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4 World Leaders & Their Killers' Brutal Punishments

With the media throwing Jodie Foster a coming out party this week, John Hinckley's name has been in the news. The man who shot President Reagan has been featured here on mental_floss before, when we compared his sentence to the punishments of others who also took down heads of state. Here are four examples where unsupervised parental visits were not allowed.

1. Leader: King Charles I
Killer: Oliver Cromwell

When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Cromwell was already dead, probably of malaria. But his corpse was exhumed for his part in the execution of King Charles I. On January 30, 1661 "“ the twelfth anniversary of Charles' death "“ Cromwell was posthumously hanged, then drawn & quartered. For good measure, his severed head was displayed on a pole outside Westminster Abbey until 1685.

2. Leader: Abe Lincoln
Killer: John Wilkes Booth

booth.jpgTwelve days after gunning down Honest Abe, Booth was found hiding inside Richard Garrett's barn outside Bowling Green, Virginia. The barn was set ablaze and Booth was shot in the spine. His body was buried inside a prison cell and twice exhumed for re-identification amid rampant "Booth Lives!" speculation. Four accomplices were hanged, including the woman whose tavern Booth visited while on the lam. And Samuel Mudd, the doctor who treated Booth's broken leg, received a life sentence, though he was pardoned by Andrew Johnson four years later.

3. Leader: William McKinley
Killer: Leon Czolgosz

leon.JPG About 45 days after fatally wounding President McKinley, Czolgosz took a seat in the electric chair. His trial lasted less than nine hours, from jury selection to conviction. His corpse was doused with sulfuric acid, which completely dissolved the body.

4. Leader: King Louis XV
(Would-be) Killer: Robert-François Damiens

Planning a school assembly to discourage today's kids from becoming tomorrow's assassins? This is the example your local community theater troupe should re-enact. I'll let the Wikipedians describe the horrors that met Monsieur Damiens, who made a half-hearted attempt on the life of Louis XV in 1757:

"He was first tortured with red-hot pincers; his hand, holding the knife used in the attempted murder, was burnt using sulphur; molten wax, lead, and boiling oil were poured into his wounds. Horses were then harnessed to his arms and legs for his dismemberment. Damiens' joints would not break; after some hours, representatives of the Parlement ordered the executioner and his aides to cut Damiens' joints. Damiens was then dismembered, to the applause of the crowd. His trunk, apparently still living, was then burnt at the stake."

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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