Today I Learned…

After moving into a house in Pancevo, Yugoslavia, the new owner opened some shutters in front of a walled-in window and was surprised to find that unopened mail — some of it dating back 90 years — tumbled out. Mrs. Vera Aremovic told reporters that her father and grandfather, both merchants with extensive business connections throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had lived in the house during the nine decades postmen had been dropping mail through an open shutter thinking there was a glass pane behind it. Their business had eventually failed, she said, because their customers complained that they never answered letters. (From Bizarre World, by Bill Bryson)

Today I Learned…

(Today’s TIL is on the long side, but hey, today’s my birthday. So here’s my present to you.)

On the morning of October 23, 1894, Louis Bouchard enjoyed some good fortune. As the Fall River, Massachusetts, egg merchant drove his cart along his route, he noticed a wrapped bundle lying on the trolley tracks at the “Westport Four Corners” intersection. A subscriber to the “finders keepers” school of philosophy, Louis concluded that the unattended package was his, and he descended from his cart to make the retrieval.

He climbed back in with the bundle under his arm, settled into his seat, and slowly unwrapped his prize. Louis was delighted to find that the take was bountiful: four large, plump sausages, a ready-made breakfast for a hungry man who was sick of eggs. Unable to read English, Louis could not make out what was written on the large stamps prominently displayed on each end of the four tubes.

The lucky merchant dug into the end of one of his trophies and took a taste. He noticed that the flavor was different from that of any sausage he had ever tasted — and unusually sweet. He wondered if it was not a sausage at all, but some type of dried fruit. But he liked the sweet flavor, and after sampling some more, he decided to find out just what it was.

Louis pulled up to Barre’s Drug Store, hoping that Homer Barre might be able to identify the mysterious stuff. He proudly unwrapped his find and asked what type of fruit he had been eating. After reading the stamp on one of the tubes, Homer gave Louis a sympathetic look. He gently explained that he’d been eating dynamite and was likely, at any moment, to explode.

Horrified, Louis sank gingerly into a chair while Homer fetched help. Officer Louis Moreau soon arrived on the scene, relieved to find that the egg merchant was, at least for the moment, still intact. An explosives expert was summoned, and he identified the “sausages” as high-intensity dynamite. It had probably been meant to blow up the streetcar. What could have been one of the worst disasters in Fall River was avoided because Louis picked up the package. History doesn’t tell us if the police ever caught the saboteurs. It does seem that Louis never did explode. The Fall River Daily Herald noted that “when restoratives had been applied to Bouchard, he departed aimlessly and is probably treading his way back home with panther-like steps, that no sudden jar might set off the explosive he had chewed off the ‘sausage’.” (This story comes to us from the pages of Yankee Magazine.)

Today I Learned…

As if being bitten by mosquitoes isn’t bad enough, the little buggers regularly pee on us too. Female mosquitoes (the ones that do the biting) suck up so much blood that they swell up to twice their normal size, which makes takeoff a bit problematic. They solve this problem by offloading all unnecessary water and salts from the blood they’ve just eaten, by excreting them as urine.

Today I Learned…

In 1968, Robert Rush, an American army sergeant, was woken at 6 am by his wife, who screamed once and then died. At the inquest it was revealed that five years earlier, the woman’s sister had expired in a similar manner. She had climbed out of a local swimming pool with a look of terror on her face, screamed once, and died. Autopsies on both women failed to explain either death. (From Bizarre World, by Bill Bryson)

Today I Learned …

Monkeys will pay to look at images of sexually attractive or socially powerful primates. Male rhesus monkeys will give up a drink of cherry juice in order to look at a picture of a face of a socially dominant monkey, or of a female’s hindquarters. However, it seems that the monkeys have to be paid to look at a picture of a subordinate, as they only take a peek at the picture if they are bribed with a larger than normal drink.

Today I Learned …

A book given to an Australian girl by her father found its way back to her after 66 years and a journey around the world. When Betty Fowkes of Melbourne was 11, her father gave her the book, titled Magic Australia, and inscribed it, “To Betty, from Daddy, Christmas 1944.” She lost the book in a house move four years later. In 2014 she heard the author’s name mentioned on a radio broadcast and asked her daughter, Liz Crooks, to search for a copy online. Liz randomly selected a copy from New York’s Austin Book Shop — and when it arrived, it was Betty’s original, complete with her father’s inscription. (From Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Eye-Popping Oddities)

Peoria State Hospital News!

There are wonderful things afoot on the hilltop in Bartonville. The Peoria State Hospital Museum is moving ever closer to opening. You can find loads of great information here:

Learn more about the hospital in the second book of the Asylum series, and look for Fractured Spirits too!

Lights Out: 100th Episode!

I’m posting this on July 3, 2021. July 3, 1863. The third day of fighting at Gettysburg, and the day of Pickett’s Charge. The day the South would make a bid for victory at the High Water Mark … and be turned back by Union guns, lead, and steel. It’s the 100th episode of Lights Out, so let’s visit one of the most crucial sites in American history. If you’re digging these videos, please Like and subscribe on YouTube. (I honestly don’t know what the equivalent is for podcasts — tell a friend, I guess?) Thanks so much for all your support!

Lady Lindy Comes to Purdue — And She’s Never Left

Purdue Airport was built in 1930, and opened in 1934. University president Dr. Edward C. Elliott was justifiably proud: this was the first university-owned airport, and Elliott was particularly interested in aviation.

He was also committed to excellence in higher education for women. Those two passions came together in the fall of 1935, when famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart spoke at Purdue. Dr. Elliott had a brainstorm. Who better to be a career counselor for young women, especially those interested in aviation, than Amelia Earhart? He pitched the idea to her over dinner that night after her talk. He offered her a position at the school, and she accepted. In November 1935, she became the advisor to the aeronautics department, and a visiting faculty member in the women’s careers department.

Earhart spent several weeks each semester on campus, giving lectures and hanging out with the students. She used her popularity to promote progressive causes such as women’s rights, while presenting herself as down-to-earth and approachable. She loved Purdue, and Purdue loved her right back.

Dr. Elliott volunteered to have the university supply Earhart with a “flying laboratory”. He collected $80,000 in donations, and presented Earhart with a Lockheed Electra in July 1936.

The next year, in June, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, attempted to fly around the world. At 10 am on July 2, 1937, Earhart and Noonan left New Guinea on their way to tiny Howland Island. They never arrived. Instead, Earhart flew her Electra into legend.

But Earhart’s spirit remains at Purdue University, a place where she found fulfillment and unwavering support.

While she was at Purdue, Earhart lived in a residence hall, and her ghost still hangs out there. The phantom of a petite women with short hair is seen in the hallway outside her former dorm room. Windows open on their own, and students feel cold drafts. But the most exciting evidence is the clickety-clack of an old-fashioned typewriter that drifts from the empty room late at night. Earhart spent her late-night hours writing. She devoted herself to inspiring others to find their calling in life. It’s said she spent more time writing inspirational pieces about her flights, and about the ways she hoped to encourage others to follow their dreams, than she actually spent in the sky.

Besides the dorm, the other building at Purdue that feels Earhart’s presence is Hangar One. Witnesses have seen a slightly-built woman in pants and an aviator’s jacket, a scarf draped around her neck, in the hangar. It makes sense. Not only did Earhart feel at home in Hangar One, it was also where she made the preparations for her round-the-world flight. She poured a lot of emotion into the Electra as it sat in the hangar.

Hangar One has been renovated since Earhart’s time. It now houses classrooms for Aviation Technology. It’s quite possible that Earhart pops in from time to time to check up on the students.

If you enjoyed this sneak peek from Days of the Dead: A Year of True Ghost Stories, and you like horror fiction, you might want to check out my short story “On Wings of Silver” over at Vocal. Here’s the link: . Enjoy!