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The Real-Life Murderess Behind American Horror Story: Coven

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I think we can all agree that Kathy Bates is terrifying when she puts her mind to it.

If you watched American Horror Story: Coven, she was undoubtedly the cause of a few chills down your spine. In case you didn’t see it, she plays Delphine LaLaurie, a character Bates has called “five times worse” than Annie Wilkes from Misery.

And here’s the true spine-tingling part: Bates’ torture-happy mistress was based on a real person.

Marie Delphine LaLaurie was a thrice-married New Orleans socialite in the early 1800s. Like many wealthy southerners of the time, the LaLauries had household slaves. Though it had been long-rumored that the slaves were treated cruelly, even for the era, the final straw came in 1833, when a young slave girl named Lia (or Leah) was brushing Mme. LaLaurie’s hair and accidentally hit a tangle. Outraged at the abuse of her tender head, Delphine chased the poor girl around the house with a whip. The chase ended on the roof of the mansion, where Lia was driven to the edge by the whip-wielding lady of the house. Forced to choose between a flogging or a leap, Lia chose the latter and died when she smashed into the stone courtyard three stories below. It’s said that her body narrowly missed hitting a man who was entering the house; the man reported LaLaurie to the police. After the girl’s body was found in a well on the property, the household was fined $300 and had to sell their slaves.

The poor slaves who thought the nightmare was over were wrong. Madame LaLaurie simply gave an associate the funds to purchase her slaves at auction, then had them promptly returned to the house.

In 1834, one of the kitchen staff purposely set the building on fire, hoping that outside help would arrive. She wasn't disappointed. When firemen showed up, they found a 70-year-old kitchen slave chained to the stove—she had obviously decided that risking death by fire was preferable to remaining in the “employ” of her sadistic mistress any longer. The woman pleaded with the firemen to rescue slaves from a room in the attic. When the men got upstairs, they had to knock the attic door down with a battering ram—and what they found inside actually made some of them vomit.

Legend has it (and it is very likely that the stories were embellished over time) that there were slaves with their eyes gouged out. Slaves with their limbs amputated. At least one had her skin peeled off. Many of their mouths had been sewn shut, sometimes with animal feces inside. One woman’s limbs had been broken, then reset so that she resembled a “human crab.” And the worst part—most of them were still alive. While it’s hard to say how many men, women, and children suffered at the hands of the LaLauries over the years, some accounts put it at 100 or more.

When word got out, an angry mob—some reports put the number at 4000—congregated outside of the LaLaurie residence and over the course of the night and the next morning systematically destroyed most of it. Sadly, Madame LaLaurie and her husband managed to escape by coach before anyone could bring them to justice. No one really knows what happened to them after that. Most accounts say the couple made their way to Paris, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But others say they simply moved to a different part of the state and acquired more slaves, or even stayed in New Orleans under assumed names.

So, while Kathy Bates was quite terrifying even just one episode into American Horror Story: Coven, the true horror is that those Mengeleian experiments might have been real.

Oh, and if you took note of the little Nicolas Cage reference in the show and wondered what that was all about, that’s also based in reality. Cage purchased the house of horrors in 2007 for almost $3.5 million. It was foreclosed in 2009.

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History
A Brief History of Time
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You may have heard that time is a social construct, but that doesn’t stop it from having consequences in the real world. If you show up to a party 10 minutes before it’s scheduled to start, you’ll likely be the first one there, and if you arrive to an interview 10 minutes late, you likely won’t get the job. But how did humanity agree on when and how to observe certain times of day?

In their new video, the It’s Okay to Be Smart team explains how humans “invented” the modern concept of time. The increments we use to measure time, like seconds, minutes, and hours, come from the ancient civilizations of the Egyptians and the Babylonians. Early clocks, like sundials and water clocks, were pretty crude, so people couldn’t pinpoint a time like noon down to the second even if they wanted to. But as clocks became more accurate, the problem wasn’t being unable to tell time accurately, but deciding which clocks qualified as “accurate” in the first place.

In 1884, President Chester A. Arthur organized the International Meridian Conference with the intention of deciding on a uniform definition of time to be followed around the world. The attendees ended up choosing the meridian running through Greenwich, England as the official Prime Meridian, and all clocks would be measured against the clock in the town’s observatory. Greenwich Mean Time is still used as the standard world time today.

Check out the full story below.

[h/t It’s Okay to Be Smart]

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

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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