Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Use the facilities at your own risk: Wikipedia’s list of toilet-related deaths

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This week’s entry: Toilet-related injuries and deaths (Warning: the link contains one major Game Of Thrones spoiler for events that will almost certainly be covered in an upcoming episode.)

What it’s about: The arrival of springtime is celebrated in cultures across the world, as Christian Easter, Hindu Janmashtami, Buddhist Theravada, Sikh Vaisakhi are each built around themes of new beginnings and rebirth. All of them draw on the most ancient and sacred tradition of all—a reverence of the very cycles of life and death that are at the heart of all existence. So, as spring dawns and nature again renews itself, we decided to ignore all that stuff and talk about people who died on the can.

Strangest fact: Toilets have sunk more ships than torpedoes. On most ships, the head connects to an opening below the water line, where waste is expelled, and flush water is taken in. If that connection leaks, or water flows the wrong way, the ship can take on water, and in some cases sink. There isn’t any hard data on how many ships are resting in Davy Jones’ Locker because of a leaky toilet, but Wikipedia estimates tens of thousands “of all types and sizes.”

Biggest controversy: As is often the case with Wikipedia, the scope of the article is a point of contention, with a discussion on the talk page that devolves into some name-calling, on whether someone who died while sitting on the toilet can be considered a “toilet-related death” if the toilet itself didn’t cause the injury. There’s also a heated discussion on whether Elvis Presley did in fact die on the toilet, as frequently reported, or elsewhere in the bathroom.

Thing we were happiest to learn: There’s no shortage of fictional toilet-related injuries and deaths. From Doc Brown inventing the flux capacitor after hitting his head on a toilet, to the mayhem that unfolds every time Vincent Vega takes a bathroom break, to Rorschach killing rioting jailbirds with electrified toilet water. And, of course, the aforementioned Game Of Thrones spoiler, in which all of the major characters are killed during a bathroom break at Daenerys and Jon Snow’s wedding reception.

Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Sometimes you can’t escape fate. Convicted murderer Michael Anderson Godwin had been sentenced to die in the electric chair, but had his sentence commuted. While serving out that lesser sentence, he sat on the metal toilet while trying to repair a TV. He bit down on one of the wires, and the resulting current flowed through the toilet, electrocuting him. Thing we were second-unhappiest to learn? Black widow spiders have been known to spin a web under toilet seats (particularly in outhouses) and bite the toilet’s unsuspecting users. Fortunately, despite the widow’s reputation, their bites are rarely fatal.

Also noteworthy: Several historical figures have been murdered while sitting on the toilet, including (allegedly) Edmund II of England and Japanese warlord Uesugi Kenshin (also allegedly). The one royal we know was murdered while taking care of business was Wenceslaus III, of Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland. He was stabbed to death with a spear while using the garderobe—a medieval convenience in which in which a person’s waste drained to the exterior of a castle, usually ending up in the moat. Wenceslaus III is not to be confused with his ancestor, Good King Wenceslaus I, of Christmas carol fame, who was also murdered, but not in the garderobe.

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: The Ig Nobel Prize, an award handed out annually to especially pointless or trivial scientific achievements. In this instance, the prize was three physicians who wrote a report in 1993 on patients who had sustained injuries to the buttocks due to a collapsing toilet.