From January 8, 1911
AND NOW — BEWARE THE CAT: From Cleveland Comes the News That Pussy Spreads Tuberculosis. (PDF)
Get your mind out of the gutter.
From January 8, 1911
AND NOW — BEWARE THE CAT: From Cleveland Comes the News That Pussy Spreads Tuberculosis. (PDF)
Get your mind out of the gutter.
From January 1, 1911
ZERO AT THE EQUATOR SOME DAY, SAYS DR. H. W. WILEY: But the Winds Will Keep People Warm, Adds the Head Chemist of the Agricultural Department — Which Doesn’t Mean What It Seems To. (PDF)
H. W. Wiley of the US Agricultural Department is worried that the world is cooling. But he has a plan: windmills.
Dr. Wiley has been at work for a long time, perfecting and polishing the processes by which he will make electricity out of the wind, but he has not talked about it until very recently. Then, at Washington, he delivered a lecture upon whether the human race ultimately will starve or freeze. His reply was that the earth was cooling so unmistakably that freezing was to be our lot. Starvation could be indefinitely forefended by means of artificial and intelligent cultivation of soil, but what could warm us satisfactorily if Broadway became like unto the north pole, and the equator as bleak and rayless as the Alaskan wastes?
The answer, said Dr. Wiley, was warmth and work by electricity, and electricity to be had from the winds.
He goes on to lament that nobody can come up with a way to get the planet to stop cooling and start warming.
If in 100 years we have 800,000,000 persons on this earth to feed, we can do it with the utmost ease. Starvation, in short, is a dim and remote occasion. But not so with the cold. Up to the present we have found no generally accepted method of making the warmth of the earth reproduce itself. We cannot fertilize our generators of heat, with the heat we had yesterday and have used. We may make our earth arable by allowing its own vegetation to fall on it, and lie till it is assimilated. How are we to make our heat reproductive?
Things Dr. Wiley got wrong: The world population is about 8.6 times greater than his estimate. Starvation currently affects almost 16% of the population. That’s about a billion people. And of course, we stumbled upon a way to heat up our planet in ways he didn’t even consider.
But we do use windmills for electricity.
From December 25, 1910
SAYS HE CAN STOP HIS HEART’S BEATING AT WILL: Nordini Gives Exhibitions of Unusual Muscular Control That Astonishes Investigators. (PDF)
Nordini, the man who said he can stop his heart’s beating at will, also claimed he could hold his breath for extended periods of time, and was buried under a ton of sand to prove it. Is that more or less impressive than David Blaine doing the same stunt in a tank of water? According to the article, Nordini was able to stop his heartbeat for 20 seconds. David Blaine said that in his breath-holding stunts, he was able to slow his heartrate down to 12 beats per minute. Nordini wins.
From December 25, 1910
JAMES LANE ALLEN ON “THE FUTURE CHRISTMAS”: Author of “The Bride of the Mistletoe” Traces Festival to Remote Pagan Past and Pictures Its Development Through the Ages. (PDF)
Although the headline suggests the article is all about the future, in fact novelist James Lane Allen gives a detailed history of Christmas. He focuses on the symbols we associate with the holiday — the tree, Santa, etc — and explains their Pagan origins. He then speculates that in the future, Christmas will again be celebrated as a ritual worshiping nature. He doesn’t say exactly when this will happen, so there’s still time for his prediction to come true.
James Lane Allen wrote a story that uses on the Pagan roots of Christmas as a theme. It’s called The Bride of the Mistletoe and can be read free here at Project Gutenberg
From December 25, 1910
WHEN THE GIANT DINOSAUR WALKED DOWN BROADWAY: Unexpected Discovery of the Skeleton of This Animal of Ten Million Years Ago in the Palisades Interests Scientists. (PDF)
If a fairly prosperous but somewhat bibulous and pleasure-loving New Yorker, going home on a Christmas eve or Christmas night, were to find before his door an animal which rested on the ground on limbs the size of barrels, having a body which would fill several Harlem flat rooms and spill over into the next door apartment, and a head which looked into the third story window, he would think strange thoughts about himself and probably anchor himself on the water wagon for evermore.
But that is just what he might have seen had he antedated Father Knickerbocker some ten million years and lived in the days of the dinosaurs. The immensely interesting discovery a short while ago of the skeleton of one of the earliest forms of dinosaurs in the Palisades opposite West 150th Street proves beyond a doubt the character of the earliest inhabitants of this pleasant island of Manhattan.
Indeed, all sorts of prehistoric animals roamed New York before man ever set foot here (or anywhere else, for that matter). You can see some modern computer animated recreations of Manhattan’s early animals in these video clips from the “New York” episode of the Discovery Channel program Prehistoric.
From December 11, 1910
GERMANY HAS A TALKING DOG: Don, the Marvelous Setter with a Vocabulary of Six Words — Scientists Stupefied. (PDF)
These days it seems that everybody has a talking dog. But do any of those dogs speak German? Don the Dog Who Is Either A Setter Or A Pointer did!
Don’s power of speech was revealed when he was 6 months old. It came to light without training or teaching of any kind upon the part of his master. The dog took up his position one day while the Ebers family was sitting at supper and began begging, in familiar dog fashion, with his eyes. “Willst du wohl was haben?” (You want something, don’t you?) asked the game keeper, expecting nothing in reply except the stereotyped, grateful, affirmative look from Don’s soulful eyes. To Herr Eber’s consternation, the dog answered, not with a look, but with unmistakably plain and intelligent speech, “Haben!” (Want.) It was the first time a spoken word have ever escaped his lips.
The article notes that “Skeptics persist in the belief that whatever the dog ‘says’ is at best only articulate growling or barking.” But that surely can’t be the case, because the Times only publishes the news that’s fit to print.
Bonus fun fact: The phrase “Scientists Stupefied” only has three Google search results at the time of this writing (excluding instances where the words appear together but are parts of separate clauses).
From November 20, 1910
DID LIFE FIRST COME TO THIS EARTH IN A METEOR: Arrhenius, Following Kelvin, Holds That Its Initial Germs Were Brought Here in a Fragment of an Exploded World, and That Particles of Our Globe Are Now Taking Life to Others. (PDF)
Before we go into the details of this article, take another look at the photo of the meteorite above and make sure you see the children. I missed them the first time. That meteorite is known as the Willamette Meteorite and it can still be seen in the Hayden Planetarium* at the American Museum of Natural History, where it has been since 1906.
In the article, astronomer Mary Proctor (whose articles for the Times Magazine have graced this site before) discusses panspermia, the idea that life can spread throughout the universe carried on meteors and asteroids.
The first time I heard about panspermia, my mind was blown. I hadn’t considered that life could have come here from somewhere else. But it makes sense as a possibility. And if meteors can theoretically bring life to our planet, that means we can theoretically send life to other planets. Wait a minute! What if those first crafts we sent to Mars weren’t completely sterile? What if we sent a germ, bacteria, or other microbe capable of withstanding space travel and Mars’ atmosphere? Perhaps over the next hundred million years it could evolve into something more intelligent than us!
From October 23, 1910
“CROSSING THE ATLANTIC FEASIBLE” SAYS PROF. ROTCH OF HARVARD: He Has Charted the Air Lanes Above the Ocean and Future Balloon Voyagers Will Have Their Wind Currents Marked Out For Them. (PDF)
It seems that every week brings another story about air travel, and this one brings good news for those aeronauts planning to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an airship: a Harvard Professor has just completed a study of wind currents that could dramatically cut your travel time.
“It is evident that the currents in the various levels of the atmosphere are of vastly more importance to the aeronaut than are the ocean currents or surface winds to the sailor, since the winds above the earth’s surface blow much faster tan the surface winds, and aerial machines are considerably more bulky than aquatic vehicles of the same carrying capacity.
“Moreover, a balloon or flying machine, wholly immersed in one medium, cannot tack, as a ship floating in the water can advance partly into the wind. Consequently a balloon without motive power can only drift with the current, and a dirigible balloon or flying machine must possess a proper speed superior to that of the current in which it floats in order to make headway against it. Hence the necessity in the case of the balloon without power, and the advisability of the airship or heavier-than-air machine to seek a favorable current in the aerial ocean.”
From October 9, 1910
AUTHOR OF “BRAIN AND PERSONALITY” REPLIES TO EDISON: Dr W. H. Thompson, Whose Book the Inventor Quoted, Says That Any One Denying the Immortality of the Soul Is Either Abnormal or Pathological. (PDF)
100 years ago last week, the Times Magazine ran a front page article in which Thomas Edison states his belief that there is no soul, and no life after death. This week, the Magazine printed several articles in response.
In the original article, Edison said that our brains are nothing more than bundles of cells. In reply, Dr W. H. Thompson, author of a book called “Brain and Personality” (Google Books), says that Edison doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He correctly points out that “the fact that he is prominent in one branch of science does not entitle him to pass on other branches of science.” Often a person who is an expert in one area oversteps their bounds by speaking authoritatively in another area. So it’s good of Thompson to call out Edison on that point. But with no concrete evidence of immortality, does Thompson, an expert on the brain, commit the same infraction when he states, “People who do not believe in immortality are abnormal, if not pathological”? Where did he get his expertise on immortality?
He goes on to say interesting things about the brain and how it relates to personality, as was understood in 1910. I’d like to see a recent look at the subject for comparison. How much more do we know about the brain and personality now than we knew a hundred years ago?
From October 9, 1910
ILLITERATE MAN BECOMES A DOCTOR WHEN HYPNOTIZED: Strange power Shown by Edgar Cayce Puzzles Physicians (PDF)
Edgar Cayce was a self-professed psychic who is today regarded as an early influence on the New Age movement. He is most known for putting himself into a trance and answering questions about health, although he also answered questions on everything from reincarnation to Atlantis.
For a great bit of reading on the subject, start with this article. Then read his biography at the Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment. Finish with the Edgar Cayce entry at the Skeptic’s Dictionary, which explains how Cayce and others like him appear to do what they claim to do.
From August 14, 1910
TO LESSEN CRIME IN CHILDREN THROUGH MEDICAL CARE: The Work of Dr. M. G. Schlapp of Cornell University Medical School Among the Feeble Minded and Unfortunate Young in New York; Scientific Observations of the Environments and the Symptoms of Mentally Defective Children to be Collected and Recorded. (PDF)
The theory posed here by Dr. Schlapp of Cornell Med School is that kids who commit crimes are either normal kids who unfortunately live in abnormal environments, or they are themselves physically or mentally abnormal. In these cases, if we can cure the defect, the child should no longer have criminal tendencies. Easy enough.
In the furtherance of this effort to reclaim unfortunate boys and girls, every child that is arrested in the City of New York is taken to the Children’s Society, and, whether the offense be serious or trivial, an examination that is complete as medical science can make it is conducted, for the purpose of discovering whether or not the little one is mentally disturbed, and, if he is, whether that condition is due to defects in heredity or in environment.
After the examination of the child has indicated the nature of the moral or physical defect that has landed him in the clutches of the law, that child becomes a subject of observation on the part of the doctors and agents of the Children’s Society. if his predicament is the result of an inherited disease, the plan is to treat him medically until the last trace of that disease has been eradicated, and that accomplished, to judiciously train and look after him until he becomes his own master and is able to take his place in life as a useful member of society…
Here is an actual case that recently came to the attention of the Children’s Society.
A boy, 10 years old, was arrested by the police at a seaside resort. He had stolen about $20 from his father. He did not deny it, and when asked if he would do so again, answered, “Yes, if I get a chance.”
For several years the lad had been in the habit of running away from home. The laymen would call him an incorrigible. Apparently he was mentally normal, yet he had no feeling whatever for father, mother, or sister, or anybody else except himself. He was absolutely morally deficient. That boy needed, and he is getting, medical treatment and observation, and the chances are that he will be saved.
It’s unclear to me what kind of medical treatment would cure a boy of morally deficiency, and the article does not elaborate. But they’re going to have their work cut out for them, as one week earlier the Magazine noted that 11,000 kids were arrested last year alone.
From July 17, 1910
SHOULD DARK OR LIGHT CLOTHES BE WORN ON HOT DAYS? Interesting Experiments by Government Experts on the Effect of the Color of Garments (PDF)
Summer heat getting to you? Cool off with this lengthy look at experiments carried out in an effort to determine whether you should wear light clothes, dark clothes, light clothes over dark clothes, or some other combination to beat the heat.
The problem of the undergarments has been taken up by the Federal Government very seriously of late and exhaustive tests have been made. The experiments have been carried out on an elaborate scale recently in the Philippines, where a thousand men have been used in the tests which have been carried on for upward of a year. If the soldier can be made to march further, carry more weight, and fight better in hot weather merely by changing his shirt, naturally the United States Government wants to know all about it.
It’s actually pretty interesting to see the lengths they went to, the blood tests, the dietary monitoring, the consideration of dark skin versus light skin, etc., in their research. The conclusion at the time was that our bodies suffer from the short wavelength light rays more than the actual heat, so opaqueness of clothing matters more than the color.
From July 3, 1910
A TREE NEAR THIS CITY THAT IS NEARLY 320 YEARS OLD: It Has Withstood the Storms of Centuries and the Axe of Progress and Is a Rarity (PDF)
Alas, the tree described here as “a beautiful spreading tulip tree towering over 125 feet high” is no longer standing. But there is a nice tribute page online which has several photos of the tree, and of the plaque that now marks the spot where the tree once stood.
Should you wish to visit the plaque, you can follow these directions from the article:
For the benefit of those readers who might like, sometime, to pay it a visit — it is really wonderful when one stops to think that there is actualy [sic] one tree in Manhattan of such great age — here are the directions how to find it. Take a Broadway Subway, and get off at the Two Hundred and Seventh Street station. Walk directly west along Emerson Avenue about a mile, or until you nearly reach the edge of the woods — Cold Spring Grove. Then bear off northwest along either one of the two roads — paths they really are — that lead toward the water, and then — well, ask anyone who lives in the little houses bordering the creek to direct you to the “big tree” — they’ll do so.
Well, Cold Spring Grove is now Inwood Hill Park, and the paths may have changed a bit in the past 100 years, but it should still be a nice place to visit. The park is the largest remaining forest land on Manhattan, and walking through those woods it’s easy to forget you’re on the same island as a concrete jungle.
Incidentally, the oldest living tree in the city is now 331-year-old English Elm tree in Washington Square Park known as Hangman’s Elm. Legend has it that the tree was used for public hangings, although there are no records that verify this.
From July 3, 1910
THE CITY IS THE LANDLORD OF THIS TENTED TOWN: A Rental of One Dollar a Week Is Asked, Which Is Really a Water Tax — 2,000 Persons in a Picturesque Community (PDF)
From the headline, I assumed the article was about a shanty town, perhaps a precursor to the shacks and tents in Central Park during the Great Depression, but I was dead wrong. This is more like a commune on a beach, paid for by the City of New York.
500 permits were available for families to live in tents on Orchard Beach in The Bronx. There was running water, beautiful views of the ocean, porches, social life, music, and festivities. And it was free! The tenants just had to pay one dollar for the running water.
This city on a beach flourished until Robert Moses ruined all the fun in 1934. Here is a bit of history from the website of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation:
By the time Moses was named Parks Commissioner in 1934, the campsite had become a well-established colony, complete with a city-like infrastructure. Campers enjoyed conveniences such as street cleaning, mail and fire service, ice delivery, and garbage hauling. Tents that Parks built in the early part of the century gave way to more stable structures with electricity, running water, and telephone service. After a lawsuit was filed in 1927, the city moved to officially endorse this arrangement. Moses remained wary of the encampment’s elite appearance, however, and devised a plan to create a facility that the entire city could use. In February 1934, he gave the campers a year to vacate the site.
Today, families can still sleep in a tent on Orchard Beach as part of the city’s weekly summer park campouts. They rotate between the city’s parks each weekend throughout the summer. The remaining dates for camping on Orchard Beach this year are July 30 and August 27. Registration is required.
From July 3, 1910
GOOD SCHOOL LUNCHES FOR THREE CENTS PROVE A SUCCESS: And for a Penny More Dessert Is Supplied — That Is the Interesting Result of Experiments by the School Lunch Committee (PDF)
It’s nice to read an account of a School Lunch Committee that cares about affordable nutrition in schools where poor children are often malnourished.
For a child who is really very ill-nourished one meal a day is not the solution of all its troubles, but it goes a good way toward helping. Moreover, the luncheons are planned so carefully that for each 3 cents the child gets almost half the number of calories that scientists have declared necessary for a day’s nourishment. So the one meal does a good deal. There was some talk when the subject of this experiment was first broached to the effect that it was unnecessary, that no children went to school complaining of hunger. It was the old trouble of confusing hunger with malnutrition. But now, armed with facts and figures, the committee is ready to prove its case. And then they will doubtless ask, “What are you going to do about it?”
Everybody knows that children who have not a fair start in life are likely at some time in some way to become a charge to the State. Fortunately only a small proportion of them ever come to this, for if it were the rule there would be no money for anything but caring for invalids and paupers; still, whenever a child is neglected the State runs the chance of having some day to pay for it.
On all sides we hear about race suicide, and we have it drilled into our ears that the nation whose birth rate declines is well started on the road that leads to degeneration. To all of this everybody is constantly saying “Amen” with pious fervor. Meanwhile what children there are in the country may die from malnutrition without anybody becoming particularly excited over the fact.
The country wants children; the country must have children; and then when children do come the country does not seem to feel that it is its business to keep them alive…
It would really seem to an impartial observer from Mars or some other logically minded planet that we ought either to take care of the children when they are here or else drown them as soon as they are born.
Jamie Oliver would be proud.
From June 26, 1910
HOW TO GET SLEEP ON HOT SUMMER NIGHTS: Advice from Well Known Physicians and Specialists Which Will Make the Sizzling Season Easier to Bear (PDF)
What’s a New Yorker to do when the air conditioner breaks down? How on Earth is anyone supposed to get to sleep? Take some tips from 1910, where sleeping in the heat was the norm. Air conditioners didn’t really become common in public spaces for another ten years.
Advice from the article: eat in moderation and avoid alcohol and cigarettes before bed; try to keep a worry-free mind; avoid meat but enjoy fruits and berries. And if your bedroom is too hot, you can always try sleeping in one of the locations pictured: a rooftop, a pier, a park, or a fire escape.
One photo is labeled “an open-air bedroom.” This downtown brownstone takes that concept literally.
From June 19, 1910
CAN YOU TELL AN EAR FOR MUSIC BY LOOKING AT IT? If Dr. J. J. Kinyoun’s Theory Is True the External Ear Dicsloses Whether You Have the Musical Gift or Not (PDF)
For a minute in 2007, the blogosphere was abuzz about a Hungarian plastic surgeon named Dr. Lajos Nagy who claimed that making your ears pointy would allow you to better appreciate music. He said this craze was huge in New York, and would soon be sweeping the globe.
On his website, he explains scientifically why pointed ears are more sensitive to sound:
One of its reasons is rather simple: pointed ears focus sounds in a better way, which, in the case of animals, is supplemented by the fact that they can orientate themselves towards the source of sounds without turning their heads, by moving only their ears.
The other reason is the own frequency of the pinnae, as being solid objects themselves, which changes together with their shape. Pointed ears resonate with sounds at the frequency of around 8 kHz, thus they amplify sharp sounds instead of the intermediate frequencies. This is the reason why, amongst other things, dogs are sensitive to ultrasonic sounds, which are imperceptible for human ears.
Although turning the pinnae still remains impossible for human beings according to its anatomic features, the advantages of pointed ears can be enjoyed once again with the help of a simple, routine operation.
Of course all of this is ridiculous, and it doesn’t take much poking around on his site to realize that it’s a big joke (see this discussion for more information).
If the hoaxter had seen this 1910 article, perhaps his fictional doctor could have marketed his craft differently. This article claims that ear shape determined not your ability to appreciate music, but to be musical yourself. As one doctor quoted in the article says:
“It is commonly thought that persons who have the musical ‘gift’ have a peculiarity of the auditory tract, which distinguishes them from ordinary folk. There seem to be an actual physical quality in the hearing of musicians whereby they differentiate tones with subtlety, and this quality is congenital…
[There is] a peculiar conformation of the external ear in musicians, first observed by Dr. J. J. Kinyoun of Washington, but never published, which is constant and readily perceptible.”
I’d go on to quote the description of the peculiar conformation, but it makes about as much sense as Dr. Nagy’s explanation for his procedure, so I’ll spare you the details. But the conclusions at the end of the article are still worth a look if you want to know how to tell if your own kids are musical by looking at their ears. And if they’re not, I suppose they can always get plastic surgery.
From June 19, 1910
POT SHOOTING IN CENTRAL PARK: Archer Hazzler, a Crack Rifle Shot, Has the Unique Privilege of Shooting When and Where He Will in the Great Pleasure Ground (PDF)
Wild animals occasionally make their way into Central Park. Just a few months ago, a coyote in the Park seemed to be the talk of the town. In modern times, these animals are taken down by NYPD sharpshooters with tranquilizer guns. But back in 1910, there was one man whose full time job was hunting animals in New York City’s parks. His name was Archer Hazzler. He had a license to kill.
Hazzler’s method of hunting is very simple. He keeps a small boat ready to be launched on the lakes and, rifle in hand, gently paddles along the shores. These expeditions are usually undertaken early in the mornings before the public is astir.
Early risers in the great buildings facing the Park have doubtless heard the persistent crack, crack of a rifle near by and wondered at it. Hazzler thinks nothing of coming in from such a hunting trip with a bag of fifty or more rats…
The Park sharpshooter must, of course, be extremely cautious in his hunting not to interfere with the safety of the general public. So well has he done his work that there has never been an accident, never a stray shot for all the thousands of birds and animals he has brought in.
He avoids the more frequented sections of the Park, and especially the walks or drives. For this reason very few people of the millions who constantly visit the parks have ever caught a glimpse of him.
But some day if you chance upon a wiry, alert little man wearing a rough rider hat with a faded gilt cord and carrying a polished rifle in his hand you will know that it is he.
From June 19, 1910
“NO CENTENARIAN LIVING,” SAYS DR. WOODS HUTCHINSON: And Probably Only Three Ever Lived to be Over 100 Years of Age He Concludes After Studying the Question of Centenarianism (PDF)
Life expectancy is longer than it’s ever been, and there were already hundreds of people claiming to be more than 100 years old in 1910. But Dr. Woods Hutchinson investigated and decided they were all wrong:
“I don’t mean that such men and women are wilful liars. I believe they are mistaken. Many of them don’t know when they were born. Many of them become almost feeble-minded and believe they are a great deal older than they are.
“Oftentimes a person who does not know his age is told at 60 that he looks to be 80, and ever afterward computes his age from that basis. If he lives to be 82 he is declared to have lived to be 102. If he lives to be 90 he is said to have lived to be 110.”
But, the article notes, if Dr. Hutchinson is right, “this means almost all of the rest of the world is wrong”:
Germany, a year or two ago, with a population of 33,600,000, claimed 78 centenarians; France, 213; England, 145; Scotland, 46; Denmark, 2; Belgium, 3; Sweden, 10; Norway, 23; Spain, 410, while the Balkan States outdid the world with a claim of one centenarian to each 100 of population.
For me, the most surprising thing in this article was the revelation that in 1910 elephants were believed to live to 300 years old. According to a recent Discovery Channel article, the median lifespan of African elephants in the wild is actually 56 years.
Dr. Hutchinson, incidentally, died in 1930 at just 68 years old.
From May 15, 1910
BEING FAT IS LIKE HAVING MONEY IN THE BANK: At Last a Physician Rises Up and Seriously Defends Surplus Flesh; Which Should Comfort Thousands (PDF)
In 1910, thin was already in for both health and fashion. But Dr. George Niles has some really practical reasons why it might be good to be fat:
Suppose a ship went down in midocean and a few of the passengers and crew got off on a raft. Suppose on one of the rafters was a man of about 40 per cent fatty matter — the kind that has not seen his shoelaces for ever and ever so long — according to Niles’s theory he would outlive the whole crew, granting of course (which the doctor does not) that the raft does not ground on a cannibal island or the crew draw lots with stacked chips…
Dr. Niles explains it thus: “Fat is like a housewife who, though not apparently earning anything, by her care and industry conserves the fruits of her husband’s labor, enabling him not only to support the domestic establishment, but also lay aside a surplus.”
Furthermore, the doctor “also asserts in so many words that to be fat is to be genial in disposition and optimistic in temperament, while to be thin is to be restless, pessimistic, uncontented and temperamentally dissatisfied with life in general.” Therefore, he adds, “grow fat and rejoice in your fatness.”