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The Quick 10: 10 Instances of Cannibalism

Today marks the anniversary of the rescue of the cannibalistic Donner Party (in case you're not familiar, they're #1 on the list below). But the Donner Party is definitely not the first - or last - to turn to dining on human flesh when in dire straits. Or, you know, for entertainment. I've tried to steer clear of modern serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, though no tale of cannibalism is particularly pleasant.

1. The Donner Party. In 1846, the Donner Family plus some friends and hired hands headed west from Illinois to California. They had almost completed the journey when they ran into some severe weather around Truckee, California, and decided to set up camp for the rest of the winter until they could make it the rest of the way. It was a cruel winter, though "“ provisions ran out and people were dying left and right. Help finally arrived on this day in 1847, but they couldn't take everyone at once. By the time the Second Relief came in a week later, the remaining survivors had started to eat some of the dead bodies.

cook2. James Cook. Perhaps it's his name that fuels this urban legend, but there's probably no truth to the fact that Captain James Cook met his maker by way of a stewpot. It's true that he was killed in a skirmish with some native Hawaiians, and it's likely that his body was boiled to remove the flesh (it used to be common practice when a corpse had to travel to its final resting place). But the idea that the Hawaiians ate the flesh is very much in question "“ research has shown that the Hawaiian group he and his men fought with didn't practice cannibalism.
3. Boyd Massacre. In 1809, the son of a Maori chief joined the Boyd, a convict ship sailing from Australia to the Northland Peninsula of New Zealand. He specifically asked for passage on the ship and said that he would work to earn his way, but once he got there, he refused to hold up his end of the bargain, saying that the son of a chief should never be subjected to such menial tasks. He was beaten for his disobedience, and when he finally disembarked at his destination of Whangaroa, he ran to his tribe and told them what happened. The tribe exacted revenge three days later: they killed nearly all of Boyd's crew and ate them. The only survivors were a two-year-old girl, a woman and her baby, and the ship's cabin boy.

4. Lon Nil. In 1970, the brother of the Cambodian Prime Minister was killed in a riot. Nil was a politician as well, and was visiting the town of Kampong Cham when his brother announced a plan to depose King Sihanouk. Sihanouk encouraged people to riot and revolt and join the Khmer Rouge, and the people of Kampong Cham took him at his word and killed Lon Nil, then ripped out his liver and had a restaurant cook it up so they could eat it.

grill5. Alferd Packer. In 1873, Alferd Packer and 20 other men left Utah and were headed to Colorado to try their hand at gold mining. But, as expected, the Colorado weather soon turned nasty, and by February 9, only six of the men were still attempting to make the trip. And by April, Packer was the only one left. Packer said he was out hunting and scouting one day and came back to find that Shannon Bell, one of the other members of the party, had gone mad and killed the others; when Packer returned to the campsite Bell was busy roasting up a lovely dinner made up of the other four party members. He tried to attack Packer, and Packer shot him. The judge didn't believe this story, though, and sentenced Alferd to prison. Packer's downfall probably came when he admitted that, on the brink of death, he did nibble on his already-dead companions a little bit. After 16 years in jail, he was paroled mostly thanks to public outcry that he was imprisoned on circumstantial evidence. He died in 1907, still swearing that he only killed Bell and only in self-defense. Recent evidence may prove that Packer was telling the truth "“ the position of various bullet holes and the discovery of Packer's gun so far seem to corroborate his story.

lifeboat6. Tom Dudley and Edwin Stephens. In May 1884, the Mignonette set sail from England, headed to Australia. She carried just four passengers "“ Captain Tom Dudley, cabin boy Richard Parker, Edwin Stephens and Edmund Brooks. It was smooth sailing until July 5, when the yacht was devastated by a huge wave. The lifeboat was launched, but it was a really crappy lifeboat, and the only things the crew managed to grab were the navigational instructions and two tins of turnips. Even so, things were OK until July 17 "“ they killed a large turtle and ate it, which gave them about three pounds of meat apiece. But once that was gone, the men started talking about one of them sacrificing himself to provide meat for the other three. Parker was practically comatose by this point, so he was the natural candidate. They killed him sometime around July 25th or 26th and were rescued on July 29. When they returned home, Stephens and Dudley were found guilty of murder and were given the statutory death penalty with a recommendation for mercy, and ended up serving just six months in jail. They are said to have been disappointed at such a long sentence.

fish7. Albert Fish. This dude is the stuff horror movies are made of. A few of his nicknames included the Brooklyn Vampire, the Boogeyman and the Werewolf of Wysteria. Fish confessed to murdering and eating at least three children and may have killed up to six. He sent a pretty detailed letter to the mother of Grace Budd, a 10-year-old victim, and wrote another TMI confession for a different victim with such detail that it could have well been a recipe book. He was finally put to death via the electric chair at Sing Sing in 1936, he reportedly told his executioners that being electrocuted would be the "supreme thrill of my life." It took two jolts to kill him, which led to rumors that all the needles he had inserted into his pelvis (one of his sexual fetishes) had short-circuited the chair.

dewitt8. Johan de Witt. De Witt was a successful politician who negotiated peace between the Dutch and England during after the First Anglo-Dutch War. But, political tastes changed, as they tend to. In 1672, during the Franco-Dutch War, the French invaded and people turned to William III of Orange for protection. The problem? De Witt and the House of Orange were bitter enemies. His brother, Cornelius, was imprisoned, and Johan was sent a forged letter from Cornelius that begged him to visit. When he complied, he was assassinated (as was his brother). The brothers' bodies were hung upside down from a scaffold and the bodies were mutilated; fingers, toes and organs were sliced off and carried away for dinner. Their hearts were proudly displayed as trophies for a number of years.
9. The Essex whaleship. The Essex is another tale of people on a ship being stranded and eating one another for survival, sadly. In 1819, a sperm whale, perhaps intuitively understanding the ship's mission, rammed The Essex two times. This was enough to sink the old girl, leaving 21 sailors stranded on tiny Henderson Island (it only has an area of 14.4 square miles). They quickly depleted the island of its natural food resources such as birds and vegetation and they got back in their lifeboats to seek help or food elsewhere. Nothing was to be found, though, and the crew started to turn their hungry eyes on each other. For a while they were able to sustain themselves on people who had died, but eventually, the decision was made that one of them must die in order to feed the others. The decision was made randomly, as was the decision as to who would do the killing. And that's how Charles Ramsdell ended up killing and eating his good friend, the appropriately-named Owen Coffin. Eventually, another whaling ship happened upon the devastated crew and rescued them, but by this time, a total of seven sailors had been devoured. And if the story of the whale ramming the ship sounds familiar, it's because a young Herman Melville heard of this tale and was inspired to write Moby Dick.

10. The Uruguayan Rugby team that the movie Alive was based on. No doubt you're familiar with this one, but I had to include it. On Friday, October 13 1972 (where was this last week when I was compiling my list of Friday the 13th events?), the plane carrying Stella Maris College's rugby team crashed in the Andes. Seventeen of the 45 people on the plane either died upon impact or died of injuries sustained in the crash the following day. Eight more died in an avalanche on October 29. After quickly depleting the small amounts of food that had been on the plane, everyone collectively decided that they would need to eat the dead bodies of their friends in order to survive. And it was a good thing they did: the nourishment gave some of the men the energy needed to hike for days to try to find some help. Finally, in mid-December, they spotted cows roaming and then a few men on horses. The remaining 16 survivors back at the camp were finally rescued on December 22.

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13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant
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Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Bad Lieutenant can be accused of many things, but one charge you can't level against it is false advertising. Harvey Keitel's title character, whose name is never given, is indeed a bad, bad lieutenant: corrupt, sleazy, drug-addled, irresponsible, and lascivious, all while he's on the job. (Imagine what his weekends must be like!)

Abel Ferrara's nightmarish character study was controversial when it was released 25 years ago today, and rated NC-17 for its graphic nudity (including a famous glimpse at Lil’ Harvey), unsettling sexual violence, and frank depiction of drug use. The film packs a wallop, no doubt. Here's some behind-the-scenes info to help you cope with it.

1. THE PLACID WOMAN WHO HELPS THE LIEUTENANT FREEBASE HEROIN WROTE THE MOVIE.

That's Zoë Tamerlis Lund, who starred in Abel Ferrara's revenge-exploitation thriller Ms. 45 (1981) more than a decade earlier, when she was 17 years old. She and Ferrara are credited together for writing Bad Lieutenant, though she always insisted that wasn't the case. "I wrote this alone," she said. "Abel is a wonderful director, but he's not a screenwriter. She said elsewhere that she "wrote every word of that screenplay," though everyone agrees the finished movie included a lot of improvisation. Lund was a fascinating, tragic character herself—a musical prodigy who became an enthusiastic and unapologetic user of heroin before switching to cocaine in the mid-1990s. She died of heart failure in 1999 at age 37.

2. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN WAS SUPPOSED TO STAR IN IT.

Christopher Walken had starred in Ferrara's previous film, King of New York (1990), and was set to play the lead in Bad Lieutenant before pulling out at almost the last minute. Ferrara was shocked. "[Walken] says, 'You know, I don't think I'm right for it.' Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting," Ferrara said. "It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually." Harvey Keitel replaced him (though not without difficulty; see below), and the film's editor, Anthony Redman, thought Keitel was a better choice anyway. "Chris is too elegant for the part," he said. "Harvey is not elegant." 

3. HARVEY KEITEL'S INITIAL REACTION TO THE SCRIPT WAS NOT PROMISING.

"When we gave [Keitel] the script the first time, he read about five pages and threw it in the garbage," Ferrara said. Keitel's recollection was a little more diplomatic. As he told Roger Ebert, "I read a certain amount of pages and I put it down. I said, 'There's no way I'm gonna make this movie.' And then I asked myself, 'How often am I a lead in a movie? Read it, maybe I can salvage something from it …' When I read the part about the nun, I understood why Abel wanted to make it."

4. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY.


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"It was always, in my mind, a comedy," Ferrara said. He cited the scene where the Lieutenant pulls the teenage girls over as a specific example of how Christopher Walken would have played it, and how Harvey Keitel changed it. "The lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my God, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing." Boy, did he. 

5. THAT SCENE WITH THE TEENAGE GIRLS HAD A REAL-LIFE ELEMENT THAT MADE IT EVEN CREEPIER.

One of the young women was Keitel's nanny. Ferrara: "I said, 'You sure you want to do this with your babysitter?' He says, 'Yeah, I want to try something.'"

6. MUCH OF IT WAS FILMED GUERRILLA-STYLE.

Like many indie-minded directors of low-budget films, Ferrara didn't bother with permits most of the time. "We weren't permitted on any of this stuff," editor Anthony Redman admitted. "We just walked on and started shooting." For the scene where a strung-out Lieutenant walks through a bumpin' nightclub, they sent Keitel through an actual, functioning club during peak operating hours.

7. A GREAT DEAL OF THE DIALOGUE AND ACTION WERE MADE UP ON THE FLY.

The script was only about 65 pages at first, which would have made for about a 65-minute movie. "It left a lot of room for improvisation," producer Randy Sabusawa said, "but the ideas were pretty distilled. They were there."

Script supervisor Karen Kelsall said supervising the script was a challenge. "Abel didn't stick to a script," she said. "Abel used a script as a way to get the money to make a movie, and then the script was kind of—we called it the daily news. It changed every day. It changed in the middle of scenes." Ferrara was unapologetic about the script's brevity. "The idea of wanting 90 pages ... is ridiculous."

8. AND THERE WERE EVEN MORE IDEAS THAT THEY DIDN'T USE.

Ferrara said a scene that epitomized the movie for him—even though he never got around to filming it—was one where the Lieutenant robs an electronics store, leaves, then gets a call about a robbery at the electronics store. He responds in an official capacity (they don't recognize him), takes a statement, walks out, and throws the statement in the garbage. "And that to me is the Bad Lieutenant, you know?" Ferrara said. 

9. THE BASEBALL PLAYOFF SERIES IS FICTIONAL.

The Mets have battled the Dodgers for the National League championship once, in 1988. (The Dodgers beat 'em and went on to win the World Series.) For the narrative Ferrara wanted—the Mets coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the pennant—he had to make it up. He used footage from real Mets-Dodgers games (including Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer from a game in July 1991) and added fictional play-by-play. But the statistics were accurate: no team had ever been down by three in a best-of-seven series and then come back to win. (It's happened once since then, when the 2004 Red Sox did it.)

10. THEY HAD HELP FROM THE COP WHO SOLVED A SIMILAR CASE.

The disgusting crime at the center of the film (we won't dwell on it) was inspired by a real-life incident from 1981, which mayor Ed Koch called "the most heinous crime in the history of New York City." The street cop who solved it, Bo Dietl, advised Ferrara on the film and had an on-screen role as one of the detectives in our Lieutenant's circle of friends.

11. THEY DESECRATED THE CHURCH AS RESPECTFULLY AS THEY COULD.

Production designer Charles Lagola had his team cover the church’s altar and other surfaces with plastic wrap, then painted the graffiti and other defacements on the plastic.

12. IT WAS RATED NC-17 IN THEATERS, WITH AN R-RATED VERSION FOR HOME VIDEO.

Blockbuster and some of the other retail chains wouldn't carry NC-17 or unrated films, so sometimes studios would produce edited versions. (See also: Requiem for a Dream.) The tamer version of Bad Lieutenant was five minutes and 19 seconds shorter, with parts of the rape scene, the drug-injecting scene, and much of the car interrogation scene excised.

13. THE "SEQUEL" HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, NOR DID FERRARA APPROVE OF IT.


First Look International

Movie buffs were baffled in 2009, when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage. It sounds like a sequel (or a remake), but in fact had no connection at all to the earlier film except that both were produced by Edward R. Pressman. Herzog said he'd never seen Ferrara's movie and wanted to change the title (Pressman wouldn't let him); Ferrara, outspoken as always, initially wished fiery death on everyone involved. Ferrara and Herzog finally met at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where Herzog initiated a conversation about the whole affair and Ferrara expressed his frustration cordially. 

Additional sources:
DVD interviews with Abel Ferrara, Anthony Redman, Randy Sabusawa, and Karen Kelsall.

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Big Questions
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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