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Edward Mordrake was said to have been a member of one of the noblest families in England and was due to inherit quite a large sum of money. He was mild and genteel, a quiet sort with a sensible disposition, a scholar, and a musician and was said to be quite handsome when viewed from the front. However, when Mordrake turned his head, spectators would look upon a most upsetting visage. You see, on the back of Mordrake’s head was another face. From thehumanmarvels.com: “Often it was said that it possessed its own intelligence and was quite malignant in its intentions. It has been said that the eyes would follow spectators and its lips would ‘gibber’ relentlessly and silently. According to legend it would smile and sneer as Edward wept over his condition. While no voice was ever audible, Edward swore that often he would be kept awake by the hateful whispers of his ‘evil twin’. It is said that Edward begged many doctors to remove this “demon head” from his skull. It has also been said that Edward lived completely isolated from everyone else. He thought the best way to carry on his life was to stay away from everyone. This isolation even included his own family members.”
The tale of poor Edward Mordrake comes to an end when he chooses to take his own life. In some versions, Mordrake chooses poison to end his torture. In others, a bullet between the eyes of the demon face does him in. There is no date of birth nor is there a date of death for Mordrake, but the tale tells of him leaving a letter asking for the destruction of the demon face prior to his burial so that it would not continue to torture him in death.
Though the story of Edward Mordrake has been retold many times and has even been featured in the 1896 text “Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine,” many think the tale is too fantastical to be believed. Medically, many parts of the story don’t make sense or are impossible. For example, in some cases, it is said that the demon face was female, an impossibility as all parasitic twins are the same sex.
Left: Edward Mordrake (https://www.thehumanmarvels.com/from-the-archives-edward-mordake-poor-edward/) Note: The photo is actually that of a wax interpretation of Mordrake’s deformity and not an actual image of the man himself.
Right: Chang Tzu Ping (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfFDPC8rFR0)
Chang Tzu Ping, a man from a rural village in China, was born with two faces. More specifically, Ping suffered from fetus in fetu, a condition that caused a parasitic twin to grow inside his face. Ping was actually supposed to be a twin, but instead, his twin developed inside him within the womb. The end result was a partial mouth and tongue on the side of his face with several teeth. A black mass almost in the center of his right cheek was found to be the location of the second twin’s would-be brain. Ping also had a hump on his back, likely more remnants of the parasitic twin. Amazingly enough, Ping lived with the condition for many years, losing a potential wife in an arranged marriage when she saw him on their wedding night and isolating himself in the fields of his small village out of shame for his condition. Ping was eventually discovered by a renowned surgeon and, upon meeting with Ping and his family, took on his case. Ping’s right ear was permanently disfigured from the removal surgery, but overall his condition is greatly improved.
Although Ping’s parasitic twin was not on the back of his head as is the case with Mordrake, it is possible to be born with such a deformity. I mean, given that this case was so widely publicized and was featured on television (an episode of That’s Incredible, 1982) including parts of the actual removal surgery, I can’t imagine that Ping’s condition was a farce. In fact, Ping isn’t the only example of a condition called Diprosopus.
From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diprosopus):
“Lali Singh was born March 10, 2008 to Sushma and Vinod Singh in Saini, Sunpura Sohanpur village, near Delhi; the birth was delayed by dystocia caused by her large head, and her birth in a hospital was facilitated by her mother’s receiving an episiotomy. She was one of the very few infants with diprosopus to survive well past birth. She might have been the only known living individual with complete facial duplication. Her facial features included two pairs of eyes, two noses, and two mouths (but only one pair of ears). She was seen as the reincarnation of the goddess Durga, who is sometimes depicted with many limbs and eyes.
Sushma and Vinod Singh declined an offer from local doctors to evaluate their daughter through CT or MRI scanning. Without diagnostic imaging, it was not possible to know the full extent to which the child’s condition might have affected her brain and other vital structures in her head and neck. Thus, any estimation of her ability to thrive or even survive could be only speculative, though Lali’s family described her as functioning normally. It is also unknown whether neurosurgeons or craniofacial surgeons, if consulted, would have had feasible solutions to offer with respect to corrective surgery. A local doctor told reporters that the baby should be considered a healthy child who currently was living a normal life, a previously unknown occurrence among sufferers of the disorder.
Lali’s two middle eyes suffered from corneal opacity due to abnormal anatomy of the facial muscles, which prevented her from properly closing those eyes. (Before, it was wrongly blamed on camera flashes.)
A cleft palate caused difficulty feeding her under village conditions. A poor diet of bottle-fed sugar solution and diluted milk, allowed to drip down her throat as she could not suck properly because of the cleft palate, weakened her condition, and vomiting and infection started. Admission to hospital was delayed by discussion (including taking her back home from hospital) among her extended family and her village’s headman. Finally, her parents, alarmed at her illness and dehydration, defied her other relatives and took her back to hospital, where under proper medical treatment including antibiotic and a saline drip she started to improve, stopped vomiting, started drinking milk and defecating normally; but 6 hours later, at two months old to the day, she died of a heart attack. She was buried in her village, as is usual in Hinduism with children who die very young. Later a temple was built at the village in her memory.
Faith Daisy and Hope Alice Howie (May 8, 2014 – May 27, 2014) were born in Sydney, Australia, to parents Simon Howie and Renee Young. Faith and Hope shared one body and skull, but had complete duplication of the facial features, as well as duplication of the brain; both brains joined to one brain stem. Young and Howie had learned at 19 weeks gestation of their children’s condition, but opted not to terminate the pregnancy. The children were born 6 weeks prematurely and appeared to be doing well, able to breathe unaided several days after their birth and they were observed to sleep and cry at different times. They died 19 days following their birth due to unknown causes, although some sources indicated that the girls died following an operation for unknown reasons.
Few two-faced animals have survived due to associated internal organ abnormalities and brain abnormalities. One of the most famous was Ditto, a pig. Ditto was raised to adulthood, but died of pneumonia caused by food inhalation when breathing through one muzzle while eating with the other.
Cats with the condition are known as ‘Janus cats’, after the Roman god. In July 2006, a 6-year-old male Janus cat called “Frank and Louie” from Millbury, Massachusetts, USA, received publicity. In their case, only one esophagus (and possibly only one trachea) was functional and aided survival. In September 2011, when Frank and Louie were 12 years old, it was announced that they will appear in the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-surviving Janus cat on record. In 2014, Frank and Louie died at the age of 15.”
More on Mordrake?
I’ve searched the internet for information on Mordrake, hoping to find a date of birth, the location of his childhood home, or a connection to the English family to which he was an heir. The information just doesn’t exist. What does exist is a massive Google list of results on Mordrake and urban legends. It does make me wonder how much of the Edward Mordrake story is true. After all, the medical anomaly (though rare) does exist. How unrealistic is it that a man like Mordrake could survive with such a deformity to the ripe old age of 23? The fact that this placement of the “demon face” is impossible doesn’t really lead me to believe that someone like Mordrake has never existed. More likely, someone was born with a deformity and an urban legend was created. It’s indeed creepy to think that Mordrake’s “demon face” muttered dark thoughts constantly and would often give an evil smile independent of Mordrake’s face.
Is Edward Mordrake’s urban legend simply a sensationalized version of the very true story of Chang Tzu Ping or some other similarly afflicted individual? Is there a kernel of truth to Mordrake’s suffering and condition? We often fear that which we don’t understand. Perhaps we’ll never know, but I’m sure that this tale will survive for many years to come.
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The spray from the Atlantic causes your face to itch as you ascend the rocky cliff surrounding the French fort that resembles a medieval castle, its walls now bathed in the mottled pink and red of the rising sun. The way has been blocked at every instance and climbing is the only option. Your arms ache. Below you, the warship you arrived on is nothing more than a dark shape on the water. You take a deep breath and try not to look down. Your orders are simple. Col. Amherst has directed you to take the fort back into British command and, as a soldier under his order, you have no choice but to oblige. You can hear the disembodied screams of the wounded coming from the fort above. This is your destination. Your fellow men at arms are climbing beside you, dodging gunfire from French troops and fighting to hold their footing on the jagged face of the cliff. You have never seen war, have never watched the life drain from another’s eyes, but you are headstrong and willing to do as you are told. As a soldier in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, you know that the honor of dying for the crown will be far more glorious than falling to your death upon the jagged rocks below. So, you climb. This date will forever live in infamy whether you survive this conflict or not. Despite the uneven surface and the weight of all you carry, you finally reach the summit and feel your stomach drop as a bullet strikes you in the chest. You fall to your knees and watch for a moment as your comrades fight their way forward and then, everything fades to black.
“At dawn on September 15, 1762, Royal Navy warships anchored behind the steep hill, with masts out of view of the French. British troops then scaled the cliff side onto the hill itself. The surprise was total, and the engagement was brief but fatal. The commander of the French detachment, Guillaume de Bellecombe, was seriously wounded. On the British side, a bullet shattered the legs of one of Amherst’s officers, MacDonell. The French withdrew to the fort. The British began painstakingly bringing artillery pieces up the cliff and constructed small batteries which they proceeded to use to bombard the fort, until the French capitulated. At the close of the battle, Signal Hill was in the hands of the British. Strengthened by this advantageous situation, three days later they obtained the capitulation of the French garrison of St. John’s, which consisted of just over 1,500 French regulars.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Signal_Hill
My father is a security guard and, for several years, he was charged with protecting one of the most historic locations in Newfoundland. He’d worked his way up from night shifts patrolling the docks, risking his life boarding foreign ships in the dark (you could always miss a step on the gangway and plummet into the Atlantic and be crushed between the boat and the pier) and dodging particularly nasty rats, to securing the local airport (there’s only one.) When the position at Signal Hill became available, my father jumped at the chance for a change. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his position, it was just that the tourist site was easy enough to look after at night and there weren’t a lot of people who went up to the tower after dark. Sure, it was a popular place for teens to make out, but he could handle that. He was assigned the night shift, meaning it was just him wandering the areas surrounding Cabot Tower and the gift shop (only in operation during daylight hours.)
His first few shifts there went well enough. It took him a little while to get a feel for the inspection/patrol schedule and to figure out the keys he’d been given, but overall it seemed simple. He was to make sure all entryways and exits were secure and ensure the buildings were empty of tourists at the close of the business day. It wasn’t until after roughly a month of patrols that things started to get weird.
He’d see lights on in the tower at night. Random lights, not like a bulb controlled by a switch. The lights seemed to dance in the windows, first toward the top of the tower and then toward the bottom. It was almost as if someone inside were wandering about with a candle or a lantern, securing the fort for the night or conducting their own patrol. He’d go to check it out, that was his job after all, but he’d find nothing and have no explanation for the lights he’d seen. In addition to this activity, the gift shop/visitors center began to creep him out. He’d lay down a set of keys, go to the restroom, and return to find the keys on the opposite side of the desk from where he’d put them. There are mannequins dressed in soldier’s garb set in scenes behind glass in the visitor’s center and he swore that those figures would move when he wasn’t looking or that their eyes would follow him as he passed. The uniforms displayed on the mannequins had been worn by members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment (1812/1817) and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band (1795) so I suppose it’s no surprise that the spirits of those who wore the uniforms previously might make an appearance during my father’s nightly rounds.
In addition to securing the tower and the visitor’s center, he also had to walk the path from the center to the tower several times each night. There are no lights on the road and the way is very dark. The Atlantic Ocean is to your right and a swath of sprawling, boggy land lies to your left. If anything had happened to him during these walks, he would have been stuck until the sun came up and someone came to relieve him. Scary stuff.
One night, he was walking along the road toward the tower and noticed movement near a pond to his left. It’s called Dead Man’s Pond because apparently, it’s fed by the ocean and divers have never been able to reach the bottom. It’s also earned this title because people have drowned in the pond and the pond was used to dispose of the bodies of those hanged on Gibbett Hill, the location of a rather active gallows way back when. In 1869, two little girls were skating on the pond and fell through the ice. A local man named Frederick Carter Jr. attempted to save the girls, but he too lost his life. My father witnessed two small figures seemingly floating along the surface of the pond. It was dark, but it seemed as if these two figures had an internal light source. They moved about, oblivious to my father’s presence, then faded away into the darkness.
Many have reported ghostly apparitions on and around Signal Hill. A friend of mine returned from relieving himself with a look of sheer horror on his face. My friends and I would often go to Signal Hill after dark, share a flask, and try to scare one another. This friend, in particular, was a prankster and had scared me numerous times. He was, in essence, the boy who cried wolf in this particular instance. Nobody believed him. He said he was taking a piss by the edge of the wall close to the ledge overlooking Dead Man’s Pond and had seen bodies swinging by their necks on the gallows on Gibbett Hill. We scoffed at him. There WAS no gallows on Gibbet Hill. It was long gone.
Worst. Windchime. EVER.
“Dissection and gibbeting were punishments that had long been established in England and her colonies for crimes of traitors, murderers, highwaymen, pirates, and sheep stealers. The intention was that the body of Peter Downing (Downing was convicted in early April, 1834, for the brutal murders of a school teacher (Mr. Bray), his infant son and a servant girl. For his crimes Downing was sentenced to be hanged, dissected and gibbetted) would be left as a grim reminder and would stay on the gibbet for a year or more until it rotted away or was eaten by birds. Gibbeting was formally legalised in Britain by the Murder Act of 1752.
Gibbeting was not generally accepted by the people in Newfoundland. Many were offended by the sight and odor of a decaying body, others believed that the decaying bodies spread disease, others felt that being hung by the neck till dead was enough, even a criminal should meet his Creator in his full body.
In Harbour Grace, Dr. Sterling heeded the content of the note from the angry citizens. The decayed body of Peter Downing was buried immediately at the Court House, and no attempts were made to have the incident investigated or the body gibbeted again.
In Newfoundland “gibbetting” is well documented. In St John’s, Gibbet Hill, a small peak close to Signal Hill, takes its name from the practice. The location was very intentional. Anyone looking towards Signal Hill would see the ‘gibbeted bodies.” A reminder to heed the laws of the colony!
Newfoundland for a number of years held the dubious distinction of being the last place in the British Empire to proceed with gibbetting.” http://archivalmoments.ca/tag/gibbet-hill/
For those of you who may not know what gibbeting entails…
“A gibbet is any instrument of public execution (including guillotine, executioner’s block, impalement stake, hanging gallows, or related scaffold), but gibbeting refers to the use of a gallows-type structure from which the dead or dying bodies of criminals were hung on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. Occasionally the gibbet was also used as a method of execution, with the criminal being left to die of exposure, thirst and/or starvation. The term gibbet may also be used to refer to the practice of placing a criminal on display within a gibbet. This practice is also called “hanging in chains.”” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibbeting
To this day, I don’t know if my friend was telling the truth. He always insisted that he’d seen the bodies swaying in the wind and his face was the palest I’d ever seen it. After he told us what he’d seen, he’d promptly thrown up, but that could have just as easily been due to the liquor he’d been consuming.
More Ghostly Tales
Visitors to St. John’s have reported hearing a woman wailing in or around Cabot Tower. There is an old story that tells of a woman who was struggling to keep warm by the fire. She was cradling her baby close to her. The fire had no means of venting, so she’d sometimes have to open the window to let the smoke out. Then the room would become cold and she’d have to close the window again. She did this several times but fell asleep at some point. When she awoke, coughing from the smoke, the realized that her baby had died from smoke inhalation. It is said that her ghost returned to the place of that terrible accident and cries out for her lost baby.
Hikers have claimed to see ghostly apparitions hoisting flags at the top of Cabot Tower. From around 1811-1958, flags were flown at the top of the structure to mark the approach of certain merchant vessels. The flags would alert those on the harbor front that particular vessels were coming in to dock and would allow time to find space to offload cargo.
“Red, white and blue designs represented the firms and trading companies of the day, including Baine Johnston & Co., Ayre & Sons, Bowring Bros & Co., and R. Templeton.
Each flag had a marker, such as an anchor, star, cross or other symbol that would identify the firm, and in turn ships would fly the flag of the merchant whose goods they were carrying.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/replica-flags-signal-hill-1.4202910
In addition, figures have been seen tossing remains into Dead Man’s Pond. A friend of my fathers claimed that, on one of his walkabouts late in the evening, he came upon two men who were dressed in period clothing, throwing remains into the pond from a pile to their left. Obviously distressed by what he was seeing, he called out to the two men and told them to stop what they were doing. The two men did stop, looked at him, then faded away. When my father’s friend went to the spot they were standing, he could see no evidence of their being there even though it had rained the night before and the spot was quite soggy.
There is no end to the ghost stories told in and around St. John’s. There are even historical tours that highlight this part of Newfoundland history. If you’re ever in Newfoundland, go on the Haunted Hike walking tour. It’s AMAZING. The tour guide will take you to all the creepy/haunted spots in St. John’s for just $10 a person. I believe the tour is around 2 hours long, so that’s a great bargain. It also runs rain or shine!
St. John’s is a city steeped in history, both good and bad, and I’m proud to call it my first home. I hope you all take a moment to learn a little more about it and maybe even visit someday. It’s well worth the trip.
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NEW EPISODE AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD!
Haunted items invade the Haunt Heads Podcast! Mimi discusses four spooky items that have caused the death of anyone to come into contact with them and Janine tells the tale of The Crying Boy.
This episode contains a weeping youngster, a cop who may have suffered head trauma from a “flying” vase, and many, many instances of untimely demise.
Thanks to Fox and Branch for our intro/outro music! Foxandbranch.com
Binge old episodes of Haunt Heads at hauntheads.podbean.com
My grandmother had three of them, located in various parts of her home. The boy in the kitchen wept while holding a puppy, one side of his blue overalls unhitched, the buckle trailing on the ground. The painting in the bathroom was of a little boy hiding his hands behind his back. He wore a dark suit with a small red bowtie. He, too, wept. The third and final of the three was hung in my childhood bedroom. In this painting, the boy is staring directly at you, his shoulders slumped, his eyes clouded and dripping with sadness. His clothing is drab, a beige or offwhite shirt and his hair is a tousled, mousy brown. I don’t think I ever slept well in that bedroom…
Often duplicated, the Crying Boy painting that hung in my bedroom was likely an original. The others were simply imitations of artist Giovanni Bragolin’s work. They were widely available in the 1950’s and my grandmother was likely attracted to them because they were so expressive. She wasn’t an art collector or aficionado by any means, but she knew what she liked. Unfortunately, that usually meant that everyone else had to suffer for her love of art. I digress.
Bruno Amadio (15 January 1911 – 22 September 1981), popularly known as Bragolin, and also known as Franchot Seville, Angelo Bragolin, and Giovanni Bragolin, was the creator of the group of paintings known as Crying Boys. The paintings feature a variety of tearful children looking morosely straight ahead. They are sometimes called “Gypsy boys” although there is nothing specifically linking them to the Romani people.
He was an academically trained painter, working in post-war Venice as painter and restorer, producing the Crying Boy pictures for tourists. At least 65 such paintings were made under the name Bragolin, reproductions of which were sold worldwide. He was not always paid royalties for the reproductions. In the 1970s he was found to be alive and well-to-do and still painting in Padua. Claims that he fled to Spain after the war, painting children from a local orphanage which subsequently burned down, appear to be an unconfirmed urban legend.
Okay…so it’s just a painting, right? I mean, it’s definitely creepy, but it won’t actually cause you any harm. It might, however, burn your house down.
According to Tina Booth, owner of a Crying Boy painting, the work of art actually caused two fires in her home. She eventually brought it to Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures so that he could house it in his occult museum, fearing that the painting would one day cause a member of her family to come to harm. The painting is featured in season 1, episode 5 of Deadly Possessions. Booth traveled from Clevedon, England, to Las Vegas, NV, to give the painting to Bagans and was glad to have it leave her hands. Booth was well aware of the legend surrounding the painting, but when she went antiquing for her resale business and found an original, she had to have it. I’m not sure why you’d want to risk selling such an item, but okay…
Art expert Brett Maly states in the episode that the painting is of a supposed street urchin who had lost his family in a fire. The legend goes that, after the boy had escaped the fire, he had the ability to start fires of his own without the use of matches or kindling. Think Drew Barrymore in Firestarter.
When Bragolin painted his picture and made prints to sell, it is said that the boy’s curse was also attached to these images. In “fact,” shortly after Bragolin finished capturing the image, his studio burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances. In every instance of fire involving a Crying Boy painting, the painting itself remains unharmed. Everything else is destroyed, but the image is usually found facedown in the rubble, completely unscathed. In 1985, following a house fire in England, firefighters found a Crying Boy painting in the rubble. They commented to local newspapers that they were fascinated by the condition of it, given that everything else in the home had been burned beyond recognition. I’m not sure if it was a slow news day, but the story became front-page fodder immediately.
Dr. David Clarke, a Research Fellow in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, disputes the claims that the Crying Boy has ever been the cause of any sort of fiery catastrophe. Clarke states on his blog that there are over four million results on Google for “Crying Boy Curse” and that the story is one of the most popular pages on his blog. From the blog(https://drdavidclarke.co.uk/2018/01/02/tears-for-fears-the-curse-of-the-crying-boy/):
“Mass produced prints of weeping toddlers painted by a mysterious Italian artist, ‘Bragolin’ and others, sold in tens of thousands during the 1960s-70s.
The Crying Boy (TCB) acquired its supernatural ‘curse’ in September 1985 after a local evening newspaper in the mining town of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, published a story about a house blaze in which a copy of the print survived unscathed.
In his piece, reporter John Murphy from the Rotherham Star referred to a ‘family hit by a curse’ after fire fighters revealed this was the latest in a series of fires in which prints, all featuring similar images of TCB, had been found undamaged. The earliest blaze on record was in 1973.
Two days later, on 4 September 1985, national tabloid The Sun published on page 13 its own hyperbolic version headlined “BLAZING CURSE OF THE CRYING BOY – picture is a fire jinx’.
Editor Kelvin McKenzie knew the story ‘had legs’ and, for a number of months promoted a tabloid TCB campaign – inviting readers who were troubled by the curse to send their prints to The Sun for destruction. The paper was inundated with copies of the print, attributed to a number of artists. Readers came forward with their own stories of bad luck, accidents and hauntings they associated with the ‘curse’.”
Dr. Clarke continues, “Since that time the legend has completed its transformation from media ‘silly season‘ story into an international online urban legend. Along the way it has acquired a complex narrative that explains who the ‘crying boy’ (sometimes a ‘gypsy boy’) actually is and why ownership of the prints can bring ill-luck.
Today copies regularly appear for sale online via Gumtree and Ebay with references to its backstory, despite restrictions on the use of supernatural claims in advertising. Since the 1990s, my research has collected versions from the USA, Brazil and Australia. My web-page on TCB is easily the most popular section of my blog. It has received more than 73,000 visits since 2012 and readers have used it to express their own personal stories and beliefs about it, for example:
“My mum has this picture but they said they heard about the curse and they hang it in a cupboard facing the wall so no one looks at it,” posted one woman.
“They believe if they try and get rid of it something bad will happen.”
My grandmother never told me any stories about Firestarter-like children who were going to burn our house to the ground, but perhaps she was only attracted to the art because of the subject matter. Perhaps she’d also heard stories about the paintings being of homeless orphans and latched on in hopes of giving those children a place in the world. I don’t think she’s ever gotten rid of them. Who knows… Regardless, if you’re keen, you can grab your own Crying Boy painting on eBay for between $2,200-3,000.00. Just make sure your insurance policy covers fire before you bid.
Your Fellow Haunt Head,
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It killed more than 20 million Europeans, almost one-third of the continent’s population, but arrived silently aboard 12 Genoese trading ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina in 1347. Onlookers who had come to welcome the ships were met with a terrible sight: many of the sailors had died at sea and the remaining crew on board these ships were severely ill. With the pain of illness, many of the sailors had become insane and were covered in oozing black boils. By the time any action was taken to make the ships leave, the affliction that had struck down the sailors had already jumped ship. By the time the sickness had run its course, it had cut down 75 million people, though this is only an estimate, worldwide. I’m speaking, of course, of The Black Plague.
Plague may take three forms (www.medicinenet.com):
1. Bubonic plague
In this form of the infection, bacteria infiltrate the lymph nodes, causing enlarged, painful, tender lymph nodes called buboes. Accompanying symptoms are fever, chills, headaches, and weakness. If not treated, the infection can spread to other areas of the body. This is the most common form seen in the few U.S. infections.
2. Septicemic plague
This form of plague is a result of plague bacteria entering the bloodstream. It can occur on its own or it may develop from bubonic plague. Symptoms include fever, chills, weakness, abdominal pain, and shock. There can be bleeding and tissue death, especially of the fingers and toes. These dying tissues may appear black, hence the name Black Death.
3. Pneumonic plague
In the pneumonic form of the illness, symptoms of other types of plague can be present, but the characteristic clinical picture of pneumonia is present. The plague bacteria spread to the lungs or infect the lungs directly when infected droplets in the air are inhaled. This is the only form of plague that can be transmitted from person to person. Shortness of breath, chest pain, fever, and cough with watery or bloody mucus production are symptoms of pneumonic plague.
According to History.com, many early Europeans believed the plague was a punishment from God itself.
“Because they did not understand the biology of the disease, many people believed that the Black Death was a kind of divine punishment–retribution for sins against God such as greed, blasphemy, heresy, fornication, and worldliness. By this logic, the only way to overcome the plague was to win God’s forgiveness. Some people believed that the way to do this was to purge their communities of heretics and other troublemakers–so, for example, many thousands of Jews were massacred in 1348 and 1349. (Thousands more fled to the sparsely populated regions of Eastern Europe, where they could be relatively safe from the rampaging mobs in the cities.)
Some people coped with the terror and uncertainty of the Black Death epidemic by lashing out at their neighbors; others coped by turning inward and fretting about the condition of their own souls. Some upper-class men joined processions of flagellants that traveled from town to town and engaged in public displays of penance and punishment: They would beat themselves and one another with heavy leather straps studded with sharp pieces of metal while the townspeople looked on.”
I think it’s safe to say that everyone went a little mad. Their friends, neighbors and family members were dying all around them and it seemed as if the world they knew was disintegrating before their eyes. Their livestock died, the loss of so many sheep actually led to a wool shortage across Europe. It was a culture of insanity. I guess that’s why many people in Norway, both those suffering from plague symptoms and those looking on, believed that their afflictions had something to do with a creature from Norwegian folklore: Pesta.
In Norwegian folk legend, Pesta is an old woman who carries both a rake and a broom. It is also said that Pesta, the plague hag, carries pestilence with her. If Pesta brings her rake, some may survive the plague and pass through the teeth, but if she’s carrying her broom, there will be no survivors.
It’s no small wonder that the name Pesta is located on a list of popular baby names at number 71,580. If you hate your kid, name them Pesta.
As I was searching Google, I happened upon a list of baby names. Pesta sits around the 71k mark (predictable.) I scroll down and see there is no “meaning” for this particular baby name. There is, however, a little button you can push to suggest one. Guess what I wrote?
I’m sure that whoever checks that email will be stupefied.
The WordPress site Myths and Microbes states that Pesta arrives by a ghost ship filled with rats (I’ll tackle that in a little bit). The personification of an unseen force is a common theme in many folklore tales. For example, The Hag (of Newfoundland folklore) is a four-legged creature that sits upon your chest and freezes you to the spot. You’re unable to move or scream as it stares down at you with black eyes, its long, stringy hair brushing your face. Today, we know that this strange feeling some of us experience between sleep and wakefulness is actually something called sleep paralysis, but before there was a clinical diagnosis available to explain away fears there were a lot of people who slept with boards with nails in them (supposedly the Hag would get stabbed by the nails and run away, proof that folklore in no way has to be logical) across their chests at night.
According to Myths and Microbes, “This type of personification of death and disease is common during the late medieval period. It represents an attempt to explain a horrifying experience. The folklore of the black plague developed through observation of events that must have seemed inexplicable to the people living through them. We can, however, learn something about how the events unfolded through a careful examination of the folklore of Pesta. Folklorists argue that folklore can be true and can be the results of individuals “rationally perceiving a real situation.” Through the story of Pesta and her path across Norway, we see an attempt to explain the spread of a disease based on actual observations. While the entity of Pesta is not a literal being, we can imagine her as a representation of the microbe that we know today.”
The plague, known also by its Latin name Yersinia Pestis (pestilence), traveled from port to port by ship so it is no wonder that Pesta (personification of the plague itself) also used that mode of transportation. The folk legend states that Pesta traveled on a ghost ship filled with rats. But not only was Pesta the harbinger of grotesque suffering, those sailors that traveled by that same means were carriers of the plague and victims of Pesta.
Rats were said to be carriers of the plague during the first outbreaks. The plague bacteria is actually transmitted by fleas on the animals, not the rats themselves, but people had no way of knowing this. They simply associated the rats with the illness and certain folk legends in certain parts of the world perpetuated this belief.
Early Forms of Treatment
From The History Learning Site (http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval-england/cures-for-the-black-death/):
|Vinegar and water treatment||If a person gets the disease, they must be put to bed. They should be washed with vinegar and rose water|
Lancing the buboes
|The swellings associated with the Black Death should be cut open to allow the disease to leave the body. A mixture of tree resin, roots of white lilies and dried human excrement should be applied to the places where the body has been cut open.|
|The disease must be in the blood. The veins leading to the heart should be cut open. This will allow the disease to leave the body. An ointment made of clay and violets should be applied to the place where the cuts have been made.|
|Diet||We should not eat food that goes off easily and smells badly such as meat, cheese and fish. Instead we should eat bread, fruit and vegetables|
|The streets should be cleaned of all human and animal waste. It should be taken by a cart to a field outside of the village and burnt. All bodies should be buried in deep pits outside of the village and their clothes should also be burnt.|
|Roast the shells of newly laid eggs. Ground the roasted shells into a powder. Chop up the leaves and petals of marigold flowers. Put the egg shells and marigolds into a pot of good ale. Add treacle and warm over a fire. The patient should drink this mixture every morning and night.|
|Place a live hen next to the swelling to draw out the pestilence from the body. To aid recovery you should drink a glass of your own urine twice a day.|
Face of the Plague
Plague doctors were often hired to treat entire communities and paid a salary by said communities. The dominant theory around the 17th century was that miasma (“bad air”) was to blame for the spread of plague. This is why, on their faces, doctors wore masks with long “beaks.” The beak would be packed full of sweet-smelling mixes of herbs and flowers and the eyes of the mask would be covered with glass, “sealing” in the “good air” and forcing out the bad. Wikipedia states, “Medical historians have attributed the invention of the “beak doctor” costume to Charles de Lorme, who adopted in 1619 the idea of a full head-to-toe protective garment, modeled after a soldier’s armor. This consisted of a bird-like mask with spectacles, and a long leather (Moroccan or Levantine) or waxed-canvas gown which went from the neck to the ankle. The over-clothing garment, as well as leggings, gloves, boots, and a hat, were made of waxed leather. The garment was impregnated with similar fragrant items as the beak mask.”
Many people believe that the beaked mask, large hat, and long waxed robe were worn during the original outbreaks of plague. This is not the case as the miasma theory didn’t come along until much later.
Doctors would travel from town to town, often held for quarantine themselves due to their proximity to the afflicted, and treated sufferers as best they could. They carried a long staff so that they would have as little contact with the patient as possible. They would use it to point to various parts of the body, keep a safe distance from people who insisted on walking too close to them, or to help a patient remove his clothing. Maintaining a safe distance and wearing a garb that was covered in a waxy substance actually helped the doctor avoid getting sick. The wax on the leather would not allow liquid to permeate the outfit and with all of those people coughing bloody sputum everywhere, it likely saved many doctor’s lives. As for the miasma, that was a bit of a miss medically speaking although I’m sure all of the rotting corpses being thrown into the street and picked up in wagons to be burned didn’t smell too appealing.
Your Fellow Haunt Head,
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Janine regales us with the classic folk legend of The Maniac in the Back Seat and Mimi takes us to Pioneer’s Rest Cemetery (also known as Bantley’s Rest) in Canton, WI, a place with a rather sordid past (supposedly.) 😉
This episode contains the bones of a child, a bleeding headstone, a maniac killer, and a peek into the facts surrounding a popular urban legend.
Thanks to Fox & Branch for our intro/outro music! foxandbranch.com
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NEW BLOG POST WILL BE AVAILABLE ON 3/19!
I think it’s safe to say that those who lived during the Victorian era had an obsession with death. They crafted small portraits made from the hair of deceased family members that could be placed in brooches and worn, wore lachrymatory bottles (often mistaken for perfume bottles) on chains around their necks in order to catch the tears they wept for a departed loved one, and erected lavish monuments at grave sites. They even purchased new sets of mourning clothes each time someone passed on because keeping such clothing afterward and reusing it was considered bad luck. In fact, stores existed that catered only to those in mourning and sold every item an individual might need to properly mourn a loss. Mourning times ranged from four weeks (first cousins) to two whole years (for a spouse.) We wear black (or dark) clothing to funerals now, so that’s not too terribly odd, but we’ve since moved away from the regular practice of purchasing a special coffin for grandma, fully equipped with a bell, feeding/breathing tube, and spare set of crypt keys, just in case she was mistaken for dead.
Welcome to the wonderous (and often crazy) world of safety coffins.
Taphophobia, the fear of being buried alive, was quite common in the Victorian era, mainly because it was often difficult for doctors at the time to say for sure whether or not someone was sincerely dead. I’m currently flashing back to the scene in The Wizard of Oz where the Munchkin Coroner proclaims the Wicked Witch, “Most sincerely dead.”
On a completely unrelated note, I visited the National Musem of Funeral History in Houston, TX in March of last year and saw the costume worn by Meinhardt Raabe in the film. Anyway, I digress…
Stop Blowing Smoke…
Bodies would often be kept in Waiting Mortuaries or “Apparent Dead Houses” (as they were called in the Netherlands) for a period of time prior to being buried. The bodies in these mortuaries were cared for by a staff of nurses and were not buried until they showed signs of putrification. Flowers were placed by each bedside (to mask the odor or decay) and mirrors or feathers were held under the nose or by the mouths of the deceased in order to check for breath. In Europe, tobacco smoke enemas were often employed. Administered using a bellows, (they were originally done using a pipette and the smoke was blown into the rectum from the mouth of whoever was doing the check) the sensation of the smoke supposedly would wake those falsely proclaimed deceased. There were cases in which people did actually wake up. Of course, these cases then served as proof that the practice was viable. Of course, probes and needles were also used to poke and prod the body. Likely to give the poor bastard stuck with the smoke-blowing job a break. That’s a shitty end to the practice of drawing straws…excuse the pun.
Saved By the Bell
The first safety coffin was designed by Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick around 1790. His model included an air/feeding tube, a window to allow light, and a spare set of keys for the coffin itself and the tomb in which it was housed. By the 19th century, the Germans had created a whole line of safety coffins (around thirty or so) that included elaborate bell and pulley systems. Unfortunately, the human body tends to bloat when decomposing, causing the corpse to shift. Using a bell to detect accidental death is about as realistic as Dustin Diamond resurrecting his career at this point, but many mortuaries and cemeteries employed the bell as a tool to detect mistaken burial.
A Peek At the Afterlife
If you’ve ever gone wandering through Evergreen Cemetery in Vermont, you might have come across the grave of Dr. Timothy Clark Smith whose “window to the world,” is likely the creepiest physical manifestation of Taphophobia. The “window” is actually more of a tube that has a cap on both ends, allowing visitors to look down the tube and into the face of the sleeping Dr. Smith. At least it used to.
I’m pretty sure all anyone can see at this point is condensation and darkness, but people claimed to have been able to see Smith’s rotting corpse staring up at them, a hammer and chisel nearby to aid his escape. Of course, when Smith died, he was most definitely dead. Others weren’t so lucky.
In a report that dates back to the fourteenth century, whether entirely truthful or not, it is said that the philosopher John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) was buried alive. Upon exhumation, Scotus was reportedly found outside his coffin with his hands and fingertips torn and bloody.
In Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear, author Jan Bondeson writes,
According to Wikipedia,
Newspapers have reported cases of exhumed corpses which appear to have been accidentally buried alive. On February 21, 1885, The New York Times gave a disturbing account of such a case. The victim was a man from Buncombe County whose name was given as “Jenkins.” His body was found turned over onto its front inside the coffin, with much of his hair pulled out. Scratch marks were also visible on all sides of the coffin’s interior. His family was reportedly “distressed beyond measure at the criminal carelessness” associated with the case. Another similar story was reported in The Times on January 18, 1886, the victim of this case is described simply as a “girl” named “Collins” from Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. Her body was described as being found with the knees tucked up under the body, and her burial shroud “torn into shreds.””
Live burial may seem like a thing of the past, but even the best doctors can make mistakes. The article continues,
“In 2005, a body bag was delivered to the Matarese Funeral home in Ashland, Massachusetts with a live occupant. Funeral director John Matarese discovered this, called paramedics, and avoided live embalming or premature burial.
In 2014 in Peraia, Thessaloniki, in Macedonia, Greece, the police discovered that a 45-year-old woman was buried alive and died of asphyxia after being declared clinically dead by a private hospital; she was discovered just shortly after being buried by children playing near the cemetery who heard screams from inside the earth and afterwards her family was reported as considering suing the private hospital. In 2015 it was reported that in 2014 again in Peraia, Thessaloniki, in Macedonia, Greece, police investigation concluded that a 49-year-old woman was buried alive after being declared dead due to cancer; her family reported that they could hear her scream from inside the earth at the cemetery shortly after burial and the investigation revealed that she died of heart failure inside the coffin and found out that it was the medicines given to her by her doctors for her cancer that caused her to be declared clinically dead and buried alive.”
What are your thoughts on safety coffins, the Victorian view of death and bereavement, and the practice of housing the dead in Waiting Mortuaries? I’d love to read your comments!
Your Fellow Haunt Head,
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A new intro, but the same old dance from us!
S2 Ep. 4: Burrito Ghosts
Janine explores the practice of Spiritualism and tells the tale of the Stratford Knockings and the Fox Sisters. Mimi again takes us across the pond to the Thirsk Museum in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, UK, for a sit and a cuppa. Whatever you do, don’t sit in Busby’s Chair!
This episode contains turkey talk and traditions, a (potentially) dropped burrito, an entity named “Mr. Splitfoot,” and a little healthy raggin’ on Bagans.
St. James Infirmary, is generously provided by Fox and Branch and is used with their permission. For more info about them and additional samples of their music, visit their website HERE. You can also purchase digital and physical copies of their CD’s, which is something we’re sure they’d love. =)