Weird Universe Archive

October 2016

October 18, 2016

Compelled by jasmine to shoplift

Shirley Cromartie was working as a housekeeper at President Nixon's Key Biscayne retreat when, in 1971, she was arrested for shoplifting. She admitted to the crime but insisted that it hadn't been her fault. She explained that a mysterious woman wearing a wig had approached her in the store's parking lot, asked her the time, and had then released a "jasmine-like scent" from her left hand. Cromartie immediately fell into a trance, and the woman instructed her to steal four dresses, which Cromartie proceeded to do.

A medical expert testified that he believed Cromartie was telling the truth.

The Philadelphia Inquirer - Oct 23, 1971

An odd story. But what are we to make of it? There's a couple of possible theories:

Theory 1: Ms. Cromartie got caught shoplifting and made up a b.s. story to explain away her actions.

Theory 2: She was totally nuts.

Theory 3: She had an encounter with an extraterrestrial! UFOlogist John Keel, author of The Mothman Prophecies, advanced this theory. He speculated that the mysterious, wig-wearing woman was actually a "woman in black" (the female counterpart of a "man in black"). He noted that "Women in Black" cases often describe them as wearing wigs, and the aliens are fond of asking people what time it is.

But why would an alien being bother to make a housekeeper shoplift some dresses? Keel speculated, "perhaps this was not some small demonstration for the benefit of President Nixon, similar to the power failures that seemed to follow President Johnson in 1967. (The lights failed wherever he went ... from Washington to Johnson City, Texas, to Hawaii)."

More info:

Posted By: Alex - Tue Oct 18, 2016 - Comments (5)
Category: Crime, Paranormal, 1970s

Paul Starr, Space Agent

More info at the YouTube URL of this clip, as well as here.

Posted By: Paul - Tue Oct 18, 2016 - Comments (3)
Category: Puppets and Automatons, Television, Science Fiction, 1960s

October 17, 2016


One of the great mysteries in American literature is the title of Herman Melville's 1851 novel, Moby-Dick. Or is it Moby Dick? Should the title be hyphenated, or not?

The first American edition had a hyphen in the title. But confusingly, inside the book the whale was referred to as Moby Dick, without a hyphen — except for one single time, on page 609, when the name was hyphenated because it spanned two lines.

There have been many subsequent editions. Some of them have a hyphenated title. Some of them don't. It seems to be totally random. But because that first edition had a hyphen, scholars consider that to be the correct spelling. So the title of the book is Moby-Dick, but the name of the whale is Moby Dick.

But why the hyphen? There's a number of theories. Perhaps Melville just liked hyphenated titles. One of his earlier works, White-Jacket, was also mysteriously hyphenated.

Or perhaps the hyphen was a mistake. Supporters of this theory note that the title was changed at the last minute, from The Whale to Moby-Dick, and the title change was communicated to the printer by Melville's brother, Allan. So maybe Allan made a mistake, and it was never Herman's intention to hyphenate the title?

We'll never know. It'll always be one of those mysteries that literary scholars love to debate. (such as here, here, and here).

Posted By: Alex - Mon Oct 17, 2016 - Comments (3)
Category: Literature, Books

October 16, 2016

News of the Weird (October 16, 2016)

News of the Weird
Weirdnuz.M497, October 16, 2016
Copyright 2016 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved.

Lead Story

John Weigel and Olaf Danielson are engaged in a frenzied battle of "extreme birdwatching," hoping to close out 2016 as the new North American champ of the American Birding Association, and a September Smithsonian piece had Weigel ahead, 763-759. Danielson is perhaps better known for doing much of his birding in the nude (and is the author of the provocatively-titled volume, Boobies, Peckers, and Tits--all common names of popular birds). The old one-year record was 749, and the Association attributes the larger numbers this year to El Nino, which has disrupted food supplies and driven birds into different locations. [, 9-21-2016]

Fine Points of the Law

Compelling Explanation: House bill 54-15-1, passed in the Idaho legislature earlier in 2016, authorizes schools to read Bible verses verbatim daily in classrooms (despite the U.S. Supreme Court's having specifically condemned that practice ever since 1964). The bill's sponsor, Rep. Sage Dixon, said he thought his law was nonetheless constitutional because, "The little Supreme Court in my head says this is okay." (Even so, Gov. C. L. Otter vetoed the bill.) [, 3-30-2016]

Nebraska voters in November will be asked whether to keep the state's longstanding death penalty for murder--even though retaining it will require them to vote "Repeal." The legislature replaced death row last year with mandatory life sentences (to take effect only if the referendum passes), and the referendum is to "Repeal" or "Retain" that legislation. Hence, to abolish the death penalty, voters must select "Retain." The state attorney general, and election officials, declined to challenge the confusing arrangement, instead suggesting that Nebraskans are smart enough to figure the whole thing out. [Omaha World-Herald, 9-20-2016]

The Arizona legislature passed a child-molestation law recently that made any adult contact with children's genitals a criminal act, but unlike in other states' similar laws, neglected to include a requirement that the outlawed contact be for "sexual" purposes. Consequently, in principle, parents may be criminally liable, for example, for bathing a baby or changing its diaper. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in September that it is up to the legislature to change the law, but some lawmakers professed indifference, confident that district attorneys will use good judgment about whom to prosecute. [Slate, 9-16-2016]

Fun With Pennies

(1) Robert Napolitan, 34, was arrested in Taylor, Pa., in September and charged with theft of a drum containing 300,000 pennies from his employer Pyne Freight Lines. That steel drum weighs several tons and, of course, netted Napolitan only $3,000. (By contrast, in New York City's "Diamond District" in September, a brazen thief made off with a 55-gallon drum containing 86 lbs. of something else--gold flakes, valued at about $1 million--and is still at large.) (2) For some reason, according to a High Point, N.C., TV report, Larry Hall of Randolph County took seven-plus weeks out of his life recently and glued pennies to cover (except for windows and chrome) his 2000 Chevrolet Blazer (a total of 51,300 coins). [Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.), 9-9-2016] [New York Daily News, 10-1-2016] [WGHP-TV (High Point, N.C.), 10-3-2016]

Great Art!

The 1,496-page German novel "Bottom's Dream," translated into (broken) English, more than twice as long as "War and Peace," recently reached U.S. bookstores as a 13-lb. behemoth, bound with a 14-inch spine that, based on a September Wall Street Journal description, will almost surely go unread. The story follows two translators and their teenage daughter over a single day as they try to interpret the works of Edgar Allen Poe, making for slow going for anyone not already conversant with Poe. (Bonus direct passage from page one: "above & belo, from out his hiking britches; He, tall=thin & hairy)./;") [Wall Street Journal, 9-24-2016]

Bright Ideas

While other vehicle safety-control engineers work on actually slowing down cars and buses when a risk is detected on the road ahead, one of Volvo's recent innovations appears aimed merely at just bullying pedestrians to get out of the way. According to a September report on, the safety "control" for a Volvo bus consists of a progressively-louder horn-honking to scare off the pedestrian. [, 9-23-2016]

Simple As That: (1) British farmer Pip Simpson, who lost nearly 300 sheep to rustlers in recent years, recently sprayed his remaining herd of almost 800 sheep a bright luminous orange (harmless, he said, though the sheep's opinions are unknown) to make them less attractive to thieves. (2) Saudi Arabia switched to the 365-day Gregorian calendar on October 2nd, in part to reduce government expenses. Bureaucrats had been using the Islamic lunar Hijri (354-day) calendar but now must work a 3-percent longer year for the same salaries. [Westmorland Gazette, 9-27-2016] [Gulf News via (Moscow), 10-3-2016]

Latest Religious Messages

In 2014, British entrepreneur Azid Chaiwala, 33, created the matchmaking service Second Wife--because, just as men have trouble finding that special person, some Mormons, Muslims, and others have at least as much trouble finding that special additional person. (Most clients, he said, are in the U.S. and the U.K., though bigamy is illegal in both places.) The service was so successful that Chaiwala this year inaugurated Polygamy dot com, which he adamantly defended as a moral alternative to adultery and one-night-stand services such as Tinder. [New York Times, 9-21-2016]

Police Report

(1) The long-rap-sheeted Darren Clinton, 48, was in the process, according to Minneapolis police, of burglarizing a hotel room in September when an occupant returned and surprised him. Clinton, wielding a knife, escaped momentarily, but the occupant summoned his nearby roommates--the visiting University of Arizona men's cross-country team--and after a chase, which included jumping several barriers, the runners steered a severely-winded Clinton into the arms of a state trooper. (2) Kerry Johnson, 52, was arrested in August in Charleston, W.Va., and charged with robbing a City National Bank branch. Police said Johnson had been gambling at the Mardi Gras Casino in nearby Nitro when he ran out of money at the blackjack table. (He left a $25 chip to preserve his spot, excused himself, went to the bank, and came back with more money.) [Star Tribune, 10-1-2016] [Gazette Mail (Charleston), 8-3-2016]

People With Issues

Based on recent convictions for indecent exposure, Anthony Hardison, 50, has a public masturbation habit, and it is apparently so bad that he engaged once again in August--while he was in the lobby of the sheriff's office in Seattle, where he had reported to register as a sex offender. He was arrested. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9-19-2016]

The Passing Parade

Austrian Edition: (1) A massive, mile-long traffic jam on the Austrian A2 highway in October between Inzersdorf and Vosendorf was caused by the a huge flock of starlings crashing into cars and falling to the road. Ornithologists told reporters that the birds must have earlier feasted en masse on fermented berries and were navigating under the influence. (2) In September, an unnamed woman was detained at the airport in Graz, Austria, because her suitcase held two plastic containers with her late husband's intestines. She had come from Morocco seeking doctors' opinions whether he had been poisoned (but doctors told local media that they would have to examine the entire body to determine that). Police said no laws had been broken. [The Local (Vienna), 10-6-2016] [BBC News, 9-26-2016]

A News of the Weird Classic (December 2012)

Gary Medrow, 68, has periodically surfaced in News of the Weird since 1991 for his unique behavior of using a false identity to persuade Milwaukee-area strangers over the phone to lift other strangers off the ground--behavior for which he has occasionally been jailed and ordered to psychiatric care. After a recent period of calm, Medrow slipped in November [2012] and was charged with impersonating a photojournalist to convince two Cedarburg (Wis.) High School students to hoist each other on their shoulders. At an earlier hearing, Medrow said that his “addiction” helps him to relieve tension and anxiety. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 11-16-2012]

Thanks This Week to Peter Swank, Deborah Rogers, Mel Birge, and Pete and Sara Discenza, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

Posted By: Chuck - Sun Oct 16, 2016 - Comments (0)

Trouble with Links

Several people have mentioned that the link to the answer on the latest MYSTERY GADGET post (answer in foto above) did not work for them. Others have mentioned that some links are not permitted to folks outside the USA, and that seems to be the case here. Thanks to one and all for bringing this up.

In the future, I will make sure to have the answer after the jump, as well as at the original source!

Posted By: Paul - Sun Oct 16, 2016 - Comments (0)
Category: Weird Universe, Internet

Most continuous time on commercial flights

In 1978, Thomas Crowder set a record for "time spent aboard commercial planes" by traveling back and forth between 91 U.S. cities for 21 days. He never spent more than three hours on layovers between flights.

As far as I can tell, Guinness never recognized this record. Nor can I find evidence that anyone has ever tried to top it.

I know that Guinness tries not to track records that encourage unhealthy or life-endangering acts. So maybe Crowder's record fell foul of this policy. Because spending 21 days sitting on commercial flights seems like a great way to develop deep vein thrombosis.

The Alexandria Town Talk - Oct 27, 1978

Mattoon Journal Gazette - Nov 2, 1978

Posted By: Alex - Sun Oct 16, 2016 - Comments (7)
Category: World Records, Air Travel and Airlines, 1970s

Newspapers by Radio Fax:  1930s


Newspapers transmitted into your living room by radio waves!

Get the whole fascinating history here. More fotos also at the link, but not the one above, which I found independently.

Posted By: Paul - Sun Oct 16, 2016 - Comments (0)
Category: Journalism, Radio, Technology, 1930s

October 15, 2016

Blue Jean TV

In the 1970s, it was widely believed that any product could be improved by adding denim to it. One example of this, already featured on WU, was the AMC Gremlin "Levi" Edition — an economy car upholstered with Levi jeans. It debuted in the early 70s.

Another example is the Zenith "Sidekick" Blue Jean TV, which hit the market in 1974. From the ad copy:

Meet Zenith's 12" diagonal black-and-white portable that's decked out, top and sides, in blue denim. Accented with bright orange stitching, authentic copper rivets, and a leather-look "Sidekick" name patch like the one on your jeans.

If you'd like to own one of these beauties, there's one for sale on eBay. Current bid is only $49.99.

Posted By: Alex - Sat Oct 15, 2016 - Comments (2)
Category: Fashion, Denim, Products, 1970s

Man in Tent for Deep Woods OFF

Apparently, this commercial featuring a guy in a tent filled with biting insects has attained a certain minor cult status I was not aware of.

The original is in the first video at the 3:40 mark.

Here's the guy, now revealed to be Bill Clement, still stuck in the tent fifteen years later.

But most recently, he (or a younger surrogate) finally gets to come out of the tent--and he's got a sexy woman with him. That's progress!

Posted By: Paul - Sat Oct 15, 2016 - Comments (2)
Category: Business, Advertising, Products, Insects and Spiders, Nature, 1970s

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Alex Boese
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.

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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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