When plastic weathers down to 5 millimeters (0.2 in) or less, the debris is called microplastics. Often invisible, these particles are turning into the nemesis of the scientific community and the natural world.
Far from being somebody else’s problem, nearly every person is touched by plastic fragments on a daily basis—when we eat, when we drink, and even when we have fun.
When the mobile Museum of Ice Cream arrived at Miami Beach in 2018, nobody expected the stern eye of the law. After all, the organizers wanted visitors to have fun celebrating the beloved cold treat. One way that the museum offered families the chance to interact with the dessert was to frolic in a swimming pool filled with fake sprinkles.
People flocked to the realistic pool of candy. Having too much fun was not the problem. What attracted the attention of officials was a sudden colorful presence in the vicinity’s storm drains.
Apparently, when enthusiastic sprinkle swimmers were done, they walked away and shed the small plastic pieces everywhere they went. City officials were not happy about the sprinkles in the storm drains, fearing that they could pollute the local waterways.
The Museum of Ice Cream was slapped with a $1,000 fine. This encouraged the institution to hire sweepers, blow sprinkles off people exiting the pool, place catch nets in the drains, and investigate a biodegradable substitute.
Microplastics lurk among salt grains and even inside them. Since sea salt is a commercial product, the plastic pellets nestle in salt shakers across the world. When somebody seasons their food, they unwittingly shake some polypropylene and polyethylene on their dinner. These are the most common fibers found in sea salt. Both hail from grocery bags, plastic bottles and caps, and containers like lunch boxes.
A 2018 study found that the problem with contaminated commercial salt was global and that the understanding of health risks to humans remains threadbare. That being said, nobody wants to eat nanoparticles of something that takes 400 years to naturally decompose.
In addition, past research showed that accumulating microplastics cause particle, chemical, and microbial hazards. If one considers the rampant rate at which salt is consumed, the threat of microplastics touches nearly everyone.
Glitter is the mainstay of every parade, festival, and crafts-loving kid. Not everyone is a fan of the pretty metallic sparkles, though. Scientists who are conscious of the mega-problem that is microplastics hate it. In fact, they despise it so much that they are calling for a worldwide ban on glitter.
It may not seem immediately obvious, but the shimmery slips are, in fact, microplastics. They resemble tinted foil but come from a plastic polymer called polyethylene terephthalate. This polymer is also marketed under the trade name Mylar.
In 2018, a chain of 19 nursery schools in England banned the use of the twinkly powder out of concern for the environment. The kids now use more nature-friendly ingredients, like colored grains, for their craft projects.
Glitter-free schools may not come easy. A survey showed that management did not take the issue seriously and that only one in every four nurseries considered banning glitter from the classroom.
When scientists trapped crustaceans in the ocean’s deepest trenches, they found something surprising: man-made fibers in the creatures’ digestive systems. In 2017, six deep-sea trenches were chosen, including the Pacific Mariana Trench which has the world’s deepest ocean point, Challenger Deep.
In turn, Challenger Deep is the habitat of amphipods. These crustaceans live 11,000 meters (36,000 ft) down, and every one that was trapped and tested had ingested microplastics. Though the other five trenches did not have a 100 percent contamination rate, none of their amphipod populations was completely plastic free.
Even the one with the lowest levels, the New Hebrides trench in the southwestern Pacific, showed that half of all animals had nibbled on plastics. On the menu were nylon fibers as well as rayon, lyocell, and ramie. The crustaceans also mistook PVC for food. PVC is used to make everything from pipes to credit cards.
Scientists also pulled polyethylene (plastic bag material) from the amphipods’ stomachs. The Mariana group now holds the record for the deepest instance of microplastic presence and consumption.
Scientists have discovered how surface-floating beads end up on the seafloor. It gets weird. The process involves a species of giant plankton, an animal that is normally invisible to the naked eye.
This Pacific type is 10 centimeters (4 in) long and lives in the middle of a mucus web that can reach 1 meter (3.25 ft) across. This so-called “house” is also a peak filter that traps food as the creature trawls.
In 2017, researchers steered a submersible over to giant plankton in Monterey Bay and fed them microplastics. The goopy creatures were then captured and kept in a tank to reveal the consequences.
The plankton behaved like plastic compactors. Their digestive systems pressed the particles together and pooped out large plastic pellets. Eventually, the plankton shed their pellet-burdened houses which then sank to the bottom of the tank.
This provided a possible answer to a mysterious mechanism—how plastic reaches the ocean floor. What is clear, though, is the threat of microplastics ending up on the dinner table again. Marine animals eat the discarded houses and pellets, introducing plastic into the food chain from yet another avenue.
The frozen world of the Arctic likes doing things big. Unfortunately, this holds true for trash, too. Scientists released a study in 2018 about ice core samples collected during the previous years, when they had encountered a double-edged situation.
For one, the samples showed a record concentration of microplastics in sea ice. When researchers counted the tiny pieces, they found 17 different types crowding at 12,000 particles per liter. The cores, all from different locations, suggested that microplastics were basically now everywhere in the ocean.
On the upside, the study showed that sea ice acts like a trap for huge quantities of microplastics, preventing filter feeders from consuming them and contaminating the food chain. However, climate change has begun to melt the frozen structures, threatening to release a massive amount of plastic back into the ocean. This could strain marine life even more. The ocean already receives yearly injections of eight million tons of plastic from the land.
A common misconception is that plastic bags are the most common form of litter in the sea. They do bob about in huge numbers, but if this were a contest, plastic bags would soundly lose to cigarette butts.
In 2014 alone, volunteers of a cleanup initiative collected two million stubs from beaches. The filter of one’s favorite smoke is a plastic called cellulose acetate, the same thing sunglasses are mostly made of. A single filter can leach thousands of microparticles into the environment. Even if biodegradable butts become mainstream, they would still pollute the earth or sea with toxins left behind from the smoking process.
For this reason, some researchers want cigarettes to be made without filters. Not just because they pose an epic threat to marine life but because companies flaunt the incorrect image that the filter is a health device. A survey showed that most smokers would rather quit than switch to an unfiltered cigarette. In turn, this might reduce the $41 million spent annually by the state of California to clean up discarded smokes.
In 2018, a British university team scooped wild mussels from eight coastal regions. The researchers also bought the popular seafood at eight different supermarkets. The shops’ names were never made public and with good reason. All their mussels carried microplastics, even imported varieties or those raised on farms.
Freshly caught ones had less pollution than mussels sold as frozen or cooked, which likely pointed to factory contamination somewhere. But it was not just a processing problem. The wild mussels that were freshly drawn from the eight local beaches were all plastic ridden. Overall, the British mussels produced an estimated 70 pieces of plastics and waste like cotton and rayon for every 100 grams consumed.
The trash ended up inside the marine animals because mussels filter seawater for food. Some scientists feel that there is no risk as plastic tends to pass unabsorbed through the human body. However, others rightly caution that the health implications of microplastics, especially nanoparticles, are poorly understood.
In 2018, the decision was made to see if microplastics had truly infiltrated all of the seas. Researchers chose an unlikely and really remote spot—the Great Australian Bight.
One of Australia’s greatest marine treasures, the area is pristine and isolated. Investigators took great measures to prevent bringing contamination along. They cleaned equipment with deionized water and filtered laboratory solutions. The staff also wore special clothing while working in a fume hood.
So, when the sediment samples showed plastic, everybody knew it did not arrive with the scientific team. The news that plastic was found far offshore and deep inside the bight was troubling for conservationists. The bight is considered one of the most untouched places left in the ocean.
Apart from proving that microplastics were likely everywhere, it also drove home the point that the problem of microplastics might be too big to overcome. They are in the air, water, homes, and food. While it remains true that the full impact on humans remains unknown, the words of one scientist give a chilling indication, “Where the plastic goes, the chemicals follow.”
When it comes to the blend that is water and microplastics, most people think about ocean pollution. True, the seas are severely plastic packed, but there exists a problem closer to home.
In 2017, a study turned on taps in over a dozen countries and analyzed the water. Disturbingly, 83 percent of all samples bobbed bits of plastic. The United States scored the highest, with 94 percent of its tap water contaminated.
Grabbing a bottle of purified water might not be the answer. In 2018, the World Health Organization got involved with the bottled water industry. This followed another study involving 259 bottles from nine countries. The contamination was even worse, hitting the 90 percent mark overall, or an average of 325 plastic bits per liter sold.
For the time being, it remains unclear how the noxious particles end up in drinking water. Culprits could include airborne microplastics from factory fans or workers’ clothing. Billions of people continue to drink plastic because no filtering system exists that can deal with the smallest nanoparticles, which are grains so small that they can enter human cells.
Each US state has its own flag. They fly over capitols, adorn courtrooms, and appear on everything from bumper stickers to coasters. They’ve become accepted parts of local culture. Few people stop and think about where the designs of these banners came from, but, in fact, each has a complex web of history, symbolism, and negotiation behind it.
The flags’ designs were far from set or certain in their early days—and were subject to just as many foibles, disputes, and mistakes as any other human endeavor. The process of getting a state flag was often far from stately.
Flag designs, like other areas of life, are subject to trends. A long-standing trend in US state flags is the tradition of putting the state seal on a blue field. Flag enthusiasts (vexillologists) tend to hate this trend, saying the “seal on a bedsheet” style is completely lazy and uncreative. For the laziest of the lazy, look no further than Nebraska.
This Midwestern state took a long time to even get around to adopting an official flag at all; the designation took place in 1963, though a design had been in common use in prior years. Flag-lovers love to hate it. A survey by the North American Vexillogical Association (NAVA) in 2001 voted it the second-worst flag in the US and Canada combined. Since the worst-ranked in that survey, Georgia’s state flag, has since been changed, Nebraska now holds the dubious distinction of having the most detested official banner.
Nebraskans don’t seem to bother about it much. In 2002, the legislature discussed creating a commission to redesign the banner; nothing came of it. In 2017, a state senator pointed out that the flag had flown upside down at the state capitol for ten days with no one noticing. He urged the legislature to redesign the flag into something state residents would actually care about, as the current design apparently inspired only apathy.
Unsurprisingly, the legislature did nothing. But their inaction proved his point!
The tale behind Utah’s flag is of a constant struggle to reconcile the will of the people with the random mistakes of flagmakers. It only took a century to iron out all the wrinkles!
The Utah flag carries classic American imagery, featuring a bald eagle and the US flag. It is actually one of the few state flags to include the national flag in its design, a sign of the state’s gratitude for being accepted into the American union. The Mormons, who form the majority of the state’s population, were long ostracized, and their admission to the US was a big victory. For the same reason, the year of that admission (1896) appears prominently on the banner, along with the year of first settlement (1847). A shield, a local sego lily, and an inspirational beehive round out the design.
The flag was adopted in 1911, when Utah was still a newly minted state, but it didn’t take long for odd issues to emerge. The following year, a local group ordered a copy of the flag to be presented to the brand new battleship USS Utah. When the banner arrived, it was wrong: The maker had colorized the shield and added a gold ring in the center. Anxious to avoid embarrassment, Utah natives apparently decided that the law was easier to change than the flag. The legislature quickly resolved that the random quirks of the flagmaker were now the official version.
It didn’t stop there. In 1922, a flagmaker departed from the established design again, this time putting the 1847 date in the wrong spot. His erroneous design became a model for other manufacturers, and the mistake went uncorrected for 89 years. It was finally brought to legislators’ attention in 2011—and this time, they decided to make the flag fit the law. All Utah flags produced since 2011, at long last, conform to the officially approved design . . . at least until some future flagmaker’s flaws become official policy once more!
Unique among American state flags, Ohio ignores the rectangular standard in favor of a swallowtail (or guidon)-shaped banner. Flag historians suggest the design is inspired by the guidons carried by Ohio cavalry units in the Civil and Spanish-American Wars—both conflicts being in living memory when the flag was approved in 1902. Despite this origin, the flag is officially called a burgee, a term usually reserved for maritime banners. This makes perfect sense for a state which has no oceanic coastline.
The red-and-white “O” that dominates the flag’s star field stands for the state’s name; it drew derisive comparisons to Japan’s rising sun flag in 1902, but Ohio has remained proud of it. Like many other state flags, the Ohio burgee pays tribute to the growing United States: The overall design is obviously inspired by the national flag, and the star layout refers to the number of states in the Union. Thirteen stars on the left represent the original states, and the four on the right represent the later additions (Ohio itself being the 17th state).
Ohio’s pride in its flag has resulted in some unusual circumstances. In 2002, the legislature approved an official salute to it, to be recited after the Pledge of Allegiance to the national flag. The burgee’s distinctive shape makes it a nightmare to fold; it required a local Boy Scout to come up with a systematic method for doing so as his his Eagle Scout service project. The 17-step process (fitting, for the 17th state) is still challenging but has found official approval. The Boy Scout saw his procedure signed into law by Ohio’s governor in 2005.
All good flags strive for meaningful symbolism. Unfortunately, some symbols persist even after they gave been proven to have no basis in fact. Such is the case with Louisiana’s flag, which is centered around a beautiful, poignant, and erroneous image.
The coastal pelican has long been associated with the state, whose Gulf Coast and many waterways define it. When the state flag was designed in 1912, it took up a symbol of pelicans that has been in use since medieval times: “the pelican in her piety.” This shows a mother pelican vulning—biting at her breast in order to tear pieces off and feed them to her chicks. As a celebration of self-sacrifice, this emblem has been popular for centuries.
Sadly, the entire thing rests on a misunderstanding. Bird experts have known for some time that pelicans don’t actually do this. Pelicans will point their bills downward when feeding chicks, to better deliver fish to their young; this might look, from a distance, like the pelican was feeding parts of itself to the chicks. The brutal reality is that starving pelicans—like most other creatures—would save themselves and leave offspring to die.
One cannot judge Louisiana too harshly, though. It’s much more elegant to promote fanciful self-sacrifice than ugly self-preservation. Presumably, no one wants to see a state flag featuring an empty nest and pelican skeletons!
Today, one tends to picture California as a place of posh and manicured culture, the glitzy land of Beverly Hills and Malibu. Yet the grizzly bear on its flag suggests something much wilder, something hearty and rough. The origin of the flag—bound up with the origin of the state itself—is definitely at the rough end of the spectrum.
In 1846, California was Mexican territory, but not for long. Weary wagon train emigrants and weather-beaten mountain men had been trickling in for some time, and they had grown tired of ineffectual Mexican rule. A band of these men gathered at the Sonoma home of the local Mexican authority, General Mariano Vallejo, on a June sunrise. A member of the group later called them “as rough-looking a set of men as one could imagine”; their buckskins and rags did not aim to impress. But their muskets and Bowie knives did.
The men gently placed a surprised Vallejo under arrest and proclaimed a new “Republic of California.” This added legitimacy to their actions. But they soon realized a new republic needed a new symbol.
The first California flag was as rough and hasty as its soldiers. A local woman found a spare rectangular piece of brown cloth lying around—this would become the foundation. One of the soldier’s wives tore off a red strip from her petticoat and sewed it to the bottom, making a stripe. Next, William Todd took over. Using a mixture of brick dust, oil, and paint, he sketched a crude star and an even cruder grizzly bear onto the banner. The star was in solidarity with Texas, another breakaway Mexican province. The grizzly was meant to evoke the intensity of the most ferocious animal in the West.
Unfortunately, Todd’s zeal exceeded his artistic ability. The bear, recalled General Vallejo, came out looking more like a pig. Nonetheless, the revolutionaries ran with it. Missing the hilarious chance to declare a Pig Republic, they raised the makeshift “bear flag” over Sonoma. It stayed the flag of the short-lived Republic of California, and in its honor, a grizzly remains on the state flag today.
At least now it actually looks like a bear.
While some states’ residents really don’t seem to care about their flags—Nebraska springs to mind—others have natives who will get into passionate fights over flags. By 1911, Kansas was one of only a handful of states without an official flag, and citizens were clamoring for one. The fight over a design started hot and remained so. It would take over a decade for the disagreements to be resolved.
Several designs looked similar to the US national flag. However, same Kansans argued that such symbolism was no more than plagiarism and would compete unfairly with the national colors. Union army veterans of the Civil War, a powerful demographic at the time, insisted on respect and voted down red, white, and blue designs. The only one they would agree on was the one eventually adopted—and whose main benefit was being deliberately unlike the national flag.
It was quite different. The flag hung down from a horizontal brass bar. The design was kept simple: a blue field with the state seal set inside a golden sunflower.
Simple did not mean uncontroversial. The horizontal-hanging banner was adopted in 1925, and it almost immediately became besieged with fresh opposition. Some complained that the sunflower was an improper symbol, since many considered it an invasive weed. Others argued that the horizontal-hanging format was ungainly. It was difficult to march with and hard to hang in contexts set up for vertical flagpoles. For this latter reason, the Kansas banner had been rejected from state flag displays in Washington, DC.
In 1927, the state legislature bowed to the pressure and approved a design modification. The horizontal-hanging format was out. The visual elements would stay, however; essentially, the design was rotated 90 degrees. No great controversy over the flag has arisen since then. Sunflower-haters, at least, seem to have made their peace with it.
All of us have times when we get excited and go off half-cocked. One would like to think that those in charge of a state flag would spend a little more time checking their work, but that doesn’t always happen. At least not in the state of Colorado.
It all started when the Colorado legislature approved an official flag for the state in 1907—unsurprisingly, it consisted of the state seal on a blue field. The legislators promptly made a half-hearted announcement, had a single copy of the flag made, and stuffed it in a closet at the state capitol.
It’s little wonder that when, three years later, a group of patriotic Coloradan ladies got together to discuss ideas for a state flag, they had no idea that one already existed. Almost no one did. The group, a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), were eager to fill this perceived gap in Colorado pride, writing that, “State loyalty is too precious to be lost.”
Arguably, the gap did exist. A state flag had been created, but without public knowledge, it couldn’t fulfill the purpose a flag is meant for. No public knowledge meant no increased sense of public identity, loyalty, or pride. The bright-eyed Colorado DAR aimed to achieve all of this and more.
They moved at a rapid pace, eventually ramming through an immensely popular version of the modern flag. However, in their enthusiasm, they forgot a few details, like specifying the shades of colors to be used or how big the iconic Colorado “C” should be. This led to multiple competing designs for half a century. Only in 1964 did the legislature finally settle on an exact design—one that all zealous Coloradans could call their own.
While the Maine state flag is unremarkable—earning another seal-on-a-blue-bedsheet designation from NAVA—there is another Pine Tree State banner with more interest behind it. That’s the state naval ensign. This subject brings to light some hidden history and possibly some decades-old copycatting by Maine legislators.
The American rebels in the Revolutionary War didn’t float just one navy against the British; they floated 12. In addition to the united Continental Navy, 11 of the individual states commissioned their own navies to protect their coastlines. These were tiny and underpowered (what later eras would call “Mosquito Fleets”), but the mere fact of having them was a gesture of state pride and self-sufficiency. Each state navy had its own official ensign, as naval flags are called. These cousins of the state militias on land disappeared after the war, as did their ensigns—except one.
Massachusetts alone kept its ensign on the books. That naval mindset must have persisted in the population when Massachusetts produced offspring: Maine, which split off to form its own state in 1820. Something made Maine citizens hang onto the idea of a state naval ensign, even though it took them over a century to realize this half-remembered dream.
In 1939, Maine officially declared its own naval ensign—despite never having its own navy—becoming the second state in modern times to do so. With such a lack of competition and a chance to make something completely unique, the legislators . . . lost their nerve. Instead, they decided to duplicate Massachusetts!
In many ways, Maine seems to act toward Massachusetts like a rebellious teenager does toward a parent: desperate to go out and be independent but never quite able to escape the elder’s influence. Thus, while Massachusetts’s naval ensign features a green pine tree on a white field, Maine has: a green pine tree on a white field with an anchor attached. To take one last stab at originality, the Maine legislature pasted a state motto on the ensign: Dirigo, Latin for “I direct.” Just as adolescents proclaim their boundless knowledge and authority.
As of this writing, these two Northeastern locales remain the only states with separate naval ensigns. Should the need for state navies ever again arise, Massachusetts will surely be two steps ahead of the rest—and Maine will be following a single step behind.
There’s a reason most flag designs are created by committees or legislatures: Making the process truly open to the public might produce a bunch of crude, bizarre, or inappropriate designs. It’s certainly hard to imagine a local government asking its teenagers to participate in a serious competition to design a flag. It’s even harder to imagine one of the youngsters winning. But the Alaskan authorities apparently trusted their youths quite a lot in 1927, and it’s a good thing they did.
In the mid-1920s, Benny Benson was much like the Alaska he was born into—young and scruffy. Son of a native woman and a poor Swedish fisherman, at the age of three, Benson lost his home and his mother in the same year (to fire and pneumonia, respectively). The children were doled out to foster care; Benny and his brother ended up in an orphanage in the Aleutian Islands.
Alaska, for its part, was still a fledgling territory. Organized in the 1880s, its progress toward statehood had been glacial. Alaskans were only granted piecemeal autonomy. Governed by far-off and distracted officials in Washington, DC, and often passed over for economic and infrastructure investment, Alaskans felt themselves the neglected stepchildren of the Union. At the time, casual observers would not have imagined bright prospects for either Alaska or Benson.
While the other states on this list came up with flags to celebrate a firmly established identity, Alaska’s territorial authorities seized on a banner as a means to affirm and define the statehood they were trying to create. Alaskan adolescents would help. A flag design contest was announced, with all 13- to 18-year-olds invited to take part. Benny Benson, then a student at the orphanage school, was just old enough to make the cut. And he had a flash of inspiration.
First, he gave the design a deep blue background, symbolizing the eventual state flower, the forget-me-not, as well as the sky over Alaska. Keeping with the celestial theme, he used the well-known constellation the Big Dipper to evoke the larger formation of which it is a part: Ursa Major, the Great Bear. For Benson, this symbolized strength. Finally, a single large star in the upper right corner represented Alaska itself, the newest and most northerly addition to the American constellation.
Benson’s design met unanimous approval. It rocketed through the selection process, beating 141 other entries; within four months, the territory had a flag of its own. Within 11 years, it had a state poem and song, each inspired by the banner. And within 32 years, Alaska finally became the 49th state in the Union. Alaska’s statehood effort had been invigorated by the flag symbol—and Benny Benson went from a poor, no-account foster child to a sensation, a respected Alaskan goodwill ambassador for the rest of his life. He and his native state had both realized their potential.
Looking at Maryland’s flag, one could be forgiven for thinking it came straight from an automobile racetrack. Yet the reality is much more profound. This distinctive banner traces its origin through British heraldry all the way to America’s most blood-soaked years.
The US Civil War pitted Northern states against Southern states, making the country a “house divided,” as Abraham Lincoln called it. Smaller houses, too, were divided. Tempers ran hot along the border between North and South—nowhere more so than in those states which had the Southern institution of slavery but remained officially part of the United States. Maryland, one of these, was split right down the middle over the war, as were many of its families.
Marylanders fought on both sides during the war and went toe to toe with each other in battles at Front Royal and Gettysburg, among others. Fittingly, Maryland units on opposing sides carried distinct battle flags, both of which recalled the state’s colonial history. Unionist Marylanders carried the black-and-yellow coat of arms of the Calvert family, noble founders of the colony; Southern sympathizers bore the red-and-white Crossland banner, representing another branch of the family. Thus, even the flags symbolized blood ties severed by a blood feud.
The war ended, eventually. The United States would remain a whole country and Maryland a unified state. Yet Maryland had suffered the ravages of pitched battles, marching armies, and martial law, and its citizens had died by the thousands. Could such a reunion-by-force ever be truly healthy again? Or would they have to live as two peoples, the victor and the vanquished, one privileged and one subjugated?
As the flag shows, they could and did become one again. It took time; scars were slow to fade. But as decades passed, memories of a shared heritage and mutual respect for each side’s wartime sacrifices began to close the wounds. A combined flag, incorporating both of the wartime designs, first flew in the Maryland city of Baltimore in 1880, on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the city. By 1904, the state legislature adopted it as the official state flag.
The Old Line State’s banner is a definitively American flag, as its essence demonstrates a core American standard. Whatever lay in Marylanders’ pasts, all of them would remain equal under the law, preserving the path to that American ideal of a country where all have a voice. This banner serves as a vibrant reminder that reconciliation is always possible, even after the worst of divisions.
David Ellrod lives in Maryland with his wife, three daughters, and one very excitable dog.
Literary geniuses are often known for their works and their lifestyles. Some are fabulous playwrights. Others produce novels and smaller books that make them famous. Many are linguists and poets who have a penchant for the odd, the quirky, and the downright strange.
Beyond their works, their lives can be filled with love, romance, depravity, and debauchery. How many literary figures can honestly fit all these amazing and wild things into their lives?
Actually, there is one man who was all these things. He was salacious, decadent, sexual, and literarily risque, and the world loved him. Born in Ireland and taking over the globe one grandiose moment at a time, Oscar Wilde rocked the world with his lush lifestyle, his decadent take on life, and his sordid and passionate love affairs.
But there is more to the life of Oscar Wilde than witticisms and Dorian Gray. He is a man that led a life that was full of brilliant languages, love affairs, and fabulous aestheticism. Wilde lived life in the fast lane when so many of the time were moving in slow motion.
Early in life, Oscar Wilde was an extremely bright child who was in love with books and literature. At an early age, he started his educational studies at Portora Royal at Enniskillen. During his time there, he began his first love affair—with Greek and Roman studies. He also won the school’s top prize for classics students as well as second prize for art and drawing during his final year.
His academic aptitude served him well as he was awarded the Royal School Scholarship to attend Trinity College in Dublin upon his graduation in 1871. At Trinity College, Wilde again showed his academic prowess by performing wonderfully. Mastering his courses in classics under the tutelage of Professor Sir John Pentland Mahaffy, Wilde ranked first in his examination in 1872, earning yet another foundation scholarship.
In 1874, Wilde’s academic successes won him the college’s Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek. He was awarded another scholarship, this time to the illustrious Oxford University. While there, he continued his studies but also became involved in the Aesthetic Movement and became an advocate for “art for art’s sake.”
In his last year at Oxford, Wilde won the Newdigate Prize for his poem “Ravenna.”
During the latter part of the 19th century, Britain was being culturally changed by the Aesthetic Movement (aka “art for art’s sake”). This cultural movement was based on the idea that beauty is the most important thing in life. Writers and other artists of the time created works based on this philosophy that were simply to be admired for their beauty and not for their narrative or moral functions.
Immediately drawn to the movement, Wilde submersed himself in the aesthetic lifestyle. He even made the grandiose claim that he was “the high priest of aesthetics” and that his messages on the ideals were to be believed because he truly worshiped the beauty of life and art.
Given his passion, he became somewhat the authority on the subject, claiming that living aesthetically was his vocation. Aestheticism to Wilde meant to break out of the preconceived notion of how one should act and behave. He believed that one should break free of those societal constraints and act in a beautiful and purely free way to achieve absolute happiness.
When one thinks of Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray immediately comes to mind as it is his most notable novel. What other novels come to mind? The correct answer would be none.
He published only one full-length novel during his lifetime. While working as an editor for Lady’s World, Wilde was struck with an intense bout of creativity, and during seven years, he created nearly all of his most significant works. 1891 marks the publication of Dorian Gray, his first and only novel.
However, during the rest of those years, Wilde was busy creating many other works, including many poetic publications. In 1888, he wrote a collection of children’s short stories titled The Happy Prince and Other Tales. As an indulgent proponent of aestheticism and the lifestyle it promoted, he produced a collection of essays titled Intentions which argued the tenets of aestheticism to the masses.
Along with poems, a novel, and other prose, Wilde was also famous in the theatrical circuit for his skills as a playwright. During the late 1800s, Wilde produced many scripts that were performed around Britain. Perhaps the best-known was The Importance of Being Earnest, a whimsical satire about Victorian society.
Yes, Wilde published many works. But beyond the scope of his literary prowess, he was in general an amazing linguist. Often referred to as the “lord of language,” Wilde used English as an actual tool to show the beautiful nature of the language itself.
He had a talent for using rhetorical devices, harmonious diction, paradoxical language, and witty dialogue to create masterful pieces of literary art. Apart from being able to write like a lyricist, Wilde was also multilingual. He studied Greek for nearly nine years. Ultimately, he became fluent in English, German, and French. Though not fluent, he was able to conversationally speak Italian and Greek.
Wilde was born and raised in Ireland and was constantly surrounded by Gaelic, the Celtic language that is the traditional formal language of Ireland. However, he could not speak the Irish language of his homeland.
Always one for humor and jest, Wilde’s supposed last words were: “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do.” Needless to say, the wallpaper won the duel in November 1900.
Though Oscar Wilde was married and sired children, perhaps his greatest remembrances about love come from his homosexual affairs. His best-known relationship started in 1891 when he met and fell for Oxford undergraduate Lord Alfred Douglas, affectionately known as “Bosie.”
Almost immediately, their love blossomed into a beautiful relationship. Bosie quickly became Oscar’s very own Dorian Gray—his muse, his evil genius, and, of course, his lover. During this time, Wilde produced many literary pieces, including Salome, which have stood the test of time as some of his greatest legacy works.
The relationship between these two men is best told through a series of imaginative and romantic love letters. Oscar and Bosie corresponded affectionately for years. Wilde wrote to Bosie, “My own Dear Boy, I can’t live without you. You are so dear, so wonderful.”
Though their love affair was romantic and storied, it came to a complete halt when Bosie’s father discovered the relationship between Wilde and Bosie.
Wilde’s lover also brought about his demise. Though they were passionate about each other, Bosie had some personality traits that made him a somewhat difficult person. He was a spoiled dandy who was debauched and extremely clever, traits which first lured Wilde to him. Bosie also leaned heavily on Wilde for money and forgiveness and, for a time, got them.
However, their relationship was quite toxic at times, which led to the demise of their great love affair and Wilde’s imprisonment. During their relationship, Wilde wrote Salome in French. Bosie translated it into English for Wilde, who did not like the translation. He felt that it was misinterpreted and mistranslated.
This caused an explosion between the two lovers and led to Bosie’s father, John Douglas of Queensberry, getting involved. Irritated by the constant trials and tribulations of his son, John Douglas wrote Bosie a letter in which he told his son that he “detested him.” However, in order to save the name of the family, John Douglas, a pious man who would not stand for homosexuality, went after Wilde.
John Douglas accused Wilde of sodomy and indecency with his son Bosie. Wilde countered with a suit of libel against John Douglas. During this time, homosexuality was not tolerated and John Douglas won the case. Meanwhile, Wilde was arrested on charges of gross indecency.
He was sentenced to two years in prison, which the judge believed to be inadequate for Wilde’s crime of being homosexual. The two-year sentence eventually broke poor Wilde both physically and emotionally. Allowed paper and pen in prison, he only wrote one piece, De Profundis (Latin for “from the depths”).
This piece was a long, harrowing letter of finality from Wilde to his lover, Bosie. It talked about their dysfunctional relationship and how Bosie’s father was the sole reason for Wilde’s trial and imprisonment. It can also be viewed as Wilde’s autobiographical attempt to understand his own life and work as it reflected on art, love, and his own character and failings.
Though his scandalous affair with Bosie took the spotlight, one man was constantly by Wilde’s side, no matter the circumstances. Often considered his first love, Robert “Robbie” Ross was Oscar’s longtime friend, lover, and confidant.
In 1886, Oscar met Ross, who is often noted as the “first boy to corrupt Oscar” because homosexuality was a crime then. Ross was also a friend of Bosie, and the three worked together on Salome. Although Wilde was imprisoned after this thanks to the Douglas crew, that did not deter young Robbie.
He never gave up on Oscar and visited him regularly in prison. Appreciating Ross’s loyalty and friendship through the years, Oscar made Ross his literary executor after his release from prison. After Wilde’s death, Ross eventually paid off Oscar’s innumerable debts to creditors as well as annulled the bankruptcy of Oscar’s estate.
Though the sexual aspect of Ross and Wilde’s relationship was small, their friendship stood the test of time and went all the way to the grave. So close were Ross and Wilde that upon his death, Ross was entombed with Oscar. The two are buried together in a monument in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” That quote is often attributed to Oscar Wilde. However, there is no substantive evidence that he ever said this.
In the extensive literary collection called The Wit and Wisdom of Oscar Wilde by Ralph Keyes, there is no record of this ever being said. Wilde did make several remarks about identity and appearance, but those were most tightly joined with his thoughts on the Aesthetic Movement and not on actually “being yourself.”
The first and closest thematic review of the quote actually dates back to 1967. Thomas Merton composed a memoir published by The Hudson Review in which he speaks of “being yourself.” This matches the tone and composition of the quote in question. Many believe that the saying, already being interpreted vaguely from Merton, was attributed to Oscar Wilde because of his many witty quotes and anecdotes.
Well after his death, Oscar Wilde was still making a name for himself. This time, it was in the swinging ’60s when both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones used Wilde in their albums.
John Lennon, an Oscar Wilde fanatic, claimed that Wilde was one of his biggest poetic role models. Adored so much by Lennon, Oscar even made the front cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, taking his spot right behind Lennon himself.
Not long after this, the Rolling Stones jumped on the Oscar Wilde bandwagon. Shortly after their infamous drug bust, Mick Jagger and the Stones released the song “We Love You.”
The song was a bit of a thank you note to friends for their support but also a cry at the unjust nature of the charges and arrest. Director Peter Whitehead was called in to make a promotional film to go along with the song based on the trial of Oscar Wilde. Mick Jagger donned the garb and aesthetic of Wilde and portrayed him in rock star fashion.
Oscar Wilde had an amazing life. Love affairs, scandals, literature, and love. The man was adored by those who knew him. Even after his death, he is beloved.
In his dark comedy, A Woman of No Importance, Oscar wrote, “A kiss may ruin a human life.” But for Oscar in the current age, a kiss is ruining his grave. For years, his admirers from around the globe have been flocking to his final resting place and kissing the monument.
However, this has caused serious concern for Wilde’s family. The lipstick was constantly seeping into and staining the stones of the grave, while cleaning the lipstick caused even more damage.
To preserve the memorial, changes were made to protect the grave from kisses. In 2011, after removing the lipstick stains and fixing the damage, protective glass was put around the tomb to keep it safe from future kisses. So next time you are in Paris, drop by and say “hi” to our beloved Oscar. Just keep your lips off him.
Hi! I’m Theta! I am a full-time librarian with a penchant for writing, animals, and all things obscure.
When we talk of border walls, the first ones that come to mind are the Berlin Wall, the North and South Korea Wall, and the wall that President Donald Trump wants to build along the US border with Mexico.
Although Trump’s proposed wall has generated arguments and counterarguments, no one seems to notice the other walls popping up elsewhere. Or the ones that have been in existence for decades. There are more walls dividing countries than we think.
The Moroccan Wall (or the “Berm”) is a 2,600-kilometer-long (1,600 mi) wall running through Western Sahara. The wall is made of 3-meter-high (10 ft) desert sand and is protected by electric fences, radar, barbed wire, Moroccan soldiers, and about seven million land mines. This makes it the world’s longest minefield and one of the world’s most guarded borders.
This is because Western Sahara is disputed territory. While most of us consider it southern Morocco, the people there say that they are part of the largely unrecognized Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The Polisario Front, which is fighting for the independence and recognition of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, controls the other half of Western Sahara just outside the wall.
The wall has not deterred the Polisario Front from launching attacks on Moroccan troops across the border. Polisario Front fighters will readily dig underneath the border to bypass the wall. The greatest losers of the Morocco–Polisario Front conflict are the inhabitants of Western Sahara, who are caught on both sides of the wall. Many of them have been killed by the land mines.
The Baghdad Wall is a 4-kilometer-long (2.5 mi) concrete barrier separating the Sunni side of Baghdad from the Shiite side. Before the wall, Sunni militia regularly launched attacks on Shiite civilians, the Iraqi military (which has a Shiite majority), and US troops. Shiite militia also launched attacks on Sunni civilians in the area.
US troops built the wall around southern Ghazaliya where the Sunni militia had a stronghold. While the wall reduced the number of murders and attacks, it has created unease among Sunnis, who fear that they are being cut off from Baghdad. Others think that the wall is not for their protection but to keep them at bay and allow the Shiite militias to deal with other Sunnis outside the wall.
Some businesses and facilities that serve the Sunni community are also outside the wall, complicating the unease. Sunni insurgents tried to destroy the wall with bombs soon after it was erected. They failed and only managed to damage a small portion that was later repaired.
Zimbabwe and Botswana are separated by a 500-kilometer-long (310 mi) and 2-meter-high (6 ft) electric fence built by Botswana. Botswana says the fence is necessary to stop the spread of foot-and-mouth disease brought by cattle smuggled from Zimbabwe.
If this is true, it is clear why Botswana was concerned about the disease. At the time the wall was proposed in 2003, Botswana was facing a foot-and-mouth disease epidemic that left farmers killing thousands of cattle. This posed a threat to its economy, in which cattle rearing was the second major source of income.
Zimbabwe says the fence has nothing to do with the disease. Instead, it is an attempt by Botswana to keep Zimbabweans out. Zimbabwe was experiencing inflation and severe unemployment at the time that the fence was proposed, leaving many to illegally cross the border to neighboring Botswana.
Curiously, Botswana never turned on the electric fence and did not patrol it to stop people or animals from crossing illegally.
South Africa has an electric fence erected along its borders with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In 1990, the Mozambique portion of the fence, which locals called the “Snake of Fire,” was fingered for the death of hundreds of civilians fleeing the Mozambican Civil War. The electric fence delivered a deadly 3,500-volt shock to anyone who touched it.
Electric fences are usually available in lethal and nonlethal variants. The nonlethal ones could deliver shocks up to 10,000 volts in milliseconds. This is enough to stop people from attempting to breach the fence. But considering the short period of contact, it is not enough to kill.
The lethal variant, the type used in South Africa, delivers continuous shocks that will kill a person. Lucky survivors usually suffered serious burns or lost body parts.
The South African Catholic Bureau for Refugees claimed that the fence killed over 200 civilians every year. Meanwhile, the South African Defense Force claimed that only 89 people died in three years. Whichever is true, the fence killed more people than the Berlin Wall did in 28 years. An entire industry even crept up around evading the fence with Mozambique civilians paying guides to show them routes.
An alternative was to walk through the fenceless area that leads straight into the South African Kruger National Park, which is renowned for its pride of lions. A typical journey through the park into mainland South Africa took 24 hours, enough time to get hunted and eaten by hungry lions. Soldiers guarding the park often reported seeing the remains of people eaten by lions.
Some lions even turned into man-eaters, abandoning their normal game for human flesh. They became so bold that they started attacking and killing reserve wardens for food. The fence still exists today, but it is no longer electrified or guarded. It has been cut in several places and has mostly fallen into disrepair.
Peace Walls are not a single barrier but a series of over 60 different walls that divide Belfast, Northern Ireland. In some places, the walls are nothing but short wooden fences, and in others, they are high concrete walls. The barriers were erected during the Troubles to keep the religiously and politically different unionists and nationalists apart.
Before the walls, people from both sides launched attacks. The walls slowly started creeping up around neighborhoods prone to this violence. At the time, the walls made residents feel safer.
Weirdly, most of the walls were erected after the end of the Troubles. They are slowly being demolished and are projected to be entirely destroyed by 2023.
Project Wall is a planned 2,000-kilometer-long (1,200 mi) border fence and trench system separating Ukraine from Russia. It is funded by Ukraine and intended to prevent another Russian invasion. Ukraine started erecting the fence after Russia successfully annexed Crimea. The fence is still under construction and might never be completed considering current events.
Ukraine does not have enough money to complete the fence, and the little it has expended is being stolen by corrupt contractors and border guards. Most of the fenced part of the border is also compromised and not built up to standards. So far, Ukraine has only managed to dig 273 kilometers (169 mi) of trenches and to fence 83 kilometers (52 mi) of the border.
Some defense analysts are skeptical about the effectiveness of the fence and trench. The fence is unguarded, and the trench is unlikely to slow down Russian tanks. Ukraine has shifted the planned date of completion from 2018 to 2021. Its government says that it cannot fund the fence alone and will find other European nations to help it with the cost. Russia is also erecting a fence to separate Crimea from Ukraine.
The Great Wall is a 966-kilometer-long (600 mi) fence and trench system that separates Saudi Arabia from Iraq. The Saudis first considered erecting the fence in 2006 over fears that belligerents of the Iraqi Civil War could launch cross-border strikes into Saudi territory.
In 2014, Saudi Arabia began construction after watching ISIS grab a huge chunk of Iraq’s territory just at its border. The Saudis feared that ISIS was preparing to launch an invasion into its territory.
The wall is protected by five parallel fences, watchtowers, surveillance equipment, and over 30,000 soldiers. While the fence was still under construction in 2015, ISIS attacked a border post to stop the Saudis from completing the project. Three border guards were killed in the attack. One was General Oudah al-Belawi, who commanded border operations in Saudi Arabia’s north.
Besides the Iraqi border, Saudi Arabia is also building a 1,600-kilometer-long (1,000 mi) wall along its border with Yemen.
Ceuta and Melilla are two Spanish cities in North Africa. Both are considered a part of Spain even though they share borders with Morocco. There is regular ferry service between the cities and mainland Spain.
This has resulted in African migrants fleeing to both cities by sneaking in on ferries going to Spain. As a result, Spain erected fences along the borders which both cities share with Morocco to stop the migrants from coming in.
The European Union also doles out millions of euros to Spain and Morocco to stop the migrants from sneaking into these cities and, consequently, into Europe through mainland Spain. The fence in Melilla is 11 kilometers (7 mi) long. It consists of three parallel fences, complete with blades, alarms, and pepper gas. The pepper gas have been deactivated for now.
Unlike the other walls we have mentioned, the Egypt-Gaza wall is an underground wall. It was constructed to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza through underground tunnels from Egypt. Israel has a tight blockade on Gaza and strictly controls what can and cannot be imported. This has created problems for people importing items like food.
To bypass the borders, people have taken to smuggling items through tunnels dug from Egypt. Hamas controls these tunnels. It provides lighting and collects taxes on the smuggled products. Hamas also has its own secret tunnels that it uses to transport weapons. Although the wall was built to target these secret tunnels, it will also affect the regular tunnels used to transport food and similar crucial items.
Egypt says the underground wall is 10 kilometers (6 mi) long and cannot be cut or melted. It was built with the aid of the US. Israel itself is building an underground wall above and beneath its 64-kilometer-long (40 mi) border with Gaza.
The underground wall is intended to counter the tunnels used by Hamas to launch attacks into Israel. Israel has not revealed the depth of the wall but says that it will be completed in 2019.
Seventy percent of India’s 4,100-kilometer-long (2,500 mi) border with Bangladesh is fenced. The 2.4-meter-high (8 ft) fence has barbed wire and, in some places, electric fence. The structure was erected in the 1980s after violence broke out in the Indian state of Assam over illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the state. Nevertheless, the fence has failed to achieve its purpose because Bangladeshi immigrants and even terrorists still get through.
Corrupt border guards collect bribes from illegal Bangladeshi immigrants to allow them into the country. Some illegal immigrants also use fake papers to beat the system. Others just pass through the rivers at the border, areas which are obviously unfenced and account for 1,116 kilometers (693 mi) of the border.
India has also been criticized for the heavy-handed manner with which it keeps out illegal Bangladeshi migrants. Indian border guards killed 900 Bangladeshis between 2001 and 2010.
Some were not even illegal immigrants. They only happened to be Bangladeshi farmers with farms close to the border. Others were killed while returning to Bangladesh after illegally crossing the border to visit relatives on the Indian side.
Serial killers are known to be lethal with weapons in their hands, but they can also incite fear with their pens as the following creepy letters have proved. They were written by some of the most notorious and twisted killers in history.
The letters became tools to taunt the police, make demands, hurt the victims’ families, or make chilling confessions. Each one was likely written with the same hand that the killer used to slay his victims.
Creepy serial killer Albert Fish was known as “The Boogeyman” as he preyed on small children and was a suspect in at least five brutal child murders. In 1928, he kidnapped 10-year-old Grace Budd. Then he murdered her and cannibalized her remains at an abandoned house in Westchester County, New York.
Afterward, Fish sent a letter to Budd’s mother describing in horrifying detail how he murdered the young girl. He wrote:
When all was ready, I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked, she began to cry and tried to run downstairs. I grabbed her, and she said she would tell her mama. How she did kick, bite, and scratch. I (then) cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms, cook and eat it.
The letter became the downfall of Fish as police were able to trace the killer from the unique branding on the envelope he had sent.
Donald Harvey was a former orderly in hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky during the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, he killed an estimated 37 patients. However, the real victim count is believed to be much higher as Harvey claimed the figure is closer to 70. His killing spree “began by accident” after hooking up a patient to an empty oxygen tank, and then he just couldn’t stop.
The cold-blooded killer never showed any remorse for his crimes. In one interview, he said, “Some of those (patients) might have lasted a few more hours or a few more days, but they were all going to die. I know you think I played God, and I did.”
In a chilling letter that he wrote behind bars, the serial killer joked, “Lord, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and the wisdom to hide the bodies of those people I had to kill because they pissed me off.”
Dr. H.H. Holmes was a twisted serial killer who built a “Murder Castle” in Chicago with the intention to kill as many victims as possible. The 100-room building had long, winding corridors that would disorient victims. It also had trapdoors, false walls, and gas chambers. Holmes then sold the cadavers to medical research institutions, and the organs were traded on the black market.
On April 11, 1896, he wrote a full letter of confession to the Philadelphia North American newspaper:
I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing. I was born with the “Evil One” standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.
One month later, he was hanged at Moyamensing Prison for his crimes.
Gary Ridgway became known as the “Green River Killer” after he confessed to murdering 48 sex workers and runaways in the state of Washington during the 1980s and 1990s. Ridgway said, “I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
In 1984, he wrote a letter about the murders titled “what you need to know about the green river man” and sent it to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. In disturbing detail, the killer wrote about necrophilia and cutting off the fingernails of victims before signing off as “callmefred.”
Police claimed that it was a “brazen attempt to throw off investigators.” At the time, they did not follow up on this key evidence. Ridgway’s game of playing cat and mouse with the police finally came to an end in 2001 when DNA evidence connected him to the murders. He was spared the death penalty as part of a plea bargain where he disclosed the locations of the missing bodies. His plea bargain raised his murder convictions to 49.
The “Moors Murderers,” Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, killed five children between 10 and 17 years old in the early 1960s. Three graves were discovered on Saddleworth Moor in Manchester, England, but the killers never revealed the final resting place of their other victims. Hindley claimed that she was under Brady’s spell and that she took part in the crimes against her will. However, he tells a different story.
In one letter that he wrote from prison to a journalist, Brady explained:
Hindley has crafted a Victorian melodrama in which she portrays herself as being forced to murder serially. We both habitually carried revolvers and went for target practice on the moors. If I were mistreating her, she could have shot me dead at any time. For 30 years, she said she was acting out of love for me; now she maintains she killed because she hated me—a completely irrational hypothesis. In character, she is essentially a chameleon, adopting whatever camouflage will suit and voicing whatever she believes the individual wishes to hear. She can kill, both in cold blood or in a rage.
The Axeman of New Orleans is an unidentified serial killer who butchered six victims and injured 12 others in 1918 and 1919. A letter believed to be from the killer was published in newspapers and claimed that he would spare anyone who was playing jazz music.
Dated March 13, 1919, the anonymous killer wrote:
I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it out on that specific Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.
Then the murders suddenly stopped as quickly as they had started. The crimes remain unsolved to this day.
Over a three-week span in 2002, the “Beltway snipers” killed 10 people in the states of Maryland and Virginia. (Another seven individuals were murdered elsewhere.) John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo shot each victim with a single bullet fired from a distance. Then the killers vanished.
They wrote down their demands in a three-page letter with a cover note that read, “For you, Mr. Police. Call Me God.” They demanded $10 million in “unlimited withdrawals” or the lives of children in the area would be threatened. The letter was left pinned to a tree outside a restaurant where the snipers had shot and wounded a man who was out to dinner with his wife.
They were eventually caught when one of the snipers mentioned an unsolved murder in Montgomery, Alabama, in a traced phone call. Authorities were able to link both of the murders with fingerprints and make an arrest. Muhammad was put to death by lethal injection, and Malvo received a life sentence.
Dennis Rader gave himself the title “BTK” after his chilling murder method of “Bind, Torture, Kill.” Between 1974 and 1991, Rader killed 10 people in Sedgwick County, Kansas, with gaps in between to dedicate more of his time to being a family man. Rader believed that he could outwit the police, so he sent them taunting letters.
One of his poorly written letters read:
When this monster enter my brain, I will never know. But, it here to stay. Society can be thankfull (sic) that there are ways for people like me to relieve myself at time by daydreams of some victim being torture and being mine. It a big compicated (sic) game my friend of the monster play putting victims number down, follow them, checking up on them waiting in the dark, waiting, waiting. Maybe you can stop him. I can’t. He has areadly (sic) chosen his next victim.
He signed it, “Yours, Truly Guiltily, BTK.”
He was caught after he upgraded his technology and sent his letters on a floppy disc, which was immediately traced to him.
The terrifying case of Jack the Ripper still haunts London today. In 1888, the chilling serial killer targeted impoverished areas around Whitechapel. The bodies of his victims were discovered with their throats cut open and with abdominal mutilations.
On September 27, 1888, the Central News Agency received this letter (which they believed was a hoax):
The next job I do, I shall clip the lady’s ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly, wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck. Yours truly, Jack the Ripper.
Three days later, a double murder took place. True to his word, the ripper cut a portion of the earlobe off his victims. The case has never been solved.
In the late 1960s, the Zodiac Killer targeted four men and three women between the ages of 16 and 29 in Benicia, Vallejo, Lake Berryessa, and San Francisco. Five victims were killed during his reign of terror. He sent several letters, including four cryptograms, to the local Bay Area press. It’s believed that his true identity will be revealed if the ciphers can be decoded.
Only one of the ciphers has ever been solved. Schoolteacher Donald Harden and his wife, Bettye, cracked the code which reads:
I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FORREST BECAUSE MAN IS THE MOST DANGEROUE ANAMAL OF ALL TO KILL SOMETHING GIVES ME THE MOST THRILLING EXPERENCE IT IS EVEN BETTER THAN GETTING YOUR ROCKS OFF WITH A GIRL THE BEST PART OF IT IS THAE WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN PARADICE AND ALL THEI HAVE KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES I WILL NOT GIVE YOU MY NAME BECAUSE YOU WILL TRY TO SLOI DOWN OR ATOP MY COLLECTIOG OF SLAVES FOR MY AFTERLIFE. EBEORIETEMETHHPITI.
The unsolved ciphers still frustrate the FBI.
Cheish Merryweather is a true crime fan and an oddities fanatic. Can either be found at house parties telling everyone that Charles Manson was only 157 centimeters (5’2″) or at home reading true crime magazines. Twitter: @thecheish
King Henry VIII is probably the best-known English ruler of all time. The subject of countless stories, TV programs, and movies, Henry VIII is most famous for being hugely fat, having a fixation with beheadings, and for having no fewer than six wives during the course of his nearly 38-year reign.
However, it might surprise you to learn that there was a lot more to this Tudor king than meets the eye. Henry VIII did a lot more during his reign than order executions and gain weight. Here, we look at ten amazing things that we bet you were never told about this much-married monarch.
All of the portraits that we see today of King Henry usually show him as a massively overweight old man with a beard. However, in his younger days, he was actually known as a bit of a sex symbol. He wasn’t only popular with the ladies because of his money and power—Henry was also hugely admired for his good looks. Clean-shaven for much of his life, Henry was very tall for the time at 191 centimeters (6’3″) and had a full head of extremely striking red hair.
Henry also had an athletic build thanks to his love of jousting, hunting, and tennis, and he was especially famous for his fine calves—the equivalent of having a six-pack today! It was only after a jousting accident in his later years led to a permanent leg injury which prevented him from exercising that he put on weight and turned into the enormous mountain of a man that we recognize from the movies.
Although he is arguably the most famous English monarch of all time, Henry VIII should never have ascended to the throne. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, his father, Henry VII, seized the throne from King Richard III after the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and therefore wasn’t the rightful king of England. In fact, Henry VII’s claim to the throne was extremely tenuous; he was the great-great-grandson of King Edward III’s fourth son with his third wife. Should the line of succession have continued, Henry would never have gotten anywhere near the crown!
Also, Henry VIII had an older brother named Arthur, who should have succeeded to the throne on his father’s death. Unfortunately, Arthur died when he was just 15, leaving Henry as the only male heir.
While we know that Henry VIII was overweight in his later years, it’s hard to imagine just how big he was. However, a quick look at his daily diet makes it easy to see just why the king was so big. Every single day, he would eat about 13 different courses, mainly made up of meats like chicken, lamb, pork, rabbit, swans, peacocks, and venison. Not only did he eat excessively, but he also drank as many as 70 pints of ale every week, together with sweetened red wine.
The total amounts to about 5,000 calories per day, twice today’s recommended allowance for an active man. It’s no wonder that one of his surviving suits of armor, which is displayed at the Tower of London, has a waist size of 132 centimeters (52 in)!
Although he ran through an amazing six wives during his lifetime, it’s likely that Henry VIII wasn’t very adventurous when it came to activities in the bedroom. We know that Henry had numerous mistresses over the years, some of whom he had children with, but there is no evidence that he tried any unusual sexual practices with them.
Although he had a great love of women, it appears that he preferred to stick to tried and tested lovemaking techniques and was reportedly shocked by Anne Boleyn’s sexual knowledge when she finally gave in to his demands. In fact, her “French bedroom practices” were cited against her when she was brought to trial for witchcraft and adultery and no doubt led to her being accused of sleeping with “a hundred men” before being found guilty and executed by the sword.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Henry VIII was an extremely intelligent and well-educated man. The fact that he was fluent in at least three languages is well-known, and he had an impressive knowledge that spanned everything from theology to medicine. Yet most people are completely unaware that he was the first king of England to write and publish his own book.
In 1521, Henry VIII published the rather confusingly titled Defense of the Seven Sacraments, or, to give it its Latin title, Assertio Septem Sacramentorum, as a response to Martin Luther’s challenge to the pope’s authority in publishing the Ninety-five Theses. At 30,000 words long, Henry’s book became a top seller in its day, and he was actually awarded the title of “Defender of the Faith” by the pope as a reward for his efforts.
For generations, people have associated the song “Greensleeves” with Henry VIII; however, the Tudor monarch didn’t actually compose this piece of music. While this ballad was almost certainly penned by someone at Henry’s royal court, Henry himself was not responsible for its creation.
Nevertheless, the king was a very accomplished musician, skilled at playing the lute and the recorder, and he did compose a number of musical pieces, including “Pastime with Good Company.” Perhaps the best surviving example of his musical genius comes in the form of the Henry VIII Manuscript, a collection of over 100 instrumental pieces and songs which were composed by a number of foreign and court musicians in Henry VIII’s entourage. Almost a third of this collection, no less than 33 of the pieces, were composed by King Henry himself.
Even when he was young and healthy, Henry had a terrible fear of death and illness. He was especially afraid of catching the plague or sweating sickness, two diseases which were rife in England during Henry’s time. He was so desperate to avoid infection that he kept well away from anyone who may have been exposed to an illness, and when a bout of the sweating sickness arrived in London during 1517 and 1518, Henry left the city for almost a full year. He even refused at one point to see his ambassadors because he was so afraid of catching the sweating sickness, and despite his great passion for Anne Boleyn in 1528, he refused to go anywhere near her until she had made a full recovery from the disease.
It’s possible that the death of his brother Arthur at the tender age of 15 was the cause of Henry’s hypochondria, but his dreadful fear of illness was so great that he required his physicians to examine him every morning of his life. He even learned as much as he could about the medicine of the day, making his own remedies from a hidden cabinet of ingredients in his apartments.
One of the facts that everyone knows about Henry VIII was his difficulty in producing a male heir to his throne, but today, it is believed that, in fact, it was Henry’s blood that was to blame for the problem. There is a modern theory which suggests that Henry may have had a rare blood type which was positive for the Kell antigen group. This would have meant that if he got a woman pregnant and the resulting baby was also Kell-positive, their mother would then develop Kell antibodies which would attack future fetuses.
Since Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn both experienced several miscarriages in later pregnancies, and Henry’s two sons, the legitimate Edward VI and Henry Fitzroy, his illegitimate son with his mistress Bessie Blount, were both the result of first pregnancies, this theory is a strong possibility.
Most people are aware that Henry VIII had a terrible temper and was prone to outbursts of rage, but the reasons for this remain unknown. Henry was famous in his day for his unpredictable behavior, especially during his later life, and his courtiers often experienced his wrath firsthand. He beheaded more people during his reign than any other British monarch, and many of the people who met their grisly end at his hands were his closest friends and relatives. Not only did he condemn two of his wives to an untimely death, but he also signed death warrants for a number of his intimate advisors and companions, including Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More.
Recent theories have suggested that Henry may have suffered from a condition called McLeod syndrome, which causes cognitive impairments as well as a number of other physical problems such as mobility issues, which Henry also experienced. Since McLeod syndrome also has links to people who have Kell-positive blood, it looks increasingly likely that Henry may have been a sufferer of this rare condition.
Portraits of England’s best-known monarch usually depict him wearing an impressive set of whiskers. However, it isn’t widely known that Henry introduced a tax which was levied on the wearing of beards and which turned facial hair into a status symbol overnight. There have been some seriously bizarre taxes over the years, but Henry’s beard tax has to be one of the strangest. In 1535, the king demanded that taxes be paid by any man who chose to wear a beard, and the amount charged varied depending on the social status of its wearer, meaning that every man who wanted to be viewed as high-status immediately decided to grow their facial hair.
So, there you have it—ten amazing things that you never knew about England’s not-so merry monarch. The next time you see a movie or TV show featuring this Tudor king, you’ll know a little more about what made him tick!
Originally trained as an actress, in a former life I worked as a secretary and an early years teacher before falling into freelance writing almost by accident! Today, I write all kinds of content, from reviews and blog posts to entire websites, but my true passions are musicals and history.
Serial killers don’t just come out of nowhere. They often have a history of antisocial behavior throughout infancy and early adolescence. Psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis of New York University concluded that a murderer is made through a lethal combination of childhood abuse, neurological disturbances, and psychiatric illness.
As FBI profiler Jim Clemente explained, “Genetics loads the gun, their personality and psychology aim it, and their experiences pull the trigger.”
The following early warning signs are all attributed to some of the most cold-blooded and heartless serial killers ever known. If only someone would have seen it coming.
The Macdonald triad was first suggested by psychiatrist J.M. Macdonald in his 1963 paper, “The Threat to Kill.” Macdonald had compared 48 psychotic patients with 52 nonpsychotic patients who all displayed violent tendencies. The research suggested that three particular behaviors in early childhood “figure prominently in the ranks of serial murderers.”
One of those behaviors was enuresis (bed-wetting). Although this is common in childhood, it would become a concern if the bed-wetting continued twice a week for at least three consecutive months after age 5. The child might become humiliated or frustrated by his constant bed-wetting as many parents would ridicule a child for this behavior.
Serial killer Albert Fish, who was responsible for three child murders in the early 1900s, was a known bed-wetter until age 11. Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins Jr., who claims to have killed more than 100 people although he was only convicted of nine murders, also was a persistent bed-wetter throughout his childhood.
Macdonald also theorized that arson, or fire-setting, was another early behavioral trait that could be linked to violent tendencies later in life. Fire-setting is a potential warning sign that you have a murderer in the making on your hands as he is looking to destroy anything he can.
Serial killer Ottis Toole, who was convicted of six counts of murder, was also a serial arsonist from a young age and admitted to being sexually aroused by fire. The sinister American drifter claimed that he drew a sense of excitement from seeing the flames—the bigger the flames, the bigger the thrill.
Toole had a troubled childhood. He has often spoken about suffering sexual abuse at a young age. His Satanist grandmother also exposed him to many dark rituals, including self-mutilation.
The setting of fires is linked to a mixture of emotions, including power, excitement, and revenge. Toole might have enjoyed experiencing all three when he was a helpless child.
The third behavior in the Macdonald triad is harming small animals. Young children who pull on a dog’s tail or yank at a cat’s whiskers are not necessarily out to harm the animal. They are more likely acting out of curiosity.
Mistreatment of animals, including repeated violence without remorse, is linked to troubled children who later become serious offenders in their adult lives. Sixty percent of children who have suffered previous abuse themselves have turned to mistreating animals.
Serial killer Edmund Kemper—who butchered his own mother, his mother’s best friend, six female students, and his own paternal grandparents—started torturing animals from a young age. At 10 years old, he buried his cat alive. Then he dug it up and displayed the head on a spike as a “trophy.” At age 13, he used a machete to chop off the head of his replacement cat.
Writer Harold Schechter noted, “Animal torture isn’t a stage. It’s a rehearsal.”
A study found that the majority of notorious serial killers had suffered head injuries in childhood. Elaine Whitfield Sharp, defense attorney and expert in head trauma cases, said that these early injuries are connected to a lack of empathy in later life. She explained, “It doesn’t matter whether the frontal lobe damage is psychiatric or traumatic. The result is the same. Gross lack of empathy.”
Richard Ramirez (aka the “Night Stalker”) had a dresser fall on his head, and he needed 30 stitches when he was just five. John Wayne Gacy Jr. (aka the “Killer Clown”) suffered from blackouts when his head was struck by a swing at age 11.
When David Berkowitz (aka “Son of Sam”) was eight, he was hit on the head with a pipe, causing a 10-centimeter (4 in) gash. Albert Fish (aka the “Boogeyman”) suffered a severe head trauma when he fell from a tree at age seven. Dennis Rader (aka the “BTK Killer”) also stated that his mother had accidentally dropped him on his head as an infant.
One of the first signs of psychopathy in adolescence is extreme antisocial behavior such as persistent aggression. The Institute of Psychiatry stated that about 5 percent of children have a severe level of antisocial behavior which later develops into psychopathy. For 30 percent of children displaying this behavior, it can be attributed to genetics. For others, it’s due to a difficult, traumatic, or neglectful upbringing.
One example of early psychopathy occurred when Ted Bundy was three years old. He had already begun to show an interest in knives. His “aunt” recalled a young Bundy pulling back her bedsheets as she slept and slipping three butchers knives beside her. (His “aunt” was really his biological mother. Bundy was an illegitimate child, so he was raised by his grandparents.)
Serial killer Carroll Cole committed his first murder when he drowned a school friend in a lake. He later confessed to the killing, which was believed to have been an accident until then.
Children who witness violence, either as victims or as observers, can become desensitized in the long term. Those who are affected can adopt the perception that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems.
Criminologist Dr. Adrian Raine explained that both biological and social factors surrounding violence in childhood contribute to antisocial behavior in adolescence. In his book, The Anatomy of Violence, he explained, “Genetics and environment work together to encourage violent behavior.”
Most notable was the severe violence witnessed in childhood by serial killer Richard Ramirez. His older cousin, Miguel Ramirez, had returned from the Vietnam War and told a young Richard details of the torture and mutilation of Vietnamese women. Miguel even showed him photographic evidence of what the victims endured.
When Richard was 13 years old, he witnessed Miguel murder his wife. Before Richard Ramirez was captured in 1985, he murdered at least 13 people and tortured dozens more, earning him the name “The Night Stalker.”
Five psychiatric disorders are believed to have genetic links—autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Looking at the DNA of more than 30,000 people who had been diagnosed with one of these mental or behavioral conditions, researchers found specific variations in the genetic code that were significantly associated with these conditions.
Many notorious serial killers have a history of mental illness within the family. Aileen Wuornos’s father, who was behind bars for sexually molesting a minor, was diagnosed as schizophrenic and hanged himself when Wuornos was 13 years old.
Albert Fish also came from a family with severe mental illness. His uncle suffered from mania, his two siblings were incarcerated in mental institutions, and his mother suffered from visual hallucinations.
The mother of child torturer and murderer Rose West underwent electroconvulsive therapy following a struggle with depression while she was pregnant with West. Rose’s father was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which made him prone to violent attacks.
Childhood voyeurism and early promiscuity are common traits among notorious serial killers. Engaging intimately with others, behavior that included undressing in public or being a “Peeping Tom,” are also traits connected to antisocial behavior.
Criminologist Eric Hickey stated in Serial Killers and their Victims, “The fact [that] certain serial murderers have insisted that pornography was a major factor in their killing young women and children cannot be ignored.” He explained that the four steps are addiction to the images, an increased appetite for those images, desensitization to the violence, and acting out the images.
Ted Bundy confessed that he would look through the windows of neighbors who might be caught undressing when he was a young boy. In his final interviews, he admitted that pornography had an impact on his violent tendencies: “Pornography can reach in and snatch the kid out of any house today. It snatched me out of my home.”
Parents who are manipulated by their children are often locked in a power struggle, much like a tug-of-war. The more the parents attempt to control the child, the more the child will act up.
Behavior such as compulsive lying, destruction of toys, emotional blackmail, or violent tantrums are tactics an antisocial child might apply as a means to control his parents. Psychologist Robert D. Hare, who created the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, notes that cunning and manipulative behavior are one of the signs of psychopathy.
In another study, researchers focused on callous-unemotional (CU) pre-psychopathic behavior and asked parents questions about their child’s deceitful-callous (DC) behavior. The five items considered DC behavior are: The child doesn’t seem guilty after misbehaving, punishment doesn’t change behavior, the child is selfish/won’t share, the child lies, and the child is sneaky and tries to get around his parents.
The study found that toddlers who rated high on the DC scale developed significant behavior problems later in life.
When a child is told that he “always has his head in the clouds,” it’s often just a harmless jibe. Yet what might go unnoticed is just how far the child is willing to delve into his fictional world.
Fantasy can relieve fear and anxiety. But other compulsive forms of escapism are often seen among children who have suffered abuse, neglect, or trauma. The fantasy will play like a loop—which the child will happily return to for his own satisfaction—much like a serial killer’s desire to claim victim after victim.
Serial killer Edmund Kemper confessed, “I knew long before I started killing that I was going to be killing; that it was going to end up like that. The fantasies were too strong. They were going on for too long and were too elaborate.”
Jeffrey Dahmer and David Berkowitz also revealed that they had periods of intense fantasies throughout their youth. Most serial killers have already imagined their first murder in great detail long before they’ve fully committed to the idea.
Cheish Merryweather is a true crime fan and an oddities fanatic. Can either be found at house parties telling everyone that Charles Manson was only 157 centimeters (5’2″) or at home reading true crime magazines. Twitter: @thecheish
From approximately 23 million to 2.6 million years ago, the megalodon shark (aka Carcharocles megalodon or “the Meg”) was one of the largest and most powerful apex predators to have ever lived. This gigantic beast stalked the oceans, doing little else other than devouring everything in its path—it was the ultimate killing machine.
With credit to researchers who have studied the fossils of the Meg, we now know more about this nightmare of the ocean than ever before. Although the facts are fascinating, they are far from comforting. Megalodon was a shark ripped right from a monster movie.
On Earth, there are five large oceans covering 71 percent of the surface and holding over 1.3 billion cubic kilometers (312 million mi3) of water. With that size in mind, it’s no surprise that we have only mapped less than ten percent of the global ocean using modern sonar technology. We really might not know what is lurking underneath the water’s surface.
In 1928 and 1933, sightings of a “monstrous” shark greater than 12 meters (40 ft) in length were reported off the coast of Rangiora, New Zealand (by the same people both times). Most notably in 1918, Australian naturalist David G. Stead spoke to men who were fishing near Broughten Island, New South Wales. They revealed to him that a shark the size of a blue whale had turned up and devoured all of their crayfish pots, which were approximately 1 meter (3.3 ft) in diameter. The men explained that as the shark passed by, the water had “boiled over a large space,” and they were too afraid to return to the water. Despite these recent sightings, experts still believe the Meg went extinct 2.6 million years ago.
The average megalodon weighed 50 to 70 tons and measured roughly 11 to 13 meters (36–43 ft) in length, but the largest individuals weighed possibly as much as 100 tons and may have reached up to 20 meters (66 ft) long. Either way, megalodon was one of the most powerful predators in the water. If you imagine razor-sharp teeth attached to a beast the size of a double-decker bus, then that’s what we’re working with here. Kronosaurus and Liopleurodon from the Mesozoic Era were big but not even close to this size, as they only weighed in at a maximum of 40 tons.
The killing method of the Meg was brutal; unlike other sharks that would attack the soft tissue of their prey like the underbelly or fins, megalodon was able to bite right through the bone. One whale fossil discovered by scientists showed compression fractures from below, caused by the Meg ramming its head into the soft belly of the whale, which would stun the prey before it was devoured. Scientists also believe megalodons traveled in groups, allowing them even more power in numbers.
The name “megalodon” translates to “big tooth,” and it certainly lived up to the name. The teeth range in size from 7 to 18 centimeters (3–7 in), and tooth hunters are always on the lookout to find more for their collections. However, an 18-centimeter tooth for sale is rare, and only a handful have ever been found, so they command price tags into the tens of thousands of dollars. The 8-centimeter (3 in) teeth of the great white shark would be baby teeth to the Meg.
This beast of the oceans would lose its teeth rapidly, dropping as many as 20,000 in its lifetime, often from biting into prey. Luckily, they had five rows of teeth, so there were always plenty of back-ups. Most megalodon teeth that are sold online will have been worn down from excessive feeding, proving this was one giant that was always hungry.
When you’re a big beast, you’re going to have a big appetite. The open jaws of the Meg could measure up to 3.4 meters by 2.7 meters (11 x 8.9 ft). They would feast on prey of all different sizes, from smaller animals, including dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles, right up to large humpback whales. Due to their powerful jaws, with a bite force of between approximately 110,000 and 180,000 Newtons, the Meg could do severe damage to a whale’s skull.
Fossilized whale bones have been recovered with the Meg’s teeth marks etched on the surface, showing their eating habits millions of years ago. Some bones even have the tips of the teeth still embedded, which had likely broken off during a feeding frenzy. Today, great white sharks will still attack humpback whales, but they tend to prey more on the calves, adults who are sick, or those in distress for an easier kill.
During the peak of their existence, megalodons could be found in oceans all around the world. The remaining fossils that belonged to these monsters have been found in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, the Canary Islands, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malta, the Grenadines, and India. If it was underwater at the time and there was food to be had—you can bet a Meg lived there.
They also had a long life span of around 20 to 40 years, but the healthiest and best-fed megalodons would live for even longer. Another advantage they had was being a homeothermic animal, which meant they were able to maintain a stable internal body temperature regardless of their environment, so the oceans were without limits for them. Although it’s unlikely we might come across a megalodon ever again, let’s not forget that the Yeti crab was only discovered in 2005, when explorers took a submarine 2,200 meters (7,200 ft) below the surface to find them living on hydrothermal vents. Never say never.
It’s difficult to believe that a beast the size of the Meg could be found anywhere but the deepest parts of the ocean. However, recent findings prove that they did venture close to shores to give birth, as these predators preferred to do so in the shallow, warm waters close to the coasts.
Researchers at the University of Florida confirmed they had discovered fossils from a ten-million-year-old megalodon nursery located in Panama. They found more than 400 fossil teeth, collected from the shallows, which belonged to juvenile Megs. Other nurseries were found in the Bone Valley region of Florida and the Calvert Cliffs in Maryland. Although the newborns were still big in size, averaging 2.1 to 4 meters (7–13 ft), they were still vulnerable to predators, such as other sharks. As a newborn in the ocean, almost nowhere is safe, but megalodons did their best to give their young a winning chance.
Not only was the Meg huge—it was also really fast. In 1926, researcher M. Leriche made a breakthrough discovery, uncovering a vertebral column of a single megalodon containing 150 vertebral centra. From this, megalodon researchers were able to learn more about the behavior of this giant shark. Due to the shape of the spine, the Meg was able to lock prey in its powerful jaws and then viciously shake it side to side as the flesh would tear from the bone. This is what made them so dangerous in the water—once they had their prey, there was no escape.
Also, due to their shape, they were able to reach speeds of at least 32 kilometers per hour (20 mph), which is remarkable considering their gigantic size. (Their cruising speed has been estimated at 18 kilometers per hour [11 mph].) Such speeds would have allowed them to outswim many species. Dr. David Jacoby, from the Zoological Society of London, explained, “The megalodon was an enormous apex predator that appeared to cruise the oceans at speeds unrivaled by any shark species present today.”
Although there’s no solid evidence linked to exactly why the megalodon went extinct, it’s strongly believed that their huge appetite became problematic for them. Around 2.6 million years ago, the sea levels rapidly changed, and that had a remarkable impact on the Meg’s food sources. About a third of all large marine mammals became extinct at this time, and any spare food would have been consumed by smaller, more agile hunters of the ocean. Basically, the competition was fierce, and the Meg needed an enormous amount of bait just to maintain their body temperature for survival.
The Meg’s population peaked during the middle of the Miocene Epoch, which occurred 23 to 5.3 million years ago. They were found mainly near Europe, North America, and the Indian Ocean, but toward the beginning of their extinction, during the Pliocene Epoch 2.6 million years ago, they had begun to travel further into the South American, Asian, and Australian coasts.
In the 17th century, Danish naturalist Nicholas Steno identified the teeth of megalodon. Before that, the fossilized teeth were called “tongue stones” and believed to be from dragons or large snakes known as “serpent dragons.” It was widely believed that a dragon would lose the tip of its tongue through combat or in death, and it would turn to stone. The teeth—or tongues—would be collected by peasants, as they believed they protected them against snakebites and poisoning.
When Steno revealed that these were megalodon teeth and not the tongue tips of dragons, it was the beginning of the dissipation of the myth that dragons did once exist. Instead, there were even bigger monsters now to be worried about.
In 2013, when everyone thought it was safe to get back into the water, the Discovery Channel released a mockumentary titled Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives. Aired during their popular Shark Week, the program ran “footage” of megalodons, including an “image from WWII archives, of a giant shark with a 64 foot tail to dorsal fin span.”
It’s fair to say the shark-loving community was not impressed. American actor Wil Wheaton said:
Last night, Discovery Channel betrayed that trust during its biggest viewing week of the year. Discovery Channel isn’t run by stupid people, and this was not some kind of mistake. Someone made a deliberate choice to present a work of fiction that is more suited for the SyFy channel as a truthful and factual documentary. That is disgusting, and whoever made that decision should be ashamed.
The mockumentary might have been fake, but the angry reaction was very much real.
Cheish Merryweather is a true crime fan and an oddities fanatic. Can either be found at house parties telling everyone Charles Manson was only 5ft 2″ or at home reading true crime magazines.
It is time, yet again, to look at some of the more unusual or unique stories that made their way through the news cycle this week. Click here to read about all the serious stuff that happened over the last few days. Otherwise, read on for the weird side of the headlines.
Animals were pretty active this week, and we look at some clever birds, a herd of crime-fighting cows, and one vicious squirrel. Scientists were busy unraveling the mysteries of cheese and spaghetti, and we also examine a really weird planet where titanium exists in vapor form.
Researchers at MIT cracked a decades-old mystery by finally finding a way to break a spaghetti stick in two.
This is a challenge which, over the years, has flummoxed both physicists and laymen. Even Richard Feynman explored the phenomenon in 1939 and failed to find an adequate explanation for it. And the best part is that anyone can try it at home. Just take a single spaghetti stick, hold it at both ends, and start bending it. The challenge is to break it in two halves. While this can happen from time to time, the vast majority of sticks will break into three or more pieces.
It wasn’t until 2005 that a group of physicists from France developed a new theory to describe the forces at work when bending a long, thin rod like a spaghetti stick. They said that the initial break happens in the center, where the curvature is the greatest, and it causes a “snap-back” effect which creates further fracture to the rod. They won the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize for this but were unable to devise a way of nullifying the effect.
A new MIT study had the answer. The secret is to twist the spaghetti. Researchers built a machine specifically for this task to ensure uniformity. They found that the stick must first be twisted to a critical degree and then bent slowly, and it will break in two.
A theme park in France has put rooks to work by teaching the birds to collect and deposit trash.
Rooks, as well as other members of the Corvidae family, have frequently been hailed as some of the smartest animals on the planet. The people at Puy du Fou theme park in Les Epesses found a practical and useful application for that intelligence. The corvids have been trained to pick up cigarette butts and other small pieces of garbage. Afterward, they deliver their cargo to specially designed bins which dispense nuggets of bird food as reward for their diligent work.
Six feathery cleaners were deployed during the successful trial run, and more have been put to work this week. It remains to be seen if the technique catches on in other places.
More and more Europeans living in touristy cities are protesting against cruise ships that bring tens of thousands of passengers at once, claiming they are causing environmental and cultural damage and pricing locals out of their homes. One Norwegian politician decided to mount his own protest and greeted thousands of passengers aboard one cruise ship in the nude.
Svein Ingvald Opdal is a 71-year-old member of Norway’s Green Party who was vacationing with his wife in the village of Olden. He became annoyed after seeing three cruise liners bring 11,000 passengers in just one day to a small community with a population of 500. He decided to give the next ship a memorable welcome, stripped down, and flashed the incoming tourists.
Opdal described the protest as a “spontaneous act that [he] did mostly for fun.” His wife took a photograph but was too embarrassed to post it online. Instead, the septuagenarian shared it with his 460 Instagram followers. The stunt proved popular enough to gain traction and make worldwide news.
NASA scientists announced that the New Horizons spacecraft has reached a barrier they describe as a “hydrogen wall.” The phenomenon was detected by the onboard instrument “Alice,” an ultraviolet imaging telescope and spectrometer used to gather information about Pluto’s atmosphere.
As New Horizons is heading toward the boundaries of the solar system, Alice has discerned a source of ultraviolet light in the distance. Scientists believe the light is being scattered by a wall of hydrogen, which includes “substantial contribution from a distant source” along with hydrogen atoms from our system. If this turns out to be the case, then the hydrogen wall could have been formed at the point where our solar wind encounters interstellar winds. The New Horizons team plans on studying the region with Alice about twice a year and, hopefully, gaining more answers.
Launched in 2006, New Horizons is a space probe whose main objective was to perform a close-up flyby study of Pluto, something it accomplished in 2015. Now, it is headed for the Kuiper Belt to get a closer look at some curious objects. Eventually, it will leave the solar system in around 2040.
There are plenty of animals out there that look harmless, even friendly, but still have the potential to be deadly. Of course, we know that of the creatures of the world, none is more fearsome than the baby squirrel. A man in the German town of Karlsruhe found that out the hard way when he had to call the police to come save him from one of these menacing creatures.
Officers responded to a call from a person who was being chased relentlessly by a baby squirrel. They managed to lure it away with a box of leaves, and it promptly fell asleep once in custody. They posted a few pictures of the tiny rodent online, wanting to turn it into their new mascot. They even named it Karl-Friedrich. Subsequently, they realized the squirrel was, in fact, a girl, so they changed the name to Pippilotta, the full first name of Pippi Longstocking.
According to animal experts, the animal was displaying behavior typical of a young squirrel that had lost its mother and was looking for a substitute. She is doing well and has a new playmate in the form of a male squirrel named Bjorn. Pippilotta will be released back to the outside world in September.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) announced the discovery of a piece of dairy in an ancient Egyptian tomb which might be the oldest cheese in the world.
The tomb belongs to Ptahmes, a powerful official under Seti I. It is located in the Saqqara necropolis in the ancient ruins of Memphis. It was first discovered in 1885 but lost again after it was buried under desert sands. Archaeologists from Cairo University rediscovered the tomb in 2010 and have been busy examining all the artifacts inside.
Among the items found was a jar that contained a solidified whitish mass, plus a piece of canvas fabric likely used to cover it up. The contents were analyzed using mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography at the University of Catania in Italy. They detected peptides which identified the sample as a dairy product made from cow milk and sheep or goat milk. Furthermore, the characteristics of the canvas covering suggest it was intended to preserve something solid, not liquid. This led scientists to conclude that the white mass was once cheese.
The sample showed signs of contamination with Brucella, bacteria that causes brucellosis. It is a disease that can spread from animals to humans, commonly transmitted by consuming unpasteurized dairy products.
One of the oldest rivalries in the food industry was renewed recently when Hydrox revealed that it filed an official complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, alleging that Oreo representatives engage in sabotage to get customers to buy their cookies over their competitor.
Hydrox made its debut in 1908. Four years later, the similar Oreo came onto the scene, and the feud started. However, it turned out to be a one-sided affair. Oreo was owned by Nabisco, which had the “muscle” to overshadow its competitor. It became the best-selling cookie in the United States, while Hydrox was a distant second and was even discontinued for almost two decades.
Hydrox started selling again in 2015, owned by Leaf Brands, but is now accusing its competitor of taking direct action to hide its products. According to them, Oreo, owned by food giant Mondelez International (of which Nabisco is a subsidiary), has its own sales reps who stock their biscuits directly in stores. While doing this, however, they also hide or move Hydrox products to make them harder for people to find.
In a Facebook post, Hydrox presented some anecdotal evidence in the form of pictures and testimonies from customers and store employees who claim to be aware of the practice. A spokesperson for Oreo said they are sure the complaint “has no merit.”
A herd of cows brought a fugitive to justice after chasing the suspect through their pasture right into the waiting arms of the law.
A woman identified as Jamie Young stole an SUV in Florida and took it for a ride. She was being pursued by police when she crashed into a stop sign in a rural area of Seminole County. She got out of the vehicle and fled the scene on foot, trying to lose the cops in a nearby pasture.
About 20 or so cows were grazing there and didn’t take too kindly to Young invading their personal space. They started chasing her all over the pasture and even launched a few mock attacks on her. Eventually, the woman forgot all about evading the police and jumped over a fence to escape the bovine horde.
As far as the authorities were concerned, the stampeding herd of cows made for a great visual indicator of where their suspect was. They were there to arrest her shortly after she jumped the fence. Of course, none of Young’s efforts would have made any difference. A helicopter from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office was watching from above and caught her whole ordeal on camera.
Extensive tests carried out for the first time on an intact ancient mummy revealed the recipe for Egyptian embalming that had been developed 1,000 years before the complete mummification process, which became a cornerstone of ancient Egyptian culture.
The mummy in question came from the Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy. It was dated to 3700–3500 BC, but that’s not what makes it special. Unlike most other mummies in museums, this one never underwent any conservation treatments and, thus, had its chemical composition intact as it was thousands of years ago.
An international team of scientists led by Dr. Stephen Buckley from the University of York first started work on the project in 2014. Back then, they analyzed textiles that were used as mummy wrappings. Even though they were dated to 4000 BC, these linen fabrics contained embalming agents. From there, the team performed a chemical analysis of the Turin mummy and identified the ingredients used during the process.
The basic recipe calls for a plant oil, a plant-based gum, a “balsam-type” plant or root extract that could have come from bulrushes, and a conifer tree resin, most likely pine. This mixture would have had antibacterial properties that protected the body from decay.
Researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) announced that a certain planet gets so hot that it has iron and titanium vapors in its atmosphere.
The planet in question is called KELT-9b, and it is located 650 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation. It was discovered last year as it orbited its host star, KELT-9, 30 times closer than we orbit the Sun. This has heated the planet to a temperature over 4,000 degrees Kelvin. While this isn’t as hot as the surface of our Sun, it’s decently close, and it still is hotter than other types of stars.
We don’t know what an atmosphere would be like under these conditions, but scientists from the University of Bern speculated that most molecules would be in atomic form and that we would also be able to observe gaseous atomic iron with our telescopes.
Fast-forward a few months, and the FOUR ACES1 astronomy team from UNIGE did just that. While the planet was in front of KELT-9, light from the star filtered through its atmosphere. Using a spectrograph, they could spread the light into its component colors and analyze the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Scientists found iron vapor, as predicted, but were also able to detect the signature of titanium, also in vapor form.
Hot Jupiters are a class of exoplanets which are gas giants like our Jovian neighbor but are much closer to their respective stars and, therefore, have short orbital periods and much higher surface temperatures. Scientists have been lobbying for the creation of a distinct “ultra-hot Jupiter” class for planets like KELT-9b. They are faced with a unique problem, as they believe that most exoplanets, under these circumstances, would completely evaporate.
Next to eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise, getting adequate sleep is a staple cornerstone to a healthy life. But did you know that sleeping can also be dangerous?
There are actually a number of things that can go wrong when you close your eyes and slip into unconsciousness—and for some people, the danger is real enough that they never wake up again. In fact, according to an ancient Greek proverb, death and sleep are brothers . . . death being the perfect fulfillment of sleep and sleep being the imperfect embodiment of death.
Sleep has, for the most part, always been seen as a “passive” activity that our body performs on its own. But the truth is that our brain is actually quite active while we slumber. It is also true that there are many unanswered mysteries about sleep that modern scientists have yet to unravel.
As it turns out, there are still some surprising (and somewhat scary) things going on when our conscious brains turn off and our bodies begin the sleeping state. And sometimes, the results can be completely terrifying.
Sudden cardiac arrest, also known as SCA, can occur when the sinoatrial node, which is the node in the heart that is essentially your body’s natural pacemaker, becomes impaired. In other words, this condition occurs when the electrical systems of the heart malfunction. And in some cases, it is deadly within the first few minutes.
How does it kill? Well, it basically reduces blood flow to the brain. And the scariest part? Not only can it happen during sleep, but half of cases show no symptoms before the cardiac arrest occurs.
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless gas that can be lethal if too much of it is breathed into the lungs. It can be found in the fumes that come from running cars, stoves, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, furnaces, and so on, and it can be almost impossible to detect unless a carbon monoxide detector is in use.
How does it kill? Basically, if enough of it builds up in a small enough space, breathing it in can become toxic. And if you inhale enough of it, just having it in your lungs can be enough to “seal the deal” in a very final way. If awake, the victim may experience symptoms like dizziness, weakness, a headache, or an upset stomach.
But what if it catches you while you’re asleep? Well, people who are sleeping often experience no symptoms, and they can die in their sleep before they even realize that it’s happening.
A myocardial infarction, more commonly known as a heart attack, can happen during sleep, though thankfully, the odds are pretty good that this specific type of cardiac event will wake its victim up before it kills them.
Heart attacks happen when blood flow to part of the heart gets blocked. This blockage can destroy part of the heart muscle.
How does it kill? If enough heart tissue gets damaged, the heart may not be strong enough to pump any blood out to the rest of the body. This can result in heart failure, which could be lethal if medical treatment isn’t obtained immediately.
Unfortunately, it isn’t usually possible for a heart attack victim to seek medical attention if they are asleep—and that is the part that’s terrifying.
Central sleep apnea is basically a disorder that causes the sufferer’s breathing to stop and start repeatedly while they are unconscious. It happens when the brain doesn’t send the proper electrical signals to the muscles that control the breathing mechanisms during sleep and is believed to originate from a problem in the brain stem.
How does it kill? Basically, if the case of apnea is bad enough, hypoxemia may set in—which happens when oxygen levels in the body fall below those required for normal life function. This basically leads to oxygen deprivation.
If the brain is not able to rouse the body in enough time to take a breath, the prognosis can be fatal!
This is undoubtedly one of the more “mysterious” inclusions in our list.
Unexplained nocturnal death syndrome (SUNDS) was first reported in 1917. Since then, it has gained a pretty scary reputation in both textbooks and on the dark corners of the Internet. In the Philippines, they call it Bangungut, and in Hawaii, they call it Dream Disease.
The exact cause of death among those who die of SUNDS is actually still unclear, but the presentation always seems to be similar. It basically causes otherwise young, healthy individuals to die in their sleep for seemingly no reason.
How does it kill? Scientists still aren’t sure . . . but it tends to occur frequently in Southeast Asia, and researchers suspect a range of possible explanations, from malfunctions of the ion channel to ventricular fibrillation.
A cerebral aneurysm, also known as a brain aneurysm, is basically a weak spot in the wall of a blood vessel in the brain. It is kind of like a thin balloon that fills with blood. But over time, as the blood pumps through the artery, it continues to weaken and swell—and if the pressure increases too much, a rupture can occur.
How does it kill? When an aneurysm ruptures, the bleeding usually only lasts for a few seconds. But the blood causes damage to the surrounding brain cells and can increase the pressure inside the skull. If the pressure elevates too much, the condition can quickly turn fatal.
This is one of the more obscure entries on our list, but that makes it no less terrifying.
Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) is a type of non-polio enterovirus that was first identified back in 1962. But back in 2014, there was a huge increase in the number of reported cases, leaving researchers to wonder if the virus was going to become more predominant in coming years than they had expected.
The scary thing about EV-D68 is that while it usually causes mild to severe respiratory illness symptoms, it sometimes produces no symptoms at all. And yet, physicians are saying that the disease has the potential to be more dangerous than Ebola in the US.
How does it kill? It can cause particularly severe respiratory problems, characterized by a high-pitched wheezing sound that has become a dreaded earmark of infection. It has also been associated with muscle weakness and spinal cord inflammation, which is perhaps even more terrifying than the wheezing.
Dying of an infection is not necessarily common, but sometimes, the symptoms are dangerous enough to kill—even if the victim is asleep.
Most of us are aware that you can drown in the water. This seems like a no-brainer. But a lot of people are not familiar at all with the term “dry drowning” and what it means.
And as it turns out, it is a pretty horrific way to die!
Basically, the idea behind this danger is that it is a type of drowning that can occur even after the victim has left the water. It is technically still drowning, but “dry drowning” is the term that has come to be used to describe it, though some doctors have argued for the dropping of said term.
It can occur when inhaled water, even just a drop or two, makes it past the throat and into the lungs. This usually causes symptoms, but they are sometimes mild and easy to miss.
The scary thing is that this water can cause breathing problems that get worse over time. And in some cases, these breathing problems don’t strike until hours, or even days later—after the victim has fallen asleep. So-called “dry drowning” is actually pretty rare when you look at total deaths attributed to drowning, but this makes it no less disturbing.
How does it kill? It basically asphyxiates the victim—depriving them of oxygen until they suffocate.
While most heart attacks have a decent chance of waking their victims up before death occurs, the “widow maker” tends to be an exception. We have already mentioned heart attacks in general once on this list, but this particular type of infarction deserves its own spot.
Why? Because it is among the deadliest types of heart attacks that can occur. It happens when the left main artery, also known as the left anterior descending artery, gets blocked. A 100-percent blockage in this artery is almost always fatal without immediate emergency care—hence the nickname.
How does it kill? Heart attacks with severe enough blockages result in damaged heart muscle. And if the muscle becomes too damaged to pump blood, the result can be fatal.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder in which the victim repeatedly stops and starts their breathing process during sleep. OSA is by far the most common type of sleep apnea, and as it turns out, it is also probably the most likely reason that a person may die in their sleep.
This type of sleep apnea is literally caused by an obstruction that blocks the airway. This obstruction is usually caused by sagging throat muscles, though the muscles and tissues of the tongue, uvula, tonsils, and soft palate can all play a part. It is estimated that as many as 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea but that 80 percent of cases go undiagnosed—making it a true “silent killer” that many people remain unaware of.
How does it kill? People with OSA experience sudden drops in blood oxygen levels when they stop breathing . . . and if they are already at risk for a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure, then OSA can be the trigger that sets a sudden cardiac event into motion.
In such cases, death may occur before the victim even has a chance to wake up.
Joshua Sigfus is just a writer trying to make the world a better place.