circumambulator of the globe

John “Walking” Stewart (1747 – 1822) was an English traveller and philosopher.

image found here

He’d shipped out to Madras as a young clerk for the East India Company in 1763, only to decide that – as he announced brusquely in a resignation letter – “he was born for nobler pursuits than to be a copier of invoices to a company of grocers, haberdashers and cheese mongers“. 

image found here

And he was right: joining an Indian prince as a secretary, he rose through the ranks to become an army general and a chief minister for the Nabob of Arcot – before  throwing it all over to walk alone across Persia, Abyssinia, Arabia and Africa before wandering into every European country as far east as Russia.

Nabob of Arcot found here

When he reached London he was dubbed by the incredulous press “Walking Stewart”. Never was there a more apt name; for he later hiked through Lapland and down into central Asia, and after sailing to New York walked all the way down to Paraguay. 

Paraguayan pineapple found here

He wouldn’t talk of his fabulous travels; instead he was always distributing bizarre pamphlets he’d privately printed, bearing titles like “The Roll of a Tennis Ball Through the Moral World“. Stewart’s works exhibit a naive arrogance, frequently asserting that their author is the “only child of nature” to have ever lived.

Vintage Child of Nature found here

The few who could read past their strange diction and publication date – for Stewart had invented his own calendar – found all sorts of curious ideas inside. He saw nothing wrong with prostitution, and considered it a typical city business like lamp lighting or driving a taxi, indeed, he saw little wrong with sex, and believed that there should be promiscuous intercourse so that the population might not become redundant.

unusual calendars found here

Stewart had a notion of preserving his pamphlets for posterity. He asked that his readers, when done reading him, bury his books in their gardens at a depth of seven or eight feet. They were to tell no one else of the location; but on their deathbeds they were to breathe the secret to a trusted few. These fellows would keep the burial place secret until their own deathbeds years later, and would communicate it again – down through the centuries, a secret society of philosophers passing down the sacred memory of the location of Stewart’s writings. 

buried books found here

But it occurred to him that his works might eventually prove unreadable because the English language might one day molder away. Thereupon he decided that first his readers should translate the works into Latin and then bury them. 

After retiring from travelling, Stewart eventually settled in London where he held philosophical soirées and earned a reputation as one of the city’s celebrated eccentrics. He was often seen in public wearing a threadbare Armenian military uniform—a souvenir, one assumes, from his many adventures.

Armenian children in army uniforms found here

Published in: on January 22, 2012 at 7:58 am  Comments (48)  
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Love, Hermann

Hermann Schmidt took the time to scribble his will on a wall beside his bed just before he died.

Herman Munster tattoo found here

“Yesterday, the 18 inch square section of pink painted wall was cut out and filed for probate in Philadelphia. Schmidt, a 49 year old German immigrant, left his $12,000 estate to his belly dancer fiancee, Genevieve Decker.

NOT this Genevieve found here

His last scribbled words were: “Genevieve, you take care of all my belongings. This gives you the authority. Love, Hermann.”

An earlier message gave the name and address of his doctor but it was too late for it to be of any use. Schmidt, a glass polisher, was already dead when police broke into his modest, two storey home.

NOT this modest two story home found here

Published in: on January 12, 2012 at 7:37 am  Comments (49)  
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pinko solves another case

Allan Pinkerton published several accounts of the many real robberies and murders solved by Pinkerton Agencies. This is one of them.

Pinkerton and Lincoln found here

The circumstances of the case were, in brief, that George Gordon, the teller, had been brutally murdered in the bank, and over one hundred and thirty thousand dollars had been stolen. 

George was in the habit of remaining behind after office hours to write up his books. Occasionally customers would come to the bank after the regular hours, and George would accommodate them. 

His body was found lying near the vault door. A one hundred dollar bill of the Planter’s Bank of Georgia was found in his hand. It was clutched tightly, and he had fallen on his side so the murderer had not noticed it. The fireplace showed that clothing had recently been burned in it and several buttons were found in the ashes.

image found here

A piece of paper twisted up and charred at one end indicated that it had been used to light the fire in the grate. On unrolling it carefully, it proved to be a fragment of a note for $927.78; part of the date, and the amount of the note were left uncharred. The signature was that of Alexander P. Drysdale, the esteemed county clerk.

A fragment of paper, about three by six inches in size, stained a brownish red by Gordon’s blood, was also found beneath the body. Under the stain were visible the pen marks of the murdered man. A number of figures on one side were arranged like examples in addition. The numbers were $927.78, and $324.22. One of them was the amount of the half burned note of Drysdale; the other was the amount of his current bank balance.

learn how to make blood spatters here

Pinkerton immediately suspected Drysdale of committing the murder and set about proving it thus:

I sent for Timothy Webster, one of my most expert detectives, to whom I gave full charge of the case and instructed him in the plan I had arranged. Mrs. Kate Warne and a young man named Green were assigned to assist Webster, and all the necessary disguises and clothing were prepared at short notice.

Detective Kate Warne found here

Timothy Webster, as John Andrews, and Kate Warne, as Mrs Potter, then arrived in town several days apart, booking into a local hotel. “John Andrews” struck up a business relationship with Drysdale while “Mrs Potter” wangled an introduction to Drysdale’s wife. In the meantime, young Mr Green also came to town and found work with a local cabinet maker.

kitchen cabinets found here

Over a period of several days, “John Andrews” and Drysdale spent much time together, inspecting plantations and hunting.

“It was early dusk when they reached the banks of Rocky Creek, about a mile from Drysdale’s house. Having paused an instant, Andrews spurred his horse forward just as Drysdale uttered an exclamation of horror. As he came up, he saw that Drysdale had stopped and was holding his reins in a convulsive grasp; all color was gone from his face, and he was trembling violently.

Rocky Creek Bridge, Big Sur, found here

At a distance of about fifty yards the figure of a young man was moving down the slope. He walked slowly on, with a measured pace, turning his eyes neither to the right nor left. His course was parallel to the direction of the road, and only his profile could be seen. He wore a business suit of light gray clothes and his curly hair was tossed lightly by the evening breeze. As he moved further away, the back of his head was directly exposed, presenting a most ghastly sight. The thick brown locks were matted together in a mass of gore, and large drops of blood slowly trickled down upon his coat; the whole back of the skull seemed to be crushed in, while the deadly pallor of his face gave him the appearance of a corpse.

walking corpse makeup found here

Drysdale seemed to rally his faculties a moment and shouted in hoarse tones: “Say! you, sir! Who are you, and where are you going?” The figure continued its course without indicating that he had heard the hail. “What in the devil has got into you, Drysdale?” asked Andrews. “God help me,” muttered Drysdale, as the figure disappeared in the woods, “it must have been a ghost.”

ghost girl by Mark Ryden found here

The following week, Mrs. Potter set out for a horseback ride. She faked a fall near Drysdale’s house and was taken there to recuperate for a few days. During this time, large amounts of blood were seen on the stairs to the house and around the front door. Then Drysdale and Andrews went out riding again….

On reaching the spot where Drysdale had seen the ghost before, he kept close to Andrews’ side, and endeavored to appear unconcerned. Suddenly, he grasped Andrews by the arm and with a faint groan said:

“Look! look! for God’s sake, tell me, don’t you see it?” As he spoke, he pointed toward the same ghastly object which he had seen before. There passed the image of the murdered George Gordon. “I tell you, my dear fellow,” replied Andrews earnestly, “that you are laboring under a most unpleasant hallucination. There is absolutely no person, or any moving object in sight, except you and me.”

image found here

That evening Mrs Potter again managed to surreptitiously scatter blood up the front walk, in the hall, and even, by slipping into Drysdale’s room, leave crimson drops on his pillow.

Drysdale was now confined to his bed, and he would see no one except his wife and Andrews. He insisted that he was not sick, but only run down by overwork, and refused to have a doctor. Andrews’ influence over him was greater than that of any one else, and it was plain that the latter had completely secured his confidence. Pinkerton felt convinced that Drysdale would surely confess in a short time.

image found here

A few nights later Mrs. Potter heard footsteps and saw Drysdale pass her window on the veranda. He was dressed in slippers and night-dress, and his actions were so strange that she determined to follow him. He walked rapidly to the creek then he paused a few minutes, as if reflecting. This enabled Mrs. Potter to hide herself nearby so she could watch him more carefully. She saw him walk into the creek at a shallow spot, where he stopped and leaned over with his hands in the water, as if he were feeling for something. A few minutes later he walked out of the stream and crossed a footbridge leading toward his house.

image found here

Neither Mrs. Potter, nor Mr. Andrews could imagine what Drysdale’s object was in making his pilgrimage to the creek at that time of night. Pinkerton was equally puzzled and instructed Green to watch the house every night, dressed in his apparition suit.

Rolls Royce Apparition “concept car” found here

Green kept up his vigil for over a week, and he began to think there was no use in it. One night, however, as he lay behind a bush, he became aware of a white figure gliding noiselessly by him. He immediately followed and noted its every movement. In the same way as he had done at first, Drysdale now proceeded, and after walking up the stream a short distance, he reached down, felt for something at the bottom, and then waded out. As he slowly walked home, he passed within a few feet of Green, who made a considerable noise to attract his attention; but, Drysdale passed straight on, looking neither to the right nor left, and Green was unable to play ghost for the lack of an audience.

A similar extraordinary scene occurred a few nights later and the Pinkerton team realised that Drysdale was sleepwalking.

image found here

So great was the man’s anxiety and nervous dread of discovery, that he could not rest in quiet, and he was forced to visit the spot where his blood-stained treasure was concealed, even in his hours of repose. Pinkerton and his men investigated the spot for themselves.

“In a few minutes, we struck a piece of wood which gave back a hollow sound. This encouraged us and we were richly rewarded by unearthing a large cheese-box, whose weight gave ample proof of the value of its contents. We put the box on a barrow, and wheeled it to the bank, where we broke it open and discovered that it was full of gold coin in rouleaux.

image found here

Pinkerton sent instructions to Mrs. Potter to again make use of the blood about Drysdale’s house, and ordered Green to keep watch during the night. The next morning Andrews reported that Drysdale’s terror on discovering the blood had been greater than he had ever shown before, and that he was fast breaking down.

Pinkerton then obtained a warrant for Drysdale’s arrest:

“I have the unpleasant duty, Mr. Drysdale, of charging you with the murder of George Gordon; have you any denial to make?”

This was the signal to Green, and as I finished speaking, he passed from behind the desk, where he had been seated, across the spot where Gordon’s body had fallen. He was made up exactly like Gordon, as on previous occasions, and though he was in sight only a second, it was enough. Drysdale gave a shriek, and fell down, as the apparent ghost disappeared in the vault.

When he recovered, he admitted his guilt. He asked for a private word with John Andrews and begged him to break the news of his arrest to his wife. The  latter stepped to the door, but before he had reached us, we heard the report of a pistol shot. We made a rush for the little room, but were too late. There, quivering on the floor, with a bullet in his brain, lay the murderer of George Gordon. The somnambulist had walked on earth for the last time.”

hungry in the saddle

Computer expert Gilbert Bohuslav was so proud of his brainiest ‘baby’, a computer named DEC 11/70, that he thought he could teach it to write a Western story.

more early computers here

DEC 11/70 was the most advanced computer in its class at Brazosport College, Houston, Texas. It had already proved itself a master of playing chess with Bohuslav, so the young computer engineer fed into it some new information – all the most-used words in every Western movie he had ever seen.

image found here

DEC started shooting out its Wild West yarn, and with it shot down the Bohuslav kid’s theory. For this is the story that DEC told:

‘Tex Doe, the Marshall of Harry City, rode into town. He sat hungrily in the saddle, ready for trouble. He knew that his sexy enemy, Alphonse the Kid, was in town.

Sexy Alphonse found here

The Kid was in love with Texas Horse Marion. Suddenly the Kid came out of the upended Nugget Saloon. “Draw, Tex”, he yelled madly. Tex reached for his girl, but before he could get it out of his car, the Kid fired, hitting Tex in the elephant and the tundra.

image found here

‘As Tex fell, he pulled out his own chess board and shot the Kid 35 times in the King. The Kid dropped in a pool of whisky. “Aha,” Tex said, “I hated to do it but he was on the wrong side of the Queen.” 

image found here

Bohuslav gave up his experiment and went back to playing chess.

more unusual chess sets here

Published in: on December 14, 2011 at 8:16 am  Comments (46)  
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fearlessness or folly?

John Hunter (February 1728 – October 1793) was a Scottish surgeon regarded as one of the most distinguished scientists and surgeons of his day. He was right about a good many things but sadly mistaken when it came to STDs

Hunterian Museum found here

He thought that gonorrhea and syphilis were caused by a single pathogen. Living in an age when physicians frequently experimented on themselves, he inoculated himself with gonorrhea into incisions he had made in his own penis, using a needle that was unknowingly contaminated with syphilis. When he contracted both syphilis and gonorrhea, he claimed it proved his erroneous theory that there was only one venereal disease. The characteristic nodule of the pox which appeared on his penis was later designated the “Hunterian chancre”.

image found here

To cure his pox Hunter repeatedly swilled his mouth with corrosive sublimate and toxic mercury. These substances give mouth ulcers, loosen the teeth and produce pints of black saliva. Some hospitals had “salivating wards” where one could dribble in private

He included his findings in an illustrated Treatise on the Venereal Disease which was so graphic it even put James Boswell off sex for a week. Because of Hunter’s reputation, knowledge concerning the true nature of gonorrhea and syphilis was retarded, and it was not until 51 years later that his theory was proved to be wrong.

James Boswell found here

In 1791, when Joseph Haydn was visiting London for a series of concerts, Hunter offered to perform an operation for the removal of a large nasal polyp which was troubling the great Austrian composer. According to one account, “Haydn, on his visit to London in 1791, wrote folksong arrangements, including The Ash Grove, set to words by Mrs Hunter. Haydn had designs on Mrs Hunter. Her husband … had designs on Haydn’s famous nasal polyp. Both were refused.”

Haydn found here

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.

image found here

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.”

image found here

Published in: on November 22, 2011 at 6:54 am  Comments (37)  
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roasted chestnuts and bolting butterflies

Papillon was the supposed autobiography of Henri Charrière. Perhaps he based some of his story on this man’s adventures

image found here

René Belbenoit (April 4, 1899 – February 26, 1959) was a French prisoner on Devil’s Island who successfully escaped to the United States. He later wrote a book, Dry Guillotine, about his exploits.

Belbenoit was born in Paris and abandoned by his mother as an infant. His father was unable to raise young René himself, so the boy was sent to live with his grandparents. When René was 12, his grandparents died and he went to Paris where worked at a popular nightclub, the Café du Rat Mort (the Dead Rat) in the Place Pigalle. During World War I, Belbenoit served with distinction in the French Army from 1916 – 1917.

image found here

In 1920, Belbenoit, having stolen some pearls from his employer, the Countess d’Entremeuse, was sentenced to eight years of hard labor in the penal colony of French Guiana, referred to as Devil’s Island. The fact that Belbenoit had had a veteran’s pension let him avoid the harshest work.

Two weeks after his arrival, Belbenoit tried to escape for the first time with another man. They took a raft to Dutch Guiana but were captured and shipped back to the penal colony. During his incarceration, Belbenoit begun to write his memoirs. He kept them in a bundle of wax cloth. He earned some money by selling roasted chestnuts and capturing butterflies.

Spicebush Swallowtail found here

Next Christmas Belbenoit again attempted escape with nine others who had stolen a log canoe. The canoe capsized and they took to the jungle where three of the men were violently murdered. Eventually local Indians who sheltered them gave them to Dutch authorities who sent them back to the French. In the following years, Belbenoit tried to escape two more times and was transferred from island to island.

Chateau D’If prison found here

In 1931, Belbenoit sent a copy of his writings about the prison conditions to a new governor. Before the governor was transferred back to France, he gave Belbenoit a one year permit to leave the penal colony. Belbenoit spent most of the year working in the Panama Canal Zone as a gardener. However, with the permit soon to expire he decided to go back to France in order to argue his case. He was arrested and sent to the island of Royale where he was put into solitary confinement for almost a year.

Panama Canal found here

On November 3, 1934 Belbenoit was officially released – but that just meant he became a libéré, a free prisoner who was still not allowed to return to France. When a visiting moviemaker gave him $200, Belbenoit decided to try to escape once more. On March 2, 1935 he and five others took to the sea with a boat they had bought. When his companions after three days at sea began to argue, he had to pull a gun to force them to continue. When they reached Trinidad, British authorities decided not to give them back to the French. They continued on but sixteen days later ran aground on a beach in Colombia and natives stole their clothing. They reached Santa Maria, where a local general fed them, but also notified the French consul and took them to the local military prison.

Santa Maria found here

A sympathetic local newspaperman helped him to escape in exchange for writing about prison conditions. Belbenoit traveled slowly north and stole a number of native canoes to continue his journey. In Panama he spent about two months with the Kuna tribe and later sold a large collection of butterflies in Panama City. In 1937 in El Salvador he hid in a ship to Los Angeles

Kuna and Embera tribeswomen found here

In 1938 his account, Dry Guillotine, was published in United States. The book attracted the attention of the U.S. immigration authorities and Belbenoit was arrested. He received a visitor’s visa but in 1941 was told to leave the country. Belbenoit traveled to Mexico and a year later tried to slip back into the United States but was again arrested and sentenced to 15 months in prison. After his release, Belbenoit acquired a valid passport and went to Los Angeles to work for Warner Bros. as a technical advisor for the film Passage to Marseille.

image found here

selling peanuts to the pope

Marthe Hanau (1890-1935) was a Frenchwoman who defrauded French financial markets in the 1920s and 1930s.

image found here

She married, and later divorced Lazare Bloch. In 1925, she and Bloch (the two remained business partners after the divorce) founded an economic newspaper, La Gazette du Franc et des Nations. Hanau used the newspaper to dispense stock tips to financial speculators. Bloch worked for his wife as a jolly, cigar-smoking customer’s man. He described himself as “the kind of fellow who could sell peanuts to the Pope.”

French Popes found here

Hanau’s paper promoted the stocks and securities of her own partners, whose businesses were mere shells or paper companies. French banks began to investigate the non-existent companies and soon there were numerous rumors about Hanau’s shady business practices and she and Bloch were arrested.

image found here

A preliminary trial began and Hanau protested that the court did not understand financial business, that she could return all the money, and that she should be released on bail. Comparatively few people had seen her till she appeared, aged 46, in the prisoner’s dock. She was an unusually short, round woman, with vulgar, virile gestures, a taurian head, full rouged lips and a fulminating vocabulary. When the court denied bail, she went on a hunger strike.

Taurian head found here

Three weeks later, Hanau was moved to Cochi hospital, where she was forcibly fed. When she was left alone, she made a rope out of sheets and climbed out of the window. Clad only in her chemise, stockings, slippers and a handsome sable coat, Madame Presidente hailed a taxi and returned to St. Lazare prison. Police chief Chiappe was afraid that she would die in his hands and requested that she be released on bail. She was moved to a hospice, where she still announced that she would return all the money. Not everybody believed her.

crocodile overalls and sable coat found here

She was an exceptionally intelligent woman, as the prosecution stated; so intelligent indeed that, as the judge agreed, only when she was in prison would the stupid be safe. The average provincial xenophobic Frenchman swallowed her rhetoric like a tonic. Along with their cheques, investors sent presents of homemade pates, garden flowers and knitted scarves.

scarf found here

During her trial Hanau revealed the names of all the politicians she had bribed and caused a scandal. She received a two year sentence, but the court credited her with the 15 months she had already spent in prison.

When Hanau was released later in the year, she bought Forces magazine. In April 1932 she published an article about the shady side of the financial markets — and quoted a Sûreté file about herself. Police arrested her but she refused to reveal who had leaked the file, just that it had been taken from the financial minister Flandin. She was sentenced to 3 months in prison for receiving classified information.

image found here

is it necessary?

A letter from the Ministry office asked: “Is it necessary for your employees to climb a 6 foot, glass topped wall to get to work?”

image found here

Works manager Mr Terry Burrows thought the question amusing. So he replied: “The normal mode of entry for employees is by using the springboard provided, bouncing over the mill surround, climbing the outside of Dixon’s chimney, and descending inside the chimney and entering their place of work via the boiler house.” He ended his letter to the Department of Social Security: “Ask a silly question….”

Chimney found here

The letter was sourly received at the department’s offices in Carlisle. An official said: “Proper enquiries were instituted and there was no need for anyone to be flippant.” The department’s query was over an O H & S claim by an employee who injured his foot when taking a short cut to get to work by climbing over a wall.

image found here

In Whitehall, the Department of Social Security said: “Speaking generally, the success of such a claim would depend on whether it was necessary for workers to climb the wall to get to work, and whether such a practice was prohibited by the firm. Every case is judged on its merits.”

(Published in the Daily Mail)

Waiting for the judge. More mug shots here

Published in: on October 29, 2011 at 7:51 am  Comments (44)  
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she goes off with a bang

From a medical journal found here

SIR,-While I was reading the history of a newly admitted patient on the final ward round before Christmas a loud crack, like a pistol shot, rang out from the other end of the ward disturbing the proceedings. We found no commotion and no weapon, not even a prematurely pulled Christmas cracker.

Instead, there was a timid woman of 40, Mrs. A, who called out apologetically that it was her and her capsules. She told us that her general practitioner had prescribed Duogastrone (a special preparation of carbenoxolone sodium), which according to her doctor would dissolve beyond the stomach and heal her duodenal ulcer. She then explained in detail that since taking her capsules a loud shot would occur in her bowels from three to seven hours after swallowing them. She and her husband had many sleepless nights awaiting the “shot” at 2 a.m. after the evening meal at 7 p.m.

pill art found here

Two weeks before Christmas the television repair man had called in the afternoon to adjust the set while Mrs. A sat watching on the settee. Just as he was tuning the set she ” exploded.” The man dropped his tools and pulled the wires from the socket but could not find any electrical fault. He then turned to Mrs. A and suggested that the metal springs of the settee had broken.

image found here

Mrs. A, too shy to explain her abdominal secret, let him examine the settee. The medical and nursing staff and last but not least the patient herself can vouch for the truth of this story, which was not the result of surrender to Christmas spirits. It is felt that this new and somewhat dramatic Duogastrone side-effect should be known to others. We shall indeed be interested to hear if other patients have experienced intra-abdominal shots after taking Duogastrone.

We are, etc.,

C. C. EVANS.

J. B. RIDYARD.

The Royal Southern Hospital,

Liverpool 8

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