Contributions

Zanzibar’s Popobawa Demon Still Attacking Skeptics
March 15, 2018


In 1995 I published a short article titled “The Skeptic-raping Demon of Zanzibar,” telling of a bat-winged, cyclopean dwarf that reportedly swept into bedrooms and attacked men—especially those who disbelieved in the creature. The phenomenon had occurred in previous decades but had returned. A colleague handed me an article on the phenomenon and joked, “Here’s a case for you to solve.” Reading a few paragraphs, I replied, “I have solved it.”

The Haunting of Boone Tavern
February 22, 2018


Boone Tavern is a historic inn for travelers in Berea, Kentucky, named for famous frontier explorer Daniel Boone. It is also, allegedly, a very haunted place, but you couldn’t prove it by me.

“Winchester”: A Nickell-odeon Review
February 9, 2018


Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built (2018) is another based-on-a-true-story supernatural horror movie in the tradition of The Exorcist and The Conjuring. As usual, “based on” doesn’t mean much.

Visiting the Grave of the Last Vampire
February 5, 2018


When we look back at superstitious eras, we should not think our generation too superior. I have visited the graves of supposed witches in Tallahassee, Florida, and Harrison, Rhode Island, the tomb of a voodoo priestess in New Orleans, and the burial sites of vampires in New England, only to find silly superstitious practices at each of them. The most recent was my 2016 visit to the grave of Mercy Lena Brown— whose case supposedly influenced Bram Stoker, author of Dracula (1897).

“The Greatest Showman”: A Nickell-odeon Review
January 23, 2018


Okay, I had read too many reviews of The Greatest Showman –based on the life of P. T. Barnum—before I actually made it to the theater. But I’m not one to fall for the humbug of cynical reviewers, preferring to get mine from the “Prince of Humbugs” himself.

CELERINA: Quackery with Cocaine
January 19, 2018


“Celerina” was a medicine dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, originally of secret formulation, sold as a nerve tonic and cure-all.

RIDDLEculous XVI
January 10, 2018


More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

Rare “SANDS’S SARSAPARILLA” Bottle
December 27, 2017


In my continuing study of historical quackery, I recently acquired an antique sarsaparilla bottle that is especially interesting for the clues to its age that have been captured in the glass—analogous to ancient insects preserved in amber.

“Loving Vincent”: A Nickell-odeon Review
December 18, 2017


Loving Vincent is unique: the world’s first animated feature film that was entirely painted in oils! Its storyline begins a year after the death of Vincent Van Gogh and follows Armand (a postman’s son) as he attempts to deliver the painter’s sidetracked last letter to his brother Theo. Along the way Armand is forced to consider whether Vincent’s suicide was in reality a homicide.

“Baby Killer” Nostrums
November 20, 2017


Nothing could have seemed more harmless than the picture of a mother and her baby with the words, “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for Teething Children.” Trouble was, the nineteenth-century pacifying nostrum contained morphine!