How Death Masks Work

RELEASED January 15, 2013
submit to reddit
Play This Episode
Episode Summary
One of the earliest civilizations we’ve detected, the Myceneans, kicked off the habit of creating a mask of a deceased person’s face in deathly repose. What began as an ancient rite has only recently fallen out of practice around the world. Learn about this dignified but ghoulish custom with Josh and Chuck.

Speaker 1    Brought to you by the 2012 Toyota Camry.

Speaker 2:    Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from

Josh Clark:    Hey, and welcome to the podcast.  I'm Josh Clark.  There's Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant.  This is a very plasterific episode of Stuff You Should Know.

Chuck Bryant:    Did you ever work with plaster when you were a kid?  Art class?

Josh Clark:    Uh –

Chuck Bryant:    That's a no.

Josh Clark:    I did work – I had one of those little pottery wheels.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, yeah?

Josh Clark:    Like the toyish version of it.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, cool.

Josh Clark:    And there was something like clay, wet clay, in your hands is really a neat feeling.

Chuck Bryant:    Hey, just tell Demi Moore that.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    You know?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    That made for one sexy scene.

Josh Clark:    Male nipples made an appearance in that scene.

Chuck Bryant:    Was Swayze shirtless?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, okay.

Josh Clark:    I believe so.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, he was always shirtless.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, I think he was.  He was shirtless for most of his career.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    Have you ever seen that Dirty Dancing, at the end of that movie when like they do the whole dance showdown thing?

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark:    Somebody put Ironman in over Patrick – no, over Jennifer Grey.  So like it's the whole scene, but it's Ironman dancing with Patrick Swayze and it's really neat and hilarious for some –

Chuck Bryant:    The song Ironman is used instead of –

Josh Clark:    Nope.  Ironman the cartoon superhero, the comic hero, is dancing with Patrick Swayze at the – for some reason at the end of this.

Chuck Bryant:    I got to see that now.

Josh Clark:    You should.

Chuck Bryant:    I don't even know what that looks like.

Josh Clark:    You should check it out.

Chuck Bryant:    I cannot visualize it.

Josh Clark:    Well, visualize this, pal.  July 22, 1934, Chicago.

Chuck Bryant:    See.

Josh Clark:    It's hot.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    Real hot.  Thirty something people.  Thirty-two people, maybe thirty-three died from the heat that day.

Chuck Bryant:    Really?

Josh Clark:    That's how hot it was in Chicago.  We should say, Chuck and I, because of our work schedules, we are frequently sequestered away from everybody else while they do fun things like hilarious book exchanges is a good current example.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, if you hear people laughing in the deep background, which is something you've never heard before on our show, that's because our department's having a party without us.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    It's really sad.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    All right.  So back to it.

Josh Clark:    Back to July 22, 1934, there was a –

Chuck Bryant:    People dying of heat.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  There was a movie, a Clark Gable movie, that a guy named John Dillinger wanted to go see.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, famous gangster, John Dillinger?

Josh Clark:    He was a famous bank robber.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    He was an Indiana man and over the course of a year he robbed a ton of banks.  He apparently robbed a police station or two, killed at least one cop and on his birthday, a couple months prior, I think in May, he had been made Public Enemy No. 1 by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And on this night, July 22, 1934, he would be betrayed by a woman in red, a madam, as a matter of fact.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, Anna Sage.

Josh Clark:    Anna Sage, that's right.  And he went with his girlfriend and Anna Sage, who was his girlfriend's landlady, to see this movie.  And after they came out, the FBI was waiting for him.  He takes off running, he pulls out his gun while he does, and they just kill him with a hail of bullets.  One of them gets him in the back of the neck and it goes out his eye, and that did it for John Dillinger, a/k/a Public Enemy No. 1.

Chuck Bryant:    And sold out by Anna Sage, as it turns out.

Josh Clark:    Who is then deported back to Romania, I think.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, really?  For her troubles.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Thanks for the help.

Josh Clark:    Yep.

Chuck Bryant:    Now here's your one-way ticket on this disease-ridden ship.

Josh Clark:    Exactly.  So he dies, but that's not the end of the story.  He was basically put on public display.  Either he was put on public display or the public said, we're gonna need to see this guy.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, that was sort of a thing, though.  Like I remember when Jesse James was killed.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Same deal, though.  Like these notorious criminals sometimes when they were caught, it would be like a big thing.  Like back, back in the old day, they would put them like out in the town square like in the pine box.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    Come by and look at him.

Josh Clark:    This was, I mean, Chicago in the '30's was not that far removed from –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – that Wild West.

Chuck Bryant:    Like get your picture taken next to the body of Jesse James.

Josh Clark:    Right.  So that's kind of what they did with Dillinger.  And at least two different groups – actually, three, but only one was authorized, made casts of his face after he was dead and we call those death masks.  What those guys were doing was carrying on a centuries old tradition, millennia old, really, if you want to get technical, of basically making a negative image of a dead person's face so you can make, I guess, masks from it later on.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, or a full statue head.

Josh Clark:    A bust, if you will.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, or a bust or a full statue, if you really want to go all the way.

Josh Clark:    Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant:    But curiously, and I find this to be one of the facts of the show, they did make a positive of Dillinger's face and J. Edgar Hoover had one in his office as, I guess, sort of a trophy of sorts.

Josh Clark:    He did.

Chuck Bryant:    I thought that was pretty cool.  I never knew that.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, that would be cool to not only have a death mask of John Dillinger, but the one that was in J. Edgar Hoover's office.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    That's just specific.

Chuck Bryant:    Yes, very.

Josh Clark:    So I said that this is a very old thing and it goes back at least to the Egyptians, but they're the first ones who we know made some sort of funerary mask of the deceased.  They had a very good reason and theirs was that if the soul – if you didn't make a mask of the deceased, the soul couldn't find the body any longer and it wouldn't have a face in the afterlife.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, because as you learned in our mummification cast, the face is wrapped up.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    So there is no face any longer, so there you have it.  You got like a King Tut, and it's not like the regular death mask.  It didn't look like them.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    It's very ornate.

Josh Clark:    Right.  Yeah –

Chuck Bryant:    Or it can be.

Josh Clark:    I think King Tut's was actually like that's his face.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, really?

Josh Clark:    Yeah, that they went to that level of trouble.

Chuck Bryant:    I mean, I knew they tried to make it look like him, but was it actually a mold of his face?

Josh Clark:    I believe it was.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, wow.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  The Egyptians weren't the only ancient group to do this either, Chuck.  The Myceneans –

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, yeah?

Josh Clark:    – who's civilization was discovered by Heinrich Schliemann, yeah, he found some death masks and they were really rough and weird looking.

Chuck Bryant:    Uh-huh.

Josh Clark:    But they took gold sheets that were pliable enough so that they'd lay it over people's faces and they made like a, again, a funerary mask.

Chuck Bryant:    Wow.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    So if you didn't have – if you weren't super famous or a nobleman or had a lot of money, you could still get the old death mask, it was probably made of linen and painted gold or papyrus maybe.  But you could still get your death mask.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    Even if you weren't King Tut.

Josh Clark:    Sure.  The Romans did a lot of this, too.  And the Romans actually had – I thought I knew everything about ancient Rome.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    But it turns out that they made death masks and at the funeral, a person who kind of looked like the deceased would wear their death mask.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And then other people would wear that person's ancestors, their dead relatives' death masks.  And basically you just have like a dead family reunion at the person's funeral.  Then after the funeral, that recently deceased person's death mask was put together with all of his relatives or her relatives –

Chuck Bryant:    And just wait for the next person to die.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  And then he would come out with everybody else –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – to bring the new person into the circle, which is kind of neat.  I didn't realize that they did that.  It's very odd, but – and I wonder if they would do impressions of them, like, whoa, I'm Uncle Slavius.  Look at me.  I love wine.

Chuck Bryant:    Come here and sit on my lap.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    So you mentioned the ancient Romans.  Caesar, Julius Caesar actually had a full wax cast of his entire body after his death.

Josh Clark:    Yep.

Chuck Bryant:    Stab wounds and everything.  And Mark Antony was, I guess, dumb enough to go show it off to a crowd and they rioted and burned down the Senate building.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    So I don't know what reaction he was looking for, that probably wasn't it.

Josh Clark:    And they're like, we love your records.  Not that Mark Antony.  So I guess with the Romans, too, with Egyptians, basically throughout history, if you weren't wealthy, you probably weren't gonna have a death mask made of you.  If you weren't wealthy or you weren't like the king.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, and one reason is because a lot of times these were artists.  Before photography, artists and painters and sculptors, as soon as someone died of note, they would get their death mask –

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    – made so they could then paint them and sculpt them and have a reference for what they look like.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  And same thing, I mean, artists didn't paint nobodies, you know what I'm saying?

Chuck Bryant:    Exactly.

Josh Clark:    So you didn't need to have a death mask made of you.  And this is pretty much the way it was in Europe for most of history, except in Italy.  Italy pretty early on said, if you achieve something notable –

Chuck Bryant:    Uh-huh.

Josh Clark:    – we'll probably make a death mask of you.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, yeah?

Josh Clark:    So if you see – yeah, early inventors and artists and those kind of like poets, if you're in Italy you'd probably have a death mask made.  If you're a notable personality.

Chuck Bryant:    Right, like Da Vinci.

Josh Clark:    Sure.

Chuck Bryant:    He's probably got a death mask.

Josh Clark:    But elsewhere, England, France, all that, it wasn't until late modern history that you started to see death masks of non-noble people coming out.  And as a matter of fact, it was Madame Tussaud –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – the lady behind the wax museums who kind of brought death masks to the masses during the French Revolution.  She and her uncle, Philippe Curtius.

Chuck Bryant:    They were just masters of wax.

Josh Clark:    And they worked a lot.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    There was one of Louis XVI's mistresses that underwent the guillotine.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh.

Josh Clark:    And she apparently had a terrible grimace on her face when she died.

Chuck Bryant:    I wish people could have seen the face you just made.  You also curled up your hand for some reason.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  Don't think she didn't, too.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And so Philippe Curtius, he basically pinched her face back into – pinched the decapitated head's face back into a nice position and then rolled her in some wax that he'd laid out next to the grave.

Chuck Bryant:    Wow.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  Like they were operating on this higher death max level like no one ever has.  But the Madame Tussaud wax museum that you enjoy today grew out of a death mask operation.

Chuck Bryant:    Interesting.  And it seems like a very macabre thing to do, but it's different now.  These days we like to remember our deceased ones as living and look at photographs of them doing things where they're alive and lively.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  And go die over there where we don't have to see you and think about it.

Chuck Bryant:    Exactly.  Closed casket funeral.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    But it wasn't the same back then.  They would broil – and wealthy families would display these death masks of their relatives in the parlor room or the drawing room or here in the main hallway.

Josh Clark:    Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant:    And it was a point of pride.  It wasn't like macabre or weird or gross.

Josh Clark:    Right.  And then eventually it became pseudoscientific with the advent of phrenology.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, phrenology, I wish we had a good article on that.

Josh Clark:    We don't?

Chuck Bryant:    I haven't seen one.

Josh Clark:    Oh.

Chuck Bryant:    It's pretty interesting, like the early days of that stuff.

Josh Clark:    Maybe we'll put one together.

Chuck Bryant:    It's like when people were just starting to figure out the brain and not really having any idea what they were doing.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, really missing the mark.

Chuck Bryant:    A lot of times, yeah.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  So phrenology basically was the idea that you could predict a person's personality, behavior, whether someone was a criminal or not –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – how intelligent they would grow up to be by like the shape of their face, the shape of their skull, the bumps on their skull.

Chuck Bryant:    Uh-huh.

Josh Clark:    And so phrenologists, as this field grew in the 19th century, kind of increased the demand for death masks because they wanted to compare people side-by-side.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    So you've got some pretty cool death masks of say, like Joseph Merrick.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, really?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  I think there's like full body casts of him.

Chuck Bryant:    Wow.

Josh Clark:    Or a criminal or a genius or whatever and these phrenologists would keep them side-by-side and try to compare and figure out, God, there's got to be a key there somewhere.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    And they had themselves convinced, but they were all wrong.

Chuck Bryant:    Was there something?  There had to be something in some of that research, right?

Josh Clark:    I think there was a lot of consensus among scientists and –

Chuck Bryant:    They were all wrong.

Josh Clark:    – that's all it took.

Chuck Bryant:    Well, that's disappointing.  One cool thing is that later on in today's world, you can look back at some of these death masks and gain a little bit of insight, diagnostically speaking, on how someone might have died.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    In this article, they mention Scottish writer, Sir Walter Scott, they think now he died of a stroke because his death mask, he has the telltale signs of like the droopy face –

Josh Clark:    Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant:    - on one side.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    And Abraham Lincoln they think might have had a wasting disease.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Because he had life masks made, which is the same thing except you're alive, before he died, had a couple of them made, and that they look at these now and say, you know what?  Abraham Lincoln might have been dying.

Josh Clark:    Of like tuberculosis or something maybe, right?

Chuck Bryant:    Is that what – they just said a wasting disease.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    I didn't even know what that was.

Josh Clark:    I think that's a wasting disease.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, that makes sense.

Josh Clark:    Consumption.

Chuck Bryant:    But then, of course, Booth took care of that in a more hasty manner.

Josh Clark:    Yes.

Chuck Bryant:    Don't want to give a spoiler away for the movie, but I'm pretty sure Lincoln gets shot.

Josh Clark:    There is a – speaking of Booth, his brother, Edwin, had a – he was one of the most famous actors, at least in the country, if not the world, when he was working.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, really?

Josh Clark:    And he had a death mask made and it was collected by a man named Laurence –

Chuck Bryant:    Of Arabia?

Josh Clark:    No.  His name was –

Chuck Bryant:    Olivier?

Josh Clark:    No.

Chuck Bryant:    No.

Josh Clark:    Laurence Hutton.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh.

Josh Clark:    And Laurence Hutton was a literary editor for Harper's Magazine –

Chuck Bryant:    Uh-huh.

Josh Clark:    – which is still around today.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And very good.  And he was in a junk store in New York one time and ran across a death mask and just was immediately smitten with the idea of collecting these things.  So he spent the rest of his life traveling the world finding death masks, buying them, having them made of people in some cases.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    He had one of Edwin Booth.  And he amassed this incredibly large collection, the world's largest individual collection, of death masks.  And when he died, he bequeathed it to Yale – no Princeton, I'm sorry.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, nice.

Josh Clark:    So Princeton has this museum of death masks now.

Chuck Bryant:    Holy cow.  I'd love to see that.

Josh Clark:    Well, lucky for you, buddy, they digitized it.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, really?

Josh Clark:    Yep.  They have like this really nice website, the Laurence Hutton Death Mask Museum website, and it's got all of them on there.  It's really, really interesting.  Some are very, very old.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And like poorly done.  There's one of Lincoln that it's just like God –

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, wow.

Josh Clark:    – looking at Lincoln's face because he's so recognizable.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    But to see the details.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, Daniel Day Lewis right there.

Josh Clark:    Right.  And you can't hear his weird voice –

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    But you can almost hear it just looking at it.  But it's the details.  That's the thing about death masks that are so, I think, alluring to some people is it's not only the detail of like the age and the face and what life did to them, but it's also the detail of the absence of life.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    Like that it's a death mask, you know?

Chuck Bryant:    Like the hollow eyes.

Josh Clark:    Or in the case of Dillinger, the bullet hole.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And apparently his death mask was so detailed, they did such a good job with it that you could see the abrasions on his face from where he hit the pavement –

Chuck Bryant:    Wow.

Josh Clark:    – when he fell down dead.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, looking at some of these up close, like the detail is remarkable.  It's pretty eerie.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  So if you can't make it to Princeton, you can check out the Laurence Hutton – just type in Laurence Hutton Princeton and it will bring that up.  It's a pretty cool little website you can spend some time on.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  And if you do go to Princeton, they got a great little brew pub.  You should go to see the death masks, go have some beer.

Josh Clark:    What brew pub?

Chuck Bryant:    You know, man, I can't remember.  I mean, I assume it's still there.  It opened new when I was living there in the mid '90's.

Josh Clark:    Oh.

Chuck Bryant:    I bet you it's still there.  But it was kind of new at the time.  Like, whoa, a brew pub.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, this is crazy.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, it's crazy.  All right, so let's talk about how you do this.  Shall we?

Josh Clark:    Yes.

Chuck Bryant:    You need to do it really soon after the person dies.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Because you don't want the bloat to set in.  It could destroy the face and they want like the death face.

Josh Clark:    You want a death face, but not the –

Chuck Bryant:    Not the two days after death face.

Josh Clark:    Right, exactly.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  So they would apply grease to the face, especially on facial hair, because it made it easier to take the bandages off and they didn't want to rip out your eyebrows.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, because you still had a funeral to hold.

Chuck Bryant:    Exactly.

Josh Clark:    You didn't want to look like Sergeant Mauser from Police Academy.  Do you remember?

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, he got his eyebrows blown off?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    That is a – have you ever seen anyone with no eyebrows?

Josh Clark:    I saw Mauser.

Chuck Bryant:    It's just weird because sometimes you can't pinpoint why they look so freaky.  I remember a guy in high school shaved his eyebrows, one of the, you know, one of the bad kids.

Josh Clark:    Oh, yeah?

Chuck Bryant:    Came in one day with his –

Josh Clark:    That's how he was rebelling?

Chuck Bryant:    I don't know, he was just one of those bad kids.

Josh Clark:    Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant:    Like I didn't associate with him because I was a good boy.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    But he came in one day in my industrial arts class, he had his eyebrows shaved, and it freaked me out.

Josh Clark:    Really?

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, yeah.  Like I definitely didn't have anything to do with him after that.  It was really strange looking.

Josh Clark:    He shaved his eyebrows.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, I think it was probably a Pink Floyd thing.  So then you apply the plaster bandages.  What's interesting is the first layer is where you get all your detail.  That's really what the death mask is, and then all the other layers just re-enforce that first layer.

Josh Clark:    Right.  It telegraphs it.  Anybody who's ever hung drywall knows that if you don't get that thing smooth when you tape it –

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, dude.

Josh Clark:    – it just is broadcast throughout the whole wall.  It's just ruined.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    Just burn the house down.

Chuck Bryant:    My guest bedroom.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, you know.

Chuck Bryant:    I did a very bad job in there.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    And it's funny, when contractors have come back since then, they've gone in that room and I've been like, yeah, boy, I don't know who did this drywall job.

Josh Clark:    That's hilarious.

Chuck Bryant:    It sucks.  All right, so the plaster sets.  Back in the day it took about an hour, these days it'll set in just a few minutes.  And then you carefully remove the mold, you've got your negative, and then it's up to you.  You can do a wax positive, you can do bronze, what else?

Josh Clark:    However much you want to charge people.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, I guess so.

Josh Clark:    Marble.  There's one of Napoleon that they made out of marble.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, really?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, he's not very intimidating when you see his death mask.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, no.

Chuck Bryant:    You know?

Josh Clark:    But, I mean, they broke his spirit pretty good.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah?

Josh Clark:    Sure.  Exile to an island where it's just you and some other jerks?

Chuck Bryant:    That might have been nice.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, I don't think he liked it.  He was too bent on taking over the world.  To stick him on an island was like –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – the greatest insult.

Chuck Bryant:    The worst torture.

Josh Clark:    Like this is what you control now.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    Napoleon.  This little tiny space.  You said that these days plaster dries in a few minutes.  And actually there were death masks, I'm sure somebody somewhere is still making a death mask here or there, but George Bernard Shaw had one made when he died in the 1950's.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, wow.

Josh Clark:    So it's still something of a modern event.

Chuck Bryant:    I'm totally gonna get one made.

Josh Clark:    Are you?

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, why not?

Josh Clark:    All right.  Nikola Tesla had one made.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, his is – have you ever seen his?

Josh Clark:    Nuh, uh.

Chuck Bryant:    His is interesting because I've only seen the one picture.

Josh Clark:    That one.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, as a younger man.  So when he got older, it's just, I don't know, the ears are huge and his nose was really large.  It doesn't look that large in this picture.  And I guess I'd never seen it at profile, but, yeah, he looks sort of like –

Josh Clark:    David Bowie?

Chuck Bryant:    No.  Who was the guy, the old, old guy who took all the drugs?

Josh Clark:    Walter Matthau.

Chuck Bryant:    No.  Not Burroughs, but  Timothy Leary.  He sort of looked like a Timothy Leary before he died.

Josh Clark:    Got you.

Chuck Bryant:    Sort of like just old.

Josh Clark:    Remember Timothy Leary died on webcam, right?

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, really?

Josh Clark:    Didn't he like livestream his death like even before anyone knew how to livestream?  He figured it out somehow.

Chuck Bryant:    I have no idea.

Josh Clark:    I believe he did.

Chuck Bryant:    That's sad.

Josh Clark:    I'm sure it's up on the web.

Chuck Bryant:    All right, shall we tell our awesome kind of fact of the podcast story?

Josh Clark:    Sure, man.

Chuck Bryant:    Of the Unknown Woman of the Seine.

Josh Clark:    A/k/a the L'Inconnue de la Seine.

Chuck Bryant:    Nineteenth century Paris, Josh.  Here's the story.  An anonymous woman moved to Paris from the country, falls in love with a young man.

Josh Clark:    Sure.

Chuck Bryant:    And gets her heart broke in two by this French jerk.  She is distraught.  She casts herself into the river and the river Seine.  Is it Seine?

Josh Clark:    I believe so.

Chuck Bryant:    And –

Josh Clark:    Is it Seine?

Chuck Bryant:    Seine.  And nobody claimed the body ever.  And the mortician was taken by her beauty and the –

Josh Clark:    He said, oh, this dead lady is so hot.

Chuck Bryant:    Well, maybe.  But he was taken with her beauty and her calm, almost peaceful expression on her face.

Josh Clark:    Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant:    No one ever claimed her.  He did a death mask and said, now she is known was the Unknown Woman of the Seine or the Seine.

Josh Clark:    A/k/a the L'Inconnue de la Seine.

Chuck Bryant:    And they – a lot of people ended up having copies of this death mask in their house as, I guess, art or something.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  It's kind of weird.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    But, I mean, this is before collector's plates had come along, maybe.

Chuck Bryant:    True.

Josh Clark:    And it was like spoons from St. Louis or this lady's death mask.

Chuck Bryant:    Right.

Josh Clark:    So the author of this article pokes some holes in that story.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    The truth is that this death mask was in wide circulation, right?

Chuck Bryant:    Yes.

Josh Clark:    But it probably wasn't from a woman who drowned because her features would have become bloated and distorted by the time she started to float to the surface.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And she also looks kind of peaceful.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    So they think that it's probably a life mask posed for by a live model, but they've never recorded who it was.

Chuck Bryant:    That's right.

Josh Clark:    But the mystery around it, I think, probably helped sell some of the death masks.

Chuck Bryant:    Sure.

Josh Clark:    So they kept it going.  And then that's the end of the story.  You think.

Chuck Bryant:    Here's where it gets really good.  Me?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    1960 Peter Safar, an Austrian doctor, is developing this really radical new thing called trying to save someone who's having a heart attack.

Josh Clark:    Right, rather than just being like, oh, well.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, I wish there was something I could do.  There is something you can do, it's called CPR.

Josh Clark:    Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant:    And he championed it and got in touch with a Norwegian toymaker named Asmund Laerdal.

Josh Clark:    That sounds so made up.

Chuck Bryant:    It does.  And Armand Tanzarian.  And said, you know what?  I need a way to teach this.  I need some sort of like plastic dummy to teach people how to do this new thing called CPR.

Josh Clark:    Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant:    And the guy says, I got just the thing.  This – we'll use this face of this woman of the Seine.

Josh Clark:    Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant:    And throw it on a dummy bust and that is who Resusci Anne was.

Josh Clark:    Yep.

Chuck Bryant:    And as I was reading this, the whole time I was like, no way is that Resusci Anne?  Is that Resusci Anne?  And it was on the following page was the sentence that became Resusci Anne.  And I literally felt like, I don't know, it felt like exalted.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Man, I used to like put my mouth on that thing.

Josh Clark:    On the 19th century death mask.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Every summer for lifeguarding.

Josh Clark:    My mom used to teach CPR classes.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And she had a Resusci Anne and the kid, too, who had like that snappy little track suit, like dark blue track suit –

Chuck Bryant:    I don't remember the kid.

Josh Clark:    – with like the striped colors.  Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    You had these in your house?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.  It was a little off-putting at first.

Chuck Bryant:    That's kind of cool.

Josh Clark:    But, yeah, it was – eventually it was like, you know, it's neat.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, I can't believe, I'm still a little blown away that that's who they ended up using.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    Very neat.  And when you looked – and I looked up the death mask and then I looked up Resusci Anne and I was like, yeah, that's her.

Josh Clark:    That's cool.

Chuck Bryant:    Except she's got nostrils and a mouth hole.

Josh Clark:    Right, which is very important.

Chuck Bryant:    If you're gonna practice CPR.

Josh Clark:    Right.  Or if you're gonna make a life mask you want to make sure that the person has a way to breathe and that's usually through straws into the nostrils.

Chuck Bryant:    Josh, if you live in Michigan, Midland County Historical Museum there, they have Jesse James and Butch Cassidy.

Josh Clark:    Sweet.

Chuck Bryant:    You can go by and check that out.

Josh Clark:    If you go to the Maker's Mark Distillery, their little tour, they have Frank James' gun.  One of the owners' grandfathers was the guy who Frank James surrendered to and he handed his pistol over.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, really?

Josh Clark:    It's pretty neat to see.

Chuck Bryant:    Have you ever been there?

Josh Clark:    Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant:    Did you dip your own bottle?

Josh Clark:    No.

Chuck Bryant:    No.  They let you do that.

Josh Clark:    They do.  Yeah, I know.

Chuck Bryant:    Why didn't you do that, man?  How can you go to the Maker's Mark and not dip your own bottle?

Josh Clark:    If you dip your own bottle, then it becomes a memento and it seems like a waste of bourbon.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, you wouldn't drink it?

Josh Clark:    Sure.

Chuck Bryant:    All right.  What else?  There's this very cool thing called The Black Museum.  I looked this up.  In Scotland Yard.

Josh Clark:    Oh, yeah, I want to go there.

Chuck Bryant:    Well, you can't.

Josh Clark:    I know.  I want to meet a Scotland Yard Detective who can get me in.

Chuck Bryant:    Oh, well, you can't.  You're not a Scotland Yard Detective yourself.

Josh Clark:    I will then go to Scotland Yard Detective School so I can get into this thing.

Chuck Bryant:    This thing has been around since 1874 and then moved and refurbished in the 1980's to new Scotland Yard.  And it was originally called The Black Museum, now it's called The Crime Museum.  And, dude, they have like letters from Jack The Ripper in there.

Josh Clark:    Wow.

Chuck Bryant:    They have nooses that hung famous people.  They have weapons from famous murder cases and a bunch of death masks, apparently.

Josh Clark:    Why would you not let the public in?

Chuck Bryant:    I don't know.

Josh Clark:    That's a travesty.

Chuck Bryant:    I think any British Police Officer can go if they like make a reservation.

Josh Clark:    Man, that's –

Chuck Bryant:    Like you don't have to be a Scotland Yard Dick, but, yeah, pretty cool.

Josh Clark:    Jack The Ripper letters, that's awesome.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, there's got to be some movie plot based around The Black Museum that you could come up with.  That seems like just the name itself –

Josh Clark:    Like everything comes alive –

Chuck Bryant:    Maybe.

Josh Clark:    – at night?

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah, there you go.  There's your movie.

Josh Clark:    And poor Ben Stiller gets in trouble.

Chuck Bryant:    And that's where it goes south.

Josh Clark:    But if you want to learn more about death masks and you want to see some cool pictures of death masks, you can type the words death masks into the search bar at  And since I said search bar, it's time for what?

Chuck Bryant:    Well, a couple of quick pieces of business and then listener mail.

Josh Clark:    Okay.  So what's the first order of business, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant:    Well, we got a TV show coming out on Science Channel January 19th, which is right around the corner.  10:00 p.m. airing two episodes on the first night, premier night.  After Idiots Abroad premier –

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    – which is a very good lead in for us.

Josh Clark:    Oh, yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    We're super excited about that.  And what more do you need to know?

Josh Clark:    Nothing.  You need to know that you should be there and watching.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  Set your little DVR and give us some love.  Make some noise at the Science Channel Facebook Page, that'll help us out.

Josh Clark:    Yeah, and Twitter.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  We appreciate it.

Josh Clark:    What about listener mail?

Chuck Bryant:    Okay.  Josh, I'm gonna call this Martha.  Martha's got a few corrections for us.

Josh Clark:    Okay.

Chuck Bryant:    On our – and we haven't done corrections in a while, but on our topic of peak oil.

Josh Clark:    Okay.

Chuck Bryant:    She's in the business.

Josh Clark:    Uh oh.

Chuck Bryant:    She knows a lot about it.

Josh Clark:    Uh oh.

Chuck Bryant:    First of all, she affirms me, which I like.  Chuck was right, guys.  Dinosaurs in no way, shape or form make up oil or gas deposits.  Most of the source material comes from things like algae and phytoplankton that has died and sunk to the bottom of its lake, ocean or sea.  No. 2:  The things you said about proved reserves being unreliable, it's partially true, guys.  In some countries, like the U.S. and Canada, U.K. and members of the Euro zone, proved reserves are actually audited by regulatory bodies.  In the U.S., it's the SEC.

This because an investor would most likely consider the amount of proved reserves that a company has access to since that tends to be a good indicator of the health of the firm, whether or not it's a sound investment.  If you misrepresent your reserves to the public, the SEC will come after you and the penalties can be severe.  So in some countries, the proved reserves is very conservative, actually, heavily audited and is probably pretty reliable.  But she did point out that other countries where they might not want to be as forthcoming, you can get some hinky numbers.

Josh Clark:    Right.

Chuck Bryant:    So.

Josh Clark:    I feel like we said that.

Chuck Bryant:    I can't remember.

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    And then No. 3:  She takes us to task a little bit on fracking.  She said I know it's a contentious subject and just should do a podcast on this.

Josh Clark:    It's in my ideas queue.

Chuck Bryant:    Is it?

Josh Clark:    Yeah.

Chuck Bryant:    You guys refer to fracking as causing an environmental disaster every time someone does it.  You may call me a shill, but even Lisa Jackson of the EPA, who is not a friend to the oil industry, has said that there are no proven cases of fracking resulting in underground freshwater contamination, and fracking has been conducting in the U.S. since the 1940's.  It's far more likely that poor well design and bad cement jobs would be the culprit.  However, there is a big study being conducted right now by the EPA so all of this may change if they find something.  But as of now, the science doesn't support the position of most anti-fracking groups.  So I definitely want to do a podcast on this now.

Josh Clark:    Let's do it.

Chuck Bryant:    I feel like she's challenged us.

Josh Clark:    I feel like she has.  She's using psychology on us right now.

Chuck Bryant:    She is.  I love your show, I find it fascinating, but I'm weird like that.  Keep up the great work, can't wait to see your TV show in January.  And that is from Martha.

Josh Clark:    Martha, that was a perfect letter from an expert, somebody in the field –

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    – taking us to task, being nice about it.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.

Josh Clark:    And letting us tell everybody else that maybe we got it wrong, maybe we didn't, but you know.

Chuck Bryant:    Yeah.  And then mentioning our TV show.

Josh Clark:    Exactly.  So thank you for the perfect letter.

Chuck Bryant:    Yes.

Josh Clark:    If you want to send us a perfect Tweet, you can Tweet to us at syskpodcast.  You can send us the perfect Facebook posting at  And you can send us a perfect email to

Speaker 2:    For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit

Speaker 1:    Brought to you by the 2012 Toyota Camry.

[End of Audio]

Duration:  31 minutes

you might also like

Recent Episodes
Browse Our Podcast Archive   »