THOUGH OF HISTORICAL VALUE, THESE PHOTOGRAPHS PORTRAY A BUDDHIST MONK SELF-IMMOLATING, AND ARE QUITE EXPLICIT. PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS ARTICLE IF THESE PHOTOGRAPHS WILL HAVE AN ADVERSE AFFECT ON YOU!
In 1963, a Vietnamese monk committed self-immolation in front of hundreds of people. While his primary motivation was protest, the full reasoning behind his final act shed unexpected light on a deeply conflicted nation.
In the midst of the Vietnam War, South Vietnam was corrupted by religious intolerance. Although Buddhists comprised about 80% of the population, Ngo Dinh Diem, the newly-declared President of South Vietnam, was a Catholic who had decisively stripped the religious freedoms of Buddhists. This group was not allowed to fly their religious flags and were openly discriminated against by Catholics. Even though there were far fewer Catholics, they often held higher positions of power.
The spring of 1963 saw numerous Buddhist protests, many of which were met with fierce resistance from the police and government. These clashes led to many fatalities – including those of children.
This tension peaked on June 11, 1963, when an older monk named Thich Quang Duc performed a ritualistic ending to his own life in the middle of a busy Saigon intersection. He sat in the traditional lotus position as other monks poured gasoline over his head. After Duc uttered a Buddhist prayer, one of his colleagues lit a match and dropped it into his lap, engulfing him in flames.
The crowd that gathered was stunned by his act of martyrdom, and it was even captured by several Western journalists and photographers. The photos of the burning monk became an indelible image of the 1960s, and his final act of protest was a tipping point for the fight for religious tolerance in Vietnam.
The Monks Demanded Acceptance
President Diem’s discrimination of the Buddhist population pushed hundreds of monks to protest for change. In May of 1963, they presented the government with five demands, including proposed laws against religious discrimination and the freedom to fly whichever religious flags they chose.
The government had promised the monks a response, but Diem essentially ignored their requests. This silence from their government ultimately pushed the monks to much more drastic action to fight for their convictions.
A Journalist Captured Duc’s Utter Composure
Duc prepared himself for his fiery demise with a steady, calm demeanor. David Halberstam, a journalist for the New York Times, was present for Duc’s immolation and wrote about the dramatic act:
“I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think… As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.”
As for Duc himself, he left his final words in a letter:
“Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organize in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.”
Duc’s Heart Did Not Burn
After Duc’s self-immolation was complete, the other monks placed robes over his body and carried him away in a makeshift wooden coffin. He was later re-cremated for a proper burial, but mysteriously, his heart did not burn and remained intact.
Duc’s heart was placed on display in a glass container in the Xa Loi Pagoda and was seen as a sacred relic representing compassion.
JFK Addressed The Moment’s Deep Emotional Impact
Once photographer Malcolm Browne sent his “monk on fire” photos to the Associated Press, they reached US newspapers within 16 hours. The Western reaction to the images was decidedly shocked, and President Kennedy was quoted as saying, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” Browne was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the photograph.
The photos, in addition to the news of religious discrimination in Vietnam, supposedly led Kennedy to reexamine America’s policies and presence in the country, ultimately culminating in the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
Other Monks Followed Suit
Although Duc’s immolation is known as a pivotal moment in Vietnam’s fight for religious equality, his sacrifice did not instantaneously affect President Diem’s policies. Several other monks followed in Duc’s footsteps in the proceeding weeks, amid continued protests by the Buddhist community.
In November of 1963, members of the South Vietnamese military assassinated Diem and his brother during a coup, ending his Catholic reign over South Vietnam.
For the unenlightened, Buddhism can certainly come across as a mysterious, even confusing, religion. After all, there is no singular deity watching over. No strict commandments to govern with. And no “great book” to live by. So, what is it exactly? And how does Buddhism uniquely define itself in comparison with other religions around the world?
The answer is simple: Buddhism extends beyond the ideas of organized religion, and instead presents itself more as a philosophy of life, focusing on morality, tolerance for others, and wisdom. While others seek to contain (and, in some cases, even control) their members through scripture, followers of Buddhism are taught that individuality and finding one’s own self is the core of their practice. That through a journey of self-discovery, they will gain knowledge not only about themselves – but also about their inner spirit.
With over 2,500 years and 300 million followers behind it, Buddhism certainly has a colorful history, one which is shared all around the world. Below are some of the most interesting facts that have arisen from this unique practice.
That Big Guy Is Not “the” Buddha
You may be familiar with the sight of a rather large bald man, perched cross-legged, and adorned entirely in gold, and perhaps first wonder if this is also what Donald Trump sees when he closes his eyes. But second, you may recognize this as a statue of Buddha himself.
Well, you’d be wrong on one-and-a-half counts.
Turns out, the most recognizable symbol (at least, in Western cultures) of Buddhism is not actually of Buddha, but rather Budai, a zen monk who lived in China during the 900s.
A practicer of Buddhism, Budai was considered such an eccentric and good-spirited figure of the religion that he eventually became its most recognizable face. It was said that Budai always wore a smile, and was so charismatic that he was actually followed by children wherever he went. Because of this, his spirit represented all of which Buddhism strives for, and, as a result, we know his face to be that of one truly enlightened.
Siddhartha Guatama Was the “Real” Buddha
The real Buddha, however, was a twenty-nine year-old man named Siddhartha Gautama of Lumbini. Born into wealth, Gautama eventually realized that none of his fortune satisfied him, and he took to studying various religions and meditation practices around the world, before eventually becoming “enlightened,” and ultimately founding Buddhism.
Perhaps ironically, the name “Siddhartha” is Sanskrit for “He Who Achieves His Goal,” a concept which underlines the core intent of Buddhism.
There Is No Divine Creator
Just imagine no one looking over your shoulder, checking for sins. No one whispering in your ear to do the right thing. Not having to answer to anyone on a Sunday morning.
Such is the way with Buddhism, where there is no “divine creator” lording above. True, there is the concept of the human spirit that dwells within, but the idea is more in sync with our consciousness, rather than with an entity that will eventually make its way up to heaven and join one of many hypothetical “big guys upstairs.”
Instead, Buddhism focuses on the journey of oneself to our own enlightenment rather than seeking the approval of a higher power.
Women Can Never Achieve True “Buddhahood”
When Buddhism first began, some of the Buddha’s teachings about women were very controversial. Not because he taught that women should be subservient to their husbands (as was the case with most early religions), but that husbands should also respect their wives.
Furthermore, while women were certainly not excluded from the religion (and were actively encouraged to participate), there came some caveats, with the worst of all being perhaps the entire point of Buddhism in the first place:
Despite her dedication to the religion, a woman can never achieve true “Buddhahood.”
Sex Is Sometimes a Complicated Subject
For a religion that encourages the exploration of one’s self, sex (both with a partner and without) surprisingly comes with some very serious rules.
First of all, if you’re a Buddhist monk or nun (referred to as Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis, respectively), you better keep that inner temple to yourself because any act, including masturbation, prevents one from achieving supreme enlightenment.
For the rest of practicing Buddhists, the rules aren’t quite as strict – though most of them are certainly frowned upon. Particularly because the Buddha perceived the craving for sex as a form of suffering. To that end, if one is consumed by the their sexual urges, they too will not be able to reach enlightenment.
Not All Buddhists Are Focused on Reincarnation
Among some of the more common misconceptions about Buddhism, are that all Buddhists believe in reincarnation. Such is not the case, as the belief in life after death is not focused on as much as one would believe. Instead, the focus lands mostly on one’s purpose in this life in order to become enlightened.
Furthermore, there is a common belief that Buddhism originated as a Pagan religion, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason being, because Buddhists don’t worship a god in the first place. Thus, Paganism, which is the worship of any god besides the Christian one, is an entirely different practice.
Alcohol, Onions, Garlic, Leeks, Chives, and Scallions Are a No-no
Like sex, the desire to over-indulge in certain foods is seen as a form of craving, which is, ostensibly, a form of suffering.
But there are also specific guidelines to follow if one wished to truly follow the path. Among them, followers cannot enjoy alcohol. While many who “over-indulge” in occasionally shot-gunning beers or knocking back tequila shots would argue they’re at their most enlightened when hammered, in Buddhism, it is seen as a form of “intoxicant,” which, again, keeps one from being truly spiritually enlightened.
Also, say goodbye to Indian food, as onions, garlic, leeks, chives, and scallions are considered too strong of odors in Buddhist cuisine. The reason? Because their odors are thought to be so pungent, that they incite anger and passion – both of which fall under the umbrella of suffering in Buddhism.
There is also a common misconception about all Buddhist being vegetarian, but this is not the case. In fact, many Buddhist dishes feature meat. The rule behind this, however, is that Buddhist are not allowed to “kill any sentient being.” That is, they are not allowed to kill the animal and eat it themselves, but procuring meat from elsewhere is perfectly fine.
There Are Four Noble Truths
While the core of Buddhism is the journey to self-discovery and enlightenment, there are a few important items to understand along the way. Described as the “essence” of Buddhism, these are theFour Noble Truths:
The Truth of Suffering
The Truth of the Cause of Suffering
The Truth of the End of Suffering
And, finally, The Truth of the Path that Leads to the End of Suffering
Together, these represent the path to self-liberation. A way to understand the plight of all humanity, and that there are certain undeniable events in life that are out of our control – but there is always a way through them. And by understanding and accepting them, we are on our way to true enlightenmen
There Are Two Different Types of Buddhism
Spiritual beliefs can sometimes cause a divide among followers. It’s why there are countless iterations of Christianity around the world. Some of whom believe in the spiritual teachings of Christ’s love, others who think it somehow it pleases him to march along funeral processions holding up hateful and often-misspelled picket signs.
Clearly, the spectrum reaches far and wide as to what being a “good Christian” means.
Thankfully with Buddhism, there are only two different practices: on one hand, there is the Theravada (“School of the Elders”), and the Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”).
Theravada is perhaps the most common type of Buddhist practice, with the end goal of all individuals to reach a state of nirvana, which sees the inner spirit break the cycle of death and rebirth, and ultimately move on.
In the case of Mahayana, an individual strives to achieve “Buddhahood” (supreme enlightenment), in which he or she remains in the cycle of rebirth with the intent of helping others become enlightened as well.
In either following, the end goal of both types of Buddhism are to attain the highest level of spiritual connectedness. That is, once you peak, it’s time to either move on (Theravada) or pay it forward (Mahayana).
A Full Moon Day Is Sacred
Every religion has their one uber-holiday of the year. For some it’s Christmas. Others Dwali. Some people give thanks on that magical day of the year when the McRib finally makes its triumphant return.
Although Buddhism isn’t exactly a religion in the traditional sense, it’s not without its own special day to celebrate the spiritual journey that so many others are on.
That day is called “Uposatha”, a day for the “cleansing of the defiled mind,” which falls in accordance of the four lunar phases, starting with the full moon.
On Uposatha, Buddhist followers intensify their practice, reflecting on their goals to deepen their commitment to themselves and to others.
There Is a Buddhism-Themed Amusement Park
Located just outside Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam is the one and only Buddhist theme park — the Suoi Tien Cultural Amusement Park.
Featuring roller coasters, rides, an artificial beach and water park, Suoi Tien offers a glimpse of the true happiness and sense of contentment one could only achieve by, well, practicing Buddhism until they reach spiritual nirvana, I suppose.
Swathed in bright neon colors, the park is said be akin to “Disneyland on acid,” which will certainly help to explain why you’ll encounter men and women dressed up as unicorns, dragons, and Budai himself as they roam around the park grounds.
But the idea of a Buddhist theme park begs the question: if one has already achieved spiritual happiness prior to buying a ticket, does that make a roller-coaster ride less fun?
Viharas Are Sacred Places
Also known as Buddhist monasteries, viharas were originally created to help in housing monks who would often only stay in temporary shelters. These early forms were little more than rock-cut caves, carved along trade routes, and which allowed passing monks to reside in and practice their faith safely.
As time went on however, viharas evolved into much more than just a place for wandering monks to stay, but instead became temples themselves, ones which saw the monks recruiting students who wished to learn more about Buddhism.
While the process of constructing viharas has certainly improved, the architects behind them today still retain the aesthetics of those once carved into the rock of caves.
The Famous Tooth of Buddha
According to Sri Lankan legend, when the Buddha himself died and was eventually cremated in 543 BCE, he left behind a small souvenir for his followers: his left canine tooth.
It was said that whomever came into possession of the tooth had the right to rule the country. Thus, it was fought over many times, but ultimately ended up in the town of Kandy, Sri Lanka, where has been held in reverence on display for over four hundred years.
The Fig Tree Holds a Special Meaning
Specifically, the ficus religiosa, a type of fig tree that grows only in southwest China. It earned its divine name for a very specific reason: it was under this type of fig tree that Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) first achieved his spiritual enlightenment. Ever since, it has been regarded as sacred, and is a celebrated symbol in Buddhism.
There Are Many Different Ways People Practice Buddhism
Like many religions, Buddhists can choose to practice puja – the act of worship – either at home, via a personal shrine, or in a public temple.
If at home, Buddhists create small areas dedicated to connecting with their faith. These shrines typically feature a statue of Buddha himself, as well as various candles, flowers, and incense burners.
Although the practice is a solitary one, Buddhists are never to worship at their shrine with their feet facing the Buddha. Such an act is considered disrespectful.
If worshipping outside of the home, Buddhist will visit temples called Pagodas, which are vaulting, tower-like structures, or Stupas, which are wider, circular buildings.
• 650 officers and enlisted men of Auxiliary Remount Depot No. 326, Camp Cody, N.M., in a symbolic head pose of “The Devil” saddle horse ridden by Maj. Frank G. Brewer, remount commander / Photo by Almeron Newman, Rear 115 N. Gold Ave., Deming, N.M.
• Creator(s): Newman, Almeron, photographer
• Date Created/Published: [Deming, N.M.] : [Almeron Newman], 
• Medium: 1 photograph : gelatin silver print ; sheet 44 x 36 cm.
• Summary: Photograph shows formation of soldiers into the shape of a horse’s head.
• Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ds-11770 (digital file from original)
• Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
Eben Byers was an amateur golfer, an alumnus of Yale, and a notorious ladies man, but he is most famous for literally rotting from the inside out after spending three years drinking radium-infused water.
When Byers fell and hurt his arm in 1927, he was prescribed Radithor, a radium-infused elixir sold by a quack doctor named William Bailey. Radithor was supposed to alleviate aches, pains, and even invigorate one sexually. Yet what happened to Byers fell far afield of the positive effects Radithor was supposed to have. Instead, after three years of incessant use, Byers began rotting from the inside. His teeth fell out; his jaw had to be removed; holes formed in his brain and skull; and he eventually perished in 1932 from radium poisoning. Like the ill-fated Radium Girls before him, Byers demonstrated the clear and unequivocal bodily evidence that exposure to radium was lethal.
Byers’s tragic death is a story of medical deception and overdose, and it serves as a cautionary tale that there is, in fact, too much of a good thing – especially if that good thing is actually completely lethal.
“The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off”
This was the title of a Wall Street Journal article that came out some time after Byers’s passing, succinctly summing up what happened to him. In 1927, Byers was on a train returning from a Harvard-Yale football game when he fell from his bunk and hurt his arm. The pain didn’t go away, so Byers’s doctor prescribed him Radithor.
Radithor was simply radium dissolved in water, marketed as a healing tonic. At a time when radium-infused products were very popular, it was unsurprising that Byers was more than happy to take Radithor. In fact, Byers was so keen on the product and its supposed benefits that he ended up drinking three bottles every day for two years, until the poison caught up with him and began dissolving him from the inside out.
William Bailey, The Man Who Prescribed Byers Radithor, Was A Known Fraud
William J.A. Bailey wasn’t a doctor, even though he claimed to be. He was a Harvard dropout who got rich quick after developing Radithor, a toxic solution of radium dissolved in water. He was a fraud who was repeatedly in trouble with the law and profited off numerous short-lived business start-ups.
The FDA shut down Bailey’s business, but Bailey had already done his damage. The amount of people who perished from Radithor is unknown, but he sold approximately 400,000 bottles of the tonic – 1,400 of which Byers himself purchased.
Byers Probably Took Radithor To Help His Performance In The Bedroom
The quick story is that Byers fell on a train, hurt his arm, took Radithor, and thought it made him better so he kept taking it. There is, though, perhaps another reason Byers was so enthusiastic about Radithor, to the point where he reportedly even gave cases of the stuff to his girlfriends and his race horses.
Byers had a reputation as a ladies’ man. At Yale, his nickname was “Foxy Grandpa.” His fall on the train reportedly injured not only his arm, but also his game. Byers complained of a sort of “run-down feeling” that affected his athletic and sexual performance. That’s when Byers discovered a product on the market that claimed to solve all of these issues. The sexually reparative nature of Radithor was only rumored, but it is unsurprising that a man entering his 50s with a reputation for being popular with women would seek out anything to help him maintain his “Foxy Grandpa” status.
Byers’s Horrific Death Ended The American Public’s Romance With Radium-Infused Products
The problem with touting radioactivity as curative was that it simply wasn’t true. Luckily, most of these quack elixirs were phony, and contained no radium at all (of course, this was not the case with Radithor). Still, there were myriad products on the market meant to be extremely good for you – there were radium-infused beauty creams, toothpastes, soaps, bars of chocolates – you name it.
The American public had an obsession with radium in the 1920s and ’30s that only faded after Byers’s passing brought the real dangers of radium to light.
Byers’s Story Probably Got So Much Attention Because He Was A Handsome, Upper-Class Man
Eben Byers was the son of a well-known entrepreneur, and he was the chairman of his father’s steel company. He attended Yale, golfed, raced horses, and was popular with women. He was the perfect candidate for a tragic, newsworthy story – made even more fascinating and terrifying because he perished after drinking what was touted as a health tonic, completely available to the public. Everything about Byers’s story differs from the devastating story of the Radium Girls.
The tragedy of the Radium Girls – female factory employees who became painfully sick and perished of radium poisoning – was well covered by the media, but was less compelling to the government than the story of Byers, a socialite in the public eye. It wasn’t until Byers told the Federal Trade Commission about Radithor, while on his deathbed, that radium was removed from the federally approved list of medicines.
The Idea To Drink Radioactive Water As An Elixir Came From The Restorative Powers Of Hot Springs
In the 1920s, people knew about – and believed in – the healing powers of hot springs. When it was discovered that the water in hot springs was mildly radioactive, due to the radon gas dissolved in the water, it was concluded that it was the radioactivity that was so curative. In The American Journal of Clinical Medicine, Dr. C.G. Davis claimed, “Radioactivity prevents insanity, rouses noble emotions, retards old age, and creates a splendid youthful joyous life.” It was no wonder products infused with radium, such as candy, hair tonics, and even blankets, were so popular.
However, radon gas is entirely different from radium, the element found in Radithor. Radon gas has a half-life of about three days – radium has one of 1,600 years. Seeing as Byers took three times the already toxic dose of Radithor, he was irrevocably doomed.
Byers Deteriorated Rapidly and Painfully, But He Kept Drinking Radithor
For the first two years Byers took Radithor, he was so pleased with the supposed results that he took three times the suggested daily dose. But, after a while, he began feeling sick. He lost weight, had headaches, and had a blinding pain in his jaw. He had been diagnosed with inflamed sinuses, but once his teeth began to fall out and his jaw began to crumble, Byers knew something was terribly wrong. Byers’s X-ray was sent to a radiologist, who confirmed that Byers’s fate was inevitable – he had the same lesions on his jaw as the Radium Girls. Sadly, Byers was so indoctrinated to rely on Radithor that he kept drinking it, hoping it would help him feel better when he began feeling sick.
An attorney dispatched to Byers’s house shortly before his passing remembered the state Byers was in due to his radiation poisoning:
We went to Southampton where Byers had a magnificent home. There we discovered him in a condition which beggars description. Young in years and mentally alert, he could hardly speak. His head was swathed in bandages. He had undergone two successful jaw operations and his whole upper jaw, excepting two front teeth, and most of his lower jaw had been removed. All the remaining bone tissue of his body was slowly disintegrating, and holes were actually forming in his skull.
Byers Had Enough Radium In His Body To “Kill Three Men”
After Byers’s death, Popular Science Monthly wrote that Byers had the “largest amount of radium ever found in a human being – more than thirty micrograms, enough to kill three men.”
With symptoms such as blinding headaches, breaking bones, and a disintegrating jaw, Byers must have suffered immensely before he succumbed to radiation poisoning in 1932, five years after his first dose of Radithor.
The Federal Trade Commission Accidentally Contributed To The Rise Of Radioactive Products
Back when radium was immensely popular in consumer products, the FDA had very little power to regulate it. Not falling under food or drugs, it was out of their jurisdiction.
There was one department, however, that had control over radium: the Federal Trade Commission. Their job was to stand against false advertising claims; this meant that the FTC worked very hard to make sure that all the products on the market actually contained radium. Their strict regulation ensured that all the products people were buying were genuinely radioactive.
Byers’s Demise Led To Stricter FDA Control
As Byers fell ill, and it became clear Radithor was the culprit, the FTC opened an investigation. They sought to challenge Bailey’s claim that Radithor and other products like it were “harmless.” They wanted Byers to testify, but he was too sick. They dispatched an attorney to his home to take a statement, which is when the attorney found him literally rotting from the inside out. It didn’t take long after that for the FTC to shut down Bailey’s business.
The results of the FTC’s investigation led to the FDA getting more power over investigating suspicious health claims. Eventually, the FDA gained control over the entire pharmaceutical industry.
Bailey Succumbed To His Own Lies, But It Was Only Discovered After His Death
Until the end, Bailey denied Radithor had anything to do with Byers’s demise. He claimed he had drunk more Radithor than Byers himself, and he was living proof that his “healing tonic” was perfectly safe.
Yet when his body was exhumed 20 years after his death from bladder cancer, medical researchers discovered his remains were riddled with radiation. His corpse was described as “still hot” after being unearthed.
Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre, discovered radium, a radioactive element, back in 1898. However, people didn’t realize how dangerous the element was, and they began to use radium in household items. This led to radium in makeup, as well as in medical devices that claimed to cure everything from impotence to arthritis. However, what these quack devices actually led to was a plethora of surprisingly poisonous things, such as toothpaste, hair tonic, and suppositories.
When people began dying of mysterious diseases, such as the ones suffered by the Radium Girls, who painted luminous watch dials with Undark, a radium-based paint that they wound up ingesting via their paintbrushes, doctors finally realized that radium was dangerous.
The history of radium poisoning is full of odd devices designed to improve one’s health and outer appearance. These everyday poisons were sold through magazine and newspaper ads – and in regular pharmacies. Thankfully, by the beginning of World War II, they had been phased out and are now an odd anecdote from American history.
Radium-Lined Cups Were Used To Make Radioactive Beverages
These days, people drink bottled or filtered water. Back in the early 20th century, those who could afford it drank radioactive water. One popular way of making this water, which supposedly could cure many different ailments, involved the use of a metal cup or container that was lined with radium. Any water poured into the vessel was exposed to the radioactive material and picked up its properties. The Revigator was one such device; its makers claimed that it contained radon. Of course, this only “worked” if the device actually contained radium – many of the “radioactive” medical marvels on the market were scams.
People Submerged Themselves In Radium-Laced Water At Spas
Going to spas and spending some time submerged in radioactive water was supposed to be an invigorating experience. In actuality, the natural radiation in these mineral hot springs might have made the spa goers feel relaxed – that is, until a few decades later when they realized that the “hot” water did more harm than good. During the time period, however, even reputable medical journals touted the healing abilities of radium and similar materials, and some claimed radium hot springs were a literal fountain of youth that could help slow the aging process. Some radium-filled hot springs are still in business today, but they limit people’s exposure to any radioactive elements in the water.
Laying In Radioactive Sand Was A Treatment For Arthritis
One of the main byproducts of radium manufacturing is a fine-grained sand that is, of course, highly radioactive. Back in the early 1900s, before people realized how harmful exposure to it was, they claimed that exposure to the sand could successfully treat arthritis pain. Many spas opened up rooms where people could sit and rest their feet on the sand in the hopes of being cured. The ironic thing is that, even though people knew of the dangers that radioactivity could pose, these “Uranium Sitting Houses” were in business up through the 1950s.
Men Placed Wax Coated Radium Rods In Their Urethras As A Cure For Impotence
Men have always struggled with impotence. Now, there are medications like Viagra; back in the early 1900s, there were “bougies.” These were radium-laced wax rods that men inserted directly into their urethras to treat impotence. This treatment is now cringe inducing not only because of the way it took place, but also because placing radioactive material close to reproductive organs is a very bad idea.
Radium Toothpaste Claimed To Make Teeth White And Shiny
Radium wasn’t just used in medical devices – it made its way into everyday beauty and household products as well. One of these hygienic products was toothpaste. According to ads, a small amount of radium in the toothpaste promised to make users’ teeth very white and super shiny. Whether or not it worked is up for debate, but what is known is that radioactive exposure can actually make one’s teeth fall out and result in a jaw rotting from the inside out.
Radithor Supposedly Cured Impotence And Other Health-Related Woes
Radithor was a radium- and thorium-laced water that was sold in small vials. A few drops of it a day could cure impotence and “restore vigor” – or, so it purported to be the case. The product was made by Bailey Radium Laboratories of East Orange, New Jersey, who actually encouraged users to disprove its claims of containing the radioactive substances. The product was removed from the market after one heavy user who reportedly went through around three vials a day of the stuff, playboy Eben Byers, died a horrific death when his jaw disintegrated.
Radium Suppositories Restored People’s “Vigor”
Speaking of restoring “vigor,” how about a radium suppository? These small, radioactive pellets were sold in boxes and claimed to help men with their impotence issues. Made by several different companies, including the Vital-O-Gland Company and the General Remedies Company, there is no proof that the suppositories actually contained any radioactive material, or that they worked as they were supposed to. Thank goodness.
Glasses With Radioactive Lenses Corrected Vision Problems
Before there was laser eye surgery, there were Dengen’s Radio-Active Eye Applicators. This device looked like a pair of simple spectacles, only instead of lenses, it had opaque pods that contained radium and other radioactive materials. Not only could they cure your eye ailments, claiming to repair things like nearsightedness and farsightedness, but they also took care of headaches and eye strain. What’s even more disturbing is the fact the eye applicators came in three different strengths.
Tho-Radia Cosmetics Claimed To Brighten Skin
Tho-radia was a line of makeup and skin creams that contained radium. It was heavily marketed to women in the United States and France, who purchased the items in the hopes that the product’s claims – to rejuvenate and brighten skin – were true. To add a little extra cachet to the brand, its creator, Dr. Alfred Curie (no relation to Marie and Pierre Curie) put his name on the ads.
Radium Emanation Bath Salts Cured Insomnia
Radium bath salts, which worked like modern-day bath salts – as in you dissolve them in your bath water before soaking in them – were sold as a cure for insomnia, various nervous disorders, and even rheumatism. What made them even worse (from a modern perspective, of course) was the fact that dissolving the radioactive bath salts would send small particles of them into the air, where they were also breathed into the lungs. These products were made by several different manufacturers, including the Denver Radium Service on what is now a Superfund site.
Endocrine Glands Were Regulated With The Radiendocrinator
The endocrine system regulates the body’s hormone production. The glands in the endocrine system include those in the neck – the thyroid – as well as the pituitary gland in the brain. However, the horrifying detail here involves the glands that men would treat with the Radiendocrinator – their testes. Treatment via the Radiendocrinator involved holding the device in place sometimes for hours at a time, with the handy (and included) strap that resembled an athletic supporter. Ironically, the creator of the device, William J.A. Bailey, died of radiation-induced bladder cancer in 1949.
Gout And Neuralgia Were Taken Care Of With Radium Tablets
Radium tablets are still a legitimate medical treatment for people suffering from various types of cancer. However, back in the late 19th century, these tablets were sold on pharmacy shelves and supposedly cured gout, neuralgia (stabbing nerve pain), and numerous other ailments. These radioactive tablets, sold under brand names like Arium and Radione, were taken daily by people who simply wanted to feel better or have “the strength of iron.”
Radioactive Heating Pads Cured A Number Of Ailments
A radioactive heating pad that was lined with radium claimed to cure everything from rheumatism to standard aches and pains. The instructions for this particular device include warming it up, keeping it dry, and then applying it to the area of the body that hurts. Users could supposedly leave it on for up to 12 hours a day, and they were even encouraged to roll it up around a painful body part, such as an ankle, and tie it into place.
Uranium Blankets Helped With Arthritis P
These days, uranium blankets are a part of nuclear reactors, and they aren’t even a little bit related to the therapeutic ones touted as cures for arthritis pain in the early 20th century. Those particular blankets looked like standard, quilted ones, only, within the fabric squares, were bits of uranium. These blankets were sold as cures up through the 1950s, even after the dangers of uranium exposure were well known.
Radium Tonic Prevented Gray Hairs
A product called Caradium was created in the early 1900s. It was a tonic that was applied to hair to prevent gray hairs from growing, thanks to the power of its active ingredient – radium. It also promised to make any current gray hairs revert back to their old color. Caradium was the invention of Frederick Godfrey, a man whose credentials included “hair specialist.”
Vintage Shoe-Fitting X-Ray Machines Will Zap Your Feet
How do you tell if a shoe is a good fit? Take a short walk? Squeeze the front-end with your fingers to make sure there is space for your toes? What about a dangerous, 20-second blast of unshielded x-rays? If you were buying shoes in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, it’s likely that you regularly inserted a tootsie into one of these death-rays.
The wooden cabinets, possibly first built by a Clarence Karrer in Milwaukee in 1924, had the x-ray source in the base, and it would fire upwards through your foot and shoe. Due to a lack of any kind of shielding, it wouldn’t stop there: the radiation would shoot right up into your baby-maker, clearly a perilous occurrence.
The machine, called a “Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope” put out 50 kv from its x-ray tube, which – according to Wikipedia’s figures for today’s machines, isn’t too bad:
In medical radiography voltage from 20 kV in mammography up to 150 kV for chest radiography are used for diagnostic. Energy can go up to 250 kV for radiotherapy applications.
The problem was repeat exposure. While it was recommended that children not be subjected to more than 12 doses a year, there was no such luck for shoe-store employees. According to the article Shoe-fitting with x-ray in National Safety News 62 by H. Bavley (1950), store clerks would put their hands into the beam to squeeze shoes during fitting. Worse still was the fate of a poor shoe model, “who received such a serious radiation burn that her leg had to be amputated.”
Thank God there’s nothing this dangerous around today. Like, you know, full-body backscatter x-ray machines in airports.
Vote up the most insane stories from ancient Roman times—those that put Washington, D.C. and Hollywood to shame.
If the Ancient Romans knew how to do one thing well, it was party. When they weren’t busy inventing the aqueduct, concrete, or the basis for the modern calendar, they were discovering new and exciting ways to have a good time with each other. Sure, every emperor, senator, and nobleman under the sun promoted family values… but when that sun set, ancient Rome got into the kind of action that would make the writers of Game of Thrones blush.
While the Romans probably weren’t the first in history to push the sexual envelope, they were among the first to keep detailed records. Regular talk of affairs, orgies, and contests spun around the rumor mill for centuries. Of course, the Romans weren’t above tabloid-level journalism. It’s no coincidence that the most extreme rumors were about the most hated emperors.
It wasn’t all fun and games, though. Since most of these Roman rumors involved the emperors, that meant most of them ended in either bloody coups or executions. It’s good to be the king, but only as long as people let you stay in power. So, as crazy as you think modern Washington controversies may seem, some of the ancient Rome sex stories on this list may make you appreciate just how far politicians have come over the last two thousand years.
Nero Castrated A Man And Then Married Him
For someone with the power and maniacal reputation of Emperor Nero, it was probably easy to get bored at having his every whim met. Perhaps that’s why Nero turned an innocent boy into a eunuch and then tied the knot. The boy, Sporus, was dressed as a woman in a veil for the official ceremony, and the pair even took a romantic honeymoon to Greece.
Caligula Went To A Wedding And Left With The Bride
Gaius Piso made the poor decision of inviting Emperor Caligula to his wedding. When Caligula showed up to the banquet, Gaius told the emperor not to touch his soon-to-be wife Livia Orestilla. So, naturally, Caligula stole her, married her, then banished her to an island where she was forbidden to sleep with anyone ever again. Moral of the story? Don’t tell Caligula he can’t do something.
Nero Got Nasty With His Mom
For Emperor Nero’s mother, Agrippina, merely being the mother of the emperor wasn’t enough. Early in his rule as a teenager, Agrippina had a heavy hand in his decision-making. Rumors spread that she reinforced her influence with her body. Stories spread about Nero’s relationship with a consort who suspiciously resembled his mother as well as a public appearance together where his robes were noticeably stained.
Tiberius Went Skinny Dipping with Young Boys
Pushing the depths of depravity, stories said Emperor Tiberius trained young boys to fulfill his physical needs. He liked to go swimming with them, then have them lick and nibble him “between his thighs.” He called them “tiddlers.”
Caligula Slept With Guests’ Wives And Then Bragged About How They’d Gotten Down
Dinner parties with Caligula were a nightmare for married couples. Caligula frequently invited married couples over for dinner, and if a certain wife struck his fancy, he’d take her back to his bed chambers and return later to tell their husbands everything that went down. If that wasn’t enough for him, he’d sometimes file a bill of divorce for couples just because he could.
Caligula Had A Favorite Sister
Although it’s been said he took all of his sisters to bed, Caligula’s favorite was allegedly Drusilla. Stories said their grandmother caught them in bed together when they were still minors. Later in life, he took Drusilla from her husband. When she died, Caligula declared an entire season of public mourning.
An Empress Had A Taboo Face-Off With A Famous Prostitute—And Won
According to Pliny the Elder, Valeria Messalina, the third wife of Emperor Claudius and mother of his son, was known for her appetite for pleasure. Just for fun, the empress bet the best Roman courtesan of her time that she could sleep with more men in one day than said lady of the night. Messalina came out on top by bedding 25 men.
Nero Dressed Up As Animals For His Sexcapades
Nero may have had a weird childhood, but not even the most uncommon upbringing could explain his most ferocious urges. Stories said he liked to play a game where he dressed in animal skins, was let loose from a cage, and went to town on defenseless men and women who were tied to stakes.
Cleopatra Had A Love Child With Caesar And Paraded It Around Rome
Julius Caesar not only started the reign of Roman emperors; he was one of their finest playboys. Despite his marriage to Calpurnia, he took many mistresses—among them, the famous Cleopatra. When Caesar invited her to Rome, Cleopatra brought their baby and showed him off to everyone… including Calpurnia.
So what was an epic playboy to do? He gave the kid his name and drafted up a law saying he could marry as many women as he wanted.
Caligula Used His Sisters To Discredit Political Rivals
When Caligula wasn’t actually taking his siblings to bed, he often prostituted them off to his friends. This came in handy if he ever wanted to put those same friends on trial. He kept records of all the adultery and made them public to create an instant uproar whenever he needed to ruin a friend-turned-rival’s reputation.
Augustus Exiled His Daughter For Ruining Family Values
Emperor Augustus found himself in a bind with his daughter, Julia. Augustus was a supporter of family values and set out to make adultery illegal. Julia complicated his political stance by frequently indulging in vices, including public instances of adultery. Augustus was so upset that he exiled her to an island with no men or wine. As for the men she slept with, they were either exiled themselves or forced to kill themselves.
Emperor Elagabalus Was All About Role-Playing
Elagabalus would search for the most well-endowed men in all of Rome and bring them back to his palace. There, he’d pose for them as the goddess of love, Venus. He’d pretend his partner was Paris from the Illiad and let the fantasy go from there.
Caligula Turned His Palace Into A Brothel
When the Roman treasury was running low on money and taxes just weren’t doing the trick, Caligula turned his palace into a brothel. He put everyone on a line of credit with astronomical interest rates. Once, he allegedly saw two “Roman knights” who owed him passing by, so he had them seized and confiscated all their property.
Elagabalus Was a Part Time Emperor, Part Time Seducer
While Caligula turned his palace into a brothel, Elagabalus got in on the action himself. He had a room in his palace brothel where he’d stand at the door and try to entice clients into joining him.
Mark Antony Totally Went After Best Friend Caesar’s Girl After He Was Out Of The Way
Not long after Caesar met his end on the Ides of March, his closest friend and ally, Mark Antony, hooked up with his mistress, Cleopatra. Antony was named an enemy of Rome, but was too busy with the Queen of Egypt to care. Eventually, Caesar’s successor, Octavian, faced them down and defeated their forces. In the end they both took their own lives.
Claudius Executed His Wife For Organizing A Coup With Her Lover
Other than challenging prostitutes to feats of bedroom mastery, Emperor Claudius’s wife Valeria Messalina was famous for marrying another man, Gaius Silius, behind Cladius’s back. Together, they conspired to overthrow Claudius and rule the Empire. That all fell apart when Claudius found out—and executed them both.