An Ignoble Death by Nigel Roth


The year is 1567.

Hans Staininger refuses to wear a nosegay to protect him from the plague that is rampaging through Contantinople, just a few thousand kilometers from where he sits, stubbornly, in Bavaria.

Like the millions of American citizens who are determined to live free AND die by not covering their faces, Staininger had a fabulous excuse; his one-and-one-half meter long beard.

It was indeed luxurious and full, so full in fact that he tripped over it one day and broke his neck, ending the chance to pass on the title of Herr Hair to his heir.

Dying from Covid-19 because of a false sense of what liberty means seems an awfully stupid way to depart this mortal world, and one which descendents of those mask-averse victims might try to gloss over or amend, telling a less embarrassing and more typical demise tale instead.

It wouldn’t be the first time, I suspect, judging from these awkward expirations.

There’s Edmund Ironside, King of England in 1016, who was murdered from beneath while sitting on the toilet, by a cheeky assassin. Or, the last Caliph of Baghdad, Al-Musta-sim, who was rolled up in a beautiful rug and then stamped to death, leaving him in a twisted pile.

Others died more happily, but no less oddly. Take George Plantagenet, who in 1478 drowned in a barrel of the best madeira, or Pietro Aretino, who a century later, died laughing after being told a wonderfully-obscene joke, which unfortunately we shall never hear.

Some have died more unhappily, like Prince Louis II de Bourbon-Conde’s chief steward who, in 1671 during a banquet, killed himself with a bayonet because he was so upset that the fish was late for the dinner. The swordfish and croaker arrived soon after.

Others expired doing what they loved, like William Snyder, who died in 1854 while being swung around by a famous clown at the circus, or Clement Vallandigham, who accidentally shot himself while demonstrating how his client's victim might have accidentally shot himself, in an 1871 Ohio trial.

Tragic accidents have sealed others' fate. Take Sir William Payne-Gallwey, who fell while out hunting things, and landed on a robust turnip, leaving him in a vegatative state for three days before his life finally leaked out.

Or, tennis linesman, Dick Wertheim, who was struck so hard by a ball to the groin that he fell out of his chair and died, and the bouncer, Jimmy Ferozzo, who managed to nudge the lever of the hydraulic motor on a grand piano while having sex with his girlfriend on it, and was crushed to death as it met the ceiling. She survived, though sonatas in E-flat are very much off the table.

For others, like our mask-rebels, there was simply no excuse to die. In the same year, 1982, David Gruman shot a saguaro cactus, which duly crushed him as it fell, and Michael Scaglione expired after smashing his golf club in anger only for it to take refuge in his jugular vein in revenge.

And maybe the oddest of all, which may be the most difficult to explain at a dinner party.

It begins with a poodle, in 1988. The poodle’s name, somewhat ironically, was Cachy.

Cachy was chasing a ball one day in an apartment, when it bounced out of the thirteenth floor window. Cachy, being a dog, jumped after it and fell to the ground. He didn’t land on the ground though, he landed on 75-year-old Marta Espina. Both dog and human died instantly.

A witness to this bizarre event, Edith Sola, came rushing across the road to lend help, and was hit by a bus, and also died on the spot.

The horror of this whole scenario was seen by a man walking towards them, who was so overcome with emotion that he suffered a massive heart attack and yes, he died too.

I’m not sure how these deaths were described, of course, but I can imagine vague wavings of hands, or uncomfortable grimaces, or stony silence.

And in years to come, when people are asked to describe how their father or mother died during the 2020 Pandemic, I have a feeling it won’t be because they didn’t wear a mask.

“You see, Dad was chasing a ball one day in an apartment …”


Photo by Morning Brew

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