Archive for April, 2011

Centenary Of Maker Of First Portrait Photograph

From April 30, 1911


CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH: New York University Will Honor the Memory of Prof John William Draper, Who Took the First Human Likeness When Daguerre Failed to Do It. (PDF)

I’m a photographer professionally, so articles like this are especially interesting to me. This one celebrates the 100th birthday of John William Draper, credited with taking the first portrait photo, an image of his sister Dorothy.

Back then, photos required long exposures, so the subjects needed to sit extremely still. Draper experimented with putting white powder on people’s faces to lighten them up a bit for the picture. And he also realized that if a person sits still for a 30 second exposure, they can feel free to blink during that time without worrying about ruining the image. But any other movement must be considered and eliminated:

“The hands should never rest upon the chest, for the motion of respiration disturbs them so much as to make them have a thick, clumsy appearance, destroying also the representation of the veins on the back, which, if they are held motionless, are copied with surprising beauty.”

Here’s some more of Draper’s advice for a portrait sitting:

“It has already been stated that pictorial advantages attend an arrangement in which the light is thrown upon the face at a small angle. This also allows us to get rid entirely of the shadow on the background or to compose it more gracefully in the picture. For this it is well that the chair should be brought forward from the background from three to six feet.

“Those who undertake daguerreotype portraiture will, of course, arrange the background of their pictures according to their own tastes. When one that is quite uniform is desired, a blanket or a cloth of drab color, properly suspended, will be found to answer very well.”

While Draper took the first formal portrait, Louis Daguerre actually took the first photo of a person. He captured a photo looking out over a street in Paris. It was a long exposure, so people moving through the frame were not captured. But one person stood still long enough to register in the image while he was getting his shoe shined. But the figure is tiny and silhouetted, so it could hardly be called a portrait.

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Written by David

April 29th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Scientific Baseball Has Changed The Old Game

From April 30, 1911


SCIENTIFIC BASEBALL HAS CHANGED THE OLD GAME: Quick Thinking, Clever Guessing, Faultless Team Work and Intelligent Signaling Necessary for a Pennant Winner To-day — Teams Made Up of Specialists. (PDF)

Fans of baseball with enjoy this look at how the game was changing 100 years ago.

Scientific baseball of to-day — “inside ball” they call it — consists in making the opposing team think you are going to make a play one way, then shift suddenly and do it another.

The modern game has developed quick thinkers and resourceful players such as the pioneers of the game never dreamed of. There are few of what were known as “good all-around” players nowadays. The inside game has developed teams made up of baseball specialists. They excel in one position, are trained with that object in view, and are never called on to play in any other position.

The article goes on to discuss signaling, curve balls, and other strategies we take for granted today.

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Written by David

April 28th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Recreation,Sports

Classics Of Literature Censored By A Sing Sing Convict

From April 30, 1911


CLASSICS OF LITERATURE CENSORED BY A SING SING CONVICT: Discovery of a Unique Document, in Modern Slang, Intended to “Steer” Patrons of Prison Library. (PDF)

These reviews of classic literature by a Sing Sing convict are great.

One of the most unique documents ever written by a convict in Sing Sing has just come to light. It was intended for the yes of convicts only — for the readers of prison books — and is penned in a slang that every convict knows perhaps better than the more erudite language of the average author.

The document is a review of prison literature, a guide book which tells the convicts what to shun and what to seek in Sing Sing’s library; a criticism brief but to the point, and showing in a remarkable way the literary point of view of a criminal who has spent many years in the seclusion of his cell, absorbing the stories of fact and fancy which the prison library affords.

Here, for example, is his review of The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas:

Alec was no jollier; when he got to pushing the pen across the paper he got down to cases right away. This one breaks the bank. On your life, don’t scratch this entry. The d’Artagnan guy in this is there with the knockout.

And The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne gets this review:

This one is there with the gray matter. There’s a sky-pilot in this that was a welcher. He’ll make you feel like putting him on the bum. The main dame is game to the core and the whole outfit of phoney knockers can’t feaze her.

And Les Miserables by Victor Hugo:

Now we’re getting down to brass tacks. This is the richest thing that ever came down the pike. It’s a lalapaloosa. You want to read it three times. The first time you won’t catch on to all the fine points; you skip the descriptions to follow Jean Valjean. The second time you’ll fall for a little of the descriptive dope, and about the third time you’ll read the swellest line on the Battle of Waterloo that was ever handed out. That line on the sewers of Paris is some class, too. The main guy in this is a con that makes a smooth getaway, but he’s up against it for fair. The bull that is after him must be a little flighty in the bean. They don’t have bulls like that now-a-days.

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Written by David

April 27th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Fighting To Beautify Fifth Avenue With Trees

From April 30, 1911


FIGHTING TO BEAUTIFY FIFTH AVENUE WITH TREES: Widening of the Avenue Above Forty-Seventh Street Gives Fresh Impetus to the Movement of the Tree Planting Association (PDF)

This article discusses a proposal to turn Fifth Avenue in to a tree-lined street with a tree-lined median, like Park Avenue has today.

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Written by David

April 26th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Development

Burns, A Detective From Whom Lecoq Might Learn

From April 30, 1911


BURNS, A DETECTIVE FROM WHOM LECOQ MIGHT LEARN: Astonishing Record of a Great Sleuth Who Has Been Employed on All of Uncle Sam’s Big Cases for a Generation, and Who Now Claims to Have Caught the Los Angeles Dynamiters. (PDF)

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” says Sherlock Holmes.

And, since it’s not elementary, but rather occult and exoteric, the reader is apt to feel annoyed and to think the expression pure ostentation on Sherlock’s part. However, it isn’t. Detectives all talk that way. Doyle is realistic, after all. Even William J. Burns, who has less in common with Sherlock Holmes than any detective ever born or invented since Lecocq and Dupin, looks surprised when you ask him how he did it, and says — well, he doesn’t say “elementary,” but he says:

“Just common sense.”

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Written by David

April 25th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Posted in True Crime

Babies Sacrificed To The Ignorance Of Mothers

From April 23, 1911


BABIES SACRIFICED TO THE IGNORANCE OF MOTHERS: Mrs. Frederic Scholl, President of the Mothers’ Congress, Laments the Lack of Preparation for Parenthood, and Says Infant Mortality Can Only Be Checked. (PDF)

Is good parenting a natural instinct, or something that is learned? It’s probably a bit of both, and in 1911 the Mothers Congress sought to train mothers in good parenting practices. They wanted to cut rates of infant mortality, and reduce the number of kids who grow up to be criminals.

I had a talk with Mrs. Frederic Schoff, who… is perhaps, best qualified to speak [about parenting] for she is President of the Mothers Congress, a body of industriously thinking women who have turned their industry of thought especially upon this subject of the possibilities of motherhood carried to their utmost.

“Child welfare,” said Mrs. Schoff enthusiastically. “It is man and woman welfare; it is nation welfare, really. Let me tell you what trained motherhood can do.”

“I thought motherhood,” I interrupted, “was instinctive. I thought it alone, of all things, needed no training. I supposed it came quite naturally to the woman, as it comes to animals. Mother love! That certainly does not need training, and the mother who loves her children will take care of them, won’t she?”

“You are like the vast majority of men,” she answered. “You yourselves known nothing thoroughly through instinct. You expect far more of us than of ourselves. You wouldn’t trust your fancy dogs to untrained care, no matter how devotedly your groom loved dogs, et you would trust your children, and have the world intrust its children, to unskilled hands because their touch was loving, to ignorant brains because they were affectionate. That this, since time began, has been the way, is one of the great handicaps beneath which humanity has staggered. That things are bettering now is scarcely to your credit — they should have bettered long ago.

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Written by David

April 22nd, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Education,Life

Seeking An Invention To Prevent Railroad Collisions

From April 23, 1911


SEEKING AN INVENTION TO PREVENT RAILROAD COLLISIONS: Inter-State Commerce Commission Makes Tests on Staten Island of Young Texan’s Device, One of Twenty Selected for Official Investigation. (PDF)

In a sort of precursor to the X Prize, Congress set aside $50,000 and invited inventors to submit their inventions which would prevent railroad collisions.

Of course there was an avalanche — a grand rush of eager young geniuses to the spot. They submitted plans of every description, ranging from those that seemed to possess real merit to the wildest and most impossible dreams that ever rioted through a human brain.

The total number of inventions submitted was 185. Every one of them, no matter how extravagant, was looked into my the commission’s experts. Flaws were picked out which made device after device impracticable — one by one the fruits of hours and days and years of sleepless toll were discarded. At last barely twenty survived.

These were put aside for further consideration and further weeding out. Then exhaustive practical tests of the few survivors were instituted by the commission’s examiners.

I’m unclear if the winning inventor gets the $50,000, or if that money was used to test the inventions. But either way, one invention stood out as having promise, devised by a twenty-six year old named Frederick Lacroix.

No sooner had his idea firmly established itself in his inventive brain than he set to work making experiments, adopting and rejecting various schemes, until at last he hit on exactly what he was after. Then he had a model made for him, and with it made numberless further experiments to see whether his invention fully realized his dreams.

It did.

His solution involved adding a third rail to carry electricity, which forms a circuit with some equipment in the train. Another train on the same section of track would interrupt the circuit, triggering a device that automatically applies the brakes and whistle. As an added benefit, the third rail would also provide a telephone line so the trains can talk to each other.

In repeated tests, Lacroix’s solution worked. But I am unable to find any evidence that it was actually adopted as a safety device. Does anybody know?

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Written by David

April 22nd, 2011 at 9:00 am

More Horse Thievery In New York Than The Far West

From April 23, 1911


MORE HORSE THIEVERY IN NEW YORK THAN THE FAR WEST: So Easy to Do and Hard to Detect That Detectives Are Puzzled What to Do — Looks Like an Organized Industry. (PDF)

Few people need to worry about their horses being stolen anymore, since we’re more likely to drive a car and have an alarm installed. But in 1911, the most you could do is get horse thievery insurance. And once your horse is stolen, it’s unlikely you’ll see it again because it quickly goes to a chop shop and you wouldn’t recognize it if you saw it. I don’t mean it gets chopped up. Just altered a bit. Here’s how Norman Moray of the Great Easter Casualty insurance company describes it:

“No man’s horse is safe. The horse of the big department store is as likely to disappear as the horse and wagon of the small grocer or butcher. Detectives say that the theft is easily covered up. Within six hours after the horse and wagon disappears, a transformation is made, which is so complete that few owners can identify their property. The horse is shorn of his mane and tail, white legs are dyed a color corresponding with the body of the horses, and cases have been known where a stolen horse was described as having a bobbed tail, where the horse when finally recovered was found to have had a very beautiful tail, attached to the former stub.”

Here’s how horse thievery worked. This is useful to know if you plan on making a period version of Gone in 60 Seconds:

Zito’s method was to work with two assistants. He would usually locate a likely looking horse and wagon, and then after watching the route and habits of the driver would find a quiet cross street. He would then have one of his men in the middle of the block, or at the place where the horse usually stopped, and a man at each avenue corner. When the driver left the wagon to deliver his goods the man in the middle of the block would get a signal from the man stationed at the corner that the coast was clear, jump on the wagon, drive it to the corner, where he would be relieved by the man there who would drive the horse rapidly away. The idea of making this change was that in case of an arrest the man found in possession of the rig would have the excuse that he had been hired to take the horse to some certain point if it so happened that the man who had actually stolen the horse from where the driver had left it had been seen by any one, the person who witnessed the theft being unable to identify the man in whose possession the rig was found.

A stolen horse was worth an average of $300 each. But you don’t need to worry about this kind of crime anymore. Unless you drive a Mustang.

Because a Mustang is a car made by Ford, and also a kind of horse.

Just a little joke there.

You can visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau to see what the most stolen vehicles are in your state.


Written by David

April 21st, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in True Crime

How Gamblers Fleece Victims By Crooked Devices

From April 23, 1911


HOW GAMBLERS FLEECE VICTIMS BY CROOKED DEVICES: Clever Schemes to Prevent Big Winnings — Judge Rosalsky’s Parole Plan and Flynn’s Secret Methods Arouse Consternation in “the Fraternity.” (PDF)

As part of an effort to lesson gambling in the city, the Deputy Commissioner tried to educate the public on the fact that they are likely dealing with crooked dealers when they go gambling, and have even less of a chance to win than they realize.

Several kinds of devices are used to swindle the player at poker, but the marked cards are the simplest. These cards are marked, of course, so that the dealer can easily tell the king from the ace, or the deuce from the trey. Seldom, however, is the ce card marked. It is the one card on which even a greenhorn will look for a mark. The marks are made with needle pricks so fine that the ordinary fingers cannot feel them. The cheater, however, files the cuticle of his thumb to such a fine edge that he can feel the marks which others cannot.

I’m reminded of Damon Runyon, whose stories of New York City gamblers were turned into the musical Guys and Dolls. He had only been in New York for a year by this time, and his most famous stories wouldn’t be written for another twenty years, but this famous quote is what comes to mind:

One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come up to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the Jack of Spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you are standing there, you are going to end up with an earful of cider.

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Written by David

April 20th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in True Crime

New York’s First Subway Built More Than Forty Years Ago

From April 23, 1911


NEW YORK’S FIRST SUBWAY BUILT MORE THAN FORTY YEARS AGO: Curious History That Surrounds a Grating Opposite City Hall Marking a Forgotten Enterprise of “Certain Prominent Citizens.” (PDF)

New York City’s subway opened in 1904. So what is this article talking about? Well, there was a secret subway, built without permission from the city. It was only one block long because it was exposed by a reporter before much work could be done. And this subway didn’t run on electricity as our modern subway does. It ran in pneumatic tubes!

So why did it need to be built in secret? Why wouldn’t the city have wanted it? Well, when the subway was first proposed, people did not think it was a good idea. Even the Times was against it:

The Times of March 15, 1869, editorially exclaims: “It is said that the Legislature is quite likely to charter a project for building what is called an arcade railroad under Broadway. We can scarcely believe it. When this wild scheme was dismissed a year or two ago we hoped and believed that we had heard the last of it — and so did everybody else.”

The public and The Times, though, were justified in their distrust of the scheme. Those prominent men wanted to build a subway with a vengeance. What they wanted to do was to dig down, the whole width and length of Broadway from the Battery away uptown, for seventeen feet. They proposed to restore the street by building a roof over the chasm.

This plan, as has been said, died a natural and unobtrusive death. The next move toward a subway was in the early part of 1869. It didn’t seem like a move at all. Legislative power was obtained to construct a pneumatic tube from Warren Street to Cedar Street for the purpose of blowing small and large parcels, indeed all kind of express business, between these two localities.

Then queer rumors began to fly around.

In the latter part of 1869 a young man dressed in working clothes, and looking rather mussed and dirty, went down in the middle of the night to the cellar of the Rogers-Peet Building. In this cellar he groped around until he found an opening he was looking for. He went through the opening and landed in an underground tunnel, dark except for flaring lights here and there. There was an air of excitement and feverish work in this tunnel. Whatever talking there was was done in whispers, although a shout wouldn’t have been heard on the street. The young man applied for work. He got it and spent that and the following night in very hard and earnest digging.

And then The Tribune came out with a full expose of the subway that was secretly being built.

The young man was a Tribune reporter.

The substance of the article was this: In the last week one block of subway tunnel had been dug and built by night. It extended from the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren Street to Broadway and Murray Street. So that nobody should see the earth that was dug away it had all been carted to the big cellar of the Rogers-Peet Building and dumped there. If The Tribune had not exposed what was going on a subway under the whole length of Broadway was to have been secretly built. A car was in the tunnel. Also a big machine that was going to blow the car from one end of the track to the other.

It seemed incredible. Who had ever heard of being blown through the earth to one’s destination?

New York wavered between perplexity and indignation.

When this article came out, the tunnel still existed. But it was most likely destroyed when an authorized subway system tunnel was built soon after. has a page with sketches of the pneumatic subway system, and more information about its demise.

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Written by David

April 19th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Dr. William Hanna Thomson On The Origin Of Life

From April 23, 1911


DR. WILLIAM HANNA THOMSON ON THE ORIGIN OF LIFE: Author of “Brain and Personality” Discusses the World’s Greatest Mystery, Which Has So Long Baffled Science. (PDF)

The last time we heard from Dr. Thomson, he was scolding Thomas Edison for not believing in a soul. So what does he say about the origin of life?

Well, nothing conclusive, of course, He mostly muses about how it’s an interesting question. He touches a little bit on the possibility of Intelligent Design, and marvels at how animals keep having offspring of the same species, but concludes that we really don’t know how it all works.

Every one of the millions of cells of [an elephant’s] future body must develop from that first cell. They are all constructed on the elephant-cell pattern, and according to no other pattern. Each cell must contain an even, never an odd, number, in its nucleus of those little bodies called chromosemes, and upon which heredity depends, because finally that first cell contains something which determines that it will grow into an elephant and not into a frog, according to its hereditary descent from the first elephant.

As a result, the absolute absurdity of the supposition of the spontaneous generation of life appears when we consider that it is not a living substance or thing which we are invenstigating, but a thing which can be a dot and then an animal, and then a dot again for any number of times. It would be easier to imagine a watch spontaneously generating itself than for an oak to become an acorn and then an oak again, and so on through all the years of its geological period.

Reproduction of like from like by means of an inconceivably complex series of connected changes is a characteristic of life only. It has not a single analogue in the non-living kingdom. There is no such thing as hereditary fire, though it may spread, any more than a hereditary glacier, however it may grow by accumulating snow and ice.

His musings take him in directions touching on genetics, but it would be about 25 more years before DNA was understood to be a building block of life.

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Written by David

April 18th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Nature,Science

“The Most Thrilling Moments In Circus Men’s Careers”

From April 16, 1911


“THE MOST THRILLING MOMENTS IN CIRCUS MEN’S CAREERS” The Elephant Man and a Midair Acrobat Tell Stories and a Clown Spins a Funny One. (PDF)

The subhead for this article says that the Elephant Man tells a story of one of the most thrilling moments in his career.The Elephant Man I was thinking of had been dead for over 20 years by the time this story was written, so I assumed they weren’t talking about him, but I wonder what his answer would have been. Anyway, this elephant man is actually the man at the circus who handles and trains elephants.

Yesterday a reporter of The TImes penetrated into the “greenroom” of the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, which is now performing at the Madison Square Garden. Let it be said that this “greenroom” is of Homeric proportions: Twenty-four elephants, camels, other strange animals, and horses and men beyond number, were lined up there waiting for the cue for the grand entree. The Times man, as the circus progressed, wandered about and asked the question: “What has been the most thrilling moment of your circus career?” Is it surprising that the people who are constantly flirting with death spoke only of elephant stampedes and cyclones?

You very likely have seen him — the man in the blue uniform who appears in the Barnum and Bailey grand entree at the head of the elephant herd. His name is Harry Mooney, head elephant man of the circus, and he has been all over the world with shows that ranged from one to three rings.

The Times man asked him for the most thrilling moment in his life.

“It’s hard to pick and choose, but I should say that it was out in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was in charge of five elephants. Water was scarce in those days in Johannesburg. In order to give the elephants the bath which they so much hanker after, particularly in warm dry climates, I led them out to the compound around one of the diamond mines.

“You know these compounds are big stockades built around the diamond mines to keep the negroes from getting away with valuable finds. The negroes work in the mines by day and at night sleep in huts within the stockade. Pumps are going constantly to drain the mines, and the water from these makes good-sized puddles in the compounds.

“There was an American negro and one South African native assisting me with my herd of five elephants.

“We led the herd into the compound, but immediately there appeared what looked to me like three thousand negroes. I guessed none of them had ever seen an elephant before. They crawled out of huts, from behind heaps of dirt, and from every other place conceivable.

“As soon as those negroes appeared the elephants made a rush for the gate. Luckily the gates were closed, and I was able to round the herd up. But I couldn’t get them to go back and take their bath.

“A week later, or about that, I again took the herd back to see if they hadn’t changed their minds. The minute we reached the gates they seemed to recognize them, just like human beings. They began to trumpet, swung around, and before you could snap your fingers they started off down the street.

“I was a little way behind the herd, and when they came at me I swung my elephant hook into the fore flank of one of them. It hung, and I was able to catch and grab hold of his ear. At that instant another elephant of the herd came alongside. The two of them started to run side by side, and I got jammed between them. I guess it only lasted for a second, but it seemed to me like a year. That new elephant simply wiped me from my hold on the elephant’s ear, and I got rolled between the two.

“I realized that if those elephants got a little closer together it would be all up with me, but if they separated a little I would drop — very likely beneath their feet. It was two chances for a bad job.

“Before I knew just what was going to happen, those two elephants had rolled me their entire length, and left me sprawling on the ground. I picked myself up and gathered my wits together just in time to see them disappearing through a lumber yard.

“My knowledge of the town let me know that there was a side street by which, if I beat it quickly, I could head them off. I cut through this and, sure enough, I got there just in time to see the herd of five coming down the street lickety-split.

“The crowd? — yes, and the policemen, too — were beating it in all directions. It was no time for elephant hooks. If you are going to stop an elephant herd at all it is with your voice, and you’ve got to have mighty good reason to know that they are acquainted with that voice, and know just what it means.

“I jumped out into the middle of the street. The five elephants were coming full steam ahead. I yelled, ‘Ho, hey, ho!’

“The five elephants stopped.

“I breathed a relieved breath, and the circus management didn’t have 5 cents to pay.”

If that story of animals forced to perform tricks, breaking free of their captivity, and ultimately being prodded with hooks has made you eager to see the circus, here’s the Greatest Show on Earth tour schedule.

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Written by David

April 15th, 2011 at 11:30 am

Posted in Entertainment

Moving A Million Books Into The New Library

From April 16, 1911


MOVING A MILLION BOOKS INTO THE NEW LIBRARY: Transfer of the Lenox and Astor Library Contents to the Beautiful New Building at Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue a Big Undertaking. (PDF)

The worst thing about moving is all the books. They take much longer to pack than you think they will, they fill more boxes than you guess they will, and they’re a lot heavier than you remember them being. The last time I moved, I probably had a few hundred books that came with me. That’s about 0.02% of what had to be moved into the new library.

At the Forty-second Street entrance to the new building there is always a long line of moving vans, and sixty men from the establishment which is handling the job go in and out, bent under the weight of learning, like frugal ants stocking their hill for the Winter. At the entrance a lady in a sheath skirt, with her hair done in the style of 1860 and her finger poised under her chin, watches the laborers. Even though she is marble, she seems to grow daily more bewildered at the endless procession.

To any oen who has ever moved from one abiding place to another, the mere statement that 1,300,000 pieces have had to be packed, transported, and unpacked is enough without elaboration. When to this is added the fact that many of the volumes are old and of great value and that two picture galleries have had to be moved as well, there is room for amazement that the readers of the city are not going to be deprived of their books for a longer period.

I hope they remembered to lift with their knees, not with their backs.

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Written by David

April 15th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Some Birds Are Composers; Others Sing Popular Songs

From April 16, 1911


SOME BIRDS ARE COMPOSERS; OTHERS SING POPULAR SONGS: Studies of Their Music by a Government Official — Some Birds of a Species Better Musicans Than others — A Lark Which Plagiarized Handel. (PDF)

Just a few weeks earlier, the Sunday Magazine had run an article examining the claim that animal noises are musical. It concluded that they really aren’t. But we’ve all heard birds that imitate what they hear, so it makes a little more sense that they might imitate popular songs.

In recent years, there have been stories of birds imitating other sounds they hear, like car alarms and cell phones. Click through to see a clip of David Attenborough with a wild Lyre Bird that imitates manmade sounds it hears in the forest including cameras, car alarms, and even a chain saw.

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Written by David

April 14th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Music,Nature

Palladino Outdone By A Non-Professional Medium

From April 16, 1911


PALLADINO OUTDONE BY A NON-PROFESSIONAL MEDIUM: Dr. Hyslop Discovers a Girl Who Produces the Most Astounding “Siritualistic” Phenomena Yet Seen — She Does Not Accept money, Gives Tests Only in Private, and Her Identity Is a Secret. (PDF)

It’s James Hyslop again. Can you imagine if the Sunday Magazine today gave space so frequently to an expert in “psychical research”?

In this article, Dr. Hyslop describes a young medium he’s found who is even more talented than more famous mediums, and yet she wants to remain anonymous (she is referred to pseudonymously as “Miss Burton” in the article).

The article reveals that experts have determined Miss Burton a fraud. She has been found to manipulate objects herself that she claimed were being manipulated by the spirit world. For example, a phonograph that started and stopped without being touched was discovered to have been controlled by a rope from afar. And yet Dr. Hyslop still really wants to believe that the other non-physical “phenomena” such as singing or whistling, which she could only do when under a trance, were totally real.

His weak case rests on the fact that Miss Burton seems to really believe she has psychic powers, and when she was called out on her physical deception, she acted surprised to learn that she was actually doing things herself while in a trance. Plus, she wants to remain anonymous, so her motives can’t be fame. Her honest nature suggests that she’s not trying to deceive anyone.

At worst, she’s a fraud. At best, she’s self-delusional.


Written by David

April 13th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Entertainment

Planning To Make New York A Beautiful City

From April 16, 1911


PLANNING TO MAKE NEW YORK A BEAUTIFUL CITY: Municipal Art Society Assembles in an Exhibition Many Suggestions for Doing Away with Ugliness and Increasing the Beauty of the Town. (PDF)

New York City recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of the gridded street system. The Times has put together an interactive map where you can compare the original plan with the final outcome.

I bring it up because in this article — which is mainly about an art exhibit at the Municipal Art Society in which various artists share their vision for a beautified New York — the grid system is not hailed as such a great idea:

[T]here is not a city in Europe laid out on the rectangular plan like New York that has not had to change it sooner or later… Have you ever stopped to think how much time we lose by going straight up and then straight across.. and perpetually rushing around right angles?

It always takes five or ten or fifteen minutes longer to get from one great centre of the city to another than it should. Persons of a statistical turn of mind may calculate that if five million persons lose ten minutes a day in this way it makes fifty million minutes, or nearly a million hours, and so on.

Nobody denies the necessity for more and diagonal avenues. The objection has always been based on expense. It does seem a considerable undertaking to buy up land enough for a new avenue and tear down houses and lay a street, but other municipalities have met the same problem and settled it.

For such a celebrated street system, I was surprised to see that the Municipal Art Society concludes “New York is very badly planned, indeed, but… things are going to be changed, and just as soon as they are the artists can be trusted to see to it that beauty is not forgotten.”

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Written by David

April 11th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Development

Ringing The Chimes Of St. Patrick’s On Easter Day

From April 9, 1911



100 years ago, the bells of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were played by a man who pulled various levers attached to clappers that rang the bells:

Though their music may be heard miles away, it can scarcely be heard in the Cathedral as far back as the Lady Chapel, while the chimes ringer himself, as he stands on the keyboard platform, 110 feet below the bells, operating the levers, will catch but faint murmurs of the melody as he plays. For play he does, when at his duty, after the manner than a man would play the organ, the difference being that instead of using keys, he presses down upon levers. There is a separate lever for each one o the nineteen bells. The device, which is termed the “tracker action,” is the same as that used in the playing of chimes generally. A wooden rod, 110 feet long, attached to each lever by means of a leather strap, and to the clapper of each bell, is the controlling agent of melodic communication.

I’m not sure if the bells are still rung by hand. The bells underwent a restoration at the end of the 20th Century, and I was able to find one video of the bells chiming in 2008, but it’s unclear if they are manually operated. The Cathedral’s official website barely mentions them, although they have plenty of information about the pipe organ.

My favorite church bells in the city are at Riverside Church on the Upper West Side. Their carillon was a gift of J.D. Rockefeller, Jr. It includes the world’s largest and heaviest cast tuned bell, and is still manually played on Sundays and special events. The current carillonneur is an 80-year old man named Dionisio Lind, who was recently profiled by the Daily News, who put together this video featuring him playing the bells:

When I came to New York, the bell tower was open to the public. It cost just two dollars to ride the elevator up half way, and then you would get out and climb the rest of the way through the tower, past all the bells, past the carillon keyboard (called a baton console), until you reached a platform that offerred a 360-degree view of Manhattan and New Jersey. The few times I ever went, there was nobody else up there. It was one of my favorite New York secrets. Unfortunately, the bell tower was closed to the public in 2001, citing fire safety concerns. I guess you can’t really build a fire escape on a bell tower.

Bonus: If you aren’t yet convinced that Riverside Church is way cooler than Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, I have one word for you: Bjork.

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Written by David

April 8th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Music,Technology

Harmonica Artist Who Toured With Jenny Lind

From April 9, 1911


HARMONICA ARTIST WHO TOURED WITH JENNY LIND: Barnum Discovered Him in His Early Days and He Proved to be a Novelty and Made a Hit. (PDF)

This article tells the story of Chris Bathman, who claims to have introduced the harmonica to the professional stage. I can’t find any information about him outside of this article, but here is his story:

“I was born in the town of Thun, canton of Bern, Switzerland,” he said, “in 1846. My parents were manufacturers of cheese, dealers in cattle, etc., and in the near-by town I had an uncle who owned a cheese cellar and exported extensively to England and Germany. I cannot remember when I did not play the harmonica. It seemed to come to me naturally, and when, at the age of about 9, my parents sent me to live with my uncle in town, the natives would keep me playing for their amusement as long as I was able to supply the breath.

“My uncle understood something of the value of the gift as a novelty, and when a man named P. T. Barnum came to our town from America with a small concert company in which was a lady named Jenny Lind, the subject of my unusual musical aptitude on that one instrument was broached. Being so young I was not consulted as to the details of the arrangements that were made between my uncle and Barnum but it resulted in my engaging to travel with the concert company.

“We played in our town for a while, my work on the harmonica being to do solo stunts between acts, and to play with the small orchestra when Jenny Lind sang. My recollection is that the orchestra had four pieces besides my wind instrument. We drew large crowds, and my recollection now is that the performance on the mouth-organ was considered a most wonderful freak of a boy wonder.”

I don’t know if Chris Bathman was really the first professional harmonica player, but there have been several notable players since then.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s there were some famous harmonica orchestras playing vaudeville. My favorite of those (you just knew I had a favorite vaudevillian harmonica orchestra, right?) was Borrah Minevitch and his Harmonica Rascals.

In the 1940s, Warner Brothers produced a 10 minute short featuring Borrah and his Rascals called Borrah Minevitch And His Harmonica School. If you ever get a chance to see the whole thing, I highly recommend it. They do things with harmonicas that you’ve never heard before.

The most I was able to find is this low-quality clip on YouTube which, if memory serves, is the first two minutes of the Warner Brothers short:

Today I think we most often associate harmonica with country or blues. But the harmonica is still played in diverse genres. Few people can match Larry Adler‘s skills in multiple styles in a career which spanned several decades. Here, watch Adler and Itzchak Perlman performing George Gershwin:

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Written by David

April 7th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Entertainment,Music

We Safeguard Property; Now Protect Life — Waldo

From April 9, 1911


WE SAFEGUARD PROPERTY; NOW PROTECT LIFE — WALDO: Fire Commissioner Outlines Plans by Which, Having Made Our Building Fireproof, We Can Prevent the Slaughter of those Who Have to Work in Them. (PDF)

A couple weeks ago, you probably noticed a lot of coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It happened on March 25, 1911, which was a Saturday. The Sunday Magazine did not cover it that weekend — the main news sections of the paper did — but on April 9, Rhinelander Waldo, the city’s Fire Commissioner, wrote this article for the Magazine proposing a new division of the fire department with a new goal: instead of just fighting fires, let’s try to prevent them.

Fire extinguishment in this city has about reached its maximum efficiency. When the motor-driven fire apparatus is installed throughout the city and also the high-pressure water system there will be little left for us to do to raise the efficiency of our fire-fighting force.

The great thing is to prevent fire.

This is simply taking a leaf from the book of the medical profession. For many years doctors concentrated all their efforts upon curing disease. The modern school bends its main efforts to preventive measures.

One of his recommendations doesn’t actually prevent a fire from starting, but can extinguish a small fire before it spreads: automatic sprinklers.

This is a system of pipes which is suspended from the ceiling and which is connected with a tank on the roof. At certain distances on the pipes are nozzles which have fusible metal caps. This metal fuses at a temperature of 160 degrees. Even a small flame will open adjacent nozzles, and the water, which is thrown up against a plate, is diffused over the floor in a spray which covers about eight square feet.

Only last Wednesday there was a demonstration of the efficiency of the sprinkler system. Fire was discovered at 5:15 o’clock in the afternoon in the receiving department on the ninth floor of the building occupied by a well-known department store. Although there were probably more than 1,000 customers in the store at the time, only a few of them knew of the fire. The fact was unknown even to most of the employees. When the heat in the room rose to the necessary temperature the sprinkler system automatically began to work, and at the same time an alarm was automatically sounded. The fire was extinguished quickly with a damage by water that did not exceed $200.

Compare this with what would have occurred had there only been hose pipe in reels on the wall and panicky employees relied upon to haul them through rooms filled with panicky customers.

He goes on to describe how narrow aisles, blocked doors, and discarded rubbish can all create fire hazards. He concludes by proposing a new Bureau of Fire Prevention within the Fire Department that would be in charge of inspecting fire escapes, sprinklers, fireproofing, etc. The proposal went through, and the FDNY website has information about the Bureau of Fire Prevention today.

Bonus: If you actually download the PDF to read the article, you’ll get another article on the same page profiling a circus lion tamer.

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Written by David

April 5th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Development,Politics

Burglary Insurance Men Say Crime Is Decreasing

From April 9, 1911


BURGLARY INSURANCE MEN SAY CRIME IS DECREASING: They Are Paying Less Money for Losses by Robbery Than for Years Past — Flynn Has Reduced the Number of Burglaries Below That in Any Regine Since Inspector Byrnes’s. (PDF)

Insurance companies were noticing a trend. They were getting fewer claims for burglaries. Crime rates, it seemed, were going down. That’s interesting, but it’s some of the article’s peripheral details that interest me most, like this pictures showing tools of the criminals’ trade. One tool is a “jack to raise the safe to position to operate.” Another depicts a three-pegged doohickey suspended in front of a safe. The caption says it’s “the most successful safe-breaking appliance ever invented” but I can’t tell what it is or how it’s supposed to work. Anyone have any ideas?

The article also talks about people who try to scam the insurance companies by faking a break-in when none happened. One jeweler reported a break-in, and when cops arrived they became suspicious. So “the detectives took him to a near-by saloon. When he had had several drinks they took him into the back room of the police station. There he confessed.” Do cops still take suspects for drinks before interrogation?

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Written by David

April 5th, 2011 at 10:30 am

Posted in Politics,True Crime