Category Archives: Ghastly!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 20, 2018

Today’s Overconfident Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On July 18, 1933, sixteen-year-old Edgar A Gibson of Tulsa, Oklahoma was visiting Yellowstone National Park with a party of his peers.  There are two conflicting accounts of what happened on this fateful day.  The superintendent’s version says Edgar’s party was touring the Steady Geyser area in Lower Basin, when another boy dared Gibson to walk across what appeared to be a solid formation but was really hot mud. Gibson sank to his thighs, receiving severe burns from which he later died. This version is corroborated by the Old Faithful logbook that states Gibson fell through hot mud at Steady Geyser, and was burned severely on his legs and thighs.

The newspapers reported that Gibson’s touring party of teenagers stopped at Old Faithful to walk around the geyser basin. Gibson stepped onto what he thought was a stone at the edge of a hot spring. Instead, it was a thin crust of sinter which gave way and precipitated him into the scalding water.


Steady Geyser circa 1958

Regardless of which version happened, forty percent of Gibson’s body was scalded and that was enough to cause his death on July 25, after he lay in agony for a week at the Livingston hospital. The newspapers also reported that overconfidence might have played a part in Gibson’s death, as he had been in the park a year earlier and “no doubt believed himself to be familiar with the section being visited.”

Culled from: Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park  (Oooh – there’s a second edition out!!!)

 

Crime & Punishment Photo Du Jour!

The book Deadly Intent, Crime and Punishment: Photographs from the Burns Archives, like most of the excellent Burns Archive books, is usually good about documenting its photos, so I found it surprising that this image has only the following caption:


Man in an Electric Chair
circa 1940

Ready to be executed, this man’s head has been totally immobilized by leather straps. One electrode is wrapped around his bare right foot.

I did an image search to see if I could find more of the story and found an excellent article by Robert Walsh about this execution.  It turns out this was the first execution performed after Mississippi changed from hanging to electricity as a primary execution method. Instead of building a “death house” for executions like “normal” states do, Mississippi elected to create a portable electric chair: “The chair would be taken from county to county in a large silver truck also carrying a generator, switchboard, cables, and all the standard equipment for performing electrocutions that any other prison might use.”

And the executioner?  “The new ‘State Executioner’ was Jimmy Thompson, an ex-convict, ex-merchant sailor, frequent drunkard, carnival showman, stage hypnotist, and ex-Marine only recently pardoned in 1939 after serving time at Parchman for armed robbery. He also had a violent past. During the 1920’s Thompson had shot a neighbor for insulting his mother, escaping prosecution only via an unwritten law of Southern life that said a man was allowed to shoot another man to defend a woman’s body or personal reputation. Needless to say, this law only extended to white men and certainly didn’t extend to black men shooting white men on similar grounds.”

And Thompson acted like a circus master with his “toy”: 

“By September, 1940 the equipment was ready for its public unveiling in the state capital at Jackson. Thompson arrived, set up his grim equipment, fired up the generator and worked the controls, cycling the voltage up and down to the deafening sound of the generator and unnerving whine as the current wound up and down.  According to an article in Life magazine dated October 7, 1940:

‘Crowds saw a big silver truck, a portable generator and a sturdy chair complete with helmet straps and electrodes. Beside it stood Mississippi’s new executioner, Jimmy Thompson, ex-sailor, marine, carnival man and high tension expert. No less proud of his chair than of the black cat, snakes and strawberries tattooed on his velvety skin, he explained that he and his volts would travel from county to county as business required’

“Other press reports were far less favourable. The Memphis Commercial Appeal bitterly criticized the exhibition as barbaric and tasteless, stating: ‘The only thing lacking at Thursday’s formal and public exhibition of the State’s new electric chair was a victim.’ At $100 per execution plus expenses, Thompson was as keen to start work as the state was to demonstrate its new concept. It wasn’t long before both would be satisfied.”

Which brings us to this photo: the first victim of the chair.

“Like most of Mississippi’s condemned, Willie Mae Bragg was black. He’d been convicted of murdering his ex-wife in Lucedale. With the state keen to demonstrate its new method and Bragg inspiring no sympathy in appellate judges, it was no great surprise that he was first in line. His date of execution was October 11, 1940. Bragg fully expected to die, but didn’t know he was about to make state and penal history. He would be the first convict to die in a portable electric chair.”

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking that this execution was botched and Willie Mae died a prolonged, horrible death, right?  But surprisingly, the execution went off as well as can be expected.  And here we have the summary of what is happening in the photograph above: 

“‘The picture was made as the first flash of electricity surged through his body. Note Bragg’s hands gripping the chair and his neck bulging in death’s throes.’ Thompson, always ready to supply a grim, attention-grabbing comment, stated that Bragg had died: ‘With tears in his eyes for the efficient care I took to give him a good, clean burning.’”

Er, okay.  Whatever you say, Thompson.

Additional photos:

Prepping Willie Mae Bragg


Checking the vitals, I assume, though he could still be alive here.  Doesn’t look too …  er…  “damaged”… does he?

And this one shows the executioner just before pulling the trigger:

Funny what you can find out on the internet, isn’t it?

The Traveling Executioner

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 19, 2018

I was doing so well at keeping up my resolution of a Morbid Fact per Jour and then the dreaded flu hit me and kept me bedridden for three days.  However, that pestilence which doesn’t kill me only builds up my antibodies!  

Today’s Gripping Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On June 18, 1970, tragedy struck at Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park. After climbing over barriers and ignoring signs warning hikers not to go into the Merced River, thirty-year-old La Puente resident Yolanda Fuentes and her nine-year-old daughter Christine, along with five other members of their party, sat on the rocks in the raging river to cool off and take photos, less than sixty feet from the lip of the falls. A woman who was standing in the water taking photos dropped her hat into the water. Little Christine sloshed over to retrieve it and was pulled into the strong current. Her mother Yolanda chased after her daughter and was gripped by the rushing water. One by one, the hat, Christine, and Yolanda were all swept over the ledge to their deaths. Yolanda’s decomposed body was found over two months later. Christine’s body was never found.

Culled from: Death In California: The Bizarre, Freakish, and Just Curious Ways People Die in the Golden State

 

Malady Du Jour

I have a book that collects images of various specimens used for the Body Worlds exhibits.  Of course, the ones with maladies are the most interesting.  This particular example is of a torso with severe deformation of the spinal column and thoracic wall caused by a hereditary disorder of bone formation and development.  How uncomfortable must this person have been?  

Culled from: Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 6, 2018

Today’s Uncontrolled Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The 1970s saw a significant increase in the number of celebrity car crash deaths. The decade’s casualties include former child actor Brandon de Wilde, who was driving through Denver, Colorado, on July 6, 1972, when his car hit a flatbed truck, killing him instantly. In Britain, the world of pop music was shaken by the untimely death of Marc Bolan, amphetamine sage and lead vocalist of the group T-Rex, who was killed in the early hours of September 16, 1977, when he and his girlfriend, Gloria Jones, were returning from a nightclub. Gloria was at the wheel; Bolan, despite a lifetime’s fascination with cars, had never learned to drive. The Bolan crash took place in Barnes Common, North London; Jones, having just driven over a humpbacked bridge, took a sharp curve and lost control of the car, which came off the road at high speed and crashed into a tree; Gloria Jones survived, but the twenty-nine-year-old Bolan was killed on impact.


Gloria Jones and Marc Bolan during happier, alive-r, times.

Bolan’s car crash, like many later accidents, provoked a considerable media-based frenzy of mourning. The day after the fatal crash, which made front-page news, crazed fans broke into Bolan’s home and stole almost everything they could get their hands on; a hospital worker even tried to sell the blood-splattered clothes the eccentric star had been wearing the night of the crash. The funeral was a circus of grieving fans, and even now the “death tree” on Barnes Common remains a roadside shrine for tender messages and other sentimental ornaments of tribute and grief. 


The death car at the accident scene


The accident site as it looks today

Culled from: Car Crash Culture

 

Vintage Car Crash Du Jour!

One of my favorite books is Car Crashes and Other Sad Stories by Anaheim photographer Mell Kilpatrick. It’s a collection of car crash photos from the 40’s and 50’s, often with corpses still strewn across the enormous interior (or out of it, since there were no seat belts in those days). It combines my love of old cars with my love of morbidity and is the perfect ambulance chaser book!


Westminster & Los Alamitos

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 4, 1028

Today’s Jealousy-fueled Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Economic competition was one of the driving forces in many lynchings of Mexicans in 19th century California, as battles over land and stock were especially prevalent. This competition reinforced this sense of animosity towards Mexican men, who were perceived as feminine and deceitful. In a community already rife with racial prejudice, whites’ insecurity about losing their economic advantage made them all the more likely to lash out at Mexican thieves when they encroached on their property. 

As evidence of this competition, many whites were in fact envious of Mexicans’ prowess in the gold fields. Many of these migrant workers had much more experience in the fields from their time in the gold mines of Northern Mexico.  Hence, according to the 19th century newspaper Daily Alta California, “men who are accurate observers…of judging public sentiment…would declare that the feeling…of envy and jealousy…has existed…for some time…against Mexican miners.” Furthermore, many whites “ascribed…antipathy and prejudice….to the superior and uniform success” of these Mexicans, with one Chilean miner noting that Americans “burn[ed] with anger and greed” at their exploits. Many whites were insecure about their relative lack of success, and grew angry over those who prospered in the fields. In addition, because of this sentiment, the Foreign Miners’ Tax, put into law in April 1850, further divided two bitter rivals, in that it allowed white prospectors to expulse those who could not or refused to pay. This law was just another attempt by bitter whites trying to maintain their grip upon the capitalist economy. Any sort of rivalry was an unwelcome challenge to the established order. 

Evidently, much of this jealousy-fueled animosity and the effects of the law carried over from the times of the Gold Rush into 1877 Bakersfield. On December 22nd, five Mexican men, Anthony Maron, Francisco Encinas, Miguel Bliss, Fermin Eldeo, and Bessena Ruiz, a “party of raiders,” were captured and jailed after “st[ealing] a lot of horses.” Early that night, there were “ominous whisperings of summary proceedings, and a large number of citizens assembled and proceeded to the jail,” presumably to lynch the men. However, the Under Sheriff “had been apprised of a probable attack on the jail”, and hid the keys to the cell in a safe to which only he knew the combination. The mob forcibly took the keys to the jail from the jailor and demanded the keys to the cell, but to no avail. So, instead of letting the law run its due course, the mob broke the cell bars with axes and chisels, and forced a “trial” in front of a “jury”; the verdict was “of course… guilty”, a sentence to be hanged. 


Article from the Daily Alta, December 23, 1877

Evidently, the mob’s “excitement” was at least in part due to their jealousy and animosity towards Mexican men, resulting in a chance to protect white economic prosperity from horse thieves who threatened to take it. The “leading citizens” who orchestrated the mob and “made no attempt to conceal their identity” clearly took advantage of this group envy to gather up such a sizable mob. Given the perception of Mexicans as deceitful, any attempt to threaten white economic dominance would be met with vexation and “excitement,” a chance for economically inferior whites to squash the competition. As with Mexican women, any attempt by a Mexican man to challenge one’s role in society, especially through deceit, was seen as deserving of hostility and violence, a punishment of death. The alleged crimes were merely an excuse to strengthen their hold on California’s capitalist economy. 

Culled from: California’s Forgotten Lynchings

 

Tornadoing

So the other day I wasn’t feeling good so I was laying in bed playing on my phone when I decided to watch tornado videos on You Tube, as you do.  I thought I’d share the ones that I found that I thought were most impressive.  I want to become a storm chaser now so that I, too, can post videos of sheer stupidity in the face of nature’s deadly wrath!
Clem Schultz is the Grand Poobah of either Nerves of Diamond (stronger than steel) or Highly Questionable Judgment.  He stood filming out the second floor window as a tornado approached and destroyed his house, injuring him and killing his wife who was taking shelter in a makeshift basement below.  I can’t believe how he doesn’t say a word and just keeps calmly filming as the storm hits.  Impressive.  And since he survived and he probably wouldn’t have if he’d been down in the basement with his wife, who are we to judge?
Then there’s this woman who was trying to drive to work and got caught in a tornado that picked her truck up and hurled it around for 15 seconds before slamming it into a building.  Her reaction is the polar opposite of Clem’s but I think quite understandable, given the circumstances.  
Then there’s this bit of awesome.  The TIV-2 (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) is a tank-like automotive that is designed to, um, intercept tornadoes.  So in this video they got right in the path of a quite violent tornado in Kansas.  Man, what an amazing experience that must have been!  

Morbid Fact Du Jour For November 24, 2017

Today’s Tasty Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

A sweets-lover to the end, the last words, spoken after he had a strawberry ice cream soda, of Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello fame:

“That was the best ice cream soda I ever tasted.”


Costello Meets The Big Sleep

Culled from: The Big Sleep: True Tales and Twisted Trivia about Death

Mourning Photo Du Jour

Beautiful Girl on Deathbed
circa 1855 – sixth-plate daguerreotype – 3.75″ x 3.25″

A beautiful young girl on her deathbed. Although her eyes are open and appear to be looking at the camera, the flowers indicate that she was most likely deceased when this portrait was taken. 

Culled from: Beyond the Dark Veil: Post Mortem & Mourning Photography from The Thanatos Archive 

Morbid Fact Du Jour for September 24, 2017

Today’s Leathery 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 during the Seventh Persecution, under Decius in A. D. 249:

Julian, a native of Cilicia, as we are informed by St. Chrysostom, was seized upon for being a christian. He was put into a leather bag, together with a number of serpents and scorpions, and in that condition thrown into the sea.


Don’t you just love that there’s an illustration for this one? 

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

Irma’s Baby Blue Gift

The hurricanes in the south have been horrible for the people and animals that live there, of course. But there is one upside for the morbidly minded: your chances of finding a beautifully dressed corpse reclining in a coffin in your front yard increases exponentially! Such as this one that was discovered after Irma passed through the Florida Keys:

“Somewhere on Big Pine Key’s Avenue B, a casket lay popped open, its lid filled with water and a long-time occupant still inside, dressed in a baby blue suit. 

“By mid-week, workmen were busy using cranes to right fallen mausoleums at the Dean Lopez funeral home’s Memorial Garden of the Keys across the highway from where the corpse was found. Doors to mausoleum drawers were missing or broken and the grounds were covered in crushed tree limbs.

“A man who identified himself as an employee of the funeral home confirmed that the coffin with its unidentified blue-suited remains had originated in one of the cemetery’s granite mausoleum drawers. It’s now back in its proper resting place.”

It Was Supposed To Be His Final Resting Place. Then Hurricane Irma Struck the Keys.

The Miami-Herald censored the photograph, but diligent morbid enthusiast Jim L. Bussey II hunted them down on Facebook so you can see the stunning suit in all its moldy glory.  Has to be from the 70’s, right?

I’d think it was a Halloween decoration if I didn’t know better.  Actually… I think I know what my Halloween costume is going to be this year! If I can find a baby blue suit, that is… 

Morbid Fact Du Jour For August 12, 2017

Today’s Discolored Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

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.

Culled from: From the Ashes: The Story of the Hinckley Fire of 1894

 

Ghastly Site Du Jour!

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.  

Morbid Fact Du Jour For July 28, 2017

Today’s Dethroned Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

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)

Culled from: Wisconsin Death Trip

Ghastly Livestream Du Jour!

 

Leave it to Millennials to be so obsessed with their phone that they look for it immediately after a car crash that kills their sister.  And livestreams their reaction to their sister’s violent death. 

Morbid Fact Du Jour For July 23, 2017

Today’s Unprofessional Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

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. 

Culled from: Portraits of the Civil War: In phootgraphs, Diaries and Letters

 

Ghastly: Nagasaki Edition


The aftermath of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, August 10, 1945. 

Culled from:  Nagasaki Journey: The Photographs of Yosuke Yamahata, August 10, 1945

Morbid Fact Du Jour For July 19, 2017

Today’s Most Unnatural Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

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.”

Culled from: Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts

 

Corpse Du Jour!


Miss Elizabeth Cooper in Coffin
Anonymous, Geneva, New York
2 3/4″ x 3 1/4″ Daguerrerotype
circa 1843

Culled from:  Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America