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The Oddment Emporium

A Cornucopia of Eclectic Delights

Posts tagged Macabre:

Human Head Encased in an Iron Cage
It’s been a while since I posted anything quite so macabre as this but the image of a group of boys making this grim discovery as they played in the sands at Hempstead, L.I., in the mid-1930s, had a grim allure for some reason. Perhaps because of its links with the golden age of piracy. 
According to Corbis Images the cage is ‘evidence of an early pirates’ torture device,’ namely, gibbeting. In the earliest recorded examples of gibbeting from the 17th century, the criminal would be bound in the metal cage and hung from a scaffold until they died of starvation, and it was a popular method of execution for piracy, highwaymen, murderers, and… sheep stealers. The positioning of such a structure next to public roads served as a warning to other potential criminals that they too might suffer the same fate.

Human Head Encased in an Iron Cage

It’s been a while since I posted anything quite so macabre as this but the image of a group of boys making this grim discovery as they played in the sands at Hempstead, L.I., in the mid-1930s, had a grim allure for some reason. Perhaps because of its links with the golden age of piracy. 

According to Corbis Images the cage is ‘evidence of an early pirates’ torture device,’ namely, gibbeting. In the earliest recorded examples of gibbeting from the 17th century, the criminal would be bound in the metal cage and hung from a scaffold until they died of starvation, and it was a popular method of execution for piracy, highwaymen, murderers, and… sheep stealers. The positioning of such a structure next to public roads served as a warning to other potential criminals that they too might suffer the same fate.

The Frog Museum

The Frog Museum in Switzerland originated in the 1850s when an eccentric Napoleonic guard began collecting dead frogs on his walks in the countryside. When he returned home he would gut them, fill the skins with sand, and arrange them into satirical tableaux depicting domestic life in the 19th century. 

[Sources: Image 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Wikipedia | Atlas Obscura | Official Website]

Baby Brothel Burials

In 1912 a group of archeologists were somewhat perturbed when, whilst excavating an Ancient Roman villa in Buckinghamshire, they uncovered the remains of some 97 infants. By measuring the bones of the skeletons it was determined that each had died at around 40 weeks gestation, that is, shortly after birth, suggesting systematic infanticide, as opposed to disease, which would have effected the children at different ages. Meticulous records from the dig, maintained by naturalist and archaeologist Alfred Heneage Cocks, show how the remains were found under walls and close together under courtyards. No other site has ever been found which yielded this quantity of infant skeletons.

These curious circumstances lead towards one plausible yet unfortunate conclusion: the babies were the unwanted children of prostitutes, and the building in which they were found was an Ancient Roman brothel. With no effective contraception, unwanted pregnancies were inevitable and frequent in the Roman era, whilst evidence suggests that children were not considered to be ‘full’ human beings until the age of two and, as such, were not buried in cemeteries. 

[Sources: BBC News | Thanks to Vintage-Royalty]

Mortsafes
Mortsafes were contraptions designed to protect graves from disturbance. The necessity for medical students to learn anatomy by attending dissections of human subjects was frustrated by the limited allowance of dead bodies - the corpses of executed criminals - granted by the government. As such, there had been body-snatching close to the schools of anatomy in Scotland since the early 18th century.
Many people were determined to protect the graves of newly deceased friends and relatives. The rich could afford heavy table tombstones, vaults, mausolea and iron cages around graves. The poor began to place flowers and pebbles on graves to detect disturbances and dig heather and branches into the soil to make disinterment more difficult. Large stones, often coffin-shaped, sometimes the gift of a wealthy man to the parish, were placed over new graves. Friends and relatives took turns or hired men to watch graves through the hours of darkness. Watching societies were often formed in towns, one in Glasgow having 2,000 members. But graves were still violated.
The mortsafe was invented in about 1816. These were iron or iron-and-stone devices of great weight, in many different designs. Often they were complex heavy iron contraptions of rods and plates, padlocked together - examples have been found close to all Scottish medical schools. A plate was placed over the coffin and rods with heads were pushed through holes in it. These rods were kept in place by locking a second plate over the first to form extremely heavy protection. It would be removed by two people with keys. They were placed over the coffins for about six weeks, then removed for further use when the body inside was sufficiently decayed.
[There are some fantastic examples of these still intact at Glasgow Necropolis]

Mortsafes

Mortsafes were contraptions designed to protect graves from disturbance. The necessity for medical students to learn anatomy by attending dissections of human subjects was frustrated by the limited allowance of dead bodies - the corpses of executed criminals - granted by the government. As such, there had been body-snatching close to the schools of anatomy in Scotland since the early 18th century.

Many people were determined to protect the graves of newly deceased friends and relatives. The rich could afford heavy table tombstones, vaults, mausolea and iron cages around graves. The poor began to place flowers and pebbles on graves to detect disturbances and dig heather and branches into the soil to make disinterment more difficult. Large stones, often coffin-shaped, sometimes the gift of a wealthy man to the parish, were placed over new graves. Friends and relatives took turns or hired men to watch graves through the hours of darkness. Watching societies were often formed in towns, one in Glasgow having 2,000 members. But graves were still violated.

The mortsafe was invented in about 1816. These were iron or iron-and-stone devices of great weight, in many different designs. Often they were complex heavy iron contraptions of rods and plates, padlocked together - examples have been found close to all Scottish medical schools. A plate was placed over the coffin and rods with heads were pushed through holes in it. These rods were kept in place by locking a second plate over the first to form extremely heavy protection. It would be removed by two people with keys. They were placed over the coffins for about six weeks, then removed for further use when the body inside was sufficiently decayed.

[There are some fantastic examples of these still intact at Glasgow Necropolis]

(Source: Wikipedia)

Plague Village

In order to satisfy our morbid curiosity my friend and I visited Eyam plague village today. It has quite a fascinating story:

Eyam is a small village in DerbyshireEngland, also know as the “plague village” which chose to completely isolate itself when the plague was discovered there in 1665.

The plague was brought to the village in a flea-infested bundle of cloth delivered from London to the tailor, George Viccars. Within a week, he was dead. Within two months 28 others also died. It was suggested that the villagers flee to the nearby city of Sheffield, however the rector, Rev. Mompesson, feared that they would spread the disease to the North of England which had, for the most part, escaped the plague.

Instead, the village decided to cut themselves off completely from the outside world, introducing a number of precautions to prevent the spread of illness, for instance, people were to bury their own dead and church services were moved from the local church to field area called Cucklett Delph, which meant villagers could separate themselves.

The village was supplied with food by [outsiders]. People brought supplies and left them at the [boundary stone] that marked the start of Eyam. The villagers left money in a water trough filled with vinegar to steralise the coins … In this way, Eyam was not left to starve to death [and] Those who supplied the food did not come into contact with the villagers.

The plague raged in the village for 14 months and when the first outsiders visited Eyam a year later, they found that around a quarter of the village had survived the plague. The church in Eyam has a record of 273 individuals who were victims of the plague.

Images: [1-3 are my own] 1: Plague Cottages: This was where the plague began, the righthand cottage was where the tailor, Viccars, lived. 2: The Riley Graves: Situated in a field just outside Eyam (in order to prevent the spread of infection) these are the graves of the Hancock family. Elizabeth Hancock buried her husband and six children within eight days of one another but survived the plague herself. 3: Shows what is inside the walls in image two. 4: [Source] The boundary stone where food was left for the villagers.

Danse Macabre
Dance of Death is an artistic genre of late-medieval allegory on the universality of death: no matter one’s station in life, the Dance of Death unites all. The Danse Macabre consists of the dead or personified Death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and labourer. They were produced to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. Its origins are postulated from illustrated sermon texts; the earliest recorded visual scheme was a now lost mural in the Saints Innocents Cemetery in Paris dating from 1424–25.
[Image: The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut]

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before, but Danse Macabre is one of my favourite allegorical concepts! You can see another here.

Danse Macabre

Dance of Death is an artistic genre of late-medieval allegory on the universality of death: no matter one’s station in life, the Dance of Death unites all. The Danse Macabre consists of the dead or personified Death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and labourer. They were produced to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. Its origins are postulated from illustrated sermon texts; the earliest recorded visual scheme was a now lost mural in the Saints Innocents Cemetery in Paris dating from 1424–25.

[Image: The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut]

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before, but Danse Macabre is one of my favourite allegorical concepts! You can see another here.

The Strange World of Professor Copperthwaite

The Strange World of Professor Copperthwaite was a taxidermy collection of all manner of weird and wonderful creatures billed in the 19th century as having been brough to the UK by the fictional Victorian adventurer Professor Copperthwaite. The collection includes bizarre stuffed animals including [2-7] a unicorn, a bat-duck hybrid, a winged cat, a "cheasant" or "phicken", a Cambodian woolly pig, and a yeti. It is thought Victorians were fooled by these mythical creatures because they appeared alongside real animals and other curiosities such as conjoined lambs.

(Source: telegraph.co.uk)

Cannibal Cutlery
Fijian tribesmen used this macabre set of forks to eat the bodies of rival warriors. The pronged antiques date from the 19th century when tribal chiefs devoured their enemies after they had been killed. Their bodies were brought back to the victors’ village by members of the tribe and served to the community and chiefs. Tribal attendants would hand-feed sections of the meat to their leaders with the forks, which were only used on special occasions.
Cannibalism was practised in Fiji for centuries - but faded away in the late 19th century after Christianity was introduced and British colonial rule imposed. To eat an enemy was to inflict the ultimate humiliation on the island, known as the Cannibal Isles. Some victims were kept alive while their body parts were sliced off and cooked in front of them. Skulls were used as drinking bowls, and sexual organs were hung from trees as trophies of victory in battle. Rev Thomas Baker was murdered, cooked and consumed while trying to spread Christianity in Fiji’s rugged highlands in July 1867. Legend has it that Mr Baker, a Methodist minister born in Playden, Sussex, was murdered after breaking a taboo by taking a comb from a chief’s hair. But historians say the real reason was resistance to the spread of Christianity and complex tribal politics

Cannibal Cutlery

Fijian tribesmen used this macabre set of forks to eat the bodies of rival warriors. The pronged antiques date from the 19th century when tribal chiefs devoured their enemies after they had been killed. Their bodies were brought back to the victors’ village by members of the tribe and served to the community and chiefs. Tribal attendants would hand-feed sections of the meat to their leaders with the forks, which were only used on special occasions.

Cannibalism was practised in Fiji for centuries - but faded away in the late 19th century after Christianity was introduced and British colonial rule imposed. To eat an enemy was to inflict the ultimate humiliation on the island, known as the Cannibal Isles. Some victims were kept alive while their body parts were sliced off and cooked in front of them. Skulls were used as drinking bowls, and sexual organs were hung from trees as trophies of victory in battle. Rev Thomas Baker was murdered, cooked and consumed while trying to spread Christianity in Fiji’s rugged highlands in July 1867. Legend has it that Mr Baker, a Methodist minister born in Playden, Sussex, was murdered after breaking a taboo by taking a comb from a chief’s hair. But historians say the real reason was resistance to the spread of Christianity and complex tribal politics

Mummy Brown
Mummy brown was a rich brown bituminous pigment, intermediate in tint between burnt umber and raw umber, which was one of the favorite colors of the Pre-Raphaelites.
Mummy brown was originally made in the 16th and 17th centuries from white pitch, myrrh, and the ground-up remains of Egyptian mummies, both human and feline, one London colourman claiming that he could satisfy the demands of his customers for twenty years from one Egyptian mummy.
It fell from popularity in the early 19th century when its composition became generally known to artists. According to Jasmine Day, in her book The Mummy’s curse: Mummymania in the English-speaking World, “In 1881, the artist Laurence Alma Tadema, famous for his romantic ancient Egyptian scenes (such as that above which is very … brown), saw his paint preparer grinding up a piece of a mummy.  Realizing where “mummy brown” came from, he alerted his fellow painter, Edward Burne-Jones [and] together with some family members, the remorseful artists held an impromptu funeral burying a tube of mummy brown paint.” [Source]
Mummy Brown was also extremely variable in its composition and quality, and since it contained ammonia and particles of fat, was likely to affect other colours with which it was used. It was produced up into the 20th century until the supply of available mummies was exhausted.

Mummy Brown

Mummy brown was a rich brown bituminous pigment, intermediate in tint between burnt umber and raw umber, which was one of the favorite colors of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Mummy brown was originally made in the 16th and 17th centuries from white pitch, myrrh, and the ground-up remains of Egyptian mummies, both human and feline, one London colourman claiming that he could satisfy the demands of his customers for twenty years from one Egyptian mummy.

It fell from popularity in the early 19th century when its composition became generally known to artists. According to Jasmine Day, in her book The Mummy’s curse: Mummymania in the English-speaking World, “In 1881, the artist Laurence Alma Tadema, famous for his romantic ancient Egyptian scenes (such as that above which is very … brown), saw his paint preparer grinding up a piece of a mummy.  Realizing where “mummy brown” came from, he alerted his fellow painter, Edward Burne-Jones [and] together with some family members, the remorseful artists held an impromptu funeral burying a tube of mummy brown paint.” [Source]

Mummy Brown was also extremely variable in its composition and quality, and since it contained ammonia and particles of fat, was likely to affect other colours with which it was used. It was produced up into the 20th century until the supply of available mummies was exhausted.

The Mummified Remains of the First Quintuplets
I read a little something about this over on Obit of the Day yesterday (credit where credit is due), but I thought the story was incredibly curious and sad and worth sharing in a little more detail here:


On April 29th, 1896, residents of the community of Kevil, Kentucky, were astonished at the announcement of an unprecedented incident: the birth of live quintuplets to a local mother - Mrs Oscar Lyon. Without the availability of modern neonatal intensive care medical services, all five infants died with two weeks. The intense curiosity of the public caused the grieving mother to fear for the security of the deceased and embalmed bodies, so she arranged for their transfer to the Army Medical Museum in Washington DC … There they remain on exhibit in a five-chambered glass container. [From The Scientific Study of Mummies by Arthur C. Aufdurheide, p.84]

The Mummified Remains of the First Quintuplets

I read a little something about this over on Obit of the Day yesterday (credit where credit is due), but I thought the story was incredibly curious and sad and worth sharing in a little more detail here:

On April 29th, 1896, residents of the community of Kevil, Kentucky, were astonished at the announcement of an unprecedented incident: the birth of live quintuplets to a local mother - Mrs Oscar Lyon. Without the availability of modern neonatal intensive care medical services, all five infants died with two weeks. The intense curiosity of the public caused the grieving mother to fear for the security of the deceased and embalmed bodies, so she arranged for their transfer to the Army Medical Museum in Washington DC … There they remain on exhibit in a five-chambered glass container. [From The Scientific Study of Mummies by Arthur C. Aufdurheide, p.84]

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