Truth in Advertising

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Pretty, ain’t it? This 30-meter cliff rises from the foothills of the Rockies in Alberta. For 6,000 years, Native Americans would drive buffalo over the edge; the bone deposits at the bottom are 10 meters deep.

The Blackfoot call this place estipah-skikikini-kots, after a legend about one unfortunate young man who chose to watch the climactic plunge from below. Estipah-skikikini-kots means “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.”

Lost and Found

In 1940, British colonial officer Gerald Gallagher found a human skeleton and a sextant box under a tree on Gardner Island, a coral atoll in the western Pacific. Colonial authorities took detailed measurements, and in 1998 forensic anthropologists judged that the skeleton had belonged to a “tall white female of northern European ancestry.”

It may have been Amelia Earhart.

The Loneliest Number

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When Washington’s power elite convene for the president’s annual State of the Union address, there’s always a cabinet member missing:

  • 2007: Alberto Gonzales, attorney general
  • 2006: Jim Nicholson, secretary of veterans affairs
  • 2005: Donald Evans, secretary of commerce
  • 2004: Donald Evans, secretary of commerce
  • 2003: John Ashcroft, attorney general
  • 2002: Gale Norton, secretary of the interior
  • 2001: Anthony Principi, secretary of veterans affairs
  • 2000: Bill Richardson, secretary of energy

That member stays at a remote location in case some catastrophe strikes the Capitol.

He’s called the designated survivor.

“Old Parr”

In Westminster Abbey there’s a gravestone that reads as follows:

THO: PARR OF YE COUNTY OF SALLOP. BORNE
IN AD: 1483. HE LIVED IN YE REIGNES OF TEN
PRINCES VIZ: K.ED.4. K.ED.5.K.RICH.3.
K.HEN.7.K.HEN.8.K.EDW.6.Q.MA.Q.ELIZ
K.JA. & K. CHARLES. AGED 152 YEARES.
& WAS BURYED HERE NOVEMB. 15. 1635.

That’s right, Thomas Parr supposedly lived to be 152 years old. Said to have been born in 1483, he was discovered still alive in 1635 by the Earl of Arundel, and London went nuts. Parr met Charles I; Rubens and Van Dyke painted him; poets lionized him; and the fuss finally killed him.

Most likely his records had been confused with his grandfather’s, but he was certainly very old. He attributed his longevity to vegetarianism and clean living, though he said he’d had a kid out of wedlock at around age 100. Youthful indiscretion.

“A Man Drowned by a Crab”

June 30, 1811. A few days ago, John Hall, a labouring man, went at low water among the rocks, at Hume Head, near Cawsand, for the purpose of catching crabs, when meeting with one in the interstices of the rocks, of a large size, he imprudently put in his hand, for the purpose of pulling it out; the animal, however, caught his hand between its claws or forceps, and, strange as it may appear, kept its hold so firmly, that every effort on the part of the poor fellow to extricate himself proved ineffectual; and no one being at hand to assist him, the tide came in and he was next morning found drowned.

National Register, 1811

Table for One

Last meals:

  • Ted Bundy: Steak (medium rare), eggs over easy, hash browns, coffee. (He refused it.)
  • John Wayne Gacy: Fried chicken, fried shrimp, french fries, fresh strawberries.
  • Gary Gilmore: Hamburger, eggs, a baked potato, coffee, three shots of whiskey.
  • Timothy McVeigh: Two pints of Ben & Jerry’s mint chocolate-chip ice cream.
  • Adolf Eichmann: Half a bottle of Carmel, a dry red Israeli wine.
  • Bruno Hauptmann: Celery, olives, chicken, french fries, buttered peas, cherries, and a slice of cake.

Victor Feguer, executed in 1963 for shooting a doctor, asked for a single olive.

Elmer McCurdy

In December 1976, the television program The Six Million Dollar Man was shooting an episode at California’s Long Beach Pike amusement park when a crew member discovered a wax dummy hanging in a funhouse gallows. When he tried to move it, its arm broke off — it wasn’t a dummy, but in fact a mummified human body. Stranger still, its mouth contained a 1924 penny and a ticket from the Museum of Crime in Los Angeles.

After much investigation, it turned out to be the body of Elmer McCurdy, an inept outlaw who had been killed in an Oklahoma gunfight in 1911. When no one claimed his body, an unscrupulous undertaker had embalmed it and charged a nickel to see “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up,” and for 60 years thereafter McCurdy’s corpse was traded among wax museums, carnivals, and haunted houses.

Elmer was finally buried, fittingly, in the Boot Hill section of Oklahoma’s Summit View Cemetery under two cubic yards of concrete. Ironically, his last words had been “You’ll never take me alive!”

R.I.P.

Here lies a man that was Knott born,
His father was Knott before him,
He lived Knott, and did Knott die,
Yet underneath this stone doth lie.

— Epitaph of John Knott, Sheffield, England

“My Dearly Departed”

London dentist Martin van Butchell always read the fine print. So when his wife Mary died in January 1775, he noted that their marriage certificate promised him income so long as Mary was “above ground.”

He enlisted a pair of local doctors to preserve her corpse, replaced her eyes with glass ones, dressed her in a lace gown, and put her on display in his window.

Eventually Butchell remarried, and his new wife objected to the display, so Mary was retired to the Royal College of Surgeons, where she slowly decomposed. In 1941, she was destroyed in a German bombing raid, faithful to the last.

Michael Malloy

In 1933, a group of four thugs came up with a gruesome way to make money. They took out three insurance policies on an Irish vagrant named Michael Malloy and killed him for the proceeds.

Well, tried to, anyway. Malloy proved to be almost unkillable:

  • They gave him unlimited credit at a local speakeasy, but Malloy just drank.
  • They substituted antifreeze for Malloy’s whiskey, but he just passed out.
  • They substituted turpentine for the antifreeze, horse liniment for the turpentine, and then rat poison for the horse liniment. No luck.
  • They served him a meal of raw oysters marinated in wood alcohol, then a dish of spoiled sardines mixed with carpet tacks.
  • They dumped him into a bank of wet snow and poured water on him.

None of this worked. Desperate, they ran him down with a taxi at 45 mph. This put him in the hospital for three weeks, but it didn’t kill him. Finally the trio waited until Malloy had passed out one evening, took him to a room and put a gas hose in his mouth.

That killed him, but they didn’t have long to enjoy the insurance money. Infighting among them led to rumors, and the police exhumed Malloy’s body and revealed the plot. One conspirator went to prison and the rest were electrocuted at Sing Sing.