When in the course of human events, things get weird, Philly gets going.
Nothing rubs the dark underbelly of this city till its hind leg kicks as much as the stories we can’t imagine happening anywhere else.
This is about the times things got strange over the last decade. Very strange. The kind of strange where your out-of-town relatives called to ask what the hell was going on in this city.
And their confusion brought you great joy.
As we bid farewell to all the dumpster fires (and pools) of the 2010s, here are 10 of our favorite, bizarre Philly stories of the last decade.
The beheading of hitchBOT
While the rest of the world was shocked when hitchBOT, the hitchhiking Canadian robot, was beheaded on the streets of Philadelphia in 2015, Philadelphians quickly realized we’ll be the only city to survive an eventual robotic uprising.
And we’re not letting any Patriots fans in.
HitchBOT was created in Toronto and began his U.S. journey in Salem, Mass., with the goal of making it to San Francisco. He depended on the kindness of strangers to take him with them on the road, which is how he ended up in Philly after two weeks.
To this day, the motive behind his death — and his killer — remains unknown. HitchBOT was found on Elfreth’s Alley, with his arms and head torn off.
Video that circulated of his untimely end at the hands of an Eagles fan was later determined to be a hoax, but everyone believed it at first because this is Philadelphia.
“I just think someone saw it, probably came out of a bar and was drunk and beat the crap out of it,” Philadelphia Police Detective Joe Murray told the Daily News at the time.
Robotic uprising averted. You’re welcome, America.
Animals on the run
Whether it’s a bull that broke free from the slaughterhouse or peacocks that busted out of the zoo, there’s something about escaped-animal stories that captivates Philadelphia with fear and glee, kind of like the Dickens Village.
In 2015, a pair of zebras escaped from the UniverSoul Circus outside the Mann Center and went on a jaunt through West Philly, leaving confused motorists in their wake.
Wooder the odds?
The incident left the fish-assault victim floundering for answers. The prevailing theory is that a bird was flying with the catfish in its talons and the fish escaped, falling to its death, by way of someone’s face.
And in 2017 a brave bovine named Stormy escaped from a live church nativity scene in Old City — not once, but twice in the same day. Holy cow!
The Swiss Cheese Pervert
If there’s one story that made the entire city of Philadelphia collectively gasp “Holy Cheesus!” it’s the 2014 tale of the dairy deviant dubbed “The Swiss Cheese Pervert.”
This lascivious lactose lover drove around dangling a piece of Swiss cheese — and a piece of himself — to women in the city’s Mayfair section, asking that they perform a sexual act on him with the slice of Swiss.
Eventually identified as Christopher Pagano, then 41, of Norristown, the Swiss Cheese Pervert was sentenced to eight years of sex-offender probation. Earlier this year, Pagano was charged with two counts of harassment in Berks County. If he is found guilty, it could result in a probation violation in his Philly case.
Though no official studies have been conducted, we can only assume Philadelphia’s consumption of Swiss cheese has dramatically decreased since 2014.
Cruiser-in’ for a bruisin'
Steal a police cruiser once, shame on you. Steal a police cruiser twice in the same day, well, that’s just remarkable.
Incredibly illegal, but remarkable.
In March 2013, Shayna Sykes, 23, and her fiance, Blake Bills, 24, of Lehigh County, stole a Camden police cruiser in New Jersey as the officer was conducting a traffic stop. As they drove off, they hit the cop with his own car, breaking his leg as they sped away.
The couple led police on a chase through Jersey and over the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philly, where they were apprehended by city police.
While Bills was being handcuffed, Sykes jumped out of the stolen Camden cruiser and into an unattended Philly police car.
In full cruiser-control mode, Sykes sped through Fishtown before she ditched the car when it caught on fire.
The Black Madam
In 2011, a British tourist died from an illegal buttocks injection of low-grade liquid silicone at an airport hotel at the hands of gothic hip-hop artist Padge Victoria Windslowe, a transgender woman who called herself the "Black Madam” and the “Michelangelo of buttocks injections.”
If that were all, it would be enough. But this is Philly, where the case only got stranger.
Windslowe remained free for more than a year as authorities awaited the British tourist’s toxicology results. Knowing full well she was a suspect in the death investigation, Windslowe continued holding “butt-pumping parties” where she injected people with low-grade liquid silicone.
When another of her clients almost died in 2012, police got a warrant for Windslowe’s arrest and took her into custody at a pumping party in East Germantown.
As she awaited trial, Windslowe continually ignored a court-issued gag order on her case, often writing to reporters, including this one, to whom she penned a list of “Top 50 Madam Fun Facts," among them that her biggest crush is “Benjamin Netanyahu.”
After a 2015 trial, Windslowe, was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.
Let’s have bizarre celebrations
Philly has the ability to throw a party for anything, the weirder the better. We’re pretty much the Nic Cage of event planners, and this decade brought some real ragers.
There was the 2016 dumpster pool party in Kensington, where residents turned a dumpster into a swimming pool, complete with floaties and a “Pabst” sign.
While the rest of the country was highly amused by the trashy hijinks, the city thought it was total rubbish and, citing “basic common sense” and the illegal use of a fire hydrant, revoked the block’s party privileges.
In February this year, some residents of Fairmount and Brewerytown discovered an anonymous letter under their doors detailing how everything people have eaten since first grade is still alive in their bodies. The only way to be saved, the letter read, is to become a “solid steel statue” or to “seal yourself in cement.”
The author suggested building a steel furnace so people could be melded with metal to prevent future harm. The scribe urged everyone to attend a steel furnace planning meeting at a vacant lot at noon April 27.
The letter ended with: “Do attend.”
And Philly did.
The letter went viral and Philadelphians decided to actually have a party at the empty lot on April 27. Hundreds attended, some in tin foil outfits, others in Hazmat suits. Booze was consumed, ABBA sing-a-longs were had, and strangers in a strange city united to celebrate being strange.
Then in June, residents of West Philly gathered to make ritualistic offerings to a 20-by-20-foot sinkhole that was at least 12 feet deep on Baltimore Avenue.
Members of the Philadelphia Women’s Slavic Ensemble were even inspired to write a song in honor of the sinkhole, which has since been repaired.
For years it seemed as if former weatherman and local bon vivant John Bolaris would be remembered — above all else — for his faulty March 2001 prediction about the “Storm of the Century."
That is, until “Do shot" came along.
In May 2011, Bolaris, then a meteorologist at FOX29, first told the Daily News of how he was drugged twice by two Latvian women at a Miami Beach bar in 2010 who encouraged him to “Do shot!” and then racked up $43,000 on his credit card.
The women were part of an organized-crime ring with ties to Russia and Eastern Europe that victimized at least 88 men and was busted by the FBI.
After Bolaris shared his story with Playboy in 2012, FOX29 suspended him, and he left the station just weeks later.
Sports fans gone batty
Philly sports fans are the city’s unruly children — we don’t tolerate anybody else criticizing them, but we sure can.
Over the last decade, fans made headlines for intentionally vomiting on an off-duty cop and his kids at a Phillies game; stealing the prosthetic leg of a Vietnam veteran; and finding a way to chastise Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor during a news interview about a building fire.
And then, there was Super Bowl LII.
During the run-up in January 2018, police slathered utility poles across the city with Crisco before the NFC Championship game to prevent fans from climbing them in celebration. Fans took it as a challenge and climbed them anyway.
That same month, two men were arrested in separate incidents for allegedly punching police horses outside of Eagles playoff games and another fan gained fame when he ran head-first into a subway pole while trying to pump up a train full of Eagles fans.
When the Eagles won the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history in February 2018, the city collectively poured onto the streets to rejoice together.
If there’s anything Philadelphia has in abundance, it’s characters. From the man who airs himself out on a sidewalk vent so regularly he appears on Google Maps, to the motorist who’s affixed $1,000 worth of random knickknacks from Goodwill to his Cadillac, Philly has more characters than The Simpsons.
In 2014, Michael Grant started hanging around LOVE Park and City Hall dressed as Jesus Christ and calling himself “Philly Jesus.”
Grant kept up the character for several years and even dressed as Philly Jesus when he went on trial for refusing to leave an Apple store.
While he gave up the role around 2018, he seems to have resurrected the character — now with a new, fluffy beard — this holiday season.
When video of a lanky man in an Elmo costume dancing between two drummers down a Kensington street as a massive scrapyard fire raged in the background went viral in 2018, the dichotomy of the happy character and the horrific scene captivated and confounded people from outside the area.
Here, we just thought it perfectly captured Philly.
But perhaps no character has so astutely epitomized the essence of Philly as our new overlord and savior, Gritty. In a little more than a year, the Flyers’ lovable but completely unhinged mascot has become one of Philly’s favorite — and most famous — sons.
When he made his debut in September 2018, he terrified small children and weak adults. His success was unlikely; his motives, questionable.
And he only got more Philly from there.
Of mice and menace
For this final tale of the strange, we take a trip out to that bizarre and mythical suburb known as Upper Darby.
In 2011, pizza shop owner Nikolas Galiatsatos tried to sabotage two of his competitors by hiding live mice in their restaurants.
Problem was at his first stop, Galiatsatos didn’t spot the two cops eating lunch at the restaurant before he asked to use the bathroom, where he hid a bag of mice in the ceiling.
Galiatsatos’ mice-chief was soon discovered and the cops caught up with him as he tried to head into another nearby pizzeria with a different bag of mice.
The caper was so bizarre that now-disgraced director Woody Allen penned a piece based on the incident for the New Yorker, and Upper Darby native Tina Fey referenced it five years later on Saturday Night Live.
While hindsight may be 20/20, nobody can see what the 2020s hold. But if they’re anything like the last decade, things will get weird.
And Philly will be here for it.