When cosmic debris known as meteoroids enters Earth’s atmosphere at high speeds, the transition from the airless vacuum of space to the increasingly dense atmosphere of our planet acts as a wall. Slamming into that wall causes the meteoroids to burn and disintegrate, producing meteor showers. When seen on clear and starry nights, meteor showers are among the most breathtakingly beautiful celestial sights.
Sometimes, however, they are anything but breathtakingly beautiful. In 1490, meteor showers stopped being pretty to the inhabitants of Ch’ing Yang, in today’s Chinese province of Gansu Province, when one such shower suddenly went from picturesque to horrific. It happened in an instant, when one of the falling objects burst in the air during atmospheric reentry, killing thousands. As described by contemporaries:
“Stones fell like rain in the Ch’ing-yang district. The larger ones were [about 3.5 pounds], and the smaller ones were [about 2 pounds]. Numerous stones rained in Ch’ing-yang. Their sizes were all different. The larger ones were like goose’s eggs and the smaller ones were like water-chestnuts. More than 10,000 people were struck dead. All of the people in the city fled to other places.”
What Chinese sources described in 1490 is remarkably similar to the 1908 Tunguska Event. In the latter event, a meteoroid airburst at an altitude of 5 miles above a sparsely populated part of Siberia flattened 770 square miles of forest. So it is probable that the deaths during the 1490 Ch’ing Yang meteor shower were caused by a meteoroid taht similarly disintegrated in an airburst during atmospheric entry.
Pankration, meaning “all force”, is the ancestor of today’s MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts. It was a sport practiced by the ancient Greeks, which combined boxing, wrestling, and no holds barred street fighting. Almost every hand combat technique and type of strike was allowed, with only a few prohibited exceptions, such as biting an opponent, clawing and gouging out his eyes, or attacking his genitals.
Arrhichion of Phigalia (died 564 BC), was Ancient Greece’s most famous pankratist, and the champion of that sport in the 572 BC and 568 BC Olympiads. He again competed in the 564 BC Olympics, seeking a third consecutive championship. Arrhichion advanced through the preliminary rounds, and reached the title bout. There, age might have finally caught up with and slowed him down, because for the first time in his career, he got into trouble. Arrhichion’s opponent outmaneuvered and got behind him. From there, with legs locked around Arrhichion’s torso and heels digging into his groin, his opponent applied a chokehold.
An experienced and wily fighter, Arrhichion pretended to lose conscience, which tricked his opponent into relaxing a little. Seizing the opportunity, the crafty title holder snapped back into action, and snapped his opponent’s ankle while shaking and throwing him off with a convulsive heave. The sudden excruciating pain of a snapped ankle forced Arrhicion’s opponent into the Ancient Greek equivalent of tapping out, and he made the sign of submission to the referees.
However, in throwing off his opponent while the latter still had him in a powerful chokehold, Arrhichion not only snapped his opponent’s ankle, but ended up snapping his own neck as well. Arrhichion had a broken neck, but as his opponent had already conceded by signaling his submission, the dead Arrhichion’s was declared the winner. It was perhaps the only time in the history of the Olympiads that a corpse was crowned an Olympic champion. He thus added a wrinkle to the athletic ideal of “victory or death” by gaining victory and death in winning a championship.
Manhunt On as Japan Terrified by Penis-Chopping Geisha on the Loose
Kichizo Ishida (1894 – 1936) was a Japanese businessman and restaurateur with a reputation for being a ladies’ man. He started off as an apprentice in a restaurant that specialized in eel dishes, and by age 24 he opened what would become one of Tokyo’s most successful restaurants, the Yoshidaya. Kichizo eventually left the management of his business affairs to his wife, and dedicated himself to womanizing. Early in 1936, he began a love affair with a recently hired employee, Sada Abe.
Sada Abe (1905 – 1971) had been Geisha and former prostitute before getting hired on as an apprentice at Kichizo’s restaurant. It did not take long after she started her new job before her boss made advances, which she eagerly welcomed. The two became infatuated with each other, spending days in marathon sex sessions at hotels, not stopping even when maids came in to tidy up and clean the rooms.
Unfortunately, Sada’s infatuation became an obsession. She started getting jealous whenever Kichizo returned to his wife, and started thinking of killing him to keep him forever to herself. She bought a knife and threatened him with it during their next tryst, but Kichizo thought it was role play, and it turned him on even more. That threw Sada off. Later during the marathon sex session, she again steeled herself to kill him, this time by strangling him with a Geisha belt during sex. It only turned him on even more, and he begged her to continue. That threw her off once again.
Finally, Kichizo fell asleep, at which point Sada finally gathered her nerve to go through with her plans, and strangled her sleeping lover to death with her Geisha belt. Then, she took out the knife and castrated him, carved her name on his arm, and with his blood wrote “Sada and Kichizo together” on the bed sheets before fleeing. Kichizo’s body was discovered the next day, and when news of the murder and mutilation broke, and that a “sexually and criminally dangerous woman was on the loose“, Japan, and especially Japanese men, were gripped with what became known as “Sada Abe Panic”.
Police eventually caught up with and arrested her, at which point they discovered Kichizo Ishida’s genitals in her purse. When questioned why she was running around with Ishida’s penis and testicles, Sada replied “Because I couldn’t take his head or body with me. I wanted to take the part of him that brought back to me the most vivid memories“.
Sada Abe was tried and convicted, and served 5 years in prison before being released. She went on to write an autobiography, and lived until 1971. The Ishida-Abe love affair and its bizarre end became a sensation in Japan, embedded in its popular culture and acquiring mythic overtones ever since. The story has been depicted in poetry and prose, portrayed in movies and television series, and interpreted over the decades by various philosophers and artists.
Superstar Singer and Temptress Turns War Heroine and Spies on Nazis
Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975) was the first black person to become a world famous entertainer, or to star in a major movie. Dubbed the “Creole Goddess”, “Black Pearl”, and “Bronze Venus”, she was an American-born entertainer, renowned dancer, Jazz Age symbol, 1920s icon, and civil rights activist. She moved to France and made it her home, and when her adopted homeland was conquered by the Nazis in WWII, Josephine Baker joined the French Resistance.
Born into poverty as Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, she was forced by her family’s dire financial straits into working since childhood. By age 13, she was already performing on stage, and became a chorus girl a year later. She became a hit with audiences, as she injected comedy into her routines. Ambitious and confident in her talent, Josephine refused to accept the ceiling imposed by the color of her skin in America, so she moved to France. There, her career took off in post WWI Paris, and she became a global superstar.
When WWII broke out, Josephine Baker was recruited by French military intelligence. She had initially expressed support for the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s, so when the Axis defeated and occupied France, they mistakenly assumed that she was friendly to their cause. She was not. Taking advantage of the conquerors’ trust, Josephine risked her life by spying. Her fame opened doors, and rubbing shoulders with high ranking Axis personnel, she collected information while charming officials she met in social gatherings.
As an international entertainer, Josephine had an excuse to travel, and she did, within Nazi-occupied Europe, to neutral Portugal, and to South America. She crossed borders while transporting coded messages, written in invisible ink on her music sheets, between the Resistance and the Allies. They contained information about German troop concentrations, airfields, harbors, and defenses. She also hid fugitives in her home, and supplied them with forged identification papers and visas obtained through her contacts. Later in the war, she joined and was commissioned a lieutenant in the French Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She also performed in concerts for Allied troops.
In recognition of her wartime exploits and contributions to France, Josephine Baker was named a Chevalier of the Legion d’honeur by Charles De Gaulle. Among the medals awarded her by the French military were the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of Resistance with Rosette. Upon her death in 1975, she became the first American woman buried with military honors in France, including a twenty one gun salute.
Marooned Shipwrecks Turn Island Into ‘Lord of the Flies’
In June of 1944, American airplanes sank three Japanese supply ships off Anatahan, a small Marianas island about 75 miles north of Saipan. 36 soldiers and sailor survived and swam to Anatahan. Later that year, the US invaded the Marianas, seizing the main islands and bypassing the smaller ones such as Anahatan. The Japanese on Anatahan, unable to communicate with their chain of command, were isolated from the outside world.
Things got bad, as the castaways eked a living, surviving on coconuts, lizards, bats, insects, taro, wild sugar cane, and whatever else they could find. Things improved some in January of 1945, when a B-29 bomber crashed on Anatahan. Scavenging the wreck, the castaways fashioned the plane’s metal into useful items, such as knives, pots, and roofs for their huts. Parachutes were turned into clothing, oxygen tanks were converted to storing water, springs were fashioned into fishing hooks, nylon cords were used as fishing lines, and some pistols were also recovered.
The island’s demographics further complicated life, and gradually led to a Lord of the Flies dynamics. The island’s sole inhabitants were the castaways, plus a Japanese plantation manager and his wife. Unsurprisingly, over 30 men stranded for years on a small island that contained only one woman, led to trouble, as the men competed for her affections. The object of their attentions, Kazuko Higa, had arrived at the island with her husband in 1944, but her husband disappeared in mysterious circumstances soon after the castaways arrived. So she married a Kikuichiro Higa as protection. However, one of the castaways shot and killed her new husband, only to have his own throat slit soon thereafter by another aspiring beau.
Over the years, Kazuko Higa became a full blown femme fatale, transferring her affections between a series of wooers. Each of them ended up violently chased off, or murdered, by some of the other frustrated men. Matters were not helped when the men discovered how to ferment coconut wine, then spent days on end drinking themselves into a stupor or into alcoholic rages.
By 1951, as the castaways vied for the affections of the island’s sole female, there had been 12 murders, and too many fights to count. One of Kazuko Higa’s pursuers had been stabbed with a knife on thirteen separate occasions by jealous rivals. Undaunted, he returned to his amorous pursuit as soon as he recovered from each attempted murder.
American authorities had learned of the Japanese on Anatahan. However, the island lacked military significance, and the Japanese marooned there were no threat. So the castaways were ignored. After the war, somebody remembered Anatahan, so leaflets were airdropped on the island, informing its Japanese that the war was over and directing them to surrender. However, the castaways refused to believe that Japan could have surrendered.
American authorities did not deem it worth the trouble to send in US forces to root them out, so the castaways were left to their own devices. From time to time, an airplane would be sent to drop leaflets over the island, repeating that the war was over and directing the Japanese to surrender. However, the castaways deemed the leaflets fake news, and so matters remained, for years.
In 1950, Kazuku Higa sighted a passing US vessel, raced to the beach, flagged it down and asked to be taken off the island. It was only then that the Americans discovered that the Japanese on Anatahan did not believe that the war was over. That information was relayed to Japan, where the holdouts’ families were contacted. They wrote letters to their relatives, letting them know that it was not fake news: the war had, indeed, ended years earlier.
The letters, along with an official message from the Japanese government, finally convinced the castaways. They surrendered in 1951, and were shipped back home, where their story became a sensation, featured in books, movies, and plays. Kazuku Higa was nicknamed “The Queen Bee of Anatahan Island” by the Japanese press. She found temporary fame as a tropical temptress, selling her story to newspapers and recounting it to packed theaters. However, her fifteen minutes eventually ended, and public interest waned. She fell into prostitution and abject poverty, and died at age 51 while working as a garbage collector.