December 2019 Newsletter: A Decade of Weird
Dead frog bikinis! Mummified ship captains! Human skin pants! A look back at the last decade of Cult of Weird.
As 2019 draws to a close, we’re obliged to reflect everything we’ve accomplished in the last ten years. Collectively we’ve come a long way! We have survived the end of the world multiple times. Several were nothing more than humdrum fire and brimstone revelations that unsurprisingly never seem to materialize. We’ve survived a lot of those throughout human history. But in this decade we survived the BIG ONE: the end of the twelfth baktun on the Mayan calendar, which has long been said to foretell the end of the world on December 21, 2012.
But we made it. We survived! And here we are alive and well in the thirteenth baktun, having lived through the rare Galactic Alignment predicted by the Mayan’s advanced understanding of celestial mechanics, in which our sun aligned with the center of the Milky Way in it’s 26,000-year cycle.
I just finished reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so I’m compelled to remind you that no matter what happens, don’t panic.
In this decade we sent a car careening into the cosmos
Somehow, for better or worse, we always seem come out on the other side of whatever Armageddon happens to be trending at the moment.
Everything else that happened in this decade pales in comparison to surviving the end of the world mostly intact.
The only thing that even comes close is, of course, that I launched Cult of Weird in 2010.
I started it at the beginning of the decade, and it’s still here for the end. And during that time, more than 5.5 million curious explorers have made the pilgrimage to this strange land in the backwaters of the Internet. Yeah, million. Holy shit.
Sure, you all probably ended up at my digital roadside attraction by accident while collecting roadkill from the ditches of the information superhighway to make weird art with, but I’ll take it.
Just as all rivers lead to the ocean, all toilets eventually flush to Cult of Weird.
In this decade, Cult of Weird content has been featured on Comedy Central and shared by the likes of National Geographic, Elvira, Neil Gaiman, and more. I’ve deftly avoided countless emails from television producers on multiple continents requesting my appearance as an expert on various topics for their television shows. My work on the legacy of Ed Gein is being taught to Canadian high school students.
I mean, what more could I ask for? I’ve made it. This is it, the pinnacle of my achievement. I can die happy knowing that, in some small measure, maybe I’ve left the world a stranger place.
This decade has seen some pretty unusual occurrences. Short of digging through ten years of social media posts, though, there’s no way I’m remembering enough of those strange headlines to make the top list of WTF news and science I originally intended to.
Instead, I’m going to share 10 of my favorite Cult of Weird posts from the last ten years:
The 2016 story of a mummified boat captain found drifting at sea has, as they say, all the feels. Or at least all the sad ones. It also bears the distinction of being the most viewed post on Cult of Weird EVER.
Inside the HMS Terror
The 2010s finally saw the discovery of the Franklin Expedition ships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, which vanished in 1847. The tale of these two ships becoming stuck in ice while their crews went mad and turned to cannibalism for survival is both tragic and fascinating. It was exhilarating, albeit a bit eerie, to see the first video footage from inside the wreck of the Terror for the first time this year.
Feather Death Crowns
J. Nathan Couch, author of Goatman: Flesh or Folklore?, contributed a great article about a strange phenomenon from his old stomping grounds of Appalachia: The feather death crown. Known more poetically as a “hillbilly hairball,” this clump of feathers often discovered in the down pillow of a sick person is said to foretell imminent death.
Head of the Dusseldorf Vampire
There is something particularly unnerving about the head of one of history’s most deranged men being on display in the water park capital of the world, so I had to track it down. Described as the “king of the sexual perverts,” German serial killer Peter Kurten was aroused by bludgeoning his victims and watching them bleed. He would sometimes even drink the blood from their wounds. Next time you take the fam on a vacay to Wisconsin Dells, be sure to say hi to this guy.
Taxidermy Frog Bikini
You guys send me a lot of strange things in my email, but this was one of those submissions that demanded to be shared immediately: A swamp girl who fashioned her bikini from of dead frogs.
More fun fashion! Between my post here on Cult of Weird and a similar article posted later that year by the folks at Atlas Obscura, there was a brief but glorious moment around Christmas of 2013 when necropants was trending on Twitter. You’re welcome, world.
Ed Gein’s Cauldron
I was contacted in 2015 by a Wisconsin man trying to drum up some publicity for an item he would be selling in a few days at a local auction. The item, he claimed, was a haunted cauldron used by Ed Gein to hold the entrails of his victims. However skeptical I was, I’ve been researching and writing about Gein’s legacy a long time, and the opportunity to write about a previously unknown facet of the story was exciting.
My original post about the cauldron was shared, reprinted, and sourced in headlines around the world. It caught the attention of Ghost Adventures star Zak Bagans who was buying up haunted and cursed items for, at the time, an unknown reason. He phoned in the winning bid on the Gein cauldron, which you can now see on display at his Haunted Museum in Las Vegas. It’s even made a few television appearances in which, naturally, it emanates evil energy and whatnot.
Coffin Found Beneath Home
In 2016, renovations at a San Francisco home uncovered a 19th-century coffin containing the remarkably well-preserved remains of a three-year-old girl. The house was built on land once occupied by 30,000 inhabitants of the Odd Fellows cemetery. When those burials, along with many others around the city, were dug up and moved to Colma in the early 1900s, this one was left behind.
The unknown girl, nicknamed Miranda Eve by researchers, was taken to Colma and buried once again among the Odd Fellows. Her identity was discovered in 2017.
Mummified Monk in the Statue
In 2015 a CT scan yielded a bizarre: the 1,000-year-old mummified remains of a monk inside a Buddha statue. Stranger yet, it may have been a case of self-mummification.
The Witherell House
One fateful October night in 1999, a friend shared with me the story of an abandoned house near his hometown of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin where, according to local legend, a man murdered his family. I was 18, we were bored, and I couldn’t resist a good legend.
The next day we learned the house wasn’t exactly “abandoned.”
While the legend may have no basis in fact, the house still bears a sinister reputation. Now, 20 years later, I’ve started to piece together the long history of the house “cursed by death”, with its unlikely connections to Jeffrey Dahmer, Wisconsin’s early statehood, and a disturbing practice of divine healing dating back to the Middle Ages.
I framed a photo of the Witherell House and showed it, along with two other “cursed” locations with strange pasts, for a dark art exhibit in Manitowoc.
What were some of the strangest headlines and happenings in the last decade? Share your thoughts in the comments below.