The Busiest Man Of His Age In The World

From November 20, 1910


THE BUSIEST MAN OF HIS AGE IN THE WORLD: Roger Sherman Hoar, Massachusett’s Young Legislator, has Enough Jobs for a Dozen Men. He is an Enthusiastic Suffragist Champion and Works Hard for Interests of that Cause. (PDF)

When this article was written, 28 year old Roger Sherman Hoar was a lawyer, State Senator, student, inventor of a waterproof blanket, treasurer of his town committee, trumpeter, cartoonist, cavalryman, organizer of a news agency, secretary of the Free State League, and active suffragist.

But wait! There’s more!

In the decades after this article was written, Roger Sherman Hoar became a notable science fiction author, writing under the name Ralph Milne Farley. He wrote short stories for pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, and a series called The Radio Man.

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Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Fiction,Politics

America’s Great Scientists Rapidly Decreasing

From November 20, 1910


AMERICA’S GREAT SCIENTISTS RAPIDLY DECREASING: Dr. James McKeen Catell of Columbia Says There Are Fewer Men of Distinction in Scientific Lines Than There Were Seven Years Ago. (PDF)

The point of this article is that the number of scientists in the country decreased over seven years from 1903 to 1910, and appeared to be an ongoing trend. That’s sad, and I wish the country today were more science-minded. I think too little value is placed on science education these days.

But mainly I want to point out that awesome drawing representing a scientist.

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Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Education,Science

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

Wizard With Amazing Powers Astounds Scientists

From November 13, 1910


WIZARD WITH AMAZING POWERS ASTOUNDS SCIENTISTS: Thomas A. Edison, Dr. William H. Thomson and Others Admit They Are Unable to Explain the Feats of W. Bert Reese — Reads Questions Written in Another Room and Answers Them. (PDF)

For most of the past several weeks, the Magazine published articles about how amazing someone’s magic or telepathic powers are and how they mystify science. But they also published articles explaining the secrets of magic tricks and special effects. You’d think someone would have figured that perhaps they are one and the same.

This week, the subject is W. Bert Reese, a mentalist who did indeed confound Thomas Edison and other scientists with his magic tricks, as the article explains. But one man not mentioned in the article was in fact clever enough to see through Reese’s tricks: Harry Houdini.

The recently departed Martin Gardner wrote about Reese in his book Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? Debunking Pseudoscience and quotes from a letter Houdini wrote to Arthur Conan Doyle about Reese in 1920:

You may have heard a lot of stories about Dr. Bert Reese, but I spoke to Judge Rosalsky [in front of whom Reese had performed a mind-reading trick to get out of a disorderly conduct charge] and he personally informed me that, although he did not detect Reese, he certainly did not think it was telepathy. I am positive that Reese resorts to legerdemain, makes use of a wonderful memory, and is a great character reader. He is incidentally a wonderful judge of human beings.

That he fooled Edison does not surprise me. He would have surprised me if he did not fool Edison. Edison is certainly not a criterion, when it comes to judging a shrewd adept in the art of pellet-reading.

The greatest thing Reese did, and which he openly acknowledged to me, was his test-case in Germany when he admitted they could not solve him.

I have no hesitancy in telling you that I set a snare at the séance I had with Reese, and caught him cold-blooded. He was startled when it was over, as he knew that I had bowled him over. So much so that he claimed I was the only one that had ever detected him, and in our conversation after that we spoke about other workers of what we call the pellet test — Foster, Worthington, Baldwin, et al. After my séance with him, I went home and wrote down all the details.

While I highly recommend reading all of Gardner’s book, you can find some of the relevant excerpts on Google Books.

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Written by David

November 12th, 2010 at 9:45 am

The Psychology Of Baseball Discussed By A. G. Spalding

From November 13, 1910


THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BASEBALL Discussed by A. G. SPALDING: The Game Elevates and Fits the American Character — It Brings Into Play the Emotional and Moral as Well as the Physical Side of Man’s Nature. (PDF)

By 1910, Albert Spalding had been a Major League Baseball player and manager, and had launched the Spalding line of sports equipment. At 60 years old, just five years before he would die, he gave the Times Magazine this wonderful and lengthy answer about why he loves baseball in response to a question about the psychology of baseball.

“The psychology of baseball?” he said thoughtfully. “I confess that the ‘psychology of baseball’ is a new one on me.

“I take it that you are trying to find out what effect the game has on the mind, and what effect the mind has on the game. The general impression among those who do not know, and, although there are several million people in this country who do know, still, there remain a few who don’t, is that baseball is simply a form of physical exercise which is interesting to watch and to take part in. Those who have played the game know well that it is more — much more. They know that it is quite as much a mental as it is a physical exercise.

“As a matter of plain fact, it is much more a mental exercise than a mere physical sport. There is really no other form of outdoor sport which constantly demands such accurate co-ordination between the mind and body as this National game of ours. And that is rather fine, when you come to think about it.

“Baseball elevates, and it fits the American character. The emotional and moral as well as the physical side of a man’s nature are brought into play by baseball. I know of no other medium which, as completely as baseball, joins the physical, mental, emotional, and moral sides of a man’s composite being into a complete and homogeneous whole. And there is nothing better calculated than baseball to give a growing boy self-pose, and self-reliance, confidence, inoffensive and entirely proper aggressiveness, general manliness. Baseball is a man maker.”

If you’re a baseball fan, it’s well worth reading the whole article. Mr. Spalding explains how baseball helps shape a man morally as well as physically, and how the skills translate to a man’s later life and business affairs. His wife and nephew both weigh in on the topic, too.

In related news, The Onion has an editorial this week by Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay called “If I Had One Piece Of Advice For Today’s Youth, It Would Be To Throw A Baseball Really, Really Well.”

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Written by David

November 12th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Life,Recreation,Sports

A Day’s Meal In A Can The Size Of A Cake Of Soap

From November 13, 1910


A DAY’S MEAL IN A CAN THE SIZE OF A CAKE OF SOAP: Commissary General Henry G. Sharpe Has Invented a New Half-Pound Emergency Ration for Our Soldiers (PDF)

Today’s military MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) is a descendant of this military meal in a can. The description is not exactly mouth-watering, but is a pretty entertaining read:

War breaks out, say, with the Japs, the Germans, or the bloomin’ British. Each Yankee brave in khaki has one of these cans of first-aid-to-the-empty dropped into his haversack, where it keeps fresh for months, and where it must be regularly accounted for at inspection until falls the unhappy day when the enemy cuts off the commissariat and the pabulum fails to show up.

Then each boy in drab, squatting by the good camp fire, grabs the loose end of the blue bandeau enwreathing the head of his can and gives her a twist. It works after the principle of the tin ribbon around the fragrant sardine can — only it really works.

From the package fall three slabs of something very like the brown cakes of chocolate that small children buy from train butchers and with which they delight to crumb up the plush seats of the passenger coaches…

I was treated to a sample bite of the new emergency ration by Gen. Sharpe — and one bite, you must remember, is equal in nutriment to one full course at one of President Taft’s state banquets. Taking the General’s advice to spoil my knife and spare my teeth, I hacked off with my trusty blade a square inch fragment which compensated me for the pie and cheese end of luncheon which, in my haste to meet the General, I had just foregone.

It tasted much like the popular brands of milk chocolate, but not so sweet.

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Written by David

November 12th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Science

Girl Terrorist’s Escape From A Russian Prison

From November 13, 1910


GIRL TERRORIST’S ESCAPE FROM A RUSSIAN PRISON: A Fellow-Prisoner Writes the Thrilling Story of Tolya Rogozinnikova’s Flight and Subsequent Execution (PDF)

This is an interesting story, and I can find almost no information about it online apart from this article and a couple of passing mentions in books about historic terrorism and Russian history. 21 year old Tolya Rogozinnikova was apparently a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. In 1907, she broke out of the prison where she was being held (I’m not sure for what), strapped 13 pounds of nitroglycerine to her body, and set out to assassinate the St. Petersburg Prison chief. She shot and killed him, but did not get a chance to detonate the explosives. She was eventually tried and executed herself.

This article tells how she initially escaped from prison, written by a woman in a neighboring cell. It’s like the plot of a Soviet thriller. She feigned insanity until she was eventually transferred to the mental asylum, where she talked a nurse into opening a door for her to escape.

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Written by David

November 12th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Politics,True Crime

Some Good Stories That Bring A Laugh With Them

From November 6, 1910


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 Birth Of The Halo

From November 6, 1910



I always was under the impression that halos in paintings are meant to represent light, like rays emanating from a person’s head, giving a visual cue that the character depicted is holy, heavenly, or otherwise divine. But an unnamed but assuredly “well known” American painter puts forth a more interesting theory in this article.

“The first subjects to feel the Renaissance were architecture and sculpture, and this several generations before the days of Cimabue and Giotto, the earliest of painters. Of these subjects architecture came first, as is still evidenced in the magnificent ruins of cathedrals scattered over Europe. I say cathedrals, because everything was saturated with the religious spirit in those days, and the architect expressed his genius in his conceptions of the house of God.

“Later came the sculptor. He gave expression to his art in the images of the saints and other holy characters. The commonest form of expression was life-sized images of the saints, which were set in solemn row about the outside of the churches and cathedrals immediately under the eaves of the building.

“Now, the earliest sculptors soon saw that in a very short time the heads and faces of these figures were soiled and disfigured by action of the driving elements in time of storms; even the hot sun contributed its share in cracking the skulls and faces of the sacred images. Accordingly, to protect them they placed upon their heads a flat wooden disk that extended out far enough to act as umbrella or sunshade, as either was necessary.

“Now, it was several generations before any painters of note arose. These, of the Cimabue-Giotto type, were ignorant, even for that day of ignorance. Of course, following the spirit of the age, they must needs make their subjects holy ones, and the statues standing so invitingly to their hands offered themselves as their first models.

“Thinking, in their wealth of ignorance mentioned, that the wooden disk had something to do with the saintly character of their models, these peasants faithfully copied it into their paintings. In nearly all of the paintings of Comabue and many of those of Giotto, especially his earlier ones, the flat disk is represented, merely as such without any attempt at idealization. Later, however, the painters emphasized the rim and painted the body of the disk a color that barely distinguished it from the surrounding hues.”

So halos are really just misunderstood umbrellas. Somebody needs to add that to Wikipedia.

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Written by David

November 5th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Art,Religion

Madness And Death Add To The Mystery Of Koresh’s Tomb

From November 6, 1910


MADNESS AND DEATH ADD TO THE MYSTERY OF KORESH’S TOMB: Men Meet Strange Fate Trying to Ascertain If This Alleged Messiah Has Risen From the Dead as He Promised. (PDF)

Quick, think of a cult leader named Koresh. I’ll bet you thought of David Koresh, the self-proclaimed prophet whose compound in Waco, Texas was famously raided during the Clinton administration. But this article is about an earlier cult leader named Koresh (his real name was Cyrus Teed) who lead a colony in Estero, Florida.

Koresh believed among other things that the Earth was hollow, and that we live inside of it, being held to the ground by centrifugal force. He said he held the secrets to alchemy. He claimed to be the messiah (David Koresh more humbly claimed only to be a prophet), and said he would rise from the dead to rule heaven on Earth. The article is about what happened when he died and stayed dead.

As described by Henry D. Silverfriend, Vice President of Koreshan University, Koresh’s followers watched his body for a few days before they finally decided to bury it:

“Three factions were formed. One that Dr. Teed was dead and would never rise again. Another took the view that Teed had failed in his estimate of himself as the Messiah. The third faction believed he would fulfill all he said and rise glorified. They believed the tomb was like his alchemic laboratory and that he was transforming his mortality into immortality. When his corruptible body had become incorruptible they held that he would come forth and establish his kingdom of heaven on earth.

“The strain of waiting was very great and many of our faith became utterly hopeless. At length Emil Fisher, a German member of the Unity, believed that since two years had elapsed since the death of Teed and nothing had come as a revelation from him, it would be right to look into the tomb. He felt that we had been too long hoping against hope that Dr. Teed would break through the concrete tomb and show himself in the splendor of a Christ resurrected.

“Fisher went to the island and approached the tomb. He had no sooner laid hands on it than he swooned and fell. Several persons had accompanied him at a distance. When they hastened toward him he rose and came at them, a raving maniac. It was necessary to bind him.”

Another person tried to open the tomb and was also stricken mad. Naturally, Koresh’s followers assumed this meant the body was being protected by evil spirits. “Koreshans hold that the evil spirits will consume any who may venture to disturb the tomb. And nearly every one believes that in due time the tomb will open of itself and that Dr. Teed will come forth and do what he taught he would.”

I assume they’re still waiting.

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Written by David

November 5th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Religion

1889: Introducing Voting Machines

Tomorrow is election day, and this year New York has done away with its old election machines in favor of paper ballots. The transition is causing a bit of confusion. For many old time New Yorkers, tomorrow will be the first time voting on paper, and not in a Myers Automatic Booth like the one introduced more than 120 years ago.

Way back on November 23, 1889, The New York Times ran an article titled “VOTING BY MACHINERY: An Ingenious Reform Device Invented By A Rochester Man” (PDF) which described something very similar to the now-familiar booth:

Once inside the door the voter would find before him a curious-looking wall, having the appearance of a telephone switchboard, but with knobs instead of drops.

Mr. Myers proposes to give each party a distinctive color, which it would be expected to retain during its party life. The Republican Party, for instance, might be designated by red, the Democratic by yellow, the Prohibitionist by blue, the Socialist by brown, and so on to the end fo the list. The man who could neither read nor write could then vote a straight party ticket without difficulty, provided he was not color blind. The voter would then find before him rows of tickets, each row proceeding down from a large piece of pasteboard of the same color as the tickets under it and bearing the name of the party…

If the voter is an old-fashioned Republican or Democrat who never splits his ticket, he selects the red or yellow, as the case may be, and presses all the knobs under that color. A knob once pressed inward cannot be drawn out again while the man is in the voting booth, and by an ingenious but simple contrivance Mr. Myers has made it impossible for two knobs for Governor or Congressman or any other office to be depressed at the same time.

Having pressed the knobs of all the candidates for whom he desires and is permitted to vote, the voter passes out at a second door and finds before him a third door, which he cannot open until he has closed the second. He then finds himself entirely cut off from the little compartment where the voting was done. The act of closing the second door raises a lever that in turn operates other levers, which release the depressed buttons or knobs that the voter has pressed.

Having grown up hearing the phrase “pull the lever for” as a synonym for “vote for,” I always wondered what that meant exactly. The first few elections I voted in used butterfly ballots, and I was disappointed that there was no lever. Once I moved to New York, though, I came to enjoy the clunky mechanical ka-chunk! of the big lever that registers your votes.

On November 6, 1901, the Times ran another article about voting machines after the first trial in an election. This time the headline read, “VOTING MACHINE WAS PRONOUNCED A SUCCESS; Told Result in a Brooklyn District Two Minutes After 5 o’clock.” (PDF)

The voting machine, which was used for the first time in Brooklyn, in the Eighteenth Election District of the First Assembly District yesterday, proved a pronounced success in one respect at least — in the promptness with which it made known the total vote cast in the district. The entire results of the voting was known two minutes after the polls closed at 5 o’clock…

“If New York City goes another year without placing voting machines in every election district,” said [Lieutenant Governor] Woodruff, “it will be a shame and an outrage on the people. I have just come from another election district, and when I left there the Inspectors hadn’t even gotten the ballots unfolded. Here the entire work of counting the vote is already completed.”

…The poll clerks figured out that the average time taken by each voter in voting with the machine was eighteen seconds. As a rule, those who voted split tickets occupied more time in the booth than the voters who voted the straight tickets. Each voter was allowed one minute’s time in the booth, whereas under the prevailing system of voting a voter is allowed to remain in the booth five minutes.

The test of the voting machine yesterday was made in the election district in which Elections Commissioner Michael J. Dady lives. He was the first man to vote, registering his choice of candidates in just three seconds.

By paper or by machine, don’t forget to vote tomorrow!

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Written by David

November 1st, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Politics,Technology

From His Cell Jesse Pomeroy Pleads For Clemency

From October 30, 1910


FROM HIS CELL JESSE POMEROY PLEADS FOR CLEMENCY: Only “Solitary” in Massachusetts Tells the Story of His Thirty-four-year Confinement — The Unusual Punishment of an Extraordinary Crime. (PDF)

In 1874, a 14 year old boy named Jesse Pomeroy was arrested for murder, denied counsel at trial, convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging. But Massachusetts Governor William Gaston refused to sign the death warrant, and eventually the sentence was commuted to life in prison in solitary confinement.

At nearly 52 years old, Pomeroy describes for the New York Times Sunday Magazine what life is like in solitary confinement and pleads for better conditions:

Dear Sir:

Having received the paper to write, I will put down a few particulars of my case in the hope that, as I have been closely confined almost thirty-six years, since I was fourteen years old, I may, at this date, be allowed a few privileges…

[For years I was allowed privileges for good behavior.] Now this prisoner’s life is always the same, year in, year out. I have no prospect of privileges by good conduct, which has been good many years, as I told you.

Besides this, I am to-day worse off as to light, air, human society and opportunity to see officials, than I was in 1875-1895.

The sentence as to-day carried out is harsher, more oppressive than in those nineteen years; but it is the same sentence as in 1876.

My windows are opaque glass cutting off much light.

I ask clear glass, as I always did have.

No sunshine reaches into my cell. I always had a sunny room, the windows being 33 in. by 23 in.

My room to-day has the ventilation closed up, contrary to law, from no fault of mine.

There was no closed blank door on my cell to 1895, because my sentence was hardship enough, and there was no idea of denying me a chance to see a soul.

Since 1895 that closed door has been illegally shut on me, and Governor Douglas ordered it open for a little while in the daytime, so that I might have a little air.

It is shut eighteen hours a day and ought to be taken off, being contrary to my sentence.

Very seldom can I see any State House officials.

Very seldom can I obtain from them an answer to any letter that I write.

Except once or twice a year they do not come near me.

Exercise, as ordered by Governor Ames, is refused to me.

I respectfully suggest that this prisoner may have some encouragement in doing well. He is no worse than his neighbors. Kindness is never lost on anyone, and this prisoner has all his life shown himself responsive to kind treatment. Although I have made some errors here, I have never once been violent or dangerous.

No officer has ever accused me of it. The register shows the fact, as I say, yet the newspapers have been full of yarns about me, as, for instance, that I tried to kill the warden, and so was shut up in a cell (New York World, 1889).

I should be allowed to write sixteen letters a year, the rule. I can write but twelve.

Upon reflection, I think I have clearly and fully stated the case as I view it. I would do well if given an opportunity.

Actually, that wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. For comparison, you should check out this 2006 series from NPR about life in solitary confinement.

In 1917, Pomeroy’s sentence was eventually commuted and, while he wasn’t pardoned, he was afforded the same privileges as other prisoners. In 1932, at the age of 72, he died in a hospital for the criminally insane.

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Written by David

October 29th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in True Crime

“Olympic,” World’s Biggest Ship, Huge Floating Hotel

From October 30, 1910


“OLYMPIC,” WORLD’S BIGGEST SHIP, HUGE FLOATING HOTEL: Exceeds Next Largest Steamer by 13,000 Tons — If Two Ships of Her Size Were Placed Across the East River They Would Have 200 Feet of Hull on Land. (PDF)

The Olympic and her sister ship the Titanic were similar ocean liners for the White Star Line, starting construction just a few months apart. Of course, the Titanic met famously with disaster just about 18 months after this article was written, but the Olympic continued service until 1935 despite having her own mishaps.

Here’s how the article describes some of the amenities and ocean liner “firsts” in these White Star Olympic-class ships:

It will not only have suites comprising a large number of rooms, but real bona fide apartments or flats, which will give passengers reserving them all the comfort and privacy of home while crossing the Atlantic. These sea-going flats will include bedrooms, sitting rooms or parlors, private baths, and even — if desired — a private library! The parlors in these apartments will be fitted with tables on which the most elaborate meals may be served, far from the madding crowd of the main dining rooms.

Moreover, the Olympic will be the first transatlantic liner to have passenger staterooms equipped with private shower baths. Moreover, there will be a great swimming pool, so deep that bathers may dive without fear of unpleasant consequences, thus being able to enjoy all the pleasures of sea bathing without jumping over the side of the ship. Moreover, (will wonders never cease) passengers will have the use of a will-equipped gymnasium, the largest and most complete ever installed on a ship.

But will it be safe? After describing the ship’s numerous safety systems the article concludes, “so complete will be the system of safeguarding devices on board this latest of ocean giants that, when she is finally ready for service, it is claimed that she will be practically unsinkable and absolutely unburnable.”

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Written by David

October 29th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Was Queen Elizabeth A “Famous Impostor”?

From October 30, 1910


WAS QUEEN ELIZABETH A “FAMOUS IMPOSTOR?” Mr. Bram Stoker Brings Together Some of the Notable “Frauds” of History in Proof of His Theory that “Good Queen Bess” Was a Man. (PDF)

Just in time for Halloween, Dracula author Bram Stoker comes forth with a strange tale. Only this one he alleges to be entirely true. According to Stoker, as detailed further in his book Famous Impostors, Queen Elizabeth of England was actually a man.

Moreover, “she” really was once a female. The transformation came about when the young Princess Elizabeth went out of town with her governess for a bit of fresh air:

While she was there word came that the King was coming to see his little daughter. Shortly before his arrival, however, “the child developed acute fever, and before steps could be taken even for her proper attendance and nursing, she died. The governess feared to tell her father — Henry VIII had the sort of temper which did not make for the happiness to those around him.” The nurse thereupon hid the body and scoured the neighborhood for some living girl child who could be passed off for the Princess.

“But here again was a check. Throughout the little village and its surroundings was to be found no little girl of an age reasonably suitable for the purpose required. More than ever distracted, for time was flying by, she determined to take the greater risk of a boy substitute — if a boy could be found.” And, of course, there was a boy available — “just such a boy as would suit the special purpose for which he was required, a boy well known to the governess, for the little princess had taken a fancy to him and had lately been accustomed to play with him. Moreover, he was a pretty boy, as might have been expected from the circumstance of the little Lady Elizabeth having chosen him as her playmate. He was close at hand and available. So he was clothed in the dress of the dead child, they being of about equal stature.” King Henry, it is said, suspected nothing during his visit, as Elizabeth had always feared him and there had never been any of the intimacies of father and daughter between them.

The name of the boy who grew up to be Queen Elizabeth: Neville. And now you know the rest of the story.


Written by David

October 29th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Magicians Tell The Secret Of Famous Tricks

From October 23, 1910


MAGICIANS TELL THE SECRET OF FAMOUS TRICKS: Henry Hatton and Adrian Plate Give Some of Their Methods and Experiences in the Art of Mystifying the Public. (PDF)

In the 1980s and ’90s, magic duo Penn & Teller earned a reputation for giving away the secrets of magic tricks, becoming known as the Bad Boys of Magic. They would even perform some tricks using clear props that revealed how they were done. But the truth is that Penn & Teller’s reveals were fairly tame, and to this day they still impress with tricks that they keep secret, like their famous take on the magic bullet catch.

But nearly 100 years before Penn & Teller were revealing the secrets of magic, Henry Hatton and Adrian Plate revealed magic secrets in the pages of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. And wouldn’t you know that one trick they revealed is the secret of the bullet catch! Penn & Teller may not do it this way, but here’s what Hatton had to say about his version of the trick, and one night when things didn’t go exactly as planned:

“One night I had announced on my programme, ‘A Modern William Tell,’ the fanciful name for a startling pistol trick. In this the performer allows one of the audience to load a duelling pistol with powder and ball and then to fire at the performer, who is supposed to catch the marked ball in his teeth. In doing the trick the performer slips into the muzzle of the pistol a sort of thimble, and it is into it that the unsuspecting voluntary assistant drops the bullet. By a deft movement this thimble is afterward removed, thereby giving the performer possession of the ball. Not many attempt the trick, for more than once it has led to fatal results when the man who loads the pistol either through ignorance or malice manages to get the bullet into the pistol barrel. The result is that he who exhibits the trick must watch every move made. On the night in question my attention was called away for a second, and when I attempted to remove the thimble I discovered that it was not in the pistol. Whether or not the bullet was in the barrel I did not know. What was I to do? I had only one life, and as for that I had an undying love I was averse to risking it. There was no time for hesitation, so walking to the footlights with the effrontery that is a factor in ‘the profession,’ I addressed the audience: ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ I said. ‘I cannot go on with this part of my programme. Something wrong has happened, and should I continue you undoubtedly would see in to-morrow’s papers: “Bullet-in Hatton Killed While Attempting a Trick.” Would you believe it the generous audience received this statement with as much applause as if I had performed the trick successfully?”

When I read that, I thought it was a lame and anticlimactic way to end the trick. Isn’t there an old saying that the show must go on? Shouldn’t he have figured something out? I’ll bet Penn and Teller would have figured out a way to do the trick. But then I remembered an episode of Penn Jillette’s short-lived 2006 radio show where he says:

The show must go on. Stupidest rule ever made, the show must go on. If there’s one thing that doesn’t need to go on, it’s a show. Last night, 800 people, a thousand people, had come to see the Penn and Teller show. If there had been an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, Penn Jilette is sick. Why don’t you all go home?” the worst thing that happens, the horrible nightmare that happens is that these people go out and probably have dinner together, maybe go back to the hotel a little earlier and screw. I mean, that is the nightmare. The nightmare is they don’t get to see Penn and Teller catch a bullet in their teeth and do the show. It’s a really good show. I’m proud of it. I love it. But compared to spending time with someone you love, no big deal, ya know?

Yeah, I guess aborting the trick was better than getting shot in the face. Okay, Hatton. You’re off the hook.


Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 10:00 am

Odd Things That Happen In Hunting For Autographs

From October 23, 1910


ODD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN HUNTING FOR AUTOGRAPHS: Treasure That Is Sometimes Worth Thousands of Dollars and How It Is Obtained — Ingenious Tricks Played on Public Men — Finds in Ash-Barrels (PDF)

This article was inspired by a book on autograph collecting called Chats on Autographs by A. M. Broadley. You can read the book online thanks to Google Books.

The article begins as the book does, exploding the myth that autograph collectors are just trying to get signatures:

“Those who deliberately cut signatures from important letters are in reality the worst enemies both of the autograph collector and the historian. Vandalism of this kind (often committed in happy unconsciousness of the consequences) brings with it its own punishment, for detached signatures are almost worthless.

“Many years ago a dealer was offered sixteen genuine signatures of Samuel Pepys, their owner naively remarking that ‘he had cut them from the letters to save trouble.’ As a matter of fact he had, in the course of a few seconds, depreciated the value of his property to the extent of at least £15. The letters, if intact, would have fetched from £15 to £20 each!”

The article goes on to describe the methods autograph collectors employed to get intact letters from famous people. Today, autograph hounds can make themselves nuisances, stalking celebrities for mementos to sell on eBay. And the practice can even be dangerous.

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Art,Business

“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

The Amazing And Versatile Barneys Of Washington

From October 23, 1910


THE AMAZING AND VERSATILE BARNEYS OF WASHINGTON: An Undraped Statue on Their Lawn Has Thrown Into the Lime-Light a Family Whose Talents and Unconventionalities Keep Society in the National Capital in Constant Expectation (PDF)

If there were a 1910 version of the Bravo TV series The Real Housewives of DC, Alice Barney would surely be the breakout star. A playwright and painter whose work can today be seen in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the wealthy widow Alice and her daughters Natalie and Laura were the talk of DC gossip circles.

One recent day a nude statue appeared on the Barneys’ lawn, and word spread that it was a likeness of one of the daughters, sculpted by the other daughter, who was known to be studying sculpture. DC society flocked to the Barney home to see it. On October 14, the Times ran a piece about the statue:

What is the Barney statue? When was it placed on the lawn of the fashionable residence in Massachusetts Avenue? Who placed it there? And why? Does it represent the beauty of Miss Natalie C. Barney, the younger daughter of Mrs. Albert Clifford Barney, or is it the likeness of some maid of antiquity? These are questions that are being asked in diplomatic, social, and official circles, and no one can reply with certainty.

The Hindu butler at the Barney home, who answers to the strange name of Only, to-day caused the statue to be placed in a coffin-like box and holds the key to the lid. The lid may be lifted if Only is properly approached.

It turned out later that the sculpture was an antique. The older daughter Laura was in fact working on a sculpture of Natalie, but it was just a bust, and not a nude.

The whole ordeal prompted the Sunday Magazine to write this profile of the Barneys. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

An undraped statue on the lawn brought the Barney family of Washington into international notoriety in a day. Yet for years the members of this remarkable household have kept the National capital in a state of constant expectancy.

They are more than a family, these Barneys; they are an issue.

Whenever a select and exclusive group of the smart set gathers about the dining table, and the flow of nimble wit, sent sparkling on its way with the advent of the oyster, and degenerating into a sluggish stream of inane platitudes with the arrival of the entree, is sinking, lifeless, into a pool of silence with the incoming of the ice, the watchful hostess, unfluttered by the critical situation, reaches back into the convolution of her brain marked “Emergency” and, drawing forth, deftly tosses into the centre of the table this conversational bombshell:

“What do you really think of the Barneys?”

Then she leans back, smiling comfortably, while her guests lock horns and silence flees.

“They are poseurs, learned only in the stale devices of studied eccentricity!” exclaims a beribboned member of a legation.

“Nonsense!” hotly replies a famous engineer, “it is genius scorning the narrow conventionalities of society.”

“Genius nothing!” interrupts a scientist with seven letters after his name, “the veriest tyro in art or literature or ethics would laugh at the Barneys’ pretensions. They fool nobody but the simple minded.”

“What but genius could ever show such remarkable versatility in every branch of art as Mrs. Barney has exhibited in the last ten years?” puts in a literary woman who boasts that she positively refuses to write for the newspapers.

“And what but oddity and freakishness would build a quarter-of-a-million dollar house and not put a bed in it!” exclaims the practical wife of a Cabinet officer.

Yes, silence has departed thence. For the Barneys, themselves of the ultra-fashionable set in Washington, furnish a perennial subject of heated debate in that city, no matter when or where the Barney name be mentioned.

Move over, Michaele Salahi.

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Art,Politics

Scientific Croquet A Popular Pastime For Men In Central Park

From October 23, 1910


SCIENTIFIC CROQUET A POPULAR PASTIME FOR MEN IN CENTRAL PARK: The Union Croquet Club Has Played There for a Quarter of a Century — Its Oldest Active Player Is Eight-Five. (PDF)

If you’re like me, you played croquet a few times as a kid, but have no idea what scientific croquet is. Well, it turns out that scientific croquet is the less wimpy version of croquet. Instead of grass, it’s played on a hard, smooth surface. While regular old croquet was enjoyed by men, women, and children alike, scientific croquet was for hardcore players only.

As a 1954 article from Sports Illustrated explains, scientific croquet later became known simply as roque because it is the heart of the game: c(roque)t.

If you’re interested in playing croquet in Central Park, the New York Croquet Club has free sessions every Monday from May through September just north of the Sheep Meadow.

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Recreation,Sports

Turning Points In The Careers Of Well Known Men

From October 16, 1910


TURNING POINTS IN THE CAREERS OF WELL KNOWN MEN: If President Roosevelt Had Practiced Law, Senator Root Been Lured by a Big Retainer, Hadley of Yale Become an Editor, They Might Not hold Their Present Places in History. (PDF)

This article looks at some pivotal moments in the lives of famous people. More recently, writer Brad Dunn examined the turning points in the lives of 100 contemporary notables. His research, based on the theory that all important turning points happen when you’re 22 years old, is compiled in a book called When They Were 22. I’m not sure I buy the theory, but it’s interesting to consider the could-have-beens.

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Written by David

October 15th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Life