No. 653
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 27, 2024

Christmas in Bohemia.

December 24, 2013
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The archives of the Humble Oil & Refining Company are about the last place where you’d expect to run across a first-rate poltergeist account, but it just goes to show that we live in a funny old world.  In 1948, a folklorist and historian was browsing through the company’s papers when he came across a letter that had absolutely nothing to do with oil.  It read:Jan [illegible] '
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Strange Company - 5/27/2024
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
When these photos from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York were taken at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery at the end of May in 1899, Memorial Day didn’t exist. “Decoration Day,” however, was an established holiday celebrated every May 30. The idea was to visit the final resting places of thousands of […]
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Ephemeral New York - 5/27/2024
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
John Wesley Elkins.11-year-old John Wesley Elkins was slight of stature—four feet eight inches tall, weighing 73 pounds. He was intelligent and well-spoken, and he had never caused trouble until the day he murdered his parents. At 2:00 am, on July 24, 1889, while his parents were sleeping in their Iowa farmhouse, he shot his father in the head and then beat his mother to death with a club.
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Murder By Gaslight - 5/25/2024
CHIEF OF CONSThe Morning Times(Cripple Creek, Colorado)February 15, 1896Courtesy of Mitch Morrissey ig Ed Burns robs a dying man?      Mitch Morrissey, a Facebook friend and historian for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, found and published an interesting newspaper piece on "Big Ed" Burns, one of the most notorious characters in the West. Burns was a confidence man and
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 4/2/2024
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
Burglars on Bicycles. | Puck's Dude Champions.

Christmas in Bohemia.

Christmas in Bohemia.

Celebrations of the annual festival in which comfort and fun replace fashion and ceremony, and those who enjoy to-day leave to-morrow to take care of itself.

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Christmas in Bohemia.

The Revels of Genius in its Gay World Within a World.

There are a good many ways of celebrating Christmas and the world makes use of all of them. But from first to last there is no jollier way than the one which Bohemia enjoys Christianity’s great holiday.

There are grander ways, to be sure. The stately pageant with which royalty commemorates it, for instance, with thunder of guns and blare of trumpets; with the flash of jewels, the shimmer of imperial purple and discussion of a banquets under the shadows of flapping banners to the music of a court band. The church, too, has its special celebration, perfumed with the incense of sacrifice, and society does the occasion honor after its on stately and ceremonious fashion. But these are the hollowest of mockeries after all; ghost of that real, healthful enjoyment of a holiday which all the wealth of the world can not buy without the spirit of content to back it.

That enjoyment is found in Bohemia if it is found anywhere. There the revel runs most merrily, the tongue grows lighter and the airy nonsense of the social board sparkles in gems of wit that outshine the diamonds of the most splendid drawing-rooms. What reck they if the fest to-day is followed by fast to-morrow? Is not to-morrow a new day and did they not wonder yesterday where to-day’s feast was to come from? No shadow of the future darkens the Bohemian holiday. If such ever does rise in some graver brain it is resolutely bounced. The wind wails without and misery is buffeted by the storm, but we are warm and gay within and with good store of inner comfort for the present. Time enough to face the tempest when we are forced to; time enough to regret the past when we have no longer a future.

Thus, in studio and green-room, over the beer table and at the garret feast, the men and women who amuse the world sit down to wassail, casting their gay defiance into the face of a staid society which may frown on them for spurning its hollow creeds but can not darken the enjoyment of their holiday. Does society’s frown lighten at the sight of that haggard figure under the lighted window? Doubtless, for in that figure and many like it it sees its vengeance embodied, it sees Bohemia’s wrecks drifting upon the dark sea to which the present revelers close their eyes.


Reprinted from The National Police Gazette, December 31, 1881.