Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Passing A Good Joke Along The Wire

From June 12, 1910



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: Yet People Refuse to Believe He Is Anything But a Buffoon Even in His Private Life (PDF)

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Yes, son.’

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

“‘It was, my son.’

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

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

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

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

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

But, as the New York Times reported later:

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

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

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


Written by David

May 14th, 2010 at 9:13 am

Rearing Babies By Scientific Methods

From May 8, 1910



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

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

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Written by David

May 7th, 2010 at 9:03 am

Mark Twain — Philosopher Of Democracy

From April 24, 1910


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.


Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:05 am

Scientific Play For Children

From April 3, 1910



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