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The Weird Week in Review

Man Sues Wife After Ugly Baby Born

Jian Feng, of northern China, got married and then he and his wife had a baby. Jian was startled at how ugly the baby was, and that the child did not resemble either parent. He first thought the baby had a different father, but then the truth came out. Before they met, the wife underwent $100,000 in plastic surgery to change the way she looked, but never disclosed it to her husband. Jian sued his unnamed wife for a divorce plus $120,000 for fraud, which he won.

Strangely, the same story appeared in 2004.

Office Thief Caught

Office employees at an animal shelter in Swinoujscie, Poland, were noticing small amounts of money and office supplies missing over the past year. All staff members were under suspicion, but a hidden camera revealed the true culprit: a cat named Clement.

After 200 GBP had gone missing in a month, managers set up the secret camera and left banknotes on the desk to see who would be tempted

The film showed two-year-old Clement - one of the centre's rescue cats - sneaking into the office at midnight and making straight for the cash.

"When we watched the video we saw Clement jump up on the desk and pick up the money in her mouth," said Alina.

Following clues from the video, they looked under the sofa and found all the missing money. They suspect Clement left no clues behind because she always wears white gloves. See a video report with subtitles.

Fire Station Fire

A fire station in Lanzhou, Gansu province, China, was gutted by a fire recently, causing chagrin to the local fire department. It was first announced as a training exercise," but later fire officials had to admit that a spark from welders caused the fire when it ignited a nearby can of gasoline, then spread out of control. The improperly-stored gas can led at least one blogger to ridicule fire officials, who demand that others follow strict safety regulations.

Landlords Arrested for Reporting Drugs

Police in Rex, Georgia, arrested three men and searched their rented house for drugs. Officers turned the house over to the landlord after the search, and Michael Keeley and his family began to clear out the rental house to ready it for the next tenant. The family found a stash of eight bags of narcotics hidden behind the walls, and called police to report the find. Officers responded, and then arrested Keeley and his wife for tampering with evidence! Police threatened to send the couple's 9-year-old son to child services, but a neighbor took him in. The Keeleys spent two days in jail before they could post bond.

Police Break Up Cat Party

Residents of Suðurnes, Iceland, called police on Sunday after they observed several cats going in and out a window of an unoccupied house.

Police arrived at the scene and, entering the house, found no people there. However, two to three cats - the exact number is still unclear - were allegedly occupying the house. According to police reports, the cats were "snuggling" on a couch that had been left behind by the previous residents.

Officers on the scene sprang into action, immediately evicting the cats from the house. They then ensured that all doors and windows into the house were securely closed and locked, in the hopes of preventing an incident of this sort from ever happening again.

Squatters holding parties in abandoned buildings will not be tolerated -even if they are cats.

Just Coffee, Please

The coffee shop at Debenhams, a department store on High Street in London, determined that 70% of their customers found American-style coffee shop terms confusing. So they did what any smart business would do -they decided to use more English terms such as "small coffee with milk" instead of “venti skinny latte.” Store officials said the previous language caused shoppers to spend time playing "coffee Cluedo" instead of enjoying their beverages.

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Bess Lovejoy
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Weird
The Legend (and Truth) of the Voodoo Priestess Who Haunts a Louisiana Swamp
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Bess Lovejoy

The Manchac wetlands, about a half hour northwest of New Orleans, are thick with swamp ooze. In the summer the water is pea-green, covered in tiny leaves and crawling with insects that hide in the shadows of the ancient, ghost-gray cypress trees. The boaters who enter the swamps face two main threats, aside from sunstroke and dehydration: the alligators, who mostly lurk just out of view, and the broken logs that float through the muck, remnants of the days when the swamp was home to the now-abandoned logging town of Ruddock.

But some say that anyone entering the swamp should beware a more supernatural threat—the curse of local voodoo queen Julia Brown. Brown, sometimes also called Julie White or Julia Black, is described in local legend as a voodoo priestess who lived at the edge of the swamp and worked with residents of the town of Frenier. She was known for her charms and her curses, as well as for singing eerie songs with her guitar on her porch. One of the most memorable (and disturbing) went: "One day I’m going to die and take the whole town with me."

Back when Brown was alive at the turn of the 20th century, the towns of Ruddock, Frenier, and Napton were prosperous settlements clustered on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain, sustained by logging the centuries-old cypress trees and farming cabbages in the thick black soil. The railroad was the towns' lifeline, bringing groceries from New Orleans and hauling away the logs and cabbages as far as Chicago. They had no roads, no doctors, and no electricity, but had managed to carve out cohesive and self-reliant communities.

That all changed on September 29, 1915, when a massive hurricane swept in from the Caribbean. In Frenier, where Julia lived, the storm surge rose 13 feet, and the winds howled at 125 miles an hour. Many of the townsfolk sought refuge in the railroad depot, which collapsed and killed 25 people. Altogether, close to 300 people in Louisiana died, with almost 60 in Frenier and Ruddock alone. When the storm cleared on October 1, Frenier, Ruddock, and Napton had been entirely destroyed—homes flattened, buildings demolished, and miles of railway tracks washed away. One of the few survivors later described how he’d clung to an upturned cypress tree and shut his ears against the screams of those drowning in the swamp.

The hurricane seemed to come out of nowhere. But if you listen to the guides who take tourists into the Manchac swamp, the storm was the result of the wrath of Julia Brown. Brown, they say, laid a curse on the town because she felt taken for granted—a curse that came true when the storm swept through on the day of her funeral and killed everyone around. On certain tours, the guides take people past a run-down swamp graveyard marked "1915"—it’s a prop, but a good place to tell people that Brown’s ghost still haunts the swamp, as do the souls of those who perished in the hurricane. The legend of Julia Brown has become the area's most popular ghost story, spreading to paranormal shows and even Reddit, where some claim to have seen Brown cackling at the edge of the water.

After I visited the swamp earlier this year and heard Julia Brown's story, I got curious about separating fact from fiction. It turns out Julia Brown was a real person: Census records suggest she was born Julia Bernard in Louisiana around 1845, then married a laborer named Celestin Brown in 1880. About 20 years later, the federal government gave her husband a 40-acre homestead plot to farm, property that likely passed on to Julia after her husband’s death around 1914.

Official census and property records don’t make any mention of Brown’s voodoo work, but that's not especially surprising. A modern New Orleans voodoo priestess, Bloody Mary, told Mental Floss she has found references to a voodoo priestess or queen by the name of Brown who worked in New Orleans around the 1860s before moving out to Frenier. Mary notes that because the towns had no doctors, Brown likely served as the local healer (or traiteur, a folk healer in Louisiana tradition) and midwife, using whatever knowledge and materials she could find to care for local residents.

Brown’s song is documented, too. An oral history account from long-time area resident Helen Schlosser Burg records that "Aunt Julia Brown … always sat on her front porch and played her guitar and sang songs that she would make up. The words to one of the songs she sang said that one day, she would die and everything would die with her."

There’s even one newspaper account from 1915 that describes Brown's funeral on the day of the storm. In the words of the New Orleans Times-Picayune from October 2, 1915 (warning: offensive language ahead):

Many pranks were played by wind and tide. Negroes had gathered for miles around to attend the funeral of ‘Aunt’ Julia Brown, an old negress who was well known in that section, and was a big property owner. The funeral was scheduled … and ‘Aunt’ Julia had been placed in her casket and the casket in turn had been placed in the customary wooden box and sealed. At 4 o’clock, however, the storm had become so violent that the negroes left the house in a stampede, abandoning the corpse. The corpse was found Thursday and so was the wooden box, but the casket never has been found.

Bloody Mary, however, doesn’t think Brown laid any kind of curse on the town. "Voodoo isn’t as much about curses as it is about healing," she says. The locals she has spoken to remember Julia as a beloved local healer, not a revengeful type. In fact, Mary suggests that Julia’s song may have been more warning to the townsfolk than a curse against them. Perhaps Brown even tried to perform an anti-storm ritual and was unable to stop the hurricane before it was too late. Whatever she did, Mary says, it wasn’t out of malevolence. And if she’s still in the swamp, you have less to fear from her than from the alligators.

This story originally ran in 2016.

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Animals
Why Do Female Spotted Hyenas Give Birth Through Their Pseudo-Penises?
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YouTube

At the zoo, you can sometimes tell the difference between male and female animals by noting their physical size, their behavior, and yes, their nether regions. Hyenas, however, flip the script: Not only are lady spotted hyenas bigger and meaner than their male counterparts, ruling the pack with an iron paw, they also sport what appear to be penises—shaft, scrotum, and all.

"Appear" is the key word here: These 7-inch-long phalluses don't produce sperm, so they're technically really long clitorises in disguise. But why do female hyenas have them? And do they actually have to (gulp) give birth through them? Wouldn't that hurt … a lot?

The short answers to these questions are, respectively, "We don't know," "Yes," and "OW." Longer answers can be found in this MinuteEarth video, which provides the full lowdown on hyena sex. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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