The World’s Most Catastrophic Parties
Your personal story of the craziest party you ever hosted probably involves vomit, someone jumping out the window, the police arriving and you snacking on cookie dough once everyone went home. It was quite a night, I’m sure. Still, it was nothing when matched up against...
The Ball of the Wild Men, When Everyone Caught Fire
When someone gets married, their wedding might be a serious and sacred ceremony. When they get married for the second time, friends may treat this wedding a little less seriously. In 1393, a lady-in-waiting of the Queen of France was getting married for the third time (some sources say fourth), having buried her previous husbands. This called for silliness, and maybe some outright mockery. The queen threw a ball, at which the king led a charivari, which is when a bunch of people throw a parade in ridiculous costumes to shame someone.
The king, Charles VI, decided that he himself would join the dancers incognito, dressed as a woodwose, a sort of hairy mythological sprite. It was a nutty idea, which is our way of saying that Charles suffered from severe mental illness, probably schizophrenia. One time, on a hunting trip, he suddenly thought he was in the middle of a battle and killed four of his own knights, before falling into a coma. This ball was one year later, and people figured that giving in to Charles’ whims would help his mental state, and might keep him from murdering them.
Dancing indoors in costumes of flax and resin presented one specific risk: These costumes were highly flammable. And so, the court made sure to extinguish all torches before the six men started their dance. Then the king’s brother, the Duke of Orléans, entered the hall, drunk and carrying a torch. He brought it close to one dancer to try to identify them. The flame jumped to him, and then to all the other dancers. This party is today remembered as the Bal des Ardents, or the Ball of the Burning Men.
Four of the dancers burned to death. One only survived by jumping into a vat of wine. Charles lived, only because his aunt threw her skirts over him to extinguish the flames, as shown in the picture above. Most people do not plan to end parties with their head under their aunt’s skirt — “no one really knows whether or not medieval women wore underpants before the 15th century,” notes this informative article. This story becomes either better or worse upon learning that this aunt of his was 15 years old. The French tend to be very open-minded about such matters.
Jägermeister Suffocated a Crowd
A 2013 party sponsored by Jägermeister ended with eight guests in the hospital and one in a coma. Incredibly, this was not a result of drinking Jägermeister but of someone dumping a bunch of liquid nitrogen into the pool. The party in Leon, Mexico, had been fun enough up to this point, but then staffers decided that four buckets of liquid nitrogen would send cool smoke puffing around everyone.
Some of you, on hearing about the nitrogen scheme, are slapping your heads at the stupidity. “Liquid nitrogen is extremely dangerous, because it freezes everything it touches!” you might be noting. “Historically, that’s one of the only things that can slow down a Terminator!” That’s not exactly true. Though cold, you can splash your face with liquid nitrogen with no ill effects.
The problem is, though, buckets of liquid nitrogen produce gaseous nitrogen, and a lot more than just a few bucketsful. Nitrogen, of course, is generally not toxic, but if clouds of nitrogen suddenly surround you, they’ll cut you off from the surrounding air and from most oxygen. At the Jägermeister nitrogen fest, partiers collapsed, some right into the pool. They fell so hard and so fast that the media speculated (wrongly) that the nitrogen had reacted with chlorine in the water, creating some kind of poison gas.
This story was totally unrelated, by the way, to the party practice of dumping a little liquid nitrogen into a shot of Jäger for a smoke effect. Doing that has no chance of suffocating you. However, if you drink it before the liquid nitrogen has all bubbled away, it may turn to gas while deep inside you, tearing through your stomach lining. When that happened to one hapless British woman, doctors had to remove her stomach altogether, hooking her gullet directly to her guts. Altogether, it was not a very happy ending to her 18th birthday.
The Gender Reveal Pipe Bomb
By this point, gender reveal parties have wide reputations as fire hazards. When you set off amateur fireworks, particularly in an area dried out by drought, you might end up burning down tens of thousands of acres. In terms of the breadth of destruction, the story we’re going to tell you today isn’t as bad as those fires. For the partiers themselves, however, this one marked a much worse tragedy.
In 2019, an Iowa family wanted to throw a gender-reveal party, but they weren’t going to go for those store-bought fireworks, like a bunch of chumps. No, they were going to mix gunpowder with assorted colored ingredients themselves. They packed the powder into a container of their own construction, an open metal cylinder welded to a base plate. When the fuse burned down, the gunpowder exploded. Of course it did — that was the plan. But the powder didn’t shoot in the air, up through the cylinder’s open mouth. It blew the cylinder apart. Though they hadn’t realized it, the family had built themselves a pipe bomb.
A piece of shrapnel shot to the side and sliced right through grandma, killing her. It then continued for another 100 yards or so, as her body supplied only so much resistance to jagged pieces of metal propelled by gunpowder. In hindsight, lighting a pipe bomb beside grandma was a poor choice. We know the circle of life says the old must die to make room for the young, but that doesn’t mean parties welcoming new babies have to actively jump-start the process.
The Time a Drunk Elk Fell Down the Stairs
Tycho Brahe, an astronomer and mathematician from the 16th century, received a bunch of money from the Danish king to look at the stars. He mostly spent it on partying. He spent it on astronomy too, but the guy got his own private island and built a palace called the Uraniborg, which was great for throwing parties. One permanent resident of the castle was named Jepp, who was known as Brahe’s “clairvoyant dwarf.” Whether this was a friend of Brahe’s who pretended to have powers as a joke or someone he abducted and kept in his dungeon is unclear.
We weren’t quite joking about the dungeon part. Brahe had prisons built in the Uraniborg, and he’d throw people in there, under no one’s authority but his own. He’d lock peasants up in chains for not producing enough goods for him. He was not legally allowed to punish anyone in this manner, not even under the generous laws governing 16th-century royal alchemists.
Yeah, Brahe didn’t play by the rules. Most people might have a pet dog. Brahe had his pet dwarf, and also a pet elk, who was tame enough to walk with him through the town. During one of his many parties, Brahe filled the elk up with beer. The animal, drunk, now fell down a flight of stairs and died. Elks don’t have much experience negotiating stairs in the wild, especially not when drunk.
Brahe’s reign of fun and terror eventually ended. His patron, King Frederick II, died, and the throne passed to someone less sympathetic to Brahe’s shenanigans. Frederick’s cause of death? Drinking, of course, the fate of all who befriended Tycho Brahe.
1,389 People Died When They Heard the Party Favors Were Running Short
Yeah, 1,389 people. That doesn’t look like a number for a party’s death toll; that looks like a year (a year very close to when the Ball of the Wild Men happened). But that was indeed the number of people who died following the coronation of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia. The coronation happened in 1896 — and 1,896 would be an even larger toll, but 1,389 is still pretty high, right?
The party following the coronation catered to hundreds of thousands of people. They had 10,000 buckets of mead on hand and 30,000 buckets of beer. They laid out huge buffets on long outdoor tables. They prepared gifts to give out to the public. The gifts may not sound so special — they were more food, including spiced bread and some sausage — but each box came with a commemorative mug. People really wanted that commemorative mug (and the sausage too, we guess).
At some point, word spread through the crowd that the royal staff were running short on gifts. Guests pressed forward toward the stage that distributed these fancy souvenirs, and soon, no one could move in any other direction even if they wanted to. The palace staff tried to quell people’s fears of shortages by throwing the gifts far into the crowd. This of course only unleashed further chaos. People pressed and crushed one another, then trampled all over each other’s heads. The crush killed 1,389 people — which is a figure we keep repeating for comedic specificity, but estimates vary quite a bit upward, with some counts topping 2,000.
The world is about to witness another major coronation, Great Britain’s first coronation in 70 years. We trust England is taking all possible precautions to avoid thousands dying. For example, they’ll be allowing everyone to order their commemorative mugs online, and will crown someone really boring whom no one cares about enough to stampede over.