Category Archives: Ghastly!

MFDJ 05/25/24: Minnesota’s Frozen Son

Today’s Frostbitten Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Civic disaster requires a hero. Minnesotans found or created one in a young storm survivor they christened “Minnesota’s Frozen Son.” Michael J. Dowling was fifteen when he came within an inch of freezing to death in one of the blizzards of the winter of 1880-81 (known as the “Snow Winter” because of the immense and frequent snowstorms). Dowling’s frostbite was so advanced that he lost both legs below the knees, his left arm below the elbow, and all the fingers and most of the thumb on his right hand. But Dowling was a fighter. He lived on to become a teacher, newspaper editor, and eventually speaker of the house of the Minnesota State Legislature. “It is what one has above the shoulders that counts, ” he always told his fellow amputees.

Culled from: The Children’s Blizzard


Vintage Medical Photo Du Jour!

“A Morning’s Work,” 1865
Reed Brockway Bontecou, M.D., Washington D.C.
Albumen print, 6 x 4 1/2 in.

This photograph graphically documents the devastation of the Civil War. More than 625,000 men died (one of every four who fought), and more than 400,000 were wounded. Chronic diarrhea and infections such as dysentery killed tens of thousands of people in the years following, as a ravaged generation and a young nation continued to pay the costs of the war.

Reed Brockway Bontecou, M. D. (1824-1907), Surgeon in Charge at Harewood United States Army General Hospital in Washington, D.C. was an avid proponent of photography and documented his cases for inclusion in the newly established United Sates Army Medical Museum. This image, labeled “A Morning’s Work” by Dr. Bontecou himself, reflects the typical number of amputations he performed in a single morning.

Culled from: A Morning’s Work

MFDJ 05/05/24: The Jersey Rapist

Today’s Apologetic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Undoubtedly, one of the most curious cases of a Jekyll and Hyde personality is that of the Jersey (an island between England and France) rapist, Edward Paisnel. Just before midnight on Saturday, July 10, 1971, two Jersey policemen were sitting in their patrol car at a traffic light when another car hurtled across the road in front of them against the amber light. They decided to give chase to the car, which was heading towards St. Helier: they suspected it might have been stolen for a joyride by local youths. The driver ignored their signals to stop, struck an oncoming car a glancing blow, and roared off at 70 miles an hour. He began weaving from side to side to prevent the police from overtaking. Finally, after a chase of many miles, he turned into a private road, ran though a fence and across a garden, and into a field of tomatoes. The occupant leapt out and ran; one of the policemen brought him down with a rugger tackle.

At the police station they discovered that the man—who was middle-aged—had rows of nails, their points outward, sewn to the lapels of his jacket. In his pockets they found a wig, a rubber face mask, and adhesive tape. The police realized suddenly that they had at last caught the man who had been committing rape on the island for many years—perhaps as many as 14.

He was Edward John Louis Paisnel. Back at his home—a farmhouse called Maison du Soleil—they discovered a secret room behind a bookcase; it contained a raffia cross, more masks, coats with nails, and black magic paraphernalia. When asked about this, Paisnel replied: “My master would laugh very long and loud about this.” His “master” was the devil, and it later turned out that Paisnel was obsessed by Gilles de Rais, burned in 1440 for the murders of more than 50 children.

The pattern of the crimes had been peculiar. In November 1957, three women had been attacked by a man with a knife, and one was sexually assaulted. In April 1958, a man threw a rope round the neck of a girl, dragged her into a field and raped her. In October 1958, a girl was dragged from a cottage and raped. The attacks ceased until 1960, and police hoped they had stopped. But then, in January 1960, they took an altogether more alarming turn. A 10-year-old girl woke up to find a man in her bedroom. He warned her that if she cried out he would shoot both her parents. He then sexually assaulted her in her own bed, and left by the window, driving off in her father’s car. When she told her brothers the next morning, they were inclined to believe that she had dreamed it all—a feature that recurred in some of the later cases.

A month later, a man entered the bedroom of a 12-year-old boy, made him go out with him to a field, and committed a sexual assault. The rapist then took the boy back to the house and back to his bedroom. This was perhaps the oddest feature of all. Why should he risk being caught? It seemed that, once he had committed his assault, the rapist became apologetic.

For the next 11 years, Jersey became an island of terror. Householders had bolts and bars put on windows. In March 1960 a 24-year-old air hostess, waiting at a bus stop, was dragged into a field and raped. On April 27, a woman whose husband was in hospital heard a noise in the middle of the night and found a man in her kitchen. The woman’s 14-year-old daughter came downstairs, and a rope was thrown around her throat. She was dragged out to a nearby field and raped, then allowed to go home.

In this, as in many succeeding attacks, it became clear that the rapist had studied the house, and knew how to achieve his object with the minimum of risk. He often wore the terrifying rubber mask. Usually the children were too frightened to scream; the man would commit a sexual assault and then courteously escort them back to their bedrooms. In some cases, penetration was minimal—he was evidently worried about hurting his victims—but at least one girl became pregnant. When 11-year-old Joy Norton was found stabbed to death in September 1965, it was feared that the rapist had at last turned to murder; but it was discovered that she had been sexually abused over a period of years, and her elder brother was charged with her murder.

And so the rape and assault continued, usually at the rate of one or two a year, until Paisnel was caught. One man who was generally suspected of the assaults had been so ostracized that he had been forced to leave the island. Altogether, Paisnel was charged with seven sexual assaults, including rape and sodomy. Found guilty, he was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment. But what baffled all those who knew him was that the kind Edward Paisnel, the man who genuinely loved children, and often played Father Christmas at parties, should also be the rapist who had terrorized the island.

Edward Paisnel: The Beast of Jersey

Culled from: Crimes and Punishment, the Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 1 


Vintage Crime Scene Du Jour!

No caption. The body is that of a black man, who is lying in the front hallway of a tenement. A crowd has gathered outside, in the rain, holding umbrellas. The cigarette butt on the floor might have been thrown there by anyone, including the cops.

Culled from: Evidence

MFDJ 05/04/24: Death from Shock

Today’s Shock-Induced Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The New London School explosion occurred on March 18, 1937, when a natural gas leak caused an explosion and destroyed the London School in New London, Texas, United States. The disaster killed more than 300 students and teachers. As of 2021, the event is the third-deadliest disaster in the history of Texas, after the 1900 Galveston hurricane and the 1947 Texas City disaster.  The following is an account of the aftermath of the disaster.

George L. Hardy of Arp heard the explosion, and soon afterward, he saw emergency vehicles streaming east in front of his house. “The London school!” somebody shouted from a car. Hardy grabbed his hat and coat, jumped into his car, and started for the school. By the time he reached the outskirts of New London, he was sweating profusely. Hardy, sixty-three, loosened his collar and took off his coat. After he’d gotten as close to the school as possible, he parked the car in the weeds on the side of the road. Then he set out in a trot. He was too old and out of shape to make a full run.

When Hardy saw chalky white men coming out of the collapsed building carrying dead children drenched in blood, he clutched his chest and collapsed next to a fallen piece of wall. George Hardy died later that evening , felled, a doctor said, by a heart attack induced by shock.

Culled from: Gone at 3:17

Some people just aren’t cut out for morbidity!

Malady Du Jour!

The Dr. Ikkaku Ochi Collection is a fascinating cluster of medical photographs from the late 19th and early 20th century that had been collected by Dr. Ikkaku Ochi in Japan and were found in a box many years later.  There was no detailed information available for most of the photos, but the images are compelling because they show composed portraits of people suffering through intense pain caused by conditions that in most cases would be resolved through treatment today. There’s a sense of overwhelming sadness that comes through in these pictures, but also dignity and strength.

MFDJ 04/29/24: The Dangerous Narrows

Today’s Concentrated Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Virgin River sculpts a dramatic and compelling corridor through the heart of Zion National Park, one that lures otherwise cautious hikers to take on a challenge entirely different from the ones they find on dry land. Here sandstone walls stretch upward for a thousand feet or more, allowing a glistening ribbon of water to find its way between them with only twenty or thirty feet of tolerance on either side. Sunlight generally forsakes this slim waterway, making this a dim or even murky journey— but when a shaft of natural light casts a momentary glow on a towering wall, the effect can be so remarkable that hikers pause to admire the play of sun and shadow against the folds of sandstone glowing in shade so vermillion, white gold, and mahogany.

Hiking the Narrows

While hiking the Narrows at its most shallow may result in an unplanned dunking into the water or at worst, a twisted ankle, there’s a greater danger from the middle of July to the end of August. Just as Zion’s shuttle buses become jammed with passengers and the trails are crowded with day-trippers and visitors from around the world, torrential thunderstorms begin to pop up regularly in the mountains north of the park. Hikers in the Narrows report looking up past the canyon walls to see bright blue sky even as rain drenches the land twenty or thirty miles away.  As the rain falls and the runoff from the desert and mountain swells the volume of the Virgin River, all that water flows into Zion Canyon.

Once inside, the volume of water becomes concentrated as it squeezes between the monolithic walls. The water level rises instantly, racing down the canyon at rates as high as four thousand cubic feet per second—and as the canyon becomes even narrower, the water level rises again. What may have begun as a few extra inches of water high in the mountains now speeds down the center of the canyon, reaching well over hiker’s heads and creating a deadly situation for people who have been lulled into a sense of security by the patches of clear blue sky they see above them. If they are caught on low ground, they may be swept away by the current’s force.

So on Monday afternoon, July 27, 1998, when 0.47 inches of rain fell at Zion National Park headquarters and the Lava Point area west of the Narrows received 0.37 inches, parties of hikers— fourteen people in all—became trapped overnight about two miles upriver from the Temple of Sinawava parking area. They managed to scramble to higher ground as the water level rose three feet in a matter of minutes, and as the flow increased from 110 cubic feet to 740 cubic feet per second, making wading in the roiling river impossible. They made makeshift camps, getting as comfortable as they could while keeping a close eye on the current for any sign that the depth might become passable once again.

That’s how the hikers spotted the body.

It floated by them at about 5:00 p.m., battered significantly by rocks it had encountered in the swift current. No medical expertise was require to determine that the person had most likely drowned in the flash flood.

Immediately seeing the need to retrieve this person’s remains, several of the hikers worked together to reach the body, bring it to a patch of ground, and secured it there. It remained in place until early Tuesday morning, when the river had returned to a manageable level and the hikers could make their way out of the canyon. They reported their find to the first ranger they could locate.

When Zion’s search and rescue squad entered the Narrows, it located the body where the hikers had secured it. Determining who the victim was, however, became a tricky process. “There was no identification on the man, and we haven’t heard any reports about a missing person,” park spokesman Denny Davies told the Salt Lake Tribune. The recovery team ventured an educated guess that the man was in his forties, and that he weighed between 230 and 250 pounds. Washington County sheriff Glenwood Humphries noted that the body had taken a severe beating in the swiftly flowing current, making it that much harder to achieve a solid identification. Whoever this person was, he had not obtained a permit from the park to hike the canyon, and he had not made an advanced reservation for a campsite. His identity was a complete mystery.

On Tuesday evening, however, park investigators found a an unlocked vehicle parked in Zion Canyon with two wallets in it, and they matched one of the driver’s license photos with the unidentified body. They determined that the victim was twenty-seven-year-old Ramsey E. Algan of Long Beach, California. Two other hikers who had emerged from the canyon after the flash flood confirmed what seemed to be the case: Algan had been hiking with another man, and that man had not returned to his car either. Park search and rescue teams now had to face the fact that they had another hiker to find—and the chances were slim that they would find him alive.

On Wednesday, July 29, Acting Chief Ranger David Buccello coordinated the second search along the Virgin River, breaking the searchers into teams to explore five sectors of the park. He also engaged the assistance of Rocky Mountain Rescue Dogs from Salt Lake City.

On Wednesday morning, July 30, searchers discovered the body of the second man about a mile and a half upstream from where Algan’s body was first spotted. Paul Garcia, a thirty-one year-old man from Paramount, California, was located in a debris pile where his body had snagged during the flash flood.

Park officials were quick to use this tragedy to reinforce the message that those planning to hike the Narrows need to check with park rangers at a visitor center or ranger station before venturing up or down the Virgin River. “We cannot stress too strongly that visitors need to heed these flash  flood warnings and plan alternate trips that don’t include slot canyons,” acting park superintendent Eddi Lopea told the Salt Lake Tribune.  He urged hikers to get updated weather information before venturing into any narrow or slot canyon, and to delay their hike if thunderstorms are predicted.

Culled from: Death In Zion National Park


Dissection Photo Du Jour!

School unknown. The cadavers in these photographs almost always rest directly on the wooden or metal dissecting table, but in this tableau a sheet has been placed under the body. As in most scenes, none of the dissectors is wearing gloves.

Culled from: Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine: 1880-1930

MFDJ 04/28/24: Bison Danger

Today’s Tame Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On March 22, 1902, Dick Rock, 49, a well-known Yellowstone-area poacher and animal keeper, was killed by one of his own bison near Henry’s Lake, just outside the park. He was attempting to show a friend how “tame” they had become. Several people had warned Dick that the bison would kill him, but he did not listen. One Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. when Dick was feeding a bison, it became enraged and charged him, pinning him against the corral. His screams brought Mrs. Rock and several people from a nearby ranch. What they saw horrified them. Over and over the bison pitched Dick’s body up into the air and gored him with hits horns every time it hit the ground. The bison ripped all the clothes from Dick’s body and left him with twenty-nine horn holes. Mrs. May Garner remembered that when they got Dick out of there, “his eyelids twitched a time or two and he was gone.”

Dick Rock.  No wonder the bison was mad.

Culled from: Death In Yellowstone


Suicide Du Jour!

One of my favorite books is Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook.  It is exactly what it says it is: a bizarre and oft-disturbing scrapbook collected over the years by Los Angeles area police detective Jack Huddleston, whose career spanned from 1921 to the early 1950’s. Here’s a strange entry:

Pat Gorman “Suicide” Denatured, Alc.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any additional information on this incident… because it certainly needs an explanation!

MFDJ 04/24/24: Family Witch Affairs

Today’s Amply Illustrated Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The way in which family relationship triggered witchcraft charges is amply illustrated in Offenburg, a strongly Catholic free city near Strasbourg. Five mother-daughter groups, three mother-son, one father-son, one husband-wife-son, and two groups of three generations of women suffered from trials. In Offenburg and the immediate vicinity, 102 persons were killed and one banished between 1557 and 1630. Reaction to witches was vicious from the start: in 1557 two women were burned alive, and a confession was often extracted by placing the accused in the witch chair, a metal seat heated from beneath. One woman died from torture; another had her right breast torn by hot pincers; still another committed suicide in prison; a fourth went mad.

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


Crime Scene Du Jour!


Extortion and “protection” were routine businesses of organized crime. Resisting efforts to cooperate with the mob resulted in brutal beatings or simply murder, as seen here. It usually took only one example for a string of other businesses to cooperate with organized crime enforcers. After orchestrating perhaps as many as a thousand murders, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, the head of Murder, Inc., was convicted and executed for orchestrating the 1936 murder of Brownsville candy store owner Joseph Rosen. Rosen had been a former garment industry trucker and had refused to cooperate with “Lepke” and Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro in their labor racketeering business. They controlled the trucking industry, the life-blood of the garment district. Rosen gave up trucking and opened a candy store in exactly the wrong place: Brownsville, home of Murder, Inc. He remained defiant of “Lepke” and paid with his life. This was a classic hit—a shot to the head.

Other hit men, such as Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, perfected the icepick into the ear murder technique, perforating the brain. This was usually administered to a victim in a car who was held down by accomplices. The ice pick wound often fooled coroners, who thought the victim had had a cerebral hemorrhage.

Culled from: Deadly Intent

MFDJ 04/17/24: The Madcap Laughs

Today’s Madly Laughing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Normally Thomas Boise was only a common drunk whose antics in Wood County, West Va. served to annoy local residents. One night in 1864, however, Boise, while in the company of Mortimore Gibbony and Daniel Grogran, drank himself into a rage and, following a chance remark, shot Abram Deem, a local farmer.

The three men were tried; Gibbony escaped. Boise and Grogan were scheduled to hang in Parkersburg, West Va., but a curious problem developed. Each prisoner argued passionately with the sheriff that the other should be hanged first. The sheriff attempted to hang them both at the same time but the rope broke. Grogan, yelling he had a right to watch Boise die, was then hanged first while his partner laughed madly. Gibbony was apprehended later and hanged.

Culled from: Bloodletters and Badmen


Car Crash Du Jour!

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

Los Alamitos & 17th, 2 fatals

MFDJ 04/15/24: Murdered for Being Successful

Today’s Insolent Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Some lynchings took place for no other apparent reason than to bring down a black person who had managed to achieve a measure of economic success. Anthony Crawford, born of slave parents in 1865, had become a substantial landowner and farmer in Abbeville, South Carolina. He had twelve sons and four daughters, most of them living nearby. As a secretary of the local African Methodist Episcopal Church, he was a pivotal figure in the black community. Few blacks—or whites—had done more to embrace the gospel of self-help. “Anthony Crawford’s life and character,” one observer noted, “embodied everything that Booker T. Washington held to be virtuous in a Negro.” On October 21, 1916, Crawford came to town to sell his cotton. He exchanged harsh words with a local white businessman over the offering price. When a store clerk wielding an ax handle went after Crawford, he backed away only to be arrested and placed in jail, securing him initially from a white mob angry over his reported insolence. “When a nigger gets impudent we stretch him out and paddle him a bit,” the store manager boasted. The president of the National Back of Abbeville concurred, “Crawford was insolent to a white man and he deserved a thrashing.”

Anthony Crawford

Released on bail, Crawford was headed toward the gin, where his cotton was waiting. The white mob quickly regrouped and attacked him. Crawford resisted, injuring one of the whites, but the men finally overpowered him and kicked him until he had lost consciousness. The sheriff persuaded the mob to permit him to regain custody of Crawford. From his cell, Crawford was heard to say, while spitting blood where they had kicked out his teeth, “I thought I was a good citizen.” By not displaying “the humility becoming a ‘nigger’,” however, he had become vulnerable. When a false rumor circulated that Crawford might be moved to another jail, thee mob mobilized again and easily entered the jail. After shoving Crawford’s broken body down three flights of stairs, they mutilated him, dug their heels into his upturned, quivering face, tied a rope around his neck, and dragged him through the streets of the Negro quarter as a warning. Finally, they hung him to a pine tree and emptied their guns into his body. Dutifully, the coroner convened a jury, which quickly reached the verdict that Anthony P. Crawford had come to his death at at the hands of parties unknown to the jury. A subsequent citizens’ meeting ordered the remainder of the Crawford family to leave town within three weeks.

A leading South Carolina newspaper had little difficulty in ascertaining the principal reason for Crawford’s murder. “Crawford was worth around $20,000 and that’s more than most white farmers are worth down here. Property ownership always makes the Negro more assertive, more independent, and the cracker can’t stand it.” The citizens of Abbeville, regardless of class, demonstrated by their action—and inaction—not only extraordinary cowardice but also their own complicity in the crime. Pointing to the tree where Crawford was hanged, a resident remarked, “I reckon the crowd wouldn’t have been so bloodthirsty, only it’s been three years since they had any fun with the niggers, and it seems though they jest have to have a lynching every so often.”

Culled from: Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America

Lynching Photo Du Jour

The lynching of three African American males
August 6, 1906, Salisbury, North Carolina

Culled from: Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America

Andersonville Prisoner Diary Entry Du Jour!

This is the final entry of the 1864 diary of Andersonville prisoner Private George A. Hitchcock (see the archived version for all entries up until now).  Hope you enjoyed his journey!

Here’s today’s entry:

December 10th. After an all-night ride, with some sleep, reached Charleston at eight o’clock in the morning, and left the cars in the lower part of the city near the mouth of the Ashley River. The day was cold and cloudy, and a dense mist hung over the harbor. We were kept a large part of the day on a wharf, waiting for the fog to clear away, exposed to the piercing winter’s wind as it blew in from over the harbor. By the middle of the afternoon the mist had lifted, and at four P.M. we were transferred to a small steamer and sailed down the harbor. Passing the many points of interest which, under ordinary circumstances, would have commanded the closest attention of all, at this time all eyes were peering with intensest gaze out into the thick haze which hung over the harbor. At last old, ragged Fort Sumter came in view, and as we passed under its ruined, battered walls, all eyes for a moment turned toward that historic pile. Then the boat’s speed slackened, and swung slowly around so that the gaze of the prisoners, who were confined on the stern of the vessel, suddenly took in the sight before them. There, high before us, only a few yards away, lay the majestic steamer “City of New York,” from whose topmast waved the grand old Stars and Stripes. The scene which follows beggars description. Men shouted and cheered, laughed like idiots, and cried like babies. Men stood with their eyes riveted on that flag as if dreaming; others danced or grasped each other, and all acted like madmen.

Transferred and exchanged! the fulfillment of “hopes long deferred.”

And I’m sure you want to know what happened to George after the war?

He worked as a clerk in a publishing office in Cincinnati, Ohio but at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Phelps Lowe (1841-1905) in October, 1868, he was living in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.  They had 2 children. His first child was born in Fitchburg in 1873.  From 1880 to at least 1900 he was an express messenger there.  He died on November 3, 1915.

Here’s his Find-A-Grave entry.

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost and Antietam on the Web

MFDJ 04/07/24: Dropping the Hammer on the East Face

Today’s Clumsy Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Before Doppler radar gave meteorologists the ability to create detailed forecasts of weather systems as they crossed the country, mountain climbers had to rely on predictions published in newspapers and their own instincts to keep from being caught in storms. These rudimentary tools usually provided enough information to keep climbers from venturing out into dangerous thunderstorms or early-season snows. Most mountaineers in the Rocky Mountains stayed off of fourteeners like Longs Peak when winter gales dominated the landscape, saving their enthusiasm for the late-spring and summer months. Even summer, however, can turn against a climber on Longs Peak, transforming a sunny day into a freezing torrent in the space of an hour.

The East Face of Longs Peak.  Doesn’t it look like fun?

Gerald Clark, 30, encountered just such a day on August 7, 1939. A commercial photographer from Denver, he had scaled Longs Peak’s East Face five times before this, bringing all the equipment necessary to do this as safely as possible. He began to scale the wall with his friends, Eddie Watson, 23, and Edmund Cooper, 32, but at about 2:20 p.m., he dropped the hammer he used to drive pitons into the rock. Without the ability to insert more pitons, he could not go up any farther. Worse, it had begun to rain—hard.

Watson and Cooper both had ample experience climbing mountains, including Longs Peak, which Cooper had ascended no less than eight times before this. Watson had made his first climb of the East Face the previous New Year’s Day. They knew enough to realize that while Clark had reached an overhanging rock before he dropped his hammer, they couldn’t make it to the same place with the sudden change in the weather.

“Cooper was in the lead when we started,” Watson told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “He tried for an overhanger, but couldn’t make it. He came back and he and I agreed it couldn’t be made in the rain that was falling then. Cooper and I wanted to turn back, but Clark wanted to try it. He took the lead and made it over the overhanger.”

Watson and Cooper called to Clark to come back. “He kept going up in the Chimney and kept calling back to us for more rope… He didn’t hear us, or pretended not to, and kept on going, calling for more rope until there was only a few feet left.”

By this time, they knew that their friend had gone too far, but they had a responsibility to make sure he was safe. “Cooper and I started then to try to get [to] another overhanging ledge to one side,” Watson said. “The ledge was nothing less than a waterfall then, with the rain pouring down. It was impossible to get a handhold.”

Then Clark dropped his hammer.

“We called up to Clark. He couldn’t go any further up and he couldn’t start back down because he couldn’t drive a petane [sic]. We decided Cooper and I should go back for help. All three of us started calling for help but got no answer. There were some people on the peak, but they must have thought we were fooling.”

By this time, snow and sleet had started to fall along with the rain. Watson and Cooper managed to get the attention of a guide on the East Face—none other than Walter Keiner, who completed a legendary climb of the East Face in winter with Agnes Vaille in 1925. Kiner was on the mountain with a party from the Colorado Mountain Club, but when the two men conveyed to him that Clark was truly in trouble, he took his party back down the mountain and called for help.

“Cooper and I climbed down,” Watson said. “Cooper took a rope and went up to Broadway, the trail above the Chimney.”

Taking the easier route up the East Face to connect with Clark seemed like a good idea, but once he reached Broadway Ledge, he knew that he could not get the additional rope Clark needed before dark. A recue party, including Ranger Ernest Field and two climbing experts from Denver, Bob Boyd and Bob Lewis, started up the north face at about the same time, hoping to reach Clark from above as well. Cooper moved quickly to join them. Chief ranger J. Barton Herschler took charge of the rescue operation, establishing a base camp at Chasm Lake.

“They told me to go to the Boulderfield,” said Watson. “I waited there for news.”

By this time, the wind had picked up as well, and Clark, clad only in a cotton flannel shirt and denim pants, remained trapped on a ledge as water poured down the mountain and directly over him. As hail mixed with the snow, conditions became too hazardous for Ranger Field and his part to begin to climb down the East Face to reach Clark. A long afternoon of bad weather and biting cold had given away to night, and darkness set in on the mountain. Clark had no choice but to spend the night on the exposed ledge.

Watson went back up the Longs Peak trail at first light and reached Chasm Lake. He found Ranger Field and his party, who had spent the night on a wide ledge, coming down the East Face of the mountain toward Clark as snow and sleet continued to swirl around them. He also met Ranger Paul Hauk at Chasm Lake, on his way to assist. Watson and Hauk started up the East Face from the base.

Where exactly Clark had spent the night, however, was a mystery to the rangers and climbers on their way to help him. “Clark was so much hidden by the storm and the rough that the rescuers could not find him after they started down after dawn,” the Associated Press reported. They called to Clark, telling him to throw out his pack to they could see where he was. “He tossed out his pack then,” said Cooper.  For the moment, at least, he was still alive and conscious.

Finally Field’s party reached Clark, and determined in minutes that he was suffering from hypothermia and could not use his muscles to assist in his own rescue. He lost consciousness as they began lowering him down with a rope to Kiener’s Route, where Watson and Hauk were waiting. It took a total of five hours to move Clark down 1,500 feet from the ledge to the rescue camp rangers had established at Chasm Lake, working in small increments. Rescuers on the ground had called park headquarters for blankets, stimulants, a stretcher, and an ambulance to wait at Longs Peak campground, and eighteen Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees made their way to the rescue camp to help carry Clark five miles on stretcher to the campground and ambulance.

In all, Clark had spent twenty hours on the ledge.

“Clark was still alive when we lifted him on down,” said Watson, “but he was gashed on the head. He must have been hit by a rock while Field and Boyd and Lewis were letting him down.”

By the time he reached Mills Glacier, however, Clark’s life had all but ebbed away. Artificial respiration could not save him.

Coroner Orville Miller in Larimer County completed the autopsy and determined that that the cause of death was exposure—what we now call hypothermia. The gash on his head was only a scalp wound.

Culled from: Death in Rocky Mountain National Park


Dissection Photo Du Jour!

My First “Stiff”
Unidentified medical school, circa 1910

Nine medical students proudly pose around their cadaver. The photograph was framed, indicating it hung on a medical student’s wall as a proud statement and visual record of his entering the medical profession.

Culled from: Stiffs, Skulls, and Skeletons


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:

December 3d. Roll-call and wood rations were omitted “on account of the return of a large number of paroled sick,” though we don’t see the relation of cause and effect. I traded a map of the seat of war for a mess of sweet potatoes.

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost

MFDJ 04/05/24: Thallium Bait

Today’s Inescapable Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

For several years, starting in the late 1920s, the State of California had used grain poisoned with thallium bait to eradicate ground squirrels in its southern coastal counties. As state wildlife officials discovered, the plan worked, except that it also killed animals that ate the poisoned squirrels—civets, coyotes, weasels, foxes, red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, turkey vultures—as well as any creature unfortunate enough to find leftover bait, which included mourning doves, quail, rabbits, pheasants, five species of wild geese, meadowlarks, skunks, rats, ravens, three species of sparrow, three species of woodpecker, kangaroo rats, juncos, white-footed mice, pet cats and dogs, domestic chickens, sheep, and cows.

Vintage Thallium Ant Poison

The program was finally discontinued after a group of field workers used a sack of grain found in a grower’s barn to make dinner. It turned out to be a sack of thallium bait. Seven of the workers died, and more than a dozen others survived but suffered partial paralysis and the tell-tale, inescapable hair loss.

Culled from: The Poisoner’s Handbook

Post-Mortem Portrait Du Jour!

Ambrotype 1/6 Plate, Circa 1860

Culled from: Sleeping Beauty III

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:

December 1st. All the prisoners were moved to one side of the creek, and then the entire camp made to move back to the other side again, being counted as they passed across the little bridge. A lot of “galvanized Yanks”–turncoats–were sent back into camp by the rebels for fear they would escape to our army.

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost