Modern medicine has led to eradication of many of the worst diseases in human history – and doctors are hard at work on cures or vaccinations for conditions like HIV, cancer and malaria. While figures for 20th century causes of death shows that 1,680 million people died of infectious diseases and cancer was responsible for 530 million deaths worldwide, figures from the 19th century show a very different picture.
The New England Journal of Medicine has calculated that while cancer was responsible for more deaths than any other condition in 2010, in 1900 influenza, tuberculosis and gastrointestinal infections were the biggest killers – all problems which are now easily treated or prevented, and are also very rarely fatal.
Even if you managed to avoid serious illness, steered clear of a life-threatening injury and infection, escaped being called up to fight in a war and, if you were a woman, beat the odds and survived childbirth, the Grim Reaper still had a few curve balls to throw, leading to some weird and very unexpected deaths over the centuries.
The list below tells the tragic, and sometimes humorous, tales of some of the most unusual deaths in history. Which one do you think was the most unexpected?
15. Homer and Langley Collyer Killed By Booby Trap
Two, for the price of one, in the tragic tale of the Collyer brothers. They died in their New York mansion in the 1940s, which had become something of a shrine to their impressive hoarding abilities. Not only did they delight in hoarding stuff, but they were also convinced that people were planning on breaking in to steal their, ahem, treasures, and set up booby-traps to deter would-be thieves. One day, Langley accidentally set off one of those booby-traps, burying himself under piles of rubbish, where he died soon after. Unfortunately, for his bed-bound and blind brother, Homer, this meant that there was no-one to take care of him anymore, and he died of neglect, probably within a few days.
14. Hans Steininger Killed By His Beard
And now a word of warning to all you bearded hipsters out there – your facial hair can kill you. Think it’s a joke? Well, Hans Steininger, who lived in Austria in the 16th century, was killed by his beard. This was a particularly long and impressive beard, which reportedly measured 1.5 metres. He usually kept his fulsome facial hair rolled up in a leather pouch to stop it from getting underfoot. One day, however, when he was trying to escape a major fire in his home town, he forgot to roll up his beard, and tripped over it, breaking his neck and dying instantly.
13. Michael Anderson Godwin Electrocuted By Headphone Wires
The story of convicted criminal Michael Anderson Godwin could be seen as evidence that no-one escapes the Grim Reaper’s icy reach. Godwin was initially sentenced to death in South Carolina in 1981, for sexual assault and murder – a sentence which was commuted to life in prison in 1983. It seems that Death didn’t get the memo, however, as Godwin was ironically electrocuted in prison, when he bit through the wires of a set of headphones he was trying to repair while sitting on one of the metal prison toilets. Godwin may have escaped the electric chair, but he seems he couldn’t avoid the electric commode.
12. Kurt Godel Starved To Death
Kurt Godel was born in Austria in 1906 and died in the US in 1978. He was thought to be one of history’s greatest logicians, which only made the circumstances of his unusual death even more tragic. As he grew older, Godel started to suffer from mental illness, including a paranoia that people were trying to kill him by poisoning his food. As a result, he would only eat meals prepared and served by his wife, Adele. When Adele died, Godel refused to eat any food that was brought to him, and he slowly starved to death six months after his wife had passed away.
11. King Edward II Killed By Red Hot Poker In His Bum
The death of England’s King Edward II in 1327 is probably one of the most famous unusual deaths in history, although its truth has never been completely established. Chroniclers at the time report that Edward was murdered on the orders of his own Queen, Isabella, and her lover, Sir Roger Mortimer. While many historians agree that Edward was most likely murdered while imprisoned at Berkeley Castle, contemporary historians claim that the deposed king was killed by having a red hot poker inserted into his bum – the idea being that while this injury would be extremely painful and very fatal, there would be no obvious signs of foul play.
10. Chrysippus of Soli Died Of Laughter
Chrysippus of Soli was an Ancient Greek philosopher who moved to Athens where he died in 206BC at the age of 73. As a member of the Stoic school, Chryssipus was well-known for his knowledge of logic and ethics, but it was also reported that he enjoyed nothing more than a good laugh and a joke. His unusual death came when he was walking home one day and saw a donkey eating some figs. Tickled by the scene, he told the animal’s owner to give it a little wine afterwards and found the resultant scene so hilarious that he actually died of laughter.
9. People Killed By The London Beer Flood
This unusual death, or deaths, should probably be filed under “What a way to go!” The London Beer Flood took place in 1814, when an iron ring, supporting a huge fermentation tank at the Horse Shoe Brewery on Tottenham Court Road, snapped, sending a wave of beer down the street, killing eight people in the process. Several other tanks at the brewery were forced open by the force of the beer, which meant that approximately 320,000 gallons of booze ended up flowing down the tightly packed streets in this part of London, sweeping aside innocent bystanders and flooding the basements of nearby buildings.
8. People Watched As Queen Sunandha Kumariratana Drowned
In 1880, Queen SunandhaKumariratana of Siam, now Thailand, drowned after the boat in which she was travelling capsized. Now, drowning isn’t that unusual a death, but what is unusual about this particular drowning is that many dozens of her royal staff and beloved subjects simply stood back and watched it happen, without making any effort at all to rescue and save her from her fate. Did they hate their Queen? Far from it – the reason they left her to drown is that they would actually face a death sentence if they were so bold as to touch any member of the royal family, even if this happened in the course of saving her life.
7. Franz Reichelt Killed By His Own Parachute
Based on the way Franz Reichelt lived his life, it was always inevitable that he was going to meet a sticky but dramatic end. Nicknamed the Flying Tailor, Reichelt was famous throughout Europe in the early-20th century for the eccentric flying suits he created in a bid to make the newly-invented airplanes safer for pilots and passengers, and which he was sure would carry anyone, including himself, to safety from even the highest structures. Unfortunately, his faith was very badly misplaced, as he found to his cost when he decided to try out his latest parachute suit by jumping from the Eiffel Tower – only to plummet 187 feet to his sudden death.
6. Robert Williams Was Killed By A Robot
Assembly line worker Robert Williams has the dubious honour of being the first human to be killed by a robot, a fact which those who have watched the Terminator series will learn with some anxiety. Williams was just 25-years-old in 1979 when he was fatally injured by a robotic arm, which slammed him into a wall as he retrieved parts for his work in a Michigan factory. His family was awarded $10 million in damages, after the factory owners agreed that more safety measures could have been introduced. So, maybe we’re still a little way off from the rise of the machines after all.
5. Jimi Heselden Was Killed By His Segway
The name Jimi Heselden probably means very little, but this multi-millionaire British businessman was the owner of a company which designs and makes Segways, those ubiquitous motorized scooters that seem to be the latest thing in transportation for tour guides, cops and people with more money than sense. Heselden also loved to take his products out for a spin, until the fateful day in 2010 when both he and his Segway took a tumble off an 80-foot cliff near his Yorkshire home. It is thought that this was nothing more than a tragic accident, but it is a prescient reminder to not get too cocky on your Segway debut.
4. Frank Hayes Died On His Horse
In 1923, stable hand turned jockey Frank Hayes rode a 20-1 winner at New York’s Belmont Park racecourse. A good day at the office, right? Well, it would have been if Hayes hadn’t suffered a fatal heart attack half way round the trace, finishing the race still strapped into his stirrups, but well and truly an ex-jockey. Amazingly, the win still counted, and Hayes remains the only deceased jockey to win a race – an exclusive club that no other riders will be anxious to join. Unfortunately, life wasn’t so good for the winning horse, Sweet Kiss. Now nicknamed “Sweet Kiss of Death” jockeys refused to ride her, believing that the poor animal was jinxed in some way.
3. Sigurd The Mighty Killed By His Dead Enemy’s Teeth
Sigurd Eysteinsson was the ruler of Orkney, off the northern coast of Scotland, between 875 and 892 AD. Also known as Sigurd the Mighty, he was a typical marauding Viking, and was involved in the mass invasion of northern Scotland in 892. During one of the ensuing battles, Sigurd the Mighty killed his enemy, MáelBrigte, the Mormaer of Moray. To demonstrate his power, Sigurd decapitated Máel, and strapped the head to his saddle, ready for the ride home to Orkney. En route, however, the late Máel’s teeth somehow managed to graze Sigurd’s leg; a wound which then became badly infected and led to Sigurd the Mighty’s eventual death.
2. Clement Vallandigham Accidentally Shot Himself
Famous for his political career during the US Civil War, Clement Vallandigham was also an accomplished lawyer, and after serving two terms as a Congressman, he went back to the courtroom, which proved to be a very bad move. Vallandigham ended up accidentally shooting himself when he set about trying to prove that a supposed murder victim had accidentally or intentionally turned his own gun on himself during a fracas at a local bar. In his excitement to demonstrate his new theory Vallandigham failed to check if the gun he was using was unloaded, and proceeded to shoot himself – proving only that there are some people who shouldn’t be trusted with guns, whether it’s the 19th or the 21st century.
1. William Huskisson Killed By A Railway Carriage
William Huskisson died in 1830, becoming the first fatality on any railway anywhere in the world. Huskisson had been attending the official opening of the Manchester to Liverpool railway line, when he was struck by a railway carriage coming in the opposite direction. At this time, the engines still had to make frequent stops to take on water, and during one of these stops, Huskisson and others had disembarked to stretch their legs. When someone shouted that another engine was coming, Huskisson dithered, with fatal consequences. Instead of simply stepping off the line and out of the way, he tried to get back into his carriage, and was struck in the process, dying of his injuries a few hours later.
- Ad Free Browsing
- Over 10,000 Videos!
- All in 1 Access
- Join For Free!