As we are fond of pointing out, fact is usually much creepier than fiction.
So around this time of year we like to share some of the most gut-wrenchingly disturbing stories, the kind we would tell around the campfire if we ever actually went outside. And most importantly, they're all true.
Something Off About That Picture
A young man is dropping off groceries at the house of an eccentric old lady when he notices an old photo that makes the hair on his arms stand on end. The photo's normal enough--a young boy in his Sunday best--but something just seems off. He asks the old lady who it is.
"Oh," she replies, trying to stuff a cat in the dishwasher "isn't that beautiful? You can hardly tell he's dead."
While most folks today are too squeamish to take more than a glance into the casket during a funeral, in the late 19th through early 20th centuries someone dying meant it was time to break out the camera for a family photo. The practice was known as memorial photography.
And, while it all sounds like the set-up for some terrifying practical joke on the photographer, there was actually a somewhat reasonable explanation for the practice. The process used to take pictures back then was expensive enough that it was a once in a lifetime (er, or shortly after a lifetime) thing for most, and required people to sit perfectly still for a couple minutes for it to turn out properly. And if there's one thing dead people are good at it's sitting still.
So, the bodies were dressed and propped up, with their eyes held open. And in case they still weren't giving off that lively "I'm not a corpse harnessed to a chair" vibe, some color was added to the faces in the photo. And just look what they could do with special effects in those days!
Some photographers also offered to add stink lines, but it never really caught on.
Eventually the practice of memorial photography went out of style, maybe because picture-taking became more affordable and didn't have to be reserved for special occasions such as death. Or, possibly everyone just sat up all at once and said, "Wait, what the fuck are we doing?"
The Corpse in the Carpet
You can find this tale of ill-advised interior decorating on angelfire pages across the web lumped in with old chestnuts like "The call is coming from inside the house!" According to the story, somebody finds a beautiful old rug in an alley, takes it home and finds something horrifying wrapped inside (what some call "the Taco Bell burrito scenario"). Variations of this one include bodies being found in discarded refrigerators or wardrobes, but the message remains the same; don't do your home decor shopping anyplace that smells of crackhead urine.
In 1984, three Columbia University students found a rolled-up carpet on the sidewalk and decided to drag it back home (we assume they were mainly looking for something to absorb vomit and Doritos crumbs, rather than accessorize their milk crate furniture).
Once they got the carpet back to their dorm they unrolled it and found the rotting corpse of an unidentified man with two bullet holes in his skull. Yes, three students from a 50 thousand dollar-a-year college carried a carpet all the way home without noticing it contained a 200-pound stinking mass of decomposing flesh.
At the very least we hope these fine young leaders of tomorrow didn't just push the body into the corner and go back to playing Atari.
The Toxic Woman
A sick woman arrives at a hospital and when the nurses withdraw blood it is so toxic that it begins making everyone around her sick too. Realizing they're dealing with the human embodiment of the creature from Alien, the nurses flee for their lives.
On the evening of February 19th, 1994, Gloria Ramirez was admitted to a California emergency room, suffering from an advanced form of cancer.
When a nurse drew Gloria's blood she detected a foul odor, so foul in fact that hospital staff started gagging and even collapsing around her. Eventually as many as 23 people were affected. The ER was evacuated and a decontamination unit brought in. So more like the creature from Alien crossed with a fart, but still.
The case was quickly written off as mass hysteria, but considering that the worst affected victim spent two weeks in intensive care suffering from hepatitis, pancreatitis and avascular necrosis (a condition which literally causes your bones to die) we'd say either this was some serious damned hysteria or the guy who decided that got his degree from Dumbass University.
As for Gloria, she died just 40 minutes after arriving at the hospital. Her autopsy was performed by men in full hazmat moon suits and, despite one of the most extensive forensic investigations in history, it's still not known what exactly turned this woman's blood into toxic sludge. Granted, the experts on the case have refused to take off their hazmat suits since that day, and have now retreated to a small island which they have surrounded with barbed wire, but those are probably just the usual precautions.
The Headless Lover
A pregnant woman tells her spouse the baby's not his and, in a rational and well-considered move, the husband chops off her lover's head and brings it to her in the maternity ward. It comes in many forms but the moral of the story is always clear; stay the hell away from that Brazilian pool boy, ladies.
Sgt. Stephen Schap and Diane Schap, an army couple stationed in Germany, found out in 1993 that they were about to be blessed with new bundle of joy, which would have great news if not for the minor fact that Stephen had gotten a vasectomy the year prior. Whoops. In a "This Week on Jerry Springer!" moment Diane was forced to admit she had been having an affair with Stephen's best friend Gregory Glover and, unfortunately, Stephen would respond with something much worse than a few thrown chairs.
On a cold December day the pregnant Diane lay in a hospital bed talking on the phone to Gregory when the line, and for that matter Gregory himself, suddenly went dead. Diane wouldn't have to wait long to find out what happened as around half an hour later her husband burst into the room, pulled Gregory's freshly liberated head from a gym bag. He shoved it in her face and according to Diane unleashed a line so cheesy it has to be true.
"Look, Diane - Glover's here! He'll sleep with you every night now. Only you won't sleep, because all you'll see is this." Stephen then plopped the bloody head down on the bedside table so it faced his wife. Say what you will Sgt. Schap's mental stability, the certainly guy had a flair for the dramatic.
The Not-So-Death Defying Escapist
Demonstrating why guidance counselors rarely recommend this line of work, an escape artist fails to follow through on his name and dies in front of a live audience. Rumors like these are often spread by the escapists themselves to up the element of danger (after all, why do we watch if not for the off chance we might see David Blaine die?).
Despite the illusion of danger, escape artists rarely die or even get injured performing a stunt. Most sensible people are going to take every damned possible safety precaution when they're straight-jacketed and lowered into a shark tank wearing a meat codpiece. But Joseph "Amazing Joe" Burrus wasn't most people.
Ironically, given what would take place, Burrus' stunt was to involve him escaping from his own grave. Amazing Joe was shackled in a clear plastic coffin, lowered into a seven foot-deep grave. Three feet of soil was shoveled on him and then as icing on this cake of idiocy, the rest of the hole was filled with wet concrete. All seemed to be going well until, in a result absolutely anyone could have predicted, the plastic coffin collapsed, crushing Joe for good.
While you have to commend Burrus for saving a gravedigger the work of digging a new hole for him, there was some evidence he knew the trick wouldn't work. His accident took place on the anniversary of his idol, the Great Houdini's death, suggesting he may have killed himself on purpose. In which case it was awful decent of him to do it at "Blackbeard's Family Fun Center" in front of as many kids as possible, including his own.
The Living Severed Head
Your head remains aware even after it's severed from your shoulders (giving you just enough time to reflect on how stupid you were to stand up on that roller coaster).
The legend says severed heads have been known to blink, react to stimulus and yes, even try to talk.
Death by decapitation has been assumed to be instant and painless throughout most of history (the guillotine was designed as a humane execution method, the fact that it looked freakin' cool was just a bonus) but there's much evidence that your brain remains aware anywhere from several seconds to a minute after your head gets lopped off.
One of the earliest and best-known proofs of this came from a Dr. Beaurieux, who conducted an experiment on a French murderer named Languille. After he was guillotined, Languille's eyes and mouth continued to move for five to six seconds, at which point he appeared to pass on. But then when Beaurieux shouted the subject's name, Languille's eyes popped open.
In Beaurieux's own words: "Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine, the pupils focusing themselves," and the good doctor continued to get similar results for up to 30 seconds (at which point Languille possibly just got tired of playing decapitation peek-a-boo).
There are plenty of other guillotine-related stories, but how about we bring the horror into modern day, where we can all relate to and be nauseated by it? Here we find a first hand account of the aftermath of an accident, in which one of the men in the car lost his head.
"My friend's head came to rest face up, and (from my angle) upside-down. As I watched, his mouth opened and closed no less than two times. The facial expressions he displayed were first of shock or confusion, followed by terror or grief. I cannot exaggerate and say that he was looking all around, but he did display ocular movement in that his eyes moved from me, to his body, and back to me."
Yes, that does seem to indicate that there was a long moment of awareness where the dude's living head had time to look and see his own body, complete with the red hole where his head used to be attached.
Pretty chilling stuff, so let's leave you on a lighter note.
In Africa, there have been certain tribes who will tie your head to a springy sapling before chopping it off, so that your head is then catapulted into the distance after the final blow. Thus your last few moments of awareness are of your head sailing breezily through the air. Seriously, if you have to die, that has to be like one of the top five ways.
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