How Tuberculosis Inspired the 19th-Century New England Vampire Panic

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Jenkins via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On March 19, 1892, the Evening Herald of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania printed a story describing what it called a “horrible superstition.”

A young man named Edwin Brown in Exeter, Rhode Island had been suffering from illness for some time. His mother and eldest sister had died from the same disease, then called “consumption” because of the way its victims wasted away (and now known as tuberculosis). Edwin traveled from Exeter to Colorado Springs—a popular destination due to its dry climate and specialized disease treatment centers—but his health did not improve. While he was away, his sister Mercy also became ill and quickly died.

When Edwin returned home after Mercy’s death, his health declined. His desperate father turned to an old folk belief: When members of the same family waste away from consumption, it could be because one of the deceased was draining the life force of their living relatives.

With a doctor and some neighbors in tow, Edwin and Mercy’s father exhumed the bodies of each family member who had died of the illness. He found skeletons in the graves of his wife and eldest daughter, and a doctor found Mercy’s remains, which had been interred for nine weeks and looked relatively normal in its decay.

However, liquid blood was found in Mercy’s heart and liver. Although the doctor said this was fairly standard and not a sign of the supernatural, the organs were removed and cremated before Mercy was reburied, just in case. But the exhumation and cremation did nothing for Edwin Brown’s disease: He died two months later.

Newspapers were quick to connect these folk rituals with vampire legends, especially those of Eastern Europe. Vampire stories from all over were printed on the front pages of 19th-century New England, describing similar rituals in distant locations. Like the New Englanders, people in remote parts of Europe were exhuming bodies when people fell ill, and burning or planting stakes in those that seemed too full of life.

But the New Englanders who took part in these rituals didn’t necessarily believe there was a supernatural cause of their family members’ illness, as author and folklorist Michael E. Bell writes in his book Food for the Dead. Although some may have harbored beliefs about vampires, many were simply desperate, and unwilling to leave untried any remedy that might save the lives of those they loved—even an outlandish or gruesome method.

Tuberculosis was entrenched in the Americas even before the United States existed as a country. President George Washington himself likely fought the disease after contracting it from his brother—ironically, on a trip taken to Barbados in an attempt to treat Lawrence Washington’s illness, according to medical historian Howard Markel of the University of Michigan.

Washington wasn’t alone. Other notable American sufferers of tuberculosis included James Monroe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Washington Irving, John “Doc” Holliday, and Helen Hunt Jackson.

In 1786, when health officials first began recording mortality rates connected to the deadly infection, Massachusetts alone recorded 300 consumption deaths for every 100,000 residents. Between that year and 1800, tuberculosis killed 2 percent of New England’s population. In many cases, living in the same home was enough for the disease to spread throughout an entire family. It was estimated that anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of the U.S. population had latent or active tuberculosis infections.

Today, most people understand that tuberculosis is spread through the air, by breathing in bacteria coughed up by people with active infections in their lungs or throats. There are vaccines, though they’re rarely used in the U.S., and treatments for those who contract active tuberculosis infections.

In the 1800s, however, germ theory was only just beginning to gain supporters among the medical community. Doctors were still arguing over the causes of tuberculosis in 1895, and treatment mainly consisted of leaving large cities like New York and Boston, where the disease ran rampant, for places like Pasadena, California and Colorado Springs, where the climate was supposed to help ease the symptoms. Until the rise of the sanatoria movement (basically, rest-oriented treatment centers) at the end of the 19th century, few medical treatments worked. Even sanatoria only helped some patients.

As tuberculosis spread from the cities out into the countryside, people didn’t know what caused it or how to stop it. In some New England towns, such as Lynn, Massachusetts, it was the leading cause of death, Bell says. Entire families were wiped out, and there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to who caught the illness.

It was not a pleasant way to die. Symptoms included wasting, night sweats, and fatigue, and a persistent cough that sometimes produced white phlegm or foamy blood. Occasionally, the cough turned into hemorrhaging. Those who caught it could not know if they would eventually recover, painfully waste away over the course of years, or die in a matter of months from the “galloping” form of the disease. If they did recover, there was always the fear that the illness would return.

“Cholera, plague, smallpox, yellow fever, influenza, and measles were fast-burning epidemics that appeared, killed, and then went dormant as immunities kicked in,” Bell says. Tuberculosis did not. It was an unrelenting fact of life in the 1800s. With no other explanations, people turned to the supernatural to understand the epidemic, and to offer hope of a cure.

Enter the vampire.

The vampire legend may have made its way into New England as an early version of the unproven “miracle cure” for tuberculosis. In 1784, a newspaper published a letter about a foreign “quack doctor” who had been spreading an unusual cure for consumption. According to the letter, when a third member of the Willington, Connecticut family of Isaac Johnson contracted the disease, the quack doctor advised him to dig up two family members who had already died of the illness. The bodies were inspected for any sprouting plants, and the letter writer—who said he was an eyewitness—reported that sorrel was found. The doctor advised the Johnson family to burn the sorrel with the vital organs to remove sickness from his family, an idea the letter-writer called an imposture.

But those who had lost multiple loved ones, and faced losing more, were willing to try anyway.

Anthropologist George R. Stetson later connected the New England beliefs to similar rituals from Russia, Hungary, Prussia, and Serbia, as well as other parts of Europe, ancient Greece and the Caribbean. In his 1896 article The Animistic Vampire in New England, Stetson described the case of one unnamed mason who credited his own health to the ritual. The man had two brothers who had contracted tuberculosis. When the first died, a respected member of the community suggested the family burn his vital organs to save the second brother. The second brother protested and the ritual wasn’t done; he continued to sicken and die. When the mason got sick, the second brother was exhumed, and “living blood” was found. A cremation was held (it’s unclear if it was just the blood or the full body that was burned), and the mason soon recovered.

New England vampires were not the supernatural revenants of novels like Dracula, who rose from the dead as walking corpses to drain blood from the living, Bell told mental_floss. Instead, they were believed to drain the life force of their loved ones through some spiritual connection that continued even after death.

“The ‘vampires’ in the New England tradition were not the reanimated corpses, bodily leaving their graves to suck the blood of living relatives, that we know from European folklore, filtered through Gothic literature and popular culture,” Bell says. “New England’s ‘microbes with fangs’ (as one medical practitioner recently termed them) were, however, just as fearful and deadly as the fictional Dracula.”

If a body was exhumed and liquid blood could be found, or it seemed to be far better preserved than expected, one of a number of rituals were performed, including burning the corpse (and sometimes inhaling the smoke); rearranging the corpse or turning it upside down and reburying it; or burning vital organs like the heart and liver. Occasionally, Bell says, the ashes were consumed by family members afflicted with tuberculosis.

One of the more remarkable cases Bell has discovered is that of the Rev. Justus Forward and his daughter Mercy (no relation to Mercy Brown). In 1788, the minister had already lost three daughters to consumption; Mercy and another sister were fighting the illness. As Mercy Forward traveled to a neighboring town with her father one day, she began to hemorrhage.

Forward was reluctant to try opening the graves of his deceased family members, but allowed himself to be convinced, willing to do anything to save his daughter. His mother-in-law’s grave was opened first, without result. However, he soon found a grave that fit the requirements. Bell relays a portion of a letter written by Forward:

“Since I had begun to search, I concluded to search further … and this morning opened the grave of my daughter … who had died—the last of my three daughters—almost six years ago … On opening the body, the lungs were not dissolved, but had blood in them, though not fresh, but clotted. The lungs did not appear as we would suppose they would in a body just dead, but far nearer a state of soundness than could be expected. The liver, I am told, was as sound as the lungs. We put the lungs and liver in a separate box, and buried it in the same grave, ten inches or a foot, above the coffin.”

The act didn’t save Mercy, Bell says, but Forward’s other children seemed to recover. And the willingness of Forward and his family to attempt the ritual impartially helped to relieve fear in his community, Bell notes: “He ultimately authorized a ritual that, in effect, reestablished social stability, essentially proclaiming that the dead were, indeed, dead once again.”

There were other cases, too:

At the end of the 19th century, Daniel Ransom wrote in his memoirs about his brother Frederick, a Dartmouth College student who died of tuberculosis in 1817. The boys’ father worried that Frederick would feed on the rest of the family, and had Frederick exhumed and his heart burned at a blacksmith’s forge. The cure didn’t work, however, and Daniel Ransom lost his mother and three siblings over the next several years.

In the 1850s, Henry Ray of Jewett City, Connecticut dug up the bodies of his brothers and had them burned when he, too, contracted tuberculosis. In a nearby case, a grave belonging to someone known only as “J.B.” was broken into—possibly by family members or friends, who often conducted the rituals—and the skeletal remains were rearranged into a skull and crossbones shape. Researchers speculate that it might have been done to stop J.B. from becoming a vampire, or because he was blamed for a living person’s illness.

Henry David Thoreau wrote of another case in his journal in September 1859: “The savage in man is never quite eradicated. I have just read of a family in Vermont—who, several of its members having died of consumption, just burned the lungs & heart & liver of the last deceased, in order to prevent any more from having it.”

These tales found their way into newspapers throughout the U.S., along with European tales of vampires, werewolves, and witches, reflecting the late 19th century’s fascination with the afterlife and the supernatural. Such stories from New England may even have inspired Bram Stoker’s story of Dracula.

The rituals continued until Mercy Brown’s exhumation in 1892, 10 years after Robert Koch discovered the bacteria that caused tuberculosis. Eventually, germ theory began to take hold, and contagion was better understood. Infection rates began to go down as hygiene and nutrition improved.

But until then, people were often willing to cling to any chance for themselves and their loved ones under the “gnawing sense of hopelessness” those with the disease lived with, Bell says:

“In short, for the pragmatic Yankee, the bottom line was, ‘What do I have to do to stop this scourge?’ The ritual was a folk remedy rather than an elaborated detailed belief system.”

October 31, 2016 – 7:00pm

A Brief History of the Chain Letter

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History can be maddeningly unspecific about certain things, particularly chronology. But when it comes to the history of the chain letter, it’s very possible that Jesus was the first to author one.

Hundreds of years ago, a story made the rounds that seemed incredible. Fifty-five years after Jesus had been resurrected and ascended into heaven, he decided to author a letter offering wisdom to his human charges. The note was taken to earth and hidden under a rock, which a young and earnest boy was able to lift. From there, the note was copied and circulated, each facsimile bearing a strange warning:

“He that copieth this letter shall be blessed of me. He that does not shall be cursed.”

As hoaxes go, it wasn’t a bad way to get someone’s attention. Copies of the letter survive from as early as the mid-1700s, proof that people have always had an innate curiosity—and superstition—about chain letters. In the decades that followed, hundreds of thousands of people have received and forwarded letters that promise charity, prosperity, or religious enlightenment.

The price for not being on board? Usually awful luck. Or death.


In 1888, a Methodist women’s missionary group was having serious cash flow problems. Additions to their facilities had added up to an astounding $16,000. While the group leaders prayed for assistance, they also acknowledged they might need to take the initiative.

Just when all hope seemed lost, a woman who had heard of their troubles said that she had a possible solution: Someone had told her that arranging for a chain letter could be a possible avenue to financial reward. Around the same time, the church received a chain letter requesting funds for another now forgotten object, sent to them by someone who thought it would work for this group as well. The head of the congregation, Lucy Rider Meyer, took the suggestions seriously and drafted a letter that contained both a solicitation to send her one dime and to send a copy of the letter to three friends, who would (hopefully) repeat the process.

Meyer dashed off 1500 copies and waited. The responses came pouring in. The missionaries eventually raised $6000, with many people sending more than a dime and others even using the letter as the inspiration to join their flock. In spirit and cold cash, the chain letter had been a success. Mostly.

While most recipients were happy to either contribute or disregard the letter, a few took the time to write back and complain about being targeted multiple times. One irritated addressee wrote:

“To tell the plain truth, I am exasperated with this plan. I am a very busy woman, and this is the third benevolence I have been asked to help in this way.”

Others took a more direct way of holding on to their cash:

“I have figured up, and you must already have an abundance of money for the house. So I won’t send any.”

The missionaries dubbed the chain letter a “peripatetic contribution box,” a kind of postal hat-passing that immediately began growing in popularity. Newspapers like the New York World printed forms to raise money for a memorial for Spanish-American war soldiers; in 1898, a 17-year-old volunteer for the Red Cross devised a chain that solicited money for ice to send to troops stationed in Cuba. So many thousands of letters poured in that they choked her Babylon, New York post office, prompting her mother to issue an open plea to stop people from sending any more.

While potentially annoying to some, many of these letters were altruistic in nature—an attempt to drum up financial support for what was considered to be a worthy cause. But it didn’t take long for the template to be adapted to a less noble pursuit: conning people out of money.

At the height (or low point) of the Great Depression in 1935, the city of Denver became the epicenter of a massive chain letter campaign known as the Send-a-Dime effort. In a time of severe financial strife, recipients were urged to send along money to a list of names, with their own fortune coming when their turn arrived in the queue.

People in desperate need of hope began to rely on a promise of prosperity, populating chain letter brokerage firms that sold shares in names due to hit it big. The brokers made thousands; the letter writers made nothing. Western Union was sued for over $27 million for helping perpetuate the fraud, and the postal service threatened prosecution under anti-lottery and anti-solicitation statutes. Although dime letters have since fallen by the wayside, chain letters were never totally stifled. In 1978, students at Harvard became fascinated by the “Circle of Gold” ploy sweeping the nation, where a letter could be purchased for $100 from some well-meaning seller. Fifty of those dollars would go to the person selling the letter, and the remaining $50 would be mailed to an address at the top of a list of names and addresses. The top name would be crossed out, the second place name moved up, and the buyer would attempt to sell two more letters. These were interesting marriages of chain letters as pyramid schemes, a theme that has often repeated itself.

Often, chain letters took delight in provoking a person’s superstitious nature, warning of severe consequences for not following the instructions. In some cases, there was a caution that not advancing the message would result in no change to the status quo. In others, it would be an outright warning of misfortune. These often contained testimonials that tried to personalize fate by detailing the name of a past recipient who either followed the instructions and prospered or didn’t follow the instructions and was immediately struck by a bus. For people who might otherwise be prone to tossing the letter, it helped ensure that the deliverer’s message (or scam) would be tended to properly.


In the 1990s, just before email replaced physical letters as the delivery method of choice for these pyramid scams and religious tracts, an unknown source perpetuated what became known as the “underpants exchange.” The letter read:

“Send one pair of pretty underwear of your choice to the person listed below, and send a copy of this letter to six friends…If you can’t do this in seven days, please notify me because it isn’t fair to those who have participated…You will receive 36 pairs of pretty panties!”

Despite whatever curious urge was gripping the originator, the pretty panties circulation thrived: the Baltimore Sun reported several satisfied enrollees who got mailed several pairs of underwear every week.

Chain letters still exist, primarily as social media threads that solicit money or gifts for lists of people in the hopes a person’s “turn” will eventually come. Aside from the occasional deluge of undergarments, it’s always a losing proposition. When Denver’s Send-a-Dime Depression scam came to an end, more than 100,000 “dead” letters were forwarded to the real winner: the U.S. Treasury, which took possession of $3000 in dimes.

October 31, 2016 – 6:45pm

Listen to an Excerpt From ‘The Secret History of Twin Peaks’

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The third season of Twin Peaks won’t be hitting Showtime until 2017, but co-creator Mark Frost and publisher Macmillan Audio are already getting fans back in the mood for a “damn fine cup of coffee.” The publisher recently released an excerpt of the first chapter from Frost’s book, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, reports Open Culture.

The new multimedia novel—which was released in mid-October—is described by the publisher as a “vastly layered, wide-ranging history” of Twin Peaks, Washington and serves as a spinoff and prequel to the cult TV show. It chronicles the 25 years between seasons two and three, between when the series was canceled in 1991 and its upcoming return to Showtime. Told through FBI dossier, its timeline goes as far back as the 19th century, with the journals of Lewis and Clark, and ends just before the start of season three.

The print version of the novel features a series of arrest reports, full-color photos and illustrations, maps, sticky notes, and newspaper clippings, while the audiobook is nearly 10 hours long with a majority of the original cast reprising their roles, including Michael Horse, Russ Tamblyn, Chris Mulkey, David Patrick Kelly, and Kyle MacLachlan. It even features the new cast from season three, including Amy Shiels, James Morrison, and Robert Knepper.

[h/t Open Culture]

October 31, 2016 – 6:30pm

13 of History’s Most Famous Ghost Photos

filed under: Lists, weird
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In our “pics or it didn’t happen” era, photographic evidence is often considered to be proof that an event actually took place. This is not necessarily the case, however, with paranormal photography. Almost since the time photography was invented, people have been using the medium in attempts to provide visual proof of existence beyond death. For many, the jury is still out. Here are some of the more famous examples of ghosts supposedly captured by cameras.


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The mysterious and perfectly composed photograph of the “Brown Lady” of Raynham Hall is arguably the most famous and well-regarded ghost photo ever taken. The image was shot in September 1936 by photographers documenting 17th-century Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England, for Country Life magazine. One account states that photographer Captain Hubert Provand had his head buried in the focusing cloth (a feature common on cameras at the time) when his assistant Indre Shira glimpsed a veiled form gliding down the house’s grand oak staircase and excitedly demanded that he take a picture. By the time Provand raised his head, the figure had vanished, leading Provand to suggest that Shira had imagined the incident. The development process, however, revealed something unsettling.

The ghost, thought to be that of Lady Dorothy Townshend, has been glimpsed several times since the early 1800s. Although Lady Townshend officially died of smallpox in 1726, more lurid legends later sprung up, including that she was locked in her bedroom by her husband for committing adultery. Witnesses describe the phantom as having an air of madness or menace about it. The specter has reportedly been seen intermittently about the hall since the photo was taken.


Ghost on the tulip staircase, Greenwich

As with many ghost photographs, the famous Tulip Staircase Ghost photo was taken by someone who had no idea they had captured anything unusual until the image was developed. Rev. Ralph Hardy, a retired clergyman from British Columbia, was visiting the Queen’s House at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, in 1966 when he snapped a picture of an interesting spiral staircase, known as the Tulip Staircase. Hardy returned home, had his pictures developed, and was showing them off when a friend asked who was on the staircase. Surprised, Hardy said that he had no idea, and that there had been no one when he took the picture. The image has been examined by experts, including some from Kodak, who have confirmed that it has not been tampered with. The identity of the ghost, if that’s indeed what it is, remains unclear, though some have speculated that it’s a maid who supposedly died on the stairs 300 years ago.


This photo supposedly depicts the ghost of a man who was being interred several miles away at the time it was taken. Lord Combermere had been struck and killed by a carriage in London in 1891, shortly before amateur photographer Sybell Corbet took a picture in the library of Combermere Abbey, the lord’s home. It took about an hour for Corbet to expose the image, and when it appeared on the plate it revealed a man resembling Combermere sitting in his favorite chair. Interestingly, the figure’s legs are missing, which is made all the more spooky given that Combermere’s legs were badly damaged in the carriage accident.


Freddy Jackson

Some people, whether alive or dead, hate to miss a photo op. Freddie Jackson, a mechanic in the Royal Air Force during World War I, was killed by an airplane propeller around 1919. On the day of Jackson’s funeral, a group photo was taken of his squadron, which had served aboard the HMS Daedalus. Jackson, so the story goes, did not want to be left out of the photo, even after death, and his face can be glimpsed behind the fourth airman from the left in the back row. The photo was not made public until 1975, when it was revealed by retired RAF officer Victor Goddard, who had been in Jackson’s squadron. Many of the details of this much-repeated story, however, have been called into question, along with the photo’s legitimacy.


This paranormal photograph was taken by the Ghost Research Society of America during a visit to Bachelor’s Grove cemetery in Illinois. The group was visiting the small, abandoned cemetery in a suburb near Chicago in 1991 when inexplicable readings were observed on their equipment. Although no visible ghostly phenomena were observed at the time, a photo taken in the area later revealed a woman in white clothing, described as being “out of date,” sitting on a tombstone. Bachelor’s Grove is reputed to be one of the world’s most haunted cemeteries.


The Corroboree Rock Ghost, also known as “The Watcher,” is said to have been captured on film by Reverend R.S. Blance during a 1959 visit to the Corroboree Rock formation in Australia. Blance claims he was alone at the time he took the photo and only saw the figure after developing the image later. Interestingly, the figure, which appears in a long gown, suggests different things to different people, who have variously described it as a woman in a nightgown, an Aboriginal woman in traditional dress, or a priest. (The rock formation itself holds spiritual significance for local Aboriginal people.)


Terry Ike Clanton, an actor and “cowboy poet” who runs the website, shot this photo of a friend dressed in 1880s cowboy attire in Arizona’s Boothill Graveyard. Clanton says the unexpected appearance of a strange visitor in the background forever changed his opinions about ghost photos. The figure appears to be a man in a black hat, rising out of the ground in an odd way that suggests that he is either legless or kneeling. Clanton, who specifies that the image was shot on film rather than digitally, says he attempted to recreate the photograph with a person in the background, but the task proved impossible.


This creepy image was allegedly captured in the infamous Amityville house during a 1976 investigation led by paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren. A camera was set up on the second floor landing to shoot black-and-white infrared film throughout the night. Every image was empty of unusual phenomena, save this one. George Lutz, the patriarch at the center of the Amityville Horror story, revealed the photo on The Merv Griffin Show in 1979 and suggested it may show the ghost of John deFeo, a young boy who was murdered in the house before the Lutz family moved in. The authenticity of the photo, along with the Amityville story, has been widely doubted, with some holding that the photo depicts Paul Bartz, who was part of the Warrens’ investigation team.



A man named Tony O’Rahilly captured this image of a mysterious girl standing amid the flames as Wem Town Hall in Shropshire, England burned to the ground in 1995. The intense heat of the flames prompted some to argue that no living thing could stand so close and exhibit such composure, leading to the conclusion that the girl must be a supernatural entity. Some town residents assumed the ghost was that of Jane Churn (sometimes spelled Churm), a girl who in 1677 accidentally set fire to her home and much of the town and is believed to haunt the area. O’Rahilly submitted the photo to the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena, who in turn consulted the former head of the Royal Photographic Society, both of whom said it hadn’t been tampered with. Others, however, have since debunked the photo as a hoax.


In 2008, photographer Neil Sandbach was taking shots at a farm in Hertfordshire, England, for a couple who planned to hold their wedding there. Examining his digital shots later, Sandbach was surprised to see the glowing, ghostly figure of a boy peeking around the corner of a building. The wedding couple later asked staff members at the farm if they had ever seen anything spooky or unusual on the premises and were told that some had, in fact, witnessed the figure of a young boy dressed in white night clothes.


Waverly Hills Sanatorium, an abandoned tuberculosis hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, saw its fair share of sickness and death during its years of operation in the first half of the 20th century. It has since gained a reputation as one of America’s most haunted sites and a destination for ghost-hunters. This image was captured in the sanatorium’s crumbling halls in 2006. Some say the figure resembles Mary Lee, a nurse who hung herself in the hospital after being impregnated by a doctor who later wanted nothing to do with her.


In the mid-1940s, a woman named Mrs. Andrews entered a cemetery in Queensland, Australia to visit the grave of her daughter, who had died in 1945 at age 17. Noticing nothing unusual, she snapped a photo of the plot and was later shocked to see a ghostly female child staring back at her. Researchers have said that the image is likely not a double exposure, as no pictures of children appear elsewhere on the roll of film. The graves of two female children were later found close by and it has been suggested that the photo shows one of their spirits.


Wikimedia // Fair use

This strange apparition appeared in a photo taken by Rev. Kenneth Lord in 1963 at Skelton-cum-Newby Church of Christ the Consoler. No previous evidence of paranormal activity had been reported at the church. Especially unsettling characteristics include the figure’s drooping face, which has been interpreted variously as a mask or deformity, and its significant height, thought to be about 9 feet in comparison to the surrounding furniture. Experts have said the photo is not the result of a double exposure, though its veracity is still subject to debate.

October 31, 2016 – 6:00pm

Millennials’ Love of Coffee Could Contribute to a Global Shortage

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Whether it’s the rise of hookup culture or the death of the napkin industry, Millennials are used to taking the blame. Now, it looks like a global coffee shortage could be the latest problem traced back to 19- to 34-year-olds. As Bloomberg reports, young people’s coffee-drinking habits are driving up global demand to record heights

Outlets have been reporting a looming coffee bean shortage all year, and the situation is growing increasingly dire. Since dry weather in Brazil has slowed the country’s crop of Robusta beans used for instant coffee, more companies have turned to Arabica beans as an alternative. But suppliers are struggling to keep up with the demand: During the last week in October, Arabica coffee prices in New York surged to their highest point in 20 months.

Demand for coffee in the U.S. is on its way to reaching record-breaking numbers, and Millennials’ taste for the beverage is contributing to the problem. The generation accounts for roughly 44 percent of the country’s total coffee consumption. According to the National Coffee Association, 48 percent of people aged 18 to 24 and 60 percent aged 25 to 39 drink coffee on a daily basis. Coffee drinkers are also developing the habit earlier in life, with Millennials born after 1995 starting up before age 15 (for comparison, average Millennials on the older end of the spectrum started drinking coffee at age 17).

The pressure Millennials are putting on the industry isn’t limited to the coffee-loving U.S. Markets like Brazil and China are also feeling the effects of their younger populations’ java cravings. Fortunately, stockpiles of unroasted coffee beans can provide coffee companies with a temporary cushion in case demand doesn’t slow down—which it doesn’t appear to be doing any time soon. In the meantime, Millennials might consider cutting down their coffee consumption with some alternative caffeine sources.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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October 31, 2016 – 5:30pm

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 served 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.

And 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 Mary 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.

October 31, 2016 – 5:00pm

Marvel’s First Live-Action ‘Dr. Strange’ Adaptation Was a Failed 1978 TV Pilot

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You might think that the superhero boom is a fairly recent trend in Hollywood, but the truth is that a similar spandex-clad revolution happened in movies and on TV back in the 1970s. This was a time when the Hulk, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel were all gracing television sets nationwide, while Superman was taking flight on the big screen. But in 1978, those heroes almost had a bit more company when CBS took a gamble on a pilot movie for a potential Dr. Strange television series.

Doctor Strange (spelled Dr. for TV) first appeared in the appropriately titled Marvel comic Strange Tales #110 in 1963, the product of creators Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, who had worked together the previous year to bring Spider-Man to life. Since the beginning, Strange was portrayed as a brilliant but cocky surgeon, who, after suffering career-ending injuries to his hands in a car accident, became the student of the Ancient One, who taught him in the ways of the mystical arts. All very routine comic book stuff, really.

So how did an offbeat character like Strange end up on CBS? The network already had success with The Incredible Hulk and (to a lesser degree) The Amazing Spider-Man TV projects in the late 1970s, and executives were looking to expand on their comic book portfolio. Enter: Dr. Strange, a TV movie starring Peter Hooten as the titular Master of the Mystic Arts (who was a psychiatrist, not a surgeon in the movie), and Jessica Walter, of Arrested Development and Archer fame, as his nemesis, Morgan le Fay, a comic take on the Arthurian legend.

Though Walter had some notoriety after being nominated for a Golden Globe and winning a Primetime Emmy years earlier, Hooten certainly wasn’t a household name. For that matter, neither was Dr. Strange himself; this was the first time the character would ever appear outside of a comic book. From the beginning the project was swimming upstream: No marquee star, an unknown comic book character, and special effects that didn’t quite match the original comic all worked against the movie. Instead of replicating the trippy, panel-breaking illustrations of Ditko and dimension-spanning scripts of Lee, fans were treated to something far more low-tech:

The basic plot of the movie sees Morgan le Fay charged with killing both the original Sorcerer Supreme, played by John Mills, and Stephen Strange, who is set to take his place. It was written and directed by Philip DeGuere Jr., and Lee was even brought on as a creative consultant. Though Lee held ceremonial positions on The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man, he had the most input on Dr. Strange.

Despite Lee’s involvement and the success of other Marvel series on the network, Dr. Strange simply didn’t pull in viewers. Couple that with a budget that was higher than what CBS was accustomed to and Dr. Strange never really stood a chance. It failed to be picked up as a series, and within just a few years, both Hulk and Spider-Man were off CBS as well, marking the end of a premature superhero fad that was probably a bit too ambitious for the state of television at the time.

The film has gained a dubious reputation from fans in recent years, but Hooten still sees it as something to be proud of:

“I thought it was pretty good. I was pleased. I thought it all worked. I think everyone was surprised by the low ratings. The network also had reservations about the show because it cost a lot to produce and they had other options [for less-costly shows to make]. It’s part of the disappointment of acting—you realize that it’s not in your hands.”

Nearly 40 years later, Doctor Strange is making a comeback, with Benedict Cumberbatch donning his cape on November 4. Though the new version doesn’t exactly have to hit a home run in order to one-up its 1978 predecessor, the history of Doctor Strange can’t be told without revisiting CBS’s ill-fated attempt to bring some magic to the superhero landscape.

October 31, 2016 – 4:30pm

7 Tips for Working From Home When You Have Kids

filed under: Work
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Over the past decade, the number of moms who choose to stay at home with their kids has steadily risen: According to Pew Research, 23 percent of mothers with kids under 18 in 1999 did not work outside the home; in 2012, that number rose to 29 percent. At the same time, more and more American workers are choosing to work remotely—in 2015, a Gallup poll showed that 37 percent of the U.S. workforce telecommutes for work. At the intersection of these two trends are the busy moms who watch their kids while working from home. How do they do it—and how can you do it, too? Start with these seven tips from telecommuting moms.


Lisa Brigham, senior corporate recruiter at Merkle, says she makes sure she gets up at 6 a.m. daily to look at her calendar and check and reply to emails. “I am usually able to work for about an hour before the kids are up,” she says.


Whenever the children are distracted by homework or activities, even if it’s just for 30 minutes, Brigham jumps onto the computer to work. And although she says she does her best to make clear when she’s unavailable for meetings at work due to her familial obligations, “there have been times when I have been on a conference call during pick-up,” Brigham says. When this happens, she puts her phone on mute.


The line between working and playing is getting blurred for everyone. According to a GFI Software report, three quarters of workers check their email outside of work hours at least sometimes—and 12 percent say they do so in real time. But for work-at-home moms, this isn’t a bad habit so much as a necessity. “I do have my phone with me at all times, and check work emails on a regular basis,” Brigham says. “If I’m able to send an immediate reply, I will do so from my phone, otherwise I will wait until later that evening or the next day.”


Kaycee Militante has worked from home for years running her own retail business, Applejack Apparel, but her son never really learned how to be quiet when she was on the phone. “So I make a brief apology during calls where he’s present, and never have gotten a bad response,” she says. Preparing the caller for potential noise or distractions can help eliminate confusion should you be interrupted.


When you’re juggling home and work responsibilities, keeping your identities of “mom” and “employee” steady can be the key to keeping them separate. Militante says it’s important for her and her kids to keep a routine so they can all grasp onto it, even as the rest of their lives fly by. So Monday is soup night; on Tuesdays, they eat out; Thursdays is taco night—you get the gist. Militante also has a cleaning person come once a week to handle the bulk of the laundry.

Brigham notes that she carefully schedules her days and weeks in order to stay on track. On Fridays, for instance, she doesn’t book any calls or meetings. “That is my work day when I review resumes, work on scheduling calls for the following week, and work on reporting,” she says.


The fact of the matter is, watching your kids and working is incredibly difficult. So don’t try to be Wonder Woman! Brigham says she doesn’t work out as often as she’d like or keep the house as neat as she’d like. When things begin to fall by the wayside, don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, enlist some help.


If your job allows you to have a flexible schedule you should use this to your advantage. Regan Hoerster, who owns a pilates studio, shares stay-at-home parent duties with her husband, who works full-time as a bartender. Their opposite schedules allows them to work together, swapping duties as their son’s needs change. “I breastfed pretty exclusively for his first year, which meant I only worked two-to-four hours a stretch before needing to come home,” says Hoerster. Hoerster also took advantage of her early morning pumping to look at her to-do list, answer emails, and work on social media.

Parents of older kids can use their flexible hours to arrange things so that the bulk of their focused work is done while the kids are at school, at after-school activities, or in the evening when they may have a partner around to lighten the load.

October 31, 2016 – 4:00pm

A More Accurate World Map Wins Prestigious Japanese Design Award

filed under: Maps

To design a map of the world is no easy task. Because maps represent the spherical Earth in 2D form, they cannot help but be distorted, which is why Greenland and Antarctica usually look far more gigantic than they really are, while Africa appears vastly smaller than its true size. The AuthaGraph World Map tries to correct these issues, showing the world closer to how it actually is in all its spherical glory.

Created by Hajime Narukawa at Keio University’s Graduate School of Media and Governance in Tokyo, the design just won the grand prize from Japan’s Good Design Award as Spoon & Tamago reports. It beat out over 1000 entries in a variety of categories. 

Unlike the Mercator projection, the 1569 mapping technique that you’d probably recognize from the world maps you saw in school, the continents on the AuthaGraph aren’t lined up straight across—they’re angled in a way that provides a more accurate representation of the distances between them. “AuthaGraph faithfully represents all oceans [and] continents, including the neglected Antarctica,” according to the Good Design Awards, and provides “an advanced precise perspective of our planet.” No longer does Africa look the same size as North America, or Antarctica look like one of the biggest continents (it’s smaller than everything but Europe and Australia).

The map—which is used in Japanese textbooks—can be fit into different shapes without losing its accuracy, and AuthaGraph sells paper assembly kits where you can fold it from a sphere to a cone to a flat map, mimicking the way the projection itself is made.

[h/t Spoon & Tamago]

All images courtesy AuthaGraph.

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October 31, 2016 – 3:30pm

If Oxygen Masks on Airlines Have Empty Bags, Where is the Oxygen Stored?

filed under: Big Questions, travel
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If oxygen masks on airlines have empty bags, where is the oxygen stored?

C Stuart Hardwick:

Humans and airplanes both need oxygen, but high speed airliners operate much more efficiently at high altitudes where the air is thinner. The lack of oxygen doesn’t bother them because jet engines compress their intake air anyway, but above about 8000 feet, the lack of oxygen would start making passengers woozy, and at higher altitudes still, would be fatal.

That’s why airliners carry emergency oxygen. The cabin is normally pressurized to about 8000 feet, but if pressurization ever fails above about 14,000 feet, some passengers would be unable to absorb sufficient oxygen from the rarefied air and would grow faint, even ill—especially those who are old or infirm, and those accustomed to near-sea level pressure, which is a third of the global population.

We can tolerate much higher altitudes, though, if we have pure oxygen to breath instead of the 21 percent oxygen in ordinary air. Breathing supplemental oxygen, we can go up to about 35,000 feet (40,000 with a full face mask ensuring 100 percent undiluted oxygen). Much higher than that and we risk passing out or asphyxiation even with 100 percent oxygen. That’s why few airliners fly higher—passengers would need pressure suits or at least full face masks as backup life support. Were it not for that, planes would happily fly at 50,000, 60,000, or even 70,000 feet.

So … to answer the question.

If you’ve ever gone scuba diving (or seen it on TV) you know that divers only get air when they draw a breath—their rig doesn’t just continually belch out air (unless the regulator is busted) because that would waste air.

That’s what the bag is for. The oxygen generator over your seat in an airliner does just continually belch out oxygen. There is no tank or regulator—just a canister containing chemical reactants which, once started, produce a continuous stream of oxygen until the reactants are used up (a few minutes, long enough to descend to thicker air).

The flimsy little bag is there to catch the stream of oxygen in between your breaths so it isn’t wasted. That’s it. It only inflates while you are exhaling, provided you are breathing slowly enough. That’s why it might not inflate (you might not give it a chance you panicky rascal).

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

October 31, 2016 – 3:00pm