Bad Children of History #10: Beware the Drunken Bull

Today’s Bad Child of History is, in my estimation, not bad so much as annoying. His name is Jack, and he comes from Charles Bennett’s 1863 book Little Breeches.

Unlike other bad children, who crash about with no regard for the mess they leave behind, or for the stress they cause to undeserving nurses and kind butchers, Jack is a bit of a hand-wringer.

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Here one can see Jack in his perpetual state, namely: positively beside himself with terror. In true 19th-century style, he wanders about the countryside completely unsupervised, leading to a series of terrifying encounters with scary animals, after each of which he wails for his father.

A “genteel Wasp” inquires about the time (which would, truthfully, give me a fright, as well); an upright cat in a jacket with some sort of lumpy club asks “civilly” for directions; a Francophone gander wearing a Chemex as a hat says nothing at all; and yet each time, Jack shouts for assistance.

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Why is he crying for his father? Well, “when anybody said anything to him, he was afraid lest they should hurt him; so he would call out ‘Father!’ as loud as he could, although his father might not be near at the time, and if he were would only be very angry with him for being so silly.”

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As if this isn’t scary enough, Jack also encounters a spider who needs help finding a fly, an oversized frog in pants (alarming enough to cause Jack to fall into the pond), and a bull who is inexplicably wearing leather breeches, smoking a pipe, and enjoying a mug of beer.

Seeing Jack’s state of abject terror, the bull wisely offers him some of the beer (for what negates fear like a mug of ale that probably just had bull lips on it?). Of course, in response, Jack (you guessed it) cries “Father!”

If this is truly to be the story of a Bad Child of History, of course, something ill must befall Jack such that he learns his lesson.

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“Very well,” said the Bull, looking after him. “I tell you what it is: if you come crying ‘Father’ to me any more, I think I know where you’ll go to.”

And the next morning the silly boy did meet the Bull again; again the Bull offered him some beer; the boy cried “Father!” and the Bull, who always kept his word, ran after him. Where do you think he went to?

Why, up into the withered tree, for that was where the old Bull tossed him, and there he is now for all I know.

Modern translation: don’t have a childhood anxiety disorder, or a drunken bull could toss you into a withered tree.

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Magician of the Week #36: Hammo the Great

This week’s wild-eyed magician, “Hammo the Great”, is featured on the cover of the August 1941 issue of Genii.

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(It’s a little hard to see, but that’s definitely glitter lettering spelling out “Hammo”.)

If this magician’s mug looks familiar, it’s because Max Terhune, the man behind Hammo, wore several other (literal) hats: he played Lullaby Joslin (great name!) in the B-movie Western series The Three Mesquiteers, he was a well-known stage ventriloquist (and his dummy, Elmer, roamed the range alongside Terhune in the Mesquiteers), and, in his earlier days, he traveled widely as a competitive whistler and animal imitator.

The editor of Genii colorfully describes Terhune’s “sublime prestidigitatorial skill”, as well as his “careless dress [and] high-heeled boots”. Said editor also notes that it’s “a fact” that Max Terhune has no enemies.

Max Terhune: what a guy!

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Art//Archives Sneak Peek: 1939!

This week, for Art//Archives Visual Research Hours, we’ll be featuring periodicals from the year 1939, with a focus on style and fashion.

1939 brought the start of the Second World War, the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, and the publication of The Grapes of Wrath.

It was a year when stylish transportation looked like this:

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When wool jackets were cool and Dobermans looked almost exactly like they do today:

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When women dressed impeccably, for television or for the (table) tennis court:

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And when the “it girls” in Paris were, apparently, pursuing this new aesthetic:

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Come peruse 1939 issues of Newsweek, Vogue, The Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, and other magazines tomorrow (Tuesday, 6/29) between 10:30 and 1:00!

Impeccable Science, or, the Flames of Intemperance

What do you do when you want to evaluate if an article is a reliable, credible source of information? Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, my favorite wellspring of writing advice, counsels that “responsible, credible authors will cite their sources so that you can check the accuracy of and support for what they’ve written.” Sensible advice, in my opinion.

Bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at this July 1812 issue of The Emporium of Arts and Sciences (vol. 1, no. 3), which features some of the most fantastically impeccable science I have ever encountered in my short but highly scientific life.

The name sounds pretty legit, no? It even says “sciences” in the title!

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How reliable is the author? Does he cite his sources so that we can examine the support for what he’s written?

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Ooo, yes, plenty of (poorly photographed) footnotes, and some of them are even in French! This author does his homework, and he’s bilingual, to boot. I’m leaning towards deeming this a trustworthy source for information about…

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“Combustion of the Human Body, produced by the long and immoderate use of Spirituous Liquors”.

Hang on, what? Drinking too much can make your body catch on fire? I’d consider that “destitute of probability”, as author Pierre-Aime Lair notes that some readers, myself apparently included, may be apt to consider. He promptly addresses our collective doubts:

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Is it more surprising to experience such incineration than to void saccharine urine, or to see the bones softened to such a degree as to be reduced to the state of a jelly? The effects of this combustion are certainly not more wonderful than those of the bones softened, or of the diabetes mellitus.

Point taken– the human body can be strange and marvelous. I still want more proof, though.

In physics, facts being always preferable to reasoning, I shall here collect those which appear to me to bear the impression of truth; and, lest I should alter the sense, I shall quote them such as they are given in the works from which I have extracted them.

Oh good, facts! The author’s “facts” are henceforth presented in nine thoroughly footnoted pages of wildly gruesome recollections wherein women, in their drunkenness, were reduced to piles of ash, often with a few extremities preserved in near-perfect condition. It’s an awful lot to take in, and I’ll spare you the bulk of it, lest you be haunted by nightmares like the ones I’m sure to have tonight. Highlights include a woman whose maid found her as “a heap of ashes, in which could be distinguished the legs and arms untouched”, a room full of “a moist kind of soot” which was “conveyed to a neighbouring kitchen… a piece of bread in the cupboard was covered with it, and no dog would touch it”, a woman whose trunk had “the appearance of a log of wood”, and an ash pile next to an extremely small hearth with a “right foot… found entire, and scorched at its upper junction”.

So, that’s terrifying. For readers who are, no doubt, feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of this horrific evidence, the author sums up commonalities in a handy list:

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1. The persons who experienced the effects of this combustion had for a long time made an immoderate use of spirituous liquors.
2. The combustion took place only in women.
3. These women were far advanced in life.
4. Their bodies did not take fire spontaneously, but were burnt by accident.
5. The extremities, such as the feet and the hands, were generally spared by the fire.
6. Water sometimes, instead of extinguishing the flames which proceeded from parts on fire, gave them more activity.
7. The fire did very little damage, and often even spared the combustible objects which were in contact with the human body at the moment when it was burning.
8. The combustion of these bodies left as a residuum fat foetid ashes, with an unctuous, stinking, and very penetrating soot.

All of my modern, feminist sensibilities are offended by the idea that this fate only befalls older women. Why do women have to bear the brunt of the ill effects of heavy drinking? How on earth do fiery accidents distinguish between male and female bodies in the first place? How does one become so deeply imbued with liquor that one’s body is essentially a figgy pudding?

Not to fear, Pierre-Aime Lair can explain.

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The female body is generally more delicate than that of the other sex. The system of their solids is more relaxed; their fibres are more fragile and of a weaker structure, and therefore their texture more easily hurt. Their mode of life also contributes to increase the weakness of their organization. Women, abandoned in general to a sedentary life, charged with the care of the internal domestic economy, and often shut up in close apartments, where they are condemned to spend whole days without taking any exercise, are more subject than men to become corpulent. The texture of the soft parts in female bodies being more spongy, absorption ought to be freer; and as their whole bodies imbibe spirituous liquors with more ease, they ought to experience more readily the impression of fire.

Um. Women have weak fibers and are spongy. But why older women, specifically?

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Dancing and walking, which form salutary recreation for young persons, are at a certain age interdicted as much by nature as by prejudice. It needs therefore excite no astonishment that old women, who are in general more corpulent and more addicted to drinking, and who are often motionless like inanimate masses, during the moment of intoxication, should experience the effects of combustion.

Older women are “spongy”, AND they’re “motionless like inanimate masses”?! They’re more likely to be drunk, and therefore more likely to light on fire while going about their daily business? This is amazing! This is impeccably scientific! Surely our female readers are now convinced not to imbibe in excess.

Does that mean that nothing bad ever happens to men who drink? Not the case, according to dear old Pierre-Aime. It’s just that men don’t burn in place, leaving behind forlorn hands and feet, but rather tend towards having flames shoot out of their bodies.

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Sturmius says, that in the northern countries flames often burst from the stomach of persons in a state of intoxication. Three noblemen of Courland having laid a bet which of them could drink most spirits, two of them died in consequence of suffocation by the flames which issued with great violence from their stomachs. We are told by Thomas Bartholin, on the authority of Vorstius, that a soldier, who had drunk two glasses of spirits, died after an eruption of flames from his mouth.

There are the facts, folks. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Bad Children of History #9: the Perils of Solo Journeys

Many of the volumes in our Edith Wetmore Collection of Children’s Books contain descriptions of the frightening things that can befall children who choose to travel great distances alone: being kidnapped, having to become chimney sweeps, getting lost in dense forests once the sun sets, being conscripted as sailors. It’s a scary world out there.

Today we explore the lessons in Little Truths Better Than Great Fables, a teeny-tiny book published in 1800. Most of the book is in a question and answer format (“What are acorns?” “The seeds of the oak; and one acorn brings a young tree, which, in a number of years, is cut down and squared for use.”), with explanations of the natural world, customs of rural American life, and gentle admonishments not to eat unripe fruit or strike at bees.

The frontispiece of the book belies its soft tone, for one flips open the paper cover to reveal this alarming scene:

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What, pray tell, is happening to this poor fellow?

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As the caption kind of (not really) explains, he presumably got on a horse without a parent’s knowledge, leading to the horse springing, carousel-style, over a raging waterfall, while said bad child was flung many feet into the air, and consequently left dangling precariously over an aqueduct. Terrible!

I had to examine the text carefully before I found this:

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Yet, I fear, my little Charles would not be long content with so steady a horse as the plowboy rides; he rode his wooded horse at home so fast as to throw both down, broke the horse’s head, and made his own nose bleed.

When Charles insists that he would hold on tight, even when astride a spirited horse, his parent reminds him of the story of Lambert’s Leap, wherein:

Cuthbert Lambert, of Newcastle upon Tyne, who was riding full speed over Sandiford stone bridge, and endeavoring to turn his horse round, the beast leaped over the battlements; the horse was killed by the fall, being twenty feet to the bed of the water, but the man was providentially caught in the boughs of an ash, where he hung by his hands, til relieved by some passengers coming that way. I hope, therefore, my children will be careful never to get on a horse without my knowledge.

Ooooh, okay. The engraving shows an irresponsible adult of history, and the caption is a warning for would-be careless child equestrians.

Unfamiliar with Cuthbert Lambert’s story, I dug about on the internet until I found a page from John Sykes’ impressively-titled Local records; or, Historical register of remarkable events which have occurred in Northumberland and Durham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Berwick-upon-Tweed, with biographical notices of deceased persons of talent, eccentricity, and longevity. Sykes’ meticulous register notes that Lambert’s ill-fated leap took place on September 20th, 1759, although, according to Sykes, Lambert actually remained seated on the horse during the entire descent, and an ash branch broke their fall. (The popular misconception that Lambert was stuck in a tree came from a Mr. Pollard’s 1786 print of the affair.)

Sykes also describes how, upon landing, Lambert’s mare “stretched itself out and died almost immediately; being a great favourite, its skin was preserved in the family.”

Um. Therefore, don’t ride a horse without permission. Got it?

Bad Children of History #8, or, “Mom, I’m bored!”

In mid-June, we’re just entering school vacation season, which means a few things: sunburns, beach trips, ice cream trucks, complicated daycare/camp logistics, and, of course, bored children engaging in mischief. For example, take a look at this guy:

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Master Jacky here is on his school holidays, and he is “bored to death”. He’s already read all the books in the house, flopped around on the couch, and peered through whatever that vase-on-a-stick-thing is.

What’s a kid to do? The answer to that query is deftly illustrated in “Young Troublesome”, a veritable mid-19th century montage of the shenanigans of a bad child of history.

Master Jacky begins his misdeeds by playing sports inside the house, much to the horror of a guy carrying an enshrouded dinner tray:

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He  encourages the other children in the house to join him in his tomfoolery, although he does, thankfully, have the forethought to put an elegant cushion at the bottom of this banister to soften their landings:

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(Notice the distressed adults at both the bottom and the top of the stairs.)

He develops new, filthy habits (and no, he isn’t vaping):

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He even drags his visiting schoolmate into the fray, which is so shocking that it causes a woman in a bonnet to throw her scissors into the air, increasing the ambient danger by at least 75%:

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Gosh! Is there anything Master Jacky wouldn’t do?

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Nope, I guess not. Here’s my advice to those of you with bored children flopping around your house and peering through vases on sticks: do NOT show them this book, historically accurate and educational as it may be, or you may find yourself with a gang of indoor-cricket-playing rascals and/or with ash and charcoal marring the backs of your pristine white knee socks. Try the community pool instead.

Magician of the Week #35: Jesse J. Lybarger

This week’s magician is taken from the cover of the December 1932 issue of The Linking Ring.

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Here’s Jesse Lybarger inside a vignette with playing cards, coins, a bird in a cage, balls, the devil emanating from a radio tower, and the Angel of Death with lightning bolts radiating from the hood of his robe.

The latter’s a little hard to see, so here’s a close-up, enhanced for extra green-ness:

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Lybarger was an Ohio native and sewing machine salesman; his magical claim to fame is that he sold the first known routine involving sponge balls in 1925 (although Al Cohn, known as the “Sponge Ball King”, claimed to have invented the prop nearly 20 years later; Robert A. Nelson invented the “sponge rabbit” in mid-1940s).

Next time you’re enjoying a magic trick involving sponge balls, don’t forget to thank Jesse J. Lybarger.