The Curse on the Old Prague Astronomical Clock..

The legend of the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town of Prague seems to have come straight from the Brothers Grimm.
The dark tale is set in the fifteenth century, when the clock is said to have been created by the great clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň.
Such was the reputation of his craftsmanship that Mikuláš was approached by many a foreign nation, each wishing to have its own town square topped with a marvelous astronomical clock.
Mikuláš refused to show the plans of his masterpiece to anyone, but word got back to the Prague Councilors.
Overcome with fear that Mikuláš might build a bigger, better, and more beautiful clock for another nation, the Councilors had the brilliant clockmaker blinded, ensuring that their clock would never be topped.
Driven mad, the clockmaker took the ultimate revenge, throwing himself into his extraordinary work of art, gumming up the clock’s gears and ending his own life in one stroke.
In doing so, he cursed the clock. All who tried to fix it would either go insane, or die.
While this is only a legend, it stands as a testament to the extraordinary nature of Prague’s Astronomical Clock.
The clock has been modified, destroyed, and repaired many times since its creation in 1380.
It is perhaps the most well-known astronomical clock in the world, with four moving automatons (including a skeleton ringing his death knell for each hour), and rotating statues of the 12 apostles.
It displays Babylonian time, Old Bohemian time, German time, and Sidereal (star) time. It also shows the moon’s phases and the sun’s journey through the constellations of the zodiac.
The calendar dial, just below the clock, shows the day of the month, the day of the week, feast days and allegorical pictures of the current month and sign of the zodiac.
via Prague Astronomical Clock | Atlas Obscura.

‘Rabies’, the Demonic Virus.


A woodcut from 1512 of an attacking werewolf by the German painter and printmaker Lucas Cranach the Elder. Image: Gotha, Herzogliches Museum (Landesmuseum).
Our demons have their origins in our dread of death and the unknown.
Halloween, is a time for costuming ourselves and confronting those fears (and, most importantly, for outsized consumption of sweets).
For those of us celebrating Halloween disguised as vampires, werewolves and zombies, we owe a great debt to one of the world’s deadliest and most feared zoonotic viruses, rabies.
I have written about the fascinating microbial origins of some of our most enduring humanoid monsters in “The Bestial Virus: The Infectious Origins of Werewolves, Zombies & Vampires.”
An unrecognizable family member demonically possessed by some unfathomable but instantly recognizable animal instinct.
The frothing at the mouth, the lucid madness, the lost humanity: it’s all here and stems from our ancient, tragic history with rabies and canines.
To be human is a sacred and inviolable thing; rabies infection breaches that principal.
The animal bite and the transmission of disease represent a moment of transgressive contact between animal mouth and human flesh, the possibility of losing one’s humanity and regressing to an animal state.
Our horror stories capitalise on this lurid fear.
Rabies, that bestial virus, that grand transmogrifier, has terrified generations with its guarantee of “a slow warping of the mind and a pained, gruesome demise.”
Its inescapable death sentence and dreadful, transformative effects in the infected have seared itself in our public imaginations while infiltrating our literature and cinemas.
Read more via Halloween’s Debt to a Demonic Virus – Body Horrors |

Bats by Ernest Haeckel c.1904.

30525603876_2f3ab52093_hPlate 67 from Ernst Haeckel’s visually dazzling Kunstformen der Natur, (Art Forms of Nature), published in 1904.
With the assistance of Jena artist-lithographer Adolf Giltsch, Haeckel produced one hundred plates depicting the forms of animal life.
With this book Haeckel wanted to create an “aesthetics of nature” and to show how the incessant struggle for existence he had learnt from Darwin was in fact producing an endless beauty and variety of forms – Darwin and Humboldt combined together.
Focusing mainly on marine animals, the bat is one of the only mammals featured in the book, but the page of surprisingly cute “chiroptera” is certainly one of the book’s most striking offerings.
The full line up is:
1-2: Brown Long-eared Bat  3: Lesser Long-eared Bat  4: Lesser False Vampire Bat  5: Big-eared Woolly Bat  6-7: Tomes’s Sword-nosed Bat  8: Mexican Funnel-eared Bat  9: Antillean Ghost-faced Bat  10: Flower-faced Bat  11: Greater Spear-nosed Bat  12: Thumbless Bat  13: Greater Horseshoe Bat  14: Wrinkle-faced Bat  15: Spectral Bat
Read more about Kunstformen der Natur and how it relates to Haeckel’s philosophy of “monoism” in our essay “Ernst Haeckel and the Unity of Culture” by Dr Mario A. Di Gregorio; and read more about Haeckel’s role in one of science’s great controversies in our essay “Copying Pictures, Evidencing Evolution” by Nick Hopwood.
Source: Ernst Haeckel’s Bats (1904) | The Public Domain Review

Perillos was Roasted to death by his own Brazen Bull.

Of all the inventors on this list, this guy may be the one who most deserved to die at the hand of his own invention.
Perillos was a bronze worker who designed a device called the Brazen Bull to be used to painfully execute criminals.
The Brazen Bull was a hollow bull. Prisoners were locked inside and roasted to death by a fire underneath.
The device was even designed to channel the screams of the burning prisoner out of its nose to sound like a bull. Perillos pitched his invention to Phalaris, a tyrant lord of Acragas in Sicily.
After Perillos showed Phalaris the bull, the inventor was put inside and a fire was lit underneath him.
History isn’t clear about if Perillos was pulled out before dying, only to be thrown off a cliff by Phalaris’ men, or if he expired within the bull. Either way, the bull did him in.
via 7 inventors killed by their inventions: Perillos of Athens | MNN 

The History of Trick Or Treating Is Weird.

It’s almost that time of year when young kids get into costume and traipse around the neighborhood ringing doorbells and begging for treats
The practice began with the Celtic tradition of celebrating the end of the year by dressing up as evil spirits. The Celts believed that, as we moved from one year to the next, the dead and the living would overlap, and demons would roam the earth again.
So dressing up as demons was a defense mechanism. If you encountered a real demon roaming the Earth, they would think you were one of them.
Fast forward to when the Catholic Church was stealing everybody’s holidays and trying to convert them. They turned the demon dress-up party into “All Hallows Eve,” “All Soul’s Day,” and “All Saints Day” and had people dress up as saints, angels and still a few demons. 

As for the trick or treating, or “guising” (from “disguising”), traditions, beginning in the Middle-Ages, children and sometimes poor adults would dress up in the aforementioned costumes and go around door to door during Hallowmas begging for food or money in exchange for songs and prayers, often said on behalf of the dead. 

This was called “souling” and the children were called “soulers”.

You might think that this practice then simply migrated along with Europeans to the United States.
But trick or treating didn’t re-emerge until the 1920s and 1930s. It paused for a bit during World War II because of sugar rations, and it’s now back in full force.
The term “trick or treat” dates back to 1927. Today I Found Out explains:

The earliest known reference to “trick or treat”, printed in the November 4, 1927 edition of the Blackie, Alberta Canada Herald, talks of this,

Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.

The British hate Halloween, apparently. In 2006, a survey found that over half of British homeowners turn off their lights and pretend not to be home on Halloween.
Source: The History of Trick Or Treating Is Weirder Than You Thought | Smart News | Smithsonian

Typhoid Mary and the Plague of New York, 1907.

One March day in 1907, a man appeared at the Park Avenue brownstone where 37-year-old Mary Mallon worked as a cook. He demanded a little bit of her blood, urine and faeces. “It did not take Mary long to react to this suggestion,” the man later wrote of the encounter. “She seized a carving fork and advanced in my direction.”
The man with the strange request was George Soper, a sanitary engineer investigating a typhoid outbreak at a house in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where Mallon had worked. Soper believed that Mallon was a healthy carrier of the disease, a relatively new idea at the time.
Later, he returned, and after evading authorities for five hours Mallon was betrayed by a scrap of her dress, caught in the door of her hiding place.
When she tested positive for typhoid bacteria, the Department of Health forcibly moved her to North Brother Island, a dot of land in the East River just off the Bronx that housed a quarantine facility.
She was released in 1910, after swearing she wouldn’t cook professionally again.
Five years later, she was found working in the kitchen at a hospital where a typhoid outbreak was underway.
Mary was apprehended for the second and final time, living the next 23 years—the rest of her life—under quarantine.
Mallon’s legend grew almost immediately. A newspaper illustration during her first imprisonment conveyed the public’s morbid fascination with her: An aproned woman casually drops miniature human skulls into a skillet, like eggs.
Today, the name “Typhoid Mary” stands for anyone who callously spreads disease or evil. There’s even a Marvel comic book villain named after her: a female assassin with a vicious temper.
But the real story is more complicated than the caricature.
Historians such as Judith Walzer Leavitt, author of Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health, point out that by the time of her second imprisonment Mallon was far from the only known carrier.
There were thousands across the country and hundreds in New York, and today we know that being a carrier of disease is not that unusual: Up to 6 percent of people who’ve had typhoid, which is still common in the developing world, can spread it long after they’ve recovered, even if they exhibited few or no symptoms, says Denise Monack, a microbiologist at Stanford.
Monack has shown that genetic mutations might allow bacteria to climb unnoticed into immune cells, where they take up long-term residence.
Read on via The Frightening Legacy of Typhoid Mary | History | Smithsonian.