August 1998

August 1, 1998
Hoping no one would notice that their 76-year-old mother had died, her unemployed son and daughter kept her corpse at their home in Genoa, Italy, so they could continue to draw her pension. La Stampa newspaper reported the body was discovered two weeks later when another son visited the home the two shared with the woman, noticed a smell and called the police. (Wacky News)

August 2, 1998
At the time the guillotine was invented, scientists were fascinated by whether any of the executed continued to feel after their heads were removed. When Charlotte Corday, who killed revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat, was executed, the executioner's assistant Francois le Gros picked up her head by the hair and slapped her cheek. Several eyewitnesses saw not one but both cheeks flush red, as though in anger. And so for the next 200 years French doctors devoted a lot of time and effort to researching whether the head lived on after it was cut off. This involved such scientific endeavors as shouting loudly in the ears of decapitated heads and watching to see if there was any flicker of recognition on their features, and pumping blood from a living dog through a three hour old head and watching its eyelids flicker. (Bizarre Magazine, August 1998)

August 3, 1998
Baseball great Ty Cobb was known as much for his ill humor and outright meanness as he was for his considerable skills. Part of the explanation for his sociopathic ways could be the traumatic death of his father when he was young. His mother had a reputation for sleeping around that enraged Cobb's father. He hid outside her window one night in the hope of catching her in the act. However, she mistook the senior Cobb for a prowler and shot him to death on August 9, 1905. (The Big Book Of Bad)

August 4, 1998
A 38-year-old man hanged himself with jumper cables outside a Stevie Nicks concert in Concord, California, on Saturday night following an encounter with his estranged wife. Police say the man's wife ran into her husband, against whom she had a restraining order, in the parking lot of the Concord Pavilion after the show. She summoned the venue's security, by which time he had climbed atop a utility pole. Police and fire departments were summoned to the scene, but despite their efforts, the man either jumped or slipped from the pole, hanging himself. Officials indicate that the man was believed to be distraught over family issues, and that his death was not in any way related to Nicks (although somehow I suspect her bleating didn't help matters any!- TM). (Associated Press)

August 6, 1998
Ex-president Theodore Roosevelt almost died on a Brazilian expedition of 1913. He suffered intermittent attacks of malaria and dysentery, gashed a leg that became infected, and lost a total of 57 pounds. Three members of Roosevelt's party never returned to civilization; one drowned, another went insane and killed a member of the expedition before disappearing into the jungle. At times the former President's fever rose to 105 degrees and according to his son Kermit, "father was out of his mind." He died six years later at age 60 of an embolism in a coronary artery. (The People's Almanac #2)

August 7, 1998
Marie Curie won two Nobel Prizes (in 1903 and 1911) for her ground-breaking research in to the therapeutic effects of radiation (including radiation therapy for cancer patients). However, her constant "hands-on" experiments with radium were to prove her undoing. Marie died of leukemia in July, 1934, exhausted and almost blinded her fingers burnt and stigmatised by "her" dear radium. This sixty-seven-year-old woman, who, according to Dr Claudius Regaud, "under a cold exterior and the utmost reserve (...) concealed in reality an abundance of delicate and generous feelings", had been exposed to incredible levels of radiation. (Marie Curie)

August 8, 1998
Five young girls trapped while playing in the trunk of a car died of heat exposure Friday (August 7, 1998) in West Valley City, Utah. Officers and dogs responding to a report that the children were missing, searched the neihborhood, scouring garages, homes and yards. "I don't know if it was instinct, but one of the officers went from car to car and popped the trunk on one of the cars and found the remains of the children," said Lt. Charles Illsley. The officer was traumatized by his find. Two of the girls were sisters, two were cousins and the fifth was being cared for by the mother of the two sisters. The girls were ages 2, 3, 5, 6, and 6. "They were in the trunk at least 45 minutes to an hour and probably much more than that," Illsley said. "Clearly, the cause of death is heat exposure." (The Associated Press)

August 9, 1998
It was a case of 'women and children last' when the French transport Medusa ran aground off the desert coast of Mauritania in July 1816. The captain, officers and the wealthiest passengers made off in the boats, leaving 150 to scramble onto a makeshift raft 60 feet by 20. These survivors, standing up to their thighs in water, discovered the only liquid on board was wine. A group of drunken convicts mutinied, killing 80 with swords and hatchets, 40 died from sunstroke, and a dozen wounded castaways were murdered so their rations could go to 15 healthy mutineers who had turned cannibal to survive. Only 10 of the original 150 survived to be picked up after 12 days adrift under the merciless Saharan sun. (August 1998, Bizarre)

August 10, 1998
The most terrible steamboat accident in history was that of the Sultana, which exploded on the Mississippi River in April, 1865. The steamer had been horribly overloaded with Union soldiers who had recently been released from Civil War prison camps and were eagerly returning home: It is estimated that close to 2,300 persons were onboard a ship that by law could hold 376. In the middle of the night of April 26, 1865, the faulty boilers, which had needed to be repaired earlier in the journey, finally gave out and exploded with a sudden, stabbing pillar of fire that lit up the black, swirling river and was visible for miles. Hundreds of sleeping soldiers were blown bodily into the river... snugly asleep one moment, hurling through the air into the cold black water the next. One man was said to have been thrown more than two hundred feet. The water was icy-cold, many of the soldiers could not swim, and there was little wreckage to cling to. Men died by the hundreds in the water near the wreck. They had been half-starved for months and were in no physical shape to swim even if they had known how. Fire quickly spread throughout the remains of the ship, prompting many men to leap into the icy-black water to escape the flames. The deck supporting the main rank of passenger cabins where the officers were housed, collapsed at one end, forming a horrible steep ramp down which into the hottest fire, slid screaming men and a tangle of wreckage. The huge twin smokestacks, hallmark of every Mississippi packet boat, tottered uncertainly and then came crashing down, pinning men under them and holding them for the flames. Eventually, the Sultana came to rest on a small island in the middle of the river. With the morning light, hundreds of men were found on both shores of the Mississippi, clinging to trees or driftwood, many of them badly burned and without clothing. Altogether between 500 and 600 men were taken to the Memphis hospitals. Some 200 of these died soon afterward, either from burns or exposure and general debility. For many days after the disaster, a barge was sent out each morning to pick up dead bodies Each night it would come back to Memphis with its gruesome cargo. No definite count of the casualties was possible because there did not exist any really complete list of the number of men aboard at the time. Estimates of the number killed ranged from 1,500 to 1,900. Probably a median figure of 1,700 would be about right. (Sultana: Death On The Dark River)

August 11, 1998
According to the August 13 Working Group, a German research group, as many as 1,000 people may have died trying to flee communist East Germany to the West during the Cold War. (Reuters)

August 12, 1998
Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier was a scientist and pioneer balloonist. In 1785, he tried to cross the English Channel in a unique double balloon - the upper filled with hydrogen, the lower with hot air. The fire heating the air bag ignited the hydrogen, dropping him to his death. (The Big Book Of Bad)

August 16, 1998
A mother of three from Aberdare, South Wales, who suffered a heart attack from the stress of lying awake but helpless during a hospital operation has won her legal battle for compensation. June Blacker, 45, who is expected to receive more than f100,000, said that she felt the scalpel cut into her during the operation to sterilize her. She was so terrified she suffered a cardiac arrest 15 minutes into the operation and watched as doctors fought to restart her heart. (The British Weekly)

August 17, 1998
At a nuclear research facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico on May 21, 1946, a senior scientist [Louis Slotin] was demonstrating the technique of critical assembly and associated studies and measurements to another scientist. The particular technique employed in the demonstration was to bring a hollow hemisphere of beryllium around a mass of fissionable material which was resting in a similar lower hollow hemisphere. The system was checked with two one-inch spacers between the upper hemisphere and the lower shell which contained the fissionable material; the system was subcritical at this time. Then the spacers were removed so that one edge of the upper hemisphere rested on the lower shell while the other edge of the upper hemisphere was supported by a screwdriver. This latter edge was permitted to approach the lower shell slowly. While one hand held the screwdriver, the other hand was holding the upper shell with the thumb placed in an opening at the polar point. At that time, the screwdriver apparently slipped and the upper shell fell into position around the fissionable material. Of the eight people in the room, two were directly engaged in the work leading to this incident. The "blue glow" was observed, a heat wave felt, and immediately the top shell was slipped off and everyone left the room. The scientist who was demonstrating the experiment received sufficient dosage to result in injuries from which he died nine days later. The scientist assisting received sufficient radiation dosage to cause serious injuries and some permanent partial disability. The other six employees in the room suffered no permanent injury. (Summary Of Critical Accidents in USAEC, 1945-1970)

August 18, 1998
On July 14, 1789, a Paris mob of 20,000 - angry and fearful at the king's calling in 17 regiments, mostly mercenaries, to keep law and order and intimidate the Assembly - stormed the detested fortress of the Bastille, seeking arms. After freeing seven prisoners (two madmen, four convicted forgers, and an aristocrat jailed for debauchery at his father's request), the rampaging crowd butchered three Bastille officers, strung up three of the garrison on lampposts, and stuck the Bastille governor's head on a pitchfork. The mob also murdered the mayor of Paris and set up a new municipal government, the Commune. Bastille Day, today celebrated by the French as the birth of freedom, demonstrated the will of the people to have a popular assembly. For this day the king entered one word in his diary: Rien ("nothing") which meant that he had not gone hunting and killed a stag; that nothing was worth noting. (The People's Almanac #2)
Addendum courtesy of Joshua Garton: "There is mention that 'an aristocrat jailed for debauchery at his father's request' was among prisoners liberated from the Bastille. If memory serves, this man was our friend the Marquis de Sade. I am virtually certain of this information. The Marquis was definitely imprisoned in the Bastille on or around the time of the uprising. He would hang signs from the battlements encouraging revolt and causing no end of consternation for his guards who could find no sign of where he got the materials or how he concealed them."

August 20, 1998
In Boca Raton, Florida, a Berkeley, California law school graduate student was out walking with his father when a station wagon jumped the curb and shot across the grass, knocking DeLeon off his feet and through the windshield. He landed in the passenger seat, where the driver began punching him in the face and upper body and screaming, "Get out! Get out!" as he continued driving. The driver eventually stopped and pushed DeLeon out of the car nearly two miles away from the scene of the accident. Hours later, police arrested the driver after a tip led them to a suspicious man bleeding from cuts on hs head and arm and stumbling around wearing only wet underwear and tennis shoes. By coincidence, he was taken to the same hospital where he victim was being treated. DeLeon underwent two operations to mend his broken arm and leg. Doctors will try to determine if there is also a chip in his spine. (Associated Press)

August 21, 1998
Scottish surgeon Mungo Park, sent by the English African Association, set out from the Gambia to explore the Niger River on June 21, 1795. He was the first European to see this river. His frustrating 18-month journey included imprisonment by Arabs, near starvation, and a seven-month-long illness. In 1805 he returned to the Niger with a small expedition that ultimately perished. Before being attacked by natives and drowned at Bussa, he had paddled 1,200 miles downstream. (The People's Almanac #2)

August 22, 1998
Scientists in the Arctic have begun the process of exhuming the bodies of six Norwegian miners in the hope of capturing a frozen 1918 flu virus that caused this century's worst pandemic. Scientists believe the men are buried in permafrost about 2.0 to 2.5 meters (yards) down in a pit probably blown out by dynamite on the hillside above the town of Longyearbyen, about 800 miles (1,300 km) from the North Pole. The team aims to take samples from the lungs and other organs of the corpses in hopes of finding fragments of the "Spanish flu" and developing vaccines to prevent any future flu pandemics. Seven Norwegian men, aged 18 to 29, are believed to be buried in a row of coffins after dying of the flu in late 1918. Relatives of one have refused to allow the scientists to take samples. (Headline News)

August 24, 1998
The more things change, the more they stay the same: In August, 1939 a young Edinburgh University lecturer, Donald Campbell, who had just returned with his wife from their Paris honeymoon, paid a visit to the luggage office on London's King's Cross station. As he stood talking to the attendant there came a streaking flash and a roar as a bomb, concealed in a suitcase beneath the office counter, exploded with shattering effect. Both Campbell's legs were blown off and he died within a few minutes in the ruins of the office. Among the 15 injured men and women scattered around his body lay his young bride. This was the worst attack, up to that time, in a reign of bombing terror launched in Britain by the Irish Republican Army seven months before. (Crimes And Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Vol. 24)

August 25, 1998
In 1866, Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, 33, after seeing his brother killed in an industrial accident at the family explosives plant near Stockholm, stabilized nitroglycerin by soaking it in an earthlike absorbent material. He called his product dynamite. (The People's Almanac #2)

August 27, 1998
In Ljubljana, Slovenia a passionate angler at an eastern Slovenian lake caught a fish so big that he drowned trying to reel it in. Determined to land the sheatfish, a type of catfish, the 47-year-old fisherman walked into the lake after hooking it and refused to let go when it pulled him under. A friend, who is not identified, said, "Fran Filipic's last words before he drowned were: 'Now I've got him!'" (Associated Press)

August 28, 1998
On Tuesday, August 4, a 16-foot fishing boat crowded with six men - Alfred Pemberton, Llewellyn Allen, Oliver Carty, John Kins, and Joseph Ferlance - and Pemberton's two teenage sons attempted a short journey near the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. Unfortunately for them, two miles from shore, the outboard motor stuttered, then stopped. As the current was pulling the boat away from shore, they threw an anchor line which soon broke. The current caught the boat as they helplessly watched the land slip away. The men unsuccessfully tried to flag down a ferry and a St. Kitts Coast Guard boat less than a mile away. Desperate, they tied the dead engine to a rope and threw it overboard as a makeshift anchor. Three hours later, winds tossed the tiny boat, snapping the rope. The men rowed against the ocean until the next day, when one of the oars broke. The current toyed with them for three days before hurling them into the open Caribbean. The men sipped seawater and killed a slow-moving pelican for food. But cuts became sores, heat exhaustion became heat stroke, sunburn turned to seeping blisters. Carty developed huge boils. Allen went mad and said he was going home. He jumped twice and was pulled back in before he finally jumped out for the last time and drowned. John Kins died soon after and his companions dumped his body overboard a few days later. Carty suffered wracking pains in his belly and head which spread until he stopped breathing sometime in the second week. Ferlance was the last to die. After 19 days, the survivors were rescued and they found themselves thankfully in a Mayaguez hospital, being treated for dehydration, malnutrition, skin burns and electrolytic imbalances. (The Associated Press).

August 30, 1998
In 1951 Bill Barilko scored the Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime. That same summer he died in a plane crash. The Leafs did not win another Stanley Cup until his body was discovered in 1962. (The Toronto Maple Leafs Ticket Office, donated by Cedric).

August 31, 1998
Everyone is familiar with the RCA logo with Nipper the dog listening to the RCA grammaphone. But the original picture had both the dog and the grammaphone sitting on his dead master's casket. The idea being that the closest thing to his dead master's voice was the RCA grammaphone. The ad was considered too morbid - so they removed the casket. More's the pity... (Deb And Jen's Land O'Useless Facts, donated by Cedric)