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Category Archives: Murder

San Antonio Daily Express, July 7, 1873. Here is a singularly pitiable instance of FBAS (False Bender Arrest Syndrome). In the headline of the post that inaugurated this thread I made a casual comparison between FBAS and contemporary hysteria over blue gum negroes. The resemblance actually runs deeper than I’d deeply thought about: Both are basically semi-secularized versions of witchcraft panic. In this case, we have a bit of an overlap with the whole rural wild woman phenomenon too. Everything that plummets must converge, see? Read More »

Chicago Daily Tribune, October 31, 1889. Your average false arrest of a Bender suspect is a pretty prosaic affair: Some unlucky schmuck or schmuckess is in transit through a hick town, and a random resident of the latter spontaneously decides That’s John Bender! (sometimes senior, sometimes junior) and/or That’s Kate Bender! and/or That’s Almira Bender! An arrest or arrests ensue, and the newspapers triumphantly report that the long-sought criminal or criminals have been arrested at last and for sure this time, and no mistake about it. Often the coverage simply stops there until the next round, though sometimes there’s a sheepish follow-up item to the effect that, uh, perhaps the rock-solid Bender identification had been a bit premature after all. This one, however, is a bit more complicated. Read More »

Chicago Tribune, December 20, 1882. Hey, we’re back in business here at The Hope Chest. (And may I just thank the international service response team of the Hewlett-Packard corporation for fixing me up with working computer in just slightly more time than it would have taken for Rural Free Delivery to deliver me a can of Dapper Dan Pomade? Outstanding.) Read More »

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.

Pomeroy‘s Democrat, 1869-1870. This is kind of a Frankenclipping of tweets I gleaned from 3 or 4 editions of Pomeroy’s Democrat, which is a fascinating paper. Editor and eponym Mark “Brick” Pomeroy was a lippy freethinker, a vicious negrophobe (I mean even by the standards of his day), a hack political partisan, a fizzing misogynist, a staunch Mason and a terminal smart aleck. I adore his writing. Olive Logan was a contemporary actress and author and boy, did Pomeroy ever have it in for her. He’s always taking these random shots at her about her immense feet, how they eclipse the footlights when she’s on stage, etc. Palpitators, I am delighted to learn, is an archaic name for falsies. “Grecian bend” = “among women, an affected carriage of the body, the upper part being inclined forward,” says a 1913 Wesbter’s.

Chicago Tribune, May 11, 1875. This kind of thing happens to me all the time–other bloggers try to provoke me into throwing a punch so they can pull out a hand cannon. Old media, new media: what’s the difference?
I’m not familiar with an opera or operetta called Deborah. Anyone know of it?

I’ve never seen “nerve” as an adjective before, but I kinda like it.

“Downing’s carrying a pistol was regarded by everybody as a joke”–ouch!

Chicago Tribune, September 15, 1897. Veteran Hope Chest readers will surely recall the notorious Bender Family of Kansas, whose frontier depredations set the contemporary bar for homicidal family enterprise. This here Staffleback crew strikes me as small potatoes in comparison–murder seems to have been less their “trade” than a sideline–but their operation was not without a certain Gothic panache. Abandoned mine shafts are always good value. Read More »

National Gazette and Literary Register, August 4, 1825. Yeah, he sounds pretty genteel and agreeable in manners.

New Hampshire Sentinel, January 27, 1827. Gee, I wonder what their problem was?

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