Day 20: Severed Head, Walking Corpse - Atlas Obscura
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Day 20: Severed Head, Walking Corpse

31 Days of Halloween: On Atlas Obscura this month, every day is Halloween. Stop by the blog every day this month for true tales of the unquiet dead. Come for the severed heads, stay for the book bound in human skin. Every story is true, and each one is a real place you can visit. We dare you. 

Stortebeker

There are many stories of severed heads surviving for minutes after an execution, but only one headless body that stood up and took a stroll - on this very day 610 years ago.

When the feared pirate Klaus Stortebeker faced his executioners in Hamburg, Germany, he struck a strange last minute deal: If, after his beheading, his headless body could walk, however many of his 70 captive men he made it past would be freed. It was agreed, and then he was executed.

Then, according to legend, his corpse got up and walked past eleven of his men, before the executioner tripped him. Deal or no deal, all of the pirates were murdered that day, their skulls impaled and displayed as a waring to others.

In 1898 the mass grave of the pirates was unearthed during construction, and the skull believed to be that of Stortebeker was donated to the Hamburg Museum where it has been on display since 1922. Last year the famous skull went missing, stolen from its display cabinet. After a desperate search and many false leads, the skull was finally discovered and returned earlier this year.

 

DEAD MAN WALKING

IMPALED SKULL OF KLAUS STORTEBEKER, Hamburg, Germany