The Quick 10: Attack of the Killer Fruit

Today is the anniversary that Zachary Taylor died, just a year into his term and a few days after the Fourth of July festivities that may have been his undoing. The culprit? A bowl of cherries. Here is his story, and the story of nine other fruit assassinators (or would-be assassinators, in a couple of cases).

taylor1. Zachary Taylor enjoyed the Fourth of July festivities just like most people did on July 4, 1850, and then walked home to the White House to enjoy a late-night snack of iced milk and a bowl of cherries. He died five days later of "gastroenteritis," at least that was the official word. People later suspected that he had been poisoned. This was disproved in 1991, when his remains were dug up and tested for arsenic. Some was found, but not enough to have killed him. This didn't stop the assassination theories, though "“ there's an interesting article here about one of the theories. For his part, Zachary Taylor seemed to suspect that he had been poisoned as well "“ he fell quite depressed during the five days he suffered between the cherries and his death, and said, "I should not be surprised if this were to terminate in my death. I did not expect to encounter what has beset me since my elevation to the Presidency. God knows I have endeavored to fulfill what I conceived to be an honest duty. But I have been mistaken. My motives have been misconstrued, and my feelings most grossly outraged."

2. Ivanka Perko survived Nazi and Communist regimes, escaping Slovenia with just the clothes on her back and some black pepper in her pocket to ward off guard dogs. But in the end, a banana brought the 73-year-old grandma to her demise. She was attempting to open a banana and dropped it; the pointy end scraped down her leg and scratched it. To most of us, this would just be a silly little scrape, but Perko had been ill for several months and she wasn't healing properly from even the smallest of injuries. She ended up dying of infection and complications from the banana injuries. She maintained a sense of humor about it, though, and said on her deathbed, "I can't believe after all this time it was a bloody banana that killed me." Her humor lives on in her family, who noted that it was sort of a fitting end for such a unique and fruitful life. Ha.

3. On June 19, 1882, The New York Times reported that Hugh Griffin, aged 20 months, died due to "excessive indulgence in strawberries." The article reports that "Although the Griffin child was healthy up to the time it ate the strawberries, his surroundings were conducive to disease. The air in the house was foul and the place was filthy. His parents were poor people living in a tenement in one of the filthiest localities in the City. It is in the neighborhood between Washington and West streets, into which the sunshine seldom penetrated."

peach4. OK, so it wasn't the peaches' fault that a South African man died, but they were the source of the trouble. In 2005, Bhekizizwe Walter Gule got in a fight with his unnamed neighbor over the peach tree that sat in Gule's yard. Because the tree dropped leaves in the neighbor's yard, the neighbor felt he had the right to eat a peach or two when he felt like it. Gule disagreed and threatened to kill the neighbor if he helped himself to a snack again. He wasn't kidding "“ the next time it happened, Gule approached his neighbor as he was outside talking to a friend and shot him five times.

5. This one is similar, but much sadder: a six-year-old boy was killed by his own grandfather just last month after a fight over watermelon. ""I'm not sure that it's easy to get your mind around that concept, but we believe it was some sort of issue with the child either dropping or prematurely cutting this watermelon that initially precipitated the argument," said the Commerce, Ga., police chief. His grandmother was also shot, but survived.

6. Do you guys remember the cantaloupe scare of 2001? Yeah, me neither. But surely after two Californians died of salmonella after eating tainted cantaloupe, the nation was put on high alert (you know how those things go). And it wasn't the first time "“ in 1991, a similar case occurred in the U.S. and Canada, although no fatalities were reported.

grapefruit7. Luckily for this woman from Olympia, Washington, this one was a near miss. She almost died from the infamous grapefruit diet earlier this year. After just three days of the diet, which calls for replacing some meals with nothing but grapefruit, she became seriously ill. Doctors later determined that an excessive amount of grapefruit can block the production of an enzyme that breaks down drugs. If the drugs are unable to break down, blood clots can form and cause all sorts of problems. In this case, it caused the woman's leg to become gangrenous and she nearly lost it. One more reason to avoid diets, right?

8. So the Saguaro cactus fruit isn't as commonly known as apples and oranges, but it does exist. And it does kill. In 1982, David Grundman was using a 27-foot cactus for target practice "“ which is apparently fairly common, because Arizona had to declare it a felony "“ when the cactus decided to take revenge on its way out of the world. As the Saguaro began to fall, Grundman started to yell out "Timber!" but the second syllable was cut short when he was crushed under the plant and its spikes. The incident was nominated for a Darwin Award many years after the fact.

9. You've probably heard the vague statistic that coconuts kill more people than sharks do "“ some figures even say that there are as up to 10 times the number of coconut-related deaths than shark attacks. The deaths, of course, come when a ripe coconut falls out of a tree and crushes the skull of an unsuspecting passerby below. But the fact is, we don't actually know that for sure. According to the Straight Dope, people have definitely suffered fractured skulls and have been knocked unconscious, but they were unable to find a single instance of an actual fatality related to a falling coconut. However, this didn't stop Shel Silverstein from writing "Killed by a Coconut," which is kind of hilarious.

cranberries10. The date: November 9, 1959, 15 days before Thanksgiving. The perpetrator: the cranberry, longtime Thanksgiving sidekick. The crime: conspiring to kill. Just two weeks before Turkey Day, the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare announced that a batch of cranberries from Oregon was contaminated with a weed killer known to cause cancer in rats. Even though it was just one shipment, and even though you would have to consume 15,000 pounds of cranberries to match the ratio of this weed killer that caused the cancer in the rats, the Secretary caused a cranberry panic across the U.S. People preparing their Thanksgiving dinners asked how they could know if the cranberries they were buying were safe, and the official response was something to the effect of, "You don't. You'd better not buy any, just to be cautious." But no one died, and both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon made it a point to eat cranberries during a campaign stop in Wisconsin, just to prove to the public that cranberries were still safe to eat.

What fruit would be the death of you? Honestly, I'm not a terribly picky eater, but any fruit ensconced in Jell-O grosses me out beyond belief.

10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes

The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.


While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.


It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.


Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.


Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.


The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.


Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.


According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?


Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.


December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.


Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films

1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.



More from mental floss studios