Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

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.

One comment

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.

3 comments

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