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The Weird Week in Review

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Anti-litter Leaflets Dumped in Street

Matt Taylor of Walthamstow Village, England found boxes containing was he assumed was rubbish on the street near his home. Leaving boxes of litter on the road could lead to a fine of  £50,000 fine or five years in prison. The boxes contained leaflets issued by the local council to educate the public about illegal dumping and littering! Cabinet member Bob Belam said the boxes were left as part of the planned distribution program, which meant leaflets against litter would eventually be left at each household. In other areas of the world, government leaflets would be considered litter whether they were left in torn boxes or at homes.

770-pound Ray Caught

Ian Welch of Hampshire, England caught the biggest freshwater fish ever caught with a rod. The 770-pound ray was pulled out of the Maeklong River in Thailand. The fish was seven feet wide and had a ten foot tail. It took 13 men to lift the ray out of the water. The catch was weighted, photographed, tagged, and released. A DNA sample was taken also. Welch is a biologist, and was in Thailand working with a project to tag stingrays.

Man Saves Lives, Gets Ticket

58-year-old Jim Moffett and another man were helping two elderly women cross the street in Denver last Friday night after they get off the bus he was driving. As a pickup truck slid on the snowy road, Moffett pushed the three other people out of the way. The pickup hit Moffett, who was taken to a hospital, where he was listed in serious condition on Wednesday. Colorado State Police issued citations to Moffet and the other man for jaywalking! Police said that despite Moffett's good intentions, jaywalking contributed to the incident.

Giant White Rabbit Leads Police Chase

120whiterabbit.pngPolice in Canterbury, England chased a 20-pound white rabbit through the streets for 20 minutes Sunday. Officers Matt Jackson and Yasmin Mossadegh of Kent Police had to enlist the help of eight bystanders. In a scene reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, the ten people finally corralled the albino bunny. The rabbit is in the care of Barton Veterinary Hospital, and has been nicknamed Tiny. Officials don't know where the rabbit came from, but he is presumed to be someone's pet.

Bungee Cord Breaks

49-year-old Mark Afforde couldn't resist a second bungee jump from the 200-foot high Canyon Creek Bridge near Yacolt, Washington. At the bottom of the drop, the bungee cord snapped, and he fell the last 25 feet into shallow water.

"I heard and saw the snap. I definitely felt the impact, and I was underwater. Once I checked and made certain I could still move and everything was working I felt I needed to get out of the water.

He was able to walk to shore, and paramedics took him to Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver.

Afforde, who was not seriously injured, says he would bungee jump again. His wife feels differently.

Komodo Dragon Attacks Ranger

150_kimodo.jpgPark Ranger Main was sitting in his office on the island of Rinca in Indonesia when a komodo dragon came in and attacked him! He wrestled with the dragon, then climbed out a window. Office workers beat the animal with sticks to get it out of the building. Main required 30 stitches to repair lacerations on his hand and foot.

Nothing like this has ever happened to me... in 25 years on the job. I've never been attacked.

Death Ruled Suspicious When Bullet Holes Found

When 49-year-old Anthony Crockett was found dead in his Kansas City home, paramedics also found medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. They thought he died of his ailments and no investigation was initiated. The embalmer, however, discovered the man had bullet holes in his head! The medical examiner then changed the  cause of death to homicide. Neither medical examiners nor police had inspected Crockett's body before it was removed from his home.

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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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