Episode 003: Killer Chess Moves, Lipid Gold From the Greased and Deceased, and 1983’s Apocalypse (Almost) Now

It’s full news day in Episode 3 of Podenstein’s Lab.  Shelby Dollar discovers a chess player slayer on the Soviet side; Mark L. Groves chews the fat on two historical French facts of putrescent power; and J.E. Petersen makes you self-aware about world’s almost-real Judgement Day in 1983.  Plus the top three headlines from the past two weeks.  It’s news you can use to freak out your friends, in Podenstein’s Lab.

Real Headlines from the Interwebosphere:

Oklahoma lawmaker proposes a bill that calls for creation of a Bigfoot hunting season


Rep. Justin Humphrey suggested that creating a hunting season for the creature could help draw in tourists.  *** Perhaps the head of Jimmy Johns?  He’s killed about every other animal imaginable, and at least this would get him one step away from hunting the forbidden furry- us.

Man Turns Uncle’s Skeleton Into A Fully Functioning Electric Guitar


Norwegian Black Metal musician ‘Prince Midnight’ has turned the skeleton of his dead uncle into a guitar.  He plays it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGQ3NqiNudE&feature=emb_logo.

Jars Of Human Tongues Found Under Home In Florida


Really, a trigger warning on the article’s web page says it all:  “*WARNING: POTENTIALLY GRAPHIC PICTURES OF REALLY OLD TONGUES*”


Mark Groves

 Big oil? Dinosour juice?  Fuggeddabouddit.  Welcome to donut power. Lighting, cleaning, the power source is in that pinch-and-inch on all of us.  Lipid gold contains the potential for brightening the dark, and sanitizing the soiled.

As history has proven.

Back in 1996 I bought, from Half Price Books, a Time-Life series of books call the “Library of Curious and Unusual Facts.” Published originally in 1992, it’s quite the collection of interesting tidbits of historical and then-current-ish brain fodder.  One of my favorite stories came from the “Shadows of Death” volume, page 118.  The article was titled “Burning Passion.”   It involves an unusual will, left by a distraught dead guy, to be read by his beloved under candle light.

I haven’t brought this up before on Podenstein’s Lab, because I couldn’t substantiate the story.  But thank you interwebs, I found the original book this Time-Life article alludes to but doesn’t name.

In 1840, British physician, psychiatrist, and defender of the criminally insane, Forbes Winslow, published a book titled “The Anatomy of Suicide.”  Back then, suicide was considered a legal matter, as it was against the law, instead of being addressed as a mental illness.  Forbes Winslow worked to change this attitude.  In his book- which is still available via instant publishing- he describes in none-too-much detail many instances and recordings of suicides.  Flip to page 298, and you’ll find this morsel of sadness…and tasty gothic revenge.  I’ve added a bit of clarification here and there because, to be honest, it wasn’t written particularly well.  It goes as thus.

 “The case of a man is recorded in a French paper who burnt with one of the strongest passions of which we ever heard an account. His mistress, having proved unfaithful to him, motivated him to call up his servant.  He informed the servant that it was his intention to kill himself, and requested that, after his death, the servant would make a candle of his fat, and carry it lighted to his mistress. He then wrote a letter, in which he told her that as he had long burnt for her, she might now see that his flames were real; for the candle by which she would read the note was composed of part of his miserable body. After this he committed suicide.”

There is no record as to whether the servant carried out his dead master’s wishes.  But since it was in a French newspaper, and ergo written by the French, you can bet the saddest imaginable ending was the one that happened.

Candles have long been made of fats, from both plants and animals.  Whale fat, bear fat, lard, your geography held influence over your wick’s ways.  This is also the case with soap. 

Supposedly “soap” first came into being around 2800 BC, with the Babylonians.  It wasn’t used so much for cleaning people, but more for cleaning stuff.  It was goopy glom of rendered animal fat mixed with wood ash and water.  Didn’t smell great, but worked pretty good on getting cotton and wool clean before being spun into cloth. 

What were people doing to freshen up?  Communal water trough baths, or oil baths, while implementing a “strigil”, a long curved flat blade made of reed or metal, not sharp, which they used to scrape the dirt off.  Basically, Robocop’s loufa.

It took until middle ages, when soap makers realized they could add a little of the good stank to it and people would buy the stuff for themselves, that using soap to clean people began.  Of course, the first of it was in Syria, but the crusaders brought it back and copied it, and with all trademarks thus washed away, bath soap in Europe was born.

So what, you might say? Let’s fast forward to our friends in France once again, land of romance and crappy, sad movie endings to damn near every relationship.  French folk liked to bury their dead in a Christian graveyard. From the 12th to the 18th centuries, the poor folk who couldn’t shell out the franks for a real plot, COULD, for a WalMart Dollar, get their dearly departed tossed into a communal grave in The Cemetery of the Innocents.  Nice name for stack’em deep and sell’em cheap. I’m not talking a tiny trench, either.  According to ScientificAmerican.com, these sons-a-ditches held around 1500 bodies each. 

This high-rise hole became a problem.  The stench was awful, and the air became so foul it could change the color of fabric and even rot meat- right in front of you. As big an issue, was that the bodies weren’t decomposing like the cemetery owners expected.  There were so many bodies, piled so deep, that oxygen wasn’t getting to all of them.  Without that to fully break the bodies down, they weren’t decomposing, they were re-composing.  Into mounds of fat.  There’s a name for it, too: adipocere, also known as corpse wax.  It’s the anaerobic bacterial hydrolysis of fat in tissue, or so Wikipedia tells me.  Or, if you want to argue semantics, call it margaric acid. Regardless, all the stuff- bones, organs, gristle, the whole stenchilada became this putrid waxy fromage. Le stink.

In 1775, King Louis the 16th decreed that all cemeteries in Paris must be closed.  It took 5 years, and torqued off the church because that was some mad bank, baby, but they exhumed the bodies and moved all those bones to where they couldn’t be seen.   Where did they go? Leftover underground mines.  Which became the super-famous catacombs of Paris.

But back to the fat, jack. What do you do with a mass grave chock full of stinky people blubber?  Before you think it simple to remove, these mass graves, were up to 60 feet deep.  Six stories tall of disgusting rotted people butter.

Well, if you’re industrious, you put on your capitalist hat, and look on the bright side.  You get out your shovel and you make candles, and soap.  According to the October 30th, 1852 edition of American Scientific, I quote:

“This human fat was employed to the extent of many tons by the soap boilers and tallow chandlers of Paris for the manufacture of soap and candles. The French are a people of fine sentiment, and they certainly carried the quality to a charming point of reflection in receiving light from candles made out of the bodies of their fathers.”

So chow down on your crullers and cream, my friends, for in so doing you may end up lighting the way…quite literally.



Library of Curious and Unusual Facts: Shadows of Death, Time-Life Books, 1992, “Burning Passion” article, page 118.










Shelby Dollar



 It’s the End of The World- and We Didn’t Know it

J.E. Petersen