What’s that we hear you say? You want to learn about even more of the strangest deaths in history? No worries, there is still a long way to go before that particular well runs dry. So without further ado, let’s get started.
10. The King Who Was Too Fat for His Saddle
Let’s start off with one of the most important figures in British history, William the Conqueror, the man who triumphed over the Anglo-Saxons in 1066 and became the first-ever Norman king of England. It seems that he let himself go a bit following this victory so that he turned into quite a rotund man by the time of his death in 1087.
There are two different accounts of his demise. One is rather vague and boring and simply says that William fell ill on the battlefield. The other one provides a few extra gruesome details and claims that, due to the king’s girth, he impaled his stomach on the wooden pommel of his saddle after being thrown onto his horse a bit too vigorously, thus rupturing his internal organs.
If you think that’s an undignified way to go, things went from bad to worse during the funeral, when it was discovered that the bloated corpse would not fit inside the stone sarcophagus that had been specially constructed for the king. There was an attempt to shove him in by force and a contemporary account written by a monk tells us how that went: “the swollen bowels burst, and an intolerable stench assailed the nostrils of the bystanders and the whole crowd.”
9. The Destructive Inventor Killed by His Own Creation
Thomas Midgely Jr. might have looked like an unassuming, regular guy, but he has caused more damage to the environment than any other human in history. That is because he invented two of the most poisonous and harmful substances of the 20th century. First, he created tetraethyl lead or TEL, which became used as an antiknock agent in leaded gasoline. Then, when he decided that he’d had enough of the ozone layer, he worked on the first chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, which caused ozone depletion.
Eventually, karma decided that it needed to take Midgely out before he did any more damage, so he was bedridden with polio in 1940. Once he lost the use of his legs, Midgely invented a pulley system to get himself into and out of bed, but this invention turned against its creator. In 1944, the pulley mechanism malfunctioned and Midgely became tangled in the ropes. He strangled himself trying to get out of them.
8. The Man Who Forgot to Turn Off His Alarm Clock
We move on to another man who was killed by his own ingenuity. Sam Wardell, however, wasn’t an inventor. He was just a humble 19th-century lamplighter who lived in New York City. Every evening, he went out to light the lamps on the street and, when dawn came, he put them out again.
It was a simple job, but one that Wardell really wanted to keep, so he went the extra mile to ensure that he always woke up on time. Therefore, he tinkered with his alarm clock by connecting it to a wire and attaching the other end to a shelf fixed on hinges. On top of the shelf, he placed a paving stone. When the alarm went off, it pulled on the wire, which caused the shelf to fall and the weight to drop to the ground with a loud “thud!”
It was rudimentary, but it worked. That is… until Christmas Eve, 1885 when Wardell had some friends over for a party. In order to make space, he moved his bed to one side of the room, placing it right under the shelf. Later, when everybody left, a drunk Wardell jumped into bed and fell asleep, forgetting to move the bed or to turn off the alarm. It then went off like regular and the paving stone fell right on his head. Wardell suffered a serious skull fracture and died in the hospital a few days later.
7. The Man Shot by His Own Camel
English explorer John Ainsworth Horrocks has an inescapable connection to the camel. For starters, he was one of the first Europeans to advocate for the introduction of the camel to Australia to serve as a pack animal, arguing that it was better suited to the weather and the terrain than traditional choices like horses or donkeys. Then, in 1846, he actually became the first person in Australia to use a camel on an expedition in the Outback. And then, later that same year, he became the first person to be shot & killed by that same camel.
We’re not saying the camel did it on purpose, but it was a very bizarre accident. On September 1, 1846, Horrocks was on the shores of Lake Dutton doing some bird shooting. He was reloading his gun when his camel (whose name was Harry, by the way), kneeled and caught the cock of the gun, causing it to discharge in Horrocks’ face. The explorer lost some teeth and fingers and was taken to the hospital in Penwortham. He held on for a few weeks but eventually died of his injuries on September 23. On his deathbed, he gave instructions that Harry be shot, as well.
6. The Real Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Born in 1741, William Brodie, better known as Deacon Brodie because he was the master of a trades guild, is often cited as the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic characters Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That is because, by day, Brodie was a skilled cabinet-maker and prominent official in the city of Edinburgh. By night, he was a burglar and a thief, who ran his own gang and used his ill-gotten gains to fund an expensive lifestyle that included several mistresses and a gambling habit.
Brodie’s dark side was exposed in 1788 when some of his accomplices were arrested and gave him up. Afterward, a search of his home uncovered weapons, copied keys, burglary tools, and disguises. He and a cohort named George Smith were found guilty in August 1788 and sentenced to death.
The popular story surrounding Deacon Brodie was that he built the first gallows in Edinburgh and then also became the first person executed in it. This isn’t exactly true, but the real event was still pretty bizarre. For starters, it is true that Brodie helped redesign the gibbet from which he was hung. Not only that, but he was pretty pleased with it, and boasted to the crowd that there wasn’t a better one anywhere in the world. He went around inspecting it and, after concluding that the halters had been shortened too much, he demanded that they be taken down and fixed. He made this demand twice, the second time even berating the hangman for being bad at his job.
Allegedly, this was all part of the plan. Brodie was wearing a steel collar and had bribed his executioner to ignore it and to cut him down as fast as possible. The condemned man was hoping that the collar would prevent his neck from being broken and that he could be revived if done fast enough. Even if this was true, the plan didn’t work and William Brodie still died in front of 40,000 spectators.
5. The Drunken Bear Mauling
In 1891, a particularly gruesome fate befell a tavern keeper and his family who all perished in a drunken bear mauling. And when we say “drunken mauling,” we don’t mean that the man got drunk and did something stupid to the bear. No, in this particular case, it was the bear who had a few too many.
This happened in Vilnius, then a part of the Russian Empire. An unnamed man described as a “country gentleman” kept a large bear as a pet, and his servants often amused themselves by getting the animal drunk on vodka, because apparently there was nothing else to do around there.
It is unclear if the bear had escaped its enclosure or if it was allowed to roam free around the village, but on the day in question, the bear was out and about and thirsty for a drink. He stopped at the local tavern and broke open a keg of vodka. The tavern keeper, Isaac Rabbanovitch, made the fatal mistake of trying to take the keg from the bear. The angry animal pounced on Rabbanovitch and killed him, and then did the same to his three children who were also inside the tavern. By the time other villagers arrived on the scene, they found the bear sleeping it off in a pool of blood, next to the bodies of his victims. Unsurprisingly, it was immediately put down.
4. The King vs. the Old Lady
Pyrrhus was an ancient Greek statesman who became King of Epirus in 306 BC. He is best remembered for his war against Rome, where he claimed several military victories even though they came with very heavy losses, thus giving us the term “pyrrhic victory.”
Pyrrhus remained a warmonger all his life, even after his conflicts with Rome had finished. Later, he turned his attention towards the other Greek kingdoms, and, in 272 BC, he decided to invade the Peloponnese and declare war on Sparta and its allies. At one point, he attacked the city of Argos and launched a battle through the narrow streets, which resulted in a strange and humiliating death for Pyrrhus, ill-befitting a man considered one of the most feared military leaders in Greek history.
As was common during city battles, most of the civilians cleared the streets and watched the action from their rooftops. Pyrrhus was on his horse and he charged into the enemy lines when he was struck with a spear. It was only a minor injury, nothing serious, but the king then turned his fury towards the soldier who had wounded him. He was a local Argive and, as it happened, his mother was watching the fight from above. Fearing for her son’s life, the old woman grabbed the first thing she could find – a roof tile – and threw it down at Pyrrhus.
It was a direct hit. According to Plutarch, the heavy tile landed right on the king’s head and crushed his vertebrae. Pyrrhus then slid off his horse and lay still as an enemy soldier approached and cut off his head.
3. The Strongman Who Got Eaten by Wolves
Staying in Ancient Greece, we travel to the city of Croton, which had a reputation for producing many strong and athletic men who competed in the Panhellenic Games. The greatest of them all was Milo of Croton, who had won numerous wrestling titles at the games and whose feats of strength became the stuff of legend reported by multiple historians.
Unfortunately for him, it was also one of these feats that proved to be his undoing. According to the possibly-apocryphal tale, Milo was walking through the forest one day when he came upon a large tree trunk that had been split open with wedges but not fully cleaved in two. Thinking that he could finish what the woodcutters couldn’t, Milo tried to split the tree using his bare hands.
As he began parting the tree, he caused the wedges to fall out, prompting the two sides to close up and trap his hand in the tree. Milo now found himself alone in the woods, unable to move and unable to defend himself from whoever or whatever might come across him. A pack of wolves soon arrived and they feasted on the greatest wrestler of Ancient Greece.
2. The Pope Who Choked on a Fly
There have been over 260 popes so far, but only one of them came from England – Nicholas Breakspear, who became Pope Adrian IV in 1154. We are not concerned with his life or his career, however, just with his death.
By 1159, the pope was in poor health. He had quinsy, or a peritonsillar abscess if you want the fancy medical version, which meant that pus collected between his tonsils and the wall of the throat, making it hard for him to breath and swallow. He probably didn’t have long left, but one strange incident certainly sped the process along.
On September 1, 1159, Pope Adrian IV drank a glass of wine that, unbeknownst to him, had a fly in it. The fly went down his throat but, due to his condition, the pope couldn’t swallow it and he choked to death.
1. The Great Molasses Flood
One of the strangest, but also deadliest accidents in the history of the United States occurred in Boston, on January 15, 1919, when a giant tank of molasses burst and sent approximately 2.3 million gallons of the sticky, sugary substance down the city streets.
The molasses was being imported from the Caribbean and used to manufacture alcohol. It was all stored inside a 50-foot tank on Commercial Street, where it was sitting until it was ready to be distributed to distilleries. Like with many other similar catastrophes, this one could have been prevented if the company responsible actually cared about human lives and didn’t simply regard their loss as the cost of doing business. They cut corners when they made the tank to save money and ignored complaints from workers whenever the tank made creaking noises or sprung another leak.
Eventually, the predictable happened – the tank burst, and the molasses came flooding down the streets of Boston. Twenty-one people were killed and over 150 were injured as many became trapped in the viscous substance and unable to move while others were swept away into Boston Harbor.