The Story of “Rattlesnake Pete”

April 15, 2013

Among the old-time snake hunters and peddlers of rattlesnake oil was Peter “Rattlesnake Pete” Gruber (1858–1932) (see first photo). As related in Arch Merrill’s Shadows on the Wall (1952), Pete was born in Oil City, Pennsylvania, the eldest of a pioneer oil refiner’s nine children. He would later claim, that, while a boy hiking in the local hills, he had come upon an old Indian woman from the Seneca reservation. Dragging behind her on a rope a big dead rattlesnake, she explained to Pete how she would extract the fatty oil, which was used to treat rheumatism, stiff joints, even earache—among other afflictions. Impressed by the boy’s interest, she even gave him the snake’s skin. Pete later learned from the Indians how to capture the rattlers, and from the medicine men how to use them for various folk remedies.

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UPDATED: Another Easter for the Turin “Shroud”

March 28, 2013

Claims that new tests show the “shroud” of Turin is not medieval after all, but dates from the first century, have been published in the media by Italian researchers. As is typical of a religious rather than scientific agenda, their news was shrewdly released just in time for Easter. That alone casts doubt on the claims, but there is more.

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Boy Sherlock

March 27, 2013

Already a detective at eight, when I was about ten years old (about 1954), I became Sherlock Holmes.

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Horrors! Amityville Returns!

March 20, 2013

Although claims in The Amityville Horror book and movie seemed to have been laid to rest—after a civil trial yielded evidence that the “demonic” events were mostly fiction—the case has resurfaced once again. This time the oldest child of the troubled family, Daniel Lutz, who was nine at the time of the brouhaha, has come forward to claim the essential story was true and that he and his stepfather George had been “possessed.”

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March 11, 2013

In defense of her ignorant use of the non-existent word refudiate (following George W. Bush’s misunderestimate), Sarah Palin tried to grab the neologist’s hat by comparing herself to a literary master: “Shakespeare,” she said, “liked to coin new words too.” Well, I refudiate her attemptation to Shakespearialize her allegified coinizing. She misunderestimates our intelligization.

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“Dark Skies”: A Nickell-odeon Review

March 04, 2013

Help! Alien beings are abducting us! At least that is the message of the movie Dark Skies (released in February 2013).

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Return of “Spontaneous Human Combustion”

February 21, 2013

Here we go again! In 2011 it was an elderly Irishman who allegedly perished by “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC). Now it is an elderly Oklahoman—according to the Sequoyah County sheriff—who supposedly died by SHC.

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A Ni¢kell’s Worth

February 20, 2013

Some musings from one who is now well into his fifth decade as a skeptic, humanist, and paranormal investigator:

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Shaker Digestive Cordial

February 14, 2013

My collection of pseudoscience and paranormal artifacts—online at—has received a new addition: a bottle embossed “Shaker Digestive Cordial/A.J. White New York.” It arrived as a gift from a thoughtful skeptic, Alan Harris of a La Cañada, California, who had queried me about it a couple of years ago. (Thanks Alan!)

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“Dr.” McLean’s Nostrums

February 08, 2013

While my wife Diana and I visited an aunt in Kentucky during the holidays, from the winter solstice to New Year’s, I paid a visit to Georgetown, where I saw—for the first time in 17 years—my old friend Jerome Redfearn, proprietor of Central Kentucky Antique Mall. As we talked and I browsed, looking for items for my Skeptiseum collection, something caught my eye—a quack medicine item of more than a century ago (pictured here). The price proved to be perfect: Jerome presented it to me as a gift!

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