A pilot’s eyewitness account of unidentified aircraft ignited a storm of “flying saucer” sightings in 1947.
Who is the elusive old Fijian called ‘Cannibal Tom’ in so many old photographs and vintage postcards?
A photo of Cannibal Tom from an Underwood & Underwood stereoview dated 1906
I’ve spent the last few months immersed in the history of Fiji for the upcoming Cannibal Isles box sets, which will be available in the Cult of Weird shop in July. I’ve been digging through 150 years of seaman’s yarns, missionary journals, and news articles to understand the savage culture of the Fiji islands in the 1800s, as well as the volatile politics that culminated in Reverend Thomas Baker’s gruesome demise in 1867.
One face that routinely turns up in old photos and postcards while researching Fiji’s dark past is that of an old man with long, thick dreadlocks. Some photos refer to him as “Cannibal Tom,” while others are simply captioned “an old cannibal.” The most well-known photo is an Underwood & Underwood stereoview dated 1906. In this photo, the man is wearing a civa (pearl-shell) breastplate on his chest, and a sulu, a skirt-like wrap tribesmen traded their loin cloths for when they converted to Christianity. He holds a long pole in one hand, a machete in the other. The caption says “Cannibal Tom (80 years old), the last relic of Fiji cannibalism.”
But who is this guy really? Is he a chief? A legendary warrior?
If I was going to put Cannibal Tom on your fridge, I would need to know more about him. That proved challenging, however, as there doesn’t seem to be a shred of historical references to the man in the photos.
When I came up empty handed, I decided to reach out to the Fiji Museum in The capital of Suva (which will be my first stop if I am ever able to afford a trip to Fiji) to see what they might know. To my surprise (and extreme gratitude) I received a response from the museum’s collections department. Strangely, though, it seems there won’t be any answers.
Apparently there is no official record or mention of Cannibal Tom in their archives, nothing pointing to the real identity of the man said to be Fiji’s last cannibal. Most of the photos were captured in the 1870s-80s when he appears to be 70-80 years old, so researchers believe he probably really was a cannibal as a young man in the 1840s before the early Methodist missionaries convinced the “heathens” of the Cannibal Isles to swap their war clubs for bibles.
So Cannibal Tom, Fiji’s most famous (or maybe just most photogenic) cannibal, remains a mystery.
The skull of notorious cannibal Alexander Pearce has been in the collection of a Pennsylvania museum for many years, and Tasmania wants it returned home.
The skull of Tasmanian cannibal killer Alexander Pearce
Alexander Pearce was hanged in the town of Hobart, Tasmania in 1824 for murder and cannibalism. The surgeon who performed the subsequent dissection sold Pearce’s skull to American physician and natural scientist Samuel George Morton. Dr. Morton’s studies in craniometry lead to his belief that skull size was directly related to intellectual capacity. He believed each race was created individually and that Caucasians, who had the largest skulls, were the most intelligent.
Morton was one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Medical College in Philadelphia, where he served as a professor of anatomy until 1843. Though recent examinations of his work seem to indicate his measurements were inaccurate and his data skewed by racial bias, Morton’s impressive collection of crania is still studied today.
He spent years obtaining skulls through correspondence with his many connections around the world, amassing 867 meticulously labelled and catalogued skulls that became known as “the American Golgotha” in scientific circles because it was the largest of its kind. This collection, including the skull of Alexander Pearce, is now in the hands of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
The Morton skull collection is housed in Penn Museum’s Physical Anthropology section
“Man’s Flesh is Delicious”
Pearce, an Irish farmer, was sentenced to Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania, in 1819 for the theft of six pairs of shoes. He escaped in 1822, but was eventually caught. He received a longer sentence, and was moved to Macquarie Harbour Penal Station, a place with a reputation as one of the harshest penal settlements in Australia.
Not long after, he led an escape with seven other convicts along the rough and untamed West Coast. Starvation began to take hold after 15 days in the wilderness, so the men drew straws to see who would become their next meal. When the unlucky bearer of the short straw was killed, three men fled the group. The remaining four battled it out to see who would outlast the others, but it was Pearce who landed the final axe blow.
Pearce was caught after 113 days on the run and locked up in Hobart. He confessed the fate of his fellow escapees to Rev. Robert Knopwood, but Knopwood didn’t believe it. He thought the others were still out there in the bush and Pearce was just covering for them. Pearce was sent back to Macquarie Harbour where he escaped again less than a year later, this time with a young convict named Thomas Cox. He was caught alone 10 days later with pieces of human flesh in his pockets. Though he carried with him a good supply of food, it seems he didn’t wait long before dispatching and consuming his unsuspecting victim.
There was no question of his guilt this time. Pearce was sentenced to death and hanged in Hobart on July 19, 1824. Just before his death, he reportedly said, “Man’s flesh is delicious. It tastes far better than fish or pork.”
Pearce’s exploits are ingrained in Tasmanian folklore and hold a certain ghastly allure for visitors to the area. Now, after nearly 200 years, the people of Tasmania’s West Coast would like to see the skull of their notorious cannibal killer returned home where it belongs.
The Morton Collection of Human Skulls at the Penn Museum
Cult of Weird and the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference have joined forces to host a summer speculative fiction writing contest.
You know what the longest, most grueling and excruciating day of the year means, right? Yes, it’s summer solstice, pagan rituals, and the launch of the speculative fiction writing contest hosted by Cult of Weird and the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference! We’ve teamed up to unearth the nightmares lurking in your twisted mind through the art of the short story. Before you start exorcising those demons, though, there are a few things you need to know.
The first place winner will receive a Milwaukee Paranormal Conference VIP Pass, a prize pack of cool stuff from conference vendors and sponsors (including Cult of Weird) and their story published in the conference program. Second and Third place winners will both receive Milwaukee Paranormal Conference 2-Day Super Passes, a prize pack, and will have their stories published on the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference website.
All three placing winners will be invited to read their stories at the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference on October 15-16 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Union.
Ready to put your pen to paper and make our skin crawl?
Here are the contest rules:
- The story needs to incorporate a paranormal theme somehow. Should fall somewhere in the realm of one of these genres: horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery.
- The story setting needs to be Wisconsin, but it does not need to be a contemporary setting.
- The story should be no longer than 1500 words. You can submit previously published pieces if they fit the guidelines.
- Deadline is September 1 at Midnight.
- Submit stories as word docs to: email@example.com
- Winners will be announced on Sept 15th. Judging will be done by Cult of Weird, Furrow (a UWM literary organization and magazine) and creative writing staff from UW-Washington County.
So get out your quill and ink and start conjuring something mystifying.
For more Milwaukee Paranormal Conference news, guest speakers, schedule of events, tickets and more, go to www.milwaukeeparacon.com
Bloody opera features gore and nudity as an anatomist dissects and woman who murdered her family to find what made her evil.
The LA Opera premiered a grisly theatrical production called Anatomy Theater from composer David Lang and artist Mark Dion. Based on actual 18th-century texts, it tells the story of a woman who endures endless abuse at the hands of husband. When she finally snaps, she murders him, as well as their children, then takes the plunge on the gallows. She spends the rest of the show as a singing corpse, being gutted by an anatomist and his assistant searching for the vile organ that made her evil.
“We’re living in a world at this moment where people are afraid, where people are afraid of each other,” Lang says, “and this idea of what makes people evil — how you can tell, where it is in them, how you protect yourself from it — is unfortunately a very current idea, but it’s also a very old idea.”
The corpse, played by Peabody Southwell, is naked and dissected on an upright table for 45 minutes. She told The Guardian:
“I can play dead in clothes much easier. But as all of my breathing mechanism is visible and my swallowing mechanism is visible and it’s very obvious. I worked with my Pilates teacher and my meditation teacher. It’s the opposite of singer breathing. I have to find this incredibly shallow breath that I can sustain for 45 minutes.”
“Through the miracle of Opera, she sings through it all.”
Anatomy Theater runs through June 20. Tickets and info right here.