A Dubious Honor

John Heidegger (1666-1749)
John Heidegger (1666-1749)

John Heidegger rose to fame in Switzerland and later in England as a promoter of masquerade balls. It should be no surprise that Heidegger was drawn to a profession that depended on masks and disguises. Heidegger, by his own admission, was the ugliest person in the country. Called “Count Ugly” by some and described by one woman as “the most ugly man that ever was formed,” Heidegger did not seem to be insulted; rather, he reveled in the attention.

When from Lord Chesterfield wagered he could find someone uglier than Heidegger, Count Ugly eagerly accepted the bet. On the day Chesterfield was to produce his specimen of hideousness, he paraded a woman from the slums of London whose repulsive appearance was certain to give Heidegger a run for his money.

Ironically, it was the unfortunately woman who decided the issue. Heidegger snatched the woman’s hat off of her head and placed it on his own. As the woman looked at the truly-grotesque sight of John Heidegger wearing a woman’s hat, she fainted, leaving Heidegger the undisputed ugliest person in England.

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire. Really. As in, “Help! Fire!”

A makeshift house comparable to the one built for the Gillingham disaster
A makeshift house comparable to the one built for the Gillingham disaster

Every year the firemen of Gillingham, in Kent, England, would construct a makeshift house out of wood and canvas for the popular fire-fighting demonstration at the fundraiser for St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.

As part of the festivities  several local boys would typically be selected to help out by playing the parts of members of a wedding party. Dressed in costume, the boys climbed to the third floor of the house and remained there while a smoke fire on the first floor created the illusion of an emergency.

On July 11, 1929, nine boys – aged 10 to 14 – and six firemen waited on the top floor, awaiting rescue, when the fake fire suddenly developed into the real thing. An actual emergency broke out, but spectators assumed they were witnessing some very convincing acting, so they did nothing to prevent the ensuring tragedy.

While the inhabitants of the house screamed and yelled for help, spectators cheered and clapped, assuming the burning bodies were merely dummies.

All 15 people inside the house died.

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Don’t Be a Writer If You Can’t Handle Rejection Letters

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

“Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable soddingrotters, the flaming sods, the sniveling, dribbling, dithering, palsied, pulse-less lot that make up England today. They’ve got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery it’s a marvel they can breed.” — English author D.H. Lawrence, in a letter to Edward Garnett, expressing anger that his manuscript for Sons and Lovers was rejected. (July 3, 1912)

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Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

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The World’s Biggest Liar competition is held every year in Cumbria, England. Contestants have five minutes to tell the biggest and most-convincing lie.

Lawyers and politicians are barred from participating, out of the theory that they are too good at it and have an unfair advantage.

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An Odd Bit of Odds

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II

In 2011 European bookies were putting the odds of Queen Elizabeth II abdicating and replacing Bruce Forsyth as the host of the popular BBC dance competition Strictly Come Dancing at 50,000 to 1. source

To put that in context consider the odds of the following:

  • Being struck by lightning in one’s lifetime: 1 in 12,000 source
  • Dying in a plane crash: 1 in 7,178 source
  • Dying in a car crash: 1 in 5,000 source
  • Being elected President of the United States: 1 in 10 million source
  • Being killed by a shark: 1 in 3,748,067 source
  • A well-shuffled deck of cards returning to the same order twice: 1 in 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,505,440,883,277,824,000,000,000,000 source

 

He Was a Scrooge When It Came to Henry VIII

King Henry VIII of England
King Henry VIII of England

Charles Dickens didn’t mince words when it came to King Henry VIII: “The plain truth is, that he was a most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of blood and grease upon the History of England.”

Next Time, Break the News More Gently

Sr. Thomas Urquhart
Sir Thomas Urquhart

The Scottish aristocrat Thomas Urquhart (1611-1660), polymath and first translator of Rabelais into English, is said to have died laughing upon hearing that Charles II had reclaimed the throne.

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