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Murder, Magic, and Adding On

September 28, 2015

I have some updates to older posts today. This weekend turned out several articles that connect to things I’ve talked about, and it turns out I can’t not share them.

First, there’s this article about an 18th-century New England couple with an M.O. similar to the gold rush serial killer, but about 50 years earlier. Again, the story’s been embroidered after the fact, so who knows what really went on, but there are a lot of shared elements—the inn, the woman flirting with the victims, the husband and wife team, the length of time they got away with it. If this wasn’t a direct inspiration for either Agnes or the people who invented her, I’d be surprised. (The trapdoor bed is a neat touch, though. I guess Agnes couldn’t get anyone to build that for her.)

Then I ran across this post on Tumblr about a Chinese* man who travelled first to Persia, then to Italy, then to France, at about the same time Marco Polo was travelling from Italy to Persia to China. However, Rabban Bar Sauma seems to have had more cultural impact. Marco Polo appears to have mostly come home, written about what he saw, and ultimately co-inspired the Age of Discovery. Rabban Bar Sauma, on the other hand, was trying to form a diplomatic alliance and spread the use of Mongol script and Mongol headdresses and Mongol names. Very cool! I wish I’d heard of the guy before now.

And finally, an older article that popped up again as I was clearing out feed reader backlog. This one’s about “real-life magicians” and naturally mentions John Dee, though it’s mainly on the more sensational end of internet journalism. The whole article takes a pretty broad and shallow view of what magic consists of, and conflates alchemy with it, and reads a whole lot like my own “cribbed from Wikipedia” histories do. (Dee, for instance, fought against being called a magician for his whole life, and some of the other bios seem to take embroidered stories as absolute truth.) The article does mention a few names I hadn’t encountered before, so I’m going to have to do more digging again.

That’s most of what I learned this weekend, but not all! I also learned that it is, in fact, possible to take pictures of eclipses with a point-and-shoot camera. Pictures that actually show the eclipse and don’t turn out all blurry, that is.


* We’d probably call him Chinese nowadays, anyway. It’s almost definitely not what he’d have called himself.

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