13 PARANOID FACTS: Deadly Days of Summer
You ready for the dog days of summer, kiddies? No matter what your plans are, summer is a time for fun--lazy days at the beach, family barbeques and camping trips are just the tip of the iceberg.
But what fun would all this fun be without a little paranoia? So, instead of thinking of all the bright sunshine associated with the season, let's take a predictably dreary look at the dark and deadly days of summer.
- Bath School disaster - Wednesday, May 18, 1927
Sometimes, you don't quite make it to the dangers of summer, though. The students of Bath Township, Michigan, likely went to school on Wednesday, May 18, 1927, with high hopes for their impending summer vacation, but mass murderer Andrew Kehoe ensured that it became a season of nightmares for the survivors of what is still the deadliest school massacre in United States history.
With his farm in foreclosure and his wife chronically ill with tuberculosis, the coldly calculating Kehoe spent several months wiring over a ton of the explosive pyrotol into the Bath Consolidated School basement (he was both Treasurer and maintenance man there). Then, on May 18th, Kehoe got up early, bludgeoned his wife to death, then tied all his farm animals down so they would perish in the blast of the firebombs he'd rigged all over his property. He detonated the bombs at 8:45am, drawing all the firefighters and helpful townsfolk away from the school.
At 9:45 the north wing of the school exploded violently, killing 36 children and 2 teachers. An additional 500 pounds of explosives failed to go off in the south wing, but Kehoe wasn't done yet. Around 9:15am, grinning broadly, he drove up to the school with his car full of dynamite and anything that would work as shrapnel--nails, tools and old farm machinery--and fired his new Winchester rifle into the explosives, killing himself and another 6 people. Kehoe left just 5 words behind to justify his actions: "Criminals are made, not born."
- Tangshan earthquake - Wednesday, July 28, 1976
Of course, most of us are fortunate enough to make it out of school, but that doesn't mean Mother Nature doesn't have bigger, nastier things than Kehoe to threaten us all with. Like earthquakes. More than 1,000 happen on an average day, but only 1/5 of those can be felt. Better yet, only 18 major earthquakes and one great quake happen in a typical year, but when they rattle a largely populated area, massive disaster results and your summer can totally go down the tubes.
In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, July 28, 1976, the 3rd deadliest quake in recorded human history struck near Tangshan, Hebei, China. In the days leading up to the quake, dragonflies swarmed out of town en masse and there were many reports of fish acting jittery and trying to escape their aquariums, giving weight to the notion that animals can pre-sense earthquakes. Even more remarkable, an employee of the State Seismological Bureau predicted that a major quake would strike the area between July 22nd and August 5th of that year. Proving that disaster flicks aren't as dumb as you think, most local government agencies called this fellow a crackpot, and the few leaders who responded to his warnings risked incarceration and their careers for the safety of their people.
With a Richter magnitude of 7.8 - 8.2, it is estimated that 85% of the buildings in the area either collapsed or suffered extreme structural damage in the 23-second upheaval. The Chinese government first claimed that 665,000 of the 1.6 million residents died in the catastrophe, though more recent estimates put the count just under 243,000. Sixteen hours after the first rumble, however, a 7.1 aftershock killed an additional 12,000 people (at least). China's refusal of international aide sent further shockwaves throughout the political community, which contributed to the downfall of The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Summer totally ruined!
- Sknyliv air show disaster - Saturday, July 27, 2002
Hopefully, your area isn't due for a major quake in the next few months, so you wanna find something really cool to do for the summer. How about an air show? A little high speed aerial acrobatics right over your head oughtta get the blood pumping better than a trip to the theater to see the remake of Top Gun, right?
On Saturday, July 27, 2002, more than 10,000 spectators decided to do just that, flocking to the Sknyliv Airfield near Lviv, Ukraine, to take part in the celebration of the Ukrainian Air Force's 60th anniversary. Shortly before 1:00pm, pilot Volodymyr Toponar and co-pilot Yuriy Yegorov, both cited as very experienced pilots, pulled a number of complicated moves with their Su-27 "Sukhoi" aircraft before crashing headfirst into the worst air show accident in aviation history.
At 12:52, the pilots tried to pull out of a low altitude rolling maneuver, but dipped within feet of the ground. This was problematic for many reasons, the worst being that several hundred people and a few airplanes were trying to occupy that same piece of real estate and the area directly in front of it. After skidding through onlookers on its belly, it clipped a II-76 transport aircraft, sending it into an explosive cartwheel across dozens of other civilians. In the end, 77 spectators lost their lives, and another 543 were injured in the disaster.
- Hartford circus fire - Thursday, July 6, 1944
Maybe sitting under the path of all that flammable jet fuel is more than your heart can take, so you decide to do something a little less dangerous for your summer vacay. How about a circus? There's still a few chills and thrills involved--damned clowns!--but there's also cotton candy. It's a thought too good to pass up.
Though there were no airplanes in the immediate vicinity, the roughly 7,000 people packed into the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Hartford, Connecticut on July 6, 1944, did indeed have several thousand gallons of very flammable fuel hanging over their heads. At that time, the Big Top tents were often waterproofed with paraffin wax dissolved in gasoline, and this tent was no exception--in fact, some 1,800 pounds of wax was dissolved in 6,000 gallons of gas to cover the 550-feet by 250-feet structure. Whether the fire started from a carelessly tossed cigarette or from the work of an arsonist (still debated), it spread quickly, and the entire tent was gone in less than 8 minutes. So were approximately 169 patrons.
"The Day the Clowns Cried," animal cages blocked two of the three exits and 2/3 of the crowd found themselves trapped. Many died by fire and smoke inhalation, but others were trampled or fell to their deaths as they jumped from the bleachers. Worse, the canvas tent and its special coating turned into something like napalm, which rained down on the panicked crowd as they stumbled in blind circles. Fortunately, bandleader Merle Evans noticed the fire quickly, and struck up the song that indicated trouble to all circus personnel. Evans is credited with preventing a much higher loss of life with his quick actions; in fact, his music had a calming effect on much of the crowd, and he and the band played on until the last possible minute, then quickly reformed outside, keeping pace for the continuing evacuation and soothing the crowds' shattered nerves.
- Roskilde Festival 2000 accident - Friday, June 30, 2000
So maybe an indoor venue isn't such a good idea...but at least the music was nice. Say, that gives you an idea! There's a sweet concert coming up, and it's on 250 acres of wide-open land; plenty of elbow room there, and very few buildings or airplanes. Plus music helped save lives that last time, so ya gotta be safe at a place like the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, right?
With acts like Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Iron Maiden and Oasis, the 2000 festival got off to a good start. But when Pearl Jam took the Orange Stage on June 30th, some 50,000 fans wanted to see and hear the band better, so they started crowding in toward the stage, some even engaging in "crowd surfing" to get a closer look. Festival Officials apparently requested that the band stop their set multiple times and singer Eddie Vedder repeatedly requested that the audience "take two steps back," but approximately 45 minutes into the set, nine people succumbed to the mob surge and were trampled to death (one victim did not die until the following day) and 26 were injured.
Apparently the field was muddy, causing a number of patrons to slip and fall to the ground. Crowd surfers then fell into the gap, while other folks who weren't tripped up by the mud were toppled into the hole by the force of the mob behind them. Those trapped on the bottom of the dogpile suffocated to death, and the massive sea of bodies prevented security from getting to the victims in a timely manner. Pearl Jam wasn't informed of the actual tragedy until after they completed their set. They cancelled the last few shows of their European tour, were held responsible for the accident for a short time, and considered disbanding afterward, though they are still together at the present time. In the end, no charges were filed against any of the involved parties.
- Cocaine Cola incident - Thursday, July 26, 1990
Wow--perhaps you should just enjoy a nice stay-cation in the safety of your own home, away from all those dangerous crowds. You can just kick back and watch all the summertime tragedy unfold on TV while you clog your arteries with Cheetos and sip on an ice cold soft drink. Of course, you only think that because you don't know about Maximo Rene Menendez...and no, this isn't about the original formula for Coca-Cola.
On a Thursday morning, the 26th of July, 1990, Menendez took a drink of his Pony Malta de Bavaria, a Columbian-made non-alcoholic beverage similar to beer. He immediately put down the bottle, saying "This is poisoned. It is bad stuff." Convulsions set in within seconds and his heart stopped, though he was revived as he was rushed to a local hospital. He slipped into a coma the next day, however, and never regained consciousness. Menendez died on August 21st, moments after his life-support system was shut off. The cause? A massive cocaine overdose.
It turns out that at least 1,000 cases of the stuff somehow made it into the U.S., and at least some if it was stocked on retailer's shelves (though nearly half of it was reported stolen). Smugglers had seemingly dissolved 20 - 54 grams of cocaine into many of the bottles, with the intent of extracting it once the malta got past U.S. Customs. Somehow, the smugglers lost track of the product, and an unsuspecting public was in great peril. Between 3,500 - 5,500 bottles were never recovered.
- Sampoong Department Store collapse - Thursday, June 29, 1995
Of course, you've usually got to get out of the store before you can take a swig of your favorite poison. But if you chose to go to the Sampoong Department Store in Seoul, South Korea, on the evening of Thursday, June 29, 1995, you probably had a really hard time getting home with your groceries that night.
Major cracks had begun appearing in the 5th floor ceiling months before the building collapsed, and it began to cave in as early as 5:00pm that day, but employees waited to start their evacuation--that should have occurred well before the building's public opening in July of 1990--just 7 minutes before the structure gave way at 5:57, Korea Standard Time. Because the store was experiencing such a heavy volume of customers that day, netting enormous profits, the executives were hesitant to close the store--though the cowardly executives made sure to leave themselves. In just 20 seconds, 508 people perished, nearly 1,000 were injured, and more than 1,500 were trapped in the debris. Due to the instability of the remaining structure, the search and rescue operation was abandoned after just 2 days, though the last survivor was pulled from the rubble 17 days later...basically uninjured!
In the aftermath, investigators realized that the collapse was no accident, nor was it a simple case of neglect--it turns out builder and chairman Lee Joon had cut just about every corner possible during construction, and ignored the warnings of multiple contractors while building the store (go so far as to fire them when they refused to cooperate). Basically, he used every substandard material and construction practice known to man, and possibly invented a few along the way; then he made the brilliant choice to sacrifice the moderate quality that remained for any minor luxuries. Joon was sentenced to 10-and-a-half years for his role, though it was later reduced to seven. Still, he died within days of his release. Joon's son, other company executives, the company that completed the building and several corrupt city officials were also held accountable, serving jailtime and paying out more than $350 million (U.S.) toward 3,293 court settlements.
- The Eastland Disaster - Saturday, July 24, 1915
Okay, there's gotta be a better way to get some chow than packing yourself into the grocery store like a sardine. Then you hear about a river cruise, taking the workers of Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois, to Michigan City, Indiana, for an employee appreciation picnic. That sounds a-okay with you, as long as Lee Joon didn't have anything to do with the ship's construction.
This was a trip most of the immigrant factory workers could never afford on their own, so several thousand flooded aboard three or four passenger ships for the journey of a lifetime on Saturday, July 24, 1915. One of these ships was the SS Eastland, a notoriously problematic vessel that was known to list badly because its center of gravity was too high. Shortly before disaster struck at 7:28am, the ship reached its maximum capacity of 2,572 passengers, though some accounts indicate that more than 3,200 people had boarded the Eastland at the time of the tragedy.
After a sudden, unexplained rush of passengers to port side, the enormous boat simply "turned over on its side as though it were a whale going to take a nap," said writer Jack Woodford after witnessing the event. "I thought I had gone crazy." Thousands tumbled from the upper decks into the river, and those who'd gone below deck were drowned and crushed by heavy equipment. 844 passengers and crew members died that day, including 22 entire families. After the Eastland disaster, the ship was raised and rechristened the USS Wilmette, going on to have a distinguished career in the U.S. Military and even transporting President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II.
- Jersey Shore Shark Attacks - July 1 - 12, 1916
So maybe you should stay away from boats, but ain't nothing gonna keep you away from the beach! That's what you should've been doing all along--soakin' up some sunrays, doin' a little surfin' and grindin' on some sweet nosh every night at the bonfire barbeques. But wait...what's with that creepy music rising from the depths?
Charles E. Vansant was the first to suffer a shark attack, considered very rare (at the time) since Long Beach Island is so far north of the equator. In spite of incoming sea captains' warnings about large sharks in the area, people dismissed the Vansant incident as a freak accident, and they were right...for the next 96 hours. Then a bellhop by the name of Charles Bruder took a dip 45 miles upcoast at Spring Lake on Thursday, July 6. (Did the shark(s) hate the name Chuck, or what?) It bit both of Bruder's legs off, and he bled to death before lifeguards could drag him to shore.
Now you're thinking "Screw the beach. I'll just take a dip in the creek to cool off." That's probably what 13 year old Lester Stillwell was thinking just six days later on Wednesday, July 12, especially since they were 30 miles north and 16 miles inland (!!!) of the July 6th attacks, living quiet, happy lives in sleepy Matawan. While swimming in Matawan Creek that afternoon, Stillwell and his friends saw what they thought to be a submerged log--until its dorsal fin broke the surface. Stillwell was taken before he could scramble out of the water. Local businessman Watson S. Fisher dove into the creek to rescue the body, but the 8-foot shark attacked him in front of several townsfolk, and he bled to death shortly after he was pulled from the water. Foolishly, young Joseph Dunn chose to enter the water just half a mile away less than 30 minutes later, but he managed to survive the attack.
- Yellowstone Hot Springs death - Friday, July 20, 1984
Lesson learned: Look before you leap, especially into Matawan Creek. But that's good advice to keep in mind elsewhere, too. Another good thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the water may look clear, but National Parks usually put up those pesky signs around dangerous areas for a very specific reason--namely, they're dangerous areas! 24 year-old Californian David Allen Kirwan found out that lesson the hard way...
While travelling through Yellowstone National Park with friend Ronald Ratliff and Ratliff's dog Moosie, the trio decided to stop at the Fountain Paint Pot thermal area. Before the men could lock Moosie up in their truck, the dog bolted, diving joyfully into Celestine Pool. Moosie immediately began to yelp in pain, as the natural spring has been measured at over 200˚ F; due to its elevation, water doesn't even boil until water temperature hits around 198˚ F at Yellowstone, so the water may have looked deceptively "normal." With little hesitation, Kirwan prepared to jump in after the dog, though many standersby warned him against it. "Like hell I won't!" he screamed, diving head first into the boiling cauldron.
Somehow, he managed to swim all the way to where poor Moosie had floundered, but after he got a hold of the dog, Kirwan went under and had to let go. Finally, Kirwan had enough and tried to scramble out; Ratliff sustained second-degree burns all over his feet while helping his scalded friend out of the water. By the time Kirwan was out, he was blind and had suffered third-degree burns over 100% of his body. His skin began peeling off, and when a standerby tried to remove a shoe, Kirwan's flesh sloughed off with it. He died the following day at a hospital in Salt Lake.
- The Bogle-Chandler case - Tuesday, January 1, 1963
Best to just stay out of the water altogether, you resolve. But you can still bring your best girl to the riverside lovers' lane and gaze out at the moonlit flow for a while, can't you? After all, that shit's pretty romantic, and you just might go home with a smile on your face, if you play your cards right. Just ask Rhodes Scholar and physicist Dr. Gilber Bogle and his mistress, Mrs. Margaret Olive Chandler. It was all going according to plan for the pair, right down to the nookie. Then, on Tuesday, January 1, 1963 (remember, children of the northern hemisphere, that seasons occur at opposite times across the equator) something really strange happened...
Nobody's really sure what, exactly, but all the experts agree that it really, truly was strange. Their bodies were discovered a short distance away from each other at Lane Cove River, with signs of vomiting and excreta and little else (in two senses). First, no apparent trauma or foul play was found in any stage of the numerous investigations into the matter. Second, the couple was found semi-nude with signs of shared sexual activity, though evidence indicated that a third party took the time to cover up both bodies before they were found. Chandler's body was covered with a tattered cardboard beer box, though Bogle was blanketed with his own clothes in a way that made it seem he was fully dressed at the time of his discovery. All the coroner could conclusively state was that the pair's hearts or lungs stopped working at about the same time, and the cause of death was listed as "acute circulatory failure."
The story caught the attention of the national media because of the bizarre circumstances, but what the public didn't know was that evidence of the affair was suppressed (even among investigators) for the sake of the surviving family members, many of whom were children. It is now known that Bogle had quite a few lovers, and that Mr. and Mrs. Chandler had an "open" relationship. In 2006, documentarian Peter Butt presented powerful scientific evidence that indicated their deaths may have been caused by a rare phenomenon known as a limnic eruption. When this occurs, mass amounts of carbon dioxide are released from deep lakes, but conditions must be ideal, and only three known bodies of water are capable of becoming an "exploding lake." (Of the two cases in recorded human history, 37 people were killed by asphyxiation in 1984, and 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock perished in the 1986 event at Lake Nyos.)
- The San Ysidro McDonald's massacre - Wednesday, July 18, 1984
"These summer adventures can just go to hell," you say. You can be happy safely blowing other people's heads off from behind a computer screen at home. As you get back into the city, however, you realize you're hungry and that you can see some Golden Arches just ahead and to the right. But that's cool, 'cos nothing goes better together than junk food and video games. And, after all the shit you've gone through by now, you could probably withstand a little food poisoning, which is the worst thing that could happen at McDonald's, right?
Wrong. Starting at 3:40pm and continuing for an agonizing 77 minutes, whack-job James O. Huberty used a semi-automatic Uzi, a shotgun and a 9mm handgun to mortally wound 21 people and injure 19 others in the San Diego-area restaurant. After expending 257 rounds into the crowd of mostly Hispanic victims, Huberty was sniped by a member of the SWAT Team, Chuck Foster. (Apparently this heroic Chuck was so badass that even sharks left him alone.) Autopsy results indicated Huberty was stone-cold sober during his rampage.
The only person who seemed to miss Huberty was his equally batshit wife, Etna, though a prior police report mentioned that Huberty once "messed up" Etna's jaw, and that domestic violence was common in the Huberty household. (Etna had her own history with the police, and had been arrested on one occasion for encouraging her daughter to beat up another girl at a party, then threatening the other girl's mother with a 9mm.) She went on to try to sue both McDonald's and Huberty's former employer, Babcock and Wilcox, claiming that a combination of heavy metal poisoning from his former job and the monosodium glutamate from "too many chicken nuggets" caused him uncontrollable rage and delusional hallucinations. Predictably, she lost the suit and chicken nuggets have gone on to become the scourge of America.
- 1816, the Year Without a Summer
It's official--summer sucks! You can't do anything without the risk of horrific death. Sometimes you wish there wasn't a summer at all! If the population of the world in 1816 heard you say that, however, they might warn you to be careful for what you wish, as it just may come true. At the time, many folks thought Judgment Day had drawn nigh, since the sun shone with the mere intensity of the moon (and for just 4 hours a day, in places), the worst famine in history was underway, and temperatures would soar into the high 90s (˚F) then plummet to near-freezing in a matter of hours. This crippled food production (for both man and nature), which lead to mass starvation, deadly riots and major disease epidemics. In the meantime, weird weather patterns wreaked havoc across the globe, creating terrible floods in China and India, June snowfalls in the United States and Canada (some storms dropped up to twelve inches), and a massive ice dam in Switzerland that went on to collapse catastrophically in 1818.
Scientists now know that a bizarre series of celestial and geological events lined up in just the right order to produce the Year Without a Summer, or Eighteen Hundred and Froze-to-Death as the old timers used to call it. First, the sun slipped into what's known as the Dalton Minimum around 1790, a 40-year period of unusually weak solar activity. Next, starting in 1812, four volcanoes with a VEI description of "catastrophic" erupted over the next 3 years, ejecting incredible amounts of tephra into the atmosphere. Then came the "super-colossal" blast of Mount Tambora in 1815, the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded human history. It clogged the already oversaturated atmosphere with hundreds of billions of additional cubic feet of ejecta.
Oddly enough, in spite of all the death and hardship wrought by this catastrophe, "Poverty Year" created many effects that have reached into modern times. For example, the lack of able horses likely drove German inventor Karl Drais to invent the first velocipede, and chemist Justus von Liebig, just a child in famine swept Darmstadt at the time of the event, later made incredible contributions to plant nutrition and fertilization. The poor weather drove Mary Shelley and her friends indoors for much of the summer, prompting her to author one of the most famous novels of the last 200 years, and vivid yellow sunsets created by the atmospheric distortion were subsequently captured by artist J.M.W. Turner, making him famous and landscape painting an acceptable artistic genre. It also chased thousands away from the American East Coast and into the Heartland in search of greener pastures. Basically, the 20th century was shaped by these and (many) other products of The Year Without a Summer...