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  • Written Gibberish and Magic November 16, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Written Gibberish and Magic

    Keith Thomas includes in his classic Magic and the Decline of Religion a few precious pages on gibberish charms that were sometimes given out by ‘cunning men and women’ (aka witches) to those who wanted protection. These were typically worn about the neck of someone who wished for help against demons or better health. Some […]

    The Biography of a Difficult to Bury Witch November 10, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Biography of a Difficult to Bury Witch

    Here is a little bit of gossip from Cornwall 1880 and a dose of human misery. An extraordinary but well authenticated instance of belief in witchcraft comes from St. Blazey, Cornwall. A woman named Keam, who died the other day, was believed by her neighbours to be a witch, and great difficulty was experienced in […]

    The Dominions and WW2 November 6, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    The Dominions and WW2

    The Dominions were a precise administrative category within the British Empire. They referred to the territories that had reached, according to omniscient London, the ability to govern themselves with minimum interference from the motherland. With many of the racist assumptions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was believed that only white populations […]

    The Ripper and Thieves’ Candles November 4, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Ripper and Thieves' Candles

    The thieves’ candle is a longstanding tradition in Britain, America and, indeed, throughout the western world. Usually the candle was the hand of a dead man with one or more of the fingers made into candles. These candles were supposed to provide safety, invisiblity and be able to cast sleep spells on victims. For example, […]

    Mussolini’s Secret Weapon: Castor Oil November 3, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Mussolini’s Secret Weapon: Castor Oil

    Castor oil is a vegetable oil that in Beach’s parent’s generation was used as a panacea for problems of the digestive tract. Unlucky children who had complained of a poorly stomach, perhaps with the foolish idea of missing school, were given a table spoon. Castor oil has no miraculous effect on the body but it […]

    Who Was the First Victim of a Machine Gun? October 30, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Who Was the First Victim of a Machine Gun?

    The machine gun was one of the most vicious military innovations of the late nineteenth century; and in the twentieth century, it slaughtered more individuals than the motor car, Ebola and ISIS put together. However, who had the honour of being first penetrated and killed by a machine gun bullet? The answer depends, of course, on […]

    The Poison Duel 11#: Poison Duels in Plays and Conclusion October 29, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    The Poison Duel 11#: Poison Duels in Plays and Conclusion

    Woe, the poison duel series is over, at least till someone else finds some new evidence. Here though are two bits of supplementary evidence, poison duels in plays. This slightly bitchy review appeared in 1835. Another new burletta, entitled An Affair of Honour, was also produced during the week at this theatre. The main interest […]

    Telephony and Music: the Perils of Modernity October 23, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Telephony and Music: the Perils of Modernity

    In 1876 the telephone was born after a half dozen inventors had scrambled for the right formula for years: who could forget poor old Philip Reiss with his beer barrel, sausage skin, kinitting needle and two cups of mercury? The telephone was, in fact, one of those technologies that took off remarkably quickly and was […]

    M. R. James’ Invisible Library October 22, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    M. R. James' Invisible Library

    M. R. James is among the finest of the English-speaking ghost writers, finer even perhaps than Le Fanu and so much better than Howard Phillips L in style and in dialogue. But there is one undoubted problem with his canon: it is small, a mere thirty four stories. The quality is consistently high but fans […]

    Bathing Mystery at Lahinch October 21, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Bathing Mystery at Lahinch

    In 1892 Laurence Gomme gave a presidential address to the Folklore Society. Gomme was particularly interested in the parallels between British (by which was meant at this date British and Irish) folklore and the folklore of the ‘savages’. If he could snap some branches from the golden bough while proving that the Aborigines and the […]

    The Poison Duel 10#: Playing Cards and Poison at Tombstone October 20, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Poison Duel 10#: Playing Cards and Poison at Tombstone

    This story was allegedly taken from the Detroit Free Press by an English newspaper, 27 Oct 1894. That it appeared in the DFP there is no reason to doubt, English newpapers are almost frightening reliable about these things: that such a duel took place between an English and a French man in Tombstone… Well, this […]

    The Poison Duel 9#: Poison Duel at the Theatre October 17, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Poison Duel 9#: Poison Duel at the Theatre

    This story comes from a German grammar book with Teutonic compositions dating to 1903 An apothecary once insulted an officer. The officer therefore challenged him to a duel. The duel was to be with pistols. When the opponents had arrived, the apothecary said: ‘I am not used to fighting with pistols, but I have another […]

    Anne Boleyn Loses It October 16, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Anne Boleyn Loses It

    Anne Boleyn was, of course, the second wife of Henry VIII, who ended her short life with French steel interposing between her chin and her shoulders, 19 May 1536. Her execution came after a travesty of a trial in which she was found guilty of high treason against the king (a man of unusual psychology): she […]

    The Greater Irish Rattlesnake? October 14, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    The Greater Irish Rattlesnake?

    Irish children are brought up with the attractive lie that St Patrick drove all snakes from the country when he arrived in Ireland in the fifth century. Certainly there are no indigenous snakes in Ireland, but over the years small snake populations have been established; not least in the Irish boom when snakes became prestige […]

    The Poison Duel 8#: Animal Poison Duels October 12, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Poison Duel 8#: Animal Poison Duels

    Thanks to Chris from Haunted Ohio Books for pointing out a dimension of the poison duel that Beach had recklessly passed by: poison duel by animal. First, the tarantula duel from 1887 courtesy of Chris Grand Forks [North Dakota] Daily Herald 20 September 1887: p. 3 A Toledo (O) special dispatch says: Particulars of a […]

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