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The Weird Week in Review

Fat Cat Gets Stuck Under Bomb-detecting Machine

A security checkpoint at the Newark Airport had to be shut down temporarily Tuesday when a large cat ran underneath a bomb-detecting machine. The 25-pound cat travels in a carrier, but was removed so the carrier could be checked through security. The frightened feline squeezed into a four-inch space under the machine and could not be dislodged. Passengers in line were sent to another security line for 20 minutes, until a hydraulic lift was brought in to pick up the machine so the cat could be retrieved. The cat's owner and her daughter missed their flight, but were relieved that the cat was alright.

Pole Dancing as an Olympic Event?

Ania Przeplasko of the International Pole Dancing Fitness Association believes that pole dancing will one day be recognized as a legitimate sport. She hopes it will eventually be a part of the Olympics. British pole dancer K.T. Coates is pushing to make pole dancing a "test event" at the 2012 Olympics in London and possibly a regular event in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Coats has a petition with 4,000 signatures so far. The campaign to put pole dancing on the Olympic schedule has some opponents within the pole fitness community, such as those who believe gymnasts will crowd out dancers, and those who feel Olympic status will destroy the sport's allure.

Inmate Left in Courthouse as it Closes for Holiday Weekend

57-year-old Calvin Jones of Vallejo, California was in court for a probation violation two weeks ago. A bailiff took Jones to a secured room used for client-attorney meetings on Thursday morning, and then forgot him. That evening, the courthouse shut down operations for a four-day Presidents Day weekend!

Jones was left in the room, without food, water or access to restroom facilities for more than 10 hours, until a janitor at the Tuolumne Street courthouse discovered his plight about 7:25 p.m. and notified the Sheriff's Office.

"Deputies responded within 30 minutes and got him out of there," Faulkner told The Reporter, admitting that the situation "could have been very bad" had Jones been left uncared for in the courthouse over the long weekend.

The incident is under investigation.

Convict Digs Out of Prison With a Spoon

An unnamed 35-year-old female inmate broke out of a prison in Breda, the Netherlands. She had been housed on prison grounds in a special building for inmates preparing for release. She had dug a tunnel with a spoon! The tunnel went from the kitchen of the house to a sidewalk outside. Police think she had an accomplice who loosened the sidewalk paving stones outside. The woman had only 22 months left on her murder sentence. She is still at large.

Man Bulldozes House Before Foreclosure

Terry Hoskins of Moscow, Ohio took drastic steps to prevent the bank from foreclosing on his home. He owes $160,000 on his $350,000 home. Hoskins has struggled with RiverHills Bank over his home mortgage for almost ten years. Hoskins said he had an offer of $170,000 for the home, but the bank turned it down. Rather than see his home repossessed, Hoskins used a bulldozer and smashed the house to the ground. The building that houses his carpet business is under an IRS lien, and is set to go on the auction block on March second. Hoskins says he might bulldoze that property as well.

Drug User Reports Bad Hash to Police

A man in Eslöv, Sweden went to the local police station to complain about the hashish he had been sold. The unnamed man believed it had been laced with LSD.

The 26-year-old cannabis connoisseur declared to surprised police officers in the provincial Skåne town of Eslöv that he was not satisfied with the quality of his stash and would like to lodge a complaint, local newspaper Skånskan reports.

The man told officers that his ganja had not delivered the desired effect, leaving him feeling decidedly ill-at-ease and in the midst of a nightmare scenario where his girlfriend resembled a dolphin.

The man said in ten years of hash use, he's never had such a reaction. However, he was reluctant to identify the dealer who provided the drug, so it is unlikely police can do anything about his complaint.

Hero Dog Protects Lost Girl

Three-year-old Victoria Bensch wandered away from her home in Cordes Lakes, Arizona last Thursday. She was missing in the nearby mountains overnight while the temperature dipped down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Fifteen hours later, she was spotted in a dry creek bad by a helicopter pilot. Victoria was accompanied by her dog, Blue. Rescuers believe Blue kept the child warm and safe from predators overnight. When they approached the girl, the dog was on alert until Victoria smiled, then he relaxed and let rescuers approach. Blue had no trouble boarding the helicopter with Victoria. The girl was taken to a hospital for frostbite treatment and was found to be healthy.

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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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