When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1920s

Right On Cue

1929: “Black Tuesday”, 29 October, when the New York Stock Exchange lost an eighth of its value, was also the day the Casa Loma Orchestra recorded “Happy Days Are Here Again”.

Source: Richard M. Sudhalter, Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915–1945 (1999), p. 342

Safe From Bullets

1928: The War of the Hoe Handle took its name – Kongo Wara in the Gbaya language of central Africa – from the hoe handles, or kongo, that the messianic leader Karnu distributed to his adherents to protect them against European bullets.

Karnu attracted followers in western Ubangi-Shari by claiming to have the power to get rid of the detested French colonisers and, for good measure, the ability to turn them into gorillas.

Source: Canadian Journal of African Studies, 1984

Bound For Glory

Isadora Duncan, photographed in 1911 by Otto Wegener

1927:Adieu, mes amis, je vais à la gloire!” the dancer Isadora Duncan shouted from the passenger seat of her car – “Farewell, my friends. I go to glory!”

The car was an Amilcar Grand Sport – low and fast. The driver was a young garage owner from Nice named Bénoit Falchetto.

Duncan sat with a red shawl draped round her neck. The shawl was the size of a tablecloth; its fringe slipped over the side of the car and dangled dangerously close to the rear wheel. “Isadora, ta châle! Ramasse ta châle!” shouted a friend – “Isadora, your shawl! Pick up your shawl!”

Falchetto revved the engine and put it in gear. The car surged forward. The fringe caught in the spokes. The shawl wrapped round the wheel, yanked back Duncan’s head and snapped her neck.

Source: Peter Kurth, Isadora: The Sensational Life of Isadora Duncan (2002), pp. 553–6

Chicken Thief

1926: In West Dallas, 16-year-old Clyde Barrow had his first tangle with the law when he was picked up for chicken theft. The Texas neighbours doubtless shook their heads and predicted: “That boy will come to no good end.”

Source: Jeff Guinn, Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde (2009), p. 34

Mugshot of young Clyde Barrow

Wages Of Sin

1924: Christopher Hollis amused his friend Evelyn Waugh with a story he must have heard from someone in the legal world:
“Mr Justice Phillimore was trying a sodomy case and brooded greatly whether his judgement had been right. He went to consult [the former Lord Chancellor, Lord] Birkenhead. ‘Excuse me, my lord, but could you tell me – What do you think one ought to give a man who allows himself to be buggered?’ ‘Oh, 30s or £2 – anything you happen to have on you.’ ”

Source: Evelyn Waugh, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), p. 168

Dodgy Excuse

1923: On 11 January, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr region on the pretext that Germany had defaulted on the payment of reparations: specifically that it had failed to deliver a shipment of telegraph poles and cut timber on time.

Source: Conan Fischer, The Ruhr Crisis, 1923–1924 (2003), p. 28

Fatal Fracas

Alexander, the ill-fated king of the Hellenes, photographed by Charles Chusseau-Flaviens

1920: Bizarre royal death of the year: that of Alexander, king of the Hellenes. On 2 October, the king and his dog Fritz encountered two pet monkeys playing in a garden on the royal estate at Tatoi, near Athens. The monkeys scampered over, screaming, and one of them attacked Fritz. The king tried to separate the animals, whereupon the second monkey intervened, and in the ensuing scrimmage the king was severely bitten on the legs and belly. The wounds were not properly cleaned, infection set in, and on 25 October the king died of sepsis.

Source: John van der Kiste, Kings of the Hellenes: The Greek Kings 1863–1974 (1994), pp. 122–4

Hairy Lady

1929: A story from the diplomat Bruce Lockhart’s diary, recounted by the Countess of Rosslyn:
“Lady Theo Acheson had wonderful hair of which she was very proud. In her passport form under the sub-heading ‘any peculiarities’ she put in ‘hair below the knees’. In the passport this was abbreviated by the passport officer to ‘hairy legs’!”

Source: Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, I: 1915–1938, ed. Kenneth Young (1973), p. 91

Cat Burglar

1928: The writer Thomas Hardy died on 11 January. His heart was removed from his corpse, which was then cremated and the ashes interred at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. The heart was buried in the grave of Hardy’s first wife, Emma, in the Dorset village of Stinsford.

Or was it? Rumour had it that the doctor’s cat made off with the heart while it was unattended, though this sounds suspiciously like a tale invented over a few pints of cider in a Dorset pub.

Source: Claire Tomalin, Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man (2006), pp. 371–2

Innocents Abroad

1927: Brian Howard, a leading light among the Bright Young People, was appalled but fascinated to see a man snorting cocaine in a Berlin café. Howard had never seen a drug addict before, and thought at first that the man was performing “deep breathing exercises”.

Source: Brian Howard, Brian Howard: Portrait of a Failure, ed. Marie-Jaqueline Lancaster (1968), pp. 237–8

Minority Interest

1926: Berthold Laufer’s monographs appealed to a minority readership: Ostrich Egg-Shell Cups of Mesopotamia and the Ostrich in Ancient and Modern Times, published in 1926, was followed the next year by Insect-Musicians and Cricket Champions of China.

Source: www.nasonline.org/publications/
biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/
laufer-berthold.pdf

Saved By Jellyfish

1925: One night in July, feeling that he had reached “the end of the tether”, schoolteacher and struggling writer Evelyn Waugh made a half-hearted attempt to kill himself. He went to a deserted beach, undressed and swam slowly out to sea, but turned back when he was stung by jellyfish.

Source: Evelyn Waugh, A Little Learning: The First Volume of an Autobiography (1964), pp. 229–30

Messy Tenants

1924: In July, Pablo Picasso and his family rented a villa at Juan-les-Pins, on the Riviera. Picasso turned the villa’s empty garage into a studio and decorated its bare walls with murals. The owner was not appreciative, and Picasso had to fork out 800 francs to restore the walls to their original state.

Source: John Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917–1932 (2007), p. 265

Bedside Comforts

1921: Staying at a hotel above the Swiss town of Montreux, Katherine Mansfield kept on her bed at night “a copy of Shakespeare, a copy of Chaucer, an automatic pistol & a black muslin fan”.

Source: Katherine Mansfield, The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield, IV: 1920–1921, ed. Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott (1996), pp. 244–5

Cads In The Baths

1920: “Little doing,” 16-year-old Evelyn Waugh complained in his diary on 14 August. “In the afternoon I went to the baths but found the water dirty and full of the most dreadful greasy-haired cads.”

Source: Evelyn Waugh, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), p. 96

“But Your Mother Never Called Me!”

Vladimir Lenin with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, photographed in 1922 by Lenin’s sister, Maria Ulyanova

Vladimir Lenin with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, photographed in 1922 by Lenin’s sister, Maria Ulyanova

1929: The diplomat Bruce Lockhart heard what he described as a “priceless story of Lenin and the death of his mother-in-law”. Without naming the source, Lockhart wrote in his diary: “Krupskaya tired of watching at death-bed asked Lenin to sit by her mother while she slept. He was to call her if her mother wanted anything. Lenin took a book and began to read. Two hours later Krupskaya came back. Her mother was dead. Lenin was still reading. Krupskaya blamed him: ‘Why did you not let me know?’ Lenin replied: ‘But your mother never called me!’ ”

Source: Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, I: 1915–1938, ed. Kenneth Young (1973), p. 82

Woolf At The Wheel

Virginia Woolf in about 1927

Virginia Woolf, photographed about the same time she learned to drive

1927: “You won’t mind talking for 24 hours on end, I hope?” Virginia Woolf wrote to a friend. “It will be mostly about motor cars. I can think of nothing else.” The Woolfs had just bought their first car, and Virginia was thrilled to get behind the wheel. “I have driven from the Embankment to the Marble Arch and only knocked one boy very gently off his bicycle.”

Source: Virginia Woolf, A Change of Perspective: The Letters of Virginia Woolf, III: 1923–1928, ed. Nigel Nicolson (1977), p. 400

Muddled Little Mind

1926: By the time his grandchildren were born, my father was well into his sixties. He was born in 1926; they were born in the 1990s. He must have seemed very old to them. I remember Sophie or Sonya, about six years old, asking: “When grandpa was a boy, were there any dinosaurs?”

Source: Personal recollection

Eisenstein Cuts It Fine

Poster for Sergei Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin

Poster for Sergei Eisenstein’s film The Battleship Potemkin

1925: On 21 December, Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin was first screened at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Eisenstein had toiled for three weeks to edit the film in time, and was still putting the finishing touches to it on the opening night.

His assistant Grigori Alexandrov recalled, “I spent the evening riding on a motorcycle between the cutting room and the theatre, carrying the reels one at a time. When Eisenstein was finally happy with the last reel, he sat on the back of my motorcycle with the can of film under his arm. . . . but when we were in the middle of Red Square, and about a quarter of a mile from the Bolshoi, the motorcycle broke down. So we ran the rest of the way!”

At that time, films were shown with a break between each reel. “All went well, except that the break between the last two reels was nearly twenty minutes long!”

Source: Ronald Bergan, Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict (1997), pp. 111–12

Evidently Insane

1924: Writing in a medical journal, the former head of Egypt’s Lunacy Department, John Warnock, dismissed the upsurge of nationalism in the country as “an infectious mental disorder”.

Source: James H. Mills, Cannabis Britannica: Empire, Trade and Prohibition 1800–1928 (2003), p. 184

Lord Bags 556,813

1923: The 71-year-old Marquess of Ripon collapsed and died doing what he liked best – slaughtering birds on a grouse moor. At the age of 70 he killed 420 grouse in a single day. Timed by stopwatch, he once bagged 28 pheasants in 60 seconds. On another occasion, he downed 11 partridges with just two shots. His lifetime tally of pheasants reached almost a quarter of a million, and in the 57 years from 1867 to 1923 he killed more than half a million head of game – 556,813, to be precise, an average of 9,768 each year.

Source: Hugh S. Gladstone, Record Bags and Shooting Records (1930), pp. 57, 72, 177–8, 205

Poisoners Fictional And Non-Fictional

Solicitor and poisoner Herbert Armstrong

Solicitor and poisoner Herbert Armstrong

1921: Agatha Christie’s first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, went on sale in Britain at the beginning of February. While readers puzzled over the identity of the poisoner in rural Essex, a second poisoner was active on the other side of the country, only this one wasn’t fictional.

Herbert Armstrong, a solicitor, thought he could resolve his personal and business problems by getting rid of his overbearing wife and an overly successful professional rival.

Katherine Armstrong died in agony at the end of February from what was initially thought to be gastritis. A few months later, the solicitor Oswald Martin became violently ill after taking tea with Armstrong, but survived (“Excuse fingers,” said Armstrong, as he passed Martin a poisoned scone).

Hercule Poirot was not on hand to solve these cases, but with the help of the forensic pathologist Bernard Spilsbury, arsenical poisoning was shown to have taken place, the arsenic was linked to Armstrong, and Armstrong was convicted of murder and executed.

Source: Colin Evans, The Father of Forensics: How Sir Bernard Spilsbury Invented Modern CSI (2009), pp. 98–118

Miss Hoity-Toity

1920: Looking back on the 1920s, Loelia, Lady Lindsay, the former Duchess of Westminster, recalled the tremendous snobbery. “If you had danced with a man the night before and had found out that he was socially inferior . . . the following day you would just look through him.”

Source: Roy Strong, The Roy Strong Diaries 1967–1987 (1997), pp. 55–6