Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Weird

Inflating cow skins to use as boats for crossing the swift Himalayan River Sutlej, northern India; ca. 1903

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Stereoscopic photograph of inflated bullock skin boat, or dreas, at the side of the river Sutlej, in Himachal Pradesh, taken by James Ricalton in c. 1903, from The Underwood Travel Library: Stereoscopic Views of India. This image is described by Ricalton in ‘India Through the Stereoscope’ (1907): “I have crossed the river several times on these inflated bullock-skins…The drea-man, after inflating the skin as you see them doing here, places it on the water and places himself on his stomach athwart the skin with his feet in the water; he holds a short paddle in his hands. The intending passenger sits erect, astride the drea-man…You have observed how the skin for this purpose is taken from the animal in one piece and how all openings in the skin are closed except in one leg which is kept open for inflation…These drea-wallahs can drive the skins across the river during high floods when the best swimmer would be helpless in the powerful current.” One of a series of 100 photographs that were supposed to be viewed through a special binocular viewer, producing a 3D effect. The series was sold together with a book of descriptions and a map with precise locations to enable the ‘traveller’ to imagine that he was really ‘touring’ around India. Stereoscopic cameras, those with two lenses and the ability to take two photographs at the same time, were introduced in the mid 19th century and revolutionised photography. They cut down exposure time and thus allowed for some movement in the image without blurring as subjects were not required to sit for long periods to produce sharp results.

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French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne triggers the expression of ‘terror’ on a subject through electrical stimulation the mimetic muscles; ca. 1862

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“Spectators watching a Wall of Death performance featuring a lion in a sidecar”, Revere Beach, MA; ca. 1929

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Mr. “Fearless” Egbert taking his five year-old lion for a ride on the Wall of Death at Mitcham fair.

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Fridtjof Nansen

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Fridtjof Nansen (10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930) was a Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In his youth he was a champion skier and ice skater. He led the team that made the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888, traversing the island on cross-country skis. He won international fame after reaching a record northern latitude of 86°14′ during his North Pole expedition of 1893–96. Although he retired from exploration after his return to Norway, his techniques of polar travel and his innovations in equipment and clothing influenced a generation of subsequent Arctic and Antarctic expeditions.

Nansen studied zoology at the Royal Frederick University in Christiania (renamed Oslo in 1925), and later worked as a curator at the Bergen Museum where his research on the central nervous system of lower marine creatures earned him a doctorate and helped establish modern theories of neurology. After 1896 his main scientific interest switched to oceanography; in the course of his research he made many scientific cruises, mainly in the North Atlantic, and contributed to the development of modern oceanographic equipment. As one of his country’s leading citizens, in 1905 Nansen spoke out for the ending of Norway’s union with Sweden, and was instrumental in persuading Prince Carl of Denmark to accept the throne of the newly independent Norway. Between 1906 and 1908 he served as the Norwegian representative in London, where he helped negotiate the Integrity Treaty that guaranteed Norway’s independent status.

In the final decade of his life, Nansen devoted himself primarily to the League of Nations, following his appointment in 1921 as the League’s High Commissioner for Refugees. In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts. Among the initiatives he introduced was the “Nansen passport” for stateless persons, a certificate recognised by more than 50 countries. He worked on behalf of refugees until his sudden death in 1930, after which the League established the Nansen International Office for Refugees to ensure that his work continued. This office received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1938. Nansen was honoured by many nations, and his name is commemorated in numerous geographical features, particularly in the polar regions.

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Civil War Veteran Jacob Miller was shot in the forehead on Sept.19th 1863 at Brock Field at Chickamauga. He lived with an open bullet wound for many years, with the last pieces of lead dropping out 31 years after he was first shot; ca. 1911

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Jacob Miller’s account taken from the Daily News Joliet Ill. Wed. June 14, 1911:

Braidwood is sending to the state G.A.R. encampment today one of the most remarkable hero survivors of the Civil War. His name is Jacob Miller and since Sept. 19, 1863, he has lived with an open bullet wound in his forehead. For a number of years the bullet remained in his head but piece by piece it fell out till now. It is thought none of it remains in the wound. During the time it was in the head it at times would produce a stupor, which sometimes would last two weeks, it being usually when he caught cold and produced more of a pressure on the brain. At other times delirium would seize him and he would imagine himself again on picket duty and would tramp back and forth on his beat, a stick on his shoulder for a musket, a pitiful object of the sacrifice for freedom. As these pieces of lead gradually loosened and fell out he regained his usual health and is now at the age of 78 years, one of the most, if not the most, remarkable survivor of the Civil war.

The harrowing experience undergone by Mr. Miller is so vividly felt by him even at this late day that it is seldom he can be persuaded to talk of it.

But it is my privilege to record from his own hand writing written for his family the story of his miraculous escape from death at that memorable time under his signature.

Jacob Miller, formerly a private in company K 9th Indiana Vol. Inf. Was wounded in the head near Brock Field at the battle of Chickamagua, Georgia on the morning of Sept. 19, 1863. I was left for dead when my company when my company fell back from that position. When I came to my senses some time after I found I was in the rear of the confederate line. So not to become a prisoner I made up my mind to make an effort to get around their line and back on my own side. I got up with the help of my gun as a staff, then went back some distance, then started parallel with the line of battle. I suppose I was so covered with blood that those that I met, did not notice that I was a Yank, ( at least our Major, my former captain did not recognize me when I met him after passing to our own side).

At last I got to the end of the confederate line and went to our own side while a brigade of confederates came up to their line behind me. There were none of the Union forces found on that part of the field when I passed along. I struck an old by-road and followed it the best I could, as by this time my head was swelled so bad it shut my eyes and I could see to get along only by raising the lid of my right eye and look ahead then go on till I ran afoul of something, then would look again and so on till I came to the Lafayette Pike near the Kelly house and started towards the field Hospital at the springs. I at length got so badly exhausted I had to lie down by the side of the road. At last some bearers came along and put me on their stretcher and carried me to the hospital and laid me on the ground in a tent. A hospital nurse came and put a wet bandage over my wound and around my head and gave me a canteen of water. I don’t know what time of day they examined my wound and decided to put me on the operating table till after dark some time. The surgeons examined my wound and decided it was best not to operate on me and give me more pain as they said I couldn’t live very long, so the nurse took me back into the tent. I slept some during the night . The next morning (Sunday), the doctors came around to make a list of the wounded and of their company and regiments and said to send all the wounded to Chattanooga that the ambulances would carry and told me I was wounded too bad to be moved, and if the army fell back those that were left there could afterwards be exchanged.

As stated before I made up my mind as long as I could drag one foot after another I would not allow myself to be taken prisoner. I got a nurse to fill my canteen with water so I could make an effort in getting near safety as possible. I got out of the tent without being noticed and got behind some wagons that stood near the road till I was safely away (having to open my eye with my finger to take my bearings on the road) I went away from the boom of cannon and the rattle of musketry. I worked my way along the road as best I could. At one time I got off to the side of the road and bumped my head against a low hanging limb. The shock toppled me over, I got up and took my bearings again and went on as long as I could drag a foot then lay down beside the road, to see if I could not rest so I could move. I hadn’t lain long till the ambulance train began to pass, the drivers as they passed me asked me if I was still alive, then passing on. At last one of the drivers asked if I was alive and said he would take me in, as one of his men had died back awes, and he had taken him out. Then it was all a blank to me, (Monday the 21st I came to myself and found I was in a long building in Chattanooga Tenn., lying with hundreds of other wounded on the floor almost as thick as hogs in a stock car. Some were talking , some were groaning. I raised myself to a sitting position got my canteen and wet my head. While doing it I heard a couple of soldiers who were from my company. They could not believe it was me as they said I was left for dead on the field at the left of Brock Cabin. They came over to where I was and we visited together till then came an order for all the wounded that could walk to start across the river on a pontoon bridge to a hospital, to be treated ready to be taken to Nashville. I told the boys if they could lead me, I could walk that distance. I started but owing to our army retreating the night before, and was then in and around the city wagon trains. Troops and artillery were crossing the river on the single pontoon bridge. We could not get across until almost sundown. When we arrived across and up on the bank we luckily ran across our company teamster, who we stopped with that night He got us something to eat After we ate some (the first I had tasted before daylight Saturday morning the 19th), we lay down on a pile of blankets, each fixed under the wagon and rested pretty well as the teamsters stayed awake till nearly morning to keep our wounds moist with cool water from a nearby spring.

Tuesday morning the 22nd we awoke to the crackling of the camp fire that a comrade built to get us a cup of coffee and a bite to eat of hard tack and fat meat. While eating, an orderly rode up and asked if we were wounded. If so we were to go back along the road to get our wounds dressed, so we bid the teamsters good-bye and went to get our wounds attended to. We had to wait till near noon before we were attended to. That was the first time I had my wound washed and dressed by a surgeon. After we were fixed up we drew a few crackers, some sugar coffee, salt and a cake of soap and were ordered to get into an army wagon with four army mules, ( God Bless the army mule, the soldiers friend.) We got in and started to go over Raccoon or Sand Mountain to Bridgeport, Ala. To take the train to Nashville, Tenn. After riding in the wagon awhile I found the jolting hurt my head so badly I could not stand it so had to get out. My comrades got out with me and we went on foot. I was told it was 60 miles that route to Bridgport, at least it took us four days to get there. Wednesday morning when I woke up I found I could open my right eye and see to get around. We arrived at Bridgeport the fourth day out from Chattanooga at noon, just as a train of box cars were ready to pull out. I got in a car and lay down. I had gained my point so far–and how. As the soldiers term it with lots of sand, but the sand had run out with me for the time being.

The next thing I remember I was stripped and in a bath tub of warm water in a hospital at Nashville. I do not know what date it was; in fact I didn’t pay much attention to the dates from the Friday at noon when I got in the box car at Bridgeport to start to Nashville.

After, some length of time I was transferred to Louisville , Ky. From there to New Albany, Ind.. In all the hospitals I was in I begged the surgeons to operate on my head but they all refused.

I suffered for nine months then I got a furlough home to Logansport and got Drs. Fitch and Colman to operate on my wound. They took out the musket ball. After the operation a few days, I returned to the hospital at Madison and stayed there till the expiration of my enlistment, Sept. 17, 1864. Seventeen years after I was wounded a buck shot dropped out of my wound and thirty one years after two pieces of lead came out.

Some ask how it is I can describe so minutely my getting wounded and getting off the battle field after so many years. My answer is I have an everyday reminder of it in my wound and constant pain in the head, never free of it while not asleep. The whole scene is imprinted on my brain as with a steel engraving.

I haven’t written this to complain of any one being in fault for my misfortune and suffering all these years, the government is good to me and gives me $40.00 per month pension.


British soldier with experimental body armor meeting with his medieval counterpart; ca. October 1917

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Before the First World War, no military used true protective helmets; Pith helmets and Pickelhaubes technically are helmets, but offer very little protection against bullet fragments and shell splinters. Similarly, any armor used previously to the First World War would be of medieval-inspired designs, for instance in the armor found on heavy cavalry. Even the French helmet from that conflict was designed with medieval aesthetics in mind.

In the First World War context, modern body armor would have primarily been used for machine gunners and others in static positions exposed to heavy small arms fire. This, though, is the most modern in appearance and design that I’ve seen – the groin protector is surprisingly sophisticated.

The First World War was the true introduction of so much modern military equipment on a vast scale: helmets and body armor designed for modern threats, gas masks, tanks, fighter and bomber aircraft, light machine guns, submachine guns, semi-automatic battle rifles, and more. The Second World War, with the exception of the nuclear bomb, offered more incremental improvements than revolutionary ones.


Captain Francis Crozier – Commander of HMS “Terror”; ca. 1845

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Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier was born in 1796 into a wealthy family in the Irish linen town of Banbridge, County Down. His father, George Crozier, was a prominent solicitor who acted for Ireland’s most powerful land-owning families, and he was named after Francis Rawdon, the Earl of Moira.

In 1810, three months before his 14th birthday, Crozier enlisted in the Royal Navy and was immediately thrown into the Napoleonic wars. On one of his earliest voyages, his ship became lost in the Pacific Ocean and unexpectedly arrived at tiny Pitcairn Island, where the crew met the sole surviving mutineer from the Bounty.

After the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, the Admiralty turned to exploration in an attempt to find work for its ranks of idle officers and to expand the British Empire. Arctic discovery was a key ambition during this energetic burst of exploration, which produced men such as Franklin, Parry, the Rosses and Crozier.

Crozier’s first polar expedition came in 1821, when he volunteered to join Parry’s attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage, a feat that had eluded sailors for centuries. They returned after two years without success, but Crozier went north again a year later when Parry took the vessels Fury and Hecla on another vain bid to locate the passage. Disaster was only narrowly averted when Fury was wrecked in Prince Regent Inlet, and the entire party limped home on board Hecla.

In 1827, Crozier joined Parry and James Clark Ross in an arduous slog to reach the North Pole. The party, dragging heavily laden boats, trekked for more than 1,000 kilometres, but advanced only 275 kilometres north because the remorseless drift of the pack ice carried them steadily south. It was akin to walking the wrong way up a fast-moving escalator, and the men survived thanks largely to the depots earlier laid down by the diligent Crozier. But the ‘furthest north’ record of 82° 45’ stood for almost half a century.

On successive journeys, Crozier demonstrated his reliability and an aptitude for the painstaking business of magnetic and astronomic readings. In 1827, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and was elected a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society in 1843. His prominent sponsors included the astronomer Sir John Herschel and Sir Francis Beaufort, creator of the Beaufort scale and one of the co-founders of the Royal Geographical Society.

Crozier’s most accomplished feat was the mammoth four-year journey to Antarctica in Erebus and Terror with James Clark Ross, which arguably ranks as the 19th century’s most outstanding voyage of maritime discovery. He captained Terror and never lost a man – a rare achievement at the time.

Setting out in 1839, the Erebus and Terror expedition was the last great journey made under sail, penetrating the pack ice of the Southern Ocean and discovering vast tracts of the Antarctic continent. It also bequeathed many of the now familiar geographical names to the Heroic Age of Exploration, including Mount Erebus, Ross Island and McMurdo Sound. The Great Ice Barrier, where Scott’s party perished in 1912, was so named because it presented a barrier to Erebus and Terror (it was re-named the Ross Ice Shelf in the 1950s). And Cape Crozier, the windswept headland on Ross Island that was later immortalised by Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s book on Scott’s expedition, The Worst Journey in the World, is now renowned for its emperor penguin colony.

However, the Antarctic journey took a heavy toll on both Crozier and Ross. On their return, witnesses were shocked at the way their hands trembled – the tremors so pronounced that they could hardly hold a glass.

Sadly, Crozier was also suffering from a broken heart. On the voyage south, the ships had stopped at the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), where Crozier fell deeply in love with Sophy Cracroft, the flirty niece of the old explorer Sir John Franklin, who had been appointed the island’s governor. His repeated proposals of marriage were rejected because Cracroft refused to become a captain’s wife. ‘She liked the man, but not the sailor,’ her aunt once confided.

Heartbroken and depressed, Crozier elected to head north again in 1845 when the Admiralty launched a fresh attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage in Erebus and Terror. Although Crozier was the most experienced polar captain still serving, the Admiralty gave command of the expedition to Franklin, an overweight 59-year-old who hadn’t taken a ship into the ice for 27 years. It was a snub that hurt Crozier, and he probably should have chosen that moment to retire from exploration. But in a vain attempt to appeal to Cracroft, Crozier volunteered to travel as Franklin’s deputy and assume command of Terror.

In his last letter home, a melancholic Crozier wrote: ‘In truth I am sadly lonely.’ More pertinently, he was worried that the expedition had sailed too late in the season and also questioned Franklin’s leadership, writing that ‘[Franklin] is very decided in his own views but has not good judgement’.

UNSPECIFIED - 1870: Ill. of the ships "Erebus" and "Terror", belonging to the arctic exploration team led by Englishman John Franklin, head into the ice floes of Baffin Bay towards the North Pole, from which they never returned. (Photo by Mansell/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Erebus and Terror crossed Baffin Bay during the summer of 1845 and entered the treacherous Arctic waterways of Lancaster Sound with 129 officers and men aboard. They were never to return.

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Disaster struck in 1847, when the ships became trapped in the ice in Victoria Strait. Shortly after, Franklin died and command of the expedition passed to Crozier. The ships were abandoned in 1848, and it was Crozier who inherited the hopeless task of leading about 100 starving survivors in a forlorn retreat across the ice. Men fell dead in their tracks; years later, examination of their bones revealed that some had resorted to cannibalism in the struggle to survive.

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Crozier’s death march ripples with historical significance. At one point, the survivors reached the narrow Simpson Strait that runs between King William Island and mainland Canada. Unknown to Crozier, the strait was the last piece of the jigsaw that – at that point – made up the Northwest Passage. A little over 50 years later, the Norwegian Amundsen navigated the strait during the first navigation of the passage and graciously flew his ship’s colours in salute.

According to native accounts, a few desperate souls from the Franklin expedition clung to life for several years after the ships were abandoned, but none managed to find a route to safety. Crozier, the imperturbable and experienced commander, is thought to have been among the last to succumb.

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Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki Expedition across the Pacific; ca. 1947

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The Kon-Tiki expedition was a 1947 journey by raft across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands, led by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl. The raft was named Kon-Tiki after the Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom “Kon-Tiki” was said to be an old name.

Heyerdahl believed that people from South America could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. His aim in mounting the Kon-Tiki expedition was to show, by using only the materials and technologies available to those people at the time, that there were no technical reasons to prevent them from having done so. Although the expedition carried some modern equipment, such as a radio, watches, charts, sextant, and metal knives, Heyerdahl argued they were incidental to the purpose of proving that the raft itself could make the journey.

The Kon-Tiki expedition was funded by private loans, along with donations of equipment from the United States Army. Heyerdahl and a small team went to Peru, where, with the help of dockyard facilities provided by the Peruvian authorities, they constructed the raft out of balsa logs and other native materials in an indigenous style as recorded in illustrations by Spanish conquistadores. The trip began on April 28, 1947. Heyerdahl and five companions sailed the raft for 101 days over 6900 km (4,300 miles) across the Pacific Ocean before smashing into a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on August 7, 1947. The crew made successful landfall and all returned safely.

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Slavoljub “Slava” Ković, a 16 year old Serbian partisan, photographed by the SS before his execution; ca. January 1942

Due to his defiance for not telling the names of his comrades, Slavoljub was tortured and had a star carved with a knife on his forehead (representing the communist ideology).

Due to his defiance for not telling the names of his comrades, Slavoljub was tortured and had a star carved with a knife on his forehead (representing the communist ideology).


The preserved body of Royal Navy stoker John Torrington who died in 1846 during Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition in the Canadian Arctic; ca. 1984

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Petty Officer John Shaw Torrington (1825 — 1 January 1846) was an explorer and Royal Navy stoker. He was part of an expedition to find the Northwest Passage, but died early in the trip and was buried on Beechey Island.

Torrington was a part of Sir John Franklin’s final expedition to find the Northwest Passage, a sea route to Asia, via the northern edge of North America. They set off from Greenhithe, England in two ships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, on 19 May 1845. The trip was expected to last about three years, so the ships were packed with provisions which included more than 136,000 pounds of flour, 3,684 gallons of high-proof alcohol and 33,000 pounds of tinned meat, soup and vegetables. However, after late July no one heard from or saw the crew again.

Since Torrington was one of the earlier of Franklin’s crew members to perish during the arctic expedition, he was buried in a tomb beneath approximately five feet of permafrost by his fellow men.

As a result of the subzero arctic temperatures, Torrington was preserved remarkably well with identifiable features including bright, pale blue eyes and skin that was still intact despite bruising and yellowing. A fellow crew member who had died around the same time and was buried next to Torrington also showed minimal signs of decomposition.

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A full, four-hour autopsy was performed on Torrington’s body in 1984 with the permission of living descendants. The procedure was performed out in the open arctic air; it consisted of dissecting and sampling each of the body’s organs,bone examination, and extraction of hair, and nail samples for analysis. The autopsy team then re-dressed and re-buried the body in its arctic tomb.

Torrington had developed a fatal case of pneumonia prior to the disappearance of Franklin’s expedition. Bone tissue samples taken from the body in 1984 also revealed that Torrington had lead poisoning; a common condition of arctic explorers of the time due to early canned foods as a primary food source. Additionally, inspection of the lungs also indicated that Torrington was likely a cigarette smoker, a plausible theory as he came from an industrial region of Britain. The lead poisoning and history of smoking would have worsened the symptoms and severity of pneumonia thereby leading to Torrington’s demise around 1846.


Torrington’s body was bound with strips of cotton to hold the limbs together during preparation for burial:

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The tinned wrought iron plaque nailed to the lid of John Torrington’s coffin. The inscription reads: ‘John Torrington dies January 1st 1846 aged 20 years’:

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The coffin containing John Torrington. The arrow points true north:

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