miércoles, 30 de junio de 2010

Madame Talbot's Spectacular Sideshow Emporium!

I now have proof that God really does listen and he cares, because he has brought me Madam Talbots Victorian Lowbrow Emporium. 

Madame Talbot has amassed a truly impressive collection of vintage medical paraphernalia, sideshow trinkets, curios, and gorgeous hand drawn posters by Madame Talbot herself! 

All pictures and item descriptions below taken from Madame Talbot's emporium

Among the many items available for purchase at this venerable establishment are:

  • Mephitic vapours collected from fetid graves.

  • Real Human Heart Night Light Curio

  • Foetal Skull in Framed Curio (30th week of pregnancy) resting on a vintage pink satin heart shaped pillow. Above the foetal skull is a lovely spray of vintage paper roses.  Below on the satin heart-shaped pillow, is a Victorian stamped brass funeral plague with heavy patina which reads: "Our Darling."

  •    A 1/4 inch thick Real human Brain Slice from ice pick Lobotomy Framed Curio. The brain is flanked by vintage lobotomy instruments. This slice of brain was removed by doctor Walter Freeman in the 1950s, at Danver's State Hospital in Massachusetts.

  •  Vintage Real Shrunken Head

  • A Victorian era framed real taxidermied monkey paw, tightly sealed behind glass as Madame Talbot "does not want to be held responsible for any consequences that may arise from bad wishing techniques."
 "Disclaimer: Beware To Those Who Wish!
The door of this Monkey Paw Framed Curio Exhibit has been glued shut as we do not want to be held responsible for any consequences that may arise from bad wishing techniques. Although the greatest care was taken in preparing this Monkey Paw Framed Curio Exhibit, the possibility remains at all times that consequences may arise from those who want to make their three wishes."

  • Vintage Circus Sideshow Giant Ring belonging to the Viking Giant, Johann K. Petursson, who in 1913 was the Tallest Man in the World. 
  • On the back of the postcard reads "Parents, 8 Sisters and Brothers all normal size. My Weight -- 9 lbs. at birth. By the age of twenty I was 8'8". Weight -- 425 lbs. Shoe size 24. All clothes made to order. P.S. Except handkerchief."

  • Victorian Down Bros. Brass Ear Syringe from an outstanding private collection. 10 inches long with plunger shut.

  •  Framed real Bloodsucking Leech Curio. This is an actual wet specimen of a soaked leech nestled inside a Victorian wood box, surrounded by vintage red velvet drapery and gold metal bullion trim.
  • A 30 week old foetal skeleton dressed in babies clothes, resting on a bed of black fabric roses surrounded by a lovely spray of white calla lilies. Above the foetal skull is a Victorian stamped brass funeral plague with heavy patina which reads: "Our Darling."

  •  Till Death Us do Part Curio, with a real human skull which has been cut in half and placed side by side, this is a personal favourite!


For many more curious attractions presented for your consideration, Visit Madame Talbot's emporium today!


martes, 29 de junio de 2010

Marie La Veau - the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans

Marie Laveau
The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. In all times, in all places, no one has ever risen to the statue or fame in Voodoo as Marie La Veau. Famed in history, infamous in folklore and ever present, even today.

Marie Catherine La Veau was born in New Orleans on September 10, 1801. She was the natural daughter of two free persons of color, both mulattos. She was a free woman of color and a Creole.

She was married to Jacques Paris in 1819 at the St. Louis Cathedral with the famed Père Antoine officiating.  She had two children, both of whom appear to have died before reaching maturity. With a few years, her husband apparently also died she began calling herself the Widow Paris, a name that survived onto her tomb. Around the mid 1820’s she began a plaçage with Louis Christophe Dominick Duminy de Glapion with who she bore seven more children. (The plaçage system afforded interracial couples a marriage of conscience, if not legality). 

Of these seven children, only two lived to maturity. The only evidence that exist of any sort of occupation she had was a liquor importer (in 1832) on Dauphine Street in the Faubourg Marigny (the warehouse still exits at he intersection of Dauphine and Kerlérec) Streets). By 1842 she appears at the cottage on St. Ann Street where she lived for the rest of her life. This property, and the cottage on, came to her by way of her maternal grandmother, Catherine Henry, a former slave who managed to purchase her own freedom (1795) as well as the St. Ann property (1798). 


In the great Yellow Fever epidemics such as that of 1853 she was said to have worked tirelessly as a nurse and femme traiteur (spiritual healer). By 1857 a shoemaker on the corner of St. Ann and Burgundy Streets listed Madame Paris née Laveau as his best customer. It was also around that time that the only record of a “Marie Laveau” appears in documents that associates her with Voodoo. Folklore and later newspaper accounts, however, confirm that she was the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans for at least 40 years from the 1820’s to the 1860’s. 

As she withdrew with age by the 1870’s it was alleged her daughter, called Marie Laveau II, succeeded her.

Very late in life newspapers found her in her home on St. Ann Street and began to celebrate and exploit her as he leader of the mysterious and sensational Voodoos. Protected now by her youngest daughter, she was to have abandoned Voodoo and devoted herself exclusively to the Catholic Church.
She died on June 15, 1881. Newspapers published competing obituaries, some saying she was a saint, others a witch. She was buried in the middle vault of her family tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1. Today, a year round pilgrimage makes its way to her tomb, some to call her undying spiritual powers, some in simple reverence and many more in respectful curiosity of this unique woman.   
Marie Laveau by C.M. Gandolfo
Folklore tells us she was exceptionally beautiful, that she got rich selling gris-gris, that she could intimidate he police and that world leaders sought her advice. The stories tell of how she danced with a snake and presided over blood drenched rituals. 

Traditions claim she was well known at the “quadroon balls” that she used blackmail, that she was a hairdresser and domestic informant, that she ran a house of prostitution, that she could  “fix” court cases and cheat the executioner, that Voodoo powers caused she deaths of at least one Governor and one Lieutenant Governor and that she, herself, never really died. 

Basically, she got the credit, and the blame, for almost every unexplained major event. Her spirit still gets such credits and every real, or would be, Voodoo Queen since has claimed her anointment. 

In recent times her folklore has and history have been expropriated to reshape her as an abolitionist, a feminist, a spiritualist, a revolutionary, an activist and an icon of many new causes.

What little evidence that actually exist about her life, the larger body of knowledge about the lives and culture of Creole free persons of color in New Orleans mixed with scraps about Marie Laveau that do have gives us a extra insight into her life. She was born the product of a brief plaçage arrangement and was probably raised by her mother and possibly her grandmother. She spent most of her adult life in a plaçage relationship, which was very typical of Creole free women of color of her era. She was Catholic. In fact, reports seem to indicate that most observant Catholics in New Orleans were usually the free women of color. 

She managed an extended family taking in grandchildren, nieces and nephews and perhaps orphans.  She was probably a practical nurse, or femme traiteur.  Her daughters each continued in the plaçage system. She was remembered as well for her humanity and charity as much as anything. She owned slaves. She was apparently able to support both her father and her plaçage partner at times when they were financially distressed. 

She never went to school, or learned to read or write, or to sign her name. She spoke French. She lived in a Creole world, a tri-part caste system that afforded her a unique and respected status as a free person of color. Americans, black or white, were a foreign race. She was a social and political liberal and humanist with desire to heal, to sooth, to nurture and to do good works. Not her father, but her grandfather, was white and he was not a member of the Louisiana Legislature but had been a member of the old Spanish Cabildo and at one time was appointed acting Mayor of New Orleans. 

She grew up in a world where Voodoo was neither alien nor uncommon in day to day life. In all probability she learned it from a relative, perhaps her mother, a grandmother, or a mentor. She was a very spiritual person who blended, in the Creole way, Voodoo with Catholicism, especially the saints.  Her gris-gris, like the sacred and blessed symbols and objects of the church, were meant to call upon the saints and spirits for their help and to carry their blessings forward. Voodoo was an extension of Catholic practices and Catholicism a focus toward the same Bon Dieu (God), natural and familiar, to Voodoo. She was the African mother, the Creole wife and the true daughter of New Orleans.

Today, it is not in the least unusual to hear from people who attribute both favors and miracles to her intercession. Not unlike the Saints, her spirit still listens and blesses with humanity, justice and love. In all Voodoo, in all places, in all times, she is the Queen.       

Information and images from the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum

Here is a first-hand account of a voodoo ritual performed by Le Veau:

"Upon a throne of living reptiles, Mare le Veau’s amber-skinned body, arrayed in a short skirt of fig leaves, swayed like the hanging reptiles draping her make-shift throne. Her arms were limp and gently swaying. Her dainty feet rested upon the back of a huge alligator with mouth propped open and suffering the tortures of Hades.

With head bent back Marie le Veau gazed, her large brown eyes just beyond the striking reptiles, whose poisonous fangs came within inches of her enchanting face.

The hour was late. Neither moon or stars were shining. Large gourds cut to resemble grotesque faces cast their pale yellow light upon the thousand or more Negroes gathered before her throne in Congo Square. As they kneeled, bowed and perspired, their weird, mournful chant echoed and re-echoed against the swamp on the west and the river on the east, filling the white citizenry of New Orleans with an uncanny feeling.
 Somewhere in the Old French Quarter, a clock tolled the hour of midnight. The Negroes came to their feet in time to see the spirit of Marie le Veau, in the form of a white bird take wing into the distant ocean of darkness for its rendezvous with the great Zombi. Her spirit had barely departed when Marie began to groan in a terrible pain. The Negroes believing an evil spirit was attempting to possess the heart of their queen, waved their arms, jumped and shouted until Marie raised her right hand and the turmoil ceased as if by magic.

Overhead the Negroes, heard a wild rushing noise. Looking up they beheld three great black birds with yellow tipped wings circling madly above their heads, then rising to disappear into the black depth of the night."

From Stories of New Orleans, by Andre Cajun, “Sage of the Bayous” © 1957

domingo, 27 de junio de 2010

The Incredible Case of the Two-Headed boy of Bengal

  WARNING: Some of the following images are graphic and may be upsetting.

In 1790 the astute surgeon Everard Home wrote of ‘a species of lusus naturae so unaccountable, that, I believe, no similar instance is to be found upon record’. He was writing of the Boy of Bengal after observing drawings and collecting and reviewing the accounts of several of his peers. 

While the boy was remarkable for both his medical condition and perseverance, Home was actually incorrect in his initial assumptions. 
The Two-Headed Boy of Bengal was born in the village of Mundul Gait in Bengal in May of 1783 into a poor farming family. His remarkable life was very nearly extinguished immediately after his delivery as a terrified midwife tried to destroy the infant by throwing him into a fire.  

Miraculously, while he was rather badly burned about the eye, ear and upper head, he managed to survive. His parents began to exhibit him in Calcutta, where he attracted a great deal of attention and earned the family a fair amount of money. While the large crowds gathered to see the Two-Headed Boy his parents took to covering the lad with a sheet and often kept him hidden – sometimes for hours at a time and often in darkness.

As his fame spread across India, so did the caliber of his observers. Several noblemen, civil servants and city officials arranged to showcase the boy in their own homes for both private gatherings and grand galas – treating their guests to up close examinations. One of these observers was a Colonel Pierce who described the encounter to the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks and it was Sir Banks who later forwarded the account to the surgeon Everard Home.

The term ‘Two-Headed’ may be a bit misleading as rather that two heads side by side, the Boy actually had head atop the other. When compared to the average child, both heads were of an appropriate size and development. The second head sat atop the main head inverted and simply ended in a neck-like stump. The second head seemed to, at times, function independently from the main head. When the boy cried or smiled the features of the second head did not always match. Yet, when the main head was fed, the second head would produce saliva. 

Furthermore, if the second head was presented with a breast to suckle – it would attemp to do so. While the main head was well formed the secondary head did posses some irregularities. The eyes and ears were underdeveloped. The tongue was small and the jaw malformed but both were capable of motion. When the Boy slept, the secondary head would often be observed alert and awake – eyes darting about.
Despite the attention the Boy of Bengal received, none of it was medical in nature. There were no intensive first hand medical examinations of the Boy on record and the vast majority of the press attention given to the Boy focused no on his condition, but rather his ‘freakish’ appearance. The Boy, who seemed to suffer no serious ill effects in relation to his condition, died at the age of four from a cobra bite. It was only then, after much unseemly business, that medicine was able to examine the case.

The Boy was buried near the Boopnorain River, outside the city of Tumloch but the grave was soon robbed by Mr. Dent, a salt agent for the East India Company. He dissected the putrefied body himself and gave the skull to a Captain Buchanan of the East Indian Company. Buchanan brought the skull to England, where it ended up in the hands of his close friend- Everard Home. 

When Mr. Dent had dissected the heads he discovered that the brains were separate and distinct. Each brain was also enveloped in its proper coverings and it appeared as though both brains received the nutrition required to sustain life and thought. The skull of the Boy of Bengal can still be seen at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of London.

The classification of this condition is today known as Craniopagus parasiticus and technically falls under the category of parasitic twins however many of the early naturalists have attempted to classify the Bengal case as a case of conjoined twins due to the signs of independent life given by the secondary head.

Previous to 1783 teratology texts listed no fewer that eight suspected cases of Craniopagus parasiticus however the Boy of Bengal case is not only the           earliest well documented account, but also the first account of such a case surviving past infancy.  

Recently on December 10, 2003, Rebeca Martínez was born in the Dominican Republic with this rare condition and she was also the first baby born with the condition to undergo a surgical removal of the second head. 

Sadly, Rebeca did not survive the  11-hour operation and died on February 7, 2004.

                                                             X-ray of Rebeca Martinez's skull

On February 19, 2005, Manar and Islaam Maged– also born with the same condition- underwent a successful 13-hour surgery in Egypt, but tragically, they died on March 25, 2006 due to repeated infection.

"She [Manar] was admitted to hospital in a very bad way," said Abla el-Alfy, a consultant paediatrician involved in her care.
"She had a very severe infection in the brain and she wasn't able to fight it."
Doctors at the Benha Children's Hospital had regarded the fact that Manar survived the initial 13-hour operation as a success. 

Her condition improved after the surgery, but she continued to suffer regular infections, Mr Alfy told Reuters news agency.
The second head [Islaam] contained eyes, a nose and a mouth, but was not connected to any internal organs and whether it was capable of independent thought is unclear.

Islaam could smile, blink, cry, and tried to suckle but never developed a full body (only a small remnant), or lungs and heart, and instead was dependent on oxygen and nutrients provided by Manar. 

                                                                   10 month old Manar Maged

                                                          Manar post surgery.


Adapted from Jan Bondeson’s book: The Two Headed Boy 

Information taken from BBC news Sunday, 26 March 2006, 22:11 GMT 23:11 UK

images : 1.
Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons (London) 2. Postcard from the Hunterian Museum of London 3. Hand drawings of the Boy of Bengal by Mr. Smith 4. Hand-colour drawings of The Boy of Bengal by Mr Dent. 5. www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Its-a-Miracle 6. USA Today news 2004.

jueves, 24 de junio de 2010

And now Ladies and Gentlemen...

Who can resist crows on a telephone wire?

miércoles, 23 de junio de 2010

They come alive at night...

When I was a little girl I used to read a book based on a welsh legend about a statue who came to life only in the moonlight, and would be set in stone the next day.


lunes, 21 de junio de 2010

Grady Stiles Jr. The Lobster Boy

"Grady Stiles Jr. is a rarity in the world of Human Marvels. By many accounts, this teratological terror was every bit the monster he appeared to be.

The Stiles family has been afflicted for over a century with ectrodactyly, a condition commonly known as ‘Lobster Claw’ syndrome. It is a rare congenital deformity of the hand where the middle digit is missing and the hand is cleft where the metacarpal of the finger should be. This split often gives the hands the appearance of lobster claws although cases range in severity.

Often this condition occurs in both the hands and the feet and, while it is an inherited condition, it can skip a generation. While the term ectrodactyly sounds medically sterile when compared to ‘Lobster Claw Syndrome’.William Stiles was apparently the first in the family to display the condition in 1805. He was followed by Jacob Stiles, Elisha Stiles and Grady Stiles Sr. Grady Sr. was a sideshow attraction and when Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr., ‘The Lobster Boy’, was born in Pittsburgh on July 18, 1937 his father added him to the show at a young age.
Grady’s condition was severe and he was unable to walk. He learned to use his hands and arms for locomotion and, as a result, developed incredible upper body strength. He married twice and had four children. Two of those children, a girl, Cathy, and a boy, Grady III, were born with variations of ectrodactyly. Although the siblings were from different mothers, they sometimes toured together as The Lobster Family.
Grady had a dark side. He was known to be a highly abusive drunk. He often used his frightening strength to beat his wives and his children. When his oldest daughter Donna fell in love and became engaged with a young man in 1978, Grady didn’t approve with her choice.

Perhaps the young man stuck up for Donna, perhaps he confronted Grady. The night before the pair was to be married; Grady picked up a shotgun and murdered the young groom in cold blood.

The trial was a media circus. In court Grady openly confessed to his crime and showed little remorse. However, he did not serve any time for the murder. He used his condition to his advantage.

It was stated that since the prison system was not equipped to deal with his ‘disability’, confining him to such an institution would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Grady was let off on 15 years probation.
Following these events, Grady felt invincible. When he resumed beating his family one of his favourite taunts was ‘I killed before and got away with it, I can do it again’. 

For a time Grady stopped drinking, and during this time remarried his first wife Maria. She left her new husband, a sideshow dwarf, to remarry Grady and soon afterward the abuse started again, this time worse than before.
Eventually, the family had had enough. On November 29, 1993 Grady was gunned down by a hired assassin. The hitman was then 19 year old sideshow performer Chris Wyant, a neighbor to the Stiles family. He was paid $1500 in cash by Maria and her stepson Harry, to put three bullets into the skull of Grady Stiles Jr.
Wyant was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to twenty-seven years. Harry was considered the mastermind behind the plot. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Maria was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to twelve years in prison.
In her defense, Maria stated ‘My husband was going to kill my family. I believe that from the bottom of my heart. I’m sorry this happened, but my family is safe now.'

The family has carried on. Grady III has a daughter, Sara, who does not have ectrodactyly. Cathy is married and has a lobster-clawed daughter named Misty. The three of them still perform on occasion. Cathy has taken up acting and has appeared in the films Sisters (1973), Tim Burton's Big Fish (2003) and Firecracker (2004) as well as in an episode of the series Carnivale.

Ectrodactyly literally means "monstrous fingers" and is generally a highly hereditary condition, as evidenced by the Stiles family, although it can occur spontaneously.

The Bell family of Scotland has exhibited the trait for several centuries, supposedly as divine punishment for their ancestor's involvement in the execution of two innocent women accused of witchcraft.

Accounts from Africa tell of an entire tribe, known as the Vadoma, who possess ectrodactyl or "ostrich" feet.

A contemporary celebrity with ectrodactyly is Bree Walker, a newscaster from California who appeared as the Scorpion Queen in the HBO series Carnivale.
For more information on medical marvels, I highly recommend Mutants by Armand Marie Leroi."

sábado, 19 de junio de 2010

My eyes still scream

Take me somewhere familiar so I can find myself again.
It hurts more then you know and I'll ask you "Why?"

I wonder if I can ever separate myself from this.

And it'll be a while 'til I can breathe again.

Slip me into something warm.
My eyes still scream childhood.

When all is said and done, please just let me out.

  God, if you're waiting for me, won't you please open the gates?
  Open the gates.

Words by Emmure