5Visiting Paris' Public Morgue
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Let's say you're some kind of highfalutin official in the mid-19th century version of a big city like, say, Paris, and you've got more dead bodies popping up than you know what to do with. How do you handle this situation?
We'll tell you how they handled it: They built the Paris Morgue right down the block from the Cathedral of Notre Dame, set up a glass-walled refrigerator room, and propped up all the dead folk on slabs so that the general public could filter through and gawk at their general deadness.
And from that day forward, the sight of bare breasts gave little Jean-Paul the liquid terror shits.
The idea, supposedly, was that the public could help identify the unknown corpses, which was the old-timey version of DNA testing. That's why you can see the dead dudes' clothes hanging behind them in the drawing above. However, the public morgue was visited by as many as 40,000 people every day (about the same as Disney World), and it was clear that, like, two guys came to actually do that -- what started with practical intentions soon metamorphosed into a full-fledged social phenomenon, with scads of Parisians and tourists, young and old alike, gathering at the morgue day after day to harrumph and/or swoon at the latest additions.
Via Spectacular Realities
That poor little bastard on the right is in both pictures, proving he has the world's worst mother.
The morgue made it into all the official guidebooks to the city and was so popular with the locals that one newspaper reported, "It would be difficult to find a Parisian, native or transplanted, who does not make his pilgrimage." The visitors even had a nickname for the displayed corpses -- macchabees -- and we're not sure if it makes it more or less skeevy that they were staring at (sometimes nude) corpses in varying states of decay like some kind of high art display.
After enjoying a nearly half-century run as the coldest hot spot in Paris, the morgue was finally closed to the public in 1907 when people realized that, holy shit, things like books and theaters existed.
Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
Of course, they read nothing but books about corpses, but it was a step in the right direction.
4Collecting Murderers Like Action Figures
Even Victorian-era Londoners liked to collect action figures, so it's totally not sad that you paid $150 for that statue of Mega Man's dog. Only instead of buying replicas of superheroes or semi-naked girls, people back then collected tiny little murderers. Like this guy:
Those are life-size, by the way. That's just how short people were back then.
Those are earthenware figures of James Blomfield Rush, and they probably seem like a perfectly mundane thing to collect -- until you realize that the one in the back depicts Rush choking some dude to death while apparently also letting a dog snack on his sausage. That's because he was the perpetrator of the Murders at Stanfield Hall, the gruesome double murder of Rush's employer, Isaac Jermy, and his son, Isaac Jermy Jermy (the Jermy clan wasn't completely comfortable with the whole "middle name" concept). And decorating your shelf with murderers was far from a one-time thing, as evidenced by these dust collectors right here:
"Do you have anything in a stabbing? Or maybe a more subtle living room piece, like a poisoning?"
These figures depict the famous Red Barn Murder, a case in which known ladies' man William Corder knocked up his paramour, Maria Marten, and then strangled her with his handkerchief, which of course was considered the gentlemanly way to murder your illicit lover. If you look closely at the figure of the barn, that's Corder luring Marten inside, where he would eventually bury her beneath the floorboards.
Not every Victorian family could afford fancy pottery depicting the day's trendiest murderer, but there was a cheaper alternative: collectible death pamphlets. On the day of an execution, peddlers roamed the streets hawking broadsides featuring a detailed account of the murder and the resulting execution in verse (with illustrations!), belting out this "execution ballad" the entire way to attract customers.
Jermy tragically died while doing jazz hands.
Some of the more popular ones sold millions of copies. Think of it as 19th century London's version of buying MP3 singles, if instead of breaking up with her boyfriends Taylor Swift brutally murdered them all.