From The Intercept: "Only a few bones remained and there was no clear cause of death. In the realm of murder cases gone cold, this was a challenging one — even for Kelly Siegler, a veteran prosecutor from Texas, with a nearly perfect conviction record and an evangelical fervor for solving cold cases. Twenty-nine-year-old Margie Pointer had disappeared in 1987. What was left of her was found in a ravine near Alamogordo, New Mexico, 17 years later. The Alamogordo Police Department needed help, and Siegler, star of the true-crime reality show “Cold Justice,” was there to answer the call."
The Smithsonian targeted the vulnerable in D.C. to build its collection of brains
From The Washington Post: "A 59-year-old Black woman died of epilepsy in October 1903 at the Washington Asylum Hospital, an institution that housed the District’s indigent. Almost five months later, tuberculosis killed a 21-month-old Black toddler at Children’s Hospital in D.C. The next month, an 11-year-old White boy died of a lung condition at Children’s. Upon their deaths, one of the Smithsonian Institution’s top anthropologists, Ales Hrdlicka, enlisted the local institutions and doctors to help him remove their brains to build a “racial brain collection.”
In Central Park, pets are remembered with a secret Christmas tree
From Aimee Ortiz for the NYT: "Hidden in a corner of Central Park there lives a tree that if you walk by at just the right time of the year will share with you its secret identity as the Pet Memorial Christmas Tree. The tree glitters with hundreds of laminated photos, notes, ornaments and memorials to deceased pets. There’s Milo, commemorated as “A Good Boy,” and the “Al Dente Brothers,” who are “forever loved.” There’s Sherman, the Eastern box turtle, Geo the fish and Miss Parker, the “fearless, independent, and amusing” Central Park squirrel."
Editor's note: If you like this newsletter, I'd be honoured if you would help me by contributing whatever you can via my Patreon. Thanks!
Beware the Christmas Cannibal of France, known as Père Fouettard
From Anna Richards for Atlas Obscura: "St. Nicholas Day is celebrated across many European countries on December 6 or the weekend following it. Each evening in Nancy from late November till early January, a lights display projects a story onto the opulent façade of the Hôtel de Ville. The expectant crowd watches as three children knock on the door of a local butcher, only to be chopped up into little pieces and left to cure in a salting pot. Falling snowflakes are replaced with chunks of veal. In the Lorraine region of France, St. Nicholas’s companion is called Père Fouettard, meaning Father Whipper or Father Flog. He wears ragged clothes, donning a straggly black beard, and carrying a whip and chain. He’s also a butcher, and he attempts to eat children."
Was an ancient bacterium awakened by an industrial accident?
From The Economist: "New species are typically discovered in remote places like rainforests or Antarctic plateaus, rather than in an urban area. But not so a species of bacterium described in a paper just published in Extremophiles. As the paper’s authors point out, the bug is new to science, but it is not new to Earth. In fact the microbe may have been slumbering for millions of years before being awakened by an industrial disaster. The bacterium in question lives below Lake Peignur in southern Louisiana. The ground beneath the lake is rich in natural resources. On November 20th, an oil rig’s drill penetrated the third level of a salt mine in the area, creating a kind of drain in the lake’s floor."
Harry Potter’s stunt double says breaking his neck 'made a man of me'
From Simon Hattenstone for The Guardian: "The routine had already been rehearsed. A fight with the snake Nagini was supposed to send Harry Potter flying. And it certainly did that. David Holmes, Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double, felt the impact, and it hurt. But that was the nature of stunt work. He was always taking a knock, and showing off another bruise. The next day the team came back to perfect the routine. It still wasn’t quite as spectacular as hoped. So they did what they’d done hundreds of times before: added more weight to the pulley system that would launch Harry so that he would fly through the air faster. “I knew straight away,” Holmes says today, 14 years later."
This penguin is the head of the Norwegian King's Guard
Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, through RSS feeds etc. But I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as "serendipty engines," such as Rusty Foster's Today In Tabs, Clive Thompson's Linkfest, Maria Popova's website The Marginalian, The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin, Why Is This Interesting, Dan Lewis's Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton's The Browser, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something you think should be included here, feel free to email me.