With over 4 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you're throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or you’re trying to reverse-engineer the cranberry sauce recipe your mother refused to share with you over Thanksgiving. But follow enough links, and you get sucked into some seriously strange places. We explore some of Wikipedia's oddities in our 4,389,124-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This Week’s Entry: List of Unusual Deaths
What It’s About: The only certainty in life is that each of us, rich or poor, weak or strong, uncool or painfully uncool, will one day be visited by The Onion’s Man of the Millennium. But of the billions of deaths that have occurred worldwide, some are so memorably strange as to merit mention on Wikipedia as the most unusual of all time.
Strangest Fact: Roughly 2,500 years after it happened, there’s no way of telling whether this story is truth or legend, but ancient Athenian playwright Aeschylus, was supposedly killed by a tortoise that an eagle had dropped onto his head, thinking his head was a rock hard enough to shatter the animal’s shell. According to Pliny, Aeschylus had spent most of his time outdoors because of a prophecy that said he would be killed by a falling object.
Controversy: Some of the deaths on the list were allegedly voluntary. In 1996, Robert Glass killed Sharon Lopatka, claiming she had asked him to torture her to death “for the purpose of sexal gratification.” In 2001 Bernd-Jurgen Brandes asked fellow German Armin Meiwes to stab him to death and then eat his corpse. And, of course, there’s Kenneth Pinyan, a Seattle man who died in 2005 after tearing his rectum while having sex with a (male) horse. And in a less R-rated (and possibly apocryphal) story, George Plantangenet, the first Duke of Clarence, was executed for plotting against his brother, Edward IV, and at his own request was drowned in a barrel of wine. Shakespeare memorialized the incident in his play about Plantangenet’s other brother, Richard III.
Thing We Were Happiest To Learn: John Steed and Emma Peel might have been real people. Georgi Markov was a Bulgarian novelist and playwright who began to criticize the regime in his own country. In 1978, Bulgaria’s secret police, with possible help from the KGB, assassinated Markov using an umbrella. The umbrella had been modified to fire a metal pellet full of ricin. It was fired into Makov’s calf and he died from the poison three days later.
Thing We Were Unhappiest To Learn: Football’s not the only sport that’s dangerous. In 1983, tennis player Stefan Edberg hit linesman Dick Wertheim in the groin; Wertheim fell to the pavement, hitting his head, and died from cranial trauma. The previous year, George M. Prior died from a severe allergic reaction to a fungicide used on a golf course, as he had the unfortunate habit of carrying the tee in his mouth in between shots. Hockey player Espen Knutsen had a shot deflected into the crowd, where it struck 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil in the head, killing her. But the most bizarre incident had to be a soccer match in the Democratic Republic Of The Congo, where a bolt of lightning killed every member of visiting team Bena Tshadi and left every member of home team Basanga alive.
Also noteworthy: Hans Steininger, burgomaster of Brunau, Austria, died in 1567 when he tripped over his four and a half foot long beard and broke his neck.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Anywhere in the world where Asian elephants can be found, execution by elephant was at one time a common practice, as the powerful animals are easily trained and, unlike horses, have no compunction over trampling someone in battle.