With respect to sages and crystal ball advocates around the world, you never know how or when you're going to go. There are a lot of ways to die, and some are certainly more bizarre than others. Even natural causes like heart failure can be brought on by some pretty strange circumstances. So while a death certificate may read, "died while sleeping," the fine print might say, "after a satellite fell through the roof."
Throughout history there have been some pretty unusual deaths. Attila the Hun is said to have died from a nosebleed. Isadora Duncan, a popular American dancer in the 1920s, was strangled to death after her scarf got caught up in the axle of the car she was riding in. Stanford White, architect of New York's Madison Square Garden, was shot and killed on the roof of the building he designed. And writer Tennessee Williams famously choked on a bottle cap.
Those are odd and ironic ways to go, but they don't hold a candle to the 10 bizarre deaths on the following pages.
This bizarre and sad death is a good example of tragic bad luck. In 2008, a Canadian man died after attempting to retrieve his stolen wallet from a storm sewer drain. The wallet and some other personal items were stolen after the 57-year-old man left them at a gas station. He called police before finding the wallet in a nearby sewer drain. He tried unsuccessfully to reach it once before the police arrived and cautioned him not to try again. But the man came back later, removed the grate and gave it another shot. When an officer investigating the crime noticed the man's truck had returned, he went to check out the drain and found the man wedged headfirst several feet below the street. The victim was still alive at this point and remained so as firefighters used a tow truck to pull him from the drain. Sadly, he was pronounced dead at the hospital a short time later.
In 1998, a 16-year-old boy in England passed away from a heart attack after being exposed to too many deodorant fumes. At the time of his death, the BBC claimed that more than 130 people had died after purposely inhaling aerosol deodorant products since 1971, but the boy's death was the only accidental case on record [source: BBC]. It seems that he was obsessed with personal hygiene and smelling fresh, so he'd spray his entire body with deodorant at least two times per day. It got so bad at times that the family of the boy could taste the fumes downstairs. In spite of this, they never thought he was in any danger. An autopsy revealed that he had 10 times the lethal amount of butane and propane in his bloodstream. It turns out that the boy used the deodorant in a relatively confined space even though warning labels recommend using it in a well-ventilated area.
It should be noted that in studies performed by the British Aerosol Manufacturers' Association and the toxicology unit at St. George's Hospital in London, researchers were not able to reproduce conditions that could lead to harmful or fatal effects from excessive spraying of aerosol products in a confined space.
As of November 2008, a Canadian school teacher named Sarwan Singh holds the Guinness World Record for having the longest beard of any man alive. It hangs an astonishing seven feet, seven-and-three-quarter inches (2.36 meters) from his chin [source: ctv.ca]. But the all-time record for a beard goes to a Norwegian man who grew his beard out to a length of 17.5 feet (5.3 meters) [source: Spies]. His name was Hans Langseth and he died in 1927. At one point his beard was even on display in the Smithsonian Institution.
Neither one of these men have had much trouble with their beards. The same can't be said for an Austrian man from the mid-1500s. Hans Steininger's beard was a mere 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) long, but that was enough to lead to his untimely death [source: TIME]. Hans would keep his beard rolled up in a leather pouch, but failed to do so one day in 1567. A fire broke out in his town that day and he reportedly tripped on his beard while trying to evacuate. There are conflicting reports as to whether Steininger broke his neck or perished in the fire, but either way it was a very bizarre way to go.
Sheep are pretty docile creatures. If you visit a sheep farm, you'll likely find the wooly creatures just milling about and munching on some grass. Sadly, in 1999, a woman in England found out that sheep can have an aggressive side as well if they're hungry enough. Betty Stobbs was a farmer's wife and 67 years old at the time of her tragic encounter. She was taking a nice dinner of hay to the family's flock of sheep using a four wheeled all-terrain vehicle (ATV) with a small trailer attached. The sheep were in a field overlooking a quarry. When Stobbs arrived with dinner, the hungry herd charged her and jumped onto the ATV, knocking her off and into the quarry. The sad irony of this tragedy is that she didn't die from the fall itself. She may have even lived through the tumble, but the ATV was knocked off as well and crushed her.
This one wasn't exactly caused by a bra, but the woman's undergarment certainly didn't help the situation for two ladies in London, England, in 1999. These two friends were walking through Hyde Park one day when a bad thunderstorm came through. The pair was believed to have been seeking shelter under a large tree when a massive bolt of lightning struck them both. Apparently the metal wiring in the women's bras acted as conductors, although the coroner believed that they would have died even if they hadn't been wearing the underwire brassieres. Sadly, the women were both killed instantly and their bodies stayed there for 15 hours before anyone approached them. The official cause of death, as listed by coroner Dr. Paul Knapman, was "misadventure."
A representative of the market research firm The NPD Group made a startling announcement at the video gaming industry's 2009 DICE Summit in Las Vegas. Gaming industry insiders knew that their product was undergoing some serious growth, but the revelation that 6 million new potential customers began playing video games in 2008 came as a welcome surprise. The conference also revealed that online gaming, when gamers play against each other via the Internet, rose two percent in 2008 [source: dicesummit.org].
All this activity on the gaming front has led to concerns over video game addiction. These concerns were validated in 2005 when a young man from South Korea passed away after a long stint playing the online version of the game Starcraft. The game is popular in South Korea, and popular gamers are revered. The 28-year-old man in this tragic case had been playing the game for nearly 50 hours straight at an Internet café in Taegu, taking only short breaks to nap and use the restroom. He was rushed to a hospital after collapsing, but died shortly thereafter. Police believed that the cause of death was cardiac arrest brought on by severe exhaustion.
This wasn't one death, but 21 deaths -- all from the same bizarre cause. On a warm day in January 1919 in Boston, a large tank containing about 2.5 million gallons of molasses exploded in a neighborhood in the city's North End. The tank was 50 feet high (15.2 meters), had a diameter of 90 feet (27.4 meters) and was situated on the waterfront in an area populated at the time largely by Italian immigrants. Nobody is sure what caused the massive explosion that sent shrapnel flying as far as 200 feet (61 meters) [source: wired.com].
Some of the deaths are attributed to the force of the blast itself, and it's impossible to say now exactly how many perished in the aftermath. But we do know that the explosion caused a wall of molasses that was reportedly 25 feet (7.6 meters) high to flow into the neighborhood at an estimated 35 miles per hour (56.3 kph) [source: wired.com]. The sticky wave knocked people over and sucked them in, causing them to drown in the thick, brown liquid.
It took months to clean the mess up and more than 100 lawsuits were settled for almost $1 million six years after the accident occurred [source: wired.com]. That's more than $12 million in 2009. Residents of the unlucky neighborhood claim they can still smell the molasses on hot summer days.
Hollywood has left more than a few dreams of fame and fortune shattered over the years. The most famous of these sad stories is probably that of Peg Entwistle, a young actress from Wales. Enwistle had some success on the stage, even winning roles on Broadway in New York City, but like so many others, she was drawn to the bright lights of Hollywood in central Los Angeles.
Once in California, she found a small measure of success when she played a part in the film "Thirteen Women," but the fame she desired still eluded her. Test screenings of the film went poorly, and much of her work was edited out of the final product. On Sept. 16, 1932, she climbed up to the famous Hollywood sign for her final act. At the time, the sign still read "Hollywoodland" and was merely an advertisement for a new housing development. Entwistle left her belongings, including a suicide note, at the base of the sign and then climbed up and leapt from the top of the letter "H."
Her body lay there for two days before it was spotted and later identified by her uncle, who lived in the hills near the sign. Her suicide note simply said, "I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E." In an ironic twist, a letter arrived for Entwistle the day following her death offering her a part in a movie about a woman on the verge on suicide.
They say that one man's trash is another man's treasure, but it can get out of hand if you become a packrat. Most people have a little bit of this tendency in them, but not to the extent that it would kill you. Sadly, the same can't be said about New York City's Collyer Brothers.
Langley and Homer Collyer moved to the New York neighborhood of Harlem in 1909 when they were in their twenties. Sons of an upper class family, the brothers became increasingly hermitic over the years and began to hoard items. How much stuff did they accumulate? It's estimated that there were 180 tons (163 metric tons) of "junk" in the apartment in the end [source: [url='516913:0']]. Busted chandeliers, broken baby carriages, smashed pianos, cracked clocks and molding furniture was stacked in every corner of their home. Homer went blind in the 1930s and was bedridden because of rheumatism by 1940. His younger brother cared for his every need and even saved hundreds of thousands of newspapers in hopes that Homer would regain his sight.
Oddly, the home was also booby-trapped in places to prevent intruders. This would turn out to be Langley's undoing when he tripped on one of the traps and was buried beneath an avalanche of junk. Unable to help, Homer could only slowly starve to death as his brother lay dead under the pile of refuse. Police reportedly searched Manhattan for weeks before realizing that Langley was buried in his own home.
What exactly happened to cause the deaths of nine hikers in the Ural Mountains of Russia on Feb. 2, 1959, remains one of the country's most notorious unsolved mysteries. On Jan. 28, 10 students from the Ural Polytechnic Institute set off for some winter hiking. One member fell ill and was left behind to recuperate in a mountain settlement.
The other nine never made it out of the woods, and what investigators found was both frightening and confusing. Their abandoned tent was found ripped open from the inside, half buried in snow, with the shoes and belongings of the students still inside. The first two bodies were found at the edge of the forest, barefoot and dressed in their underwear. The next three bodies were found nearby in similar condition. Two months later, the last of the bodies were found buried in the snow about 250 feet (75 meters) from the first victims [source: sptimes.ru].
These four students had massive internal injuries, broken ribs and crushed skulls. One of them was missing her tongue. One thing that perplexed investigators was the fact that there was no sign of struggle and no external wounds. The final four victims were wearing some of the clothes of the others that were found to have high levels of radiation.
Theories have abounded over the years -- avalanche, alien interaction and military testing to name a few. Case records were sealed until 1990, when it was learned that bright orange spheres had been spotted in the sky that night by other hikers. This and the radiation on the clothes lead most people to believe that were some secret military shenanigans going on -- although the Russian government has never owned up to anything.
The BrainStuff team lined up all the grave statistics on how you're likely to die. Learn more about your own mortality at HowStuffWorks Now.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- "Death by Wired Bras." The New York Times. Oct. 28, 1999.
- "Deodorant obsession killed boy." BBC. Oct. 29, 1998.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/203730.stm
- "DICE 09: NPD - Six Million New Gamers in Last Year." Gamasutra. Feb. 20, 2009.http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=22415
- "Hair Apparent." TIME. July 18, 1949. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,794879-2,00.html
- "How Attila the Hun Died of a Nosebleed." Associated Content. Feb. 4, 2008.http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/570531/how_attila_the_hun_died_of_a_nosebleed.html?cat=37
- "Peg Entwistle." Imdb.com. 2009.http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0258201/
- "S Korean dies after games session." BBC. Aug. 10, 2005.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4137782.stm
- "Sheep Push Woman Over Edge of Cliff." Los Angeles Times. Jan. 29, 1999.http://articles.latimes.com/1999/jan/29/news/mn-2886
- "Surrey school teacher has world's longest beard." Ctvbc.ctv.ca. Nov. 14, 2008.http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20081113/BC_world_longest_beard_081113/20081113/?hub=BritishColumbiaHome
- Alfred, Randy. "Jan. 15, 1919: Morass of Molasses Mucks Up Boston." Wired.com. Jan. 15, 2009.http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2009/01/dayintech_0115
- Leong, Kristie, M.D. "11 Very Strange Deaths! Bizarre Ways People Have Died!" Associated Content. July 11, 2007. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/301128/11_very_strange_deaths_bizarre_ways.html?cat=7
- Lidz, Franz. "The Paper Chase." The New York Times. Oct. 26, 2003.
- Morse, Paul. "Welland man dies after being trapped in storm sewer." Thespec.com. Feb. 24, 2006.http://www.thespec.com/news/article/330908
- Osadchuk, Svetlana. "Mysterious Deaths of 9 Skiers Still Unresolved." The St. Petersburg Times. Feb. 19, 2008.http://www.sptimes.ru/story/25093
- Perrie, Robin. "Blood lust of killer sheep." The Sun. Feb. 19, 2002.http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article146406.ece
- Spies, Kelly. "World Beard and Mustache Championships." Associated Content. June 19, 2007.
- Thorhill, Ted. "World's most bizarre deaths." The Sun. Sept. 3, 2008.http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/article1639113.ece