Archive for August, 2010

Here At Last Is The Arctic Auto-Sleigh

From August 28, 1910


HERE AT LAST IS THE ARCTIC AUTO-SLEIGH: Alaskan Gold Hunter, After Nine Years’ Work, Invents a Machine for Speeding Over Snow-Clad Passes (PDF)

Inventor Charles E. S. Burch was one of the lucky few people who actually struck it rich in the northwestern Gold Rush of 1896. He spent nine years using his wealth to develop a vehicle to carry people across the snow, and finally came up with this design, using threaded wheels on the engine, and sled rails on the passenger car.

Here’s a video of an awesome Russian off-road and snow vehicle that uses a similar threaded propulsion system. Seriously, it’s awesome. Go watch it.

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Written by David

August 27th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Pitiful Medicant Gives Way To The Cunning Beggar

From August 28, 1910


PITIFUL MEDICANT GIVES WAY TO THE CUNNING BEGGAR: A Special “Slanguage” Used in the New Fraternity and the Old Threadbare Wiles Are Displaced These Days by Ingenious Trickery to Get Alms. (PDF)

This article is about the specialized vocabulary of beggars, and the scams beggars pull.

Each decade since begging in the United States became a popular calling has been productive of its own form of deception. There have been ingenious variations, but not very many different schemes, as many think. Old “Philly Pop” himself invented the “lye bug.” He was a Philadelphia veteran of the civil war anyway, and when he found that he could produce an ugly scar on his body by a lye burn which he could pass sometimes for an honorable wound received in the service of his country and at others as the result of a railway accident which incapacitated him for work, he thought himself fixed for life. He made an excellent living for many years, and passed the secret on to the “Erie Crip” and others until the game spread all over the country and was worked to death.

Mr. Forbes says there is hardly an old beggar in this country who has ever had the distinction of being a “burley” whose uprolled left sleeve does not reveal a series of lye-burn scars. In a short while, when “plinging” on that plan became unfruitful, a variation came in the production of scars and blisters by the application of cantharis, or blister beetle.

When this game got old and failed to work some ingenious “husky” invented the “throw-out,” which was popular for many years, and is yet to be met sometimes. In this the “burley” drops his left arm and hand out of joint and drags his left foot as if suffering from a severe form of paralysis. The simulation was well-nigh perfect, and it was a long time before the people discovered the deception. Some of the old-timers got so expert that though they have been taken to Bellevue Hospital and subjected to stiff electric currents to “shake them out,” have been able to lie crippled through it all.

Bonus fun fact: The word blend “slanguage” dates back to 1879. I would have guessed it was a more modern coinage. And some word blends were being used as far back as the 1400s. Here’s an in-depth history of word blends.

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Written by David

August 27th, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in True Crime

How A Man With An Idea Made Millions In Twelve Years

From August 28, 1910


HOW A MAN WITH AN IDEA MADE MILLIONS IN TWELVE YEARS: A Little One Room Shop Earning Ten Dollars a Week Becomes Fifteen Acres of Industry Earning $30,000,000 a Year. (PDF)

This is the story of Eldredge Reeves Johnson, the man who built the Victor Talking Machine Company, one of the most successful phonograph companies at the time. (The word “phonograph” there links to the wikipedia entry for “gramaphone record” for the young’uns.) The article tells not only the events of Johnson’s success story, but also explains how the phonograph records were made.

The Victor company is the largest buyer of shellac in the world — which is easily believed when one sees the yards and yards of doughy stuff being kneaded in the cauldrons. It is pliant and thick, and is passed over the rollers just exactly as if it were a particularly black sort of dough.

When it has been kneaded enough it is put through a machine which flattens it out and cuts it into squares just large enough to make a record disk. It lies, smoking and cooling, on a big rolling board for all the world like a singularly uninviting kind of cake. In a couple of minutes it has cooled enough to be touched and taken up to the room above.

There stand men before a heated copper table. The black cake is put on the table for a few seconds to get warm and pliant again, (it is as hard as a rock when cold); then it is folded into a mold and put in a hydraulic press, with a pressure of 3,000 pounds to the square inch. In half a minute it is taken out, all ready except for a little trimming of the edges.

We took the little square we had followed, slipped it into a talking machine, and the ugly black thing that five minutes before had been smoking in a cauldron had become “The Spring Song.” It takes about five minutes, not more, to work this modern miracle.

The article goes on to describe how these records are recorded to begin with, which is interesting to read.

Even if you never heard of Victor, you still might know the logo, which is based on a painting called His Master’s Voice. The Victor Talking Machine Company later became RCA Victor and then part of RCA Records, which now belongs to Sony Music Company.

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Written by David

August 27th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Hackensack Meadows A Hiding Place For Fugitives

From August 28, 1910


HACKENSACK MEADOWS A HIDING PLACE FOR FUGITIVES: Little Island, in the Tall Reeds a Safe Retreat for Those Who Are Hunted. Skeletons of Long Missing Outlaws Found in the Swamp Tell Stories of Starvation. (PDF)

The Meadowlands District of Northeastern New Jersey is known today as the home of the Meadowlands Sports Complex. But in 1910, the area’s swampy marshes were a great hiding place for fugitives:

The murderer, escaped convict, or thief who once starts from the shore line into the great stretch of marsh land can count on security as long as he can find food. Convicts familiar with the jungle facilities of the meadows have long made them their objective after an escape so that they might find a place of hiding until a change of clothes and a new growth of beard or hair might be acquired before venturing once more upon the open roads or streets.

The article goes into narrative detail describing a man hunt in and around the meadows as police hunted for a murderer named Bertrand Pond:

Night came. The man in the meadows must have been tortured with thirst, for the salt sticks to the skin with the rising tide that brings up the spill of the depths of the sea. Then, too, with the going down of the sun came the great swarms of mosquitos to sting and fasten upon anything fleshy. Almost as bad was the hunger that tore at the empty stomach of the murderer, for the salt air of the meadow puts an appetite in a man that would make the coursest food smack of ambrosia.

I’ll let you read the article to find out if they ever caught Bertrand Pond, but the article does tell some gruesome stories of people who were only found after they were dead:

“Some of ’em never got out,” said Danny Small in Cap’n Minnerly’s bunk. “Sometimes we turn up a skeleton while ducking. Then we get a suicide once and awhile, and in the Bergen County part of the meadows a murdered Italian shows up every now and then. One of the last murder cases was discovered through a letter sent to Police Headquarters. It was written in Italian, and said that a body would be found in a certain part of the meadows… We got out and hunted for the body. It showed up all right. The man was murdered. Another Black Hand case, I reckon.”

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Written by David

August 27th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in True Crime

The Man Who Found The Truth

From August 28, 1910


“THE MAN WHO FOUND THE TRUTH” By Leonid Andreyev: A Powerful Story of a Prisoner Unjustly Convicted of Murder, Written by the Author of “Anathema,” the Poe of Russia. (PDF)

Beginning this week in 1910, the New York Times Magazine began publishing this short story by Leonid Andreyev, considered the Edgar Allen Poe of Russia. It was published serially over four weeks. A reviewer of the print edition on Amazon says:

“The Man Who Found The Truth” (or “My Memoirs”) is a brilliant diamond that Andreyev purportedly said was his best work. An old man who had been sentenced to virtually a lifetime in prison narrates his experience of incarceration, his dependence upon the routine of prison life, the isolation, and the view of the world through his small cell window. Andreyev effectively captures the personality of a wise but vulnerable old man who comes up with a theory about infinity. When he is released, his theory makes him famous, but he cannot live without being institutionalized. He ends up rich enough to afford a wealthy home, [NOTE: SPOILERS FOLLOW] but instead has a custom jail cell built for himself and pays a servant to act like a jailor; although he is free, he chooses to live as if he is incarcerated. He even alludes to the fact that all of life is one gigantic prison cell.

The Times published it over four weeks, but since we’re in the future, we don’t need to wait to read the whole thing. Instead of doling it out piecemeal, I’m giving you the whole thing now.

If you’d like to read it, you have two options:

1) For the story as it originally appeared in the Sunday Magazine, complete with illustrations, you can download all four weeks in one big pdf. It’s seven broadsheet pages, approximately 20,000 words, and weighs in at around 8.5 megabytes.

2) If you’d rather read it in a mobile reading device, iPhone, nook, Kindle, or even your browser, you can download it for free in various formats from Project Gutenberg in an anthology called The Crushed Flower and Other Stories. It’s a much smaller download but with no illustrations.

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Written by David

August 27th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Fiction

How Those Amusing Freak Moving Pictures Are Made

From August 21, 1910


HOW THOSE AMUSING FREAK MOVING PICTURES ARE MADE: Ingenious Devices Make It Easy for a Man Apparently to Walk on the Ceiling, Climb Up the Side of a House and Work Other Impossibilities. (PDF)

By 1910, jaded audiences were already tired of the primitive special effects in movies. They demanded more!

Tricks popular a few years ago are being abandoned. Sophisticated audiences demand that the ideas be worked out in a logical way. This forced the manufacturers to drop the obvious or merely ingenious… The result has been that the tricks of the moving picture man have progressed to a point of mechanical complexity that is amazing to the layman, and have developed ideas worthy of a skilled dramatist or novelist.

The article goes on to reveal several secrets of 1910 movie effects:

A French magician named Malies originated the so-called magical pictures, in which persons and objects appeared and disappeared in an instant. Of course, these were merely placed in or removed from the scene while the shutter of the camera was closed between the photographs.

Of course that refers to George Melies, whose “magical pictures” are worth looking up on YouTube. Here’s one example from 1898 showing how objects can appear and disappear as described above (for best effect, mute the music):

The article gives another example:

In the picture of the “Great Train Robbery,” for example, a dummy was substituted and thrown from a moving train in place of the living fireman who had been knocked on the head with a piece of coal.

I believe this must be the scene they refer to:

I can’t say I blame audiences for demanding more.

Amazingly, many of the tricks used back then are still used today. For example, the article describes a movie where a man crawls like a fly on the ceiling…

…head down, laughing and talking to an assistant who passes bits of paper to him from the floor beneath. On another picture a man, clinging to the ceiling as though glued there, goes through a series of antics and finally hangs suspended by his hands and his head.

The secret of these illusions is as simple as that of a conundrum — when you know it. The men walking head downward on the ceiling are actually performing on a floor. The walls and furniture in the room are suspended upside down, after being fastened to a framework of wooden strips.

A more sophisticated version of this same technique was used in this summer’s Inception. In a scene where two characters appear to be fighting on the walls and ceiling of a hotel hallway, the effect is in fact achieved by rotating the set along with the camera so that they end up fighting on an upside down set. You can read more about Inception‘s rotating set in this article at

While not mentioned in the article, I also recommend you watch Melies’ 1902 film A Trip To The Moon (Le voyage dans la lune), which is often considered the first sci-fi film.

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Written by David

August 20th, 2010 at 10:15 am

The New Wright Five-Passenger Biplane For Cross-Country Flights

From August 21, 1910



The fact that a five-passenger flight will shortly become an accomplished fact has interested the aviation world. In the new craft there is nothing in front of the driver’s seat. The front elevating planes are gone, and the two main planes catch the air in initial contact, so far as the aeroplane is concerned. The elevating plane — there is only one — is behind the rear rudder, and thus one of the earliest features of the aeroplane passes out of existence in this new type.

Another first for the Wright Brothers!


Written by David

August 20th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Will Vaccine Be The Greatest Cure In Medical Science?

From August 21, 1910


WILL VACCINE BE THE GREATEST CURE IN MEDICAL SCIENCE? Experimentation Proves That it Is Effective in Many Diseases Formerly Not Included Within its Scope. (PDF)

It’s exciting to read about scientists realizing that this great discovery is even more widely applicable than they realized. Vaccination for smallpox and a few other diseases were already around for 100 years or so before this article, but the next few decades would bring discovery of vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, and polio.

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Written by David

August 20th, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Life,Science

Sherlock Holmes Would Be Baffled By This Mystery

From August 21, 1910


SHERLOCK HOLMES WOULD BE BAFFLED BY THIS MYSTERY: A London Actor Is Found Murdered in a Battersea Garden, the Stage Setting Is Unusual, and Three Persons See the Murderer, Yet He Escapes and Scotland Yard Is Mystified. (PDF)

It’s bad enough to be murdered. But Thomas Anderson, a London actor who went by the stage name Thomas Weldon Atherston, had the bad luck to be murdered in the shadow of an even more sensational murder. At this time in 1910, the murder case du jour was that of Cora Crippen. Her husband Hawley Crippen was among those suspected of killing her, but there was no body. Well, the same week that Thomas Anderson was killed, Cora Crippen’s remains were found in the basement of her home. The hunt for Hawley Crippen was on! It was the murder case of the season. And poor Thomas Anderson was all but forgotten by the public.

To this day, Thomas Anderson’s murder remains unsolved. Hawley Crippen, meanwhile, was found guilty and sentenced to death for killing his wife.

This article presents the facts of the Anderson murder as they were known at the time. As the headline suggests, it’s a case that seems to be right out of a Sherlock Holmes story. Maybe you can find a clue where Scotland Yard did not.

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Written by David

August 20th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in True Crime

Woman Meets Adventure In Motor Tour Of The World

From August 21, 1910


WOMAN MEETS ADVENTURE IN MOTOR TOUR OF THE WORLD: Mrs. Harriet Clark Fisher of Trenton, Iron Manufacturer and Social Leader, Has Many Adventures in Her Auto Among Strange Peoples. (PDF)

In 1902, Harriet Clark Fisher and her husband were in a terrible train wreck. They were both pinned under tons of debris. Her husband died, but Harriet survived. She took over management of his iron works company, becoming the only woman manufacturer in America. China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wu Ting-Fang, called Harriet “the most remarkable woman in America.”

Harriet decided she could use a vacation, and set out to become the first woman to tour the entire planet by car. Of course she needed a boat to get from one continent to the next, but still, that’s a pretty good road trip. This article explores some of her adventures along the way.

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Written by David

August 20th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Adventure