The Boring Deaths of Extraordinary People, from Belle Boyd the Civil War Spy to Casanova

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Thu, September 27th, 2012

Edwin Wilson, a CIA operative turned illegal arms dealer lived a life like something out of a James Bond movie. And yet, he recently died a very uncinematic death.

Giacomo Casanova, who lived during the 18th century, was one of the world’s most notorious lovers. He died a lonely death in a castle in Bohemia.

In Seattle, broke and living with his brother, at the sleepy age of 84. Wilson is not alone, many of the world’s most maverick men and women die rather boring deaths. Below are some of the more illustrious examples…

John Fairfax, the pirate who became a record-setting transoceanic rower – Fairfax was the first person to cross the Atlantic alone in a rowboat and later rowed across the Pacific, with his girlfriend Sylvia. During the yearlong ordeal, Fairfax was bitten on the arm by a shark and the pair became lost in a cyclone and were presumed dead. His wild ways began as a 9 year old in the Italian Boy Scouts. Fairfax got in a fight with another lad then stole the scoutmaster’s pistol and shot up the campsite. At 13, he ran away to the Amazon, learning from locals how to live as a trapper. At 20, heartsick over a lost love, he attempted suicide by jaguar. The plan was to sit in the jungle and let the beast rip him to pieces, but at the last second Fairfax had doubts and shot it.

Other Great Reads: Weird deaths caused by animals, including the monkey that killed 250,000 people

In Panama, Fairfax met a pirate and spent three years traveling the world, smuggling guns, liquor and cigarettes. He washed up in London in the 1960s where he rekindled a childhood dream of rowing alone across the Atlantic. His golden years were the least shimmering of all. Fairfax lived just outside Las Vegas and spent his days playing Baccarat. Last February, at the age of 74, he died of a heart attack. “Mr. Fairfax was among the last avatars of a centuries-old figure,” read a colorful New York Times obituary. “The lone-wolf explorer, whose exploits are conceived to satisfy few but himself.”

Belle Boyd, Civil War spy for the Confederates Boyd was born in 1844 and grew up in Virginia. When she was 17, a group of Union soldiers broke into her parent’s home intent on raising the US flag. One insulted Boyd’s mother, so she pulled out a pistol and shot him. For this she was placed under surveillance and a Union soldier guarded her at all times. Boyd used the opportunity to gather intel which she passed to Confederate generals through her slave. At one point, Boyd rode through a hail of bullets to deliver a message herself to Confederate generals involving an important campaign at Front Royal. For her bravery she was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor. In July of 1862, she was arrested after a lover gave her up. She spent a month in the Old Capitol Prison, in Washington D.C. Boyd managed to survive the war alive but afterward her life quieted down. She toured the country giving talks about her time as a Civil War spy. Boyd died at the age of 56, while on a speaking tour in Wisconsin.

Other Great Reads: The Civil War and the history of the funeral industry

Giacomo Casanova, the world’s most notorious loverCasanova was born in Venice in 1725 and lived a life embroiled in scandals that stretched from Spain to St. Petersburg. At age 11, he had his first sexual encounter, with the sister of a local priest. He entered the seminary but got thrown out for his sexual escapades. He became a soldier but found the duty boring and lost most of his money playing cards. He tried his hand at violin but spent most of his time with a ragged gang of musicians roaming the city at night playing practical jokes on people. One went too far. Casanova dug up a freshly buried corpse and delivered it to an enemy, the man went into paralysis. Casanova was forced to flee Venice and spent the next several years carousing around Europe. He returned at the age of 30 but his escapades had gained him notice of the inquisitors. He was arrested and put in a seven-story “inescapable” prison called The Leads. Using a piece of black marble and an iron bar he found on his exercise walks Casanova and a renegade priest escaped onto the roof then lowered themselves to the building below with a ladder made of bed sheets. They changed clothes and exited through the front door, convincing guards they had accidentally gotten locked in the palace after an official function.

Casanova fled to France, where he earned a large fortune helping to set up a national lottery. He lost it all after he opened a silk factory then ran the business into the ground, spending all his money on affairs with female workers. Eventually, he washed up in Bohemia, where he worked as the librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein. The job was boring but the pay was good and no one else would have him. In June 1798, at the age of 73, one of the greatest lovers the world has ever known died. His name is now synonymous with amorous adventure.

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