Category Archives: Sightseer

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 27, 2016

Today’s Royal Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

King Faisal ascended to the throne of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1964, and became a controversial but popular leader. He was well-educated and well-traveled, a prudent financial manager and an effective diplomat. He instituted many progressive reforms within his country, abolishing slavery, creating welfare programs and providing for female education. He was astute enough to couch his more liberal policies in a religious context to satisfy the most conservative Islamic authorities in the kingdom.

There were widespread protests when Saudi Arabia’s first television network began broadcasting in 1965, with conservatives believing that television was in direct opposition to the Koranic ban of human images. In 1967, Prince Khalid Bin Musa-Id, the king’s nephew, stormed Saudi TV headquarters and was shot and killed by security guards.

Khalid’s brother Faisal Bin Musaid spent several years studying in the United States, where he was known as a likable young man who was a poor student and dabbled in drugs. He returned to Saudi Aarabia and supposedly told his mother of his plan to assassinate his uncle, the king, blaming him for his brother’s death. She in turn told the king of the plot and he replied that if such a thing happened, it would be Allah’s will.

On March 25, 1975, King Faisal was holding a majlis, meaning he made himself available in his palace to hear petitions from his subjects. Prince Faisal approached the king, who recognized him and leaned down to kiss him in greeting. Prince Faisal pulled a gun from his robe and fired three shots, two of them hitting the king in the head and one missing. A bodyguard struck the prince with his golden sword, still in its sheath, and the oil minister, also present, cried out several times not to kill the prince. King Faisal was rushed to the hospital, where he was given a heart massage and blood transfusions. He reportedly asked that his nephew not be executed, and then died.

Prince Faisal was at first declared insane but a team of doctors who examined him found him competent. He was convicted of the regicide and just three months after the murder, he was publicly beheaded in Riyadh. His execution, like the killing of the king, was carried live on Saudi TV. There is a widespread belief in Saudi Arabia and much of the Arab world that Prince Faisal acted not to avenge his brother, but rather was a pawn of a Western conspiracy involving the CIA, over oil boycotts, but nothing has been definitively proven on that score.

Kids these days, eh?

Culled From: Wikipedia
Submitted by: Aimee

I don’t imagine the good king would have been happy to know that his dying request that his nephew’s life be spared was ignored. – Aimee


Holocaust Revisited

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I thought I’d share my travelogue to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Germany.

Nineteen Thirty-Sick

Morbid Fact Du Jour for September 19, 2015

Today’s Fiery Red Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

At exactly 8:15:17 a.m. on August 6, 1945, the ‘Little Boy’ was released from the bomb bay of the Enola Gay as it passed over Hiroshima. The plane lurched upwards as the weight of the 9,000 lb bomb ceased to bear on it, but it still seemed to bombardier Thomas Ferebee as if the bomb was keeping pace with them. He watched through the nose as it began to fall away:

It wobbled a little until it picked up speed, and then it went right on down just like it was supposed to.

As the bomb left, pilot Paul Tibbets needed to get the Enola Gay as far from the bomb as possible:

I threw off the automatic pilot and hauled Enola Gay into the turn. I pulled anti-glare goggles over my eyes. I couldn’t see through them; I was blind. I threw them to the floor.

The bomb continued falling, its in-built radar methodically measuring the distance from the ground as it fell towards the T-shaped Aioi bridge, described by Tibbets as ‘the most perfect aiming point I had seen in the whole war’; its outer casing scrawled with messages from the 509th ground crew, including ‘Greetings to the Emperor from the men of the Indianapolis.’ At 5,000 feet the barometric safety switch operated and, as the ‘Little Boy’ reached 1,900 feet, the proximity fuse fired, sending the U235 bullet down the short barrel of the gun assembly into its U235 target. The super-critical mass was formed, drenched in neutrons by the polonium/beryllium initiator, and an uncontrolled chain reaction went through eighty generations before the expanding uranium core was too large to sustain it.

As Tibbets strained to get Enola Gay way to the south, ‘A bright light filled the plane.’ Watching, stunned, from his position in the rear of Enola Gay, Sergeant Bob Caron, the tail gunner, noticed a strange ripple in the air coming towards him. He tried to shout a warning but was too incoherent; the first shock wave hit them. Tibbets was astonished:

We were eleven and a half miles slant range from the atomic explosion but the whole airplane crackled and crinkled from the blast. I yelled ‘Flak!’ thinking a heavy gun battery had found us.

Ferebee shouted:

The sons of bitches are shooting at us!

Caron saw the second shock wave:

There’s another one coming!

Van Kirk thought that the sensation was:

very much as if you’ve ever sat on an ash can and had somebody hit it with a baseball bat… the plane bounced, it jumped and there was a noise like a piece of sheet metal snapping.

Tibbets realized what was happening:

Okay. That was the reflected shockwave, bounced back from the ground. There won’t be any more. It wasn’t Flak. Stay calm.

Tibbets ordered radar specialist Jacob Beser to start recording the crew’s impressions of the blast, starting with Caron, the only one looking directly at the bomb when it exploded:

A column of smoke is rising fast. It has a fiery red core. A bubbling mass, purple grey in color, with that red core. It‘s all turbulent. Fires are springing up everywhere, like flames shooting out of a huge bed of coals. I am starting count the fires. One, two, three, four, five six… fourteen, fifteen… it’s impossible. There are too many to count. Here it comes, the mushroom shape that Captain Parsons spoke about. It’s coming this way. It’s like a mass of bubbling molasses. The mushroom is spreading out. It’s maybe a mile or two wide and half a mile high. It’s growing up and up and up. It’s nearly level with us and climbing. It’s very black, but there is a purplish tint to the cloud. The base of the mushroom looks like a heavy undercast that is shot through with flames. The city must be below that. The flames and smoke are billowing out, whirling out into the foothills. The hills are disappearing under the smoke. All I can see now of the city is the main dock and what looks like an airfield. That is still visible. There are planes down there. 

Tibbets remembered:

Lewis pounding my shoulder, saying, ‘Look at that! Look at that! Look at that!’ Tom Ferebee wondered about whether radioactivity would make us all sterile. Lewis said he could taste atomic fission. He said it tasted like lead.  

Watching, Lewis cried out:

My God! Look at that son-of-a-bitch go!

But in the log that he was keeping of the mission, he wrote:

My God, what have we done?

Culled from: Eyewitness Hiroshima: First-Hand Accounts of the Atomic Terror That Changed the World

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center which is the vastly superior Chantilly, Virginia branch of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  I forgot that the Enola Gay is here so imagine my gasp of delight as I stumbled upon this sight!  What an amazing and odd looking aircraft the B-29 bomber was/is?


Halloween Cometh!

We’re about six weeks away from the greatest of all holidays, so I thought I’d start sharing some vintage Halloween pics with the newsletter. (Culled from Halloween: Vintage Holiday Graphics.) Enjoy!

The witch and owl cards are among my favorites – especially the one with the dancing devils and creepy gourd guy!


Morbid Fact Du Jour for September 5, 2015

Today’s Afflicted 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.

“There were four or five hundred colored prisoners in this prison and nearly all of them were lame or wounded. Theirs was a sad fate indeed, some of them said that they had been wounded after they were captured. All the prisoners seemed to be affected with the scurvy; many were broke out in black spots and some were so bad that their teeth fell out, many were so bad that they would swell up to twice their size and the black spots would break and burst out, and large gangrene sores would eat the flesh from their bones, and I often seen the bare bones through the sores for many days before the men were dead. Many of the men were troubled with the diarrhea, many died from this cause. The corn meal did not agree with them and they had no way to cure themselves. The men were troubled much with fever; some would be taken and die soon, this we called the yellow fever and some would be taken and linger long, this kind we called the slow fever. They were so reduced that their hip bones had nothing on them but the thin skin and sometimes they would get so sore that we could see the bone. This made the men sleep in all ways. Most of the time in this prison I slept in a sitting position with my knees drawn up and my head and arms resting on my knees. I remember one day standing at the dead line near the gate, it was about the time of the sick call and I was standing there counting the dead that had been brought up to the gate that morning, seventy-eight in number, but they had not yet been carried out to the dead house, and the prison seemed to have on all of its agony when I looked and saw six women looking over the top of the stockade, and I heard one of them remark, “I have often wondered why the Confederacy did not succeed but now I know, no nation can prosper who does a thing like this,” and the women turned from the sight.

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


Ghastly! – Andersonville Edition

Long before Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, the world knew the horrors of the starvation of concentration camp victims from these images taken of the survivors of Andersonville.





A Comtesse Travelogue!

Here’s a travelogue I put together of a 2003 trip to Andersonville. Enjoy!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for September 1, 2015

Today’s Electrocuted Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

President McKinley’s assassin, Leon Czolgosz, was sentenced to die in the electric chair at Auburn State Prison.  The nation’s first-ever execution by electricity, in 1890, had also taken place at Auburn – and had been overseen by Edward Charles Spitzka, the alienist who’d insisted that President Garfield’s executioner Charles Guiteau was crazy. Things had not gone well. The prisoner fried but refused to die, and his burning hair and flesh stunk up the tiny execution room. Spitzka screamed to flip the switch again, but the electricians had to wait two whole minutes for the generator to recharge (In their defense, earlier tests that involved electrocuting a horse had gone much smoother.)

By 1901 Auburn had worked out the kinks. Guards awokeCzolgosz around 5 a.m. on October 29 and gave him dark trousers slit up the side. Inside the death chamber, an electrician wired up a string of twenty two light bulbs to test the current; when they began beaming, he pronounced the chair ready. Czolgosz entered at 7:06 a.m. and took a seat on “old Sparky,” a rough-hewn wooden throne sitting on a rubber mat. He promptly condemned the government again. Meantime, guards plopped a sponge soaked with conducive salt water onto his head. Next came the metal helmet, then another electrode clamped onto his calf beneath the slit in his pants. Last came the leather mask which kept his face in place. It also muffled his final words: “I am awfully sorry because I did not see my father [again].” The electrician waited until Czolgosz exhaled – gases expand when heated, and the less air in the lungs, the less unsightly moaning during the death throes – and snapped the switch. Czolgosz jerked, cracking his restraints. After a few pulses at 1,700 volts a doctor could find no pulse in Czolgosz. Time of death, 7:15 a.m.

His hair still wet, his lips still curled form the shock of the shock, Czolgosz was laid out on a nearby table for the autopsy. One doctor dissected the body, while the all-important brain autopsy, including the determination of sanity, fell to a second doctor – or rather, a wannabe doctor, a twenty-five year old medical student at Columbia University.

Why entrust this job to someone with no medical license? Well, he’d already published scores of articles about the brain, including work on whether high doses of electricity damaged brain tissue or altered its appearance, an important consideration here. He also claimed phrenological expertise, including the ability to link mental deficiencies with unusual anatomical features. What clinched the selection was his pedigree – for this was Edward Anthony Spitzka, son of the Edward Charles Spitzka who’d defended Guiteau. No other father and son doctors can boast of involvement in two such historic cases.  And whereas Spitzka père had failed to convince the world of Guiteau’s insanity, Spitzka fils could still perhaps grant Czolgosz a posthumous scientific pardon.

He never got the chance. Spitzka removed the brain at 9:45 a.m., noting its warmth – the body can reach 130° F during electrical execution. He sketched it while it cooled , then began to investigate every fold and fissure. As with Guiteau, the brain looked normal, unnervingly normal, on a gross scale. But before Spitzka could examine it microscopically, the prison warden stepped in. The warden had already received offers of $5000 for Czolgosz’s skull, and rather than risk making Czolgosz a martyr, he was determined to destroy every last scrap of him. Cruelly, spitefully, he refused Spitzka’s plea for even a tiny slice of brain to examine later. Instead, the warden ordered the body sewn up at noon. He salted Czolgosz’s corpse with barrels of quicklime, then poured in gallons of sulfuric acid. Based on experiements he’d been conducting with shanks of meat, he figured Czolgosz would liquefy in twelve hours. By midnight Leon Czolgosz’s troubled brain was no more.

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

What a bastard that warden was, huh?  Interfering with science!


Morbid Sightseeing Alert!

When I was dating the girl in DC earlier this year, I made a trip to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.  Was it a rip-off at $21.95 compared to the great low cost (free!) of the Smithsonian museums?  Certainly it was.  But were there interesting things on display here?  Yes, there certainly are, including Gacy’s Pogo the Clown outfit.  So then isn’t it worth it?  Well, kind of, I suppose.

But the point is: It’s closing at the end of the month!  So, get out there now or wonder if it will ever open anywhere else for the rest of your life!

I’ll hurry up and put out my travelogue this week (if work allows) so that you can see what you’re missing if you choose not to make a trip.

Crime Museum Is Closing At The End of September

(Thanks to Ear for the heads up!)

Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 8, 2015

Today’s Drunken Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Guinness, the Irish maker of the stout ale, tried to entice writer Brendan Behan to come up with a catchy slogan for their company by delivering a half-dozen kegs of their best brew to his home. After tapping the last barrel, he decided on what he believed its most important quality and offered what he thought a winner: “Guinness Makes You Drunk.” They didn’t use it, and instead got Christian writer Dorothy L. Sayers to pen the trademark, “Guinness Is Good For You.” How good it was for Behan in the end was obvious. As Ireland’s most popular playwright, Behan made no secret, nor could he, of his fondness for the frothy brew, describing himself as “a drinker with a writing problem.” His persona as the jolly alcoholic, as he regularly showed up drunk on stage and on television, endeared him to the public.

He started on a path not as jovial, as a member of the Irish Republican Army, and was sent to prison for four years, convicted for involvement in a plot to murder two police officers. Once out he left his previous employment working alongside his father as a house painter, and made his first earnings by writing pornography. His brilliant ad-libbing and lubricated wit earned him a spot giving readings on radio and writing newspaper articles on a variety of subjects. He noticed his talent slipping and decided to rise early and not drink until the pubs opened at noon. This modified regime allowed him to write plays, focusing on his prison experiences, that became international hits. When he published an autobiographical novel, Borstal Boy, in 1958, he was considered a leading Irish writer of his generation, and dubbed by the New York Times as a “real writer.” (The theater adaptation of Borstal Boy received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the best play of the 1969-1970 season.) At the height of his career, Behan was heralded as a genius for capturing the quintessence of old Gaelic’s lyricism and spirit.

However, Behan’s public deterioration became hard to watch, though he persisted at drinking, believing the public wanted to see his staggering and witty, drunken view of things. Much of the press he received at the end embarrassed his family and friends, though he lifted his mug and exclaimed, with his still-genius ability for coining a line (which later became a maxim): “There’s no bad publicity except an obituary.” He got his at age forty-one in 1964, after suffering diabetic blackouts, renal and liver failure, and being locked down in a mental hospital in Dublin. Crowds lined the boulevards to watch his casket pass, dripping the first sip of their opened bottles into the street in his honor, recalling Behan’s motto for the resigned alcoholic: “I only drink on two occasions – when I’m thirsty and when I’m not.”

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


Fascinating Flickr Feed!

Did you know that Morbid Anatomy has a fascinating Flickr feed?  I didn’t either until C.M. Adams sent me a note to tell me about it.  They have folders for various delightfully morbid museums.   A morbid must-browse!

Morbid Anatomy Flickr Page

And here’s the delightful collection of Museum photographs. Time to update The Morbid Sightseer and plan some road trips!


Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 8, 2015

Today’s Assembled Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Famous anatomist Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) was the first to have the courage to criticize publicly the practice of limiting anatomical dissections to animals. In his monumental work De fabrica humani corporis, Vesalius describes the anatomy of the human body according to what he had observed at recently introduced public dissections at the “Theater of Anatomy.” He is considered the founder of the science of anatomy. The drawings by his illustrator Kalkar were more exact than anything that had been previously produced. The sketches also introduced a new aesthetic quality, showing dissected bodies in nearly life-like poses, standing in nature and surrounded by everyday items. According to available evidence, Andreas Vesalius was also the first person to assemble real bones in to an upright structure. He called this a skeleton after ho skeletos, which means ‘dried up’ in Greek. This was revolutionary, as no one had ever before dared to do anything similar with cadavers; he more or less pulled the dead out of their graves and put them back into society. A skeleton assembled by Vesalius can still be found at the Institute of Anatomy of the University of Basel.

Culled from: Body Worlds: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies


Morbid Sightseeing: Vesalius Edition

And if you’d like to see Vesalius’ skeleton, along with many other bits and pieces of anatomy, why not visit the Anatomisches Museum at the University of Basel, Switzerland?

Anatomisches Museum

Morbid Fact Du Jour for May 13, 2015

Today’s Innocent Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Personal tragedies can arise if unqualified people attempt to form their own Morals Squads, and this was emphasized in the tragic death of a retired shopkeeper in Flint, North Wales, in August, 1973. Two eight-year-old girls had been molested in the neighborhood and when the elderly shopkeeper was seen giving sweets to other little girls, a local vigilante squad made the grave error of thinking he was responsible for the sex attacks.

They beat him up, and the next day he was found dead in bed. Yet he was absolutely innocent of any sexual offense. The police were already interviewing another man in connection with the attacks on the little girls. “He was a kind but lonely man,” an observer said. “He was always glad to give sweets to the children.” That kindness cost him his life.

Culled from: Crimes and Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 18


Lesser Known Photos From The Hindenburg Disaster

Teelo sent me a link to some lesser-known photos of the Hindenburg disaster – including photos of the pristine airship high above the New York skyline, photos of the wreckage, and Nazi-draped coffins of the German dead.

Lesser Known Photos of the Hindenburg Disaster 

Incidentally, I was recently at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia and I was excited to see a few little pieces of the doomed dirigible.

Look!  A girder from the Hindenburg!

Look!  A piece of Hindenburg skin!

And also, a cup and saucer from the Hindenburg!

Those were exciting to see but there were even bigger morbid highlights at this museum.  I’ll share a full travelogue soon!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for May 7, 2015

Today’s Riotous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In the closing years of the 18th century, New York was home to only one medical school: Columbia College. Anatomical dissections were a central component of these classes, and medical training in general, but they were offensive, even seen as sacrilegious, to early New Yorkers. In the winter of 1788, the city was abuzz with newspaper stories about medical students robbing graves to get bodies for dissection, mostly from the potter’s field and the cemetery reserved for the city’s blacks, known as the Negroes Burial Ground. While some of those reports may have been based on rumor, they pointed to an underlying truth: with no regulated source of bodies for dissection, the medical students had taken matters into their hands and begun plundering the local graveyards.

In February, a group of the city’s free and enslaved blacks submitted a petition to the Common Council complaining of “young gentlemen in this city who call themselves students of the physic,” and who “under cover of the night, in the most wanton sallies of excess … dig up bodies of our deceased friends and relatives of your petitioners, carrying them away without respect for age or sex.” The petitioners didn’t ask for a stop to the grave-robbing, only that it be “conducted with the decency and propriety which the solemnity of such occasion requires.” But the petition was ignored; many in the city were willing to turn a blind eye to grave-robbing as long as those bodies were poor and black. However, on February 21, 1788, the Advertiser printed an announcement saying that a body of a white woman had been stolen from Trinity Churchyard. With that, popular resentment began to boil over.

There are conflicting accounts of how the riot began, but most place the start outside New York Hospital, where a group of boys playing in the grass saw something that upset them—and then incensed the city. In some tellings, the boys saw a severed arm hanging out of one of the hospital windows to dry. In other versions, one of the boys climbed a ladder and peered into the dissecting room, where a surgeon waved the severed arm at him. In yet other versions, the boy’s mother had recently died, and the surgeon told the boy the arm had belonged to his mother. In this version of the tale, recounted in Joel Tyler Headley’s 1873 The Great Riots of New York, the boy ran off to tell the news to his father, a mason, who went to the cemetery and exhumed his wife’s coffin. After finding it empty, he marched on the hospital with a group of angry worker friends still carrying their picks and shovels.

Colonel William Heth, writing in a letter to Governor of Virginia Edmund Randolph, described what happened when the men got to the hospital:

“The cry of barbarity and etc. was soon spread—the young sons of Galen [a poetic allusion to a physician in Ancient Greece] fled in every direction—one took refuge in a chimney—the mob raised—and the Hospital apartments were ransacked. In the Anatomy room, were found three fresh bodies—one, boiling in a kettle, and two others cutting up—with certain parts of the two sex’s hanging up in a most brutal position. The circumstances, together with the wanton and apparent inhuman complexion of the room, exasperated the Mob beyond all bounds, to the total destruction of every anatomy in the hospital.”

Although most of the doctors and medical students fled when the workmen appeared, a handful remained to try and guard the valuable collection of anatomical and pathological specimens, many imported. Their efforts were in vain, and the specimens were dragged out in the street and set ablaze. Bayley and his protégé, Wright Post, might have been added to the fire too if it hadn’t been for the arrival of Mayor James Duane and the sheriff, who ordered the doctors and medical students escorted to jail for their own protection.

Things quieted down after that, but the next morning, a mob ran around the city searching for doctors, medical students, and bodies. Hundreds descended on Columbia, despite the efforts of alumnus Alexander Hamilton, who pleaded with the crowd from the school’s front steps. He was shouted down and pushed past, and the crowed ran into the school, where they searched the anatomical theatre, museum, chapel, library, and even student’s bedrooms for signs of dissection. Finding no bodies (students had removed them all the previous night), the men searched several other doctors’ homes—including Bayley’s—in vain, then marched down Broadway to the jail. Governor George Clinton, Mayor Duane, and other prominent politicians urged them to disperse, but the crowd refused and swelled into an estimated 5,000. Armed with rocks, bricks, and timber torn from the nearby gallows, they finally attacked the jail, yelling “bring out your doctors!”

Inside, the medical students clambered over the broken glass and used the rocks and bricks thrown at them to fend off their attackers. One of the rioters climbed inside the jail through a ground floor window, only to be killed by a guard, which further incensed the rioters outside. Governor Clinton called out several rounds of militiamen, who attempted to calm the scene, although they had strict orders not to fire their muskets. That is, until  Secretary of Foreign Affairs John Jay (who would become the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court the following year) “got his scull almost crackd” with a rock, and the Revolutionary War hero General Baron von Steuben was hit with a brick. The militiamen could no longer be restrained, and they opened fire. In the tumult, at least three rioters and three members of the militia were killed, with the final death toll estimated as high as 20.

In the days that followed, local newspapers stopped running their ads for doctors and medical classes. People regularly went to the cemeteries to inspect the graves of their loved ones, and formed armed groups known as “Dead Guard Men” to protect the cemeteries. Several of the city’s most prominent physicians, including Bayley, published notices saying they had never robbed any cemetery in the city, nor asked anyone else to do so. The key there was “in the city”—the Negroes Burial Ground and potter’s field had been established outside the city. A grand jury investigated the riot, but there is no record of anyone being convicted. Nevertheless, the reputation of the medical profession in New York was tainted for years.

Culled from: Smithsonian

“Bring Out Your Doctors!”  Can you imagine?  That’s almost as good as “Bring Out Your Dead!”


Morbid Sightseeing: Autopsy Edition

If you should happen to find yourself in the Cooperstown, New York area this year, you might want to pay the Fenimore Art Museum a visit.  If you do, you’ll get to view the hand-written original autopsy notes detailing the death of Abraham Lincoln.  That’s worth a drive!  (Thanks to Howard for the link.)

Autopsy For A Nation: The Death Of Abraham Lincoln

Morbid Fact Du Jour for April 16, 2015

Today’s Brief and Brutal Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Prior to the implementation of nitrogen production plants, Germany relied on shipments of nitrate from South America for fertilizer and for weapon production. This led to one of the stranger moments of World War I when, on November 1, 1914, the first major sea battle of the war began – halfway around the world from Germany and France, off the coast of Chile. It was brief and brutal. In heavy seas, with darkness falling, a squadron of Germany’s most modern warships led by Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee engaged and sank several older, badly outgunned British warships. The battle continued by moonlight, with the Germans aiming at the fires that were burning on the British ships. The British lost two cruisers and sixteen hundred sailors and officers. The Germans did not lose a ship; their casuaties totaled two wounded. It was the Royal Navy’s first significant defeat since the days of Napoleon.

More important than the blow to British pride was the practical result: The Germans, during the critical early months of the war, cleared the British navy from west coast of South America. Germany, at least for the moment, controlled the shipment of nitrates from Chile. Spee’s success was so total, the German danger to British shipping so great, that insurers refused to extend coverage to British nitrate ships. The British depended on the Chile trade for their gunpowder and explosives too, and Spee’s imposition of what amounted to a German blockade started exerting a slow stranglehold on the United Kingdom’s war-making capability. As a U.S. military expert of the day said, “To strike at the source of the Allied nitrate supply was to paralyze the armies in France. The destruction of a nitrate carrier was a greater blow to the Allies than the loss of a battleship.”

It provided Germany a respite while the government raced to get its own nitrate plants started. But it did not last long. Within weeks the Allies dispatched a powerful squadron to hunt down Spee. Knowing that superior forces were en route and that any help from home would arrive too late, the admiral tried to make a dash back to Germany while he still could, leading his ships around Cape Horn, heading for the north Atlantic. On the way he needed fuel, which led to a raid the British coal bunkers in the Falklands. It was a move the British had foreseen. On December 8, 1914, the British opened fire and blew the Germans from the sea. Among the nearly two thousand dead were Spee and two of his sons.

Culled from: The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler

Here’s the somewhat sinister looking Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spree himself:


The Worst Of Germany

And speaking of old Deutschland, I finally finished my travelogue on the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Germany which I visited last July.  As I was putting the finishing touches on the travelogue, I stumbled across this photograph in a book:

This image depicts SA men publicly humiliating Hermann Weidemann, a local council member for the SPD (Social Democratic Party – i.e., enemies of the Nazis) who had been taken into “protective custody”, Hofgeismar, May 2, 1933.  Like many of his political co-horts, Hermann was sent to the Oranienburg Concentration Camp (which later evolved into the larger Sachsenhausen Camp) in 1933. Unlike many, he survived his incarceration – having endured over a decade (1933-1944) in unimaginable horror.  As someone who doubts I could survive even a week in such conditions, I am impressed by his strength and character – as well as the strength and character of every survivor of concentration camps. It’s to those resilient survivors that I dedicate this travelogue. “Enjoy.”

European DeSpair, Day Four, Part Two: Nineteen Thirty-Sick! 16

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 30, 2015

I apologize for the unexpected hiatus. I was away on a photography excursion and thought I’d have a reliable connection to send the MFDJ but I did not, and then life and depression conspired to rob me of all energy over the course of the following weak [sic]. I’m still very much a somnambulistic corpse but now that I’m back home at the Castle DeSpair, I’ll attempt to get the newsletter going again.

Today’s Trigger-Pulling Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Japanese army atrocities during the invasion of Nanking, China in December, 1937 shocked many of the Japanese correspondents who had followed the troops. This account is from the Japanese military correspondent Omata Yukio, who saw Chinese prisoners brought to Hsiakwan and lined up along the river:

“Those in the first row were beheaded, those in the second row were forced to dump the severed bodies into the river before they themselves were beheaded. The killing went on non-stop from morning until night, but they were only able to kill 2,000 persons in this way. The next day, tired of killing in this fashion, they set up machine guns. Two of them raked a cross-fire at the lined-up prisoners. Rat-tat-tat-tat. Triggers were pulled. The prisoners fled into the water, but no one was able to make it to the other shore.”

Culled from: The Rape Of Nanking


Lost Morbidity!

Atlas Obscura has a great series entitled “Places You Can No Longer Go”.  Howard sent me the link to a distinctly morbid one: The Tyburn Tree.  (I should do a Chicago series like this!)

Places You Can No Longer Go: The Tyburn Tree