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The Killilea Family: Where Are They Now?

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I first read With Love from Karen years ago when I was home sick with pneumonia. When I was well enough to go to the library, I checked out the author's first book, Karen, and basically read the story of the Killilea family in reverse.

To summarize, Karen was born (in 1940) three months premature and wasn't expected to survive. She spent her first nine months in what would now be called a neo-natal intensive care unit, and when she finally went home her parents noticed that something was amiss with their daughter. Her limbs seemed unusually stiff, she never rolled over in her crib, nor did she make an effort to reach for the toys offered to her. Several years went by before they were able to get a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy, and even more time elapsed before they found a specialist who could treat Karen. Marie worked tirelessly to find and unite other parents of CP children and eventually helped to found the Cerebral Palsy Association.

Over the years, I'd occasionally re-read WLFK and wonder whatever happened to Karen and her family. I checked out the title at Amazon.com and found that there were lots of other Karen readers out there who were wondering the same thing. I sensed a research project, and spent many hours online and in the library. I found out that there was still much tragedy ahead for the Killilea family.

karen-fire-little-red-house.jpgA large part of WLFK focused on the love story between Gloria (Karen's eldest sister) and Russ, who had to wait seven long years (due to Russ' annulment of a previous union and the couple's desire to marry in the Catholic church) before Pope Pius XII gave them permission to be married. The births of their first two children, Mary deLourdes and Evelyn Ann, were mentioned in the book, as was a very detailed description of the "Little Red House" in Yorktown where Glo and Russ lived. Sadly, that charming house built in the 1700s and described in minute detail by Marie ("everything was dry and there was that sweet odor of time that only really old houses have") turned out to be deadly; one late night in 1968 a faulty wire in the kitchen ignited a fire that quickly spread throughout the ancient wooden frame of the house. Gloria was able to rescue her two sons, but Mary and Evelyn were trapped on the third floor, along with their cousin Michelle Smiley (daughter of Little Marie), and the three children perished in the blaze.

Glo and Russ were married for just over 40 years and died within three months of one another in 2001/02. They are survived by their two sons. Little Marie divorced Ronald Smiley and eventually remarried. Rory is married and lives in Seattle. Kristin married her high school sweetheart, Simon Viltz, and lives in Illinois. Karen lives on her own in a specially equipped apartment and works as a secretary at a Catholic Retreat. Big Marie died in 1991 of respiratory failure (she'd previously battled two bouts of lung cancer), and her beloved husband, Jimmy, who was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, passed away two years later.

So that's the follow-up story behind one of my favorite books. What are your favorite "based on a true story" or biographical books? Do you have a particular story that you once read and have occasionally wondered "I wonder whatever happened to"¦.?" This is your opportunity to send the mental_floss staff on a research mission and perhaps enlighten many other readers who have similarly wondered in silence.

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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