5 Irreplaceable Cultural Treasures (Destroyed By Stupidity)
As we have previously discussed on more than one occasion, the Universe has a habit of allowing irreplaceable examples of human creativity to be destroyed by Mr. Bean levels of bumbling stupidity. Whether it's priceless works of art getting cooked in an oven or historical landmarks being demolished by angry homeowners, people always find a way to undercut our greatest achievements with pettiness, vanity, or downright idiocy.
A Guy Risked Death On D-Day To Get Combat Photos, And An Intern Ruined Them
Anyone who's seen the opening battle scene of Saving Private Ryan knows it's a miracle that we have any pictures of the D-Day invasion at all, because a beach full of trained soldiers getting straight-up blown away is not a safe place for unarmed photographers. But against all conceivable odds (and in direct opposition to the innate human will to survive), we do in fact have photos from right in the thick of that battle -- 11 of them, to be precise. And it's all thanks to preeminent wartime photographer Robert Capa, whose personal mantra was "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough."
Also, we'd have way more than 11 D-Day photographs if it weren't for a single, bumbling intern.
Capa was among the second wave of troops to hit Omaha Beach. And he was in just as much danger as any of them, because German defenders didn't give a single loose Sauerbraten shit whether the thing you were pointing at them was a rifle or a telephoto lens. Covered in blood and bits of tattered troops, holding his cameras above water with shaking hands, and protecting his film canisters as if they were his life's blood, Capa managed to capture 106 insanely close-up images of the invasion. And unlike most of his colleagues, Capa actually managed to ensure his film survived the day, because he carried it off the beach his goddamned self.
Problem was, this was long before the Instagram era, when we can watch our images disseminate to the entire world with the flick of a finger. On his return to London, Capa handed his precious rolls of film over to staff members at Life magazine for developing. Said staff members then shrugged and handed the duty off to 15-year-old lab assistant Dennis Banks, who, in the time-honored tradition of 15-year-olds throughout history, fucked everything up instantly.
Upon hanging the film to dry, Banks was practically shitting himself at how utterly soul-crushing the photographs were. But then -- perhaps due to his excitement, but probably more because editors were incessantly screaming deadlines at him -- he cranked the heat up too far in an attempt to dry them faster. Of the four rolls of film that Capa had gone to hell and back to capture, Banks melted three and a half of them.
Ironically, the heat damage done to the surviving 11 photos is what lent them the blurry, otherworldly quality that is part of what makes them so memorable to this day. So if you're the generous type, you could say that Banks did the world a favor by utterly destroying 90 percent of history's hardest-earned photographs.
As a reward, Capa refrained from destroying 90 percent of his ass.
A Priceless Leonardo Da Vinci Ink Sketch Was Erased By Overzealous Historians
Finding a previously undiscovered work of one of the most famous Renaissance masters isn't something that happens every day. So imagine the art world's furor when a new Leonardo da Vinci ink sketch -- instantly worth millions of dollars -- was discovered stashed among drawings by Italian draughtsman and painter Stefano della Bella. The sketch was of Orpheus being attacked by the Furies, drawn up for a production of contemporary Renaissance playwright Agnolo Poliziano's Orpheus.
The more observant among you may have noticed that we are referring to this priceless sketch in the past tense. That's because no sooner had restorers gotten their hands on it than they plopped it into a solution of alcohol and water. The problems with this technique were twofold. First, the restorers utterly failed to follow the common protocol of testing any restoration technique on a small, minimally noticeable area first, rather than basting the entire work in solution. Second, da Vinci used delicate vegetable-based inks, and dipping said inks into an alcohol solution had roughly the same result as rubbing a grape juice stain with a Tide pen.
As a result, the world was left with a blank piece of paper that was once owned by Leonardo da Vinci, for whatever that's worth. But Italian historian Carlo Pedretti is still hopeful that the sketch can one day be recovered using hi-tech chemicals or nuclear procedures. We are equally optimistic, if for no other reason than that we never realized blasting a piece of paper with white-hot radiation was a tool in the art historian utility belt.
A Man Demolished Shakespeare's Final Home Because He Was Tired Of Tourists
From Ernest Hemingway's Key West home to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello to that mall from Back To The Future, nothing offers us a personal connection to history's greatest minds quite like visiting the places they were known to frequent. This was no different two and a half centuries ago, when tourists were flocking to New Place at Stratford-upon-Avon, the final home of William Shakespeare, said to be where he penned some of his later works, such as The Tempest. Unfortunately, the home's owner, Reverend Francis Gastrell, hated all the tourist attention with every fiber of his being. We can understand this, considering how Shakespeare fanboys were probably insufferable.
To wit, the crowds of people that would frequent his house were obsessed with a large mulberry tree that had been planted in the garden by The Bard himself. Gastrell, completely fed up with droves of tourists gathering around the tree and drawing selfies with quill pens (or whatever the hell 18th-century tourists did), chopped the fucking thing down and used it for firewood. The townsfolk responded by running the reverend clean out of town.
Gastrell wasn't done yet, however. The town's insistence that Gastrell continue to pay taxes on the property even though he'd been run out of it like a Victorian monster understandably pissed him off, leading him to conclude that if he couldn't enjoy the home he'd bought and was still being forced to pay for, then nobody goddamn would. Three years after the tree debacle, Gastrell had New Place razed to the freaking ground. Today, not much remains of it beyond the remnants of a foundation and a single shitty napkin sketch of how it once stood.
Winston Churchill's Widow Destroyed An Irreplaceable Portrait Of Him Because He Hated It
Sir Winston Churchill's scowling mug is one of history's most memorable faces, thanks largely to the fact that in every image you see of the man, he looks like he just took a dump in Hitler's refrigerator and is daring the Fuhrer to say something about it.
However, there have been more vulnerable, down-to-earth portraits of Churchill. Take this one, for example:
It was commissioned for Churchill's 80th birthday and done by Graham Sutherland, official World War II artist (which is about as badass a title as any artist can hope to achieve). Sutherland, whose works today easily command hundreds of thousands of dollars, chose to depict Churchill as he truly appeared, instead of how he wished to appear ... and Churchill downright despised it. When the portrait was unveiled at a Westminster Hall ceremony before both Houses of Parliament, Churchill derided it as "a remarkable example of modern art," to thunderous laughter from those in attendance -- despite the fact that they were the ones who'd commissioned it in the first place.
Thereby proving that they knew what was good for them.
Rather than being hung in the Palace of Westminster as intended, after the ceremony, the portrait was whisked to Churchill's country estate and locked away in a cellar, never to be seen again. But surely, someone must have stumbled across it in the intervening years and returned it to its rightful place of honor, right? Not a chance, thanks to a certain Lady Churchill.
See, after Churchill's death, his widow Clementine conspired with her private secretary, Grace Hamblin, to rid the world of the much-hated portrait once and for all. Hamblin recruited her hulky brother to lug the massive painting to his van, drive it to his house several miles away, and burn it in his backyard. So now, rather than an honest portrait of an octogenarian who'd weathered decades of Nazi blitzkriegs and multiple strokes, we're left only with the images of an angry British man packing a face full of scowl. Which is exactly how Churchill wanted it.
An Art Thief's Mother Burned Near-Priceless Paintings In Her Oven
Back in late 2012, a gang of Romanian art thieves entered Rotterdam's Kunsthal gallery and hauled away seven paintings by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, Matisse, and Lucian Freud -- names that may as well be written entirely in dollar signs like they're '90s rappers, because the combined worth of the collection was estimated to be somewhere in the nine-figure range.
But while the heist itself was surprisingly simple (three men, led by Radu Dogaru, literally walked into the museum and back out with the paintings), finding a buyer for priceless, obviously stolen artwork isn't. When no patron with a sufficiently bulky bank account proved willing to touch the paintings with a ten-foot pole, Dogaru gave them to his mom, who buried them in a cemetery in the small Romanian village of Caracliu, because that's apparently what you do with paintings when you want to keep them safe.
Dogaru and Co. were arrested for the heist based on security footage, but prosecutors were missing a key piece of evidence: the stolen (and subsequently buried) paintings. Mama Dogaru soon became nervous for her overly art-appreciating boy when the authorities came a-knockin' in search of said evidence. Risking a severe haunting, she went out to the graveyard, dug the paintings back up, and burned them in her oven.
Or at least, that's what she claimed at first. In an obvious bid to reciprocate her over-protectiveness, it seems Radu convinced Mama Dogaru to recant her story. She later claimed that she hadn't torched the paintings after all. But forensic experts analyzing the contents of her oven found the remnants of pigments consistent with those used in the stolen paintings. (Read: deadly poisons that artists historically painted with, because 19th-century painters didn't give one hammered shit about anything.) Dogaru presumably then claimed that those came from the other, totally-not-stolen artwork that his mom burns on the regular, because the secret ingredient that lends her pies their signature flaky crust is the ceaseless wailing of the art-loving world.
For more impressive failures of humanity, check out 6 Natural Disasters That Were Caused by Human Stupidity and 8 Terrifying Animal Swarms Created by Human Stupidity.
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