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The Weird Week in Review

Curry-Eating Contest Sends Two To Hospital

Kismot in Edinburgh, Scotland is a restaurant known for its hot chili pepper curry. It staged a curry-eating contest this past Saturday to benefit the Children's Hospice Association Fund. Contestants ate spoonfuls of increasingly hot curry until they dropped out. Local patron Mike Lavin make it to fifth place and American Curie Kim came in second as others cried, screamed, and threw up, then dropped out. Both were later taken to a hospital (Kim twice). Although the restaurant may have to pay the medical bills, they raised £1000 ($1546) for the charity.

Koala Survives Impact and Grill Ride

Mark and Caroline Harris of Eagleby, Queensland, Australia, were driving along the Pacific Motorway Tuesday night when they hit an animal. Mark Harris thought it was a cat, and he pulled over at the next off ramp to check for damage. He was surprised to find a koala lodged in his car's grill. The koala was alive, but choking on a piece of plastic around its neck. Harris pried the plastic away with a tire iron and took the koala, now named Kenny, to a veterinary hospital. Harris returned to visit Kenny a couple of days later and was pleased to see the koala is recovering from his mishap.

The Homecoming Queen's Got a Kick

For the first time ever, Pinckney Community High School in Michigan crowned a homecoming queen they had to summon from the locker room. Brianna Amat received the title while wearing her football uniform, complete with shoulder pads. But that wasn't the end of the 18-year-old field goal kicker's big night last Friday. She also won the game.

A short while later, with five minutes to play in the third quarter, Amat was called to the same field to attempt a 31-yard field goal. She split the uprights.

The kick proved decisive as Pinckney held on for a 9-7 victory against a Grand Blanc team that had come into the game ranked seventh in the state in its division. It also earned Amat the nickname the Kicking Queen.

Amat, who maintains a 4.0 GPA and is active in student government, is an experienced soccer player and the first girl to make the school's varsity football squad.

Cat Leads RSPCA to Kittens

A witness in March, Cambridgeshire, England saw a black cat being thrown from a car. It took two weeks of feeding to capture the cat, which was then taken to an RSPCA shelter. Animal advocates cleaned and treated the cat (and named her Jolie), but discovered she had recently given birth, so she was returned to the area from which she was captured. Jolie called out, but it became apparent she wasn't calling the kittens, but to RSPCA inspector Jon Knight who accompanied her! The mother cat only moved forward when Knight moved to follow. Jolie led Knight to a stash of four dehydrated kittens behind a pile of wood. Knight said the kittens were so far from their starting point that there was no way he would have found them without Jolie's guidance. The kittens, so young their eyes were not open, were taken to the shelter and nursed back to health.

Whale Beached a Half-Mile Inland

A dead whale was found over 800 yards from shore in East Yorkshire, England. It was a relatively rare whale, too, a 33-foot-long female Sei whale. Sei whales have only been sighted three times in the past 20 years around England, as they normally stay in deep water. Experts believe the whale swam up the Humber estuary during the high equinox tide, and was stranded on land when the tide went out again. That explanation did not deter some from speculating that the whale dropped from the sky, or was placed on land by aliens.

Driverless Car Doing Doughnuts

Emergency crews responded to a report of a driverless car running in circles in Wildwood, New Jersey on Sunday. Wildwood Fire Captain Chris D’Amico eventually stopped the vehicle.

"I've never corralled a car before," D'Amico said.

D’Amico said that he found an opportunity to jump into the passenger-side window while he was standing inside the circle the car was making.

Comments at the story remembered Ford having recalls of vehicles from that era that would slip out of park into reverse gear. See a video of the car in action.

Girl Eats Muffin Containing $800 Gold Necklace

Xaio Li of Qingdao, Shangdong province, China, bought an $800 gold necklace for his girlfriend's 22nd birthday. He baked her a muffin and hid the necklace inside. You can see where this is going. The girlfriend, Wang Xue, ate the muffin and its contents in one gulp before he could warn her. Xaio described the necklace to Wang on the way to the local hospital, where the necklace was retrieved by endoscopic surgery, which involved putting a probe down her esophagus into her stomach.

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Supermarket Employees to Compete in National Bagging Competition
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In today’s busy world, efficiency is king—especially at grocery stores, where long checkout lines can turn even the most patient shopper into a petulant purchaser. It only makes sense, then, that a nationwide competition exists among supermarket employees to determine the country’s best bagger.

As the Associated Press reports, Alysha Orrok, a teacher from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, recently won her state’s Best Bagger competition. She’s now headed to the U.S. finals, which will take place in Las Vegas in February 2018 and is sponsored by the National Grocers Association (NGA).

In Las Vegas, finalists from more than a dozen states—ranging from Washington to Florida—will duke it out onstage to see who’s truly king or queen of the checkout line. Competitors will be judged on weight distribution, appearance, speed, and technique (no smushed bread or bruised fruits allowed).

Orrok, who works evenings and weekends at a local grocery store, says she was initially clumsy on the job. “My first day as a bagger I dropped a soda and it exploded everywhere,” she told NBC Boston.

Over time, though, Orrok got so good at her side gig that she decided to compete in the New Hampshire state bagging competition earlier this month. At the tournament, "I was like 10 seconds faster than the next person," Orrok said. "I feel like I get in the zone and I just fly."

Competitors heading to 2018’s Best Bagger competition will face off to see who can achieve the best customer service in the shortest time span. The grand prize is $10,000, which will be awarded to a deserving grocery store employee “with infectious company pride and an enthusiastic commitment to customer service,” according to the NGA.

[h/t NBC Boston]

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Bess Lovejoy
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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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