Archive for May, 2010

Running Trains On One Rail

From May 29, 1910



Aw, it’s not for you. It’s more of a Shelbyville idea.

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Written by David

May 28th, 2010 at 9:05 am

How To Kill Germs With Violet Rays

From May 29, 1910


HOW TO KILL GERMS WITH VIOLET RAYS: Dr. Frederick G. Keyes Tells of the Important Results of Experiments With Milk Made in the Laboratory of Brown University (PDF)

This article is about removing germs from milk using ultraviolet radiation. That doesn’t sound very exciting on the face of it. Since I couldn’t decide whether or not milk germ eradication is a topic worth posting about, I did a little investigating. When I eventually found myself browsing through a 1917 book called City Milk Supply I decided that I didn’t want all my research going to waste. So here you have this fascinating post about milk, germs, and radiation.

In a nutshell, the main scientist in this article says:

“The pasteurization of milk has been followed by great improvement in conditions, but there is objection to the Pasteur treatment method, because it is claimed that the taste of the milk is changed. The effect of the ultra-violet rays on milk is different, and although it kills all the harmful germs the taste of the milk is not changed.

“So far as I have been able to determine the only noticeable change is that the milk in its new method loses its animate or ‘cowy’ odor, something that will not, in my opinion, cause people to object.”

But this other scientist says:

“It will destroy the micro-organisms without doubt. That has been positively proved. But what chemical changes would take place in the milk we have not yet entirely determined. This is to be found out only by lengthy experiments. There may be such a change brought about by the using of the violet rays that the milk would not be suitable for use. It might develop a disagreeable smell or taste, which would render it impossible to use. These are matters yet to be determined.”

And seven years later, here’s what the book City Milk Supply had to say on page 308 after further research:

When milk was exposed under conditions suitable for a satisfactory reduction of the bacteria by the ultraviolet rays there was also produced an abnormal disagreeable flavor that would render the milk unsaleable… On a commercial scale it would be difficult to control the factors which influence the bactericidal action of the rays and moreover the disagreeable flavor imparted to the milk renders the process impracticable.

So there you go.


Written by David

May 28th, 2010 at 9:04 am

Posted in Science

Peripatetic Philosophers Of This Many-Sided Town

From May 29, 1910


PERIPATETIC PHILOSOPHERS OF THIS MANY SIDED TOWN: Neighborhoods Where the Curbstone Lecturer Holds Sway and an Ancient Athenian Would Feel at Home in a Moment (PDF)

We don’t have streetcorner conversations like this in modern New York. Every now and then someone holds court on the street, but it’s usually to talk about Jesus. Blogs and Twitter seem to fill that niche today. But I like the notion that you could discuss different topics in different parts of town with whomever the local streetcorner philosopher was.

Oh, and to save you the trouble in case you didn’t know either:

per•i•pa•tet•ic |ˌperipəˈtetik| adjective.
1 traveling from place to place, esp. working or based in various places for relatively short periods : the peripatetic nature of military life.
2 ( Peripatetic) Aristotelian. [ORIGIN: with reference to Aristotle’s practice of walking to and fro while teaching.]

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Written by David

May 28th, 2010 at 9:03 am

Posted in Life

Is The Modern Woman More Beautiful Than The Girl Of Ages Ago?

From May 29, 1910



The headline doesn’t reveal that the question has been posed to just two people for this article: the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (whose sculpture The Thinker is still famous today) and the American sculptor Gutzon Borglum (whose much larger work at Mount Rushmore wouldn’t begin for another 15 years). They discuss modern, historical, and ethnic beauty from an artist’s perspective, including how a woman’s beauty changes as she gets older.

Here is part of what Rodin had to say:

“I would not say that a woman is like a landscape that the sun’s inclination changes ceaselessly; but the comparison is correct. Real youth with our models lasts scarcely more than six months. When the girl becomes a woman it is another sort of beauty, still admirable but nevertheless less pure.”

And part of Borglum’s retort:

“I do not see exactly what Rodin means,” he said, “when he talks about the beauty of the woman being less pure than that of the girl. Of course he cannot mean that a mother is any less pure than a young girl, and if he is talking about it from an aesthetic point of view the question arises, ‘What is beauty, anyway?’

“Nobody can pass on that. it is exactly as he says — in the eyes of the beholder. You see a landscape. I ask you if you like it. You say ‘Not much, it is too dull and gray.’ Then I paint it and you rave over it. The beauty was always there, but it needed my interpretation to make you see it. That is what being an artist means, seeing things that the general run of people cannot see, and interpreting for them. So it is out of the question for any of us to say that a woman is more beautiful at one time than at another. It all depends on the interpretation.”

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Written by David

May 28th, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Art,Life

One Family Homes To Solve New York’s Congestion

From May 29, 1910


ONE FAMILY HOMES TO SOLVE NEW YORK’S CONGESTION: Committee Seeking to Relieve Overcrowding Lays Plans Against Estimated Population of 19,000,000 in 1950 — Individual Homes the Keynote (PDF)

The article begins with the proclamation that “a prominent engineer and statistician recently estimated that by the year 1950 New York City’s population would exceed 19,000,000!”

It goes on to explain that businesses will displace residences in Manhattan, which will see a population decrease, but Queens and Brooklyn will blow up to 6,000,000 and 7,000,000 residents respectively. “How closely these figures will come to being correct only time will show, but the indications are that the estimate will not prove wild.”

Well, let’s see what time does show.

According to historic census data, the population of New York City in 1910 when this article was written was 4,766,883. Approximately half those people lived in Manhattan.

In 1950, the population of New York City was not 19 million, but 7,891,957. So that estimate was way off. But the projection that other boroughs would gain more residents than Manhattan was correct. In 1950, Brooklyn had almost a million more residents than Manhattan. And both Queens and The Bronx were quickly catching up.

Today, both Brooklyn and Queens have higher populations than Manhattan. The Bronx is not far behind. But the city’s entire population is still nowhere near 19 million. Growth has slowed down considerably, and in 2008 there were 8,363,710 people living in New York City.


Written by David

May 28th, 2010 at 9:01 am

Posted in Development

Torpedo Airship Controlled By Wireless Is The Latest Invention

From May 22, 1910


TORPEDO AIRSHIP CONTROLLED BY WIRELESS IS THE LATEST INVENTION: Thomas R. Phillips, Who Made It, Claims to Control a Dirigible Balloon Loaded with Bombs Without Leaving His Office. (PDF)

Today the military uses Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles to remotely bomb foreign targets. This must be the UCAV’s great grandfather.

“I can,” says Mr. Phillips, “sit in an armchair in London and make my airship drop a bunch of flowers into a friend’s garden in Manchester or Paris or Berlin.”

But it is not for the dropping of flowers that he intends his invention. It is for the dropping of dynamite bombs.

[At the London Hippodrome, Phillips demonstrated with] a twenty-foot model of a Zeppelin dirigible. In itself the thing looked harmless enough… It looked like a toy balloon at the mercy of any gust of wind — purposeless, slow, and unwieldy.

And then suddenly — Cr-r-rack! Mr. Raymond Phillips had touched a lever, and the airship sprang into life. Nothing had touched it — nothing, that is, that could be seen by the eye of any human being — and yet at that touch and at the sound of the compelling “Cr-r-rack!” the airship model awoke and became a purposeful thing.

“Crack, crack!” again and again. Running his fingers from one key to another he stopped it dead, turned it about, made it rise and fall, made it turn figures of eight in the air, and finally stopped it again, motionless in the air, forty feet above the orchestra stalls.

“Now,” said he, “just imagine that row of seats is a row of houses, and that instead of a model, with paper toys in its hold, I am controlling a full-sized airship carrying a cargo of dynamite bombs. Watch!”

He pressed another key. There was a faint click from the framework of the airship, and the bottom of the box that hung amidships fell like a trapdoor, releasing not bombs, but a flight of paper birds that fluttered gracefully down on the seats beneath.

The whole article is very interesting. But for the life of me I cannot figure out what any of it has to do with that woman in the middle photo who has antennae attached to her back. It’s hard to see, but I think the caption says “A Dress Lighted by Wireless.” I have no idea.

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Written by David

May 21st, 2010 at 9:03 am

Jewelry Stores Are Magnets For Thieves

From May 22, 1910


JEWELRY STORES ARE MAGNETS FOR THIEVES: Ruses Resorted to by Various Kinds of Crooks to Steal Precious Stones and Other Valuables and Escape Arrest (PDF)

This article describes the categories of criminals who steal from jewelry stores. Employees who steal are obviously called “inside” thieves. Then you have “kleptos,” which are customers who steal for no apparent reason (kleptos are sometimes even long-time customers who certainly have the means to buy what they take). And then there are the professional thieves, the “sneaks”:

The “sneaks” generally travel in a party of three or more, enter a store as strangers to one another, and by a pre-arranged plan succeed in getting as many of the clerks as possible engaged in conversation at some point furthest away from where the diamonds and other valuable articles are located. Then the light-footed and deft-fingered member gets into action, makes connection with the wallet, tray of diamond rings, or the safe — frequently left unlocked during the day — secures the booty, and is off like a shot.

As a rule “sneaks” are well dressed — many of them them are so well groomed that they might be in a respectable line of business, and some even appear to the manner born. Therefore it behooves every jeweler to be on the qui vive.”

Read the article to learn about “pennyweighters,” and “yeggmen,” and scams like the half-eaten apple scheme (“an old one, but even now worked successfully in the smaller cities and towns”).

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Written by David

May 21st, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in True Crime

Circus Clown A Serious Person Out Of The Ring

From May 15, 1910


CIRCUS CLOWN A SERIOUS PERSON OUT OF THE RING: Yet People Refuse to Believe He Is Anything But a Buffoon Even in His Private Life (PDF)

The same week the Magazine published a boring article about what the Supreme Court Justices are really like out of the courtroom, it made up for it with this awesome article about what circus clowns are really like out of the ring. The highlight is this interview with a then-famous clown named Slivers:

“It’s funny,” said Slivers, his eyes resting thoughtfully on his circus feet: “it’s funny how people can’t understand that we clowns are fellow-human animals with just about the same outfit of feelings that the rest of ’em have. I suppose it’s because people have become so accustomed to seeing the clown always getting the worst end of it in the circus ring that they’ve come to think that he’s built to stand the same kind of a hand-out all along the line.

“Do you see that?” asked Slivers, pointing to a long white scar just below his right eyebrow.

“Now, you’d never guess how I picked that up. It’s a little souvenir of my last appearance in Chicago. I was just entering the ring when a young hopeful out with his dad for an afternoon’s amusement shied an old can at me. The ragged edges of the tin caught me. As I mopped the blood out of my eye I was comforted by this conversation:

“‘Say, Pa, did you see me hit that clown?’

“‘Yes, son.’

“‘It was a corking shot, wasn’t it, Pa?’

“‘It was, my son.’

“I couldn’t miss my cue to get busy in the ring. Otherwise that young hopeful’s trousers would have needed patching.”

The article is funny, quaint, and sad. But the story of Slivers the Clown was about to turn creepy and tragic.

Three years after this article (in 1913), Slivers — a.k.a. Frank Oakley — played a vaudeville show in Utica on the same bill as a pretty blonde 16 year old girl named Viola Stoll. Viola was sad one day because she lost her job, so Slivers, in his mid-40s, offered her a ticket to New York where she could get back on her feet. There they became friends and eventually she moved in with him.

At some point Viola got sick of living with an older man and ran away, taking some expensive jewelry with her that had belonged to Slivers’ deceased ex-wife (she later said she thought the jewelry was a gift). The police tracked her down, arrested her, and she was sentenced to three years in a reformatory.

Two and a half years later, Slivers happened to run into Viola’s mother in Chicago, and found out that Viola is doing much better now. So Slivers’ thoughts oddly turned to marriage. If Viola were to marry him, she would be let out of her sentence early, so why on Earth would she say no? He went to the reformatory, and told the superintendent Mrs. Moore that he wanted to marry Viola.

But, as the New York Times reported later:

Viola Stoll had come to look at things in a new light. She had had enough of the stage, she said; she wanted some quiet place to settle down. She was looking for a home, and partnership with a traveling clown didn’t appeal to her. Moreover, she had forgotten the man who had paid her railroad fare to New York when she was stranded in Utica, and remembered only the man thirty years older than herself who had taken her into an irregular household, and had finally accused her of stealing jewels that she had regarded as a gift. So she said she wouldn’t marry [him] under any circumstances; that she would serve her term, and she begged Mrs. Moore not to let the clown know of her whereabouts after she left the reformatory.

Mrs. Moore sent the message to Slivers, but before the letter arrived, Slivers the Clown had already committed suicide. Presumably, Viola’s rejection had reached him another way.

You can read the 1916 Times article about Slivers’ death here (pdf). And a much more detailed account can be found at comedy-film historian Anthony Balducci’s blog. There you can read the details that make the story even stranger, like the fact that Slivers’ comedy partner Marceline also committed suicide. I think it’s the only known clown team double suicide.


Written by David

May 14th, 2010 at 9:13 am

Being Fat Is Like Having Money In The Bank

From May 15, 1910


BEING FAT IS LIKE HAVING MONEY IN THE BANK: At Last a Physician Rises Up and Seriously Defends Surplus Flesh; Which Should Comfort Thousands (PDF)

In 1910, thin was already in for both health and fashion. But Dr. George Niles has some really practical reasons why it might be good to be fat:

Suppose a ship went down in midocean and a few of the passengers and crew got off on a raft. Suppose on one of the rafters was a man of about 40 per cent fatty matter — the kind that has not seen his shoelaces for ever and ever so long — according to Niles’s theory he would outlive the whole crew, granting of course (which the doctor does not) that the raft does not ground on a cannibal island or the crew draw lots with stacked chips…

Dr. Niles explains it thus: “Fat is like a housewife who, though not apparently earning anything, by her care and industry conserves the fruits of her husband’s labor, enabling him not only to support the domestic establishment, but also lay aside a surplus.”

Furthermore, the doctor “also asserts in so many words that to be fat is to be genial in disposition and optimistic in temperament, while to be thin is to be restless, pessimistic, uncontented and temperamentally dissatisfied with life in general.” Therefore, he adds, “grow fat and rejoice in your fatness.”

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Written by David

May 14th, 2010 at 9:10 am

Posted in Life,Nature,Science

The Subway Crush Causes Mental Strain

From May 15, 1910



This could just as easily have been written today.

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Written by David

May 14th, 2010 at 9:07 am

Posted in Life

Members Of The Supreme Court As Human Beings

From May 15, 1910


MEMBERS OF THE SUPREME COURT AS HUMAN BEINGS: When Not on the Bench They Are Pretty Much Like Other People — Characteristic Stores About Them (PDF)

This week President Obama announced Elena Kagan as his nominee to the Supreme Court when Justice Stevens retires at the end of this term. So it’s somewhat relevant that 100 years ago this week, the New York Times Magazine ran a profile of the then-current Supreme Court Justices. The angle: Justices of the Supreme Court are just like other people. That is to say, they are not especially interesting.

I have no idea what the general public thought of the Supreme Court in 1910, but I can’t imagine they put the Justices on such a high pedestal that this came as great news to them.

Justice Harlan enjoyed golf and Kentucky history. Justice Holmes could talk vigorously about things that interest him. Justice Moody didn’t get seasick. Justice Day enjoyed basketball. That sort of thing. While I don’t find the content of this article especially interesting, I do find its very existence interesting.

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Written by David

May 14th, 2010 at 9:04 am

Posted in Life,Politics

Edison Plans An Automatic Clerkless Shop

From May 15, 1910


EDISON PLANS AN AUTOMATIC CLERKLESS SHOP: There Will Be No Waiting for Change, No Impolite Helpers, No Counters, but Customers Will Get What They Want on the Slot Machine Plan (PDF)

When I first read the headline, I thought “That sounds like an automat. I had no idea that Thomas Edison invented the automat!” But then I did some research and it turns out that Edison didn’t invent the automat. The first automat in the US had been in business for eight years before this article came out (it was Horn & Hardart in Philadelphia). The shop Edison describes in this article turns out to be slightly different than an automat, and still interesting.

In an automat, customers get food without interacting with the staff. In Edison’s planned shop, there is no staff. There’s just one person running the clockwork machinery that handles the real work. He extends the concept from a diner to a grocery, suggesting that it could be implemented and maintained very inexpensively.

“In the automatic shop of the future there will be no shopkeepers, no clerks, no boy to wrap up packages. On entering the shop, the intending purchaser will see no one, unless it be some other purchaser. There will be no counters, no scales, no shelves lined with goods, no showcases.

“In the walls of the shop there will be dozens and dozens of little openings. Above every opening there will be a small sign. This sign will tell in a half dozen different languages what particular article that particular opening will deliver.

“Suppose a patron wants beans. He will go to the series of openings that represent the vegetable department. He will look for the sign bearing the legend ‘Beans.’ He drops a nickel in the slot and a neatly tied package containing 5 cents worth of beans will drop through the opening…

“Only one man will be needed to tend this store. All that he will have to do is keep the bins filled and the machinery oiled, and all the rest will be done automatically. He and his machines will be doing the work that in a present-day grocery shop it requires fifty men to do.”

Edison is so excited about this idea that he even offers to do the engineering at no charge for anyone who wants to start such a business. And if nobody takes him up on this idea, then gosh darnit he’s just going to have to do it himself, just as soon as he finishes up some other ideas he’s working on, like a cheap house that can be built in less than a week.

“Then I’ll take up this automatic store,” he says. “I’ll build one in the tenement district of New York and I’ll call it The Samaritan Market. It will be for the poor man, selling goods in five-cent lots. This store will prove the feasibility of the scheme. How general these automatic stores will then become, it would be difficult to prophecy. But so far as an Automatic Age is concerned, I have no hesitancy in saying that it’s coming.”

Bonus quote: “I believe that the day is coming when it will only be necessary to heat a little water in order to prepare a meal.” I think he just predicted cup noodles.

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Written by David

May 14th, 2010 at 9:01 am

Fears Of The Comet Are Foolish And Ungrounded

From May 8, 1910


FEARS OF THE COMET ARE FOOLISH AND UNGROUNDED: Mary Proctor Tells of Similar Scares in the Past, Occuring Every Time These Blazing Visitors Were Expected, and All Proved Groundless (PDF)

Every 76 years or so, Halley’s Comet passes by Earth. 1910 was one of those years. The comet was coming so close that Earth would actually pass through part of its tail. And apparently people were freaked out. Mary Proctor was a well known astronomer at the time (as was her father before her) and in this article she tries to calm everybody down. Earth passing through the tail of a comet, she says, is like a rhino passing through a spider web. The comet’s tail is so huge and the particles in it are so small that they don’t pose any risk to the planet.

Here is her description of the hysteria:

A dismal report is circulating to the effect that Halley’s comet is about to cause the destruction of our planet, and as we draw nearer the fateful date of May 18, a grave feeling of apprehension is excited in the minds of those who are very naturally afraid of something they cannot understand.

Here is a gigantic monster in the sky with a head over two hundred thousand miles in width… and a train two million miles in length, rushing through space at the alarming rate of a thousand miles a minute.

On May 18 the earth will be plunged in this white hot mass of glowing gas, and, according to the report of the ignorant and superstitious, the world will be set on fire.

These sensation makers further say that the oceans on the side facing the comet will be boiled by the intense heat, and the land scorched and blistered as the dread wanderer passes by on its baneful way.

How the report started, and by whom it is difficult to trace, but the harm is done. We hear daily of people overcome with terror, one committing suicide, preferring to choose his own manner of death rather than await the coming of the final destruction of the earth. Another has gone insane, and numberless other cases, if known, might be added, showing the harm which has been done by the sensational articles which have been published accompanied by lurid illustrations showing purely imaginary effects of the comet.

Even children are afraid of the approaching comet, as evidenced by the following pathetic letter from a little girl eleven years old at a school in New York. It was sent to the writer last March, while she was in England, and reads as follows:

“I am in a very bad fix, in fact the whole school is. Every one says that the world will come to an end on the 18th of the month. Is it true the earth is to pass through the comet and we will all burn up? Tell me if it is true, also when shall we be able to see the comet! Please excuse this letter, but I don’t want to die.”

Proctor goes on to describe how several comets through history have been heralded as omens both good and bad, but that none of them did much other than put on a light show. So there’s nothing to worry about.

Or is there?

In his 2008 book Death from the Skies!, astronomer Phil Plait examines the various ways the world might actually end. In his chapter on asteroid and comet impacts, he writes, “So how big a danger are asteroid and comet impacts? Statistically speaking, you’re not going to like the answer: the odds of getting hit are 100 percent. Yes, really. Given enough time, and if we do nothing about it, there will be impacts, and one will be big.” But fortunately, he also says that “of all the woes facing us from space, this is the one that is nearly 100 percent preventable.” All we have to do is fund the research to detect and deflect them in time.

Update: Phil Plait has written a very thoughtful commentary about this post on his site.

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Written by David

May 7th, 2010 at 9:06 am

Posted in Science,Urban Legend

Sunday Schools That Teach Children Anarchy

From May 8, 1910


SUNDAY SCHOOLS THAT TEACH CHILDREN ANARCHY: A Thousand Young Persons Are Being Trained in New York to Be Successors of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkmann (PDF)

I saw this headline and I thought it was just some overblown sensationalism. But then I read the article, and it turns out they’re literally talking about anarchist-run schools. In particular, they point out the a particular Sunday School on Avenue A, run by Alexander Berkmann, a “leading member of the anarchist movement in the 20th century” (quoting Wikipedia).

I scoffed at first because I typically think of schools as places with strict rules to follow. How could anarchists run a school? But the more I read, the more the school sounded pretty good. It’s just on Sunday, so the students presumably attended a normal school during the week, and it seems like it probably provided thought provoking counterpoint. Here is some of what Berkmann told the Times about the curriculum:

The pupil of the Anarchist Sunday school is taught to reason. The teacher only serves to direct their attention to a problem.

“One child,” said Berkmann, “wanted to know whether he should pray. ‘My mother wants me to pray,’ said the child, ‘but my father says that it is not necessary.'”

“Did you answer the problem?” he was asked.

“No,” he said. “I try to keep back my own views and develop the mentality of the children that they may form their own opinions and arrive at their own conclusions. The question was answered by a little girl, who said, ‘Praying is good because it relieves the soul.'”

Another attempt of a Sunday school pupil along this line was made when a youngster requested to know if it was possible for people to know what God wants them to do.

These occasional inquiries as to the spiritual life have generally ended in the Anarchist Sunday schools with the proposition that some of the remarkable things in life can be understood and that there are questions which never can be settled. The mental attitude of the children might be put in this way: We are not certain whether there are grounds for the belief that we should pray.

That, of course, leaves the question well in the field of agnosticism. The teacher of anarchy does not, with the children, declare that there is no God. Nor does he say that there is a God. The Sunday school class goes frequently to the Museum of Natural History, to Central Park, to the Zoological Gardens, and other places where, with the teacher, nature is studied.

That sounds pretty good to me. At least until the part later where Berkmann speaks against having laws. But in general, I like that the students were being taught to think for themselves and not just blindly follow authority on at least one day a week.

Wikipedia has more to say about the anarchist schools here.

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Written by David

May 7th, 2010 at 9:05 am

Rearing Babies By Scientific Methods

From May 8, 1910



A weird bit of humor. I’m not sure what movement in child care was happening at the time that prompted this piece, but I thought I’d post it anyway as an oddity.

At least, I think it’s supposed to be humor.

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Written by David

May 7th, 2010 at 9:03 am

Is Coeducation A Falure? Tufts And Pennington Say “Yes”

From May 8, 1910


IS COEDUCATION A FAILURE? TUFTS AND PENNINGTON SAY “YES”: “A Menace to Any College,” Says President Hamilton of the Former — President Read of the Latter Announces a Change (PDF)

[T]he committee said that it had held personal conversation upon the matter with a large number of members of the Faculty of Liberal Arts. Each and every one gave it as his opinion, formed carefully and deliberately after several years’ teaching and observation, that the interests of both men and women would be best served by a segregation of the sexes.”

Tufts remained coed, while Pennington went back to being an all-boys school. It stayed that way until 1972.

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Written by David

May 7th, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Education,Life

Night In A Fascinating Square That Never Sleeps

From May 8, 1910


NIGHT IN A FASCINATING SQUARE THAT NEVER SLEEPS: A Varied Panorama of Life Keeps Moving and Changing in Times Square from Early Evening Until the Small Hours of the Morning (PDF)

Anyone who has found themselves in Times Square in the middle of the night will recognize that some things are still the same as they were 100 years ago. This article is a beautiful description of a full night’s worth of characters, sights, smells, and sounds. It could easily describe the same area today, if not for a few little things like the horse-drawn fire engine that races up Broadway shortly before morning.

The time is 2 A.M., there is a slow fall of fine drizzling rain, a sort of imitation fog, the thing that aims to be what London dreads so much, and never realizes its ambition (which is fortunate for us), and through which the incandescents and the arc lights, on the signs, and in front of the big hotels, shine with a sort of discouraged lustre.

The day was fine, one of those early sweet-scented days with promises we have been having lately of a charming Spring, the kind of day that puts spirit into all of us. Now the air is cooler, in fact it has zip enough to make you glad you have your overcoat along.

Since 8 o’clock or before, building hope on the generosity of the theatregoing crowd the [homeless man wearing a] bundle of rags has been squatting in its corner, forcing out wheezy sounds from its wretched concertina. Before it, massing on the pavements, dashing across the street in front of whizzing motors and clattering caps, the panorama of Broadway has been unfolded — that panorama of strange contrasts, with its luxury and pseudo luxury, to bring envy to the snapping point. But such a one as this, the bundle of rags aforesaid, has lost the spirit to be envious. At least a pallid hope, a sort of anaemic longing, that an occasional nickel will be dropped into the cup, mistaken in the darkness for a penny…

Three or four blocks up the street a string band is still playing away for a dozen or more couples who will not forsake the rather Bohemian restaurant until the gray of dawn, and who now, under the inspiration of their wine, are whooping it up in songs, telling silly stories, or retailing unpleasant gossip.

But in the big hotels, the Knickerbocker across the way, and the Astor, the fiddles have had time to get into a deep sleep, the lights in the grill are out, chairs are banked on the tables, and the sweepers are already busy in the lobby getting ready for another day…

But does Times Square ever sleep?

It never really does.

For a brief interval it may drowse, get somnolent, lose its chronic state of wearing, tearing, nervous energy, and pull up for a little rest. But wait here with me from 2 or 3 A.M. while there are still plenty of signs of active life, see the night lights flicker and go out, see the last of that line of waiting taxis there crawl away toward home, or wherever belated taxis go; see the gray of dawn giving place to the rose of morning, and you will still find through all these varied phases some signs of the big pulse of this big square.

Great so far, right? Download the PDF for the rest.

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Written by David

May 7th, 2010 at 9:01 am

Posted in Life