Author Archives: Comtesse

The Comtesse DeSpair sits in sullen silence in The Castle DeSpair, obsessively reflecting upon the horrible void in which we exist. In her spare time (of which she has nothing but), she collects morbid trinkets and reads voraciously about the history of torture. She stores her trinkets in The Asylum Eclectica ( The Comtesse is hideously disfigured and thickly veiled at all hours. Once, an unfortunate servant caught a glimpse beneath the veil and was driven to madness. The Comtesse loves thunderstorms, darkness, and solitude.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For August 29, 2017

Today’s Oddly-Inflected Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Sharp as a two-pointed pencil, young Truman Capote taught himself to read and write before entering first grade. He claimed to have written his first novel by the age of nine, and practiced at writing as diligently as others learned a musical instrument. His earliest years were spent in rural Alabama, where he was best friends with Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird), but was moved to New York City before his teen years.  There, his remarried mother sent him to a military school for a while to toughen him up in the hope of making him more masculine. Truman, however, was the type that seemed to his mother genetically born gay, a fact she took so seriously that she aborted two following pregnancies, afraid of giving birth to another child with his personality.  (Ouch! – DeSpair)  When Truman finished high school he was steadfastly determined to become a writer, and thought college only a waste of time. He got a job at the New Yorker cataloging cartoons, but soon made a name winning prizes and publishing short stories in other prestigious magazines. By the time he was twenty-four, his semi-autobiographical novel Other Voices, Other Roomshad made the New York Times bestseller list. As much as Capote was dedicated to perfecting his writing style, he equally obsessed with his image (in contrast to former childhood friend Harper Lee), and set out to create a public personality for himself from the start. His sexual preferences, at a time when being gay was not openly accepted, his small stature that reached an adult height of five feet four inches, and a unique, oddly inflected and high-pitched voice, would have seemed to most a detriment. Yet he capitalized on his strangeness, and considerable intellect, to make inroads and became, at least outwardly, accepted into the company of high society. Capote’s publishing success grew astronomically after the publication of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, followed by In Cold Blood, so that few could argue with his artistic genius. Noted critic John Hersey praised In Cold Blood as “a remarkable book,” and writer Norman Mailer declared Capote to be “the most perfect writer of my generation”.

Handsome Moz-like Young Truman

During the mid-sixties, he reached his heyday and considered himself the cat’s meow of the jet set when his ultra-exclusive “Black and White Ball” became a coveted invitation. He succeeded in fulfilling his obsession to be counted among the elite, though he began to realize that he was never truly considered their equal, and perhaps no more than an amusement. The notion that he was the modern-day John Merrick, “The Elephant Man,” an outsider allowed to mingle as a curiosity among the upper crust, took its toll. He drank more and more heavily and took drugs, entering numerous rehab programs while deciding to seek revenge. 

And Truman near the end…

Capote promised to write a book that would expose the secret foibles of the debutantes and dignitaries in his characteristic cuttingly crafted way. After many false promises and multiple delays in the delivery of his awaited tome, he became more and more ostracized, eventually withdrawing nearly entirely from the limelight. After a few drunken appearances on TV and more rehab, doctors determined that Capote’s brain mass was shrinking. He could no longer write coherently. In 1980, at age fifty-nine, he died during a morning nap, officially, from liver disease complicated by “multiple drug intoxication.” It seemed he had finally kicked his drinking habit, though barbiturates, Valium, anti-seizure drugs, and painkillers were found in his blood.

Culled from: Genius and Heroin: The Illustrated Catalogue of Creativity, Obsession, and Reckless Abandon Through the Ages


Truman’s End

Here’s a sad video documenting Truman’s final years, including his drunken appearance on a talk show. 

Morbid Fact Du Jour For August 26, 2017

Today’s Gluttonous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Julien Offray de la Mettrie was a French philosopher and is credited with inventing cognitive science (defined as the “study of mental tasks and the processes that enable them to be performed”). He also wrote of the joys of materialism for materialism’s sake, authoring the book Man a Machine. Presumably, he didn’t intend the title of his book as a metaphor, since he frequently tested his body to the limits. At his last act, Offray conducted an experiment to prove the harmless effects of occasional gluttony. The philosopher was quite lean and always presented a carefree attitude, believing that life was meant for savoring one’s favorite material pleasures as they arose. At a banquet given in his honor in 1751 he found the pâte aux truffes to be so delicious that he devoured tray after tray – until he collapsed to the floor. He died the next day after suffering a high fever and delirium at age forty-one. 

“Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are very good indeed!”

Culled from: Genius and Heroin: The Illustrated Catalogue of Creativity, Obsession, and Reckless Abandon Through the Ages


Forthcoming Morbidity!

I was just reading about this book which will be released in October and thought it sounds absolutely fantastic!  I thought I’d share in case you might want to check it out as well?   It has been added to my Wishlist!

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine
by Lindsey Fitzharris  
Release Date: October 17, 2017

“In The Butchering Art, the historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery and shows how it was transformed by advances made in germ theory and antiseptics between 1860 and 1875. She conjures up early operating theaters―no place for the squeamish―and surgeons, working before anesthesia, who were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than patients’ afflictions, and they were baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister, who would solve the riddle and change the course of history.

“Fitzharris dramatically reconstructs Lister’s career path to his audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection and could be countered by a sterilizing agent applied to wounds. She introduces us to Lister’s contemporaries―some of them brilliant, some outright criminal―and leads us through the grimy schools and squalid hospitals where they learned their art, the dead houses where they studied, and the cemeteries they ransacked for cadavers.

“Eerie and illuminating, The Butchering Art celebrates the triumph of a visionary surgeon whose quest to unite science and medicine delivered us into the modern world.”

Morbid Fact Du Jour For August 20, 2017

Today’s Svelte Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Famed soprano Maria Callas died at age fifty-five in 1977. She made the news when she transformed her rotund figure (she was once called “monstrously fat”) into that of a svelte and sexy Diva at the height of her career, even if music critics marked her weight loss as the downturn of her vocal brilliance.  She was more interested in having fun and dated powerful men. She became a favorite of tabloid gossip when, while still married, she was seen with Aristotle Onassis, and the tabloids reveled in her anguish when he chose Jacqueline Kennedy over her. Rumors circulated that Maria kept her weight off by ingesting tapeworm larva, but she insisted it was a sensible diet and said, “I have been trying to fulfill my life as a woman.” In the end she lived isolated in Paris, unhappy in her quest for love, and acquired a taste for non-caloric Quaaludes, a sedative-like drug that gives a euphoric though rubbery-legged feeling. Officially, French officials deemed her death was due to “undisclosed causes,” though they cited a heart attack when pressed by the media. Others claimed she was murdered for her sizable estate. A note written by Callas was found near her body, though it raised only more questions about her final state of mind. She borrowed a line from the suicide scene in the opera La Giacanda: “In these proud moments.”

“Monstrously Fat” Callas (she looks fine to me!)

And Callas with Onassis in 1964.

Culled from: Genius and Heroin: The Illustrated Catalogue of Creativity, Obsession, and Reckless Abandon Through the Ages


Morbid Art Du Jour!

Kevin Weir makes delightfully creepy animated gifs that combine vintage photos with his own wicked imagination.  His blog is well worth meandering through.  (Thanks to Michael Landsman for the link.)

Flux Machine

Morbid Fact Du Jour For August 12, 2017

Today’s Discolored 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. A news reporter from The St. Cloud Daily Times visited the Hinckley Cemetery and wrote a graphic description of the burial of the victims:

The scene at the… cemetery, on the raised ground back of where Hinckley stood, was a sight to craze stout hearts… Here 20 men were busy with picks and shovels, digging trenches for the dead and covering them up as the naked bodies of those in boxes were deposited… In several places hands and feet protrude out of the thin covering of earth… From the boxes and uncovered dead bodies the black blood and discolored fluids had dripped from the bodies until it stood in great puddles on the ground and filled the air with a stifling stench. Numerous parties were about the cemetery hunting for lost relatives. Sightseers came only to take a hasty glance at the scene of horror and walked quickly away, unable to look upon the scene. About the burying ground were pieces of clothing, pieces of hats, shoes and bunches of hair.

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


Ghastly Site Du Jour!

So I’ve started following an incredibly well-done, if horribly grim, page on Facebook called Manner of Death.  If you follow it, you’ll have a nearly non-stop stream of fascinating gore and tragic tales in your feed.  I actually had to stop following it this week, as my depression levels skyrocketed and I found that it was a bit too much even for The Comtesse to withstand on a constant basis.  But if non-stop gore is your kind of thing, you’ll love it.  

Morbid Fact Du Jour For August 4, 2017

Today’s Riotous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On July 27, 1919, an African-American teenager drowned in Lake Michigan after violating the unofficial segregation of Chicago’s beaches and being stoned by a group of white youths. His death, and the police’s refusal to arrest the white man whom eyewitnesses identified as causing it, sparked a week of rioting between gangs of black and white Chicagoans, concentrated on the South Side neighborhood surrounding the stockyards. When the riots ended on August 3, 15 whites and 23 blacks had been killed and more than 500 people injured; an additional 1,000 black families had lost their homes when they were torched by rioters.  

The following is how the first day of the riot was relayed in the July 28, 1919 issue of the Chicago Tribune.

Report Two Killed, Fifty Hurt, in Race Riots





All Police Reserves Called to Guard South Side.


Two colored men are reported to have been killed and approximately fifty whites and negroes injured, a number probably fatally, in race riots that broke out at south side beaches yesterday. The rioting spred [sic] through the black belt and by midnight had thrown the entire south side into a state of turmoil.

Among the known wounded are four policemen of the Cottage Grove avenue station, two from west side stations, one fireman of engine company No. 9, and three women.

One Negro was knocked off a raft at the Twenty-ninth street beach after he had been stoned by whites. He drowned because whites are said to have frustrated attempts of colored bathers to rescue him. The body was recovered, but could not be identified.

A colored rioter is said to have died from wounds inflicted by Policeman John O’Brien, who fired into a mob at Twenty-ninth street and Cottage Grove avenue. The body, it is said, was spirited away by colored men.

Drag Negroes from Cars.

So serious was the trouble throughout the district that Acting Chief of Police Alcock was unable to place an estimate on the injured. Scores received cuts and bruises from flying stones and rocks, but went to their homes for medical attention.

Minor rioting continued through the night all over the south side. Negroes who were found in street cars were dragged to the street and beaten.

They were first ordered to the street by white men and if they refused the trolley was jerked off the wires.

Scores of conflicts between the whites and blacks were reported at south side stations and reserves were ordered to stand guard on all important street corners. Some of the fighting took place four miles from the scene of the afternoon riots.

When the Cottage Grove avenue station received a report that several had drowned in the lake during the beach outbreak, Capt. Joseph Mullen assigned policemen to drag the lake with grappling hooks. The body of a colored man was recovered, but was not identified.

Boats Scour Lake.

Rumors that a white boy was a lake victim could not be verified. The patrol boats scoured the lake in the vicinity of Twenty-ninth street for several hours in a vain search.

John O’Brien, a policeman attached to the Cottage Grove avenue station, was attacked by a mob at Twenty-ninth and State streets after he had tried to rescue a fellow cop from a crowd of howling Negroes.  [Wow, racist much, Trib? – DeSpair] Several shots were fired in his direction and he was wounded in the left arm. He pulled his revolver and fired four times into the gathering. Three colored men dropped.

Man Cop Shot Dies.

When the police attempted to haul the wounded into the wagon the Negroes made valiant attempts to prevent them. Two were taken to the Michael Reese hospital, but the third was spirited away by the mob. It was later learned that he died in a drug store a short distance from the shooting.

Fire apparatus from a south side house answered an alarm of fire which was turned in from a drug store at Thirty-fifth and State streets. It was said that more than fifty whites had sought refuge here and that a number of Negroes had attempted to “smoke them out.” There was no semblance of a fire when the autos succeeded in brushing through the populated streets.

Partial List of Wounded.

An incomplete list of the wounded follows:

POLICEMAN JOHN F. O’BRIEN, Cottage Grove avenue station; white; shot in left arm; taken to his home at 7181 South Michigan avenue.

POLICEMAN JOHN O’CONNELL, same station; white; knocked down and beaten.

POLICEMAN JOHN CALLAHAN, same station; white; beaten and bruised by mob.

POLICEMAN THOMAS J. GALLAGHER, same station; white; scalp wounds.

EDWARD HAUSNER, white, 4347 S. State street, cut about legs and face.

ARTHUR CARROLL, white; 2979 Prairie avenue, head bruised by stone.

JAMES CRAWFORD, colored, 2959 Federal street, shot through abdomen; probably will die; taken to Michael Reese hospital.

CHARLES CORMIER, white, 2839 Cottage Grove avenue, shot in head by stray bullet.

WILLIAM LONG, white, 2215 S. State street; cut in head and back. 

JOSEPH WIGGINS, colored, 2417 Wabash avenue, beaten about head.

PHIL GRIFFIN, colored, 912 East Thirty-third street, shot in both legs.

GEORGE STAUBER, white, 2904 Cottage Grove avenue, beaten and cut.

HERMAN RABISOHN, white, 1804 South State street, bruised by missiles.

JOHN O’NEIL, white, 1828 West Thirty-fifth street, struck on head by brick.

WALTER CARSON, white, same address, face cut by rock.

WILLIAM CHESHIRE, white, 3529 South Hermitage avenue; stabbed in face; taken to Provident hospital.

ANTON DUGO, white, 627 East Twenty-fifth street; shot in leg; taken to St. Anthony’s hospital.

WILLIAM SCOTT, colored, 3611 Vernon avenue; scalp wounds.

MISS MAMIE McDONALD, white, 2901 Emerald avenue; head cut by brick.

MISS FRANCES McDONALD, sister, same address; back injured by rock.

MRS. GLADYS WILLIAMS, white, 2818 Indiana avenue; face bruised by stone.

MELVIN DAVIS, colored, 2816 Cottage Grove avenue, beaten while waiting for Halsted street car.

HARRY SPEEZ, colored, 3142 West Fifteenth street, knocked unconscious by whites at Thirty-first and Halsted streets.

LEWIS PHILLIPS, colored, 452 East Thirty-ninth street, shot in groin while riding to Thirty-ninth street car; taken to Provident hospital.

FRANK WALLS, white, pipeman of Engine company 9, struck in neck by rock.

EVELYN BOYDE, white, 530 West Twenty-seventh street, hit on face and hip by stones.

FRANCES BOYDE, sister, same address, knocked down by rock.

LEWIS B. KNIGHT, white, 6400 Dorchester avenue; beaten about head with club.

Shot at his Window.

Charles Cormier was sitting in his window at 2839 Cottage Grove avenue watching the clashing mobs. A stray bullet lodged in his head and he fell back into the room. Spectators saw him being helped to a chair by a woman.

Racial feeling, which had been on a par with the weather during the day took fire shortly after 5 o’clock when white bathers at the Twenty-ninth street improvised beach saw a colored boy on a raft paddling into what they termed “white” territory.

A snarl of protest went up from the whites and soon a volley of rocks and stones were sent in his direction. One rock, said to have been thrown by George Stauber of 2904 Cottage Grove avenue, struck the lad and he toppled into the water.

Cop Refuses to Interfere.

Colored men who were present attempted to go to his rescue, but they were kept back by the whites, it is said. Colored men and women, it is alleged, asked Policeman Dan Callahan of the Cottage Grove station to arrest Stauber but he is said to have refused.

Then, indignant at the conduct of the policeman, the Negroes set upon Stauber and commenced to pommel him. The whites came to his rescue and then the battle royal was on. Fists flew and rocks were hurled. Bathers from the colored Twenty-fifth street beach were attracted to the scene of the battling and aided their comrades in driving the whites into the water.

Crowds gathering at Twenty-ninth Street Beach.

Negroes Chase Policemen.

Then they turned on Policeman Callahan and drove him down Twenty-ninth street. He ran into a drug store at Twenty-ninth street and Cottage Grove avenue and phoned the Cottage Grove avenue police station.

Two wagon loads of cops rolled to the scene and in a scuffle that ensued here Policeman John O’Brien and three blacks were shot.

Riot calls were sent to the Cottage Grove avenue station and more reserves were sent into the black belt. By this time the battling had spread along Cottage Grove avenue and outbreaks were conspicuous at nearly every corner.

A horde of young white men run to the corner where a young black man was being beaten.

Meanwhile the fighting continued along the lake. Miss Mame McDonald and her sister, Frances, had been bathing with a friend, Lieut. Runkle, a convalescing soldier. A colored woman walked up to the trio and made insulting remarks, it is said.

Runkle attempted to interfere, but the colored woman voiced a series of oaths and promptly struck the soldier in the face. Negroes in the vicinity hurled stones and rocks at the women and both were slightly injured.

Reserves Called Out.

In less than a half hour after the beach outbreak, Cottage Grove avenue and State street from Twenty-ninth south to Thirty-fifth were bubbling caldrons [sic] of action.

When the situation had gotten beyond the control of the Cottage Grove police, Acting Chief of Police Alcock was notified. He immediately sent out a call to every station in the city to rush all available men to the black belt. 

Before they arrived colored and white men were mobbed in turn. The blacks added to the racial feeling by carrying guns and brandishing knives. It was not until the reserves arrived that the rioting was quelled.

Police remove the body of a black man.

Whites Arm Selves.

News of the afternoon doings had spread through all parts of the south side by nightfall, and whites stood at all prominent corners ready to avenge the beatings their brethren had received. Along Halsted and State streets they were armed with clubs, and every Negro who appeared was pommeled.

Lewis Phillips, colored, was riding in a Thirty-ninth street car, when a white man took a pot shot from the corner as the car neared Halsted Street. Phillips was wounded in the groin and was taken to the Provident hospital.

Melvin Davies, colored, of 2816 Cottage Grove avenue, was waiting for a Thirty-fifth street car at Parnell avenue when he was slugged from behind. His assailants disappeared.

White men stoning a black man.

The Cops arrived too late.

Culled from: Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28, 1919

Morbid Fact Du Jour For July 28, 2017

Today’s Dethroned Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The reality of life in Fall River, Wisconsin in 1890:

“Mrs. Carter, residing at Trow’s Mill, who has been in charge of the boarding house at A.S. Trow’s cranberry marsh, was taken sick at the marsh last week and fell down, sustaining internal injuries which have dethroned her reason. She has been removed to her home here and a few nights since arose from her bed and ran through the woods… A night or two after she was found trying to strangle herself with a towel… It is hoped the trouble is only temporary and that she may soon recover her mind.” (September 8, 1890)

Culled from: Wisconsin Death Trip

Ghastly Livestream Du Jour!


Leave it to Millennials to be so obsessed with their phone that they look for it immediately after a car crash that kills their sister.  And livestreams their reaction to their sister’s violent death. 

Morbid Fact Du Jour For July 23, 2017

Today’s Unprofessional Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

At the beginning of the American Civil War, the Union Army consisted of 16,000 officers and men – less 313 officers whose consciences compelled them to go with the South. The Confederate Army started with zero, of course. A “regular” army – the Army of the Confederate States of America – was established by act of the Confederate Provisional Congress on March 6, 1861. But this “regular” army never came into existence as such. The “Rebel” troops the Federal Army fought were soldiers of the volunteer or Provisional Army that had been established by acts of February 28 and March 6. Until April 1862, when the Confederate government passed a conscription act, soldiers entered the Provisional Army not directly, buy through the individual states.

By the end of the war, 2,128,948 men had served in the Union Army (395,528 are known to have died). Of these, only 75,215 were regulars – that is, soldiers by vocation. Just under two million were volunteers, 46,347 were draftees, and 73,607 were substitutes (for the conscription laws of both sides permitted a draftee to hire a surrogate soldier to serve in his place). The average strength of the Union Army, according to one prominent authority, was a little over 1. 5 million.

The Confederate forces kept poor records, and much of what little was recorded burned in the fires that ravaged a conquered Richmond. Estimates of the strength of the Confederate Army range from 600,000 to 1,500,000, the most generally accepted figure is a little over a million, about 200,000 who died.

From these figures, it is not difficult to understand why the generations following the Civil War have all felt such kinship with the warriors. The combatants were not professional soldiers. They were not hirelings of a warlike state. They were citizens, born and raised with no intention of taking up arms. The professions and trades they left were ours: doctor, lawyer, farmer, clerk, broker – over one hundred different occupations are listed on Southern muster rolls, three hundred on Northern. The relationships they suspended are familiar to us: husband to wife, lover to lover, brother to brother. Their lives were our lives – interrupted by a long and deadly storm. 

Culled from: Portraits of the Civil War: In phootgraphs, Diaries and Letters


Ghastly: Nagasaki Edition

The aftermath of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, August 10, 1945. 

Culled from:  Nagasaki Journey: The Photographs of Yosuke Yamahata, August 10, 1945

Morbid Fact Du Jour For July 19, 2017

Today’s Most Unnatural Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Joan Petersen, a healer, was suspected of being a witch. She was “searched again in a most unnatural and barbarous manner by four women” supplied by her accusers, who found “a teat of flesh in her secret parts more than other women usually had.” After bribed witnesses testified against her, she was executed. 

Searching an accused women’s body for the devil’s teat was one of the chief proofs of witchcraft. Though the investigation was normally done by women (and not done gently, as Joan Peterson’s case demonstrates), the sessions were often witnessed by male court officials. When the constable of Salisbury, New Hampshire, undressed Eunice Cole to be whipped for witchcraft, he saw “under one of her breasts… a Blew thing like unto a teat hanging downward about three quarters of an inche longe not very thick.” Men standing by saw him “rip her shift down”; moving in closer, they affirmed that Eunice “violently scratched it away,” implying that she tried to remove the evidence from her body. When women were appointed to examine her further, they found instead “a place in her leg which was proveable wher she Had bin sucktt by Imps.”

Culled from: Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts


Corpse Du Jour!

Miss Elizabeth Cooper in Coffin
Anonymous, Geneva, New York
2 3/4″ x 3 1/4″ Daguerrerotype
circa 1843

Culled from:  Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 10, 2017

Today’s Badly Hit Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The first large-scale avalanche catastrophes in the United States occurred with the advent of commercial development, which especially early on meant that the highest number of victims were those looking for silver and gold. Extracting the Comstock Lode, some miners acknowledged the damage they were doing to the mountains. “It was as if a wondrous battle raged in which the combatants were man and earth,” wrote a visitor to Virginia City, Nevada. “Myriads of dust-covered men are piercing into the grim old mountains, ripping them open, thrusting murderous holes through their naked bodies.” The mountains often reaped this violence in kind. The Avalanche Book, quoting nineteenth-century newspaper reports, recounts the story of the winter of 1883-84, in which 100 people were killed in Colorado, including 20 in the San Juan Mountains in the southern part of the state. Badly hit was the Virginius Mine, perched on a steep, 12,000-foot mountain above the town of Ouray. December 1883 had brought continuous snow for three days; late in the storm an avalanche barreled into the mine’s boarding house, “carrying death and destruction in the mighty embrace,” according to a newspaper account in The Solid Muldoon. Four men were killed, and rescuers took twenty-four hours to find the last two survivors. The following day, 32 men from nearby mines came to Virginius to help; recover the bodies; as they pulled the “sled hearses” beneath a particularly steep slope, they were engulfed in another avalanche, this one a quarter of a mile wide. 

Taking a load to Virginius Mine

Culled from The White Death: Tragedy and Heroism in an Avalanche Zone


Convincing Wax Model Du Jour!

Arm with Horn, Gangrene Hand – 1994 Rosamond Purcell

Wax models showing a horn (cornu cutaneum) growing from above the wrist, and dry gangrene of the hand., Both models made ca. 1850 by master modeler Joseph Towne (1806-1870) of London, who constructed wax teaching models for the Gordon Museum of Guy’s Hospital, Southwark, London. Towne also made extra models for sale.

Culled from: Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Morbid Fact Du Jour For July 4, 2017

Today’s Dangling Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

95 years ago, a forgotten tragedy occurred in Homewood, a suburb of Chicago.  Here’s how it was reported by the Chicago Tribune on July 3, 1922:



Stunt Leap Lands Him in Propeller.


Swinging on a rope ladder dangling from an airplane 800 feet in the air as he sought to thrill 5,000 Homewood pleasure seekers, Louis James, nationally known “boy aviator,” was cut to pieces yesterday by the propeller of another plane. His body fell to the ground, almost at the feet of his fiancée, Miss Clara Trissman, 17 years old, 5013 Fletcher avenue.

Protegé of Ruth Law.

James, who was but 18 years old, lived at 4250 North Mobile street. He was a protégé of Miss Ruth Law, and of recent months had been employed by the Ralph C. Diggins company of Ashburne field fame.

The occasion was the second day of an aerial celebration under the auspices of the American Legion post of Homewood. A great throng had gathered from Homewood and surrounding communities. A dozen planes were whirring through the air, nose dives, tail spins, barrel rolls, Immelman turns, and all the other hair raisers of the aerial art held the spectators.

From One to the Other.

Then came the feature of the day. James was to perform the stunt made famous by Lieut. Omer C. Locklear – that of climbing from one “ship” to another in midair. 

He was talking to his fianceé and friends when the call came to take to the air. Twice before that day he had tried it and failed. “He didn’t feel well,” he said. His friends advised him not to go up. “I can’t disappoint the crowd,” he answered. 

The planes were under the guidance of Pilot “Jimmy” Curran, chief instructor of the Diggins flying school, and Pilot LeRoy Thompson, also of the Diggins entourage.

Up to 800 Feet.

James climbed to the wing of one plane, and, lying flat upon its surface, grasped two struts and gave the signal to go ahead. The two ships took the air and slowly climbed to a height of 800 feet.

Circling with them was Pilot Diggins in another ship, with several passengers who wished to watch the “stunt” from the air.

Twice the pilot in the upper plane brought the dangling ladder to within a few inches of James’ outstretched hands, not quite close enough.

Again the ships roared over the field, while thousands watched below. The upper plane came lower this time, so near the other that spectators gasped. The ladder, plainly visible, moved nearer and nearer to the man now standing upright on the wing.

He grasped it. He was seen a second later hanging free. And then —

Spectators gave different stories. Most said that the planes seemed to sheer together for a moment. James and the ladder were thrown squarely into the propeller of the lower ship, a heavy bar of wood revolving at 1,500 revolutions to the minute.

Drops Into Crowd.

The body of the man was seen to crumple. A moment later, mangled and bleeding, his hands still clutching a bit of the ladder bar, he dropped into the crowd far below. 

Women screamed and fainted.

Miss Trissman sank to the ground unconscious. She was carried from the field. The crowd rushed madly to the scene of the accident, endangering their own lives as the three planes, now in a mad descent, sought to make a landing.

Died in Air.

James was dead long before his body hit the ground. Physicians in the crowd sought to give him aid to no avail. The two pilots, nerve shaken, both made rough but successful landings.

The body of the dead pilot was taken to a morgue, while other cars bore hysterical and fainting women to the nearest homes for sedatives. [Isn’t it strange that women today just don’t faint like they used to? – DeSpair]

Officials of the Legion cleared the field shortly after the accident. An inquest will be held today. 

In the July 4 Tribune there was some additional information provided in Coroner’s Jury testimony by two of the pilots:

James Curran, a vertain aviator, who was flying the top ship at the time the change of planes was to made, told the story to jury:

“We made three attempts,” he said. “The last time I had decided that the air was too rough for the stunt and was preparing to return to the field when I saw James reach for the ladder. He was riding the top wing of the lower ship. He caught a rung of the ladder. Then a gust of wind hit my ship – the ladder swung out – James swung into the propeller.”

Roy Thompson, pilot of the lower ship, also testified.

“I saw James grab the ladder,” he said. “Then he was swept out of my sight. Then I saw his feet dangling down in the path of the propellor. The propellor was shattered and my motor was killed. I landed.”

Incidentally, this was the ruling of the Coroner’s Jury:

“It was established that this was an accident and that the aviators concerned did all they could to avert it, but they had no chance.  

“We therefore advise that immediate legislation be had to prevent all forms of stunt flying. There should be local, state, and national laws. Every pilot should be inspected. Every ship should be inspected. There should be no stunt flying.”

What party poopers, eh?


And Also…

Did you know that the Chicago Tribune used to track moonshine deaths?  This is from July 4, 1923.