Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Horror under the Ice

Some kind of gargantuan beast lurks beneath the polar landscape in this painting by Pierre-Etienne Travers.  I wouldn't want to be around when this thing thaws...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Beware the Krampus

"You better watch out..."  

So begins the beloved Christmas song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", but maybe it isn't Santa that children shouldn't be worried about this time of year.  Perhaps instead they should be on the look out for his malevolent counterpart, the Krampus!

Originating from German folklore, the Krampus is a malevolent demon-like creature who accompanies St. Nicholas as he makes his yearly yuletide rounds.  While St. Nicholas rewarded the good little boys and girls, the Krampus punished the bad.  Generally depicted as the black-haired, long-tongued devil beast, the Krampus would beat kids with switches and rusty chains or haul them off in sacks.

Apparently, the tradition of the Krampus goes as far back as the 1600's.  Many believe that the Krampus (and other such traditions) originated from pagan Winter Solstice celebrations that eventually found themselves incorporated into Christmas celebrations.  In Austria and other neighboring European countries it wasn't all that unusual to receive Krampus-themed greeting cards depicting scenes of the grinning demon torturing screaming kids.  Another bizarre tradition featuring the Krampus is Krampusnacht (Night of the Krampus) which is a sort of parade in which young men dressed as the Krampus and terrorized any children on the streets.

Examples of Krampuskarten - Krampus Greeting Cards
Around the 1800's the Catholic Church attempted to phase out the Krampus as part of their annual Christmas celebrations and later in the 1930's (and even into the 1950's) the Austrian government even discouraged the tradition.  In some places the beast was all but forgotten while in others it never fell out of style.  However, thanks to a resurgence in popularity (due to online curiosity and references in various pop-culture mediums) the Krampus is making something of a comeback.  Krampusnacht parades having become an alternative holiday celebration with droves of people dressing up as the Krampus and terrorizing the general public in Europe and North America.

A modern Krampusnacht parade

Monday, December 1, 2014

Cryptic Curiosities: Topsy

Standing about 10 feet tall and weighing around six tons, Topsy was an elephant with a nasty reputation.  The female Asian elephant was known for being a man-killer.  Amazingly, this was a major draw for the public, ever seeking a thrill.  While reports alleged that Topsy was a beast responsible for as many as 12 murders, these were likely exaggerated to further entice crowds.

Topsy was smuggled into the United States in 1875 to perform in the Forepaugh Circus, the captive elephant endured poor living conditions and regular harassment.  Topsy lashed out at her trainers on, but a few occasions, resulting in injuries.  But in 1902, a drunk taunted Topsy, throwing sand in her eyes and touching a lit cigar to her trunk.  The enraged animal flung the man to the ground and crushed him to death.  A few months later a spectator tried to tickle Topsy behind the ear, startling her.  The elephant lifted the man into the air and slammed him into the ground.

Following this latest "attack" the owners decided to sell Topsy and the elephant ended up at an attraction on Coney Island in New York.  Her constantly drunk trainer once stabbed her with a pitchfork and later intentionally setting Topsy loose to run the streets.  The event that proved to be the last straw for city officials involved the same drunken trainer actually riding Topsy, goading her to ram into a police station.

While the trainer was merely fired from his position, Topsy was given a death sentence.  It was not uncommon in those days for circuses and other attractions to publicly execute elephants, charging admission to the "spectacle".  Other elephants had been put to death by hanging via a large construction crane, while others were simply shot or poisoned.  Due to protests by early animal rights activists, however, the owners finally decided that Topsy would be electrocuted to death. 

On a cold January morning in 1903, Topsy was fitted with large copper sandals by engineers from Edison Electric Light Company.  The elephant, perhaps sensing what was about to happen, refused to be led to the intended execution site even with the enticement of food.  Wires which would soon carry some 6,000 volts through the copper fittings on Topsy's feet had to be brought to the spot where she firmly stood.  

After about 10 seconds, the elephant which had in life faced so much cruelty at the hands of men finally  collapsed and died.  Witnesses say that the elephant didn't even make a sound.

Apparently, the ghost of Topsy still wanders Coney Island...

Note:  I wrote this post some time ago, but it depressed me so that I couldn't bring myself to publish it...