A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
[Image source: Google Books, The Mechanics' Magazine, Museum, Register, Journal, and Gazette, Volume 26, 1837.]
This remarkable fire-fighting suit was present in an article in the prestigious Mechanics' Magazine, and published in London in 1837. It does seem impossible in its way to the modern reader, particularly for the eye-popping hood and lighted-candle-belt apparatus. But it is very sobering to think that this would have been a vast step-up from what was available at the time--especially for the leader house of air into the jacket/hood. Here's the full text of the description of the apparel:
Nature (September 13, 1924) posted a long one-paragraph description of the work of Dr. William.S. Inman (1876-1968), who published an article in the Lancet on the causes of left-handedness, stammer, and squint, which he found were related in one form or another, and globally. Just in case you were wondering, Dr. Inman located the causes of the problems of left-handnedness, and his were devoted "to mental causes":
Left-handedness, stammering, and squinting are all caused by emotional stress;
"too severe parenting" can be the cause of stammering, and left-handedness, and squinting;
each of these "defects runs in families";
a family predisposed to one is so with the other two;
one can become lefthanded as "an unconscious revolt against authority".
This at least seems like a gentle and inquisitive approach to left-handedness, which, it seems, was a "defect" that historically was dealt with by corporal punishment. For example, in the first book I can find in the global library catalog WorldCat that mentions "left-handedness"--a work by Thomas Lutpon with the long and languid title of A Thousand Notable Things containing modern curiosities. Viz. Divers Rare and Experienc'd Physical Receipts... To Educate Children to learn languages speedily...Also a new help to discourse, and directions to read, write, indite and speak languages readily and speedily..., a note is found with the description of the book saying "21st edition of this book of secrets, first published in 1586, it contains "A New Method to Educate Children" pp. 153-163 with a woodcut of alphabet cubes. The 20th edition appeared in 1706./ Some of the recipes are innocuous, others simply terrifying -- in spite of this, the author's instructions for educating children are surprisingly humane -- no corporal punishment and notably, no beating to correct left-handedness". Now the purpose of that very long and not-so-pretty sentence was to get aross the idea that for long periods of time left-handedness was treated as something that could be beat out of someone, physically. That at least is one very disturbing way of teaching someone how to write with their right hand.
It may or may no be the case, but this large, flaking book that is balanced on top of a petulant pile of paper, Registered Beverage Trade Marks Covering the Period from 1881 to 1939 Compiled from the records in the United States Patent Office (Distilled Alcoholic Liquors) may be the keys to the kingdom of names of booze(s) trademarked in this country. 15" tall, and inch thick, and 296 sheets big, this work (copyrighted y the Trade Mark records Bureau (in the National Press Club Building in DC, the one with the problematic parking garage) lists some 7,500 names of whiskey, cordials, gin, rye, bourbon and who knows what else. I cannot find the book in any online database, big or small, and I'm not sure where this info might be housed and housed in one spot. I have no doubt that people somewhere need this data, unwieldy and unusable as it might be--you see, it is organized only according to a six/seven digit number which I guess is the trademark filing number, or something; there is nothing else useful about the thing, the data floating around without regard to year or place or liquor type.
So I sat down with the book for an hour pulling out interesting, odd, out-of-place, from-another time and bizarre names, inlcuding all manner of expected animal names like bull and elk, and then unicorn; and lots of sunny this-and-that, sloping/sunny/grassy hills, mountains, clubs; and of course the Old _____ category seem fairly filled up. [If you'd like to own this just visit the blog's bookstore, here, and have a look.]
If I spent a little more time on this entire alphabets could be produced relating to nothing but names from the animal kingdom, flora, the sciences, professions, religion, states of mind, altered states, literature, and the labels that suggest a possible medical benefit. One of my favorite categories is the "conversational liquor label", the label that speaks to you, invites you, tells you what to do with the bottle of booze: Hava Cocktail and Uneeda Whiskey are good examples of that, as are You're Lookin Good, Uvanta and Yugeta whiskeys. Another is the liquor name ending in "o", like the beautiful Famo, from St. Jo, MO, which unfortunately wasn't trademarked in '00. The label of suggested promise and outcome is another good one: Kentucky Courage, Pleasant Dreams, Invincible Rye, Solace Whiskey and Ready Moneyare all good examples of the implied end-of-bottle pillow-fluffer...maybe, espcially, The Old Solution whiskey.
And then of course, there are those where the (creative) spirit has just flown away, like the lumpily-named Standard Spirits Whiskey, its hometown of New Orleans embarrassed by the lack of effort--especially in the light of some many hundreds of imaginative creations, like the fabulous Bone Factor Whiskey (1903), which like som many other great names (Yellow Hammer Whiskey) comes from Louisville, Kentucky.
In my collections of small collections I have a collection of small unusual pamphlets that tell the story of something uncommon. Everything in this sub-collection must have "The Story of ..." on the cover; after that, anything goes.
This is a small selection, though enough for now...
Here's another classic of ingenuity mixed with out-of-context accidental absurdist visualisations: the classic (I think) "hat conformator" from the Scientific American in 1878.
Which is a detail from:
[Source: Scientific American, March 9, 1878.]
The $100 instrument (a wide sum in 1878, equal today in buy power to several thousand dollars) was an instrument of use not only to hat makers but to the anthropological and medical professions as well--head shape and its influence on behavior still being a concern to some, the conformator found some occasional use in relating meaning to shape. That sort of effort would continue for some decades to come.
As a classic illustration the fron page showing the conformator is generally shown when shared online or written about in paper, but I don't think I've ever noticed the posting of the head shapes themselves coming a few pages later. The short chart features the axial view of some famous 1870's heads--I would say more about this if there was anything useful to say, but really I think there isn't so I won't.
The 1878 conformator is not unique in the history of head measurement for hats, evidently: "My invention relates to a device to be placed about the head and adjustable to conform to the anatomy thereof", so states the very wordy originator of another patent device for a "hat-conformator" in 1921--no doubt there are a number of different ways of taking head measurements for a custom-made hat, but I think none are prettier than the 1878 version.
And another--no doubt from a field of conformator richness:
"The Fingers as an Aid in Multiplication" is another wonderful find coming from a general browse in the great Scientific American (October 22, 1898, page 265). It is an interesting article, using the fingers so that the multiplication tables didn't have to be memorized by kids--I think that they absolutely should be--but the images taken out of context can also be regarded in some sense for this blog's "Found Absurdist" series. (We are told that the system was devised by "a Polish mathematician", Procopovitch--he is repeatedly referred to as "the Polish mathematician".)
See "Digital “Computers 1450-1750: Memory and Calculating on the Fingers and Hands", a post on this blog from 2008, here.
I do enjoy infographic presentation that employ well-known and/or iconic bits from the environment as measuring implements. Like using the Eiffel Tower for gauging heights, as shown earlier in this blog (see The Eiffel Tower as a Unit of Measurement, here) and St. Peter's cathedral for showing the depths of oceans (here). This surprising images appears in a simple pamphlet called The Conquest of the Desert (and which starts with a quote from Herodotus), published in 1910, and written on the subject of the Shoshone Dam (the Buffalo Bill Dam), which was opened in that same year. It was a monster at 328' high, and one of the best ways for the author to show what 328' tall mean was to compare it to something very well known--and at thee time one of the most famous skyscrapers in the world was the Flat Iron Building in NYC, which stands three feet shorter. And I'm pretty sure I've not seen too many images of famous buildings out-of-context and out-of-place as this.
In 1910, in the heady just-getting-started days of skyscrapers coming into full view, and with structures like the Singer building topping out at over 600', it ws legislated in Washington D.C. that no building in the city would be taller than the Washington Monument, for fear of the thing strapped with teh shadow of something larger. That's about the only thing that came to mind seeing this alternative measurement of the Shoshone Project dam:
Is this the philosophical face of concern, or interest, or curiosity? It is a philosopher's face, a Flying Philosopher's face at that, pictured in 1800 or so, but the philosopher is being rather gentlemanly and philosophical about the whole adventure, and he is not letting any subterranean enthusiasms escape his studied countenance.
[Source: Memtropolitan Museum of Art, "The Flying Philosopher", ca. 1800, here, a detail of the image below.]
A variation of the studied philosopher--walking--is found below, both featured in The entertaining magazine, or, Polite repository of elegant amusement containing pleasing extracts from modern authors : with many original pieces, and new translations, in prose and verse : embellished with beautiful engravings, and published in London in 1813. In this instance the same detachment is seen in the face of the subject even though he has his own personal balloon. a portable aerostation device, which seems to make little impact on his demeanor. I think they're talking more about philosophes than philosophers in these two images, though either way it also referred in large part to a different social class of people, many of whom had their lives arranged for them at birth and whose manner and charms were studied and rehearsed, propriety being an assumed trait of privilege.
The Walking Philosopher was actually a response to the flying version--this contraption was not meant to send anyone aloft, but to elevate them just enough to facilitate walking, lessening the weight of the walker, so that they could walk faster/longer. I guess that would make some sense, but if you were going to go through the hassles of a balloon and rudders as well as the expense, why not just take a carriage? I guess the idea of bounding 15 or 25 feet or whatever would be interesting, except that I think you'd also need some ballast; and there's the danger of the Darwin Award stuff, of taking "too big" a bound, and not coming down (until it was too late?) In any event, I'm sure that this is the stuff of which some dreams were made...
In my bsuiness and leisure I get more than the common share of exposure to old magazines and images, musty old-book-smelling-cologne old books, basically every day. And in whatever memory shelters I have in my brain that aren't already closed up and away to the seashore, there is one that is waaay down the hall, and it gets excited when unusual early advertising pops up. I've noticed that at least in the mid/late-19th century that ads for personal improvement items were not shy about their claims and what they did and who it was for and what it would do, and it made me wonder about when the idea of subtlety sneaks into the arena of sales. I have no data, just a collection of images, but it does seems as though the idea of the undersell comes into being in the U.K. at least in the second decade 20th century--and I say this because I'd notice how unusual it was to see an advertisement where it was not immediately apparent what the ad was selling. Dunlop tires was one such example.
In any event, opening this volume of Harper's Weekly to the June 1, 1878 issue, the ANTI-FAT ad struck me immediately as something in the Most Robust Presentation of an Idea in Advertisement category. It gets right to the mostly-imaginary point, quotes Hippocrates as their medical authority, and that's that.
There was perhaps nothing so satisfying to a fellow in America in 1878 than to have a massive moustache--or at least the idea of one, a call to high fashion in hairstyles for men. But since not everyone could produce a garden on their upper lip there was always someone around to take advantage of the necessity of hope--in this case, the hope was provided by Smith & Co of Palatine, Illinois. They sold a concoction of some sort that promised (on three applications) to produce a heavy moustache and/or beard with 'no injury".
The detail from the following snippet, which is actually a tiny detail from a full-page sheert of ads (see below):
A little research reveals the packet for the miracle-grow:
I'm unsure of how I came to post this--maybe it is all the result of the one still from The Werewolf from 1956 with its dynamite phrase:
I guess the "atom scientists" were evil because the monsters depicted in these movies were a result of atomic/radiation somethings gone-wrong. Thus: evil. Of course some of these scientists were Commies, and some just Brand-X Evil (a good band name). All-in-all though there's really nothing in any of these films that comes remotely close to the horror of The Bomb.
Here's a few more examples of quick/bad/cheap Atomic Movie Weirdnesses brought about by the bliss of evility inherent in some "atom-scientists":
The Beginning of the End (1957) Republic
Evidently this film--"starring" Peter Graves--defines what might be the bottom of thehole-filled-hole filled with bad sci fi films. Poorly acted, badly written, with very little direction and astonishingly bad special effects, this film had nothing going for it. From what I've seen of it it moves beyond the so-bad-its-good category to so-bad-it-really-is-bad category. Gigantism pops up again here, with scientists producing mega-foods via "radiation"--unfortunately the foods are eaten by grasshoppers, and then other stuff happens.
[Source: "Eli W. Buel (American, active ca. 1870) Top Hat, ca. 1870, albumen print carte-de-visite, museum purchase, George Eastman House",here.]
This is a great example of "everyday objects shriek aloud" as Magritte said somewhere along the path of his life. I thought about him right away seeing this much earlier vision of a floating hat and that it fit somehow into a Melville ("I would prefer not to") Duchamp ("This is not a pipe") and Magritte continuum:
It was a secret mystery as to what might be hidden in this pamphlet with the striking and unusual cover...I had a hard time imaging what the work was about, and never did really come close. It turns out that the bombers dropping their payload on a skyline of churches from an impossibly low altitude in a Seussian-blue sky were dropping "missed Sundays" on churches.
Carlyle B. Haynes, the author of the work, was warning religious people about a movement at work to change the calendar of the world--in effect, it would "even out" the months, and the quarters of the year, so something more, well, "efficient"(?) And to get there it would entail "kicking out" the last day of the year of 1943--a Sunday, the "blank day". The fear here was that Sundays from then on into infinity or as long as this new calendar was being used would be upset, and that Sundays would no longer be so, the calendar upsetting a calendrical system that "stretched back to Creation".
It seems that the main fear would be that the "true Sunday" would be somewhere else in the calendar, that Sunday would actually be Monday or any other day in the week, and thus an attack on religion, in general, by a "wandering" religious day.
Mr. Haynes wrote a number of pamphlets on religion (including another work similar to the above called World Calendar Versus World Religion), and seems to have had long evangelical roots. But in knowing a little bit about the history of recording and keeping time, and dates, and the calendar, and the history of the seven day week and the long international history of the observance of the seventh day for religious purposes, I am having a hard time understanding exactly what Mr. Haynes was trying to say in this work.
Oh my! The book Spirit-Rapping Unveiled (1855, see below for the long and potentially boring and extensive title1) in the midst of much dizzying introductions and elucidations, refutations and condemnation, praise and pain, is this almost one-of-a-kind map, showing the descent of the dead onto the Earth.
I say "almost" because there is also this highly unlikely image-though-not-map which I wrote about in a 2008 post with the hyperbolic title "Extra-Earth Humano-Alien Souls From Outer Space Repopulate Earth-Hell!!(??), in which the title accurately tells the contents of its text and the front cover depicts the descending alien dead:
So there are at least two such map/images depicting Earth-bound dead descenders, and both are magnificent in their own _________ way.
The text of Spirit-Rapping explains the deathly cosmogram:
"In accordance with the theory already described and illustrated, it is assumed by our modern necromancers that the spirits of the dead descend to the earth or " rudimental sphere" at pleasure, and thus communicate from time to time, and in various ways, with certain favored mortals called " mediums." At the same time they belong each to his own sphere, respectively, according to the time he has been " progressing," and his head is large or small according to the sphere to which he has attained. Indeed the earth, seen in the center of the cut, is a small affair compared with the heads of some of the sixth and seventh sphere progressives." --from page 21
It seems that this odd and strangely beautiful pamphlet, ?All, by A.W. Dragstedt, is a fascinating surviving relic of a largely ephemeral world. Mr. Dragstedt was the secretary of the Kingdom of Hobos of the United States, and for years was largely and necessarily on-the-move, though he seems to have settled into Chicago a bit when he served in official HoboWorld capacities. The penned address on the incredible front cover ("913 W. Washington Blvd, Chicago", today the home of the improbably-named "Sushi Pink" restaurant) was one of the addresses identified for the Hobo College in which he worked--that according to Roger Bruins, in his book on King of the Hobos, The Damndest Radical (1987). This means that Dragstedt--also known to some as the Poet Laureate of West Madison (Blvd)1 and the "Hobo Intellectual"2--probably wrote this while staying there, at the Hobo College, in 1925. THis opens up a new field to me--printed Hoboiana, published works by working Hobos3.
Aside from its unusual composition and design, the work is an unwieldy but semi-non-poetic Aristotelian pronouncement on the constitution of man and the cosmos, and pretty mysterious. Well, "Aristotelian" goes a bit to far, but in a way it is accurate, because the author considers the essence of matter and being and time and space and is an observer of his world, and seems for himself anyway to have drawn a conclusion from it all, though it is difficult for me to say exactly what that is. Since the document is only a folded piece of paper, and the cover and back-page ad covers half of it, I've reproduced the two pages of print below.
It must have been a considerable effort to make something like this happen, even if you did occupy a powerful position in a floating world.