Hangmen have determined that it takes 1,260 foot-pounds to dislocate the human cervical vertebrae. They calculate the necessary drop by simple division: A person weighing 112 pounds (50.8 kg) must fall 11’4″ (3.43 m).
Excerpt from a letter sent by serial killer Albert Fish to a victim’s mother, November 1934:
On Sunday June the 3 –1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese — strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her.
On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said Yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them.
When all was ready I went to the window and Called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma.
First I stripped her naked. How she did kick — bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body.
The police traced the letter to Fish, and they found Grace’s skull buried in his garden.
The appropriate word here is “Bleeaagh.” In 897, Pope Stephen VI dug up the decomposing body of his predecessor and put it on trial for violating church law. Formosus, who had been dead for nine months, was found guilty and buried again. Rome turned against Stephen, who was eventually strangled in prison. It’s known as the cadaver synod or, in Latin, the “synodus horrenda.”
Some premature obituaries:
- An unidentified New York newspaper once carried the front-page headline POPE BENEDICT XV IS DEAD. A later edition announced POPE HAS REMARKABLE RECOVERY.
- Melody Maker magazine once announced that Alice Cooper was dead. Cooper reassured his fans: “I’m alive, and drunk as usual.”
- When a magazine reported that Rudyard Kipling had died, he wrote, “Don’t forget to delete me from your list of subscribers.”
- English fiddle player Dave Swarbrick forgave the Daily Telegraph for reporting his death in April 1999: “It’s not the first time I have died in Coventry.”
- In 1982 People magazine reported that Abe Vigoda had died. He posed for a photo sitting up in a coffin, holding the magazine.
- After a heart attack, painter James McNeill Whistler wrote to a Dutch newspaper, saying that reading his own obituary had induced a “tender glow of health.”
When you’re busy dying, it can be hard to think of a pithy exit line. Actual last words:
- Pancho Villa: “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.”
- Roman emperor Gaius Caligula: “I am still alive!”
- Dominique Bouhours, French grammarian: “I am about to — or I am going to — die: either expression is correct.”
- Henrik Ibsen, after his housekeeper told a guest he was feeling better: “On the contrary!”
- Karl Marx, to his housekeeper, who had just asked whether he had any last words: “Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”
- British surgeon Joseph Henry Green, after checking his own pulse: “Stopped.”
- Union general John Sedgwick, sizing up enemy sharpshooters: “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist–“
On her way to the guillotine, Marie Antoinette stepped on the executioner’s toe. Her last words were “Pardonez-moi, monsieur.”
Your lifetime odds of dying …
- on a streetcar: 1 in 1,230,975
- through burning or melting of nightwear: 1 in 738,585
- in a discharge of fireworks: 1 in 615,488
- in an earthquake: 1 in 131,890
- through contact with hornets, wasps, or bees: 1 in 85,882
- by lightning: 1 in 83,930
- due to a cave-in or falling earth: 1 in 65,945
- through contact with hot tap water: 1 in 64,788
- in a legal execution: 1 in 58,618
- by falling, jumping, or being pushed from a high place: 1 in 47,960
- while riding an animal: 1 in 31,836
- by drowning in the bathtub: 1 in 11,469
- in a fall involving a bed, a chair, or other furniture: 1 in 5,031
Chance of dying in an assault by firearm: 1 in 325. Of shooting yourself: 1 in 219.
Children’s deaths listed in the London calendar of coroner’s rolls, 1301-1307:
- 1301. “On Tuesday the Feast of St Philip and James [May 4] a certain Hugh Picard was riding a white horse after the hour of vespers, when Petronilla, daughter of William de Wyntonia, aged three years, was playing in the street; and the horse, being strong, quickly carried Hugh against his will over Petronilla so that it struck her on her right side with its right forefoot. Petronilla lingered until the next day, when she died, at the hour of vespers, from the blow. Being asked who were present, the jurors know only of those mentioned. The corpse viewed, the right side of which appeared blue and badly bruised, and no other hurt. The horse valued at a mark, for which Richard de Caumpes, the sheriff, will answer. Hugh fled and has no chattels; he afterwards surrendered to John de Boreford, sheriff.”
- 1301. “On Tuesday [July 19], Richard, son of John le Mazon, who was eight years old, was walking immediately after dinner across London Bridge to school. For fun, he tried to hang by his hands from a beam on the side of the bridge, but his hands giving way, he fell into water and was drowned. Being asked who were present, the jurors say a great multitude of passers-by, whose names they know not, but they suspect no one of the death except mischance.”
- 1322. “On the Sunday before the Feast of St Dunstan, Robert, son of John de St Botulph, a boy seven years old, Richard, son of John de Chesthunt, and two other boys whose names are unknown were playing on certain pieces of timber in the lane called “Kyrounelane” in the ward of Vintry, and one piece fell on Robert and broke his right leg. In course of time Johanna his mother arrived and rolled the timber off him and carried him to the shop, where he lingered until the Friday before the Feast of St Margaret, when he died at the hour of prime, of the broken leg and of no other felony; nor do the jurors suspect anyone of the death, but only the accident and the fracture.”
- 1324. “On Monday [in April] at the hour of vespers John, son of William de Burgh, a boy five years old, was in the house of Richard le Latthere and had taken a parcel of wool and placed it in his cap. Emma, the wife of Richard, chastising him, struck him with her right hand under his left ear so that he cried. On hearing this, Isabella, his mother, raised the hue and carried him thence. He lingered until the hour of curfew of the same day, when he died of the blow and not of any felony. Emma forthwith fled, but where she went or who received her the jurors knew not. Afterwards she surrendered herself to the prison at Newgate.”
- 1337. “On Tuesday in Pentecostweek John, son of William atte Noke, chandler, got out of a window in the rent of John de Wynton, plumber, to recover a ball lost in a gutter at play. He slipped and fell, and so injured himself that he died on the Saturday following of the fall.”
Account of the death of a chimney sweep’s boy, taken in evidence before the Parliamentary Committee on Climbing Boys, 1817:
“On Monday morning, 29 March 1813, a chimney sweeper of the name of Griggs attended to sweep a small chimney in the brewhouse of Messrs Calvert and Co. in Upper Thames Street; he was accompanied by one of his boys, a lad of about eight years of age, of the name of Thomas Pitt.
“The fire had been lighted as early as 2 o’clock the same morning, and was burning on the arrival of Griggs and his little boy at eight. The fireplace was small, and an iron pipe projected from the grate some little way into the flue. This the master was acquainted with (having swept the chimneys in the brewhouse for some years), and therefore had a tile or two broken from the roof, in order that the boy might descend the chimney. He had no sooner extinguished the fire than he suffered the lad to go down; and the consequence, as might be expected, was his almost immediate death, in a state, no doubt, of inexpressible agony.
“The flue was of the narrowest description, and must have retained heat sufficient to have prevented the child’s return to the top, even supposing he had not approached the pipe belonging to the grate, which must have been nearly red hot; this however was not clearly ascertained on the inquest, though the appearance of the body would induce an opinion that he had been unavoidably pressed against the pipe.
“Soon after his descent, the master, who remained on the top, was apprehensive that something had happened, and therefore desired him to come up; the answer of the boy was, ‘I cannot come up, master, I must die here.’ An alarm was given in the brewhouse immediately that he had stuck in the chimney, and a bricklayer who was at work near the spot attended, and after knocking down part of the brickwork of the chimney, just above the fireplace, made a hole sufficiently large to draw him through. A surgeon attended, but all attempts to restore life were ineffectual.
“On inspecting the body, various burns appeared; the fleshy part of the legs and a great part of the feet more particularly were injured; those parts too by which climbing boys most effectually ascend or descend chimneys, viz. the elbows and knees, seemed burnt to the bone; from which it must be evident that the unhappy sufferer made some attempts to return as soon as the horrors of his situation became apparent.”
Wearing a Beard.
— Leominster, Mass., 1873
— Cripple Creek, Colo., c. 1875
Unmarried as yet
— Wimbledon, England, c. 1900
The children of Israel wanted bread,
And the Lord he sent them manna,
Old Clerk Wallace wanted a wife,
And the Devil he sent him Anna.
— Ribbesford, England, c. 1770
Here lies my wife,
Here lies she,
— Ulverston, England, c. 1750
Sacred to the Memory of Mr.
Jared Bates who Died Aug. the 6th
1800. His Widow aged 24 who mourns
as one who can be comforted lives
at 7 Elm Street this village
and possesses every qualification
for a good wife.
— Lincoln, Maine, 1800
Sacred to posterity,
In a vault, near this place, lies the body of
ANNE, the only daughter of
EDWARD CHAMBERLAYNE, LL.D.
Born in London, January 20, 1667,
For a considerable time, declined the matrimonial state,
And scheming many things
Superior to her sex and age,
On the 30th of June, 1690,
And under the command of her brother,
With arms and in the dress of a man,
She approv’d herself a true Virago,
By fighting undaunted in a fire ship against the French,
Upwards of six hours,
She might have given us a race of heroes,
Had not premature fate interposed.
She returned safe fromthe naval engagement,
And was married, in some months after, to
JOHN SPRAGGE, Esq.
With whom she lived half a year extremely happy,
But being delivered of a daughter, she died
A few days after,
October 30, 1692.
This monument, to his most dear and affectionate
wife, was erected by her most disconsolate
— Epitaph, London, 1692