Category Archives: Library

Morbid Fact Du Jour for October 6, 2016

Today’s Rampaging Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On the Friday afternoon of February 24, 1984, at 2:23 PM, students of the 49th Street Elementary School in south-central Los Angeles exited the school building onto the playground.

Across the street in a two-story white Victorian house lived a preschool teacher named Mary Lou Hill and her unemployed fiance Tyrone Mitchell. At 28, Mitchell was well-known for his irrational behavior. He had recently threatened his uncle with a machine gun, almost got into a gunfight with another uncle, and his neighbors had seen him shooting at planes heading in to land at nearby LAX, though they were too afraid of him to report this.

Without warning, Mitchell opened fire on the schoolyard, firing 39 rounds from an AR-15 rifle and 18 rounds with each of two shotguns. Students dashed for cover, most making it inside the building, where they were herded to the library on the other side, away from the shooting. Those left outside hid as best they could behind trees and bushes. A squad car was in the area at the time and immediately summoned more police and paramedics.

One ambulance drove directly into the playground, the paramedics pulling injured and uninjured children alike into the vehicle while under fire from Mitchell.

Ten-year-old Shala Eubanks was badly injured, and playground supervisor Albert Jones tried several times to get to her and move her to safety, only to be driven back by the gunfire each time. She was finally moved into the school, where medics attempted to save her, but she died on a classroom floor.
Carlos Lopez, 24, had been walking past the school on his way to go to the park to jog when the gunfire erupted. He was hit in the abdomen and later underwent surgery to remove most of his damaged spleen and pancreas, but he died in the hospital almost two months later.

Police surrounded the house, and when Mary Lou Hill arrived she asked to be allowed to go inside and try to talk her fiance into giving himself up. She was not permitted to enter for fear she would be taken hostage, and just before six P.M., after many canisters of tear gas were thrown into the house, officers stormed the place and found Mitchell in the upstairs bedroom. He had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

No motive was ever established for the rampage. Mitchell was said to be a heavy drug user, but Hill always disputed this and no drugs were found in his system, and only a very small amount of alcohol. Most believe his mental instability stemmed at least partly from the fact that Mitchell’s parents, four sisters and one brother all died at Jonestown in 1978.

Tyrone Mitchell

Culled from: Wikipedia
Submitted by: Aimee


Wretched Recommendations: The Knick

Alex sent me a television series recommendation – one which many of you may already know about.  I live in a vacuum, so I did not.

Just wondering- have you watched The Knick on Cinemax? It’s a great little dramatic series that takes place in the fictional Knickerbocker hospital in NYC around the year 1900. Plenty of explicit surgery, medical quackery, and all other kinds of gruesomeness (separating Siamese twins, for example). The fact that it’s mainstream (directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Clive Owen) is surprising, and the production values are terrific.

Thanks for the suggestion, Alex. It sounds fantastic – and I just got the season 1 disk from Netflix yesterday.  I’ll let you know what I think once I have a chance to watch it.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For September 3, 2016

Today’s Mangled Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On locomotives, while the conductor may have been officially in charge, it was the engineer who actually made the train go, an arrangement that often led to intense rivalry between the two men. According to one former railroader, the unwritten law of railroading was that the conductor’s authority ceased at the back end of the tender – that is, at the rear end of the engine and the permanently coupled car that carried its coal and water. In the cab of the locomotive it was the swaggering hotshot known as the engineer who was boss. This “engine runner” (also called a “hoghead” or “hogger” or even “throttle jockey”) was the object of the most intense popular fascination – it’s been said that even Sigmund Freud dreamed of becoming a railroad engineer.

Assisting the engineer – and stationed on the left side of the locomotive cab, as opposed to the engine runner’s right-side post – was the train’s fireman. Also known as the “tallow pot” (since it was his responsibility to grease the engine’s valves), he was the man charged with keeping the locomotive well stoked with coal – a job that tended to leave its performer “so black that his best friends would not know him when washed up.” On a particularly fast or difficult run, at least on engines without mechanical stokers, the fireman could spend virtually his entire long shift “shoveling real estate,” or loading coal from the tender into the firebox. It was overall a thankless, exhausting, and poorly paid job, its only compensation being that it served as an apprenticeship for the far more desirable position of engineer.

The real yeomen of the train service were the brakemen, of which there were usually two or more per train, and the switchmen, essentially brakemen who worked in the confines of a single rail yard. Until the widespread adoption of safety appliances such as air brakes and automatic couplers in the 1880s and ’90s, the brakeman’s job was notoriously dangerous. Early “brakies” had to crawl onto the roofs of moving trains, in all kinds of weather and in any kind of terrain, to apply and release each car’s individual hand brake; when assembling trains in a rail yard, they had to stand between converging cars and deftly slip a metal pin into the primitive link-and-pin couplers. Mistakes were frequent and their consequences often dire. “What’re brakemen for anyway,” a mangled veteran once complained to an early railroad chronicler. “Nothin’ but fodder for cars ‘n’ engines to eat up.” This was not an exaggeration; it was a rare brakeman who still had all ten of his fingers.

Icy train roofs and winding rails? No worries!

Mind those fingers!

Even with the introduction of ever-safer equipment and practices, steam railroading remained an occupation with on-the-job casualty rates that would be unthinkable today – not just for brakemen but for nearly everyone on the payroll. Some of the busier rail yards in the American system, at least in the 1870s, were virtual slaughterhouses, seeing three to five men killed per week. (According to one yard switchman, his sister kept a clean bedsheet reserved at all times, “for the express purpose of wrapping up my mangled remains.”) Even as late as 1907, one out of every eight trainmen suffered serious injury every year. In a difficult mountain area like the Cascade Division, the odds of avoiding casualty were even slimmer. Railroading was, in sum, “a miserable living gained by the hardest kind of work, with almost a certainty of being crippled, or meeting death by some horrible means.” The fact that there was usually no shortage of applicants for most railroad jobs is, under the circumstances, remarkable – a tribute to the industry’s lingering prestige.

Culled from: The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America’s Deadliest Avalanche


Wretched Recommendations: Avalanche Edition!

The last couple of facts (and several in the future) were culled from my latest read: The White Cascade.  Here’s my review of it, if you care.

The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America’s Deadliest Avalanche
by Gary Krist

The White Cascade takes us back to a different America: an America before the automobile, where railroad companies held incredible power as the primary transit and shipping vessels in our vast country. The locomotive, more than any other invention, opened up the United States, allowing for relatively easy cross-country moves to otherwise extremely remote locations along the West Coast. And the Great Northern Railway was the company that opened up the Pacific Northwest by running a track directly over the imposing Cascade Mountains.

The Great Northern was the creation of entrepreneur James J. Hill and was the only major American railroad system that was created entirely from private funds rather than government land grants.  And the man who was superintendent of the Great Northern’s Cascade Division in 1910 was James H. O’Neill. He was a born railroader that had been working for the Great Northern since he was a 13-year-old water boy. He was directly responsible for the fate of all trains that traveled through the hazardous Cascades.

In February, 1910 two trains left Spokane on their way to Seattle via the Cascade route. Great Northern had a fleet of rotary snow plows – immense trains that could easy clear away most of the snow drifts along the tracks – and a wealth of experience in fighting the winter weather that would otherwise cripple the line. There was little concern when the trains left Spokane in the midst of a typical February snowstorm.  However, along the way the storm gained strength until it piled on 11 feet of snow in one day.  The rotary snowplows became overwhelmed and stuck at various points along the track  and, without them, the trains had to stop near a the little railroad town of Wellington, Washington.

While the passengers were stuck, O’Neill was kept up every night trying to get the snowplows moving again.  He sent troops of men in to dig out the plows but as soon as one would get dug out, an avalanche would bury another portion of the track and they’d have to start all over again clearing debris and snow.

The passengers sat for a day, then two days, then three days, then four.  By the fourth day, the minor annoyances of boredom and missed engagements began to be superseded by fear as they heard avalanches in the mountains around them. The passengers suggested that the trains be moved from their vulnerable position along the tracks below bare, fire-ravaged slopes to a tunnel a few hundred yards away. However, the engineer explained that they would be unable to heat the cars in the tunnels due to the certainty of asphyxiation. Despite the pleas of the most fearful of the passengers, the trains would stay put.

On the sixth night, March 1, 1910, the snowstorm changed to a violent, warmer thunderstorm. In the darkness of the early morning, amid violent thunder, lightning, and rain, the snowfield above the train collapsed sending an enormous wall of snow down the hill. The avalanche engulfed the trains and sent them tumbling into the canyons below.  Ninety-six passengers and crew would die in what became known as the Wellington Train Disaster.

Krist does an excellent job of retelling the various aspects of the story, from the lives of O’Neill, Hill, and many of the doomed passengers, to the difficulties of train travel through the Cascades, to the legal battles that dogged Great Northern after the disaster. When all is said and done, you’re left sympathizing with beleaguered O’Neill and yet feeling like perhaps there was something more that could have been done to protect the passengers. The legal decisions were just as varied, with some holding the railway responsible, and others considering it an “act of God” that was handled as adeptly as possible.

Today, the town of Wellington and the wreckage of the trains are long gone, but a disused railway tunnel and immense cement snow shelters that were built over the rails in the years following the disaster to prevent a repeat still stand as memorials to a train that sat in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Read about more ill-advised adventures at The Library Eclectica!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for May 3, 2016

Today’s Urbane Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Reputedly modeled on the fifteenth-century monster Gilles de Rais, the folktale character Bluebeard is a sinister nobleman who murders a succession of wives and stores their corpses in a locked room in his castle. In real life, the term is used to describe a specific type of serial killer who, like his fictional counterpart, knocks off one wife after another.

There are two major differences between a “Bluebeard” killer and a psycho like Ted Bundy. The latter preys on strangers, whereas the Bluebeard type restricts himself to the women who are unlucky (or foolish) enough to wed him. Their motivations differ, too. Bundy and his ilk are driven by sexual sadism; they are lust murderers. By contrast, the cardinal sin that motivates the Bluebeard isn’t lust but greed. For the most part, this kind of serial killer dispatches his victims for profit.

The most infamous Bluebeard of the twentieth century was a short, balding, red-bearded Frenchman named Henri Landru (the real-life inspiration for Charlie Chaplin’s black comedy Monsieur Verdoux). In spite of his unsightly appearance, Landru possessed an urbane charm that made him appealing to women. It didn’t hurt, of course, that there were so many vulnerable women around – lonely widows of the millions of young soldiers who had perished on the battlefields of World War I. An accomplished swindler who had already been convicted seven times for fraud, Landru found his victims by running matrimonial ads in the newspapers. When a suitable (i.e., wealthy, gullible) prospect responded, Landru would woo her, wed her, assume control of her assets, then kill her and incinerate the corpse in a small outdoor oven on his country estate outside Paris. He was guillotined in 1922, convicted of eleven murders – ten women, plus one victim’s teenaged son.

Would you marry this man?

Culled from: The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers

Arcane Excerpts: Male Menstruation Edition!

Here’s a very strange case of “menstruation” from Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle (1896):

Menstruation in Man. – Periodic discharges of blood in man, constituting what is called “male menstruation” have been frequently noticed and are particularly interesting when the discharge is from the penis or urethra, furnishing a striking analogy to the female function of menstruation. The older authors quoted several such instances, and Mehliss says that in the ancient days certain writers remarked that catamenial lustration from the penis was inflicted on the Jews as a divine punishment… Gloninger tells of a man of thirty-six, who, since the age of seventeen years and five months, had had lunar manifestations of menstruation. Each attack was accompanied by pains in the back and hypogastric region, febrile disturbance, and a sanguineous discharge from the urethra, which resembled in color, consistency, etc., the menstrual flux. King relates that while attending a course of medical lectures at the University of Louisiana he formed the acquaintance of a young student who possessed the normal male generative organs, but in whom the simulated function of menstruation was periodically performed. The cause was inexplicable, and the unfortunate victim was the subject of deep chagrin, and was afflicted with melancholia. He had menstruated for three years in this manner: a fluid exuded from the sebaceous glands of the deep fossa behind the corona glandis; this fluid was of the same appearance as the menstrual flux. The quantity was from one to two ounces, and the discharge lasted from three to six days. At this time the student was twenty-two years of age, of a lymphatic temperament, not particularly lustful, and was never the victim of any venereal disease. The author gives no account of the after-life of this man, his whereabouts being, unfortunately, unknown or omitted.

Poor melancholy man.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For April 26, 2016

Today’s Territorial Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

This chair was present in almost all 19th century American psychiatric hospitals. It had a number of names. Some referred to it as the “strong chair,” while others called it the “neuropsychiatric hospital chair,” and there were those who called it the “NP chair.” It was this type of chair that replaced the bench arrangement already commonly in use at mental hospitals. Some of the chairs had solid bottoms while others had slats or holes for the incontinent. These chairs, constructed of heavy wood, were used for all throughout the hospital, including those patients who required some type of restraint. An obvious plus of a heavy chair was that it could not be tossed a great distance, and it was not easily broken. Chronic patients tended to be territorial, compelled in some unknown way to “control” some space in the ward. It was common for a patient to consider a specific NP chair as his or her personal domain. On returning from a meal, for example, each patient went back to the chair he or she had occupied before the brief absence. Anyone occupying that chair and not giving it up immediately was likely to be challenged. Fights started over such matters on many occasions. These chairs, with patients sitting in them, would line the walls. There was a day when it was considered a good ward if patients would line the walls in their NP chairs and not cause too much disturbance – or, as they say, “not rock the boat.”

Culled from: America’s Care of the Mentally Ill: A Photographic History


Comic Du Jour!

Here’s a morbid little excerpt from The Big Book Of Losers.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For April 21, 2016

As I’d feared, I ended up being unable to send the facts during my long vacation, so that’s the reason for the lull.  I’m back at The Castle DeSpair now and ready to get back to making your lives intolerable on a daily basis!

Today’s Fiendish Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Apprehended for allegedly killing his white employer, Luther Holbert and his wife found themselves subjected to mob justice in Doddsville, Mississippi, in 1904. Some one thousand people stood and watched as the self-appointed executioners went about their business, engaging in the increasingly familiar ritual of torture, mutilation, and murder. A reporter for the Vicksburg Evening Post described the execution of the Holberts.

When the two Negroes were captured, they were tied to trees and while the funeral pyres  were being prepared they were forced to suffer the most fiendish tortures. The blacks were forced to hold out their hands while one finger at a time was chopped off. The fingers were distributed as souvenirs. The ears of the murderers were cut off. Holbert was beaten severely, his skull was fractured and one of his eyes, knocked out with a stick, hung by a shred from the socket… The most excruciating form of punishment consisted in the use of a large corkscrew in the hands of some of the mob. This instrument was bored into the flesh of the man and woman, in the arms, legs and body, and then pulled out, the spirals tearing out big pieces of raw, quivering flesh every time it was withdrawn.

Holbert and his employer had quarreled before the murder, but there was no evidence to implicate Holbert’s wife. Two blacks, mistaken for Luther Holbert, had already been slain by a posse.

Culled from: Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America


The Perils of Self-Pollution

Here’s an illuminating excerpt from What A Young Boy Ought To Know (1897) by Sylvanus Stall. The chapter is entitled, “God’s Purpose in Giving Us Hands”.  I think you know where this is going…

MY DEAR FRIEND HARRY: When God gave man hands, He also gave him intelligence, a moral sense, and a conscience that he might use them aright. With his hands God meant that man should lift himself up infinitely above the animals, but some men, and we are sorry to say boys, too, use their hands so as to debase themselves below the level of the most degraded brute. Instead of using their hands as intelligent and moral beings should do, they use their hands so as to pollute their bodies, by handling and toying with their sexual member in such a way as to produce a sensation, or feeling, which may give a momentary pleasure, but which results in the most serious of injuries to the moral, intellectual, and physical powers. God did not give us a sexual member or organ to be used in this way, and such a use of it is called self-pollution or masturbation.

Man is the only animal except one whose sexual organ is exposed on the outside of his body, and the only animal to whom self-pollution is mechanically or physically possible. [I have known some pets who would disagree with this. – DeSpair] The rare instances which are in conflict with this statement are accidental and altogether exceptional. In the care and use of the sexual member God has reposed the greatest trust in man’s intelligence and moral sense. Upon no other animal has God placed such confidence and responsibilities as upon man. But because of the wickedness of the human heart, the temptations of Satan, and sometimes also because of ignorance upon this important subject, even young boys begin to go wrong, and with no one to instruct and warn them, they pursue evil habits which result in great injury, and if the practice is not stopped the individual is plunged into greater vice and degradation.

I wish that I might say to you, Harry, that but very few boys have ever known anything of this vice, but I do not believe that such a statement would be true. I can say, however, that many pure-minded and innocent boys have learned the habit in very innocent ways, and in the beginning to even mistrusting that the habit was either wicked or injurious. Many boys at a very early age have discovered the sensation by sliding down the banisters, or at a little later period in life by climbing and descending trees, by riding on horse-back, and some because of uncleanness of the sexual member have experienced an itching of these parts, and when relief has been sought by chafing or rubbing, the child has been introduced to the habit of self-pollution. Sometimes by constipation of the bowels, or in simply language, a failure to go regularly each morning and pass from the lower portion of the body the worn out and waste matter which has accumulated in the intestines, and this neglect, when often repeated or long continued, results in producing what is called constipation, which often proves very injurious, and, for causes that I need not now stop to explain, produces a tendency to local sensitiveness and leads to self-pollution.

A similar, or even greater sensitiveness of the sexual member is sometimes produced by pin-worms in the rectum, or lowest part of the intestines. But I am sorry also to say that masturbation is sometimes even taught by one boy to another, and during the infancy of children, even nurses, sometimes, in ignorance of the terrible evil and sad consequences of their act, practice this destructive habit upon very young children for the purpose of diverting their thoughts, so that they will not cry, or in order that they may be quieted and fall asleep. It is terrible to think that intelligent people could do such things but on account of the prevalence of these practices it is necessary that we should understand the danger to which children are exposed so that we may be properly upon our guard against the temptations from without and, by the aid or our intelligence, be saved from the terrible consequences which are visited upon many because of the evil practices which they begin in their ignorance.

I trust, my dear boy, that you may be saved form and all other forms of vice.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For March 13, 2016

Today’s Incendiary Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The last person to be burned as a witch in Scotland was Janet Horne at Dornoch in Ross shire in 1727. Janet had been accused of witching her daughter to make her hands and feet grow into horses hooves, so that she could ride her. The daughter had a deformed hand, due to being “shod by the Devil”!  She was also tried but acquitted.  She later had a child who exhibited the same kind of congenital hand deformity.  A stone at the place of execution commemorates her death. The witchcraft Acts were repealed there in 1736.

No Thank You!

It is claimed that as many as 200,000 people were burned for witchcraft in Europe in 16th and 17th centuries.

Three slightly different methods of burning were used. The first, consisted of using a heap of faggots piled around a wooden stake above which the prisoner was attached with chains or iron hoops. The British and Spanish Inquisition preferred this method as it had the greatest visual impact.  This form of burning typically subjects the prisoner to a far more agonizing death as it some time before the flames reach head level.  In most cases of treason and witchcraft the prisoner was strangled first before the fire was lit.  In Scotland the strangling formed part of the sentence for convicted witches.

The second method was to tie the condemned to the stake and heap faggots all round them, effectively hiding their sufferings, so that they died inside a wall of flames . It is said that Joan of Arc died like this.  It is thought that this method led to a much quicker death because the victim was forced to breathe the flame and hot gasses surrounding their face.  The heat of the air causes the lining of the trachea to swell up thus blocking the airway and leading to suffocation within a few minutes.

The third method, used in Germany and the Nordic countries, involved tying the prisoner to a near vertical ladder, the top of which was tied to a frame, and then swinging them down onto the fire.

Culled from: Capital Punishment U.K.


Arcane Excerpts: Fractured Edition!

When I was a kid, my favorite thing to do was to look at books and magazines.  We hadNational Geographics going back to the 50’s, and I had favorite articles that I would obsess over again and again.  (Namely, the Anchorage Earthquake article and the one about the guy who went sailing around the world alone with his cat. Kind of sums up my future there in two articles.)

When I wasn’t perusing the National Geographics, I was certainly gazing at my favorite book: The Treatment of Emergencies by Hubley R. Owen, M.D., 1918. And for good reason too – there were some ghastly photographs of injuries in the book.  Even the “how-to” photos were kind of creepy in their way. So I thought I’d share some of the images that shaped the formative mind of The Comtesse.

There’s this signature in the front of the book. I might have to snoop around for a Dr. Cooper in the Hollingsworth Building, Los Angeles sometime…

The first chapter is entitled “Fractures” and has lovely images like these:

Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!!!

What a handsome model!  Look at that dimple!

Owie! Owie! Owie!

Bad break!

I wonder if the guy in the middle is happy to get that spot, or if he got the short straw?

Ur Doing It Rong!

I’ll share more fun-filled delights in the future.  Hope you enjoyed this episode!

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 24, 2016

Today’s Dissected Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The use of animal and human remains as an expressive artistic medium reached new heights in the work of the seventeenth-century Dutch doctor Frederick Ruysch, who used his revolutionary embalming techniques, and his artistic sense of vanitas mundi, to preserve and present the more perfect anatomical specimens as moralizing museum exhibitions. His assemblages, landscapes of tiny rib cages and skulls flanked by skeletons weeping into preserved membrane “handkerchiefs,” resemble miniature battlefields in the vain and poignant struggle for life.

Ruysch, foremost among seventeenth-century Dutch surgeons, performed autopsies on criminals to educate the public about human anatomy, as well as to offer ethical instruction on the nature of sin. The dissections, performed (of course) by candlelight and accompanied – in the nature of a service or celebration – with refreshments and music, took place in an amphitheater which in sixteenth-century Leiden functioned both as a school for anatomy and as a museum. Surrounding the rim and the benches of the theater were human skeletons, often of personal notoriety: a woman strangled for theft, a man executed for stealing cattle and now mounted on the skeleton of an ox, and two women guilty of having murdered their children. Skeletons of Adam and Eve presided over the theater to remind the visitor that with the privilege of viewing a criminals’ open corpse came the lesson the origin and the fruits of sin.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Frederick Ruysch by Jan van Neck (1683).

Culled from: Special Cases

There’s a website dedicated to Ruysch that contains a fabulous collection of photographs and illustrations of his work.

The Anatomical Preparations of Dr. Frederik Ruysch

There don’t appear to be many of his preservations that have survived to the present day, but I am completely smitten with these two:

“Head of a Boy”

And this masterpiece:

“Foot of a Child Treading on Parts of the Skull”

Which has the following captivating description:
“Leg of a child, of a natural colour, under its feet is found a piece of the skullcap deformed by caries of a whore of great renown, her name is Anna van Hoorn, once known to all who loved whoredom, some of them still alive, as I was told. Why part of the skull were placed under the feet, one can easily guess, while this prostitute would not have this elend ailmant, had not she practised her hateful trade: in such water one catches such fishes; this is all kept in clear liquor. I also kept the bones of one of her feet, it floats on water like a feather.”

Judgmental little jerk, wasn’t he?


Arcane Excerpts: Strange Menstruation Edition

A quite logical excerpt on menstruation from Sex Searchlights and Sane Sex Ethics: An Anthology of Sex Knowledge by Dr. Lee Alexander Stone (1926):

“Instead of bleeding from the womb, it has been claimed this may take place from various unexpected localities – the breasts, lips, lungs, from the common ‘piles,’ and from wounds or old sores (ulcers).  It is also alleged to come from the nose, but bleeding here is somewhat common with the usual flow from the womb. A great many of these unusual cases were reported long ago when doctors were not so critical as they are at present [ah yes, of course, those old crackpots! – DeSpair], and nowadays the tendency is to look with suspicion on them, generally as an evidence of hysteria in women who desire to attract attention to themselves [oh, yes, that makes much more sense… – DeSpair]. Though to be sure in a case here in Chicago last year in which the bleeding seemed to come from the armpits, any collusion of the patient was prevented, yet it could not be proved to be blood. [A doctor that cannot identify blood.  Hmmmm….  – DeSpair]”

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 4, 2016

Today’s Rabble-rousing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

By 1974 William O. Douglas had become the longest-serving justice in Supreme Court history, having been appointed by FDR in 1939. He’d also become a globetrotting liberal rabble-rouser and a pariah to conservatives: while House Minority Leader, Gerald Ford had tried to impeach him. On December 31, 1974, Douglas touched down in the Bahamas to celebrate the New Year there, accompanied by his fourth wife, a thirty-one-year-old blonde not even born when he’d joined the Court. Within hours of landing, Douglas had a stroke and collapsed.

Airlifted out of Nassau, he arrived at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington and spent the next few months convalescing. In all he missed twenty-one Supreme Court votes, and although his doctors noticed little progress – Douglas couldn’t walk and his left side remained paralyzed – he refused to resign from the Court. Finally, in March, he badgered one doctor into granting him an overnight pass to visit his wife. Instead of heading home, though, Douglas instructed his driver (he certainly couldn’t drive himself) to visit his office. He began catching up that very night and never returned to the hospital.

Douglas had some good reasons not to resign. His old enemy Gerald Ford had become president, and Douglas feared that Ford would “appoint some bastard” to take his place. Plus, the court would hear important cases that term on campaign finance and the death penalty. But mostly Douglas refused to resign because in his own mind there was nothing wrong. At first he told reporters that, far from having had a stroke, he’d merely stumbled, Gerry Ford-like, and gotten a little banged up – never mind the slurred speech and the wheelchair. When questioned about this, he claimed that the stories circulating about his paralysis were rumors, and he challenged naysayers to go hiking with him. When pressed further, he swore that he’d been kicking forty-yard field goals with his paralyzed leg that very morning. Hell, he said, his doctor wanted him to try out for the Redskins.

If anything, Douglas’s performance away from reporters was more pathetic still. He started sleeping through hearings, forgetting names, confusing facts on important cases, and whispering to aides about assassins; because of chronic incontinence, his secretary had to drench his wheelchair in Lysol. The other eight justices, although bound by omertà not to pressure Douglas publicly, agreed to table all 4-4 ties until the next term and not let Douglas cast deciding votes. In a small concession to reality Douglas did seek specialized stroke treatment in New York during the summer recess in 1975, but he failed to improve. The other justices finally forced Douglas to resign in November – and even then Douglas kept returning to work, calling himself the “Tenth Justice,” commandeering clerks, and attempting to cast more votes. Nothing’s wrong with me, he insisted. It was a bewildering end for an eminent jurist.

Nothing’s wrong with me!

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


Arcane Excerpts: Cynical Homophobic Ex-Cop Edition

Here’s some more fun-filled homophobia from the introduction to The Sexual Criminal: A Psychoanalytical Study (1956), written by Eugene D. Williams, former chief deputy district attorney, Los Angeles County. Here he’s talking about the author of The Sexual Criminal and the head of the Sex Offense Bureau of the LAPD, Dr. J. Paul de River:

Thousands of individuals have been examined by Dr. de River in the Los Angeles Police Department and in conjunction with cases in our courts. Every type of pervert from the apparently least obnoxious [that’s the kind of pervert I fancy myself – DeSpair] to the most vicious and dangerous has come under his observation. I believe that he has examined carefully and scientifically [Ooooh, I say! – DeSpair] more sex perverts than any other person in the United States at the present time. Added to a complete knowledge of the literature on the subject [I bet! – DeSpair], he has the benefit of the thousands upon thousands of cases which he has personally examined. He has had under his observation some of the very few cases of congenital homosexuality, some cases wherein endocrine imbalance is suggested, many where combinations of causes have produced homosexuality, and other types of perversions; but he has reached the conclusion that most sex perverts are not the products of hereditary stigmata nor of endocrine imbalance, but of their environment and association. He adopts the view, rather unusual for a psychiatrist, that sex perverts, as well as other person, are endowed with free will, having equal opportunities to decide that they either will or will not commit certain unlawful and perverted acts and should be held accountable to the law for their conduct.

… Most sex perverts are inferiors, not necessarily in mentality or physique, but in personality and character. They most frequently, however, in an effort to cover up their own mediocrity and inferiority, and as a defensive reaction, have developed a sort of super-ego, which leads them to be proud of their degeneracy and to feel that in their perversion they have found something more satisfactory in satisfying their sex urge than that which God has provided. [… Well? – DeSpair] The semi-hysterical, foolishly sympathetic, and wholly unscientific attitude of many individuals engaged in social work and criminology to regard these sex perverts as poor unfortunates who are suffering from disease and cannot help themselves, has a tendency merely to feed their ego. They will tell you that they are different from other persons [am I not? – DeSpair], that they are sensitive [am I not? – DeSpair], that you cannot understand them [who can? – DeSpair], and will draw for you a picture that would lead you to believe that they had been especially chosen by the Creator and put in a special category because of some extraordinary qualities which are not shared by mankind in general. [I rest my case – DeSpair] The attitude of those who encourage such ideas upon the part of sex perverts is not conducive to the proper handling of the situation or its cure. A sterner attitude is required; an attitude which requires that they should be brought to a realization of their own degeneracy and to an understanding of the contempt in which a normal person holds the practices of which they are so proud. They should understand that they are not laboratory cases to be studied and admired but criminals to be gbrought to account for their crimes, who are expected to reform, and the means and ways of reformation should be provided for them.

This is Dr. De River. I know what you’re thinking – I’m thinking the same thing: “It takes one to know one.”

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 12, 2016

Today’s Morale-Shattering Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Some unknown genius in 1840 miniaturized a prison treadmill so that it could be operated by an individual convict rather than a team.  And so the Crank came into existence.

One version resembled a domestic knife-cleaning machine, comprising a narrow iron drum mounted on legs, with a long handle at one side which, when turned, caused a series of cups inside to revolve. As they did so, they scooped up sand from the bottom of the drum, the sand falling out when the cups reached the top of their revolution. A dial on the front of the machine registered the number of times the Crank handle had been turned, and the usual punishment involved operating it about twenty times a minute, culminating in a total of 10,000 revolutions in eight and a half hours. Should the target not be met on time, the convict received no food until the dial registered the required total.

An alternative version utilized weights instead of sand. Without weights, the pressure necessary to turn the crank handle was seven pounds, the addition of weights ranging up to twelve pounds. Both marques of the Crank achieved nothing at all other than morale-shattering exhaustion for the convict on the handle.

Culled from: Rack, Rope and Red-Hot Pincers

An example of the Crank in action!


Arcane Excerpts: Air-Bathing Edition!

Oh yeah, I forgot – I was gonna transcribe some weirdness from one of my favorite odd books – a 1904 monstrosity entitled Physical Culture for Babies by a health nut named Bernarr Macfadden. Hopefully this one won’t get me arrested since it deals with the incredibly controversial topic of naked toddlers. One never knows in modern America. I’d better just link to the image, just in case…

“The great value of the air-bath is now beginning to be recognized by parents who are giving thought to the health and strength of their offspring. If introduced into the daily life of the child, no matter at what period, it will promote a strong, firm skin, capable of withstanding sudden changes of temperature from one year’s end to the other. Marion Evelyn Cook, whose photograph appears at the end of this chapter, is a splendid instance of the great benefit a child may receive from this bath. She receives her air-bath daily, without exception, and enjoys the treat, for it is a thorough treat to a child. At 6 p.m. her clothes are removed and for an hour she is permitted to romp and play in delightful freedom.

“Marion is a professed vegetarian, and to a great extent a raw-food enthusiast. Her diet consists of fresh milk, poached eggs, entire wheat bread, unfired bread, uncooked cereals soaked in milk or mixed with butter and honey. Nuts and fruits of all kinds are eaten freely. Her ‘sweet tooth’ is appeased with honey. The child receives no candy and no meat. She is encouraged to get all the sleep possible, and sleeps twelve hours daily, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.”

[Seriously, this kid is a ‘professed vegetarian’?  It’s not just that her Mom is a vegetarian? Yeah, likely. – DeSpair]

And here she is, in all her “delightful freedom”: Marion Evelyn Cook.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 4, 2016

Today’s Carbon-Dioxide-Rich Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Five longshoremen were once found dead in the cargo hold of a steamer docked in Brooklyn on the East River. The boat had been carrying cherries from Michigan, preserved in a chamber kept chilled with dry ice; the boat workers had been bunking in the room where the fruit was stored. New York City medical examiner Charles Norris’s office found that the men’s blood was “saturated with carbon dioxide and the men had obviously died from asphyxia.” Hastily taken air samples had confirmed that the room was saturated with the gas.

Always use protective gloves with dry ice!
But as the pathologists emphasized, they’d had to move quickly before the gas was diluted. Carbon dioxide is always found in human blood; and it rises to unusually high levels with other forms of suffocation as well. So carbon-dioxide-rich air samples were essential to determining the method of suffocation. “Exactly the same autopsy picture would have been found if the men had died from being smothered by holding, say, a pillow over their mouths,” one of the medical examiners noted later in his memoir.

“This brings up a rather interesting possibility for a method of murder that would be extremely difficult to detect,” the doctor, Edward Marten, continued. “I pass this on, for what it is worth, to writers of detective stories.” In his scenario, a sleeping or heavily intoxicated person slumbers in bed. The killer places a bucket, packed with dry ice, on the floor and carefully shuts the windows and door as he leaves. Within a few hours the victim suffocates. When someone opens the door, normal air refills the room, whisking away all trace of the murder weapon: “The trick is that when dry ice evaporates it leaves absolutely no trace behind, so that the investigating detectives would find nothing except a dry and completely empty pail.” Still, Marten considered that a better tip for fiction writers than for real-life killers. The purchase of dry ice was easy to track, the material was tricky to handle, and the gas was rarely and unreliably deadly.

Culled from: The Poisoner’s Handbook


Arcane Excerpts: Evacuation Edition

Oh, do I have a treat for you today! It certainly made me chuckle on several occasions. This is from Plain Facts for Young and Old by John Harvey Kellogg (of Corn Flakes fame), 1877.

A third hint, which is applicable to both sexes and at all times, is the necessity of attending promptly to the demands of nature for relief of the bowels and bladder. School-girls are often very negligent in this respect [guilty as charged – who wants to poop at school? – DeSpair]; and we have seen the most distressing cases of disease which were entirely attributable to this disregard of the promptings of nature. Obstinate constipation and chronic irritation of the bladder are common effects. When constipation results, purgatives in the shape of pills, salts, or “pleasant purgative pellets,” are resorted to with the certain result of producing only temporary relief, and permanent damage.

To escape these evil consequences, do this: 1. Establish a regular habit of relieving the bowels daily at a certain hour [Can YOU poop on command? – DeSpair]; 2. Discard laxative and cathartic drugs of every kind; 3. To aid in securing a regular movement of the bowels, make a liberal use of oatmeal, wheat-meal, fruit, and vegetables, avoiding fine-flour bread, sweetmeats, and condiments; 4. Take daily exercise, as much as possible short of fatigue; if necessarily confined indoors, counteract the constipating influence of sedentary habits by kneading and percussing the bowels with the hands several minutes each day; 5. Never resist the calls of nature a single moment, if possible to avoid it. In this case, as in numerous others, “delay is dangerous.” [A bumper sticker or a t-shirt! – DeSpair] Ladies who desire a sweet breath – and what lady does not – should remember that retained feces are one of the most frequent causes of foul breath. The foul odors which ought to pass out through the bowels find their way into the blood and escape at the lungs. A medical man whose sense of smell is delicate soon learns to know a constipated person by the breath. As one says, “What is more offensive than the breath of a costive child?” [I say that all the time! And that should be another shirt! – DeSpair]

Boerhaave, a famous old Dutch physician, left to his heirs an elegantly bound volume in which, he claimed, were written all the secrets of the science of physic [sic]. After his death, the wonderful book was opened, when it was found to contain only the following sentence: –

“Keep the head cool, the feet warm, and the bowels open.”  [Man, the slogans keep on coming! – DeSpair]

An old Scotch physician once gave the following advice to Sir Astley Cooper for the preservation of health: –

“Keep in the fear of the Lord, and your bowels open.”  [Perfection. – DeSpair]