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Category Archives: Department of Ghastly Finds

Aberdeen Daily News, July 17, 1877. I’m not sure what’s the correct lifeboat logic to implement here. Is it better to start by feeding on the youngest and then work your way up the line, or should the mom have begun at the top by feeding the 16-year-old to the wee ones, then worked her way down? Tough call.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 30, 1890. Oog. A little bit of blood on the sheets was considered de rigueur, but this is beyond excessive. (Memo to self: Only 58 more shopping days until World Rabies Day).

Boston Daily Globe, December 17, 1889. It strikes me as beyond marvelous (and too cool for words) that skeletons should be intact or even recognizable after a full year plus change under the ocean. How does that work? Sure must have been cinematic to look upon, anyway.

Recently I finished reading a very interesting history of American popular music, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music by Elijah Wald. Both the title and the subtitle are sort of misleading, though in ways that are more amusing than off-putting once you’ve read the book. The Beatles don’t even show up until the last 20 pages, and what comes before that is actually a rigorously non-alternative history of popular music. By that I mean that the guy is interested in the dialectics of the stuff that was actually popular in its time as a opposed to what we venerate as cool now. 90% of such music has been dismissed as beneath notice if not contempt by the sort of people who write histories of popular music. Wald isn’t championing this stuff aesthetically, just proving its cultural significance while demonstrating the total bankruptcy of writing music history as a genealogy of one’s own superior taste.

It’s just a really smart book: The macro-arguments are persuasive, and the micro-details are fascinating. Among the many things I’ve learned as a consequence of reading it is that old Trinidadian calypso music is really fucking weird and bears virtually no resemblance to the pop music marketed under that name in the U.S. in the 1950s. (Notice how I didn’t say “real calypso music”?)

Take this awesome track by early calypso star Lord Executioner: It’s like the Hope Chest set to a Betty Boop cartoon score as interpreted by moonlighting brass players from the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Lately if I’m not singing this, it’s because I’m listening to it.

Haven’t been able to find out a damned thing about Lord Executioner except that the young Louis Farrakhan was apparently a big fan. (Did y’all know that Farrakhan started out as an entertainer, name of Calypso Gene, aka “The Charmer”? I did not, although I did know about the calypso backgrounds of such luminaries as Robert Mitchum and Maya Angelou. I wonder if the three of them ever jammed together?)

Anyway: here’s the song, plus the lyrics as best as I could make them out. If anyone can help with those blank spots in the last verse, I’d be grateful. Take it away, your Lordship!


Hideous discoveries and monstrous crime
Always happen at the Christmas time
Hideous discoveries and monstrous crime
Always happen at the Christmas time
For the old year murders and the tragedy
For the New Year serious calamity
What shocked Trinidad
Those seven skeletons that the workmen found in that yard

What marred the Christmas festivity
Was a New Year double catastrophe
When a man and a woman on the ground was found
With bloodstains upon the ground
The husband was arrested but they were too late
For the poison he drunk sent him to the gate
That shocked Trinidad
Those seven skeletons that the workmen found in that yard

In Saint James the population went wild
When in the savannah they found a child
The hair was auburn and complexion pink
Which placed the watchman in a mood to think
“How can a mother despise and scorn
A little angel that she has born?”
That was more sad
Than the seven skeletons that the workmen found in that yard

A lorry was speeding to Port of Spain
When it knocked down the cyclist into the drain
It was going as fast as the lightning flash
When the cyclist received the lash
The mother cried out in sorrows and pain
I am not going to see my boy-child again
That is more sad
Than the seven skeletons that the workmen found in that yard

While the workmen they were digging the ground
They [ ? ] all human beings they found
Feet together and head east and west
Number five was a watchman among the rest
Number six had the hands and the feet on the chest
And number seven [something "serious guest"?]
That shocked Trinidad
Those seven skeletons that the workmen found in that yard

Oh, and I really, really love that this is a Christmas song. I’ve long favored a comprehensive turnover of the Christmas musical canon (backed by force of law), and this gets my vote as the replacement for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Various newspapers, 1870-1909. Like so many other once-great American institutions, the trunk mystery has gone where the woodbine twineth. Read more.

Forgot to cross-post this one. Pretty astounding.

National Police Gazette, April 22, 1882.
Los Angeles Times, December 18, 1891.

Washington Post, October 17, 1885. I dunno, preserved in alcohol in an air-tight box strikes me as pretty professional work.

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