Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reflections on the Guillotine

Think "guillotine" and an image of Marie Antoinette comes to mind, all poofy haired and silk gowned, maybe wielding a dessert fork (though she never really said, "Let them eat cake"). Marie lost her head to the timbers of justice 219 years ago today.

You can see the guillotine that decapitated her in Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London. (Remember, Tussaud got her start making wax death masks for victims of the French Revolution, including Marie Antoinette.)  Other places for guillotine tourism include:

*  Paris, at Rue de la Roquette and Rue de la Croix Faubin (near the 11th arr) - Indents in the street mark where the guillotine stood outside the Prison de la Roquette, where 69 beheadings took place. Atlas Obscura has more here.

*  St-Pierre, off the coast of Newfoundland in eastern Canada - The guillotine sliced just once in North America, and it was on this French island-territory. The blade remains in the L'Arche Museum. Its bloody backstory is here.

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin would surely be appalled to know the device that bears his name ended up with such a nefarious reputation; he meant for it to be a humane way to die. The last guillotine dropped in 1977.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

World Zombie Day

Prepare the prosthetic pustules, and bring on the braaaaains. It's World Zombie Day, celebrated the second Saturday of October each year. Fans gather in crusty, dusty solidarity around the globe. Some groups organize blood drives, others grunt over drinks during pub crawls, while others gather for communal screenings of Shaun of the Dead.

Zombies have become a $5 billion-per-year industry. In addition to literature like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and TV shows such as The Walking Dead, zombiephiles can take hatchet-throwing lessons, "walk like a zombie" acting workshops and run in races while being chased by the undead. Zombie tourism is big business.

Personally, I'd go to Indianapolis if I was a zombie, to the Indiana Medical History Museum. It's an old insane asylum with a whole room filled with brains in jars - a zombie version of just opening a can of something for a quick dinner.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Elegy for the Baseball Season

If nothing else it's historic: two 100-loss teams playing a baseball game against each other. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros will have piled up 207 losses between them when they meet today for the season finale at Wrigley Field. That's 101 losses for the Cubs vs. 106 losses for the Astros. The last time such crappiness collided was in 1962, when the NY Mets - with a still-standing MLB record of 120 losses - whiffed against the, er, Cubs (103 losses). Attendance for the game was 595 fans.

On a related note: remember Adam Greenberg, the Cubs rookie who got hit on the head by the first - and only - pitch he ever saw? The concussion he suffered in his first at-bat derailed his career. That was 2005. Flash-forward to Oct. 2, 2012. Greenberg returns to the majors. Steps to the plate. Squares off against RA Dickey, the Mets' 20-win knuckle-baller. And this is the subsequent headline: Greenberg Strikes Out 7 Years After Beaning. And this: He's Back... And He Whiffs.

A white-haired gentleman named Fred van Dusen watched from the stands and felt the pain. Greenberg, you see, wasn't the only player to have his career halted by one hit-by-pitch plate appearance. Van Dusen is the other member of the dubious club, after he got nailed as a Philadelphia Philly in 1955.