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The Weird Week in Review

Man Reports Incorrect Change to Police

Dexter White of North Charleston, South Carolina paid a drug dealer $60 for crack cocaine, but says he only received $20 worth. Naturally, he was angry, so after he smoked what he had, he called 911 to report that he had been shortchanged. White asked for the police to send a canine unit to his location. Police responded, but instead of getting him a refund, they arrested White on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Mobility Scooter vs. Airplane

Colin Furze, a plumber in Lincolnshire, England, holds the world speed record for a mobility scooter, driving one that he built at at 71.59 mph. Now he can say he has raced with an airplane!

Mr Furze spent nearly three months and £400 converting his scooter, fitting it with a powerful 125cc motorbike engine beneath the seat, five gears and twin exhausts.

And remarkably the scooter managed to accelerate faster than a Robin DR400 single engine propeller aircraft when the pair were pitted against each other down a runway in Lincolnshire.

Eventually the plane overtook the scooter, but Furze is satisfied with his scooter's performance.

Led Zeppelin Finds Hidden Burglar

An alert neighbor heard a strange noise at the house next door in Friern Barnet, Greater London, England last December. He looked out the window and saw footprints in the snow on the rooftop and called police. Officers arrived with a sniffer dog named Led Zeppelin about the same time the resident came home. The burglar tried to hide in a bedroom under a duvet, but Led Zeppelin uncovered him. Police arrested 36-year-old Robert Erdei. Erdei was convicted last week and sentenced to four years for burglary with intent to steal.

Teacher Shaves After Ten Years

Gary Weddle did not shave for 3,454 days. The 50-year-old middle school teacher was so absorbed with watching the news after the 9/11 attacks that he went for days without showering or shaving. Then he made a vow to not shave his face until Osama bin Laden was captured or proven dead. Weddle had no idea that his whiskers would grow for almost ten years, but he kept the vow. Parts of his beard grew 14 inches long! Weddle finally shaved it off Sunday evening, just before president Obama addressed the nation about bin Laden's death.

Fancy Luncheon on the L Train

Imagine a formal feast served on a subway train! That's exactly what happened in New York City on Sunday, aboard the L train bound for Brooklyn. The guests only knew they were there for an "underground dining experience." What they got was an experience, all right: a six-course meal of caviar, filet mignon, and more, served on lap trays and finished up in a half-hour. The entire event was arranged by several cooperating supper clubs, unbeknownst to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Officials of the Authority were not happy. After all, open drinks of any kind are not allowed on city trains.

Dog Hides in Bathtub to Survive Fire

A home in Greenville County, South Carolina burned for hours as firefighters battled the blaze. The family was away from home, but Mia the one-year-old Belgian Malinois was inside. The dog saved herself by hiding in a bathtub in the basement! Mia's owner, Chris Brumby, said he knew the dog was smart.

He said Mia was able to get to a bathtub on the lowest level of the house, where she waited as firefighters doused the home with water. As the water ran down into the basement, it filled the bathtub and soaked Mia, keeping her safe from flames, Brock said.

Brumby said the dog has learned how to open doors throughout the house, and that she had to open four doors to get to the bathtub where she was found.

Six hours after firefighters arrived, they found Mia, wet and sooty, but well. The cause of the fire has not yet determined.

Going to Prom in the Weinermobile

Ben Ross was seriously hurt in a motorcycle accident. A joke he made while in the hospital led his mother to petition the Oscar Mayer company to take Ben and his girlfriend Molly Muchow to their prom in the Weinermobile. The company came through, and Ben and Molly were driven in the 27-foot vehicle to the L.D. Bell High School prom last weekend at the Dallas Trade Center.

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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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YouTube
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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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