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.

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In the far future, robots and Synthetics have become a part of everyday life for the citizens of New Wave City. Detective Max Kincaid’s okay with the robots, but the Synthetics? Not so much.

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The problem is, not all is as it appears. Who is real, who is Synthetic? Max soon finds himself in a race to sort it all out before he runs out of time.

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Diversions: Poveglia Island

Abandoned building or college dorm room? You decide...
Abandoned building or college dorm room? You decide…

Humans have a funny way of subconsciously labeling things and places for certain tasks. Churches have become not only a place of worship, but a place to hold all sacred rights, such as marriages and funerals. Swampy areas become dumping areas, and eventually plain old dumps. In the case of Poveglia, an island became a depository for thousands of tortured souls.

Venice, Italy’s Poveglia island wasn’t always the cursed wasteland it is today. The modern history of the island begins all the way back in 421. People from two nearby communities initially fled there to escape the clutches of the barbarian hordes invading the area. Poveglia was highly defensible, making an ideal permanent home for it’s newest residents.

The community and their influence in the area slowly but steadily grew throughout the next several centuries. However, Poveglia’s period of peace and prosperity was not destined to last. Venice came under attack in 1379, prompting the relocation of the island’s residents to Giudecca, a larger island to the north.

Well that's not TOO creepy...
Well that’s not too creepy…

The island spent the next few centuries largely abandoned, though legend says that the island was used to quarantine the sick and dying during the times of the Bubonic plague. Tens of thousands of corpses are said to have been cremated on the island. Some say that the island’s topsoil is 50% human ash. What once gave life was now cursed by death.

It wasn’t until 1776 that the island saw semi-regular habitation once more. The Public Health Office used the island as a checkpoint for all goods and people entering Venice via ship. A pair of plague-infested ships arriving in 1793 made it necessary to once again use the island for the purposes of isolation. This role continued until the early 1800’s, when the island fell silent once again.

An asylum for the mentally ill was established on the island in 1922, adding to the mystique of the island. Rumors persisted for years that strange and unethical experiments were being carried out on the asylum’s residents. The culmination of those rumors was the suicide of the doctor said to be performing those experiments. He claimed to have been driven mad by the island’s ghostly residents shortly before jumping from the hospital tower.

The asylum was eventually converted to a home for long-term geriatric care. It is clear that at some point, the community decided the island was no longer a haven, but a place where people were sent to die. The facilities at Poveglia island were at last shuttered in 1968. The island was abandoned completely by the mid-seventies.

Poveglia’s legacy of death has led to the island having a reputation for being one of the most haunted locations on earth, if not a direct portal to hell itself. Local fishermen give the island a wide-berth, fearing their nets may dredge up bone fragments as well as fish. Visitors are no longer allowed on the island, and the government is very restrictive about access.

OK, that... that's definitely creepy.
OK, that… that’s definitely creepy.

While your chances of getting permission from the local government to visit the island are slim, there are a handful of boat owners that could be, shall we say, persuaded… Like all good spooky places, there are more than enough people willing to find a way to get into them, legally or otherwise. Those who have made it have come back with harrowing tales to share.

The standard haunting phenomena have been recorded: orbs, cold spots, mists, etc. But there have been other, darker experiences that only an island like this could deliver. Visitors have heard dark, demonic voices in the abandoned buildings. Doors slam shut of their own accord. The glowing eyes of something inhuman glare at you from a distance.

One particular area near the hospital is said to harbor fully-formed apparitions. Victims of the plague coalesce out of the gloom, at times right before their would-be victims, before fading away to nothingness. Others have reported being touched or even shoved in the same area. A feeling of dread is said to permeate the area right before things get interesting.

The island’s fate is now up in the air. Cash-strapped Italy auctioned off a 99-year lease on the island. An Italian businessman was the lucky bidder at $640,000. He has yet to decide what he will do with the island, but it sounds like access will be considerably less restricted in the years to come. The question now is…

Are you brave enough to visit the most haunted place in the world?

Diversions: Spooky New Orleans

"Boobs and beer, huh? I'm listening..."
“Boobs and beer, huh? I’m listening…”

If Beetlejuice were to pick a retirement destination, I’d have to think it would be New Orleans. The city is world-renowned for being America’s number-one party destination thanks to its annual Mardi Gras and Halloween celebrations. Also: Enough ghost stories to fill a book. Me? I’m going to focus on three of the more popular ones.

Many of the ghostly tales that come out of New Orleans end up being tall tales. I’m pretty sure this first haunting falls under that banner, but it has become entrenched enough in the fabric of New Orleans to be mentioned. It’s also been mentioned on here before. I am of course talking about Jean Lafitte’s Black Smith Shop.

The Shop is located on the corner of infamous Bourbon Street and St. Phillip Street. The building is one of the oldest in New Orleans, dating back to 1772 or earlier. The building is said to have been purchased at some point by none other than infamous pirate Jean Lafitte himself. It is alleged he used it as a secret base of operations during his lifetime.

It’s also thought that Lafitte never left the Shop after shuffling off this mortal coil. The most popular tale is that either Lafitte’s gold is buried in or behind the bar’s fireplace, an area where a great many patrons feel very uneasy. Another theory posits that the fireplace serves as a marker to point adventurers in the right direction towards the burial location of said gold. How does it point the way?

With Jean Lafitte’s own eyes, staring out of the fireplace, glowing blood red. Cozy notion, innit? It is said that a “lucky” few might lock eyes with the specter before Lafitte gazes in a specific direction out of the bar. Supposedly the gaze points the way to his treasure. The other story is that he’s trying to scare people off from his horde hidden away right there on the spot. That spot, which should be warm from a fire, is said to often have a cold aura surrounding it.

Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau

Existing somewhere between legend and reality is the queen of New Orleans herself, Marie Laveau. The voodoo queen was very much a real person, born in 1801 and passed in 1881. Her and her daughter of the same name held great influence in both black and white communities in the city during their lives, an influence that has extended well beyond the end of their mortal lives.

While it’s not entirely clear, Laveau is believed to be buried in a plot in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, in the Glapion family crypt. Some believe that the voodoo priestess can still be reached through her grave by following a specific protocol. If you wish for Laveau to do something for you, you are to draw an “X” on her grave. Then you must spin around three times and clearly announce what you wish to be done. If it comes to pass, you must come back, circle your “X”, and leave an offering in thanks.

From the queen to the mean: My bet would be many 1800’s-era New Orleans residents would have been thankful if Delphine LaLaurie had never reared her twisted head in their city. LaLaurie built her three-story mansion, complete with slave quarters, in the city in 1832. She lived there with her husband and two of her daughters, eventually becoming a major New Orleans socialite.

Her standing in society quickly crumbled after a fire at the residence in 1834. It turned out to be a suicide attempt made by a 70 year old slave chained to the stove. The cook said she was attempting to take her life in order to avoid being sent to the uppermost room of the mansion. She told authorities that every slave that had been sent to that room never came back down.

LaLaurie's mansion today
LaLaurie’s mansion today

Suspicions were furthered when the keys to the slave quarters were not relinquished. Bystanders broke down the door, wishing to make sure that the slaves had been evacuated in wake of the fire. What they saw likely haunted them for the rest of their lives. Seven horribly mutilated slaves were discovered, all hanging by their necks. Their limbs had been “stretched and torn.” The slaves said they had been there for months.

Ultimately two of the slaves died. The bodies of two other slaves were discovered on the premises after irate citizens descended on the mansion and literally tore apart and gutted the building. Delphine LaLaurie fled New Orleans during the turmoil, never to return… at least not alive.

LaLaurie is said to have returned to her mansion in the years since her death, sometimes in good spirits, more often in bad. While one woman reported seeing a woman in elegant evening clothes bending over her infant, many more reported being attacked by the crazed apparition of a woman wielding a whip. Other times she was seen merely passing by, wrapped in shrouds and looking bereaved.

Some of the abused slaves have apparently not found peace, either. They also have varying moods. A couple of people reported being attacked by a stark-naked black man that vanished as quickly as he had appeared. The most common appearance of the slaves have been in auditory form: moans, whispers and even screams.

Another layer to New Orleans, and another reason to visit. Stick around after the sun goes down and see if you can commune with Marie Laveau, or perhaps catch a glimpse of Delphine LaLaurie peering out from behind a window. Just don’t stare too long into Lafitte’s fireplace…

New Orleans: Come for the booze, stay for the boos! …I’ll see myself out.

Diversions: Haunted Gettysburg

Things only seem quiet at one of America's largest graveyards...
Things only seem quiet at one of America’s largest graveyards…

Did you know that it’s Halloween month? Because it’s totally Halloween month. The site of the Battle of Gettysburg is widely thought of as one of the most haunted places in the US. Good place to start? Oh, yeah…

The actual battle took place from July 1st through the 3rd of 1863. While this battle was not the longest of the war, it was most certainly the bloodiest. Many consider it a turning point for the war. Some 8,900 men lost their lives. Another 27,000 were injured, and approximately 11,000 were captured or declared missing. If any place deserves to be haunted, it’s this one.

The easiest way to find dead people in Gettysburg.
The easiest way to find dead people in Gettysburg.

So many were the dead that they were initially buried where they fell. This was a common practice in the aftermath of Civil War battles. Eventually over 3,500 Union soldiers were reburied in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Hundreds of bodies were also disinterred and shipped off to other cemeteries to be laid to rest. It’s no wonder there would be lost, restless spirits with all these bodies flying everywhere.

The Gettysburg National Military Park now covers some 3.3 by 5.3 miles of land in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The National Park Service manages over 1,300 monuments, 410 cannons, and 148 historic buildings. This has provided a veritable playground for Civil War enthusiasts, and plenty of opportunity for so-called ghost hunters to find paranormal hot spots.

One such spot is the Devil’s Den, located near Little Round Top. It was used by artillery and infantry as a sniper position. Originally held by Union soldiers, the spot was captured by the Confederate army. Initially offering an advantage, the Confederates were eventually pressed back and forced to seek refuge in the rocky area. A nasty-looking Confederate soldier with long, grey hair is said to be seen there on occasion.

Another proposed paranormal hot-spot is the Farnsworth House Inn. The Confederate army used the house as a makeshift hospital during the battle. Soldiers also used it as a place to rest between engagements. Nowadays a whole host of ghosts are said to walk the Inn’s dark corridors, ranging from children to midwives to Confederate soldiers. As always, these stories (many of which come from the owners) must be taken with a grain of salt. The Inn quite obviously stands to profit from thrill seekers coming to investigate for themselves.

That place was <strong>built</strong> for haunting.
That place was built for haunting.

Gettysburg college, as would befit any such place of higher learning, is also flush with tales of the paranormal. Attending school at the time were students who had also volunteered for Union service. The students saw battle, but did not suffer many casualties. The college’s unique placement in the area interestingly led to both Union and Confederate armies using the complex as a makeshift hospital.

Perhaps the most interesting story related about the college comes from a pair of school administrators. The two were taking an elevator in Pennsylvania Hall. The elevator went past their floor and down into the basement instead. The doors opened, revealing a Civil War era hospital scene devoid of sound. One of the orderlies peered up to look at the new arrivals before the elevator doors closed once again.

What I would argue is the most curious and eerie of all the stories concerning Gettysburg comes from Little Round Top. The smaller of two rocky hills, Little Round Top proved to be a key defensive and offensive spot for Union soldiers. Confederate forces were unable to take the position, the Union being afforded the advantage of having the high ground.

The following story is difficult to verify, if only because it came from a bunch of actors. A group of Civil War re-enactors working on the film Gettysburg claimed to have had a supernatural encounter. They were visited by a man dressed in Union dress that handed them ammunition.

At first the men assumed the man was a fellow actor, and that the rounds offered were blanks. Closer inspection revealed that the ammunition consisted of real musket rounds. It was later determined that the rounds could be dated back to the appropriate time period and were in pristine condition.

Is a Confederate soldier still wearily patrolling the Devil’s Den? Are soldiers still reliving their last moments in makeshift hospitals of the past? And did one Union soldier pass through time itself to lend mistaken aid to a group of Civil War re-enactors? It’s hard to say for certain, but you can go find out for yourself, if you dare…

Venomous Terrors of the Deep

Dying horribly and alone never looked so fun!
Dying horribly and alone never looked so fun!

There are many, many dangerous things in the ocean. Whales, sharks, humans… But some of these creatures aren’t so big or so obvious. They are however very venomous, and very deadly. Here’s three of the worst for your viewing pleasure.

Someone needs a hug!
Someone needs a hug!

Probably the best known and most feared is the Box jellyfish. These translucent pain factories can be found in most coastal areas around the world. The most venomous and therefore most deadly incarnations can be found off the coast of Japan and, naturally, off the coast of Australia.

While the dimensions of a full grown jelly fish are somewhat diminutive(approximately 12 inches in diameter,) the tentacles of the wee beasty can grow to nearly ten feet in length. The important thing to keep in mind is that every inch of every tentacle is searing, stinging pain waiting to happen. Each one has half a million microscopic, harpoon-shaped nematocysts that inject venom.

Simply brushing against a single tentacle, even if it’s not attached to the jellyfish, will lead to thousands of teeny-tiny injections of venom. Victims commonly have a visible red or purple trail that marks exactly where the tentacle touched them. While most species of Box jellyfish will just leave you in serious pain for a few hours, one or two subspecies are extra spicy. The venom is potent enough to cause cardiovascular collapse followed by death in as little as five minutes.

Do NOT try to listen for the ocean.
Do NOT try to listen for the ocean.

Just as unassuming is the Conus Geographus, or the Cone snail. It is just as slow as any other snail, but it has a secret weapon. See, this snail has a craving for flesh. Hidden away in its mouth is a harpoon-like tooth that it literally shoots at passing fish.

Smaller fish are paralyzed nearly instantly. Once the meal has stopped throwing a fit, the snail then reels in its catch and slurps it down. Eventually the fishy bones and used harpoon comes out the other end. They are disposable, and the snail has many of them.

The largest Cone snails are the ones that are the most deadly to humans, the Conus Geographus chief among them. It is also known by its nickname, the “cigarette snail”. The idea is that you’d have enough time to smoke a cigarette before succumbing to the venom. The mode of death is paralysis that spreads to the lungs, thus suffocating you.

Speaking of swift deaths, that brings us to the third and final terror of the deep: the Blue-ringed Octopus. Yup, that’s the colorful little fellow in the main picture above. Isn’t he cute? Yeah, he’s also deadly as hell.

Found mainly off the coasts of Australia(surprise, surprise,) these relatively timid looking cephalopods feed mostly on small crabs and shrimp. The octopus attacks like most octopi do by grasping the victim in its tentacles and stuffing it in its mouth. The difference here is it also gives the crab a healthy dose of life-ending venom.

The octopus turns those fun colors when it’s scared and/or POed. This, coupled with its relatively small size (around six inches) may leave you inclined to play with the cute widdle squiddy, but don’t be fooled! The worst part about a bite from one of these critters is that you may not even know you’ve been bit.

The bite is painless, so you might not even bother to surface right away. That sucks, because you start to be paralyzed a minute or two after the “attack”. Now you have no way to wave for help as the venom steals away your ability to breathe. You won’t even be able to flip off the octopus as you succumb to the venom and drown.

Happy snorkeling!

Diversions: The Real Robin Hood

Die, innocent peasants!
Die, innocent peasants!

Nottinghamshire, a county near the heart of England contains the (not so) small village (city) of Nottingham. There, a rogue and his band of merry men are said to have robbed from the rich and to have given to the poor possibly as far back as the 12th century. A lot has happened in the ensuing centuries, and Nottingham has become much, much more than a backdrop for a dramatic story.

We’ll start with what everyone’s most interested in anyway: Robin Hood. A young yeoman, Robin Hood becomes an outlaw after numerous run-ins with the law. Seeing the poor suffer even as the rich became richer, Robin seeked to find balance by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. He enlisted the help of Little John, his second in command, after besting him in a duel of staffs. John, Friar Tuck, and his merry men aided Robin Hood in his undertakings, all the while taunting and running from the crooked Sheriff of Nottingham.

Okay, so everyone’s familiar with the story, but how much of it is really on the up and up? Believe it or not, many historians are totally cool with the idea of there once being a dude in tights running around Sherwood forest being all outlawish. While the earliest recorded stories and mentions of Robin Hood date back to the 1400’s, some historians place him as far back as the 12th century.

The green gallivanter  may have also been an amalgamation of various infamous outlaws of the time. Little John likewise may have a basis in history, or be a representative character of the men who aided Robin Hood in his deeds. Despite this, he is the only one of the two to have an (alleged) actual grave site.

A man so big, he needed two tombstones
A man so big, he needed two tombstones

It is located in Hathersage, Derbyshire, England in a churchyard. It is said that the grave was exhumed in the 18th century, revealing the bones of a man at least seven feet in stature. Robin Hood wasn’t so lucky. He has supposed grave sites in a number of places in England, with little to no proof to back any of them up. There’s also little proof to back up the existence of Friar Tuck. The earliest friars came after the time of Robin Hood.

The settings of Robin Hood’s tales are also real. In the aforementioned Nottinghamshire can be found the Sherwood forest. This would be the forest that the merry men reputedly used as their hideout from the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Located therein is the famous Major Oak. This is the specific area the merry men made their base of operations, according to legend. That legend would be completely, terribly wrong. Experts estimate that the tree was nothing more than an acorn taking root at the time Robin Hood was running about. The tree’s age and impressive stature is most likely the reason this legend came to be.

Not your great-great-great-great-great... grandfather's Nottingham
Not your great-great-great-great-great… grandfather’s Nottingham

At the heart of Robin Hood’s story is Nottingham, and it’s definitely real. It’s also definitely grown since Robin’s time. Nottingham may have been settled as far back as the year 600, although it did not receive city status until 1897. The famous Nottingham Castle was constructed in 1067 and, although largely destroyed, parts of the original lower reaches of the castle survive today.

Nottingham has become a thriving city of over 300,000 residents. The burgeoning city exploded in size during the industrial revolution through the textile industry. Nowadays, the city is home to many well-known companies such as Speedo, Siemens, capital One and others. The city also has two major universities servicing over 60,000 students, and major art and sports facilities.

It all leaves two questions in my mind: What would Robin Hood make of Nottinghamshire today? And why can’t I stop picturing Robin Hood in a speedo? I guess we will never know…

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.

Opposite Day: Miniature Car Madness

Remember that car you strapped to a bottle rocket in 1968? It's worth $5,000 now.
Remember that car you strapped to a bottle rocket in 1968? It’s worth $5,000 now.

Nowadays, companies make millions of dollars a year selling miniature versions of America’s favorite form of transportation: the automobile. Hot Wheels specifically creates dozens of its own custom designs each year that are eagerly gobbled up by collectors. Meanwhile, children bug and cajole their parents into buying the latest Hot Wheels tracks with gravity-defying loops and twists.

It’s easy to see why toy cars would be such a big hit with boys, but where did it all start? These iconic toys have their origins in Matchbox cars, designed by Jack Odell in 1953 for his… daughter? Yup! The school his daughter was attending would only allow them to bring toys that could fit inside of a matchbox. So he designed a miniature version of his company’s toy steamroller. Matchbox was the best-selling die-cast car in the world by 1968.

That’s also the year that Matchbox got some serious competition: Hot Wheels. The American company’s (did I mention this phenomenon started in the UK? It started in the UK…) cars had low-friction “racing” wheels on their cars. This allowed for extra speedy passes on the available Hot Wheels racing tracks. Matchbox had neither of these, and had some catching up to do.

Matchbox never did manage to catch Hot Wheels. As is all too common, Hot Wheels’ parent company Mattel ended up buying out Matchbox’s then-owner Tyco Toys. So yeah, if you’re trying to be a rebel by buying Matchbox over Hot Wheels for your kids? Not so much. Nowadays Matchbox specializes mainly in faithful recreations of existing autos while Hot Wheels focuses on fantasy cars and track sets. See? Everyone wins!

Except for Micro Machines. They’re dead.

You didn’t think I was going to leave out Micro Machines, did you? Micro Machines was like the stunted third child that everyone begrudgingly admits to loving before ultimately ignoring them. Introduced in 1986, Micro machines emulated its bigger brothers, but in a smaller scale. The diminutive cars came in at around half the size of a comparable Matchbox.

Micro Machines sold more than Hot Wheels and Matchbox for the first few years of the company’s existence, its popularity no-doubt spurred on by the vocal gymnastics of John Moschitta. The company was sold to Hasbro in the 90’s and the original line of toys was discontinued. What was left didn’t sell as well as hoped and largely spelled doom for the fledgling line of micro-toys. The line was discontinued in 2006.

Massive Memorials

Crazy Horse is all like GTFO but the horse is like "Haaay!"
Crazy Horse is all like GTFO but the horse is like “Haaay!”

Death sucks. There, I said it. Controversial though the thought may be, I assure you there are lots of people that think like I do. Some of those people have lots and lots of money to demonstrate how much they think death sucks. Others just want to make a really really big point about someone’s death. Here’s a few examples.

We’ll just start with the uber-depressing memorial to get it out of the way. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the (much more PC) Holocaust Memorial, is located in Berlin, Germany and covers 4.7 acres. The site is covered in 2,711 concrete slabs the artist refers to as stelae. The artist says it’s to create an uneasy feeling and a confusing atmosphere. Yeah, it confuses people alright.

Nothing says "We're sorry" like afocal slabs of concrete.
Nothing says “We’re sorry” like afocal slabs of concrete.

One controversy (among many) surrounding the memorial is the fact that it doesn’t make any damn sense. The artist, architect Peter Eisenman, is known for creating installations that remove any connotations of familiarity with the subject matter. The concrete blocks bear no inscriptions or symbolism, making it impossible to know what you’re experiencing without being told. Some visitors say the rows of blocks make the installation look like a graveyard, so there’s that, I guess…

From Germany, we swing on down to India for a look at the Taj Mahal. There are no gray slabs of concrete to be seen. Now this looks a little more promising…

The Taj Mahal, or “Crown of Palaces”, is a mausoleum built by emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife Mumtaz Mahal. At first I was all like “What, the other two weren’t good enough?” Then I learned that she died giving birth to their fourteenth child. Okay, fine, give the woman a memorial. I think it’s safe to say she earned it!

Sorry for making you pregnant to death! We cool?
Sorry for making you pregnant to death! We cool?

Construction began in 1632 and took 19 years to complete. The bulk of the buildings consist of translucent white marble, with jade, turquoise and other precious stones sourced from places all over India and Asia.  A labor force of twenty thousand men were directed by a group of 37 artisans to construct and sculpt the elaborate memorial.

Shah Jahan didn’t get to be proud of his accomplishment for very long, though. He was deposed by his own son and placed under house arrest shortly after the memorial’s completion. Shah Jahan’s son at least allowed the deposed leader to be laid to rest next to his (most) beloved in the Taj Mahal’s tomb.

Our final destination brings us all the way to the Black Hills of South Dakota, USA. That’s where the Crazy Horse Memorial is (very, very) slowly being constructed. The monument is not just a memorial to Crazy Horse, but also a mighty middle finger to the white man.

Okay, so that’s a little harsh. The idea for the memorial started with Henry Standing Bear. He wrote to a sculptor that had worked on Mount Rushmore, saying that  “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.” It was decided to carve the memorial out of the Black Hills, which are considered sacred by the Lakota culture. Construction was begun in 1942…

…Aaannnd it’s still ongoing. Not surprisingly, the people behind the construction of the monument weren’t too keen about accepting money from the US government, so all money to build it comes from donations and entry fees to the memorial. Whenever they do manage to finish it off, the monument will be 641 feet wide and 563 feet tall. Crazy Horse’s head alone is 87 feet tall, 27 feet taller than the faces on Mount Rushmore. There’s currently no estimate of when it will be completed.