Monthly Archives: May 2020

The Insane Exploits Of Pierre Loutrel, A Psychotic Criminal And Member Of The French Gestapo

Pierre Loutrel, also known as Pierrot le Fou, was a petty man who used his connections with the Third Reich to continue his hateful activities during WWII in France. Raised in a peasant family, Loutrel turned to trouble at a young age and escalated into one of the most notorious individuals in France’s history. He was the country’s first “Public Enemy No. 1,” and his acts are still considered some of the worst in the country’s modern history. 

He joined the Gestapo, but even the Gestapo found him to be too much to handle. Drunk, brutal, and ruthless, Loutrel robbed and slayed people without regard for anyone or anything in his path. After WWII, he didn’t skip a beat and continued on with his crooked life, a crooked life that ended up lasting well after his death.  

He Served In The French Military In Africa But Only To Get Out Of Prison

Photo: BrokenSphere/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Pierre Loutrel was born in 1916 in Sarthe, France. As a child, he moved to Marseille, where he was jailed as a teenager. He was only released when he joined the Bat’ d’Af in Africa, a penal battalion in Algeria. He served his “tour in hell,” as it was known, and went to Paris upon release.

He Made Connections In Prison That Led To His Career With Hitler’s Regime

Photo: Sichek/WIkiMedia Commons/Public Domain

Loutrel met Henri Chamberlain, also known as Henri LaFont, in 1940 when he was in prison in the southwestern France. LaFont was a life-long unlawful person and led a prison escape during the chaos of the Third Reich’s invasion. One of the other escapees was a Swedish man named Max Stocklin who went on to introduce LaFont to members of German military intelligence.

LaFont talked his way into working with the Germans, pulling off missions they wouldn’t be able to do.  Lafont enlisted the help of Pierre Bonny, a disgraced former French police officer, in 1941. The gang spent most of its time working to acquire goods on the forbidden market for Germany, but in 1943, they shifted focus to hunting down and killing enemies of the Germans. 

The LaFont — Bonny’s gang — was also known as La Carlingue and recruited other unlawfuls into working as collaborators. One of them was Loutrel.

He Was A Member Of The French Gestapo Until The German Gestapo Dissociated From Him For Committing So Many Vile Acts

Photo: Rpm bln/WikiMedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

When Loutrel joined the French Gestapo, or La Carlingue, he used the position to his advantage. From 1941 to 1945, Loutrel and his buddies spent much of their time at Parisian red light districts and getting into fights, in addition to drinking and killing for the Third Reich. The La Carlinquen headquarters was located at 93 rue Lauriston, and was where they tortured suspected enemies of Germany: pulling their nails and teeth, waterboarding them, and burning them, too.

The number of murders and summary executions Loutrel and his commrades committed raised eyebrows within the German Gestapo. Even they thought he was out of control. Loutrel was supposedly responsible for slaying 80 Resistance fighters all on his own.

He Joined The Resistance Toward The End Of The War And Slayed A German To Prove To The French He was With Them

Photo: Sichek/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Loutrel made the choice to switch sides to the French Resistance in 1944. LaFont and Bonny, for example, were arrested in December 1944 and executed by firing squad for collaboration and war atrocities after a brief trial. Loutrel, on the other hand, was able to demonstrate his devotion to the French cause by claiming he was protecting the Resistance when he shot a German acquaintance name Degatz, who identified him as a member of the Gestapo. 

He Once Went Off With French Actress Martine Carol, Then Apologized By Sending Her Roses

Photo: il_etait_une_fois_hollywood/Instagram

French actress Martine Carol found success first on the stage and later on film. Through the 1940s and 1950s, she appeared in numerous films and was considered the first “femme fatal.”

She was once abscanded with by Loutrel, although the whole event was incredibly brief. Loutrel sent roses the next day to apologize to Carol. Carol had a personal life plagued by bad marriages and drug and alcohol abuse, and she died in 1967.

He Was A Member Of Gang Des Tractions Avant, Named For The Type Of Cars They Drove During Their Heists

Photo: LAPI/Contributor/Roger Viollet

In his post-WWII thievery, Loutrel ran the Gang Des Tractions Avant, an organized unlawful syndicate that robbed banks and committed other various illegal acts in Paris. Made up of form French Gestapo, the members used the same car the Gestapo preferred to conduct their raids, the Citroën Traction Avant.

The Citroën Traction Avant, developed in the 1930s in France, had front-wheel drive, was quick and easy to drive, and was reliable so it was a smart choice. The car itself, however, was expensive to produce and bankrupted the Citroën company, which was then acquired by Michelin.

He Was France’s First Enemy No. 1

Photo: soniastrikesback/Instagram

Loutrel was so well known and his actions were so prolific that newspapers took to calling him Pierrot le Fou (“Crazy Pete”) during his mid-1940s spree. With pressure on them to capture Loutrel, French police escalated their efforts to track him down. His antics earned Loutrel the title of “public enemy No. 1,” the first ever in France.

The name Pierrot le Fou was later given to French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 movie about a man, Pierrot, on the run with a girl fleeing hitmen. 

He Escaped 350 Policemen On One Occasion In 1946

Photo: Library of Congress/Picryl/Public Domain

As the police stepped up efforts to stop Loutrel and his criminal gang, they gathered 350 officers around a cafe where the group was rumored to be meeting. The cops were all there but the unlawfuls were not. A local boy told the police he knew where Loutrel and his gang were, so all 350 police followed to boy to a local inn. The police found some gang members at the inn but not the ones they were looking for. Once again, Loutrel had evaded their efforts. 

He Died After Shooting Himself In The Bladder While Robbing A Store

Photo: Guise/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Loutrel managed to alienate the other members of the Gang des Traction Avant after about a year and a half. He didn’t give up thievary, however, and tried to rob a jewelry store in Paris in 1946. He was on his own, failed to get any money or jewels out of the deal, and as he tried to escape, he shot himself in the bladder while storing his gun. He suffered for five days until he finally died of his wound. 

He Was Buried By His Friends In 1946 And His Body Wasn’t Found Until 1949

Photo: Evan Schaaf/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Loutrel was secretly buried by two of his associates, Georges Bouseseiche and Jo Attia, after his death. Both men had been a members of La Carlingue but Attia had a falling out with LaFont in 1943 and was sent to Mauthausen, a concentration camp in Austria. All three men participated in the Gang des Tractions Avant activities after WWII.

Until The Police Had His Corpse, They Blamed Him For Unsolved Mysteries

Photo: Guise/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Because the police didn’t know Loutrel was dead, they continued to think he was committing unlawful acts and leading the Gang des Tractions Avant. Numerous robberies were credited to Loutrel until his body was discovered in 1949. To identify Loutrel, police circulated photos of Loutrel’s skull placed over pictures of him in life. 


14 Horrifying Facts About H.H. Holmes And His Nightmarish Murder Castle

.H. Holmes, also known as Henry Howard Holmes, was born Hermann Webster Mudgett in 1861. He changed his name after graduating from high school and embarking on a medical career that provided him with the skills needed to conduct his twisted experiments and gruesome acts. 

What H.H. Holmes did to his victims lives on in infamy, as he is credited with being one of the first serial slayers in America. Holmes built his murder castle – named for its specific purpose of providing him with a place to slay his targets – in Chicago, and opened its doors to tourists visiting the nearby World’s Fair in 1893. Some, if not all, of those tourists never made it home from the White City. What did the Devil in the White City do to them?

Holmes was detained by police in 1894 for insurance fraud, although the charges against him quickly expanded to include mass slaying. He received a capital sentence, and was hanged in May 1896. It’s believed that he took hundreds of lives, although he only confessed to ending 27. These H.H. Holmes facts are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

He Built a Hotel-Turned-Murder Castle

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Holmes used the money that he received from committing insurance fraud to construct his “murder castle” in Chicago. It was technically a three-story hotel, complete with a uniquely constructed second and third floor. There were gas chambers, trap doors, hidden rooms, disorienting maze-like hallways, chutes leading down into the basement (perfect for dumping cadavers), and other horrific features. In some rooms, blowtorches would set people on fire, while another was dubbed “the hanging room.” He also had each floor set up so that if someone moved around on it, an alarm system would sound.

The structure was technically a hotel, but it quickly became used as a machine for ending lives.

He Made His Fiancée Vanish Without A Trace

Holmes met Minnie Williams while out of town on a business trip. Williams was a teacher in Texas, and she fell for him very fast. They entered into a relationship, and she moved to Chicago to be with him. Her sister Annie joined them, too. Holmes proposed to Minnie, and suggested that she give him ownership of her property in Fort Worth, Texas.

After the transfer went through, she disappeared without a trace. Only some of her belongings, including a distinctive gold chain, were ever found. 

He Suffocated His Fiancée’s Sister In A Hotel Bank Vault

Photo: Unknown/Wikipedia Commons/Public Domain

Annie Williams was the sister of his wealthy fiancée Minnie. Unlike Minnie, who vanished, Annie’s remains were later recovered from Holmes’s creepy hotel. His hotel had been designed with a bank vault, which he used to keep records, store valuables – and commit heinous acts.

He asked Annie to go into the vault and retrieve some files for him, and then he swung the door shut, sealing her inside. She perished of suffocation after slowly using up all of the oxygen in the vault. Investigators found scratches from her fingernails, showing that she had tried to claw her way out.

He Gassed A Friend And Set Him On Fire, Then Took His Children

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The demise of Benjamin Pitezel was a tricky one, since he was one of Holmes’s co-conspirators, as well as one of his targets. He and Holmes arranged for Pitezel to fake his own passing so that Holmes could collect his life insurance money. Some of that money would then go to Pitezel himself.

However, the plan went awry when Holmes actually ended Pitezel. Holmes then ran off with several of Pitezel’s children. 

He Took The Lives Of Three Of Pitezel’s Children

Photo: davidraynisley/Pixabay/Public Domain

Holmes ended the Pitezel children’s father, Benjamin, in order to collect on his life insurance policy. 

He then ran off with three of Pitezel’s children – Alice, Nellie, and Howard – and took them to Toronto, where he soon took their lives, as well. 

He Asphyxiated His Victims With Gas Or Left Them To Perish In A Sealed Room

Photo: Unknown/Maxpixel/Public Domain

Holmes’s hotel was filled with all kinds of treacherous spaces. The rooms had well-sealed windows and doors that made it easy for Holmes to turn them into gas chambers. All that he had to do was lock the door and turn on the gas jets that he had built into the space.

There was also a room that had no windows or doors. The only access to it was via a trapdoor in the ceiling. Holmes would drop a person down there, seal up the trapdoor, and let them perish of thirst and starvation.

He Sold His Targets’ Organs And Bones To Medical Schools

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

After Holmes ended some of his targets, they wound up in his basement laboratory, where they were dissected and then sold to medical schools.

He sold their organs, their bones, and in some cases, their fully articulated skeletons. This made it tough to determine exactly how many lives he took. 

He Had A Secret Hanging Chamber

Photo: Fraser Mummery/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

One of the most disturbing rooms in the hotel was the hanging room. 

Here, Holmes would end his targets by hanging them from the neck.

He Forced His Mistress To Overdose On Chloroform, Then Ended Her Daughter

Photo: Ernest Board/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Julia Smythe was one of Holmes’s mistresses. Smythe, one of his pharmacy employees, was married when the affair began. Her husband found out and ran off, leaving her and their daughter Pearl in Holmes’s clutches.

Smythe and her daughter eventually disappeared, with Holmes claiming that Smythe perished from a botched abortion attempt.

He Burned Some People Alive With Blowtorches Hidden In The Walls

Photo: Clint Budd/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

During the World’s Fair in Chicago, Holmes offered rooms to out-of-town visitors. They paid to stay in his hotel, only to end up never leaving the city again.

Some rooms had blowtorches built into them. All Holmes had to do was pull a switch and the person in that space would burn alive. 

He Made The Widow Who Owned His Building Disappear

Photo: Anders Zorn/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

H.H. Holmes began his life of villainy while still in medical school. He took out life insurance policies on the school cadavers, then mutilated them to look as though they had perished in a tragic accident. He would then collect the policy money.

While this helped him cover his expenses, he had to get a job after graduating and receiving his medical license. He started out working as a pharmacist in Chicago. The owner of the drugstore perished, and Holmes offered to buy the entire store from the owner’s widow. She agreed, and then vanished after the paperwork was signed and Holmes officially took possession of the store. She was never to be heard from again, although Holmes claimed she moved to California. It is believed that she was one of his first targets. 

The Floor Plan Was Designed Just To Disorient And Trap Guests

Photo: Fright Find

Even the hallways and doors of the Murder Castle were designed to guide H. H. Holmes’s victims to their deaths. Some rooms had multiple doors, while others had none at all. With so many ways to get from one side of the hotel to another, only someone familiar with the design would really know the best way to get around quickly.

The south end of the hotel’s second floor, on the other hand, was a claustrophobic mess of narrow, doorless hallways set at odd angles. Holmes used this carefully planned layout to mislead, confuse, and ambush his guests, who never stood a chance of finding the right way out again.

His Perverse Interests Started With Childhood Bullying

Photo: Jesse Krauß/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Holmes’s father abused Holmes, who was unusually bright. Holmes was also often picked on by his classmates. One day, a group of schoolmates locked him in a doctor’s office with a human skeleton.

At first, Holmes was scared, but as he stood there, he found himself overcome with morbid fascination. Soon after, he became obsessed with lifeless bodies and began dissecting animals.

He Wanted To Make Sure His Body Would Never Be Dissected

Photo: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Holmes received capital punishment on May 7, 1896. He reportedly acted extremely calm in the moments leading up to his passing, but he did have one unusual request. He asked that his coffin be encased in cement and buried 10 feet deep. Possibly, Holmes feared becoming the target of grave robbers like himself.

Holmes’s hanging was not a neat affair. The initial fall failed to break his neck, and instead he dangled from the rope until he perished from a slow asphyxiation almost 15 minutes later.

How HH Holmes Went From Troubled Youth To America’s First Serial Killer

By the time H. H. Holmes was hanged for murdering his business partner in 1896, he had already committed numerous atrocities in Chicago, IL, as well as various scams and frauds throughout the United States.

Holmes is thought to have killed at least nine people, although some research estimates his kill count is much higher, potentially in the hundreds as a result of his Murder Castle in Chicago during the World’s Fair in 1893.

H.H. Holmes’s origin story has been widely sensationalized by both curious readers and writers (2003’s The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson details Holmes’s murder spree in Chicago and was a National Book Award Finalist) as well as by Holmes himself.

Before his execution, Holmes wrote several lengthy confessions at the payment of Hearst, all of which made contradictory claims about his life and his participation in various murders. In the confessions, Holmes claimed to have killed 27 people, although many of those named were still alive when he wrote it.

No details about Holmes’s childhood (real or fabricated) can make sense of the horror he unleashed on the world as America’s first serial killer through his web of murder and deceit.

Holmes’s Parents (May Have Been) Physically And Mentally Abusive

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Do

H.H. Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett in the small town of Gilmanton, NH, in 1861. Both Holmes’s parents were intensely religious, and used their Methodist beliefs to parent with cold, strict discipline.

According to some sources, this mistreatment included forcing the children into long periods of isolation and making them go without food. There are also claims that Holmes’s father used rags dunked in kerosene to quiet the cries of his children.

However, other researchers believe such claims about Holmes’s parents are false, and by all accounts he had a regular upbringing. Holmes himself wrote:

That I was well trained by loving and religious parents, I know, and any deviations in my after life from the straight and narrow way of rectitude are not attributable to the want of a tender mother’s prayers or a father’s control, emphasized, when necessary, by the liberal use of the rod wielded by no sparing hand.

Known as a serial liar and fraudster, it’s difficult to know what to believe about Holmes’s childhood years.

His Fascination With Dead Bodies Started From Being Bullied

Photo: Jerome Walker/Wikimedia/Public Domain

At school, Holmes was bullied for his intelligence and odd nature. The bullying climaxed in a traumatic episode wherein schoolmates ambushed Holmes and forced him into a doctor’s office where they placed the hands of a skeleton on his face. Holmes claimed the incident sparked his interest in anatomy and medicine:

It was a wicked and dangerous thing to do to a child of tender years and health… but it proved an heroic method of treatment, destined ultimately of curing me of my fears, and to inculcate in me, first, a strong feeling of curiosity, and, later a desire to learn, which resulted years afterwards in my adopting medicine as a profession.

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domain

Seeking respite from his home life, young Holmes often retreated into the forest around his family’s house where he started to experiment with the dissection of animals.

Holmes began by cutting up the bodies of small reptiles and other small creatures, then moved on to mammals, including rabbits and dogs. This type of behavior is said to have sparked Holmes’s interest in human anatomy. It also made him comfortable with dissection.

He May Have Killed His Childhood Best Friend

When Holmes was 11 years old, his childhood best friend Tom – who was older – fell from the landing of an abandoned home the two boys had been exploring.

Holmes said he saw Tom fall, but in hindsight, many believe that he could’ve been close enough to push Tom off the landing.

Holmes Won Over His First Wife By Threatening Other Suitors

Holmes (although he still went by Herman Webster Mudgett at the time) met his future first wife Clara Lovering when they were both teenagers. After he saw Lovering flirting with someone else at a church gathering, Holmes approached the couple and threatened the boy with violence if he didn’t leave.

Holmes then escorted the seemingly impressed Lovering home, officially beginning their courtship which quickly escalated into a marriage when they were both 17.

He May Have Beaten His First Wife, Clara Lovering

Photo: Library Of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division/N

According to some sources, housemates from Clara Lovering’s short time living with Holmes at the University of Michigan remembered regular arguments between the two and seeing Lovering with bruises.

While it’s difficult to say if these events occurred – as no police report was filed –  Lovering and the baby did eventually leave Holmes, and the two never reunited. They were, however, still formally married when Holmes died.

When He Was In College, He Began Using Dead Bodies To Commit Insurance Fraud

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domain

During his medical studies at the University of Michigan, Holmes began to steal bodies from the school’s laboratory then mangeling or burning the remains. By making the bodies unrecognizable, he collected money on life insurance policies after the bodies were found and deemed accidental deaths.

Holmes also stole bodies from graves and morgues to sell them to medical schools, or to use for his own research and dissection. This scam earned Holmes thousands of dollars. 

His Landlord Found A Dead Baby Under His Bed

There are many stories recalling Holmes’s fascination with anatomy and the body during his childhood and subsequent years in medical school. One claim came from his landlady who recalled following a foul stench into Holmes’s room where she found a dead infant underneath his bed.

Allegedly, Holmes claimed the body was part of his homework. While this didn’t result in any legal action, he was told not to bring his work home with him again.

He Regularly Got Engaged To Steal Money From His Fianceés

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domain

Holmes married Clara Lovering, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, in 1878 and she gave birth to their son Robert Lovering Mudgett. Holmes then used a combination of Lovering’s money and the funds from various life insurance scams to pay for medical school at the University of Michigan.

This was not the last time Holmes preyed upon the women who loved him for financial gain. On his way to Chicago after medical school (while still legally married to Lovering), Holmes tied the knot with Myrta Belknap. Belknap’s parents were wealthy and provided Holmes with enough money to purchase the vacant lot where his Murder Castle was eventually built when he got to Chicago.

Holmes put the deed under the name of his new wife and her mother in order to keep the creditors from catching on.

He Fled To Chicago To Avoid A Mountain Of Debt

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domain

After Holmes graduated from medical school he worked a variety of odd jobs, including teaching school and working as a doctor in Mooers Forks, NY. Holmes wracked up a great deal of debt during this time, often making up excuses to default on rent.

Eventually Holmes left town in the middle of the night to avoid paying. He wound up in Chicago, IL, the city where he later built his Murder Castle and kill at least nine people, although some estimates reach up into the hundreds of victims.

He Changed His Name To H.H. Holmes

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domai

Contrary to popular belief, Holmes did not change his name to reflect or comment on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in any way.The Great Detective Holmes didn’t appear in print until 1887, a year after real-life Holmes changed his name.

Instead, Herman Webster Mudgett changed his name to Harry Howard Holmes when he sat for his pharmaceutical licensure test in May of 1886, just after moving to Chicago to find work in a drug store.In doing so, Holmes kicked off his career as a serial killer that peaked during the 1893 World’s Fair.

He Was Quite The Womanizer

Holmes was notoriously charming and likeable. Apparently it was common practice for him to become engaged to a woman, ask her to sign over her property and wealth to him, then tell any suspicious people his beloved had left town suddenly.

This charm and ease served Holmes well when he employed and hosted young women in his Murder Castle in 1893 Chicago, IL. Preying upon women who were new in town, Holmes gained their trust before murdering them. He also reportedly got in trouble while in school for making a woman believe they were engaged.

He Was Constantly In Trouble With The Law, But Not For Murder

Photo: The Herald, Los Angeles, CA/Chronicling America/Public Domain

Even before his murder spree, H.H. Holmes was a notorious scammer and conman. He swindled money from various women, insurance companies, and landlords in multiple cities. Holmes also refused to pay bills, even on his Murder Castle. He told the builders he was not responsible or liable for their payment, as he’d put the building under his mother-in-law’s name.

Holmes was also known to buy items on credit and sell them for cash, and he was constantly the target of lawsuits. He even sold scam cures for various health problems at his pharmacy. In Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City, the author claims the Chicago chief of police had even represented Holmes in small “routine commercial lawsuits” before Holmes was brought in on murder charges.

Authorities Never Found The Bodies Of His First Victims

Photo: Wikimedia/Public Domain

While accounts vary on who Holmes’s first victim was, it’s widely accepted that Julia Connor – Holmes’s lover – and her 8-year-old daughter Pearl were the first casualties of Holmes’s murder spree.

Holmes had been taking out debts in Connor’s name and listing her as a co-founder of multiple businesses. Connor and Pearl vanished on July 4, 1891, and their bodies were never found.

Not long after Connor’s disappearance, Holmes installed a basement furnace, and his secretary Emeline Cigrand also went missing. Around this time, many women in Holmes’s circle went missing.

Holmes Completed And Operated His Murder Castle

In 1887, Holmes purchased a vacant lot on the same street as the pharmacy where he worked and began construction on his Murder Castle, complete with hidden passageways and compartments, trapdoors, and secret staircases.

While estimates vary, some sources suggest Holmes may have killed hundreds of people while the Castle was in operation, mostly young women who were visiting or working in Chicago for the World’s Fair. Holmes confessed to 27 murders, however only nine have been plausibly attributed to him, and many of those he confessed to murdering were still alive.

Ultimately, it was the murder of his business partner Benjamin Pietzel (and allegedly Pietzel’s three children) that finally put Holmes behind bars and eventually on the gallows, effectively ending the first serial killing spree in America.


Christopher Columbus Facts They Don’t Teach in School

Columbus Day has become an occasion not just to celebrate the first steps toward founding America, but a time to re-examine what we know about the famed explorer. The accomplishments of Christopher Columbus are myriad and well-known, but much of his life’s story, as well as his subsequent voyages to the Americas, is lost in mythos and misconception.

While he did in fact “sail the ocean blue” in 1492, the biography of Christopher Columbus is filled with obscure facts and historical oddities that never make it into any school nursery rhyme – or even into many textbooks. Many people still believe that Columbus set out from Spain to prove the Earth was round – but we know he didn’t. We also believe he made peaceful contact with the natives of what he thought was India – but he didn’t, and he actually believed he’d reached the mythical land of Japan.

Could he have even made it there? What about his other trips to the New World? Or his revisionist reputation for brutality and cruel treatment of the natives? Here are some facts about Columbus that, despite decades of re-examination, most people don’t know.

“Christopher Columbus” Wasn’t Actually His Name

Photo: Sebastiano del Piombo/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The famed explorer was born Cristoforo Colombo – or Cristóbal Colón, if you speak Spanish. “Christopher Columbus” is the Anglicized version of his name, but he likely wouldn’t have answered to that. Among other unknowns about Colón/Columbus’s life is what he looked like – as no portrait of him was painted during his lifetime.

He Wasn’t Spanish – Though He Sailed for Spain

Photo: Giorgio Sommer/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Columbus sailed under the Crown of Spain, but definitely wasn’t Spanish by birth. Little is known of his early life, but it’s generally agreed upon that he was born in Genoa, at the time an independent city-state and satellite of Spain. He would be considered Italian today.

Few People Still Believed the World Was Flat

Photo:  Trekky0623/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Writers like Washington Irving have implanted in the popular consciousness that Columbus set out to prove Catholic teaching wrong about the Earth being flat. But it was already widely believed that the Earth was round. As early as the sixth century BCE, the Greek mathematician Pythagoras used mathematics to surmise the world was round, and later, Aristotle proved it with astronomical observations. By 1492 most educated people knew the planet was not a flat disc.

Columbus Was Not Searching for the New World

Photo:  Twice25/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

While Columbus found the unexplored land that came to be known as “the New World,” it wasn’t what he was looking for. He was seeking a quicker passage to Asia that wouldn’t involve crossing the Silk Road, which had been sealed off due to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire. The aims of his voyage were exploiting the gold and spices believed to be found in abundance in the Orient – and to grab some for himself.

He Never Would Have Reached Asia

Photo: Andries van Eertvelt/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Columbus estimated that the distance from the Canary Islands, where his voyage began, to Japan (known then as “Cipangu”), which he was attempting to reach, was about 3,700 kilometers. This was a vast underestimate, as the distance is actually about 12,000 kilometers. Columbus’s small fleet could never have carried enough provisions to last such a voyage, nor would these ships have survived the harsh conditions of the Pacific.

His Motives Were Not Altruistic

Photo: Daniel Chodowiecki/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

His first proposal to sail to the Orient, submitted to King John II of Portugal, involved him walking away with quite a bounty. He requested to be given the title “Great Admiral of the Ocean,” to be appointed governor of any and all lands he discovered, and be given one-tenth of all revenue from those lands – which would have involved a huge amount of gold. Portugal rejected this proposal, and several others, before Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to fund Columbus. But even they rejected him at first, thinking his plan unfeasible.

Columbus Almost Certainly Wasn’t the First European to Find the New World

Photo: H. E. Marshall/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Historians generally believe that the Norse Viking Leif Eriksson landed in present-day Newfoundland around 1000 CE, 500 years before Columbus set sail. It’s also been hypothesized, though not proven, that Celtic explorers crossed the Atlantic before Eriksson.

Nobody Knows Exactly Where Columbus Landed

Photo: John Vanderlyn/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Columbus was looking for Japan, but what he found was the modern day Bahamas. After leaving the Canary Islands on September 6, strong winds pushed his three-ship fleet westward until they sighted land on October 12. Columbus called this island “San Salvador” – and believed he’d found Asia. The exact location of where he first set foot is still unknown, though it’s been narrowed down to three possible islands.

As Soon as He Landed, He Began Doing Horrible Things

Photo: Theodor de Bry/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Columbus’ actions as a slave trader and by-the-sword evangelist are starting to become more and more widely known in popular culture. And these actions started almost immediately. The first natives he encountered on San Salvador were the Arawak people (also called the Taino), natives to the islands. Columbus found them to be peaceful and loving – and promptly took a group of them prisoner so he could interrogate them as to the location of the Orient’s gold. Subsequent Spanish colonization of the Bahamas was brutal to the Arawaks, and within half a century, they’d almost all be gone.

Not All Three Ships Survived the Voyage

Photo: Dietrich Bartel/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

Columbus and his crew, which had dwindled due to disease and mutiny, spent three months sailing up and down the Bahamas, from October 12 through January 15, 1493. But it’s not common knowledge that the Santa Maria didn’t survive the trip, having grounded on Christmas Day. Columbus ordered the ship evacuated and blown up with cannons – to impress the natives with Spanish firepower. Columbus then snapped up about two dozen natives to take back as slaves, left 39 men to establish a colony on what’s now Haiti, then headed back to Spain.

The Second Voyage of Columbus Was All About Conquest

Photo: OneArmedMan/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Columbus’s first voyage to the Orient was a trip of exploration. But the second could never be mistaken for anything other than one of colonization and, if necessary, armed conflict. He left Spain on September 23, 1493, with a huge fleet consisting of 17 ships and 1,200 men. Among the passengers were farmers, priests meant to convert natives to Christianity, and armed soldiers to impose Columbus’s will.

Armed Conflict Broke Out on the Second Voyage

Photo: Edward Everett Hale/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Columbus and his fleet made landfall in Dominica, now a small island nation in the Caribbean. He sailed up and down the Lesser Antilles, went back to check on the 39 men he’d left behind at the colony of La Navidad (which had been destroyed with 11 men murdered by the natives for raping local women), and, in an omen of things to come, had an armed skirmish with several tribesmen caught castrating two boys from a different tribe. He established several small colonies, took about 500 Caribbean people as slaves, and headed back to Spain again.

He Still Hoped to Find the Orient on the Third Voyage

Photo: Roke~commonswiki/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Columbus’s third voyage to the New World was delayed almost two years thanks to machinations in the Spanish court. When he finally set sail from Spain in May 1498, he had just seven ships. Several headed for previously established colonies, while Columbus himself and the bulk of his fleet headed south, still hoping to find the mythical passage to the Orient. Instead, he found Trinidad, as well as Venezuela. But the worst was yet to come.

The Third Voyage Ended in Disgrace

Photo: USCapitol/Flickr/Public Domain

Several months of exploring South America left Columbus in poor health and exhausted, so he returned to the colony of Hispaniola, where the Santa Maria had grounded on the first voyage. When he arrived, he was greeted by chaos.

The colonists were unhappy, starving, and threatening to mutiny. The natives were treated horribly, and often responded by murdering the colonists. Columbus and his brothers were cruel governors, and the Taino natives had engaged in armed revolt, which was crushed in 1497. Faced with a number of complaints about his governorship and cruelty, Ferdinand and Isabella ordered Columbus and his brothers arrested, and taken back to Spain in chains.

The Fourth Voyage Was a Disaster

Photo: Roke~commonswiki/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

After spending a few months in prison, Columbus went before Ferdinand and Isabella. They pardoned him and financed a fourth voyage, but stripped him of his governorship. Leaving Cadiz in May 1502 on four decrepit ships, Columbus set forth to find passage to the Indian Ocean.

Instead, he got lost, sailed through a hurricane that annihilated the first Spanish treasure fleet, had two ships sink, and finally had to beach the other two in Jamaica, where he spent a year stranded. While there, he persuaded the natives to supply his desperate men with food and water by predicting a lunar eclipse on February 29, 1504. A relief fleet finally arrived in June, and Columbus reached Spain empty handed in November.

Columbus Wanted What Was His

Photo: John Clark Ridpath/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

As befitting someone who wanted to explore new lands primarily to cash in, Columbus spent a lot of time and effort making sure he got what was coming to him. In 1502, shortly before the fourth voyage, Columbus wrote Book of Privileges, a long testimony of all of the titles, riches, positions of power, and rewards he was expecting the Spanish Crown to give him and his descendants as part of his ten percent cut of his exploration.

He Had Become an Apocalyptic Crank

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Like many luminaries of his day, Columbus balanced a keen instinct for exploration with a fervent belief in Biblical prophecy nonsense. He complied a number of apocalyptic “revelations” in Book of Prophecies, which was published in 1501. Among his “revelations” were that Christianity must be spread throughout the world, the Garden of Eden is out there waiting to be found, and that Spain’s King Ferdinand would be the Last World Emperor. 

After His Death, His Remains Traveled the World

Photo: Ввласенко/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Food poisoning on one of his voyages led Columbus to develop a case of reactive arthritis, thought at the time to be gout. Suffering from that, as well as various other ailments he contracted during the four voyages, Columbus died in 1506 in Valliadolid, Spain.

Columbus’s remains were first interred there, then in Seville by his son Diego, who had become governor of Hispaniola. In 1542 the remains were transferred to the present-day Dominican Republic. In 1795, when France took over Hispaniola, Columbus’s remains were again moved, this time to Havana, Cuba. After Cuba became independent following the Spanish–American War in 1898, the remains were moved back to Spain. But it’s likely that not all were moved, and Columbus might actually have resting places in both Cuba and Spain.

His Estate Was Tangled in Lawsuits for Centuries

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

After he died, the children of Columbus waged a lengthy legal battle with the Spanish crown, claiming that the monarchy had short-changed them on money, titles, and property they were due. Most of the Columbian lawsuits were settled by 1536, with the Colón family walking away with the perpetual title of “Admiral of the Indies,” claims on land in Jamaica, Hispaniola, and several other islands; and a large sum of money to be paid annually.

There were still numerous claims to untangle, and the legal proceedings, called the Pleitos colombinos, dragged on until well into the 18th century.

He Left Behind a Complex Legacy

Photo: Robert Fleury/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

For centuries, Columbus was venerated as the heroic discoverer of America and he’s still honored with a Federal holiday on October 12. But in recent decades, Columbus’s legacy of brutality toward natives, capturing and movement of slaves, and his pronounced ignorance on many aspects of ocean travel have become more and more well known.

It’s not in dispute that Columbus was a tyrannical governor of Hispaniola, creating a governing system where natives were mutilated for not making their gold-mining quotas, and slaves were regularly shipped back to Spain. But he was also a courageous explorer, making four Atlantic voyages through dangerous waters, rough weather, and totally unexplored territory.

Colonization of the New World also leaves a complex legacy. It wiped out native peoples from San Salvador all the way through the American west – but at the same time, set in motion the events that would lead to the United States and the modern world. Is Columbus a hero or a villain? A conquering monster or a courageous pioneer? In reality, probably all of them

Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery

We do not celebrate Columbus Day here in Australia, so I found this article intriguing, especially in the light of what we now know about Columbus and his governorships and brutality to natives,

Italian-Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus is shown in this work by Italian painter Sebastiano Del Piombo. (AP Photo)

Once again, it’s time to celebrate Columbus Day. Yet, the stunning truth is: If Christopher Columbus were alive today, he would be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Columbus’ reign of terror, as documented by noted historians, was so bloody, his legacy so unspeakably cruel, that Columbus makes a modern villain like Saddam Hussein look like a pale codfish.

Question: Why do we honor a man who, if he were alive today, would almost certainly be sitting on Death Row awaiting execution?

If you’d like to know the true story about Christopher Columbus, please read on. But I warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Here’s the basics. On the second Monday in October each year, we celebrate Columbus Day (this year, it’s on October 11th). We teach our school kids a cute little song that goes: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” It’s an American tradition, as American as pizza pie. Or is it? Surprisingly, the true story of Christopher Columbus has very little in common with the myth we all learned in school.

Columbus Day, as we know it in the United States, was invented by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization. Back in the 1930s, they were looking for a Catholic hero as a role-model their kids could look up to. In 1934, as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt signed Columbus Day into law as a federal holiday to honor this courageous explorer. Or so we thought.

There are several problems with this. First of all, Columbus wasn’t the first European to discover America. As we all know, the Viking, Leif Ericson probably founded a Norse village on Newfoundland some 500 years earlier. So, hat’s off to Leif. But if you think about it, the whole concept of discovering America is, well, arrogant. After all, the Native Americans discovered North America about 14,000 years before Columbus was even born! Surprisingly, DNA evidence now suggests that courageous Polynesian adventurers sailed dugout canoes across the Pacific and settled in South America long before the Vikings.

Second, Columbus wasn’t a hero. When he set foot on that sandy beach in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, Columbus discovered that the islands were inhabited by friendly, peaceful people called the Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks. Writing in his diary, Columbus said they were a handsome, smart and kind people. He noted that the gentle Arawaks were remarkable for their hospitality. “They offered to share with anyone and when you ask for something, they never say no,” he said. The Arawaks had no weapons; their society had neither criminals, prisons nor prisoners. They were so kind-hearted that Columbus noted in his diary that on the day the Santa Maria was shipwrecked, the Arawaks labored for hours to save his crew and cargo. The native people were so honest that not one thing was missing.

Columbus was so impressed with the hard work of these gentle islanders, that he immediately seized their land for Spain and enslaved them to work in his brutal gold mines. Within only two years, 125,000 (half of the population) of the original natives on the island were dead.

If I were a Native American, I would mark October 12, 1492, as a black day on my calendar.

Shockingly, Columbus supervised the selling of native girls into sexual slavery. Young girls of the ages 9 to 10 were the most desired by his men. In 1500, Columbus casually wrote about it in his log. He said: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”

He forced these peaceful natives work in his gold mines until they died of exhaustion. If an “Indian” worker did not deliver his full quota of gold dust by Columbus’ deadline, soldiers would cut off the man’s hands and tie them around his neck to send a message. Slavery was so intolerable for these sweet, gentle island people that at one point, 100 of them committed mass suicide. Catholic law forbade the enslavement of Christians, but Columbus solved this problem. He simply refused to baptize the native people of Hispaniola.

On his second trip to the New World, Columbus brought cannons and attack dogs. If a native resisted slavery, he would cut off a nose or an ear. If slaves tried to escape, Columbus had them burned alive. Other times, he sent attack dogs to hunt them down, and the dogs would tear off the arms and legs of the screaming natives while they were still alive. If the Spaniards ran short of meat to feed the dogs, Arawak babies were killed for dog food.

Columbus’ acts of cruelty were so unspeakable and so legendary – even in his own day – that Governor Francisco De Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his two brothers, slapped them into chains, and shipped them off to Spain to answer for their crimes against the Arawaks. But the King and Queen of Spain, their treasury filling up with gold, pardoned Columbus and let him go free.

One of Columbus’ men, Bartolome De Las Casas, was so mortified by Columbus’ brutal atrocities against the native peoples, that he quit working for Columbus and became a Catholic priest. He described how the Spaniards under Columbus’ command cut off the legs of children who ran from them, to test the sharpness of their blades. According to De Las Casas, the men made bets as to who, with one sweep of his sword, could cut a person in half. He says that Columbus’ men poured people full of boiling soap. In a single day, De Las Casas was an eye witness as the Spanish soldiers dismembered, beheaded, or raped 3000 native people. “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel,” De Las Casas wrote. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”

De Las Casas spent the rest of his life trying to protect the helpless native people. But after a while, there were no more natives to protect. Experts generally agree that before 1492, the population on the island of Hispaniola probably numbered above 3 million. Within 20 years of Spanish arrival, it was reduced to only 60,000. Within 50 years, not a single original native inhabitant could be found.

In 1516, Spanish historian Peter Martyr wrote: “… a ship without compass, chart, or guide, but only following the trail of dead Indians who had been thrown from the ships could find its way from the Bahamas to Hispaniola.”

Christopher Columbus derived most of his income from slavery, De Las Casas noted. In fact, Columbus was the first slave trader in the Americas. As the native slaves died off, they were replaced with black slaves. Columbus’ son became the first African slave trader in 1505.

Are you surprised you never learned about any of this in school? I am too. Why do we have this extraordinary gap in our American ethos? Columbus himself kept detailed diaries, as did some of his men including De Las Casas and Michele de Cuneo. (If you don’t believe me, just Google the words Columbus, sex slave, and gold mine.)

Columbus’ reign of terror is one of the darkest chapters in our history. The REAL question is: Why do we celebrate a holiday in honor of this man? (Take three deep breaths. If you’re like me, your stomach is heaving at this point. I’m sorry. Sometimes the truth hurts. That said, I’d like to turn in a more positive direction.)

Call me crazy, but I think holidays ought to honor people who are worthy of our admiration, true heroes who are positive role models for our children. If we’re looking for heroes we can truly admire, I’d like to offer a few candidates. Foremost among them are school kids.

Let me tell you about some school kids who are changing the world. I think they are worthy of a holiday. My friend Nan Peterson is the director of the Blake School, a K-12 school in Minnesota. She recently visited Kenya. Nan says there are 33 million people in Kenya… and 11 million of them are orphans! Can you imagine that? She went to Kibera, the slum outside Nairobi, and a boy walked up to her and handed her a baby. He said: My father died. My mother died… and I’m not feeling so good myself. Here, take my sister. If I die, they will throw her into the street to die.

There are so many orphans in Kenya, the baby girls are throwaways!

Nan visited an orphanage for girls. The girls were starving to death. They had one old cow that only gave one cup of milk a day. So each girl only got ONE TEASPOON of milk a day!

After this heartbreaking experience, Nan went home to her school in Minnesota and asked the kids… what can we do? The kids got the idea to make homemade paper and sell it to buy a cow. So they made a bunch of paper, and sold the paper, and when they were done they had enough money to buy… FOUR COWS! And enough food to feed all of the cows for ONE FULL YEAR! These are kids… from 6 years old to 18… saving the lives of kids halfway around the world. And I thought: If a 6-year-old could do that… what could I do?

At Casady School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, seemingly “average” school kids raised $20,000 to dig clean water wells for children in Ethiopia. These kids are heroes. Why don’t we celebrate “Kids Who Are Changing the Planet” Day?

Let me ask you a question: Would we celebrate Columbus Day if the story of Christopher Columbus were told from the point-of-view of his victims? No way!

The truth about Columbus is going to be a hard pill for some folks to swallow. Please, don’t think I’m picking on Catholics. All the Catholics I know are wonderful people. I don’t want to take away their holiday or their hero. But if we’re looking for a Catholic our kids can admire, the Catholic church has many, many amazing people we could name a holiday after. How about Mother Teresa day? Or St. Francis of Assisi day? Or Betty Williams day (another Catholic Nobel Peace Prize winner). These men and women are truly heroes of peace, not just for Catholics, but for all of us.

Let’s come clean. Let’s tell the truth about Christopher Columbus. Let’s boycott this outrageous holiday because it honors a mass murderer. If we skip the cute song about “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” I don’t think our first graders will miss it much, do you? True, Columbus’ brutal treatment of peaceful Native Americans was so horrific… maybe we should hide the truth about Columbus until our kids reach at least High School age. Let’s teach it to them about the same time we tell them about the Nazi death camps.

While we’re at it, let’s rewrite our history books. From now on, instead of glorifying the exploits of mass murderers like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon Bonaparte, let’s teach our kids about true heroes, men and women of courage and kindness who devoted their lives to the good of others. There’s a long list, starting with Florence Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy.

These people were not adventurers who “discovered” an island in the Caribbean. They were noble souls who discovered what is best in the human spirit.

Why don’t we create a holiday to replace Columbus Day?

Let’s call it Heroes of Peace Day.


What Weird British Laws You Should Be Aware Of?

As we have already mentioned, the United Kingdom is one of the oldest countries in the world, and as such, has a long legal history. Therefore, it should not surprise us that it still features some century-old laws that no longer make sense but are still in power. Trying to stay on the good side of the law? So do we, that is why we have selected a number of weird British laws that all locals and tourists should be aware of.

#1. Do Not Handle Salmon… Suspiciously

We are warning you! Do not handle your salmon suspiciously, or you might get into trouble. Now, you do not need to panic. Technically speaking, you can still clutch your favourite fish in dark corners, although we would not recommend such behaviour. As odd as it sounds, this law could actually be found under Section 32 of the Salmon Act 1986. Although it actually refers to selling salmon gained through illicit means, it sounds crazy enough to become a part of our list of strange UK laws.

#2. Do Not Play Knock Knock Ginger

UK Law Doorbell

Do you think it is fun to ring on someone’s doorbell and then run away? Even though all kids think it is, and most of us have probably done it, we must warn you that according to the Metropolitan Police Act 1854, such behaviour is actually illegal. To be exact, you should never “wilfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any doorbell or knocking at any door without lawful excuse”. If you cannot help but misbehave, you may face a fine of up to £500. Even though it makes our list of crazy UK laws, we advise you to follow the no knock-down ginger rule accordingly.

#3. Do Not Shake Your Rug Before 8 a.m

As outrageous as it sounds, you should never shake or in any way clean your rug before 8 a.m. According to section 60, subsection 3 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1854, it is an offence to beat or shake any carpet, rug, or mat before 8 in the morning. On the bright side, you can engage into all these actions at 8:01 a.m.! Though, you should also keep in mind that you should avoid throwing any dirt, litter or ashes, or any carrion, fish, offal, or rubbish into “any sewer, pipe, or drain, or into any well, stream, or watercourse, pond, or reservoir for water …”. The penalty? A fine of up to £500 should be enough motivation to keep your urge to clean under control.

#4. Do Not Get Drunk in a Pub

Shocking, yet apparently true one of the weird UK laws claims that you should not get drunk in a pub. In fact, according to Section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872, “every person found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises” could be penalised. In other words, if you drink 3 or 5 ciders outside your house, you could be facing a fine of up to £200. Our advice? A night out could be pricey enough, so keep a count on those drinks.

#5. Do Not Wear a Suit of Armour in Parliament

No Suit of Armour Law Parliament

Talking about crazy UK laws, how about the one that states that you cannot enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour. Were planning to dress up? Sorry to burst your bubble, but you cannot show off by wearing your suit of armour in Parliament. The law dates back from 1313 when times were different, and probably someone did try to get into Parliament wearing inappropriate clothing. Even though the law is not relevant nowadays, it is still applicable. Nevertheless, we cannot tell what would be the actual punishment for breaking it, though we assume that such actions would get a lot of media coverage.

#6. In Scotland Strangers Are Welcome to Use Your Toilet

Did you know that if a stranger knocks on your door and asks to use your toilet, you are legally obliged to let them? Neither did we, but according to an old Scottish law, hospitality must be shown to all guests even if they are uninvited. Surprisingly, even though the law has not been officially authorised by parliament, it is enforceable. Wondering where it comes from? One of the strange UK laws first came into power back in the days when travellers on foot would cross the land of hard-working clansmen. Even though it is not a common practice, nowadays, you can still expect strangers to knock on your door every once in a while. Still, as you will not be fined, it is completely up to you to decide whether to let them use your toilet or not.

#7. Do Not Walk Around Carrying Wood Planks in London

Do you live in London? If you are planning a home improvement project, remember that you cannot carry planks across the pavement. Wondering why? Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 says it all. It is an offence to carry planks across the pavement in London and offenders could be fined up to £500.While we cannot tell you if anyone has actually been charged for violating this particular law, we advise to stay out trouble and find another way to transport your wood planks home.

#8. Do Not Hang Out Your Washing

The law about Hanged Washing

According to one of the weird British laws, residents of Beverley, East Yorkshire are not allowed to hang their washing outside. In fact, residents of a luxury complex in the city are asked to “to refrain from hanging washing in a manner that may detract from the visual enjoyment of the building or otherwise cause offence to fellow residents”. While we are not certain where you could actually be fined for breaking the law, we advise you to get a tumble drier or make sure you have sufficient space to dry your clothing inside your house and to do your best to avoid getting fined for… washing your clothes and hanging them to dry.

#9. Do Not Gamble in Libraries

Were you planning to play a friendly poker game at the local library? We are sorry to inform you that you will have to look for another place to play. An old British law states that it is illegal to gamble in a library.Wondering why? As we have already mentioned, the law is quite outdated, so we suppose that back in time, some people loved to assemble in libraries and cause disturbances to the otherwise peaceful environment. The law used to be a part of the Library Offences Act of 1998 until it was eventually repealed in 2005. Nevertheless, we decided to include it on our list as it certainly deserves your attention.

#10. Flying a Kite May Not Be the Best Idea

Do not get us wrong – flying a kite is perfectly legal in the United Kingdom. You are free to engage in your favourite activity as much as you please. We must warn you, however, that if your kite happens to annoy any inhabitants or passengers, you might be fined. Yes, you understood correctly. An odd British law claims that “who shall fly any kite or play at any game to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers, or who shall make or use any slide upon ice or snow in any street or other thoroughfare, to the common danger of the passengers”, could be asked to pay a fine of up to £500. While we are not certain whether this law is still applicable, we strongly advise you to be careful where and when you fly your kite.

#11. You Cannot Import Polish Potatoes to Britain

Weird UK Law About Polish Potatoes

One of the weird British laws that we encountered claims that no one can import Polish potatoes to Britain without first notifying the authorities. Wondering why the UK Government came up with such an odd law in the first place? In a nutshell, the authorities were concerned because back in 2004 there was a massive outbreak of a potato disease called ring rot. While it does not seem to be dangerous for human consumers, the condition seriously affects yield and the quality of the potato crops. Even though the threat is no longer relevant, the law remains valid.

#12. If You Catch a Sturgeon, You Should Offer It to the Reigning Monarch

Yes, that is right. One of our favourite strange UK laws claims that “All beached whales and sturgeons must be offered to the Reigning Monarch”. The Prerogativa Regis 1322 is clear enough and still valid nowadays. While we cannot tell you what are the exact reasons behind this rule, a theory claims that King Edward II probably wanted to control the levels of overly conspicuous consumption in the realm. Believe it or not, this law was actually tested in modern times.

Back in 2004, Mr Robert Davies caught a 9lb sturgeon off the coast of Wales and offered it to the Queen. He soon received a note from Her Majesty, informing him that she was happy for him to dispose of the fish as he saw fit. After that, though, Mr Davis became a subject of a short criminal investigation based on the fact that sturgeons are protected species, and catching or killing them is considered illegal. The particular sturgeon now resides at the Natural History Museum in London.

#13. You Should Not Sing Profane or Indecent Ballads

Listening to the newest hip hop tracks on your way to work? We know how catchy the new Kanye West or Jay-Z’s tunes could be, but we strongly recommend you to fight your urges to sing along. According to the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839, no one should “sing any profane, indecent, or obscene song or ballad, or use any profane, indecent or obscene language to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers.” If you love singing in public, however, just make sure your favourite track does not include any offensive lyrics. Breaking one of the weirdest UK laws could lead to a possible fine, that could certainly affect your budget.

#14. It Is Legal to Shoot a Scotsman Under Certain Circumstances

Yes, as bizarre as it may sound, according to an outdated English law, it is perfectly legal to shoot a Scotsman under specific circumstances. Still, there are certain factors that must be present. To begin with, you must be located in York. One of the strange UK laws claims that only in York if they happen to cross paths with a Scotsman, people are allowed to shoot him with a crossbow. Please note, however, that shooting Scots on Sundays remains forbidden. Or at least with a bow and an arrow… The same law claims that any Scotsman caught drunk or armed on Sunday, can still be shot, just not with a crossbow.

Scotsmen Waking Law York

Interestingly, a similar law claims that in Chester, it is also allowed to shoot a Welsh person with a bow and an arrow, as long as it happens within the city walls and after midnight. We remind you, however, that all mentioned regulations are outdated and no longer apply. Nevertheless, we found them weird enough to include in our list of crazy UK laws.

#15. Do Not Jump the Queue at a Subway in London

Have you ever felt tempted to jump the queue while waiting for a subway in London? If so, we sincerely hope that you have managed to wait your turn, otherwise you could have committed a crime. That is right. Jumping the queue at a subway is not only rude but also illegal. At least if you are in London. While we could not find proof that the law is still in power, we strongly recommend you to obey it. Though it is unlikely to get arrested for jumping the queue, such behaviour could lead to unpleasant confrontations with the rest of the people.

Gambling Is Not a Part of the Weird Laws in the UK

Did you enjoy our list of strange laws in the UK? If so, you may also enjoy our article about UK Gambling Law. Worried that you may not be able to try your luck on your favourite slot games? Fear not as all forms of gambling, including online and land-based are perfectly legal in the United Kingdom. In fact, you may pick the right operator for you from our list of the best gambling sites. We remind you, however, to gamble responsibly and choose your preferred games carefully.

14 Weird British Laws That Everyone Thinks Are True

James Ross / Getty Image

1. It is illegal to carry a plank along a pavement.

True. This has been illegal since 1839. The Act also bans you from sliding on snow, playing “annoying games”, and flying kites in the street. No fun please, we’re British.

2. It is illegal to die in parliament.

False. There’s a longstanding myth that you’re not “allowed” to die in parliament, because the government would have to give you a state funeral. They wouldn’t. At least four people have died in parliament, including Guy Fawkes, who was executed on site.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

3. It is illegal not to carry out at least two hours of longbow practice a week.

Not any more. Englishmen aged between 17 and 60 were required to own a longbow and practise using it regularly by a law enacted in 1541. This law was eventually repealed, but much later than you might think: It was on the statute books until 1960.

4. It is illegal to beat or shake any carpet or rug in any street.

True. This has been illegal since 1839, but you are allowed to beat a doormat, provided you do it before 8am. It’s also illegal to keep a pigsty in front of your house, slaughter cattle in the street, sing rude songs in the street, or to ring your neighbour’s doorbell and run away. So don’t do that.

Matt Cardy / Getty Images

5. It is illegal to be drunk on licensed premises (i.e. in a pub).

True. This one is enforced under at least three separate laws. Under the 1872 Licensing Act, there’s a penalty for “every person found drunk” in a licensed premises, while 1839’s Policing Act forbids landlords from permitting drunkenness. The 2003 Licensing Act also makes it an offence to sell alcohol to a drunk person, or to buy a drunk person a drink.

Everyone who has been to the UK knows these laws are, of course, unfailingly obeyed.

6. It is illegal to be drunk in charge of a horse.

True. This dates back to 1872, and you’re also not allowed to be drunk in charge of a cow, or while you’re carrying a loaded firearm, which seems… pretty sensible, actually.

7. It is legal to shoot a Welshman with a longbow on Sunday in the Cathedral Close in Hereford; or inside the city walls of Chester after midnight; or a Scotsman within the city walls of York, other than on a Sunday.

All of these are FALSE. Please do not do any of these. The Law Commission couldn’t find any evidence any of these laws ever existed. 

“It is illegal to shoot a Welsh or Scottish (or any other) person regardless of the day, location, or choice of weaponry,” they state.

PS Please do not shoot or otherwise kill any people. This is definitely illegal.

Matt Cardy / Getty Images

8. It is illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day.

This happened one time. Christmas Day in 1644 fell on a legally mandated fast day, so it would have been illegal to eat a mince pie, even though they weren’t specifically mentioned. The UK did, under Oliver Cromwell, ban Christmas itself for a while, but those laws were invalidated when the monarchy was restored.

9. It is illegal to jump the queue in the tube ticket hall.

True. So long as there’s a sign telling you to queue (or a member of staff), queue-jumping is illegal under TfL byelaws: You have to join from the back. This is possibly the most British law in existence.

10. It is illegal to destroy or deface money.

Mostly true. If you want to destroy a banknote for some reason, that’s actually legal. But under the Currency and Banknotes Act of 1928, it’s illegal to deface a banknote by drawing, stamping, or printing on it. It’s also illegal to destroy coins.

Richard Stonehouse / Getty Images

11. It is illegal to place a stamp of the Queen upside down on a letter.

False. It’s illegal to do anything with the intention of deposing the Queen (sorry, republicans), but this is fine. The Royal Mail will deliver the letter as normal.

12. It is illegal to stand within 100 yards of the reigning monarch without wearing socks.

False. Fear not, you can go sockless near royals. Queen Elizabeth I did make it illegal to be in her presence wearing shirts with “outrageous double ruffs”, or hose of “monstrous and outrageous greatness” — which seems fair enough — but these laws were repealed by James I.

13. It is illegal to handle salmon in suspicious circumstances.

True. This is illegal under the Salmon Act of 1986, apparently. Alas, the Law Commission did not elaborate on what counts as a suspicious way to handle salmon. You can check the original law here, but it won’t help all that much.

14. All swans are the property of the Queen, and killing one is an act of treason.

Not ALL swans. The Queen has first dibs on all “wild, unmarked mute swans in open water”, and has since the 12th century, but only actually claims ones on the Thames and some tributaries. It’s illegal to kill one of those, but it isn’t actually treason.

And the Queen has no claim on tame swans, or other types of swan. Who knew

Witty Prankster Tries to Break as Many Ancient British Laws as Possible While in the Presence of Police

Prankster Oobah Butler (previously), who also works as a freelance writer for Vicehilariously tried to break as many seemingly ridiculous, ancient British laws while in the presence of police, military and other forms of official security.

Some of the laws that Butler broke include handling a salmon suspiciously, gambling in a library, shaking a dirty rug in public, wearing an outrageous ruff, being sockless within 100 yards of the queen and singing a lewd ballad in public. Despite his illegal actions, Butler remained arrest-free.

Britain is an old-fashioned, weird place, and its esoteric laws are among the most ridiculous things about the place. From it being illegal to handle a salmon suspiciously, to the threat of having your head chopped off for wearing a suit of armour in Parliament, VICE’s Oobah Butler sees if anyone takes any of these laws seriously by trying to break as many as he can—in front of policemen.


Famous Historical Images That Have Been Altered, Edited, Or Outright Fabricated

In the post-truth era, it’s becoming harder and harder to separate fact from fiction – but history books, and especially the images contained within, are still considered as solid and inarguable as they come. But maybe they shouldn’t be; after all, the list of famous retouched photos and outright staged historical photos is a long one. Some of the most iconic historical pictures have been staged, and although the notion of old photoshopped photos sounds anachronistic, history books are filled with manipulated and forged imagery. 

Is there any way to determine the truth? Can we ever truly find out what WWII looked like from the frontlines or how Bonnie and Clyde appeared after their gruesome end? Of course! All it takes is a critical mind and a willingness to check citations in order to find out which historical images are legitimate and which have been edited for one reason or another. The truth is out there – it’s just in the footnotes. 

The Multiple Flags Of Iwo Jima

Photo:  Joe Rosenthal/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

“Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” is one of the most inspiring images in the history of the American military, but it’s also a somewhat staged recreation of the initial triumph. Candid photographs of the actual flag-raising reveal a much smaller flag and less heroic posing. Then, photographer Joe Rosenthal got a chance to take it from the top.

Upon conquering the island of Iwo Jima in 1945, after some of the most intense fighting in the entire Pacific Theater, a small flag was raised, and some less-than-thrilling photographs were taken. When Rosenthal heard some higher-ups had ordered the modest flag replaced by a more impressive version, he knew he had a rare opportunity to re-capture history; and this time, the soldiers made sure to do so with suitably gallant flair.

It’s long been debated just how much actual staging and posing Rosenthal did, but he adamantly denied the charges throughout his life. 

A Fake Lunch Atop A Real Skyscraper

Photo:  Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

“Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” has long been passed around as indicative of an era with slacker safety standards – or perhaps an era with tougher people. Instead, it’s actually a demonstration of a societal ill that is all too familiar in the modern world: the power of publicity.

Instead of being a candid snap of workers enjoying a lunch break one September 1932 afternoon, the photo is one of a series of staged shots ordered to promote the building itself, which would one day be known as 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Other shots included workers tossing a football around or taking naps. The entire thing was a publicity stunt, albeit one that still carried considerable risk, and not truly demonstrative of the daily working conditions in ‘30s New York City. 

The Most Famous Image Of The Kent State Massacre Is Missing A Fencepost

Photo:  John Paul Filo/Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

The photograph of 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio over the body of Jeffrey Miller, a protestor who had just been shot by the National Guard at Kent State, is one of the most striking and iconic images of the era. It’s easy to see why, since few photos so perfectly capture the horror of a historical event as clearly as this one does, even in its original form. The seriousness of the subject matter makes it far more acceptable to learn that most versions of the photo passed around have been slightly altered to increase the dignity of the composition.

John Filo’s original photo won the Pulitzer Prize, but it also included an unfortunately placed fencepost directly above Vecchio’s head that gives the whole thing an off-putting vibe. Most reprintings of the image choose to edit out the fencepost to improve the quality of the photo, allowing it to be as impactful as possible without any unnecessary distractions.

The Soviets Hid Their Looting At The Reichstag

Photo:  Yevgeny Khaldei/Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

The photograph known in English as “Raising a Flag over the Reichstag” is an important – and triumphant – one in the history of the Soviet Union. Most students growing up in the Soviet education system would never get to see the original image though. While the iconic image of Russian soldiers erecting a Soviet flag over the German government building is inspiring under any conditions, certain changes were ordered as a way to “airbrush” history. 

In order to stop (well-founded) rumors of Soviet looting from spreading, the photo was edited to remove the multiple wristwatches on the arm of the soldier raising the flag. For further dramatic effect, more smoke was also added to the background, along with a few smaller cosmetic changes that are also difficult to notice even up close. These alterations were performed by the photographer, Yevgeny Khaldei, himself. 

Mussolini’s Equestrian Bravado Photo Removes The Horse Handler

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In many ways, Benito Mussolini was the original fascist – he did literally write the book on it, after all. He was also a pioneer in the use of personal branding to strengthen his regime. Fascist Italy was festooned with strong images of Il Duce wherever one looked, and they generally featured Mussolini in his favored pose – chin up and chest out – even if they didn’t always line up with the original compositions.

The photo of Mussolini sitting atop a horse in Tripoli with his sword held proudly in the air certainly matches with the Italian dictator’s general aesthetic, but only thanks to some clever airbrushing. Mussolini had a horse-handler edited out of the image so that it looked like the dictator was actually in command of the animal. One could see this as a powerful metaphor for Mussolini’s reign in general. 

The Commissar Vanishes

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

There may be no more infamous photoshopper in history than Joseph Stalin, who was able to make his opponents vanish in more ways than one. That’s the idea behind “The Commissar Vanishes,” a photograph that originally showed Stalin walking along the waterfront with Nikolai Yezhov – until it was edited to cut Yezhov out completely.

Typically, Stalin put his image manipulators to work whenever he had one of his political enemies – or former allies, like Yezhov – slain or sent to the Gulag. Not satisfied with simply erasing his antagonists from existence, Stalin also sought to erase them from history, hiding his growing body count as if the individuals were never real in the first place. 

Stalin Stands Alone

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Joseph Stalin’s habit of editing his slain opponents out of photographs is legendary, and few images demonstrate that more clearly than one infamous composition that originally showed Stalin alongside three political allies – then two, then one. In the final edition of the photo, Stalin stands alone.

As Nikolai Antipov, Sergei Kirov, and Nikolai Shvernik each fell out of favor with the Soviet dictator, they were removed from the photo in turn. Out of the three aides originally pictured, two would fall to Stalin as he consolidated his power. Only Shvernik would outlive Stalin.

The final product is so heavily edited that it looks more like a portrait of Stalin than a photograph – yet another example of him literally painting over history. 

Valley Of The Shadow Of Deception

Photo: Roger Fenton/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

“Valley of the Shadow of Death” is one of the earliest notable examples of combat photography – and it’s also an early instance of image manipulation. Taken by Roger Fenton during the Crimean War, the photo depicts a post-fight roadway strewn with cannonballs. Other pictures snapped by Fenton earlier in the day, however, show a completely clear road.

The veracity of the photo has been debated ever since, with the general conclusion being that someone moved the cannonballs onto the road from the ditch sometime after the fight. Whether the rearranging was done for the purposes of the photo – and whether it was done by Fenton himself – remains a mystery that will likely never be solved. 

A Ulysses S. Grant Composite Fooled Historians For Generations

Photo: LC Handy/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The image of General Ulysses S. Grant standing proudly astride his horse in front of a Union camp is one of the most iconic of the Civil War – and it’s also a complete forgery. Instead of capturing a real moment in Grant’s campaign, the photo is instead a clever composite of three different images, only one of which actually contained Grant at all.

Though the photo was purported to be taken during the siege of Richmond in 1864, it’s actually an earlier image of Grant pasted onto the head of a different general on a horse and then superimposed over a photo of the Union camp. The forgery fooled historians for generations and the deception wasn’t discovered until 2007, more than a century after it was supposedly taken. 

Leon Trotsky Was Disappeared By Stalin In More Ways Than One

Photo: Grigory Goldstein/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

At one point, Leon Trotsky looked like the heir apparent to Vladimir Lenin – until Joseph Stalin made him disappear in more ways than one. Not only did Stalin run Trotsky out of the party and out of the country in the late ‘20s – not to mention having him slain a decade later – he also took pains to have Trotsky removed from the history books, as in this photograph which initially depicted Trotsky at a Lenin speech.

By altering the image, from which Lev Borisovich Kamenev was also removed, Stalin allowed himself to continue building his regime upon the legacy of Lenin without having to pay homage to Lenin’s ideological compatriots. 

The Canadian Prime Minister Airbrushed His Way Into Alone Time With The Queen

Photo: Library and Archives of Canada/Public Domain

Canadians are known for their polite and easy-going nature, which makes Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s decision to cut King George VI out of a photograph so surprising. In the original snapshot, King can be seen laughing alongside George and Queen Elizabeth II against a beautiful Banff backdrop, but the version published by the Canadian government painted George out so it would look like the Prime Minister was charming the queen on his own. 

Known for his campaign for Canadian autonomy from the British Crown, this would not be the only time that King acted out against the royal family. The goal in this case, however, had nothing to do with sovereignty; King simply used this image on the posters for his next election campaign. 

National Geographic’s Most Famous Cover Is A Phony

Photo: National Geographic/Gordon Gahan/Fair Use

The February 1982 cover of National Geographic is one of the magazine’s most famous – and also their deepest shame. The editorial staff decided that Gordon Gahan’s original picture of the pyramids, which is gorgeous in its own right, didn’t fit nicely enough within the bounds of their cover. They ultimately decided to manipulate the images so the pyramids would sit closer together, and they certainly heard about it.

While editor Wilbur E. Garrett initially defended the decision as little more than a change of perspective, the public was not buying it and the magazine’s reputation was damaged. National Geographic later claimed the alteration was a mistake and pledged never to do it again. 


There’s A Failed Mount Rushmore In The Middle Of Virginia

Between the Statue of Liberty in New York and South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore, the concrete heads of 43 US presidents lie deteriorating in a Virginia field. And the Presidents Park statues have only grown more popular since the short-lived attraction shut down in 2010 due to lack of attendance. Rather than symbols of American history, the heads are now another remnant of an abandoned amusement park.

Presidents Park was envisioned as an educational landmark dedicated to preserving the memory of America’s presidents. The busts – from George Washington to George W. Bush – allowed visitors to approach them, inspect the detailed faces, and compare the likenesses to actual presidential photos. Instead of being destroyed when the park closed, however, the heads were moved to a nearby field where they still sit – waiting for another chance to stare blankly at tourists.

The Heads Were Damaged When Moved To A Nearby Farm After The Park Closed

Photo:  Mobilis In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

For two years after the park closed, the heads of Presidents Park fell into disrepair. Eventually, the land was auctioned off and the park became a car rental company – but the heads survived. Park owner Haley Newman asked local concrete recycler Howard Hankins to crush the heads and get rid of them. Feeling guilty about destroying the works of art, Hankins instead kept the heads and stored them on his 400-acre farm, about 10 miles from the park grounds.

Transporting 43 concrete heads weighing at least 20,000 pounds each wasn’t cheap, costing Hankins about $50,000. Holes were made in the top of the heads so cranes could pick them up, and many of the presidents’ necks cracked when the heads were lifted off the ground. Noses were broken, chins were scraped, and the crew made other openings as they experimented with the best methods for moving the giant sculptures. Lincoln suffered the most damage, as he was dropped and suffered a morbidly apt hole in the back of his head.

The Heads Fell Into Disrepair Because The Park Couldn’t Afford Upkeep

Photo:  Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Displayed outdoors, the heads required a lot of maintenance and upkeep. But low attendance meant the park couldn’t afford many necessary repairs, and the heads began showing wear long before the park shut down. The rain and sun took their toll on the stone, and birds left stains as well. Ronald Reagan even suffered a lightning strike, which badly damaged half his face.

After the park closed, the disrepair grew worse as pieces crumbled and stains appeared that almost resembled tears. Along with damage from the move to a now-overgrown field, the heads look more horrific than presidential.

Poor Attendance Forced Presidents Park To Close Six Years After It Opened

Photo:  Mobilis In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Presidents Park opened to the public in 2004 with the intention of teaching visitors, especially children, about America’s journey and the part each president played. An open-air museum covering 10 acres of land, the park included manicured walking paths and informational signs about history.

If the park were closer to the bigger tourist destination of Colonial Williamsburg, it might have drawn larger crowds. Instead, the attraction resided behind a motel and a wooded area. After a $10 million investment and six years of operation, poor attendance forced the park to shut down in 2010.

Each Head Weighs At Least 22,000 Pounds And Stands Around 20 Feet Tall

Photo:  Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Each of the heads weighs about 22,000 pounds – thanks to a steel skeleton covered in fabric and concrete – and stands between 18 and 20 feet tall. Visitors who saw the statues up close said it was quite powerful having a life-like historic figure loom over them.

Artist David Adickes allegedly wanted the busts up to ten times the size of the final versions and planned to make George Washington a full-body statue standing 92 feet high – about the size of a 10-story building. The idea for the gigantic Washington was scrapped, however, in part because officials told Adickes it needed a lightning rod on top of the head.

The Park Couldn’t Afford A Barack Obama Head

Photo: JaseMan/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Since the park was open until 2010, you may wonder why there isn’t a bust for President Barack Obama. The reason, however, was practical rather than political: the park didn’t have enough money for one. Artist David Adickes wanted $60,000 to create a sculpture of the 44th president. But with barely any visitors, the park couldn’t afford it. Considering the fate of the attraction and the state of the heads now, Obama is probably glad he wasn’t included.

Locals Considered The Park A Tacky Tourist Trap

Photo: Jacksondave/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

When Presidents Park opened, it had problems beyond a lack of visitors. Members of the community worried the park would discourage tourists from visiting the more established attractions at Colonial Williamsburg. While that didn’t prove true, many locals still considered the heads tacky.

Multiple oversized monuments exist along highways and interstates around the country, but residents believed the park was merely a showy piece of entertainment designed to trick tourists into paying money to visit. Throughout its run, however, the owner defended the park as an earnest ode to history and a unique method for teaching visitors about America’s presidents.

Washington DC Turned Down A Chance To Host The Presidential Heads

Photo: Narenchalla/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

David Adickes originally wanted to set up the presidential busts alongside other monuments celebrating America’s history in the nation’s capital. Unfortunately, no one in Washington DC agreed, and Adickes was forced to consider other locations. After looking at land around Williamsburg, VA, Adickes contacted Haley Newman, the developer of a large water park in the area. Williamsburg, less than three hours from DC, seemed like the next best place for Presidents Park. 

Adickes began making the heads before the park received display permits, forcing Newman to hide several of the busts until the attraction opened. Abraham Lincoln and several others were taken to a hillside in nearby Buena Vista, causing confusion among campers and other visitors. Several other presidents ended up at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens before the park officially opened.

A Presidents Park In South Dakota Met A Similar Fate

Photo: thetravelnook/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

Since a mold was used to create the presidents’ heads, more than one copy could be made. In fact, the Virginia park wasn’t even the first Presidents Park. Sculptor David Adickes made heads for a park 40 miles from Mount Rushmore on a wooded hillside in Lead, South Dakota. Richard Nixon had a “Watergate” picnic area behind him, and close to Bill Clinton was a stone painted with the words “Monica Rock.” The lettering was later removed from the stone, however, as it was considered disrespectful.

Unfortunately, the park suffered the same fate as its counterpart in Virginia and closed down due to under-attendance. Instead of ending up abandoned together in a field, however, many of the heads remained in the woods to become homes for South Dakota wildlife.

The Presidential Busts Were Inspired By A Trip To Mount Rushmore

Photo: National Park Service Digital Image Archives/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Houston artist David Adickes decided to create the collection of heads after an inspirational visit to Mount Rushmore in the early 2000s. While stopping by the monument on his way home from Canada, he got the idea to celebrate all the US presidents. Adickes also wanted to make the experience more personal by creating sculptures “big enough to get in front of and look in the eyes.”

As a Texan, Adickes believed bigger was better. He created the heads on a grand scale, noting how the Statue of Liberty is impressive due to its size and location overlooking a harbor.

The Presidential Heads Aren’t The First Large-Scale Sculptures From Artist David Adickes

Photo: JaseMan/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

David Adickes, the artist behind the heads of Presidents Park, is well-known around Houston, TX, for his giant sculptures. Adickes has created a 67-foot-tall version of Sam Houston, the man the city is named after, and 36-foot-tall renditions of The Beatles. Many critics find the size of his work annoying and intrusive, while others argue it’s simply a gimmick. Perhaps the people who avoided Presidents Parks thought the same things.

The Heads Aren’t Currently Open To The Public, But Curious People Still Seek Them Out

Photo: Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Without a tourist attraction license, Howard Hankins can’t allow the public see the heads on his property. Though many have tried visiting, Hankins often turns people away and rejects most special viewing requests. He has allowed a few people from the media to visit the heads, considering the photographs and articles good for publicity. Hankins also appears in the documentary All The Presidents’ Heads, which chronicles his efforts to preserve the sculptures.

The Heads’ Current Owner Hopes To Open A New Museum To House The Statues

Photo: Mobilis In Mobili/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Howard Hankins is trying to find a new home for his heads. Hankins hopes to fulfill the original promise of Presidents Park and expand it to create an educational and fun attraction for families.

Aspects of the original museum, including presidential memorabilia, a life-sized Oval Office, and a visitor center, are also in his plans; along with a fuselage from Air Force One, a collection of First Lady memorabilia, and a space dedicated to the Secret Service.

And while the owner of the heads claims they can still be repaired, their current state has gathered plenty of interest from lovers of all things abandoned.


What Would Happen If We Made Our Gay Movie About The Bible?

From dusty-sandal epic to zany comedy, these LGBTI characters from the Bible deserve some movie magic.

Lupita Nyong’o and Oprah Winfrey.

Ruth and Naomi

Category: Drama

Starring: Lupita Nyong’o (Ruth) and Oprah Winfrey (Naomi)

Premise: At a time of famine, a mother who has lost her sons finds love, strength and hope in the unlikeliest place.

Plot: Naomi and her family flee to Moab to find food. Her husband and then her sons die. One of her daughters-in-law leaves, but the other, Ruth, refuses to go.

‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.’ (Ruth 1:16)

Together they travel to Bethlehem and build a new life.

Channing Tatum and Zac Efron.

David and Jonathan

Category: Action

Starring: Channing Tatum (David) and Zac Efron (Jonathan)

Premise: One was the lowly shepherd who slew the giant Goliath. The other was the Prince of the Israelites. Their love would rock a nation.

Plot: David kills Goliath and becomes a great warrior. Prince Jonathan, heir to King Saul, falls in love with him.

They make a ‘covenant’, a sworn, lifelong friendship agreement – more marriage than bromance.

‘Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.’ (1 Samuel 18:4)

They make out: ‘They kissed each other and wept together’.

Saul tries to kill David, fearing he would take the crown. Jonathan repeatedly warns his lover, saving his life.

Saul and Jonathan die in battle. David becomes king and writes the ancient world’s gayest song of mourning:

‘I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.’ (2 Samuel 1:17)

Jamie Bell and Dev Patel.

Daniel and Ashpanez

Category: Action

Starring: Jamie Bell (Daniel) and Dev Patel (Ashpanez)

Premise: Babylon. The greatest city on Earth. A slave finds love with his eunuch overlord. Together they will defy the king and win eternal glory.

Plot: King Nebuchanezzer overruns Jerusalem and brings Daniel to Babylon to be his slave.

‘Now God brought Daniel into favor and tender [physical] love with the prince of the eunuchs’, Ashpanez, the man whose job it was to train the slaves to serve the king. (Daniel 1:9)

When Daniel refuses to eat the food the king commands, Ashpanez helps him. Daniel becomes the most ribbed and powerful of the king’s servants and goes on to survive action sequences in a fiery furnace and den of lions.

Darren Criss and Jared Leto.

Jesus and the Beloved Disciple

Category: Epic

Starring: Jared Leto (Jesus) and Darren Criss (John)

Premise: The Greatest Love Story Never Told.

Plot: John is one of Jesus’ first disciples and is repeatedly called ‘The Beloved Disciple’. He is next to him at The Last Supper.

‘Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.’ (John 13:23)

At the crucifixion, Jesus tells his mother Mary that this ‘beloved disciple’ is ‘your son’ and tells him that she is ‘your mother’.

Later, he is one of the first to find Jesus’ tomb empty and is visited by Jesus after his death.

Morgan Freeman in the film Red.

The Ethiopian Eunuch

Category: Comedy

Starring: Morgan Freeman

Premise: Judea. 31 AD. Around about teatime. And it doesn’t take much to save a eunuch.

Plot: An angel sends Philip to a desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza. He comes across a ‘born’ eunuch (gay man or possibly intersex person) who is the treasurer of the queen of the Ethiopians. (Acts 8:27)

When the Ethiopian Eunuch sees some water, he asks Philip to baptize him. But after they emerge from the water, Philip has simply disappeared…

Hugh Jackman and Russell Tovey.

The Centurion and his Lover

Category: Romantic comedy

Starring: Hugh Jackman (the centurion) and Russell Tovey (his lover)

Premise: Boy meets centurion. Centurion falls in love with boy. Boy falls sick. Centurion visits Jesus and asks for miracle.

Plot: Hugh Jackman stars as the beefy Roman Centurion who falls in love with his slave. But when the young man falls sick, nothing will stop him from finding a cure, even if it means humbling himself in front of a conquered Jew, Jesus.

‘Lord, my “pais” [servant or same-gender lover] lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly… I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.’ (Matthew 8:6)

Spoiler: They all live happily ever after.


Tragedy At The Hollywood Sign: The Haunting Sage Of Peg Entwistle

The young actress who jumped to her death from the Hollywoodland sign epitomised the cruelty of the film industry. What drove her to it?

The actress Peg Entwistle in 1932, shortly before her death in Hollywood CREDIT: Alamy

The heartbreaking story of Peg Entwistle, the 24-year-old “Blond Brit” who jumped to her death from the original Hollywoodland sign in 1932, was a major inspiration for the new television series Hollywood. When the Netflix show was being planned by scriptwriters Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, they discussed Entwistle’s story, and wove a fictional attempt to create a biopic of the tragic actress into the plot, for a show Brennan calls “a fable of what could have been”.

Entwistle was dubbed “The Hollywood Sign Girl”, and (before the coronavirus lockdown) her name was invoked most days by tourist-bus guides as a symbol of the dark side of the Hollywood dream, a cautionary tale of a struggling actress who became more famous in death than she’d been in life. She had supposedly destroyed herself because of a failed career, and was said to haunt the site where she died. But, as Oscar Wilde noted, the truth is never pure and rarely simple. Entwistle’s story has been distorted over the years.

Millicent Lilian Entwistle was born in Port Talbot on February 5 1908, and grew up in Comeragh Road in London’s West Kensington area. She suffered more than her share of pain and misery. Her parents divorced shortly after her birth and her father Robert took her to New York in 1913 to live with his new wife Lauretta. He did some acting and she would grab any chance to watch Broadway shows, even as a child, memorising scripts to put on her own productions at home. At 13, she started going by the name Peg, after seeing the play Peg O’ My Heart.

The first shattering blow came in April 1921, when Lauretta died of bacterial meningitis at 35, leaving behind two toddlers of her own. The second came in November 1922, when a limousine smashed into Peg’s father, in a hit-and-run crime on Park Avenue. The impact snapped his spine and he died from a resulting brain haemorrhage on December 19, aged 48. He was buried with Lauretta three days before Christmas. Peg was just 14 and she, Bobby and Milton were taken under the care of Robert’s brother Charles – a theatre manager – and his wife Jane.

After a spell in a girls’ boarding school in Los Angeles and some home tutoring, Entwistle finally landed the chance to pursue her dream of a stage acting career when, at 16, she joined The Boston Repertory Theatre company. Her first credited role was as a maid, and she was playing 12 shows a week. Entwistle earned good reviews for her performances in The Uninvited Guest and Alice Sit-By-The-Fire.

A young Bette Davis, who saw Entwistle on stage in 1925 and was bowled over by her talent CREDIT: Hulton Archive

The 17-year-old made a huge impression on teenager Bette Davis, who saw Entwistle as Hedvig in a 1925 production of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck at the Jewett Playhouse in Boston. “A whole new world opened up to me. I was thrilled with Miss Entwistle’s performance,” Davis recalled in her 1962 autobiography The Lonely Life.

Entwistle’s success in Boston led to roles on Broadway within a year. In all, she appeared in 10 plays as a member of the New York Theatre Guild. She was profiled by the New York Times in February 1927 when she was part of the hit show Tommy, which ran for 232 performances. That year, however, she made a terrible choice, one that would have fateful repercussions. In April 1927, after a whirlwind four-day courtship, the 19-year-old married fellow Guild actor Robert Lee Keith. He was a 29-year-old recovering alcoholic – and had not told his young bride that he was already twice divorced, and had a six-year-old son.

The marriage was a disaster. She terminated a pregnancy in their first year together, having no desire for her own children and fearing it would disrupt her acting career. Keith began drinking heavily again, wasting funds from his new wife. Entwistle was deeply shocked when a New York detective came up to them in a restaurant and threatened to arrest Keith for owing $1,000 in alimony to his first wife. Keith later assaulted Peg in a hotel room, dragging her by the hair.

Entwistle divorced Keith in April 1929, by which time he’d been fired and blacklisted by the Guild. She was now struggling to hold on to her own acting career. In May 1929, after a run in a play based on Sherlock Holmes, she told The Oakland Tribune that she was worried she was “cheating herself” by taking on flimsy characters, expressing a wish that she could “play roles that carry conviction”. At the end of 1929, depressed and anxious about what the future held, she relocated to Hollywood.

Entwistle in a Hollywood publicity shot; she would only appear in one film CREDIT: Alamy

Bad luck came into the equation at this point, because she gambled on making a successful film debut and reneged on a handshake commitment with influential producer Bela Blau to appear in a Broadway version of The Mad Hopes. Instead, she accepted a deal from RKO. Radio Pictures to appear in a movie adaptation of Tiffany Thayer’s bestselling novel Thirteen Women, produced by David O Selznick. The morbid nature of the film could not have helped. Entwistle played Hazel Clay Cousins in a thriller about a girl who uses swami-like powers to coerce her friends into murder or suicide. In the screenplay, Entwistle’s tormented character is brainwashed into stabbing her husband.

Unfortunately, concerns from censors over lesbian undertones meant the final film was cut to 59 minutes, with Entwistle’s screen time dropping from 18 to four minutes. Variety dismissed the film as “a butcher shop drama” when it came out on 16 September 1932. By that time RKO, suffering during The Depression, had told Entwistle they were releasing her from their contract, having passed her over for a part in Bill of Divorcement, a role that went instead to Katharine Hepburn.

The walls were closing in on the young actress. Her reputation in the world of New York theatre had been harmed by her U-turn over The Mad Hopes and she was running short of money. All her clothes and furniture were repossessed in New York in lieu of rent owed on an apartment. She had no alternative but to live with her aunt and uncle on North Beachwood Drive.

Just at this low point, she discovered that Keith had re-married, was sober and flourishing again as a playwright, along with his fourth wife Dorothy Tierney, another actress. Entwistle’s former husband went on to star in more than 40 films, including Men in War and Guys and Dolls. (But there was a horrific postscript to his family story: Brian Keith, the stepson who’d been kept secret from Entwistle, also made it as an actor, appearing in Disney’s 1961 hit The Parent Trap. In 1997, his 26-year-old daughter Daisy, an aspiring actress, shot herself; two months later, grief-stricken Brian Keith used the same gun to end his life in his Malibu home.)

The original Hollywoodland sign; Peg Entwistle jumped to her death from the letter H CREDIT: Bettmann

Career struggles and failures in love were taking a toll on Entwistle. Her uncle later confided to police officers that he had been aware of her “intense mental anguish” in the days leading up to her suicide. The news of her axing by RKO was printed in Los Angeles’s newspapers on September 16.

Two days later, on a Sunday night, Entwistle told her uncle she was going out for a “rendezvous” to meet friends at a nearby drug-store. Instead, she headed for the famous Hollywoodland sign that had been erected in 1923 to promote local house sales. It’s a cruel twist that she had watched, as an excited teenager, as the 13 white letters, 45 feet tall, were hauled up Beachwood Drive on their way to being erected. The 150-foot sign must have made a dazzling sight during her arduous trek up the canyon hill. At the time, the sign was lit at night-time by 4,000 bulbs, and groups of letters flashed in sequence: HOLLY, then WOOD, then LAND — then all of them at once.

Entwistle took off her shoes and neatly folded her coat, placing it on the ground with her purse. She climbed up the maintenance ladder on the back of the 50-foot-high letter H, looked out over Hollywood, a place where she had once loved horseback riding in the hills with her younger brother Bobby, and then leapt off the edge. Her precise reasons for choosing the location – convenience, or a desire to gain notoriety – are not known. A note from Entwistle’s purse read: “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.”

The cause of death listed by the coroner was “multiple fractures of the pelvis” and he ruled it “suicide due to despondency”. It is likely that Entwistle bled out internally, her organs punctured by bone shards. On Tuesday 20 September, an officer at Los Angeles’s Central Police Station took a call from an anonymous hiker who said she had found a woman’s possessions near the sign. Before hanging up, the caller revealed she had left the items on the steps of the station.

The police found her body in a ravine at the base of the sign. After identifying Entwistle’s corpse, her uncle, in an unguarded moment, told a reporter that his niece had “failed to click at RKO”. The newspapers had found their juicy “line”. “Suicide Laid to Film Jinx,” was the headline in The Los Angeles Times. “Movieland tragedy – the bruised body of a girl who failed,” The New York Times reported.

It’s also not clear how much truth there is in reports that she was sent letters on the day of her suicide with new offers of work. The letters allegedly arrived after her death. Some reports say an offer of a play came from the Hollywood Playhouse, others claim that RKO rescinded the decision to release her from her contract. Entwistle’s funeral was held in Hollywood and her ashes were sent to Ohio to be interred with her father’s. The grave remained unmarked until 2010, when a Facebook campaign raised money for an engraved granite headstone.

Over the years, a desire for salacious explanations grew. In the 1960s, there were reports that Entwistle had posed for naked photographs and been worried about a moral backlash hurting her career. In fact, the picture theory was simply a blunder. Kenneth Anger’s 1965 book Hollywood Babylon incorrectly labelled a semi-nude picture of another actress, a woman whose only similarity was a platinum bob, as Peg Entwistle. The mistake was corrected in the second edition but by then the damage to her posthumous reputation was done.

Netflix’s Hollywood drama is simply the latest project to pick over her bones. In 1972, Dory Previn released the song Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign (“a symbol of dreams turns out to be a sign of disillusion”). Three years later John Schlesinger’s movie version of Nathanael West’s satirical novel The Day of the Locust featured a scene in which a tour guide at the base of the sign recounts how “Camille McRae, 1929 Clam Queen of Pismo Beach” leapt to her death from “the great H”. American History X director Tony Kaye proposed a biopic about Entwistle in 2014, though it wasn’t commissioned. Singer Lana Del Rey’s video for her 2017 song Lust for Life was set on top of that same letter – and the song had references to the story.

Entwistle has also proved useful to the ghost-tour industry, with organised visits to see the sites of numerous reported visions of phantom Pegs. When the letter H fell down in 1944, it was attributed to Entwistle’s spirit, rather than the more likely explanation of rotten wood and high winds. Numerous dog-walkers and park rangers in the past half century have reported supposed sightings of the apparition of a blonde woman, dressed in 1930s clothing, who was “haunting the Hollywood sign”. There have also been accounts of people smelling gardenias, which was said to be Entwistle’s favourite fragrance. (A whole episode of Syfy’s Paranormal Witness was devoted to this story.)

In 2014, on the anniversary of her suicide, more than 100 people gathered above the gateways to the Hollywood sign –it had lost the LAND section in 1949 – to eat popcorn and watch Entwistle in a special outdoor screening of Thirteen Women. Although that was her only film role, she had been a successful stage actress, earning recognition for her performances. “When she came to Hollywood, she got recognised,” James Zeruk Jr, her biographer, wrote. “One time, she was out to dinner with her aunt and another actress and some people asked for her autograph because they saw her in a play in New York a month earlier.”

Entwistle was so much more than just the poor “Hollywood Sign Girl”. Late in life, Oscar winner Bette Davis looked back on the fate of an anguished young woman who had once done so much to inspire her own acting career. “She jumped to her death,” wrote Davis. “She could have had an enormous career, this girl.”


Gay History: A Gay Old Kat

The Krazy Kat club, 1921.

Via The Comics Reporter, the website Shorpy has a  great collection of photos from the 1920s of the Krazy Kat club, a Washington DC hangout/speakeasy that appears to have been quite a hub of bohemian activity. The police busted it more than once. The clientele included college kids, flappers and gays. A diary by a gay man kept in 1920 refers to the Krazy Kat club as a “Bohemian joint in an old stable up near Thomas Circle … (where) artists, musicians, atheists, professors” congregated.  

The gay angle is worth pondering because of the club was named after the comic strip Krazy Kat (who can be seen on the door sign in the photo above). Krazy was the first androgynous hero(ine) of the comics: sometimes Krazy was a he, sometimes a she. As creator George Herriman stated, Krazy was willing to be either.

 Is it possible that Krazy’s shifting gender identity made him/her an icon for gays? 

Or it could be that the owners just liked comics. The building that housed the Krazy Kat club remained a gay hangout for decades to come and also held on to its connection to comics: it was later renamed The Green Lantern.

It’s also the case that Krazy Kat attracted outsiders of all sorts, not just gays. In the 1930s in Chicago, there was a Krazy Kat club organized by teenage African-Americans, also interesting in the light of the fact that Herriman had some black ancestry and used African-American themes and motifs in his strip.

This 1920s Badass Bohemian Hangout Had a Speakeasy in a Tree House

Oh yeah!  If this isn’t one of the coolest places that anyone ever partied in, then I don’t know what is! When I came across these photos I was immediately compelled to find out more about it.

Turns out that back in the 1920s there was speakeasy in Washington D.C. that served its bootleg cocktails in a treehouse.  It was named the “Krazy Kat Klub” after the character in a popular comic strip created by George Herriman.

The club was run by Cleon “Throck”  Throckmorton , an artist who later became a stage set designer.  It was a hipster haven for the counterculture,  the avant garde,  the artsy set.

This excerpt from a 1922 article in the Washington Times on Throckmorton and his “Krazy Kat Klub” was written by Victor Flambeau. He describes the club as  “a most spooky sort of place, weird and crazy as its name.”  A place for “Good friends, a blazing fire, some primitive furniture, hand made no doubt, candles, drinks, eats, a floor to dance upon, a garden annex in summertime, a spreading tree with airy rookeries built in it’s branches.”

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a really fun place to me!

Below is the entrance to the club, which was actually in an old stable.  Cleon, aka “Throck” is on the right.

And you know those unruly bohemians! Because it operated during Prohibition it was raided many times.

Below is an account from the Washington Post on a raid in 1919.

Officer Roberts was under orders to watch the ” rendevous of the Bohemians.”  (great name for a band!) when he heard a shot fired. A raid ensued and 14 people landed in the slammer, mostly for drunk and disorderly conduct.

The article likens the Krazy Kat Klub to a Greenwich Village coffee house,  with gaudy pictures created by futurists and impressionists.   And the people arrested were “self styled artists, poets and actors and”  GET THIS,  “some who worked for the government by day and masqueraded as Bohemians by night.”

The horror! Can you imagine?  Government workers leading double lives!  Who would have thought?


I don’t know who that hot tomato is on the left, but I adore her 20s boho look.  The photo was taken in 1921 and she’s wearing black rolled down stockings, a scarf wrapped around her head gypsy style and a skirt that is showing her knees. Downright scandalous!
And check out this old rickety ladder they had to navigate in order to knock back a few.    They sure had to  go way out on a limb to get tipsy in the treetops!  Imagine what it was like to have to climb down after one too many? I can imagine more than one patron ended up on their behinds!
Mr. Throckmorton at the easel, 1920s hipsters smoking and posing in the yard.
More history about the Krazy Kat Klub can be found here.

After seeing these photos I so want one of these in my back yard.  Note to self, must add speakeasy treehouse to DH’s “Honey Do” list.

So, what about you? If you could time travel back to the 1920s, would you want to hang out in a place like this?

The Language of Krazy Kat

Chris Ware’s cover for the new Krazy Kat book.

If you live near a decent book store, you can now buy a copy of George Herriman’s Krazy & Ignatz 1941-1942: “A Ragout of Raspberries”, which gathers together two years of great full-page, colourful Krazy Kat comics. Beautifully designed by Chris Ware, the book also has a substantial essay I wrote Herriman’s writing skills.

 In celebration of this new book, I want to quote a very pregnant bit of dialogue that appeared on Jan. 06, 1918 when Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse started arguing about the nature of language:

Krazy: “Why is Lenguage, Ignatz?”

Ignatz: “Language is that we may understand one another.”

Krazy:  “Can you unda-stend a Finn, or a Leplender, or a Oshkosher, huh?”

Ignatz: “No,”

Krazy: “Can a Finn, or a Leplender, or a Oshkosher unda-stend you?”

Ignatz: “No,”

Krazy: “Then I would say lenguage is that that we may mis-unda-stend each udda.”

(I know what Finns and Laplanders are but I have no clue as to Oshkoshers. Anybody have any idea on this?)

The language of sin in Krazy Kat.

And here’s an excerpt from my essay:

To a striking degree, Herriman drew on the rich oral culture of early 20th century America. Herriman was a cultural magpie, taking his words from diverse sources far and wide, ranging from popular songs to political speeches to the Bible to medical and scientific discourse.

In describing Herriman’s literary skills, it’s easy enough to classify him as a nonsense poet, a coiner of nonce-words and playful gibberish in the great tradition of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. But if you pay close attention to Herriman’s language, what becomes evident is that he usually doesn’t make words up, however much he might twist them around. Rather, Herriman had a great ear for speech, for the endless mutations and variations of language as garbled by the human tongue. Herriman’s language was not something he invented in his head; it can be traced back to the world he lived in.

The America Herriman grew up in was much more oral than anything we’re used to. For us, music is something that comes out of a c.d. player or an iPod. In Herriman’s world, people could break out into song all over the place: at parties, at picnics, and in church. All the characters in Krazy Kat are tuneful, especially the eponymous heroine. These songs come from all sorts of genres, ranging from traditional hymns (such as Krazy’s familiar refrain that “there is a heppy land, fur, fur a-wa-ay”) to frontier anthems (“home on the range” gets a workout on July 26, 1942) to bluesy lamentations (when Krazy sings “Press my pents an’ shine my shoes” on July 22, 1935). Herriman also brings in songs from other languages. On July 29, 1941 we hear Ignatz sing to himself “Adios, Chaparrita Chula”. These words (which could be translated to mean “goodbye insolent darling”) are taken from the traditional Mexican lover’s lament “Adios, Mariquita Linda”.

Words aren’t stable, fixed things. They have shades of meaning and shifting connotations. Herriman was supremely alert to the slipperiness of language. Listen to how Ignatz tries to sweep aside Mrs. Kwakk Wakk: “Away, woman away with your gabble and gossip.” (May 25, 1941) Gabble is the perfect word because it denotes both meaningless speech and the low jabber of a duck (which is of course Mrs. Kwakk Wakk’s species).

Two pages from within the Krazy Kat book.


7 Controversial Saints In History

The 19th-century religious scholar and esteemed poet Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801–90) will on Sunday be declared a saint by Pope Francis. A dedicated educator and charitable individual, the “holiness of his life” and his “extraordinary purity of character” were hailed by the likes of William Gladstone. But, as historian Emma J Wells reveals, not all saints in history were altogether saintly…

St Augustine

St Augustine, or Augustine of Hippo as he is better known, is perhaps the most famous saint with a sinful past, which is rather surprising since his own mother (St Monica) was a devout Christian. He is remembered for stating: “God, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

Born at Tagaste, North Africa in AD 354, Augustine was perhaps the greatest Christian ancient philosopher. Raised a devout Christian, he rejected his upbringing to live a life of hedonism, entertainment, and worldly ambition. The playboy had not one, but two mistresses, and an illegitimate son whom he abandoned at the prospect of marrying an heiress. He ran around for decades before having a change of heart, ditching his mistresses and spending the rest of his life celibate as a priest who related his story in a volume titled Confessions, while teaching and spreading the Christian message.

Augustine’s theology would become one of the main pillars on which the Church of the next 1,000 years was founded.

c420 AD, St Augustine, also known as Augustine of Hippo. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

St Angela of Foligno

St Angela of Foligno was recently declared a saint through the procedure of equivocal canonisation by Pope Francis in 2013, but while some saints show signs of holiness from an early age, Angela was somewhat different.

Born in around 1248 to a leading Italian family, she became immersed in the quest for wealth and social position, even though she was a wife of high social standing and mother to several children. More interested in this life of distraction than caring for her family, around aged 40 she experienced a conversion and realised the apparent emptiness of her existence. In 1285 she called upon St Francis, who appeared to her in a vision, and asked his advice on making a competent general Confession (a confessing of all sins of one’s past life, or of an extended period, instead of just those sins committed since a previous confession).

Seeking God’s help in the sacrament of penance, her Franciscan confessor helped Angela to seek His pardon for her previous actions and suggested dedicating herself to prayer and the works of charity. Sadly, just three years later, her mother, husband and children all perished in quick succession (some suggest this was at Angela’s cruel hand – so that she would be free of homemaking to follow God’s path). She therefore sold all her worldly possessions and, in 1291, enrolled in the Third Order of St Francis, a secular Franciscan order, and founded a women’s religious group to serve the poor.

St Dismas

Most Christians know St Dismas by a rather telling name: “The Good Thief”– he was allegedly one of the two thieves who ended up flanking Christ’s side at His crucifixion. It is said that Dismas actually had a run-in with the Holy Family [Jesus, Mary and Joseph] when Jesus was only an infant. Together with an accomplice, heheld up Mary and Joseph as they were fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s soldiers. Apparently Dismas is said to have been moved to compassion by the Holy Family and bribed his companion with 40 drachmas to let them pass safely without harm.

The Infant Jesus predicted that the thieves would be crucified with him in Jerusalem and that Dismas would then accompany him to Paradise. When crucified with Jesus, he asked Christ: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) Therefore, when Dismas acknowledged his sinfulness, Jesus forgave him and promised that he would be in paradise that very day.

Of course, this story cannot be substantiated and is often considered myth.

Thomas Becket

Perhaps the most controversial historical saint, few among his contemporaries could have predicted that this Archbishop of Canterbury and adviser to King Henry II was destined for sainthood.

The son of a prosperous London merchant, Becket’s talents were noticed by Henry II, who made him his chancellor and the two became close friends. When the current archbishop, Theobald, died in 1161, Henry appointed Becket to the post (just over a year later), assuming his friend would be easily manipulated. He wasn’t – and the pair’s friendship soon fractured when it became clear that Becket was on the side of the church in disagreements with the crown. In 1164, after realising the extent of Henry’s displeasure, Becket fled into exile in France and remained there until 1170. Upon his return, he excommunicated bishops who had diplomatically supported Henry in his pursuit to dislodge clerical privilege. This infuriated the king, leading to the disaster that ensued on 29 December 1170.

c1162, Thomas Becket, whose murder at the orders of Henry II lead to Canterbury Cathedral becoming a popular place of pilgrimage. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Four knights, believing Henry wanted Becket eliminated, murdered the archbishop, splattering his blood and brains across the northwest transept floor of Canterbury Cathedral and making him an instant martyr. From England and France, people flocked to his shrine, while a cult, associated with the curative power of Becket’s blood, began at Canterbury.

The first recorded miraculous cure occurred in January 1171, with a proliferation recorded thereafter. Canterbury became one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in Europe, and his murder one of the most infamous events of the Middle Ages. Becket was canonised not even three years after his death, by Pope Alexander III on Ash Wednesday (21 February) 1173 at Segni, Italy.

Junípero Serra

Junípero Serra – a Spanish colonist who built a network of Catholic missions in modern-day California (formerly a province of New Spain), thereby bringing Catholicism in the 18th century – was canonised a saint by Pope Francis in 2015. Serra founded the first nine Catholic settlements from San Diego to San Francisco in the 1770s and 1780s, with the hope of herding native people onto farms and baptising them.

While Pope Francis described him as a priest who protected “the dignity of native communities” from abusers as he developed Catholicism in the New World, others suggest his baptised community were forced to remain in the settlements under terrible conditions such as overcrowding and the rapid spread of disease. The natives were also coerced into working on the settlements, and those who tried to escape were subjected to beatings. Serra, writing in 1780, even admitted supporting corporal punishment because other saints had endorsed it. His holy appointment therefore sparked great outrage, largely because many believed Serra unworthy as he was connected to a system that decimated the population of Native Americans in the colonial era.

Junípero Serra – a Spanish colonist who built a network of Catholic missions in modern-day California. (Photo by Getty Images)

St Colmcille

Few facts are known about St Colmcille, one of Ireland’s three patron saints. Colmcille – meaning “dove of the Church” in Gaelic; Columb (in Irish) or Columba (in Latin) – was born at Gartan in what is now County Donegal in c521 AD. At the age of 30 he entered the priesthood at Clonard Abbey, in modern Co. Meath. When his prince cousin, Fiachra mac Ciaráin, offered him land at Derry, he set about founding his own monastery, which allowed him to travel throughout Northern Ireland teaching about Christianity, and establishing a further 30 monasteries in a decade.

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Nevertheless, Colmcille was no angel – and his zealous character and preaching rankled many people. In AD 563 he was even accused of starting a war between two Irish tribes, while a number of clerics threatened to excommunicate him. Instead, Colmcille was sentenced never to see Ireland again. Exiled to Scotland with 12 companions, in AD 563 Colmcille left Ireland and settled with the Gaels of Dál Riata [a Gaelic kingdom comprising parts of Western Scotland], where he was granted the tiny west coast island of Iona to found his monastery and spend most of his remaining years.

Iona grew into one of the most influential centres of religious and cultural life in the Western world. And we can’t forget that in AD 565, Colmcille is also said to have encountered the Loch Ness Monster – apparently the first ever reference to the mythical beast.

Mary of Egypt

Mary of Egypt, or Maria Aegyptiaca, was born in the northeast African country in AD 344. At the age of 12 she left home, settling in Alexandria. She was said to be adept at using her body to gain what she wanted – some claim she was a harlot or prostitute, though others say she never accepted money for her “services” –  but either way, her life represents dramatic sin followed by holy asceticism. One day, after observing a large group of pilgrims en route to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, she decided to join, with every intention of using her seduction skills to secure her way from Alexandria to Jerusalem by “corrupting” young men among the pilgrimage group.

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Soon after her arrival, however, Mary abandoned her life of sin and became a model of repentance. This followed a chance encounter with the Virgin Mary, whom she heard telling her: “Cross the Jordan and you will find rest.” Traversing the east bank of the River Jordan, Mary spent the remaining 47 years of her solitary life praying and fasting in the desert – surviving mostly off herbs, according to the 7th-century patriarch, Saint Sophronius – where she could be close to God.

She was found by a monk from a nearby monastery named Zosima, who prayed, listened, and gave her Holy Communion shortly before her death. Zosima buried her, reportedly with the help of a lion that assisted in digging the grave with its paws.

Emma J Wells is an ecclesiastical and architectural historian specialising in the late medieval/early modern English parish church/cathedral and the cult of saints. She is also a broadcaster and the author of numerous books including Pilgrim Routes of the British Isles (Robert Hale, 2016).