Archive for September, 2010

This week’s posts will be a couple days late

I’m sad to report that this week’s posts, which usually go up on Friday mornings, will be a couple days late. I just moved, and life is a pile of boxes right now. But the articles will be worth the wait. The topics include atheism, a poor guy who got conned out of a lot of cash, and a close look at the city budget.

I’ll try my best to get the posts up in time for your Sunday morning coffee. Stay tuned!

Update: Okay, so it’s Sunday night and I still haven’t posted. I’ve got the laptop up and running, but all the files I had prepped to post are on the tower, which is still in boxes. My new estimate is end-of-day Tuesday, which makes it more than a bit late. But I don’t expect to get behind schedule again. Thanks for bearing with me.

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Written by David

September 30th, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Posted in Blog Stuff

Street Faker King Tells Some Tricks Of The Trade

From September 25, 1910


STREET FAKER KING TELLS SOME TRICKS OF THE TRADE: Cunningham of Ann Street Introduces Sporting John Mack, Provider of Literature; Maggie the Fly King, and Others. (PDF)

The word “faker” here doesn’t mean a person who pretends to do something. It means a street vendor who sells meaningless trinkets. We still have them around town, hawking cheap souvenirs and toys. A man named Mr. Cunningham ran a novelty shop on Ann Street in 1910, and he hired fakers to hawk his wares:

“If a faker hasn’t got some smartness about him, he’ll be pushed out of the business quick. You see, a faker’s not like a peddler, not at all! Your peddler sells things that there’s a demand for, like shoestrings.

“Now people always needed shoestrings. They were on the market 300 years before Christ was born. [Upon reflection it rather seems as if Mr. Cunningham’s enthusiasm got the better of his judgment here.]

“But a faker hands things to the public that really aren’t wanted. He doesn’t supply a demand. He creates it. Nobody needs a little dog with a spring tail, for instance, and yet these dogs are the most popular things on the street today.”

As he spoke Mr. Cunningham held up a creation about as big as your hand, with very stiff legs and a melancholy expression.

“Pull its tail,” said Mr. Cunningham in an awed tone.

The reporter pulled. The tail, being a spring one, kept on vibrating after the pulling had stopped.

“That dog,” said Mr. Cunningham in a slow, solemn undertone, “has made a fortune for its inventor. A fortune! It’s selling like hot cakes.”

We all gazed with admiration at the dog for about five minutes, after which Mr. Cunningham heaved a sigh and reverently deposited him in his box again.

The best fakers were good showmen. One of them reckons he could have been a vaudevillian. They worked their own hours, and some of them made an excellent living.

Here’s a bit more from the article:

“Badges and buttons are the staples… But the real sport of the trade is in selling novelties. What’s a novelty? Ah, anything new that anybody thinks up.”

The angry mother-in-law is a scream. It comes in a small box and consists of two beads and two pieces of rubber. You make a fist of your hand, stick the two beads at the top, the long piece of rubber in the middle in a vertical position and the short piece of rubber at the bottom in a horizontal position. Then you tie a handkerchief about the whole and wriggle your fingers.

The result is really killingly funny. The beads are eyes, the piece of rubber in the center is a nose, the piece of rubber at the bottom is a mouth, the handkerchief is hair, and the whole effect, without using much imagination, either, is that of an awfully ugly old woman who’s making faces.

You can’t help laughing as you look at it. The little brown dog seems rather inadequate considering the burst of enthusiasm it has aroused, but the angry mother-in-law is really funny.

“To see Maggie work that mother-in-law!” exclaimed Mr. Cunningham.

“Who’s Maggie?” asked the reporter.

“What! You don’t know Maggie, the belle of the trade? Maggie, the fly king? Maggie’s as well known in Wall Street as Pierpont Morgan. He’s as clever a man as there is in New York City.”

“Yes, every one knows that Mr. Morgan is –”

“No, no. I mean Maggie. Maggie, short for Mary Ellen, nickname for Edward Joseph!”

Maggie, it appears, is a gentleman about 50 years of age, who weighs 250 pounds, hasn’t a tooth in his head, and is known from the Bronx to the Battery for his fun and cleverness. Just for the sake of curiosity, the reporter asked a policeman on Broadway, a newsboy on Fourteenth Street, a postal card man on Fifth Avenue, and a broker in Wall Street if they’d ever met Maggie. They all broke into an irrepressible grin at the sound of the name, and said of course they had.

There is a story that one day when Maggie was feeling particularly “smart and sassy,” he induced Mr. Russell Sage to buy a tin doll that turned somersaults. Maggie considers this day the high water mark of his career.

These fakers sound far more interesting than the street peddlers we have today, although we do still have some genuine characters. I’m reminded of Joe Ades, who sold his vegetable peeler in Union Square until he died last year at 76. His product was more useful than these trinkets, but he kept up the tradition of being a street salesman who was also a showman.

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Written by David

September 24th, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Business

Pollard Of St.Louis, A Police Court Solomon

From September 25, 1910


POLLARD OF ST. LOUIS, A POLICE COURT SOLOMON: He Reforms Drunkards, Makes Homes Happy, Takes the Testimony of Animals Against Their Cruel Owners, and Has a Heart the Size of a Barn. (PDF)

Unconventional judges occasionally make the news for their courtroom antics or unusual sentences. William Jefferson Pollard was one of those kinds of Judges.

A driver had been brought before the Judge, charged with cruelty to animals in that he had been driving a galled mule. The prisoner had an expert witness in a veterinarian, who testified that the sore on the mule’s back did not pain the animal in the least.

The Judge listened attentively to the long technical opinion, and then demanded to know where the mule was. He was informed that it was harnessed to a wagon on the street in front of the court building. The Judge ordered the court be adjourned for five minutes.

He took his cane and proceeded to the street. He approached the mule, and with the end of his cane touched the sore spot on the animal’s back. The mule almost kicked the dashboard off the wagon. Once again the Judge touched the sore with his cane, and the frantic beast almost demolished the wagon with its kicking.

The Judge returned to the bench. The prisoner was called before him.

“With all due respect to the expert testimony you have had introduced in your behalf to show that the sore on the mule’s back does not pain him I will find you $50,” announced the Judge. “I asked the mule if the sore hurt him, and he said it did.”

Some criminals in Pollard’s court got off by just taking an oath not to commit another crime, or drink a drop of alcohol, for a set period of time, or risk a harsh sentence. This became known as the “Pollard Pledge Plan” and became widely adopted.

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Written by David

September 24th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in True Crime

Is A Lie Ever Permissible — Some Famous Cases

From September 25, 1910


IS A LIE EVER PERMISSIBLE — SOME FAMOUS CASES: Lord Guthrie’s Statement That It Was “Unconditionally Reprehensible” Contested by Clergy and Others — President Hadley’s Views — “Chinese” Gordon’s Attitude. (PDF)

The classic example I’ve always heard when considering if lying is ever permissible is the Nazi scenario: If a German family was keeping a Jewish person hidden in their home, and the Nazis came knocking on the door asking “Are there any Jews here?” then it would surely be okay for the German family to lie. But that scenario wouldn’t be able to play out for a few more decades after this article. So what kinds of examples did they use in 1910? Much less dramatic ones like this:

The great painter Constable… had expressed his opinion that a certain landscape artist’s pictures looked like putty. This criticism came to the man’s ears, and some time afterward, on meeting Constable, he exclaimed, “I am told that you say my pictures look like putty!”

If the Royal Academician had adhered strictly to the truth, he would have said, “Yes, and I will explain to you exactly what I meant,” and would have told him his objections to the paintings in question. But being a kind-hearted man, and unwilling to give unnecessary pain and offense, he responded, “Well, what of that? I like putty!”

It is hardly necessary to point out that Constable did not, and could not, like putty in pictures. But his excuse saved the feelings of his fellow artist.

Read the article for other equally bland examples.

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Written by David

September 24th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Life

A New Continent May Be Added Shortly To The World

From September 25, 1910


A NEW CONTINENT MAY BE ADDED SHORTLY TO THE WORLD: Result of Earthquake Activity in the Region of the Philippines Southeastward Toward the Middle of the Pacific Ocean. (PDF)

“Shortly” here is a relative term. But if you keep time on a massive scale, you can look forward to visiting a new continent somewhere north of Australia in the near future.

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Written by David

September 24th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Science

The Mystery Of The Marie Celeste

From September 18, 1910


THE MYSTERY OF THE MARIE CELESTE: A Solution Offered Nearly Forty Years After the Ship Was Found Crewless Under Full Sail. (PDF)

The Marie Celeste was a merchant ship found floating in the Atlantic Ocean in December 1872 with nobody on board. The ship was in good shape, had plenty of food and water, and the crew’s personal belongings were still on board. Nobody from the ship was ever heard from again.

The mystery has been written about in several works of both non-fiction and fiction, including a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle which you can read online. It is even the subject of a computer game you can try out in your browser.

This Sunday Magazine article gives one theory for the ship’s disappearance, but if the mystery intrigues you, check out the Wikipedia entry for a lot more information, and the website

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Written by David

September 17th, 2010 at 9:30 am

How Popular Song Factories Manufacture A Hit

From September 18, 1910


HOW POPULAR SONG FACTORIES MANUFACTURE A HIT: The Original Score Is Sometimes Hardly Recognizable After the Tinkering Is Completed — Luck a Big Factor in the Business (PDF)

100 years ago, music radio stations did not yet exist. But record players were around, so people could purchase music to play at home. So now the music industry had to figure out what kind of records people would buy. Is it the same kind of music they would go hear in a performance hall?

In America the popular song is of comparatively recent introduction. Its prototype was a composition with monotonous refrain and elaborate setting, which could only be rendered by a trained voice after laborious practice. It was seldom heard outside of drawing rooms, where it was sung with due ceremony and technical precision by prim young maidens in fresh white gowns and dapper swains in swallowtails. The only part of it that ever impressed the unfamiliar ear was the insistent refrain, which always ran something after this fashion: “Evangeline, where wendest thou? Where wendest thou, Evangeline — where wendest thou — where wendest thou — wendest thou — wendest thou-thou-t-h-o-u!!”

The song always left you in doubt and wonderment. You never learned where fair Evangeline wended, nor why she wended; nor, indeed, any single fact of interest or consequence regarding her.

That sort of song could never have become popular. You couldn’t expect the messenger boy and the shopgirl to take a very keen interest in Evangeline’s wendings when they led to nowhere. The masses need something more direct — something with a more human appeal. One of the chief secrets of popular song writing is to tell a simple story and to tell it completely.

At that time no attempt was made to cater to the musical tastes of the people. It was not supposed that they had any. Almost the only approach to popular ballads were a few well-worn war songs and plantation ditties. But two or three American song writers were trying to get a hearing with the kind of appeal to the people which in England, where the music halls afforded a ready avenue for reaching the masses, had been successfully made for many years.

The article goes on to describe the elements of a popular song. What should it be called? What should it be about? I found this article a delightful read. Today, of course, songwriters have the same challenges, but manufacturing a hit has become as much a technical and business endeavor as a creative one.

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Written by David

September 17th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Crusading Against The City’s “Unethical” Dentists

From September 18, 1910


CRUSADING AGAINST THE CITY’S “UNETHICAL” DENTISTS: The Day of the Bargain Dental Parlor Where Patients Were Maltreated and Fleeced Is Passing. (PDF)

What’s an unethical dentist?

The unethical dentists at present may be roughly divided into three groups, the first of which may be more technically than actually unethical. Because the New York State laws require more of a general education preceding the dental studies than is demanded elsewhere, some perfectly reputable graduates of schools outside the State find themselves unable to meet the Regents’ requirements. While it is of course illegal for a man in that position to practice in this city, still some of the men under this heading are good and capable dentists even if they can’t pass in German or algebra.

Next comes the foreign offenders, a large group, working chiefly among their own countrymen and consequently not easily to be detected. In Russia, students and professionals are allowed greater freedom in their comings and goings than the ordinary mortal, so that many young men and women avail themselves of this opportunity, although they may not intend to follow the profession in after life.

The dentistry course is the easiest in this direction. Opportunity to practice, though, is rather meagre, for in the country regions of that land of distress the village blacksmith is said to be frequently the sole representative of dental science.

Should the Russian emigrate to this country, however, he immediately finds out that dentistry here is a remunerative occupation and his Russian diploma looks sufficiently impressive to those of his patients who know enough to ask for one…

But while the unlicensed and unregistered foreigners frequently do individual harm they seldom descend to anything like the wholesale bungling and swindling perpetrated by some of the large “parlors.” Under the laws a man who hasn’t the slightest knowledge of the profession can open a parlor providing he hires duly licensed assistants. Sometimes he does, and in this case the men will be either young graduates trying to save enough money to set up in business themselves, or older men, who for some reason or other have not made a success of their practice. The hours are long, many times including night work, and the pay sometimes runs as low as $20 a week, so that this sort of employment has little to offer the competent or ambitious…

Men in no wise connected with the science of dentistry start offices purely as a commercial venture, and until recently these have been veritable silver mines. Sometimes one man owns a string of them… A clear proof of the prosperity of these places has been the cheerfulness with which the old offenders have paid repeated fines of $300 or $500, only to open again in another location or under another name.

For comparison, see Wikipedia’s entry on modern street dentistry, and also read about one of the most notorious street dentists of the early 1900s, Edgar “Painless” Parker.

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Written by David

September 17th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Former Convicts Who Have Proved Successes

From September 11, 1910


FORMER CONVICTS WHO HAVE PROVED SUCCESSES: When the World Gave them a Chance After Coming From Prison They “Made Good,” and Are Now Respected Citizens. (PDF)

This article tells the stories of several convicts who became successful after their release, including one who eventually became Chief of Police. But there are several things about this article that are odd. For one thing, there is a drawing with the caption “This Picture Taken Just After Release.” But it’s not a photo. It’s a sketch. Was the sketch done just after release? Or is the sketch based on a photo?

And then there are the kids. One photo shows two disheveled children with the caption “A Convict’s Family.” Then there is another photo of the same kids all cleaned up and smiling. The caption says, “The Former Convict’s Children After the Father Made Good.” But the kids don’t appear to have aged, and they look like they were photographed in the exact same place as their “before” photo. What kind of chicanery is this?

None of the reformed convicts are mentioned by name. Only an initial is given. So I couldn’t look any of them up to verify the Times’ reporting. Perhaps the article is accurate, and the illustrations were embellished for illustrative purposes only. Or maybe the pictures are accurate representations, and it’s just the poor reproduction of the page that makes it appear questionable. I can’t say for sure, but my gut tells me there’s something fishy going on.

1910 needed the nytpicker.

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Written by David

September 10th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Life,True Crime

Gas Tests In The Capitol

From September 11, 1910


GAS TESTS IN THE CAPITOL: Effect of Congressional “Hot Air” as Shown by Official Experiments (PDF)

Neither the House nor Senate chamber had fresh air circulation, so carbon monoxide was building up in various parts of the Capitol building. In order to make improvements to air flow, air quality tests needed to be done. The prospect of reporting on which parts of the Capitol had the most gas was just too delicious for the Sunday Magazine to resist. Oh, the hilarity.

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Written by David

September 10th, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Politics,Science