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11 Nightmarish Facts About Nosferatu

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Before Bela Lugosi ever donned his Dracula cape, there was Max Schreck’s gaunt, pointy-eared, and nimble-fingered Count Orlok. As the iconic villain of Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, Orlok represents the earliest surviving attempt to put a vampire onto the silver screen. He is also the product of intellectual theft.

Universally recognized as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, Nosferatu has a complicated legacy because it shamelessly plagiarized Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And yet, without this seminal motion picture, the vampire genre that’s found success in every medium, from television to Young Adult novels, might never have taken off. So today, join us as we take a bite out of a truly terrifying classic.  

1. THIS WASN’T THE FIRST FILM TO BE BASED ON BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Stoker’s famous novel earned him some welcome praise, but very little cash. A gothic thriller, Dracula first hit the shelves in 1897. Most reviews were favorable: “Persons of small courage and weak nerves should confine their reading of these gruesome pages strictly to the hours between dawn and sunset,” gushed The Daily Mail.

Further praise was heaped on by the incomparable Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who told Stoker, “I think it is the very best story of diatribe which I have read for many years.” Alas, such esteem did not turn Dracula’s author into a wealthy man. Although the book sold around 30,000 copies per year for the next three decades, most of its profits bypassed Stoker and went directly to his publisher. The writer’s longstanding debts and poor health kept him in dire financial straits until he passed away in 1911.

Ten years later, Stoker’s most notorious character made his big screen debut. Released in 1921, Dracula’s Death was the earliest attempt to convert the 1897 novel into a motion picture. Mildly put, it was a loose adaptation. Filmed in Hungary and directed by Karoly Latjay, Dracula’s Death tells the story of a young woman who gets a terrible nightmare after she crosses paths with the eponymous villain. Strangely, Dracula himself is an insane musician in this version, rather than a suave aristocrat. No copies of the silent film survive today. Were it not for some recovered publicity photos and newspaper reviews, movie historians might not know that it ever existed. 

2. IT BRAZENLY RIPPED OFF THE NOVEL.

In 1921, German artist and architect Albin Grau joined forces with Enrico Dieckmann to establish a new movie company called Prana-Film. A World War I veteran with a keen interest in the occult, Grau’s military service brought him into contact with a Serbian farmer who claimed to be the son of a vampire. The soldier never forgot this story and later jumped at the chance to put one of these legendary creatures into a feature film. Grau felt that an adaptation of Dracula would be the perfect maiden project for Prana. There was just one problem: copyright laws. For whatever reason, Grau was either unwilling or unable to secure the necessary rights from Stoker’s estate.

Undaunted, Prana-Film went ahead with its vampire movie anyway. Somewhat naively, Grau believed that he could avoid a lawsuit by tweaking Dracula’s plot in a few key places. In his film, the setting was changed from Victorian London to 17th century Germany. Completely omitted were the book’s original ending and the character of Van Helsing, a vampire hunter who plays a big role in Stoker’s novel. Moreover, most of the key players were renamed—thus, Count Dracula became “Count Orlok.” The full title, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, was inspired by a term that appears twice in the movie’s source material: Stoker mistakenly thought “Nosferatu” meant “vampire” in Romanian.   

3. THE LOOK OF THE MOVIE WAS INSPIRED BY ARTIST HUGO STEINER-PRAG.   

To direct Nosferatu, Prana-Film tapped F.W. Murnau, a filmmaker renowned for his expressionistic style. At his side was Grau, who served as the movie’s artistic producer and designer. In this capacity, Grau designed everything from the sets to the costumes to Orlok’s makeup. Throughout the process, his guiding light was The Golem, a classic horror story by Gustav Meyrink.

Originally published as a serial in 1914, the tale was released in novel form the following year. Included in the book’s second edition were 18 illustrations created by Hugo Steiner-Prag. Grau claimed that these atmospheric, black-and-white images had a huge influence on Nosferatu’s concept art and storyboards. According to some accounts, this Golem sketch directly inspired the physical appearance of Count Orlok himself. 

4. THE VAMPIRE WAS PLAYED BY A MAN WITH AN APPROPRIATELY SPOOKY NAME.

Little is known about Max Schreck’s life and film career, a fact to which his biographer, Stefan Eickhoff, can attest. According to Eickhoff, the actor’s colleagues regarded him as a “loyal, conscientious loner with an offbeat sense of humor and a talent for playing the grotesque.” The star of over 40 motion pictures, Schreck is best remembered for his haunting portrayal of Orlok in Nosferatu.

Fittingly enough, the man’s last name is the German word for “terror.” Schreck’s performance was so effective that some viewers wondered if the mysterious thespian was an actual vampire in real life. Film critic Ado Kyrou popularized this idea in 1953 when he wrongly claimed that the name of the actor who played Murnau’s monster had never been revealed. “Who hides behind the character of Nosferatu?” Kyrou wrote. “Maybe Nosferatu himself?” That suggestion was subsequently used as the premise of Shadow of the Vampire (2000), which features John Malkovich as Murnau and Willem Dafoe as a bloodsucking, coffin-loving Max Schreck.

5. SOME OF THE SPECIAL EFFECTS WERE ACHIEVED WITH STOP-MOTION PHOTOGRAPHY.

At one point, Orlok’s coffin closes by itself after the lid levitates off the ground. An early form of stop-motion animation made this possible. By rapidly showing a sequence of still images in which the lid moves closer and closer to its final resting spot, Murnau was able to trick the viewer into thinking that the inanimate object was flying around under its own power. This same technique was also employed during the scene in which Orlok uses his magic to open the hatch of a ship. 

6. ORLOK’S ABODE IS REALLY THE ORAVA CASTLE IN SLOVAKIA. 

Nosferatu was mostly filmed on location within the German cities of Lubeck and Wismar. However, the Transylvania scenes were shot in northern Slovakia—a place that was significantly closer to home for Murnau and company than Romania would’ve been. With one exception, all the exterior shots of Orlok’s palace really depict the 700 year-old Orava Castle that sits above a fishing village called Oravsky Poozamonva. The very last scene in Nosferatu is a shot of our vampire’s Transylvanian home, which has collapsed after his death. To shoot this footage, Murnau traveled to Starhrad, a long-abandoned Slovakian castle that’s been decaying since the 1500s. 

7. NOSFERATU ESTABLISHED A TIME-HONORED VAMPIRE TROPE. 

The idea that vampires burn up when exposed to direct sunlight is traceable to this movie. In Dracula, the villain casually walks around outside in broad daylight. According to the novel, solar rays can slightly weaken a vampire, but Stoker never implies that they could kill one. Yet for the sake of a more visually compelling climax, Grau and screenwriter Henrik Galeen decided to make the sun’s light utterly fatal to poor Count Orlok, who disappears in a puff of smoke when he’s lured into a well-lit room. Thus, a resilient horror cliché was born.

8. A COSTUME PARTY FOLLOWED THE MOVIE’S PREMIERE.  

In the end, Prana-Film spent more money promoting Nosferatu than actually making it. Grau launched an ambitious, multifaceted marketing campaign that included newspaper ads, expressionist posters, and a steady stream of press coverage. After months of hype, the picture had its premiere at the Marble Hall of the Berlin Zoological Gardens on March 4, 1922. The screening itself was preceded by a brief stage show, which consisted of a prologue delivered by an orator and then a huge dance number. Once Murnau’s film ended later that evening, the guests took part in an ostentatious costume ball rife with gowns and frock coats. Perhaps the whole event was a little too lavish for its own good: Many of the reporters who attended Nosferatu’s premiere later wrote more extensively about this great, big party than the movie itself.   

9. STOKER’S WIFE SUED THE STUDIO. 

If she’d gotten her way, this movie would have joined Dracula’s Death in the dustbin of film history. Shortly after Nosferatu premiered in Berlin, Florence Stoker—Bram’s widow—received an anonymous package containing one of its promotional posters. Displayed upon this placard was the inflammatory line “Freely adapted from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”

An outraged Mrs. Stoker immediately took legal action. Upon receiving the poster, she joined the British Incorporated Society of Authors, which hired a German lawyer to go after Prana-Film. At first, the plan was to sue Grau’s company for copyright infringement. However, a string of terrible business decisions—not the least of which was Nosferatu’s recklessly expensive marketing campaign—had already bankrupted the studio.

When it became clear that Stoker would never make a dime off of Nosferatu, she did everything in her power to have all copies of the film destroyed. In 1925, a German court sided with her and ordered that every copy within that nation be burned. And yet, just like Count Dracula, Nosferatu proved very difficult to kill. Over the next few years, surviving copies made their way to the U.S. and UK. Thus, the undead picture haunted Florence Stoker until the end of her days. Before she died in 1937, a handful of screenings took place—usually in the United States. Stoker relentlessly tracked down wayward copies of the movie and incinerated those that she got her hands on. But despite her best efforts, Nosferatu lived on in the form of pirated bootlegs.

10. MANY DIFFERENT SOUNDTRACKS HAVE BEEN WRITTEN FOR NOSFERATU.

This sort of thing often happens to silent films. When Nosferatu premiered in Berlin, it was accompanied by a live, orchestral score composed by one Hans Erdmann. No recordings of this original soundtrack are known to exist, although a few restorations have been made. Over the years, Nosferatu has also received several alternative scores spanning a wide array of genres. Various home video editions of the film now include jazz, electronic, and classical background music.

11. IN 2002, NICKELODEON SHOWED THE MOVIE A LITTLE LOVE.

Readers of a certain age might remember Nosferatu not as a classic horror film but as the subject of a particularly strange SpongeBob SquarePants gag. The season 2 episode “Graveyard Shift” sees SpongeBob and Squidward trying to survive their first 24-hour workday at the Krusty Krab. Things get eerie when the lights start to flicker on and off—seemingly all by themselves. At the end of the episode, who should they find playing around with the switch but that mischievous rascal… Count Orlok?!

Even by the show’s own absurd standards, this joke is a real non sequitur. Jay Lender, one of the cartoon’s longest-serving writers, conceived the bit as an “out of left field” ending for the episode. In 2012, Lender told Hogan’s Alley magazine “I’ve had several people say to me that [it’s] the all-time funniest SpongeBob moment.”

From a technical standpoint, the most difficult aspect of this joke was finding a useable image of Max Schreck in full vampire regalia. “I drove all over town looking for books with scannable pictures of Count Orlok; I searched what little there was of the Web back then,” says Lender. “Hours and hours of my life [were spent] over four seconds of screen time because it made me laugh.”

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
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Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
6 Priceless Treasures Lost in Shipwrecks
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In the lore around treasures lost at sea, most of the excitement goes to pirate’s gold and the sunken luxuries of the Titanic. But in the centuries of human seafaring, many lesser-known priceless objects, from literary manuscripts to scientific research, have been claimed by the depths. Here are some tales of those losses, from a lifetime of work by a 19th-century woman who was an expert in cephalopods, to a rare book by Dickens that went down with the Lusitania.

1. LOUIS DE JAUCOURT'S ANATOMICAL LEXICON

Always, always, always back up your work. Of course, that's easier now than it was in the 18th century, when French scholar Louis de Jaucourt dispatched his six-volume Lexicon medicum universale to his Amsterdam publisher, a move intended to evade French censorship. The medical dictionary, on which he'd spent 20 years, was completely lost when the ship it was on sank off Holland's coast. Luckily, Jaucourt rebounded when Denis Diderot asked him to contribute to the Encyclopédie, now considered one of the greatest works of Enlightenment thought, for which he used his notes from the lost manuscript. Jaucourt became the publication's most prolific author, penning 40,000 articles—so many he was nicknamed l'esclave de l’Encyclopédie, or the "slave of the Encyclopedia."

2. THE FIELDWORK OF ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE

Portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace, Welsh naturalist and explorer
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1852, following four years of research in the Amazon, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was ready to return to England. He loaded his copious notes, animal and plant specimens, and drawings onto the brig Helen. Just 26 days into the voyage, the vessel caught fire. Wallace only had time to hastily fill a tin box with a few drawings of fish and palms and some scientific notes before joining the crew in the lifeboat. After 10 days marooned at sea, they were rescued by the brig Jordeson—but most of Wallace's work was gone forever. As he lamented in an October 19, 1852 letter, "The only things which I saved were my watch, my drawings of fishes, and a portion of my notes and journals. Most of my journals, notes on the habits of animals, and drawings of the transformations of insects, were lost.” While he continued as a leading naturalist—albeit one overshadowed in his evolution research by Charles Darwin—Wallace was never able to reconstruct those years of fieldwork.

3. THE CEPHALOPOD RESEARCH OF JEANNE VILLEPREUX-POWER

Before Jeanne Villepreux-Power’s 19th-century research, most scientists thought the Argonauta argo, or paper nautilus, scavenged its shell from other animals. But by inventing the modern aquarium, Villepreux-Power could study the species first-hand, and witness how it grows and repairs its own shell. The breakthrough was one of many discoveries made by the pioneer in cephalopod research, one of the few women to achieve prominence in Victorian science. She might be better known today if it weren't for the fact that when she and her husband decided to move from Sicily to London, the vessel on which they’d shipped their possessions—including the majority of her drawings, notes, and equipment—foundered off the coast of France in 1843. After the devastating loss, she never published again.

4. A COPY OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL OWNED BY CHARLES DICKENS

Sinking of the Lusitania
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When Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat realized the RMS Lusitania was doomed that fateful day in 1915, he dashed to his cabin, using the light from a few matches to try to find the literary treasures he’d brought aboard. These included original drawings by Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray, as well as an edition of A Christmas Carol owned by Charles Dickens himself. The edition was irreplaceable, since it included Dickens’s notes related to his 1844 copyright suit against the illicit republishing of his story. In the book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson vividly describes Lauriat’s harrowing experience when the ocean liner was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland: Lauriat grabbed the leather briefcase containing the Dickens, but left the Thackeray sketches behind. Rushing out to the deck, he saw a lifeboat packed with women and children that was being dragged down by the sinking ship. He jumped in with the briefcase, yet was unable to free the lifeboat, and in the escape into the water he lost the precious cargo. Out in the waves, he managed to evade entanglement with an antenna, swim to a collapsible lifeboat, and survive. One of the few items he managed to save were photographs of his baby, which he told his wife were his "mascot."

5. WRITINGS OF JOSÉ ASUNCIÓN SILVA

Portrait of José Asunción Silva

Many Colombians can recite the first lines from the influential Modernist poet José Asunción Silva's "Nocturne III"—"A night / A night full of hushings, of the curled wool of perfume / And incanting wing"—and it’s even printed in microtext on the 5000 Colombian peso bill. The poem, written in 1892, is believed to be a tribute to Silva’s half-sister. Silva suffered another blow in 1895, when many of his manuscripts, including a draft of a novel, were lost in a shipwreck. He left his diplomatic post in Venezuela, and dedicated all his time to reconstructing the drowned novel. But his melancholy continued: After visiting a doctor to ask the exact position of his heart, he shot himself in 1896. His rewritten novel—After-Dinner Conversation (De sobremesa) —wasn’t published until 1925.

6. THE ART OF GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI

The South-east Corner of the Parthenon, Athens by Giovanni Battista Lusieri
Giovanni Battista Lusieri, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Giovanni Battista Lusieri was a meticulous painter of the Italian landscape, particularly its classical ruins. In large panoramas and more compact watercolors, he depicted the Acropolis, views of Rome and Naples, and, his favorite, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Some of his most striking works captured the volcano at night, illuminating the darkness with its orange glow. Lord Byron called him "an Italian painter of the first eminence." Yet his name is now obscure. This is partly due to the years he stopped painting to help Lord Elgin remove and ship the Parthenon Marbles to London. But when Lusieri's artwork was being sent home from Greece after his death in 1821, a shipwreck destroyed nearly half of it (including a spectacular 25-foot-long panorama of Athens), helping to ensure his fall from fame.

BONUS: PEKING MAN

A replica of the Peking Man Skull
A replica of the Peking Man Skull

When paleontologists discovered the bones of "Peking man" in a dig near Beijing in the 1920s, they were the oldest hominid fossils ever found. However, scientists can now only study the bones—thought to be about half a million years old—from casts. The Peking Man fossils were last seen in December 1941, but vanished during the Japanese occupation of China while they were being sent to the United States for safekeeping. There are many conjectures on their fate, from being secretly stored away in Japan, to being under a parking lot in China. Yet one enduring theory is that they were lost at sea on the Japanese freighter Awa Maru: In 1945, the ship was torpedoed in the Taiwan Strait by the USS Queenfish despite being guaranteed safe passage by the United States, leading to the loss of more than 2000 lives—and, it's said, the priceless Peking fossils [PDF].

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