Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Who Was The First Man — Or Woman — To Make A Joke?

From September 3, 1911

WHO WAS THE FIRST MAN -- OR WOMAN -- TO MAKE A JOKE?

WHO WAS THE FIRST MAN — OR WOMAN — TO MAKE A JOKE? Some Familiar Specimens of Modern Humor Traced to Classic Greek and Roman Sources (PDF)

This article has some great 2500 year old jokes. Like this one:

Archelaus, asked by a talkative barber how he would like to be shaved, replied: “In silence.”

Oooh! Snap! Here’s another:

One day Aristippus asked Dionysius for money. “But,” said Dionysius, “I’ve always heard it said that a philosopher never has need of anything.” “We will discuss that point, Sire, but first give me some money,” Aristippus said. The request acceded to, the philosopher immediately ejaculated: “Now you see, Sire, I have need of nothing.”

A couple more:

There was a stranger in Sparta who prided himself on his skill in standing for a long time on one leg. One day when he was showing off his little trick, he called to a Spartan: “Hey! You can’t do this.” “No, but every goose can,” was the quick rejoinder.

Diogenes, when asked what was the most suitable hour for dining, said: “If you are rich, when you please; if you are poor, when you can.”

Oh, that Diogenes. He also had a routine he called “Seven dirty words you can’t say at the Parthenon,” but it’s been lost to the ages.

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Written by David

August 29th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Humor

“In Two Hundred Years There Will Be No Poets Nor Authors”

From July 23, 1911

IN TWO HUNDRED YEARS THERE WILL BE NO POETS OR AUTHORS

“IN TWO HUNDRED YEARS THERE WILL BE NO POETS OR AUTHORS”: Thus Predicts Victor Auburtin, and the Cause, He Claims, Is Democracy and Utilitarianism. (PDF)

It’s only been one hundred years since this prediction was made, so it’s premature to say it hasn’t come true, but so far I think Victor Auburtin is a bit off.

“I believe that art is dying, and fo this belief I shall speak in the present work. Art is dying of democracy and utilitarianism. It is dying because the soil it needs has been built over — the soil of simplicity and superstition. I believe firmly that in 200 years we shall have no more artists and no more poets. On the other hand, we shall surely have machines, duly patented, by which may be turned out sixty plaster copies of the Apollo di Belvedere in a single minute.”

These are the opening words of a highly characteristic work just published by one of that galaxy of young Germans whose names have become known throughout the civilied world through their association with the Simplicissimus — the humorous weekly which by many is regarded as the most effective enemy so far encountered by the upholders of German bureaucracy, militarism, “junkerdom,” and reaction.

The entire run of the German satirical magazine Simplicissimus can be found at simplicissimus.info.

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Written by David

July 19th, 2011 at 11:30 am

Posted in Art,Humor

In The Good Old Days Of Harrigan And Hart

From June 11, 1911

IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF HARRIGAN AND HART

IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF HARRIGAN AND HART: The Death of Edward Harrigan Brings Back to the Older Theatregoers Recollections of the Most Famous Comedians of Their Time in New York. (PDF)

Around the same time that Gilbert and Sullivan were working together in Britain, Edward Harrigan and Tony Hart formed America’s first musical theater team. Harrigan died on June 6, 1911, prompting the Magazine to take a wistful look at Harrigan and Hart’s era in theater.

The passing of Edward Harrigan is more than the death of a good man and a capable actor. It marks the end of an epoch. With his death the fact is emphasized again that the New York which saw the birth of those who are to-day hardly more than beginning to turn gray is forever past. With it has gone a set of social conditions, a cycle of old jokes, and an era of good fellowship. Compared with the 70’s and 80’s when Harrigan and Hart were in their prime, New York to-day is almost as foreign as Hongkong. New times, new people, new ideas — even a new conception of humor.

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Written by David

June 7th, 2011 at 10:30 am

A Man Who Has To Read 10,000 Jokes A Month

From February 19, 1911

A MAN WHO HAS TO READ 10,000 JOKES A MONTH

A MAN WHO HAS TO READ 10,000 JOKES A MONTH: “F. P. A.,” Who Also Writes Jokes Himself, Gives The Times the Confessions of a Professional Chestnut Gatherer — How He Keeps Sane by Reading Darwin. (PDF)

In the 1920s, Franklin Pierce Adams was a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table. He made his name as a columnist for various newspapers where, under the simple byline F. P. A., he wrote humorous jokes and poems, often lampooning popular verse of the period. In the 1930s, he named his column “The Conning Tower”, the term used to describe the observation tower on a submarine. The idea was that from his own tower, he could make observations on the world he saw. Adams accepted submissions from readers, and he published pieces from Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, James Thurber, Eugene O’Neill, and E.B. White.

As far as I can tell, Adams never worked for the Times. When this article was written, his columns may have appeared in the New York Evening Mail and in a feature called “The Spreading Chestnut Tree” in Everybody’s Magazine. But that didn’t prevent them from publishing this in-depth look at the up-and-coming humorist:

Last Monday, when all Manhattan Island and some other parts o the Nation were holidaying, a reporter from The Times found his way into the sanctum of America’s greatest jokee, (i.e., one to whom jokes are made.) His name is Franklin P. Adams, and he keeps the wolf away from his door by reading the jokes that are sent to Everybody’s Magazine in the hope that they will ultimately blossom on “The Spreading Chestnut Tree.” The wolf, apparently, has a sense of humor.

Jokes, a thousand strong, were heaped about Mr. Adams when the reporter entered — by appointment — for an interview on “The American Sense of Humor.”

Mr. Adams slipped a joke into Darwin’s Origin of Species, and, closing the volume with a reluctant sigh, tossed it upon a heap of humor.

Thus begins the interview, which I recommend downloading to read in its entirety. He describes jokes that he gets from prisoners and from children, the differences between jokes from men and women, and how he can tell the difference between a good joke and a bad joke.

Here he describes some of the letters included with submissions he receives:

“Another habit they have is the effort to be facetious in the letters that accompany their jokes. The most usual form is a play on the word ‘chestnut.’ Each one pulls it off as though he had lit on something brand new and very funny. ‘Here are some chestnuts that should be picked,’ ‘chestnuts ripe, but not wormy,’ are a few samples of this lame-duck humor. You can guess how an introduction of this kind keys me up with joyous expectation of the accompanying jokes.

“But in the letters that make no effort to be funny, I find some good laughs. How’s this.”

Mr. Adams fished out of his desk a painfully inscribed epistle:

Dear Sir: Inclosed you will find, under my pen name of Herr von Hornberg-Boenningheim, the MSS. of three half-dozen sets of humorous paragraphs, viz. Nos. 49 to 66 of a collection of seventy half-dozen sets, of 420 paragraphs in all. In order to make quick sales I offer these at the nominal price of $2.50 a set, or $6.50 for the three sets, if taken together. I can furnish more such sets if desired at the same merely nominal price. However, I make this offer on the stipulation that you make your decision, or choice, at once, and, in case you desire to retain them, send me the price thereof within one week’s time or otherwise return the rejected sets of humorous paragraphs at once. Hoping to hear from you within the appointed time, or perhaps receive orders for additional sets. I am yours very truly, A— T—.

“Needless to say,” continued Mr. Adams, “his entire ‘three half-dozen sets of humorous paragraphs’ did not assay 1 per cent of the unconscious humor in his letter. A mild and quite common variation of this letter is the statement, usually accompanying some very poor jokes: ‘I have lots like the inclosed and would like to become a regular contributor.’

[...]

“There are a lot of people who seem to think it necessary to call my attention to the fact that they have inclosed a joke. Here’s a sample:”

Gentlemen: As I have on hand some very good short stories, some jokes and funny sayings, I thought it best to write and explain to you that they are just the thing for The Spreading Chestnut Tree. I shall be glad to accept anything you wish to give for them. Truly, T. B.

“When I looked over his ‘jokes and funny sayings’ I agree with him that he’d be glad to accept anything I’d give for them.”

I guess when you have to go over so many joke submissions, you get bitter about comedy. Still, it’s a very interesting interview. This one is a downloader.

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Written by David

February 18th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Entertainment,Humor

The Woman, The Banana Peel And The Damage Suits

From November 27, 1910

THE WOMAN, THE BANANA PEEL AND THE DAMAGE SUITS

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.

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Written by David

November 26th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Humor,True Crime

Some Good Stories That Bring A Laugh With Them

From November 6, 1910

SOME GOOD STORIES THAT BRING A LAUGH WITH THEM

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.

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Written by David

November 5th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Humor,Life

The Unconscious Comedian In The Third Row

From August 14, 1910

THE UNCONSCIOUS COMEDIAN IN THE THIRD ROW

THE UNCONSCIOUS COMEDIAN IN THE THIRD ROW (PDF)

The story begins:

How would you like to go to the theatre expecting to sit next to a friend, find the seat occupied by a stranger whose face was oddly familiar, have your friends visit you between the acts, and gaze curiously at your companion, and then find out the next day that —

Well, the experience of no less a celebrated first nighter than [playwright] Paul M. Potter is the best answer to this hypothetical question. Furthermore, Mr. Potter, who admits the joke is on him, declares that the incident actually took place as described.

What follows is an anecdote that comments on class differences in 1910 as Potter tries to figure out who the fellow sitting next to him is, and how he knows him. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it did make me think about how differently this event would play out today.

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Written by David

August 13th, 2010 at 9:00 am

From 1890: The First Text Messages

I’m trying something new today. Sometimes in my research I find an interesting old article that I wouldn’t normally post because it’s not from the Sunday Magazine section, or it’s from further than 100 years ago so I’ll never get to it. Instead of letting these go unused, I figure I’ll occasionally post them midweek during what would otherwise be slow weeks. Since this weekend I only have three articles to post, it seems like a good week to try it.

From November 30, 1890 (a Sunday, although not in the Magazine Section)

FRIENDS THEY NEVER MEET

FRIENDS THEY NEVER MEET: ACQUAINTANCES MADE BY THE TELEGRAPH KEY. CONFIDENCES EXCHANGED BETWEEN MEN WHO HAVE NEVER SEEN EACH OTHER — THEIR PECULIAR CONVERSATION ABBREVIATIONS (PDF)

Telegraph operators on opposite sides of the country had some time to get to know each other when they weren’t busy sending other people’s messages. “Metaphorically they shake hands cordially twice a day — when they begin work and when they end it. And when business is dull they hold long conversations, with hundreds of miles — perhaps thousands — separating them, as two friends might do over a dinner table.”

What really caught my eye, though, is that the abbreviations they used seem a lot like the abbreviations used in today’s text messages.

In their conversations telegraphers use a system of abbreviations which enables them to say considerably more in a certain period of time then they otherwise could. Their morning greeting to a friend in a distant city is usually “g. m.,” and the farewell for the evening, “g. n.,” the letters of course standing for good morning and good night. The salutation may be accompanied by an inquiry by one as to the health of the other, which would be expressed thus: “Hw r u ts mng?” And the answer would be: “I’m pty wl; hw r u?” or “I’m nt flg vy wl; fraid I’ve gt t mlaria.”

By the time these courtesies have taken place some early messages have come from the receiving department or from some other wire, and the man before whom they are placed says to his friend many miles away: “Wl hrs a fu; Gol hang ts everlastin grind. I wish I ws rich.” And the other man says: “No rest fo t wickd, min pen,” the last two words indicating that he wants the sender to wait a minute while he adjusts and tests his pen. Presently he clicks out “g a,” meaning “go ahead,” and the day’s work has begun.

I’m not sure what “Wl hrs a fu” is supposed to mean. But it sounds like “min pen” is an 1890 equivalent of today’s instant messager’s “afk brb.”

A couple months ago (in this blog) but actually 20 years later (in real time), the New York Times Sunday Magazine ran an article explaining that these conversations between telegraph operators were how jokes went viral in 1910. So surely there must have been a telegraph equivalent of LOL or ROFL, right?

Operators laugh over a wire, or rather, they convey the fact that they are amused. They do this by telegraphing “ha, ha.” Very great amusement is indicated by sending “ha” slowly and repeating it several times, and a smile is expressed by sending “ha” once or perhaps twice. Transmitting it slowly and repeating it tells the perpetrator of the joke at the other end of the wire that the listener is leaning back in his chair and laughing long and heartily.

So it looks like “ha” was the “LOL” of 1890. And it makes sense, when you consider how easy it is to telegraph “ha” compared to “LOL” or “ROFL” in Morse Code. “Ha” has a nice rhythm to it. Try tapping them out on your desk and see for yourself:

HA: •••• •−
LOL: •−•• −−− •−••
ROFL: •−• −−− ••−• •−••

I was also fascinated to discover that telegraph operators learned to identify each other by how the dots and dashes were transmitted across the wire, and could even distinguish a male operator from a female:

No two operators send alike. The click of the instrument is always the same to the ear of a man who does not understand it, but one operator recognizes the sending of another if he has ever heard it before for any length of time, just as a familiar face is recognized. Operator “Tommy” Snaggs leaves New-York, and, after roaming from one city to another, finally lands in the Galveston (Texas) office and goes to work. He is put down to work a wire running to Kansas City. The man in Kansas City begins to send. Mr. Snaggs pricks up his ears and interrupts the sender. “Ain’t tt u Billy Robinson?” he asks, and the other man says, “Yes, tts me, & ur ole Tommy Snaggs.” Mr. Snaggs returns, “tts wo I am, I thot I reconized ur sendin.” Then they devote a few moments to telling of their travels. The last time they worked on the same wire one was in Boston and the other in Montreal.

It is a peculiar fact also that an experienced operator can almost invariably distinguish a woman’s sending from a man’s. There is nearly always some peculiarity about a woman’s style of transmission. it is not necessarily a fault. Many women send very clearly and make their dots and dashes precisely as they were intended to be made. It is impossible to describe the peculiarity, but there is no doubt of its existence. Nearly all women have a habit of rattling off a lot of meaningless dots before they say anything. But some men do that too. A woman’s touch is lighter than a man’s, and her dots and dashes will not carry so well on a very long circuit. That is presumably the reason why in all large offices the women are usually assigned to work the wires running to various parts of the cities.

When two operators fight across the telegraph, it’s called a “fight circuit” and it’s pretty futile because it’s impossible for two operators tapping at once to tell what the other is saying. The article tells a humorous old story of one operator who set up a rudimentary chat bot to fight for him (possibly passing the Turing test 22 years before Alan Turing was even born):

They fought for some time. Neither would yield. The man at Albany, who was old and astute, saw that the man at Syracuse, who was young and stubborn, was in for an all-night struggle. The Albany man looked around for a proxy. He found it in the clock wire, which was a wire attached to the clock’s pendulum, the swaying of which acted to open and close the circuit. He connected the Syracuse wire with the clock wire and went home to bed, leaving the Syracuse man valorously battling with the tick-tick, tick-tick of the clock. The old story concludes with the veracious statement that when the Albany man reached the office the next morning he heard the Syracuse man still fighting the clock, and that when the former disconnected the clock wire and closed the circuit the latter snapped out triumphantly, “I downed you at last, did I?”

•••• •− •••• •−.

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Written by David

August 10th, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Humor,Life,Technology

Freak Patents That Have Come In With The Aeroplane

From July 31, 1910

FREAK PATENTS THAT HAVE COME IN WITH THE AEROPLANE

FREAK PATENTS THAT HAVE COME IN WITH THE AEROPLANE: Would-Be Inventors Keep the Department at Washington Busy With Schemes That Sound Flighty. (PDF)

The illustrations and descriptions of crazy flying contraptions that people applied for patents on (sometimes successfully) are fantastic. I managed to find one of the actual patents for a machine mentioned in the article that’s powered by birds. I think the technical drawings in the patent are even better than the illustrations shown here. Check it out. It’s powered by eagles!

Here’s how the article describes that invention:

From gay Paree comes Edouard Wulff, with a patented scheme for flying by means of “eagles, vultures, or condors.” True to the instincts of his native city, he fits out his birds with “corsets,” the specifications of which as to trimmings, binding, etc., are carefully set out.

By a strange oversight for one bred in the city of fashions, he fails to state what is the latest mode of wearing the feathers on his motors. With wise foresight he has provided for two aeronauts, one on top among the birds and the other below to steer the craft. This is sensible; a man busy prodding up a dozen uncouth and bewildered condors wouldn’t have much time for steering.

Not all of the inventions are outrageous in hindsight. The article takes a mocking tone at a proposed airship so big it has several floors and resembles a hotel, but of course we have multilevel jumbo jets today, some with luxury approaching that of hotels, so it wasn’t so far fetched.

Most of the invention descriptions in the article are too vague for me to find the original patents (if they truly even reached the application stage), but you can find a lot of this kind of thing using Google’s patent search engine. Here is a link to search “flying machine” or “airship” with results displayed visually in chronological order.

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Written by David

July 30th, 2010 at 10:15 am

If You Are Bald You’ll Stay Bald

From July 24, 1910

IF YOU ARE BALD YOU'LL STAY BALD

IF YOU ARE BALD YOU’LL STAY BALD: That’s What a Tonsorial Artist Says and He Always Has His Reasons Therefor (PDF)

The logic here seems to be: If there were a cure for baldness, barbers would know about it. Barbers don’t know about it. Therefore there is no cure for baldness. Modus tollens.

But the real gem is this quote: “Some are born bald. Some achieve baldness. Some have baldness thrust upon them… The born bald usually get over it and live to get it again.” Sage words.

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Written by David

July 23rd, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Humor,Life,Science

Strange Fashions In Burial Robes

From July 10, 1910

STRANGE FASHIONS IN BURIAL ROBES

STRANGE FASHIONS IN BURIAL ROBES: How the Whims of Various Eccentric People as to How They Should Be Clothed in Death Are Carried Out (PDF)

Not surprisingly, a lot of women wanted to be buried in the wedding dresses. And one woman wanted to be buried in all her expensive furs so that none of her feuding relatives could have them. But this story is my favorite:

“One of the oddest whims I have ever been called upon to humor was that of the man who insisted on going to his grave wrapped in the traditional sheet. He sent for me several days before he died and explained his fancy.

“I misunderstood him at first. I thought he meant an ordinary white shroud… But he quickly corrected that impression.

“‘I don’t mean anything of the kind,’ he said. ‘I want to be buried in a sheet — a plain, every-day white sheet.’

“For once my curiosity got the better of my good manners.

“‘I will do as you ask, of course,’ I said, ‘but will you kindly tell me why you want to be dressed in that peculiar style?’

“The old fellow’s answer fairly staggered me.

“‘Because I am going to do a good deal of haunting when I’m through with the flesh,’ he said, ‘and I’m going to take the sheet along with me, so there will be no delay about getting down to business. I’m going to leave lots of people behind who have been playing me mean tricks all their lives. I have never been able to get back at them in my present state, but just wait till I get clear of these fetters, and if I don’t haunt them good and hard and make them wish they’d done the square thing by me when they had a chance it won’t be my fault.’

“I couldn’t make it out then, and I have not been able to make out since, whether the old chap was downright crazy or just eccentric,” concluded the undertaker. “Any way, it was not my business to investigate his mental condition. My business was to bury him in a sheet, so long as he asked me to and was willing to pay for it, and I performed my part of the transaction to the letter.”

I’m skeptical, though. The undertaker is never named, and being buried in a white sheet doesn’t seem like so outrageous a request that it would prompt such surprise. The more I come across articles like this, the more I think 1910 must have been a weird time to live.

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Written by David

July 9th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Humor,Life

O. Henry (Sidney Porter) As His Intimates Knew Him

From June 12, 1910

O. HENRY SIDNEY PORTER AS HIS INTIMATES KNEW HIM

“O. HENRY” (SIDNEY PORTER) AS HIS INTIMATES KNEW HIM: Quiet, Modest, Reserved, He Avoided the Limelight and Found Happiness in Odd Corners of New York That Furnished Types and Plots for His Delightful Stories (PDF)

O. Henry, author of famous stories including The Gift of the Magi died on June 5, 1910. In this article, the New York Times Magazine writes a nice remembrance.

You can download several of his stories for free at Project Gutenberg.

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:10 am

Posted in Humor,Literature

Passing A Good Joke Along The Wire

From June 12, 1910

PASSING A GOOD JOKE ALONG THE WIRE

PASSING A GOOD JOKE ALONG THE WIRE (PDF)

Today viral jokes spread by email, Twitter, or blogs. But in 1910, jokes went viral by telegraph, and not how you might think:

[The reporter asks] “Do you mean to say that there are people so anxious to spring a new joke that they will go to the expense of telegraphing it to their friends?”

[The telegraph operator responds] “No; no one goes to the expense — that’s on the telegraph company. You see, it’s this way: The operators at all the big telegraph centres over the country have a speaking acquaintance with each other. They call each other by first names, though the chances are that they haven’t the slightest idea of each other’s appearance. During the night the wires are often quiet. Now, suppose a message has just been sent from New York to Buffalo; for the time being there is nothing more to be dispatched, and no other operator is trying to get the wire. In this case the telegraph instrument in Buffalo is very apt to click off, ‘Say, Jim, I just heard a new story. It’s a good one,’ and the story follows.

“When Jim at Buffalo gets Jack at Chicago or Pete at St. Louis on an idle wire, the new story is passed along. And so in a single night a cracking good story may be passed from New York to San Francisco.”

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Humor,Life,Technology

Circus Clown A Serious Person Out Of The Ring

From May 15, 1910

CIRCUS CLOWN A SERIOUS PERSON OUT OF THE RING

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.

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Written by David

May 14th, 2010 at 9:13 am

Rearing Babies By Scientific Methods

From May 8, 1910

REARING BABIES BY SCIENTIFIC METHODS

REARING BABIES BY SCIENTIFIC METHODS (PDF)

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

Mark Twain — Philosopher Of Democracy

From April 24, 1910

MARK TWAIN -- PHILOSOPHER OF DEMOCRACY

MARK TWAIN — PHILOSOPHER OF DEMOCRACY: The Serious Side of the Famous Humorist Whose Dominant Note Was Love of Liberty and Hate of Shams (PDF)

Mark Twain died 100 years ago this week, on April 20, 1910. The following Sunday, the Times ran this remembrance of him on the front page of the Magazine Section.

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Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:05 am

Scientific Play For Children

From April 3, 1910

SCIENTIFIC PLAY FOR CHILDREN

SCIENTIFIC PLAY FOR CHILDREN (PDF)

This article outlines rules for playing tag, based upon rules adopted by the International Playtime Committee on Juvenile Sports. It took me a minute to realize that this article is not serious, but is an example of turn-of-the-last-century humor. Here are some of the rules:

I. — Tag is a game in which three or more players try to touch each other, not for money, but for fun, and with their hands.

II. — It may be played by any child over two and under ninety who is strong in wind and limb, and who has the time to devote to it.

III. — The player who is appointed by lot to touch the others is called “IT.” He should be able to stand on his feet and run if he is to be at all expert in the game.

It goes on to explain Rule XI, which describes the end of the game as “when all the players are out of breath.” Rule XII admonishes against playing in a parlor full of Chippendale furniture. And Rule XIII explains that there are no winners in tag, only a loser.

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Written by David

April 2nd, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Posted in Humor,Science