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News of the Weird 

Money to throw away: While the Statue of Liberty remains shuttered for lack of $5 million in post-Sept. 11 upgrades, Congress in January mandated $10.7 billion in "earmarked" projects (also known as home-state "pork"), including: $50 million for an indoor rainforest in Iowa, $50 million to make sure a Florida beach resort bridge remains toll-free, $450,000 to decipher the gene structure of rainbow trout, $225,000 to repair a public swimming pool whose drain U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons of Nevada clogged with tadpoles when he was a kid, $200,000 to introduce golf to youngsters, $90,000 for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and, ironically, $500,000 for a University of Akron program that analyzes how Congress makes difficult budget decisions.

It must be a sign: Pilgrims recently flocked to the following places: 1) Brancaleone, Italy, to see a life-sized bronze statue of the recently sainted Padre Pio supposedly weeping blood (December); 2) Passaic, N.J., to see a 2-foot-high tree stump whose shape resembles the Virgin Mary (October); 3) Bridgeport, Conn., to see a stainlike image on the ceiling of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church that resembles the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus (December); 4) Bethlehem, to see a baby born with a birthmark across his cheek that resembles the Arabic letters of the name of his uncle, a Hamas militant killed by Israeli soldiers (December).

Least competent criminals: In January, Trilane A. Ludwig, 24, called his mother from jail in Clark County, Ala., and asked that she grab the $500 from his wallet at home and come bail him out. As he almost certainly knew, the $500 was made up of oversized, poorly made counterfeit bills, which put him in even more trouble. And in December, Tony Lee Hinrichs, 40, was arrested in Mesa, Ariz., based on video of him in the act of burglarizing the Extreme Surveillance shop. Hinrichs appeared unaware that the company is a security firm that might be expected to have cameras set up.

Courtroom follies: Practitioners of the Santeria religion are such a presence in Miami area courtrooms, where they spread white dust on the furnishings to bring good luck to their friends and relatives, that attorneys have begun to complain about their higher dry-cleaning bills. Also found from time to time in those courthouses: remnants of Santeria-sacrificed chickens and goats, and mysterious candle formations. In a recent case, Haitian defendant Emmanuel Etienne claimed that his deceased victim had the power to turn himself into a headless donkey by "expelling three flatulents."

Another geographic center of weird: Tampa, Fla.: Driver Terry Lee Crouch, 29, accidentally ran over his 6-year-old son while, he told police, playing a game in which the boy tries to cling to the rear bumper while Crouch starts and stops the car attempting to dislodge him (November). In nearby New Port Richey, Fla., a 400-pound man fell to his waist through the floor of his home at the Orangewood Lakes Mobile Home Community and said he had been trapped there for two days. A neighbor had called on him during the ordeal, but the man declined help (October). And in nearby Largo, Fla., according to police, a 41-year-old woman offered to pay three teenagers $20 to come beat up her son (but told them to be careful with the furniture) (January).

Update: In December, a federal judge rejected the latest appeal of David Cobb, 66, a former teacher at the prestigious Phillips Academy in New Hampshire. Cobb made News of the Weird in 1995 with his attempts to seduce children by dressing as "Pumpkin Man" and encouraging them to fondle him. He had challenged the child pornography counts against him, claiming that some of the nude photos he had were not of children, but of adults onto whose bodies he had meticulously glued head shots of kids cut out from magazine and catalog ads.

Hyperactive seniors: Hunter "Red" Rountree, who pleaded guilty to having robbed a First American Bank branch in August at age 91, was sentenced to 12 years in prison; it was his third bank robbery in five years (Lubbock, Texas, January).


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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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