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February 13, 2024 10 mins

It's amazing for successful some people turned out to be, despite taking very unconventional paths to get there.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild.

Speaker 2 (00:12):
Our world is full of the unexplainable, and if history
is an open book, all of these amazing tales right
there on display, just waiting for us to explore. Welcome
to the Cabinet of Curiosities. In Boston, Massachusetts, there's a

museum dedicated to showcasing paintings that all have one thing
in common.

Speaker 1 (00:43):
They're terrible. The Museum of Bad Art exists to house
works that are so poorly executed and so aesthetically disastrous
that it's actually kind of impressive. The ugliness of the
art becomes its charm. It's so bad it's good. The
same he said for one aspiring actor who lived in
Regency England. His name was Robert Coates, although he had

many nicknames, including Diamond Cockadoodle Doo, and Romeo, and each
of his monikers came with a backstory. First up, Diamond,
as you might imagine, this name referred to Robert's riches.
Born in Antigua in seventeen seventy two, he was the
son of a wealthy plantation owner. His family had the
resources to send him to England for school, and he

continued living in the UK as a young adult. When
his father died in eighteen oh seven, Robert was the
only next of kin, making him the heir to a
massive fortune, and he wanted everyone to know about it.
One contemporary describe Robert's appearance as follows, and I quote
his dress was remarkable. In the daytime, he was covered
at all seasons with enormous quantities of fur. But the

evening costume in which he went to balls made a
great impression from its gaudy appearance. For his buttons as
well as his knee buckles were of diamonds. Now, listen,
I don't even have knee buckles, let alone ones made
of diamonds. But Robert, well, he lived for attention. He
flaunted his wealth constantly. He wanted to be recognized everywhere

he went, even while riding in his carriage, so he
had a totally obnoxious vehicle custom built. The carriage itself
was shaped like a seashell, the wheels were all different colors,
and the sides were painted with images of roosters crowing.
And that's where Robert got his second nickname. When people
saw his carriage rolling down the street. They would shout

out cockadoodle. Do I have to assume that they were
mocking him, But Robert didn't see it that way. To him,
all attention was good attention, which brings me to his
third nickname, Romeo. While Robert's already had a fortune, he
dreamt of fame. He wanted to become known as a
great actor. In eighteen ten, when he was thirty eight

years old, he volunteered to take part in a charity
theater production in Bath, England. The organization was putting on
a performance of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and I'm sure
you can guess which role Robert asked to play now.
Audience members did not arrive expecting Broadway level talent. It
was a charity performance after all, just a bit of
light entertainment. But nobody, and I mean nobody, could have

anticipated just how horrible Robert Coates version of Romeo would be.
To start, his costume didn't fit. Robert, who had enough
money to buy whatever clothes he wanted, chose to wear
pants that were so tight they split in the middle
of the show. During the famous balcony scene, he paused
in the middle of his delivering his lines to start
chewing tobacco. After Juliet died, he tried to pry open

her tomb with an actual crowbar. A reviewer had this
to say about Robert's performance, quote, his delivery was uncouth,
his attitude most awkward, and his emphasis uniformly misplaced. At
the beginning of the fourth act, the curtain was dropped.
In other words, Ibert's performance was so disgraceful that the

show had to be ended early. However, even as the
curtain closed, he ran out to the front of the
stage and kept trying to act. He had to be
carried away from the theater by force. As for the audience,
if you can believe it, they were kind of sad
to see Romeo go. His performance might have been awful,
but it was also entertaining. This production of Romeo and

Juliet didn't ruin Robert's acting career, It actually kickstarted it.
Over the following years, he continued to appear on stage,
each time delivering performances that were described by some as quote,
irrational and disgusting. But at the same time, Robert gained
a cult following. He was ridiculous, melodramatic, and pompous. He
lacked any kind of artfulness or refinement. He was so

bad he was good in a way. Robert Romeo Coates
got his wish. He became a famous actor. Even after
he passed away in eighteen forty eight, his name lived on,
although it was used as an insult. Calling an actor
a mister Romeo Coates was a way of calling them
absolutely awful. But hey, Robert believed that all attention was

good attention, so he would probably be happy that we're
talking about him at all. In two thousand and two,

a ninety two year old Brazilian man named Francisco Xavier Candito,
better known as Chico, passed away. Chico was so beloved
that his funeral became a national event. His wake lasted
two full days. During that time, people waited in line
that stretched over two and a half miles to stay
their goodbyes. About twenty five hundred mourners passed by his

coffin every hour. When his casket was finally taken to
the cemetery, a police helicopter showered his grave with rose petals.
The governor of Chico's home state announced that his burial
would be followed by three official days of Mourning. So
I'm sure you're asking now what made people love Chico
so much? Well, he was an author. He had written

approximately four hundred and ninety books during his lifetime. But
that's absolutely prolific output. Wasn't what made him special, is e.
Chico was a self identified psychic medium. He claimed that
the vast majority of his books weren't actually written by him.
They had been dictated to him by ghosts. This is
a practice known as psychography, and it didn't originate with Chico.

As early as the eighteen hundreds, spiritualists in the United
States claimed that they could receive messages from the dead.
Sometimes these mediums would fall into a trance while holding
a pencil and paper. When they regained consciousness, the paper
would be covered in sentences that, according to them, were
written by ghosts. Over time, the words came through tools
like the Ouiji board, which spirits could supposedly use to

communicate with the living. Some of these messages ended up
being long and dare I say, quite artful. In the
early nineteen hundreds, one ghost author actually gained commercial popularity.
Her name was Patience Worth. I've covered her here on
this show before, but as a reminder. Patience reportedly lived
in the seventeen hundreds, but managed to pen three novels

over two hundred years after her death. As for who
held the paper and pencil, that was Pearl Curran, a
housewife from Saint Louis, who claimed that patient's spirit moved
through her. Pearl serving as the conduit for patients became
a literary sensation, and the saying was true of Chico.
Although his story was far stranger than Pearls. He didn't

need a pencil, paper, or a Ouiji board to talk
to spirits. They simply came to him. In nineteen fourteen,
when he was four years old, Chico started hearing voices
and having visions. His parents were scared. They thought that
he was possessed by the devil. A local priest gave
advice for how to get the demon out, too, like
having Chico repeat thousands of prayers a day, but it

didn't work. The boy's connection to the spirit world seemed unbreakable.
As a teenager, Chico began reading about spiritualism. He realized
that he had a gift, and he resolved to use
his abilities to help other people. He first began using
psychography to comfort parents whose children had died. He would
connect with these children's spirits and allow them to write

letters through him. Most often they told their parents that
they missed them, they loved them, and their spirits lived on. Eventually, though,
Chico moved on from using psychography to write letters to
write books. He published his first work in nineteen thirty two.
It was called Poetry from Beyond the Grave and featured
two hundred and fifty nine poems that had been quotes unquote,

revealed to him by the spirits of fifty six dead poets.
And the book was a commercial success, and Chico continued
to write at a breakneck pace. Between nineteen thirty two
and two thousand and two, he wrote nearly five hundred books,
which sold over twenty five million copies. Many contained over
religious messages, establishing him as one of Brazil's foremost spiritual leaders.

At the same time, Chico made a point of engaging
in humanitarian work and donating all of his profits to charity.
He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice, in
nineteen eighty one and nineteen eighty two. So whether you
believe in psychics or not, it's impossible to deny that
Chico brought people comfort and hope, and that's why his
funeral was such a massive event. Still, not everyone was

convinced of his power. Plenty of people tried to prove
that he was a fraud, but none were successful. At
one point, a woman brought him to court over a
book of poetry. Chico claimed the book had been dictated
to him by the ghost of a famous Brazilian poet,
Umberto de compos So. Umberto's widow sued Chico for a
share of the prophets. However, the judge ruled in Chico's favor,

citing the fact that Umberto was dead and dead people
have no property rights. These days, Chico is remembered as
one of the most important religious figures in Brazilian history,
and while he died over twenty years ago, it's possible
he still has more stories to tell. This time, maybe
he'll be the one sending the messages from the great beyond.

I hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet
of Curiosities. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn
more about the show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com.
The show was created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership
with how Stuff Works, I make another award winning show
called Lore, which is a podcast, book series, and television

show and you can learn all about it over at
the Worldoflore dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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