Scientists have found sharks living in an underwater volcano. (From National Geographic Kids Weird But True 8: 300 Outrageous Facts)
Today I Learned …
If you could drive a car from the Earth to the Moon, at 60 mph it would take you almost six months to get there. (From National Geographic Kids Weird But True 8: 300 Outrageous Facts)
Today I Learned …
Charles VI of France (1368-1422) suffered from a mental illness that made him believe his body was made of glass. He even put metal rods in his clothes so he wouldn’t shatter. (From National Geographic Kids Weird But True 8: 300 Outrageous Facts)
Today I Learned …
Research by scientists Ben Wilson and Bob Batty revealed that herring fish fart frequently … but only at night. (from National Geographic Kids Weird But True 8: 300 Outrageous Facts)
Today I Learned …
Volkswagen sells more sausages than cars. In 2019, the company produced 6.2 million cars at its factories across the world, but at its Wolfsburg, Germany, plant, it made 6.8 million currywurst sausages, which sell in more than a dozen countries. (from Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Out of the Box)
Today I Learned …
Fearing that he might lose his job at a New Zealand ad agency, Joshua Jack took an emotional support clown to an important work meeting. He hired Joe the Clown for $200 in an attempt to lighten the mood with his employers. In the end, he was still fired, but he did have two balloon animals — a unicorn and a poodle — that the clown had made noisily during the meeting. (from Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Out of the Box)
Today I Learned …
At the height of the Battle of Germantown in 1777 during the Revolutionary War, George Washington ordered a ceasefire to return a lost dog to its owner, enemy general Sir William Howe. The little terrier was found wandering the battlefield between the American and British lines. Washington took the dog to his tent, fed him, and had him washed and brushed before returning him to Howe. Once this was done, the battle resumed. (Unfortunately, this bid for karma didn’t succeed. The British won the battle.) (from Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Out of the Box)
Today I Learned …
The Ayam Cemani chicken of Indonesia not only has black feathers and a black beak, it also has black bones, black organs, and even black meat. Its meat is said by natives to possess mystical powers. (from Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Out of the Box)
Today I Learned …
A whole orange will float in water, but a peeled orange will sink. This is because the peel is spongy and contains tiny pockets of air, making the density of the whole orange less than the density of water, therefore allowing it to float. (from Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Out of the Box)
Today I Learned …
While filming the 2019 movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Tom Hanks discovered that he is related to Fred Rogers, whom he plays in the film. The pair are sixth cousins. (from Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Out of the Box)
Today I Learned …
Hitler gave gifts of honey to wounded soldiers with a sweet note that read “Ein Gruss des Fuhrers an Seine Verwundeten” (“Greetings from the Fuhrer to his wounded”) — though, fittingly, it was really just cheap imitation honey made from beet syrup and yellow food coloring. (from The Secret History of Food, by Matt Siegel)
Today I Learned …
When the Eighteenth Amendment outlawed the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol in the 1920s, many American breweries such as Anheuser-Busch turned to making ice cream to stay afloat. (After all, the ingredients for ice cream — fat, sugar, and vanilla — are a decent substitute for alcohol in drowning one’s feelings.) In fact, ice cream stood in for alcohol as a source of national comfort so much that by 1929, ice cream consumption in the United States had grown to about a million gallons per day. This crashed, along with the rest of the country, in the Great Depression … but the Depression also brought us Rocky Road ice cream. We don’t know who actually invented the flavor, but it was popularized in 1929 by two ice cream makers from California. William Dreyer and Joseph Edy used “rocky road” as a culinary metaphor for the hard times the country was going through. Before this, toppings were primarily just available at the point of sale and sprinkled on top (think of the Dairy Queen business model). The idea of mixing marshmallows and nut chunks was weird, but people dug it. It was a reminder that life could be sweet, even when filled with broken, rocky pieces. (from The Secret History of Food, by Matt Siegel)
Today I Learned …
Mount Olive, North Carolina, home of the Mount Olive Pickle Company (located at 1 Cucumber Boulevard),rings in the New Year with a pickle drop. At the stroke of 7 pm, a 3-foot-long pickle drops from the top of a 45-foot flagpole into a redwood pickle tank. The pickle hits, splashing brine all over spectators as they cheer and applaud. Part of the event is a canned food drive — all participants are entered to win an inflatable pool pickle. Why 7 pm? 7 pm EST happens to be midnight Greenwich Mean Time, which makes things official. (from Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide, by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras.)
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 12: Lights Out Extra!
And we’re here together on Christmas Eve. Here is my Christmas present to you all: an extra episode of Lights Out. In this episode, we’ll hear a reading of “Smee”, a short story by A. M. Burrage from 1931. Burrage brings the spooky with this ghostly tale. Merry Christmas! https://youtu.be/J9o1k1wUauE
And I wish you all a very Merry Saturkwanzukah, and the best of all possible New Years. Be safe, be well, and be good to each other. Thanks so much for dropping by, and on your way out, swing by www.weirddarkness.com and wish Darren and the rest of the weirdos a Merry Christmas as well.
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 11: Lights Out!
Welcome to the Dead of Winter! Today we’re going to revisit a couple of Lights Out episodes from years past. Curl up by the Christmas tree, turn on the tree lights, have a cup of something warm and lovely handy, and let’s go … Lights Out.
Lights Out Extra: Christmas 2020. https://youtu.be/tcFUsqrKSUI
Lights Out #66: Christmas 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvAANf27Eb4&t
Lights Out #52: Christmas 2017. The Roving Skeleton of Boston Bay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1o74O6A-aw&t=27s
Lights Out #51: Plymouth Courthouse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZY-ntKexJk
Lights Out #32: Christmas 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Alg6AOjuQvE&t=6s
Stay tuned, because tomorrow, for Christmas Eve, I have a special present for you guys. And you know what else you should do? You should go visit Darren Marlar over at Weird Darkness, see what he’s got going on. Get curious! Tell him I sent you.
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 10: I Am Your Brother
Today’s story comes from Spirits of Christmas: The Dark Side of the Holidays, by your hostess with the mostest ghosties…
Rufus Porter was a well-regarded journalist who lived in the Pike’s Peak region near Cascade, Colorado. Porter was known as the “Hard Rock Poet”, and he wrote many short poems about the human condition — not fancy poetry, but words that ordinary people could enjoy.
In December 1960, Porter was riding the rails from Spokane to Seattle. For want of a ticket, he was huddled in an open boxcar. When the train started to cross the Cascade Mountains, the temperature, already brutally cold, fell to below zero.
Porter knew he couldn’t survive much longer. Near Leavenworth, Washington, he caught a glimpse of a work camp. He jumped the train and headed painfully towards the camp to seek shelter. He made his way to the watchman’s cabin, where a light burned a cheerful welcome in the window. With the last of his fading strength, Porter pounded on the door.
An older, bearded man with kind eyes opened the door. He ushered Porter into the cabin, out of the bitter cold. He sat him down next to the fire, knelt before him, and slipped his cold boots off. He fed Porter, and treated his frostbite. But when Porter tried to thank him, or engage him in conversation, the man would only reply with one simple phrase: “I am your brother.”
After a night spent in a warm, comfortable bed, Porter left the work camp and made his way to Leavenworth. When he got to town, he told his story of being rescued by the watchman, and of being invited into the warmth and safety of the cozy cabin.
Porter’s tale was met with sideways looks and outright denial. The work camp outside of town had been deserted for years, people told him, and the watchman who had supposedly cared for him was long dead.
Porter refused to believe this. The man’s glances of kindness, his generous care, the humble way in which he would say, “I am your brother” — it all stayed planted firmly in Porter’s mind. He decided to go to the work camp in daylight to see things for himself.
He found the camp abandoned, just as the men in town had told him. There was no sign of life anywhere in the camp. And the ashes of the fire on the hearth in the watchman’s cabin were cold and dead.
If you enjoyed this story, there are many, many more between the pages of Spirits of Christmas: The Dark Side of the Holidays. You can find copies on Amazon — the ebook version is here — or at Bookshop.org. (Here’s the Bookshop link. I like sending people to Bookshop.org because with every purchase, you’re supporting independent bookstores. Amazon doesn’t need our help.)
Also if you enjoyed this story, head on over to www.weirddarkness.com . I’ll bet they have cookies …
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 9: The Victorians? Yep. Still Weird.
Do you guys send out Christmas cards? I know people who still do. And like so many of our holiday customs, it started with the Victorians. Exchanging greeting cards with relatives, friends and neighbors originated over 170 years ago in Victorian Britain, at a time when early Christmas rituals like carols were being revived and new customs embraced. The first commercial Christmas card was introduced by Sir Henry Cole, an inventor who had helped launch the Uniform Penny Post in January 1840. Previously, postage had been prohibitively expensive, but the penny post made sending things through the post office much more affordable for the average person. On May 1, 1843, Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to design a special card for people to send at Christmas. Horsley’s picture of a well-to-do family enjoying a lavish meal and raising their wine glasses was reportedly controversial, considered irreligious by some. That didn’t stop people sending them, though. The novelty was too much to resist, and people were thrilled at this new way to send greetings. Two runs of Horsley’s cards were printed, totalling 2,050, and all sold within that year at one shilling each. The Christmas card tradition was born. New advances in color-printing processes revolutionised the industry. Soon, high quality printed cards became more widely affordable and 11.5 million cards were produced in 1880 alone.
Many of these cards featured scenes that we’d be okay with sending out today. Picturesque country churches, their windows glowing with soft golden light, snowy landscapes, angels bearing stars, cute animals and adorable snowmen, and families celebrating the holiday were pretty standard fare. Some of the cards were even embossed with gold and silver leaf. But as people started sending out more and more of these cards, they wanted different scenes on them. Some of these other cards were just plain bizarre.
“But Sylvia,” I hear you say, “how weird can Christmas cards really be?”
How about murderous frogs, children boiled alive, and assorted random strangeness?
The Victorians, as we’ve seen, had … different ideas about how to celebrate the holidays. Victorian Christmas cards might feature a frog shivving another frog. They might depict a child in a teapot — and not looking very happy about it. Insects were a popular motif. And others … well, just see for yourself.
Uhhhh … ohhh-kayyyy …
Sure, why not?
‘Cause yeah, this just screams “Christmas” …
Well. That was … interesting. See, I learn just as much as you guys do when I do research for these blog posts.
Can’t get enough weird? There’s loads more over at Weird Darkness. You should meander over there and look. www.weirddarkness.com
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 8: The Manhattan Well Murder
Guilelma Sands, known as Elma, lived in a boarding house in New York City. In December 1799, she was in a relationship with another tenant, a carpenter named Levi Weeks. The couple made plans to elope on December 22.
Around 8 pm that evening, Elma’s cousin, Catherine Ring, heard the front door open and close. She assumed it was Elma sneaking out to meet Levi. But Levi showed up at 10 pm demanding to know where Elma was. This unexpected development led to a search of the neighborhood.
Witnesses saw Elma in Lispenard’s Meadow, a nearby lover’s lane of sorts, walking with two unidentified men. Lispenard’s Meadow was also the site of the Manhattan Well. On January 2, Elma’s body was pulled from the well. She’d been dumped there, her neck broken.
Levi Weeks was accused of Elma’s murder. For his trial, his wealthy oldest brother Ezra hired the best lawyers in town: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The two-day trial was the first recorded murder trial in American history.
The case was expected to be a slam-dunk for the prosecution. Levi Weeks was in a relationship with Elma, and he was the last person to actually be seen with her. There were rumors (untrue) that Elma was pregnant, which seemed to give Levi motive for her murder.
But Hamilton and Burr knew their business. They cast serious reasonable doubt on the case, painting Elma as a loose woman, addicted to laudanum. Any guy could have killed her, they said. After only five minutes of deliberation, the jury found Levi Weeks not guilty.
Not that it did him any good. Weeks was so hated after the trial, he had to leave town. And Catherine Ring, Elma’s cousin, had a few tart words for Alexander Hamilton.
“If thee dies a natural death, I shall think there is no justice in heaven!”
Catherine’s curse backsplashed on pretty much everyone involved in the trial. Hamilton was killed in 1804, in a duel with his former partner, Aaron Burr. The judge in the trial simply disappeared after leaving his hotel one night. And Burr was loathed for killing Hamilton, tried for treason in 1807, lost his beloved daughter Theodosia to shipwreck in 1812, and died broke in 1836, the same day his divorce was finalized.
In 1817, houses were built in Lispenard’s Meadow. The Manhattan Well ended up hidden in the basement of a four-story building at 129 Spring Street. The upper-middle-class home eventually became commercial property. In 1954, the building was purchased by the DaGrossa family, who opened a restaurant. In 1980, Manhattan Bistro had grown so much that they needed more storage. They excavated the cellar, and exposed the well that had been buried for nearly 200 years.
Since then, the spirit of Elma Sands has made her presence known. Witnesses have heard her screaming for her life, and have seen the apparition of a young woman, soaking wet, dressed in 18th-century clothing.
Restaurant manager Thomas King had many paranormal experiences during his time at the Bistro. One evening, he went down to the basement to get a bottle of wine from the large cage where the liquor was stored. He unlocked the gate, leaving the key in the lock, and went to the back wall for the bottle. When he turned around, he found the gate locked behind him, trapping him in the cage. The keys had been removed from the lock and placed on a box just out of reach. King was down there for an hour before other employees realized he was missing and came downstairs to rescue him.
Manhattan Bistro went out of business in 2013. In 2014, the building was gutted, renovated, and became an upscale clothing boutique. The well was preserved, and is now in the corner of the men’s department.
This story, and many others, can be found in Grave Deeds and Dead Plots, which is the first volume in a series of true crime books spiced with a touch of the paranormal. It’s available at Amazon in paperback and as an ebook, and at Bookshop.org.
Darren Marlar’s up to something, I just know it. He’s over at www.weirddarkness.com, and he’s put together a whole bunch of spooky podcasts for you to rock out to. Go, check it out! Go! Shoo!
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 7: Today I Learned …
Best friends Alan Braithwaite and Chris Oakley, from Worcestershire, England, have been sending the same Christmas card back and forth to each other for more than 50 years. There is no longer much space on the card to write a message.
You know who would love to hear from you? The weirdos over at www.weirddarkness.com, that’s who! Go over there and say hi!
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 6: Jimmy Garlick
This story comes from Days of the Dead: A Year of True Ghost Stories.
Old churches can hide many intriguing artifacts … especially a church like St. James Garlickhythe in London, built in the twelfth century, destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, and rebuilt by legendary architect Christopher Wren. In 1855, workmen were clearing out a storeroom when they found a dessicated corpse. He became sort of a mascot for the church; he was displayed in a glass case in the church, and parishioners nicknamed him “Jimmy Garlick”. Prankster choirboys would regularly take Jimmy out of his case on Sunday mornings and prop him up in a pew.
During the Blitz, a German bomb came perilously close to the exquisite church, shattering the display case and sending splinters of glass all over the corpse. Since then, the ghost of Jimmy Garlick has been free to haunt the church. Later in the war, a guard saw a dark figure walking in the aisle during an air raid. He shouted for the person to take cover, but the figure vanished.
Jimmy’s corpse survived the war, and is now kept in a room in the church’s tower. There are no plans to put him back on display. Researchers have concluded that the mummy is the body of sixteen-year-old Seagrave Chamberlain, who died from a fever on December 17, 1765. His tombstone can be seen in the wall of the church.
An American tourist had a deeply unsettling experience in the 1970s. She was visiting the church with her two sons, and the older son went off exploring. He climbed the stairs to the balcony — and came face-to-face with a skeletal apparition. The silent phantom stared at the terrified boy, white eyes bulging from bony sockets. The boy shrieked for his mother, but by the time she ran to him, the specter had melted away.
(And here’s a side note: I deeply dislike mummies in general. They creep me out something fierce. I am absolutely not not NOT going to post a photograph of a mummy on my site. Eww gross. So if you want to see a picture of Jimmy Garlick — and pictures do exist — you can look him up your own dang self.)
There’s more weird fun over at www.weirddarkness.com, where Darren Marlar spends most of his time creating marvelous podcasts to entertain you. What are you waiting for?
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 5: Let’s Eat!
When I was growing up, my mom, of course, would cook for Christmas. Her twin sister married a man from Holland, and shared some of the new recipes she learned. One of these, which became a bit of an obsession for me, was Oliebollen.
Literally, “oliebollen” means “fat balls” or “oil balls” in Dutch. That’s because they are deep fried, like doughnuts. But they really are nothing like doughnuts — at least I don’t think so. I could eat, like, a dozen of these by myself (and I think Child Me actually did just that, on several occasions). My mom, or my aunt, would make these for pretty much every big shindig, and I was delighted every single time.
It’s a fairly simple recipe; simpler than baking bread. The recipe below makes enough to serve 20. Why not try these for your next holiday party? They are the BOMB, trust me.
2 pkg yeast
1 cup milk, warmed
2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 tart apple (or 2 or 3), diced small
Blend the yeast in the lukewarm milk in a cup. In a large bowl, sift together the flour and the salt. Add the milk/yeast mixture; mix into a batter, adding the beaten egg. Stir in the raisins and diced apples. Cover the bowl with a cloth and allow the batter to rise until double. (If you add a bit of sugar, or better yet honey, to the batter, it will rise faster, and the oliebollen will be fluffier.)
Heat oil in a pan, several inches deep, to 375 degrees. Drop the batter in by spoonfuls, and fry until brown. Put on a paper-towel-covered plate. Put a bowl of sugar next to it, for rolling the oliebollen in. Bask in the accolades of your family and friends.
Spekaing of recipes, Darren Marlar is cooking up something wonderful over at Weird Darkness. Why don’t you wander over and check out what’s going on? Bet you’ll be glad you did … www.weirddarkness.com
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 4: The Eyeball Ghost
This story is excerpted from my award-winning book, Days of the Dead: A Year of True Ghost Stories.
December (12) – A Trooper to the End, Anniston, AL (1989, recurring)
When faced with a terminal diagnosis, people can have differing reactions. Captain E.C. Dothard was 58 years old when he was admitted to Stringfellow Memorial Hospital in December 1989 following a cancer diagnosis. Dothard was no stranger to hardship and stress. The state trooper was wounded in the May 1972 assassination attempt that left Governor George Wallace paralyzed. Dothard suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach. It was a graze, but still, it dropped him to the ground. Another trooper described Dothard “still barking out orders while on the ground after being shot.”
Captain Dothard was a tough old guy, but he decided he couldn’t face a long, slow, painful death by cancer. He wanted to depart this life on his own terms. He had brought his gun to the hospital, and after getting the news, Dothard shot himself in the head.
It wasn’t a neat job, either. The gunshot obliterated part of Dothard’s face. This violent, traumatic suicide has resulted in a unique haunting.
Dothard’s headless ghost is sometimes seen in the hallways at Stringfellow Memorial. An even more unforgettable apparition is the lone eyeball that is seen rolling across the floor and out the door of the room where Dothard took his own life. The eyeball always appears in December, and sightings cease by the 25th. Some people suspect that Dothard just wants to hang around for another Christmas.
Okay, yeah, that was a pretty weird story. Want more weirdness? Of course you do. Check out www.weirddarkness.com for podcasts to make you shiver.
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 3: Caga Tio
Okay, this one isn’t all that scary — it’s just plain weird.
There are lots of Christmas customs from all over the world: singing festive carols, leaving out cookies for Santa, feeding the log that poops out sweets … wait, what? You heard me. In Catalonia, Spain, “Caga Tio” is a hollow log decorated with a happy face at one end — and it “poops” out little presents from the other end.
Children care for Caga Tio from December 8 to Christmas Eve, feeding it orange peels, dry bread, or dried beans, and solicitously keeping it warm by covering it with a blanket. The more they pamper the log, the better the haul will be. Parents who play along, like the parents in the US who leave a plate of cookie crumbs and an empty milk glass for kids to find on Christmas morning, surreptitously replace Caga Tio with a bigger log every few days, to keep up the enchantment as the kids watch the log grow. The bigger the log gets, the more presents it will poop out. (Just follow me here, okay?)
On Christmas Eve, when Caga Tio is as big as he’s gonna get, the parents send the kids out of the room for a bit and tell them to pray for lots of presents. This gives the parents the opportunity to sneak the gifts under the blanket. Then the kids are invited back in, given a stick, and told to hit Caga Tio to make him poop out the presents. There’s a catchy little song to sing while you’re whaling away, too:
Poop, log, poop nougats,
hazelnuts and mató cheese,
don’t poop herring, it’s too salty,
if you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
The blanket is then whisked away from the nether end of the log, revealing a pile of small presents, cookies, nuts, candies, and fruits. These treats are meant to be shared; bigger presents for each child are brought by the Three Kings.
Weird enough for you? No? Then head on over to Weird Darkness for another dose. Visit www.weirddarkness.com and see what Darren Marlar has cooked up for you today.
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 2: California Haunts
I did a radio interview a few weeks ago with California Haunts. We had a grand time chatting, and we spent quite a bit of time talking about Christmas spookiness. And guess what? California Haunts is doing readings all December long, from Spirits of Christmas. How fun is that?
Here’s the link for this Sunday:
And you can access it every Sunday at 6:30 pm pacific at YouTube.com/@CaliforniaHauntsRadio. The shows are listed under “live shows’, as they are broadcast every Sunday. Tune in, and listen to readings of true ghost stories of December, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the dark of winter. Make every Sunday spooky!
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas, Day 1: Victorians — A Weird Bunch
(The following is an excerpt from my book Spirits of Christmas: The Dark Side of the Holidays.)
December 25th as the date for Christmas was not an arbitrary choice for the early Christians. Both Yule and Sol Invictus (the festival of the Unconquered Sun) commemorated the Winter Solstice. The symbolic connotations of these holidays coincided with the Christians’ belief that the Son of God had come to the world. Pope Julius I simply co-opted dates that were already significant to pagan Romans and northern Europeans. Of course, this meant that the raucous pagan celebrations, the Saturnalia apparties and the topsy-turvy turnarounds, got brought into early Christmas celebrations too.
The Winter Solstice was also considered to be the spookier of the two solstices. Rather than long hours of daylight and a short night, the Winter Solstice marked the turning of the year with the shortest day and the longest night. (The increased hours of darkness meant, of course, that spooks and monsters and things that go bump in the night had a lot more time to roam the earth during the winter months.) It brought to mind the death of the Sun and the thinning of the veil between worlds.
The Victorian Christmas celebration, then, which already made heavy use of pagan symbols like Yule logs, holly leaves, and even Father Christmas, also embraced the holiday’s nodding acquaintance with the supernatural. This helped to create one of the Victorian era’s most enduring holdiay traditions, the Christmas ghost story.
Even Christmas games of the period held an element of terror. The popular game of Snapdragon involved putting raisins, plums, or almonds in a bowl of brandy, and then setting the brandy on fire. Players tried to snatch a raisin out of the flaming bowl and pop it into their mouth to extinguish it. Another game had the players attempting to bite apples which were tied to one end of a stick — the other end had a lighted candle stuck to it. (The phrase “Don’t try this at home, kids” had not been invented yet.)
Other games smacked of sado-masochism. The game of Hot Cockles involved putting your head in someone’s lap while trying to guess who was hitting you from behind. The kneeler, who was “It”, put their hand behind their back, palm up. The other players took turns smacking the palm in an anonymous low-five. Shoeing The Wild Mare was a similar guessing game, which involved a whack on the foot.
And guess what? If you are a semi-responsible adult, you too can play Snapdragon. All you need for this completely deranged party game is a wide, shallow flame-proof plate, a good handful of raisins and almonds, a match, and some high-test booze, like rum or vodka. This is best played in a darkened room, the better to enjoy the eerie blue flames. Keep a bit of salt around, too. When you toss salt into the fire, the flames flare a brilliant gold for a few moments.
So why does this work? Well, you could say that the Victorians were way more hard-core when it came to their party games … or you could go with boring old science. Alcohol burns at a relatively low temperature. If the flames are blue, rather than yellow, you’re doing it right. A yellow candle flame is about twice as hot as the blue flames of snapdragon. This is because blue flames are due to chemiluminescence, not thermal radiation. Chemiluminescence produces light, but not much heat. (The salt’s nifty trick is also explained by chemistry. The sodium atoms gain a little bit of energy in the fire, then lose that energy. That’s what makes the flames pop and turn that pretty shade of yellow.) And raisins and almonds are not very combustible, and they cool off quickly. They’re just going to sit there on the plate while the alcohol burns off. Also, you’re just snatching the treats from the fire, not holding your fingers over the burning plate.
Be sensible about this, if you want to try it. But if you’re game, here are the directions. (from Gastro Obscura)
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup almonds
- ¾ cup, plus ¼ cup of around 50 percent alcohol, such as brandy or rum
- Take a large, flat plate, and sprinkle the raisins and almonds on top, making sure to space them out.
- Pick where you’ll play the game. A dim-to-dark room or outside at night is best for seeing the blue flames. Make sure wherever you set the plate is free of any tablecloth or flammable materials.
- Pour the ¾ cup of alcohol onto the plate. Add more if the bottom of the plate is not thoroughly covered. Then, heat the other ¼ cup in a pot on the stove until it sizzles and steams. (Cohen says this volatilizes the alcohol, increasing the amount of vapor and making it easier to set alight.) Carefully pour the hot liquor into a mug or a bowl, making sure not to burn yourself.
- Gather a large spoon, matches or a lighter, the mug, and the salt. When ready to start playing, pour the liquor into the large spoon and set it alight. Then, carefully tip the flaming liquor onto the plate, letting it light the rest of the alcohol. It may not take right away. Reheat more alcohol and try again if it doesn’t work the first time.
- Once the blue flames are leaping, players can reach for the raisins and almonds. Pinches of salt will make the fire briefly burn yellow and flare. Take care, since the plate will gradually heat up. To refresh the flames, carefully stir the mix with the spoon, or add more alcohol. Eat what you pull from the fire.
If you’ve survived your game of Snapdragon, I think it’s safe to say that you are officially a weirdo. Congrats! You’ll find plenty of company over at Weird Darkness, where Darren Marlar is also serving up spooky Christmas treats. Go check it out! www.weirddarkness.com