6 Historical Deaths That Read Like Crazy Myths (But Aren’t)
If you're like us, you probably spend most of your time thinking about the insane, awesome, and horrifying ways that people have died throughout history. It's not healthy and we aren't happy about it, but this is the life we've chosen, so here we are. You could argue that life tastes more sweet when you know how many "suitable for a heavy metal album cover" ways it could suddenly end. So with that in mind, let's take another go on this ride and learn about how ...
Georg Wilhelm Richmann Got Struck In The Center Of His Head By Lightning
Georg Wilhelm Richmann was a Swedish scientist and a major fan of Benjamin Franklin, or at least reckless kite flying. Eager to use a lightning rod to confirm for himself Franklin's theories, Professor Richmann unleashed his inner Bill Paxton and raced a storm home to his lab. He was accompanied by an academic engraver named Sokolov, who ended up seeing (and later engraving) what happened next.
Lots of things happened next, it turns out, all at once.
Sokolov used words as well, and what he described is downright ghoulish:
palish blue ball of fire, as big as a fist, came out of the rod without any contact whatsoever. It went right to the forehead of the professor, who in that instant fell back without uttering a sound.
An anonymous engraving of a 1755 medical report would also eventually surface:
There appeared a red spot from the forehead from which spirted some drops of blood through the pores, without wounding the surrounding skin. The shoe belonging to the left foot was burst open. Uncovering the foot at that place they found a blue mark, by which it is concluded that the electrical force of the thunder, having forced into the head, made its way out again at the foot.
So a few lessons to take from that. 1) No matter how cool it looks, one should never stand near a conductor during a thunderstorm. And 2) a blue ball of fire to the forehead does not give you superpowers. Still, this was a guy excited about science, and who died doing it. That's rad, and we're sorry to see you go, Professor Georg Richmann. And also sorry about the lack of superpowers thing, because that would have made the latter half of the century a lot more interesting and given us a couple more articles.
Diane De Poitiers Drank Gold To Stay Young
As we've previously covered, bullshit celebrity health fads have existed for as long as humans have been gullible enough to think that volcanic water and chunks of rocks inserted into their nether regions might make them superior physical specimens. In most cases, these scams don't end with much worse than people spending too much on water. But when these schemes go bad, they can go all the way bad, and end with people slowly self-murdering themselves -- something that Diane de Poitiers could attest to. You know, if she hadn't died.
In ye olden times, one big health trend was drinking gold. That's not a euphemism; people would mix gold flecks into a concoction of chemicals and chug it back in the hopes of retaining a youthful appearance. In the 16th century, Diane de Poitiers, a French noblewoman and mistress to King Henry II, was one of many addicted to aurum potabile. And did it work? Surprisingly, by some accounts, yes:
I saw her at seventy years of age beautiful of face, also fresh and also pleasant as she had been at thirty years of age ... and especially she had a very large whiteness without any make-up. But it is well said that, every morning, she would use some drinks made up of drinkable gold and other drugs given by good doctors and apothecaries.
Unfortunately, she soon started to feel some unwelcome side effects. It weakened her entire body and caused malformed teeth, fine hair, and porcelain-esque fragile bones. The white complexion that guy was complimenting? That was anemia. She would die at the age of 66, a couple years after a riding accident she never really recovered from. Did drinking poison have any effect on this? It's hard to state definitively 500 years later, but yes, let's say it very definitely did. When her body was exhumed and examined by archaeologists, they found that her hair contained levels of gold 500 times higher than normal, as well as absurd amounts of mercury. Her skeleton was basically the T-1000.
Apparently, your only choice of chaser for your homebrewed Goldschlager is mercury or drinking actual knives.
Arrichion Choked Himself To Death To Win A Wrestling Match
Wrestling hasn't always been a heavily choreographed action figure fashion show. Nope, it is still practiced as a real sport, and at one point -- like before we figured out how to sharpen sticks -- it was probably the sport. It's one of the original Olympic events, and back in the good ol' days, people took it pretty seriously. Like, "dying" seriously.
In the 564 BCE Olympics, a pankration match -- an incestuous mixture of wrestling and boxing -- was being fought between Arrichion of Phigaleia and an unnamed opponent with a probably equally ridiculous name. Arrichion was the two-time champion of this event, so the pressure was on him to win. That possibility that seemed to evaporate when his opponent managed to get him into an unbreakable chokehold.
It looked like this, only with more thunderous sexual tension.
With no other option, Arrichion reached over and twisted his opponent's ankle until it snapped in his hands. His opponent yielded in agonizing pain, and Arrichion was awarded the medal. Posthumously. In his grab for victory, Arrichion somehow choked himself to death. At first, it was thought that his opponent had deliberately killed him, or that he died when he was thrown to the mat, but science recently came up with a third option: The chokehold was depriving Arrichion of so much oxygen that the "simple" act of breaking someone's ankle like dry spaghetti was enough to cause his heart to self-destruct.
But don't you feel ashamed that the only time you get sweaty is when you play video games. That's still a little metal.
Karl Scheele Tasted Poisonous Chemicals For Science (Because Someone Had To)
Dr. Carl Wilhelm Scheele was a chemist credited with discovering nitrogen, manganese, chlorine, hydrogen, cyanide, molybdenum, barium, tungsten, and many more of the compounds and gasses which today we either use or try to avoid because, as the good doctor also discovered, they'll kill the shit out of us if we put them in our mouths. We know this because Dr. Scheele put them in his mouth.
Why would a scientist turn to toddler tactics in his professional quest for discovery? To understand the answer, we have to briefly explore what it meant to be a chemist back then. Dr. Scheele was a pharmacist by trade, and he did his research in the pharmacy, with the tools available to him. Without computers, mass spectrometers, and all that sciency stuff we get to play with today, that meant using touch, smell, and yes, taste. He did this with everything, but one particular example sticks out.
At one point, Scheele accidentally created Prussian blue, aka hydrogen cyanide, aka one of the deadliest poisons ever made. He thought it smelled "almondy." He understood the risks, but none of this really bothered him. In his own words, this was simply "the trouble of all apothecaries." His devotion to his art was so great that he married the widow of another pharmacist so she could inherit all of his many poisons, lab equipment, and notes. Also, he was so modest that he lost the credit for many of his findings. (Or maybe he ate his notes.) Tragically, one thing he was credited for was one of his mistakes. Copper arsenite, or "Scheele's Green," was used to decorate candy for 50 years or so before someone realized feeding children copper and arsenic wasn't so good for them.
Anyways, Carl "Yes, I Know I'm Dying, Did You Want Something?" Scheele succumbed to arsenic/cyanide/mercury/everything poisoning on May 26, 1786, at the age of 43. He was last seen being pulled to the heavens in a chariot driven by white, fire-breathing stallions.
Benjamin Guggenheim Put On His Best Suit To "Die A Gentleman" Aboard The Titanic
As a member of the then-richest family in the world, Benjamin Guggenheim was able to buy his way aboard the inaugural voyage of the RMS Titanic, the ship famously wrought entirely of iron and hubris. But at the time, no one knew what was to come; it was just an extremely luxurious trip they were all taking. And what's the point in opulent luxury if you can't show it off to anyone? So Guggenheim brought his mistress, Leontine Aubart, a maid, Emma Sagesser, and his valet, Victor Giglio, along for the ride as well.
Guggenheim and Giglio were asleep in their cabin when the infamous iceberg came a-knocking. After the gentlemen helped Aubart and Sagesser into a lifeboat, Guggenheim reassured them that this was only a temporary problem, and that the ship would be up and working by the next day. Which was total bullshit. He was rich, not an idiot. Guggenheim and Giglio knew they were going down with the ship, and set about literally going down in style. They returned to their quarters and changed into their evening attire, then after finding a crewmember boarding a lifeboat, Guggenheim asked for a message to be passed on to his estranged wife: "Tell her I played the game straight to the end and that no woman was left on board because Ben Guggenheim was a coward."
Meaning this scene played out even more baller in real life.
According to eyewitness accounts from the sinking, Guggenheim and Giglio were last seen relaxing in deckchairs, knocking back brandies and smoking fat cigars. Within hours, the ship was on the bottom of the ocean, though it might have lasted longer if Guggenheim, Giglio, and Father Thomas Byles weren't weighing the craft down with their gargantuan balls.
Speaking of sinking ships ...
Teddy Sheean Stayed Aboard A Sinking Submarine To Shoot The Bastards Responsible
Ordinary seaman Edward Sheean died when he was just 18, with a 20mm anti-aircraft gun in his hands and a sinking ship under his feet. During World War II, Sheean was serving aboard the HMAS Armidale, an Australian corvette ship tasked with carrying reinforcements and supplies to Timor. The ship was spotted by Japanese aircraft, which began to attack it. Two torpedo hits later, the ship was doomed.
Sheean didn't have much training for what to do next, or really much training at all. He was an teenaged volunteer; most of his "training" was what he managed to gather watching veterans on his assignment. Also, he'd already been wounded twice when he heard the order to abandon ship. The young man delivered his rebuttal in the form of a storm of fury, bringing down two, possibly even three, of the Japanese bombers by himself while the sea roiled around him. And finally above him.
We're no longer sure that "ordinary seaman" is really the best descriptor here.
That's a painting -- probably not painted contemporaneously -- of Sheean after he'd strapped himself to his weapon, which was itself bolted to a sinking ship. This wasn't just bloodlust; he was reacting to an atrocity. The survivors in the water were being shot from the air by the Japanese. It's quite possible that it was thanks to his efforts, there were 49 survivors instead of none. The gun was still firing when it finally slipped beneath the waves.
Sheean would go on to win several posthumous awards and honors, and became an almost legendary figure in Australian naval history. And not long after, somewhere in Valhalla, Odin would pull out a chair and hold up a horn of thousand-year-old mead.
You can follow Marina and Adam on Twitter, IF YOU DARE. (You should, they're actually really nice.) Marina learned to be a death metal Space Valkyrie with the help of the Skwisgaar Skwigelf Advanced Finger Wizard Master Class, and so can you! Adam's more of a laidback, classic rock kind of guy, and it really balances out quite nicely with Marina's Scandinavian insanity (in-Scand-ity?). It should be mentioned in fairness to Prof. RICHmann that Marina REImann was once standing next to a can crusher that was struck by ball lightning at face level. Being a single-digit pipsqueak and not yet aware of the Skwisgaar Skwigelf Advanced Finger Wizard Master Class, she ... wet her pants. Immediately.
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