Category Archives: Sundry

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 28, 2017

Today’s Deadly Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

August 17, 1987 was a bright warm sunny day.

In the Berkshire, England market town of Hungerford, Sue Godfrey packed a picnic and her two children into her car and headed for nearby Savernake Forest.

In another street in Hungerford, 27-year-old Michael Ryan also decided to have a day out in Savernake Forest.

But instead of a picnic, he packed his car with something deadly. It was his brand new Chinese copy of the AK 47 assault rifle.

For good measure, gun nut Ryan put in an American M1 carbine, and a fully-loaded Beretta .38 calibre semi-automatic pistol.

Michael the Maniac

It was the start of Britain’s worst gun massacre. By the end of the day 16 people were dead and several others were wounded by bullets as Ryan rampaged through the area shooting people at random.

Ryan arrived at the car park at the forest entrance at about midday, just as Sue Godfrey was putting her children into the car ready to leave.

He pointed his Beretta at her, marched her into the trees, and pumped 10 bullets into her back, killing her instantly.

Half an hour later at a service station between Savernake and Hungerford, the cashier watched a man driving a red Vauxhall Astra fill up with fuel, fill a petrol can, and then approach the pay window.

Ryan levelled a gun at the cashier and opened fire through the glass. She dived for cover and escaped death by a centimetre as a bullet smashed the plate glass and zipped through her hair.

Ryan then entered the shop and tried to shoot the cashier.

But the gun clicked empty. He turned on his heel and left.

The trembling cashier dialed 999. It was the first police knew about what was unfolding.

Ryan headed to the home he shared with his mother. He piled survival gear into his car, doused the house with petrol, and set it ablaze.

He got into his car but it would not start. Furious, Ryan pumped five bullets into it causing it to ignite.

Neighbour Roland Mason was in his back garden and came out to the front to see what the commotion was. Ryan riddled him with bullets.

Then he shot dead Mason’s wife Sheila. With a bandolier of ammo across his chest and wearing black combat clothes, Ryan walked down the road and shot pensioner Margery Jackson and 14-year-old Lesley Mildenhall, wounding them both severely.

Around the corner he met Ken Clements out with his three children. Ryan murdered him on the spot.

PC Roger Brereton was the first police officer on the scene. He swung his patrol car into South View but he had no chance. Ryan raked his car with machine gun fire killing him instantly.

Ryan was strafing houses on both sides of the street, stopping only for a moment to put fresh clips of ammunition in his guns.

Linda Chapman and her daughter Alison came into view. Ryan peppered their car wounding them both, but they managed to drive away.

Ryan then spotted retired Abdul Khan mowing his lawn and killed him with his AK 47.

Police firearms teams were speeding to Hungerford but they were too far away to stop his killing spree.

Alan Lepetit was on his way home for lunch when he was shot and wounded, but he survived.

An ambulance arrived and was turning into South View when Ryan shot it up. Firefighters coming to tackle the blaze at Ryan’s own home ducked as their fire engine took several hits.

The fire had now engulfed three more houses.

George White was giving a lift home to Ivor Jackson, who didn’t know Ryan had already murdered his wife Margery.

As they approached the scenes of chaos Ryan shot White dead through the windscreen. His car went out of control and rammed the back of PC Brereton’s car with the officer dead behind the steering wheel.

At that moment Ryan’s mum Dorothy came home from shopping. As she surveyed the carnage, the son she doted on shot her dead.

Francis Butler was walking his dog in a park when Ryan shot him dead. Then he shot at Andrew Cadle but missed. He tried again, but the M1 jammed and Ryan threw it away in disgust.

But he still had the AK and the pistol. Minicab driver Marcus Barnard was shot in the head and died.

Then he opened fire on John Storms, Douglas Wainwright, Eric Vardy and Sandra Hill.

Wainwright and Vardy were killed outright. Storms and Sandra Hill were badly wounded with multiple gun shot wounds.

The body of Douglas Wainwright.

Sandra Hill was rescued by an off-duty ambulance man and a soldier who carried her to a doctors’ surgery, but she died before she got there.

Ryan had now reached Priory Road. He smashed open the front door of number 60 and shot dead 66-year-old Victor Gibbs. The pensioner tried to save his wife Myrtle who was in a wheel chair, but the bullets ripped through his body and killed her too.

Victor Gibbs who died trying to protect his wife.

With police using loudhailers to warn residents to stay indoors, Ian Playle encountered a police roadblock, but he knew another way to his home in Priory Road.

When he got there, he died in a hail of shots.

George Noon was standing outside 109 Priory Road when he saw Ryan standing outside the John of Gaunt school.

Ryan saw him and killed him with two shots then entered the empty school.

By now armed police had the area surrounded.

Sergeant Paul Brightwell shouted to Ryan from behind a wall. They had a conversation. Ryan sounded calm and lucid, but kept asking the officer how his mother was.

Police marksmen could not see Ryan to get a clear shot at him. He was sitting on the floor below a window.

Suddenly Ryan threw his AK47 out of the window. Then there was a single shot from the Beretta. Ryan had taken his last life – his own.

Culled from: The Mirror


Morbid Quote Du Jour!

“Why not seek death of one’s own free will, asserting one’s right to choose, giving it some significance instead of passively letting it happen? Why not? In short, because one thinks – and I speak for myself – that there is plenty of time. So the day of natural death comes, and we have missed the great opportunity of performing, for a specific reason, the most important act in life.”

– Cesare Pavese (1908-1950)

Morbid Fact Du Jour For October 25, 2016

Today’s Scalded Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

During the 1930s, four persons died in Yellowstone hot springs, and numerous others were injured.  Little Joy Myrlene Hanny, age three, of Firth, Idaho, was traveling with a group of seventeen persons who stopped at Biscuit Basin on July 13, 1932. At 1:45 p.m., while the group watched Jewel Geyser spouting its beautiful fountain twenty-five feet high, Joy was momentarily unsupervised. When the geyser erupted, Joy and her mother jumped back in surprise. The mother heard her child scream, looked down and saw the little girl immersed all the way up to her neck. She had stepped backwards into a small nearby hot spring, and was scalded “very severely.”

Although party members quickly pulled her out, Joy Hanny died the following night at the Mammoth hospital. The pool was measured at 150 degrees Fahrenheit, not hot enough to cause instant death but hot enough to cause excruciating pain for thirty hours prior to death. The spring into which Joy Hanny fell was described as being three feet long, two feet wide, and about two feet deep. It was located about thirty feet south of Jewel Geyser, and may have been present Shell Spring.

Jewel Geyser: Mesmerizing Indeed!

Culled from: Death In Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park


Real-Time Disaster

Here’s a fascinating real-time animation of the sinking of the Titanic. If you don’t have the patience to wait it out (as I didn’t), you can fast forward towards the end and listen to the screams of the invisible minions plunging to their doom!  (I sound entirely too enthusiastic about it, don’t I?)
Titanic sinks in REAL TIME - 2 HOURS 40 MINUTES
The Slow Farewell

Morbid Fact Du Jour for October 5, 2016

Today’s Swindled Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Johann Otto Hoch or John Schmidt as was his most accepted birth name, was born in 1863 in Birgen, Russia or in 1855 in Horrweiler, Germany.  He had numerous aliases although John Hock was the one he maintained through his execution.

Johann Hoch – Ladykiller

He purportedly came to the United States in 1883 with his first wife (that we know of) Annie.  What followed was almost 25 years of bigamy and murder.  He became infamous for poisoning his wives shortly after taking their money and earned the nickname “The Bluebeard Murderer” after the French folktale published in 1697 in which “Bluebeard” murders his wives.

He wed over 50 wives illegally and bilked them out of different amounts of money but murdered anywhere from a confirmed 15 to upwards of 30.

He was finally tried and convicted of only one murder and that was his second to last wife, Maria Walcker-Hoch who lived with him at 6430 Union Avenue.   He supposedly married Maria Walcker on December 10, 1904 in Chicago and almost exactly one month later on January 11, 1905 she was dead of Nephritis or inflammation of the kidneys.  Within five days he married Maria’s sister, Emilie Fischer from Joliet.  Three days later Hoch fled with $750 and Emilie reported him to the police as a swindler and bigamist.  The police became suspicious and had Emilie’s sister exhumed and they found 7.6 grams of arsenic in the body.

Hoch was indicted for bigamy and an arrest warrant was issued.  Hoch had made the mistake of asking his landlady, a Mrs. Kimberly, in New York to marry him within 24 hours of meeting her.  She contacted the police suspecting him to be Hoch and he was subsequently arrested and extradited back to Chicago where he was charged with the murder of Maria Walcker-Hoch.

The trial started April 19, 1905 and Hoch was convicted of murder on May 20th.  His original death by hanging was scheduled for June 23, 1905. Hoch had avoided the hanging a number of times while in custody.  Governor Deneen granted him a reprieve until July 28th.  Within an hour of his hanging he was given another reprieve until August 25th.  Before the August 25th date, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear his case but on December 15th handed down its verdict which supported the lower court’s ruling.  The Supreme Court set his date of Execution to be February 23, 1906.

On the date of Hoch’s execution his attorney, Frank D. Comerford, attempted to make an appeal to the Federal Court on the basis that Hoch’s 14th Amendment rights had been violated because his wife was purportedly coerced by authorities to testify against her husband and commit perjury  (Of course she and 49 others were not his legal wives) Judge Landis denied his petition for a writ.

One day before his execution Hoch was moved to the Death Chamber of the County Courthouse and Jail (Now Courthouse Place Office Building) where he woke up and ate his breakfast sparingly.  He received several visitors on that day.  His first visitor at 9am was his spiritual advisor F.W. Schlechte.  He met the Reverend Schlechte with a military salute and they studied the Bible for about an hour.  His next visitor was a very strange young man who introduced himself as a hypnotist and medical student.  The “hypnotist” had slipped past the guards and told Hoch, “Look into my eyes”.  Hoch told the guards that he was a “crank” and only managed to make him tired.  The crank was removed.  His last visitor was his latest wife Emilie Fishcer-Hoch.  He bid her a fond farewell at about 6pm and retired with a cigar which he smoked until it burned his fingers.  He then reclined in his bed but according to guards did not sleep.

He was supposed to die sometime between 10am and 11am on the 23rd but Jailer Whitman postponed it to as long as 2pm as they waited for Judge Landis’s decision.

Upon hearing that Landis had refused a writ of habeas corpus the death warrant was read to Hoch who stepped up to the gallows at 1:32pm.  His final words were, “Oh Lord, our Father, forgive them all.  They know not what they do.  They hang an innocent man.  I am innocent.  Goodbye.”

The trap was dropped and Hoch died of a broken neck almost instantly.  The body was lowered and handed off to undertaker Ernst Matz.  (The Matz Funeral Home is still in operation)

Meanwhile it seemed that no cemetery wanted to allow a murderer to be buried on their property.  Even Waldheim that accepted a number of the anarchists from the Haymarket riots (Spies, Parsons, Engel and Fischer) refused.  In fact officials from Waldheim stated that the burials of the anarchists had brought such unpleasant notoriety to their cemetery that under no circumstances would they ever allow another body of a person executed for a crime to be buried in their cemetery.

Shortly before noon on February 24, 1906 Hoch’s body was interred in the potter’s field of the Dunning Asylum and Poor Farm in an unmarked grave.

Culled from: Chicago Now


Northern Michigan Asylum Attendant Floor Nurse Duties – 1886

The following is a list of the attendant floor duties for the Northern Michigan Asylum (aka Traverse City Asylum) in 1886 as culled from the book Angels in the Architecture.

1. Daily sweep and mop the floor of your ward; dust the patients’ furniture and window sills.

2. Maintain an even temperature in your ward by bringing in a scuttle of coal for the day’s business.

3. Light is important to observe the patients’ condition. Therefore, each day fill kerosene lamps, clean chimneys, and trim wicks. Wash the windows once a week.

4. The nurse’s notes are important in aiding the physician’s work. Make your pens carefully; you may whittle nibs to your tastes.

5. Each nurse on day duty will report every day at 7 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m.except on the Sabbath, on which day you will be off from noon to 2 p.m.

6. Graduate nurses in good standing with the Director of Nurses will be given an evening off for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if you go regularly to church.

7. Each nurse should lay aside from each payday a goodly sum of her earnings for her benefits during her declining years so that she will not become a burden. For example, if you earn $30 a month, you should set aside $15.

8. Any nurse who smokes, uses liquor in any form, gets her hair done at a beauty salon, or frequents dance halls will give the Director of Nurses good reason to suspect her worth, intentions and integrity.

9. The nurse who performs her labors and serves her patients and doctors without fault for five years will be given an increase of five cents a day, providing there are no hospital debts outstanding.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for October 3, 2016

Today’s Drifting Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

William Cook, Jr. was born into abject poverty in Joplin, Missouri in 1929. When his mother died, his father more or less abandoned the children in a disused mine shaft. Thereafter, Billy Cook was shuffled back and forth between relatives, foster families and institutions. He was unwanted not only because of a right eye that, due to a botched operation, never closed, but also because of his total lack of conscience or emotion. Even his own siblings wanted little to do with him.

Cook predictably grew into a drifter and petty criminal, saying once that he planned to “live by the gun and roam.” He got a tattoo of the phrase Hard Luck on his knuckles, and on December 28, 1950, he kidnapped a man named Lee Archer who’d picked him up hitchhiking in Texas. Archer was locked in the trunk of his own car, but managed to pry the trunk open and escape. Cook was unfamiliar with the car’s transmission and ended up in a ditch, where he was “rescued” by the Mosser family. Carl Mosser, his wife Thelma, and their three children–Ronald, 7, Gary, 5, and Pamela Sue, 3– were travelling from Illinois to visit Carl’s brother in New Mexico when they stopped to help a seemingly stranded motorist. Cook promptly took the family hostage and forced Carl Mosser to embark on an aimless, three-day drive across the southwest and midwest. At one point, when they stopped for gas, Mosser tried to tried to save his and his family’s lives by getting into a struggle with Cook, trying to get his gun.

The gas station owner misunderstood the situation and thought it was a run of the mill brawl. He drew his own gun and ordered the two men to leave immediately, which they did. The shaken owner then called the police, but it was too late. Cook shot all five Mossers and their dog, dumping the bodies down a flooded mine in Joplin. Then he headed west, and fetched up in the desert town of Blythe, California. There he abducted a deputy sheriff and forced him to drive pointlessly around the desert, before ordering him to stop, get out of the car and lie facedown by the side of the road. He seemed about to shoot the man, but inexplicably left him alive, hitching a ride with 32-year-old Robert Dewey, whom he murdered in Arizona before wandering into Mexico.

The ill-fated Mosser family

In Mexico, Cook kidnapped two American prospectors, who found that they could not slip away from their captor in the night as they’d hoped because his right eye remained open and they could never tell if he was awake or asleep. By now Cook’s story and his description were all over the news, including coverage in Life magazine. A police chief in the small town of Santa Rosalia, Mexico, recognized Cook in a café and arrested him without incident, freeing the two captives. Cook was brought back to the US to face trial. He was tried before a judge, sans jury, on charges of killing the Mossers, and though he could have received the death penalty, he was instead given a sentence of 300 years, theoretically meaning he was eligible for parole. The judge was mercillesly criticized in the press, and prosecutors vowed to seek the death penalty when Cook was tried for the Dewey murder.

Sure enough, Cook was found guilty and sentenced to die in California’s gas chamber. On December 12, 1952, the young man known as Cockeyed Cook elbowed a prison chaplain hard in the ribs as a final act of defiance before being seated inside the death chamber. He inhaled the cyanide gas readily and was soon pronounced dead. It was noted that as he succumbed to the gas, Cook’s heartbeat never accelerated like those of other prisoners being gassed.

William Cook

Culled from: Murderpedia
Submitted by Aimee

Have you ever read the short story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” by Flannery O’Connor?  I think it’s inspired by this murder.


Death In A Nutshell

Aimee reminded me about the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death and sent me a link to an excellent website that discusses them, so I thought I’d feature them again even though I’d discussed them previously.  The Nutshell Studies are crime models that were created by Frances Glessner Lee in the 1940s as a teaching tool for police homicide investigation.  This website does a great job in displaying the beautiful doll house designs and explaining the clues they display.

Death In Diorama

Morbid Fact Du Jour for September 28, 2016

Today’s Revolutionary Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

When Shah Muhammed Reza Pahlavi became monarch of Iran in 1941, the 21-year-old ruler had a reputation as an airhead more interested in the ladies than government. In fact, the young Shah was little more than a pawn of the British. Perceptions changed in 1949 when a would be assassin fired point blank at the Shah. As his so-called bodyguards cowered, the Shah himself lunged at the gunman. A bullet grazed his face. Suddenly, the Shah was a hero.

Recovering from the Assassination Attempt

He still had no real political power, however. In 1951 a veteran maverick politician named Mohammed Mossadegh rose to become Prime Minister on an anti-British platform. His first move was to declare that all Iranian oil fields were now nationalized and that the British must go. It was a strong statement of Iranian independence – but it threw the country’s economy into chaos and seriously challenged the authority of the monarchy.

For help, the Shah turned to his American friends in the CIA. In 1953, a CIA-orchestrated coup toppled Mossadegh. His power restored, the Shah became an absolute dictator. He said, “We will avoid all costs the experience of some democratic countries where the people give the governments the opposition they deserve!”  Savak, the Shah’s secret police, spied on, arrested, and tortured thousands. In the early ’60s the Shah embarked on the “White Revolution,” an aggressive program of modernization and westernization.  Not everyone supported the “Revolution”. A little-known cleric, Ruhollah Khomeini, rose from obscurity to lead Shi’ite Muslims in anti-Shah riots. In 1963, the Shah booted Khomeini into exile.

Khomeini: best known for inspiring the immortal lyric: “Americans are mostly cool, mostly cool, but now we’re really starting to fry-atollah!  And I know if you were here, if you were here, we’d hit you in the face with a pie-atollah!”  (Don’t believe me?  Listen.)

In 1971, the Shah staged a lavish festival celebrating 2,500 years of the monarchy. The huge expense of the event stirred further internal dissent. The Shah was always paranoid. Now he had good reason; even his CIA buddies described him as a brilliant but dangerous megalomaniac who was likely to pursue his own aims in disregard of U.S. interests.

By 1978, not even Savak could stop a full-blown revolution. Protesters wore masks to hide from the sadistic secret police. Khomeini called the shots from abroad. On September 7, 1978, the Shah’s troops opened fire on demonstrators, killing between 300 and 1,000. With the massacre, the revolution was effectively lost – for the Shah. On January 16, 1979 the Shah left his country. Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran and took power, turning it into a fundamentalist Islamic state.  Iran’s last Shah died of cancer in exile on July 27, 1980.

When he was King.

Culled from: The Big Book of Bad


Morbid Documentary Du Jour!

Louise wrote me quite a long time ago (yes, I do sometimes get embarrassingly backlogged in my e-mails) about a then-recent documentary that sounds like a must-see. As Ryan Adams sang (proof), Thank You, Louise!

Some of your readers might like the PBS documentary “Death and the Civil War”. It’s not about the war, it’s about death and how it was handled– both culturally/emotionally and in the physical treatment of corpses.

If nothing else, you can ponder the contrast between the obligatory gloppy letters sent by comrades or commanding officers, and what must have been the realities of a soldier’s death. (“Dear Madam: Your son died screaming in pain, covered in blood and shit.”)

Morbid Fact Du Jour For September 17, 2016

Today’s Mediocre Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Patrick Henry Sherrill was a mediocre postman. After 16 months as a part-time letter carrier for the post office in Edmond, Okla. (pop. 47,000), Sherrill was still receiving complaints from his managers about misdirected mail and tardy performance. Last week, after two supervisors reprimanded him, Sherrill told a local steward for the American Postal Workers Union that he was being mistreated. “I gotta get out of here,” he said.

Instead, the angry mailman returned the next morning with a vengeance. At about 7 a.m. he strode into the post office in his blue uniform, toting three pistols and ammunition in a mailbag slung over his shoulder. Without a word, he gunned down Richard Esser, one of the supervisors who had criticized him, and fellow Postman Mike Rockne, grandson of the famous Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne.

The gunman then chased a group of fleeing employees through a side exit, shooting one man, who later died in the parking lot. Bolting several doors, he sought out workers cowering under tables and in cubicles, killing three people in one work station, five in another. Debbie Smith was sorting letters when the shooting started. “I froze. I couldn’t run. He came to shoot the clerks in the box section next to mine. I just knew I was next.” But as she hid, Sherrill passed her by and opened fire on the next section. As Smith ran for the front door, she said, “I could hear all the clerks screaming as they were shot.” Another employee escaped by locking herself in a vault where stamps are kept. Two other survivors hid in a broom closet.

Minutes after the shooting started, police arrived outside the post office. For 45 minutes they tried to communicate with the gunman by telephone and bullhorn. There was no response. When an Edmond SWAT team finally stormed the building at 8:30 a.m., they found Sherrill’s body amid the carnage. After killing 14 people and wounding six, he had pumped a bullet into his own head.

Like so many other mass murderers, serial killers and assassins, Sherrill, 44, was described as a quiet loner. He was unmarried and apparently had no close friends, although he was a ham-radio nut who made calls as far away as Australia. After his mother’s death in 1978, he continued to live in the modest white frame house they had shared in Oklahoma City, 13 miles south of Edmond. An ex-Marine and expert marksman, he served in the Air National Guard as a handgun instructor; two of the weapons he used for his rampage were taken from the National Guard armory.

Over the years Sherrill had worked as an electronics technician and radio- store salesman, but he had never held a job for very long. Around the neighborhood he was known as a Peeping Tom. “Everybody hated him,” says Neighbor Gerald Cash. “He’d prowl around at night, looking in people’s windows.” Children taunted him with nicknames like “Crazy Pat,” and Sherrill would often chase them in a rage.

Culled from: Time
Generously suggested by: Jeff Perkins

Jeff pointed out that August 20th of this year was the 30th anniversary of the shooting and sent me some photos documenting the carnage and the memorial that has been put on the site.

Patrick Sherrill: Bad Postman!

Detective carrying weapons out of Pat Sherrill’s house.

Where the bodies were found.

Sherill’s grave.

The Very Strange Memorial

Urban Legend Du Jour: Playground Edition

Papa Thorn sent me an interesting urban legend that I thought I’d share.

This Local Playground Near a Cemetery Harbors a Dark and Disturbing Secret

Morbid Fact Du Jour For September 16, 2016

Today’s Rumbling Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

It occurred to me that although I’d shared my review of the book The White Cascade I had neglected to share the full story of the Wellington Train Disaster. This is an excellent summary of that dreadful night in the Cascades. – DeSpair

During the early morning hours of March 1, 1910,  an avalanche roared down Windy Mountain near Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains, taking with it two Great Northern trains and 96 victims. This was one of the worst train disasters in U.S. history and the worst natural disaster (with the greatest number of fatalities) in Washington.

On February 23, 1910, after a snow delay at the east Cascade Mountains town of Leavenworth, two Great Northern trains, the Spokane Local passenger train No. 25 and Fast Mail train No. 27, proceeded westbound towards Puget Sound. There were five or six steam and electric engines, 15 boxcars, passenger cars, and sleepers.

The trains had passed through the Cascade Tunnel from the east to the west side of the mountains, when snow and avalanches forced them to stop near Wellington, in King County. Wellington was a small town populated almost entirely with Great Northern railway employees.

The train stopped under the peak of Windy Mountain, above Tye Creek. Heavy snowfall and avalanches made it impossible for train crews to clear the tracks. For six days, the trains waited in blizzard and avalanche conditions. On February 26, the telegraph lines went down and communication with the outside was lost. On the last day of February, the weather turned to rain with thunder and lightning. Thunder shook the snow-laden Cascade Mountains alive with avalanches. Then it happened.

On March 1, some time after midnight, Charles Andrews, a Great Northern employee, was walking towards the warmth of one of the Wellington’s bunkhouses when he heard a rumble. He turned toward the sound. In 1960, he described what he witnessed:

“White Death moving down the mountainside above the trains. Relentlessly it advanced, exploding, roaring, rumbling, grinding, snapping — a crescendo of sound that might have been the crashing of ten thousand freight trains. It descended to the ledge where the side tracks lay, picked up cars and equipment as though they were so many snow-draped toys, and swallowing them up, disappeared like a white, broad monster into the ravine below” (Roe, 88).

One of the 23 survivors interviewed three days after the Wellington train disaster stated:

“There was an electric storm raging at the time of the avalanche. Lighting flashes were vivid and a tearing wind was howling down the canyon. Suddenly there was a dull roar, and the sleeping men and women felt the passenger coaches lifted and borne along. When the coaches reached the steep declivity they were rolled nearly 1,000 feet and buried under 40 feet of snow” (Roe, 87).

A surviving train conductor sleeping in one of the mail train cars was thrown from the roof to the floor of the car several times as the train rolled down the slope before it disintegrated when the train slammed against a large tree.

Charles Andrews would not make it to the bunkhouse warmth for many hours. Along with other Wellington residents, Andrews rushed to the crushed trains that lay 150 feet below the railroad tracks. During the next few hours they dug out 23 survivors, many with injuries.

Some of the train wreckage after the avalanche.

In the days that followed, news of the tragedy that reached the rest of the country was inaccurate. On March 1 there were reports of “30 feared dead.” On March 2 there were “15 bodies … recovered … [and] 69 persons missing. One hundred and fifty men, mostly volunteers, are working to uncover the dead.” On March 3 a headline stated, “VICTIMS NOW REACH 118.”

The injured were sent to Wenatchee. The bodies of the dead were transported on toboggans down the west side of the Cascades to trains that carried them to Everett and Seattle. Ninety-six people died in the avalanche, including 35 passengers, 58 railroad employees sleeping on the trains, and three railroad employees sleeping in cabins enveloped by the avalanche.

Slip-slidin’ the bodies away.

The immediate cause of the avalanche was the rain and thunder. But, conditions had been set by the clear cutting of timber and by forest fires caused by steam locomotive sparks, which opened up the slopes above the tracks and created an ideal environment for slides to occur.

It took the Great Northern three weeks to repair the tracks before trains started running again over Stevens Pass. Because the name Wellington became associated with the disaster, the little town was renamed Tye. By 1913, to protect the trains from snow slides, the Great Northern had constructed snow-sheds over the nine miles of tracks between Scenic and Tye.

In 1929, a new tunnel was built, making the old grade obsolete. This 1929 tunnel is still today (2003) used by the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad.

The old grade is now the Iron Goat Trail, a hiking trail through the forest and past various examples of railroad archeology. The name Iron Goat was taken from the Great Northern Railway corporate symbol — a mountain goat standing on a rock. “Iron goat” was applied to Great Northern locomotives climbing mountainous rail line in the Rockies or Cascade mountains.

Culled from: HistoryLink.Org


Arcane Excerpts: Ordinary Drunken Edition

I love reading old medical texts, as much for the social criticisms found within them as for the shaky science.  I was just reading this discussion of Alcoholism from the 1924 opusHealth Knowledge, Vol II by the Domestic Health Society and I just had to share.

Symptoms. – Ordinary drunkenness is too common to need much description. First the person is brightened, his spirits rise, his conversation is witty, and the blood runs joyously through his veins. As he becomes really drunk a phase of depression-excitement comes on; one person becomes angry, resents fancied affronts, and tries to pick quarrels, another becomes melancholy, a third grows maudlin [Guilty as charged – DeSpair], and weepingly recounts the secrets of his family to perfect strangers, while a fourth type assumes a regal manner and gives away his money and valuables or makes promises which he cannot possibly fulfill, and all lose the controlling power of reason. A third stage is that in which all feeling of shame is lost, and there is dullness of sense and loss of power, the drunken man or woman reeling or falling and rising with difficulty. The fourth stage is popularly known as “dead drunk”; the person lies in a state of insensibility, with stertorous breathing and dilated pupils.

Mania a potu is the form which often affects neurotic young men or women with a family taint of insanity. [Oh wait, maybe this is me? – DeSpair] A state of excitement, fury, or violence, sometimes with attempts at murder or suicide, comes on after, it may be, only a few glasses of spirits, and lasts some hours or days, without any tendency to dullness or sleep. [Sounds familiar. – DeSpair]

Delirium tremens is the most serious form, and is popularly known as “blue-devils,” [Duke’s mascot is named after alcoholism?  Makes sense! – DeSpair] because of the hallucinations accompanying the state. It follows on a long course of drinking which had ended in a bout, or may be brought on by an injury or business worries in a heavy drinker; or even, it is said, by the sudden stoppage of excessive drinking, but it does not follow a single “spree.” Tremors all over the body, but especially in the hands and tongue, are the first sign of its onset, then complete loss of appetite, sickness, rise of temperature, weak pulse, and constant purposeless movements. Finally hallucinations come on; spiders, flies, mice, rats are described on  the clothes or floor, or disgusting objects like snakes, toads, and demons [“We’re just as God made us, sir!” – Snakes, Toads and Demons], or the bystanders are taken for policemen, hangmen, etc., and the furniture distorts itself into weird shapes. Lastly, delirium of a terrified or raging type comes on, in which there is more or less danger of suicide or homicide. Pneumonia of a serious type is apt to ensue , and if these two be combined the case is usually fatal. About ten per cent of hospital cases die owing to exposure before admission, but in private practice most cases recover.

Causes.– The alcoholic habit is of two kinds: vicious, in which people, often in the lower strata of society, drink because their associates do, because they have no sense of their duties to society and love the stimulating and soddening effect of drink, though they have no absolute craving therefor, or because they are driven by their misery and worries to find the only relief from their woes in drunkenness; and diseased, in which persons often of fine mental and moral feeling, are driven, sometimes irresistibly, always against their wish, to satisfy a craving for the effects of alcohol, regardless of consequences. Dipsomania is the name given to the latter, and it has been ascribed in different cases to (1) a weak mental heredity with family history of insanity, epilepsy, hemophilia, etc.; (2) the fact that father or mother was under the influence of alcohol at the time of conception; (3) long-continued vicious drinking, causing almost a necessity for alcohol in the system; (4) injuries to the head or sunstroke; (5) the use of alcohol when the system was in a weak state; (6) its use for the first time at one of the critical periods of life, as at puberty or the menopause.

Symptoms. – Mental symptoms. One symptom occurs only in the dipsomaniac form of alcoholism, which is that though the person is perfectly aware that his habit is shortening his life, blunting his finer feelings and impulses, and even leading him to ruin and crime, and though he struggles sincerely and vehemently against it, the craving repeatedly overpowers him. This may occur constantly, or the victim may have long intervals with no desire for drink, till at definite periods the craving comes, either with some warning of headache and malaise, or absolutely suddenly, and dipsomaniac rushes, as if possessed, to the nearest bar or saloon to pour alcohol down his throat. All feeling, all morality for the time being perishes, and no crime is too heinous to stand between the slave and his master. Among chronic drinkers the first symptoms are mental. There may be no drunkenness; in fact, the most vicious alcoholics are those who are constantly having “drams” or “nips” and “cocktails” the whole day and every day, with seldom a real “bout” or “spree”. The drinker becomes lazy, dyspeptic, untrustworthy, forgetful. Later he grows tremulous, suspicious, bad-tempered, and develops a special dislike for those who were before nearest and dearest, and, as the case advances still farther, develops fixed delusions that his friends are attempting to rob, poison, or otherwise injure him. Most of the revolting murders of wife and children, followed by suicide, are committed by chronic drinkers who are passing into delirium tremens. Or, if the mental balance be more stable, the result is a gradual loss of all intellectual power, till the tippler, between forty and fifty, becomes weak, silly, and demented, entering on his dotage soon after fifty.

Treatment.-The first thing to do is to give up alcohol entirely. For the person with a dipsomaniac craving or vital organs damaged by excess there is no question of moderate drinking. The treatment of symptoms such as vomiting, dyspepsia, paralysis, is given under these heads. All sorts of drink-cures are advertised and sold; some contain drugs, such as bromides and caffeine, which tide the drinker over the depression caused by an attempt to shake off his habit; others, such as hypnotism, Christian science, religious revivals, active crusades against drunkenness in others, rouse up in unstable persons dormant powers of resistance; but, though a few veritable cures take place when the habit is once broken, in general, relapses occur, and if drugs be injudiciously given more pernicious drug-habits may be learned in addition. The idea that some drug may be given without the drunkard’s knowledge, to cure him, is unlikely.

As a substitute for alcohol, the following may be taken:

Rx Caffeine Citrate …….. one-grain capsules
DOSE: One capsule every three hours during the day. The capsules are to be stopped each night, two hours before retiring.

Doesn’t that sound like a great substitute for alcohol?

Morbid Fact Du Jour for September 12, 2016

Today’s Schlepped Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

As promised, here’s part two of the story of genius violinist and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome victim Niccolò Paganini. (Read Part One here.)

Paganini’s afterlife was no less doomed than his life. On his deathbed in Nice, he refused communion and confession, believing they would hasten his demise. He died anyway, and because he’d skipped the sacraments, during Eastertide no less, the Catholic Church refused him proper burial. As a result his family had to schlep his body around ignominiously for months. It first lay for sixty days in a friend’s bed, before health officials stepped in. His corpse was next transferred to an abandoned leper’s hospital, where a crooked caretaker charged tourists money to gawk at it, then to a cement tub in an olive oil processing plant. Family finally smuggled his bones back into Genoa in secret and interred him in a private garden, where he lay for thirty-six years, until the church finally forgave him and permitted burial.

Paganini’s grave at Cemetery Della Villetta, Parma, Italy

Culled from: The Violinist’s Thumb


Spectral Legend Du Jour!

Halloween is coming soon – so why not indulge in a ghost story?

A White-Clad Baroness Seeks Revenge

Rising in ruined majesty beside the river Danube, the Bavarian fortress of Wolfsegg never fell to enemies in a history reaching back almost a thousand years. But while its walls withstood siege and strife without, they harbored violence within – mayhem said to echo still in the ghostly form of a woman who died there centuries ago.

Built in 1028, the fortress belonged successively to several quarrelsome Bavarian nobles, most of them involved in the region’s incessant dynastic bickering. A Renaissance tale of triple murder surrounds one such aristocratic warrior clan, the Laabers of Wolfsegg. The story tells that in the fourteenth century, a Laaber baron married a lovely woman who became the victim of a nefarious plot. Wanting to take over the valuable estate, the baron’s greedy relatives contrived to put the bride in a compromising situation with a man not her husband. The baron was then told that his wife was having an illicit rendezvous. He appeared at the castle to discover what looked to be a tryst, whereupon he killed his wife and her supposed lover. He, in turn, was murdered by the relatives, who claimed theirs was an act of justice.

Along with the feudal property, the relatives may have also inherited a curse; for some say the slain baroness, dressed in luminous white robes, still walks the halls and stairways of Wolfsegg. Residents of the castle have reported seeing glowing apparitions and hearing phantom footsteps and feeling inexplicable cold drafts.

Skeptics say the luminescences at Wolfsegg are mere will-o’-the-wisps, gaseous exudations from a bat-filled, dripstone cavern underlying the castle. But others believe that the White Lady returns to the site of her betrayal, seeking vindication of her name and justice for her traitorous kin.

Culled from: Mysteries of the Unknown: Hauntings

Morbid Fact Du Jour for September 5, 2016

Today’s Liquid Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Dr. John Coe, medical examiner of Hennepin County, Minneapolis, discovered that as the red blood cells break down in the post-mortem process which produces livor mortis, they release quantities of potassium. This diffuses into the vitreous humor, the fluid that fills the inside of the eyeball, at a slow but consistent rate. Taking a sample of the vitreous humor form the deceased’s eyeballs and then determining the percentage of potassium present in the liquid may provide the most accurate estimate yet discovered of the time of death.

Culled from: Hidden Evidence: Forty True Crimes and How Forensic Science Helped Solve Them


Weegee Du Jour!

Weegee was the pseudonym of Arthur Fellig (June 12, 1899 – December 26, 1968), a photographer and photojournalist, known for his stark black and white street photography. Weegee worked in Manhattan, New York City’s Lower East Side as a press photographer during the 1930s and ’40s, and he developed his signature style by following the city’s emergency services and documenting their activity. Much of his work depicted unflinchingly realistic scenes of urban life, crime, injury and death.

Here’s one of my all-time favorite Weegee photos, taken from the book Weegee’s New York: Photographs, 1935-1960. What do you suppose that woman is thinking?