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The Weird Week in Review

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Space Station Toilet Out of Order

There is only one toilet aboard the International Space Station, and it's not working. The one toilet for the three-person crew is on the Russian-built Zvezda module. They have been using the toilet aboard the docked Soyuz space capsule. NASA flew a new pump from Russia to Florida, and will send it via the space shuttle Discovery when it launches on Saturday.

Girl Swallows Magnetic Toy Pieces

The parents of eight-year-old Haley Lents couldn't figure out what was causing the girl so much pain -until they saw the x-ray. She had been swallowing pieces of her favorite Magnetix toys. The tiny magnets are attracted to each other, and when ingested, can rip through intestines. Haley had eight tears in her intestines.
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"She's only been in America three years, and while she was in Russia, which is where she is from, in the orphanage ... they told us she ate everything she could get her hands on," Jason Lents said.

Tobacco Store Dilemma

Old Morris Tobacconists is a heritage building in Victoria, British Columbia that has been open since 1892. As such, it cannot be altered or shop owner Rick Arora will be fined by the city. However, the Vancouver Island Health Authority says he must cover the signs to comply with a law that states tobacco advertising cannot be seen by minors.

"Absolutely ridiculous," is how Arora describes the impasse, and he's right. Two arms of government are ready to strangle a business owner caught between their conflicting agendas.

Shark Attack in Bedroom

150sharkattack.jpg14-year-old Sam Hawthorne was bitten by a shark in his bedroom, hundreds of miles from the ocean! He was sleepwalking one night and walked right into a trophy shark's head that was hanging on his bedroom wall. His mother found him bleeding from a wound on the cheek, and the shark still imbedded in his face.

How Not to Cook Sausages

Two men cooking sausages on a balcony in Germany were unhappy with the performance of the lighter fluid, so they dumped a glass of gasoline on the barbecue. The resulting flame caused the man to drop the glass, which also ignited. Then the other man dropped the gas container, which spilled onto three cars below them and ignited as well.

"The fire was put out by the fire brigade. The total damage amounted to around €30,000 ($46,000). Whether the people involved will ever barbecue again in their lives is unclear," police said in the statement.

Man Backs Over Squad Car After Ticketing

150_squadcar.jpg70-year-old Henry Raskin was pulled over and given a ticket for speeding in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. When the incident was over, Raskin backed his car up over the police vehicle! It is thought that he intended to leave in a hurry, but didn't realize the car was still in reverse gear. Raskin was not injured, but was taken to a hospital afterward as a precaution. Police are investigating to see if he can be charged with another offense.

Childhood Toy is Ancient Gold Relic

John Webber's grandfather, a scrap dealer in London, gave him a cup to play with back in 1945. He always assumed it was brass or bronze. Last year, he decided to have it appraised. The cup turns out to be made of solid gold! It was also identified as a Persian relic from the third or fourth century BC. It goes to auction on June 5th, with an estimated price of 500,000 pounds, or almost a million US dollars.

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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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