Category Archives: Freaks

MFDJ 05/24/24: Great Lisbon Earthquake

Today’s Trembling Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

By the mid-18th century, Lisbon was at the center of a considerable Portuguese empire, with possessions in Africa, South America and the Far East. It was a city of some 275,000 people with a major port on the estuary of the Tagus River and had many fine buildings including the royal palace and a splendid new opera house.

Earth tremors were not unusual in Portugal, but there was no reason for the people to fear a major disturbance as they went to Mass on All Saints Day in the great cathedral and the many churches in the city. At 9:30 must have seemed as though the wrath of God had descended upon them: for several minutes the earth shook with a loud sound like thunder. The noise of falling buildings added to the uproar.

After a pause there was a second tremor, then a third. By this time a dense cloud of smoke had risen, darkening the city and alarming the survivors even further. This was bad enough, but there was worse to follow. Fires broke out in many parts of the city, destroying buildings that had survived the earthquake, and shortly afterwards people in the harbor areas were terrified to see the waters rush out, exposing the seabed for over half a mile offshore. This phenomenon has become well-known in earthquakes affecting coast areas.

Those watching this awful unnatural scene had worse to face, however. The retreating waters stopped, turned around and raced back to shore with exceptional force as a vast wave. The Lisbon wave was said to be 50 feet high when it smashed into the waterfront area of the city, destroying everything in its path and drowning hundreds if not thousands of people who had not the slightest hope of escape.

The great writer Voltaire used the Lisbon earthquake as the basis for a scene from Candide. His description is by no mean overstated: “… they felt the earth tremble beneath them. The sea boiled up in the harbor and broke the ships which lay at anchor. Whirlwinds of flame and ashes covered the streets and squares. Houses came crashing down. Thirty thousand men, women and children were crushed under the ruins… the terrified Candide stood trembling with fear and confusion. ‘If this is the best of all possible worlds’ he said to himself, ‘what can the rest be like?'”

Although there is no exact measurement for it, this was clearly a very substantial earthquake. Its shock waves were felt as far away as Scotland, where water levels on major lochs rose and fell by several feet. The same happened in Switzerland, and on the canals of the Netherlands, the disturbance was great enough to cause large barges to snap their anchor cables. Considerable damage was caused to towns and cities in North Africa, particularly around the town of Fez in Morocco, where death and destruction on a large scale was reported. A tsunami wave crossed the Atlantic and struck the islands of the Lesser Antilles, reaching over 20 feet high in places.

Following the main tremors came a whole series of aftershocks lasting for many months. It is estimate that there were as many as 500 of these shocks, keeping the Portuguese people in a state of fear and alarm. In July 1756 the British Ambassador in Lisbon received a letter from his counterpart in Madrid asking: “Will your disturbed earth never be quiet?”

In Lisbon, the effects were catastrophic. Of the 20,000 or so houses in the city, less than 3,000 were left standing. The palace and the opera house were both destroyed by fire. Churches and other public buildings were flattened, and warehouses full of fine goods were burnt to the ground, ruining their owners. The city had virtually to be rebuilt from scratch. Many people were burned alive. Numbers of dead were never accurately recorded, but it is thought that Voltaire’s figure is some way out and that at least 60,000 people failed to survive the disaster—over a fifth of the entire population. Large numbers died in churches where they were attending Mass. Lisbon’s great cathedral was reduced to a ruin, and hundreds died there when huge pillars and sections of roof fell on them.

As it happened on a Sunday, and All Saints Day at that, questions were raised as to how a merciful God could have allowed such a thing to happen, killing so many innocent  people, including children. Many pamphlets, tracts and even books on the subject were produced. The priests, naturally, were telling their congregations that God was angry with them for their sinful lives—Lisbon had been a rich city of many pleasures, Candide’s “the best of all possible worlds”—and that they must repent.

The earthquake was extensively studied by scientists, who tried to point out—without total success—that earthquakes were natural phenomena. In Candide, Voltaire has the character Pangloss pontificating on the subject, saying “the earthquake is nothing new. The town of Lima in America experienced the same shock last year. The same causes produce the same effects. There is certainly a vein of sulphur running under the earth from Lima to Lisbon.”

Lisbon has suffered a number of tremors in the past 240 years, but none nearly as severe as the quake which caused such fearful damage on All Saints Day in 1755.

Depiction of the Great Lisbon Earthquake by Granger

Culled from: Catastrophes and Disasters


Sideshow “Freak” Du Jour!

Unidentified Living Skeleton

Culled from: Monsters: Human Freaks in America’s Gilded Age

MFDJ 02/21/24: The Long Suicide of Montgomery Clift

Today’s Tortuously Slow Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Sometimes the path to self-destruction is tortuously slow, filled with years of agonizing self-doubts, incapacitating vices, and self-punishing acts. At some point, body and soul cannot cope with further abuse and simply give out. Such was the case with songbird Judy Garland; a similar victim was her Judgment at Nuremberg costar—the handsome, talented, sensitive, and moody Montgomery Clift. In fact, it was another legendary icon and emotional muddle—Marilyn Monroe, who had teamed with Monty in The Misfits (1961)—who said sadly of Clift, “He’s the only person I know who is in worse shape than I am.”

Montgomery was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1920, to William and Ethel “Sunny” (Fogg) Clift. There was an older brother, Brooks, and “Monty” (as he became known) had a twin sister Roberta, who was a few minutes older. Because Sunny had been adopted as a child and eventually learned that her biological forebears came of aristocratic stock, she devoted her entire later life to publicizing the blue blood of her family. The Clifts moved to Chicago in 1924, and in 1930 to New York, where William proved successful in the banking business. It allowed Sunny to indulge her fantasies of leading a refined life, frequently traveling abroad with her children but without her husband.

Monty and his twin sister Roberta

By age 12, Monty was intrigued with the theater, an improvement over the modeling career that his overly possessive mother had already chosen for him. After a few seasons of summer stock, Clift came to Broadway in Fly Away Home (1935) . Over the next decade, he sharpened his skills by appearing in such New York productions as The Wind and the Rain (1938) with Celeste Holm, There Shall Be No Night (1940) with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) with Tallulah Bankhead, and You Touched Me! (1945) with Edmund Gwenn. Never in solid physical condition, the slender, darkly handsome Clift was rejected for World War II duty because of chronic diarrhea. During his young adult years, Clift was in constant conflict about his homosexuality, his feelings toward his demanding mother, and his mounting insecurities about his professional abilities. One who knew the sensitive, polite young man then said of Clift, “Monty had a fence around himself. He told you in certain ways, ‘Just don’t come too close to me.'” Eventually, Clift and his mother would become almost totally estranged.

Montgomery with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in Robert E. Sherwood’s play There Shall Be No Night, 1940. 

Film director Howard Hawks had been impressed by Clift on Broadway and cast him opposite John Wayne in the rough-and-tumble Western Red River (1948), for which Monty was paid $60,000. Before that successful movie about a cattle drive was released, Clift went into The Search (1948) which earned him the first of four Oscar nominations. By the time he made the period drama The Heiress (1949) opposite Olivia de Havilland, Monty was earning $100,000 per film and was considered one of Hollywood’s major new finds. Branded as “unconventional,” he insisted, “I’m not odd. I’m trying to be an actor. Not a movie star, just an actor.” By now, he had become addicted to assorted drugs and drink, which caused escalating trouble on and off the soundstages. (A lot of Clift’s bizarre physical behavior was caused by an underactive-thyroid condition, but it was often misattributed to his substance abuse.) Despite additional psychiatric therapy, Clift’s complex nature grew more knotted.

Trailer for The Search

When Monty appeared with Elizabeth Taylor in the prestigious A Place in the Sun (1951), the two began a lifelong friendship. His favorite screen assignment following this was that of the trumpet-playing boxer in From Here to Eternity (1953). He turned down On the Waterfront (1954), which won Marlon Brando an Oscar. Instead, he returned to Broadway in a revival of The Seagull, hoping to please his drama coach, Mira Rostova, on whom he had become overly dependent. The show’s failure, plus his loss of the Best Actor Oscar to William Holden in the March 1954 Academy Awards sweepstakes, filled the frightened actor with increasing self-doubt. For nearly two years, thereafter, he rejected movies and stage work, agonizing over each bad decision. He hated the movie colony—calling Los Angeles “Vomit, California”—and spent much of his time at his New York City brownstone.

Elizabeth and Monty

Finally, desperate for income, he agreed to costar with Elizabeth Taylor in Raintree Country (1957), a costumed epic of the Old South. Shooting began on April 2, 1956. On Saturday, May 12, Clift attended a small gathering hosted by Taylor at her Benedict Canyon home in Los Angeles. After dinner, a drug-addled Clift left the party and, shortly thereafter, smashed his rented car into a power pole. It was Elizabeth who, upon reaching the crash scene, pulled two dislodged teeth from Monty’s throat. Her action saved his life. Clift’s nose was broken, his jaw shattered, and the rest of his face was a bloody mess. After painful reconstructive surgery, Clift returned to filming in late July.

Monty’s crashed rental car

Though he continued making movies, his ego was more frail than ever over his lost looks. As a result,  his substance dependencies deepened. He did a variation of his From Here To Eternity part in the World War II combat drama The Young Lions (1958) and was mothered by older costar Myrna Loy in Lonelyhearts (1959). He and Taylor reunited for Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). Clift was in the jinxed The Misfits (1961), which was the final movie for both of his costars, Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. In his next feature, it was a strange twist to have Monty the perennial therapy patient portray the father of psychiatry in Freud (1962). His behavior was so disruptive on the set that a lawsuit was filed against him.

Clift in Suddenly, Last Summer

With his industry reputation nearly destroyed by his unprofessional behavior and failing healthy, he went without work for four years. He resurfaced in a Cold War mess called The Defector (1966)—released after his death—in which he looked dreadfully pained and old. Over the years, friends, lovers, and acquaintances had come and gone, but Liz Taylor remained faithful. It was Liz who convinced industry investors to cast Monty opposite her in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), although he never got to play the part.

Monty at the end

On the night of July 22, 1966, Clift was in residence at his New York townhouse on East 61st Street. A friend who was caring for him asked if he wanted to watch The Misfits on TV. Clift answered, “Absolutely not!” Those were his last words. The next morning, he was found dead—nude  on his bed. The official cause of death was a massive heart attack, although it was drugs that had helped to do him in. (In his Manhattan townhouse he had a huge customized closet/medicine cabinet to store his large drug stash.) After private funeral services at St. James’s Church in New York City, Monty was buried in a small Quaker cemetery in Brooklyn. Ironically, “Sunny” Clift would live until 1988, three months shy of her one hundredth birthday; she outlived both her sons.

Monty’s grave

It had been a long and painful trail from Omaha to that final resting place in Brooklyn. For those around Montgomery Clift, however, the inevitable finale was never in doubt. The Question had always only been “When?” As actor Kevin McCarthy, a long-time friend of Clift, summed up for a 1998 television biography of Clift: “He had the gift, the talent, but it all went to hell.”

Culled from: The Hollywood Book of Death

Sideshow “Freak” Du Jour!


The accompanying print was sold by Avery Childs while he was playing Morris’ Museum at Coney Island late in 1884. Avery, whose real name was George W. Barnum, came from Litchfield, Connecticut. He apparently had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, the condition common to so-called “rubber-men.” Skin laxity is only one of a series of anomalies associated with the syndrome. Expressivity is variable; thus hyper-extensible joints, a secondary characteristic in the case of the elastic-skin man Felix Wehrle, are of primary expressivity in Avery Childs. The Frog Boy’s facial narrowness across the cheekbones is a further diagnostic of the condition.

Avery Childs was twenty-three when he posed in the Bowery studios. Eisenmann set him up on a little grass mat as if he’d just hopped down the garden path to meet the camera. The arrangement did not admit the use of a posing stand, as there was no room. The sacrifice of technical excellence was worth the expressive results

Culled from: Monsters;: Human Freaks in American’s Gilded Age

Andersonville Prisoner Diary Entry Du Jour!

This is the continuation of the 1864 diary of Andersonville prisoner Private George A. Hitchcock (see the archived version for all entries up until now).

Here’s today’s entry:

November 10th. Rain in the morning. Cold and windy at night. An inspecting officer has been taking the names of those most ragged in camp, for clothing.

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost

MFDJ 01/10/24: The Disappearance of Rev. Sampson

Today’s Peaceful Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Reverend Thornton R. Sampson had served his church and his country well, traveling with his wife to Greece and Turkey as a Presbyterian missionary in 1878 and remaining there until 1892. When he finally returned to the United States, he became synodical secretary of the church’s home mission board in North Carolina, living in Greensboro and then Asheville with his family until he was elected president of General Assembly’s Home and School in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His upward trajectory did not stop there: He followed his time in Virginia by becoming head of a Presbyterian institution in Sherman, Texas, meanwhile founding a Presbyterian Theological Seminary for the Trans-Mississippi territory. He then made the last move of his career of service, leading the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin.

Throughout his later years, it was Sampson’s summer habit to visit the area that in 1915 had just become Rocky Mountain National Park, going off alone for “a tramp and fishing trip throughout Estes Park,” as the Asheville Gazette-News described it in September of that year. Sampson, who was 63 years old, kept in touch with his family during a sojourn in Denver while making preparations for his trip, writing to his wife on August 28 that he expected to be back in Denver on September 5.

Cliff Higby, a mountain guide astride a horse, passed Dr. Sampson on September 2 just two miles from Grand Lake on the west side of the park, “attired in heavy underwear, a light cotton suit, wool shirt and without an overcoat,” the Austin American reported. Dr. Sampson told him he intended to walk twenty-five miles across the park to reach Estes Park by September 5 to attend the dedication exercises for the newly named Rocky Mountain National Park. Higby provided directions to reach Fern Lake, where Dr. Sampson planned to spend the night, and told Sampson that he would tie a red bandana to a cairn—a stack of rocks used as a trail marker—to signal the place to turn. He also said he would leave Sampson a note there with further directions.

At about 2 p.m. on the same day, Sampson stopped to rest at a shelter and encountered three female travelers and their guide. They stopped briefly and then continued along the way from which Sampson had just come.

Shortly thereafter, the weather changed dramatically, with snow and gale-force winds making further hiking dangerous at best. “The mountain tops are completely enveloped when the clouds become thick and heavy, making it impossible for anyone to see the cairns marking the different routes of trails,” Vinson told the Austin paper. “That night it froze, and the next day there was a heavy snow and a high wind. The foresters say the snow forms on the mountain tops and with a high wind is swept into the canyons and gulches in terrific gales. The guides told me that the snow is now 40 and 50 feet deep in that region.”

He added, “It is believed that the lone traveler [Sampson] either sought safety in a cave, or slipped and fell, later to be covered by snow. Guide Higby’s directions were never reached.”

Sampon did not emerge from the park on September 5, and the whereabouts of a man known and respected throughout the Southern states quickly became a matter of nation concern.   Search parties combed the area, but nothing was found of Sampson until July 1932—seventeen years after he had been given up for lost.

On or around July 13, someone exploring a rocky overhang that formed a cave-like shelter in the park’s Fern Valley made the find of a lifetime: the skeletal remains of a man long dead. With the bones were several personal effects that made identification a certainty: Dr. Sampson’s pipe, which he had made himself; his diary, “perfectly legible and in good preservation,” and his knap-sack. Frank Sampson flew from his home in Atlanta, Georgia, to Denver to examine the items and confirm that they did indeed belong to his father.

Frank postulated his own theory of what had happened to Dr. Sampson:

There is no doubt in my mind that [F]ather failed to survive his first night out of Grand Lake. He had been slightly indisposed for a week prior, as his diary records, and while he was a singularly vigorous man for his 63 years, his vitality no doubt was low on this particular day, after a hike of more than seventeen miles and a vertical climb of more than 4,000 feet, passing about midday a point high above the timberline.

My conclusions are these: The weather records show that there were many showers all through that day—evidence substantiated by others who were on the same trail, on horseback. My father’s experience led him to this sheltering rock under which nearly everything except his watch and a few coins were found. On the level beneath the jutting rock were found his knapsack, with toilet articles, a can of tobacco, matches, and his pipe. I am positive he built a fire, became warm and fell asleep—and that sleep in wet clothing, on a cold September night, at an extremely high altitude, must have proved fatal.

But for the anxiety of his disappearance caused his loved ones, I cannot imagine my father wishing for a more peaceful passing—high in the mountains, from which all his life he had drawn his inspiration.

Partial view of Bierstadt Lake (elevation 9416 feet), Larimer County, looking toward Hallett Peak (elevation 12,725 feet) and Flattop Mountain (elevation 12,324 feet); the Reverend Thornton R. Sampson, an experienced hiker, met his demise shortly after descending Flattop Mountain on the way to Estes Park in 1915.

Culled from: Death In Rocky Mountain National Park

Crime Photos Du Jour!

March 21/22: Ernest Long Chief Engineer on the Steamship Rose City Was Arrested for Impersonating a Woman,
page from the Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbook ca. 1910-35

Courtesy: The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Culled from: Police Pictures: The Photograph as Evidence

Of course, I had to go digging to see if I could find some newspaper articles about this particular affair, and I found that the photos are from 1922.  Here’s the best article I found, from the March 21, 1922 issue of the San Francisco Bulletin.  San Francisco, huh?  Who woulda guessed?  (I love you, San Francisco!):


After a night spent in the city prison, and with his face powdered and his lips rouged, Ernest Long, chief engineer on the steamer Rose City, appeared before Police Judge Daniel S. O’Brien today to answer to two charges, one of masquerading as a woman, the other of carrying concealed weapons.

At the urgent request of Assistant District Attorney Robert McMahon, bail on the two charges was fixed at $6000 bonds or $2500 cash, Long having refused to promise not to go out on the Rose City on her next trip.

Long was arrested last night by Detective Sergeant Robert Maberg while walking with his wife near their home, 647 Twenty-first avenue [It’s still there! – DeSpair]. He was attired in an expensive gown, openwork silk stockings, a veil, white kid gloves and a fur collar. He wore a wig with the hair piled high on his head and carried a handbag, in which were a powder puff and a revolver.


In court Detective Sergeant Malberg told his story of the arrest. Long also gave the judge an explanation of his action in arraying himself in women’s clothes. He said that some time ago he went to the theater with his wife and saw Julian Eltinge, the famous female impersonator. He thought Eltinge was good looking, “but so am I,” he told the judge. He decided that he would be another Julian Eltinge and go on the stage with his wife.

“This is a remarkable case,” said Judge O’Brien. “This man presents a social problem.”

The judge sent for Dr. A. A. O’Neill, city prison physician, and directed him to make a mental examination of Long and submit it tomorrow, the hearing being in the meantime continued to Friday morning.

Asked why he was carrying the revolver when he was arrested, Long said he bought it twelve years ago for the protection of his wife and put it in the handbag just because the idea occurred to him. He added that his wife assisted him in dressing for the part of a woman, applying the face powder and rough. [sic]

The Longs have three children, Ernest 5; Phyllis, 4; and Broderick, 2 years old.


Mrs. Long this morning sat with folded hands to hear what disposition was to be made of her husband’s case.

“I’m so glad it’s over,” she said. “It has been terrible. If something hadn’t happened I would have gone insane. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later,” she said. “I often warned my husband that he would be discovered in his foolish mania, but toward the end I could not even warn him. It seemed to make him angry when I spoke of it.”

“Always when he made me go out with him I felt that any minute someone would find out and I was constantly in fear of his arrest or a terrible scene on the street. Even after seven years the horror never lessened. When the detective came up to us last night I first thought I would faint, but then embarrassment overcame me and I walked away.”


“When they took him away I went home and took the children over to the home of a friend who will care for them until I can arrange my life. Of course everything is changed now. I can never forgive my husband for all I’ve suffered, and even if I could, it would not be right, for I have to think of the children. With all the horrors of this publicity I know now that it was the only way. Perhaps I wasn’t brave enough, but it takes a lot of courage to tear up a home and break a family.

“You see, Ernest really looed the children. He was kind to them and provided a good home and in his way he loved me, but whether he was a victim of mania or insane I don’t know. I am sorry for him, but I’m through. I will never take him back.”

Mrs. Long married when she was 16 years old. Both parents were dead and she was the only girl in a family of four brothers.

“It was simply a matter of plunging into marriage without knowing anything,” she said. “No one had ever told me anything. When I married Ernest I loved him and for a long time afterwards. I couldn’t understand when he first brought home women’s clothing and dressed up, but when he started going out in nearly killed me.

“One of the worst parts of it was that he always made me dress him and see that he looked all right. I had to see that he was properly dressed, for otherwise I knew he would be discovered and arrested. I thought it was just a temporary mania that would wear off, but as time went on he became worse and worse.”


Andersonville Prisoner Diary Entry Du Jour!

This is the continuation of the 1864 diary of Andersonville prisoner Private George A. Hitchcock (see the archived version for all entries up until now).

Here’s today’s entry:

September 29th. I found a “History of the World” by Peter Parley, which has been a rare treat to me for the hour or more allowed me to keep it. Drew very small rations of meal, beans, and beef. Five more detachments prepared to leave, but the train did not come for them.

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost

MFDJ 01/06/24: Avoiding Epileptics

Today’s Possibly Contagious Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In classical antiquity mental disease was believed among laymen to be unclean. Epilepsy in particular was seen as both frightening and possibly contagious. Superstitious Greeks and Romans would spit when they encountered epileptics; the spitting was supposed to keep the contagion (or the demon) at bay. There is also some evidence that people feared to share dishes or drinking vessels with epileptics. But, most importantly, people who suffered from epilepsy were made to feel acutely embarrassed and disgraced, and tried to hide themselves when they anticipated an attack. The disease signified sin, and, in the eyes of onlookers, the hiding behavior indicated fear and guilt. It is not surprising that in such an atmosphere an epileptic should begin to appear unfriendly or uncoordinated, but this was not a symptom of the disease — it was a reaction to the hostile society.

Epileptic fit, ancient style!

Culled from: Plague, Pox and Pestilence

Mütter Specimen Du Jour!

Untitled ©1994 Arne Svenson

Plaster cast of conjoined twins. These twins are of the type known as ischiopagus tripus, joined at the pelvis with three legs. They were born in Warren County, Ohio, in 1870 and died at the age of thirteen months. They were the subject of a clinical lecture at Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia.

Culled from: Mütter Museum

Andersonville Prisoner Diary Entry Du Jour!

This is the continuation of the 1864 diary of Andersonville prisoner Private George A. Hitchcock (see the archived version for all entries up until now).

Here’s today’s entry:

September 25th.  Clear and mild. It was so cold we could not sleep last night. We are beginning to realize that we must remain here through the winter. Will hope keep us up much longer?

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost

MFDJ 01/02/24: Playful Tap of a Gun

Today’s Playful Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

“Two colored boys” found her at nine o’clock in the morning. A naked, bloody, dead, white woman, thrown in the back of an old moving van, parked in an alley, behind some flats on Cottage Grove in Chicago. The neighborhood around Cottage Grove was changing from white middle class to black working class. Changing fast. The alley where the woman was found ran behind a block that was still white. That she’d been found in a moving van was an irony that few newspaper readers would have missed.

Police followed a trail of the woman’s blood, through a yard, up a flight of stairs. Russell Mosby was washing blood out of the dead woman’s clothes—worth some money, why throw them away?—when the police walked in. Mosby confessed immediately. That is, he blamed Tom Roach. It was Roach’s place. All Mosby did was rent a room. Sure, he knew Roach—but that lady was dead, on the floor, and Roach was standing there, having a drink, when Mosby came home. Mosby didn’t know who the lady was. Tom told him he didn’t know either. Tom said they’d had a few drinks. That was all Mosby knew. Nothing.

About the still on the stove? Sure, said Mosby. He and Tom cooked some, sold some. Moonshine. Yes it was. But he didn’t know anything about the woman. They better ask Tom.

And where was Tom?

Tom was working. At the streetcar barn. He was a conductor. The papers said he’d been wounded in France—”a wounded veteran of the American Expeditionary Force.” Tom’s mother said he’d been “a good boy until he began to run with gangs.”

Roach confessed as fast as Mosby did. He said he’d taken his wife to the hospital Tuesday night, “so I was free to do as I chose… I took the woman to my flat… We had some drinks… We danced… She got rough and hit me. I got my revolver and stuck her over the head… It was a playful tap… She didn’t laugh, then. She fell on the floor… God knows why I did it.”

Thomas Roach

And Mosby?

“Roach said Mosby walked in later. Fifteen minutes later. Or—was it?—Mosby came home, then fifteen minutes after Mosby walked in, the woman died. One thing certain: He and Mosby didn’t leave their place until the next night. They stored the woman in the bathroom; then, the next night, they stripped her and hauled her outside.

Russell Mosby

And the woman? Where’d Roach meet her?

Roach began a new story: “I met this woman Wednesday night, as I was on my way home. I was going to visit a friend of mine, Mrs. Blair… The woman asked if she could go along… I agreed. She said that she knew Mrs. Blair, but I didn’t find out her name. We stayed up at Mrs. Blair’s place for twenty minutes. Then I started home. At my door, I started to leave her, but she asked to come in and I invited her.

“She was hysterical. She told about having trouble with her husband on account of his having wrongfully accused her of going around with other men.

“She threatened to kill herself. She was very quarrelsome.

“Mosby was in the flat and said something to her and she answered back. We had been drinking moonshine. There was a general fight…

“I hit her once with the pistol, but she only laughed at that…

“She resented the attentions of Mosby… He started getting rough with her… he beat her up with his gun. Then she took something out of a little bottle she carried on her waist and she died.

“We undressed her to wash the blood out of her clothes. They we took the body out to the moving van. That’s all I know about her…

“I’m sorry I hit her. After all, she was my guest. She was very abusive.”

The Chicago Tribune described the woman’s murder as the “sequel of a moonshine orgy.” The Tribune also reported a different sort of sequel to a different sort of drunken murder:

“CORONER’S JURY EXCUSES MAN’S CRIME… Fritz Meinhausen, who, on April 4, shot and killed Mrs. Anna Peters and also his wife, was not held criminally responsible by the coroner’s jury because, quoting a portion of the verdict: ‘We find from the evidence that… the fatal shooting was the direct result of… Fritz Meinhausen’s intoxicated condition. We, therefore, do not find him criminally responsible for the death of the deceased and recommend his discharge from police custody.'”

Anna Peters was a dressmaker who’d been fitting Mrs. Meinhausen for a dress. Mr. Meinhausen came home drunk. He’d mistaken the fitting for something else. That’s why he shot both women.

“Police,” wrote the Tribune, “were amazed at the verdict….’The law makes no allowance for intoxication in killings,’ said Coroner Hoffman… ‘This verdict easily becomes the most astonishing verdict any coroner’s jury has ever brought… during any time in office.'”

Tom Roach pleaded guilty at his arraignment. Russell Mosby refused to admit anything—except helping Roach drag the woman out of their apartment. The State’s Attorney’s office charged Mosby with murder. Roach agreed to testify against him.

Police began searching for the dead woman’s identity. The only clues they had were a postcard the woman had dropped in Roach’s apartment, and Roach’s story about visiting his friend, “Mrs. Blair,” whom the dead woman said she knew.

The only useful information the postcard had on it was its postmark: New Haven, Connecticut. Nothing came of that. As to “Mrs. Blair”: The dead woman may have known a lady with that name, but it wasn’t Mrs. Blair whom Roach had visited.

Maude Correll was the woman Roach had stopped to see. Mrs. Correll told the police that she, in fact, knew the dead woman. Her name was Anna Corliss. Or was it “Corlitt”?  Anyway: Anna had just been divorced. Her husband had deserted her. Mrs. Correll said Anna had rented a room from a woman named Mary Davis.

Mary Davis’s neighbors said they hadn’t seen Mrs. Davis for quite some time. Disappeared, they said. Gone missing. Police spent two days looking for her. When they found her, they took Mrs. Davis to the morgue and showed her the body. Mrs. Davis said she didn’t know who the woman was. She sure wasn’t someone named “Anna Corlitt.” Mrs. Davis didn’t know any “Anna Corlitt.” “Annie Colwell” was the name of her roomer. Mrs. Davis said she hadn’t seen Annie for a while. Of course, she hadn’t been home too often herself. Still—she’d met Annie’s mother and sister.

Police found Annie’s mother and sister and took them to the morgue. Both women collapsed when they saw her body.

Three days later, Mosby confessed. One newspaper described him as a cook; one newspaper described him as a janitor; one described him as “the colored handyman of Thomas Roche.”

A month passed.

Mosby and Roach repudiated their confessions. Prosecutors said they would charge both men with murder and ask that both men be executed. Since both men had confessed, there’d be no jury trial. A judge would hear their cases.

Two months passed.

Mosby went before Judge John Sullivan. “In return for pleading guilty and turning in state’s evidence, Roach is expected to receive a life sentence.” In a description of one of the most revolting scenes ever heard in the Criminal Court building, Roach placed the blame on Mosby, telling how the latter had beaten the woman over the head with a gun, choked her, and stamped on her prostrate body.”

Four days later, Judge Sullivan sentenced both men to life. They rode the “Murder Special” train, straight to Joliet that night. Manacled, under guard, at opposite ends of the same car.

Culled from: Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties


Sideshow “Freak” Du Jour!

John Robinson, Fat Man (early 1880s)


John Robinson claimed to be the heaviest man in the world. However, at the time Chas. Eisenmann photographed him, he weighted only 588 pounds, a couple of hundred pounds less than the real weight champion, John Hanson Craig. The purpose of the smirking portrait in drag is unknown.

Culled from: Monsters: Human Freaks in America’s Gilded Age


Andersonville Prisoner Diary Entry Du Jour!

This is the continuation of the 1864 diary of Andersonville prisoner Private George A. Hitchcock (see the archived version for all entries up until now).

Here’s today’s entry:

September 21st. Cloudy and rain. Very chilly and damp nights. Great numbers sick with colds. Drew a ration of mouldy sea-biscuit, molasses and beans. Bad as the bread was it was a desirable change from the “grits.”

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost

MFDJ 09/24/23: Death of a “Sissy”

Today’s Well-Dressed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In a story that, up to a point, oddly presaged a “Leave It To Beaver” plot by some 25 years, 7-year-old John Tighe set out from his home in the posh Philadelphia suburb of Germantown on Mother’s Day, 1937. The young lad was going to pay his respects to his grandmother in nearby West Philadelphia. He was dressed for the occasion in the height of juvenile splendor: spiffy blue suit, neat tie and, the pièce de résistance, a red carnation.

Dandy little Johnny

Yet, somewhere along the way, the innocent gamin was led astray. The agent of temptation was one 9-year-old James Brady, who would be described by the police as an “incorrigible” lad. But James was not the typical dirty-faced street urchin. He had a genuine brush with celebrity. The previous summer, he’d written President Roosevelt a heart-rending letter, describing how he’d worn out his only pair of shoes trying to see the President speak at Franklin Field. The tale touched FDR’s heart and his press agent’s promotional instincts. A complimentary pair of shoes was dispatched from Hyde Park to Philly pronto.

Little Jimmy Showing His Resting-Sociopath Face

They must have made an odd pair, wandering into the Woodlands Cemetery on the banks of the Schuylkill River. Jimmy of the well worn presidential shoes and the younger child of privilege, resplendent in his Sunday best. But there was a method to Jimmy’s madness. The younger boy’s outfit had already branded him.  “He was a sissy,” Jimmy would later tell police. And Jimmy could not abide a sissy.

When the boy didn’t show at his grandmother’s, police first suspected a kidnapping. But with the help of witnesses, they closed in quickly on Jimmy. At first Jimmy denied everything, telling a succession of stories that only increased in implausibility. Finally, he confessed, leading them to the spot on the riverbank where he pushed the boy in.

Culled from: Murder Can Be Fun #17 by John Marr

The newspaper articles about this murder have some delightful details.

From the May 12, 1937 Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey):


Police Ponder Request to Question Boy Who Admitted Drowning

Grief-stricken, Mrs. John Tighe, mother of John Tighe, Jr., 7, begged for a chance yesterday to question Jimmy Brady, 9, the youngster who calmly admitted he had drowned her son because he “was a sissy.”

“If you’ll only let me talk to him,” pleaded the mother. “I know I can make him tell me the truth and end this awful suspense.”

As police debate whether to grant the request, Jimmy, cool, matter-of-fact youngster, termed “normal” by psychiatrists, sits in the house of detention, eating heartily, joining lustily in the group-singing, and baffling police by constantly shifting his stories.

Twice he has changed his account of the tragedy. First he pointed to a spot near the University avenue bridge, saying he had thrown the Tighe boy into the Schuylkill there. Later he placed the spot fully half a mile away.

“I pushed him in right there… or was it a half-mile down the river?”

Thirty policemen and the harbor patrol dragged the river yesterday, but did not find the body. Police are skeptical of Brady’s statement regarding the drowning, although, together with the victim’s parents, they believe young Tighe is dead.

“Something tells me,” said Mrs. Tighe, “his body is lying in the woods or the cemetery.”

Johnny was last seen wandering with young Brady Sunday afternoon in Woodlands cemetery, Thirty-ninth street and Woodland avenue, not far from the home of Johnny’s grandmother, Mrs. John J. Doyle, at 3921 Baltimore avenue. He had spent Mother’s Day there at a family reunion.

Yesterday his father spent hours searching empty tombs and subterranean vaults in the old graveyard [Lucky! – DeSpair], half convinced he would come across his boy’s body. He found a heavy carpet beater, with which the Brady boy was playing Sunday afternoon. Wisps of hair were found on it, but detectives said they were certain it was dog’s hair. Nevertheless, they planned a microscopic examination.

Meanwhile, psychiatrists at the house of detention gave young Brady a thorough examination and pronounced him mentally normal, but backward.

Dr. Donald Davidson said:

“He is normal, in that he is not feeble-minded or insane, but his record shows him to be a very troublesome boy.”

James has been in trouble before. He was arrested for stealing and selling some empty beer bottles and for climbing through an open window into a University of Pennsylvania fraternity house. He was released on probation, after another spell of notoriety.

Then, last Friday, he was accused of striking a woman and, police say, was sentenced in Municipal Court to an indeterminate term in LaSalle Reform School. He was not in Court when sentence was pronounced, and a warrant for his arrest was issued. It had not been served when he was picked up in connection with Johnny’s disappearance.

A charge of homicide has been lodged against him, but police have not determined their procedure in the event Johnny’s body is recovered.

James lives on Baltimore avenue, near Twenty-ninth street, one of several children. He’s a pupil in a public school disciplinary class. He was not a playmate of the missing boy.

Johnny, who lives at 148 East Tulpehocken street, was frail as a result of an automobile accident two years ago. Young Tighe saw James only when he went to visit his grandmother. Members of his family say he was told not to play with James.

James’ parents yesterday repeated their assertion that they do not believe their son’s story.

“He would say anything if you would listen to him long enough,” said his father, John Brady.  [Something tells me the rotten apple didn’t roll far from the tree. – DeSpair]

On May 15, 1937 John’s body was recovered (Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise):

Body of Boy Drowned in Schuylkill River Found

(By the Associated Press)

PHILADELPHIA, May 15.—The body of seven-year-old John Tighe, Jr. was recovered today from the Schuylkill river.

Lieutenant of Detectives Joseph Summerscale said it was found near the spot where James Brady, 9, told him he pushed the boy into the stream on Mother’s day.

Brady, once given a pair of shoes by President Roosevelt, was held in the house of detention while police searched for the body.

Summerscale said Brady told him the boys were playing and he pushed John toward the river twice to frighten him, the third time his hand slipped and John fell in.

And then on July 2, 1937 in The Plain Speaker (Hazleton, PA):

Youth Branded Cold Killer

Boy Who Shoved Another Into River and Called Him “Sissy” Sentenced.

PHILADELPHIA, July 2. (AP) — Nine-year-old James Brady, charged with the “sissy” murder of seven-year-old John S. Tighe, Jr., today was committed to the juvenile branch of the Allentown State Institute for Mental Defectives. [Why don’t we have catchy names like that anymore? – DeSpair]

Brady was charged with shoving the Tighe boy into the Schuylkill river on last Mother’s Day because he thought the youngster was a “sissy” for wearing a carnation. Tighe’s body was recovered several days later.

“The reports had by me,” said Judge Frank Smith in quarter sessions court, “indicate that this boy is cold-blooded, cruel and unemotional and is known as a ‘constitutional’ psychopath.’

“Dr. D. G. Davidson, psychiatrist at the House of Detention, reports young Brady shows no remorse at all for what he had done to John Tighe, Jr. Dr. Davidson states that this is due to a brutal impulse and doubts that Brady actually tried to kill Tighe, but that it was his aim to see him squirm and struggle, due to a sadistic trait in his character.”

Dr. Edwin B. Twitmyer, a psychiatrist appointed by the court at the request of defense counsel, reported “Brady is feebleminded with a mental age of seven years.”


Sideshow “Freak” Du Jour!


Chas. Eisenmann photographed several rubber-skinned men, including James Morris, “The Indian Rubber Man,” a contemporary of Felix Wehrle’s. Wehrle’s career seems to have been overshadowed by Morris’s more spectacular feats. An Eisenmann portrait in the files of the Museum of the City of New York shows that Morris was able to pull the skin of his throat up over his eyes, an achievement that won him long-standing contracts with various Barnum shows. Wehrle was apparently left with the museum circuit where he did contortions along with skin stretching. Both men suffered from the Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a defect of the connective tissues of the dermis characterized by thin, delicate hyperextensible skin. Wehrle is known to have been able to bend his fingers over backwards, an anomaly associated with the syndrome. Indeed the joints are so lax in many people with this pathology that they frequently suffer from dislocations. Although these men could perform painlessly they had to do so with care to avoid bruising and hemorrhaging, since the blood vessels are composed of the same faulty connective tissue that permit the stretching. The Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is inherited as a dominant.

Eisenmann’s portrait of Wehrle is curiously similar to that of Morris. In each case the subject is shown from the waist up in three-quarter views before a plain backdrop. The two almost identically dressed men go through their paces for the camera with similar matter-of-factness.

James Morris

Culled from: Monsters: Human Freaks in America’s Gilded Age

MFDJ 08/07/23: The Tuskegee Experiment

Today’s Special, Free Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The letter in a clean white envelope embossed with a government letterhead arrived at the run-down shacks of hundreds of sick black men in rural Alabama. It invited them to be examined by government doctors, and closed: REMEMBER THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE FOR SPECIAL FREE TREATMENT. BE SURE TO MEET THE NURSE.

Those words helped lure several hundred dirt-poor, uneducated black men in the middle of the Depression to participate in what would become the longest non-therapeutic experiment on human beings in medical history, according to Bad Blood by James H. Jones.

A doctor draws blood from one of the “subjects”.

The U.S. Public Health Service (fore-runner of the Center for Disease Control), with the blessing of the various Surgeons General, from 1932 to 1972 studied the long-term effects of syphilis on 399 black men who were already infected. Government and local doctors periodically examined those men, routinely denied them any treatment for venereal disease, even when “miracle cure” penicillin became widely available in the 1950s. The families received a fifty-dollar burial allowance in exchange for allowing autopsies to performed and the men, while alive, received minimal medical care for other ailments, such as receiving pink aspirin tablets and red iron tonics. At least twenty-eight of the men died from syphilis-related complications.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment arguably marks the ugliest stain on the public health record of the United States.

It took an outraged federal employee, Peter Buxtun, leaking details to the Associated Press to finally blow the whistle, and the U.S. government later settled a class action suit, paying $10 million to the victims.

In hindsight, it seems clearly unconscionable that an American government could authorize such a racist and cruel experiment.

How could it happen here?

Contrary to most reports, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was not top secret. Doctors wrote numerous articles on it in medical journals, and the medical community at large never protested until Dr. Irwin Schatz wrote a scathing letter in 1965.  “I am utterly astounded by the fact that physicians allow patients with a potentially fatal disease to remain untreated when effective therapy is available.” Dr. Anne Yobs of the U.S. Public Health Service stapled a note onto it and filed it away: “This is the first letter of this type we have received. I do not plan to answer this letter.”

The original rationale was to track long-term effects of untreated syphilis on black men, just as an earlier Oslo study had tracked the long-term effects on white European men. The enormous difference between the two studies: the Oslo researchers checked on untreated men who arrived at various clinics; the American study involved withholding treatment so as to study the men.

The experiment was facilitated by the collaboration of the prestigious Tuskegee Institute, a pioneer of African-American higher education.

Finally, once the plug was pulled, on March 3, 1973, Caspar Weinberger, secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, authorized treatment for the survivors.

Jones states in his book that none of the white male doctors who founded and fought for the continuation of the experiment ever officially apologized.

Culled from: An Underground Education


Mütter Museum Specimen Du Jour!

Lordosis (Curvature of the Lower Spine), albumen prints.

Page from an album of medical photographs by James F. Wood. Wood made this photograph for James Kelly, M.D. (1862-1923), who with DeForest Willard, M.D. (1846-1920), established the department of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the first of its kind in Philadelphia. Presented to the Museum by James F. Wood, 1898.

Culled from: Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

MFDJ 08/01/23: The Deformed King

Today’s Deformed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Spanish royalty suffered more than most from the genetic mutation of inbreeding. Although the royal line was predominantly Bourbon, the debilitated Habsburg blood also ran profusely through the veins of the Spanish royal family. King Philip IV fathered fifteen children by his two wives. All of these Spanish Princes and Princesses, unlike his numerous healthy bastard offspring, were born physically degenerate and most did not live to see their fourth birthdays. In his successor, Charles II, centuries of inbred Habsburg physical and mental abnormality combined to reveal the laws of genetics at their cruelest. A sickly four-year-old when he succeeded his father, he reigned for thirty-five-years, mad, illiterate, incapable of governing, living his life in complete ignorance of even the basic geography of the empire he ruled. He had been a virtual invalid from the day he was born. When he came to the throne he was still being breast-fed by relays of fourteen wet nurses. His Habsburg underbite was so enormously pronounced that he could barely use his jaws to chew food; his tongue was so big that his speech was unintelligible. The King’s condition was also degenerative: by the time he was in his late thirties his legs were too weak to carry him, and he was an emaciated, mentally ill wreck. As he grew older he also succumbed to bouts of madness with increasing frequency. He had himself exorcised as it was believed he was possessed by a devil, hence he became known as Charles “The Bewitched”.  These exorcisms apparently gave him some temporary relief. As the attacks grew worse the whole Spanish court became preoccupied with witchcraft, to the great amusement of Spain’s neighbors.

A generous portrait of Charles

In spite of his physical and mental incapacity, his station naturally required that he should be married and sire children to secure the future of the Spanish state. A “volunteer” was found in the French Princess Marie Louise, a niece of Louis XIV. It seems that Louis had been forewarned that the King of Spain was physically monstrous and that his poor seventeen-year-old niece was in for a nasty surprise, but the Sun King gave his blessing to the marriage anyway because he thought the union would favor French interests. Marie Louise did her best as a dutiful wife, but Charles was incapable of fatherhood. In 1689 she died, childless, after a riding accident. When she had been dead for about ten years he insisted on seeing her corpse. He descended by torchlight into the royal vaults beneath the church where several generations of Spanish kings and queens lay. He took one look at his first wife’s remains and ran screaming from the vault, and it was said that he was permanently crazed from that day on. The King spent the rest of his reign being led like a prize chimpanzee from one ceremonial function to another.

The unfortunate Marie Louise…

In 1770 Charles II died heirless and the Spanish Empire passed to Philip Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV of France, thus plunging Europe into thirteen years of bloody war. Thousands died on the battlefields of Europe before the great powers finally accepted him as Philip V of Spain by the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713.

Culled from: Royal Babylon


Sideshow “Freaks” Du Jour!

Piebald Black Boys

Ashbury Benjamin, c 1885

There were a number of piebald blacks on the exhibition circuit late in the nineteenth century. Most came from the Caribbean.  Piebaldism or localized depigmentation is inherited through an autosomal (non-sex-linked) dominant and is permanent from birth. Ashbury Benjamin, the boy with the machete, exhibits the most common form of piebaldism — a white frontal patch on the forehead accompanied by a white forelock.  The Williams family who toured in later years with Barnum & Bailey were of this type. During the nineteenth century piebald blacks were usually called “Leopard boys” or, more ominously, “negroes turning white.”

Piebald Black Boy c 1885

Ashbury Benjamin is fourteen in Eisenmann’s picture. He was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and was exhibited from early childhood as “The Leopard Boy”.  He is known to have played Drew’s Dime Museum, Cleveland, in December 1884.

Culled from: Monsters: Human Freaks in America’s Gilded Age

MFDJ 9/25/2022: Aunt Thally

Today’s Metallic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The death of an eighty-seven-year-old woman named Christina Mickelson in Sydney, Australia in 1947 seemed a natural enough occurrence.  When family friend Angeline Thomas died not long afterward this too seemed reasonable, given that the lady was also in her eighties.  But the death of a much younger relative, sixty-year-old John Lundberg, a year later was more suspicious.  Lundberg’s hair had fallen out before his death, which made it all the more alarming when another member of the family, Mary Ann Mickelson, fell ill with similar symptoms, and finally she too died.

One factor common to all four deaths was the presence of Caroline Grills, the sixty-three-year-old stepdaughter-in-law of the first victim.  Grills, who had married Mrs. Mickelson’s stepson nearly forty years earlier, had nursed the old lady through her final illness.  When Angeline Thomas fell ill, Grills had helped care for her too, preparing endless cups of tea to lift the invalid’s spirits.  She had also been there to minister to John Lundberg and Mary Ann Mickelson and, one after another, her patients’ conditions had all deteriorated until eventually they died.

In 1948, the mystery sickness had begun to threaten the lives of John Lundberg’s widow and daughter, both of whose conditions were worsening in spite of Caroline Grills’ attentive care.  Both women were losing their hair and complained of a heavy lassitude and difficulty in moving their limbs.  Eventually a suspicious relative alerted the local police, who removed one of the cups of tea prepared for the suffering women and subjected it to forensic analysis.  The fact that the victim’s hair had fallen out during their illness suggested the presence of thallium as a poison.  The laboratory checked by using the Reinsch test, which involves adding the suspect material to a solution of hydrochloric acid.  A copper strip is dipped into the resulting mixture, and any metallic deposit forming on it indicates the presence of a heavy metal such as arsenic, antimony, or thallium.  The specific identify of the contamination is then confirmed by further analysis.

Thallium was found to have been added to the tea. Discovery was made in time to save the lives of Mrs. Lundberg and her daughter, although Mrs. Lundberg lost her sight as a result of the poison absorbed into her system.

Caroline Grills was tried and found guilty of the attempted murder of Mrs. Lundberg.  She was sentenced to life imprisonment and, bizarrely, became popular among other inmates who came to know her simply as “Aunt Thally”.

Good ol’ Aunt Thally!

Culled from: Hidden Evidence: Forty True Crimes and How Forensic Science Helped Solve Them

Sideshow “Freak” Du Jour!

Blanche Gray
Fat Lady (c. 1879)

Blanche Gray was born in November 1856 in Detroit.  She was so large at birth, over twenty-five pounds, that her mother died within minutes of the delivery.  When she grew to her maximum height of 56 inches at the age of twelve she weighed 250 pounds.

In the late ’70s Blanche made her debut as a professional fat lady at the Bowery Concert Hall.  There she met David Moses, an attaché, and was soon married.  As Mrs. David Moses she continued her career until the fall of 1883 when she suddenly began to put on additional weight at an alarming rate.  In two months she gained 67 pounds and her health began to deteriorate rapidly.  While playing Herzog’s Dime Museum in Baltimore toward the end of October she was forced to take to bed at her boarding house.  She died of fatty degeneration of the heart on October 26, 1883.  At the time of her death the twenty-seven-year-old Blanche had an eight-five inch bust and her upper arms were more than two feet in circumference.

Blanche Gray
Fat Lady (c. 1879)

Culled from: Monsters: Human Freaks in America’s Gilded Age

MFDJ 10/17/2021: Falling Into a Well

Today’s Dislocated 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 the account of Private Eli J. Wamsely, Company E., 65th Indiana Infantry, Twenty-third Corps, age 36.
Captured in East Tennessee, Dec. 16, 1863.
Entered Andersonville on March 14, 1864.

On the 11th of July, when the six raiders were hanged, Captain Wirz had a gallows erected inside the stockade for the purpose, and the time was set for the execution, and the prisoners marched in. When they saw the awful reality before them, one of them made a desperate effort to get away, which caused a general stampede among the prisoners, and in the rush I was shoved head foremost into one of those wells about thirty feet deep, my left shoulder being dislocated in the fall. I remained in the well until the men were hanged, and then the ropes were used in getting me out of the well. I owe my deliverance from that living grave chiefly to a member of the Fourteenth Illinois cavalry. I believe his name was Noah. His surname I cannot recollect, but he has the gratitude of my heart all the same.

Execution of the Raiders

Eli Wamsley was paroled on December 10, 1864 in Wilmington, N.C.

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

In case you’re wondering, the Andersonville Raiders were a band of rogue soldiers incarcerated at the Confederate Andersonville Prison during the American Civil War. Led by their chieftains – Charles Curtis, John Sarsfield, Patrick Delaney, Teri Sullivan (aka “WR Rickson”, according to other sources), William Collins, and Alvin T. Munn – these soldiers terrorized their fellow prisoners, stealing their possessions and sometimes even committing murder. Good riddance!


Sideshow “Freaks” Du Jour!

Australian Aborigines (c 1885)

When the British established their first settlement on the southeastern Australian coast in 1788 they soon discovered that their new land was already inhabited. Three hundred thousand aborigines lived there at a technological level so primitive that it precluded even the bow and arrow, cooking pots and clothing. Spenser and Gillen, the first anthropologists to make a serious study of an Australian aboriginal band (1896), compared them to other Australian biological anachronism like the platypus and kangaroo. Although it was soon discovered that other aspects of their culture, language and kinship systems, were extremely complex, the Australian aborigines became for Western man, the most primitive of all possible beings, the ultimate human exotics.

The abdominal scarification on the men in photographer Chas. Eisenmann’s portrait records the individual’s progress up the ritual hierarchy. Eisenmann’s aborigines declare their Australian primitiveness by holding boomerangs. The men have been equipped with cotton shorts and the women with bras to make them decent for Western viewers.

Culled from: Monsters: Human Freaks in America’s Gilded Age