1822 – Alexander Pearce and his fellows kill and eat the first of their number

Pearce and his five fellows – Alexander Dalton, Thomas Bodenham, Matthew Travers, Robert Greenhill and John Mather – had been on the run, exposed to the elements and without food for eight days. They were desperate, cold and starving. Robert Greenhill, who had carried an axe since the escape and, as the only member of the group able to navigate by the stars, had basically become the leader. Supported by Travers, he led the gang in deciding to resort to cannibalism.

The men drew lots, and Alexander Dalton came up short. Greenhill killed him with the axe, and then the five remaining men butchered the corpose, cooked the meat and, well, ate him. That much at least is probably true.

But we have only the word of self-confessed murderer and cannibal for all of this – and Pearce tends to embellish a little to diminish his own guilt. On the other hand, given the extraordinarily heinous nature of the crimes he did confess to, you have to wonder what he thought he’d gain by lying.

Referenced in:
A Tale They Won’t Believe — Weddings, Parties, Anything

1903 – The Wreck of the Old ’97

The “Old ’97” is one of those rare things to be better known by its nickname than its actual name. It was a train named the Fast Mail, which ran from Monroe, Virginia to Spencer, North Carolina. The Old ’97 had acquired a reputation as a train that never ran late – and it was attempting to live up to this reputation that doomed it.

On September 27, 1903, the engineer (that is, the driver) of the Old ’97, Joseph “Steve” Broadey was running at a faster than normal speed, attempting to make up lost time along the route, so that the train would arrive in Spencer on time. The train was an hour behind schedule leaving Monroe, which meant that to get to Spencer at the usual hour, the running speed would have to be increased from the normal 39 mph to at least 51 mph.

Unfortunately, the route between Monroe and Spencer was steep and winding, with many ascents and descents, and a number of tight curves. It was at one of these, a curve leading into a trestle bridge across the ravine of Cherrystone Creek (near Danville, Virginia), that the train came to grief, derailing and killing nine of those aboard it.

Broadey was unjustly blamed for the accident by his employers, who denied ordering him to make up the lost time. The fact that their lucrative mail-hauling contract specified penalty clauses for each minute the train ran late tends to undermine their position.

Referenced in:

The Wreck of the Old ’97 – Vernon Dalhart

1939 – Poland surrenders to Germany

The combined German and Russian invasions of Poland in September 1939 were disastrous for the Polish people. The Germans invaded on September 2, and the Poles fell back before the onslaught at first. (The Germans did not actually practice blitzkrieg in Poland, but the invasion was still a swift one.) The Poles ceded some territory, and fell back to defensive positions further east…

…and then, on the 17th of September, and without any formal declaration of war, the Soviets invaded from the east. Caught between two armies, either of which by itself was numerically superior to the Polish army, there was little chance of victory. Although Britain, France and their respective allies had entered the war on the Polish side, they could not deploy in time to give any assistance to their beleagured ally. The Poles fought hard, and inflicted great casualties on the Germans and Russians, but the result was never truly in doubt.

Although some units fought on, the war in Poland largely came to an end with the fall of Warsaw on September 27, 1939, and the Polish government in exile was officially formed on the following day.

Referenced in:

To Be Or Not To Be (The Hitler Rap) – Mel Brooks