Monthly Archive: May 2014

The Crazy Profession Of Sewer Hunting

Most people don’t usually associate Victorian-era London with wonderful employment opportunities. One of the most disgusting jobs of the period was sewer hunting, a career that involved exploring the London sewer system and scavenging for lost goods. What’s even more shocking is that the practice still continues today in countries like Bangladesh.

The Contest To Properly Diagnose Death

Buried alive wasn’t an uncommon thing even in relatively recent history. In the mid-1800s, doctors in Paris organized an academic contest to establish a single, credible way to determine whether or not someone was dead. Entries included electrocution, smoke enemas, and scalding the body with water. Thankfully, it was the man who suggested using a stethoscope to listen for a heartbeat that won the 1,500 francs.

Shakespeare Invented 1,700 Of Our Everyday Words

William Shakespeare is one of the most impressive literary minds in history—a master of theatre and poetry with no equal. Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and five poetry collections, writing a total of 17,677 unique words. Around 10 percent of the words he used were entirely of his own invention.

The Strange, Sad Burden Of The Sin Eater

From the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, souls of the recently deceased were often helped on their way to the afterlife by a sin eater. Unaffiliated with any church, the sin eater would visit the body of the deceased and eat a piece of bread that had been placed upon the corpse’s chest, symbolically absorbing all of their unconfessed sins and speeding them on their way to Heaven. Once only employed in cases where death was sudden and a last confession wasn’t given, the sin eater was later called to even natural deaths and thought to help prevent the person from needing to wander the land as a ghost.

Mozart Wasn’t Born A Musical Genius

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is often thought of as someone who was born with natural talent. However, the earliest pieces by Wolfgang, supposedly done when he was a child, are in his father’s handwriting, making it unclear as to who wrote the music. Also, his father was a music teacher who taught Wolfgang from a young age, so that when he did start performing, he actually had been training extensively and routinely with a professional instructor for years.

The Diamond Scam That Cost The Nation’s Wealthy A Fortune

Hot on the heels of the California Gold Rush came the Great Diamond Hoax. Two Kentucky grifters managed to swindle some of the country’s most powerful businessmen, all by proclaiming they had found a patch of undeveloped land that was strewn with precious jewels. The jewels—which they bought with investors’ money and planted themselves—convinced unwitting investors to establish a company and then buy out the grifters in a scam that cost them millions in today’s money.

Al Capone Wrote A Love Song In Alcatraz

Despite his association with Valentine’s Day, Al Capone isn’t known as a particularly romantic guy. However, the gangster actually had a secret passion: playing music and writing love songs. When Scarface ended up on the Rock, he actually composed a sappy little ditty about a guy who’s head over heels in love.

The Jews Who Fought The War On The German Side

The Jewish people were the most badly persecuted of all of the “inferior” races by Hitler’s Germany in World War II. Finland also fought on Germany’s side against the Soviet Union, but did not persecute or deport its Jewish population. Instead, the Jews there fought for Finland. Unsurprisingly, it is rarely mentioned, as Finland considered itself a co-belligerent rather than an ally of Germany.

The Madman Who Invented Modern Science

Paracelsus is often called the father of modern medicine and chemistry, establishing the basics of what we now accept as logical, rational fact when it comes to joining medicine with the other sciences. The man himself was far from rational and logical, though, an egotistical madman who was a physician, alchemist, astrologer, and biologist. He believed that he could create life by fermenting semen and horse manure and that madness was caused by the alignment of the stars, and he held massive book burnings when it came to texts written by physicians he wanted to replace.

Marrying Cousins Is Not Nearly As Dangerous As Once Thought

It is a popularly believed myth that marrying your cousins is wrong because your offspring will certainly come out deformed or be otherwise negatively affected. But recent research has shown that if there are any effects they are very minimal, and the risk of defects increases by no more then a couple of percentage points—or equivalent to the dangers to the baby if carried by a woman over 40.