Category Archives: Art

Morbid Fact Du Jour For September 21, 2016

Today’s Explosive Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The deadliest disaster in St. Paul’s history occurred at just after eight o’clock on the morning of February 8, 1951, when a thunderous butane gas explosion tore through part of the huge Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (now 3M, Inc.) industrial complex along Bush Avenue on the city’s East Side. The explosion occurred in a six-story concrete-frame building where minerals were crushed and then heated in huge butane ovens. It left 15 people dead or dying, including a truck driver making deliveries at the plant. Another 54 workers were injured, some with terrible burns.

So powerful was the blast that it knocked over railroad cars on nearby tracks, swept though tunnels into adjacent buildings, and ejected some of its victims through shattered windows while burying others under tons of debris. The first photograph shows the blast-damaged building with the body of an unidentified victim lying on the railroad tracks behind it. The man had been decapitated in the explosion, and the Dispatch’s editors apparently thought it would be helpful to point this fact out with an arrow. This prominently displayed pointer suggested something like perverse journalistic pride in being able to deliver such a gruesome detail to the public. [I can appreciate that! – DeSpair]

Photographers also raced to Ancker Hospital (a predecessor of today’s Regions Hospital and located at Colborne Street and Jefferson Avenue in St. Paul). Many of the blast victims were treated at Ancker. Here, a doctor and nurse tend to a critically injured worker, part of whose face had been torn open by the blast. Meanwhile, Father Francis Turmeyer, a hospital chaplain, reads the last rites over the unidentified man.

Culled from: Strange Days, Dangerous Nights: Photos from the Speech Graphic Era

Morbid Art Du Jour: The Periwig Maker

The Periwig Maker is a beautiful animated short film from 1999 that depicts life during the Great Plague of London in 1665 which is based on the 1722 novel A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Dafoe. Enthusiasts of animation (and pestilence) should have a look!  (Thanks to David for the link.)

The Periwig Maker – Cult of Weird

Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 12, 2016

Today’s Countrified Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

One of the most popular variety shows in the US was “Hee Haw,” which ran from 1969 to 1992. It featured country music and comedy sketches with a country or Southern theme. Even for the relatively G-rated TV environment at the time it began, “Hee Haw” had a decidedly cornball style of humor, but it consistently received high ratings and helped many country musicians get needed exposure.

One of the regular performers in “Hee Haw’s” early days was David Akeman. Known as String Bean due to being six-foot two and skinny, Akeman was an accomplished old-style banjo player, and augmented his playing with funny songs and a recurring skit where he was a scarecrow in a field who uttered one-liners, only to be shouted down by the crow on his shoulder.

Stringbean Akeman

Akeman had grown up during the Great Depression and as a result, he and his wife Estelle lived very frugally in a small cabin in Ridgetop, Tennessee. They distrusted banks and it was rumored that they kept thousands of dollars hidden on their property.

On the night of November 10, 1973, two cousins, Doug and John Brown, both 23, went to the Akemans’ cabin and ransacked it looking for this cash. They found very little money and decided to wait for the couple to return home and make them reveal the money’s location. Stringbean was that night performing live at the Grand Ole Opry, and the cousins listened to the show on the radio in order to keep track of their victims’ expected arrival time.

After ten P.M., the Akemans arrived home and immediately noticed that the homemade burglar alarm — a fishing line stretched across their driveway — had been displaced. Akeman retrieved his gun from his bag and started toward the house, only to be confronted by the intruders and shot where he stood.

Estelle Akeman screamed and tried to run away, but was chased down and was also shot to death. The Browns left with only a little bit of money, a chain saw and some guns. They missed over three thousand in cash that Stringbean had in his overalls, and another two thousand hidden in Estelle’s bra.

The bodies were discovered next morning by the Akemans’ neighbor and fellow “Hee Haw” and Opry regular “Grandpa” Jones. The Browns were both convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Doug Brown died of natural causes while still incarcerated in 2003, and John Brown was paroled in 2014.

The murder scene

Culled from: The Mammoth Book of More Bizarre Crimes
Submitted by: Aimee


Morbid Art Du Jour!

I often wish I had the talent to make die-o-ramas.  If I did, they’d probably look a lot like Abigail Goldman’s! (Thanks to Anna for the link.)

Oh, some of her work is for sale too! Wish I could afford them…

Dieorama by Abigail Goldman

Morbid Fact Du Jour for April 22, 2016

Today’s Rauenous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In 1595, lords in four Dutch cities filled seven ships with linens, cloths, and tapestries and sent navigator Willem Barentsz on a journey to Asia. Haggling delayed the departure until midsummer. and once asea, the captains of the vessels overruled Barentsz and took a more southerly course than he wished. They did so partly because Barentsz’s northerly route seemed mad, and partly because, beyond reaching China, the Dutch seamen were fired by rumors of a remote island whose shores were studded with diamonds. Sure enough, the crew found the island and landed straightaway.

Sailors had been stuffing their pockets with the transparent gems for a number of minutes when, as an old English account had it, “a great leane white beare came sodainly stealing out” and wrapped his paw around one sailor’s neck. The polar bear, “falling upon the man, bit his head in sunder, and suckt out his blood.”

This encounter opened a centuries-long war between explorers and this “cruell, fierce, and rauenous beast.” Polar bears certainly deserved their reputations as mean SOBs. They picked off and devoured any stragglers wherever sailors landed, and they withstood staggering amounts of punishment. Sailors could bury an ax in a bear’s back or pump six bullets into its flank – and often, in its rampage, this just made the bear madder. Then again, polar bears had plenty of grievances , too.  As one historian notes, “Early explorers seemed to regard it as their duty to kill polar bears,” and they piled up carcasses like buffalo hunters later would on the Great Plains. Some explorers deliberately maimed bears to keep as pets and paraded them around in rope nooses. One such bear, hauled aboard a small ship, snapped free from its restraints and, after slapping the sailors about, mutinied and took over the ship. In the bear’s fury, though, its noose got tangled in the rudder, and it exhausted itself trying to get free. The “brave” men retook the ship and butchered the bear.

During the encounter with Barentsz’s crew, the bear managed to murder a second sailor, and probably would have kept hunting had reinforcements not arrived from the main sip. A sharpshooter put a bullet clean between the bear’s eyes, but the bear shook it off and refused to stop snacking. Other men charged and attacked with swords, but their blades snapped on its head and hide. Finally someone clubbed the beat in the snout and stunned it, enabling another person to slit its throat ear to ear. By this time both sailors had expired, of course, and the rescue squad could do nothing but skin the bear and abandon the corpses.

Stay tuned for Episode Two: The Bear Strikes Back!

Culled from: The Violinist’s Thumb and Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius as Written by Our Genetic Code


Morbid Art Du Jour!

They’ve uncovered the most fantastic mosaic in Turkey. I simply MUST have one installed in The Castle DeSpair forthwith!

2,400 year-old mosaic found in southern Turkey says ‘be cheerful, enjoy your life’

Morbid Fact Du Jour For March 19, 2016

Today’s Lucky Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

August 6, 1945 started off pretty lucky for perhaps the most unlucky man of the twentieth century. Tsutomu Yamaguchi had stepped off his bus near Mitsubishi headquarters in Hiroshima when he realized he’d forgotten his inkan, the seal that Japanese salary men dip in red ink and use to stamp documents. The lapse annoyed him – he faced a long ride back to his boardinghouse – but nothing could really dampen his mood that day. He’d finished designing a five-thousand-ton tanker ship for Mitsubishi, and the company would finally, the next day, send him back home to his wife and infant son in southwest Japan. The war had disrupted his life, but on August 7 things would return to normal.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi

As Yamaguchi removed his shoes at his boardinghouse door, the elderly proprietors ambushed him and asked him to tea. He could hardly refuse these lonely folk, and the unexpected engagement further delayed him. Shod again, inkan in hand, he hurried off, caught a streetcar, disembarked near work, and was walking along near a potato field when he heard a gnat of an enemy bomber high above. He could just make out a speck descending from its belly. It was 8:15 a.m.

Many survivors remember the curious delay. Instead of a normal bomb’s simultaneous flash-bang, this bomb flashed and swelled silently, and got hotter and hotter silently. Yamaguchi was close enough to the epicenter that he didn’t wait long. Drilled in air-raid tactics, he dived to the ground, covered his eyes, and plugged his ears with his thumbs. After a half-second light bath came a roar, and with it came a shock wave. A moment later Yamaguchi felt a gale somehow beneath him, raking his stomach. He’d been tossed upward, and after a short flight he hit the ground, unconscious.

He awoke, perhaps seconds later, perhaps an hour, to a darkened city. The mushroom cloud had sucked up tons of dirt and ash, and small rings of fire smoked on wilted potato leaves nearby. His skin felt aflame, too. He’d rolled up his shirt sleeves after his cup of tea, and his forearms felt severely sunburned. He rose and staggered through the potato field, stopping every few feet to rest, shuffling past other burned and bleeding and torn-open victims. Strangely compelled, he reported to Mitsubishi. He found a pile of rubble speckled with small fires, and many dead coworkers – he’d been lucky to be late. He wandered onwards, hours slipped by. He drank water from broken pipes, and at an emergency aid station he nibbled a biscuit and vomited. He slept that night beneath an overturned boat on a beach. His left arm, fully exposed to the great white flash, had turned black.

(To be continued…)

Culled from: The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code


Morbid Art Du Jour!

Christina Bothwell’s artist statement makes you expect her artwork to be hippy-dippy new agey stuff:

“Since I was very young, I have been fascinated with the concept of the Soul… the idea that the physical body represents only a small part of our beingness. I am always interested in trying to express the that we are more than just our bodies, and my ongoing spiritual interests and pursuits have run parallel to the narrative in my pieces.”

And some of it definitely is.  But some of her work is delightfully creepy.

Christina Bothwell

Thanks to David for the link.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For March 1, 2016

Today’s Alien Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

While lounging around one afternoon in the spring of 1908, a middle-aged German woman felt an unseen hand grip her throat. She thrashed and gasped as it crushed her windpipe, and only after a great struggle did she manage to pry it loose with her right hand. At which point the offending hand – her own left hand – fell limply to her side. A few months prior, on New Year’s Eve, she’d suffered a stroke, and ever since then her left hand had been lashing out like a rotten child – spilling her drinks, picking her nose, throwing off her bedcovers, all without her conscious consent. Now the hand had choked and bruised her. “There must be an evil spirit in it,” she confessed to her doctor.

Two similar cases popped up in the United States during World War II. Both victims, one woman, one man, suffered from epilepsy and had had their corpus callosums surgically severed to head off seizures. (The corpus callosum, a bundle of neuron fibers, connects the left and right hemispheres.) The seizures did quiet down, but a distressing side effect emerged: one hand took on a life of its own. For weeks afterward the woman would open a drawer with the right hand and the left hand would snap it shut. Or she’d start buttoning up a blouse with her right and the left would follow along and unbutton it. The man found himself handing bread to his grocer with one hand, yanking it back with the other. Back at home, he’d drop a slice into the toaster and his other hand would fling it out – Dr. Strangelove meets The Three Stooges.

As more and more cases emerged, neurologists started calling this syndrome “capricious hand” [my personal favorite – DeSpair] and “anarchic hand,” but most now refer to it as alien hand – the unwilled, uncontrolled movements of one’s own hand. Alien hand can strike people after strokes, tumors, surgery, or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and while cases usually disappear within a year, sometimes the hand anarchy persists for a decade.

Through autopsy work,neuroscientists have determined what sort of brain damage causes alien hand. First, victims probably suffer damage to sensory areas. Those areas provide feedback whenever we move our arms voluntarily, and without that feedback, people simply don’t feel as if they’ve initiated a movement themselves. In other words, victims lose a “sense of agency” – a sense of being in control of their actions.

Hand-to-hand combat – with one hand undoing the other’s work (pants up/pants down) – usually arises after damage to the corpus callosum, damage that disrupts communication between the left and right hemispheres. The left brain moves the right side of the body, and vice versa. But proper movement involves more than just issuing motor commands; it also involves inhibitory signals. When your left brain tells your right hand to grab an apple, for instance, the left brain also issues a signal through the corpus callosum that tells your right brain (and thus, left hand) to cool it. The message is, “I’m on it. Take five.” If the corpus callosum suffers damage, though, the inhibition signal never arrives. As a result the right hemisphere notices that something’s going on and – lacking orders not to – lurches with the left hand to get in on the action. It’s really an excess of enthusiasm. And because most people perform most tasks with their right hands, it’s usually the left hand that jumps in late and causes this type of alien anarchy. Overall, left hand-right hand combat usually involves the weaker half rebelling and trying to win equal status for itself.

A woman in the hospital with an attacking alien hand.

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


Morbid Art Du Jour!

Sarah Sitkin.

Her art ain’t for wimps!

(Thanks to Anna for the link.)

Sarah Sitkin is a Los Angeles based artist. Her sculptural works are made in wide variety of media including but not limited to silicone, clay, plaster, resin,and latex.

Check out more of her gruesome goodness at her official site.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 31, 2016

Today’s Ridiculous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

At Nazi concentration camps, the striped uniforms were deliberately handed out in the wrong sizes to make the prisoners look ridiculous.

Culled from: Sachsenhausen Concetration Camp 1936-1945


All Hail The Pumpkin King!

Look at this adorable, if ever-so-slightly creepy, drawing of veggies.

Then feel somewhat uneasy when you learn that the image is from the wall of the cellar of the kitchen at the Sachsenhausen Prison Camp – from the time after World War II when it was a Soviet prison camp (Soviet Special Camp, 1945-1950).

Morbid Fact Du Jour for September 15, 2015

Today’s Mutinous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

When Captain Cook went on his third Pacific expedition in 1772, his sailing master was William Bligh. Fifteen years later, Bligh was the captain on a ship (the Bounty) that was commissioned to take bread fruit from Tahiti and transplant it to the West Indies. Bligh was a harsh disciplinarian with a quick temper. When the men arrived at Tahiti, he kept them on rations of salt pork, although there was an abundance of fruit. Four men who tried to desert were brought back and flogged in front of the entire crew. But Bligh’s greatest mistake was to make an enemy of the chief mate, Fletcher Christian, who championed the seamen. When they sailed from Tahiti, Bligh “treated them like a dog,” until Christian determined to avenge both himself and those under him.

On April 28, 1789, Bligh woke up to find his cabin filled with mutineers, who tied his hands and dragged him up on deck. Then, with 18 officers, and a supply of food, he was cast adrift in an open boat. What followed is one of the great epics of the sea. For 41 days, Bligh navigated the boat through tropical storms, until he reached Timor Island, some 4000 miles away. But only 12 of the 19 castaways reached England; the rest died as a result of their ordeal and privations.

For the mutineers, the taste of paradise had already gone sour. They made for Toobouai Island, hoping to settle there, but hostile natives drove them away. They then returned to Tahiti, and split into two parties.; one group of sixteen stayed behind; nine other men, including Fletcher Christian, embarked on the Bounty – and apparently sailed into oblivion. As soon as Bligh reached England, the story of his overthrow caused nationwide excitement, and another ship, the Pandora, was sent to Tahiti to try and arrest Christian and his followers.

By the time she arrived, two of the mutineers were dead anyway – one had shot the other in a quarrel, and had been stoned to death in turn by the natives. The captain of the Pandora arrested the remaining 14, and set off in search of the Bounty.  He never found it; instead, he and his crew were wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Four of the mutineers drowned there, so that only ten finally reached England. Of these, four were actually executed for mutiny and the others went free.

Meanwhile, what of the Bounty, the nine mutineers, and the several Tahitian men and women who were with them? It was more than 20 years later that Matthew Folger, an American sea captain, landed on Pitcairn Island, in the middle of the Pacific, and learned the bloody end of the saga. The Bounty had run ashore on Pitcairn Island, and Christian had ordered the ship to be set on fire. Ironically, Christian himself then turned into a tyrant as harsh as Bligh. His companions grew to detest him just as much as they had done their previous captain. Then one day Christian stole one of the Tahitian women from her husband. The husband crept up on the seducer while he was digging in a field, and unceremoniously shot him dead.

The rest of the party quickly split into two warring groups, and the killing went on. One Scotsman named M’Koy discovered how to distill an alcoholic spirit, and he and a friend spent their days drunk, until M’Koy threw himself over a cliff in a state of delirium tremens, and survivors destroyed the still. The Tahitian men killed all but two of the remaining white men in one night. Then, aided by some of the women, the last two whites murdered the six Tahitians.

By the time Captain Folger came on the scene there was only one survivor of the original mutineers –Alexander Smith. But there were 40 descendants. And many of their descendants live on Pitcairn Island to this day. In their search for an “earthly paradise” – one with unlimited drink, sun, and sex – 18 members of the Bounty crew had died violent and bloody deaths.

As for Bligh, he later completed his mission, transplanted the bread fruit to the West Indies, and had a distinguished career in the navy. Later, when he was governor of New South Wales in Australia, he caused another mutiny. But this one ended without bloodshed, and he died peacefully in his bed at the age of 63.

Culled from: Crimes and Punishment, the Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 26


Halloween Cometh!

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



Ghastly: Red Sox Edition!

New York Crime Scene Photograph culled from Harms Way.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for September 14, 2015

Today’s Fork-Tailed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Human settlement helped disease to settle in, attracting disease-spreading insects, while worms took up residence within the human body. Parasitologists and palaeopathologists have shown how the parasitic roundworm Ascaris, a nematode growing to over a foot long, evolved in humans, probably from pig ascarids, producing diarrhoea and malnutrition. Other helminths or wormlike fellow-travellers became common in the human gut, including the Enterobius (pinworm or threadworm), the yards-long hookworm, and the filarial worms which cause elephantiasis and African river blindness. Diseases also established themselves where agriculture depended upon irrigation – in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and around the Yellow (Huang) River in China. Paddyfields harbor parasites able to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream of barefoot workers, including the forked-tailed flood fluke Schistosomawhich utilizes aquatic snails as a host and cause bilharzia or schistosomiasis (graphically known as “big belly”), provoking mental and physical deterioration through the chronic irritation caused by the worm. Investigation of Egyptian mummies has revealed calcified eggs in liver and kidney tissues, proving the presence of schistosomiasis in ancient Egypt. (Mummies tell us much more about the diseases form which Egyptians suffered; these included gallstones, bladder and kidney stones, mastoiditis and numerous eye diseases, and many skeletons show evidence of rheumatoid arthritis.) In short, permanent settlement afforded golden opportunities for insects, vermin and parasites, while food stored in granaries became infested with insects, bacteria, fungoid toxins and rodent excrement. The scales of health tipped unfavorably, with infections worsening and human vitality declining.

Culled from: The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity

And the worst part of that paragraph?  They had no medications to get rid of any of those things!!!  As someone who once had the misfortune to suffer from one of the milder disorders – pinworms – I cannot even imagine!  Of course, unfortunate people in under-developed nations still suffer needlessly with many of these diseases.


Morbid Art Du Jour!

These L.A. gang member “rugs” are just amazing!  Bullet holes, anus – no detail is forgotten.  And those heads!  My only criticism is… do you think L.A. gang members would really have speedo tans?

See more images at Dangerous Minds.   (Thanks to Rob for the link.)

Morbid Fact Du Jour for September 11, 2015

Today we continue the tragic story of the Iroquois Theater fire of December 30, 1903.  As you may recall, the fire had just been started by a light above the stage and despite the frantic attempts to snuff it out, it had started to grow.  Now we pick up the tragic action with…

Today’s Incinerating Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Eddy Foy was in his dressing room busily applying the final touches of makeup when the drama of the fire in the loft began to overshadow the production on stage. Dressed in his “Sister Anne” costume, he was due to appear in a few minutes opposite a comic elephant. When he heard the commotion, he opened his dressing room door, ran to the stage, and saw the fire. Acting on instinct, he burst onto center stage and raised his hands, imploring the audience to remain seated and calm. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Foy exclaimed. There is no danger. This theater is fireproof. Don’t get excited.” He signaled conductor Herbert Gillea to direct the remaining six musicians to “play, play, play and keep playing.” They struck up the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet, which had a temporary, soothing effect on the crowd. After more flaming sets came crashing down onto the stage, Foy signaled a stagehand to lower the asbestos curtain to protect the audience. But the curtain snagged half-way down, possibly on a cable wire used to hoist a ballerina, or on an electric light reflector, leaving a 20-foot gap between the curtain’s suspended bottom and the wooden stage floor.

The audience’s escape down the aisles turned from orderly to panic-stricken. Foy’s one last try to calm them went unheeded, and he fled to a rear stage exit. With hundreds of children in tow, the audience of mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and schoolteachers scrambled for the exits. Almost immediately the aisles leading from the auditorium gallery and upper balconies became clogged and impassable. When the lights went out the crowd bunched up in blind terror and died at the exits and hallway doors that either opened inward or were locked shut to keep out freeloaders. With the auditorium filling with heat, smoke, and poisonous gases that made breathing impossible, children and mothers screamed for one another in the darkness and families became separated in the crushing stampede. Many children fell and were stomped to death.

Backstage, theater employees and cast members opened a rear set of huge double doors which sucked a powerful wind tunnel inside, fanning the flames and sending huge sheets of fire underneath the open asbestos curtain and into galleries and balconies filled with people. A second gust of wind created a fireball that shot into the auditorium, incinerating patrons in their seats or in the aisles. All of the stage drops were now on fire, which spread to the entire auditorium destroyed the 75,000 feet of oiled manila rope suspended above the loft, and burned the supposedly noncombustible asbestos curtain.

To Be Continued…

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


Morbid Art Du Jour!

While searching for images to use with this fact, I stumbled across the artwork of Eric Edward Esper, who has documented some of Chicago’s greatest disasters in brilliantly vivid paintings.  Check out his work!  A kindred soul, methinks.  I’d love to have one of his pieces – and my birthday IS coming up, people!

Here’s his brilliant painting of the start of the Iroquois Theater Fire:

Here are a few more of his masterpieces of Chicago Tragedy.The Green Hornet Streetcar Inferno:

The Eastland Disaster:

Our Lady of Angels Fire:

He has some non-Chicago masterpieces too.  Check them out!

Eric Edward Esper

Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 2, 2015

Today’s Mercurial Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In the early 20th century, mercury compounds were sold as bedbug killers. They came mixed into laxatives, antiseptics, and diuretics. In extreme cases, doctors prescribed them for chronic bacterial infections such as syphilis. In the 1920’s, both the benefits and the murderous potential of mercury bichloride were well known. The poison’s risky attributes had been impressed on film fans everywhere, thanks to a Hollywood-fueled tabloid scandal of 1920.

Actress Olive Thomas had the look of a charming child, with a shining bob of curly dark hair, big violet-blue eyes, and a pale, heart-shaped face. The look launched her career, starting in 1914 when she’d won a “Most Beautiful Girl in New York City” contest. She went on to become a featured Ziegfeld dancer at the New Amsterdam Theatre, a graceful waif, drifting in a zephyr of scarves.  Within a few years she was making films for the Selznick studios.

In the way of people whose lives seem charmed, Thomas soon married a member of the Hollywood’s elite, Jack Pickford, younger brother of screen star Mary Pickford. The couple rapidly developed a reputation for wild behavior, intense partying, and intense quarreling, usually over his numerous affairs – he’d developed syphilis as a result of one of them. They separated, reunited, separated, and tried again, delighting the gossip magazines. “She and Jack were madly in love with one another but I always thought of them as a couple of children playing together,” Mary Pickford observed sadly in her autobiography many years later.

In early September 1920 the couple sailed to Paris, reportedly on a reconciliation holiday. They checked into the Hotel Ritz and whirled off to enjoy the Prohibition-free city, drinking and dancing at Left Bank bistros until the early morning. At the end of one particularly drunken spree, Pickford and Thomas staggered into their hotel room at nearly three in the morning. Jack, barely standing, fell into the bed. His wife, still energized by the adventure, puttered around the room, wrote a letter, and, finally tiring, went into the bathroom to get ready for sleep.

As Pickford told the police, he was floating in a whiskeyed haze when Olive began screaming, over and over, “Oh my god, my god.” He stumbled into the dimly lit bathroom, where she was leaning against the counter. Mistaking it for her sleeping medicine, she had picked up a bottle of the bichloride of mercury potion that he rubbed on his painful syphilis sores, poured a dose, and chugged it down. As the corrosive sublimate burned down her throat, she had a moment to realize her mistake. He caught her up and carried her back to the bed, grabbing the phone and calling for an ambulance. “Oh my god,” she repeated, “I’m poisoned.”

As the story broke, as Thomas lingered in the hospital for three more days, the newspapers repeated every rumor smoking around them: Pickford’s infidelities had driven her to suicide; he had wished to get rid of her and tricked her into taking the poison. As the days passed, he became more evil, she more saintly. So many people flocked to Thomas’s funeral in Paris that women fainted in the crush and the streets became carpeted with countless hats, knocked off and trampled.

The police launched an investigation, including an autopsy, and concluded that it was, as Pickford had said, just a terrible accident. In an interview with the Los Angeles Examiner after his return to California, Pickford dwelled on how much his wife had wanted to life: “The physicians held out hope for her until the last moment, until they found her kidneys paralyzed. Then they lost hope. But the doctors told me she had fought harder than any patient they ever had.”

Olive Thomas’s demise, for all the feverish attention it received, was actually a rather standard death from bichloride of mercury. In New York City the medical examiner’s office calculated that the compound caused about twenty deaths a year, mostly suicides and similarly unfortunate accidents.

Culled from: The Poisoner’s Handbook


Coronal Section of the Head Du Jour!

Here’s another lovely artistic image culled from the book Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia by Gretchen Worden.

Sliced Head (2000) by Richard Ross

One of a series of coronal sections of the head, prepared for the Mütter Museum by Dr. Joseph P. Tunis (1866-1936), 1910.