The Darwin Awards

1993 Darwin Awards

Next Prev Random Honoring Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool--by removing themselves from it.

Gunpowder-Guy Fawkes
1605 Darwin Award Winner

(5 November 1605, England) In the early hours of a wintry London night, authorities discovered Guy Fawkes sitting by a pile of gunpowder in the cellar of the Houses of Parliament. King James I was scheduled to attend Parliament when it convened later that day, and he was not pleased by this demonstration of disrespect by his subjects.

A manhunt was started for Fawkes' fellow conspirators, 14 people in all led by Brian Caton.

A few days later the plotters were brought to earth in a house in Buxton and a gunfight ensued. Unfortunately there was a driving rain and the gunpowder of the cornered men was too wet to fire properly. So they spread the gunpowder on the floor in front of the fire to dry. Guess what happened when a burning ember spat out from the fire and landed on the drying powder?

Needless to say, the survivors of the explosion and the incoming gunfire were captured, and hanged and beheaded for treason.

As an interesting sidelight, gunpowder those days had a limited use-by date. The pile that had been accumulated and secreted in the cellar had probably deteriorated too much to ignite even if Fawkes had managed to remain undetected until King James' appearance. We can only assume he had prepared a long enough fuse to ensure his safe withdrawal. Otherwise he would have joined the ranks of the suicide bombers, who win the very first Darwin Award -- before Charles Darwin was even born!

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Submitted by: Ken Robilliard

D. Prescott has over 30 years' experience in the munitions business. "The reason gunpowder has a 'shelf-life' is not because it becomes insensitive, but rather too sensitive. Old gunpowder would surely have ignited, though not necessarily at the most opportune time."

James G Mathe says, "Gunpowder burns when not contained -- not explode. The gunpowder on the floor would have ignited rapidly and created a fire that was not difficult to extinguish. This looks like an Urban Legend to me!"

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