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What A Way To Go – Part Nineteen

mouse

It is about time this series was resurrected – a collection of gruesome but, it has to be said, amusing ways in which some poor unfortunates met their maker, whoever she may be. The only rules are – they have to be unusual, amusing and true.

The first up is the sad fate that befell Sam Wardell who was a lamplighter in the (ironically named, as it turned out) Flatbush district of New York. As you would imagine from his job description Sam needed to be up with the lark (or possibly even before) to extinguish the lights he had lit the previous evening. The mid 1880s were in the those antediluvian times before the mobile phone and so there was no app to summon him from the arms of Morpheus of a morning. Showing ingenuity beyond his station Sam adapted a standard alarm clock by connecting a wire to it the other end of which he fitted to a shelf. He placed a 10lb weight on the shelf.

When the alarm struck, the shelf would fall and the weight would crash on to the floor. The noise would be sufficient to wake the sleeping Sam.

All worked well until, as is often the way with those with an inventive streak, Sam couldn’t resist tweaking his creation. Around Christmas time he was proudly showing his friends his ingenious invention. Unfortunately, after a few sherberts he was not quite so punctilious in rearranging the contraption as he might have been.

Proving that Bacchus and Morpheus are not good bedfellows, the alarm struck at 5 o’clock and the stone fell – straight on to Sam’s head and that was the end of him.

The presence of a mouse seems to induce a hysterical and illogical reaction in many people and the sight of females in distress encourages many a red-blooded youth to ride to their rescue irrespective of the danger to themselves. This story from the Manchester Evening News details a tragic event that was played out on the shop floor of a factory in south London in 1875.

A mouse dashed across the work table to the consternation of the female workers present. Our hero stepped forward and seized the rodent. Alas, the rodent slipped from his grasp, ran up the lad’s sleeve and scurried towards the open neck of his shirt. The lad, mouth agape in horror, was further traumatised when the mouse shot into his mouth. The lad swallowed the creature. Being a small creature a mouse can survive a surprisingly long while on little air. Whilst it ultimately expired, the mouse put up a fierce resistance as it sought to escape, tearing and biting the inside of our hero’s throat and chest. The would-be hero, felled by a mouse, died of his wounds in terrible agony.

The lesson is clearly that discretion is the better part of valour!

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The Grim Reaper

angel of death

Regular readers of this blog will have deduced that I have a fascination with death and all its forms. It was with some alarm that I read the other day that there is another killer on the loose ready to strike us down at any time. This one is called Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.

I learnt about this new threat to our daily existence whilst reading a report of the inquest into the death of one Lee Halpin who was found dead in an upstairs room of a boarded-up hostel in Newcastle during a period of particularly low temperatures. Halpin had been sleeping rough whilst making a film about the plight of the homeless. The coroner scotched theories that hypothermia may have been the cause of death.

The court heard that there were no suspicious marks on his body and that Halpin’s organs were healthy and normal. Tests conducted by a toxicologist showed that whilst there was alcohol in Halpin’s body it was at levels which were around the normal drink-drive level. The only traces of drugs to be found were consistent with the anti-depressants that Halpin had been prescribed. Tests on his heart showed that it was in a good condition and perfectly sound.

Reviewing all the evidence before him the coroner concluded that the cause of death was sudden adult death syndrome and that Halpin had died of natural causes.

I have added this silent killer to my list of menaces to be on the alert for. Apparently the signs that it has struck are pretty clear. The victim will cease breathing and their vital organs will stop functioning. They will grow cold and their body will stiffen. If SADS strikes, the only thing for it is the put the victim’s body in a box and then either bury it six feet below ground-level or incinerate it.

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

What A Way To Go – Part Sixteen

ming

Continuing our occasional series of unusual (and amusing) deaths.

Let me relate to you the sad tale of Ming the mollusc. Ming was an ocean quahog, which is a cockle-shaped bivalve. The quahog has a thick, glossy shell, dark brown in colour, and can grow up to 13 centimetres in size. They live buried in sand and muddy sand to depths of up to 500 metres, often with their shells entirely hidden and with just a small tube extending up to the surface of the seabed. The siphon is used to breathe, capture food and expel waste. They are a particular favourite source of food for cod and are eaten by us humans too.

Well, our good friend Ming had managed to evade the attentions of the dwindling cod population and was happily minding its own business in the Icelandic seabed, doing whatever it is that quahogs do, until it was scooped up by researchers in 2006. The men (and women) in white coats from Bangor University popped him into a freezer, to attend to him at a later date.

The way to establish the age of a quahog is to count the growth rings on the hinge of its shell – a bit like the way you establish the age of a tree (after you have cut it down). The scientists dutifully counted the rings on Ming’s shell and established that he was 400 years old. This discovery was enough to ensure a place for the mollusc in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest living creature.

However, the scientists, according to a report in the must-read journal, ScienceNordic, decided to recalculate the creature’s age. The problem was that because the mollusc was so old many of the rings had run into each other, making it incredibly difficult to distinguish each line and count them.

The only way, they deduced, to get an accurate read of his age was to prise open the shell. Unfortunately, the act of prising the shell open did for the poor creature. The good news is that the scientists discovered that Ming was even older than originally thought, coming in at an impressive 507. The bad news is that the creature, which had been spawned in 1499, seven years after Columbus landed in the North American continent, is no more. A tragic waste for a creature that had minded its own business for so long and a shameful example of scientific incompetence. The scientists tried to put a brave face on the tragedy by saying that lots of quahorns are caught commercially and there is no telling whether molluscs even older than Ming perish during the process. OK, but you expect scientists to take more care of their specimens.

Reports do not establish whether the felony was compounded by serving Ming up on toast.

Ming the mollusc, rest in peace (or pieces)!

What A Way To Go – Part Fifteen

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Continuing our occasional series of unusual (and amusing) deaths

Sir Arthur Aston (1590 – 1649)

Sir Arthur, a native of Cheshire and from a prominent Catholic family, was a career soldier who prior to getting entangled in the English Civil War saw considerable service as a mercenary in the Polish-Swedish wars, being taken prisoner by the Swedes near Danzig in 1627. As is the way with mercenaries, upon his release he joined the Swedes and was contracted to raise an English army which he did in 1631 and which fought in Germany.

Although he was doubtless an accomplished soldier, when the English Civil War broke out, Charles I was reluctant to use his services because of Aston’s Catholicism but Prince Rupert interceded on his behalf and he saw service on behalf of the king during the Edgehill campaign. Then when Charles captured Oxford, which he made his capital, Aston was sent to command an outpost at Reading. There he became deeply unpopular with the locals because of his authoritarian behaviour and demonstrated a degree of misfortune which was to dog him through the rest of his life when he was struck on the head by a falling tile whilst the garrison was being besieged. He was then captured by the Roundheads but gained his liberty as part of a prisoner exchange.

In late 1643 Aston became governor of Oxford, a post he held until the following September when he fell off his horse, lost a leg and had to have a false leg fitted – see picture. This led to his discharge from the army and the receipt of a large pension from his grateful king.

Aston next came into prominence during the Irish rebellion and he was appointed governor of the strategic port Drogheda in 1648. The following year Cromwell’s troops put the port under siege in what became the most vicious episode of the campaign. Eventually storming the town the Roundheads massacred many of the defending troops and citizens, forcing Aston to agree terms for surrender. Unfortunately, Cromwell’s troops reneged on the deal and proceeded to slay the rest of the unfortunate townsfolk.

Aston himself perished in what can only be described as unusual and amusing circumstances. The Roundheads took him prisoner and spotting his wooden leg surmised that he was using his prosthetic to conceal treasure. They ripped the wooden leg from Aston and in an attempt to break open the leg started beating him around the head with it. Unfortunately for the troops it contained no gold and, unfortunately for Aston, being made of solid wood inflicted injuries on him from which he expired. And so his long military career came to an ignoble end!

What A Way To Go – Part Twelve

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Continuing our series of unusual (and amusing) deaths.

I have mentioned before that I have made it a rule of life to eschew all forms of physical exercise. My ability to keep this rule increases with the onset of old age and senility because the forms of exercise I could even contemplate reduce considerably.

For the older generation who have the strange compulsion to take exercise, a gentle game of bowls is often seen as the answer. You can often see groups of white clad pensioners congregated around a bowling green, taking it in turns to bend their arthritic limbs and fire their bowl in the general direction of the jack.

In France, their equivalent is a game of petanque, which is played by as many as 17 million and is a popular summer pastime. There are some 350,000 players registered with the FFJFP (the Federation Francaise de Petanque t Jeu Provencal). Played on hard dirt or gravel, although it can also be played on grass or sand, the object of the exercise is to throw hollow metal balls, whilst standing with both feet firmly planted on the ground in the starting circle, as close as possible to the cochonnet or jack. The current form of the game originated in La Ciotat in Provence in 1907 and its name is derived from pes tancats, meaning feet anchored.

Patronisingly, you might think that is nice to see the old codgers enjoying themselves and getting some exercise. Harmless fun, you might think.

But the grim reaper lurks in the most unusual places as this report from France a few days ago shows.

An 84-year-old man was minding his own business, playing in a petanque competition at Place de la Republique in the Seine-et-Marne area south of Paris. Imagine his surprise when he was confronted by an elephant which had made a run for it after performing at a nearby circus. The pachyderm broke out of its enclosure which was surrounded by electric wire by placing a tarpaulin over the fence.

Faced by the petanque player the elephant lashed out and struck him with his trunk, knocking the poor unfortunate to the ground. Although he was helicoptered to hospital, the man failed to recover and died. The elephant was soon recaptured by his keepers.

It just goes to show, when your number is up it is well and truly up!

What A Way To Go – Part Eleven

angel of death

 

Continuing our occasional series on unusual (and amusing) deaths.

Being President of the United States doesn’t make you immune from the attentions of the grim reaper. Take the case of Zachary Taylor. After a particularly warm Independence Day celebration in 1850 he went home and raided the family ice box for something to snack on. He selected some iced milk and some cherries. Almost immediately, he fell ill and within five days was dead. There are a number of theories centring around the cause of the unfortunate Taylor’s death – some even thought he had been poisoned – but it seems more likely that it was either because the milk contained some deadly bacteria or that the combination of the acidic cherries with the milk was too much for Taylor’s sensitive stomach. Either way, the moral of the story is to be very careful what you put in your mouth as the demise of George M Prior demonstrates.

Prior was a Navy Lieutenant and spent his shore leave playing golf at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia. He exhibited symptoms of nausea after the first day of golf and by the end of the third day had a high temperature and a rash. Prudently, George admitted himself to hospital and whilst there large blisters appeared. Within ten days or so he was dead with eighty per cent of his body covered in burns and blisters. Upon investigation, it appeared that Prior habitually put his golf tee into his mouth. Unfortunately, in order to maintain its pristine condition, the course had been sprayed with fungicide. Our golfer had an allergic reaction to the fungicide which burned his skin from the inside out and caused his major organs to fail.

I am the last person to be accused of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. A little bit of what you fancy does you good, I always say. To illustrate the point that Aristotle’s golden mean – moderation in everything – is the way to live your life, consider the demise of Basil Brown in 1974. Brown was committed to healthy living and drank a gallon of carrot juice a day and took excessive amounts of Vitamin A when he couldn’t get enough of the juice. His zealous pursuit of the healthy lifestyle was his undoing – he died from hypervitaminosis A, a massive overdose of Vitamin A that caused his liver to shut down.

People do the strangest things to win a prize. Edward Archbold, along with 30 others, entered a competition to win a python. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I admit. The competition required the contestants to eat a variety of insects – a sort of early forerunner of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. Having chomped his way through a large number of cockroaches, two ounces of mealworms and 35 horn worms – a type of caterpillar – Archbold, not surprisingly, collapsed. On admittance to hospital he was pronounced dead. Cause of death – his airway was blocked by the body parts of the insects he had consumed!

You have been warned!

 

What A Way To Go – Part Ten

angel of death

 

Continuing our occasional series of strange (and amusing) deaths…

It is an unfortunate fact of life (and death) that you are not safe from the predations of the grim reaper anywhere. Take the recently reported case of Joao Maria de Souza who was lying in bed with his wife, Leni, in their home in Caratinga in Brazil. Imagine his surprise when his repose was rudely interrupted by a cow falling through the roof of his house and landing on top of him. It is reported that the cow escaped from a nearby farm and clambered onto the roof of the couple’s home which backs on to a steep hill. As you might imagine, the roof which was constructed out of corrugated iron, gave way under the weight of the one and a half ton beast. Unsurprisingly, as well as suffering from shock, Joao suffered a fractured left leg but when he was rescued was reported to be lucid. He met his maker, though, as a result of internal bleeding whilst waiting for medical attention. His brother-in-law, Carlos Correa, was credited with the immortal line, “Being crushed by a cow in your bed is the last way you expect to leave this earth”. How very true!

I am pleased to report, however, that neither Leni nor the cow were hurt.

And now a cautionary tale from the badlands of East Grinstead, particularly for those of us who like a night on the electric sauce from time to time. At his post-mortem the coroner heard how Andrew Evans had consumed a lot of alcohol during the day prior to his death – he was four times over the drink drive limit. At some point during the day he must have hit his head (as you do) but due to his intoxicated condition didn’t appreciate how serious the bang was. A friend of his called on the unfortunate Mr Evans and although he could see Evans standing in the kitchen with his right hand reaching into a cupboard, he could get no response from his mate and quickly realised he was dead. In reconstructing this unusual case, the court believed that the head injury caused Evans to bleed heavily and ultimately to die of asphyxiation after blacking out in the kitchen, his fall being broken by the kitchen fittings which caused him to remain upright.

The coroner, Dr David Skipp, another sage of our time, noted that “It is unusual for a man whose alcohol levels were high to be found stood against a work surface”. In my experience, it is unusual for a man to be seen anywhere near a kitchen whatever state he is in but that may just be me.

You have been warned!

 

What A Way To Go (8)

angel of death

Continuing our occasional series of unusual (and amusing) deaths.

I have always considered death by asphyxiation to be one of the most unpleasant ways to meet your maker, particularly if your demise is as a result of the best of intentions on the part of your inamorata. Consider the fate of James Betts who, in 1687, was sealed in a cupboard by Elizabeth Spencer at Corpus Christi college, Cambridge in an attempt to hide him from her father, John Spencer. His daughter was entertaining a young undergraduate when her father interrupted them. She hid the student in a wardrobe (which college records state only opened from the outside) where he was left for a long time and asphyxiated. In a fit of grief, Elizabeth committed suicide and her ghost is said to walk the courts of the college every Christmas Eve.

Immolation has been used as a means of getting rid of an unsuitable heir. King Yeongjo of Joseon came to the opinion that his son, Crown Prince Sado (perhaps aptly named) was unsuitable to succeed him as king of Korea. The king had received reports his son was mentally ill, wantonly killing people and very erratic. Naturally, this was a great disappointment to the king and with the consent of the queen, Lady Li, he finally ordered his son to be sealed alive in a large rice chest, where he died within eight days in 1762.

Staying in hotels can be injurious to your health. Arsenic used to colour wallpaper and curtains green was a silent killer in Victorian times. Hydrogen cyanide was another killer, used to rid rooms of bed bugs. Poor Dan Andersson, a Swedish author, booked himself in at the Hotel Hellman in Stockholm in 1920 only to die of cyanide poisoning because the staff had failed to get rid of traces of the poison from his rooms.

Exercising your pets can imperil you. Consider the fate of Alexander 1, the king of the Hellenes, who in 1920 was taking a walk in the Royal Gardens with his dog when his pooch was attacked by a monkey. In attempting to defend the mutt the king was bitten by the monkey, clearly no respecter of his royal personage. The diseased bites caused sepsis and three weeks later the king died.

And finally (for the time being), a cautionary tale about that odd American game, baseball. Ray “Chappie” Chapman played for the Cleveland Indians at the time. In a tense game in 1920, pitcher, Carl Mays, playing for the New York Yankees, threw a submarine ball – for the uninitiated, the ball is released underhand and just above the ground, with the torso bent at a right angle and shoulders tilted so severely that they rotate around a nearly horizontal axis. The impact of the ball striking Chapman in the head was so loud that Mays thought it had hit Chapman’s bat. Mays caught the ball as it bounced onto the field and threw it to Pipp at first base. Chapman fell to the ground twice trying to make his way to first base. The unfortunate hitter was taken to a hospital, where surgeons operated and discovered a skull fracture. He initially seemed to rally after the surgery but died early in the morning on the following day. The game and Mays carried on with Cleveland winning 4-3. In the subsequent investigation the New York District Attorney determined that the incident was an accident, and no charges were filed. The submarine ball was subsequently banned.

What A Way To Go – Part Seven

angel of death

 

Continuing our occasional series of bizarre (and amusing) deaths.

Those of you who like the music of Burning Spear and other Rastafarian-influenced reggae stars will be familiar with the esteem in which Marcus Garvey is held. Born in 1887 Garvey was a leading black activist, famous for espousing the repatriation of blacks to Africa. He was considered to be a prophet of the Rastafarian religion and was believed to be a reincarnation of John the Baptist. Garvey’s demise was both strange and ironic – he suffered a double stroke after reading a premature obituary about himself. The obituary would have done nothing to cheer him up – it was dismissive of his politics and achievements and stated that he had died broke, alone and unpopular. No wonder it did for him.

Sherwood Anderson was an influential American author in the early part of the twentieth century and was a trailblazer for the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald and Hemmingway. Whilst at a party he ate an olive. Unfortunately, the olive contained a sliver of a toothpick. It damaged his gastrointestinal tract, caused an infection and he died a few days later from peritonitis.

The Yardbirds were one of the most influential groups of the sixties and spawned many a famous lead guitarist, Clapton, Page and Beck amongst them. A lesser light was Keith Relf who was a member post-Clapton and during the Page-Beck era. He eventually disbanded the group and went on to form a heavy-metal group, Armageddon. He met his end in truly bizarre circumstances – being electrocuted while playing an improperly grounded electric guitar.

Throughout history smallpox was a virulent killer and its eradication was a triumph for medical science. However, the death of its last known victim occurred in unusual circumstances. Janet Parker was a University of Birmingham medical photographer who worked in the same building as Henry Bedson, a prominent smallpox researcher. To this day, all that is known is that Janet’s smallpox infection came from that lab—nobody knows how she was contaminated, or how the virus was able to escape the lab. Dr. Bedson, ironically, had recently come under criticism from the World Health Organization for his lab not being up to their safety standards—standards that he had defended in a sharply worded letter, just days before Janet Parker was infected. Parker died in September 1978 ten months after the last natural case of smallpox. Five days later Bedson committed suicide.

Until the development of CGI technology film directors had to get more and more creative to produce sensational scenes but that in itself can create unanticipated dangers. Boris Sagal, a film director, was directing a TV movie in Oregon. Whilst setting up the scene involving a helicopter,  he backed into its rotor and was decapitated. Strangely, almost a year later, Vic Morrow, an actor, died on the set of Twilight Zone in precisely the same circumstances. Sagal had directed a couple of episodes of the Twilight Zone and wrote most of the script of the movie that Morrow was shooting – except the helicopter scene. Spooky!

What A Way To Go – Part Six

angel

Continuing our occasional series about unusual (an amusing) deaths.

There are some occasions when you just don’t have enough hands and you end up deploying other parts of your body to assist, notably your mouth. This practice can be dangerous as the fate of the famous playwright, Tennessee Williams – Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof etc – shows. The playwright had opened a bottle of eye drops to administer to himself and decided to hold the top in his mouth. Leaning back to allow the drops to enter his eyes more effectively, the cap loosened and lodged in his windpipe. Tennessee never recovered.

Those who are of an artistic temperament are known for being so wrapped up in their performance that they are oblivious to their surroundings. Add to this the less than effective ‘Elf and Safety regime that operated in days gone by. Result, potential for disaster as the famous prima ballerina, Emma Livry, demonstrated in 1863. While rehearsing her dress got too close to the footlights at a rehearsal – they were naked flames in those days – and caught light. She suffered from severe burns and died eight months later still in agony.

If you are going to die, it may give your poltergeist and your grieving relatives some satisfaction to know that your death was the first of its kind. This may have been the source of consolation for the friends and family of Mary Ward. In 1869, she accepted, as you do, a kind invitation from her cousins who numbered the future steam turbine inventor, Charles Algernon Parsons, to take a ride in a steam car they had built. Unfortunately, for reasons which are not clear she fell from the car and was crushed under the wheels. She did not survive but earned a place in history by being the first person to be killed in a road accident involving a powered vehicle.

Your skull is thick for a reason – to give you extra protection. Sometimes, however, all your skull can do is delay the inevitable. Witness the fate of David Lunt from Deadwood, South Dakota. He was accidentally shot in the head when trying to stop a fight between Tom Smith and the town’s Marshal, Con Stapleton. The bullet passed through his brain and left entry and exit wounds but he remained unconscious throughout and suffered no pain. However, his trauma caught up with him 67 days later when he suffered a terrible headache and died. The autopsy revealed that the bullet wound had killed him but could not reveal why it took so long to do so.

William Holden, who starred in Bridge over the River Kwai, slipped on a rug in his home, hit his head on a bedside table and bled to death. His body was only discovered four days later. The autopsy revealed that he may have been alive for thirty minutes after his fall but due to the amount of alcohol he had consumed, may not have realised the extent and severity of his injuries at the time.

To be continued.