Beach Blanket Hades

In western Namibia, there’s a deadly strip of beach where the Namib Desert runs right up against the South Atlantic Ocean. Shipwrecked sailors who landed there found themselves trapped between heavy surf on one side and hundreds of miles of desert on the other. Many starved to death right there on the beach.

It’s called the Skeleton Coast.

No Message

When he wasn’t escaping straitjackets, Harry Houdini spent a lot of time debunking spiritualists.

Shortly before his death, he made a pact with his wife, Bess: If possible, he would contact her from the other side and deliver a prearranged coded message.

When he died, Bess lit a candle beside his photograph and kept it burning for 10 years, holding séances every Halloween to test the pact. Harry never spoke.

In 1936, after a final attempt on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel, Bess put out the candle.

“Ten years is long enough to wait for any man,” she said.

Christian von Kahlbutz
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz is looking remarkably fit for his age. The Prussian knight died in 1702 and his body hasn’t decayed.

No one knows why. He wasn’t embalmed. A legend says it’s God’s punishment for an oath he broke while living. Scientists think he lost a lot of blood before dying and that the local soil lacked materials that would promote decay. But that doesn’t explain why other bodies nearby did rot.


The Belgian village of Passchendaele before and after the Third Battle of Ypres, 1917. Aerial photography showed 1 million shell holes in one square mile.

After the battle, the following notice was found in a dugout full of dead British soldiers. It was signed by their Australian commander:

  1. This position will be held and section will remain here until relieved.
  2. The enemy cannot be allowed to interfere with this program.
  3. If the section cannot remain here alive it will remain here dead.
  4. Should any man through shell shock or such cause attempt to surrender he will remain here dead.
  5. Finally the position, as stated, will be held.

Clemenceau said, “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.”

Mount St. Helens,_1980_St._Helens_eruption.jpg

National Geographic photographer Reid Blackburn’s car after the eruption of Mount St. Helens, May 18, 1980. The lava would have been about 680°F when it reached him.

In all, the eruption equaled 27,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. It killed 57 people, 1,500 elk, 5,000 deer, and 11 million fish.

When a film crew was dropped by helicopter on the mountain five days later, its compasses spun in circles.


Sam Patch (1799-1829), “The Yankee Leaper,” earned his epithet — in his 30-year lifetime he jumped from the following points:

  • Mill dam, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
  • Passaic Falls, New Jersey
  • Miscellaneous bridges, factory walls, ships’ masts
  • Niagara Falls, New York
  • Upper Falls, Rochester, New York

That last one attracted a crowd of 8,000 — Upper Falls is 99 feet high. The first attempt went fine, but on the followup he dislocated both shoulders and drowned. His grave marker says “Sam Patch — Such Is Fame.”


A dyer born, a dyer bred,
Lies numbered here among the dead;
Dyers, like mortals doomed to die,
Alike fit food for worms supply.
Josephus Dyer was his name;
By dyeing he acquired fame;
‘Twas in his forty-second year
His neighbours kind did him inter.
Josephus Dyer, his first son,
Doth also lie beneath this stone;
So likewise doth his second boy,
Who was his parents’ hope and joy.
His handywork all did admire,
For never was a better dyer.
Both youths were in their fairest prime,
Ripe fruitage of a healthful clime;
But nought can check Death’s lawless aim,
Whosoever’ life he choose to claim:
It was God’s edict from his throne,
“My will shall upon earth be done.”
Then did the active mother’s skill
The vacancy with credit fill
Till she grew old, and weak, and blind,
And this last wish dwelt on her mind–
That she, when dead, should buried be
With her loved spouse and family.
At last Death’s arm her strength defied;
Thus all the dyeing Dyers died!

— Epitaph, Truro, Cornwall, England