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Old news and odd news

February 13, 2011
By DON WILLIAMS, For The Leader-Herald

Old newspapers tell the story; so much of life in yesteryears can be found in the pages of the local papers of those small towns. It is hard to imagine a world without our newspapers; in my estimation, the movement to computer news is a big mistake. The old papers had a way of telling the whole story including vivid details of an event. (Writing rule No. 1) a single bit of vivid information is far more powerful than all the statistical data in the world.)

My grandmother Whitman had an interest in odd situations and news stories, and her collection of clippings reflected just that. She was the one who believed that fortune tellers were born in a special way, that if you grew your hair long without cutting it you would have a long life, and her Ouija board answered many of her questions.

Among my grandmother's clippings was the story of a 16-year-old girl who "displayed weird power." The young girl, Eugene, had the ability to read minds with "an accuracy that is uncanny." She had been sought out to find everything from lost keys to lost husbands (much to their chagrin.) Eugene was hired by a rich socialite to read the minds of her guests at a house party. She began to tell that some had a "lack of pleasure" at being at the party and she repeated the thoughts that some had about the gowns of the other women present. At that point, the hostess led her out to the dining room for some ice cream and cake.

Eugene had been given a boy's name simply because her mother liked it. According to her parents, she had the mind reading ability since she was two years old. Not only could she read minds, but she made accurate future predictions.

In my estimation, my grandmother, who was the mother of nine children, had an interest in births. Among her clippings was the story of a large baby who had reached the weight of 275 pounds by the time he was seven years old. It was speculated that he would be the "heftiest" man in the country and could become a movie star.

Another birth story was that of a seven-month old baby who developed a "tumor" on his abdominal cavity. Six doctors and others witnessed the operation. Upon viewing the tumor, the witnesses noticed a pair of feet. It turned out that another baby was forming inside the first. Unfortunately, the child died during the operation.

Another strange birth story told of a young girl who gave birth to a baby in the county hospital. Upon investigation it was found that the mother was only 10 years old, probably "the youngest mother in this part of the world." They both were "doing well."

The really strange birth story was of the "Devil Child." The story had spread throughout the community a "devil child" had been born at the local doctor's office. The baby, complete with horns and tail, reportedly could talk at the tender age of two hours. Doctors and nurses supposedly interviewed the strange child. It is a long story of large crowds gathering, police called out for crowd control, and wild stories of the "monstrosity" told far and wide. The horns were "two inches long" and the "tail dragged on the floor." When a nurse suggested that the babe be done away with, the child warned that if any harm was done to it, bad luck would follow. Efforts by the reporter to trace down the tale was to no avail but many clung to the story of the "devil child."

My grandmother, Stella Whitman, clung to her story of long hair giving long life; she passed away in 1954 at my age, 76. Is that old?



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