It was widely believed in those days that "murdered blood cried for vengeance" just as the blood of Abel was said to have "cried up from the ground." This formed the rationale for a further belief that if a murderer touched the corpse of his victim, that corpse would either bleed or have the "blood come fresh upon it."
That same book offers a number of examples of people found guilty by means of the Trial by Touch. For instance, in 1644 Goodwife Cornish of York, Maine, was accused of killing her husband, whose body was found floating in the York River:
Goodwife Cornish and Edward Johnson [her supposed lover] were both confronted with the decomposed remains of Richard Cornish and compelled to put their hands thereon. As they did so, blood oozed from the dead man's wounds.
Both of the accused were next brought before a council of local officials. The ensuing "trial" was a farce. The prosecution's only evidence was the result of the "Trial by Touch" and hearsay about the woman's character. It was her reputation more than anything else that counted against Goodwife Cornish. She was declared guilty and condemned to death. Edward Johnson was acquitted.
During her "trial" Goodwife Cornish continued to deny all knowledge of the murder. She repeated her admissions of lewd conduct and even named a local official as one of her lovers. Few doubted the story because the man had a reputation of his own. Goodwife Cornish was hanged at York in December of 1644. There the matter ended.
Trial by Touch was referred to by a number of different names, such as "Ordeal by Touch" or "Ordeal of the Bier." The Penny Magazine (January 1842) explains this latter name:
The murdered person was placed upon a bier, and the suspected assassin desired to approach and touch the corpse. If blood flowed from the wounds, or the position of the body became changed, the charge of murder was considered as proven. The ordeal of the bier was in frequent use in the sixteenth century, and was even resorted to on one occasion at the commencement of the eighteenth.
I haven't found much info in academic sources about the Trial by Touch. Evidently the custom was widely practiced throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and then brought to America by settlers. And apparently a bleeding corpse wasn't the only indicator of guilt. If the corpse seemed to change color, sweat, or move at all, that would be enough to convict the accused. In The Old Farmer and His Almanack (1920), GL Kittredge offers the example of the trial of Johan Norkott in England (1628):
On this occasion the minister of the parish, "a very reverend person," testified (and his evidence was corroborated) that when the body was touched by the defendants thirty days after death, "the brow of the dead, which before was of a livid and carrion colour, begun to have a dew or gentle sweat arise on it, which increased by degrees, till the sweat ran down in drops on the face. The brow turned to a lively and fresh colour and the deceased opened one of her eyes and shut it again: And this opening the eye was done three several times. She likewise thrust out the ring or marriage finger three times, and pulled it in again; and the finger dropped blood from it on the grass."
The illustration at the top is by the Hungarian artist Mihály Zichy (1894). It depicts a scene from a ballad about a woman found guilty, by means of the Ordeal by Touch, of killing her young husband (via Hungarian Art History).
The Democratic National Convention is currently underway in Philadelphia. The last time the Democrats held their convention in that city was back in 1948, when they nominated Harry S. Truman as the Democratic candidate.
"Even when Truman was actually nominated, the evening was marred by mishaps. It was sweltering and the voting had taken far longer than expected. A national committeewoman from Pennsylvania, Emma Guffey Miller, sister of the former Senator Joseph Guffey, planned a surprise tribute for Truman. She had the Pennsylvania Florists Association create a Liberty Bell made of flowers. They had given one to Dewey and naturally Miller wanted to make Truman's bouquet even more impressive. She had the florists place a cage of several dozen pigeons inside the bell, and at the appointed time, she intended to release the pigeons into the hall as symbolic 'doves of peace.'
"The problem was that the pigeons had been placed inside the bell hours before. By the time Miller brought the bell to the podium, two of the birds had died and the rest were desperate for relief from the heat. The minute she opened the cage, they darted out as fast as they could and flew directly toward the thirty-six inch pedestal fans that surrounded the stage. Sam Rayburn, the former Speaker of the House and chairman of the convention proceedings, started swatting at the low flying pigeons. His craggy voice carried to the radio and television microphones, and he could be heard shouting 'get those goddamned pigeons out of here!'
"But they could not be contained. One of them briefly came to rest on Rayburn's head, while another landed on the fan right next to Bess Truman. Other pigeons were flying toward the ceiling and, in their nervousness, started to splatter the delegates with droppings. Watching the absurd scene, Jack Redding turned to Congressman Mike Kirwan and said 'what damned fool could have thought of a thing like this? In this heat they all could be dead. It's bad enough having the Zionists, the Dixiecrats and the Wallace-ites after us, now we got to have somebody to arrange for the SPCA to have at us." By the time Truman came onstage, the surviving birds had retreated to the balconies and the overhead lights, where they watched as the president addressed the recently strafed delegates."
A more contemporary account comes from the Kokomo Tribune (July 28, 1948):
forty and eight white doves [were] released from a huge floral Liberty Bell by Mrs. Emma Guffey Miller at the closing session of the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia...
Weighing a neat 140 by Republican (conservative) scales, Mrs. Miller had stood on the platform, the personification of a buxom fairy queen, though without wand or wings. When she waved her lily white hand — Bingo! — a trap door in the bell opened and out flew four dozen of the scaredest pigeons you ever saw. They had been cooped up in that bell for several hours. Their bloodshot eyes popped out and their feathers were bedraggled by the humid 100-degree heat of the convention hall.
Some of the sturdier birds made for the high roof, but the feebler birds fluttered to the first perch they could light on — chairman Sam Rayburn's rostrum and the big electric fans that blew breezes over the speakers' platform. Everybody laughed. Then everybody ducked or threw their arms over their heads. Then everybody hollered or screamed.
The event caused one bard to dash off a quatrain:
Sing a song of Democrats, listen to them yell!
Eight and forty pigeons, parboiled in a bell.
When the bell was opened, the birds began to fly.
Wasn't that an awful thing to hit you in the eye?
Finally, it proved difficult to recapture all the doves.
Four years ago I posted about the comparative prices on eBay of baseballs signed by presidential candidates. I didn't make any predictions back then. However, Obama-signed baseballs were fetching higher prices than Romney-signed baseballs, and Obama won. Make of that what you will.
So what does the political baseball market on eBay look like in this election year?
If you want a baseball signed by Donald Trump, they go for as low as $10.50 (above left) or as high as $2499.99 (above right). (There's one baseball signed by The Donald, Melania, and Ivanka for which the seller is asking $5000, but since that's 3 signatures it doesn't seem relevant for this data set.)
Gotta say, The Donald sure has a crazy signature! How do those zigzag lines spell out Donald Trump?
Hillary Clinton-signed baseballs can be bought for anywhere between $100.99 (left) and $2499 (right). Again, there are more expensive ones signed by both Hillary and Bill, but I'm only looking at individually signed baseballs here.
What conclusions can we draw from this? Well, the prices are much closer for Hillary vs. Donald than they were for Obama vs. Romney. Perhaps this indicates a closer race. However, Hillary baseballs aren't going for the very low prices that some Donald baseballs are going for. So maybe this indicates that Hillary has a slight advantage. Who knows! We'll find out in November.
The Crazy Cat Lady is the cultural stereotype (Archie McPhee even sells a Crazy Cat Lady action figure). But this story demonstrates that there are definitely Crazy Cat Men as well.
The Daily Courier (Connellsville, Pa) — Jan 8, 1954
Mate Preferred Cats, She Left Him With Them
HARTFORD, Conn., Jan. 8 — Mrs. Joseph Gazik got a divorce in Superior Court after she said her husband liked cats so much that every time she asked him to get rid of them, he suggested that she leave instead.
Gazik didn't appear in court. He stayed home with his cats — all 20 of them.
What to do when you run out of room in the local grave yard? In Hallstatt, Austria they built a Bone House with the remains. It no longer gets new additions but many of the skulls in there already have their names on them. RIP
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
Chuck is the purveyor of News of the Weird, the syndicated column which for decades has set the gold-standard for reporting on oddities and the bizarre.
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