Category Archives: Ghastly!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 2, 2017

Today’s Cruel Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

A modification of the execution method known as ‘Broken on the Wheel’ was introduced into France in 1534 by Francis I as the punishment for no fewer than one hundred and fifteen crimes, but it was mainly reserved for traitors and murderers.

The most common technique involved binding the felon, face upwards, on a large cartwheel which lay on the scaffold. An alternative device was a St. Andrew’s cross, consisting of two lengths of timber nailed together in the ‘X’ shape. Once secured, the felon would be lifted so that the wheel or cross could be fixed to a post horizontally or inclined at an angle, thereby affording the spectators a clear and uninterrupted view.

The executioner would take up his iron bar, three feet long by two inches square, or a sledgehammer if he so preferred, and, with great deliberation, slowly and accurately proceed to smash to pulp the arms and legs of the victim. Depending on the sentence, the end would be brought about either by a blow to the heart, neck or stomach or by administering the ‘retentum’, a thin, almost invisible cord passed round the victim’s throat and pulled tight, thereby strangling him.

The more serious the crime, the greater the length of time before the coup de grâce was given. In the case of eighty-six-year-old John Calas of Toulouse, who in 1761 was believed to have killed his own son, he was first tortured to persuade him to reveal the names of his accomplices. He was then sentenced to be broken on the wheel, but not to receive the retentum until two hours had passed; and after death his body was to be burned to ashes.

The Cruel Death of Calas

Culled from: The Book Of Execution

Death Bed Photo Du Jour!

Circa 1855 – sixth-plate daguerreotype – 3.75″ x 3.25″
A sad young woman, her head resting on her hand, resignedly waits for death.

Culled from: Beyond the Dark Veil: Post-Mortem and Mourning Photography from the Thanatos Archive

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 24, 2017

Work is eating my life, as usual – so that’s why I haven’t been sending out the facts regularly.  Soon, very soon, the ordeal will be over and I’ll be able to resume my normal schedule.  Thank you for staying morbid in my absence!

Today’s Severe Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Peine Forte et Dure, meaning ‘severe and hard punishment’, was a dreaded procedure that started with a warning given by the court, and repeated twice, of the consequences should the accused persist in his refusal to plead. He was then allowed a few hours to consider the ultimatum and, if still defiant, Judgement of Penance would be announced.

That the prisoner shall be sent back to the prison from whence he came, and put into a mean room, stopped from the light, and shall there be laid on the bare ground without any litter, straw or other covering, and without any garment about him except something about his middle. He shall lie, a stone beneath his back, his head shall be covered and his feet shall be bare. One of his arms shall be drawn with a cord to the side of the room, and the other arm to the other side, and his legs shall be served in the same manner. Then there shall be laid upon his body as much iron or stone as he can bear, and more. And the first day after he shall have three morsels of barley bread, without any drink, and the second day he shall be allowed to drink as much as he can, at three times, of the water that is next the prison door, except running water, without any bread. And this shall be his diet until he dies. 

The penalty occasionally varied, the sharp stone under the back was perhaps omitted, but the result was the same. Should the prisoner continue to defy the court, death would ensue. As it did in the case of Walter Calverley who, when accused at York Assizes in 1605 of murdering his wife and two of his young children, remained mute. He maintained his silence to the end, and so was pressed to death. Not quite so stoic, or suicidal, was Thomas Spiggot, a highwayman who, in 1721, also came to the erroneous conclusion that silence was golden.

When he refused to plead, he was taken to Newgate Prison and in the Press Room was subjected to the ordeal. He endured 350 pounds weight for half an hour, lying apparently half conscious though at times he complained that the warders were putting weights on his face, doubtless due to the sensation caused by the compression of his blood vessels. With the addition of a further fifty pounds, he surrendered and begged to be allowed to plead. And on February 8, 1721 he was hanged at Tyburn.

Culled from: Rack, Rope and Red-Hot Pincers


Ghastly: Human Decomposition Stain Edition

Here’s a fascinating, yet ghastly, collection of human decomposition stains courtesy of Weird Creepy Shit.

Human Decomposition Stains

Thanks to Anna who says, “Some would actually make for lovely wall patterns and such.” 

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 15, 2017

Today’s Nourishing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

A young Kentucky woman directed in her will that tobacco should be planted on her grave, so that her bereaved lovers could smoke the leaves which her remains had nourished.

Culled from: Weird Wills & Eccentric Last Wishes

Perhaps a secondary motivation would be lung cancer?  Wicked woman!


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 a series from his book  Weegee’s New York: Photographs, 1935-1960.

Tramp on Lower East Side… 

… is hit by a taxi…

… and is receiving the last rites.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 10, 2017

Today’s Bankrobbing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Today we continue the story of the Suburban Bonnie and Clyde – bankrobbers from 1990’s Chicagoland. In yesterday’s episode, Jill and Jeffrey Erickson were nabbed while preparing to rob a bank on December 16, 1991. Rather than let the coppers take her, Jill attempted to drive away from police and shot herself when the prospect of escape became hopeless.  Today we learn what happened to Jeffrey.

Meanwhile, husband Jeff was hustled off to the Dirksen Building, where he was booked on federal bank robbing charges. In a newspaper interview just a few months later, the cynical and bemused ex-cop turned stickup man ridiculed the booking procedures and security lapses and recommended that the Marshal’s Service conduct an emergency officer’s safety training session. He boasted that it would have been easy for him to snatch a gun from the detention officer’s holster and walk scot-free through the Dearborn Street revolving doors and into the safety of the pedestrian throngs. 

“When I was fingerprinted they told me they were going to put me in prison for life. But the number one wrong thing to do they did. You never handcuff palms together, hands in front and that’s what they did,” Erickson said, literally diagramming for a reporter his intended plan of escape. The FBI, the Marshal’s Service, and court security should have been paying closer attention, but they were not. “They put me in civilian elevators. That’s how they take guys out of the lockup area.”

Smug know-it-all Jeff Erickson

The day of reckoning came on July 20, 1992 – the sixth day of Erickson’s criminal trial before Judge James Alesia of the U.S. District Court. At 5:30 in the afternoon, just as thousands of homeward-bound Loop office workers poured out of their offices and were on their way to the commuter train stations and CTA Rapid Transit lines, Erickson, dressed in a blue suit, was riding an elevator to the underground parking garage of the Dirksen Building from which he was scheduled to be transported to his cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), just a few blocks away.

While standing inside the garage elevator, Erickson managed to squirm out of his handcuffs and seize the firearm belonging to Terry Pinta, a female Deputy Marshal. “He’s got my gun!” Pinta yelled, as Erickson smashed her across the head with the weapon. He turned and fired two shots at deputy marshal Roy Frakes, who had no chance to defend himself. New to the job, Frakes collapsed to the floor with wounds to the head and back. He died at Northwestern Hospital less than half an hour later.

“I’m going to jail!” raged Jeffrey Erickson in a blind fury. “I’m going to jail! I’m going to die anyway! I’m going to take everybody with me!” Erickson raced through the garage toward the auto exit ramp leading out of the Federal Building and onto eastbound Jackson Boulevard with its dingy passport-photo studios and doughnut shops.

Standing between Erickson and freedom was Harry Belluomini, a retired thirty-one-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, who had left the job with the rank detective and an honorable career on the streets already behind him. At the time of the Erickson trial, he was employed by the General Security Services Corporation as a security guard.

Belluomini, who had earned many commendations in Chicago and was looking forward to retiring to Wisconsin with his wife once his Chicago house was sold, stood in the direct line of fire. Before he could release the safety, Erickson drew down. 

Fatally wounded, Belluomini managed to fire off one round at the fleeing gunman with his dying breath. Erickson dropped to the narrow sidewalk, twenty five feet shy of the street. Though his wound was probably not fatal, the bank robber realized that his last chance to escape was squandered. He had saved a final bullet for himself, thus fulfilling his end of the death pact made with Jill, whom he had adored. 

Harry Belluomini was cited for his heroism. The section of Dearborn Street passing by the Dirksen Building was appropriately renamed “Harry Belluomini Way” by the Chicago City Council.  

Culled from: Return Again to the Scene of the Crime


Autopsy Du Jour!

Autopsy :  A Mothers Instinct  -  Foster Child Murdered
David brought this fascinating video to my attention. In graphic post-mortem and post-exhumation photographs, it tells the story of a little boy who was murdered in the 60’s – a crime that was allowed to go unpunished due to inept forensics until his birth mother tracked down his story and questioned the death verdict.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 7, 2017

Today’s Sorrowful Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On March 16, 1945, the Nazis liquidated the death camp at Spaichingen, located in southwestern Germany, about twenty miles north of the Swiss border. Joseph Freeman and thousands of other inmates began a six-week death march ordeal that ended in the city of Fussen in southern Germany. Joseph’s story is documented in the book The Road To Hell: Recollections of the Nazi Death March. The following is a brief excerpt from the book.

“Before embarking on our trek, I ran back to the barracks, behind the latrines, where I dug out photographs I had buried when I first came to this camp. During the liquidation of our ghetto in 1942, my father ordered me to leave so that I could save myself. With tears in my eyes, I grabbed three pictures from our photograph album, and I ran from our home without looking back. These were the only tangible remains of my past, which I had carried from one death camp to another. These pictures were my steady companions; they have accompanied me in places where I experienced the deepest sorrow, and they were with me at the moment of liberation, when I was rescued from Hell. They are still with me today.

“I remember clutching the photographs in the cattle train as I arrived in Auschwitz and watched as Mengele sent my loved ones to the gas chambers. They were with me when I was in the hospital at Veihingen, where I hovered near death as a result of dysentery. I carried the pictures to the death camp at Schomberg where an SS man split open my skull. I made sure I had them when I was transported to my final camp at Spaichingen, where I hid them near the toilets. Now on this forced march I would take them, photographs of my sister Tania and brother Isaac, neither of whom I had seen since 1942.”

Joseph Freeman with his sister Tania and brother Isaac in 1938. He had this photo with him when he passed out before his liberation from the allies.

Culled from: The Road To Hell: Recollections of the Nazi Death March


Another Dog Walking Find, Circa 1963

Murder Has a Public Face by Larry Millett is a collection of crime and punishment photos in the Speed Graphic era taken in the St. Paul, Minnesota area. Here’s an entry from the book.

Death in the chill of winter has always seemed particularly grim. So it was in February 1963 when a man walking his dog in Minnehaha Park discovered the body of 15-year-old Mary Bell. Here, three Minneapolis police officers examine Bell’s body. Ronald Steeves, 19, who had been dating Bell’s older sister and was angry because Mary had tried to break up the relationship, confessed to the crime. He lured Bell from a Minneapolis home where she was babysitting, drove her to the park, then bludgeoned and stabbed her to death. An autopsy revealed 55 stab wounds, which Steeves explained by telling police, “She just wouldn’t stop breathing.”  Dispatch, Don Spavin, Feb. 28, 1963.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 6, 2017

Today’s Mad Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

King George III of England (1738-1820) suffered from bouts of mental illness throughout his life. The first serious attack of mental illness – and the events covered by the film The Madness of King George – began in 1788 and lasted just a few months. In June 1788 the King had what his doctor called “a smart bilious attack,” and was sent to take the waters at Cheltenham. He returned to Windsor four weeks later apparently cured. Three months later, however, during the evening of October 17, the King fell ill with violent stomach cramps and complained of respiratory problems. His condition alarmed everyone who saw him. The veins in his face stood out; he became delirious and he foamed at the mouth. It is said that the King’s old friends rallied around him with an astonishing display of loyalty by pretending to be mad themselves. The regular court physician, Dr. Baker, reported that the King’s condition was deteriorating quickly. His speech became rapid and agitated, and he babbled feverishly and continuously. He became violent and abusive toward his family and his courtiers, and was generally “quite unlike his normal self.” At one point he lapsed into a coma and appeared to be near death.

The Young Madman

At first it was thought that the King was suffering from “flying gout” – the Georgian medical profession’s stock-in-trade diagnosis for anything they couldn’t explain, which covered pretty much everything. This mysterious affliction was thought to be relatively harmless unless one was unfortunate enough to get it in one’s head. The king’s flying gout, it was asserted, had originated in his feet but had traveled to his brain and become somehow stuck there. The answer was to apply blisters to the royal head to drive the gout back down again. When it became all too obvious that this was a painful waste of time, Dr. Baker administered large drafts of opium to his patient, but was otherwise completely baffled by the King’s illness and at a complete loss what to do about it.

Six more doctors were called in to the King, none of them any wiser than the last, but each hoping to profit by finding a fluke cure for the royal affliction. They bickered among themselves, placed his head on a pillow made from a bag of warm hops, put leeches on his temples, gave him large doses of James’s Powder to make him sweat, and stuck his feet in red-hot water to draw out the “humor.” Eventually the only thing that everyone could agree on was that the King was suffering from temporary insanity. Finally and very reluctantly, they agreed to stand aside and let a so-called expert on the treatment of the mentally ill have a go. Enter the Willises of Wapping.  

The Willises had at their disposal a complete, in-depth, contemporary understanding of how to treat the mentally ill. That is, they hadn’t a clue either. Willis Senior confidently asserted that the King’s illness was the result of “severe exercise, weighty business, severe abstemiousness and too little rest” and set about preparing his cure. The King, who had no idea what was coming to him, was at first quite relaxed about the arrival of Willis and in his lucid intervals was even able to joke with him about his treatment. The King even dubbed the dreadful iron contraption which Willis forced him into every day as his “new coronation chair.” 

Getting the Royal Treatment

The royal knockabout banter didn’t last. The Willises’ state-of-the-art equipment for the treatment of mental illness comprised a straitjacket, iron clamps, a chair and a length of rope. Additional treatment was in accordance with conventional guidelines: frequent bleedings, forced vomiting, a starvation diet, salivations, and afterward a cold bath. To divert “morbid humors” from the King’s head they applied blisters – various types of irritants – to the skin on his legs. These humors were supposed to be drawn through the serum of the blisters and through the pus that formed as they became infected, thus creating running sores that lasted for weeks. For the final eight years of the King’s life, his medical bill was a staggering £271,000.  

The old King spent the last eight or nine years of his life blind and deaf, alone in the north side of Windsor Castle. He lived in complete silence, white-haired and bearded, now and then picking at his harpsichord, or talking to dead friends, or occasionally indecently exposing himself to his servants. 

The Old Madman

Culled from: Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty


From the Some People Have All The Luck Department

A friend of a Facebook friend’s dog found this on a walk. What a good dog!  (The police found the rest of the remains and are investigating.)  (Thanks to Dena for letting me share these pics.)

Morbid Fact Du Jour for February 4, 2017

Today’s Rebellious Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Although Julius Caesar had attempted to conquer Britain in 55 and 54 BC, the Romans did not mount a successful invasion until AD 43, under Claudius. Arriving at the south coast, the Romans made their way up the Thames Estuary. Finding a spot where the tidal river proved deep enough for shipping but narrow enough for a crossing, they immediately grasped its strategic significance and created a makeshift settlement of forty acres along the waterfront. ‘Londinium’, capital of the Province of Britannia, was born. But Londinium soon became a target for the oppressed Britons.

In A.D. 60, the Britons, led by Queen Boudicca, rebelled. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, Boudicca hated the Romans as they had stolen her land when she was widowed, flogged her and raped her daughters. Intent on wiping out their oppressors, Boudicca’s army descended on London and burned it to the ground. This first Great Fire of London was so intense that it melted bronze coins, scorching the earth so profoundly that archaeologists discovered a seared layer of soil centuries later. Boudicca took no prisoners. Tacitus recorded that over 70,000 Romans and their allies – men, women and children- perished in the massacre; they were lynched, burned and even crucified. Romans were beheaded and thrown into the river. The number of skulls recovered from the Walbrook near Finsbury Circus, and the Thames around Battersea and Mortlake prompted the Victorian archaeologist Henry Syer Cuming to name the river ‘our Celtic Golgotha’.

Don’t fuck with Boudicca!

The Romans soon retaliated, however, crushing the insurgents and, once they had regained control, set about creating London in the image of a Roman city. A defensive wall, nine feet wide, eighteen feet high and nearly two miles long was constructed – sections of which survive to this very day. Inside the wall was the Forum (on what is now Gracechurch Street in the City), a combination of low court, council chamber and shopping mall. With their passion for town planning, the Romans laid out streets, villas and temples. In a policy shift which the historian Guy de la Bédoyère has compared with modern Western Imperialism, the Romans converted militant Britons to their way of life with consumer enticement, introducing them to the urbane pleasures of hot spas and fine dining, encouraging them to wear togas and speak Latin.  

Culled from: Necropolis: London and Its Dead

Sadly, badass Boudicca died shortly after the failed uprising (either from illness or suicide), but they’re still finding the (possible) skulls of her victims!

Roman Skulls Found During Crossrail Dig In London May Be Boudicca Victims 


Aghast!  Gang Gun Edition!

DECEMBER 13, 1935
Photographer: Detrick
Samuel Mandel, racketeer. Victim of gang guns in Paterson.  

Culled from: New York Noir: Crime Photos from the Daily News Archive

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 3, 2017

On May 19, 1845, the 59-year-old explorer Sir John Franklin set off to search for the supposed Northwest Passage around the top of Canada, which was seen as an alternative route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. His two ships Erebus and Terror were well provisioned with five years’ supply of food for the 129 officers and crew, whose quarters were equipped with central heating. In August the ships were seen in Baffin Bay, in north Canada, but then they disappeared. By 1848, when nothing had been heard of the expedition, other ships were sent to look for them but they returned without finding any trace, and it was not until 1850 that the graves of three crew members were discovered on Beechey Island. The bodies were those of John Torrington, John Hartnell, and William Brain who died in 1846. The ships had clearly spent some time on the island because they had discarded more than 700 empty cans. 

The Intrepid Explorer Sir John Franklin

Terror and Erebus

The provisions for Terror are still on record and included thousands of cans of meat, soup, vegetables, and potatoes. Most of the food they took consisted of flour (30 tonnes), salted meat (14 tonnes), biscuits (7.5 tonnes), sugar (5 tonnes), spirits (2300 gallons), chocolate (2 tonnes), and lemon juice (2 tonnes), and these were regarded as sufficient to supply this ship of 67 men for three years. 

Label from a soup can from the expedition

In 1988, Dr. Owen Beattie and researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, were allowed to exhume and analyze the perfectly preserved remains of the three men and they found such high levels of lead that it seems almost certain that the men died of lead poisoning, probably exacerbated by scurvy, despite the lemon juice that had been taken on the expedition to prevent this condition developing.  The researchers were able to prove that the lead in the bodies came from the solder of the canned food that they ate, by analyzing empty cans found nearby. The ratio of lead isotopes in the victims was the same as that of the lead solder, and quite different from the ratio of lead isotopes in local Inuit people. The body of Petty officer John Torrington, which was extremely well preserved, revealed levels of 600 ppm in his hair, proving that exposure to lead was high during the months preceding his death. The other bodies had slightly lower lead levels of 300 ppm but even these indicate a dangerous level of exposure.

The exhumed men as seen in life.  

The lonely graves

(The far more interesting exhumation photos are included as a gallery below!) 

Were these seamen really victims of the canned foods they had eaten? It is quite possible. These were the early days of this kind of food preservation and the process and technology of canning was poorly developed. The first commercial food cannery was that of Messrs Donkin & Hall of Bermondsey, London, and it began to supply the Royal Navy with canned meats, vegetables, and soups from 1812 onwards. Indeed Donkin & Hall’s ‘Preserved Meat’ and “Vegetable Soup’ were part of the provisions of the 1814 expedition to explore Baffin Bay. By 1818 the Admiralty was ordering more than 20,000 cans a year, mainly of beef, mutton, veal, various soups, and vegetables.

Soup can from the Expedition

The cans were filled through a small hole at the top, which was then sealed by having a disc soldered over the hole. They were then heated for an hour or so in boiling water but sometimes the cans were not heated long enough to kill off all the bacteria within them, and then they were found to be putrid when they were opened. The cans preserved their contents by remaining airtight but they slowly leached lead from the solder into the food they contained. In 1824 an expedition, captained by W.E. Parry, had earlier been sent to search for the Northwest Passage and he took several thousand cans; in 1936, 112 years later, two unopened ones were found and returned to England for analysis. These were a four-pound can of roast veal and a two-pound can of carrots. They were opened and their contents found to be in good condition, although they had a metallic taste.  They were then fed to rats without these rodents showing any adverse affect. 

What remains…

Nothing more was found of the Franklin expedition until 1859 when a cairn of stones was discovered on King William Island. In it was a bottle and a note to the effect that the ships had become icebound on September 12, 1846 and that they were unable to free themselves the following summer, 1847, and were still locked in the ice at the end of the following winter, 1848. Franklin had died on June 11, 1847, and by the spring of 1848 another 20 men had also died.

At this point the remaining crew decided to abandon the ships and walk the 150 km across King William Island, pulling a boat with them in which they would then row to mainland Canada to the nearest fur-trading fort. According to the note found in the cairn they set off on April 22, 1848. When the lifeboat was eventually found it contained two skeletons and an assortment of articles that defy explanation: button polish, silk handkerchiefs, curtain rods, and a portable writing desk. Were the member of the expedition just behaving irrationally, maybe thinking these were things they could trade with the natives? Possibly. Or were they simply mad and no longer even able to think straight?

The local Inuit told stories of thin and gaunt-looking white men they had met, who, they reported had been reduced to cannibalism, and indeed some of the bones from the skeletons that were discovered bore knife marks suggesting that flesh was cut from them. Of around 400 bones that have been found, almost a quarter of them have multiple cut-marks. A less gruesome explanation is that the marks were from wounds caused by Inuit who attacked them. Beattie analyzed the bones for lead and measured levels of more than 200 ppm although this could only indicate a lifetime exposure to this metal. 

Dem Bones Don’t Lie!

Lead may not have caused the deaths of the members of the expedition but it must have seriously weakened them and there is evidence that they also suffered from scurvy. The lemon juice that they took to prevent this would retain its vitamin C for only a certain period, and after a year would be virtually useless as a means of preventing the disease. Whatever happened, the members of that ill-fated expedition certainly suffered from lead poisoning. 

Culled from: The Elements of Murder

I must mention that in recent years there has been a great deal of skepticism regarding the lead poisoning theory for the deaths and it is now believed that malnutrition, starvation, and exposure are a far more likely explanation.  


Aghast!  The Franklin Expedition Mummies!

Have I ever mentioned that my greatest sadness about global warming is that all the fantastic frozen mummies around the world will start to rot? Okay, maybe that’s not my GREATEST sadness, but dammit!  Just take a look at how fantastic the permafrost has preserved the remains of these guys!

John Torrington

John Torrington died on January 1, 1846 at the approximate age of 20.  Here’s an interesting snippet from Wikipedia about his post-mortem fame:

After ensuring that Torrington’s descendants were aware of the plan, Beattie and his team began their work on 17 August 1984. Torrington’s coffin was 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) deep in the permafrost, which the team had to dig through. When the coffin was opened they saw how well preserved the outer parts of Torrington’s body were, apparently not much different from the day he was buried. In order to thaw the body, the team poured water on the ice, to slowly melt it away and therefore not cause any damage to the body. Once thawed, they undressed the body to examine it. They found that Torrington had been very sick at the time of his death—he was so thin all his ribs were visible, and he only weighed about 38.5 kilograms (85 lb). After conducting a thorough autopsy and taking some tissue samples, the team left to analyse what they had discovered.

Tissue samples revealed that Torrington’s body had probably been stored on board ship while his grave was being dug; in almost all areas, significant cell autolysis had occurred, and cell definition was very poor. His brain was almost completely gone, leaving only a “yellow granular liquid”. The lungs showed scarring from earlier bouts with tuberculosis as well as signs of more recent pneumonia. After toxicology analysis showed heightened levels of lead in Torrington’s hair and fingernails, the team concluded Torrington had died from pneumonia, after suffering from various lung problems, which were aggravated by the lead poisoning. Beattie believed that the canned food was the most likely source of the lead. More tests revealed a high amount of lead in all three bodies, and some feel that this was chief cause of the expedition’s failure. Photographs of Torrington, in a remarkable state of outward preservation, were published widely, including in People magazine which named him one of the world’s most interesting personalities in 1984, and the widely-reprinted photograph inspired James Taylor to write a song, “The Frozen Man”, and Iron Maiden to write “Stranger in a Strange Land”. British poet Sheenagh Pugh wrote an award-winning poem, “Envying Owen Beattie”, about the Torrington exhumation. Authors Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler were also inspired by the photograph, and the account of the research provided by Beattie and John G. Geiger in their book, Frozen In Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition. Atwood wrote a short story, “The Age of Lead”, and Richler included references to the research and the Franklin expedition itself in his novel, Solomon Gursky Was Here.

Here’s one of the coffins as it is being exhumed.  Do you think they took coffins with them on the ship? Kinda morbid cargo, huh? 

Heeeeeere’s Johnny!

Torrington, looking like he has the worst toothache ever!

Amazingly preserved feet, complete with toe ties!

Sleep well, handsome!

John Hartnell

The second John to be exhumed was Hartnell, who died on January 4, 1846 at the age of 25.  Here’s what Wikipedia says about Hartnell’s exhumation:

What they found was very surprising. Not only was Dr. Beattie stunned to see Hartnell’s incredibly well-preserved (and mummified) remains through the melting ice, he was even more surprised to see that Hartnell’s body had already been autopsied. Beattie and his team also noticed that John Hartnell’s right eye seemed damaged (an issue beyond the sinking-into-the-sockets impact that would have occurred from prior thawing). Setting aside who did what to the mummy – before Owen Beattie’s examination – when Beattie and his team removed Hartnell’s cap, they saw a great deal of hair. They were able to use Hartnell’s hair to conclude that his body contained large amounts of lead at the time of his death.

An additional tidbit from MacLean’s:

Hartnell had been buried without pants, but was wearing a shirt embroidered with the letters “T.H.”—his brother’s initials. (Thomas’s body has never been found.) He was evidently respected enough among the crew that they had sewn him a pillow stuffed with wood chips from the coffin. “There was a little frill around the edge filled with these shavings,” says Spenceley. “It was a touching element.”

And, also, heeeeeere’s Johnny!

Dapper Gentleman, isn’t he?

Profile Pic-worthy!  Check out that hair!

Perfectly preserved hands

William Braine

At a worldly 32 years old, William was not only the oldest but also the last of the trio to die, on April 3, 1846. I couldn’t find any detailed info on William, poor guy.  I guess it’s true that the young ones get the most attention. 

Braine as he appeared pre-autopsy

Ready for his close-up

And during the autopsy – all his hair has been lost.  

Rest in Peace on that lonely island.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 1, 2017

Today’s Careless Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Mine Inspector’s Report




JOSIAH HALL, Mine Inspector.

ACCIDENT No. 16.– January 17th. Louis Hart, by his own carelessness, lost his life while riding up in the skip from the 5th level in No. 5 shaft, at the Baltic Mine. Louis Hart and four miners got into the skip at noon hour to go to surface from the 5th level. Hart was sitting on the northwest corner of the skip. John Norpe, one of the miners, told him to get into the skip, he was in danger sitting there. Hart said: “I am all right.” When they were hoisted to the fourth level, Hart’s head was caught under the timber of the gate piece. John Morpe saw Hart falling off the skip and caught him by the leg and called to stop the skip, and they put him in the skip and brought him to surface. Arthur Caldwell said: “I am a timberman in the Baltic Mine. Louis Hart has been working with me about three months. I have often warned him about riding on the edge of the skip and compelled him to get into the skip for I considered it dangerous to ride on the edge.”

Frank Hart, Jr. a brother of Louis, was present and heard the statements of the men who were riding in the skip with his brother when he was killed, and requested that no inquest be held as it was not necessary.

The oft-doomed fellows at Michigan’s Baltic Mine.

Culled from: Some Fatal Accidents in the Atlantic, Baltic, Champion, Trimountain and Winona Copper Mines

I’m not really sure what killed Louis… it sounds like they stopped him from falling?  I’m guessing head trauma?  Not a very good report, Mine Inspector Josiah Hall!


Ghastly!  Spotty Edition

Illustration culled from one of the newest additions to The Library Eclectica: The Sick Rose: Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration.

“The head of a child with blisters and other lesions affecting the skin.”

Morbid Fact Du Jour For January 28, 2017

Today’s Kidnapped Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Historians have few sources on the initial reactions of captured Africans who were sold into slavery in the New World. Fortunately, there were a few African-born slaves who lived to recount stories of their enslavement. The most famous and revealing account of the process was written by Gustavus Vassa, or Olaudah Equiano. The son of an Ibo tribal elder, Olaudah was born in 1745 in a part of the Benin empire (located in what is now Eastern Nigeria). Olaudah and his sister were kidnapped when he was eleven. At first, they comforted each other. When they were separated, Olaudah cried and refused to eat for several days. 

Olaudah was sold to European slave traders seven months after his capture. Arriving on the coast, he was terrified by the strange ship and the white men with “horrible looks, red faces, and long hair.” The boat was a veritable devil’s pit. The whites were “so savage” that he was sure they were going to kill and eat him. When he saw a pot of water boiling on the deck, he fainted. The billowing sails and the ability of the whites to make the ship start and stop at will filled him with wonder and convinced him the white men were evil spirits. The groaning men, shrieking women, galling chains, and nauseating, suffocating smell made the hold of the ship “a scene of horror almost inconceivable.” On the way to Barbados, two slaves, chained together, jumped overboard and drowned.Although he was anxious about his fate and terrified by the whites, Olaudah was consoled by some members of his own tribe who were on board. Still, the constant flogging of black slaves and white sailors and men dying daily were oppressive. “Every circumstance I met with served only to render my state more painful, and heighten my apprehensions and my opinion of the cruelty of the whites.” The voyage was a nightmare; the hold a den of horrors. 

When the boat docked in Barbados, a new series of horrors began for Olaudah. Immediately, the blacks were painstakingly examined by the eager merchants. Again, the haunting fear of the cannibalistic tendencies of the whites returned, and Olaudah asserted: “there was much dread and trembling among us, and nothing but bitter cries…” This continued until some slaves came on board and explained that the Africans had been brought to the island to work for the whites. Taken off the ship and herded into a stockade, they were amazed by the brick houses of the whites and the horses they rode. The amazement turned to terror a few days later when the Africans were sold by the “shout” or “scramble.” Olaudah described the spectacle in the following words:

We were not many days in the merchant’s custody before we were sold after their usual manner, which is this: On a signal given, (as the beat of a dream) the buyers rush at once into the yard where the slaves are confined, and make choice of that parcel they like best. The noise and clamour with which this is attended and the eagerness visible in the countenances of the buyers serve not a little to increase the apprehensions of the terrified Africans… In this manner, without scruple, are relations and friends separated, most of them never to see each other again.

Most of the Africans were sold in Barbados, but a small group, including Olaudah, were taken to a Virginia plantation. Soon Olaudah was the only newly imported African left on the plantation. He was mortified by his inability to converse with anyone. “I was now exceedingly miserable, and thought myself worse off than any of the rest of my companions; for they could talk to each other, but I had no person to speak to that I could understand. In this state I was constantly grieving and pining, and wishing for death, rather than anything else.”

On the Virginia plantation he weeded grass and gathered stones for a few days. Then, called to the mansion to fan his master, Olaudah was terrified by the iron muzzle on the face of the black cook, mystified by the ticking of a clock, and convinced that a portrait on the wall watched his every move and would report any of his transgressions to his master who was asleep. Consequently, he performed his task “with great fear.”  He spent “some time in this miserable, forlorn, and much dejected state without having anyone to talk to, which made my life a burden,” until an English sea captain purchased him. 

Culled from: The Slave Community

Olaudah went on to purchase his freedom in 1766 and became an outspoken proponent of the British movement to end the slave trade. His autobiography, published in 1789 helped in the creation of the Slave Trade Act 1807, which ended the African trade for Britain and its colonies.

Olaudah Equiano


Ghastly: Jumpers Edition

The following is culled from Strange Days Dangerous Nights: Photos From the Speed Graphic Era.

Early in the morning on the last day of 1944, 30-year-old Kathleen Bokuske of South Minneapolis walked out onto the Lake Street – Marshall Avenue Bridge, climbed over the railing near the center of the span, and leaped to her death. Her “crushed body,” as the Pioneer Press described it, landed on a thin layer of ice coating the Mississippi River, and it took quite an effort by firemen using ropes, ladders, and toboggans to bring the body back to shore. In the manner of the time, the newspaper used arrows and a circle around the body to show exactly how and where Bokuske, who was said to be suffering from a “nervous ailment,” had gone to her death.

The photograph is grimly straightforward and very sad. Bokuske’s “ailment” would today almost surely be called depression, and as with all suicides, the scene conveys a deep sense of loneliness and loss.