An act of spite turned two invaluable historical artifacts to ashes

Black and white photograph of a man standing in front of a giant wooden hull
The hull of one of the ships (Wikimedia Commons)

I guess that anything we manage to save from history is a miracle,” Donna Tartt wrote in her 2014 Pulitzer winning novel The Goldfinch.
I suppose it must be true, considering how many historical and artistic treasures we managed to destroy — out of malice, bad judgment, political or religious zeal, or simply plain, sheer stupidity.

The botched restoration of Martínez’s Ecce Homo and the 17th-century painting of the Virgin Mary irreparably damaged by an incompetent restorer are some examples of this, but at least those were done in good faith. …


Mary Scott Castle’s Italian honeymoon ended in tragedy

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Lake Como — Photo by Bruce Meier on Unsplash

Mary Scott Castle was 39 and a divorcée when she met 21-years-old Porter Charlton in New York. Despite the age gap and different social backgrounds (she was a failed actress from the Bay Area, he the scion of an upper-middle-class Washington family), the attraction between them was mutual, immediate, and irresistible: in March 1910, just a month after they met, Porter and Mary took a train to Delaware, where they clandestinely got married.

Less than 90 days later, Mary’s lifeless body was found stuffed into a wooden trunk floating on the surface of Lake Como.


Napoleon Bonaparte on his horse holding a jar of Nutella
Picture by author

The French statesman and the world-famous spread have history

Have you ever decided to make yourself a bread-and-Nutella snack and ended up eating the thick, velvety cream straight off the spoon? And did you know that every 2.5 seconds, a jar of Nutella is sold somewhere in the world?

What you might not know is that Nutella’s predecessor, a chocolate-hazelnut cream named Gianduja, dates back to the early 1800s and its history intertwines with that of Napoleon Bonaparte.

By the early 1800s, Turin had established itself as Europe’s chocolate capital, and its confectionery products were known and appreciated across the continent.

Cocoa plants are not native to Europe, though, and Italian chocolatiers relied on imports of cocoa beans from South America. British traders were the major link between America and Europe, ensuring a constant flow of chocolate across the Atlantic ocean. …


Elisa longed for adventure, Maria gave her a gruesome death

Two women sit at a Parisian café tablein the 1920s
Au Café — Solita Solano and Djuna Barnes (1922). Photo by Maurice Brange. Edited by author

“Thirty-year-old lady looking for a female travel companion.”

When Elisa Merclin reads this short advertisement in May 1930, she thinks: this is the chance of a lifetime.

She replies as fast as she can and soon finds herself sitting for a job interview with Maria Bonvecchiato, the woman who put the ad in the paper.
And Elisa is pleasantly surprised: Maria is not the frail old lady in knitted gloves she expected to be looking for a paid companion.

As it turns out, Maria is one year younger than Elisa: she tells her she is a very wealthy young widow who has recently decided to take a tour around the world. She is tired of living with her mother and sister and wants to visit the most beautiful cities in Europe: she doesn’t want to travel alone, though, and she needs a trusted employee to go with her. …


I make people die by writing their names on a book. No, really, that’s my job.

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I do like dramatic poses, don’t I?

Now, let me preface this by saying that I never physically killed anyone — which, I know, is not a suspicious thing to say at all.
I also do not own a demonic notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in its pages — which is exactly what somebody owning a demonic notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in its pages would say, now that I think of it.

But I digress, as I always do.

What I mean is that I register people’s deaths. And births. And also marriages, divorces, citizenships and also a lot of other stuff I won't bore you with. People are not legally dead (or alive, or married, or adopted) until I write it down, and I guess that’s a kinda cool job to have. …


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By Johannes Munz — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76959381

Being unmarried can be taxing — and I don’t mean emotionally

Is there a right age to get married or to begin a long-term relationship?
Today, the answer might be something along the line of when you feel ready, or when you are mentally and emotionally prepared for the commitment, or even there is no such thing as a ‘right age’.

In the past, it would have been more like “why aren’t you married already?”

For most of history, being single has been frowned upon — and I don’t mean the way your mother keeps asking when you’re finally going to settle down and give her a couple of grandchildren.

With few exceptions Jews, Christians and Muslims, as well as most native African and Native American religious traditions, strongly opposed celibacy: the general rule was that everybody had to get married — and preferably ASAP. …


When a rich, trusting lady and a greedy rascal meet, murder is the outcome

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Picture scanned from 1936 “The Fifty Most Amazing Crimes Of The Last 100 Years”

Harriet Staunton, (née Richardson), was not a very pretty woman. At 35 years old she was large and ungainly, with droopy black eyes and a coarse complexion. In contrast to her dull appearance — or maybe because of it — Harriet liked brightly-colored clothes and large, extravagant jewelry.

She was also, as her mother put it, ‘simple-minded’: despite her parents’ best efforts (they spent a lot of time and quite a lot of money to give her an education), Harriet could barely read and write.

Her mother, Mrs. Butterfield, loved Harriet dearly and always made sure she was healthy, clean, and tidy: she also arranged for her to often visit relatives and go shopping, to keep her busy and entertained. …


Whatever happened to Bella Wright?

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Image by author (from a photo by Stephen Kraakmo on Unsplash)

Bella’s Final Hours

In Italian, ‘Bella’ means beautiful. And twenty-one-year-old Bella Wright was a remarkably beautiful girl.

The eldest of seven children born to illiterate farmers, she lived in a quaint thatched cottage near Leicester and worked in a rubber factory; she was a quiet, reserved girl who used to keep to herself, but her good looks still attracted plenty of attention from the opposite sex.

A long list of male admirers was drooling all over her and she was unofficially engaged to Archie Ward, a young sailor stationed at Portsmouth. …


Silvia Da Pont was kept under sedation for 44 days and starved to death

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Silvia Da Pont (image by author)

It’s the morning of September 7, 1951, and Silvia Da Pont puts a bottle of fresh milk she just purchased from the milkman on the kitchen table. She then goes back upstairs to her room to put her black apron on: she works as a maid for the Nimmos, a wealthy family, and during workdays, she is always properly dressed in her tidy maid uniform.

But she never comes back down to prepare breakfast. After some time her employer, Adele Nimmo, goes to look for her in her room: the children are hungry and Mr. …


She married in July — she was dead by November

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Instant marriage.

Some people believe in love at first sight: when you meet the right person, they say, you know it right away.

That might be what happened in a café in Turin, Italy, on May 15, 1938, when charming Italian diplomat Ettore Grande met 25-year-old socialite Vincenzina ‘Nina’ Virando.

Less than two months later Ettore and Nina were married (talk about a quick engagement!) and on August 2 of the same year, the newlyweds boarded the transatlantic Conte Rosso.

Destination: Bangkok.

Theirs wasn’t exactly a chance meeting, though. …

About

Giulia Montanari

Thirty-something public registrar in Italy. Not the glamorous part of Italy, though. Top writer in History

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