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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why the next president of Russia will be hairy

Since 1825 there has been a bizarre, yet remarkably consistent, pattern among rulers of Russia and based on this predictable pattern it's safe to say that the next Russian president will have a full head of hair.

When Nicholas I became the emperor of Russia in 1821, it was noted that the 29-year-old tsar was rapidly losing his hair; by the end of his reign in 1855, Nicholas had become quite bald. Alexander II, who replaced Nicholas, was rather hirsute by comparison, with a full head of hair and a majestic beard. Even at the time of his death at age 62 in 1881, Tsar Alexander II still had most of his hair. Yet his son, Alexander III, who became the next emperor or Russia, was noticeably bald. And through the rest of the 19th and 20th centuries, right up to the present day, this bizarre pattern of Bald Leader-Hairy Leader continues, with Putin and his thinning hair following in the footsteps of Dmitry Medvedev and his glorious coif.

While this strange pattern is fodder for much joking among Russia's political journalists, could this pattern be more than just mere coincidence? We're not sure, but our advice is that if you're placing bets on who will succeed Vladimir Putin after the next Russian presidential election in 2018, the smart money is on the guy with the most hair.

Below, you will find the likenesses of all Russian rulers from Tsar Nicholas I to Vladimir Putin, and you can see for yourself the strange bald-hairy pattern which has existed for nearly 200 years.

Nicholas I (1825-1855)
Alexander II (1855-1881)

Alexander III (1881-1894)
Nicholas II (1894-1917)
Georgy Lvov (1917)
Alexander Kerensky (1917)
Vladimir Lenin (1917-1924)
Joseph Stalin (1924-1953)
Nikita Khrushchev (1953-1964)
Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982)
Yuri Andropov (1982-1984)
Konstantin Chernenko (1984-1985)
Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-1991)
Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999)
Vladimir Putin on right (2000-2008) and Dmitry Medvedev on left (2008-2012)
Putin again (2012-present)
The next president of Russia: Hairy!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Debunked: Morgellons Disease

Of all the diseases and disorders that plague the human body, few are as strange and as controversial as Morgellons Disease, whose sufferers claim that things such as odd fibers, mysterious hairs and strings and other thread-like objects grow from their body or beneath their skin. Formally named in 2002, the medical establishment is of the consensus that this disorder- which predominantly affects caucasian women- is, in reality, a mental disorder.

This rebuff by the medical establishment, however, does nothing but infuriate those who suffer from Morgellons, who feel that they are being ridiculed and "written off" by the very same people who have been sworn to help them under the Hippocratic Oath. Robert Bartholomew, a sociologist who has studied the Morgellons phenomenon, has even gone so far as to state that the "World Wide Web has become the incubator for mass delusion and it (Morgellons) seems to be a socially transmitted disease over the Internet."
Because of the lack of information and research into this intriguing topic, many Morgellons sufferers have come to believe in bizarre explanations for their situation, ranging from "implants" embedded into their body by extraterrestrials or super-secret government organizations, to the effects of eating genetically modified foods. Still others insist that there is a government conspiracy afoot, as the Centers for Disease Control released a study in 2012 indicating that there were no disease organisms present in Morgellons patients. The CDC ultimately concluded that the condition was "similar to more commonly recognized conditions such as delusional infestation".

With so many Morgellons patients posting photographs of objects they've actually pulled from their skin, this "official explanation" doesn't hold water. So, then, what's the deal with Morgellons?
Our theory is that Morgellons is not a disease at all, nor it it the result of delusion. It is merely the natural method by which the human body rids itself of foreign objects which the sufferer has "consumed" (put into their bodies) at some point during their life. This, of course, explains why the multi-year study conducted by the CDC found no disease organisms in Morgellons sufferers, and also explains why people really do appear to be pulling weird objects out of their own bodies.

Perhaps the most misleading information about this phenomenon comes from the selfsame researchers who attempt to debunk Morgellons (without offering any suitable explanation themselves). Most sources claim that the symptoms associated with this disorder have not appeared until recent years. For example, a 2005 article written by Benjamin Chertoff in Popular Mechanics asserted that no reports of strange fibers exuding from the skin predate the formation of the Morgellons Research Foundation, while a 2006 article in the LA Times insists that the Internet is solely to blame.

This is not the least bit true.

Even the medical establishment of the 19th century was vaguely aware of the body's ability to "spit out" foreign matter, which led to many surgeons abandoning the use of silk sutures and favoring catgut and other materials which the body can absorb. Surgeons of the 19th century frequently wrote about the human body "spitting silk", sometimes years after the operation had taken place. In many of these incidences, the patients experienced threads and fibers growing from their bodies, often times from parts of the body that were nowhere near the original operation site.

The body's ability to transport foreign objects has been well documented for over a century. In 1896, a 51-year-old man named David Cummings felt a strange pain in his shoulder. After the pain relocated to his hip he visited a doctor, who prescribed a topical ointment. A few days later, Cummings saw something black extruding from the sore spot on his hip. He pulled it out and discovered a sewing needle, which had somehow entered his body without his knowledge. In 1917, a Dr. Congdon from Wenatchee, Washington, removed a needle that was growing out of the leg of a woman named Mrs. A.F. Franz, which she had accidentally swallowed as a child more than thirty years earlier. Even more remarkable is the case of Charles Fisler of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1905, Fisler went to the hospital complaining of an itch on his right arm that was driving him crazy. After a full battery of tests and X-rays, surgeons finally removed from his body a bullet which had been inside his body for more than ten years. More remarkably, however, was the fact that the surgeons did not find the bullet in Fisler's itchy right arm, but in the tip of his left toe!

One would be surprised to discover the amount and variety of foreign material that can collect inside the human body over the course of a lifetime: lint and fabric fibers that have entered the body through inhalation, tiny bits of plastic and cellophane or particles of metal that have entered the body through accidental ingestion, or by entering through an open wound. Even hair, which the body cannot digest, accumulates inside the stomach until the day we die. Not all of this debris is expelled from the body by "normal" means.

The fact is that human skin was designed to be permeable. Even desmosomes- the molecular "glue" that holds the cells of our body together- have spaces between them of about 30 nanometers. If these desmosomes are not functioning properly, layers of skin can pull apart, which will allow abnormal movement of fluid within the skin- a perfect "river" for transporting trapped foreign objects from one part of the body to another.

This also explains why Morgellons sufferers tend to be female. Male skin is approximately 25% thicker than female skin. Men also have a significantly higher collagen density than females. Therefore it is much easier for the subcutaneous transport of foreign objects to take place in women, and much easier for these objects to come to the surface.

Ultimately, neither the medical establishment nor Morgellons patients are correct about the nature of this condition, since Morgellons Disease is neither a disease nor a psychological disorder, but rather a basic function of the human body resulting from the very design of our skin. To label this phenomenon a disease is the equivalent of labeling sneezing, coughing, and urination as medical diseases or psychological disorders.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

10 Times When Karma Backfired

Proof that what goes around doesn't always come around.

One of the things that keep many of us sane is the silly notion that people ultimately get what they deserve. While cosmic justice is a nifty thought, history proves that what goes around doesn't always come around. Below are ten cases which illustrate the fallacy of the theory of karma, or, if you prefer, "The Top 10 Moments When the Karma Police Were Caught Taking a Donut Break".

10. Ty Cobb

During his heyday, this Hall-of-Fame outfielder was just as famous for his bigotry and violent temper as his baseball prowess. Cobb, who often slid into base with his spikes in the air in a blatant attempt to injure his opponent, once described himself as "a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport".

Others, however, had less kind things to say about the man nicknamed "The Georgia Peach". Universally hated by, well, everyone, Cobb once bitch-slapped a black groundskeeper during spring training after the groundskeeper attempted to shake Cobb's hand. When the groundskeeper's wife tried to intervene, Cobb turned around and choked her until teammates managed to pry his hands off her neck. One year later, in 1908, Cobb was arrested and found guilty of battery after attacking a black laborer in Detroit.

But Cobb's shining moment came in 1912, when he climbed into the stands and attacked a heckler named Claude Lueker. Even though Lueker didn't have any hands (he lost them in an industrial accident), that small detail didn't stop Cobb from beating the man to within an inch of his life. When someone screamed for Cobb to stop, pointing out that the man had no hands, Cobb famously retorted, “I don’t care if he has no feet!”

Cobb mellowed slightly with age, but he was determined to remain a first class asshole to the very end. Just days before he died, he told his close friend (actor and comedian Joe. E. Brown) that he had no regrets. "I've been lucky. I have no right to be regretful of what I did," said Cobb. He then checked into the hospital for the last time, bringing with him a paper bag with over $1 million in negotiable bonds and a Colt .45 pistol.
Even though Cobb was a royal prick, karma never caught up with the six-time American League stolen base champion. At the time of his death, Cobb's estate was reported to be worth $11.780 million (equivalent to $93 million today).

9. Don King

At 83, the world's most famous boxing promoter still manages to dodge karma the same way a champion middleweight dodges jabs. While King's long-suspected ties to the Mafia have yet to be proven, King's other run ins with the law have been well-documented. Take the two murders he committed, for instance. King was charged with the murder of Hillary Brown. Even though she was shot in the back, King was able to get off on a self-defense plea. And then there was the time he stomped a man named Sam Garrett to death (Garrett allegedly owed King some money). Though convicted, King spent less than 4 years behind bars. Yet karma has decided to bestow a vast fortune upon this Brillo-headed idiot; King's net worth is estimated to be somewhere around $150 million.

8. Timothy Poole

After sexually assaulting a nine-year-old boy in 1999, a Florida judge sentenced Poole to 13 months in prison. In 2003, after Poole failed to attend court-ordered sex offender counseling sessions, he was once again thrown in jail. After being released in 2006, Poole landed a job driving a cab. In December of 2014 he decided to stop at a 7-Eleven, where he purchased a scratch-off lottery ticket and won $3 million.

7. Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was the Chinese dictator responsible for some of the most appalling famines and genocides in world history. During his tenure, Chairman Mao sent tens of millions to labor camps, resulting in the execution of 5 million Chinese. Famines, created by his economic policies, claimed the lives of an estimated 30 to 45 million people. Chairman Mao was such a frightening figure that it has been reported that 700,000 suicides were committed simply out of fear during his reign of terror.

One would imagine that the greatest abuser of human rights in the history of mankind would be a tempting target for karma, but that was hardly the case. In spite of his deplorable personal hygiene (it has been reported that Mao never once brushed his teeth, and only bathed once in twenty-five years) and in spite of the fact that he was a heavy smoker and drinker, Chairman Mao managed to live until the age of 82.

6. Vince Neil

Most of us know that the Motley Crue singer loves fast cars and fast women, but few of us are aware that Vince Neil has been evading the karma police ever since 1984, when he killed Nicholas "Razzle" Dingley, the drummer of glam rock band Hanoi Rocks. Neil, drunk as a skunk, drove himself and three friends to the liquor store to get more booze when Neil lost control of his vehicle. Dingley was killed instantly, while the other two passengers suffered brain damage. Neil escaped with minor injuries and a 15-day stint in jail.

Since that time, fate has been quite kind to the Motley Crue singer. In addition to boning dozens of hotties and dating Playboy Playmate Heidi Mark, Neil opened a tattoo parlor on the Vegas Strip, he headed a winemaking venture called Vince Vineyards, he launched his own brand of tequila, and opened Dr. Feelgood's Bar and Grill in West Palm Beach. In addition, Neil owns a Vegas strip club as well as an Arena Football League franchise. So, the next time someone tries to warn you of the dangers of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, tell them to go to hell.

5.  Kim Il-sung

The dictator of North Korea for nearly a quarter of a century, Kim Il-sung was the shitheel who started the Korean War, which claimed the lives of over 3 million people. Despite the war ending in a draw, Kim Il-Sung was able to brainwash 10 million North Koreans into believing that he wasn't just a president-- but a god.
Still regarded as the "Eternal President" two decades after his death, Kim Il-sung's birthday is a national holiday, making him the North Korean version of some type of magnificent George Washington/Jesus Christ/Hugh Hefner hybrid.

Even though Kim Il-sung's favorite hobby was killing his rivals and top military commanders, he still found plenty of time for being a manwhore; it is said he fathered dozens of illegitimate children from numerous affairs with North Korea's hottest chicas.

If you think such rampant philandering and murdering might tempt karma, think again; Kim Il-sung lived to the ripe old age of 82.

4. Josef Mengele

Known as the "Angel of Death", Mengele was a physician in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he passed his time by pouring chemicals into the eyes of children to see if he could change their eyecolors, sewing people together in an attempt to create conjoined twins, and forcing parents to kill their own offspring. All told, Mengele was responsible for the deaths of 400,000 people.

But, just when it appeared that karma was coming for the Angel of Death, Mengele escaped to South America, where he purchased a successful pharmaceutical company and took frequent ski vacations to Switzerland. He bought himself a lovely farmhouse in Caieiras in 1969. Caieras, a picturesque suburb of Sao Paulo, is also known as the "City of the Pines", due to its pristine surroundings.

Mengele's health began to deteriorate in 1972, but he staved off the Grim Reaper just long enough to spend his twilight years visiting his wealthy friends in the lavish coastal resort of Bertioga, where he died in 1979, just a few weeks shy of his sixty-eighth birthday. Sure, Mengele may not have made it to 70, but it was still a pretty darn good run for a man who liked to hook car batteries to folks' genitals. The way we figure it, 34 years on the white sand beaches of Brazil beats the pants off 100 years anywhere in Germany any way you look at it.

3. William S. Burroughs

The author of 18 novels, postmodern author William S. Burroughs has been hailed as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. However, Billy was just another rich and spoiled struggling poet of the Beat Generation until the day he accidentally killed his wife in a monumental act of alcohol-fueled stupidity. Then and only then did his career take off.

In 1951, a drunken Burroughs killed his wife, Joan Vollmer, in Mexico City while attempting to shoot a shot glass off her head, William Tell style. Burroughs was spared from the not-so-long arm of the law after his wealthy parents bribed Mexican officials to allow him back into the States, where he was found guilty of "culpable homicide" but managed to avoid jail time.

Such an incident may have derailed the careers of other authors, but for Burroughs it was a godsend. Vollmer's death was the inspiration for his first novel, Junkie (1953), which was critically acclaimed. But Burroughs is perhaps best known for his third novel Naked Lunch (1959), a controversial piece of shit that hubristic, presumptuous literary critics haven't stopped blathering about for more than half a century.

Burroughs, America's most beloved beatnik/junkie/wife killer, finally kicked the bucket in 1997 at the age of 83.

2. Meyer Lansky

Perhaps the most successful mobster of all time, Lansky was never found guilty of anything more serious than illegal gambling. During his 50-plus year career as a Jewish mobster, Lansky organized the murders of Mafia bosses Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, and established a worldwide network of illegal casinos all over the world, from London to New Orleans. Lansky was instrumental in founding the "National Crime Syndicate", which included the likes of Bugsy Seigel, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Albert Anastasia. If Al Capone was the Chip Kelly of the mob world, then Meyer Lansky would be its Roger Goodell.

Yet karma avoided Lansky the same way a health nut avoids Krispy Kreme doughnuts. As a young bootlegger, Lansky was nearly rubbed out by rival mobsters numerous times, only to be saved by his good pal Bugsy Seigel. While Capone went to prison in 1931 and Seigel went to prison in 1936, Meyer Lansky avoided the law until 1974, but even then he was acquitted of the charges against him. Lansky spent his twilight years enjoying life in his sprawling Miami Beach mansion until his death at age 80, leaving behind a fortune of some $300 million. And they say crime doesn't pay...

1. Emperor Hirohito

With a reign lasting over six decades, Emperor Hirohito saw his Japan blossom from the world's ninth largest economy in 1926 to the world's second largest economy by 1989. Ever wonder why just about everything in America has a sticker saying "Made in Japan"? Well, you can thank Emperor Hirohito for that.

Yet, somewhere in the middle of his success lies the reason why the Karma Police should've performed a full body cavity search on this creep nearly eight decades ago. It was called the Rape of Nanking, the pre-WWII massacre which saw the slaughter of 300,000 Chinese civilians. Under Hirohito's orders, around 200,000 women and underage girls were sexually assaulted. A total of 10 million Chinese were forced into slavery, and those who resisted were killed in a variety of creative ways: some were beheaded, others were boiled and roasted and then eaten, and still others were buried alive, hanged by their tongues on iron hooks, or used for bayonet practice.

Yep, you'll never be able to look at Hello Kitty the same way ever again.

Nonetheless, Emperor Hirohito managed to outlive every other WWII leader by a wide margin, finally giving up the ghost in 1989 at the age of 83.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Suicide Table of Monte Carlo

Were Gamblers Victims of the Grimaldi Curse?

Monte Carlo Casino craps tables

Perched along the French Riviera in Monaco, Monte Carlo has been the playground of the world's most adventurous gamblers since the mid-nineteenth century. Monte Carlo may be synonymous with gambling (although gambling is illegal to citizens of Monaco, strangely enough), but it is also synonymous with mystery and intrigue, as the unusual story of the "suicide table" at the Monte Carlo Casino reveals.

From Las Vegas to Atlantic City, every gambling mecca has a higher rate of suicide than other locales; after all, these are places where fortunes are won and lost in the blink of an eye. Yet no other gaming table in any other casino in the world can be said to be responsible for as many suicides as the "cursed" table, which claimed 113 lives in a ten year span between 1890 and 1900.

 Here is the complete and unabridged strange story of Monte Carlo's suicide table, as it appeared in the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper in March of 1900.

Monte Carlo Casino, circa 1898

Monte Carlo's Terrors: A Suicide Table Where Scores Have Despaired

To the right of the Moorish salon, the second room from the entrance in the great gambling rooms of Monte Carlo, stands the suicide table. This accursed piece of furniture has a record of causing 113 suicides in ten years, according to the count kept by C. Benvenisti, formerly chief of the detectives in this room.
Even the chairs of this table differ in the intensity of their hoodooed state. The chair to the left of the croupier facing the entrance door has claimed seventeen victims. The twenty-third chair accommodated eleven suicides, six women and five men. The others have records of eight, five, four, three and one death.

One day five years ago, writes M. Benvenisti in the Chicago Inter-Ocean, my neighbor at the table was a young Parisian. He sat in one of the one-death chairs and won. When the doors closed he carried off 200,000 francs. Imagine my anticipations when next morning I found him installed to the left of the croupier. I felt like tearing him away or slipping a card into his hand, to warn him against the seat he had chosen, but my official character forbade me to interfere, and, besides, my advice would have been scorned, for the fellow gambled like one mad. He lost his winnings of the day before and 200,000 francs of his own money. When his last 1,000 franc note was gone he rose, and swaying to and fro like a drunkard, stumbled out of the hall, laughing immoderately.

Two of my men led a merry chase for this unfortunate, and when they caught up with him he jumped off the railway bridge, knocking out his brains.

Another case that haunts my dreams! One day and elderly gentleman, Signor Antonio Cesare, who knew my connection with the Casino, compelled me to give him the seat I was occupying. I did so with a bleeding heart, for this old man was the very picture of health, and I was an intimate friend of his cousin, the Mayor of Bentimigli.

Well, this gentleman lost nearly a hundred thousand francs in the day and evening. When he got up, hos own mother wouldn't have known him. He looked ten years older; his flesh had fallen away, madness stared out of his eyes. Next day they fished his body from the lake at Mentone.

Then there were the Parlingtons, refined English people. They were on their wedding trip. I never forgot the look of delight with which young Mrs. Parlington pocketed her first small gain. The pretty bride fairly coaxed her husband to stake 10 francs. When night came they had a couple of thousand francs in their pockets. Next morning they took chairs Nos. 23 and 24. Number 23 brought them the usual luck. They gained 30,000 francs. But on the following day came the inevitable change. The 30,000 francs went back to us, and the couple's little fortune followed. They walked from the room deathly pale, hand in hand. My detectives informed me that they took the train for Nice without troubling about their baggage. They shot and killed themselves in the Windsor Hotel there.

Everybody can see that the cloth on the suicide table is of more recent make than the rest. Yet the Casino company is only 318 francs the poorer on that account. Here are the figures: Cloth for double table, 250 francs; nailing down, 18 francs; total, 318 francs. Against these figures there is an offset of 600 francs, which the Casino company would have been obliged to pay the young Russian for traveling expenses. This Muscovite Prince refused to become a pensioner of M. Blanc's heirs, and blew out his brains over the table where he had dropped his all-- 400,000 francs.

It happened two years ago and it nearly cost me my job. The circumstances that one of the directors of the company drew me into a corner to talk about the same Russian's persistent ill luck just a minute before the shot rang out- that along saved me from disgrace. The incident itself was soon forgotten and had no bearing on the game. It has nothing to do with the superstitions attaching to the suicide table. The ill reputation of that piece of furniture was of many years standing when the Russian committed that flagrant breach of Casino etiquette. He was No. 85 on my list of unfortunates.

When I saw a man or woman approach the suicide state, my first care was to prevent him or her from spoiling more cloth. I signaled my men to press around the party and prevent him or her from putting a hand in the pocket or from striking the croupier. Many desperate cases I approached as a fellow gambler, offering to assist them and pay their homeward journey. I dare say my intervention- which cost me nothing, as the company recouped me- has saved many a poor devil's life.

Whether suicide candidates have a foreboding of evil when they come to our table, I don't know, but a few try to escape their goal. They come flanked by prayers or holding a piece of hangman's rope. Others try to insure their fortune by paying the croupier 100 francs before the day's work begins. Of course, he accepts the bribe. He isn't tampering with his employer's profits.

Francisco Grimaldi, aka "The Malicious One"

Victims of the Grimaldi Curse?

Since 1297, the House of Grimaldi has ruled over Monaco, beginning with Francisco Grimaldi- famously known as "The Malicious One". For it was Princess Caroline of Monaco who brought gambling to Monte Carlo in the 19th century, in an attempt to save the hedonistic House of Grimaldi from bankruptcy. The Grimaldi's troubles go back much further than that, however, leading many people to believe that the House of Grimaldi- if not all of Monaco- is cursed.

It all started back in the 13th century when Prince Rainier I allegedly kidnapped and raped a beautiful maiden, who later became a witch--  cursing the prince's family for all eternity. Perhaps the best-known cruel twist of fate for the ruling family took place in 1982, when Princess Grace died of injuries sustained in a car accident. In 1983, Princess Caroline, after ending a tumultuous 2-year marriage to a French playboy, married Stefano Casiraghi, who was killed in a boating accident not long after. In 2005, a day before Prince Ranier died at the age of 81, his son-in-law, Prince Ernst, was admitted to the hospital with a sudden and mysterious illness which nearly claimed his life.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that the Monte Carlo Casino is cursed, but some would say that it's more than just a coincidence that the same casino founded by a princess of Monaco-- founded for the sole purpose of restoring the Grimaldi fortune that had been squandered through centuries of scandal and lavish living-- has such a checkered and bloody past, much like the principality of Monaco itself. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Famous Phantoms of the Sea

(The following is a reprint of an interesting article written by F.H. McLean, which appeared in the Washington Herald on June 2, 1909)

Sailors and fishermen are the most superstitious of men, as they are also the most sensitive to ridicule. On this account it is most difficult to get the old salts to relate the yarns of the ocean. For this reason, also, we on land hear little about the phantom ships and the ghosts of the sea. But on a recent trip along the coast of the British Isles, many legends were related to the writer which also recalled other phantom tales of the sea.
On the various parts of the British coast phantoms of the sea have frequently been seen. Cornwell, in the olden days, was notorious for wreckers, who worked their evil will along the ironbound cliffs. Priest Cove is still believed to be haunted by one of the gentry who, during his lifetime, preyed upon the spoils of ships lured ashore by a false light hung around the neck of a hobbled horse. On stormy nights the wrecker is seen, but now no longer on shore. He clings to a fragment of timber among the waves, and is finally dashed upon the rocks and disappears in the raging breakers.

Among the fishermen of the rugged coast of Kerry the following legend, connected with the fate of wreckers, is told. Early in the eighteenth century, one cold winter morning, a large ship, mastless and deserted, was founf wedged in among the rocks of that deadly coast. The wreckers immediately pushed off, and to their joy found that the galleon was laden with ingots of silver and other rich products of Spanish America. They filled their boats to the water's edge and were pulling back, when a huge tidal wave came rushing up out of the west and instantly swallowed them up. When the wave broke not a sign remained of the boat, men or ship, to the horrified watchers on the shore. The tragedy is said to be re-enacted upon each anniversary of the day.

Of all the ghostly wanderers the "Flying Dutchman" is probably the best known, and his story is the most familiar. The version usually accepted is that Cornelius Vanderdecken, a Dutch sea captain, was on his way home from Batavia when, in trying to round the Cape of Good Hope, he met with baffling head winds, against which he vainly struggled for nine long and weary weeks. At the end of that time, finding that his ship was in exactly the same position as at the beginning, Vanderdecken burst into a fit of impious passion and, falling upon his knees upon the deck, he cursed the deity and swore by heaven and hell that he would round the cape if it took him until the day of judgment. Taken at his word, he was then and there doomed to beat to and fro for all time, and sailors' superstition connects the appearance of his phantom ship with certain and swift disaster.

The present Prince of Wales, while cruising with his late lamented brother on the Bacchante in 1861, was a witness to the appearance of a phantom ship. The apparition has been described in these words:

"On July 11th, at four o'clock in the morning, the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light, as of a phantom ship all aglow in the midst of which light the masts, spars and sails of a brig two hundred yards distant stood up as in strong relief. Thirteen persons in all saw her, but whether it was Van Dieman or the Flying Dutchman, or who else, must remain unknown. The Tourmaline and Cleopatra, which were sailing on our starboard bow, flashed to ask whether we had seen the strange red light."

It is a curious fact that six hours later the able seaman who was the first to sight this terrifying apparition fell from the foretop-mast crosstrees and was killed.

Bernard Fokke

There is another Flying Dutchman in the latitude of Cape Agulhas. This is Bernard Fokke, who lived in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and who was very different from the ordinary type of Hollanders. Fokke was absolutely fearless and reckless and boasted that his vessel could beat any other afloat. He cased her masts in iron and crowded more sails upon her than any ship dared carry to make good his boast. It is on record that he made the trip from Rotterdam to the East Indies in ninety days, a feat which in those days seemed miraculous. In his anxiety to beat even his own record, the story goes that he sold his soul to the Evil One, and Fokke and his ship both disappeared at his life's end. With no other crew than his boatswain, cook and pilot, transported to the scent of his exploits, he is condemned to strive endlessly against heavy gales that ever sweep him back.

The fact remains that whether the phantom ship be that of Vanderdecken or Fokke, nine tenths of all the reported appearances of phantom ships are between the fortieth and fiftieth latitudes. Rarely a year passes without some vessel sighting these ghostly wanderers of the sea. While spectre ships usually hail any vessel which they meet, all sailors believe it the height of bad luck to reply in any way.

The rocky coast of New England is haunted by several ghost ships. The story of the Palatine is a terrible one and her appearance flying down Long Island Sound is generally recognized by coasters and fishermen as a forewarning of a disastrous storm. The Palatine was a Dutch trader which went ashore on Block Island in 1752, lured by false lights exhibited by wreckers. Having stripped her, the wreckers fired her in order to conceal all traces of their crime. As she was lifted by the tide and carried, wrapped in flames, out to sea, shrieks of agony burst forth and a woman, supposedly a passenger who had hidden from the wreckers, appeared on deck amid the crackling blaze. In an instant the deck collapsed and she vanished.

Another phantom ship which is an omen of disaster is the vessel built at New Haven, which sailed on her maiden voyage in January, 1647. The following June, one afternoon there came a furious thunderstorm and after it was over about an hour before dark, the well known ship was sighted sailing into the river mouth-- but straight into the eye of the wind. The shore was soon crowded with people watching her, but while still a mile or more away she slowly vanished. The apparition, it was agreed, signified that the vessel herself had been lost and in fact she was never again heard of. Longfellow's poem, embodying the story, is well known, but one verse may be quoted:

And the masts with all their rigging
Fell slowly one by one;
And the hull dilated and vanished
As a sea-mist in the sun.

The flagship of the fleet sent by Queen Anne against the French still haunts the stormy Gulf of St. Lawrence. Just as the fleet reached Gaspe Bay, a fearful gale rose suddenly and the ships were driven, one after another, on the rocks and dashed to pieces or sank. Under the cliffs of the ill-named Cape d'Espoir, the flagship came to her end, and upon each anniversary of the wreck she appears. Her deck is seen covered with soldiers and from her wide old-fashioned ports, lights shine brightly. Up in the bow stands a scarlet-coated officer, who points to the land with one hand, while the other arm is around the waist of a handsome girl. Suddenly the ship lurches violently, the lights go out, her stern heaves upwards, and screams ring out as she plunges into the gloomy depths and vanishes.

Many of the phantoms of the sea are not easy of explanation and have ever remained a mystery, while others have been elucidated, as for instance the well known phantom ship of Cape Horn. Vessels on their way from Europe to Western America via Cape Horn, have been startles time and time again by the sight of a large ship with decks awash drifting in an almost impossible position beneath the giant cliffs of the Straits of Lemaire. At night or in storms this barque with her towering white sails has indeed a strange appearance. The Crown of Italy, attempting to go to the aid of the supposed derelict, ran upon a reef and was wrecked, and several other vessels met a like fate. At the request of the United States, the Argentine government sent a steamer to investigate. It was found that the supposed phantom was nothing but a rock, which by a freak of nature was white instead of black like those surrounding it, and bore the most startling likeness to a ship with sails set and deck just level with the waves.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The strange tale of a haunted staircase

Blake Hall, Mirfield, West Yorkshire

Built in 1745, Blake Hall was one of the most breathtaking homes in the West Yorkshire town of Mirfield until it was torn down in 1954. From old photos, one can easily imagine garden parties and games of croquet taking place on the expansive lawns. In the spring of 1839 the Ingham family, who lived at Blake Hall at the time, hired a 19-year-old governess to raise the Ingham children. That governess, Anne Brontë, fictionalized her experience at Blake Hall in her novel, Agnes Grey.

The most impressive feature of the mansion was the Queen Anne staircase, hand-carved from rare burled yew. After being salvaged prior to the demolition of Blake Hall in 1954, the staircase was purchased by an antique dealer. A few years later, Gladys Topping and her husband Allen were in London, browsing the Kensington Antique Fair to find furnishings for their Beach Lane home in Quogue, Long Island when they met the dealer who possessed the exquisite staircase. The Toppings dove 50 miles to the dealer's warehouse, where they saw the Queen Anne staircase and fell in love with it. The Toppings has the staircase shipped to their newly-built home in Long Island where it was immediately installed.
But then, about four years later, strange things began to happen.

On September 3, 1962, Gladys Topping was sitting in the second-floor bedroom, alone in deep meditation. Her husband died the previous April, but before he died he had given Gladys a Doberman pinscher puppy, whom Gladys adored. Shortly after sunset, Gladys heard footsteps on the stairs and the dog went off to investigate. She found the dog, hackles up, growling down the stairs. When Gladys looked to see what the Doberman was growling at, she saw the figure of a young woman ascending the stairs, dressed in a long, full skirt. The dog backed away in fright as the figure continued to climb the stairs, but the ghost then vanished.

Even though the ghost never again appeared, Gladys Topping claims to have heard it on numerous occasions- always on the staircase. Could it have been the ghost of Anne Brontë? Gladys thought so. "Anne- if it is indeed Anne- apparently doesn not wish to reveal herself anymore," Mrs. Topping told a newspaper reporter in September of 1966. "She seems content just going up and down the stairs."

Read the 1966 newspaper article about the haunted staircase here

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ghost hits man in head with potato!

Back in 1957, Canada was abuzz over the "Dagg Ghost", which supposedly haunted the 19th century homestead of George Dagg in Shawville. After CBC aired a television program about the ghost, the Dagg farm received hundreds of visitors per day. The April 9, 1957 edition of the Ottawa Citizen devoted an entire page to the Dagg ghost, who seemingly was fond at throwing potatoes at peoples heads. 
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