“A Shocking Discovery”

It is well known that during the French Revolution, the wood Kusel, near Deux Ponts, was often the scene of various actions, and that the Prussians encamped in it a considerable time; consequently the wood was so nearly ruined, that only a few oak trees were left standing here and there. These trees were sold in the month of March last, 1803, and one lot fell to a citizen of Strasburgh for fifty florins. Soon afterwards ordering two of them to be cut down, one of them, the largest, was no sooner divided for the purpose of removal, than to the astonishment of the labourers they discovered a human skeleton, from which all the flesh having wasted away, nothing remained near the body at the bottom of the tree but some bits of blue cloth, and part of a hat. A purse half decayed was also found, containing about 100 louis d’ors in gold; and from the buttons upon the blue cloth, it was concluded that the deceased had been a Prussian officer, who not knowing the tree to be hollow, was probably sleeping near the top of the trunk of it, had slipped in, and from cold, or a variety of circumstances, being unable to extricate himself, had there perished. The fact, however, can be attested by the proprietor, the purchaser of the trees, and several other persons.

Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1803

Unfinished

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:FDR_unfinished.jpg

Artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff commenced an oil portrait of Franklin Roosevelt at noon on April 12, 1945.

This is as far as she got. FDR was being served lunch when he said, “I have a terrific headache” — and collapsed of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

Cruel and Unusual

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Le_Toru_Du_MOnde.jpg

Account of a torture and execution by elephant at Baroda, India, 1814:

“The man was a slave, and two days before had murdered his master, brother to a native chieftain, called Ameer Sahib. About eleven o’clock the elephant was brought out, with only the driver on his back, surrounded by natives with bamboos in their hands. The criminal was placed three yards behind on the ground, his legs tied by three ropes, which were fastened to a ring on the right hind leg of the animal. At every step the elephant took, it jerked him forward, and every eight or ten steps must have dislocated another limb, for they were loose and broken when the elephant had proceeded five hundred yards. The man, though covered in mud, showed every sign of life, and seemed to be in the most excruciating torments. After having been tortured in this manner for about an hour, he was taken to the outside of the town, when the elephant, which is instructed for such purposes, was backed, and put his foot on the head of the criminal.”

— From The Percy Anecdotes, 1821

The Gentlest Death

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Weeki_Wachee_spring_10079u.jpg

Drowning victims:

  • Hippasus of Metapontum, reputedly drowned by Pythagoras for discovering irrational numbers
  • Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII, in the Nile
  • George, Duke of Clarence, in a barrel of Malmsey wine, according to legend
  • Peter Artedi, ironically now considered the father of ichthyology, Amsterdam, 1735
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley, possibly a suicide or political murder
  • John Jacob Astor IV and Benjamin Guggenheim, on the Titanic
  • Grigori Rasputin, eventually
  • Enrique Granados, jumping from a lifeboat to rescue his wife, World War I
  • Virginia Woolf, suicide
  • Josef Mengele, swimming off the Brazilian coast, 1979
  • Hart Crane, suicide in the Caribbean
  • Natalie Wood, drowned in a yacht accident, possibly a murder
  • Dennis Wilson, ironically a Beach Boy
  • Jeff Buckley, in Tennessee’s Wolf River, 1997
  • Spalding Gray, in the East River, suicide

Canadians John and Jackie Knill were vacationing in Thailand when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami struck, killing both. A missionary later found their camera, which showed the wave approaching until it was nearly upon them.

You Can’t Keep a Bad Man Down

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_Galvanised_Corpse.jpg

Frankenstein nearly came true in 1803, when Italian physicist Giovanni Aldini ran electric current through the newly dead body of murderer George Forster.

The prison record states that “on the first application of the process to the face, the jaws of the deceased criminal began to quiver, and the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion.”

One witness reportedly died of fright, but there was really no cause for alarm. If Forster had returned to life, the prison planned to re-execute him — after all, he’d been sentenced to “hang until he be dead.”

“The Waco Horror”

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Lynching-of-jesse-washington.jpg

Between 1882 and 1930, Texans committed 492 lynchings. By most accounts, the most horrible of these was the 1916 slaying of Jesse Washington, a Waco farmhand who had confessed to the rape and murder of a white farmer’s wife.

A jury of 12 whites deliberated for four minutes before declaring Washington guilty. They called for the death penalty, but before authorities could act, he was dragged from the courtroom, doused with coal oil, and suspended alive over a bonfire. A witness wrote:

Washington was beaten with shovels and bricks … was castrated, and his ears were cut off. A tree supported the iron chain that lifted him above the fire. … Wailing, the boy attempted to climb up the skillet hot chain. For this, the men cut off his fingers.

Washington’s corpse was put in a cloth bag and dragged behind a car to Robinson, where it was hung from a pole. Northern newspapers condemned the lynching, but Texas was largely unrepentant. The image above is taken from a postcard (!); on the back someone has written, “This is the barbeque we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.”

Best Served Cold

Excerpt from the will of Joseph Dalby, London, 1784:

I give to my daughter Ann Spencer, a guinea for a ring, or any other bauble she may like better: — I give to the lout, her husband, one penny, to buy him a lark-whistle; I also give to her said husband, of redoubtable memory, my fart-hole, for a covering for his lark-whistle, to prevent the abrasion of his lips; and this legacy I give him as a mark of my approbation of his prowess and nice honour, in drawing his sword on me, (at my own table), naked and unarmed as I was, and he well fortified with custard.

R.I.P.

Ruth Sprague, Daughter of Gibson and Elizabeth Sprague.
Died June 11, 1846, aged 9 years, 4 months, and 3 days.
She was stolen from the grave by Roderick R. Clow, dissected
at Dr. P.M. Armstrong’s office, in Hoosick, N. Y., from which
place her mutilated remains were obtained and deposited here.

Her body dissected by fiendish man,
Her bones anatomized,
Her soul, we trust, has risen to God,
Where few physicians rise.

— Epitaph, Hoosick Falls, N.Y.