The son of William Henry Harrison, John Scott Harrison, served two terms in Congress but spent the rest of his life quietly on his farm in Ohio. At his interment there in 1878 it was discovered that an adjoining grave had recently been robbed, so Harrison’s son and nephew traveled to Cincinnati to seek the missing body.

They visited several medical schools but found nothing, and were about to give up when they noticed a tautened rope leading into chute in the dissecting room of the Ohio Medical College. On turning the windlass they brought up a naked body and discovered to their horror that it was Harrison himself, his body stolen somehow from a guarded brick vault less than 24 hours after his burial.

By a curious further coincidence, Harrison’s son Benjamin himself eventually grew up to be president, making John Scott Harrison the only man in history to be both son and father of a U.S. president. But no one knows who stole his body, how, or how it came to be suspended in that dissecting room.

Orderly Exits

But the superstitious noted that the death of Prince Albert Victor on a Thursday broke a remarkable spell or curse which had hung over the present royal family of England for more than a century and three-quarters — bringing about the death of all the prominent members of that family on Saturdays. William III died Saturday, March 18, 1702; Queen Anne died Saturday, August 1, 1714; George I died Saturday, June 10, 1727; George II died Saturday, October 25, 1760; George III died Saturday, January 29, 1820; George IV died Saturday, June 26, 1830; the Duchess of Kent died Saturday, March 16, 1861; the Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria and grandfather of the recent deceased Prince Albert Victor, died Saturday, December 14, 1861; Princess Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt, Victoria’s second daughter, and sister of Albert, died Saturday, December 14, 1878. The shadows which overhung the late prince’s life are said to have been darkened by a superstitious fear which caused him to keep close in-doors on Saturdays.

— William Shepard Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1892

A Ghoul and His Money

In 1771, two heirs, a Mr. Pigot and a Mr. Codrington, made a wager as to whose father would die first. A friend computed the odds based on each father’s age, and when Codrington objected that these were unfair, the Earl of March agreed to stand in his place. They agreed that Pigot would pay March 500 guineas if his own father died before Sir William Codrington, and March would pay Pigot 1,600 guineas if Codrington died first.

Unfortunately, old Pigot was already dead — he had died at 2 a.m. that very morning. On learning this, his son refused to pay the wager, contending that the contract was void, “for there was no possibility of the defendant’s winning, his father being then actually dead, and therefore he ought not to lose.” But March sued him and won.

“It was sneakingly mean and inconsiderate in the old man to die in this underhand way, and thus subject his son, the companion of young noblemen, to the mortification of having bet against a dead certainty,” writes Irving Browne in Humorous Phases of the Law (1876). “But it was what you might expect of old Pigot, for the record does not show that he was of noble blood, and so we infer he was plebeian, and knew no better.”

Short Order

A servant maid was sent by her mistress to Ben Johnson, for an epitaph on her departed husband. She could only afford to pay half-a-guinea, which Ben refused, saying he never wrote one for less than double that sum; but recollecting he was going to dine that day at a tavern, he ran down stairs and called her back. ‘What was your master’s name?’–‘Jonathan Fiddle, sir.’–‘When did he die?’–‘June the 22nd, sir.’ Ben took a small piece of paper, and wrote with his pencil, while standing on the stairs, the following:–

On the twenty-second of June,
Jonathan Fiddle went out of tune.

— Horatio Edward Norfolk, Gleanings in Graveyards, 1861

Black Humor

Last words of executed murderers:

  • George Appel (1928): “Well, folks, you’ll soon see a baked Appel.”
  • James W. Rodgers (1960): (asked for a last request) “Why, yes — a bulletproof vest.”
  • Frederick Wood (1963): “Gentlemen, you are about to see the effects of electricity upon Wood.”
  • James French (1966): “I have a terrific headline for you in the morning: ‘French Fries’.”
  • Jimmy Glass (1987): “I’d rather be fishing.”

In 1856, English murderer William Palmer stood on the gallows and asked, “Are you sure it’s safe?”

Exit Smiling

In 1728, at age 23, Ben Franklin composed his own epitaph:

The Body of
B. Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an old Book
Its Contents torn out
And shrift of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be lost;
For it will, (as he believ’d) appear once more,
In a new and more elegant Edition
Revised and corrected,
By the Author.

Fifty-six years later, six years before his death in 1790, he wrote these lines:

If Life’s compared to a Feast,
Near Fourscore Years I’ve been a Guest;
I’ve been regaled with the best,
And feel quite satisfyd.
‘Tis time that I retire to Rest;
Landlord, I thank you! — Friends, Good Night.

“Cryonics’ First Mardi Gras”
Image: Flickr

If you’re not doing anything next spring, head to Nederland, Colo., to celebrate Frozen Dead Guy Days, a three-day festival commemorating Bredo Morstoel, whose body is packed in dry ice in a Tuff Shed in the hills above town.

Bredo’s grandson Trygve Bauge imported the corpse from Norway in 1989 and stored it in liquid nitrogen; when Trygve was deported in 1993 and his mother evicted from her home, local businesses pitched in to keep the body preserved.

The annual festival includes coffin races (above), a hearse parade, lookalike contests, an ice-carving demonstration, documentaries (Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed and Grandpa’s Still in the Tuff Shed), frozen turkey bowling, showshoe races, and snow sculpture contests. Nearby Glacier Ice Cream has even concocted a commemorative flavor, Frozen Dead Guy.

Bredo has been dead now for 20 years; psychics report he’s amused by all this but doing fine.


Periander ordered two young men to go out by night along a certain road, to kill the first man they met there, and to bury him.

Then he ordered four more men to find those two and kill them. And he sent an even greater number to murder those four.

Periander then set off down the road himself to wait for them.

In this way he ensured that the location of his grave would never be known.

Another’s Plate

Honest Jack Fuller, who is buried in a pyramidal mausoleum in Brightling churchyard, in Sussex, gave as his reason for being thus disposed of, his unwillingness to be eaten by his relations after this fashion: ‘The worms would eat me, the ducks would eat the worms, and my relations would eat the ducks.’

— John Timbs, English Eccentrics and Eccentricities, 1875

“A Most Determined Suicide”

A gentleman passing through the United States, on the Union and Pacific Railroad, was one morning telling the guard about a relative of his lately committing suicide. ‘Very sad, indeed,’ replied the guard, ‘but the most determined attempt at suicide happened the other day down Sacramento (California) way. A young man went down to the beach when the tide was out, with a long pole, sharpened at one end, and a hook in the other; he had also a rope with a noose in it, a phial of poison, a pistol, and a box of matches. He drove the pole into the sand, and climbed up it until the tide had risen high enough to drown him, when he swallowed the poison, set his trousers on fire, put the noose round his neck, and then fired his pistol. The bullet, instead of entering his forehead, grazed the top of his head and went through the rope; the rope, being weakened, snapped, and dropped the unfortunate man into the sea, which, of course, put the fire out, and swallowing some sea water made him vomit the poison, and in two or three minutes he was washed ashore alive, and only suffering slightly from the effects of his immersion.’

Tit-Bits From All the Most Interesting Books, Periodicals and Newspapers in the World, Dec. 3, 1881