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The Weird Week in Review

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Man Loses Hand in Tug-of-war

A bizarre accident during the Dragon Boat Festival in Shenzhen, China has left a man with a severed hand. The 34-year-old man named Shi was participating in a tug-of-war contest and had wrapped the rope several times around his hand. During the competition, spectators joined in and pulled the slack rope rope behind Shi. When the rope suddenly tightened, his hand was cut off. Shi underwent surgery at the Guangzhou Peace Hand Surgery Hospital to reattach the hand. It is not yet known whether the reattachment will be successful.

China Bans Snake-bite Chicken Entree

Several restaurants in Guangdong and Chongqing provinces in China have been advertising a dish made from a chicken that was killed by snake bite. The delicacy called "poisonous snake-bitten chicken" is supposed to be detoxing. A video of process of killing the chicken was circulated and sparked a week of controversy online and in the press. Now, health authorities in both provinces have stepped in and ordered the eateries to stop  serving the dishes.

Vacuum Cleaner Hose Saves Drowning Man

A man named John was working an excavator at Mordialloc Creek near Melbourne, Australia last Monday when the excavator collapsed into the water. John was pinned underwater by the weight of the equipment. Nearby charter boat operator David Thomson and one of the man's co-workers worked frantically to save him. Thomson yelled for a tube of some kind, and a witness brought a vacuum cleaner hose. Thomson blew air into the hose to the submerged man. Emergency personnel arrived eight minutes after the accident, and were astonished to find the man alive underwater. John was last reported to be in stable condition at the Monash Medical Centre.

Fish Coughs Up Gold Watch

Curt Carish of Kaua"˜i, Hawaii was at Port Allen beach when he spotted a fish swimming awkwardly. He grabbed a bamboo pole and beat the fish until it went limp. Carish, who noticed the fish had an abnormally large belly, put the fish in his cooler along with his lunch. When a friend opened the cooler and looked at the fish, it had a gold watch hanging out of its mouth! Carish said the watch was still ticking, and had the correct time.

Outsourcing Elderly Care -to India!

Steve Herzfeld confronted the decisions that haunt most of us eventually. His elderly parents needed round-the-clock care, but he couldn't afford the quality of nursing home he wanted for them in Florida. So he sent them to Puducherry, India!

...once staff had been found, he could give his parents a much higher standard of care than would have been possible in the US for his father's income of $2,000 (£1,200) a month. In India that paid for their rent, a team of carers - a cook, a valet for his father, nurses to be with his mother 12 hours a day, six days a week, a physiotherapist and a masseuse - and drugs (costing a fifth of US prices), and also allowed them to put some money away.

Woman Blames Frog for Husband's Death

Giselle Bertozza of Mannering Park, New South Wales, Australia blames her husband's death from cancer on the stress of listening to a noisy garden frog for years. The Bertozza's neighbors have a garden pond, into which a noisy frog moved in and croaked through the night, causing both Bertozzas to endure sleepless nights. The neighbors say they got rid of the frog, but another moved in. Mrs. Bertozza is afraid that she, too, will die of the stress of listening to the croaking frog. Local authorities say there is nothing they can do, as frogs are not covered under noise ordinances.

Twitter Treasure Hunt

Anthony Gardiner of Wellington, New Zealand bought an engagement ring for his girlfriend, but she turned him down. He can't return the ring and doesn't want to keep it as he considers it bad luck, so he's staging a treasure hunt!

Anyone keen to pick up the ring, valued at NZ$5,000 ($3,268), will need to be in New Zealand's capital city, Wellington, on Saturday to join the hunt, the Dominion Post newspaper reported.

Clues to the ring's whereabouts will start being posted on social networking site Twitter (http:/twitter.com/donoogle_com) at 8 a.m. local time on Saturday (2000 GMT on Friday).

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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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