The Five Most Ridiculous Ways People Have Died in History

When death changed from a tragic matter to a comedic one

Summer
Summer
Nov 24, 2020 · 7 min read
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Photo by Jon Butterworth on Unsplash

Whenever I had occasions when I choked on food or struggled to go to the toilet, I thought: “How bad would it be if I died this way?” Then, not only would my whole life be a joke, but my death as well. However, even my wildest thoughts seem to pale in comparison to many of the ridiculous ways people have died in history!

Here are some examples:

1. Killed by his own beard

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Grabstein des H. Staininger BENUTZER: M.M/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Braunau am Inn, a town in Austria bordered by Germany, is famous for two people, one is Adolf Hitler who was born there, the other one is Hans Steininger, the town’s mayor in the 16th century. The townspeople would probably prefer to highlight the latter.

Hans Steininger was a well-liked mayor. He famously had a long and well-groomed beard of around 137cm (four feet and a half) that stretched down to the ground. He usually carefully rolled it up and tucked it in his pocket. However, on a September night in 1567, there was a big fire in Branuau am Inn that made everyone run around in panic.

Amidst the chaos, Hans Steininger’s beard came out of his pocket and started flying, loose from its usual confines. As he was running down the stairs, Hans stumbled on his own beard and tripped. Consequently, he fell down the rest of the steps and broke his neck and died in the process. This made him the man who was killed by his own beard.

After the incident, the townspeople built a monument on the wall of St. Stephen’s Church in honor of their beloved mayor. Before the funeral, they also cut off the mayor’s long beard and preserved with chemicals, displaying it at the local history museum. Thus, his saga survived for centuries and is remembered today (Source: Atlas Obscure).

Moral of the story: never grow your beard or hair too long in case of a fire emergency.

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Hans Steininger’s beard preserved MARKUS METZ/CC BY-SA 3.0

2. Killed by his own politeness

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Tycho Brahe, Credit: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek — Austrian National Library

Tycho Brahe was a famous Danish astronomer from a noble family that lived in the 16th century. He was awarded an island from the Danish king where he built two observatories (Christianson,2002).

On that island, called Hven, the astronomer made many observations and discoveries even at a time when the telescope was not yet invented. Relying solely on his eyes, navigation instruments, and mathematical calculations, he was able to discover over 1000 stars including what we today know as a supernova (Mosley, 2007).

However, in 1597 he quarreled with the new Danish king and went into exile to Prague, where he became the imperial astronomer there.

Tycho Brahe was raised within one of the most influential Danish noble families and was extremely polite. He attended a banquet in Prague where he did not want to excuse himself from the table in order to go to pee. He thought that would be extremely impolite and so he held his pee until the end of the banquet. However, when he arrived home, the overholding caused infections so bad that he could not pee normally and died eleven days later (Wyner, 2016)

Tycho Brahe was buried in the Church of Our Lady before Týn, near the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square of Prague.

Moral of the story: never hold your pee.

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Church of Our Lady before Tyn by Richard Mortel from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Killed by his own laughter

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Chrysippus Louvre Museum, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, Wikimedia Commons

Chrysippus was a Greek philosopher from the 3rd-century BC and was a part of the school of Stoicism. He was even said to be the second founder of stoicism after Zeno of Citium.

Building on the work of Zeno, he produced numerous writings and teachings on the basic theories and logics of Stoicism. Notably, he developed the system of propositional logic, which we now use in math, physics, programming languages, and even Excel. It is the logic of the “If…then…” statements, which may sound very common sense today, but was a mindblowing discovery thousands of years ago (Lopez-Astorga, 2015).

The philosopher that produced such serious work had a death that could sound too difficult to be taken seriously. It was said that Chrysippus died from laughing too much when he saw a donkey eating a fig. He found the scene so funny that he could not stop laughing until he lost consciousness and died in this fit of laughter at the age of 73 (Kadari, Sarche, & Krantz, 2012)

Moral of the story: never laugh too much no matter how funny and ridiculous life gets.

4. Killed by conducting music

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Lully, Jean Baptiste Source: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek — Austrian National Library

Jean-Baptiste Lully was an Italian-born French musician and dancer. He was very talented and accomplished in music from composition, violin, guitar, and opera, to dancing. In 1653, the king-to-be Louis XIV appointed him the royal composer for instrumental music.

His music became so indispensable for the aristocracy that in 1660, King Louis XIV made Lully the royal music and music master of the royal family. His music career was accomplished and prosperous when he, unfortunately, killed himself by accident while conducting music.

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Image by Matthias Böckel from Pixabay

In the past, musicians used a heavy staff (a long stick made from wood or metal) to conduct music by banging the staff on the ground to indicate the timing of the music. It was only in the 19th century that batons (light small wands) became popular as a way to conduct music by drawing lines in the air.

So, Lully was using the large staff to conduct music in celebration of King Louis XIV’s recovery from surgery. A celebration of illness recovery ironically causes his own illness. During the performance, he accidentally struck his foot with the staff. The injury caused infections that required the removal of his leg to save his life. However, Lully refused to have his leg amputated because he still wanted to be able to dance. Thus, the infection spread all over his body and he died two months later, in 1687 (Anthony, 1989).

Moral of the story: Be careful with what’s dropping from your hands

5. Killed by his own alarm clock

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Klearchos Kapoutsis from Santorini, Greece, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Sam Wardell was a lamplighter in Flatbush, New York, in the 1880s. His job involved turning on the street lamps when night fell, and then turning them off when dawn came.

It was not an easy job to wake up so early every single morning. An alarm that could be easily snoozed was not enough for this task. So he developed his own alarm system to guarantee that he would wake up for sure.

He connected a usual alarm clock by a wire to his shelf, then put a 10 pound stone on the shelf. In this way, when the alarm went off, the shelf would be dragged down with the fall of the heavy stone, making a sound that would be too hard to sleep through. The system worked pretty well until one day he killed himself with the alarm.

For a Christmas party to which he invited his friends over, Sam moved around the bed in order to accommodate the party. After the celebration, he was so drunk and tired that he misplaced his bed under the shelf. The next morning, as usual, the alarm went off, but this time the shelf and the 10 pound stone fell right onto his poor head (Source: BBC News Magzine)

Moral of the story: don’t be too inventive with your alarm clocks

Reference

Mosley, A. (2007). Bearing the heavens: Tycho Brahe and the astronomical community of the late sixteenth century. Cambridge University Press.

Christianson, John Robert (2000). On Tycho’s Island. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052165081X.

Wyner, L. M. (2016). Urologic Demise of Astronomer Tycho Brahe: A Cosmic Case of Urinary Retention. Urology, 88, 33–35.

Lopez-Astorga, M. (2015). Chrysippus’ indemonstrable and mental logic. Croatian Journal of Philosophy, 15(1 (43)), 1–16.

Kadari, R., Sarche, M. A., & Krantz, M. J. (2012). Fatal laughter. Annals of internal medicine, 157(10), 756.

Anthony, J. R. (1989). Jean-Baptiste Lully and the music of the French baroque: essays in honor of James R. Anthony. Cambridge University Press.

More history reads from me:

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Summer

Written by

Summer

UX researcher, bookworm, writing about my learnings from work, life, places and cultures :) Connect at www.linkedin.com/in/summersutong

History of Yesterday

From the times that the pyramids were raised to the end of the cold war in this publication you will find it all. This is a publication that has been created to tell the stories of forgotten battles and fortunes that have crafted the world that we live in today.

Summer

Written by

Summer

UX researcher, bookworm, writing about my learnings from work, life, places and cultures :) Connect at www.linkedin.com/in/summersutong

History of Yesterday

From the times that the pyramids were raised to the end of the cold war in this publication you will find it all. This is a publication that has been created to tell the stories of forgotten battles and fortunes that have crafted the world that we live in today.

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