In the late 18th and early 19th centuries there was a widespread belief in vampires throughout New England. The vampiric condition became associated with the deadly Tuberculosis, a disease misunderstood at the time and therefore the cause of much superstition.
It was believed to cause nightly visitations from previously deceased victims, as well as bringing general sickness and multiple deaths to the family. As a result, there are various accounts of families having their deceased disinterred for the purpose of removing their hearts and bringing to an end their reign of terror, and the most famous of these cases is that of Mercy Brown.
There had been numerous deaths as a result of TB within the Brown family. Mercy’s mother and sister had died within a few years of one another, then, in 1892, Mercy herself succumbed to the illness.
Mercy’s brother Edwin was also ill and, in accordance with the aforementioned folklore, Mercy’s father was persuaded to exhume the bodies of his dead relatives in an attempt to cure his son. The mother and sister’s body were found to have undergone significant decomposition, however, Mercy’s body remained relatively unchanged*: a clear sign that she was undead and the agent of Edwin’s condition.
As a result, her heart was removed, burnt, mixed with water and fed to Edwin. He died two months later.
* A cold New England winter likely caused this.
[Sources: Image | Mercy Brown Vampire Incident | Vampire]
Following a decline in the wool industry, c.1660s, the English government, in a bid to boost sales, made it law that the dead be buried in pure English woollen shrouds to the exclusion of all other textiles.
As the document above shows, an oath had to be made by a member of the deceased’s family confirming that the ‘lately deceased, was not put in, wrapt, or wound up, or buried in any shirt, shift, sheet or shroud, made or mingled with flax, hemp, silk, hair, gold or silver, or other than what is made of sheep’s wool’. The same went for the lining of the coffin.
The legislation was in force until the 1810s, however, it went mostly ignored after 1770 by people who could afford to pay the £5 fine for noncompliance.
[Sources: Burying in the Woollen Acts | Needleprint Blogspot]
Bridget Cleary was an Irish woman who, in 1895, was killed by her husband who believed she was a fairy changeling. In folklore a changeling is a fairy which is switched with a human infant. In many cases a changeling seemed like the only rational explanation for the unknown diseases etc., which might afflict a child.
Although her age, for she was 26 at the time, perhaps makes Bridget’s case unique, it was with such illness that her troubles began. She lay in bed with a fever for over a week, going undiagnosed by her physician and believed sufficiently ill enough to have a priest administer the last rites, before her husband and father declared her to be a changeling. In a curious ritual, aimed at expelling the fairy from her body, they doused her in urine and sat her before the fireplace.
A few days later she went missing. Her husband reiterated his belief that she had been taken by fairies, however, Bridget’s burnt remains were soon found nearby in a shallow grave. Evidence suggested that, as the Cleary family gathered at Bridget’s sick bed, an argument, tinged with fairy mythology, had erupted, and Bridget had offended her husband by telling him the only person who had gone off with the fairies had been his mother. This escalated into him menacing his wife with a flaming stick, which ignited her chemise. He then threw an oil lamp on her, all the while claiming that she was a changeling and that he would, by these means, get his wife back.
He was convicted of manslaughter, though some believe he concocted a ‘fairy defence’ after Bridget’s murder so he might get a lesser sentence. Nine other people were also charged for their involvement in the murder, demonstrating how widely believed fairy folklore was amongst these rural Irish communities at the time.
[Sources: Changeling | Bridget Cleary | Galway Advertiser | See Also]
“Camelopard was the word for a giraffe in the Middle Ages, inspired by its vaguely camel-like shape and its leopard-like markings.”
[Sources: Image: A 15th century depiction of a camelopard | Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, p.222)
It’s been a while since I posted anything quite so macabre as this but the image of a group of boys making this grim discovery as they played in the sands at Hempstead, L.I., in the mid-1930s, had a grim allure for some reason. Perhaps because of its links with the golden age of piracy.
According to Corbis Images the cage is ‘evidence of an early pirates’ torture device,’ namely, gibbeting. In the earliest recorded examples of gibbeting from the 17th century, the criminal would be bound in the metal cage and hung from a scaffold until they died of starvation, and it was a popular method of execution for piracy, highwaymen, murderers, and… sheep stealers. The positioning of such a structure next to public roads served as a warning to other potential criminals that they too might suffer the same fate.
The Dreadnaught Hoax was an elaborate prank orchestrated by members of the Bloomsbury Group. The plan was set in motion on February 7th 1910 when Horace de Vere Cole, who is described as an ‘eccentric prankster’, had a telegram, apparently signed by the Foreign Office, sent to the naval ship HMS Dreadnought notifying the captain of the imminent arrival onboard of a group of Abyssinian princes.
Under the pseudonym Herbert Cholmondeley, Cole then escorted his entourage, who, including Virginia Woolf (far left in photo), had disguised themselves by darkening their skin and dressing in turbans with false beards, to Paddington Station where he demanded a special train to Weymouth where the Dreadnought was moored. The stationmaster duly arranged a VIP carriage for them.
Upon their arrival in Weymouth the group was met with an honour guard. Unfortunately, no Abyssinian flag could be found so, oddly, the flag of Zanzibar was hoisted instead and Zanzibar’s national anthem played for the esteemed guests. The ‘princes’ then inspected the fleet and attempted to bestow fake military honours on the officers, speaking all the while in gibberish - frequently showing amazement or appreciation with cries of “Bunga! Bunga!”. An officer friend of both Cole and Woolf failed to recognise either of them.
When the hoax was eventually discovered the Royal Navy became a object of ridicule due to the Bloomsbury Group’s pacifist views. The Navy first called for Cole’s arrest, however, he had not broken the law. They then sent two officers to cane him but Cole countered this by arguing it was they who should be caned for allowing themselves to be fooled in the first place.
[Sources: Image | Dreadnought Hoax | Horace de Vere Cole]
In the 1860s, when Queen Alexandra, then the Princess of Wales, suffered a painful attack of rheumatism in her knee which, in time, resulted in a permanent limp, high society women London, keen as ever to stay on trend with the day’s fashion, began to sycophantically imitate it. It became ridiculously popular and was known as the Alexandra Limp, although it was ‘widely derided’ by, well, by anyone with any sense probably. John Stephen Farmer called it “an erstwhile fit of semi-imbecility” by “a crowd of limping petticoated toadies”.
Be that as it may, the fad was followed by a similar curiosity of posture in the USA, namely, The Grecian Bend, which saw women apparently go about their business whilst bent oddly at the waist. Albert Jones Bellows describes in a sighting in Boston:“She waddled a few rods past the store, and then turned round, smiling, or rather smirking, complacently on her ‘crowd of admirers,’ with an expression of face which seemed to say, … ‘All my torture is repaid by the admiration I excite.’”
[Sources: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (p.25) | Futility Closet | Telegraph | Wikipedia]
It is a tradition amongst villages in England to celebrate the advent of the month of May with a festival involving processions, music, dancing, and, the piece de resistance, a May Queen - usually a young girl from the village adorned with a crown of flowers. The village of Bisley, however, does things differently. They choose a boy instead and have him dressed in the clothes of a Tudor era female. The question as to why is one which plagued Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, who, when he heard of the strange custom, sought to get to the bottom of it in his lesser known work Famous Impostors.
Stoker uncovered a local legend that told how, around 1543, Queen Elizabeth I, then a princess, was sent to Bisley to take in the country air, when suddenly she fell ill and died. Learning that Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, was on his way to visit his daughter, her governess began to fear for her own life: Henry had recently had his wife, Catherine Howard, beheaded and, famously ill-tempered and unpredictable, no one wanted to upset him further. As such, the governess hurried to find a replacement but no girl of similar appearance to Elizabeth could be found. There was however, a red-headed boy who would do just the trick. The governess had him put on the princesses’ dress and presented to the King. Henry saw his daughter infrequently and never discovered the impostor. In fact, the trick worked so well the King was never informed and the boy grew up to become Queen Elizabeth I. In 1870 the vicar of Bisley claimed he had uncovered the coffin of a girl dressed in Tudor clothes but had reinterred the remains in an unmarked grave so it did not become a shrine.
To add credence to the theory, Stoker cites a series of 16th century letters which detail ‘secrets of great moment’ between the Queen and her closest companions; her refusal to marry and apparent inability to bear children; her baldness; a change in the style of her writing from before and after the apparent swap; her refusal to see any but one doctor; and her instruction that there be no post mortem on her body when she died. Of course, all these things can be explained away much more simply, but, whatever the truth, everyone loves a conspiracy.
[Sources: Telegraph | Elizabeth Files | Famous Impostors (Full Text)]
Snow Queen Victoria, c. 1890 (via V&A)