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The Weird Week in Review

Plane Carrying Proposal Banner Crashes

Mike Flynn hired a plane to carry a banner saying "Will you marry me?" over the beach where his girlfriend Michelle would see it. Ten minutes into the flight, pilot Mark Simmons noticed his engine was failing. The plane crashed, but Simmons was unhurt. His 8-year-old son was monitoring his radio transmissions, and initiated a rescue effort. Meanwhile, Flynn was waiting at the beach, not knowing what happened to his proposal. Two days later, Simmons was back in the air, carrying the banner. This time, Michelle saw it, and said yes.

Dispute Over Kittens Leads to Tomato Fight

Walter and Norma Ricker of Chuckey, Tennessee, share a backyard garden with their neighbor, 28-year-old Rachel Price. But that cooperation came to an end when the Rickers started feeding some stray kittens, and the Prices wanted the cats gone. The disagreement escalated into a physical fight last Friday when Norma Ricker and Rachel Price began throwing green tomatoes at each other.

"She reached down, got a big one and slapped me upside the jaw with it,” said Ricker.

According to the offense report, Ricker said Price hit her on the arm with a tobacco stick causing minor injuries. “She got a tomato vine, yanked it up and starting swinging it around, over her head as hard as she could,” Ricker explained. “She had her face puckered up. I’ve never seen someone look so mad. I told her she looked like the devil.”

The neighbors put a fence up between their backyards to divide the garden.

Goat Man Spotted, Identified

Early last week, a photograph of a man dressed as a goat spotted near a herd of mountain goats in Northern Utah went viral. Wildlife officials were concerned that the man was putting himself in danger from either the goats or hunters who might shoot him by mistake. But the man in question came forward. The 57-year-old Southern California hunter was preparing for an archery goat hunt to be held next year, and was testing a goat suit for the event. Officials are now satisfied that the unnamed experienced hunter was in no real danger.

Man Refuses to Leave Jail

Rodney Dwayne Valentine was released from the Rockingham County Jail on Saturday morning, but didn't go anywhere. He requested the jail give him a ride to a motel, but the jailer declined, and said Valentine should take a cab. By afternoon, Valentine was still at the jail and refused to leave. So deputies arrested him for trespassing -and put him back in jail! Valentine is being held until a court appearance August 9th.

Man Welcomes Son, Grandson, and Great-grandson

Patrick Sloan of Doncaster, Yorkshire, England, saw three new babies born into the family within a three-month period: his son, grandson, and great-grandson, too!

First, Patrick, 60, became a dad for the fourth time – 28 years after the birth of his third child.

His second wife Joanne, 39, had little Ethan on March 14.

Then, in June, Patrick’s grand-daughter Fern, 18, presented him with his first great-grandchild, Mason.

And 12 days after Fern gave birth, it was her mum Odette’s turn to head for the delivery room. She too produced a healthy baby boy, Leonard.

So Ethan is Mason’s great- uncle, Fern has a new uncle as well as a new son, and Odette is celebrating the arrival of a son, a grandson and a half-brother who is 35 years younger than she is.

The article goes on to describe other relations, as there are more sons in the family. Sloan is happy, if a little overwhelmed, with the babies. He had a vasectomy reversed in order to have children with his second wife.

Exploding Blue Termites Spew Toxic Goo

A tropical termite species, Neocapritermes taracua, is found to have a singularly effective defense mechanism. Some termites carry blue "backpacks," or external pouches, full of copper protein crystals. This material produces a toxic goo when mixed with termite saliva, which the defensive termites carry in their abdomen. When the colony is threatened by a rival species, Labiotermes labralis, the termite combines the chemicals to create the goo that kills the rivals. These suicidal defense termites are found to be older than normal worker termites, which leads scientists to think that is part of their life cycle when a termite is older and less productive.

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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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