10 Misconceptions About Things That Kill You

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Hi, I'm Elliott, this is mental_floss on YouTube. Today, I'm gonna talk about some misconceptions about deadly things and situations, so buckle up. No, really.


As John Mulaney said, "I always thought quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be." A 2005 study published in the journal Nature found that people can't totally sink in quicksand.  We actually float in it, because we're not dense enough to sink in the mixture of sand, clay, and saltwater. Even if someone struggles and wiggles like we're told not to do, the most a person will sink is probably waist deep. At that point, if they just wait patiently for the quicksand to settle, they should be able to start floating out.


If you get impaled by any object, and I sincerely hope you don't, you should leave it in, then call 911 or get to the emergency room. Emergency medicine physician from the University of Chicago Medical Center, Dr. David Beiser has said, "It may be plugging a hole in an artery or vein, and as soon as you take it out, you could bleed to death."  


People may tell you that if you're stranded and dehydrated in the desert, you should try to open a cactus for water. First of all, that is not water, okay, it's more juicy cactus pulp, and second, that juicy cactus pulp contains a lot of toxic alkaloids, which can make a person vomit or have diarrhea, which will only make them more dehydrated. So just, if you're out there, just good luck.


Gross. Many people have claimed that drinking their own urine has saved them in desperate situations. Lookin' at you, Bear Grylls, okay? And it's true that this will work for a day or two, but 5% of urine is waste products that your kidneys are intentionally getting rid of, so as you continue to pee and drink, just having a great time, partying or whatever, the urine will contain more and more waste products which are dangerous to drink. This will eventually cause kidney failure. Also, gross.


It will not. In fact, in 2013, pro-skier, Erik Roner tried to skydive with just an umbrella (well, and like, a backup parachute). It may have slowed him down a little bit at first, but within a few seconds, the umbrella flipped up, making it completely useless.


According to a survey conducted by The Society of Fire Protection Engineers, 65% of Americans feel safer from fires at home compared to a commercial or public building. But most deaths due to fire happen in the home. In 2011, there were around 2,500 deaths in the U.S. due to fires in the home. That same year, there were only about 100 deaths due to fires in non-residential buildings.  


Not true! Tornadoes are possible any month or season. In fact, in 2008, there was a notable tornado outbreak on February 5 and 6 in the southern United States. Five states were affected over the course of about 15 hours: Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee, and actually, tornadoes can be even deadlier in the wintertime because they typically move faster. That was me doing a tornado. My mini tornado. You're welcome.


People say that if you're caught in a falling elevator, jumping at the exact moment of impact might save you, but this doesn't really work, okay? You need to have a very impressive reaction time, and even still, you could only reduce the speed of your impact by about 2 to 3 miles per hour. You'd also need to jump faster than the elevator was falling, which would be pretty tough, considering falling elevators tend to hit the ground at about 50mph.


According to experts, how to act during a bear attack depends whether the bear is being predatory or defensive.  Grizzly bears tend to attack when they're being defensive. In those cases, it's best to play dead, because that shows the bear you're not a threat. Black bears are usually attacking in a predatory way. In this case, playing dead doesn't do much. If you have food, drop it, and back away slowly. If the bear keeps coming, you should get aggressive, scream and be loud. If you have pepper spray, you should use that. Just get out of there.


Emergency room physician at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Robert A. Barish has claimed, "The evidence suggests that cutting and sucking, or applying a tourniquet or ice does nothing to help the victim. Although these outdated measures are still widely accepted by the general public, they may do more harm than good by delaying prompt medical care, contaminating the wound, or by damaging nerves and blood vessels."

Thank you for watching Misconceptions on mental_floss on YouTube. If you have a topic for an upcoming Misconceptions episode that you would like to see, leave it down in the comments and we'll go through it and we'll inform you of all the misconceptions about it. It'll be awesome. I'll see you next week. Bye.  

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Alexander Hamilton’s Son Also Died in a Duel
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804, the scene must have been eerily familiar to the former Secretary of the Treasury. After all, his son died in a similar setting just three years earlier.

On November 20, 1801, 19-year-old Philip Hamilton and his friend Richard Price had a run-in with a young lawyer named George I. Eacker at Manhattan's Park Theatre. A supporter of Thomas Jefferson, Eacker had delivered a Fourth of July speech that harshly criticized the elder Hamilton, and his son was apparently determined to take revenge.

On that fateful day in November, according to biographer Ron Chernow, Price and the younger Hamilton "barged into a box where Eacker was enjoying the show ... [then] began taunting Eacker about his Fourth of July oration."

As onlookers started to stare, Eacker asked the two young men to go into the lobby, where he called the pair "damned rascals." Tempers rose, and although the trio went to a tavern in an attempt to settle their differences, they failed miserably. Later the same night, Eacker had a letter from Price challenging him to duel.

Customs of the time meant that Eacker had little choice but to accept or face social humiliation. He and Price met that Sunday in New Jersey, where the penalties for dueling were less severe than in New York. They exchanged four shots without injury—and considered the matter between them closed.

Philip Hamilton wasn't so lucky. Cooler heads tried to negotiate a truce with Eacker's second, but their efforts were also for naught. Once the duel had been scheduled for November 23 on a sandbar in today's Jersey City, the elder Hamilton advised his son to preserve his honor by wasting his first shot—by waiting until Eacker fired first or firing into the air, a move the French called the delope. The intent was to cut the duel short, and, if the other side fired to kill, plainly show they had blood on their hands.

Philip seemed to follow his father's advice. For about a minute after the duel officially began, neither man made a move. Then, Eacker raised his pistol, and Philip did too. Eacker fired, and Philip shot back, though it may have been an involuntary reaction to having been hit. The bullet tore through Philip's body and settled in his left arm. Despite being rushed to Manhattan, he died early the next morning.

On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr also departed to New Jersey, this time Weehawken, to settle their infamous differences. This time, the elder Hamilton fired the first shot—and he aimed to miss. (According to his second, anyway.) Burr, on the other hand, seemed to have every intention of connecting with his target. He shot Hamilton in the stomach, and the bullet lodged in his spine.

Just like Philip, Hamilton died the next day.

Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.
Mütter Museum Showcases the Victorian Custom of Making Crafts From Human Hair
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

During the Victorian era, hair wasn’t simply for heads. People wove clipped locks into elaborate accessories, encased them in frames and lockets, and used them to make wreaths, paintings, and other items. "Woven Strands," a new exhibition at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, explores this historical practice by featuring dozens of intricate works culled from five private collections.

According to Emily Snedden Yates, special projects manager at the Mütter Museum, hair work—as it’s called today—was common in England and America between the 17th and early 20th centuries. The popularity of the practice peaked in the 19th century, thanks in part to Queen Victoria’s prolonged public mourning after her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861. People in both the UK and U.S. responded to her grief, with the latter country also facing staggering death tolls from the Civil War.

With loss of life at the forefront of public consciousness, elaborate mourning customs developed in both nations, and hair work became part of the culture of bereavement. "[The 19th century was] such a sentimental age, and hair is about sentiment," exhibition co-curator Evan Michelson tells Mental Floss. That sentimental quality made hair work fit for both mourning practices as well as for romantic or familiar displays of fondness.

Palette work culled from the collection of Evan Michelson and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Palette work from the collection of Evan Michelson
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Most hair artworks were made by women, and created solely for the domestic sphere or as wearable trinkets. Women relied on multiple techniques to create these objects, fashioning wreaths with hair-wrapped bendable wires—a process called gimp work—and dissolving ground hair into pigments used to paint images of weeping willows, urns, and grave sites. Watch fobs, necklaces, and bracelets were woven using an approach called table work, which involved anchoring hair filaments with lead weights onto a table and using tools to twist them into intricate patterns through a hole in the furniture’s surface. Yet another technique, palette work, involved stenciled sheets of hair that were cut into various shapes and patterns.

Hair work remained popular until World War I, according to Michelson, who co-owns New York City's quirky Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop and organized "Woven Strands" along with 19th century decorative arts expert John Whitenight.

“Women hit the workforce, and death occurred on such a huge scale that it really swept away the old way of mourning and the old way of doing things,” Michelson says. By the early 20th century, tastes and aesthetics had also changed, with hair work beginning to be viewed “as something grandma had,” she explains.

The Mütter’s exhibition aside, people typically won’t see hair work in major museums. Being a craft primarily performed by women at home, hair works were usually passed down in families and often viewed as worthless from a financial and artistic perspective.

“A lot of hair work was discarded,” Michelson says. Many owners repurposed the shadowbox frames often used to display hair work by removing and tossing the artworks within. Works stored in basements and attics also frequently succumbed to water damage and insects. Antique dealers today typically only see hair jewelry, which often featured semi-precious materials or was encased in a protective layer.

Sepia dissolved hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Sepia dissolved hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Yet examples of hair wreaths, palette work, and other delicate heirlooms do occasionally surface. They’re prized by a small group of avid collectors, even though other connoisseurs can be grossed out by them.

“People have this visceral reaction to it,” Michelson says. “They either gasp and adore it—like ‘I can’t get over how amazing it is’—or they just back away. There are very few other things where people are repulsed like this … In the 19th century no one batted an eyelash.”

“It’s a personal textile,” Snedden Yates explains. “It’s kind of like bone in that it doesn’t really decompose at the same rate as the rest of our bodies do. It’s not made of tissue, so if you keep it in the right environment it can be maintained indefinitely.”

Table work culled from the collection of Eden Daniels and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Table work from the collection of Eden Daniels
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

“Woven Strands” features examples of gimp work, palette work, table work, and dissolved hair work. It’s often hard to trace these types of artworks back to their original creators—they typically don’t bear signatures—but the curators “really wanted to find hair that you could connect to an actual human being,” Michelson says. “We chose pieces that have provenance. We know where they came from or when it was made, or who actually donated the hair in some cases, or what the family name was. We also picked out things that are unusual, that you don’t see often—oddities, if you will.”

Woven hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Woven hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Displayed in the Mütter Museum’s Thomson Gallery, “Woven Strands” opens on January 19, 2018, and runs through July 12, 2018. On April 7, 2018, master jeweler and art historian Karen Bachmann will lead a 19th century hair art workshop, followed by a day-long historical symposium on the art on Sunday, April 8.

Michelson hopes that “Woven Strands” will teach future generations about hair art, and open their minds to a craft they might have otherwise dismissed as parochial or, well, weird. “We hope that people see it and fall in love with it,” she says.


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