November 1996

November 1, 1996
The last words of academic and grammarian Monsieur Dominiqe Bouhours were very precise, as befits a great scholar: "I am about to - or I am going to - die; either expression is used". Words that live in history...

November 2, 1996
Over the years, several people have died while trying to imitate their favorite action heroes by using TV or telephone cables to rappel down buildings.

November 3, 1996
A Dallas, Texas woman died in 1983 from lead poisoning caused by a bullet left lodged in her knee.

November 4, 1996
English poet John Keats died of tuberculosis in Rome at the tragically young age of 26. He was buried in the Protestant Cemetery there and wrote his own tombstone, which bitterly reads: "This Grave contains all that was Mortal of a Young English Poet, who on his Death Bed in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone, 'Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water'." In his bitterness he even neglected to include his name...

November 5, 1996
One of the more ironic instances of famous last words occurred during the Civil War. Cocky General John Sedgwick was strolling along, seemingly oblivious to the enemy gunfire coming in hs direction. When a soldier suggested he take cover, the general replied, "Nonsense! They could not hit an elephant at this dist..." and collapsed to his death, fatally struck.

November 6, 1996
Typhoid Mary Mallon was an Irish cook in New York in the early 1900's. When a cluster of Typhoid Fever outbreaks were traced to her, it was discovered that she was a Typhoid carrier - immune to the disease herself but deadly for others. The doctors requested to remove her gallbladder so that she could continue to live a normal life without endangering others but she refused and was isolated in a cottage on North Brother Island. After four years, she appealed to the authorities to release her under the condition that she never work as a cook again. They complied and another outbreak of Typhoid was traced to her. Mary was returned to North Brother Island where she lived alone until her death in 1938.

November 7, 1996
Convicted murderer Edward Earl Johnson's last words as he awaited execution in the gas chamber on May 20, 1987 were the resigned, "I guess nobody is going to call". And, indeed, no one did.

November 8, 1996
In 1483, the Pope believed it was God's will that he should kick off the Spanish Inquisition by appointing Tomas De Torquemada to be Grand Inquisitor of Spain. In 1492, Torquemada convinced King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to kick all the Jews out of the country. The ones who didn't leave were arrested and imprisoned - although no one ever told them for what crime. They were ordered to "confess" and, if they proved stubborn, they were brutally tortured. Some 90,000 Jews were tortured and nearly 9,000 killed by order of Torquemada... who, it turns out, was from a Jewish family himself!

November 10, 1996
In most cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion, the victim is burnt to death. However, in at least one case the combustion was minor enough to ensure the survival of the victim. A professor of mathematics at the University of Nashville, Tennessee who is known only as Mr. "H" was walking home on a winter's day in 1835 when he felt a sharp pain in his left leg. When he looked down, he observed that a flame several inches high was spouting from his leg. He managed to extinguish the flame by cupping his hands around it. The burn on his leg took an unusually long time to heal.

November 11, 1996
The last words of convicted murderer Johnny Frank Garrett, who was executed via lethal injection on February 11, 1986, were especially touching, befitting a man of his high sensitivity and social grace: "I'd like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. And the rest of the world can kiss my ass."

November 12, 1996
Crazed Russian ruler Ivan the Terrible wasn't always so terrible. For a few years he was a happy family man and a wise, reforming ruler. However, after suffering greatly from a horrible illness he regained consciousness to discover that his wife Anastasia and his son Dmitri were dead. From this point on, Ivan was truly Terrible... and no one was safe from his wrath. He even flailed and boiled his own followers.

November 13, 1996
Before the advent of photography, death masks - a plaster cast of the deceased person's face - were very popular methods of remembrance. Death masks of famous people were often sold as souvenirs.

November 14, 1996
The first public execution in the United States was a hanging in 1630. The last public execution in the United States was a hanging in 1937 in Owensboro, Kentucky. 20,000 people turned out for that final show...

November 15, 1996
As with virtually everything else, the military has strict regulations for burial at sea. If a Navy man wishes to go to "Davy Jones' locker" the Navy requests a signed authorization from your kin, an approved burial permit, and a copy of the death certificate. Additionally, he must be placed in a regulation metal casket, which must have at least 100 pounds of rock or sand inside of it for ballast and at least ten two-inch holes drilled in the sides so the casket takes on water properly. Because of the holes, the deceased must be wrapped in a shroud and embalmed. And, finally, metal straps are placed across the lid to keep it from floating away.

November 16, 1996
One of the stranger stories in the psychiatric annals was that of June and Jennifer Gibbons, two identical twins who, for most of their lives, refused to speak to anyone but each other. They would often seem to communicate with each other silently, just by a knowing glance, and they would often write but rarely speak to another living soul. Psychiatric treatment failed to break through the wall of silence they put between themselves and others. Eventually, they turned to arson and petty theft as a form of amusement. When imprisoned, June began to write and published a novel entitled "Pepsi-Cola Addict". Jealousy and resentment began to drive the girls mad so they were sent to a Maximum Security Prison for the Criminally Insane. Shortly following their release from prison in 1993, Jennifer died... and June finally awoke from her state of silence to tell the world of the twins' symbiotic relationship.

November 17, 1996
In 1992, an L.A. County parking control officer wrote a ticket for an illegally parked car. The cop failed to notice that the driver of the car was stiff, discolored, and had been dead for some time. (At least he didn't pull the driver out of his car and beat him....)

November 18, 1996
In 1930, Britain was eager to test the merits of dirigible transportation, then considered the possible "wave of the future" instead of airplanes. Two teams from competing firms worked on developing the ultimate airship, the R100 and the R101. The Air Ministry, behind the development of the R101, decided to take it for a test flight to India, under the insistence of Air Minister, Lord Thomson. Over northern France, two forward gas bags ruptured, causing the nose of the dirigible to dip dramatically. It crashed into a forest and exploded, killing 50 of the 56 people aboard, including Lord Thomson. This tragedy effectively ended the British infatuation with the airship.

November 19, 1996
The worst accident in the history of the London Underground occurred on February 28, 1975. For some reason (perhaps a seizure?), driver Leslie Newson drove his train into a buffer and wall at 40 mph. Rescuers worked to recover bodies for the next four days. There were 42 fatalities and 82 injuries in this accident.

November 20, 1996
In the spring of 1981, thousands of people in Madrid and elsewhere in central Spain began to come down ill with awful stomach cramps, breathing problems and weight loss. Before long, people began to die from the mysterious ailment. Eventually, the illness was traced to the use of a certain variety of cooking oil. It turned out that two brothers, Juan Manuel and Fernando Bengoechea, who ran an oil importing firm called Rapsa were selling rape-seed oil of a quality only suited for industrial use to a Madrid company called Raelca for use as oil for human consumption. The final toll of this tragedy was nearly 600 dead and a further 25,000 people seriously affected.

November 21, 1996
Scottish occultist Aleister Crowley, who referred to himself as "The Great Beast", continued his quest for the ultimate evil even after his death in 1947. He littered his magical texts with booby traps which would prove injurious or fatal if attempted. Cal Tech rocket propulsion scientist Jack Parsons fell victim to Crowley's evil deeds in June, 1952 when his garage exploded after he had mixed cordite and fulminate of mercury in an attempt to create a homunculus - the tiny artificial man who would impart his vast magical powers to his creator. In this legacy of dangerous misinformation, the Great Beast lives on...

November 22, 1996
On December 30, 1903 fire broke out onstage at the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago when a stage light blew out and sparked, setting gauze draperies being used to give a "moonlit" effect aflame. The fire spread quickly across the stage and towards the seats, where 2000 patrons were jammed into the lavish theatre. The performers and stagehands quickly fled through the stage door to safety, but panic broke out in the auditorium as flames licked towards the audience. A desperate struggle to get out led to the gangways and exits becoming hopelessly jammed with people. Many were quickly overcome by fire and dense smoke from the upholstery and fittings. More than 200 people died in the theatre itself and a further 400 in the stampede for the exits. Some people were found with bootmarks on their faces where they had been trampled upon.

November 23, 1996
The worst mining disaster in British history occurred on the morning of Tuesday October 14, 1913 when an explosion rocked the Senghenydd coal pit in South Wales. The mine became a deadly furnace fueled by natural gases, resulting in the deaths of 439 miners. The nearby community was devastated - one woman lost her husband, four sons, and three brothers in the disaster.

November 24, 1996
A man was miraculously uninjured from a wreck in which his car crashed into two utility poles, rolled down an embankment, and tore through a fence... when he was struck and killed by a passing truck.

November 25, 1996
The rebuilding of Winchester Cathedral was halted due to most of the workmen being killed during the Great Plague. A temporary facade was placed over the front, where an elaborate face had been planned. It is still there and is admired as fine 14th century architecture!

November 26, 1996
Liberace was one of a pair of twins. His brother was skeletal and didn't survive birth but Liberace (real name: Wladziu) weighed 13 pounds. Excessive from the very beginning...

November 27, 1996
On February 6, 1957 a plane carrying the Manchester United football team, on their way from Munich to Manchester during the European Cup tournament, crashed when it failed to reach takeoff speed. It careened off the runway, smashing into a house, a tree, and a truck which exploded on impact. Of the 44 people on board, 20 were killed immediately and 3 more died in hospitals from their injuries, including 9 players. The official cause of the accident was initially ruled ice on the wings but eventually the pilot's claim that slush on the runway slowed down the plane was the accepted explanation.

November 28, 1996
Turkeys in factory farms are debeaked, stuffed in crowded wire cages, and fed an unnatural diet complete with chemicals, drugs, and antibiotics.

November 29, 1996
The word "thug" is derived from the name of the worst gangs of murdering thieves the world has ever known - the Indian hoodlum band known as the "Thuggees". Throughout the course of their existence, which dates back to the 1550's, the Thuggees are credited with over 2,000,000 murders, mostly of wealthy travelers. The Thuggees would disguise themselves as beggars to get close to their victims, then they would strangle them to death. Each member of this secret society was required to kill at least once a year to maintain their membership. As in most cases, the reason for all this killing was a religious one - they were human sacrifices to Kali, the bloodthirsty Hindustani goddess of destruction. The most lethal of all Thuggees was the Thug Buhram. He strangled 931 people between 1790 and 1840. Appropriately enough, Buhram was executed in 1840 by strangulation via hanging.

November 30, 1996
During the mid-19th century in New York, there existed a fearsome street gang known as the Dead Rabbits. Their name was taken from the standard that they carried into battle with them - a dead rabbit on a post - and their standard bearer was a tough little Irish woman called Hell-Cat Maggie. She was famous for filing her front teeth to points and wearing long brass "fingernails" honed razor-sharp. Maggie would be first into a fray, slashing and biting until her victims fell to their knees, but she let the boys of her gang do the actual killing - she was too much of a lady for that.

December 1, 1996
George Leese, leader of the 19th century New York street gang, The Slaughter Housers, had a very unusual occupation. He was a professional blood sucker - he would would suck blood from fighters' wounds at boxing matches. (I know - I find this one hard to believe too, but here we are...)