On September 1, 1894 a huge firestorm, fed by drought conditions and dry debris left behind by lumber companies, destroyed the town of Hinckley, Minnesota, killing over 418 people. A news reporter from The St. Cloud Daily Times visited the Hinckley Cemetery and wrote a graphic description of the burial of the victims:
The scene at the… cemetery, on the raised ground back of where Hinckley stood, was a sight to craze stout hearts… Here 20 men were busy with picks and shovels, digging trenches for the dead and covering them up as the naked bodies of those in boxes were deposited… In several places hands and feet protrude out of the thin covering of earth… From the boxes and uncovered dead bodies the black blood and discolored fluids had dripped from the bodies until it stood in great puddles on the ground and filled the air with a stifling stench. Numerous parties were about the cemetery hunting for lost relatives. Sightseers came only to take a hasty glance at the scene of horror and walked quickly away, unable to look upon the scene. About the burying ground were pieces of clothing, pieces of hats, shoes and bunches of hair.
So I’ve started following an incredibly well-done, if horribly grim, page on Facebook called Manner of Death. If you follow it, you’ll have a nearly non-stop stream of fascinating gore and tragic tales in your feed. I actually had to stop following it this week, as my depression levels skyrocketed and I found that it was a bit too much even for The Comtesse to withstand on a constant basis. But if non-stop gore is your kind of thing, you’ll love it.
The reality of life in Fall River, Wisconsin in 1890:
“Mrs. Carter, residing at Trow’s Mill, who has been in charge of the boarding house at A.S. Trow’s cranberry marsh, was taken sick at the marsh last week and fell down, sustaining internal injuries which have dethroned her reason. She has been removed to her home here and a few nights since arose from her bed and ran through the woods… A night or two after she was found trying to strangle herself with a towel… It is hoped the trouble is only temporary and that she may soon recover her mind.” (September 8, 1890)
At the beginning of the American Civil War, the Union Army consisted of 16,000 officers and men – less 313 officers whose consciences compelled them to go with the South. The Confederate Army started with zero, of course. A “regular” army – the Army of the Confederate States of America – was established by act of the Confederate Provisional Congress on March 6, 1861. But this “regular” army never came into existence as such. The “Rebel” troops the Federal Army fought were soldiers of the volunteer or Provisional Army that had been established by acts of February 28 and March 6. Until April 1862, when the Confederate government passed a conscription act, soldiers entered the Provisional Army not directly, buy through the individual states.
By the end of the war, 2,128,948 men had served in the Union Army (395,528 are known to have died). Of these, only 75,215 were regulars – that is, soldiers by vocation. Just under two million were volunteers, 46,347 were draftees, and 73,607 were substitutes (for the conscription laws of both sides permitted a draftee to hire a surrogate soldier to serve in his place). The average strength of the Union Army, according to one prominent authority, was a little over 1. 5 million.
The Confederate forces kept poor records, and much of what little was recorded burned in the fires that ravaged a conquered Richmond. Estimates of the strength of the Confederate Army range from 600,000 to 1,500,000, the most generally accepted figure is a little over a million, about 200,000 who died.
From these figures, it is not difficult to understand why the generations following the Civil War have all felt such kinship with the warriors. The combatants were not professional soldiers. They were not hirelings of a warlike state. They were citizens, born and raised with no intention of taking up arms. The professions and trades they left were ours: doctor, lawyer, farmer, clerk, broker – over one hundred different occupations are listed on Southern muster rolls, three hundred on Northern. The relationships they suspended are familiar to us: husband to wife, lover to lover, brother to brother. Their lives were our lives – interrupted by a long and deadly storm.
Joan Petersen, a healer, was suspected of being a witch. She was “searched again in a most unnatural and barbarous manner by four women” supplied by her accusers, who found “a teat of flesh in her secret parts more than other women usually had.” After bribed witnesses testified against her, she was executed.
Searching an accused women’s body for the devil’s teat was one of the chief proofs of witchcraft. Though the investigation was normally done by women (and not done gently, as Joan Peterson’s case demonstrates), the sessions were often witnessed by male court officials. When the constable of Salisbury, New Hampshire, undressed Eunice Cole to be whipped for witchcraft, he saw “under one of her breasts… a Blew thing like unto a teat hanging downward about three quarters of an inche longe not very thick.” Men standing by saw him “rip her shift down”; moving in closer, they affirmed that Eunice “violently scratched it away,” implying that she tried to remove the evidence from her body. When women were appointed to examine her further, they found instead “a place in her leg which was proveable wher she Had bin sucktt by Imps.”
The first large-scale avalanche catastrophes in the United States occurred with the advent of commercial development, which especially early on meant that the highest number of victims were those looking for silver and gold. Extracting the Comstock Lode, some miners acknowledged the damage they were doing to the mountains. “It was as if a wondrous battle raged in which the combatants were man and earth,” wrote a visitor to Virginia City, Nevada. “Myriads of dust-covered men are piercing into the grim old mountains, ripping them open, thrusting murderous holes through their naked bodies.” The mountains often reaped this violence in kind. The Avalanche Book, quoting nineteenth-century newspaper reports, recounts the story of the winter of 1883-84, in which 100 people were killed in Colorado, including 20 in the San Juan Mountains in the southern part of the state. Badly hit was the Virginius Mine, perched on a steep, 12,000-foot mountain above the town of Ouray. December 1883 had brought continuous snow for three days; late in the storm an avalanche barreled into the mine’s boarding house, “carrying death and destruction in the mighty embrace,” according to a newspaper account in The Solid Muldoon. Four men were killed, and rescuers took twenty-four hours to find the last two survivors. The following day, 32 men from nearby mines came to Virginius to help; recover the bodies; as they pulled the “sled hearses” beneath a particularly steep slope, they were engulfed in another avalanche, this one a quarter of a mile wide.
Arm with Horn, Gangrene Hand – 1994 Rosamond Purcell
Wax models showing a horn (cornu cutaneum) growing from above the wrist, and dry gangrene of the hand., Both models made ca. 1850 by master modeler Joseph Towne (1806-1870) of London, who constructed wax teaching models for the Gordon Museum of Guy’s Hospital, Southwark, London. Towne also made extra models for sale.
Peter the Great’s early-eighteenth-century Kunstkammer, the first museum in Russia, included living exhibitions. Peter, a giant himself at 6’7″, had a marked fondness for all anomalies, and in his museum he installed Foma, a boy whose hands and feet had only two digits apiece, and a beloved giant named Bourgeois, whom Peter tried unsuccessfully to breed by procuring a giantess from Sweden to be his wife. Both Foma and Bourgeois displayed both themselves and the objects in the museum to visitors. Although Peter’s monsters were not given curatorial authority, the Czar, who had a tender streak, apparently treasured these men as he did his horse, his dog, and his wife, Catherine. The skeleton of Bourgeois may still be seen in the Kunstkammer of Peter, although the skull on the skeleton clearly comes from another person. The Beloved Lobster Boy Foma
The Beloved Giant Bourgeois
Although Peter adored Catherine, their relationship was not without conflict. In a moment of fury, he decapitated the head of his own young mistress as well as the head of his wife’s lover and left them properly pickled in alcohol beside Catherine’s bed. According to some accounts, and to Catherine’s credit, she never said a word. The heads, beautifully preserved in the tradition of Dutch anatomists observed by Peter on his travels to the Netherlands, were entered into his collection only to be discarded by Peter’s grandniece, Catherine the Great, fifty years later in a fit of housecleaning. Catherine the Great preferred paintings and sculpture to natural history and decapitated heads, however eternally fresh and however historical.
Damn Catherine the Great, ruining everything with her unreasonable bias against historical severed heads!
And for those of us who doubt we’ll ever be able to make the trip to St. Petersburg to see the Kunstkammer in person, there’s a fantastic online tour that you can take. Despite Catherine, there are still a few pickled things in jars to be gawked over!
You probably haven’t heard about this because you hardly ever hear about anything impacting the people of Pakistan, but back on June 25th at least 150 people were killed in an explosion following an accident in which a petrol truck overturned on the highway. The truck was leaking gasoline and many poor locals mobbed the scene to collect the precious fuel from the tank. I haven’t been able to find any footage of the actual explosion, but this video contains a fascinating and shudder-inducing ‘before’ and ‘after’ sequence.
In 1930’s Germany, there was wide acceptance from the public to the policies of the Nazi regime. Broad swaths of German society, whether with indifference or enthusiasm, accepted the gradual exclusion of the Jews from the “Volk community”. The boycott of Jewish businesses, physicians and attorneys on April 1, 1933, served to stigmatize the Jewish minority and isolate them socially. Such actions may have caused some Germans discomfort, but did not, in the final analysis, fail to achieve their purpose. “Non-Aryans” were marked, intimidated and avoided by most “national comrades” from then on. Those who violated the boycott were publicly denounced and defamed as “jew servants” (“Judenknechte”). On April 7, 1933, a few days after the boycott, the “Laws for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” imposed a professional ban on Jews, Social Democrats and Communists, all of whom were fired from their public service positions. Jews were to be stripped of their professional existence.
The “Nuremberg Laws” announced at the Nazi Party Rally on September 15, 1935, were generally accepted or welcomed. The “Reich Citizenship Law” classified Jews and others that fell under its promulgated definitions as second-class citizens. At the same time, this law provided the decisive judicial foundation for the continuance of the disenfranchisement process. The “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor,” which forbid marriages between Jews and “Aryans” and criminalized their sexual relations, sought to penetrate even into the Jewish minority’s private sphere, thereby isolating and excluding them from the social life of the “Volk community”.
The resonance that these measures of persecution found among the public was profoundly affected by the fact that many Germans materially profited, directly or indirectly, from the displacement, disenfranchisement, and dispossession of the Jews. Jobs, homes, furniture, companies and real estate changed hands, typically at prices far below their market value – until the Jewish minority was fully destitute.
In an example of the type of social punishment inflicted upon Germans who associated with Jews, two German women accused of intimate contacts with prisoners of war are publicly humiliated by members of the SA and Nazi Party functionaries, Reichenbach/Vogtland, October 4, 1941. After their heads were shorn they were led on a pillory march through the town. The signs around their necks read: “I was expelled from the Volk community because I consorted with prisoners of war.”
In 1348 much of the population of Florence was wiped out by an outbreak of the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) that eventually spread throughout Italy. In that same year, Pope Clement VI, who was then living in Avignon, proposed a pilgrimage to Rome. Just over a million people went on the journey of about 500 miles. Only 100,000 returned.
At the height of the epidemic, the Rhone River was consecrated to provide a graveyard for victims who could not be disposed of in any other way.
By the end of the 14th century, 25 million deaths had occurred – an estimated 25 percent of Europe’s population. According to one estimate, there were 45 outbreaks of plague between 1500 and 1720. The most notorious reached London in June 1665.
One of the preventative methods used in London against the spread of the plague was to burn cats, dogs, mice, and rats. But this precaution was a case of too little, too late. By 1666 more than 68,000 Londoners had died, and Europe feared another pandemic.
But then, on September 2, 1666, fire broke out in the heart of London’s most populous area. The fire raged for four days, leaving four-fifths of the city devastated. But the great blaze also wiped out the unsanitary conditions that had helped the contagion to spread.
The greatest gift of the United States to surgery was probably the discovery of general anesthesia, the use of which was first publicly demonstrated in 1846 by personnel from Harvard Medical School at Massachusetts General Hospital. Four years earlier, however, an unassuming doctor in rural Georgia, Crawford Williamson Long, M.D. (1815-1878), had used sulfuric ether for general anesthesia when operating on a patient with a tumor. Not until 1849 did Long, prodded by friends, announce his deed; the reason for his delay remains unknown; perhaps, being out of medical school only three years, he may not have recognized the importance of anesthesia.
Surgery in rural practice was uncommon even in those days; patients who needed operations were sent to major medical centers just as they are today. Few doctors performed surgery unless presented with emergency circumstances, as the lack of anesthesia made undergoing the procedure excruciatingly painful. Patients had to be forcibly restrained by attendants, and the trauma of surgery was enough to make some go into fatal shock. Thus, one measure of the surgeon’s skill was how quickly he could operate; great surgeons could remove an arm in thirty seconds, and a leg in about a minute. Anesthesia was a great boon in that, in addition to its obvious ability to remove pain from the process, it also permitted lengthy and precise operations.
Dr. Long had used general anesthesia seven times before the Harvard demonstration. Nevertheless, the honors normally bestowed by Congress and other organizations for such an accomplishment never materialized, owing to his own delay in reportage as well as to infighting among the three Massachusetts pioneers, who spent their lives competing for primary recognition. Horace Wells, D.D.S., became a chloroform addict and killed himself with an overdose in a jail cell in New York City. With Wells dead, William T.G. Morton, D.D.S., and Charles Thomas Jackson, M.D., continued to battle for attention and acceptance as the discoverer of general anesthesia. Destitute, battle weary, and embittered, Morton died of a stroke in 1868 after reading an article on primacy by Jackson claiming credit. Jackson himself had a mental breakdown, and died in 1880 at the McLean Asylum in Somerville, Massachusetts. Wells was ultimately declared the prime discoverer of general anesthesia; however, neither he nor the other two men received public recognition or financial benefit for this in their lifetime.
By contrast, after Dr. Long had put in his claim, he simply went back to work in his rural practice. For this tintype (below) Long held the knife for an amputation while his younger brother gave the patient anesthesia and an attendant held surgical paraphernalia. The scene is accurate to its era, the surgeon’s street dress and the overall lack of sterility having been standard. Shy of notoriety, Dr. Long did not have many photographs taken during his lifetime.
With the exception of daguerreotypes made at Massachusetts General in 1846 and 1847, this is the only extant photograph of an operation taken prior to the Civil War. Thus, it is an important record of the state of surgery in the United States during the nineteenth century.
It’s probably silly of me to share this because… if you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you sickos already know what deadly diseases look like! You’ve probably spent a fair amount of time gawking over horrible images doing your own research, haven’t you? But, in any event, I found this an entrancing little video with convincing makeup – and a great message to anti-vaxxers to boot! (Thanks to Kimberly for the link.)
The “Sydney Mutilator”, William MacDonald, is considered Australia’s first serial killer. Between 1961 and 1962 MacDonald terrorized Sydney with a string of gruesome murders before being apprehended while working as a porter at Melbourne’s Spencer Street railway station on May 13, 1963. His modus operandi was to select his male victims at random (mostly derelicts), lure them into a dark place, violently stab them dozens of times about the head and neck with a long bladed knife, and finally sever their penis and testicles.
The Sydney Mutilator. Doesn’t slip off the tongue quite as nicely as the “Boston Strangler,” does it?
MacDonald described the murder of his last victim, Patrick Hackett, picked up while drinking at a Melbourne hotel. He woke up in the middle of the night and picked up a knife. “As I stood looking at him, with the knife grasped firmly in my hand, a mad rage came over me. I knelt down and stabbed him in the neck… I struck down at him again and again. During the stabbing, I accidentally struck my own hand, and then I lost count of how many times I thrust the knife into his body. Even after I knew he was dead, I kept on plunging the knife into him.”
This description certainly suggests that Macdonald may have had some form of seizure. Many criminal activities are associated with a brain-wave known as the theta rhythm. These waves were first noticed in young children [I’m not surprised – DeSpair], and they became pronounced when the child experienced emotions of pleasure or pain.
Theta rhythms could be easily evoked in a small child by offering a sweet and then snatching it away. [Can I sign-up to run this study? – DeSpair] In adults, these rhythms play a very small part – except in aggressive psychopaths. Dr. Grey Walter comments about this sudden murderous violence towards other people in animals: “These destructive or murderous episodes are often almost or completely unmotivated by ordinary standards.”
This is not, of course, to suggest that psychopathic violence – like Macdonald’s – is caused in some way by theta waves as an epileptic attack is caused by an electrical discharge. Possibly the theta waves appear when the psychopath induces a certain state of mind in himself. Macdonald had decided to kill the man before he went to sleep, and the “blind rage” came over him after he had picked up the knife. He had somehow triggered the attack in the way that a normal person can trigger sexual excitement by directing the thoughts towards sex.
But all this – like the discoveries about the amygdaloid nucleus in the brain, the source of our aggressive instincts – suggests that many violent killers may be suffering from some physical imbalance of the same kind that makes some people abnormally active and others sluggish and dull [You called? – DeSpair]. And it could be connected with the kind of hormone activity that turns some women into nymphomaniacs and some men into “satyrs”.
Culled from: Crimes and Punishment: The Crime Encyclopedia, Vol 1