No. 643
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
February 23, 2024

A Magical Duet on the Guitar.

An extraordinary account of a mathematician, mechanician, and musician named Alix.
January 8, 2018
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 "The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan MandijnWelcome to this week's Link Dump!  As you can see, the Strange Company Art Department is busy with the illustrations for next week's posts.The working lads of Whitechapel, circa 1900.A human leg has been found on the New York subways, and I'm betting that's not the worst thing you'd find there.A brief history of condensed milk.The
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Strange Company - 2/23/2024
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HE DUEL IN ELLEN'S HONOR. Soapy Smith’s grandmotherOn Wednesday, August 9, 1820, an argument between 17-year-old, James Bowe Boisseau (1802-1820) and Robert C. Adams (unknown-1820) vying for the attention of 18-year-old Ellen Stimpson Peniston (1802-1860), took a terrible turn. The happy party in her honor took a tragic turn when the competition for Ellen’s affections ended in a deadly duel,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 1/10/2024
Entering the Wall Street IRT subway station on Lower Broadway at Trinity Church can feel like going into a time warp. That’s because of the cast iron hoods that cover the stairwell as you descend underground. Decorated in a leaf pattern, the curved hoods date back to the station’s 1905 opening. The hoods mesh well […]
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Ephemeral New York - 2/19/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
A postmortem examination revealed that Katie Dugan was four months pregnant when her body was found beaten and slashed in an empty field in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1892. A two-year investigation led police to believe that Albert Stout, Katie’s former employer, was her killer and the father of her unborn child. But Stout was a prominent, well-connected businessman, and despite evidence that he
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Murder By Gaslight - 2/17/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately … Continue reading
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
The New Rule at the Post-Office. | Afloat on a Cake of Ice.

A Magical Duet on the Guitar.

Magical Duet on Guitar

An extraordinary account of a mathematician, mechanician, and musician named Alix. [more]

So many wondrous stories are told by the ancient writes of magic and mechanism that ordinary belief is entirely at fault. If we are to believe what we read of the mechanics and learned men of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, the little of chemistry or mechanical invention that we know in these times, but was then familiar to learned men, but was suppressed, either by monkish intolerance or noble ignorance. That much of these clams are true we must admit, from the fact that many wonderful inventions have come down to us, among which we can only mention gunpowder and watches as an example.

Among the wonderful stories of this kind is one told by Bonnet in his “Historie de la Musique,” where he gives the following extraordinary account of a mathematician, mechanician, and musician named Alix, who lived at Aix, in Provance about the middle of the 17th century:

“Alix, after many years’ study and labor, succeeded in constructing an automaton figure, having the shape of a human skeleton, which, by means of a concealed mechanism, played, or had the appearance of playing on the guitar. The artist after having turned in perfect unison two guitars, placed on in the hands of the skeleton, in the position proper for playing, and on a calm summer evening, having thrown open the window of his apartment he fixed the skeleton, with the guitar in its hands, in a position where it could be seen form the street. He then, taking the other instrument seated himself in an obscure corner of the room and commenced playing a piece of music, the passages of which were faithfully repeated or echoed by the guitar held by the skeleton, at the same time that the movement of its wooden fingers ,as if really executing the music completed the illusion.

“This strange musical feat drew crows around the house of the ill-fated artist; this sentiment was soon changed in the minds of the ignorant multitude into the most superstitions dread. A rumor rose that Alix was a sorcerer, and in league with the devil. He was arrested by order of the Parliament of Provence, and sent before the court, La Chambre de la Tournelle, to be tried on the capital charge of magic or witchcraft. In vain the ingenious, but unfortunate artist sought to convince his judges hat the only means used to give the apparent vitality to the fingers of the skeleton were wheels, springs, pulleys, and other equally unmagical contrivances, and that the marvelous result produced wat nothing more criminal than the solution of a problem in mechanics.

“His explanation and demonstrations were either not understood, or failed to convince his stupid and bigoted judges, and he was condemned as a sorcerer and magician. The iniquitous judgment was confirmed by the Parliament of Provence, which sentenced him to be burned alive in the principal square of the city, together with the equally innocent automaton figure, the supposed accomplice in his magical practices. This infamous sentence was carried into execution in the year 1644, to the great satisfaction and edification of all the faithful and devout inhabitants of Aix.”


Reprinted from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, December 16, 1865.