Memorial

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Images: Flickr, Wikimedia Commons

The gravestone of urban planner Ildefons Cerdà has a unique design: It commemorates the Eixample, the distinctive “extension” of Barcelona that Cerdà designed in the 19th century.

The Nightingale Monument

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Elizabeth Nightingale died of shock at a violent stroke of lightning following the premature birth of her daughter in 1731. In his will, her son ordered the erection of this monument, which was created by Louis Francois Roubiliac and stands in Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth is supported by her husband, who tries in horror to ward off the stroke of death. Washington Irving called it “among the most renowned achievements of modern art.”

The Abbey’s website says, “The idea for this image may have come from a dream that Elizabeth’s brother in law (the Earl of Huntingdon) had experienced when a skeleton had appeared at the foot of his bed, which then crept up under the bedclothes between husband and wife. … It is said that one night a robber broke into the Church but was so horrified at seeing the figure of Death in the moonlight that he dropped his crowbar and fled in terror. The crowbar was displayed for many years beside the monument but it no longer remains.”

Remembering

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From a letter by Phillips Brooks to a friend on the death of his mother, Nov. 19, 1891:

May I try to tell you again where your only comfort lies? It is not in forgetting the happy past. People bring us well-meant but miserable consolations when they tell us what time will do to help our grief. We do not want to lose our grief, because our grief is bound up with our love and we could not cease to mourn without being robbed of our affections.

Memorial

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When Sarah Davis of Hiawatha, Kansas, died in 1930, her husband John spent most of his wealth on her grave, including 11 life-size statues of Italian marble consorting under a canopy that weighs 50 tons.

The extravagance won John some criticism during the Depression, but today the monument brings a steady flow of tourists to the town.

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First Contact

Moving beyond attempts at merely contacting the dead, artist Attila von Szalay claimed to be the first researcher to actually record the discarnate voices of the spirit world. Von Szalay’s quest began in 1936, while he worked in his darkroom. He claimed to hear in this darkened chamber the voice of his deceased brother calling his name. A subsequent interest in Yoga, meditation, and Eastern philosophy made him better able to hear such voices, and in 1941 he attempted for the first time to record the spirits on a 78 rpm record (with disappointing results). It wasn’t until 1956 that von Szalay ‘successfully’ recorded such phenomena, this time using a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Perhaps unaware of their importance in the history of telecommunications, the first recorded spirit voices offered such banal messages as ‘This is G!,’ ‘Hot dog, Art!,’ and ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.’ These pioneering sessions were reported by noted psychic researcher Raymond Baylass in a letter to the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research in 1959.

— Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media: Electronic Presence From Telegraphy to Television, 2000

Podcast Episode 336: A Gruesome Cure for Consumption

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In the 19th century, some New England communities grew so desperate to help victims of tuberculosis that they resorted to a macabre practice: digging up dead relatives and ritually burning their organs. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll examine the causes of this bizarre belief and review some unsettling examples.

We’ll also consider some fighting cyclists and puzzle over Freddie Mercury’s stamp.

See full show notes …

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

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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.