June 8, 2013
Happy Worldwide Knit in Public Day!
I wanted to go to South Park Abbey apparently they have a “Let’s get knit faced” night that is very fun but I have been a little busy being sick and finishing up school. Here’s the best I could do today.
Merry Name Your Poison Day!
I have been listening to a lot of podcasts by the Stuff You Missed In History Class people and they have done several great podcasts on poisoners lately. Therefore I am going to name my poison as arsenic. It can be given in a variety of forms and can be given over time or a big dose. This is a classic poison used by the Borgias, Napoleons assassin, a failed attempt by Lizzie Borden, and America’s Lucrezia Borgia Mary Frances Creighton. You should listen to this podcast about arsenic poisoners. It also has a hilarious play named after it, Arsenic and Old Lace.
Here’s a little article from i09. Arsenic is, in the end, the be-all and end-all of historic poisons. Without a doubt it had the longest run. Technically, it should be back there among the Romans, because it was used even in antiquity. It was called the King of Poisons, and was the favorite of the Borgias. But it wasn’t until the Victorian era when it got its queen. Or rather, queens. Though it was said to have Napoleon and a good chunk of the Italian clergy, this eventually became the lady’s poison. Women used arsenic, which constricts the veins, to do the opposite of what medieval women did with belladonna. They wanted a white-as-snow, composed face. Girls learned about the properties and dangers of arsenic in school from their friends, and they were very used to carrying it around and dissolving it in liquids to bathe their faces in. It was tasteless, colorless, and odorless. A few grains of the stuff could kill a man. And a few grains did kill many, many men. (Women, to be fair, weren’t the only ones to do this. It’s been said that an overly harsh arctic exploration leader, Charles Francis Hall, was poisoned by his own men using arsenic.)
The most infamous case of arsenic poisoning came in 1857, and involved one Madeleine Smith. She had taken a lover, who had turned out to be a blackmailing fortune-hunter. When he threatened to go to her father and show him the explicit love-letters that Madeleine had written, Madeleine made nice and invited him to have some cocoa with her on her windowsill after her father was in bed. The lover fell ill, but was good enough to return the next night, when he got the next dose of cocoa. They found over seventy grains of arsenic in his stomach, and a letter from Madeleine asking him to meet her in his pocket. Madeleine was declared innocent – through a wild series of lucky chances for her – but people checked their drinks around her so much that she changed her name and went to America. The Smith trial, and the fact that medical science had advanced to the point where it was possible to count the grains of arsenic in a corpse’s stomach, marked the end of a long era. Arsenic was most on-hand in Victorian era, but it had endured because of its invisibility before and after it was used. The effects of arsenic – sweating, confusion, cramping muscles, and stomach pain – could be written off as extreme food poisoning. Not anymore. And because the news of the trial reached across countries and continents, no aspiring poisoner could fail to note how very obvious arsenic poisonings had become. The king was dead.
Here’s some fun trivia about poisoners!
Here’s a more scholarly look at arsenic.