On the shores of Heiligendamm in 1887, it was not entirely uncommon for a group of Grey visor crabs (Corystes buccula) to scurry out of the sea and mingle brazenly with the human tourists and bathers. By then, it was well known that to insert a few petals from a sprig of Baltic lavender (L. Suebica) into an aperture in this animal’s shell would cause it to cease its normal activities and seek out other blossoms of the species, guided by aroma.
On the afternoon of June 17 of that year, the Grand Hotel Heiligendamm invited the vacationing Maltese clairvoyant Rancisto Frippini to give a demonstration of his talents near the beach. Simply “by tasting the air” (in his words), he managed to point out all nineteen individuals (from a crowd of over two hundred) who had been chosen by ballot to place the lavender-addled crabs in the shallows beforehand. Frippini had little time to enjoy the applause, however, for he fainted and could not be revived for over an hour upon viewing the actions of a certain crab. He insisted afterwards that this crustacean had performed, down to the minutest step, a choreographed ritual for summoning the malicious fairy Verigonditrud, of whom more later.