Letting the Dead Rest in Peace

coffin torpedo grave robbers body snatchers

Grave robbery was not something that just showed up in Frankenstein stories. In the last half of the 19th century, human corpses were in high demand by medical schools, and the body snatching market grew in response. No one’s remains were considered off limits. Extraordinary measures had to be taken to protect the body of President Abraham Lincoln.  One notable person whose body was stolen was John Scott Harrison, the only man who was both the son of a US President (William Henry Harrison) and the father of a US President (Benjamin Harrison). Outrage over the theft of his mortal remains sparked the first landmark legislation to address the growing problem.

Not content to wait until the law addressed the issue, inventors put their minds toward creative ways to make sure the dead could rest in peace. In 1878 Phil Clover of Columbus, Ohio received U.S. Patent No. 208,672 for the coffin torpedo, a shotgun-like device to be placed on top of a buried coffin lid. Anyone who attempted to uncover the grave would be rewarded with a shotgun blast.

Coffin torpedo patent
Illustration accompanying Patent No. 208,672, for P.K. Clover’s Coffin Torpedo.

Clover’s invention was put to the test in 1881 in Knox County, Ohio, when three would-be grave robbers ended up needed graves for themselves after uncovering a coffin torpedo.

While grave robbery is no longer the problem it once was, it should be noted that an unknown number of coffin torpedoes are still out there, silently guarding any number of graves. Whether you have evil intent or simply go digging in the wrong spot, be aware that the next shovelful of earth you move might be your last.

Wearing the Crown Takes a Lot of Heart

Robert the Bruce Coat of Arms

Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) reigned as King of Scots from 1306 to 1329. He led a ragtag bunch of Scottish farmers to defeat England’s Edward II’s professional army that was four times the size of Scotland’s. He unified the Scots and secured their freedom from England and is remembered as the greatest of Scotland’s monarchs. Such a man would have to have a lot of heart.

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Last Words to an Astonished Nun

 

final words of Brendan Behan
Brendan Behan (1923-1964)

Irish playwright Brendan Behan was known for his sardonic wit. It is unknown whether it was this quality or distraction by his circumstances that led him to utter his last words to the astonished nun who attended him: “Bless you, Sister. May all your sons be bishops.”

Was Tycho a Psycho? Weird Facts About One of History’s Greatest Astronomers

Tycho Brahe fun facts death nose drunk moose elk

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was one of the greatest astronomers to ever live. He was also probably at least a little bit off his gourd, if history is to judge. The Danish astronomer who brought a new level of exactitude to astronomical observations and applied that specificity to the theories and observations of Copernicus and Ptolemy, guaranteed his place in history as one of the last “naked eye” astronomers, working without telescopes for his observations. Perhaps his genius as a man of science has helped him be remembered for something other than the following quirks: Continue reading

He Gave Away His Lucky Flower — and Ran Out of Luck

William McKinley gave away his lucky carnation moments before being assassinated

President William McKinley was known for wearing a red carnation. He referred to it as his “lucky flower,” and he began the practice of placing a fresh carnation in his lapel after winning his first Congressional campaign in 1876. His opponent in that race was Levi Lamborn, an amateur horticulturist, who gave McKinley a carnation to wear for their debates. After the successful election, McKinley viewed the red carnation as a good luck charm and routinely kept a supply on hand to wear and to give away.

On September 6, 1901 the President was sporting a fresh flower in his lapel as he opened the World’s Fair in Buffalo, New York. As he stood in a receiving line, shaking hands with guests, McKinley’s face lit up at the sight of little girl named Myrtle Ledger. He removed his flower from his jacket and presented it to her, saying, “I must give this flower to another little flower.”

Standing in line a short distance behind young Myrtle was Leon Czolgosz, a self-proclaimed anarchist. When he reached the President, he fired two bullets at him, one of which proved fatal.

In honor of the late President’s fondness for the flower, the Ohio legislature proclaimed the scarlet red carnation to be the official state flower of Ohio. The man who was instrumental in making this happen was none other than Levi Lamborn, the man who presented McKinley with his first red carnation.

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Springtime at the Gallows

hanging judge death sentence Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales
photo credit: floral arrangements by Lyotta (http://lyotta.deviantart.com/). Used by permission.
Justice in the Old West was quick, decisive, and occasionally poetic. Witness this colorful death sentence issued in United States v Gonzales (1881), U.S. District Court, New Mexico Territory.

Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, in a few short weeks, it will be spring. The snows of winter will flee away, the ice will vanish, and the annual miracle of the years will awaken and come to pass, but you won’t be there.

The rivulet will run its course to the sea, the timid desert flowers will put forth their tender shoots, the glorious valleys of this imperial domain will blossom as the rose. Still, you won’t be there to see.

From every treetop some wild woods songster will carol his mating song, butterflies will sport in the sunshine, the busy bee will hum happy as it pursues its accustomed vocation. The gentle breeze will tease the tassels of the wild grasses, and all nature, Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, will be glad, but you.

You won’t be there to enjoy it because I command the sheriff, or some officer of the county, to lead you out to some remote spot, swing you by the neck from a knotting bough of a sturdy oak, and let you hang until you are dead.

And then, Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzalez, I further command that such officer retire quickly from your dangling corpse, that vultures may descend from the heavens upon your filthy body until nothing shall remain but bare, bleached bones of a cold-blooded, blood-thirsty, throat-cutting, chili-eating, sheep-herding, murdering son of a bitch.

It should be noted that despite frequent references to the contrary, this sentence was not handed down by Judge Roy Bean or Judge Isaac Parker — both known as “The Hanging Judge.”

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Together in School, War, and Death

students University of Mississippi Civil War 100% casualties

College students have been ditching classes for centuries, but rarely in such numbers as to effect the educational institution. Even the most casual observer would have known that this was no ordinary skipping of classes at the University of Mississippi in May 1861. Out of the 139 students enrolled, 135 left the school on May 4 to enlist with the Confederacy to fight in the Civil War. With such a mass exodus of students, the University was forced to temporarily close its doors.

Any hopes of seeing these students-turned-soldiers return to their studies were disappointed. The classmates enlisted in Company A of the 11th Mississippi and became known as the University Greys. They fought together for two years until the Battle of Gettysburg. As key participants in Pickett’s Charge, the Greys penetrated further into the Union position than any other unit, they paid an extremely heavy price. Every soldier in the Greys was either killed or wounded, leaving the University Greys with a 100% casualty rate.

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