Posts tagged death.
“Armchair Theatre” was a drama anthology series that ran on British television from 1956 to 1974. Early episodes were broadcast live, and it was during a November 1958 episode that some of the types of problems inherent to live broadcasts became apparent.
Actor Gareth Jones, who was only 33 years old at the time, was in makeup in between scenes when he suffered a massive heart attack. As the show continued on the stage, Jones collapsed and died—the only actor at the time to have expired during a live television transmission. The director and producer scrambled to improvise around his absence, and the play actually carried on to its conclusion as the dead actor was whisked off the set.
A couple of odd asides: Jones’ character was actually supposed to have a heart attack at a later point in the play; and the director, Ted Kotcheff, would go on to direct Hollywood films, including First Blood and… Weekend At Bernie’s, which is about a couple of dudes trying to cover up around their boss’ absence after he inconveniently dies. We doubt the irony was lost on Kotcheff.
The smoke is thick around the public funeral ground. Eyes are stinging, and the air is heavy with the smells of burning wood, incense, and – somewhat disturbingly – an aroma described as being like barbecuing meat. Piles of wood smoulder and burn along the riverbanks, occasionally poked by men or boys with sticks in order to keep them alight. Here and there, jutting from the stacked lots, you can make out a human limb or head of one of the departed – their soul believed to be on its way to heaven. This is not a place for the squeamish.
Varanasi’s ghats are large stone steps constructed along the banks of India’s holy river, the Ganges. For centuries, people have been coming here to pray, meditate, bathe and, famously, cremate their dead. Despite the ancient and sacred character of the place, however, visitors to these steps should expect more of a jostling market atmosphere than a place for quiet contemplation. The larger of the burning ghats, Manikarnika (where these photographs were taken), is believed to host around 200 cremations in a single day.
The funeral ghats of Varanasi are well known – which some might say is fortunate, given that stumbling unexpectedly across a human body burning on top of a pile of logs would come as rather a shock to the unsuspecting! Most visitors are not only aware of what goes on here; many come especially to observe this ancient ritual – whether out of cultural curiosity or mere morbid fascination.
Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat are the two ghats used for funeral fires in Varanasi. Legend says that an ancient Hindu king Harishchandra once worked at the cremation ground (later named after him) after he had been sold into slavery. These days, the grounds are worked by members of the ‘untouchable’ Dom caste. It is said that the work is so despicable that Doms cry when their children are born and rejoice when one of their number dies – death representing a final liberation from their unpleasant duties.
It is also considered a particularly auspicious place to die, as those who are bathed in or even sprinkled with Ganges water at the time of their death will be released from the cycle of death and rebirth and will instead reside in paradise forever.
The first step when cremating a loved one at the ghats (much as it is in the West) is to choose a funeral package. The price that relatives and friends can afford will determine the amount of wood used, and how much of it will be the desirable sandalwood, as well as the quantity and quality of other cremation necessities like ghee (clarified butter), straw and religious services.
A decent funeral generally costs anywhere from US $12 to US $71, but the costs can vary widely. Poor families may only be able to buy a sprinkle of sacred sandalwood powder, while the wealthy may pay for an entire pyre of the expensive wood.
Those who can afford it wrap their deceased first in shrouds made of silver and gold. As Hindus traditionally see death as an occasion for celebration – because the deceased is hopefully headed for a better rebirth, or even heaven – the procession that accompanies the body as likely to seem as cheerful as it is solemn.
Crying at funerals is discouraged – partly because it is not simply (if at all) viewed as a sad occasion and partly because bodily fluids, like tears, are considered ‘pollutants’ at religious rites. For this reason, women have traditionally been barred from funeral grounds, the reasoning being that they are more likely to weep than men.
Before laying the body on the funeral pyre (now in a white shroud), the relatives plunge it quickly into the Ganges and then rub it with ghee – the latter for religious reasons, and possibly to help it burn better. Men are usually placed face up on the pyre while women are cremated face down.
The eldest son or male relative (the chief mourner) typically sets the wood alight, starting near the mouth, with a sacred flame taken from a nearby temple. It is then the attending Doms’ job to see that the fire burns evenly by adding straw and ghee and prodding it with poles when necessary.
A body burned in this way normally takes about three-and-half hours to reduce to ashes. If the mourners are lucky, the skull will explode in the heat. This, according to Hindu belief, releases the soul to heaven. If this does not happen, it is up to the chief mourner to crack it open himself when the fire has died down. Quite a responsibility.
After the cremation, any remaining bones (for some reason usually a hip bone for women and a chest bone for men) are thrown with the ashes into the river.
As a solution to the problem of human remains clogging up the Ganges, snapping turtles were bred and released into the river specifically to eat the corpses and bones. A good idea, maybe, but since bodies and body parts are still seen floating around the river today, perhaps not as effective as originally hoped.
Apart from dead bodies in the river, there are other environmental concerns about the burning ghats. For one, the funeral pyres require an enormous amount of wood for fuel. To effectively burn a body takes about 300 kilograms (660 lbs.) of wood, and multiplied by the tens of thousands of people who are cremated here every year, it’s small wonder Varanasi has no local forest left. Wood has to be carted in from over a thousand kilometers away.
The government tried to address this problem in the 1990s by building an electric crematorium near the Ganges. Religious customs are hard to change, however, and most people still prefer to send off their dead the old-fashioned way. Constant power outages at the crematorium don’t help either.
The funeral pyres of Varanasi are without doubt one of the most amazing sights in India. Although to some of us they may seem macabre and grisly, to Hindus, death and all its aspects are seen as an important, and indeed joyful, part of life that should be embraced rather than hidden away.
Tourists are not discouraged from visiting the burning ghats, although for obvious reasons visitors should try to maintain an attitude of respect around the cremation site. Women are generally not allowed into the funereal area, although April Maciborka, the photographer who took most of these pictures, managed a quick 10-minute visit to take her shots. We thank her for the fascinating insight she’s given us into an ancient ritual – which remains as strong as ever today.
David Phyall had received an eviction notice he fought several years to avoid and for a lack of better words, wasn’t going to move out over his dead body.
In a drastic decision, Phyall took an inordinate amount of pills and then timed a chainsaw to go off once he was knocked out setting it on his neck as he lay down and closed his eyes.
His plan was very effective as he was discovered 10 days later by cops and paramedics in a state that I’m sure is still haunting them all to this day.
An early morning jog on the beach with an iPod in tow doesn’t get much more peaceful than that. Unfortunately for Robert Gary Jones, it was anything but.
The 38 year-old husband and father was in South Carolina on business and was excited to return home to Georgia for his daughter’s third birthday. The plane apparently had lost its propeller and smeared oil on the windshield making it hard to see. The pilot made an emergency landing en route to Chesapeake, VA on what he thought was a deserted beach.
Had the plane had flotation devices it might have been able to make a landing instead in the sea, but it obviously was Jones’ unlucky day. It’s been argued the pilot still should have been able to see him but whether or not it would have been in time we’ll never have a way of knowing.
Movie set Deaths: The Twilight Zone 1983
The making of the movie had consequences which overshadowed the film itself. During the filming of a segment directed by John Landis on July 23, 1982, actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6) died in an accident involving a helicopter being used on the set.
The helicopter was flying at an altitude of only 25 feet (8 meters), too low to avoid the explosions of the pyrotechnics used on set. When the blasts severed the tail rotor, it spun out of control and crashed, decapitating Morrow and Le with its blades. Chen was crushed to death as the helicopter crashed. Everyone inside the helicopter survived sustaining minor injuries.
The accident led to legal action against the filmmakers which lasted nearly a decade, and changed the regulations involving children working on movie sets at night and during special effects-heavy scenes.
Hollywood also avoided helicopter-related stunts for many years, until the CGI revolution of the 1990s made it possible to use digital versions.
As a result of the accident, one second assistant director had his name removed from the credits and replaced with the pseudonymous Alan Smithee. The incident also ended the friendship between director Landis and producer Spielberg, who was already angered before the accident that Landis had violated many codes, including using live ammunition on the set.
The newlywed worked at a hospital in Minnesota when she walked into an autoclave and was killed. Now I don’t know if you know what an autoclave is but I’ll describe it:
Basically it is a high pressured sterilizing machine that functions sort of like a dishwasher. For 15-20 minutes saturated steam reaches a temperature of 180 degrees. It basically would scald you to death.
Apparently there had been complaints that the machine was a danger but for whatever reason the hospital wouldn’t replace it.
Part of Kraling’s job was to use it to sterilize cages and things of that nature as she worked in the animal research laboratory. For whatever reason, the door shut and instinctively turned on leaving Kraling trapped inside.
The hospital ended up being fined about $75,000 and in one report I read, it was said everyone is trying to move on and forget about the “accident.”
Accidental Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, 1973
Between the 2nd and 3rd of December 1984 the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal India leaked Methyl Isocyanate (MIC). This tragedy was a result of water entering a tank containing around 42 tons of MIC, this created a chemical reaction that raised temperatures to over 200Â°c, increasing the pressure, the tank vented the toxic gas which caught in the Northwesterly wind passing over Bhopal
Initial exposure to MIC results in coughing, vomiting, eye-irritation and a sense of suffocation. Locals awoke in a panic when experiencing these symptoms and began to run from the plant, the increase in breath only hastened their unfortunate fate. Acute symptoms include burning in the respiratory tract and eyes, breathlessness, stomach pain and death was caused by choking and circulatory collapse. 170,000 people were treated for symptoms of MIC poisoning, mass funerals and cremations were held with bodies disposed of in the Narmada River. Independent organizations record 8,000 dead in the immediate days following the incident, and a further 8,000 have died since (other estimates put it at around 30,000). 100,000 to 200,000 have suffered permanent illness due to the leak. To this day groundwater and soil in areas even 3km away from the factory contains almost 40 times more pesticides than Indian standards. The soil and water also contain toxic metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and chromium.
Movie Set Deaths
In the Dennis Quaid remake of this movie a cameraman broke his leg on the set, however the original 1965 film used real planes with disastrous results. Paul Mantz was killed doing a risky take off maneuver.
This island situated on upstate New York’s Lake Champlain was used as a hospital during the 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh for American and British troops.
Being the nearest island to the ground where actual conflict took place, the dead – some of whom washed up on shore – were packed in rows in a mass grave-site south of the hospital. All but respected officers – who received proper graves – were lumped together in nameless piles.
Only in 1908 were these men, who indeed had names and distinct identities, commemorated by way of a Congress-commissioned granite obelisk. Although, no one’s gone so far as to memorialize these men individually.
1) Reddish flush in a non-fatal case of CO poisoning
2) Typical red discoloration in victim of fatal CO poisoning
3) A fatal case of CO poisoning displaying distinctive pink discoloration.
Just 3 years ago, the most brutal mass-murder in journalistic history took place, in which at least 34 journalists were deliberately killed as casualties of political terrorism.
There was tension in Maguindanao (a province of an island in the Philippines) as an election was underway; two rivaling members of the same party running for the same office.
Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, who was filing his certificate of candidacy, received threats that his rivals (supporters of the Andal Ampatuan, Sr. family) would cut him up into little piece afterwards.
Thinking a battalion of journalists would prevent such things from occurring, he invited 37 of them to accompany him. Unfortunately, they were no deterrent, as his caravan was stopped by 100 armed men who went on to slaughter all or most of Mangudadatu’s group in the most heinous of ways (e.g. women, some who were journalists, were raped and shot in the genitals).
They were all set to be buried in a mass grave dug two days earlier (along with their vehicles), until they were caught in the act by a helicopter.
A shovel found near the site bore the name Ampatuan.
A total of 58 people were killed, a count which included – aside from an exceptionally high journalist count – Mangudadatu’s wife (who sent him a text upon recognizing the attackers as Ampatuan’s men), his two sisters, as well as some lawyers and aides.
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
- Sylvia Plath
On February 10, 1963 Sylvia Plath was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in her kitchen. Plath had placed her head in the oven, while the gas was turned on and the pilot light unlit. She was 30.
Bog bodies, which are also known as bog people, are the naturally preserved human corpses found in the sphagnum bogs in Northern Europe. Unlike most ancient human remains, bog bodies have retained their skin and internalorgans due to the unusual conditions of the surrounding area.
These conditions include highly acidic water, low temperature, and a lack of oxygen, combining to preserve but severelytan their skin. Despite the fact that their skin is preserved, their bones are generally not, as the acid in the peat dissolves the calcium phosphate of bone.
The German scientist Dr. Alfred Dieckcatalogued the existence of over 1,850 northern European bog bodies in 1965, but many cannot be verified by documents or archaeological finds. Most, although not all, of these bodies have been dated to the Iron Age.
Many show signs of having been killed and deposited in a similar manner, indicating some sort of ritualelement, which many archaeologists believe show that these were the victims of human sacrifice in Iron Age Germanic paganism; though Cornelius Tacitus specifically describes bogging as a form of (sacralized) capital punishment in his 1st century work Germania. Some of the most notable examples of bog bodies include Tollund Man and Grauballe Man from Denmark and Lindow Man from England.
Postmortem pink tooth phenomenon. Pink discolouration to teeth is caused by blood breakdown products permeating the dentinal tubules