6 Famous Writers Whose Deaths Were Stranger Than Fiction
Leave it to authors to "shuffle off this mortal coil" in sensational style. From the bizarre to the unbelievable, these are the stories of writers who accidentally found drama in death. May they all rest in peace (and in the case of at least two people on this list, in pieces).
Edgar Allan Poe and His Tell-Tale Brain
At the age of 40, The Raven writer was found "in great distress," wandering the streets of Baltimore. He was taken to the hospital, but died shortly after…and no one knows why. In lieu of a death certificate, his obituary claimed he passed away from the absurdly vague "congestion of the brain." Historians have tried to explain the mystery for decades—theories range from an elaborate cooping scheme to carbon monoxide poisoning— but it's likely we'll never know the true story.
Read more: Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance
Dante Alighieri and the Body Snatchers
Everyone wanted a piece of Dante. After The Divine Comedy author contracted malaria and died in 1321, his body was buried in Ravenna, exhumed, and then hidden in a brick wall. The reason? Church officials were worried men from Dante's home town of Florence would take the body. Centuries later, the bones were discovered in the wall, thanks to a renovation project. Some of the bones were stolen; few were returned. Basically, Dante now has many final resting places.
Read more: Life of Dante
Tennessee Williams's Eye-Opener
It should've been an ordinary day. The playwright was hanging out in his hotel suite when his eyes started bothering him. He got out his bottle of eye drops, but on this particular occasion, he ended up choking to death on the bottle's cap. (Some accounts claim a problem with his nose led to him choking on the cap of his nasal spray.) To further add strange insult to strange, fatal injury, his body was interred in a cemetery in St. Louis—even though Williams had explicitly requested he be buried at sea.
Read more: Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh
Jacqueline Susann on the Shelf
Call it sweet or call it odd (sweetly odd?): After the Valley of the Dolls author died of cancer at the age of 56, her husband, Irving Mansfield, had her ashes put in a bronze urn that was shaped like a book. And where else would you put such a vessel? On the shelf, of course! Mansfield kept the book-like urn on his bookcase, next to copies of his wife's books.
Read more: Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann
Aeschylus and the Flying Tortoise
Poor Aeschylus. The Greek playwright was minding his own business when a tortoise fell from the sky and hit his head. The impact killed him. Fellow writer Valerius Maximus believed an eagle had mistaken Aeschylus's head for a rock. Did you know eagles fly tortoises to a great height and then drop them on a rock to shatter their hard shells? Well, it's a real thing—and if the top of your head looks like a rock, you could experience it first-hand like Aeschylus.
Read more: A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the Cradle of Western Civilization
Percy Bysshe Shelley's Hard Heart
The English Romantic poet drowned at sea—the strangeness occurred when his body was cremated. Instead of turning to ash, his heart would not burn. A witness reportedly plucked the heart from the fire and made sure it ended up in the hands of Shelley's wife, Mary. It all seems like something out of a poem, a testament to the heart's resilience even in death. (In truth, scientists believe Shelley's heart had been calcifying for some time, which would have explained its resistance to cremation. Not as romantic, but still fascinating!)
Read more: The Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron
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