Review Index


By ROBERT DAMON SCHNECK (Tarcher Penguin; 2014)

A book that offers irrefutable proof that truth really is stranger than fiction. In MRS. WAKEMAN VS. THE ANTICHRIST Robert Damon Schneck, a prolific author and researcher, relates ten deeply strange and macabre true stories plucked from the darkest corners of American history.

     The account that gives the book its title pivots on the Connecticut based Rhoda Wakeman, who in the early 1800s came to believe she was God’s messenger. As such she ran a sect called the Wakemanites, whose devotion spiraled into homicidal madness in a manner that eerily foreshadowed the Manson family.

     “The Four Wild Men of Dr. Dedge” relates the horrific experiments of Dr. Dedge, who created sideshow attractions by, among other things, inserting silver plates into men’s foreheads and attaching horns to them. There’s also “The Littlest Stigmatic,” about the case of ten-year-old Cloretta Robinson, who in the early 1970s became stricken with stigmata (i.e. bleeding in the places where the wounds of the crucifixion occurred), and “The Blood Gospel,” which explores the macabre but very real Nineteenth Century fad for blood drinking.

     Oddest of all is “The Man in Room 41 and Other Autodecapitants.” Its subject is James Moon, an inventor who one night in June of 1876 decapitated himself via an elaborate self-made machine (a rough diagram of which is included) inside an Indiana hotel room. Naturally Moon became something of a legend in the succeeding years, but the strangest thing about this account is that (as the second part of the title makes clear) Moon’s act of auto decapitation isn’t the only such case!

     Other chapters include “The Wee-Jee Fiends,” about the Ouija board panic that gripped America in the 1920s; “Holy Geist,” concerning an alleged West Virginia poltergeist that back in the Eighteenth Century manifested itself by cutting cloth and leather items into crescent shapes; “Bigfoot’s Gold: The Secret of Ape Canyon,” which examines one of the oddest accounts of a sasquatch sighting, a remembrance that includes metaphysical speculation, UFOs and buried treasure; “Psychic in The White House,” about the alleged psychic Jeane Dixon, who advised several U.S. presidents; and “Ku Klux Clowns,” about the 20th Century clowns-in-vans scare--a scare, the author argues, that can be traced back to the nocturnal activities of the Ku Klux Clan.

     It’s a good thing Robert Damon Schneck provides an extremely thorough set of notes and references, because otherwise I’d swear he was making at least some of this madness up. But apparently it’s all true, and laid out in extremely lively and reader-friendly fashion. Plus, Schneck claims at the end of the book that he gathered enough material for further volumes, meaning that, yes, one or more sequels to MRS. WAKEMAN VS. THE ANTICHRIST are on the way.