Recurring Themes

Jun. 11, 2008
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As evidence that weird news keeps repeating itself, this week’s collection consists of recent instances of people doing the same old things we’ve seen before in News of the Weird.

In what would be a modern record for the lapse of time between a death and its notice, neighbors found the mummified body of a Croatian woman in her Zagreb apartment in May, and police said no one remembered seeing her alive after 1973. (A Croatian news organization said the last sighting was in 1967.) She missed no maintenance payments because her building, which was state-owned when she was last seen, has since become a cooperative, and aggregate charges were paid for collectively by the other residents.

March is the season for Shinto religious fertility festivals in Japan, during which symbolic phalluses are offered to the gods in return for business, sexual and marital luck. Every year in the small town of Komaki, a 2-meter-long phallus is carried through town and presented to the local temple. The best-known celebration is the Kanamara Matsuri (“Festival of the Steel Phallus”) in Kawasaki, where colorful phallus floats abound and delight the children and adults who line the streets.

Because Japan’s suicide rate is so high, there is sometimes collateral damage. In April 2007, News of the Weird reported yet another instance in which a despondent person leaped off of a building (a nine-story edifice in Tokyo), only to land on someone else (a 60-year-old man, who was only bruised). These days, chemical ingestion is the trendy method.

In May 2008, a despondent farmer drank a chlorine solution and was rushed to Kumamoto’s Red Cross Hospital. As doctors tried unsuccessfully to save him, he vomited, and the fumes sickened 54 workers, including 10 who had to be hospitalized.

Along with the rising prices paid for scrap metal comes the increased threat of theft, so metal dealers and power companies are on alert. However, as the number of thieves increases, so does the number of clumsy ones who fail to respect that electrical substations are live. In May, at least three men were killed and three others badly injured in attempts to steal wire from substations in Lancaster County, Pa., Somerset County, Pa., Savannah, Ga., Chicago and Edmonton, Alberta.

In April in Marion, Ill., an alert newspaper carrier discovered an 84-year-old woman who was alive but had been pinned to the floor for four days without food or water because her much larger husband, 77, had died of a heart attack and fallen on top of her. (In a notorious 1984 incident at a strip club in San Francisco, a dancer was pinned down overnight underneath the body of club employee Jimmy Ferrozzo, who died while they were having sex. The woman could not move because they were lying on top of a stage piano that descended on a pulley, for the dancer’s grand entrance, and Ferrozzo, in the throes of ecstasy, had accidentally tripped the switch sending it back up, where it jammed against the ceiling.)

In a well-publicized story in January, two New York City men were charged with fraud after they rolled a dead friend’s body in a chair from their apartment to a check-cashing store, propping him up to suggest that he was alive and wanted the men to cash his Social Security check for him. In May, a judge set the men free after they told him that the three had an income- and expense-sharing arrangement and that they thought their friend was merely incapacitated. Since the autopsy was inconclusive as to time of death, the charges were dropped.

An Indonesian man whose skin disorder caused him to grow root-like tissue that overwhelmed his hands, feet and face, and who was featured on a Discovery Channel program in November, has now lost 4 pounds’ worth of the wart-like growths through surgery and a vitamin A regimen, and at last can grip a pen. American dermatology professor Anthony Gaspari, who is helping him, concluded that he has the human papilloma virus. This virus normally causes tiny warts, but because of an immune deficiency, the man’s body was unable to restrain their growth.

In April, retired engineer William Lyttle, 77, was ordered by the town council in Hackney, England, to pay the equivalent of about $560,000 for repairing the damage he has caused to neighbors during his 40-year obsession of digging deep into the ground on his property.

Lyttle has caused parts of his own home to collapse, and has damaged the integrity of surrounding houses and the street. Authorities discovered a maze of tunnels underneath the 20-room house, in addition to many holes in the yard, into which Lyttle had dumped cars and boats.

2008 Chuck Shepherd


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