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The Weird Week in Review

Naked Unicyclist Charged For Distracting Drivers

Joseph Glynn Farley of Clear Lake, Texas, was arrested in nearby Kemah for indecent exposure when he rode a unicycle naked on a bridge. Police chief Greg Rikard said Farley kept falling off the unicycle, causing a traffic hazard. However, he was not intoxicated. The 45-year-old Farley said he liked the feeling of riding without clothes. Police had warned him earlier, before he shed his clothing, not to ride the unicycle on the bridge.

A Prom Night to Remember

A group of high school students in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, were decked out for the prom last Saturday night. They headed to Lac La Belle and posed for group pictures on the lake's pier. Then the pier collapsed. The quick-thinking photographer kept shooting, resulting in an unforgettable sequence of pictures. The wet teenagers, attempting to save the occasion, ran so many hairdryers -plus a clothes dryer- in one home that they blew a breaker, but managed to make it to the prom.

Man Exposes Himself at Association for the Blind

Once again, real life recreates a scene from the movies, namely Revenge of the Nerds. A man exposed himself to a woman inside the Bucks County Association for the Blind in Newtown Township, Pennsylvania. The incident occurred in the facility's bookstore. The flasher fled before police arrived. One has to wonder how many times he tried it before someone noticed.

Becoming Mayor by Accident

Gino Bertolo was the only candidate running for mayor in Cimolais, Italy, a town of 507 citizens. Fearing that no one would turn out to vote, he asked his friend Fabio Borsatti to throw his name into the hat as well to produce a turnout on election day. Borsatti agreed, but still voted for Bertolo, who had served as mayor previously. When the ballots were counted, Borsatti, who had no platform, received 160 votes to Bertolo's 117. Even Borsatti's family voted for Bertolo! However, Borsatti intends to carry out the duties of his unintended office, and will focus his efforts on tourism. Bertolo says he is not upset, and is still friends with the new mayor.

Parakeet Knows Its Home Address

A lost parakeet flew into a hotel in Sagamihara, Japan, and landed on a guest’s shoulder. Since no one knew where the bird came from, it was taken in a cage to a local police station. For two days it sat there. Then the parakeet must have decided it was time to go home.

Despite giving no indications that it could talk, the bird suddenly piped up late on Tuesday night and began repeating its home address – which its owner had apparently drummed into the bird for just such an unlikely eventuality.

Specifying the address down to the number of the house and the block on which is stands, the bird enabled police to track down its 64-year-old owner.

Fumie Takahashi is glad to have her parakeet back. And that answers the question of what is the first thing you should teach your bird to say.

My Name is Tyrannosaurus Rex

Twenty-three-year-old entrepreneur Tyler Gold was looking for name recognition to help his business, a way to stand out in the crowd. So he appeared in York County District Court in Nebraska on Monday to have his name legally changed to Tyrannosaurus Rex Joseph Gold. Gold said he selected the new name because it's "cooler." However, the nature of Gold's business did not make it into the news.

Burglars Break Into Poison-filled Home

T.V. Sagnella of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, had his home treated for termites, which involved covering the entire house with a plastic tent. Burglars know that a tent over the house is a sign the owners are not inside, so Sagnella rigged his home with video cameras. His brother checked the live feed at 4:30 AM Wednesday and saw a robbery in progress. The group of burglars didn't get much because an alarm tripped and police responded. Officers could not enter the house due to toxic fumes which could be felt even outside the tent. Before the police left, they received word from a flea market about an attempt to sell the stolen items. Three suspects were arrested in a vehicle that contained stolen jewelry. The story contains the surveillance video.

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Supermarket Employees to Compete in National Bagging Competition
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iStock

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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