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The Weird Week in Review

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Lost Luggage

Dave Carroll of the band Sons of Maxwell who wrote the popular internet song United Breaks Guitars has become a spokesman of a sort for beleaguered airline passengers. Carroll flew United Airlines again on Sunday on his way to speak to a group of customer service executives. Then he spent an hour at the baggage claim because United lost his luggage! Carroll was told by a United employee that he had to stay in baggage claim, and a customs official told him he had to leave. The bag didn't show up until Wednesday. Carroll said United was the only airline he could fly from Saskatchewan to Colorado Springs. The luggage was returned to him on Wednesday.

The Silverware Swallower

A Dutch medical magazine asked its readers to send in their stories of strange medical cases. One respondent told the tale of Margaret Daalman, who came in to the hospital 30 years ago complaining of a stomach ache. An x-ray found 78 forks and spoons inside her! It wasn't the first time Daalman had been treated for her habit of eating cutlery. The photos and x-rays were not made public until now. Daalman went into therapy after the surgery and is said to be doing well today.

Murder Mystery Guests Fail to Spot Actual Crime

A church group staged a murder mystery dinner theater in Yeovil, England on Saturday night. They spent the evening looking for crime clues, but failed to notice that thieves had taken a large TV, laptop computer and the contents of a safe the night before. Elim Pentecostal Church was the victim of a break-in Friday that went unnoticed until Sunday, despite the crime-solving party. The crime was finally noticed by Reverend Howard Davenport, whose car had been vandalized at the church earlier in the week.

Revd Howard Davenport said: "In situations like this you have to laugh really!

"We were obviously disappointed that the church had been targeted twice in a week, but when I heard that it hadn't even been noticed I had to smile.

"You'd have thought that eight wannabe detectives might have noticed a real crime a few metres from them only hours earlier!"

10-foot Shark Nearly Bitten in Half by 20-foot Shark

A 10-foot Great White Shark had been hooked already by a baited drum line off the coast of Queensland, Australia when it was attacked and bitten by a much bigger fish. Based on the bite marks, the attacker is presumed to be a 20-foot long Great White shark. Swimmers were warned away from the area of Stradbroke Island.

One-legged Man Held After One Shoe Goes Missing

A clerk at a shoe store in Maldegem, Belgium discovered that a single shoe was missing on Monday. A suspect came immediately to mind -a one-legged man who had been in the shop. Police were alerted and quickly apprehended an amputee who fit the store employees' description. The shoe was recovered, and the suspect, a Russian asylum-seeker, was handed over to authorities.

Chihuahua Smuggled in Luggage

150chihuahuabagCustoms officials at the Dublin Airport at first thought the x-ray showed a toy dog in the suitcase, but they opened it up and out popped a live puppy! A Bulgarian man on a flight from Madrid was trying to smuggle the young chihuahua. Bring a chihuahua into Ireland is not illegal, but imported animals must have a health certificate and paperwork to travel internationally. The puppy was handed over to officials and was placed in quarantine. The man was not detained, but a file is being compiled on the case.

Cop Allegedly Pulls Gun At Haunted House

36-year Baltimore police sergeant Eric Janik took a tour of a staged haunted house with his 9-year-old daughter and three other people. At the end of the tour, Michael Morrison, who was working in character at the attraction, jumped out at Janik to scare him with a chainsaw, Michael Meyers-style. Janik allegedly drew his service revolver and pointed it at Morrison's chest. Morrison dropped the chainsaw, which had no chain. Janik later denied the incident, saying he pointed the gun at the ground. Witnesses say Janik had been drinking.

"Callers said he seemed to be very intoxicated. In fact, the people inside the House of Screams noted that. When he was being processed, two of the officers noticed his speech was slurred and there was a moderate odor of alcohol coming from his breath. He didn't seem to be taking this quite as seriously as he should have been," said Baltimore County police spokesman Bill Toohey.

Janik has been suspended from duty with pay while awaiting a hearing.

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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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