A marble-cutter, inscribing the words,–‘Lord, she was thine’ upon a tombstone, found that he had not figured his spaces correctly and he reached the end of the stone one letter short. The epitaph therefore read:

‘Lord, she was thin.’

— Frederic William Unger, Epitaphs, 1904

Playing Favorites

A tied football match in southern Congo came to an unexpected conclusion on Oct. 28, 1998, when a lightning bolt struck and killed all 11 members of the visiting team.

“The athletes from [home team] Basanga curiously came out of this catastrophe unscathed,” reported the Kinshasa newspaper L’Avenir.

“The exact nature of the lightning has divided the population in this region, which is known for its use of fetishes in football.”


Here lies the body of Thomas Woodhen,
The most loving of husbands and amiable of men.

N.B.–His name was Woodcock, but it wouldn’t rhyme.

Erected by his loving widow.

From Epitaphiana: or, The Curiosities of Churchyard Literature, 1873.

Cogito Ergo Zoom


Another great man who lost his head after death: René Descartes. The French philosopher died in Sweden in 1650 and was interred there for 16 years. When his body was exhumed for return to France, the ambassador appropriated his right index finger (“the instrument of immortal writing”) and, apparently inspired, one of the Swedish guards took the skull, engraving on it “Descartes’ skull, taken and carefully kept by Israel Planstrom when the body was sent to France and hidden since that time.”

The skull bounced around Europe for 150 years, with various owners carving their names on it; it was discovered missing only when the coffin was opened again in 1819. A Swedish chemist, no doubt rolling his eyes, tracked it down and returned it to the French academy.

Bonus beheading: When Sir Walter Raleigh was executed in 1618, his head was embalmed and given to his wife. She kept it until her death in 1647, when it was returned to Raleigh’s tomb in Westminster Abbey.

For those keeping score, our list now includes Descartes, Raleigh, Joseph Haydn, Oliver Cromwell, Jeremy Bentham, and Albert Einstein. Keep ’em coming.

(Thanks, Sarah.)

The Mummy of Birchin Bower

Terrified of being buried alive, Hannah Beswick left a bequest to her family physician, Charles White, on condition that she be kept above ground for 100 years. So when she died in 1758, White added her embalmed corpse to his collection of anatomical preparations, and every day he and two witnesses raised the veil and confirmed that she was indeed dead.

But 100 years is a long time, and the observations passed from reverent to perfunctory and finally absurd. The doctor eventually stored the mummy in an old grandfather clock, whose face he would open once a year to check on the patient, and when he died Miss Beswick was actually put on display in the entrance hall of the Manchester Natural History Museum, from which, wrote Edith Sitwell, the “cold dark shadow of her mummy hung over Manchester in the middle of the eighteenth century.”

Only in 1868, 110 years after her death, did the secretary of state issue an order for Hannah’s burial, and she was interred in an unmarked grave. Perhaps by that time she was glad of the rest.

See also My Dearly Departed.


Conclusion of an epitaph on a tombstone in eastern Tennessee:

She lived a life of virtue, and died of cholera morbus, caused by eating green fruit, in the full hope of a blessed immortality, at the early age of twenty-one years, seven months, and sixteen days. Reader, go thou and do likewise.

From Epitaphiana: or, The Curiosities of Churchyard Literature, 1873.

A Grave Cradle

The Hereford Times of November 16, 1901, reprints the following case from Pauillac. A Madame Bobin arrived there on board the steamer ‘La Plata,’ from Senegal. She was supposed to be suffering from yellow fever, and was transferred to the Lazaret by order of the officer of health. There she became worse, and apparently died. The body became rigid, and the face ashen and corpse-like, and in that condition she was buried. The nurse, however, had noticed that the body was not cold, and that there was tremulousness of the muscles of the abdomen, and expressed the opinion that Madame Bobin was prematurely buried. On this being reported to Madame Bobin’s father, he had the body exhumed, when it was found that a child had been born in the coffin. The autopsy showed also that Madame Bobin had not contracted yellow fever, and had died from asphyxiation in the coffin. A suit was begun against the health officers and the prefect, which resulted in a verdict for £8,000 damages against them.

— William Tebb, Premature Burial and How It May Be Prevented, 1905

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.