Notes for the Curious: Fortean News in 1895

Fortean news from 1895

The 19th-century reading public–avid for a fortean sensation!

While immersing myself in the world of antique journalism, I’ve frequently come across collections of squibs or factoids or anecdotes meant to amuse and/or educate the reading public. Here is a sampling of the news—fortean or otherwise—circulating in the collective consciousness in 1895. Note that these items were published in ordinary city newspapers, not some antique version of the National Enquirer.

This first batch comes from a full-page article entitled “Corner of Oddities: Some Odd, Queer and Curious Phases of Life” Kalamazoo [MI] Gazette 29 December 1895: p. 7

Coffee Crazy.

At Fort Dodge, Iowa, Mrs. Sarah Murdock has a bad case of jim-jams, although she never took a drink of intoxicating liquor. For a number of years she has been addicted to the use of very strong coffee, taking as many as a dozen cups at a meal and never fewer than six. Her nervous system has suffered terribly. She has made numerous attempts to break herself of the habit, but without success. A few days ago she resolved to make a desperate effort to give up the beverage and for two days she fought the insatiable craving. A the end of the second day came the collapse and she suffered every symptom experienced by a heavy drinker of alcoholic liquors when deprived of it after a long debauch. The physician called stated that she had delirium tremens and could hardly be convinced that the patient had never touched alcoholic stimulants in her life. When the case was explained he pronounced it the most remarkable one he had ever heard of. This case doubtless will become a famous one to the medical world.

Corpse Replevined.

At Hill City South Dakota recently the body of Mrs R. Roberts who died at Omaha was replevined from the Adams Express company in order that her funeral might be held. Mrs. Roberts the wife of a poor miner was sent to Omaha by the contributions of friends several weeks since to receive treatment. She failed to survive the operation and upon receipt of a dispatch from the attending surgeon that $80 would be required for the hospital and undertaker’s bills a second purse was made up to cover the amount. The remains arrived C.O.D. for $160 and it was found the Omaha doctor claimed a balance of $80 upon his bill of $155. The miners and business men of Hill City were indignant. After consulting a lawyer a writ of replevin was secured and the funeral procession moved from the depot to the Presbyterian church where the exercises were held. 

A Turnip Story.

John F. Cooper of Winamac, Indiana has a huge turnip. The actual measurement around the turnip is four feet, in diameter thirty-six inches, and in height it stands three feet and weighs over 120 pounds. Mr. Cooper states when he was a boy, back in 1839 he remembers full well of hearing his Uncle Charlie Wait tell of where he had hidden some turnip seed in the hollow of an old white oak tree just back of the creek behind the sand hill. During the last hot spell he noticed the old tree was toppling over and he went to see what caused the trouble. There he found that turnip growing inside of the tree and lifting it almost out of its roots. After waiting several weeks the tree fell down and left the turnip growing in the ground. NOTE: The Guinness Book of World Records has the current largest turnip at 35 lbs. 

Held for Ransom.

A Decatur, Ind., dispatch says that three weeks ago John Trentman, a retired merchant went to West Baden Springs for his health. About a week ago he started for home. When the train arrived at Mitchell, Ind., he was kidnapped from it, placed in a cell and kept for six days, presumably for the purpose of extorting a ransom from his relatives, who are quite wealthy. He was finally released after being robbed of several hundred dollars. Detectives are investigating. 

Snake Story

Samuel Staples, a sober citizen of Deer Isle, in the prohibition state of Maine, avers that the other day he dug out of one post hole 259 snakes of various kinds and sizes. There were green and striped and brown snakes and they measured two and a half inches to eighteen inches in length. 

Fears a Ghost

Mrs. Ida Hamilton has left her husband, and all on account of the ghost of her first husband. Mrs. Hamilton states that her first husband, Mr. Gant, told her before his death that if she ever married again he would haunt her until doomsday. She says she had a terrible feeling come over her on the way out to Colorado, where he second husband lived, and could not shake it off. At the wedding everybody noticed her pallor, and she nearly fainted during the ceremony. Every time her husband came near her, she says, she felt a nameless horror steal over her. She could stand it only a few days, she says, and then, kissing his seven children, while he was out on the ranch, left the place for Denver, and says she is now happy again.

NOTE: I’ve run across frequent accounts of men and women haunted by dead spouses who made them promise not to remarry. In The Face in the Window, you’ll find an entire chapter detailing the saga of Linnie Fisher and her husband Simon—both living and dead. It’s called “The Death-Bed Promise: Revenge Beyond the Grave in Coshocton.” I’m not sure whether the promises exacted on deathbeds were a twisted test of fidelity or an attempt to protect children from wicked step-parents.

A Provident Woman.

An aged spinster living in Milford, Conn., has carefully stowed away in her attic the timber for a coffin, which she has instructed her relatives to use when she dies. The woman is nearly 70 years old, but gives evidence of living to a ripe old age. A peculiar fact is that she planted a black walnut tree many years ago, when she was a girl, with the sole purpose of using its timber for her coffin. When it was a full-grown tree she hired a farmer to cut it down, and taking the body to a sawmill, she had the boards sawed out, giving full instructions as to the thickness, width, etc. After the work was complete, she told her nearest neighbour all about the matter. A local undertaker has been engaged to make the coffin at her decease.

NOTE: I’ve run across many accounts of (usually) men preparing their coffins well in advance and stories of women who had stored a shroud in readiness for 50-70 years. The detail of planting the tree is unique.

Did Not Mean to Starve.

Con. Dwyer, of Sears, Mich., recently died, and his heirs found an odd collection awaiting them. Predicting war, he had stored away for the future thirty-nine barrels of flour, which, when piled up, could be measured almost by the cord; boxes of yeast and other groceries, worth many dollars. When he found he could not live he revealed the hiding places of his wealth. Two hundred dollars in gold was found beneath the collar, paper money was sewed in an old vest and in a bed quilt, the money in all amounting to over $500. Dangerous weapons were found in all parts of the house, daggers and firearms, showing he was afraid of being robbed. Expensive and elegant clothing as found, which had been stored away for years.  NOTE: Obviously a proto-prepper.

 A Wonderful Man.

H.S. Fitzgerald, aged 47, of Harrisburg, Pa., can dislocate at will any joint in his body from his little toe to his spinal column, and has absolute control over every muscle. He has been exhibiting before medical colleges for about twenty-seven years. Muscles that physicians have hitherto been unable to reach he brings into plain view and action. Ligaments so deep in the flesh that they could only be reached with a carving knife are brought into action apparently just under the skin.

Divorce in Seven Minutes.

Sioux City claims just now to hold the time record for divorce proceedings. At 438 one afternoon Sarah J. Wallace flied an application for divorce from her husband, W.J. Wallace, on the ground of cruel and inhuman treatment. At 4:39 an answer had been filed, at 4:40 the taking of testimony was commenced, and at 4:45 a decree of separation, fixing the amount of alimony and granting the plaintiff the custody of her children, had been granted.  

Earthquake Made Him Insane.

  The recent earthquake disturbance has caused D.L. Pierson, a prosperous resident of New Buffalo, Mich., to become insane. When the earthquake occurred Mr. Pierson was suddenly aroused, and in his frightened state imagined that the end of the world had come. Since then he has been unable to recover from the hallucination, and has been placed in an asylum.  

NOTE: The 6.6 earthquake occurred near Charleston, Missouri on 31 October, 1895.

A Strange Suicide.

At Caldwell, Ohio, a few days ago, Miss Rose Foster was wed to Walter Webb. A day or so later the bride was missed for several hours and a search was instituted. She was found in the garret dying from the effects of arsenic administered by herself, and before doctors could reach her she was dead. The reason for the suicide is a deep mystery.

NOTE: I’ve not been able to find any follow-up to this story for an explanation. An innocent bride shocked by the realities of the marriage bed, perhaps?

A Lovely Little Miss

Fern Johnson, a little miss, who lives in Parkhurst, Me., is 9 years old and weighs only 52 pounds. One day last week, just to pass away the time, she shovelled up eighty-one barrels of potatoes in four hours.

This next group of items are found under the heading “Notes for the Curious” in St. Louis [MO] Republic 28 September 1895: p. 4

Some of the other stories (which I did not transcribe, but am happy to add at your request) under this heading were: The Irregular Motions of the Moon, The Smith Family in the War, All Men Will Be Dwarfs (degeneration of the human race), The Queer Surinam Toad, A Winged General of the Seas (Nam hai gnan Fish), Did the Ants Talk?, Wonderful Power of Niagara, A Sponge Used by Jesus, A Seventeen-Mile Swim.

His First Wife Was Petrified.

A late copy of the Madras (India) Sun, an Indian paper published in the English language, contains the following:

At Runja, in the Punjab, a native who had recently married for a second time was importuned by his new wife to have the remains of wife No. 1 removed from their resting place near a mineral spring and deposited in the village cemetery. Preparations were made to that effect, laborers opening the grave in the usual manner. When the wickerwork basket in which the woman had been interred was reached and efforts made to raise it, the weight of the receptacle and its contents was found to be too heavy for the four men engaged in the work and the appliances at hand.

When the basket coffin was finally hoisted to the surface one of the laborers removed the lid to ascertain the cause of the unusual weight. To the surprise of all it was found the coffin contained a solid stone figure, the corpse having become perfectly petrified.

The husband removed the remains to his home, where they now are, and it is said that thousands are daily viewing the wonder.

NOTE: The religion of this Punjabi man is not stated, but Hindus or Sikhs cremated their dead. This sounds like one of the many petrified women stories so often found in late 19th-century papers which has been translated to an exotic location.

 Horseshoes Made From an Aerolite.

The only man in the world, perhaps, that ever drove a horse wearing shoes made from metal which but a few weeks before had been on the moon is Frank Morris of Worthington, W. Va. A few years ago a small aerolite composed of pure iron fell near Mr. Morris’ homestead. He obtained possession of it and had a portion of it made into shoes for his favourite horse. These moon-stones are usually highly prized and seldom used for such base purposes.

NOTE: The first appearance I can find of this story–which never varies in its details, name, or location–comes in October 24, 1889 in the Daily Illinois State Register [Springfield, IL] on p. 3.  A version in 1893 says that the shoes have worn three times as long as regular horseshoes.

Little Curious Notes

The highest steeple in the world is that of the Antwerp Cathedral—417 feet

A few years ago Mary Smeaton of Cincinnati, 91 years of age, cut a third set of teeth.

The Atlas moth, a giant, night-flying insect, has a wing spread of 14 inches.

According to the Treasurer’s statement, made in 1893, there are 38,889 $10,000 bills in circulation in the United States.

Explorers say that there are places in the Congo River where it is so wide that ships may pass and be out of sight of each other.

Mrs. James L. Gates of Milwaukee owns a Bible that was brought over in the Mayflower in 1620.

The surface of a man’s lungs is estimated at 150 feet, tens times more than the entire external surface of the body.

Historians are now trying to prove that the little village of Yaleta, Tex., is the oldest settlement in the United States.

A single spider web, though much finer than a hair, is composed of several hundred filaments of infinitesimal fineness.

The skin of the black fox of Kamchatka is the most expensive fur known. Single skins have been known to sell for more than $1,000.

There is a “rocking stone” in Sullivan County, N.Y., which is estimated to weigh 40 tons, and which is so evenly balanced that the strength of one finger is sufficient to set it in motion.

NOTE: This list illustrates the educational trivia blended with wonders and curiosities so often syndicated in the newspapers of past.  Any other Fortean news from 1895: chriswoodyard8 AT


Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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