Combining explicit drawings and lewd poetry, “The Ways” was the first mass-produced book of pornography

You’re moving into a new home, so you hire the skilled artist who decorated your current house to decorate your new home. For whatever reason, you fall behind paying him. Explicit drawings of 16 positions for sexual intercourse are on your walls when you go to see his work.

That’s reportedly the situation Pope Clement VII found in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace in 1524. But the Vatican drawings would end up in a bestselling pornographic book.

Several years before, Pope Julius II had hired Raphael, the master artist, to redecorate four rooms intended as papal apartments. The project outlasted both…


Physical and mental infirmities from decades of inbreeding plagued Charles II

The House of Habsburg was a royal powerhouse. Members of the family sat on the thrones of Europe from 1273 until the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. The Habsburgs adopted a unique approach for maintaining and expanding their power. They followed a policy of marrying into other dynasties. While family members held power in various countries, two main branches emerged: the Austrian and the Spanish.

Although an effective political device, the repeated intermarriage caused inbreeding. It was so extreme, two Spanish geneticists referred to the Habsburgs as an “inbreeding laboratory.” Charles (Carlos) II of Spain is the poster…


“The Archko Volume” still sells although proved fake more than 120 years ago

Between 1879 and 1896, the Rev. William D. Mahan, a minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, issued three editions of previously unknown contemporary accounts of Jesus Christ’s life. There’s virtually unanimous agreement that his work is a fraud, and Mahan’s church suspended him for falsehood and plagiarism. Yet the last version, The Archko Volume, is sold today to readers who praise its historical documents and their importance.

Mahan’s issued the first work, a 32-page pamphlet called “A Correct Transcript of Pilate’s Court,” in 1879. Its origin story is unusual. Mahan said he met Henry Whydaman, a German, in Missouri in…


For nearly 50 years I’ve listened to the original Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack annually

I’ve been an avowed atheist for decades. I’ve always found the Bible and the story of Jesus incredible in the true sense of the word — not credible. Perhaps that accounts for some of the “D” grades I got in “Conduct” in Catholic school. But I have a confession to make, pun intended. Every year around Easter, I listen to Jesus Christ Superstar and relish it.

Although, or perhaps because, I’m an atheist, I’ve long been fascinated with Christianity’s history. How could the world’s largest religion and so much of our history arise from the story of a man who…


No one knows how many people Dr. Marcel Petiot murdered

Gay Paree didn’t exist while German forces occupied Paris in World War II. The “City of Light” had blackout requirements, a 9 p.m. curfew, and shortages of food, clothing, and tobacco. Amidst this, a man who would be called “Dr. Satan” preyed upon those desperate to escape. No one knows how many people Dr. Marcel Petiot murdered. A jury convicted him of 26 killings, he admitted to 63 he said were justified, and a leading forensic scientist estimated 150.

Petiot’s questionable behavior long predated the occupation that made him infamous. When arrested for stealing mail as a teenager, a psychiatrist…


Did Vatican-funded scientific team watch and record Christ’s last days?

It had to be true. After all, it was there in black and white in La Domenica del Corriere (“Courier Sunday”), a long-established weekly news magazine: “Invented: a machine that photographs the past.” Not only was there a diagram of the machine but a photograph of an ancient event — the face of Jesus Christ during his crucifixion. Moreover, the story came from an Italian Benedictine monk who said he was part of a Vatican-funded team that invented the “Chronovisor.”

Father Pellegrino Ernetti was a noted musicologist who also studied physics. Ernetti worked on an audio project involving Gregorian chants…


World War II blackout facilitated murders and assaults

More than seven million Germans died in World War II, so the deaths of eight women in Berlin seem minuscule. They weren’t war casualties, though. They were victims of a serial killer who used his position and wartime conditions to appease his deviant obsessions.

In 1931, 18-year-old Paul Ogorzow joined the Nazi Party. The following year he joined the Nazi’s original paramilitary wing, the Sturmabteilung, more commonly known as the “SA” or “Brownshirts.” He eventually became a senior squad leader, the equivalent of a non-commissioned officer. …


Contactee found never to have existed more than 30 years later

Kenneth Arnold could never have imagined the consequences when he reported seeing nine shiny objects flying rapidly past Mount Rainier on June 24, 1947. He told reporters the next day that they flew “like a saucer if you skip it across the water.” The “flying saucer” age was underway, ceaselessly barreling ahead to this day.

UFO (unidentified flying object) sightings were so numerous that by February 1955, TIME magazine would remark, “Simply sighting flying saucers is out of date — the big spin now is to spot them landing and to hobnob with their interplanetary passengers.” The comment came in…


Pál Teleki advocated anti-Jewish laws but refused Hitler’s demand to break a treaty

Politicians often hope to guide events. This may lead them onto dangerous realpolitik tightropes or to take actions later seen as indefensible. Such is the case with Count Pál Teleki, twice prime minister of Hungary, who remains a controversial figure 70 years after his death.

Brought up in a Transylvanian aristocratic family, Teleki became a world-renowned geographer. He was behind the so-called “Red Map,” an ethnographic map of Hungary aimed at maintaining the country’s borders in the peace negotiations following the First World War. …


Doctor sold deathbed information and photos to the press and the embalming method caused the Pope’s body to decay publicly

Some 60 years after his death, controversy still surrounds the quiescence of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust. Memories of a controversy over the actions of his personal physician when the pope died have faded. Yet, it too, is a ghastly tale.

Born Eugenio Pacelli in Rome in 1876, Pius XII held several Vatican diplomatic positions before becoming pope in March 1939. While serving as the Holy See’s Secretary of State in the 1930s, Pacelli suffered eye-related problems. Dr. Riccardo Galeazzi-Lisi, a Rome ophthalmologist, solved them. Even though the doctor had limited training as an internist, the newly elected pope…

Tim Gebhart

Retired Lawyer. Book Addict. History Buff. Lifelong South Dakotan. Blog: prairieprogressive.com

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