Far-Out Friday: The Curiosities of Julia, the Misnomered Bear Woman (it was a Victorian thing)

Let’s face it – the Victorians had an insatiable curiosity for all things freakish.  Such was the case of a woman who was variously referred to as  “Bear Woman”, “Ape Woman”, “Baboon Lady” or more perhaps aptly and succinctly, but nonetheless cruelly, the “world’s ugliest woman”.  After she died following childbirth in 1860, her body was mummified (at the request of her entpreneurially-minded husband, Theodore Lent) and put on display as the “The Embalmed Nondescript”. Julia Pastrana was an indigenous Mexican believed to have been born in the early l830’s in the state of Sinoloa.  Born with two genetic conditions, hypertrichosis and gingival hyperplasia (the former a condition exhibiting abnormal amounts of body hair and the latter a condition marked by an exaggerated and overgrown jaw resulting from excessive fibrous connective tissue), she was purported to have been discovered by a woman who had lost her way after she and her friends hiked up into the mountains to bathe in 1829. As explained in a newspaper account in 1855 (which may or may not have been factually accurate, given that era and its penchant for sensationalism): In 1829 several women went up from Copala (a little town just at the edge of the mountains) to a small pond above, on the side of the mountain, to bathe, after their custom; on their returning home they missed Mrs. Espinosa, one of their companions; all endeavors to find her proved fruitless, and it was believed that she was drowned, until six years afterwards a Ranchero, who was hunting for his cattle on this mountain, heard a voice in a cave, which...

Far-Out Friday: Death By Pimple

I ran across this intriguing subject while researching an early Surname Saturday article about the Pimple surname.  I found several references to so-called “death by pimple” and researched further.  Clearly, the problem was due to lack of an effective way to treat infection prior to the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. That’s not to say doctors didn’t try to treat infections.  There were advertisements galore during the nineteenth century hailing various “miracle cures” for all sorts of maladies, pimples included.  The first instance found in a search of “pimple” at Newspapers.com yielded an article about a suspect in the disappearance of a surgeon who “hath been set upon by some ill people.”  The suspect was described as a “short square man, with an oval Face, red and full of pimples, and is about 60 years of age.”1  Early on, it appears to have been used as a means to identify someone – pimples were a distinct feature. Two months later, in the same publication, an advertisement appeared hailing the efficacy of The Royal Cosmetick, chemically prepared in private practice and formulated to “infallibly free the Face of Worms in the Skin, Pimples, Pustules, Heat, Redness, Yellowness, Sunburnings, Tawnings, Morphew, and such like Defilements.  Being indeed, the greatest, certaintest, the safest restorer, preserver and Improver of a good Complection or Natural Beauty yet known.”2  Pimples have been a problem for ages it seems. According to Receipts and Remedies, published in 1908, the following was recommended.  If pimples weren’t bad a daily morning washing with very hot water and ichthyol soap would be beneficial.  If, however, the condition was persistent an...

Klondike Christmas: A Rags-to-Riches Story

Miners who had worked the gold fields across the American West began making their way to the far-flung regions of the Alaskan and Yukon territories in the 1880’s in search of riches and adventure.  Gold was discovered along the Klondike River, but in amounts so small that claims weren’t worth making – at least not yet. Expeditions were planned to set out in early spring of 1896 following the formation of several gold mining and development companies.  In February the Bonanza-Eldorado Company was capitalized to the tune of $200,000,000, setting its sights on dominating the Klondike gold fields with its introduction of revolutionary mining methods. Newspapers referred to the region as either the Klondike or the Alaskan Gold Fields.  Technically, the Klondike region was Canadian (Yukon) territory, although borders had been disputed since Secretary of State William H. Seward arranged the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. On August 16, 1896 American prospector George Carmack, along with his wife Kate, a Canadian Indian (Tagish), and her brothers James Mason (also known as Skookum Jim) and Káa Goox (known as Dawson Charlie), were exploring the area south of the Klondike River.  The area had been explored for several years after the Tigit and Tagish tribes agreed to allow prospectors access to search for suspected gold deposits. Carmack’s group received a tip from another prospector, leading them to explore one of the Klondike’s tributaries, Rabbit Creek (later renamed Bonanza Creek, for obvious reasons).  Jim Mason had been given the nickname Skookum, which meant “strong, big and reliable”.  He was an expert hunter and trapper who assisted earlier surveying expeditions –...

Far-Out Friday: Gravesite Dowsing: Science, Wizardry, Witchcraft or Just Plain Hooey?

October is the spookiest month of the year, so a story about gravesite dowsing seemed in order for Halloween Eve-Eve, I guess you could call it.  The article title pretty much encompasses the range of opinion regarding the subject, although I have to say a brief survey I conducted most decidedly leaned toward the “just plain hooey” side. Since, personally, I don’t really have an opinion (yet) one way or the  other,  I  hope  nonetheless  you’ll  find  the  article objective, informative, balanced — and hopefully interesting!  And oh, please do tell me what you think — science, wizardry, witchcraft or just plain hooey? History of Dowsing Dowsing, sometimes called witching or divining, has been practiced for centuries.  Cave paintings depicting the practice have been found in France and Spain and throughout the Middle East.  There is also an etching depicting ancient Chinese Emperor Yu holding what appears to be a tuning fork-like device. The Bible makes several references to the practice:  “My people consult a wooden idol, and a diviner’s rod speaks to them.” (Hosea 4:12, NIV)  Some have suggested the instrument used by Moses and Aaron to bring forth water in the desert was a divining rod of sorts. The practice of dowsing as we know it today may have originated in fifteenth century Germany by miners to locate pockets of ore.  The forked stick was referred to as “Deuter” which generally means “to show”, “to point out” or “to strike”. As a verb the term “dowse” may have been introduced by John Locke, a seventeenth century British philosopher and essayist whose writings later influenced both America’s Declaration...

Far-Out Friday: The Crash at Crush

   In September of 1896 there was a whole lot of crushing going on in the world.   Captain General Valeriano Weyler, a Spaniard, had been appointed the governor of Cuba.  He was determined to “crush Cuba” by separating the rebellious insurgents from the civilian population.  William Jennings Bryan was the Democratic candidate for president that year and everywhere Bryan went that month, he was met with a crush of crowds clamoring to hear him speak.  On the other hand, Republicans were determined to crush “Bryanism”.  The race would be a fierce one – William McKinley was being crushed by crowds wherever he went as well. The biggest crush, however, was a pre-planned event — the so-called “Crash at Crush”.  The spectacle would take place on September 15 north of Waco, Texas in McLennan County in the “temporary town” of Crush, Texas – named for event instigator William George Crush, a general passenger agent employed by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (M.K.&T., also known as the “Katy”). Crush had conceived of the event in 1895 and presented it to his employer.  Although it sounds like a cock-eyed kind of idea, his bosses readily agreed to what amounted to a huge publicity stunt – an intentional head-on train crash.  Train crashes weren’t infrequent occurrences in the late nineteenth century either – often resulting in loss of life.  So, why would the railroad’s executives approve of such an event – was it to make money?  One might assume so. However, Crush convinced his bosses the event should be free except for a special advertised fare which he believed would bring thousands of people to...

Far-Out Friday: The (Continuing) Trials and Persecution of Reverend Joy Hamlet Fairchild (Part Two)

Reverend Joy H. Fairchild had good reason to be physically, and no doubt mentally, emotionally and spiritually spent (if you haven’t read Part One of this story, you can read it here).  He returned in September feeling somewhat better but still quite feeble.  Reverend Fairchild would occasionally fill in when a regular pastor was away.  The First Church in Exeter wanted him to become their pastor after he filled in for about six months in 1843.  He consented and was officially installed on September 20. Fairchild may have supposed his troubles were all behind him, but not long after his installation he became aware of rumors and innuendoes circulated by none other than Deacon Vinton.  The deacons of Phillips Church, South Boston, had broken their promise.  Anonymous letters, full of slander, arrived in March of 1844, addressed to Reverend Henry Jewell and one of his congregants, James Burley. Jewell and Burley kept it to themselves and since they didn’t react, the “anonymous writers” decided to take their own action.  On April 16 a circular signed by “Epaphroditus” and entitled “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” was sent to several heads of families in town.  It was full of slanderous accusations. Fairchild requested a hearing before the Board of Referees and on May 8 they met to investigate the charges against his moral character.  Perhaps to the dismay of the accusing deacons, the board concluded that nothing brought before them suggested any misconduct had actually occurred: “We are happy to state that after a severe and thorough scrutiny, nothing has appeared in any part of his life which prevents us from...