Friday, July 31, 2009

"Satan S'amuse," Segunda de Chomon, 1907

In this silent film from 1907 ~"In an unnamed place, Satan is bored. Despite his servants' exertions, nothing can be found to cheer him up." According to ~ Teruel Segundo de Chomon y Ruiz (1871-1929) was an Aragonese film pioneer who worked in Paris for Pathe from 1905-1910. His association with Pathe began in 1901 when from Barcelona he hand-tinted Pathe releases, & his own earliest works from 1902 were distributed in France by Pathe.

The Recently Deflowered Girl-Part 3

A somewhat little known, and hard to find work by Edward Gorey from 1965, more coming up at a later time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pretty Little Dolls


...from a series I call The Afterworld Slide Show

Monday, July 27, 2009

Medical Mysteries

I picked up this book at work today and couldn't put it down.
Who the hell knew that insomnia could be fatal? Or that anti-acne medication could fuck up your lungs?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

It Was Inevitable...

Historical fiction and horror - two good things that go a'ight together. 

Frankly, I didn't think that Pride & Prejudice & Zombies was all that great - too much Austen and not enough zombies (and yes, I am an Austen reader). But maybe Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters will be better. I like the story better than P&P, and if it's going to be as Lovecraftian as its cover art suggests, then I'll have to give it a go.

Freaks (1932)

- This classic from horror master Tod Browning (Dracula) was first released in 1932, but subsequently banned in England for more than 30 years because of its controversial casting and portrayal of real people with physical deformities. In the 1960s Freaks developed a huge cult following at midnight shows. Even today, it retains its power to transfix an audience. Freaks features the "living torso" Prince Radian, Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, half-bodied Johnny Eck, "pinheads" Elvira and Jenny Lee Snow and others. The film revolved around an exquisite looking but cold-hearted high-wire artist (Olga Baclanova) who marries a wealthy circus performer (little person Harry Earles), and then schemes with her bodybuilder lover (Henry Victor) to poison her husband in order to inherit his wealth. The group of "freaks" seeks revenge and gets even with the high-wire artist.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary. A copy of his birth certificate was found and published in The Houdini Birth Research Committee's Report. (1972). As to his birth date, from 1907 onwards, Houdini claimed in interviews to have been born in Appleton, Wisconsin, on April 6, 1874. He was really born on March 24, 1874.
Houdini's father was Rabbi Mayer (Mayo) Samuel Weiss (1829–1892), and his mother was Cecilia Steiner (1841–1913). Ehrich had six siblings: Herman M. (1863-1885); Nathan J. Weiss (1870–1927); Gottfried William Weiss (1872–1925); Theodore "Dash" Weiss (1876–1945); Leopold D. Weiss (1879–1962); and Gladys Carrie Weiss (1882-?).
He immigrated with his family to the United States on July 3, 1878, at the age of four, on the SS Fresia with his mother (who was pregnant) and his four brothers. Houdini's name was listed as Ehrich Weiss. Friends called him "Ehrie" or "Harry". In 1918 he registered for selective service as Harry Handcuff Houdini.
At first, they lived in Appleton, Wisconsin, where his father served as rabbi of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation. In 1880, the family was living on Appleton Street. On June 6, 1882, Rabbi Weiss became an American citizen. After losing his tenure, he moved to New York City with Ehrich in 1887. They lived in a boarding house on East 79th Street. Rabbi Weiss later was joined by the rest of the family once he found more permanent housing. As a child, Ehrich took several jobs, then became a champion cross country runner. He made his public début as a 9-year-old trapeze artist, calling himself "Ehrich, the prince of the air". Weiss became a professional magician and began calling himself "Harry Houdini" because he was heavily influenced by the French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, and his friend Jack Hayman told him that in French, adding an "i" to Houdin would mean "like Houdin" the great magician. In later life, Houdini would claim that the first part of his new name, Harry, was an homage to Harry Kellar, whom Houdini admired a great deal. However, it's more likely Harry derived naturally from his childhood nickname "Ehriee".

Initially, Houdini's magic career resulted in little success. He performed in dime museums and sideshows, and even doubled as "the Wild Man" at a circus. Houdini initially focused on traditional card tricks. At one point, he billed himself as the "King of Cards". But he soon began experimenting with escape acts. In 1893, while performing with his brother "Dash" at Coney Island as "The Houdini Brothers", Harry met fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner, whom he married. Bess replaced Dash in the act, which became known as "The Houdinis". For the rest of Houdini's performing career, Bess would work as his stage assistant.

Harry Houdini's "big break" came in 1899 when he met manager Martin Beck in rural Woodstock, Illinois. Impressed by Houdini's handcuffs act, Beck advised him to concentrate on escape acts and booked him on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Within months, he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the country. In 1900, Beck arranged for Houdini to tour Europe.
Houdini was a sensation in Europe, where he became widely known as "The Handcuff King". He toured England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Russia. In each city, Houdini would challenge local police to restrain him with shackles and lock him in their jails. In many of these challenge escapes, Houdini would first be stripped nude and searched. In Moscow, Houdini escaped from a Siberian prison transport van. Houdini publicly stated that, had he been unable to free himself, he would have had to travel to Siberia, where the only key was kept. In Cologne, he sued a police officer, Werner Graff, who claimed he made his escapes via bribery. Houdini won the case when he opened the judge's safe (he would later say the judge had forgotten to lock it). With his new-found wealth and success, Houdini purchased a dress said to have been made for Queen Victoria. He then arranged a grand reception where he presented his mother in the dress to all their relatives. Houdini said it was the happiest day of his life. In 1904, Houdini returned to the U.S. and purchased a house for $25,000, a brownstone at 278 W. 113th Street in Harlem, New York. The house still stands today.

From 1907 and throughout the 1910s, Houdini performed with great success in the United States. He would free himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in plain sight of street audiences. Because of imitators and a dwindling audience, on January 25, 1908, Houdini put his "handcuff act" behind him and began escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can. The possibility of failure and death thrilled his audiences. Houdini also expanded his challenge escape act - in which he invited the public to devise contraptions to hold him - to include nailed packing crates (sometimes lowered into the water), riveted boilers, wet-sheets, mailbags, and even the belly of a Whale that washed ashore in Boston. Brewers challenged Houdini to escape from his milk can after they filled it with beer. Many of these challenges were prearranged with local merchants in what is certainly one of the first uses of mass tie-in marketing. Rather than promote the idea that he was assisted by spirits, as did the Davenport Brothers and others, Houdini's advertisements showed him making his escapes via dematerializing, although Houdini himself never claimed to have supernatural powers.

In 1912, Houdini introduced perhaps his most famous act, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, in which he was suspended upside-down in a locked glass-and-steel cabinet full to overflowing with water. The act required that Houdini hold his breath for more than three minutes. Houdini performed the escape for the rest of his career. Despite two Hollywood movies depicting Houdini dying in the Tortures Cell, the escape had nothing to do with his demise.
Houdini explained some of his tricks in books written for the magic brotherhood throughout his career. In Handcuff Secrets (1909), he revealed how many locks and handcuffs could be opened with properly applied force, others with shoestrings. Other times, he carried concealed lockpicks or keys, being able to regurgitate small keys at will. When tied down in ropes or straitjackets, he gained wiggle room by enlarging his shoulders and chest, moving his arms slightly away from his body, and then dislocating his shoulders. His straitjacket escape was originally performed behind curtains, with him popping out free at the end. However, Houdini's brother, who was also an escape artist billing himself as Theodore Hardeen, after being accused of having someone sneak in and let him out and being challenged to escape without the curtain, discovered that audiences were more impressed and entertained when the curtains were eliminated so they could watch him struggle to get out. They both performed straitjacket escapes dangling upside-down from the roof of a building for publicity on more than one occasion. It is said that Hardeen once handed out bills for his show while Houdini was doing his suspended straitjacket escape. This enraged Houdini as people thought it was Hardeen in suspension and not himself.

For the majority of his career, Houdini performed his act as a headliner in vaudeville. For many years, he was the highest-paid performer in American vaudeville. One of Houdini's most notable non-escape stage illusions was performed at New York's Hippodrome Theater when he vanished a full-grown elephant (with its trainer) from a stage, beneath which was a swimming pool. In 1923, Houdini became president of Martinka & Co., America's oldest magic company. The business is still in operation today. He also served as President of the Society of American Magicians (aka S.A.M.) from 1917 until his death in 1926. In the final years of his life (1925/26), Houdini launched his own full-evening show, which he billed as "3 Shows in One: Magic, Escapes, and Fraud Mediums Exposed."
Harry Houdini died of peritonitis secondary to a ruptured appendix. It has been speculated that Houdini was killed accidentally by a McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead, who delivered multiple blows to Houdini's abdomen (with permission) while he was in Montreal. These repetitive blows are thought to have been a stunt, in which Houdini displayed his dexterity.
The eyewitnesses were students named Jacques Price and Sam Smilovitz (sometimes called Jack Price and Sam Smiley). Their accounts generally agreed. The following is Price's description of events:
“ Houdini was reclining on his couch after his performance, having an art student sketch him. When Whitehead came in and asked if it was true that Houdini could take any blow to the stomach, Houdini replied groggily in the affirmative. In this instance, he was hit three times, before Houdini could tighten up his stomach muscles, to avoid serious injury. Whitehead reportedly continued hitting Houdini several times afterwards, and Houdini acted as though he were in some pain. ”
Houdini stated that if he had time to prepare himself properly, he would have been in a better position to take the blows.
Houdini had apparently been suffering from appendicitis for several days prior and yet refused medical treatment. His appendix would most likely have burst on its own without the trauma. Although in serious pain, Houdini none-the-less continued to travel, without seeking medical attention.
When Houdini arrived at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan, on October 24, 1926, for what would be his last performance, he had a fever of 40°C (104 degrees F). Despite a diagnosis of acute appendicitis, Houdini took the stage. He was reported to have passed out during the show, but was revived and continued. Afterwards, he was hospitalized at Detroit's Grace Hospital. Houdini died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix at 1:26 p.m. in Room 401 on October 31 (Halloween), 1926, at the age of 52.
After taking statements from Price and Smilovitz, Houdini's insurance company concluded that the death was due to the dressing-room incident and paid double indemnity.

Houdini's funeral was held on November 4, 1926, in New York, with more than 2,000 mourners in attendance. He was interred in the Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York, with the crest of the Society of American Magicians inscribed on his gravesite. To this day, the Society holds its "Broken Wand" ceremony at the gravesite in November. Houdini's widow, Bess, died in February 1943 and expressed a wish to be buried next to him, but instead was interred at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester, New York. She was not permitted to be interred with him because she was not Jewish * Thanks Wiki!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hot Air Balloons

The hot air balloon is the oldest successful human-carrying flight technology and is a subset of balloon aircraft. On November 21, 1783, in Paris, France, the first manned flight was made by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes in a hot air balloon created by the Montgolfier brothers. Recently, balloon envelopes have been made in all kinds of shapes, such as hot dogs, rocket ships, and the shapes of commercial products. Hot air balloons that can be propelled through the air rather than just being pushed along by the wind are known as airships or, more specifically, thermal airships.

A hot air balloon consists of a bag called the envelope that is capable of containing heated air. Suspended beneath is the gondola or wicker basket (in some long-distance or high-altitude balloons, a capsule) which carries the passengers and (usually) a source of heat, usually an open flame. The heated air inside the envelope makes it buoyant since it has a lower density than the relatively cold air outside the envelope. Unlike gas balloons, the envelope does not have to be sealed at the bottom since the air near the bottom of the envelope is at the same pressure as the surrounding air. In today's sport balloons the envelope is generally made from nylon fabric and the mouth of the balloon (closest to the burner flame) is made from fire resistant material such as Nomex.

Unmanned hot air balloons are popular in Chinese history. Zhuge Liang of the Shu Han kingdom, in the Three Kingdoms era (220–80 AD) used airborne lanterns for military signaling. These lanterns are known as Kongming lanterns (孔明灯). There is also some speculation that hot air balloons could have been used by people of the Nazca culture of Peru some 1500 years ago, as a tool for designing the famous Nazca ground figures and lines. The first documented balloon flight in Europe was by the Portuguese priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão. On August 8, 1709, in Lisbon, Bartolomeu de Gusmão managed to lift a small balloon made of paper full of hot air about 4 meters in front of king John V and the Portuguese court.

The first clearly recorded instance of a balloon carrying passengers used hot air to generate buoyancy and was built by the brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier in Annonay, France. After experimenting with unmanned balloons and flights with animals, the first tethered balloon flight with humans on board took place on October 19, 1783 with the scientist Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, the manufacture manager, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon and Giroud de Villette, at the Folie Titon in Paris. The first free flight with human passengers was on November 21, 1783. King Louis XVI had originally decreed that condemned criminals would be the first pilots, but de Rozier, along with Marquis Francois d'Arlandes, successfully petitioned for the honor.

Modern hot air balloons, with an onboard heat source, were pioneered by Ed Yost, beginning in the 1950s; his work resulted in his first successful flight, on October 22, 1960. The first modern-day hot air balloon to be built in the United Kingdom (UK) was the Bristol Belle in 1967. Today, hot air balloons are used primarily for recreation.
Hot air balloons are able to fly to extremely high altitudes. On November 26, 2005, Vijaypat Singhania set the world altitude record for highest hot air balloon flight, reaching 21,027 meters (68,986 feet). He took off from downtown Bombay, India, and landed 240 kilometers (149 miles) south in Panchale.[10] The previous record of 19,811 m (64,997 ft) had been set by Per Lindstrand on June 6, 1988 in Plano, Texas. As with all unpressurized aircraft, oxygen is needed for all crew and passengers on any flight that exceeds an altitude of about 15,000 ft (4,572 m).

On January 15, 1991, the Virgin Pacific Flyer balloon completed the longest flight in a hot air balloon when Per Lindstrand (born in Sweden, but resident in the UK) and Richard Branson of the UK flew 7,671.91 km (4,767.10 mi) from Japan to Northern Canada. With a volume of 74 thousand cubic meters (2.6 million cubic feet), the balloon envelope was the largest ever built for a hot air craft. Designed to fly in the trans-oceanic jet streams the Pacific Flyer recorded the highest ground speed for a manned balloon at 245 mph (394 km/h). The longest duration hot air balloon flight ever made is 50 hours and 38 minutes made by Michio Kanda and Hirosuke Tekezawa of Japan on January 2, 1997

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Total Eclipse of the Sun

At the time of the solar eclipse I'm reminded of a chapter in one of my favorite books by Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk. This is an excerpt from the chapter called Total Eclipse. I'm fascinated by how eclipses strike such fear in some people, how everything turns platinum, and by the fact that there are usually screams when the sun disappears.

"....The sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen.

I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightness and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. The color has never been seen on earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte. The hillside was a nineteenth-century tinted photograph from which the tints had faded. All the people you see in the photograph, distinct and detailed as their faces look, are now dead. The sky was navy blue. My hands were silver. All the distant hills’ grasses were finespun metal which the wind laid down. I was watching a faded color print of a movie filmed in the Middle ages.
I looked at Gary. He was in the film, Everything was lost. He was a platinum print, a dead artist’s version of life. I saw on his skull the darkness of night mixed with the colors of day. My mind was going out; my eyes were receding the way galaxies recede to the rim of space.
From the hills came screams. A piece of sky beside the crescent sun was detaching. It was a loosened circle of evening sky, suddenly lighted from the back. It was an abrupt black body out of nowhere; it was a flat disk; it was almost over the sun. That is when there were screams. At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch of the brain slammed. Abruptly it was night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world....

I have said that I heard screams….it was this, I believe, that made us scream.
The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us. We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder. It roared up the valley. It slammed our hill and knocked us out. It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon. I have since read that the shadow moves 1,800 miles an hour. Language can give no sense to this sort of speed-- 1,800 miles an hour. It was 195 miles wide. No end was in sight-- you saw only the edge. It rolled at you across the land at 1,800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it. Seeing it, and knowing it was coming straight for you, was like feeling a slug of anesthesia shoot up your arm. You can feel the appalling inhuman speed of your own blood. We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit.
This was the universe about which we have read so much and never before felt: the universe as a clockwork of loosed spheres flung at stupefying, unauthorized speeds.
Less than two minutes later, when the sun emerged, the trailing edge of the shadow cone sped away. It coursed down the hill and raced eastward over the plain and dropped over the planet’s rim in a twinkling. It had clobbered us, and now it roared away. We blinked in the light. It was as though an enormous, loping god in the sky had reached down and slapped the earth’s face.

We all hurried away. We never looked back. From the depths of mystery and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home."

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I want one of these!

And if I can't have one, then I'm going to donate my skull to a clockmaker when I die and one of you can keep me on your mantle. 

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Delphine LaLaurie

Delphine LaLaurie was a beautiful and wealthy young socialite whose elaborate parties attracted only the most wealthy and elite of the  early 1800s New Orleans social scene. Madame and her third husband, Dr. Louis LaLaurie, lived in lavish splendor at 1140 Royal Street, a mansion which Madame would be forced to flee a mere three years later when a charnel house was discovered within.

Madame's neighbors had already lodged a complaint with officials in 1833, after witnessing Madame LaLaurie savagely whipping a young slave girl in her backyard for a minor infraction. The slave girl, apparently in a hurry to escape Madame's punishment, either fell or leapt to her death from a balcony to the courtyard below and was unceremoniously buried beneath a tree soon afterwards.

In April of 1834, a fire broke out in the LaLaurie kitchen. When firefighters arrived at the scene, they found two slaves chained to the kitchen stove. Apparently, the slaves themselves had set the fire deliberately in a last ditch attempt to call attention to their plight. Upon further inspection, the hideously tortured and mutilated bodies of seven slaves were found in the LaLaurie slave quarters. It seemed that Madame LaLaurie herself had committed the atrocities, taking a sick pleasure in personally torturing and killing her slaves.

Madame LaLaurie fled the city before she could be arrested. Some say she made her way to Paris, retreating into isolated grandeur. She was never caught, and never seen again in New Orleans, although the LaLaurie mansion is rumored to be haunted, both by the tormented slaves and by Madame herself. (wiki)
left R. PUSTANIO ©2006

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Devil's Hand Tree

The Devil's Hand Tree (Chiranthodendron pentadactylon) is an unusual, rare one-of-a-kind beauty. The Devil's Hand Tree, also called the Mexican Hand Tree, is very hard to find and rarely seen for sale.

The Devil's Hand Tree is an evergreen species native to Guatemala and southern Mexico, where it's becoming endangered. It's fast-growing to about 40 feet tall.The oversized leaves are really cool, with fuzzy undersides and coppery veins. The bizarre flowers appear in the spring and summer. Each 5" blossom has five red stamens that branch out like fingers, with vivid yellow pollen on the "knuckles". As the blooms age, the "fingers" curl under like a clawed hand! These are truly amazing blooms.
Inside each cup-shaped blossom is a glossy, red & yellow interior. Water collects in the upward-facing blooms and birds like to sit and drink the nectar. In the wild, the tree is said to be pollinated by bats! After flowering, the Hand Tree makes fascinating 5 inch seed pods that are almost indestructible.

The Devil's Hand Tree comes from mountain cloudforests, where temperatures are moderate year-round, and nights are cool. It is said to be hardy down to about 20 degrees F., but younger plants should probably be protected from extremes in temperature. It appreciates humidity, and prefers full sun and well-draining soil. In warmer areas, some afternoon shade may be needed.

The Bone Chapel

Sedlec Ossuary (Czech: kostnice Sedlec ) is a small Roman Catholic chapel in Kutna Hora, Prague located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints.
The ossuary contains the remains of approximately 40,000-70,000 human skeletons which have been artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel.
A Cistercian monastery was founded near here in the year 1142. One of the principal tasks of the monks was the cultivation of the grounds and lands around the monastery. In 1278 King Otakar II of Bohemia sent Henry, the abbot of Sedlec , on a diplomatic mission to the Holy Land. When leaving Jerusalem Henry took with him a handful of earth from Golgotha which he sprinkled over the cemetery of Sedlec monastery, consequently the cemetery became famous, not only in Bohemia but also throughout Central Europe and many wealthy people desired to be buried here. The burial ground was enlarged during the epidemics of plague in the 14th Century (e.g. in 1318 about 30 000 people were buried here) and also during the Hussite wars in first quarter of the 15th. century.
After 1400 one of the abbots had a church of All -Saints erected in Gothic style in the middle of the cemetery and under it a chapel destined for the deposition of bones from abolished graves, a task which was begun by a half blind Cistercian monk after the year 1511. The charnel-house was remodelled in Czech Baroque style between 1703 - I710 by the famous Czech architect, of the Italian origin, Jan Blažej SANTIM-Aichl. The present arrangement of the bones dates from 1870 and is the work of a Czech wood-carver, František RINT (you can see his name, put together from bones, on the right-hand wall over the last bench).
The largest collections of bones are arranged in the form of bells in the four corners of the chapel.
The most interesting creations by Master Rint are the chandelier in the centre of the nave, containing all the bones of the human body , two monstrances beside the main altar and the coat-of arms of the Schwarzenberg noble family on the left-hand side of the chapel.

Crop Circles

Whether you believe these things are man made hoaxes or messages from beyond, they're still cool to look at either way. This one in particular intrigues me. It may not be the most elaborate or even the most believable, but it's definitely eerie, to say the least.

The irregular "dashes" within the wheel turned out to be a standard binary code which, when translated, read: 

"Beware the bearers of false gifts and their broken promises.
Much pain, but still time. Believe there is good out there.
We oppose deception. Conduit closing. 0x07" 

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cirque Berzerk

Guess what Los Angeles? Cirque Berzerk is in town. If you are at all near the Los Angeles area, run, don't walk to get tickets! My husband and I saw just a fraction of their performances at the L.A Edwardian Ball and were hooked! This years show entitled 'Beneath' is in eight acts: Lust, Death, Fire, Siren, Debonair, Skin, Evil, Flight. You can check out their website and buy tickets HERE

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The History of beheading

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The History of beheading.

Beheading with a sword or axe goes back a very long way in history, because like hanging, it was a cheap and practical method of execution in early times when a sword or an axe was always readily available.
The Greeks and the Romans considered beheading a less dishonorable (and less painful) form of execution than other methods in use at the time. The Roman Empire used beheading for its own citizens whilst crucifying others.
Beheading was widely used in Europe and Asia until the 20th century, but now is confined to Saudi Arabia, and Iran. One man was reportedly beheaded in Iran in 2003 – the first for many years. It remains a lawful method in Qatar and Yemen, although no executions by this method have been reported.Beheading was used in Britain up to 1747 and was the standard method in Norway (abolished 1905), Sweden (up to 1903) and Denmark (last in 1892) and was used for some classes of prisoners in France (up until the introduction of the guillotine in 1792) and in Germany up to 1938. China also used it widely, until the communists came to power and replaced it with shooting in the 20th century. Japan too used beheading up to the end of the 19th century prior to turning to hanging.

Equipment for beheading.

There were two distinct forms of beheading - by the sword and by the axe. Where a person was to be decapitated with a sword, a block is not used and they are generally made to kneel down although they could, if short, be executed standing up, or even sitting in a chair. A typical European execution sword was 36-48 inches (900-1200 mm) long and 2 to 2-1/2 inches (50-65mm) wide with the handle being long enough for the executioner to use both hands to give maximum leverage. It weighed around 4 lbs. (2 Kg.) . Where an axe was the chosen implement, a wooden block, often shaped to accept the neck, was required. Two patterns of block were used, the high block, 18-24 inches (450-600 mm) high, where the prisoner knelt behind it and lent forward so that their neck rested on the top or lay on a low bench with their neck over the block. The neck on a high block presented an easier target due to the head pointing slightly downwards, thus bringing the neck into prominence. It also meant that the axe was at a better angle at that point in the arc of the stroke to meet the neck full on. The high block was favored in later times in Britain and was standard in Germany up to the 1930's. Some countries used a low block where the person lies full length and puts their neck over the small wooden block which is just a few inches high. This arrangement was used in Sweden. The low block presented the executioner with certain difficulties. The arc prescribed by the axe as he brought it down meant that the blade was at quite an angle to the prisoner's neck making it more difficult to sever the head with a single blow. Two patterns of axe were also used - the pattern used in Britain, which was developed from the traditional woodsman's axe, has a blade about one foot 8 inches (500 mm) high by 10 inches (250 mm) wide with a 5 foot (1525 mm) long handle. In Germany, the axe was like a larger version of a butcher's cleaver, again the handle was long enough for the headsman to use both hands.

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Beheading in Britain.

In Britain, beheading was used in Anglo Saxon times as a punishment for certain types of serious theft. It was re-introduced during the reign of William the Conqueror for the execution of Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland on the 31st of May 1076 on St. Giles Hill, near Winchester. Waltheof had been convicted of treason for taking part in the Revolt of the Earls against the King and was beheaded with a sword. Beheading was confined to those of noble birth who were convicted of treason and was an alternative to the normal punishments for this crime. Men convicted of High Treason were condemned to hanged drawn and quartered and women to be burned at the stake. In the case of the nobility the monarch could vary these punishments to death by beheading. Beheading was both far less painful and considered far less dishonorable than the normal methods. Several members of Royalty were beheaded, including Charles 1st, Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots and Lady Jane Grey. Many other Earls, Lords and Knights, including Sir Walter Raleigh. Even some Bishops were beheaded. The majority of English beheadings took place at the Tower of London. Seven were carried out in private within the grounds, of which 5 were of women and just over 100 on Tower Hill outside the walls of the Tower, where there stood a permanent scaffold from 1485. Only a very small number of beheadings were carried out elsewhere, as the Tower was the principal prison for traitors of high birth. It should be noted that treason often meant displeasing the monarch, rather than in any way betraying the country.
The spot indicated as "The site of the scaffold" on Tower Green which visitors can see today was not used for all of the 7 private beheadings although the plaque implies this.
Those beheaded in private on Tower Green were Lord Hastings in 1483, Anne Boleyn on the 19th of May 1536, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury on the 28th of May 1541, Catherine Howard and her Lady in Waiting, Jane, Viscountess Rochford on the 13th of February 1542, Lady Jane Grey on the 15th of February 1554 and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex on the 25th of February 1601. At various times both the low block and the high block have been used. The axe was the normal implement of execution in Britain, although Anne Boleyn was beheaded with a sword (see below). A replica of the scaffold used for the 1601 execution of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex has been constructed for exhibition in the Tower. The original was set up in the middle of the Parade Ground and was made of oak, some 4 feet high and having a 9 feet square platform (1.2 m high x 2.75 m square) with a waist high rail round it. The prisoner mounted it by a short flight of stairs and was not restrained throughout the execution as it was expected that people of noble birth would know how to behave at their executions! Devereux lay full length on the platform and placed his neck on the low block with his arms outstretched. It is recorded that three strokes of the axe were required to decapitate him. Straw was spread on the scaffold to absorb the blood.
The last female execution by beheading was that of 67 year old Lady Alice Lisle who was beheaded for treason at Winchester on the 2nd of September having been convicted of sheltering two traitors. Beheading in public on Tower Hill was used when the government of the day wished to make an example of the traitor (or traitors). Double beheadings were rare, although not unknown, and were carried out in order of precedence of the victims, as occurred with the Jacobite Earls, Kilmarnock and Balmerino, executed in 1746 for treason after the battle of Culloden.
Simon Lord Lovatt became the last person to be beheaded on Tower Hill when he was executed for treason on April the 9th, 1747. The high block used for Lord Lovatt together with the axe were on display in the Tower. It was normal for the executioner to pick up the severed head and display to the crowd proclaiming, "Behold the head of a traitor!"

The cause of death.

Beheading is as "humane" as any modern method of execution if carried out correctly and a single blow is sufficient to decapitate the prisoner. Consciousness is probably lost within 2-3 seconds, due to a rapid fall of the “intracranial perfusion of blood" (blood supply to the brain). The person dies from shock and anoxia due to hemorrhage and loss of blood pressure within less than 60 seconds. However, because the muscles and vertebrae of the neck are tough, decapitation may require more than one blow. Death occurs due to separation of the brain and spinal cord, after the transection (cutting through) of the surrounding tissues, together with massive hemorrhage.
It has often been reported that the eyes and mouths of the decapitated have shown signs of movement. It has been calculated that the human brain has enough oxygen stored for metabolism to persist for about 7 seconds after the head is cut off.

The problem with beheading.

Beheading requires a skilled headsman if it is to be at all "humane" and not infrequently, several blows were required to sever the head. It took three blows to remove Mary Queen of Scot's head at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587. In Britain, beheadings were carried out by the “common hangman” and were relatively rare so he had very little practice or experience, which often led to unfortunate consequences. Saudi executioners pride themselves on their skill and efficiency with the scimitar.
The prisoner is usually blindfolded so that they do not see the sword or axe coming and move at the crucial moment. Again, this is why in both beheading and guillotining it was not unusual for an assistant to hold the prisoner's hair to prevent them moving. In any event, the results are gory in the extreme as blood spurts from the severed arteries and veins of the neck including the aorta and the jugular vein. All the European countries that previously used beheading have now totally abolished the death penalty.

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