Category Archives: Sundry

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?

Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 30, 2016

Today’s Devil-Possessed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

An Oklahoma woman killed her 33-year-old daughter by forcing a crucifix down her throat, telling cops she believed her offspring had been possessed by the devil.

Geneva Gomez’s ex-boyfriend Francisco Merlos discovered her body on Saturday when he went to her mother’s Oklahoma City home to check on her,according to The Oklahoman.

“Juanita stated she punched her daughter repeatedly and forced a crucifix and religious medallion down her throat until blood came out of her daughter’s mouth,” according to court documents obtained by the newspaper. “Juanita saw her daughter die and then placed the body in the shape of a cross.”

Merlos told the newspaper that Geneva had visited him two days before and taken her belongings, at the request of her mother. Juanita Gomez wanted her daughter to dump Merlos, and had accused him of being a thief. He denies the allegation.

Merlos said when he arrived on Saturday, Juanita Gomez grabbed him, and he “hugged her and said I was sorry for what happened on Thursday,” the paper reported.

Merlos said when he arrived on Saturday, Juanita Gomez grabbed him, and he “hugged her and said I was sorry for what happened on Thursday,” the paper reported.

She is facing a first-degree murder charge and is being held without bond.

Geneva had a close relationship with her mother, Merlos said.

“Today we were going to go to the courthouse and get married,” he told the paper as he started crying.

Juanita Gomez, suffering from a case of what would have been called in the olde days, “Religious Insanity”…

And her Satan-afflicted daughter Geneva

Culled from: NY Daily News
Generously suggested by: Katie

Well, I don’t know about you, but Juanita gets my vote for Most Creative Homicide Method of the Year!


Legend Du Jour!

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

The episode began late one summer afternoon in the formally patterned garden of a Kentish country house. Most of the family was away visiting a neighbor, but a daughter of the house lingered there, walking on graveled paths among the sculptured boxwood, past fragrant flower beds carefully planted to make ornamental carpets on the lawn. She walked slowly because of the heat and because her movement was restricted by the fashions of the time – lace, ribbons, ruffles and thick falls of skirt.

She glanced back at the brick facade of the house, glowing in the late light. A movement caught her eye. In the dark square of a window she could see the pale oval of a face, indistinct at this distance, yet seeming to regard her steadily. It was, no doubt, a servant, idling about upstairs.

The young woman took another turn around the garden, but the afternoon was fast dimming into dusk, and from the river that coursed nearby, mist began to rise and curl gently across the lawns, bringing a chill with it. The woman went indoors.

The house seemed unnaturally quiet. In the hall, she paused, overcome by the sensation – not, of course, uncommon in an empty house – that she was being watched. Nothing was in the hall, however, save for ancestral portraits, the usual collection of bewigged gentleman and white-haired ladies swathed in folds of gleaming fabric and attended by solemn children and arrays of lap dogs.

In the center of the hall, a great stair wound up to the second floor of the house. As the woman set her foot on the first tread, she heard a rustling high above, she looked up and saw what might have been the hem of a petticoat in the shadows of the landing. This disappeared instantly, her eyes had deceived her.

She went to her own bedchamber. It was still warm there from the sunlit day, and the air that drifted in the open windows was laden with the scents of water and earth. In the perfect stillness, she heard a rook cry harshly as it flew to its roost in the home wood.

She walked to a mirror and inspected the oval of her face. A curl had tumbled from its ribbon onto her cheek, and she raised her hand to tie it back.

Hands still in midair, she froze, watching the mirror intently. A woman had come in the door behind her. The image grew clearer as the figure approached, petticoats rustling. The intruder stopped just behind the young woman and stared into the glass.Then the newcomer shifted her gaze to the woman and moved her lips in a mechanical parody of a smile. The young woman pressed her hand to the glass: It was herself who stood beside her, exact in every physical detail. But the breast of her twin did not rise and fall with breathing, and no voice came from the pallid lips.

When the family came home later in the evening, they found the daughter on her bed, feverishly racked with pain, and clearly dying. With her last strength, the young woman whispered of the encounter, repeating the tale again and again in tones of terror. Her eyes were still bright with fear when she died.

The woman had seen the most frightening of apparitions – in Britain variously known as the double or fetch or co-walker, and in Germany called the Doppelganger, or “double goer.” These were spirits who could assume the physical form of those about to die. Sometimes they appeared to friends or relatives of the dying – and their mimicry was so convincing that, if they were met casually walking along the street, they might be taken for the person involved. More often, however, they delivered their silent message to that person alone. And after death occurred, it was said, the double shed the mortal image and fled to whatever world had spawned it.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For August 22, 2016

Today’s Extraordinarily Devastating Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The homeland of the Bubonic plague is generally thought to have been along the Himalayan borderlands between India and China where it was (and is) perpetuated in rodent populations. But it is generally believed that in the sixth century plague somehow escaped the Asian confines of its cradle and marched westward to slaughter the peoples of the Middle East, North Africa, the Roman Empire and western Europe. It was from Justinian, then Emperor of the eastern portion of the Roman Empire, that the plague took its name.

Just as Rome and its Empire had not been built in a day, the Empire had not fallen apart in a day. But it had come apart – cloven into Latin and Greek halves. Although there were numerous reasons for this, two of the more important were assaults by the Germanic kingdoms of western Europe, on the one hand, and devastating onslaughts of pestilence, on the other. This is not to imply that Rome had been especially salubrious prior to this point. Malaria seems to have been ubiquitous, and numerous other diseases frequently hammered the Empire. The Roman historian Livy (59 BC-AD 17) recorded many epidemics during the Republican period and 30,000 people were said to have died in Rome during an epidemic of AD 65. But the plagues that struck the Empire during the second and third centuries were extraordinarily devastating. This was most probably because they were new diseases, against which the population was immunologically defenseless, and, unfortunately for all those vulnerable people, they were also protracted plagues. The first – the so-called Antonine plague – hit the Roman Empire between AD 165 and 180, apparently reaching the Mediterranean with troops returning from the Parthian Wars in Mesopotamia. (Rumor had it that a too-enthusiastic soldier breaking open a casket in the temple of Apollo at Seleucia had released the pestilence.)

The returning soldiers had doubtless been exposed in Mesopotamia to any number of illnesses and the Antonine plague may have been comprised of several of them. However, August Hirsch, the nineteenth-century German epidemiologist and historian, voiced his strong suspicion that, regardless of the number of intertwined illnesses, by far the most important one was smallpox (or a disease ancestral to it), making its first European appearance. Whatever the identity of the pestilence it was so extraordinarily lethal that it was credited with killing between one-third and half of the people in affected areas. A mournful chronicler wrote (apparently with little exaggeration), that everywhere there was desolation. Towns were empty, fields unworked, and estates deserted. [Is it wrong that I sometimes daydream about this happening in modern times, so that I could afford a house in Chicago and have abundant urban exploration material?  You don’t have to answer that…I already know!  – The Bad Comtesse] In fact, it was this pestilential outbreak that is said by historians to have initiated the general decline in the population of the Mediterranean which continued for several centuries.

Such a decline was surely hastened by the second wave of pestilence. This one washed over the Roman world in 251 and did not fully abate until 266. Again, there are few clues to its identity, though the American historian William McNeill speculates that perhaps this plague, in tandem with its predecessor, announced the arrival of both smallpox and measles in Europe. In any event, this epidemic was at least as deadly as the Antonine plague and at its height it is believed 5,000 people a day were dying in Rome.

The Plague of Justinian: Them was rotten days!

Culled from: Plague, Pox and Pestilence


Trippin’ (and Settin’ Off Booby Traps) Down Memory Lane

Recently I mentioned the Morbid Fact Du Jour is now 20 years old – and the very first fact I ever posted was about New York’s infamous recluses, the Collyer Brothers:

August 1, 1996
On March 21, 1947 police were called to the home of New York City’s most famous recluses, the Collyer brothers (Homer and Langley), to investigate a possible dead body. When there was no response they kicked open the front door to find an ocean of debris – old newspapers piled to the ceiling along with sundry other precious things – which made the downstairs impassable. They used a ladder to access the second floor and eventually came across the body of Homer Collyer, who was blind and paralysed and relied completely upon his brother Langley for support and subsistence. It turned out that the paranoid pack rat Langley had constructed many booby traps from his debris around the house and one day he had accidentally set one of them and buried himself under a huge pile of trash; Homer consequently starved to death. It took police three weeks to find his body – after removing 120 tons of trash from the house. (Another warning to pack rats!)

Well, Eleanor pointed me towards the sweet stench emanating from the Daily Mail’s photo gallery of the Collyer’s house.  I would give my left leg and right kidney to be able to time travel back to explore that glorious mess of a mansion. They even found a skeleton!

Inside the Collyer Brownstone: The Story of Harlem’s Hermits and Their Hoarding

Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 11, 2016

Today’s Famished Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

After the discovery of Neanderthals, many scientists classified them as archaic humans – the first (before the metaphor became tired) missing link. Others put Neanderthals on their own terminal branch of evolution, while some European scientists considered Neanderthals the ancestors of some human races but not others. (Sigh… you can guess which races they singled out, Africans and Aborigines.) Regardless of the exact taxonomy, scientists considered Neanderthals thick-witted and lowbrow, and it didn’t surprise anyone that they’d died out. Eventually some dissenters began arguing that Neanderthals showed more smarts than they got credit for: they used stone tools, mastered fire, buried their dead (sometimes with wildflowers), cared for the weak and lame, and possibly wore jewelry and played bone flutes. But the scientists couldn’t prove that Neanderthals hadn’t watched humans do these things first and aped them, which hardly takes supreme intelligence.

DNA, though, permanently changed our view of Neanderthals. As early as 1987, mitochondrial DNA showed that Neanderthals weren’t direct human ancestors. At the same time, when the complete Neanderthal genome appeared in 2010, it turned out that the butt of so many Far Side cartoons was pretty darn human anyway; we share well north of 99 percent of our genome with them. In some cases this overlap was homely: Neanderthals likely had reddish hair and pale skin; they had the most common blood type worldwide, O; and, like most humans, they couldn’t digest milk as adults. Other findings were more profound. Neanderthals had similar MHC (major histocompatibility complex) immunity genes, and also shared a gene, foxp2, associated with language skills, which means they may have been articulate.

It’s not clear yet whether Neanderthals had alternative versions of apoE (a gene that transports lipoprotein, fat-soluble vitamins, and cholesterol into the lymph system and which is an important factor in cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s), but they got more of their genetic protein from flesh than we did and so probably had some genetic adaptations to metabolize cholesterol and fight infections. Indeed, archaeological evidence suggests that Neanderthals didn’t hesitate to eat even their own dead – perhaps as part of primitive shamanic rituals, perhaps for darker reasons. At a cave in northern Spain, scientists have discovered the fifty-thousand-year-old remains of twelve murdered Neanderthal adults and children, many of them related. After the deed, their probably starving assailants butchered them with stone tools and cracked their bones to suck the marrow, cannibalizing every edible ounce. A gruesome scene, but it was from this surfeit of 1,700 bones that scientists extracted much of their early knowledge of Neanderthal DNA.

One of the doomed Neanderthals found in a Spanish cave.

Another skull showing traumatic head injuries sustained prior to death.

Like it or not, similar evidence exists for human cannibalism. Each hundred-pound adult, after all, could provide starving comrades with forty pounds of precious muscle protein, plus edible fat, gristle, liver and blood. More uncomfortably, archaeological evidence has long suggested that humans tucked into each other even when not famished. But for years questions persisted about whether most non-starvation cannibalism was religiously motivated and selective or culinary and routine. DNA suggests routine. Every known ethnic group worldwide has one of two genetic signatures that help our bodies fight off certain diseases that cannibals catch, especially mad-cow-like diseases that come from eating each other’s brains. This defensive DNA almost certainly wouldn’t have become fixed worldwide if it hadn’t once been all too necessary.

Culled from: The Violinist’s Thumb


The Head of Martin Dumollard

In 1861, after a twelve-year murderous rampage, Lyon’s Martin Dumollard was arrested. At times, with the help of his wife, he would lure country girls into the woods, with the promise of a lucrative servant’s job. He would murder them, stabbing or choking them to death with a noose, or crushing their skull. He stripped them, taking their clothes, which he eventually sold. He was caught when a girl escaped from his grasp and reported the incident. He was convicted and guillotined in 1861. This 1863 photograph is not an image from life, but of the plaster cast of his decapitated head. It was used for phrenological analysis of his behavior. To this day there is controversy as to whether Dumollard killed the women for their belongings or for his sexual fantasies. At least ten girls were murdered.

Culled from: Deadly Intent: Crime and Punishment Photographs from the Burns Archive

Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 7, 2016

Today’s Severely Lashed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Let’s have another jolly story of Christian Martyrdom from the classic of the genre, Fox’s Book of Martyrs (1848).  This incident allegedly occurred in Africa during the Fifth Persecution, commencing with Severus, A. D. 205.

Perpetua, a married lady, of about twenty-two years [was martyred]. Those who suffered with her were, Felicitas, a married lady, big with child at the time of her being apprehended; and Revocatus, catechumen of Carthage, and a slave. The names of the other prisoners, destined to suffer upon this occasion, were Saturninus, Secundulus and Satur. On the day appointed for their execution, they were led to the amphitheatre. Satur, Saturninus, and Revocatus, were ordered to run the gauntlet between the hunters, or such as had the care of the wild beasts. The hunters being drawn up in two ranks, they ran between, and were severely lashed as they passed. Felicitas and Perpetua were stripped, in order to be thrown to a mad bull, which made his first attack upon Perpetua, and stunned her; he then darted at Felicitas, and gored her dreadfully; but not killing them, the executioner did that office with a sword. Revocatus and Satur were destroyed by wild beasts; Saturninus was beheaded; and Secundulus died in prison. These executions were in the year 205, on the 8th day of March.

Culled from: Fox’s Book Of Martyrs
Generously suggested by: Louise


(P)interesting Grimness!

Here’s a lovely collection of post-mortem images collected on Pinterest.

Post Mortem Photographs


Morbid Memories!

To celebrate the 20 year anniversary of Morbid Fact Du Jour, I’ve asked you to share some of your favorite morbid memories.  I think I probably got more e-mail and enthusiastic disgust over the Harlequin Fetus Malady of the Month.  It’s certainly one of the more shocking disorders I’ve ever seen.  If you haven’t taken a look lately, why not have another gander at this Most Morbid Malady?

Malady of the Month: Harlequin Fetus

(Thanks for the suggestion, Desiree!)

Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 6, 2016

My incredibly busy season is finally over so I can concentrate on being a proper morbid factster again!  The reasons for my absence for much of the summer are mostly mundane – moving house, a hectic project at work, petsitting, and traveling.  But now that I am back from my travels, I’m ready to get back to a routine again – and celebrate the 20th anniversary of this strange little hobby of mine!

Today’s Grotesque Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Bob Mitchell, now 73, was in charge of attempting to recover the bodies of 257 who died when they crashed into the side of Mount Erebus, in Antarctica, on November 28, 1979. It was a sightseeing flight that went terribly wrong and which still attracts conspiracy theories to this day. But the search and recovery of the bodies became the template for all subsequent air disaster recoveries.

In New Zealand, search, rescue and recovery of bodies is a police job. The fact that the plane had crashed 2,500 miles away in one of the most inhospitable areas on the planet was not relevant. The plane was an Air New Zealand DC10 and the great majority of the passengers were Kiwis. Mitchell had just a few hours to gather a small team of policeman together, collect some cold weather kits from a Polar expedition base, and fly to Antarctica on a Hercules.

His mission, and the tales of his team, is told in a documentary film ‘Erebus: Into the Unknown’, which splices their memories with dramatic recreations of the fortnight they spent on the glacier. While Mitchell comes across as very level headed, many of the team were overwhelmed by the scene of death and destruction they encountered, in particular, Stuart Leighton, who was just 22 at the time.

“We had no idea what Antarctica would throw at us. We just knew it would be dangerous,” Leighton says in the film. Even for the experienced policemen, the scale and the freezing temperatures were something they had never encountered. Leighton recalls: “There was a lot of mutilation with a lot of the bodies. It was grotesque. It was overwhelming. I personally felt a little bit out of my depth. I had the thought, ‘I don’t belong here. This is for the big boys’.”

Mitchell admits now that Leighton was probably too young to have been part of the mission. The team leader’s main concern was not the sight of corpses scattered across the glacier — “The 257 bodies didn’t bother me a great deal because it goes with the territory” — but the safety of his team. How they would cope with the sudden winds that would suddenly pick up bits metallic debris turning them into missiles that flew across the site, how they would avoid falling into the numerous fissures in the ice, how they would be able to recover 257 individual corpses, bag them up and return them to the New Zealand mortuary to be identified before the ice runway at the McMurdo station melted?

Mitchell instituted an efficient system, dividing the crash site into a grid. Each corpse, or part of a body, was numbered according to who found the victim and where they were found. “I am a chess player. So, I used the international correspondence chess method of numbering the grid of the crash site.” After setting up the operation, he spent most of the fortnight at the McMurdo base camp – 70 miles from Mr Erebus. Meanwhile his team slept in tents at the crash site itself. Every day they would laboriously pick through the wreckage, along with the help of a team of mountaineers and photographers.

Viewers of the documentary are left in little doubt it was a gruesome job. Mitchell says: “If anything the film understates it. There is no easy way to deal with a body. You have to pick it up, put a label on it, and you have to handle it. You can’t airbrush it. And some of those bodies were very difficult to get to.” Some had fallen down a ravine, caused by the burning engine melting the glacier. Many were difficult to put into a standard body bag. Leighton recalls: “These bodies were frozen solid. Whatever grotesque shape they landed in, that’s what they froze into.”

All of the team remember the stench of the disaster. Mitchell says: “The smell of kerosene, jet fuel, takes me straight back to Erebus. It’s not that I get flashbacks, but I immediately remember.” There were other challenging aspects of the mission, not least the endless presence of loud and aggressive skua gulls, carrion-eating birds of the Antarctica, who kept on pecking at the corpses. The team resorted to burying the bodies again under the snow, once they had been bagged up, to stop the birds getting to them.

They were there for just 14 days but they never stopped working. The perpetual daylight of the South Pole meant that they worked around the clock, 12 hours on, 12 hours off, but never properly resting nor escaping the tragedy, even when having a meal. Leighton says: “We had one set of gloves while we were there. They were baked with the fatty human remains, the soot, the whatever, and you ended up having to use the same set of gloves to put food in your mouth.”

It is perhaps unsurprising that the experience has severely affected the policeman, who then was just a young man. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, I hope this is not going to traumatise me, I hope this isn’t going to completely screw me when I get back.’ Because I knew it had the potential to do so. And unfortunately it did.”

For all the scars some of the team were left with, it was a successful mission. Of the 257 victims, 213 were successfully identified. The Royal Commission into the causes of the crash ruled it was not pilot error but rather errors by Air New Zealand in allowing sightseeing flights to go too low and for changing the course of the flight, without telling the crew. It proved a controversial conclusion and was challenged. The police, however, were universally praised for their recovery mission.

The ghastly recovery scene.

Culled from: The Telegraph

There is a documentary about this recovery that is available for streaming on Amazon entitled Erebus: Operation Overdue.  I’ll have to check it out this week!


It Was Twenty Years Ago… This Month!

Can you believe that I’ve been doing the Morbid Fact Du Jour for over 20 years now?  Yes, as Aimee kindly reminded me when I was away, the first MFDJ was created on August 1, 1996.  I thought it would be fun to revisit that first fact:

August 1, 1996
On March 21, 1947 police were called to the home of New York City’s most famous recluses, the Collyer brothers (Homer and Langley), to investigate a possible dead body. When there was no response they kicked open the front door to find an ocean of debris – old newspapers piled to the ceiling along with sundry other precious things – which made the downstairs impassable. They used a ladder to access the second floor and eventually came across the body of Homer Collyer, who was blind and paralysed and relied completely upon his brother Langley for support and subsistence. It turned out that the paranoid pack rat Langley had constructed many booby traps from his debris around the house and one day he had accidentally set one of them and buried himself under a huge pile of trash; Homer consequently starved to death. It took police three weeks to find his body – after removing 120 tons of trash from the house. (Another warning to pack rats!)

And here’s a look at one of the early designs of the Morbid Fact Du Jour website, courtesy of the Wayback Machine:

Morbid Fact Du Jour – June 5, 1997

I’ll try to dig up some more relics of the past in the next few weeks. And if you have a favorite MFDJ memory, please feel free to share it!