Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Wind In The Moving Pictures

From March 5, 1911



Apparently, there was a lot of wind in early movies. Why were they all so windy?

The question is asked by almost every one who has been bitten by the bug of the moving picture show. It is a fact that in every scene where there’s half a chance of getting up a breeze it blows a tornado, or at least a brisk gale disports itself in the trees in the background and the skirts of the harassed heroine in the front.

A moving picture man solved the problem.

“That’s easy,” he replied in answer to a query. “If the pictures were taken when the air was perfectly still, then if the living characters happened to be still also the picture would be as dead looking at a 35-cent chromo of ‘Twilight.’ So a time is selected for photographing the scenes outside when the wind is playing old hob with things generally, trees swaying, and skirts fluttering and hair flying — haven’t you ever noticed how much more effective a woman is when her hair is streaming behind her like the burgee on a racing yacht?”

For a classic example of strong wind in silent film, jump to the 55 minute mark in Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.(1928) and watch to the end.


Written by David

March 3rd, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Can Easily Add Fifteen Years To Our Average Life

From March 5, 1911


CAN EASILY ADD FIFTEEN YEARS TO OUR AVERAGE LIFE: Prof. Irving Fisher, in a Comprehensive Report on National Vitality, Says What is Needed is a Little Care — Life Already Greatly Lengthened in Every Country Where Medical Science is Applied. (PDF)

First, the Magazine covered an article in which it was claimed that only three people ever lived to 100 years old. Then it ran an article saying that old age is a preventable disease. They continue this topic by now explaining how we can add 15 years to the average lifespan.

A then-recent report by the National Conservation Commission included a section on “National Vitality” which described how the average lifespan had significantly increased in the last 100 years. Expounding on that topic, economist Irving Fisher — who was also known for his ideas on health and longevity — here explains how we can increase the average lifespan yet another 15 years thanks to advances in science and medicine.

Fisher was a proponent of eugenics — the notion that we can improve our species through selective breeding, including sterilization of the mentally impaired — which was a much more popular movement before the Nazis used it as an excuse for mass slaughter. (Other eugenics proponents included John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of corn flakes.) Fisher wrote a book called How to Live: Rules for Healthful Living Based on Modern Science which became a bestseller, and can be read for free here.

The average lifespan for men in the United States at the time was 44 years, and 46 for women. Today the numbers have gone up far more than 15 years, with the average lifespans being 75 and 80 years for men and women respectively. Eugenics has long since fallen out of favor as a movement, but the topic of forced sterilization still comes up now and then. Just a couple weeks ago it was in the news when a woman asked the courts to let her sterilize her daughter who has the body of an 18 year old, but the mind of a child.

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Written by David

February 28th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Life,Nature,Science

The Passing Of The Once Popular Sideshow Freak

From February 26, 1911


THE PASSING OF THE ONCE POPULAR SIDESHOW FREAK: No Longer an Attraction, These Once High-Salaried Exhibits Find It Hard to Earn a Living — What Has Become of Famous Favorites. (PDF)

The phenomenon of the sideshow freak is one of the most fascinating bits of popular culture history I can think of. On the one hand, forgetting for a moment that these are actual people with feelings to consider, there is just the natural curiosity about the different shapes and sizes people come in, and the interesting ways that maladies manifest themselves. But on the other hand, it’s sad to point and laugh at people’s misfortune and disfigurements. But then again, not all sideshow freaks were victims who didn’t know better. Many of them were intelligent people, making the best of the public’s fascination.

In this article, the Magazine explores how the public’s new fascination with music and movies affected the business prospects for the sideshow freak.

Mike the Midget notes, “I’m not blaming the public, only it’s hard on old-time freaks. It takes a top-notch freak now to be able to earn his living in the profession.” Here, the article describes the industry’s gradual decline:

One by one the freaks have been eliminated. The fat woman was the first to go. On every museum platform for years the fat woman sat; the smallest ones were first taken off, leaving only the big ones. Then the tattooed man and the tattooed lady had to seek other employment. In their wake followed the albinos, the living skeletons, and armless and legless wonders.

Those able to hold on longest were exceptional freaks such as two-headed boys, the woman with the horse’s mane growing between her shoulders, the elastic-skinned man, the three-legged boy, the elephant-footed man and the lion-faced boy.


Where once a good freak commanded $200 a week he can now scarcely get on at $30. It now takes a prodigy of more than passing novelty to draw more than $25 a week. The Tocci twins — boys with two heads, four arms, and two legs — drew $300 a week for years. A regular scale of prices now regulates the pay received by freaks. A living skeleton receives usually about $18 a week; a bearded lady, $12; a fat woman, $10; a fire-eater, $10; a tattooed woman, $8, and a Circassian beauty, $7.

In the cities they can no longer find profitable employment. Most of those who are still keeping up professional life are to be found under the show tent of the circus. The outer districts, where the picture show and the mechanical piano have not filled the entertainment wants of the public, are now the havens of refuge of the freaks.

The article does wonder whether the passing of the freak’s popularity might be a good thing:

Is it not a healthier sign of the public mind that it is no longer interested in the sad misfortunes of others? The plea of the museum proprietor that gazing at poor distorted souls was educative can not be defended. No good ever came of staring at the frog-boy, or of questioning the ossified man. In some countries public exhibition of freaks is prohibited. Nothing but morbid curiosity ever sent the public to the dime museum where on one platform could be seen human anomalies from all over the world. Much better is it that a clean moving picture hall where the entertainment is healthful and instructive should supplant the dime museum.

Of course, it wasn’t that much longer before freaks made their way to the movies. In 1932, director Tod Browning (who later directed Bela Lugosi in Dracula) cast several of the most popular sideshow performers of the day in his thriller Freaks, which is available to see in its entirety online at the Internet Archive.

There were still people making livings as sideshow freaks for several more decades, but as medical advances made these sorts of maladies less common, and people became more sensitive to their plights, the sideshow freaks retired. Many of them wound up in Gibsonton, Florida, which was a popular town for sideshow freaks to spend the off-season.

There’s a sad but interesting true crime story that takes place in Gibsonton. Grady “Lobster Boy” Styles, a second generation sideshow performer born with ectrodactyly (which makes the hands and feet look like lobster claws) was convicted of murder in 1978 for shooting his daughter’s fiancé. He eventually got out of jail, and remarried his former wife. But he was a heavy drinker who allegedly abused his family, and in 1992 his wife and son hired a hitman — another sideshow performer — to kill Grady Stiles.

Modern sideshows, like the Coney Island Sideshow by the Seashore are mainly tributes to the sideshows of yore. They feature performances in the tradition of the old sideshows — things like sword swallowing, contortionists, and the human blockhead — and fewer deformities or birth defects, if any.

There is at least one current performer out there I know of who does use his birth defect as a device for his performance art, and that is Mat Fraser, whose defect comes as a result of his mother taking thalidomide while she was pregnant. I first heard of Mat when I saw him at the Coney Island sideshow in the late 90s. He wasn’t there as a performer, but he was talking to some people there about a character he does called the Thalidomide Ninja, and I confess to eavesdropping. I later found out that he made a documentary for the BBC called Born Freak about his condition, and those like him who made their careers in the sideshow business. It doesn’t seem to be available online in is entirety, unfortunately.

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Written by David

February 24th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Alchemy, Long Scoffed At, Turns Out To Be True

From February 19, 1911


ALCHEMY, LONG SCOFFED AT, TURNS OUT TO BE TRUE: Transmutation of Metals, the Principle of the Philosopher’s Stone, Accomplished in the Twentieth Century. (PDF)

I haven’t seen a headline this misleading since the last time I read the Huffington Post. This article isn’t about the popularly envisioned application of alchemy — turning lead into gold — and it really has nothing to do with anything scientists did, per se. It just describes the natural process of radioactive decay.

Every once in a while we read of a business man, or even a great scientist, who has been deceived by some one who claimed he could make gold or silver. Occasionally an item in the paper tells of the death of some one killed by fumes or by the explosion of a retort while experimenting in search for chemically made gold.

The odd thing is that after solemn men of weight in the world of learning have been for generations showing us what fools or knaves the alchemists were, modern science takes a sharp turn and shows that they were in their fundamental contention probably quite right. But — and this is a large but — they were wrong in thinking that the process by which one metal may turn into another can be hastened any more than it can be retarded. Science does not say that it would not be possible to do either of these things, but it does say most emphatically that the secret is still a long way off, and that the process that would turn lead to gold, or vice versa, would incidentally enable us to do so many other things that civilization would be changed upside down, and the mere gold that might be produced would sink into laughable insignifigance.

A generation or two ago the world was just beginning to make scientific discoveries, and naturally had come to the conclusion that it knew pretty nearly all there was to be known. But to-day the transmutation of one element into another is an accomplished scientific fact. It is proved that certain elements are perpetually changing into certain other elements, and it is more than suspected that what is known to be true of a few elements is true of all. These discoveries came about, of course, through radium. Every idea that is topsy-turvy has come about through the discovery of radium. We might have gone on for another century quite content with the old idea of the nature of matter if that baffling and contradictory thing had not been found one fateful day by the Curies.

As for the accuracy of the headline, the wikipedia entry on nuclear transmutation contains this nice anecdote:

[The phrase “nuclear transmutation”] was first consciously applied to modern physics by Frederick Soddy when he, along with Ernest Rutherford, discovered that radioactive thorium was converting itself into radium in 1901. At the moment of realization, Soddy later recalled, he shouted out: “Rutherford, this is transmutation!” Rutherford snapped back, “For Christ’s sake, Soddy, don’t call it transmutation. They’ll have our heads off as alchemists.”

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Written by David

February 17th, 2011 at 10:30 am

Posted in Nature,Science

Famous Aquarium To Be Enlarged

From January 15, 1911


FAMOUS AQUARIUM TO BE ENLARGED: Plans Ready for a Much Larger Structure Needed to Accommodate the Ever-Increasing Throngs of Visitors. (PDF)

A nearly identical story ran in local media last month, because here in 2011 the New York Aquarium is once again about to undergo a major face lift. But a lot has happened between now and then. Here’s a bit of history of the New York Aquarium:

1808: A fort is built on a small island just off lower Manhattan. Known as the West Battery, it was intended to protect New York from British forces in the years leading up to the war of 1812, but it ultimately never saw any action.

1815: The fort is renamed Castle Clinton after Mayor DeWitt Clinton.

1821: The Army stops using it as a fort and leases it to NYC.

1824: NYC reopens the fort an entertainment venue called Castle Garden.

1853: The marsh separating the island from Manhattan is filled in.

1855-1890: Castle Garden is repurposed as an immigrant processing facility. The interior was gutted by a fire in 1870, but the brick walls remained standing.

1896: Castle Garden is turned over to the Parks Department, which repurposes it as an aquarium.

1911: This article is published about the aquarium’s expansion to accommodate more visitors.

Over the next thirty years, hundreds of thousands of visitors came through the aquarium at Castle Garden, and it became one of New York City’s most popular attractions. And then Robert Moses came along.

1941: Robert Moses had a plan to build a tunnel from Battery Park to Brooklyn, and Castle Garden was in the way. So he planned to have it torn down. The first step was getting rid of those fish.

Time magazine reported:

When New York’s Park Commissioner Robert Moses decided that the Aquarium must go, protests poured in. But sardonic Bob Moses is not easily swayed. Said he: “In the new plan for Battery Park the Aquarium is an ugly wart on the main axis leading straight to the Statue of Liberty… There is… more honest-to-God romance any early morning in the Fulton Fish Market… than in the Aquarium in a month of Sundays…”

The fish were moved out. Some went to other aquariums. Most fish, and the Sea Lions, went to the Bronx Zoo temporarily until a new aquarium could be built at Coney Island.

1946: Castle Garden is designated as a National Monument, and it doesn’t get torn down. Today it houses the ticket office for the ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

1957: The New York Aquarium opens in Coney Island.

2010: The aquarium plans a facelift and expansion for its current location. The overhaul is expected to be finished in 2015 and will add a shark exhibit, and access to the Coney Island boardwalk.

The Wildlife Conservation Society projects that after the overhaul, annual visitors will increase from 750,000 to a million.


Written by David

January 13th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Development,Nature

And Now — Beware The Cat

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.

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Written by David

January 7th, 2011 at 9:15 am

Posted in Nature,Science

Zero At The Equator Some Day, Says Dr. H. W. Wiley

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.

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Written by David

December 31st, 2010 at 9:00 am

Says He Can Stop His Heart’s Beating At Will

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.

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Written by David

December 24th, 2010 at 10:00 am

James Lane Allen On “The Future Christmas”

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

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Written by David

December 24th, 2010 at 9:30 am

When The Giant Dinosaur Walked Down Broadway

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.

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Written by David

December 24th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Nature,Science

Germany Has A Talking Dog

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).

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Written by David

December 10th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Nature,Urban Legend

Did Life First Come To This Earth In A Meteor

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!


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Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Nature,Science

“Crossing The Atlantic Feasible” Says Prof. Rotch Of Harvard

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.”

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:30 am

Author Of “Brain And Personality” Replies To Edison

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?

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Written by David

October 8th, 2010 at 10:15 am

Illiterate Man Becomes A Doctor When Hypnotized

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.

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Written by David

October 8th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Nature,Religion,Science

To Lessen Crime In Children Through Medical Care

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.

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Written by David

August 13th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Should Dark or Light Clothes Be Worn On Hot Days?

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.

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Written by David

July 16th, 2010 at 10:30 am

Posted in Nature,Science

A Tree Near This City That Is Nearly 320 Years Old

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.

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Written by David

July 2nd, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Nature

The City Is The Landlord Of This Tented Town

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.

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Written by David

July 2nd, 2010 at 9:30 am

Good School Lunches For Three Cents Prove A Success

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.

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Written by David

July 2nd, 2010 at 9:15 am