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 Four Stages of Cruelty, 1751
In an act of 1752, “for better preventing the horrid crime of murder”, which dictated that the bodies of those found guilty of murder and hanged should either be delivered to the surgeons to be “dissected and anatomized” or hung in chains. By increasing the terror and the shame of the death penalty, these practices were meant to increase the deterrent effect of capital punishment in England.
In The Four Stages of Cruelty–a series of printed engravings published in 1751–the English artist, William Hogarth, depicts the different stages of life which ultimately bring the fictional criminal ‘Tom Nero’ to the anatomist’s dissecting table.
In The First State of Cruelty (first engraving), we see Nero torturing a dog by plunging an arrow into its rectum while two other boys restrain the helpless creature. All around them, other boys partake in senseless acts of cruelty against animals.
In The Second State of Cruelty (second engraving), we see an older Nero as a hackney coachman whose horse has collapsed and broken its leg under the weight of its cargo. Four frugal lawyers were too cheap to hire two carts. The carriage pitches sideways, spilling its passengers from its confines, as Nero whips the horse with such anger that he takes out the poor animal’s eye.
In Cruelty in Perfection (third engraving), Nero’s evilness is unleashed upon his pregnant lover, Ann Gill. Her mutilated body is lying before shocked witnesses. The brutality of the crime is evident as her neck, wrist and index finger have nearly been severed from her body. The finger points to the words, ‘God’s Revenge against Murder’, which are written on a book by her side, indicating Nero’s fate.
In the final engraving, The Reward of Cruelty, Nero’s body, having been tried and convicted of Ann’s murder, is delivered for dissection. In a poetic twist of fate, the anatomists carve open Nero’s corpse, spilling his intestines on the floor where a dog picks at the remains. Nero’s eye has been removed from its socket, evoking images of the old horse in the second engraving. And lastly, just as Ann’s finger pointed to Nero’s fate in the third panel, Nero’s partially severed finger points to the fate of all murderers: a pot of bones with their flesh boiled off, ready for anatomical display.
The moral of the series, The Four Stages of Cruelty, is that cruel children, if left unchecked by society, become cruel adults. Hogarth suggests that it is a natural progression from Nero’s abuse of animals to his life of crime, culminating in his vicious attack on another human being. Only then does the establishment intervene with their own act of legalized violence and cruelty, Nero’s hanging and the gruesome spectacle of his dissection.
Eaten by Mountain Rats
“In 1876, Pike’s Peak Signal Station attendant Private John O’Keefe told tall tales of life in the station to lawyer, newspaper man and drinking friend, Eliphat Price. O’Keefe recounted a story of large, man-eating rats that lived in caves on Pikes Peak.
“The story grew to include how these rats attacked him and his wife and daughter in the station itself – devouring a side of beef in less than five minutes. While Private O’Keefe tried to protect his family using a club to fend off the rats, it was actually Mrs. O’Keefe who saved the day by electrocuting the rats with a coil of wire connected to the signal station’s battery.
“According to the story, her efforts were too late. Before she could connect the wire to the battery terminals, hundreds of these killer rats had already devoured Erin, the O’Keefe’s only daughter.
“O’Keefe quickly erected a grave on the summit to support his story and to woo tourists. However, O’Keefe wasn’t married and he didn’t have a daughter. Despite this, the story hit the wires and ended up being published in many newspapers around the globe.”
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.