The Fork Was Never Found

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Likely one of the strangest figures in history was a man known only as Tarrare. A glutton, his ravenous appetite could not be satiated and he never gained weight although his abdomen became distended with each large “meal,” he toured the French countryside performing for anyone who would stop and watch as he gorged himself. Tarrare would eat large amounts of food and literally anything else that anyone asked him to ingest. Items ranged from pocket watches to cutlery and everything in between.

Although we are aware that the competitive eaters of today go through strenuous exercises to expand/stretch their stomachs in order to take in more food, the story of Tarrare is still unnerving and, ultimately, very strange indeed. Tarrare was certainly a medical anomaly and performed as a freak to support himself.

Born in France near Lyon around 1772, (his DOB is unrecorded and there is debate as to whether Tarrare was his real name or a nickname) Tarrare lived with his parents until his early teens. At this point, he could eat his weight in meat and his family just couldn’t manage to feed him. They forced him to leave. After this, he toured the country with a group of sex workers and thieves with whom he begged for and stole food. He eventually came upon a traveling charlatan who welcomed him into his show as an attraction. Tarrare would eat everything he could including refuse and stones. He would even eat live animals including live eels that he would consume whole and swallow basketfuls of apples one after another.

Around 1778, his work as a street performer brought him to Paris. In general, he had a successful career and drew fairly large crowds who would gawk and cheer until one of his acts went awry and he had to be carried to the Hotel-Dieu hospital by members of the crowd in order to have an intestinal obstruction removed. Powerful laxatives worked their magic and Tarrare was back in business, but not before he offered to swallow a surgeon’s watch and chain. The surgeon, M. Giraud, said that if Tarrare swallowed his belongings he would cut him open and recover the items himself.

Terrare’s eating habits didn’t affect his outward appearance at all. In fact, he was rather gaunt and at the age of 17 weighed in at a mere 100 lbs. His mouth is described as abnormally large and his teeth were heavily stained, no doubt from consuming pure refuse and other inedible items for show, and if he didn’t eat his skin would droop. His cheeks would sag and the skin of his stomach would deflate like a burst balloon. He could then wrap the skin completely around his waist like a flabby belt. Tarrare was essentially a combination of The Human Skeleton and The Elastic Man sideshow acts from early circus sideshows. In addition to these anomalies, Tarrare is also described as having a terrible odor that could be experienced from a distance of 40 paces, was always sweating heavily, and he was prone to terrible bouts of diarrhea. He would belch loudly, he would constantly swallow, and his eyes would become bloodshot if he didn’t eat. According to Wikipedia, “Hyperthyroidism can induce an extreme appetite, rapid weight loss, profuse sweating, and heat intolerance. […] Bondeson (2006) speculates that Tarrare had a damaged amygdala; it is known that injuries to the amygdala in animals can induce polyphagia.”

When war broke out in 1792, Tarrare enlisted in the French Revolutionary Army. The FRA was known for its revolutionary fervor, poor equipment, and large numbers and Tarrare threw himself into a life of military service. Unfortunately, food rations would not satisfy Tarrare’s seemingly endless hunger and, although other soldiers would offer Tarrare part of their ration in exchange for services, it just didn’t fill him up. He took to eating refuse and scavenged through dung heaps for scraps. Eventually, Tarrare was admitted to a military hospital because he was suffering extreme exhaustion.   He was granted quadruple rations by hospital staff but still remained hungry and foraged in garbage cans and gutters, even leaving his bed at night to steal away into the apothecary cabinet and eat the poultices. Tarrare was ordered to stay in the military hospital and undergo psychological and physical evaluations devised by Dr. Courville (surgeon to the 9th Hussar Regiment)  and George Didier, Baron Percy, surgeon-in-chief of the hospital. Courville and Percy would watch as Tarrare consumed every item placed in front of him. In one instance, a meal was prepared to consist of two large meat pies, plates of grease and salt, and four gallons of milk, though the impressiveness of this particular consumed item depends on the definition of a gallon for the time period. From savoringthepast.net (https://savoringthepast.net/2012/07/02/interpreting-measures/), “In other recipes, the word “gallon” was used as a measurement. Now, this is a good example of how nomenclature has changed through the years. If you live in the United States, you expect a gallon to hold 128 ounces of liquid. It’s a measure that was officially adopted in the early 19th century from the old “wine” or “Queen Anne” gallon. It’s volume capacity precisely holds 231 cubic inches. But the term “gallon” in the 18th century was likely the “ale gallon,” which had a capacity of approximately 277-1/4 cubic inches — approximately 20% larger than the wine gallon. The ale gallon held precisely 10-pounds of water at 62 degrees (F). This measure later morphed into the “Imperial Gallon” that is still used in Great Britain and Canada. In addition to the wine and ale gallon, there is the corn gallon. This measure is still occasionally used today to measure grain. In the 18th century, it was also used to measure flour and bread. Its capacity is 268.8 cubic inches, or 16% greater than the wine gallon.”

Regardless of how large the gallon might have been, that’s still a fuck of a lot of dairy. Just sayin’.

Tarrare was also given a variety of other items to consume including snakes, lizards, and puppies. It is said that Tarrare also ate a cat alive, stripping the flesh from its bones and eating it whole. He later vomited up the fur and skin. When given an eel, he ate it whole after crushing the creature’s head between his teeth. Percy wrote of this scene, “ The dogs and cats fled in terror at his aspect as if they had anticipated the kind of fate he was preparing for them.”

It wasn’t long before the military began asking for Tarrare to be released and put back on active duty. Percy had no choice but to allow his patient to leave as he could see no medical reason for the man to stay under his care. Dr. Courville, however, approached General Alexandre de Beauharnais and suggested that Tarrare might be an asset to the war effort. Courville placed a note inside a wooden box and instructed Tarrare to eat it. Two days later, the box emerged in Tarrare’s excrement and the document was still legible. Courville told de Beauharnais that Tarrare would make an excellent courier of sensitive documents as enemy forces would find nothing if they searched him and he could pass undetected through their checkpoints. And so, Tarrare became a spy. A spy that could only speak French, but a spy nonetheless. Let’s just say he was no James Bond. I think I would have had reservations about swallowing a box containing sensitive military information, but I’m not a professional glutton. Also, Tarrare was paid handsomely with a wheelbarrow full of 30 lbs of bull lungs, liver, and testicles as a reward so it’s not like he didn’t get anything out of the deal. Something tells me he did get diarrhea, but that’s neither here nor there.

So Tarrare was employed officially as a spy for the Army of the Rhine and was immediately sent on a covert operation. “Tarrare was ordered as his first assignment to carry a message to a French colonel imprisoned by the Prussians near Neustadt; he was told that the documents were of great military significance, but in reality de Beauharnais had merely written a note asking the colonel to confirm that the message had been received successfully and if so to return a reply of any potentially useful information about Prussian troop movements. (Wikipedia) Tarrare made his way through Prussian lines in order to deliver the return message and dressed as a German peasant in order to blend into his surroundings. Remember how I said he wasn’t James Bond? Well, Tarrare couldn’t speak a lick of German so of course, he began to arouse suspicion with the locals who alerted Prussian authorities. He was almost immediately arrested, but even after hours of whipping, he refused to disclose his mission. It wasn’t until a full 24 hours later that he finally relented. “He was chained to a latrine, and eventually, 30 hours after being swallowed,[17] the wooden box emerged. Zoegli was furious when the documents, which Tarrare had said contained vital intelligence, transpired only to be de Beauharnais’s dummy message, and Tarrare was taken to a gallows and the noose placed around his neck.” Some believe that Tarrare actually passed the box with the message, but retrieved it from his stool and ate it again. Yep.

“At the last minute, Zoegli relented, and Tarrare was taken down from the scaffold, given a severe beating, and released near the French lines.” (Wikipedia)

At this point, Tarrare was desperate to be free of military service and returned to Percy at the hospital. He begged Percy to find a cure for his relentless eating and Percy conceded. The doctor would feed Tarrare large amounts of soft boiled eggs, but this failed to suppress his appetite. If Tarrare smelled bad before, it was all downhill from here. Tarrare would leave the hospital and rummage through the garbage outside butcher shops and fight stray dogs for scraps in the gutters and rubbish heaps. Percy would catch Tarrare drinking the blood of patients who were undergoing bloodletting. Tarrare would also creep into the mortuary at night and consume body parts of deceased patients. Percy’s colleagues insisted that Tarrare was mentally ill and should be immediately committed to an asylum, but he refused to believe that he could not somehow help the man. It wasn’t until a 14-month-old boy went missing that Percy had had enough and demanded Tarrare leave the hospital and never return.

Four years later, in 1798, Percy would receive a call from M. Tessier of Versailles Hospital claiming that he had a patient in his care that was very ill. The patient had asked that Percy be called. The patient was Tarrare. Percy visited with Tarrare who was sure he was suffering what he believed was an intestinal blockage. He’d eaten a gold fork during one of his performances and, to the best of his knowledge, had not passed the item. One look at Tarrare was all Percy needed. Clearly, the man was in the advanced stages of tuberculosis and was not long for the world.

Tarrare passed away a month later. His corpse rotted so quickly and gave off such a stench that the doctors at the hospital refused to be anywhere near it. Tessler, however, dissected the remains because he still had a fork to find. Upon close examination, he found that he could open Tarrare’s mouth and see all the way down into his stomach. Additionally,  his body was filled with pus and his liver and gallbladder were enlarged. His stomach was enormous and covered in ulcers, but Tessler could not find the fork inside Tarrare.

The story of Tarrare the glutton seems too fantastical to be believed, but there is evidence of another such individual capable of such grand consumption. A man named Charles Domery

“Charles Domery was a man born in Poland in 1778. Domery joined the Prussian army when he was young, but was very dissatisfied with the rations. He even went over to the French army just for the food. Once he went through all of the French’s food, he turned to cats. Reportedly, Domery ate 174 cats in a single year. Other unimaginable feats of his include eating 5 lbs (2.3 kg) of grass per day, and attempting to eat the severed leg of a fellow soldier. Domery’s incredible eating abilities is due to a medical condition called polyphagia, which involves excessive appetite. One time, the British army gave him the following items just to see if he could eat them: 10 lbs (4.5 kg) of meat, multiple bottles of wine, a raw cow’s udder, 2 lbs (0.9 kg) of candles. He did.” (Curiosity.com)

Were Tarrare and Domery one and the same? We will likely never know.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

Facebook: Haunt Heads Podcast

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Sources

http://www.biusante.parisdescartes.fr/histoire/medica/resultats/index.php?p=99&cote=90146x1805x09&do=page

https://curiosity.com/topics/the-insatiable-appetite-of-charles-domery-curiosity/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarrare

 

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S3 Ep. 1: Forked Up & Haunted

 

Welcome back for another creepy season of Haunt Heads!

This week, Katie’s hitting the thrift shops and bargain basements and talking about the objects we find at second hand stores and the energies they hold. Janine visits 17thcentury France and tells the (often disturbing) tale of Tarrare the glutton.

This episode contains some awesome podcast recommendations, a disappearing fork, transference of spiritual energy, and a massive gastrointestinal upset.

WARNING: This episode might be a little much for some of our listeners. Janine’s piece begins at roughly 59 minutes in. If you can’t handle the insanely creepy and grotesque (including cannibalism and a brief mention of infanticide) , we understand. You’ve been warned.

Our theme song is St. James Infirmary by Fox and Branch. Find more of their music at foxandbranch.com.

 

S2 Ep 16 (Minisode): That’s a fine BOO ya got there!

It’s our first mini-episode featuring stories from our pals on Reddit! We’re excited to share these tales with you, ranging from ghostly sounds and moving objects, to shadow people and spirits who count raisins (just trust us), and hope you enjoy. Haunt Heads will return on the 22nd with a new episode to accommodate some life “stuff.”

Stay Spooky, y’all!

Intro/Outro: Fox and Branch foxandbranch.com

Please take a moment to leave us a 5* review!!

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S2 Ep 6: Ghosts and (Polter)geists

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It’s a new year and a new episode of Haunt Heads! This week, Mimi and Janine bring you tales of ghosts and geists! Janine weaves the tale of the Enfield Poltergeist and Mimi takes us on a tour of the Lemp Mansion in Saint Louis, MO. 

This episode contains a peeping tom ghost, a haunted bar, marbles and Lego’s learning to fly, and a spirit named Bill.

Music: Our intro/outro has been generously supplied by Fox and Branch. To hear more of their music, visit them at http://www.foxandbranch.com/.

If you haven’t already, please take a moment to leave us a review on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. =)

S2 Ep. 5: The Banff Diggity or Blood Marmalade

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This week, Mimi and Janine recall some of their favorite past episodes and topics and discuss shuffling off their mortal coils (a discussion of life insurance.) Janine discusses corpse medicine and Mimi takes us to Banff, Alberta, Canada, and into the Banff Springs Hotel. 

This episode contains nostalgia, mummies used as a cure-all, blood marmalade, a ghostly bellhop, and a hidden room.

DISCLAIMER: This episode contains descriptions of cannibalism and the use of human remains as medicine. It might gross you out if you’re a sensitive sort. Listener discretion advised!

Don’t forget to vote!

Mimi and I have collected a short list of places we’ve talked about on the podcast and we want YOU to tell us what our first road trip location should be! Visit our Twitter page (@hauntheadscast) and cast your vote. The location with the most votes will be the first stop on our WI road trip! We’ll visit the location, do a little ghost hunting, and report back to our loyal listeners with what we’ve found.

VOTE TODAY!!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

S1 Ep. 3 Available!

Find Episode 3 of Haunt Heads on iTunes, Stitcher, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Podknife, Google Play, iHeartRadio, PodBean, and Blubrry.

S1 Ep.3 A Lupine Dancer is A Steppin’ Wolf OR Sh!t Just Goat Serious

This episode features stories about the Goatman of Kewaskum, WI and The Beast of Bray Road (WI.) Find it at Haunt Heads.podbean.com

New episodes every Monday! 

Have a paranormal or folklore tale to tell? Send it our way and we’ll read it on the show!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

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House of the Seven Gables, Salem, MA: Haunting & Hawthorne

A visit to Salem is pretty high up on my bucket list. It falls just above taking the Jack the Ripper tour in England and just below visiting the Mutter Museum in Pennsylvania. The history of old Salem is definitely a draw for me, but I’m also fascinated by the touristy side of new Salem. Some compare it to a witchy sort of theme park, filled with out-of-towners and people swathed in robes and pointy hats. Some might find the commercialization of Salem quite sad, but truthfully it makes me want to visit even more. It seems to me as if this side of Salem has become a way of life for those who reside there, embracing the past and creating a new future. But there are some structures that retain their history and their ghosts.

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Built in 1667, the House of the Seven Gables is the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England. The house is now a museum, but has undergone renovations by the Turner and Ingersoll families that resided within it. For this reason, it is often referred to as the Turner-Ingersoll mansion. Susan Ingersoll, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin, resided in the house until she died at the age of 72 and he visited her quite often. The house was the inspiration for his novel of the same name.

Visitors to the mansion report the house to be quite active, particularly on the attic staircase. Some claim to feel dizzy or lightheaded as they ascend the stairs while others feel an oppressive force pushing down on them. It has also been reported that there is a sensation of being pushed backwards, as if something is forcing them out of the attic. Susan Ingersoll’s ghost has also been spotted in the windows of the house and people have seen her specter wandering the halls. An apparition of a little boy has been seen playing in the attic. Other experiences include:

  • Cold spots.
  • Being touched by unseen hands.
  • Hearing screams.
  • Hearing deep growling sounds.
  • Malfunctioning water taps and electricity (turning off and on by themselves.)
  • While outside, some have said they heard someone tapping on the windows as if trying to get their attention.

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Tours of the location last roughly 30-40 minutes and, it seems to me, that given the activity at the location there’s practically a guarantee you’ll experience something during your visit.

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Have you visited the House of the Seven Gables? Did you have an experience there that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

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Sleep Tight: The Hag of Newfoundland Folklore (Newfoundland, Canada)

I learned of The Hag in grade school, sometime around 1994.  It was close to Halloween and my teacher had added a little bit of folklore into her lesson plan. It was a story I hadn’t heard before and I was instantly intrigued.

Most people call it what it is: sleep paralysis. That feeling of being unable to move in the moments just before your fall into REM sleep. If you have issues falling into or out of REM sleep, and your experience involves hallucinations or you’re unable to move or speak as you begin the waking process, you might be experiencing sleep paralysis. Where I come from, it means you’ve been “Hagged.”

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The Hag is a demon called down upon an unsuspecting individual by another person. There are many reasons why The Hag might be summoned, but the tale my teacher wove involved a vengeful wife. As the story goes, the woman made a pact with the devil and offered her husband’s soul in exchange. He had many women interested in him, but one woman in particular had set her sights on him and the two were often seen in each other’s company. This angered the man’s wife, so she called The Hag down upon him.

One night, the man awoke from a deep slumber to a pressure on his chest. His eyes slowly came to focus on a dark form perched there, its eyes glowing and its teeth glinting in the moonlight. Although the man tried to scream, no sound could he make. Although he tried to move and push the figure away, he could not make his arms or legs react. The growling form pried his mouth open with long, sharp talons and placed its mouth upon his, draining the life from his body. The Hag swallowed his soul and forever imprisoned it in hell. The man’s wife lived a long and happy life without the burden of her cheating husband.

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There is no definitive cause for sleep paralysis, though some doctors suggest that getting more sleep, as sleep deprivation is often reported by sufferers, could be a cure-all. Perhaps getting better and longer sleep will help, but the stories in cultural folklore still persist.

As long as there are unexplained phenomena in this world, there will be folklore tales to craft a response. Although this response may sound illogical, the folklore tale of The Hag was rooted deeply in the lives of early settlers on the island. These tales were handed down from generation to generation and allowed sufferers to give a real face to something they could not explain.

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Side Note: I’m pretty sure my teacher was disciplined for sharing such a story with a grade school class, even if it was just for laughs.

Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis? Do you have a Hag story to share? Please comment below. Sweet dreams.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

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Enjoy Your Stay: The Carlton County Gaol (Ottawa Jail Hostel), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Dark Past

Said to be one of Canada’s most haunted buildings and featured on many top ten lists of haunted places is The Ottawa Jail Hostel. Originally, the structure was used as a maximum security prison, connected to the courthouse next door via a tunnel, and housed every kind of offender from murderers to the mentally ill. The structure, opened in 1862, had no glass over barred windows, allowing the Ottawa winters to chill the inhabitants to the bone in their tiny 9’x3′ cells. Each cell barely had enough room for a mattress on the floor. Prisoners endured harsh conditions, including torture from the guards, and were only fed once per day, leading to an undocumented number of deaths. Up to 150 prisoners had to share 60 small cells and 30 larger cells. Six cells were reserved for solitary confinement.

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The prison was Ottawa’s main detention center and was a model prison when it opened. Other institutions were modeled after its example and it remained the main jail for over 100 years.

Darker Present

Once the prison closed in 1972, a company bought the location and turned it into a hostel, converting the cells into small dorms with bunk beds where patrons could sleep. The staff run regular tours of the building, telling visitors of the horrible conditions and the innumerable deaths on the property. The hostel now offers a money back guarantee to those brave enough to stay the night. The location is apparently very active because they’ve never had to refund a guest.

Unexplained Occurrences

A guest who had complained about not seeing any ghosts approached the manager about a refund about halfway through her stay. The manager, following their policy, retrieved the woman’s money and laid it on the counter. Before she could grab her change, a coin rose from the counter top and hovered in the air for at least a minute before dropping again. The woman threw her money down and ran from the lobby.

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Guests have reported hearing women and children crying in the basement area of the old jail as well as disembodied footsteps in the hallways. Cell doors will often slam shut on their own and, on the top floor where Death Row was located, guests have reported hearing the trap door release and the tightening sound of the noose around a neck. They also hear kicking noises as if someone is flailing after being hanged.

Have you ever spent the night at the Ottawa Jail Hostel? Do you have experiences to share? Please let us know in the comments.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

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