April 24, 2008

April 24 | A Death A Day

September 1, 2007 - April 24, 2008: Age 8 months

My reasons for starting this blog were curiosity, and a sense of exploration and inspiration. After 239 entries those feelings are much diminished in relation to the project, and writing the next day's death is becoming a chore rather than a pleasure. I can always find people that interest me, but it has become harder and harder to find deaths that interest me.

Thus I'm going to let this go. It was originally intended as a one-year project, but I see no reason to carry through with that intention given my decreasing enthusiasm.

The success of the blog has surprised me. It gets more than 1,300 page loads by about 800 unique visitors a week. I think the secret to these numbers is this: I mention a lot of famous people. So I get a lot of one-time fly-by visits from people curious about Audrey Mestre, or Mao Tse-Tung, the Collyer brothers, etc. But there are regular visitors too; far fewer, a dozen or two come by each day.

The entries that are already here will stand indefinitely, unless I decide one day to delete the blog, so it will continue to get visitors. But to those of you who have been following the daily entries, or just dropping in from time to time, it's been nice feeling the mysterious connection of blogger and reader, so thanks for your interest. All the best for the future.

And here's my last word! Enjoy!

April 23, 2008

April 23 | Rupert Brooke

August 3, 1887 - April 23, 1915: Age 27

Rupert Brooke was a British poet famous for his sonnets about The Great War, and to a lesser extent for being a good-looking bisexual.

His most famous sonnet, The Soldier, is rather idealistic and contrasts with the bitter nature of the work of poets like Wilfred Owen. It is quoted a lot by people who want to celebrate the "supreme sacrifice" of a young man dying in combat. Weirdly enough, although Brooke died in 1915, it was not combat: like George Herbert, he died of an infected mosquito bite. He was on his way to a battle at Gallipoli. His friend William Brown was with him:
"...I sat with Rupert. At 4 o’clock he became weaker, and at 4.46 he died, with the sun shining all round his cabin, and the cool sea-breeze blowing through the door and the shaded windows. No one could have wished for a quieter or a calmer end than in that lovely bay, shielded by the mountains and fragrant with sage and thyme."

He was buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros. The text of The Soldier is included below. It was part of a series of poems entitled 1914.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Source: Wikipedia

April 22, 2008

April 22 | Linda Boreman

January 10, 1949 – April 22, 2002: Age 53

Linda Boreman, a.k.a. Linda Lovelace, was the star of the most successful porn movie of all time. Deep Throat cost about $25,000 to make in 1972 (the $1,250 paid to Boreman was retained by her husband. The movie made an estimated $600 million at the box office. In her four (four?!?) autobiographies, Boreman maintained that she was forced into prostitution and porn movies by her sadistic and controlling husband. Although some of the facts are in dispute, much of her story has been backed up by the other people involved.

In April 2002 Boreman rolled her car, suffering trauma and internal injuries. She survived about 2.5 weeks but did not regain consciousness. She was taken off life support and died on April 22.

Source: Wikipedia

April 21, 2008

April 21 | Sandy Denny

January 6, 1947 - April 21, 1978: Age 31

Sandy Denny was a British singer-songwriter with an extraordinary voice and performing presence. Her sound is an indelible part of my own memories, as it was through hearing her band in the 1970s that I learned to love non-mainstream recorded music. She was the lead singer of Fairport Convention, a British band that explored the possibilities of blending traditional British folk music with modern instruments.

She was actually only with the band for a short time, but the three albums she recorded with them are their best. Although her subsequent work was generally well-received, she had substance abuse problems and was uncertain about her musical direction. In March 1978 she was visiting her parents at their cottage and fell down a flight of stairs. About a month later she collapsed and, four days later, died in hospital of a brain hemorrhage, caused by the previous fall.

Her voice must be experienced, it cannot be described. Here is a YouTube clip, illustrated only with stills but it includes "Who knows where the time goes", a beautiful song.

Source: Wikipedia

April 20, 2008

April 20 | Giuseppe Sinopoli

November 2, 1946 - April 20, 2001: Age 54

Italian maestro Giuseppe Sinopoli was conducting Verdi's Aida at the Berlin Opera House when he collapsed during the third act. The performance was stopped and the audience, cast, and orchestra was sent home. Attempts to resuscitate him on the scene were unsuccessful, and he died. Ironically, Aida was the first work he conducted as well as his last: it was the work with which he made his debut in 1972.

Source: New York Times

April 19, 2008

April 19 | George Gordon Byron

January 22, 1788 - April 19, 1824: Age 36

George Gordon, Lord Byron, was one of England's most influential poets and one of her many famous bad boys. We met him briefly as the father of Ada Lovelace, the polymath who invented computers, but the two shared only two qualities: brilliance and beauty. As it happens hardly knew each other.

Byron inherited his titles and estates at the age of 10. His first published works, "Fugitive Pieces", included poems he'd written at the age of 14, but the edition was immediately recalled and burned because of its sexy content. Byron was bisexual, and fell in love frequently.

He continued to publish and by the time he was in his mid-20s people with eyes for such things could see he was a very, very important poet. People with eyes for other things were scandalized by the sexual and satirical content of his work. A series of sexual scandals, including adultery, homosexuality, and incest, forced him into marriage with Ada's mother, but he quickly tired of this and left England forever.

In 1823 he was invited, through the Greek acquaintances he met during his "grand tour" of Europe as a young man, to become involved in the Greek independence movement. He entered the fray with gusto, spending a huge sum of money on refitting the Greek naval fleet. While preparing for an attack on a Turkish-held fortress at the Gulf of Corinth, he fell ill, and when the customary treatment of bleeding was applied it made him worse. In early April he caught a nasty cold, which developed into fever. Weakened by continued medicinal bleeding, he died on April 19.

Ironically, it was medicinal bleeding that killed his daughter Ada as well 26 years later. Despite the fact they hardly knew each other, they are buried side by side in Nottingham.

Source: Wikipedia

April 18, 2008

April 18 | Ernie Pyle

August 3, 1900 - April 18, 1945: Age 45

Ernie Pyle was a successful American journalist who gave up a post as Managing Editor of The Washington Daily News to work freelance, on the road. He became a popular roving columnist, writing about unusual places and people.

When the US entered World War II, Pyle began to cover it, writing from Europe, Africa, United States, and the Pacific. On April 18, 1945 he was on an island off Okinawa, riding in a jeep four other men. As they reached a junction a machine gun next about 500 yards away started firing on them. They stopped the jeep and jumped into a ditch. When they raised their heads to look around, Pyle smiled and asked the man next to him, "Are you all right?" The gunner started shooting again and Pyle was hit in the left temple and died.

This photo was taken moments after his death by war photographer Alexander Roberts. "It was so peaceful a death ... that I felt its reproduction would not be in bad taste," he said, "but there probably would be another school of thought on this." In fact Roberts did not release the photo for many years, out of deference to Pyle's widow.

Source: Wikipedia

April 17, 2008

April 17 | Dick Shawn

December 1, 1924 – April 17, 1987: Age 62

Dick Shawn is best known as the original Lorenzo St. Dubois/ Adolf Hitler in The Producers. An American comic, he was so over-the-top that, although he was well-known, his best work was on stage as his prime time TV and movie appearances had to be toned down.

In a stand-up routine in San Diego in April 1987 he was portraying a politician, saying "if elected, I will not lay down on the job." Then he fell face-down onto the stage. The audience thought it was part of the act and laughed, but after a few moments of silence, someone came onstage, checked him out, and called into the audience for a doctor. Shawn had suffered a massive heart attack. He was dead.

Even as he was receiving CPR on stage, the audience was not sure whether it was part of the act or not, but they began to leave after paramedics arrived. Most of them were unaware that he had died until they read the notices in the morning's paper.

Click here to see him as Lorenzo St. DuBois doing the worst audition possible for Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder The Producers (he was hired of course!). Here he is doing stand-up on the Tonight Show a couple of years before his death.

Source: Wikipedia

April 16, 2008

April 16 | Bernadette Soubirous

January 7, 1844 – April 16, 1879: Age 35

On February 11, 1858, three poor girls were gathering firewood near a cave in the south of France when one of them clearly say a small beautiful lady standing in a niche in a rock. Moreover, the lady spoke to her, telling her to come back to the cave every day for 15 days. The two other girls saw and heard nothing.

The girl obeyed the vision and returned again and again, having conversations with the lady that consisted mostly of sound common-sense advice on prayer and penance. Having also told her family about the visions, however, the future St. Bernadette soon had a crowd following her to the cave every day. On day nine, the lady told Bernadette to drink from the spring that flowed under the rock and eat the plants that grew freely there. There was no spring, but Bernadette tried digging a muddy patch and drinking the filthy droplets that collected, then eating some of the plants. When the audience saw that all she had to show for this was a muddy face, most concluded that she was either lying or insane, but when, within a few days, a little spring began to flow from the muddy patch, everything changed.

People began visiting the place and drinking and washing in the water, and reports of its healing properties began to circulate.

By visit number 13 the lady asked Bernadette to tell the local priest to build a chapel there. The local clergy was quite skeptical, asking Bernadette to find out the name of the apparition. After a few visits in which this request was met in silence, the lady finally replied, "I am the Immaculate Conception".

This statement changed everything. Had she simply said "I am Mary" or "I am the Virgin" things might have been different, but the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had been officially defined as dogma by Pope Pius just four years earlier (this was a theological issue not well known to the public, and it is very unlikely that an illiterate country girl would have known anything about it). Suddenly Bernadette's visions were linked to a philosophical development in the official Catholic Church.

By the time she was 22 Bernadette had had enough of the attention her visions attracted. She was a genuinely devout woman who liked simple things and certainly did not aspire to fame or power. She entered a convent at Nevers, 700 kilometres from Lourdes, where she worked as an infirmary assistant and later as a sacristan. Although she did ask for water from the Lourdes spring once to help her asthma (it completely cured her), she didn't ask for it when she tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis commonly attacks the lungs, but can also attack other parts of the body, including the central nervous system, lymphatic system, bones, joints, and even the skin. In Bernadette's case, it affected her right knee. She eventually died of it at the age of 35.

Calls for her beatification immediately, and as part of the investigation her body was exhumed and placed in a new casket in September 1909. Those present, who included a Bishop and two doctors as well as several members of the religious community, found that although her crucifix and rosary showed signs of oxidation, her body was perfectly preserved and had no unpleasant smell. It was washed and reburied, but exhumed again in April 1919, when it was observed that there was some discoloration of the face: this was attributed to the washing after the first exhumation. It was exhumed a third time in 1925, and relics were taken and sent to Rome. The doctor who removed the relics (what they were is not stated in any of the sources I found) noted that the skeleton and muscles in the 46-year-old corpse were perfectly preserved, including the liver, and commented that "this did not seem to be a natural phenomenon."

The face and hands were covered with a light wax mask and, upon her official beatification in June of that year (full sainthood would follow eight years later), it was sealed in a reliquary made of crystal so that all could see the miraculous body. You can, too, below.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography Online, Catholic Online

April 15, 2008

April 15 | John Jacob Astor IV

July 13, 1864 – April 15, 1912: Age 47

John Jacob Astor IV was born into one of the richest families in America, his great-grandfather being the first John Jacob Astor who made a fortune in furs and real estate. Once you've got that much money it's hard not to make more, and Astor himself made additional fortuntes in real estate. He also wrote science fiction (including a story set in 2000 about life on Saturn and Jupiter) and invented things (like a bicycle brake and a turbine engine).

He divorced his wife in 1909 after she had an affair, a scandal in itself. Society was further shocked and titillated when he announced, two years later, his married to a woman who, at 18, was two years younger than his own son. In order to wait out the maelstrom of gossip, Mr. and the new Mrs. Astor took an extended tour to Europe and Egypt. During this extended trip, Mrs. Astor became pregnant, and the couple made arrangements to return to America so that the child could be born there. They booked first-class passage on the RMS Titanic.

When the Titanic hit an iceberg and began sinking, Astor did not believe there was any serious danger, but helped his wife into a lifeboat as a precautionary measure. He gave his own place in the lifeboat to stranger, a woman, saying, “The ladies have to go first.” When his pregnant wife tried to get out too, he said, “Get in the lifeboat, to please me.” He lit a cigarette and said, “Good-bye dearie. I’ll see you later.” He stood back, lit a cigarette, and tossed his gloves to his wife. She survived; he, famously, did not.

When he body was recovered it was covered in soot and blood, leading to speculation that he was killed by the funnel when it collapsed as the ship went down. He was identified by his initials, sewn into his jacket. He was carrying $2,500 in American cash plus a further £225 in British currency, as well as his gold pocket watch. His son, Vincent, wore the watch for the rest of his life.

Source: Wikipedia; Forbes, Malcolm, They Went That-a-Way, Simon and Shuster, New York, 1988.

April 14, 2008

April 14 | Rachel Carson

May 27, 1907 - April 14, 1964: Age 56

Rachel Carson was the American biologist who raised hell when she published Silent Spring, a seminal criticism of the widespread use of synthetic pesticides and its effect on the environment and on public health. In doing so she came up against a number of very powerful corporate and government interests; but she also alerted a wider audience to issues that, until then, had been considered too scientific for the public to care about.

Today every schoolchild that I know here in Canada has "caring for the environment" as a very central, deeply cherished value. I know this, not because of what they say, but because of what they do. They campaign for energy savings, raise funds for environmental causes, put up posters of endangered animals, heckle their parents into turning off the lights for Earth Hour, and so forth. When Silent Spring was published, in the 1960s, I was a schoolchild. In those days, the simple idea of not throwing your trash out the car window was a concept original enough to be worthy of an entire ad campaign.

Carson's influence was a major catalyst for the banning of DDT as an agricultural pesticide. Her research also exposed the carcinogenic effects of synthetic pesticides; ironically her health began to fail and in 1960, while researching the book, she discovered cysts in her left breast. She had a precautionary mastectomy, but by December 1960 it was discovered the cysts were malignant and had metastasized.

The next two years were a race between the disease and her energy in finishing, publishing, and promoting the book. The corporate opponents, including DuPont and Cyanamid, attacked her research, her credentials, and even her personal character. Former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson wrote to President Eisenhower that, because she was unmarried despite being physically attractive, she was "probably a Communist". By April 1963, however, Silent Spring won the battle of public opinion: a TV special created a widespread public reaction and inspired a congressional review of the dangers of pesticides.

Weakened by the struggle with cancer and with opponents to her ideas, her last public appearance was in May 1963. In early 1964 she was laid low by a respiratory virus; in February she was diagnosed with anaemia caused by the radiation treatments, and in March cancer was discovered in her liver. She died of a heart attack on April 14, 1964.

Source: Wikipedia

April 13, 2008

April 13 | Kojiro Sasaki

1585? - April 13, 1612: Age 27

Sasaki Kojiro was a famous swordsman in Japan, best known for duelling the even more famous Musashi Miyamoto. At the time, however, he was considered one of the finest swordsmen in the land, renowned for having fended off three enemies with nothing but a fan.

He and Musashi of course knew of each other, and Musashi was eager for a duel. It was arranged to take place on a remote island, probably because Kojiro had so many students that they would have killed Musashi if Kojiro were defeated.

The story goes that Musashi arrived more than three hours late, an unforgivable insult. Moreover, he used as a weapon a bokken (wooden sword) that he had fashioned from the spare oar of the boat he had rowed over. Kojiro, enraged, shouted abuse at Musashi, who simply smiled. Kojiro attacked, and struck so close that Musashi's topknot was severed. But that's as close as he got. Eventually Musashi overcame him, smashing the oar/bokken down on his head, then puncturing his lungs, killing him. It was Musashi's last fatal duel.

There are several versions of the story, and I have cobbled together a couple to make this narrative. Many conflicting details can never be proven one way or another: Kojiro's age is not known (anything from 20 to 50), some say that Musashi tricked Kojiro and assassinated him, and the whole notion of setting out for a duel with the intention of making one's weapon on the way is ridiculous. But the story has been told many times over and will continue to be told as long as we exist.

Source: Wikipedia

April 12, 2008

April 12 | Franklin Roosevelt

January 30, 1882 - April 12, 1945: Age 63

"I wish I could keep war from all Nations; but that is beyond my power. I can at least make certain that no act of the United States helps to produce or to promote war."

FDR was and is one of the best-loved presidents of the United States. He was elected for four terms in office (this was before the two-term limit was ratified in the twenty-second amendment), and took the country through two seminal events of the 20th century: the recovery from the Great Depression, and World War II. He and his wife, Eleanor, were two of the greatest American liberals of the last century.

Trained as a lawyer, Roosevelt grew up in a wealthy family. He married Eleanor against his mother's wishes. Overall, they were well matched, but Roosevelt was a philanderer, and Eleanor found this difficult to tolerate, especially when she discovered he had been having an affair with her own secretary. She proposed a divorce, but Roosevelt's mother — the same one who had opposed the match in the first place — threatened to disinherit him if he went through with it. The marriage settled into a reasonably amicable and successful partnership that left the other aspects of marriage in the past. As part of the arrangement, Roosevelt promised to break off the affair with Eleanor's secretary, and never to see her again.

In 1921 he contracted an illness that left his legs paralyzed. Although Roosevelt was the first US President to use broadcast media extensively to communicate with the public, its primitive nature and the dominance of radio meant that he was able to perpetuate the fiction that his paralysis was temporary and that he was on the road to recovery. He used a wheelchair, but never allowed himself to be seen with it in public, staging public appearances so that he was standing upright or using a cane. People simply didn't think much about it.

He took office in March 1933, when the world was in the depths of economic depression. Credited with turning the US economy around through his aggressively liberal policies, and was re-elected by a wide margin in 1937. When war erupted in Europe in 1939, he began to steer the country toward intervention, and a year after his re-election for an unprecedented third term, in December 1941, the US entered the war. In 1944 the US was in the midst of war on two fronts, and re-elected him for a fourth term.

Roosevelt's health was declining due to the strain of office, his paralysis, and years of chain-smoking, high blood pressure, and heart disease. When he addressed Congress in March many were surprised to see how ill and old he looked. On April 12 he was sitting for a portrait when he complained of a "terrific headache" and broke off the sitting to go to bed. A doctor's visit revealed that he had had a massive stroke. He died later that day, leaving Harry Truman, his Vice-President, to finish out the term. The portrait, seen right, was left unfinished.

With him on the day of his death was Lucy Mercer: the same woman who, years before, he had promised Eleanor he would never see again. He had not kept the promise, but continued to see Mercer discreetly over the years. In his latter years, his daughter Anna had even helped arrange visits between the two. Although the continued contact was apparently news to Eleanor, and must have been a shock, it is worth noting that the 1918 marital showdown was a very positive turning point in her life. From that point on she steered her own course in life, becoming an influential figure in politics, diplomacy, and civil rights: so much so that she was proposed as a running mate for Truman in the 1948 election (she declined). She had a close and loving relationship with another woman which, viewed through the lens of her now-public letters, was very likely a full partnership in every sense.

Source: Wikipedia

April 11, 2008

April 11 | Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

November 11, 1922 - April 11, 2007: Age 84

One of the defining experiences of Kurt Vonnegut's life had to be the bombing of Dresden. As a prisoner of war, he was put into a cell in an underground meat locker of a slaughterhouse that had been converted into a prison camp. After the city was destroyed by bombs, he and his fellow surviving prisoners were put to work burying the dead, "But there were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Nazis sent in troops with flamethrowers. All these civilians' remains were burned to ashes."

The experience is recounted, in fictionalized form, in his most celebrated novel, Slaughterhouse Five. If you have not read this book yet, run — don't walk, run — to the nearest bookstore to get your copy. It is necessary. And it is not what you think it might be. It's funny, sad, whimsical, strange, delightful...actually it's impossible to describe Vonnegut's writing. Go read it.

Vonnegut lived to a ripe old age, and worked right up to the end. In spring of 2007, he had a fall at his apartment, resulting in brain damage. He died several weeks later on April 11.

Here, for your pleasure, are his eight rules for writing a short story:
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Source: Wikipedia

April 10, 2008

April 10 | Gabrielle d'Estrées

1571 - April 10, 1599: Age 28?

Gabrielle d'Estrées was certainly one of the most beautiful women in the world when she became the lover of the King of France in 1591. In those days it was perfectly normal for a king to have an acknowledged mistress, even when married to someone else, as Henri was. Gabrielle followed the King everywhere, even in war, pregnant, living in his tent near the battlefield and making sure his creature comforts were in place. They adored each other.

The big issue of the century, of course, was the Reformation: most of the rich and powerful of Europe circled the issue like wolves looking for ways to use religious disputes to strengthen their fortunes. Henri was an exception: born Protestant, he converted to Catholicism when he became King of France, and worked for his whole life to bring about peace and religious tolerance for his kingdom. For a time, he succeeded.

His first marriage was unhappy and, mindful of the need for an heir, he tried to obtain an annulment, planning to marry Gabrielle, who had already produced three children for him. The plan came to nothing in 1599. Gabrielle, pregnant with their fourth child, suddenly developed eclampsia, a serious complication in which the mother suddenly begins convulsing. Today good prenatal care means the danger signs can be caught and the situation controlled long before it becomes life-threatening. Obstetrics in the 16th century were different. Gabrielle fell into convulsions, gave birth to a stillborn son, and died the next day, before the King (who was elsewhere) could reach her side. He was devastated, and wore mourning (unheard of for a mistress) and gave her a royal funeral.

No mention of this amazing woman would be complete without taking the opportunity to show Gabrielle d'Estrées et une de ses soeurs, which now hangs in the Louvre. That's her on the right, holding Henry's coronation ring, which he gave her. I guess this was the 16th century equivalent of a shoot for Playboy.

Source: Wikipedia

April 9, 2008

April 9 | Sir Francis Bacon

January 22, 1561 - 9 April 9, 1626: Age 65

The cat wasn't the only thing curiosity killed: it killed Francis Bacon, too. Through his essays and activities, the brilliant and popular polymath framed and promoted the scientific method — that is, an inductive method of scientific inquiry. In other words, he recommended that scientists actually test their theories, even when the outcome seemed obvious. It was revolutionary.

During a cold winter in 1626, while driving through London with a friend, he was suddenly seized by the idea that snow could be used to preserve meat. The two friends jumped out of the carriage, bought a chicken, and stood outside stuffing it with snow. In doing so, he got a terrible chill and fell ill so quickly with pneumonia that he stopped at the house of a friendly earl nearby to lie down. The earl happened to be in jail at the time for pissing off the king, but his servants welcomed Bacon and his companion and showed them to the guest room. In those days there was no central heating and if things got damp in the winter, they stayed damp; the bed he repaired to was both cold and damp. Within three days Bacon was dead.

Source: Wikipedia

April 8, 2008

April 8 | Per Yngve Ohlin (Dead)

January 16, 1969 - April 8, 1991: Age 22

Per Yngve Ohlin was a Swedish vocalist for the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. He was known as "Dead", and liked to dress up as a corpse, sometimes burying his clothes weeks before a concert so that they could be rotting and worm-infested when he performed. While on one tour, he kept the corpse of a raven in a plastic bag, inhaling from it before performing in order to smell death. He would also cut himself with knives or broken bottles while performing, on one occasion even having to go to hospital to recover from the blood loss.

On April 8, 1991, a fellow band member found him dead -- actually dead. He had tried to slit his wrists, but the knife was too dull, so he had shot himself in the head using a shotgun, leaving a note that read "Excuse all the blood" and further apologizing for using a shotgun in the house. His friend jumped in the car and drove to buy a disposable camera so that he could record the tableau, which he later used as an album cover. For real. He also took fragments of the skull to make necklaces, or perhaps to mail out to worthy metal bands....all rumours which he later denied.

It's easy to Google the image of his actual corpse on the album cover, if you're interested; I won't put it here because it's pretty grisly and you may not want to look at it today.

Sources: Wikipedia, Fan Site

April 7, 2008

April 7 | Alexander Bogdanov

August 22, 1873, - April 7, 1928: Age 54

Alexander Bogdanov was a Russian physician and polymath who wrote science fiction books, philosophized, wrote about economics, and believed that blood transfusions could extend life and rejuvenate health.

His experiments seemed so successful that, upon Lenin's death, he was commissioned to resuscitate his body, however he was unsuccessful. He wrote, however, to Stalin of his dreams of rejunvenating the Boshevik party leadership.

In March of 1928, a group of students volunteered to take part in blood exchanges to help them study more energetically for exams. L. I. Koldomasiv, who had inactive tuberculosis and malaria, was ruled out for medical reasons, but Bogdanov contacted him and proposed a mutual blood exchange, with the idea that as a middle-aged doctor he would be immune to tuberculosis. Both hoped that Bogdanov's immunity could be transferred. They exchanged nearly one litre of blood.

Both had reactions; Koldomasov survived and his lung lesions cleared. He was reportedly still alive in 1983 at age 76. Bogdanov had chills and fever, intestinal distress, hemolysis and oliguria, then jaundice. He died on 7 April 1928.

Sources: Wikipedia, Science Fiction Studies (review 1987), The Struggle for Viability

April 6, 2008

April 6 | Richard I

September 8, 1157 – April 6, 1199: Age 41

Remember Thomas Becket? Richard I is the son of the guy who accidentally ordered him killed. He's also the same good King Richard who appears at the end of Robin Hood stories in his Crusader's outfit to save the day and restore order to England.

Although Richard the Lionheart, as he is known, enjoys great popularity in our imaginations today, the truth is he spent little time in England and could hardly speak English. He grew up in France and, a professional Crusader, used his English holdings to finance his very expensive armies in the Middle East.

He was indeed a great military leader and did wonderful things against Saladin. He also revolted against his own father on a regular basis, attempting on more than one occasion to seize his throne. When he was finally crowned King of England, after his father's death, he barred all Jews and women from the coronation ceremony. When some Jewish community leaders arrived with gifts, he had them stripped and flogged and then flung out into the street. A rumour then spread that Richard had ordered all Jews killed, and the people of London dutifully started a massacre. At this point Richard woke up to the fact that allowing leading Jewish citizens to be murdered and their property destroyed and stolen was a bad idea, had the perpetrators hung, and ordered that Jews be left alone.

He went on Crusade again a year later. When raising funds for this, he remarked "I would have sold London if I could find a buyer." He left the country in the hands of various family members and officials and divided his time over the next ten years between waging war in warmer, bloodier climes, and protecting his interests in France.

In March 1199 Richard was besieging a castle in the region of Limousin, suppressing a revolt in his holdings there. He was walking around the castle walls one evening, inspecting the progress of some sappers. Archers would shoot arrows from the castle from time to time but rarely hit anything important, and Richard felt confident enough to be making his inspection without armour. One archer in particular was standing on the walls holding a crossbow and a frying pan, which he had been using as a shield all day to ward off stones and other flying objects. When he aimed an arrow at Richard, the king laughed and applauded — until the arrow struck him on the left shoulder. Richard returned to his tent and tried to pull the arrow out, but could not, so he called a doctor. The doctor also had difficulty, removing the arrow but damaging Richard's arm.

The would became infected and it became clear he would die. Richard asked that the archer who shot him be found and brought before him. This was done, and the culprit turned out to be a mere boy, who announced that he had shot Richard in revenge as the king had killed his father and two brothers. With egotistic flair, Richard forgave the lad, giving him a sum of money and saying, "Live on, and by my bounty behold the light of day".

Richard made his will, leaving his throne to his brother John, and died on April 6 in the arms of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The young archer was recaptured, skinned alive, and hanged as soon as Richard died. So much for medieval chivalry.

Source: Wikipedia

April 5, 2008

April 5 | George Herbert

June 26, 1866 – April 5, 1923: Age 56

George Herbert, or rather George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, was the man who financed the excavation of King Tut's tomb by Howard Carter. He was present in February 1923 when the tomb was opened, and the greatest treasures of Egyptian archaeology were exposed to light and air for the first time in millennia.

He was still in Cairo several months later when he accidentally opened an infected mosquito bite while shaving. The resulting blood poisoning killed him at 1:55 a.m. on April 5, 1923. At the same moment, all the lights in Cairo went out. Back in England, Herbert's dog, Susie, let out a howl and died.

Over the next 10 years, a dozen others who went inside the tomb met untimely deaths, leading to speculation about the Pharaoh's Curse. Herbert's own son was so frightened that when boxes of treasure arrived back in England, he hid them unopened in the gap between two rooms. Herbert's hotel room in Cairo has never since been made available to anyone else.

Over the course of his life, Herbert collected a vast trove of Egyptian antiquities. The terms of his will stated that, should his wife wish to dispose of his collection, it should be offered to the British Museum for 20,000 pounds, a fraction of their real value. Lady Carnarvon made the offer, but gave the Museum until 4pm the same day to pay in full. When they could not, she was free to sell the collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for a much higher price: $145,000.

Sources: Wikipedia, Top News

April 4, 2008

April 4 | Lady Be Good

Lady Be Good was an American bomber in the US Air Force during World War II. The plane disappeared on April 4, 1943 after a bombing raid on Naples. Nothing was known of what happened until 15 years later, when a British oil surveyor found the wreckage of the plane deep in the desert — the crew had overshot the base by 400 miles.

The plane was broken into two pieces, but otherwise in good shape. There was a working radio, food, and water on board. There was even a thermos of tea. What there wasn't, was any sign of a human being. Nor were there any parachutes. It seemed that the men had bailed out, but it was not clear why: the final log entry was written while the plane was still in Naples.

It wasn't until some of the bodies were recovered two years later, at the end of a trail of footwear, parachute scraps, and other discarded articles that the probable story became clear (although much is still mysterious).

The day of the raid presented severe winds all over the Mediterranean. As a result, the bomber was separated from the squadron and the crew uncertain as to their course. They probably flew very close to the base at around midnight: near this time, another base nearby received a voice call from the pilot of Lady Be Good requesting a position report and indicating that their direction finder had malfunctioned.

At about the same time, the staff at Soluch heard the engines, and sent up flares, but the crew missed them. They continued to fly — for two more hours. At that point, running out of fuel, they put on their parachutes and bailed. They were not aware how far inland they had flown: the winds had been heavy all day, there was no moon (April 4, 1943 was a new moon), and with a protocol of radio silence (for fear of drawing the attention of enemy planes). What happened next was recorded in the diaries of two crew members and pieced together from the wreckage and the bodies found.

The first to die was the bombardier: his parachute didn't open properly and he died on hitting the ground (his body was found miles from where they landed). The others, however, didn't know that, and spent some time calling out for him in the darkness. When they couldn't find him, they discarded what they didn't need and set out to the northwest, hoping to come across him on the way. It was 2 a.m. but they had little water and no food; they needed to travel as far as they could before the desert sun rose.

They didn't realize that they were fully 400 miles from the base. Had they known, they could have reached food, water, and a working radio in the wreckage, just a few miles southeast.

They moved northward for 5 days, sharing one canteen of water. At that point five of them gave up: they had walked 78 miles and could see tall dunes ahead. Three had enough strength to continue and, hoping that the base would be just beyond the dunes, promised to send help. It was futile: the base was still hundreds of miles away, and within three days all the crew members were dead.

Sources: ladybegood.com, Wikipedia

April 3, 2008

April 3 | Jesse James

September 5, 1847 - April 3, 1882: Age 34

The single greatest political influence of Jesse James' youth was the Civil War. He grew up in Missouri, where the population was split, one side secessionists who wanted to join the South, and one side with the North. James' family were slaveholders and staunchly for the Confederates; his older brother Frank even joined a guerrilla operation and took part in various atrocities on behalf of the Confederate side. The state was a microcosm of the war itself, with citizens fighting one another and ratting each other out to the gangs of thugs and armies who roamed the state.

By the end of the war James was thoroughly inured to violence of all kinds, and in fact himself joined a bushwhacker gang that harassed authorities who disagreed with Confederate politics. It is likely that his gang committed the first peacetime armed robbery in the United States. When the leader was killed, surviving members continued to rob banks and, in the course of these activities, James killed a cashier whom he mistook for a wartime enemy; that was the first time his name got into the papers. He came to the attention of a journalist named John Edwards, who had a political agenda that was served by publishing stories about James' daring feats, giving his image a Robin Hood spin by de-emphasizing violence, emphasizing robberies of large institutions or payrolls, and above all emphasizing their affiliation with the Confederates and hostility toward the North. Jesse and his brother Frank formed the James-Younger gang and roamed the southern states, robbing banks with prominent Union or Republican shareholders, getting good notices in the papers, and often being helped and shielded by South-sympathizers along the way.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency was hired to deal with them, and founder Allan Pinkerton took the case on personally. He staged a raid on the James family home; it turned into a fiasco when they threw a bomb into the house, killing James' younger half-brother and blowing off his mother's arm. When the story made the papers, the James-Younger gang gained even more popularity with the public, and Jesse James was confirmed as a sympathetic figure in the public imagination.

Eventually James became paranoid. Most of his old guerrilla comrades were dead; he didn't trust the new recruits. He was right. One recruit, Bob Ford, was secretly negotiating with the Missouri governor to bring James in.

On the morning of April 3, 1882, Ford, his brother, and James were getting ready for another robbery. They had just eaten breakfast. It was a hot day, and James removed his coat and guns. He noticed a picture on the wall was dusty, and stood on a chair to clean it. Bob Ford pulled out a gun and shot him in the back of the head.

When the Ford brothers went to the authorities to collect their reward, they were shocked to find themselves charged with murder. They were tried and sentenced to death by hanging, but immediately given a full pardon by the Missouri governor. They did manage to collect part of their reward, but had to leave Missouri due to their great unpopularity. Charley Ford committed suicide two years later, and Bob Ford was killed by a gun ten years later.

Meanwhile Jesse James was buried under a tombstone that reads, In Loving Memory of my Beloved Son, Murdered by a Traitor and Coward Whose Name is not Worthy to Appear Here.

Frank James surrendered to the Governor of Missouri five months later. He placed his holster in the Governor's hands, saying, "I have been hunted for twenty-one years, have literally lived in the saddle, have never known a day of perfect peace. It was one long, anxious, inexorable, eternal vigil." He then ended his statement by saying, "Governor, I haven't let another man touch my gun since 1861."

Frank was tried for two robberies and murders, and acquitted on both counts. The evidence was overwhelming, but his character witnesses included a Confederate General and no Missouri jury was going to sentence him. He lived another 30 years, working as a salesman, security guard, and telegraph operator, among other jobs. He also did public appearances, even giving tours of the James family farm for 25 cents. He died in 1915 at the age of 72.

Source: Wikipedia

April 2, 2008

April 2 | Arthur Tudor

September 19 or 20, 1486 - April 2, 1502: Age 15

When Arthur, Prince of Wales, was born a month early, he still seemed a healthy child. He was named after the legendary King Arthur of Britain, and he himself was heir to the British throne.

When he was two years old he was contracted to marry the youngest daughter of the same Ferdinand and Isabella who financed Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World. As he was growing up, he was heaped with honours and tutored by the finest minds in the kingdom. He and his bride-to-be wrote formal letters to one another in Latin. In November 1501, when he had turned 15 years old, the two met at a Palace in Hampshire, and were married ten days later.

Their marriage was very short. Arthur and his new bride, living in Wales, became very ill and, just over four months after the wedding, Arthur died. It is thought that he may have had what they called "sweating sickness", which is now presumed to be a form of hantavirus, or he may have had consumption or diabetes. Suddenly his younger brother Henry, who was just nine years old and destined for a career in the Church, became heir to the throne.

Catherine, who recovered from the fever only to find herself a 16-year-old widow of uncertain status. Because their marriage had been so short and, according to her, unconsommated, the normal procedure would have been for her to return, with her dowry, to her parents, and find someone else to marry. But her father-in-law, a notorious miser, could not bring himself to part with the money. Instead he made vague promises about her marrying the new heir, but since he was only nine years old the whole thing would have to be put off until the young man was old enough to marry. For eight years Catherine was isolated, living on a tiny allowance, unable to pay her staff, and having no official status.

Everything turned up roses when the old king died in 1509. Young King Henry immediately announced his intention to go ahead with the marriage, and for 15 years the two enjoyed a famously loving and happy union. But then, we all know how that ended.

How different the history of England, Europe, and the world would be had Arthur not died so young.

Source: Wikipedia

April 1, 2008

April 1 | Scott Joplin

1867 or 1868 - April 1, 1917: Age 49 or 50

Scott Joplin was an American composer and musician known as the "King of Ragtime". His mother cleaned houses so that he could practice on her clients' pianos while she cleaned. A German music teacher recognized his talent and gave him free lessons. He studied the classical forms in this way, but was a musical omnivore, forming bands and quartets, singing, and playing in concert bands.

Ragtime was the first truly American musican genre, and it originated with African Americans, who took traditional jigs, waltzes, and marches, and syncopated the rhythms. The genre became extremely popular in the late 19th century, with composers everywhere adopting or adapting its syncopated rhythms. Although it's associated with frivolous entertainment, and often performed in a fast, aggressive, and somewhat mechanical style, it is a mature classical genre and Joplin is its pre-eminent composer. I believe its full emotional potential is at least indicated by the award-winning score of The Sting, for which Marvin Hamlisch adapted Joplin's compositions. Ironically, the film is set in the 1930s, by which time ragtime was considered completely passé and probably rarely heard. Click here for a three-minute sample from the film score on YouTube; there are just still visuals so you can keep reading this while you listen (it will open in another window).

It's hard to imagine today the challenges of a black composer's professional and personal life at the turn of the previous century. He also had a full share of sorrow unrelated to colour, including the untimely death of his best-loved wife (he had several) just two months after their wedding. Worst of all for all of us, he had syphilis. His career started slowly — recognition came only in his 30s — and ended too soon, as the syphilis began to affect his neurology by his late 40s. During the 'teens he recorded several player-piano rolls, and two versions of "Maple Leaf Rag", one made in April 1916 and the other in June of the same year, clearly show the deterioration.

His symptoms included dementia, paralysis, and paranoia, and was hospitalized in mid-January. During periods of lucidity he would jot down lines of music. He died on April 1, 1917. His death was not widely noticed by the papers: there was a war on (the US entered the war a few days after his death) and ragtime was on its way "out" as a fashionable genre.

In additional to his many ragtime compositions, Joplin also composed two operas, only one of which survives. I'll leave you with a link to an aria from Treemonisha. This YouTube video is accompanied simply by still photographs from Louisiana, which really suit it, I think.

Source: Wikipedia