the finger power of Cyclops

Throughout history weightlifters have performed some amazing feats.

The early Roman Emperor, Cains Maximus, who was reputedly 8 foot tall, was said to be able to squeeze stones into powder with his fingers. In the middle ages, a Richard Joy from Kent, England could tear apart a rope which had a breaking strain of over 35 hundredweights with his bare hands.

Beckham on a rope

One of the most famous early English strongmen was Thomas Topham (1710- 1749), a publican living in London. He was not a huge man, being about 5 ft. 10 inches and around 14 stone. Topham could snap pipe stems in his outstretched fingers, could crush pipe bowls by squashing them with his first and second fingers with just lateral pressure, bend thick pokers by stroking them in a blow across his forearm and would bend thick iron bars around his neck. He is also credited with being able to lift 224 lbs. (101.6 kgs) overhead “easily” with just his little finger.

pipe found here

Less than a handful of men have been capable of bending or breaking coins by the pure power of their fingers alone. Peter The Great, first Czar of Russia was said to be able to break silver coins with the strength of his tough hands and fingers. John Marx (Grunn) the Luxembourg strongman (1868-1912) better known for his ability to break horseshoes was also reputed to have broken American coins in front of witnesses of repute. Polish strongman Franz Bienkowski whose stage name was “Cyclops” was known as “The Coin Breaker” busting coins apart, again in front of expert witnesses.

Learn how to bend coins here

It’s difficult to find photos of Franz Bienkowski, but Oldtime Strongman has some here. While trawling for photos I got waylaid reading about actor   Albert Dekker whose most famous role was playing a mad scientist in the movie Dr Cyclops


Albert Dekker, still dapper at sixty-three, and his longtime fiancée, Geraldine Saunders, made a distinguished couple. On Thursday evening, May 2, 1968, they attended the opening of Zero Mostel’s new play, The Latent Heterosexual. “He was in fine spirits,” Ms. Saunders said later. “We were going to go out again on Friday, but my numerous phone calls to him that evening went unanswered.”

First thing Sunday morning, she went to his Hollywood apartment only to find his door covered with notes from friends who were also trying in vain to contact him. She slipped a note of her own under the door. When she returned that evening and found it still in place, she went to the manager. He opened the front door (which had been locked but not bolted) and found the bathroom door was chained from the inside. He then forced it open — and Saunders passed out. “It was so horrible,” she said.

The 6 feet 3 inch, 240-pound Dekker was kneeling nude in the bathtub, a dirty hypodermic needle sticking out of each arm. A hangman’s noose was around his neck but not tight enough to have strangled him. A scarf was tied over his eyes and something like a horse’s bit was in his mouth. Fashioned from a rubber ball and metal wire, the bit had chain “reins” that were tightly tied behind his head. Two leather thongs were stretched between the leather belts that girded his neck and chest. A third belt, around his waist, was tied with a rope that stretched to his ankles, where it had been tied in some kind of lumber hitch. The end of the rope, which continued up his side, wrapped around his wrist several times and was held in Dekker’s hand. Both wrists were clasped by a set of handcuffs. Written in lipstick, above two hypodermic punctures on his right buttock, was the word “whip” and drawings of the sun. Sun rays had also been drawn around his nipples. “Slave” and “cocksucker” were written on his chest. On his lower abdomen was drawn a vagina. He had apparently been dead since Friday.


During the brief investigation, detectives noted that there were no signs of forced entry or a struggle. They labeled the death “indicated suicide – quite an unusual case.” Finding no convincing evidence for suicide, the coroner rejected that theory. His final report said “accidental death, not a suicide.”

The police toyed with a theory that Dekker was a closet homosexual who practiced his eccentricities very discreetly with anonymous male prostitutes, and that this time, something had gone wrong and the frightened partner had quietly let himself out. They made inquiries, but Dekker had no reputation among male hustlers. Nor did any of his friends consider him the least bit kinky. County Coroner Thomas Noguchi’s theory was autoerotic asphyxia.


was there hanky panky at Hanko?

In Norway in 1934, Mrs Ingeborg Koeber was accused of drowning her father Judge Dahl at Hanko Beach. Several months prior to this impromptu dip, Ingeborg had predicted the manner of her father’s death while supposedly in a sleeping trance.


She reportedly heard him call for help and swam out to rescue him, bringing him to shore where he died in her arms. At the inquest, his deputy, Christian Apenes, told the coroner that in December 1933, he attended a Spiritualist séance with Judge Dahl. The medium was Ingeborg Koeber, who communicated a message allegedly from her dead brother, Regnar Dahl whilst in a sleeping trance. The message was that their father would die within a year, but that Apenes must not tell anyone this, including Ingeborg, who would not remember the message when she came out of the trance. The spirit also stated that the same message would be communicated to another medium, a Mrs. Stolt-Nielsen, who was to place it in a sealed envelope.

Judge Dahl

After Judge Dahl’s death, Apenes asked Stolt-Nielsen if she had received the message, and she produced the sealed envelope. Opened in the presence of witnesses, it contained the message, “In August 1934 Ludwig Dahl shall lose his life in an accident.” When these prophecies were revealed by the press, there was considerable scandal and controversy. Some people thought the mayor might have committed suicide under sub-conscious suggestion, others that his daughter had drowned him before bringing him back to shore. It was even suggested that Christian Apenes had hypnotized her and suggested that she murder her father.

The investigation lasted three years, during which it was revealed that the judge’s life insurance policy had expired on the day of his death. The court ultimately found that Judge Dahl’s death was accidental, but the his wife, who had suffered great strain, committed suicide before her daughter’s name was cleared.

image found here

According to Arthur C Clarke’s World of Strange Powers, the Judge had been a passionate believer in his daughter’s powers and wrote five books on the subject. Much of the family’s money had been spent on supporting and promoting Ingeborg’s strange powers and her mother had gone so far as to purloin funds from her work as a community treasurer. As she later wrote in her suicide note “My husband felt it was his life’s work to bring Ingeborg’s message to mankind. In doing so he took a great and unselfish task on his shoulders. But he was quite innocent of the demands of daily living and did not realise that our family economy was threatened.”

It was predicted that Ingeborg father’s death, and the sum of his insurance was identical with the sum which his wife had misappropriated from her office.

In researching this sad story I’ve had to rely a lot upon translations. In the interests of giving my readers a lighter postscript, here’s an example of what I found:


Much muffins:

In Købersaken that ended in the courts were dug up a lot of muffins. The autopsy of Louis Dahl showed a flaw in the neck, initially downplayed, it was fully focused on. Ingeborg had killed his father, conscious? But why should she? She adored the father even though he was also a dominant hustyrann.

Købersaken would also eventually be about money. Recorder’s wife who worked in his office had in fact helped themselves of the box. The amount proved to be the same as the life policy they got paid. Lay the motives here?


Published in: on November 21, 2010 at 9:23 am  Comments (38)  
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alligators from heaven

The story that alligators haunt the sewer system of New York City is thought to be an apocryphal one, possibly started by Thomas Pynchon’s mention of it in his novel V. But tales of out-of-place crocodilians have persisted for years.


“On December 26, 1877, no less than the New York Times reported the following: “Dr. J.L. Smith of Silverton Township, South Carolina, while opening up a new turpentine farm, noticed something fall to the ground and commence to crawl toward the tent where he was sitting. On examining the object he found it to be an alligator. In a few moments a second one made its appearance. The doctor looked around to see if he could discover any more, and found six others within a space of two hundred yards. The animals were all quite lively, and about twelve inches in length. The place whereon they fell is situated on high sandy ground about six miles north of the Savannah River.”


A similar story emerged in 1957, courtesy of writer John Toland, who told the story of the U.S. Navy airship Macon. In 1934 the Macon had participated in maneuvers in the Caribbean and was sailing westward on its return trip. As it was entering the sky over California on the afternoon of May 17, the commander, Robert Davis, heard a loud splashing over his head from one of the ballast bags.

Concerned, he climbed into the rigging as the splashing grew louder and louder. He opened the ballast bag and looked in. Swimming around excitedly was a two-foot alligator. No one had any idea where it came from. They had been in the air for several days and it seemed highly improbable that this big, noisy creature could have been with them all that time without being heard. Moreover, Davis had been up and around the ship ever since their departure, and he had seen nothing so out of the ordinary as an alligator.

The only possible explanation – though it made no sense at all – was that the reptile had fallen on the ballast bag from above.


Most people have heard of fish and frogs falling from the sky. The explanation usually given is that a tornado or strong whirlwind picked up the animals from a shallow body of water and carried them some distance before dropping them back on land.

Mouse rides frog during Indian typhoon

In 1890, Popular Science News reported that blood rained down on Messignadi, Calabria in Italy – bird’s blood. It was speculated that the birds were somehow torn part by violent winds, although there were no such winds at the time. And no other parts of the bird came down – just blood.

J. Hudson’s farm in Los Nietos Township, California endured a rain of flesh and blood for three minutes in 1869. The grisly fall covered several acres.

“Blood Rain” India

The American Journal of Science confirmed a shower of blood, fat and muscle tissue that fell on a tobacco farm near Lebanon, Tennessee in August, 1841. Field workers, who actually experienced this weird shower, said they heard a rattling noise and saw “drops of blood fall from a red cloud which was flying over them.”

The most amazing of these stories was actually proven factual… but not supernatural. Sometime around 1990, a Japanese fishing boat was sunk in off the eastern coast of Siberia by a falling cow. When the crew of the wrecked ship were fished from the water, they told authorities that they had seen several cows falling from the sky, and that one of them crashed straight through the deck and hull. At first the fishermen were arrested for trying to perpetrate an insurance fraud, but were released when their story was verified. It seems that a Russian transport plane carrying stolen cattle was flying overhead. When the movement of the herd within the plane threw it off balance, the plane’s crew, to avoid crashing, opened the loading bay at the tail of the aircraft and drove them out to fall into the water below.

image from Canstructions

Published in: on November 13, 2010 at 6:25 am  Comments (38)  
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Lethian fogs of forgetfulness

Hollywood in the 1920s was a wild place as this extract from an article written by Jane Dixon shows. She’d obviously graduated with honours from the School of Purple Prose


Filmdom welcomed William Desmond Taylor, gave him a seat among the mighty, hearkened to his word, moved at his command. Its men looked and admired. Its women looked—and loved. What richer sea could a love pirate sail? A list of the girls, the women, taken aboard the love pirate’s ship of dreams for a brief cruise on the sea of pleasure would read like a slightly deleted directory of the screen’s feminine stars.


Now, if we may believe rumor, the sated appetite of the love pirate called for stronger stimulants than a conquest of hearts. One report has him a member of a cult with an unmanly ritual. Another speaks boldly of drugs—opium, cocaine, Lethian fogs of forgetfulness, ending in wild orgies, during which women, in jealous frenzies, tore the clothes from each other’s bodies and, stripped to the waist, fought like tigers for the favor of the pirate ship captain.

Who sped on its horrid way the leaden pellet which brought the eventful story of the love pirate’s life to a tragic close? Was it one of the fair ships he had scuttled? Was it another pirate vessel, jealous of a rival’s plunder? Was it a legitimate craft, the captain of which could not endure the depredations of the modern Captain Kidd? Was it a derelict, its crew gone mad from dipping into a contraband cargo of drugs?


William Desmond Taylor was an actor and director who was murdered in 1922.

At 7:30 a.m. on the morning of February 2 the body of William Desmond Taylor was found inside his bungalow at the Alvarado Court Apartments, in the Westlake Park area of downtown Los Angeles.

A crowd gathered inside and someone identifying himself as a doctor stepped forward, made a cursory examination of the body, declared the victim had died of a stomach hemorrhage and was never seen again, perhaps owing to his own embarrassment, because when doubts later arose, the body was rolled over and it was discovered the 49-year-old film director had been shot in the back.

from Married to the Sea (click to enlarge)

More than a dozen individuals were eventually named as suspects by both the press and the police:

Henry Peavey, Taylor’s African American valet found the body. Newspapers noted that Peavey wore flashy golf costumes but did not own any golf clubs. Peavey was illiterate and bisexual. He had a criminal record which included arrests for vagrancy and public indecency. Peavey repeatedly accused Mabel Normand of the murder (she had teased him about his wardrobe) and was initially suspected of the crime himself.


Mabel Normand was a popular comedic actress and a close friend of Taylor. They might have had a romantic relationship. Although she and Taylor may have argued on the evening of his murder, she left his home at 7:45 p.m. in a happy mood, carrying a book he had given her. Her career had already slowed and her reputation was tarnished through two previous scandals, along with revelations of her drug use and a third scandal involving another lover shot by her chauffeur.


Mary Miles Minter was a popular actress and teen screen idol whose career had been guided by Taylor. Coded letters found in Taylor’s home suggested that a romantic relationship between the 49-year-old Taylor and 19-year-old Minter had started when she was 17.

Charlotte Charlotte Shelby was Minter’s mother. Like many “stage mothers”  she has been described as consumed by wanton greed and manipulation over her daughter’s career. Perhaps the most compelling circumstantial evidence was that Shelby allegedly owned a rare .38 caliber pistol and unusual bullets very similar to the kind which killed Taylor. After this later became public, she reportedly threw the pistol into a Louisiana bayou.


Margaret Gibson was a film actress who worked with Taylor when he first came to Hollywood. In 1917 she was tried and acquitted on charges equivalent to prostitution as well as allegations of opium dealing. In October 1964, she suffered a heart attack and as a recently converted Roman Catholic, before dying confessed she “shot and killed William Desmond Taylor” along with several other things the witness didn’t understand and could not remember.


Other suspects included Edward Sands, who had been Taylor’s cook and Faith MacLean, a close neighbour. Various theories were put forward after the murder and in the years since, along with the publication of many books claiming to have identified the murderer, but no hard evidence was ever uncovered to link the crime to a particular individual…… personally, I suspect Jane Dixon.

Published in: on August 29, 2010 at 8:30 am  Comments (39)  
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