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Florida's Corpse Bride

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Two Strange States entries simply weren't enough to contain the oddities in America’s favorite vacation destination. Here's another. Warning: You probably shouldn't read this one while you're eating lunch.

The Morbid Obsession of Carl Tanzler

Love for a woman inspired Edward Leedskalnin to create the beautiful Coral Castle. But for Leedskalnin’s Florida contemporary, Carl Tanzler, infatuation led him down a much darker, more disturbing path. 

Tanzler, also known as Count Carl von Cosel, was a German immigrant who came to Zephyrhills, Florida with his family in 1926.  However, he soon left his wife and children to take a job in Key West as a radiologist for the U.S. Marine Hospital. While there, he met a beautiful young woman 32 years his junior named Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos, better known as Helen (top, in a photo courtesy of the Florida Keys Public Library). Helen had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and Tanzler visited her at her family’s home often, attempting to treat the disease with x-ray machines and other forms of untested science. Later, Tanzler professed his love for her, declaring that he had been searching for her his whole life.

Since he was a boy, Tanzler reported having visions of his ancestor, Countess Anna Constantina von Cosel, who died in 1765.  Tanzler claimed the Countess sent him an image of his one true love: a dark-haired woman, whom Tanzler said matched Helen exactly.

Sadly, Helen died in 1931. Her funeral was paid for by Tanzler, as was the mausoleum he convinced the family to build instead of having her buried. This allowed him the chance to visit her graveside every evening and sing her favorite Spanish tunes to her. While there, he claimed that Helen often spoke to him, calling to him from beyond the grave, begging him to take her home. And so he did, sometime in April 1933.

It wasn’t long after being exposed to the elements that Helen’s body began to decompose. After placing her in his bed, Tanzler tied her bones together using piano wire and clothes hangers. Later, he replaced the eyes with glass orbs, made a wig out of her hair as it fell out, and replaced her skin with a combination of plaster of Paris and silk soaked in wax. To help the torso keep its form, he stuffed it with rags. He put her in a dress, stockings, and gloves, and applied makeup to give her a more lifelike appearance. In order to mask the smell of the body, he regularly doused her in perfume. 

Tanzler lived with the corpse of his beloved for seven years, sleeping next to her every night. It wasn’t until 1940, when Helen’s sister heard rumors that Tanzler might have her sister’s remains, that the authorities were called in to investigate. Helen’s body was found and an autopsy was performed after which, as if she hadn’t already suffered enough indignities, her body was put on public display for three days and was viewed by over 6000 Floridians. She was later buried in an unmarked grave. 

In 1972, a doctor that attended the autopsy would make one final, disturbing revelation about the body—a tube had been found inserted in the vaginal area so Tanzler could simulate intercourse. This fact was not mentioned when Tanzler was arrested and charged only with “maliciously disturbing” Helen’s grave. It’s hard to believe, but many people at the time felt sorry for him, saying he was just “an eccentric romantic.”  Maybe if they’d been given the whole story...

Shortly after his arrest, the charges against Tanzler were dropped because the statute of limitations for his lesser crime was only two years. Following his release, Tanzler moved back to Zephyrhills where he spent the rest of his life selling postcards of pictures of Helen, telling curious tourists about his exploits, and showing off a wax copy of his beloved’s death mask. In a final creepy twist, Tanzler was found dead in 1952, near a life-size effigy of Helen wearing the wax death mask.

Believe it or not, there’s even more strangeness in Florida, so we might have to run another entry tomorrow. In the meantime, check out our Strange States archive here.

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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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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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?

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