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Stacy Conradt

10 Graves That Are Remarkably Secure

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Stacy Conradt

People go to great lengths to keep their deceased loved ones safe and secure. There are locked mausoleums, indoor burials, and stone walls with thick gates that only caretakers can access. And then there are the people who dump several tons of concrete into the grave and call it secure.

Here are 10 graves that are remarkably secure. Alternatively, here are 10 zombies that we’ll never have to worry about.

1. George Pullman

Thanks to job cuts, wage cuts, and working his employees to the bone in general, Chicago railroad industrialist George Pullman was not a popular man. When he died of a heart attack in 1897, his family was concerned that angry ex-employees would take vengeance. To protect Pullman, his heirs buried him in a pit that was eight feet deep and lined with steel-reinforced concrete. As a finishing touch, the casket was covered in asphalt, concrete, and steel.

2. Abraham Lincoln

Stacy Conradt

A decade after Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Chicago crime boss organized a team and attempted to steal his body for ransom while his tomb was under construction in Springfield, Illinois. They were thwarted by undercover Secret Service agents, but it was enough of a scare that surviving son Robert Todd Lincoln took drastic measures to ensure that his family would never be disturbed again. He shelled out $700 to have the coffin placed inside a steel cage and encased it in concrete, a move borrowed from his former boss, George Pullman.

3. Levi Leiter

As the co-founder of Marshall Field’s department store, Levi Leiter sold his half of the business to fellow co-founder, the eponymous Marshall Field. This made Leiter a very, very rich man. In 1876, he became worried about what would happen to his remains after he died, after the corpse of a fellow retail entrepreneur, Alexander Turney Stewart, was dug up and held for a $250,000 ransom. By the time Stewart’s widow paid up a portion of the cash ($20,000, reportedly), two years had passed and there was no guarantee that the bones she received were actually her husband’s. Vowing to prevent such a thing from happening to his family, Leiter gave specific instructions, asking that his casket be encased in a cage-like grid of steel beams, then covered in concrete upon his burial in Washington, D.C.

When it was reported that grave robbers were plotting to break into the grave three months after the funeral, extra security was hired, but the graveyard’s superintendent knew his remains weren't going anywhere, and they haven't.

4. Eva Peron

Although she died in 1952, Eva Peron’s body continued to travel for a good 20 years. In 1955, military officers stole her remains when they overthrew the Peronist government. Her body was hidden in Milan, and then eventually transferred to Spain to the estate where Juan Peron was living in exile. Her remains were finally returned to Argentina in 1974. The Argentine government took extreme measures to stop another theft from happening, and her tomb in Buenos Aires' Reloceta cemetery was designed by a bank vault manufacturer. Her body is buried twenty feet underground and her sister was given the tomb's only key.

5. Charlie Chaplin

On March 2, 1978, a few months after his death, Charlie Chaplin’s body disappeared from his grave in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. Shortly thereafter, his widow received a call demanding $600,000 for the return of her husband’s corpse. Police launched an investigation and captured the two men responsible. They also found Chaplin's body, which was buried in a field. To ensure this never happened again, Chaplin’s reburial included a vault made of reinforced concrete. “You would need a pneumatic drill to open that vault," the village gravedigger later said. "And that is bound to make a lot of noise."

6. John Dillinger

Stacy Conradt

The answer to why Public Enemy Number One was buried underneath a three foot sheet of concrete in an Indianapolis cemetery depends on the person you ask. The standard story is that Dillinger was killed in a 1934 Chicago sting and his father ordered the concrete blanket to prevent grave robbery. Dillinger Sr. had received offers from unscrupulous businessmen who wanted to display his son’s body for profit.

On the other hand, those who believe that the man killed outside that Chicago theater was a decoy think that the extreme burial was intended to keep anyone from discovering the corpse's true identity.

7. H.H. Holmes

If you've read The Devil in the White City, you know that notorious serial killer H.H. Holmes did unspeakable things to the many victims he lured to his hotel near the site of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, both before and after their deaths. But after he was executed for his crimes in 1896, Holmes wanted to make sure that his corpse remained untouched. He left specific orders for his burial to include a concrete-filled coffin. Any would-be grave robbers are going to have their work cut out for them in more ways than one, however: Holmes is buried in an unmarked grave near Philadelphia.

8. Ronnie Van Zant

After Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lead singer was killed in a plane crash in 1977, he was buried in a mausoleum in Orange Park, Florida. He rested there peacefully for 23 years, until a vandal broke into his tomb and the tomb of fellow bandmates Steve and Cassie Gaines. To protect Van Zant from future attempts, his family had him relocated to a cemetery in Jacksonville and buried in a concrete vault.

9. Ned Kelly

Australian bushranger Ned Kelly’s last wish was ignored. Though he wanted to be buried with his family, his remains were thrown into a mass grave at the Old Melbourne Gaol after his execution in 1880. It wasn’t until 2011 that Kelly finally got his wish: Most of his skeleton was exhumed from the pit at the Gaol and given to his descendants, who buried Kelly in the family plot. To ensure that no one disturbed him again, his family had the grave surrounded by concrete. Unfortunately, it's only a partial skeleton: His skull is still missing.

10. Leon Czolgosz

There is likely no hope of exhuming the body of anarchist Leon Czolgosz, the man who assassinated William McKinley. Though it’s rumored that his unmarked grave was encased in cement, it hardly seems necessary—there’s not much there. To deter Czolgosz supporters from making him a martyr, acid was poured into his coffin. It was estimated that his body would be completely liquefied 12 hours after the burial.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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