The Phantom Barber of Pascagoula

One of U.S. history’s strangest crimes was a streak of sneaky haircuts that took place in 1942 Mississippi. The Pascagoula criminal was nicknamed “The Phantom Barber” for his creepy habit of cutting locks of hair off young girls while they slept.

Unsettling illustration of the Phantom Barber

Unsettling illustration of the Phantom Barber Sun, Aug 30, 1942 – 59 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

The Phantom Barber Strikes

The first victims of the nighttime barber were Mary Evelyn Briggs and Edna Marie Hydel. The two shared a room in Our Lady of Victories convent and woke in time to see a man crawling out the window. Mary was the sole victim to give a description of the perpetrator:

Mary Evelyn Bridges [sic] describes Phantom Barber encounter

Mary Evelyn Bridges [sic] describes Phantom Barber encounter Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – Page 9 · The Greenville News (Greenville, South Carolina) · Newspapers.com

Mary Evelyn Briggs and her sister Laura (Phantom Barber)

Mary Evelyn Briggs and her sister Laura (Phantom Barber) Sun, Aug 30, 1942 – 59 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

A few days later, six-year-old Carol Peattie awoke to find much of her hair missing. The screen on her window was cut. An adult woman, Mrs. Taylor, also fell victim to the unusual crime, and her account led to suspicions that the criminal used chloroform to keep the girls from waking.

Mrs. Taylor the final victim of the Phantom Barber

Mrs. Taylor the final victim of the Phantom Barber Wed, Jun 24, 1942 – 1 · The Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

The intruder didn’t injure these girls. His break-ins consisted of slicing open window screens, cutting off the hair, and slipping away unseen. He did occasionally leave behind footprints, but they weren’t enough to secure his identity.

The Heidelberg Incident

Quite suddenly the Phantom’s escapades went from bizarre to brutal. He broke into the home of Terrell Heidelberg and attacked him and his wife with an iron pipe. In the face of such violence the search for the Phantom Barber increased.

Heidelbergs attacked by the Phantom Barber

Heidelbergs attacked by the Phantom Barber Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – Page 19 · The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) · Newspapers.com

An Arrest is Made

At last a suspect was found. A man named William Dolan was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Human hair was found near his home, and he had some disagreement with the Heidelbergs that gave him motive for the assault.

William Dolan arrested as the

William Dolan arrested as the “Phantom Barber” Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – 1 · The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa) · Newspapers.com

Dolan, called a “Nazi saboteur,” was known for having German sympathies during a time when war hung heavily on the public mind. Most were happy to see him arrested and slept soundly knowing the Phantom Barber was behind bars. But Dolan always maintained his innocence and was released early after passing a lie detector test. Early doubts about his true guilt have only grown in the years since. It is hard to say whether the real Phantom Barber was ever caught.

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Young Woman Rescues Child

Hats off to this everyday hero who, in 1910, rescues a child with her quick action.

Heroine rescues endangered childHeroine rescues endangered child Thu, Jun 2, 1910 – Page 1 · Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.com

Thanks, Vernie! Your heroism isn’t forgotten, even 100 years later.

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A Glimpse Back: St. Patrick’s Day, 1917

A quick look at St. Patrick’s Day from over a century ago, complete with parades, patriotic flags, and some excellent hats. :

St Patrick's Day Parade, 1917St Patrick’s Day Parade, 1917 Sun, Mar 18, 1917 – Page 37 · San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

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It’s March 14th, so Let Them Eat Pi(e)!

Welcome one and all to March 14th, the day that has become a celebration of mathematics and dessert known as “Pi Day”:

March 14 is Pi DayMarch 14 is Pi Day Wed, Mar 14, 2007 – Page B003 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Newspapers.com Today's the day for pi(e)Today’s the day for pi(e) Wed, Mar 14, 2012 – 23 · Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) · Newspapers.com Larry Shaw, father of Pi DayLarry Shaw, father of Pi Day Sun, Feb 22, 2009 – 48 · Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) · Newspapers.com Pi Day with Larry ShawPi Day with Larry Shaw Fri, Mar 12, 1993 – 2 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

Happy March 14th, everyone! Find more on Pi Day with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Boy Swallows Pen Point

This quick summary of a “pen point” incident was found in a 1910 Los Angeles Herald. Wonder if he got out of taking the exam?

Boy swallows pen pointBoy swallows pen point Thu, Jun 2, 1910 – Page 2 · Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

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The Amazing Story of Frances Slocum: The White Rose of Miamis

Young Frances Slocum was just 5-years-old when she was kidnapped from her home by Native Americans in 1778. She was living near modern-day Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in a valley primarily inhabited by the Shawnee and Delaware tribes.

Her father and brothers were working outside when Delaware warriors entered the family home in broad daylight and carried her away.

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
July 19, 1941

Her heartbroken family searched for her relentlessly, even offering substantial rewards for her return, but she was gone. Nearly six decades passed without word of Frances. Her heartbroken parents died never knowing her fate. Meanwhile, Frances was adopted into the Delaware Tribe and raised as one of their own. She later joined the Miami Tribe after marrying She-Po-Con-Ah, who would later become a Miami chief. 

Frances Slocum

In January 1835, Col. George W. Ewing was conducting business at an Indian Trading Post in Indiana. Darkness forced him to lodge for the night at the home of Maconaquah, a white woman living among Native Americans. After dinner, Maconaquah shared an interesting story. She remembered being taken when she was young and knew her father’s name was Slocum.

Her story intrigued Col. Ewing and he became determined to reunite Maconaquah with her family. He had the story published in a newspaper, a copy of which made its way to the Slocum family. Frances’s siblings immediately set out for Indiana to determine if their sister was alive. Isaac Slocum, the younger brother of Frances, remembered a scar his sister received when they were playing as children. He wanted to see if Maconaquah shared the same scar.

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
November 1, 1971

Tentatively, they reunited. They determined that Maconaquah was really Frances, their long, lost sister! They urged her to return with them, but she didn’t want to. Frances’s desire was to remain with her people. By an Act of Congress, Frances was granted a square mile of land in Miami County, Indiana, where she remained until her death on March 9, 1847.

Her family honored her by erecting a monument and sharing her story. If you would like to learn more about Frances Slocum, the White Rose of Miamis, search our archives!

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The Bell Witch

In the early 1800s, the family of one John Bell was much disturbed by an entity that would later be called the “Bell Witch.”

Bell Witch of TennesseeBell Witch of Tennessee Sat, Jul 14, 1894 – Page 13 · The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio, United States of America) · Newspapers.com Betsy Bell sees the Witch in the WoodsBetsy Bell sees the Witch in the Woods Sun, Jul 15, 1894 – Page 10 · Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Hennepin, Minnesota, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Origins

The story of the Bell Witch doesn’t appear in papers until 1894, decades after the original incident. A man named Martin Van Buren Ingram published An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch. His (not especially authenticated) account of the spooky tale created the foundation for the legend that survives today.

Antics of the Bell WitchAntics of the Bell Witch Sun, Mar 21, 1948 – Page 89 · The Tennessean (Nashville, Davidson, Tennessee, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Identity

Who was this ghost? Why did they call her a witch? And why did she bother the Bells? The favorite answer to all these questions would have to be Kate Batts:

Witch connected to Kate BattsWitch connected to Kate Batts Sun, Oct 26, 1986 – Page 75 · Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Hinds, Mississippi, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

A Famous Visitor

Whatever her origins, the Bell Witch was the hit of the county. People came from miles away to see signs of her existence and be pranked and pinched by the famous entity. The Bells were said to have even had a visit from none other than Andrew Jackson, future president of the United States.

Andrew Jackson and the Bell WitchAndrew Jackson and the Bell Witch Fri, Jun 18, 1943 – 4 · The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Montgomery, Alabama, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Interactions with the Bells

The witch seemed to be fond of Lucy Bell, and never bothered her. John Bell, however, found himself the target of her most upsetting behavior. Their daughter Elizabeth, nicknamed “Betsy,” was also frequently pestered by the witch, though mostly in the role of an aggressive matchmaker.

Betsy BellBetsy Bell Sun, Dec 19, 1937 – Page 42 · Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Betsy’s beau Joshua was, for reasons which the witch never explained, disapproved of. She repeatedly told Betsy to break off their marriage plans, which Betsy eventually did. She went on to marry her old schoolteacher, Richard Powell.

But all the witch’s true hatred was reserved for John. When he was found dead, apparently poisoned, the disembodied voice of the witch proudly took credit.

Kate Kate “Bell Witch” hated John Bell Tue, Jan 24, 1989 – 10 · The Leaf-Chronicle (Clarksville, Montgomery, Tennessee, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

With John’s death and Betsy’s broken engagement, the Bell Witch was satisfied. She left the family alone (more or less) after that. But even today she’s said to still be making trouble in her old Tennessean haunts.

Find more on the Bell Witch and related stories with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Mardi Gras a Century Ago

It’s a bit of a read, but this article on Mardi Gras from 1894 gives a wonderful sense of the way traditions connect us through centuries. How much has changed, and how much stays the same?

Mardi Gras history and traditions, 1894Mardi Gras history and traditions, 1894 Sun, Feb 25, 1894 – Page 5 · The Times (Shreveport, Caddo, Louisiana, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

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The Flannan Isles Disappearance

In December 1900, something very unusual happened on one of the desolate Scottish islands that make up the Flannan Isles. All three men manning the lighthouse on the largest of the seven islands disappeared without a trace.

The Three Missing Men Behind the Locked DoorThe Three Missing Men Behind the Locked Door Sun, Feb 9, 1975 – 76 · Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

An Empty Lighthouse

Three men manned the lighthouse at one time. In the early days of the newly built lighthouse, those three men were Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald McArthur. A fourth man, Joseph Moore, was due to relieve one of the men in late December following his two-week break.

The first signs of something amiss came on December 15th, when a passing ship reported that no guiding light came from the lighthouse. For reasons of bad weather or convenience, no one went to investigate. It wasn’t until the 26th that a ship finally arrived at the island bearing supplies and Joseph Moore, and the sad reality was discovered.

Mystery of the Atlantic - Lighthouse DisasterMystery of the Atlantic – Lighthouse Disaster Fri, Dec 28, 1900 – 5 · The Courier and Argus (Dundee, Tayside, Scotland) · Newspapers.com

Possible Explanations

The generally accepted explanation goes something like this: the men were trying to secure a crane or aid someone in distress when they were swept away by an unexpected, massive wave. But the unusual nature of the story, and the mysterious clues left behind (often embellished in the papers, of course), led to other increasingly dramatic theories:

Flannan Isles Disappearance theoriesFlannan Isles Disappearance theories Sun, Jul 24, 1994 – 158 · The Observer (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com

Still a Mystery

Unfortunately, the bodies of the three men were never found. The details of what exactly happened to the lighthouse keepers on that remote and stormy isle remain a mystery.

You can find more on this strange disappearance with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Love at First Sight

Here’s a little love joke to wrap up the month of all things lovey-dovey:

Love at first sight jokeLove at first sight joke Wed, Mar 7, 1923 – 3 · The Alexander City Outlook (Alexander City, Alabama, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

There’s plenty more like this to be found on Newspapers.com. Try a search for something specific or browse through the pages for gems like the one above.

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