Strange local stories find way into new book


By Brian Lothridge


12/08/07 -

Some people would be quick to say that the world is crazy and is falling to pieces.

That may be so, but the world was still crazy a century ago, said Chad Lewis, a paranormal investigator for Unexplained Research, LLC. Lewis is the author of the new book Hidden Headlines of New York: Strange, Unusual, & Bizarre Newspaper Stories (1860- 1910).

The book is a compilation of newspaper clippings from around the state, including the Olean Democrat and Olean Evening Times. A handful of Olean events and a Bradford, Pa., event can be found in the book.

The Olean Evening Times reported on March 3, 1909, that 78-year-old John Dolan died during the funeral of Michael Downey at Mt. Morris. He would have fallen in the grave if he wasn't caught.

The publication, which merged with The Olean Herald in 1932 to become the Times-Herald, also reported an unfortunate coincidence of death for Mr. and Mrs. August Sigel, Sept. 13, 1910. The couple's eight-month-old son, Erwin, died after a long battle with cholera infantum. The couple lost another son, Erwald, from the same disease Sept. 13, 1910.

An athletic ghost in Bradford, "offered to lick a spectator" according to an article in the Olean Democrat July 17, 1894. About 20 Bradford spiritists gathered for a seance at the home of James Campbell on Congress Place. They each paid $1 to talk with the dead through Medium Oren Stevens.


Stevens was found to be a fraud when he posed as the ghost of a baseball player who was killed in "a hot game in Tennessee some years ago." Stevens jumped around the room showing spectators his pitching style when W.L. Dudley grabbed the ghost and found him to be alive. Stevens later acknowledged he was an impostor and said he could beat up Dudley. Stevens left the next day and Dudley threatened to have him arrested for obtaining money under false pretenses if he returned to Bradford.

The book has a number of even more bizarre events that make any modern publication's "news of the weird" look tame from a wolf attacking people in a Brooklyn-area theater and sea serpents in lakes to a man who ate a quart of grasshoppers and UFOs.

Mr. Lewis came across many weird New York stories while doing research for a similar book for his home state of Wisconsin. The stories piqued his curiosity and he set out to find just how weird New York could be.

"(This book) certainly has a lot of my favorite stories in it," he said, recalling the story of a half human-half monkey arriving at a port near New York City.

Mr. Lewis said he spent months looking at microfilm and microfiche of old news papers and did some research online. The research was a lot of fun, although the research "took of few years off my eyes," he said.

"I kind of got sent back to another era," Mr. Lewis said. "I really felt like I was walking the streets of New York."

Many of the stories wouldn't appear in today's newspapers, he said.

"During this time period, the newspaper served not only as a news source but also as a source of entertainment and gossip," he said, adding that competition may have led to a bit of embellishment of some strange stories.

Mr. Lewis is working on a similar book about California and would like to eventually collect stories for every state, he said.

"There are a lot of similarities but there are a lot of things that make each state unique as well," he said. "A lot of stories tell what it was like to live in each state."

The era surrounding the turn of the 20th century was a strange time with a lot of uncertainty, similar to the turn of the 21st century, Mr. Lewis said.

"People were strange back then as well and maybe we are not so different today," he said.

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