When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

When Grandpa Was a Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

A Popular History of the 20th Century

Engine Coolant

1928: A motor track was constructed from the Persian Gulf through the foothills of the Zagros to Gach Sārān, where, in that same year, oil was discovered in large quantities.

The rugged road and sizzling temperatures were too much for most vehicles. Engines overheated and took hours to cool. Only one lorry could overcome the terrain and the heat; while the others panted and wheezed, this particular vehicle barely raised a sweat as it climbed the steep slopes.

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Fertile Imagination

1927: What’s on a man’s mind? In the case of Leoš Janáček, quite clearly, his lover’s breasts. They were a motif in the Moravian composer’s letters to Kamila Stösslová at the end of 1927. He imagined them rippling like little waves on the River Otava or swelling like the open sea, and fantasized once about covering them with sheets of music.

Source: Leoš Janáček and Kamila Stösslová, Intimate Letters: Leoš Janáček to Kamila Stösslová , ed. John Tyrrell (2005), pp. 140–1, 150, 156, 161–2

“In My Day . . .”

1926: John Daniell captained Somerset cricket team for the last time, and soon after, played his last first-class match for the county.

Some years later, Daniell was watching a match at Taunton, when the bowler bowled a delivery that struck Frank Lee, the batsman, in the box.

“The box, you say. What namby-pamby nonsense is that?” Daniell spluttered.

A few minutes later, the same thing happened again. “What does he need a so-called box for?” Daniell thundered. “In my day, we hit fours with our private parts.”

Source: The Guardian, 12 January 2007

Icing On The Cake

1925: Marian Arnold’s husband worked for the China Navigation Company and the Insurance Department of Butterfield & Swire. Years later, she reminisced about their time in China.

She remembered in particular a lunch party at a friend’s house. The friend’s Chinese cook was a talented cake maker. The lunch guests were so impressed by his beautifully decorated gâteau that he was summoned from the kitchen and warmly praised. The cook was very flattered. The hostess was very pleased. She asked whether he had iced the cake with the fancy icing set she had bought at a Shanghai department store.

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Realpolitik

1924: Norway’s decision to extend diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union was impelled, in part, by the need to find markets for the Norwegian herring catch. Twelve years later, herrings again played an unexpected role in bilateral relations. The Norwegian government, fearful that the Soviets would halt purchases of the fish, gagged the political exile Leon Trotsky, and then put him on board a ship to Mexico.

Source: Donald Rayfield, Stalin and His Hangmen: An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him (2004), pp. 259–60, 261, 271

Career Advice

Hollywood “It Girl” Clara Bow, photographed by Nicholas Murray

1923: Clara Bow, the “It Girl” of Hollywood silent movies, made her first screen appearance in Down to the Sea in Ships. Her mentally ill mother, who regarded heavily made-up actresses as no better than prostitutes, had threatened to kill her to keep her out of films. “You ain’t goin’ inta pictures,” she had ranted. “You ain’t gonna be no hoor.”

Source: David Stenn, Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild (1989), pp. 13, 22–3

Clinging To Life

1921: Famine killed an estimated 5 million people in the Volga region of Soviet Russia. Among the starving refugees at Samara, the British journalist Arthur Ransome came upon “a silently weeping little girl” with a “wizened dead face, pale green”, and on the east bank of the Volga, “an old woman cooking horsedung in a broken saucepan”.

Source: www.theguardian.com/century/
1920-1929/Story/0,,126591,00.html

Beauty Regime

1920: “Like every morning I have had my enema, in order to preserve a clear skin and sweet breath,” wrote Princess Ghika in her notebook on 11 January. “It is a family habit, approved of by Dr Pinard,” explained the princess, the former demi-mondaine Liane de Pougy. “One of Maman’s old great-aunts, the beautiful Madame Rhomès, died at the age of ninety and a half with a complexion of lilies and roses, skin like a child’s. She took her little enema, it seems, at five o’clock every evening, so that she would sleep very well. She did it cheerfully in public. She would simply stand in front of the fireplace; her servant would come in discreetly, armed with the loaded syringe; Madame Rhomès would lean forward gracefully so that her full skirts lifted, one two three, and it was done! Conversation was not interrupted. After a minute or two my beautiful ancestress would disappear briefly, soon to return with the satisfaction of a duty performed.”

Source: Liane de Pougy, My Blue Notebooks (1979), p. 83

Rude Awakening

Sergei Diaghilev, portrayed by Valentin Serov

1917: Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau travelled to Rome in February to cooperate with Sergei Diaghilev on the ballet Parade. Diaghilev insisted on showing them the sights of the city. On the evening of 21 February they went to the circus. Diaghilev fell asleep, but woke with a start when an elephant placed its feet on his knees.

Source: Jean Cocteau, Lettres à sa Mère, I: 1898–1918 (1989), p. 297

Target Practice

1916: When the British attack lost momentum on the first day of the battle of the Somme, Lieutenant R.A. Heptonstall found himself stranded in no man’s land. “From my shell hole I could see a dead man propped up against the German wire in a sitting position.” A German rifleman whiled away the time taking pot shots at the corpse “until his head was completely shot away”.

Source: Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916 (1988), p. 218

Drinking To Victory

Ngiam Tong Boon’s contribution to the war effort, photographed by Paul Fenton

1915: Behind the Long Bar of Raffles Hotel, in Singapore, bartender Ngiam Tong Boon reputedly created – his personal contribution to the war effort – the Singapore Sling cocktail.

Source: Ilsa Sharp, There is Only One Raffles: The Story of a Grand Hotel (1981), p. 122

Cannibals And Barbarians

Polish anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski photographed with inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands in 1917 or 1918

1914: Bronisław Malinowski made better use of the war years than he would have done slopping about in a trench in Galicia or the Carpathians. While conducting anthropological research in Papua and the nearby Trobriand Islands he met an old cannibal who had heard of the conflict raging in Europe. “What he was most curious to know was how we Europeans managed to eat such enormous quantities of human flesh, as the casualties of a battle seemed to imply. When I told him indignantly that Europeans do not eat their slain foes, he looked at me with real horror and asked me what sort of barbarians we were to kill without any real object.”

Source: Julius E. Lips, The Savage Hits Back or the White Man through Native Eyes (1937), p. vii

“At The Foot Of The Cliffs I Met An Old Man”

1913: “At the foot of the cliffs,” W.N.P. Barbellion wrote in his journal on 27 June, “[I] met an old man gathering sticks. As he ambled along dropping sticks into a long sack he called out casually, ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ?’ in the tone of voice in which one would say, ‘I think we shall have some rain before night.’ ‘Aye, aye,’ came the answer without hesitation from a boy lying on his back in the sands a few yards distant, ‘and that He died to save me.’

“Life is full of surprises like this. . . . Your own gardener will one day look over his rake and give you the correct chemical formula for carbonic acid gas. I met a postman once reading Shelley as he walked his rounds.”

Source: W.N.P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man and A Last Diary (1984), pp. 91–2

Showing Promise

1912: Writing home on 3 March, 8-year-old Eric Blair regaled his mother with a breathless account of his exploits on the school football field: “I was goalkeeper all the second halh, and they only got past the half-line twise while I was in goal but both of those times it nearly a goal and I had to be jolly quick to pick them up and kick them, because most of the chaps the other side were in aufel rats and they were runing at me like angry dogs”. (Not quite Orwell, not yet, but it was a promising start.)

Source: George Orwell, The Complete Works of George Orwell, X: A Kind of Compulsion 1903–1936, ed. Peter Davison (1998), pp. 13–14

Tall Story

1911: The first escalator on the London Underground opened at Earl’s Court station on 4 October. A man with a wooden leg, William “Bumper” Harris, was employed to ride up and down the newfangled device to give timid travellers the confidence to use it. Hmm. Yes.

Source: Christian Wolmar, The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground was Built and How It Changed the City Forever (2004), p. 182; email from London Transport Museum, 12 March 2009

“My Only Happiness”

Hawley Harvey Crippen

1910: “As I face eternity, I say that Ethel LeNeve has loved me as few women love men,” declared “Dr.” Hawley Harvey Crippen in an emotional “farewell letter to the world”. Writing from Pentonville Prison in London, four days before he was hanged for the murder of his wife, Crippen professed that “the love of Ethel LeNeve has been the best thing in my life – my only happiness – and that in return for that great gift I have been inspired with a greater kindness towards my fellow-beings, and with a greater desire to do good.”

Source: Tom Cullen, Crippen: The Mild Murderer (1988), pp. 217–18

High Flyer

Vaslav Nijinsky, portrayed by John Singer Sargent

1909: Ballerina Tamara Karsavina recounted how Vaslav Nijinsky “rose up, a few yards off the wings, described a parabola in the air, and disappeared from sight. No one of the audience could see him land; to all eyes he floated up and vanished.” Nijinsky’s leaps, defiant of gravity, caused a sensation in Paris. How did he accomplish them? Were they difficult? “No! No!” he replied, “not difficult. You have just to go up and then pause a little up there.”

Source: Tamara Karsavina, Theatre Street (1930), pp. 240, 241–2

Threat To Public Health

An illustration in The New York American from 1909 pulls no punches about Mary Mallon

1907: Between 1900 and 1907, typhoid broke out in seven wealthy New York households where Mary Mallon was employed as a cook. Mallon appeared healthy enough, but she was a carrier of the disease. When she used the toilet, typhoid bacilli got on her hands and then contaminated the food she prepared. She infected an estimated 22 people; one died. As soon as her role in the outbreaks had been established, the authorities decided that she was a threat to public health, and detained her at an isolation hospital.

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Clever Primates

1906: Liberia issued a 5-cent postage stamp that depicted a chimpanzee, stick in hand, approaching what was possibly a termite mound. Why the stick? Did the chimpanzee intend using it to extract termites? It was another 60 years before the scientific community accepted that animals other than human beings use tools. Jane Goodall provided the evidence when she showed that chimps deliberately poke sticks into holes in termite nests to “fish” for termites. (If primatologists were philatelists, maybe someone would have made the connection sooner.)

Source: Nature, 4 January 2001 and 24 May 2001

Slumping Popularity

1905: One side effect of the dissolution of Norway’s union with neighbouring Sweden was a slump in the popularity of Oskar as a boy’s name in Norway – parents no longer wanted to name their sons after the Swedish king.

Source: www.ssb.no/en/befolkning/
artikler-og-publikasjoner/free-flow-of-
first-names

Ludwig And Adolf

1904: Adolf Hitler attended the Realschule in Linz, where Ludwig Wittgenstein was a contemporary. The boys were the same age, but Hitler’s lacklustre academic performance meant he trailed two years behind Wittgenstein in his studies. In September, Hitler was obliged to leave the school because of his poor record.

Source: John Toland, Adolf Hitler (1976), pp. 14–18

Job Description

1903: The 1611 King James Bible stated that St. Paul was a tent maker. Ferrar Fenton’s 1903 modern English translation, however, described him as a landscape painter.

Source: The Holy Bible in Modern English, tr. Ferrar Fenton (1903), sect. V, p. 145

St. Paul, painted by El Greco

Bob’s Your Uncle

Arthur James Balfour

1902: Who’s your uncle? If your name’s Arthur Balfour, Bob’s your uncle. During the late 1880s and 1890s, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd marquess of Salisbury, used his position as prime minister to appoint his nephew to a series of important government posts. And when Salisbury resigned as prime minister in 1902, Balfour stepped effortlessly into his shoes.

Source: Andrew Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan (1999), p. 827

Tarnished Glory

1901: Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree’s Poverty: A Study of Town Life lifted the lid on British urban deprivation. It caused Winston Churchill to write, “I see little glory in an Empire which can rule the waves and is unable to flush its sewers.”

Source: Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill (1967), vol. II, pp. 31–2