“Unable to dissolve his marriage, he decided to dissolve his wife.
— Clyde Snow, "The Stories Bones Tell"

article-imageAdolph & Louise Luetgert (courtesy Alchemy of Bones)

On Diversey and Hermitage Avenue in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood is an industrial building that was converted to condominiums in the 1990s. Though this building is nondescript today, it was the site of a grisly murder at the end of the 19th century.

Adolph Luetgert was a tanner and butcher who moved from Germany in the early 1870s. Shortly after his first wife died, Luetgert married Louise Bicknese in 1878, a woman who was ten years his junior. On their wedding day, he gave Louise a gold ring inscribed with her new initials, L.L.

Luetgert opened a small sausage company in 1879 that became successful. In 1897, he opened the A.L. Sausage & Packing Company in a five-story plant on the southwest corner of Diversey and Hermitage. Next door to the sausage works, Luetgert built a three-story family home for Louise and their two sons, Elmer and Louis.

article-imageA picture of the A.L. Sausage & Packing Company featured inside a company paperweight (courtesy Alchemy of Bones)

Unfortunately, Adolph and Louise’s marriage was not a happy one, and the world was about to find out what kind of monster lay inside Adolph Luetgert.

Adolph and Louise went on a walk on the evening of May 1, 1897 — this was the last time anyone saw Louise alive. On May 7th, Adolph reported his wife missing, but her family suspected foul play. Police questioned relatives and friends and searched the city for Louise Luetgert or her remains.

During a search of Luetgert’s factory on May 15th, a watchman suggested they look in a steam vat in the cellar that was used to dip sausages. The police looked inside, and found that the vat was filled halfway with a putrid-smelling, reddish-brown liquid. When the police pulled a plug near the bottom of the vat, on the outside, the slimy liquid and small pieces of bone fell out. Inside the cauldron, police found a gold ring with L.L. engraved on the inside. Near the vat, investigators discovered a strand of hair, pieces of clothing, and half of a false tooth.

After police questioned some employees, investigators learned Luetgert had workers dump the ashes from the smokehouse. When they examined the areas the factory workers indicated, investigators found more bone and pieces of burned corset steel.

Luetgert was arrested shortly after these discoveries, and was tried for Louise’s murder. The trial became a media sensation that drew reporters from thousands of miles away.

During the trial, friends and relatives of the Luetgert family testified that Adolph physically abused and cheated on Louise. A smokehouse helper also testified that Luetgert ordered 378 pounds of potash on March 11th, and ordered employees to dump the chemical in the steam vat with water on April 24th. The same worker also stated that on Saturday, May 1st, the day Louise disappeared, Luetgert turned on the steam line to the cauldron and boiled the mixture. The following Sunday and Monday, factory workers unwittingly helped Luetgert clean up the rancid liquid that boiled over from the vat, which was either buried around the factory or burned in the smokehouse.

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Rascal shoos off some native species. (via Idea Wiki

First introduced in the 1963 book, Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, the impish little trash-eater known as Rascal was a hit from the start. The book, a memoir of author Sterling North’s childhood experience in which he adopted a baby raccoon for a year, was a hit with the youth of the era. It was quickly made into a live-action film by Disney, which depicted Sterling’s adventures with a comedic playfulness that was not quite so apparent in the book. While both of these incarnations met with popular success, it was not until Rascal hit Japanese audiences that his star really rose, for better or worse.

In January of 1977, the Nippon Animation Company released Rascal the Raccoon (Araiguma Rasukaru), a 52-episode anime cartoon series that returned the story back to its more dramatic, bucolic roots (and also featured early work by animation pioneer Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli cofounder!). The series aired all year long, and the ongoing adventures of Sterling and Rascal were a massive hit among the Japanese children who instantly took to the story of a young boy and his ever-present animal sidekick, foreshadowing the popularity of such franchises as Pokemon which would take the country by storm decades later.

The Japanese title card (via Wikimedia)

The show proved so popular that Japanese families began importing pet raccoons from their native North America at an alarming rate. For years after the cartoon’s 1977 release, at least 1,500 raccoons a month were hitting Japanese shores so that fans of the show could act out Sterling’s adventures along with him. If only they had finished the series first.

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article-imageBuzludzha, Bulgaria (all photographs by Rebecca Litchfield)

Out in the former Soviet Union, the Iron Curtain still hangs in tatters. Photographer Rebecca Litchfield journeyed through freezing winds and sometimes high security to document these abandoned remains. From Ukraine, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Russia, and places in between, she sought out the ruins of bombastic optimism for a utopian future and military paranoia. In a new book called Soviet Ghostsreleased this month by Carpet Bombing Culture, these photographs are compiled into one haunting vision of a lost empire. Litchfield answered a few of our questions about the book and shared some of its incredible images below. 

It's not easy to get to these Soviet ruins, and you experienced some incredible hazards like radiation exposure, arrest, interrogation. What drew you there?

I love the challenge to get to places. It takes many hours of preparation, lots of driving, and getting up before sunrise, and of course there are the dangers. But it's very exciting to see these places and witness something that not a lot people would see normally. It's amazing to capture these images so I can show them to people who would have never have imagined these places could have existed. You need to be careful all the time, but for me it is worth it.

How did you find these places that are off most people's radar?

It takes a lot of research; Google is my best friend. It's all about searching different areas all around the world for derelict and abandoned places. A lot of detective work is required, and also word of mouth from people that have visited previously.

Is there something about Soviet ruins that you find more captivating than other abandoned places?

I was drawn to the ruins left from the Soviet Union, because it is an era in time that has now passed, and I feel it is important to capture these places before they are completely gone, like capturing a moment in history that soon will pass. 

Are you continuing to explore Soviet ruins, or has the experience led you to another subject?

I will continue to capture ruins all over the world for the indefinite future, also I am embarking on a PhD on the photographing of "Dark Tourist" sites around the world, so will spend a lot of time visiting and capturing these locations over the next three years.

article-imageSoviet Steam Train, Hungary

Beelitz, Germany

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Death masks on display at One Street Museum in Kiev (courtesy the museum)

As the Russian “stealth” war" on Ukraine steps out of the shadows and fighters on both sides of the conflict are killed on an increasing basis, a collector in Kiev has decided to launch a new exhibition examining the the image of death itself.

Calling the exhibit Ukrainian Pantheon, Dmitry Shlyonsky will be exhibiting some of his collection of 260 death masks at the One Street Museum in Kiev in celebration of the 23rd anniversary of Ukrainian independence. Death masks, which are made using wet plaster stripes laid over the face of the recently deceased, were used to capture the sculptural images of the dead for posterity and were often cast from the faces of great men and women, including Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon, Nietzsche, and many others.

article-imageDeath masks on display at the Museum of Waxes in Prague (photograph by Curious Expeditions)

Collected over the last 12 years into what is thought to be the single largest collection of death masks in the world, the exhibition in Kiev will feature Ukrainian nationals, including Stepan Bandera, a famous anti-Soviet fighter, and Symon Petliura, who fought against Russia for Ukrainian independence after the Russian Revolution.

For Shlyonsky, a historian of death masks, these artifacts have never been more relevant. Quoted in the Daily Beast, Shlyonsky said: “We are worried about our independence, we are deeply concerned.” But despite being used to celebrate the history of Ukrainian independence the death masks also form a cultural tie that Russia and Ukraine share, going back to the desk mask of Peter the Great, and lasting well into the 20th century, with a rumored death mask of Boris Yeltsin.  

article-imageWax death masks Museum of Waxes in Prague (photograph by Curious Expeditions)

In 2013, a collection of 13 of Russian death masks, including Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, and Vladimir Lenin went on display in the tunnels below Lenin’s former estate, as part of a Russian exhibition called Masks Shock. One space was left open at the end of the display. When asked, head researcher Natalia Mushits told reporters: “It's for Putin.”

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A water tower on the west side of Humberstone, Chile (all photographs by the author)

Northern Chile is dotted with ghost towns abandoned long ago, which are slowly falling to pieces in the harsh Atacama desert. These towns were built around a mining industry that produced a product called Saltpeter (sodium nitrate), which was an important part of fertilizer production from the late 1800s.

The Saltpeter works and the towns constructed around them became obsolete after two German scientists synthesized ammonia during the late 1920s, which meant fertilizers could be produced more efficiently and at a fraction of the cost. Within 30 years, most of the towns and Saltpeter works had been all but abandoned.

It's now possible to explore all but one of these ghost towns, the exception being Chacabuco, which was used as concentration camp during Augusto Pinochet's regime and is now surrounded by lost land mines.

Humberstone was the largest of the nitrate towns. It is easily accessible, making it a perfect day trip from the nearby costal city of Iquique. Humberstone (and the nearby Santa Laura Saltpeter Works) are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites and require a small entry fee at the gate. However, once inside you are free to explore the ghost town and factories almost completely unrestricted.

article-imageThe gates to Humberstone

Once you pay your fee and receive a map of Humberstone, the first few rows of old houses have been partly restored and turned into a museum, which explains the functions of certain parts of the town, as well as displaying artifacts left behind by the residents. The citizens of Humberstone had to be quite resourceful living in the isolated and harsh conditions of the Atacama Desert, and the museum does a good job of demonstrating how people made do and recycled what they had.

article-imageChildren’s toys made from found & recycled parts left behind at Humberstone, including wire guns, slingshots, tin can trains, & “hoop & wheel” toys

article-imageHow a typical child’s bedroom in Humberstone would have looked

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Transnistria. If the name draws a blank, then don’t worry – you’re not alone. This tiny sliver of land located along the Dniester River between Moldova and Ukraine is almost unanimously unrecognized. Even amongst the relatively few Westerners aware of its existence, Transnistria is best known as the time-locked non-nation where the Soviet Union forgot to die. Such preconceptions do a disservice, however, to what is in reality a fascinating, safe, and largely misunderstood region of Eastern Europe.

Transnistria's independence, contested as it may be, came by way of the War of Transnistria (1990-92). Under the Soviet regime, this region was a special industrial zone, and when the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova morphed into today’s democratic Republic of Moldova, the Transnistrian province was loathe to relinquish its ties with Moscow.

The region was supposedly responsible for large-scale weapons manufacturing for the USSR, and Russia's continued military investment in Transnistria would appear to lend credence to such stories. It was Russian soldiers who ultimately drove the War of Transnistria into the uneasy ceasefire which has held since July of 1992. The Moldova-Transnistria border is patrolled by Russian tanks to this day, and, in the wake of the recent troubles in Ukraine, the Russian Federation upped its Transnistrian contingent, which now numbers at over 2,000 stationed troops.

Military parade on Transnistria's Independence Day (photograph by Darmon Richter)

A map of the Transnistrian region (photograph by Darmon Richter)

Soldiers parade outside popular local fast food joints (photograph by Darmon Richter)

But that’s politics. Transnistria features in the Western media rarely enough, and when a journalist does visit they’re usually chasing up a story about the oft-reported bribery and corruption, or simply gawping at the proliferation of Soviet symbolism in this small, unrecognized state. 

Such themes, however, are neither unique to Transnistria nor are they representative of the local culture and lifestyle. In the case of Soviet symbolism, one need only look to other post-USSR nations such as Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, to find similarly ominous icons of the past. 

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Krblin Jihn KabinFrom August to September, Eames Demetrios, Geographer-at-Large for Kcymaerxthaere, is serving as the Geographer-in-Residence at Atlas Obscura. Here he explores the lines between Kcymaerxthaere, a world parallel to our own, and Atlas Obscura.

When I tell people I am a Geographer-in-Residence at Atlas Obscura, they think it is virtual. And I can understand that. But the Atlas involves a community, and that humanity is part of what, for me, makes it mostly a real-world residency, because the energy of everyone, visitors, stewards, and creator, is tied to the physicality of the world. The interaction is virtual, the ultimate actions taken are physical.

I say this, paradoxically, because, for this post, I wanted, as the storyteller of Kcymaerxthaere, to turn inward and explore the magic Atlas place database a bit. I cheerfully read through the site, the same way I used to read Peter Freuchen's Book of the Seven Seas as a kid. I have used the Atlas a lot, but always felt a little bashful about commenting on places. So the least I can do is get over that for two months.

I planned to comment on some of the Atlas places I've been to. I've noted some of my own sites as ones I have visited, and I will add to them piecemeal over the course of my residency. I also thought I should contribute some sites — besides my own Kcymaerxthaere.

But as I began to understand that my Traveler's Map will be a kind of canvas whose only paint is the reality of five actions (where I've been, where I want to go, what I have added, what I have edited, and my articles), I continued to browse.

First, I made seven pairs of sites. I wanted to find sites I loved that were already on the Atlas, and are near Kcymaerxthaere sites.

article-imageNoah Purifoy Site (all images courtesy the author)

In Joshua Tree, California: When you visit Noah Purifoy's site, check out Kcymaerxthaere's Krblin Jihn Kabin, just a mile or so away.

In London: Postman's Park, in the shadow of St Paul's and so naive and affecting, will give you plenty to think about as you make your way to the Great Dangaroo Flood marker.

article-imageDead Vlei

In Namibia, if you're on your way to Sossusvlei (and there you must see the Dead Vlei), then you will probably go through Solitaire. Get out and see Each and Every Word — and send us a picture, we haven't seen one recently!

In the Melbourne Area (and this is a stretch, but we haven't uploaded all the Australia sites yet!): A visit to Loch Ard Gorge (which is very cool to see), could be rationally followed by a trip to the spas of Daylesford and, more important, a moment of reflection over A Precinct for Gods.

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article-imageThe Corpse Flower (photograph by Kate Lain, courtesy the Huntington Library, Art Collections, & Botanical Gardens)

“Nature has its own clock.”

After nearly a week of watching, waiting, and preparing for the bloom of the Amorphophallus titanum, or less delicately known as the “Corpse Flower,” this truth spoken by Huntington Garden docent Nancy Howard couldn’t have been more apt. At approximately 3:01 pm on Saturday, August 23, an announcement was made at the Huntington Conservatory in San Marino, California. The world’s largest flower had begun its beautiful, short, and stinky life.

article-imageInside the Corpse Flower (photograph by Erin Johnson)

The Amorphophallus titanum, shorten to Titan Arum, is a rare tropical plant native to the Indonesian rainforests of Sumatra. It has been known to grow up to eight feet tall and four feet diameter, earning the distinction as world’s largest flower. The irony, of course, that it isn’t actually a flower. It’s a inflorescence, meaning it’s made up of hundreds of tiny flowers inside the base of the stem.

The Titan Arum has two visible parts: the spadix and the spathe. The spadix is a fleshy upright column that sort of resembles a cactus without needles. This part of the plant, if reaches its maximum height, can grow to be taller than Shaq (who is seven foot one inch). The spathe is the petal-like outer covering. Green on the outside, like a corn stalk, but when the plant opens up during bloom, the distinct purple, maroon color of the inside reveals itself to the world. It's truly a gorgeous, unique, and intimidating plant. But what really grabs your attention is the smell.

article-imageDetail of the Corpse Flower (potograph by Kate Lain, courtesy the Huntington Library, Art Collections, & Botanical Gardens)

There is a reason we call it the “Corpse Flower.” The stench that this flora emits is similar to rotting flesh. The reason for the smell is to attract pollinators, and in its native habitat that is the sweat bee. When in bloom, the plant sends out this odor near and far to bring in the bees to help pollinate both this particular flower and others across the forest. Like nature is known to do, the Corpse Flower has its own unique way of ensuring its survival.

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