Neurologist Walter Freeman strapped 29-year-old Ellen Ionesco to the operating table and delivered coma-inducing jolts of electroshock to her brain. Depressed, manic, violently suicidal, Ionesco was just the sort that was thought to benefit from traditional shock therapy—only Freeman wanted to do more than just shock her.1
Holding an ice pick to Ionesco’s tear duct, the doctor began chiseling into her eye socket. With an audible crack the thin layer of bone separating Ionesco’s brain gave way, and the ice pick sunk deep into her frontal lobe. Freeman then swished the metal rod back and forth, severing the neural pathways he believed were the root of Ionesco’s illness.1
This was in 1946 people. “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chicken’s” was tearing up the jukebox charts. Future sitcom legend Ed O’Neil was born amid thunderous hooting and canned applause. And Walter Freeman, who would go on to perform thousands of similar operations in the coming years, was well on his way to garnering one of the more sinister nicknames in modern medicine—The Ice Pick Lobotomist. Continue reading
[Note: This article was republished with permission from the April 2015 edition of The Fortean Times. You can view a PDF of the original here. Or get a subscription…it’s the best!]
Most amputated limbs wind up in the hospital incinerator, but Dr Pierre Barbet had other ideas. Having recently lopped off the arm of a “vigorous man,” the Parisian surgeon squared a large nail in the center of its palm and mounted it as one might the prized head of a slain beast.1
Barbet then tied a 100lb (45kg) weight to the elbow, causing the palm’s flesh to buckle and tear under its pull. After about 10 minutes, the initial wound had stretched into a gaping hole, and Barbet felt it was time to give the whole thing a good shake. What was left of the cadaverous palm burst open and fell to the floor, raising the question: was Jesus Christ really crucified with nails driven through the palms of his hand? Continue reading
Photo by Linda Dear
What do you do when you find a bluish lump of fungus previously unknown to science, growing in your petri dish? If you’re Steven Pollock, you eat it, call your friend, and tell him you’ve discovered the one thing that’s eluded men of obscurity for millennia. I am talking of course about the philosopher’s stone—key to the universe—elixir of life—the ultimate essence of all things. In suburban San Antonio of all places. But there’s one quality the Ancients forgot—it gets you really, really high.1 Continue reading
March 1934. The groan of creaking wood fills Dr. Robert Cornish’s laboratory as the rocking teeterboard strains under Lazarus’ dead weight. Rocking provides a crude form a circulation—a weak substitute for Lazarus’ heart, which has stopped beating.1
With an urgency more commonly found among the living, the Berkeley-based doctor plunges a brew of adrenaline, liver extract, gum arabic, and blood into the corpse’s thigh.1 He then puffs bursts of oxygen into Lazarus’ gaping mouth as the rocking board slowly draws the solution up and down the body.1
A leg twitch—a gasp—an unmistakable heartbeat.1
The wooden teeterboard, typically used to launch circus acrobats to death-defying heights, is being employed by Cornish to raise something far more dangerous—the dead. Continue reading
In the not too distant future, when computers inevitably attain consciousness and enslave humanity, the lucky few who manage to escape their Matrix-style pseudo-reality will be left wondering—which asshole invented these things in the first place? And the accusatory finger of history will point back, past Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, past WWII and Alan Turing, all the way back to mid-19th century England, where it will land square on the nose of inventor Charles Babbage.
Babbage developed a digital computer a full century before computers were even a thing. And he did it without transistors, without circuits, without electricity—we’re talking rods and gears here people. Continue reading
In a study that would make even the most cool-headed scientist sweat like a tasty man at a cannibal convention, researchers from the University of Oklahoma pumped nearly 300mg of LSD into the body of a male asiatic elephant.1 Immediately following the dosage, equivalent to nearly 3000 human hits of acid, the creature suffered a massive seizure and died.1
This was not an isolated incident. Countless animals have been drugged with hallucinogens in the name of science. Everything from cats2 and rats3 to snails4 and goats have had their doors of perception unwittingly flung open in the quest to answer one of [stoned] man’s most basic questions: What are our pets like high?
Thanks to German pharmacologist Peter N. Witt, we’ve even drugged spiders. Continue reading
Okay, so you’ve got the job interview of your life tomorrow, just one small problem: your kidney is failing. Also your spleen has ruptured. You’re experiencing necrosis of the liver, critical hyperkalemia, and, why not, septic shock. In short, you’re dying…or are you?
With your last ounce of strength you set out and grab the sturdiest, most passed-out homeless man you can find and drag him to the nearest experimental surgery clinic that’s open late. Plunking his rum-soaked body on the counter so as to startle the triage nurse you yell, “I need a full body transplant! Stat!” Continue reading
The talk began, as all great urology lectures should, with slides of the speaker’s own penis. The erection plastered over the screen, explained Dr. Giles Brindley, was caused by smooth muscle relaxant injected directly into his shaft. It’s a method so powerful, he continued, that a single dose can make an impotent man stay hard for hours. In fact, concealed behind the podium, Brindley was hard right now. He shot up in his hotel room beforehand.
Skeptical? The audience sure was. This was 1983 by the way. Viagra, and the days when aging senators and soccer legends spoke candidly about their struggles with ED, were still years off. So the elderly professor leapt from behind the podium and dropped his slacks, revealing “a long, thin, clearly erect [achem] penis.”1
Now, he said, “I’d like to give some of the audience the opportunity to confirm the degree of tumescence.”1 Continue reading
A top secret CIA work retreat in the fall of 1953 took a turn for the weird when agency operative Sidney Gottlieb slipped LSD into his colleagues’ after dinner cocktails.1 Most people on acid return to normal after a few hours—guest Frank Olson wasn’t so lucky.
The following morning Olson found himself in the grips of an LSD-induced psychotic episode.2 Several days later, in a fit of drug-triggered paranoia and despair, the agent leapt to his death from a 10th floor hotel window.2
It’s hard to think of a group of people less suited to tolerate the effects of acid than paranoid, McCarthy-era spies. Continue reading
History books, Smithsonian tour guides, and commemorative North Carolina state quarters would have us believe that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. Sure, they managed to launch the first manned, powered, controlled heavier-than-air flight, an improbable feat in its own right. But without the lessons gleaned from nearly a century of ill-informed flight experimentation, they’d never have amounted to squat.
We don’t diminish the Wright’s legacy paying homage to the gliders, calamitous multiplanes, and giant man-lifting kites, that paved their way—but we do open a door to some pretty funky, Victorian-style derring-do. Continue reading