The Ancient Rock-Cut Tombs of Myra’s Lycian Necropolis
The ancient town of Myra in Turkey may sound familiar to you, because St. Nicholas (one of the Santa Claus origins) was the bishop of Myra. Another claim to fame for the region is the many ancient ruins one can see there.
Perhaps most striking of all the ancient ruins in Myra are the rock-cut tombs of the ancient Lycian necropolis. Two burial sites, the river necropolis and ocean necropolis, with frontages resembling classical temples, are hewn from the cliffs towering above the town.
You can imagine the years of work that went into carving these tombs out of the cliff faces.
History of the Séance
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, spiritualism—a belief that the spirits of the dead can communicate with the living—was all the rage. There was no trendier activity than holding a séance led by a medium, who would mediate between the living and the dead. The mediums not only delivered messages from the dearly departed, but also demonstrated the presence of spirits in the room by levitating objects, ringing bells, and producing a substance from their bodies known as ectoplasm as seen in the photos above. In the fourth photo above, the medium can be seen “cheating” when the photographer caught her lifting the table with her knee.
Those were excellent tricks, but that’s all they were—mediums were often shown to be frauds. “Exposures are of frequent occurrence, many of them highly sensational in character,” wrote the New York Times in a November 21, 1909 article titled “Notable Charlatans Exposed In The Past: A Weird History That Leaves Spiritualism Undaunted.” (You can view a PDF of the article here.) “Slate writing, spirit pictures, table tipping, rapping, and other features of Spiritualism have been exposed time and again.”
The two last photos above, circa 1910, show medium Marthe Beraud excreting ectoplasm, her specialty, during a séance. In the last photo, a strange face appears on the ectoplasm. The material was said to be formed when mediums were in a trance state; it could only be created in near darkness and it was emitted from orifices on the medium’s body. But rather than being some spiritual substance, the so-called ectoplasm was usually gauze, muslin, or chiffon. Beraud was the first medium to perform the ectoplasm trick and one of her outspoken supporters was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Buried Alive - Signals from the Grave
The New York Times printed two disturbing accounts of people that were buried alive. In 1885, one victim was a man from Buncombe County whose name was given as “Jenkins.” His body was found turned over onto its front inside the coffin, with much of his hair pulled out. Scratch marks were also visible on all sides of the coffin’s interior. Another Times article in 1886 described the victim simply as a girl named “Collins” from Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. Her body was described as being found with the knees tucked up under the body, and her burial shroud “torn into shreds”. The fear of being buried alive prompted a surge of patents for specialized coffins for “detecting life in buried persons.”
The U.S. Patent Office was busy during the 19th century granting patents for these “safety coffins.” The patent illustrations above are just a few of many that were granted during that time. In case of premature burial, a person would be able to utilize whatever features the coffin offered to signal that they were still alive and trapped inside.
- 1882 (first illustration): John Krichbaum, of Youngstown, OH, created an odd device consisting of a bar placed in the hands of the corpse and extending to the surface and into a glass enclosure where a pointer and numbers apparently indicated any movement of the bar. Krichbaum mentions that the device is used for persons buried under doubt of being in a trance.
- 1885 (second illustration): Charles Sieber and Frederick Borntraeger, of Waterloo, IL, received a patent for a grave signal for people buried in a trance. Along with an electromagnetic bell alarm and pop-up flag activated by a string tied to the finger of the corpse, this patent includes a spring driven fan in a housing at the grave surface that is also activated by the finger string and a lamp and window at the bottom of a tube for viewing the face of the corpse from the surface.
- 1899 (third illustration): M.C.H. Nicolle, of France, patented a somewhat bizarre coffin signal, in which a hammer is released by movement of the corpse, swinging down and breaking a glass window directly over the head, allowing air to enter the previously sealed coffin. The alarm is simply the sound of the breaking glass, since the device is used only before burial. If anyone ever did wake from a trance in one of these coffins and lifted their head, the result would appear to be a face full of broken glass followed by a blow to the head from the falling hammer.
Although there were many specialized coffin patents granted, only a few were made, and of the one’s that were, there is no evidence that anyone’s life has been saved by their use.
The Murderer and Cannibal Celebrity - Issei Sagawa
In 1981, a Japanese man named Issei Sagawa was seen at a park on the outskirts of Paris, carrying two suitcases. When he spotted some people watching him, he got scared and just left the suitcases. The contents of those suitcases was the dismembered body of a fellow student – a Dutch woman named Renée Hartevelt, whom Sagawa had shot three days prior and had spent the days since eating various parts of her body.
The police tracked the suitcases to Sagawa and he was arrested without any struggle. Sagawa freely admitted in crimes in every gruesome and gory detail, first by telling of his desire to eat her. He did so after having sex with the corpse. For two days, Sagawa ate various parts of her body. He described the meat as “soft” and “odorless”, like tuna. He showed no remorse for the crime and seemed to brag about his exploits.
After being held for two years without trial, the French court found him “obviously” legally insane and unfit to stand trial and ordered Sagawa to be held indefinitely in a mental institution.
The subsequent publicity and macabre celebrity status of Sagawa likely contributed to the French authorities’ decision to have him extradited to Japan. Upon arrival in Japan, he was immediately taken to a mental hospital and examined by psychologists who all found him to be sane but “evil”.
However, Japanese authorities found it to be legally impossible to hold him, purportedly because they lacked certain important papers from the French court. As a result, Sagawa checked himself out of the mental institution in 1986 and has been a free man ever since.
To make this story even more horrific, Sagawa became a minor celebrity in Japan and continues to make a living through the public’s interest in his crime. He has written books about the murder he committed and is often invited as a guest speaker and commentator. Even more disgusting, Sagawa made his acting debut playing a sadosexual voyeur, and is probably the first cannibal in history that was paid to write restaurant reviews.
In addition, Sagawa’s story has inspired short films, one entitled Cannibal Superstar, documentaries, and even a Rolling Stone’s song, Too Much Blood.
In 2009, Sagawa was documented in a History Channel show titled Strange Rituals discussing cannibalism. The show reveals Sagawa as a freelance artist of nude paintings. He is now 63 years old and continues to live in Tokyo.
A NewAanalysis of the Oldest Known Human Dissection Specimen
What does this head from the thirteenth century tell us about Medieval medicine?
Medieval Torture Devices
In Medieval times, they sought out ways to cut back on crime. Instead of letting the criminals sit in a jail cell, like today, they would use different torture devices. These devices came in all shapes and sizes and were meant to scare other would be criminals into submission. These are just a couple of examples:
- The Brazen Bull. This device was designed in Greece by Perillos of Athens. He was a brass founder and he cast the shape of a hollow bull with a door on the side. The condemned person was put inside the bull. There was a fire lit underneath the device, causing the person to roast to death. It was configured with tubes and stops, so when the person was screaming it would sound like the bull was raging.
- The Breaking Wheel. This wheel of torture was used to kill criminals in an extremely slow and painful way. This device was a large wagon wheel. First, people were chained to the wheel at their wrists and ankles. Next, they were beaten with hammers and stuck with hot pokers. After the torturers where done, the prisoners were left attached to the wheel while birds would peck at their flesh until death was complete.
Highgate Cemetery - London’s Most Haunted
Highgate Cemetery is steeped in supernatural lore. Constructed out of need with six others in the early 1800s, with London’s population nearing a million and the death toll rising, there was no more room to bury the dead. This cemetery is one of the most famous in the world, with many notable historic figures, such as Karl Marx, buried there.
The architecture of the cemetery is truly unique. In the heart of the grounds is an eccentric structure called the Egyptian Avenue which consists of sixteen vaults, entered via a great arch. Each vault fits twelve coffins, purchased and used by individual families. This avenue leads to the Circle of Lebanon which was built in the same style consisting of thirty six vaults. A separate gothic-styled catacomb, named the Terrace Catacombs, has an additional fifty five vaults.
But what lures most people to the cemetery are the legends and myths that include ghosts, a vampire and other unexplained phenomena. Spirits coming out of the mausoleums, a glowing woman who roams the paths in between the graves, a man in a top hat, and misty floating beings that hang around the tombs are just some of the the spirits that inhabit the cemetery. Its the account of the “Highgate Vampire” that makes the site legendary.
The first report was in 1970, when a young man reported that he had seen a dark figure resembling a vampire in the cemetery. Since then, hundreds of claims of suspected vampires continued to be reported. Helping the belief along was the fact that dead foxes, with their throats torn open, kept turning up on the grounds. Aside from ghosts and a resident vampire, Highgate Cemetery is a hauntingly beautiful place to spend eternity.
Capuchin Catacombs - Palermo, Italy
In 1599, Capuchin monks discovered that their catacombs contained a mysterious preservative that helped mummify the dead. As a result, more than 8,000 Sicilians from all walks of life chose to be buried here. The corpses range in date from the late 1500s to 1920 and most were embalmed before their display.
In the 1940s Allied bombs hit the monastery, destroying many of the mummies. The Capuchin Monastery (Convento dei Cappuccini) itself was rebuilt over the remains of the original medieval church in 1623 and was once again restored in the early 20th century.
The Bizarre Mystery of Somerton Man
In 1948, the body of a man was found on Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia. Police found a suitcase which they believed was his containing clothing in which all but three items had their name tags removed. The name on the remaining items pointed them to a man who was later identified as not being the dead man. A small note in the man’s pocket said “taman shud” which was cut out from the last line of a book of poems, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The words translate to “The End” but is actually spelled “tamam shud”. Once the press misspelled the words, they were never corrected.
A doctor seeing the note on TV contacted police to say that the same book had appeared in the backseat of his unlocked car with the last words cut from the book. In the back of the book were coded markings (original shown above) which have not been deciphered.
A name in the front of the book led police to a woman who said she had given it to a man named Alfred Boxall during the Second World War. Upon seeing a plaster cast of the dead man, she identified him by the name of Boxall. This appeared to solve the mystery of who the man was, until a man named Boxall was discovered alive with his copy of the book undamaged. Coincidentally the woman who identified the man lived in Glenelg – the last town visited by the dead man before he traveled by bus to his final destination.
This is considered to be one of Australia’s most profound mysteries. Researchers and crime enthusiasts are still trying to solve the case to this day. An exhumation of Somerton Man’s body was requested but denied with the court stating that its purpose would only be for publicity and not for trying to solve his murder. To that extent, I disagree. There is no statute of limitations on murder and even thought the perpetrator is likely deceased, it is a case that has held the world in awe of the many intertwining mysteries it holds.