Archive for February, 2011

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.

One comment

Written by David

February 28th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Life,Nature,Science

Secret Service Methods In New York’s Police System

From February 26, 1911


SECRET SERVICE METHODS IN NEW YORK’S POLICE SYSTEM: What Deputy Commissioner Flynn Has Done and Is Doing in Reorganizing the Detective Force Along Lines Followed by the U. S. Government (PDF)

Mayor Gaynor found a new Deputy Commissioner named William J. Flynn, formerly of the federal Secret Service. Gaynor brought him in to apply Secret Service tactics to fighting crime in New York.

In a little more than three months, “Secret Service Flynn”… head of the city’s detective forces, has revolutionized the methods of detecting crime in New York. He is perfecting a secret service that is really secret. He is doing it in spite of the legal limitations that force all of his men into one physical mold. It is being done without precedents, except the Federal Secret Service. The results have been arrests of gamblers by hundreds and other offenders by scores, even while the reorganization was in progress.

“It’s a tough job, but I’m going to give it a wrestle,” remarked Flynn when he took the office last October. “I’ll stake my reputation and a lot of hard work on making good. I have in mind an entirely new plan of work — new to the Police Department. Haven’t got the details worked out yet.”

A year later, he returned to the US Secret Service as Chief, and eventually became head of the FBI.

Leave a comment

Written by David

February 25th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Politics,True Crime

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.

Leave a comment

Written by David

February 24th, 2011 at 11:00 am

“We Are The Richest But Most Wasteful People”

From February 26, 1911


“WE ARE THE RICHEST BUT MOST WASTEFUL PEOPLE” Gifford Pinchot Says Our Great National Resources Are Being Ruthlessly Destroyed or Stolen — How to Correct Errors. (PDF)

Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the US Forest Service, was a big advocate of conservation of national reserves. In this article, he specifically talk about conserving our forests, water, and coal.

Waste, waste, waste — that is what the famous forester accused us of, and of a waste far more destructive to ourselves, our children, and our children’s children than any which such men as James J. Hill, who merely saw we spend our money recklessly, have ever charged us with…

“Of all the continents,” said he, “this is the richest, and among civilized peoples, there is no record of any so wasteful as ours, who live upon it. When our forefathers over-ran and subdued this country the natural resources which it offered them were so much more in quantity than the early scattered population could possibly use, that waste became a national habit. Never, probably, in the world’s history, and surely never in its comparatively recent history, has this waste been paralleled. We have begun to wake, a little, to the fact of it, but the beginning of our awakening was very recent. It has only just begun to occur to us as a people that waste is a sin, and that in time we shall be compelled to make answer for it as such.”

Leave a comment

Written by David

February 23rd, 2011 at 10:30 am

Posted in Politics

Grave Of Lincoln’s Assassin Disclosed At Last

From February 26, 1911


GRAVE OF LINCOLN’S ASSASSIN DISCLOSED AT LAST: After Nearly Fifty Years, the Spot Where J. Wilkes Booth’s Body Is Buried Is Located — Living Witnesses to Midnight Interment Tell the Story. (PDF)

In September of 1910, the Magazine ran an interesting article about the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination, telling surprisingly tragic stories of those who were in the booth with Abe and his wife. When I posted the article here, a reader named Deej left this note in the comments:

The Magazine article says at the end that Booth’s body was thrown overboard at night, location unknown. That’s not true. He was taken back to DC where a careful identification and autopsy were performed, several of his vertebrae were removed, and can be seen to this day in Washington. In 1869, after IDing the remains again, the govt released his body to the Booth family, and he was buried in the family plot in Baltimore.

I wrote back to that reader telling him to stay tuned because an upcoming article would address that. This is that article.

For fifty years after the assassination, Booth’s fate was kept a secret. In this article, the truth is finally revealed to the public.

Although there are 90,000,000 of people in the United States, not 500 could tell you what became of the body of the assassin of Abraham Lincoln. Some will tell you that the body of John Wilkes Booth was burned to ashes in the Virginia barn in which he was captured. Others will express the opinion that the remains of the misguided actor were cut to pieces and mysteriously dropped into the sea. Then, to add interest to the mystery, some one will claim to have positive information that Wilkes Booth is still alive, and is living under an assumed name in one of the Southern States. One strange story is to the effect that Booth assumed the name of J. W. Bickford of Pittsburg, and that he confided to his roommate in Lexington, Ky., during the months of January and February, 1869, that he was the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.

The body of John Wilkes Booth was not burned to ashes in the Virginia barn nor consigned to a watery grave in the Atlantic Ocean, but it was buried with great secrecy in the presence of at least a dozen witnesses, of whom two are still alive, in Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore, Md.

The body rests within the same inclosure that contains the graves of his illustrious father and patient mother, as well as other members of the Booth family.

It was but natural that the burial could not take place with the great American public looking on at midday with tear-stained eyes. The body was not consigned to its final resting place until nearly four years after the greatest and saddest tragedy in the history of the Nation.

The article goes on to describe how the body was buried in secret, and how the cemetery helped with the deception.


Written by David

February 22nd, 2011 at 10:30 am

Posted in Politics,True Crime

Gov. A. E. Willson On The Income Tax Amendment

From February 26, 1911


GOV. A. E. WILLSON ON THE INCOME TAX AMENDMENT: “Most Serious Encroachment on State Rights Since Organization of Our Government,” Says Kentucky’s Chief Executive. (PDF)

The Sixteenth Amendment, which gave the Federal Government the power to tax income without apportioning it among the states, was passed by Congress in 1909. It was then sent to the states for ratification. Three fourths of the states need to ratify an Amendment for it to become part of the Constitution, and there were 48 states at the time, so the Amendment would need support of at least 36 of them.

On the day this article was published, 24 states had already ratified the Amendment. Kentucky Governor Augustus E. Willson wrote this article explaining why he thinks the Amendment is a bad idea for the states, and for the average American. Meanwhile, his own state’s legislature had already ratified the amendment. In fact, they were the second state to do so.

Ultimately, the amendment got more than enough support, and officially became part of the Constitution in 1913.

But that’s not where the story ends. There is a tax resistance movement today which contends that the federal government has no right to tax income. Their arguments say that either the Sixteenth Amendment was not properly ratified, or that the wording of the Amendment does not actually grant the power the government says it does. These arguments have been rejected in several courts, but there are still people who believe Federal income tax is illegal. This view is held by several people of prominence, including Congressman Ron Paul.

Leave a comment

Written by David

February 21st, 2011 at 11:30 am

Posted in Debate,Politics

A Man Who Has To Read 10,000 Jokes A Month

From February 19, 1911


A MAN WHO HAS TO READ 10,000 JOKES A MONTH: “F. P. A.,” Who Also Writes Jokes Himself, Gives The Times the Confessions of a Professional Chestnut Gatherer — How He Keeps Sane by Reading Darwin. (PDF)

In the 1920s, Franklin Pierce Adams was a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table. He made his name as a columnist for various newspapers where, under the simple byline F. P. A., he wrote humorous jokes and poems, often lampooning popular verse of the period. In the 1930s, he named his column “The Conning Tower”, the term used to describe the observation tower on a submarine. The idea was that from his own tower, he could make observations on the world he saw. Adams accepted submissions from readers, and he published pieces from Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, James Thurber, Eugene O’Neill, and E.B. White.

As far as I can tell, Adams never worked for the Times. When this article was written, his columns may have appeared in the New York Evening Mail and in a feature called “The Spreading Chestnut Tree” in Everybody’s Magazine. But that didn’t prevent them from publishing this in-depth look at the up-and-coming humorist:

Last Monday, when all Manhattan Island and some other parts o the Nation were holidaying, a reporter from The Times found his way into the sanctum of America’s greatest jokee, (i.e., one to whom jokes are made.) His name is Franklin P. Adams, and he keeps the wolf away from his door by reading the jokes that are sent to Everybody’s Magazine in the hope that they will ultimately blossom on “The Spreading Chestnut Tree.” The wolf, apparently, has a sense of humor.

Jokes, a thousand strong, were heaped about Mr. Adams when the reporter entered — by appointment — for an interview on “The American Sense of Humor.”

Mr. Adams slipped a joke into Darwin’s Origin of Species, and, closing the volume with a reluctant sigh, tossed it upon a heap of humor.

Thus begins the interview, which I recommend downloading to read in its entirety. He describes jokes that he gets from prisoners and from children, the differences between jokes from men and women, and how he can tell the difference between a good joke and a bad joke.

Here he describes some of the letters included with submissions he receives:

“Another habit they have is the effort to be facetious in the letters that accompany their jokes. The most usual form is a play on the word ‘chestnut.’ Each one pulls it off as though he had lit on something brand new and very funny. ‘Here are some chestnuts that should be picked,’ ‘chestnuts ripe, but not wormy,’ are a few samples of this lame-duck humor. You can guess how an introduction of this kind keys me up with joyous expectation of the accompanying jokes.

“But in the letters that make no effort to be funny, I find some good laughs. How’s this.”

Mr. Adams fished out of his desk a painfully inscribed epistle:

Dear Sir: Inclosed you will find, under my pen name of Herr von Hornberg-Boenningheim, the MSS. of three half-dozen sets of humorous paragraphs, viz. Nos. 49 to 66 of a collection of seventy half-dozen sets, of 420 paragraphs in all. In order to make quick sales I offer these at the nominal price of $2.50 a set, or $6.50 for the three sets, if taken together. I can furnish more such sets if desired at the same merely nominal price. However, I make this offer on the stipulation that you make your decision, or choice, at once, and, in case you desire to retain them, send me the price thereof within one week’s time or otherwise return the rejected sets of humorous paragraphs at once. Hoping to hear from you within the appointed time, or perhaps receive orders for additional sets. I am yours very truly, A— T—.

“Needless to say,” continued Mr. Adams, “his entire ‘three half-dozen sets of humorous paragraphs’ did not assay 1 per cent of the unconscious humor in his letter. A mild and quite common variation of this letter is the statement, usually accompanying some very poor jokes: ‘I have lots like the inclosed and would like to become a regular contributor.’


“There are a lot of people who seem to think it necessary to call my attention to the fact that they have inclosed a joke. Here’s a sample:”

Gentlemen: As I have on hand some very good short stories, some jokes and funny sayings, I thought it best to write and explain to you that they are just the thing for The Spreading Chestnut Tree. I shall be glad to accept anything you wish to give for them. Truly, T. B.

“When I looked over his ‘jokes and funny sayings’ I agree with him that he’d be glad to accept anything I’d give for them.”

I guess when you have to go over so many joke submissions, you get bitter about comedy. Still, it’s a very interesting interview. This one is a downloader.

Leave a comment

Written by David

February 18th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Entertainment,Humor

Washington Not Real Name Of Our First President

From February 19, 1911


WASHINGTON NOT REAL NAME OF OUR FIRST PRESIDENT: Prof. Cigrand’s Researches Lead to Conclusion That It Was De Hertburn — How “Wessyngton” Became “Washington.” (PDF)

When this article came out, Washington’s 179th birthday was just a week away, and so the Times presented this convoluted history of the Washington family showing that the Washingtons were once known as De Hertburn, but changed their names to reflect their estate, called Wessyngton, which was the Norman spelling of Washington. This happened generations before George was born. So, yeah. Washington’s ancestors were not called Washington. Big deal.

The real name of the first President of the United States was not Washington. His baptismal name was George, and he was born Feb. 22 in the year 1732. The old colony of Virginia was his birthplace, but the true name of his male ancestors was not Washington. This may seem a sweeping statement in the light of generally accepted history, but careful research has established beyond doubt that the ancient founder of the family from which came the Father of our Country was named William De Hertburn. The key to this apparent paradox lies int he fact that, in common with many noblemen and monarchs of Europe, the first President possessed an estate name and a real, or family name, the latter being known as the patronymic, or paternal name.

Whatever. It’s not like learning that the Queen of England is actually a man. So Happy Birthday, George Washington, if that is your real name.

Leave a comment

Written by David

February 18th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Politics

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.”

Leave a comment

Written by David

February 17th, 2011 at 10:30 am

Posted in Nature,Science

All “Sisters” Who Beg In Saloons Are Frauds

From February 19, 1911


ALL “SISTERS” WHO BEG IN SALOONS ARE FRAUDS: And a Large Percentage of Pretended “Salvation Army” Girls and “Volunteers” Who Enter Barrooms Are Bogus — How the Graft Is Worked. (PDF)

If you know much about the inside of barrooms you can skip the first few paragraphs of this tale, for it will be an old story to you. If, however, the temples of the Demon Rum are to you strange territory you will have to be told at the outset just how the fake religious beggar works.

Sundry paragraphs in the week’s papers told how a group of baseball men were in the bar of the Hotel Breslin, resting from the labors of deliberation as to next season’s games, when in came a pair of gentle nuns. The manager pointed out to them in clear and vigorous terms that the quicker they left the place the better it would be for all concerned. Exit the gentle nuns and explosions of indignation from the baseball men.

The manager got the better of the argument after a while. He said they were fakers, maintaining the game in the face of his guests’ expostulations, and the Church and the Law have both backed him up. They were fake nuns, just as he said, and the money of the convivial gentlemen assembled at the bar would never got nearer the Church than the pocket of the woman who took it in.

Unfortunately some of the print in this copy of the article is illegible, but the point remains clear: If you’re uncertain of the validity of the random person asking you for money, don’t give them money.

Leave a comment

Written by David

February 17th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in True Crime