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 February 8, 2018

Today’s Deficient Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

While in the period after Columbus’s voyage, advances in agriculture, plant-breeding, and crop exchange between the New and Old Worlds in some way improved food supply, for those newly dependent upon a single staple crop the consequence could be one of the classic deficiency diseases: scurvy, beriberi or kwashiorkor (from a Ghanaian word meaning disease suffered by a child displayed from the breast). Those heavily reliant on maize in Mesoamerica and later, after it was brought back by the conquistadores, in the Mediterranean, frequently fell victim to pellagra, caused by niacin deficiency and characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia and death. Another product of vitamin B (thiamine) deficiency is beriberi, associated with Asian rice cultures.

The Third World, however, has had no monopoly on dearth and deficiency diseases. The subjugation of Ireland by the English, complete around 1700, left an impoverished native peasantry ‘living in Filth and Nastiness upon Butter-milk and Potatoes, without a Shoe or stocking to their Feet,’ as Jonathan Swift observed. Peasants survived through cultivating the potato, a New World import and another instance of how the Old World banked upon gains from the New. A wonderful source of nutrition, rich in vitamins B1, B2, and C as well as a host of essential minerals, potatoes kept the poor alive and well-nourished, but when in 1727 the oat crop failed, the poor ate their winter potatoes early and then starved. The subsequent famine led Swift to make his ironic ‘modest proposal’ as to how to handle the island’s surplus population better in future:

a young healthy Child, well nursed is, at a Year old, a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome Food; whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boiled; and, I make no doubt, that it will equally serve in a Fricassee, or Ragout… I grant this Food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Landlords

With Ireland’s population zooming, disaster was always a risk. From a base of two million potato-eating peasants in 1700, the nation multiplied to five million by 1800 and to close to nine million by 1845. The potato island had become one of the world’s most densely populated places. When the oat and potato crops failed, starving peasants became prey to various disorders, notably typhus, predictably called ‘Irish fever’ by the landlords. During the Great Famine of 1845-7, typhus worked its way through the island; scurvy and dysentery also returned. Starving children aged so that they looked like old men. Around a million people may have died in the famine and in the next decades millions more emigrated. Only a small percentage of deaths were due directly to starvation; the overwhelming majority occurred from hunger-related disease: typhus, relapsing fevers and dysentery. 

Culled from: The Greatest Benefit to Mankind


Morbid Sightseeing: Spallanzani Museum

The Spallanzani Museum (Reggio Emilia, Italy)

Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799) was a Catholic priest, biologist and physiologist (I guess back then those three things went together?) who, according to Wikipedia, “made important contributions to the experimental study of bodily functions, animal reproduction, and animal echolocation.”  During his lifetime he amassed a large collection of specimens which, upon his death, ended up in a gallery at the Palazzo dei Musei in the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, Italy.  It’s generally just an old-style zoology collection, but there are quite a few curiosities as well, like two-headed snakes in jars and stuffed cows with legs coming out of their shoulders and that sort of thing. But of particular morbid interest is THIS:

Can that really be real??? It’s like they’re staring right into my cold black heart!

The above photo and others of the exhibit can be viewed at Morbid Anatomy.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for February 7, 2018

Today’s Blazing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In the spring of 1934, during second season of the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair, Chicago was suffering from an extreme drought. Nowhere was the danger of a major fire more apparent than in the Union Stockyards on Chicago’s south side. From a fire protection standpoint, the stockyards were a nightmare. Since it opened in 1865, the mile-square complex, with its wooden livestock pens, slaughterhouses, meatpacking plants, hay sheds, chemical laboratories, and railroad facilities had seen plenty of deadly fire. The worst was the December 22, 1910, Nelson-Morris fire that killed 21 firefighters and three workers. The conditions of early 1934 would help the stockyards and Packingtown make fire history again, and not since the Great Fire of 1871 would Chicago firefighters be faced with the formidable task of saving their city from a major conflagration.

By Saturday, May 15, 1934, rain had not fallen in weeks. The wooden livestock pens and hay sheds in the stockyards were bone dry, making an already dangerous fire hazard even worse. Just about everything in the stockyards was made of wood. Thousands of feet of lumber had been used to build the pens, sheds, and storage shanties as well as the miles of enclosed double-deck runways used to route the animals to the killing floors. Although several permanent buildings had been built of fire resistant materials, none was sprinklered, including the large Stockyards Exchange Building, where all business and futures trading occurred. To help minimize the hazards, two fire companies were stationed there, Engines 53 and 59, while several others were located in nearby neighborhoods. Nevertheless, access and mobility inside the vast complex was severely limited by the elaborate maze of narrow wooden runways, alleys, and gates, making the positioning of fire apparatus difficult. Fire hydrants were spread great distances apart, and the water mains servicing the area were too small to supply an adequate flow necessary to fight a large and sustained fire. These factors would play a significant role in the blaze that was about to erupt.

Because it was a weekend, the slaughterhouses sat idle and empty save for a few watchmen and livestock workers. At 4:21 in the afternoon, a security guard saw flames and smoke coming from the cattle and sheep pens near 43rd and Morgan. Fanned by a 15-mph wind, the fire spread quickly, mainly in a northeasterly direction. The guard ran to his shanty and pulled a private A.D.T. fire alarm that was immediately routed to the fire department, and a box alarm assignment of four engines, two hook-and-ladders, a squad, a high-pressure rig, three chiefs, and several other units was then dispatched.

Engines 53 and 59 arrived in minutes, but already 300 square feet of pens were on fire, as well as the 43rd Street viaduct and the adjacent elevated chutes and cattle runs. After hooking up to a private fire hydrant, the two companies went to work on Texas Avenue, a narrow lane inside the pens near the fire’s origin. Cowboys and cattle workers tried driving animals away from immediate danger, but the fire was jumping 50 to 100 feet at a time and sparking additional flames ahead. Water from the hoses turned to steam, and the fire surrounded the men, forcing them to drop their hoselines and flee for their lives. One cowboy was not so lucky. Along with several head of cattle, he became trapped and was cremated. The fire also destroyed all of the fire hose and both fire engines that had been abandoned.

Five minutes after the first call, Fourth Division Marshall John Costello sounded a 4-11 alarm from a city firebox in the stockyards, summoning 15 more engines, three hook-and-ladders, two water towers, two rescue companies, and two high-pressure rigs. Even with help on the way, the firefighters retreated two blocks further and attempted to set up a fire line near Engine 59’s firehouse at Dexter and Exchange Avenues, half of a mile from where the fire started. But driven by strong winds the fire “rushed at us with a scream and a roar as though especially bent on our total destruction, Chief Costello later recalled. “We dropped everything and ran, just barely getting away.” Everything in the fire’s path was destroyed, including hundreds of head of livestock, thousands of feet of frame runway pens, and a huge supply of dry hay. Where cowboys couldn’t drive animals to safety, police moved in and mercifully shot numerous cattle unable to escape.

Within minutes the firebox used to transmit the 4-11 alarm was destroyed. With ammonia tanks exploding in burning meatpacking houses, fire officers sent a 5-11 alarm at 4:35 p.m. before abanding Engine 59’s building, which lay directly in the fire’s path. It was quickly destroyed along with all of the equipment inside. Conditions grew steadily worse as the hot wind spurred strong gales that blew up to 60 mph. The blaze was now a firestorm leaping from building to building, principally in a northeasterly direction.

The Stockyards ablaze

Special calls went out summoning fire companies from all over Chicago. Suburban fire departments also sent equipment to cover empty city firehouses. As more equipment arrived, firefighters attempted another stand east of the fire, but this position also had to be abandoned. The huge wall of flame continued to raze frame and brick buildings, including sheds and small warehouses loaded with combustibles, several two story brick horse barns, and the three-story South Exchange Building. As the fire spread further east, it took over the nine-story main Exchange Building, where one of the most dramatic rescues in Chicago history occurred.

At 5:15 p.m., firefighters saw four men on the roof of the Exchange Building waving for help. Sensing that the workers were ready to jump, the firemen positioned Hook-and-Ladder 4 next to the building structure and raised the rig’s 85-foot aerial ladder. The ladder, however, fell short of the roof, reaching only within three feet of an eighth-floor window.

Time was running out, and with heat and smoke pouring from all windows of the doomed building, Lieutenant Thomas Morrissey and three firefighters, John Tebbens, Joseph Reszal, and Robert Quinn (later to become Chicago’s fire commissioner), raced up the wooden aerial carrying rope and a pompier ladder. Morrissey entered an eight-floor window and hooked the pompier ladder to the edge of the roof, enabling the other three firefighters to climb the remaining distance and grab the trapped workers. Firefighters below held a life net as engine men shot a protective stream of water toward the tenuous perch above. After bringing the workers down, the firefighters had to retreat further east to keep ahead of the main fire.

Aftermath of the fire

The U.S. Post Office sent 15 trucks to retrieve mail from the stockyards postal station before fire destroyed the building. Hundreds of families had to abandon their homes, while underground tanks of neighborhood gas stations were emptied of fuel and trucked away. Armored cars took away cash from the Drovers Exchange National Bank; however, money was left at the Livestock National Bank, because its vaults were considered fire resistant. Police cordoned off a three-square mile area, the largest fire line in Chicago since the Great Fire of 1871, from 31st Street south to 55th Street and from Wentworth Avenue west to Ashland Avenue. By 5:30 p.m., the fire had swept the entire eastern portion of the yards, from Racine Avenue east to Halsted Street and from 41st Street south to 47th Street. Inside the affected area, residents helped firemen couple hoses together and push cars out of the way. Heat from the fire peeled paint off many of the vehicles. At 6 p.m. many buildings that lay in the fire’s path were dynamited. The fourteenth special call was sounded at 6:32 p.m., and at the direction of Chief Fire Marshal Michael Corrigan, a third and final stand was mounted along Halsted Street between 40th and 43rd Streets in the form of a semi-circle, which proved effective. Water supplying the fire line now came from city mains outside the stockyards, a source far superior to the diminished flow of the private hydrants inside the yards. Deploying high caliber turret streams fixed to squad trucks, high-pressure wagons, and water towers, the firefighters finally blocked the fire’s advance, but not before a string of brick and frame commercial structures along Halsted Street had been incinerated, including two banks, a bowling alley, several restaurants, and a drug store, as well as most of the building in the Exchange-Halsted corridor. 

As dusk arrived, the wind shifted south and the fire began losing momentum. After backtracking and burning several more building it had initially passed over, the fire ran out of fuel. The winds subsided, and by 11 p.m. the fire was deemed under control. 

Damage was incredible, and even before the smoke had cleared, people began referring to the stockyards fire as the second great Chicago fire. Dozens of buildings and more than 50 acres of livestock pens had been lost. Eight square city blocks were destroyed with total property losses exceeding $6 million.  About 150 families were left homeless. The interior and contents of the Stock Yards Inn and the Breeding Building were demolished, the structures themselves severely damaged. Also lost was the 150,000-square foot Stock Pavilion. (The pavilion was quickly rebuilt and renamed the International Amphitheater. In 1999, the famed building, probably best known for hosting the ill-fated 1968 Democratic Convention, was razed.)

Miraculously only one person was killed, the cattle worker who had died in the early stages. About 800 to 1,000 head of livestock were lost. The 1933 grand champion bull, Highland Stamp, was rescued along with eight prize cows and two other bulls taken from the Stock Pavilion by the arena’s caretaker and a 12-year-old neighborhood boy who corralled the animals in a playground just beyond the fire area. Fifty-four firefighters had been injured, and another 26 became sick after drinking contaminated water from cattle troughs. The cause of the fire was never determined.

I couldn’t find any explanation for this compelling image, so I don’t know if that’s the cowboy or a cow?  I can’t imagine they’d put a jacket over a cow corpse though?  

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


Morbid Sightseeing: Florence Pathology Museum

I’ve added another location on the bucket list, this one in Florence, Italy.  Have a look at Atlas Obscura and Morbid Anatomy’s pages to see what I mean!

Atlas Obscura: University of Florence Museum of Pathological Anatomy
Morbid Anatomy: Museo di Anatomia Patologica dell’Universitá degli Studi di Firenze


Morbid Fact Du Jour for February 6, 2018

Today’s Tranquil Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

So not far from where I live in Chicago, along the Eisenhower Expressway, there’s a huge piece of modern architecture called Rush University Medical Center.  I think it’s pretty cool-looking myself – have a gander:  

Anyway, this is the modern incarnation of what began as Rush Medical College in 1837.  Rush was named after Dr. Benjamin Rush, the only physician to sign the Declaration of Independence, and a hugely-influential physician in the late 18th and early 19th century.  In fact, Rush is called “the father of American psychiatry”.  So imagine my surprise when I found myself reading about him and finding out what sort of crazy ideas he had.  Here, let me share an excerpt from Gracefully Insane:

Dr. Benjamin Rush’s magnum opus, Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind [I must find this book! – DeSpair], held that madness was an arterial disease, “a great morbid excitement or inflammation of the brains.” An “unrestrained appetite,” he wrote, “caused the blood vessels to be overcharged with blood.” Thus, he advocated low diet, purges and emetics for vomiting, and hot and cold showers to slow down the overheated metabolism.

And bleeding. Rush was a world-class bleeder, once boasting that he drained 470 ounces from one patient during forty-seven bleedings. Rush was also a tool-bench tinkerer who contributed two mechanical inventions to psychiatry. One was the “gyrator,” a rotating board to which patients suffering form “torpid madness” were strapped. Spinning at terrific speeds with the patient’s head away from the center, the gyrator pushed blood into the brain to stimulate activity. Rush also sold a “coercion chair,” called “the Tranquilizer,” which supposedly lowered a patient’s pulse and blood pressure by holding him or her immobile in the sitting position. 

The “Tranquilizer”.  Doesn’t it look relaxing?

Dr. Benjamin Rush, himself:

“What to do?…  I know!!  I’ll drain his blood!”

Culled from: Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier Mental Hospital


And Speaking of Crackpots… 

When I think of crackpot doctors, one name always come to mind:  Dr. John Harvey Kellogg of Corn Flakes fame!  His 1877 masterpiece, Plain Facts for Young and Oldis chock full of … er… questionable… advice. 

In this excerpt, he offers typically sound reasoning on how to avoid menstrual problems:

Perhaps nothing tends more directly to the production of menstrual derangements – as well as uterine diseases of every sort – than fashionable modes of dress. We have not space here to give to the subject the attention it deserves; it will be found treated of in works devoted to the subject of dress exclusively. Some of the most glaring evils are,–

(1) Unequal distribution of clothing. The trunk, especially the abdomen and pelvis, is covered with numerous layers of clothing, an extra amount being caused by the overlapping of the upper and lower garments. Very frequently, the amount of clothing upon these, the most vital parts, is excessive. At the same time, the limbs are sometimes almost in a state of nudity. A single cotton garment, or at most one of thin flannel, is the only protection afforded to the limbs beneath the skirts, which often serve no better purpose than to collect cold air and retain it in contact with the limbs. A thin stocking is the only protection for the ankles, and a thin shoe is the only additional covering afforded the feet. Under such circumstances, it is no wonder that a woman catches cold if she only steps out-of-doors on a chilly or damp day. 

(2) Another glaring fault is in the manner of suspending the skirts. Instead of being fastened at a waist or suspended so as to give them support from the shoulders, they are hung upon the hips, being drawn tight at the waist to secure support. By this means, the organs of the pelvis are pressed down out of place. The uterus becomes congested, and painful menstrual derangements ensue.

(3) Tight lacing, or compressing the waist with a corset, is a barbarous practice which produces the same results as the one last mentioned. Reform in all of these particulars in an imperative necessity for every woman who desires to secure or retain sexual health.

Hmmmm… he may actually have a point with that last one…

Morbid Fact Du Jour for February 5, 2018

Today’s Scorching Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

At Lissa’s recommendation, I am currently reading Never Suck a Dead Man’s Handby former CSI Dana Kollmann.  Lissa said there were some doozies in this book and that ain’t a lie!  I thought I’d share an excerpt from Dana’s very first crime scene investigation:  a shotgun suicide where pieces of the victim’s brains were being flung about the room by a ceiling fan.  Dana thought it wise to improvise a newspaper and plastic bag protective suit.

As I approached the sofa, the breeze from the ceiling fan rustled my newspaper bib and plastic scarf and I felt the splat of something land on my shoulder. I looked over long enough to see that it contained curly brown hair and had to look away and pretend it wasn’t there. I never envisioned the day when I’d be dressed in a hardhat and a Wal-Mart bag, walking around a stranger’s house with a hairy piece of a dead man’s scalp teetering on my shoulder. I felt another thump on my hardhat and wondered what little gem was now perched on the top of my head.

I moved in closer to the body. The sight was appalling. There was nothing left of the guy’s face or the top of his head. What did remain was caved in and completely disfigured. It was clear that he had either put the muzzle of the rifle under his chin or in his mouth. I don’t think you’re supposed to harbor any ill feelings about the dead, but this guy was a jerk for pulverizing his head knowing that it would be his kids who found him. They would never be the same. I didn’t even know him and I would never be the same. I took some close-up photographs of the weapon, the rifle bag, the ammunition, and the body. And then I cautiously moved around the sofa, knowing that the rifle was probably still loaded.

“Once finished with the photos, I handed George the camera. I called out a few quick measurements to him and with the fan still whirring above me, I slid the weapon out from beneath the rigor-laden arm of the headless dead guy. I unloaded it and handed the rifle and ammunition to George. Several of the cops as well as the sergeant watched intently from the kitchen. I felt like this was a test and I had passed. I was confident that I had proven that I knew what I was doing and that I could handle a gross scene as well as a loaded firearm – even if I was a lowly civilian and a scab to boot.

Just as the officer had told me, I found the switch for the ceiling fan haphazardly mounted on the floor behind the sofa. The whole contraption looked like a fire hazard. I kicked a chunk of hair and bone off the toggle and then turned it off with my boot.

Since this was clearly a suicide and the projectile had exited the body, the ME determined that an autopsy was not necessary. Shortly thereafter, two men dressed in dark suits arrived from the funeral home to recover the body. I thought it was odd that they were so formally dressed for such a dirty job. They donned their latex and started throwing the larger chunks of the guy’s head in plastic bags. Then they slid the dead guy into a body bag, strapped him to a gurney, and draped it with a piece of purple velvet.

‘Hey, come here!’ Officers had garnered the nerve to enter the living room and were looking under the sofa. ‘Wanna see something you don’t see every day?’ I was suspicious, but curious. ‘Shine your flashlight under there and take a look.’

I did as I was told and was horrified to see a big blue eyeball staring right back at me. As the guys from the funeral home bagged up the eye, I headed out of that little shop of horrors.

Culled from: Never Suck a Dead Man’s Hand


Garretdom: Practical Jokes, 1880’s Style!

December 6, 1886

A Fatal Practical Joke.

READING, Pa., Dec. 6.—Joseph Seaman, of this city, met a friend on the street today, who had a bottle, which he jokingly said contained old rye, and offered Seaman a drink. Seamon placed the bottle to his mouth, and before he could be stopped drank some of its contents, which proved to be ammonia. His stomach and intestines were so badly burned that he became unconscious at once. His injuries will prove fatal.

From the Collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
The 1886 Morbid Scrapbook

More bad olde news can be found at the Garretdom archive.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for February 4, 2018

Today’s Scorching Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

During the summer of 1896, a 10-day heat wave killed nearly 1,500 people, many of them tenement-dwellers, across New York City. Many thousands of people were crammed into tenements on the Lower East Side, with no air conditioning, little circulating air and no running water. Families were packed together — with five to six people sharing a single room. Extra space on the floor was rented out to single men — many of whom worked six days a week doing manual labor out in the sun.

“It was so densely packed that most people couldn’t even live inside the tenement itself,” says Ed Kohn, a professor of American history at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. “The streets in front of tenements, and the rooftops and the fire escapes were … filled with people all of the time because there was no room for everybody to fit inside.”

Kohn is the author of Hot Time in the Old Town, which chronicles the fatal heat wave.

“This was 10 days [with temperatures reaching] 90 degrees at street level and 90 percent humidity, with temperatures not even dropping at night,” Kohn says. “No wind — so at night there was absolutely no relief whatsoever.”

At the time, there was a citywide ban on sleeping in New York City’s public parks. Kohn says one of the simplest things the city could have done was lift the ban — giving people a place to sleep away from their squalid tenements, which might have prevented many of the deaths.

“They took to the rooftops, and they took to the fire escapes, trying to catch a breath of fresh air,” he says. “Inevitably, somebody would fall asleep or get drunk, roll off the top of a five-story tenement, crash into the courtyard below and be killed. You’d have children who would go to sleep on fire escapes and fall off and break their legs or be killed. People [tried] to go down to the piers on the East River and sleep there, out in the open — and would roll into the river and drown.”

Until the very last days of the crisis, the city government did very little to help its poorest residents survive the heat wave. The mayor didn’t call an emergency meeting of his department heads until the very last day — and even then, it was a little-known police commissioner named Theodore Roosevelt who championed the efforts to help New Yorkers survive the heat.

“[Roosevelt is] the one who champions the idea of the city giving away free ice to the poorest people living on the Lower East Side,” Kohn explains. “And he personally supervises the distribution of ice. And after the ice was distributed, Roosevelt took it upon himself to tour the back alleys of some of the worst tenement districts in the United States to see how people were using the ice. So Roosevelt witnessed firsthand how immigrant fathers would chip off ice and give it to their children to suck on … I can’t think how many American presidents have had such intimate contact with the urban poor.”


Kohn says the incident helped shape Roosevelt’s progressive thinking and shaped his future life in political office — first as the governor of New York and later as the president of the United States.

“He was an urban reformer. His origins are in New York urban politics,” Kohn says. “His roots ran deep into the soil of Manhattan, and for the rest of his life, he considered himself a New Yorker” — and went on to become a great champion of tenement reform.

Culled from: NPR

It’s worth mentioning that the heat wave also killed around 2,000 horses.  


Garretdom: Stupid Dares, 1880’s Style!

Long before there were Tide Pod challenges, there were Brooklyn Bridge challenges!  And… may we all have friends that will pull us from the water, then take us to the saloon to revitalize us!

December 5, 1886

Leaped from Brooklyn Bridge for $25.

NEW YORK, Dec. 5.—Another Fourth-ward man yesterday jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge into the East river. The affair was kept a secret, and the facts did not leak out until late in the afternoon. Michael J. Hess, a laborer, living on Oak street, was the hero. He was picked up by a friend who was waiting in a boat. Hess was conscious. He was rowed ashore and carried to a saloon, where stimulants were poured down his throat. He revived from the shock, and said that in the period between leaving the bridge and striking the water he was not conscious. Hess left the saloon and walked through the streets in his wet clothes to get home. He drank more whisky and got into bed very drunk. He is now doing well.

From the Collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
The 1886 Morbid Scrapbook

More bad olde news can be found at the Garretdom archive.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for February 3, 2018

Today’s Sufferable Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Between February, 1864 and April, 1865 it is estimated that 45,000 Union prisoners were confined in the Confederate stockade, Camp Sumter, near Anderson Station, Georgia, forever to be remembered as Andersonville. Of that number, approximately 25,000 men survived their prison experience and returned home to tell their tale of suffering. It is unknown how many survivors, with their health and lives shattered, died as a direct result of their captivity after returning to civilian life. Close to 13,000 Union soldiers did “give up the ghost” at Andersonville, and it was the ghost of Andersonville that haunted the survivors for the rest of their lives.

The following is an excerpt from the account of Harry A. Harmen, Troop A, 12th New York Cavalry, who was captured at Plymouth, N.C. on April 20, 1864.

Scattered among the crowd, and stretched out on the ground (not only here but all over the camp) were men in the last stages of disease, generally that of bowels and other kindred complaints. As the coarse food that was issued to the prisoners only aggravated complaints of this kind, which were the most prevalent, the prisoners died by the hundreds. It was such a common occurrence to see men dying  in all manner of places and conditions that it was looked upon with indifference and caused no remark; it was part and parcel of the place, and we had become so accustomed to it that we thought nothing of it.

Andersonville Prison Camp

Down by the branch at any time of the day or night men by the score could be found dead or dying. They would crawl as near to the water as they could get, and then, being too weak to get over the filth that bordered and blocked the stream, would give up in despair, after trying in vain to reach the water, being too exhausted to go back where they started from they would, after terrible suffering, give up the ghost.

The dead were picked up every morning, carried to the gate and laid out in a row, ready for the dead-wagon to draw them out. Very few bodies would be left with any clothing on them; it would be in the majority of cases be stripped from them before the breath had left the body.

Many were the fights for dead mens’ rags. It was pitiable to view the naked dead as they were pitched like cord-wood into the wagon preparatory to their ride to the deadhouse or cemetery. They were thrown indiscriminately. It was horrible to see the heads, arms and legs as they swung back and forth with the jolting motion of the wagon. This wagon was made to do double duty, for it not only carried the dead out in the morning, but it brought in our rations of bread in the afternoon, not as much as being swept out. As an appetizer I think this was a success, especially after noting the condition of the load in the morning, which certainly could be classed as perishable freight. 

Culled from: Andersonville Giving Up the Ghost: Diaries & Recollections of the Prisoners


Legend Du Jour!

It’s time to step into the Supernatural World for another creepy olde legend, as culled from the Time-Life book The Enchanted World – Ghosts.

In Brittany, Death was a man known as the Ankou. Some said he was none other than the fratricide Cain, eldest son of Adam, who was doomed to roam the earth forever as a collector of human carrion. Others thought that he was the ghost of the last man to die each year, coming back to fill new graves before yielding place to his successor. Most people simply accepted him as Death.

All agreed, however, about his appearance. Tall and gaunt, often wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and sometimes manifest as a whitened skeleton swathed in a ragged shroud, the Ankou was a night-stalker, emerging when prudent folk were safely indoors. He walked the lanes of the province with a peculiar, awkward gait, his head turning stiffly from side to side with each step, scenting the air, for his eye sockets were empty. The Ankou was blind. Sometimes he carried a club or a sword, sometimes he went about with a scythe slung over his shoulder. Always he was accompanied by a cart drawn by horses or oxen, which he used to carry away those he had come to claim. This betrayed his presence. Living folk in their houses could hear through the shutters the creaking of the cart wheels and the heavy footfalls of the death bringer.

Once, it was said, the Ankou could see, an eerie flame flickered in the eye sockets. But that light was snuffed out by a being more powerful than the Ankou himself.

It happened, the story goes, that Saint Peter descended to earth and fell into step beside the Ankou and his cart. The two powerful beings walked in silence down a dirt lane bordered by hayfields. There, in the late dusk, a farmer and his servant still labored. At the sound of the cart’s creaking axle, the birds ceased their singing and the farmer dropped to the ground, attempting to make himself invisible. He motioned his servant to do the same.

The servant was a simple man, however. Like most Bretons, he had a fine musical voice, and he continued to scythe the hay, singing a gay and lilting song as loudly as he could to keep up his courage.

The Ankou brought the cart to a half, and the gaunt face turned toward the singer. ‘You will be dead in eight days,’ he said dully. But the servant only sang louder. At this challenge, the green fire blazed in the Ankou’s eyes, and he turned to his companion, ready to prove his power.

But Saint Peter defended the servant and berated the Ankou for wishing capricious death on an honest man engaged in honest labor. He wished the servant an extra measure of years. And as for the Ankou, Saint Peter struck the creature blind, putting out the light in the deathly eyes.


Morbid Fact Du Jour for February 2, 2018

Today’s Decimated 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.  Here is an account of the fate of the Best family:

Over at the side of the cemetery mourner John Best Jr., with the help of two neighbors, was digging one large grave to be the final resting place for his loved ones. Of fourteen members of the Best family, spanning three generations, there remained only John, his wife and child, and an older brother, Christian. Christ had found and positively identified three members of the family, but the rest were presumed to be among the unidentified dead. The entries in Coroner Cowan’s Death List for this one family were as follows:

41. Best, John — Age 63; residence, 2 miles south-east of Hinckley; found on road, 60 rods west of his house; identified by his son Christian; buried at Hinckley; identified by a jack knife which he carried.
42. Best, Eva — Age 60, married, wife of John Best; found with John Best in the road west of the house; identified by Christ Best.
43. Best, Bertha — Age 18, single, daughter of John and Eva Best; identified by Christ Best.
44. Best, William — Age 21, single, son of John and Eva Best; not identified.
45. Best, Fred — Age 23, single, son of John and Eva Best; not identified.
46. Best, George — Age 25, single son of John and Eva Best; not identified.
47. Best, Victor — Age 8; son of John and Eva Best.
269. Weigle, Anton — Age 33, married; residence, Hinckley, not found, but supposed to be among the unidentified bodies taken from the swamp, one-half mile north of Hinckley; reported by Christ Best.
270. Weigle, Eva — Age 22, wife of Anton Weigle; was buried with her parent, John Best, was not found.
271. Weigle, Winnie — Age 4, daughter of Anton Weigle, not identified.

Burying victims in a mass grave

In December it was reported in The Hinckley Enterprise that a local boy, while searching for a Christmas tree, had found the body of George Best near the old home a mile east of town. No inquest was held, as it was assumed he died on September 1 in the fire. The two surviving brothers buried another member of their family.

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


The Morbid Sightseer: Netherlands!

Museum Boerhaave (Leiden, Netherlands)

From Atlas Obscura:
“The museum, named for Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738), a Dutch physician and botanist, displays over four hundred years of advances in knowledge in a building that dates back to the 1500s. Originally the St. Caecilia nunnery, then a “plague hospital and madhouse,” the historic building was converted to a university hospital in 1653. In 1720, Herman Boerhaave gave a famous series of lectures known as the “sickbed lessons,” marking the beginning of clinical teaching and of the academic hospital in its modern form. In 1991, the St. Caecilia nunnery took its current form as a museum, where displays of human pathology bring to mind a different sort of “life after death” – that of the medical specimen.

“The museum also contains a wonderful collection of antique scientific instruments, natural history displays, and an old operating theater.”

There’s a lovely collection of photos at the Morbid Curiosity Flick page.

More Morbid Sightseeing suggestions can be seen at The Morbid Sightseer.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for February 1, 2018

Today’s Overflowing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

As the 1918 flu epidemic began to ravage American troops at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, the U.S. Surgeon General sent one of the nation’s leading doctors, Dr. William Henry Welch, along with three other doctors, to the camp to figure out what was going on.  They arrived on September 24, on a dreary morning when frigid rain was falling and dying soldiers, sodden and chilled, were filing into the hospital, carrying their blankets, burning with fever, shivering with cold, and coughing up bloody mucous.

What the doctors saw horrified them. The camp, built for 35,000 men, was overcrowded with 45,000. And the influenza epidemic was running rampant. In just twenty-four hours preceding Welch’s visit, 66 men had died. The day that Welch and his retinue came, 63 died. The hospital, built to hold 2,000, was overflowing with 8,000 men.

Tending to a patient at Fort Devens

Colonel Vincent C. Vaughn, one of the doctors, wrote about the experience. He was a man who had seen epidemics before. He had seen typhoid fever and seen firsthand how that illness felled men in the Spanish-American War. But never had he seen anything like the influenza epidemic in Fort Devens, Massachusetts. 

When Vaughn remembered For Devens, this is what he saw: “… hundreds of stalwart young men in the uniform of their country coming into the wards of the hospital in groups of ten or more. They are placed on the cots until every bed is full yet others crowd in. Their faces soon wear a bluish cast; a distressing cough brings up the blood stained sputum. In the morning the dead bodies are stacked about the morgue like cord wood.”

The others, too, were traumatized.  Dr. Rufus Cole was stunned by the hospital scene. As the men stumbled into the sick ward, “there were not enough nurses and the poor boys were putting themselves to bed on cots, which overflowed out of the wards on the porches,” Cole said.

Victims galore!

And then there was the autopsy room. It was hard to even get in, with stiff bodies piling up, blocking the doctors’ way. “Owing to the rush and the great number of bodies coming into the morgue, they were placed on the floor without any order or system, and we had to step amongst them to get into the room where an autopsy was going on, “Cole said.  

But once they got there, even Welch, the imperturbable, the one the others looked to for courage and strength, was shaken. Somehow that was the worst of all.

Standing over the autopsy table, Welch opened the chest of the corpse of a young man, exposing his lungs. It was a terrible sight. “When the chest was opened and the blue swollen lungs were removed and opened, and Dr. Welch saw the wet foamy surfaces with little real consolidation, he turned,” Cole said. “This must be some new kind of infection,” Welch said. “Or plague.” 

By that time, the flu had spread beyond Fort Devens, beyond Boston, beyond the military. The entire state of Massachusetts was staggering from the virus.

Culled from: Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It


The Face Of Madness: Crushworthy Edition

In The Library Eclectica (the astore of which has been removed, but I will be restoring a version of it online soon), 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. 

You know that song, “Pictures of Lily” where Pete Townshend gets a crush on a photo of a pin-up girl that had been dead since 1929?  This is kind of my Picture Of Lily. Something about this woman is just so gorgeous to me.  For one thing, her hair looks modern and hip, her skeptical expression appeals to my innate cynicism, and her dirty hands show that she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. That combo = sexy! Of course, I think I’m probably alone in my crush, but that’s okay. 

Anyway, here’s what the book says about her:

… in the present instance the patient, after being insane some months, and then falling into utter despondency, and continuing in that state for a month, was in a transition state towards mania. Her story is but one in a larger chapter of such which London furnishes. She gained a small livelihood by the occupation of a sorter and folder of paper, and lived but poorly. After a confinement she had an attack of puerperal mania, lasting about six months; her conversation was generally incoherent, and her actions were sometimes impulsive and violent. She repudiated her infant, declaring that it did not belong to her, and on one occasion she leaped out of a window fourteen feet from the ground. About a month after being received into the Surrey Asylum the excitement left her, and great despondency supervened. She then sat all day in one position, or else stood up covering her face with her hands. She never employed herself, and would not reply when spoken to. For many months she remained in this state, and then what at first appeared to be recovery took place, and her faculties seemed to revive. The melancholia, however, soon returned, and continued six months more. Then, a sudden renewal of bodily and mental energy occurred, and she became maniacal; began to dress herself fantastically, sung songs, and indulged in various ideas connected with wealth and pleasure, in which state she at present remains. The photograph, taken when the state of melancholy was passing into that of excitement, retains something of the fixedness of attitude and expression in the first state; as in the arms held close to the body, and the position of the lower extremities, and in the downward tension of the cheek. The body is thin, and the hair is lank and heavy. But the eyes are not lost in vacancy; they seem to discern some person or object which excites displeasure or suspicion. The forehead is wrinkled with some strong emotion, and the eyebrows, although corrugated, have not the tense contraction towards the nose which is observable in many cases of melancholia. The lips are not drawn down at the angles, but, although well shaped, are somewhat compressed, and the lower jaw indicates some half-formed determination. The maniacal condition of this patient has been accompanied with such an increase of stoutness that subsequent photographs are scarcely to be recognized as being likenesses of the same patient. Her face has become broad; the angles of the mouth are a little drawn up, giving it an expression of merriment; her forehead is smooth, the hair is well-arranged, and the eyes and eyebrows are significant of animated observation, whilst the whole attitude is perfectly free from constraint.   


Close-up Swoon!

And I maintain that these drawings with the captions would make awesome t-shirts.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 31, 2018

Today’s Corrupt Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Bank Riot of 1835 was probably the most destructive event in the United States prior to the Civil War.

On March 29, 1834, the Bank of Maryland failed. This was almost entirely due to fraud, speculation, and corruption on the part of the bank directors. The Maryland public lost millions of dollars, not adjusted for inflation. Millions of 1854 dollars.

The people of Baltimore and Maryland proper waited 17 months for a financial settlement, which never came. Meanwhile the bank directors were still living large in their mansions, their own wealth very well protected. On August 6th, 1835, a small group of angry Baltimoreans threw bricks through the windows of Reverdy Johnson, who was intentionally obstructing the process of providing a financial settlement in order to protect his personal fortune. The Mayor ordered thirty armed horse troopers to guard Johnson’s house the next night. They successfully blocked a mob from reaching Johnson’s home.

So the mob went to the home of Bank-Director-and-Judge John Glenn, who was helping Johnson obstruct a settlement. Glenn feared for his own wealth, as well, and had an interest in preventing any settlement from going through. The mob partially demolished his home before the horsemen arrived to intervene. There was a tense standoff which lasted the rest of the night. On Sunday, the 9th, the mob returned again, and it had grown to a group of hundreds, if not thousands. They quickly overpowered the guards, and tore down Johnson’s home, piling his property in the street, and setting it alight.

With the tacit support of the majority of the population who refused to interfere, or aided the mob, they took complete control of the city of Baltimore, destroying the property of other bank directors, until Revolutionary war hero Sam Smith, then 83, was able to assemble a force of 3,000 militiamen and restore order. Federal troops arrived a few days later, but Smith had things under control.

Sam Smith – ruining all the fun!

The leaders of the mob were jailed, the bank directors were compensated to the tune of $100,000 because of the state’s failure to protect their property. Reverdy Johnson went on to become a pro-slavery Senator and US Attorney General under both Zachary Taylor and Millard Filmore. It seems a corrupt banker is exactly who you want becoming chief law enforcement officer in the US. The rigorous enforcement of the “Fugitive Slave Act” by the federal government, as well as the blind eye turned to free blacks being kidnapped into slavery, was in part the doing of Reverdy Johnson, one of the great unknown villains of American History.

Reverdy Johnson – American Ass.

Culled from: DailyKOS


Morbid Sightseeing: Venereal Disease Edition

Musée de la Médecine (Brussels, Belgium)

This museum was created in 1995 to house a variety of medical specimens, most notable of which are a collection of vintage wax models illustrating all sort of horrible venereal diseases and malformations of the genitals.  In other words, when in Brussels, you absolutely need to stop here!

Morbid Anatomy has an article about the museum and a lovely collection of images on Flickr.

(More Morbid Sightseeing Suggestions can be viewed at The Morbid Sightseer.)

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 30, 2018

Today’s Lucky Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Kresty (Russian: literally Crosses) prison, officially Investigative Isolator No. 1 of the Administration of the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments for the city of Saint Petersburg is a detention center in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The prison consists of two cross-shaped buildings (hence the name) and the Orthodox Church of St. Alexander Nevsky. The prison has 960 cells and was originally designed for 1150 detainees.

Kresty Prison, built in the 1880’s.  Beautiful, isn’t it?

Here is an excerpt from the testimony of Z. Nisan on his imprisonment in Kresty in 1979:

I was transferred to cell no. 404, second floor, fourth building. I had refused to talk to my investigator during the pre-trial investigation period. I was not aware at the time of the reason for the transfer. Until then I had been kept in another building. The guard led me into my new cell where I was confronted with three lusty characters. Insults began raining down on me the very moment I entered the cell. ‘Hey, look! We’ve got a kike!’, or ‘Let’s see if he’s been circumcised’, and so on. I tried to answer with restraint, but the ‘jokes’ continued. By the end of the day, the hooligans were openly saying that they were going to rape me. I approached the door, knocked on it, and demanded that I be transferred to another cell. The guard, however, only grinned after having heard my reasons. During the night, my cellmates tried indeed to rape me. We started a fight. No doubt, I would have been unable to defend myself against the three thugs – the guard did not react to my screaming – had I not been lucky. During the fight, one of my enemies slipped and fell, hitting his head against the corner of an iron bed and cracking it in the process. His cry for help was answered immediately. The door opened; behind it stood four guards. They took the injured thug out. Then they put handcuffs on me and led me to the isolation cell. There they put me into a strait jacket and threw me onto the floor. There was no bed in the cell. It was damp and cold. Soon afterwards, I heard a howling sound, like that of a malfunctioning waterpipe. The sound, which continued three days, gave me a headache and even hallucinations. I was then summoned to the investigator and was given a false, self-incriminating statement to sign. I refused, whereupon I was told that I was going to be tried for gangsterism for having crippled my cellmate. My version of the story made the investigator laugh.  In his attempt to get me to sign a self-incriminating statement, he ordered me thrown into the isolation cell three times for seven days at a time. Once he had me put into a ‘slit’ for 24 hours. (A ‘slit’ is a kind of closet, 70 x 70 centimeters, in which it is impossible to sit or move.)  I was given no food or water. I was not even allowed to go to the toilet; I had to let the urine run down my legs. After the torture was over, I was made to clean the ‘slit’.”


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


Vintage Crime Photo Du Jour!

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.

“Double homicide #708 6/17/15.” Here, the two bodies, the lack of a weapon, and the clear indication that at least one of the parties died in bed (the bloodied pillowcase) throw conflicting signals at the viewr. It might be a crime of passion, or it might be an anachronistic gangland-style execution. The missing weapon proves a red herring, however, as the date points the way to newspaper accounts, among which the following seems definitive:


Geroge McAghon, an assistant yardmaster of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was the man who killed Mrs. Barbara Cornelius, a 24-year-old bride, in the bedroom of her apartment at No. 90 Hopkinson Avenue, Brooklyn.

The husband, Carman Cornelius, rushed from the room calling for help when he was awakened by McAghon, whom he thought was a burglar. He had never seen the man before.

Evidence of Mrs. Cornelius’s love affair was found in love notes on the backs of picture postcards hidden among feminine keepsakes in a trunk. They were signed only “G.” They carried no postmark, but had been mailed in an envelope addressed to “Bessie”.

Acting Captain Duane and Lieutenant McKirdy accepted McAghon’s signet ring as proof of his identity. Coroner Frank Senior and Coroner’s Physician Dr. Charles Wuest determined that there were two pistol wounds in Mrs. Cornelius’s temple and one in McAghon’s head. McAghon’s hand bore a powder smudge.

One shot, aimed at the fleeing husband, was found buried in the wall opposite the window through which McAghon entered.

Carman Cornelius is connected with a produce house in one of the Brooklyn markets. Not strong physically, he has been home several days recovering from an illness. He usually leaves for work at one o’clock A.M., but was home on account of his health. McAghon entered about 1:30 A.M.

It was his second marriage. The dead woman, nee Barbara Seilein, was named as co-respondent in his divorce case. McAghon was never seen in the neighborhood, but Mrs. Cornelius had often used the pay telephone in a drugstore two blocks away at Decatur and Hopkinson Streets.

McAghon was required to carry a gun at his job. He was 35 years old and lived at No. 160 Erie Street, Jersey City. He had been an assistant foreman at the Harsimus Cove yard of the Pennsylvania Railroad for two years, at $120 monthly.

He was said to have had temperate habits, and attended St. Mary’s Catholic Church. His wife had been dead two years, and his home was kept by his sister, Jennie McAghon. He leaves four children: Elizabeth, 12 years old, Margaret, 10 years, Mary, 7 years, and Jimmie, 5 years.

Identification of McAghon was made fourteen hours after the arrival of the police by William J. Morris of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Captain Duane of the Seventh Branch Bureau had traced the place where the dead man’s clothing had been purchased to a store in Jersey City.

The window was only five feet from the pavement, and was open except for a wire screen. While climbing in McAghon was in full glare of several street lamps.

McAghon had been reported as a burglar in yesterday’s late edition.

[Abridged from the New York American, June 18, 1915]

Despite the slender clue represented by the date, this tangled tale seems persuasive as an explanation for the scene in the photograph. In the picture frame in the center, bright with the glare of the magnesium powder, can be seen the reflection of the door, immediately to the right of the bed, through which Cornelius fled. McAghon’s signet ring is visible on his left middle finer. We seem to be in possession of most of the facts, but we have no idea why the murder-suicide took place. Was it premeditated, or was it a reaction to the husband’s presence? Was Barbara Cornelius as treacherous as her prior career as a co-respondent is pointedly meant to suggest? Was the husband exactly as weak and as unknowing as the husbands in farces? We can wonder, too, about the scheduling of the trysts, which for McAghon must have involved a very long journey that included two ferry crossings and a lengthy streetcar ride all the way to Bedford-Stuyvesant. Of course, crimes of passion are proverbially the easiest to solve, and the most enduringly mysterious.