Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Strangely Enough

There's no shortage of television programs profiling weird happenings and ghostly occurrences these days, particularly this time of year.  Shows like Travel Channel's Mysteries at the Museum,  Syfy's Destination Truth, Biography's My Ghost Story, History Channel's Monster Quest  and countless others satisfy even the most rabid paranormal fan's appetite.  I have to admit I'm a sucker for those kind of shows.  I've been drawn to them since I was a child watching Leonard Nimoy's "In Search Of "and Jack Palance's "Believe it...OR NOT!"  Prior to those shows, similar tales were often compiled in books such as  the one I found at an estate sale some time ago.

Originally published in 1959, Strangely Enough by C. B. Colby is a collected reprint of the author's newspaper strip "Adventure Today with C. B. Colby".  Colby, an artist, writer, editor and self-described adventurer told stories of the paranormal, the odd and the downright confounding.

C. B. Colby

The book I have is a hardback version printed in 1966.  I already had a paperback version of the book I picked up at a garage sale a decade ago.

Strangely enough (see what I did there?), while the stories are the same in the hardback and paperback, they're in a different order and the original drawings done by Colby have been replaced (although still heavily influenced by the original art) with ones by David Lockhart.

Some of the stories are clearly urban legends we've all heard growing up such as "Lavender".

"Lavender" tells the familiar story of two boys picking up a young girl, Lily, on the side of the road one dark evening.  Being rather cold out, one of the gallant lads offers her his coat.  After driving her home and leaving, the boys realize they forgot to get the coat back.  Going back the next day, they are greeted by the girl's mother who assures them Lily had been dead for years.  Going to the cemetery, the boys find the jacket laying on her grave.

Illustration of "Lavender" from the paperback version

Other stories involve supposed historical events.  Given the age we live in and the tools we have at our disposal, I decided I would use the internet to determine the truth of some of these stories.

One that fascinated me was the story of "The Lost TV Signal".

It tells the story of a mysterious television signal that was received in England in September of 1953. What made it mysterious was it was an image of the call letters of a television station in Houston, Texas and one which had not broadcast in over 3 years.  Unfortunately, this story turned out to be a hoax.  The fact is, British televisions wouldn't even be able to support an American broadcast format.  The faked photographs were all submitted by the same person trying to promote a new television set he claimed had an almost unbelievable reception area.  Unfortunately, it was as unbelievable as this story.

Another "historical" tale is "The Vanishing River Boat".

It's the story of the Iron Mountain stern-wheeler that supposedly disappeared with all aboard while traveling up the Mississippi in June of 1872.  Apparently, she was simply a victim of a common wreck with only loss of one life and washed aground during a flood not long after.

Yet another amazing but not true story is that of "Battle of the Cheeses".
Taking place just post Civil War, the Side-wheeler "Arakwe" is sent to Chile to assist the government in stabilizing the region.  After cruising the coastline for a year, the "Arakwe" was ready to return to the states when it became victim of a tsunami.  While defending the ship's goods from looters after the incident, the captain ordered small rounds of cheese to be fired from her cannons, dispersing the crowd and saving the crew and cargo.

Colby's original telling of the story can be found here.  But once again, fact outweighs the story.  Other researchers have found no evidence such a ship existed and in fact no Navy side-wheelers were ever outfitted with guns.

But there are some stories that have merit, if only in family legend.

Daniel Abbot was a soldier in the Revolutionary War and family history does corroborate the story of his capture and eventual escape from Indians by skates.

An example of the hardback version (top) vs paperback (bottom).
"Flight into Oblivion" is the very familiar story of Flight 19 and its disappearance in The Bermuda Triangle in 1945, a story that has been rehashed in numerous paranormal television shows.

"No Grass on the Grave" tells of a wrongly convicted Welshman named John Newton who, as he was about to be hanged, vowed no grass would grow on his grave to prove his innocence. And of course, despite the care given the plot of land his grave laid in, the grass withered and died there, not recovering for more than 100 years.

  A similar story is told here, but involves a man named John Davies.

The tale of the "Haunted Schoolhouse" is still told in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Illustration of "Haunted Schoolhouse" in the paperback version

Colby also occasionally throws in an explainable paranormal event such as "The Bottled Ghost" whose lonesome cries turned out to be wind blowing over a well placed bottle.

A few more examples of the C. B. Colby's art from the hardback edition

Illustration from Ocean-born Mary

Illustration from "Antique Saucer"

Appropriately enough, and maybe even strangely, C. B. Colby passed away on Halloween of 1977.


  1. i used to love these books as a kid, too. they look super familiar, particularly the header fonts and the illustrations, and the general layout. none of the stories ring a bell, except MAYBE the "lavender" one, but that one seems to be a pretty common trope in urban legends...

    1. Yeah, those vintage Scholastic books (including Tab, and Arrow books) were great. Every few months in our 1968-1970 classrooms, we could select books out of the black and white paper catalog, pay our $2.00 and get a box of paperbacks sent to our room a couple weeks later. It was lots of fun, and great stories of kid adventures - very inspiring and spurred our imaginations.


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