Carl Herrmann Unthan (5 April 1848 – 1929) was a Prussian-born violinist and actor who was born without arms. Unthan’s father was a teacher who insisted he not be “coddled”. Whether this was the reason or not, Carl reportedly could feed himself at two and around the age of ten is said to have taught himself to play the violin by strapping it on to a stool. He was sent to a music conservatory at 16 and graduated a couple of years later.
By the age of 20 Unthan was performing to full concert halls. He would go on to perform notably in Vienna with classical orchestras. He began with personal concerts and later added additional tricks to his repertoire. During his maiden performance he broke a string; he replaced it and tuned the new string using only his toes. After this it is said he would deliberately weaken one string before each performance so that it would snap during his recital, giving him an opportunity to repeat his dexterity. He was also a marksman who could shoot the spots out of a playing card with a rifle operated by his feet. He toured Cuba, Mexico, South America, and Europe. Later he married Antonie Neschta, whom he had toured with for a time. He moved to the United States and eventually gained citizenship.
At the age of 65, Unthan, (credited as Charles Unthan) appeared in the Danish silent film Atlantis which includes a passenger liner sinking during a voyage. The author of the original story, Gerhart Hauptmann, had been impressed by Unthan during a cross-Atlantic voyage and was inspired to write the character of Arthur Stoss, an armless virtuoso, based upon him. Hauptmann’s contract with the Danish filmmakers stipulated that only Unthan could play the character.
In 1925, Unthan published his autobiography, Das Pediscript (instead of manuscript – because he had typed it with his feet, pedally, as opposed to manually) in Germany. In English translation it was published in 1935, six years after his death.
On October 18, 1935, a major ordinance regulating sterilization and the issuing of marriage licenses followed directly upon the notorious German Nuremberg Laws (September 15), which prohibited marriage or any sexual contact between Jews and non-Jews. The Nuremberg lawmakers described themselves as “permeated with the knowledge that the purity of the German blood is a precondition for the continued existence of the German people, and filled with the inflexible determination to make the German nation secure for all future time.”
There were revealing discussions of methods. The favored surgical procedures were ligation of the vas deferens in men and of the ovarian tubes in women. Professor G. A. Wagner, director of the University of Berlin’s Women’s Clinic, advocated that the law provide an option for removing the entire uterus in mentally deficient women. His convoluted argument was based on the principle of “hereditary health”: mentally deficient women, after being sterilized, were especially likely to attract the opposite sex (who need not worry about impregnating them) and therefore to develop gonorrhea, which is most resistant to treatment when it affects the uterine cervix; the men who would then contract gonorrhea from these women would, in turn, infect other women with desirable hereditary traits and render them sterile. Other medical commentators, making a less genetic and more specifically moralistic argument, favored removal of the uterus in those candidates for sterilization who showed tendencies to promiscuity. Still more foreboding was an official edict permitting sterilization by irradiation (X-rays or radium) in certain specified cases “on the basis of scientific experiments.” These experiments, ostensibly in the service of improving medical procedures for specific cases, were a preliminary step toward later X-ray sterilization experiments conducted extensively, harmfully, and sometimes fatally on Jewish men and women in Auschwitz and elsewhere.
I have added a new entry to my Grim Chicago page (the feature in which I travel to the site of Chicago tragedies and revisit them from the pages of the newspapers). It’s the strange story of a pregnant woman, a poor boob, and a man in love with the Army! Please take a gander.
Ballistics, in criminal investigation, is the study of firearms and bullets. Firearms have been with us for several centuries – the first handguns were used by Arabs around A.D. 1200 – and as early as the 16th century, engineers realized that a spiral groove etched into the gun barrel would impart a spin to the projectile, thus making its flight more stable and improving its aim. It is the groove, or rifling, that leaves the distinctive marks known as striations on the bullet and that forms the bedrock of modern ballistics study.
The barrel is not alone in leaving identifiable traces on a cartridge; other gun components may also leave marks. When fired, the bullet is driven forward through the barrel; simultaneously, its shell casing hurtles back against the breech face. Any imperfection on that breech face impresses itself on the case head. The firing pin, the extractor and the ejector post may each etch marks on the head or shell casing.
The modern cartridge was invented in France in 1835 and consists of a casing with a soft metal cap holding the primer charge. When struck by the gun’s firing pin, the primer ignites the main propellant charge, expelling the bullet from the gun and leaving the case behind. With the invention of smokeless powder at the beginning of the 20th century came the need for a stronger bullet. The new powder’s greater propellant velocity meant that earlier lead bullets were too soft to be gripped by the rifling in the barrel and tended to get stripped, fouling the barrel. This led to the introduction of the metal-jacketed bullet, usually made of cupronickel.
Whereas the old black powder left distinctive marks on the hands of the firer and around the wound (if fired within a close enough range), modern smokeless powder leaves traces that can be detected only through chemical testing. At one time, suspects’ hands were examined to see if they had fired a weapon recently. The test was designed to detect the presence of nitrates, but because of the prevalence of nitrates in so many innocuous household products, this practice has largely been abandoned.
Special thanks to my friend Erik for taking me to the location.
On the November 5 MFDJ, I featured the Ether Fountain in Boston. This prompted Jackto send a couple pics of ether collectibles from his personal hazmat and toxic waste collection. (And who doesn’t have one of those?) Thanks, Jack!
If you have anything you’d like to share on the newsletter, don’t hesitate to send it my way.
Dr. Grey Walter has cited a case of a man who, whenever he went to the cinema, had to fight off a strong impulse to strangle the person sitting next to him. On one occasion, he “came to” with his hands around his neighbor’s throat. It was discovered that these seizures – epileptic in nature – were caused by the rate of flicker of the film.
Culled from: Crimes and Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Vol. 1
Grim Chicago: Embedded Children!
One of the reasons I love living in Chicago is the abundance of morbidity here. From the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to John Wayne Gacy to the Eastland Disaster, every neighborhood in the city (and every suburb as well) has its share of morbid history. What I really enjoy doing, though, is digging up the more obscure stories of Everyday Tragedies and sharing them on my Grim Chicago blog (which is admittedly just in its infancy). My friend Erik who lives in Naperville told me a sad tale one day when we were walking along the Du Page River and I thought I’d share.
Life’s a bitch and then you die. And then you either get burned up in a crematorium or stuck in a coffin and turn to muck and eventually dry out and become a desiccated shell. Unless you don’t! Be a rebel after you die and REFUSE to rot, just like these peeps!