Category Archives: Sightseer

Morbid Fact Du Jour For June 16, 2017

Today’s Systematic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Sick and disabled people were systematically registered by the Nazi regime starting in the autumn of 1939, and murdered beginning in January 1940. The organizational headquarters of this campaign was located at Tiergartenstrasse 4, Berlin. The address of the murder headquarters provided the code name of the operation: “T4”. The operation was classified as “Secret Reich Business”, and its management involved the Reich Ministry of Internal Affairs and later the Reich Ministry of Justice, as well as the regional government agencies that were responsible for overseeing the institutions.

The murders were carried out in several phases. In 1940 and 1941, over 70,000 people were killed by poison gas in specialized institutions under “Operation T4”. From 1942 on, still more people were killed in institutions by hunger, poison, and systematic neglect. At least 5,000 children and adolescents were murdered in “pediatric wards”. Meanwhile in Poland and the Soviet Union, the armed task forces called the “Einsatzgruppen” killed tens of thousands of patients.

Registration forms were collected and evaluated to decide who was to be gassed in the killing centers. Beginning in October 1939, the registration forms sent by the Reich Ministry of Internal Affairs were filled out in the institutions, usually by doctors or directors. All patients with certain diagnoses, all patients who had been institutionalized for five years or more, all those who were not of “German or related blood”, and all the “criminally insane” who had been committed to institutions by the courts were to be registered. Based on these registration forms, outside consultants recommended the deaths of more than 70,000 people. The consultants rarely saw their victims in person.

On August 24, 1941, the Nazi government stopped “Operation T4” because of spreading uneasiness among the population.

Here are two of the victims of Operation T4:

Xaver Rager (shown above in 1910) was born in 1898 in Jengen, Ostallgau district. He lived thirty years in the Catholic institution in Ursberg. In 1940 he was transferred to the Kaufbeuren mental hospital; in 1941 he was murdered in the Hartheim killing center.  

Leopoldine Schlager (shown above in 1920) was born in 1898. She lived in Müzzuschlag, Styria, until 1928, when she was admitted to the Am Feldhof state mental hospital in Graz. She was murdered in the Hartheim killing center in 1941.

Culled from: registered, persecuted, annihilated. The Sick and the Disabled under National Socialism


Morbid Sightseeing: Tiergartenstrasse 4

Out of curiosity, I did a Google search on Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin and what came up on street view (from way back in 2008 – get it together, Google!) was an obvious memorial to the victims: a statue of one of the buses that transported the victims to the killing centers where they were gassed.  

I looked it up and sure enough, a memorial has been built on the spot. Next time I’m in Germany, I will have to visit.  

T4 – Memorial and Information Centre for the Victims of the Nazi Euthanasia Programme

Morbid Fact Du Jour For May 10, 2017

I know, I’ve hardly even been back, but I must sadly announce a hiatus until after May 21st as I am going to be on vacation with family. Stay morbid while I’m away!

Today’s Starving 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 Private George Weiser, who arrived in Andersonville on May 25, 1864.

And now it is the last week of August, we have had our hardest thunder storms in this month; it flooded the prison and washed off the filth and dirt; the ground was cold and damp and the men dying off by hundreds, the days were hot but the nights were chilly and all the men beg the Rebs to give them shelter for the sick. The Rebs sent us in two or three wagon loads of boards and we put up two sheds open in the front and closed in the back and ends, these sheds were only for the sick that was helpless which were thousands. Many of the sick men had nothing of any kind to cook with not even so much as a tin cup or a tin plate; many of the sick and well, both, were without anything to cook with for the Rebs gave us nothing to cook in and if the men could not borrow a tin cup or plate from their friends they had to eat their food raw. It was now the first of September, the sheds were completed and the sick was being carried to them. All that could walk was called well and all that could not walk was called sick, the four in my tent was able to walk up to this time. Kay was sick from eating raw meal, Hilyard was failing fast, MacIntosh and I were in good health. In the mud hole or tent behind my tent where three men lived, all were dead. The tent on the right side of my tent where two men lived, one was dead and the other one in good health. The tent on the left side of my tent where three men lived, two were dead and one in good health. This is the way things were about the first day of September, when we heard a strong rumor that the prisoners were going to be exchanged. About this time Phil Hilyard said to us, “do you men ever expect to get out of this prison alive?” I told him that I hoped to get out all right. He said that he was sure that he would die before he got home; he failed fast after this and at midnight on the third of September he died. Kay got so weak that he gave up all hope and said that he believed that he too would soon die. On the seventh of September the Rebs said we would be exchanged and they began to take the prisoners out of the prison. On the eighth of September we carried Kay up and put him in the shed; he was alive when I left the prison. On the ninth of September my old friend MacIntosh got uneasy and slipped out with another detachment and left me alone. On the tenth of September my detachment or thousand was ordered out. We were taken to the railroad and put in boxcars and started North. Now I was very sad indeed; my three comrades gone, my clothes ragged and torn, I did not know what to do.  I soon found two men that had lived along side of me and were in the same car with me, one of these men was Frank Beegle of the Fifteenth regiment, New Jersey Vol., and the other was Orlando Gallagher of my regiment. Both of the men had a wool blanket but I had none; we had only one blanket at our tent and when Phil got sick we sold it to get him something to eat, so these men said that I should go with them and that they would let me sleep in the middle. This was very good news indeed to me, but still I was sad to think that we had left so many behind. It is said that thirty thousand died in Andersonville Prison Pen, but if each man had been truly counted the dead would number many more than fourteen, fifteen or even sixteen thousand.

Handsome George Weiser, Before…

and Ragged George Weiser, After.

Orland Gallagher’s Partner that he had at Andersonville died and left him with a silver watch valued at fifty dollars. I had a gold ring worth about two dollars which I had not parted with. On the fifteenth of September we landed at a place called Florence, South Carolina. Here we were taken from the cars and put in a large field and a strong guard put over us. About eight or ten thousand prisoners had now arrived here and it was two days since we had eaten our last food. I now traded off my ring for a peck of sweet potatoes, Orlando bought some meat and corn meal, Frank hunted up some pieces of wood and we soon had a good feed. The Rebs said that they did not know that we were coming and that nothing had been prepared to feed us, so that night and the next day made three days since we had food. The men began to starve and die and we commenced to carry the dead up and lay them on the ground near the guards, some of the guards would say “what’s the matter with that man.” We would say that the man has starved to death and every one of us will starve to death if we are kept without food another day. The Rebs thought that there were some truth to this and they started out through the country and gathered up three or four wagon loads of corn cake and sweet potatoes; this was divided with the men and the next day the Rebs began to give us our corn meal and meat regular. It was in this place that I saw three men lay on the ground and crying, “o’ for a spoonful of meal to save my life!” and the next morning I went to see if they were still there and the three men lay cold and stiff in death.

Photo of George Weiser.

George Weiser eventually made his escape near Wilmington, N.C. on February 22, 1865.  He died in 1928.

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


Morbid Sightseeing!

If you’re a long-time reader, you’ve probably seen my travelogue to Andersonville before, but if you’ve never taken a gander, perhaps you’ll find it subtly entertaining?

Anderson Vile!

Morbid Fact Du Jour For January 5, 2017

Today’s Onrushing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Guadalcanal Campaign, also known as the Battle of Guadalcanal and code-named Operation Watchtower, originally applying only to an operation to take the island of Tulagi, by Allied forces, was a military campaign fought between August 7, 1942 and February 9, 1943 on and around the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater of World War II. It was the first major offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan.  The Americans caught the Japanese off-guard and were able to capture an airfield (named Henderson Field by the Americans) that the Japanese were building on the island.  The airfield soon became the focus of months of fighting during the Guadalcanal Campaign, as it enabled U.S. airpower to hinder the Japanese attempts at resupplying their troops. The Japanese made several attempts to retake Henderson Field, resulting in continuous, almost daily air battles.

The following is a continuation of the tale of Japanese flying ace Saburo Sakai whose plane was struck by an American Dauntless plane during the first Japanese attempt to retake Henderson Field on August 7, 1942.

Saburo Sakai regained consciousness just as his plane was about to crash into the water and, although still blind from blood, he managed to right the Zero by sheer instinct. But his whole left side seemed to be paralyzed. Tears washed away enough blood for him to see his instruments dimly, but his situation seemed hopeless. It was more than five hundred miles to Rabaul. His cockpit cover was gone, the plane was surely seriously damaged and he was in need of immediate medical attention. Somehow he managed to work his silk flier’s scarf up and under his helmet to help staunch the flow of blood and to position a seat cushion as a windbreak.

Slouched as low as possible to avoid the onrushing wind, and unable to see where he was going, Sakai now found himself fighting the desire to sleep. time and again he dozed off, starting awake to find himself flying upside down or almost crashing into the waves. He tried hitting himself on his wounded cheek, hoping the pain would help him maintain consciousness, but this only caused his face to bloat out, as if a rubber ball were growing inside his mouth. “If I must die,” he began to say to himself, “at least I will go out as a Samurai.” More than once he turned back toward Guadalcanal to look for an enemy ship to crash into, then changed his mind and reversed course for Rabaul. But each backtrack wasted precious fuel, making his safe return more and more unlikely. At one point he came out of his stupor to realize that for some time he had been flying north into the empty Pacific. Finally, with the increasing pain from his head wound now keeping him awake, he regained his bearings and headed once and for all for Rabaul, flying at minimum speed to conserve fuel.

A Mitsubishi Zero in Flight

After what seemed like many hours, Sakai spotted the familiar volcanic peaks of New Britain, but the direct route over its mountainous interior seemed too perilous, so he decided to skirt the coast, following St. George’s Channel between Rabaul and New Ireland. As he entered the channel he glanced below him to see the white wakes of two cruisers heading rapidly southeast. He hoped they were headed for Guadalcanal.

A few minutes later, the airfield at Rabaul was at last in his sights, but he and his plane were both near their limits. He circled, debating whether to ditch in the water just off the beach. The thought of a bone-jolting crash into the water was too much to bear, so he determined to attempt a landing. His first try almost ended in disaster when he missed the runway and nearly crashed into the parked fighters. Pulling up, he circled four times and then went in for another try. His fuel gauge read empty, but he was taking no chances of an engine fire on crash landing. When he cleared the palms at the edge of the runway he switched off the ignition with a kick of his right boot (his left leg was still useless). A few seconds later the plane hit the ground with a jolting thud and rolled to a halt in front of the command post. As his mind let go and he fell into blackness he heard shouts of “Sakai! Sakai!’

“I cursed to myself,” he later recalled. “Why didn’t they keep quiet? I wanted to sleep.”

The Wounded Sakai

Culled from: The Lost Ships of Guadalcanal

More details from Wikipedia:  Sakai was struck in the head by a 7.62 mm (0.3 in) bullet, blinding him in the right eye and paralyzing the left side of his body.After landing, he insisted on making his mission report to his superior officer before collapsing. His squadron mate Hiroyoshi Nishizawa drove him to a surgeon. Sakai was evacuated to Japan on 12 August, where he endured a long surgery without anesthesia. The surgery repaired some of the damage to his head, but was unable to restore full vision to his right eye. Nishizawa visited Sakai while he recuperated in the Yokosuka hospital in Japan.

He eventually returned to combat but after the war he became a devout Buddhist and vowed to never again kill a living thing, not even a mosquito.  He later visited the U.S. and met and embraced several of his former adversaries, including Harold “Lew” Jones, the tail-gunner who had wounded him.

Saburo Sakai and Lew Jones in 1982

One of Sakai’s Zero planes is on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.  (More info on the plane here.)

And the helmet he was wearing when wounded is on display at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas:

Morbid Fact Du Jour For January 3, 2017

Today’s Pushy Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Germany in November 1923 was in chaos. The inflation that had been growing steadily since the Great War was completely out of control. In Berlin, a single loaf of bead cost 201,000 million marks. The streets of Germany’s cities were thronged with unemployed workers, and hitherto prosperous middle class people were suddenly made paupers as money lost nearly all value. Throughout the country extremists of right and left were calling for the overthrow of the central German government in Berlin and for a new revolutionary government in its place.

On the evening of November 8, an unusually large and influential crowd filled Munich’s largest beer hall, the Bürgerbräukeller (‘Citizen’s Beer Hall’). It included the commander of the army in Bavaria, General Otto von Lossow, and the state’s police chief, Colonel Hans von Seisser. They had gathered to hear a speech by the right-wing head of Bavaria’s state government, Gustav von Kahr, on the moral justification for dictatorship. Lossow, Seisser and Kahr were the state’s most powerful men. Also present was Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist or Nazi party, one of the many far-right political groups that had sprung up in post-war Bavaria.

Entrance to the Bürgerbräukeller 

Suddenly, at 8:30 pm, shortly after Kahr had begun his speech, one of Hitler’s lieutenants, Herman Göring, burst into the hall. He was followed by 25 armed, brown-shirted supporters – members of the Nazis’ stormtrooper force, the Sturmabteilungen or SA. Hitler jumped onto a chair and fired a shot at the ceiling. ‘The national revolution has begun,’ he shouted. ‘This hall is occupied by 600 heavily armed men. No one may leave the hall.’ He then forced Kahr, Lossow and Seisser into another room.

Bigmouth Strikes Again

For several months Hitler had been calling on Kahr and his colleagues to support him in overthrowing Germany’s republican government. He now informed the three men that he and his ally, the Great War veteran General Erich Ludendorff, had already formed a new German government, with Hitler as dictator. Influenced by Mussolini’s march on Rome the year before, he demanded support for a similar march on Berlin and in installing the new regime.

The Munich, or ‘Beer Hall,’ Putsch was soon over. Hitler’s three captives agreed to back him, but once released alerted Berlin. The next day Hitler, Ludendorff and a column of supporters marched through Munich. At the Feldherrnhalle war memorial in the center, they encountered a police cordon. A shot was fired (nobody knows by whom) starting a shoot-out which left three police officers and 16 Nazis dead.

Heinrich Himmler, holding a flag, with a group of Nazi storm troopers during the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.

One police shot very nearly changed the course of history. A demonstrator marching arm in arm with Hitler was mortally wounded, dislocating Hitler’s shoulder as he fell. Ludendorff, like the general he was, marched proudly on. But he was alone. Hitler picked himself up and fled, only to be arrested three days later.  He was given the minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, yet was released after nine months. Hitler used the time profitably, dictating the first chapters of his political testament Mein Kampf to the ever- faithful Rudolph Hess.

Culled from: The World At Arms: The Reader’s Digest Illustrated History of World War II

The Morbid Sightseers among us will be saddened to learn that the Bürgerbräukeller survived a bombing (attempted assassination of Hitler) and the war only to be demolished in 1979.


Traces of Evil

Traces of Evil is an invaluable resource for Morbid Sightseers.  It is a collection of sites of Nazi infamy put together by a history instructor. Fascinating stuff.

Traces of Evil: Remaining Nazi Sites in Europe

Morbid Fact Du Jour For January 1, 2017

Today’s Surprising Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, on the morning of December 7, 1941. The biggest loss for the U.S. Navy was the battleship Arizona which was a total loss with 1,177 dead. Miraculously, several hundred men did survive on Arizona. Carl Carson was out on deck on that beautiful Sunday morning, when all hell broke loose.  “I was out on deck doing the morning chores… and I was working on Admiral Kidd’s hatch, shining brightwork and so forth. And all of a sudden this plane came along, but I didn’t pay much attention to it, because planes were landing at Ford Island all the time. But this was different. The chips started flying all around me, and I realized that this same plane was strafing me.

The newly-built U.S.S. Arizona in New York City, circa 1916.

“When they flew between the ship and Ford Island, I could look up and see the meatball on the wings [ie. the Japanese rising sun] and I could see the pilot sitting up there. Now somebody hollered to get under cover. So I ran forward and tried to get under cover. The officer on deck, one of my division officers, ordered me back out to close the hatches. So I was out there closing the hatches when another plane came around about the same direction and strafed us. But I don’t think anybody that was out there working at the time got hit.

“Then I went forward and inside the ship and started back to my battle station. At that point a bomb went off. I learned later it was back about turret No. 4, about where I’d been working only ten, fifteen minutes before. Evidently it knocked me out, ruptured both my lungs, and I suffered smoke inhalation. All the lights went out, and I don’t know how long I laid there.  But when I woke up I picked up a flashlight, which I guess had fallen out of somebody’s hand. And so again, I started down into my battle station. But at this point they wouldn’t let me in the door, the watertight door you’re not supposed to open in battle conditions. But I managed to wait for what seemed like it was about 30 minutes. And I finally outlasted the guy on the other side.

“When I got into the turret it was totally dark except for my flashlight. And one of my division officers, Ensign J. B. Fields said, ‘You’re a good boy, Carson.’ And he said that’s exactly what we needed. Strangely, there was no panic down there or anything, despite the smoke and water knee deep. And a bosun’s mate by the name of Tucker took the flashlight and ordered me up on the ladder to open the hatch into the upper handling room.

“But now I started to feel pretty sick, so they had a guy come up to hold me, to keep me from falling off the ladder until I got the hatch open. And then we all made it out of the lower handling room into the upper. We’d only been up there about ten minutes when Ensign Miller, the senior division officer, stuck his head through the escape hatch in the rear of the turret and told us to all come out on deck and help fight fires. But there was nothing we could do. The ship was a total loss. So Commander Fuqua and Ensign Miller both said we might as well abandon ship.

The Arizona Burns

“Before I did, I ran into a friend of mine who was crying and asking me for help. I looked at him in horror. The skin on his face and his arms and everywhere else was just hanging like a mask. And I took hold of his arm. His skin all came off in my hand. And there was just nothing in this world I could do for that boy. That has bothered me all my life. Of course he died. He died later.

“Now they gave the word to abandon ship, and because the ship was sinking so low we practically stepped off the quarterdeck into the water. I was planning to swim over to Ford Island, but I’d forgotten how badly I’d been injured, in my lungs. So I swam out there about ten feet and I guess I must have passed out. I went down in the water, and everything was just as peaceful and nice that it would have been so easy to just let go. But I saw this bright light you hear about, and something made me come to. So I got back up to the surface of the water only to find oil all around, oil in my eyes and my teeth, just as fire was burning across the water toward me. I got back to the quay. Miraculously a man saw me down there just as the fire was approaching me. It wasn’t more than two feet away from me, and this man reached down and pulled me up out of the water. This man saved my life. I think he was a man from the Fourth Division. About now a motor launch came along, and I either jumped or fell into the motor launch, because they said they couldn’t stop on account of the fire. And they took me over to Ford Island.

“At Ford Island, I walked down to the barracks with the rest of the crew. About the time I got down there I must have passed out again, because my friends and shipmates took me over to the sick bay at Ford Island. They laid me alongside the bulkhead. While I was unconscious there a dud Japanese shell hit right in the center of the sick bay. The impact brought me to and I looked over. Another of my shipmates was laying across from me, and I realized he was holding his intestines in with his hands. And he looked up at me and said, “War sure is hell isn’t it, shipmate?’ And I said, ‘Yeah it is.’ Then I discovered I wasn’t bleeding anywhere, so I got up and walked out of there.”

As the awful morning wore on, Arizona turned out to be the most disastrous loss. Her fires, explosions, and sinking killed 1,103 officers and men out of her total crew of 1,400 and the total death toll eventually reached 1,177. The casualties on Arizona accounted for more than half of the 2,403 deaths suffered by the U.S. at Pearl Harbor that day.

Burned out wreck of the Arizona

Culled from: Graveyards of the Pacific


Morbid Sightseeing in the Pacific!

Of course, the only reason I really want to go to Hawaii is to visit the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial where you can view the rusting remains of the ship as it lies in the harbor.  You too?

The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

Morbid Fact Du Jour For September 23, 2016

Morbid Fact Du jour will be on hiatus for a few days while The Comtesse entertains family visiting from out of town. She begs you to stay morbid until her return next week!

Today’s Hopeless Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Accounts from Soviet prisoners of war in the Bergen-Belsen and Wietzendorf Nazi concentration camps, 1941-1942:

“We were taken to a place called Bergen, I think. But we knew nothing. We didn’t know where they were taking us. Some said they’d take us somewhere to be shot. Others said we’d be taken somewhere to work. But nobody knew anything, nobody explained anything to us. There was nobody to ask and nobody talked to you. I did speak a bit of German, mind you.”
Mikhail Levin, imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen

Blueprint for Bergen-Belsen

“We were taken to an open field. There was a wire fence there, but no huts, nothing. We used spoons and other things to dig earthwork dens. We lived in these dens.”
Semyon Zamyatin, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

“We dug… I had a broken soup spoon, and there were some stones there. That’s what we used to dig a hollow in which we could lie. There we lay on top of each other, covering each other, because there were no huts and it was cold.”
Mark Tilevich, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

“In the morning we heard the order: ‘Line up!’ If one of us had fallen ill or something else happened, they came running and tramped down our dens, filled them up. And the people were still in there.”
Semyon Zamyatin, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

“There was a field there, watchtowers, barbed wire and soldiers. And there were dogs, I remember it well, there were dogs. Maybe they wouldn’t have been able to properly guard the grounds without them. And then there were these masses of people just lying on the cold ground…”
Mark Tilevich, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

The hand-dug holes that served as shelter at Wietzendorf Prison Camp

“The first cases of disease in the camp occurred in autumn, when it got colder and the first frost came. The first cases of dysentery and typhoid fever had occurred a little earlier, and everyone was starving. People started to eat grass. It’s interesting that the bark of the few trees that were there was gnawed off and eaten. People ate belts, too. The belts that held up our trousers, you see? But there weren’t many belts around. They took them from the prisoners. You weren’t allowed to wear belts, I don’t know why.”
Mikhail Levin, imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen

“It was terrible! This terrible, overwhelming feeling of hunger. You have to understand, it’s worse than physical pain. Pain is terrible and you scream, you do something. But this was complete hopelessness. You couldn’t find anything anywhere, you see?”
Mark Tilevich, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

Starving prisoners at Bergen-Belsen

“The winter of 1941/1942 was very harsh. It was one of the coldest winters ever. That was when the mass deaths, the ‘great dying’ started. Typhoid fever and dysentery were raging through the camp and there was the hunger, the starvation. Your body couldn’t even cope with the slightest ailments, and people were dying. Every day, hundreds of them were taken away on the carts. In the morning after reveille, before we had to line-up for the roll-call, there’d already be bodies lying on the bunks. They’d be loaded onto a cart and taken to the cemetery.”
Mikhail Levin, imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen

Victims of starvation and disease at Bergen-Belsen

“This cart was accompanied by German guards. But they didn’t accompany the prisoners all the way. There were some tree trunks lying around there. While the prisoners were unloading the cart, they’d sit there and smoke cigarettes.”
Semyon Zamyatin, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

“In the beginning,loading the bodies onto the cart would really scare me. How old was I in 1941? I was 19 and I’d never seen anything like it. Two or three of us would grab a body. We weren’t particularly strong. We’d hold them by their hands and feet and throw them onto the cart. They were practically naked. Some had dog tags, others didn’t. They were taken there on the cart, and then they weren’t laid into the grave, they were just tossed in.”
Mikhail Levin, imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen

Unloading corpses from the carts at Bergen-Belsen

“A ditch had been dug behind the camp. That’s where they were taken and then tossed in. This ditch would then gradually be filled in. Our comrades, the other POWs, were in charge of filling in the ditch. One day they would still be shoveling soil, and the next day it might be their turn to be buried.”
Semyon Zamyatin, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

Culled from: Bergen-Belsen Wehrmacht POW Camp, 1940-1945


The Morbid Sightseer: Bergen-Belsen

I had the honor of visiting Bergen-Belsen in the summer of 2014. Although the barracks were burned down immediately after the camp’s liberation due to rampant disease, it is still a fascinating and unbearably sad place to visit.  Archaeological digs have recovered many relics from the time of the camp and they are displayed imaginatively in glass-topped cases in the floor of the museum. The museum also includes abundant photographs and information about the prisoners who suffered and died there – the most famous being Anne Frank and her sister Margot who died of typhoid shortly before liberation.

The museum is excellent, but my most vivid memory is walking by the dozens of enormous burial mounds, each marked with a month and year of interment.  I still need to write up a full travelogue on my visit, but for now, you can look at some of my photos at my Forlorn Photography Facebook page Bergen-Belsen album.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 27, 2016

Today’s Snake-bitten Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Major Raymond “Rattlesnake James” Lisenba (March 6, 1894 – May 1, 1942) also known as Robert S. James, was the last man to be hanged in California. He was charged with murdering his fourth wife, Mary Busch, to collect her life insurance and was also suspected of causing the deaths of his third wife, Winona Wallace, and nephew, Cornelius Wright, to collect their life insurances.

A native of Hale County, Alabama, Lisenba spent his childhood at barber school. In 1921, he married Maud Duncan, but she soon filed for divorce, accusing him of “kinky” and “sadistic” sex. Lisebna moved to Kansas and remarried, but she divorced him after the father of a pregnant young woman ran him out of town. He moved to North Dakota and changed his surname to “James.”

When his mother died and left her life insurance to him, James got the idea of committing fraud. In 1932, he opened a barber shop in La Cañada Flintridge, California and married his third wife, Winona Wallace, and set a pair of $5,000 insurance policies for both from Prudential Insurance.

On September 21, the couple was driving on Pikes Peak Highway near Glen Cove, Colorado, with Wallace at the wheel when the car left the road and fell down a mountainside. James told investigators he managed to jump free, but Wallace remained trapped in the vehicle until it stopped against a large boulder about 150 feet below the road. When rescuers got to the scene, they found Wallace alive with relatively minor injuries despite the intensity of the crash. She also smelled of liquor and had a massive wound behind her ear. They later found shreds of a bullet in her head during the autopsy. Winona was released from the hospital on October 8 and recovering at a cottage in Manitou Springs when about a week later, James and a grocer found her lying on her back in a half-filled tub. At the coroner’s inquest, medical examiner George B. Gilmore testified that James told him his wife had ignored physician’s orders to avoid washing her hair because of the head wound and drowned as a result.

Prudential eventually paid off on Wallace’s policy. Following the death of Busch, an autopsy was made on Wallace and the medical examiner testified that she suffered two skull fractures caused by a hard, moving object projected against in it.

James took out insurance on his nephew Cornelius Wright, a young sailor, invited him to visit while on leave, and let him use his car. Wright later died when the car drove off a cliff. The mechanic who towed the wreck back to James told him that something was wrong with the steering wheel.

in March 1935, Ray James met Mary Emma James, who would become his second wife. In June 1935, Ray asked Charles Hope, one of his loyal customers struggling financially, to help him kill Mary for her $5000 life insurance, offering $100 plus expenses for rattlesnakes, which he planned to use to poison Mary.

Hope brought the snakes to the James’ house on August 4 to find Mary Emma, who was pregnant at the time, strapped to the kitchen table with her eyes and mouth taped shut. James that he managed to get his wife on the table by telling her a doctor was coming to “perform some kind of operation on her for pregnancy.” Hope watched as Ray put Mary Emma’s foot in the box with the two snakes, which bit her, then left the house to return and pick up his wife.

Returning to the house at 1:30 a.m. Hope found that Mary was still alive. Drunk and outraged, Ray took her to the bathtub, drowned her, and put her body by the fish pond in their backyard in an attempt to make it look like an accident. Hope left, having refused James’s order to burn down the house.

Mary’s death was ruled a drowning until a drunken Hope bragged at a bar about his involvement in her murder. The bartender reported this to police and Hope was arrested. Under intense questioning, Hope explained the plot thoroughly and James was arrested in 1936. A snake bite on Mary’s toe overlooked during the autopsy confirms this. Both were found guilty of their crimes with James receiving the death penalty and Hope life in prison.

On May 1, 1942, Rattlesnake James was executed by hanging at San Quentin State Prison in California. The rope was the wrong length and it took over ten minutes for Rattlesnake James to die.

Culled from: Wikipedia
Generously suggested by: Eleanor

I found this most excellent account of James’ death at Capital Punishment UK:

Clinton Duffy who was the warden [at San Quentin] from 1942 to 1954 described the execution of Major Raymond Lisemba as follows: “The man hit bottom and I observed that he was fighting by pulling on the straps, wheezing, whistling, trying to get air, that blood was oozing through the black cap. I observed also that he urinated, defecated, and droppings fell on the floor, and the stench was terrible”. (This is not abnormal in death by slow hanging as the person slowly strangles). “I also saw witnesses pass out and have to be carried from the witness room. Some of them threw up.”

It took ten minutes for the condemned man to die. When he was taken down and the cap removed, “big hunks of flesh were torn off” the side of his face where the noose had been, “his eyes were popped,” and his tongue was “swollen and hanging from his mouth.” His face had turned purple.

(Was it worth that money, Rattlesnake?)


The Shame of the South

One of the things that always irks me when I visit the South is the lack of acknowledgement of the culture of slavery that shaped it.  This is especially noticeable when you visit plantations in which the lives of the plantation owners and their families are discussed, but there is little mention made of the suffering of the slaves that built the plantations, were entrapped there, and died there.  Lisa sent me a very good article that examines this very topic. Highly recommended.

Why Aren’t Stories Like ’12 Years a Slave’ Told at Southern Plantation Museums?

Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 17, 2016

Today’s Untrained Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

By World War II standards, the German Type VIIC submarine was an advanced hunter of the seas. But one unlucky vessel of its class, the U-1206, sank during its maiden combat voyage after its captain used its high-tech toilet improperly.

Yes, this really happened, and was an unexpected and tragic consequence of a real naval engineering problem.

For years. crafty German engineers had been busy developing what they thought was the next generation in undersea plumbing. While Allied subs piped their sewage into onboard septic tanks, German U-boats saved precious weight and space by discharging waste directly into the sea.

But pulling off this latter operation posed unique challenges. The system only worked when the submarine floated near the surface, where the water pressure was low. One can only imagine the unpleasant work-arounds forced upon the crew when boats had to stay submerged for prolonged periods.

As the war — and Allied anti-submarine technology — progressed, submarines were increasingly dead meat in shallow water or on the surface. But by 1945, Germany’s toilet technology had matured.

Germany’s top minds had produced a newfangled “deepwater high-pressure toilet” which allowed them to flush while submerged deep below the waves.

Advanced as it was, the toilet was extremely complicated. First, it directed human waste through a series of chambers to a pressurized airlock. The contraption then blasted it into the sea with compressed air, sort of like a poop torpedo.

A specialist on each submarine received training on proper toilet operating procedures. There was an exact order of opening and closing valves to ensure the system flowed in the correct direction.

Now meet U-1206 and its proud 27-year-old captain, Karl-Adolf Schlitt. On April 14, 1945, Schlitt and his submarine were eight days into their first combat patrol of the war. The submarine lurked 200 feet beneath the surface of the North Sea when Schlitt decided that he could figure the toilet out himself.

But Schlitt was not properly trained as a toilet specialist. After calling an engineer to help, the engineer turned a wrong valve and accidentally unleashed a torrent of sewage and seawater back into the sub.

The situation escalated quickly. The unpleasant liquid filled the toilet compartment and began to stream down onto the submarine’s giant internal batteries — located directly beneath the bathroom — which reacted chemically and began producing chlorine gas.

As the poisonous gas filled the submarine, Schlitt frantically ordered the boat to the surface. The crew blew the ballast tanks and fired their torpedoes in an effort to improve the flooded vessel’s buoyancy.

Somehow, it got worse when the submarine reached the surface. “At this point in time British planes and patrols discovered us,” Schlitt wrote in his official account.

After taking damage from an air attack, the only option was to scuttle the sub and order the sailors overboard.

“The crew reached the Scottish coast in rubber dinghies,” Schlitt added. “In the attempt to negotiate the steep coast in heavy seas, three crewmembers tragically died. Several men were taken onboard a British sloop. The dead were Hans Berkhauer, Karl Koren and Emil Kupper.”

Schlitt survived the war and died in 2009. U-1206 rests on the bottom of the North Sea to this day.

Culled from: War Is Boring
Generously submitted by: Marco McClean


The City of the Dead

Eleanor sent me a fascinating article about Colma, where San Francisco moved its dead after banishing cemeteries from the city limits in the early 1900’s.  Can you believe I’ve never visited Colma, despite growing up in California?  I know, unacceptable.  Next time I visit, I’m roadtripping there!

Anyway, do read this article – it’s quite fascinating!

Why Are There So Many Dead People In Colma? And So Few In San Francisco?

For more California Morbid Sightseeing suggestions see the California page of The Morbid Sightseer. Where else?

Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 10, 2016

Today’s Foul-Smelling Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Dover Torso Murder case began in the last week of July of 1984. Dover, Delaware resident William Shipley, 64, worked as the kitchen manager for a senior-citizens’ center called Modern Maturity (which is still going strong) and lived with his wife Christie, 46. Christie Shipley had been a police officer in Baltimore and now worked as a guard at the Women’s Correctional Institution in Claymont, Delaware. The couple had been married, unhappily, for 13 years.

When William Shipley failed to come to work, his colleagues asked his wife about him, and she said he had abandoned her, as he had eight times previously. She added that she was planning to move out of their home and into a trailer in the trailer park they owned, and asked a friend four some empty boxes to pack her things in.

In early August, two people jogging along a rural road near Dover found what they believed to be an animal carcass wrapped in plastic trash bags. Police were called and agreed that the foul-smelling object was a dead animal and transported it to the dump. A day or so later, a maintenance worker at a nearby apartment complex found a cardboard box near the dumpster. When he opened it, he was dismayed to find a human head, also wrapped in a trash bag. Police were called and, putting two and two together, hurriedly retrieved the “dead animal” from the dump, and this time ascertained that it was a human torso. The torso and head were determined to have come from the same middle-aged white male, who had died from a single gunshot wound to the back of his neck.

Eventually, the body was identified as William Shipley, and Christie was arrested and charged with first-degree murder after a blood-soaked mattress and other evidence was found at her home. Her husband’s .38 revolver and a meat saw given to him by his professional butcher son were never recovered. A few months later, human leg and foot bones were found along another roadside near Dover, and these were also found to be Shipley’s remains. His hands were never found.

Christie Shipley was found guilty of killing her husband in May 1987 and was sent to prison for life. She ended up at the same prison where she’d worked as a guard.

Culled from
Submitted by: Aimee

I was only a little girl at the time of this case, but I vividly recall hearing the gory details on the local news. – Aimee


Beautiful Anatomical Theaters

Some of the most beautiful morbid spaces are the old dissection/operating theaters of times past. Here is an excellent collection of some of the best.  I’ve been to the Indiana Medical History Museum and it was awe-inducing in its simple Midwestern way.  I highly recommend that museum if you’re ever in Indianapolis.

The Indiana Medical History Museum theater.

The Most Beautiful Anatomical Theaters

Thanks to Mike Marano for the link.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for April 30, 2016

Today’s Idyllic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Northern Michigan Asylum (also known as Traverse State Hospital) opened its doors in 1885 and by the time it closed in 1989, it had affected 50,000 patients, approximately 20,000 employees, and more than 250,000 visitors. Throughout the century the asylum and its inhabitants witnessed hardships as well as tremendous societal and medical changes. The Northern Michigan Asylum withstood and even thrived during the Great Depression, World Wars I and II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Overcrowded wards were exposed to deadly epidemics and diseases such as typhoid, smallpox, diphtheria, influenza, syphilis, tuberculosis, polio, and epilepsy. Between 1885 and 1989, approximately 14,000 patients died due to these and many other illnesses that are now treatable and even curable.

The gorgeous old asylum…

During the asylum’s one hundred years, doctors used many well-meaning but mostly ineffective and often cruel therapies for patients. Psychotropic drugs were not invented until the 1950s, which means that patients in the early years of the asylum were offered no curative drug treatments. Opium and morphine were the only drugs available, and they were used in small amounts primarily as sedatives for agitated patients. Between 1885 and 1920, “the moral treatments” of kindness, exposure to beauty, and voluntary work were considered the primary therapy for all patients. Restraints were strictly forbidden, and sincere attempts were made to incorporate every comfort and pleasantry into asylum life, with the purpose of inducing patients’ recovery. There were pianos or organs on every floor, nightly sing-alongs in the dayrooms, and well-used fireplaces in the cottages. Freshly cut flowers, provided by the asylum greenhouses, were supplied to the wards year-round. Therapeutic patient treatments included going to picnics, local fairs, and circuses, and playing shuffleboard or croquet on the asylum lawns. Though they may sound idealized, these kindnesses were carefully planned treatments based on the Kirkbride plan and the “moral treatments” dutifully implemented by Dr. James Decker Munson, the first superintendent of the Northern Michigan Asylum. Munson believed that voluntary work would benefit the patients by giving them a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Patients engaged in work ranging from building furniture and fruit canning to farming and flower-growing.

Culled from: Angels in the Architecture: A Photographic Elegy to an American Asylum

I tell ya, THOSE were the days!  Being insane sounds like a non-stop vacation.  I could definitely live out my days like that.  But if you sense that life at the ol’ asylum is going to take on a much darker tone in tomorrow’s MFDJ – you’re psychic!


Traverse Today

Unlike many old Kirkbride buildings which have been demolished, Traverse Hospital is one of the poster children for redevelopment.  Obviously, I wish I’d gotten to see it before it was redeveloped, but it’s great to know that it’s going to be around in the future.  There are historic tours too that take you into the creepy tunnels beneath the complex – maybe I’ll get up there to take one this summer?

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons