matrimonial bargains

Mary Blandy was a female murderer in 18th century England. In 1914 William Roughead, who appears to be the Truman Capote of his day wrote of her trial for the killing of her father

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“Mr. Blandy, business-like in all things, wanted full value for his money; as none of Mary’s local conquests appeared to promise him an adequate return, he and his wife and daughter spent a season at Bath, then the great market-place of matrimonial bargains.

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The first suitor to appear with matrimonial intent was a thriving young apothecary, but Mr. Blandy quickly made it plain that Mary and her £10,000 dowry were not to be had by any drug-compounding knave who might make sheep’s eyes at her, and the apothecary returned to his gallipots for healing of his bruised affections.

Japanese gallipots found here

Dining with her parents in the summer of 1746, Mary Blandy encountered her fate. Among the guests was one Captain the Hon. William Henry Cranstoun, a soldier and a Scot, whose appearance, according to a diurnal writer, was unprepossessing. “In his person he is remarkably ordinary, his stature is low, his face freckled and pitted with the smallpox, his eyes small and weak, his eyebrows sandy, and his shape no ways genteel; his legs are clumsy, and he has nothing in the least elegant in his manner.” The moral attributes of this ugly little fellow were only less attractive than his physical imperfections. “He has a turn for gallantry, but Nature has denied him the proper gifts.” He was at this time thirty-two years of age, and, as the phrase goes, a man of pleasure.

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Mr Blandy found to his surprise and joy that the little lieutenant, with his courtesy style of captain, was no less a person than the son of a Scots peer. As a very much “younger” son, he probably had little more than his pay and a fine assortment of debts. But for Mr Blandy it was a chance to marry his daughter to a man who called the daughter of an Earl grandmother, and could claim kinship with half the aristocracy of Scotland.

Scottish slippers found here

Cranstoun, formally proposing to the old folks for their daughter’s hand, was well received.  The mother enjoyed for the first time the company and conversation of a man of fashion, and Mary felt amid the Henley meadows paradisiacal experiences with her beau. But her happiness received an unexpected check when her father was told the amazing news that his daughter’s lover already had a wife and child living in Scotland.

The old attorney was justly incensed at the unworthy trick of which he had been the victim. In all the majesty of outraged fatherhood, he sought an interview with his treacherous guest. That gentleman, whose acquaintance with “tight corners” was extensive and peculiar, rose gallantly to the occasion.

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Mr. Blandy, accepting his guest’s denial, allowed the engagement to continue in the meantime, until the result of legal proceedings should be known. He was as loath to forego the chance of such an aristocratic connection as was his wife to part from so “genteel” a friend; while Mary Blandy–well, the damsels of her day were not morbidly nice in such matters, more than once had the nuptial cup eluded her expectant lips, she was nearing her thirtieth year: such an opportunity might not occur again.

nuptial cup found here

We hear nothing further of their doings until Thursday, 28th September 1749, when Mrs. Blandy became seriously ill. The complaint of which Mrs. Blandy died was, as appears, intestinal inflammation, but, as we shall see later, her daughter was popularly believed to have poisoned her. 

Francis Blandy was much affected by the loss of his wife. At first he seems to have raised no objection to Cranstoun’s constant presence in the house, but soon Mary had to complain of the “unkind things” which her father said both to her lover and herself. 

Miss Blandy states that, apropos to her father’s unpropitious attitude, her lover acquainted her of the great skill of the famous Mrs. Morgan, a cunning woman in Scotland, from whom he had received a certain love powder. Mary said she had no faith in such things, but Cranstoun assured her of its efficacy, having once taken some himself, and immediately forgiven a friend to whom he had intended never to speak again. “If I had any of these powders,” said he, “I would put them into something Mr. Blandy should drink.” Such is Mary’s account of the inception of the design upon her father’s love–or life.

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One morning, Mary states, Cranstoun put some of the magic powder in the old gentleman’s tea. Mr. Blandy, who at breakfast had been very cross, appeared at dinner in the best of humours, and continued so all the time Mr. Cranstoun stayed with him. After this, who could doubt the beneficent efficacy of the wise woman’s drug?

A day or two afterwards, when Cranstoun was out, Mary, so far anticipating her wifely duties, entered his room in order to collect his things for the wash. She found more “dirty linen” than she expected. In an unlocked trunk was a letter of recent date, addressed to the gallant captain by a lady then enjoying his protection in town. Even Miss Blandy’s robust affection was not, for the moment, able to overlook a treachery so base. A disgusting scene ensued. For two hours the wretched little captain wept and raved, imploring her forgiveness. On his knees, clinging to the skirts of her gown, he swore he would not live unless she pardoned his offence. Mary foolishly yielded.

Begging monkeys found here

From about that date Francis Blandy’s health began to fail. He was in the sixty-second year of his age, and he suffered the combined assault of gout, gravel, and heartburn. He ordered Mary to write to Cranstoun telling him on no account to show his face until his matrimonial difficulties were “quite decided.”

But if Miss Blandy were to secure a husband and Cranstoun lay hands upon her £10,000, some step must be taken. Both knew that while his wife lived Cranstoun could never marry Mary. At any moment her father might learn the truth and alter the disposition of his fortune. That they openly agreed to remove by murder the obstacle to their mutual desires is unlikely. Cranstoun, as appears from all the circumstances, was the instigator of the plot; probably nothing more definite was said between them than that the “love powder” would counteract the old man’s opposition; but from her subsequent conduct, it is unlikely that Mary acted in ignorance of the true purpose of the prescription.

In April, she received from her lover a letter informing her that he had seen his old friend Mrs. Morgan, who was to oblige him with a fresh supply of her proprietary article, which he would send along with some “Scotch pebbles” for his betrothed’s acceptance. “Ornaments of Scotch pebbles,” says Lady Russell, “were the extreme of fashion in the year 1750.” Mary consented to give the love philtre a fair trial.

Scotch pebble cross found here

Miss Blandy was seen by the maids at mid-day stirring gruel with a spoon in the pantry. On Tuesday Mr. Blandy had become seriously ill in the night, with symptoms of violent pain, vomiting, and purging. The strange circumstances attending this gruel aroused the maids’ suspicions. They examined the contents of the pan and found a white, gritty “settlement” at the bottom. They prudently put the pan in a locked closet overnight. Next day Susan sent for Mr. Norton, the apothecary, who removed it for examination.

apothecary shower curtain found here

Dr. Addington arrived at midnight. From the condition of the patient, coupled with what he learned from him and Mr. Norton, there was no doubt Mr. Blandy was suffering from the effects of poison. Mary was that evening confined to her chamber and a guard was placed outside.

The person charged with the duty of warding Mary in her chamber was Edward Herne, parish clerk of Henley. Next morning, Ned Herne leaving his fair charge unguarded, went off to dig a grave for her now dead father. As soon as the coast was clear, Mary, with “nothing on but a half-sack and petticoat without a hoop,” ran out into the street and over Henley bridge, in a last wild attempt to cheat her fate.

Henley Bridge found here

She was quickly recaptured and removed to Oxford Castle. At first, we are told, “her imprisonment was indeed rather like a retirement from the world than the confinement of a criminal.” She had her maid to attend her, the best apartments in the keeper’s house were placed at her disposal, she drank tea twice a day, walked at her pleasure in the keeper’s garden, and of an evening enjoyed her game of cards.

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Then a rumour reached the authorities in London that a scheme was afoot to effect her rescue. The Sheriff of the county was instructed “to take more particular care of her,” the felon’s fetters were riveted upon her slender ankles; and there was an end to the daily walks amid the pleasant alleys of the keeper’s garden.

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Mary Blandy’s trial lasted thirteen hours. The Crown case clearly established the fact that arsenic was the cause of Mr. Blandy’s death. Mary was found guilty and condemned to hang.

As she was climbing the fatal ladder, covered, for the occasion, with black cloth, she stopped, and addressing the celebrants of that grim ritual, “Gentlemen,” said she, “do not hang me high, for the sake of decency.” 

The reader may care to know what became of Cranstoun. That “unspeakable Scot,” it has regretfully to be recorded, was never made amenable to earthly justice. He was, indeed, the subject of at least four biographies, but human retribution followed him no further.

a milkman, an artist and a winkle boiler

During the second world war, conscientious objectors  were allowed to choose non combative roles such as ambulance drivers and orderlies. Some also opted to be “human guinea pigs” in medical trials.

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“In early 1941, a dozen male volunteers arrived, suitcases in hand, at the Sorby Institute, a research facility in Sheffield, Yorkshire. They included a milkman, an artist, a maths teacher, a ladies’ hairdresser and a winkle boiler. They were destined to spend the war years allowing themselves to be infected with scabies, undergoing lengthy periods of vitamin deprivation, and taking part in potentially dangerous investigations into how long the body could cope without water.

milko found here

Scabies infestation, or ‘the itch’, then affected about two million Britons. At the time there was no effective cure. In a flash of inspiration, Major Kenneth Mellanby CBE, saw a well of available ‘volunteers’ on whom non-life-threatening experiments could be carried out, fitting in with their pacifism.

He shipped in army bedding previously used by those with scabies, and the volunteers slept naked between the sheets. Others were given unwashed underpants that they wore for a week at a time. Nothing happened.

At a lecture to military officers, Mellanby stated that scabies was contracted by picking up a young adult female which caused the audience to erupt with laughter. He meant a female mite, but the gaffe made him wonder if infected women could be hired to sleep with the volunteers. Would experimental adultery look good in the scientific report?

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Fortunately, before any women were enlisted two volunteers became infected; the combination of close contact and infected underwear had done the trick.

The volunteers had to remain infested for nine months, which must have been a relentless ordeal. Some wandered the corridors naked in the cold air to mollify the itch, probably wondering if life under fire in the Western Desert would not have been easier.

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Treatment started with scalding baths and vigorous scrubbing, followed by a coating of sulphur ointment. The most effective treatment proved to be painting the entire body, except the head, with benzyl benzoate. 

To keep up morale, pacifist meetings were held and allotments maintained. A mock coat of arms was devised depicting a sarcoptes mite atop the motto ‘Itch Dien’.

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Dietary experiments were also carried out, and the effects of vitamin A deprivation were logged. This task required participants to deliver every bowel movement to the lab. In 1943 one final, even more controversial, experiment was undertaken. Aimed at establishing the life expectancy of shipwrecked sailors, it required volunteers to go without water for up to five days. Only lifeboat rations, such as chocolate and dried meat, were allowed.

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The Sorby Institute closed its doors in 1946. Many of the recruits remained until the end, enjoying a kind of macabre bond. A jokey newsletter was produced to help people remain in contact and recount tales of the bizarre years they spent together. Some of the recruits also wrote this poem:

Recondite research on a mite

Has revealed that infections begin

On leave with your wife and your children

Or when you are living in sin.

Except in the case of the clergy,

Who accomplish remarkable feats,

And catch scabies and crabs

From door handles and cabs,

And from blankets and lavatory seats.

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how do you rate your pain sir?

Entomologist Justin Schmidt has developed a pain scale for stings.

Justin Schmidt found here

1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.

1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.

light switch found here

1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.

2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.

2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

Read about W C Fields’ ghost here

2.x Honey bee and European hornet: Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.

3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.

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3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

4.0 Tarantula hawk: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.

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4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.

And a couple more insect related stories to liven up your day.

In one horrific case in southern Africa, a man was attacked so relentlessly by honeybees that he had to jump into a river and hide beneath the surface. The bees continued to sting him every time he came up to breathe. The swarm was so dense he had to suck bees into his mouth and chew them to get any air. The attack went on for four hours, producing diarrhea, among other systemic effects, so that he was passing bees out one end while still ingesting them at the other. Finally, nightfall drew the bees back to their hive, and the victim dragged himself ashore. His face was literally black with embedded stings, and his hair was matted with dead bees. The doctors who treated him over the next few days counted 2,243 stings.

Stinging, says Schmidt, is a far more complex and paradoxical business than we might think. For instance, harvester ants, found from California to Florida, possess painful venom. In fact, one North American species has what Schmidt calls “the world’s most lethal arthropod venom.” And yet harvester ants are what American parents give the kids to play with almost every time they buy an ant farm. Luckily, these ants happen to be ideally suited for life in a plastic box, and they are so unaggressive that there’s little chance a child will suffer even a single sting, much less the hundreds needed to cause death.

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Published in: on November 25, 2011 at 8:36 pm  Comments (56)  
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the debauched grandfather

On 4 July 1862, the maid at the prosperous Fleming household at Sandyford Place was brutally murdered.

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The Sandyford Mystery had two unlikely suspects, a debauched grandfather and a sailor’s wife. Old James Fleming lived with the corpse for three days while his family summered at their coastal villa. When investigators eventually arrived, they found that Jessie McLachlan, a twenty-eight-year-old mother who was a friend of the maid and a former employee at the house, had left three bloody footprints behind.

Grandfather Kirk found here

Old Fleming, who at eighty-seven was a hunched and balding figure with sideburns and a hooked nose, was a rustic who had turned to textile manufacturing. His son had “intimate” ties to the chief investigator. While that must have augured well for the elder Fleming, who collected rents for his son and attended church twice the Sunday after the murder, he also had Scottish law on his side. Scots Law is perhaps most famous for its third courtroom verdict—besides “guilty” or “not guilty” a jury may declare “not proven” and set a suspect free.

knives seized in Scottish courts found here

Even if all parties to a murder shared equal guilt, a suspect turned prosecution witness was guaranteed total immunity. In the end, Old Fleming was made legally white as snow: once a prime suspect with blood spattered on his nightshirt, the old man became the Crown’s chief witness in the murder trial of the hapless Mrs. McLachlan.

Witness for the Prosecution found here

Dozens of witnesses testified; floorboards with a bloody footprint, ripped up as evidence, were displayed before a rapt audience of fashionable ladies, reporters and city officials. McLachlan sat stoical in her white straw bonnet with ribbons and veil, her hands tucked under a black woolen shawl.

black shawl found here

Adam Gifford, gowned and bewigged advocate-deputy for the Crown, said to the jury “It will be my duty to ask a verdict against the prisoner, “Is the prisoner guilty or is she not guilty? Not, had she confederates?” While Old Fleming was indeed under “the gravest possible suspicion,” a crime by multiple parties was not at issue. “If guilt be brought home to one, it will not be enough to say, ‘Somebody else had a share in it.’”

“Lawyer’s Wig” mushrooms found here

The jury took fifteen minutes to find McLachlan guilty. Although the verdict was dramatic enough, next came “one of the greatest sensations in Scottish legal history.” Lord Deas, a judge known as Lord Death for his willingness to hang, allowed McLachlan a final statement. She stood in the dock, lifted her veil, and requested to have it read. For the next forty minutes, her lawyer told her story “amid the breathless attention of the court.”

On the night of the murder, she had visited her friend Jess McPherson. She found Jess in the downstairs kitchen with a drunken Fleming. His whiskey jug had run dry. He asked McLachlan to replenish it at a local pub. When she returned, Jess was lying in her bedroom moaning. She had resisted the drunkard’s advances, and now she had cuts about her face and there was a “large quantity of blood on the floor.”

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McLachlan begged to go for a doctor, but Fleming made her swear secrecy on a Bible. In return “he would make her comfortable all her life.” She again began to leave, but hearing a noise in the kitchen rushed back to see “the old man striking” the maid with a “meat chopper.” Fleming cornered her: “If you tell you know about her death you will be taken in for it as well as me.” Dawn had arrived, and before she left, Fleming gave her a few pounds of hush money and silverware to pawn. It was to look like a robbery.

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Lord Deas was unmoved, his mind having not “a shadow of suspicion” about Old Fleming. He put on his black cap and sentenced McLachlan to hang, directing that until then she live on bread and water and asking that God have mercy on her soul.

McLachlan’s eleventh-hour account in the courtroom hit the presses and galvanized the nation. Fifty thousand Glaswegians signed a petition. Old Fleming was so harassed that he fled to the villa. His family moved away from the city. Finally, new evidence put the verdict in limbo “until further significance of Her Majesty’s pleasure.” The queen’s pleasure was to commute the death sentence. In the fall of 1862, Mrs. McLachlan walked through the gloomy gates of Her Majesty’s General Prison at Perth for a “life” imprisonment, which meant fifteen years in those days. She was released in 1877.

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Published in: on November 24, 2011 at 7:35 am  Comments (48)  
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flying a kite

A Letter to The Times from the Reverend Wilfred A Tighe:

“Sir, Aeroplanists should keep their eyes skinned for agents other than human at the earth end of a kite string. I have seen a horse flying a kite.

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It was in Hong Kong twenty years ago. The kite swooped into a paddock where horses grazed: the string snapped, leaving perhaps 30 feet of its length still attached to the frame work: the free end fell across the rump of a horse: a twitch of the tail secured (mysteriously) the string; the animal moved, felt the drag, moved faster, became frightened, began to gallop – and the kite rose and soared beautifully and in partnership with its flier round and round the paddock for almost a minute.

Alexander Graham Bell’s Horse Kite found here

Three others saw this with me; they are all alive today. For the benefit of the unkindly suspicious, this equine feat was observed during the last of three hard sets of tennis and more than two hours after a very light lunch.”

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Published in: on November 22, 2011 at 6:54 am  Comments (37)  
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his grandfather sold lemons

André-Gustave Citroën (1878 – 1935) was a French industrialist. He is remembered chiefly for the make of car named after him, but also for his application of double helical gears.

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The Citroen family moved to Paris from Amsterdam in 1873. Upon arrival, the diaeresis was added to the name, changing Citroen to Citroën (a grandfather had sold lemons, and had changed the consequent name Limoenman “lime man” to Citroen (Dutch for “lemon”)). 

make a battery with a lemon, nail and penny here

Andre’s early childhood was comfortable but sadly due to some complex diamond dealings which went wrong, his father committed suicide in 1884 when Andre was only six.

Andre was a megalomaniac who loved making banquet speeches. Once he gave one in London in English, a language he did not speak; he had had his remarks translated and had memorized them. Nobody understood a word.

Another time he was about to read a speech that was to be broadcast all over France, and he said, “Oh let’s tell funny stories instead“. He was immediately taken off the air.

When he crossed the Spanish border on a motor trip, he was stopped by a customs officer, who asked “Name?” “Citroën,” he replied. “I didn’t ask the car’s name but yours,” said the officer. “Oh,” said the manufacturer, “I’m a Citroën, but it’s an Hispano.”

Hispano found here

He was a master of marketing. He promoted his plant to tourists as “the most beautiful in Europe.” When American pilot Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris in May 1927 after the first solo flight across the Atlantic, he threw a party at the plant. He rented the Eiffel Tower and had his name put up in 125,000 lights: “Citroen” shined over Paris. 

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All that glitter came to an end in 1934. Citroen had amassed massive debts over the years. His largest creditor was the tire maker Michelin, and in 1934 Michelin took over the plant, cut costs and switched off the lights in the Eiffel tower.

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Published in: on November 20, 2011 at 9:03 am  Comments (57)  
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his defence was somnambulism

Recently I read Wisconsin Death Trip, a collection of late 19th century photographs by Jackson County photographer Charles Van Schaick, mostly in the city of Black River Falls, and local news reports from the same period. This is an extract of some of the text that accompanied the incredible photographs

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“Harry Davis, coloured, was convicted of burglary at Oshkosh. His defence was somnambulism.

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Christ Wold, a farmer near Poskin Lake, committed suicide by deliberately blowing off his head with dynamite. He put a quantity of explosive in a hole in the ground, laid his head over it and touched off the fuse.

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Henry Ehlers, a Milwaukee butcher, died from nosebleed. His nose had been bleeding for 9 days. He was 37 years old and had been a great meat eater.

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Mrs Johanna Soll of Fond du Lac, who had been an invalid for some years, recently expelled a big frog from her stomach. Her young son was with her at the time and his story is corroborated by the family physician.

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John Pabelowski, a 16 year old boy of Stevens Point, was made idiotic by the use of tobacco.

At Marquette, Mrs Nesbitt, a well known church worker, and Miss Kaufman, both having horsewhips, attacked a welder named Edward Patten, while he was at work in the Stevens factory. They claim that Patten had been slandering them.

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Mr G Drinkwine, father of Miss Lillian Drinkwine, who committed suicide a few days ago, attempted suicide at Sparta. He swallowed a large quantity of cigar stubs.

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Jack the Hugger, or James Moore who for more than 10 years has followed the occupation of waylaying lone women after sundown and hugging them then disappearing before assistance could reach them was caught and taken to the office of Mayor Hoskins. There after a rigid examination he admitted he had committed the offences of which he was charged. On the advice of the Chief of Police, he drew his final pay check and left for the north.

just like a chocolate milkshake only crunchy

We’ve written about eating insects already at the Gimcrack but now that I’ve discovered The Food Insects Newsletter, I see there’s lots more to talk about

Buy the book here

“According to Dick Reavis, one restaurant providing this kind of fare is Don Chon’s in Mexico City, “a back-street landmark for rustics and adventurous connoisseurs. The owner, Leopoldo Ortega, notes that back in the fifties, the restaurant was mainly patronized by the vendors who came from the countryside. Because pre Hispanic food has become relatively expensive, tourists and people with bohemian tastes now outnumber the country folk. A plate of red agave worms is priced at 30,000 pesos or about $11, nearly two times the daily wage of most Mexicans. Reavis also tried a side dish of live worms and describes the indelicate maneuvers required to remove one when it bit him.

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Reavis concludes his article with the following paragraph: “In my opinion, the finest delicacy at Don Chon’s is escamoles in green sauce, sprinkled with diced onion and bits of cilantro. Escamoles are the larvae of black ants. When boiled, they look like cottage cheese. Rank amateurs scoop them up with a spoon, and ordinary Mexicans with a corn tortilla But the blase know, and the bold quickly see, that a torta de ahuatli – a wafer made of batter and the eggs of a swamp fly – does the trick in higher style. The season for escamoles is in the spring. By then, Don Chon’s will also be serving white worms as big as your fingers. I don’t know if they bite, but take my advice:” They’re tasty when toasted, but I wouldn’t eat them alive.”  

Escamoles found here

The eggs of water bugs are toasted, ground up and made into little cakes held together with turkey egg. In the late 18th Century, they were apparently a garnish for the festive dish called revoltijo, served on Christmas Eve. Other insects still eaten include locusts, which can be eaten raw, roasted, fried, jellied and mashed, and are a seductive combination of a crisp exterior and a creamy filling; mountain chinch bugs, eaten toasted or living; oak-boring beetles which are popular as snacks among Mixtec peasants; ant larvae and pupae; and wasps.

Edible locust farm found here

For those of you who turn up your nose at the idea of eating insects, the Food and Drug Administration have published a booklet listing the allowable percentages of “natural contaminants” in processed foods.

CHOCOLATE AND CHOCOLATE LIQUOR

Insect filth: Average is 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams when 6 100-gram subsamples are examined OR any 1 subsample contains 90 or more insect fragments

Chocolate Wine found here

 Rodent filth: Average is 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams in 6 100-gram subsamples examined OR any 1 subsample contains 3 or more rodent hairs

CITRUS FRUIT JUICES, CANNED

Insects and insect eggs: 5 or more Drosophila and other fly eggs per 250 ml or 1 or more maggots per 250 ml

RED FISH AND OCEAN PERCH

Parasites: 3% of the fillets examined contain 1 or more parasites accompanied by pus pockets

MACARONI AND NOODLE PRODUCTS

Insect filth: Average of 225 insect fragments or more per 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples

Rodent filth: Average of 4.5 rodent hairs or more per 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples

Noodle chair found here

 PEANUT BUTTER

Insect filth: Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams

Rodent filth: Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams

Peanut Butter Mice found here

Published in: on November 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm  Comments (66)  
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August and everything after

August Karl Gustav Bier (November 1861 – March 1949) was a German surgeon who pioneered the “Bier Block”.

August Bier found here

In 1898 he invented spinal anaesthesia, which involved a small dose of cocaine being injected into the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the spinal cord. That was a great improvement on existing methods of general anaesthesia, but how effective was it?

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To find out, Bier decided to be anaesthetised himself. But things didn’t go as planned for Bier – or for his hapless assistant, Augustus Hildebrandt.

Hildebrandt was supposed to administer the cocaine but, thanks to a mix-up with the equipment, Bier was left with a hole in his neck from which cerebrospinal fluid began to flow.

Rather than abandon the effort, however, the two men switched places. Once Hildebrandt had been anaesthetized, Bier stabbed, hammered and burned his assistant, pulled out his pubic hairs and – presumably eager to leave no stone unturned in testing the new method’s efficiency – squashed his testicles.

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Once the cocaine had worn off, the pair went out for a boozy dinner, despite their injuries. Both suffered terribly in subsequent days but, while Bier took it easy as he recovered, Hildebrandt had to stand in for his boss at work.

Bier went down in medical history while Hildebrandt is mainly remembered as the man whose testicles he tugged.

Betty and Lord Tod

Marion Barbara Carstairs, usually called Betty, was a wealthy British power boat racer known for her speed and her eccentric lifestyle. She was born in 1900 in London.

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Her mother, Frances, an alcoholic American heiress, later divorced Betty’s father and married Captain Francis Francis, with whom she had two more children, Evelyn Francis and Francis Francis Jr. Her last husband was the French surgeon Serge Voronoff. Here at the Gimcrack we love Voronoff so much he merits not one but two posts of his own.

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During World War I, Carstairs served in France with the Red Cross, driving ambulances. After the war, she served with the Royal Army Service Corps in France and later, in 1920, she and a group of friends started the ‘X Garage’, a chauffeuring service that featured a women-only staff of drivers.

image (guess who?) found here

Carstairs lived a colorful life. She usually dressed as a man, had tattooed arms, and loved machines, adventure and speed. Openly lesbian, she had numerous affairs with women, including Dolly Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s niece, and a string of actresses, most notably Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich. Carstairs married once, to a French Count in 1918 so as to gain access to her trust fund, independent of her mother. After her mother’s death the marriage was immediately annulled on the grounds of non-consummation.

Dolly Wilde found here

In 1925, she purchased a motorboat after inheriting a fortune through her mother and grandmother from Standard Oil. She was also given a Steiff doll by a girlfriend and christened him Lord Tod Wadley. She was extremely attached to this, keeping it with her until her death, although—unlike Donald Campbell’s mascot ‘Mr Whoppit’—she didn’t take it into her speedboats for fear of losing it. Between 1925 and 1930, Carstairs spent considerable time in powerboats, becoming a very successful racer, although the Harmsworth Trophy she longed for always eluded her. She did take the Duke of York’s trophy and establish herself as the fastest woman on water.

Betty and Lord Tod found here

Carstairs was also known for her generosity to her friends. She was close to several male racing drivers and land speed record competitors, using her considerable wealth to assist them. She invested $40,000 purchasing the island of Whale Cay in the Bahamas, where she lavishly entertained such guests as Marlene Dietrich, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. She not only constructed a great house for herself and her friends, but also a lighthouse, school, church, and cannery.

Marlene found here

Published in: on November 11, 2011 at 7:33 am  Comments (47)  
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