When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Self-Mutilation

1959: During the three years he was incarcerated in Soviet prisons, Felix Yaroshevsky worked as a surgeon. He came across many cases of self-mutilation among his fellow inmates: veins slashed; fingers and toes lopped off; buttons sewn on bodies; and one instance of a youth who urinated on his feet and put them through a broken window to expose them to the freezing January air, resulting in severe frostbite.

Source: Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal, October 1975

“Aromatic Osmosis”

Pope Pius XII, photographed by Michael Pitcarin

1958: Pius XII died on 9 October. Despite a lack of expertise, the papal physician Riccardo Galeazzi-Lisi was entrusted with embalming the pope’s body. Galeazzi-Lisi resorted to “aromatic osmosis”, an embalming technique developed by the plastic surgeon Oreste Nuzzi, whereby pungent fluids were sprinkled on the clothing and absorbed by osmosis.

The Vatican’s trust in Galeazzi-Lisi and Galeazzi-Lisi’s trust in Nuzzi’s method were misplaced. If anything, Galeazzi-Lisi’s efforts speeded up the process of decomposition. The pontiff’s appearance visibly deteriorated while still lying in state, and those on vigil near the bier found that their eyes “smarted and watered”.

Source: Robert A. Ventresca, Soldier of Christ: The Life of Pope Pius XII (2013), pp. 300–3

Atomic Attractions

1957: Rather than fret about the mushroom clouds rising over the nearby Nevada Test Site, many businesses in Las Vegas hoped to cash in on the nuclear explosions.

The Chamber of Commerce printed special atomic calendars to promote the city. Newspapers carried photographs of “Miss Atomic Bomb”, a showgirl from the Sands Hotel, with a cotton mushroom cloud fixed to the front of her swimsuit. The Flamingo beauty parlour invented an “atomic hairdo”. Visitors to the city could stay at the Atomic View Motel; other motels provided “atomic box lunches” for guests who wanted to picnic closer to the test site.

Source: Barbara Land and Myrick Land, A Short History of Las Vegas (2004), pp. 113–14

National Calamity

Ravens at the Tower of London, photographed by Colin

1955: Ravens have probably stalked and flapped around the Tower of London for much of its history, but the earliest reference to the myth that their departure would portend a calamity for the British nation dates back only as far as 1955.

Source: History Today, January 2005

Lost In Translation

Sir Gerald Templer

1954: During the Malayan Emergency, the resettlement of a sizable part of the colony’s rural population in “new villages” was an important element in the government strategy to defeat the communist insurgency. The high commissioner, General Sir Gerald Templer, had harsh words for anyone opposed to the policy.

He berated one group of villagers: “You are all bastards.”

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Turning To Stone

1953: Jean Cocteau wrote in his diary on 10 January: “The young duke of Kent and his sisters, taken to see a famous illusionist in a London music hall. The number ends with some nudity, and the nanny doesn’t know what to do. As they leave she ventures to ask, ‘How did your Highness enjoy the performance?’ ‘I’m scared.’ ‘Why, Your Highness?’ ‘Mama told me if I looked at naked women I’d turn to stone – and it’s starting.’ ”

Source: Jean Cocteau, Past Tense (1990), vol. II, p. 4

Local Language

1952: From the 18th until the 20th century, the population of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, included a disproportionately large number of deaf people. Isolated farming and fishing communities, and consequent intermarriage, ensured that the defective gene passed from generation to generation.

In the 19th century, when the national average in the United States was one deaf person in roughly 6,000, the figure for Martha’s Vineyard was one in 155. The concentration of deaf people was greatest at the western end of the island, the up-Island; in Chilmark, one in 25 was deaf.

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