Stead’s Folly

WT Stead

Socialist reformer W.T. Stead was fascinated by spiritualism and psychic phenomena, so much so that when a medium told him he must not, under any circumstances, travel by sea, he went and booked passage aboard an ocean liner for her maiden voyage.

He died aboard the Titanic, April 15, 1912.


Sayings of Redbeard – Ragnar Redbeard

The infernal wisdom and heroic verse of the mysterious “Ragnar Redbeard” is preserved here, in this tiny, forgotten tome from another day, another age. The fierce, brutal logic of the author of “Might is Right” is presented herein, along with his epic songs and exhortations to Thor, Odin, and old, battle-hardened, bloodthirsty gods from the long ago. Whether you worship Odin or simply revere the brutal, cynical logic of the strange wordsmith who advocated a “World of warring atoms,” you will not fail to delight in this small book, available again in print for the first time in many, many long and silent decades. From an original, crumbling edition of 1890.



The Silver Sixpence by Ethel Clem (?) 1905 (?)

The following poem was found, uncredited, in an edition of the book The Tower of Wye by William Henry Babcock. The book dates from 1901. This copy is inscribed to “Ethel Clem, 3-05” and a card inside proclaims “from Sophomore and Junior.” A yellowed piece of paper has the following poem written, uncredited, in shaky pencil.

The Silver Sixpence


Unknown (Ethel Clem?)

It was only a silver sixpence,
battered and worn and old,
But worth to the child that held it,
As much as a piece of gold.

A poor little crossing-sweeper,
In the wind and rain all day —
For one who gave her a penny,
There were twenty who bade her nay.

But she carried the bit of silver–
A light in her steady face,
And her step on the crowded pavement,
Full of childish grace.

Straight to the tender pastor,
And, “Send it,” she said, “for me,
“Dear Sir, to the heathen children,
On the other side of the sea.”

I don’t believe in coincidences, nor do I think a poem such as this should be lost. If anyone knows the true authorship, let me know.

“Sweet Fanny Adams”

Every man has the devil inside of him, somewhere.

On the 24th of August, 1867, three little girls were walking on a country lane toward Flood Meadow, near Alton in England. They were Minnie Warner, aged 7, and Elizabeth Adams, aged eight, as wella s her eight year old sister Fanny.

They were soon accosted by a solicitor’s clerk named Frederick Baker, who offered each of the little girls a halfpence to accompany him. Both Minnie ans Elizabeth refused. Baker then grabbed Fanny Adams, abducting her to a desolate hopfield. The other girls ran away.

Baker savagely and viciously mutilated young Fanny Adams, beheading and dismembering her, taking out her eyes, and cutting out her entrails. These he scattered over a wide area. (The eyes were cast into a river, and later retrieved.)

A search party soon found Baker’s grisly handiwork. The man himself was quickly arrested, and confessed everything.

Conviced and sentenced to die, he was lead to the gallows on Christmas Eve, 1864.

He confessed to Fanny’s parents his deep remorse for what he had done in “an unguarded moment.”

It was not long after that a sick joke developed among British sailors, who did not like the tinned mutton they were offered as rations. They began to say their food contained pieces of “Sweet Fanny Adams,” as her body had been dispersed over such a wide area (in other words, some of it ended up at the canning factory, in the food.)

Hence, the term “Sweet Fanny Adams” came to be associated with the idea of having “nothing good,” or “nothing at all.”

In time, everyone forgot how the curious expression first came about.


Sharpening His Fangs!

Once upon a time, in Merry Olde England, lived a man with the unlikely name of Captain Murderer. He was a vile, smelly (but undeniably wealthy and elligible) bachelor, with the peculiar habit of sharpening his teeth with a file as he looked in the mirror each morning.

He was, in point of fact, a marrying man, and had walked down the aisle more than once. Of course, he was possessed of a few peculiar habits. For instance, on the way to the chapel, he had the pathway strewn with strange flowers, which he referred to as “garnishings for house-lamb.”

His brides, always innocent young girls unsuspecting of any malice or wickedness on the part of their repulsive husband, tittered tot hemselves abotu such eccentricities, and focused themselves on the business of maintaining the household.

It was soon later that Captain Murderer fell upon them, disemboweling them in a cannibalistic rage, and then salting the portions and sending it off to the baker to turn into meat pie. These he slopped up greedily, his eyes rolling around in his head in ecstacy as the gooey, gory stuff as shoved into his gullet.

And it was not merely ONCE that Captain Murderer indulged his criminal appetite, but AGAIN and AGAIN, until, finally, his attention fell upon a pair of twins, one of whom was persuaded that she should be the next Mrs. Murderer to walk down the matrimonial aisle.

(How the Captain explained the sudden disappearances of his preceding wives, and how he deflected suspicion on his own person, would probably take up another story altogther. Suffice it to say, he was perfectly secure in indulging his anthropophagous whims.)

So yet again the good Captain took a young bride to the altar, and, yet again, he soon tired of her trivialities; grew restless, bored, hungry, and finally pounced upon her, disemboweled her, chopped, salted, and sent her carefully-packaged remains to the baker to make into pie.

(We can imagine his hair stood on end, his eyes bulged in their sockets, his tongue stuck straight from between his black lips and sharpened incisors, and drool ran down his chin as he giggled maniacally and shoved the sickening stuff into his gullet. But we might be exaggerating the scene for melodramatic purposes. We should likewise note the little “joke” the Captain was fond of playing on his victims, in one instane, giving out a rolling pin and pie crust, and telling the poor girl to fill the tin with meat. When she said, increasingly nervously, that “Dear Captain, I see no meat,” he would then pounce upon her as he stared in the glass. Then, cutting the throat, he would…well, you know the rest.)

Finally, the twin, who had long spied on the Capatin, and did not for an instance like the fact that he filed his teeth to sharp points, or made jokes about “house-lamb,” was able to piece it all together. She conceived of a plan, a rather drastic one, in which she might avenge the death of her dear sister, and rid the world of the cannibal Captain once and for all.

She knocked one grey day on the Captain’s door, and presenting herself, finally confessed that she had always envied her sister, and would like to take the Captain for her own husband, now that her sister had so mysteriously vanished. The Captain was delighted with this prospect,a nd, as she left to draw up plans for the wedding, he went to his looking-glass and began to sharpen his teeth once again (didn’t this hurt?)

As he was doing this, the twin sister was watching at a chink in the wall. At seeing him sharpen his fangs, she conceived such a plan of revenge that it made her burst out in evil laughter, in spite of herself. The Captain, hearing this, and wondering where the source of the laughter was coming from, said to himself, “My! I hope nothing I have eaten has disagreed with me!”

Soon, the Captain was leading his new bride down the altar, past the double rows of strange flowers strewn on either side of the pathway. Once the wedding was over though, the Captain commenced with his strange jest of bringing out a golden rolling pin and golden pie tin, and telling the sister to get to work at once, “making a meat pie.”

As he said this, he held out his glass in front of her to view her face as she responded, “My dear Captain, I see no meat.”

It was then that he pounced upon her, slashing his throat with his great dagger, cutting off her head, disembowling her, salting the meat, and wrapping it all up in the pie tin to be sent to the baker. When he finally got his meat pie, he devoured it all, licking the pan clean with relish, and settling back, feeling contented and at ease with the world.

He soon began to feel ill-at-ease though, noting a strange rumbling and pain in his stomache. Unbeknownst to him, the dark twin had ingested a secret, rare poison before he devoured her in the pie, a poison whose effects would, most certainly, now be transferred to HIM, as he had eaten her flesh.

He began to swell, blowing up like a balloon. Soon, he was like a giant bag of bloody, gassy innards, expanding more and more until, finally, with a great roaring groan, he exploded all over the walls and ceiling of his dank little home, painting the walls scarlet with his blood and grue.

After that, he troubled no one anymore.

(Source: Retold from a story by Charles Dickens, published 1860.)


Julia Pastrana

(Note Chapter and illustration for a forthcoming book for young people I plan to publish.)

pastranaJulia Pastrana (Illus. by author)

She was a woman covered in hair, with a strange face that made her look almost like an ape. P.T. Barnum declared her the “Ugliest woman I’ve ever seen.” And he was actually quite fond of her.

She was born in the Sinaloa district of Mexico in 1834, to a woman that did not want her. Examined by a number of medical authorities, some of whom declared she was a “distinct species” or the product of a woman getting pregnant by an “Orang Hutan,” a doctor named Kneeland examined her and declared that she was quite human. Another doctor backed him up, stating that she was only a “deformed Mexican Indian woman.”

Julia was sold like a slave to a carnival exhibitor named Theodore Lent, a man who would shape the way of life Julia Pastrana would know until the end of her days. He taught her to sing and dance, and she learned three different languages, as well as how to play guitar. Her weird, keening, warbling voice was thought to be very beautiful and strange by those that heard it, and the audience was often astounded to realize the beautiful Spanish songs were coming from a woman with such a shocking, ape-like appearance.

(Charles Darwin, the creator of the theory of Evolution, mentions Julia in his book, Origin of the Species, where he is particularly concerned that Julia had a double row of teeth, a condition called gingival hyperplasia, and wrote:
” Julia Pastrana, a Spanish dancer, was a remarkably fine woman, but she had a thick masculine beard and a hairy forehead; she was photographed, and her stuffed skin was exhibited as a show; but what concerns us is, that she had in both the upper and lower jaw an irregular double set of teeth, one row being placed within the other, of which Dr, Purland took a cast. From the redundancy of the teeth her mouth projected, and her face had a gorilla-like appearance”.)

Lent took Julia on a tour of Europe. He also decided that they should get married; most think this was because he feared any other showman wooing her away from him.

Frederick Drimmer tells us that when close friends asked Julia if she thought Lent was just exploiting her, she refused to believe it. Heartbreakingly, she said, “He loves me for me.” She may have really believed this, or, deep down, she may have known better. Sometimes, people desperate for love and affection will believe all sorts of lies, take all sorts of bad treatment, just so they can feel that someone cares for them.

It was while they were touring Russia that Julia became pregnant. At first, she was overjoyed, thinking that the baby, surely, would not have the same deformities as she suffered with. Alas! it was not to be a happy end9ing for poor Julia Pastrana.

The baby came out covered in hair, looking the exact picture of the mother. A few days later, the baby died. Within five days of this, Julia also succumbed from complications involved in the birth. Some wondered if, in fact, she hadn’t merely died of a broken heart.

Mr. Lent, now seeing that he was cheated by death out of his primary source of income, devised a plan that could continue the shows–in a bizarre way.

A Dr. Sokolov, an expert from Moscow in embalming bodies, was brought in. Under his careful work, the bodies of Julia Pastrana and her child were carefully preserved–turned into mummies, that is, and put in a glass case especially designed by Lent. He then continued to tour with this morbid, strange exhibit, urging audiences to flock to see “The Monster” and her baby. (When Barnum saw it, he reportedly later said of Lent, “I was certain as I saw it of the presence of at least one monster”; meaning, of course, that Lent was the real freak, the thing that should be on display and stared at.)

A weird woman claiming to be Julia’s sister came forward, and Lent soon took her on as part of the show. Her claim to be related to Julia was later called into doubt.

For his part, Lent seems to have paid for his cruelty and callousness toward his late wife with his life. It is said he went slowly mad, dying in a Russian mental asylum, a place that was probably unsanitary and grim, as such mental homes were in those long-ago days.

The remains of Julia and her infant son (his body was perched, almost like a parrot, on a little ledge or stoop next to hers in their dual glass coffin) soon changed hands, becoming a kind of touring carnival wonder. It was seen in America as late as the 1970’s, but soon made its way back to Europe, where a planned tour of it in Norway lead to public disapproval and shaming. Times were far, far different than they had been in the mid to late 1800’s, and society had become more sensitive to the plight of people like Julia.

Much like the famous Eva Peron (whom Madonna portrayed in the movie “Evita” in 1996), Julia’s remains had a strange journey to make, finally ending up in a scientific collection in Oslo.

When vandals broke into the warehouse, they slashed the corpse of the infant. It was then badly damaged by mice. As horrible as this is, the result was that the Oslo University Dept. of Anatomy required a special permit for researchers to view the remains.

Finally, after a decision by the authorities in the Norwegian government, it was decided in 2012 that Julia should be taken back to her place of birth for proper, respectful burial. Finally, on February 12th, 2013, Julia Pastrana was laid to rest after a large Catholic funeral, in the town of Sinoa de Leyva, near the place of her birth.

So ended the long, troubled journey of Julia Pastrana.

Morella by Edgar Allen Poe, Retold by Tom Baker

I do not know when I first began to hate Morella–perhaps it was always that I feared her a little. Her great mind was so much more powerful and strong than my own. Perhaps it was simply envy. I don’t know what it was. In the end, it didn’t really matter.

She was forever pouring through arcane books of old German philosophers–it was a study we both enjoyed; but Morella was so much more knowledgeable than myself. She and I were both fixated on the meaning of life–and death!
But, alas! Poor Morella would discover that meaning for herself all too soon.

She developed a horrible illness–I don’t know exactly what it was. She was wasting away, day by day, and what’s worse, she was pregnant with OUR CHILD!

Finally, the doctors called me to her bedside, telling me it would not be much longer now. I was secretly delighted, as I told you before, deep inside me I had grown to hate and loathe Morella, and was eager for her to pass out of this life as quickly as possible.

In the end, she suspected this, for she said:

“It is such a wonderful, happy day for a son to live and a daughter to die! Oh, but you think you will be quite happy to see me go? I tell you: you will not!”

I became nervous, telling her: “You speak strangely…”

Her hideous, deathly-pale face cracked a smile in the gloom of the death chamber. She said, “Oh, you will understand me in time. For, one you did not adore in life, you will learn to abhor in death!”

And with that,s he breathed out, and gave up the ghost.

Just then, I heard a cry. Quickly I fetched the midwife and the maid, and together they managed to deliver the baby, though the mother had already died!

Oh, what a beautiful thing can, sometimes, be born even in th midst of tragedy. The baby was uncommonly beautiful and delicate…and I both loved and hated it equally. Loved, because it was my own; hated it, because the years showed that the child would be the very image of its dead mother.

The little girl grew and grew at an alarming rate. Yet, still I refused to name it. Every movement it made, every utterance, seemed to be the very image of the dead mother, of Morella. It was as if the woman had been instantly reborn through her own babe.

I thought that, perhaps, a baptism might wash the stain of sign and sickness that seemed to cling to me and my daughter, so I took her to the church.

When the priest asked her name, she of course, never having had one, could not respond. Suddenly, without even thinking, I automatically replied, “Morella.” it was then that the child piped up, a strange, unsettling look stealing over her face, and raising her arms, she cried, “I am here! I am here!”

And then she fell into a swoon, never to recover.

I raced to her, turned her over. It was then I realized she was standing on the very trap that lead to our family vault! it was below, in the noisome dark, that her own mother lie buried.

I conveyed her body to the vault. Inspecting the sarcophagus which held the body of her mother for ten long years, I found it in a condition which rather astonished me.

You see, it was entirely EMPTY.