Musaeum Clausum

Imaginary pictures “cataloged” in Thomas Browne’s Musaeum Clausum of 1684:

  • “A Moon Piece, describing that notable Battel between Axalla, General of Tamerlane, and Camares the Persian, fought by the light of the Moon.”
  • “A Snow Piece, of Land and Trees covered with Snow and Ice, and Mountains of Ice floating in the Sea, with Bears, Seals, Foxes, and variety of rare Fowls upon them.”
  • “Pieces and Draughts in Caricatura, of Princes, Cardinals and famous men; wherein, among others, the Painter hath singularly hit the signatures of a Lion and a Fox in the face of Pope Leo the Tenth.”
  • “Some Pieces A la ventura, or Rare Chance Pieces, either drawn at random, and happening to be like some person, or drawn for some and happening to be more like another; while the Face, mistaken by the Painter, proves a tolerable Picture of one he never saw.”

Borges wrote, “To write vast books is a laborious nonsense, much better is to offer a summary as if those books actually existed.”

Loup-Garou

http://www.sxc.hu/index.phtmlMythologyWeb has the full text of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Werewolves, one of the creepier reference works of the 1860s.

In America we think of lycanthropes as turning into wolves, but legends actually vary throughout the world. People tend to turn into the most important carnivore in the area: dogs in Greece, tigers in India, bears in Northern Europe, foxes in Japan, leopards in Africa, and jaguars in South America. In Polynesia there are even were-sharks.

Correspondingly, there’s a psychiatric syndrome called clinical lycanthropy, in which people think they’ve turned into animals. Here, too, though, wolves are in the minority. Clinicians have reported patients who thought they’d become cats, horses, birds, tigers, frogs, even bees.

Baring-Gould’s vision was quite a bit darker, but he was a weird guy himself. A Victorian hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist, and scholar, he used to teach with his pet bat on his shoulder. His book wanders from lycanthropy down into grave desecration and cannibalism — kind of an odd area for the guy who wrote “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” To each his own.

L’Enfant Sauvage

FeralChildren.com has harrowing stories of almost 100 resilient children — kids raised by ostriches, raised in henhouses, running with jackals, or simply living alone in a forest.

Tarzan and Mowgli were hugely romanticized fictions. Real feral kids walk on all fours, their growth is retarded, they have keen senses, and they’re impervious to heat, cold, and rain. What an awful life. Linnaeus even classed them as a separate species.

A Great Big Hand

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polydactyly_01_Lhand_AP.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Once thought to be a sign of witchcraft, extra digits are actually the most common developmental abnormality found at birth. About two children in a thousand have extra fingers or toes.

They’re even more common among the Amish, probably due to the “founder effect” — because the original settlers were few, their genetic legacy is amplified among their descendants, and apparently one of them had an extra finger.

If it’s so common, why does it creep people out? Fictional villains from Hannibal Lecter to Count Rugen have been given extra digits, to make them seem alien and somehow menacing.

They’re actually in quite good company. Marilyn Monroe didn’t have extra digits, urban legends notwithstanding, but Anne Boleyn and Winston Churchill both did. And Atlanta Braves pitcher Antonio “The Octopus” Alfonseca was born with six fingers and six toes. I’d like to hear him play the piano.

Jack the Ripper

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FromHellLetter.jpgThis is the “From Hell” letter, sent by Jack the Ripper to the president of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee that was pursuing him. He included a bloody fragment to prove his identity:

“I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman and prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer”

Whoever he was, Jack certainly had a flair for dramatic horror. But much of his fame is really due to newspapers, which were becoming popular at the time. His crimes, which combined sex, violence, mystery, class warfare and police ineptitude, were tailor-made for cheap sensation. (In fact, it was probably a journalist who invented the “Ripper” nickname.)

Casebook: Jack the Ripper has gathered examples of lurid accounts from as far away as Poland, Jamaica, and Mexico. “All London is ringing with the horror of the thing,” writes one New Zealand editor. “The woman who reads, with hair standing on end, the details of some fresh outrage to-night cannot feel sure that on the morrow she may not be the next victim.” The whole episode is a low point for responsible journalism.

BTW, today the Ripper’s story has spawned a rather unwholesome fanbase, with concentration games, crossword puzzles, and fan fiction. Somehow time can make even serial murder seem quaint.

Serial Killer Art Review

http://www.yuppiepunk.org/2005/01/killer-art-serial-killer-art-review.htmlYuppiePunk’s Serial Killer Art Review presents the jailhouse compositions of 14 career murderers.

This piece is the work of Henry Lee Lucas, whose pathetic life was dramatized in the film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Born to a legless alcoholic and a violent prostitute who shot his pony and beat him into a coma, Lucas lost an eye and experimented with bestiality as a teenager before stabbing his mom and launching a one-man crime wave.

He eventually confessed to 3,000 murders; if that’s true, he killed someone every day between 1975 and 1983. Kind of explains why he didn’t paint still lifes.

If you’re into this stuff, check out John Douglas’ disturbing book Mindhunter. A former FBI profiler, Douglas inspired Scott Glenn’s character in The Silence of the Lambs.

After studying sociopaths for 25 years, Douglas could examine a crime scene and give an uncannily accurate description of the killer: he has a speech impediment, he drives a red Volkswagen Beetle, he owns a German shepherd, he lives with sisters. And he’d be right. That’s one talent I don’t envy.