“I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.” ― Jack Kerouac, On The Road
Halloween is almost upon us. The veils are thin and our thoughts often turn to the dearly departed, the occult, spirits and worlds unknown. Have you ever wondered what sort of ghost you would be in the afterlife? This completely unscientific, just for fun quiz will let you know!
Today, September 22, marks the second harvest festival in the northern hemisphere, usually called the Autumn Equinox. This is the balance between dark and light, the one day of the year when we have twelve hours each of daylight and night.
On the Wheel of the Year, this Sabbat is sometimes called Mabon. (And some folks adamantly argue that it should NOT be called Mabon.) I thought it would be fun to look at some of the names for this holiday, their origins, and help you choose one that resonates with you. So in case you don’t like Mabon, don’t worry! There are several alternatives.
The Mabinogian Make-Up
The name “Mabon” is not official, nor is it ancient. In fact, it has only been in the vernacular for about fifty years or so. Back in the 1970’s a writer named Aidan Keller came up with it. Apparently he found it in the Mabinogion Collection as he was searching for a myth that (sort of) corresponded to Persephone’s descent into the Underworld.
According to Keller, “It offended my aesthetic sensibilities that there seemed to be no Pagan names for the summer solstice or the fall equinox equivalent to Ostara or Beltane—so I decided to supply them… I began wondering if there had been a myth similar to that of Kore in a Celtic culture. There was nothing very similar in the Gaelic literature, but there was in the Welsh, in the Mabinogion collection, the story of Mabon ap Modron (which translates as “Son of the Mother,” just as Kore simply meant “girl”), whom Gwydion rescues from the underworld, much as Theseus rescued Helen. That’s why I picked “Mabon” as a name for the holiday.”
In Celtic mythology there is also a god called “Maponus”. His name has been translated as “divine son”. Some ancient writings also address him as “Apollo Maponus” therefore identifying him with Apollo, the Greek god of the sun. However, as a sun god, some folklorists argue he should have been associated with the Winter Solstice (return of the sun) rather that the Equinox. Which brings us to some other alternatives…
Mists of Avalon
The equinox is also known as the Feast of Avalon. The Isle of Avalon – also called the Isle of Apples — is the magic island of Arthurian legend. It is associated with Glastonbury, hidden beneath the mists and not visible to the human eye. King Arthur was taken there after his death. It was at Avalon that the enchantress Morgan La Fey, along with her eight sisters (Moronoe, Mazoe, Gliten, Glitonea, Gliton, Tyronoe, Thiten and Thiton) healed Arthur and brought him back to life.
It is believed that Arthur will one day return again to be the future king of Great Britain.
The Isle of Avalon can definitely be associated with this time of year, as it relates to death, and all things in nature begin dying. Also, it is appropriate for its association with the apple harvest. The apple itself is a symbol of beauty, life, immortality and healing.
Did you know there is also a secret pentagram within the apple?
If you cut an apple in half, you will find five points. These represent the five elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ether (or Spirit). They also represent the directions of East, West, North, South and Within.
In Norse mythology, the Autumn Equinox is called Gleichentag, which means “Even Day”. The festival honors Sif, the Norse goddess of grain, for the harvest she has provided and also the god Thor, for his protection of the crops.
Sif is known as the Golden Goddess, named for her long golden hair. The Edda states that Loki, the trickster god, once deceived Sif by cutting off all her hair while she slept.
When she woke up, Sif was horrified to find herself bald. She immediately sent Loki to the Elves and he had them create a new head of hair. The new hair was magic and golden, the color of wheat. It gave Sif dominance over crops and the harvest.
The Vikings knew winter was coming. The Even Day of light and dark was an important time to celebrate Sif’s bounty, and give thanks for all the food that had been stored for the upcoming cold season.
Stab It With the Steely Knife…
In another Germanic/ Scandinavian tradition, the Autumn Equinox was called Haust Blot, meaning “Autumn sacrifice”. The first animal to be sacrificed was slaughtered on the equinox and eaten as a meal with the whole community.
This was a time to pray and thank the “landvaettir” – the spirits of the soils and land, for their bounty. People also prayed to the Elves and the goddess Freya, who worked along with the land spirits to keep the soil fertile.
When people left the celebration, they lit their torches from the communal bonfire and took the flame home to light their own hearths. (This may or may not have been the inspiration of the modern day Olympic torch, but it sound pretty similar to me!)
In Slavic tradition, the modern Autumn Equinox is called Dożynki, meaning “to reap”. It is currently celebrated in Poland and other Eastern European countries. Celebrations include dancing, feasting and parades.
Interestingly, Slavic folklore held the belief that the world was organized according to the oppositional, yet complementary cosmic duality of light and dark. This was expressed through the Belobog (“White God”) and the Chernobog (“Black God”). These deities collectively represented the heavenly-masculine and earthly-feminine, and also the waxing and waning of light in relationship to seasons. Therefore, the equinox was an extremely important time.
Villagers celebrated by baking a giant pancake made of wheat. It was believed that the larger the pancake, the better the harvest for next year was guaranteed to be. Grains of wheat were also woven into wreaths and decorated with flowers. The wreaths were a central part of the celebrations. They were stored over the winter and used in the spring as a gift to the land in exchange for good crops.
There is a sketchy mythology around which deities were honored, but here are a few: Marzana, the rural goddess of winter and death (also personified as the witch Baba Yaga). Mokosh, the goddess of grain, earth, the harvest, and weaving. Uroda, the goddess of ploughed land, and Karna, the goddess of funerals.
Regardless of what we decide to call it, the Autumn Equinox is a sacred time. There are several ways you can celebrate.
Do some baking. It is a great time to bake an apple pie, bread or cookies. Maybe even try your hand at a giant pancake!
Go for a walk. The lovely colors of fall are just beginning and it is a great time to appreciate them.
Do some fall cleaning. It is said that the dark goddesses of autumn love a clean house! Welcome them, and prepare your home for hibernation.
Plant bulbs. They will have all winter to germinate, and give you something to look forward to when they bloom in spring.
Sip a hot tasty beverage such as apple cider, tea or hot chocolate as you take in the first chills and contemplate autumn.
Light a candle for your favorite deity. Use candles scented with apple, cinnamon, chestnut, or something rich and spicy to remind you of the harvest.
However you choose to celebrate, and whatever you choose to call it, have a blessed and happy Autumn Equinox!
She has been called the “Duchess of Death”, the “Mistress of Mystery”, and the “Queen of Crime”. She wrote sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections.
The Guinness Book of World Records has named her the “best-selling novelist of all time”. She is also one of the world’s best-selling writers of any kind, second only to William Shakespeare. An estimated one billion copies of her novels have been sold in English, and another billion in 103 other languages. She is famous for intriguing plot twists that make the seemingly impossible, possible.
Fans of every generation cannot get enough.
But did you know that a non-fictional event in Agatha Christie’s life proved to be as mysterious as one of her novels? Read on to learn more about Agatha and the disappearance of the century!
Just My Imagination…
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on this day, September 15, 1890 in Devon, England. She was the youngest of three children. Her parents, Frederick Alvah Miller and his wife Clarissa were wealthy recipients of a family fortune. Because her siblings were so much older, little Agatha is spent much of her time with pets and “imaginary friends”. This may have fueled her great ability to later imagine characters for her novels.
Young Agatha was a clever child, able to read at age four. She was home schooled, but at age twelve she attended boarding school in Paris. She always had a keen interest in reading and writing, and even wrote and performed amateur plays as a child.
At First Sight
In October 1912, at age twenty two, she was introduced to Archibald “Archie” Christie at a formal dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford of Chudleigh.
Archie was a dashing army officer. The couple quickly fell in love. Just three months after their first meeting, Archie proposed and Agatha accepted. They were married on Christmas Eve, 1914.
During World War I, Agatha served as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross. She worked as a nurse, a medical dispenser and an apothecaries’ assistant.
It was here that she acquired special knowledge of poisons which she would later use in the plots of her stories. She was a huge fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes’ series. Her own first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920. Her second novel The Secret Adversary, was published in 1922. Both became bestsellers.
After the war, the Christies settled into home life. Agatha gave birth to a daughter named Rosalind.
They also toured the world, visiting exotic places like South Africa, Hawaii and New Zealand. They bought a house in Sunningdale, Berkshire, which they called “Styles”, named after the mansion in Agatha’s novel.
For all practical purposes, they seemed to have an ideal marriage. But trouble was brewing…
An Officer, Not a Gentleman
In April of 1926, Agatha’s mother died. They had an extremely close relationship, and the death sent Agatha into a deep depression. She was so distraught that she traveled to a small village in the Basque country of southern France to recover from a “nervous breakdown”.
When Agatha returned four months later, Archie asked her for a divorce. He had never actually been a very faithful husband. He now claimed he had fallen in love with a woman named Nancy Neele, whom he had met through his military connections. This, no doubt, added insult and agony to the already fragile Agatha.
On Friday, December 3, 1926, Archie and Agatha had an argument when Archie announced he planned to spend the weekend “away with friends” and unaccompanied by his wife. Agatha did not take it well.
Without a Trace
At shortly after 9.30 pm that night, Agatha kissed her sleeping daughter Rosalind goodnight. She then exited the house, climbed into her Morris Cowley automobile, and drove off into the night. She would not be seen again for 11 days. Her disappearance resulted in the largest manhunt ever conducted in British history.
Agatha Christie was a famous and beloved author. Her disappearance created a state of emergency. The Home Secretary, William Joyson Hicks, assigned over one thousand policeman to the case. Hundreds of civilians volunteered to help, bringing along bloodhounds, terriers and police dogs. For the first time ever, aeroplanes were incorporated in a missing person search, gliding over the rural landscape.
Even Agatha’s idol, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was called in, as well as detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers. It was hoped that their special knowledge of crime would help solve the mystery.
The next morning, Agatha’s car was found abandoned on a steep slope at Newlands Corner nature resort near Guildford. The car was reported to be “dangling on the edge of a chalk pit, the front wheels actually overhanging the edge,” with only a thick hedge-growth preventing it from plunging into the pit. Inside the car was an expired driver’s license and some clothes.
Agatha, however, was not there.
As the days passed and there was still no sign of her, speculation began to mount. The Christies were a stylish, high profile couple. Plus Archie’s infidelity was a known fact. The public was eager for gossip and the press quickly exploited the story. One newspaper offered a £100 reward for Agatha’s return (approximately equivalent to £6,000 in today’s money). Her disappearance was featured on the front page of The New York Times.
Stranger Than Fiction
It was the perfect tabloid story, with – ironically – all the elements of an Agatha Christie whodunnit. For the vivid imagination, there were also several spooky elements.
Close to the place where the car had been found was a lake known as the Silent Pool, where two young children were said to have died. Some tabloids began suggesting that Agatha had drowned herself.
Yet her body was nowhere to be found.
Rumors began circulating that Archie had killed her, wanting to be free to go off with his mistress.
Yet another tabloid specullated that Agatha had fled her own house, fearing it was haunted! “It stands in a lonely lane,” the paper claimed, “unlit at night, which has a reputation of being haunted. The lane has been the scene of a murder of a woman and the suicide of a man. … ‘If I do not leave Sunningdale soon, Sunningdale will be the end of me,’ she once said to a friend.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was known to have occult beliefs, tried using paranormal powers to solve the mystery. He took one of Christie’s gloves to a celebrated medium in the hope that it would provide answers. It did not. Other spiritualists even held a séance at the chalk pit where the car had been found.
To make things even more dramatic, one newspaper reported that eerie clues had been found near the site, including “a bottle labeled poison, lead and opium, fragments of a torn-up postcard, a woman’s fur-lined coat, a box of face powder, the end of a loaf of bread, a cardboard box and two children’s books.”
At this point it was anyone’s guess.
On December 14, a full eleven days later, Agatha was finally found. She was safe and well, having checked into the posh Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire.
Interestingly, she had registered as “Teresa Neele of Cape Town, South Africa”, using the last name of her husband’s lover.
Upon questioning, Agatha claimed she remembered nothing.
So what happened?
The police put together a story they believed was reasonable. They thought Agatha had left home and headed for London but crashed her car en route. She then boarded a train to Harrogate, Yorkshire, where she checked into the Swan Hotel with no luggage.
The town of Harrogate was a spa resort. In the 1920s it was known for its elegance. Agatha, a wealthy world traveler, probably looked right at home in the chic establishment. Apparently, she mingled around, attending balls and dances. It was a man named Bob Tappin, a banjo player, who finally recognized her and contacted the police. Archie was then notified.
When Archie showed up at the Swan to collect his wife, it was reported that she was “in no hurry to leave.” She even kept him waiting in the hotel lounge while she changed into her evening dress. It was not a happy reunion. When Agatha finally emerged, Archie was “welcomed by her with a stony stare.”
The celebrity couple continued to attract attention at the train station. Hundreds of people showed up, hoping to catch a glimpse.
Within the next year, Agatha sued her husband for divorce.
Silence is Golden
Agatha herself never offered an explanation for her eleven lost days.
Over the years, observers have crafted several theories as to what happened. Some believe it was amnesia. Others think she may have been in a “fugue” state – a rare condition brought on by trauma or depression. During this time, she could have developed her new personality, Theresa Neele, and failed to recognize herself in newspaper photographs.
Agatha Christie biographer Andrew Norman, who studied the case extensively, stated: “I believe she was suicidal. Her state of mind was very low and she writes about it later through the character of Celia in her autobiographical novel Unfinished Portrait.”
In her own autobiography, Christie wrote simply, “So, after illness, came sorrow, despair and heartbreak. There is no need to dwell on it.”
Love on the Orient Express
Needless to say, Agatha Christie went on to have an amazing career. She took several journeys on the Orient Express, traveling to places like Istanbul and Bagdad. It was on these journeys that she gathered inspiration for future novels. She also met the man who was to be her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan. (Archie ended up marrying his mistress, Nancy Neele.)
Agatha Christie received many awards in her long career. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1950, and appointed Commander of the Order of British Literature (CBE) in 1956. She was the co-president of the Detection Club from 1958 to her death in 1976. In 1961, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature Degree by the University of Exeter. Her play The Mousetrap was the world’s longest-running play, performed in London’s West End from 1952 to 2020, only being shut down this year in response to the Covid pandemic.
In 1971 she received the title Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Her husband Max also received knighthood for his archaeological work. After her husband’s knighthood, Agatha could also use the title “Lady Mallowan”.
She died peacefully of natural causes on January 12, 1976.
Happy Birthday Agatha! You gave us so much, and a part of you will always be a mystery.
“This was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree.”
― Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat
Have you hugged your black cat today? If not, you should. Today, August 17, is National Black Cat Appreciation Day!
And why (you may ask) do we need an appreciation day for black cats?
Well, they deserve it! Look at the bad rap they have gotten over the ages. Lots of superstition has grown around them and left a dent in the collective consciousness. Some people are afraid of them to this day. People may, for example, avoid getting in the way of a black cat, believing them to be bad luck if they cross your path.
Black cats, however, were not always considered bad. In fact, in some cultures they were quite revered.
Spirits of Ancient Egypt
The Ancient Egyptians loved and worshiped black cats. This love came from a belief that black cats were associated with the gods. The Egyptian goddess Bast was known as the “cat goddess” and used black cats as symbols to represent her. She was often depicted as a goddess with a human body and the head of a cat.
Early Egyptians also prized cats because of their great ability to eliminate rats, mice, and other unhealthy pests. Having a cat meant a cleaner house, cleaner food, and all around better health. The Egyptians took their love of black cats seriously. Killing a black cat in Ancient Egypt was a capital offense and the murderer would be put to death! (Sounds like a good law to me. Maybe we should bring it back..)
Egyptians were obsessed with the afterlife, but they also believed their cats would come with them. When the Egyptian family cat died, he would be mummified and buried within the family tomb. The family would also take time to mourn his death.
Ah but this veneration of the black cat would not last! Egyptian civilization fell and so did the status of the beloved kitties. By the Middle Ages, our feline friends were acquiring their evil reputation. Many myths and legends contributed to this.
Black Magic Woman
One story that circulated around Europe told of a black cat running into the house of a witch. According to this legend, a father and son were walking across the road when they noticed the cat. Apparently, the two were not animal lovers, because they began pelting stones at the cat. Scared and defenseless, the kitty ran into a house that — according to the local gossips — was the home of a woman who did spell casting.
I’d say the cat was pretty smart, running away from two attackers.
According to the legend, the next day the father and son encountered the woman who lived in the house, and she was limping. Thus it was assumed that the witch had shape shifted to a black cat and received an injury from the rocks that were thrown at her.
The story spread and the long association of black cats and witchcraft became ingrained in folklore. Black cats were believed to be witches in disguise, witches’ pets, or even demons sent by witches to spy on humans.
This folklore actually took on a legal ramifications when the Catholic Church took issue with cats!
In 1233, Pope Gregory IX drew up a decree to condemn black cats as evil, satanic creatures. This led to a widespread extermination of black cats. They were killed in droves, drowned, burnt, fed poison and hung.
A Plague Upon Their Houses
Exterminating black cats was a really dumb thing to do, as later realized, because cats were a major force in killing off diseased rats that brought in the Black Plague. The great outbreak of the Black Death in the 14th century may have been in part due to this mass extermination of back cats. The Pope would have done much better to just leave the kitties to their work of killing vermin!
Because they were considered to be witches’ familiars, black cats were often burned at the stake or hung, along with an accused witch. This practice remained in effect between the 13th-17th centuries when witch hunts were rampant.
Luckily, as witches, women and animals earned more rights, these superstitions faded as well. Most witchcraft laws were repealed by the 20th century, and animal rights groups have come to the rescue of cats.
To this day, black cats remain associated with Halloween, which can be a particular time of cruelty for them. For this reason, many shelters prohibit the adoption of black cats in the month of October. (Please note, they are available all other months and make excellent pets!)
Black cats are known to be among the most affectionate and entertaining of felines. Besides that, there are plenty of good superstitions about black cats.
In England a black cat on a ship was considered lucky. Many sailors believed that a black cat could ensure a safe voyage and keep the ship from storms.
Pirates believed black cats could portend the future of their ship. For example, if the cat walked on and stayed on the ship, it meant good luck. But if the cat walked on and then off again, this was a bad sign that the ship would sink. (Hopefully the pirates baited the kitties with some tasty treats, like fresh fish, to make them stay!)
Wives of fishermen often kept black cats, as they were considered good luck charms to help the fishermen make a safe return home.
In Japan, black cats were symbols of financial fortune and prosperity.
In Scotland it was believed that women who owned black cats would have lots of male suitors.
So, you see, these clever felines really do deserve a day all to themselves, to help their human friends realize how great they are.
Jasper says, “Have a lovely Black Cat Appreciation Day! And be kind to a black cat.”
Infamous might-be ax murderer Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her father and stepmother in their own home, injuring them with (maybe not forty) but so many bloody hatchet whacks their faces were unrecognizable.
The story had all the elements of Gothic intrigue. A wealthy family. A miserly widower. An evil stepmother. Two secluded, spinster daughters. A family enmeshed in bickering and resentment. A gory murder and the trial of the century. Read on to find out about the real Lizzie Borden, a mind boggling tale and a murder mystery that continues to baffle experts to this day.
Lizzie Andrew Borden was born on this day, July 19, 1860, in Fall River, Massachusetts. Her parents were Sarah Anthony and Andrew Jackson Borden. Lizzie had one older sister, Emma, born in 1851. Lizzie attended the Morgan Street School. After graduating, she became a Sunday school teacher, a secretary of the local Christian Endeavor Society and a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. (The real Lizzie was yet to be revealed…)
Lizzie’s life was hardly a whirlwind of adventure. And this just may have been the environment that led her to crack.
Evil Stepmother, Frugal Father
Andrew Borden’s first wife Sarah died in 1863 when Lizzie was just three years old. Two years later Andrew remarried a woman named Abby Durfee Gray. Since Lizzie was so young, Abby should have been her main maternal figure. But Lizzie and her sister Emma never liked Abby very much. They called her “Mrs. Borden” rather than “mother”, and didn’t even eat their meals with her. Lizzie believed that Abby had married her father for his wealth.
Andrew Borden was indeed a wealthy man. But with the way he lived, no one would know it. He came from modest beginnings and eventually made a fortune in real estate and textile mills. He was also president of the Union Savings Bank and a director of the Durfee Safe Deposit and Trust Co. The guy was loaded. At the time of his death in 1892, Borden’s estate was valued at $300,000 — the equivalent of $9 million in today’s money!
Despite his vast wealth, Andrew was a notorious miser. Picture Ebenezer Scrooge, holed gloves, scant coals on the fire, watery tea.
The house the family lived in was small and shabby. It had no electricity or indoor plumbing. It was located in a modest part of town, far from the Fall River elite, who lived in a ritzy district known as “The Hill”.
Sisters Lizzie and Emma longed for a life on The Hill. Debutante balls, champagne, glitzy dancing, diamond brooches. But no. Because of their father’s frugality, these luxuries were denied them.
In addition to Lizzie hating her stepmother, other tensions were growing within the family. Miser Andrew had bestowed generous gifts of real estate to various members of Abby’s family. For example, he had given a house to Abby’s sister. In retaliation, Emma and Lizzie had demanded property of their own. They purchased a house from their father for one dollar. A few weeks later they sold it back to him for $5,000 — the equivalent to $142,000 in today’s money. A pretty good deal 🙂
And money wasn’t the only issue. Lizzie was a devout animal lover. She had recently built a roost in the barn for stray pigeons. Andrew decided they were a nuisance, so he took a hatchet and sliced up the birds. (Yes, a hatchet. You will see a theme emerging here…) Needless to say, Lizzie was devastated.
The Bordens were NOT a happy family.
By July, 1892, a family argument prompted both sisters to take vacations. When Lizzie returned, she was not eager to go back to her father’s house, and even stayed a few days in a hotel before returning. Emma remained on vacation for an extended time and was therefore (lucky for her) not home during the time of the murders.
In Cold Blood
The Borden murders occurred on August 4, 1892.
It started out like any other morning. The family had breakfast.
The Bordens employed a live-in maid named Bridget Sullivan, whom they called Maggie. A relative named John Morse, Lizzie’s uncle, had come for a visit. The only people in the house that day were Lizzie, Andrew, Abby, Maggie and John. At around 8:30 am John left and went to town to buy a pair of oxen. (Can you imagine going to town to buy oxen? But I digress 🙂 )
At a little after 9 am, Andrew went out for his daily morning walk. At sometime between 9 and 10 am, Abby went upstairs to do housework in the guest room. The making of that bed would be her last. By 10:30 am Abby was dead.
According to the forensic investigation, Abby was first struck on the side of the head with a hatchet. Her ear was cut, which caused her to turn and fall face down on the floor. The killer then struck her seventeen times in the back of her head.
Meanwhile, Andrew returned from his walk. He had trouble with his key at the door and Maggie came to let him in. The door was jammed and Maggie uttered a curse word as she opened it. She later claimed she heard Lizzie laughing at this, her voice coming from the top of the stairs. (This was significant because anyone upstairs would have presumably been near Abby’s body.) Lizzie, however, denied it. She claimed to have chatted briefly with her father. She also claimed she had removed Andrew’s boots and helped him into his slippers before he lay down on the sofa for a nap.
Interestingly, the photos from the scene of the crime show a dead Andrew with his boots still on.
Maggie was in her room on the third-floor. At approximately 11:10 am she heard Lizzie call from downstairs, “Maggie, come quick! Father’s dead. Somebody came in and killed him.”
Andrew had been struck in the head eleven times with a hatchet. His face was so bludgeoned it was nearly unrecognizable.
Actual police photo. See the shoes.
Somebody called the police. Detectives and a forensics expert were called in. Andrew’s still-bleeding wounds suggested a very recent attack. It was estimated he died at approximately 11:00 am. Upstairs, Abby’s body was already cold.
Trial of the Century
Reporters swarmed in. News spread through town and crowds began to gather around the Borden house. People walked off their jobs to check out the scene. This was the most exciting event of their lives! Nothing like this had ever happened before in Fall River. People were also terrified that the murderer was still on the loose.
Lizzie was a prime suspect. Of the other household members, John Morse had an alibi and Emma was out of town. Maggie was briefly considered, but she was not a likely candidate because she had no motive. Lizzie, on the other hand, stood to gain financially from her parents’ deaths.
The idea of Lizzie being accused of ax murder was a shock to the townspeople. Polite Victorian society could not fathom the idea of a woman wielding an ax. It was simply too unladylike. They could not picture it. So therefore, the townspeople maintained Lizzie’s innocence from the beginning and never flinched.
At the inquest, Lizzie gave conflicting and confusing testimony. She tripped up her story, claiming to be in different places – – in the kitchen reading a magazine, in the garage searching for tackle, in the orchard eating pears. Finally the judge had enough. Lizzie was arrested for the murder of her parents and thrown in jail. (To be fair, it should be noted that doctors had prescribed doses of morphine to Lizzie at this time, to help her cope with the horrible situation. The confusing testimony was given under the influence of heavy drugs.) When the case finally went to trial, the press called it “the trial of the century”.
Lizzie herself did not testify in court, saying only, “I am innocent. I leave it to my counsel to speak for me.”
Plenty of evidence was stacked against her. For one thing, it was reported that she’d tried to burn a dress a week after the murders. Presumably the dress was stained with blood. A friend, Alice Russell, testified that the dress had been stained with paint, not blood. There was also a report that Lizzie had tried to buy poison just days before the murder. (Her parents had also become sick, presumably with food poisoning, during those days.) And then there was the matter of the murder weapon. A hatchet head, detached from its handle, was found in the cellar. Miraculously, no blood stained clothes were ever found in the house, despite the fact that these crimes were a literal blood bath.
As it turned out, the jury was sympathetic. The evidence presented was not considered “direct enough” to convict her. Lizzie was acquitted on June 20, 1893. She had spent ten months in jail.
Bright Young Things
After the trial, Lizzie and Emma inherited their father’s fortune. (It was nine million bucks, remember?) They immediately bought a fourteen room mansion in (you guessed it) the prestigious neighborhood of The Hill. The house was a magnificent palace, full of summer and winter bedrooms, crystal chandeliers and lavish furniture. The girls had finally achieved their dream.
You would think the story ends here and the Borden sisters lived happily ever after, right? But NO!
Lizzie was no shrinking violet, and now that she had money she did as she pleased. Her ‘notorious’ activities did not sit well with the polite society of Fall River. And what exactly were those activities? Well… prepare to be shocked!
Lizzie changed her name to Lizbeth. Unheard of! It was only acceptable for girls to change their names if they were married! The townspeople gasped, ogled, wagged fingers and disapproved.
Lizbeth decided to put a name on her mansion as well. She named it “Maplecroft” and had the name engraved in the porch.
Unheard of! This was a flamboyant, shameless display of wealth and definitely NOT to be tolerated! (Ax murder your parents? Fine. But name a mansion? Oh no, that will not do!)
And finally, the pièce de résistance! Lizzie started hanging around with (wait for it…) THEATER PEOPLE! Lizzie loved the theater. She attended often and made friends with actors and actresses. They were, of course, considered the dregs of society. Lizzie took to entertaining them, throwing lavish parties at Maplecroft.
That was it! The last straw. Even her own sister Emma abandoned her, moving out of the house in 1905. The two never spoke to one another again. (True story!)
Lizzie ‘Lizbeth’ Borden died on June 1, 1927 of pneumonia, at the ripe old age of sixty-seven. We shall never know whether or not she actually committed the murders, but she sure had a hell of a life. What do YOU think?
Happy Birthday Lizzie! You were slick, wicked and uncompromising.
She was a singer, a dancer, an ex-patriot American, a member of the French Resistance, a Civil Rights activist, a four time divorcee and the mother of twelve adopted children. Her performances on the stages of New York and Paris were legendary. Today we celebrate the life of the fabulous Josephine Baker!
Her birth name was Freda Josephine McDonald. She was born on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Her mother, Carrie McDonald, once had dreams of becoming a dancer, but gave them up and earned her living as a laundress. Her father is listed as Eddie Carson, a vaudeville drummer. (Her father’s identity, however, has been challenged by many, including Josephine’s son, who did extensive research on the topic.) If indeed Eddie was her father, he abandoned her so quickly that Josephine never met him.
Carrie McDonald eventually married a man named Arthur Martin, with whom she had several more children. The family were poor — so poor that Josephine was sent out to work as a maid when she was just eight years old. But housekeeping did not suit Josephine, and she was abused by her employers. Soon she was living on the streets of St. Louis, dancing on corners for money, and dumpster diving for her dinner. Reportedly, she and her mother had a strained relationship and Josephine preferred to live away from Carrie.
At the tender age of thirteen, Josephine met a man named Willie Wells and married him. The marriage only lasted a few months. Josephine left Willie but continued dancing and had some success as a member of a troupe called The Jones Family. In 1921, at age fifteen she met another Willie — Baker this time — and married him. That marriage was also short lived. Later that year, when Josephine was given a chance to perform in New York City, she ditched Willie # 2. Josephine would legally divorce him in 1925, but she decided to keep his name for her professional career.
Angel of Harlem
The Harlem Renaissance was in full bloom. Josephine had success as a chorus girl on Broadway. She starred in a revue called “Shuffle Along” and in another called “Chocolate Dandies”. (Yes, you read that right.)
Despite those rather exploitative names, Josephine became the highest paid chorus girl in vaudeville. But she was unhappy. The claws of racism were always around her. Of her time in the Big Apple, Josephine said:
“I didn’t get my first break on Broadway. I was only in the chorus in ‘Shuffle Along’ and ‘Chocolate Dandies’. I became famous first in France in the twenties. I just couldn’t stand America and I was one of the first colored Americans to move to Paris.”
Viva La France
In 1925, when she was just nineteen years old, Josephine was given the opportunity to travel to France and she jumped at it. In Paris she opened in a show called “La Revue Nègre”. (Yes you read that right.)
Josephine was an overnight sensation. Her dancing was erotic and exotic. She famously wore a skirt made only of bananas. She wore little else on stage, often appearing semi nude.
As Josephine’s success grew, she eventually purchased a pet cheetah, which she brought to the shows! She named her big cat “Chiquita” and clothed him in a diamond collar. Chiquita was known to hang out in the orchestra pit and terrorize the musicians.
Although “Chiquita Bananas” do not admit to it, I am pretty sure they got their logo from Josephine. The Chiquita logo was not created until 1944, supposedly the brainchild of comic strip artist Dik Brown. But take a look. The logo has Josephine all over it.
Josephine quickly became the darling of the “Lost Generation”, hobnobbing with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” She was a favorite of Pablo Picasso, who sketched her, and director Jean Cocteau helped her get started in the movie business. She starred in Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) Princesse Tam Tam (1935) and Fausse Alerte (1940).
In 1937, at age thirty-one, Josephine married the French industrialist Jean Lion, and became a French citizen. This marriage would last three years.
Ah, Paris in the thirties! It was all so idyllic and romantic! Then the Nazis came.
“All the Boys Think She’s a Spy…”
France declared war on Germany in 1939, after the Nazi occupation of Poland. Josephine was then recruited by the military intelligence agency known as the Deuxième Bureau. Her job was to socialize at parties, which were held in embassies and government ministries, all the while gleaning information about German troop locations. Apparently, her charm, wit and “je ne sais quoi” were perfect elements that enabled her to rub elbows with high ranking officials. She would then report back her findings.
This whole scenario begs the question, why Josephine? It seems a little odd. Can you picture undercover agents at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, recruiting a half naked banana girl? But this was years later. Josephine had matured. America had not yet joined the war. Maybe the French military intelligence figured a black American ex-patriot could sneak around, without raising suspicion. Plus, Josephine had acquired a lot of street smarts from her hard scrabble days in St Louis. She was, no doubt, able to bluff the best of them. She also had to be super smart, and a master of disguise,
Josephine performed her services well. When the Germans invaded France, she left Paris and went to her home in the south of France. There, she housed people who were helping the exiled French government, and supplied them with visas. As an entertainer, she had an excuse for moving around Europe. She secured and transmitted information about airfields, harbors, and German troop concentrations in the West of France. She kept her notes written in invisible ink on her sheet music!
How’s that for some cloak and dagger genius?
After the war, Josephine received several medals of honor for her service. She was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur (the highest order of military merit) by General Charles de Gaulle.
Know Your Rights
In 1947 Josephine married the French conductor Jo Bouillon.
This marriage would last fourteen years. Jo happened to be white (as was her other husband Jean Lion.)
Throughout her life Josephine had been a victim of racism and was an advocate for human rights. In the 1950’s, although still living in France, she was an important part of the American Civil Rights Movement. When she and Jo traveled to New York they were refused accommodations at 36 hotels because of racial discrimination. (Inter-racial marriage was then illegal in the US.)
Josephine began to write articles about segregation in the United States. She gave a talk at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee, on “France, North Africa And The Equality Of The Races In France”.
Throughout her career, Josephine had refused to perform for segregated audiences. In the US, she refused a $10,000 offer to perform at a segregated club in Miami. (Roughly about $150,000 in today’s money.) The club eventually succumbed to Josephine’s wishes, allowing people of all races to enter.
Josephine spoke alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1964 March on Washington for Civil Rights. Josephine, along with Rosa Parks, was one of the few female speakers. It is a powerful speech, and one that is seldom mentioned. Josephine states:
“I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad. And when I get mad, you know that I open my big mouth. And then look out, ’cause when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear it all over the world.”
Listen to the whole speech here. (About 3 minutes.)
She’s A Rainbow
Josephine had suffered several miscarriages in her life, finally undergoing a hysterectomy in 1941. While married to Jo Bouillon, adoption became her passion. Josephine wanted to create a family of children based on how she thought the world was supposed to be. This meant people of all races, religions and nationalities living peacefully side by side. She set about creating this family, adopting children from all corners of the planet. She called her children “The Rainbow Tribe”.
Josephine took the children on trips all over the world, but mostly they lived at her home in the south of France, the Château des Milandes.
Josephine actually opened the chateau to tourists so people could come in and see kids of all races playing and interacting. She even deliberately raised the children in different religions.
The children were: French-born Marianne, Moroccan-born Stellina, Korean-born Jeannot, Japanese-born Akio, Colombian-born Luis, Finnish-born Jari, French-born Jean-Claude and Noël, Israeli-born Moïse, Algerian-born Brahim, Ivorian-born Koffi, and Venezuelan-born Mara.
Wow! And you thought Angelina Jolie was eccentric?
Unfortunately, all these adoptions took a toll on her husband Jo. They separated in 1957, after Josephine took in her eleventh child. They officially divorced in 1961.
The Show Must Go On
Josephine began performing again in 1968 at age sixty-two. She still wowed audiences, touring throughout Europe. Her last performance was on April 8, 1975. She was starring in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris, celebrating her 50 years in show business.
The show received rave reviews. As usual, Josephine attracted top celebrities. Members of her audience included Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli.
Sadly, the review was cut short. On April 12, Josephine suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and went into a coma. She was taken to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, where she died, at age 68.
Grace Kelley, aka Princess Grace of Monaco, was Josephine’s BFF. Oddly, they bonded over civil rights when Josephine was refused service at the Stork Club in New York. Grace, a patron, saw the discrimination, took Josephine by the hand and stormed out.
In Paris, during the Banana Dance years, she received 40,000 love letters and over 1,000 marriage proposals.
In 1951, the NAACP declared May 20 to be “Josephine Baker Day”.
Josephine’s adopted son Jean-Claude Baker wrote a biography about her, published in 1993, titled Josephine: The Hungry Heart. In it he poses theories about Josephine’s true father — a rich, white, German man.
To be fair, Jean-Claude seems a bit snarky. He claims that her many adoptions were because “she wanted a doll”. He also claims his mother had “slept with most of the Nazi soldiers” before she became a spy.
Hemingway thought she was sexy, but he also admired her mind. Reportedly they spend hours in serious conversation.
Coretta Scott King asked her to take over the Civil Rights Movement after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Josephine pondered it for several days, but declined because of her children.
In later life Josephine went bankrupt. (Yeah, that Rainbow Tribe was expensive!) It was BFF Grace Kelly, by then the Princess of Monaco, who came to the rescue, giving her a villa to live in and financial aid.
Husband Jo is buried next to her at Cimetière de Monaco.
Happy Birthday Josephine! You will never be forgotten.
April 20 through May 20 marks the astrological sun sign of Taurus.
I have always loved Taurus. Represented by the bull, individuals born under this sign bring in the best of both worlds. They have a powerful (and stubborn!) earth sign ruled by the beautiful and feminine planet Venus. These people are go-getters, manifesters, and serious goal setters. But they do it all with such a lovely artistic flair you will scarcely notice how driven they actually are.
Prone to sensual pleasures, they are experts in culinary delights. Some of the best chefs are Taureans. They are great artists, animal lovers and fashion trend setters. They often have musical ability. Taureans are great with designs, decorating and fabrics.
They are also sexy! Although Scorpio (the polar opposite, or inverted Taurus) usually gets credit for being the “most sexual” of all the signs, it is the horned men and women who really stand out in compelling ways. The bull is a spellbinding presence, full of quiet charisma and unusual traits.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at a few famous Taureans.
Michelle Pfeiffer, born April 29, 1958.
She was Madame Marie de Tourvel of Dangerous Liaisons. Also Catwoman, among other things. She claimed playing the cat was natural for her, as she was very athletic.
Film Critic Roger Ebert said of her: “She is not just a beautiful woman, but an actress with the ability to make you care about her, to make you feel what she feels.”
In her film The Fabulous Baker Boys, Michelle performed the song “Makin’ Whoopie” while strewn on top of a piano. Ebert said of it: “Whatever she’s doing while she performs that song isn’t merely singing; it’s whatever Rita Hayworth did in Gilda and Marilyn Monroe did in Some Like It Hot, and I didn’t want her to stop.”
Audrey Hepburn, born May 4, 1929.
Audiences fell in love with her sweet, unassuming presence and her sense of style. To this day she is a fashion icon. She is best known for her performance as the street wise but vulnerable Holly Golighty in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
She sang and played a ukulele too!
Jessica Lange, born April 29, 1949.
This Minnesota native has been wowing audiences ever since King Kong swept her off her feet in 1976. She received two Academy Awards and several Emmys. Her roles include Frances Farmer, Blanche DuBois and Joan Crawford. Most recently she played several notorious femme fatales on the series American Horror Story, including a psychotic nun, a freak show emcee and a New Orleans witch.
Elusive and wispy, yet strong, Jessica seems forever young.
Henry Cavill, born May 5, 1983.
He was the Man of Steel, the Man From U.N.C.L.E, and King Henry VIII’s bestie, Charles Brandon. Entertainment Weekly named him the “Most Dashing Duke” and praised his work on The Tudors for displaying “charm, depth and a killer bod”. In December 2013, Cavill was named “World’s Sexiest Man” by British Glamour magazine. The same year, Empire magazine placed him third on their list of “The 100 Sexiest Movie Stars 2013”.
I can see why.
Jack Nicholson, born April 22, 1937.
He played a werewolf, a Joker, a madman, a serial killer and a concert pianist. No one can deny the sinister power of Jack “you can’t handle the truth” Nicholson. He is the recipient of several awards including Academy, Grammy and Golden Globe. He has had one marriage, several affairs, and five children.
Film critic David Thompson said of him: “Nicholson is the Hollywood celebrity who is almost like a character in some ongoing novel of our times. He is also the most beloved of stars—not even his huge wealth, his reckless aging, and the public disasters of his private life can detract from this … For he is still a touchstone, someone we value for the way he helps us see ourselves.”
But remember when he asked the waitress to hold the chicken? And he clarified, “I want you to hold it between your knees.” She threw him out of the restaurant.
Cher, born May 20, 1946.
She was once half of Sonny and Cher, but she quickly surpassed Sonny and carved a solo career for herself. She is a singer, an Academy Award winning actress and of course — a fashion icon! Cher is quick witted, multidimensional, and a beautiful chameleon.
And don’t forget, she basically put dress designer Bob Mackie on the map.
James MacAvoy, born April 21, 1979.
This Scottish lad first captured hearts as the faun known as Mr. Tumnus, in The Chronicles of Narnia. Before fame and fortune came his way, he considered becoming a priest and worked in a Glasgow bakery. With a brogue to die for and his intense blue eyes, he quickly caught the attention of critics. James starred in several movies including The Last King of Scotland, Atonement and Macbeth. He has won several prestigious awards including a Golden Globe.
But I like James best as Mr. Tumnus. The horns are a natural.
William Shakespeare, born April 23, 1564.
In addition to being a great writer, the Bard must have been a pretty great lover as well. At the tender age of 17 he impregnated 26 year old Anne Hathaway. He married her and fathered two more children before making his way to London where he wrote and acted in plays.
Some historians believe he had numerous affairs with numerous people, including the elusive “dark lady” and “fair youth” of his sonnets. The Dark Lady (who may or may not have been Venetian poet Emilia Bassano) is portrayed as an older and temperamental woman.
The Fair Youth (who may or may not have been Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton) is portrayed as a handsome younger man.
No one will ever know the truth. But the Bard had an intimate knowledge of human relationships, a penchant for crossdressers, and a real knack for tales of forbidden love.
Fred Astaire, born May 10, 1899.
He was possibly the most influential dancer in history. Astaire had a career in Broadway, television and the Silver Screen that spanned over 70 years. Michael Jackson claimed to emulate him and copied several of his dance steps, including the flexibility that led to the “Moon Walk”. He is best known for his partnership with fellow dancer Ginger Rogers and movies they made in the 1930’s and 40’s.
What is sexier than knowing all the right moves? And Fred could really pull off a top hat!
Bettie Page, born April 22, 1923.
A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Bettie was an actress, model and Playboy centerfold. She gained a significant profile in the 1950s for her pin-up photos which often portrayed BDSM. (Bettie claimed she had to pose for at least one hour of BDSM or the photographer would not pay her.) Paradoxically, she was also an evangelical Christian, and worked for the Reverend Billy Graham.
Historians say she was best known for her bangs and vivid blue eyes. (I suspect folks were looking at other things as well…)
Apparently, Bettie played the ukulele too!
Tonight, April 22, at approximately 10 pm Eastern Standard Time, the new moon will enter Taurus. Any new moon is a good time to set intentions, but this particular new moon is rife with meaning.
In the northern hemisphere we are celebrating spring and it is a great time for planting. In the southern hemisphere they are celebrating the autumn harvest. Whether we are planting or harvesting, it is a day closely related to the Earth. April 22nd is also International Earth Day. With Taurus as an Earth sign, we should set intentions for manifesting things to benefit the Earth.
The past few weeks have been stressful for all of us. The Covid virus has brought our planet to her knees. We have been locked up, hospitalized, laid off from our jobs, quarantined and kept from our loved ones. Many have suffered illness and even death. It is an unprecedented tragedy in human history.
But somethings gotta give. And soon.
Regardless of where anyone stands politically on the matters, we can all agree on one thing. We want the Earth and her people to be happy, healthy and prosperous.
Let’s set that intention today! Imagine how powerful it will be if we all do it.
Have a blessed New Moon Day. And Happy Birthday to Taureans everywhere!