my love agape

Reverend Henry James Prince was an Anglican priest who declared himself to be the Messiah in 1846. He built a mansion called Agapemone in Spaxton, Somerset for himself and his devoted followers.


In the style popular with cult leaders of the present century, Mr Prince advocated celibacy while apparently practising the reverse. In 1856, he was said to have dressed in ceremonial red robes and deflowered a virgin in front of an adoring congregation including his wife. He proclaimed the act a Great Manifestation, “the mystic union of flesh and spirit”, and denied responsibility for the girl’s subsequent pregnancy, naming the devil as the father instead. The rumours multiplied.


Proving mortal after all, Mr Prince died in 1899, but another wayward cleric, John Smyth-Piggott, took over his mantle and lived at the house with a number of “soul brides”.

Stories about the Agapemone are legion. In the Lamb Inn, Spaxton, everyone knows something of the strange sect. A favourite tale is how Mr Prince would choose his next female companion by sitting on a revolving stage and seeing who was in front of him when it stopped turning. The young ladies were said to have stripped naked to bathe him.

this image and an unrelated but interesting story found here

Popular legend also claims that the departed Agapemonites were buried vertically so they were prepared for resurrection when the moment came. When the last soul bride died in 1956, the gravediggers dug deep just to check on Smyth-Piggott who had passed away 27 years earlier. There were no obvious signs that he had risen again.


Published in: on August 23, 2010 at 8:16 am  Comments (36)  
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wait near the rear end

We’ve delved into the fear of being buried alive before at the Gimcrack. If you want to refresh your memory you can read about it here and here. Or you could just read this post instead…..

image by Rubex found here

John Snark wrote the Thesaurus of Horror in 1817.

“Terror, despair, horror seizes on him who is buried alive. The heart is rent asunder by unusual impulses. The emunctories choked by surcharge of faeces, rendered viscid by incalescence. The office of inosculation tries in vain to force its valves and runs retrograde bathing the poor grappling victim in extravasated blood in this dreadful scuffle till coagulation’s influence stagnates and he becomes a fermentable mass of murdered senseless decomposing matter.”

He urged physicians to try the Sphincter Test to confirm death.

“The test used by Turkish physicians seems very simple and natural, for they never think a subject dead while there is irritability or contractile power in the sphincter anus muscle. The test requires a tube to be inserted into the mouth of the deceased. The doctor then squeezes on a balloon-like bladder, to force air into the throat. One lucky assistant holds the nose and lips closed while another waits near the rear end. Death is confirmed if the air blast shoots out of the anus with a clap, the conclusion being that if the sphincter muscle has lost its contractability the person is really gone.”

confined and stimulated

A while back my mother sent me a copy of  Cowgirls, Cockroaches and Celebrity Lingerie which is about unusual museums. Reading about museums that specialise in funeral history made me think about curious coffins and rituals pertaining to death.

if you like the feeling of being enveloped, then perhaps the cocoon is for you. It has “noble lining and is a real unicum” I don’t know what that means but it sounds cosy doesn’t it?


Most people don’t want to think about their own death, or the death of someone they love. Ease yourself into this delicate subject by contemplating a final resting place for the next spider you clout with a hammer. Perhaps your conscience would be eased if you give him a decent burial?


we’ve talked about the fear of being buried alive before on the gimcrack but not with as much detail as this article from Snopes

“In 1995 a $5000.00 Italian casket equipped with call-for-help ability and survival kit went on sale. akin to the beeping devices which alert others to the plight of an elderly person who has fallen and can’t get up, this casket is equipped with a beeper which will sound a similar emergency signal. The coffins are also fitted with a two way microphone/speaker to enable communication between the occupant and someone outside, and a kit which includes a torch, an oxygen tank and a heart stimulator.”

I don’t have an image of that state of the art receptacle but instead here’s one of my favourite works by Rene Magritte (found here)


Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 8:10 am  Comments (28)  

how to resuscitate a sleeping beauty

a few months back nursemyra wrote about coffins for those who were afraid of being buried alive. While reading A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities I discovered more detail for my curious readers……


“only putrefaction and the appearance of livid spots are accepted as sure signs that an individual has really expired. A presumed corpse is to remain in a warm bed and vigourous attempts should be made to resuscitate it. The individual’s nostrils are to be irritated by onion juice, garlic and horseradish or shove a sharp pointed pencil up the nose. Stimulate the skin by the liberal application of whips and nettles. Irritate the intestines by acrid enemas, agitate the limbs by violent pulling  and shock the ears by hideous shrieks and excessive noise. If these methods fail, pour boiling Spanish wax on the forehead.”


A French clergyman even advocated that a red-hot poker be thrust up the unfortunate corpse’s rear quarters as a last resort!


Antoine Louis, a physician in Paris, objected to the use of putrefaction as the sole sign of death. He used a remarkable apparatus made especially for the purpose of awakening those who were apparently dead. A pipe was inserted into the anus and another pipe was connected by a bellows to a furnace full of tobacco.

Many cities employed inspectors of dead bodies to examine and attempt to resuscitate every corpse within their jurisdiction. Establishments were staffed by a matron and several nurses whereby corpses were placed on comfortable beds with strings tied to their fingers and connected to a large bell. Philanthropic magnates contributed large sums of money to contests dedicated to solving the problem of distinguishing real from apparent death. Ideas included rubbing the body’s most sensitive areas with stiff, prickly brushes, using pincers on nipples or thrusting a needle with a flag on one end into the heart of the apparently dead individual – the flag would wave if the heart was still beating.


Published in: on December 16, 2008 at 7:36 am  Comments (29)  

are we dead yet?

ever since I saw the original version of The Vanishing I have had a fear of waking up in a coffin, buried under several feet of earth, because some gung ho medico signed my death certificate too early. it seems I’m not alone in this fear. at the very least I’d want to be buried with a phalanx of tools to get myself out though cremation is my preferred option.

in 1843 Christian Eisenbrandt of Baltimore, patented a spring loaded coffin lid. “—-Whereas there have been instances of human beings having been buried alive, the inventor of this coffin has contrived an arrangement whereby anyone who may not really have departed this life may by the slightest motion of either the head or hand acting upon a system of springs and levers cause the instantaneous opening of the coffin lid.”

25 years later, Franz Vester of Newark patented this bell system. The nature of this invention consists in placing on the lid of the coffin, and directly over the face of the body laid therein, a square tube which extends from the coffin up through and over the surface of the grave, said tube containing a ladder and a cord, one end of the cord being placed in the hand of the person laid in the coffin and the other end of said cord being attached to a bell on the top of the square tube, so that, should a person be interred ere life is extinct, he can, on recovery to consciousness, ascend from the grave by the ladder, or if not able to ascend by said ladder, ring the bell, thereby giving an alarm and thus saving himself.”

M.C.H. Nicolle, of France, patented a somewhat bizarre coffin signal in 1899, in which a hammer is released by movement of the corpse, swinging down and breaking a glass window directly over the head, allowing air to enter the previously sealed coffin. The alarm is simply the sound of the breaking glass, since the device is used only before burial. If anyone ever did wake from a trance in one of these coffins and lift their heads, the result would appear to be a face full of broken glass followed by a blow from the falling hammer

since most of the illustrations for today’s post feature skeletons I might as well run with it

this guy also likes skulls. he posted images of a new one every day for a year and now invites reader’s submissions. a great russian site I found has some really beautiful images, hard to pick a favourite but perhaps this one which includes whorled shell shapes

and Tontenkopf make the coolest toaster ever


Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 7:42 am  Comments (27)  

Miss Bang Bang

Ann Woodward was born in Kansas but was smart and talented enough to get a job in radio in New York

She won the odd title of “Most Beautiful Woman in Radio” and in 1942, her beauty caught the eye of William Woodward Sr. 

image found here

At some point in 1942, William Woodward Sr. passed the 27-year-old Ann on to his son, five years her junior. It was love at first sight and very quickly the two were wed.

While her son’s marriage started off happy, Elsie Woodward, the socialite who ran the most exclusive parlor of the New York 400, saw her new daughter-in-law as a gold digger who latched on to her son merely to get her hands on his $10 million fortune.

Billy’s sisters also froze off Ann. Even though she had been famous in her own right — her work on radio had gained the notice of The New York Times — she was too gaudy and flashy for their tastes. She once made the unforgivable faux pas of wearing red shoes with a blue dress and was seen smoking in public long before such behavior was tolerated in their circles.

image found here

The friction Ann felt in high society contributed to the problems at home. Both had roving eyes that created fireworks. Billy’s rumored bisexuality only made things worse.

Billy and Ann had one of those relationships that was too fractious to keep together and too strong to break apart. They sparred openly in public over many things, not the least of which were her affairs with the likes of the Aga Khan and Franchot Tone and his with any number of debutantes.

Franchot Tone found here

In between fights there was obviously affection, as the couple soon had two children, William III (nicknamed Woody) and Jimmy, born in 1944 and 1947.

At a swank party for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Billy and Ann Woodward were noticeably agitated, guests would recall later, talking incessantly about the recent spate of burglaries in their upscale Oyster Bay, Long Island neighborhood.

image found here

No one at the party remembers Ann or Billy squabbling that night, although many guests do recall the event had been particularly boozy.

By the time the couple returned home, it was 1 a.m. and 11-year-old Woody and 7-year-old Jimmy were fast asleep in their beds. Ann and Billy bade each other good night and retired to their own rooms. Behind locked doors, Billy slept with a revolver nearby while Ann was armed with a double-barreled shotgun.

shotgun found here

Two hours later Ann awoke to find her dog, Sloppy, barking at her open door. Ann told authorities she saw a “shadowy figure” near Billy’s room, backlit against the pale moonlight streaming in from a hallway window. She reached for the 12-gauge shotgun and pulled the trigger.

“Almost immediately,” Ann testified later, “I realized it was my husband. I ran and fell on the floor beside him.” Ann pulled herself away long enough to call for help. She summoned an ambulance, police and, in a move that some would use to damn her, an attorney.

image found here

In the face of widespread press coverage, the district attorney convened a grand jury to investigate the shooting. Shortly after she buried her husband, Ann Woodward appeared before the grand jury and told her account of events.

The jurors took just 30 minutes to deliberate and find that Ann had acted without malice and that the shooting was unintentional. She was completely exonerated in the eyes of the law.

Over petit fours and champagne, the grande dames whispered that Ann had once been a prostitute. She had been previously married and had killed Billy when he discovered that her first marriage had never been legally ended. Unfortunately for Ann, the rumors gained a measure of truth when it came out that her father was not the “late Col. Crowell,” as was listed in the Woodwards’ wedding announcement, but was, in fact, alive and well and estranged from his daughter (he erroneously thought the actress Eve Arden was actually his child).

image found here

The Woodward boys were whisked off to European boarding schools shortly after their father’s death. They had slept through the shooting and could offer no helpful information to investigators. The move would have profound ramifications in later years, as neither boy was ever given a satisfactory explanation by mother or grandmother about the events leading to their father’s death.

Jimmy Woodward managed to make it through Switzerland’s exclusive Le Rosey school (its alumni included Prince Rainier of Monaco, the Shah of Iran and the King of Belgium) and volunteered for service in Vietnam so he could serve with a friend who had been drafted. When his friend was killed, Jimmy turned to drugs and drink. 

Prince Rainier found here

Jimmy became paranoid and convinced that people were spying on him through his television set. He attempted suicide by jumping out the window of a friend’s apartment and succeeded in breaking his arms and legs. It was while Jimmy was convalescing that he started seeing notorious prostitute Xaviera Hollander, author of the book “The Happy Hooker.” Hollander included several stories about Jimmy in her second book, “Xaviera, Her Continuing Adventures,” in a chapter called “Jimmy, Don’t Jump Again.”

image found here

In time, the stories about Ann Woodward reached author Truman Capote, who ingratiated himself with Elsie’s circle and began collecting anecdotes and gossip. The idea for a novel based on real-life characters – began forming in Capote’s mind and Ann Woodward was at the center.

Capote never let the facts get in the way of a good story and wasn’t above using his skill as a storyteller to get back at those who had slighted him. When he and Ann quarreled at a debutante ball and Ann, her tongue loosened by drink, called him a “little faggot,” Truman responded by dubbing her “Miss Bang Bang.”

Capote found here

At the request of a friend who edited Ladies Home Journal, Truman penned a wicked story about a woman of loose morals known as “Madame Marmalade” by the boys of the French Riviera for a “trick she did using her tongue and jam.” The story proved too racy and too controversial for Ladies Home Journal and Capote looked elsewhere for a market.

image found here

In September 1975, Ann received a shocking telephone call from a friend in the publishing business. Capote had sold his story to Esquire magazine. “In a few weeks, everyone would be talking about the thinly disguised Capote story in which someone very like Ann Woodward turns out to be a bigamist and the former girlfriend of a gangster who traps her rich society husband into marrying her by becoming pregnant.”

Ann became increasingly forlorn and depressed. As she prepared for bed, she made up her face with makeup, lipstick, eye shadow and mascara. Then Ann Woodward lay down on her side on her bed, took a single cyanide capsule, and died.

Jimmy never recovered from his mother’s death. The cocaine and heroin, guilt and remorse took its toll on him and less than a year after Ann Woodward died, Jimmy did jump again. This time he was successful in ending his life.

Woody married in 1985 and lived overseas in a life of comfort. But in 1996, his wife filed for divorce. The divorce and separation from his child took its toll on Woody who suffered from bipolar disorder and in 1999, after revising his will to leave his $35 million estate entirely to his daughter, the 54-year-old Woodward followed in the steps of his mother and brother, and leapt out the window of his Manhattan co-op.