• “How extraordinarily interesting one could make the story, if one were to going to die the day before it was published.”
– William Morris


Commonplace Book
Dominoes (Art & Entertainment)
Great Player Characters of History
Shorthand (Design Theory & Criticism)





Great Player Characters of History

I read a lot of history, and on occassion have come across real people whose actions can only be described as “player character behavior.” In the great role-playing game of life, these individuals made choices that baffled and astounded their peers and surely caused their creator no end of grief in this world and the next.

“G. B. Neibuhr’s assertion that in ‘times of plague, the bestial and the diabolical side of human nature gains the upper hand’ is perhaps no one better illustrated than by William the One-Day Priest, an errant cleric who robbed six days a week and celebrated Mass on the seventh.”
– John Kelly, “The Great Mortality”
“Hans Weckler of Möhrnstadt near Würzburg, a tailor and thief, who stole 200 florins by night from a tailor at Gold Cronach, taking them out of a wallet and substituting sand; but he gambled away the money, which he was cheated of by Gronla and Rossla (he sued them for it and they were whipped out of the city).”
– Franz Schmidt, “A Hangman’s Diary”

“He was now ready to begin his lifework and immediately applied for admission to the College of Physicians in Milan. However, one of the reporters on his candidacy brought out the fact that he was of illegitimate birth and, since this was contrary to the statues, his membership was refused. 

After this setback Cardano, upon the advice of friends at the university, decided to settle as a country doctor in the little village of Sacco, a few miles outside of Padua.”
– Øystein Ore, “Cardano: The Gambling Scholar”
“Jan Pieterszoon Coen was also capable of serious mistakes. The most spectacular came in 1621-22, when he decided to attempt the conquest of China. His tiny fleet of eight ships and just over 1,000 men got no further than the gates of Portuguese Macao, where they were comprehensively defeated.”
– Mike Dash, “Thug”
“Every one was, in the meantime, horribly maltreated,  even those with money: those who could not pay were beaten in the hopes of that their friends would in time pay, and those who paid were beaten in the hopes that their friends would be made, in time, to pay more.”
– Mike Dash, “Thug”
“In 2006, a man well saturated with beer leaped into a pen at the Beijing Zoo in hopes of touching a panda named Gu Gu. Gu Gu bit him on the leg; the man retaliated with a kick; a catch-as-catch-can match followed, with each party scoring some bites on the other before a keeper turned a hose on the brawlers.”
– Gordon Grice, “The Book of Deadly Animals”
“During the period of this book, the Roman Empire was ruled by an emperor who was himself born a peasant, and an empress who was a onetime courtesan, neither of whom ever set food in Rome itself, or even Italy.”
– William Rosen, “Justinian’s Flea”
“The English slaughtered the Norwegians on the West side of the river but a single brave Norwegian axeman made a stand on the bridge, killing everyone who approached and buying time for the rest of the army on the East bank to form a shield wall. The English crossed only after a warrior climbed under the bridge and speared the axeman from below.”
– John Haywood, “Northmen”
“It is actually quite common for men to like to look at young women naked. There are whole industries built on this fact—it’s pretty much universal. What is unusual about Reverend Kelly is that he was so bad at it. He was so bad at it that he got himself arrested and locked up for several months in a mental hospital for merely trying to do what tens of millions of men in every generation quite successfully do without any negative consequence.

Kelly approached a common problem from a position of completely absurd incompetence, picked a young woman almost at random, and made a proposal to her that would make a hooker queasy. And left her with evidence that she could turn over to the police.”
– Bill James & Rachel McCarthy James, “The Man from the Train”
“The year before the plague arrived in England, two malefactors were arrested for piping their waste into the cellar of an unsuspecting neighbor.”
– John Kelly, “The Great Mortality”
“Before long, to the scandal of straight-laced contemporaries, it became perfectly normal for florists to sell tulips they could not deliver to buyers who did not have the cash to pay for them and who had no desire ever to plant them.”
– Mike Dash, “Tulipomania”
“On March 26, Richard had gone out virtually unarmed to view the progress of the sappers' work. Various names of the defender who wounded the king have been given, but Bernard of Itier stated that Pierre Basile, after parrying a number of besiegers' arrows with a gigantic frying pan, fired his crossbow at Richard. The English king was so impressed that he applauded the man's courage before ducking — but he did so too late, and the crossbow bolt lodged between his neck and shoulder.”
– King Richard I of England Versus King Philip II Augustus via The HistoryNet (submitted by Skerples)
“You will not go wrong with Charlie Bronson’s Solitary Fitness workouts. The book and visits to Charlie convinced me at 48 years of age to fight in unlicensed boxing matches which I have won using my Lunacy Pig Punch power.”
   – Unnamed Commentor in Charles Bronson’s “Solitary Fitness”
Marino owned a speakeasy and gave Malloy an unlimited tab, thinking the alcoholic Malloy would abuse it and drink himself to death. Although Malloy drank for a majority of his waking day, it did not kill him. Marino then added antifreeze to Malloy's liquor, but Malloy would continue to drink with no problems. A possible explanation for the antifreeze not killing him is the fact that ethanol blocks absorption of ethylene glycol in the liver; and is used as an antidote for antifreeze poisoning. Antifreeze was replaced with turpentine, followed by horse liniment, and finally rat poison was mixed in. After these mixtures failed to kill Malloy, Marino mixed shots of wood alcohol (pure methanol) in with his normal shots of liquor. This did not kill Malloy, presumably because the normal liquor helped negate the methanol poisoning.

The group then gave Malloy raw oysters soaked in wood alcohol — the idea apparently coming from Pasqua, who claimed he saw a man die after eating oysters with whiskey. A sandwich of spoiled sardines mixed with poison and carpet tacks was then tried.

Concluding that it was unlikely that anything Malloy ingested was going to kill him quickly enough before the insurance policies ran out, the group decided to freeze him to death. On an extremely cold night, after Malloy drank until passing out, he was carried to a park, dumped in the snow, and had 5 US gallons of water poured on his bare chest. However, shortly thereafter, Malloy was rescued by police who took him to a homeless charity where he was re-clothed.

The group then attempted to kill Malloy by running him down with Green's taxi, moving at 45 miles per hour. This put Malloy in the hospital for three weeks with broken bones. The group presumed he was dead, but they were unable to collect the policy on him.”
– Wikipedia article for “Michael Malloy”
“Probably the most notorious was one Harsa, who ruled Kashmir from 1089 to 1101 AD, who is said to have appointed an officer called the "Superintendent for the Destruction of the Gods." According to later histories, Harsa employed leprous monks to systematically desecrate divine images with urine and excrement, thus neutralizing their power, before dragging them off to be melted down.”
– David Graeber, “Debt: The First 5,000 Years”
“Yamamoto Tsunetomo was born 11 June 1659 to Yamamoto Jin'emon, then aged 71, and a woman whose maiden name was Maeda. He was the last born to the family, and regarded by his father as a superfluous addition who was intended to be given away to a salt merchant.”
– Wikipedia article for “Yamamoto Tsunetomo”
“With work complete by 7 February, Commodore Sir Samuel Hood decided to formalise the administration of the island, and wrote to the Admiralty, announcing that he had commissioned the rock as a sloop-of-war, under the name Diamond Rock. Lieutenant Maurice, who had impressed Hood with his efforts while establishing the position, was rewarded by being made commander.

While HMS Diamond Rock was in commission as a stone frigate, Royal Navy ships were required, when passing the island, to show due respect, personnel on the upper deck standing at attention and facing the rock whilst the bridge saluted. Caves on the rock served as sleeping quarters for the men; the officers used tents. A court martial would reprimand Lieutenant Roger Woolcombe at Plymouth on 7 December 1805 for "conduct unbecoming a gentleman" for having messed (eaten) at the top of the rock with part of the ship's company.”
– Wikipedia article for “Diamond Rock”

“Arthur Kavanagh was born with only the rudiments of arms and legs, though the cause of this birth defect is unknown. His mother insisted that he be brought up and have opportunities like any other child and placed him in the care of the doctor Francis Boxwell, who believed that an armless and legless child could live a productive life. 

Kavanagh learnt to ride horses at the age of three by being strapped to a special saddle and managing the horse with the stumps of his arms. With the help of the surgeon Sir Philip Crampton, Lady Harriet had a mechanical wheelchair constructed for her son, and encouraged him to ride horses and engage in other outdoor activities. He also went fishing, hunted animals, drew pictures, and wrote stories, with mechanical devices supplementing his physical capacities. His mother taught him how to write and paint holding pens and brushes in his mouth.

In 1849, Kavanagh's mother discovered that he had been having affairs with girls on the family estate, so she sent him into exile to Uppsala, and then to Moscow with his brother and a clergyman, whom he came to hate. He travelled extensively in Egypt, Anatolia, Persia, and India between 1846 and 1853; in India, his letter of credit from his mother was cancelled when she discovered that he had spent two weeks in a harem, so he persuaded the East India Company to hire him as a despatch rider.”
– Wikipedia article for “Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh”
“In terms of French soldiers, the habit of being tattooed appears to have been well established by the time of the Revolution. Another veteran of the First French Empire, with twelve campaigns and fifteen wounds to his name, was given a medical examination and was found to have VIVE LE ROI (’Long Live the King’) tattooed on his right forearm. For political expediency, the veteran quickly had this tatoo amended to read VIVE LE RÔTI (’Long Live Roast Meat’).
– Terry Crowder, “Napoleon’s Infantry Handbook”

“A peasant of Grundtla who killed two peasants with an axe, spared by petition.”
– Franz Schmidt, “A Hangman’s Diary”

“Hans Neubaur of Rötenbach, who stabbed the Forester at Eyba with a halberd through a window.”
– Franz Schmidt, “A Hangman’s Diary”
“Ulrich Lösser of Eschenbach, a peasant living at Herspruck, who set fire at night to his neighbour Brunner’s house, but when the house was saved, so that only one side was burnt down by daybreak, he helped to put the fire out; then threw burning straw on the shed, intending to set it alight.

Suspected for this reason, he was punished for the fire; and because of this he withdrew, threatening to burn down the village if they did not give him 50 or 60 florins to make up for his punishment. Beheaded as a favour at Herspruck, his body afterwards burned.”
– Franz Schmidt, “A Hangman’s Diary”
“A fresco from the Thracian tomb near Aleksandrovo in south-east Bulgaria, dated to c.4th BCE, depicts a large-size naked man wielding a double axe.”
– Wikipedia article for “Labrys”
“In June 1318, a deranged man, the son of a tanner, appeared in Oxford, claiming to be the true king, swapped in the cradle for Edward. The man, John of Powderham, claimed that, as an infant, he had been attacked by a royal sow, which had bitten off his ear, and that is nurse, fearing for her life should her carlessness become known, switched him with the son of a carter. John of Powderham was tried and tortured into confessing that the devil had appeared to him in the guise of a housecat, and was sentenced to be hanged and burned.”
– William Rosen, “The Third Horseman”
“In a single week, confronted with no fewer than 289 Thugs captured in a sweep through the villages of Jhansee, Feringeea was able to identify and name 283, a far greater total than that of any other approver. In most cases he also supplied comprehensive details of the men’s murderous careers.”
– Mike Dash, “Thug”
“In many towns in Europe the barrel street organ was not just a solo performer, but used by a group of musicians as part of a story-telling street act, together with brightly colored posters and sing-along sessions. In New York City, the massive influx of Italian immigrants led to a situation where, by 1880, nearly one in twenty Italian men in certain areas were organ grinders.”
– Wikipedia article for “Street Organ”
“Several individual burials were also found near the site, including a man who had died from a blow to the hip. The man was buried with a sword, a Thor’s hammer amulet and a symbolic penis to replace the one he must have lost in combat.”
– John Haywood, “Northmen”
“Erik’s saga adds that on the return voyage a ship owned by Bjarni Grimolfsson began to leak. The ship’s boat was only large enough to take half the crew, and Bjarni decreed that lots would be drawn to decide who would go. Bjarni was one of those who drew a place in the boat. 

As Bjarni prepared to leave, a young Icelander asked ‘are you going to leave me, Bjarni? That is not what you promised when I left my father’s farm to go with you. I suggest we change places.’ ‘So be it,’ said Bjarni, ‘I can see that you would spare no effort to live and are afraid to die.’ With that, Bjarni climbed back into the sinking ship and the Icelander took his place in the boat. 

Those in the boat reached safety in Ireland; Bjarni and everyone left with him in the ship were never seen again and presumably drowned. Bjarni was within his rights to refuse to change places with the Icleander, but could not have done so without also appearing to be afraid of death. By giving up his place on the boat Bjarni saved his honor, secured his posthumous reputation, and his tale is remembered by future generations. The name of the cowardly Icelander is unknown.”
– John Haywood, “Northmen”
“There is a fellow known as Paddy the Booster, who sells neckties he steals from haberdashers, and another as Mac the Phony Booster, who sells neckties which he pretends to have stolen but are really shoddy ties he has bought very cheaply.”
– Abbott Joseph Liebling, “The Telephone Booth Indian”
“There was also ‘the Lightning Guy,’ who studied the effects of lightning strikes on below-ground ecologies, and tried to induce site-specific strikes by firing crossbow bolts trailing copper wire at storm clouds.”
– Robert Macfarlane, “Underland”
“Jonathan Wild's method of illegally amassing riches while appearing to be on the side of the law was ingenious. He ran a gang of thieves, kept the stolen goods, and waited for the crime and theft to be announced in the newspapers. At this point, he would claim that his "thief-taking agents" (bounty hunters) had found the stolen merchandise, and he would return it to its rightful owners for a reward (to cover the expenses of running his agents). In some cases, if the stolen items or circumstances allowed for blackmail, he did not wait for the theft to be announced.

In addition to "recovering" these stolen goods, he would offer the police aid in finding the thieves. The thieves that Wild would help to "discover," however, were rivals or members of his own gang who had refused to cooperate with his taking the majority of the money.”
– Wikipedia article for “Jonathan Wild” (submitted by Skerples)
“By age fourteen, he had stolen a large amount of money from the cash box of his parents' bakery and left for Ostend, where he tried to embark to the Americas; but he was defrauded one night and found himself suddenly penniless. To survive, he worked for a group of traveling entertainers. Despite regular beatings, he worked hard enough to get promoted from stable boy to playing a Caribbean cannibal who eats raw meat.”
– Wikipedia article for “ Eugène François Vidocq”
“George Hurst, the company’s founder, was killed in an elephant hunting accident and in his memory, his brother Charles decided to name the first beer brewed ‘Tusker.’”
– Wikipedia article for “Tusker (Beer)”

“Prior to the attack, Sam Mazzola had had his license to exhibit animals revoked, but he was still allowed to keep the animals on his property. He also accumulated dozens of dangerous, exotic animals despite past convictions and losing his license after animal rights activists complained he was making money by letting people wrestle bears.”
– Wikipedia article for “List of Fatal Bear Attacks in North America”
“Make no mistake, this character, this Géza Csáth / Jozsef Brenner is an unredeemed bastard. Most obviously he is a philanderer with vast appetites of such untamable ferocity they call to mind the modern notion of sexual addiction. He has betrayed his fiancée, Olga Jones, within a week or so of his arrival. He collects chambermaids, patients, his patients’ daughters, and local peasant women at a pace that would exhaust most men not also fending off tuberculosis and opium addiction.” 
– Arthur Phillips, “The Diary of Géza Csáth”
“When I asked Mr. Johnson how the union succeeded in winning some of their demands, without the slightest hesitation he reached into the drawer of his nightstand and pulled out a dog-eared copy of V. I. Lenin’s What is To Be Done and a box of shotgun shells, set both firmly on the bed next to me, and said ‘Right there, theory and practice. That’s how we did it. Theory and practice.” 
– Robin Kelley, “Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression”
“In 1827 the University of Oxford undertook a major review of its statutes. A product of many centuries, some of these were over already 500 years old by 1827. In going through the statutes as part of this review, the University found something rather odd in the section relating to Bachelors of Arts and the oaths they had to swear in order to become a Master of Arts.

As well as being required to swear that they would observe the University’s statutes, privileges, liberties and customs, as you might expect; and not to lecture elsewhere, or resume their bachelor studies after getting their MA, the Bachelors of Arts also had to swear that they would never agree to the reconciliation of Henry Symeonis (‘quod numquam consenties in reconciliationem Henrici Simeonis’). 

Nowhere in the statutes did it explain who this Henry Symeonis (or Simeonis) was, what he was supposed to have done or why those getting their MAs should never agree to be reconciled with him.”
– Alice Millea, “The Persistence of Tradition: the Curious Case of Henry Symeonis”
“A police description of him issued later that year read: ‘Height 5 ft 10 in, slimmish build, slightly sunken cheeks, quiff of hair in centre of forehead that falls down frequently, George Robey eyebrows, left side of mouth twists up slightly, a big eater, drinks little and then brown or light ale or Coca Cola, has a passion for suede shoes, occassionally takes purple hearts, smokes tipped cigarettes fairly heavily, spends freely... Has long fingers and bites his nails... needs to shave only occassionally.”
– Gordon Honeycombe, “Murders From the Black Museum, 1875–1975”
“The Moscow Water Dog, also known as the Moscow Diver, Moscow Retriever or Moskovsky Vodolaz, was a little-known dog breed derived from the Newfoundland, Caucasian Shepherd Dog and East European Shepherd. It is now extinct, but was used in the development of the Black Russian Terrier. 

The Moscow Water Dog was produced only by the Red Star Kennels, the state-operated organization chartered to provide working dogs for the armed services of the Soviet Union. The breeding program was discontinued as the dogs would attack drowning victims instead of saving them.“
– Wikipedia article for “Moscow Water Dog”
“September 1540: the Jiajing Emperor announces his intention to seclude himself for several years to pursue immortality; a court official says this is nonsense and gets tortured to death“
– Wikipedia article for “Timeline of the Ming Dynasty”

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