History is a collection of dry facts about wars, politics, and the occasional notable disaster. At least, that's what textbooks would have you believe. But while it's true that most of history comes down to natural and human conflict, classes tend to gloss over the zombies. Yes, there were zombies all throughout history. There had to be. How else would you explain how ...
It was the 1850s, and Londoners just kept dying. This wasn't surprising -- people tend to do that -- but between a booming population and a cholera epidemic, the bodies were really starting to pile up. London's cemeteries were bursting beyond capacity. They needed a new place to bury their increasingly smelly dead, so they made one dozens of miles outside the city: Brookwood Cemetery, which became the largest graveyard in the United Kingdom.
But how were people supposed to get corpses all the way to the suburbs? It was too far for a horse and carriage. Mourners could travel there by rail, but you can't exactly bring your loved one's remains with you on the train -- at least, not without attracting some seriously stern glares. They needed a new train line dedicated to ferrying the dead, which is how we got the London Necropolis Railway. That's not a spooky joke name we invented, that was actually what they called it. And this was the official seal, which again, we did not hastily draw by hand for this article, though you would absolutely be forgiven for assuming that:
John M. Clarke/The Oakwood Press
The line ran from 1854 to 1941, at its peak moving over 2,000 bodies a year. It carried living mourners too, along a route chosen to be scenic and soothing. Every day, passengers would depart at 11:40, be served post-burial snacks and beer at the cemetery station, and be back in London by 3:30. There were some concerns that it made grieving too efficient, and some passengers also expressed qualms about the ungodly intermingling going on; specifically, the intermingling of well-bred mourners with sad poor people. But that terrible problem was solved by creating different carriages to separate corpses by class. Then, during World War II, this happened:
Southern Railway Photographic Unit
The Luftwaffe had been targeting London's railways, and hilariously missing for the most part, but they managed to hit the Corpseline during one of the Blitz's last big raids. The Necropolis Company, already facing increasing competition from newfangled hearses, never recovered. And while history doesn't specify that an irate anti-Nazi zombie horde immediately rose from the wreckage and joined the war effort, we must assume that one did. After all, it wouldn't be the first time German soldiers faced such a menace ...
Osowiec Fortress sits in a corner of Poland that used to be part of the Russian Empire. It was built in the 19th century to protect Russia from the Germans, who have a grand tradition of invading Russia to mixed results. But we're not going to talk about World War II, when the Germans took the fortress from Poland, handed it over to Russia, then took it back from Russia once things between them got weird. We're going to talk about World War I, when the fortress was defended by Russian zombies.
In February 1915, German forces repeatedly attacked the fortress. They didn't really need to -- their troops could have advanced by going in a different direction -- but it seemed a shame to let a perfectly good fortress go uncaptured. After a 190-day siege, they decided it was time to speed things up with a nice war crime. They followed an artillery barrage by chucking 30 canisters of chlorine gas into the fortress, which was very much not stocked with gas masks. Some Russians were able to muster up makeshift alternatives by soaking their shirts or underwear in urine, but hundreds of men were killed.
When the gas had cleared, the Germans moved forward to inspect what they assumed was a conquered fortress ... whereupon the Russian guns opened fire. And when the Germans got a glimpse at the charging Russians -- soaked in blood, flesh scarred with chemical burns, and coughing up bits of their own lungs -- they backed right the fuck off.
History books refer to those manning the guns as "survivors," and yet their counterattack was dubbed the Attack of the Dead Men, clearly revealing the true nature of what happened that day. The Russians had to abandon the fortress two weeks later, but the extra time let them demolish much of Osowiec instead of letting it fall into enemy hands, so it was still a compelling triumph for Russian military fortitude and/or necromancy.
John Scott Harrison was the son of a president (William Henry Harrison), the father of a president (Benjamin Harrison), and a congressman (John Scott Harrison). Grave robbing was kind of an issue during their time, so when he died in 1878, his resting place was well protected. It was extra deep, weighed down with a stone slab that took six men to lift, covered in cement, and guarded for the first 30 days of its occupancy. During the funeral, one of his sons (also named John, because only about eight names had been invented at the time), saw that the nearby grave of Sam Devin had been disturbed. John alerted a friend of Devin, and they concluded he might have ended up at Ohio Medical College, as colleges often bought stolen corpses to meet a growing demand for medical education and research.
The next day, John Jr. went to the college with the police and a warrant. They discovered boxes of various body parts that seemed neither proper nor particularly scientific, a dead six-month-old, and a student "chipping away" at a woman's head and breast. Then they discovered a trapdoor in the corner. When they opened it, they found a chute containing a naked man hanging from a rope. His head was covered, but the physique made it pretty clear it was not Devin. They uncovered his face just in case, and found they were right. It wasn't Devin. It was John Scott Harrison.
If Harrison's body didn't then spring to life and start snapping at his son, held back only by the rope ... well, that's just bad writing. Devin's body was later found in a vat of brine at the University of Michigan, because again, body theft was but another part of the 19th-century gig economy. Sadly, history doesn't know how robbers foiled Harrison's guard, but outrage over the incident contributed to a new law that gave unclaimed bodies to medical schools. Please note that the outrage wasn't over corpses being stolen, but over an important corpse being stolen, because being poor used to be even worse back in the day.
Between hooliganism and general bad planning, there have been quite a few disasters at soccer games. The Burnden Park disaster didn't kill the most people, but it's the one we'd like to draw your attention to today. March 9, 1946 began as so many match days do in Britain. Two teams you've never heard of met in some town you've never heard of to compete for a cup you've never heard of. But 85,000 people came to Burnden Park (capacity 20,000) to watch the game, because soccer is kind of a big deal there and the war had put it all on hold.
Staff locked the turnstiles when the stadium reached capacity, but fans kept pushing their way in. After the game started, so many people were packed inside that they spilled onto the field ... and then one of the barriers collapsed and the spectators fell forward. 33 people were crushed or trampled to death, and some 400 more were injured. It was, at the time, the country's biggest sporting disaster. But they decided to keep playing.
The bodies were covered in coats and laid out behind a goal, with nothing but a line of sawdust separating them from play. Most spectators weren't aware of the scale of the tragedy, or that there had even been a tragedy at all. Of course, the teams switched sides at halftime so neither would suffer the unearned disadvantage (or advantage?) of knowing dozens of cadavers lurked right behind their goalkeeper. Did these disrespected bodies then rise up to belt out a football song about how they would take their bloody revenge? Sources don't mention it, so it must go without saying. But surely it was all worth it so they could keep playing to a thrilling scoreless draw.
Have you ever wondered why lighthouses in the United Kingdom require three men stationed instead of two? God, we hope not. You'd have to be bored to a depressing degree to sit around and wonder about that sort of thing. But this question does have an answer, and to learn it, we look to Smalls Lighthouse in Wales, which sits on an island 20 miles offshore.
In 1801, Smalls was manned by Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffith. Spending long stretches of time cooped up in a tiny space with only one other person is never fun, even if you can bond over your shared name. Howell and Griffith were known to argue, and then Griffith dropped dead. This was all before telephones or radio, and relief crews wouldn't show up until the bad weather improved. And although Howell's first instinct was to throw Griffith's corpse into the sea so he could be rid of the thing, he worried that everyone would suspect he had murdered the guy. So Howell had no choice but to share the cramped lighthouse with his partner's decaying body.
And yes, it decayed, to the point where Howell reasonably feared disease. So he did what he could to separate himself from the body by building a makeshift coffin, placing Griffith in it, and lashing it to an outside railing in the farthest spot from him. Then the wind tore the coffin open and Griffith's arm swung up to tap on the window. Was Griffith trying to get back inside? You be the judge. But yes.
When the weather finally improved, the relief crew arrived and found that Howell's mental health was, well, not super great. From then on, lighthouse crews were made up of three people, until lighthouses were eventually automated in the 1980s. And yes, this story is an inspiration for The Lighthouse, which must have really tested Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson's abilities to play a crazy person and an undead man, respectively.
"Big Nose" George Parrot was an Old West highwayman. In 1878, his gang attempted to rob a train in Wyoming, and when a pair of lawmen were sent their way, they responded by murdering them. This just made them more wanted than ever, so the gang disbanded to commit new crimes elsewhere. In 1880, Parrot was picked up in Montana, then was sent to Wyoming and sentenced to hang. He tried and failed to escape jail. The public, fearing he might succeed next time, took matters into their own hands and lynched him. The lynching took two attempts, which was the first sign that he would not rest peacefully.
His body wound up in the hands of Dr. John Osborne, who took the opportunity to do some dissection beyond what was considered medically necessary. Osborne split the dude's skull in two, giving one half to a teenage assistant to use as a doorstop (today, a gift certificate is more appropriate). He used some other bones to make an ashtray, stored the rest in a whiskey barrel for unclear reasons, and gave Parrot's skin to a cobbler. To make into a medical bag and shoes.
Historical Reproductions by Perue
Osborne got a fine chance to show off his man-shoes when he was elected governor of Wyoming in 1893 and wore them to his inauguration. This is what "tough on crime" looked like in the 1800s. Osborne even claimed he'd asked the cobbler to include one of George's nipples on each foot, but the guy had to draw the line somewhere.
Lest you think that Osborne was some obscure mad doctor who lucked into office, note that he went on to become a congressman, then assistant secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson. Needless to say, after he passed away, the shoes took control of his corpse, causing him to dance-attack living victims like in Thriller. Most sources neglect to record this part of his story, but that's why you rely on us.
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