle raged. Several of the combatants were badly cut and bruised. Constable Gallagher arrived while the fight was in progress. He ran into the crowd, and, pulling out his revolver, commanded the belligerents to throw down the stones. He threatened to shoot. This had the desired effect. The fight stopped. Gallagher and three other constables then placed the ringleaders of the Polish faction under arrest. Pittsburg [PA] Dispatch 21 January 1890: p. 6 DEAD TORN FROM THEIR GRAVES A Leader of the Plymouth Poles Desecrates Lithuanian Corpses. The Polish church war at Plymouth has again been renewed. Yesterday Martin Wilkes, the leader of the Polish faction, was arrested while on a business visit to Wilkesbarre. When the Polish faction heard of the fate of their leader they called a meeting and raised $400 to employ a lawyer to get him out of jail. When court assembled the prisoner was released on habeas corpus. As soon as Wilkes was released and left the court house he swore vengeance against the Lithuanians. He said all the dead Lithuanians now buried in the Polish cemetery would be taken out and their bones scattered to the winds. When Wilkes reached his home in Plymouth he at once proceeded to carry out his threats. He summoned about twenty of his most devoted followers, and arming themselves with shovels and pick axes the party left for the cemetery. Arriving there they opened the graves of the two Lithuanian children buried yesterday. The coffins were broken open with pick axes and the bodies thrown over the fence into an adjoining field. One of the bodies was badly lacerated. The pick axes had been driven through it in several places. As soon as the grave robbers had completed their nefarious work they fled. The Lithuanians are now in possession of the cemetery. There is great excitement. The exhumed bodies were afterward placed in a rough box and are now in the cellar of a house near the cemetery. The Lithuanians are gunning for Wilkes. They say they will shoot him on sight. Evening Star [Washington, DC] 23 January 1890: p. 6 You’ve probably seen all of the beliefs in this next article. Some seem a touch distorted, like the conflation of the “hand of glory” in the first paragraph with the dead hand used to stroke a diseased body part. There are a fair number of these “quaint Irish superstitions” articles in the papers, starting in the 1880s and I am a little surprised not to find the banshee here. Does the date coincide with the end of fairy-belief? CONCERNING THE DEAD Superstitions of Striking Significance, Funeral Processions in Ireland. Superstitions concerning the dead are very numerous in all parts of Ireland, and several are of striking significance. The hand of the dead has great power when procured according to certain prescribed formula. For instance the most powerful mystic charm known in Irish magic is the hand of an unbaptized infant, taken from the grave in the name of the evil one, while the next in virtue is the hand of a murderer. When a candle is placed in the dead hand, no wind or rain can extinguish it, and if it be carried into a house at night, all the occupants will sleep the sleep of the dead as long as it is burning. Few diseases can withstand the potency of the dead hand as a remedy, its virtue being shared even by garments and articles which have touched the corpse or have been used in the funeral ceremonies. A piece of the sheet in which a corpse has been wrapped is good for the headache, and candle ends used at a wake will cure burns. The dead greatly desire to rest near the places where they lived, an instance being cited of a farmer’s daughter who went to Cork and there died of a fever. It was judged best to bury her there, but the night after her father returned home he heard the voice of his child crying, “I am alone!” Waking, he prayed she might rest in peace till morning, when he at once set out and brought the body from Cork to Mayo, where he buried it with the girl’s own people. If you hear steps at night following you, it is very dangerous to turn around, for the steps are those of the dead and their glance is fatal. Every twelfth night the dead walk, and on every tile of the house sits a soul waiting for prayer to free it from purgatory. The dead consort with fairies, and mothers have sometimes heard the voices of their children singing the old Irish songs far down beneath the raths or funeral mounds where the fairies dwell. On the west coast, when a funeral procession is halfway to the churchyard, a halt is made a mound of stones erected to deceive the evil one, who halts where and searches the mound of the dead, while the procession hurriedly goes on to the graveyard. The dead are often sent to earth with messages, generally announcing another death, and are always glad to be so employed, for their own relief form purgatory has come. The last buried in a churchyard is compelled to do menial service in the spirit world until another comes to take his place; hence, when two funerals meet, every spadeful of earth is turned at the same moment and the two bodies are interred at the same time. Everyone who meets a funeral must turn back and walk at least four steps with it to secure his own good luck and prevent resentment from the dead. St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Daily Yellowstone Journal [Miles City, MT] 9 July 1887: p. 4 Singular Funeral Ceremonies A murdered Hungarian was buried near Corinth, Ky., recently. When dying a candle was placed in his hand and held there by his brother until the last moment. In the coffin were placed a towel, soap, comb, needle and thread. He was dressed in a new suit of clothes and a white hat placed on his head. A piece of money was thrown into the grave to buy the ground from the evil one. The News-Herald [Hillsboro, OH] 23 April 1891: p. 2. thanks Wade and Chris!

    Bread and Drowning: Wade, Chris S, Tom G, Leif and Nathaniel all write in describing Twain’s writing on finding drowned bodies, something allegedly based on an incident in Sam Clemen’s youth: there is a good straight dope piece on this. First from Tom Sawyer: They sprang to their feet and hurried to the shore toward the town. They parted the bushes on the bank and peered out over the water.The little steam ferry-boat was about a mile below the village, drifting with the current. Her broad deck seemed crowded with people. There were a great many skiffs rowing about or floating with the stream in the neighborhood of the ferryboat, but the boys could not determine what the men in them were doing. Presently a great jet of white smoke burst from the ferryboat’s side, and as it expanded and rose in a lazy cloud, that same dull throb of sound was borne to the listeners again. ‘I know now!’ exclaimed Tom; ‘somebody’s drownded!’ ‘That’s it!’ said Huck; ‘they done that last summer, when Bill Turner got drownded; they shoot a cannon over the water, and that makes him come up to the top. Yes, and they take loaves of bread and put quicksilver in ’em and set ’em afloat, and wherever there’s anybody that’s drownded, they’ll float right there and stop.’ ‘Yes, I’ve heard about that,’ said Joe. ‘I wonder what makes the bread do that.’ ‘Oh, it ain’t the bread, so much,’ said Tom; ‘I reckon it’s mostly what they say over it before they start it out.’ ‘But they don’t say anything over it,’ said Huck. ‘I’ve seen ’em and they don’t.’ ‘Well, that’s funny,’ said Tom. ‘But maybe they say it to themselves. Of course they do. Anybody might know that.’ The other boys agreed that there was reason in what Tom said, because an ignorant lump of bread, uninstructed by an incantation, could not be expected to act very intelligently when set upon an errand of such gravity.’ Next from Huck Finn: So I set there and watched the cannon-smoke and listened to the boom. The river was a mile wide there, and it always looks pretty on a summer morning—so I was having a good enough time seeing them hunt for my remainders if I only had a bite to eat. Well, then I happened to think how they always put quicksilver in loaves of bread and float them off, because they always go right to the drownded carcass and stop there. So, says I, I’ll keep a lookout, and if any of them’s floating around after me I’ll give them a show. I changed to the Illinois edge of the island to see what luck I could have, and I warn’t disappointed. A big double loaf come along, and I most got it with a long stick, but my foot slipped and she floated out further. Of course I was where the current set in the closest to the shore—I knowed enough for that. But by and by along comes another one, and this time I won. I took out the plug and shook out the little dab of quicksilver, and set my teeth in. It was “baker’s bread”—what the quality eat; none of your low-down corn-pone. Chris adds: ‘Large booming noises to raise sunken corpses also figures into Edgar Allen Poe’s The Mystery of Marie Rogêt.’*** Borky, meanwhile, makes an obvious point but one that simply hadn’t occurred to me: Beach this usin’ y’loaf business sounds on the face of it as I think the guy writin’ actually says like complete black magic but is it possible once upon a time there was actually science behind the practise ie was the fact the bread was dense but absorbent [unlike Mother’s Pride or Sunblest] thought to make it a good makeshift substitute for a body giving a reasonable simulation therefore of the general route the body would most likely’ve taken under current *ha!* river conditions as well as suggestinh where the river was most becalmed and therefore where the body would’ve had a greater chance of sinking plus even if sight of the bread was lost there’d be a good chance noisy river birds eating it would’ve facilitated visual recovery? Thanks Borky, Wade, Chris, Tom, Leif and Nathaniel!

    Hadrian’s Wall: Tacitus from Detritus writes: ‘I have walked a good portion of the Wall and darned if it makes any sense to me! There is of course the theory that it was designed to emulate the Great Wall of China, which in Hadrianic times was not all that Great.  But it seems plausible that at least word of the Chinese version reached the ears of that most geographically curious of Emperors.  If silk and pepper can travel half way around the world surely gossip can do so as well. Another theory is that it was just a ‘make work’ project to keep the troops busy and therefore less likely to revolt.  I don’t buy it.  Surely the various ‘barracks emperors’ with their mayfly careers of the third century would have tried it had this been the (successful) intent. And besides, you could keep the troops busy and more in keeping with their job description by launching just the genocidal northern campaign you discussed. But maybe genocide is not as easy as it seems.  Heck, even the SS missed quite a few souls in their liquidation of various ghettos.  An unsavory line of speculation, my apologies.’ **** LTM writes: ‘Why build the wall? Public works we always favoured by Hadrian.  Keep the troops busy.  Put money into the local economy. The same reasons politicians today build roads and municipal buildings.’ So do we have Roman Keynesianism? **** KMH makes a similar point: The Roman Empire attained its greatest physical extent under Trajan, and perhaps without merit, since Hadrian easily withdrew from the Mesopotamian area. Hadrian, considered as one of the ‘Five Good Emperors’ may have understood after his ceaseless  traveling inspecting the empire that it was already quite  large enough. But what to do with existing  legions expecting to justify their existence (and profitable retirement) by continual war and conquest?  In Britannia the  solution seems to have been a gigantic public works  project to fully occupy the attention of the legions and citizenry for a number of years. An  emperor’s reign could be very short, and legions that are working are not thinking of overthrowing the current emperor in favor of their own candidate. Besides, the Romans were as expert at military engineering as they were at actual fighting, so the idea of a stone wall wasn’t totally unreasonable on the face of it. Hadrian might  have preferred that the wall took much longer than the four years in construction, but  legions will always be legions.’*** The Count has some reflections on Hadrian’s Wall. Regarding the “mystery” of Hadrian’s Wall, I don’t see that there is one. The Roman Empire was already as extended as it could be, and maybe a bit more. The North of Scotland was both agriculturally poor and incredibly hard to invade. Remember that at the time, most of it was covered in forest. Scots pine is a strange, twisty tree like a very big bonsai, and if you’ve ever visited one of the few remaining patches of native Scottish forest, you’ll understand the problems of trying to march a huge army through it in an orderly fashion, and how easy it would have been for stealthy natives who knew the terrain to literally run rings round the Romans, skirmishing, harassing, and generally whittling them down, all the while refusing to have a proper stand-up battle of the kind the Romans wanted because they would obviously win. You may recall that they sent the 9th Legion into Northern Scotland to test the feasibility of permanently crushing the Picts, and not a single one of them came back! Consider also Ireland. Compared to the Scottish Highlands, it was at the time more valuable, easier to invade, and populated by roughly the same people. Why didn’t the Romans ever bother to seriously attempt to colonize it? Because it wasn’t worth enough to sacrifice all those troops who were needed elsewhere, and because the Irish Sea formed a natural barrier against a disorganized bunch of ferocious tribesmen who, unlike the vast Germanic tribes, were isolated on a fairly small island with no hope of reinforcements. They were never going to be a major problem, so it made economic sense to ignore them. But the Picts? The absence of a Scottish Sea made it much easier for them to launch raids whenever they felt like it. Hadrian, who seems to have been a highly intelligent man and an excellent soldier, knew that occupying the Central Lowlands wouldn’t really work, because small raiding parties could easily slip past the garrisons, do all sorts of naughty things, and then vanish into territory completely controlled by the Picts. What was needed was a continuous barrier like the Irish Sea. So he built one. The shape of Britain is such that it makes sense to put his wall where he did, because that’s where the UK is thinnest. He didn’t put it further North because it would have been too easy for the Picts to dart out of nearby territory the Romans couldn’t follow them back into and constantly nibble away at it, even while it was being built. For tactical reasons, he sacrificed a slice of pretty good arable land to create a zone where the Picts would have to extend themselves and come out into the open, making them much easier to repel. Of course, later on the Romans got greedy and coveted that useful land, hence the Antonine Wall. It was a ramshackle affair that never really worked. Roman citizens were offered very generous financial incentives to settle on the land between the two walls, and there was a reason for that! I’m typing this in Edinburgh, just a few miles from the Northern frontier of the Roman Empire. Back then, it must have been Fort Apache, except that the Indians were blue, not red. Remember also that, hundreds of years later, when the Romans suddenly departed, leaving the Britons with no army whatsoever, the Celts in both Scotland and Ireland played such gleeful havoc with England that its rulers panicked and brought in the Angles and the Saxons (plus the Jutes, very much the Ringo Starr of that partnership), with disastrous consequences. So clearly the Celtic races were a huge, ongoing problem for the Romans, the most logical solution to which was to create a barrier if there wasn’t a natural one already. *** Next up is Judith from Zenobia:  A wee bit late but I think we have an answer:  Why did Hadrian build a wall? Because Trajan did. “Research by archaeologists at the Universities of Glasgow and Exeter  has identified a long wall that ran 60 kilometers from the Danube to the  Black Sea over what is modern Romania. It is considered the most easterly example of a man-made frontier barrier system in the Roman  Empire. Built in the mid-second century AD, ‘Trajan’s Rampart’ as it is known locally, once stood 8.5m wide and over 3.5m high and included at least 32 forts and 31 smaller fortlets along its course. ” Thanks Count and Judith and Tactitus, LTM and KMH

    The Moment the Cold War Ended: Stephen D writes in: I would put in a word for 1st May, 1989, being the date of the meeting of the Hungarian Politburo at which each member realised that none of the other members believed in Communism any longer either. The next day, Hungarian border guards started to dismantle the fence and checkpoints that blocked the border with Austria, letting a flood of escapers across. I remember an interview with an East German who had heard the news, packed his bags, driven through the night and was in Vienna by the morning. It was a brave decision – nobody knew for certain what the Russian response would be – and deserves to be remembered. **** Norm K, meanwhile, shares this. ‘The catalyst for the end of the cold war was the young German man who landed the Cessna in Red Square. There was a big purge of the old guard generals after that security breach. The reality of a small plane breaching their iron curtain made their protection against cruise missiles look weak.  The new generals were more open to change .Chaos theory at its best.’ **** Thanks Norm and Stephen!

    Jumping the broomstick: NPN writes in I don’t know about brookstick-jumping for weddings, but this sounds awfully similar to a form of military marriage described in Capt. Francis Grose’s Vulgar Tongue dictionary of 1785, in which the groom (a soldier) and his bride-to-be jump over a sword: LEAPING OVER THE SWORD. An ancient ceremonial said to constitute a military marriage. A sword being laid down on the ground, the parties to be married joined hands, when the corporal or serjeant of the company repeated  these words: Leap rogue, and jump whore, And then you are married for evermore. Whereupon the happy couple jumped hand in hand over the sword, the drum beating a ruffle; and the parties were ever after considered as man and wife. I don’t know if jumping the broomstick predates this, or if both appeared at the same time, or if even they derive from an older ritual–Grose is quiet on the subject of broomstick jumping. **** Fred L writes in Hi, Doctor was having breakfast & reading your latest work when I came across jumping the broom. I learned some years ago that African Americans also have this custom. Here’s some info: Jumping the broom – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia I used to have a book on wedding customs and don’t know what I did with it. Otherwise, I’d have cited a page for you. I wonder if some Afro-British folks do this as well. **** Borky next: Beach as a kid in the Sixties my female relatives as well as plenty of local woman used the phrase “That’s jumping the brush!” which was used to mean 1) committing to something on a more serious basis than someone was ready for 2) assuming something was go’n’o happen without the slightest proof it would. The explanation given to me at the time was it was to do with the supposed powers attributed to chimney sweeps and their brooms hence the tradition then of hiring them to attend weddings or to bless sick people but even as a schoolboy I developed the thesis it was actually an evolvement of very ancient pre shamanic beliefs which’d attached themselves to blacksmiths then to sweeps due to their abilities to manipulate fire then to revive dead fire places. Even the term daft as a brush used by Bobby Robson of Gazza connotes the idea of mental impairment which’s somehow akin to divine inspiration. I also have a suspicion Arabian and Spanish beliefs about brujas which seems to’ve been pronounced something like broosha when Islam conquered Spain may’ve become entangled with it due to the similarity in pronuniciation to brush though there may also be much deeper connections. **** Thanks to both Fred and NPN and Borky!

    Sub-Saharan Africa: Gloucester County Council’s Archaeology section kindly took the time to reply to an email: ‘I am afraid we don’t know anything further about the bones or the tests. We only had a very limited input into the find and have not been kept informed about any of the details.’ Allan writes: Just read your post on the poorly attributed bones from the Calne thought to be African, and a couple of thoughts of my own occurred. The first is in relation to slavery – if you were looking for slaves in England around 1086 (and presumably for a while before and afterwards, although the evidence is minimal) then the Cotswold estates of the local monasteries and Worcester Cathedral were about the best place to go, at least according to Domesday Book. I believe the growth of Bristol earlier in the century has also been linked to the Irish Sea slave trade. But it is not clear that these slaves were from exotic climes in the main, as opposed to Ireland and Britain. And it is not clear these servii in the Cotswolds were not just the least free class of peasants anyway, rather than foreigners being used to work the land. So whilst the bones are from a good area for slaves, Africa would be an unexpected origin for a slave at the time. And since no proper analysis of the bones other than presumably carbon dating seems to have been done, I would have a horrible suspicion that the attribution to sub-Saharah Africa is due to physical anthropology, probably by police experts looking to help with a possible identification (I believe the police still use this technique to try and identify the appearance of skeletal remains, for all its obvious flaws – and to be fair, it is better than nothing). Which means what is missing from the story is the percentage chance (based on modern samples) of the remains being African. Or she may just have been an African tourist – people did move around throughout history after all.’ Thanks Allan and GCC Archaeology Unit!

    West without Christianity: NMN writes I have to echo The Anomalist here–without Christianity (at least the Nestorian branch of it), can we speculate that Islam would have ever appeared on the world stage, given Mohammed’s interactions with Jews and Christians in Arabia prior to his dictating of the Koran?  That said, regarding the question of “What if Jesus had been born into another society?”, Charles Frazee offers an interesting perspective in his book “2000 Years Ago: The World at the Time of Jesus,” in which he posits that Christianity could not have occurred as it did if it had not appeared in the Hellenistic Levant, given the linguistic, philosophical, and cultural characteristics of the region.  It sounds in some ways like James Burke’s “radical change;” various factors that preexist an event (here, the advent of Christianity), make it possible for new events to occur (such as the spreading of the Gospel and birth of the early church in the greater Mediterranean in such a short time)**** Nathaniel writes in: ‘You’ve probably run into The God Fearer  [no, ed]. Its premise is an alternate history in which a kind of universalized Judaism becomes the dominant religion in Europe, with Christians as a persecuted minority (i.e. the reverse of the historic situation). Sadly the result overall seems no better than that of actual history.’ Thanks Nathaniel!

    Lions: the Count writes in with this great dog-lion story from China. *** Nene meanwhile gets all Edwardian on us and sends in the following story. God…: After last night’s performance at the Theatre Mooney, of which a display of lion tamers formed a part, a young woman, who was on friendly terms with the lion tamer, quarreled with him and committed suicide. To carry out her purpose she excited the  lions and stretching her arms through thebars of the cage was devoured by them. The animals seized the woman’s arms, mauled her on the face and breast and tore her shoulders away…’ If you’ve got the stomach it continues. Thanks Count and Nene!

    Horse Witch Whispering: Puny Chick with Attitude writes in: Dead-frog to ant-hill to floating-in-the-river is something I’ve heard about as “bone magic.” Specifically used in gentling horses. In her historical novel, Mistress of the Sun (2009), Sandra Gulland describes the ritual at length. A young girl uses it to tame a very wild horse that is to be otherwise destroyed. As the story progresses, it is implied that our heroine has made a pact w/darkness. Here’s the Amazon link: Thanks Puny!

    Hooping Cough: A very old friend of this blog, Andy the Mad Monk writes in: Not sure if it is directly relevant or a coincidence. Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History” has several books on medicine, and several recipes with quantities defined. Widely used during the medieval period, up to the 17th C, with many Housebooks having various cures from him copied in them. About a third of the cures he has have a sound scientific basis, even if by a roundabout way. For example: He writes “Catarrhs oppressive to the head can be cured by kissing a mule’s nostrils.” This actually works! Science behind it – mules are beasts of burden, so not kept in the cleanest conditions, unlike horses. So you go to the mule’s stable for some lip action, and as you go in, there is a stench of mule piss, which brings tears to the eyes. This is high in ammonia, which is a powerful decongestant. Nose unblocked! Catarrh cured! In fact, it is so effective that the global pharmaceutical industry (who make billions from selling less effective decongestants) have suppressed the creation of mules. After all, when was the last time you saw one? Besides, mules are largely misunderstood and lonely, and they appreciate the occasional kiss of affection.’ Thanks, Andy!

    Mermaid, 1794: Kenton and Invisible write in with a possible reference to this mermaid from 1812 in the General Chronicle and Literary Magazine 4:  **** The Count meanwhile has this comment: Interesting mermaid post today – I’d never heard of that particular specimen before! A 4-foot-long mummified mermaid holding its baby in its arms is a more ambitious exhibit of that type than anything of that kind I’m aware of, certainly from before the last couple of decades! One thing does occur to me. Although mermaid mummies really took off in 1842 thanks to P. T. Barnum’s “Feejee Mermaid” (sic), it wasn’t anywhere near being a new idea. Many rich collectors with a taste for the odd seem to have included objects described as “mermaids” in their cabinets of curiosities, though most of these are now lost. These were not of course on display to the general public, but Elias Ashmole’s collection ended up forming the starting point of the Ashmolean Museum in 1675. Intriguingly, Ashmole’s contributions included an alleged mermaid’s hand, so at least part of such a creature was on display in Oxford to anyone who could afford the sixpence admission fee! Other highly dubious or downright mythical items were also on show, including a cockatrice or two, part of a fabled “vegetable lamb” (sheep were supposed to grow out of the ground in Tartary – apparently there’s some bush in those parts which is quite wooly-looking and typically has about 4 stalks), and part of the True Cross. So maybe some huckster got the idea from there – I suppose a typical showman would travel more than most people of the time. Do you happen to have a means of accessing the Ashmolean’s records? Maybe they still have an older mermaid than this in there somewhere, or at any rate, some of one. Though since it was only Barnum’s genius for showmanship that made his hideous and disappointingly tiny “mermaid” an international sensation, it seems very likely that many previous specimens had appeared as carnival side-shows without attracting any serious attention. It’s odd that the Oxford Street mermaid of 1794 was so much larger than subsequent specimens – Barnum’s was about the size of the infant described here, and almost all subsequent examples were close copies of the famous one. I suppose a 4-foot-long mermaid would be much harder to build than a tiny one, what with the internal armature, and all those little stitches we aren’t supposed to notice, and may well have been considerably less durable. Is it possible that the mother fell to bits, but the tough little baby survived, and eventually came into the hands of a certain Mr. Barnum…? **** Thanks Kenton, Count and Invisible!

    Potatoes: Borky writes in: First you have the supernatural war over crops and the disastrous nutritional consequences of losing then you have the identification of Dr Edgar with the victorious fairies commander-in-chief much like the military style figure Captain figure who summons the wearers of the caul but you also have a hint of the death component in that the father’s so completely fixated on the idea of him and his kids dying he’s both convinced he won’t find any potatoes and utterly entranced by the seemingly magical way Edgar seems to almost conjure ’em out the ground. It also makes me wonder if the Abundia/Satia component of Ginzburg’s thesis namely the supernatural raids on household larders and wine cellars didn’t partly arise as both a Robin Hood like cult based on alleviating poverty/famine [much as raiding between Arab tribes functioned as a redistribution of property mechanism] but also as a social stress alleviating mechanism to avoid retribution by the haves on the have-nots leading to endless tit-for-tat massacres and the disintegration of the entire social structure. Thanks Borky!

    Spirit Photos: the Count writes in, ‘Regarding “spirit photos”, William Hope [author of these photos] still has followers who consider these ludicrous photos to be genuine! On one such website, I found, posted as proof that he couldn’t have faked them, a description of his method. Hope would ask the sitter to provide the plates, and also to sign them (signatures can be seen on some of the photos you posted). He would also allow the sitter to look inside his camera and observe that nothing suspicious was within. Obviously you have to be very, very ignorant of photography (as most people were back then) not to see the flaw here! After exposure, the plate was removed to be developed later. There was exactly nothing preventing Hope from exposing it again. The giveaway is that in every single one of these photos, the “spirit” is superimposed on the sitter, not the other way round. Later in his career, he adopted the slightly less blatant method of substituting plates with the spirit manifestations already on them for the ones brought by the client. This allowed him to position the spirit behind the sitter, making it look as if it was hovering protectively rather than shoving itself rudely into the foreground. Towards the end of his life (he died in 1933), he was caught out by Harry Price, who had secretly marked the plates that were supposed to be used. No elaborate methods were used – every single one was a just simple double exposure. Those that look like paintings were presumably photos of paintings, perhaps miniatures in lockets (some of those spirit heads are weirdly small compared to the sitter). Hope would very probably have had access to photos or paintings of the departed relatives of a great many of his sitters because servants were poorly paid and frequently had no love at all for their employers, thus bribing them was very easy, and lots of fraudulent mediums used to obtain information about their clients in this way. If hope just borrowed a portrait miniature or photo-album for an hour or two, nobody would ever know they’d been taken. Notice how much more vague white stuff there tends to be around the heads that look like paintings? If there were a dozen snaps of Uncle Ebenezer, he could just take one and cut it up. But a locket or painting he would have had to place straight onto the plate with the edges very well hidden. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle naturally believed these photos were genuine, and wrote a book about it in 1925 whoch you probably won’t want for your collection because it’s a wee bit expensive! See also William H. Mumler, whose spirit photos weren’t anywhere near as good as Hope’s, but who invented the whole thing shortly after 1860, and took a very famous (or notorious, depending on whether or not you’re incredibly gullible) photo of Abraham Lincoln’s ghost comforting his widow.’ Thanks to the Count!!