Unusual methods adopted by suicide victims, compiled by George Kennan for a report in McClure’s Magazine, 1908:

  • Hanging themselves, or taking poison, in the tops of high trees
  • Throwing themselves upon swiftly revolving circular saws
  • Exploding dynamite in their mouths
  • Thrusting red-hot pokers down their throats
  • Hugging red-hot stoves
  • Stripping themselves naked and allowing themselves to freeze to death on winter snowdrifts out of doors, or on piles of ice in refrigerator-cars
  • Lacerating their throats on barbed-wire fences
  • Drowning themselves head downward in barrels
  • Suffocating themselves head downward in chimneys
  • Diving into white-hot coke-ovens
  • Throwing themselves into craters of volcanoes
  • Shooting themselves with ingenious combinations of a rifle with a sewing-machine
  • Strangling themselves with their hair
  • Swallowing poisonous spiders
  • Piercing their hearts with corkscrews and darning-needles
  • Cutting their throats with handsaws and sheep-shears
  • Hanging themselves with grape vines
  • Swallowing strips of underclothing and buckles of suspenders
  • Forcing teams of horses to tear their heads off
  • Drowning themselves in vats of soft soap
  • Plunging into retorts of molten glass
  • Jumping into slaughter-house tanks of blood
  • Decapitation with home-made guillotines
  • Self-crucifixion

“One would naturally suppose that a person who had made up his mind to commit suicide would do so in the easiest, most convenient, and least painful way,” Kennan concludes, “but the literature of the subject proves conclusively that hundreds of suicides, every year, take their lives in the most difficult, agonizing, and extraordinary ways; and that there is hardly a possible or conceivable method of self-destruction that has not been tried.”



In 1858 Mark Twain had a vivid dream in which he saw his brother Henry lying in a metal burial case. On Henry’s chest lay a bouquet of white flowers with a red rose at its center.

A month later, Henry lost his life when his steamboat’s boiler exploded. A grieving Twain arrived to discover his brother’s body in a metal case—the other victims had been given wooden coffins, but the ladies of Memphis had taken up a fund for Henry, touched by his youth and good looks.

As Twain stood there, an elderly woman approached and placed a bouquet of white flowers on Henry’s chest. At its center was a single red rose.

See also A Premonition.

Slow But Sure


In August 1820, an avalanche swept three mountaineers into a crevasse on Mont Blanc. Thirty-eight years later, a physicist who had studied the glacier’s rate of flow predicted that the bodies would soon be given up. He was right. William Herbert Hobbs writes in Earth Features and Their Meaning:

In the year 1861, or forty-one years after the disaster, the heads of the three guides, separated from their bodies, with some hands and fragments of clothing, appeared at the foot of the Glacier des Bossons, and in such a state of preservation that they were easily recognized by a guide who had known them in life.

The bodies had traveled 3,000 meters in 41 years. “To-day,” wrote Hobbs in 1912, “the time of reappearance of portions of the bodies of persons lost upon Mont Blanc is rather accurately predicted, so that friends repair to Chamonix to await the giving up of its victims by the Glacier des Bossons.”


M. Ofilius Hilarus, an actor of comedies, after he had highly pleased the people upon his birth-day, kept a feast at home in his own house; and when supper was upon the table, he called for a mess of hot broth, and casting his eye upon the visor he had worn that day in the play, he fitted it again to his face, and taking off the garland which he wore upon his bare head, he set it thereupon: in this posture disguised as he sat, he died, and became cold before any person in the company knew any thing of the matter.

— Nathaniel Wanley, The Wonders of the Little World, 1806

“Curious Will”

Among curious bequests to wives, that of John Lambeth, who died in 1791, is conspicuous for its bitterness. After declaring that ‘the strength of Sampson, the genius of Homer, the prudence of Augustus, the patience of Job, the philosophy of Socrates, the subtlety of Hannibal, the vigilence of Hermognes, would not suffice to subdue the perversity of her character,’ he bequeathed to his wife Elizabeth the sum of one shilling!

Bizarre Notes & Queries, February 1886

“Awful Death of Mr. Munro”


Tiger attack, Saugur Island, off Calcutta, Dec. 23, 1792, recounted by a witness in The Terrific Register, 1825:

I had just laid hold of [my gun], when I heard a roar like thunder, and saw an immense royal tyger spring on the unfortunate Munro, who was sitting down; in a moment his head was in the beast’s mouth, and he rushed into the jungle with him with as much ease as I could lift a kitten, tearing him through the thickest bushes and trees — every thing yielding to his monstrous strength. The agonies of horror, regret, and I must say fear, (for there were two tygers, a male and female), rushed on me at once; the only effort I could make was to fire at him, though the poor youth was still in his mouth. I relied partly on Providence, partly on my own aim, and fired a musket. I saw the tyger stagger and agitated, and I cried out so immediately; Mr. Downey then fired two shots, and I one more. We retired from the jungle, and a few minutes after, Mr. Munro came up to us, all over blood, and fell; we took him on our backs to the boat, and got every medical assistance for him from the Valentine Indiaman, which lay at anchor near the island, but in vain. He lived twenty-four hours in the extreme of torture: his head and scull were all torn and broken to pieces, and he was wounded by the beast’s claws all over his neck and shoulders: but it was better to take him away, though irrecoverable, than leave him to be devoured limb by limb. We have just read the funeral service over his body, and committed it to the deep. He was an amiable and promising youth.

“The beast was about four feet and a half high, and nine long. His head appeared as large as an ox’s, his eyes darting fire, and his roar, when he first seized his prey, will never be out of my recollection. We had scarcely pushed our boat from that cursed shore, when the tygress made her appearance, raging mad almost, and remained on the sand as long as the distance would allow me to see her.”

Death Scene


Sarah Bernhardt slept in a coffin. “I found it quite natural to sleep every night in this little bed of white satin which was to be my last couch,” she said — until her sister’s death led to a “tragic-comic incident”:

When the undertaker’s men came to the room to take away the body they found themselves confronted with two coffins, and losing his wits, the master of ceremonies sent in haste for a second hearse. I was at that moment with my mother, who had lost consciousness, and I got back just in time to prevent the black-clothed men taking away my coffin.

“The second hearse was sent back, but the papers got hold of this incident,” she adds wearily. “I was blamed, criticised, etc.”

A Premonition


A queer dream or illusion had haunted Lincoln at times through the winter [of 1860]. On the evening of his election he had thrown himself on one of the haircloth sofas at home, just after the first telegrams of November 6 had told him he was elected President, and looking into a bureau mirror across the room he saw himself full length, but with two faces. … A few days later he tried it once more and the illusion of the two faces again registered to his eyes. But that was the last; the ghost since then wouldn’t come back, he told his wife, who said it was a sign he would be elected to a second term, and the death pallor of one face meant he wouldn’t live through his second term.

— Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, 1926

The Plague Village

In 1665, the Black Death came to Eyam in Derbyshire.

To prevent the spread of the disease, the entire village quarantined itself. In the ensuing year, its population dropped from 350 to 83.

The gravedigger survived.

Strange Meeting

During World War I, Wilfred Owen’s younger brother Harold was an officer on the British cruiser HMS Astraea. While anchored off West Africa shortly after the armistice, he claims he had “an extraordinary and inexplicable experience”:

I had gone down to my cabin thinking to write some letters. I drew aside the door curtain and stepped inside and to my amazement I saw Wilfred sitting in my chair. I felt shock run through me with appalling force and with it I could feel the blood draining away from my face. I did not rush towards him but walked jerkily into the cabin–all my limbs stiff and slow to respond. I did not sit down but looking at him I spoke quietly: ‘Wilfred, how did you get here?’ He did not rise and I saw that he was involuntarily immobile, but his eyes which had never left mine were alive with the familiar look of trying to make me understand; when I spoke his whole face broke into his sweetest and most endearing dark smile. I felt not fear–I had none when I first drew my door curtain and saw him there–only exquisite mental pleasure at thus beholding him. He was in uniform and I remember thinking how out of place the khaki looked amongst the cabin furnishings. With this thought I must have turned my eyes away from him; when I looked back my cabin chair was empty … I wondered if I had been dreaming but looking down I saw that I was still standing. Suddenly I felt terribly tired and moving to my bunk I lay down; instantly I went into a deep oblivious sleep. When I woke up I knew with absolute certainty that Wilfred was dead.

He later learned that his brother had been killed the preceding week.

See also A Sign and “That Apparition, Sole of Men”.