weird history

The Fate of Elmer McCurdy

Via Pixabay

Via Pixabay

So October is here.

I let my hair down in October-this is the month where I really don’t care how dark the story is.

Originally posted in 2013.

I was reminded of this story while we were standing in at Frightworld last weekend. It’s not so much a Halloween legend-in fact, sadly, it’s not a legend at all-but still, it’s creepy enough that I’m going to call it a seasonal legend anyway.

I will say that the story has made the jump to urban legend status anyway as the story that I was told on Saturday involved New Jersey, when the details of the case place it in the Midwest and West Coast.

This is the strange, sad case of a mummy, an amusement park…and the Six Million Dollar Man.

The story goes that Elmer McCurdy was killed in Oklahoma after engaging in several thefts in 1911. Mccurdy was embalmed, and apparently the work of the local undertaker was so good that they dressed him up in his best clothes and set him up as a sort of local attraction. This went on for years with entertainment companies wanting to buy the corpse but the funeral home he was housed in refused the offers.

After several years, two men came forward who claimed the corpse as family-but in reality were intending on cashing in on the body the same way the funeral parlor had. This was the beginning of McCurdy’s second-life entertainment career, wherein he began to appear at amusement parks and as a prop in several films.

Eventually, the Six Million Dollar Man crew became interested in using the ‘prop’-which is when it was discovered that it was an actual corpse that had been shuttled around. In 1977, McCurdy made his way back home where he was finally buried-under cement.

The Death Card

myth and meme month

September is Myth and Meme month, where I look at obscure myths or folklore/social memes that are currently making their way through social media. I have decided this year to also look at things as I find them, themes that I don’t normally write about or have encountered in the past. That will include a certain amount of weird history.

This is a story that I suppose that I did know in passing, but without the history to root it into, I assumed it was a plot point and nothing much else. This symbol shows up in Apocalypse Now, when the soldiers leave behind death cards to prove that they were there.

The Ace of Spades has become the death card in modern symbolism over time-the image is used to suggest a character is about to die or that the card in itself is just plain bad luck. The logic that seems to make the most sense to me is that the spade is a shovel and a shovel digs graves, therefore the card is associated with death. There are more complicated logics than that, but that is the one that in its simplicity strikes me as most likely closest to the truth.

There appears to have been a habit among American troops fighting in Vietnam of dropping the ace of spades behind them after leaving battlefields, or leaving them on corpses, or in other high visibility areas. Part of the logic of the act presumes that the Vietnamese fear the death card more than the Americans, so the card would function as a form of emotional weapon. But that connection seems vague at best, and assumes a certain level of familiarity with folkloric imagery. Many of the theories that I came across surrouding both the start and usage of the cards really does read like stereotypical urban legend development-I didn’t see anything, but I knew a guy who…

It might be that the actual ‘start’ of the act will never be identified fully and something about the image struck so hard and fast that it became a symbol to the Americans more than anything else. It might also not be a terribly common or widespread act, but the wearing of the card-or other usage of the symbol- happened frequently enough to enter into military urban legend.

The Bear Conundrum


I sit here, more than a little sick (what does it say when your mother asks you if you need to go to the ER? I’m not that sick, Mom) and rewatching Fantasia.

Fantasia is more than slightly relevant to this topic because while this is the first time I’ve had it on as more than background noise since I’ve been an adult, I feel like there are sections of this movie that I’ve never seen before. Which is impressive since I binged watched this film as a child. Maybe I’m watching some new cut? I have no idea.

With that in mind, I present to you one of the odder Internet effects-even if this amounts to some sort of bizarre Reddit game that just keeps going.

[Also, blogging while sick is a terrible idea. This wiped me out more than it should have.]

Like the Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark books, this might be a legend/quirk you have to be a certain age to remember.

Are the books the Berenstein Bears or are they the Berenstain Bears? Because Amazon says they’re the Berenstain Bears.

To a great many people this presents a fundamental wrongness. They’re the Berenstein Bears, and someone somewhere took a great amount of time to ‘fix’ it to -stain.

(In defense of those people, the -Stain looks wrong to me, but I probably haven’t seen one of these books in 20 years so at best my memory is suspect, plus the effect of suggestion. And illness.)

So who’s right here? And why, if they’re right? Are we just a generation with really terrible memories? Did they really did change the spelling somewhere along the way-but how do we handle the anecdotes of people’s belongings shifting to the ‘new’ spelling?

Are we just really, really bored?

The Wood between Worlds-On the Berenstain Bears Switcheroo

AskReddit thread 1-potentially nsfw/language

AskReddit thread 2-potentially nsfw/language

Does Anyone Actually Remember It as -Stain?- potentially nsfw/language

Bears Glitch Theory on Reddit-potentially nsfw/language



myths and memes 2014

Centralia is neither a myth nor is it particularly obscure (I’ve been there, or as close to there as you can get anyway). But I’m getting sick of having to explain that P.T. is the playable teaser for Silent Hills, and I haven’t gotten around to talking about Centralia yet, so here we go.

The town of Centralia, Pennsylvania is on fire. That in itself is not all that exciting; towns burn all the time and they don’t end up on a folklore blog. However, the fact that it’s the land under the streets that burning and that it has been burning since 1962.

Centralia, like many towns in that area of the state, was a mining town and the land underneath the town was full of old mining tunnels left over. The main mineral mined from the region was coal. While there is a disagreement about how exactly it happened, at some point in 1962 a fire managed to get into those coal tunnels and eventually spread-eating through the coal veins and whatever ore was left behind.

The fire is still burning. While the town officially no longer exists-the ground is exceptionally unstable at this point and the government has both reclaimed the land and the zip code has been revoked- there is a very small population of individuals that have been given permission to stay until their deaths, at which point the government of Pennsylvania will truly reclaim all the land and the town will cease to exist. Interestingly, the fire has spread to Byrnesville which is also abandoned now, but almost never discussed.

Why would I say that Silent Hills made me realize that I never blogged about Centralia? Because a great deal of modern horror popular culture has latched onto Centralia as a limial state, somewhere between the real world and the underworld. The appearance of Silent Hill (the town featured in the franchise of the same name) is heavily modeled on Centralia, and multiple other works of modern horror fiction have pulled from the town.

Centralia, Pennsylvania

Centralia, PA Mine Fire

The Mackenzie Poltergeist

ghost month 2014

The story is said to go something like this:

A homeless man needed a place to sleep, so he climbed into an open mausoleum. However, once he was inside, all hells broke loose when he accidentally disturbed the remains of Sir George Mackenzie. The homeless man, understandably terrified, ran out of the masoleum whilst dragging one very dry corpse with him and thereby terrifying the people outside of the crypt. Mackenzie was not an entirely nice person while he was alive 400 years earlier (he was responsible for the deaths of mutiple people during a period of political unrest in Scotland) and when he was disturbed in 1999, he still wasn’t particularly polite.

It is believed that the accidental grave desecration set off of a chain of events that would eventually be called the Mackenzie Poltergeist. This is not the first time that the poltergeist has made itself felt. There are local legends that a highway man was driven insane while hiding in the tomb, claiming that the coffins and those within would move under their own power at night. Further, it sounded as those homed in the coffins scratched at the wood like they were attempting to escape.

One of the major ways that Mackenzie has decided to express his displeasure is through physical contact. And by physical contact, I mean attacks on random individuals. And by attacks I mean at least 350 attacks ranging from shovings to broken bones. The area around the crypt is also prone to energy drains, blackouts, random dead animals, and fires.

Individuals who once conducted research on the haunting as well as people who once took ghost tours to the site have reported property being destroyed, including their apartments burning along with all research. You can tour the Black Masoleum, as it is now called, if you find yourself in Edinburgh-though the city council doesn’t advocate it except through one specific tour company and it doesn’t seem to be one of the happier ghosts you could visit.

The Wilberforce Riddle

“Sweetest of sound, in orchestra heard,

Yet in orchestra never have been,

Bird in light plumage, yet less like a bird,

Nothing in nature has ever been seen,

On earth I expire, in water I die,

Yet I run, swim and fly,

If I cannot be guessed by a boy or a man,

A girl or a woman I certainly can!”

The Wilberforce Riddle was written by Samuel Wilberforce in the 1870s. Wilberforce was a clergyman who was heavily involved in the Darwinian/evolution arguments, but he is best known for this riddle. The riddle appears to have no answer-or rather, Wilberforce did not leave one. The answers given to the riddle range from mythological beings to whales.

So what’s the answer? I have no idea. I’m too abstract a thinker to figure out logic problems (but if you want to debate the treeness of trees, and how trees don’t exist because of that same inherent treeness, then I’m your girl.)


Montanism was more a school of religious thought or branch of the early Christian church than a true apocalyptic prophesy or belief; however I’m including it along with the rest due to the way that the sect believed that society was in the end times as early as the second century.

The idea that society has reached its end point extends back thousands of years, and in relation to Christian thought, it seems that the idea that we are preparing for the end of days picked up steam almost as soon as Revelations hit paper. Whatever meaning may actually be ascribed to that book never seems to have been relevant for at least some groups-though it should be noted that most ‘mainstream’ Christian thought, whatever that may mean historically, has not thought that we are facing annihilation any time soon.

Montanism was in fact labeled a heretical order very early in the history of the Church. Based on the teachings of a man named Monantus, Monantism ran counter to a great deal of ‘formal’ mainstream Christian teachings of the day. Monantus claimed to be a prophet of God along with two women. The sect stood apart from the rest of the church on a great deal of matters ranging from the formal date of Easter to the way that women would color their hair and the use of cosmetics. However, it was the prophesies-and the popularity of the prophesies as well as frequency and volume-that seems to have marked the sect for rejection by the mainstream Church. It is said that some of the material prophesied was the return of Christ and the beginning of the Apocalypse.


Last Thursday-ism


Last Thursday-ism isn’t an End Times prophesy but I feel like it fits in splendidly with this month’s theme.

Last Thursday-ism is actually classified as a reaction to the omphalos hypothesis which claims that God created the world within the last 10,000 years. My interest in it has nothing to do with religion; I have a real soft spot for unsolvable problems.

Why is Last Thursday-ism an unsolvable problem? Because, by definition, the theory can be neither proved nor disproved. It simply is, and frankly, as scary as it may (or may not sound) it’s as solid a theory regarding the basis of reality as anything else. Seriously, Last Thursday-ism really isn’t that much more semiotically twisted than the concept of the hyper-reality.

But what, exactly, does Last Thursday-ism suggest? Effectively that the world could have been created and destroyed any number of times but is in fact no older than Thursday past. The creative force of the universe, God as shorthand, has been planting everything in reality in order to keep humanity from figuring out the true age of reality. Which includes the fact that the earliest mention of the theorem dates from 1992.

The question then becomes is this really an uncomfortable thought? I suppose that it could be. While it was started as a parody, it does seem like it would, or at least, could, freak a person out if only because it brings into question the entire nature of reality. However, I think that it doesn’t matter. I think that it would only really become an issue if you were to suddenly find yourself on the other side of reality watching this play out over and over again, Matrix style.

But then, I’m weird.

Last Thursday-ism and the Omphalos Hypothesis


The Taman Shud Case

It would seem that our trip through weird history may be better called ‘All the Weird Things that Happened in 1948’. Because it seems that all of the topics that I’ve looked up for entries today have happened in 1948.

The Taman Shud murder is a crime, a true crime, that has made the jump to both popular culture and urban legend status. An unidentified man was found dead in Somerton Beach, Australia early on December 1, 1948. None of the markers normally used to identify bodies, such as fingerprints and dental records, were able to shed light on the man’s identity. Eventually the police were able to track his coat back to the States, but that was the most they were able to determine.

Beyond the jacket, the only facts that were able to be linked to the man was that he seemed to have been in great health when he died, that his clothing was stripped of any identifying markers, and there was a brown suitcase eventually linked to him. Within the suitcase there was some clothing, also with everything that could be used to identify it removed. A piece of paper with the words Taman Shud written on it was found on his person. The words mean ‘finished’ or ‘ended’.

The paper was found within a secret pocket of the man’s pants. Further, the paper was from an extremely rare edition of poetry; in an increasingly odd twist the book the page was removed from was eventually located after a man reported that someone had left it in his car near the crime scene.

On the back page of the book a cipher was discovered:







What is truly remarkable is that the cipher has been identified as such, as opposed to a random set of letters-but no one has any idea as to how to break it or what it may mean. All that can be determined is that some characters may be broken or illegible (or unfamiliar to cipher breakers) and that there are spaces or missing characters within the cipher.

As of right now the case remains unsolved, with theories including that the Somerton man may have been a spy. The case is appealing to many people and has worked its way into the popular mindset. Stephen King is said to have used the case as inspiration for The Colorado Kid.

The Gorman Dogfight


1948 was either a good or bad year for alien encounters, depending on where you stand on the issue. With the Chiles-Whitted Encounter taking place in July, the year could have finished out without another ‘big-name’ encounter and still gone down in Ufology.

I admit that I’m a little surprised that spell-check is familiar with the term Ufology.

However, 1948 would see another major alien encounter. In October, a pilot named George F. Gorman claimed to have engaged in what would be called a dogfight with an unidentified flying object above Fargo, North Dakota. The craft acted strangely, including flying faster than what Gorman stated a craft should have been able to fly at that time. Like Chiles and Whitted, Gorman had pilot experience from tours in World War II and was familiar with most conventional craft and natural phenomena.

Gorman’s claims were supported by the local control tour. The situation becomes stranger from there, because while two traffic controllers claim to have seen the craft that Gorman encountered it did not appear on their radar. When the plane returned to the landing strip, it was found to be slightly radioactive.

So what was the stance regarding this encounter? Did the Air Force back this one the way that it did the Chiles-Whitted Encounter in July?

The short answer is no.

Essentially, no one could prove that Gorman’s plane shouldn’t have been radioactive after flying at the elevation that he reached, and they decided that even though he knew what one looked like, Gorman had encountered a rather erratic weather balloon.

In the Air Force’s defense, there was a case earlier in 1948 (really, what was it about 1948?) in which a pilot had been killed chasing what he thought was an alien craft that was in actuality a weather balloon. So perhaps they weren’t entirely off base assuming that the same situation was playing out in Fargo.

(photo from Morguefile)