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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.

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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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President John Tyler's Grandsons Are Still Alive
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Getty Images

Here's the most amazing thing you'll ever read about our 10th president:

John Tyler was born in 1790. He took office in 1841, after William Henry Harrison died. And he has two living grandchildren.

Not great-great-great-grandchildren. Their dad was Tyler’s son.

How is this possible?

The Tyler men have a habit of having kids very late in life. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of President Tyler’s 15 kids, was born in 1853. He fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928.

We placed a somewhat awkward call to the Charles City County History Center in Virginia to check in on the Tylers.

After we shared this fact on Twitter in 2012, Dan Amira interviewed Harrison Tyler for New York Magazine. Lyon Tyler spoke to the Daughters of the American Revolution a while back. They were profiled by The Times of London. And Snopes is also in on the fact.

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