In a Word

amphiscians
n. inhabitants of the tropics

angustation
n. the condition of being narrowed, constricted, limited, or confined

caducity
n. frailty, transitoriness

avolation
n. the act of flying away

This is the song of the last male Kauaʻi ʻōʻō, recorded in the Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve on Kauaʻi in 1987. Rats, pigs, hurricanes, and disease-carrying mosquitoes had reduced the species to a single pair by 1981, and the female was not found after Hurricane Iwa in 1982. The male was last seen in 1985. This appears to be his song, overheard two years later, the last trace of a vanishing species.

Podcast Episode 324: The Bizarre Death of Alfred Loewenstein

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks12/1203681h.html

In 1928, Belgian financier Alfred Loewenstein fell to his death from a private plane over the English Channel. How it happened has never been explained. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe the bizarre incident, which has been called “one of the strangest fatalities in the history of commercial aviation.”

We’ll also consider whether people can be eaten by pythons and puzzle over an enigmatic horseman.

See full show notes …

“Sleeping Man a Suicide”

BANGOR, England, August 14. — Evidence that he may have cut his throat while asleep was given at an inquest at Bangor on the body of Thornton Jones, a lawyer. ‘Suicide while temporarily insane,’ was the verdict.

He lived 80 minutes after the infliction of the wound, during which time, it was stated, he cried out to his wife and son, ‘Forgive me! Forgive me!’

Then motioning for a paper and pencil, he wrote: ‘I dreamt that I had done it. I awoke to find it true.’

— Washington D.C. Evening Star, August 14, 1924

The Persian Princess

In October 2000, a mummy was offered for sale on the black antiquities market in Pakistani Baluchistan. Tribal leader Wali Mohammed Reeki claimed that it had been found after an earthquake near Quetta.

At first a Pakistani archaeologist suggested that the mummy had been a princess of ancient Egypt, or perhaps a daughter of Persian king Cyrus II. Iran and Pakistan began to contend for its ownership, but then American archaeologist Oscar White Muscarella came forward to say he’d been offered a similarly uncertified mummy the previous March which had turned out to be a forgery.

On examination, the “Persian Princess” turned out to be substantially younger than her coffin — in fact, the mat under her body was only 5 years old.

In the end, Asma Ibrahim, curator of the National Museum of Pakistan, reported that the woman had in fact died only around 1996, possibly even murdered to provide a corpse. She was eventually interred with proper burial rites, but her identity remains unknown.

Podcast Episode 314: The Taliesin Murders

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_After_Fire.jpg

By 1914 Frank Lloyd Wright had become one of America’s most influential architects. But that August a violent tragedy unfolded at his Midwestern residence and studio. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the shocking attack of Julian Carlton, which has been called “the most horrific single act of mass murder in Wisconsin history.”

We’ll also admire some helpful dogs and puzzle over some freezing heat.

See full show notes …

Turnabout

https://www.reddit.com/r/interestingasfuck/comments/j1iekj/as_photography_became_more_common_an_odd/

In the early 20th century, medical students often posed for photographs with the cadavers they were learning to dissect — in some cases even trading places with them for a tableau called “The Student’s Dream.”

John Harley Warner and James M. Edmonson have published a book of these photos, Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930. “What we know with certainty about any particular photograph often is frustratingly meager,” they write. “A dissection room photograph discovered tucked between the pages of an old anatomy textbook or up for auction on eBay is likely to have no indication of where or when it was taken, who took it, or who is in it. The photographs suggest stories that cannot easily be recovered.”

But they say that the images generally were intended not to be entertaining or flippant, but to mark a professional rite of passage for the students. “Privileged access to the body marked a social, moral, and emotional boundary crossing. ‘Know thy Self’ inscribed on the dissecting table, the Delphic injunction nosce te ipsum, could refer to the shared corporeality of dissector and dissected. But it most certainly referred to knowing the new sense of self acquired through these rites. As visual memoirs of a transformative experience, the photographs are autobiographical narrative devices by which the students placed themselves into a larger, shared story of becoming a doctor.”

https://collections.countway.harvard.edu/onview/items/show/17964

The Body in the Cylinder

In 1943 a bulldozer turned up a 6-foot cylinder while clearing building debris from a blitzed site in Liverpool. It was laid aside by the building contractors and remained unregarded for two years, until in July 1945 three boys discovered a human skeleton inside.

It appeared to be the remains of an adult male who had crawled into the cylinder and was lying there, his head pillowed on a brick wrapped in sacking, when he died, probably around 1885. He was wearing Victorian clothing of good quality, and his pockets contained two diaries, a postcard, a handkerchief, a brooch, a signet ring, and some miscellaneous papers.

The postcard was addressed to T C Williams. In 1885 Liverpool had had a paint and brush manufacturer by that name. He had declared bankruptcy the year before, and the inquest hypothesized that he’d left home and been sleeping in the cylinder, perhaps at his place of business, when it became sealed somehow and he’d asphyxiated. Possibly the authorities at the time assumed he’d absconded to escape his debts. There is no record in England of his burial.

The whole case is fascinating.

Podcast Episode 294: ‘The Murder Trial of the Century’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_Bodkin_Adams_1940s.jpg

In 1957, an English doctor was accused of killing his patients for their money. The courtroom drama that followed was called the “murder trial of the century.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the case of John Bodkin Adams and its significance in British legal history.

We’ll also bomb Calgary and puzzle over a passive policeman.

See full show notes …

A Double Disaster

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Human_Skeletons_in_Roopkund_Lake.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The high-altitude glacial lake Roopkund, in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, contains a large number of human skeletons. Local legend tells of a royal party who were killed by a large hailstorm near here, and many of the skeletons show signs of blows by large round objects falling from above. Radiocarbon dating estimates that these people died around 850 CE.

But another set of victims seem to have succumbed much more recently, a group from the eastern Mediterranean who died only 200 years ago. So the casualties can’t all be attributed to a single catastrophic event, but the full truth is still emerging.

Podcast Episode 274: Death in a Nutshell

https://www.flickr.com/photos/number7cloud/33248017896/in/album-72157681016980066/
Image: Flickr

In the 1940s, Frances Glessner Lee brought new rigor to crime scene analysis with a curiously quaint tool: She designed 20 miniature scenes of puzzling deaths and challenged her students to investigate them analytically. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death and their importance to modern investigations.

We’ll also appreciate an overlooked sled dog and puzzle over a shrunken state.

See full show notes …