CLOSE

The Weird Week in Review

Famous Photo on Fake I.D.

Police in Recife, Brazil, arrested Ricardo Sergio Freire de Barros on charges of fraud after he tried to open a bank account using a fake identity. The name on the fraudulent identification card was Joao Pedro dos Santos, but the picture clearly showed an image of American movie star Jack Nicholson. The 41-year-old Barros apparently does not look that much like the infinitely-recognizable 71-year-old Nicholson. Barros was charged with falsification of a public document.

Tazer Ball

Leif Kellenberger, Erik Wunsch, and Eric Prumm invented a new sport. It resembles a normal ball game, in which two teams try to run a ball past the opposing team into a goal, but there is on difference: each player is armed with an electric stun gun. The stun guns are used against whoever is carrying the ball. In Tazer ball, a player can get stunned dozens of times in a game.

The first official Ultimate Tazer Ball tournament was in January and there are currently four official professional UTB teams: the Philadelphia Killawatts, the San Diego Spartans, the Toronto Terror and the Los Angeles Nightlight.

Kellenberger said the teams play at tournaments for prizes, but he and his co-founders are in talks with various networks for a TV deal that could pay the players.

Of course, the sport has its critics. Some people think using stun guns in a game is unsafe.

Watermelon-sized Pine Cones

The Baw Baw Council has issued a warning to residents about the danger of falling pine cones. A 120-year-old bunya pine in Warragul, Victoria, Australia, had begun releasing cones, which can weigh up to ten kilograms! The tree is 20 meters tall, so the falling cones present a real danger. Council workers have been removing the cones from the tree as fast as they can before they fall.

Google Street View Sued Over Urination Image

The Google Street View team caught a resident of a French village in the Maine-et-Loire region peeing in his own garden. Attorney Jean-Noel Bouillaud filed the suit on behalf of his unnamed client. The man wants his picture removed, and says he has become an object of ridicule in his small village. A lawyer for Google says the suit is "implausible."

Leap Day Families

What are the odds? Michelle Birnbaum of New Jersey was born on Leap Day 32 years ago, and then gave birth to a daughter four years ago, also on Leap Day. So her daughter was born on her seventh birthday. Those who crunch the numbers say the odds are about two million to one. Considering how many people there are in the U.S., it should happen again.

And it did. Shaneka Hinton of Orlando, Florida, was born on Leap Day in 1988. Wednesday, she turned 24, although it was only her sixth birthday. Hinton spent the day in the maternity ward as she gave birth to Christina Raynette Clemente, yet another Leap Day baby! And what's more -Hinton's son was born on the Fourth of July. Now Hinton and her daughter will be able to celebrate their birthdays together -once every four years.

Father Arrested Over Daughter's Artwork

Jessie Sansone of Kitchener, Ontario, was arrested at his daughter's school on Wednesday, but found out why only hours later. His 4-year-old daughter had drawn a picture of a man holding a gun, and school officials suspected she had seen a gun in the home. The girl had told them, “That’s my daddy’s. He uses it to shoot bad guys and monsters.” Sansone was told he was arrested for firearm possession. His wife was brought in for an interview with child welfare workers. The school principal explained that they were obligated by law to report any suspicion of child endangerment. The child welfare agency chose to call the police, who arrested and searched the father, but found no evidence of firearm possession. After he was released, Sansone gave permission for a search of his house, and no firearm was found.

Man Calls 911 to Report Being Invisible

An unnamed 28-year-old man in Barrow County, Georgia called emergency services to report that he was invisible. Both sheriff's deputies and paramedics responded to the call, and found that the man was not invisible, but wanted a ride to the hospital because he was out of medicine. Records show the man had an arrest record for criminal trespass and failure to appear. Police told him to "dry up" on the medicine and warned that if he called again for a non-emergency, he would be arrested.

Original image
Bess Lovejoy
arrow
Weird
The Legend (and Truth) of the Voodoo Priestess Who Haunts a Louisiana Swamp
Original image
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.

Original image
YouTube
arrow
Animals
Why Do Female Spotted Hyenas Give Birth Through Their Pseudo-Penises?
Original image
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.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios