Empire of the Dead: The Paris Catacombs

Quick! Who wants a family photo?
Quick! Who wants a family photo?

I thought “Okay, October is over. Enough of that.” Then I thought “Nah, one more creepy article!”

Obviously everyone knows Paris as the City of Love, but did you know that Paris rests atop the Empire of the Dead? I know what you’re thinking, that’s even¬†more¬†romantic, right? I agree! But before you run off to plan your trip to Death Land, pop a squat and learn how this wonderful attraction took form! ūüėÄ

Typically, cities would bury their dead a short distance away from the more populated areas. Paris, however, is anything but typical. Through a series of unfortunate events (mainly being invaded to death and having to resettle,) Paris developed with the city’s cemeteries front and center. Frontiest and centeriest was Les Innocents cemetery.

That must be a baby-changing station!
That must be a baby-changing station!

Les Innocents cemetery soon became ground zero for like,¬†all¬†the dead people… centuries¬†of dead people. Eventually the cemetery was full to overflowing. More room was made by exhuming many bodies and stuffing the bones into the walls of the cemetery. That space was quickly filled up, as were the new plots. By the late 1700’s, Les Innocents was full to bursting.

I mean that literally, too. A metric shit-ton of dead people led to the formation of a mound over two yards tall. Paris officials did the sensible thing and issued decrees limiting the use of the burial ground. Parisians did the sensible thing and flipped them the bird while stuffing more dead people into their ghastly pinata. Shit got real when said pinata finally burst¬†into someone’s basement.

I mean, can you even imagine? Here you are, sitting in your mancave doing whatever French dudes do in French mancaves. Out of nowhere, a bunch of dead people/skeletons come bursting through your wall as if reaching for your very soul.

I think I’d either crap myself to death or die trying to run up the stairs in terror. Could end up being both, to be honest…¬†

Anyway, at the same time the Les Innocents death-bomb was growing, so too were limestone mines beneath the city. Eventually these mines were abandoned and, much like the mighty death wad of a cemetery, began to collapse. Paris officials looked at their cemeteries, then looked at the mines, then got an idea…

The work was started in 1785. A nightly procession of grisly proportions carted load after load of bony debris to the tunnels below the city. There were so many remains that it took a good two years to get them all tossed in. That’s not hyperbole either, the newly-crafted catacombs were more of a junky attic than a respectful mausoleum.

That’s where¬†¬†Louis-√Čtienne H√©ricart de Thury comes into play in 1810. The then-head of the Paris Mine Inspection Service (and badass long-name owner) was responsible for organizing the bones into the walls, patterns and semi-sculptures that can be seen in the catacombs to this day. Death never looked so good!

"Warning! Extreme creepiness ahead."
“Warning! Fun for the whole family.”

Today there are an estimated¬†6 million¬†dead French people resting peacef… well, at least resting… in the now-infamous catacombs. A sign at the entrance to the catacombs cheerfully tells you¬†“Arrete! C’est ici l’empire de la mort.”(Stop! This¬†is the empire of death.) If you believe the tales told, some of the dead¬†should¬†be feared.

Stories abound of some dead that aren’t resting so peacefully in their underground play-around. Imagine that: the spirits of the jumbled dead being all worked up over their situation! Jeez, what’s their problem?

Even if you aren’t the supernatural kind, you should still be cautious. There’s a LOT of tunnels, like¬†200 miles¬†worth. Not all of them are full of dead people, but they are always looking to expand.

You could end up contributing to the project if you lose your way. You wouldn’t be the first to do so, either. It is not unheard of to find fresh corpses of wayward adventurers who took a wrong turn down a dark tunnel. No word on whether they just stuff them into the wall right then and there.

Whether you are on your honeymoon and looking for a romantic place to hang out, or you want to give your kids wonderful lasting memories on their family vacation, the Paris Catacombs are the place for you! Just make sure to stay with your tour group (and buy something from the gift shop) lest you find yourself a permanent addition to the collection.

Sweet dreams, kiddies!

Enlarged: Supercharged Serial Killers

Mattel rightfully second-guessed the Serial Killer Barbie collection...
Mattel rightfully second-guessed the Serial Killer Barbie collection…

What says Sunday more than prolific serial killers? I thought I’d keep the Halloween theme going with a look at some real-life monsters: serial killers. A serial killer is defined as a person that has killed three or more people over the course of at least a month, with breaks in between. These aren’t just any serial killers, these are the most prolific in history, killing way the hell more than three people.

Our first subject is the only American serial killer in the top ten list of most prolific serial killers. That dishonor falls to Gary Leon Ridgway, better known as the “Green River Killer”. Ridgway grew up as the middle-child of a troubled family. Violent arguments between his parents were a common occurrence.

The Green River Killer
The Green River Killer

Ridgway first showed signs of trouble as a teenager. At the age of 16, he led a six year old boy into the woods and stabbed him in the ribs. The boy’s liver was injured, but he survived. The future serial killer reportedly walked away from the boy saying, “I always wondered what it would be like to kill someone.”

While married twice, both marriages ended bitterly with both partners admitting to infidelity. Somewhat ironically, Ridgway became quite religious around the time he got married for the second time. Part of his mental instability is believed to be linked to struggling between his religious beliefs and an insatiable sex drive. He both denounced prostitutes and visited them frequently.

The result of this mental wrestling match was a minimum of 71 murdered women. The victims were believed to be made up of prostitutes and runaways picked up along the highway. Most of the bodies were dumped at sites around Green River, hence his serial killer moniker. The exact number of victims could be higher. Ridgway himself has said that he’s killed so many women that he had lost count.

Yang Xinhai of China may not have been quite as prolific as the Green River killer, but the way the “Monster Killer” brutally and senselessly butchered his victims takes him a step above. Yang¬†was also convicted of all of his known murders. Ridgway may have killed 71-plus women, but was only convicted of 49 murders.

China’s most prolific serial killer was born in 1948 to one of the poorest families in his village. The youngest of four children, Yang was very clever but very introverted. He eventually dropped out of school and set out on his own. He traveled China working as a hired hand.

Yang’s murder spree took place between 1999 and 2003. He would sneak into a family’s home in the middle of the night and kill everyone inside using axes, hammers, and shovels. This at times meant killing entire families at once. Perhaps Yang’s most brutal attack resulted in the murder of a father and his six year old daughter. He then violently raped the man’s pregnant wife, who miraculously survived with serious head injuries.

The Beast
The Beast

The undisputed “king of death” hails from peaceful Colombia, where nothing bad ever happens and unicorns fart rainbows. Surely the fact that the top-three most prolific serial killers are from there is surely just coincidence, right? Luis Garavito beats the other two by being¬†convicted of an unholy 138 murders, but possibly having¬†been responsible for 400-plus deaths.

“La Bestia” (“The Beast”) had a textbook tragic childhood. He is the oldest of seven brothers, all of whom suffered at the hands of their father. All seven brothers were allegedly physically and mentally abused by their father on a regular basis. Garavito himself described being regularly sexually abused by his father in testimony at his trial.

The abuse handed down by his father clearly warped Garavito’s mind. His victims of choice were street children between the ages of 8 and 16. “The Beast” would approach them with small gifts or small amounts of money to gain their trust. He’d then lead them on a walk out of town. They would walk until the child would become too tired to continue.

Garavito would then proceed to molest and rape them, ultimately cutting their throats and most-often dismembering their dead bodies. The remains of his victims often showed signs of torture. He was convicted on 139 murder charges. However, because of Colombian law, Garavito could be out of prison in 22 years or less.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the scariest part of this entire article.

Ancient Animals

He might be slow, but he'll outlive your grandchildren.
He might be slow, but he’ll outlive your grandchildren.

Humans have a fascination with numbers, especially large numbers. Hell, this website has largely been patterned around large things, tall things,¬†old¬†things… That’s a big one. People are fascinated with how long things live. Spurred on by the fear surrounding our own mortality, we seek out other living things that have proven to be exceptionally long lived.

One interesting thing I discovered while doing research for this entry is how often longevity records are questioned. Why lie about how long some creature lived, anyway? It’s not like you get some sort of special reward for finding a really old animal, outside maybe a couple paragraphs in National Geographic. Personally I’d be ripped to find out that an animal with a brain one-third the size of mine somehow managed to live for two centuries.

Whatever the reason may be, we’re always looking for the oldest something. I could have blown your mind with the oldest living sea sponge (they’re the longest living, well,¬†anything,¬†really) or the oldest living tree(oh yeah, I already did.) Instead of going to extremes, I decided to pick out the one land creature and the one waterborne creature that are both the longest lived and actually have spines and the ability to move.

The mighty ocean brings us the Bowhead whale. These 60-plus foot long, 75-ton behemoths hang out mostly in arctic and sub-arctic waters. They’re absolute brutes, lacking a dorsal fin, but having a thick humped back. They use their strength and size to bust through surface ice in order to breathe. Despite their brutish appearance¬†and¬†the fact that they have the largest mouth of any animal¬†period(your sister’s mouth not withstanding,) they feed mainly on tiny 1 millimeter sea life.

Those teeny critters they eat must be low-fat or something, because Bowheads are incredibly long-lived… probably. The most common measure of age used for captured whales have been the age of harpoons and spearheads lodged in them. I told you they’re tough! The toughest, and possibly oldest, had the head of a harpoon embedded in its neck when it was caught in 2007. That harpoon dated to 1890. This and other research shows this species of whale could live to be 150 to 200 years old.

It’s usually pretty hard to surpass sea creatures for anything if you are a land animal, but the Aldabra Giant Tortoise has this game locked up. They come appropriately enough from the Aldabra atoll in the Indian ocean. Their exceptionally long necks and size make them excellent foragers. These immense turtles average over three feet long and around 250 pounds.

The real surprise about these tortoises is that they are actually pretty agile. They’ve been known to support themselves on their hind legs in a bid to reach foliage on a tree. They can also manage a half-run when threatened or excited and don’t appear concerned with taking risks. This led one biologist to refer to the Aldabras as the “ninjas” of the turtle world. Large ninja turtles… huh. That could make for a good kids’ show.

Okay, so how far can these large, mutant-like ninja turtles make it? Well again it can be difficult to verify ages, seeing how these turtles tend to seriously outlive their handlers. The Aldabra believed to be the oldest lived to a ripe old age of 255. Adwaita was believed to have been born circa 1750. Jonathan the tortoise is now believed to be the oldest living turtle, aged 182 and still going strong. You should be so lucky.

Amazing Medical Centers

Not all hospitals have to resemble correctional facilities.
Not all hospitals have to resemble correctional facilities.

Hospitals can be, and often are, as unique as the towns and cities they are built in. Some are general hospitals. Some specialize in teaching or treating cancer. Whatever the case may be, it’s painfully obvious that some hospitals get more time and effort put into them than others. Here’s three interesting examples.

The image above is the atrium of the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, located in West Bloomfield, MI. Every detail inside and out was carefully planned to create a warm, welcoming and comforting environment. The hospital has a modern, mall-like feel to it. Points of interest include a demonstration kitchen, a “Live Well Shoppe”, and a wellness center and hair salon.

In addition to it’s modern approach to patient rehabilitation, the hospital is also super green. It uses natural light for heating and cooling. It also collects rainwater, and has an extensive recycling program. It’s crown jewel resides a short distance away: a hydroponics-based greenhouse that provides fresh fruits and vegetables for the hospital’s kitchens.

Don't worry, we've been doing this for CENTURIES.
Don’t worry, we’ve been doing this for CENTURIES.

Let’s now shift from modern to medieval with St Bartholomew’s Hospital in Smithfield, London, UK. More affectionately known as St Bart’s, this historic hospital has been in constant use since¬†1123¬†and is the oldest still-open hospital in the world.

It has served, off and on, as a teaching hospital for centuries now. Important research on the human circulatory system and modern surgery were conducted here in the 18th century. The hospital had nearly 700 beds by the late 19th century.

That number has dwindled down to just under 400 beds in modern times. Talk of shutting the hospital portion of Bart’s was bandied about in the early 90’s, but it was decided to keep it operating for minor injuries. Major injuries and emergency cases are handled by larger, more modern hospitals nearby.

That's PART of the medical center... PART...
That’s PART of the medical center…

Speaking of larger, our third and final hospital is arguably the largest medical center in the world: Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Yes, Texas… The Everything Must Be Huge State.

I’ll give ’em a pass on this one, though. Texas Med covers an estimated¬†1.5 square miles¬†of real estate. The hospital¬†consists of six main buildings: The Cullen, Jones, and Robertson Pavilions, the Children’s Hospital, the emergency center, and the Heart and Vascular Institute. That only covers about a quarter of the Center’s buildings, by the way.

The Center employs over a hundred thousand people in total. That includes 20,000 physicians, scientists and researchers. This enables the Center to treat over 7 million patients annually.  Hospital or self-contained city? You decide.

Automotive Methuselahs

All new for 1884! Sorry, no cup holders.
All new for 1884! Sorry, no cup holders.

How long a vehicle lasts can vary greatly. Things like regular maintenance, vehicle and parts quality, and whether or not the vehicle is stored in a garage are just a few influences on the lifespan of your family sedan. Even under the best of circumstances, twenty years and/or 200,000 miles could be considered advanced old age for most cars on the road today.

These two cars are one hell of an exception. One makes an absolute joke of that mileage while the other sniffs at such a low number of years. Let’s take a look.

"La Marquise"
“La Marquise”

We’ll start with the gran-daddy of ’em all: the De Dion-Bouton et Trepardoux, nicknamed “La Marquise” for those who don’t like tongue twisters. La Marquise was built all the way back in 1884, making it 130 years old as of this writing.¬†It is arguably one of the first automobiles, period.

The funky little thing runs on steam power and is fueled by paper and wood scraps in addition to coal, also making it the grandfather of Mr. Fusion. It takes about half an hour to build up enough steam to get rolling, but can then hit speeds of up to 38 mph. That was written in present-tense because the world’s oldest car is¬†also¬†the world’s oldest¬†still running car.

That picture is of said car being driven about before being put up for auction in October 2011. La Marquise might not be a hot rod anymore by today’s standards, but it’s still no slouch in the value department. It sold for a mind-blowing $4.6 million, making that driver either very brave or very naive.

"I've been everywhere, man..."
“I’ve been everywhere, man…”

Despite its longevity, La Marquise most likely has not yet hit the 200,000 mile mark. Now Irv Gordon’s 1966 Volvo P1800? It¬†has¬†hit that mark,¬†fifteen times.

Gordon’s Volvo, of which he is the original owner, saw the 3 million-mile mark in September of 2013. He has received the world record for the most miles driven by the original owner of a vehicle in non-commercial service. He also has the record for vehicle with the highest mileage.

When asked about racking up so many miles, he said “I just couldn’t stop driving it.” Having a 125-mile daily commute probably helped out a bit(dude must have¬†really liked his job, too.) Making a habit out of traveling all over the US didn’t hurt, either. Each million miles hit came as the culmination of a special road trip. Asked about going another million miles, Gordon was confident the Volvo could make it, but he’s not so sure he would. Gordon was 75 at the time.

Opposite Day: The Biggest Little Train Set

One of the more boring parts of this train set, believe it or not.
One of the more boring parts of this train set, believe it or not.

Today’s Opposite Day¬†post finds us on both sides of the fence: Witness¬†Miniatur Wunderland, the largest,¬†miniature¬†train set in the world! It’s the biggest little train set!

Miniatur Wunderland¬†(literally “Miniature Wonderland” in case that wasn’t obvious,) located in Hamburg, Germany features an expansive miniature train system as the center attraction, but surrounds it with much, much more. The nearly 40,000 feet of HO scale train track ribbons through over 12,000 square feet of miniatures that represent multiple countries. Planned expansions extending all the way into 2026 will see England and France added to the mix.

Miniature Las Vegas
Miniature Las Vegas

While the trains are the main focus of the miniature, the real draw is the insane level of detail and animation that’s been poured into every inch of the attraction. Real locations have famous buildings and landmarks recreated in exacting detail. You can see cars driving about, amusement park attractions whirling around, even miniature people going about their daily lives.

The Knuffingen Airport, modeled after the Hamburg International Airport, is among the most impressive parts of the model. You can watch scale model passenger jets taxi, take off, and land. Meanwhile cars, taxis and emergency vehicles mill about the airport. Support vehicles on the airport landing strip drive around and tend to the landed planes.

Not the Architect's matrix control room.
Not the Architect’s matrix control room.

What goes on behind the scenes is just as incredible. The control room alone has dozens of monitors showing the attraction “on stage” and behind the scenes, along with screens showing diagnostics and conditions of various mechanics. Every single moving vehicle (essentially programmed, radio controlled vehicles) reports its location and state of charge.

The system is smart enough to know when vehicles need recharged or repaired. The affected vehicle will drive itself through a backstage access point and into a charging station, for example. A duplicate will be activated and sent out to follow its route until the first vehicle is ready to leave again.

Venice, Italy is currently under construction, with England scheduled for completion by 2021. See a video of the attraction here.

 

Space: The Ultimate Hangout

"Leaving me... Ha ha, guys... guys?"
“Leaving me… Ha ha, guys… guys?”

When we first started hurtling people out into the cold vastness of space at 17,500 miles per hour, we didn’t leave them hanging up there for too long. How long astronauts got to live in space became longer as technology progressed and space stations became a thing. Also, some of the things we shot off into space both before and after haven’t necessarily dropped back with any expediency either. Let’s look at some numbers, shall we?

Things got a lot more comfy for astronauts around the time the Russian space station Mir was put into orbit. It was only a little longer than that before we started seeing some serious records set. In fact it was a Russian cosmonaut by the name of Valeri Polyakov who has the honor of staying up in space for the longest amount of time. Mr. Polyakov went up into space on January 8, 1994 and didn’t fall back down until March 22 of the next year, for a total of 437 days. Hope he had some good books to read.

The Mir space station was de-orbited in 2001, but the International Space Station continues to rock it in Earth orbit. First launched in 1998, the ISS continues to house brave men and women, having done so for nearly seventeen continuous years and making it the current record holder. Some estimate that the station could be useful for up to thirty years.

For the longest anything sent into space by man, we turn to the Vanguard 1. The satellite was launched all the way back in¬†1958¬†to obtain geo-something something… It measured scientific stuff. Despite losing contact with it in 1964, the little metal ball that could is still swinging around our big blue marble. It’s estimated it will continue to do that for at least¬†two more centuries. Now that’s staying power!

Standing Tall: The World’s Immense Statues

Now that is a big toe.
Now that is a big toe.

I’ve learned two things researching this post: Statues are apparently only measured by height(whatever happened to¬†man’s obsession with length?), and that famous statues aren’t as big as we’d like to think. Let’s start with the second one.

I started off thinking that, say, the Mount Rushmore monument would surely be in the running for the largest statue in the world. Well, it’s not. Believe it or not, the faces are only sixty feet tall. The dearth of the girth: I was able to find¬†zero information on the width of the monument, which may be one reason it’s not on “World’s Largest” lists. Height-wise, Mount Rushmore is the pits.

So what about the Sphinx? The sizable kitty¬†certainly is taller at a height of sixty-six feet. I can actually say it’s an impressive 241 feet long, but it still doesn’t register in the top five largest statues. I have to wonder again about the whole tall-bias again.

Let’s give the US a shot again: The Statue of Liberty. The old gal stands¬†much¬†taller at an impressive 151 feet from base to torch. As incredible as that is, it’s less than a¬†third the size of what’s considered the world’s tallest statue.

That record goes to the Spring Temple Buddha in China. It’s mind-boggling height adds up to 502 feet. That’s over forty stories tall. Even removing the height of the building supporting it, the statue itself still stands 420 feet tall, dwarfing the Statue of Liberty. That’s the statue’s toes pictured up there at the beginning of the post.

Fairy-tale Factoids!

Better hope those aren't extensions.
Better hope those aren’t extensions.

Welcome to the very first Fairy-tale Factoids! I thought it’d be fun every once in a while to look into the facts and figures that lay behind famous fairy-tales. I decided to start¬†with Rapunzel. Does she really have¬†the longest hair in the world? Let’s find out!

Rapunzel is a German fairy-tale collected by the brothers Grimm. The story was first published in 1812 in the collection¬†Children’s and Household Tales.¬†The tale could have roots (haha) that go back as far as 10th century Persia.

The original versions of the story are somewhat dark. Essentially, an enchantress takes possession of a man’s baby as payment for sparing his life and names it Rapunzel. Once Rapunzel reaches twelve years of age, the witch puts her in a tower with no stairs or door, and only one room at the top. Rapunzel is the most beautiful girl in the world, and the witch seeks to keep her for herself.

The witch gets into and out of the tower via Rapunzel’s long beautiful hair. One day a prince sees her do it and tries it himself. The two fall in love, yadda yadda. Instead of taking her away one day, the witch finds out and casts out Rapunzel after cutting off her hair. She tricks the prince into coming up and then promptly drops his ass back down, blinding him in the process. He eventually finds her in the woods and her tears fix his eyes because Visine hadn’t been invented yet.

You get the idea. The focus of our studies today is that famous long hair of hers. Just how long was it? Well, the original story doesn’t tell you. The end! Just kidding… For the sake of simplicity we’ll go with how long Rapunzel’s hair was in the 2010 movie¬†Tangled: 70 feet long! So how does real life stack up against the fiction?

Well, that depends on the classification. The Guinness approved world record for longest hair goes to Xie Qiuping of China with 18 1/2 feet of hair. The record for longest¬†dreadlocks goes to Asha Mandela. Her hair is over 19 feet long, with one dreadlock more¬†than 55 feet long. Why dreadlocks don’t count as hair, I don’t know, but there you go. Both real life record holders come up well short of finding their princes.

I’m sure that’s small comfort to someone who’s been locked up in a tower all their life and been psychologically tortured for like, EVER. But, you know…

Hello Dolly Collection!

Divorce Barbie always gets the car.

Dolls have been around since ancient times, with written descriptions of dolls used as toys dating back to 100 AD. We’ve been collecting and displaying them almost as long. Some people get a little more crazy with their collections than others…

Take Bettina Dorfmann of Germany, for example. Guinness awarded her with the record for the largest Barbie doll collection in 2013. Bettina has¬†15,000 unique Barbie doll “items”. Yes, they’ve made at least that many. It took 19 years of dedicated collecting to get to this point, and she’s always looking to expand. The most expensive Barbie in her collection cost her¬†$10,000: a “Barbie ponytail #1” with accessories and in mint condition.

The boys can participate as well, and still maintain their manhood. Mattel’s¬†Masters of the Universe¬†collection consisted of well over sixty action figures alone in the original run of toys. This does not include larger creatures or battle vehicles. The series was brought back after a lengthy hiatus with an even larger run.

These figures continue to be made and released as the “Classics” series that are aimed squarely at collectors. Prices can be sky high for these action figures that used to sell for as low as a few dollars at your local department store. Rarer specimens in mint condition can go for hundreds of dollars a piece, while a Wonder-bread promotional He-Man figure complete can start at $1,000.

Now might be a good time to plan a trip to the old attic.