All the latest updates on news items that have appeared in previous issues of Fortean Times
HERMIT WANTED [FT351:10]
Belgian stan Vanuytrecht (above), 58, a former artillery officer who drives an East german Trabant, beat 49 other candidates to secure a job as one of Europe’s last hermits. He is due to move into the 350-year-old hermitage, built into a cliff above the Alpine village of saalfelden near salzburg in Austria, which has been occupied every year since its foundation. According to the job description, the successful candidate should have a “connection to christian belief” and be “at peace with themselves” at 1,400m (4,600ft) above sea level. The hermitage has no heating, running water or electricity. There are no neighbours and the views are stunning. “I thought I had no chance,” said white-bearded Mr Vanuytrecht, who comes from near Brussels. “When I read about the saalfelden hermitage, I thought to myself: that’s the place for me.” He had long dreamed of becoming a hermit but the opportunity had not arisen. He thought his previous experience working with homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners and psychiatric patients would stand him in good stead. His divorce and the poverty he experienced as a result was also good preparation, he added. The trained surveying technician, who is also a catholic deacon, will not be completely alone. He has been told to expect a number of visitors who come by to pray, chat and enjoy the view. He said he liked the idea of combining the peace in the mornings and evenings with the intensive dialogue and pastoral care of his visitors during the day. Irish Times, D.Telegraph, Guardian, 20 April 2017.
DEPARTURE DENIED [FT349:20]
Marcella Jean Lee (above), 56, sold a chest freezer to a neighbour at a yard sale in goldsboro, north carolina, in May 2016 for $30, with instructions not to open the appliance, saying it was being used as a time capsule and that church members would come by at some point to collect the contents. However, the neighbour later opened it up to find the body of Ms Lee’s mother Arma roush, 75, who was last seen alive in August 2015. The day after she sold the freezer, Ms Lee had left town claiming she was heading to West Virginia to be with her mother, who she said was now living at a nursing home. she was eventually tracked down and arrested on 15 september, charged with concealing and failure to report a death. telegraph.co.uk, 17 Sept 2016.
DOGGED DEVOTION [FT353:8-9]
A three-year-old bitch called Loung fell out of a car or pick-up truck on a main road through eastern Thailand in 2015. The sukhumvit road, or Thailand route 3, is a major highway between Bangkok and cambodia and Loung’s owners apparently didn’t notice she had fallen out until they reached home and had no idea where to look for her. Local people in the village of Ban nong Khon in chanthaburi province fed her for months as she waited patiently by the roadside for her owner to return. she became something of a minor local celebrity and many people took photographs of her, subsequently posted on Facebook. Then in september 2016, after waiting almost a year for her owners, the faithful mutt was run over and killed as she strolled along the highway. D.Mail (online), 26 Sept 2016.
GIANT SLOTHS [FT355:10-11]
Following our report of south American tunnels allegedly dug by ancient giant sloths, crews digging a tunnel for a new Los Angeles train line have found the remains of one of these creatures. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said a fossilised hip joint was discovered in sandy clay 16ft (5m) below a major thoroughfare where the new line is being built. The bone (below) is from a harlan’s ground sloth, a mammal that roamed the Los Angeles basin 11,000 years ago. They grew up to 10ft (3m) in length and weighed up to 1,500lb (680kg). A bone from an extinct bison was also found. (Sydney) D.Telegraph, 3 June 2017.
WHITHER THE UNICORN?
I have often stumbled upon a hitherto unsuspected report of great interest while looking for something entirely different, and here is the latest example. While browsing through Vol. 9 (April-October 1821) of a British periodical entitled The Atheneum; or, Spirit of the English Magazines in search of an account concerning a giant spider (which I did eventually locate), I chanced upon a short but fascinating report of a reputed unicorn that had lately been sent to Britain, possibly while still alive, but
which I’d never read about anywhere else before. Here it is: “THE UNICORN. “Another animal resembling the description of the unicorn, as given by Pliny, is now on its way to this country from Africa; it nearly resembles the horse in figure, but is much smaller, and the single horn projecting from the fore head is considerably shorter than is given in the real or supposed delineations of that doubtful creature.”
What could this very intriguing creature have been? Bearing in mind that it was entirely unknown to me, whatever it was had evidently failed to excite the media once it did arrive in Britain, and yet its description matches nothing familiar from Africa. The facts that it was horselike and bore its single horn upon its brow would seem, if reported correctly, to eliminate a young rhinoceros. For both African species (black rhino and white rhino) have two horns each, but with neither one borne upon the brow, and even as calves they are burly in form, not remotely equine. Might it therefore have been a freak specimen of some antelope species, in which a single central horn had developed instead of the normal pair of lateral horns? Occasional ‘unicorn’ specimens of goats, sheep, and even deer have been confirmed, so this would not be impossible.
Moreover, certain African antelopes are superficially horselike. Indeed, one in particular, the roan antelope, is sufficiently so for it to have been given the formal binomial name Hippotragus equinus (‘horse horse-goat’). Equally ambiguous is the state in which this mystery beast was sent to Britain from Africa, because the report does not make it clear whether the animal was dead or alive. If it were still alive, however, where is it likely to have been sent? In later years, the premier recipient of exotic live beasts was London Zoo, but this establishment did not open until 27 April 1828. In 1832, the animals contained in the Tower of London’s menagerie were transferred to London Zoo’s collection, so perhaps, back in 1821, the unicorn, or whatever it was, had been sent to the Tower? Also, whatever happened to its remains? Are they languishing unstudied or even unlabelled in a museum somewhere? If anyone has any knowledge concerning this tantalising lost beast, we’d love to hear from you.
The Atheneum; or, Spirit of the English Magazines, vol. 9 (April-Oct 1821), p486.
ABOVE LEFT: A unicorn, with its single horn. ABOVE RIGHT: could the mysterious Atheneum creature have been a freak roan antelope with one horn?