Tag Archives: life

192. The Famous Nameless Face

In 19th Century Paris, just as with any other time in Paris, there were many suicides. In Paris, the Seine was a favourite, at a time when most could not swim the large river was often a death sentence. Whenever a body drifted onto the banks of the river, it was put in the care of the authorities. In 19th Century Paris they had a special practice to identify these damp deceased.

A cooled room was set up and up to 14 bodies placed within it. At one end of the room was a large window, any passer-by could peer inside and, hopefully, identify one of them. Parisians and travellers alike were fixated by the chilling sight, neatly arranged bodies only slightly too still to be sleeping. In the volume ‘Unknown Paris’ it was noted that:

“There is not a single window in Paris which attracts more onlookers than this.”

In the 1880’s there was one particular body. She was dragged from the Seine with not a scratch or spot. Suicide they said. The body was presented behind a window and the people peered at the restful smile which sat across the features. No name came and the body rotted, it was placed in an unmarked grave, but the smile remained. An unknown pathologist had been so taken by the beauty that they decided to take the beauty. A plaster cast mould of the face was taken and a death mask made, an object to preserve the image of one deceased. Through odd contrivances and circumstances now lost to time the mask got out and garnered a following. The face became famous. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Articles


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181. Life Without A Pulse

It is commonly held notion that without a pulse, one cannot survive. In fact before the advent of open-heart surgery a lack of a pulse was, medically speaking, death. The definition has changed of course. Now in fact, it seems that a pulse is not required.

Dr Billy Cohn and Bud Frazier at the Texas Heart Institute believed that trying to copy the heart was a waste of resources, instead they have used an existing device, a VAD which provides blood flow via the means of rotating blades and doubled it. Leaving a final contraption that they believe can fully replace the heart. “What we’ve kind of done is taken two motorcycles, strapped them together, and called it a car,” said Cohn. VADs or vascular assist devices have been around since 1994 and constantly been getting smaller and more efficient, making them the ideal technology to make a heart out of.

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172. The Dead Art of Self-Mummification

Sokushinbutsu is the name, a practice no longer observed or condoned by any Buddhist sect, self-mummification requires patience, dedication and a steely determination. Preparing for and living through your own death is an unpleasant process, truly a suicide slow.

It begins with 1000 days of withering. For just under three years only nuts and seeds are eaten, stripping any person of their body fat. Combined with this was a punishing exercise regime. After the initial thousand days the next stage was employed.

The next thousand days saw a shift, the only permitted solid consumption was a mixture of bark and roots. Then came a new tincture, the sap of the Urushi tree. A substance used to lacquer bowls. When ingested it is poisonous, causing rapid evacuation of their bellies and bowels. This was not the main purpose though, whilst it did test fortitude there was a practical use. Three years of imbibing that deathly sap would spread poison through the whole body, tainting all reaches. The aim was to make the body so poisonous that no maggot or other animal would consume it after death. In turn, preventing any rot or deterioration after death.

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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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164. The London Beer Flood

The street before the flood

In St. Giles, a parish of London, lay the Meux and Company Brewery. Inside were housed many several large vats filled to the brim with frothy beer. On 17 October 1814, a vat containing 610,000 litres of beer ruptured. This profusion of beer began a chain of events, the ensuing wave damaged the other vats and caused them too to empty out their contents. The rampant volume of beer increasing with each ruptured vat. The total amount of beer which burst from the distillery was 1,470,000 litres.

The wave of beer tore down Tottenham Court Road and damaged not just two homes but also destroyed the wall of the Tavistock Arms Pub. The first casualty was within the pub, a young Eleanor Cooper; the destruction of the wall caught her off guard. Unable to run the 14-year-old employee was trapped beneath the rubble.

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Posted by on July 3, 2011 in Articles


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161. Planet In a Bottle

Biosphere 2 was ambitious, and the first of its kind. The aim was to create a second, slightly more portable earth, a closed system you could put anywhere which would allow people to survive, growing their own food and living off of it even the oxygen was recycled. A totally closed experiment to test whether or not we could live on another planet.

The site is spread over 3 hermetically sealed acres with double airlocks for assured safety. Inside were replicated all the world’s necessary environments. A small ocean with a wave machine and beach,  grassland savannah, tropical rainforest, farm and an additional mangrove wetland. Plants were chosen to remove carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen.

All 14 before the final selection

A group of fourteen people initially held a practice run. Each sported a fetching red jumpsuit made by the former maker of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses. Out of the group, eight were chosen for the full thing. A two-year stint in a completely closed system, just themselves and the farm, in a giant glass structure in the Arizona Desert.

8:15 am, 26 September 1991 all eight of the red-clad ‘bionauts’ climbed through the airlock, leaving behind them their recently consumed breakfasts and waving crowds. Behind them the airlocks closed and so began the $150 million experiment. Over the next two years the groups would survive together and be self-sufficient, exit only came for the ill. It was a bizarre affair.

Initially it was a media frenzy, Biosphere 2 was the first of its kind and tourists came by the busload to serve their voyeuristic needs, staring through the glass walls at the toiling human specimens held within. This activity itself went on to inspire a small cultural revolution, leading directly to the creation of Big Brother, an extremely popular Reality Show which let viewers in on the lives of ‘housemates’ who were people chosen to live in a house together and perform tasks. It is easy to see the similarities.

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Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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158. The Boston Molasses Flood of 1919

Molasses is not the most pleasant substance, a thick and dark brown sugary syrup which clings on to anything it touches. On the hottest days in Boston, locals claim that the streets bleed it. This local folklore is descended from local fact. For at the edge of living memory, a good 90 years ago there was a catastrophic and bizarre flood. A flood of molasses, a thick brown sugary flood which devastated a small area of Boston, killing several horses, 21 people and at least one cat.

January 15, 1919 – a more than sizeable storage tank 25 metres in height was brimming, holding near its full complement of two-and-a-half million gallons of molasses. During the day there was a sudden rise in temperature of approximately 2°C, this caused fermentation in the molasses. The substances produced increased the pressure inside the tank. To add to the strain, the ethyl-alcohol produced was a potent substance used in both rum and munitions at that time. This all led to a reaction slightly less sedate than fermentation.

The sound was described afterwards as a muffled roar; rivets popped with sounds akin to those pf machine gun fire. Then the pressure became too much. The explosion tore apart the half-inch-thick iron surrounds, splitting it into three pieces which were launched through the air.

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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in Articles


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154. Jumping From Space

In 1959 and 1960 the United States Air Force ran Project Excelsior, a series of 3 extreme altitude parachute jumps. These 3 jumps were undertaken by Captain Joseph Kittinger and set the record for the fastest speed reached by a human without a vehicle  and the worlds highest parachute jump at 31 kilometres above sea level. Both records still stand.

In the 1950’s, military jets were reaching ever higher into the atmosphere and there were concerns about safety when ejecting at high altitudes. Tests with dummies showed that pilots at high altitudes would uncontrollably spin with a potentially fatal speed. A new special multi-stage parachute was designed to stop the spinning. Then there was another problem, the chill.

At higher altitudes temperatures reach as low as -70°C, this was less than healthy for anyone; so a special pressure suit was designed to combat both the extreme pressure changes and the low temperatures. It was a bit on the bulky side, combined with the new parachutes the whole ensemble weighed as much as Captain Kittinger. Then came the first extreme altitude jump, Excelsior I.

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Posted by on June 23, 2011 in Articles


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