Residents of North Yorkshire from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries were so afraid of the dead rising to attack the living that they would dismember, decapitate, burn, and otherwise mutilate corpses before burying them. The process was generally undertaken shortly after death, when the bones were still soft.
Discussing the “secret and more adult” appeal of Shirley Temple, Graham Greene wrote in his review of Wee Willie Winkie in 1937, “Her admirers—middle-aged men and clergymen—respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialog drops between their intelligence and their desire.” He also noted her “neat and well-developed rump” and “dimpled depravity.” Twentieth Century Fox sued for libel, Greene fled to Mexico, and a court ordered a settlement of 3,500 pounds.
The Athenian orator Lysias, a generation younger than Antiphon—who pioneered the business of writing defense speeches—once upset a litigant, according to Plutarch, for whom he had prepared a defense, because the first time the man read the speech it “seemed to him wonderfully good, but on taking it up a second and third time it appeared completely dull and ineffectual.” After hearing the man out, Lysias replied, “Well, isn’t it only once that you are going to speak it before the jurors?”
On November 22, 1963, Aldous Huxley, bedridden and dying, requested on a writing tablet that his wife Laura give him a 100 microgram dose of LSD. As she went to get the drug from the medicine cabinet, Laura was perplexed to see the doctor and nurses watching TV. She gave him a second dose a few hours later, and by 5:20 p.m. he had died. Laura later learned that the TV had been showing coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, who had been pronounced dead at 1:00 p.m. that day.
Overworked and suffering from chest and stomach conditions, Emperor Marcus Aurelius took a prescription from his physician, Galen, for opium. According to Galen, the emperor did not like that the drug made him drowsy, so he stopped taking it. Then he found himself unable to sleep, so he started taking it again.
The Cincinnati Commercial complained in 1871 about the game of fly loo, a “detestable canker that destroys men’s souls.” Players selected sugar lumps and bet on which would attract a fly first. “Every afternoon from twenty to thirty of the very flower of our mercantile population retire to a private room and under locks and bolts give themselves up to this satanic game,” the article noted, “while the deserted ladies are languishing for a little male conversation below.”
“Bomb the shit out of them!” was reportedly a drunken President Richard Nixon’s conclusion as to what should be done about Cambodia. Henry Kissinger recalled in an interview in 1999 that “two glasses of wine were quite enough to make him boisterous, just one more to grow bellicose or sentimental with slurred speech.”
Observing Mars through his telescope in 1877, Milanese astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli saw oceans and canali, meaning channels. The latter was mistranslated into English as canals, implying Martian-made waterways, and an amateur astronomer named Percival Lowell soon began publishing books pointing to these as evidence of life on Mars. By 1910 photographic technology had advanced sufficiently to debunk his extrapolated theories.
In 1873 elderly sisters Julia and Abby Smith of Glastonbury, Connecticut, were incensed to learn that a local property-tax hike had been imposed only on women. At a town meeting, Abby decried how “liberty is so highly extolled,” yet “one half of the inhabitants are not put under her laws, but are ruled over by the other half.” When the Smiths demanded voting rights, the town seized their cows. The standoff became such a cause célèbre that a Chicago market sold the cows’ tail hair wrapped in ribbons reading “Taxation Without Representation.”
A twelfth-century-bc Chinese king consulted an oracle and was told his lucky charm would not be a tiger, dragon, bear, or leopard but rather a wise counselor. He soon came upon a sagacious old man fishing in the river and conscripted him into service. It is said the man’s virtue was such that he fished not with a hook but with a straight piece of iron; acknowledging his integrity, fish impaled themselves voluntarily.
May 1 was codifed in 1820 as the date housing contracts in New York City expired or were renewed. Davy Crockett witnessed moving day in 1834. “It seemed a kind of frolic, as if they were changing houses just for fun,” he wrote. “Every street was crowded with carts, drays, and people. So the world goes. It would take a good deal to get me out of my log house, but here, I understand, many persons ‘move’ every year.”?
After his first wife’s suicide, Percy Bysshe Shelley applied for custody of their children. Lord Eldon denied his petition, citing the poet’s conduct and principles, which, wrote the lord, “the law calls upon me to consider as immoral and vicious” as well as “inconsistent with the duties of persons in such relations of life.”