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The Oddment Emporium

A Cornucopia of Eclectic Delights

Posts tagged Bizarre:

Netherlandish Proverbs

Netherlandish Proverbs is a 1559 oil-on-oak-panel painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder which depicts a land populated with literal renditions of Dutch/Flemish proverbs of the day. The picture is overflowing with references and most of the representations can still be identified; while many of the proverbs have either been forgotten or never made the transition to the English language, some are still in use.

Proverbs were popular during Bruegel’s time and his paintings have themes of the absurdity, wickedness and foolishness of mankind, and this painting is no exception. The picture was originally entitled The Blue Cloak or The Folly of the World which indicates he was not intending to produce a mere collection of proverbs but rather a study of human stupidity. Many of the people depicted show the characteristic blank features which Bruegel used to portray fools. 

Even weirder is the number of these proverbs which centered around the theme of arses and defecation. I shit you not:

  • Image Two: “To crap on the World” meaning “To despise everything”
  • Image Three: “He who eats fire, craps sparks” meaning “Do not be surprised at the outcome if you attempt a dangerous venture”
  • Image Four: “To wipe one’s backside on the door” meaning “To treat something lightly”
  • Image Five: “They both crap through the same hole” meaning “They are in agreement”

For the other proverbs depicted in the painting, see here. For similar treats, see here.

Butter Sculptures

Butter sculptures often depict animals, people, buildings and other objects. They are best known as attractions at state fairs in the United States as lifesize cows and people, but can also be found on banquet tables and even small decorative butter pats. 

The history of carving food into sculptured objects is ancient. Archaeologists have found bread and pudding moulds of animal and human shapes at sites from Babylon to Roman Britain. During the Renaissance and Baroque periods moulding food was commonly done for wealthy banquets. It was during this period that the earliest known reference to a butter sculpture is found. In 1536 Bartolomeo Scappi, cook to Pope Pius V, organised a feast composed of nine scenes elaborately carved out of food, each carried in episodically as centerpieces for a banquet. 

The earliest butter sculpture as public art and not a banquet centerpiece can be traced to the 1876 when Caroline Shawk Brooks [Image Four], a farm woman from Arkansas, displayed her Dreaming Iolanthe, a bust of a woman modeled in butter [Image One]. The heyday of butter sculpting was from about 1890 to 1930. During this period refrigeration became widely available, and the American dairy industry began promoting butter sculpture as a way to compete against synthetic butter substitutes like margarine. Image Two depicts a 1925 butter sculpture of Edward VIII when Prince of Wales, about which you can read more here.

[Thanks to Vintage-Royalty]

(Source: Wikipedia)

Corpse Road

In medieval Britain, corpse roads provided a practical means for transporting corpses from remote communities to cemeteries in larger towns, that had burial rights. Concomitant expansion of church building throughout the UK during the late medieval period inevitably encroached on the territories of existing mother churches or minsters. Demands for autonomy from outlying settlements made minster officials feel that their authority was waning, as were their revenues, so they instituted corpse roads connecting outlying locations and their mother churches that alone held burial rights.
For some parishioners, this decision meant that corpses had to be transported long distances, sometimes through difficult terrain: usually a corpse had to be carried unless the departed was a wealthy individual. Many of the corpse roads have long disappeared, while the original purposes of those that still survive as footpaths have been largely forgotten, especially if features such as coffin stones, on which the coffin was placed while the parishioners rested, or crosses no longer exist.
Such corpse roads have developed a great deal of associated folklore. The essence of spirit lore is that spirits, that is, spirits of the dead, phantasms of the living, wraiths, or fairies move through the physical landscape along special routes. Such routes are conceived of as being straight and by the same token, convoluted or non-linear features hinder spirit movement.



Similarly, corpse roads would run in a straight line over mountains and valleys and through marshes. In towns, they would pass the houses closely or go right through them. The paths end or originate at a cemetery; therefore, such a path or road was believed to have the same characteristics as a cemetery, where spirits of the deceased thrive. As such, corpse roads became intrinsically associated with fairy roads and the supernatural entities which reside there. 
[Image Source]

Corpse Road

In medieval Britain, corpse roads provided a practical means for transporting corpses from remote communities to cemeteries in larger towns, that had burial rights. Concomitant expansion of church building throughout the UK during the late medieval period inevitably encroached on the territories of existing mother churches or minsters. Demands for autonomy from outlying settlements made minster officials feel that their authority was waning, as were their revenues, so they instituted corpse roads connecting outlying locations and their mother churches that alone held burial rights.

For some parishioners, this decision meant that corpses had to be transported long distances, sometimes through difficult terrain: usually a corpse had to be carried unless the departed was a wealthy individual. Many of the corpse roads have long disappeared, while the original purposes of those that still survive as footpaths have been largely forgotten, especially if features such as coffin stoneson which the coffin was placed while the parishioners rested, or crosses no longer exist.

Such corpse roads have developed a great deal of associated folkloreThe essence of spirit lore is that spirits, that is, spirits of the dead, phantasms of the living, wraiths, or fairies move through the physical landscape along special routes. Such routes are conceived of as being straight and by the same token, convoluted or non-linear features hinder spirit movement.

Similarly, corpse roads would run in a straight line over mountains and valleys and through marshes. In towns, they would pass the houses closely or go right through them. The paths end or originate at a cemetery; therefore, such a path or road was believed to have the same characteristics as a cemetery, where spirits of the deceased thrive. As such, corpse roads became intrinsically associated with fairy roads and the supernatural entities which reside there. 

[Image Source]

Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?
On 18 April, 1943, four boys (Robert Hart, Thomas Willetts, Bob Farmer and Fred Payne) from Stourbridge were poaching in Hagley Woods near to Wychbury Hill when they came across a large witch-hazel - a tree often confused by local residents with a Wych elm. 
Believing this a good place to hunt birds’ nests, Farmer attempted to climb the tree to investigate. As he was climbing, he glanced down into the hollow trunk and discovered a skull, believing it to be that of an animal. However, after seeing human hair and teeth, he realised that it was a human skull.
As they were on the land illegally, Farmer put the skull back and all four boys returned home without mentioning their discovery to anybody. However, on returning home the youngest of the boys, Tommy Willetts, felt uneasy about what he had witnessed and decided to report the find to his parents, who in turn, informed the police.
When police checked the trunk of the tree they found an almost complete human skeleton, a shoe, a gold wedding ring, and some fragments of clothing. After further investigation, a severed hand was found buried in the ground near to the tree. The body was sent for forensic examination and it was quickly established that the skeleton was female and had been dead for at least 18 months, placing her time of death around October 1941. He found taffeta in her mouth, suggesting that she had died from asphyxiation. From the measurement of the trunk he also deduced that she must have been placed there “still warm” after the killing as she could not have fit once rigor mortis had taken hold.
Since the woman’s killing was in the midst of World War II, identification was seriously hampered. Police could tell from items found with the body what the woman had looked like but with so many people being reported missing during the war, and people regularly moving, the records were too vast for a proper identification to take place. The current location of her skeleton is unknown.
'Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?' is a graffito that started appearing soon after the murder. In 1944 the first graffiti message appeared on a wall in Birmingham, reading ‘Who put Bella down the Wych Elm - Hagley Wood’, whilst the most recent graffiti was sprayed onto the side of a 200 year-old obelisk on 18 August 1999, in white paint.

Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?

On 18 April, 1943, four boys (Robert Hart, Thomas Willetts, Bob Farmer and Fred Payne) from Stourbridge were poaching in Hagley Woods near to Wychbury Hill when they came across a large witch-hazel - a tree often confused by local residents with a Wych elm. 

Believing this a good place to hunt birds’ nests, Farmer attempted to climb the tree to investigate. As he was climbing, he glanced down into the hollow trunk and discovered a skull, believing it to be that of an animal. However, after seeing human hair and teeth, he realised that it was a human skull.

As they were on the land illegally, Farmer put the skull back and all four boys returned home without mentioning their discovery to anybody. However, on returning home the youngest of the boys, Tommy Willetts, felt uneasy about what he had witnessed and decided to report the find to his parents, who in turn, informed the police.

When police checked the trunk of the tree they found an almost complete human skeleton, a shoe, a gold wedding ring, and some fragments of clothing. After further investigation, a severed hand was found buried in the ground near to the tree. The body was sent for forensic examination and it was quickly established that the skeleton was female and had been dead for at least 18 months, placing her time of death around October 1941. He found taffeta in her mouth, suggesting that she had died from asphyxiation. From the measurement of the trunk he also deduced that she must have been placed there “still warm” after the killing as she could not have fit once rigor mortis had taken hold.

Since the woman’s killing was in the midst of World War II, identification was seriously hampered. Police could tell from items found with the body what the woman had looked like but with so many people being reported missing during the war, and people regularly moving, the records were too vast for a proper identification to take place. The current location of her skeleton is unknown.

'Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?' is a graffito that started appearing soon after the murder. In 1944 the first graffiti message appeared on a wall in Birmingham, reading ‘Who put Bella down the Wych Elm - Hagley Wood’, whilst the most recent graffiti was sprayed onto the side of a 200 year-old obelisk on 18 August 1999, in white paint.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Excessive Eaters of the 18th Century
For some unfathomable reason the 18th century threw up a formidable clutch of prodigious eaters, and scholars have supplied many trustworthy accounts of these great polyphagi. For instance, Rev. Lysons, a habitué of London’s low life, [who visited] squalid, back-street monster-shows and collecting information about al he saw there, recorded in 1788 that “The Duke of Bedford [had] betted 1000 guineas with Lord Barrymore, that he does not eat a live Cat! It is said his Lordship grounds his chances upon having already made the experiment upon a Kitten.” The unusual bet attracted considerable public attention and several articles appeared under the headline ‘Cat Eating’. One authority on blood sports pointed out that it was “not without precedents in the annals of sporting.” He had himself witnessed an Irishman devouring five fox cubs for a bet of £50, whilst another said he had seen a Yorkshire shepherd eat a live cat to win a bet of two guineas.

A few entrepreneurial gluttons managed to transform the art of bizarre consumption into a profitable sideshow act, eating all manner foods for the entertainment of live audiences. Thomas Eclin, for example, performed such wonders in London in the mid-1700s. His feats included eating dogs and cats and leaping head first into the Thames when the weather was freezing cold. The 1770s saw the rise of ‘The Stone Eater’, who would invite doubters to his shows to witness him grind stones and pebbles between his powerful jaws, whilst claiming that his intestinal tract had become used to minerals as the principal source of nourishment after he was shipwrecked on an uninhabited island for 13 years.

Perhaps the most celebrated gluttons, however, are Charles Domery and Tarrare. Domery served with the Prussian Army in the War of the First Coalition, however, upon finding the rations were insufficient to satisfy his appetite he defected to the French Army in return for food. He is recorded as having eaten 174 cats in a year, and although he disliked vegetables, would eat 5 pounds of grass each day if he could not find other food. He once also attempted to eat the severed leg of a crewmember hit by cannon fire, before it was wrestled from him.

When Domery’s ship was captured and imprisoned by the British he remained hungry despite being put on ten times the rations of other inmates. He was subsequently experimented on: throughout a day he was fed a raw cow’s udder, which was eaten without hesitation; 4.6kg of raw beef; 24 large tallow candles; and four large bottles of porter. During the course of the experiment he did not defecate, urinate or vomit, his pulse remained regular and he did not change temperature.

Similarly, Tarrare was a French showman and soldier able to eat vast amounts. He was constantly hungry; his parents could not provide for him, and he was turned out of the family home as a teenager. He travelled France in the company of a band of thieves and prostitutes; swallowing corks, stones, live animals and whole apples. He then took this act to Paris where he worked as a street performer.

He also found military rations unable to satisfy his appetite, and would eat food from gutters and refuse heaps. Suffering from exhaustion through hunger, he was hospitalised and became the subject of experiments to test his eating capacity, in which, he ate a meal intended for 15 people in a single sitting, ate live cats, snakes, lizards and puppies, and swallowed an eel whole without chewing. Despite his unusual diet, he was of normal size and appearance. His army general decided to put Tarrare to use as a courier, swallowing documents and transporting them over enemy lines, however, Tarrare was captured upon his first mission and subjected to a horrific beating and mock execution.

Returning to the hospital following this, Tarrare was caught several times attempting to eat the bodies in the hospital mortuary. After some time, a toddler disappeared, and Tarrare was immediately suspected and banished from the hospital. After his death Tarrare’s body was found to be filled with pus; his liver and gallbladder were abnormally large, and his stomach was enormous, covered in ulcers, and filled most of his abdominal cavity. The cause of their appetites is not known and there have been no modern documented cases of polyphagia as extreme as Domery’s and Tarrare’s.
[Sources: Fortean Times | Charles Domery | Tarrare]

Excessive Eaters of the 18th Century

For some unfathomable reason the 18th century threw up a formidable clutch of prodigious eaters, and scholars have supplied many trustworthy accounts of these great polyphagi. For instance, Rev. Lysons, a habitué of London’s low life, [who visited] squalid, back-street monster-shows and collecting information about al he saw there, recorded in 1788 that “The Duke of Bedford [had] betted 1000 guineas with Lord Barrymore, that he does not eat a live Cat! It is said his Lordship grounds his chances upon having already made the experiment upon a Kitten.” The unusual bet attracted considerable public attention and several articles appeared under the headline ‘Cat Eating’. One authority on blood sports pointed out that it was “not without precedents in the annals of sporting.” He had himself witnessed an Irishman devouring five fox cubs for a bet of £50, whilst another said he had seen a Yorkshire shepherd eat a live cat to win a bet of two guineas.

A few entrepreneurial gluttons managed to transform the art of bizarre consumption into a profitable sideshow act, eating all manner foods for the entertainment of live audiences. Thomas Eclin, for example, performed such wonders in London in the mid-1700s. His feats included eating dogs and cats and leaping head first into the Thames when the weather was freezing cold. The 1770s saw the rise of ‘The Stone Eater’, who would invite doubters to his shows to witness him grind stones and pebbles between his powerful jaws, whilst claiming that his intestinal tract had become used to minerals as the principal source of nourishment after he was shipwrecked on an uninhabited island for 13 years.

Perhaps the most celebrated gluttons, however, are Charles Domery and Tarrare. Domery served with the Prussian Army in the War of the First Coalition, however, upon finding the rations were insufficient to satisfy his appetite he defected to the French Army in return for food. He is recorded as having eaten 174 cats in a year, and although he disliked vegetables, would eat 5 pounds of grass each day if he could not find other food. He once also attempted to eat the severed leg of a crewmember hit by cannon fire, before it was wrestled from him.

When Domery’s ship was captured and imprisoned by the British he remained hungry despite being put on ten times the rations of other inmates. He was subsequently experimented on: throughout a day he was fed a raw cow’s udder, which was eaten without hesitation; 4.6kg of raw beef; 24 large tallow candles; and four large bottles of porter. During the course of the experiment he did not defecate, urinate or vomit, his pulse remained regular and he did not change temperature.

Similarly, Tarrare was a French showman and soldier able to eat vast amounts. He was constantly hungry; his parents could not provide for him, and he was turned out of the family home as a teenager. He travelled France in the company of a band of thieves and prostitutes; swallowing corks, stones, live animals and whole apples. He then took this act to Paris where he worked as a street performer.

He also found military rations unable to satisfy his appetite, and would eat food from gutters and refuse heaps. Suffering from exhaustion through hunger, he was hospitalised and became the subject of experiments to test his eating capacity, in which, he ate a meal intended for 15 people in a single sitting, ate live cats, snakes, lizards and puppies, and swallowed an eel whole without chewing. Despite his unusual diet, he was of normal size and appearance. His army general decided to put Tarrare to use as a courier, swallowing documents and transporting them over enemy lines, however, Tarrare was captured upon his first mission and subjected to a horrific beating and mock execution.

Returning to the hospital following this, Tarrare was caught several times attempting to eat the bodies in the hospital mortuary. After some time, a toddler disappeared, and Tarrare was immediately suspected and banished from the hospital. After his death Tarrare’s body was found to be filled with pus; his liver and gallbladder were abnormally large, and his stomach was enormous, covered in ulcers, and filled most of his abdominal cavity. The cause of their appetites is not known and there have been no modern documented cases of polyphagia as extreme as Domery’s and Tarrare’s.

[Sources: Fortean Times | Charles Domery | Tarrare]

The Hollywood Freeway Chickens
A little more modern than my usual posts but I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed reading a Wikipedia article as much as I have this one:
The Hollywood Freeway chickens are a colony of feral chickens that live under the Vineland Avenue off-ramp of the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles, California. It is still not definitively known how they came to be there. Chickens underneath the Vineland off-ramp became local celebrities upon their arrival sometime around 1970. By 1976, the flock included about 50 chickens, which became known as “Minnie’s chickens”, named after Minnie Blumfield, an elderly retiree who fed them regularly. 
When she became too frail to feed them, Actors and Others for Animals made arrangements to relocate the chickens. Nearly a hundred of the hens and roosters were relocated to a ranch, but not every member of the flock was apprehended, and those that remained spawned a new population. Subsequent removal efforts in the following years all had a similar outcome. In fact, the first colony at the Vineland ramp has spread and there is now a second colony, two miles away.
Beginning in the 1990s, twenty years after the colony’s arrival, various individuals started coming forward claiming to know the mystery of their origin. Among them:
In 1990, Jeff Stein of Granada Hills, California claimed that in 1968, when his wife Janet and her twin sister were 12, they learned that a nearby school that raised animals was closing and that its resident chickens would be killed. The twins scooped them up and succeeded in hiding them at home until the roosters started waking up every morning at 5 a.m. The chickens couldn’t stay, so the girls hiked through a field to an open area near the freeway and deposited two pillowcases full of them there.
In 1992, a North Hollywood man who would give only his first name (“Michael”) claimed that as a child he and his brother put their pet chickens under the freeway after neighbors repeatedly complained about them. “We were afraid to confess after (their numbers) got out of hand because we thought the city would bill us”, he said.
The widely believed, but never verified explanation about an overturned poultry truck on the freeway resurfaced in 2000 when Joe Silbert of Laguna Hills, California claimed to be the driver of the legendary vehicle, saying, “I tried to avoid a lady who cut in front of me and I turned over. I was taking anywhere from 500 to 1,000 chickens back from the Valley to a slaughterhouse in L.A. They were all hens. We never picked up roosters. These were hens that had stopped laying. They would eat but not produce, so they were costing farmers money. Anyway, I had a crate of eggs on the seat beside me, and when I turned over, my head fell into the crate. But I wasn’t hurt. I started chasing one chicken and it was on the TV news that night.” A colony of hens no longer laying eggs would naturally not be able to renew itself, making this explanation rather dubious.
Nevertheless, there was at least one witness to the overturned poultry truck explanation. A driver on the way to work in Glendale was proceeding south on the 5 Freeway when she spotted three cars off to the side of the road that had been involved in a multiple rear-end collision. Blood and feathers were all over the freeway. On the overpass right above the accident site was a truck loaded with poultry cages, and each cage contained multiple chickens. Below, on the freeway, a smashed poultry cage was off to one side, and chickens could be seen walking around in the freeway meridian.
[Image Source]

The Hollywood Freeway Chickens

A little more modern than my usual posts but I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed reading a Wikipedia article as much as I have this one:

The Hollywood Freeway chickens are a colony of feral chickens that live under the Vineland Avenue off-ramp of the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles, California. It is still not definitively known how they came to be there. Chickens underneath the Vineland off-ramp became local celebrities upon their arrival sometime around 1970. By 1976, the flock included about 50 chickens, which became known as “Minnie’s chickens”, named after Minnie Blumfield, an elderly retiree who fed them regularly. 

When she became too frail to feed them, Actors and Others for Animals made arrangements to relocate the chickens. Nearly a hundred of the hens and roosters were relocated to a ranch, but not every member of the flock was apprehended, and those that remained spawned a new population. Subsequent removal efforts in the following years all had a similar outcome. In fact, the first colony at the Vineland ramp has spread and there is now a second colony, two miles away.

Beginning in the 1990s, twenty years after the colony’s arrival, various individuals started coming forward claiming to know the mystery of their origin. Among them:

  • In 1990, Jeff Stein of Granada Hills, California claimed that in 1968, when his wife Janet and her twin sister were 12, they learned that a nearby school that raised animals was closing and that its resident chickens would be killed. The twins scooped them up and succeeded in hiding them at home until the roosters started waking up every morning at 5 a.m. The chickens couldn’t stay, so the girls hiked through a field to an open area near the freeway and deposited two pillowcases full of them there.
  • In 1992, a North Hollywood man who would give only his first name (“Michael”) claimed that as a child he and his brother put their pet chickens under the freeway after neighbors repeatedly complained about them. “We were afraid to confess after (their numbers) got out of hand because we thought the city would bill us”, he said.
  • The widely believed, but never verified explanation about an overturned poultry truck on the freeway resurfaced in 2000 when Joe Silbert of Laguna Hills, California claimed to be the driver of the legendary vehicle, saying, “I tried to avoid a lady who cut in front of me and I turned over. I was taking anywhere from 500 to 1,000 chickens back from the Valley to a slaughterhouse in L.A. They were all hens. We never picked up roosters. These were hens that had stopped laying. They would eat but not produce, so they were costing farmers money. Anyway, I had a crate of eggs on the seat beside me, and when I turned over, my head fell into the crate. But I wasn’t hurt. I started chasing one chicken and it was on the TV news that night.” A colony of hens no longer laying eggs would naturally not be able to renew itself, making this explanation rather dubious.

Nevertheless, there was at least one witness to the overturned poultry truck explanation. A driver on the way to work in Glendale was proceeding south on the 5 Freeway when she spotted three cars off to the side of the road that had been involved in a multiple rear-end collision. Blood and feathers were all over the freeway. On the overpass right above the accident site was a truck loaded with poultry cages, and each cage contained multiple chickens. Below, on the freeway, a smashed poultry cage was off to one side, and chickens could be seen walking around in the freeway meridian.

[Image Source]

(Source: Wikipedia)

Cemetery Gun

In the 18th and 19th centuries, grave-robbing was a serious problem in Great Britain and the United States. Because surgeons and medical students could only legally dissect executed criminals or people who had donated their bodies to science (not a popular option at the time), a trade in illegally procured corpses sprang up. This cemetery gun, held in the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery of Drexel Hill, Pa., was one dramatic strategy used to thwart so-called “resurrection men.”


The gun, which the museum dates to 1710, is mounted on a mechanism that allows it to spin freely. Cemetery keepers set up the flintlock weapon at the foot of a grave, with three tripwires strung in an arc around its position. A prospective grave-robber, stumbling over the tripwire in the dark, would trigger the weapon—much to his own misfortune.


Grave-robbers evolved to meet this challenge. Some would send women posing as widows, carrying children and dressed in black, to case the gravesites during the day and report the locations of cemetery guns and other defenses. Cemetery keepers, in turn, learned to wait to set the guns up after dark, thereby preserving the element of surprise.


Because the guns were rented by the week and were prohibitively expensive to buy, the poorer people most likely to end up beneath the anatomist’s knife—historian Michael Sappol writes that these included “black people, criminals, prostitutes, the Irish, ‘freaks,’ manual laborers, indigents, and Indians”—probably wouldn’t have benefited from this form of protection.
[The website that this is from also has a Tumblr, so go follow them!]

Cemetery Gun

In the 18th and 19th centuries, grave-robbing was a serious problem in Great Britain and the United States. Because surgeons and medical students could only legally dissect executed criminals or people who had donated their bodies to science (not a popular option at the time), a trade in illegally procured corpses sprang up. This cemetery gun, held in the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery of Drexel Hill, Pa., was one dramatic strategy used to thwart so-called “resurrection men.”

The gun, which the museum dates to 1710, is mounted on a mechanism that allows it to spin freely. Cemetery keepers set up the flintlock weapon at the foot of a grave, with three tripwires strung in an arc around its position. A prospective grave-robber, stumbling over the tripwire in the dark, would trigger the weapon—much to his own misfortune.

Grave-robbers evolved to meet this challenge. Some would send women posing as widows, carrying children and dressed in black, to case the gravesites during the day and report the locations of cemetery guns and other defenses. Cemetery keepers, in turn, learned to wait to set the guns up after dark, thereby preserving the element of surprise.

Because the guns were rented by the week and were prohibitively expensive to buy, the poorer people most likely to end up beneath the anatomist’s knife—historian Michael Sappol writes that these included “black people, criminals, prostitutes, the Irish, ‘freaks,’ manual laborers, indigents, and Indians”—probably wouldn’t have benefited from this form of protection.

[The website that this is from also has a Tumblr, so go follow them!]

(Source: Slate)

Clairvius Narcisse: Dead Man Walking

When I was at Uni this kind of thing was the focus of my dissertation and I find it absolutely fascinating:

In April, 1962,  [Clairvius Narcisse] checked himself into hospital in the town of Deschapelle in Haiti. [He] had been sick for some time, complaining of fever, body aches, and general malaise, but recently had begun coughing up blood. His condition deteriorated rapidly. Physicians noted that Narcisse suffered from digestive disorders, pulmonary edema, hypothermia, respiratory difficulties, and hypotension … his lips turned blue [and] he reported tingling sensations all over his body. Two days later his two attending physicians, one of whom was American and the other American-trained, pronounced Narcisse dead and he was buried the next day.

Eighteen years later, [his sister] was walking through the village marketplace when she was approached by someone claiming to be Clairvius Narcisse. The man identified himself by a boyhood nickname which which was known only to members of the immediate family, and he had a bizarre tale to tell…    

He said that as he was pronounced dead he felt as if his skin was on fire, with insects crawling beneath it. He heard his sister Angelina weeping and felt the sheet being pulled up over his face. Although he was unable to move or speak, he remained lucid and aware the entire time, even as his coffin was nailed shut and buried. He even had a scar which he claimed was sustained as one of the coffin nails was driven through his face. There he remained, for how long he did not know, until the coffin as opened by the bokor (sorcerer) and his henchmen. He was beaten into submission, bound, gagged, and spirited away to a sugar plantation that was to be his home for the next two years.    

On the plantation, Narcisse and other zombies labored from sunup to sunset, pausing for only one meal a day. He would later report that he passed his time there in a dream-like state, devoid of will or volition, with events unfolding before him as if in slow motion. They were given a paste made from datura which at certain doses has a hallucinogenic effect and can cause memory loss. When the boker was killed, and the regular doses of the hallucinogen stopped, the slaves were able to regain their senses and escape.    

Two scientists investigating Narcisse’s claims have concluded that Narcisse was initially poisoned by a dose of a chemical mixture containing tetrodotoxin (pufferfish venom) and bufotoxin (toad venom) to induce a coma which mimicked the appearance of death. The instigator of the poisoning was thought to be Narcisse’s brother, with whom he had quarrelled over land. Upon returning to his village after the death of his brother Narcisse was immediately recognised. When he told the story of how he was dug up from his grave and enslaved, the villagers were surprised, but accepted his story because they believed that his experience was a result of voodoo magic.    

[Sources: Much more detailed article here : Wikipedia]

Sin-Eater
Up until the late 19th century various villages throughout England maintained a curious ilk of beggar known as a sin-eater. These men would be summoned, naturally by the lure of a handsome pay cheque, to eat bread, partake of alcohol and recite ritual over a fresh corpse, in the belief that by these means the sin-eater would take into his body the sins of those who had died without chance to repent. The sin-eater would receive his pay and the deceased would enjoy an easy ascension to the heavens.

An account of Richard Munslow (d.1906)[1], the last sin-eater of England, reads thus:


By eating bread and drinking ale, and by making a short speech at the graveside, the sin-eater took upon themselves the sins of the deceased. The speech was written as: “I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes or in our meadows. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.

In Funeral Customs (1926) Bertram S. Puckle tells of a Welsh sin-eater in 1825 who, “Abhorred by the superstitious villagers as a thing unclean … cut himself off from all social intercourse with his fellow creatures … he lived as a rule in a remote place by himself, and those who chanced to meet him avoided him as they would a leper. This unfortunate was held to be the associate of evil spirits, and given to witchcraft, incantations and unholy practices; only when a death took place did they seek him out, and when his purpose was accomplished they burned the wooden bowl and platter from which he had eaten the food handed across, or placed on the corpse for his consumption.”[2]
Unapproved of by the church the practice faded out towards the end of the 19th century.
[Image Source]

Sin-Eater

Up until the late 19th century various villages throughout England maintained a curious ilk of beggar known as a sin-eater. These men would be summoned, naturally by the lure of a handsome pay cheque, to eat bread, partake of alcohol and recite ritual over a fresh corpse, in the belief that by these means the sin-eater would take into his body the sins of those who had died without chance to repent. The sin-eater would receive his pay and the deceased would enjoy an easy ascension to the heavens.

An account of Richard Munslow (d.1906)[1], the last sin-eater of England, reads thus:

By eating bread and drinking ale, and by making a short speech at the graveside, the sin-eater took upon themselves the sins of the deceased. The speech was written as: “I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes or in our meadows. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.

In Funeral Customs (1926) Bertram S. Puckle tells of a Welsh sin-eater in 1825 who, “Abhorred by the superstitious villagers as a thing unclean … cut himself off from all social intercourse with his fellow creatures … he lived as a rule in a remote place by himself, and those who chanced to meet him avoided him as they would a leper. This unfortunate was held to be the associate of evil spirits, and given to witchcraft, incantations and unholy practices; only when a death took place did they seek him out, and when his purpose was accomplished they burned the wooden bowl and platter from which he had eaten the food handed across, or placed on the corpse for his consumption.”[2]

Unapproved of by the church the practice faded out towards the end of the 19th century.

[Image Source]

Children of the Taiga

In 1978, a helicopter flying over the taiga – an immense wilderness stretching from the furthest tip of Russia’s arctic regions to as far south as Mongola – spotted something unusual below: a clearing, 6000ft up a mountain. They concluded that it was evidence of human habitation though it was 150 miles from the nearest settlement and authorities had no records of anyone living there.

Led by Galina Pismenskaya an investigative group “chose a fine day and put gifts in our packs for our prospective friends”—though, just to be sure, she recalled, “I did check the pistol that hung at my side”. Making their way up the mountain they came across signs of human activity: a rough path, a staff, a log laid across a stream, and a small shed filled with cut-up dried potatoes. Then:

"a very old man emerged … Barefoot. Wearing a patched and repatched shirt made of sacking … He looked frightened … We had to say something, so I began: ‘Greetings, grandfather! We’ve come to visit!’ … Finally we heard a soft, uncertain voice: ‘Well, since you have travelled this far, you might as well come in.’"

Over several visits the story of the family emerged. The man was Karp Lykov, an Old Believer – a member of a fundamentalist Russian Orthadox sect, worshiping in a style unchanged since the 1600s. Old Believers had been persecuted since the days of Peter the Great, and Lykov talked about it as though it had happened only yesterday. Ever since they had retreated further and further from civilization.

There were four children. Two had been born in the wild and had never seen a human being who was not a family member. They were educated using prayer books; were not aware that WWII had occurred, and lived permanently on the edge of famine. Karp’s wife died of starvation in 1961, choosing to see her children eat after snow in June ruined their crops.

Karp was delighted by the innovations the scientists showed him, and though he steadfastly refused to believe that man had set foot on the moon, he adapted swiftly to the idea of satellites. They had noticed them as early as the 1950s, when “the stars began to go quickly across the sky,” and Karp conceived a theory that: “People have thought something up and are sending out fires that are very like stars.”

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the Lykovs’ strange story was the rapidity with which the family went into decline after they re-established contact with the outside world. In the fall of 1981, three of the four children died within a few days of one another. Their deaths were not, as might have been expected, the result of exposure to diseases to which they had no immunity.

When they had been buried, the geologists attempted to talk Karp and his daughter into leaving the forest but neither would hear of it. Karp died in his sleep in 1988 and was buried on the mountain. His daughter would stay, she said—as indeed she has. 25 years later, now in her seventies, this child of the taiga lives on alone, high above the Abakan.

[This is a heavily edited version of a Smithsonian Magazine article and I highly recommend you read the whole thing. Thanks to Vintage-Royalty]

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