“Ghosts of the Queen Mary”: A Nickell-iferous Review

October 23, 2014

Published September 16, 2014—in time for pre-Halloween promotion—is the book Ghosts of the Queen Mary, by Brian Clune with Bob Davis, hosts of a radio show called Planet Paranormal Presents, and with an introduction by Christopher Fleming, former co-host of a TV show called Dead Famous which involved the late “psychic” Peter James. James, we are told, incessantly roamed the historic RMS Queen Mary, docked at Long Beach, California, and was “responsible for discovering the many ghosts that inhabit the ship” (p. 139)—“at least six hundred spirits” by James’ count (66). That’s a lot of ghosts, but before one contacts the Guinness World Records folk, we should point out that the book provides no scientific evidence of existing spirits of the dead. Science, in fact, has never authenticated a single ghost.

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“Bracketing” for Historical Detectives

October 08, 2014

For my collection of dictionaries (which also includes various related volumes such as antique spellers and other wordbooks), I recently purchased a little primer (about 3 x 4 12’’ tall) bearing no publication date. I usually pass over undated works because their use in literary investigation is therefore limited.

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“Magic in the Moonlight”: A Nickell-odeon Review

September 26, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight is the story of a skeptical—even pompously cynical—1920s magician and his attempt to expose a séance medium whose powers appear to defy exposure.

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Dillinger’s Ghost

Poem: Dillinger's Ghost

September 22, 2014


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RIDDLEculous V

September 08, 2014

More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

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“Incorruptible” Corpse of St. Cecilia

August 28, 2014

Reputedly, Cecilia (or Cecily) was a member of a noble Roman family who—having been forced into marriage—persuaded her new husband, Valerian, to respect her holy vow of virginity. Legends say he was himself converted to Christianity by a vision of his wife’s guardian angel. Cecilia is regarded as the patroness of music and musicians, and is represented as such in many paintings, including one by Raphael (1843–1520). The designation came about because, it was said, while organs played at her wedding, “she sang in her heart” to Christ (Coulson 1958, 107, 114). She is commonly depicted playing a flute, harp, or other instrument, especially an organ (see accompanying picture postcard, ca. 1915, author’s collection).

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Hair Samples: From Bigfoot or the Bigfoot Bear?

August 18, 2014

The hirsute (hairy) man-beast known as Sasquatch—or, since 1958, more commonly called Bigfoot—is elusive indeed. Although wanted dead or alive, no such living creature has ever been found (notwithstanding Roger Patterson’s 1967 film of “Patty,” supposedly a Bigfoot with pendulous breasts but actually the common Bigsuit or Sasquatchus costumedus). Neither has a corpse been discovered (despite such hoaxes as the Minnesota Iceman, a carnival exhibit billed as a “Sasquatch—Safely Frozen in the Ice” but instead a specimen of S. latex).

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Is the “Crying Woman” Really Bigfoot?

August 05, 2014

While the Animal Planet TV series Finding Bigfoot never does find the elusive man-beast, the show’s “team” tries hard to convince us they have. Again and again, they try to conjure up the mythological creature with a fuzzy photo, bent twig, or fleeting shadow. Their leader, Matt Moneymaker, is, at least, aptly named for a Bigfoot ballyhooer.

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“Finding [the] Bigfoot [Bear]”

July 07, 2014

The television show, Finding Bigfoot, continues. While the hairy man-beast still remains elusive, the Animal Planet’s “team” keeps looking, assisted by local good ol’ boys and gals, their imaginative children, producers trying to make something out of nothing, and cool night-vision equipment.

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Shiloh’s Consumption Cure

June 24, 2014

The word cure on an old patent-medicine bottle is an almost sure indicator of quackery. No doubt should remain when the product is touted as a cure for consumption (i.e., tuberculosis)! There were many such cures as related in the chapter “Consumption Cures” in Nostrums and Quackery, published by the American Medical Association in 1911. It is a sordid tale of the exploitation of sufferers of pulmonary tuberculosis by means of the temporary benefits of the placebo effect and a remarkable number of “treatments” and “cures,” which fall between worthless and addictive (Nostrums 1911, I: 72–169).

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