The question of who brutally killed Sir Harry Oakes, favorite golf pal of the Duke of Windsor, has tormented cold-case aficionados for almost 80 years

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Source: Wikimedia

It was July 8, 1943, an hour after dawn. It was a time and a season for everything to be quiet and slow-moving on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas. But not this morning. Frantic phone calls destroyed the drowsy, sultry calm. The largest landowner in the Bahamas, a man worth $200 million, had been found dead and the cause was anything but natural.

Sir Harry Oakes, 68, born and raised in Maine…


Does Henry VIII’s oldest daughter deserve her bad reputation?

Bloody Mary is the name of a drink that commonly contains booze and tomato juice and sometimes contains a dash of Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, lemon, salt, black pepper, and a vigorous celery stalk. In 1939, the newspaper This New York reported breathlessly, “George Jessel’s newest pick-me-up that is receiving attention from the town’s paragraphers is called a Bloody Mary: half tomato juice, half vodka.”

Bloody Mary is also the name of a macabre children’s game. Find a mirror, turn out the lights, and call out her name three times. When…


In a London cemetery, an author discovered the resting place of Joseph Merrick

The skeleton of Joseph Merrick, known as the Elephant Man, has been preserved at the Royal London Hospital ever since 1890, the year of his death. But author Jo Vigor-Mungovin said she’s made a discovery: Merrick’s final resting place is in an unmarked grave in the City of London Cemetery.

Joseph Merrick, photographed in 1889, the year before his death. Source: Wikipedia.

Vigor-Mungovin, who wrote the book Joseph: The Life, Times and Place of the Elephant Man, told the BBC that his soft tissue remains were buried at the cemetery after Merrick’s body was dissected.

She posted a photo…


The man who started it all in 1916 nearly died of starvation in Europe

The Coney Island amusement park might be closed, but nothing could stop Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Spectators weren’t allowed to watch in person, and competitors were separated by clear barriers. Hotdogs disappeared down competitors’ mouths nonetheless.

Every Fourth of July, the corner of Stillwell and Surf avenues in Brooklyn, New York, is transformed into a media circus, with ESPN broadcasting live an event that for at least an hour.

Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs, a Coney Island mainstay

In past years, tens of thousands of people crowded close, breathing in the odor…


A trio of opulent Gilded Age Hotels existed parallel to Coney Island’s boom

The Oriental Hotel, on the Atlantic a mile from Coney Island’s parks

More than 100 years after Coney Island — offering to the public its competing amusement parks of Steeplechase, Juno, and Dreamland — earned the nickname of “America’s Playground,” it is still a famous place.

Far less well known is the trio of large hotels that rose less than a mile from the amusement park, built in the Victorian age and intended to serve deep-pocketed, discriminating guests in the most elegant manner possible. Many of the hotels’ guests never set foot in Steeplechase or Juno — or Dreamland…


What happened to the coronation stone of the O’Neills?

Tullyhogue

If you wish to see Tullyhogue Fort, be ready for a bit of a climb. From the parking lot, you follow a snaking path, marked by briskly modern printed signs, to the base of a round hill, ringed by graceful, swaying trees. It makes your heart pound to clamber up the side of that hill; schoolchildren scramble up it, led there by teachers keen to give a lesson about a chapter from the island’s distant past. Those are the most frequent visitors to Tullyhogue, the children.

For an outsider, an American…


Medieval tales terrified listeners centuries before Charles Dickens

Marley appears to Scrooge, original illustration from A Christmas Carol.

The winter solstice falls on December 21st this year. For centuries the belief has been that on the shortest day of the year, the veil between the living and the departed is most easily lifted.

That is why the ghosts appear to Ebeneezer Scrooge just before Christmas. Charles Dickens’ writing of A Christmas Carol followed a long tradition of ghosts showing themselves at this time of year. I write about Dickens’ motivation in writing the novella here.

The tradition has continued right up to modern times. …


The novelist drew from his own life in crafting characters

Charles Dickens, the giant of 19th century English literature

It may well be the most beloved Christmas story ever written. Charles Dickens’ novella, originally titled Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas was published on December 19, 1843, and sold 6,000 copies by Christmas Day. It has never gone out of print and is the basis for countless adaptations, giving way to debates over who is the best Ebeneezer Scrooge: Alastair Sim or Reginald Owen, George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart.


How a struggle between England and the Pope delayed the shift away from Annunciation Day

Annunciation Day was once the first day of the year

In a couple of weeks, it will be the first day of 2021. Time to hang your freshly bought calendars and write a new year on your checks.

But strange as it may seem, January 1st did not always signal the beginning of a new calendar year. Up to 1752, the two were separate things in England and its colonies. Until that point, people began each calendar year on March 25, which was Annunciation Day — or Lady Day. …


In Victorian England a woman was hanged for killing her husband

Gemma Arterton in a BBC presentation. ‘Tess’ has been made into a movie eight times.

In Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the title character possesses the kind of beauty that draws a certain sort of attention: “A small minority, mainly strangers, would look long at her in casually passing by, and grow momentarily fascinated by her freshness, and wonder if they would ever see her again: but to almost everybody she was a fine and picturesque country girl, and nothing more.”

But that attention leads to tragedy for Tess, who, after being abused and mistreated by the man whom she lives with…

Nancy Bilyeau

Passionate about history, pop culture, the perfect bagel. Author of 5 historical novels. Latest book: ‘Dreamland’ www.nancybilyeau.com

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