September 1996

September 1, 1996
I present the following fact as a warning to all football fans on this opening day of the season: San Francisco 49er fan George North was celebrating a victory by riding a rolling trash bin down a stadium ramp when the bin flipped over a cement wall and North fell 42 feet to his death.

September 2, 1996
Zip the Pinhead was billed as an exotic humanoid from the deepest jungles of Africa - "the last survivor of a dying race". In actuality, it was claimed that he was a gentleman from Harlem with an oddly shaped head. His last words seemed to confirm this: "Well, we fooled 'em a long time, didn't we?"

September 3, 1996
Back in the days of the sideshow freak, there existed a woman named Julia who was billed as "the Ugliest Woman in the World". A man named Lent had come across her in Mexico and had bought her and taken her under his wing, teaching her to sing and dance and play the guitar on stage. She was a tremendous success but Lent was worried when other producers began trying to lure Julia away from him, so he asked her to marry him. She became pregnant shortly afterwards and gave birth to a hideously ugly baby. Both she and the baby died shortly after the birth and Lent had their bodies mummified and continued to tour with them... until he found another equally ugly living woman to exploit. Sigh... the things some people will do for money.

September 4, 1996
The last words of Heinrich Heine, a German romantic poet who died in 1856 of tertiary syphilis, were, "God will forgive me - that's his job."

September 5, 1996
Dwarves were much prized as servants and entertainers in ancient China and Rome. Eventually, the population of "natural" dwarves was exhausted, so techniques were developed to manufacture dwarves from normal children. In China, children were placed in a topless and bottomless vase. The vase was constructed to prevent the shoulders and legs of the growing child from emerging from it. Month after month, the children's bodies grew inside the vase, but with no room to grow up or down, they expanded outward to fill the space inside the vase. Eventually, the vase was cracked open and, voila! A dwarf is born.

September 6, 1996
In 1978, Terry Kath from the band Chicago pointed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger to prove it wasn't loaded. It was. Oops...

September 7, 1996
Doctors during the Black Death in England wore a macabre mask which made them resemble a crow. The mask was actually a cone of leather, filled with herbs and garlic, which was believed to filter out the contagion. Of course, the plague was actually spread via flea bites so this helped the doctors little. Ah, the follies of the past...

September 8, 1996
After the famous Siamese Twins Chang and Eng retired from the sideshow scene, they settled down in a small log cabin town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. They married the daughters of a local minister and produced 22 children between them. Eventually, the sisters began to quarrel so they had to move in to two separate houses - they would live with Chang's wife for three days, and then with Eng's wife for three days. Amid all the domesticity, Chang - always the dominant twin - began to act up, becoming a raging alcoholic. This, of course, led to ill health. One morning Eng awoke and knew that something was horribly wrong. He called to one of his sons, who informed him that "Uncle Chang is dead". "Then I am going also," cried Eng. He held onto his brother as his own death approached. The two were buried in the same coffin, united in death as in life.

September 9, 1996
The "Elephant Man," John Merrick, was unable to sleep on his back due to his deformities because it might cut off his air supply. However, he always wanted to sleep "like normal people do". One night he decided to try it, despite the warnings. He did not survive the night.

September 10, 1996
In 1987, Lord Avebury of England rewrote his will to ensure that his body would be fed to his dogs when he died. Talk about devotion to one's pets!

September 11, 1996
Richard Rouse was a royal cook in Olde England. After the Bishop of Rochester came down ill after eating one of his meals, he was boiled to death in the town square. Good old king Henry VIII devised this punishment. Ah, the hazards of serving fickle kings...

September 12, 1996
Jack the Ripper was a master of the fine art of Overkill. For instance, when police found the body of the highly unfortunate Mary Kelly this is what they reported: "The whole of the surface of the abdomen and thighs was removed and the abdominal cavity emptied of its viscera. The breasts were cut off, the arms mutilated by several jagged wounds and the face hacked beyond recognition of the features. The tissues of the neck were severed all round down to the bone. The viscera were found in various parts viz: the uterus and kidneys with one breast under the head, the other breast by the right foot, the liver between the feet, the intestines by the right side and the spleen by the left side of the body. The flaps removed from the abdomen and thighs were on a table." Now, that's gotta hurt...

September 13, 1996
In Vampire folklore it was believed that epidemics and unexplained deaths were the work of a Revenant - a vengeful corpse of an unpleasant person who had recently died. To solve the problem, they would disinter the suspect and examine the corpse for signs of evil-doing and then pound a stake through their chest into the earth to keep them from leaving the grave again. A terrible odor was considered a very bad sign, as was any discharge of fluids, discoloration or swelling (these indicated the corpse was feeding on the townspeople). Of course, these were just normal results of the decomposition process... Also, any corpse that showed no signs of decomposition was also branded a Revenant, so you were just damned if you do and damned if you don't.

September 14, 1996
Back in the ultra-decadent and immensely sleazy Barbary Coast era in San Francisco (late 1800's), amid the prostitution dens and saloons, there existed a filthy beggar known as "Dirty Tom" McAlear. He never bathed and he earned a living by charging a few cents to eat or drink anything that was offered him, regardless of how disgusting it was, for the amusement of the passersby. (I think you can imagine the sorts of disgusting items that were offered him... If not, consult alt.binaries.tasteless for modern-day examples.) Eventually, his behavior was too much for even the usually quite tolerant San Franciscans and he was jailed for "making a beast of himself" in public.

September 15, 1996
24-year-old student Tetsuo Sugawara suffocated when he taped his nose and mouth shut as part of an experiment on the effects of breathing. Oh well... I don't think he'd have graduated anyway...

September 16, 1996
Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside (1824-1881) must surely go down in history as one of the worst military commanders of all-time. At the Battle of Antietam (1862), he sent masses of men across a narrow bridge where they were mercilessly slaughtered by Confederate gunners. (If he would have checked, he would have found that the river below was shallow enough to cross and he would have saved many lives.) At the siege of Petersburg, he had his men dig a tunnel beneath the enemy trenches. Explosives were placed beneath and after the explosion created a crater, he ordered his troops inside the crater, where they were gunned down by Confederate soldiers along the rim of the crater. President Lincoln summed it all up aptly, "Only Burnside could have managed such a coup, wringing one last spectacular defeat from the jaws of victory."

September 17, 1996
A woman in North Carolina was chopped up by her son one month after she put up his $10,000 bail when he was arrested for killing his stepfather. (Kids do the darndest things!)

September 18, 1996
Farzod Bazoft was an English journalist who was executed in Iraq in 1990 for allegedly being a spy. He maintained his innocence after his death by having his tombstone inscribed as follows: "I hope the world will decide after I have gone what kind of person I have really been. It is a shame to die without the world having heard the whole truth."

September 19, 1996
In 1983, a California man was suffocated when his waterbed rolled over on him while he slept.

September 20, 1996
A West Palm Beach woman and her daughter were electrocuted when lightning struck a pond and traveled up their fishing lines.

September 21, 1996
A member of a South Carolina wedding party was killed in 1992 when he was struck by the bridal couple's getaway aircraft as he mooned them on the runway. Now, that takes talent...

September 22, 1996
After Francesca Cruz killed her landlady, she dismembered the body, boiled the flesh, baked it, and left it in trash cans around L.A. as food for the homeless. As if the poor homeless didn't have enough to worry about...

September 23, 1996
In 1987, a man in Australia claimed that Bob Dylan's music had inspired him to kick his mother to death. I guess Dylan's voice could drive anyone to murder...

September 24, 1996
Another of the crueler methods of execution utilized in Olde England was the art of "drawing and quartering". The criminal was "drawn" - dragged along the ground by a horse - to the place of execution. Then he was gently hung - but not killed - while his guts were "drawn" out and burned before his eyes. Finally, he was decapitated and after that his body was cut into four pieces. In Russia, they practiced the more "traditional" method of "drawing and quartering": they would tie the prisoner's arms and legs to four different horses and - giddyup! After the prisoner's limbs were either severely dislocated or removed entirely, he would be beheaded.

September 25, 1996
Thomas Holmes - who worked in a Manhattan coroner's office in the 1840's - was the first American to develop and use embalming fluid. During the Civil War, Holmes worked embalming soldiers so their remains could be shipped home for a funeral and burial. After the war, Holmes opened a pharmacy in Brooklyn, where he sold home-brewed root beer and home made embalming fluid. (Nice combination, n'est pas?) He kept the embalmed head of a young girl in his shop as an example of his work. After he died, they found embalmed corpses buried in the pharmacy's basement.

September 26, 1996
One of the more ingenious methods of germ warfare was employed circa 1350 by the Tartars, who took the bodies of plague victims and catapulted them into whatever cities they were besieging.

September 27, 1996
Kevin McQuain, an 18-year-old student, was caught boiling the head of the former mayor of Syracuse, New York in his college dorm room. He said he took the head from a local cemetery to help with his classes. What a committed student!

September 28, 1996
Norine B. Cusick of Long Island City, NY, committed suicide in 1989 by climbing the foul pole at Shea Stadium and jumping 120 feet to the playing field.

September 30, 1996
In California in 1984, a young woman committed suicide by closing herself up in her family's dishwasher.