The Human Paperweight

Thanks to Joseph Karwowski, you’ll never have to say goodbye to your Uncle Julius. Patented in 1903, Karwowski’s “method of preserving the dead” hermetically encases the corpse in a block of transparent glass to prevent decay and maintain a lifelike appearance.

Bonus: “In Fig. 3 I have shown the head only of the corpse as incased within the transparent block of glass, it being at once evident that the head alone may be preserved in this manner, if preferred.”


This is the Roundhay Garden Scene, the earliest surviving motion picture, shot in 1888 in the Leeds garden of Joseph and Sarah Whitley.

The scene is only 2 seconds long, but it seems to have conveyed a queer curse. Sarah died only 10 days after the shoot; director Louis Le Prince vanished from a French train two years later; and actor Alphonse Le Prince was found dead of a gunshot in 1902. There’s a novel in here somewhere.

Dead Heat

Monument inscription, Whitby churchyard, North Yorkshire:

Here lies the bodies of FRANCIS HUNTRODDS and MARY his Wife who were both born on the same Day of the Week Month and Year (viz) Septr ye 19th 1600 Marry’d on the day of their Birth and after having had 12 Children born to them died Aged 80 Years on the same day of the year they were born September ye 19th 1680 the one not above five hours before ye other.

Husband, and Wife that did twelve Children bear,
Dy’d the same day; alike both aged were,
Bout eighty years they liv’d, five hours did part,
(Ev’n on the marriage day) each tender heart.
So fit a match, surely, could never be
Both, in their lives, and in their deaths agree.

Infinite Egress

Leinbach had discovered a proof that there really is no death. It is beyond question, he had declared, that not only at the moment of drowning, but at all the moments of death of any nature, one lives over again his past life with a rapidity inconceivable to others. This remembered life must also have a last moment, and this last moment its own last moment, and so on, and hence, dying is itself eternity, and hence, in accordance with the theory of limits, one may approach death but can never reach it.

— Arthur Schnitzler, Flight Into Darkness, 1931


In memory ov
John Smith, who met
wierlent death neer this spot
18 hundred and 40 too. He was shot
by his own pistill;
It was not one of the new kind,
but a old fashioned
brass barrel, and of such is the
Kingdom of heaven.

— Headboard, Sparta Diggings, Calif., cited in Walter Henry Howe, Here Lies, 1900

The Dog of Pompeii,_Roberto_(18..-1889)_-_n._493_-_Cane_morto_trovato_in_Pompei.jpg

When Vesuvius erupted on Aug. 24, A.D. 79, a Roman fuller named Vesonius Primus fled toward the sea, leaving a watchdog chained to a post in the atrium of his house. It appears that the dog managed to survive the night by climbing continuously atop the mounting ash, but at dawn it reached the limit of its chain and was buried alive.

Like other victims of the eruption, its body left a vacancy in the ash layer, so a plaster cast could be made of its final position.

“Extraordinary Prediction”

It is recorded of the poet Dryden, by Charles Wilson, in his ‘Life of Congreve,’ that having, strange to say, belief in astrology, he was careful to ascertain to the second the time at which his son Charles was born. He then calculated the boy’s nativity, and was alarmed to discover that evil influences prevailed in the heavens. … He concluded that in his eighth year, and on the day of birth, his son’s life would be seriously endangered if not lost; and that if he lived, the same danger would exist when he attained his twenty-third birthday, and again on his thirty-third or fourth. On the boy’s eighth birthday, despite every precaution to keep the boy from every possible danger, he was nearly killed by the fall of a wall. On his twenty-third birthday he was seized with giddiness and fell from an old tower belonging to the Vatican at Rome; and he was drowned at Windsor while swimming across the Thames in his thirty-third year.

The World of Wonders, 1883

A Rude Awakening

On the 3rd of this month, Nicephorus Glycas, the Greek-Orthodox Metropolitan of Lesbos, an old man in his eightieth year, after several days of confinement to his bed, was reported by the physician to be dead. The supposed dead bishop, in accordance with the rules of the Orthodox Church, was immediately clothed in his episcopal vestments, and placed upon the Metropolitan’s throne in the great church of Methymni, where the body was exposed to the devout faithful during the day, and watched by relays of priests day and night. … On the second night of ‘the exposition of the corpse,’ the Metropolitan suddenly started up from his seat and stared round him with amazement and horror at all the panoply of death amidst which he had been seated. The priests were not less horrified when the ‘dead’ bishop demanded what they were doing with him. The old man had simply fallen into a death-like lethargy, which the incompetent doctors had hastily concluded to be death.

— London Echo, March 3, 1896, quoted in William Tebb, et al., Premature Burial and How It May Be Prevented, 1905

Senselessness Squared

The armistice that ended World War I went into effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 (“the 11th of the 11th of the 11th”) in 1918.

Gordon Brook-Shepherd writes: “[A]ny firing still going on ended on the last second of the tenth hour, sometimes with droll little ceremonies — as on the British front near Mons, where [a] German machine-gunner blazed off his last belt of ammunition during the last minute of the war and then, as the hour struck, stood up on his parapet, removed his steel helmet, bowed politely to what was now the ex-enemy opposite, and disappeared.”

The last casualties were not so droll. At 10:45 a.m., French soldier Augustin Trébuchon was running to tell his friends that hot soup would be served after the ceasefire when he was shot and killed.

And in the Forest of Argonne, American private Henry Gunther charged a German position just before 11:00 and was shot down. He died 60 seconds before the end of the war.