The Thirteen Club: Debunking Bizarre Beliefs

While I love stories of the bizarre and unusual, I prefer those stories to be truthful or at least verifiably mysterious. When it comes to superstition, the only thing that is bizarre is that people actually adhere to these beliefs. Over the centuries, numerous scientists and free thinkers have attempted to debunk superstitions of nearly all types and origins with varying degrees of success. One group of such debunkers was known as The Thirteen Club. As the name suggests, it was started with superstitions about the number 13 in mind. However, that was not the only superstition members of The Thirteen Club set out to debunk.

 The first meeting of The Thirteen Club was a dinner party of sorts on January 13, 1881. The stories have it that it was a dinner party that few superstitious individuals would have dared to enter. There were reportedly black cats crossing the diners' paths as they entered, open ladders and mirror breaking. There were also 13 people seated at a dinner table, where participants kept spilling salt. They did all of this without spitting to avert evil!

All kidding aside, the idea was to not only show that cats, salt, mirrors and ladders are nothing to fear, unless you are clumsy, have a mean cat or are the victim of an earthquake. It was also to show that a dinner can include 13 diners and all 13 can survive the year. Yes, there seems to be a clearly bogus belief that if 13 people sit down to dinner, one will die within a year. Of course, there is no telling if one or all of them will die, but there is certainly no magic number that will ensure that one will meet his or her maker before year's end. The Thirteen Club proved this but, as is typically the case, people still hold the superstition, which may have been around for centuries centuries.

Beware of warnings about the number 13 and stories of its unlucky history, though. Many of them are demonstrably bogus. Judas number 13 at the Last Supper -- no such mention of any such thing in the Bible. The Code of Hammurabi -- Babylonian law dating back several thousand years -- skipped the number 13! Also hogwash. The Code was not numbered. Sure, hotels have a tendency to skip floor 13 these days, but the 14th floor is still technically the 13th floor and the habit stems from this faulty belief; it is not a result of actual danger.

 The Thirteen Club gained popularity and had more than 400 members involved at one time. Famous names often associated with the club include Teddy Roosevelt, William McKinley, Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland. However, interest dissipated over time and the club went out of fashion. Sporadic groups of a similar nature have since adopted the name and it is quite possible that we will see a spike in membership of these skeptic groups soon. Those interested in debunking myths that can only be termed as superstitions, visit

Richard Wing on the Bizarre Crimes of Kendall Francois

In the world of bizarre things, it is hard to ignore the macabre and nothing is more macabre than serial murders. They are so outside of the norm when it comes to society and even crime that average people find it difficult even to fathom such horror. Here is a piece by Richard Wing on serial killer Kendall Francois. He details the bizarre acts of this deranged man for those of us who can stomach it.

"In a small city just over an hour north of Manhattan, New York City, lurked a macabre and frightening serial killer between 1996 and 1998, Kendall Francois. Residents and police investigators from Poughkeepsie, NY in Dutchess County were being terrorized and mystified between 1996 and 1998 by the disappearances of eight women, Wendy Meyers, Gina Barone, Kathleen Hurley, Catherine Marsh, Mary Healy Giaccone, Michelle Eason, Sandra Jean French and Catina Newmaster. . ."

Who Brought a Bear to Battle?

Voytek, showing off his sitting skills
Photo Courtesy of the UK Government: Public Domain

Voytek, or Wojtek in Polish, is the name given to a black bear who served as a laborer of sorts for a Polish unit during World War II. He was an honorary and then official member of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps.

Voytek's claim to fame was that, according to eyewitnesses, he carried ammunition for his company during the Battle of Monte Cassino -- a long, deadly confrontation in Italy between the Allied and Axis forces. There are stories that somewhere along the line he even caught a spy. This is not unheard of, as animal soldiers are notorious for catching spies.

Voytek was discovered in Iran in 1942 when he was just a cub. For a small fee, a few Polish soldiers bought him from the boy who found him. The soldiers reared the still small and helpless bear in a soldier's style. Before long, Voytek took up the habits of a soldier. When necessary, he saluted. During his off time, he wrestled with his comrades, drank beer and smoked cigarettes. If he had been able to speak, he might have known a handful of Polish swears as well. Fully grown, he was formidable at more than 400 pounds in weight and more than 6 feet in height.

During his lifetime, Voytek traveled from Iran to Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Italy and lastly Scotland, where he spent the remainder of his days smoking at the Edinburgh Zoo. He went there in 1945, after the war ended and went to the zoo in 1947. Before going to Italy and then later to Edinburgh, he was made an official soldier, so he could travel with his keepers to Italy. Therefore, when he died in 1963, he was an official Polish army veteran.

Bizarre Stories: Melonheads

Urban legends have a tendency to be bizarre, though we know most of them to be false. That is Bizarre! tends to focus on that which we know is real. That is, of course, unless an urban legend is just too weird to overlook. Melonheads are an example of such. This urban legend contains all the medical, horror and backwoods oddities that Americans love in their campfire stories.

Melonheads are reportedly small human-like creatures whose defining features are oversized melon-shaped heads. They are apparently vicious and will attack people at random. Most of the stories of these angry little mutants come out of Connecticut, Michigan and Ohio. Each of these areas has their own legends about the melonheads. However, they are very similar and tend to differ only in small details about how they melonheads came to be melonheads.

One of the most important aspect of the legends to remember is that, while they are often called "humanoid," melonheads are actually human, according to every legend about them. Their odd-shaped heads are attributed to water on the brain in every instance. Their small stature is because they are supposedly children. In some cases, they are children who have escaped from an institution, sometimes said to have been horribly abused. In others, they are inbred children of institution escapees or a family that was banished into the woods for practicing witchcraft.

The most obvious holes in these stories are the apparent absence of institutions that could account for the stories in nearly every area in which the legend arises, the "children" aspect of it and the lack of any physical evidence. With the children part of it, it seems odd that only the children of these mutant colonies would attack. It also seems odd that they either stayed children for all of this time or that they had children of their own and stopped their attacks, letting the kids take care of it. All in all, it is unbelievable. However, it is creepy and bizarre enough to be a decent story.