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News Of The Weird

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In August the Copenhagen Zoo added an exhibit to its primate collection, amid the baboons and chimpanzees: a Homo sapiens couple who'll go about their daily business in a Plexiglass-walled natural habitat consisting of a kitchen, living room, bedroom, and workshop, as well as a computer, television, telephone, stereo, and fax machine. Said a zoo official, "We are all...monkeys in a way, but some people find that hard to accept."

Dangerous minds: In September officials at Southwest Elementary School in Lexington, North Carolina, suspended a six-year-old boy for kissing a girl on the cheek, calling it sexual harassment. In the same week, the New York Supreme Court disallowed the suspension of a 15-year-old boy who was carrying a loaded gun at William Howard Taft High School in the Bronx.

Wayward principals: In September the principal of Sylvia Elementary School in Beckley, West Virginia, George S. Meadows, 55, was suspended after being arrested for prostitution. (He was wearing a wig and dressed as a woman at the time.) Also in September, the principal of Charles Brush High School in Lyndhurst, Ohio, Walter Conte, 50, was arrested for allegedly secretly videotaping 16 cheerleaders as they changed into swimsuits during a party at his home.

Latest Religious Messages

The Lazarus Society in Cologne, Germany, recently released a "Confession by Computer" CD--complete with a menu of the 200 most frequent sins--and a separate program that allows the iniquitous to choose which sins to confess to. Appropriate penances are given, as well as a link to priests via the Internet. The German Conference of Bishops quickly denounced the disk. And in June, Reverend David E. Courter of the Independent Catholic Church International told the Associated Press that he would soon celebrate mass on-line and allow people to take communion by placing unleavened bread in front of their computer monitors.

In April, Eastern Orthodox monks in the former Soviet republic of Moldova signed a contract with the Exiton corporation, one of the leading builders of the severely depressed Moldovan economy. Under the contract, Exiton would help support a monastery and assist the monks in recovering lost icons, and the monks would pray for Exiton's bottom line.

Police investigations began in August in Lake Helen, Florida, and Woburn, Massachusetts, after parents complained that their children had been baptized without permission at local churches. One of the churches allegedly lured kids with a promise of pizza, which the kids say they never received.

In May, Social Security commissioner Shirley Chater went against agency policy by reassigning a social security number based on religious grounds. Eric and Maria Bessem's toddler had been assigned a number with 666 (the biblical "mark of the beast") and protested by refusing to claim the child on income tax forms. A Pentecostal pastor near the Bessems' home in Orange County, California, has a zip code of 92666 but says he accepts it because it's not a personal identifier like the social security number.

Recently the All-Merciful Saviour Russian Orthodox Monastery decided to raise money through an entrepreneurial venture. Since the order is located on Vashon Island near Seattle, it will make and market four blends of gourmet coffee, at $20 to $30 a pound, including its signature blend, Abbot's Choice.

Well, What Did They Expect?

At a preliminary hearing in July in Guthrie, Oklahoma, a woman said Jimmy Don Branun assaulted her in his mobile home and then changed into black panty hose, a garter belt, women's underpants, a training bra, and white high-heeled shoes. The victim ran out the door and escaped when Branun was not able to keep up with her in his high heels.

Tom Murphy of Pittsburgh sold his 30 homing pigeons last year after an injury left him unable to care for them. Two were sold to buyers in Austin and Amarillo, Texas. In August the two escaped and flew back to Murphy, making the 1,500 miles in about five days.

In August at the Loyal, Wisconsin, Corn Fest, Steven Schiller, 24, and Kevin Froba, 25, won prizes at the "strength game," in which a contestant slams a mallet onto a device that causes a weight to ascend and ring a bell. Unhappy with the quality of their prizes, they complained to the game operator, and a fight ensued. Schiller and Froba were hospitalized after the operator hit each of them on the head with the mallet.

Uh-oh

Latest postal service firearms news: In August in New Egypt, New Jersey, letter sorter Rodger Johnson, 44, was arrested after a search of his booby-trapped home uncovered explosives, gas grenades, 85 guns, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. And during the same month in Paterson, New Jersey, postal service mechanic Danny Isku was arrested for allegedly shooting his supervisor in the hand; news reports indicated Isku was a member of a Paterson postal workers' gun club.

In May a co-pilot on a Danish Maersk airlines flight from Birmingham, England, to Milan had an anxiety attack over France because he was afraid of heights. He later resigned.

Thinning the Herd

In September a man was crushed to death on a stairway at the Sammis Real Estate and Insurance office in Huntington, New York, while he was trying to steal the company's 600-pound safe. He apparently violated the cardinal rule of stairway safe hauling by standing on a step lower than the one the safe was on. (It turned out the safe was empty.) And during the same month in Tucson, a man botched a suicide attempt. He turned on the gas in his trailer home and sat down to go in peace, but then decided to smoke a last cigarette. An explosion followed, and he was hospitalized with first- and second-degree burns.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustration by Shawn Belschwender.

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