Diamond Brand (Whispered Secret) Pills

June 03, 2014

The red, black, and gold tin box pictured here (about 2 1/4” x 1 5/8”  x 1” high) was the product of Chichester Chemical Company of Philadelphia: Diamond Brand Pills. Nowhere on the box, however, is any indication of what the pills were expected to remedy. Indeed, each box was secured with a blue ribbon as if to keep a secret. (Note: The present box has a flange on the bottom that fastened the ends of the ribbon, which are still present.)

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Rheumatic Cures

May 21, 2014

The adjective rheumatic pertains to rheumatism, a general, if a rather archaic term describing such acute and chronic conditions as inflammation, joint pain, muscle stiffness and soreness. “Rheumatism” once referred to arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, bursitis, fibromyalgia, degenerative joint disease, and various other conditions (Taber’s 2001, 1806–1807).

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A Pilot Comments on UFOs

May 12, 2014

James McGaha and I have another investigative article in Skeptical Inquirer—indeed another SI cover story. Titled “Mount Rainier: ‘Saucer’ Magnet” (May/June 2014), it presents the solutions to two important UFO cases occurring at or near Rainier: Kenneth Arnold’s “flying saucers” of 1947 and a lesser-known cold case of 1896 (during the great “airship fever”). We also discuss how a mountain like Rainier helps to form saucer-shaped, lenticular clouds—sometimes seeming almost as active as a bubble machine.

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More on Mummies

April 30, 2014

Regarding my previous blog, “Mummies’ Secrets,” here are two artistic responses to the same exhibition; a poem (in my “improvisational rhyming” style) and a sketch of a natural mummy (a 17th-century nobleman discovered in 1806 in a German castle crypt, dressed in fine boots).

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Mummies’ Secrets

April 25, 2014

On April 12, 2014, I visited the Buffalo Museum of Science to view an excellent traveling exhibit, “Mummies of the World.” Mummies are interesting in their own right, of course, but they also provide insights into cultures that imagine mummies’ supernatural potential.

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Father John’s Medicine

April 23, 2014

Father John’s Medicine is the name of a cough remedy with a long history and accompanying legend.

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St. Hyacinth’s Miracles

April 18, 2014

Known as “The Apostle of the North,” Saint Hyacinth (ca. 1185–1257) is a much honored figure in Roman Catholicism. He is the subject of a painting, Apparition of the Virgin to Saint Hyacinth by Ludovico Carracci (1592, now in the Louvre) and, among lesser artworks, a mosaic mural dominating the front of a church named for him in Dunkirk, New York. (CFI colleague Tom Flynn, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, called it to my attention, and I visited it to take the accompanying photo.) The mural depicts the future saint performing miracles, and therein lies a tale—or rather, several tales.

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A Sighing Debunker

April 14, 2014

A TV producer, visiting me to shoot segments for a new series, told me of his experience with another skeptic, unnamed, whom he had talked with by phone.

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Mystery of Belgium’s Glowing Virgin

April 02, 2014

On two trips to Belgium (in 1998 and 2006), I investigated several “miracle” claims, including a healing shrine, known as the “Belgian Lourdes”; the “Holy Blood of Christ” at Bruges; and a wonderworking statue at Belgium’s most-frequented pilgrimage site. (See my The Science of Miracles, 2013, pp. 23–25, 101–103, 187–190.) Now, another remarkable statue there—one that glows!—has come to light (so to speak); however, its mystery was quickly solved by scientists. (Belinda Robinson, We have seen the light! MailOnline [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2590014/We-seen-light-Mystery-glowing-Virgin-Mary-statue-visited-hundreds-Belgium-solved-scientists-discover-covered-luminous-paint.html]; March 26, 2014.)

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A Brief Look at Phrenology

March 26, 2014

Phrenology is a form of character reading (like graphology and physiognomy) as supposedly revealed by the individual contours of the subject’s head. The term was introduced in 1815 to refer to a “physiognomical system” of two German doctors, Franz Joseph Gall and John Spurzheim, who gave phrenological readings and lectured on the subject in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Phrenology flourished during the latter century due to the publishing and merchandizing efforts of the Fowler brothers, Orson S. and Lorenzo N., together with their brother-in-law, Samuel R. Wells. The company, Fowler & Wells, was headquartered in New York City with a branch in Philadelphia.

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