CLOSE
Colonel Warden via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Colonel Warden via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The English Court Case Inspired By a 'Ghost'

Colonel Warden via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Colonel Warden via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In December 1803, the good people of Hammersmith, a small town just outside of London, believed they were being terrorized by a ghost. After being spooked by a human-like figure, a wagon driver abandoned his horse and passengers and fled on foot; a pregnant woman also reported being physically attacked by the being as she walked by a churchyard. Something was harassing residents, that was for sure. Locals decided it was the ghost of a villager who had committed suicide the year before.

After weeks of these attacks, a group of men decided to take matters into their own hands. By this point, the mob was well aware that they were being menaced by a living, breathing prankster. The vigilante gang had some success right away: On December 29, one of the members of the watch spotted the figure and began a late-night chase. But unfortunately, the “ghost” shed its shroud in order to run faster—further proving that the threat the town was dealing with was, in fact, a real person.

On the evening of January 3, the group got even closer to ending the pranks. Francis Smith, one of the watchmen, spotted a white-clad “spirit” skulking around. He called out, but when the supposed specter failed to immediately identify itself, Smith fired his gun twice, killing the suspect.

Obviously, it wasn’t a ghost Smith killed—but it wasn’t the man pretending to be one, either. The fatality was 23-year-old Thomas Millwood, a man who happened to be wearing the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Millwood was a plasterer (bricklayer), a profession that, at the time, called for a white apron and trousers. He had stopped by to visit his parents’ house after work and decided to head home when he heard the night’s watch call out. Millwood hadn’t ventured very far from the house when Smith’s bullet struck him, killing him almost instantly.

The real Hammersmith “ghost” confessed the following week. Shoemaker John Graham said he had concocted the scheme to frighten his apprentices, who had been scaring his children with ghost stories.

But the damage had been done, and Smith was very nearly sentenced to death for his actions. Though he was found guilty of murder, the customs officer received a pardon and ended up with a year of hard labor instead.

Though the case was resolved, it created a legal question that lingered long after the sentence was complete. At the time, there was no defense available for an action taken by someone who believed they were doing the right thing in the moment, but later discovered they had wrongly assessed the situation. This was rectified nearly two centuries later, when R v Williams was tried in the Court of Appeal in 1983. Judges handed down this decision:

In a case of self-defence, where self-defence or the prevention of crime is concerned, if the jury came to the conclusion that the defendant believed, or may have believed, that he was being attacked or that a crime was being committed, and that force was necessary to protect himself or to prevent the crime, then the prosecution have not proved their case. If however the defendant’s alleged belief was mistaken and if the mistake was an unreasonable one, that may be a peaceful reason for coming to the conclusion that the belief was not honestly held and should be rejected. Even if the jury come to the conclusion that the mistake was an unreasonable one, if the defendant may genuinely have been labouring under it, he is entitled to rely upon it.

Though there was no vengeful spirit roaming the streets of Hammersmith back in 1803, there may be one now. Local legend says that Thomas Millwood’s spirit returns every 50 years, appearing in the bar that now stands near where he was killed.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Zeitgeist Films
arrow
entertainment
11 Things We Learned About Hedy Lamarr From Bombshell
Zeitgeist Films
Zeitgeist Films

At the height of her fame in the 1940s, Hedy Lamarr was hailed as the most beautiful face in Hollywood. Her roles in films like Ziegfeld Girl (1941) and Samson and Delilah (1949) made her a household name, but the work she did off-screen reflected a completely different side of the glamorous Hollywood A-lister. She helped develop frequency hopping technology in an effort to aid the Allied Forces during World War II. Her invention would eventually become the basis for sophisticated military gear, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, but it wasn’t until 1990 that her accomplishments were recognized in a story for Forbes.

Now, decades later, the original audio recording from that Forbes interview has been unearthed. Lamarr’s story in her own words is featured in Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, a new documentary written and directed by Alexandra Dean, which details the life of the icon. Here are 11 things we learned about Lamarr from the film, which is in theaters now.

1. SHE WAS AN INVENTOR FROM AN EARLY AGE.

Born in Austria in 1914 as Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler, Hedy’s urge to tinker was evident early on. According to her son, Anthony Loder, she showed an interest in technology at age five. “She took an old-fashioned music box apart and put it back together again,” he said. As she grew older, Lamarr became more curious and her inventions grew more ambitious.

2. HER FAVORITE SUBJECT WAS CHEMISTRY.

As a student at a private school in Vienna, Lamarr enjoyed mixing together materials in her chemistry class. Many years later she told Forbes journalist Fleming Meeks that she was quite good at it. But instead of furthering her education, Lamarr pursued a career in cinema as a teenager.

3. HITLER BANNED HER FIRST FILM.

Portrait of artist Hedy Lamarr.
Zeitgeist Films

Hedy received her first acting credit in the Czech-Austrian romance Ecstasy (1933). The film was controversial for its day, and Hedy’s performance caused the biggest stir: In the movie she appears nude and simulates what was likely the first female orgasm in a feature film. But the risque content wasn’t Hitler’s reason for condemning the film: He told the U.S. press he banned it because the lead actress was Jewish.

4. SHE NEGOTIATED A HIGHER SALARY FROM MGM.

As Jewish actors and actresses were fleeing the Nazis, Louis B. Mayer of MGM came to Europe with the plan to sign some of them to his studio for a cheap price. When he met Hedy he said he was willing to pay her $125 a week, an offer she immediately refused. “She said, ‘I’m sorry that’s not good enough’ and walked out," said Richard Rhodes, author of the biography Hedy’s Folly. “People didn’t usually turn down Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.” But Hedy wasn’t about to let the opportunity slip away from her. She booked passage to America on the same ship Mayer was taking. Once on board, she put on her most becoming dress and jewelry and walked through the dining hall, making sure she passed Mayer’s table on the way. “I don’t know why, I don’t know what, but all of a sudden I got $500 every week,” Hedy said.

5. LOUIS B. MAYER’S WIFE CHOSE HER LAST NAME.

After persuading Hedy to work with him, Mayer decided she needed a new name to match her Hollywood persona. His wife Margaret suggested she take the name of her favorite silent film star Barbara La Marr. The last name also sounds like the French word for the sea (la mer), adding to its romantic appeal.

6. SHE WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR SNOW WHITE.


Zeitgeist Films

The first Disney princess Snow White was modeled on Lamarr’s classic beauty. That’s not the only iconic cartoon she inspired. Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger said they referred to the actress when creating Catwoman.

7. SHE DATED JOHN F. KENNEDY.

In addition to her six husbands, Lamarr dated plenty of famous men. She even saw John F. Kennedy for a brief period before he became president. Lamarr described the conversation leading up to their date: “He said, ‘What can I bring you?’ I said oranges, because I like vitamin C.”

8. HER INVENTION COULD HAVE CHANGED THE WAR.

Even as she rose to stardom, Lamarr never forgot the war ravaging her home continent. One issue she learned of concerned the U.S. Navy. The torpedoes shot from American submarines were controlled by radio waves, but German forces were jamming the signals before the weapons reached their targets. Hedy came up with a solution: Make radio signals impossible to detect by sending them through rapidly-changing frequencies. “It was so obvious,” she said. “They shot torpedoes in all directions and never hit the target so I invented something that does.”

She dubbed her invention “frequency hopping.” She collaborated with her friend and famous pianist George Antheil to work the concept into a usable design. They successfully applied for a patent, but unfortunately weren’t able to get the Navy to take the idea seriously during World War II.

9. SHE SENT HER BODY DOUBLE TO COURT IN HER PLACE.


Zeitgeist Films

The day Lamarr was set to testify in court over her divorce from her fifth husband, Howard Lee, her son got into a serious car accident. “Stressed and traumatized to the point of breakdown, she sent her Hollywood body double to testify in her place,” Rhodes said. This angered the judge so much that he slashed her share of the divorce settlement.

10. SHE HATED HER BOOK.

Hedy Lamarr’s 1966 autobiography Ecstasy and Me was written by a ghost writer. “Hedy’s manager was allegedly paid to get her to sign off on what turned out to be a salacious tell-all,” Bombshell producer Adam Haggiag said. “It focused on her sexuality and made her the butt of a joke.” Hedy had planned to write a more authentic version of her life story, but she died without publishing a second book.

11. SHE WAS NEVER PAID FOR HER INVENTION.

Though it was shelved at first, frequency hopping turned out to be hugely influential. The early technology can be seen in GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and military satellites today, and the total market value of the invention is estimated to be about $30 billion. But Lamarr was never paid for her contribution. In 1969, she learned that her designs had become widespread in Navy vessels. There’s evidence that the military used her patent before it expired, but by the time she became aware of this her window to sue them had already passed. While she wasn’t compensated, Lamarr did eventually receive the recognition she deserved for her work. In 2014, she was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Her son Anthony said, “She would love to be remembered as someone who contributed to the well-being of humankind.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
A Brief History of Black Friday
iStock
iStock

The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.

HOW DID BLACK FRIDAY BECOME SUCH A BIG SHOPPING DAY?

It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.

SO RETAILERS WERE ALWAYS HOPING FOR AN EARLY THANKSGIVING?

You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.

BRILLIANT! HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?

Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.

WHY CALL IT BLACK FRIDAY?

If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.

SO WHERE DID THE WHOLE "GET IN THE BLACK" STORY ORIGINATE?

Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.

DO RETAILERS REALLY NEED BLACK FRIDAY TO TURN AN ANNUAL PROFIT?

Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.

IS BLACK FRIDAY REALLY THE BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR?

It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to Snopes.com, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.

DO PEOPLE REALLY GET INJURED ON BLACK FRIDAY?

Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”

HOW CAN THIS KIND OF THING BE AVOIDED?

In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios