Out on Top

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jerome_Irving_Rodale.jpg

During an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, publisher and organic gardening advocate J.I. Rodale boasted, “I’m in such good health that I fell down a long flight of stairs yesterday and I laughed all the way.” When Cavett’s next guest, New York Post columnist Pete Hamill, joined them on the couch, Rodale made a snoring sound. Hamill told Cavett, “This looks bad.”

“The audience laughed at that. I didn’t, because I knew Rodale was dead,” Cavett wrote later in the New York Times. “To this day, I don’t know how I knew. I thought, ‘Good God, I’m in charge here. What do I do?’ Next thing I knew I was holding his wrist, thinking, I don’t know anything about what a wrist is supposed to feel like.”

Rodale had died of a heart attack. The episode was never aired.

Last Words

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blast_cloud_from_the_Halifax_Explosion,_December_6,_1917.jpg

On Dec. 6, 1917, an overnight express train bearing 300 passengers was approaching Halifax, Nova Scotia, when an unexpected message arrived by telegraph:

“Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys.”

The train stopped safely before the burning French cargo ship Mont-Blanc erupted with the force of 2.9 kilotons of TNT, the largest manmade explosion before the advent of nuclear weapons.

The blast killed 2,000 residents, including train dispatcher Vince Coleman. He had remained at work in the telegraph office, sending warnings, until the end.

Finished

To-day at 10 a.m. the Cardinal was buried in the church at the back of the Catinari. According to old custom, when he was put into the grave, his head-cook walked up to it and said, ‘At what time will your Eminence dine?’ For a minute there was no response, and then the major-domo replied, ‘His Eminence will not want dinner any more’ (non vuol altro). Then the head-footman came in and asked, ‘At what time will your Eminence want the carriage?’ and the major-domo replied, ‘His Eminence will not want the carriage any more.’ Upon which the footman went out to the door of the church, where the fat coachman sat on the box of the Cardinal’s state carriage, who said, ‘At what time will his Eminence be ready for the carriage?’ and when the footman replied, ‘La sua Eminenza non vuol altro,’ he broke his whip, and throwing down the two pieces on either side the carriage, flung up his hands with a gesture of despair, and drove off.

— From the journal of Augustus Hare, Rome, Dec. 21, 1865

Squeak

squeak

On March 18, 2002, Zimbabwean farmer Terry Ford was murdered on his farm outside Harare, apparently by government-backed invaders.

When authorities arrived they found a 14-year-old Jack Russell terrier guarding the body. “Squeak,” described as Ford’s best friend, had accompanied his master when he tried to escape by breaking down a fence with his car. When this failed, the attackers had pulled Ford from the vehicle, beaten him, tied him to a tree, and shot him through the head.

“When Terry Ford’s battered body was found under a tree, the little terrier was still at his side,” said Meryl Harrison of Zimbabwe’s SPCA. “The dog would not leave the farmer’s body.”

At Ford’s funeral, Squeak followed the procession up the church aisle and sniffed the coffin, evidently confused, before retreating to the arms of Ford’s fiancee. He was finally adopted by a friend of the family.

Till Death

At 1 p.m. on Dec. 31, 1910, West Virginia peach grower Charles Twigg called on his fiancee, Grace Elosser, at her home in Cumberland, Md. The two were to be married the following day. They closed themselves in the parlor and remained undisturbed until 2:30, when Grace’s mother looked in with a question. She found Charles sitting in a corner of the divan, with Grace leaning against him. Both were dead.

A post-mortem suggested traces of cyanide in their stomachs, but no container was found on the bodies or in the room. If it was not suicide, was it murder? The couple had led uneventful lives, and only Grace’s family had had access to the parlor. A jury returned a verdict of cyanide poisoning “at the hands of person or persons to us unknown.”

The matter remained at an impasse until Jan. 28, when, as an experiment, doctors J.R. Littlefield and A.H. Hawkins left two cats in baskets on the parlor divan, lighted the stove, and closed the door for an hour. Both cats died. The lovers’ bodies were exhumed, and an examination showed that they had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The flue had been choked with soot, and the odorless gas had overwhelmed the couple.

The Elossers cleaned the flue and moved out the house, but nearly the same tragedy befell the two women who succeeded them. On Feb. 21, 1913, a neighbor happened to call and found both women unconscious in their chairs. It was discovered that two bricks had been placed in the flue to reduce its draft, and soot had again choked the narrowed opening.

Exit

British statesman Charles James Fox died in 1806.

His last words to his wife were “Trotter will tell you.”

She had no idea what he meant.

A Body at Rest

newton mausoleum

In an anonymous letter to the London Times in 1825, Thomas Steele of Magdalen College, Cambridge, proposed enshrining Isaac Newton’s residence in a stepped stone pyramid surmounted by a vast stone globe. The physicist himself had died more than a century earlier, in 1727, and lay in Westminster Abbey, but Steele felt that preserving his home would produce a monument “not unworthy of the nation and of his memory”:

When travelling through Italy, I was powerfully struck by the unique situation and singular appearance of the Primitive Chapel at Assisi, founded by St. Francis.

As you enter the porch of the great Franciscan church, you view before you this small cottage-like chapel, standing directly under the dome, and perfectly isolated.

Now, Sir, among the many splendid improvements which are making in the capital, would it not be a noble, and perhaps the most appropriate, national monument which could be erected, if an azure hemispherical dome, or what would be better, a portion of a sphere greater than a hemisphere, supported on a massive base, were to be reared, like that of Assisi, over the house and observatory of the writer of the Principia?

The house might be fitted up in such a manner as to contain a council-chamber and library for the Royal Society; and it is perhaps not unworthy of being remarked, that it is not more than about two hundred yards distant from the University Club House.

Protected, by the means which I have described, from the dilapidating influence of rains and winds, the venerable edifice in which Newton studied, or was inspired, — that ‘palace of the soul,’ might stand fast for ages, a British monument more sublime than the Pyramids, though remote antiquity and vastness be combined to create their interest.

Steele wasn’t an architect, and he left the details to others, but he was imagining something enormous: In a subsequent letter to the Mechanics’ Magazine he wrote that “the base of my design [appears] to coincide with the base of St. Paul’s (a sort of crude coincidence of course, in consequence of the angle at the transept), and that the highest point of my designed building should, at the same time, appear to coincide with a point of the great tower of the cathedral, about 200 feet high — the height of the building which I propose to have erected.”

The plan never went forward, but the magazine endorsed the idea: “We need scarcely add, that there is no description of embellishment which might not be with ease introduced into the structure, so as to render it as perpetual a monument to the taste as it would be to the national spirit and gratitude of the British people.”

Late Arrival

Claudette is born in 1950 and dies in an accident in 2000. If the accident had not occurred she would lived until 2035. We think of this as a misfortune because her life has been cut short — she has lost 35 years.

But it’s equally true that Claudette might have been born in 1915 and enjoyed another 35 years of life in that way. Why don’t we regard this as equally tragic? “We feel uncomfortable with the idea that her late birth is as great a misfortune for Claudette as her premature death,” writes philosopher Fred Feldman. “Why is this?”

Lucretius wrote, “Think too how the bygone antiquity of everlasting time before our birth was nothing to us. Nature therefore holds this up to us as a mirror of the time yet to come after our death. Is there aught in this that looks appalling, aught that wears an aspect of gloom? Is it not more untroubled than any sleep?” Why are we more troubled at a lost future than a lost past?

So It Goes

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alca_impennisAMF064LB.png

The last great auk in the British Isles was killed because its keepers feared it might be a witch. In 1840 five men discovered it asleep on the Scottish island of Stac an Armin. From John Alexander Harvie-Brown’s Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides (1888):

It was Malcolm M’Donald who actually laid hold of the bird, and held it by the neck with his two hands, till others came up and tied its legs. It used to make a great noise, like that made by a gannet, but much louder, when shutting its mouth. It opened its mouth when any one came near it. It nearly cut the rope with its bill. A storm arose, and that, together with the size of the bird and the noise it made, caused them to think it was a witch. It was killed on the third day after it was caught, and M’Kinnon declares they were beating it for an hour with two large stones before it was dead: he was the most frightened of all the men, and advised the killing of it.

They threw the body behind the hut and left it there.

When the last heath hen, “Booming Ben,” died in 1932 on Martha’s Vineyard, local newspaper editor Henry Beetle Hough wrote an obituary for the species: “There is a void in the April dawn, there is an expectancy unanswered … We are looking upon the utmost finality which can be written, glimpsing the darkness which will not know another ray of light. We are in touch with the reality of extinction.”

See I Think That I Shall Never See …

R.I.P.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tuts_Tomb_Opened.JPG

Letter from the Bishop of Chelmsford to the Times, Feb. 3, 1923:

Sir, I wonder how many of us, born and brought up in the Victorian era, would like to think that in the year, say, 5923, the tomb of Queen Victoria would be invaded by a party of foreigners who rifled it of its contents, took the body of the great Queen from the mausoleum in which it had been placed amid the grief of the whole people, and exhibited it to all and sundry who might wish to see it?

The question arises whether such treatment as we should count unseemly in the case of the great English Queen is not equally unseemly in the case of King Tutankhamen. I am not unmindful of the great historical value which may accrue from the examination of the collection of jewelry, furniture, and, above all, of papyri discovered within the tomb, and I realize that wide interests may justify their thorough investigation and even, in special cases, their temporary removal. But, in any case, I protest strongly against the removal of the body of the King from the place where it has rested for thousands of years. Such a removal borders on indecency, and traverses all Christian sentiment concerning the sacredness of the burial places of the dead.

J.E. Chelmsford