Archive for November, 2010

The Woman, The Banana Peel And The Damage Suits

From November 27, 1910


THE WOMAN, THE BANANA PEEL AND THE DAMAGE SUITS: Mrs. Anna H. Sturla, Who Has Mad a High Record for Accident Cases, Will Have to Prove to the Court She Hasn’t Been Faking. (PDF)

Here we have a detailed accounting of each instance in which Anna H. Sturla reached a monetary settlement after a slip-and-fall “accident.” There were so many instances, it looks like greed got the best of her as she pulled this scam over and over until she was eventually caught.

I love how the article pits Sturla against her mighty foe, banana peels:

She was in the ladies’ cabin [of a ferryboat], she said, when a banana peel, that old bête noir of hers, again tricked her and caused her to fall on the floor.

She maintained that her mishap was due to a small paper bag, from one corner of which protruded the fatal banana peel…

The company paid her $150.

Not six months went by after that before Mrs. Sturla was once more in trouble with these arch-foes of hers, banana peels. One of these slippery gentry, according to her, was soon all ready for her on a boat of the Union Ferry Company, proceeding to the foot of Futon Street, Brooklyn. As the boat was entering the slip the miserable peel saw its chance, got under one of Mrs. Sturla’s feet, and caused her to fall to the deck.

She got $200…

Fifteen days later — March 19, 1908 — she again came to the fore with a claim for injuries in an accident. This time the culprit, she averred, was the Lehigh Valley Railroad. According to her story, she was riding one of its trains, bound for Buffalo, when she slipped on something (she gave those lurking enemies of hers, bananas, the benefit of the doubt) and fell forward. After being helped to her feet by a male passenger she saw him, she said, pick up some — banana peels!

Yes, there they were, ever vigilant, ever on the alert to trip her…

It might be assumed that by this time those grim old foes of hers, banana peels — that Yellow Peril of her life! — would have decided to rest on their laurels and persecute her no more.

Far from it!

One of them, according to her, was in her path on May 19th, 1908 — only eight days after her Fort Lee Ferry mishap — while she was shopping in the store of R. H. Macy & Co. It threw her, as usual. She was taken to the Herald Square Hotel, close by, and stayed there a couple of days. The owners of the store settled with her for $150.

Banana peels, of course, are also the scourge of many cartoon characters and vaudeville performers.
Do kids today even know that banana peels are hilarious?

I always thought banana peels were used as props to slip on in old comedy routines because they were cheap and easily obtained. But it turns out that banana peels on the sidewalk were a real problem at the turn of the last century.

Today, slip and fall insurance scams are frequently caught on video, so don’t even think about it.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 26th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Humor,True Crime

A Little Island Near New York Peopled With Babies

From November 27, 1910


A LITTLE ISLAND NEAR NEW YORK PEOPLED WITH BABIES: Taken from Incoming Steamers Suffering from Measles, Scarlet Fever and Other Ills, They Are Cared for on Hoffman Island Till They Get Well. (PDF)

My imagination got the best of me when I read the headline. I pictured an isolated civilization run by babies. Baby shopkeepers, baby baristas, baby firemen, and baby butlers.

But no. It turns out to be much less hilarious than that. The island in question is called Hoffman Island, a manmade piece of land located just off Staten Island. 100 years ago it was used as quarantine for sick children who came into Ellis Island as immigrants.

During World War II it was used as a marine training center, and after the war plans were considered to turn the island into a park. That never happened.

Today the buildings are long gone, and Hoffman Island is off limits in order to protect wildlife. But a few years ago a local triathlete swam the mile to the island with some friends who joined him in kayaks. He gives a full account on his blog, and links to a gallery of photos they took.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 26th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Adventure,Life,Science

Mottoes That Have Guided Prominent Men To Success

From November 27, 1910


MOTTOES THAT HAVE GUIDED PROMINENT MEN TO SUCCESS: “Never Complain, Never Explain” Is President Taft’s Favorite — Rules of Life of Carnegie, Bishop Greer, W. C. Brown, and Others (PDF)

Mottoes from the article:

“The American people like to be humbugged.” – P. T. Barnum

“Don’t keep a rag-bag.” – A. T. Stewart

“Never write letters.” – Martin Van Buren

“Fair play and half the road.” – “Uncle” David Gray

“Never complain, never explain.” – William H. Taft

“If you want business, you’ve got to go after it.” – John W. Gates

“The highest product possible at the smallest cost of manufacture.” – Andrew Carnegie

“Perfect organization will accomplish all things.” – James Stillman

“Know the people, know the country, know the markets.” – W. C. Brown

“If you first find out what the people want and then give them what they want at a price they will pay, the people will do the rest.” – Frank A. Munsey

Admittedly, some of those make more sense in the context provided in the article, so if you’re wondering what the heck a rag-bag is, give it a read.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 26th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Business,Life

Seeking The Explanation Of Reese’s “Mind Reading”

From November 20, 1910


SEEKING THE EXPLANATION OF REESE’S “MIND READING”: Committee of Scientists Will Make Special Tests of His Powers — How Somewhat Similar Performances Are Done. (PDF)

Last week, the Sunday Magazine ran an article on W. Bert Reese, the amazing wizard whose powers astound scientists. There was debate even among those who should know better (*ahem* Thomas Edison) over whether Reese actually could do what he seemed to do. Harry Houdini said later that he detected Reese’s psychic tricks at a séance, and caught him “cold blooded.”

This week, the Magazine takes a stab at explaining how Reese does his mind reading trick. At the very least, they reveal how similar tricks are done, so give it a read and learn to amaze your friends.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 10:30 am

Posted in Entertainment

The Gibson Girl Analyzed By Her Originator

From November 20, 1910


THE GIBSON GIRL ANALYZED BY HER ORIGINATOR: Artist Whose Delineation of the Young American Woman Made Him Famous Tells How the Type Came Into Existence and What Her Mission Is. (PDF)

Charles Dana Gibson was an illustrator whose depiction of women came to represent the archetype of a beautiful American woman at the turn of the last century. She was dubbed the Gibson Girl. A Google Image Search for the term will show you several examples.

In this article, the artist reluctantly answers questions about the Gibson Girl at the insistence of the reporter, and explains that to him, the “Gibson Girl” does not really exist. Rather, there are just beautiful girls who exist as a product of evolution and the melting pot of races in America:

“Will you make a head for me?” I asked. “A Gibson Girl’s head, please!”

He tried it, but in a moment stopped work on it.

“I give up,” said he. “I never could work that way. I always am astounded, and perhaps a little envious, when I see chaps, at a dinner, for example, scratching pretty heads off on menu cards while they are talking. I can’t do it. I must work carefully and slowly and from models.”

“Then the stories of the models,” I said eagerly, “the models for the Gibson girl, are–”

He sighed wearily. “Please don’t,” he said. “The ‘Gibson Girl’ does not exist. She has been as the grains of sand in number. I imagine that folks must recognize ‘United States’ in her, and that it’s that which makes them think she’s all, or nearly all, the same. She isn’t really.”

His mind turned to [another topic, which he began to speak about for a bit.]

We dropped this line of conversation for a moment and went back to talking of the “Gibson Girl.” This was not because he wished it; it was because I forced it. A passing bell-hop saw him looking bored and glanced at me resentfully. Gibson is the sort of chap who quickly makes all creatures, even bell-hops, fall in worship.

“If there really is no ‘Gibson Girl,'” (the thing was in my head and bothered me) “how did the name originate?”

“The first time the name was used was in a story which The Century gave me to illustrate. It dealt with a certain type of girl, and in the manuscript, when it came to me, this type was called, I think, the ‘Goodrich Girl.’ I noticed that the word was written over an erasure in the manuscript wherever it occurred, but that did not impress me. Later, when — that ‘Gibson’ took the place of ‘Goodrich’ on the printed page — I saw what had been really done, I blushed. I have been blushing ever since. Let’s drop the ‘Gibson Girl.’ I don’t want to feel uncomfortable tonight.

“I haven’t really created a distinctive type,” he went on, more comfortably, having recovered from his embarrassment, “the nation made the type. What Zangwill calls the ‘Melting Pot of Races’ has resulted in a certain character; why should it not also have turned out a certain type of face? If I have done anything it has been to put on paper some fair examples of that type with very great, with minute, care. There isn’t any ‘Gibson Girl,’ but there are many thousands of American girls, and for that let us all thank God.

“They are beyond question the loveliest of all their sex. Evolution has selected the best things for preservation as the man and woman have climbed up from the monkey. In the body, as it always is in battle, it has been the fittest which has survived. Men are stronger, braver than the savages from which they sprang. Why should they not be handsomer? Why should women not be beautiful increasingly? Why should it not be the fittest in the form and features, as well as in the mind and muscle, which survives? And where should that fittest be in evidence most strikingly? In the United States, of course, where natural selection has been going on, as elsewhere, and where, much more than elsewhere, that has been a great variety to choose from. The eventual American woman will be even more beautiful than the woman of to-day. Her claims to that distinction will result from a fine combination of the best points of all those many races which have helped to make our population.

Later in the article, Gibson laments that there is no good place to exhibit illustration in New York:

“Americans are doing really big things with brush and pencil. Yes; let the eagle scream! I think they lead the world as illustrators. But–”

Indignation crept into the face of the big artist.

“Well, what is the ‘but’?”

“There is an exhibition of the really good work of American illustrators now traveling about the country. It is in Pittsburg now, and later on will be shown in most of the important cities, all the way to San Francisco. Everybody ought to go to see it; but — I was disgusted when I found that there is not a place in New York City provided for such things. The work is of a character superior to any I have ever seen exhibited in any country; but New York stands a chance of losing opportunity to look at it. Such things make me very weary. I’m trying, now, to find a place where the pictures may be shown, when they get back from San Francisco…”

Charles Dana Gibson did help set up a place in New York for illustrators to show their work, at the Society of Illustrators. He was a founding member and one of the first Presidents of the organization. Their earliest meetings were attended by Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parish, N.C. Wyeth, Charles Dana Gibson, Frederic Remington, James Montgomery Flagg, Howard Chandler Christy and guests such as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie.

The Society still exists and they occupy the same old carriage house they’ve been in since 1939. A sort of clubhouse for illustrators, the Society holds sketching events upstairs where they have a full bar and dining area. And they have a gallery downstairs that rotates exhibits featuring prominent and emerging illustrators.

And the Society of Illustrators has a special prominence in my life, as I got married there a few years ago, surrounded by great artwork by the artists named above and others. I suppose in a way my wife is my Gibson Girl.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 10:15 am

Posted in Art

The Secret Of Success — Intellectual Concentration

From November 20, 1910


THE SECRET OF SUCCESS — INTELLECTUAL CONCENTRATION: Notable Cases Where Men Won Fame and Fortune Through Absorbing Self-Communing — Edison, Keene, Pupin, Hewitt, Westinghouse and Gould as Examples (PDF)

The point of this article is that the most successful people spend periods of time in silent concentration without interruption. As described, it seems like meditation for some, or just some quiet thinking time for others. These days it’s hard to find a prolonged period of silence in which to concentrate, with so many beeping, buzzing, and ringing distractions coming from the computers in our pockets and on our desks.

It reminds me that I’ve been meaning to try out the Freedom app, available for Mac and Windows computers. It costs a few dollars to purchase, and it has one function: it disables your computer’s network ability for a predetermined set of time. With no internet, you can concentrate without distractions, and without temptation to browse around the web procrastinating. I think I’ll give it a try, and see if I too can win fame and fortune through concentration.

One comment

Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Business,Life

Sir Oliver Lodge Teaches The Soul’s Pre-Existence

From November 20, 1910


SIR OLIVER LODGE TEACHES THE SOUL’S PRE-EXISTENCE: Famous Physicist Announces His Belief, Gained Through Scientific Research, in Immortality, the Gift of Prophecy, and Christ’s Incarnation. (PDF)

Why the Magazine has become infatuated with this debate in recent weeks is beyond me. It’s an interesting topic, but I’m surprised to see so many articles about it. It all started when Thomas Edison proclaimed there is no soul, and now they keep writing about some expert or other who is sure that there is or isn’t a soul. Add this one to the pile.

Sir Oliver Lodge was a scientist whose inventions aided in developing wireless technology. He was also a member of The Ghost Club, an organization in the UK that still exists and whose “prime interest is that of paranormal phenomena associated with ghosts and hauntings.” Other notable Ghost Club members include Charles Dickens, W. B. Yeats, and Peter Cushing. If you’d like to join, you can find a membership application on their website, but please note that the Ghost Club does not perform clearances or exorcisms, and the use of Ouija Boards is strictly prohibited.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Debate,Religion,Science

The Busiest Man Of His Age In The World

From November 20, 1910


THE BUSIEST MAN OF HIS AGE IN THE WORLD: Roger Sherman Hoar, Massachusett’s Young Legislator, has Enough Jobs for a Dozen Men. He is an Enthusiastic Suffragist Champion and Works Hard for Interests of that Cause. (PDF)

When this article was written, 28 year old Roger Sherman Hoar was a lawyer, State Senator, student, inventor of a waterproof blanket, treasurer of his town committee, trumpeter, cartoonist, cavalryman, organizer of a news agency, secretary of the Free State League, and active suffragist.

But wait! There’s more!

In the decades after this article was written, Roger Sherman Hoar became a notable science fiction author, writing under the name Ralph Milne Farley. He wrote short stories for pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, and a series called The Radio Man.

One comment

Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Fiction,Politics

America’s Great Scientists Rapidly Decreasing

From November 20, 1910


AMERICA’S GREAT SCIENTISTS RAPIDLY DECREASING: Dr. James McKeen Catell of Columbia Says There Are Fewer Men of Distinction in Scientific Lines Than There Were Seven Years Ago. (PDF)

The point of this article is that the number of scientists in the country decreased over seven years from 1903 to 1910, and appeared to be an ongoing trend. That’s sad, and I wish the country today were more science-minded. I think too little value is placed on science education these days.

But mainly I want to point out that awesome drawing representing a scientist.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Education,Science

Did Life First Come To This Earth In A Meteor

From November 20, 1910


DID LIFE FIRST COME TO THIS EARTH IN A METEOR: Arrhenius, Following Kelvin, Holds That Its Initial Germs Were Brought Here in a Fragment of an Exploded World, and That Particles of Our Globe Are Now Taking Life to Others. (PDF)

Before we go into the details of this article, take another look at the photo of the meteorite above and make sure you see the children. I missed them the first time. That meteorite is known as the Willamette Meteorite and it can still be seen in the Hayden Planetarium* at the American Museum of Natural History, where it has been since 1906.

In the article, astronomer Mary Proctor (whose articles for the Times Magazine have graced this site before) discusses panspermia, the idea that life can spread throughout the universe carried on meteors and asteroids.

The first time I heard about panspermia, my mind was blown. I hadn’t considered that life could have come here from somewhere else. But it makes sense as a possibility. And if meteors can theoretically bring life to our planet, that means we can theoretically send life to other planets. Wait a minute! What if those first crafts we sent to Mars weren’t completely sterile? What if we sent a germ, bacteria, or other microbe capable of withstanding space travel and Mars’ atmosphere? Perhaps over the next hundred million years it could evolve into something more intelligent than us!


Leave a comment

Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Nature,Science

Wizard With Amazing Powers Astounds Scientists

From November 13, 1910


WIZARD WITH AMAZING POWERS ASTOUNDS SCIENTISTS: Thomas A. Edison, Dr. William H. Thomson and Others Admit They Are Unable to Explain the Feats of W. Bert Reese — Reads Questions Written in Another Room and Answers Them. (PDF)

For most of the past several weeks, the Magazine published articles about how amazing someone’s magic or telepathic powers are and how they mystify science. But they also published articles explaining the secrets of magic tricks and special effects. You’d think someone would have figured that perhaps they are one and the same.

This week, the subject is W. Bert Reese, a mentalist who did indeed confound Thomas Edison and other scientists with his magic tricks, as the article explains. But one man not mentioned in the article was in fact clever enough to see through Reese’s tricks: Harry Houdini.

The recently departed Martin Gardner wrote about Reese in his book Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? Debunking Pseudoscience and quotes from a letter Houdini wrote to Arthur Conan Doyle about Reese in 1920:

You may have heard a lot of stories about Dr. Bert Reese, but I spoke to Judge Rosalsky [in front of whom Reese had performed a mind-reading trick to get out of a disorderly conduct charge] and he personally informed me that, although he did not detect Reese, he certainly did not think it was telepathy. I am positive that Reese resorts to legerdemain, makes use of a wonderful memory, and is a great character reader. He is incidentally a wonderful judge of human beings.

That he fooled Edison does not surprise me. He would have surprised me if he did not fool Edison. Edison is certainly not a criterion, when it comes to judging a shrewd adept in the art of pellet-reading.

The greatest thing Reese did, and which he openly acknowledged to me, was his test-case in Germany when he admitted they could not solve him.

I have no hesitancy in telling you that I set a snare at the séance I had with Reese, and caught him cold-blooded. He was startled when it was over, as he knew that I had bowled him over. So much so that he claimed I was the only one that had ever detected him, and in our conversation after that we spoke about other workers of what we call the pellet test — Foster, Worthington, Baldwin, et al. After my séance with him, I went home and wrote down all the details.

While I highly recommend reading all of Gardner’s book, you can find some of the relevant excerpts on Google Books.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 12th, 2010 at 9:45 am

The Psychology Of Baseball Discussed By A. G. Spalding

From November 13, 1910


THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BASEBALL Discussed by A. G. SPALDING: The Game Elevates and Fits the American Character — It Brings Into Play the Emotional and Moral as Well as the Physical Side of Man’s Nature. (PDF)

By 1910, Albert Spalding had been a Major League Baseball player and manager, and had launched the Spalding line of sports equipment. At 60 years old, just five years before he would die, he gave the Times Magazine this wonderful and lengthy answer about why he loves baseball in response to a question about the psychology of baseball.

“The psychology of baseball?” he said thoughtfully. “I confess that the ‘psychology of baseball’ is a new one on me.

“I take it that you are trying to find out what effect the game has on the mind, and what effect the mind has on the game. The general impression among those who do not know, and, although there are several million people in this country who do know, still, there remain a few who don’t, is that baseball is simply a form of physical exercise which is interesting to watch and to take part in. Those who have played the game know well that it is more — much more. They know that it is quite as much a mental as it is a physical exercise.

“As a matter of plain fact, it is much more a mental exercise than a mere physical sport. There is really no other form of outdoor sport which constantly demands such accurate co-ordination between the mind and body as this National game of ours. And that is rather fine, when you come to think about it.

“Baseball elevates, and it fits the American character. The emotional and moral as well as the physical side of a man’s nature are brought into play by baseball. I know of no other medium which, as completely as baseball, joins the physical, mental, emotional, and moral sides of a man’s composite being into a complete and homogeneous whole. And there is nothing better calculated than baseball to give a growing boy self-pose, and self-reliance, confidence, inoffensive and entirely proper aggressiveness, general manliness. Baseball is a man maker.”

If you’re a baseball fan, it’s well worth reading the whole article. Mr. Spalding explains how baseball helps shape a man morally as well as physically, and how the skills translate to a man’s later life and business affairs. His wife and nephew both weigh in on the topic, too.

In related news, The Onion has an editorial this week by Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay called “If I Had One Piece Of Advice For Today’s Youth, It Would Be To Throw A Baseball Really, Really Well.”

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 12th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Life,Recreation,Sports

A Day’s Meal In A Can The Size Of A Cake Of Soap

From November 13, 1910


A DAY’S MEAL IN A CAN THE SIZE OF A CAKE OF SOAP: Commissary General Henry G. Sharpe Has Invented a New Half-Pound Emergency Ration for Our Soldiers (PDF)

Today’s military MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) is a descendant of this military meal in a can. The description is not exactly mouth-watering, but is a pretty entertaining read:

War breaks out, say, with the Japs, the Germans, or the bloomin’ British. Each Yankee brave in khaki has one of these cans of first-aid-to-the-empty dropped into his haversack, where it keeps fresh for months, and where it must be regularly accounted for at inspection until falls the unhappy day when the enemy cuts off the commissariat and the pabulum fails to show up.

Then each boy in drab, squatting by the good camp fire, grabs the loose end of the blue bandeau enwreathing the head of his can and gives her a twist. It works after the principle of the tin ribbon around the fragrant sardine can — only it really works.

From the package fall three slabs of something very like the brown cakes of chocolate that small children buy from train butchers and with which they delight to crumb up the plush seats of the passenger coaches…

I was treated to a sample bite of the new emergency ration by Gen. Sharpe — and one bite, you must remember, is equal in nutriment to one full course at one of President Taft’s state banquets. Taking the General’s advice to spoil my knife and spare my teeth, I hacked off with my trusty blade a square inch fragment which compensated me for the pie and cheese end of luncheon which, in my haste to meet the General, I had just foregone.

It tasted much like the popular brands of milk chocolate, but not so sweet.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 12th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Science

Girl Terrorist’s Escape From A Russian Prison

From November 13, 1910


GIRL TERRORIST’S ESCAPE FROM A RUSSIAN PRISON: A Fellow-Prisoner Writes the Thrilling Story of Tolya Rogozinnikova’s Flight and Subsequent Execution (PDF)

This is an interesting story, and I can find almost no information about it online apart from this article and a couple of passing mentions in books about historic terrorism and Russian history. 21 year old Tolya Rogozinnikova was apparently a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. In 1907, she broke out of the prison where she was being held (I’m not sure for what), strapped 13 pounds of nitroglycerine to her body, and set out to assassinate the St. Petersburg Prison chief. She shot and killed him, but did not get a chance to detonate the explosives. She was eventually tried and executed herself.

This article tells how she initially escaped from prison, written by a woman in a neighboring cell. It’s like the plot of a Soviet thriller. She feigned insanity until she was eventually transferred to the mental asylum, where she talked a nurse into opening a door for her to escape.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 12th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Politics,True Crime

Some Good Stories That Bring A Laugh With Them

From November 6, 1910


SOME GOOD STORIES THAT BRING A LAUGH WITH THEM: Robert Rudd Whiting Makes a Collection of Tales and Anecdotes in Which many Old Friends Combine with New Ones to Entertain the Reader. (PDF)

If you’re a fan of Reader’s Digest‘s “Life in These United States” feature, you’ll love this collection of humorous anecdotes collected by magazine writer Robert Rudd Whiting. Here’s a sample:

A big, husky Irishman strolled into the civil service room where they hold physical examinations for candidates for the police force.

“Strip,” ordered the police surgeon.

“Which, Sor?”

“Get your clothes off, and be quick about it,” said the doctor.

The Irishman undressed. The doctor measured his chest and pounded his back.

“Hop over this rod,” was the next command.

The man did his best, landing on his back.

“Double up your knees and touch the floor with your hands.”

He lost his balance and sprawled upon the floor. He was indignant but silent.

“Now jump under this cold shower.”

“Sure an’ that’s funny,” muttered the applicant.

“Now run around the room ten times. I want to test your heart and wind.”

This last was too much. “I’ll not,” the candidate declared defiantly. “I’ll stay single.”

“Single?” inquired the doctor, puzzled.

“Single,” repeated the Irishman, with determination. “Sure an’ what’s all this funny business got to do wid a marriage license anyhow?”

He had strayed into the wrong bureau.

If your sides don’t hurt too much from laughing, pick yourself up off the floor and enjoy another one:

The new minister in a Georgia church was delivering his first sermon. The darky janitor was a critical listener from a back corner of the church. The minister’s sermon was eloquent, and his prayers seemed to cover the whole category of human wants.

After the services one o the deacons asked the old darky what he thought of the new minister. “Don’t you think he offers up a good prayer, Joe?”

“Ah mos’ suhtainly does, boss. Why, dat man axed the good Lord fo’ things dat de odder preacher didn’t even knew He had!”

Wipe the tears of laughter from your eyes. Here’s one more:

James McNeill Whistler and a friend, strolling through a London suburb, met a small boy. Whistler asked him his age.

“Seven,” the boy replied.

“Oh, you must be more than seven,” said Whistler doubtingly.

“Seven,” insisted the boy, rather pleased at being taken for older.

Turning to his friend, Whisler said, “Do you think it possible that he really could have gotten as dirty as that in only seven years?”

I know what you’re thinking: How can I find more of these gems? Well, I have good news for you. The stories published in this article are part of a much larger collection that Whiting published under the title Four Hundred Good Stories, which you can download for free from Google Books. Bring a copy with you to Thanksgiving dinner and I’m sure you’ll be the life of the party.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 5th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Humor,Life

The Birth Of The Halo

From November 6, 1910



I always was under the impression that halos in paintings are meant to represent light, like rays emanating from a person’s head, giving a visual cue that the character depicted is holy, heavenly, or otherwise divine. But an unnamed but assuredly “well known” American painter puts forth a more interesting theory in this article.

“The first subjects to feel the Renaissance were architecture and sculpture, and this several generations before the days of Cimabue and Giotto, the earliest of painters. Of these subjects architecture came first, as is still evidenced in the magnificent ruins of cathedrals scattered over Europe. I say cathedrals, because everything was saturated with the religious spirit in those days, and the architect expressed his genius in his conceptions of the house of God.

“Later came the sculptor. He gave expression to his art in the images of the saints and other holy characters. The commonest form of expression was life-sized images of the saints, which were set in solemn row about the outside of the churches and cathedrals immediately under the eaves of the building.

“Now, the earliest sculptors soon saw that in a very short time the heads and faces of these figures were soiled and disfigured by action of the driving elements in time of storms; even the hot sun contributed its share in cracking the skulls and faces of the sacred images. Accordingly, to protect them they placed upon their heads a flat wooden disk that extended out far enough to act as umbrella or sunshade, as either was necessary.

“Now, it was several generations before any painters of note arose. These, of the Cimabue-Giotto type, were ignorant, even for that day of ignorance. Of course, following the spirit of the age, they must needs make their subjects holy ones, and the statues standing so invitingly to their hands offered themselves as their first models.

“Thinking, in their wealth of ignorance mentioned, that the wooden disk had something to do with the saintly character of their models, these peasants faithfully copied it into their paintings. In nearly all of the paintings of Comabue and many of those of Giotto, especially his earlier ones, the flat disk is represented, merely as such without any attempt at idealization. Later, however, the painters emphasized the rim and painted the body of the disk a color that barely distinguished it from the surrounding hues.”

So halos are really just misunderstood umbrellas. Somebody needs to add that to Wikipedia.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 5th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Art,Religion

Madness And Death Add To The Mystery Of Koresh’s Tomb

From November 6, 1910


MADNESS AND DEATH ADD TO THE MYSTERY OF KORESH’S TOMB: Men Meet Strange Fate Trying to Ascertain If This Alleged Messiah Has Risen From the Dead as He Promised. (PDF)

Quick, think of a cult leader named Koresh. I’ll bet you thought of David Koresh, the self-proclaimed prophet whose compound in Waco, Texas was famously raided during the Clinton administration. But this article is about an earlier cult leader named Koresh (his real name was Cyrus Teed) who lead a colony in Estero, Florida.

Koresh believed among other things that the Earth was hollow, and that we live inside of it, being held to the ground by centrifugal force. He said he held the secrets to alchemy. He claimed to be the messiah (David Koresh more humbly claimed only to be a prophet), and said he would rise from the dead to rule heaven on Earth. The article is about what happened when he died and stayed dead.

As described by Henry D. Silverfriend, Vice President of Koreshan University, Koresh’s followers watched his body for a few days before they finally decided to bury it:

“Three factions were formed. One that Dr. Teed was dead and would never rise again. Another took the view that Teed had failed in his estimate of himself as the Messiah. The third faction believed he would fulfill all he said and rise glorified. They believed the tomb was like his alchemic laboratory and that he was transforming his mortality into immortality. When his corruptible body had become incorruptible they held that he would come forth and establish his kingdom of heaven on earth.

“The strain of waiting was very great and many of our faith became utterly hopeless. At length Emil Fisher, a German member of the Unity, believed that since two years had elapsed since the death of Teed and nothing had come as a revelation from him, it would be right to look into the tomb. He felt that we had been too long hoping against hope that Dr. Teed would break through the concrete tomb and show himself in the splendor of a Christ resurrected.

“Fisher went to the island and approached the tomb. He had no sooner laid hands on it than he swooned and fell. Several persons had accompanied him at a distance. When they hastened toward him he rose and came at them, a raving maniac. It was necessary to bind him.”

Another person tried to open the tomb and was also stricken mad. Naturally, Koresh’s followers assumed this meant the body was being protected by evil spirits. “Koreshans hold that the evil spirits will consume any who may venture to disturb the tomb. And nearly every one believes that in due time the tomb will open of itself and that Dr. Teed will come forth and do what he taught he would.”

I assume they’re still waiting.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 5th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Religion

1889: Introducing Voting Machines

Tomorrow is election day, and this year New York has done away with its old election machines in favor of paper ballots. The transition is causing a bit of confusion. For many old time New Yorkers, tomorrow will be the first time voting on paper, and not in a Myers Automatic Booth like the one introduced more than 120 years ago.

Way back on November 23, 1889, The New York Times ran an article titled “VOTING BY MACHINERY: An Ingenious Reform Device Invented By A Rochester Man” (PDF) which described something very similar to the now-familiar booth:

Once inside the door the voter would find before him a curious-looking wall, having the appearance of a telephone switchboard, but with knobs instead of drops.

Mr. Myers proposes to give each party a distinctive color, which it would be expected to retain during its party life. The Republican Party, for instance, might be designated by red, the Democratic by yellow, the Prohibitionist by blue, the Socialist by brown, and so on to the end fo the list. The man who could neither read nor write could then vote a straight party ticket without difficulty, provided he was not color blind. The voter would then find before him rows of tickets, each row proceeding down from a large piece of pasteboard of the same color as the tickets under it and bearing the name of the party…

If the voter is an old-fashioned Republican or Democrat who never splits his ticket, he selects the red or yellow, as the case may be, and presses all the knobs under that color. A knob once pressed inward cannot be drawn out again while the man is in the voting booth, and by an ingenious but simple contrivance Mr. Myers has made it impossible for two knobs for Governor or Congressman or any other office to be depressed at the same time.

Having pressed the knobs of all the candidates for whom he desires and is permitted to vote, the voter passes out at a second door and finds before him a third door, which he cannot open until he has closed the second. He then finds himself entirely cut off from the little compartment where the voting was done. The act of closing the second door raises a lever that in turn operates other levers, which release the depressed buttons or knobs that the voter has pressed.

Having grown up hearing the phrase “pull the lever for” as a synonym for “vote for,” I always wondered what that meant exactly. The first few elections I voted in used butterfly ballots, and I was disappointed that there was no lever. Once I moved to New York, though, I came to enjoy the clunky mechanical ka-chunk! of the big lever that registers your votes.

On November 6, 1901, the Times ran another article about voting machines after the first trial in an election. This time the headline read, “VOTING MACHINE WAS PRONOUNCED A SUCCESS; Told Result in a Brooklyn District Two Minutes After 5 o’clock.” (PDF)

The voting machine, which was used for the first time in Brooklyn, in the Eighteenth Election District of the First Assembly District yesterday, proved a pronounced success in one respect at least — in the promptness with which it made known the total vote cast in the district. The entire results of the voting was known two minutes after the polls closed at 5 o’clock…

“If New York City goes another year without placing voting machines in every election district,” said [Lieutenant Governor] Woodruff, “it will be a shame and an outrage on the people. I have just come from another election district, and when I left there the Inspectors hadn’t even gotten the ballots unfolded. Here the entire work of counting the vote is already completed.”

…The poll clerks figured out that the average time taken by each voter in voting with the machine was eighteen seconds. As a rule, those who voted split tickets occupied more time in the booth than the voters who voted the straight tickets. Each voter was allowed one minute’s time in the booth, whereas under the prevailing system of voting a voter is allowed to remain in the booth five minutes.

The test of the voting machine yesterday was made in the election district in which Elections Commissioner Michael J. Dady lives. He was the first man to vote, registering his choice of candidates in just three seconds.

By paper or by machine, don’t forget to vote tomorrow!

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 1st, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Politics,Technology