May Day! May Day!

Happy May Day!

Often associated with the distress when a vessel or vehicle is in trouble, the call “mayday! mayday! mayday!” derives from the French word m’aider which means “come help me.” Lesser known is the call “pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan!” which means there is an urgent situation on board. Though one may think it is a derivation of the word panic it actually comes from the French word panne which refers to mechanical failure or breakdown of any kind.

But May Day is so much more than a distress call. May Day celebrations exist throughout the world, but are especially prominent in the U.K. and Western Europe. In England and Scotland the celebrations around or near May 1st relate directly to the pagan Beltane (in Ireland Bealtaine) and are associated with the Rites of Spring—specifically fertility. The celebration of new life and birth at the time of year when the land is waking up, flowers pushing through the sodden hills, still takes place today with the crowning of the May Queen and the erecting of the may pole. (You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what a giant pole in the middle of a lush field wrapped in beautiful ribbons represents.) Bonfires are lit, merry is made.

Prominent also in Germany, Walpurgisnacht (Witches Night!) celebrations are usually held on the Eve O’ May: bonfires and the wrapping of the Maibaum—the may pole—are included along with dancing, drinking and general MAYHEM! Finns make special donuts and lemonade to mark the occasion.

Many early immigrants from Germany and England as well as other parts of Europe such as France and the Netherlands continued their traditional celebrations in the settlements of Early America. Without the community and established towns of Old Europe their traditions were often more family based and including the weaving of May Baskets and the giving of flowers. If you read this collection of short stories by Charles Montgomery Skinner, which includes the title work The May-Pole of Merrymount, you will gain a bit more insight into how some of these wild nights of fun and mayhem were translated into Puritan settlements of America. A downer? Yeah, a little. But worthy of a May Day read. Plus there are freaky stories of witches and old creepy men in caves that you probably shouldn’t think about, but can’t help yourself.

Charles Montgomery Skinner (1852-1907) was a native New Yorker with a literary palate as diverse as the community I grew up in. Perhaps best remembered for his work on Walt Whitman, “Whitman as Editor” which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1903, his works ranged from urbanization, gardening, the economy, communism, natural history, and folklore. This excerpt from his first collection of folk tales is from the greater work Myths and Legends of Our Own Land which was first published in 1897– a massive volume of stories from across the settled cities and wild plains of America. I have selected a few of my favorites for this collection, stories that I think represent the varied tastes of our author. The legend of a witch in the Catskills to the Maypole of Merrymount, we find a unique view on the lore that founded the United States. Skinner also wrote Myths and Legends Beyond Our Borders and Myths and Legends of Our New Possessions and Protectorate (lands we had pillaged) both of which were published in 1899.

Weird Wedding

Sparked by the recent internet sensation zombie-invasion engagement photos, you can read my Bride of the Bizarre inspired Huffington Post entry here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/varla-ventura/bride-of-the-bizarre-zomb_b_935399.html

And in honor of the subject of the day, I’ll include a few tidbits excerpted from the Bride of the Bizarre chapter of Beyond Bizarre:

In March of 2010, a couple spent their first night as newlyweds in a rather unattractive honeymoon suite–a Massachusetts jail. The bride was arrested after trying to run over the groom’s ex in a parking lot. Her groom was by her side–and a passenger in the car. Both were arrested, and the bride was charged with assault and battery with a deadly weapon. The groom was charged with disorderly conduct, and both were booked into separate cells in the local jail. They were released the next day.

  • Also in March of 2010, a 28-year-old South Korean man married a pillow. The body pillow, which has an anime character printed on one side, was dressed in a white wedding dress. Ever the gentleman, the groom reportedly takes the pillow out to a regular dinner (ordering “her” a meal) and even brought the pillow to an amusement park.
  • The first spouse to fall asleep on the wedding night will be the first to die.
  • Meeting a nun or monk on the wedding day is an omen of barrenness.
  • It is against the law in North Carolina to register at a hotel as a married couple if you aren’t actually married.
  • Kate Hodgson and her groom, Darren McWalters, strapped themselves to the wings of identical biplanes, which flew side by side about 1,000 feet above ground, and recited their wedding vows. The reverend who married them used airborne communications to perform the ceremony.
  • Every time big screen star Joan Crawford remarried she changed all the toilet seats in her house.

Goblin Sharks

Next to the newly discovered Vampire Flying Frog most creatures pale in comparison. Enter the Goblin Shark. I probably don’t need to say much more once you watch this video except that I can’t believe it took me this long to learn about this beautiful and eerie demon of the deep. It joins the ranks with the Vampire Squid from Hell as coolest and creepiest creatures. (Vampire squids are the ultimate Halloween animalia, as they practice something called pumpkining!)

The Goblin Shark  can be found in the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and even the Atlantic but it is most common (in its rarity) off the coast of Japan. It is a deep ocean animal, preferring to lurk far from light and the meddling menaces of humankind. I think I am in love…

 

“Half-Hangit” Maggie

I’ve been neglectful in writing of late, up to my bony elbows in pre-Halloween activities. The evolution of a gruesome cake, last minute additions to my costume, and pumpkin carving have all kept me up through the wee hours of the night. Tonight I will be finishing most of my All Hallows Eve prep, because once the 28th hits, it is all Halloween, all the time. Yes, I celebrate more than just one long dark night.

The celebrations begin early tomorrow (Thursday) morning with a quickie segment of bizarre briefs with KGAB, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming. That will be at 7:07 Pacific Standard Time, and you can listen live online if you don’t happen to live in Wyoming.

http://beta.kgab-am.tritondigitalmedia.com/index.php

And then tomorrow night, Badlands Radio has invited me to be a guest for a 2.5 hour freak fest of paranormal proportions! Based in Central Texas, this station can be heard across the country online. The show starts at 6pm Pacific Time, and we will take callers! Should be quite the fest with Captain Jack Harris. You know I love anyone I have to call Captain!

http://www.paranormalradioshow.net/

I wanted to share a creepy story of life beyond the grave in honor of this fantastic time of year. The story of Maggie Dickson. Maggie was hung in 1724 in Inveresk, Scotland, presumably for attempting to self-induce an abortion. She was hung in the town square, and it is said that the hangman pulled and swung on her legs once the noose was tightened and the ladder kicked out, just for good measure. They cut Maggie down, apparently dead, and placed her body into a cart that was used by her relatives to transport her home for burial. Along the way her mourning family and friends stopped at an alehouse for a bit of consolation. While the bereaved were inside, Maggie regained consciousness. Her weak cries attracted the help of a local surgeon who helped to revive her.  Later, she was granted her freedom (it being ruled that she had taken the court-appointed punishment) and went on to live many more years, widely known as “Half-Hangit” Maggie.

For more stories like these, check out my first book The Book of the Bizarre and also Norman Adam’s book Scottish Bodysnatchers: True Accounts.

The Stars at Night are Zombie Bright

You fair Southerners know the bane that is the fire ant, and no where is the problem more predominant than deep in the heart of the great state of Texas.  But now the fire ant is facing a predator of its own. Researchers at Texas A&M University have introduced a tiny phorid fly, originally native to South America, whose task it is to lay its eggs onto fire ants. These eggs hatch into maggots inside the ant, and begin to eat away at the ants’ brains, essentially turning the fire ants into tiny little zombies. The ants wander around for up to two weeks while the maggots eat away at their brains, until at last the ants’ heads fall off. Then the maggot becomes a fly and is ready to start the cycle all over again.

Join me tomorrow when I talk with Patrick Osborne at KTRH Houston, 740 AM on the local dial, at 10:15 am CT (8:15 AM PST). Surely we will speak of zombie ants, haunted hotels, and many other things that are truly bizarre! For those who don’t live local to Houston, you can listen live online.

http://www.ktrh.com/main.html

Six Feet Lower Than Most

Tonight I have an interview with Dave Schraeder from Darkness on the Edge of Town, a paranormal radio show. In honor of such a deep, dark night (a new moon too!) I thought I’d share this particularly gruesome story about a couple of brothers who owned a funeral home in Pennsylvania and were arrested in 2008 for body part trafficking.

In 2008, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Louis and Gerald Garzone, two brothers who owned and operated a funeral home, were found guilty of selling corpses to a black-market trafficker of body parts. The gruesome duo admitted to carving up nearly 250 body parts across the country for various purposes including dental implants, hip and knee replacements, and other medical procedures.

In an elaborate and grisly scheme, the brothers would sell the bodies or body parts to a man named Michael Mastromarino, who ran the company Biomedical Tissue Services. Mastromarino would collect bodies from several funeral homes in the New Your and New Jersey area. He would send a crew to cup up the bodies and then transport the parts to various biomedical facilities—at a hefty price. Tissue from a single body could be sold for as much as $4000.

The selling of bodies for medical purposes itself is not illegal, provided the family and/or the deceased have consented, and the body has been tested and certified to be free of disease. Most of the bodies sold by the Garzones and Mastromarino were given false names and documentation, received no medical testing, and in some cases, had not been stored or refrigerated properly.

Don’t forget to tune in tonight for some truly morbid and bizarre stories on Darkness Radio!

http://www.darknessradio.com/

Coast to Coast Ghosts and Hosts

Now that it is just past midnight I am wired from having talked to the venerable George Noory on Coast to Coast.  So many amazing callers stories too. What a great way to kick off October.

A favorite freaky story that comes to mind after hearing a caller talk about “a dead man in the trunk” is the tale of the widow in Brazil. She was riding in the hearse when a rear end collision on the way to the cemetery caused the coffin to fly forward, striking the woman in the back of the head, and killing her instantly. Eternal love from beyond the grave? Simply a sad or strange coincidence? definitely bizarre.

Bride of the Bizarre

Marrying a rock. Or your pillow, like that guy in South Korea. Tomorrow I am attending a wedding and I can’t help but have bridal bizarre on my mind. And wedding day tragedies. I mean, sorry to be a bummer on the eve of your beachy wedding, but did you hear the story of the man and woman at Proposal Rock in Oregon? As they were heading out to the rock, the ring in his pocket, the almost-bride-to-be was swept off of her feet, literally, by a rouge wave. She was never found.  In the unusual pairings category, Hannah Perkins who was the famous “fat lady” of P.T. Barnum’s circus, and who weighed about 700 lbs. was married to John Battersby, also in the circus performing as a “living skeleton” and weighing in at only 45 lbs. And Ringling Brothers circus skinny man Peter Robinson,  just 58 lbs, married Bunny Smith, 467 lbs.

Still, there will be cake…