Saturday, October 13, 2012

Curious History: Creepy Vintage Halloween Costumes, 1890-1900

These really are creepy. If you were too chose wearing one of these instead of current costumes, I think it would definitely up the creep factor.

Curious History: Model of Decomposing Corpse in Coffin, 1900

Crawling with maggots, this unusual wooden model shows a decomposing corpse exposed by an open coffin. Little is known about the model. It is thought to be a memento mori. These objects are reminders of death and the shortness of life. Memento mori come in different shapes and sizes. Up until the 1500s, death was often represented by a skeleton leading a living victim to their fate. A skull became a more common representation of death after this date. What makes this piece even more creepy is that its origin is unknown.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Curious History: Pocket Watch Concealed in a Memento Mori, 1700

Memento mori (a Latin phrase for “remember your mortality”) are objects that were usually carried or worn by a person as a reminder of one’s mortality. What’s particularly interesting about them is that they were very common objects for hundreds of years. They served the purpose of reminding the owner of mortality and the shortness of life. Prior to the 15th century, the objects would usually be in the shape of a full skeleton or a combination of a skeleton and a healthy body. Early in 16th century, the trend evolved into the image of a skull or half skull, half face. The ones above served a practical purpose in that they contains a pocket watch.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the trend of having memento mori objects went out of fashion. This was around the same time that families ceased having viewings of deceased loved ones in the home and used mortuaries instead. The concept of caring for a family member’s body until burial was no longer the cultural norm. As a society we have distanced ourselves from the concept of death both mentally and physically. Considering death is as natural to life as birth, this is not necessarily a positive trend.

Curious History: Extreme Pumpkin Carving

American artist Ray Villafane has taken pumpkin carving to a whole new level. Using his background in fine art and his work in designing models for DC and Marvel comics, Ray turns pumpkins into gruesome Gothic gargoyles.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Curious History: Marvelous Monsters

 Artist Jordu Schell creates wonderful monsters and creatures, primarily for the film and television industry. Since his start in 1987, his work has been featured in Avatar, Alien vs. Predator, and many other productions.

Curious History: Monowheel Motorcycle, 1930s

While not necessarily a masterful design, Italian M. Goventosa’s 1930s single-wheeled motorcycle is certainly a testament to human imagination.

Curious History: Momento Mori - A Reminder of Death, 1500s

      One side of this carved ivory head shows a human face crawling with worms; the other side shows a skull crawling with toads after the worms have eaten away at the flesh. Not much is known about this model, but it is thought that it is a memento mori – literally a reminder of death and the shortness of life. The skull was the symbol of death from the 1500s onwards. Previously death was represented as a skeleton accompanied by a living victim.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Curious History: “And of Course Henry the Horse Dances the Waltz!"


  This is a reproduction of the poster that inspired John Lennon to write the song, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!, which appeared on The Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It is printed in a limited edition of 1,967.
Lennon bought the poster in an antique shop and hung it in his music room. While writing for Sgt. Pepper one day, he drew inspiration from the quirky, old-fashioned language and set the words to music. The Henderson’s will dance and sing, as Mr. Kite flies through the ring, don’t be late!

Curious History: Peculiar Pistols from the Past

  Pepperbox pistols were first used in the 1500s. The unusual gun features multiple rotating barrels numbering between four and twenty four. Although they were sometimes made of one continuous piece, the barrels were often all made of separate pieces and individually removable for easy maintenance. The earliest models of this type of gun did not rotate automatically after each shot; the barrel assembly had to be rotated by hand to move the next pre-loaded barrel into position. The pepperbox pistol was the predecessor to today’s revolver, only instead of a moving cylinder these weird pistols used rotating barrels to shoot one bullet at a time. 

  Duckfoot pistols are even more bizarre looking, featuring multiple barrels designed to shoot all at the same time. The spread-out barrels are meant to strike multiple targets or adversaries at once. They were often used in situations where one person might be up against several enemies simultaneously, such as in the case of prison guards or sailors.
  Despite looking totally awesome, the duckfoot pistol and pepperbox pistol both faded into obscurity around the time more sophisticated handguns were invented.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Curious History: A New "Thing" for the Addams Family

Addams Family’s Thing Recreated

Known as the Magnanimous and Beneficent Doctor Warthan, he claims to “disseminate the propaganda of SteamPunk Art.” He built his Thing for an Addams Family themed exhibition at the Wootini Gallery in Carrboro, North Carolina.

Curious History: The Changeling

That’s not my baby!
  A “Changeling” was a creature from European folklore that took the form of an infant.  According to legends, a demon, troll, or elf would swap a normal infant with a Changeling, leaving the parents to discover a strange, emotionless, or disturbed hollow creature in place of their child. 
  While today there are many scientific explanations to such phenomena (autism, mental retardation, exposure to toxins, etc.) at the time their were no rational explanations for such occurrences.  To Medieval parents Changelings were very real.  Most tragically the method of retrieving a child was to expose the Changeling, usually through horrific form of abuse such as exposure to hot objects, leaving the Changeling in a pile of manure at night, or near drowning.  It was thought that by exposing the Changeling to such danger, the fairies would return the real child, not wanting their spawn to be harmed.  Religious reformer Martin Luther believed in a more drastic approach, advocated infanticide when shown a Changeling in 1532;
  “I, Dr. Martin Luther, saw and touched a changeling. It was twelve years old, and from its eyes and the fact that it had all of its senses, one could have thought that it was a real child. It did nothing but eat; in fact, it ate enough for any four peasants or threshers. It ate, shit, and pissed, and whenever someone touched it, it cried. When bad things happened in the house, it laughed and was happy; but when things went well, it cried. It had these two virtues. I said to the Princes of Anhalt: “If I were the prince or the ruler here, I would throw this child into the water–into the Molda that flows by Dessau . I would dare commit homicidium on him!”  (Weimar: Böhlau, 1912-1921)
  Belief in Changelings would continue beyond the Middle Ages, even lasting in some rural communities into the 19th century.

Curious History: Hung, Drawn and Quartered

  Quartering was the third part of an execution method known as hanging, drawing and quartering, and most commonly applied to those convicted of high treason in England. First the condemned was half hanged, usually from a gibbet. However, the neck was not broken, but they were left hanging so as to almost choke. it was important that the condemned was left alive at this point for the following stage of execution. 
  Next, they were taken down and laid out, and had their abdomen cut open and their entrails pulled out in front of them. The entrails were often burnt at this point. Somewhere about now the condemned usually died. Finally, the corpse was cut into four parts, and those parts sent to different points of the kingdom to be displayed over city gates.
  Usually one portion was sent their county of origin. Note, because high treason was a conviction imposed by Act of Attainder, it almost inevitably applied only to nobles. Commoners involved in rebellion would normally be cut down on the spot of battle, or summarily executed shortly after capture. Also, note that there were some creative variations on the theme.
  When Hugh Le Despenser the Younger was executed, he was hanged from a ladder. This enabled the executioners to perform an additional humiliation. His genitals were cut from him and stuffed in his mouth. Queen Isabella reportedly insisted on this because he was also convicted of sodomising the king.

Curious History: The Euthanasia Coaster - The Ride of Your Death

  Want to enjoy the ride of your life along with the last ride of your life? That’s what Julijonas Urbonas envisions with his Euthanasia Coaster. The three-minute ride involves a long, slow, climb — nearly a third of a mile long — that lifts one up to a height of more than 1,600 feet, followed by a massive fall and seven strategically sized and placed loops.
  The final descent and series of loops take all of one minute. But the gravitational force — 10 Gs — from the spinning loops at 223 miles per hour in that single minute is lethal.
   That’s because Euthanasia Coaster isn’t simply meant to be about death. Urbonas sees it as both an intellectual and artful departure from the world, one that isn’t about the paperwork and medical issues of the current euthanasia system. The few places where voluntary euthanasia is legal include: Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington.
“There is no special ritual, nor is death given special meaning except that of the legal procedures and psychological preparation. It is like death is divorced from our cultural life…” Urbonas writes. “…But if it is already legal, why not to make it more meaningful?”
   How do you turn a roller coaster ride into a “meaningful” death? Urbonas has built in a long, slow trek to the top before the first fall. In fact, of the three-minute ride, two minutes are devoted to the climb. Urbonas writes: “…The rider has a few minutes to contemplate his decision and his life in retrospect. He would find enough time to adapt to the height and get through a series of imaginary fatal falls, while realizing that the objects on the ground are getting smaller…The slightest movement of the car would trigger intense heart-beating and goosebumps and most importantly it would test your decision. Therefore the very top of the tower is an ideal place to give the very last word.”

Curious History: Cadaver Synod - The Trial of a Corpse

 Throughout history there have always been extremely strange rituals that seem to defy understanding. The Cadaver Synod was one of these.It involved the macabre process known as posthumous execution. This is the process of exhuming a corpse and conducting a ritual or ceremonial mutilation of the remains. The only case of a Cadaver Synod was enacted upon Pope Formosus, 816-896. (picture 1), one year after his death. The trial was conducted by Formosus’ second successor, Pope Stephen VI. Stephen VI accused Formosus of perjury and acceding to the papacy illegally.
Formosus’ corpse was disinterred, clad in papal vestments, and seated on a throne (picture 2). In the ruling, it was declared that Formosus was unworthy of the pontificate, and all acts and measures made under his papacy were declared null and void. This included the removal of three of his fingers, as they had been used in various “illegitimate” consecrations. So loathsome was Formosus’ body deemed, that clerics had it thrust into the Tiber River. It was quickly retrieved by a monk and kept in an unmarked burial plot.
Following the death of Stephen VI, Formosus’ body was re-interred in St. Peter’s Basilica. Further trials of this nature against deceased persons were banned, but Pope Sergius III (904–911) re-approved the decisions against Formosus. His body was once again exhumed and a second Cadaver Synod was performed. This time, Formosus’ punishment was a beheading and his remains were once again thrown into the Tiber River where they remained.
The Cadaver Synod is remembered as one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the medieval papacy.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Vintage Photo of Vampira, 1950's

Vampira, queen of low-budget horror movies in the 1950's, reads a book on self-taught embalming.

Curious History: Graffiti in an abandoned mental institution.

Curious History: Hallstatt Charnel House or House of Painted Skulls

Behind the Hallstatt Catholic Church in Austria, near the 12th-century St. Micheal’s Chapel, in a small and lovingly cared for cemetery is the Hallstatt Beinhaus (bone house), also known as the Charnel House. A small building, it is tightly stacked with over 1200 skulls. Because Hallstatt finds itself in such a lovely location, it also finds itself in very short supply of burial grounds. In the 1700s, the Church began digging up corpses to make way for the newly dead. The bodies which had been buried for only 10 to 15 years were then stacked inside the charnel house. Once the skeletons were exhumed and properly bleached in the sun, the family members would stack the bones next to their nearest kin. 

In 1720, a tradition began of painting the skulls with symbolic decorations as well as dates of birth and death so that the dead would be remembered, even if they no longer had a grave. Of the 1,200 skulls, some 610 of them were lovingly painted, with an assortment of symbols, laurels for valor, roses for love, and so on. The ones from the 1700s are painted with thick dark garlands, while the newer ones from the 1800s on, bear brighter floral styles.

Curious History: The Deadly Affects of Makeup

  For thousands of years women slowly poisoned themselves by wearing face makeup called Venetian Ceruse. Venetian Ceruse was a 16th century cosmetic used as a skin whitener. It was in great demand and considered the best available at that time. Ceruse had the effect of making a woman’s skin look ghastly white. The women who wore it usually kept adding more to the old layer rather than washing it off. But the pigment of white lead was extremely poisonous. It rotted teeth and turned skin color to horrible shades. It made hair fall out and caused eyes to swell. Usage of Venetian Ceruse over an extended period of time could cause death.

   The most notable user of Venetian Ceruse was Queen Elizabeth I of England seen above. It is believed that the Queen’s constant use of ceruse, which created her trade-mark look of snow white skin, led to her extreme hair loss. She wore a large variety of wigs during her reign. There were many rumors that Queen Elizabeth I was bald by the age of 30 due to her extremely high hair line, but there is no historical proof to verify this fact.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Vintage Photo of a Dressed Cat

The odd fact about this picture is not that the poor kitty had to wear a dress and bonnet.  The cat can't mind because he is...well, has already been through the process of taxidermy.  Did they just use the head?  Very disturbing.

Curious History: Baseball in the 1300s?

This illustration was found in the margins of a calendar in a 14th-century Flemish Book of Hours. Various historians of sport have identified this as a version of “stool ball” or “stump ball”, which was baseball played with only one base.

Curious History: The Evolution of “Wound Man”

“Wound Man” is an illustration which first appeared in European surgical texts in the Middle Ages. It laid out schematically the various wounds a person might suffer in battle or in accidents.
Late medieval anatomy works often contain a standard set of illustrations, copied and recopied from text to text. Typically, these depict the body front and back; the skeleton and muscles within it each from the same two viewpoints, and so on. Strangest to our modern eyes is the illustration that usually comes last: the Wound Man, a compendium of all the injuries that a body might sustain. Captions beside the stoic figure describe the injuries and sometimes give prognoses: often precise distinctions are drawn between types of injuries, such as whether an arrow has embedded itself in a muscle or shot right through.

Curious History: The Legend of the Ubume

  According to Japanese folklore, an ubume is the ghost of a womam who has died in childbirth (birthing woman ghost). Appearing disheveled or in a state of desperation while holding a swaddled infant, the apparition will beg those who pass by to hold her baby, only to then disappear. The infant will grow heavier and heavier in the arms of the stranger, until when becoming impossible to hold, it is revealed to be a heavy stone.
  According to one legend, the warrior Urabe Suetake who was a retainer and guardian king to the Lord Minamoto no Yorimitsu, was traveling with a group of soldiers. One night he overheard his men telling wild stories of an ubume that haunted an upcoming river. She would appear to travelers who attempted to ford the river.  Standing in the rapids, she would beg them to help save her child, but upon accepting the child, it would grow so heavy that the good samaritan would sink below the waters and drown.
  After hearing of the story, his men became too frightened to cross the river the next day. Suetake chided his men for being superstitious and crossed the river himself to prove it was safe. At first the ubume didn’t appear, but on his return crossing, a woman with a crying child did appear and begged Suetake to save her baby. Suetaki, momentarily forgetting the old tale, took the bundled infant in his arms. The child grew heavier and heavier, but Suetake was a strong warrior, and he hefted the child across to safety. Upon arriving back at the camp he opened the bundle and found it to be nothing more than wet leaves in the rough shape of an infant.

Curious History: Hitchcock Presents; Music to be Murdered By, 1958

Just in time for I am not giving anyone any ideas.

Curious History: From the British Lard Marketing Board, 1957

They look pretty good for eating lard...I mean, they are young and in love.

Curious History: Vintage Photo of Children in Black Pillow Case with Face Costumes, 1910