Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 15, 2017

Today’s Anesthetizing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The greatest gift of the United States to surgery was probably the discovery of general anesthesia, the use of which was first publicly demonstrated in 1846 by personnel from Harvard Medical School at Massachusetts General Hospital.  Four years earlier, however, an unassuming doctor in rural Georgia, Crawford Williamson Long, M.D. (1815-1878), had used sulfuric ether for general anesthesia when operating on a patient with a tumor. Not until 1849 did Long, prodded by friends, announce his deed; the reason for his delay remains unknown; perhaps, being out of medical school only three years, he may not have recognized the importance of anesthesia.

Surgery in rural practice was uncommon even in those days; patients who needed operations were sent to major medical centers just as they are today. Few doctors performed surgery unless presented with emergency circumstances, as the lack of anesthesia made undergoing the procedure excruciatingly painful. Patients had to be forcibly restrained by attendants, and the trauma of surgery was enough to make some go into fatal shock. Thus, one measure of the surgeon’s skill was how quickly he could operate; great surgeons could remove an arm in thirty seconds, and a leg in about a minute. Anesthesia was a great boon in that, in addition to its obvious ability to remove pain from the process, it also permitted lengthy and precise operations.

Dr. Long had used general anesthesia seven times before the Harvard demonstration. Nevertheless, the honors normally bestowed by Congress and other organizations for such an accomplishment never materialized, owing to his own delay in reportage as well as to infighting among the three Massachusetts pioneers, who spent their lives competing for primary recognition. Horace Wells, D.D.S., became a chloroform addict and killed himself with an overdose in a jail cell in New York City. With Wells dead, William T.G. Morton, D.D.S., and Charles Thomas Jackson, M.D., continued to battle for attention and acceptance as the discoverer of general anesthesia. Destitute, battle weary, and embittered, Morton died of a stroke in 1868 after reading an article on primacy by Jackson claiming credit. Jackson himself had a mental breakdown, and died in 1880 at the McLean Asylum in Somerville, Massachusetts. Wells was ultimately declared the prime discoverer of general anesthesia; however, neither he nor the other two men received public recognition or financial benefit for this in their lifetime.

By contrast, after Dr. Long had put in his claim, he simply went back to work in his rural practice. For this tintype (below) Long held the knife for an amputation while his younger brother gave the patient anesthesia and an attendant held surgical paraphernalia. The scene is accurate to its era, the surgeon’s street dress and the overall lack of sterility having been standard. Shy of notoriety, Dr. Long did not have many photographs taken during his lifetime. 

With the exception of daguerreotypes made at Massachusetts General in 1846 and 1847, this is the only extant photograph of an operation taken prior to the Civil War. Thus, it is an important record of the state of surgery in the United States during the nineteenth century.

Culled from: A Morning’s Work: Medical Photographs from the Burns Archive & Collection 1843-1939


What Deadly Diseases Look Like On Your Body

It’s probably silly of me to share this because…  if you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you sickos already know what deadly diseases look like!  You’ve probably spent a fair amount of time gawking over horrible images doing your own research, haven’t you? But, in any event, I found this an entrancing little video with convincing makeup – and a great message to anti-vaxxers to boot!  (Thanks to Kimberly for the link.)

Morbid Fact Du Jour For June 14, 2017

Today’s Politically Charged Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On the afternoon of April 15, 1920, outside a shoe factory in South Braintree, Massachusetts, security guards Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli were engaged in transferring the company’s $15,777 payroll when two men approached. Without warning, one of the strangers opened fire, mortally wounding both guards. His partner, who wore a dark handlebar mustache, pumped yet more rounds into the helpless victims. Heaving the payroll boxes into a waiting car that contained three other men, the killers made their escape. Eyewitnesses described the gang as “Italian looking,” but of more use to investigators were the empty shells recovered from the sidewalk. All were manufactured by three firms: Peters, Winchester, and Remington.

Two days later, a stolen Buick thought to be the getaway vehicle was found abandoned in some woods. Evidence linked it to an abortive payroll robbery at another shoe factory in nearby Bridgewater the previous Christmas Eve. It was believed to have been masterminded by an Italian named Mike Boda, but when police raided Boda’s suspected hideout, he had already fled.

However, two other men were arrested: Nicola Sacco, twenty-nine, and his mustachioed companion, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, thirty-two. Both denied owning any guns, yet each was in the possession of a loaded pistol, and Sacco’s was a .32, the same caliber as the murder weapon. Also, Sacco was carrying twenty-three bullets, all made by Peters, Winchester, and Remington. Vanzetti was a fish peddler; Sacco – significantly – worked in a shoe factory. Both were members of anarchist cells that openly espoused violence, a fact that inflamed public opinion against them. 

Sacco and-a Vanzetti.  No, wait – Vanzetti and-a Sacco.

Eleven months later, on May 31, 1921, their trial opened in Dedham, Massachusetts, amid the hysteria of America’s first “Red Scare,” a time when anyone whose politics even hinted of radicalism was considered to be dangerously subversive.  The court heard dozens of identification witnesses, fifty-nine for the prosecution and ninety-nine for the defense, a welter of testimony that produced only confusion. Similar ambiguity surrounded the question of whether Sacco’s .32 had actually fired the bullet that killed Berardelli. Whereas one prosecution expert declared that it was indeed the murder weapon, another would only concede the possibility. Two defense experts harbored no such doubts, being adamant that Sacco’s gun could not have fired the fatal bullet.

Any ambiguity raised by the gun paled in the face of one incontrovertible and damning fact: the bullet that killed Berardelli was so outdated that the prosecution’s expert witnesses could locate none like it to test Sacco’s gun – except the equally obsolete bullets from Sacco’s pockets. On July 14, 1921, the jury returned a guilty verdict, and Judge Thayer sentenced the defendants to death.

The outcome touched off a firestorm of protest. Around the globe, left-wing parties lionized Sacco and Vanzetti, portraying them as innocent victims of capitalist justice.

In June 1927, a committee appointed to review the case contacted the man who would become America’s leading firearms expert, Calvin Goddard, at the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York. Armed with two recent inventions, the comparison microscope and the helixometer, Goddard traveled to Dedham. The helixometer, invented by physicist John H. Fisher, was a hollow probe fitted with a light and a magnifying glass for examining the insides of gun barrels. With defense expert Augustus Gill acting as witness, Goddard fired a bullet from Sacco’s revolver into cotton wool, then placed it beside the murder bullet on the comparison microscope. The outcome was unequivocal – the murder bullet had been fired from Sacco’s revolver. Gill, peering through the microscope, had to agree. He exclaimed, “Well, what do you know about that?” When his fellow defense expert, James Burns, also changed his opinion, Sacco and Vanzetti’s last hopes were dashed. On August 23, 1927, over worldwide protests, they died in the electric chair.

Death masks of Sacco and Vanzetti.  As my mother’s Italian friend used to say, “Nana babies!”

Culled from: The Casebook of Forensic Detection


Aztec Death Whistle*

Leave it to those clever Aztec kids to come up with a whistle that can recreate the sound of your favorite horror movie scene at will!  And to make it so damned pretty too!  We all want one, right?  (Thanks to Marco for the link.)

The Horrifying Sound of an Aztec Death Whistle

* Death Metal Band Name???

Morbid Fact Du Jour For June 13, 2017

Today’s Psychopathic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The “Sydney Mutilator”, William MacDonald, is considered Australia’s first serial killer. Between 1961 and 1962 MacDonald terrorized Sydney with a string of gruesome murders before being apprehended while working as a porter at Melbourne’s Spencer Street railway station on May 13, 1963. His modus operandi was to select his male victims at random (mostly derelicts), lure them into a dark place, violently stab them dozens of times about the head and neck with a long bladed knife, and finally sever their penis and testicles. 

The Sydney Mutilator.  Doesn’t slip off the tongue quite as nicely as the “Boston Strangler,” does it?

MacDonald described the murder of his last victim, Patrick Hackett, picked up while drinking at a Melbourne hotel. He woke up in the middle of the night and picked up a knife. “As I stood looking at him, with the knife grasped firmly in my hand, a mad rage came over me. I knelt down and stabbed him in the neck… I struck down at him again and again. During the stabbing, I accidentally struck my own hand, and then I lost count of how many times I thrust the knife into his body. Even after I knew he was dead, I kept on plunging the knife into him.”

This description certainly suggests that Macdonald may have had some form of seizure. Many criminal activities are associated with a brain-wave known as the theta rhythm. These waves were first noticed in young children [I’m not surprised – DeSpair], and they became pronounced when the child experienced emotions of pleasure or pain.

Theta rhythms could be easily evoked in a small child by offering a sweet and then snatching it away. [Can I sign-up to run this study? – DeSpair] In adults, these rhythms play a very small part – except in aggressive psychopaths. Dr. Grey Walter comments about this sudden murderous violence towards other people in animals: “These destructive or murderous episodes are often almost or completely unmotivated by ordinary standards.”

This is not, of course, to suggest that psychopathic violence – like Macdonald’s – is caused in some way by theta waves as an epileptic attack is caused by an electrical discharge. Possibly the theta waves appear when the psychopath induces a certain state of mind in himself. Macdonald had decided to kill the man before he went to sleep, and the “blind rage” came over him after he had picked up the knife. He had somehow triggered the attack in the way that a normal person can trigger sexual excitement by directing the thoughts towards sex. 

But all this – like the discoveries about the amygdaloid nucleus in the brain, the source of our aggressive instincts – suggests that many violent killers may be suffering from some physical imbalance of the same kind that makes some people abnormally active and others sluggish and dull [You called? – DeSpair]. And it could be connected with the kind of hormone activity that turns some women into nymphomaniacs and some men into “satyrs”.

Culled from: Crimes and Punishment: The Crime Encyclopedia, Vol 1


Brains Du Jour!

Here’s another excerpt from Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital.

Unlabeled teaching brains from unknown donors separated by gauze wrappings.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For June 12, 2017

I apologize for being away longer than intended.  I had a computer failure that contributed to this particular absence, but I think everything should be fixed now, and I should be able to provide a continuous stream of facts for awhile. Knock on desiccated wood!

Today’s Demonically Howling Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On the morning of November 2, 1942, Fridolph Trieman was exercising his German shepherd in a remote part of Central Park. As the dog disappeared into some tall grass, Trieman ran to keep up. Puffing and panting, he paused for breath, then stopped abruptly. Ahead of him, beneath the low hanging branches of a dogwood tree, lay the fully clothed body of a young woman. She looked ominously still.

At first the police were uncertain how the woman had died. Apart from a trace of blood at the nose and a faint welt around the neck, there were no other obvious signs of assault. It might even have been natural causes. then a sleeve torn from the coat at the shoulder was found several feet from the body. This raised the prospect of some kind of struggle.

An autopsy carried out by Gonzales confirmed strangulation as the cause of death. Her larynx was fractured, but other than that there was no sign of injury, nor had she been raped. The fact that she had no handbag or money strongly suggested that this was a mugging gone tragically wrong – except the woman still wore a gold chain bearing a crucifix around her swollen neck. No self-respecting thief was going to leave that.

Later that same night, detectives Joseph Hackett and John Crosby of the Missing Persons Bureau identified the woman as Louise Almodovar, a twenty-year-old waitress and Sunday school teacher, who lived with her parents in the Bronx. They had reported her missing the previous day. According to tearful parents, Louise’s recent home life had been abusive and turbulent. Against their wishes, she had married Anibal Almodovar, a diminutive Puerto Rican ex-sailor, just five months earlier, only to leave him after a few weeks because of his insatiable womanizing.

When tracked down and told of his wife’s fate, the twenty-one-year-old Almodovar just shrugged. She had made his life hell, he said. The bitch even had the nerve to beat up one of his girlfriends and swear at another! Good riddance, was his verdict, though he vehemently denied any involvement in her death. And the facts seemed to bear him out. According to Gonzales, Louise had met her death most probably between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. on the night of November 1, at which time Almodovar had been carousing in a dance hall called the Rumba Palace with the very woman whom Louise had attacked. Furthermore, there were dozens of other witnesses who could testify to his presence. In the fact of such an iron-clad alibi, detectives understandably began widening their search for suspects, until Louise’s parents produced several threatening letters that Almodovar had written to their daughter. The bile that dripped off every page convinced detectives to hold the amorous former seaman as a material witness.

Still, they couldn’t get past that seemingly impregnable alibi. Only when detectives visited the dance hall, just a few hundred yards from the murder scene, did they realize that it would have been possible for Almodovar to have sneaked unnoticed out of a back door, gone to Central Park where he might have previously arranged to meet his wife, killed her, and crept back into the Rumba Palace without anyone being the wiser. It was theoretically possible, nothing more. Without a scrap of solid evidence against Almodovar, he was released.

Given the absence of any alternative suspects, this was one of those cases that looked destined for the “Unsolved” cabinet, until Gettler had a flash of inspiration. More out of curiosity than anything else, he happened to glance at the crime scene photographs. He noticed that the body was lying in some very tall grass. This set him thinking. At the time of Almodovar’s arrest, his clothes had been given to Gettler for analysis, and in the trouser cuffs and jacket pockets, he had found some tiny grass seeds. Gettler now sent the crime scene photographs off to be enlarged. When they came back, this higher magnification allowed him not only to identify the individual strain of grass but also to declare it identical to the seeds found in Almodovar’s clothing. When confronted with this evidence, Almodovar blustered that he had not visited Central Park for over two years. Any seeds in his pockets, he said, must have been picked up on a recent visit to Tremont Park in the Bronx. 

Gettler decided to test this story. He forwarded the seeds to Joseph J. Copeland, formerly professor of botany and biology at City College. It didn’t take Copeland long to identify the grasses in question all were exceptionally rare and grew only at two spots on Long Island and three places in Westchester County. The only place in New York City where such grass occurred was Central Park. Moreover, it could be further isolated to the very section where Louise’s body had been found.

Almodovar panicked, suddenly recalling a walk he had taken in Central Park two months previously, in early September. Copeland shook his head. The grass in question was a late bloomer, mid-October at the earliest, therefore Almodovar could not possibly have picked up the seeds in September. But on November 1 … ?

After nearly two months of parrying questions, Almodovar was utterly floored by Copeland’s intervention. On December 23, he broke down and confessed. He had arranged to meet his wife in Central Park on the night of November 1; they had quarreled again, and he had killed her in a fit of rage. Later in court, he recanted this confession, saying it had been beaten out of him in the interviewing room. But the jury did not believe a word and after just three minutes’ deliberation, they found him guilty of first-degree murder. When sentence of death was passed, Almodovar, despite being shackled from head to toe, fought like a madman. No fewer that nine guards were needed to restrain him. Howling demonically, he was dragged off to Sing Sing. Six months later, on September 16, 1943, he died in the electric chair.

Culled from: Blood on the Table: The Greatest Cases of New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner


Ghastly!  Baroness Edition

Here’s a ghastly image of the corpse of Baroness Dellard and her killer, Louis Anastay, from a French crime scrapbook used as the basis of fictional tales in the book Crime Album Stories. (The poor quality is in the source material.)

And here’s a newspaper article from the Chicago Tribune (April 9, 1892) detailing the fate of her murderer:


Efforts to Stay the Execution Are in Vain -The Prisoner Down-Hearted.

PARIS, April 8.– Louis Anastay, the ex-Lieutenant who has been sentenced to death for the murder of the Baroness Dellard on the Boulevard du Temple, will be guillotined at daybreak to-morrow (Saturday) morning. 

The condemned man, aware of his fate, is very down-hearted. He has had a long interview with the chaplain of La Roquette prison, but at the same time writes long letters about his positivist theories. His father made a last attempt on Friday to delay the execution by calling for a new medical examination as to his son’s sanity, but in vain.

Anastay has requested his brother, who is a medical student, to experiment on his head as soon as it is decapitated by the executioner. He promised to reply by movements of his eyes to certain questions which his brother will ask regarding the sensations which he experienced when the knife cut his head from his body and matters of a physiological nature. The object of this proposed grewsome [sic] conversation is to afford a test as to whether any vestiges of life remain in a human head immediately after it has been severed. 

(Sadly, it is not believed that Anastay’s brother actually attended the execution.  Darn. – DeSpair)

Morbid Fact Du Jour For May 10, 2017

I know, I’ve hardly even been back, but I must sadly announce a hiatus until after May 21st as I am going to be on vacation with family. Stay morbid while I’m away!

Today’s Starving Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Between February, 1864 and April, 1865 it is estimated that 45,000 Union prisoners were confined in the Confederate stockade, Camp Sumter, near Anderson Station, Georgia, forever to be remembered as Andersonville. Of that number, approximately 25,000 men survived their prison experience and returned home to tell their tale of suffering. It is unknown how many survivors, with their health and lives shattered, died as a direct result of their captivity after returning to civilian life. Close to 13,000 Union soldiers did “give up the ghost” at Andersonville, and it was the ghost of Andersonville that haunted the survivors for the rest of their lives.

The following is an excerpt from the account of Private George Weiser, who arrived in Andersonville on May 25, 1864.

And now it is the last week of August, we have had our hardest thunder storms in this month; it flooded the prison and washed off the filth and dirt; the ground was cold and damp and the men dying off by hundreds, the days were hot but the nights were chilly and all the men beg the Rebs to give them shelter for the sick. The Rebs sent us in two or three wagon loads of boards and we put up two sheds open in the front and closed in the back and ends, these sheds were only for the sick that was helpless which were thousands. Many of the sick men had nothing of any kind to cook with not even so much as a tin cup or a tin plate; many of the sick and well, both, were without anything to cook with for the Rebs gave us nothing to cook in and if the men could not borrow a tin cup or plate from their friends they had to eat their food raw. It was now the first of September, the sheds were completed and the sick was being carried to them. All that could walk was called well and all that could not walk was called sick, the four in my tent was able to walk up to this time. Kay was sick from eating raw meal, Hilyard was failing fast, MacIntosh and I were in good health. In the mud hole or tent behind my tent where three men lived, all were dead. The tent on the right side of my tent where two men lived, one was dead and the other one in good health. The tent on the left side of my tent where three men lived, two were dead and one in good health. This is the way things were about the first day of September, when we heard a strong rumor that the prisoners were going to be exchanged. About this time Phil Hilyard said to us, “do you men ever expect to get out of this prison alive?” I told him that I hoped to get out all right. He said that he was sure that he would die before he got home; he failed fast after this and at midnight on the third of September he died. Kay got so weak that he gave up all hope and said that he believed that he too would soon die. On the seventh of September the Rebs said we would be exchanged and they began to take the prisoners out of the prison. On the eighth of September we carried Kay up and put him in the shed; he was alive when I left the prison. On the ninth of September my old friend MacIntosh got uneasy and slipped out with another detachment and left me alone. On the tenth of September my detachment or thousand was ordered out. We were taken to the railroad and put in boxcars and started North. Now I was very sad indeed; my three comrades gone, my clothes ragged and torn, I did not know what to do.  I soon found two men that had lived along side of me and were in the same car with me, one of these men was Frank Beegle of the Fifteenth regiment, New Jersey Vol., and the other was Orlando Gallagher of my regiment. Both of the men had a wool blanket but I had none; we had only one blanket at our tent and when Phil got sick we sold it to get him something to eat, so these men said that I should go with them and that they would let me sleep in the middle. This was very good news indeed to me, but still I was sad to think that we had left so many behind. It is said that thirty thousand died in Andersonville Prison Pen, but if each man had been truly counted the dead would number many more than fourteen, fifteen or even sixteen thousand.

Handsome George Weiser, Before…

and Ragged George Weiser, After.

Orland Gallagher’s Partner that he had at Andersonville died and left him with a silver watch valued at fifty dollars. I had a gold ring worth about two dollars which I had not parted with. On the fifteenth of September we landed at a place called Florence, South Carolina. Here we were taken from the cars and put in a large field and a strong guard put over us. About eight or ten thousand prisoners had now arrived here and it was two days since we had eaten our last food. I now traded off my ring for a peck of sweet potatoes, Orlando bought some meat and corn meal, Frank hunted up some pieces of wood and we soon had a good feed. The Rebs said that they did not know that we were coming and that nothing had been prepared to feed us, so that night and the next day made three days since we had food. The men began to starve and die and we commenced to carry the dead up and lay them on the ground near the guards, some of the guards would say “what’s the matter with that man.” We would say that the man has starved to death and every one of us will starve to death if we are kept without food another day. The Rebs thought that there were some truth to this and they started out through the country and gathered up three or four wagon loads of corn cake and sweet potatoes; this was divided with the men and the next day the Rebs began to give us our corn meal and meat regular. It was in this place that I saw three men lay on the ground and crying, “o’ for a spoonful of meal to save my life!” and the next morning I went to see if they were still there and the three men lay cold and stiff in death.

Photo of George Weiser.

George Weiser eventually made his escape near Wilmington, N.C. on February 22, 1865.  He died in 1928.

Culled from: Andersonville Giving Up the Ghost: Diaries & Recollections of the Prisoners


Morbid Sightseeing!

If you’re a long-time reader, you’ve probably seen my travelogue to Andersonville before, but if you’ve never taken a gander, perhaps you’ll find it subtly entertaining?

Anderson Vile!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for May 4, 2017

Today’s Nekkid Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

There was a time when 85% of insane asylum inmate patients were attired in “state clothing”. There was nothing wrong with the quality of the garb, but a lot of sameness was evident. Undergarments were a particular problem in that the heavy material was too much for the thing elastic. As a result, the clothing was tied at the waist, leaving a bulge. Many wore denim jackets and trousers (overalls) and chambray shirts. On some wards, when patients were put to bed at night, all of their clothing was wrapped in a bundle and placed in the clothing room. Those patients then slept in the nude. Clothing bundles were made up the night before bath day and distributed for that event.

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


Morbid Report Du Jour!

Marco sent me a link to an article in Popular Mechanics about the Gerry Report: 

“In 1887, the state of New York published what became popularly known as the Gerry Commission Report. This is one piece of bureaucratic prose that is neither dull nor boring. In fact, it may be among the most macabre and gruesome in the annals of American writing.

“And it was important. The ramifications of this execution encyclopedia—officially titled “The Commission to Investigate and Report the Most Humane and Practical Method of Carrying into Effect the Sentence of Death in Capital Cases”—echo still in the courts and prisons of America.”

“In all, the commission evaluated 34 different methods of execution, listing them in alphabetical order. Some methods were described in a single paragraph, while others—which presumably the authors found more interesting—took several pages to illustrate. They are:

  1. Auto da fe (burning to death for heresy)
  2. Beating with clubs
  3. Beheading
  4. Blowing from a cannon
  5. Boiling (“Usually in hot water but sometimes in melted sulfur, lead or the like.”)
  6. Breaking on the wheel
  7. Burning
  8. Burying alive
  9. Crucifixion
  10. Decimation (a military punishment for mutineers)
  11. Dichotomy (cutting a person in half)
  12. Dismemberment (like dichotomy but even messier)
  13. Drowning
  14. Exposure to wild beasts
  15. Flaying
  16. Flogging
  17. Garrote (strangling with a cord)
  18. Guillotine
  19. Hanging
  20. Hari Kari
  21. Impalement
  22. Iron Maiden (A machine in the image of the Virgin Mary equipped with spring loaded knives)
  23. Peine forte et dure (placing heavy weights to stop breathing)
  24. Poisoning
  25. Pounding in a mortar (like it sounds)
  26. Precipitation (throwing from a cliff)
  27. Pressing to death
  28. Rack
  29. Running the gauntlet (being made to walk between two lines of men, each of whom has a club.)
  30. Shooting
  31. Stabbing
  32. Stoning
  33. Strangling
  34. Suffocation

(More delightfully gruesome details at the link.)

So which method would you choose?  I think beheading or shooting would be my choice.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for May 3, 2017

Today’s Grateful Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Among the earliest known accounts of a photographer taking a corpse photograph is James F. Ryder’s 1873 recollection of his days as a daguerreotypist in central New York State in the 1850s. In recounting the attitudes of the townsfolk to his practice, Ryder states:

I was regarded with respect and supposed to be a prosperous young fellow. All were friendly and genial – save one. The blacksmith, a heavy, burly man, the muscular terror of the village disapproved of me. Said I was a lazy dog, too lazy to do honest work and was humbuggin [sic] and swindling the people of their hard earnings. He, for one, was ready to drive me out of the village.

The greater my success the more bitter his spleen, and in the abundance of his candor denounced me to my face as a humbug too lazy to earn an honest living. He said he wouldn’t allow me to take his dog; that I ought to be ashamed of robbing poor people. Other uncomplimentary things, he said, which were hard to bear, but in view of his heavy muscle and my tender years, I did not attempt to resent. 

Well, I left that quiet town and brawny blacksmith one day and moved to another town a few miles distant. A week later I was surprised at a visit from him. He had driven over to the new place to find me. He had a crazed manner which I did not understand and which filled me with terror.

He demanded that I put my machine in his wagon and go with him straight at once. I asked why he desired it and what was the matter. Then the powerful man, with heavy chest, burst into a passion of weeping quite uncontrollable. When he subsided sufficiently to speak he grasped my hands, and through heavy weeping, broken out afresh, told me his little boy has been drowned in the mill race and I must go and take his likeness.

A fellow feeling makes us wondrous kind. My sympathy for the poor fellow developed a tenderness for him in his wild bereavement which seemed to bring me closer to him than any friend I had made in the village. To describe his gratitude and kindness to me after is beyond my ability to do. 

Culled from: Culled from Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America


Morbid Trinket Du Jour!

So I recently took up alcohol as a hobby (it had to happen eventually). Each payday I pick a random cocktail from an app and purchase the ingredients for the cocktail (and force myself to drink it, regardless of how repulsive it might be – last Friday I suffered through something called “Bloody Frog Cum”). Anyway, over time I’ve been building up a lovely bar and I’ve also acquired some nifty mid-century barware.  Recently I was looking into getting some fancy large ice cubes to kick my presentation up a notch (even though only my cats will ever lay eyes/paws on my drinks anyway, lonely misbegotten soul that I am). And then I stumbled upon this – and, I thought, what better presentation could there possibly be? 

Giant Skull Ice Cubes!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for May 2, 2017

Today’s Scalp-less Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In 1864 13 year old Robert McGee was headed west on  the Santa Fe Trail with his parents. They died along the way and the boy, orphaned, continued the journey with a wagon train bringing supplies to New Mexico. Somewhere in the western reaches of Kansas the soldiers tasked with guarding the wagon train got delayed and the civilians were set upon by a band of Brule Sioux Indians, led by their chief, Little Turtle. 

The drivers and teamsters of the wagon train were no match for the Indian warriors, and they were all tortured and killed. Young McGee watched helplessly as their blood was shed, and then he was taken before Little Turtle. The chief decided that he would kill the boy himself, and he put a bullet in McGee’s back. The boy fell to the ground, still alive and conscious, and Little Turtle put two arrows through him, pinning him down. And then the chief took out his blade and removed sixty four square inches from McGee’s head, starting just behind the ears. As he lay on the ground more Indians came upon him and poked him full of more holes with knives and spears.

All the while the boy was awake. 

When the soldiers finally caught up with the wagon train they found a horrible massacre, with everyone scalped. But as the soldiers picked through the bodies they found that McGee and another boy had survived. They were rushed to Fort Larned, where the other boy died. Somehow the scalpless McGee survived his experience… and many years beyond. The picture below was taken in 1890, when McGee told his story to a local newspaper. 

McGee’s survival was almost miraculous, but he wasn’t the only man to be scalped and live to tell about it. Josiah Wilbarger was set upon by Comanche Indians about four miles east of modern Austin, Texas. He was shot with arrows and scalped and left for dead, but the man survived 11 more years. In fact he only died after hitting his head on a low beam in his home, cracking his skull and exposing his brain. 

Wilbarger is quoted as saying that being scalped was surprisingly painless, but “while no pain was perceptible, the removing of his scalp sounded like the ominous roar and peal of distant thunder,” according to James de Shield’s Border Wars of Texas.  

Culled from: Birth. Movies. Death.


Memento Mori Du Jour!

Postmortem photograph of unidentified child, ca. 1890-1910. 

Culled from Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America

Morbid Fact Du Jour For May 1, 2017

Today’s Pox-like Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The earliest physical evidence for the presence of smallpox in ancient Egypt is a striking rash of yellow pustules on the mummified face and hands of Ramses V, a pharoah who died at age forty in 1157 B.C. and whose well-preserved remains are on display in the Cairo Museum. Traders carried smallpox from Egypt to India, where Sanskrit medical texts describe epidemics as early as 1500 B.C. The disease arrived in China by 1122 B.C., apparently imported by the Huns, since the Chinese called it “Hunpox”.  

A Pox Upon Ramses V

Smallpox had a major impact on the history of the ancient world. According to the Greek historian Thucydides, an epidemic suggestive of smallpox struck Athens around 430 B.C., killing a third of the city-state’s population and contributing to its defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. In the fourth century B.C., Alexander the Great’s army was ravaged by the disease during a campaign in India. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius died of smallpox in A.D. 570, Abyssinian troops on elephants besieging the Arab capital of Mecca were decimated by an outbreak of smallpox, an incident described metaphorically in the Koran.

In the seventh and eight centuries, Arab armies carried smallpox across North Africa and into the Iberian Peninsula. From the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, crusaders returning to Europe from the Holy Land and traders plying the Silk Road to China dispersed the disease widely. In Great Britain in the late fifteenth century, the pustular skin rash came to be called the “small pockes” (from pocke, meaning sac) to distinguish it from syphilis, then known as the “great pockes”.  

Culled from: Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox


Guess the Malady!

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

Can you guess the malady depicted here?  (Answer below.)

Answer: Severe Impetigo.  

Morbid Fact Du Jour For April 30, 2017

Today’s Coffin-like Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

By the early nineteenth century, the city of Boston was already two hundred years old. The great Yankee trades to Europe, the Caribbean, and the Far East were pouring money into the counting houses of India Wharf and into the vaults of new banks springing up on State Street.  Boston, given to calling itself the “Athens of America,” was locked in a grand rivalry with Philadelphia and New York and hooked on new construction. The society architect Charles Bulfinch was remaking the face of the city, planting his distinctive, boxy, brick, federalist mansions along Boston’s main thoroughfares, culminating in his gold-domed masterwork, the Commonwealth’s State House atop Beacon Hill. The city had just built five bridges spanning the Charles River. The first interurban railroad, the Boston and Albany line, was about to begin service. The city fathers trained in 7,700 tons of marble from Quincy quarries to erect the 220-foot-tall Bunker Hill monument, commemorating the famous battle, and imposed upon the doddering Marquis de Lafayette to lay the cornerstone.

And yet Boston lacked a hospital.

New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and even Williamsburg, Virginia, had been operating large public hospitals for more than fifty years, all of which accepted mental patients as well as the sick and infirm. But Boston maintained only a quarantine station on nearby Rainsford Island and the public dispensary, which gave outpatient care to the poor. The mad or delirious were either cared for at home, packed off to the (Bulfinch-designed) Almshouse for the destitute, or farmed out to specialized boarding houses. In his book The Mentally Ill in America, Albert Deutsch mentions a: 

Dr. Willard, who, about the beginning of the 19th century maintained a private establishment for the mentally ill in a little town between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. One of the fundamental tenets in his therapy was to break the patient’s will by any means possible. On his premises stood a tank of water, into which a patient, packed into a coffin-like box pierced with holes, was lowered by means of a well-sweep. He was kept under water until the bubbles of air ceased to rise, after which he was taken out, rubbed, and revived – if he had not already passed beyond reviving!

Culled from: Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier Mental Hospital


Garretdom: A Fitting End

Here’s another bit of olde news.  Ah, the old days – can you imagine a modern newspaper suggesting that a murder-suicide was a “fitting end” for the participants?  

December 6, 1886
A Gambler Shoots the Woman Who Cast Him Off and Then Himself.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6.—A double tragedy occurred to-night in the “Division,” a disreputable part of the city, which, by reason of the prominence in their respective lines of the parties concerned, created quite a little excitement among certain of Washington’s inhabitants. About eighteen months ago John Rowe, a gambler of New York City, came to Washington with a full pocket book. He was accompanied by Minnie Raymond, his mistress, whom he soon established as proprietress of a bagnio south of the avenue. About six months ago he encountered a streak of bad luck and lost all his money. He was discarded by his paramour in favor of another man, said to be the son of a prominent dry goods merchant.

Rowe went on to the house and asked her for money. On being refused, he upbraided her for her ingratitude, and was ejected from the house by the police. He threatened the woman’s life at the time. Luck still ran against him, and to-night, mad with jealousy and his reduced circumstances, he went to the dive and shot the woman through the head immediately on seeing her. He then shot himself through the head causing almost instant death. The woman is still alive, but will probably die. 

From the Collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
The 1886 Morbid Scrapbook