Archive for March, 2011

SundayMagazine on

I wrote a piece about SundayMagazine for that just went online today. If you’re discovering this site for the first time via Slate, welcome! A good place to start is with my roundup of favorite articles from 1910. If you’re a regular reader who’s never read Slate, start with my article!

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Written by David

March 30th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Blog Stuff

New Method Of Teaching Morality To The Young

From April 2, 1911


NEW METHOD OF TEACHING MORALITY TO THE YOUNG: Visual Instruction in Right and Wrong and Niceties of Conduct the Keynote of Novel Educational Movement Begun by Milton Fairchild. (PDF)

Milton Fairchild was concerned that kids weren’t getting the morality instruction they needed:

“Most children are left in ignorance of what is considered right by intelligent people. How many parents or teachers have ever fully explained property rights to the children in their care. We teach geography, but the chart of life, by which our boys and girls can make a true success of life, is not taught, either at home or in school. And I might add that I believe most parents are no more fitted to teach morals than they are geography.”

So Fairchild developed a series of lessons in morals accompanied with photographs Fairchild himself took.

“To throw upon a screen pictures taken from a boy’s life of our own time, photographs of real boys doing the things that every boy does or sees done, and point out to him while he sees the picture the diference between wrong and right, between cheating and fair play, between contemptibleness and manliness.

“For example, take the lesson on ‘The True Sportsman.’ The attention of the boys is caught and held by screen pictures of a bicycle race, in which it can be plainly seen that the boy who is losing is deliberately running into the winner to foul him.”

Especially interesting to me is Fairchild’s description of the covert way he took the photos:

“The pictures have to be taken especially for this purpose, because no one but myself has been taking snapshots of matters of importance to child morality. It is a matter of very close study of child life to choose the pictures and ideas for a morality lesson.

“Shortly after starting on this work I found that it was necessary to devise a special camera for my own use. You see, it is a a very difficult matter to get just the kind of pictures that I wanted, for no faked photographs would answer. I knew that my audience of schoolboys would look upon a posed photograph as a put-up job, and would reject the moral application as quickly as they would reject a goody-goody story.

“In order to successfully stalk these scenes of child life, I had a camera built, the box of which looked like a suit case. It was fitted with a swift lens and a focal-pane shutter.

“After five years spent in what was practically preliminary work, I spent six years more in making my collection of negatives. Armed with my camera, I tramped the streets of nearly al the large cities of the Eastern States. In 1903, I went to England for scenes to add to my collection.”

I would love to see the photos he took. Considering that his goal was to capture all sorts of moral and immoral behavior, he must have created an interesting archive of photographs showing life in the early 20th century.

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Written by David

March 30th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Education

Stories That Modern Science Has Made Impossible

From March 26, 1911


STORIES THAT MODERN SCIENCE HAS MADE IMPOSSIBLE: Why the Classics of Poe, Hoffman, and Others Seem Antiquated To-day. (PDF)

This amusing piece supposes that modern technology is making scary stories impossible.

It is lucky for us that Poe, Hoffman, Andersen, and other chroniclers of the great unknown lived years ago. For mystery and romance have suffered greatly at the hands of modern science and inventions. Electricity is the worst offender in that respect, as it has killed more goblins than all the grandmothers ever created.

Think how much richer in unearthly being the world was in the day of the tallow candle, the oil lamp, and the flintlock. Imagine your great-great-grandfather coming home at, say, 1 in the morning; the house he returned to was one of those immense, gaunt mansions, built piece by piece, wing by wing, of wood that creaked and moaned when the night wind rose or when the worms were milling slowly, stubbornly, the heart of the beams into impalpable, yellow flour. Your great-great-grandfather’s conscience may have troubled him a little, for he may have partaken of a trifle too much of he cheering claret.

When the street door’s lock had clicked behind him he stood enshrouded in the hostile darkness of the endless corridors; echoes magnified the noise of every motion, his breath sounded like a cyclone. A match finally consented to burn, and its flicker only helped him to realize the thickness of the velvety pall.

The lamp was located; its chimney struck, but finally yielded just before all that was left of the match was a short, winking ember. Another match was struck and this time the wick, with much spluttering, emitted a little light; back went the chimney to its socket, and the shade that surmounted it divided this mystic worlds of darkness into two regions — the table and a part of the floor were immersed in a soft yellow gleam. Above the shade, however, ghosts and goblins, frightened an instant by man’s intrusion, resumed their play.


On a similar note, here are some stories that cell phones have made impossible. And here’s a list of Seinfeld episodes that could not have happened with today’s modern technology.

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Written by David

March 25th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Noises Of The Animal World Are Really Musical

From March 26, 1911


NOISES OF THE ANIMAL WORLD ARE REALLY MUSICAL: Properly Analyzed, the Mooing of a Cow or the Barking of a Dog Accord with the Rules of Composers. (PDF)

In 1955, Don Charles put out a novelty album by The Singing Dogs. You’ve probably heard their still-popular barking rendition of Jingle Bells around the holidays.

But did you know, according to no cited source other than “a musical authority,” that “the mooing of a cow is set to a perfect fifth, octave or tenth; the barking of a dog to a fourth or fifth; the neighing of a horse is a descent on the chromatic scale; while the donkey brays in a perfect octave?”

Apparently, those little factoids were “going the rounds of the exchanges,” which today would probably mean you get an email from your mother with the subject “FW: FW: FW: FW: Kitty’s meow is actually music!!”

Fortunately, other equally unnamed authorities explained to the Times Magazine that while animals are certainly expressive and communicative in their sounds, they don’t follow any particular musical scales: “The mooing of a cow is set to whatever notes suits that particular cow’s fancy and voice.”

Now forward this on to ten friends in the next ten minutes, or you’ll have ten years of bad luck.

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Written by David

March 25th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Music,Nature

Blood Tests In Criminal Cases No Longer Uncertain

From March 26, 1911


BLOOD TESTS IN CRIMINAL CASES NO LONGER UNCERTAIN: Murderers Can No Longer Be Shielded by Doubtful Analysis, for the Newest Biological Chemistry Can Now Tell Human Blood Stains from Others. (PDF)

Those fluent in biochemistry may enjoy the details, but the gist of the article is summed up in the second paragraph:

It has often happened in murder trials that the guilt or innocence of the prisoner depended entirely on the ability of expert witnesses to determine whether or not certain stains were caused by human blood. Formerly, this was a difficult question to decide. The revelations of biological chemistry, however, have made the tests comparatively easy. In fact, it is not too much to say that the tests used nowadays to settle the question whether certain stain, be they new or old, were made by human blood, constitute an exact science.

This reminds me to recommend The Alienist, Caleb Carr’s murder mystery set in 1896 New York City, to those of you who have never read it. The protagonist uses newly developed techniques (like fingerprint matching, for example) to solve the crime. It’s a very good read.

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Written by David

March 23rd, 2011 at 9:30 am

What Is The Difference Between Richard And Johann Strauss?

From March 26, 1911


WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RICHARD AND JOHANN STRAUSS? The “Real Richard” and How He Expresses Himself in “Der Rosenkavalier.” (PDF)

This is easy. One of them wrote music famously featured in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The other one, um, also had music prominently used in that movie.

Okay, let me try again. One of them is Austrian, and one of them is… um… German?

Okay, I give up. What does the article say?

If you want to see a hitherto peaceful human face mobilize twenty thousand warlike expressions within one brief and crowded moment of glorious life step up to a man with music in his soul and say:

“Is there any difference between Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss?”

He will either walk away, brutally insult you, or start to explain the difference, in which case he will drain the dictionary in twenty-four minutes and go insane in thirty-five. If you do not believe the above seek out that friend of yours who simply dotes on modern music, hold him firmly by the sleeve so that he can’t walk away, invite him to have a drink so that he can’t insult you, and then pop the question.

If, at the end of twenty minutes’ explanation, his condition (and yours) does not cause you acute concern, why — but it will, don’t you worry, it will.

Alpha and Omega, Zenith and Nadir, north pole and south pole — not one of those combinations suggests to the average man a greater difference between its component parts than does, to the musician, the juxtaposition of Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss. In fact, it is a common thing to see wild-eyed highbrows running round and round the most select musical circles, vainly inquiring by what cosmic freak the constructor of that tempestuous thing, “Elektra,” ever got tagged with the identical name borne by him who gave us “The Blue Danube.”

Discord, violence, horrible shrieks in the night, possible police interference — that’s what Richard Strauss has always meant. Was it not he who gave us “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” which sounds even worse set to music, and “Salome,” beside which the orchestral complications of Richard Wagner sound like those five-finger exercises that mother used to make us do?

Wow, okay, so the difference I guess is that Richard Strauss sucks and Johann Strauss is awesome.

Now would someone please explain to me the difference between Ke$ha and Katy Perry?


Written by David

March 22nd, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Entertainment,Music

Experiment Station To Solve Housekeepers’ Problems

From March 26, 1911


EXPERIMENT STATION TO SOLVE HOUSEKEEPERS’ PROBLEMS: Mrs. Frank A. Pattison Heads a Movement to Give Practical Aid to Tests of Inventions That Lighten Labor and Effect Economies. (PDF)

Mary Pattison was the President of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, “an organization of fifteen or sixteen thousand women, which believes in doing practical things.” The organization is still around today.

She set up an “experiment station” in her New Jersey home to figure out how housewives can make their daily routines easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable. Part of that involved trying new machines with potential to make labor easier.

Mrs. Pattison led the way to a small kitchen. It was full of strange objects, queer shaped ovens, and odd, black things standing on long legs.

“This,” said Mrs. Pattison, “is my electric motor.”

It was a small thing she touched, and it did not look like the solution of anything, but she wheeled it up to the coffee mill, slipped a pin somewhere, turned a crank, and in ten seconds the motor was working like a galley slave, grinding the coffee. After a minute Mrs. Pattison stopped it, drew out the pin that connected it with the mill, and explained that it would turn the washing machine, chop up the meant, or polish the silver, just as energetically as it had ground the coffee.

“This motor is not perfection by any means,” said Mrs. Pattison, “but it shows that we are on the right track. I paid $75 for it with the coffe mill, the polisher, the washing machine and the chopper included. It was quite a sum to put down at the start, but you see what a saving it is in labor…

“This,” she said, turning to another strange object that looked something like a wash boiler, “is the dishwashing machine. We had a great time getting this and it is not a very satisfactory one, though it is the best on a small scale in the market so far. I wrote to every firm that dealt in such things and I would get back answers that they had a very admirable dishwashing machine that would wash a thousand plates a minute, or something like that, and had been used in various hotels. Then they would add: ‘We have nothing as yet for the small kitchen, but we have some plans for such a model.'”

I like that women were technology early adopters back then.

[There are] vacuum cleaners which do away with the strain of sweeping, and of course it will be a part of our Federation to find out which are the best cleaners for the various purposes that our women will have need for… The average woman does not know about all these things, and if she does she is afraid to buy because she knows the chances are even that she is going to be cheated. We believe that when she knows where to turn for accurate information, she will joyfully buy them.”

A couple years later, Pattison wrote a book called Principles of Domestic Engineering, which you can read free from Google Books. The lengthy subtitle is “The what, why and how of a home; an attempt to evolve a solution of the domestic “labor and capital” problem – to standardize and professionalize housework – to re-organize the home upon “scientific management” principles – and to point out the importance of the public and personal element therein, as well as the practical.”

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Written by David

March 22nd, 2011 at 9:30 am

Can Science Hereafter Grow Giants At Will?

From March 26, 1911


CAN SCIENCE HEREAFTER GROW GIANTS AT WILL? Recent Researches Seem to Point to the Pituitary Gland as Holding the Secret of the Size of Human Beings — Gigantism Is a Disease, Which May Be Artificially Produced. (PDF)

Science has at last figured out a way to promote desirable physical traits without eugenics: gland stimulation!

Fancy, for instance, the production to order of a regiment of soldiers each exactly seven feet tall; or, a group of eight-foot giants for the circus or museum. If the theory held by many is correct, this can readily be accomplished by stimulating the pituitary body to hyper-activity. On the other hand, b diminishing the activity of the gland we could arrest growth and produce a group of dwarfs. In other words, persons old enough to know just what height they wished to attain could have it regulated to order, or be “made to measure.”

The workings of the pituitary gland were still not understood. A prominent Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons in London surmised further:

Science, therefore, holds out the hope that people may not only be able to regulate their height, but beauty doctors may be able to work on strictly scientific principles.

“If a lady, for instance, did not think that her nose was symmetrical, a doctor could bring it to the shape required by means of a pituital sandwich. In fact, the plainest people might be made beautiful.”

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Written by David

March 21st, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Nature,Science

A Matrimonial War Breaks Out In Hoboken

From March 19, 1911


A MATRIMONIAL WAR BREAKS OUT IN HOBOKEN: In the Effort to Accelerate Marriages Two Justices Resort to Advertising (PDF)

There I was, reading this amusing little article about how Justices of the Peace resorted to advertising in order to bring in more couples to be married, when all of a sudden I came across this question from the reporter to one of the Justices, George F. Seymour, known to locals simply as “Judge”:

“Is it your custom to kiss the bride, and if so, why?” I asked.

Wait, what? The Judge kissed the bride? Surely the reporter means to ask if it’s the Judge’s custom to tell the groom to kiss the bride, right? I mean, why would the Judge kiss the bride?

“No, I don’t,” he replied thoughtfully. “I believe those other fellows do, though. Well, let them. I don’t for one reason, because ‘my wife wont’ let me.’ Here the other day, after I had tied the knot good and fast for a couple” (the Judge’s mind seemed to be wandering back to his seafaring days) “and they were getting ready to make sail and leave the office with the witnesses, one of the latter sang out, ‘Ain’t you goin’ to kiss the bride, Judge?’

“I says, ‘No, I make it a practice never to kiss the bride in my office. If I want to do so I’ll do it elsewhere than here.’ The bridegroom did not quite know how to take it, but he laughed and they went away. No, I don’t want no experimental kissing with strange women; there’s too many microbes about, so I take no chances.”


This particular Justice takes his job very seriously:

“I won’t stand for any darned funny business when people come in here to get married, and that’s more than some other Justices can say. For instance, if I see the feller is lush I simply say, ‘I can’t marry you to-day.’

“If he asks why, I tell him, ”cause I’m too busy.’ If he insists on knowing, I say, ‘You’ve had a few drinks too much. I ain’t a-going to have you or the gal come back here in three or four months and say that I married you while you were “loaded.” Come back here to-morrow and if you’re all right I’ll marry.’ If he’s a sensible feller he’ll go away and return the next day with the gal and I marry ’em.

“Sometimes it’s the woman who gets the ‘call down.’ At times she laughs and tries to be ‘funny.’ Then I tell her a few things. I says, ‘Where do you think you are? In a circus? I want you to under-stand that this marrying business is a very serious thing. If you don’t take that view of it there’s a door there, and you can close it from the outside quick.’ That generally fetches them, and they cut out the laughs.”

It sounds like Judge really knows how to make a wedding day into a joyous occasion.

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Written by David

March 18th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Life

Circus Acrobat Woos Death Daily, But Rarely Weds Her

From March 19, 1911


CIRCUS ACROBAT WOOS DEATH DAILY, BUT RARELY WEDS HER: Surprisingly Small Percentage of Fatal Accidents Occur in a Year, Though the Performers Take Big Risks. (PDF)

“There is so much dash, so much apparent abandon, in the kaleidoscopic whirl which makes up the present-day three-ringed circus that the dazed spectator goes away with the feeling that the whole thing has been tumbled together at haphazard, that the big gates at the end of the arena simply bubble out their endless profusion of elephants, tumblers, camels, bareback riders, trained monkeys, and clowns; that each does his own peculiar stunt and then in his own good time disappears in a cloud of glory, tanbark, and sawdust.

“But if you could ask that obscure but very important circus personage, the programme maker, he would tell you a very different story. What seems a wild riot of stunts is in reality a carefully timed, carefully constructed mosaic.”

You know what? This article is interesting and all, but if the topic interests you even a little bit, I highly recommend you watch the PBS documentary series Circus. It’s an incredibly engaging look behind the scenes of the Big Apple Circus, and it can be watched in its entirety streaming for free on If it’s more convenient, you can also catch it streaming on Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video.

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Written by David

March 17th, 2011 at 9:15 am