Morbid Fact Du Jour for November 30, 2015

Today’s Surprising Yet Truly Morbid Fact(s)!

On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg burst into flames while attempting to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey. In little more than 30 seconds, the largest object ever to soar through the air was incinerated and the era of commercial airship travel was dead. Here are nine surprising facts about the massive zeppelin and its fiery demise.

Wowie, a ZEPPELIN!

1. Survivors of the Hindenburg disaster far outnumbered the victims. 
Anyone who has seen the graphic newsreel video of the Hindenburg plunging to earth in flames may be amazed to know that of the 97 passengers and crew on board, 62 survived. The disaster’s 36 deaths included 13 passengers, 22 crewmembers and one worker on the ground. Many survivors jumped out of the zeppelin’s windows and ran away as fast as they could.

2. The Hindenburg disaster wasn’t history’s deadliest airship accident.
Thanks to the iconic film footage and the emotional eyewitness account of radio reporter Herbert Morrison (who uttered the famous words “Oh, the humanity!”), the Hindenburg disaster is the most famous airship accident in history. However, the deadliest incident occurred when the helium-filled USS Akron, a U.S. Navy airship, crashed off the coast of New Jersey in a severe storm on April 4, 1933. Seventy-three men were killed, and only three survived. The 1930 crash of the British military airship R101, which claimed 48 lives, was also deadlier.

3. The Hindenburg disaster wasn’t broadcast live on radio.
Morrison was on the scene to record the arrival of the Hindenburg for WLS in Chicago, but he wasn’t broadcasting live. His wrenching account would be heard in Chicago later that night, and it was broadcast nationwide the following day. His audio report was synched up with separate newsreel videos in subsequent coverage of the Hindenburg disaster.

4. U.S. law prevented the Hindenburg from using helium instead of hydrogen, which is more flammable. 
After the crash of the hydrogen-filled R101, in which most of the crew died in the subsequent fire rather than the impact itself, Hindenburg designer Hugo Eckener sought to use helium, a less flammable lifting gas. However, the United States, which had a monopoly on the world supply of helium and feared that other countries might use the gas for military purposes, banned its export, and the Hindenburg was reengineered. After the Hindenburg disaster, American public opinion favored the export of helium to Germany for its next great zeppelin, the LZ 130, and the law was amended to allow helium export for nonmilitary use. After the German annexation of Austria in 1938, however, Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes refused to ink the final contract.

5. The Hindenburg had a smokers’ lounge.
Despite being filled with 7 million cubic feet of highly combustible hydrogen gas, the Hindenburg featured a smoking room. Passengers were unable to bring matches and personal lighters aboard the zeppelin, but they could buy cigarettes and Cuban cigars on board and light up in a room pressurized to prevent any hydrogen from entering. A steward admitted passengers and crew through a double-door airlock into the smokers’ lounge, which had a single electric lighter, and made sure no one left with a lit cigarette or pipe.

6. A specially designed lightweight piano was made for the Hindenburg. 
The Hindenburg’s owners, seeking to outfit their airborne luxury liner, tasked the renowned piano making firm of Julius Blüthner with building a special lightweight baby grand piano to meet the airship’s strict weight standards. The piano, which was made mostly of aluminum alloy and covered in yellow pigskin, weighed less than 400 pounds. It was only used during the Hindenburg’s first flying season, so it wasn’t aboard the ill-fated voyage.

7. The Hindenburg first took flight on a Nazi propaganda mission. 
Although the Hindenburg was in development before the Third Reich came to power, members of the Nazi regime viewed it as a symbol of German might. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels ordered the Hindenburg to make its first public flight in March 1936 as part of a joint 4,100-mile aerial tour of Germany with the Graf Zeppelin to rally support for a referendum ratifying the reoccupation of the Rhineland. For four days, the airships blared patriotic tunes and pro-Hitler announcements from specially mounted loudspeakers, and small parachutes with propaganda leaflets and swastika flags were dropped on German cities. (The referendum, approved by 98.8 percent of Germans, was hardly a squeaker.) Later in 1936 the Hindenburg, sporting Olympic rings on its side and pulling a large Olympic flag behind it, played a starring role at the opening of the Summer Games in Berlin. The airship, which had swastikas emblazoned on its tail fins, was such a symbol of Nazi power that it was subjected to constant bomb threats—including some before its final flight, which led to suspicions of sabotage in the disaster.

8. Dozens of letters carried aboard the Hindenburg were ultimately delivered.
Zeppelins pioneered airmail service across the Atlantic, and the Hindenburg carried approximately 17,000 pieces of correspondence on its final voyage. Amazingly, 176 pieces stored in a protective container survived the crash and were postmarked four days after the disaster. The pieces, charred but still readable, are among the world’s most valuable philatelic artifacts.

9. Goebbels wanted to name the Hindenburg for Adolf Hitler.
Eckener, no fan of the Third Reich, named the airship for the late German president Paul von Hindenburg and refused Goebbels’ request to name it after Hitler. The Führer, never enthralled by the great airships in the first place, was ultimately glad that the zeppelin that crashed in a fireball didn’t bear his name.

Culled from: The History Channel

Mortuary Photo Du Jour!

Mother Holding Her Baby, Dead from Measles or Chicken Pox, c. 1857
Photographer unknown, United States

Culled from: A Morning’s Work: Medical Photographs from The Burns Archive & Collection 1843-1939

Are you paying attention, anti-vaxxers?  Measles or Chicken Pox!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for November 29, 2015

Sorry I disappeared for a week without explanation. It wasn’t anything dire – I was just negligent in sending out the notification that I would be away on vacation. I blame it on the ever-encroaching dementia.

Today’s Laughing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Kuru is an incurable degenerative neurological disorder endemic to tribal regions of Papua New Guinea. It is a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, caused by a prion (an infectious agent composed entirely of protein) found in humans.   It is now widely accepted that kuru was transmitted among members of the Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea via funerary cannibalism.

The following is a description of kuru and the cannibalism from the book The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery.

Toward the end the victims laughed frantically, explosively, on the slimmest pretense, laughed so hard they’d fall over and sometimes almost roll into the fire. Until that point their symptoms – lethargy, headaches, joint pain – might have been anything. Even when they began to stumble about and had to flail their arms in a herky-jerky dance to stay balanced, even those tics might be explained away as sorcery. But laughing could only mean kuru. Within months of the first symptoms, most kuru victims – predominately women and children in eastern Papua New Guinea – couldn’t stand upright without clutching a bamboo cane or stake. Soon they couldn’t sit up on their own. When terminal, they’d lose sphincter control and the ability to swallow. And along the way, many would start to laugh – laughing reflexively, senselessly, with no mirth, no joy. The lucky ones died of pneumonia before they starved. The unlucky ones were whittled down until their ribs pushed through their skin and the women’s breasts hung deflated.

After a few days of mourning, the local women raised the victim on a stretcher of sticks and bark, and gathered in a secluded bamboo or coconut grove distant from the men. Silently, they started a fire and greased themselves with pig fat to protect against the insects and the nighttime cold of the mountain highlands of Papua New Guinea. They laid the body on banana leaves and began sawing each joint, fraying the cartilage with rock knives. Next they flayed the torso. Out came the clotted heart, the dense kidneys, the curlicue intestines.  Each organ was piled onto leaves, then diced, salted, sprinkled with ginger, and stuffed into bamboo tubes. The women even charred the bones into powder and stuffed that into tubes; only the bitter gall-bladder was tossed aside. To prepare the head they burned the hair off, gritting through the acrid smell, then hacked a hole into the skull vault. someone wrapped her hands in fern leaves and scooped out the brains and still more bamboo. Their mouths watered as they steam-cooked the tubes over warm stones in a shallow pit, a cannibalistic clambake. In dividing up the flesh, the victim’s adult relatives – daughters, sisters, nieces – claimed the choicer bits like the genitals, buttocks, and brain. Otherwise, people shared most everything, even letting their toddlers partake in the feast. And once they started feasting, they kept stuffing and stuffing themselves until their bellies ached, taking leftovers home so they could binge again later.

The tribe never named itself, but explorers called them the Fore (For-ay), after their language. In Fore theology, consuming someone’s body allowed his or her five souls to enter paradise more quickly. Moreover, incorporating their loved ones’ flesh into their own flesh comforted the Fore, and they considered this more humane than letting maggots or worms disgrace someone. Anthropologists noted another, more prosaic reason for the feasts. For food, the Fore mostly gathered fruits and vegetables and scraped a few kaukau (sweet potatoes) out of the poor, thin mountain soil. A few villages kept pigs, and hunters speared rats, possums, and birds, but the men usually hoarded these spoils. The funeral feasts let women and children gorge on protein, too, and they especially enjoyed eating kuru victims. Kuru left people sedentary, unable to walk or work, and those who died of pneumonia (or were euthanized by smothering before they’d starved), often had layers of fat.

Culled from:  The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery

A young kuru victim:


Arcane Excerpts: Polluting Oneself Edition

Here’s an illuminating excerpt from What A Young Boy Ought To Know (1897) by Sylvanus Stall. The chapter is entitled, “The Manner in Which the Reproductive Organs are Injured in Boys by Abuse”.

“… I desire… to call your attention to some remarkable similarities and differences in the body of man and those of other animals. Now, if you get down upon your hands and knees upon the floor, you will notice that there is a great likeness in the form of your body and the form of the body of a horse, or cow, or dog, and all four-footed animals. When in this position you will see that your arms and hands, in a large measure, correspond to their forelegs and feet. In some, as with the dog and cat, the small extensions, or toes on their feet, correspond also with the fingers and toes upon your hands and feet. With others, as in the case of the horse, the fingers and toes are gathered into one foot, and the nails, which are on the ends of your fingers and toes are enlarged and gathered into one thick nail, which forms the hoof of the horse, or the double hoof of the cow.

“Now if you stand on your feet, and pass your arms behind you, and hold them pretty well up on your back, you will see that the form of your body in that position resembles the form of the body of a bird; your legs and feet corresponding to their legs and feet, and your arms corresponding to their wings. The study of such similarities learned men call the study of comparative anatomy. So you see that there is some similarity between the construction of our bodies and the construction of the bodies of other animals.

“But there is one particular in which the human body differs from all the others. Man is the only animal to whom God has given a perfect hand. Even with our intellectual endowment, if God had not given us our hands it would have been physically impossible for man to have risen much above the level of the lower animals, but with his hands man prepares his food, compounds his medicine, manufactures his clothing, builds houses in which to live, writes books, prints papers, constructs all kinds of machinery, builds railroads and great steamships with which he can outdo even the birds in their flight. With all these things God is doubtless well pleased.

“But because of the evil in man’s mind and the wickedness in his heart he also uses his hands to inflict pain and injury upon his fellow-man. He constructs great cannons, and gunboats, and other instruments of death with which he destroys his fellow-man in battle. Moved by the wickedness in his heart, and encouraged and helped on by Satan and others who are wicked like himself, man uses his hands to accomplish many things which are very displeasing in the sight of God.

“But, strange to say, man is possibly the only animal which persistently pollutes and degrades his own body, and this would not have been easily possible to him if God had not given him hands, which He designed should prove useful and a means of great help and blessing to him in his life upon the earth.

“In order that the hand might not be used for degrading his own body, or for the injury of his fellow-men, God endowed man with wisdom, with a moral sense, and with conscience, so that his hands should be to him a source of help and blessing, and not a means of defilement and injury and thus prove a curse.”

I don’t have the heart to tell Sylvanus that it’s actually pretty common for other animals to defile and pollute themselves…

Morbid Fact Du Jour for November 19, 2015

Today’s Electrified Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On the evening of October 29, 2012, as Superstorm Sandy devastated the mid-Atlantic coast with high winds, torrential rain and massive storm surges, 23-year-old Lauren Abraham stepped outside of her home on Staten Island to take some pictures of the storm damage. She didn’t see the downed power lines and stepped directly onto them. The lines were live, and Abraham burst into flames. Emergency crews arrived within minutes, but couldn’t get close enough to help her. She burned for at least half a hour before she died, and Con Edison wasn’t able to turn off the power for two hours. Neighbors said later that they would never forget the smell.

Culled from: Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy by Kathryn Miles
Submited by: Aimee

I also read online that her mother came home to find her charred body in the yard.  Can you imagine?


Sideshow “Freaks” Du Jour!

The Wild Men of Borneo were captured after a deadly struggle by a ship’s crew in search of water. They were of a distinct human race, spoke no intelligible tongue and uttered a strange mixture of gibberish and gutteral howls. So wild and ferocious were they that they could easily subdue tigers.

– Barnum Courier of 1882
The Wild Men of Borneo (“Waino” and “Plutano”) were two mentally defective midgets from Connecticut. The brothers Hiram (born in Long Island, 1825) and Barney Davis (born in England, 1827) weighed only 45 pounds each, yet both had considerable strength. They used their muscles onstage to lift dumbbells, weights and members of the audience. They also wrestled each other to the boards with appropriate rant and slaver. Although in the 1870s and 1880s they posed for photographer Chas. Eisenmann several times, one wonders why they bothered, for the pictures are all interchangeable: the brothers always flank their guardian, Hannaford Warner, strike the same poses, and never switch sides. Only Warner added a note of variety by moving his hand from his watch chain to his pocket. In the middle ’90s the trio returned to 229 Bowery to have Eisenmann’s successor, Frank Wendt, take the same picture again.
In the accompanying Eisenmann portrait the two midgets are about sixty years old. They performed for at least another decade, Hiram living until 1905 and Barney until 1912. They are buried in Mount Vernon, Ohio, under a tombstone inscribed “Little Men”.

Culled from: Monsters: Human Freaks in America’s Gilded Age: The Photographs of Chas Eisenmann

Morbid Fact Du Jour for November 17, 2015

Today’s Pulverizing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In 1855 the secretary of war, Jefferson Davis, selected the Minié/rifle combo as the U.S. military’s official arms and ammo.  Six years later, as president of the Confederacy, Davis no doubt rued his earlier enthusiasm. Manufacturers started churning out untold numbers of cheap Minié bullets – which soldiers called “minnie balls” – and factories in the north especially started stamping out millions of Minié-compatible rifles, which butchered boys almost from sea to shining sea. The guns weighed ten pounds, cost $15 ($210 in today’s money), and measured about five feet long. They also had an eighteen-inch bayonet, which was risible, since this gun more or less rendered the bayonet a foolish relic: rarely could soldiers get close enough to plunge one in anymore. (Mitchell once estimated that mule kicks hurt more soldiers during the Civil War than bayonets.) The Minié bullet also pushed cannons far back behind the infantry lines and greatly diminished the power of the mounted cavalry charge, since horses were even easier to pick off than humans. By some estimates Miniés killed 90 percent of the soldiers who died on the battlefield.

Unfortunately, many Civil War commanders – steeped in antiquated tactics and drenched in the romance of Napoleonic charges – never adjusted to the new reality. Most notoriously, on the day Mitchell arrived at Gettysburg, some 12,500 Confederate soldiers stormed a stone fence held by the Union. Pickett’s Charge. Among other troops, soldiers with piles of minnie balls were waiting, and they pulped the guts and pulverized the bones of the chargers up and down the line.

An injured soldier might languish for days before a stretcher team or ambulance wagon lugged him to a clinic. There, he might wait hours more until a surgeon in a bloody apron appeared, a knife between his teeth. The surgeon would probe the wound with fingers still crimson from the last patient, and if he decided to amputate, one assistant knocked the patient out with chloroform or ether, another put the limb into a headlock, and the third got ready to clamp the arteries. Four minutes later, the limb fell. The surgeon hollered “Next!” and walked on. This work might continue all day – one Kentucky surgeon remembered his fingernails getting soft from absorbing so much blood – and fresh graves ringed every hospital. Walt Whitman recalled the crude tombstones, mere barrel-staves or broken boards stuck in the dirt.

Culled from:  The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery

Incidentally, the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. (well, Silver Spring, MD technically) has a lovely collection of minnie ball injuries.  Here are a few photos I took when I was there earlier this year.


Brain Du Jour

Here’s another excerpt from Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital.

Study No. 397:
Down’s Syndrome

Morbid Fact Du Jour for November 16, 2015

Today’s Restless Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Eddie Merle Watson was the son of famed musician Doc Watson and was an accomplished singer and guitarist in his own right, playing country, bluegrass, blues and folk music. North Carolina’s Merlefest, one of the biggest folk-music festivals in the world, is named for him.

On October 22, 1985, Watson was restless and unable to fall asleep. To kill some time, he went to his basement workroom and began cutting up some wood paneling he intended to install. The saw snagged on a knot in the wood, and a large splinter flew off and lodged in the muscle of Watson’s upper arm.

Bleeding profusely, Watson got on his farm tractor and set out to find a neighbor to help him. He spotted a light on in a house at the top of a steep hill and managed to get his tractor up the incline. The couple in the house helped him remove the splinter and bandaged his injury, and Watson thanked them and left to go back home. He was now very tired and weak from excitement and loss of blood, and as he drove his tractor back down the hill, his brakes locked and the tractor plunged down over an embankment.

Watson was thrown clear but the tractor then landed on him, killing him instantly. He was 36.

Culled from: Here
Submitted by: Aimee


Foreshadowing Du Jour

The following is culled from Strange Days Dangerous Nights: Photos From the Speed Graphic Era.

One fireman in this photograph is about to die, and that is what makes it an unusually haunting image. The year is 1942 and the scene is Cedar Street, St. Paul, Minnesota where on a bitterly cold January afternoon firemen are battling a blaze that enveloped a two-story building next to the St. Paul Athletic Club (now the University Club). Because the club was literally next door to the Pioneer Press and Dispatch building, a photographer was quickly on the scene and snapped this close-up of fire fighters working to douse the stubborn, smoky fire.

As this photograph was taken, smoke was already pouring into the Athletic Club through second-floor doors that linked it directly to the smaller building. There were fire doors to prevent just such a situation, but they were open. Worried that heavy smoke in the club might make it impossible to rescue anyone trapped on the upper floors, four firemen decided to go up to the second floor and shut the fire doors. Among them was Captain Thomas Kell, who stands to the right of the ladder.

Kell and two of the other firemen – District Chief Frank Minogue and Russell Hunt – were overcome by smoke and fumes as they groped their way toward the doors. They died before rescuers could reach them. For the St. Paul Fire Department, it was the worst loss of life since 1900, when five firemen had died in a blazing warehouse in the Midway are.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for November 15, 2015

Today’s Armed To The Teeth Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On July 18, 1984, 41-year-old James Huberty walked into a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, California, and killed 21 people, including 5 children, and injured 19 others. On the way out of his house that afternoon, he told his wife and daughter “I’m going hunting for humans and I won’t be back.” The McDonald’s restaurant on West San Ysidro Boulevard is long gone; all that remains is a memorial with flowers and a plaque bearing the names of the 21 murder victims. James Huberty walked into the McDonald’s that day armed to the teeth, and bent on killing as many people as he could.

“He fired three different weapons, fired more than 245 rounds from an Uzi, a .9mm and from a shotgun, so he just literally walked in and started killing people right off the bat,” stated Police Lt. Jerry Sanders, San Diego’s former mayor and police chief.

Sanders was commanding the SWAT team that day. As he made his way down to San Ysidro, he was getting update reports.

“All I knew was that they said people were fleeing from the restaurant, there were bodies all over, and he was putting out a massive amount of gunfire.”

Inside, the 17-year-old Wendy Flanagan had gotten ice and was returning to the register when she heard what she thought was a firecracker, and then the world turned upside-down.

“He started shooting like da, da, da, da, da – like a machine gun.”

Her co-worker Maggie grabbed her hand and said “run, run!”

“We were running, we were holding hands, and she fell, and I let go of her, and she died.”

Wendy and several others – including mothers and babies – made their way to a closet.

“We stayed in there, we listened to gunfire. I would hear people beg for their lives, babies crying, and the rapid gunfire, and then the moms screaming, and quiet again.”

Then noises at the closet door: somebody trying to get in, hitting the door and sliding down. It was 16-year old Alberto Leos, a co-worker who was hit several times.

“He was bleeding all over so another employee, Raul, he took off the shoelaces and tied them with Alberto’s leg and arm and tried to stop the bleeding.”

Alberto was biting down on a rag because of the pain and not wanting to make a noise for fear of being found. Meantime outside, the cops had gotten the perimeter contained.

“You could see bodies; officers were trying to pull them out, but they kept getting gunfire aimed at them,” continued Sanders.

By now, Huberty was running short on ammunition. He’d killed almost everybody in the restaurant, or thought he had. 67 minutes into this massacre, there would be one more rifle shot.

“Finally, we were able to get a sniper up in the post office across the parking lot, and as soon as he had a sight picture, we ordered him to kill Huberty.”

SWAT finally arrived at the closet. On the way out, Wendy saw the body of Maggie who had grabbed her hand, then fell. She also saw Maggie’s family behind the police tape.

“I’ve never told her family this, so I hope that they hear this and know she was a very good, brave person.. She saved my life,” proclaimed Wendy.

Culled from: KUSI.Com

I’m reminded of the great Throwing Muses song, “Hate My Way” which was one of the anthems of my youth:

A boy was tangled in his bike forever
A girl was missing two fingers
Gerry Ann was confused
Mr. Huberty had a gun in his head
So I sit up late in the morning and ask myself again
How do they kill children?
And why do I wanna die?
They can no longer move;
I can no longer be still. 

This is Mr. Huberty:

And this is the boy tangled in his bike forever:


Arcane Excerpts: Fitness For Marriage Edition!

After my parents passed away, I found a gem lurking on their bookshelf:  A Marriage Manual: A Practical Guide-book To Sex and Marriage (1935) by Hannah M. Stone, M.D. and Abraham Stone, M.D. – a biologically fit married couple if ever there was one!  (BTW,Hannah was awesome – an early proponent of contraception who fought the good fight but died young.)

Anyway, in this book, there is an imagined conversation between a man and woman who wish to marry and their doctor.  It’s full of gems about marriage fitness, like this one:

Couple: “When you spoke of the need of being sexually normal in relation to fitness for marriage, doctor, were you referring to the question of sexual diseases?”

Doctor: “No, I had reference mainly to the question of sexual capacity, that is physical ability to enter into the sexual relationship. This is a problem which applies primarily to the man. Sexual disabilities of women are not often related to fitness for marriage, and we shall discuss these at some other time. Lack of sufficient potency on the part of men, however, is not an infrequent condition, and those suffering from this disorder may be unable to consummate the physical union in marriage. It is a serious mistake for anyone who is sexually inadequate to marry without first having his disability corrected, or at least without receiving competent medical advice. As a matter of fact, Hindu lawmakers decreed over a thousand years ago that before marriage ‘a man must undergo an examination with regard to his virility.’ Only after the fact of his virility had been established beyond doubt was he privileged to marry.”

“Is there any way of determining whether a man is potent or not before he has had sexual experience?”

“To some extent, yes. Normally, a man, even though he has never had any actual sexual relations, has probably had some kind of sexual manifestation. He has been stimulated sexually, has reacted in a definite manner, and he is, therefore, as a rule, conscious of his sexual capacities. Every now and then, however, it does happen that a man’s sexual incapacity does not manifest itself until after marriage, or appears only at that time, but this is a chapter in the story of marriage that we shall consider more fully later on.

“Now, aside from the question of sexual capacity, fitness for marriage… implies also the ability to beget healthy children. The couple should be free from any infirmity which would prevent reproduction. In other words, neither the husband nor the wife should be sterile, or afflicted with any disease which would make procreation physically or eugenically inadvisable.”

“But suppose one can’t or shouldn’t have children for one reason or another, should that person never marry?”

“No, not necessarily. I have known couples who have married in spite of the fact that they knew beforehand that they could never have children, and such marriages are sometimes quite successful. There are other factors which may decide a man or a woman to marry – factors which even outweigh the inability to beget children.”

[My favorite part is the whole “reacted in a definite manner” bit.  They just can’t bring themselves to say the word, can they? – DeSpair]

Morbid Fact Du Jour for November 14, 2015

Today’s Well-Aimed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Not much of any note used to happen in the Bible-belt city of Jonesboro, Arkansas, a poor southern state whose main claim to fame is as the birthplace of President Bill Clinton. That is not until March 24, 1998, when a terrible act of unprovoked and unexpected violence quickly threw a schoolyard in the sleepy city into the spotlight of worldwide media attention.

It was just after 12:35 p.m. at Westside Middle School when the fire alarm sounded. This was a fairly regular occurrence and, while most of the students were convinced that it was yet another false alarm, they dutifully filed out of their classrooms as they would for a fire drill. Laughing and joking, happy for a brief break from the classroom, the pupils spilled out of the side entrance of the school building into the midday sun.

Then came three sharp cracks. The kids thought it was a lark. Someone had let off some firecrackers for a joke. Even when two of the students collapsed, 12-year-old Alisha Golden thought that it was the school drama group acting out some sort of play. “When people started falling to the ground, I thought it was made up,” Alisha said later. “I saw Natalie [Brooks] and Paige [Herring] fall to the ground, and Natalie had blood coming out of her head, but the blood just didn’t look real. Then when Paige fell, I thought she was just diving to the ground.”

As the firing continued, however, the dreadful reality of the situation finally sank in. The children scattered for cover, screaming, most in fear, but some in agony.

Whitney Coker, age 12, had just reached the safety of the gymnasium wall when she heard someone scream behind her. She looked back and saw that one of her classmates had been hit. She braved a hail of bullets as she retraced her steps and miraculously escaped injury as she dragged her friend to safety. Others were less fortunate. Eleven-year-old Brittheny Varner was bending down to help her best friend, Whitney Irving, to her feet when a bullet passed through her back and entered Whitney’s stomach; and 32-year-old English teacher Shannon Wright was shielding one of her sixth-grade pupils when she was shot in the back.

As the carnage continued, someone dialed 911. The call was logged in at 12:38 p.m., just three minutes after the attack had started. The caller screamed at the emergency dispatcher: “There’s been blood loss! People with blood loss!”

Police and paramedics arrived at the school four minutes later, by which time the shooting had stopped. The scene that greeted them was truly appalling. The bodies of the dead, dying, and injured were scattered around the schoolyard. Groups of terrified children huddled in doorways, screaming and crying as they awaited the next volley of gunfire.

Construction workers who were working at the school rushed over and told police that, at the time of the attack, they had spotted gunsmoke rising from a wooded copse on the perimeter of the school grounds. Officers moved into the area just in time to see two figures, armed with semi-automatic weapons and dressed in camouflage gear, running from the woods toward a parked van. Armed police headed them off and ordered them to drop their weapons. The two suspects put up no resistance. Only when the officers approached did the true horror of the situation become apparent. The gunmen were in fact children, and young ones at that. As he disarmed the pair of a total of nine guns, one of the arresting officers recognized them as Andrew “Drew” Golden, age 11, and Mitchell “Mitch” Johnson, 13, both students at the Westside Middle School where the officer’s own 11-year-old daughter was enrolled.

As Drew and Mitch were driven to nearby Craighead County Sheriff’s Department, scene-of-crime officers searched the woods from where the attack had been launched. They found a total of only 22 shell casings, yet the two boys had succeeded in killing five people outright and injured ten others. “Fifteen hits out of 22 shots, that’s some strike-rate,” said one of the officers bitterly. “Hell, I wouldn’t be ashamed of that myself. They might just be kids, but they knew what they were doing. They weren’t just letting off rounds for the hell of it. They were shooting to kill.”

The two boys were from working-class families living in a Bible-belt community where guns are as much a part of a household’s fixtures and fittings as cups and saucers. Santa Claus had given Drew Golden a shotgun when he was six years old, and he became an accomplished marksman, practicing regularly with his father and grandfather in the family backyard shooting range.

When Mitch, who was two-years-older than Drew, had moved to Arkansas from Minnesota two years earlier, he developed a deadly obsession with guns. To most kids in Minnesota guns were the stuff of fantasy but now, for young Mitch Johnson, they became a hands-on reality. Among the debris left in the woods by the young assassins was a hunter-education card made out in the name of Mitchell Johnson. That had been his passport into this new gun-toting community.

The closest anyone came to providing an explanation for Mitchell Johnson’s lethal conduct was that he had recently been rejected by a girl upon whom he had developed a crush. His schoolmates remembered he had become obsessed with 12-year-old Candace Porter, one of the girls injured in the shooting. According to sixth-grader Kara Tate, Mitch had recently asked Candace to become his girlfriend, but she had told him that she was not ready to have a boyfriend just yet.  Mitch had not taken this well and had flown into a rage, frightening Candace so badly that she had approached one of her teachers for support.
Due to their age, Johnson and Golden were tried as juveniles and received the maximum sentence of imprisonment until age 21. Johnson was released on his 21st birthday, August 11, 2005, having spent seven years in prison.  Golden was released on May 25, 2007, also his 21st birthday, after spending nine years in prison. On January 23, 2009, Johnson was sentenced to six additional years in prison for an additional charge of theft by receiving and financial identity fraud for using a stolen debit card to purchase a meal from a local Burger King.

The victims:

The trigger-happy twosome:

6-year-old Drew Golden, making Daddy proud:

Culled from: Crimes and Punishment Yearbook 1999


Arcane Excerpts: Idiotic Edition!

Of course you know the term “idiot” was originally a psychological diagnosis.  But did you know the actual definition of an “idiot”?  Well, allow A.F. Tredgold to explain it to you in his 1908 (reprinted in 1949) book Mental Deficiency:

Idiocy – Idiots are defined as “persons in whose case there exists mental defectiveness of such a degree that they are unable to guard themselves against common physical dangers.”

Idiocy is the most severe degree of mental defect. Not only are such persons incapable of understanding, and therefore protecting themselves against common physical dangers, but many of them are lacking in the fundamental instinct of self-protection. In addition, they are incapable of performing any useful task or of any scholastic education; they cannot wash or dress themselves; they understand only the simplest commands; they cannot form sentences, and the majority of them cannot articulate beyond a few monosyllables. They have to be looked after all their lives like little children. Speaking generally, an individual with an I.Q. of less than 25 will be an idiot. Idiots may conveniently be divided into two grades: (1) Partial or incomplete, in which the primitive feelings of hunger and thirst are present, and the patients may be trained to some extent in habits of cleanliness and self-help; and (2) complete, absolute, or profound, in which there is no power of attention and a complete incapacity for responding to any kind of training. In the United States of America an idiot is defined as a mentally defective person having a mental age of not more than thirty-five months, or, if a child, an I.Q. of less than 25.

Here’s an example of an “idiot” from the book.  Looks kinda harsh in print, doesn’t it?

Morbid Fact Du Jour for November 12, 2015

Today’s Mad Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

It wasn’t until the 1770s that Colonial Americans began to construct facilities specifically for housing the insane. The first lunatic asylum was opened in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1773. But these institutions were designed solely to remove the individual from society, not to help him or her regain control of their lives. Insanity was almost universally regarded as incurable. There was no established program of treatment. It was popularly thought that people behaving irrationally were doing so willfully, so as to deliberately call attention to themselves, and that this behavior could be broken by a series of beatings. This concept did not apply solely to the masses. Even King George III of England and ruler of Colonial America, pronounced mad by Parliament, suffered beatings at the hands of his attendants.

Culled from: Lunatic: The Rise and Fall of an American Asylum


Prisoner Du Jour!

Prisoners: Murder, Mayhem, and Petit Larcenyis a collection of seventy portraits of turn-of-the-century prisoners in the town of Marysville, California and the fascinating newspaper and prison accounts from their day describing the crimes of which they were accused. The photos themselves are more fascinating than most of the crimes.  There’s something magical about glass plate negatives that you just can’t reproduce with modern photography.  And I think people just had more character back in the day – or at least it seems that way.  Here’s an example…




At about 1:45 this morning Irwin Sayles, the night clerk at the U.S. Hotel heard a pistol shot followed a few seconds later by four in rapid succession. He at once summoned Officers McCoy and Becker and on going upstairs found one of the guests, Ada Clark, lying on a bed in room 62 with her face covered with blood caused by wounds over the right temple and back of her head.

Acting on information received, the officers went to room 59, where they found a man named E.H. Brunson, who was bleeding from a slight wound on his right temple. When asked why he did the shooting he made no reply and was taken to the Police office.

Ada Clark and her friend Agnes Haynes came to this city from Spokane, Washington, a few days ago and registered at the hotel. E. H. Brunson, the man under arrest, came down Wednesday from Oroville, where he is employed at Geo. Martin’s saloon, and was seen on the street with the girls.

Agnes Haynes, Ada’s friend, informed an Appeal reporter that Ada had promised to marry Brunson about a year ago and that when he followed her to this city she refused to marry him.  She stated that they both had been employed at the Palace store in Spokane as saleswomen and that they were on their way to San Francisco.

From another source it was ascertained that the Clark woman was an adopted daughter of the late F.D. Clark, the insurance agent who resided in this city, and that she was on her way to San Francisco with Miss Haynes to visit Mrs. Clark. Her right name is McCrackren, and her father resides in Oroville but they have not been on good terms. She was a very pretty girl.

The officers found the 32-caliber pistol with which the shooting had been done on the roof of the building, all the barrels being discharged. They also found a 22-caliber pistol in the room where the shooting had taken place. This revolver had not been used.

Dr. D. Powell and E. H. Hanlon were summoned at once to attend the injured woman.

The doctor found two wounds, but the one in the back of the head was evidently caused by being struck by a pistol.

The shooting took place in room 59. After the first shot was fired she screamed and other four shots were fired in rapid succession. She managed to get the pistol away from him after he had tried to kill himself, and then ran out to room 62 where Miss Haynes was and threw herself on the bed. She stated that Brunson had tried to kill her and then turned the pistol on himself.

Miss Haynes stated that the smaller pistol belonged to her and Ada.

Brunson when seen at 3 o’clock this morning still refused to give any reason for the shooting. He said Ada told him to keep his mouth shut.

The Doctors consider her injuries very serious and they may have a fatal termination.  (May 10, 1901)

Amazingly, Ada Clark survived (with the bullet still in her brain) to take the witness stand and testify against Brunson.  In the end, Brunson pled guilty and was sentenced to two measly years at San Quentin.  Shortly after his release, a subsequent crime occurred:

July 10, 1904



E.H. Bronson, a bartender well known in Marysville as well as in Gridley and Oroville, has ended his existence.

On Friday afternoon Bronson created a sensation at Greenville, Plumas county, by shooting and killing Mrs. Jessie Riley, his companion , after which he committed suicide.

Bronson and the woman had arrived from Quincy to which place they had traveled from Oroville, where she had recently received an absolute decree of divorce from her husband, Edward Riley.

It is presumed that jealousy caused the murder and suicide.

Bronson was an ex-convict. It will be remembered that he shot Ada Clark, alias Ada McCracken, in a hotel in this city on May 10, 1901, from which injuries she recovered. He was charged with assault to murder, pled guilty and was sent to San Quentin for two years. On his release he went to Oroville, taking up after a short residence there with Mrs. Riley.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for November 9, 2015

Today’s Horse-Drawn Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In the early 20th century, ordinary London funerals were characterised by horse-drawn carriages, undertakers with wands, black clothes, streets lined with crowds, head-turning processions and an abundance of flowers. People generally died at home and the body rested there until the funeral. Occasionally a coroner investigated the death, in which case the body would be held in a public mortuary for post-mortem. The neighbourhood laying-out woman, who was often the local midwife as well, attended the house to wash and dress the body before the undertaker took measurements and returned with a finished coffin. Relations, friends and neighbours would then call to view the body and to express their condolences. On the day of the funeral the undertaker would return to the house and there would then be a procession to one of the seventy London cemeteries in existence by 1910.

Funerals were better before…

Culled from: The London Way of Death


Arcane Excerpts: Wretched Edition

Excerpt from Sex Searchlights and Sane Sex Ethics: An Anthology of Sex Knowledge by Dr. Lee Alexander Stone (1926):

“We have seen that the everyday form of menstruation is attended by more or less discomfort, but when this increases to such an extent as to merit the name ‘pain,’ we are dealing with the fourth group or – to use a scientific word occasionally – dysmenorrhea. In addition to the sharp pain like neuralgia, the woman for days following the period may be weak and worn-out. Each return of the period is looked forward to with dread and fear. Sometimes the lining of the womb is expelled in shreds, or in a little bag, a complete cast of the interior.

“The agony suffered is such that the wretched women are actually beside themselves, and several years ago, one in Chicago after killing a small boy of the neighborhood who was annoying her by his juvenile noise, set up this painful menstruation as her defense and was duly acquitted.”

I tried to find a newspaper article validating this story but I couldn’t.  Alas…

Morbid Fact Du Jour for November 8, 2015

Today’s Melted Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The third recipient of a full-face transplant, and the first American, was Dallas Wiens. In November 2008 the twenty-three-year-old Wiens was painting some structures on the roof of a Fort Worth, Texas, church when he accidentally steered his hydraulic lift into some power lines. The air around his head reportedly glowed blue for fifteen seconds, and the current running through his face melted it into a blank mask, one writer noted, not unlike “Mr. Potato-Head without the features.” In March 2011 Wiens got a replacement. The new face arrived in a blue cooler in a slurry of ice water; it was the size and thickness of medium pizza dough when unfurled.

Surgeons first hooked the donor face up to Wiens’s blood supply through his carotid arteries. This took some creative suturing since the donor had cigar-sized carotids, while Wiens’s vessels (which had atrophied) looked like drinking straws. The transplant team felt enormous relief when the face started to flush pink, as sign that it was taking blood. In all, the surgery ran seventeen hours, during which time Wiens’s new face smirked, winked, and grimaced as surgeons manipulated it to reattach various nerves and muscles. Afterward doctors rolled him into the ICU to see if Wiens would be able to smirk, wink, and grimace on his own.

When Wiens awoke, he felt his new, swollen face pressing down hard, like a lead mask. He could breathe only through a tube in his trachea. But all the discomfort seemed worth it a few days later. In a moment so mundane it’s poignant, he found he could finally smell food again. Lasagna. Touch sensation returned not long after, and he felt, really felt, his daughter’s kiss for the first time in years. Wiens even began dreaming of himself with his new face. These were moments the World War I masks, even the most artistic, could never replicate.

Before and After and After

Culled from:  The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery


Morbid Mirth Du Jour!

Annoyed by those “Keep Calm and Carry On” shirts/totes/everything? Then you might approve of this variation:

Thanks to Aaron for the image.