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Guess Who’s Going to Be Dinner?

The following is a list from the book Uncle John's Bathroom Reader History's Lists.

Be careful about dinner invitations from people you don’t know well- you might find yourself on the menu.


Some people believe that the brawling, scrapping Alexander “Sawney” Beanes was just a fictional legend, but many more contend that the Scottish character was a real guy. The story goes like this: Beane grew up in the town of East Lothian, in eastern Scotland, in the 15th century. Villagers considered him lazy and a liar, so they ran him (and his wife, who’s described a having similar character traits) out of town. Taking shelter in a deep cave along the Scottish shore, the Beanes turned to a life of crime, attacking travelers and anyone who got close to their home.

But pretty soon, everybody had heard stories about Sawney and the missus, so as time went on, it got harder to hide the evidence of their crimes. Plus, times were tough, and famine was a common problem. That’s when the Beanes started to eat their victims (or smoke their flesh to be preserved for later). over the years, the couple prospered and had at least 14 children, who, in turn, grew up to have more children. Eventually, they were all caught by King James’ men, but legend says that before that happened, the Beane family killed and ate about 1,000 people.


When Spanish conquistadors first marched across Mexico in the 16th century, they were surprised to find the Aztecs, but they were even more shocked by what they Aztec people were doing. For years, the Aztec nation had been sacrificing humans as part of their religious ceremonies. Much has been written about Aztec religious sacrifices: soldiers, slaves, and captors stoically went to grisly and bloody deaths in which their hearts were removed as offerings to the gods. What’s not mentioned is that the other parts of the victims were passed out to high-ranking citizens to be eaten. Historians estimate that in one year alone (1486-87), more than 20,000 people were sacrificed and consumed.


While on a mission to collect butterflies for the Harvard Museum of Natural History in 1900, German butterfly collector Carl von Hagen was captured in Pupua New Guinea. While the exquisite specimens are still on display in the museum, von Hagen didn’t make it home. It seems he was captured and eaten by cannibals.


In April 1846, a group of 31 pioneers left Springfield, Illinois. Their destination: Sutter’s Fort in California, more than 2,500 miles away. As they traveled, the group grew to include 87 people, among them a pair of brothers -George and Jacob Donner- and their wives and children. They were led by George and businessman named James Reed, who had read about a new way through the Sierra Nevadas that could save 300 or 400 miles. Despite the fact that Reed had been warned about how rugged and untamed the passage was, he and the group decided to head that way anyway. Bad decision.

In October, the group separated -the Donner family fell behind, and the Reeds continued on with most of the party. But then came the snow, which wasn’t expected until mid-November. As blizzard after blizzard thwarted the groups, people were stranded in different places in the high mountains. The Reed group built shelters, but the Donner party had nothing but a makeshift camp of blankets, furs, and wagon coverings. First they used up their food rations and then began to eat their oxen. When that ran out, the freezing travelers began to starve. When some of them died, the first survivors broached the idea of cannibalism. They dismissed it… at first.

Unable to stand the hunger, several members of the Donner group began to eat the people who’d perished. (The Reeds probably also cannibalized their fallen brethren, though they always denied it.) But even that proved to be little help as the weeks turned into months and they remained stuck in the snow.

Rescue finally arrived in February 1847, but the initial rescue party was just a few men who were able to carry little food. So even as they started leading people out of the mountains, those who remained continued to starve. Finally in April, the last of the stranded travelers was rescued. Of the original 87 people, a surprising 46 of them survived.


Alferd Packer could tell a tall tale better than anyone, so it's no surprise that he was able to convince 20 men that he knew the hills around Breckenridge, Colorado, well (he may or may not have). The group left for the Colorado Territory in early November 1873 on a search for gold.

By late January, the group was bedraggled, hungry, and stumbling through heavy snow when the chief of the Ute took pity on them and told the would-be miners that they could stay with his people until the snow melted. Five of the miners were determined to strike it rich, though, and waved some money at Packer, who set off with them to Breckenridge in early February, carrying 10-day supply of food.

Two months later, Alferd Packer arrived at the Los Pinos Indian Reservation in Colorado and told a story of being abandoned by his companions. He said they had left him, hungry and frightened. But the men who had remained with the Ute were suspicious of Packer’s obviously nourished physique and reported him to authorities. In May 1874, Packer admitted he’d actually been with the five men until their end- after being stranded in the snowy wilderness, they’d all died one by one of disease, starvation, accidents, and in one case, self-defense. And as they did, he’d eaten pieces of the miners and had even carried some of their flesh around for weeks to stave off starvation. No one knew what to make of the story.

Then in August 1874, the bodies of the five miners were found… laid out together at the campsite in the mountains. It appeared that they’d all been killed (one even showed defensive wounds as though he’d fought back). Packer was eventually convicted of murder and sent to prison.


Irish pickpocket Alexander Pearce should have just left well enough alone. After receiving 150 lashes for various infractions -including drunk and disorderly conduct, and theft- he went back to a life of crime and, in 1822, was sent to Macquarie Harbor, a harsh penal colony in Tasmania.

Within months, Pearce and a few of his fellow prisoners escaped. Tasmania was mostly uninhabited, though, so the men had nowhere to go -they hid in the mountains until starvation forced them to prey on one another. Pearce didn’t commit the first murder, but he didn’t refuse to partake in the grisly meal, either. And he had no aversion to killing the next victim for the table.

Later, after being caught for stealing sheep, Pearce was sent to Macquarie Harbor again. Soon, he escaped again with another fellow inmate… who he subsequently killed and ate. Finally, in 1824, Pearce was hanged for his cumulative crimes.


In late October 1765, the sloop Peggy was in trouble. Rough weather and heavy seas had battered the little ship and its sails were badly ripped. Discouraged, hungry, and frightened, the crew seized the cargo (brandy and wine) and proceeded to get drunk. The situation got worse when the captain of another ship stopped to check on the Peggy’s crew, promised them a few crusts of bread, and then sailed away before actually giving them any food.

After the crew had eaten everything they could -including leather, candles, two birds, buttons, and a cat- they were desperate. They killed and consumed a slave, and then the men drew straws but were unable to sacrifice the friend who lost the draw, apparently because he was well liked. Fortunately, the morning after the aborted kill, the crew was saved by a passing ship, but the man who narrowly missed being dinner had already gone mad from the torturous anticipation of becoming a meal. Bon appetit!


The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader History's Lists. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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