Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 21, 2014

Today’s Icy Hot Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In 1893, the city of Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition, a world’s fair belatedly commemorating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of North America.  The fairgrounds were situated on the city’s south side six miles south of the Loop and spread over a 700-acre tract of land abutting Lake Michigan in Jackson Park. Frederick Law Olmsted, one of America’s foremost landscape architects, transformed the sandy, swampy land into a wonderful setting of lagoons and gardens that would host exhibits from 60 countries and more than 200 buildings. The fair cost the city $30 million and drew 27 million visitors during its six-month run. It turned a 10% profit. Two prominent Chicago architects, John Wellborn Root and Daniel Burnham, were selected to design the fair’s buildings. After Root died of pneumonia in 1891, Burnham decided to emulate classical Greek and Roman styles in his designs. Each building was built of wood and covered with “staff,” a fibrous plaster substance that gave the look and feel of white marble. Thus the “White City” as it became known, appeared to be built of stone. The grand effect was further heightened at night when electric lights were played against the building’s exteriors, illuminating the “marble”.

In addition to the stately show buildings, the White City housed restaurants, cafes, and sanitation and support facilities. One of the largest of the utility buildings was the fair’s cold-storage warehouse. Dubbed the “greatest refrigerator on earth” because of its mammoth size, the six-story white terra cotta building at 64th Street and Stony Island Avenue had its own ice-skating rink and measured 130 feet wide by 255 feet long. And though not officially a part of the fair itself, the warehouse had been built specifically to store all perishable food items used by the fair’s food vendors and to manufacture ice.

The cold storage warehouse appeared to be a sturdy, well-built structure, but it did have one fatal design flaw.  Its iron chimney, fitted at its base to a series of boilers, was 200 feet high, and because it was considered unsightly and clashed with the beauty of the surrounding buildings, a large wooden tower, topped with an ornate cupola, was built to enclose the chimney and hide it from view. Herein lay the problem. The cupola had been built several feet about the chimney opening creating a dangerous fire hazard. The chimney was insulated by firebrick for only the first 70 feet; the remaining 130 feet were left completely open and unprotected inside the tower. Though the architect’s plan had called for installation of a cast-iron thimble to extend the chimney above the cupola to protect it from the hot upward airflow, cost prevented it from being built.

This danger should have raised the concern of fire officials, especially after flames broke out inside the tower on June 17, although it was quickly put out by firefighters from the Columbian Exposition Fire Brigade.  On July 10, the firefighters were called back to the cold storage building when another fire broke out inside the wooden tower. This time, however, the flames would not be so easily tamed. Led by their captain, James Fitzpatrick, more than 20 men rushed to the top, climbing interior stairs that took them to platforms above the hot metal smokestack. Using ropes, the men hauled up their equipment, including hose and a portable ladder. A crowd began to gather. Just then hot coals started falling onto a lower platform below the firefighters, sparking a secondary fire that quickly burned upward. When it burst through the tower it cut off escape for the firefighters above.

The flames traveled quickly up the wooden tower, directly toward the firefighters trapped 200 feet above the street. To compound the situation, the water pressure in the hose line was severely inadequate, the pumps below unable to overcome the extreme height of the tower.

The stranded firefighters were left with just one option: they could tie off their hoseline and try sliding down it to safety. Though burned in the process, two managed to escape this way, to the cheers of the crowds below. When a third man followed their lead, he plunged to his death after the hose burned in half. A few others slid down a rope to the ground, but several more were trapped above when the rope burned as well. The remaining firefighters opted for jumping or falling off the ledge. The more than 40,000 spectators watched in shocked disbelief as the firefighters fell to their deaths. It took two hours for the 30 responding fire companies to put out the warehouse fire. Another three days would pass before rescuers recovered the last of the 12 dead firefighters, including Captain Fitzpatrick, whose body had broken through the roof and was buried in the debris. Fitzpatrick had survived the fall but died a short time afterward. Five other firefighters were severely injured, and one was crippled for life.  Of the dead, four were Chicago Fire Department members and eight were with the exposition’s fire brigade. Two cold storage employees and one electrician working in the building had also been killed.

The tragedy, of course, marred the world’s fair. Once again the Garden City was unable to protect itself from, or avoid being upstaged by, its greatest foe: fire.

Culled from: Great Chicago Fires: Historic Blazes That Shaped a City

Of course, I’m sure many of you know all about the Columbian Exposition by way of Erik Larson’s brilliant book The Devil in the White City.  I decided to take a trip to Oak Woods Cemetery the other day to see the monument to the cold storage firefighters and take some photos of the remnants of the White City.  Of course, as usual, I ended up getting quite sidetracked and I thought I’d share all the ways a Comtesse can get sidetracked whilst undertaking a simple task like photographing a couple of locations in Chicago.  First of all, here’s a map of the World’s Fair for reference – if you care!  Now, here’s my day on the South Side…


Wretched Recommendation!

When I saw that Joe had sent me a note about a book with the word ‘Müt­ter’ in the title, I lazily thought to myself, “Been there, read that, got it on my bookshelf”.  Luckily, I read his missive closer and realized that, no, this isn’t just another collection of photographs from the Müt­ter Museum (as glorious as those books always are); this is actually a book about the man behind the morbidly magnificent museum himself – Dr. Müt­ter!  And judging by the reviews on Amazon, it looks to be an excellent book – and it’s going on my ‘To Read’ list immediately! Thank you, Joe!

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“A mesmerizing biography of the brilliant and eccentric medical innovator who revolutionized American surgery and founded the country’s most famous museum of medical oddities

“Imagine undergoing an operation without anesthesia performed by a surgeon who refuses to sterilize his tools—or even wash his hands. This was the world of medicine when Thomas Dent Mütter began his trailblazing career as a plastic surgeon in Philadelphia during the middle of the nineteenth century.

“Although he died at just forty-eight, Mütter was an audacious medical innovator who pioneered the use of ether as anesthesia, the sterilization of surgical tools, and a compassion-based vision for helping the severely deformed, which clashed spectacularly with the sentiments of his time.

“Brilliant, outspoken, and brazenly handsome, Mütter was flamboyant in every aspect of his life. He wore pink silk suits to perform surgery, added an umlaut to his last name just because he could, and amassed an immense collection of medical oddities that would later form the basis of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum.

“Award-winning writer Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz vividly chronicles how Mütter’s efforts helped establish Philadelphia as a global mecca for medical innovation—despite intense resistance from his numerous rivals. (Foremost among them: Charles D. Meigs, an influential obstetrician who loathed Mütter’s ‘overly’ modern medical opinions.) In the narrative spirit of The Devil in the White City, Dr. Mütter’s Marvels interweaves an eye-opening portrait of nineteenth-century medicine with the riveting biography of a man once described as the ‘P. T. Barnum of the surgery room.'”

More Monstrous Medical recommendations can be found at the Library Eclectica.


Fetus Du Jour!

Here’s another preserved 1930’s fetus that I photographed at the Museum of Science and Industry last week. You’ll note that as the fetuses get closer to birth, they start to look increasingly cynical. This one’s just picking its nose and watching its invisible watch. You think you’re bored NOW? Try staring at the same dark womb 24 hours a day – without a cell phone!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 20, 2014

Today’s Acquitted Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In the early hours of March 23, 1928 in Gladbeck, Germany a youth named Helmut Daube was found dying in the street; his throat had been cut and his genitals slashed off. The police soon discovered that Daube’s closest friend was his fellow-student Hussmann; when they went to Hussmann’s house, they discovered that his shoes had been recently washed, and showed traces of blood. His clothes were also blood-stained. Hussmann had completely dominated Daube, and the two had been lovers; but recently Daube had realized that he preferred girls and had tried to break away.

At first Hussmann claimed the blood was that of a cat he had killed, but Paul Uhlenhuth’s recently developed blood test quickly revealed that it was human blood. Hussmann then changed his story and said he had had a nosebleed. The forensic laboratory at Bonn demonstrated that this was also impossible, for the blood on the shoes was type A – Daube’s group – while Hussmann was type 0.

The feeling of the court was that, while they were not convinced of Hussmann’s innocence, they were by no means happy about convicting him on what, to them, amounted to purely circumstantial evidence, so Hussmann was acquitted. But the case drew wide attention to the use of testing for blood groups in criminal cases. Since that time, many criminals have been hanged on the evidence of a dried blood-spot on a wooden floor.

Helmut Daube. Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman know just how he felt.  

Culled from: Crimes and Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 6



I’ve featured this video about Japan’s Suicide Forest Aokigahara before but I just revisited it and was reminded what a strangely moving and beautiful work of art it is.  If you haven’t watched it, please take twenty minutes to reflect on life and death at the foot of Mt. Fuji.  You’ll be glad you did.  Oh, and it’s not particularly graphic either.  (Thank you to Joseph for sending me the link.)

Suicide Forest


Fetus Du Jour!

Here’s another preserved fetus from the 1930’s that I photographed at the Museum of Science and Industry last week. I call this one: Eternal Meditation.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 19, 2014

Today’s Incinerated Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On September 1, 1894 a huge firestorm, fed by drought conditions and dry debris left behind by lumber companies, destroyed the town of Hinckley, Minnesota, killing over 418 people. After the fire, Dr. D.W. Cowan, coroner of Pine County, was one of the first on the scene. After rescuing survivors and administering temporary medical care to those who needed it, he turned his attention to his official duties as coroner. Many factors impeded the recovery, identification and burial of the dead.  First, the bodies were scattered over a large area, and locating them was difficult. Then, the September weather was hot, and decomposition set in rapidly rendering the work of burial particularly distasteful. Undertakers Frank Webber of Pine City, in charge of burial at Hinckley, advised that after a few days the bodies “must be buried where found. It will be impoosslbe to move them as they are literally falling to pieces.” Search parties worked from sun-up to dark to inter the dead as quickly as possible, but some bodies were not found until months later. In one case remains were found and identified four years later.

In Hinckley, a few horses, wagons and hayracks found unburned, along with others shipped in, were used to transport the dead to the cemetery. Volunteer crews scoured the areas near the town where people might have fled for shelter. In the swamp north of the Grindstone River ninety-six bodies were recovered, piled on the wagons and brought to the cemetery. The procession to the burial ground one mile east of town was a somber one. Here a few “fortunate” deceased were placed in ready-made coffins shipped in, others were given hastily-built wooden boxes, but most were buried en masse in four long trenches. Those deceased who had family members or friends among the living in town were buried in private graves.

Culled from: From the Ashes: The Story of the Hinckley Fire of 1894

Hinckley searching party at ruins of cabin in the woods.

Searching party finding an entire family.

As I’ve mentioned recently, I took a trip to the fun-filled Hinckley Fire Museum a few years back – here’s my travelogue.

Great Fire!


Morbid Link Du Jour!

I’m not an embalmer (I know, saying those words makes me sad too), but this seems to be a reliable enough article.  In any event, it makes for an entertaining read!  Thanks to beth60best for sending it my way.

10 Horrible Myths and Misconceptions About Embalming


Fetus Du Jour!

Here’s another preserved 1930’s fetus that I photographed at the Museum of Science and Industry last week.  I call this one: Adrift.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 18, 2014

Today’s Undeclared Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In 1933, the Japanese army invaded China.  What they thought would be a “3 month war” continued for eight years.  In addition to the ruthless Chinese general Chiang Kai-shek, who commanded immense armies and had Anglo-American financial and technical support in his fight against the Japanese, Japan also faced the twentieth century’s greatest guerrilla leader, the wily Mao Tse-tung, who himself controlled part of China, commanded large forces, and enjoyed the support of the peasants.

With Chiang’s forces, the Japanese faced a traditional army of uniformed soldiers carrying out traditional operations. But Japanese army strategists had no appreciation for the strength of Mao’s brilliant guerrilla tactics. Whereas the Japanese Army pursued a ruthless policy of slaughter known as the “Three Alls” (“Kill All, Loot All, Burn All”), Mao insisted on decorous “rules” when dealing with the Chinese peasants:

All actions are subject to command.
Do not steal from the people.
Be neither selfish nor unjust.
Replace the door when you leave the house.
Roll up the bedding on which you have slept.
Be courteous.
Be honest in your transactions.
Return what you borrow.
Replace what you break.
Do not bathe in the presence of women.
Do not without authority search those you arrest.

The Japanese Spirit Warriors soon became frustrated with the “unfair” tactics of the guerrillas in their midst. “Massacres of civilians were routine,” one soldier later recalled. “They cooperated with the enemy, sheltered them in their houses, gave them information. We viewed them as the enemy. During combat all villagers went into hiding. We pilfered anything useful from their houses or, in winter, burned them for firewood. If anyone was found wandering about, we captured and killed them. Spies! This was war.”

Countries avoid a declaration of war so they may claim “the laws and customs of war did not apply and need not be observed.” Japan never declared war on China. Instead, the fighting was euphemized as an “incident”. Chinese troops were not “soldiers” but “bandits”  One of the customs of war Japan was able to flout in this “incident” against “bandits” was acknowledgement that captured Chinese soldiers were prisoners of war. A 1933 army infantry textbook assured IJA officers that when they took prisoners, “If you kill them there will be no repercussions.”  In a 1937 directive, the army vice chief stated: “In the present situation in order to wage total war in China, the empire will neither apply, nor act in accordance with, all the concrete articles of the Treaty Concerning the Laws and Customs of Land Warfare and Other Treaties Concerning the Laws and Regulations of Belligerency.”  The same directive ordered “staff officers in China to stop using the term ‘prisoner of war.’” As Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Herb Bix pointed out, Hirohito himself “supported the policy of withholding a declaration of war against China and ratified and personally endorsed the decision to remove the constraints of international law on the treatment of Chinese prisoners of war.” Thus Chinese soldiers taken in battle were “denied the status of prisoners of war upon the same pretext and many of them were massacred, tortured, or drafted into Japanese labor camps.”

Culled from: Flyboys


Morbid Trinket Du Jour!

Okay, so it’s not a REAL conjoined fetus skull… but it’s the next best thing and I think it would look fabulous on my bookshelf.  (One day maybe I’ll have a real house with more than just bookshelves for furniture, and then I can say something like, “It would look splendid on my escritoire” or something.)  Anyway, it would make a fine last-minute gift for that hard-to-shop-for aunt, don’t you think?

Available from the ever-marvelous Gorey Details.


Fetus Du Jour!

So last week a friend who had never been to Chicago visited and I made it my duty to show her the town. Of course, that meant going to some of the “touristy” places like the Museum of Science and Industry. Since Body Worlds wasn’t in town (the only reason I’d ever gone there before), I wasn’t expecting to see anything particularly morbid, so I was delighted to find a huge collection of fetuses on display.  The ranged in development from blastocyst to full-term and they were collected in the 1930s (supposedly from “natural causes”).  I only had my iPhone with me, but I still tried to capture some of the glory of these little suspended animations.  Check out this eyeless little guy!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 17, 2014

Today’s Frightful Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Excerpt from The First Guidebook to Prisons and Concentration Camps of the Soviet Union by Avraham Shifrin (1980):


Psychiatric Hospital No. 6
Twenty-five people are confined to a single room in this psychiatric prison, and walks are not permitted. “Patients” are subjected to beatings by the hospital attendants. Lev Konin, one of the inmates here (1978), has informed us that, as a means of punishment, the prisoners are bound in a wet straight jacket and then tied to a bed. When the straight jacket dries, it compresses the body with frightful force. Two sadistic physicians here are named Tsvetkov and Bobrova.

Culled from:  The First Guidebook to Prisons and Concentration Camps of the Soviet Union by Avraham Shifrin

We have a similar punishment here in America: it’s called a drunk guy in tight Levi’s falling asleep in a tub.


Boredom Killer Du Jour!

Bored and blue with nothing to do?  Then why not read the New South Wales coroner reports? They are quite interesting, indeed!  Detailed accounts of everything from childhood morbid obesity to struck by bus, to self-inflicted gunshot, to “violent and unnatural death” of a homeless person.  A morbid thanks to Angela for sending them my way!

Coronial Findings



So last week a friend who had never been to Chicago visited and I made it my duty to show her the town. Of course, that meant going to some of the “touristy” places like theMuseum of Science and Industry. Since Body Worlds wasn’t in town (the only reason I’d ever gone there before), I wasn’t expecting to see anything particularly morbid, so I was delighted to find a huge collection of fetuses on display.  The ranged in development from blastocyst to full-term and they were collected in the 1930s (supposedly from “natural causes”).  I only had my iPhone with me, but I still tried to capture some of the glory of these little suspended animations.  I thought I’d share my favorites over the course of the next few newsletters.

Look – twins!!!  What shall we name them?

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 16, 2014

Today’s Infectious Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

During the Influenza epidemic of 1918, more than 25% of the U.S. population became ill; 40% of the Navy got the flu and 36% of the Army; and estimates range from 20 million to more than 100 million dead worldwide.  The exact count is unknown because many places that were bludgeoned by the flu did not keep mortality statistics, and even in countries such as the United States, efforts at tabulating flu deaths were complicated by the fact that there was no definitive test in those days to show that a person actually had the flu. But still, the low end of the mortality estimates is stunning. In comparison, AIDS had killed 11.7 million people through 1997. World War I was responsible for 9.2 million combat deaths and around 15 million total deaths. World War II for 15.9 million combat deaths. Historian Alfred W. Crosby remarks that whatever the exact number felled by the 1918 flu, one thing is indisputable: the virus “killed more humans than any other disease in a period of similar duration in the history of the world.”

Culled from: Flu


A 1918 flu poster.  I’d love a framed version…



Here’s another old newspaper excerpt.  Oh, such DRAMA!

Chico Courant (Chico, California)
Saturday, November 25, 1865


DIED. – Far away from home, relatives and friends among strangers, with no one to shed a parting tear, with strangers to smooth his dying pillow, another unfortunate Californian passed on to the silent land, the land of forgetfulness, the land of the departed.  Joseph Coburn, a private in Company II, Ninth U.S. Regular Infantry, on the march to Summit Lake, was taken sick, was left at the Chico Hotel in this place, being unable to proceed farther; received all the care and attention that could be bestowed; lingered until Friday night, the 18th inst., when he died.  He was about 22 year old, enlisted in San Francisco about one year ago; not being in his right mind the most of the time, his native place could not be learned, but from expressions made use of in his wandering moods, it is supposed he was a native of New York, residing in the vicinity of Niagara Falls.  An anxious waiting mother, there may be, who for years will listen for the returning footsteps of the absent boy, little dreaming that he sleeps the long sleep of death in the Valley of the Sacramento.  There may be sisters and brothers who will gather around the old hearthstone at home, and when the storm beats without, and the tempest howls around the old homestead, wonder where the absent one is, and why he does not return.  the storms may beat around his dwelling and he heeds them not; heat and cold, summer and winter are all the same to him now.  When one dies thus alone in a strange land and among strangers, we think of the many notices which appear almost daily of “INFORMATION WANTED,” some friend inquiring for the lost one.  How many have laid down to die on hill and plain, mountain and valley, gulch and ravine, all over the Pacific Coast with nothing to mark the spot where they sleep, and not a word concerning their fate ever transmitted to relatives or friends.  What waifs we are, floating on the ocean of time, engulfed to-day and forgotten to-morrow.

From the collection of The Comtesse DeSpair

More Pestilent Death can be perused at Garretdom!



Morbid Trinket Du Jour!

Planning a party?  Then why not cover your table with a bloody mess of a table cloth?  If I had any friends for which I could throw a party, I would!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 15, 2014

Today’s Photogenic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Harvey Murray Glatman (December 10, 1927 – September 18, 1959) was an American serial killer active during the late 1950s. He was known in the media as “The Lonely Hearts Killer.”

Born in the Bronx to a Jewish family and raised in Colorado, Glatman exhibited antisocial behavior and sadomasochistic sexual tendencies from an early age. At the age of 12, his parents noticed he had a red, swollen neck, and he described being in the bathtub, placing a rope around his neck, running it through the tub drain, and pulling it tight against his neck, “achieving some kind of sexual pleasure from this act.” His mother took him to the family physician and was told he “would grow out of it.” As a teenager, he would break into women’s apartments, where he tied them up, raped them and took pictures as souvenirs. He was caught in one such act in 1945 and charged with attempted burglary. Less than a month later, while still out on bail awaiting trial, he kidnapped another woman in Boulder, Colorado and raped her before letting her go. She went to the police, and Glatman went to prison for eight months.

Once out of prison, Glatman moved to Albany, New York, where he was eventually arrested in 1946 for a series of muggings. He served time at the New York State Reception Center at Elmira and then in the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, where prison psychiatrists diagnosed him as a psychopath. He was nevertheless a model prisoner and was paroled in 1951. He returned to Denver in 1951 and lived there until 1957. He worked as a TV repairman and hired young women to pose for him in bondage situations. He claimed that his photos would be published on the covers of detective magazines, but none were.

Glatman moved to Los Angeles, California in 1957 and started trolling around modeling agencies looking for potential victims. He would contact them with offers of work for pulp fiction magazines, take them back to his apartment, tie them up and sexually assault them, taking pictures all the while. He would then strangle them and dump the bodies in the desert. His two known model victims were Judith Dull and Ruth Mercado. A third victim, Shirley Ann Bridgeford, was met through a Lonely Hearts ad in the newspaper.

Glatman is also a suspect in the slaying of “Boulder Jane Doe”, a victim whose corpse was discovered by hikers near Boulder, Colorado in 1954. Her identity remained a mystery for 55 years. In October 2009, the Sheriff’s Office was notified by Dr. Terry Melton, of Mitotyping Technologies in State College, Pennsylvania, that her lab had made a match between “Jane Doe’s” DNA profile and that of a woman who thought the unidentified murder victim might be her long-lost sister. The positive identification of “Boulder Jane Doe” was an 18-year-old woman from Phoenix, Arizona, named Dorothy Gay Howard.

Glatman was in Colorado at the time and was driving a 1951 Dodge Coronet. The damage done to the body was consistent with being hit by the same car.

Glatman was arrested in 1958, caught in the act of kidnapping what would have been his fourth known murder victim, Lorraine Vigil. A patrolman saw him struggling with a woman at the side of the road, and arrested him. He willingly confessed to the other three murders and eventually led the police to a toolbox containing pictures of the victims which he had taken. He was found guilty of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to death. He was executed in the gas chamber of San Quentin State Prison on September 18, 1959.

Culled from: Wikipedia

This is a chilling photo that Glatman took of Judy Dull shortly before her murder:

And here’s the prick himself.  Too bad I don’t have a picture of him being executed to share.


Facing the Madness: Religious Melancholy

In the Library Eclectica, I have a book entitled The Faces of Madness: Hugh W. Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography (edited by Sander L. Gilman), 1977.  It contains a wonderful collection of photographs of asylum inmates taken in the 1850’s by pioneering medical photographer and psychiatrist Dr. Hugh W. Diamond, along with engravings that were made of them and used in teaching.  There are also several case studies by Dr. John Conolly (the leading British psychiatrist of the mid-nineteenth century) for some of the patients.  The portraits are beautiful and sad and the text reveals the psychiatric thought processes of the mid-19th century.  Great stuff – so, of course, I must share!  Here’s the first case study – and it’s a beautiful one indeed.

“In this form of melancholy there is no mere worldly despondency, nor thought of common calamities or vulgar ruin; but a deeper horror: a fixed belief, against which all arguments are powerless, and all consolation vain; a belief of having displeased the Great Creator, and of being hopelessly shut out from mercy and from heaven…

“The subject of this photograph had left the Protestant faith, and become what is commonly called a Roman Catholic. Her education had not been such as to enable her to reason well on either side, and she became merely wavering and unsettled in her belief. Attention to ordinary matters was neglected; she sat in the attitude shown in the engraving for a long time together; she was negligent of her dress, and occasionally destructive of it. Often she cried out that she was a brute, and had no soul to be saved. Now and then she had a desire to see some minister of religion, either Catholic or Protestant; and soon afterward would refuse to see either, declaring that neither could be useful to her. All this seems to be expressed in the photograph. The medal she wears was given to her by a gentleman connected with the Catholic establishment.

“It is unnecessary to say that her case was managed in the asylum with the most prudent caution. She was encouraged to more bodily exertion; and her mental perplexities, not being aggravated by reasonings unadapted to her, gradually died away. She soon began to occupy herself, and became useful in the laundry of the establishment. She was strengthened by quinine. The inactivity of the digestive canal, so common, or so constant in cases of melancholia, was counteracted by combining the decoctum aloes compositum with a tonic; and shower-baths, of half a minute’s duration, contributed to restore general bodily energy. Such attacks never yield at once. They come on gradually, and depart slowly. After a residence of ten months in the asylum, this patient became well. It is gratifying to know that she remains well, having now left the institution seven months since.”

It’s good to know that asylum inmates occasionally were released, isn’t it?



Another sad case of “insanity” occurred when unfortunate Miss Lydia Pickel was attacked on a stagecoach circa 1886.

December 23, 1886


The Closing Chapter of the Sad Story of Miss Pickel’s Life.

VINCENNES, Ind., Dec. 17 –A message was received from the Indiannapolis [sic] Insane Asylum at the home of Miss Lydia Pickel a day or two ago which reveals the last chapter of a sad story. The message was as follows: “Lydia Pickel is lying at the point of death. Come if you wish to see her alive.” The dying girl lived in Harrodsburg, Lawrence county. She was on [sic] of a numerous family. She accumulated a snug sum of money, which she was ambitious to invest to the best advantage. She learned that under the Homestead law she could secure a considerable tract of land with her little store of money, and with this thought in view she set out for the west. 

On the way to her destination she had to travel a long way by stage coach. One night the coach was entered by several drunken cowboys. Seeing a defenceless [sic] woman was the only occupant of the coach save themselves, they attacked her. It will never perhaps be known what really took place in the stage coach on the lonely prairie that night. It is only known that the poor girl escaped from her persecutors by jumping from the coach.

Three or four days later a woman with most of her clothes torn from her person was found wandering aimlessly about on the open prairie. When captured she was found to be hopelessly insane. Fortunately a man from Lawrence county, Indiana, was present and he at once identified her as Miss Lydia Pickel, whom he had known from childhood. A guard was provided and the poor girl was sent home, and from there to the State Asylum for the Insane. Her case was beyond the power of human skill, her mental ailment being long since pronounced incurable. Her physical health had given out.

Culled from the collection of The Comtesse DeSpair: the 1886 Morbid Scrapbook.
More sad old stories can be read at Garretdom.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 14, 2014

Today’s Furiously Insane Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Situated on a low, barren, sandy hill surrounded by a 140-acre wasteland of brush, bogs and boulders, the State Lunatic Hospital at Taunton, Massachusetts (as it was originally called) was opened in 1854. The central building – three stories high and surmounted by a seventy-foot dome – was large enough to accommodate 250 patients.  In the early years of the institution, these inmates provided a convenient supply of labor. Under the direction of Dr. George C. S. Choate, the first superintendent, they were made to clear the brush, drain the swamps, and drag away the boulders, which were then used to build an imposing wall around the entire property.

As originally constructed, the hospital contained forty-two so-called “strong rooms,” designed to hold the most unmanageable inmates – “violent and filthy patients,” as they were described in the First Annual Trustees Report. Built of stone, brick, and iron, these cells featured all the amenities of a medieval dungeon. The walls were sixteen inches thick. Small iron-barred slits served as windows. The iron doors were barely wide enough to squeeze through and were secured with massive locks. In the wall beside each door was a small aperture, just big enough to permit a bowl of gruel to be passed into the cell. Since the intended inmates were raving madmen (and women) who refused to wear clothes and wallowed in their own filth, the “strong rooms” had stone floors that sloped towards the front of the cell and terminated in a gutter, “for the convenience of washing them out” (as the Trustees Report put it).

So ghastly were these tomblike cells that hospital administrators were reluctant to use them, even for the confinement of the “furiously insane.” Within a few years of their construction, the strong rooms were demolished and other, less inhumane quarters built in their place.

Culled from: Fatal: The Poisonous Life of a Female Serial Killer by Harold Schechter



Luc Sante’s Evidence is a compelling collection of crime scene photographs taken by the New York City Police Department between 1914 and 1918. The images are always intriguing, often mysterious, sometimes artistic, occasionally shocking, and reliably graphic. The appendix contains a detailed explanation of all known facts regarding each image (include applicable newspaper clippings) and much reasonable speculation on those images where the facts are lost to history. I thought I’d start sharing images from this book occasionally, along with the text explanation.

Here’s the first image:

Luc says: “This body is almost certainly in a vacant lot, or perhaps an untended yard: concrete verges toward vegetation, garbage is abundant, and there is a wooden stepladder in view, which may have been brought there by the police. The deceased may have been felled from behind by a blunt instrument. He is bleeding from the mouth, but there is no other sign of violence on his person. The larger amount of blood is at some distance from the body, toward the top of his frame. He has evidently not been robbed; he retains his watch and chain. What might at first resemble an official document lying next to him is probably an open magazine. The rather alarming look of the tripod legs is, of course, due to distortion by the wide-angle lens, probably around 25 mm. The legs at upper left are those of the photographer or another detective. The victim is middle-aged and somewhat prosperous, but his left hand reveals him to have once been a manual laborer.”


Morbid Must-Have!

A new book is about to be released by the Burns Archive!  Can I get an Aztec Death Whistle in celebration?

Stiffs, Skulls & Skeletons: Medical Photography and Symbolism

“This intriguing and comprehensive exploration of the skeleton and the dead body includes more than 400 rare photographs. Stanley B. Burns, MD, has studied, collected and written on medical photography for over four decades focusing on unexplored areas. His books have placed him in the forefront of medical photographic history scholarship. This work reveals the nineteenth-century fascination with the dead body and body parts. The classic visual iconography of postmortem, dissection, and bone photography is presented and expanded to include early autopsy images and X-ray studies. No prior visual work has presented the once very popular hobby of collecting skulls and also shown their use in racial and psychological profiling research. This sumptuously illustrated book with previously unpublished photographs is an extraordinary work of medical, historical and cultural research. It is a timeless visual essay that will surely become a standard resource for collectors, curators, artists, and scholars.”

I’m adding it to my ‘Wish List’ right now!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 13, 2014

Today’s Inconvenient Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Sticking your head into an oven, or at least sitting quietly in your easy chair with the (unlit) gas jets on and the windows closed, was once a standard suicide method on stage, screen, and in real life. Black and white movies and mid-century pulp fiction are filled with nick-of-time rescuers breaking down doors, shouting “Gas!” and frantically opening the windows; real life victims include poet Sylvia Plath. Yet you never hear about this anymore. What happened?

Suicide by gas didn’t go out of style – it just became a whole lot less convenient. The gas piped into your house these days is not your grandfather’s gas. Modern gas companies deliver “natural gas,” a naturally occurring fossil fuel that is a benign mixture of methane and ethane. It only smells terrible; it’s really not that lethal. Safety types call it a “simple asphyxiant.” Turn on your gas jets and yes, you will die, but only after the gas displaces most of the oxygen or, more likely, reaches the pilot light and explodes. Who has that kind of patience? And who can stand that smell that long?sylvia

The gas it replaced, “coal gas” or “illuminating gas” was another matter entirely. It was manufactured locally at “gasworks” from coal heated in airtight chambers. The gas produced, a mixture of methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide, not only burned beautifully, but was perfect for the suicidally-inclined. The active ingredient was, of course, the carbon monoxide. With blood having more than 200 times the affinity for carbon monoxide than oxygen, it doesn’t take much to saturate the blood and starve your brain and nervous system of oxygen. A few breaths of 1% carbon monoxide is enough to knock you out; a few minutes breathing it will kill you. With coal gas running 10% carbon monoxide, it’s not hard to see why one psychologist called old fashioned coal gas ovens “the execution chamber in everyone’s kitchen.” Like all good technologies, it was fast, convenient, and effective.

Advances in metallurgy and welding technology in the 1930s and 1940s brought coal gas industry to an end. Natural gas, formerly a nuisance byproduct of oil drilling that was frequently simply burnt at the wellhead, could now be transported long distances cheaply and easily. After World War II, American cities and towns rapidly switched over to the new safer natural gas. The local gas plant joined horse trams and coal furnaces on the dust heap of discarded technology. The transition in Britain was a little slower, with a few gasworks limping into the ‘70s. The only remaining legacy of this formerly robust industry is numerous abandoned brownfield sites contaminated by the process’s coal-tar and ash byproducts.

The switch from coal gas to natural gas also had one unexpected effect. During the ‘50s and ‘60s, about half of the suicides in Britain were by coal gas. By the ‘70s, when the transition to natural gas was complete, the number of gas suicides had dropped to zero and the overall suicide rate was down a third. Even the suicidal appreciate convenience. If it’s too much trouble, as Dorothy Parker said, “You might as well live.”

Culled from: io9
Generously suggested by: Pemphigus

And no, that photo does NOT depict Sylvia Plath in the oven, regardless of what you might read on the internet.  It’s apparently part of a photo-series on literary suicide by Sarah Ann Loreth.  And it’s beautiful, isn’t it?

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 12, 2014

Today’s Helpful Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Vermont State Police say a 71-year-old woman who went to get help for her husband after he fell getting out of their vehicle has been found dead near their home. Police say Stewart Little fell and couldn’t stand after the couple returned to their Irasburg home Monday night (December 8, 2014) after a shopping trip. They say his wife, Patricia, decided to walk to a neighbor’s house for help.  Stewart Little later managed to crawl into their house but couldn’t reach a phone. A relative checked on him Wednesday and discovered Patricia Little missing. Police found her dead in a field between her home and the neighbors’. They say there’s no sign of foul play and suspect she succumbed to the weather.  Stewart Little was taken to a hospital. He’s expected to recover.

Culled from: the Associated Press
Submitted by: Aimee

And this is why old folks need to conquer their fear of technology and get cell phones. Or at least those personal safety devices that let you summon help with one button push.

Note please how I am totally refraining from making any mouse jokes at all. – Aimee