The Cock Lane Ghost

A thrill passed through London in January 1762, when a 12-year-old girl reported that she was visited nightly by a dead woman.

Elizabeth Parsons, daughter of the parish clerk of St. Sepulchre’s, said that she heard knockings and scratchings and witnessed the apparition of a woman surrounded by a blazing light. The girl said the ghost resembled Fanny Kent, a lodger in her house who had died recently of smallpox.

Witnesses too heard the knockings, which attended the girl wherever she slept. They learned to communicate with “Fanny” through a system of knocks — and learned that her husband had poisoned her.

The whole thing reached a climax when the ghost agreed to attend a gentleman into the vault where Fanny’s body lay, and to knock upon the coffin there. Unfortunately, no knock came, and the girl asked to return to her father.

She had been using a simple wooden clapper to produce the sounds; her father, who had owed money to the “poisoner,” had invented the whole scheme.

“Curious Will”

Among curious bequests to wives, that of John Lambeth, who died in 1791, is conspicuous for its bitterness. After declaring that ‘the strength of Sampson, the genius of Homer, the prudence of Augustus, the patience of Job, the philosophy of Socrates, the subtlety of Hannibal, the vigilence of Hermognes, would not suffice to subdue the perversity of her character,’ he bequeathed to his wife Elizabeth the sum of one shilling!

Bizarre Notes & Queries, February 1886

Book Lover

Florentine scholar Antonio Magliabechi (1633-1714) has been described as a literary glutton. His house was choked with 40,000 books and 10,000 manuscripts, and he spent hours each day in the Medici library.

The negligent Magliabechi reportedly once forgot to draw his salary for a full year, but his head was “an universal index, both of titles and matter.” When the Duke of Florence asked him for a particular volume he replied, “Signore, there is but one copy of that book in the world; it is in the Grand Signore’s library at Constantinople, and is the eleventh book in the second shelf on the right hand as you go in.”

That memory made him a human search engine for writers of the time. In Curiosities of Human Nature, Samuel Goodrich records that a priest might consult Magliabechi about a panegyric on a particular saint. “He would immediately tell him who had said anything of that saint, and in what part of their works, and that, sometimes, to the number of above a hundred authors. … All this he did with the greatest exactness, naming the author, the book, the words, and often the very number of the page in which the passage referred to was inserted.”

Surrounded by books, he lived to be 81, and in his will he left his library to the public.

Low Profile

Apparitions of the Virgin Mary, 2003-2007:

  • Tree stump, Passaic, N.J., 2003
  • Grilled cheese sandwich, Hollywood, Fla., 2004
  • Expressway underpass, Chicago, 2005
  • Pretzel, Nebraska, 2005
  • Firewood, Janesville, Wis., 2006
  • Chocolate drippings, Fountain Valley, Calif., 2006
  • Souplantation restaurant, Grantville, Calif., 2006
  • Pizza pan, Houston, 2007
  • Watermelon, Arizona, 2007

“Awful Death of Mr. Munro”,M1

Tiger attack, Saugur Island, off Calcutta, Dec. 23, 1792, recounted by a witness in The Terrific Register, 1825:

I had just laid hold of [my gun], when I heard a roar like thunder, and saw an immense royal tyger spring on the unfortunate Munro, who was sitting down; in a moment his head was in the beast’s mouth, and he rushed into the jungle with him with as much ease as I could lift a kitten, tearing him through the thickest bushes and trees — every thing yielding to his monstrous strength. The agonies of horror, regret, and I must say fear, (for there were two tygers, a male and female), rushed on me at once; the only effort I could make was to fire at him, though the poor youth was still in his mouth. I relied partly on Providence, partly on my own aim, and fired a musket. I saw the tyger stagger and agitated, and I cried out so immediately; Mr. Downey then fired two shots, and I one more. We retired from the jungle, and a few minutes after, Mr. Munro came up to us, all over blood, and fell; we took him on our backs to the boat, and got every medical assistance for him from the Valentine Indiaman, which lay at anchor near the island, but in vain. He lived twenty-four hours in the extreme of torture: his head and scull were all torn and broken to pieces, and he was wounded by the beast’s claws all over his neck and shoulders: but it was better to take him away, though irrecoverable, than leave him to be devoured limb by limb. We have just read the funeral service over his body, and committed it to the deep. He was an amiable and promising youth.

“The beast was about four feet and a half high, and nine long. His head appeared as large as an ox’s, his eyes darting fire, and his roar, when he first seized his prey, will never be out of my recollection. We had scarcely pushed our boat from that cursed shore, when the tygress made her appearance, raging mad almost, and remained on the sand as long as the distance would allow me to see her.”


An amorous wag once sought the bliss,
To steal a soft and balmy kiss,
When Sylvia stampt (and some say, swore)
That he should gain the prize no more;
He smiled, and said, if ’tis such pain,
Pray, miss, return it back again.

The Jester’s Magazine, 1767